Family, joys of jazz, Marriage, Work

the big and little things

IMG_7827

This holiday season took me by surprise.  For some reason I was stuck in the month of October and ignored the Christmas displays in supermarkets.  In fact, I did not frequent brick and mortar establishments unless I absolutely had to.   It was only when I received notice that property taxes were due on December 10th, for both our home and business, that reality set in.

I wept when the checks came in the mail; grateful that one of our biggest business customers actually paid on time.  I don’t need an economics degree to see that we are not out-of-the-woods from a recession in a pre-election year; our vendors taking longer than the thirty days to pay.  Manufacturing is at the bottom of the totem pole to receive payment.   The months of  November and December are always our slowest and the mass marketing frenzy that marks the season was a reminder of how little our bank accounts had.

I lived day-by-day.  When people asked if I was ready for (any date in the future) my answer remained the same.  I was trying to get through today.  There were due dates, scheduled events and the ever present Christmas looming.  I had no gifts for my family and it is our turn to host Christmas eve.  The tree was not up.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday came and went and I crossed off one day of the calendar at a time.   Begrudgingly I asked the hubs to get down our Christmas decor after our kids continued to ask where they were.

Where is our tree? What about the gingerbread house?  Why aren’t you playing ‘White Christmas’ on the piano?  And when are you going to bake, Mom?  

Today I, unexpectedly, found myself in front of thirty plus teenage girls.  I am the person that handles student finances in the large booster organization I serve.  Inspired by one of the songs that define me, Sing Your Life by Morrissey, I had been dressed in jeggings and my Doc Marten boots thinking I would not cross paths with many people as I ran last minute errands.  I had only come to receive checks from a fellow parent and found myself standing before these teens listening to an instructor sharing his story.  He had lived in a garage and poverty and shared how he couldn’t afford to participate in a high school trip to Hawaii.  And so he got smart and saved for twelve months to make things different the following year; to follow his passion to perform.  The girls only saw his high-end import car parked at the curb, not the kid who struggled.   He and I stood before these girls to ask for funds to allow them to travel to an out-of-state national competition.

I remembered being on the other side.   My mother was prideful and would remind me to not mention that my father’s medical bills usurped all of our funds; that we relied on Medicaid.  I was eligible for free school lunches but she pinched pennies to hand me a weekly allowance of twenty dollars for gas and lunch.  I was sixteen, having obtained my license on my actual birthday, since my father, diagnosed with colon cancer, no longer could drive.    My high school was fifteen miles away; the closest “city” nine.  I drove my parents for doctors’ appointments and myself to school and extra-curriculars.   My parents never were in the stands during games or performances.  My father was dying and my mother remained in our home to care for him.  Music had been my salve.  In high school I had always longed for the Dr. Martens boots I currently wore.  The irony of my situation struck me; empathizing with these girls.

IMG_8059

As small business owners we realize the foundation can be pulled out from under us at any moment.  Many of our former customers have chosen to go overseas, to buy bulk for cheap.  Small businesses lose to cheap, subsidized imported goods.   But our selling point is always in our relationships with our customers.  We follow-through and deliver.  We provide quality and if there is a problem, we readily fix it.  We are custom all the way and the feedback we receive is that our vendors trust that we will do things right.  I will never have large bank accounts.   Every dime we earn is solely based on what we put out and it has to be quality every time.

In the past week I realized trust, transparency, follow-through and hospitality are the big things that count.  I don’t care if someone can offer me gifts or favors.  Money and material things mean little.  I want the friends who surround me to be the ones whom I can trust not to break confidences, who will tell me what is on their minds without worrying about offending and who will open their homes and hearts to my quirks and imperfections.  I have to trust that they will follow through and reciprocate.  This is HUGE for me.  People can appear to have it together, to have nice things, titles or look like a million bucks.  But it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters.    I am affirmed by those who are true to who they are.

My sons have surprised me this year.  Most Christmases I am the driving force of all merriment as I command my elves to happily comply with my decorating whims.  This year they were the ones urging me.

If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff. ~ Catherine M. Wallace

Eventually the hubs put up the tree.  Normally he is the bah humbug one in our household; the grinch who steals our Christmas joy.  This year he placed the boxes inside and over the course of the week, strung up garlands and lights with the help of our ever growing sons.  I found myself unwrapping a few ornaments and rearranging them on the tree.  The Advent wreath finally was placed on the coffee table and the poinsettias from the fundraiser arrived and were placed on the piano.  Slowly, but surely, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Tree.  Check.

Three years ago I had decided to never do gingerbread houses again.  Because I had been an only child in a quiet household I wanted to create my own traditions with my three sons for the holidays.  When they were toddlers I began purchasing gingerbread house kits imagining hours of Christmas creativity and cheer.  But I had been too worried about the mess, the arguments over the candies and frosting.  In 2012 the boys fought so ferociously that I put the camera down; feeling like a fraud.  I was attempting to capture a picture moment that was forced.  They didn’t want to build gingerbread houses and I didn’t want a mess.  I vowed I would never do this activity again.

So I was shocked at the boys’ insistence, this year, that I purchase a gingerbread kit.  After a week of constant reminders from my sons, the quote above came to mind.  I found myself purchasing a gingerbread village so each one could build their own house without argument.   Three years ago it had been the eldest who ruined our experience.  This year he was the one who kept championing it.  Gingerbread house.  Check.

IMG_8082

I had no words to type, no images to share.  I observed people saying one thing and doing the other.  Longtime friends parting with irreconcilable differences.  People who lacked transparency, broke confidences and lacked hospitality.  The thoughts were stuck circling in my mind and I struggled to find peace with all of it.  I heard my middle son struggle with a jazz riff of ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ and it was only when he placed the saxophone in my hand, with my mouthpiece, that I realized the unifying theme of 2015.

Music breaks through all economic, social and cultural barriers.

