Christmas Décor Arriving Prior To Thanksgiving

It was early November; I was driving from Charlotte, towards the North Carolina coast to a writing workshop retreat with my dear friend and fellow wannabe writer, Linda. Halloween was in the rearview mirror and Thanksgiving, three weeks away, wasn’t ready to come into view through the windshield of life. Holidays were not of utmost importance as we drove towards our beach retreat destination. But there in our view from the two-lane rural road, we were on, happening often enough to make me exasperated were…

Christmas decorations and lights brightening up small homes and their yards.

“Seriously?!” I said to Linda, in a high-pitched voice, as we passed yet another decorated house. “Can we not give the turkey season its due? Why are people in a rush to skip Thanksgiving and plow right into Christmas? Aren’t there rules we should abide by? I mean, if you celebrate any other holiday, it is a certain day! The Fourth of July doesn’t get to begin right after Memorial Day. It’s so bad, that Christmas/holiday music started playing on some radio stations on November first, Christmas decorations were abundant in retail stores in early October, and Santa is setting up photo opportunities already at most malls and other retail outlets.” 

After my bah-humbug tirade, I took a deep breath.

It was a warm southern 70 degrees and in my not-so-humble opinion, too early to begin the Christmas season decorating. 

Wasn’t it? 

After the weekend of writing, which was awesome by the way, we traveled back through rural North Carolina toward our homes and saw some of the same decorations still holding hostage the houses that had yet to celebrate Thanksgiving. Then, on Tuesday morning at my group exercise class, a life lesson began by way of my instructor/friend saying, “Y’all, I have already put out my Christmas decorations and lights and I have a small gift for you.”

I stood up straight with a stiffened spine, and said, “So, you are one of them, huh?” 

Aliens. People who break the no-decorating-for-Christmas-until-after-Thanksgiving rule must be from another planet.

I have never been part of putting out any Christmas decorations until, at the earliest, the day after Thanksgiving. Ever.

My exercise instructor/friend shared with me that she had a tough life with parents that were a long, long way from making the top ten of best parents ever. She does have a lot going well for her now though: a good husband, job, friends, and God whom she puts a lot of faith into.

She explained, “I deal with a lot of depression during the holiday season, and putting out the Christmas decorations and starting my giving early, makes me feel so much better.”

And with her comment, I had been hit between my narrow-view eyes, and my spine softened.

I’ve dealt with depression in my life for one reason or another. Some of it has been situational and some due to my DNA which causes me to run on emotional empty if I don’t take my meds, holiday or not. Both my parents passed away in 2020 within three months of each other, and holidays do make me miss and reminisce about them more than any regular day. And my current situation with my siblings is, well, let’s wait to discuss that another time. All of us have our grief and/or dysfunction, some worse than others, and we all deal with it in our own way. What’s good for me, may not be good for you. Some people need the strength of Solomon to push the pillars of grief and dysfunction away. And if breaking decorating rules makes people feel better, then I and others like me need to put our bah-humbug opinions on the shelf with the elf or other creature you may prefer.

If I were dreading the upcoming holidays, I don’t know that I would think putting out decorations and lights early would make me feel better. But as I type this from my comfortable chair in my living room and look around, I do have a LOT of fall stuff decorating my house. And for several weeks prior to and up through the night of Halloween, my husband did set up lighted Jack-o-lanterns that lit up our front yard. So maybe I do decorate with lights and stuff to cheer me up, prior to the day after Thanksgiving, it’s just not the candy cane or Santa theme.

I have wondered from time to time what some of the rationales are for people decorating early. Some people, like my exercise instructor/friend, need some extra pick-me-ups, or maybe someone is visiting for Thanksgiving but won’t be there for Christmas, so they celebrate Christmas early; or someone is getting ready to exit this world, and brightening up their view with decorations cheers everyone. I suspect there are other reasons. Maybe they love the decor of Christmas and for them, the sooner the decor is out, all the better. No excuse necessary to justify what they want for themselves. Okay, I can live with that attitude, but won’t be living my life that way.

During this thankful/grateful season, I always reflect on how blessed I am with many friends who light up my life in a multitude of ways with their life lessons and great gestures of kindness by way of connecting conversations that make an impact, and gracious gifts that speak from their souls including my exercise instructor/friend whose small gift in November was a Christmas theme cup with a candle in it. And I, who does not decorate with Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving, have it sitting on my kitchen counter and have already been ceremoniously lighting it to remind me of my friend. This keeps her utmost in my thoughts and prayers. My prayer is, that grace will sustain her and others who struggle during the holidays. It also makes our house smell pleasant, and hints that soon there will be a different décor in and outside our house.

