Family, friendships

celebrating today

the-geneSomething struck me recently, while reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book, The Gene.   Mutations in phenotypes (physical traits) caused scientists to dig deeper; to find the mechanisms of diversity in humans and discovering the gene. It is only when something appears abnormal that we try to figure things out.  Otherwise, we would never have known something was abnormal to begin with.

Usually when I type, I am working something out and seeking the simplest answer to the lowest common denominator.  It is rare to share things when things are going well.  They always have to contrast with something bad; something relatable to the faults of the human condition.  Nobody likes to hear someone toot their own horn in jubilant bliss.

Today I celebrate a birthday.  It is usually a day I try to forget; to avoid the inevitable feeling sorry for myself funk as an only child with deceased parents.   It’s only taken me two-and-a-half decades to work through this day but this year, I am finally over it.   In fact, my youngest son had to yell upstairs for me to turn my music down.

I know it’s your birthday, Mom, but you need to turn it down.  You’re going to lose hearing in your ears.

I can embrace life with open arms, singing at the top of my lungs.   The greatest birthday gift not being presents; but presence among those who love me.  Love never felt so good.

‘Cause, baby, every time I love you, in and out my life, in out, baby,
Tell me, if you really love me it’s in and out my life, in out, baby
So, baby, yes, love never felt so good.

It took hearing this song, in a sushi cafe with my husband and three sons, to finally feel the joy in aging another year.   The boys laughed as I pulled out my cell, frantically using my Shazam app to identify what song played in the muted, blue-light background. This song was reminiscent of the Jackon 5 music played in our household as a child.   My father loved Motown and this song by MJ/JT brought happy memories of my youth flooding back.

I spent years of my life anxious about what-ifs.  I wasted time ruminating about past things that I could not control.  Rarely do I plant myself in the present.  And when I do, I have to type it for myself to believe it.  It’s the reason I am obsessed with photos.  If it’s captured on camera, it really did happen.  But sadly I am usually looking through a viewfinder behind the lens versus being an active participant.

Lately I’ve taken great joy in mundane things.  Driving with my eldest son, soon to be sixteen, hasn’t been the harrowing, stressful experience I’ve heard from fellow parents.  We found ourselves hysterically laughing as my son discovered how to turn left when there are two turn lanes.

Mom!?  How do I stay in my lane? he asked (while actively turning and venturing dangerously close to the curb).   I had braced myself; thinking I would be constantly yelling at and correcting my son.  It’s been a nice surprise to discover I am the opposite.  I enjoy being driven by my teenage son.  The hubs; not so much.

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These are my favorite ages; the tween/teen stages.  There is pride in watching your children grow before your very eyes into young men.

Yesterday we had arrived home after a long work day with one thing after another going wrong.  I had been physically and emotionally drained and the hubs and I sat in the quiet of our vehicle sans kids.  We had arrived at the high school and our three sons dutifully came into our vehicle; protesting that we were not heading straight home.  They had mounds of homework; grumbling the entire drive to the sushi restaurant.   My actual birthday is chock full of appointments and late night practices and so we had dinner the night before (besides the fact that our refrigerator is empty and we  haven’t had time to go to the grocery store).

My husband usually over compensates for my birthday; knowing my predilection for wanting to be left alone.  My girlfriends, over the years, have celebrated me in various ways and I am always grateful for their love, acknowledgement and friendship.  But the feeling of birthday happy has never truly come from within; all joyful moments external to those around me.   The best gifts have been friendships; not in the items they give but in the act of accepting my quirks and idiosyncrasies.   All relational. 

In learning to love others I have learned to love myself.

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For years I blamed myself for my losses.  Bad things happen.  Friendships come and go.  People die.    I found myself whining and complaining; fighting for things to work in my favor.   But with age and time I’ve come to discover that all of us have something to contribute.  It doesn’t have to be big (I won’t be winning the Nobel Prize) nor expensive.  If I share my gifts, my time without any expectations in return; then I’ve done my fair share.

I close my eyes and make my birthday wishes.

  • With my voice I can make a conscious choice to seek the good things.  I can choose to sing.
  • When I look in the mirror I see health versus girth.  I am able to walk and jog in the great outdoors.
  • I can’t force my opinions or will on those I love.  I must accept them as they are and hope they make good choices, for themselves.
  • What I have is enough.  I don’t need more, I must learn to live simply with less.
  • I don’t need others to know what I do.  I do things because I want to.
  • If I’m trying too hard, it’s not meant to be.  Things happen naturally.

And so I celebrate these kernels of knowledge, gained from my years of birth.  Not just today, but every day.  Crank up the volume of your life and dance to the music.