He asked me to help him, to play alongside.  We sat together at the piano bench with our saxes; my chops sore.  Soon my fingers were running over the ivories and the bars of ‘White Christmas’ echoed in fits and starts within the walls of our home.  It took a few more practice runs for my hands to remember the keys from memory.  I am always amazed that I don’t need the sheet music, even after all of these years.  Eventually the songs of the season reached me; bringing me out of my reverie.  White Christmas.  Check.

The hubs and sons grabbed the baking items needed for their favorite cookies: snickerdoodles, peanut butter blossoms and chocolate chip.  Time was starting to get away from me with all of the preparations needed to be done before the 24th.  I laced up my sneakers and forced myself outdoors in the drizzly morning; knowing that my intake of calories would exceed what I would expend.  There was nothing on my schedule and I had everything I needed.  No more procrastination, baking day had arrived.  As the whir of the mixer and smells from the oven filled our home, the younger sons emerged from the den to assist with  unwrapping Hersheys’ kisses.  Some were for cookies, others for their own consumption.

IMG_8140

It was then that I remembered my song and I quickly found it on YouTube as I waited for the timer to chime for my next batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Others sang your life
but now is your chance to shine
and have the pleasure of
saying what you mean
have the pleasure of
meaning what you sing
oh, make no mistake, my friend
all of this will end
so sing it now
all the things you love
all the things you loathe
oh sing your life ~ Morrissey.

I cranked up the volume on my eldest son’s laptop.   He emerged from the den with his portable speaker for better sound quality.  The middle son listened as I sang the words loud and clear.  I began to type furiously on the laptop, the thoughts from the last few weeks finally being able to be put into words.  The youngest grabbed milk from the fridge to happily eat the cookies straight from the oven as I tapped my booted foot to the beat.  Cookie baking.  Check.

Don’t leave it all unsaid
somewhere in the wasteland of your head
and make no mistake, my friend
your pointless life will end
but before you go
can you look at the truth?
You have a lovely singing voice
a lovely singing voice
and all of those
who sing on key
they stole the notion
from you and me so sing your life ~ Morrissey
IMG_8143
The hubs had been frantically cleaning our pool after we received the text from my side of the family that they were joining us for Christmas eve.  Traditionally my hubs’ family celebrates on the 24th; the location alternating between his sister and our home.  Then the phone call came from the estranged niece and after communicating our desire to have her join us; the guest count increased by ten.   The hubs worried we wouldn’t have enough food until he looked at our very full refrigerator.
My home is currently in a state of disaster after two days of consecutive gingerbread making and cookie baking. I don’t require gifts, the picture perfect house and the fancy Food Network worthy recipes to ooh and awe.  All that I long for, this Christmas, is for all of my family to unite under the roof of my loud and messy home.  This may be the last Christmas with a grandfather diagnosed with terminal cancer.  There are other days to carry on family feuds.  I tell the niece that Christmas is about the kids, the babies; and this year three will be in our home under 18 months old.
It’s because of a baby that we celebrate this season in the first place.
Like the stable that birthed the newborn that is the reason for this season, my light will be on and my doors always open.  I merrily sing the words to my song, loud and clear, about all the things I loathe and love.   I needed the push from my sons and hubs, their words heard.  I had to follow-through with these little requests and things that add up to something bigger.  I want them to share the big stuff when they are big.  To remember what’s important.
IMG_8115
Have a musically merry Christmas and a rockin’ New Year.  Sing the big and little things of your life.
Advertisements
Family

here it comes

wpid-img_20141223_224526.jpg

I stare hard at my screensaver; hardly staring.  I let the anger flow through me as my eyes glaze over; willing myself to hold my breath and breathe deep.

For the fourth time in-a-row my son’s instructor has flaked.  Annoyed and irritated it was all I could do not to take out my frustration.  Eyes wide my son stared at me; wondering is she gonna lose it?

And after the umpteenth time of my hubs locking the garage entry door (which my key does not turn), I kicked the locked door angrily.  The garage motor whirred the heavy metal rolling gate closed.  When the hubs asked for my keys to prove that they would not turn this lock; I threw them at him.  Nice catch.

IMG_0235

Slowly my eyes focused on the beach of my childhood home; my screensaver.  I saw myself standing with the camera in my hand; shivering in the cold.  My family had been behind me and I had stood before the whipping wind hearing the waves roll upon the shore.

This is my happy place.

I heard the squeals and shouts of my neighbor’s son; joined by my own.  The sounds of glee filled our dark home amidst the twinkling Christmas lights.  The other son was playing chromatic scales on his trumpet with  screeching high notes.  I could hear the jingle of the dog collar’s bell and my bubbly champagne candle’s aroma filled the air.   I let my senses take over.

This seems to be a daily mental and physical exercise for me; finding ways to diffuse and relax.

I think of the days ahead, Christmas eve, Christmas, New Year’s eve.  I have long since let go of “perfect” holidays and trying to keep up with the Joneses.   These past few years I’ve tried to simplify the stress, the mess.  But there is a lot of mental work still to be done.

The boys reminded me that I needed to bake.  I had been surprised by their ardor and each day they would ask if baking day would be today.  As I tiredly sat at my table, after six hours of baking, I wondered if it was worth it. When the three boys made cookie crumb trails throughout the kitchen and drank all of our milk I came to my conclusion.  It was.

wpid-img_20141223_224000.jpg

As I packaged boxes to give away the boys asked if they could hoard some cookies for themselves.  But Mom you only bake once a year!  Why give it away to everyone else?

It is in what you give to others that you will receive in return.  In love.  In service.

wpid-img_20141223_224126.jpg

At church, last Sunday, I had turned to greet the family who sits behind my own.  In a sing-song voice I chirped, “It’s the last Sunday of Advent!”  The matriarch laughed out loud, replying that I was just like one of the kids.   I mulled that over, inwardly smiling.   Before I would chirp how many more days until Christmas, imagining the gifts to open, the feast to eat and the family to greet.  But this year, I was excited to celebrate the Nativity scene.  The day of coming was drawing near.  I wanted to light the center candle; the one that brought light in the darkness.