Enjoy your holidays, however you manage to celebrate or get through them. May grace find its way to light up your world, through small gestures that may resemble a Christmas cup with a candle in it given by someone whose life is lit up by giving in a heartfelt way, and who admits to decorating for Christmas prior to Thanksgiving.

Happy holidays, Thanksgiving, Kwanza, Hanukkah, and merry Christmas. And if it makes you feel better to leave 2022 behind a bit early—happy New Year.

Carol Injaychock


Lessons From A Beach Pier

A Tribute To My Dad

During many summers of my youth, for one full seven-day vacation week, the beach and the beach pier provided lessons. Lessons that at the time I did not know I was receiving.

Dad, the pier was always your place to be.

Just be.

You had a usual spot about halfway down the pier where with sunglasses, shorts, sunscreen, fishing pole, and a big grin, you were content. You would fish, although it seemed you really didn’t care if you caught anything. The rays of the sun, glisten of the water, and feel of the pole in your hands were what mattered.

You were always where us kids knew we could find you, no matter where we wondered to. Sometimes, when we came to check in with you, you would hand over the fishing pole and guide us on how to cast, instructing us where instruction was needed. And the only way the fish would get cleaned, was if we did it ourselves. You were not raising us to grow up not knowing how to take care of challenges even when they looked like messy fish.

Sometimes as we walked across the pier and its wooden planks, we would get splinters. Your kind caring hands and your calm voice coached us through getting the splinter out. Like the cleaning of the fish, we had to learn to fix the splinters in our lives that came our way.

It took time, maturity and reflection to realize the lessons given from the pier:

  • Solitude is a well-deserved gift to yourself.
  • When you fish, you clean the fish. Jobs are sometimes no fun, but we receive the rewards of the labor.
  • It doesn’t take a lot of effort to enjoy a day.
  • Life often only needs vivid sunshine, glistening water, sturdy pier, fishing pole, and positive attitude.
  • Even when you have the basics of life there are still messy fish to be cleaned and prickly splinters that cause pain.
  • A calm demeanor and perseverance are the sunshine on our souls.

With each sunrise, wave crashing upon the beach, and cast of the fishing rod, I received more lessons than I realized.

Until now.

Thanks, Dad for the many lessons.

Your mixed-up middle child, Carol

A Tribute To My Mom

Mother’s Day

It’s a convoluted celebration, isn’t it? Many are lucky they can celebrate with their mothers and the healthy relationship they are fortunate to have. For some though, there is grief from no longer having a mom on this earth, and others grieve the loss of children who made them a mom, or those who want to become a mom and haven’t been able to.  And, unfortunately, for some, there are those who did not have a good role model. Then there are those of us who have had a mom alive, but not the essence of their spirit, fortitude, or personality. Even though the body is present with us, Alzheimer’s or dementia robs us of relationships we once took for granted.

My mom was one who experienced Alzheimer’s for six-plus years. I say, “experienced,” not “suffered from,” because she wasn’t suffering. She knew not what was happening to her. It was those of us who lost the essence of who she was that suffered. Someone who survived much in life shouldn’t have to endure a dreadful disease. But life does what life does. My dedicated dad kept my mom at home during her Alzheimer’s slow deterioration. She was well cared for by ladies hired to help, as well as me and my siblings spending our weekends helping take care of her. Often, I wondered where her spirit was. If we are spiritual beings having a human experience, like I believe, when our mind doesn’t know who we are, where is the spirit? She passed away in September of 2020. Now that she is gone, I can feel her, and I talk to her. It is a relationship that I missed. 

For six years, prior to her passing, each May right before Mother’s Day, I stood in the card aisle of various stores looking at cards dedicated to loving moms. I glared at the many options of cards, unable to reach for one that would be appropriate. What is an appropriate card for someone with Alzheimer’s that knows not what the card is for; knows not that she is your mom? Standing in the card aisle contemplating the many card options was as much fun as dangling in shackles in a dark dungeon. Wishing. Wishing for the former celebrations that brought our family, my parents, me, my two siblings, and our children together celebrating with flowers, food, and fun pictures taken on a beautiful spring day in May. 

For six years I struggled with this celebration and others: birthdays, Easter, and Christmas. For the first couple of years of her diagnosis, I bought her cards. But in the latter years picking out a card seemed futile, she was so completely oblivious to who I was or the role I played in her life–one of the three who made her a mom.

