Simplify or Magnify?

Regarding that last raw post of mine, you are probably asking yourself again,

“Hey uh….Where is the ‘Laugh Love’ part of the blog name???”

Yeah…you’re gonna have to get out your wide-angle lens when you read this blog.  I know I’m all over the map with topics. I definitely cover life, the love part is sometimes tough love, and there are definitely loud, long laughs. Maybe all of them don’t translate to the written page, but we make a point to inject humor as much as we can.

So believe me, events like the Florida school shooting this week leave me virtually speechless, there is SO much that I want to say but I’m exhausted just trying to get the words out.

It’s times like this that I want to circle the wagons and just focus on my immediate family. That’s kind of my default mode as it is…just focus on us, just the five of us in this house. Maybe because we didn’t grow up where we live now and our closest family is a few hours away so we don’t have a ready social network where we live, and our travel schedules once upon a time didn’t allow tight friendships to form. I don’t get caught up in a bunch of parties and drinking, I don’t have a ton of extra time to devote to things like the PTO…and believe me, if I had a bunch of free time, I’d be focused more on my own health and developing desperately needed friendships, and that’s proven very hard to do without a lot of drinking involved. I’m so tired, I’m afraid I’d fall asleep. I just can’t hang like I used to, like the moms who are 15 years younger than me.

But back to the whole “circle the wagons” concept….for many Christians it is now the Lenten season and for some denominations like the Catholics and Orthodox, it’s a time for quiet reflection, closing out the distractions of food, drink, entertainment, and obsession of every kind including politics. To look inside your own heart and understand what you personally can do to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to those in the storm, and so on. Directly and indirectly. Figuratively and literally.

Maybe some people think this inward focus is quaint, old-fashioned, or dogmatic on the part of the church. Ok. Regardless of whether your church or your religion is commanding you to do it, I do believe there is value in scaling back, simplifying your life to the bare necessities so you can channel your energy first toward inward reflection and then finally to outward action, to wherever your heart says it is needed the most.

I struggle with this myself, with ways I can be most effective, most impactful. I had this conversation with a superior at work, and she told me that my purpose in life was to live a happy life with my family and to go have adventures with them.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with that but 1) it sounded a little hedonistic when she said it to me, and 2) I personally have always longed to be and do something more, and I struggle with my ability today to do more than influence my own family. And if I fail to do that job well, what business do I have trying to make a positive impact elsewhere?

This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes:

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Maybe in light of the events in Florida, this is a time to just stay home a little bit more, and hug your family. Spend time with them. Listen to what’s going on in their hearts.

And if you can’t do either of those things – figure out how to be still with your own family or how to help those who need it most – then spend the time helping yourself. Start there. Be still and just be you.

Maybe you think that sounds selfish. I’m telling you it is not.

God knows when my children were much smaller, there were days of utter exhaustion, endless chauffeuring, laundry, baths, homework, shopping, doctor appointments, and on and on, that I wanted to fall into a heap and cry. I wanted anyone, anyone at all to come to my house and stay for a week or a month or a couple of years to help me out. Other than my husband, there was no one.

I wanted to cry but there were no tears. My self talk was brutal. Like hundreds of thousands of mothers before me I told myself I needed to buck up and shut up. Just do the job. Hundreds of thousands of mothers before me had it much tougher than me. But still, I would have given anything for just a little bit of help. Someone to hold me and tell me it would get better and everything would turn out ok. That mothering in this insane world would get a little bit easier as your children got a little bit older and self-reliant, even if the risks got a lot scarier.


So if you’re wondering how in the world to get through your days, whether you should simply your life or magnify your contributions – and I’ve heard some of you ask this very question – I’m here to give you permission to do whatever you are called to do. And if you need a break, then take one. Cancel appointments for yourself or the kids and rest. Or cancel those routine appointments and responsibilities and take that extra time to expand your reach beyond what you usually do.

If ever you have wondered what choice to make, you’re not alone. And whichever choice you make, including none at all, is fine.


