My Pierogi Trail Wish to you in the New Year! 🥳

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One of my blogger buddies shared that self-motivation is tough and, obviously, that’s what it takes to blog on a regular basis. It’s even harder when there appears to be a lack of interest in the blog your write and, as a result, no or sparse comments. I can relate to why she feels that way. It can be scary to reveal your thoughts with the world. In return, it’s discouraging to feel like you’re not heard and people don’t listen to what you have to say.

Occasionally, I look at other blogs and marvel (with green eyes) over the thousands of followers and dozens of comments that each post attracts.

This concept is along the same lines as when my son, an adolescent at the time, cried out in defeat, “I’ll never be famous.”

No, he wouldn’t be famous. Not in the same vein as Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers. The reality is most of us are not famous or achieve an influencer status. Most of us just are. A close friend of mine, Father Francis Canavan from Fordham University, who passed in 2000, always taught me that being content with our mundane lives is a tough call for our ego to reconcile with. In our world of constant social media distractions, it is easy to feel we are missing out on the great life that everyone else is “Fakebooking” at the given moment.

We live in a society that celebrates beauty and success and encourages us to chase after it at all costs. Couple this phenomenon with an innate desire to be better, do better, and have more. It makes sense that when you tune into almost any news outlet for five minutes or less, it seems everything publicized is a punch fueled with greed, power and a lot of plastic surgery thrown in.

Don’t get me wrong, if these superficial things are floating someone’s boat, I’m all for it, but if outside impressions affect the silent majority, the “armchair onlooker,” to suffer in an unhealthy “I’m-a-nothing-compared-to-them” way, then the reaction can turn into toxicity and hurt them or, in its extreme, motivate them to turn against others or to resort to self-harm.

Of course, the antidote for ego deflation is to “live in the spiritual.” How? Who knows really what floats someone’s boat?

What provided me with some insight was watching a documentary on Mother Teresa this past Christmas Eve. I learned many things about this incredible woman, but the one that resonates with me is that she lived for 50 years, 50 YEARS feeling abandoned by God.

This state of abandonment is called “The Dark Night of the Soul,” and in Mother Teresa’s case, “The” night stayed with her for a total of 18,250 nights to be exact.

How did she forever change the world in such a profoundly positive way when she herself lived in despair? Certainly she did NOT allow herself to be guided by her dark feelings. She was, however, candid and wrote down her dark feelings and shared them to her own personal God and to a priest, who was also her mentor. Service, of course, was the glue in her life and later exulted her to a sainthood status.

Who, of course, would come close to exemplifying Mother Teresa? Certainly NOT me. After watching that wonderful documentary, I must say, my walk is lighter in my heavy-paired shoes. My faith is stronger and my hope is greater. In essence, I have a deeper understanding of how we really do matter in our own little ways.

Photo by Marshall D. Maxwell, Indian Well State Park, Shelton, CT

And to that end, my son mattered to me. He mattered to Whitney, whom I spoke to on Christmas night. He mattered to a handful of incredible people who really loved him not only for his “worldly” facade (which was incredible!), but for the riches he left in all our hearts: his bright, inquisitive mind; compassionate heart and courage to go on for at least 16 years more than he could bear.

And, the same goes for my little, mundane life that I like so much in its own little way, because what elevates it to greatness is not my recent writing awards (although I am proud of them!), but of the special few people in my life who really, really love me. Who really, really matter to me.

A few of my friends, actually all of us, are aging faster than lightening. There is no other holier, loving gesture to me than looping my arm into a friend’s arm. Recently, for instance, my friend Camille and I were going into a Polish deli and, literally, strolled in arm and arm as if we were children, carefree; FREE AGAIN to just be the way we ARE.

“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” — Mother Teresa

Camille did not need pierogies and, actually, doesn’t like them, but insisted that we go to a Polish deli she found on the internet a few days before the holiday, so I could get pierogies for Christmas Eve dinner, because the ones I hold dear to my heart “have to have pierogies for Christmas Eve,” and the Ukrainian church was too busy to make them this year due to the war. Pierogie is a type of food that originated in Eastern Europe and is now popular in the United States. It consists of a dough shell with a mixture of mashed potatoes, cheese, onions, and sometimes meat inside.

