Family, friendships

changing seats

This is my favorite time of year…the changing of season from summer to fall.

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As a young girl fall meant back to school after a long summer.  I missed my friends and couldn’t wait to get back into the routine; the anticipation of all things new.  I couldn’t wait to learn; to get closer to being what it was I was going to be.  Life was a mystery and I wanted to unlock it.

With time that love of learning became lost.  It got lost in worrying about the future…in getting the grades, being involved in activities so colleges would take a second look.  It became competitive and the power of whom you know versus what you do sometimes got muddled.  It was all about the end-goal.

I grew up and got deposited into real life; not the sheltered one I lived in a small, rural coast community.  In the city I was a speck in the crowd and found myself getting swept up in the sea of people reaching higher, working harder, running faster.

Surprisingly, love found me in the most unlikely places and I have been fortunate to have our friendship grow into relationship; our shared history binding us over decades.   I had hoped to choose a safe, stable and very routine career.  I did not aspire to move far away.  I did not want a lot of change.

But to grow, to learn, change is what we must do.  When stuck at a plateau, we change up our routines to revive our metabolism, boredom and complacency.  Some refuse to budge, others choose the other extreme.  But the word, change, does not normally have a positive connotation.  I often hear that change is good but, really, what I’m feeling is the opposite.

Change. [Full Def.]  transitive verb.  1 a :  to make different in some particular  b :  to make radically different c :  to give a different position, course, or direction to  2 a :  to replace with another  b :  to make a shift from one to another c :  to exchange for an equivalent sum of money (as in smaller denominations or in a foreign currency)  d :  to undergo a modification of  e :  to put fresh clothes or covering on.  (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved September 20, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/change.

With this school year I was loathe to give up my SUV; the hubs and I switching up our school drop-off routines.  Car travel time, with my sons, is one of my favorite things.  Soon our eldest will be the one behind the wheel; driving himself and his brother to high school.  Because they begin earlier, the hubs navigates the craziness of their drop-off en route to work and I use his vehicle to drop-off our youngest.

I miss all of my sons being dropped off from my vehicle.

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Out-of-the-box thinking is squashed with years of history.  It has always been done this way and why change it?  For years, after high school, I chose to sever my old fashioned ideals to embrace the novel.  Plato, Einstein, Columbus, Watson & Crick, Wozniak & Jobs, …they chose to question the status quo and discovered new answers.  I had many questions and debated them often.  But never did I find my answers and I just stopped asking.

In this season of midlife, I begin to question many things.  For years I never questioned, always following the herd and wanting to fit the mold to be a good spouse, daughter, mother and friend.  I’ve failed many times at all of these things and it’s only with time and experience that I can finally find my way.  Severing my ties with my childhood ideals worked against my end-goals.  They used to be: a great career, titles, material things and many friends.  But quantity never makes up for quality and I recently was reminded of this over the weekend.

I mulled over these thoughts in the hubs’ truck.  While most people in my community lease cars and change them every few years to experience new, our household remains with our 1998 and 2002 vehicle models.  Now that my son drives my vehicle, I see it anew through his eyes.

Did I realize that my vehicle drives itself?  My son is finding things I had never noticed as I drove them to and fro.  The seat that folds down into a table.  A hidden compartment.  I’ve missed all of these things.  The youngest notes similar things in the hubs’ truck.

Did I know this button caused my speakers to change tone?  I’ve missed the accelerating power of the hubs’ truck;  its V8 engine and its deep-throated thrum.  Each morning my son and I lean forward each time I brake; forgetting the sensitivity of the pedal.  The music gets cranked up as I accelerate onto the freeway.

Slowly I have transitioned between the two cars; remembering the nuances of each and enjoying the amenities of both.  I’m hoping to thread through this time of life, as well.

Just as I struggle to let things go for my boys and allow them more independence; so I must also learn to let go of my defining title as the center of my sons’ world as a mother, to an independent adult and attentive spouse. 

I am redefining my roles, once again, and hope that I can retain the nuances of each and enjoy the amenities of both.  In order to grow I must accept and embrace change.  I’ve become complacent.

This past weekend as we celebrated my son’s sixteenth birthday I had been surprised by his request.  He asked that gifts NOT be opened publicly; knowing one of his friends’ family struggles financially.  Normally this son chooses not to celebrate his birthday with a party and prefers a dinner with just family.

I agreed to honor his request even though our family enjoys watching the reaction of the person opening gifts.  I had not anticipated that all of our family or my son’s eight friends could attend.

The hubs and I were just happy that this son chose to invite his friends to celebrate with him.

As I drove the hubs’ vehicle to work, in traffic, I remembered this same son wailing inconsolably in the infant carseat; the visiting bff trapped in the truck with us for five hours.  I gripped the steering wheel teary eyed.  I wouldn’t trade this truck in for a newer model.  Not ever.  The memories and history that is told in each fold, scratch and dent were reminders of the growth and changes that life has brought.

