My Own Worst Enemy

I enjoy watching the Winter Olympics. Something about the white backdrop, I guess, and the sports that this season’s competition highlights. Maintaining strength, composure, power and grace against the slippery nature of snow and ice is compelling to me.

Mostly, though, I like to watch the Skating.

Over the past few years, as my regular Corner readers know, I’ve come to enjoy skating and spending time on the ice. So this year, as I watch the athletes perform on that glassy surface, I truly, truly appreciate their strength and ability. I mean, I’m just content to skate around in a circle at a steady speed and not fall down. The idea of the speed they move and how they maintain composure and balance as they leap and spin once, let along three or four times, is mind-blowing. The thought of skating alongside a partner, jumping into their arms and trusting them to toss me about … all I can say is WOW and BRAVO! Ice skaters are brave and beautiful.

My issue about this event — and many sporting events to be honest — is the Commentary. I just want to watch them skate. I don’t need to hear the accompanying critique about their “incomplete rotation.” Obviously, I can see a fall when it happens so I don’t need to hear about that fall obliterating their medal chance. I don’t require some “expert” to tell me about deductions and jump height. Every time someone ventures out on the ice — or up a snowy hill — I hope for a clean, flawless performance — their best performance. When they fall doing a trick or spin they’ve probably done hundreds of times without error, my heart aches for them. But, falls and mistakes and under-rotations happen … on the slopes and on the ice. I could really do without the endless critique against the music and pretty scenery.

I could mute the sound, I suppose. But I like the music and the cut the skates or skis make when they meet ice and snow. That’s a strangely peaceful sound to me.

Anyway, Shut Up! Let me watch and enjoy.  Stop criticizing, pointing out flaws and imperfections. Stop analyzing or commenting on every move these individuals make.

But wait. Don’t we do that to ourselves? Think about this for a moment, how many conversations do you have with your Inner Voice? And … how many of those conversations involve your Inner Voice telling you all about what you’ve done wrong? What you’ve said wrong? How many of these conversations involve your Inner Voice identifying and brow-beating you about some flaw or mistake or choice or decision? And how often do you allow these comments to get to you?

Imagine for a moment your Inner Voice — that chatty commentator — sitting across from you at your favorite Coffee Shop. Create an image, body and tone for your Inner Voice. Can you see it sitting there? Do you hear it talking to you? Is it a kind, supportive voice? Or, is it hassling you? Be honest. Would you really be friends with this person? Would you even permit her (or him) to come in the door? What conversations do you have? Is your Inner Voice a Cheerleader or an Olympic Commentator?

My Inner Voice has a lot to say. I hear about how I could stand to lose a few pounds. How I shouldn’t have eaten or drunk that. My Inner Voice tells me I lack talent when I don’t get a role at an audition. She tells me how an outfit makes me look fat. She is a conveyor belt delivering criticism and reminding me of my flaws, unwise decisions and weaknesses. Oh it’s all her opinion but she has no problem sharing it. When I make a mistake on stage or in dealing with a situation, my Inner Voice tells me over and over what I should have done. She’s kind of repetitive and corners me when I’m vulnerable. My Inner Voice is a know it all … she’s relentless and she insists she knows what is best.

And I listen to her!

Heck, during a yoga session when I’m focused, calm and peaceful, my Inner Voice breaches the quiet to criticize me when I fall out of a pose or can’t balance on one leg for 3 minutes … as if she could do any better. Well, she tells me she could … duh.

My Inner Voice has something to say when I pay bills or balance the checkbook. Shouldn’t have bought that, she says. Did you really need that sweater? I mean, instead of a manicure or an updated kitchen you could have saved that money or spent it more practically. Oh, how I could improve or simplify my life if I’d just listen to her.

My Inner Voice questions the way I deal with my kids and interact with my friends. Shouldn’t have said that. Shouldn’t have gone there. Shouldn’t have mentioned that. Shouldn’t have made that choice or decision. Why did you do that? Shouldn’t have worn that. You’re weak for allowing that. You’re a fool for believing that nonsense. She debates my choices and my decisions. She challenges me at every turn.

Okay … my Inner Voice is kind of a bitch.

She’s my own personal commentator pointing out my Falls and Under-rotations. She analyzes and analyzes my choices (be they good or poor ones) and questions me at every turn. She is My Own Worst Enemy.

