Careers: Making a Life vs. Making a Living

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Once upon a time, I worked as an employment counselor. As I work to restructure my life, I thought about employment counseling, the tools I used, and the people with whom I worked. Most of the people with whom I worked had fallen into unemployment. The reasons for their fall varied.

Many found themselves ambushed with a lay-off notice/being downsized (many had similar experiences to the lead character in the movie “Larry Crowne”). Others submitted retirement paperwork and discovered they’d lost their retirement savings or pension in a corporate sale (I’m reminded of the movie “Love Punch”). A few lost everything (in an accident, due to illness, or other catastrophe) (I’m thinking of “Henry Poole was Here”). A few job-hopped so much that as they aged and their charms became more dated, they were suddenly unable to recover. A few had opted for the fulltime mommy-track and when their spouse absconded with the family fortune, they came seeking the skills they needed to secure a job with a living wage…or two jobs at minimum wage.

One of the things I tried to do was encourage people to take the time to find a job that felt fulfilling to them, that gave them the sense they were doing something important and helping others. The counselors at the career center where I worked all encouraged clients to get on a career track that gave them a sense of making their life better, not just making a buck. We also advocated for living-wage jobs (jobs that paid enough to cover basic needs).

Granted, there are career surveys that have a lot of support from employment counselors. They line up the traits, character, and preferences of job-searchers with people in certain career fields. The more they match, the better it is assumed for the job seeker. However, when you consider that most workers (approximately 70% in surveys) state they are unhappy with their jobs, that route may not provide the best results.

One of the most in-depth (and time-consuming) options was presented in grad school as System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA). The newer version is described in the book The Power of Uniqueness: Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want To Be by Arthur F Miller, Jr., with William Hendricks. The technique is time-consuming, but worth the effort and I recommend it highly to anyone who is interested enough to make the time investment. In a nutshell that I’m certain sells the technique short, it’s about identifying your areas of giftedness and things that motivate you to help you identify a career that inspires your best.

A short-cut option we often used in our time-limited culture of career counseling was to ask people to consider this: most people, between ages 9 and 12, come up with an idea of a career they feel strongly attracted to. This is after the notion of being a pop star, astronaut, or perhaps a race-car driver passes. It could be inspired by a person in that profession, a random idea, a movie or book.

When I was in that age-zone, I had an amazing teacher. She was not the popular teacher. (I had the popular teacher the following year. He was, at best, condescending and emotionally abusive to the non-athletes in the class, but wildly popular among the athletic children.) Mrs. Turner was fair. Never giddy. She challenged all students to do better, behave better, live better. And one homework assignment was to imagine our grown-up lives and to describe how we made a living, including providing an example of a work product. For example, an aspiring airline pilot would describe the job in a few paragraphs and might create a flight log.

I took it seriously. I know that because many years ago, as I helped my mom sift through old papers, I found that assignment. Condensed, and to the best of my memory, here’s what it said.

Because I loved children and didn’t feel they got the respect they deserve, I wanted to be a teacher during the day.

Evenings I would work as a writer for a television show because I felt stories had the power to change lives.

Summers I would travel, explore new places, gather stories, and document my explorations to encourage others to get out to take the roads they hadn’t and to see the world. I thought it the best way to get to really learn about, and possibly understand, other cultures.

Although it was a bit ambitious – finding time to sleep and grade papers would certainly have presented challenges – the things I wanted to do as a child reflected core values that haven’t changed much.

I still believe in the importance of supporting and encouraging children. In my life and work I’ve done that by working with foster family placements; helping homeless families secure safe permanent housing; supporting youth and low-income parents as a therapist, career counselor, or educator; volunteering for Special Olympics and as a Girl Scout troop leader; and other ways.

Exercising my creativity through writing, story-telling, and other activities continues to uplift and fascinate me. As a fund-raising professional, I told stories to encourage generosity and wrote proposals for funding from many different sources. I’ve written newspaper columns, technical manuals, newsletters for multiple nonprofit agencies or programs, and I write and read nearly every day.

My dad loved to find and explore roads he’d never traveled, and travel remains a joy for me. Though most of my journeys have been on the continental US or Hawaii, my road trips have taken me to every state in the continental US except Maine, I’ve seen some amazing places. I also had the privilege of working and living in Hawaii for 10 years.

So, from someone who worked in the field of employment/career counseling, I think we all could do better when it comes to finding careers and making time for our passions. One way to do that would be to look at what was important to you as a child, the core values those desires arose from, and think about ways to incorporate those values in your work, volunteer opportunities, or daily life.

It’s another part of healthy self-care.

A Surprise Visitor

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Those days. It was one of Those Days. One of those rare stretches of time without a lot scheduled and when the grandsons had other activities that didn’t require my presence.

I remember the early morning because the heat wasn’t working in the locker room after my early-morning water aerobics class, and the fan blew in the 40-degree dawn air from outside. By the time I showered and shivered into clothes, I could only think of hot coffee, so headed for the nearby Starbucks.

Morning coffee: an indulgent luxury for no-rush-days when the aroma and the first sip receive their deserved savoring. The steaming almond-milk latte did not disappoint me, so I took my time. Checked a few errands off my To-Do list.

When I returned to a 60-degree house, I grabbed my Kindle full of books and carried my laptop to the sun-blasted patio where 65 degrees of direct sunshine warmed me.

Ah, the difference between a protected spot in the sunshine and a chilly desk chair inside…

Before I could open the laptop, I thought about my grandmother. She would have loved that brilliant day.

Grandma Isabel lived with us from the time I was 5 years old, and every morning she filled a mug with coffee, lightened with 2 spoons of sugar and a large dollop of evaporated milk, and carried it to the front porch. She sat there in an Adirondack chair for an hour or two. No gaming device or cell phone on her lap. No book or newspaper.

When my cheeky 6-year-old-self asked her how she could tolerate all that boring time doing Nothing, she informed me she wasn’t doing Nothing and was never bored. She described Noticing. She suggested observing the birds stretching their wings and singing to one another, the cars zipping or crawling by on the busier streets a half-block away, the plants dancing under the weight of insects skittering about, folks pulling into the nearby church parking lot, dew on the grass, children heading to school or parents dressed for work, the wind pushing treetops back and forth. Everywhere she looked, she saw Life, and all of it seemed Special.

Ten years later, after she passed away, I would sometimes sit in one of those chairs on the porch, just noticing things. It surprised me to learn how much of what happened around me I had missed.

But that day, a few short weeks ago, I sat outside, ignoring my electronics while I watched a flock of birds as they made figure-eights toward the southwest. A raven sitting on a nearby power line made shocked noises. Aircraft passed over at high altitudes, leaving their white trails in their wake.

Suddenly, a small group of smaller birds scattered amid a lot of squawking.

From the north, a hawk swooped in, landing about 20 feet away from me on the back fence. I’d read stories about coyotes and other small creatures, displaced by human expansion into what was once their territory, wandering into neighborhoods on this rocky side of Ventura County, but the hawk was an unanticipated visitor.

Standing with it’s brilliant rust-colored chest facing toward me, I never even thought to grab my phone to try to get a photo. Somehow, I knew my time with this large hunter would pass quickly. In my limited reality, the word Awesome came to mind to describe the event. The hawk, judging by the foliage behind him, stood about 18” high. He (I’m assuming, because of the striking color of his feathers), paused for a few seconds, hopped and spread its wings, dipping over the fence and out of sight.