 

 

 

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Family

tea parties

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The signs of new growth and spring reveal themselves all around me.  The verdant green hills with dew as I walk in the morning, the warming of the air in the afternoon and the chirps of bird chatter heard through my window at dusk.  I find myself emerging from my self-imposed exile into one of the busiest party months of our calendar year.  Each weekend is full and, although no one within our household has a birthday this month, our extended circle of family and friends most certainly do.  The boys couldn’t believe their grand aunt Linda was a youthful ninety-two.

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Five of our dear (not acquaintances) friends share a birthday on the 21st alone!  Spring definitely brings in new life LOL!!!

wpid-img_20150317_094307.jpgI often ponder the things that propel me forward; items that motivate me such as music.   I play the instrumental version of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky;” the Nile Rodgers’ guitar riffs establishing my daily groove.  But recently I discovered an inner source of inspiration from something unexpected; the text from my girlfriend’s daughter’s birthday table setting reminded me.

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Just yesterday I walked through the department store where we had registered for the above items almost two decades before.  While the hubs had lingered by the knives and practical pots and pans, I gazed longingly at the china set above; particularly the tea cups.  Listed upon the paperwork was the check box for china and I hadn’t imagined any of our guests purchasing these items for us.  The soon-to-be hubs had impatiently called to me; waiting to use the scanner on his beloved pots.  I hastily scanned the impractical items; knowing this was a luxury we couldn’t well afford.  It was because of the tea cup.

And over the years, in the various far away places the hubs traveled; he brought home tea sets.  From Japan, India, Korea.  I was happy to lend my set for a teen tea party of Cinderellas.  The sets within my hutch are used primarily for holidays and special occasions.  My mother-in-law watched as we loaded these items in my girlfriend’s car.  Are you giving away your china? she asked, aghast.

Last year I had found myself explaining why we owned these dishes and sets to my sons.  A girlfriend had begun to declutter her life and inquired if I’d give her tea cups and saucers a home.  They were beautiful, unique sets of ornate Victorian flowers and gilded rims and so I offered my hutch for safe-keeping; in the event that she would change her mind about giving them away.   To my hubs’ chagrin, I used them for the first month almost every day; my sons secretly enjoying the fancy cups and sticking their pinkies out.  What’s the big deal with the tea cups, Mom?

No immediate answer had come to mind.  Over the months I slowly put the tea cups away and dusted my china hutch; much like I did with my own mother’s cabinet as a child.  My weekly chore was to keep the glass doors to my mother’s china cabinet clean.  She’d happily gaze at her china; the stuff she rarely ever used.  Upon her death there were very few things I took from my childhood home as I went about the motions of putting it up for sale.  It was only the china set inside her cabinet, that was her most prized possession.  As a young girl I had longed to use her tea cups.  I’d never gotten to use them.

It is one of my boys’ favorite table settings; their Lola’s gold- rimmed china.  My extended family remember it well and, at Christmastime when I host, the memories come flooding back of my mother’s obsession with the china she never used.  Unlike my mother I choose to use the items in my china cabinet whenever I can.  For bookclub.  For dinners with friends.  For birthday parties.  They are well-used.  As our extended family grows larger I no longer have enough dishes to accommodate everyone.  The hubby proclaimed a moratorium on any new item of china entering our home.  We live in earthquake country.  They will be the first to go.

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For Lent I chose to give up eating out.

After Sunday services our weekly ritual is to have Sunday brunch.  I abstained while my sons grabbed doughnuts and returned home with an idea in mind. Let’s have a tea party! I exclaimed to the hubs.  I am grateful my husband is tolerant of my random ideas to “play house” with me.  I cheerfully set my green table with our every day stoneware; chosen at the same time as our china set, and asked the boys if they would like to be invited.  Accustomed to my bursts of craziness the boys only acquiesced upon smelling the aromas of the chocolate chip scones the hubs made for our tea party.  Soon our family of five, dressed in our church clothes, sat down for our Irish breakfast tea with scones.  They opted for coffee.

My choice to not eat out is more than the simple words imply.  My lack of discipline and self-motivation is its weakest when having to deal with food.  After reading Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan the hubs and I began to delve deeper into where our food originates from.  We struggled with the ideals of organic and sustainable farm practices versus affordable and diverse food choices.  Each evening after work I am uninspired by the contents, within my fridge, to create chef worthy dinners for our family of five.  It is cheaper and faster to conveniently purchase fast food or pre-made dinners.  Two weekends ago when we chose to celebrate our youngest’s accomplishment of completing his 26.2 mile progressive marathon at Dodger’s Stadium; we asked him where he would like to celebrate.  He had first declined going out to eat; knowing my Lenten resolution to not eat out.  But for his special day I cheated and he surprised all of us with the place he most absolutely, was dying to try.