I try to mute her. I just want the nice music as I skate along. I just want to Roll with It, Baby, Breathe and Let It Go. I want to find my inner Angel and celebrate all that I am. I really try not to let her or her opinionated, know-it-all, critical voice dominate me. I often send her to her room and work on finding ways to shut her away. But, she finds a key and a way back somehow and reminds me of my imperfections, challenging me when I’m vulnerable. At times I feel strong enough to ignore her. It’s something I’m working on. My journal helps … a daily dialogue to get those doubts and negative thoughts out of my head.

We all have our very own commentator inside us — our own worst enemy. And, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t be friends with someone who talks to me and criticizes me and debases me the way she does. I wouldn’t meet her for coffee. Heck, I’d unfriend her and block her.

So, each day, I seek to celebrate what I do well. I offer my best and try to silence the whisperings that want to undermine me. I may fall on the ice. But, I remember I’m human, that I’m offering up my best, and that every fall gives me a chance to learn something …

And to get back up and try again.

                                                                                                             — Jenni

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The Greatest Showman IS The Greatest Show …

The Greatest Showman is a perfect film.

Yeah, I know it may not be historically accurate to the true-life story of the legendary P.T. Barnum. But it doesn’t claim to be anything but what it is … a movie. There’s no “based on a true story” at the beginning of the film. And come on, The Perfect Storm made this claim years ago … a true story? Seriously? With no one living to tell the tale? Please.

In a world that spends too much of its time focusing on the negative, The Greatest Showman is Hope. It’s Joy. It celebrates Uniqueness and welcomes the Outcast to the big screen. It’s Kindness. It smears the line when Racism divides. It admits Mistakes and offers Forgiveness. It Dreams. And it does so in Technicolor with an infectious musical score that I bought on iTunes only moments after returning home from the film … and my daughter and I play constantly.

The Greatest Showman is a phenomenon, drawing more people to the theaters weeks after its initial debut than during its initial release. And why is that? Because in a world where drama, dissatisfaction and intolerance seems to abide, people want to remember there is Joy, Hope, Forgiveness, Kindness and Acceptance. They want to know that despite their scars, darkness, mistakes and individuality, they are still welcome … that the world will not stifle what they have to offer.

Many years ago, my family took a summer vacation to Washington DC. We did all the “standard” stuff, touring the Smithsonian, monuments and historical sites. Then, one day, we decided to visit The Kennedy Center. During our tour, we were admitted to take a look at the revered Lincoln Theatre. And what met our eyes was truly miraculous.

The entire theatre looked like a circus. The stage glittered with color, decorated in the grand style of all things spectacular — including a tightrope, a unicycle and a high-flying dangling trapeze. The tour guide explained to us that the musical Barnum, starring Stacy Keach, was performing that evening. My dad didn’t hesitate. He headed to the box office to purchase tickets for the show immediately.

I was in junior high at the time, but there are many things I recall about that evening. I remember walking in to The Kennedy Center and feeling as though I had entered a carnival. Magicians, fire eaters, jugglers, clowns, balloon artists, and tumblers surrounded us, dressed in red and gold and all the magical colors of the rainbow. My brother and I was mesmerized. Quickly, he was collected by a magician to assist with a trick … you know the one. They have rainbow colored streamers in their mouth and you help pull it out … and out and out and out. Jeff pulled and pulled and pulled, fascinated. And I giggled beside him.

Soon, he wore a balloon hat. It looked fabulous with his blue leisure suit. I have a photo of him in that hat, holding a Barnum banner — a banner that hung in his room for many a year. I have a framed poster of the musical on my wall. The production was magical. The prince of humbug, PT Barnum, reminded us that there’s a sucker born every minute … that we crave surprise and magic … that we long for bright colors and production numbers to brighten our days. He walked a tightrope. He sang. He juggled. And he sported that Red Coat with the gold trim and a top hat.

Now, it’s been a long time since I saw that production. But the memory of that darkened theatre and all the pageantry that arose once the lights came up is as vibrant as ever.

Hugh Jackman fought for The Greatest Showman for seven years. He fought to bring a musical to the large screen. He fought to bring the colors and message of this story to an audience. He recognized that The Greatest Showman belonged on the big screen … that it is just the kind of movie and story that our world needs.

The-Greatest-Showman-92b5014And that’s the key. The colors, the uniqueness, the oddness, the strangeness, the scariness of following a dream and daring to believe that you will be welcomed — or at least accepted — by others resonates with each of us no matter who we are. The PT Barnum of The Greatest Showman embraces individuals prone to hide in the darkness and invites them to a place in the center ring. A showman who brings razzle dazzle to the outcasts — and his audience — and reminds us all they we can be celebrated for just who we are. No more hiding in the shadows.