It took a while for me to trudge through websites to find the Red Shouldered Hawk. I almost forgot the incident.

A few days ago, though, I heard a screeching cry from above and watched smaller birds scatter. I stopped everything to look around, hoping to see the visitor again. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Still, I appreciated the pause and the reminder to savor each moment.

Making Adjustments

Sometime around junior high school I began to hear people talk about their Plan. The Life Plans included attending XYZ college or university or a job/career path they envisioned, the vehicle they planned to drive, the number of children they would have. Their confidence shook me a bit because my family seemed more seat-of-the-pants when it came to living. Initially that embarrassed me a bit.

If you’ve seen the movie “My Life in Ruins,” one character asks, “How do you plan Life?!” That line resulted in a kind of benevolent flashback to my childhood. At any family event, some new- or non-family member would approach one of us kids and ask the obligatory question, “And what are you going to be when you grow up?” In response, any older family members within earshot would snort. Not surreptitiously. Full throttle. When the stranger looked surprised, an elder, typically a great aunt, would shake their head, and snap, “They’ll BE adults. How do you plan life?!”

My dad apprenticed as a machinist in his teens because nobody would let him live with them rent-free after he dropped out of high school. The machine shop was the first place that would hire him. He caught on quickly, left the job to enlist during WWII, and eventually bought the business. When I asked him if machinist or business-owner were careers from his Life Plan as a kid, he laughed. Really laughed. “I was just hoping to survive, punk.”

The same with my mom. She took “secretarial science” in high school and accepted the first job offer she received, in a law office. If that did not work out, her backup plan involved joining a contemplative convent and avoiding humans as much as possible. Soon after my parents married, mom quit working outside the home and spent the rest of her life surrounded by humans.

As far as I could tell, my parents and my grandparents, along with all the great aunts and uncles I knew, invested little energy in Life Planning. They took a step or two and made adjustments. Rent a small house. Have a baby. Adjust. Have another baby. Adjust. They worked incredibly hard, took responsibility for themselves and for helping others, and followed some guidelines they’d inherited. My dad’s big Life Rules were (1) pay yourself first (put 10% into savings), (2) next, take care of survival needs (keeping a roof over your head), and (3) pay the damnbills (keep the lights and water on, put food on the table, pay the bare minimum for necessary clothing and transportation, donate to important causes), and (4) whatever’s left can go for Fluff (entertainment, car expenses, eating out or treats, other non-necessities).

Dad practiced what he preached. Whether they wanted something small, like new garden tools, or something big, like a new car, dad put extra money into savings – equivalent to what they might make in weekly or monthly payments. When they had the $$, he paid cash. (I still think that’s amazing, though I know previous generations didn’t have as many choices as the generations starting with Boomers. Still, I wish I had soaked up more of their financial discipline!)

Their more relaxed approach to planning seemed a bit old-fashioned to me as I approached my teens, but looking back, I’m a little jealous of their faith. Mostly I’m jealous because I lived in a mainstream world where Life Plans appeared both Normal and Necessary. However, my Plans (even ones I accomplished) never seemed to work out the way I expected. Failing to achieve the expectations led to suffering. Eventually, I realized when I made difficult decisions, even a “wrong turn” generally did not lure catastrophe to my door.

Recipes flopped. Good bosses left the company. Job offers fell through. Relationships disintegrated. Friends turned into enemies. Family relocated. Pandemics erupted.

Life gets messy and I’m realizing that both the trying-times and the glorious-days usually happen, plan or no plan.

It’s good to have the backup of a downloaded map or a road atlas before a road trip, it makes sense to study hard and to prepare for the rigors of medical school if you want to be a Medical Doctor, and I still believe it’s good to have personal goals as we move forward in life. However, for me, attachment to Big Plans brought me to my knees more than once. And when it started to hurt or the hanging-on felt like a trap of my own making, I eventually learned to loosen my grip a bit, to look at it from another perspective, to be willing to let go or to hold on, to make decisions based on what felt the most loving and for the good of all. I learned to trust that every experience came with possibilities for growth. More on that another time.

Before I create a few goals for each year, I consider:

  1. what makes me happy and how I can spend more time doing more of that,
  2. if I can find a way to generate income or good doing what I enjoy, and
  3. asking for advice, but always weighing my own counsel most heavily (it’s my life).

And even though planning for every contingency is too time consuming, the willingness to adjust goals and hold loosely to expectations has given me a lot of peace…and a few good laughs.

You deserve peace and joy. Whatever your goals (or plans), may you find the path that serves you and those around you with joy. And may you have the strength to make adjustments to keep yourself at peace and your life flowing with ease.

May you be healthy, happy, safe, and strong. You deserve it.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional advice. If you are in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[i] If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline[ii] to connect with someone who will have your best interests at heart. Your tender heart deserves respect.

Copyright 2021 D.R. deLuis


[i] One potential resource for finding an affordable counselor is www.opencounseling.com and most communities offer a 2-1-1 number where you can get info on local resources.

[ii] If you’re uncomfortable speaking with someone, try reaching out to the Crisis Text Line. In the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808. To speak with someone, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.

The Virus and Me

Yes, several weeks ago I tested positive for COVID-19.

My plan to follow guidelines with scrupulous care and therefore safely avoid getting sick did not work. Lots of other people refused to wear masks or did not wear them properly so I quit shopping in most markets and opted for contact-less pickup or delivery, though it really strained my budget. Still, essential workers in the home had to work and even the most careful folks can end up beside someone at work who unknowingly breached safety guidelines. Grandchildren had to attend school and that opened the door to other potential virus connections. While I avoided social interactions, a forgotten rapid stranger-encounter may have occurred at exactly the worst time.

And so it was, while cooking soup one night, I grabbed extra spices because the simmering mixture on the stove didn’t taste like much of anything.[i] A passing grandson commented, “Wow, that smells really good!”

Ding-ding-ding. Who would think my wake-up call would come as I stood over the stove?!

I quickly realized I could not smell anything and that my taste buds seemed to have sheltered off-site. However, I checked my temperature repeatedly and it remained normal, I didn’t have a cough or chest pains, and I believed my fatigue and crankiness related to not sleeping well. Out of concern for others, though fairly certain I did not have COVID-19, I decided to go to a drive-up location to test, just in case.

That old saying, ‘When it rains it pours,’ comes to mind. In one 7-day span, I tested positive for the virus that devastated the world, got knocked over during a windstorm (with 75mph gusts) by a large flying trampoline (true, I swear) (family rescued me from the wannabe-fighter-jet), and somehow found time to break a tooth. No emergencies (and I’m getting better at crafting temporary dental fillings), but responsible medical and dental offices don’t want to treat folks who tested positive for the virus. Beyond that, some offices request a lengthy wait after the end of symptoms and want proof of a negative test, something the health department said could take weeks or months.

In short, it has been quite an eventful period for me. I want to blame the moon or stars, scream about bad timing and stinky luck, but sometimes the unexpected happens. Somehow, we humans, graced as we are with resilience, move on after we adjust. And perhaps, in those adjustments, we learn.

Here’s what I’ve learned about self-care from my experience:

Paying attention to our body and our needs is really important. The virus delivers different symptoms to different people, behaving in both kooky and horrifying ways. It appears I got the kooky-version and I’m so thankful that I seem to have bounced back. I’m thankful my immune system was up to the task. I felt “off,” but it took me I-don’t-know-how-many-days to catch on. During those-days I pushed aside the fatigue instead of slowing down. New practice: I’ve set aside a minute, twice a day, to check-in with my body through a quick head-to-toe scan.

