Personal Growth – the gift that keeps on giving

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Dear readers, it’s almost my birthday. Again.  Can you believe how this last year has flown by? As some of you may remember, I was fortunate enough to have a 2nd year at being “45” (you can read about that here). But after two years, it’s time to move on to 46. I’ve been dreading it because it seems so much closer to the ominous 5-0. Blech– not looking forward to that one. That means I must squeeze the joy and happiness out of the remainder of my 40’s while I can.

I don’t know if I feel any great sense of accomplishment over this past year, but I did make some bigger and harder decisions, and if nothing else there has been personal growth.

In January I had to put two beloved dogs to sleep. Not a day has passed where I don’t think of them, though now its easier to talk about how amazing they were. Pepper’s picture sits on my desk and is very comforting on my rougher days.  Since then I have met a few people who have older dogs with health issues who absolutely will not put them down and I feel my heart ache for their pain even as I pray for them to have strength. Its not an easy choice, but I still think its selfish to let an animal suffer because we don’t want to face the world without them. They love us unconditionally and we must do the same.

Before the weather turned too warm, my mom came to visit from Oregon. It was a whirlwind visit, as usual, but so good to see her. Its so great to see how many friends she still has here that all vie for her attention when she’s in town. I realize I want to be that loved and that funny when I’m her age.

Somewhere around June I ended a year-long relationship. It hurt like hell. Being older and wiser doesn’t make heartbreak and betrayal hurt any less.

In July my son moved out of state to live with his dad. This was a case of picking my battles. It hurt to send him off, but I couldn’t keep hounding him for, well, everything. (What is it with boys not bathing?!) Thankfully I have an excellent relationship with my ex, so there wasn’t any custody drama or anything like that. My son is doing well in his new school and has a new bunch of friends and for that I am grateful.

In August I cut my hair really short. Something I said I wouldn’t do again. Amazingly I love it!

Finally there is the biggest change of the year, I started a new job this week. I’m relieved to be out of that last hell, but this new gig isn’t really eliciting any enthusiasm yet. The pay is considerably more, but then so is the commute. But my boss is much easier to get along with, and surprisingly we have the same birthday! Maybe that’s why I don’t see his tendency to be a smart ass as a problem – because I understand it too well. It’s the new opportunity I’ve wanted for the last 2 years – I will make the most of it.

This is the last weekend before my birthday. Saturday is the new company picnic at the zoo, so my daughter and I will be out there enjoying festivities and seeing the giraffes – yes at 20 she is excited to see giraffes of all things. Then Sunday we are volunteering at the Air Show. My daughter has never been and I haven’t been in years so that will be a full day. The bonus is I get to use the “but its my birthday” excuse all weekend so THAT will be fun! I’m turning 46 – I take my cheap thrills where I can get them.

Enough of the retrospect. The next year-long adventure starts in a matter of days. I’m kicking it off with two adventures…first, there is a weekend getaway to visit my son and ex in Iowa. I know, it’s not epic, but it’s a place I’ve never been to and I really miss my son. The second is guitar lessons – electric guitar at that. Those of you who know me are re-reading that statement. I fully understand, but its different and it was either that or hang-gliding. Who knows, maybe I’ll fit that into this year’s adventures too.

She’s wheeling in a what?

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It started out a typical Monday morning.  I didn’t really want to get out of bed, especially not for work. I was dragging my feet (and other body parts) and just puttering along, finally getting into the car and out into traffic.  Finally navigated my share of friendly Houston drivers to get to the office (amazingly on time).  Managed to not get hit by some coworkers driving in the garage who were apparently doubly anxious to get in to work, and grudgingly made my way in to the elevator bank.

Waiting…waiting…crowd is growing…waiting…really? This is (expletive) ridiculous! Or so said some of those waiting with me .  We were at work, but couldn’t get to work, and oddly that makes people irritable.