And just when all is going well, Barnum gets caught up.  A cavity in his soul opens and he loses site of his intention, his dream and his true friends in an effort to win approval. The vulnerability of a poor man’s son who was never good enough in the eyes of the world (or his father-in-law) takes the stage, and Barnum looks outside for validation.

See, Barnum was an outcast too. And he longed for the acceptance of those who thought him unworthy. And in this quest, he loses site of what is truly important. He abandons his friends to “Get in” with the very people who cut him down to dust. Yet when everything comes apart at the seams, he realizes that it was these outcasts he brought together who were truly more important to him. This family he brought together was true and real. He realized that he had been chasing the wrong thing. And that only by accepting and loving himself as he was could he find that missing piece of his own puzzle.

He comes back. He admits his mistakes. He owns his poor choices. And, he is forgiven and offered another chance. And together, this band of outcasts creates The Greatest Show on Earth.

So, no matter the critics arguments that PT Barnum was no Hugh Jackman … I mean, who is? Jackman’s PT Barnum is the conveyor of dreams. He offers us a marvelous spectacle AND acceptance in a time where many of us are still prone to hide our own imperfections from the light of day. He invites the outcast we hide inside to come into the light. He celebrates our uniqueness and reminds us that though there will always be those who fight and flee from things “different,” there are so many others who find true joy in our world’s amazing carnival.

Each of us has our little oddities and idiosyncrasies that we hide in the darkness. The Greatest Showman reminds us all to honor, accept and celebrate our own glorious individuality. No, I may not be a bearded lady who hides behind a screen when she sings. Nor am I a pink-wigged trapeze artist fighting prejudice because of my color. But, I have my own bruises, scars and quirky uniqueness.

Hugh Jackman’s PT Barnum reminds us that we are Glorious … that it takes all kinds and colors to Rewrite the Stars. That we’re all walking a Tightrope with A Million Dreams. And that This is Me … and I’m good with that.

The Greatest Showman can change your life. Let it …

                                                                                                                 — Jenni

The Rest of the Story

Well, it’s back. I’ve embarked on the #ClassicsChallenge2018 with a few friends and my brother along for the ride. All are welcome! The January assignment was Mystery/Suspense. In February, with Oscar Nominations top of mind, we’ll read a Book turned into a Movie. But for now, let’s talk Mystery.

During my Tween to Teen transition, I adored a good mystery. After all, I’d begun my exposure with The Bobbsey Twins and moved on to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. But, after a while, I craved a little something more … grown up.

Enter the works of Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt. These were atmospheric tales of adventure and suspense, blended with Gothic tones, angst-ridden heroines and handsome, dashing men with names like Evan, Giles, Joss and Brandon. And they fascinated my younger, romantic self. Each book was set in some exotic or enticing location, too, adding to their attraction for a teenager living in Northern Indiana.

So, when it came time to select a Classic Mystery, what better than to pull out Phyllis A. Whitney’s Lost Island.” Yes, I did read it before. But it was … er … um … well at least 35 or so years ago. The publish date of 1970 makes it just shy of our group’s Classic status of 50 years old. But, a friend had given me a First Edition copy for Christmas, so I threw caution to the wind, grabbed a cup of tea and a cozy blanket, and settled on the couch with my #ClassicsChallenge2018 mystery.

Lost Island is set on a remote, apparently privately owned island off the coast of Georgia. And Whitney’s excellent use of imagery and description invites you to smell the sea air and feel the sand on your toes. Like Daphne du Maurier — who probably inspired Whitney, Holt and others of the time — the descriptions are often a bit over the top, There are some dated character descriptions and references  — not just ones found in gabardine pants or windbreakers. And, Lacey — our heroine for this novel — is a bit of a drama queen and always gazing off into the horizon. (Probably why I related to her and loved her so much in my Teen days!)

Quick plot summary (Caution for Spoilers). Lacey spent summers raised on her family-owned Hampton Island.  Her mom had run away from said island years before but her silhouette seems to throw a shadow over the island —  even though she married, moved to New York and has since passed away. Yet Lacey was always drawn back to Hampton Island … very clearly it was the handsome Giles Severn that was the attraction. But her cousin Elise was ever the rival.