History is important.

On Sunday I stared at the cake before me while my sister-in-law counted guests.  It was not enough.  The silver lining in her words wasn’t lost on me…at least you won’t have leftovers.

My son relented to his friends’ requests to OPEN all of his gifts in front of everyone.  And so he did, as he has many birthdays before.

When the remaining Victoria’s Secret gift bag remained; the family and friends jeered and cheered for him to look at what was inside.  What kind of gag gift did these friends decide to gift to this boy on his sixteenth birthday?!   As pink tissue paper crinkled we all waited…

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I stood alongside and watched his friends’ faces before looking at my own son.  They had looks of anticipation and when I heard him gasp I finally looked at what he held in his hand.

This son has begged for us to purchase this electronic gaming item for the past two years and the hubs and I have refused to purchase it.  His friends, of their own accord, chose to pitch in money to give this to him.  They hoped I didn’t mind.

I gaped in shock, knowing this wasn’t something small, and I quickly snatched the camera to distract myself from crying right then and there.  The picture of nine teens placing their hands in a Victoria’s Secret bag, grinning from ear-to-ear, was priceless.

Later that same night, after a high school community jazz performance, our son sat quietly at the table with the hubs and I.  The middle son plopped himself into a chair and announced, “Dude.  My friends wouldn’t do that for me.  You’ve got some really good friends.” 

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In response, the older one shared how he had been shocked and embarrassed and didn’t know how to react when opening the present.   He had been happy that these friends merely were present.

It was the idea that these boys pooled their resources together and gave a thoughtful gift all on their own.  They couldn’t wait for him to open it and shared these sentiments on their online chatroom.

That mattered more to him than the gift. He had been humbled.

The very next night I found these parents in a high school stadium.  Did they realize what their boys had done?

A mom bluntly shared her sentiments.  She had refused to pay for the gift but if, these boys figured it out on their own, she’d purchase it with their money.  Each of the parents agreed that the money issue wasn’t a deterrent.  They all were encouraged that their sons worked collaboratively to get through obstacles and to selflessly give.

It’s the history these guys share with one another that’s important; their relationships solidifying year-after-year.  I hugged each of the parents and saw the joy mirrored in their eyes; even the dads.

I’d become complacent in my relationships with my fellow humans; believing the worst and losing sight of what is good.  I stayed within the status quo and just did.  I focused on my sons and my family; forgetting about the bigger picture.

But life constantly changes with transitions.  While sitting at a funeral mass for a dear friend’s mother; I heard family members share memories of their beloved.  It wasn’t in the things she gave them that kept this family together.  It was in the relationships she forged with her children and grandchildren, that mattered.  It impacted who they all had become.

Why search for new and better things when the best things in life are steeped in history?  Our evolution as a species, as a people, relies on our ability to navigate through transitions and obstacles and progress.   To pass these traits on to the next generation, I must embody them in myself.

This is the end-goal; to strive to be better.  To change.  To grow.

Being married to the hubs brought many opportunities to experience change.  He brought varying views into my life.  Travel.  Our sons.  He taught me the strength in doing things on my own.  With constant military deployments I was left to my own devices.  And I could weather life’s storms knowing that, even though he wasn’t always physically near, our ideals and values were the same; his love unwavering.

My unlikely partner, quite opposite from myself, has anchored me.  We continue to make history together; hopefully for many more decades.

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On the harvest moon I stood alongside fellow friends, experiencing mooncakes for the very first time and appreciating their endless hospitality.

Life never ceases to amaze me, there are so many new things to learn.  I am open now to new friendships and experiences; stepping out of my box and comfort zones.

I am remembering this gift of hospitality, handed down to me from generations past.  As my birthday came and went I finally realized the greatest birthday gifts I’ve received.  Get-togethers with various groups of friends; just to celebrate being together.  No presents; just presence.

The overbearing mama bear in me is learning to let go.

The eldest son is always the one who’s struggled to find a friend and it was only on his birthday that my worries for his future were needless.  He is capable of finding friends all on his own.  His changes, both physically and emotionally, are okay.  He doesn’t need to reinvent himself or try to conform.

I’m getting comfortable sitting in the passenger seat; ceding control and the wheel to him, to drive.

The waning moon is still bright.  I roll down the windows, hair flying, and enjoy the ride.

 

 

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Family

here it comes

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Merry Christmas.

