Thanksgiving

Because of the holiday yesterday, I think I’ll take a break from my home series to reminisce on past holidays. ‘Tis only appropriate. 🙂

Thanksgiving was quite the affair, as I’m sure it is for many families. While Christmas dinner varied, Thanksgiving was always the same. Turkey with stuffing, dressing, cranberry sauce, potato salad, corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, candied yams, pumpkin pie. Of course, this was back when barely anything was open on Thanksgiving, so if you forgot something, better hope the neighbors have some or you went without that year. My mum was very organized and usually had things together, but there was a time or two she forgot to pick up something small and a recipe had to be modified or we ended up going without.

She was very smart about the dinner making, though. She always made the turkey the day before and had it carved and in the refrigerator for the next day. She started making more and more the day before until it got to the point where everything was ready by lunch time, so we started having our Thanksgiving meal for lunch. I think it worked out much better that way, just go ahead and get the meal over and done with, then relax and hang out, then just heat up leftovers for dinner.

When we were living in Georgia, we were living around our family, and I’m sure we visited them on Thanksgiving, but I don’t remember it very clearly. That or it blurs with Christmas visitations. I do know my maternal grandmother made a caramel cake that was probably one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. I finally found a recipe for it last week, so it is on my list to attempt for Yule.

This Thanksgiving was a little lackluster, compared to past ones. Most of our money is tied up in moving right now, so we didn’t have the extra to get special stuff for a Thanksgiving meal. We ended up just eating some lasagna and cheesy garlic toast. But, it was still wonderful all the same, to get to spend it with my fiance. We geeked out a good part of the day, setting up bookings for his wrestling game, then he played some of his football game while I took a quick nap. Then some reading and snuggling time, followed by dinner and a movie. We decided to watch a movie that’s so bad it’s good: No Holds Barred, starring Hulk Hogan. Oh gods, it was terrible. But it was hilarious. One of those movies where it’s fun to snark on as you watch it ala MST3K.

This holiday, for Yule, I intend on doing a little more cooking. Maybe actually have a bird. If a bird is possible, then I’ll definitely be making some of my mum’s dressing. Some candied yams. Mashed potatoes. And at least an attempt at the caramel cake. I actually like being domestic, when I get the chance to be.

But, no matter what happens this holiday season, I’ll do my best not to get caught up with details. I’ll simply enjoy the time I have with  my fiance. After all, we have life, we have each other, and that’s all we really need.

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When the going gets tough…

Because of my current financial situation, I’m unable to donate, but if you can, please give a writer a break! Even a little bit is appreciated!

Cristian Mihai

If you’ve been following this blog for a few months, you probably know that I’ve been struggling. Trying to obtain much needed funding for my projects and novels. But also trying to make ends meet. You know, there’s nothing romantic in wondering whether or not you’re going to eat the next day.

Yet I tried my best. I wrote and wrote, and I blogged, and I launched a website even though I couldn’t even afford to pay for a domain…

Sometimes I wonder whether or not I should give up. If I’m actually not good enough. But I’ve always liked inspiring people, no matter how I felt about myself or my life. The truth is, I really am a deeply unhappy person. I’m just trying to make everyone else feel better than I do. I’ve always done that.

I just want to do what I love… don’t know. I’m kind…

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Childhood Homes – Part 2

So, continuing in my series. 🙂 The home in McDonough, GA, was the first home I ever lived in. It was the only home I knew until March of 1997, when my family relocated to International Falls, MN so my father could take over as senior pastor at a church up there.

It was quite the culture shock. Even in March the snow was hip deep on me at 9 years old. We had visited there once before as a family, so I was familiar with snow, but the fact that this was now where we would be living started to set in as a reality.

The house we lived in for almost two years was a rental that was owned by one of the members in the church. It was a two-story (my first and only) with an unfinished basement. I remember being really excited that my bedroom was upstairs. I don’t know what it was, but I’d always had the childhood fantasy of having at least a two floor house and having a bedroom on an upper level. I’m not really sure why. Maybe the allure of the unknown? Nowadays, screw it, let everything be on one level. Fuck stairs. But back then, it was a new experience that I embraced wholeheartedly.

My room actually changed after we were there for a little while. When one walked up the stairs and went down the hall, there was a bedroom at the near end of the stairs, one in the middle, and the end of the hall terminated into the master bedroom. I initially had the middle bedroom, which was smaller but had a closet. I later moved into the other spare bedroom because it was roomier. The middle room was okay, but I really preferred the one on the end anyway. It had a window that looked out onto our postage-stamp sized backyard and garage, the back alley, and then a neighbor’s backyard and further still the neighborhood as a whole. The middle bedroom window just looked across at another house. No real view. The only nice thing was there was a tree beside it where a white-throated sparrow lived. I loved hearing the sound of its call. But I still preferred space and a better view.

