From 19 to 20

It was back to work for EJ today. He had last weekend off, as usual, then worked two days, then had two days off, and now is working another two days before the weekend. I am now all messed up about which day it is because today feels sort of like Monday.

Our neighbor

Two days of wintry weather had brought us several inches of snow so our neighbor came driving up in his tractor to snow blow our driveway. Ever since he saw me clearing our driveway with our little snowblower last winter, he has snowblowed it for us with his tractor. He’s been such a blessing–he can clear in a few minutes what it took us more than two hours to do. He won’t accept payment so we bought him a gift box of sausage and such as a thank you. I was going to make him homemade candy and cookies, but he mentioned to EJ that he didn’t have much of a sweet tooth.

Today the temperatures warm again into the lower 40s (F) so the snow began to melt again although we could get freezing drizzle overnight.

Our first cheesecake, half-eaten.

On New Year’s Eve, I made 21 small turkey potpies and I made 14 more yesterday for a total of 35 pies. Yesterday evening EJ and I made cheesecake together in our Instant Pot. I quickly volunteered to make the graham cracker crust because I was tired from making pies, and I left EJ to make the filling. We both made some mistakes, but it was still tasty. Yum! But, ugh, after a couple days of eating pizza, chips, and cookies, we are both feeling rather yucky. EJ said we will now have to be good until next Thanksgiving. I agree.

On the weekends, EJ often goes out with me in the evening when I lock all the animals in the coop. When we went out last weekend, we discovered that Millie and Theo had caught a chipmunk. Sometimes Millie had it and sometimes Theo did. We didn’t want them to bring the chipmunk into the coop so I hurried into the coop, shutting the big doors behind me. Before I could get the little door closed, Theo brought the chipmunk in. With a small scream, I hurriedly unfastened the big door and scurried out because I didn’t want to risk the critter getting free and climbing up me in its panic. Theo took the chipmunk outside again, and as soon as he dropped it on the ground, I picked him up and put him in the coop with the other two cats and the chickens. I think the chipmunk crawled under the coop. I suspect he didn’t live long.

This was the first rodent we’ve seen the cats catch. Millie and Theo aren’t the serial killers that Madeline was. I really liked Madeline, but I’m relieved that I don’t find dead bodies every day.

Last week I wrote about some of the Red Flag traits that I look for to help me identify an abusive person. Those traits basically include attitudes of self-centeredness, superiority, and entitlement, as well as a lack of gratitude and generosity. Today I read a couple of articles that Dr. George Simon wrote on his website that says pretty much the same thing. One was about how to recognize covert narcissists and the other was about their lack of gratitude, the latter of which I want to quote from here.

…One of the pioneers studying character disturbance made an interesting observation. Folks with significant character disturbances came from all backgrounds. Some experienced early trauma. But others came from remarkably benign backgrounds. Some were impoverished in many ways. However, others were products of privilege. But one thing they all had in common was a disturbing attitude. The world owed them, they felt. And they owed nothing back. For them, life was all about taking what they could get. And sometimes it was an additional kick to take nefariously. They had no sense of obligation – to anyone or anything. And that, in a nutshell, lay at the core of their character dysfunction.

When it comes to having integrity of character, it all begins with gratitude. Appreciating the precious gift of life itself comes first, of course. Gratitude inherently inspires a sense of indebtedness. And that indebtedness inevitably inspires us to give back and not just take. So, real thanksgiving is not so much about feeling grateful. And it goes beyond expressing gratitude. It’s more about showing it by doing our part to make the whole enterprise work….

Dr. George Simon has worked with and researched manipulative people–narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths–for decades. His writings have really helped me to understand and recover from abuse. I highly recommend his website if you want to learn more.

New Year’s Eve

I hope everyone is having a wonderful New Year’s Eve!

Cuddle time.

Hannah Joy and I started our day cuddling in my chair. She likes to sleep on my lap under a blanket with only her nose sticking out. I like it because she keeps me toasty warm with her body heat!

I sipped my coffee and watched the snow fall. The last few weeks the temperature had warmed and melted almost all of our snow. However, yesterday we got several inches so our world is beautifully white again. The heavy snow stuck to the trees until a strong wind rose in the afternoon and the snow fell in avalanches from the swaying trees. A lot of people lost their power, mostly to the north of us. I feel sorry for them because it’s not fun losing power in the winter. I’m glad that we didn’t lose power because I’m not sure I would have remembered how to hook up the propane heater.

Yesterday I made a quadruple batch of turkey pot pie filling. I spent all this afternoon making small individual 5-inch pies. I got 21 made. I’ll make more tomorrow to use up the rest of the filling. I freeze them to bake later, usually when we have a busy day and/or don’t feel like cooking. Pot pie is one of my favorite meals. EJ wants us to make beef pot pies as well. I press a turkey cookie cutter into the pies so we know they are turkey pot pies. I don’t know what we will use for a beef pot pie because I don’t have any cow cookie cutters.

Because I was so busy today, EJ made a pot roast in the Instant Pot for lunch. It was very delicious. We love our Instant Pot!

Originally, EJ was supposed to work tonight and just get New Year’s Day off. EJ was a trifle bummed because he would be working at midnight when the new year arrived, and he’d be driving home in the early morning when inebriated people would be driving home from their parties. However, his boss called today to say that the employees could have both today and tomorrow off if they all worked Friday instead. Employees usually work four 10-hour days each week and working Friday is optional over-time.

Our homemade pizza

Because I thought EJ would be working, I had been planning to have a quiet evening and just go to bed at my regular time. But plans have changed and we are going to stay up to greet the new year and decade. EJ went to the store this afternoon to buy a few items so we can make a cheesecake in the Instant Pot. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow. He also bought some potato chips for tonight, as well as some cashews, which he knows that I love. While he was gone, I finished the pot pies and then I made the dough and sauce for our traditional New Year’s Eve pizza. I always make it from “scratch.” I spent several years searching for a “just-right” pizza dough recipe, and finally found it about ten years ago, give or take a few years. It’s delicious. EJ came home at about the time the dough was finished rising and helped me assemble the pizza.

I’m exhausted, my body aches, and my feet are throbbing from standing on them all day, but I got a lot accomplished. However, I was glad to finally sit down and enjoy our pizza meal. 🙂

I’ve been reminiscing that it’s already been twenty years since the Y2K scare, when people were panicking because they were afraid that if computers interpreted the “00” in 2000 as 1900, it could lead to all sorts of disastrous problems, including large-scale blackouts and infrastructure damage.

Thirty years ago EJ and I met for the first time on New Year’s Eve. A young woman from our church singles’ group invited him to our church and he came that morning and then attended our New Year’s Eve party later that night. I think we started dating in April and on June 15 he asked me to marry him. I’m really glad we met and married. He’s my best friend.

I’m going to end my day the same way I began it–with Hannah Joy cuddling on my lap.

Repairing the World

This is the last in a series of posts about abuse, beginning here.

The tongue has the power of life and death,
    and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Prov. 18:21)

I spent a month writing and rewriting my previous three posts about abuse. I am writing this one because I think it’s also important, but it’s a last-minute add-on. I didn’t think of it until I had written the others. I have a lot of thoughts buzzing around that I have to sort through but I wanted to get it posted before the New Year so I’m writing quickly. There are a lot of approaches I could take, but I’ve decided on this one:

I think words are extremely powerful.

Words can bring hope or despair, strength or weakness, bravery or cowardice, life or death.

Words can actually change reality: Hitler, for example, didn’t have super-human physical strength, he wasn’t even a soldier, but with his words, he inspired people to horrendous cruelty, he caused the death of millions, and he reshaped the world. Conversely, I think England might have fallen during WW2 if Winston Churchill had not spoken words that brought courage:

“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
― Winston Churchill

God created the universe with words. He speaks the truth and gives life with words. Jesus is called “The Living Word” who is the Light, the way, the truth, and the life. Conversely, Jesus said that Satan is a liar and a murderer. Liars destroy truth and people.

