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New Year’s Reflections of an Extremely Eclectic Blogger

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Happy new year, friends! I especially want to greet all you readers who’ve just recently wandered into my little patch of the virtual world, which I call Writing With Spirit. My guess is that you newbies followed WWS because of my travel/photo entries from New Zealand, my weight loss posts, or my musings in the Twitter #WritingCommunity.

I’d love to give you an introduction or overview of some sort, but like any semi-spiritual endeavor, Writing With Spirit is not linear and it’s not easy to characterize. Let’s just call it eclectic.

Psychology, Politics, and the Planet

It won’t take you long to discern that focus is not my forte. I originally intended to write about the spiritual & psychological aspects of de-cluttering, but since I’ve done very little decluttering in the eight years since I started blogging, that kind of fell by the wayside. Plus, it was an election year, and I quickly fell into politics, which I’m addicted to, for better or worse. Mostly worse, since the traumatic events of November 2016.

Those traumatic events also transformed my peaceful poems about mother nature into rants about environmental policy and the evils of greed and corporate power. OK, I probably ranted about those before trump, but now it’s, it’s . . . I mean, what can I say? Everything I worked for in my thirty years as a Sierra Club lobbyist in D.C. is being decimated. Who knew how fast all that progress could be reversed? Oh, and incidentally, the survival of humankind and countless other species is now under serious question.

This is what climate change looks like; Australia 2020

Addiction, Grief, and Pretty Pictures

But let’s talk about something more pleasant, like addiction and mental health. My Dad was an alcoholic, and some of my friends struggle as well. I used to have quite a taste for cocaine, myself. I spent eight years in therapy, and even more in twelve-step groups for people who love people with addictions. So sometimes I write about addiction or recovery or mental and emotional health.

Then there’s death. I lost my Mom, my brother, and several good friends in recent years, so there’s a lot of grief processing in this blog (though praise God, less than there used to be). As far as edification and practicality go, I think those blog posts are some of my best. You might want to use the search function to explore my musings on grief if you are in a dark place.

On a lighter note, I’m a writer and I love words, so sometimes I’ll do an entire post about one word that captures my attention. I’m currently wrestling with my memoir, so I write about writing (or not writing). I also lost forty pounds in 2019 by using the Noom weight-loss plan, and I’ve started to share about that experience. I love traveling and taking pictures, so my followers journey along with me. Last year we went to Seattle, British Columbia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and New Zealand.

Shell Shadow on Himatangi Beach, New Zealand

 

Tree Art near Seattle, Washington

 

Rose, Hamilton Gardens New Zealand

 

Cat Greets the Dawn in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now

At my core, I’m a God-seeker and a Jesus follower, hence the name Writing With Spirit. That is my center, because like the French philoshper-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I believe “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

I suppose you would call me a progressive Christian, though I don’t care for the tag Christian, since it’s generally come to mean judgmental, mean-spirited, exclusionary, and not particularly thoughtful. My faith moves me to care deeply about social justice and the poor and especially dismantling racism. So I write about that stuff, too.

Because all that I hold dear is under attack, I often take jabs at the current president. I can’t help it. I try to be nice, but let’s be real.

“Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

–Bob Dylan

So there you have it. An introduction and overview. Sort of. It’s not what I meant to write when I sat down. That was just supposed to be the first sentence or two. Anyway, various posts may or may not appeal to you, but I hope you’ll stick with me on this journey. And if you have any friends who might want to accompany us, please invite them. Cause check it out! I’m only two followers away from 5,000, and even though it’s only a number, and recognition and affirmation and all that rot isn’t important (and we’ve seen what happens when it reaches pathological levels), still — it’s kinda cool.

Thanks for your support for my ramblings in 2019!

Oh, have I mentioned I have Attention Deficit Disorder? Do I need to at this point? Sometimes I write about that, too.

Happy 2020!!

What September 11th Means To This American

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September 11th: we call it the “National Day of Service and Remembrance.” Honestly, I’d rather not remember that soul-shattering day in 2001, except for the surreal sense of oneness and belonging — the connection, concern for others, grief for the state of the world — dare I say universal love? I do want to remember that. There were beautiful tributes at American embassies worldwide, thousands of flowers and flags and candles and cards. And of course we remember those first responders, many of whom are still paying the cost of their sacrifice. No wonder this date is dedicated to unity and charitable service.