The switch meant that the study was moved from the end bedroom and to the middle bedroom. That was where the computer got moved. By this point, we had internet, but I didn’t even know how to use it other than e-mail. And I didn’t know anybody’s e-mail address, so it didn’t matter anyway. We had a family Juno e-mail address but I can’t remember exactly what it was. To me, computers were only good for tetris, pinball, and paint. The most fun thing in paint I did was a basic basket weaving design, going pixel by pixel to create the pattern. I never saved it, I have no real clue why I did it. It was just fun, almost relaxing. I was an odd child. 😛

The kitchen, while small, had a sliding glass door that opened up onto a back porch. We loved cooking on the grill out there and the door was convenient and also provided a nice view for us. Another first for me, along with window blinds! The house in GA never had any blinds while I was there, only curtains, and I gotta say I really fell in love with blinds after that.

The garage sat directly in the back of the house, separated from the structure by a miniscule yard area (another first, again). There was an attic storage space in the garage, but I was scared to go up there because it was high up and the space between the creaky wooden steps did not help my vertigo. I remember, after a while of living up there, somebody broke into our garage and stole the CB radios my parents had in their cars that we had used for the cross-country move (since nobody in the moving party had cell phones). It was the only crime I was ever aware of living up there, so it was a bit startling, but it soon passed. We never really had any news coverage, so it’s hard to say what the crime was really like, but it was a quiet town with the feel of being stuck in the 50’s. We used to joke that if the world ended, it would take ten years for us to hear about it. At the time, International Falls didn’t even have their own news or radio station, we had to go on a station out of Duluth – three hours away! International Falls isn’t just a small town, it is very remote. But it was lovely.

It was the kind of town where I could ride my bike to the library and back alone with no fear. Or down to the grocery store to run an errand for my mother. I think the only actual grocery store was Super One, and it was about five or six blocks away from where we lived. It was in a plaza with an ice-cream type of restaurant, a sit-down restaurant, and a theatre that had a grand total of three screens, that I remember. Looking it up via google, it looks like they’ve likely expanded to five screens since then, as I honestly don’t remember it being that big. I only remember two or three screens at the most. Slightly aside, but I remember going to see Flubber and the reel messed up about halfway into the movie. We got free tickets to another showing of it for our trouble.

One thing that people probably wouldn’t expect when visiting is the smell. There is a paper factory in International Falls – Boise Cascade – and also another one on the other side of the Canadian border in Fort Frances, Ontario. The smell is … unique. It takes some getting used to. The closest thing I can use to describe it is the smell of cooking cabbage. Once you get used to it, you barely notice it, unless the smell happens to be particularly strong, which happened once in a while.

While I was up there, there was a lovely little store that I loved to go to. I can’t remember the name of it, unfortunately, and from what I hear it was closed down years ago. It had a wonderful variety of things from all kinds of winter wear, supplies, a large wall stacked to the brim with moccasins, and various and a sundry little toys. I got most of my beanie babies from there as well as my first pair of moccasins. I’m not sure why, but the way they are made make them excellent for warm house footwear, which is very useful when anything over zero Fahrenheit is considered a heat wave.

That was obviously the biggest difference between Georgia and Minnesota: the weather. We had to learn how to layer (and learn fast!). As southerners through and through, we really didn’t understand the concept of layering for warmth. Long underwear? Unheard of, except in maybe movies or the like. And at that level of cold, gloves and a hat are a must, not a maybe. I’ve also lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and while it gets cold in the winter, hats and gloves aren’t required winter wear. In Minnesota, they definitely are.

There are also little differences that one probably wouldn’t expect. A “casserole” is a “hot dish”. Milk is available in bags. It’s customary to ask someone if they want something three times. And, of course, the long Minnesota goodbye, where guests and hosts can spend literally hours preparing to leave each other. There’s a German/Polish/Eastern European influence in International Falls that just isn’t quite present in rural GA, so the cuisine can offer different things as well. We had pierogies for the first time (and loved them). If one ate fried fish, it was a good chance it was walleye (which has a very good taste to it and is a plenty in Northern Minnesota). Brats and sauerkraut was a thing. Jell-o salad was a go-to for gatherings. Soft drinks were referred to as “pop” and not “coke” as they are commonly referred to in the Atlanta area of Georgia.