Then something caught my eye and I looked to see a lady wheeling in a shrouded object on a dolly. Actually most everyone around me looked at her, or more specifically the object she wheeled.  It may have been draped in a black cover, but there was no mistaking the shape. It was a harp. Yes, H-A-R-P – harp.  There were murmurs from a few people behind me “she’s wheeling a what?”  Again, yes, a harp.

harp1

Then a funny thing happened, the elevator doors opened but no one got in. Seems the sight of a lady wheeling a harp on a dolly is just THAT out of the ordinary. Someone realized we had to catch the elevator, and we regained our collective senses and packed in. I couldn’t help but smile at her because it was so unusual for all of us, yet so obviously normal for her. As I did I overheard her saying “I couldn’t leave it in the car.” Which has nagged my brain most of the day because I can only wonder with insatiable curiosity why she had it with her in the first place.  Since I don’t know her, I may never know the answer to that.  But she, and the mystery of the harp, broke my Monday monotony and changed the course of my morning for the better.

I wish you all some rare moment that breaks your routine and gives you a moment of unexpected happiness.

Prayers and Life Lessons

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Recently a very patient friend rubbed my nose in a life lesson.path quote2

A few weeks ago I hit a low I didn’t even know I had. Several days of running in crisis mode, worrying about too many little details and being a go-between for arguing family members left me burned out. Then I sank from there. I got into a dark place of WTF – why was I breaking my neck for people who could care less? I didn’t expect accolades, but a ‘thank you’ would have been nice. It progressed into a general feeling of worthlessness, of living an unremarkable life, of realizing no one really gives a damn or worries about me the way I worry about them. Oh yes, a true pity party and I spared no expense! I was never suicidal, but I did really want to just pack my shit and leave – or crawl into the fine bottle of bourbon sitting in my cabinet and never come out. I didn’t do either one – instead I tuned the world out and slept. A LOT. I went through the motions of life in a zombie-like phase for about a week. (Apparently I should have reread my own blog post https://jenxian.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/strangled-with-my-wonder-woman-cape/)

Historically that’s about how long it takes my inner strength to rebound, reach for a clean pair of big-girl panties, and get back into the fight. Only that didn’t happen. There was only this hollow emptiness and that scared me more than I thought possible. Now I have a couple friends who have known some very dark places, and have experience with inner demons and human failings. The one I expected to answer was not available, and the one I didn’t think would take my call actually agreed to meet me. (Serendipity is a favorite word for good reason – good movie too) https://jenxian.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/wordsmithing/.paths2

I know God put this man in my life for a reason, though not the one I originally thought it was. He let me vent, he understood the frustrations, and he pointed out some things that I hadn’t even looked at. I told him I was wiped out and no one even cared, even as I realized if he didn’t care he wouldn’t be talking to me – and I told him that too. Then he told me our hardest growth comes during our darkest times. Life lesson time!

He gave me a lecture on perspective, the power of prayer, my own inner strength, and followed up with a reminder that while I thought things were bad, they could always be much, MUCH worse. While it was a critical lecture, it was exactly what I needed, mostly because I recognized that he had been put in that place, at that time, to convey a very specific message. After some ice cream, more purging/lecture/venting/acceptance, and a desperately needed hug, I came away feeling like I’d been put through another emotional blender, yet surprisingly I felt renewed. I also left with a much needed attitude adjustment.

Sometimes we get so consumed by life that we forget our strengths (and apparently our own advice), and we need to be reminded that this too shall pass.  Sometimes that reminder is as simple as a friend’s voice on the phone, and sometimes its a painful kick in the butt to get us moving again.   After much prayer and soul searching I am definitely back in motion.

Now if I can just get my guardian angel to whack me over the head with the “aha!” stick – I need some direction for this renewed sense of purpose and direction.  (Yes, I am aware I just Universally asked for it!)

Disclaimer: Yes I know I have other friends and family that love me and care about my well being. I continue to pray for those who are in their own darkness, facing their own trials and demons (including the very dear friend who gave me this kick in the butt).path quote8

John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16

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Keith Urban has a song out that says ‘I learned everything from John Cougar, John Deere and John 3:16’. I like the song a lot, but it made me think of the other John’s who have had a hand in shaping our world. It’s always been a popular name, but more importantly, I think we automatically associate it with familiar faces, legends and legacies, and have just come expect more from the men of this moniker.

John316

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, or even an exhaustive one, just the ones that came to mind immediately when thinking of the name ‘John’, (other than my son Jonathan and my uncle John).

