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young children early in their elementary school lives who attended hybrid (in-person and on-line) classes, the Pass has been revoked.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).


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.

Keeping Up with HoHoHo

Self-care matters to me. I decided several years ago to make time to practice self-care on a daily basis. Starting small, I experimented with different techniques to determine what works best for me, and I most often succeed in sticking with my self-care regimen. But not always.

Sometimes it feels as if Life has a mind of its own and takes off in one direction when I have every intention of moving in the opposite direction. Somehow, I had envisioned that stay-at-home holidays this year with close family would feel simple and easy. No big stresses about getting the “right” gift for people who typically attend the big festivities. No expectations about my role in the big multi-family gathering with people I don’t know very well. Just a few no-pressure people to locate treasures for and a quiet day.

Whew, I thought, this will be easy. I knew I’d miss watching the related kids open their gifts, but I still get to watch my grandkids open their gifts in person (we live in the same house) and we’ll still have a special dinner and we’ll probably all eat too much. Church services will be attended online and if we connect with anyone outside our pod, it will be via video-chat. Entertainment will come in the form of new games, books, and movies received.

In spite of doing my best when planning and starting early enough, it just didn’t work out. To deal with the oops, I decided to pay more for what the grandkids wanted though it irked me and cracked my budget. Items I’ve never had problems purchasing (jumbo rolls of gift-wrap and snazzy cards) disappeared quickly so I cavalierly decided to make my own. (I thought, How long could it take? Real world answer: Longer than I imagined!) When I ran out of yarn, I swapped out another color for the out-of-stock shade and opted to hope for the best with that small project. I rushed through my sewing the one afternoon when space became available.

In the midst of all the craziness, I didn’t make self-care a priority.

A rough estimate: about 40,764 times in the last few weeks (I wasn’t counting), I clocked myself doing things that are not in my best interests in order to maintain pursuit of a level of holiday perfection that I’ve never achieved. I’ve stayed up past midnight making cards, crafting gift-wrap, or making gifts when I know I’m awake with my grandkids by 6. I’ve relied on caffeine to help me come to life and deal with the list of must-do items. Not a part of my healthy repertoire.

Though I had expected more of myself, I am officially taking time right now to pat myself on the back. I didn’t sacrifice every moment of me-time (I would have in the past). Even five years ago I would not have realized that the pace I set doomed me to living in a self-crafted level of hell for a time. I caught on quickly this time.  Here are some hints for the busy times in life when you need to cut yourself some slack:

  • Acknowledge that your life is extra-busy, particularly when you’re magically expecting everything to work out within teensy timeframes with no room for error or slack.
    • Take action: Pause  for a moment. Take a deep breath. Acknowledge to yourself that you’ve got a lot going on. Use your own words. Mine: This is difficult. I feel pressured. I’m doing my best. This is temporary.
  • Maintain your most important self-care practice(s). They may change shape or form but keep to those things.
    • Take action: Again, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself what two or three things most matter to you in self-care. Focus on those and plan to pick others back up later. Although I didn’t feel like doing it, here’s what I did:
      • I kept up with my meditation practice. Yes, some days I meditate in the car while waiting to pick up my grandsons after school instead of in my room just after sunrise. Some evenings I shorten the time because I’m tired. I held onto the habit of doing those, though.
      • I compromised with half the walking time I had planned, added my Nordic Walking Poles to make the stroll easier on my knees and harder in general.
  • Having lived decades with insufficient sleep, I know how it feels to drag yourself through the day feeling as if you’ll never catch up.
    • Take action: Take some time to wind down before you fall asleep. If there’s something low-priority on your do-it-now list, drop it and take that time to go to bed earlier or nap if you can. If not, do NOT chastise yourself for staying up too late: negative feedback rarely helps. In any case, remind yourself: I’m doing the best I can and that is enough.
  • Some things we think save time, really don’t help us. Do not scrimp on the basics like dental care or regular meals.
    • Take action: To keep up with your basic needs, take things off the must-do list or ask for help with them! Lately I’ve noticed I’m skipping meals while I’m tangled up in projects or rushing to pick someone or something up. Although many folks feel that behavior is a good thing, particularly for fat women like me, studies inform us this action creates a detrimental hunger-boomerang that results in a sharply increased risk of eating with abandon. Find some hearty snacks (cheese or meat sticks, granola or nut bars, toast or crackers with nut butter, whatever you enjoy) and keep them nearby to fill in until you can take time to toss a meal together.

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 rewarded, and may you notice many happy surprises this season.

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.

Holiday Hubbub

We remain party people here in the USA and we brought our celebrations with us from countries spanning the globe. Whether the holiday celebrations – from birthdays to splashy national events – seem helpful or vexing, chances are we all experience some stress getting through these jolly days. These include the annual Biggies:

  • Personal Holidays: Birthdays and Anniversaries matter, whether you forget or remember, though they trend toward even-more-taxing when forgotten or left to the last minute.
  • National Obsessions (USA): New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas.

Celebrations vary from location to location, and some small communities dwarf metropolitan areas in their commitment. My preference leans toward warm local gatherings but events that have unrolled in my life as if they’re holidays include: Super Bowl Sunday, the last day of school before summer break, and election day (well, not this year, but in years past as a celebration of freedom and the power of the individual vote).

