Hope Keeps It Simple

christmas-pine conesBecause life is easier when it’s simple, I have decided to merge that principle into my holiday celebrations.

What used to be a November and December filled with activities and the traditional holiday set-ups, I have now prefaced with the following questions:

  • How can I simplify the holidays?
  • What gives me the most joy about Thanksgiving and Christmas?
  • What changes do I need to make that keep the spirit of the season yet make life easier?

Christmas Cards

Although I love to send and receive greeting cards throughout the year, the business of addressing and mailing Christmas cards to my entire address list has become overkill. I hereby determine to simplify the process.

I still believe all these people are important in my life, yet I am setting a card boundary. This year, I will save time, money and energy on Christmas cards. Please don’t be offended if you are deleted. Consider this your greeting: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

Holiday Treats

In the past, I have baked and frosted, wrapped and packaged treats for my neighbors, the postman, people at work and anyone else in my life who did not receive a store-bought gift. This year will be different.

The temptation of cookie dough in my large pottery bowl and the smell of rising breads no longer attract me. This year, my kitchen table will NOT be spread with powdered sugar treats fondly called People Puppy Chow. My body will thank me, because I am always tempted to eat half of them.

I vow to protect my heart, my brain and my arteries from excess powdered sugar. I am setting a culinary boundary.

Holiday Decorations

Throughout the years, my house has often sported decorations in every room. Walking through Pier One, Hallmark stores or Kirkland during this time of the year gives me great joy.

But since a stager opened my eyes to a more simplified décor, I have decided to change my holiday habits.

Compared to other years, the mantel will seem sparse. My theme is pine cones which remind me of the New Mexico mountains. Simple yet beautiful – a display of God’s creation accented with little pearl lights.

Many former decorations, I will give away. It feels good to share the beauty of my past with someone else. My little tree with its tiny pre-lit globes still works. No need to buy the newer versions.

A simpler Christmas helps me focus more on the meaning of the holiday rather than the trappings of it. The joy of Christmas-giving still belongs with the young, so I have fun planning gifts for my son. The rest of us don’t need any more stuff.

The holiday surprise of 2018 is the joy of simplification. More room on my storage shelves with less stuff to store. More space in each room. More things to give away and share with someone else.

When I surround myself ONLY with the things that bring me joy, the essential leftovers offer pleasure. And in the choice to simplify my holidays, joy follows into the new year.

A toast of eggnog to all my followers. Enjoy your version of the holidays and let me know in the comments how you will celebrate.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to share a Christmas gift with me, check out my Author Page on Amazon. The purchase of a book or a written review is always acceptable.

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When Christmas Changes

Throughout our city, wherever we traveled, we heard it.Xmas pkg - hot choc

In grocery stores, libraries, Target and Wal-Mart — even during church services where it occurred in stereo sound — one person in the aisle echoed by someone across the room.

The Great Cough of 2016.

In spite of our vitamins, clean eating and daily spraying through the house with Lysol, my son and I both caught the Great Cough of 2016.

With all our plans for the holidays suddenly deleted, we dragged our pitiful selves to our respective recliners. The cat glanced back and forth as we coughed, trying to rid our bodies of what the doctors called “Upper Respiratory Infection.”

Christmas plans immediately changed. None of our usual holiday foods. I wasn’t cooking anything except chicken soup. Unwrapped presents waited in Amazon boxes. Worse, we were not able to spend Christmas with the family in Oklahoma.

We didn’t want to infect the entire clan, and truthfully — they didn’t want us within breathing distance. Why take our germs across the state line to risk the health of the children, my elderly mother and all the other relatives?

This was the first year since I served as a missionary in Honduras that I did not see my mother for Christmas.

We found an urgent care open on a Sunday. Bless the hearts of that medical staff! We armed ourselves with legal drugs. Thank you to the hard-working people at CVS! Fully medicated, we each returned to bed and slept late — when the coughing didn’t wake us up.

But Christmas happened in spite of illness. A few days later, my son’s girlfriend and her family invited us for a delicious meal and an evening of fun. We played table games, wearing hygienic gloves, trying not to cough on anyone.

