Archive for December, 2007

a time to rest FLAT header

I’m going to be at the cabin for a few days. There’s no internet there. It’ll be a restful change of pace.

I may take my computer a write a bit, but probably not. I’ll take that pressure off myself.

I’m hoping a short break will reinvigorate me. My recent posts (as in the last month or so) have felt so scattered and sloppy to me.

If there’s something you can take a rest from–even if it’s just for a day–do it. I do laundry almost every single day. But sometimes I give myself a day, or 3 days, off and let it pile up. There’s just something restful in giving yourself a break and permission to not do everything you normally do.


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We’ve been daily reading the Christmas story to the kids and drawing pictures of the story as it progresses.

As I was drawing with Elli, I began to wonder what it would be like if Mary struggled with her unplanned pregnancy? We don’t know much about her. She was probably young. She had never experienced intercourse. She had been visited by an angel. Then she traveled with her affianced on a long journey while pregnant.

Then, she gave birth to her first baby all by herself in a strange place. Most likely in a really gross, dirty, smelly, and not-private place.

I was just imagining–there’s no one there to “stitch you up” afterwards. I mean, did she pack lots of cloths for all her bleeding? How did she know how to nurse?

And Joseph. What a guy. Never even getting to have sex with her and putting up with the pregnancy on a long journey. Then a birth. To a child that wasn’t really his.
And what if Mary had PPD? I mean, can you imagine having the perfect child, literally, and not feeling anything? Panicking at all the people who might want to kill him, take him from you? The paranoia of people whispering about you not being married but having a child? Not having any family around to help with the new little one? Strangers barging in to see your baby–stinky shepherds and affluent foreigners with opulent gifts?

Did she have great guilt over her mothering skills? Did she feel disconnected to her baby? Did the sound of his crying pierce her soul and cause her shoulders to tense up in stress? Did she not feel like eating? Argue incessantly with Joseph over minute, petty things? Wake up angry that the baby needed to be changed again?

I hope it wasn’t that way for her. But PPD can happen to anyone. It even could have happened to Mary the mother of Jesus.

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Diane sent me this and it made me chuckle. 

I was out walking with my 4 year old daughter. She picked up something off the ground and started to put it in her mouth. I took the item away from her
and I asked her not to do that.

“Why?” my daughter asked.

“Because it’s been on the ground, you don’t know where it’s been, it’s
dirty, and probably has germs,” I replied.

At this point, my daughter looked at me with total admiration and asked,

“Momma, how do you know all this stuff, you are so smart.”

I was thinking quickly.

“All moms know this stuff. It’s on the Mom Test. You have to know it, or
they don’t let you be a Mom.”

We walked along in silence for 2 or 3 minutes, but she was evidently
pondering this new information.

“OH…I get it!” she beamed, “So if you don’t pass the test you have to be the dad.”

”Exactly,” I replied back with a big smile on my face.

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If you’re like me and the thought of trying to take three kids to the mall by yourself or trying to decide which cart at Target will hold all your kids without having to be bungee-corded together (because, in my estimation, Target doesn’t have kid-friendly carts) sends you into a world of panic, welcome to the worldwide web of shopping. All by yourself. Wearing glasses, holey socks, with morning coffee breath and no bra, if you so choose.

If you think you can only get good deals using coupons, opening up new charge accounts, hitting sales, and during early-bird or night-owl specials, you’re wrong. There’s a lot to be had for a very little online.

If you’re shrewd, you can get just as good– if not better– of a bargain online. Bonus–you don’t have to waste any of your own gas, find a good parking spot, bundle up kids and click 3 car seats worth of buckles, or stand in line for an agonizing 27 minutes before realizing you left your wallet in the car.

Here are some things I have done to get great online deals this year:

