Make your day count

let it go.
be silly. have fun. get out of bed in the morning. make your bed.

get out of your own way.

too much to do. every day is a new beginning. this is the season of the new. leading to Christmas. to new life. to a new year.

disappointments are natural. my son’s college application process was too easy. last night he hit a glitch. don’t want to go into the details. (the kids tell me, “you post too many facebook pics!” “you’re too obsessed with social media.” “you tell everyone everything.” yes. yes. yes.)

tell a story. make it good.
make it meaningful.
it’s enough.

it’s today. today is all.
i have it all. i have today.

i have been subbing. and i heard that one of my students, one who causes me no trouble, a nice kid, has something seriously wrong. (like, really serious!) why does this happen? not that i would want it to happen to one of my mischief-makers but maybe that would explain why she doesn’t listen or why he shouts out. but why the quiet, kind one? it so sucks. makes me not believe in God. makes me hurt for all the stupid injustice. life’s unfair.

why the shooting of unarmed teens? of one mother’s son? why, God?

when I get to heaven, i need a lot of answers.

until then, i will make today count. tell a story. make it meaningful.

then, let it go. have fun.

i’m choosing a word for 2015. it is happiness. what’s your word? what’s your story?

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We took the ferry from Essex to Charlotte. From New York to Vermont on Thanksgiving weekend. So beautiful.

 

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Coco can’t believe the sunset. It happens every single night. The sun sets. I want to notice the sunrises and sunsets.

 

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California Dreaming

The autumn is bittersweet. There are forecasts that another polar vortex will swirl our way this winter.

To prepare for any possible NYC Seasonal Affect Disorder, I’ve just booked airline tickets for a couple of weeks for the whole fam to got to Southern California over Christmas and New Year’s.

How lucky is my family – to have friends for whom we will house- and dog-sit in Pasadena. I like making new traditions in new places. Most Christmases, we have ensconced ourselves in the Big House in the Adirondacks at Christmas. And then to shake things up, we might’ve gone north from there to Montreal for a night or two – for Boxing Day shopping or a swim in a hotel pool.

the Big House
the Big House

But my husband’s family has decided to close the Big House for winter. The family is choosing to save money. (The heating bill at Christmas is usually at least $100/a day). Besides, the mansion is for sale this year. And a lot of family members are in transition.

I wrote this as I headed out to a retreat on the Long Island RailRoad. I passed pumpkin patches, vineyards, and horse farms. The leaves on the trees were just so beautiful this weekend. While I was California-dreaming about Christmas, I was also trying to remain present — live in the moment with all of the beauty right in front of my eyes this October.

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took this from the L.I.R.R., heading to Shelter Island.

We Have To Share

This year I learned to share. And it’s been awesome.

  • I shared cars and bikes.
  • I shared office space and jobs. I subbed as a videographer for a friend on maternity leave and as a middle school English teacher at a local private school.
  • I shared my home and family with exchange students from France.
  • We are moving from a culture of rugged individualism to collaboration.

    And if you want to join the movement, here are some ideas:

    Make your expectations clear. I am so grateful to the teachers who left me very specific instructions on what to do with their classes while they were out. Yes, I have a bunch of creative curriculum ideas, but it’s best to go with their plan.

    Leave the place nice for the next person. Like, when driving a Zipcar or Enterprise car, don’t leave your OTB stubs in the front seat. I admit I am the person who did not clean up the pine needles from the Christmas tree in the back seat last week. However, I have cleaned up my own (and earlier renters’) coffee cups, parking stubs, and such.

    Skip the elequent email, pick up the damn phone. I felt slightly chastised after offering an idea for my professional organization and I wrote that in an email. But rather than get in this lengthy email swap, the president of the group picked up the phone and called me. We worked it out in no time flat. Instead of getting in this tortured email chain, we talked directly. Yay.

    It’s nice when we can play nicely. And it’s not that I don’t expect us – any of us – to have problems, we will. A collaborative journey can be way more difficult and unwieldy than a dictatorship. But ultimately, sharing is best for everyone.

    have a plan. when our exchange students came to live with us, I was worried about our ad hoc dinners. So Charlotte and I made a two-week meal plan, adding our favorites to the lineup.

    On the morning of his departure, one student said to Chris, “I like you cook.” So, you see, their English did not improve much, but their appreciation for our food did.

