A Tale of Two Sisters: Choose Your Own Ending

This week marked my sister’s birthday. It’s the 22nd one she’s had since she stopped talking to me. In an earlier post I wrote about how I wasn’t sure if I’d recognize her or if she’d know me. I’m sorry if you can relate to that because you’re estranged from a sibling. It pretty much sucks.

But this week I had a realization. I don’t have to be miserable every time I think about my sister. I can choose to remember a good memory and to replace the pain with that memory when I think of her. Truth be told, I don’t think of her that often but on weeks like this one, it happens and it’s a bummer. Not any more.

You feel what you feel in life but you can choose your reaction to it. That’s what I always taught my daughters. You can’t control everything but you can control how you react to everything. (or most things). So this year when my sister creeps into my brain I’m going to remember this.

We were young, maybe 14 and 9. We were watching the “Beverly Hillbillies” on TV and the daughter in the show, Ellie May, was playing with a bra. She didn’t recognize it as clearly, “hillbillies” had no use for undergarments of that nature. (Wow, was that show offensive or what? Good thing the PC police weren’t around then.) So, the character used it as a slingshot. Well, that was simply hilarious to us and we started to giggle and then to guffaw loudly enough to bring my father into the room. “What’s so funny?” he wanted to know.

Neither of us could say the word “bra” to my father. My sister probably was wearing one and definitely couldn’t say the word. This was a girl who had to recite Shakespeare for school and wouldn’t say “Damn” so she walked around the house saying, “Out, blank spot.” She was clearly not saying “bra.”  I said nothing but Dad was waiting for an answer. My sister sensed my discomfort and gave him a satisfactory answer. “She has a funny accent,” my sister explained. My dad left the room. We looked at each other and started laughing all over again. We shared a secret and a giggle. Very rare indeed. The fact that this is one of the only good stories I can tell about a nice moment with my sister is in itself pretty telling about our relationship growing up.

But, here’s the message of this post. If you are hurting from the actions of other people be they family, coworkers or anyone else in your life, remember this — you can’t change them but you choose how you react to them.

Happy birthday to my sister. I hope you are enjoying a good laugh, albeit not with me. I am smiling at a memory of us, that’s what I choose this year.

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I Understand if You Hate Me

In a previous post I mentioned we live near the beach. Yes, it’s a good as you might imagine. We don’t live here all the time. Here’s how we got here. Many years back we started coming to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to camp on the beach. We loved it here. There is something about the salt water environment that speaks directly to the soul. So, we camped and after our kids were born, we camped with kids and after we got older and more spoiled, we rented beach cottages for a week and lived like kings and queens compared to camping.

So, year after year we’d come for one precious week of sun and fun and family togetherness. Then we got a brilliant idea. Why not make a lot of money  ruin the whole vacation paradise by opening a seasonal business here? So we opened an Italian Ice (water ice for those readers from the Phila. area) and ice cream shop, open from May to September. The whole family worked, even our two youngest who were about 11 and 12. Did we see the beach much anymore? Not so much. But we loved the experience and stayed in business for many years. Our kids learned myriad lessons about responsibility, dealing with the public, running a business and getting along in the world. We know working in our store had a big part in  forming the wonderful beings they now are.

After our kids grew up and couldn’t continue working all summer in the store we sold it. That presented a dilemma. Could we justify living here all summer when we didn’t have a business here? We had another business which could travel with us so we could work while we were here but could we really be people who live at the beach just for… FUN?

Spoiler alert. Yes.

We come every summer to live here. Our kids come for about a month. We all work other jobs but manage to make time to be who we once were… a family communing in paradise. We are endlessly grateful for being here. We share it with friends who are always invited to come and stay with us and many do. We have no idea what we did to deserve this lovely life but we’re pretty happy about it.

Our dysfunctional siblings have never been happy about it. It may be part of the reason why they are so dysfunctional I had to write my book about them! They have long referred to our annual move as our “extended vacation,” despite the fact that for ten years it was work and not vacation and despite the fact they’ve been invited many times to stay with us. (Given they don’t really work, their whole lives are extended vacation but I’ll overlook that for now. And, yes, before the whole family fell apart, they did come to enjoy a free beach vacation more than once.) I understand their reaction because: 1. They don’t care about us and 2. They’re jealous, not necessarily about where we live but about how happy we are wherever we are. So, they’ve repeatedly tried to hurt us in order to act out their frustrations about their lives. I get it, I really do. I understand envying my life; it’s pretty good.