A few days after my deli visit, on Christmas Eve after church, the next one I strolled arm-in-arm-arm with was my friend Anna from childhood, who is having knee problems these days. She has been struggling with medical issues. It was hard to see her like this, and it felt good to be by her side during this tough time. It was good for both of us. Just for a moment, we were kids again in the same church where we were raised; laughing as we once did, standing on the same floor that has anchored us through these many years.

Now, in this rather fragmented blog post that will probably not attract many comments 🤣, what I’m trying to convey is that, in my opinion, it isn’t the NUMBERS and FAME of my blog so much that counts as it is those few special blog buddies that I’ve developed relationships with — from Preema and Anand in India to Judy in California and Alec in England and Ana and L. Hale and Cindy and Kathy and … wow … with such a tribe, I can go on and on, but I hope you know who you are. You, members of my blogging community, are the ones who truly matter, not thousands of nameless people who deep down really don’t care and wouldn’t go out of their way to buy pierogies for me, if given the chance on Christmas.

And, you see, that’s love. It’s the meaning BEHIND the words and thoughts. The people who love me this year, really, really were there on Christmas (symbolic of Christmases past). First and foremost, I name my daughter who goes to church for me most of all. (And I go mostly to honor my parents and to see Anna, my childhood friend.) The love also spun through the gifts I received: from Anne in New Mexico with her woolly socks that she probably went on a long, pain-in-the-butt peirogi kind of hunt to find, and my friend Michelle with her thoughtful “pain-in-the-butt pierogi kind of hunt” gifts and the same goes for my friend Hope, my daughter and the kid’s godmother and my fiance, who even took the time to wrap his gifts this year, and others who took the time because I matter in their lives. And, they, of course, matter to me and that’s why instead of scoping out something I like to eat, I’d rather go on my pain-in-the-butt pierogi kind of hunts for them.

So, at the end of the pierogi trail, as it turns out, the pierogies from the Polish deli that Camille and I found were not nearly as good as the pierogies from the Ukrainian church, but it’s the thought that counts.

And that’s what I want every single buddy blogger in the community to know: YOU MATTER TO ME. YOUR THOUGHTS COUNT! You fuel my steps throughout each year and get me out of my all mighty, egotistical self so I can manage to think of YOU and some of the things that surround your lives that I see as quite monumental and not at all mundane.

I wish all of you, dear blogger buddies, a wonderful New Year, filled with people who love you enough to take the time to find and buy you pierogies (even if they aren’t the best-tasting ones!) because the love behind the pain-in-the-butt pierogi hunt without fail brings home the prize. The batch may not be the best food you’ve ever tasted, but I promise, the meal will last a lifetime in your memory.

Faith Muscle


Faith in a Nutshell

Faith Muscle

Calendar Crazies

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

This year, one of the retail business owners commented on the local news station how meat and other food products are flying off the shelves as compared to last year. As many of us turn the corner of COVID-19, people feel a need to compensate for the celebrations that the pandemic erased from 12 calendar months.

Calendars serve a lot of other purposes than just tracking special dates, holidays and appointments. For one thing, they can signify importance. When I was an adolescent, I was a recluse. Long before the days of personal computers in the 70s, I spent my lonely days updating my wall calendar, tracking holidays, birthdays and school projects in different colored markers, pens and embellished the days with a variety of seasonally themed stickers. In actuality, whether weekends or weekdays, rarely did I get invited to parties. The process elevated my life. Apart from gifting myself with a false sense of importance, my calendar also offered me a true sense of organization and control during the fragile coming-of-age period in my life.

In the 80s, as I started taking responsibility for my actions and allowed people, some of whom became lifelong friends, into my life. I “grew down,” becoming less self-centered, and reckoned with the fact that I didn’t have to color my life by bringing a false sense of significance to it. My fellow, Allan, aided the process. Some of his favorite sayings were, “Out of all the grains of sand, we are one mere speck!” and “In a hundred years, what will it matter?”

My calendars reflected my new maturity, and they became black-and-white, practical pages that kept track of appointments and reminders.

When my first child, a son, was born in 1993, ironically, at the beginning of the year in January, my calendar-keeping bug not only revived but sparked into an inferno. I purchased a new calendar and an array of stickers and markers and recorded every little hiccup, smile and gained ounce of weight. This practice continued with my second child, a daughter, in 1995. For years, it were as if I wanted to freeze both of them in time, like butterflies under a glass display case to admire them like an over-enthusiastic curator.

