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Peace, Love & Anxiety

5 Great Reads for Winter

by Christy Gualtieri

In a few days we’ll be celebrating the arrival of 2019, but the end of the year offers a great opportunity to hunker down, find a few moments of peace and quiet, and lose ourselves in a really good book or two. Reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures and can (and should!) be enjoyed year-round, but in case you’re in need of some recommendations, here are five of my favorite reads for this early Winter season.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

If you’re caught up in the stress of the hustling and bustling of the season, take a few minutes to grab B.J. Novak’s hilarious set of short (some are very, very short) stories. These tales are laugh-out-loud funny and will keep you chuckling as you remember them while you wait in an hour-long line to mail out gifts from the post office. Whether it’s a thoroughly-embarrassed hare challenging his nemesis, the tortoise, to a rematch race; a middle-school boy who finds out his rightful place in a sugar-cereal dynasty; or a Tony Robbins fanatic who will stop at nothing to make her fantasies a reality, you’ll bound to find a favorite.  And the shortest stories are easy to read in between moments of holiday insanity – definitely a plus!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Originally marketed to young adults – but great for readers of any older age – this thought-provoking, utterly dazzling work examines the importance of reading and literature as an unmeasurable gift to those who are suffering.  The novel takes place in Nazi Germany and is narrated by Death (who, needless to say, has seen a lot of terrible things); he tells the story of a young girl who clings desperately to the life that reading gives her – even as she goes so far as thievery to obtain it.  It’s best paired with a warm blanket on the couch and an endless supply of a hot drink as you read!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

This is a favorite that I read every October; and although Halloween has come and gone, it still fits.  Fall in love, just as Ichabod Crane did, with the drowsy beauty of Tarry Town and its magical inhabitants, and shiver delightfully as you hear the story of the Headless Horseman.  The story itself is quite short, and makes for sumptuous reading. It bears little resemblance to the fantastical Tim Burton movie, but it’s a lot of fun just the same.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

An innovative take on President Lincoln’s life, this novel places its focus on Lincoln’s young son, who died at a young age of an illness, and his time in the “Bardo,” the space in time many Buddhists believe exists after death but before being reborn. Told by a fascinating cast of characters, it’s dark enough to keep you interested but peppered throughout with moments of levity – and gives you a lot to think about in those moments of time you have to yourself during the holiday crunch.

Wintering by Kate Moses

Another book that aims for a biographical touch, Wintering focuses on the life of American poet Sylvia Plath and the few years before her death at age 32.  Weaving through different time periods, the reader gains a sense of the frustration, loneliness, and sometimes despair of the anguished writer and her troubled marriage to English poet Ted Hughes; but the writing itself is intensely beautiful and razor-sharp, perfect for immersing yourself in during long wintry nights.

Check them out at your local library, see if you can catch a deal at your favorite book retailer, or ask a friend to borrow their copy! Happy reading!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

In Defense of Kevin McAllister’s Mother

Warning! Spoilers ahead for the plot of “Home Alone”… which was released in 1990.  If you’ve managed to go this long without hearing how this movie ends and you think you’ll be upset reading about it…well, I wouldn’t read ahead!

My son loves the first Home Alone movie. This is his second year watching it, and I love to see him absolutely doubled over, laughing at Kevin’s elaborately planned house of terrors for his enemies. I’ve loved the movie since I was a kid, and it’s a lot of fun watching the next generation enjoy it, too.

One thing that has stuck out at me over the last few years is how much I’ve identified with Kevin’s mother, Kate. She realizes, mid-flight to Paris from Chicago that she’s left her son behind, and is absolutely determined to do whatever it takes to get back to him. With no sleep, no comfort, plenty of time on airplanes, and a hitched ride with Midwestern polka players in a rental truck, she finally gets home to him. The film is, of course, mostly about Kevin and his preternatural survival skills – but in a very real way, it’s also about his mother’s journey.

Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve cried every time I watch the film when they’re finally reunited. Because I get it: even though Kate endured days of intense anguish and physical discomfort, Kevin is too young to realize it. He just knows that she’s home now; and even if someone sat him down and explained it to him, he would mostly just be happy that she made it home. And that’s what parenthood is, really – consistently placing yourself in situation after situation that will serve to benefit your children and your family above what you need. It’s painful, yes, and more often than not, uncomfortable. And your kids might not know, or understand, or even care if they do understand.