Overall, it was a wonderful place that I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the freedom I was allowed and the places I could go just all on my own. I loved the large and spacious library that was mere blocks away. I loved the little park area that I could visit and where the Fourth of July festivals were held. I loved the quaintness of the town. I’m not sure I would like to live in a town that remote again, the kind where almost monthly trips to a city three hours away to do any decent shopping are required. But I have lovely memories of it and it certainly has quite a few high spots, despite our short stay there. It was my first glimpse into the world outside of the house on the little dirt road, and I was fascinated.

crimson tears

My fiance has decided to join the world of wordpress. Welcome to the madness. 🙂

spoonfulsofharvey

One week after the passing of my father, I was standing outside staring at the night sky trying to determine which star belonged to my dad. Suddenly the wind blew a crisp breeze from my right. As I glanced in said direction, I was shocked to see what appeared to be my dad standing at the top of a very steep hill with his back facing me. Without delay I ran faster than I’ve ever ran before. As I drove my feet into the ground with substantial force as if I only knew how to move in one direction, I couldn’t help but notice that, without taking any steps at all my dad was gradually moving out of reach. The realization of losing him again was a concept that was too painful to bear or consider so, I found a way to run even faster. How fast you ask? So…

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Childhood homes – Part 1

I haven’t written a blog post in a minute as I’ve had several things come up and just haven’t had the time nor inspiration for it. However, rather randomly, I thought I would go through remembering each home I grew up in. A couple of homes, we didn’t end up staying in for long, so I might condense those, but at least this one I will devote one full post to, as it’s the first home I lived in.

The first home I ever lived in was in McDonough, GA, out in the boonies. Go down one particular main road, make a turn off to a road in between two cow/horse pastures (whose cows and horses were only there briefly while I was growing up…where the owner lived and what happened to them, I have no idea), make a left at the end of that gravel road onto another gravel road, and we were the last house down that way. We only had two neighbors. Nowadays, developments have bought up all the surrounding property and housing is being put in, so it’s nowhere near as isolated as it used to be. But back then, it seemed like we were a world unto itself.

We had a nice bit of property stretching all around us. Our very large front yard was dotted with trees, but our smaller backyard was more cleared. The land was uneven, as there was a hill on one side that went up to one of our neighbors, and so our lawn was not the manicured perfection one might see in suburbia. I certainly couldn’t go out barefoot as we didn’t really know what all was out there (I did once, that I remember, and got a rusty bit of wire lodged deep in my foot for my trouble). I remember, next to the pathway that went from the driveway to the front porch, there was a dogwood tree. It was there that we had a bird bath setup, and I enjoyed watching the birds sometimes.

I also got a swing set in the front yard, with a couple of swings, a little swinging device that sat two kids on either side (I’m not really sure what it was called…you didn’t really need two on either side, but it was just normally meant that way), and also a slide. It wasn’t an elaborate setup, but I enjoyed playing around on it.

Between what I would call our main front yard and the road, there was just an open field of grass. I remember my dad had taken me out there to try to teach me how to use a baseball bat, but I was woefully unsuccessful at picking up the proper hand-eye coordination. We still played catch sometimes, though, using a tennis-type of ball and these velcro catchers. Other than that, I don’t remember playing much with him. I watched him doing home repairs and various things over the years, and I became his little helper by handing him tools and supplies, but playing? I don’t remember much of that.

My parents built the house that we were in. By the time I came along, they’d added on to it, so it had three bedrooms upstairs, plus an office space and a storage space in the finished basement (which I eventually got a little play area set up in the basement as well). My room was rather large, with a closet that stretched from wall to wall. On one side of my closet, there was a small alcove I could climb up into. I spent time in there reading, it was a little safe place for me. I loved it.

Since I came along so long after my siblings (my sister and brother were 18 and 16, respectively, when I was born), the third bedroom was converted into a study area that was then used as our little school room once I was started on homeschooling. It was pretty small, but it fit our needs just right. My mother also had her sewing machine and supplies in there as well.

The master bedroom was nice and spacious, with its own bathroom and a walk-in closet. I remember one time, during homeschooling, my mother was teaching me about how some Christians were persecuted in other countries, so she had us pretend like we were them. We wore scarves to conceal our identities and we had to sneak around and get to the closet, knock, and then do our Bible lesson there in private, in the near dark. I’m not sure why, but it upset me greatly and scared the shit out of me, so she actually stopped the lesson and we finished it outside of the closet.

We had a pretty nice kitchen set up with a lot of counter space. The washer and dryer were also in the kitchen, but they were easily hid with sliding doors when they weren’t being used. Walking through the kitchen, one would arrive in the dining room area. It wasn’t overly large, but it was barely partitioned off from the kitchen, so it was like a big open space. For a while, our piano was along one wall, and we eventually had a computer set up there. It was one of the ancient ones that had the four separate boxes on the screen with the programs listed. I always liked to play tetris and solitaire and eventually pinball. We had no internet, obviously, and I had no real use of the computer other than the occasional game.