The next day, we piled cough drops into my purse and escaped the sick house for a movie. I highly recommend “Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith’s poignant performance of a man dealing with intense grief. The twist at the end gave us plenty of conversation starters as we managed an evening breakfast at IHOP.

Then we again collapsed in our recliners. Still coughing, but finding some joy in TV shows. The Grinch tried to steal Christmas from Cindy Lou Who while George Bailey learned how he lived a wonderful life.

Our Christmas may have looked different and not what we planned but we survived it. The promised Messiah still came. The beauty of Luke chapter two remained solid and the twinkle lights on our tree reflected a glowing  angel at the top.

Hope survived our Christmas changes as gradual healing brought us upright to face a new year. The Great Cough of 2016 did not win, because Christmas is not about food, health, presents or travel.

Christmas incorporates the beauty of music, joy, light and a Love that forever transforms lives. No matter how we celebrate the season, the root of its beginning cannot change.

And in that security, we find hope in the eternal promise – Immanuel – God is still with us.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved.

For a holiday gift you can give to a hard-working caregiver, consider Holiday Tips for Caregivers. Available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 4

What does it take to run down a dream? The answer to that question becomes post number four of my gratitude series.

The dream of a young girl, perched inside the barky womb of her favorite elm tree. Adolescent limbs swinging from an upper branch. Book opened. Devouring words and dreaming of becoming an author.Books on shelf - SW

The dream nurtured by:

  • Parents who turned off the TV and encouraged more reading.
  • A high school counselor who confirmed, “You’re certainly good at English. Writing is easy for you.”
  • Straight A’s in every language arts class in college. Math? Not so much.
  • An achievement test that declared I should become a novelist.
  • Notebooks and diaries filled with the detailed debris of my life.

The dream faded as the responsibilities of life interfered. Still, I chased the dream in early morning paragraphs or late-night stories, submissions every week to magazines (the old-fashioned way of sending documents by mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope), multiple rejections, then more rejections.

Why writers fear rejections is a mystery to me. I have always felt they were part of the process, like the chef who bakes multiple cakes until he discovers the perfect recipe.

So I accepted those rejections, learned from them and immediately sent out a corrected version to another magazine.

Then a writers conference, meeting full-time creatives, the dream’s fire stoked and flaming brighter.

More submissions and publications that finally confirmed the dream was shared by others. Those in the know actually saw my work, believed in my mission, appreciated my words and glory be – paid me!

Now as 2018 winds down, 11 books bear my byline. My days are filled with book launches, speaking events, posting on this blog, coaching other writers who share the dream and always – always finding more words for the book projects I still long to write.

The world of a writer is not always an easy journey. This post has glibly shortened over 40 years of learning the craft and persevering toward the dream.

But I still begin and end each day with words, either a project I’m working on, edits for another writer or the raw sentences that fill my journals.

I am so grateful for the opportunity of free speech, to pen my thoughts and send them into the world, to scribble the phrases that confirm my purpose in this world.

What does it take to run down a dream?

A marathon of hope and approximately 40 years.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my novel, No Visible Scars, which required only 12 years to write.

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 3

Spices. I am grateful for spices and the sense of taste that allows me to enjoy the wonder of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and of course – pumpkin pie spice.pumpkin pies - cartoon

Part of the joy of spices is how they smell up the entire house while they’re cooking. My mind easily roams back to the farm kitchen as Mom baked peppernuts. Double the spices for our family’s recipe. That smell evokes care, holiday fun and love – all at the same time.

In my own kitchen, spices include the warmer tones of cumin, curry and sriracha. I really don’t know how to cook without spices.

Add to those smells, the herbs I grow for extra punch to my recipes: basil, rosemary, cilantro and my goodness…. Are you hungry yet?

The importance of spices in grateful cooking is underscored by how and where they are purchased. I have learned the jumbo bottles will age before they can be used. Better to purchase spices in small portions and always – always in a glass bottle. Plastic and cardboard let in too much air, thus weakening the aroma and taste over time.

