Holiday Spirit Goes Both Ways

Holiday Spirit Goes Both Ways


Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018


As is my custom with this blog, whenever the world has lost souls due to terrorism and hearts cease to beat, I have been silent as a way to honor those whose lives have been lost.  Such was the case the last several days but I believe it is now time to change that habit.  We need to honor those lives taken and irreparably changed forever by such heinous acts but we should not be silent.  We need to speak out against such depravity of conviction, religion, and peace and let our voices ne heard.  It is perhaps the best way we can honor those who have been killed senselessly.  The taking of one or more lives will never make the world a better place for others.  It is only through positive energy that can happen.


Today we are discussing holiday spirit and if you are like me, you have received social media posts from people lamenting over the loss of their own holiday spirit.  Yes there is an element of commercialism involved but we have the choice of making the holidays what we want them to be.  Read back through my posts over the last two years and you will find many ways to “pay it forward” which is a great way to find some holiday spirit.  However, in case you still need some assistance, please read on.


Holiday anxiety is nothing new and is experienced by most people.  For many, though, it is a bit more than just feeling overwhelmed by social engagements, Christmas shopping, and an influx of family.  Over fifteen million people in the United States alone suffer from social anxiety disorder and this does not improve during the holidays.  “Social anxiety disorder is characterized by the presence of fear or anxiety about social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others,” explained Dr. Kalina Michalska, a research fellow in the Section on Developmental and Affective Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  “The individual overestimates their likelihood of being rejected and frequently fears that he or she will act in a way that will be embarrassing and humiliating.”


There is also seasonal affective disorder.  Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.  For many sufferers of SAD, symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping energy and making them feel moody. However, SAD can also cause depression in the spring or early summer.  In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.


The holidays offer plenty of reasons to be stressed out and anxious — the gifts you haven’t wrapped, the pile of cookie exchange invites, the office parties. But for many, the biggest source of holiday stress is family — the family dinner, the obligations, and the burden of family tradition. And if you’re fighting clinical depression, or have had depression in the past, the holiday stress can be a trigger for more serious problems.  “There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed to be joyful and stress-free,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “That’s not the case. Family relationships are complicated.”


All of this means that if you are feeling less like Tiny Tim and more like Scrooge, there may be valid reasons.  We still need to get through this time, though, and hopefully, find a way to enjoy the holidays, even if you celebrate none of them.  Escaping the scent of pine in the air, the red and green decorations that are abundant everywhere, the stockings, the lightly colored trees is not for the faint of heart.  If you do celebrate, the stress may be even greater.  Finding your holiday spirit might be accomplished of you find a way to survive the season with less stress.  The best way to do that might be to take a cue from the jolly symbol of the season, Santa Claus himself.


One web site offered several tips to surviving Christmas with such prosaic advice as “Invite your in-laws; just don’t let them in!”  Obviously I am not advocating you do that but the humor might help you through the afternoon.  Chances are, they are having some stress as well.  Keeping your sense of humor is really the best advice there is for getting through this time of the year.  Traffic jams are more common so try keeping a bag of mints in your console to enjoy when stuck in traffic.  As you stand in line at the check-out, do some leg exercises by rolling up to your toes and back on your heels (Your calf muscles will really appreciate this!) or even do assisted knee squats using the handle bar of your shopping cart.  You might get a few strange looks but odds are no one will notice because they are caught up in their own stress-filled moment.


Suzanne Kane wrote an excellent piece online for Psych Central about this topic.  Here are some of her tips for not just surviving the season byt thriving during it.  “Think ahead.  Whatever it is about the holidays that’s got you out of sorts, imagine whether that same concern will be bothering you down the road. No matter what it is, you probably won’t even recall the gut-wrenching emotions in one or 10 years’ time. This helps you build a cushion against mounting anxiety and creates a little space you can use to safely navigate the holidays this year.