Having traveled this country coast-to-coast, I have to say nobody does fireworks with the dedication of the people of Hawaii. New Year’s Eve and Independence Day (the 4th of July) remain a smoky haze in my memory, filled with jolts, pops and explosions. Not only the larger venues and communities put on shows, but beaches and front yards let loose some formidable flash in celebration.

In fact, the people of Hawaii exhibited to me more grace, kindness, generosity of spirit, and celebratory glee than anyone anywhere. People of multiple cultures rub shoulders without major injuries. My favorite celebrations in Hawaii:

  • Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festivals, big or small, showcased during annual festivals in Waikiki, Kauai, West Hawaii, and Maui. Here’s a link to the Waikiki 2020 festival; hope it makes you feel the warm breeze and smile: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BH3MCbaGnM,[i]
  • Bon Dances throughout the islands (check island schedules for dates/locations),
  • Boy’s Day and Girl’s Day,
  • County or Farm fairs (honestly, I love them everywhere!), and
  • the Merrie Monarch Festival.

When I first moved to Hawaii, I lived in a small condo in a relatively large complex. Busy people flitted around every moment of every single day. Babies came home, family pets strayed, folks went to the hospital, celebrations erupted, extended families left for a staycation at the beach, visitors arrived from the mainland for a special vacation. One day, an eerie calm replaced the normal buzz, punctuated periodically by cheers or complaints. From my lanai I could hear music playing and occasional chanting. Oddly, everyone seemed tuned to the same station. Puzzled, I took a stroll around the 200+ units and noticed one older couple sitting outside with his and hers tablets streaming what seemed to come from the nearby units. This pair had lawn chairs, snacks, drinks, and sat is comfortable shade near their front door.

They waved to me. I waved back. Hesitating for a moment, the auntie said, “You need somethin’?” I shook my head, no, but turned back to ask, “Sorry. Don’t mean to bug you. Is something important going on? Everyone’s watching…” “Yeah,” she said and looked at her spouse. He said, “The Merrie Monarch,” as if that explained everything. “Oh, thanks,” I said, not wanting to showcase my ignorance, and I repeated his words to myself the-merry-monarch the-merry-monarch as I strolled back to my condo, turned on my laptop, and searched for “the merry monarch.”

What showed up in my search focused on Charles II of England, known as The Merry Monarch, but he didn’t seem that interesting. A racehorse also named Merry Monarch likewise seemed a long shot to having captured the attention of the people of Hawaii.

I did, however, notice a reference to Hawaii’s King Kalākaua with a tag line: “The perpetuation of Hula and the Hawaiian culture.” Absolutely.

The Merrie Monarch Festival, an annual week-long celebration of the Hawaiian culture, language, and arts, spotlights the uniquely Hawaiian art of hula. The festival, held in the spring, was cancelled because of the pandemic in 2020. Details for 2021 can be found at the festival website, so for more info, visit www.MerrieMonarch.com. In 10 years in Hawaii I never had the opportunity to attend, except via streaming video, but I’m so glad I had those opportunities to learn and celebrate the powerful art and aloha of Hawaii.

There are, of course, others, including Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, and those holidays named after somebody. These vary in importance from household to household, depend upon social significance and the season in which they fall, and seem amplified by direct connections to the holiday. For example, every Martin Luther King, Jr. Day always brings out copies of his I Have a Dream speech. My admiration lingers on his recognition of the problems relating to poverty and the Vietnam War, or his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that reads to me like poetry (“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”)[ii] and feels truer with every beat of my heart. Still, we return to the lovely but limiting Dream excerpt.

Whatever the holiday, consider meticulous self-care.

Ways to take care of yourself during these busy times:

HALT: Remember that old saying? It’s oh-so-true! Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Take a breath and check in with yourself throughout the day. Ask if you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. You deserve excellent self-care so when any of those rings true, give yourself the break you need and your body craves. If you’re hungry, eat. You don’t need to prepare a gastronomical feast, but giving your body some real food will help. Angry? Relax and take a few breaths. If there’s something you can do about the situation that frustrated you, make a note and plan to act later when you feel cool and calm. The same when feeling lonely. Relax and breathe. If there’s someone you can reach out to, either nearby or virtually, take a few moments to set up a get-together later or take a few moments to reach out.

GYRL: This is one I either made up or heard years ago and somehow it stuck in my mind. Women, in particular, seem to try so hard to help others we often forget about giving ourselves priority. Gyrl: Guard Your Resources Loudly (and lovingly). It’s okay to say No. In fact, pick a day during which every time you pass a mirror or see your reflection, you stop, look yourself in the eye, and say No. (It sounds silly, but I attended a work-related training during which we teamed up and practiced saying “No” and giving each other feedback about how serious the “No” seemed. The coaching felt very effective.)  You can also set a time during the day when you will say No to everything just to practice. (I know. It also sounds silly, but if you’re used to doing everything, saying No can feel liberating.)(You can call folks back later and say, “I moved some things around on my schedule, so I can help if you still need it” or “I gave it some thought and changed my mind. Do you still need help?”)

STOP: Stay True to you Own Principles – if you don’t want to use credit cards and are on a limited budget, let people know and seek ways to reduce the financial load. You deserve that. Consider making gifts

Closed Wallet

May we all celebrate with joy, enthusiasm, gratitude, and awareness of the traditional wisdom from which our celebrations have grown.

