Looking back and thinking forward

Month: December, 2011


Looking ahead to the New Year starting this weekend, I realize after some self reflection, that I'd like to continue to work on at least three issues I have clearly identified about myself in therapy these past couple of years.

They are:

  • caring less about what  people think of me – as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, sister, teacher educator, etc.
  • continuing to strengthen the healthy way I have been trying to eat this past year
  • feeling more entitled – more deserving 

These are things I dream about accomplishing. Caring less about what people think of me means changing a way of being that I learned from my earliest childhood. For, in order to survive, as a young child, it was crucial for me to please the significant adults in my life, so that they would love and be nice to me. Strengthening the healthy way I eat means no longer needing to fill the hole in my soul with child-like foods that bring me temporary comfort or numb any uncomfortable feelings I might be experiencing – like anger, for example.

And, all of the goals in my list are mostly dependent on the last one – feeling more entitled, more deserving. This is probably the most challenging issue of all, and the one my therapist helps me with the most. Each session, we chisel away at one small piece of this wall that blocks my progress toward self actualization. More than that, though. It is an obstacle that I stumble over time and again when I want to do anything, including things as simple as making a choice about which restaurant I want to eat at, or more complex issues that occur in my relationships with life partner, family members or friends. For example, I have discovered that I am superb at making a stand for anyone I care about. However, when it comes to making a stand for myself, I become afraid, back down, giving in quickly, and while feeling like a really bad person within, I regret deeply any step I tried to take in the first place.

Making resolutions is complicated. For, I have dragged all these ways of being like an old sack of bricks on my back for the past fifty to sixty years or so. Putting down the bag and just walking away is not so easy.

Instead, as I become more and more aware of the weight I am carrying – the load that I really do not need to schlep around any longer, now that I am a mature … ahem … senior adult – perhaps I could just try and work at tossing out one brick at a time as I journey through 2012.

Blimey, what a year that was

2011 – make a list – write – go …

The year of the nieces, when three of them visited me for the very first time. One is a Great-niece, which reminds me …

I turned 62 in 2011. This means that I am now officially considered a Senior on Amtrak, which is most useful for travel to New York City for my delicious haircuts with Olivier, or to have lunch with my son.

I was voted in as Chair of our Department for another three-year term, and all year long I have spent brooding on, and brewing up a new book – brewing, brooding …

We created a garden of my dreams – or should I say Laurel Hill Gardens landscaped it, while I worked in it, sometimes weeping with joy at having my own beautiful garden after years and years of longing for one.

This past year I traveled back and forth from Israel to visit with family especially because my mother became very ill. But then, she became well again and even managed to knit me a beautiful woolen blanket, which warmed our visitors' laps this Christmas and Hanukkah Season as we curled up together on the couch to watch Christmas movies like The Family Stone.

2011 was the year of the iPad for me, in a number of different ways. Acquiring one – traveling with it all over the country and even across the Pond – using it for writing and presenting, emailing and playing my Scrabble games. Finally, acquiring a number of them for our faculty, which earned me, Goodnight IPad, a haiku and a limerick of appreciation – moments that become memories for a lifetime.

Therapy this year has been mind, brain and heart blasting. It almost feels as if I am confronting my ancient wounds and feelings for the first time. My therapist probes in the gentlest but most direct way – like an artist of the mind – bringing me face to face with a different reality of my Self. Indeed, it seems as if I am allowing myself to experience feelings authentically for the very first time.

This year was the first time I ever made Kutia and Uzvar. Yes indeed, on Christmas Eve, we celebrated Sviata Vechera for the first time.

And, without divulging too much information, suffice it to say it was one of the greatest gifts I have received in a very long time.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Still here

Rise up singing

Quote of the day:

Now let the music keep our spirits high 
And let the buildings keep our children dry 
Let creation reveal it's secrets by and by 
By and by– 
When the light that's lost within us reaches the sky

Jackson Browne's, Before the Deluge 

Remembering Kris Kringle

Because it is that time of the year, and also because I am still, each Christmas season, drinking from the same Kris Kringle mug

And, therefore, remembering old friends.

Ada looks at me while I write. I stroke her little, furry head and she purrs softly. Dawn has not yet broken.


If I can change, then anyone can. And change I did. Recently, as I was looking at old photographs of when I was young, I recognized the pictures, but the Self that I was then seems a hundred years away. For, about twenty five years ago I was trapped in a prison in my mind. Limited by believing a distorted reality of myself that I had learned from those closest to me. Naturally, I till struggle with those beliefs because they are so deeply ingrained into my early childhood, emotional memory – and I needed them then – to survive. But it is becoming easier and easier to peel the old fears away. Indeed, I am beginning to recognize my Self in the mirror lately – with acceptance, and, I might add, sometimes even a little fondness. 

In fact, lately, finally, I am beginning to recognize the courage I had to undertake the changes I made in the physical as well as my psychological life these past twenty five years. Taking on different cultures, academia, shakily learning to believe in my intellectual abilities, and finding my voice through writing and presenting was not easy. At times I was overwhelmed with fear and pain as I drifted in and out of confidence.

Even more challenging is breaking down the barriers of the prison in my mind. Confronting the way I feel and think about myself is excruciating at times, until I allow the light of awareness to shift those ancient shadows in my soul … to recognize the reality of who I am, and how I came to be the me of now.