“Celebrate on a different day.  Where is it written that you have to celebrate Christmas on December 25? If you’re intent on entertaining folks, especially family or out-of-town guests, scheduling the event for a day other than the actual holiday might relieve some of the pressure. Two days later, two days before, the weekend after — whatever works will do the trick.  With adult children, this suggestion is one we really take to heart.  Doing Christmas a day or two ahead of time or after the fact does not change the joy at all and allows people to not feel torn between family commitments. 


“Stop feeling you have to be perfect.  It doesn’t have to be the party of the year. You don’t need to be the host whose event is talked about for months to come. If you can make yourself believe that you don’t have to be perfect, you’ll alleviate a lot of stress and accumulated tension. Your digestion will likely benefit as well, since your stomach won’t be tied up in knots over trying to insist on perfection.


“Go away.  This isn’t a recommendation to tell people to leave you alone. It is, however, a suggestion to incorporate something new into the holiday schedule this year. Instead of going whole-hog decorating the house, going to and hosting nonstop parties and get-togethers, why not consider going out of town for the celebration?  A family ski trip would be a wonderful memory and offer a much-needed change of scenery for all involved. Even an out-of-town trip to a national park or to visit friends or relatives will get you in the frame of mind of going after something new, something different, a place that’s away. Perhaps going away is just what the doctor ordered in order to thrive this holiday season.


“Create something lasting.  If you’ve lost a loved one and the holidays are too painful, consider creating something lasting for the remaining family members and loved ones in your life. This could be a family scrapbook, a handwritten letter you put in a “time capsule” of sorts, volunteering to bring joy to the elderly, shut-ins or sick children, or surprising your invalid neighbor with a home-cooked meal.  Remember that it’s the thought that counts. If you give something of yourself with love, it will be remembered and appreciated. You’ll also have a warm spot in your heart knowing you’ve helped bring a little joy to others who need it at this time of the year.


“Forgive yourself.  Everyone has regrets. You likely have some as well. If you’re beating yourself up for being inconsiderate, not living up to your word, being rude or impatient or mean to others, spending too much money, neglecting your responsibilities, or drinking too much, now is the time for a little self-forgiveness. Your desire to make positive changes actually begins with forgiving yourself. There’s no better time of the year to start than right now.


“Watch your diet.  Overindulging in food or drink during the holidays is a surefire way to suffer repercussions later. Not only will you feel remorse, you may have other consequences as a result. By paying mindful attention to what you put into your mouth, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor, now and later. To thrive during the holiday season, exercise discretion and make wise choices in food and drink.


“Be grateful.  Finally, this is the season to be thankful. And you’ve got a lot to be grateful for, regardless of how much you’ve thought about it. You’re alive, for one thing. Life is precious indeed.  Every day you are on this earth is another opportunity to make a difference, to celebrate life and the deliciousness of living. It won’t come by this way again, so make the most of today. Adopt an attitude of gratitude and you’ll really begin to thrive this holiday season.


“Go small.  Instead of fixating on bigger and larger quantities, make a conscious effort to downsize. This goes for the number of gifts you buy, the number and types of social engagements you accept or invite others to attend, trying to get the very best deal on a much-wanted item and so much more. After all, it isn’t — or shouldn’t be — how expensive or exclusive something is. Concentrate on giving from the heart.”  I would add that giving a gift that keeps on giving is also great. and St Jude’s Children Hospital are two such websites that will help you share the joy and continue the meaning of giving the entire year.  No donation is too small nor unnecessary.


We had a rule in our family that family presents had to include homemade gifts.  It could be something as simple as copying a favorite verse from a poem, hymn, or pop song that can be framed, a coupon book for chores or hugs, a jar of spice tea or cider/wassail mix, a kissing ball made of real or fake mistletoe, cloves stuck in an orange as a great scented ornament… the possibilities really can be endless.  These gifts help balance the budget and also tell the recipient that they were worth the time and effort it took on the sender’s part.  That really is the best gift of all, knowing someone cares.


While it is emphasized during the holiday season, every day we are alive is a chance to make a difference and share the spirit of living with someone else.  Life is precious and if you are reading this, then chances are, you are alive.  That is one thing you have for which to be grateful.  I am pretty sure there are others and an attitude of gratitude is the first step on the path of holiday and joyous life spirit.