But Elise is a head-strong girl and leaves the island to sow her wild oats before her eventual, expected settling down as mistress of the island named for her family, leaving Lacey and Giles to …. (you know this …) fall in love. Lacey of course gets pregnant. Elise returns to discover her destined husband — Giles — didn’t wait or pine for her. In fact, he’s no longer in love with her at all. She manipulates everyone, driving a wedge between Lacey and Giles, until Lacey runs away. Once Lacey is out of the way — as always expected — Giles and Elise get engaged. But … remember … Lacey is pregnant!

Elise and her mother, Lacey’s Aunt Amalie (see, everyone in these books has a unique name!) convince Lacey to give up the child and form a plan to make it seem that Elise, who has recently married Giles but is unable to bear children, is the baby’s mother. And, that’s where the story technically begins … 10 years later, Lacey is invited to visit the island by Elise, spends time with Giles — and her son Richard — and realizes what a devastating mistake she made all those years before.

Enter the mystery and suspense. There are attempts to scare her away, by someone. There are even attempts on her life. And as the dire nature of the “relationship” between Giles and Elise become apparent, Lacey’s feelings rev up and rekindle the romance and the love she denied for all these years. Eventually, as in all Whitney/Holt mysteries, someone dies. The story has many twists and turns before reaching the denouement. And the ending is a surprise.

I enjoy the atmospheric, melodramatic feel of these books. And I enjoyed Lost Island. The book — and others I read by the same author — sparked and continue to spark my creative energy and imagination. As a teen, I always imagined myself in the heroine’s place. I wanted to change my name to Lacey or Lyndall or Courtney or Skye. Something more unique and romantic than “Jennifer.”

But the books always seemed to end rather abruptly and I found myself curious as to the rest of the story. What happened to Lacey and Giles after the final page turn? To Courtney and Evan in The Golden Unicorn? (my FAVORITE Whitney novel) Heck, when I read du Maurier’s Rebecca, I wanted to know what happened to Maxim and the unnamed only known as Mrs. de Winter after the burning of Manderley.

I do that now, too … When endings come or people move on, out of my life or away, I wonder … what is the rest of their story? What happened after they walked out of my “movie?” What happened after goodbye or the burning of Manderley? What’s in the next chapter after they turn, walk off into the sunset or drive away? It’s not as though their lives stop after they leave my scene. What secrets don’t I know? What subtext did I miss? What happens next? What IS the rest of the story?

I’m curious that way. And I guess that’s why these Phyllis A. Whitney mysteries appealed to me as a teen and continue to appeal to me now. Exotic, romantic places and people fascinate me. Incomplete tales are so real. And though the pages of a book tell me what’s going on, when I close the book, I know there’s always more to the story.

Life is full of mystery and suspense … surprises and fascinating people. I don’t need Whitney or Holt or even Dan Brown to show me that. I just keep turning pages … not knowing what’s coming next …

— Jenni

Lessons from Miss Spider

On my way to the mall for one of my many shopping trips over the holidays, somebody honked at me. I was momentarily startled and felt as though I’d been taken before the principal. Happened again … same trip. And that warm feeling of shame spread inside me one more time.

Now, I am a good driver and I don’t recall doing anything stupid during those two occurrences.  I wasn’t checking email or texting … my daughter chastised me for doing so at a red light once and it stuck with me. I wasn’t even scrolling to select music. My new car enables me play my iTunes by voice, so there is no need to even touch my phone.  No, I was just driving.

Perhaps I didn’t accelerate through the light quickly enough for someone. Perhaps in my effort to respect the speed limit, I wasn’t driving fast enough. Perhaps my lack of urgency en route to the mall as I enjoyed the sounds of Christmas carols through my 9-speaker sound system did not take into consideration another driver’s tension level or desire to rush. Whatever the case, the honking upset me. And I carried that with me as I walked into the mall.

After stopping to drop coins in the Salvation Army Kettle, I felt what I needed was a little pick-me-up. So, I went to Starbucks and treated myself to a Gingerbread Latte. The barista substituted for a therapist. I shared my experience and we commiserated a bit. She helped me put it in perspective while she made my coffee. And I walked away with a lighter mood.

She offered a little Kindness and it altered my day.

The sense of urgency in our world is intrinsically self-centered. Heck, as human beings, we are extremely self-oriented. Sitting at my ground floor office desk, the Royal Oak streets are alive — with the sound of honking. Does no one consider how that action affects another?

