Finding Hope in our Stuff

order - chaosMany of the people in my age demographic are downsizing. We refuse to buy more stuff.

At the same time, we are looking through our current stuff and assessing how to best dispose of it.

Yet I am finding a strange pull to some objects:

  • My Dad’s Bible, favorite verses carefully highlighted with his scrawl in the margins. It reminds me of the faith legacy I grew up with. And some of Dad’s favorite verses are also mine — a strange way to bond beyond the grave.

However, I recently donated several Bibles. Who needs 20 versions when I can easily link to BibleGateway.com when I need it?

  • Some of the jewelry Deb’s children gave me help me feel closer to her. I often wear the cross bracelet on Sundays and remember one of our favorite stores, her delightful squeal when she discovered it was 25% discounted.

The ring she bought in Santa Fe often graces my fourth finger. I remember our trip and how she pondered over buying just the “right” piece of jewelry to remember New Mexico. Oddly enough, it now helps me remember the value of our friendship and the sharp loss of her absence.

  • I still treasure many of the books I read to my toddler son:
    • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
    • Moses the Kitten by James Herriot
    • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

These books remind me of Caleb’s downy hair against my chest, the sounds I invented as we read together, those intimate and precious days so long ago. Hopefully these books will also find a home in the nursery for his children.

So how do we decide what to de-clutter and what to hold tightly to? I’ve learned a few tricks.

  • If it gives you joy, keep it. Adulting is hard, and we all need joy.

I am keeping the twinkle lights on my mantel. Relinquish my piano or the older scores of music I still play? Never!

The bowl my great grandmother used to serve creamed corn still occupies a special place in my cabinet. The terra cotta planters that remind me of New Mexico wait on my deck for spring’s promise.

A framed handful of dried wildflowers my teenaged son gave me after a particularly hard day offers hope to this aging mother.

  • If it no longer gives you joy, let it spread warmth to someone else. If you haven’t worn it, used it or touched it for a year — you probably no longer need it. However, be cautious. This week, I searched for a red clutch purse to perfectly accessorize an outfit. Then I realized I had given it away. Shucks !

 

  • If it passes on a legacy, let it do its work. Boxes of my journals wait for my son to someday read them or posterity to decide they may be important. My nieces now own the finer pieces of jewelry Mom gave me. The royalties for my books will continue to bless my family long after my words cease. Like my dad’s Bible, these objects prove I lived and hopefully will bring a smile to those I leave behind.

 

  • Consider the function. Every house has its own personality and décor. If that turquoise vase no longer works or that autumn tablecloth clashes with your kitchen cabinets — get rid of them. Our homes need to reflect our lifestyles and offer a safe place of peace.

 

  • Be disciplined with what you buy. Every store and online ads tease the compulsive shopper. Do you really need more stuff? How can you better use your money? Could you save those funds or give them to someone in need? If it’s going to end up in next year’s garage sale, why buy it in the first place?

 

Our lives are not primarily made up of stuff yet our stuff does define us. So let’s guard our hope with the stuff that’s really important and get rid of anything that drags us down.

A simpler life consists of what’s really important: hope, joy and the love we share with everyone.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Keeping or getting rid of books is a constant challenge for a writer. If you’re culling your books, consider my Kindle list of books.

 

When Hope Grieves

The colorful lights, packages wrapped with beautiful bows, Santa’s lap filled with happy children, the music of the season: all these joys spell Christmas.

Xmas candleBut what if we’re smack in the middle of grief? What if some of the joy is colored by sadness? How do we find hope when we so desperately need it?

Three possibilities float to the surface:

Keep the Traditions. Did she make a certain type of pie or a specialty casserole? Bake it yourself and remember what a great cook she was.

Did he string the lights on the tree? As you unwind and arrange the lights, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed — how they reflected love throughout the room.

Did the family always meet at Grandma’s house, but now Grandma isn’t there and the house has been sold? Meet where you can and talk about her house. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of past Christmases alive.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend, Deb. That event did not happen this year, and I felt the loss so deeply.

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was.

Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone, start with our favorite chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast her with some egg nog.

Fill the Empty Chair. Nothing is more discouraging than the empty chair beside the table. It’s a reminder of loss — a visual of who is missing.

Instead of staring at the emptiness, fill the chair with another person:

  • An international student who cannot fly hundreds of miles to be home for the holidays
  • A single mom who is bereft of her children because it’s his turn to share them with the other family
  • A homeless person who longs to feel the warmth of a home and experience a full belly
  • A young parolee who needs to understand how grace means second chances
  • Anyone you know who might be alone

As we fill the empty chair with another living being, it reminds us life DOES move forward. We don’t have to remain stuck within the grief of Christmas past.