We can do our very best to follow the rules and still get sick. It’s tempting to give up. However, it’s important for everyone to suck it up and continue to do our best to follow safety guidelines to protect ourselves and others. For info, follow your local health department online, or visit the websites for the CDC[ii] and WHO[iii] to review their guidelines. New practice: once or twice a week (not 20-times daily) I check for updates in public health guidelines, vaccine availability. Every day I continue to show I care about myself and others by following those guidelines.

My experience is that time invested in worry is not well spent, except when it motivates us to do better. My suggestion is to redirect any time devoted to worrying into whatever informs or uplifts you, and that we all continue to behave as if we treasure our life and the lives of those around us. Every evening I check in, asking myself: What did I do for the good of others? What did I do for fun?

Late last week I tested negative and now have medical and dental appointments.

As far as losing my senses of smell and taste, I’m hopeful for their full return. I can smell some things now (like lemons, bananas, and eucalyptus) but the scents fade quickly. On the bright side: my grandsons’ notorious little-boy-farts do not bother me. 😊 Nuts and cinnamon, favorites of mine, do not register. Even expensive coffee tastes bitter and burnt so I’m having fun exploring teas. On the amazing side: sunflower seeds, soy sauce, raspberries, my favorite (Miyoko’s) non-dairy cheese, and Medjool dates have super-charged swoon-worthy taste.

Life is like that, right? Those unexpected challenges feel like losses or “bad luck,” but often something else awakens if we pay attention. So, please pay attention. Treat yourself and your communities with the gentleness you deserve. Take odd symptoms seriously. Limit the suffering.

You deserve peace and joy. May you have the strength to keep yourself safe, may you walk in strength, and may your life flow with ease. You deserve it.

May you be healthy, happy, strong, and safe.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures, treatment, or medical advice. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional services. If you are in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iv] If you are considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline[v] to connect with someone who will have your best interests at heart. If you feel adrift and need help such as supplemental food, try calling 2-1-1. Most communities in the US use this number to connect callers to a resource directory and some offer the service online as well. If you feel ill, please contact a medical professional. Your tender heart deserves respect.

Copyright 2021 D.R. deLuis


[i] I routinely use a tasting-spoon that never touches the stirring-spoon or what I’m cooking. I also wash my hands far too often when handling food, but I like to think that’s a safety-first attitude rather than OCD-ish trait. 😉

[ii] Visit the CDC website for additional info at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/need-to-know.html

[iii] Tips from the World Health Organization are available here: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

[iv] One potential resource for finding an affordable counselor is www.opencounseling.com and most communities offer a 2-1-1 number where you can get info on local resources.

[v] If you’re uncomfortable speaking with someone, try reaching out to the Crisis Text Line. In the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808. To speak with someone, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.

Off-Path Interlude

Several weeks ago I developed a few mild symptoms that I didn’t pay attention to, and a few weeks ago I tested positive for COVID-19. My symptoms remained mercifully mild and hanging out by myself to take naps felt somewhat like the kind of vacation I should have rewarded myself with years ago. The lingering fear, though, and knowing it could go downhill quickly, kept me on edge.

Thankfully, everyone who lives in my house is currently healthy. My isolation period ended some time ago. Though I’m still cautious and a bit nap-prone, I didn’t plan to write about this at all until a few days ago.

While waiting for my no-contact grocery order, I sat in my vehicle at a local market, mask on, windows half-down to enjoy fresh air on a warm-enough afternoon. I heard someone in the parking lot holler to another person, presumably a friend, “Do you know anyone who has actually tested positive for covid?”

I turned to observe, drawn by the topic. Both folks, dressed casually, appeared to be in their 30s. The second person shrugged and yelled, “No. Not a single person. You?”

The first person sounded disgusted. “Nope.” And, after a pause, shouted, “This is ridiculous. A scam. I’m tired of this bullsh*t.” The other person said, “We’re young, we’d never get it even if it was real.” For a moment I thought about shouting at them Oh, it’s Real! but my grocery order arrived and I popped the trunk so the friendly shopper could stow my items.

I remembered my parents’ terror during the polio epidemic. We went from going to the local lake every weekend from Spring through late Autumn as toddlers to staying home all the time. My dad, tired of feeling exiled, initiated family Sunday Drives then to avoid going stir-crazy. During those early drives, we had zero opportunities to leave the vehicle, but they still felt like freedom.

At that time, everybody seemed afraid of polio. Nobody thought it a scam or created in a lab or the work of uber-wealthy folks. If they did, they certainly didn’t say it aloud.

When the latest (Salk) vaccine was announced in the mid-1950s, my brother and I were barely walking and my mother admitted she remained deeply suspicious because early vaccine versions had problems.[i] However, around that time the daughter of a close family friend contracted polio, and at age 4 Nancy ended up in an iron lung.

My father took me and my brother to get the polio vaccine a couple years later at an overflowing city-wide event hosted by what would become the March of Dimes. Doctors and nurses handed out information and administered vaccinations. Mom stayed home, worried. But though Nancy was a couple years older and I’d only been allowed to talk to her from a distance, we considered ourselves friends. Dad told me to be brave for her because “Nancy’s dad said he would never forgive me if I didn’t get you kids vaccinated.

Our families connected periodically, always at Nancy’s house because she needed her iron lung[ii] to survive. At some time after being vaccinated, dad and mom approved of me connecting more closely with Nancy. Sometimes I brushed her hair, but mostly we talked a lot about what we would do when she could run again, the freedom of double-digit ages, how she would never complain about having chores, how she imagined her ponytail flying behind her as she sprinted down the block and I chased her on my bicycle. When we drew pictures of that future, Nancy sketched with a pen in her mouth. I never imagined she would die at the barely-double-digit age of 10, before her dream of running again came true, but I learned life is precious and fragile. When I think of her, though, even now, I see her running so fast her long ponytail is airborne behind her.

Her parents disappeared from our lives after Nancy’s death. My mom told me that the family had lost most of their friends when she contracted polio and that people gave them a wide berth, leaving them feeling a bit adrift. All I knew was that they had moved on.

And that day, sitting in the market’s parking lot, I moved on, heading home with my groceries. I thought about how people may have unintentionally shamed Nancy’s parents and how lonely they must have felt after she contracted the disease. And then I wondered how many people now know someone who tested positive for COVID-19, but the person quietly isolated and didn’t share the info.

After all, folks who get ill have additional worries, more pressing than how to deal with potential unfair judgement, like how to protect others while they recover and surviving the virus. Some, like essential workers who can’t afford to stop working, admit feeling guilty about taking the risk, even when they’re wearing PPE and scrupulously following protocols. Others feel shame because some folks invariably assume those who got ill did so because they didn’t take precautions. Add to that a sufficient number of general nay-sayers, like the folks I observed. It’s not so simple as it seems.

From the polio epidemic, I remember the fear of the disease and, later, the relief about the vaccine. But for the record, if anyone asks you if you know anyone who had the virus – and you didn’t know anyone before – feel free to say you know of this grandma who had COVID-19.

More next week on my kooky symptoms, how that went, and what I learned from this unexpected off-path interlude.

Until then, may you find the flexibility to deal with those moments when life seems to go off the rails, adjust to the time away from your usual path, and still know contentment.

May you be healthy, happy, safe, and strong. You deserve it.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional advice. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iii] If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline[iv] to connect with someone who will have your best interests at heart.