  • Take advantage of Free Shipping if you can. If there’s isn’t free shipping on a certain site, Google “Free Shipping coupon code _____(name of store)”, and it’s likely one will pop up. Last year I only wanted one item, but you had to spend$100 to get free shipping. I read the return policies, which stated that I could return merchandise to any retail store, so I added all kinds of fun things to try on to get me up to $100. When my package arrived, I had a little fashion show, then returned all the items except the one I had meant to purchase.
  • Google coupon codes for free shipping, extra % off, extra $ off, or free items with purchase. You can also search coupon code sites like Current Codes, Coupon Cabin or Fat Wallet. In addition to getting an extra $5 off a sale item I ordered from Victoria’s Secret, I also got a FREE Best of the Spice Girls CD and FREE lip gloss!
  • Compare prices using Bizrate, Shopzilla, or NexTag to find the best price on an item before you buy it. For instance, Shrek the Third (X Box 360) game costs $49.99 from K B Toys, but you can get it new on Amazon.com for $8.74 plus $3.99 shipping. That’s almost a 75% price difference!
  • This is the second year we’ve used Vista Print to make photo desk calendars for our families. They are a special, personal gift for under $10 per family.
  • Get FREE stuff. My Michigan Tightwads group alerted me to some free items on Buy.com. By using Google Checkout you get $10 toward your purchase. If you can find an item for $10 with free shipping, you’ve got yourself a free item! We ordered a CD, 2 USB flash drives, and a SD card and paid $0. (Because between the two of us we had 4 Google accounts and could take advantage of this deal 4 times)

Be selective. Be smart. Be saavy. Be snug.

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I enjoyed reading this uplifting post from Kat Stone over at Postpartum Progress. I can’t wait to be to the point where she is emotionally. I try to envision what it looks like to thoroughly enjoy motherhood. Right now it looks like the station on your TV that just won’t come in clear no matter how you re-arrange the antennae. One of these days that baby will just POP, and the picture will be clear, bright and beautiful. For me and for you, too.

The Future Is Bright by Katherine Stone

I had the opportunity this weekend to retell the story of my experience with postpartum depression/OCD. Even though it has been six years, it astounded me how the feelings rise up and bubble over — it surprised me that I cried. I guess it just goes to show what an intense and indelible experience PPD is for everyone who goes through it. It also served to remind me how different I am today than I was during those dark hours.

My Photo

I am so unbelievably happy to be a mom. It is truly the best job I’ve ever had or will have. My children are my oxygen. Is it easy every day? Of course not. When my 20-month old decides to remove her diaper and spread its contents around her crib, I pray for mercy. When they throw tantrums in public, I want to tell onlookers that they don’t belong to me. But then my funny little six-year-old tells me “Mom, just five more gallons and I’ll be as tall as you”, and I feel like the luckiest, happiest person in the world.

For those of you reading this who are going through postpartum depression right now I hope you can find some hope in that. I went from being someone who thought I never should have been a mother, to being someone who delights in motherhood. You will too.

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When I tell someone about my bouts with PPD or my months and years of struggle, their response is almost always, “I wish I had known so I could help. You should have called me and asked me to come help you out. If you need anything, just give me a call, OK?”

It is the most wonderful and generous gesture, but, unfortunately it’s not very helpful. For those of us struggling with mental illness, it’s all too common for us not to know what we need. We just know that we’re not right. We don’t know how to tell someone to help us. To pick up the phone and call someone and ask them to help when we don’t even know what we need is so incredibly unlikely. Them’s just the facts!

So, for any of you out there reading this who knows more than 5 people (because 1 in 5 people struggle with depression), here are some things you CAN do to help.

  • You pick up the phone and call. Even if we don’t answer, leave us a message so we know someone cares.
  • If you want to make a meal or come do laundry, don’t tell us to call you. Do say, “I’m going to bring you a meal–would Tuesday or Thursday be more convenient for me to drop it off?” or “I’m going to come do laundry on Friday–would you prefer that I come in the morning or the afternoon?”
  • Ask questions, listen, and don’t try to fix everything or offer solutions. Did I mention ask questions and listen? Oh, sorry. Just making sure you were listening.
  • Educate yourself. If we mention a drug we are on, look it up. If we mention a book, go get it and read it. If we use a term you don’t understand such as “intrusive thoughts”, look it up or ask us to explain it. Don’t pretend we and our mental illness don’t co-exist.
  • Don’t judge. We’re already paranoid that the entire world is judging us, we don’t need any more jurors in the case against us.
  • Encourage. Be effusive. Go overboard. Almost to the point of being obnoxious. “Look how happy your baby is–you are an amazing mom! You know exactly what she needs. I can tell she loves her momma. Good for you for getting the baby dressed up so cute today. Your socks match each other and your sweater–now that is impressive!”

I found this to be a GREAT article from Focus on the Family with a very relevant story and list of things TO DO and things NOT TO DO when attempting to help a loved one.

Tim and Sandra sit close together on their porch swing, holding hands. It’s hard to believe that less than a year ago, they’d discussed selling their house, splitting their possessions and sharing custody of their three children. The couple explains that a common but treatable illness nearly destroyed their strong 12-year marriage.

