My Season of Lights

I have loved Christmas for 80 years. That love has changed of course. As a child the excitement comes from the magical tree and  lovely, wrapped packages to open. As an adult I found joy in two things, finding items that might bring a smile, a chuckle or a tear to the recipients eye, and lights filling the dark streets with color. Yes, it is presented as a

Our contribution to lighting the Christmas night this year!

celebration of Christ’s birth, but I have known that to be something of a myth since my teen years. It is a historically accepted fact that the Christ child was not born in December. He made his entrance, by all accounts, sometime between March and September. Biblical evidence seems to back that up with references to shepherds watching there flocks, and the time of year a census would have been taken. Actually, as I am sure many of you know, the early Christians stole their celebratory practices from multiple countries, cultures and religions.

One can start with the date that was chosen for the birth story. The Roman Saturnalia was probably celebrated on or around December 25th…coincidence? There were many communities that celebrated mid winter with gatherings and festivals. The winter was dark and dreary, with agriculture on hold for spring. Light and fire was a natural counter point to that, with communal gatherings, feasting and exchanging gifts a way to connect and bring joy to the season. Gift giving apparently was a New Year’s tradition,  until the Victorian era when the Queen gave gifts to her family on Christmas Eve, which changed the trajectory of gift exchanges!

A Victorian Christmas

As for the war on Christmas, that began centuries ago. The Puritans banned Christmas from New England for a quarter of a century, and under Cromwell all celebrations of saints were banned in Britain, including Christmas. According to this administration we can now say ” Merry Christmas ” again…very strange, since I do not remember a year in which I felt constrained in that respect!

It is true that Christmas has changed, and in ways I am somewhat sad to see. During the last recession Christmas lighting seemed to take a down turn and the lovely, lit homes I so adored began to recede into darkness. Happily this year has seen a slight resurgence in outdoor home displays.

Our first Christmas alone and we still found joy

Over the years finding the popular sold out gifts and enticing sales have taken a front seat to finding joy and love. Anxiety and chaos now reign in a season that should be fun and relaxed. We often find gifts all year long which we hold until the big day, which helps take the stress out of last minute shopping.  Unfortunately my family mandated a few years back that we would no longer exchange gifts. Since I live so far from my brothers, and delighted so in finding objects which I thought they might enjoy, that was and remains a disappointment.

I use the word season deliberately, because in my mind, call it what you will…Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Solstice, Hanukkah, Midwinter Festival or another name you may choose, to me it is always a time for lights and caring for each other,

Our tree on a no money budget with hand made ornaments

including the vulnerable among us.  To the Christians it should mean helping the less fortunate since Christ considered that his mission, and surprisingly many other religions also see that as an attribute. For myself, I was raised on Christmas, and myth or not it will always be framed by lights and love, hopefully bringing awe to children’s eyes and joy to the hearts of all.

Happy New Year to everyone, may it bring you happiness and lead into another wonderful midwinter celebration of Christmas!

The Truth About Bullies

Bullying-GettyImagesI have been targeted by bullies most of my life.  That may come as a surprise to those who have confided that they found me intimidating prior to getting to know me.  I credit these opposing ideas to the fact that I am typically the quiet person in a room.  For some, being quiet is a sign of weakness; for others, a sign of strength and confidence.  In school, the quiet loner is typically the target of bullies – and, from my experience, the same holds in the world of adults.  My lifetime of dealing with bullies has proven one thing – the idea that they are strong is a complete fallacy.

Continue reading “The Truth About Bullies”

ON Our Un-Civil War

Comments on the social media have become so inflammatory one wonders what has happened to civilized discourse. Most disturbing are those on the far right threatening civil war, essentially stating they have armaments and would not hesitate to attack fellow citizens in order to rule the country their way. On the opposite plain are the far left, answering that they also are armed and prepared to fight back. All this testosterone may sound strong, macho and “romantic”, but it also points out our ignorance of the ramifications of war. Good lord, we have seen the results of genocidal wars, religious wars, our own civil war….which, unfortunately,

Brother against brother in our Civil War

only those interested in history and how it affected the common person have a clue regarding the cost to our citizenry. War, to repeat a famous iteration, is hell. Children are killed, women are raped and killed, the so called soldiers seem to enjoy torturing those they capture, and your very nice, human neighbor becomes an inhumane killing machine.

