Facebook: Narcissistic or Altruistic?

Several years ago I started a Facebook page in order to stay connected with my sons – the youngest in the USMC and the oldest living out of state. Eventually my friends’ list expanded and included a news feed of positive posts and encouragement. Though I’m not on social media for hours on end, I’ve developed a habit of checking it daily. Over the last week I gave it up and this is what I discovered:

I miss posts and pictures of my family in PA, OH and HI.
I miss sharing in the accomplishments and celebrations of those I can’t be with in person.
I miss reading and sharing inspirational quotes, words of wisdom and clever sayings.
I miss seeing pictures of places where others have travelled.
I miss silly pictures and funny scenarios of pets and children.
I miss seeing and sharing pictures from trail running – of my partner, sunsets, animals, landscapes, lakes and even swamps.
I miss discovering previously unknown perspectives and priorities of friends.
I miss new recipes and craft ideas.
I miss the encouragement from others, (especially on PSKeePSeeking fb page).
I miss logging in with a cup of coffee early in the morning.
I miss looking back through pictures and remembering good times.

I don’t miss political rants and insults (or rants/insults of any kind for that matter).
I don’t miss unnecessary drama and negativity.
I don’t miss invitations to play Candy Crush.
I don’t miss vague posts by those with a chip on their shoulder.
I don’t miss attention seeking status’ fishing for sympathy, compliments or validation.
I don’t miss detailed descriptions or pictures of injuries, stitches or lost toe nails.
I don’t miss being tagged in unflattering pictures.
I don’t miss the childishness of unfriending friends.
I don’t miss the Facebook memory feature reminding me of difficult seasons in my life.

Facebook is a tool. Like any tool, it can be used to build-up or tear down; connect or separate; create or destroy. It is a form of communication. Just like conversation, it can uplift or degrade; boast or praise; inspire or discourage. Our profiles, posts and pages reflect the difference – self absorbed, or compassionate. Timelines may not rank high in the whole scheme of life, but the impact we make on others certainly does – especially in person and yes, even on social media.


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Christmas Memories

You could hear the needle on the record player finding its groove to the next Christmas song – Mommy Kissing Santa, Silver Bells, Silent Night, Frosty and the poor kid needing Two Front Teeth. The aroma of cookies in the oven and cooling on the counter filled our Pennsylvania home with appetizing warmth. Garland and twinkling lights wound through the staircase railing to the hutch in the hallway displaying the nativity.

Setting up the nativity was my job. Each piece was wrapped in old tissue and the box stuffed with yellowed, straw-like paper. Though I had unpacked it year after year, it seemed brand new to me each time. I had forgotten about the wise men with their gifts and crowns, the shepherds, their sheep, the cows, that one camel with a chipped foot, the hovering angel and the little nightlight poking through the back of the stable wall. Opening the nativity box was almost as exciting as unwrapping presents.

Halfway up the staircase you could sit on one of the steps and through the lace draped window, watch the snow falling, transforming tree branches, bushes, sidewalks and roadways into a wintry wonderland. At night the street lights either caught swirling snow in their blustery chaos, or soft, silent flakes falling in peace. Either way the performance entertained those willing to notice, wonder and dream.

‘Candle’ lit wreaths glowed in every window. Their brown extension wires, unleashed from the cellar hooks, hung down each wooden sill, crawling along the baseboards, rounding corners and mingling at times with dust or cobwebs. They seemed like part of the decorations to me, and I used to imagine how glad they must be to come up from the cellar and help light up the house.

Shoveled, salted sidewalks led to the front porch where snow drifted onto a frozen welcome-mat near the red-foiled paper wrapping our front door. Strings of lights, with screw-in bulbs of every color shone through the snow smothered bushes in the yard, beneath crystallized icicles clinging to the spouting above.

Christmas tree decorations were Mom’s choice and varied from year to year. I recall Dad suggesting blue lights every season and over hearing their discussion – apparently, blue was not mom’s favorite. And so the blue Christmas conversation became a holiday tradition with shaking heads, winking eyes and loving smirks. It was decades later Dad got his wish, knowing Mom, looking down from heaven, was most certainly shaking her head, with a smile.