What can you do if parts of your life are worth envying? (Because even my good life isn’t completely perfect, after all.) Be grateful and do what you can to continually earn what it is you have. But what about the people who resent your good life? What can you do to reach out to them? I’m not sure about the answer to that one. Haters gonna hate, I suppose. I just try not to be one of them. Envy is tough. We’ve all experienced it. We look at people who have what we don’t have or achieve what we’ve failed to achieve and maybe we’re even happy for them but we’re envious too. I know I’d envy another writer’s success with perhaps a huge book advance or a best seller on Amazon or even a blog with 10,000 followers. I don’t think it makes us bad people to envy. Maybe envy can even motivate us to work harder. What makes us bad people is acting out of envy in an attempt to hurt the ones we are envious of. I think this is a very important topic for parents to discuss with children. Explain to them, yes, you will feel envious of others but that is not a bad thing. What matters is how you react to that jealousy. You feel what you feel but you get to choose your reaction to the emotion and that is where you have power.

What do you do to fight the green-eyed monster when it strikes you? Is there anyone you envy? Have you ever told anyone you envy them? I never have but I think maybe I should.

Meanwhile, here’s your moment worth envy. I suggest you take a one-minute mental vacation imagining yourself here. It could help!

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30 Reasons To Be Grateful You’re Alive

If you haven’t yet read Sheryl Sandberg’s ode to mourning, you’re in for a life-affirming treat. That sounds perverse, I know, but here’s the thing — if you’re truly grateful for your life and the lives of those you love, maybe you don’t fear death quite so much.

Here’s a piece of what she wrote about grieving  the abrupt loss of her husband if you don’t have time to read her whole post. (I strongly suggest you find the five minutes it will take you to improve your outlook on life.)

I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well. 

But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.

Choose life and meaning…if you have trouble with that, in tribute to the 30 days Sandberg thought about this, here are 30 things (in the most random order imaginable)  you can ponder to choose life and meaning. You may not have all 30 in your life but I’m giving you enough to get started with at least 10! If you have 10 things to be grateful for, life is pretty much worth enjoying.

1. You’re reading this. Consider the joy, the news, the advice, the sheer pleasure you get from  absorbing information through the written word.

2. This.

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It’s just a flower I came across one day but seriously, if this doesn’t give you gratitude for the little things, there is something wrong with you.

3. Moments are just that — moments. They pass so the bad ones will not last forever. That should make anyone having a bad day a bit happier. Time passes but it takes time.

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4. You may have people in your life who can move your shoes. Yesterday my daughter moved to a new home. Today she gave a shout out to her friends, family and loved ones who helped her with the enormous task of moving her shoes. If you saw her shoe collection, you’d understand the depth of her gratitude. If you have people who can move your shoes, that’s a reason to give thanks.

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5. You can always make someone smile. Smile at the next five strangers you pass. At least one will smile back and in that moment, you’ll both feel pretty good about life.

6. You can ask for help. If you are one of the lucky people who feels comfortable asking for help that will make your life a great deal easier.

7. Stories to read. Literature to love.

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8. You are vulnerable. You get hurt. Why should this make you grateful? Because if you feel pain, you understand what it means to feel better and you appreciate it when it happens.

9. You have a birthday. You get a day to celebrate yourself. Do it! Let others do it! I know people who say birthdays are no big deal and they want no fuss made about them. Are you kidding me? You were born and you’re still here, throw a freaking party!

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10. You’re a communicator. If you’re reading this chances are you also write, or at least speak. Communicating is the beginning of understanding and with that comes clarity of what the world is all about.

11. You have virtual people. Maybe your people can’t move your shoes but they can stir your soul with the words they send out into the blogosphere and those words reach you. If you have ever read a blog post that resonated with you, be grateful. It’s a connection you made.

12. You can do some good in some way. From opening the door for a person who’s carrying a heavy load (literally and/or figuratively) to volunteering your time delivering meals to shut-ins, you can help others. That’s a gift to you and to the world. Do some good. I know a woman who doesn’t leave her house much but she counsels people online as a volunteer. She doesn’t let being mostly house bound keep her from doing good in the world.