May you remind yourself often that you are enough. May you find the tools you need for self-care and both the time and the will to use them. 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] Everything is better in Hawaii, of course, but there are festivals in cities across the US, as well.

[ii] Available in many versions, including this one https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/02/letter-from-a-birmingham-jail/552461/ in The Atlantic.

[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.

Venting Season

Though we have always held to some regional differences in the USA, and at the risk of sounding like one of those stick-in-the-mud old-ladies, it seems to me that we once behaved more respectfully, at least within our communities. Of course, last minute holiday shoppers got pushy and neighbors always tried to outdo one another (or at least keep up), and our foundation, built upon racism and social Darwinism, has always needed replacement, but it appears the hint of civility that kept us moving forward with hope evaporated somewhere along the line. Welcome to venting season, what I think the world needs, and what’s inspiring.

It feels as if the stress of going after one another and living in social-media hideaways during the tainted election season of 2016 accentuated a downhill slide. The upheaval within the taken-for-granted internal-goings-on of a nation turned us toward what some point out as strengthening the 1%/oligarchs while others insist average-folks now fare better (even if we sacrificed in areas like environment, health, and income)[i]. All this, followed by the pandemic and wrapped up by the contentious election of 2020, drained us. Here’s hoping we get our act together, have the courage to examine our feelings, and make time to work through them in order to find peace in government, in business, and in our communities. Now is the time for some grassroots organizing of a little widespread self-care so we can initiate healing.

Once my great aunt Jeannie and my dad had a falling-out. She talked, more than once, over the announcer during a world-series game. Dad asked her, a couple of times, to take the chatter elsewhere. Finally, he shouted, stood, and threw curses her direction. The woman who had gotten my dad through the loss of his mother vowed to never speak to him again. He threatened to call the police or shoot her for trespassing if she put one foot on his property. They both overstepped their bounds and trampled feelings. The insults lasted a few minutes. The feud lasted a few months, until an intervention by a gaggle of great aunties broke the chill between them. Dad grudgingly apologized and Jeannie promised to take any conversations to another room during televised sporting events. Things did not go back to the way they had been, though. The two spoke but became more guarded and less spontaneous. The harsh words they exchanged remained a sheer barrier, and that lesson hit home for me. For better or worse, relationships change, adapt, move forward. They don’t go backward. Even the relationship with self. Make time for that.

Industries are hurting. People are hurting. Our medical system is stretched thin. Tourism, a business that supports workers around the world, limps along these days, scanning the horizon for signs of fuller flights. My quarterly road trips to a nearby state to visit my son who has some physical and mental challenges flew off the table. In my many previous travels, via air and ground, I noticed most of us manage to behave like quiet and respectful tourists while visiting other communities and countries, though among the quiet, there seem to congregate pairs (and, face it, families) shepherded by big-mouthed ignoramuses who will continue to give us happy travelers a bad name. Like it or not, they are part of us, the glaring exceptions among the rule followers. The bright sides, though? We have learned to live with one another – the respectful and the obnoxious – on tour buses and in tourist traps, so we can figure out how to do that in other contexts. And while tourism-based businesses surely suffer from the loss of income, I know many people who celebrate having their glorious scenery relatively tourist-free. What a great opportunity for community care: to enjoy nearby attractions and support local merchants and take some comfort in knowing we’re all in this together.

Religion, here, seemed to play a sad role in this move away from graciousness and kindness. Take the self-proclaimed “religious” groups that insist (with the apparent blessing of the all-new Supreme Court) they have a right to spread the ‘Rona plague in order to host joyous celebrations of their interpretation of the guidance of a Rabbi/Carpenter who stated all the rules boiled down to loving God, loving your neighbor, and loving yourself. A reasonable person might consider spreading a potentially deadly virus with abandon as a contradiction to those guidelines, but there’s a Biblical passage about gathering in God’s name and somehow that – and, I suspect, a loss of income tied to empty seats – seems enough to demand the “right” to host close indoor gatherings in spite of the known health consequences. Tangling capitalism and church complicates theology, particularly among people who feel downtrodden. Yet, there are lessons to be learned; find a spiritual discipline that supports you, helps you grow, and expands your mind and circle of friends. 

Growing up in a Catholic household, mom insisted on weekly trips to “Confession” where we admitted our sins and asked forgiveness, then did penance. The significance of taking time to try to make things right – usually by a brief period of prayer and contemplation, but sometimes in more physical ways — didn’t descend upon me until a new evangelical church congregation became my temporary faith home. Those evangelicals, it turned out, were not as different from the Catholics as they believed, including enthusiasm when discussing persecution of Christians (though others sometimes feel the Christians more guilty of persecution). However, one preacher felt neither he nor his flock had a need to seek forgiveness or make amends. He explained, “I’m washed in the blood of Christ, so no matter what I do I’m forgiven.” I get it, but I believe we should expect more of ourselves. Though I remain grateful to both faith groups for what I learned through them, I appreciate the evangelicals for their music and the Catholics for their idea of redemption. For me, seeking or offering forgiveness[ii], taking time to consider errors, and making corrections turned out to serve as excellent acts of self-care.

According to the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of the world population identify as something other than Christian, with most Christians living in Africa (631 million), 601 million in Latin America, 571 million in Europe, and 205 million in the US. About 70% of us living in the US claim some affiliation with Christianity (though far fewer profess to be church members and less of those regularly attend church services). Other faith categories are Islam, no religious affiliation, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a long list of others. The fasted growing group appears to be no-religious-affiliation.