The majority of our citizens, whether leaning left or right, want a pleasant life: housing, groceries, security, a good job, and the ability to assure their families are well cared for.

Mayhem during WWII
WWII death and destruction

After WWII we seemed to have learned the lesson of helping surviving states to rebuild and help their citizenry prosper, seeing that as a road to peace and a pleasant life for all world citizens.

Along the way there were many missteps, including the McCarthy witch hunts, unnecessary wars (or police actions), and ignoring the needs of our own underclasses. Nevertheless we made progress, finally separate but equal was addressed as the false equivalence it was, women were making incremental advances in the work force, females were given more control over their lives and their bodies.

As a young child I was taught civility, politeness and respect for others. I loved studying our history, good and bad.  I was aware of some of the arguably evil things our forefathers accomplished, but saw how those actions were balanced by moving forward toward more humane policies and better understanding of our neighbors, those on our block and those across the water.  After learning about the holocaust Holocaust Victimsand how thousands of innocent people suffered torture and brutal death it was hard to imagine how an entire nation could allow that.  The unimaginable is becoming more imaginable, and one can see the depth of the rot within. Over and over I have read or heard that our country could not, would not, be overturned by outside attack. We could only lose our freedom from forces within. Those inner forces are what turned Germany into the dark nation the world had to overcome, those same inner forces are evident today, dimming the light of our once bright land. I can only pray that Lady Liberty’s torch will one day be the brilliant symbol of hope that it once was.

Lady Liberty

“And how can we ever get back from this dark place? From this childish, binary way of engaging with and talking about those we disagree with? How do we live with those who have embraced this breakdown of civil society to such an extent they feel free – emboldened even – to express their racism and anti-Semitism, their misogyny and homophobia, their angry, righteous ignorance publicly and with impunity? I really grieve for what has been so carelessly and thoughtless thrown away. For all those carefully constructed bridges between people, communities, countries, ways of life and thought, which have been burned, or are about to be burned, down. So when I look to the future my question is; will it ever again be possible for us not to be angry all the time?”

From an article in The Irish Times

Eimear McBride is the author of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing and The Lesser Bohemians. She has won the Goldsmiths Prize, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Desmond Elliott Prize and James Tait Black Memorial Prizee.

The “Squad”

The media creates “a star”, the public embraces the concept, and here we go again. The news hawks realized after 2016 that there were many missteps in their coverage of our presidential election, not the least in giving Donald Trump a load of free advertising during the primaries while screaming about Secretary Clinton’s e-mails from day one until the final defeat of political norms and civil discourse. Many claimed to have learned their lesson and would take more care…not happening. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tugged at news people’s heartstrings when such a relatively inexperienced young woman unseated a long standing (male) democratic Representative. I was one of her applauders, happy for all the women who won, therefor upping the percentage of female representatives in Congress. She was lucky to be in a very blue district, which was not true of other freshmen elected on the Democratic ticket.  This made theirs a harder fight and a more tenuous seat to hold at the next go round.

So here she is, a freshman congresswoman meeting other freshmen for the first time. Lo and behold, she meets 3 women with like minds, and, similar to girls entering high school, forms an in group which she proudly calls the squad. All of that Four Freshmenis fine, if a bit girly and immature. Hopefully the squad will listen and learn?…not happening. Centrism is anathema to the squad, and best to bulldoze it to the ground immediately and force the house to bend to their agenda.

When I was in graduate school one of the lessons that came across loud and clear was “learn the norms, the boundaries, the rules first, then find out how far, in which direction, you can stretch them and carefully expand the territory”. Those who went in with a meat cleaver generally created a mess, kind of similar to what the Tea Party ended up accomplishing with the GOP!

Representative Ocasio-Cortez started her new job by misspeaking numerous times. Just one example is her statement that the constitution was amended to “make sure Roosevelt did not get re-elected”. The amendment was proposed and passed two years after Roosevelt died in office! There were other incorrect statements, they can be found in fact checks on line. To give her credit, after running for office with a somewhat anti Speaker Pelosi attitude, she did vote for her in the house vote. But somehow she then expected Speaker Pelosi to bend to the “squad’s” agenda and ignore the concerns of their peers who overturned (for the moment) solid red districts!