“I remember the day it started,” Tim says. “I walked into the kitchen one morning and Sandy was just sitting on the floor. She was still in her bathrobe, and her eyes were swollen from crying.”

When Tim asked what was wrong, Sandra told him she honestly didn’t know. Their lives were good. They weren’t struggling financially or having problems with the kids. She knew there was no reason to cry, yet the tears returned every morning from then on. Her concentration began to slip as well, leading to mistakes that almost cost her a job she loved. Finally, Tim insisted she see a doctor.

“I sure didn’t like the diagnosis,” Sandra explains, shaking her head. “I expected him to give me vitamins or tell me not to work so hard. I never anticipated what he would actually suggest.”

After several tests, Sandra’s doctor told her he believed she was suffering from a depressive disorder. He explained that our bodies need to maintain stable levels of the chemical serotonin to function normally — but the receptors in Sandra’s brain were blocking its flow to certain areas. When he suggested she try an anti-depressant drug to trigger proper serotonin absorption, she refused.

“I left his office feeling conflicted,” Sandra says. “Tim and I were both raised to believe that true Christians were happy, thankful people. I was convinced that my misery was caused by a lack of faith, not a medical condition. But truthfully, I wasn’t sure which option scared me more. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell Tim that the doctor had called my mental health into question.”

Over the next few months, Sandra tried to bury her secret — but her sorrow was too pervasive to hide. Their frightened children began asking what was wrong with Mom.

In the meantime, Tim admits his concern turned to frustration. “I’d ask again and again what was wrong, but she never had an answer,” he says. “Not only was I aggravated by my feelings of helplessness, I was angry the life I’d worked so hard to provide wasn’t enough to make her happy.”

“And the more angry he got, the more he’d withdraw from me,” Sandra adds. “Then I’d feel guilty and withdraw even more. We just kept drifting further apart.”

Despite her efforts to pray during that time, Sandra admits she found it almost impossible to muster the strength or the words. She felt she was not only losing her mind and her family, but now even God had abandoned her.

Identifying Depression

depressionTim and Sandra’s story likely rings true for many couples. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one in five adults in America will suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Women face these illnesses twice as often as men, but statistics show men are highly under-diagnosed due to an unwillingness to admit they’re struggling.

Stigmas and misconceptions often prevent those with depressive illnesses (which often include anxiety and panic) from getting treatment. For some, words like mental illness and therapy still evoke images of patients in strait jackets or neurotic movie characters with phobias of germs, elevators and their shadows. In reality, depression can be much less obvious. Even so, it still debilitates and destroys its victims if left untreated.

A few key signs of depression are:

  • Daily sadness
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Restless, anxious or irritable behavior
  • Trouble concentrating, focusing or remembering
  • Excessive weariness and lethargy
  • Sleeping or eating too much or too little
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

If you recognize any of these symptoms persisting in a spouse for more than a few weeks, check with your family doctor.

Preparing Yourself to Help Your Loved One

Flight attendants always tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone next to you. In the same way, it’s important to prepare yourself before attempting to assist others when a spouse is depressed. Deep sorrow can be infectious, and it’s not uncommon for caregivers to develop symptoms of depression themselves. Guard against this possibility by eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and staying in the Word.

Also keep an eye on your kids. Children are often vulnerable to a parent’s anxiety. One study indicates that 20% of 10-year-olds whose mothers suffered from depression were themselves victims within five years.

Don’t underestimate the value of caring friends and family at times like this. Let loved ones help you with day-to-day tasks, and allow them to listen to and pray with you. The surest way to intensify your struggle is to isolate yourself and your immediate family from those who love you.

Reaching Out to Your Spouse

When a care-giver understands that clinical depression is a genuine medical condition, he or she may actually feel empowered. It’s encouraging to realize there are a number of tangible ways to help a spouse who is depressed:

Do Don’t
Pray fervently with and for them. Share meaningful Scripture verses. Tell your loved one to just pray about it or make them feel like healing would come if they’d simply trust God more.
Help them see that the family needs them to get well. Make them feel guilty for the impact of their illness on the family.
Listen; give credibility to their feelings. Blame or criticize them.
Seek help for yourself and offer to see a therapist with them. Imply that they need help because they’re weak. Also, don’t immediately exclude other family members from counseling. Sometimes, complex relational issues involving several family members can spark depression.
Encourage them to consider medication; research shows that 80% of those suffering from depressive disorders can be treated successfully with modern medications. Expect medication to solve everything. Also, don’t discount the need for prayer — and possibly therapy.
Show affection; encourage them to get out and do things with you. Let them continue in a pattern of sleep and isolation.