Copyright 2021 D.R. deLuis


[i] There are many more complex explanations and histories, but this easy-to-read and brief article shows people had reason to worry at that time. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/salk-announces-polio-vaccine

[ii] For more info on this device and photos, see https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/01/what-america-looked-like-polio-children-paralyzed-in-iron-lungs/251098/

[iii] One potential resource for finding an affordable counselor is www.opencounseling.com and most communities offer a 2-1-1 number where you can get info on local resources.

[iv] If you’re uncomfortable speaking with someone, try reaching out to the Crisis Text Line. In the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808. To speak with someone, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.

Why Self-Care?

A few years ago, sitting with a client, I posed an often-used query in response to their lengthy merciless explanation about how they got evicted. Their self-judgment far exceeded what I felt they deserved. What, I had often asked, would you say to a good friend who had that same experience?

At that moment it occurred to me that I rarely, if ever, followed that advice. I would make flippant remarks like How much worse could it get? When dating I’d comment wryly I seem to have an invisible-to-me “Weirdos-Only” tattoo on my forehead. When I had a bad day at work, I’d drag myself to my car, sit and mutter, I should have done better; I could have done more. Instead of getting more rest, though, I pushed myself. Always, push-push-push. Longer work hours, time off only to visit family rather than places on my wish list. Eventually something would happen: a torn ligament, food poisoning, a virus that knocked me off my feet. And those were the only times I really took a moment to pause.

A year or more before I left my job to care for my grandkids, I realized I needed to do better with self-care. I returned to meditating and creative writing, knowing that for me they worked well. Days that started with meditation and included time for writing consistently ended with me feeling more content or at peace and less scrambled.

Recently I listened to someone preaching about other-care and how self-care turns us into selfish little beasties. They’d heard this at church and I realized that at one time in my life, I thought that might be true. But from the perspective of the last few years, looking back over decades, I see my lack of self-care created more suffering, rather than less, for others. Caring for an abusive spouse, for example, served no good purpose (he could never feel satisfied so expanded his abuse to include others). Working such long days that I stumbled in a daze through my off-hours: no good purpose (my best work occurred on days when I felt rested).

That’s how the self-care journey started. And it faltered. Most of us stumble now and then, either over an obstacle or because we weren’t paying attention. After pauses, I started again. Eventually the missteps morphed, in my perspective, into learning excursions.

And that’s how I realized the importance of self-care. Writing about it, even just once a week, helps me because it’s not something that comes naturally to me. My life, particularly since the pandemic started, remains chaotic. My old routines have shattered. Building new ones hasn’t worked well. Learning to go with the flow: Eek! I’m getting better at it.

Making time for things that help me feel calm and aware, I’ve noticed, also make me a better person. More patient. When I lose patience, much quicker to realize what I’m doing. More loving. More likely to use statements like “I feel attacked when you raise your voice like that” than “Why the hell are you YELLING?” Nothing big, right? But it feels big. Different. Better for me and those around me.

As a child I adapted to situations. As an eldest child, I never questioned my responsibility to care for others before care of self. Sometimes caring for others makes sense: children need nudges and protection and a lot of support. But we all deserve enough time to feel rested, calm, content, at peace with our lives and who we have become. In a culture where we have so much, I remain convinced that self-care (not to be confused with a sense of entitlement) makes us better people.

We all deserve the gift of time to engage in activities that uplift and fulfill us (without causing harm to others[i]). Whether it’s meditation or taking a walk, dancing or listening to music, journalling or writing a novel, slowing down or speeding up, solitude or time in a crowd, staring at the ocean or skiing … find a way to incorporate what fulfills you into your life.

That can feel daunting. Most of us have limited resources. Exercising your creativity may help.

For example, some venues rely on at least a few volunteers and by volunteering I’ve been able to attend events (fairs, theater productions, speeches, expos, community events) free that I otherwise couldn’t afford. I’ve also known folks who started side businesses that filled their lives with joy. A social worker I knew wanted to travel, so started a travel company providing unique small group tours to distant destinations for people with physical or other limitations who were unable or uncomfortable traveling alone or in large groups.

The old airline guidance about putting on your own oxygen mask first still stands. Take care of yourself. You deserve it. And it will give you the strength and courage to be there for others in your world.

May you find the time to do what uplifts and comforts you. May you discover resources to support your journey. May you remember to support others, too, on their journey.

May you be healthy, happy, strong, and safe.

Copyright 2021 D. R. deLuis

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions/experiences nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. This is intended to uplift and educate, not as counseling or professional advice. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[ii]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[iii] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.


[i] By causing intentional harm, I refer to actions like leaving children unsupervised, violence to self or others, and exercising prejudices like racism, sexism, fat-phobia, anti-LGBTQ+, ageism, and others.

[ii] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[iii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. To reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Magic and Family

Before the sun began to set on New Year’s Eve, my kindergarten-age grandson came to talk to me about the celebration. His normal bedtime had been extended to 9:30 p.m. so he could watch the ball drop in Times Square, New York. His excitement nearly overwhelmed him. He got to celebrate with the adults! His older brother would be there, too, of course. The grandpa who grew up in NYC, along with other family members, would join in via video chat, everyone watching the same celebration and everyone welcoming the new year on Eastern Standard Time.

We had hats, snacks, masks, and noise makers at 4 sites with groups varying in size at each location. In previous years, we would have confirmed the plans for a family dinner the following day and the exuberant uncle would have unveiled some not-quite-legal fireworks, but both the family meal and the explosives got tabled. Instead, we all sat together virtually for several minutes before tuning in to the hubbub from Times Square. We wore our silly headgear and paper new year “glasses,” distributed virtual hugs and whoops when the ball fell.

Although the grand-kids asked, predictably, if they could stay up a bit longer, they didn’t put up much of a fight before they crawled into bed and drifted quickly off to sleep. My older grandson commented about the “magic” of the night – good snacks, connecting with family miles away, wearing silly hats, batting around balloons, blowing little noise-makers, and celebrating with strangers who stood on a cold street a couple thousand miles away.

It did have that air of special times that quickly dissolve into day-to-day struggles.

And so many people I know struggle right now. Several friends find themselves – or their households – challenged with illness. The current virus is a big threat, but all the other typical cold-weather illnesses, plus a few surprise visitors, have moved into friends’ homes. What I hadn’t realized, even in my care to follow health guidelines, is that when one or more household members becomes ill, regardless of the cause, others become more vulnerable AND they must pick up more responsibilities. In those overwhelmed homes where nobody has the spare cash for housekeepers or part-time caregivers, people struggle. Moments remain guarded, in some cases contact must be avoided, sharing of bathrooms and kitchen facilities discouraged. That makes life even more challenging for everyone.

Where, I wondered, do any of us find magic moments, particularly in disarray and when we’re beyond tired?

Two things have helped me through a recent period when everybody in the house contracted an illness. One is the simple reminder that, though we look for happy-happy days, struggling is part of life. A deep breath. I am suffering. Just acknowledging that helps. I do not suffer alone; many others are suffering. Knowing it’s not just-me helps. May I be kind to myself. (For more details on this easy exercise, visit https://self-compassion.org/exercise-2-self-compassion-break/.)

Another thing that has helped me, I’ll call serendipity. It could also fall under mindfulness, but seems equally accidental and precious.