Yet the notion has arisen more than once during my lifetime that the USA springs from the loins of God and is, somehow, therefore a Christian nation. As a child I noticed, even though I entered the world years post-WWII, folks like my parents realized that war exacted a heavy toll. Growing up, though, it wasn’t military might that inspired my grandparents, my parents, or my generation. For my dad, the American way, headquartered in Detroit, remained my dad’s hope for the USA. He loved to talk about Motor City. American exceptionalism during my parents’ prime revolved around those hard-hat factory workers churning out internal-combustion engines in vehicles that were engineered like works of art. That working-class ideal lacked the polish of later years when the athlete or the ruthless Wall Street junk-bond millionaire, driving sleek Euro imports, sped into our heroic imagination. How we moved from respecting hard work to idolizing those who appeared uber-wealthy says a lot about our shift in priorities. The value of knowing our 3 to 5 priority areas becomes evident when life requires hard decisions and helps when day-to-day priorities conflict. Give time to those. There’s freedom in both recognizing those and being open to shift values over time. Make a list. Note yours. Career. Education. Health. Family. Connection. Story-telling. Learning. Travel. Exploration. Friends.

When I attended elementary school, during a period after the Dark Ages and around the time the Beatles invaded, we celebrated that we welcomed all people from all countries and all religious faiths. We understood our forefathers whose ancestors fled religious tyranny refused to name a national religion. We learned those early patriots fought for freedom for all-religions (including no-religious-affiliation) and freedom from the oppressive taxation system of the crown. From 1776 until around 1950, during the McCarthy Era, “In God we trust” (an anti-communist catch phrase) does not appear on money, and the Pledge of Allegiance, with it’s anti-immigrant roots in the 1890s, didn’t include the words “under God” until 1954.[iii] Still, we have been known, in our zeal and with open hearts, to accept notions like ‘Christian nation’ and legislation like the ‘Patriot Act,’ even when they only represent some of us or make us less free. We may need to question things more and reserve unbridled support for people and pets we know personally.

As a nation and a world community of human beings, I have high hopes we find our higher selves. I still believe the journey will require a grassroots movement and bodacious self-care skills, so here’s a quick tip.

In Practice…

This helps me when I’m feeling overwhelmed and start catastrophizing (I’m fabulous at that but rarely go there since I began practicing this!) or lost in a negative thought.

Briefly become aware of the negative thought or flight into catastrophe. Just notice where your mind is headed. Question the situation that exists only in your mind and do it as often as necessary (this may take some repetition).

If Catastrophizing: Say to yourself, either aloud or in your head, [Your-Name], this is not real. OR  [Your-Name], this is not happening. (Repeat, if needed.) Remind yourself: Obsessing about it now will not make it easier if this ever happens.[iv]

If you have identified Negative thoughts that haunt you: Challenge your thinking. Ask yourself: [Your-Name], is this thought helping or hurting? If the thought is hurting, make a decision to question and reframe the thought. For example, restate thoughts away from shame-inducing while acknowledging guilt: “I’m so stupid” becomes “Touching that hot pan was a stupid thing to do.”

Using your name may feel awkward. It did for me, at first. I’d read a study that showed this technique really helps most people, so I tried. For me, it’s two thumbs up!

Wrap Up…

May your expectations of yourself be kind. May you find the tools you need for self-care and both the time and the will to use them.

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.[v]  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.[vi] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020

[i] According to world-recognized economist Mariana Mazzucato, from 1975 to 2016 the US GDP tripled when adjusted for inflation, from $5.49 trillion to $17.29 trillion. During that period, productivity increased by 60%. During the same period real hourly wages have stagnated or fallen, pointing to 4 decades of economic gains that all went to a tiny elite uber-wealthy group. This uneven growth accelerated the last few years, leaving a handful (~60 people) holding the equivalent wealth of 3.5 billion world citizens.

[ii] To be clear, forgiveness can be offered from afar and I believe nobody has a responsibility to forgive another or to request forgiveness in person, in writing, or by any particular means.

[iii] See this article for more info: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/11/03/the-ugly-history-of-the-pledge-of-allegiance-and-why-it-matters/

[iv] If you live near a tsunami zone, in a flood-prone area, live in an area where tornados or earthquakes are possible, packing a bag and creating a safety plan makes good sense, is excellent self-care, and is not obsessive (even if your happy-go-lucky friends say it is).

[v] 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 .

[vi] 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. And if you check references, kudos and thanks. May you prosper beyond your wildest imagination.

Some Days

If you’re reading much these days, you’ll recognize the push toward positivity. I’ve read that maintaining a positive attitude contributes to health and longevity, shortens recovery time, and boosts immune systems.  I’ve even known a few people who seemed, like the character Molly Brown, unsinkable. For most of us, though, I have this belief we’re clustered in the middle – between Doom & Gloom and Absolute Bliss – with some moments at both ends. At the same time, I get the sense from many people that 24/7 jolliness has become the impossible baseline they strive to achieve.

Face it. Some days go more smoothly than others. Sometimes there’s a clear reason (we won a lottery jackpot or just started our dream vacation) and sometimes those glorious days just appear out of nowhere. Some days feel like trekking through mud. They’re messy, difficult, exhausting. Like the grand and glittery days, sometimes there’s a clear reason (we’re ill or grieving the loss of something valuable to us) and others seem to descend without warning.