The world loved America that day, warts and all. Even this old hippie drove around with an American flag tied to her car antennae for months afterward. Remembering the unity and big-hearted patriotism that surrounded us in the weeks after 9/11 makes me feel homesick, wondering how we could have fallen so far so fast. The seeds of division and nationalism that plague us today were already planted and well-rooted in 2001, but they were easy to ignore if you were a privileged white person such as myself. I was busy.

Now, though, there’s no denying it.

America is desperately ill, and the seeds of evil have grown into gnarled trees of corruption and greed and white nationalism. Our president and his cronies are intentionally feeding and watering those trees. Evil is flourishing right out in the open: we have a mentally unbalanced, strongman authoritarian seeking dictatorial power with the complete compliance of the once “Grand Old Party.” There may be violence if he loses, he warns, as he stokes the fires of anger and fear at his hate-fueled rallies.

I barely recognize America anymore. She never really was “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” but at least we all wanted her to be. Now the strongman tells elected officials of color to “go back where you came from.”

But here’s the thing: I still love America, even more than I did when I tied that flag to my antennae on September 12, 2001. Her founding ideals may have become a mockery, corporate money may have damaged democracy beyond repair, and greed-driven climate denial may spell the beginning of the end for our species. But that “liberty and justice for all” thing? That’s still worth pursuing and defending with all we’ve got. Good-hearted women and men have fought for those ideals for hundreds of years, some in uniform, some in courtrooms, some protesting in the streets, some being martyred. Their spirits live on.

So on this “Day of Remembrance and Service,” let’s remember what this country stands for. Let’s commit to speaking up when we see racism and injustice in our daily lives. Let’s commit to educating ourselves fully, to admitting and learning from our mistakes, to voting, and to teaching our children to vote. Let’s march in the streets to protect one another, and let’s get involved in the upcoming election.

“Don’t mourn, organize!”

Joe Hill, songwriter and union organizer executed by the state of Utah in 1815.

In Remembrance

 

 

Memories of September 11, 2001

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MEMORIES OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

If you were alive and old enough to comprehend what was going on, you have your memories. Here are mine:

Hearing about the first plane strike on NPR as I got ready to leave for my office on Capitol Hill and thinking, “That wasn’t an accident.”

Arriving at work, turning on the TV, seeing the Pentagon in flames and thinking, “We are being attacked. This is a war.”

Huddling around the TV with a dozen others as we watched the tower fall, and saying over and over, uncomprehendingly, “Are there people in there? Are there people in that building?”

Standing on the deck outside our office and seeing a plume of smoke rise into the air beyond the Capitol building — the Pentagon burning.

Frantically trying to get my coworkers to move away from the windows, fearing that the Capitol would be next. They laughed at me, none of us realizing that at that moment, the heroes of Flight 93 were taking down the plane that was aimed at the beautiful dome just a few blocks away.

The weight of making the decision to send everyone home, even though we weren’t sure it was safe. Walking to my car and passing hundreds of congressional aides milling around dialing their useless cell phones. All systems were down.

Battling evacuating traffic and finally reaching my neighborhood just as the NPR reporter signed off his long and painful shift.  His voice was cracking and wavering with emotion.

Pulling over to the side of the road and wailing like a bereft child.

Stopping at the sub shop because I didn’t want to go home alone. Nobody speaking. An older woman looking at me and shaking her head, over and over, as if trying to expel the images.

A friend came over that night. I don’t remember much of what we said as we tried to process the day, but I remember telling her that I felt like I’d lost an innocence I hadn’t even known existed, and that I would never feel safe again.

In Memoriam

The Loss of a Beloved Companion

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I am writing this for myself, but maybe also for you in case you need it someday. I am in that dreadful netherworld that you may have visited if you’ve ever been owned by a pet: The death watch.