I’ve come a long way.

I look forward to the family gatherings.  The sharing of the meal.  No longer do I look expectantly for others to tell me I found, “the perfect gift” or made the most delicious cookie.  I won’t find fault in wrinkles and saggy areas; the physical markers of getting older.  I will celebrate the passage of time; the traditions tried and true of people coming together.  I will listen past the superficial chatter and really try to see; to hear who these people are and why they are important to me.  I will remember those who have passed through our lives and the gifts they’ve left behind.  The day of coming is in the coming together.  In re-affirming the ties that bind.  In finding our lineage; our line.  It all comes back to a child in a manger.

The gift that keeps on giving.  Relationship.  Family.

Instead of imagining how so-and-so will irritate me; I will breathe deep and try to see who they are.  Forgive.

Instead of being quick to criticize or judge I will place myself in their shoes.  If someone is quick to judge or criticize me I will envision my screensaver and smile.  Grant Grace.

If I see someone who is tired or disappointed and lost in the pretense of perfection, I will give them a hug and affirm them.  You matter.

For the mess and the stress; the extra calories, full stomachs and laden tables of food.  I will be grateful that I have family.  Give Thanks.

In the coming days I will be all of the above.  I will enjoy the holidays guilt-free and let go of the hoopla and expectations of an empty Rockwell painting Christmas.  All the gifts in the world don’t compare in value to time spent with loved ones.

wpid-img_20141223_230131.jpg

We have to make the most of it; the good, the bad and the ugly.  The time has come.

Merry Christmas.

 

Family, Work

my hat progress

wpid-img_20141204_102316.jpg

I had expected to hear the front door slam; waiting for it to reverberate throughout my house this morning.  Instead, it was  a quiet click.  The son ran late, once again, and yelled at everyone and thing in his path; finding fault in all things besides himself.

Progress.

The work computer continues to freeze and I am unable to send PDF attachments.  Another tile broke on my kitchen floor.  Something, which appears like mold, is on my garage door entry wall after being inundated with rain for the past few days.  The dog refused to be found to be put outside.  My mood at 7:39 am was sour, indeed.  The bills are waiting to be paid.   The property taxes deadline for our home and business sit in my inbox looming.    There is always something. 

I feel the bile in my throat rising; the dull ache in my head starting to pound.  I decide I need to breathe.  Deeply.  I reach for my coffee hoping the caffeine will kick in.

wpid-img_20141204_102923.jpg

I breathe deeply.  Slowly.  In.  Out.  Inhale.  Exhale.

I am discovering that organizing brings simplicity.  This seems like an oxymoron since a lot of my time is invested in organizing.  Usually I am on the go-go-go, distracted and shopping, buying, orchestrating.  I had not realized that I had declared the month of December as a calendar free zone until today.  My subconscious mind has been influencing me; fighting my natural tendencies.  It is slowly winning.

Progress.

I silently made a promise to myself, this year, to make this December as stress free and simple as possible.  To honor my family; to give them their time due.  In all my hustle and bustle thinking I was doing all of my activities for them; they were the ones who suffered They got the least time with me; with no quality.  Wifemom was busy with her various hats: the work one, the school one, the friend one, the Santa.  The wifemom hat hung in the corner, waiting….

This December my wish is to truly be me.    To be present to love and see.  For holidays to be stress-free.  To be an actively involved member of my own family.  Simplicity.

My December calendar is filled with various school activities, meetings, work projects and deadlines.  But I can now choose what to do with the white spaces; to de-clutter my life and to forfeit things to give me time.    I stare, daily, at my growing sons remembering the thoughts and impressions I had at their ages.  These same values and perceptions reside in me, even now.  For years some of them were lost; forgotten or hidden away to deal with another day.  But it is in these years, that my boys currently reside, where my values were formulated.  It is these years that I weather the storms and winds that blow off my wifemom hat.  I must fight to keep it on.

The vacant spaces on my calendar are moments I am free to be with my family.

wpid-img_20141204_102730.jpg

As I mentally work through my issues, organizing is helping me find my way.  The impulsive buyer, within, is becoming thoughtful.  With the 11% plummet in black Friday sales projections it appears many consumers in this country are on my same trajectory.  Business analysts ponder if consumers have less money to spend or are more discerning in where they put it.  Our economy is slow to emerge from the depths of the great recession.  I, too, now watch where my dollars are spent.  I creatively consider ways to show appreciation to vendors and customers without buying meaningless things.

But after wracking my brain, the master-of-the-obvious hubs stated the logical.  Why not just ask them what they like?  This goes against my grain; but since these gifts are to show appreciation I finally did call to ask.  And surprisingly, our customers were forthcoming and grateful for the question.  People do not appreciate receiving junk or things that have no value to them.  The best gift given is with thought and consideration.  Creativity.  Simplicity.

And with renewed purpose I can enjoy my search for things people truly enjoy.  The joy of the season of giving has slowly returned.  To give thanks.  To remember traditions new and old.  To honor my religion.  To remember my family who have come and gone.  To renew my values; passing them along to the next generation.    And most importantly, to expect nothing in return.

At night the hubs quietly sits.  He listens.  Patiently.  I am blessed that my extrovert tendencies are balanced by his introvert ones.  What he cannot help me process ends up typewritten here.   I think I have truly lost my mind.  But in losing it; I’ve gained a new one.  A fresh perspective.

wpid-img_20141204_102024.jpg

I am not obligated to host either side of our families for Christmas, nor the eve, this year.  I have moved dates earlier in December or to next year to be able to sit still and gaze at my fully decorated home’s twinkling lights.   The boys have requested a designated day to bake cookies.  Although my mind conjures up excess pounds, I will remind myself of moderation.   I am finally listening to what my family and heart whispers.  See us.  Be with us.  With the coming, this Advent season, my mind can finally settle down as the nights grow long.    It is hard for me to sit still.