Photo by Philipp Berndt on Unsplash


I don’t have astonishing words of wisdom to share here today. Just like all the other times, I am horrified and heartbroken over senseless violence committed once again by a disturbed young, white American male. Someone who you could’ve guessed was up to no good. Some asshole who is so freaking miserable he wants to scatter the pain across as many families and as many headlines as he can for all time and eternity.

I’m going to be frank here. I’m tired of the bullshit statements people make: that guns aren’t at fault. This young man isn’t a domestic terrorist. Go ahead and tell me mental illness is at fault. Or tell me that a lack of parenting is the problem. Tell me that it’s WAY too soon to be talking about legislation or pushing any sort of anti-gun agenda while families are grieving. That we should be offering our thoughts and prayers to all those affected. That this violence can’t be stopped. That Democrats are trying to take everyone’s guns away. That we should arm our teachers with guns. That’s a good one. America and its government doesn’t value education enough to arm teachers with paper and pen for each student but by God, the solution is to equip each teacher with a gun.

Total bullshit. Sorry. That’s how I call it.

It seems to me we are demonstrating loud and clear that Americans love their guns more than they love their children. We broadcast it to the world, and every bullet that kills a child is another exclamation point to drive home that fact.

Don’t like it? Do something about it.

Don’t shut down conversation or dismiss outright a given cause or solution. I think all ideas need to be on the table and considered. We need a dialogue about this and we’re long overdue for a step in the right direction. Motionless and vulnerable is inexcusable.

This morning, my husband was deeply disturbed by a comment made on Facebook by a senseless resident of our town who claimed that teachers don’t do enough to protect students. You see, my husband is on a supplemental music teaching contract with our school district and two neighboring ones. He visits several facilities between the three districts, and he’s around middle school, junior high, and high school kids all day.

He told me, and I don’t doubt him, that there isn’t a teacher alive who hasn’t thought about what they would do in a Parkland, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, or Columbine situation. There can’t be a teacher alive who hasn’t given thought to the real possibility they could DIE on the job, simply teaching, and ultimately protecting, our young people. Die and leave behind the family at home. Yet some ignoramus is willing to insult teachers  with a clueless comment like that.

Don’t tell me there is nothing we can do. I don’t believe it. Don’t tell me now is not the time to act. Don’t tell me I’m trying to take away your right to own a gun.

I call bullshit on all of it. I’m tired of seeing America bury its children over lawmakers’ refusal to tackle one of our toughest problems.

But oh sure…let’s go spend $1 billion on a border wall with Mexico, because that’s the real problem in America.

Folks, we’re riding the Trump train straight to hell. Recognize the scenery?



fabian-blank-78637Every year I file my taxes and I’m confronted with cold, hard facts about how much I have donated to charity during the year before. Sure small money trickles out here and there supporting the Girl and Boy Scouts, various extracurricular programs at school, and special collections but the big ticket items are the ones I take time to itemize once a year. I shake my head over my failure to get better, fulfilling my Christian duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked…my duty to help those less fortunate than me, to make the world a better place.

I vowed to do differently this year.

One of the things I’ve been harping on at work lately is “what gets measured, gets managed”, so in our recent weekly family meeting, the Louie Scoop, we shared with the kids how much we donated to our church in 2017. After all, we had just gotten the giving statement in the mail. We also had the kids prepare donation envelopes of their own last year, to get them physically in the habit of supporting our place of worship since it operates and conducts its outreach only with our help. The statement included their donation amounts.

It was eye-opening to them and us, frankly, to talk about what we had given and our desire and obligation to do more as individuals and as a family. Plus my husband and I want conversations about money to be normal, not taboo. We realize that makes us very different than other people but hey, given the financial status of most citizens of the US, it seems like an idea whose time has come. Besides, charitable giving of money, versus time, is one of those things that otherwise flies under the radar for kids.

I realize too that I have a worldwide readership here, and Americans are so incredibly prosperous whether or not they believe it. That said, all things relative, Americans can do much better managing their money and personally, our family can too.

This self-reflection got me to thinking that other than church and the United Way, there is no charity I routinely support. Sure, various groups pop up every now and then and the Red Cross is a repeat recipient given the sheer increase in natural disasters over recent years, but I am bothered that I have lived this long and haven’t examined my heart enough to see where I can make a difference and channel my money there to some degree.

