2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,500 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Cup of Kindness

New Year's 2013Today is my mother’s birthday.  She is 79.  She is one of the most positive, enthusiastic, intelligent, and wise women I have ever known.  She continues to inspire me.  A week ago, she moved from her home of 36 years into an apartment at The Meadows, the assisted living facility where my sister and I worked as college students and where my father died in 2010.  She is having an absolute ball collecting stories from the residents, entertaining dinner companions, playing the piano in the chapel and lobby, and making connections within her collage of life.  She says that her Bucket List has been reduced to a Shot Glass List, and she’s grateful and content with all that she has enjoyed.  She told me that she doesn’t ‘make’ New Year’s Resolutions, she allows them to ‘surface’.  She shared that the phrase that is surfacing for her this year is “Live peace; take joy”.  That conversation made me think of what is surfacing for me.  What is surfacing is Shame.  And I’m resolved to do something about it.

I have been thinking about shame for some time.  Listening to Brene Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame has brought about some introspective reflection on my history and patterns.  I was raised by a very authoritarian father, a devout and dogmatic Christian.  He was an intellectual, and my mother very candidly told me last night that although he could understand rationally that our behaviors and social constructs must evolve and change and that they weren’t based in any ultimate reality, he didn’t know how to navigate the emotions involved, and so he would fearfully nail those down into a ‘safe’ corner to protect himself.   What he then communicated to me, his daughter, was that we are all fallen creatures, sinners whose nature it is to be not good enough, and that we couldn’t be trusted, so to be saved, we must follow a carefully prescribed path and check ourselves frequently for deviation.   Our wills are suspect; God’s will is perfect.  My deepest desire was to please my father and to be loved by him, so I became a very compliant child.  And I bought the idea that whatever I wanted was probably not good, or good enough, and that I would fail to be good most of the time.  My best hope was to be obedient, and so I did that to the best of my ability.  I became accomplished in being obedient.  As I grew up and my father became less central in my daily life, I transferred that obedience to God, the Church, my husband.  Finally, after my husband died, I think I took that authority and transferred it to myself, but I ended up carrying out the same message.  Now, I tell MYSELF that I am not good, or good enough, and am likely to fail to be good most of the time.  In other words, I have taken over my dad’s role in shaming myself.

Needless to say, this is not freeing me to take risks, be vulnerable, be creative, be self-determinant or self-reliant.  Instead, it is keeping me in ‘customer service’ when Steve is itching to make me a full partner in a home business (or series of them) so that we can be self-employed and embody the values and lifestyle that WE find important.  How do I make the changes necessary to gain this freedom?  First, I have to stop telling myself that I can’t.  Or shouldn’t.   I have to stop shaming myself.  I have to become aware of the times when I do it, and I have to let go of them.  Like the bubbles surfacing in my champagne.  POP!  “So, here comes that shaming bubble.  I don’t have to analyze it, give it power, or trace it back to someone to blame.  I will just notice it, watch it pop and let it be gone.”  That’s my resolution for this coming year.  Take a cup of kindness, and stop shaming yourself, Priscilla!  Then move on.

I am also posting my blog summary for 2013 today.  I want to give big cyber hugs to my Bestest Blogger Buddies – Helen, Stuart, Jamie, Naomi and Elena.  Thank you for supporting this vulnerable venture and helping me trust myself to create something.  (Something ‘worthy’?  Something ‘good enough’?  STOP.  You don’t need to judge it.  Create something.  And just leave it at that.)

And here’s a sample of what I’ve created on this blog this year.  If you’re new and see something you like, please browse around!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Joy

“Joy to the world!  All the boys and girls!  Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea!  Joy to you and me!”

I had to wait until after my holiday celebration with my kids to post this contribution.  I knew that there would be plenty of joy to photograph when we got together.  My kids have great, big, laughing faces, exuberance, enthusiasm, and loads of energy…and they always have.  But now that they’re in their 20s, they also have the ability to focus on a serious philosophical conversation and communicate deeply personal insights…for a while, anyway.  The spontaneous laughter, the spontaneous song with harmony, the spontaneous dance around the room – these are part of every Galasso get-together.  Costumes and hats frequently make an appearance as well.  It is really a privilege to be related to these young people because we all genuinely like each other.  We are good, kind, positive, broad-minded folk, to be honest, and I am grateful for all the circumstances that helped that to happen. 