She was a great mom. I won’t profess that she was perfect in every way, after all, she was renowned for burning bread every time she put it in the oven, and because perfection isn’t humanly possible when you work full time, are financially strapped, and have three children with very different personalities, and microwaves weren’t invented yet, so putting meals on the table was time-consuming. But deserving of the “Best Mom of the Year” award? I vote a resounding, yes. She was a loving, strengthening, supporting person from whom I launched my life (and my dad too, but this is about her). The picture I chose to be attached to this blog is one of my favorites. I was a young girl leaning into my mom, fully enveloped in her hug. Supported. Loved. The picture was taken on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, where I grew up. A family outing, I think. All I remember is the cracked boulder we stood in front of to pose for this photo and the feel of her as I leaned in. This picture came to symbolize the many cracks in life I’ve experienced but always having my go-to-for-support, mom. 

She had a tough life growing up in very rural western North Carolina, during the depression and World War II, in a house that didn’t have electricity until she was in high school. Her father died of a heart attack at the end of her high school junior year. Through the tenacity of her mom and older siblings they managed to keep food on the table, although that sometimes meant a wild turkey or squirrel, she and her mom hunted. There were 60 acres of woods, a plum tree with plums for picking, and ample apples on trees that she picked and sold from the side of the road to raise money for her nursing school tuition.

She became a registered nurse through a program three hours away in the larger city of Asheville.  She was proud to leave her rural roots and move forward in life. She met her husband-to-be while he was in the Navy through a classmate. After she completed nursing school and he the Navy, they married, and with no more than the car he owned, and a suitcase full of clothes, they moved to California for ten years. Both working, bringing three children into the world, and then returning to Asheville, North Carolina without jobs because they wanted a life closer to family. She (and my dad) made big leaps of faith by going to California and then returning to North Carolina.  

Like my parents who left California for North Carolina without jobs, when I was in my early twenties and single, I left small-town Asheville where I grew up, and relocated myself to Charlotte, North Carolina without a job. When I told my mom what I was going to do, there was a bit of panic in her eyes, but also her loving support, and belief in me. I don’t think either of us realized, I was patterning myself after her, making decisions by taking a leap of faith towards a better life. For my parents and me, our leaps of faith worked out, but as life often is, there were multiple obstinate obstacles that we navigated.  

A relative recently said to me, “You look and sound like your mom. And that is not a bad thing.” As the saying goes, Acorns do not fall far from the tree, and I am her “acorn,” she, my tree. When times are tough, I feel her enduring strength that lives on inside this “acorn” she produced.

I am a mother of one daughter. I named her with my mom’s family name. A name I correlate with strength, endurance, and tenacity. My 27-year-old daughter is doing her best to find her way in this world. Recently, she quit a job without a job to explore her options because where she was working was toxic. The acorn doesn’t fall far from this tree.

As I celebrated being a mother with my daughter and husband this Mother’s Day, missing my mom was part of the day. But I am relieved as much as grateful my mom is free of Alzheimer’s and is of the spirit world where I can connect with her. I’m blessed for the many years of celebrations we did have. I’m grateful she instilled in me a big part of her, and she is now always with me. I am privileged that I can laugh, talk, or look in the mirror and I will hear and see her in me. But the essence of her, 

feel with all my being. 

Those arms wrapped around me as I lean into her, filling me with strength when the cracks of life shake me.

Thanks, Mom for your many gifts.


Mother’s Day tribute 2022

Love Language

According to Gary Chapman, PhD who authored a book I discovered many years ago entitled, Five Love Languages we embody these below languages with one or two being our primary language:

  • words of affirmation  (me)
  • physical touch (me)
  • acts of service/doer  (hubby)
  • quality time
  • gifts

When in elementary school, every year during the week in front of Valentine’s we made mailbox pouches from construction paper decorating with heartfelt hearts that said, happy v-day or, be mine. We students hung our red construction paper pouches under the long chalk board of our classroom’s wall and waited…waited for classmates to prove they like you, by placing a small card with a cute character of some sort, telling me,

You’re special, Valentine.

Words. My love language. I hung on to every word those cards would deliver to me. They mattered. Oh, how they mattered.

My heart was convinced that Valentines celebration was the time when you found out you were popular or not with your classmates. The peer pressure held me hostage for that excruciating time period that the pouches remained on the wall. I relished the number of Valentines I received, and duly noted any classmate that had not placed a card within my precious flat styled mailbox pouch that awaited all valentine votes. I told myself, I wasn’t unpopular, but certainly wondered why EVERYONE didn’t place a fond message in my valentine’s mailbox construction paper pouch. I was always very relieved when I opened the received votes, by way of cards and didn’t go into valentine depression.