I count my blessings too, that I haven’t been struck by tragedy compelling me to support a particular cause. But status quo isn’t good enough for me. I’ve done well enough financially and I can do more for others.

To drive the initiative a little harder at home, my husband and I told the kids during our latest Louie Scoop that we would donate a multiple of their age to a charity of their choice during their birthday month. Their eyes lit up.

Our youngest, Lance (7), piped up in the meeting: “Hey, who comes and takes you away in a car if you’re sick?”

“The EMT? The ambulance?” we probed.

“Yes, that’s it!” he exclaimed with a giant grin. “The ambulance. I want to donate to the ambulance, because get it? AM-BU-LANCE! It has my name in it!”

I’m telling you: that kid? He cracks us up. “Yes, Lance, we can donate to the ambulance in your name when your birthday rolls around.” He really is something else…

Our daughter’s birthday was the same month we mentioned it in our family meeting so the timing was right, and she knew immediately what she wanted to do: save the pandas. She already knew of a charity that protects them but we went online and did a little more research to confirm which institution she wanted to donate to, and boom, I sent the money in. It brought a smile of satisfaction to my face. I hope we always do this.

While I’ve got some work to do studying what charities I want to support, and it will likely be support women and children, our kids demonstrates once again that they GET IT. Just when we wonder if the concepts we’re trying to teach them will resonate, they show us again and again they are WAY ahead of the game.

We are trying our best to raise warm, open-hearted people who are alms-mighty.




Help Wanted…

kristina-flour-185592This past weekend, I admitted to a group of fellow dance moms that I burst into tears when my daughter was born, so very scared facing the reality that I would once again  navigate the mother-daughter dynamic, as the elder this time. The group of them was shocked. After all, my daughter is lovely, full of verve and spunk, good humor, high energy, creativity, and initiative. I adore her, and we love each other dearly, going on 10 years strong.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t want a daughter. We decided against learning the baby’s gender during my pregnancy. For all those months, I convinced myself I was having a boy, even though the pregnancy felt very different to me hormonally and physically. It was a breeze. I even felt pretty. I should have picked up on all those cues, but I ignored them. I didn’t want to think about what it would mean.

Given the puzzled looks from the dance moms, I found myself saying out loud, maybe even admitting to people, for the first time that I had an awful relationship with my own mother and I was terrified I would repeat it with my daughter, as if it was destiny, part of our DNA. I don’t even talk about this intimate fact to my best friends. It was as close to an out of body experience I’ve ever had, to finally hear myself saying those words out loud for the first time, after all these decades.

That’s when I was asked, “Do you still have a difficult relationship today with your Mom?” I heard myself saying quietly, “Oh, my mom died long ago, 30 years ago this April”, as if the status of our relationship just didn’t matter anymore.

What I didn’t reveal was how my relationship with my mother has fluctuated in every which direction over these 30 years, sometimes good, often full of anger, frequently loaded with remorse for not only what actually transpired between us but also what ought to have infused that most sacred of relationships. But mostly, sadly, after decades of self-reflection and some bouts of therapy, she and I are still mired in dysfunction, the two of us on opposite sides of the veil that separates life and death. Intellectually I know I should forgive her and move on, but the more I ponder our lives together, the more I struggle with what was.

I want what I never had. I want what will never be.

She was unable to give that to me. I don’t know how much of it was in her control.

I run the risk of coming across like a spoiled brat saying all this. I will catch endless hell from older cousins who worshipped and adored my mother. Their relationship with her was far, far different than mine. They have no idea what it was like for me.

For decades, I have struggled with the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother”. I have so far obeyed that commandment by staying largely silent. But staying silent means continuing to struggle. Is there any possible way to honor my mother specifically by talking about this? Did our relationship exist the way it did precisely so I can finally share this story and release the pain, not just for me but others? To help others feel less ostracized by their flawed parent-child dynamic?