The Speaker has been accused, by members of the “squad”, of disrespecting them merely because she pointed out that they were only four votes out of 435 total members or 235 Democratic members. One of the insinuations indicated it was because they were women of color. Never mind the other House Members of color who have been there for years, never mind her backing Obama and his legislation, never mind she is from one of the most diverse cities in the country.

Trump was elected because his followers felt Washington was “broken” and not working for them, look what that has done to the country. You claim the four of you were elected in order to upend the broken system, tearing it apart and beginning again.  Shouldn’t repairing the system be the goal? If you cause chaos you are a mirror image of the Tea Party, and look what they have done to the GOP. Freshman are there to learn, offer ideas, stand up for their constituents, and mature into theirThe Squad important (but not dictatorial) roles. Power does corrupt, please don’t allow the heady elixir of being elevated to a seat in Congress cause the four of you to feel the House needs to follow blindly where you lead. You are not Trump, and Democrats do not subscribe to cults and dictators. Visualize your perfect solutions, by all means, but for all our sakes listen to experience, and learn how to move the lines in your direction without hurting your fellow members abilities to maintain the majority, and without causing total destruction of our society….that is apparently Mr. Donald Trump’s job!

On Bernie and Joe

I am an eighty year old female, which may give the “valiant warriors” among us  reason to pull up the witch word, or worse. Such is the depths to which our societal discourse  has fallen when it comes to politics. I am eighty and have voted from the day of my twenty first birthday…you read it right, in those ancient times a person could not vote until they turned twenty one.  Looking forward to 2020 I am approaching an election wherein I may abstain from voting.

For the life of this flawed, sometimes misguided and hurtful, nevertheless wonderful country, we have been guided and legislated by white, generally middle aged or older, male citizens.  At least partially because of the threat to this norm we became saddled flag hugwith a sexist, corrupt, clumsy bully who wishes to be our dictator in chief, instead of the highly qualified, empathetic and knowledgeable woman who ran against him. Fast forward to today.

Who are the front runners for the Democratic nomination next year? Two very old white males. Mind you, I have nothing against the elderly since that is now my community, but we are talking about a person who will have to make instantaneous, strategic and well thought out decisions in a world that has totally changed in the last three decades. Nor do I have anything against white men so long as they park their egos and patriarchal tendencies (not their fault, society’s) under wraps and out of sight. I do have a problem with such entities grasping at their last chance to catch that golden ring and move into the White House.

Take Joe Biden. A very nice man who has caused mirth as VP with his misspeak, caused uneasiness with his personal space invasion issues, has sympathies for pro-life advocates with past discussions and policy decisions attesting to that fact.  After affirming his bidenfeelings on abortion he suddenly switched those views the following day because of backlash. He is “evolving” and plans to change with the changing times and norms. As an octogenarian I say if he has not evolved by now he is not ready to be in a position to govern this wide and diverse country. We don’t need someone planning to change the habits of 70 odd years as he moves into the presidency, we need someone already attuned to the times. We don’t even need someone taking us back the way were, we need someone who will pull us out of the quagmire and move the country forward.

Then there is Bernie, who promises free everything at no cost to the average citizen. Promises, promises. Listen well to his rhetoric, he is in fact the left side’s version of Donald Trump. Not as corrupt perhaps, but rather hypocritical since he presents himself as the common man. This common man owns three houses, with his vacation home on Lake Champlain reported to be worth six hundred thousand big bucks. In Bernie-Sanders-San-Diego-14fighting against the extension of Bush era tax breaks he stated “how many homes can you own?”  Apparently at least three. His actual wealth was not generally known until his last run for the presidency, when he tried to explain away that it was his wife’s money (he is officially a millionaire, based upon book sales).  His knowledge of foreign policy has always been suspect. Yes, he has studied our foreign relationships recently in order to be prepared for this run, but it argues that his in depth knowledge is lacking to a large extent. Aside from the nuts and bolts, he is old. He is three years my junior, and would hit 80 before being sworn in.