Blame the stars or the phase of the moon, but most people experience ups and down. Most of us have those memories of glory days: times past when things seemed as close as possible to ideal. Many of us also remember some disasters. Looking back, though, it seems our interpretation of those experiences enhances or worsens the quality of our lives moving forward. I hope science will one day support the importance of the sense of serenity or peace and satisfaction at living a good life most days, of having enough, of knowing we’re enough. We all deserve that.

For me, daily meditation, learning, and writing reward me with what feels like an effortless calm and quiet enjoyment of life. Time outdoors, crafts with my grandsons, crochet, funny movies, baking, chai tea accompanied by long talks with a friend, and road trips also soothe my heart. I recently realized I discovered and enjoyed many of these during my youth.

My dad drank heavily during the week, but set aside Sundays for family. On Sundays we attended a sparsely attended sunrise service (the church added it for medical staff and others who worked weekends), and then piled into the family station wagon together, carrying food for lunch and soft drinks or lemonade to “wash the meal down.” Dad picked a general direction and we wouldn’t return until late afternoon or early evening.

During those Sunday drives, my dad would beam and pound the steering wheel when he found a road he hadn’t been down before. He would ask me – his conspirator with anything involving exploration – if I wanted to see where it led. My mom invariably frowned her disapproval and often voiced it as well.

He’d turn to me, though, the car idling in the middle of a narrow old highway. “Punk,” he’d say, while we made a decision, “do you want to see where it goes?”

Knowing my mom and siblings usually slept through half our time on the road, I always voted “Yes!” For me, it meant discovering wonders. Oh, the sights: abandoned homes, sometimes just a chimney left stubbornly reaching up toward the sky, small orchards in the middle of nowhere, streams that trickled across the road, fields of poppies showing off just for us, piles of rocks left where someone once worked a mine, rugged fruit stands, and tiny “general stores” stocking everything from bread to britches and even a toboggan or two.

Years later, after all the kids moved out and my parents quit taking the drives, my mom admitted to me she felt relieved to stay home Sundays. She told me she hated the drives because she worried about the possible disasters we’d encounter. Washed out roads, wild animals, landslides, intense storms, and even more concerns. When I thought about it a minute, I asked her how many times there had been a problem during over 30 years of weekly Sunday drives. A flat tire? Dangerous animal?  Spider or snake bite? Auto accident?

She stated, “There was that one time.” Once?!

After I moved away, they faced one disaster. It was serious. The axle broke. However, the car made it to the side of the road and, in the days before cellphones proliferated, within 30 minutes another vehicle came by and offered some help. Within a few hours the family rested at home and the car had been towed to a shop. No injuries. If they had been stranded overnight they would have had food and water.

Obviously (to me), the fears she held didn’t make sense. Mom disagreed and expressed her frustration at my enjoyment of “those crazy drives to nowhere and back.” While I don’t think of myself as a super-optimist Suzie Sunshine person, I told her I always felt we could handle anything that happened. In fact, I find some satisfaction in holding on to my old Girl Scout training and striving to Be Prepared. When we traveled we had a First Aid Kit, water, a blanket, a good spare tire, some basic tools in the car, and food.

But mom brushed off my perspective because preparing for every possible outcome couldn’t stop bad things from happening. How she used to annoy me with that narrow view that latched onto what could go wrong!

And now I must admit something. I think I got my knack for finding things that seem out of place (glitches, errors) from mom. My dad could make friends anywhere and fix just about anything, but sussing out possible problems belonged to mom. A friend assured me I had “a gift for troubleshooting.” As she pointed out, many people do not appreciate that gift. I find typos in books, edit myself silly, added more notes to student papers than anyone preferred, and pick out mistakes in movies and signs without intending to notice them. It seems I’m a bit like and a bit opposite of both my happy-go-lucky dad and my worried-to-distraction mom.  

That middle ground sounds a bit boring, I admit, particularly in a culture where being super-positive and/or rabidly negative appear more mainstream. Feeling at peace with life, moment by moment, broken by brief interruptions of great joy, existential angst, and some deep sorrow, seems a blessing. After some therapy, quite a bit of soul searching, and dedication to self-care, I’m grateful for this calm.

By the way, I wondered why mom went along with the crazy drives if she hated them. She admitted, “We were all together and I liked being together as a family.” She appreciated that on the road we rarely squabbled, she liked seeing dad do something he enjoyed without booze, and sometimes we went someplace “that wasn’t out in the boondocks.” How she treasured those places with shops and pavement and signs welcoming credit cards.

It seems to me, most of us judge ourselves and out lives too harshly. Perhaps we use imaginary lives from the media to inform us of an unrealistic “normal.” Perhaps we forget our own talents in comparing ourselves to ideals. If we live in a space between debilitating chronic depression and wearing others out with our perky enthusiasm, I hope we all find a way to feel thankful. I admit I have to work a bit harder than many others in striving for more balance and joy. If I ease up on self-care, I can feel myself tilting gradually away from my center. That’s why self-care means so much to me, why I write about it, why I practice.