I am a work in progress.  I hold the wifemom hat in my hands; anticipation building.   I can simply enjoy the holidays this year.

Family, Work

presently making fasteners

wpid-img_20141202_113712.jpg

As we drove home in our vehicle I debated if I should even voice the question aloud.  But I had to know and I inwardly cringed as I found my voice and turned to the rear of the car.

“So, um, if family ask me what you guys want for Christmas; what should I tell them?”

The boys noisily climbed out of the SUV and settled upon our kitchen table as the aromas of our breakfast settled around us.   I thought they hadn’t heard me but between bites the eldest said the words I thought I’d never hear.

I have everything I want, Mom.  I’m good.

Shocked I glanced to the hubs on the opposite side of the table as the youngest son echoed the same sentiments.  The middle one ate quietly; nodding his head.  Thinking I had heard incorrectly,  I rephrased my question.  It was then that the middle one finally answered.

I guess if people need to get us something, we can always use clothes.

That was on Sunday.  Black Friday had passed without a second thought.  There had been nothing I felt the need to buy; a vast departure from years prior.  When Cyber Monday arrived I told the hubs to search online for deals; for anything he felt we needed.  Most times these two days arrive and we buy in flurried frenzy.  We tell ourselves we are buying for others; but really we are looking for deals for just ourselves.

Did I finally arrive?  Have I finally reached my holiday destination of simplicity?

wpid-img_20141202_113959.jpg

I know that the above thought probably will be tested and eventually, the consumer, materialistic me will emerge.  The holiday shopping season helps drive our economy.  As small business owners we know this; need this for our survival.  If people don’t buy product then we have no business to manufacture.  Nada.  We definitely need a robust season to bring our economy’s financials into the black.

After Sunday breakfast the boys debated various consoles; valiantly trying to think of something to want.  They argued the pros between XBox One and PlayStation 4;  neither of which they’d use since they are online PC gamers.  Tablets or toys, Nah!  I listened to the nine year old; the son that is more adult than any of his older brothers were at that age.  When they had been nine there were lists of things they wanted.  With googly eyes he brazenly asked if he could have a phone; an answer he already knew would be no.  With a hug and a smile he loped away with the words hanging in the air.

I’m just happy to have you.  Oh, and daddy too.

The present is the gift.  The gift of presence.

After recovering from a very full fall, I spent the Friday after Thanksgiving digging amongst the boxes.  Yes, we are that annoying home that is fully decorated the day after Thanksgiving; the first one on our lane.  This also is a first for us.  In years past the kids were asked to help decorate; to create the Rockwell moment of family merrily decorating for the season.  This year my Christmas elf, aka my youngest, sadly looked up at me as I began to dig through the boxes.

Is it okay if I don’t help you this year, Mom?  I usually help you every year.

Weirder still, I was okay with that.  I don’t want to force joy and cheer upon my family when it is not sincere.  I want them to do the things they do because they want to.  Decorating should not be a chore.  Gifts should not be a requirement.  I’m done with buying, just to buy.  I want things to have meaning, for people to be authentic.  I’m tired of being blinded by the glitter of grand expectations.

I appreciated the youngest’s honesty.  It allowed me to appreciate it more when the middle one decided to join me; the one that rapidly grows.  For three hours he teased my short stature as he placed ornaments high upon our tree and hung lights above my reach.  When the hubs ventured outdoors to put the lights up; the eldest chose to help him without prompting.  Much later, the youngest willingly assisted as I struggled with branches; his two hands steadying the base.  These are the gifts I gladly receive.  Presence.  Without the distractions of buying and completing lists I could truly enjoy some time, here and now, with my sons.

wpid-img_20141202_113858.jpg

As we replaced the boxes in the storage shelves in the garage; the hubs noted they were not empty.  I decided not to put all of the ornaments out; paring down.  The de-cluttering mentality has permeated my life in ways I had not imagined.  No longer do I wish to accumulate things to show that I have.  These days, what I have is just enough.  There are still things that I want versus the things that I need.  I am learning to let things go, slowly but surely.

Have I arrived?  Hardly.  I’ve only just begun.

Sunday evening, amidst the twinkling of lights, I finally finished reading Katrina Kenison’s memoir as she traverses middle age.  I’m not far behind as her written words foreshadow what is yet to come.  I began to realize all that I currently take for granted.  I can still count all of my family of five within my four walls.  Someday soon these sons will emerge into life; leaving the hubs and I behind.  I have continued health and mobility.  Eventually age will physically mark us; teaching us to rely on others.  Pride and self-sufficiency were values of youth; compassion, humility and the ability to ask for help will be harbingers of our future.   We must cultivate relationships.  It is these bonds that define us.

wpid-img_20141202_113802.jpg

From our building front door I gazed at the gray landscape; the leaves of autumn strewn upon the wet ground.  I contemplated the thoughts above in the quiet moment.  Usually this busy street is lined with cars rushing to and fro.  It is rare to hear nothing but silence as I quickly snapped the shot.  A season in my life is changing like the fading leaves on the grass.  I tenaciously kept hold of the branches of the tree; fighting the winds of change.  For a year or two now I’ve felt as if I’ve floated slowly, trying to catch shifts in the current; to sail above and away.  But now I humbly stand on the ground and get my bearings; finally understanding that what I’ve been searching for has really been within me this whole entire time.  I just needed to peel away the layers, to de-clutter, to find it.

Fastener.  noun. “Any of various devices, as a snap or hook and eye, for holding together two objects or parts sometimes required to be separate, as two edges or flaps of a piece of clothing.” Def. 2. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

I work on holding together the merging edges of my work life with motherhood.  Presently, I continue to custom manufacture fasteners for my mental needs; nuts and bolts to hold the ties that bind.

May you fasten your attention, this season, with quality moments.

qf card

Family

Closer to happy

IMG_6000

The present.  His presence.