Trump is in his seventies and sometimes I could swear he is either entering dementia or on drugs the way he presents himself, the things he says. Reagan was in his  seventies while in office and aside from multiple operations and a cancer scare, one could see the early signs of Alzheimer’s before his presidency ended just by watching him give speeches recorded for television. I can say that with certainty because my daughter and I discussed that very possibility every time he came on during his last term in office.  We do not need another old man trying to lead this nation and often being led by unelected persons whispering in his ear.

As an octogenarian I ride my horse and do barn chores every day, but I am also much 20190121_162717more tired than at a younger age, take naps, walk more slowly on bad days, and find I have to work harder at some tasks than previously. Granted my mind is still working decently, as are the minds of these old men. However, the responsibility of helping our vast nation through ongoing crisis and trying to get legislation passed through diverse groups with opposite agendas has proved draining to even our younger presidents.

“Uncle Joe” may be comforting to some, “feel the burn” Bernie may sound like a great future to others. Bear in mind that nothing is free, everything comes at a cost, and as the saying goes be careful what you wish for. Personally, I wish for a president who is smart, practical, knowledgeable, presents well to our allies and is a formidable force against our adversaries. I would also like to see that person be something other than a middle aged (or older), white male. Our country needs to move forward, not backward, in order to reach the greatness that Trump has stolen from us. If someone of that ilk is chosen as the Democratic nominee, I will happily vote and spend the night holding my breath and crossing my fingers that our beautiful country will have that chance to move forward and prosper. If we go with the old white men, this old lady will give up and let the chips fall without her. Let America rise again, and be the leader this world needs and for which it hungers.

To the men …

As we approach the centennial of U.S. women getting the right to vote, the two leaders are white haired old men, and the media is filled with discussion of how the country is still not ready for a female president.  This nonsense only compounds my frustration with the lingering white male hierarchy.  I have long been tolerant of the minor sexist transgressions of men.  For many it has been a transition from how they were raised.  However, as the decades pass, with little change – and I get older – I find my patience wearing thin for the same old nonsense.

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against men.  I spent most of my youth mostly around men both gay (theater) and very macho (cowboys). Most of my best friends, throughout my life, have been men. But it is past time for some of those views of male superiority to end.  This is for those men.

To the man who tried to talk me into a custom tub to shower conversion, because “no shower pans exist with the drain on the left” – I suggest you try that line on someone who doesn’t spend nearly as much time at hardware stores as she does at the grocery store.  Since bathroom remodeling is your career, I know you are aware that these things exist.  Don’t ask me to pay more than I need to, just because you think I’m naïve.

To the man who called my tractor “cute” and decided he needed a bigger one – I have been waiting to see you do something with your tractor that I cannot do with mine.  I have yet to see it.  In fact, my tractor gets far more work than yours.  I sure hope that $7000 ‘testosterone tax’ you paid for your tractor was worth it!

From floor to ceiling, the tackroom that I built!

To the man who complemented the tackroom I built – your comments might have been more appreciated if they were not punctuated with so many notes of surprise.  It’s nice that you finally said you could not have done better – but why was there any doubt that I could do as well, or even better, than you?  You are not a builder by trade, so your only perceived advantage is your genitalia, and the inborn construction knowledge that is imagined to come with it.

To the man who asked if I had a man at home to use the tools I was buying – not only was I buying the tools for myself, but I actually know how to use them!  I have more tools than the majority of men I know, some of whom aren’t even familiar with what many of the tools do.  In fact, I have female friends who can say the same!

To the man who said that I can be “rather stubborn” about how I want my arena graded or my fences built – when you have spent forty years helping to build and maintain equestrian facilities, then you can come back and tell me how an arena should be prepared.  Just because  you have more muscle doesn’t mean that you automatically know more than me.

To the man who told me that I needed to act a bit more dumb and needy to get a man – why would I want a man who needed that?  I know that you meant well, as a friend; but did you really think about what you were telling me to do?  Why can men be who they are, and expect women to be attracted to them?  Yet we are expected to use makeup, change our behavior, even get surgery, if necessary – all to disguise who we really are, just to please you?