I’m not just talking about horns here. It’s bigger than that. In our fast-paced, “me me me” world, do people genuinely take time to consider what an action, a careless or cruel word, a dismissive, critical comment,  or a harsh post/text/email does to another person? Is our sense of self-importance, self-preservation or just plain “self” so important that we negate the impact of our actions on the feelings of another being on this planet? I read somewhere about a “Golden Rule.” You may or may not have read or heard about it. If memory serves it goes something like … “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.” How does an uncharitable, mean-spirited, callous, unfeeling, selfish or just plain careless action resonate now?

Yes, self-care is important. We need to take care of our own spirits … our own selves. And we need to have compassion on ourselves. Sometimes we get overwhelmed or into a bad place. But, oftentimes we don’t get there alone … and lashing out at another doesn’t make things better for us. We need to examine our own actions, connect instead of isolate ourselves, and recognize that our treatment of others has consequences. Our world needs a higher dose of courtesy, respect, and kindness.

So my word and focus for 2018 is #Kindness. I will shine its light into my own heart — what a brilliant power it has! And with Kindness as my focus, I will make more of an effort to show compassion to others as well as show compassion to myself and my thoughts, ideas, hopes, dreams and needs. I will honk, react and judge less.  I will slow down, show courtesy and listen more.

It’s amazing how focusing on Kindness changes how I phrase statements, how I work with others, how I get up in the morning and look at my day, and how I spend my time. Oh, I still get impatient, annoyed and sometimes frustrated with life and with others. Even my cat isn’t immune to my moods when she mewls at me for something … I can’t tell what she wants which is soooo frustrating. But then, I can’t always tell what other people in my life want either.

So … I can choose to respond with Kindness instead of annoyance. Since I’ve made this conscious choice, I’m slower to “react” and pause before I “respond.” I find it easier to be gentler and more accepting when I take time to remember that I don’t know what others are going through at this exact moment and that even if I don’t agree or understand them, I can Choose to respond with Kindness. No matter what is going on with me, I can speak in love and think first of someone else. It’s a choice. Kindness.

I read a book to my kids when they were little. It was called “Little Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch School.” There was a message in the final lines of that picture book that I emphasized for them … and that I repeat to myself like a mantra. See Little Miss Spider was struggling to find out what she was good at, where she fit in, and how she could get along with all these bugs that were so different from her. One day, she helped a struggling bug out of a water spout, and she found her special talent …

Our gifts they are many,

We hop, fly and crawl.

But Kindness, he said, it the greatest of all.

Kindness is a talent. It is a skill. And it must be nurtured and cultivated.  It must be chosen. After all, we call them “Acts of Kindness.”

On this planet, we are all different. But if we choose to be Kind to those around us … choose to consider how a quick, flippant or dismissive response might negatively impact another individual … we might just begin to shape our world into a more accepting, more considerate place to live.

I don’t know about you, but that’s the world I would like to live in … and to nurture for future generations. Kindness … it’s a gift.

Oh, and should you run across a spider, consider just letting it go. It might have a lesson or two left to teach …

                                                                                                        — Jenni  #Kindness2018

Dalai Lama

 

A Thrill of Hope

Hope. A tiny little word. And, a four-letter word. Hope … deceitfully easy to spell yet far from easy to nurture day in and day out, night in and night out. Hope shines bright … Hope gives light to the darkness, yes. But only if you protect your candle from the wind and the storms.

2017 was #Hope for me. I chose the word to light my way throughout the year. I chose it because I needed to strengthen my own ability to find and sustain it. As part of my effort, I wore White the entire month of January … yes, every single day. It was my intention to shine light and hope into the midwinter months after the Christmas decorations came down. It was a choice I made to nurture my own outlook almost as much as it was my offer healing to others I encountered along the way.

One thing I learned quickly is that when you throw a word like Hope into the Universe that Darkness rallies. It’s like daring the Universe to challenge your efforts. And what comes at you is powerful and daunting.

If I’m honest, 2017 was a tough one for me. There were some very personal losses … some that shook me deeply.  There were super high Highs and super low Lows. To focus my energy a bit, I Hope braceletbought a Hope bracelet from Mudlove. Some days I wore the word facing out, offering my Hope to others … some days I turned it to face me, clinging to it like a life-preserver. After all that time, though, the word remains undamaged. Oh, the once white strap is quite grey yet the elastic band that held it to my wrist is strong as ever.