I’ve learned, especially through my son’s untimely death, that curators belong in museums. Life has a divine curator, and I can’t tell you all the particulars, but I have full faith that it is not me. For the most part, I ceased my over-indulged calendar-keeping duties when the children grew older. Sure, I noted appointments, assignments and important dates, but, as the stresses of daily life elevated, the new teeth and height spirts became too time consuming to commemorate.

Today, I continue to update my calendar with the bare minimum. In addition, I now have another calendar displayed on the wall downstairs that I turn on the 15th day to the following month, which happens to be today, because instead of chasing behind time, I want time to accelerate and move faster as if I will reach a finishing line for my grief.

The grief that tracks me month after month, season after season, is mine alone to process, not micromanage nor deny, but, wow, somedays its weight can cover me 10 feet deep in cement. I can’t turn the clock back, but I can turn the calendar ahead to give me some sort of symbolic reprieve.

Thankfully, after knowing such influential people like Allan, I can step aside and not allow my jaded vision to dilute others who have faith that their upcoming milestones, celebrations, commitments, important dates and special days ahead will come to fruition because they are marked in permanent ink.

Faith Muscle

Tree of Death

Artwork by Hughie Lee-Smith

Driving home last week, I turned onto a road parallel to our road and like a magnet I was pulled into a work area where the town crew had recently cut down trees in close proximity to power lines. My heart plunged. I knew what I would witness BEFORE I encountered yet another raw reality. Of the few trees the crew cut down, MY SON’S tree was among them. The sight of the fresh stumps, chopped down trees and severed branches was like losing him all over again.

I blogged about HIS tree last summer when I wrote about our ailing cat’s disappearance: “Later, I discovered that during Chervony’s disappearance, he had sheltered under a tree on which my son’s name that he carved into it in 2008, remains. I came to the stunning realization that the cat had been undergoing his own fashion of mourning.

Since my son’s passing, I avoided looking too much at HIS tree with its prevalent boxed letters: “Marshall 2008.” The actual sight of it reminded me how he was everywhere, but nowhere at all. Concurrently, knowing HIS tree stood signified my beloved son existed. Once shunned by a kindergarten teacher for lack of “fine motor skills,” he had carved up HIS tree with force, vim and artistic achievement. He mattered.

I could barely stand erect when I witnessed HIS tree cut to the ground and missing, a victim to a wood chipper. It felt like another stab spiked threw my heart, already slashed and beyond repair, a bleeding valve of hurt. It was another typical “Marshall Story.” When you couldn’t imagine him enduring any more blows in life, another targeted him. Brush, cut up bark and sawdust; I felt like I was looking at the irreversible damage through his eyes.

I could hear him under his breath, inwardly despairing, “Figures.”

My eyes were tear stained imagining the unimaginable. If he witnessed HIS tree gone, his eyes would be dry. He learned early how society expected men to soldier on and “be men.” Lift their bone dry-eyes up and look toward the sun no matter how much the rays burn through the irises.

Out of a variety of definitions of faith, one is “believing without seeing or fully comprehending something.”

I lived most of my life in a spiritual realm, believing without seeing, even after witnessing unimaginable, incomprehensible things that no human being  should experience. Now, after recently being diagnosed with PTSD, one thing that helps me is sinking my teeth into REAL things like a hamburger. In other words, maybe some others can champion their lives on magic carpets woven with affirmations, positive thinking and happy thoughts, but fantasy thinking got me into a heap of trouble. Try, for instance, going to the bank and telling the teller you’ll pay your mortgage after your book hits the best seller’s list. I was in those shoes, and they aren’t Cinderella’s.

Finally, retiring my glass slippers fourteen months after my son’s demise, the following is a quote that I’ve also sunk my teeth into. The words help pull me up and put one foot in front of another. “In the 1960s, I began to lose my youthful dream of a better world – free of racism, free of the threat of instantaneous cremation of the bomb – and feed on a slow burning disillusionment. As a consequence, my work turned inward, and I began to seek some sort of essence to it all.”

The quote is from Hughie Lee-Smith (1915-1999). He was an American artist and teacher who is known for his highly realistic and somewhat surreal paintings of figures in desolate urban landscapes that are fraught with psychological tension.