It is nearing the time when my sweet Eliza Bean will move on to somewhere else. I don’t know where my kitty is going, but I know she won’t be here with me. All I will have is my memories and her ashes, which I will store on the closet shelf with the ashes of two other cats and my dog. (I know, I know. I have a hard time letting go. But I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one with a collection of ashes in the closet.)

In this netherworld, we make the gut-wrenching decisions of when and how our beloved companion will die. We wrestle with impossible questions like, “I’m going on vacation and I know my pet is not long for this world. Should I put him down now or stress him out in a kennel? Or not go on vacation?”

I met a woman and her daughter at the vet the other day with a cancer-kitty like mine. The mother wanted to put the cat to sleep because it had become incontinent and was soiling the carpets. Her teen-aged daughter was scandalized that her mother would be so cruel and heartless. I don’t know how that one turned out, and I sure didn’t know that just a few days later I would be facing the same dilemma.

The girl’s horrified face is in my mind as I clean Eliza Bean’s mess off the floor. This just started yesterday. I’ve been googling feline diapers — that’s a thing, you know. Not a thing I would buy, but a thing. Regardless, my twenty-year-old “little girl” will be gone before Amazon Prime could deliver those diapers.

I don’t see that she has more than a few days left.

And so now I have to decide. I’d like to let her go on her own time. “Let nature take its course,” as they say. But is that cruel? At what point am I keeping her alive for me, rather than for her? That’s the only question I need to be asking.

The. Only. Question.

She has no chance of recovery and not even of a small bounce-back. It’s lung cancer, and it’s constricting her organs. I won’t go into details. I don’t know if she is in a lot of pain, but I do know she is really, really miserable. And her comfort is my responsibility.

So I guess I’ve made my decision. Thank you for listening.

I will likely be re-visiting this netherworld again soon, as Eliza’s sister Mayasika has mammary cancer that has metastasized. So if you have words of wisdom that have helped you through, I could use them.

Blessings.

Eliza Bean, a.k.a. Loopy Bean, Liza Loo, Loo Loo, Beaner Reaner, Beanie, Little Bean, Lucy Bean.

Insanity in Sutherland Springs

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INSANITY IN SUTHERLAND SPRINGS

Insanity. I’m not talking about the mentally ill mass shooter who has just murdered some twenty-seven people inside a church in Texas. (I assume he was mentally unwell.)

I’m talking about the Attorney General of Texas who warns that the shootings will continue and that all businesses, schools, and churches should have plans for when the shooting starts.

 

“I wish some law would fix all of this,” he says.

 

Gee, you mean like one banning assault weapons or one requiring stricter background checks or one banning high-capacity magazines meant to ensure more bloodshed, quicker? Or maybe just the simple one introduced in the Senate after the Las Vegas slaughter which bans devices that turn a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic one?

 

No, I guess he’s not talking about any of those. Here’s his take:

 

“All I can say is in Texas at least we have the opportunity to have conceal carry … there’s always the opportunity that a gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people.”

So much opportunity for the people of Texas!

 

If that isn’t insane, I don’t know what is.

 

Am I “politicizing” a tragedy? You bet your sweet behind I am. The GOP told us bleeding heart liberals not to politicize the Las Vegas shooting and now it’s too late for the people in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And it’s too late for all three hundred and seven people who have died in mass shootings so far in 2017.

 

As the gun-totin’ Texas Attorney General says, better get your plans ready. Because your government sure as hell isn’t going to do anything about the carnage.

I Want To Write About Charlottesville

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I want to write about Charlottesville. About watching my Twitter feed in horror as scene after scene scrolled by — swastikas, confederate flags, t-shirts emblazoned with Hitler slogans, torches of hate surrounding a church full of peaceful praying people, a black boy being beaten with poles, and finally the car — the car crashing into living, breathing, beautiful human beings.

I want to say Heather Heyer’s name.

But I can’t seem to gather the words.

I want to write about how I wonder if even just a few trump voters are thinking, “Oops.”

If they might see the teensiest connection between the largest gathering of white supremacists in modern history and the election of a man who encouraged his supporters to commit violence and pledged to pay their legal bills, expressed regret that he couldn’t punch a protester in the face, yearned for the good old days when people were carried out on stretchers, and just the other day advised the police to rough up people in their custody.