13. People are social animals. It’s a good thing.

14. Beauty exists. You get to be the judge. Seek it out. Seriously, stop right now and look around you until you find one beautiful thing. It’ll likely take you just seconds and you can do this anytime you need a lift. Beauty is limitless and so is your ability to find it.

15. You can cry. It’s a release that enables you to feel better. Being capable of crying is no small matter,

16. You never really lose people you loved. Your relationship may change or even end but you have them with you always.

17. That.

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18. Love is in the air somewhere.

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19. Romantic love isn’t the only game in town. Just because you may not currently be in a relationship doesn’t mean you can’t have love in your life. Your parents, your kids, your friends, your pets, even your coworkers may be lovable. Love is what matters, not what kind of love or with whom it happens.

20. Good, multigrain, fresh crusty bread dipped in olive oil…..

Food, from the most simple to the most complex is something you can enjoy. If you have a healthy relationship with food, it’s okay to derive joy from it.

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21. You can dream. Humans dream in sleep and while waking. Sleep dreams may bring you messages worth paying attention to. Waking dreams are those you choose to have because they lift you up and give you hope. Cherish both kinds of dreams and listen to what they tell you because you can.

22. Life doesn’t have to make sense. That’s okay. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to figure it out. You can choose to move on instead.

23. Poetry lives. Few words can be so healing, so embracing, so motivating…

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
Enjoy every moment.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

24. When the rug is pulled out from under you, the floor beneath will support you. When you feel ready, you will stand up. That’s how life works. Believe in your ability to stand when ready…

25. Music… just… music… well and lyrics… watch this (enjoying the time warp trip to 1969) and you’ll know…

26. The Buddhists are right. (I paraphrase here, I haven’t actually met the Buddha.) Live inside each moment to the fullest extent you can. The key there is “you can.” Some moments make it easy to live fully. Some moments make it hard but you can choose, you have the power to live each moment the way you want, even in circumstances beyond your control. You can’t change everything but you can control the way you react to anything.

27. Sometimes things in your life are seriously not okay. That doesn’t mean they won’t be again. Knowing that helps get you to that better time.

28. This:

Random encounter I had while taking a walk. Random encounters make life worth having.

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29. That:

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Art of all kinds waiting unexpectedly around the corner.

30. Look in a mirror. Be grateful for whatever you see.

Feel free to share. Spread the reasons to be grateful with anyone who needs a lift.

Free Book Today! Great Story, Well Told, Fast Read

Tales From The Family Crypt is FREE Thursday, May 28, 2015 and Friday May 29, 2015! If you’re looking to read a true story that reads like a novel, this book is for you. And, please if you do read the book, take a moment to review it on Amazon and Goodreads. Please share this post and pass along the heads up about my free book giveaway. Thanks! You can click here to get the book on Amazon. Don’t wait, though, it will go back to regular price on Saturday.

Writers and Parents: Be Careful What You Wish For!

Writing is a great many wonderful things but making a living at it isn’t easy. And, more importantly, it may not be a good thing. Consider this story. I wrote a parenting book some years back, before the advent of self publishing. Shockingly, at least to me, it was published by a major publishing house and even more shocking, they actually spent about 10 minutes promoting it. (Because promoting books is not one of the things big publishing houses do well or even at all for most books! Yes, that was a surprise to me too.) One afternoon I returned to my home office to hear this voice mail:

Woman’s voice: Hi. This is Andrea. I’m a producer  at the Oprah Show. We just received your parenting book and we think it’s terrific. We’re doing a show on being organized and we already have an expert booked on the show but if you could be in Chicago next week, we might be able to add a segment specific to parenting. If you’re interested, please call me at …

OMG. I won’t even bother trying to describe how I felt.  I know you can easily imagine. (Suffice it to say the moment was so thrilling, I can still remember what I was wearing when I heard the message.) So, of course I returned the call ASAP. First she waxed poetic about my book and explained the reason they loved it was because it was so practical. Every suggestion in the book was something any parent could do with any child. She loved the way I looked at parenting which was that parents should integrate kids into their lives while maintaining as much of themselves and their previous lives as possible. I was thrilled they understood the point of the book which was to give parents actual, doable advice for raising responsible, good kids without overwhelming parents with a lot of theories and philosophizing. She asked if I could send video of me on any prior appearance on TV as well as a brief description of what I thought would be a good two-minute segment. She explained it was not highly likely they’d be able to add me in since the show was really already tightly planned but she really liked the book and was going to try. I sent off my package and held my breath.

