Out of Your Prime

As magazines, newspapers and TV specials wrap up 2013, a salient theme has emerged: it was a very bad year.

According to an Economist/YouGov poll, Obamacare issues, congressional gridlock, mass shootings and natural disasters contributed to our nation and world’s bummer of a year.

“Put simply, most Americans are happy to see 2013 go,” states the poll. More than half of respondents – 54 percent – said 2013 was a “bad” year for our world, while 15 percent termed it a “very bad” one.

On a more personal note, 41 percent stated it was a “bad” or “very bad” year for their families.

20131230-085141.jpgI definitely fall into that camp, as do many of my friends and relatives. Sure, we are reaching the age where health problems start to dog us and our parents begin to “age out,” but in my realm, the issues were more widespread, including accidents, divorce, job loss and disaster (did I mention that a 120-foot tree fell on my house, crushing the garage and cars inside it?).

I believe there is a good explanation for this. Please bear with me for a moment as I share my “prime-number theory“:

(First, a disclaimer: I am no scientist, and prefer empirical data to surveys and statistics. So, take all this with a “grain” of salt.)

Anyway, I think it’s clear that the world likes balance, and mathematicians are awed by the numbers behind and in our universe. However, it seems to me that the prime numbers — those that can only be divided by 1 or themselves, such as 3, 5, 7, 11, etc., throw us off. In my estimation, those years of life represent major transitions.

Consider these facts: at age 3, most kids are potty-trained and gaining independence; at 13 (a year with plenty of its own negative connotations), children enter the crazy teen years, but they haven’t yet moved to high school. Seventeen-year-olds start to feel like adults, but are too young to drink legally, vote or enter the military.

This year was, for many, a double-whammy, as the calendar date was prime and also included an unlucky 13. Many of those marking prime-number years themselves experienced extreme transitions.

In my own family, my oldest brother, at 59, retired early and began a new chapter of his life.

One of my sisters, nearing the end of a prime-number year, faced a health challenge.

I, also in a “prime” year, had a whopper of a time, with a hiking injury that led to surgery, lots of family drama and the tree issue.

In my nest, three of my four kids endured prime number years (19, 17 and 13), and all faced major transitions that brought stress and tumult.

In fact, I had two 17-year-olds: my second son was 17 until June, and during that time chose a college that is across the country and quite challenging. My third son turned 17 last week, and is already sensing the unrest ahead.

Before you poo-poo my theory, don’t forget about the “seven year itch” that plagues many marriages. An article on Wikipedia states that “the phrase has…expanded to indicate cycles of dissatisfaction not only in interpersonal relationships, but in any situation, such as working a full-time job or buying a house, where a decrease in happiness and satisfactions is often seen over long periods of time.”

Of course, we can counter my doom-and-gloom perspective with thoughts about the 17-year cicadas that, according to several studies, benefit from rearing their heads n prime-number years.

“Cicadas that emerge in prime-numbered year intervals…would find themselves relatively immune to predator population cycles, since its is mathematically unlikely for a short-cycled predator to exist on the same cycle.” Researchers call this a “successful evolutionary strategy.”

Nevertheless, for now I’m going to stick to my own theory that after the prime-number year 2013 goes up in flames, we’re all going to feel better out of, not in, our prime.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 30 Dec. 2013
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Holiday Card Wisdom

I love getting holiday cards in the mail. I string them over the kitchen sink and they never fail to make me smile. holiday compilation

As I tear open the envelope I am greeted by pictures of weddings, vacations, babies and hobbies. Images have been selected with care in an attempt to capture the best parts of the year.

The photos convey simply and elegantly the important things in life –  relationships, health, laughter and peace. They are a daily reminder to pursue life with joy.live well

Perhaps the simplicity of the message has been enhanced by the migration away from specific holiday salutations. Very few cards we receive say Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or Happy New Year. Instead, pictures are captioned by a “mindful” statement such as family, joy or peace.wishing you peaceAs I glance toward my card collection I am reminded daily during December to live well,  laugh often and be thankful. That’s a holiday sentiment worth embracing- permission to Be.

Carol Lewis Gullstad December 23, 2013

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Believing in Magic and Miracles

Believing in Magic and Miracles.

Believing in Magic and Miracles

I often wonder why we put up with this time of year.

Not the holidays themselves, but all the clutter around them: the stress, retail crowds, social obligations, four-month-long Christmas displays, heart-tugging songs in public venues and pressure on the pocketbook.

And then, when I’m feeling my very Grinchiest, I’m reminded that the season is all about magic and miracles.

For those who remember and believe in the holiday’s religious beginnings, what could be more miraculous than a virgin giving birth to a major game-changer, in a stable full of stinky animals?

Sure, most kids focus on the presents they hope to find under the tree – and tv ads provide them with plenty of “must have” ideas. However, I think it’s the potential for magic that most captivates children.

Holiday rituals fill kids’ hearts and souls: waiting in line to see Santa’s stand-in, driving around town to gawk at holiday light displays, feeling joy during church pageants, watching “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” and “Elf” on tv, enjoying family time with hot cocoa and cookies and waiting for the season’s first snowfall.