 

Uncategorized

time in service

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I spend money on things for others; but I am spent.

service1a :  the occupation or function of serving <in active service> b employment as a servant <entered his service
2a :  the work performed by one that serves <good service> b help, use, benefit <glad to be of service c :  contribution to the welfare of others d :  disposal for use <I’m entirely at your service>
3a :  a form followed in worship or in a religious ceremony <the burial service> b :  a meeting for worship —often used in plural <held evening services>

4 the act of serving: as  a a helpful act <did him a service> b :  useful labor that does not produce a tangible commodity —usually used in plural <charge for professional services>”  Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.

During this time of year I find myself searching YouTube for the song, “Last Christmas” by Wham!  The panoramic snowy views featured in the video immediately deliver wintry cheer.  But the sidebar beckons and I find myself clicking the link to the song above; which has remained on repeat the whole month of December for the third year in a row.   My mind sees the Wham! cassette tape constantly being replayed on my Sony Walkman.  The device eventually ate this tape because I frequently pushed the rewind button for this particular song.    I had coveted leg warmers, red hi-top Converse sneakers and Guess overall jeans at the time.  I never got any of those things.

On Sunday  I closed my bedroom doors and locked them; effectively shutting out my family.  I kept this song on repeat for two hours. I was frustrated over a cup of coffee and a Santa picture.   My anger, simmering below the surface for half of this year,  clawed its way out.

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It wasn’t really about the hubs grumbling about my desire for a Nordstrom’s cafe almond latte coffee.  Nor was it about the spontaneous idea to stand  in line with my three sons; who were over a decade older than the other children waiting for Santa (which we did not do).  It is about being disappointed in life and people.  My family is bearing the brunt of my wrath.

For the aging priest diagnosed with liver cancer who, along with his religious order, will no longer be serving our parish after December 31.

At the staff who turned their backs at my request for a family who has served the school for almost seven years.

To the parents who find fault with those who volunteer in booster organizations and PTA  who serve for everyone’s children; not just their own.

For the salesman and family friend who is tired of filling someone’s coffers at the expense of his integrity.

The frustration of crumbling walls, leaky plumbing and cracked tile in a sixty-four degree house.

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I hope that my husband does not think that everything I want is centered around material things.   He is well aware of the love language that defines me, from Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages.   It is not words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch that make me feel loved.   When my children open doors or do their laundry, when my husband mops floors and creates dinners, when someone does something kind, just because.

It is in acts of service that I find value; ones that come from the heart with nothing expected in return.

I have lost my love language; my desire to serve.   For the past six months I’ve embarked on a mental journey of organization; clearing out junk to find what’s important.    I sorted through my reactions and actions this past weekend; comprehension slow in coming.

I sat during the service, focused on our parochial vicar recently diagnosed with liver cancer.  Priests are an ailing breed;  the numbers greatly diminished of men who choose this vocational path.  Wasn’t there anyone out there to help him?   Their religious order no longer has priests to serve our parish.

Whilst typing an email response to a question, I found myself adding an FYI.  I could finally give voice to my bitter disappointment; to the assistant principal of the elementary school that used to be my second home.

I listened to our family friend, a seasoned salesman, consider options.  At what cost do we serve others before ourselves?  Parents sobbed around me at a parent meeting and I seethed.  Why is that those who serve humbly feel used and spat-out with a bitter taste in their mouths?  Was it worth it?

I see the full glass rapidly spilling over.   I need to know that serving has value.  Because in my life; this is the gift that I can freely give.  Service.

We know what it means to serve.

 The USAA (United States Automobile Association) slogan, we know what it means to serve, scrolled across my computer screen as I perused our home insurance policy.   USAA began with a group of army officers who couldn’t insure their vehicles and decided to create their own company.   Military service members live the sacrifice of service.  They willingly place their lives in danger to serve our country.  My husband served sixteen years of active duty and my eldest son considers following in his footsteps.  But the mother in me screams, no!  The residing cynic wants to say it’s not worth it.   I am selfish.  I want him to live.

Because we can maximize our wealth and our health but in the commodities of life; the coffers I want to fill are the memories in my mind and heart.  I have to invest my time in serving those who bring meaning to my life.   The people that remain on my Christmas and obituary mailing lists who accept the flawed me; just as I am.  The ones whose time spent in their company share the highs and lows that change with the season.   The ones whom you can pick up a conversation when you don’t see them on a day-to-day basis; as if they were always there.

I heard the girls in the loud, busy restaurant as we shared ideas of what they were getting their kids for Christmas.  The consensus: an experience.  Instead of presents, be present and do something together.  Day trips.  Unique outings.  The gift is in the giving; the investment of time.  I can easily spend money but if my spirit is spent and not receiving joy, why spend?