50 years is a long time to shut up. Maybe time’s up. If I don’t write about it, no one, including my own daughter, will know what I went through and how it feels and how it informs the choices I deliberately make regarding our lives together every single day. Maybe it will resonate with other hurting daughters or open the eyes of some myopic mothers. Maybe I can help the motherless feel less alone. Maybe, just maybe, I can help daughters realize how fortunate they are when they have or had a good relationship with their mother.

My mother Katherine was beautiful, dark-haired, petite, gregarious, lively, feisty, self-assured, relatively independent, and stubborn. She grew up during the Depression, and eventually she and her mostly older siblings were abandoned by their alcoholic father, leaving the group of them to care for their own mother who didn’t work or speak English. My mom and her sisters adored her, but when grandma was hit by a car and left invalid, it was my mother, a 30-year-old wife with two young children and a third on the way, who was left to care for her.

My parents lived next door to grandma. She would scream in the middle of the night to be heard from one house to the next for my mother to come and carry her to the outhouse and then back into the house to bed. This went on for a few years until grandma died and my older brother was born. How do I know this? These events repeated in mom’s dreams for 25 years after grandma died. She would often wake with her heart racing, remembering with urgency how she had to check on her sweet, tiny mother.

Life was no doubt tough for my mom. She had her moments of fun and laughter, but life wasn’t easy. By the time I was born, she lost both of her parents, in-laws, and a few siblings. The siblings died too young, too soon, just as their adult lives were getting going, in the decade after World War II had ended and people were expecting to live happily ever after.

I was my parent’s 21st anniversary surprise. My oldest sister had just started high school and my brother was now six. At 45, Mom had pitched all of the baby gear and had to start over. She thought she was going through the change of life, but discovered she was pregnant in May. I was born a little over three months later in early September.

For the first five years of my life, my most vivid memories were hanging with my mom and her sister, my Aunt Nancy. It seemed we were always going for a car ride, visiting a local park, going shopping in downtown Wheeling, or hanging at home while they did each other’s hair. Both my mom and my aunt operated beauty shops in the basement of their respective homes.

I stayed at my aunt’s house a lot in those days. She never had a daughter. Her two oldest boys were already off to college at that point and her youngest was a teenager who was often at school whenever I visited. Then I started school so obviously the time with these two women was scaled back but I still stayed at my aunt’s house quite often.

When my mom and aunt weren’t physically together, they talked on the phone several times a day. The “pipeline’s hot today!” my Dad often remarked. My aunt’s number was dialed so often, I can still recite the rhythm of her telephone number, whirring on those old-fashioned rotary dial phones.

This went on until I was 10, when Aunt Nancy died after a relatively short illness in her mid-sixties. Mom was devastated. She was closer to her sister Nancy than any other human being, my father and her own children included. She lost the will to live. For the next 10 years of my life, my mother sat crying at the kitchen table, or crying herself to sleep on the sofa or in her bedroom. Untreated depression. It was shameful to admit you needed help. You simply didn’t seek treatment for depression back in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, unlike today.

When I look back at my early childhood I realize now that Aunt Nancy, who I loved dearly but who was one tough cookie, was the loving presence in my life. I don’t know if my mom was emotionally capable or, frankly, interested in being there for me. I know she recognized her obligation as my mother, but given how frequently my aunt stepped in, I’ve grown to question what the hell was actually happening in those early years of my life. It has taken me 50 years to realize this. And anyone who would know the real answer to my questions is dead.

From age 10-20, it was as if mom was incapable of loving me. Sure there were brief moments of normalcy but day in and day out, I heard how I was good for nothing, I couldn’t do anything right, and she wished she was dead. I’m not exaggerating. I have daily journals from this period that recount my experience.

She spent her weekday afternoons watching that sensational Phil Donahue show, and then projected her every last new-found fear onto me, without one spec of consideration for who I was and the values I already had cemented within me. It was humiliating and demoralizing. Honestly, my mother’s biggest expectation was that I would become barefoot and pregnant, totally dependent on others to care for me, and/or I would get AIDS.

I can’t begin to express how ridiculous this was.