Your Turn – 4

Your Turn – 4


The Creative Soul


I will post my response to last week’s challenge on Monday, Sept 24.  Until then, this week’s challenge involves tea time – or rather the implements of tea time.


Using a cup and a saucer and a spoon plus a pen(s) and paper, draw something or some things.  Then write a paragraph about your artwork and … then write a brief lyric about your drawing, to be sung to the tune of a children’s song.


This challenge will include next Sunday as well.  Enjoy!

Neil Simon

Neil Simon


Literature and Life


Few playwrights have achieved the success that Neil Simon has.  Fifty years ago he had four plays on Broadway at the same time, each playing to standing room only audiences and receiving rave reviews.  Today is Sunday and it is the day I have kept for writing about my favorite writers and/or books.  Today will have two posts but first, it is with great sadness that I report that today is also the day of Neil Simon’s passing.  This post is dedicated to Mr. Simon while the later post will be about a book of essays.


I learned to count collating pages of television scripts and the first time I read a play, the format felt right at home.  Novels seemed a bit wordy but plays were a format I knew and loved.  Neil Simon was one of my first playwrights to read and adore, although in hind sight much of his work was probably ill-suited for a young girl.


Marvin Neil Simon was an American playwright, screenwriter and author. He wrote more than 30 plays and nearly the same number of movie screenplays, mostly adaptations of his plays. He received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.  He has said that he wrote comedy because he wanted to make people laugh.  His parents had a tempestuous marriage and escaping to the movies to watch comedies was one way Simon survived.   “I think part of what made me a comedy writer is the blocking out of some of the really ugly, painful things in my childhood and covering it up with a humorous attitude … do something to laugh until I was able to forget what was hurting.”


Simon himself had a stated preference to writing in longhand and never used computers.  He preferred thin ruled paper, often buying up a dozen or so pads or notebooks of it in London since it is very hard to find in the USA.  He compared it to the lines of music manuscript paper and liked being able to see quite a bit of writing at one time.  He emphasized the lyrical quality of dialogue and indeed his character’s speeches were like lyrical songs.


Neil Simon began creating comedy for which he got paid while still in high school, when at the age of fifteen, Simon and his older brother created a series of comedy sketches for employees at an annual department store event.   To help develop his writing skill, he often spent three days a week at the library reading books by famous humorists such as Mark Twain, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman and S. J. Perelman.


When asked by the Paris Review what his great gift was as a writer, Simon pointed to the “construction” of his comedies, which are typically built around a dilemma involving characters of opposing wills and wants. “By the time you know the conflicts, the play is already written in your mind,” Simon explained. “All you have to do is put the words down. You don’t have to outline the play, it outlines itself.”  Elaine Joyce Simon wrote in the afterword to her husband’s collected “Memoirs: “If you’re looking for the heart and soul of Neil Simon, you’ll find everything you need to know in ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ ”.  Recent revivals of “The Odd Couple” and “Sweet Charity” have proven the timeliness of Neil Simon’s writings.  The man who wanted to make us laugh is still doing it. 


“Don’t listen to those who say, you are taking too big a chance. Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor, and it would surely be rubbed out by today. Most important, don’t listen when the little voice of fear inside you rears its ugly head and says ‘They are all smarter than you out there. They’re more talented, they’re taller, blonder, prettier, luckier, and they have connections.’  I firmly believe that if you follow a path that interests you, not to the exclusion of love, sensitivity, and cooperation with others, but with the strength of conviction that you can move others by your own efforts, and do not make success or failure the criteria by which you live, the chances are you’ll be a person worthy of your own respects.”  Rest in peace, Neil Simon and thank you.





Luck of the Irish

Luck of the Irish

Pentecost 5

Yesterday we discussed the discrimination towards women and the female Scottish warrior who victoriously led her troops in a charge that rebuked the advancement of the Roman Army into Scotland which in turn prevented their attempting to invade Ireland. However, Ireland was invaded, according to Irish mythology.