 

I think that one of the most terrible weapons of abusers are words. With words, abusers attack the core identity of a person so that she forgets who she is. With their words, abusers weave a false reality that drains the life from their victims, turning strong, intelligent, creative individuals into someone who believes s/he is damaged, stupid, without gifts or value. With their words, abusers can drive a person to despair, hopelessness, self-hatred, and even suicide.

I think that the hardest part of recovery involves the struggle to replace lies with the truth, rejecting the false reality that brings destruction and holding fast to the true reality that gives life. Because the abuser has destroyed his/her victims’ core identity, recovery takes time and struggle.

Photo from Pixabay

Whenever I have encounters with a toxic/abusive person, I have to talk and/or write about it. I have told EJ several times that I feel as if the abuser has ripped and torn the fabric of truth–of who I am, of my value–and I have to reweave the truth by recognizing the lies and re-remembering the truth.

This makes me think of two Jewish phrases. One is a statement in the Talmud: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” I think this statement has a lot of truth in it. When a wicked person destroys a person, he is destroying her entire world, he is often destroying families, and this destruction can ripple on to affect communities, societies, the world. I’ve read an article about a scientific study that showed that trauma can even change DNA and be passed down the generations.

The second phrase is Tikkun Olam, which in Hebrew means “repair of the world.” It is a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It is often used when discussing issues of social policy, insuring a safeguard to those who may be at a disadvantage. When you give comfort, strength, courage, support, healing, and justice to others, you are helping to save their world as well as working to repair the world.

I think that repairing the world involves kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. I think it also involves seeking justice and resisting and standing against evil.

  • Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Eph 5:11)
  • A righteous person giving in to the wicked is like a contaminated spring or a polluted fountain. (Prov 25:26)
  • Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered. (Prov 21:13)
  • Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? (Prov. 24:11-12)
  • Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov. 31:8-9)
  • Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:17)
  • “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Now I’ve kind of gone full-circle and ended where I began–because in order to speak up, judge fairly, correct oppression, a person has to identify who is the wicked one and who is the innocent, which isn’t easy when the wicked person is covertly deceptive. Another question to ask is how to help the innocent victim. I think people have different talents and ways of helping. Some “helpers” are lawyers, some are pastors, some are bloggers, some are friends who help friends. Some work to change laws, some work at abuse shelters or hotlines, some write blogs, some generously give to those in need,  some encourage hurting friends in their lives. Whether the help affects many or few, it contributes to the repair of the world.

No matter what the help looks like, I think there are a few basic things to keep in mind, which underlie all the others:

  1. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between an abuser and his/her victim, but it helps to educate yourself about the dynamics of abuse so you can recognize tactics and behaviors.
  2. Do not minimize, excuse, justify, or defend the behavior of the abuser. Do not say things such as, “I’m sure he didn’t really mean it” or “I’m sure she actually really loves you…” or “But he’s such a wonderful person–he would never do such a thing.” Abusers hide their abuse from everyone except the victim. Supporting the abuser does great damage to the victim who is struggling to break free of the false reality that was created by the abuser.
  3. Do not shift the blame to the victim. An abuser abuses because he is an abuser, not because the victim didn’t love enough, forgive enough, please enough.
  4. Do NOT try to fix the victim by telling her that all she has to do is follow Steps A, B, C, and everything will be fine. It’s not that easy. A victim has to sort through countless lies and replace them with the truth. She has to repair her world that was destroyed by the abuser. This takes time.
  5. Do not pressure a victim to quickly forgive the abuser. Forgiveness is a messy process that takes time. The process is similar to the Stages of Grief. Forgiveness does NOT mean that future contact or reconciliation is possible or safe.

    The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear? (Prov 18:14)
  6. Do not tell the victim to stop talking about the abuse, to “just let go and move on.” The victim has been through hell, she has suffered great betrayal, and her core self has been destroyed. Just as a serious physical injury can take a long time to heal, so a psychological injury can take a long time. In fact, inner wounds can take longer because they are deeper.
  7. Victims all tend to go through similar stages as they recover, including educating themselves, talking/writing about it, feeling the messy emotions, grieving the losses, processing it all, and eventually helping other victims. Don’t shut the process down because you are uncomfortable with it.
  8. Do not force on the victim your idea of how long recovery should take. It’s different for everyone and takes as long as it takes.
  9. In fact, do not FORCE or PRESSURE a victim of abuse at all in any way. She has already been forced by the abuser to do things against her will. She has been pressured by the abuser’s supporters as well. Don’t you force or pressure her. Let her seek healing in her way, in her time, when she is ready.
  10. If you don’t know what to say or do, just listen without judgment. Listening is more healing than advising or fixing. Tell the victim you love her. Tell her you believe her. Be there.

I’ll end with Bene Brown’s wonderful video about empathy. I’ll get back to my enchanted forest in my next post. 🙂

Checkmate

This is the third in a series of posts about abuse, beginning here.

This post is a story about being checkmated in a crazy-making psychological chess game. But it’s not all bad. This is also a story about determination, recovery, and healing.

Both EJ and I feel very strongly that people have the right to make their own choices–whether or not others approve. We strongly respect others’ boundaries. We value the unique differences and unique gifts of people. We value harmony and hate conflict. When we have a difference of opinion–with each other or with others–we try to work to resolve it, seeking win-win solutions or compromises. We try to help others when we can. We hate even the thought of hurting other people. We loathe dishonesty and cruelty. We have a loving, healthy relationship. Relationships with emotional abusers are totally different. The following description is not an over-exaggeration:

What’s it like interacting with an emotional abuser?

Dealing with an abusive person is a crazy-making experience because there is no way to live together peacefully, no way to resolve conflicts. Every person’s story is different–and I think many of them are far worse than mine–but following is a description of the sorts of things I have experienced when interacting with abusers. I’m describing experiences with a variety of family members over the years. some of them were male, some female, many used a variety of these tactics, so I will use a combined pronoun “s/he” (she/he) to refer to them. Just to be clear, EJ isn’t one of the people I am describing.

As described in my previous posts, an abuser is a person who is very controlling, critical, angry, accuses, has double standards, disrespects personal boundaries, stirs up conflict, and so forth. When faced with such behavior,

  • If I defended my actions: You know, explained why I did what I did or that I did not do what I was accused of, that just gave the abuser more fuel to argue
  • If I attempted to explain how the behavior is hurtful, the abuser ignored it, denied it, or shifted the blame. I found myself trying to explain, explain, explain….because I wanted the relationship healed and even if s/he didn’t understand the first million times, maybe I could explain it just right so s/he understood the next time. Or the next. Or maybe the next?
  • If I tried to warn that the behavior is abusive and is/will damage relationships, the abuser became intensely angry that I would say such a hurtful thing, totally ignoring her/his own hurtful behavior.
  • If I tried to confront the behavior, the abuser accused, “You always criticize me!” which wasn’t true. Of course, s/he totally ignored/denied that s/he had just been insulting, accusing, criticizing.
  • If I tried to disengage by walking away, which is what a counselor suggested I do, the person followed me, shouting insults–including. “That’s right! Walk away! Refuse to deal with the issues!” Even if I had listened to her/him “discuss the issues” (rage) for hours without resolution.
  • If I chose to be silent and just let the person rant, hoping s/he would eventually wind down: When s/he realized I wasn’t saying anything, s/he intensified the verbal abuse, growing more and more insulting, until I finally shouted “ENOUGH!” and began to angrily stand up for myself, which just gave her/him more fuel to argue and accuse. I’ve also seen an abuser grow immediately calm when I’ve finally snapped, saying very softly and gently: “Calm down. You are getting emotional for absolutely no reason…” as if s/he hadn’t just been verbally battering me for long periods of time.
  • I don’t cry often, but a couple times I broke down and cried because the abuser was intensely insulting me. S/He said that I was, “Mewing like a kitten for no reason.”

    His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue. (Ps 10:7)
  • At least once I pleaded: “Please, just stop.” S/He mockingly echoed back, “Just stop. Please. Please, just stop.”
  • On again, off again: Sometimes an abuser said s/he loved me, but later said s/he wanted nothing to do with me, but then later contacted me as if nothing had happened and “sweetly” asked to reconnect. Sometimes s/he asked if I would call her/him occasionally because s/he would love to hear from me, but then s/he didn’t answer the phone when I did, telling me later that s/he wanted distance. If I gave her/him distance as asked, s/he would suddenly call-call-call and then said that obviously I knew that s/he didn’t mean for me to do it immediately. If I asked for some distance–to try to defuse the turmoil or because we were dealing with a crisis in our life–s/he’d find ways to force contact. This love/hate, near/distant behavior is actually a common psychological tactic used to confuse a victim and make her second-guess herself.
  • I’ve overlooked abusive behavior, believing the person was “just” wounded and needed love and understanding. I’ve tried to “just forgive” as those guilting FB memes urge–“forgive, even if they never say they are sorry. ” But I think doing so was a mistake because bad behavior is still bad behavior no matter who does it. I didn’t know that at the time. My overlooking and forgiving wrong behavior didn’t heal her/him. In fact, s/he just became worse.
  • After years of trying to restore a relationship with one relative, I finally wrote that we all do and say things we shouldn’t and please let’s just forgive each other and start over. S/he wrote back, “What have I ever done to hurt you?” This person had said that s/he considered all my efforts to reconcile to be “a mere drop in a teacup” and s/he would never forgive me, no matter how hard I tried. I’d never defended myself with her/him before, but this time I did because I felt I had nothing else to lose. And that was that. Emotional abusers want power and control; they don’t want a relationship.
  • One time a toxic relative stirred up others in the family so they all bullied me at once, insulting me because I wouldn’t do what they wanted–have contact with an unscrupulous, and perhaps dangerous, relative. I stood firm. People have the right to choose who they want in their life–or not. They don’t have the right to force their choice on others.
Photo by Piro4d – Pixabay

It becomes an insane, surreal experience where none of the “rules” of relationship or communication work, nothing makes sense, and you don’t ever really know what to expect. If a person is unable to defend herself or overlook, forgive, explain, confront, walk away, speak, be silent, plead, be near, be distant, break down, be understanding, or compromise, without being verbally battered, how can any of the problems be resolved? I could do nothing to stop abuse, but couldn’t endure it. I couldn’t do two opposite actions at the same time.  I finally reached a point where I knew I would be insulted no matter what I did, so I simply made the best decision I could at any given time–and then I was accused of being passive-aggressive. No matter what you do, how hard you try, how long you try, no amount of love, forgiveness, or understanding can restore a relationship that the other person doesn’t want and is trying to destroy.

  • Although I generally love life, I confess that one time the verbal abuse was so intense and lasted for so many hours that I broke down and cried aloud that I wished I was dead. The next day, the person started up again, and when I cried, s/he callously said, “So, what? Are you going to threaten suicide again today?” This person had also told me that I wasn’t worth the air I breathed. I couldn’t ever imagine saying things like that to another person, not even to my worst enemy. The cruelty of abusers takes my breath away. Some survivors say that the goal of narcissists is to drive their victims to insanity or suicide. I believe it.

EJ and I were ignorant about abuse, believing like many others that difficult relationships could be worked out with enough love and forgiveness until we started experiencing my Mom’s increasing attempts to control us after we got engaged. That was when our eyes were opened and we began to learn about emotional abuse. It’s been difficult because we didn’t find the support then that is now available on the Internet and we had to learn the hard way through struggle and trial and error. Throughout our married lives, we’ve never gone more than a few months without having to deal with one abuser or another in some manner, most of them family members. We were always kept on edge, off-balance, confused, trying to figure out how to be “Christlike” in a crazy world.

When we tried to set boundaries or go No Contact to protect ourselves, the abusers and/or their defenders stepped in, heaping guilt, blame, and accusations on us: “You are unloving, unforgiving, unChristlike.” “You are dishonoring God, your family, and yourself by having No Contact.” “You don’t know how to love like we do.” “You must never give up on family, no matter what.” Nevermind that their bullying wasn’t loving or that they had divorced their spouses so obviously they had not done what they pressured us to do and stand with family no matter what. Forgive me for the snarkiness, but I felt like saying (but didn’t), “Why, bless your heart!” I’ve heard that that statement in Southern (USA) culture is a nice-sounding catchall insult meaning “I think you are an idiot, naive, clueless, etc.” They have no idea how deeply we’ve loved, how much we’ve forgiven, or how long we’ve endured. Or, maybe they do. Abusers specifically choose victims who are loving, forgiving, and enduring.

Many people wrongly believe that abuse only involves physical violence and that other forms such as verbal or emotional isn’t abuse or “isn’t that bad.” But every form of abuse is damaging. I used to feel calmer, more patient, more able to cope with setbacks. However after so many years of dealing with emotional abusers, I’ve struggled with depression, sadness, anxiety, I get easily stressed and overwhelmed. I have insomnia and nightmares. I struggle with guilt, self-blame, second-guessing myself, and a sense of failure. I also struggle with some stress-related health problems. Sometimes I feel that even just one more incident of abuse will shatter me. All of these are typical effects of abuse.

EJ says that he thinks I am incredibly strong and courageous because although I have been hit hard, I have not been destroyed. I may be battered and bloody but I’m still standing. I think the same of him because he also has suffered from abuse right along with me. As 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 

No matter how much we love our families, we can no longer endure the constant drama, the disrespecting of our boundaries, the conflict, the cruelty, the damage.  We have given a lot of chances over the years because we didn’t want to lose loved ones, but for the sake of our health, we will give no more chances unless/until we see permanent evidence of real change. We’ve had enough. (The Bible, by the way, says in numerous places to avoid, stay away from, don’t associate with, and have nothing to do with wicked/abusive people. 2 Tim. 3:1-5, is one of those places.)

It’s impossible to win a game in which the other person cheats and constantly changes the rules. Abuse survivors repeatedly state that the only possible way to win with a Narcissist is to refuse to play their game. “Run,” they urge. “Run, and don’t look back.” They are right.

It’s very difficult to explain our conflicting emotions. On the one hand, our hearts ache because we couldn’t heal the relationships with the people we love. We feel deep sadness and grief over things lost–relationships that could have been wonderful but aren’t. But on the other hand, there is also a sense of relief to walk away from something that has caused so much chaos and heartache. There can’t be a relationship as long as there is abuse. I think there comes a point at which further help, support, and unconditional forgiveness only enables the toxic person and perhaps the most compassionate thing to do is step away to let the person reap the consequences of her/his behavior.

Photo by Steve Buissinne – Pixabay

We have been checkmated. We lay our king down on the game board in admitted defeat. “You have won and we have lost,” we say, as we sigh with relief and push away from the game we never wanted to play.

I am actually entering 2020 with extremely hopeful anticipation. Now that we have been thoroughly checkmated, thoroughly defeated, we can start life over with no more manipulative games. We plan to rest, soak in quiet peace, rediscover joyful delights, heal…without constant drama or chaos. We have sought these things all along, but it’s impossible to heal in the midst of abuse because there is so much turmoil and confusion. We plan to have zero tolerance for any sort of abusive behavior. The only people who will be allowed in our lives from this point forward are people who are kind. We anticipate 2020 will be our year of restoration.

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-29)

For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again…
(Prov 24:16)

The Psychological Chess Game

In my last post, I tried to explain how difficult it is to recognize a covert abuser, especially if you are ignorant of the dynamics of abuse. Abusers are so deceptive and manipulative, and so skilled at making their victims second-guess themselves, that it’s even difficult for victims to recognize abuse. EJ and I have struggled with abusive family throughout our marriage, we have spent years educating ourselves, and we still second-guess and blame ourselves. But over the years, as I have experienced various traits and tactics of abusers, I have developed a list of Red Flag behaviors that I personally watch for to help me recognize toxic people. These behaviors are often hidden from outsiders, but they help me and I’ll try to describe them in this post in the hopes that maybe they will help others who are in abusive relationships.

Photo by Daniel Tiriba – Pixabay

Emotional abuse is much like a game of chess. The goal of chess is to bring down the opposing king. This is done by removing as many of the king’s allies–pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, queen–as possible in order to isolate him and trap him. Without allies, the king is vulnerable to checkmate. Meanwhile, you use your own allies to protect yourself and to attack the opposing king. It’s a very tactical game.

Abusers use similar tactics in their psychological chess game. Using manipulation, lies, and other tactics, they work behind the scenes to remove as many of their victim’s supporters as possible, often turning their family and friends into their own supporters whom they use to protect themselves and attack their victims. Without support, the victim can be isolated and brought down.

Photo by Klimkin – Pixabay

Just as there are chess pieces with different roles and movements, so there are different types of people that an abuser uses. These can include well-meaning people who are ignorant of abuse and don’t realize they are being used as pawns. Or they can be people who choose to be willfully blind–they don’t want to see or hear what is happening or get involved. Others know what is happening, but they deliberately choose to align themselves with the abuser.  Whether ignorant or deliberate allies, all these people are used to destroy the victim. The terrible thing about the psychological chess game is that the victim is matching wits with a master and she doesn’t even know she’s in the game until suddenly she finds herself surrounded, with no support, fighting for survival.

I have been helped by the realization that abusers and their tactics are actually described throughout the Bible. We call them “abusers.” The Bible calls them “wicked people” or “evildoers.” I’d like you to see just a few of the many similarities between both modern descriptions of abusers and Biblical descriptions of the wicked.

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People who are good at the game of chess can easily recognize the type of tactic the opposing player is using in just a few moves. The tactics even have names, such as the King’s Gambit, the Sicilian Defense, the French Defense, and others. I’m not good at chess and I don’t know what any of those names mean (I found them listed on the Internet), but my point is that I’d like to train myself to recognize the behaviors/tactics of abusers in just a few moves so I won’t be totally blindsided and destroyed by them. Over the years, I’ve observed (and experienced) some behaviors that I want to set up as Red Flags to help me recognize abusers.

I think it’s important to note that abuse experts advise that people pay attention to patterns of behavior and that is what we are talking about here. We are not talking about good people who occasionally have a bad day.

Controlling/Critical

Abusive people are incredibly self-centered and controlling, demanding to be given what they want, when they want it, in exactly their way. If something isn’t done as they want, they excessively criticize and/or get very angry.

Excessive meddling is also part of this control. 1 Peter 4:15 says, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler.” For many years, I didn’t understand why “meddlers,” also called “busybodies,” were in this list because they seemed relatively harmless compared to the others. However, I’ve come to realize that meddlers are actually people who are on the self-centered end of the spectrum. In varying degrees they take on god-like powers over others: They assume their way is the only correct way, they assume they know what is best for others, and they assume they have the right to override the free-will of others. I’ve known some who have dictated such things as what opinions others should hold, what foods to eat (or not), where to shop, how to drive, where to live, what friends they should (or shouldn’t) have, what books to read (or not), what Bible version to read, what time of day to read the Bible, and so on. Most people occasionally meddle, but they also respect boundaries if told to back off. Abusers meddle excessively and refuse to respect boundaries when asked.

Bullying is also a type of controlling behavior. It is defined as “seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable).” Bullying is anything that is used to try to pressure/force a person to do something against her will. A bully can be an individual or a group. Sometimes an emotional abuser will stir up others to bully his or her victim.

All forms of control ignore healthy boundaries and are attempts to take away the freedoms of others–their right to have their own preferences, their own opinions, their own choices. Controlling behavior can sound nasty or sound “nice,” “reasonable,” or even “spiritual.” It can involve threats, anger, insults or more covert methods such as guilt, shame, ridicule, patronizing statements. People who control have the attitude that there’s MY way or the wrong way–which leads me to the next behavior:

Attitude of Superiority/Arrogance 

There are two different ways that these attitudes are revealed: Sometimes it is very obvious that people believe they are superior–they are boastful, arrogant, treat others as if they have less intelligence or value. Other times it is more covert. Superiority can masquerade as caring, doing what is best for others, being more humble or righteous than others.

For example, a couple who led a small group that EJ and I used to belong to often stated that “Most people cannot handle the truth so we must handle it for them.” They assumed they were wiser and more spiritual than others. They treated others–all with an attitude of caring–as if they were simple little children who didn’t know what was best for them. But God never tells us to “manage” other people or to make the truth “easier” for them by manipulating it. He says instead that “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

There are also what we call “toppers.” Their attitude is like the song in the old movie, Annie Get Your Gun:Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.” They don’t lift others up, they lift themselves. If a person shares that she had stayed up until midnight packing boxes for the poor, a “topper” virtuously comments that she stayed up far later and packed twice as many boxes. If someone jokes about never knowing what to fix for meals until the last moment, a topper shares that she prepares healthy meals a month in advance. Her marriage is the best ever, her parenting style is without flaw, and so on. I think such people must live in Lake Woebegone where, in their family, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

Being proud of your family or endeavors is not wrong, but excessive “topping” can be. The pattern of having to be the “bestest and mostest,” of never allowing another person to take “center stage,” is a Red Flag that I watch for, especially when other abusive behaviors are also present.

Wanting to win at all costs

I’ve heard a person say that “If I am not winning, I feel as if I am losing–and I don’t want to lose” so he/she has to win no matter what it costs or who it hurts. Such people always seek the advantage for themselves. I’ve also heard, “If a person is not 100% with me, they are against me.” This attitude leaves no room for differences, for compromise, for working together.

I think that the person who has to win all the time is very short-sighted. Galatians 6:7 says “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” These “winners” may win a few things–they may succeed in getting what they want for a while, but they end up losing much more than they win. They lose loving relationships. They lose respect. They might get the promotion by stabbing their co-workers in the back, but they lose their co-workers’ trust and loyalty. They might succeed in avoiding the “inconvenience” of helping others, but eventually people will be less willing to help them out (and rightly so). They might gain the world, but they lose their soul.

Lies/Manipulation/Deception

Abusive people are extremely manipulative and deceptive.

I’ve heard people who were leaders in their church say that they would have no problem lying to and deceiving others if it accomplished something (they felt was)  good. But the way we accomplish something matters, the end should never justify the means. In fact, one of the six things that Prov. 6:6-7 says that God particularly hates is “a lying tongue.” In John 8, Jesus said that those who lie are of their father the devil, who lied from the beginning.

Abusers also twist the truth and falsely accuse their victims and manipulate situations so they appear good and their victims bad. For example, I’ve known some who have provoked in secret and then pointed out their victims’ reactions to others as proof that they are the terrible ones. Or they might show others “proof” that they tried to reconcile and their victims refused, but they don’t mention all the times they were abusive so that the victim now knows that the “apologies” are not genuine.

People who truly love God will not believe lies or deception are good, they will love the truth.

Double standards

A pattern of double standards is a HUGE Red Flag. Abusers often demand from others things they refuse to give. For example, an abuser would:

  • Demand that you respect their boundaries but disregard yours.
  • Demand respect, but never give it.
  • Want you to make huge sacrifices for them, but won’t even inconvenience themselves for you.
  • Try to dictate who you are friends with (or not), but would never allow you to choose their friends.
  • Criticize you for the slightest (real or imagined) offense, but expect you to accept their most terrible behavior without a word.
  • Want you to “have their back,” but they never have yours.
  • Want you to show them mercy, but they never give you mercy.

The list can go on and on. Whenever someone demands from you things that they would never give, BEWARE.

Lack of Empathy/Compassion

In the beginning, emotional abusers can appear to be extremely loving and compassionate, but it’s an illusion. Once they have your love and trust, the mask falls off and they are extremely callous and uncaring. They might expect you to heap on the compassion for their paper cut, but have absolutely no empathy/compassion for your serious injury.

Greed/Lack of Generosity

Healthy relationships involve a balance of both giving and taking. Sometimes others give, sometimes we do. Sometimes we have a need that they meet, sometimes they have a need that we meet. Generosity flows naturally in a healthy, loving relationship. In contrast, abusive people tend to be takers. No matter how much we help them, it’s never enough. No matter how much we sacrifice, it’s always trivial. They take and take and take without ever giving back. This behavior shows deep self-centeredness, tremendous greed, a sense of entitlement, a lack of love.

Ingratitude

No matter how much you give to an abusive person, they are not grateful. They might throw a “thanks” at you now and then, but they always want more, what you do is never enough, and if you ever tell them “no,” they get angry and tell you, “You never do anything for me.”

Gratitude is extremely important, which is why both God and parents try to teach gratitude to their children. A person who is grateful recognizes the sacrifices of time, effort, or money that another person made on their behalf. A grateful person has humility. An ungrateful person has an attitude of greed, arrogance, and selfishness.

Angry Tantrums/Verbal Abuse

I do not believe that all anger is wrong. We ought to be angry about some things, such as abuse, injustice, cruelty, oppression. Anger can motivate us to make good changes in our lives or in society. Psalms 7:11 says that God “is angry with the wicked every day.” In the NT, Jesus was so angry at the money changers that he drove them out of the temple. However, uncontrolled, revengeful anger can destroy. The Bible warns us against this sort of anger:

  • Fools give full vent to their rage… (Prov 29:11)
  • A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict… (Prov 15:17)
  • Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered…(Prov 22:24)

I have encountered people who fly into a rage whenever they don’t get their way, even in little things. They curse, they insult, they rip people to shreds. I will no longer associate with people who are easily angered.

Financial Abuse

The wicked borrow and do not repay, (Ps 27:31)

I know that there are many ways that money can be used to abuse, such as an abusive husband who has such excessive control of the finances that he allows his wife very little money and/or demands that she account for every penny she spends. I’ve never experienced that sort of abuse.

However, we have experienced a different form of financial abuse. There are times when we have given money (or items) as a gift, no need to pay us back. There are also times we can’t afford to just give money, so we have lent it to meet a person’s temporarily need. Most of the time when we lend money we set generous repayment conditions, such as “Pay us when you can, or as much as you can afford.” However, we have also had a borrower refused to pay us back, even though it hurt us financially, even after EJ lost his job and we could have really used it. In fact, this person often used the money as leverage, promising to repay us if we did what he wanted or telling us he’d never repay us when he was angry. This person also demanded that we immediately “repay” him for every penny he felt owed to him. For example, if he drove us anywhere, he demanded that we immediately repay every cent for gas, even if it was a short drive or a medical emergency and we were struggling financially.

It reminds me very much of the parable in Matt 18:21-35, in which a king forgave a servant a HUGE debt, but then the servant had a fellow servant put into prison when he couldn’t immediately repay a tiny debt. The king was angered over the servant’s lack of mercy:  ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

We will never again lend anything to a person who has refused to repay us because of the lack of integrity, love, mercy, compassion, and generosity that is shown. To continue giving/helping such a person only empowers him. I’ve added to my list the Red Flag that “The wicked borrow and do not repay (Ps 27:31).

Forgiveness/Repentance

Repentance and forgiveness are not easy to write about because it’s been so twisted that it’s difficult to untangle. It would take several posts and many long conversations to pin down what forgiveness is and isn’t. I’ve found that to many people, “to forgive” means to never confront others, to overlook all offensive behaviors, and to unconditionally accept the other person without requiring any change whatsoever. Let me just say this: It is neither unloving nor unforgiving to set healthy boundaries or to stand up to evil.

Forgiveness requires repentance. Apologies and repentance are not the same things. Apologies are easy to give, and they aren’t always genuine. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories of a guy who beats up his wife and then brings her flowers, tearfully crying that he’s sorry and will never do it again. She forgives him, but a while later he beats her up again. And again. And again. The man apologized, but it wasn’t genuine. True repentance involves changed behavior. If you apologize but never change, you are not repentant, you are manipulative, you are abusive. I think Helena Knowlton did a good job explaining forgiveness in this article on her blog: Lies About Forgiveness.

There are other behaviors to watch for, but I think you get the idea. Again, it’s not always easy to see these behaviors when the abuser is hiding his abuse, but eventually his mask comes off–at least to the victim. If a person or situation feels “off,” there probably really is something wrong. And if you begin to see any of the behaviors listed here, you are likely dealing with an abuser.

To Tell The Truth

I’ve been pondering for a number of weeks (years, really) how to describe narcissistic/emotonal abusers to those who are ignorant about the dynamics of abuse. Dr. George Simon has said that what he calls “character disturbed people”–manipulative people such as narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths–are on the increase so the chances are high that you, or someone you know, will encounter these people in your life. The more ignorant you are about these people and their tactics, the higher the likelihood is that either you will become a victim yourself or you will end up defending and supporting the abuser.  If you support the abuser, even ignorantly, you add to the victim’s confusion and torment. So it’s really quite important to educate yourself.

Years ago there was a game show on TV called, “To Tell The Truth.” In the show, three contestants all identified themselves with the same name, for example, “My name is [John Smith]. Celebrity panelists had to identify which was actually the real “John Smith.” When the panelists questioned the contestants, the two “impostors” could lie whereas the real “John Smith” had to tell the truth. I think that identifying an abuser and victim is somewhat similar. The victim tells the truth, but the abuser skillfully uses all sorts of manipulation, deceit, gaslighting, and other tactics to make himself appear to be an innocent victim.

There is a huge difference between an abuser and a victim, but an abuser’s tactics are so powerful that even victims can have trouble recognizing abuse. It’s difficult to describe an abuser and his tactics when so much of it is hidden. For example, one advocate shared on his blog a true story of an abusive husband and his wife who went to counseling together. After several sessions, the counselor observed that they seemed to be at an impasse and they would make more progress if the wife spoke up more. So the wife shared the struggles she was having in the marriage. The husband broke down, and with choked voice and tears in his eyes confessed that he hadn’t been a good husband and that he would try to do better in the future. The counselor felt that there had been a real breakthrough and now the couple could make progress in healing the marriage. Sounds good, right? However, on the way home, the husband repeatedly slammed his wife’s head into the dashboard of the car, angrily yelling, “I told you to never say anything!” What do you think will happen in future counseling sessions? I’ll tell you: The wife won’t dare to speak up and she will be blamed for refusing to.work on the marriage while the husband will appear to be the one really trying. This sort of scenario–and others–happens all the time. 

“I think a servant of the enemy would look fairer and feel fouler.”  ~ Frodo Baggins

Because appearances really are deceiving, I have often wondered how to explain to others–or even myself–how to recognize abusers.

  • There are some genuinely good people in the world who are kind, loving, and a delight to know, but abusers also often appear very charming and loving when you first meet them because they want to draw you into their web. They only start their abuse later. It can be a challenge to tell the fake from the real when you first meet someone.
  • Advocates say “always believe the victim” and this is truly essential. Disbelief actually validates and empowers the abuser, which causes the victim more confusion, makes her blame herself more, makes her try harder. It also isolates her from support, makes her more vulnerable to the abuser, and makes it more difficult to escape and recover.  Yet, abusers often “play the victim” very convincingly. So how does a person who is ignorant of the dynamics of abuse tell the difference between a true victim and an abuser who is pretending to be one? I think that maybe some of the reasons people disbelieve the victim is:
    1. They don’t understand the dynamics of abuse.
    2. They don’t see everything that is going on because the abuser is so skilled at hiding it.
    3. They assume cruel actions must be “unintentional,” because they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that anyone could be so deliberately cruel and enjoy causing others pain.
    4. If, as they believe, the abuse is unintentional then the victim must surely be over-reacting, negative, bitter, petty, judgmental. So it’s all her fault.
    5. They assume there are easy fixes: If you (the victim) just stop holding grudges, if you just unconditionally love and forgive him (the abuser), or pray for him, or have the right attitude, then he will miraculously transform into a better person.
    6. They don’t realize that abusers consider people who are forgiving and loving as “sheep to be sheared,” as vulnerable to exploitation, and…go back to #1.
  • Abusers often torment their victims until they can’t take anymore and then they condemn them for their reactions as if their reactions are the problem and not the abuse. The abuser’s anger is a deliberate tactic. A victim’s anger is a natural reaction to abuse and injustice. But how is an ignorant person supposed to tell the difference when they just see the anger of the victim? I don’t know how to explain it.
  • Advocates point out that abusers use the Silent Treatment. Victims are urged to go No Contact. On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between the Silent Treatment and No Contact. The difference is that the abuser uses the Silent Treatment as a manipulative tactic while the victim goes No Contact to escape the abuser. Usually, after a period of silence, an abuser will try to re-establish contact with his victim because he doesn’t want to lose her any more than a spider wants a fly to escape his web.

So what is a fool-proof way of telling the difference between the real victim and the pretender? I’m not quite sure. It may be that abuse is something a person can’t understand unless she experiences it–at which point she becomes the person being ripped apart by the wolf with no one to help. Maybe the abuse information is mostly just helpful to the victims–helping them see through the confusion, helping them to understand what’s happening, helping them to get support. Maybe advocates are like the people who were part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, secretly helping slaves escape while most people were ignorantly living their lives. Maybe it’s useless trying to inform the ignorant.

And, yet, as I said at the beginning of this post, people who are ignorant of abuse are themselves at risk for abuse and/or for empowering the abuser. Sometimes helping the abuser can have dire consequences, such as when people urge a victim to return to her abuser and she ends up getting murdered. So it matters. The very basic advice I’d give to people is never, ever, pressure someone to “forgive” and reconcile with a person she has cut off contact with–whether it’s a spouse, family member, friend, or whoever. No matter how wonderful you think that other person is, you might have no idea what he’s doing when no one can see. Also, don’t try to “fix” an abuse victim, don’t tell her she will recover if she just does these few steps, and don’t tell her to just “move on” or “get over it.” Narcissistic/emotional abuse is not easy to recover from because, as one advocate wrote, “it affects the very core of your heart, mind, and soul.”

In my next post, I will describe some of the Red Flags I have developed, based on my own experience, to help me personally recognize toxic/abusive people. They are behaviors that I will be alert for, behaviors that will help me set boundaries about what I will or will not tolerate. Maybe my list will help someone else.

Hannah Joy’s Gift

I have friends who we’ve “adopted” as family.

My friends sent Hannah Joy a Christmas gift. Because of a snafu, it arrived after Christmas instead of before, but I reassured my friend that Hannah didn’t know any better. Hannah was so excited to get her gift. As soon as she realized it was for her, she went wild:

Hannah could hardly wait as EJ got the gift out of the box for her.

Hannah played with her ball constantly for several hours. If we came too close to her, she turned her back on us so we wouldn’t take her ball. She growled whenever a cat came near.

After a couple hours, she went out to the kitchen to check the box her ball had come in, just in case there was another gift in it. She checked the box repeatedly, even sitting under the table for a while before checking again. I think she must have checked it a dozen times.

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Hannah’s chewed ball.

Sadly, we had to throw away the ball when Hannah wasn’t looking because she was chewing it up. I waited until she wasn’t looking. She is a very aggressive chewer and it’s difficult to find toys for her. But, oh, she had a wonderful time while it lasted.

 

 

Merry Christmas & Happy Hanukkah!

I hope your holidays are filled with peace and joy

Our friends, who are really our “adopted” family, sent us an Instant Pot for a gift. We received it a week or so ago, and we’ve been having a wonderful time with it. It’s fun cooking in the kitchen together. The food cooks quickly in the Instant Pot and is utterly delicious. For us it was love at first bite.

So far we’ve made pot roast, chicken and potatoes, and chicken teriyaki. I’ve been printing out recipes from the Internet that look interesting and putting them in a binder. Today we went to the store and bought a few extra ingredients so we can make more foods. We have a lot of things we’d like to try–like yogurt, cheesecake, and many other dishes.

EJ has continued to make bread, learning as he goes. He is having trouble getting the bread to rise, even though he bought new yeast. We think our house is too cold. We are trying to learn how to proof the bread in the Instant Pot. Tonight he is making donuts. We celebrate Hanukkah and donuts are one of the traditional foods. Latkes are another. I made some yesterday. There were delicious.

In between making donuts, we’ve been watching literary movies tonight–first The Scarlet Pimpernel and now Ivanhoe.

Tomorrow we are going to cook a turkey, and I will make more potpies from the leftovers.

Pardon My French

I haven’t written for a couple weeks–not since December 1. I (and EJ too) have had a lot on my mind that I’ve been processing and working through. It is difficult to write when my heart is filled with sadness. Yet, we know that the decisions needed to be made, and we will get through this. I actually have a lot of hope for the coming year–that we will be able to heal. Maybe I will write about what we’ve learned over the years about letting go and reaching forward closer to the New Year, at least in part.

But not right now.

Right now I want to write about happy things, not sad ones.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself reading the first book of one of my favorite series aloud to EJ. I often describe to him interesting books I am reading or read him a well-written sentence or description that I enjoy, but I don’t often read aloud whole books. But this series, Time Wars by Simon Hawke, is a lot of fun, with some humor as well as some interesting philosophical discussions about time travel, so one thing led to another and I read the whole book. Every few chapters, I asked EJ, “You want me to stop or continue?” He replied, “Continue if you aren’t tired,” so I did. I enjoyed sharing the book with him.

So I started reading the second book with EJ. We both thought it would be fun to read the whole series together. Only this particular book took place in France during the time of the Musketeers. This caused me a lot of problems because it had some French words in it–such as monsieur or D’Artagnan–and I simply cannot pronounce them. EJ tried to help me, and I’d get the words right (more or less) once or twice before they slipped away from me again. I ended up laughing so hard that I cried every time I came to one of the unpronounceable French words that I thoroughly mangled. I finished the chapter–barely–and then I told EJ that he was going to have to read the second book aloud because I simply couldn’t do it.

I apologize if I have any French readers, but it seems to me that their language is filled with unnecessary letters–such as the word “devereaux,” which was the name of a road in the area we used to live. It is pronounced, “dever-roo.” Uh, at least I think it is. Why not just spell it that way? How “eaux” becomes “oo,” I will never understand. Why is the “x” even in the word? Did some long-ago insane Frenchman decide to just throw a bunch of letters together and pronounced them as he pleased with no rhyme nor reason?

The French should not feel insulted because I think the English language–MY language–is wacky too. After my aborted attempt to read the book, EJ and I started redesigning the English language. For example, the letter “c” sometimes has a hard sound like “k” and sometimes a soft sound like “s” in English. So why not simply use “k” and “s” and forget the “c”? So “Cindy” would become “Sindy” and car would be “kar. But then EJ said that the letter “c” could be used for the “ch” sound, using one letter instead of two to make the sound. Awesome idea! “Church” would be spelled “curc.” And we would make the letter “g” for the hard “gah” sound and use “j” for the soft sound it sometimes makes, since a soft “g” and the “j” sound the same. Therefore, “garage,” in which the first “g'” is hard and the second “g” is soft would instead be spelled “garaje.”  EJ said he would just use the “Q” and drop off the “u” in words since the two are always paired, making the “u” unnecessary. Given time, we could rewrite the whole English language so it made more sense. I wouldn’t dare try to rewrite French. 🙂

Ah, well, I will bid this topic adieu. That’s pronounced “Ah-doo.” Or “Ad-you.” Or something.

Our neighbor

Our neighbor down the road and around the corner has been snowblowing our driveway for us. He started doing it last year when he saw me struggling to snow blow our driveway.  It takes us at least 2 hours with our small snowblower to clear our driveway and he can do it in about 20 minutes–if that–with his tractor. He does other neighbors’ driveways too and doesn’t accept payment. I’d like to fix him a plate of tasty treats for Christmas as a thank you because it’s such a blessing for him to do it for us.

My friend told me that one of her friends bought an instant pot earlier in the year and loved it so much that she’s been urging her to get one too. I guess you can cook all sorts of foods in it at a fraction of the time it would normally take with other methods. My friend bought one for a relative for Christmas, but then she and her husband decided to buy themselves one too. And then they thought, “EJ and TJ cook a lot. I bet they’d get a lot of use out of one” so they bought us one too! They are such awesome friends. In fact, we have “adopted” them as family.

The post office sent me an email notifying me that the gift would arrive today. Delivery people do not like to drive up our long, steep driveway in the winter so they put packages in a wooden box at the end of the driveway. I call it “The Magic Box” because every now and then packages “magically” appear in it. 🙂  I suspected the package would be large, heavy, and unwieldy to carry so I got one of our sleds out of the garage. I sort of cracked it a little when it hit something as I pulled it down from the rafters, but it’s still usable for my purposes. As soon as I received a text from the post office that the package was delivered, I walked down the driveway with the sled to get it. EJ would have driven down, but he was still sleeping and I didn’t want to wait. We can’t see The Magic Box from the house and I read of people stealing packages–they are called “porch pirates”–so I like to retrieve packages as soon as I can.

I opened The Magic Box and there was my package! It was indeed large, heavy, and unwieldy, so I was glad I had thought to bring the sled. I put the package on my sled and pulled it up the long, steep, snowy driveway. I felt like a hardy homesteader of by-gone days overcoming harsh conditions. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but it was a bit cold and it’s fun to imagine.

Not yours, Hannah Joy.

When I got the package in the house, Hannah Joy looked it all over. I think she thought it was hers. I told her it wasn’t but she didn’t appear to believe me. An hour or so later, she saw Timmy touching the box and warned him away with a sharp bark. I reminded Hannah that the package was not hers, and Timmy wasn’t hurting it. Hannah isn’t too fond of Timmy the cat.

EJ has already been looking up recipes of things to make with the instant pot.

I am sending my friend some mincemeat for a gift.  She said her family has never had mincemeat pie. Mincemeat is my absolute favorite kind of pie and I wanted her to experience it. I’m also intending to send her a few other things, but I can’t tell you because I want it to be a surprise and she reads my blog. She knows about the mincemeat but not the other things.

 

The First of December

EJ left on Friday morning to hunt in the 100-acre woods on the other side of the state. Sadly, he didn’t get a deer (I actually saw more at our Enchanted Forest than he did) but he got a chance to enjoy quiet beauty in a beautiful forest and “that’s not nothin’.”

EJ left the 100-acre woods to drive home last night at about 7 pm. He had debated staying another day, but I’m glad he decided to drive home last night because a wintry mix of freezing rain, sleet, and snow was forecast for our area. Most of his drive home was clear. He just ran into some freezing rain near home. Hannah Joy was SO excited when he arrived home. She zoomed around and wouldn’t let him out of her sight.

Yesterday we had no snow on the ground, but we woke up this morning to a beautiful snow-covered world.

The church decorations on our wedding day.

It is also our 29th wedding anniversary. On our wedding day, the church was beautifully decorated for Christmas so we didn’t have to do any decorating ourselves. EJ had just started a new job and couldn’t get time off so we had a short weekend honeymoon. We drove north to Ludington, Michigan, through town after town festive with beautiful Christmas lights and decorations. It was very special–as if the whole world was celebrating our weddng day with us. We drove home on Monday morning through a blizzard because EJ had to be to work that evening. We stopped at a little restaurant halfway home and had the most delicious coffee we had ever had in our lives. I’m glad we had a snowy December wedding.

This morning EJ suggested that we could go to a restaurant to celebrate our anniversary. I said, “On a day like this? With slippery roads? I’d rather stay cozy at home!” He felt the same. Our Thanksgiving pies are eaten so I suggested that we make more because “everyone knows that the traditional gift for a 29th Anniversary is pie!” So once again, I made the pie dough for both pies, poured a jar of mincemeat filling on one while and EJ made the pumpkin pie filling for the other. It’s fun cooking together.

Mincemeat Pie

I sorted through my more than 30 cookie cutters to find one to decorate the mincemeat pie. I decided to decorate the pie with snowflakes and mittens in honor of the snowy day. At first, I couldn’t find the mitten cookie cutter and I cried, “I’ve lost my mitten! Now I shall have no pie!” But then I found it so I got pie after all. I thought the mincemeat pie looked awesome. It tasted awesome too.

EJ is now making another batch of bread. When he has that rising, we are going to bake two of the little turkey potpies I made on Friday–one of each of us. Later we hope to watch the last of The Hobbit movies.

We’ve had ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and our love has grown through it all. I can’t think of a better way to spend our 29th anniversary: cozy at home, together.

 

Tradition

I know the holidays can be difficult for many people, for a variety of reasons, but I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. Or survived.

Breadzel

EJ’s first attempt at making homemade bread a week or so ago turned out wonderfully so he tried again earlier this week. It didn’t turn out as expected because the bread didn’t rise. However, he baked it anyway and then cut it into rectangles. It actually was pretty good. It had almost a pretzel taste to it. EJ was trying to come up with a name for it. I suggested “bread-zel” which seemed appropriate. Now I wonder if he can recreate it.

Wednesday I made dough for our Thanksgiving pies. EJ prepared pumpkin filling and I put together the mincemeat–which just involved opening a jar and pouring it in the pie but, hey, I had made the dough for the pies. I also used a cookie cutter to put a forest of decorative trees on my pie. I have a large tin filled with a lot of different shaped cookie cutters. I seldom use them for cookies. Instead, I use them to make decorative pie crusts, interestingly shaped biscuits, and other such things.

My homemade buns.

On Thanksgiving morning, EJ got the turkey in the roaster. He wasn’t sure it was thawed enough even though he had taken it out of the freezer last Friday. Meanwhile, I made homemade buns. They didn’t rise well the first time, and only a little the second time. I think our yeast is too old. I thought, “Oh, well, que sera, sera” which I think basically means “what will be, will be.” We didn’t stress because Thanksgiving isn’t about food, it’s about gratitude for blessings. EJ’s turkey got done even earlier than expected and was very tasty, and my buns raised while baking and were delicious.

I boiled potatoes and made the stuffing–just stuffing from a box. EJ was going to make green bean casserole but he decided just to fix pea pods and mushrooms. We ate the fried onions that are supposed to go on top of the casserole as a snack later.  Haha!

As usual, Hannah Joy kept very close by my side as I worked in the kitchen, which means I kept bumping into her. She keeps hoping that tidbits will fall to the floor, which she can gobble up. Although I don’t let it happen intentionally, food does escape often enough to keep Hannah optimistic.

Later in the afternoon, EJ and I watched The Hobbit together. We got through two of the movies and will finish the third at the first opportunity.

This morning EJ left to go hunting at his friend’s 100-acre woods. He will return tomorrow, probably. We could get some bad weather Saturday night and Sunday, including freezing rain. I hope he gets home before it hits.

Traditionally, many people go shopping today, the day after Thanksgiving, when most businesses offer huge bargains. I traditionally spend the day after Thanksgiving making potpies with leftover turkey. I usually make several large pies, which I freeze for later meals. This year, however, I used small 5 1/2 inch disposable pie plates to make 13 little individual pies. With just EJ and me at home, it makes more sense to make little pies. I can cook two at a time–one for him and one for me–and it’s just enough. I used my turkey cookie cutter to make a little turkey on each pie. I put all the potpies in the freezer except for one, which I baked and ate for my supper. It was yummy, if I do say so myself. Homemade potpies are one of my most favorite meals.