Next I phoned my agent, who, while she was thrilled for me, had a cautionary warning. What I said to her, somewhat jokingly but also maybe a little bit wistfully was, “Maybe I’ll be the John Gray of parenting.” Back then he was the IT writer, who had written the phenomenally successful relationship book about men being from Mars while women were from Venus. She answered quickly, “You don’t want to be that. He’s a relationship expert who’s on the road about 50 weeks a year. Do you want to be writing about parenting while being away from your kids 50 weeks out of the year?”

That struck me and proved to be a little comforting when I heard back from the producer who reported, alas, they could not fit my two-minute segment into the show, as she had feared. But, she said they loved my book and would try to find another show to work it into. Despite the fact I spent the next year sending her show theme pitches and small gifts in Fed Ex envelopes monthly (my agent’s suggestion), my Oprah appearance remained elusive. I was so disappointed. My dream of being a fantastically successful writer did not come to pass.

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Lego Art by Nathan Sawaya

Thus, I did not become the John Gray of parenting. But I did raise three amazing daughters who probably lamented how much I was around the house more than I did! I have no regrets. My book sold okay, I did some other  fun TV and radio appearances with it and got some very positive feedback. Thanks to the ability to self publish and the fact that the rights reverted back to me, I updated it and published it again this year so if you want to check out Raising Amazing Children: While Having a Life of Your Own, the practical parenting book an Oprah producer loved but didn’t produce a show about, it’s just 99 cents on Amazon. I figure if it’s a bestseller now, I can hit the road. My kids are all grown and won’t even notice if I leave town!  If you give it as a gift to a new parent you know, you can tell them it was almost on Oprah. (They don’t have to know you only spent a dollar on it!) If you read it, please share a review on Amazon. Your opinion will mean more to me than any producer’s! And, writers, rethink your disappointments. Maybe the way it’s working out for you is the way it’s meant to be after all.

Who Taught You To Be Generous?

Love the conversation I overheard in the gym locker room this morning. Okay, I admit it freely; I am an eavesdropper of the highest magnitude. On a scale of 1-10 guilty of listening in to what total strangers are saying, I’m a 12. But it’s a wonderful vice to have. I find people so fascinating and sometimes uplifting too.

Two women, both in their 40s or so. Truthfully I can never tell, they may have been anywhere from 40 – 65. But they did both look terrifically fit, whatever their age. (I’m not that big a snoop, I didn’t secretly photograph them so you’ll have to take my word.) Here’s how the conversation went:

Woman A: I’ve always had the habit of making extra food when I make something like Tiramisu or lasagne,  you know the things it’s just as easy to make double of as it is to make one. I give the other one to someone else. But my husband always asked, “Why are you giving our food away?” He was annoyed about it and didn’t understand why I didn’t just freeze it and keep it for us. So I told him it was no big deal to make extra and other people need it more than we do. We’re not rich but we can certainly afford to give away a lasagne every so often.

Woman Z: That is really nice of you. How do you decide who to give the food to?

Woman A: Well, I just kind of pick anyone I’ve talked to recently who I think could use the help. Like you know that guy in the gym who just lost his wife? He’s alone and I don’t think he cooks so I gave him a meal last week. And, that’s when it got interesting. When I got home and told my husband who I gave the food to, he said, “Oh, now I get it. I understand why you’re giving away food. That guy probably won’t have a home cooked meal now that his wife is gone. He probably doesn’t cook. That’s really nice of you.” So, when it was someone my husband could clearly relate to, because he knows he’d be lost without my cooking, he finally understood the whole idea of helping people who need a hand. I was really happy he got it and won’t be pissed at me for giving away our food.

Woman Z: So, that’s cool, you taught your husband how to be generous. Who taught you that?

Woman A: (Period of total silence)

Woman Z: I mean you weren’t born that way, someone had to teach you about generosity. Who was it?

Woman A: Wow, I never thought about that. I’ve always just seen myself as a good and generous person. Let me think about it.

Woman Z: Your mom?