Wondering what self-care tools to use? My suggestions, as a start:

  1. Relax and close your eyes for a moment. Remember a time when you were younger and completely happy (if only for a few seconds). Whether you felt joyous because of the company, the activity, the food or aroma, or something else, consider bringing that back into your life. It doesn’t always work (I loved bubble baths as a child and don’t now) but if you make a list of activities, people, places, foods, and scents you enjoy or enjoyed in the past, that’s a start.
  2. Some frequently used self-care activities that you can implement at little or no cost: a general journal (in an inexpensive notebook, hand-write 1 to 2 pages daily about whatever comes to mind without editing), experience meditation (visit www.headspace.com to try the FREE version to see if it works for you or www.mindfulness.org or check out free resources like https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/mindful-meditations), try gratitude practices (here’s one idea from the Greater Good Science Center: https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/what_we_do/online_courses_tools/thnx4_gratitude_journal).

May your expectations of yourself be kind. May you find the tools you need for self-care and both the time and the will to use them. May you be happy, healthy, safe, and strong.

Last words: Please remember that my opinions, my experiences, and resources I mention are NOT 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.

Making Ourselves Useful

Every generation, I believe, is graced with challenges that seem unique to that era. My grandmothers were teenagers during the 1918 flu epidemic and, among other things, they lived through poverty, troubled marriages, raising families on their own, and two World Wars. Their children, my parents, struggled through the Great Depression while living separated from their nuclear family. When my parents married, at ages a little later than many thanks to WWII and the Korean Crisis, they had faced their share of hardships.

Not surprising that when my siblings and I complained about things like riding around in an older model car and not having a color television, my parents had little sympathy for us. In fact, when anyone complained at all or uttered the words “I’m bored,” one of our parents would stop, their back would snap into a locked upright position, and invisible but oh-so-sharp eye-daggers flew toward us via the dreaded Stink Eye. Uh oh.

“Well, maybe you need to find some way to make yourself useful rather than merely ornamental.”  Or, “You want things to be better? Go find a way to make them better!”

Useful?! Better?! Weren’t those grown-up tasks? When that gauntlet hurled our way, we learned to exit quickly to sulk privately. Arguing resulted in a laundry-list of ways we could become “more useful” at home and in the community. *Get over to the church and see who needs some help! *Go clean the dog poop up in the back yard. *You look healthy enough: go next-door and ask Mrs. Ferguson if she needs someone to mow her lawn. *Go ask that new kid across the street if they want to play!

Their lists never ended. Helping others? We barely got by ourselves. As a child I had 1 pair of shoes, meat showed up primarily as flavoring in large pots of beans, weekends we picked wild greens and canned free fruit to save money. The notion of volunteering seemed to belong to wealthy folks.

Nevertheless, as a young mother I began to help out with Scout troops, baked for school and work functions, took on additional duties, helped when someone asked. Later some duties fell away and others took their place. When I semi-retired, I got my bearings, created some goals, started looking for work that would fit within my grandchildren’s school hours, and then along came ‘Rona.  

In January 2020, when I first heard about the novel Coronavirus, it seemed a mysterious don’t-worry virus that was stopped at ports of entry by quarantines. In February, international news held a different tone from the be-happy U.S. news and it occurred to me that something bigger brewed.

Like a large earthquake, though, it felt like everything shifted abruptly. The grandkids’ school moved online and I turned down a part-time job I had lined up because it no longer fit my schedule. For safety, I stopped going to some stores. My gym’s swimming pool closed so my favorite workout evaporated. Then came weeks of feeling helpless and adapting. Finding safer ways of buying groceries, planning for delays in shipping time, adapting to new restrictions, and dealing with health worries. Like everyone else, I struggled to picture a life beyond ‘Rona.

And I remembered griping to my parents and them telling me to make myself useful.

I gave it some thought and realized that perhaps through volunteering I could help others deal with their challenges and, maybe, make the world a little better.

I wrote down my skills, my passions, my available time, my preferences (working from home and finding work that used my master’s degree in counseling psychology or my love of stories). I looked a few places for a way to help[i] and bumped into an ad for Crisis Counselors. I applied.

Six months into my commitment, here’s what I’ve learned.

Most important: Volunteering helps other people, helps communities, and it also helps volunteers feel as if we’re helping to make the world a better place.

Volunteering improves and/or increases skills. Whatever your skills, practicing them as a volunteer will help you gain experience. Volunteering can provide an opportunity to try out new careers or industries to see if they fit you. Volunteering can help you find your next job while helping you focus on something outside yourself and making the world a better place.

Before my volunteer position, I felt very uncomfortable asking about suicide. I learned suicide is a huge issue in the US. In the last 20 years, the suicide rate in the US increased by 35%. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and the 2nd leading cause of death in ages 10 to 34 in the US. There are more than twice (2 times!) the number of suicides as homicides in the US.[ii]  Asking is important in my volunteer position, and I’ve learned ways to do that without judgment and purely out of concern. Without getting into details, learning that another human is having thoughts of ending their life opens the door to finding help. If someone mentions thoughts of ending their life, anyone can help them connect with a suicide hotline, take them to an ER, or call 911 in the hopes of helping them get the care they deserve.

Volunteering connects volunteers with others. Responsible organizations prepare volunteers to connect with their clients/consumers, offer ongoing guidance, and engage with volunteers. Look for the level of support you prefer. Preparation: Many organizations provide excellent training and offer ongoing access to trainings and materials. Guidance: For the best volunteer experience, having an assigned coach or supervisor who is available to answer questions and provide support is important. Engagement: An agency working with volunteers should recognize needs and preferences. For me, for example, evening shifts fit my schedule and offer ongoing interaction that helps me feel engaged and useful. Some organizations also offer little perks ranging from awards (like Volunteer of the Month) to small treats. Take the time to look for a place that meets your needs and matches your values.