A door on one side of the dining room was our side door, and my parents eventually put up a nice little deck there. It was a nice little size, though nowhere near as big as the front porch that stretched across most of the front of the house. I remember one year, a bird built her nest in one of the shelves we had out there. I loved peeking in at the eggs and then the baby birds once they hatched, though I had to be cautioned against handling them as I wanted to pet them.

When we eventually got a couple of goats, we fashioned a pen out in our back yard for them. The pen was just into the treeline, so they wouldn’t be directly exposed to wind, and my dad built an overhang for them and we had a couple of igloo-type of shelters for them to get into when it got cold. I loved having them, and I’d play around with them. The kids they had were especially adorable, the way they’d just jump around and run and skip.

While there were plenty of trees surrounding us, there was only one that was any good for climbing. Most – if they weren’t evergreen – didn’t have branches that were low-hanging enough for me. There was only one, beside the goat pen, that I was able to scale. I remember the first time I was able to climb it, I felt incredibly triumphant. It wasn’t very high, but I still climbed it!

One very specific thing I remember … we had a garage that was built in to our house (it sat below the master bedroom), but as far as I remember, the vehicles were never put in there. It was used as storage, but not vehicle storage. I remember when we moved and my parents started putting the cars in a garage, I thought it was such a novel concept, as I’d previously thought that a garage was pretty much just for storage. I must have seen other people put cars in garages – my sister, specifically, comes to mind – but I guess it didn’t really click for me until I saw my parents do it.

Going up the pathway to the front porch and through the front door, we had no entryway, the front door just opened up into the living room. We had a large picture window, and we had a small TV set up there. We didn’t have cable or satellite or even an antenna until ’96 when the Olympics came in town, but we had a VHS player and we played a lot of movies. There was a nice fireplace across from the sofa, but it was never used throughout the whole time that I was there. I’m not sure if my parents ever used it, but when I was maybe 6 or 7, they had the fireplace taken out and they put the piano there. I remember I was initially upset, as even though the fireplace wasn’t used, I still loved it. I watched the contractor – a church friend of my parents – tear it out, insulate the wall, and patch it up. While I was initially unhappy with the change, I eventually got used to it.

I really loved that house. Even though we were pretty isolated, I loved the freedom I had to roam around the yard and the treeline and play. And while I sometimes wished I could go outside without having to put on shoes, I was pretty content. I’d actually randomly thought here and there about what if my family moved, even just to another home, and I’d start thinking about all the things I liked about our house and decide emphatically that I never wanted to move away. Funny how when my parents announced that we were going to move to Minnesota and asked me if I would like that, something just clicked in my mind and I said I would like it. I’m not sure what happened that day that changed my view, but it was very quick and sudden, like someone flipped a switch in my mind, and I was all of a sudden okay with moving away and losing the friends and community I had.

Since we moved several times still throughout my life, perhaps that is why I find moving to be an easy thing, mentally. While, at each place I’ve lived, there are places that I love, I don’t find myself tied to one particular area so much that I would never leave. I sometimes do wonder what it would be like to feel that kind of connection, but it doesn’t bother me that I don’t have that. I like the semi-nomadic life I’ve had. I’ve experienced a range of things I never would have otherwise. And I have a pretty good sneaking suspicion that I won’t live out the rest of my life here in Minnesota … and possibly not even in the United States. 😉

Lovely stress

I’ve had a long relationship with stress in my life. Most recently, today, apparently my car decided to stall while my fiance was on the way home. Its fate is unknown as of yet. We are supposed to move into a new place on December 1st, and not having a car is going to make things very difficult for us. My stomach is in knots and I feel dizzy.

But this is not an unfamiliar feeling. I’ve struggled with stress my whole life. I even remember it as a child, that sickening feeling in my stomach, the inability to shut down the racing thoughts in my head. I don’t always remember specific instances, but I remember the feeling.

I clearly remember lying in bed in an old apartment of mine, facing eviction, unable to sleep because I couldn’t stop worrying about what I would do, where I would go, what would happen to me. I ended up practically homeless, living in an unheated camper trailer in the driveway of my ex’s parent’s house. Like the Mary and Joseph in the Bible, there was “no room in the inn”, so we were relegated to the trailer. In Pennsylvania, it gets bitterly cold in the winter. I had to resort to only bathing once a week, because peeling off all the layers for a few minutes just to pull them back on was such a chore. I dreaded sleeping at night, when it really got cold. I pulled on as many layers as I could, including a hat, and pulled the blankets over my head to conserve as much heat as possible, though I was still chilled throughout the night. Going to the bathroom was a real experience, as there was no running water or working toilet in the trailer, so I’d have to pull on boots and my winter coat and carefully traverse an icy driveway to climb two flights of stairs in the house just to get to the closest bathroom.