I sift through the 32 GB SD card for the month of December.  It’s close but still a work in progress.  The digital camera interpolates the true colors with a complicated algorithm to produce the spectrum of RGB image data.  Filters reduce “alias”ing of the primary colors (red, blue, yellow).  The camera attempts to get the colors right as the digital process reduce samples the primary colors the visual eye sees.  The hubs constantly gets on me to take pictures in RAW format to try to get it right.

I am a point and shoot photographer.  I used to adjust apertures and shutter speeds manually; but now I just want the shot.

I attempt to commit things to memory while they are still fresh.  Thus I sift through my recent Christmas pictures to remember; to try to get it right for next year and the following years to come.  The digital data is very “black & white.”  It is not this data I want to catalog.  It is the sensory and feelings that I attempt to immortalize. 

As I snap my photos I constantly switch modes from Auto to Sports to Landscape and Portrait modes.  Occasionally I switch lenses; currently I favor my wide lens.  Most times I stay on Auto to capture as much detail as possible but the flash blinds and washes out the colors.  And so I switch to Manual frustrated;  the moment is gone.

Most times I am lost behind the lens missing real life.  But there is an advantage to a digital camera.  The HD capability allows me to continuously shoot, in real-time, and to ZOOM on the shot with my mouse and monitor.  Instead of chemicals in a dark room I sit with pixels on a computer screen.  It is how I found my son as he quickly marched by.  The hubs completely missed him; visually.  But the lens found him.

IMG_5501 crop

I have discovered that visual stimulation jogs the associated memories.  The closer to the event I attach them; the better chance I have of recalling them.  These are the ones I don’t want to forget.  Should I ever get Alzheimer’s, like my own mother, I hope the long-term memories remain.   My scattered brain is easily distracted.  I rely on photographic images to recall the details.

IMG_5833IMG_5847

Involving other senses and attaching them to memories helps immensely.  If I hear a particular song I am transported to a specific memory that the song triggers.  If I smell cookies baking I hope to recall my sons working together; opening Hershey kisses to quickly place them upon the peanut butter dough.  Peanut butter blossoms are my favorite cookies and I always associate them with Christmas.  For several years the hubs’ side of the family creates homemade gifts to give each family.   This is the only time of year I bake.  Why?  Because I can easily gobble these cookies in one sitting.  I abstain for health reasons LOL. I would get quite obese.

We had a wonderful Christmas.  It was simpler and less stress (note I did not type stress-free).  I was centered on the reason for the season; often taking time each evening to reflect while reading Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift.    Scheduling is still a work in progress but my hospitality skills are being rediscovered.  And so I continue to look through pictures; attaching memories to them.  Most of the pictures I cherish are not posed; but of family circling about the laden tables of food.  Eating.  Talking.  Laughing.

IMG_5872IMG_6080

Christmas night was the first full night of rest I have had all month.  There is a lot of work entailed in making room, opening our hearts and homes and doors and expecting nothing in return.  I did not worry about reciprocity; nor perfection.  In letting these things go I was able to focus on what was important.  Humbly accepting things just as they are.  It really is simple but it is a lot of work arriving here.

IMG_6056

I usually live my life in Auto pilot, trying to absorb all the details.  This season I have returned to Manual; a little work and finesse to try to get it right.  I want to find what is true and real; my center.  I am adjusting my lens and focusing; not in portrait mode where it is posed and all pretty-like; nor sports where everything is constantly moving.  I am leaning towards landscape mode; the larger view.  I miss a few details in the viewing but I will replay my slideshow to help me get it right for the next time.

IMG_6078

Live the life you Love.  Love the life you Live.

IMG_5993

Doing this brings me closer to HAPPY.

Merry Christmas.

Family

Breathing space

IMG_20131222_235410_resized

At 7:57 this Sunday morning I sat beside the hubs considering.  We had arrived home late, on the longest night of the year, from visiting with his bff & family; the man who has stood by my hubs’ side for as long as I’ve known him.  He had proposed to his wife, a former roommate of mine, on our wedding night.  She and I are outnumbered by five male children and our respective husbands.

The hubs’ proposition was that we skip church, this morning, so that we could get a jump on the list of errands needed to be done.  Time was ticking and we are hosting Christmas eve.  Our numbers have grown from hosting his side of the family to include mine; since they recently returned from international travel.

I quietly listened to his logic and reluctantly agreed.  But due to my hesitation and indecision we found ourselves in the uncrowded church.  The priest commented that everyone was busy with their errands but would pack the pews on Tuesday and, to enjoy the comfort of space this fourth Sunday.   My sons, who were not scheduled to serve, found themselves in robes as the deacon thanked them for helping out.  My boys’ willingness to volunteer, without prompting, was a giftWe were supposed to be here for a reason.

IMG_20131222_102427_resized

Later I found myself taking shallow breaths as I attempted to breathe.  Today it finally dawned upon me that we would be hosting our families in our very messy home in two days.  Breathe.  Just breathe.

The grocery list compiled; the hubs and I set out together as we plotted the most efficient routes to complete the tasks to be done.  Our schedule has been jam-packed with concerts, parades, parties and get-togethers with friends since last Saturday.  My struggle to slow the pace and carve out space was unsuccessful; even after declining several invitations.

How does one create room?  For most of the holiday season my pace has been slow and steady; but today I feel like I’m sprinting towards the finish line.  Why is that!?

I continue to breathe.  I just realized, a few moments ago, that my family of five is scheduled for a dental cleaning at 9 AM.  This appointment has been re-scheduled three times when our calendar began to fill with mandatory school events and presentations.

IMG_20131219_104736_resized_1xmas band dougxmas Charlie food

I am, once again, caught in the race to have everything perfect.  The food is bought, the gifts are wrapped, the house is decorated.  Laundry is tumbling and I have time to clean.  But then there are the cookies; one of the few traditions, with my boys, that they still enjoy participating in.    I remind myself that I can continue to freak out or I can roll with the punches and just do it.  I do not mind the work, I am just overwhelmed by the lack of time.