Political and Historical Figures

John F. Kennedyjfk

Pope John Paul

John Paul Jones

John McCain

John D. Rockefeller

John Kerry

Entertainment

John Denver                                      John Ritter

John Lennon                                      John Belushi

John Legend                                      John Cena

Johnny Cash                                       John Candy

John Bonham                                    Johnny Depp

Jon Bon Jovi                                       John Malkovich

John Grisham                                    John Stamosjohnwayne

John Steinbeck                                 John Travolta

John Elway                                    John Cusack

John Madden                                    John Wayne

Fictional Characters

John Carter of Mars                        Johnny Storm

John McClain                                     Johnny Bravo

John Connor

Little John

And let’s not forget

Long Johns

Johnny B Goode

And my personal favorite, Johnnie Walker (in whatever color coat he may be wearing).

Here’s a toast to the next generation of great guys named John who will shape our lives and affect our world for the better.

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A Little Green Therapy

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Sometimes it all sucks. Sometimes it’s just all a little too much.  No details but the past week was miserable and today was like a bonus layer of expletive filled moments. I desperately needed to relieve the frustration and tension, and when I came home, I was intending to have a good cry and maybe a nap.  Instead I caught sight of the bare root rose bush sitting on my porch.  Rose bush + pot + soil = therapy.

new rose bush

This is what she should look like in a few weeks.

Ever since I moved out of my house I’ve missed having flowerbeds. Antique roses, various herbs, honeysuckle vines.  I miss playing in the dirt. I miss seeing the growth of new leaves, the tight buds that unfurl into vibrant flowers, seeing the plants thrive and knowing I had a hand in that. Ha! Dirt covered hands.

So that’s what I did to expend some frustration. I scooped soil into the waiting pot, got my hands all into it, unwrapped the plant that’s been sprouting leaves despite lack of soil, and I put her in a roomy new home.  She’s a lovely little hybrid tea rose – yellow with red tipped petals – I can’t wait to see her in bloom.  I set her between the plumeria and aloe – she’ll get a lot of sun light but not too much water – which I’ve noticed comes off the eaves of the new place in buckets (apparently we don’t believe in gutters here).

So yes, I felt immensely better after getting some fresh air and dirt time.  I put away the potting soil and came in to wash my hands. Then I saw the various plants crowding my kitchen window sill; a succulent collection outgrowing its original pot, the friendship cactus that needed new soil, lots of ivy and some dracaena rooting in the fish bowls.  Oh and there’s that schefflera that’s been growing roots in a bottle in my bedroom. They all suddenly needed attention – the therapy continued.

plants in the fishbowl

Ivy thriving in the betta fish bowl

The schefflera was potted into soil and still happily fits on my bedroom window sill. All the succulents and cactus were consolidated into one larger pot that occupies most of the kitchen window sill. The dracaena stalks were put into a more becoming container and just fits next to the cactus, but I left the ivies in the fish bowls because the fish seem to like it as much as the plants.

Plants in the window

The succulents have growing room now. A happy kitchen window.

More dirt time. More contentment. More frustration purged and tension relieved.  More life given to the green growing things that grace my home with their unassuming beauty and gentle simplicity.  I’m not saying all the problems of the last week have been swept away and forgotten, but a little green therapy has gone a long way to clear my perspective and restore a sense of balance.

Hmm, maybe I need to create an herb garden or grow some veggies in the backyard. Green therapy seems to work for me.

For the love of dogs

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It’s been a few weeks but now I feel I can get this out…

At the end of January I made the painful decision to put our eldest two dogs to sleep. Putting one down is heart-wrenching, but two puts you on the edge of psychosis.

So many people asked why I was doing it, some even looked at me horrified like I was doing a bad thing, as if making this decision wasn’t hard enough. But I loved both dogs beyond measure, and I had made them both a promise long ago that when they came to the point of living in daily pain, I wouldn’t let them suffer. I’ve long held that we’re far kinder to the animals we love than the humans, but I’ll save that for another blog.