As I sat writing, a small hummingbird bypassed the feeder I tend to and instead hovered about 6 inches from my window. Having logged many hours on cool days writing at the window, my portal to the micro-universe of the back patio and yard, that was the first time any bird did more than pass quickly by. This little hummer lingered for a few moments on the other side of the glass and seemed to watch me as I watched it in complete surprise. In the time it took me to remember my aunties telling me as a child that hummingbirds are signs of coming happiness and great joy, the tiny creature darted away. Perhaps it came to its senses or satisfied its curiosity or recognized its own reflection.

For me, though, on a tiring day, that flashy little creature reminded me of the recent celebration of a new year, glittery masks, goofy hats, happy kids, and all.

A lot has already happened since we celebrated that new year. From Hawaii, I carry the tradition of celebrating Chinese New Year. I may check the calendar for more. Not that we need an excuse to celebrate or seek magic and joy around us. It’s good to have a reminder, though, on days when harbingers of joy don’t stop by.

May you be greeted with joyful surprises. May you remember to appreciate the world around you. May others remember to appreciate you. You deserve to feel appreciated.

May you be healthy, happy, strong, and safe.

Copyright 2021 D. R. deLuis

Cloud Gazing

Near the beginning of each Spring, around the time the fog quit creeping across the valley, my slightly-younger brother and I devoted time to cloud-gazing. We’d find ourselves lured outdoors on warmish afternoons and stretch out on the greening grass, staring up at the sky, knowing full well those performance-quality clouds showed up only during the weeks after the last frost and before blazing heat blistered our sidewalks. More exciting, the limited-time activity arrived while weather reports told us folks on the Eastern edge of the of US still had to shovel snow. We loved the idea of playing in the snow, but our clouds brought magic. Oh, the things we would see!

Dancing elephants. Halloween masks and Santa beards and flying saucers. Books and frying pans and baseballs being torn apart as if clobbered by some celestial giant who had rounded the bases and arrived home before we could see her or him. We laughed at floating typewriters, upside-down dirigibles, and clouds masquerading as balloons. How many hours we invested each spring in gazing up and then imagining the shapes into people or objects seems impossible to calculate. Those hours, I’m convinced, were time well spent.

There’s something about taking time for imagining and dreaming, for just hanging around, even for not thinking about much of anything. Many of us practice mindfulness, and that’s a wonderful, portable, adaptable self-care activity whether we’re in the backyard sipping tea or warming up the kitchen by baking cookies. But just taking time for … nothing in particular … and treasuring it, moment by moment, without trying to fill it with screen-time or reading or chores. Ah, that’s heavenly!

My mom used to love crossword puzzles. She took breaks with the NY Times crossword and a pen, confident and focused. Stay-at-home moms back in my mom’s day did not worry about carpooling (everyone walked to school) or extracurricular activities (those were limited and also involved walking). In smaller homes, moms had some time for crossword puzzles and a daytime television or radio show or two. In contrast, last school year, before the pandemic, the daytime schedule, penciled in from dawn to dusk, opened small gaps (waiting for others) when I read news, checked social media, worked on crafts, and planned menus. It seemed, in those moments, a better use of time than gazing at the treetops as they changed through the seasons. The weekends filled quickly with shopping and preparations for the coming week.

In our busy culture, I think we’ve lost a lot when we ignore those opportunities to stop, take a breath, and wonder ‘what do I want to do right now?’ We lose more, I believe, when doing nothing leaves us feeling guilty, as if pausing is itself lazy, shows poor character, or otherwise indicates some weakness. Perhaps it’s healthier to consider that the pauses between words give us stories and the pauses between notes make melodies instead of staying busy trying to keep up with basic household tasks and making a living, without much thought to making a life.

This came to mind during the past week because of some protocols put in place to help the 3 people in the house who tested positive for the virus avoid close contact with the 2 people in the house who tested negative. Doing so opened a few gaps during which I had time to ponder.

It felt like a luxury. Like something I shouldn’t “waste” time on when there were things I could do. Still, I surrendered. One day I considered how my ideal life would look. Another day I recognized things for which I’m thankful. Walking in circles in the backyard and listening to a favorite podcast, I paused. I realized I didn’t have to rush to pick up someone from school or grocery shop. Instead, I stopped to feel the sunshine and listen to the roaring sound of the wind as it whisked through trees and shrubs and around buildings and walls. I turned off notifications for news, remembered a time when we all felt informed by watching the news once an evening. In those days, the Fairness Doctrine required facts and balance in reporting, so everyone heard the same facts and even though there were many opinions, nobody, except perhaps my off-the-grid uncle, argued with things like the integrity of election results.

Here is my unsolicited advice, based on my decades of experience rushing around trying to do it all:

Give yourself the gift of some free time. Let your mind wander, though living in a fantasy world isn’t what seems healthiest here. An acquaintance said she made Saturdays her days of rest from all electronics and that opened time for breaks and expanded her creativity. A family member mentioned going to a casino to just watch others fascinated her and left her feeling energized (hey, not my preference, but this is an individual activity!). Another friend loves trains and takes both long short rides – even on commuter runs – because he says the world looks different from that perspective.

That inspired me to consider my style of doing-nothing. While I trust we all have a gift for slipping into a pause-mode, my ideas centered on places. Those include the beach, a pond where ducks frolic, the plaza outside a nearby coffee shop where there are people and it’s easy to maintain a safe distance, a few parks where there are wide unpaved walking paths, the patio. Oh, and one day, I want to take my grandsons to try some cloud-gazing.

You deserve free time to relax, to just be you, to feel connected to the world, to see the world through new eyes, and to feel content.

May you be healthy, happy, safe, at ease, and strong. May we all be healthy, happy, safe, and strong.

Copyright 2021 D. R. deLuis


FYI: For updated coronavirus information, including where and when to test or seek vaccination, visit your local health department website. Free services are available in many locations. For more general info, check out the World Health Organization website at www.who.int, see what’s posted at www.cdc.gov or contact your family doctor for information and advice.

Unwelcome Visitor

In the middle of a pandemic, I realize it’s somewhat fanciful to think my household would make it through this relatively unscathed. We’ll all have scars from this. Disbelievers who swear it’s a massive hoax that took a mind-boggling amount of cooperation to launch and sustain will be forever looking over their shoulders for the next trick to be played on them. Folks who realize God (or perhaps accidental good sense) gave us science and one another for care and protection may rarely wake up feeling safe because the disbelievers will ignore their own safety at our peril.

But, yes, COVID-19, an unwelcome visitor, is in the house. Where I live, in a multi-generational household, I had hoped my diligence would be rewarded with a pass. You know, A Pass. Freedom from the virus because we mask-up when we’re off the property. For this elder, two essential workers, and two young children early in their elementary school lives who attended hybrid (in-person and on-line) classes, the Pass has been revoked.

While I’m still hoping to avoid symptoms, I’m keenly aware that being older and fat and identifying as Hispanic and not-a-celebrity and lower-income puts me in a category unlikely to receive full-throttle medical care should it come to that. In other words, to me the spread holds potentially dire consequences.

And I’m one of the lucky ones! I have health insurance. If I do need to see a doctor, I won’t need to rob a bank or win the lottery jackpot to cover the cost. In fact, instead of writing this morning, my intention was to contact my insurance provider’s “Advice Line” to explain the situation and get some pointers. All circuits are busy, that unwelcome phone voice tells me. Try again later.

So, instead, I took time to meditate, now I return to the power of words, later I’ll walk around the backyard listening to a podcast. And I’ll try again later.