Because the calendar reminds us Thanksgiving is coming, I wanted to post my famous pumpkin pie recipe. Famous because my family loves it. My recipe because I have tested and added to it over the years.

You have my permission to make it and share it, as long as you give it the correct name: Rebecca’s Famous Pumpkin Pie. I could not include an image of the finished product, because I am scheduling this post weeks ahead. I don’t make this pie until the day before Thanksgiving, because it mysteriously disappears once it takes up space in the fridge.

So here you go – my Thanksgiving gift to you:

Rebecca’s Famous Pumpkin Pie

One day previous to Turkey day, mix ½ cup whole milk with 1 package vanilla instant pudding mix. Whisk together and let the pudding set overnight in the fridge.

The next morning: Mix the set pudding with 1 TB pumpkin pie spice, 1 cup canned pumpkin, ½ cup slivered almonds and 1 cup mini-chocolate chips. I also add ¼ tsp of the following: ground ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon just because I like the extra spices.

Fold in 1 – 8 oz. tub of whipped topping. With a spatula, carefully pour into a graham cracker crust. For chocoholics, use a chocolate crust.

The pie will look like a mountain inside the crust, but the bigger – the better. On top, sprinkle more mini-chocolate chips.

Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Cut and serve. Eat with gratitude.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

 

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 2

touch grass - sunsetDuring this Thanksgiving season, I am grateful for sensory perceptions.

Writers are encouraged to include the five senses in our manuscripts, and most of us do a good job with sight and hearing.

But it’s a little harder to add touch, taste and smell without sounding contrived. Even so, this year I am most grateful for the sense of touch.

We can think on a meditative level about how we are touched by the presence of a close friend, a poignant story we read or a movie we watch.

But the sense of touch I want to focus on is the actual practice of feeling the world around me.

Several years ago, I struggled through a clinical depression. Every day felt gray with absolutely no feelings. I was completely numb, walking through life like an emotional zombie.

Nothing. Even pain would have been more welcome than the drab nothingness of living without any shred of hope.

During that time, I completely lost the sense of touch.

Months later, after an amazing moment of healing deliverance, I began to feel again. I drove to Hancock’s Fabric Store. For hours I strolled through the store, stroking the nubby rows of corduroy, the shiny ribbons of satin, the rich texture of tapestries.

I bought nothing but left the store richer and more content. And I still love to feel my way through fabric stores.

Even now, I relish the sense of touch. As I walk outside, I will often pick up a stick and rub my fingers over the fractured wood. Or I’ll grab some leaves and count the distended veins with my fingers.

My jewelry is chosen for its color but also for its feel. Next to my skin, I fine joy in the spherical turn of beads, the chunkiness of stones and the svelte whisper of pearls. I often play with my earrings because the feel of them reminds me of being alive.

When I hug my son, I stroke his stubbly beard. As I pet the cat, I play with her fluffy tail and sing with the vibrations of her purr. The blanket on my bed is velvety soft. As I arrange the covers, I smile and pat the blanket in place.

Even the pens I write with must have a rubber grip, a smooth cartridge and a careful mark on the page.

The joy of touch is a blessing we can easily take for granted. This Thanksgiving season, let’s be even more aware of how objects, clothing, dishes, furniture and life itself feels.

Even as we touch our way through each day, let’s be more cognizant of new textures not previously experienced. Then let hope expand in the treasure of all the senses God has given.

What about you? Which sense are you most grateful for?

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Depression and its loss of touch can affect the lives of caregivers. Check out Sometimes They Forget for essays from the viewpoint of a family dealing with Alzheimers.

Hope in the Gratitudes – Post 1

During the month of November, I want to focus on special gratitudes. Makes sense, right? During Thanksgiving month we should be grateful.November country

But this year, I want to dig a bit deeper than the usual, “Thank you for health, for food, for the roof over my head.

This year, the focus is a series of gratitudes on my current life or the people in my life.

Post One underscores gratitude for the beautiful life my mother lives.