Volunteering increases awareness. In my volunteer work, I’ve connected with people whose politics are similar to and polar opposite of mine, people from different areas and cultures, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and many often-marginalized people. Their challenges and fears are much more real to me. I’m clearly a work in progress, and I’m getting better at asking for pronouns, I remember to ask if a person feels safe calling the police (not everyone does), I offer praise far more generously. Volunteering has transformed my day-to-day life. Some of the greatest gifts I’ve received through volunteering are reclaimed curiosity, increased focus on identifying others’ strengths, and a willingness to describe those strengths back to others.

Volunteering improves your health. This is particularly true for elders but has health and happiness benefits for all ages. See this report for some awesome details![iii]

This quote from Kofi Annan sums up volunteering quite well: “If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever.”

Think about sharing your extraordinary gifts. Volunteering has helped me see my worries and inconveniences more clearly and left me feeling humbled, blessed, and as if I’m making a difference.

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.[iv]  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.[v] You deserve support and to know someone has your back.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020

[i] I found what I was looking for at www.volunteermatch.org and also looked on www.idealist.org. Other options include Good www.good.org, Volunteer Weekly www.volunteerweekly.org, and the faith-based Volunteers of America www.voa.org.  You can also contact churches, larger nonprofit agencies, animal protection agencies, and local government offices.  

[ii] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml

[iii] https://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf Note: this report is from 2007 but it seems the information would still apply unless some controversy arose regarding the data.

[iv] 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 .

[v] 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.

Lessons on Boundaries

Growing up with parents who both lost their parents while they were still young had a few advantages and many disadvantages. Both parents admitted parental roles didn’t come naturally to them, though they wanted children. It’s no wonder they struggled; they hadn’t witnessed much parenting and what they did see varied wildly. On the other hand, their challenged youth brought wonderful additions to the household: aunties and uncles and cousins, some by blood and others by choice, many of whom had provided mom or dad respite, in addition to folks my father randomly encountered. He seemed to collect stray people, so the notion of boundaries didn’t dare step foot on the property my dad considered his own.

The father I knew really never knew his father. His dad abandoned him and his mom when dad was an infant and died when dad was three. My grandmother struggled to survive as a live-in housekeeper and cook, so dad bounced between friends’ and relatives’ homes as a child. He seemed to have spent a lot of time with older adults or by himself. A gifted storyteller, he truly relaxed in taverns and small local bars, considered anyone who drank with him a friend, and brought home fellow-drinkers from all walks of life, cultures, races, and educational levels. The door also remained open to all his family and family-ish folks, with never a need to call first.

My mother, on the other hand, lived in poverty, knew her violent dad, and lost both parents by age 9. From that age until she finished high school, she lived in orphanages with strict rules. She slept in congregate quarters with lots of other children. She craved privacy and found strict rules comforting. Had she been given the power, I suspect she would have constructed a moat to keep the house inaccessible and hired assassins to sit on the roof to make sure nobody but immediate family (and perhaps a few selected others) stepped on the grounds, let alone inside the house.

The lessons I learned about boundaries as a child, laced with the popular value Children are to be seen and not heard, included two contradictory rules. Rule #1: good people let everybody in all the time for any reason and live as if mi casa es su casa (my house is your house), holding no expectation of reciprocation. Rule #2: good people refuse to let anyone into their homes or lives unless they have been properly vetted and sworn to follow house rules (no using the bathroom, no snooping, no borrowing, and with one or two designated exceptions, no spontaneous visits).

Because mom ruled the house weekdays, not even school friends who lived nearby could stop by to play. Instead we would meet in the alley and entertain ourselves behind cover. Because dad ruled the house weekends, impromptu parties erupted with clusters of guests as varied as fund-raising priests from Northern Ireland, motorcycle club members, and professional wrestlers on tour (dad loved to share Haystack Calhoun and Pepper Gomez allegedly stepped foot in his house)(I slept through the visit so cannot corroborate).

No wonder I had such difficulty creating and holding boundaries in my life, flopping between social butterfly and wannabe-hermit. Taking in abandoned animals/strangers and then adopting creatures back out when neighbors or landlords complained. Feeling guilty for sandwiching 5-minute beach visits in the midst of back-to-back meetings on long work days as if time to breathe seemed frivolous.

Lessons arrive in many guises. Two memorable teachable moments pop into my mind.

The scene: shopping alone after work in a K-Mart store in rural Arizona, a single mom picking up items for somebody’s school project. Focused on a quick in-and-out, I didn’t give attention to anything but the task at hand. My cart pulled to the side, I surveyed a display of merchandise. In the middle of the aisle, a red-faced scruffy man in a not-so-white t-shirt and jeans that barely stayed up, bumped his cart head-on into mine, blocking my passage up the aisle with his cart and belligerence. He looked at me with disgust. Startled, I waited. About three feet behind him I saw a woman. She stopped, avoided eye contact, and didn’t speak. The man observed, quite loudly, “They shouldn’t allow fat women like you in this store. You take up too much room in the aisles!” I cannot remember the remainder of his rant, but he continued for a short while. I had not blocked the aisle in any way, hadn’t noticed him, never met him before. Eventually he shook his head, moved his cart, and stormed away.