The bff texted and called me out.  She had placed me on her naughty list because the Christmas card I had sent was not as simple as it seemed.  There are things worth spending dollars on; big or small.  The hubs lamented the plumbing bill after six hours of labor was spent fixing leaky pipes.  But I willingly invest money and time for a needed or worthy cause.  This morning as I handed a gift of appreciation to the mom who carpools my three sons, from three different schools, I felt joy.  It was heartfelt; my gratitude for her selfless offer to drive loops around our community to safely deliver my boys.    On Monday, after receiving the naughty list text, I summoned the hubs into the office to snap the picture of the shirt I was wearing that day.  The laugh escaped unbidden.  Small joys. When I open the mail to another Christmas card portrait I have to smile.  These greeting card tidings are one of my favorite things about the holiday season.

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I cleared my schedules thinking it would bring me peace but this is not the case.  There is no joy in building up walls and closing doors.  The joy is in having something to offer; to contribute time to causes and people.  It’s taken me all this time to realize that the panacea for an angry and bitter heart is not to try to fill its ache with food, stuff or white noise.  The healing comes in filtering, sorting and giving things away.

I invest more time in soul searching.

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I continue to let go of hoarding hateful things and struggle to find my gift; to give without strings.

Family, Work

the boring every day

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The unspoken word comes up more often than I’d like.  It’s insidiuous.

Boredom.

I feel its presence as I stare at to-do lists written on the squares in my calendar; the box to check, empty.  Close behind comes procrastination as I ponder all of the other things I could or should be doing.  My daydreaming state activates; my eyes glaze over and time passes in a blink.  At the end of the day the guilt sets in; the to-do list undone.  What happened?

What is surprising is that this boredom is resurfacing during the season that keeps me the busiest; the holidays.  In clearing my schedule I am finding myself twiddling my thumbs.  Past distractions included absorption with my PC or phone and the apps that accompany them: Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.   Orchestrating gatherings and parties; spur-of-the-moment.   Heading projects and committees.  Expanding an idea from the simple original one into something grand; involving a lot of time and effort.  Projects and lists.  Shopping and gifts.

In tamping down on these tendencies and saying the word, “no,” to meaningless dross,  my mind lays idle.  The boredom presents itself because my brain needs to become focused on doing something.  Something of VALUE.

  • Reconciling books, paying bills.  Boring.
  • Cooking dinners, washing clothes, grocery shopping and cleaning house.  Boring.
  • Chauffeuring children here, there and everywhere.  Boring.
  • Attending seminars, meetings or social gatherings.  Boring.
  • Being with my family.  Boring.

All of the above are the ins and outs of daily living.  Real life.  I ponder if I am checking out or depressed.  The twinkling lights usually spur me into an activity frenzy.   When the middle son casually mentioned to the hubs that I seemed disinterested in working with him on his saxophone; the hubs gave me a nudge.  To which my response was.  I’m busy.

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And I was.  Busy doing the things I had to do.  Waking unwilling kids each morning, making school lunches, dropping same unwilling offspring, to schools and practices.  Washing clothes, cleaning bathrooms, cooking dinners.  Running bank errands, typing emails and providing customer service.  I sat in my home as my the other members of my family, headphones plugged into computers; played online.  The hubs sat at the DVR watching recorded episodes of Doctor Who or The Walking Dead.  The Kindle, filled with four books to read on my device, lay open; the words unseen on the paper white page.

I felt like one of those zombies.  The boredom had settled into the recesses of my mind.  It is easy; to be bored.

It is much harder to mentally change my mindset.  To align my focus on what is valuable and to define what valuable means.   I called to the son to practice his saxophone.  Soon the silver Xeno emerged from its case; the eldest sitting alongside.  With the tree lights switched on and two musical pieces simultaneously echoing within the walls of my home I, unwittingly, slid the lid of my piano open to join in the cacophony of noise.

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And became amazed.  Amazed that my fingers could still play the music to “White Christmas,” memorized at age twelve (this middle son’s age).  Soon my mind began to engage and when I got stuck with the musical passage; I dug out the sheet music.   I had to work to be able to replicate the notes upon the staff lines; missing the flats on occasion.  And though my fingers were stiff I willed myself to relax; the finger motor placement memory returning .  It is only once a year that the desire to play this music arises.

The wiring of our brain is such a wonderful, miraculous thing. 

My eyes were unfocused; only glancing at the music as needed.  The memories of Christmases past flooded through me reminding me of my purpose once again.

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The repetitiveness of life has a way of beating us down; obliterating our vision; our mission.    I hadn’t realized I had turned the volume of my car stereo down; my Christmas CD silently repeating in my vehicle.   I had effectively muted my life; silently miming my existence.

I heard the alto sax’s rendition of Sleigh Ride and the trumpet’s harmony in a Christmas medley.  I began to jazz up the White Christmas piece on the piano; syncopating my rhythm as the boys and I took turns.  The youngest joined in; humming along.

I became present once again.