For most of us, the best holiday memories revolve around family time and experiences, not the yearned-for gifts that appeared on Christmas morning.

We all want to experience magic and miracles this time of year.

I happen to know a real magician – not just the kind who performs card tricks at kids’ birthday parties (although he probably boosted his income that way at the start).

Mark is quite accomplished (check out his website here) and, for many years, lived well by performing tricks at corporate gatherings. Yes, even adults want to believe in magic.

He stopped by my house a few years back, and performed a few tricks for five 15-year-old boys. You could almost see their jaws bouncing off the floor as even the most jaded teenager started to believe.

When seemingly rational, negative thoughts cloud my otherwise positive attitude, I look for magic and miracles.

The morning that my father passed away, when I was a graduate student in Manhattan, I woke up to a beautiful flurry of white flakes. Even though I felt as if my heart had been ripped from my body, I found solace in the snow, and started to believe that life would eventually feel better.

During the following decade in New York City, snowfalls always calmed me and reminded me to believe in endless possibilities. Snow provides a blanket of quiet, beauty and hope in an otherwise over-stressed environment.
photo (3)

Many years ago, my husband suffered from a mysterious, traumatic illness. Doctors claimed they couldn’t cure him, they could only “support” him through the ordeal. One evening, a nurse called and asked me to rush to the hospital, as Rich was in crisis. As I drove westward across Lake Washington, I spotted a beautiful rainbow. And at that moment, I felt peace, believing it was a sign that Rich would survive.

Later that night, one of my closest friends–who was living nearly 200 miles away–left me a voicemail: “I saw a rainbow this evening, and know it means that Rich will be okay.”

He did survive, against all odds, and is living a full and normal life today.

My oldest brother wasn’t so lucky; he succumbed to lung cancer a decade ago, on Christmas day. Of course, I think of Rick’s death every Christmas morning, but I like to believe that he is somehow present in the lights and the music and the angel that tops my tree.

When a young family member struggled with a rare and very serious disease several years back, I always smiled when I saw a beautiful sunrise out my bedroom window, or a rainbow in the evening light. On one particularly challenging day for her, a double rainbow appeared, and I took it as a positive sign. She is thriving in college today.

My very wise mother-in-law recently said to me, “It’s important to push out the fear to make room for hope.” I guess snow and rainbows and sunrises help dissipate my fears and negative thoughts, and give my heart room for more positivity.

I want to believe that magic and miracles are possible. I know that around the globe, others are enjoying this holiday season for the same reason.

–          Linda Williams Rorem, 15 Dec. 2013

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Put Up the Lights and Lighten Up

Several years ago, in our pre-blog days, we took a “girlfriend getaway” during the first week of December. Our good friends thought we were crazy:

“How could you leave your families this time of year?”

“You’ll miss all the fun parties!”

“When will you manage the Christmas shopping?”

“Aren’t you too busy to take off work?”

Exactly our point.

While we did tackle some holiday shopping during the trip, without the benefit of frazzled crowds and piped-in Christmas music, we mostly just relaxed. Yes, we did miss a few parties and events, but our friends forgave us. And, somehow, we finished the pressing tasks at work and home in time.

Our great escape had the inverse effect of what our friends had predicted: it made our holidays run (and feel) smoother. Our stress-free break allowed us to enter those final hectic weeks of the year with calm and more open hearts.

We have since, separately, tried to continue the trend. This year we decided it was time for a reunion trip, ostensibly as a writer’s retreat.

Hemingway writer's retreatSo, here we are, sitting in Ketchum, Idaho, coffee shop, gaining inspiration from a larger-than-life photo of Papa Hemingway, But our best inspiration came during lunch on Saturday.

We kicked off our 48-hour retreat with roasted red-pepper soup at the Kneadery, a casual, local favorite, which features moose heads on the wall and a 10-foot stuffed grizzly bear by the door.

REd Hat LadiesOn this particular afternoon, the restaurant also boasted a boisterous tableful of lovely ladies, all wearing decorated red hats and purple coats or sweaters. We were immediately drawn to their laughter and positive energy.

We looked at each other and said simultaneously, “Looks like a great Permission Slip in the making.”

And it was.

“We’re part of the Red Hat Society,” the group’s leader, Poo Wright-Pullium, explained. “Actually, we’re the ‘Potato Heads’ chapter.”

Of course, we wanted to hear more.

“Our purpose is to have fun,” explained Wright-Pulliam. “We meet once a month, with the goal of just taking care of ourselves and not worrying about anyone or anything else.”

The ladies, wrapping up their meal, leaned in to tell us about their chapter and the international society – which we may be the last on the block to learn about.

Apparently the Red Hat Society was formed in 1998 by Sue Ellen Cooper, a Southern California woman of a certain age who was inspired by Jenny Joseph’s 1987 poem, Warning, with the oft-quoted line “When I grow old I shall wear purple/ With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”

The society “began as a result of a few woman deciding to greet middle age with verve, humor, and elan,” according to the society’s website. “We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life, and since we are in it together, we might as well join red-gloved hands and go for the gusto together.”