One February in my early elementary school days I checked out from the library a book that provided a simple history of Valentine’s Day and how it came about. I can still see that hard back book in all its deep navy-blue color with a print title in vivid white, of which I can’t recall the title. What I remember about that thin not-so-many-pages book was that Valentine’s Day had nothing to do with a popularity contest in elementary school, but with Roman Gods. Cupid was a mystical God of the Romans representing love. Although there may have been some preferences to who Cupid directed his love arrows towards, a popularity contest wasn’t a major concern. Over many centuries the Greek God evolved and eventually became an established date to celebrate love.  

In my youth, and young adult years I rarely had a boyfriend around Valentines Day. Seems that kept the relationships easier, not having to expect anything extra special for a day that had way too much pressure associated with it with conversations that sounded like,

 What are you doing for Valentine’s Day? Do you think you’ll get something special, like a ring?

And then for those of us watching with envy all the happy lovers participating in celebrating each other, it seemed to take on a competitive type nature: who’s getting the best gifts? Or who’s going to the most expensive restaurant? And for those who had heartaches through breakups or actually having their significant other die, well, Valentine’s kind of feels like it might be an assault on emotions.

Who needs that pressure? What is it about this day that we’ve come to expect a Hallmark movie kind of day? Over the last couple of days, I’ve been asked by most everyone I interact with, which during this pandemic isn’t that many people, but still—are you doing anything special for Valentines?


Well, a card to and from my hubby I expect will happen. But this celebration hasn’t really ever been all that exciting to me. Maybe it’s my childhood valentine peer pressure memories. But that is up for a psychological debate another day. The times my hubby and I did try to go to a restaurant for Valentine’s day, (sometimes involving the extra effort of a babysitter who might not have anything to do on said special day (ouch for that person)) so did everyone else in the free world. And the wait time, and busyness of the restaurant didn’t seem that romantic. Which I suspect romance was what was expected given we were going through these steps for this oh-so-special day. Have you heard the phrase, no expectations—no disappointment?  Just staying home with a cooked steak by my doer hubby who likes to cook, and me lighting a candle achieves more romance than a noisy restaurant—right?

I don’t know.


I guess I stopped being a young-in-love romantic somewhere along the way. I don’t ever watch Hallmark movies because they are too sappy-predicable-unrealistic. But I can tell you this, I get the most important vote of Valentine’s and how important I am to the man I’ve been married to for going on 34 years each day of our lives. Emphasis on

each day.

He is DOING for me which is his love language and being there for me as I try to communicate with him in my love-language of words and touch. I am balanced with those two languages and he does his best to communicate with me at my level with hugs and little worded messages on our kitchen’s message whiteboard. And I say words of endearment and write on our little message board that says, I love you (insert a heart drawn along with the words). And to satisfy his DOER language, I try to do things for him, like empty the trash, or put the toilet paper where it’s accessible in a crunch. You know, doer stuff.

Over the years, we have had to work at our relationship on an ongoing basis partly because our love language is very different. But more, because being with one person for many years, isn’t the easiest thing to stay committed to. But committed we have been. Never doubting that we were safe with each other. That we would be loyal to each other through sickness and in health. Through boredom and adventures. Through our only child’s middle school years and as empty nesters. When you have commitment, it really doesn’t matter how many other votes of popularity you get from your classmates, you have a firm foundation and Cupid has smiled fondly upon you.

Good luck out there with the busyness of celebrating but remember when you look over at your partner you are sharing this day with, don’t make too big of deal about it. Be with someone who makes you feel good about yourself and if that person happens to be just you and a good book, you may learn something important with a well-chosen book, like what Greek Gods represent.

As for me and my Valentine/Hubby, we’ll be staying home (the weather is a crappy-cold-rain so who wants to go out in that!) and he’ll do his excellent cooking of a well-prepared meal and I’ll tell him in my words and touch language with a hug, how lucky I am. Then he’ll hug me back and say something sweet, like, “I love you, Dear” and I’ll have to figure out what to do for him. 

Happy Valentine’s Day.