The ancient lands of the island we know as Ireland were supposedly invaded a series of times. Each invasion resulted in a new leader. The Tuatha De Danaan invaders were a race of godlike people, skilled in magic, led by the king Daghda or “the Good God”. Daghda was famous for having a very large cauldron and an equally large club. Legend claims that the cauldron would feed all, regardless of the number present. The club was noted for both taking lives and bringing the dead back to life.

Daghda was an unusual god in that while his followers respected his skills in magic and other occult arts, they also endued him with humor. He was often portrayed wearing a tunic that barely reached the bottom of his gluteus maximus and he was well-known for his comic behavior. The Irish are known for being a culture that enjoys having fun; perhaps Daghda was the beginning of this.

It is said that one day while out for a walk, Daghda came upon the goddess Morrigan. She was the patron spirit of both war and fertility and legend held she could change herself into the shape of a raven. As a raven she was said to visit battlefields and often affect the outcome of the fighting. Daghda and Morrigan agreed on a truce and Morrigan promised to protect the Tuatha De Danaan forever.

Another legend tells of an upcoming battle between the Tuatha De Danaan and their opponents the Fomhoire. The outcome would determine who would control Ireland. Fearing his men were not prepared for the battle Daghda asked for a truce. The Fomhoire promised but then threatened his life unless he ate an enormous bowl of porridge. Daghda licked the bowl clean and fell asleep amid the laughter of the Fomhoire. The Irish god of love was Daghda’s son Angus who would become famous for helping others in their love life.

These early legend or mythologies bear little resemblance to those of classical times. The emphasis on these ancient Irish legends centered more on how the gods and goddesses helped the average man in his daily life. They were not so much an answer to the eternal question of Who am I? but more a path for the question How do I live? However, it is in Ireland that the real reasons for such stories still exist. Children are still warned of the banshee, a terrifying woman who lives amongst the faeries or a pooka, a shape-changer in order to encourage them to behave. Modern life is evident in Ireland but the culture continues on with the same mythologies being told in the evening at family homes and in the local pubs.

Artifacts have been found in Great Britain that date back to the Stone Age but the earliest of such found in Ireland are from the Mesolithic time period. It was not until the Christian missionary known as Saint Patrick that Irish history became written so much has been lost or changed with each retelling. The legends serve today the same purpose they did when they first were begun. They unite the people and carry the culture from one day to the next.

Our own spiritualities and religious choices provide the same for us in this modern world. Our same basic questions and needs have remained unchanged throughout the history of mankind. We need to continue the search for answers because it gives us reason to continue our living. One legend maintains that the Creator needed laughter in the world so He/She made the Irish race. They carry on today as their earliest gods were portrayed – generous of spirit, brave in battle, and always willing to help another.

All too soon mankind would weave the stories of the gods that waged war upon mankind and the punishments for man . We should remember, though, that the earliest mythology told of a benevolent, generous god named Daghda, who entertained as well as protected. This Irish phrase not only sums up Ireland today, it tells of the spirits the earliest mythologies disclosed: “Deep peace of the running waves to you. Deep peace of the flowing air to you. Deep peace of the smiling stars to you. Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you. Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.”

Moving On…or Sarcasm?

Moving On… or Sarcasm?
Easter 20

The mind of a two-year-old child is amazing. It questions everything. Any attempt by the parent(s) to get the child to assimilate with others often becomes a call unheeded. The child questions everything with “Why?” being the hallmark of the age. Such characteristics are so common that the age even has its own nickname – the Terrible Two’s.

Yesterday we discussed cynicism. It is one school of thought within philosophy that turns its back on peer pressure and questions everything the general populous does. Sound familiar? Does this mean that those advocates of cynicism are immature?

Proponents of Cynicism advocated one being self-sufficient. When asked about religion, Diogenes of Sinope is said to have replied: “I don’t believe in God but I hope there is one.” The Cynics felt that group or “herd” thinking was dangerous. Indeed, history has proven this theory to be correct. It is precisely that same mob mentality that can turn a protest into a riot. People become influenced by those around them. In teenagers it is called peer pressure but the hallmarks are the same. People are influenced by those with whom they associate. Behavior is contagious, not only in humans but in all animals.