To the man who thinks that leadership equates to bullying – why are you still here?  The era of the tyrant leader ended a long time ago.  You dinosaurs, who use anger and fear as your leadership method, should have died out a long time ago.  The generations entering the workforce will make sure you do, as they will not tolerate it like their parents did.  Not only are women getting sick of it, but people of other ethnic backgrounds are also sick of your old white boy’s club mentality.  I may have walked away, but someone will rake you over the coals one day.

To the next man who says something that even remotely calls into question my knowledge, skill, or ability, with even a hint of it being about my gender – watch out!  My filters for that sort of thing are worn thin.  You might just be the recipient of decades worth of frustration in one go!

There are certainly many nice guys out there.  Some of those mentioned above are generally nice.  But the time of forgiving these antiquated notions of men being better at things simply by virtue of their gender – and acting surprised if a woman can manage on her own – needs to end now.  You’ve had decades to make the transition – your grace period is up!

Finding Daylight Again

The following is a guest post by my daughter, Lia, whose own blog has a horsey focus.

I was whacking the weeds that grow so high on our property every year.  It was a perfect spring day – warm, but with a cooling breeze.  The birds were active, tending to their new families.  All about me was green and teeming with life.  My hearing protection doubled as entertainment, as it streamed my favorite songs.  I was singing along, thinking of nothing in particular, when “Boston” by Augustana began to play.

“When flowers gaze at you
They’re not the only ones
Who cry when they see you
You said
You don’t know me, and you don’t even care
Oh yeah, you said
You don’t know me, and you don’t wear my chains
Oh yeah”

As I sang the words, I suddenly had a vision of another me, in another time, singing those same words.  That person was sitting in her car, in the office parking lot, crying and wishing she could just “get out of California … to leave this all behind.”  It was in that flash of memory that I suddenly realized just how long it has been since I had been ‘me’.

I am, naturally, a reserved person.  I am not prone to showing happiness as most would expect it to look – bubbly, with smiles and giggling.  I have been that way since our landlady told my mother she felt sorry for me, as a three year old, because I seemed too adult for my age.  I am a ‘perfect score’ introvert on the Myers-Briggs scale (or any other personality test, for that matter).  Yet, I am a joyful person.  I find joy in the nature all around me, in my activities with the horses, and in spending time with good friends.  I once had a job that brought me joy on a daily basis.

But on that day in 2006, when “Boston” brought me to tears, office politics was tearing apart that joyful job.  I wasn’t long off of my first, only, and failed, love.  That year also saw an injury that took six months recovery, the theft of heirlooms that cannot be replaced, and the death of a horse who had been an integral part of my life for over twenty eight years.  The attacks at work were just shit icing on a garbage cake.

What I realized, as the weeds were falling in front of me on this spring afternoon, was that I have been under a dark cloud since that day in the parking lot.  The intervening years held more significant losses, more significant injuries (including a fractured vertebrae that still reminds me of its presence), and more crap job situations.  I’d lost my best job, stagnated in the next job, worked myself sick over a major project, then was subjected to bullying and humiliation for nearly two years.

For those of you who have been through depression, you will recognize the description of a weighty dark cloud that shrouds everything you do.  Sure, there are moments of happiness.  In the midst of the more recent struggles with the job, I brought into my life a joyful fuzzy fellow who I credit with keeping me ‘off the ledge’ in recent years.  He never fails to bring a smile to my face.  But until the last few months, that smile was always under a shroud and short lived.

If you have never been truly depressed, it may seem hard to relate to what I’m saying.  My mother’s favorite admonition has always been “Just stop feeling that way!”  Wouldn’t it be lovely if it were that easy?  Certainly there are few of us who would choose that feeling as a way to be.  But when every day feels as though it will bring a new blow, and every brief moment of joy comes with the feeling that it only means something bad will follow, it is virtually impossible to will yourself out of it.

It would be putting it mildly to say that depression is a complicated state.  A recent article in The Atlantic addressed just how little science is actually sound about the causes and treatments for depression.  Many who try medication may have some short term success; but it often wanes over time.  I found that counseling gave me some solace, in validating what I was experiencing.  But it only allowed me to peek out of the cloud – it never made the cloud disappear.

