Mental Health Monday: The Semantics of New Year’s Resolutions

cardsThis morning I was thinking about resolutions, and why I’ve never had any. And why I have an aversion to them. Kind of like the aversion I have to diets. And excessive rules. Both of which tend to be broken almost as quickly as one sets out to follow them. Dr. Warren Halleman, Director of M.D. Anderson’s Faculty Health and Well-Being Program, wrote a piece last year, “Why New Year’s Resolutions Are a Bad Idea.” I tend to agree with him.

tumblr_lecyafY28S1qzp1hcAnd yet, it seems like a good idea to have goals. I’m not sure why the word, “goal,” appeals to me where “resolution” does not. It just sounds positive. Hopeful. A gentle guide along the journey one has chosen.

I’m not alone in thinking that the words we use to describe our resolutions, goals, guidelines, or whatever, really do matter. Britt Peterson’s article in Saturday’s Boston Globe, “How to phrase your New Year’s resolutions,” speaks directly to this point. His goal is to help folks “make your specific, ambitious dreams a reality,” and he says that the way we phrase those ambitions matters. Read the article to discover how the linguistics matter, and consider his admonition:

Because what more could we ask of 2013’s linguistic gleanings than to help make us better people in the year to come?

BestAnother article I read recently that struck me as powerful (and somewhat related to the concept of resolutions and being better people) was in the New York Times. It was titled, “Be the Best Prisoner You Can Be.” The subtitle was “Learning to Measure Time in Love and Loss.” Terrific piece. Well worth the read. As we aspire to succeed in various areas of our lives, we often run up against obstacles that prevent us from pursuing certain paths. Having to give up some of our goals can feel like a huge loss. But learning to be the best at whatever we are able to do in our circumstances sounds like a terrific choice to me.


start-changing-your-lifestyle-today.indexedIn all the decades I have struggled with my weight (and eating disorders) I have noticed that the times I have been successful in shedding a significant amount of unwanted pounds—say, ten or more—I’ve not been on a “diet.” I’ve either lost the weight by increasing the amount of exercise I get, practicing “mindful eating” (a kind of zen portion control), or both. Oh, and recently I lost 10 pounds by completely losing my appetite for a couple of months after a life-threatening car wreck. I don’t recommend that method. (By the way, the appetite has returned, along with a couple of the pounds, but I’m working on the mindful eating thing.) Back in the ‘80s I read a book called Fit or Fat, which posited the theory that it’s what you eat 80% of the time that matters. I was also teaching aerobics, which I’m sure was a big part of it. Anyway, I just ate more mindfully during the week (while exercising quite a bit) and enjoyed pretty much whatever I wanted to eat on the weekends, and I lost a lot of weight and kept if off for several years, as I continued that approach.

All that to say that dieting or losing weight definitely won’t be a New Year’s Resolution for me, although I’d sure like to shed another ten pounds or so. I’m just beginning to exercise a little, having finished physical therapy for my broken leg and ankle a few weeks ago, so hopefully that will help. We’ll see.



Back to the issue of resolutions. My friend, Karissa Knox Sorrell, did a terrific blog post yesterday called, “The Year of Presence.” She chooses a word each year to focus her personal growth efforts, and for 2013 her word was “present.” In her post she shares how she tried to be truly present in several areas of her life, and how that worked for her. I’m looking forward to hearing what her word for 2014 will be, and I’m thinking of choosing a “word” myself. I might even join #oneword365.

Humorist, Bill Mann, has a funny piece in this past Saturday’s USA Today, “5 weird New Year’s resolutions.”  Mann’s suggestions are what he calls a “more doable, if admittedly a bit odd” set of resolutions. I’ll leave it to you to click on the link if you want to read them.

screen568x568If you’re still determined to declare a resolution come Wednesday, here’s a list of apps that might help you, in Parade’s “10 Most Popular New Year’s Resolutions (With Apps to Help Achieve Them).” My personal favorite in this list is Number 10: Set Aside Time for Yourself. And the app is called BRB. It’s free. It’s a way to let your social media friends know you’re not available.

Maybe next Monday I’ll have a “word” for 2014 to share with everyone. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the holidays with guilt-free party food (in moderation) and more time for myself to get started on my 2014 reading list. (P.S. I added two more books to that list: Portrait of a Spy by Gabriel Allon and Sycamore Row by John Grisham.)