Hope. It’s a crazy word. After all, what is hope but a feeling of expectation, trust. Hope is a desire for something and a willingness — or deep need — to believe in something or someone. Keeping Hope strong in our volatile world is like riding a bucking bronco into a rodeo. It’s a Thrill Ride. But keeping on the horse when it’s trying desperately to shake you is so NOT easy.

Yes, 2017– like all years — brought a mixture of highs and lows, gains and losses, adventures and retreats, arrivals and departures, hellos and goodbyes. My past 12 months resembles the Walt Disney World classic attraction “Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.” I crashed into a library, reading lots of books and upsetting a few ladders. I spent a few days enjoying the view after excellent yoga and meditation sessions while other days dodging trains and some perilous encounters. I found ease by the water before turning down a wrong way street and opening the door into a warehouse of explosives. Heck there were a few moments that felt like a car ride down the railroad tracks with train lights shining in my face … before I finally made it through the tunnel to enjoy time with dear friends. Yikes! There were simple, easy days and whipped cream, photo trips down memory lane and ceremonies to honor beginnings and endings, music, laughter, weddings and too many funerals. 2017 challenged, shattered, strengthened and changed me. It was not boring. Nope, 2017 was a wild ride with all the bells and whistles.

But New Years Day always arrives with such promise .. it seems that anything is possible. January 1 offers us “A New Hope.” Somewhere along the way though, the year loses its luster and we find ourselves wavering in the dark. That is the time I found myself having a conversation with my spirit about what Hope was going to be for me. What I’ve truly learned this year, though, is that you must Choose Hope.  You must Seek Hope. Hope doesn’t just come to you. Sometimes it can be your Life Preserver and help you float through whatever darkness plagues you. But, you have to Find It. You have to want it, believe in it and nurture it. It endures … but it’s up to you to keep the light glowing.

My Hope bracelet may now be grey. But the strap is strong and my Hope enters 2018 battered yet resilient. I’m wearing bright pink instead of white to greet this year. My Hope endured. Oh, there were a few days along the way where the light wavered, yes. But Hope has taught me a lesson about the things I can change and the things I must learn to accept as they are … not as I wish them to be.

Light a Candle … call it Hope. This little light of mine … I’m gonna let it shine …

                                                                                                                                 Jenni

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45 Minutes on the Ice

Since the day after Thanksgiving, my mind has been a restless mess. It’s garbled up with words, plans, lists and ideas. And, I’m unable to settle anywhere, easily distracted, ungrounded and unfocused. I’ve started writing several blogs which I can’t seem to complete and get out of draft form. They sit “in the corner” to be picked on and prodded occasionally, only to be saved and abandoned again. I’m not sleeping great, between the stuffy head and the to do list dancing around my mind like sugarplums.

It’s Christmas. That most Wonderful time of the year.

I look forward to this time.  I really do. The traditions and celebrations. The lights around town. I love decorating my home and turning the tree on every morning to enjoy as I sip my coffee and prepare for the day.  I enjoy the music and Christmas playlist on my iPhone. But, over the past several years, I’ve noticed a trend toward more stress and less sleep than I recall from my younger days. I’m quicker to escalate and become emotional at this time of year.

Sparkly snow outside my window sets just the right mood. Candles are lit … the tree as well. But still, my mind races and both focusing and relaxing becomes harder.

I’m an organized person. (Okay those of you who know me, you can stop laughing.) I’ll own that, yes, I’m the Type AA organized one. So Christmas should be my time to shine. But I’m frazzled at this time of year as I seek to create the Magic that seems harder to harness than it used to be. The lists that I write don’t calm me like they usually do … nor do the morning meditations and additional time I spend on Bible study and prayerfully focusing on my faith and the reason behind this season.

I forget things. I lose things … well, I misplace them and cannot recall the logical location in which I decided to place them. I wake earlier, the skies still dark. My cat seems to feel the same way. Her normal wake up time parallels mine.

There’s just something in the air that unhooks the tethers of my spirit and I long for something miraculous to take me away from it all … or at least to help me settle me a bit so I can relax.

Strangely, I’ve found something that focuses my mind, my spirit and my heart too.

Several years ago, some friends invited us to join them for a holiday ice-skating outing. In theory, that sounds great, right? Yeah sure. And of course I said yes. But the reality that I hadn’t worn a pair of ice skates since I lived in Valparaiso and went out to Lakewood Park with my dad set in quickly and I was pretty nervous as I stepped out onto the ice.