    So, for me, 2013 was a year to share. Now, if I could just get my darlings to share in the kitchen cleanup and the paying of bills, we’d be all right.

    Here’s a CitiBike I shared.

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    And a Thanksgiving dinner (that’s me with my brother!) Holiday dinners are a perfect time to share. Hope you get to share this Christmas with people you love and keep the love and sharing going throughout the new year!

Halloween Begins the Holiday Madness

Happy Halloween! Wait! I’m not ready. Did I celebrate my daughters’ birthday, or even, 4th of July or Easter, well enough?

This is the first of the marching holidays and I’ve hardly finished my last holidays. But they march on, whether I am ready or not. I have to comfort myself that I do them well enough.

I am a do-er and I do the holidays well enough. But sometimes I want to celebrate Easter in November and Thanksgiving in March.

I am a do-er but also an iconoclast or an anarchist (or some big word that means rule-breaker.)

I can change some things, but I can’t change big things like the seasons. Christmas is good in the winter. Maybe it’d be better at the beginning of December? Maybe I should start a campaign to change the date of Christmas. I could start small.

Here’s my idea: Let’s pump up the less celebrated holidays, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Let’s make it a big peace and love day — bigger than Christmas. Same with International Women’s Day. Let’s really love on our international sisters that day.

And I can use the money I save buying shit nobody needs at Christmas to throw some really big Pace and Love parties.

I’m not a Scrooge. While I like, and even love, Christmas and other holidays, I reject the disgusting materialism and commercialism that pervades our culture. I don’t want new things. (I want new experiences.) I don’t want my kids — or anyone for that matter — to think the acquisition of goods leads to the acquisition of happiness.

I have been happiest traveling light. The less stuff I have, the happier I am.

I have been happy with friends, having — and going to — parties, being with my kids, my family. Happy Halloween! March on holiday madness!

So,  “If bloggers had their own Halloween and could go from blog to blog collecting “treats,” what would your blog hand out?” asked the Daily Prompt today. And I answer: more fun, more love, more peace, and more parties. 

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At the church retreat at Shelter Island last weekend, some of the teens carved awesome pumpkins. This is one.
beach scene in October
Leaves blew on to the beach on Shelter Island.

the year in photos

december,  the event of a thread, art installation by Ann Hamilton

weekly challenge: pick the best pictures from your 2012. have the pics tell everyone about your year.

I shot all of these with my iPhone 4S and a few I tweaked with filters on instagram.

november, manhattan street
november, on my way to a lunch date, but stopped at this 53rd street public space
late bloomer
october, van cortlandt park, the bronx
september, back to school
september, back to school
august, duke university, working with united methodist women
august, duke university, working with united methodist women
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july, adirondacks, cold spring bay in lake champlain
june, school of mission, george fox university, portland, oregon
june, school of mission, george fox university, portland, oregon
may, a get-away trip to the jersey shore, painted a little
may, had a get-away trip to the jersey shore, painted a little
april, watched little league in the north meadow, also watched cross country, swim, soccer, basketball, track
april, watched little league in the north meadow, also watched cross country, swim, soccer, basketball, track
april, cherry blossoms in central and riverside parks
april, cherry blossoms in central and riverside parks
march, siesta key, spring break
march, siesta key, spring break
february, the view from my office
february, the view from my office
february, times square
february, times square
january, new year's day walk with jolain
january, new year’s day walk with jolain

Child Health Care Plus

Yesterday I posted on Facebook:

putting together paperwork for the kids to get on Child Health Care Plus, NY State health insurance — forms are so lengthy, so complicated! It’s confusing for the two of us, both with advanced degrees. How do people do this?

A few friends suggested I blog  about the experience. I would kind of first like to see if we got approved, before I offer any summary of my experience. It’s not unthinkable that I messed up something. But until I hear if all of the paperwork’s in, let me  tell you: The application is 17 pages long!

There were opportunities on the application to provide more than was asked for. For example, if your child has no Social Security number, you have to provide proof of residency. Or maybe you needed to provide proof of New York State residency any way. Being the overachiever that I am, my instinct was to throw everything at them for fear of not providing enough. I provided a utility bill as proof.

I did call the number on the application to get clarification on another question. No one answered the call after 25 minutes on hold and a promise of  “a customer service representative will be with you in a moment.” I tried another number and got to ask my question.

