Tag Archives: gratitude



So, you know those days when you just want to throw your hands up and say “F*@% it”?  That’s been me for the past couple of weeks.  There have been a series of events, some professional, some personal, and some societal, that have resulted in a loss of my generally optimistic and trusting nature*.

*This statement may, quite possibly, be sarcastic.

Bear with me while I give you some background, before I get to the real point of this post.  I’ll try to keep it succinct.  (Y’all know I ramble, right?)

Yesterday, an acquaintance phoned me, after a mere 7 or 8 years, to tell me that a former boss was mentally “down”, and thought it would be oh-so-helpful if I reached out to offer reassurance and friendship to him.  The former boss that went entirely on the attack when I resigned from his company.  The former boss that tried desperately to ruin my reputation in the industry and the community.  The former boss that tied up my energy and most of my retirement income in a frivolous lawsuit that took 3 years to get thrown out.  Yes, THAT former boss is depressed and is in need of his old friends to rally around him, and I should learn how to let go of past transgressions.

While that phone call was the proverbial straw, the advice that I should learn to “let go” was like a blow torch to dynamite.  I have been on what my grandmother would have called “a bender” ever since…eating and crying and hating people in general, and some people in particular.  I have been raging against an onslaught of dishonesty, disrespect, being taken for granted, and injustices to people around me.  Thankfully, I only rage in my head so as not to disturb others.

I call that “Catholic raging”. 

I sit and spew mental fire and cry and eat things I shouldn’t and make my dogs look at me funny and my husband get that exasperated face and say “What is WRONG with you?”  I am raging and loathing and sobbing as I type this.  If I didn’t need my hands for the keyboard, I’d be eating, too.  It’s not a pretty scene.

Because sometimes I get tired of doing the right thing.  I get tired of taking the high road.  I get tired of forgiving.  I get tired of being responsible.  I get tired of accepting bad behavior.  I want to throw my hands up and be helpless and let someone clean up my messes.  I want to get even and toss out paybacks like penny candy at a Christmas Parade.  I want to walk away silently whilst flipping the bird.  I want to be the sort of selfish badass that just leaves it all behind.

So, that’s where I found myself.  It’s a ridiculous, non-productive, unhealthy place.  Time to adjust sails and get my perspective back.

This is where the real point of this post starts, so if you’ve hung in there with me thus far, thank you.

I decided to focus on vacation, which is only 59 days away.  There is still so much to do:  menu planning, t-shirt making, beach mat blinging…it’s like a full time job, except I WANT to do it and I DON’T get paid, which I guess makes it the opposite of most full time jobs.  Whatever.

Steve, in his practical wisdom, and knowing that I am not in the best place right now, innocently suggested that maybe this isn’t the right year for the beach vacation.  Maybe we should put it off a year.  Go to St. Louis instead.  Something more low key.  Which made me cry harder, but at the same time gave me that much needed perspective.

When I was growing up, we took one trip:  The Great Anderson Family Vacation of 1969.  7 people in a Chevy Malibu.  My parents, my two sisters, one brother, and our parish priest.  Why did the priest go?  I’m not sure, but I think it had something to do with the fact that he was the one that owned the Malibu.  The Andersons didn’t have anything fancy like a car in 1969, ya know.  The priest may have also paid for the vacation, but I don’t know that for sure.  It still wasn’t a complete family vacation; one brother was God-knows-where with the Navy, and the other was on tour in Vietnam.

I have so many memories of that trip, and it is still the source of endless laughter at family gatherings.  Watching my Dad convince a deer to eat from his hand in Estes Park.  My sisters’ swimsuits, made by my mother, literally dissolving in the Great Salt Lake.  Freezing on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco because we Midwesterners thought all of California was 80 degrees all the time.  Trying mint jelly on a lamb chop, and gagging on it.  Being besieged by window washers as we drove into Mexico from Texas.  A horse trying to roll over on my Mom during a trail ride.  My Dad digging through the trunk every morning to find the bottle of Karo syrup if I wanted pancakes, because I didn’t like anything else on them.  My Mom with a death grip on the back of my shirt at the Grand Canyon, because she didn’t want me to fall in.  To this day, my only memory of the Grand Canyon is what the backs of other people’s legs looked like.