Now incorporating more than 20,000 chapters in the U.S. and 25 other countries, the Red Hat Society is the world’s largest woman’s social group; its members strive only to take life a little more lightly. The society is open to any woman aged 50 and up, while younger gals can attend meetings if they wear lavender clothing, not purple, and pink hats, instead of red ones.

In Ketchum, the lively group we encountered meets monthly for lunch and social activities, such as last weekend’s trek through the area’s holiday bazaars.

Clearly, it is not a sisterhood of the traveling pants, but a community of clashing red hats and purple clothes, geared solely for friendship and fun.

Chapter Queen Wright-Pulliam explained that the Potato Heads have met regularly for some eight years. Many of the members were not acquainted before joining the now tight-knit group. The ladies often pull together between monthly meetings to entertain visiting Red Hat Society members.

During birthday months, members must wear their outfits in reverse – red coats and clothing, and purple hats. That’s one way to keep the celebration going.

On meeting days, the members’ ostentatious red hats and bright purple clothing announce that they are out for fun and fellowship, and that they refuse to take themselves too seriously.

Especially during the holiday season, with unyielding pressures on most of our time, patience and pocketbooks, we could all stand to lighten up a little.

Saturday afternoon, the holiday spirit our new red-hatted friends exuded was contagious. We walked away, across a snow-covered, slippery sidewalk, feeling inspired.

Not only did we remember the value of a “time out” during the so-called “most wonderful time of the year,” but we also took to heart the reminder to relax more and stress less.

Hats off to you, ladies!

–          Carol Lewis Gullsad and Linda Williams Rorem, 9 December 2013
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Holiday Pressure and Presents

Thanksgiving is the new Black.

Black Friday, which now starts on Thursday, is the American holiday formerly known as Thanksgiving. This year the day was also referenced in Jewish circles by the cheeky moniker “Thanksgivukkah,” due to the rare convergence of Hanukkah on Thanksgiving. Today is Cyber-Monday, tomorrow is Giving-Tuesday, previously known as the plain vanilla “start of the work week.”  Still with me?

If you spent Thanksgiving the traditional way, counting your blessings and enjoying a tryptophan-induced haze, you may feel some anxiety as the holiday season rushes in like a gusty winter storm.

Let’s be honest, holidays are a pressure cooker for most. The holidays can seem like a major pile-on with too many year-end tasks and too many social obligations mixed in with presents to buy and people to please. Throw in sleep deprivation with some guilt sprinkled on top and voila, a toxic mental cocktail.

However, no need to let the calendar page reading December drag you down. Say goodbye to the media blitz that urges you to shop ‘til you drop and give yourself a break.cyber monday

While Permission Slips can’t help with sticky social obligations and relationships, we do have a few suggestions to help alleviate some of the pressure to find presents.

  • Call a present truce. If you dislike the pressure to give presents chances are your sister-in-law, uncle and best friend share the sentiment.  My grandmother used to say that all she wanted for Christmas was a small box of See’s candy. It was her way of saying, “I don’t need more stuff, just you.” In my 30s I broached the subject of stopping adult-to-adult present exchanges in our family. I started with my sister and barely completed the sentence when she said “yes and thank you!” It turns out that there was secret widespread desire for mutual present-disarmament on both sides of the family. No one wanted to be the first to say it, now we all just wish someone said it sooner. Cards and visits are still appreciated and we still enjoy the occasional white elephant gift.

If there is no truce here are some ideas that go beyond the gift card default option.

  • Don’t expect perfect presents.  Sometimes you select a winner. Other times, you may think you nailed it, but the receiver sees it as a dud. Include a gift receipt inside the box and encourage your recipient to use it without guilt. Don’t judge an entire relationship on the reaction to a gift given once a year. The same goes for you as the receiver.
  • Give the gift of time next year. Give a certificate or “I owe you” to go out to dinner or lunch when you have more time and so does the recipient. Later. Say March 2014 when the holidays will be pleasantly residing in your rear-view mirror and the visit may be more relaxed and enjoyable.
  • Give a gift of memories. Take “throwback” pictures off of Facebook or Instagram and put them in a frame. Nothing brings a smile to someone’s face faster than a fond memory invoked by a nostalgic picture. This can even be paired with a favorite throwback treat. The picture will be around to enjoy for more than a fleeting moment on social media.
  • Give to those who help run your life smoothly. There are some people we all feel really motivated to thank such as a teacher, mailman or hairstylist, but wonder how. Here is a great tipping guide for service providers from the Emily Post Institute http://www.emilypost.com/out-and-about/tipping/92-holiday-tipping-is-really-holiday-thanking

If you are one of the rare souls who delights in shopping during the holiday season – lucky you. Enjoy and disregard all of the above. If you have more Grinch-days than not, we stand by you in your struggle and wish you smooth sailing through the holiday seas.

Carol Lewis Gullstad December 2, 2013

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