Cynics felt independence was attained by flouting convention. While Aristotle studied the social and political nature of man, cynicism disregarded it and/or considered it to be a shortcoming. The Cynicism philosophy believed that desire, indulgence, and ignorance were the basic causes of all human misery. Certainly indulgence can lead to problems and considering only one’s desires is not a healthy way to live. We do live in a social environment, however. We are social animals and a way of life that denies that cannot be very successful or effective.

A true cynic disallows another person the right to apologize. Not only does the cynic see the one doing the apologizing as weak, it holds the recipient to be weak also. Cynicism maintains “You need nothing other than yourself.” Apologies are tricky, not as plentiful as they should be, but they come in many forms. Yesterday I mentioned my computer had yet to awake. What I did not mention was the back story. My current computer is two weeks old. Its predecessor was almost ten years old and so its demise not that sudden. This computer, however, was really only two weeks old. Its problems were not only unexpected but unacceptable. It is, fortunately, under warranty. A true student of cynicism might feel the warranty a type of apology and my using it a sign of dependency.

The cynics taught not by formal literature or seeking knowledge in books but by example, using illustrated through sarcasm. Sarcasm comes from the word “sarkasmos” meaning to rip apart. There is no use of the word in English literature until 1579 when it appeared in an annotation to “The Shepheardes Calender” by Edmund Spenser: “Tom piper, an ironicall Sarcasmus, spoken in derision of these rude wits …”. Today someone using sarcasm is considered to be clever. I would offer that, as with many things, there is a time and a place for such. As a learning tool, sarcasm has limited uses and even greater chance for misinterpretation. Much of its intended meaning must be derived from tonal inflections and given our proliferate use of online communications, sarcasm is best left as a ways of exchanging thoughts on a one-to-one basis in person. Of course, cultural connotations should also be taken into account. So that what one intends as humorous is not taken as an insult.

Cynicism opened the door for the stoic school of philosophy, a conversation we will have tomorrow. What I find interesting is that cynicism relies on the very presence of society that it disdains. After all, one cannot deny social convention is one does not recognize it exists. I would encourage you to develop beliefs that can stand on their own. Goodness is its own reason for being. Using the inappropriate actions of others to justify your own is not goodness.

Today I will delve further into the repair of my preferred computer system and hope the warranty is really worth the time it took for someone to write it and the resources allocated to print it. Diogenes the Cynic might well view this as me being weak but I prefer to think of it as being accountable. Accepting and giving an apology is also a way of being accountable.

H.G. Wells once wrote “Cynicism is humor in ill health.” I happen to think there is a time and a place to be cynical, to question that which we think we know. Ignorance does not have to be our downfall; it can be the first step to greater living and increased knowledge. Leon Trotsky felt “Life is not an easy matter… You cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.” Yoko On believed “The cynicism you have is not your real soul.”

To accept we don’t know everything is not cynical nor is it being weak or a sign one is ignorant. It is a sign of being human. To hold someone accountable for following through is not a sign of insufficiency. I believe it takes courage to apologize and even greater courage to believe you yourself are worth the best someone has to offer. I agree with Twyla Tharp who said “Optimism with some experience behind it is much more energizing than plain old experience with a certain degree of cynicism.” That two-year-old child might drive us crazy with their incessant questioning of “Why?” but they also embrace life at its fullest. Hopefully, today we will do the same.

Life: Purpose and Goals

Life: Purpose and Goals
Lent 43

Today is April 1st. It is a day commonly known for its jokes and pranks. In Canada, Brazil, Australia, the European continent and the United States of America, April Fools’ Day is a day set aside for the playing of pranks and telling jokes. News stories are full of supposed new items or astounding feats of strength – none of which are true. Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to make literary note of such in his “Canterbury Tales” but the actual origin of the day is relatively unknown. The reason for such a holiday, however unofficial it might be, is international.