PS you can take a free simple love-language test at

Snow Succulence

As I write this from my home in the Charlotte, NC vicinity, we are on our third week of constant cold, and for three weekends in a row, we have had an insignificant amount of snow. Snow isn’t prevalent during the winter in this area. I much prefer the weather like we were having at Christmas time when we were experiencing 70-degree weather. I was walking around outdoors in shorts and a t-shirt, much to my pleasure. Currently, however, I’m wearing long-sleeve shirts, jeans, and thick fluffy socks to keep me warm. It’s contemptuous cold, and I don’t like being cold. It turns me into a hermit—one who doesn’t go outside unless it is absolutely necessary.  When it’s cold, and I’m talking snow temperature 32 degrees cold or colder, we deserve beautiful significant snow to offset the doldrums of winter. Just one snow, mind you. Allow us the benefits of snow, then clear on out and bring on spring. This ongoing cold with insignificant snow isn’t to my liking.

Did I mention, I don’t like being cold?

Snow. A significant one that covers everything with several fluffy white inches. The kind that stops us from having to do a lot except for watching the flakes, that are never alike if you put them under a microscope (which I’ve never tested but believe what I’ve been told all my life), and watching them land on the birdbath, limbs of a tree, and anything else on its path. Snow that will provide an opportunity to go outside and catch those non-alike particles on our tongue, nose, forehead and hair since all is uncovered due to lack of hat because of the speed to go outside so as not to miss the opportunity should the snow stop too soon.

Snow. It shifts the world into quietness. You hear nothing except for the crunch of the snow beneath your boots or the trickle of the creek that did not freeze over as you walk amongst the trees.

Several years ago in Charlotte, we had one of the prettiest snows I’ve ever experienced. It was thick, fluffy, and at least six inches. It was pretty while it came down, and prettier as it clung to everything around us. My teenage daughter and I went for a winter walk that is a treasured memory. 

We walked side by side and listened to the quiet, absorbing the beauty this rare snow had provided us. We were physically cold. But we were emotionally warmed by it all. We knew this did not happen for us often, and that walk through our neighborhood was a walk unlike any other we had taken or would take again. We relished the experience. 

Snow. It calls us to just be. Be in the elements, dressed appropriately, of course, tuned into the quiet. It is amazing how the quiet of the snow, can quiet our spirits. 

Last year, it snowed close to a foot in my hometown of Asheville, NC. It was a white Christmas for my dad who lived in the house I grew up in. But my husband, daughter, and I had to delay our trip to visit him by a day because the roads were not passable. When we arrived, the snow was still fluffy thick, clinging to trees, bushes, and everything else. My sister, who had arrived at my dad’s prior to the snow, and I took a blanket and sat outside on the porch swing, watching a bright red cardinal feast at the birdfeeder in the yard. Our mom had passed away in September, and we both observed this bird’s presence with awe. If it weren’t for the snow, we would probably have been inside unaware we were being visited.

Growing up in Asheville, snows were gifts that kept on giving. In the south, we don’t keep going to school when it snows. We would be out of school for many days, which was always great for a non-loving school kind of gal, especially when a biology test lurked around the back-to-school corner. We had the privilege of living on a dead-end dirt road that had a steep incline, (we called where we lived, “the hill”) and there was another incline in the field behind our house. Snow days, I feel sure, became our parents’ great joy, because we kids of the hill stayed outside for many hours at a time, packing down the sled path, waxing the metal of our wood sleds, getting ready for being outside, all day, sledding down the hill until our cold hands or feet could take no more. 

I remember one winter my dad’s Navy wool coat became my winter coat and I managed to lose all the plastic buttons with the anchor symbol on them. In my adult reflection, he had that coat for 15 plus years and managed to keep it in ship shape until I became the wearer. Hopping onto the back of my neighbor friend, Tony, as we doubled up to ride down together on one sled, I suspect was the force that did away with the buttons. The sacrifice was worth it. What fun we had with snow. What great experiences we young kids had building our sledding haven together and enjoying the fruits of our labors. I can still feel the heaviness, warmth, and feel of my dad’s wool coat as I reflect on that memory.

Snow and all the various memories and experiences it’s created for me are treasures. 

Is it, though, the snow I am wishing for? Or is it the succulence, the mental nourishment that is offered.

The being. 

The quiet.

The memory-making experiences.

The slowed-down pace from the hectic schedules we impose upon ourselves. 

The no-guilt feeling with slowing down.

Can we tap into all of that without snow? 

I hope so. We should be able to wrap ourselves in the warmth of allowing ourselves to  

pause, breathe and quiet our spirits.

Mother Nature has many ways to offer succulence if we will only allow ourselves to take a break for the benefit of our mental nourishment.

Be kind to yourself. Listen to the silence. You may discover it sounds like your life’s beating heart.