As a young girl, I remember vague discussions about this shadowy thing the adults called The Polio Epidemic.[i] The grown-ups I knew seemed genuinely afraid, though I don’t remember a single person – even Uncle Eddie who everyone thought was crazy – believing it might be fake. Perhaps they were blessed with the lack of social media apps. My parents argued about the vaccine, my mom preferring that we all avoid the outside world (and, therefore, The Polio). The general warm-weather lock-down must have spanned a few years during which nobody knew much and everybody knew someone who had been devastated by the disease.

My dad put his foot down when the Red Cross launched a huge immunization drive. As a military veteran he had been subjected to vaccines and suspected that they may have helped his survival chances in faraway places. In spite of mom’s objections, he took my brother and me to a large auditorium where nurses in white dresses and doctors in white lab coats took information and mingled with what seemed like hundreds of children receiving shots. Dad said it was the right thing to do.  He reassured me with, “Sometimes you gotta trust experts and science, Punk.” He was right.

There are so many variables to control in this pandemic world. Do your best anyway. Logically, even if the sickness is indeed fake (even though a family member who tested positive a few days ago is coughing in a nearby room, with more family members on their way to be tested because one has symptoms), taking precautions violates no civil liberties. Washing hands, keeping hand sanitizer nearby, masking up (unless you have a legitimate medical reason not to), and keeping your distance from others are simple and effective strategies.[ii] If you’re upset at the inconvenience of masking up, find or make a badass mask to express your displeasure.

Self-care includes caring about yourself and others in practical ways.

I know we’re all tired from the restrictions and, personally, I’m so thankful for the folks who make contact-less pickup work and so exhausted from watching people flagrantly disregard safety precautions. Remember, even one hasty break from restrictions may have a nasty ripple effect. Even giving it my best shot – I’m fairly certain I’ve followed the guidelines consistently – there are no 100% guarantees. Right now, I have no symptoms, but I’m acutely aware of how vulnerable we all are.

Considering the well-being of others is the right thing to do, whether or not the dreaded virus is visiting your household and whether or not you think it’s real or a threat. Show a little respect.

That’s all I have to say right now.

May you appreciate your life, your body, and all living beings. May we all be healthy, happy, safe, and strong.

Copyright 2021 D. R. deLuis


[i] For more on the history of Polio (worldwide) and the use of the vaccine, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_polio.

[ii] For updated information, including where and when to test, visit your local health department website. Free testing is available in many locations. For more info, check out the World Health Organization website at www.who.int, see what’s posted at www.cdc.gov or contact your family doctor for information and advice.

Friendship Magic

Around this time of year, an old friend always pops into my mind. I think part of the reason is because Kay knew how to do holidays. Truly, she had a talent for making even little things special and her gift wrapping: sublime! She crafted bows of such artistry that they deserved a lighted display case at a Smithsonian Museum[i]. The rest of her life overflowed with substance, and lacked flash. Faith and family were her priorities. She dressed simply, seemed to avoid makeup, didn’t have expensive tastes, lived for pots of home-brewed plain-ol’ coffee, and prepared for all holidays with total abandon.

Prior to her cancer diagnosis, my little ragtag ‘ohana and her clan used to go out on picnics, bowling, have marathon board game sessions, or just hang out to eat and talk-story – always family style. She would volunteer to go early to pick out the best picnic table at a nearby park for our Easter feast and figure out the perfect time to attend fairs and community events. She cracked jokes with her husband, but as often sat quietly and observed others’ antics. She never asked for favors, didn’t depend on others for help. Without reservation, she treasured her daughter and son.

After the diagnosis, Kay started calling me for Adventures when she felt chipper. She rarely offered pleasantries and assumed I’d recognize her voice. My phone would ring. In those days “caller ID” cost extra, so on my shoestring budget I never knew who waited at the other end. I’d answer with a careful “Hello.” She would utter two words: “An adventure?” For some reason, good sense or my better angels would spur me to say, “Uh, yeah! What are you thinking?”

We enjoyed dozens of spur-of-the-moment adventures, most of them in southern Arizona.

We went to a Mariachi Festival where I stood about 15 feet away from the crowd and watched Kay twirl and laugh in the shade of an ancient tree. She stood within a yard or two of the musicians when she turned to me, grinning, and shouted, “I LOVE mariachi music!” Although we had known one another for years, that took me by surprise. How could I not know that?

We roamed Tumacácori[ii], looking at pottery and art and eating freshly made corn tortillas behind the museum/mission church. We went to rivers and hummingbird sanctuaries and monuments and museums tucked into the miles of mountains around Sierra Vista. We went to vineyards and toured wineries even though Kay didn’t like wine. We watched a ceremony in Skeleton Canyon (near San Simon) with the Buffalo Soldiers[iii] commemorating Geronimo’s surrender. We went to Mission San Xavier del Bac outside Tucson to pray and visited with a few local artists. We went to a ghost town (a trailer in the middle of nowhere that displayed items for sale on an honor system and offered free brochures that provided info/served as a warning system about the prolific local pit viper[iv] population).

There were a few longer journeys. We went to Disneyland once. When I picked her up at her house for the 7-hour drive and hastily arranged 4-day trip, I asked what her spouse said about the trip. He and I worked together; I didn’t want him upset with me. “Oh,” she chuckled, “I left him a note.” What?! We walked, talked, and laughed our way around the Magic Kingdom. We took a side-trip to wet our feet in the Pacific because we didn’t want any regrets during the journey back home.

There is one Adventure I most cherish, though. It had touches of spirit, magic, and the kind of trust that some friends share. This is one I keep thinking about.

If you’re at all familiar with the old War Chiefs, you’ve heard of Cochise. He’s apparently buried in an unknown and secret site up in what’s known as Cochise Stronghold or Cochise Memorial. The Stronghold, an oasis of sorts in a box canyon, sits in southern Arizona. On the way, Kay reminded me that she picked up a few things from her Apache dad (she didn’t connect as well with her mom, described as a generic-white debutante-type) before she informed me she wanted to go the Stronghold to find Cochise’s grave to have a little ceremony and pray. Now, lots of experts have tried, and failed, to find that grave, but … what the heck?! We went.

We took back-roads to the narrow lane into the canyon. That day, Southern Arizona looked like a drenched blanket. Mile after mile of craggy soaked land stretched out beneath an endless swath of dark clouds that dumped heavy rains and rattled teeth with thunderstorms. But Real Adventurers ignore minor inconveniences.

As we got closer to the Stronghold – me driving, Kay riding shotgun, my daughter in the back seat – we realized the pouring rain might interfere with our mission. We recalled a passage from the Bible – our version: “whenever two or more are gathered in God’s name, God is there” – and so we prayed for a break in the storm so we could enjoy the Stronghold and accomplish what had become our mission.

My grandmother used to call them “Angel Rays” – when light bounces through holes in the clouds. As we approached, an Angel Ray opened over the Stronghold and expanded. We recited my favorite prayer – Thank You – a few times and arrived at the one sunny spot we saw that day. All the campers and other visitors had fled, so we wandered the rocky, soggy area in peace. We trusted God or intuition or luck to guide our meanderings as the hole in the clouds above us began to shrink. We paused to talk about turning back, but Kay felt sure we were close. Another 20 yards and around a bend, we stopped.