My beautiful Pepper. Rescued from the SPCA she was all mutt, 65 lbs of hair and attitude. She channeled Houdini and could get out of spaces her big butt should never have fit through. We’re pretty sure she hid opposable thumbs on those ginormous paws and fully understood “human”. She had a cast-iron stomach and felt she should she live off people food, knowing how to sit-pretty to ensure she would be rewarded. Shortly after adopting her I found out two key things; 1) she was the best watchdog ever, and 2) she had an area of her lower spine where the vertebrae were fusing together. The vet said it would only be a few years before she wouldn’t be able to walk. Pepper was about 6 at the time and I dreaded how quickly she was going to become immobile. Fast forward another 6 years and she was quite happy to prove her diagnosis wrong.

dogpic4(Me and my girl Pepper)

But at 12, the pain of her back was definitely catching up to her. Always game for a car ride, Pepper was at the point where jumping into the back seat resulted in very ungraceful scramblings. Sitting was a lopsided event because of hip pain, and laying down was met with painful grunting. Those beautiful brown eyes had turned milky white and she had silvered so much around her face and ears. My protective girl barked at everything outside because she couldn’t see to distinguish friend or foe. In the house she became a crotchety old woman, laying at my feet and growling at the other dogs if they came into her space. Having loved this dog for so long, it was evident she was miserable.

Now while Pepper had been adopted into our house, baby Jake had been born into it. Jon’s Buddy Jake was a Golden Retriever, picked out of the litter by my son Jon as a 5th birthday present. Teething, house training, learning to swim, basic obedience – we went through all those fun activities with Jake. Ultimately he turned into one amazing and highly loveable dog, though on occasion he proved not so bright. Hence he was referred to as our beach-blonde surfer boy (think Spicolli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High). He would look at you with an expression that said “Dude..where’s my ball?” “Dude, I’m tired. Where’s my ball?” “Dude, I need to go outside. Where’s my ball?” The retriever instinct was especially high in him. Tennis balls, Frisbees, socks, stuffed animals – all were viewed as “the ball”, and all were fair game as far as Jake was concerned. He was also very devoted to his family. He had no issue with defending us against threatening dogs, including one terroristic little yorkie who came racing over to our yard and was subsequently picked up and shaken like a rag doll. Jake got a lot of playtime and lovin’s for that! (yes the vicious little hairball was fine- and quick to vacate our yard).

dogpic1(Jake having fun at the dog park)

But as with a lot of large dogs, hip dysplasia set in for our boy. His hind leg muscles atrophied and he became quite lopsided- heavy muscles up front from pulling himself upright, and skinny butt in the back that shook with weakness. Even the four steps on the back porch proved too much on certain days and while he could get down them, he couldn’t get back up and I’d have to pick up his back end and carry him up. He was to the point where he was winded even playing in the living room, and often yelped in pain for stepping wrong or when playing with the other dogs. He really only wanted to stretch out on the tile and rest (which was accompanied by some serious old man groaning for the effort). At 9 years old our baby Jake was in daily pain and there was nothing more the vet could do beyond just trying to make him comfortable.

So when I decided it was time to move rental houses, I also decided it was time to give my beloved dogs some peace. Our vet was wonderful through the whole process. He has always been the most caring vet I’ve ever dealt with, but for this he was just as calm and caring as we could have ever wanted him to be. He understood that having them both put to sleep at the same time was a tremendously hard decision, but its not as if we could have decided which one to do one day, and then come back a week later and do the other one. THAT would have been Hell!   Knowing the date was approaching, the kids and I had spent extra time loving on Pepper and Jake, taking them to the dog park and indulging them with food and goodies. I also spent many hours holding Pepper at night and crying because I was losing her. I hereby formally declare DOING THE RIGHT THING SUCKS! Yet ultimately the process at the vet’s office was mercifully quick.

The last week in the house was emotionally hard. On top of the usual routine of a fulltime job, Jon’s school work, and Chelsie’s 20-something drama, there was packing to do, move planning, and a pervasive emptiness hanging over the house from the loss of our two dearest companions. Let’s just say emotional outbursts were frequent from all parties.

But we did move, and each day gets a little easier. It’s been almost a month and I can finally write about this – I’m choked up but not sobbing so I consider that progress. We are not completely dogless either, but having only one feels tremendously different. At 2 Cloe is young and energetic, but at times she has an old and knowing soul and looks at me with a Pepper expression that melts my heart. She’s still working through the loss of her pack, especially her boyfriend Jake, but she’s settling in to her roles of house-protector and plate-cleaner. She’s picked up a few other Pepper traits too, knowing how to sit-pretty and improving her Houdini-escapes by getting her big butt out of completely locked kennels (yep, they’re still locked but she’s not in them). I think there will ultimately be another four-legged addition to the family, but it’s going to be a while. I’m content to spoil Cloe while my heartache heals.

dogpic3 (Cloe, Jake and Pepper)

A Birthday Gift To Myself

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It’s almost my birthday. For the last several years I’ve actually downplayed this date – not wanting any fuss and trying desperately to forget I had wasted another year of my life. This birthday is different. This year I have a full weekend’s worth plans with friends and I am almost giddy over people making a fuss to celebrate ME. Why? What’s changed so much? For starters, I’m getting a year back.