I need breathing space.  I need to make room.

We all now sit in front of computer consoles with very clean teeth.  The daunting task of making cookies and side dishes loom before me and I am adjusting my frame of mind.  It is always the anxiety and procrastinating of a project that causes the most stress.  Once the task is begun it is all downhill.   I reasoned with the hubs that I need not make cookies, this year, to simplify my tasks.

Making room can mean many things.  In my mind I envisioned blocks of time of doing nothing.  But, as the hubs reminded me, making room can also mean inviting others into our home with food and drink.  Being hospitable.  Opening our hearts.  You have to make the cookies, the hubs replied.

I realized, then, that my non-Catholic husband did not volunteer to usher in our church mass for recognition or works.  He served because there was a need; to welcome people into a community that has welcomed him.   He does not worry that we are feeding more mouths than we expected.  He has the capacity to make room for people in our life and food and hospitality is how he opens his doors in welcome.  It is how both of us have been raised.

It is I who has created walls and rules of social engagement.  The busy-work of food preparation and hostessing, usually a noose around my neck, is slowly loosening.  Performing works is not a bad thing if done for the right purpose; with no expectations.  I have been trained to reciprocate and compare and I must return to the time when I enjoyed hostessing just because.  And what greater purpose is there than to celebrate the birth of a babe with both of our families.  This core value of my faith has returned, front and center, away from the perfectionist expectations of the Rockwell painting Christmas.  Without the birth of Christ there would be no Christmas.  

I am able to breathe deep.  Let the cookie baking begin.

Family, Work

Enough space

IMG_20131217_084953_resized

The greatest gift I’ve been given this holiday season; my own desk space.   Today I patiently sit at home awaiting the arrival of our home alarm system technician.  It seems one of our alarms randomly pings and we receive calls at all hours.  I have let this go for four years since we have returned to our home of permanent residence.

There are many things to do on my work desk as we prepare to take time off for the holidays.  But here I sit.  Tuesdays through Thursdays are the busiest days of my week as I balance work and kids’ after-school schedules.  I light my scented candle and attempt to clear my distracted and irritable mind…fighting to create space.

IMG_20131216_145701_resized_1_resized

I feel a bit like the stainless square U-bolts that were returned from the platers yesterday.  The steel, dark with light soap, returns from the platers shiny and new.  But the zinc clear finish revealed the pitted defects in material; something not noticeable as the coils were straightened and bent to create the U-shaped bolt.   Phone calls were placed but with the holidays; material was unavailable for rush delivery.

The long-time customer arrived accepting the bolt, as is.  This bolt still serves its function, the cosmetics not mattering since it will be hidden beneath a trailer.

That’s a lot like how I feel as of late; the hubs making the connection.  With the busy-ness of work I have been unable to sift through  my thoughts and so he listened, last eve, as I voiced them instead.  You are a lot like the square U-bolts we shipped out today, he said.

Aren’t we all?

For all of us have flaws and defects that we attempt to cover with gloss…make-up, clothes, appearances, perfectionism.  Just like the U-bolt, my function remains the same and the cosmetics really shouldn’t matter.  The hubs accepts me, as is; pitted appearances and all.   The integrity of our quality bolt product is solid and he reminded me to remember that.  I am strong, like steel.  I am not perfect and I should not waste time attempting to be.

As I attempted to tidy my very-lived in home for the technician’s visit I caught myself.  I gazed at the Christmas decor, grabbed my cup of coffee and headed upstairs.  I have to appreciate this alone time, in my space,  to slow my pace.  Grant myself grace.

IMG_20131215_212624_resized

And with that affirmation, last eve, I had smiled; falling asleep at last.  I attributed my irritable self to the full moon, early this morning.  It is  the long nights moon just a few days before the longest night of the year on the winter solstice.

Three hours later I sit at my work desk…

I see the lack of white space on my calendar and have failed.  The schedules are constantly in flux as paperwork continues to come home with my boys.  What!  There was no band concert on the schedule!? When the middle son shared the elementary school would be having one this Thursday.  I am already juggling various activities to accommodate last minute school functions, to our already full schedule, and recently realized in the spring that we have multiple conflicts.    And so it appears we will be letting go of extracurriculars once again to prioritize the bare essentials.

This balance is precarious….activity versus quality time.  But as of late I do not go to bed in the evening feeling that it has been stolen from me.  In simplifying, reconciling and prioritizing the stress factor has decreased significantly.  Normally when I see empty space I can easily fill it.  But this holiday season I have made the conscious effort to be mindful of what is important.  Lowering expectations.  Granting myself grace.

tipping point

I hope to find my  internal tipping point; the point in which a little change can affect dramatic results.  It is quite simple, really, when I consider what has changed this holiday season.  Normally I am in a frenzy as the days get closer to Christmas; to-do lists lengthening and patience deteriorating.    The three things that Malcolm Gladwell considers in his book about epidemiological change: the law of the few, the stickiness factor and the power of context mull about in my mind.    But three things have kept me grounded this season.

  • Time for ME (creating space).  The pre-dawn walking time that is built into my schedule allows me to not think; about anything.  And a mere thirty minutes of time in the evening, to do whatever I want, keeps me calm.
  • Lowered expectations (slow the pace).  House not super-clean?  Oh well.  I overlook the dust bunnies and, instead, sit as my boys press ornament play buttons or gaze at my Advent candles.
  • Flexibility. (Grace).  I can either be frustrated that my schedule isn’t working in my favor or learn to go with the flow.  Most times I try to appease everyone but these days I’ve learned that is an unrealistic expectation.  Saying No is not a bad word and it can be quite contagious.  I can not always control the situation.  What I can control is my reaction to it .  Deep.  Calming.  Breath.   Ommmmmm.