It is eerie how quickly that switch can flip.  I had just been writing about being present in my life as time quickly passes.  I am reminded that I must not let my mind be idle; that life takes effort in all areas.  As a wife.  As a mother.  As a Catholic.  As a member of society.  As a friend.  That I am continually a work in progress and that there are many plateaus.  Complacency is the vice I must continually be watchful for.

Moments do not create themselves.  We must always be present; watchful for their coming.  To recognize their value; their purpose.

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The music has given me a renewed sense of purpose.  I found myself happily shopping.  But this year it is different.  I am not shopping just to buy.  I have a purpose in mind.   When the boys suggested a gift card for the teen boy I chose from our church’s “Angel Tree” I happily complied.  It was satisfying to hand the card over to the parish office; to be donated to a teen similar in age to my sons.  The boys were happy to choose this gift for someone else.  Its monetary worth did not matter.

My boys, who are accustomed to receiving, have not learned to give.  To really give; from their hearts.

There are many people who wish to donate and give time during the holidays.  But what about the every day?  How do you instill this value of giving, just because and to expect nothing in return?  It has been this question that has kept me in the doldrums, this holiday.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~John 3:16 NIV.

The giving.  In November we gave thanks.  In December we give it away.  Life isn’t about the things we have; it is about what we can offer to others.  Love.  Friendship.  Relationship.

I need to believe that I have something to offer; the thing I have been searching for all this time.  In my twenties and thirties I thought my mission in life was in having things, creating a family, building a home.  I’ve since discovered otherwise.  To expect things in return breeds disappointment.  Burn-out.  You base your worth on things given to you.  External factors should not define who you are; what I am.

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There will always be the hard days where the present moments leave nothing to be desired.  The youngest enjoyed his short-lived time in a wheelchair as he nursed a sprained foot.  The x-rays revealed no hairline fractures or broken bones.   He was adamant that he would push himself from radiology to the cast room.  It was all I could do to not grab the handles and rush to our next destination.

But my schedule cleared.  I had all the time in the world with no excuses.  My older sons were in carpools.  I willed myself to be present in the long and sterile hospital corridor.  The orthopedics department was in a completely different building and finally, this son tired of the novelty of the wheelchair.

When the high school marching season ended I missed the daily busy thrum of the quads; the chromatic peals of the bells.   No longer could their music carry me.   I have to compose my own movements within life’s symphony.  To find inspiration in the every day; boring as they may seem.  I begin to see my mundane days in a different, multi-colored LED Christmas light.

  •  I pay the property taxes, grateful I have a home to pay for.
  • I make nightly dinners, replenish empty refrigerators and empty full trash cans; physical proof that a family of five gathers together and lives here.
  • I drive loops around my community; happy to have places to go and people to see.
  • I mentally push myself out of my comfort zone to explore business learning opportunities.
  • I belong to a family; the only child with deceased parents.  It is my very own.

The words.  They finally come.  My fingers fly, once again, across my keyboard; fighting their way onto the page no longer unwritten.  I can finally recognize them, taste them on my tongue and DO something with them.

I turn the volume up to my favorite Christmas song by Mariah Carey on the car stereo; singing loud and clear.  I’ve found my rhythm once again.

Family, Work

my hat progress

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

degrees of separation

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I.  AM.  COLD.

I cradle the hot cup of tea in my hands to warm them as various HVAC contractors submit quotes for our gutted unit.   With the loss of the Heat Ventillation A/C unit brings the warmth of our neighboring businesses; particularly the new ones who just moved in behind us in September.

I watched from the bay door as the three different fork lifts maneuvered around the large piece of machinery upon the truck’s flatbed.  Each tow motor came from different businesses to assist our neighbors move this into their building.  The hubs grinned from across the way as he maneuvered our fork lift.  Working together.

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While the middle son snapped the mobile shot of the clouds, driving home yesterday, the youngest asked if God was up there.  How is he everywhere?   When the unexpected question finally registered in my mind I thought of the six degrees of separation idea; originated by a Hungarian, Frigyes Karinthy, in 1929.  I am currently reading about this in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point and have been pondering this theory.  I voiced aloud the idea that a friend of a friend, can connect anyone around the world within six different people.  I glanced in the rearview and saw my youngest consider this; his face questioning.  It was then that I remembered his earlier query.

“We have  zero degrees of separation from God,” I tell him.  “He is everywhere.” 

“Like Santa?”  he asked.

We had arrived to our destination with two potted pine trees.  The middle son, master-of-the-obvious (MOTO for short) says, “Mom.  Why do you keep giving stuff to people?  Each day you have some package or thing that you HAVE to mail or give.  Why are we here?  YOU are Santa.”

The husband, surprisingly, did not repeat the sentiments of our son as we previewed our financial statements to assess sales.   As vendors and customers drop by he notes the passing of gifts and items; a thank you for loyalty.   But this holiday season I am released by the unspoken rules of give and take.  I am not bothered by being the giver.  I have finally learned to not expect anything in return.

