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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Be Present in Your Life: Father’s Day Edition

This morning I was running down the beach. Yes, I live near the ocean, you may commence hating me for that, I’ll understand. (More on that in the next post.)  From afar I could see what appeared to be a large heart-shaped something at the water’s edge up ahead. As I approached the image came into focus. (Keep in mind I didn’t have my glasses on so the heart-shaped something could have been almost anything and not at all heart shaped.) It was two horses, a stallion (male) and a smaller one, obviously a younger horse, a child of sorts. The little one was standing in the larger one’s shadow kind of resting its head on the stallion so they were somewhat connected at the head end with their hindquarters apart, forming a triangular, yes, heart shape. Awww. It being Father’s Day, I imagined them as father and child. A child often stands in a father’s shadow. I did and it was warm and wonderful there.

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I stood for a while, keeping the recommended distance of 50 feet from the wild horses who live here and just appreciated the beauty of nature and of nurture. I thought about the majesty of fathers and how they shape their children’s lives. It’s a “big job,” as my own dad would have said but when done right, it leaves a legacy of love.

So I observed and enjoyed what I was seeing and feeling. Normally I would have been doing something entirely different. I would have been frantically trying to get their picture before they moved. I mean heart-shaped horse bodies, one doesn’t see that often. It would have made a fantastic photo and I would’ve loved to capture that moment in time. That’s what writers and photographers do, we observe and we feel compelled to somehow record what we see. We can’t stop ourselves and maybe that’s often a good thing, this desire to see and share, to help others learn what we’ve learned or failed to learn, to see what we’ve been privileged to witness. That’s what we do most of the time. I’ve “run” into these horses before and they are majestic in their beauty. I often have a phone with me and I always say, “This photo is going to be awesome.” Because in real life the view is incredible. So I snap and snap and snap and almost never does the photo match what I recall seeing.

But this morning I couldn’t strive for the perfect photo because I had no camera. No phone, no instrument of moment capturing whatsoever. Which afforded me the luxury of simply being present to truly see what was. I really need to focus on doing that more often because when you are truly present you can feel things you might otherwise miss. You can grow in unanticipated ways. You can see inside yourself and outside yourself toward the goal of knowing more of both. And maybe with that knowledge comes peace.

Even if I miss the perfect photo, I’ll take the peace if I can capture that moment.

But, I don’t want you to miss the opportunity of seeing a wild horse so here’s one I captured on a previous day. I can tell you the photo isn’t nearly as cool as the sight of this magnificent, free, animal on the dune. But you’ll get the idea.

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So, today, I wish you peace and I wish you the ability to be present, be focused, see what’s around you. And, I hope it’s beautiful.

Five Things You Learn From a Dad For Father’s Day

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
― Umberto Eco

What wisdom did you learn from your father? My father didn’t talk much. He was the quintessential man of few words. So how did I learn so many wonderful things? Luck and love, I suppose. Luck and love. Here’s what I learned

1. Compassion. I learned compassion. My father couldn’t abide people hurting others. He didn’t do it, he didn’t stand for it.

2. Not everything is about money. My dad didn’t take money except for his work. My dad worked in a factory so he wasn’t exactly a rich guy but if he had things to pass on, he did just that, he passed them on. When my father bought any new furniture (which, truth be told he only did when my mother made him do so because he really couldn’t care less about what he lived with, furniture-wise.), he gave away what he could no longer use. I remember a neighbor telling him the bedroom set he gave away could’ve been sold as it had value. My dad said, “If I’m not using it, someone should. It’s not about making money.”

3. Read every day. My dad didn’t finish high school but he was a consumer of the written word, mostly newspapers. Never a day passed without an hour spent reading. He may have been that man of few words outgoing but incoming, words mattered to him.

4. Judgement. As a kid I think I may have been embarrassed about how little my dad cared about appearances. He didn’t care what he wore, he didn’t care to impress people with his home, he truly didn’t care what people thought of his superficialities, nor was he impressed by others in that way. When I grew up I realized the strength of character that comes from only caring about what’s inside.