Taco Bell.

We thought he was joking.  He had heard the hubs and I regale tales to our high schooler about driving off-campus for lunch.  At aged sixteen my girlfriends would jump into my Toyota Tercel and we would drive, off-campus,  for 69 cent tacos at this establishment.  The hubs has similar memories but as adults, we have never taken our family of five here.  Eventually we were able to talk our son out of this choice; to head to a sit-down establishment.  But of all places to choose in a metropolitan city with diverse restaurant options; this was his first choice.  Our boys have not been brought up with the food groups of: McDonalds, Jack-in-the-Box, Burger King or Taco Bell.  Occasionally the youngest and I grab a chocolate frosty from Carl’s Jr. as we head back to work after pick-up on his early minimum day.

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By choosing to not eat out I am forced to create slow, home-cooked meals.  I tend to be an organizer, the coordinator of our schedules, events and tasks but I choose a laissez faire attitude with regards to meals.  It takes organization to create dinners on a tight schedule as I drive sons to and fro to various activities most weeknights.  I know that in order to get optimal health results the real choice to be made is in monitoring what you eat.  Portion control.  Planned meals.  The things where I lack self-discipline and hunger gets the best of me. Every.  Single.  Time.

It is difficult to not sample everything when I am in attendance at various celebrations.  Both sides of our families host large gatherings with a plethora of food.  When times got lean the hubs clamped down on my tendencies to host get-togethers and parties.  Like my family hosts before me: my mother, my cousin, my in-laws, I enjoyed bringing out my best things to share.  But hosting created a lot of work and stress.  The cleaning, the decorating, the purchasing, the hostessing and then the cleaning and putting away.  Was it worth it?    Although we valued the time with others it became work when it became expected that we were to host.  For holidays.  For parties.  For everything.

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But the inner party planner is being awakened once again.  The hubs knows that my tea sets are coming out; enjoying time with others and letting go of the notion of expecting the same in return.  The hubs now sees the value in the giving; his own mother creating elaborate dinners unselfishly, for the love and joy of sharing it.  It was in sharing my tea cups that brought me the realization that the people gathered before us did not care about the dust bunnies in the corner, the cracked tile or the elaborate china.

It is in connecting with others that we find meaning; whether it be good or bad.  It is how we grow and renew.

I steep the Irish breakfast tea and contemplate this idea in my mind.  It is our family tradition, this celebrating of events within our short life spans.  I want my children to remember the tea cups, the parties, the friends and family who grace the stoop of our imperfect home and our messy lives.  Those who remain through the years are the keepers; for better and for worse.

I’ll drink to that.  Happy Birthday to all my beloved friends and family members. You know who you are.

Family, friendships

open chapters

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Books.  They changed my life.

“…people who read literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction) were better able to detect another’s emotions…”

Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overlaod. New York: Dutton Adult, 2014. Kindle file.

They are seemingly innocuous; the opaque, off-white, inked parchment bound in spines.   As a young girl I fingered the pages; reverently turning them as I tried to decipher the meaning of the phrases.  From the safety of my twin bed I would be transported to places beyond; a welcome escape from the dull every day of my solitary world.  My most  cherished and well-worn book in my collection?  A used dictionary from a thrift shop that I had begged my mother to purchase at age ten.   I coveted a thesaurus; something I would not own until my first year in college.

As my mother shopped in the grocery store, next door, I sat in the thrift shop; absorbing the words in the short hour allocated to purchasing food staples.  To my mother books were a waste of time; my energy better utilized in cleaning house and learning how to sew and cook.  Books would get me nowhere.

Recently I caught myself reciting this phrase to my children, inserting computer gaming instead of books.   It is easy to place the blame on the plastic encased whir of electrical circuitry; the imagery on the monitors.  Instead of socializing with their peers my sons sit in chairs talking on headsets to friends from borders beyond.  There is no face-to-face time unless they decide to Skype.  When the procrastination sets in, it is the computer’s fault for distracting them.  Books or television no longer are the primary ways to escape reality.

It’s easy to externalize my fears onto an object; harder to acknowledge that they are my very own; that I have fault in propagating them.

I worry that my sons won’t know how to successfully navigate the social world; to practice the art of communication.  They are solitary figures lit up by high res screens.  They don’t need to know how to read body cues; to learn reciprocity or empathy.  Instead, they are  buffered by bandwidths and short typewritten acronyms like AFK (away from keyboard).  BRB (be right back).  TY, YW & GG (thank you, your welcome and good game).  The nuances of spoken language and face-to-face time are being lost in this generation.   How can I create change, to fix my complacency?