If you’ve got a resolution, a goal or a “word” for 2014, I’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment here or in my blog post thread on Facebook. Thanks for reading!

Faith on Friday: On the Second Day of Christmas…

PrincessesHappy Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Church! It’s also my Godson, Jackson Stephen Autrey’s Name Day, his father, Jared Stephen Autrey’s Name Day, and my Goddaughter, Stacy Autrey’s Birthday, so I’m sending Name Day and Birthday greetings to all of them back in Nashville. If my father was still living, he and Mom would be celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary today.

On the second day of Christmas, I’m enjoying a morning with my two turtle doves, Grace and Anna, who are wearing their fairy costumes and painting their nails at the breakfast table. (Check out the princess engineers with their new train set at the end of this post.)

Some folks say the two turtle doves stand both for the two testaments in the Bible (Old and New), but also, according to some traditions, the two turtle doves offered at Jesus’ dedication in the Temple when he was twelve (Lev. 12:8; Luke 2:24).

How are you going to celebrate the second day of Christmas?
You could watch the movie, “On the Second Day of Christmas.”



If you’re trying to think of ways to use your leftover turkey or ham, you might want to try making Saint Stephen’s Pie… I’ve never done it, but it looks yummy.


You could celebrate Saint Stephen’s Day by giving to the poor, like Good King Wenceslas who looked out on the Feast of Stephen and saw a poor man gathering wood and gave him drink and food:

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.

Fairies and TrainsWe’re celebrating the day by spending our last morning with our children and grandchildren here in Denver before flying home to Memphis this afternoon. It’s been a wonderful six days with our son, Jason, and his family, and our daughter, Beth, and her family. What a blessing to have spent this wonderful holiday with all of them!

Happy Second Day of Christmas!

Anna and Grace painting on the easels Pops and Susu gave them

Anna and Grace painting on the easels Pops and Susu gave them

Gabby getting ready to cheer for the Broncos

Gabby getting ready to cheer for the Broncos

Anna and Grace playing with new Leap Frog gadgets from Aunt Beth and Uncle Kevin

Anna and Grace playing with new Leap Frog gadgets from Aunt Beth and Uncle Kevin

Gabby on her new rocking elephant

Gabby on her new rocking elephant

Grace adding candy decorations to gingerbread houses

Grace adding candy decorations to gingerbread houses

Anna decorating a gingerbread house

Anna decorating a gingerbread house

Gabby (20 month old) playing with stickers

Gabby (20 month old) playing with stickers

Writing on Wednesday: With Apologies to Clement Clarke Moore or ???

(Wednesday’s post is going up today, on Christmas Eve, so I can spend Christmas with my family.)

Thanks to my friend, Herman King, for sharing this hilarious card with me and all our writing buddies in the Yoknapatawpha Writing Group.

Whether or not Clement Clark Moore or Henry Livingston wrote the original, I’m sure the author wouldn’t mind our having a laugh at his expense . . . all in the spirit of Christmas, of course. My favorite edit is the line about the tiny eight reindeer and the editor’s concern about an “animal rights’ problem.” Anyway, I hope all my friends who are writing or revising will enjoy this as much as I did.

And to all a good nite!


Mental Health Monday: Laughter Really Does Help



Just over a year ago, I did a post about laughter… borrowing Anne Lamott’s term, “Carbonated Holiness.” I said that I didn’t like comedy. And I didn’t. Don’t. Usually. 

But tonight I sat and watched the Saturday Night Live Show from this past Saturday night, with my husband, son, Jason, and daughter-in-law, See. I can’t remember when I’ve laughed so hard.
The best skit was the opener, with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, doing “Wrappingville SNL.” You can watch the video here.

There’s so much serious stuff going on in the world at large, and in so many of our lives, personally. It’s a sober time, and yet, one hour of carbonated holiness lifted my spirits more than most anything I can remember lately.
Except for hanging out with my three precious granddauhters and their parents here in Denver this week.

If the holidays are stressing you out, for whatever reason, I highly recommend laughter.

lightAnd looking at Christmas lights… like these, which are just around the corner from our son’s house here in Arvada, Colorado.

That’s all for today!