Let me put who I was into perspective: I was a straight-A student nearly my entire academic career, a teacher’s pet repeatedly, president of nearly every club I could join since 5th grade on, marching band flag captain for three years, senior class salutatorian, high school homecoming queen, a college scholarship recipient several times over, a representative for our county in the Ohio Junior Miss program, a virgin who didn’t smoke or drink, a kid who went to bed at 9pm and didn’t abuse her 11pm weekend curfew when she had the good fortune to be out, an overwhelmingly sweet-natured girl, an obedient daughter, a self-starter, a weekly church-goer, and the only child left at home starting at age 11, leaving me to thoroughly clean the house top to bottom every Saturday. I also held a job from age 17 on. I didn’t do anything unless I gave it my best. I didn’t know what I wanted to study in college, but I knew I was going. It was a given in my mind that I would go for as long as I could remember. There was not one doubt in my mind that I would graduate college, leave the Ohio Valley where I grew up for good, and make a success of myself. I was that driven. I was that certain of it.

However the grief goggles my mother wore kept all the good that was me far out of focus. I know in my heart that I was a good kid. A sweet, smart, polite, driven albeit somewhat quiet kid. I used to think she became grief-stricken after my aunt died, but now I truly wonder if she was aggrieved as soon as she learned she was pregnant with me.

I’d love to tell you I was strong enough to hold my head high when she was living and delivering her daily downer expectations. I knew she was wrong about me. I told her she was wrong. I kept thinking, surely, she would realize her error and snap out of it. She never did. I tried to reason with her. I recounted my virtues to her countless times, in countless arguments, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t see me. She didn’t know me. She didn’t understand me. Whether she loved me is certainly debatable.

Right? I mean, hearing these endlessly critical words from my mother so often? I don’t know if she realized the long-term damage she was doing. She was running on auto-pilot that last decade of her life. But her tactic had the same effect that Donald Trump aims for. Hear a lie repeated often enough and you’ll start to believe it no matter how preposterous it is.

It eventually got to me. I went through frequent periods of untreated depression myself starting in high school. There came a day once where I got off the bus in the morning and marched my butt straight to my band director. Of all the teachers, I felt he might have understood what remained unspoken. He took one look at my tear-stained face, puffy eyelids, and red nose, then led me straight to the band office and shut the door so I could hide quietly, alone for a few hours to compose myself.

For decades, I have dissected my relationship with mom, crying rivers, wailing, fuming in anger, then whimpering for what never was, what seems to me countless other mothers and daughters have or had. For decades I have learned, to my horror and shame, what a loving mother-daughter relationship is supposed to look, feel, and sound like, from the outside. I’m like a pauper with her face and hands pressed against cold glass, staring at the shiny baubles in the window of a fancy store whose threshold I can never cross.

The grief of losing your mother is one thing. Losing her suddenly when you’re relatively young is yet another thing. But the grief of learning little by little what that most sacred of relationships is supposed to be like, should have been like, and never was, is ten thousand times worse.

Why couldn’t she love me and guide me? Why did she choose instead to mock how I looked? Why did she deliberately cut off my long hair time and again, butchering my haircuts to make me less attractive? Why is it she never once told me I was pretty? Why couldn’t she cheer my success? Why couldn’t she see any of that? Why couldn’t she tell me she was proud of me, lift me up even higher than I did on my own, when she saw what I wanted for my life, how I wanted to soar? Why couldn’t she foster with me what she had with her own mother? Why did she value her blood relatives more than her husband and the children she birthed? Why couldn’t she cultivate with me what she did with some of her nieces and nephews who saw her as a overwhelmingly loving, fun, demanding, yet bubbly matriarch fiercely dedicated to family!? The IRONY. Tell me why that woman showed up for my cousins and not for me?

Did she just run out of steam? Was I emotionally orphaned by my mother at birth?

She died suddenly when I was 20, during my junior spring semester at college. The last three-four months before she died, we were finally starting to get along a tiny bit. After two years away from home, maybe she started to miss me. Maybe she started to see that I was (still) a straight-A student, in a demanding honors program, living successfully in a clean apartment, having secured an internship and a job while going to school full-time, yet making enough money to responsibly pay my own rent and tuition, cook my own food, and pay my utilities. Maybe she could see my graduation on the horizon, and huh: maybe she realized I still hadn’t wound up pregnant and yes, I was AIDS-free.