HIS tree no more

Learning to reprogram myself for “a slow burning disillusionment,” I came face-to-face with MY SON’s cut down tree. Metaphorically, a life cut short; a life short-changed. I endured reliving the trauma AGAIN. Revisiting the unbearable head on. Immediately, I knew there is nowhere for me to turn outward without taking the chance of being plummeted. I can’t go down any farther. I am at ground level, eye-to-eye with a tree stump. At this level, for me finding the “essence to it all” is through creative expression. For Lee-Smith, it was artwork. In my case, reading, writing and ushering myself to make-believe worlds.

With this psyche I examined the damaged landscape. I soldiered away and tried to recall what my reading list entailed. As I dog paddled forward through my ocean of tears, I sailed on faith, believing somewhere in this heap of sawed down dust of nothing there is something of substance, just a kernel of meat for me to sink my teeth into.

Faith Muscle

Need Seed

My New Year’s wish list:

  • Hope for the hopeless
  • Voices for the voiceless
  • A sense of purpose, whether it is cleaning the sink or operating a business, for the bored and lost
  • Disconnection from social media and connection to real-life humans, see below
  • Inclusion for all, see above
  • The experience of one sunrise in the upcoming year that abashes the soul in its chorus of silence
  • Infinite Seeds of Hope packets to plant and create perennial gardens of aster, dahlia, goldenrod, mum, sedum and other vibrant and showy flowers that will illuminate the most pitch black soil

In fact, I think we can all be inspired by “Stars of Hope,” an art installation by Jane Ingram Allen at 620 4th Street, Santa Rosa, California, that was installed on November 25, 2020. The website states:

“In this time of a pandemic and an economic downturn, these stars of colorful handmade paper with seeds for wildflowers in them express hope for a brighter future in 2021. After the installation comes down in early 2021, these stars will be given out to residents to plant in their own yard or keep as a remembrance of this time and our hopes for a better world.”

  • Most of all, on the wish list is my hope for a better world. Always remember, even one positive change, albeit small as a mustard seed, can be the spark that inspires a “flowering” inferno one day.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Welcome to a Balanced Rock

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To me, my faith is strongest when I feel my feet are placed firm and rooted, especially when everything around me is displaced and uprooted.

I consider myself a denizen of a balanced rock. If you haven’t heard of them, they are also called a balancing rock or precarious boulder. They are “a naturally occurring geological formation featuring a large rock or boulder, sometimes of substantial size, resting on other rocks, bedrock, or on glacial till.”

Like so many of these precarious boulders around the world, a lot of factors have worked against me, but I remain standing. As this past year draws to a close, I realize how much my community of friends, including fellow bloggers, have helped me keep my feet firmly planted on bedrock.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Sometimes I feel that I am destined to fall, dislodge from grief and emotions, succumb to the earthquake in my head. Then I look down and catch sight of my friends in an “Atlas” pose with their arms above their heads, helping to hold up my rock.

In the interim, a balanced rock is where I tread lightly, talk softly and hope my pain in some esoteric way will heal the world. With all my pain, I am relieved to imagine the possibilities.

Faith Muscle

Brick and Mortar 2019

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth.                                                           Angel4 Psalm 34:1

Brick Wall

During this past season’s midnight Mass, I found Christmas, but it wasn’t solely in the Mass. I found Christmas in a young father who sat in the pew in front of us. His eyes glowed in adoration of his special needs toddler. Despite the fact that the child squirmed, gurgled and occasionally jolted, for over two hours, the father cradled her with undivided attention and devotion. In the face of challenge, his face exuded peace, contentment and joy. His one-word response to his child: Christmas!

This upcoming New Year, when I am faced with challenges, I hope to respond in the same spirit of Christmas, no matter if it is in the dead of winter or heat of summer. In other words, no matter how my faith is tested, I have memorized my response that is so apparent in the father’s life that I encountered at church. “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1)

Brick Wall2

Funny, how my relationship with God is sometimes one-sided, and I think He should ONLY bless me. Blessing the Lord at all times and praising him always is like laying a foundation of brick-like faith while the Lord spreads his love in the form of mortar.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

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Faith Muscle

 

January Reflections: A Question a day to deepen your faith (31)

Never mind New Year’s resolutions. Angel4 Wrap your mind around January  reflections: A question a day every day for the next 30 days to deepen your faith.

31. What did I learn after a month of asking questions about faith? mustard seed

 

Plain & Simple: I  have mustard seed faith, but I have a mammoth God.  

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Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

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Faith Muscle