Most years I cringe when I receive an unexpected gift; hustling or apologizing for not thinking to give one in return.  It is mentally taxing to evaluate the cost of a gift received and finding something appropriate to reciprocate.   The expectation of reciprocity created too much mental work for me and I have been able to let it go; my nuclear family included.

My MIL (mother-in-law) changes the channel when the UNICEF or ASPCA advertisements air.  The deep sunken eyes of third world children and caged dogs are too much for her to bear.  During the holiday season everyone fights for your spending dollar.  They count on people’s giving spirit; opening their wallets once a year.  By why not on ordinary days?  Why do people only feel compelled to give during the holidays?  Does giving during the season really cover-up the guilt for wanting and receiving?

I share the story of Saint Nicholas with the boys; the kind man who gave money anonymously to those in need.  It is with this spirit that we should proffer our gifts.

Opening a door for an elderly woman,

Lending an ear to the chatty, but lonesome, person in the grocery store,

Inviting an acquaintance for coffee.

These things do not require a lot of money or forethought.  The sole requirement.  Time.

The text came at 6:15 AM from my long lost girlfriend who lives two miles away.  Today she is substitute teaching at our elementary school and wondered if she would see me.  It has been that long since we’ve touched base that she had no idea I re-entered the work force.  Most mornings my boys are dropped-off at school so I arrive when our business doors open at 8 AM.  My schedule is full as we reconcile books for the end-of-the year and prepare to close for the holidays.

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Time.   As I parked and emerged from my car in our school parking lot the years had melted away.  When the big earthquake hit I huddled in bed with she, and her newly married husband; having been evacuated from my apartment.  My eight year old, who walked along side us, was the newborn she helped me deliver as my husband held my left hand and she held my right.   The teachers and staff who see my sons, daily, were surprised to discover this fact.  The two of us have not sat down together in over three years.

Within a ten minute period, standing in an elementary school office,  we had several shared acquaintances and the six degrees of separation came to mind.  The second grade teacher is her neighbor, the new first grade teacher is a friend and our list of shared friends grew.   It is this friend that brought me to this communityThe staff curiously observed and listened as each new person walked in the door and knew one of us.  Our network is only by one degree of separation. 

She was my reminder.  The time cultivated in friendship, if it is true, can forego the every day minute details.  I don’t need to see her every day.  Our values and characters are essentially the same as they were twenty five years ago.    The same goes for the bff in the midwest, the childhood friend up north and the friends, like the one above, within a two mile radius (or more).   

Time is the great equalizer.  Reciprocity is not expected.  And the giving of self, instead of creating walls and protective borders, is rewarded ten times over.  I am grateful for the reminder.

Uncategorized

reconcile & relinquish

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Uncategorized

all things cerebral

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Cerebral.  adj.  1. Of or relating to the brain or cerebrum. 2. Appealing to or requiring the use of the intellect; intellectual rather than emotional.  (www.freeonlinedictionary.com)

My brain is on overdrive as the thoughts kindle within its folds.  If an EEG (electroencephalography) was taken of mine, the synapses would light up like a Christmas tree.  Some of these pathways in my cerebral cortex (the areas of thought, reasoning, sensation and emotion) have been dormant.  But the beauty of our brain is its neuroplasticity; the ability to form new pathways and to re-ignite old ones for storage.   People who suffer minor strokes  have the ability to regain function of paralyzed limbs by the creation of these new pathways.  Repetitive use of them help create long term storage of memories or motor function.  Practice makes perfect.
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Today I found myself at my piano trying to rekindle the fine motor pathways to move my fingers across the ivories.  It is only during the holidays that I find myself at the bench replaying my favorite Christmas melodies.  It brings me back to my childhood; to carolers coming to our door and the happy anticipation of Advent and Christmas.  Although the sheet music sits before me my eyes look downward; my fingers flying across the keys in rote memory.  It should not have been a surprise that my fingers did not move as I expected them to; the discordant notes amidst White Christmas.  Looking at the notes on paper distracted me and after playing approximately ten minutes the muscles in my lower arm burned.  I turned to the husband in disgust.  I used to play this song in my sleep.

But what did I expect?  I hadn’t practiced this tune in 12 months. And therein lay the answer to what has been swirling about in my mind for quite some time.  My expectations are unrealistic.