I stayed in school that semester. My classmates were blown away by my tenacity. They assumed I would drop out. Wouldn’t anybody else under those circumstances? For starters, I didn’t have the money to waste on a semester of tuition without the grades to show for it. But I didn’t have the heart to tell my peers that her death was a big relief. No longer would I have to listen endlessly to anyone fully expecting me to be a worthless piece of crap.

I’ve been pretty lucky. In these 30 years since, I’ve only had two people try to push that bullshit on me, both times at work. One was a cocky boss who succeeded and I spiraled downward in such a way that it took me several years to recover. The second one was an arrogant bastard who couldn’t wait to misplace his blame on me and kick me when I was down just a couple of years ago. He helped jump-start the process all over again. This time the downward spiral lasted only about two years but I’m pretty sure it shaved 10 years off my life.

Needless to say, I approach my relationship with my own precious daughter differently in every possible way. That’s not what this essay is about, though.

Help wanted. I long for a mother, in that way that only mothers can, to witness my life, and notice how far I’ve come. To say she is proud of me. To say I’ve done good with where I started and what I had to work with. To tell me that I’m on the right track, or to gently coach me when I stray, when I need it. Gosh, to tell me that I’m pretty or lovely or kind. Anything. Anything a mother would say.

You have no idea how deafening the silence is.

I need a mom, a real mom. I am jealous but mostly insanely happy for those who enjoy that special bond. Doesn’t matter if it was for a short while or a lifetime. They had it and it is glorious to see that sort of love. It is so helpful to see these kinds of role models. I look everywhere for those role models.

I will bite my tongue whenever someone tells me what a great job my mother did raising me and how proud she must have been of me. No, no. She was ill. And I was a kid unable to help her. By the grace of God, I’m able to function somehow and hopefully she’s found peace where she is now. I worry about that. I worry that she will find no peace until I do. That’s why the relationship between mothers and daughters is sacred. It’s a forever thing. I must be able to forgive and move on. And in the way you are forced to do when your mother dies, I have moved on. And I have forgiven her. At least I try. I know she was only human with very limited resources to help her through her grief.

But I’m human too, and my heart is broken. I don’t let on. Really, it’s been 30 years…there is only so much you can dwell on it and try to be mentally healthy. I always thought it would get better with time. It doesn’t. The feelings just morph and roll endlessly like ocean waves in the open sea.

Still I know this help wanted ad of mine will never be answered, not on this side of the veil. And it won’t be needed once I get to the other side. From time to time, I’ve tried adopting women to be a mother to me, but after a while it feels forced, or worse, I am encroaching upon sacred territory, the real mother-daughter relationship these women actually have. I have learned there isn’t a sister, cousin, in-law, or friend who can fill my help wanted ad.

So I will sit here and rock with that ache for a lifetime longer and vow to do better with my own daughter. What else can I do?

Photo credit: Kristina Flour on

A Retirement Reckoning

I am the youngest by far in my extended family of siblings and cousins. On average, they are 15 years older than me. Hanging around them means a lifetime of being immersed in their baby boom culture, watching them get degrees, start jobs, get married, buy homes, have kids, juggle daycare and then college tuitions. I am perpetually 20 steps behind them all.

And I’m a late bloomer of sorts, which didn’t help me when I’d hyperventilate over the status of my life. I didn’t do anything at the same age as my siblings and cousins. I did many things on my own which means things took me longer, anywhere from 8-15 years later than them. I always felt like certain things, marriage and kids for one, would never happen for me.

A few years ago my oldest sister announced she was finally retiring, and it hit me: she wasn’t retiring at an unusually young or old age but at a normal age. She’s 14 years older than me, which meant I could conceivably retire in 14 years myself.

Shut the front door.

That news shook my world. I’d been saving financially for retirement for a couple of decades at that point. What I hadn’t done is prepare mentally for it. No way, no how was I financially, professionally, personally, mentally ready for it.