As he left, I wished I had thought of something to say to him. My dad would have bought him a drink. My mom would have fled, quickly, leaving the cart behind, complaining to the manager on her way out the door. I finished my shopping. On my way home I thought about it, feeling hurt and then feeling angry. What made him think I wanted his opinion?! A quote from a Wayne Dyer book I’d read returned to me: What other people think of me is none of my business. I repeated, Your opinion of me is none of my business. It helped me calm myself and I realized the stranger’s behavior violated a few of my values related to judging people and to manners. I began to think about boundaries.

As a single parent working full-time, attending college classes at night, I kept a roof over our heads. We had vacations every year and did a lot of weekend family activities. Neither perfect nor wealthy, I handled things well enough. I used your opinion of me is none of my business often until random folks quit offering their opinions to me. I introduced the word “No” into my vocabulary to reduce my stress. My lesson: know my values and boundaries ahead of time.

The second lesson in boundaries arrived when a friend’s breast cancer returned. She wanted to talk about death and dying. Her spouse, she said, refused to listen, and even after her doctor offered a grim prognosis and suggested she get her affairs in order, the doctor also encouraged her to stay positive through treatment. She remembered one night, before her first diagnosis, when our families got together to play board games and eat. I had quoted something I read about death and dying by Dr Bernie S Siegel. I regretted my enthusiasm about the book and I really did not want to talk with this woman who was near my age about dying. But she needed to talk, and my friend-boundary said Listen.

You would think that hanging out with someone who felt death hovered nearby might feel sad. Instead, it freed us both in many ways. She said it gave her blessed relief. For me, once death was on the table, no topic was off the table. The change in her amazed me. Some days she’d call me, too tired and sick to move, and I’d go visit and read to her from Love, Medicine and Miracles (her choice, not mine). When her spouse found out, he told me to never return. Still, she called and informed me I would not abandon her. How could I? Normally restrained, she disappeared at a street fair we attended together. I found her dancing under a tree as a mariachi group played nearby. She shouted in my direction, “I LOVE mariachi music!” I laughed. I didn’t know that! At another event I lost track of her when she followed a small Mardi Gras parade, gathering strings of beads and hooting at the musicians. The last weekend she phoned and told me she needed time outdoors and asked me to pick her up right away. A storm dumped buckets of rain as far as we could see, but she hopped in the car and we headed for a memorial to a fallen war chief. She talked about her parents (her white mom as the formidable one, her Apache dad as the kind and quiet one). We commanded the rain to stop (it did) so we could search for the warrior’s hidden grave (didn’t find it, of course, but a rainbow convinced us we might be close). She shared obnoxious observations like “You take on too much and expect too little from other people in your life.” I did not even consider telling her that her opinion was none of my business.

At her funeral I had zero regrets. I’m crying right now, but I still celebrate that time together and our talks about life, magic, prayer, God, the human spirit, and death. I remain so thankful I didn’t let fear create a boundary.

That’s the thing about boundaries. They need to reflect our values and matter to us.

You have a right to set and hold boundaries around general expectations as well as some responsibility to be clear about them with others. By general expectations I mean things like requesting a significant other contact you if they’re running late, regarding raised voices (I grew up amid passionate arguments so I don’t mind raised voices, but some people find them very aggressive), sarcasm, personal insults, assisting with household or common-area work tasks (yes, please!), tipping (please don’t be cheap), violence (no, including threats), and any topic that matters to you.

Speaking of things that matter, a friend of mine has a 300-question guide he uses to size up potential relationships. While I laughed about it, I also applauded him for taking time to figure out if others’ values mesh with his. We all need to acknowledge our values, know what’s not flexible, and recognize changes as time passes. Lifelong learning is important to me. I love travel and learning other languages. My views of the “isms” (like Racism, Sexism, Ageism, Size-ism) aren’t very negotiable. Knowing what’s important to you should matter to others in your life. Politics. Money. Credit cards? Family. Social media time. Education? Reading. Religion and spirituality. Ambition? Fortune-tellers. Sports. Holidays?

My dad referred to New Year’s Eve as “amateur night for budding alcoholics,” so he always turned in early that evening. For me, it’s a time to reflect on one year and welcome the new with hope and joy.

Value and the associated boundaries may change over time. I worried about spoiling my children. My grandkids? So few worries. Growing up, my dad shut down certain discussions, including professional sports, during family gatherings because they resulted in insults and angry exchanges. In my world, Super Bowl Sunday exists for eating, laughing, and talking smack about opposing teams. Never witnessed food policing or a temper flare, even for a minute.

Some time ago I watched a video with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. He refrains from violence, of course, but he told a story. A pesky mosquito comes to visit us.  We wave it away. And wave it away. And wave it away. And without thinking, whack. An act of violence against the mosquito. He chuckled and made a comment about all of us doing our best and moving forward. Amen to that.

For tips on maintaining boundaries, check out this article.[i]

Will be back next week.  Until then, may you be healthy, happy, 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.[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.

Copyright D.R. deLuis 2020

[i] https://psychcentral.com/blog/when-people-cross-your-boundaries/

[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 1-800-273-8255; to reach the Crisis Text Line in the US and Canada text “HOME” to 741741; in the UK text 85258; in Ireland text 2050808.