Emergence of Christmas

It never ever fails, does it?  IMMEDIATELY after the last dish of the Thanksgiving meal is put away, the energy of Christmas celebration begins its emergence. As the decorative lights on houses and in yards twinkle their arrival, something else emerges too:

 high-stress levels.  

The shopping, card sending, party attending, and decorating, hoovers over the already lengthy to-do list of life.  

Not being an avid shopper, I stay away from the Saturday/Sunday shopping craziness, and I promise you, as my disappointed shopping daughter will attest to, I have never participated in the Black Friday shopping frenzy.  I totally refuse to participate in that ritual.  There are many of you aliens out there that find that shopping extravaganza “fun.”  

I’m not from the same planet as you.   

What I do enjoy, immensely, is the blank slate of an empty Christmas tree, placed in its securing stand in the corner of our living room, awaiting the lights, ornaments, and ceramic angels to color its green blankness into beauty. For me, the decorating of our Christmas tree is a spiritual ceremony, which celebrates friendships, travels, and life’s momentous occasions.  There are many “Firsts” ornaments:  first year of marriage; first year in the new house; and baby’s first Christmas.  There are numerous angel ornaments collected over the years with intention of our daughter having them on her tree one day. There are many ornaments gifted from friends and family. There are many travel ornaments purchased during a fun trip which take me back to the travels we’ve been fortunate to enjoy.  And the ornaments made by my daughter (now a young adult) in her elementary and middle school years remind me  

how quickly her life has emerged.  

These ornament treasures are an amazing inventory of life’s blessings.  All these memory vessels are surrounded by flickering lights, reminding me of friends who brighten our lives. Some have moved on to become angels above us, looking down, smiling (I hope) at my annual ritual of decorating, when I honor them as I thoughtfully place the item they gifted to us long ago.

The Christmas tree offers much as I decorate.  As I place the ornaments onto the tree, I realize I am being offered something special during this hectic season…

a slowed-down pace the decorating process imposes. 

Christmas emerges from those precious stored boxes of eleven months every year inviting me to revisit the past, be grateful for the present, and be hopeful for the future.  As my awareness of the true meaning of Christmas emerges, which embodies blessings of love, I place the last angel onto the tree, give thanks to all that have emerged within my spirit, and turn away from the tree to place the manger scene on our table.  O’ Holy Night plays from the radio and I smile.


where did I put my shopping list?

Merry Christmas – May new memories be created, and memories of the past fill you with peace, grace, and blessings

Thanksgiving Gratitude

Every morning for several years now, I’ve jump-started my day with my much-required-coffee and writing in a gratitude journal all that I am grateful for from the prior day. 

I believe that almost every day provides some thing or things to reflect on that I should not take for granted. And starting each day with gratitude is a way to establish a positive attitude from which to launch. 

 Consider for your list:

·      The person who was up earlier than you to be at their appointed job to take your order for early breakfast or coffee at your favorite bistro or fast-food drive-thru. 

·      The computer that connects you to heartfelt blogs.

·      The beauty of flowers or trees you can view from your home or on a commute.

·      Your good health. 

During this holiday week, I am grateful for many memories of Thanksgiving celebrations with the numerous relatives I visited during my youth when my mom’s family all gathered with each other at one of their homes. Several Thanksgiving gatherings hold distinctive memories: The foot of snow we cousins played in while the adults wondered how we were going to get home; the pecans we gathered and cracked open on an unusual warm November day; the smell of delicious food cooked by four other households; abundant laughter and conversations filling the house.

In my earlier married years, we gathered at one of my husband’s siblings’ or parents’ home with the tradition of the nieces and nephew dressed up as Indians and pilgrims acting out a play, providing their simplified version of the earliest Thanksgiving meals. (None of them went on to be actors, but it was a sweet tribute.) The adults, while eating dessert, took turns expressing what we were thankful for.  

During each Thanksgiving, God or Jesus was brought into the meal by way of a grateful Thanksgiving prayer as we blessed our gathering and food. The, not very broad, religious diversity consisted of:  CBF Baptist; Southern Baptist; used-to-be-Catholic-not certain-what we-are now-believer; a peculiar Pentecostal; and there was a relative who converted to Judaism. With all celebrations, none of us held our preferred religion in higher regard or considered how we might be different. We were family members gathering with each other. Young cousins played together. The aunts and uncles talked a lot. Aunts organized the many dishes into categories of turkey and ham, side dishes, and desserts. Had we stopped to reflect we would have realized, all these actions were prayers of gratitude that we were all together. 