Woman A: No, I don’t think so. Wait, you know what? It was probably my dad. He is and has always been dirt poor. He lives in Puerto Rico and has never made any money but he’s always seen a beautiful world around himself. He never thought of himself as poor. When I was a teenager I’d take odd jobs to make some money and I’d give some of it to him. He’d give it away and I’d get really angry. I’d say, “I worked to make that money for you, not for that guy. Why’d you give my money away?” And he’d say, “I’m okay. I have everything I need but that guy needs help.” And, believe me, my father had nothing, but somehow he always thought others were worse off and wanted to help them because for whatever reason, he saw a beautiful life surrounding him and felt sorry for other people.I guess it was my dad.

And she smiled. And the woman who asked the great question smiled. And I smiled but I had to turn away so they wouldn’t know I was eavesdropping. But I was glad I did. Maybe I should have saved this post for Father’s Day and maybe some folks will reblog it then but I just couldn’t wait. What a tribute to what makes a great dad!

So I ask you that wonderful question. Are you generous? What does that mean to you and who taught you to be that way? If you could teach that to someone whom would you choose?

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Let’s Talk About Death, Baby.

In the immortal words of Salt-N-Pepa:

“(Punch it, Hurb
Yo, I don’t think we should talk about this
Come on, why not?
People might misunderstand what we’re tryin’ to say, you know?
No, but that’s a part of life)

Come on”

The song, “Let’s Talk About Sex” continues thusly but as you read, feel free to substitute sex with death. (only in the lyrics, not in real life)

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex

Let’s talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd
It keeps coming up anyhow
Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic
Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it
Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows
Many will know anything goes
Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be
How it was, and of course, how it should be
Those who think it’s dirty have a choice
Pick up the needle, press pause, or turn the radio off
Will that stop us, Pep? I doubt it
All right then, come on, Spin

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex

If you think about it, the reasons we don’t talk about sex and the reasons we don’t talk about death have a great deal in common. We don’t talk about sex because the mention of it is taboo, considered gauche or low class. Ditto, death. We don’t talk about sex because it involves aspects of our lives too sensitive to be discussed in detail. We don’t talk about sex because we believe we can stop it from happening among the people for whom we don’t want it to happen. (i.e. young teens, etc.  ) Ditto death, because not talking about it won’t make it go away. But, there is one big difference, sex is a choice. Death’s generally not. Why talk about death, then? Because  it’s the one thing we all have in common and very few of us deal with that reality effectively. The results of us being in group denial is that death causes so many problems for the living and for the dying. From inheritance battles to battles over end of life care to sibling rivalry to battles over who “Mom loved best.” Many of these could be avoided by exposing the reality of death to the light of day.

Talking about death may not be able to stave death off but it can make the whole experience easier for all, the dying as well as the living.  Making your wishes clear to your loved ones enables them to help you when the time comes to have the death you want. Do you want to be kept alive at all costs?   Do you want to be hooked up to machines that may breathe for you and feed you? Or would you rather go naturally and perhaps faster? Voice your choice.  What do you want to happen to the possessions you own? Do you care who gets your family photos or archives? What about the dresser you inherited from your Aunt Tilly? Or your father’s pinky ring? Who should get that? What should happen to your beloved pets? What about your money? Who gets what and how much? And why? If you need to leave more money to a loved one because he or she has greater need, tell your other loved ones your reasons while you still can. Dying with wishes unsaid helps no one. And, if you have a message you want your loved ones to hear, don’t wait until after you’re dead to deliver it. Don’t send a message via your will. (But do have a will!) Tell your loved ones the things you want them to know while you can. In fact, do it today, because no one is assured of a tomorrow. You can choose to have or not to have sex tomorrow. But you can’t choose whether you’ll be hit by a bus tomorrow. So, don’t wait. Voice you choice today.

Maybe death needs a snappy slogan to encourage people to talk about it more. How about one of these? “Death Talk: Just Do It!” “Death Discussion: Because You’re Worth It!” “Can You Hear Me Now?” Fed Ex had a good slogan, “Because there is no tomorrow.” That would work. Or how about Burger King’s “Have It Your Way?” Or, why not, “A Life is A Terrible Thing to Waste?” Choose one and use it to motivate yourself to talk with the people you love about the life you live and how you hope to see it end. It literally will not kill you to talk about it. You’ll be glad you did.