The ruffled bottom of my flannel nightgown graced across our carpet with pink fuzzy slippers leading the way. Cold Pennsylvania winters made it hard to crawl out from under the covers in the morning, but if timed just right, you could race down the stairs when the furnace kicked on and stand on the floor register in the hallway, filling that long flannel nightgown till it puffed full with warmth. I so wished I could sleep standing up.

For me, memories of Christmas have so little to do with gifts. Though, I’ll admit, as a kid, I loved the anticipation of presents and surprises. But looking back, as an adult, it was more about the energy, the music, the food, the visitors and the traditions. It was the warm atmosphere of a loving home that now fills my heart with thanks and my eyes with tears. But, that was Christmas past. I am happy to say Christmas present holds new and wonderful memories for me, as well, memories worthy of reminiscing one day in another Christmas future.

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Bare Cupboard, Empty Fridge, Jar of Pennies

We’re taught to say it. We expect to receive it. We write cards to express it. And our prayers should include it – giving thanks. When was the last time you said it? When was the last time you meant it? Saying ‘thank you’ is a polite habit. Being thankful is a way of life. It is a perspective, a revealing picture of character or the lack of it. The thankful person has either learned to appreciate the smallest blessing through observation and practice or through desperation and uncertainty.
My first real memory feeling sincere thanks takes me back to elementary school – St. Michael’s Catholic school, the home of the fighting Irish. Shamrock tee-shirts for the spirited students were on sale, but Mom said there was not enough money to buy one. My disappointment summoned unstoppable tears – not bratty, selfish tears, just sad, heart-broken tears. Later, when Dad got home from work and Mom explained my sorrow, he took my hand and led me to the hallway closet where on the highest shelf was a jar of coins, mostly pennies. We counted enough to buy the shirt and the next day I happily carried baggies of coins to school. I was thankful.
Years later, when my children were small, their father traveled extensively in the only vehicle we owned. Before he would leave on a 10-12 day business trip, I would grocery shop and stock up on everything we might need in his absence. The garage freezer was full. The pantry, packed. The refrigerator, stocked. And I was thankful.
When hard times came and business suffered, when bills stacked up and the cupboards emptied, generous people from church arrived with grocery bags overflowing and Christmas cookies stacked inside plastic snowman containers my boys still remember to this day. And I was thankful.
When routine screening required additional tests and declared healthy results, I was thankful. When my teenagers’ choices delivered stressful circumstances, yet a way of escape, I was thankful. When the marine son returned home, safe and sound from a war zone, I was thankful. When relational heartache found new happiness I was, and still am, thankful.
The level of thankful emotion often depends on our degree of desperation. Near accidents, escaped illness and financial relief certainly move ones heart with more emotion than a polite thank-you to the cashier or bank teller, no matter how sincere.
The secret to living a joyful life lies in the level of thankfulness we acknowledge each day, when there is no desperation, when there is little struggle, when life is moving along without overwhelming uncertainty. Those giving thanks for whatever is good, for life, breath, nature, family, friends, work, purpose and love anchor themselves to a spirit of undeserving attitude, knowing full well relief doesn’t always arrive, healing isn’t always enjoyed, suffering may linger without answers and life’s tragedy still strikes.
The thankful person is not arrogant or presumptuous. She is not critical or envious. She rarely overlooks the good stuff in life because her heart continually searches for it. She finds blessing, discovers the good and appreciates the simple with deliberate intention. She recognizes hidden beauty in people and circumstance, like radar detects its target, and she gratefully intercepts their appearance, pleasure and purpose.
Thankfulness interrupts monotony, rids envy, silences pity and transforms uncertainty into the energy that sparks hope and fuels a blessed and happy life.  For that, I remain thankful.