Holidays are reminders of what once was. And for many, the loss of what was is difficult. This will be a very different Thanksgiving for me. For the first time ever, we will not travel to family. My mother-in-law, mother, and father all passed in 2020. To be clear, I am not in a state of grief. Well, not at the current moment. I may (well, to be honest, I expect I’ll) experience moments of grief during this holiday. What I am is reflective and a bit nostalgic. The memories that pop into my head are mostly good ones. Families have their imperfections, but all those years of coming together was a togetherness, imperfect as it might have been, that reminded me I am part of a unit of many people.  Through the years, some family members I saw every year. Some merged in and out to visit as their busy lives permitted. Some called, and we passed around the phone to say hello. My memories remind me, I am part of a tribe of my immediate family, and the family I married into comprised of numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. And although we are all on different paths of life and celebration now, I am grateful for all the many celebrations that bonded me to them and them to me.

During this holiday season, whether you are with family, or friends that feel like family, I hope you can reflect on sweet memories, and the making of new memories lessens the grief that may be experienced during the holidays.

What small thing(s) are you able to be grateful for– right now? 

Not sure? 

Maybe go visit your favorite bistro or fast-food drive-thru and tell your server, you are grateful they are there to serve you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. I am grateful you took the time to read my blog.

October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I am an 18-year breast cancer survivor living in suburbs of Charlotte, NC. During the month of October, breast cancer awareness month has been a big deal where I live, in large part because of the Susan G. Komen-Charlotte organization’s events. One of the largest events in Charlotte has been the 5k held on the first Saturday of October each year. It has been an impressive fund-raising event, with thousands of walkers dressed in all sorts of entertaining outfits, along with bands, celebrities, balloons, flags, and other paraphernalia. It was an early morning start time, beginning before the sun rose. The darkness provided an excellent backdrop for the buildings’ skyline of the city lit up pink. It was a fantastic celebration of survivors, thrivers, and fighters.

Each year after my diagnosis I participated in this event with family and friends. The first year I walked I was still tired from the surgeries, chemo and radiation that had ended five months prior. My hair was short and for the first time in my straight-hair-self’s life, I had curls. I carried a single balloon, symbolizing the number of survivor years. There were women carrying 40-plus balloons. With the helium, I wondered how they weren’t being carried away into the heavens. It was encouraging to see women with many balloons signifying there are numerous years of life after cancer treatments. It was emotionally empowering to hold on to that hope-filled balloon embracing the probability I would continue to remain in this world.

I was 40 when I had my first mammogram. Talked into it by a friend. I would refrain from doing the procedure again for several years. I was flat chested, and the “boobie-trap” squeeze hurt some. Plus, I was a little embarrassed of my flat chest. I am willing to bet if a man had to go through that procedure, insurance would probably pay for ultrasounds instead of having to have my small lemon sized breasts squeezed in a vice. I’m sure for women with grapefruit-sizes, it’s just as painful.

The spring of my 44th year, I was at a beach weekend retreat with some girlfriends. Somehow in the conversations, mammograms came up. A topic I scratch my head wondering why our conversations went there. But we did. And they were relentless in making sure I scheduled a mammogram. Even with my argument, Cancer doesn’t run in my family, they wanted a promise I’d make an appointment.

So, I did. My lemons were squeezed in the boobie-trap vice, and I’d done my duty for my friends. One in 15 get a call back to recheck.

I got the call.

Something wasn’t right on my lower right breast. An ultrasound took place for the follow-up visit. Something was there, but it didn’t seem to be cancerous. I would return in six months to recheck. Right about the time for the recheck, the spot became a solid lump the size of a quarter. I won’t admit to panicking, but let’s call it a very heavy concern, even though I argued to myself, it doesn’t run in my family. Ultrasound again. Not just the lump but my entire right breast. Something else up close to my armpit showed up too. The quarter size lump was biopsied, as were other places on my breast. The lump was not cancer. The spot at the entrance of my armpit, which could mean it is in the lymph nodes, was cancer. The benign lump had led my doctors to the real culprit. Some say, that was lucky. Some say, that was a God thing. Some say, that was serendipitous. I say, yes, to all three. And my breast cancer journey began. Lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation treatments dominated the next nine months of my life and took a tumultuous toll on my body.

It was a grueling journey. I would not wish the journey on anyone, but what the journey did TO me, difficult as it was, also did things FOR me. I came out on the other side a stronger, more resilient me. I treasure what insight, empathy, and enlightenment I discovered along the way.