Amazingly, I didn’t fall. In fact, I made it around the Campus Martius Rink many a time, amidst faster and shorter skaters zipping in and around me. And I couldn’t help but grin the whole time.

At the end of the outing, my ankle rocked a giant and very bloody blister. I’d felt it coming on but was too stubborn — and having too much fun — to stop and get off the ice.

Flash forward a year to another trip to the Campus Martius skating rink and another bloody blister. Admittingly, I have a high tolerance for pain and difficulty ending an activity when it’s bringing me joy — even when it hurts. So, the next Christmas, my family decided it was time to give me a beautiful, sparkly white pair of ladies’ ice skates.

At the beginning of December this year, I decided it was time to get them out and use them. I was looking for something different to do on my day off. And there is a nearby indoor rink with hours set-aside for public skating. I figured on a weekday there would be fewer skaters to navigate around, giving me time to practice and get my rhythm. So, I grabbed my skates and set out for the rink.

When I walked into the arena, there was no one else there. I mean … No one on the ice. I was completely alone. The only sound was the drone of the generator. Stunned at the silence, I put on my skates and headed for the entrance.

Okay, honesty here … every time I step out on the ice, I feel a stab of fear. Fear that I’ll fall. Fear that I’ll get hurt. Fear that I can’t do this. Fear that I can’t handle this. It’s an almost debilitating instinctual response that almost stops me.

The key is … almost. So, I stepped out on the ice and began, tentatively, to skate around the rink. Now, when I skate, I have to focus completely. One step, glide … next step, glide. Just me and the crisp sound of my blades cutting through the crystal sheen beneath me. I can’t even listen to music. I just skate. I don’t stay too long, about 45 minutes or so. And it’s transforming.

When skating, I cannot make a list or plan or worry or think about anything but skating. I breathe and focus on the step and glide only. I am completely present in the current moment. Not thinking about the past or any drama, not worrying about getting things done or what lies ahead. When I skate, there is no restlessness and no distraction. I find 45 minutes of peace.

On the ice, my mind is quiet. I can’t stay long. It’s a big rink and my legs get tired. But each week this December, I met my fear head on and stepped out on the ice, rewarded with a quiet mind as well as a feeling of accomplishment. It’s beautiful on the ice. I’m not trying to be Dorothy Hamill … just enjoying the ice time.

What do you need to focus your spirit? A long walk? A yoga class? A cup of coffee amidst a busy Starbucks? Quiet? Sound? People? Solitude? Activity? Knitting needles and yarn? Painting? Redecorating a room? A jog on a starry evening? Music? Whatever it is, take time for it. Find your peace your way …

Maybe I’ll see you on the ice …

— Jenni

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I get sentimental at Christmas …

One of my favorite moments in December is the annual trip to visit Santa. This most magical of times includes getting up early, donning festive Christmas attire, and stopping at Starbucks before the meet and greet with the big guy. In most cases, we were his first visit of the day. Inspired and more than a little emotional afterward, I’d follow-up the visit with an annual Christmas email and attach the picture. I have many photographs and fond memories of this annual outing.

An outing which — after 18 years — has officially run its course.

It was a good run. After originally terminating his attendance in 7th grade, my son Jarod re-upped, joining my daughter Paige and me these past three years. Not sure if his return was due to the fact that he knew how much this visit meant to me or that I bought him Starbucks when he came along. At any rate,  both my kids honored this tradition.  But this year, Jarod is away at college. And Paige, now in 7th Grade, finds the idea of a photo with Santa “embarrassing.”

I knew this was coming.

Endings and changes at Christmas seem harder than other times of the year. Why is that? Emotions are heightened. I get sentimental. Okay, I get emotional. My moods run the spectrum. The marketing hype says its “the most wonderful time of the year” but let’s be real here. December is also a dark month filled with hectic hours, sleepless nights and too much to do. Loneliness and a sense of disconnect are more profound than that elusive Christmas Spirit I hear so much about.

And the Ghost of Christmas Past haunts my memories.

Once upon a time in 7th grade, I actually played the Ghost of Christmas Past at TJ Junior High — a role I’m excited to say my daughter will take on in her 7th Grade ELA class this year!