Mom is currently in Stage Six of the Alzheimer’s journey. She can still dress herself, although I’ve noticed her hairdo needs a bit of tweaking. She can still feed herself and she eats well — gaining weight this year.

But confusion still reigns, and we never know which day may be more lucid than the other. She no longer knows her family members as the connections of relationships remain a puzzle. She often exists in the past, waiting for her parents or her husband to come pick her up and take her to town.

Last year, Mom recognized me by the connection with my son. If I said, “Caleb is working at Amazon,” she would nod and call me by name.

But that has changed. She remembers she has a grandson named Caleb, and she has a daughter who lives in the Kansas City area. But connecting us together and recognizing either of us is now gone.

We are in the stage of Alzheimers where it is comfortable and easy for the patient yet harder for the family and caregivers.

Mom is basically happier now that ever before. The Type A personality, busy all the time, is gone. She sits contentedly in her chair and reads her Bible or the same mystery novel over and over.

She sleeps, then rises for breakfast. She eats all her meals when they call her to the dining room. She attends activities, rides the shuttle to see the Christmas lights and plays Bingo several times / week.

No bills to pay. All that was settled long ago when papers were signed with the facility.

No chores to do. Even her laundry is washed, dried and sorted by others.

No stresses from life or job. She has no idea of current events. Rarely watches the news. Reads the paper but who cares about what’s happening when you have no desire to do anything about it?

Her life is filled with adjectives such as peaceful, safe, content.

Sometimes I envy her.

But mostly, I am grateful Mom has these days of quiet rest with nothing to look forward to but the next meal, the Bingo gathering or lights out.

And the only thing that’s better will be her next move – to heaven.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more essays about the Alzheimers journey, check out Sometimes They Forget.

Hope Encounters the Truth

DA picAs I started my research for No Visible Scars, I had plenty of material to draw from. One out of four women live in destructive relationships. This includes women whose husbands are corporate executives, church leaders and elected officials.

Abused women live within every possible demographic.

Yet we don’t always connect abuse with violence.

Everyone will admit it is wrong to hit a woman. We recoil from the bruises and the broken jaws depicted on television. We may weep when a gurney silently leaves a house, the sheet covering a dead body.

But we forget how violence often begins with a subtle type of abuse:

  • Shame / blame
  • Making fun of her beliefs
  • Calling her names
  • Put downs about her appearance, her clothing, her cooking, her politics, her hobbies
  • Controlling her finances
  • Demanding submission
  • Forceful sexual advances
  • Withholding affection
  • Snooping in her mail or purse

These were some of the early symptoms Abigail experienced in No Visible Scars. Yet she didn’t realize and didn’t want to admit she was living in a destructive relationship.

She finally learned the truth when a group of women gathered around her and helped her learn about setting healthy boundaries. Even then, she had to continue to find her courage and boldly step into a new life.

Here’s how Abigail describes it: “I was afraid of him, but I was more afraid of the unknown, of what I would do without him, of who I could become. Afraid to be without the security of his money. Afraid because I didn’t know how my life might change.”

Fear is one of the big factors why women don’t leave. And their abusers know how to feed that fear with manipulation, threats, even guilty gifts to convince her to stay.

Check out this video to learn more.

Sometimes we don’t pay that much attention to the needs of these victims. We become desensitized by all the violence and pain we see on television. Or we think it will never happen to anyone we know.

But these women are sitting next to us at church and working in the next cubicle. They are standing in line at the grocery store, gritting their teeth because he only gave them a small amount of cash for food and they know their children will be hungry.

They are women in our families although we may not want to admit it. And if we continue to ignore the problem, they will become the next generation of victims – our daughters and granddaughters.

How can we share hope with victims of domestic abuse? Believe them. Support them. Help them find a way of escape. Stop denying the problem or keeping the dirty secret.

And we can teach our sons to respect women, vote for leaders who stand up for women, train our daughters how to set healthy boundaries.

October is the month for Domestic Violence Awareness. How are you going to share hope with a woman you know is being abused?

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

No Visible Scars is now discounted on Amazon and Kindle. Order it today, then share a copy with a woman you know who is living in danger.