Fiction (and Nonfiction) on Friday: In the Reading Queue for 2014

StonerCoverIt’s only twelve days until the beginning of the new year, and I’ve already got 8 books in my reading queue. I purchased some of these (mostly physical books and one for my Kindle) and *one was given to me by the author’s publicist.

**Another was given to me by our oldest son, Jonathan, last night, when we did an early Christmas gift exchange with him, since we won’t be together on Christmas. Jon researched the book and thought it would be something I would like. I’m already fascinated by it, after reading this article in The Guardian this morning: “Stoner: the must-read novel of 2013.” And this article in The New Yorker: “The Greatest American Novel You’e Never Heard Of.”

51GzPjogLJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_***The last three are still on my “to purchase” list. The last two  were both just recommended to me on Wednesday. I read excerpts from each of them while visiting a friend in Mississippi, and I was intrigued.

We’re off to Denver tomorrow to spend Christmas with two of our kids and all three granddaughters. I’ll be reading Joshilyn Jackson’s book, Someone Else’s Lovestory, on my Kindle during our flights.

So here’s the list:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd




Moonrise by Cassandra King Conroy

sels_coverSomeone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson


*Just Out of Reach by Belinda Stevens

**Stoner by John Williams


index***The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy

***Changing Shoes: Staying in the Game With Style, Humor & Grace by Tina Sloan (star of the television show, “Guiding Light”)

51QoFp5C6XL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_***Writing is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice and How and a Guide to How You Can Too) by Theo Pauline Nester

What’s on your to read list for 2014? I’d love to know!

P. S. This list was assembled to the music of Sting, Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong, thanks to two more gifts from Jonathan last night—the CDs, “Billie Joe + Norah, Foreverly” and Sting’s “The Last Ship.” Good stuff.


Last Ship

Writing on Wednesday: Drunk on Writing… My Pen Has Wings

pen w wingsIn my last Faith on Friday post I wrote about a Greek Orthodox elder, Epiphanios. I wrote about his “softer side,” rather than the strict asceticism so many of these elders are known for.  But there was something in the chapter about Epiphanios that fascinated me. It was his admission of his love for writing, and the ascetic struggle he put up in order to write less and confess (hear confessions and counsel people) more:

Ah! My fathers, know how much I have ground down my will! I have loved two things in my life: reading and writing, both of which I have been deprived of, and the deprivation of which is as great for me as for him who loses the greatest joy in this world. When I study the Holy Scripture and patristic books, I leave the earth and go to Heaven. As for my own writing, forgive me for what I’m about to say… I get drunk. I see how others desire to write some text, and they erase, write, erase again, write again… I don’t manage to write my thoughts in time, for I am flooded as with flakes of snow. I feel as though my pen has wings. However, in spite of my writing ability and my desire for study, I deprive myself and sit and pick up the telephone, which rings constantly, so as to find a solution to some problem or other. Or else I see people for confession for hours without end, and not only scholars, but also simple and unlettered people. In saying this I don’t undervalue the Mystery of Confession as opposed to the work of writing. But the will of God was that I confess people and not that I study and write, though they very much enchant me.

Drunk on writing.

My pen has wings.

They very much enchant me.

Not the words one might expect from a Greek elder. And yet they are honest words. Elder Epiphanios did manage to do quit a bit of writing before he became so sought after as a father confessor. And I’m sure much of his writing touched lives in ways as wonderful as hearing confessions and counseling people. I’ve only read a few of his “counsels,” but I’m glad that he wrote them.

RayBradbury-300x176Unlike Elder Epiphanios, I don’t have a “higher calling” that’s competing with my love for reading and writing. I can’t say that my pen has wings or that I’ve ever truly been drunk on writing. But it does very much enchant me. In Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury says:

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.


Mental Health Monday: Eat Pomegranates, Read Rumi, and Do Loving Things

SallySnowI woke up thinking about what to write for my post today. As I often do, I stayed in bed for a while after the alarm went off, paying attention to the end of a dream and then moving forward with mental notes for the day. Although I have a busy week with lots of plans leading up to our departure for Denver on Saturday to spend Christmas with our kids and grands, most of my “to do” list isn’t really overwhelming. And yet.

There must be something universal about emotional and mental struggles in December. (You’re thinking, “duh,” right?)