Even the duplex trailer we managed to nab and move into, there was still issues there. My ex was a pillhead, and as such he usually squandered his check on pills, giving little regard to our bills. Our electric bill got so ridiculous, we had to be put on a payment plan. There was several times the landlord had to come knocking about rent, and he was far from a gentle man. The vibe he gave off was gruff and unfriendly, and sometimes scary. There were times that I simply dodged into our bathroom or our bedroom (where he couldn’t see in) when I noticed him walking towards our trailer. He wasn’t always coming to us, but when he did, I would ignore his knocking, because I didn’t like dealing with him, especially when I always got the wrath that should have been directed at my ex.

I also remember, in that duplex trailer, we only had one car for most of the time we lived there, and my ex used it to get to work. After that car was totaled, he hitched a ride with friends, but it still put me in the position of being absolutely alone all day. A lot of times, he would go get stuff with his friends after work. Sometimes he would be home quickly, but a lot of times I was waiting for him long into the night with absolutely nobody there, nobody to talk to, nothing to do except watch TV (when the cable was on…our neighbor allowed us to hook into his cable for a small fee each month, but my ex was not faithful on any kind of bills). It drove me up the walls, especially when there was no cable. He was my only real human contact, and I felt abandoned most of the time. Alone with my thoughts and feelings, which tended to overwhelm me. I was living there when I lost all faith in the Christian religion after being coldly rebuffed by a pastor that I personally knew. I’m sure he doesn’t know this, but his refusal to help a member out by simply giving them a ride when they had no other options sent them into a downward spiral that resulted in leaving the Christian faith. I could go on about this, but I won’t. Not on this post at least.

Back on topic, a familiar bolt of panic shot through me when my brother messaged me on facebook and told me that his new boyfriend (of less than a month at that time) was going to be moving in and fiance and I had to move out by December 1st. I remember I actually cried because of the short timeline (this was the end of September) and the fact that not a lot becomes available in Minnesota in the winter because people generally don’t like to have to deal with ice and snow when trying to move. Of course, my brother is oblivious to many things, and I’m sure he thought nothing of it. But I think of these things. Hell, it seems I think of every little thing, and I panicked. I cried. I hyperventilated for a minute. All kinds of cuss words ran through my head. But my fiance was my rock. He assured me we would find a place and that I would never have to go back to the kinds of situations I’ve been in.

And he was right. We found a place, and despite a couple of miscommunications and missteps, we have the place secured. And then this happens with the car. Always something, it seems, that seems to be the theme of my life. I can’t seem to have anything good happen in my life without something happening to interfere or deflate it. I try to not let things get to me, I try really hard. But I’m a worry-wart by nature (thanks, Grandma) and with an anxiety disorder stemming from PTSD, I have physical issues that is difficult to deal with without proper medication. But, because of various circumstances that I don’t feel like going into right now, I can’t get what I need to help. So, I just flounder here and there and go on as best I can. My heart is still in my stomach as I await to hear the fate of my car. I can only hope and pray to the gods that everything will be okay.

 

ETA: Fiance made it back to the car and it started and he was able to get it home. We are hopeful he’ll be able to pick me up tonight as I’m not really dressed to walk over half a mile in the cold and snow to the bus stop. I swear, if it’s not one thing it’s another. My life can’t be going good for too long! Damnit, Loki, gimme a break!

Video games & being truthful with your kids

I just happened upon this topic last night, as my fiance and I were watching some random YouTube videos on old video games. Quite a few I had never even heard of, but he had and had played them. This got me to thinking about my history with video games and eventually led to a decision of mine regarding my future kids that my parents did not do with me.

When I was a kid, I obviously knew that video games existed, no matter how sheltered I was. I asked my parents before for a system, not even one in particular, but they said no. I eventually bought one myself – at a discount – once I had my own job, and while I enjoyed it immensely, I am far from a hardcore gamer. There are many games that are just out of my league, talent-wise, the kind that you get how to play with a lot of experience behind you that you just can’t grasp otherwise. I enjoy watching someone else (like my fiance) play games I’d never be able to, but he grew up playing them. I didn’t. I got my first system and games at 17, which, for all the gamer friends I have, is pretty late in life compared to when they started playing.

Whenever I had asked my parents for a video game, they had said they couldn’t afford it. My fiance’s parents, on the other hand, were able to provide the occasional system and plenty of games for them, because they waited until the inevitable price drop and specials and sales. His family certainly was no better off, and in fact it’s a pretty good guess that they had less income than my family even did. Yet they afforded a small luxury here and there, at a discounted price. My parents refused, cost being their reason. Nowadays, I see their refusal for what it was: they just didn’t want me to play video games.