I’ve immersed myself in literature: parenting, education and self-help books.  I read memoirs and blogs; gleaning tidbits on what to expect; reading literary fiction in-between to take a mental break.  But am I not, too, lost in solitary confinement not practicing what I preach?  Information means nothing if you do not put it into practice.  One of the best indicators of success in our children, according to The Smartest Kids in the World author Amanda Ripley; is to model reading for them.  Avid readers become critical thinkers.  But does this make them better communicators?

This is where the books come in.

I remember when they re-entered my life after a long hiatus.  I was busy parenting young sons; recovering from a surgery seven years before.  My girlfriend invited me to join a newly founded book club to which I immediately refused.  I had no time for the wasteful books; who has time to read?  She handed me the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray Love, anway; ignoring my remarks.  A month later I found myself amongst my neighbors, women I barely knew from school.  It was only the second meeting of their discussion group and I pondered how to politely extricate myself.  I was not fond of this book, a bestseller, which would become a movie. 

Three  years later as the movers packed my home in boxes for the umpteenth time; the tears coursed down my cheeks.  The monthly babysitting fee to allow myself three hours of book discussion was worth its weight in gold.   At my farewell I not only discovered my long lost love of books.  I had been accustomed to the moving routine; transitioning from one place to another and not becoming attached.  The lesson I learned from these women was life altering.  Life is too short to not propagate roots; to build foundations of fellowship.

I was reminded of this last evening.

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It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of life; to blame externals.   To find excuses.  I can find fault in others to protect my walls and keep people at bay.  Sometimes it’s just not worth the hassle.  I become lost in works, not spoken words.   Relationships do not just happen by sitting in front of a computer, reading a book or finding busy work to keep us distracted and occupied.  Externals cannot prove our self-worth.  It is in people, in social interactions, in direct conversations that form the ties that bind.   Sometimes it’s not easy; nor convenient.  We must be purposeful in their upkeep.

The best of your friends are those who love you when you are not your best.

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“If being transparent strengthens the social ties that make life worth living, and enables others to forgive our shortcomings, why not do it more often?”

Levitin, Daniel J. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overlaod. New York: Dutton Adult, 2014. Kindle file.

In discovering the joys of reading I have also found the joys in relationship.  What began as a monthly break from the minutiae of parenting has become a lifeline.  I gained more than I had ever bargained for.   Our current reading discussion group, on the pretense of discussing literature, have formed a family.  I, the only child, have gained nine other sisters and all that that entails; a bit overwhelming for this only child of none.

But the true gift was probably something none of these women would’ve expected.  I thought of their plotting and scheming in multitudes of texts, cooking excursions and behind-the-scenes coordination.   The celebration of my birth wasn’t the real fruit of their labors.  It was in the working together; in their inside jokes that I found value.    It was their joint journeys that made me most happy, overcoming obstacles and thorny spines of their best laid plans.  Life isn’t a bed of roses.   The lack of running water, unexpected company and urgent care visits are the realities in this life.  What mattered the most was the love and care these girls took to get there.   It is this sentiment that is indelibly etched in my mind.  It was worth it.

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In modeling our love of reading to our sons; we now have avid readers.  I underestimated the power of the words in the pages and the interactions on computer screens.  My kids are technologically more savvy than I and are more socially aware than I had imagined.  I now understand the ways my boys obtain their mental escape to daydreaming mode; their way to unwind from a taxing day of common core and social pressures.

“Reading was associated not only with measures of verbal intelligence (such as vocabulary tests) but with measures of nonverbal intelligence as well (such as reasoning tests). “

Klein, Hannah. “Stronger early reading skills predict higher intelligence later.”  Eurekalert.org.  24 July 2014.  Web. 27 Sept. 2014

I, too, am learning to be empathetic; to read between the lines. I am beginning to detect my sons’ nonverbal (and hormonally verbal)  emotions.  I am taking the focus off of the end-result and adjusting to the daily life journey.  Their choices may not be reasonable; they must make mistakes.    They will find their life paths and relationships.  But they must write the chapters of their books all on their own.

The books, they brought me everywhere; but most importantly right here.  Our package from Japan arrived today; another child beaming.  My chapter is open; typewritten across the screen as I am given a bear hug from behind.

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What I know for sure?  I am grateful.  Thank you.

Family

and let there be cake!