Oops. I digress …

Scrooge+with+Christmas+Past+Ghost+copyAnyway,. I wore all white (along with a little red riding hood cape from an old Halloween costume of mine) and a sprig of holly on my silver-sprayed hair. My job in the play was to remind Ebeneezer Scrooge of days gone by that had shaped him into the man he had become.  To remind him not so gently about memories he had packed away into his mind palace and stored out of sight in a dusty attic. To show him shadows of times past. See Scrooge was met not only with painful memories but with joyful ones too — memories of the love of his sister, falling love in Belle, and of a kick butt Christmas party at Fezziwig’s place.

But he shut those out allowing loss and darker memories to hold sway over him and eventually turn him bitter and shut him off from humankind.

At this “festive” time of the year, Ghosts abound, bringing memories of Christmases past and people, places, celebrations and traditions of times gone by. Some we recall fondly. Some — along with the people that helped handcraft them — are lost to time and distance. Some self-destructed with a wrecking ball.  But these situations, people and memories shaped us, changed us and they continue to affect us. Yet, like Ebeneezer Scrooge, it’s very easy during the dark hours of this month to focus on the difficult times … to lose sight of the party at Fezziwigs and dwell instead on struggles, disappointments, losses, and feelings of loneliness.

The Ghost of Christmas Past haunts me in December. The light she shines into the dark meager corners of my own life creates movie-like vignettes of holidays past and people I shared them with. Like Scrooge, these shadows recall to my mind elegant moments of great joy as well as ones tinged — or drenched — with sadness. The past shaped me into the woman I am today, sparkles and scars. And with all the cold and darkness of December, it can be too much at times.

Sometimes, like Scrooge, I choose to disconnect. Time alone is necessary for me. I’m wired that way. I need a Silent Night. Other times, I need people … friends to laugh with and share joy … friends to remind me that I’m not alone, that they care, that I have value and bring something into their lives too. In fact, this year, a friend had planned a Girls Night event that I almost missed. By choice, I have to admit. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be around people. My moods have been so erratic. Retreating and avoiding seemed like the best course.

Perhaps it was the text she sent … perhaps it was the one from my friend Cheryl. Anyway, I went, luckily. And what a great Fezziwig memory that will be for the Ghost to bring along in future years … Salted Caramel Martini, fizzy pink champagne and lots of laughter. Of course, I’m still ticked at Angie for stealing my ornament … but wait, Cheryl stole from me first. Anyway, it’s not always easy to predict what moments will truly raise you up until you allow others to reach out and draw you in.

But there are days during this most fricking wonderful time of the year that sometimes just suck. The Ghost sheds light on memories that stir up emotions and the next moment I’m crying over a bunch of peanut butter blossom batter because I miss my kid and then I’m blubbering at church when they play It Came Upon a Midnight Clear which always makes me miss my Granddaddy Carmichael who sang it better than anyone I know.

The Ghost of Christmas Past dredges up emotion. And I’m volatile and passionate, so I have highs and lows every December. But … I honor my nostalgic sentimentality. So when I wake up repeatedly at 5:10 a.m. and can’t go back to sleep, or difficult vignettes arise to replay their scenes in my head and I get lonely, I let go of the ones that no longer serve me. I get up and play with my cat under the tree, enjoying silence and sparkly white lights against morning darkness. I play music that brings me joy or turn to a photo of my niece singing which fills me with delight. Then, I gently think about people who’ve touched my heart and life — no matter if they are gone away. And I vow to connect with those who truly matter in days to come.

The Ghost of Christmas Past will always remind me of the many trips to see Santa … of baking with Jarod and singing with Granddaddy. Of laughter with friends and decorating the tree with my family. Of a skating outing to Campus Martius. Of parties, concerts, caroling around the piano and everything that gives Christmas meaning. Nothing can take those memories from me. And, when it comes to other difficult moments from my past, I can choose to look at the scenes with compassion and kindness. Then, I can let go of bitterness to embrace the Hope that Christmas Present is offering, make time to spend with a friend, and release painful moments, regrets, faded dreams and old wishes.

Ebeneezer Scrooge allowed his past to create bitterness in his heart. And that bitterness disconnected him with his fellow man. There’s a lot going on in December. And it’s very easy to follow his path.

Don’t. Reach out and connect … There’s always a glass of wine — or cup of coffee — and a fresh batch of cookies at my house if you need a safe haven.

But if you need a peaceful, silent night instead, choose to remember Fezziwig’s party over all the Drama from your past.

It was a damn good time.

God Bless Us, Every One.

                                                                                                                    — Jenni