5. Storytelling. While my dad didn’t say much, when he was in his element, with his friends and family, he lit up when telling a good story. His eyes would twinkle, his lips turned up just slightly at the ends. Telling a good story made the world so much better for him and for those of us in his audience. Storytelling enhances life.

Those are my five. What are yours? Oh and I have a bonus one. He taught me how to change a tire. Alas, I’ve used that one a lot!

I leave you with this quote for Father’s Day for everyone who is lucky enough to have a dad’s shadow to guide them.

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The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature. ~Antoine-François, Abbé Prévost d’Exiles

Want A Great Free Read For Anyone With A Family?

Tales From The Family Crypt is FREE Thursday, May 28, 2015 and Friday May 29, 2015! I could wax poetic about the many reasons you should download the book and tell everyone you know to do the same but instead, I’ll just share excerpts of a few of my recent 5-star Amazon reviews. You can decide for yourself if this book calls you. (It will! And, it’s a quick read too! Perfect for summer reading, fast and entertaining and possibly helpful.) And, remember if you do read the book, reviewing it on Amazon and Goodreads is good Karma! Please share this post and pass along the heads up about my free giveaway. Thanks!

Click here to the link to download Tales From The Family Crypt.

THE REVIEWS ARE IN!
May 24, 2015

Unbelievable! Yes, I have a crazy sister! Thank you, Deborah, for telling the truth about dysfunctional families with grace and humor. What a great story, what a great story teller. I am recommending this book to everyone I know.
The author’s story resonated with me in a huge way. I’d give the book ten stars if I could.

Stranger Than Fiction April 26, 2015
Format:Paperback

I have always ascribed to a quirky theory that nuttiness skips a generation. By and large, both sets of my grandparents were pretty normal for the era in which they lived; whenever I tell stories about my parents, however, I always feel inclined to add, “Seriously, I am not making these people up.” Over the years, so many friends from elementary and high school have expressed envy about our picture-perfect existence and my supposedly idyllic life as the only child in a wealthy family. What no one ever saw, however, were the deep layers of emotional abuse that – if I had ever shared with a teacher or a counselor – would have been dismissed as the product of an overactive imagination.

I was, thus, able to relate on so many dimensions to Deborah Carroll’s nonfiction narrative memoir, “Tales From the Family Crypt,” in which she illustrates – often with bittersweet humor – how the interactions she and her husband had with their respective families shaped how they would eventually raise their own children. The opening chapters about family photographs are especially well drawn; when everyone is dressed up for photo ops and on their very best behavior, how are viewers ever expected to discern the pain that lays beneath? Sadly, we all want to love our families because we’re supposed to, that to not love them or to see what flawed and hateful individuals so many of them are will somehow label us as “bad” or ungrateful individuals. Yes, they put a roof over our heads and gave us daily sustenance but what about nurturing our souls?

Carroll could certainly have taken the easy route of turning this into a work of fiction with combative characters. The fact that all of it is real, however, delivers a much more potent message. Specifically, you can’t choose your relatives, nor can you rent any of them out for parts. You can either be crushed as a victim to their own insecurities or you can shrug and say, “Yes, well I’m my own person and I will always care what happens to you but I really can’t be around you when you’re being so annoyingly toxic.”

A highly recommended read and kudos to the author for the courage of sharing her own story in such a constructive – and entertaining – way.

A Great Read! March 19, 2015
By Judy
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Whether or not you have dysfunction in your family, Tales from the Family Crypt is a great read! The author shows her strong desire for a close, loving family, but how wanting it and working hard for it doesn’t necessarily make it happen. Her story is both poignant and hysterical. I laughed and cried and nodded my head a lot! As a slow reader with a short attention span, I have to say that I breezed through this book and had trouble putting it down!
Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think of the book and please feel free to share the download with everyone you’ve ever met in your life…. especially your family members.  – Debby. 🙂

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.