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Pine Needles, Green Apples & Chestnut Trees

On North High Street in a small western Pennsylvania town was a modest, two-bedroom carriage house with the basement built into a hill, somewhat underground. Old stone steps led up the front hill from the driveway to our humble home where my first childhood memories began.
The hill out front made mowing a challenge in the summer but invited snow-sliding fun in the winter. It even proclaimed a number of ‘kings’ who were able to maintain their position upon it. It was the perfect spot to view the 4th of July fireworks from the park far across the road and beyond the railroad tracks.
The living room picture window proclaimed each Christmas with a tree decorated in any and every color but blue. Dad loved blue lights but they weren’t mom’s favorite. It wasn’t until decades later that she must’ve smiled from heaven to see he finally got his way. The kitchen was small but the home-cooked aromas invited the hungry and impressed the curious. The wooden hallway floor skated us to our bedtime with comforting nightlights for those fearing the dark.
The living room transformed each night for my parents who shared the sofa-bed so my siblings and I could have the bedrooms. They enjoyed a window a/c unit and an accordion-style door for privacy. We had small double fans in our windows to pull in the cool summer night’s air and hide the light of the rotating beacon from the town’s small airport.
My sister and I shared a room with ballerina wall-paper and often tried to imitate the dancer’s perfect positions in our pink sequined tutus. I vaguely remember the football player wall-paper in my brother’s room but I suspect he rehearsed their positions as well.
The house was our home. It was not big or fancy but cozy and lived in. Though my memories in it are happy and treasured it was the back yard (and beyond) that deserves reminiscing.
It was the swing set where I flew high enough to make the posts pop from the ground while singing silly songs and old hymns. It was Gidget the fastest unleashed dog chasing freedom any chance she had. It was the sliding-board I sat on top of for hours until my brother rescued me from the death slide I refused to make (and the ladder I was too afraid to climb down).

It was where my dad grew his garden. We tended it together – planting, carrying water buckets, digging up potatoes and praying the yellow garden spiders wouldn’t crawl up our weed-pulling hands. We followed him up and down each row barefoot and dirty as he explained how the fruit cellar would eventually house the juice, sauce, pickles, potatoes and onions during our cold Pennsylvania winter.
And it was beyond the garden, a favorite spot, on one corner of the yard, where the pine trees grew in rows. Beneath the trees lay a pine-needled carpet of aromatic softness. This became a nature’s club house for my sister and I. There was no house really, but it was our space and no boys were allowed. There we rocked our baby dolls, played dress-up, had tea parties and for hours on end did whatever our imaginations might think of.
The field beyond the pines was separated by a ditch that flowed like a river during the rainy season. Green apple-trees for high climbing invited the adventurous kids from the down the street. I was not the tree climbing type but I was smart enough to know not to eat too many of the sour-green apples. A little farther toward the woods were the Chestnut trees. The chestnuts grew inside round, brown husks with hair-like spines. When the chestnut ripened the husk cracked and fell to the ground. The porcupine-land beneath the chestnut trees was painful and dangerous to the barefooted. During the holidays Mom oven-roasted the chestnuts and Dad packed brown lunch bags full and sold them alongside the road.
The last bit of land before the woods where the neighbor’s barbed wire fence divided the adjacent property was …the big-horned bull. We tiptoed, at first, by that fence hoping to go unnoticed by him. My worn out red sweater was the main attraction, according to my older brother which made me run for my life whether it saw me or not. The lucky ones, who made it out alive, were greeted by the tree line to the big, shady, mysterious woods. I don’t think we owned those woods but we sure did tromp around in them a lot. If you explored deep enough you’d discover the little waterfalls, deer, poison ivy and black snakes that hung like branches from the trees-tops in the Fall.
Those early childhood years discovering the world outside our cozy home and exploring the farthest perimeters of our parent’s boundaries (and a few beyond) have left an indelible mark in my life.
But the sun is setting and I think I heard Mom ringing that cowbell out back. If I’m not there before dark, I’m going to be in big, I mean, BIG trouble.