The spot, scattered with trees, boulders, and small plants, transfixed us. The foliage danced in a sun-powered spotlight, a bouncy little breeze shook rain off the trees and shrubs while the rest of the area looked decidedly gray. Like something from a great movie scene, except this one belonged to Mother Nature without help from a fabulous special effects team, little bits of foliage and droplets of water from the leaves flitted around in this extraordinary golden light, surrounded by dark shadows around us that washed out the surrounding color.

We didn’t even discuss the location. While I stood aside, Kay led an informal, haphazard little ceremony. I didn’t ask Kay about her motivation. My prayer thanked Cochise for leading us to that beautiful place. She mentioned blessing him, his ancestors, and his descendants. She took a moment for silent reflection and asked that my daughter and I head back to the car. She promised to catch up.

My daughter and I moved as quickly as we could over soaked ground. The sun had disappeared behind charcoal clouds so when we reached the vehicle, we climbed in and sat with the engine idling, like a getaway car, heater running as we peered anxiously into the shrubbery until Kay appeared.

She scrambled into her seat, closed the door, and as the door latch clicked the clouds released a near solid curtain of water. We sat in the parking area and laughed as rain drummed that unique booming and soothing all-nature rhythm on the roof of the car.

Whenever this comes to mind, though I miss my friend who left this world shortly after that trip, I remember there is magic in this life. Magic in friendship. Magic in making time for adventures. Magic in nature. Magic in connecting.

I remind myself to cultivate a sense of wonder. To look for awe as a self-care practice. And to both acknowledge and treasure those moments.

So here’s my wish for you this year:

May you Appreciate What’s Around You. May you experience Joyful Adventures. May Magic and a Miracle or Two surprise you. May you enjoy Shelter from Life’s Storms. And may you Laugh in the Rain.

Copyright 2021 D. R. deLuis


[i] In case you’re not aware, and since I mentioned the Smithsonian, I feel compelled to mention the Smithsonian recently opened a new National Museum of African American Arts History and Culture. For info, visit: https://nmaahc.si.edu/.

[ii] For a bit more info about the area, including the very small unincorporated area and park, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tumacacori,_Arizona. The annual art festival offered a lot of diversion the first weekend in December, though check the schedule. Nearby Tubac also has a fun vibe and lovely art festival. For more info: https://tubacaz.com/festival-of-the-arts/.

[iii] For more information, one brief description can be found here: https://www.azcentral.com/story/travel/arizona/road-trips/2018/09/10/fort-huachuca-arizona-buffalo-soldiers/953088002/. A longer history is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_Soldier.

[iv] Primarily Western Diamondbacks (rattlesnakes).

Old-Year/New-Year

With the end of each calendar year some people look back in horror. Who could blame anyone this year for feeling challenged and drained? I think it’s safe to say very few of us approach any year-end without having lost something or someone dear and, along with that, we often lose some sense of comfort and peace. Change remains inevitable, though, and a year like 2020 packed enough challenges to knock some of us off kilter.

Some weary or introverted folks may greet the new year with quiet contemplation or much-needed rest. In spite of the danger, some of us will always prefer to go out with bunches of friends to either complain about the bad breaks of the old year or to jump for joy at the prospect of a new year. Whether taking time to commiserate or to celebrate, for the safety of us all, please plan ahead. Consider the purpose of your gathering so you can employ your creativity and make these rousing festivals virtual gatherings or outdoors distanced events. [i]

Though the past 12 months may have been trying, uplifting, or a bit of both, I’m hoping you’ll give some thought to how you’ll offer farewell to the old year and greet the new one. Rituals have a healthy place in most of our lives, so after the Thanksgiving Turkey and the Christmas Tree, crafting an Old-Year / New Year Ritual sounds like a good idea to me.

As a child, it seemed every adult I knew followed a similar Ritual every new year. They stocked up on their favorite alcoholic beverages, ice, and special (expensive) snacks they normally avoided. All shared their list of crazy resolutions, most of which failed at lightning speed. My dad’s resolution, several years running, was to quit drinking. That resolution lasted about 24 hours – or until he remembered he had received some quality booze for Christmas and ignoring it would insult the giver. Unforgivable! 😊 My mom’s resolution involved giving up either bread or coffee, both of which she loved. That lasted about 12 hours or until the new percolator or toaster she bought on sale after Christmas convinced her that abandoning her morning cup of “Joe” with toast would make the gleaming new appliances a waste of money. 😊 Sinful!

Studies now show that resolutions fail for most of us within a relatively brief period of time (a few weeks). When we “fail” at resolutions, we often judge ourselves harshly, blame ourselves, and end up mired in negative feelings.

Like my parents and many others, I haven’t excelled with things labeled Resolutions. However, a decade or more ago I stumbled upon a better way for me to wrap up an old year and move forward into a new one. My inspiration came at some point in an interview I watched. Dr Maya Angelou commented that before she fell asleep each night, she would mentally review the day. She would note areas in which she did well and those in which she felt some improvement was needed. Inspired by that, my year-end / new-year routine evolved.

It’s simple. I ask myself some easy questions.

  • Looking back on the past year: What went well? What needs improvement? Is there anywhere I need to make amends?
  • Looking forward to the new year: What do I feel fiercely drawn to and curious about? How do I want to improve as a human being?

I don’t spend a lot of time waxing poetic, but I do make some simple notes and consider the mechanics of improving areas where I fell short, making amends if they’re due, and selecting areas for study if they’re something I’m curious about or believe would make me a better human. I take action by modifying existing routines. For example, reading and writing time (or studying) come in the evening when the grandkids sleep. Meditation, enjoying some physical activity, and other self-care fits into small pockets of time each day. If I get out of whack with new routines, I can rewind, evaluate, adjust, and try again. Having those annual (and sometimes in-between) reviews and priorities helps me.

That doesn’t mean that’s what’s best for everyone! When I started this journey, I lived near a fairly large hill that I would literally climb the last day of the year to sit, look around, pray, and make copious notes. The following day I’d take time outdoors on my patio if it wasn’t snowing or super-cold to write out plans for the new year. That felt burdensome and eventually I pared it down.

Find something that works well for you. Be sure anything you try feels like a loving method of self-inquiry. Some ideas:

  • RAIN (Recognize what is happening, Allow the experience, Investigate with interest and care, Nurture with self-compassion) or “The Work” with its clear written guides may help you look at areas or beliefs that seem to block your progress or warrant more consideration.[ii]
  • Write down a few questions you find meaningful and simply respond to them within a time-frame (don’t overthink the answers; you can edit later). Try making a few notes – not going overboard – so you can look back later and determine how the experience helped you (or if it didn’t).
  • Express yourself by crafting a “treasure map” with pictures you draw or cut out (from ads, newspapers, magazines) and paste on a large poster-board, cardboard from a box, or pieces of paper. One smaller section can represent what you’ve overcome and what you’ve achieved. The rest can remind you where you’d like to be at year-end next year.

In any case, leave room for making adjustments. Life has a way of surprising us.

I believe every ending and each beginning carry with them opportunities to reflect and learn. May you have the luxury of enough free time to review the past year with kindness and to envision the new year with hope.

May you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[iii]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[iv] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020


[i] For a good guide, check out Priya Parker’s book: The Art of Gathering. She has some great ideas that include ways to make your gathering, however distanced, truly meaningful to all who attend.

[ii] For more information on RAIN, visit https://www.tarabrach.com/rain/. Another option is Byron Katie’s “The Work” explained at https://thework.com/ . Info on RAIN as well as links to videos to practice the technique, and info on The Work with a link to worksheets to guide The Work are free resources. If another option works better for you, use that.