A Happy Ending

Once Tim and Sandra overcame their fears and misconceptions about mental illness, they began to counsel with their pastor each week. Sandra also returned to the doctor. Within a few months, she felt like herself again, thanks to a low dosage of a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor (SSRI). The medication helped bring her serotonin levels back into balance. Their children were thrilled to see Mom smiling again.
Lady Prayer - Original
The couple, now co-leading a mental illness support group at their church, discovered that they could survive depression with teamwork, education, empathy and a lot of prayer.

“The Lord has really blessed us by allowing this experience to bring us together rather than tear us apart,” Sandra says. “When times were toughest, Tim decided not to give up on me — and that decision has radically changed our lives.”

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https://i2.wp.com/www.quiltbus.com/images/TQRST507A.jpgThe budget always goes belly up in November and December for us. Mainly because we’ll get a gift from someone we haven’t planned on giving a gift to, and we’re scrambling to buy last-minute to “keep it even”. We’re learning to shop after-Christmas sales and tuck things away for next year’s Christmas to help offset these last-minute situations and defray costs. Making a gift list and setting a spending budget helps us track and limit our spending.

As our extended families grow and expand, we are also just starting to strike deals with other family members with limited budgets not to exchange gifts, or to set a (nice and low) limit. For instance, one brother goes out and buys $5 movies–you know the ones no one would ever really buy–for us. Last year he sent us clues as to what our movie would be–it was so much fun to try to guess! With our family who lives outside the country we are using photos of our families and pictures our kids draw to make a “book” to send to each other to get to know about each others lives–very low cost. Or we do a family gift–like a movie or board game rather than give a gift to each individual.

Recently we have cut down on buying gifts for each other or our kids unless there’s something we really need or want, and we have to earn the “extra” money for those purchases somehow–selling items on e-bay or Amazon.com, doing freelance work, taste-tests, child-care, or if we get Christmas cash using that. We all get lots of great stuff from our families, so it’s not like we’re going without!

I have learned to give myself permission to refrain from obligatory gift-buying or giving. It’s not that I don’t want to buy or give gifts to every single person in my or my children’s lives, I just can’t. Money or time-wise. If you can’t either, then don’t. It’s pretty simple. A lovely card with handwritten heartfelt sentiment is gift enough for most people. I ask if I can take a pass on gift exchanges and Secret Santas and yes, people are usually a little taken aback, but I haven’t lost any friends over it yet. Or have I? Hmm…oh well.

We actually spent the most money this year on Dan’s employees. There are some obligations that you just shouldn’t ignore–especially when the company he works for doesn’t give their employees any type of Christmas bonus. It’s been a rough year and staff morale is pretty low, so I swallowed hard and told him how much he should spend on each employee–which was double what he thought he should. My sense of justice wouldn’t allow me to let Christmas pass without a “thank you” to the employees for work well-done all year long coming from the company–even if it had to be funded from our own pockets. Our pastor always says “they is you”–so when I said, “they should give everyone some type of recognition and thanks for their work”–I was in essence saying “they is us”.

Making a Nice Christmas on a BudgetDan and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on what we should give each family member, how much we should or shouldn’t spend, etc., but I guess as long as we’re not giving gifts on credit, or spending money on “stuff” when there are bills we should use that money to pay, then I need to stop being such a bean-counter and have a generous and giving heart. This article from Focus on the Family has some great principles and tips to help keep you solvent this holiday.

by Karen O’Connor via Focus on the Family
Christmas was in the air. The scent of fresh pine tickled my nose as I walked past the large tree lot and into the local variety store. Lights twinkled above gift displays and carols played softly in the background. I gathered my few purchases in a small basket and waited in line for my favorite clerk.

“Hi Marion. All set for Christmas?”

She nodded as she ran my items across the scanner. “Yep. Finished this week—though I’ll be paying for it all next year.” She shook her head and sighed. “But it’ll be worth it to see the expressions on my nieces’ and nephews’ faces.”

We exchanged a few more words, wished each other a happy season and off I went, pondering what Marion had said. It was worth it to her to be in debt for 12 months for the sake of one day. Hmmm! I decided to rethink my own gift-giving habits and how I might be more prudent in shopping and spending this year so I would not put myself in debt for even one month. I checked the Internet to see what other people were doing. I also listened to friends and family members. Some decided to opt out of exchanging gifts and asked us to do the same. That is one option. But I don’t like it. I enjoy giving gifts. It’s part of the way my husband and I celebrate the birth of Jesus––God’s gift to mankind––and it’s our way of saying to those we love “You’re special to the Lord and to us.”