The Romans celebrated the festival of Hilaria; India has its Holi festival. In medieval times, the Feast of Fools was celebrated. The Hilaria Matris Deum of the Romans was to honor the mother of all their gods, Cybele. Held after the spring vernal equinox when the daytime began to be longer than the night, the festival celebrated all things joyous and that included the playing of games, masquerades, and the playing of pranks. The Holi is a festival celebrated in all parts of Asia. It begins with a nighttime bonfire. Known as the festival of love or colors, the following day is one big colorful celebration. Balloons are filled with colored water and anyone living is considered fair game to be a target. It is usually held just before the spring vernal equinox, a celebration of the joy that the new season will bring.

The Feast of Fools is somewhat disputed in history as to its origins. Thought to have originated in northern France, it was a day set aside for the lower classes to change places with the upper classes. Some believe it began as a day to honor the lower deacons of the church, occurring on or around St Stephen’s Day. Other references have it occurring on January 1st. The Roman Church made deliberate effort to destroy all references to the holiday. In his book “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, Victor Hugo uses the Feast of Fools as the setting for an important scene. In the Disney adaptation, it is the setting for the meeting between the male main character and his female protagonist love.

On April1, 1698 the poet John Aubrey made the first English reference to the day, calling it “Fooles holy day”. People had been tricked on this day into going to the Tower of London to supposedly “see the Lions washed”. The New Year was celebrated in France on March 25 and celebrations lasted until April 1st. There is thought that people joked about those celebrating on this day, calling them “fools”. Whatever the origin, the day is an unofficial international holiday.

In seeking the sacred of our living, the question must be asked: What are my goals? What is my purpose? To live without such thoughts might be considered foolish. It certainly would not be effective. We speak of purpose as a singular thing but goals in the plural. The words are often interchanged and some consider them to be synonyms.

Goals are often defined as what we want to accomplish while purposes are seen as the reason behind the goals. We often assume that our goals will be the result of hard work and hard work is definitely a component of successfully attaining one’s goals. However, hard work is not the magic key. How we live is. That is determined by the importance we place on what we do, the priorities we set in our living, and our beliefs. These things result in our purpose of living. Our purpose will motivate us to achieving those goals.

Purpose is sometimes references as one’s fundamental reason for being. The reality is that we are born. Our purpose is something we develop and it is intricately woven into the fabric of our lives by how we live our beliefs, how we allow our lives to witness our faith.

On a day in which many will “prank” another, I would ask “Where is your faith in the joke?” Some might think faith and laughter have no connection. I would disagree. Voltaire once said “God is a comedian in search of an audience.” I completely agree. The ostrich is a delightfully humorous animal as are other creatures. However their creation or evolution came into being, they provide us with a balance in an otherwise dreary world. Laughter is not the enemy of the faithful nor does it disrespect faith.

Goals are measurable. The progress one makes towards accomplishing a goal is quantifiable. Purpose is not as clear cut nor is it as easily judged. Purpose is more like a compass while a goal is the destination. Using that analogy, then we must ask how the prank we might pull today will steer us. Does it keep us on track or does it knock us off the path completely?

There is a purpose behind every goal, the purpose often creating the goal. If your purpose today is to spread laughter, then make certain it is a sacred joy. Far too often, we laugh at the expense of another. Comedy in the twenty-first century is more nastiness disguised with a smile instead of a shared humorous remark. A joke or prank that belittles another is not funny; it is a statement of veiled bullying. The choice is up to you, today, whether to be funny while maintain your purpose in living, or to be cruel, all for the sake of a joke. Humorist and pianist Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” The sacred in April Fools’ Day is to celebrate the joy of living, using laughter to unite us. Happy Smiles!

A goal is something we strive for that should be aligned with our purpose. Reaching our goal will help us accomplish our purpose. Goals usually emerge from a visioning process, or at the very least a “plan” that keeps us headed in the right direction, serving our purpose. Goals are meant to do that — they serve our purpose. Our purpose does not serve our goals — it helps us create them.
When you are rock-solid in your purpose, you can focus on the right things and get where you want go. Lacking either purpose or goals is certainly problematic.