It was glorious and awful and funny and hot and crowded. It was The Great Anderson Family Vacation, and it was the only one we ever had.

Fast forward 4 years.  Not exactly a vacation, but we were going to go to Six Flags, which had opened in St. Louis a year or two before.  It was a big deal to me, because I’d never been to an amusement park.  I had been to school picnics at St. Mary Magdalen and some other surrounding parishes, and the concept of something as grand as Six Flags just blew my mind.  I mean, what could be better than the Scrambler and the Round Up?  My Dad was taking his week’s vacation, and while it was sure to be full of house projects, like every one of his vacations was, we were going to go to Six Flags.

But we didn’t.  The day before Six Flags, on my Dad’s last day of work before vacation, he suffered a massive coronary while in mid-sentence on a loading dock.  Lights out.  It was over, and there would never be another vacation, or baseball game, or fish fry, or house project.

My sister and her new husband took me to Six Flags later that summer.  It was awesome.  Really.  But I will always remember that my Dad never made it to that park.

The beach can’t wait until next year, because next year isn’t promised.  THIS year isn’t promised.  A lot can happen in 59 days.

The good stuff should never be pushed aside while we wallow in the inevitable bad crap that happens in life.  That’s backwards.

I can’t walk away from my world whilst flipping the bird.  That’s not who I am.

I can’t throw my hands up and let my world crumble around me.  That would make me ashamed of myself.

I can’t go on the attack or retaliate against people who fully deserve retaliation.  That goes against the laws of Karma, and in case I didn’t mention it, I pretty much try to hold true to that belief system.

I’m going to stop crying, stop binging on carbohydrates, and stop being angry at everything that breathes.  I am going to work on beach bags and t-shirts and cruise Groupon hoping for a deal on hot air balloon rides.

I am not calling the former boss.  I’m a believer in doing the right thing, but I’m not a martyr.



A Perfect Christmas

A Perfect Christmas

The title got you, didn’t it?  Everyone wants to find the secret to “A Perfect Christmas”.  Do you know that if you Google that particular phrase, you’ll get nearly 57 MILLION results?  We’re obsessed.  We all want to reach that pinnacle of holiday transcendence!

What does that even mean, and why are we so willing to sacrifice our finances, energy, mental and emotional health to achieve it?  Why are there so many Clark Griswold’s among us?


What if you could have a wonderful Christmas without going broke?  Without feeling like it’s never enough?  Without your year end calendar looking like the Dave Matthews Band tour schedule?  You can.  The best Christmases are made up of one thing, and one thing only:  Great memories.  Let’s talk about making those, shall we?

Like most people in my generation (dear God, if you ever want to feel old, just say – or type – “my generation”), we didn’t have extravagant Christmases when I was growing up.  Or extravagant anything.  Forget extravagant…I don’t think we even had standard-vagant.  But no matter….my Christmas memories are stunning and warm and wonderful.

We didn’t have much, but we had the important things.  We had the Firestone Christmas Collection albums that played Vic Damone, Julie Andrews, and the Vienna Boys Choir on the console stereo.  I would RUSH to turn the LPs over when one side finished, and my mother warned each time “don’t you scratch those records!”  We had visits from my grandparents, and an Advent wreath, and red tapered candles that were only lit at Christmas.  We had a real tree that made the house smell glorious all by itself, no pine sprays needed. (We didn’t worry about pine needles in the carpet then.  We had this nifty thing called a vacuum, and if that didn’t work, the kids crawled around on the floor and picked up every last one of them.)

Oh, and with real tinsel.  That had to be put on one strand at a time.  ONE strand at a time.  Or risk the wrath of my oldest sister.  Then the cat would eat the tinsel off the tree.  And you’d find tinsel in their poop.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever cleaned a litter box with tinsel-poop in it!