And food!  I have to mention food.  It is such a joy to gather to prepare and eat from the marvelous bounty that sustains and delights.  Wine (in a long-stemmed sippy cup, no less!  Sometimes preschool isn’t so remote, even after you’ve grown up), cheese (truffle gouda & goat cheese, espresso hard cheese), roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and pickled watermelon rind, potato salad with fresh tarragon, broccoli & kale salad with bacon vinaigrette, Mediterranean spaghetti squash with feta and olives, mince pie, and Fireball whiskey bread pudding.  Next morning: creme brulee French toast.  So much tasty!  Very goodness!  Wow!

I wish you all joy and peace in the coming year, and an increasing ability to take joy in every moment of being alive.  Celebration is an attitude that can be part of every single day, no matter what.  I like to remember that.

Christmas Day 2013

Thank you, blog followers, for counting the days with me and considering the many gifts that we receive in life. 

May we be filled with gratitude;

may our gratitude transform our spirits;

may all beings be happy. 

From icy Milwaukee, I wish you peace!

christmas eve

And to close, I simply must share my favorite Flash Mob scene of all time, from the 1970 movie musical “Scrooge”.  I cry happy tears every time I see it and find myself dancing and singing along.  Please click on this link and Enjoy!  I was 8 years old when my father took me to see it in a theater.  When we emerged, a beautiful light snow was falling on the Chicago streets.  Years later, my youngest daughter was cast in a production of this delightful (and musically superb!) show, and Jim and I helped prepare the chorus in rehearsal.  I also got to conduct the band from the orchestra pit for every show, and it was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had.  Imagine me waving my arms enthusiastically, caught up in the joy of “Thank You Very Much”.  Thank you all for supporting my blogging efforts over the years.  Your company is a great privilege!

Advent Day #24 – Love

This is the last entry from my series of posts two years ago.  Not much has changed in my love for my family, except that those “significant otters” have become more formally (and legally) incorporated into the clan and that the arena of family celebration has moved from my duplex to my daughter’s house (and will take place on Saturday).  The snow is deep and sparkly here in Milwaukee.  Steve was out the door before 6 a.m. to deliver mail and packages for the US Postal Service.  Last night, he didn’t come home until 8:30 p.m.  The temperature is -2 degrees Fahrenheit (without the wind chill factor) this morning.  If you get a mail delivery today, give your carrier a warm smile and your gratitude and appreciation.  Remember the free gifts that come to you each day, regardless of season, with no carbon footprint.  Live life in gratitude and happiness and peace.  The world will benefit.

How About Love?

My December countdown was completed yesterday.  I did not have a chance to post about the gift of love because I was living it.  My four children plus two “significant otters” came over for feasting and gifting and sleeping over.  All six of them ended up on the living room floor under mountains of sleeping bags and pillows and blankets, just like they used to when they were kids in a cousins pile.  Except now, they’re all adults — beautiful, interesting, caring, amazing adults who actually like each other.  And me.  How did I get to be so blessed?  This morning, I repaid them all for years of running in and jumping on my king-sized bed full of eager energy at an early hour on Christmas.  I dived onto their sleeping bags one at a time and gave them a great big hug and kiss.

We have lived through a lot together.  And we have lived through a lot separately.  Their lives matter to me in a way that I can barely describe.  Steve keeps challenging me to come up with ways to articulate what this is.  He has no children, and philosophically wonders why family is esteemed so highly.  “Oxytocin,” my daughter replied one day.  That explains one level of it, I suppose.  My biology has loaded me with hormones that make me love my kids.  My religion loaded me with beliefs that urged me to love my kids.  My experience of life has loaded me with the joys of loving my kids.  And my kids are just plain lovable.  I can agree with the reasoning behind his argument that all people are equally valuable, but I just can’t help feeling that my kids are more valuable…to me.  Yes, I’m playing favorites shamelessly without really understanding why.  Is it possible that evolution favors fiercely loving families?  Do they tend to be larger and survive better?   This might have negative effects on the planet in terms of population.  Would it be better for the world if we were less filial and more agape in our love?  Less sentimental and more altruistic?

 

Table fellowship

I don’t think that I am going to do justice to the topic of love in a scholarly way when I am full of mince pie, chocolate, and happy memories of the hours I just spent.  I am starting to sink into that melancholy that bubbles up when all of the guests have gone home and you ask yourself if you can be truly happy without that rush of energy and affection.  Of course, I am happy and even more peaceful living without all my children still under my roof.   I am in love with the world, in love with my partner, and in love with my children every day.  And it is marvelous.