Before getting to the writing, I spent about an hour and a half dealing with medical stuff—mostly insurance, bills, appointments, prescription refills, organizing my mother’s files—which is just something grownups do, I know, but this morning I was just tired of it, you know? But I’m sure there was something underlying my weariness, and I’m pretty sure it’s related to what Anne Lamott wrote about on Facebook today.  She wasn’t having loving feelings, either.

Persephone With Pomegranate

Persephone With Pomegranate

I loved her honest rant where she shared her jealousy and irritations with various folks and situations. But she didn’t leave it there. She didn’t give in to it and wallow in self-pity and indulge in over-eating and drinking and depression. What did she do? She DID NICE THINGS FOR HERSELF AND OTHERS, including gift-giving, exercise, healthy eating, and (I love this) ended the day on the couch, eating a pomegranate and reading poems about pomegranates by Rumi. Here’s how she summed up her actions:

Note to self: If you want to have loving feelings, do loving things.

So, what loving things can I do this week, for myself and others? Under consideration:

Get on the elliptical machine every day. (I can only do 5-10 minutes, but it’s a start towards recovery. My physical therapy appointments are over.)

Deliver Christmas gifts to friends I won’t see at Christmas due to our out of town plans.

Go to our 10-year-old Goddaughter’s basketball game Tuesday night.

Make a trip to Jackson to: (1) have lunch with my niece; (2) visit Mom and take her Christmas gifts and help her enjoy the nursing home’s Christmas party; (3) have a sleep-over with a good friend.

Get a manicure and pedicure.

Take our oldest son out to dinner Thursday night since we won’t be with him for Christmas this year. (We’re exchanging gifts early.)

Buy myself a pomegranate and eat it. (You can read about my love of pomegranates, which began back in 2009, here.)

The Red CouchI’m already feeling more loving. If you’re struggling with dark feelings during this holiday season, try Lamott’s wisdom. Do loving things.

Thanks for reading. That’s a loving thing!

Faith on Friday: My Heart Has No Exits (Mandela, Philomena, and Elder Epiphanios)

(Friday’s post is one day late due to illness….)

9789608761407On Thursday I went to a monthly gathering with some of the women in our parish who are studying Orthodox patristic writings. The study is led by our pastor, and the current book being read is Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives and Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece. (You can read an introduction here.) There were a few reviews on Goodreads that I found interesting, especially one from a priest who said the book “represents a piety and wisdom that doesn’t speak to me.” I loved his honesty. So much patristic literature—especially in the monastic realm—can be difficult (or even inappropriate, in my opinion) for the non-monastic Christian. After reading about 50 such books back in the mid ‘90s (during my “nun phase”) I took a break from such heavy asceticism.

But in our reading yesterday, which was about Elder Epiphanios (1930-1989) of Athens, who founded the Monastery of the Most Graceful Mother of God in the Peloponnese, of which he became abbot, we saw a “softer side” of this beloved elder, who said, in his “counsels”:

I want whoever is near me to feel that he has room to breathe, not that he is suffocated.

My heart only has entrances. It doesn’t have exits. Whoever enters remains there. Whatever he may do, I love him the same as I loved him when he first entered my heart.

My worst hell is to realize that I have saddened a beloved person.

Philomena Lee at her son's grave

Philomena Lee at her son’s grave

What a beautiful image of unconditional love and forgiveness.

Forgiveness has been on my heart a lot lately. I saw a beautiful example of it in the movie, “Philomena,” which I went to see with four other adoptive mothers. (And I didn’t think it was a “hateful and boring attack on Catholics,” as did Kyle Smith in the New York Post.)

And again over the past few days as there has been so much media coverage of Nelson Mandela’s life and death. Another amazing example of forgiveness.

mandelaHaving survived a life-threatening car wreck just over five months ago, I think about forgiveness more and more. I work to let go of grudges and to forgive those who have hurt me. But also to ask forgiveness from those whom I have hurt.

I want my heart to only have entrances.

Writing on Wednesday: The Parchman Preacher… A Romping Good Tale

PP CoverThat’s what Mississippi mystery author, Carolyn Haines, called Michael Thompson’s new novel, The Parchman Preacher. She tells us that he set the story in “the Mississippi of my youth,” where he brought to life “the powerful Southern female.”