Perhaps death  needs a theme song to make the whole concept more palatable. I have an idea. Why not use this one? Check the video for the tune and sing along changing the lyrics as follows:

Let’s talk about death, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about death
Let’s talk about death
Let’s talk about death
Let’s talk about death

Let’s talk about death for now to the people at home or in the crowd
It keeps coming up anyhow
Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic
Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it
Now we talk about death on the radio and video shows
Many will know anything goes
Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be
How it was, and of course, how it should be

Once you’re motivated, you may need a guide or an agenda to follow for your big talk On my next blog post, I’ll share 10 aspects of death everyone should discuss. Read it, share it, print it out as an agenda for your next family dinner! Meanwhile, enjoy the music and singing along, changing the lyrics as needed.

Finally, I ask you to consider carefully… Can you do it? Can you talk about death openly? Can you encourage others to do so too? We’ll all be a lot happier….literally in the end… if we can. Please spread the word. I’m thinking we can start a movement called, “Happy Endings.” Will you join?

5 Simply But Carefully Stated Sentiments for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a holiday you’d think pretty much everyone could embrace enthusiastically. I mean everyone has one, right? But for some people, Mother’s Day is one of the scariest days of the year. It’s taboo to talk about and so few do, but alas, some people have challenging mothers (Seriously hoping my daughters aren’t currently shaking their heads but if you are, read on.).  For years I watched my husband painstakingly choose Mother’s Day cards because it was virtually impossible to find one that didn’t call out, “You’re the best human on the planet! You made me the unbelievably successful and happy person I am today.”

But what if your mother isn’t the best human on the planet? Maybe she had her reasons, maybe she was dealt a difficult hand, maybe life just didn’t play out the way she envisioned. Maybe she isn’t Cruella De Ville or Joan Crawford but she’s also not June Cleaver or or Carol Brady or even Clare Dunphy. Whatever the story behind your difficulty with your mom, what if you just can’t bring yourself to get a card that has too much BS to be delivered? And, if your mother won’t understand sarcasm or irony, you’d be wasting your time to send her, “Have a wonderful day. I hope it’s filled with all the happiness you’ve brought to me since childhood.”

But, since you are still hanging around with your mother and you’re not ready to cut the cord entirely, you do need a card. I can help. Here are 5 things you can  write comfortably on a blank card while still maintaining your integrity. Choose one with a lovely flower or sunrise (sunset seems like the wrong message) and you are good to go on the upcoming scary holiday.

1. Thanks so much, Mom. I owe you my life.

(Because, you do, despite how it might have played out!)

2. Thinking of you today.

(Again, because you probably are, without mentioning in what context.)

3. There’s so much beauty in the world. I hope you can take some time to enjoy it.

(Totally lovely but completely skirting the icky family issues.)

4. Wishing you a very special day.

(Not saying why or in what way it should be special.)

5. Happy Mother’s Day.

(Perhaps the most simply stated of all and also totally appropriate.)

Then you need a strong closer. You can pick one of these and sign your name (first name only as, again, irony and sarcasm aren’t appropriate today) with any one of these warm closings, artfully avoiding the word love. Warmly, As always, Take care, Cheers (don’t use this one if alcohol factors in), Good wishes, Thinking of you, Most sincerely, Peace be with you, Peace and blessings, Rock on, or Truly.

Good luck. And cheer up. It’s only another month or so until Father’s Day. Maybe that one’s easier.

Peace out,

Debby

PS. Feel free to use this lovely flower if you choose to make your own card. Print it out and move on with your life!

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Family Holiday Survival Tips You Need Now

Holidays can be hell when you’re a member of a dysfunctional family unit. I know this for a fact as holidays have been challenging for us for most of the last 20 years. But, I didn’t want to dread the holidays so I’ve developed some strategies for surviving the event where you may be surrounded by people you can just barely tolerate. Here are my half-dozen  survival tips for dealing with the holiday happenings.

1. Invite some people you love. Balance the scales in favor of more people you enjoy than people who drive you up a wall. For many years we’ve opened our family celebrations to our friends when they were available. That way you can, throughout the meal, turn to your friends, roll your eyes and silently thank whomever you believe in for sending some friends your way. This works for a while. In recent years some people politely said if my in-laws were going to attend my holiday dinner, they’d prefer not to. So, you have to rotate the friends you invite in order to have new people who are up for the challenge joy of being with your extended family.