But there simply aren’t words.

I want to write about the nameless fear and deep sickness and vast emptiness that must be devouring those raging white men who chant “We will not be replaced.” What is that? Whatever happens with healthcare, can we at least get these people some therapy?

I want to write about how I smirked at the images of the little boys with their tiki-torches and the fact that the Tiki-Torch company actually had to disavow nazism — I mean, it’s all so ridiculous — but then I remembered how much evil a bunch of “boys” with a simple loop of rope can do.

There aren’t words.

I want to write about the feeling of solidarity at the rally yesterday, thousands and thousands of us marching purposefully, signs aloft, our chants booming off the hulking federal buildings that line the roads in the nation’s capitol and then rising to a thunderous crescendo of “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME” as we passed the trump hotel.

And my further feelings of love and gratitude when I got home and found dozens of Twitter photos of demonstrations and vigils in Philly, New York, Boston, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Orlando, Atlanta, Durham, Vancouver . . . and virtually all of my Facebook friends expressing grief, determination, love, and commitment to fighting for justice in whatever ways they can.

My friends didn’t post pictures of their cats and appetizers this weekend.

But all of these feelings are too much. There aren’t the words.

So although I want to write about Charlottesville but am unable, I will instead leave you with a quote from Anne Frank, which I must believe or I would perish.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Gratitude in Adversity

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GRATITUDE IN ADVERSITY:

In the room — it doesn’t much matter which room — there is pain.

There is the woman whose middle child died four months ago today. She doesn’t say boy or girl, adolescent or adult, just that her “middle child” has died.

“Thanks for sharing,” we say. Thanks for sharing your pain.

“The good thing is,” she says, “my husband and I are finally seeing a counselor, something he’s been promising to do for years.”

“My child has died . . . the good thing is” — who says that?

A younger woman flushes ruby-red with emotion as she tells us that her ‘tween daughter has been in and out of the hospital for two years since a virus invaded her heart and caused brain damage. “I just got fired from my job for missing too much work,” she says. “But I have my priorities.” She straightens her back. “I’m grateful to have so much extra time with her while I’m job hunting,” she says. “It’s a gift.”

“Thanks for sharing,” we say.

A man holds his wife’s veiny hand and says he’s proud of himself for not giving in to obsessive worrying about her newly diagnosed immunodeficiency disorder that might cause permanent blindness or stroke. “I’m just grateful she finally got properly diagnosed and is home from the hospital where I can take care of her,” he says.

His wife gently retrieves her hand and places it on her heart, her other hand on her throat. (Later she tells me that she was doing Reiki on herself. I didn’t even know that was possible.) “I’m grateful that B put up a hummingbird feeder on the porch with the little overhang so I can sit out there on rainy mornings and do my meditation and watch the birds.”

“Thanks for sharing,” we all say.

A woman who was almost killed when she was hit by a car three years ago says the accident put her on “an emotional and spiritual healing path to joy I never dreamed of.” Then she laughs and says how appropriate it was that our group leader randomly chose the discussion topic of “gratitude in the face of adversity.”

We all laugh with her.

“We are survivors,” she says.

♥♥♥

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

— Rev. John Watson (pen name Ian Maclaren)

On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day

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A reprise from Mother’s Day, 2016:

On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day:

I miss my mom. I hated Mother’s Day for a couple of years after she passed in 2008 — all the advertising and cards and balloons felt like salt in a wound. “Some of us don’t have mothers!” I felt like screaming.

Eight years later, I’m mostly rational again. My grief is gentler now, so I don’t mind being reminded of how blessed I was to have Lorna B. Griffin as my mom. I appreciate the special recognition for the role of mother, and I admire the dedication of my friends and family who are mothers and step-mothers and grandmothers. 

Think Before You Speak

I don’t like it, though, when people wish me “Happy Mother’s Day” without thinking. I want to make up index cards of statistics for these well-intentioned folks, reminding them that nearly one in five women end their childbearing years never having had children. One in five.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I am child-free by choice. Others, not so much — for many, their childless state feels  like a tragedy.