As I stood in front of the post office talking to a fellow parent; my body tensed as I noted the amount of people exiting their vehicles with packages to enter the building.  My internal response was to hurry up and get in line.  But thankfully, my mind overrode the adrenaline rush as I took a breath and continued to talk.  I opened the door for the seven people who entered and eventually stood in line behind them as they smiled at me.     All of them had multiple packages and I stood in line for stamps.  Simple things.

IMG_20131216_191507_resized_2

This year I find myself excited for the holiday.  Although my schedule has now completely filled through Tuesday, Dec. 24th, when we host family for the feast, I look forward to the cleaning and cooking.  Why?  Because the prep is well worth it, in the end, as everyone relaxes at the table and catches up.  I enjoy wrapping presents, look forward to baking cookies and making more lumpias; but to do these things I sacrifice attendance at parties.  The third grader insisted I make another batch of lumpias for us to try; the first batch allocated to his third grade classroom this Friday when he presents holiday cultural foods.  We have another batch to make.  Making cultural foods (i.e. lumpias or tamales) are time consuming but with many hands it goes quick.  More time for the hubs and I to chat while multitasking…BIG LOL.

HLM stella

Okay.  So the house is a bit of a mess, the annual Christmas poem I’ve written since 1996 got nixed and there are no gingerbread houses or crafts to be done.   I continue to handwrite Christmas cards which are normally printed, labeled and in the mail.  My schedule is filled with friends, near and far, as I count the blessings, drinks and ornaments exchanged.  These days when I feel a bit stuck-in-a-rut I find inspiration in the beauty that surrounds me.  Christmas decor and lights, three not-so-sweet smelling heads leaning against both of my shoulders and crowding my space, pictures of favorite books and reading places and quiet time to contemplate the Greatest Gift this season.

It is enough.  Why?  Because I said so.

Uncategorized

reconcile & relinquish

IMG_20131208_204942_resized

Reconcile verb. 1:to find a way of making (two different ideas, facts, etc.) exist or be true at the same time, 2: to cause people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement. ~excerpted from http://www.merriam-webster.com

Relinquish verb. 1:to give up (something), 2: to give (something, such as power, control, or possession) to another person or group. ~excerpted from http://www.merriam-webster.com

Last evening I stood in line at the store wondering where my thoughts of simplicity and non-consumerism went.  I was happily shopping for gifts.  How do I reconcile the simple sanctity of Christmas with the giving Santa hat- clad woman chatting away in a Target line full of holiday cheer?

IMG_20131125_190107_resized

I returned home with my heavy shopping bags and sat before my home computer staring at my framed art; my still life.  The reminder to remember the reason for the season.   To celebrate Christmas one does not need to spend money or shop in a frenzy.  But what if I LIKE this aspect?  What if I want to give thanks to those family members, teachers or people who are part of our lives?  I do not feel crazed or stressed.  I like addressing and stuffing Christmas cards.  I am energized!

IMG_20131212_085955_resized

I sat in the quiet space and wondered what was wrong with me.  In the dark my focus softened and my mind relaxed.   With my bedroom Christmas tree lights (I know, over-the-top; I have one on my dresser) I fell asleep.

As I drove into work the epiphany hit me between the eyes.  It has been lurking in my periphery for quite some time but after two separate conversations the light bulb switched on.

I must relinquish my ideas of perfection.  Life is a process of letting go.  It is inevitable and the faster I accept this; the easier and simpler things are.

IMG_20131206_154904_resized

My vignettes of Christmas are reminders throughout my home.  The Nativity sets, the advent wreath and calendars, the framed art upon my desk.  My mind knows what the true sentiment is this holiday season.  But I seem to have a hard time relinquishing the control; of trying to beautify and simplify my life.  I love to gaze at the evergreens on my banister and mantles and the eight, yes eight, various trees within my home (ranging from 8ft. to 1 ft.).   I sat on my stairs breathing deep.  I am subconsciously creating this beauty thinking the beautifully wrapped items, baked goods will transfer to sentiments of love and joy.  The expectation bar is already set too high.

Perfectionism (or OCD) is insidious.  Time is spent making everything clean and perfect creating stress and angst within my household.  I lie a bit past midpoint on the spectrum between messy and clean and cannot relax until clutter doesn’t distract me.  I like straight, clean lines.  So when life throws me curve balls I resist and hesitate; unwilling to relinquish control of my space.  But it is not in my control.  I need to give it up to the one who has the master plan; delivered in the tiny bundle of joy in a manger.

How to reconcile & relinquish?

Yesterday I spoke to a friend who is moving and is not handling it very well.  She is depressed.  She resists.  I am all too familiar with these sensations and as I crossed the state line between the western and southern states I cried that I could not fathom what people were saying; the southern accents heavy.   After over twenty years of moving I have still not mastered the heaviness of heart as I pick up my life and transplant to a new place.  And so my heart was heavy as I heard her anguish and worry.  How would her high school daughter handle it?  How could she do it without her family or friends while her husband traveled often?  Fear of the unknown.

This morning I sat with another dear friend in our school parking lot as she shared her plans to leave the country at the end of the school year in June.  Her husband was called to serve, years ago, where she met him building for the name of Christ.  She stated this in a matter-of-fact manner and did not worry.  This is God’s plan for them, she answered.  She does not fear the unknown and opens her heart to new adventures.  But my heart, again grew heavy, for it is bittersweet.

One friend resists; the other is flexible.  How do I reconcile the two very different mindsets?  I am saddened that both will be leaving but the one who relinquishes the control has less stress and worry.  Both enter uncharted territory.

This is my flaw;  I fear the unknown.  I think of my dear girlfriend who cannot drive past her former foreclosed home, or business; her heart heavy.  Each day as I park next to our building I think of her and count our blessings that our doors remain open another day.  It used to be that I took these things for granted.  The hubs continues to be anxious.  He does not see the steady and loyal customers; he yearns for more.  It is in this desire for more things, money, business, friends, looks that delivers us into the perfection game.  This game we always lose.