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“Simplify Your Life” …It’s Not All About Clutter

Stuff requires our energy, time, attention, money and space. Whether we’re cleaning it, storing it, reorganizing it, insuring it, repairing it or protecting it, it inevitably has some type of control over us.

After a house fire, many years ago, I learned how freeing it felt when many of the things I had held on to were gone and how unnecessary it was to replace them. More recently, because of economic reasons and divorce I’ve moved three times in three years, downsizing significantly more with each move. I am grateful for what I have –and just as grateful for what I don’t have.

I’ve learned that although de-cluttering is a part of simplifying one’s life, it’s not all about stuff. It’s also about the chaotic mess of our day-to-day living. Demanding work schedules, children’s after school programs and sporting events, long commutes, and the 24 hour connection with the world through technology have robbed us of the things that matter most. We’ve grown accustomed to a noisy, constant, hurried, sleepless, exhausting and materialistic lifestyle.

The bombardment of advertising, the insecurity of comparisons, the indebtedness of accumulation, the thousands of websites, hundreds of channels and the millions of choices at our fingertips have invaded our time, thoughts, energy and emotions. Our daily life is consumed with meaningless habits, useless distractions and enslaving influences.

We are stuffed, mentally, emotionally, physically. Crammed, like a hoarder’s house, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, basement to attic, with barely enough room to function. We are too busy, too tired and too plugged-in to notice how complicated and detached our lives have become. Our calendars lack white space. Our schedules lack down time. Our bodies lack rest and our relationships lack attention. Life, I mean the real simple pleasures of life are hidden away somewhere beneath the stash of misplaced priorities, wasted time, shallow goals and distant relationships.

But it does not have to remain that way. The truth is we all have choices. They may be difficult choices, but we have them. We all have options. We may not like our options but they exist just the same. Regardless of the complexity of our current situation, there is always something we can do to begin the process of simplifying our daily life and finding peace, laughter and happiness in a relaxed, clutter-free, light-hearted and intimately, loving environment.

The hamster wheel of  life has kept you busy. And busy may seem easier than navigating through a complicated maze of tough decisions.   Take time to explore, unravel, rearrange, simplify, prioritize and live.  A year from now when laughter is common in your home and love is evidenced in your eyes, when peaceful sleep returns and pillows dry no more tears, then, oh, then will your heart be glad that you began this necessary journey on one dark and desperate day.

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Loud Quiet

The second-hand on a garage sale clock faithfully rounds its monotonous journey without applause. The refrigerator hums its steady song, punctuated with an occasional gurgle yet never interrupting the low vibrato  background. The ceiling fan spins dizzily without a spotter, cooling the flashes of midlife warmth. That old laptop given (back) to me by my marine son breathes an intermittent gasp, perhaps thankful for a contented life on a desk rather than a tent in Afghanistan. A reliable click from the watchful thermostat signals the a/c on call that faithfully answers without protest. And the old kitchen chair filling in at the desk offers no complaint as it creaks with my leaning and turning. I thought the lonely night seemed silent, but the longer I listen, the louder the quiet. PS©2015


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Stages, Spotlights & Scripts

One day the curtain of your life will rise and all theatrics shall be revealed. Your story may flow along smoothly at first but the plot will eventually thicken and climactic events will demand action from you, its main character.

A lonely spotlight will shine, waiting for your presence, anticipating dialogue. But, you will ignore your cue, refusing to take your place. Instead, you’ll slip behind the scenes, blending in with the backstage chaos.

You will sweat and pace while your shaking hands keep rhythm with the beat of your anxious heart pounding inside your chest. In a prideful attempt to dismiss your stage-fright insecurities, you will improvise with criticism of your cast and crew, delivering impromptu accusations and murmuring insults about drama queens.

All the while, in your absence, the braver performers, who understand the show must go on, will boldly take the stage with commanding character. Happy-ending believers will rewrite the script and from a dark, lonely corridor, the audience’ applause will baffle your unbelieving mind. Curtain calls will echo encores while understudies and unknowns bow, humbly in the spotlight of their success.

Sad is the actor who ignores his cue then blames others for rewriting the story.

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