Personally, I’m not too bent out of shape by these misdirected greetings. I know people mean well, and life is too short to make up grievances where none are intended. It’s just a slight annoyance. Still, I know that for some, hearing “Happy Mother’s Day” directed at them is like a knife in the heart. Especially rote, impersonal regards from a stranger.

Try This Instead

I recommend that if you do not know someone’s maternal state, say something like, “Enjoy your day!” If they are a mom, they will hear, “Happy Mother’s Day.” If not, they will just enjoy their day.

Here’s another idea. While everyone is different, I love it when someone intentionally wishes *me* a Happy Mother’s Day, followed by a comment like, “You are a mother to so many people,” or “You are a mother to our church family,” or even (what an honor!) “You are a second mother to me.”

This recognizes and honors me as an individual. There’s no assumption that since I’m female, I must have given birth. There’s no awkward silence or imagined shame that I am somehow deprived because I did not give birth or adopt. There’s no sense of being “less than.” I just feel appreciated.

My Girls

My Kids, Eliza Bean and Mayasika

So: to all my loved ones who are mothers or step-mothers, Happy Mother’s Day! To all the females I love who are not mothers, I honor the woman in you. Thank you for being who you are, for nurturing the people who God brings into your orbit, and for spreading love in the world in ways that are uniquely yours.  Enjoy your day, everyone!

Happy Day, Mom!

Happy Day, Mom!

He May Have the Nuclear Codes, But He Can’t Have My Brain

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HE MAY HAVE THE NUCLEAR CODES, BUT HE CAN’T HAVE MY BRAIN 

Last night I finally did something I’ve been needing to do for weeks: I turned off my computer. I looked the angry orange tweeter who lives in the big white house right in his puffy eyes and I said, “No. You may not come in to my head anymore.”

As the child of an alcoholic, I learned to be hypervigilant. The only way to feel safe when there is a wild man in the house is to always know where he is, what he’s doing, and what kind of mood he’s in. You become ultra-aware: Are his eyes read? Does his breath smell like Clorets mints? Even from upstairs, you can hear the freezer door open and the ice clink in the glass.

It’s about survival. You need to know when it’s safe to ask for lunch money or a school permission slip, and when to lock your bedroom door, crank up the Grateful Dead, and hunker down.

Survival

So of course when an impulsive wild man moved into the Oval Office last week, I automatically took it upon myself to keep an eye on him. And this time it’s quite literally about survival. Right? Planetary survival. If I’m not keeping an eye on him, who will stop him from dropping a nuclear weapon on North Korea? Or Germany, if Angela Merkel says something uncomplimentary.

It feels almost suicidal to detach and ignore him for any length of time. I wonder how Mike Pence feels? He must know how batty his boss is by now. Can he sleep?

At least a half dozen Facebook friends have posted pleas for help with detachment this week. How do I tune him out? How will I stay sane? How do I cope with the grief and fear? How will I not burn out, trying to protect Muslims and Native Americans and gay people and African American kids and the whole frickin’ planet??

I always offer helpful advice about going for walks, and laughing with friends, and meditating. And turning off the computer. But I don’t take the advice myself.

Until last night.

Just Say No

I had gone out with dear friends the night before and although we talked about the nation’s perils and our resulting emotional states, we also laughed and listened to open mic offerings and drank wine.

I confessed to staying up later and later each night, 2 a.m., then 3, then 4, monitoring @RealDonaldTrump and retweeting and posting on Facebook and looking for pictures that capture the moment.

mt-rushmore

lady-liberty-weeping

resist-banner

I can’t focus during the day, I get nothing done. Can’t write. My friends expressed concern, hugged me, sympathized.

Somehow getting away from Crazyland for an evening broke the spell. It was good to hear myself say out loud, “I stayed up until 4 a.m. tweeting to Donald Trump.” Talk about crazy! It gave me the strength to push that “off” button on my computer last night.

I pulled up the drawbridge to my psyche, slapped a big ol’ “Keep Out” sign on it, and read my novel. And today I am saying no again. No Twitter, no Facebook, no trump™.