I cannot pretend to have an answer to a problem that science has yet to crack; but I will offer one insight from my own experience.  Change something about your life!  It is easier said than done – but I believe it is the critical step in the process.  Look at the elements in your life – place, job, relationships, activities – try to find at least one that is causing you anguish, and get out!

For me that change has been a new job.  Nine months ago, the bullying at work was reaching a fever pitch.  I was very lucky to have a friend who just happened to be in a position to offer me a temporary out.  The day that came to pass, it literally felt like someone had lifted a fifty pound sack off of my back.  However, the path back from over a decade of depression is not that short, nor that straight forward.  The bullies were not out of my life entirely, and for each moment of sunshine that peeked through, they were there to bring the cloud back.  It would not be an ideal change – better to be completely away.  But we can’t always just “leave this all behind” so easily.

As time went on, the bullies became a smaller element in my life.  With them in the background, I slowly found my footing as the problem solver I once was.  I found I was back where I’d been in that dream job I’d once had – working with a team of like minded folks, helping others solve problems, and having people truly appreciate my contributions.  I became, again, that person who let problems roll away, like water off of a duck’s back – rather than struggling to keep from snapping as the problems seemed to mount at every turn.

If you have ever come out of a long period of depression, perhaps you will recognize what I am about to describe.  The cloud began to break apart before I was ever aware of it.  Good moments were countered with bad ones, but at a pace that decreased without my really registering any difference.  After all, the last decade plus had it’s brief bright moments, too.  But one morning I woke up, and everything was different.  I cannot tell you why or how – but everything that morning just felt brighter and lighter.

A few dark clouds occasionally floated by, after that – the bullies are still around – but they had no more power over me.  They just made small shadows as they passed through the sunlight.

That morning was remarkable, and still crystal clear in my memory.  To this day it puzzles me, as I cannot point to a specific event that preceded it.  But it was not until that afternoon of weed whacking that I realized how long that dark cloud had covered me.  It was not until that moment that I could look at the person of the past five months and realize that I had not known her for more than a decade.

My hope in writing this is that it may resonate with others who are stuck under their own cloud.  Or perhaps with someone who loves a person they know is under a cloud of depression.  First, I hope you take from this the fact that the cloud can be lifted – even if it takes more than a decade.  I am hear to attest that once it lifts, your whole outlook can change dramatically.

How that cloud lifts will vary with each person, and their situation.  But I strongly feel that it will not lift if your life does not change.  I have seen many ‘self-help’ gurus suggest that you have to change your outlook, and that will change your life.  I am here to attest that this advice can actually make things much worse.  It places the burden upon a person who is struggling with their outlook – it makes it their fault, without taking into account anything that might have led to their outlook.  Instead, I say, “Change your life, and it will change your outlook.”  Find something to do that feels productive and making a difference, no matter how small it may seem to you.  It is likely the impact is more than you realize.

Most importantly, find people who feel that you are valuable, and make you feel valued.  It is far too easy to stay where you are, in the usual group of people.  I had many good and supportive friends in my previous situation, so that hardly seemed the problem.  But if you are all swimming in the same toxic soup, those friends only compound the very burdens you are struggling with.  I have not shed those friends – I balanced them out by adding people to my life who are, themselves, living in the sunshine.  They are not bubbly people – that can sometimes add to the burden of the cloud, rather than removing it.  However, they are collaborative, supportive, and share common goals.  They gave me the light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.  I had to find my own way out, but after too long navigating the curves in that dark space, I finally saw the direction out.

It is a strange feeling standing outside of that long tunnel, and looking back at my time within it.  The person I was, for over a decade, seems like someone quite aside from the person I was before, and am once again.  In over a half-century of life, I have certainly been through bad times, and had periods of depression.  But no other period lasted so long, nor made such a fundamental change in the person I am every day.  I can only hope that I have learned the lessons I am trying to share – that there will always be a light at the end of that tunnel, but when you are seeking it, you must first make a fundamental change in your life.  Oh, and that change I made – it recently became permanent.  Here’s hoping the effect of it is, too!