About twenty five years ago, I participated in a women's support group. I had been offered the opportunity to come to America to study at the University at Buffalo, and I was thinking about the challenge of picking up my son and traveling across the oceans to a new continent. One day the facilitator gave us oil pastels and large sheets of paper. She invited us to draw anything we liked. I doodled away for awhile not knowing what I was going to draw, and not feeling particularly confident about my artistic abilities. Before I knew it I was lost in the swirling of the crayons and richness of the colors as I drew and drew and drew. At the end, we all displayed our work. When it came to my picture there was a silence from everyone. I stared at it. I had drawn a huge colorful bird flying out of a golden cage with its gate wide open. Our therapist said quietly, "So … you have decided to leave …" 

Of course, flying out of prison is not as easy as it sounds. As I stumble out of the darkness of my old paradigms and habits, sometimes I have to blink and blink, and even screw up my eyes, or take a very deep breath. Because the light is so bright and brilliant it can be blinding, and the feeling of freedom is so exhilarating, it can take my breath away.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Universal Child

Becoming includable – Part II (Update)

Nevertheless … how I love our Christmas tree …


Note – Re: Some of the references that I made in the video include: Two Buttons (for the Buddha Face over the fireplace, and the creamy colored marble urn in the dining room); Ten Thousand Villages (for the two nativity scenes on the fireplace mantel); and UNICEF (for the wooden, African nativity scene). 

Becoming includable …

Quote of the day:

"A lot of it has to do with the environmental effect of having canned Christmas music in the speakers every time I go to the grocery store, for months at a time," said Ragan, a.k.a. Arun Once-Was-Zygoat. "Of all the 10,000 holidays that can be celebrated in this heterogeneous country, we have one particular version of this one holiday shoved down our throats all the time. In the most saccharin form." Krampus in Philadelphia

I heard this article on the radio yesterday, and looked up for more information about Krampus - to my horror and dismay. The idea of terrorizing children into being good at Christmas time was simply too much for my poor early childhood educator's soul to bear! I have never liked the idea of threatening children (even in a playful way) with coal instead of gifts. But terrorizing them with this Krampus tradition seemed too cruel for words. On the other hand, I understood Ragan in the quote above, because I must admit that I also feel at times that Christmas is shoved down our throats in a saccharin form

I have learned about the rituals and habits of Christmas from life partner and his family members, movies, books, television commercials, and American culture as a whole. After all, I came to the USA from Israel, where I celebrated Hanukkah in a secular and traditional manner, mainly for my son's sake as he was growing up. I was happy to take on different holidays and rituals from the dominant culture in America so that I could feel part of the country I had adopted for my future life. After all, holidays, for me, are times when family and friends get together to shed light on winter bleakness, and traditions and cultures seem for the most part to have good will and compassion in mind. So who cares if it is about hope and light in the form of the birth of a beautiful new baby, or an oil lamp that miraculously shines for eight days! 

Lately, however, I have been wondering why I do not make an effort or take the time to recognize the holidays that I celebrated for twenty years while living in Israel. I regularly make excuses: my son does not come home for the holidays so why celebrate them; or I do not know enough Jewish people with whom to celebrate [and yet I am not Christian and am willing to completely take on Christian holidays for the non-Jewish people around me … so why wouldn't they … ?]; and so on and so forth …

I know am not seeking out any type of deity in my celebration of holidays. More likely I am trying to find my place or feel included. In the process of learning about my self, more and more, I have discovered that my greatest fear, since I was a very young child, is that I am "excludable," "unlovable," or "undesirable," for who I am. And so I guess that I happily take on the "other's" culture without expecting (or even allowing myself to want) anyone to embrace mine … in order not to anticipate even the slightest discomfort from being rejected.

The other night at their final class of the semester, I shared my tradition of Hanukkah with the early childhood students. Each student received one clementine, one Hanukkah candle, and one Hershey's Kiss. Let me explain why I chose these three gifts: When I lived in Israel twenty years ago, in the winter we used to eat a lot of citrus fruits, especially clementines. And so for me, clementines symbolize the celebration of Hanukkah – even as latkes or sufganiyot have meaning for others. Each night for eight nights, we would light small, colorful candles in a Hanukkiyah by the window so that others could see the light shining from our homes. Chocolate coins were given to the children as a symbol of Hanukkah gelt (or money) at this holiday time. I gave out Hershey's Kisses instead, because I was unable to find the chocolate coins in time for class. Stores in our area were not selling them yet – Hanukkah must be too far off (less than three weeks hence) and most stores are intensely focused on Christmas right now. And so I chose dark chocolates to be off-set by the light of the candle – just for the fun of playing with symbolism. After all – isn't that what it is all about – symbolism?

I noticed that the students' faces lit up as I shared my holiday traditions with them – indeed, as I shared a piece of myself with them. It felt good to me – warm and inclusive.

So, now that I am no longer a child with ancient fears and painful emotional memories - perhaps I can make a conscious choice, and become includable by sharing all the diverse parts of myself while, at the same time embracing the other. We are surrounded by complexity. It seems that Christmas time holds cruel and dark memories for some – see Krumpus – being good and bad – deserving and undeserving of Christ's, or parent's love. Just as Hanukkah rises up out of a time of war and bloodshed, breaking down and building up a nation's heritage through temples and coins. For me, celebrations and the coming together of family and friends is tangled up in feelings of excludable-ness and being wanted for who I am.

I go downstairs and place small, colorful candles in the Hanukkiyah that stands next to our twinkling Christmas tree on the front porch. That way, when I share the candles on December 20th evening, people from the street might enjoy light from the Hannukiyah, together with the gentle, twinkling lights emanating from our Christmas tree.

Festivities begin …

This video is made for Neil Kramer: Citizen of the Month!

Here's to you and all your devoted readers, Neil! Happy Holidays!

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Silent on the outside