Now, if they had just come out and said they didn’t want me to play video games…sure, I would have been upset (yet another thing barred from me for religious reasons) but later on I would have admired the fact that they had been up front and truthful with me. Just like with my one normal Halloween, however, they had to dig an excuse out of a barrel that just plain wasn’t true. I think it’s ridiculous lying to kids like that to save face. If you don’t want them to do something, shouldn’t you be able to sit them down and explain it to them in a way they’ll understand and accept? And even if they don’t fully accept it, at least understand it? Why the lies, especially when they become so blatant later in life? I know my father orchestrated the whole thing – as he really did just about everything in my life, like a puppet master – so my respect for him has gone down even more (and it wasn’t very high to begin with).

Which brings me to my decision: I will not lie to my kids about stupid shit like this. If I don’t want them to participate in something or have something, I will have an actual reason (not a stupid one like “oh our religion prohibits it” which I won’t be forcing any kind of religion on them anyway) and I will be able to explain it to them. They don’t have to fully accept it, but they will understand my reasoning. And, I think, later in life…they will respect me more for being up front and honest with them rather than throwing out some flimsy excuse. My kids will be able to say that their mother was truthful with them. They won’t have to go back in their memories and dissect everything and judge whether it was the truth or not, because they will know it is true from the get go.

Another layer to the issue is, knowing that my parents – and my father in particular, as I know he bullied and forced my mother into doing and saying things she wouldn’t otherwise – outright lied to me on certain things, even small things, it brings into question everything they ever told me and taught to me throughout my life. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a principle I want my children to have to follow. I want to be a living example for them as much as possible. While my parents talked the talk about living in Christ and being an example, they weren’t always that way themselves. While I’m no longer a Christian, I will strive to live what I preach and let that speak for itself for my children. I think that is so much more important than hauling them to church every Sunday and Wednesday and forcing them to memorize scriptures and barring them from “worldly” distractions, because if I can’t practice what I preach, how can I expect my children to really listen to what I try to instill in them?

VBS

This post was prompted by a video shared on a forum I’m in that features a bunch of adults acting out a certain song that was rather commonly sung at VBS. And while I thought it pretty sad that grown adults were acting out all the motions to a kids song, it got me remembering my own experiences.

Ah, VBS. Vacation Bible School. It was a time of the year that I looked forward to. School was out for the summer. I got to go to church (a central part of my childhood) and see and play with my friends (since for a good chunk of my schooling, I was homeschooled, I didn’t get to see my friends anywhere but church). Snacks were usually involved in some way, and I swear those church ladies knew how to make the meanest rice krispy treats. And those little plastic juice barrels! Oh yes, you knew it was a good day at VBS when they brought out the juice barrels. That and those little cups of vanilla ice cream with the strawberry or chocolate flavour swirls in them.

I went to a lot of VBS’ over the years, at several different churches. Even though they were all different in some little way, they followed the same basic principle. Play time, singing time, story time, snack time, bible time…sometimes memorization was involved similar to AWANA. There was usually some sort of fundraiser type of thing that happened. I never really won anything with that, as during that time, my family wasn’t able to give me much to donate. I didn’t really like that they did that, because it seemed to isolate the kids who weren’t able to give and rewarded the kids who were with…things that they could have afforded to buy themselves. I tried not to feel too jealous, but sometimes it was hard. I wouldn’t say we were “poor” exactly, but we weren’t exactly diving in the vault ala Scrooge McDuck.

Aside from those awkward feelings, I still had plenty of fun. It mostly seemed to be a super-charged combination of AWANA and children’s church. There was usually a theme for the week and the stories and decor went along with that theme. Story time was usually hit or miss, depending on who was doing it. If it was my mother, I knew it would be good. She was a great storyteller, and she used felt boards to illustrate the story as she was telling it. Some people would use a felt board and it would be awkward, but she used it masterfully. I was always entranced, even if she was telling a story I’d heard at least a dozen times before. I remember watching her carefully cut out the various figures from new story sets, being careful to place them oh so exactly in a box so they wouldn’t rip. I wasn’t allowed to touch and play with them when I was younger, but I always watched her and wondered what story she’d be telling next.

The ultimate guilty pleasure of VBS was, of course, Veggie Tales. I had to google this because I didn’t remember the exact year, but it came out for the first time in December of ’93, so by VBS of ’94, there were videos at the ready to play. It was usually Friday, the last day of VBS, unless a teacher wasn’t feeling well or particularly prepared and decided to opt for a video. We loved watching Veggie Tales, especially singing along with Silly Songs with Larry. Today, I think the great thing about Silly Songs is that the songs have nothing to do with any religious message, really, they’re just silly and fun. Kids need that. Growing up in the church the way I did, we were constantly bombarded with Jesus and the Bible and messages from all angles, even when we were just trying to play. We really just wanted to bust out and have fun without it having to involve religion. And even though the rest of the video was chock-full of religious messages, the Silly Songs part was the one part that I could look forward to and know that I didn’t have to pay attention for a message.