Could I walk the application in somewhere to get it in by the 20th of the month (today)? (The 20th is the cut off date to provide coverage on the 1st.) No, it turns out, I had to overnight the application to Albany. I dreaded going to the post office less than a week before Christmas, but I used the automated machine. It was fast and easy.

child_health_plusThere are agencies and communities centers listed on the application where one could turn for help. But, rugged and proud individualist that I am, I thought I should be able to handle the paperwork on my own. Besides, I have a Master’s degree, how hard could it be? Hard.

The good news is that the cost, if all goes well, will be about $45 per child per month. This is wonderful and much more affordable than the $1,700 or so that COBRA would cost to cover the family. We would only need this Child Health Care Plus coverage for a couple of months until my small business gets off the ground and one of Chris’s  unions, Screen Actor’s Guild, kicks in for the family.

My husband Chris is on disability because of his Parkinson’s Disease and he is covered with Medicare, so that just leaves me. I have no health insurance for a couple of months.

On Tuesday, one of my creative writing middle school students got close to say, “Look! I have Pink Eye.”

“Hey,” I felt like saying, “Stay away from me if you are sick. But just for a couple of months.” Now, I’m wondering if my eye’s looking a little red. Yes, so it begins, two months of hypochondria until I get back on a family health insurance plan. Let’s hope I got the kids on their plan.

2 Great New Movies about Mental Illness

Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook

Just in time for the holidays, there are two awesome new films about mental illness.

I just saw Silver Linings Playbook and The Master. Both of these films show the journey from destructive madness to precarious sanity. The films show the impossible internal tide as Pat, Bradley Cooper, and Freddy, Joaquin Phoenix, descend (ascend) into their altered states and try to get back to life again.

The movies made me wonder about something I read a long time from Carl Jung. I am paraphrasing, but the idea from Jung, is that: Maybe it’s not these individuals who are mad, but their societies are insane.

Maybe madness is the only sane response to an insane society. Coping is hard enough in life, without the stigma and consequences of mental illness, brought on by intense stress or some biological deficiency.

Both lead actors in these films chew up the scenery. Oddly, during a few intense moments in Silver Linings, the director cuts away from the Bradley Cooper character, a manic-depressive, to get the reaction shots of Jennifer Lawrence (from The Hunger Games).

The title of Silver Linings refers to the benefits of positive thinking to overcome difficulties. I am fan of optimism. Here are my other take-aways from Silver Linings.

  • Dancing and running help heal obsessive minds
  • Beat craziness with more craziness
  • Two messed-up people can make a sane thing
  • Find the silver lining in every crazy moment
  • Mental illness runs in families

The Master

Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams are incredible in The Master. There is never a cutting away from their faces during intense scenes. If anything, the close-ups just get closer. Tormented minds reveal themselves through dialogue and action. Actions have consequences.

Here are my take-aways from The Master

  • Every one serves someone (the master?). (Did Bob Dylan say this too?)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, especially for wartime survivors
  • Communal living is healing (and destructive)
  • We may be better than we think we are
  • Don’t give up on love
  • Talk therapy works (hypnotherapy too?)

Overcoming mental illness is no joke, although, turns out, these two films depict the efforts to overcome mental illness as entertaining and compelling.

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

After the characters of Freddy and Pat slide into their dysfunctional moments, they seem always at war with themselves, trying to reign in their destructive sides and crawl back to lives with family or community. They look for a state of grace. Or at least, they seek connection with others and a state of normalcy. Balance eludes them.

Just in time for Christmas and New Year’s, you can see these movies and contemplate having more compassion for your family members who may have diseases or mental illnesses.

Even though I loved these films, I hope to see a mainstream movie about a woman with a mental illness, preferably depression, which is far more common in women than men.

In the newly-released Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln denies her depression. Her mental illness is only viewed as an impediment to her emotional closeness to her family. For women in films, like Mary played by Sally Field, relationships matter most. For men, it is the journey to wholeness. But surely, Mary’s depression could be a fascinating feature-length film, not just a subplot in Lincoln’s life.

Maybe I’ll write more about Lincoln later. I just saw it yesterday and am still reeling from those performances and the immersion in a time of history when men and women fought to knit the country together rather than to pull it apart. To unite us.

PS I modeled this blog post from my previous post on 2 great new movies about alcoholism