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Your Birthday Year Forecast:

“Your birthday falls shortly after a Full Moon this year, suggesting a period of communication and teaching. You may be turned to for advice more frequently, and you are very willing to offer your help. This is a strong year for publicity and any other endeavors that involve spreading the word. As well, your ability to be objective–or to see the “big picture”–can be especially rewarding this year.  This could be a good year for financial undertakings involving electronics, technology, the internet, metaphysics, and the arts, as well as group activities.” ~www.cafeastrology.com

As he entered the office I read the hubs’ astrological forecast for the year.  He refused to wear our birthday hat but relented in allowing me to  pin a button that says, “Happy Birthday To Me.”

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Why is it that most of my pictures are centered around birthday cakes?  LOL.

Thanks to Wikipedia I discovered the cake began in classic Roman culture to celebrate special days but more traditionally served during weddings in ancient Greece.  The single-layer, flat, leavened and honey sweetened cake rounds were created in bakeries in 17th century Germany; the multi-layered and decorated cakes only available to the privileged and wealthy.  My sister-in-law creates wonderful confections with elaborate designs but the hubs; true to his nature, preferred a simple, chocolate Devil’s food cake recipe from the Food Network’s Alton Brown.  And so, she pared down her pastry and culinary prowess for her younger brother to create the cake he desired as we celebrated the day before his birthday last evening.

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As the chill lingers in the ever-darkening days of autumn I ponder tradition.  Holiday season is just around the corner; the cultural foods and rituals marking the passage of time as we celebrate our history.  Lately it has become a common theme running through my thoughts and when I made the birthday banner for my teenaged son, last month, I appreciated that some of the pictures, year-after-year, never changed.  Besides our annual family picture at Christmastime; each member in our household always has a picture next to the innocuous birthday cake.

It seems silly, really, to have hundreds of pictures next to a cake.  But when chronologically viewed on a timeline; the cake tells many stories.  The cake decor showed what my children’s interests were at that time in their lives.  The people who surround us, seemingly constant, until  their missing presence tells a story of its own.  I, myself, do not enjoy celebrating my date of birth.  But I have come to realize the importance in the remembering and why it is so painful for me.  There are a few birthdays where the gifts were memorable.  But what I remember and miss the most is the sense of family; of being cherished, secure and celebrated as a child, even if just for a day.

I think of the friends who take stock of the things they’ve accumulated; presents and monetary value giving them worth.   To compensate for my sense of loss on my birthday my family has gone to great lengths to distract me with material items.  But these things can be empty; never nourishing the soul that only wants a space of its very own.  The simple card that remembers; a coffee date.  These gestures of friendship, relationship, feed the heart and affirm the mind.

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I caught myself in a shopping frenzy searching for something to give the hubs for today.  The youngest, along-for-the-ride, was having way too much fun.  But, outta the mouth of babes, he had to plaintively ask, “What does Daddy need?”  I had dragged him from one store to another, walking aimlessly and easily distracted.   Thus, we left with items his father would need, practical things for the every day.  I had been searching for the pie-in-the-sky, perfect gift when, really, shouldn’t I stick to the mantra I had recently discovered.  Keeping it simple.  Appreciating the gifts of an ordinary day?

My hubs is very good at focusing on what is important, as noted in his horoscope.  While I searched for gifts he was at home playing online with our other two sons; teaching them how to maneuver this new landscape of social networking that impacts our children’s future lives.   It is easy to turn a blind eye, to restrict access, but he tackles these issues head-on.  He takes an active interest in what they enjoy, monitors the surrounding environment and teaches our sons to block griefers and cyberbullies and to determine online prowlers and scammers.   It used to be that the hubs restricted our sons’ online gaming and from shooting games that appeared too realistic.  A skilled marksman, himself, he worried a Columbine shooter- in-the making would be borne.    But after reading various articles, books and posts we have since changed our stance.  Thus, after our shopping excursion the youngest and I returned to sounds of laughter and glee; the hubs and adolescents bonding.  The time with our older sons, without worrying about exposing the youngest to inappropriate content, was an unexpected  gift.  Cost.  Nothing.  Value.  Priceless.

And so he can have his cake and eat it too.

Unlike the English proverb, it seems that the gift of the hubs’ birthday is that he has both and understands this.  He would not trade anything for this time in his life right how; his family still under one roof; our health.  I’m sure he would like more wealth, LOL, but what really matters is this time we have right now.  Yesterday, our family was given a gift as well.  Inspired by our sons being altar servers he, the non-Catholic husband, has chosen to offer his services as a hospitality minister at our mass.   As I read that part of his horoscope, above, I was affirmed.  The little acts of service our sons do can impact others; notably their Dad.  And so he will take…” endeavors that involve spreading the Word.”  I had not taken the verbage so literal until I remembered our day, as a family, celebrating the hubs.    The boys were surprised but equally proud.

And let there be cake!