Oh what’s this? Did I find a time machine? Ha – no such luck. Instead I found out I’m just bad at simple addition. You see I’m 45 – what I have long considered to be the midpoint in life. I viewed the entire year as teetering on the pinnacle edge before spilling over into the latter half of my unremarkable lifespan. From here on it’s the proverbial downhill slide.

Then my lovely mother reminded me that I’m only 44.

Do you know that this means?!?! DO-OVER!!! One of those rare cosmic twists  where I get a second chance. Ok, so it’s a second chance to be something I wasn’t really in the first place. Except that I truly thought I was, and therefore it has been my reality. But since I’ve already spent nearly twelve months fretting over what I have/haven’t/should’ve/might’ve/wish-I-hadn’t done, I don’t have to do it again.

It’s incredibly liberating!

I actually get some time to enjoy balancing on this precarious edge (it’s a Libra trait). In these last few days of ol’ 44, I can take an appreciative look back and see that I’ve actually accomplished quite a bit, and started a lot more, and dreamt of even more. This lets me look ahead with greater optimism and decide which of those plans and projects to finish, which are best laid to rest, and give myself permission to accept new and braver challenges. After all, I’m only going to be 45! With technology and a healthy stubborn streak, that means I’m actually not at the halfway point yet. I can revisit this conversation for several years to come. Unless of course I skew the numbers again and lose another year or two somewhere, then I may just start randomly drawing numbers out of a hat -a brightly decorated, super glittery, birthday hat!

PS: I wish you all a very Happy Birthday – whenever that may be.

I should have taken a left.

You’re traveling down the peaceful road of daily life and miss the obvious signs that tell you to make an immediate left for comfort and normalcy. Instead you slide through sharp deadly turn and end up smack in the middle of chaos. Oh yeah, you know this place. It’s full of bumps and potholes, deep ruts, and darkness. Things have a tendency to jump out and scare the #$@# out of you when you least expect it.
Taking the turn that drives you past crazy and into the best-forgotten realms of insanity isn’t exactly a tour for the feint of heart. But it helps to remember that the chaos is full on illusion, fed by fear, and fueled by lack of faith.
So what do you do when you find yourself returned to the 6th circle of hell?
Step 1: Pray. Not a whisper for guidance, but an honest scream for help. If your stalled out, battery drained, smack in the middle of the darkness, then its time to dig deep and find your mustard seed.
Step 2: Be open. Angels leave us the craziest signs, sometimes delivered through the most unexpected messengers. Beyond that, if you are closed up, you can’t let either the light in or the darkness out.
Step 3: Run, do not walk, to the exit. Ok, sometimes this is crawling, but the point is that when the path is revealed, take it!
Step 4: Say thank you. Show your gratitude. Share your story, but be patient with those still stuck in chaos – we all learn our lessons in our own time.
While the road leading into the darkness is an easy and swift descent into madness, the path out is often filled with more potholes (disguised as learning experiences). It likely won’t be smooth going at first, but have faith. Repeat steps 1 & 2 as needed.

Ink is Therapy

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Some of us have difficulty verbally expressing ourselves. We need a deeper, more indelible expression of our desires, fears, loves, emotions, dreams, causes, opinions, or life experiences. We crave something permanently cast on the medium of our choosing…

Be it paper – illegibly scrawled out or furiously typed. Pouring heart and soul into inadequate descriptors, trying to capture essence in mere words, trying to voice thought/feeling/opinion/pain/joy/love/lust through character and prose while struggling to keep an audience enthralled with this gleaming sliver of imagination that is in fact a glimpse of our own wounded psyche. Ink in written form purges our inner turmoil while affording us an elusive chance for immortality through the gilded page.

But perhaps the canvas is a human one? Here our art becomes a deeply personal act of trust, often closer to the soul’s truth than the wearer cares to admit. Needle and ink become adrenaline fueled brushes of brilliance, coaxed across living paper, drawing out angst/pain/happiness/causes/memories until not only the artwork is permanent, but so is the tale of its creation. Ink in tattooed form grabs our darkest demons and drags them into the light, transforming scar and shadow into vibrant living monuments.