See, when my sister announced her retirement, my youngest was a kindergartener. I swear, two months before he started school, we deep cleaned his room and found a binky behind his bed that had been there who knows how long. I mean, right? In the blink of an eye he went from baby to toddler to school-ager. Retirement, therefore, was the furthest thing from my mind, but suddenly it appeared in the horizon for the first time in my life, and I thought I would projectile vomit at the thought.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with work over the years, as do so many people. Unlike many people, I think of my work as a profession and the whole of it as a career. I have always aimed to get value and satisfaction out of my work even if I couldn’t quite place my finger on what exactly I wanted to do.


Now there have been times in my life when I changed jobs, and suddenly my sense of self completely disappeared. The new job turned out to be nothing more than that: a job. Suddenly I found myself missing what I had, a professional position with career aspirations and growth, and a feeling that someone, anyone, at the company cared about me and how I grew. But to hold “just a job”? You may as well stab my heart with a knife, I’d bleed to death under the circumstances.

This past year two more relatives retired and I’ve watched a huge number of boomers leave the workforce. I wonder whether some of them viewed their work the way I do: a career, a calling. Were they ready? How do you get ready when so much of who you are is wrapped up in what you do? After all, you spend so much of your day working.

Many of these people retired with no fanfare. Some people wanted to leave quietly. Some left as part of a corporate restructuring, and some were even contractually obligated to stay quiet about it least they impact their severance. They were subject to a gag order, real or perceived.

Imagine me on a gag order. Again, stab my heart with a knife as I’d bleed to death. I need to talk to make sense of things. I write to make sense of things. It’s not that I don’t know how to stay mum when discretion is required, but whoa.

I try to put myself in their shoes. What must it feel like to have pursued a career your whole life and to have it end quietly, in a thud. No fanfare, no thanks, no party, just a severance. Especially when you consider your work to be more than a job, but your identity?

How do you fortify yourself from feeling disoriented, unwanted, or unvalued in that situation? As a coping mechanism, do you start thinking of your work, your career, as just a job? Just a paycheck that you collect?

I’ve never wanted to do that. Never. And I don’t want to become so disenchanted with work to become disengaged, to just hold down a job. I pursued an education and I have deliberately changed employers for the sole purpose of avoiding boredom. While I can’t say that I’ve had a strong calling in life to do something in particular, I have always been driven to do my best. How can you reconcile your ethics and heart under those circumstances?

Besides, I’m the breadwinner – so it would be completely foolhardy on my part to disengage, clock my time, and simply collect a paycheck.

My Dad retired from Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel as a laborer after 45 years with the company. He was happy to be done, period. Then again, he was a hard-working, understated, introverted kind of guy. We threw him a pretty huge retirement party, and all of my siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins came to celebrate him. It was a happy way to bring closure to the monotony of four + decades working shifts in a dirty, loud steel mill.

I don’t know what will happen when it’s my turn. I don’t know how to prepare myself mentally for that possibility. It’s especially difficult to do so when you realize it’s actually on the horizon in the next 10-15 years, if I’m lucky enough to stay employed that long. Having kids so much later in life means my financial obligations and goals relative to them will take me longer to achieve.

It’s a race. Will I stay employed, meet my personal goals and college-tuiting-funding goals for my kids, and retire on my terms or will it get cut short in favor of the up and coming Millenials? Will I feel like I contributed in a meaningful way to the best of my ability?

Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Photo by Charles Koh on Unsplash






February Fruit Fairy

If you’re like me, the month of December is a giant blur. I love Christmas. ChristmasDay, that is. Everything leading up to it makes me hyperventilate.

It isn’t like I don’t know it’s coming. We all have weeks to prepare for it. The stores start whipping out the Christmas decorations in October now, for heaven’s sake.

No matter what I do to mentally prepare in advance or even SHOP in advance, the month of December exhausts me. Angel trees at school, at work, at church. Teachers to buy for at school, piano, dance, and Sunday school. Sports coaches too. Family to buy for. Not to mention the early November text messages from my sisters asking what’s on my kids’ wishlists. I haven’t even thought about what we as parents would get for them, let alone provide suggestions to the aunts. It’s endless.