The last time I was ever involved in VBS in any way was when I operated the puppets in my teens. By that time, my religion was losing his luster and VBS no longer held the appeal it once did as a child. The songs that I’d previously had fun singing and acting out were corny, contrived, and condescending in a way. The stories were old, having been told hundreds and hundreds of times before in more entertaining ways. The shiny facade was gone, like adults find in so many things from childhood, but in my case specifically, it was still present for a time, taunting me in a way. The joy experienced by the children, while wonderful for them and wonderful for me to bring out of them, was not the same as I experienced. I tried desperately to hold on for years, to convince myself that I was happy in this faith, that this was my life. But while it was, it wasn’t in a sense. It wasn’t the real me. I only said I believed because I didn’t have any other option.

While I’ll still look back on those summers with fond memories, that’s all they are for me anymore. They have no power to draw me back to a church I can’t reconcile my personal beliefs with. While they may seem to haunt me at particular times, they have no true hold over me. Any pang of hurt I feel came after, and I understand that. I work to separate that. The bad memories don’t overshadow the good memories, nor do they cancel each other out. They exist side by side, hand in hand, simply as they are. That is one thing that I’m trying to keep in mind while writing this blog: that while some memories are painful, and some hurt, that the good memories surrounding them shouldn’t bring on that same hurt. I try to just look at them as they are, acknowledge them, allow myself to remember the good as it was, untainted by any bad memories. Just because they may be surrounded by bad ones doesn’t mean that they are bad themselves, and remembering them as they are should only bring back a sense of nostalgia, not of pain.

When I previously tried to remember certain things about my childhood, I only ended up getting depressed. Indeed, my fiance was concerned when I started this blog, not wanting me to go through a downward spiral that he knew I was capable of doing. But I’m working towards bettering myself, and I’m evolving and growing, and I’m trying to change my point of view of my past. And, by changing my point of view, owning it.

I am Elisabeth. Former fundamental, evangelical Independent Baptist. Today I am a hippie-ish, body modded Pagan. In the future … I don’t know. Who really knows? Life is a constant journey, and takes us to different places. Some things stay the same, other things change, but what I’ve found to be true is that the journey of self-discovery is never truly over, and that we should embrace it.

Puppets

One of my coworkers was talking about doing puppets at her church, and I was reminded of my own experience with puppets.

When I was about 14, I volunteered to be backstage help with a specific children’s church puppet program at the church I was in. I didn’t work the puppets, but I basically helped direct everything backstage. We had quite the elaborate setup, so we actually helped the actors out quite a bit as they transitioned from doing their people characters on the stage and then coming backstage to take over doing puppet characters. I loved doing it, it was very rewarding work. I did it for two years, giving me some nice backstage experience.

By the time I was 16, I was in another church that was even more conservative than the previous one. It was actually a lot closer to the Baptist churches I had grown up in. My mother signed up to do an age segment of VBS one year, and between us we decided that I would do a puppet opposite to her to help with the lesson. I wrote the scripts myself based off of the lessons she had, got a tiny stage setup done, and we were good to go! I actually used a Hush Puppy puppet that I still had from childhood and christened him “Norman Kaddidleski”. It was such a rousing success that at the end of the week, we had all the age groups get together to enjoy the puppet show.

The next year, Norman was a given, he had been such a hit. They actually ended up combining the age groups for the lesson time so everyone could enjoy him, and he got a proper stage set up in the front of the church. It was great fun. I enjoyed writing the scripts and performing for the kids. There was a time where I even considered if this was possibly my calling in life, to put on puppet shows for children that put a comedic spin on a righteous message. I really sold myself on it, too.

Unfortunately, things unraveled. I started having some spiritual issues here and there, though none I specifically disclosed to anyone aside from counselors at a leadership camp I attended. However, after I returned from that camp for the last time (I was at the max age), it seemed that my church treated me differently. Despite his popularity, Norman was never brought back for VBS or anything else. I was somewhat distraught, as I had very much enjoyed it and I knew that the children and even the adults enjoyed it. I suspect that someone from the camp had corresponded with my pastor (since they had his information, as I had to have a letter of recommendation from him to attend) and that led to me not being able to participate in something that had been particularly fulfilling to me. I think that’s one thing about fundamental Christianity that I really dislike: if there are any perceived weaknesses, instead of offering real help and support, the person is punished and restricted until they “get right”. It makes going through things like depression and anxiety a real shame, at least where I was, because it was a sign of spiritual weakness. Sure, I had issues with depression and I had questions, but was that any reason to bar me from an activity that I enjoyed and that also brought joy to others?