But that is what refines us as people, I think. Think of all of the hardships you’ve had to endure. How did they change you as a person? They might have made you bitter; that’s fair. Or they might have made you anxious, or beset with worry. But they might have also helped you realize that you are capable of hard things, because at the end of the day, you are still here – and you are the better for it. Maybe you’ll think smartly about certain things now, or become more cautious or pragmatic. Maybe you’ll be more patient now then you were before. More understanding. Hard things help us to become better overall…but, it’s also better to experience them with help. If you’re going through a hard time and find it difficult to believe that you can be a better person from it, please reach out for assistance, in whatever way you need it. You will get through it with somebody. And you’ll learn from your mistakes, even if it takes a few tries to let it sink in.

I mean, Kevin got lost again like two years later, in the sequel Home Alone 2. But I’m blaming that one on his Dad. Kate remembered.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Looking Up

by Christy Gualtieri

A few months ago, my cousin from New York City came to visit with his four kids in tow, the oldest of whom was sixteen. We got to talking about cell phones and how old the kids were when they first got them, a topic that I listened to with interest, since although my kids are relatively young, it’s a conversation I’ll end up having sooner rather than later. The sixteen year old does everything on his phone. Calls and texts, obviously. Social media apps, getting his news. But also, schoolwork. Writing essays.

“Writing essays?” I said incredulously, like a proper Old Person.

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “I type them on my phone and then email it to myself to print out.”

I sat there relatively agog, half-wondering if he was a warlock of some kind. “But…how do your thumbs still work?” I checked his hands fully expecting to see inhumanly large thumbs with huge muscles bulging out, but they looked like normal teenage hands to me.  “Haven’t they fallen off?” I was joking, but still…I was pretty taken aback.

It’s such a funny thing, living in a time when things are changing so rapidly, where new technologies are cropping up every day. I imagine it’s like someone who just got electricity in their home for the first time, and what the Old People in their times would say. “But…you just turn on…lights? In your home? What do you do with all the candles?”  Or people who just got radios. “But…how do you hear someone’s voice in your house…without them being there?”

But back to the phones. Being of a certain age, I wouldn’t say that I’m the kind of person who is attached to my cell phone all the time, but I do check it pretty frequently. I can’t imagine being a kid and feeling like a limb was missing if it was taken away, or what someone’s brainwaves look like after only knowing the reality of being able to access information in the palm of your hand.

The other day, I was standing on the corner waiting for my son’s school bus. I was alone and it was a chilly day, but a bright one, and the sky really was lovely: a robin’s-egg blue color with this smattering of white clouds all across it. I looked up and watched the cloud for a minute, and then saw something else, and kept watching. I was transfixed. No one had been driving by at the time, but I can guess what they’d have been thinking if they did: what is she looking at? And maybe they’d stop too, crane their neck up against their car window, or peer upward past their sun visors that hung down, trying to see why in the world one solitary woman was doing just standing there on the corner, looking up at the sky.

There was this bird, that’s all. A huge bird, the kind that was so big so way up high that you knew it would be absolutely monstrous if it was closer to you. We get plenty of birds in our neighborhood; cardinals and blue-jays, crows (my favorite), and sometimes little yellow ones – canaries, maybe – but this was no bird like that. I wondered how high up it was, and remembered that hawks can spot a little mouse for dinner from something like a mile up in the air, and I wondered if that’s how high this bird was. After a minute it kept flying out of sight, and I thought about how silly I must have looked, neck crooked, eyes straight up, with a hand to shield the strong light of the sun.

Why is it strange to see someone looking up…and why is not strange to see someone looking down? Because that’s what we do, most times, right? I know I do. Looking down gets you knowledge of things that are happening not very close to you…but looking up keeps you focused on the world you’re in right now.

Chances are, you’re like me, and could do with some more looking up. Of course, we all need distractions, especially if you’re not very comfortable with the world you’re currently in right now, but we need balance, too, and the world needs you in it – to participate, to acknowledge, to understand that although it’s a big, wide world, it’s all the more special because of what you contribute to it.

So if you get a chance (and you should make one), take a minute to look up. Observe what the sky looks like, and the clouds, if there are any. Take a deep breath, and then another one. Then go back to whatever else you were doing, and try to take that time again tomorrow, with some extra time added on…and see what you see! You may be surprised!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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Peace, Love & Anxiety

Scary Air

by Christy Gualtieri

You’ve most likely heard the saying, “Do one thing that scares you,” a popular – and somewhat useful – nudge designed to move you out of your comfort zone. Doing things that scare you, or even things that make you uncomfortable help give you confidence, trust in your own abilities, and spur you onward into even greater things.

I know all these to be true, my friends, because just the other day I also did something that scared me: I put air in my car tires.