Pray Without Ceasing

Maybe trump™ will start a nuclear war while I’m reading my novel. I saw before I exited Twitter last night that he had signed something called the Military Preparedness Order. This after signing the Muslim ban.

muslim-ban

But there is nothing I can do about it. All I can do is take care of myself so that I have the energy to take action when I can make a difference. To march, to write, to call Senators. To care for those who are hurting and afraid.

And to pray without ceasing for the Syrian children who may die because of what our nation has done.

Omran

Omran

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Moping Through December: Journal Snippets, Trump Syndrome, and the Birth of Christ

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Moping Through December: Journal Snippets, Trump Syndrome, and the Birth of Christ

I often feel that I have to put a positive spin on life, look for the light in the darkness, seek out the redemptive element of every story. In a sense, this is my natural inclination: I’m a sunny person. I see it as a gift I can share. Which may be why I haven’t written much in December.

I got nothin’.

I’ve been sick for three-plus weeks, running a fever for days at a time, night-time coughing fits, etc. I’ve had multiple cold sores and my stress-induced Irritable Bowel Syndrome is acting up for the first time since my mother died eight years ago.

I suspect this is Donald Trump Syndrome.

From My Journal, Dec. 6

“Maybe it sounds silly, but I think this is Trump-stress. Just like the post-stress sicknesses after college exam time. Only it’s the fate of the world at stake. You, Dear Reader, looking back from your all-knowing perch in the future, will know just how historic and how disastrous this election proved to be. But I do not. Maybe you think I’m over-reacting. Maybe you think I’m prophetic (OK, maybe not). Maybe you are shaking your head thinking, “She doesn’t know the half of it.” The fear is real, from my perspective. I wish I trusted God more.

In a funny way, at least my body now matches my spirit: raw, downtrodden, drained. Maybe this physical illness needs to be part of my overall healing. Or maybe I’m just trying to assign spiritual meaning to the common cold.”

I know what I must do to stay sane in the coming years. There’s a clear connection between my emotional balance and my spiritual practices — prayer, meditation, silence, spiritual community, writing, fasting. Most especially frequent fasts from social media. Every single time I get on social media or see the news, I get upset.

The president-elect is daily proving himself to be exactly who we feared he would be: an impulsive, vindictive Narcissist driven only by ego and money. He throws around threats of a renewed nuclear arms race on Twitter, and I have a few “Christian” friends who apparently think that’s OK. They tell me not to take what he says literally. Really? I cannot bear it. 

From My Journal, Dec 10

“Ah, rest. It’s Advent Quiet Day at Cedar Ridge. I’m starting with my journal, then meditation, then I’ll walk the labyrinth.

Entering In

Entering In

Several people look to be sleeping already. We are all so over-tired.

mary

janie

Grateful to be here. The Barn is lovely, all decorated for Christmas. Twinkling trees, garlands of lights, hanging stars of red, white, and gold.

star

This morning in small group, someone asked me if my sister is my only sibling. In the three years since Biff died, that’s the first time I’ve gotten that question. I think I said,”I had a brother but he died three years ago.” But that doesn’t feel right. I still have a brother — he is a very real part of my life. And he died.”

I’m sure part of my funk has been the anniversary on the 23rd. But I’m so much better this year. I am no longer in grief-survival mode, I am in re-forming and moving-ahead mode. At least I was.

Now I’m in Trump-survival mode. He’s just made clear his plans to purge the Energy Department of anyone who has worked on climate change. Anyone who might disagree with him. He wants no leaks, I’m sure, as he goes about dismantling our climate programs. He has no moral compass.

From My Journal, Dec 25

“Christ is born! Emmanuel, God with us. God is here, always, forever, no matter what. Impossible for us to grasp, but a hope to reach for, nonetheless.

50-ways

Today is a gift I’m giving the Christ-child. I’m staying off the computer to focus on God. Last night I watched ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ — I hope it always makes me cry.

jimmy-stewart

After communing with Jimmy Stewart, I went out after dark and decorated my front fence and crepe myrtle. It’s bright and cheerful and put me in the Christmas spirit after the candlelight service at Cedar Ridge. I am doing well, missing departed family, but glad for this season to celebrate a great light in the darkness. Now more than ever.”

Thanks for the WordPress word prompt, moping. Quite appropriate.

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