Nowadays, of course, I’m glad that the whole Christian puppetry thing didn’t work out, seeing as I’m not a Christian anymore, which would make things rather awkward. But I still wish that my season of puppetry had ended on a better note than it did.

Happy Samhain

This is one of my favourite holidays now. As a pagan, I now appreciate the roots of the holiday better than I ever did as a Christian. Growing up fundamental and then transitioning through more liberal churches, I’ve seen a variety of reactions to Halloween, from outright disgust to attempts to adapt around it ala trunk or treat activities and harvest festivals.

When I was a child, we barely even acknowledged that Halloween existed. I remember our school calendar my mother did when we were homeschooling…she would decorate it each month with season-appropriate decorations. When it came to October, though, it was all leaves and harvest stuff. No witches or ghosts or little vampires in sight. We didn’t trick or treat or dress up, which is what really got under my skin the most as I loved playing dress-up as a child, so to me it seemed like I was missing out on the biggest dress-up party of all! I remember going through a store like Wal-Mart or K-Mart and seeing the costume aisle. If I could, I darted down the aisle to look at the costumes. Mostly, I just looked on longingly, internally sighing in frustration that such a fun holiday was deemed off-limits.

Curiously enough, we still carved pumpkins. I remember making the trek up to Dawsonville to visit Burt’s Pumpkin Farm. It wasn’t a short trip, but it was worth it. The air was nice and crisp and there were so many pumpkins lined up and ready for sale, all kinds of sizes and colours available. I remember pictures being taken, of me in a row of pumpkins, sitting on very large pumpkins, sitting next to a scarecrow, riding one of the hay rides. I’m not sure where all the pictures are now, but I remember the farm clearly even without them, just as I remember the little tiny pumpkin my parents bought me. It was so small, it fit well in my hand, even though I couldn’t have been more than 4 at the time. When we got back to the house, we carved the bigger pumpkin we got on the front porch and I was posed for a picture.

When we moved up to International Falls, that October, my parents relented on trick or treating. It was the first and only time I ever got to trick or treat, as my parents put the foot back down the next year. I remember I was so excited to finally get to participate, even though I didn’t have a proper costume. I grabbed an old flannel gown that went down to my feet and put on a long wig I’d bought for dress-up purposes. I wasn’t going for anything in particular, but I liked long dresses and my wig, so it worked. I had to wear a coat, because it was very cold, but I didn’t even notice as a couple of friends and I went from house to house. I don’t remember how long we were out or how many houses we went to, but I got a nice load of candy along with a few homemade treats. I wished it could last forever.

The next year, I had acted out doing something or another, and my parents decided that proper punishment was barring me from trick or treating. I shed many tears and tried my best to act good to try to convince them to let me, but I remember my father eventually admitted that they didn’t want me doing it anyway. I was crushed. That was probably the worst thing I could have heard. If they didn’t want me doing it anyway, then why had they let me the year before? I didn’t know the term at the time, obviously, but today I would call it a dick tease, because that’s definitely what it was. I’m glad I did get to experience one normal Halloween, but the ache of never being able to do it again is not small.

Maybe that seems petty, but it’s how I feel. I missed out on a lot of things growing up, some little, some big. But with every thing I missed out on because I wasn’t allowed to, because of religion and Christianity, it just burns a little more.

When my fiance and I tie the knot and we start having children, I’ll definitely be allowing them to participate in Halloween. I even have costume ideas at the ready for when they’re babies (I’m totally transforming a bear costume into a mini-ewok). When they grow up, if they want to participate less, I won’t force them to still do it. I’ll be grateful that they were given the chance to do it and then decided against it, rather than never having the chance at all. And if they want, I’ll explain the pagan roots of the holiday, and why I’m setting out an extra plate of food and why I won’t talk during dinner. And if they think I’m silly, then they’ll think I’m silly. But if they want to start participating in that with me, then they’ll be more than welcome to.

I think that’s the thing I miss the most in my childhood: choice. Sure, parents need to guide their children into making appropriate choices, but there are quite a few things that they should be able to decide for themselves that I was never allowed to. I never had the option of not going to or participating in church. I never had the option to explore other religions and belief systems for myself to see if it spoke to me. I never had the option to not be a Christian, or accept my parents strict beliefs and and rules regarding their faith instead of searching out what was comfortable to me and spoke to me. If I had, perhaps I would still be a Christian today, on the liberal end of the spectrum. Or perhaps Paganism would have still called to me. Either way, when I have children, I will want to let them think and decide for themselves, without just one option being presented as the only option.

I have a few more post ideas, but I think this will be the only one for today. Thanks for reading, and have a Happy Samhain. 🙂