I have been loyal to annual mammograms since my diagnosis. The last two years, I have been called back to have rechecks. Is that emotionally excruciating or what? I don’t want to go through a recurrence.   I. Do. Not.  With the call backs, I held my breath, and told the higher beings, I ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT DO CHEMO AGAIN. Nope. Na Da. But the reality is, if it will save my life and allow me to live to see milestones of my young adult daughter, and live a traveling retirement life with my husband, then I suppose I might change my stance on that. I hope I don’t have to make that decision any time in my future.

During this month of October that reminds us to be aware of breast cancer, remember to take care of you. You deserve to be in this world a lot longer. Make the appointment. Even if it doesn’t run in your family. And whether its lemons or grapefruits, the uncomfortable boobie-trap vice’s squeeze doesn’t last long.

For more on my personal cancer journey, my book, Matters of the Heart-A Cancer Journey is available on amazon.

Fall Solstice

The heat of the south’s summer is subsiding where I live in a suburb of Charlotte, NC. I’m anticipating a calmer, cooler fall that encourages getting outside more and observing tree leaves turning to their fall-preferred-colors of yellow, orange, or cranberry. This fall solstice date seems to beckon me to take a deep breath and reflect on life of the past year.

A year ago much was happening. Life felt like a speeding train taking my breath away but simultaneously felt like a zapping of energy as I struggled to scale massive mountains.

I retired, or as I tell friends, my paycheck stopped the end of September. What I envisioned my date of celebratory retirement would be like, did not transpire. There was no party. Not even a lunch with co-workers. Thanks mostly to a world embroiled in a pandemic and keeping social distance from each other. But there was also my 86-year-old mother who was in her dying process after six plus years of Alzheimer’s. Added to that was the propping up of my 85-year-old father who knew not how to live without his bride of 67 years by his side, even if she did not know who he was. My mom had slowly died in stages over the years. She lost her strong-will and tenacity to take on life’s obstacles early on with the disease. She who was never a follower, followed my dad around like a lost puppy. She eventually stopped walking or talking. She sat in a recliner and slept much of the day, her pretty blue eyes void of any life. The hired caretakers saved my sanity. I wasn’t meant to be a nurse, and changing my mom’s Depends was excruciatingly painful emotionally. My heart broke knowing she would have hated what was happening to her, if she had had the capability to know what was happening. Which, she did not.

Her decline snuck up on her, and at the beginning of the journey, when we told her of the diagnosis, the woman who had declared to me, “I never want to be like that” had no reaction. None. She didn’t understand what was happening. She gave us no instructions on what to do for her other than a previously signed Do Not Resuscitate form displayed on the side of the refrigerator. From the onset of her diagnosis, what used to be a quarterly trip to their house, I now travelled two hours from my home to theirs on multiple weekends each month to be of assistance. The routine was, she was fed and bathed, and put to bed by caretakers with me, my dad, my sister and brother often assisting.

Pain pours out of our pores in unexpected ways. With my family members it poured in unreasonable ways. I found myself struggling with my siblings, who were unhappy with things I did or did not do, what I said, or how I said it. I became their personal punching bag to sort their frustrations out with. I lost my mom, but I also lost my siblings. On many occasions I bypassed crying and fell into the dark abyss that could only be expressed through sobs that created headaches once subsided.

In the final month of my mom’s life, my sister, brother and I found common ground and together dealt with my mom’s passing process. For 22 days we propped our dad up emotionally as my mom slowly made her exit. The Alzheimer’s years had been difficult. The dying process was heart wrenching. But finally, she was released. Appropriately with the 2020 fall solstice she took her last breath and left with the angels to a whole, healed spirit. She began a new journey. A relief that for first time in over six years, gave way to a sense I could communicate with her spirit.

With her passing, I received a lot of heartfelt messages, from friends with the words, “I am sorry for your loss.” What I felt was, the loss had been ongoing for six years, in a slow, hideous challenging journey. Each visit to care for her was like facing a different component of slow death. For me, the loss did not happen the day she died. What I feel happened that day was, I gained her back. I knew she was now of the spirit world (she was and I am a Christian so I believe whatever the other side looks like, that is where she is). With the solstice of the 22nd of September, 2020 she finally transitioned to where she belonged.

Now as I embrace my retirement in this fall solstice stage of my life, I look forward to transitioning as I embrace the calmer temperatures of living, the more equalized life train ride I am now on, and feeling my mother’s spirit as I walk amongst the colorful trees as they begin their next stage of transitioning.