2. Learn to look the other way. When my in-laws would start fighting at the table, my strategy was to turn toward my kids, whom I adored and focus just on them. It’s like meditating where you control your mind but with the control being on your focus. Of course it helps if inside your head you keep repeating this mantra: At least I’m not as crazy as they are, at least I’m not as crazy as they are…

3. See recent movies. This is a good one. When the conversation takes a turn you know is going to go swiftly downhill and end up in  an unpleasant valley, you bring up a movie you’ve seen and be ready to launch into a five-minute distraction/dissertation about the plot, the characters, why you loved or hated it, whatever you can think of to completely derail their plan to foil your fun with misery.

4. Speak loudly. When the relatives are heading into tough territory if you can overspeak them in volume and take the talk somewhere better, to something less volatile than their personal grievances, like say politics or religion, you will be happy with the result.

5. Some holidays call for wine as part of the celebration. If yours doesn’t, you may want to consider adding that.

6. Know that the sun will set on this day and tomorrow your life will be much brighter for having done so well in coping with holiday “joy.”

glorious sunset

Could You Attend A Functional Family Convention? If you do these 10 things…

We become part of a family and although it’s a complex machine, we receive no instructions on how to make it work well. Much like becoming a parent, you do it and you fly from the seat of your pants. There’s no instruction manual, no how-to guide, no user guide, not even a quick-start info graphic. No wonder so many families go painfully awry!

So I thought I’d remedy that today. Here are 10 things people who appreciate family do.

1. Love unconditionally. This one seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t understand how important unconditional love is. Love doesn’t just happen, it takes work. Unconditional love means loving someone regardless of what they’re like or what they do for you. It’s loving for the sake of loving, no more, and no less. Unconditional love is a gift for the giver and the recipient. It starts with loving yourself unconditionally and grows from there.

2. Seek understanding. Notice that says, “Seek understanding” not “be understanding.” My point here is  it’s up to each person to reach out to family members to try to be understood by sharing what matters to them. Great family members want others to know them well.

3. Be understanding. Here’s the other side of the understanding coin. Understanding is definitely a two-way street. Family members who wish to be understood are often the ones who understand others well. The give and take of understanding is the foundation of any great relationship. It’s particularly acute in families where if you can’t understand each other, it’s harder to just walk away.

4. Stand and fight. Yes, sometimes conflict happens and it probably should. Chances are if you never disagree on anything in a family it’s because you’re not doing much together. Family members who interact a great deal are likely to disagree from time to time. It’s okay. Those who stand and fight can also resolve problems. Those resolutions lead to stronger bonds. So great family members don’t have to shy away from problems, they can fight and win stronger ties.

5. Forgive. Following the fighting with forgiveness is a hallmark of a healthy functioning family. Forgiveness isn’t magic. It doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious letting-go of any resentment. A conscious letting-go. Family members who want to move on after a conflict make a choice to move forward to peace of mind. Those family members help to set others free from the pain of the conflict. This one is huge.

6. Give. People who understand the value of giving in a relationship don’t hesitate to do so. They may give time, they may give money, they may share possessions, they may give a sympathetic ear, they give what they can when they can. Giving is a way of exhibiting caring. It’s a manifestation of how a person feels.

7. Take. The other side of this coin. Giving is great but, surprisingly, taking reasonably is also terrific. (In other words, there’s a difference between taking and taking advantage which is not good.) Being able to accept, whether it’s time or help or money or advice is important. It may show vulnerability and that is a good thing of sorts. Being vulnerable means to be open to hurt. Why is that good? When people are vulnerable they are exposed because their defenses are down. In a family the walls that protect us should not have to exist.  Great family members should be comfortable with being somewhat vulnerable and open to emotion.

8. Stay honest in the big moments. Honesty is fluid and that’s okay. If your sister gets an awful haircut a loving family member can choose to assure her it looks okay and that’s fine. But a loving family member doesn’t tell lies to manipulate others.

9. Eschew secrets. There’s a fine line between being trustworthy with private matters and keeping secrets that shouldn’t be kept. Loving family members don’t recruit others to keep secrets that might later come out and hurt people.

10. Be accountable, reliable, responsible and dependable. Loving family members mean what they say, do what they promised and show up.

So, how does your family stack up? If you have family members who do all of these things, consider sending this post with a thank you note to brighten their day. And if you think you could do a bit better, consider sharing this post with a note of promise to work harder so your family functions better than ever. Is there anything you’d add to this list?

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