Here are some tips I’m going to practice during my holiday shopping. I hope they’ll encourage you to create a plan that suits you and your family—as well as your budget.

  1. List the people you want to give to. Take time doing this so you won’t have to run out at the last minute for the few people you overlooked the first time. For example, maybe you want to give a small gift to your hair dresser, baby-sitter,newspaper delivery person, mail carrier and so on in addition to family and close friends.
  2. Set an amount you wish to spend on each one. Depending on your relationship this could range from a couple of dollars to $50 or more. For example, I might spend two or three dollars on an inexpensive toy for a toddler who will be more interested in the colorful wrapping paper than the toy itself! But for a teenaged grandchild who now pays for her own clothing, a $50 gift card from a clothing store would be a great blessing.
  3. Add up the amounts for each one in order to arrive at a spending budget. Then do your best to ‘beat’ it. In other words, find gifts for one to five dollars lower than the amount you set for each individual. The savings will add up fast. And it will make the shopping experience more fun.
  4. Shop at ‘dollar’ stores. You can fill up a Christmas stocking or a small basket with useful items (personal tissue packs, batteries, travel toiletries, candy and so on, for a total of $10 or less). You’ll take care of a lot of people on one trip up and down the aisles of such a store. I make a game of it. Sometimes I take one of my granddaughters with me and she comes up with even better ideas than I do. She’s learning to use money wisely and still be a blessing to people.https://i0.wp.com/www.nhstampingmemories.com/serendipity/uploads/ChristmasCouponws1.jpg
  5. Use your coupons. Many stores advertise special discounts when you shop on certain days or between specified hours. If you purchase online or through a catalogue, you can ‘bunch’ items together and get free shipping—another way to save.
  6. Look for ‘sale’ goods on display tables outside book, hardware and variety stores. For example, in a clothing shop in my community every item costs $5.00 or less. Not every style appeals to me but I can find perfectly fine t-shirts and sweatshirts that would make excellent gifts for children who will outgrow them within six months! Wrap the shirt or jacket around a favorite chocolate bar and you’ll have a gift kids will love.
  7. Gift cards. Most supermarkets today have display racks with gift cards in various amounts ($10 and up) for nearly every kind of store you can think of. Such gifts are ideal for nearly everyone on your list. Because the cards are grouped together on one rack, you can shop for several people in one convenient location.
  8. Shop early. Avoid the last-minute rush when inventory is low or choice items are out of stock. Keep your list with you so you are ready to purchase just the right gift when you spot it. If color and size are important, have those details available, as well.
  9. Make your own gifts. Home-made jam and breads, napkins, place mats, drawings, greeting cards and so on make beautiful presents that mean a lot more than those purchased in a store.

When you’ve completed this year’s shopping, consider how to make it even easier next year. Tuck away a little money each month so you’ll have your budget in hand when it’s time to shop again.

  • Join a Christmas Club at your local bank. Designate a set amount and have it deducted from your checking account on a regular basis.
  • Shop sales. With your list in hand, purchase for specific individuals as you see items that are ideal for them. Keep your purchases in a box or storage area ’til the following Christmas.
  • Look for clearance racks. Stores frequently unload high inventory by placing them on a rack for quick disposal. You can find quality clothing, books, toys, household items, CDs and DVDs throughout the year. Add these to your ‘Christmas gift box’ and when the holidays are here again, you’ll be all set. You can purchase cards and gift-wrap on sale, as well, and hold them until the following year.
  • Make ahead. If you’re inclined toward crafts––sewing, lettering, woodworking, photography––get a jump on the next holiday season now. One year I made neckties for the men in my family. Another year I made needlepoint pillows with a golf theme, for my parents who were avid golfers at the time. After they passed on, I got them back and they’re now a part of our ‘family museum,’ where we keep treasured items from the past.

Just think how wonderful it would be to enjoy the reason for the season—Jesus Christ––instead of running all over the city, waiting in traffic, standing in line and becoming stressed out over shopping. You can make that decision now and then ask God for the grace to carry it out.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).

Karen O’Connor is an award-winning author and writing mentor from Watsonville, CA. Visit Karen on the web at: www.karenoconnor.com.

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