My grandmother would bake pies that were simply perfect, and my mother would completely ruin a potentially scrumptious turkey by baking it for 12 hours.  We used the real bone china, which was older than the hills and only removed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.  The fancy cutlery also came out of its velvet lined box, and was painstakingly polished the week before.

There were Christmas specials on television, usually strung together on one or two nights, that meant staying up late and getting popcorn and Kool-Aid. There were parades, and festivals, and potlucks.  Our teachers spent weeks preparing for chorale programs that filled the gymnasium with assorted relatives and neighbors, and ended with each of us getting our own candy cane.

Midnight Mass was never missed, which meant my Mother’s mandate of an afternoon nap so I could stay awake at church.  A nap.  On Christmas Eve. When every child in the world is so excited they can feel their hair growing.  I’m sure I never dozed off, and I’m sure she knew I wouldn’t doze off, but it gave her some extra free time to get those last minute tasks done…or maybe just have a glass of wine in peace.

It. Was. Amazing.

But you know what I don’t remember?  What gifts I received.  With the exception of a stuffed snake that was bigger than I was from my sister the year I was almost 7, I only recall new handmade flannel gowns from my grandmother.  That’s it.

Then I had my own family, and for a short while, lost my mind trying to have THE BEST CHRISTMASES EVER!  I started the Toys R Us layaways around June or something equally ridiculous.  I fussed over the latest hors d’oeuvres featured in Good Housekeeping and Reader’s Digest.  I put up trees in the living room, the family room, the dining room…and table top trees in the kids’ rooms.  I coordinated outfits, and made my daughters wear crushed velvet dresses in August to take advantage of the Olan Mills’ pre-holiday sales.

I digress.  My revelation about what truly matters was hard earned, and for another post.  In a nutshell:  Got divorced, got really poor, and yada yada yada…learned that my kids didn’t care about all that stuff.  I call it “The Miracle of the Paper Chain”, and I promise to write about it soon.

Now, about having that wonderful Christmas.  Let’s apply the K.I.S.S. principal (Keep It Simple, Sweetie!):

Keep A Tradition (or Make a New One)

It doesn’t really matter what it is, but there is precious sentimentality in being able to say, “Every year, we…..”  Took photos at the giant tree in front of City Hall?  Had a movie/popcorn night on Christmas Eve?  Went caroling?  Made handmade cards?  Not everyone is cut out to read “T’was The Night Before Christmas” in front of a roaring fireplace.  Whether you want to carry on something significant from your past, or break the mold and go in a new direction, commit to a holiday tradition.

Create Something

Are you artistic?  I’m not.  At all.  No skills.  I can’t sew, I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument.  I can cook a bit, but I’m not a natural and I have a limited repertoire.  OK, pretty much I’m the queen of chili and French silk pie….anything else is a crap shoot.  The bottom line is that the effort matters more than the result.  Whether you make a digital holiday card, whip up dozens of cookies, write an entertaining Christmas letter or poem, knit some mittens for your neighbor, or bedazzle your way to the 1st place award in the office Ugly Sweater Contest, use your creativity and share it with those around you.


Give of Yourself

Easy option:  write a check to a local charity.  I would never discourage anyone who has the means from supporting organizations that help others.  If you want to genuinely fill your heart, though, cash won’t do it.  Adopt a family for Christmas.  Volunteer at a local animal shelter, homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or food pantry.  Take a turn as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.  If you can play a piano, there are nursing homes everywhere that would welcome an hour of Christmas songs filling the halls.  Short on funds, but have energy to offer?  Clean a house for a neighbor, put up someone’s Christmas lights, offer to address Christmas cards for someone whose arthritis makes it hard for them to do, offer to babysit for a friend who needs some private time.  I promise you, there is an abundance of need for things you can do.   The “Season of Giving” was never meant to mean material things.


Eat, Play, Love

I will be the last person to advise you to throw caution to the wind on what you eat, because I know those who struggle with food choices (like myself) don’t need anyone telling them to just enjoy the holidays and eat whatever they want.  I will tell you, though, that you should not feel guilty if your coworker makes the best cookies ever and you have one.  The anxiety we create for ourselves by obsessing over what not to indulge in effects the scale more than that cookie does, I promise you.