If that’s not enough to pique your interest, listen to what Southern author and journalist, Rheta Grimsley Johnson, has to say about Thompson’s fictional town of Solo, Mississippi:

…biblical in its proportions, with a revolving Episcopal pulpit, a moonshine swilling postmaster, and a murdering villain.

As Thompson describes the book:

Martha, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, Satan and Jesus are key figures in this 1950s suspense allegory of Christ’s beginning ministry.

But even if you don’t dive that deeply into the plot and subplots, it’s still a “romping good tale.” Some of Thompson’s characters remind me a bit of the colorful people in Jan Karon’s Mitford series, although her books are set in North Carolina (except for the Father Tim novel, Home to Holly Springs, which is set in Mississippi.)

bestbooksfinalistJPEGsmallAnd now Thompson is working on a British version of The Parchman Preacher which will be called The Bedford Preacher. Stories about the darker side of human nature are universal, aren’t they? (If you’re not from Mississippi, you might not recognize “Parchman” right off the bat…. It’s the state penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi.)

Although I’ve known of Michael Thompson for many years, when he was running his own advertising agency here in Memphis, we didn’t really meet until a few months ago when he joined the informal Memphis writers’ group that I formed. The Parchman Preacher isn’t his first book. He has also published David—the Illustrated Novel, and his Christian sci-fi thriller, JALA (water in Hindu,) about a future without clean water, has been serialized in a local magazine.

Michael at the Memphis Library's 2013 Bookstock!

Michael at the Memphis Library’s 2013 Bookstock!

I had a great time in October when Michael and I ended up at adjacent tables at the Memphis Library’s annual Bookstock! event for local authors. He gave me an inscribed copy of The Parchman Preacher, which I took home and enjoyed immediately.

If you’re in the Memphis area, come meet Michael and hear him read at The Booksellers at Laurelwood this Sunday at 1 p.m. (The Laurelwood site said 2 p.m. earlier, but even if it hasn’t been changed, the reading is at 1 p.m.) I’m meeting up with a bunch of folks from our Memphis writers’ group for lunch at The Bistro at noon, and then we’ll be cheering for Michael during his reading at 1. The Parchman Preacher would make a great Christmas gift for the book lovers on your list! (You can also get the eBook for $4.99 here.) For a free sample, download the Prologue and first chapter here.

Mental Health Monday: Healing the Split and Restoring the Image

RestoringBrokenPeople2.164232629So, I was tagged on Facebook to share “10 books that have stayed with you in some way.” Of course I did two lists: one for fiction and one for non-fiction. I won’t share the fiction list here, but the non-fiction list includes several books that have had a significant impact on my mental health. Some of these are more “spiritual” than “mental health,” but I always hate to separate all that out in my being, you know? At Nativity, Orthodox Christians celebrate that Christ came to heal the split in our persons. I think the actual words in the pre-Nativity tropar verses say something like this:

Prepare, O Bethlehem,
For Eden has been opened to all.
Adorn yourself, O Ephratha,
For the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave.
Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the fruit divine;
If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam.
Christ is coming to restore the image which He made in the beginning.

To “restore the image which He made in the beginning.” I love that. And while Christ’s incarnation kicked off this process of healing the split and restoring the image, God is using lots of human hands (and words from books written by healers) to continue the process of healing with me. And so I offer some of the books that have helped me in the process so far:

Sinners Welcome and Lit (and Cherry, and Liar’s Club) by Mary Karr

All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (and Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality) edited by Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed

Dry by Augusten Burroughs (and also This is How: Help For the Self)

The Unbreakable Child by Kim Michelle Richardson

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White

Grace Eventually by Anne Lamott

Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle

The Spiritual Life and How To Be Attuned To It by Saint Theophan the Recluse

Beginning to Pray by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

The Wounded Healer by Henry J. M. Nouwen

Appetites: Why Women Want by Caroline Knapp

That’s the list I put on Facebook. But I would add to that list, at least these additional books:

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd

Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life by Kathleen Norris

Finding My Voice by Dianne Rehm

How to Be An Adult by David Richo

Restoring Broken

Okay, I’ll stop there. Hope some of these are helpful to anyone who is looking for help healing that split. Maybe I’ll share my fiction list soon… and then I think I’ll create a poetry list. But I’d love to hear from you: What books are helping you heal?



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