Advent Day #23 – Peace

Peace On Earth

It is Day #23 in the December countdown.  Today’s gift is Peace.  Ahh, peace.  Take a deep breath.  Relax the muscles around your skull; feel  your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being?  Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Do you believe that’s true?  Do you believe that’s possible?  I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.

Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace:  “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune,  friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”.  Where does peace come from?  Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk

But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once?  Do you descend into peace from your head down?

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller

I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace.  Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal.  Facing each one head on is not a passive task.  Making peace is not for the weak of heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Is God about making peace?  Is making peace the work of the Universe?  Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa

Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those that cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices.  I can hide/run away.  I can try to change the situation.  I can change myself.  The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation.  You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you.  So, why do I often employ that choice?  Because I lack courage and I’m lazy.  I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation.  I don’t want to get stuck there, though.

Trying to change the situation requires engagement.  Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of  causes and effects on all different levels.  It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation.  You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation.  Not all situations can be changed.  Death is the big one that comes to mind here.  You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it.  Now what?

Change yourself.  Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself.  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it.  If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at its finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace.  Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves.  Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves.  You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one.  Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace?   I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”.  I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing.   If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion.   I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child.  “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.”  This is true wisdom about peace.

Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength.  I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created.  We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.

Advent Day #22 – Joy

Joy to the World

Gift of the Universe #22:  JOY!

I truly believe that joy is available to everyone.  No one is denied the opportunity to be joyful.  Many people on this planet will never have a full stomach or adequate shelter or enough material wealth to climb out of poverty, but believe it or not, some of those very people know joy.

“Joy is not in things; it is in us.”  – Richard Wagner

“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”  – Joseph Campbell

My late husband was ill for many years.  He went under the knife for open heart surgery when he was just 31.  He suffered a host of medical problems stemming from diabetes, always believing that he would get the disease under control.  When he realized that was not going to happen, he said, “Okay, I’m sick.  I can be sick and miserable, or I can be sick and happy.  I choose happy.  Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.”  I really admire him for coming up with that maxim, and for embodying it.  The night before he died, he called me at work and asked if I’d like to go out to dinner.  Our daughters were out for the evening, and he took the opportunity to enjoy a ‘date’ with me.  We went to a local sports bar & grill and enjoyed veggie appetizers and sandwiches.  Our youngest called from rehearsal to say she was not feeling well and was coming home early, so we went home to be with her.   Jim was tired, so he took his medications, hooked up to his dialysis machine and CPAP and watched some TV.  When I came up to bed, he turned off the TV and the light.  We fell asleep holding hands.  He never woke up.  And he never complained.  Some people claim that “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.  I don’t buy that.  Jim didn’t have health, but he had joy and love and he knew it.

Many people would foreswear food, health, housing, and money in order to find joy in an ascetic lifestyle.  Mendicants, yogis, monks, and priests of different faiths have adopted austere practices in order to experience the bliss of enlightenment.

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.”  – Julian of Norwich

This is a deep and serious topic, and much too heavy for me to write about today.  My brain is circling closer to Dr. Seuss and The Grinch who puzzles how the Whos could be singing without “ribbons and tags, packages, boxes and bags”.  Perhaps joy means a little bit more than the glee we feel when we get a shiny, new present.  Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is deeply felt.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – George Bernard Shaw

I’ve got to say that the way I have most felt this joy of being used for a mighty purpose and force of Nature is through mothering.  I know what it is to be thoroughly worn out and joyful.  I know what it is to feel like nobody is devoting himself to my happiness and not to complain because I am finding so much joy in devoting myself to someone else’s well-being.  Not that I didn’t complain occasionally (hey! I’m human!).  I always felt that mothering mattered.  That I was truly making a difference, a big one, to at least four people in the world.  I smiled at my babies even when I was not feeling joyful, and joy emerged.   Never underestimate the effect of a smile.  Check out this Still Face Experiment by Dr. Tronick on youtube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

 

My joyful (and crazy!) kids

Are you smiling every day?  I’m sure I am.  I even busted a belly laugh today as Steve was describing a Giotto fresco…of Mary and Joseph… kissing at the gates of Bethlehem…with Snoopy in the background.  He speaks like a nerd who knows everything, and then I realize he’s bullshitting me.  I fall for it all the time and then get to laugh at him and at myself.  Steve’s identity motto, which he came up with at a psychology school retreat, is “I am the joy in change and movement”.  I am really benefiting from his perspective because I am often afraid of change and movement.  I so don’t need to be.  There is freedom in allowing joy into your life.

Let Heaven and Nature sing…and see if you don’t find yourself singing along.  Rejoice, my friends.