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I have been out-of-practice in various aspects of my life and recently have tried to discern what is missing.  Discernment.  Transparency.  Simplicity.  Hospitality.  This week I have been working on hospitality; entertaining others and opening up my home.  So many reasons prevent me from doing this.  Time.  Effort.  Cost.   I barely made time to maintain long term relationships, my minutes and days lost in busy-ness.  As our family transitioned it was easier to close my doors, to fill my time with works with no real meaning.  To fill gaps with minimal effort.  With our family transition from active duty military to assuming a small business; cost became an insurmountable obstacle to entertain others.  It was all we could do to feed ourselves.  But in this hoarding we lost sight of what, truly, is important in this life and it has only taken me four years to realize this.  Relationship.  It is the glue that brings us joy.  It is what marks us as higher cognitive human beings.  This is our gift and we have the ability to choose what we do with it.

On Monday I stared at my December calendar, dismayed to realize it was quite full.  But I made the conscious effort to clear space and decided to reconnect with friends I have not seen in quite some time.  I took a deep breath as I began to coordinate; informing the hubs of my intentions while at work.  The girlfriend I have known the longest was traveling over 400 miles to be in my neck-of-the-woods to visit the happiest place on Earth with her hubs and children.  To my surprise another longtime girlfriend posted on my Facebook wall to meet; the last time together at her mother’s funeral three years prior.  My Memorial Day 2014 plans are to camp at the campground her family brought me to at age 13.  My third girlfriend, the local teacher, lives within 20 miles but our schedules never mesh with work schedules and kids.

I, then, began to text the girlfriends I rarely see to coordinate time to visit.  With my limited time I vowed to make the most of it.  There were plenty of items on my to-do list to take care of and I decided to finally create the space, hoping these women would grant me grace in my messy place.  I chose to slow my pace.   To touch base.  Relationships.  I am out of practice.

Suffering has no meaning in itself. Left to its own, it is a frustrating and bewildering burden. But given the context of relationship, suffering suddenly has meaning. (www.joniandfriends.org)

Amidst guffaws of laughter I contemplated the various walks of life that sat before me.  We are not cookie-cutter women with perfect lives.  The conversation swirled about as I checked in with my initial perceptions of what I thought these women were.  All people have facades and my assumption is that they have it together; the perfect life.  On Tuesday, after sitting with our salesman friend, I again questioned my niche and purpose.  The hubs and I constantly assess our lives now, together, as we trudge forward in our messy days.  My expectations are that as I grow older life would become easy; all of my questions of my youth would be answered.  What I have experienced is that most of my questions become deeper, that disillusionment and disappointment have made me jaded.
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Wisdom. 1a :  accumulated philosophic or scientific learning : knowledge. b :  ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : insight. c :  good sense : judgment. d :  generally accepted belief.  2 :  a wise attitude, belief, or course of action. 3 :  the teachings of the ancient wise men.  (www.merriam-webster.com)

 38 “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” ~ Luke 6:38 (NIV)
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By choosing to re-engage with people and being hospitable the blessing has been returned twice-fold; literally.  Wednesday evening I returned home after CCD to find unfamiliar Tupperware upon my kitchen counter.  When I questioned the hubs of its presence he replied that a dear friend appeared in our doorway with dinner.  It was an unexpected treat from this girlfriend with a heart of gold and I was humbled.  It is she who has struggled, in recent  years, as she transitions from married life to single mother.  But her giving and hospitable nature is undeterred and the hubs and I stared at one another.  She was our reminder.  You do not need to have a big, beautiful and decorated Christmas home to invite others through your doors; into your life.  All you need is the spirit of giving; with no expectation of receiving in return.

On Friday afternoon another unexpected call came from a girlfriend I rarely see.  To the hubs and I’s surprise, dinner was delivered across our door stoop as she and her daughter joined us.  I tried not to look at the cluttered kitchen counter, the dust on the blinds, my boys’ backpacks strewn across my floor.  The mancave was abuzz of all things digital and electronic; heat emanating from the three bodies that occupy that space.  But the sons emerged to watch Rise of the Guardians with the daughter; sounds of laughter gurgling from our family area.

The introverted, non-social hubs again stared across the space; marveling at the depth of conversation.  Our preconceived notions of our friend’s life were based on appearance.   She and her hubs, too, seek something meaningful; the more that constantly eludes us.  We trick ourselves into thinking it means: wealth, worldliness or prestige.  But it is something we can achieve every day without leaving the comforts of our space.  In opening our minds and expanding our horizons we can choose to appreciate the opportunities before us.  We assume and compare thinking these things give us happiness and success.  But in constantly measuring our accomplishments against something or someone else; we set ourselves up for disaster.  We will always fail.
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It is in relationships that we find depth and all things cerebral.  They are difficult to find but if you have them, cultivate them and accept them for what they are.  In doing this you have everything to gain.  Before I used to think I was lowering my expectations in what I desired.   But I have since discovered that I made unrealistic ones.  Why?  Because it is easier to reject than to be the one rejected.  I would not measure up.  Opening my doors, my lines of communication and owning my thoughts have allowed me to find unbelievable depth.  Several of my worldly girlfriends surprised me; searching for the elusive people to whom they would mesh.  In my travels and paths I have tread I have searched for these same things.  But I have finally arrived.  These friends are already in my life.  It is I who needs to open my doors to them; to accept them for who they are.  I hope they will do the same.   They can be flawed, as I am too.  It is in this constant discovery, in real conversation, that we grow and discover who it is we are; to find our niche. 
I am grateful.
Family

off pace

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So many blessings to be thankful for.  I need to keep writing them down.  My gratitude journal sits nearby but I have not been very good at putting pen to paper.