Be silly.  Play the Pie in the Face game or Twister.  Yes, you’ll look ridiculous.  It’s OK.  Sing Karaoke.  Get out the Monopoly game.  When’s the last time you played a rousing game of War with a deck of cards?  Do you have snow where you are?  If you do, know that I’m jealous, and you practically owe it to me to either have a snowball fight or build a snowman or make snow ice cream. The critical thing is to put down your phone or tablet, and engage with people.

Love each other.  While most aren’t comfortable with an abundance of emotional gushing, the holiday season offers a free pass for getting gushy without being branded a weirdo.  Whether it’s the general vibe or the result of the eggnog, it’s ok to look someone in the eye and say “You mean the world to me”.  And unless you’re saying that to someone you’ve been secretly stalking for six months, it will mean the world to them to hear it.  So if you’re reminiscing about good times and someone’s name comes up that isn’t with you, pick up your phone and reach out.  Be genuine.

Oh, and my final thought:  If you want a happier life, don’t abandon these tips when January rolls around.  If you live your life with appreciation, generosity, and love, it will come back to you.




Blind Faith

Blind Faith

I write often of my family:  Steve, the kids, the grands, and even the four legged ones.  I don’t often write of the rest of my family, but today I’m going to write about my brother Al.

His name is actually Alexander, which is also my son’s name, and my father’s name.  For simplification, I’ll just refer to my brother as Al.

A few weeks ago, we received a lovely invitation to a celebration of his 65th birthday.  In true Al style, the invitation explained that this was a celebration of all of us, his family and friends, for giving him such a wonderful 65 years, so no gifts allowed!  When the big day arrived (yesterday, as a matter of fact), we headed to the celebration, bringing only a card to honor his request.

Of course he didn’t want gifts.  He never wants anything, at least not for himself.  He is a giver…. of time, of energy, of prayer, of commitment, of anything he has to give.  He was ordained into the priesthood 40 years ago, and has literally spent every day of his life focused on living up to the vows he took on that day.  Many times, my Mother recounted the story of Al’s premature birth, of the doctor who signed the death certificate and directed the nurse to fill in the actual time after baby Al passed away so that he wouldn’t have to wait around at the hospital.  Yet, he didn’t die.  He was tiny and weak, but he survived.  Then he thrived.  My Mother insisted that God saved him so that he could enter the priesthood.  When hearing my brother Mike reminisce last night about 7-year-old Al handing out Necco wafers and pretending they were Communion hosts, it’s not such a stretch to believe that God did just that.

It’s true, Al knew even before he was school age that he was to be a priest.  He never questioned it.  Never wavered.  Never took a sabbatical to go “find himself”, never struggled with doubts about whether or not he was making the right choice.  He just knew.  Life jugglers like myself, who really just try to get from one month to the next, are truly envious of that sort of calling.

He spoke last night of all the blessings he’s had in his life, and how wonderful it’s been up to this point.  He spoke of what every person in that room has meant to him, and his appreciation was both effusive and genuine.

I don’t know how he does it.  Called to his vocation or not, I’d be a little ticked off at God if He had tapped me for that job.  Al has gone where he was directed to go, and done whatever needed to be done.  He’s grown congregations, taught school children, learned how to manage construction budgets, tended to the sick,  counseled, inspired, advised, buried, married, and listened.  Priests don’t really get days off.  While he has eeked out a few vacations here and there, for the vast majority of his life, he’s on 24/7.  My other brother said it best in his toast to Al last night: “No matter what, he has never wavered in his faith.”

Now, at 65, he is looking back on that with gratitude, seeing only the joy of the relationships he’s built, the lives he influenced, and the happiness he’s experienced.  Retirement?  Not in his vocabulary, at least not as long as he is physically, mentally, and emotionally capable.