Ink is therapy, and as such may need to be repeated to keep the emotions purged, the shadows at bay, or the memories immortalized. Yet each time ink touches canvas, old wounds are healed and new dreams spring to life in chaotic perfection. The psyche is again relieved, the adrenaline and pain will once more fade, but the story in the ink shines on forever to tell the world who we really are.

 

 

Giving up on giving

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I often hear people complain about the commercialism of Christmas. I think I’m more concerned with the illegitimate offspring of commercialism and instant gratification; ungratefulness.

In this time of joy and well wishes, people are demonstrably at their worse. Any Black Friday sale will show you that. We need bigger tvs, newer gadgets, the hottest toy, and that last scarf that we know no one will like – but it’s the last one!

We fret over what to get the kids/the Boss/Uncle Ernie that smells funny.  What did we get them last year? What do they need/like/want/hate? We have anxiety attacks because we wait until week #49 to put any thought into the way we want to express our heartfelt notions to family and friends. Or worse yet, we have a bunch of unnecessary stuff from the Black Friday sales and no idea who it goes to. (Does Aunt Lisa really need a blender?) You’ve run up credit card debt and your blood pressure, and for what?

Now of course this isn’t the only predicament. I bet when you opened a gift (or two) this year you were touched by the sincere warmth the giver invested, the clever thoughtfulness that said they were thinking of you when they purchased that particular gift. (Was that too much sarcasm?)  Chances are you smiled and thanked them, then either looked for a gift receipt or started pondering who you could re-gift the item to.

Of course it is possible you have the opposite problem. You did actually spend some time fretting over your choice, thinking specifically of the recipient, then went above and beyond in your quest for perfection. You waited on gleeful pins and needles for the unveiling and…(drumroll)…”mmm, thanks, what’s next?”  Excuse me? I hunted for that! I had to do research, fight off other buyers, drive two hours out of the way, and then hide it for three months! BE GRATEFUL DAMMIT!!!

Either way, the question is the same…why bother?  Why put ourselves through the torment? Why go through the financial struggle and weeks of anxiety? Why do we feel guilty about buying presents for people we don’t even like? Why go insane buying gifts to symbolize how close we are to family and friends? Either you are or you aren’t. A new coffee maker or iPad isn’t going to change the actions of the other eleven months.

“But what about the kids?” Uhm, what about them? If you want to bring Santa into this, then you have to ask, were they really good this year? Or just passably tolerable since Thanksgiving? And taking them to see the big man and mete out their list of demands is just setting YOU up for failure and adding to the growing problem of ingratitude. Do you really need so much stress over a bunch of stuff your kids won’t care about in a day? (A week tops).  Save the money and headache, then do something as a family that will make memories and doesn’t require batteries.

Ok, I should take a moment out of this rant to clarify that I’m not opposed to gift giving, and I’m definitely not anti-Christmas. But after this particular season I just feel that the expressions of joy, faith, and kindness are lost in our world of instant-gratification. Holidays are supposed to be for sharing precious time with loved ones, not making ourselves ill over missing the 5 am door-buster sale. If they love you January to November, why would they stop if you didn’t offer them a gift? And if you feel compelled to give one, why does it have to be extravagant? When did simple and heart-felt become a sign of disrespect? (For instance, someone gave me a magazine subscription this year. Not extravagant, but I love it! It’s like a reminder every month that this person truly knows me.)

If you experienced ungratefulness this year, I hope you will rethink your plans for next year. Maybe we should warn family and friends ahead of time not to expect much, or anything. Maybe in August we start planning a family adventure in lieu of gifts.  Maybe your large family sets spending limits or number-of-gift limits.  Maybe we make charitable donations in honor of family members and send them a card telling them what a difference “they” made. We could tell co-workers and friends to make a donation to a cause we believe in. Or maybe we just offer small tokens of handmade love that say “This was made by me, just for you. Love it or else.”

I don’t think we can cure ungratefulness in one holiday season, but we have eleven months to get the process rolling. Hopefully with time, patience (mostly with ourselves), and a gradual cutting back on both our stress levels and expectations, we might get to that point where gifts, both given and received, are once again true reflections of Christmas and of what we mean to each other.