I’m grateful. I want to show appreciation and love toward all these people, but the excess. Oy, the excess. I would much rather opt out and focus on the religious aspect of the season but I’m weak. The struggle to find balance is real.

Christmas Day comes and it’s wonderful but over in two heartbeats, it seems. The week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day? Now that’s one of my favorite times of year. Things slow waaaay down then.

This year was no different. However that week in between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which really ought to have a name like “winter siesta” or something like that, gave me time to reflect on the frantic weeks beforehand. I felt bad that I didn’t do anything to show my appreciation to the elementary school staff. These wonderful people create a delightful atmosphere at school. Now that we’ve got a third kid walking those halls, they feel like family to us. I wanted to do something nice for them, and thought maybe they get an overload of stuff in December themselves so I would wait until January.

True to form, I couldn’t even get my act together in the early part of the month but this past week I hand delivered a fresh fruit basket to the front office. Fuji apples, bananas, cuties, green grapes, and strawberries. It was very early in the morning and the school must have just opened. No one was at the front desk, so I just left my basket on the counter with my note.

As I drove away, one of the admins called me on my cell immediately to say what a nice surprise my basket was. I joked and told her to just call me the “fruit fairy”. Really, me just dropping off a basket with no one to witness felt a little like being the tooth fairy! sommi-257178She laughed and told me too bad I didn’t wait until next month or I could be known as the February Fruit Fairy. “Next year,” I replied.

I kinda like it. We even have teacher appreciation week in early May but that sneaks up on me every year. But to be the February Fruit Fairy? I’m totally down with that.

Doesn’t everyone want to eat healthy in the new year? And after all that craziness in December, maybe it it IS better to celebrate these wonderful people another time of year.

Remember, you heard it here first.

Level Up

A remarkable thing happened this week during our weekly family meeting, the Louie Scoop. Seriously, there are days when I wonder if our kids are getting anything out of it. Just when I wonder if we’re making a difference: boom! Magic happens.

You’ve probably heard people talk about keeping a gratitude journal, or if not a journal, taking time to express what you’re grateful for every single day. I keep a journal for myself but my husband and I have agreed that we want to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” within our kids.

To put this into practice, we take time toward the end of our family meetings to go round-robin and share three new and unique things we’re grateful for and why. “New and unique” so the kids can’t copy off whomever goes first. Everybody gets a turn. We are intentional about doing it as one of the last things so we can end on a high note.

When first we started these family meetings, we asked the kids to name one thing they were grateful for, and given how easy it obviously was, we changed pretty early on for it to be three things. All well and good. Seriously, when we get to that point in the agenda (yes, yes…we actually have an agenda!), they shoot their arms to the sky to be first to speak. It’s the cutest thing ever. Let me put this into perspective: we have a teenager, and even he participates. It’s a contest for who can go first.

Well this week, we opened the floor for “new business”. Our youngest raised his little hand and challenged us with a giant smile: “I think it’s time we ‘level up’ on our gratitudes. Let’s name four new and unique things starting next week!”

Holy cow.nikita-kachanovsky-428386

He’s 7. This idea came from his heart. I’m telling you right now that Cupid was flying around our family room with his bow and shot an arrow straight to my heart. I was a puddle and somehow beaming with pride at the same time.

And it was the way he put it: we need to “level up”. Our other kids totally got it. Let’s be clear, they moaned…but they got it.  Video gamers as they are, they constantly strive to master the game they’re in so they can move on up to the next level where the challenges are greater but way more fun at the same time. Every gamer wants to level up.

So this week, I challenge you to the same. Level up your game. You can decide if it’s a one time thing or a “from now on” thing. Start a gratitude journal. Engage in a random act of kindness. Get off your social media for just one day and spend the time you otherwise would with a loved one or tackling a chore at home that’s gone undone for way too long. Read. Go for a walk. Find a charity that resonates with you and write them a check. Send a thank you or “thinking of you” note in the mail, with your own handwriting. Call someone who’s lonely. Set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account to your savings or investment account every month.

Pick just one thing. I dare you to Live Laugh Love Louie-style and level up. Tell me what you decided to do.


Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash