The Toothpick-Legged Sheep

When I was growing up, we, like many families, had a manger scene. It was set up in our dining room each December. My mom would pull out a few encyclopedias (remember those?) off the shelf in our den, stack them on the “little buffet” table to the side of our dining room table, and then gently unfold and spread out a piece of green velvet that was reserved for this one special role. Together they became a verdant, green hill. 

Then we would take the lid off the sturdy white J. M. Towne department store box and unwrap the cast of characters from their blankets of yellowing tissue paper. This tissue paper, probably from circa 1965, was invincible. It was used and reused and not going anywhere. It smelled of mustiness and evergreens, and still retained a bit of the cold from being stored up in our attic. 

There was Mary. Joseph. The manger and then a separate Baby Jesus you could take out (and hide in the top drawer until Christmas morning when he was officially “born”).  A shepherd. A herd of sheep. A donkey. Two cows. Three wise men. A camel. And an angel. 

The angel stood on top of the velvet hill, overlooking the mother and father with the manger positioned between them. And then the animals, shepherd, and wise men took their places. 

Because our manger scene was so prominently displayed on a low side table,  it was attractive to the little hands of my nieces and nephews. But it was never considered off-limits. So, the scene might be re-arranged, and suddenly the angel was accompanied by a camel and a wiseman, Joseph was manning the manger and Mary was out on the dining room table along with the sheep, who were now having a picnic with my mom’s collection of assorted pig figurines and miniature pretend foods. It was like a Catholic Calico Critters set. 

After years and years, the set got a little bit chipped—the patina of play. But of all the figures, the sheep really took the brunt of it. Their delicate carved legs were individually positioned perfectly by the good people at Fontanini so that the sheep could be balanced and stand on their own (today’s toy manufacturers should take note). Even though each sheep was designed to be slightly different from the others, with a neck turned slightly, or a foot lifted a bit as if mid-step, they could stand. That is, until, they couldn’t.

Where did those wayward legs go? No one knows, I guess. Because, if found, my Mom would have reused them using her trusty glue gun. But these were fairly down-and-dirty repairs. I bet I can guess the reason. My Mom had 6 children of her own, upwards of 15 grandchildren (at the time, #16 didn’t come until 2012), and she was the Keeper of all the Christmas Magic. It’s not like she had time to whittle new sheep appendages. 

The first sheep to lose an extremity was given a prosthetic. But not a discreet one; she just snapped off a piece of a toothpick, glued it on, and boom, that sheep was back in action on the velvet stage. It’s debatable whether the second sheep fared better. After an incident that involved the loss of two limbs, he just got the two remaining hooves (or whatever they are on sheep?) hot glued to a piece of brown cardboard for stability. Back to work, Muttonchop. 

Over the years, my mom accumulated several more Nativity Sets. By this time, I was an opinionated twenty-year old, and in my estimation, *this was too many nativity scenes.* Flash forward maybe a decade later, we were helping to move my parents out of their home. Our task involved trying to downsize their 40+ years of accumulated belongings by about 95%. It was a heart-wrenching process, but it was clear that almost everything had to go. 

Going through some boxes, I found the Nativity scene. I knew as soon as I came across it—this was not destined for the dumpster in the driveway. At this stage in our lives, my siblings already had accrued Nativity scenes of their own. But Rick and I had only been married for a few years, and we hadn’t. So there wasn’t any negotiation needed, the manger scene came to New Hampshire with us. 

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know who now has a minimum of three nativity sets displayed at this time of the year. Because that’s how life goes. The moment you open your big bratty trap is the exact moment that thing becomes sealed in your destiny. We moan and groan about our parents’ idiosyncrasies as we “grow up” and grow out into the wide, wide world, and then one day turn around and promptly do the same things

This tattered old set is now one of my most prized possessions. I don’t know exactly how to describe the way I feel about it except to say that it’s the polar opposite of buyer’s remorse. When it’s early in December (or the day after Thanksgiving, who are we kidding?) and I go to unpack my Christmas decorations, I think to myself, I am so glad I was able to keep this set.  

One look at it and I am transported back to my childhood. My house growing up. The smells of Christmas. The bitter cold wind stinging my face. Being together as a family, with all or almost all of my older siblings under one roof. My parents—the dynamic duo, with Dad working tirelessly to finance Christmas and Mom, making it happen.  An ever-expanding crew of in-laws and babies. A fancy dinner out followed by the sleepy silence of a Midnight Mass. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I fared well in the presents department, too. (Just ask any one of my siblings…) But my parents also gave me (and all 6 of us) the best gift—the gift of faith. They weren’t opposed to “the things” of Christmas, but it was always clear that this holiday centered on the celebration of Jesus’ birth. I mean, it was laid out before us right there in the dining room. 

Now displayed in MY dining room (sans encyclopedias, green velvet, or three wisemen and camel which got lost in the shuffle somehow), the manger scene now hopefully provides the same kind of subtle lesson for Ryan. Together, he and I unwrap the pieces, and I lay eyes on the familiar faces of old friends: Mary, Joseph, the sweet little Baby Jesus, the angel, the shepherd, the cows, the donkey, and the ovine crew—of course, including the cardboard-mounted ewe and the toothpick-legged sheep. 

Well, hello there!


Saw this hands-on exhibit at the Portland Children’s Museum in May. I’m Finding Alice everywhere!

First of all, I just want to say thank you for all the support after I started this blog earlier in the year. I am so lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who rally behind my cockamamie ideas.

Secondly, I wanted to report back that I received an overwhelming amount of feedback from friends from all chapters of my life who shared that they, too, cope with anxiety and/or depression.

If you are following along with my blog because you can relate to some of those mental health challenges, just a reminder: We are SO NOT ALONE. I knew that, or at least suspected it, but it became very apparent when so many friends opened up to me about what they struggle with as well.

For this reason, I feel it’s important to share that I tabled the blog for the winter/spring because I got pretty walloped by a wave of depression. It wasn’t completely shocking – winter is historically a tough time of year for me, with like 7 minutes of sunshine per day. And after the fun of Christmas is over, January, February, and March (…and April…and most of May) in New Hampshire are long months. On the other hand, there was really no reason to feel so awful.

That’s what I’ve found to be so frustrating about depression. It can hit you so hard, and yet absolutely nothing is “wrong.” In fact, there are so many blessings in my life, I felt really ungrateful for feeling so down.

Thankfully, I wasn’t completely incapacitated, as I know many people can be. I just put my head down and focused on moving forward, but all of my energy went to keeping life normal for Rick and Ryan, and taking care of myself. There was no creative juice left for Finding Alice.

I want to put it in writing for myself, for when I have down moments again, and for anyone else who needs to read it: It will get better. When you are in the throes of it, it is virtually impossible to believe. But it will. It will get better.

Increasing my medication, maintaining regular check-ins with my therapist, lots and lots of prayer, adding more structure to my days, being patient, being grateful, and holding out hope for better days —these were some of the steps I took to help. I also tried to incorporate some exercise (let’s get real, this was minimal but since my baseline is fairly, um, nonexistant, I think even a little helped. To my body it must’ve felt like I was marathon training even though I was just walking on the treadmill!) Self-care was also key. For me, self-care treats are things like taking a bath while reading People or Us Magazine, and also watching or listening to comedians on Netflix and Spotify. Laughter is the best medicine, they say. (Well…maybe second to anti-depressants?)

As I prepared to get back into the blog, I was thinking about what to write for this post, and the Gospel reading on September 8 (Luke 14: 25-33) had a line that particularly struck me:

“No one who does not carry his cross and come after me can be my disciple.”

I had to smile and have a little conversation in my heart with my Mom, who was very vocal about the fact that we all have our crosses, our struggles, to carry—just as Jesus carried his cross. Whenever I’d lament the (seemingly) perfect life of a friend at school, or get down about something, she was always quick with the reminder, “We all have our crosses, Katie. And you wouldn’t want someone else’s.” It was always hard to argue with that one.

So, here’s to carrying our crosses. May we all find the strength to carry them each day and look for ways to help other carry theirs.



The Mistake

I am the youngest of six kids. When I was born in July of 1981, my Dad was 48 and my Mom was 43. My siblings were 20, 19, 18, 17, and 14 years old.

It is shocking to me the amount of people who, my WHOLE LIFE, have said, immediately upon hearing this information, “Oh, so you were a mistake.” Sometimes instead of “mistake” the word “oops” has been substituted, but still, the sentiment was the same.

Of course, I get it. Fourteen years is a long time. I welcome exclamations. Appropriate responses could include “Wow!” or “What a big family!” or “That’s a big age gap!” But maybe, and I’m just riffing here, but maybe you shouldn’t call someone a “mistake,” like ever, maybe. Even if you’re thinking it, don’t SAY IT! Keep it in your thought bubble, as they say at my son’s school.

Like, how exactly should I respond to that? “Yup! Totally not meant to be. It’s a wonder I can even do anything around here being all mistakey and stuff. Just going to head over here to the Island of Misfit Toys…”

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Ah, the depression and therapy is making ALLLLLLLLLL sorts of sense and it’s only her fourth post. Katie, you can start saving all those co-pays, I understand the root of all your issues!”

But surprisingly, from the very beginning, these words—though having very destructive potential—miraculously never impacted me. For all of my shortcomings and immaturity in a variety of arenas, not to mention being overly-sensitive at times (lots of times, Rick might say!), I have always had an amazingly mature perspective on this one. For some reason, I always knew that this kind of statement said nothing about me, and everything about the speaker. After all, who says that!??! (It turns out, a lot of people.)

My sense of security in this area stems from the two greatest parents, Tom and Alice Morris. My parents made it very clear that, technically, none of their children were planned. As Catholics and the OG Rule Followers, Rulio Iglesias and Rulia Louis-Dreyfus, they put it all in God’s hands.

Now, I’ll take a step back and give you this: When three of your siblings are in college and two are in high school at the time you are born, you are a bit of a… surprise. And that’s the word I use. Surprise. See the difference?

Mistake. SURPRISE!

Mistake. SURPRISE!

I hear “mistake” and I think of grubby elementary school worksheets with smudgy pencil marks that have to be erased.  But “surprise”? That’s like, colorful balloons and confetti! A surprise party! And trust me, I’ve been a party.

Over the course of my life, I’ve learned more about the details of the story. My Mom, being positively GERIATRIC at age 43 was at a higher risk of having a baby with a genetic abnormality because of her age. And on top of that, she also suffered from ulcerative colitis (similar/related to Crohn’s disease) so there were some major health risks that would come along with this pregnancy. She was heavily advised by her doctor to have an abortion.

Now, Alice wasn’t having that for even a split second and she made that very clear to her doctor. For that, I am grateful. But I can appreciate that, at that moment, life took a rapid hairpin turn right back to the starting line of parenthood. For over two decades, she and my dad had worked very hard together to raise their wonderful kids. They were almost there!

While my Mom (a nurse by training) was at home running the show, my Dad was making the benjamins as a middle school math teacher. Together in their “off hours” (if parents even really have those) they also worked on their side hustle, a group tour travel business, which was really taking off. They were finally getting to be in a financially secure place, starting to travel themselves, and beginning to put their retirement plans into place. As we ALL can imagine, traditionally retirement plans do not include a smart-assy, shrimp cocktail-eating, demander of cotton stirrup pants because jeans feel uncomfortable. Traditionally.

Now the logical trajectory of this argument is for me to now say, “And WHERE WOULD THE WORLD BE without Katie Morris Feeney in it!??!” But I also have enough perspective to say, I’m just a person. I’m insignificant to most. I haven’t found a cure for cancer. I don’t have the solution for world peace. I’m sitting here right now (on January 17) looking at my Christmas tree because I haven’t even taken that down yet. (Don’t judge.) But I can make my small mark, have my small ripple effect on the world.

Speaking of Christmas (excuse the out-of-season reference, but this Christmas tree is right in front of me) isn’t that the reason, for decades upon decades, people love the movie It’s a Wonderful Life? Through George Bailey, we’re reminded that we matter. We make an impact. Our reach might not be the whole town of Bedford Falls, but we affect our close circles nonetheless. After all, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Having depression and going through those ups and downs, I work very hard to keep that thought top of mind. Though somehow the “mistake” language never got to me, depression did. I have felt the low lows, the negative self-talk, and the feeling that I don’t matter. You’ve probably seen the quote, “To the world you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world.”  When you’re feeling down, especially with depression, it’s really easy to focus on the just being one person part. It’s much harder to remember or believe that to one person, you may be the world. You may not even notice who you are impacting.

I’ve been on the receiving end of one of those random acts of kindness—you know, when the person ahead of you in the drive-thru line pays for your coffee? (I know, I know… I have a coffee problem…) I have to tell you, that really put a spring in my step for the rest of the day. It made me appreciate the importance of the little things.

It got me thinking, Isn’t that enough? Aren’t we enough if we can just make a moment in a day better for someone else? I sure hope so, otherwise I have some serious brainstorming on world peace to do… But it’s definitely an approach that has helped me crawl, inch by inch, out of the darkness. And sometimes, when you focus on helping other people, you start to feel better yourself.

As Mother Teresa said, “Do small things with great love.” We’re not all going to do big and important things that change the world, but we can absolutely do little things that positively impact those around us.

And on that note, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Christmas tree to deal with!

Here we go…


Finding Alice

It was probably two years ago now that I was sitting in church and the particular prayer on my mind was, Ok God, what do you want me to do with the rest of my life?  After all, things hadn’t quite turned out as I’d expected. 

Rick and I are both from big families. Mine includes 5 siblings and 15 nieces and nephews, and now a great-niece and a great-nephew! Rick’s includes a brother, a niece and a nephew, plus a large extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. Naturally, when we got married seven years ago, we assumed we would also be blessed with a large family. Two months before our first anniversary, Ryan was born. We were off to a great start! We even picked our stroller based on how it would work for two kiddos because we were so sure another baby would soon follow. And then, nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, life was good. But from a baby perspective, it wasn’t going according to MY plan. Probably the most frustrating part was that I was so excited to use our name for a girl. (Well, we had a considerable list of girl names, but this was the front runner. And I’ll have you know I am breaking MAJOR Morris Family protocol by sharing a baby name…my sisters are going to be outraged. Sorry Mary, Eileen, and Colleen!) But if we had a baby girl, her name was going to be Alice. My Mom’s name. 

Not long after we moved to New Hampshire, we learned that scar tissue was very likely the reason why I wasn’t getting pregnant. Over 25 years of Crohn’s disease meant a handful of surgeries, and surgeries can lead to scar tissue. Unfortunately when that’s in the lower abdominal area, it can affect the surrounding organs. So basically, it did not look good for more Feeney babies. I was used to, and accepted (not always gracefully), Crohn’s affecting other aspects of my life, but it had never occurred to me that it would impact my dreams of having a big family. 

So back to the pew in St. Michael Church, asking God for guidance. I’m sitting there wondering, If I’m not going to have any more kids (the thing which I had assumed would occupy the better part of at least two decades) what do You want me to do with the rest of my life? At the time, Ryan was going to be starting a longer day of preschool, so I would have more time on my hands. Should I keep freelancing? Should I write something else? Should I go back to school?

Of course, God didn’t whisper in my ear as I was sitting there, and I wasn’t expecting that. I was just formally starting the convo and trying get serious about my own process of self-reflection at the same time. 

When Mass was over, I had coffee on my mind, obviously. As I pulled out of my street parking spot, I was minding my own business, plotting my Dunkin Donuts order, when all of a sudden I noticed the car ahead of me had a vanity plate. The vanity plate read: ALICE. 

Now, COME ON. Right?

So I really felt a sense of hope. Maybe another baby is still in the plan, I thought. I tried to keep the faith. But another year passed without any success. 

Around this time, my Mom’s forgetfulness started to turn into something more. I remember a phone conversation I was having with one of my sisters. I told her the story of the vanity plate. “You know,” she said, “maybe the Alice is Mom. Maybe it has something to do with her.”

That hadn’t even really occurred to me. Of course when I first saw the vanity plate, my Mom wasn’t in any need of help. I’d like to think that in the very quick progression of her illness, until she passed away in December 2017, that I did help her. But I wasn’t her primary caregiver, and I wasn’t even able to contribute in the same ways that my other siblings did, because I was so far away in New Hampshire and my schedule was pretty limited with Ryan being in school. While I tried to help where I could, I just don’t feel like I did enough for her for that to be It.   

I’m still trying to figure it out. And honestly, I haven’t given up hope on another baby. But for now,  I’m starting this blog. I’m a writer. Might as well start with this! I’m calling it, Finding Alice. It’s kind of like my personal metaphor for finding out more about my purpose in life. 

Some days Finding Alice will be a way for me to share how I’m finding my Mom, and her influence, in my day-to-day life.

I’ve been wondering if my purpose in life has something to do with my experiences with Crohn’s disease, depression, and anxiety, so I’ll share about these personal experiences as well. My hope is that this might help someone struggling with one of these things—or struggling with SOME thing. It always helps to know we are not alone. We all have our crosses to bear. 

You’ll probably see a post or two about The Bachelor/Bachelorette, because I need some sort of outlet for all this cerebral stuff I’ve got going on up here in my brain.

Of course this wouldn’t be a blog written by me, if I didn’t share about my faith and how that has played, and continues to play, a role in my life. Will I be able to intertwine this with a Bachelor post? Only time will tell!

Finding Alice will also be a way for me to share and laugh about a smorgasbord of other life experiences. A way for me to fight the Facebook tendency, and I’ll fully admit, MY Facebook tendency, to post a select view of life. I’d prefer to live a little bit more authentically, even though that also means being a bit more vulnerable. I’ll admit, I’m terrified. See above: Anxiety. 

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with it! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as I’ve enjoyed agonizing about writing this. 


I welcome all comments INCLUDING differences of opinion as long as they are expressed with kindness and respect.