It is in the relinquishing of these ties that open our hearts to more meaningful things, like relationships.  The girlfriend survived her foreclosure and in her loss she found the strength of her community and her friends.  It was this that I tried to communicate to my mourning neighbor as she contemplates uprooting the only life she has known.

In our countless moves we de-clutter; letting go of things that we’ve outgrown or hoarded.  It used to be that I counted the items I owned, proudly showcasing them and, while on MySpace, the amount of friends in my profile.  I learned that I was resilient when left on my own.  After setting up my house,  jobless and friendless, I made the trip to my nearest Catholic church and instantly felt welcomed.  With time I made new friends and was exposed to relationships I would never have ever encountered.  My life is richer for embracing the new and relinquishing the old.  But each time I had to reconcile what I desired and evaluate what was important.  Was it money?  Friendships?  Faith?  Perfect children?

My heart still mourns the loss of things in my life.  My parents, travel, disposable income, friends.  But in the process I am discovering what is important and have realized it is simple.  I continue to count my gifts for all that I do have.  I am not perfect and will always struggle with being materialistic and keeping things sane and de-cluttered.  The friends in my life will accept my limitations of time and maintenance or I must let them go.  And I must humbly accept that I will spend most of my life reconciling the  straight and narrow  path versus the trails I travel.

I breathe deeply.  I am letting things go.

IMG_20131212_085845_resizedIMG_20131211_132152_resized

Family

Simple treasures

IMG_5334

Mind over matter is what I keep telling myself.  I had no idea how hard it would be for me to change my consumer mindset.

After returning from early morning Black Friday shopping I got online and cyber-shopped.  This year I know what I am searching for and am trying to find the best deals.   As my inbox gets inundated with retail emails I inevitably end up on their websites perusing items I had no intention of buying.  Several times as I filled my online carts I had to tell myself to close the browser and to stop looking.  It is ingrained in my holiday and giving psyche to shop impulsively and get the retailer’s high.  I already have the items needed for creating my consumable gifts AND the two items, drawn for the hubs and myself for the family gift exchange, are en route via UPS.  It took me a total of thirty minutes to complete my required Christmas shopping.  Problem is, I can’t seem to stop.

IMG_5277bw

I physically stepped away from my computer and decided it was time to decorate; much to the hubs’ annoyance.  I hauled boxes indoors and my Christmas elf, with reindeer antlers, heard me and joined in the fun.  The grumbling hubs yelled to the older sons to turn off the computers to get this decorating ordeal over with.  Bah humbug!  As they took care of the outdoors the youngest and I unwrapped ornaments from boxes and tissue paper.  Each year it feels like we are opening Christmas gifts as we handle the ornaments that we gaze upon one month out of the year.   I had a renewed sense of decorating purpose after perusing Pinterest and realized that, over the years, I have collected the classic patterns of tartan plaid.   It became fun to scavenge amongst my home for my plaid tablecloths and ribbons.  Most years when a theme inspires me I am off to the home decorating and craft stores adding more bulk to the storage boxes in our garage.  Last year it was silver and gold metallics.  This year I am saving money by rediscovering what I have AND have my classic theme! Priceless!

IMG_5293

When the boys returned indoors they shook their heads.  Mom has gone over-the-top stated the eldest as they stared upon our artificial tree.  But the youngest and I stood back and admired our handiwork.  Our normal tree looked quite different with a few simple touches and tricks-of-the-tree decorating trade.  We added artificial flowers to fill in gaps and oversized bulbs in coordinating colors; adding interest to my collection of ornaments from over the years.  Each ornament tells a story.  The Crate & Barrel glass ornaments with ships inside were delivered to our former Virginia Beach home after our wedding.  Only 3 of the 8 remain after the cross-country move and five more moves since.

The Hallmark and Pottery Barn framed ornaments have been collected since our eldest was born; a tradition I decided upon during his very first Christmas.  I had been inspired by my in-laws when, much to the hubs’ shock and surprise, they gave us a collection of Star Trek ornaments they had collected over the years.  They, and the hubs, are avid Trekkies and my mother-in-law purchased two each Christmas; one for her home and unbeknownst to us, one for ours (his sister is NOT a Star Trek fan).  Each year our upstairs balcony showcases the 20+ Star Trek ornaments to the oohs and aahs of our sons.   It was then that I pondered something to pass down to my sons someday.  Thus, I frame each son’s picture from birth through age 17.  Someday I will give each son 18 ornaments to place on his own tree IF I can bear to part with them.   These are my favorites.

IMG_5344IMG_5319

Simple traditions.

Today I had promised the hubs to plan nothing on our schedule.  The house was decorated and clean and I found myself dressing to go shopping!  I physically had to stop myself and headed downstairs to light the first Advent candle.  What would I do with myself?  No laundry.  Dishes were put away.  Gifts were bought or en route.  Crafts were done.  Schedule was clear.  I sat on our couch, turned all the lights on with the remote and attempted to clear my mind.  I thought of all the deals and sales I could be perusing.  Instead I forced myself to quietly sit.  To clear mental head space.  To gaze at the decor and enjoy it.  To remember the reason for the season.

This.  Is.  Hard.

IMG_5299

The hubs laughed at me as he found his lost and forlorn wife trying hard not to do anything.  It is my nature to jump in, head first, into the holiday madness; creating more work and stress for myself and those around me.  He made me a cup of Indian black tea, patted me on the head and left me to my own devices as he returned to the man cave to open his nothing box.  My eyes eventually fell upon my personal Christmas tree; given to me by my bff so many years ago.  This tree holds the coffee, drink, wives and book club ornaments collected from years past.  The light bulb turned on.  I know what to do.

And so, book-in-hand with my cup-of-tea I sat on my couch and read the rest of the day away.  Happy first day of Advent.  Bruno Mars’ Treasure song plays in the background.  Simple pleasures.