The truly amazing thing is that I have another brother and two sisters who are just like him.  The other brother came back from serving in Vietnam and joined the police force.  41 years after starting as a patrol cop, he retired (reluctantly, I might add) as a Lieutenant.  Cops don’t have days off either, not really.  Their shifts don’t end after 8 hours, and it’s not unusual for them to last more than 16 hours.  Court schedules don’t care about days off or schedule rotation; I can’t count the number of times he worked through the night, then napped for an hour before heading back to court to testify in a case.  He never complained.  It was his job, and for 41 years he did it with dedication, integrity, commitment, and pride.

My two sisters are both mothers, and both of them have raised amazing daughters.  One has been in nursing for more years than she’d want to admit, but forty wouldn’t be overstating it.  She completed her Master’s Degree in her 40’s, still works full time in the ER, teaches the next generation of nurses 2 days a week, and of course finds time to babysit her grandchildren and tend her garden.  Happily.  The other sister surrendered her career track to support her husband’s business aspirations.  She cheered his successes, and as the promotions lead to relocations, provided a stable home for all of them time after time.  Always making sure the spotlight is pointed at someone or something else.  She accommodates, coordinates, coaches, and volunteers.  All the while smiling and being grateful for her life.

These four people are the most selfless humans I know.  Today, though….today I will just focus on Al.  The others will each get their turn, but I can only gush so much in one post.

Al and I haven’t had a close relationship.  To start off with, there’s the age difference.  Since he pursued his vocation early in life, he was away in the Seminary when I was still quite young.  I think my teenage years were typical, and hanging out with my brother, the completely uncool priest, was not high on my list of priorities.  Soon I was married and moved away, and gradually moved away from my Catholic roots.  Getting a divorce didn’t help, but it didn’t really drive a wedge between us.  Remarrying outside of the Church didn’t help either, but by that time I think he had accepted that I was on a different path.  I don’t think he was happy about it, but he accepted it.  We didn’t have much in common.  Still, he is my brother, and we are far from strangers.  Our visits with one another are determined by the number of holidays that I make it home for annually, plus  the number of weddings, funerals, and other special get togethers that occur in the family.  It’s inconsistent, but we are glad to see one another, and catch up and laugh.

The other reason we’ve not had a close relationship (and Al may not know this, but fortunately he’s never on the internet so he won’t read it here) is that I just couldn’t live up to what I interpreted his standards to be.  I mean, the guy is in the business of spiritual guidance, and let’s just say that I’ve spent more than my share of time bungling those hard choices.  While I can confidently say my last 20 years have been my best, I had some serious failings in the 20 years prior to that.  I failed at marriage.  I made horrendous errors in child rearing (thank you, God and The Village that made my kids turn out to be fabulous anyway).  I failed at friendships.  I failed at religion.  I was so afraid of failing at being the person I knew I should be that I chose to not try.  I kind of sucked.

During his “thank you” speech last night, Al jokingly mentioned that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate his friends and family at this milestone.  Since our parents passed at 51 and 62,  we all subconsciously view anything past 60 as “borrowed time”.  Creepy….morbid….and true.  It was a poignant moment, and hearing my two brothers choke up when speaking about one another brought me to tears.

After a lovely dinner, Al distributed the table decor (potted cottage tea roses) to each of the ladies in attendance, and then gave each couple a thank you basket for attending.  Yes, my brother gave people individual thank you gifts for attending a dinner in celebration of his birthday.   As we were heading out, Al handed me a basket with our name on it.  It had an “M” monogram, and was filled with a custom-made cutting board, personalized stationery, a carefully selected bottle of wine, a pound of whole hog sausage (does he know his sister, or what?!?), a box of gourmet chocolates, and an audio CD that he made with the Rosary prayers recorded.

Not a lot of commonality between the two paths Al and I took. Fortunately, I know now that there are many, many roads that lead to the same destination.   I’m where I should be.  I’m who I should be.   My path has not been as straight forward as his, but now I realize it was the one I had to take.   I wish Al and I had been able to travel our paths together more than we did, but I’ve no doubt benefited from watching his journey.  Even from a distance, seeing his route certainly helped me navigate around some of those dead end side roads.

Happy birthday, Al.  I’m grateful for you, too.