Putting air in your car tires seems to be the kind of thing that 99% of car owners would probably not bat an eye at, probably because it’s one of the most simple ways to take care of your car.  But while I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, there’s a surprising (at least to me) number of “simple” things that I struggle to do. Jello, for example. I can’t make jello.  I’ve burned spaghetti (which you are supposed to boil).  I have been that person at the gas pump who has sprayed gasoline all over her pants during a six-hour drive across the state.  (In my defense, I learned how to drive in New Jersey, where it is illegal to pump your own gas, so I didn’t learn how to until I was solidly ten years behind every other American driver my age not from New Jersey.) So you’ll understand why I was nervous about pumping air into my tires.  It just seemed hard.  There’s the little cap you have to screw off, and what if I lost it? And what if I put too much air in, causing the tire to explode right in my face? What if I couldn’t do it, and everyone would see what a failure I was?

But it’s the autumn, the time of year when the cooler weather necessitates a trip to put air in my tires. And while I am very lucky to be married to an extremely capable man who is more than willing to do things like this for me, I was determined this year to learn the skill for myself. So I drove up to the air pump at the local station, read the instructions, and got to work. I put in the amount of air pressure I wanted, hooked up the pump to my tire (after screwing off the little cap), and it worked! The machine beeped when it was full, and I replaced the cap and moved on to the next tire. No tires exploded in my face, and when I was finished, I replaced the air pump hose back to the machine with total satisfaction.

I was downright ecstatic…until I found out it didn’t work. When I got back in my car to drive away, my tire pressure numbers hadn’t inflated. I was so annoyed! What did I do wrong? What was wrong with me? Would I ever learn to fill my own tires? I drove the short distance home, hoping the numbers would readjust, but they stayed put. I asked my husband what it could be and he told me that he’d show me a few days later when we went out for church, but I wanted to figure it out for myself, today.

And so I did. A couple of hours later, I returned to the same gas station and the man there said the air pump was broken; they’d just hadn’t had a chance to put up a sign.  So off I went to another station down the street with an air pump, absolutely determined to get this right. I put in the pressure numbers, hooked up the pump, and…success! I managed to fully and properly inflate all four car tires by myself. I drove away just as pumped as my tires!

I fully understand how ridiculous this all sounds, especially from a grown woman, but it really was something that scared me and it was something I was able to gain a lot of confidence from. I learned that I was able to persevere and figure out what I wanted and needed to do, and I did it. It’s probably the smallest example in the world, but those are the best kind, because everyone can do them. Even you!

So choose something that scares you today – or at least makes you a little nervous. It can be anything: a hard conversation with a friend, base jumping off the Grand Canyon, whatever. Even putting air in your car tires. But give it a try. Because even if you don’t succeed at it, like I didn’t the first time I tried, you’ll know you got that far, you’re still alive, and you can always try again.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Existential GPS

Digging in the Dirt

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

Why gardening? It is a question I have been thinking about as the days begin to grow longer and summer is quickly approaching. Amid all the thoughts roving the terra nova of my consciousness, the act of gardening – excuse the pun, has taken root. By no coincidence, I began to reflect on gardening while standing in line at my local home improvement store, that vast warehouse of do-it-yourself paraphernalia that includes an overabundance of trappings designed for the weekend and professional landscaper.

On the surface, the subject of gardening appears fairly innocuous, but dig a bit further and what is uncovered is a rich topography of metaphor and meaning that spreads deep and wide. Arguably, the pragmatic reasons for why people garden are to eat and to improve the curb appeal of their homes. If you survive on the vegetation from your garden or fancy an attractive lawn, it is easy to understand these primary motives. However, why the obsession? Our agrarian way of life ended around the same time industry began seeing dollar signs in the valleys and rivers that shape this region, and we never looked back. Sort of.

According to Christianity, humanity started in a garden. Buddhists create gardens to allow nature to fuse with their surroundings. The Babylonian’s imagined a “garden of the gods.” Almost every major palace and government building has a garden. So why all the attention to something we can only do a few months out of the year based on our temperate climate zone?

I believe one of the reasons people love gardens and the act of gardening is that while we have a desire to progress and develop in a contemporary milieu there is, deep within us, a primordial requisite for human beings to join with nature. In short, we are driven to make something, to grow something, apart from ourselves. Hence, the garden, a small path for nature to reenter our existence becomes that something. Being in nature connects us with our earliest evolutionary development.

Gardens remind us that we still care, and that we are capable of nurturing and cultivating the earth in a peaceful fashion. The garden stands in contrast to our collective, destructive patterns of behavior. Ancient philosophers viewed gardens as a means of self-actualization and enlightenment. Thus, gardening nourishes a natural need within us to create order, structure and beauty. The garden becomes the conduit between the self and the natural world.

From a practical standpoint, gardening is definitely a healthy habit that promotes physical exercise, helps the environment, and improves our diet. So go – get your garden on – weekend warrior. What you may view as a hobby has a history that serves to improve the current state of our individual and collective well-being.

In good health,
Don