I’d like to get a few more small disposable pie plates to make and freeze dessert pies for when we are really hungry for something sweet.

 

Thanksgiving

To all my USA readers

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

 

Thanksgiving Prep

We continue to have warmer weather–in the 40s. It’s almost more “jacket” weather than “winter coat” weather. Our snow has all melted and the chickens are enjoying wander through the garden. When it’s too cold or snowy, they prefer to stay inside the coop. A winter storm is forecast to arrive in Michigan on Thanksgiving Day, but I think the snow will slip through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and we will mostly get a rain/snow mix. If it gets slippery, that could cause problems for our area, but we will be snug at home so it won’t affect our household.

Friday afternoon I made a double batch of honey granola while EJ decided to make bread. The bread was very tasty. EJ said that perhaps he will make bread regularly from now on. That works for me! Hannah Joy was very interested in EJ’s bread-making endeavor–mostly because she was hoping something would fall to the floor so she could eat it.

We adopted Hannah Joy from the Animal Shelter two days before Christmas in 2017. Her previous owner had starved her and she was just skin and bones when we brought her home. She was so thin that I bought her a pretty Nordic coat to keep her warm on the cold winter days. The coat fit her but the hood didn’t so yesterday I cut the hood off. I was afraid I’d ruin the coat, but I didn’t. I crocheted a border on the hood and sewed velcro on it. I might crochet a collar on the coat, but I don’t think it really needs it. Now Hannah has a pretty coat and a hat that fits her. EJ called her “adorkable” because she looks adorable and dorky at the same time. I made her model it this morning:

Hannah Joy

Of course, it’s too warm outside for Hannah to wear her nordic coat and, besides, she needs to wear her hunter’s orange vest during hunting season so she isn’t mistaken for a deer. But when hunting season is over and winter hits us, Hannah Joy will be pretty and warm in her coat and hat.

Edison and his Mama came by yesterday to eat from the bird feeders. I finally was able to get a good photo of them. You can see how tiny Edison is:

Millie

Millie was at the bird feeders this morning. She was very interested in the birds that came to eat. However, Millie isn’t the fierce huntress that Miss Madeline Meadows, our serial killer cat, was. Madeline was an awesome cat and I miss her, but I’m rather glad I’m not finding dead bodies every day. It always horrified me and made me sad. With Madeline gone, we are getting more cardinals up near the house.

This weekend EJ and I planned our Thanksgiving meal. We have developed the tradition of both us preparing the meal to divide the labor. I’ll make the pies on Wednesday–most definitely pumpkin and mincemeat, and maybe apple. EJ is going to stop at Meijers on his way home from work this week to buy little disposable 5″ pie pans. I want to make a lot of small pies to freeze so we can occasionally enjoy dessert without overindulging. The day after Thanksgiving, I always make potpies from leftover turkey. This year I’ll make small turkey pot pies freeze them as well.

On Thanksgiving morning, I will make dinner rolls while EJ prepares the turkey and also makes the green bean casserole. The other tasks we can divide up, depending on who is free at the moment.

I’ve been thinking today of how much I value friends my friends. I want to say thank you so much for your encouragement, comfort, laughter, and awesome uniqueness. I value you all.

Mommy Radar

We’ve had several days of warm weather–warm for November, that is, with temperatures often reaching into the mid-40s (F). Today is gray with rain and fog. Our snow has mostly melted, although we are supposed to get high winds and rain/snow tonight. The wind is already getting stronger. The snow probably won’t stay since the temperatures will still be in the low 40s.

EJ went back to work yesterday after being off work most of last week because he was sick. He still is not feeling tip-top, but I think there is some improvement. The radiologist called the day after EJ had x-rays at the clinic to tell him that he didn’t have pneumonia. Just bronchitis, which is bad enough. EJ had taken two vacation days this week for deer season. Instead of going hunting, he stayed home and took meds. His friend offered to shoot a deer or two for us at his 100-acre woods so even if EJ couldn’t go hunting, we may still get venison.  EJ doesn’t usually hunt the deer on our property because they are too “known” to us.

Edison and his Mama

The does and their little ones come frequently up to eat from the birdfeeders. One little deer who comes up with his (or her) Mama is so small that he can just eat from the birdbath. Last year we called a little deer “Einstein.” This year we call the littlest one “Edison.”

I think it was Edison’s Mama who broke the birdbath feeder. She was on her hind legs eating from the lantern birdfeeder. When she came down, she caught the edge of the “bowl” and broke it. This morning I got a wooden box from our raised garden and set it on the deck with corn in it. We put a little corn out in hopes the deer will ignore our hanging birdfeeders, which they kind of sometimes do. A deer came up to the box but the unfamiliarity spooked her. A chipmunk has been enjoying the corn most of the day, stuffing his cheeks full.

The wooden box

EJ insists that I wear an orange hat during deer season. Generally, most hunters are very responsible people who follow gun safety rules, but there are always a few irresponsible people who go hunting and every year there are reports of someone getting killed. Just last year, EJ says, a guy on his own property–not far from us–got killed by an idiot who shot without making sure it was a deer he was aiming at. So I wear my orange hat outside.

Hannah in Orange

I also stuck an orange hat in Hannah Joy’s harness whenever I took her outside because she could easily be mistaken for a deer. When I told my friend that, she was worried about Hannah’s safety and insisted on buying her a hunter’s orange coat. It arrived on Tuesday. Hannah now wears a bright orange coat when she goes outside. Someone would have to be blind to mistake her for a deer now. She almost glows in the dark!

As a thank you–and a just because–gift, I made my friend’s dog a scarf, which I mailed today. I would show it to you, but although my friend knows I was making her dog a scarf, she doesn’t know what it looks like. I want to surprise her. Plus, I totally forgot to take photos. Bummer. Fortunately, she has already told me she would take photos. Her dog is so dapper that he could be a top dog model on a magazine cover.

Hannah has sort of been bad. The other day she stole an apple and ate it, which isn’t all that bad, but yesterday she started to eat one of my nice mittens. I always know when Hannah is eating something she shouldn’t because she sneaks off to our bedroom and eats the contraband on our bed, with her back toward the door to hide it. She reminds me a bit of JJ. When he was little–maybe preschool-aged–he would hide under the table whenever he did something he knew he shouldn’t. I’d see him under the table and say, “Ok, so what did you do?” He was always amazed that I somehow knew he had gotten into something. I told him that I knew because all mothers have a special Mommy Radar which alerts us when our children are doing something wrong. He didn’t figure out my secret until years later. LOL.

So, anyway, Hannah usually hangs out with us so whenever she suddenly disappears, I know I will find her on the bed eating something she shouldn’t. Yup. It’s that old Mommy Radar at work. I rescued my mitten before Hannah totally ate it, but it’s pretty much ruined. But I forgave Hannah because she is so dog-gone lovable.

Opening Day

EJ hasn’t felt well all week. He finally went to an urgent care clinic yesterday afternoon. I went with him. When I saw only a couple of cars in the parking lot, I thought that we’d be in and out quickly. Usually, I go into the exam room with EJ, but because we thought it would be quick, I stayed out in the waiting room. I waited and waited and waited and waited for him to return. I would have texted EJ to ask him how it was going, but he had left his phone in his coat pocket, which was with me. I got stiff from sitting so I periodically stood and stretched. I was beginning to think he had been forgotten or disappeared, but he finally came out. He had had a chest x-ray because the doctor believes he likely has pneumonia. We stopped at Meijers on the way home to fill the prescriptions EJ was given. He has three different medications to take.

Today is the opening day of deer season. EJ would have been on his way across the state to hunt at his friend’s 100-acre farm. Instead, he’s snoozing in his chair. He looks forward to deer season all year, and I know he hates to miss opening day, but I’m glad he is being reasonable and taking care of himself.

 

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