[iii] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[iv] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. To reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.

Christmas Past

With all the planning and preparation that goes into any holiday, this year I feel completely okay with limited festivities and allowing fun to emerge spontaneously – or not. Taking a day of peace and relaxation sounds like Enough after this year full of conflict and challenges.

Looking back, I recall my mother appearing nearly hysterical while she worked toward holiday bliss. A few months after my 6th birthday and a few days after Thanksgiving, before the gigantic turkey carcass had been picked clean, mom appeared so frazzled that I sat down with her. We discussed logistics and I volunteered to take over all the decorating and gift planning, including preparation of detailed shopping lists and wrapping everything for her. She readily handed over the gifting and decoration-related duties to me in order to focus on keeping her sanity and establishing the schedule for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner. She’d also decide when we’d go to church, when and to whom we’d distribute the tamales on Christmas Eve so I could wrap and properly label them, and when we’d open presents.

With so much handed off to a 6-year-old, you might think our Christmases bereft of jolliness. Not true! Even at that tender age, I stayed organized, conducted stealth interrogations to determine age-appropriate and longed-for gifts, made sure gifts from Santa had their own special wrapping paper and tags, notified neighbors and extended family members which types of toys, clothing, and homemade candies each of us preferred, and maintained confidentiality.

In spite of near-military precision in the planning and execution of holiday activities, over time some shuffling of duties occurred. Mom didn’t care much for any work in the kitchen, but since I loved time there, I took over the gelatin salad prep as well as making fudge, cookies, and cakes the following year, leaving mom to set the menu. Later I helped with the Christmas cards, helped more with preparation of Christmas dinner, and, after my brothers lost interest in Santa, continued wrapping and suggesting the gifts in often fruitless attempts to keep the value of the items somewhat equitable. Though we all became quite vocal about what we wanted, mom felt my selections for myself inappropriate, so books and leather-working kits were replaced with dolls, pink mittens, and pretend-nail-polish. For decades, I kept telling her what I wanted. And she ignored me.

Back in the day, we tried to appear thankful for everything we received. With so much excitement and rule-breakers among us, I didn’t dare set out the presents from Santa until midnight, so I would bake or decorate baked goods after dinner Christmas Eve and watch an old Christmas movie on television. “White Christmas” or “Miracle on 34th Street” would play as I finished up, nibbled broken cookies, double-checked details, and experimented with different flavors of fudge. In the early hours of the Christmas morning, I’d crawl into bed. The same scenario played out each year until I married and moved out.

While every year brings challenges, and this pandemic-dominated year perhaps brings more than most of us have encountered in our lifetimes, many reasons for gratitude have survived. Of all the Christmases from my childhood, I remember three Christmases Past very well.

The worst Christmas day, when I felt myself nearly-grown at age 15, my grandmother, Isabel, was in the hospital. She had been ill – cancer, then a stroke — but I always believed she would come home. The rest of us had just returned from church, a little giddy from celebrating the birth of baby Jesus and a bit enthused knowing gifts awaited our greedy hands. We were putting away our coats when the phone started to ring. Mom answered, said thank you to the caller, turned to us and calmly said, “Your grandmother died this morning.”

At that, I felt like a child again. My grandmother and I had shared a bedroom for 6 years, and though I often longed for privacy, I couldn’t count the number of times she had covered for us kids, putting away bicycles or toys so mom wouldn’t be angry with us, appreciating it when I brushed or tried to style her thick silver hair, letting me blather about cute boys or mean girls without interrupting. We had started planning her 70th birthday party. I remember wondering if anyone else would miss her quiet presence.

Dad decided we should eat breakfast out that Christmas, for the first and last time ever. He put off opening the gifts until after he and mom notified a few people, returned from the hospital, and “made arrangements.”

After that type of Christmas, worst-case-scenarios no longer involved missing ingredients, cleaning up pine needles, removing spilled eggnog from the carpet, repairing shorted-out or failed tree lights, making sure drunken guests got home. In fact, since then I have survived with calm resolve through ice storms, burnt turkeys, late arrivals, lost utility service, broken pipes, celebrating when I didn’t receive a single present, and holidays when I spent hours trying to repair toys that came out of the box broken. I learned from each of those experiences, but losing someone close to me on that day permanently adjusted my perspective and rewrote my definition of a “disaster.”

The other two stand-out Christmases from my childhood I cling to with great fondness. To be clear, both of these holidays departed completely from what had been carefully planned.

The year I turned 7, one of my dad’s dear friends, a WWII buddy, showed up at our front door around 11 o’clock Christmas Eve. A pilot, he had a small plane and was en-route to a family Christmas when fog grounded him, so he landed at our local airport and took a cab to our house to see if any lights were on. We had taken a nap that afternoon in preparation for midnight service at church. Dressed and ready in our Christmas finery, we stood near the front door when he knocked. Instead of attending High Mass, we stayed home, put on our jammies, popped popcorn in the fireplace, swilled hot cocoa (children) and spiked eggnog (adults), opened one present each, and jabbered for hours until we fell asleep. Not long after we fell into bed, we all enjoyed a breakfast of tamales, eggs, breakfast potatoes, and linguiça (Portuguese sausage). After eating, we drove Cline to the airport so he could continue on to his brother’s house. Before he departed, though, he gave me a ride in his Cessna so I could see the valley from a hawk’s perspective. That was one of the best gifts ever: a different way of seeing the world around me. Even back on the ground, I could imagine how small it all looked from the sky.

The second special holiday happened during my teens. A close family friend who worked in Yosemite National Park called dad to help with some vehicular emergency. We dropped everything, dad grabbed a bunch of parts and tools from his shop, and we headed out, finding the park under a couple feet of fresh powdery snow. While dad worked with his friend, mom drank with his friend’s wife, my brothers built a snowman with the park ranger’s son, and I got to ride around the park in the rumple seat of an antique car with his friend’s eldest and some of her pals.  For once, my little cow-town impressed the small group of teens who lived high in the mountains. They demanded details of the types of opportunities available in a town big enough to have its own radio station. We had 3 department stores, several hardware shops, multiple gas stations, a Dairy Queen, several drive-in restaurants, and both a Spanish-language and an all-English movie theater. How those kids envied me. Me! The person who skipped school to ride the bus to a real city (San Francisco). Wow. What a different holiday. I can still recall the details, the cold air, the snow, rare glimpses of deer, sitting outdoors with this small gaggle of teens, surrounded by breathtaking beauty and relative silence, and thinking this world is so amazing.

We drove home that evening and had our Christmas dinner the following day, but nobody complained. Not one word. I don’t think any of us remembered what gifts we received, aside from the surprise gift of the nearly empty national park in its glorious robe of winter white.

Whether things go wonderfully according to plan or fall into another dimension you didn’t expect, may your plans go well-enough, may your work be recognized and rewarded, and may you be blessed with many happy surprises this season.

As always, may you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that neither my opinions, my experiences, nor resources I mention are meant as cures or treatment. If you’re in a moment in your life when most efforts feel huge, consider finding a mental health professional to support you.[i]  If you’re considering ending your life or if you are in crisis, please reach out to emergency services (9-1-1) or a crisis hotline.[ii] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020


[i] Most areas in the U.S. offer a “2-1-1” service that can provide information about local resources. In addition, one website (there are many) with info about finding an affordable therapist is Open Counseling at www.opencounseling.com .

[ii] National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website to text/chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. To reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.