Give Thanks for Memories. We shared many holidays with that special person. We still have some of the gift s/he gave us. Wear that sweater she knitted just for you. Dab on that perfume he gave you. Clasp the necklace or play the CD.

Revel in those precious reminders and give thanks. That person represents a unique place in your journey: spouse, parent, sibling, friend. No one can ever replace her or him.

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again. When Deb enjoyed her food, she always said, “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”

Although this holiday may seem especially empty for you and the grief even more fresh — keep the traditions, fill the empty chair and give thanks for the memories.

Then remember your loved one is celebrating Christmas in heaven and probably thinking about you.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

7 Holiday Tips for Caregivers

The calendar reminds us how deep we are into the holiday season. Our waistlines expand while the stresses of family dynamics emotionally stretch us.

As much as we enjoy the family time, the abundance of good food and the reminders to be grateful — we also need to remember how stressful this time can be for someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia.Cover - Holiday Tips

How can we best help our loved ones survive the holidays? How can caregivers find some joy during this stressful time?

Trim the Food Responsibilities.

One year into her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom tried to figure out a recipe. She wanted to feel part of the festivities but even finding pots and pans proved to be difficult.

As we watched her struggle, worry about the cost of groceries and wonder if she had made her salad — hundreds of times — we realized it was time to stop expecting Mom to cook.

Even if your loved one has a favorite recipe, relieve her of the stress of making it. Give her a simple task and make it together.

Plan Ahead for Shopping.

Be prepared with a list and know the easiest way to get in and out of the stores. Forget about Black Friday shopping — too many people, too much noise and parking places are limited.

Be patient. Take plenty of time and be prepared to answer many questions. If possible, buy everything in one store. Then go home.

Better yet, sit down with a laptop and show your loved one the pictures. Then order everything online.

Include Favorite Foods.

Even though her appetite has changed, Mom still wants pecan pie. One of my holiday duties includes buying a pecan pie for Mom. I recommend the frozen variety. No fuss.

When we walk into the farm kitchen, Mom’s eyes always go to the dessert table. She may not say anything, but I know what she’s looking for. “I brought your pecan pie, Mom, and the first piece goes to you.” Then I dress it with a generous dollop of whipped topping.

Every year, Mom replies, “I DO love pecan pie.” Someday even this sentiment will disappear. Enjoy blessing your loved ones with their favorite foods.

Plan an Activity Together.

Although sending Christmas cards is becoming one of those forgotten traditions, my mother’s demographic still considers it a holiday courtesy. She loves receiving her cards.

Remind your loved one who the senders are or tell a favorite story about the person behind the return address.

Be prepared to look at the cards several times during the holidays and tell the same stories. This is part of the Alzheimer’s process. Someday you’ll be glad you took the time to do this simple task.

Be Careful About Timing.

If you check your loved one out of assisted living for the day, check back in before dark. As the sun sets, Alzheimer’s patients often experience Sundowners Syndrome. They may pace, say the same words over and over and exhibit anxiety.

They feel safer in their rooms before dark, so time your meals and activities accordingly.

Travel is NOT for Everyone.

Although we all want to be together during the holidays, travel out of their comfort zones is difficult for the Alzheimer’s patient: several hours cramped in a car or a plane, strangers, noise, unfamiliar surroundings, different types of foods and smells.

It makes more sense to hire a caregiver and let your loved one stay home while you join the rest of the family.

Avoid the false guilt that says you cannot leave for a day or two. Yes, you can. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to make it through the marathon of caregiving.

Take a break and be with your family.

Gift-giving.

None of us needs more junk, least of all — the Alzheimer’s patient. Keep the gift-giving simple.

Try these suggestions: a stuffed animal, a baby doll (especially for the women), a pretty picture for the room, a picture of family members with their childhood photos inserted next to the adult photo, a favorite piece of candy, a comfortable sweater.

Be aware that some gifts may disappear. Mom constantly loses things. Last year, I bought her new sheets for her bed. Then I put them on for her. No chance to lose them.

One gift that always works is spending time with your loved one, a hug and a kiss, a “Merry Christmas. I love you.”

Do it while you can.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a more substantive list of helpful tips, check out Holiday Tips for Caregivers, available on Amazon and Kindle.

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.

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