#365.  The pitter-patter of rain on this Black Friday.

I sit with my skinny peppermint mocha and desktop evergreen gazing at the silhouetted trees from my upstairs window.  All is quiet in my household; four happily bundled males fast asleep after a late night of online gaming.  At 2 AM I could still hear the shouts of glee as the middle son defeated his father.  The eldest was asleep in his blanket on the couch as I kissed the youngest son goodnight/morning.  I was reminded to wake him up early for our decorating fest; he is my impish Christmas elf.  Now that Thanksgiving has officially passed Christmas is allowed into our household.

I sat amongst family on Thanksgiving as my sister-in-law hustled about her kitchen making everything perfect.  She was functioning on two hours of sleep and was stressed.  All of her preparations and timing succumbed to the road hazards of life.  There is always some wrench that gets thrown into the works to derail even the most organized, efficient person.  I poured her a glass of wine and wished I had the “How to cook a turkey” list to read to her.  I will have to remember this while I cook the bird on Christmas eve BIG LOL.  I had read it aloud to the hubs on Wednesday and the middle son commented, that is sooooo, YOU, Mom.

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As I type my bff texts from 2,000 miles away if I have survived turkey day and shopping.  When I tell her I’ve been there and done that she responds, “Wow really?  Thought u swore off Black Friday?”  It is 9:25 am and although I went to bed at 2 am; happily awoke this morning and was out the door at 7.  Last evening we drew names for our gift exchange and the person whose name I drew shared what she hopes her Santa will bring.   The scavenger in me succumbed.  Since this is one of the two gifts I have to purchase, I might as well get it for a deal; the hubs full-heartedly agreeing with me.

Christmas cheer is spreading.  When I reminded the hubs that the Christmas decor needed to be put out, this weekend, he groaned.  Our weekend is already full but the youngest joined the conversation.  He enthusiastically asked when the trees would be brought out, could he watch Christmas DVDs and eat his candy cane?  As the lights reflected off the windshield I saw the hubby’s demeanor thaw; a slight smile in the dark.  I chattered away as we talked about Thanksgiving dinner and we both thought ahead to the eve when it is our turn to host.  For those of you who know my hubs, the anti-shopper, I must note that he drove me, at 10 PM, to my local crafts store after Thanksgiving dinner.  We were both wide-awake as I chose greenery and ribbons at discounted prices.  I emerged forty minutes later…the shopper ecstatic.  For years I have coveted the metallic chargers for place settings and I got them for $0.70 each!   As we drove past our Target store the parking lot was FULL.  It was 10:45 PM on Thanksgiving.

I struggle.  I am purchasing items to make my home inviting for family as I rediscover my hospitable self, once again.  How do I balance the materialism/consumerism with what is really important?  I have already failed!!!  As the hubs always likes to point out, why does it always have to entail spending money?  I can’t help myself.  The advertisers have got my number and really are genius at pulling the money from my pocketbook.  I was outraged when I discovered stores were opening at 6 PM on our sacred Thanksgiving evening.  But while our full, distended stomachs digested on protein and tryptophan, after eight hours of being with family; walking off dinner while shopping was just what I needed.  I would much rather scavenge late at night versus waking up early the next morning to sit in line.  It seems everyone else had the same idea.  S.u.c.k.e.r.

I can’t buy hospitality.  It isn’t supposed to be about showcasing your home or the perfect meal.  It’s about fellowship.  Tradition.  Honoring my faith. 

I cringe as I look at the picture above.  With my framed note to remember the real reason of Christmas sits my Starbucks cup.  For the hubs this coffee chain symbolizes capitalism at its finest.  Over-priced coffee, beautiful wrap (the red cup and holiday decor), brand name recognition.  I am addicted to this lifestyle…the over-spending, caffeine/shopping induced high as I frenetically try to keep pace.  I’m doing a poor job of creating space to create peace.  I can’t seem to get off the merry-go-round and sit still amongst the noise of our society to create my own quiet place.  How do I step off this dizzying ride?

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Life isn’t a bowl of cranberries.  I continue to sort through my life trying to mark my space; the hubs beside me.

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Grant me grace.  To get off this pace.  To find my place.  To create space.

Family

simply making room

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After the rain and the drip, drip, drip the hubs requested I forklift him onto the roof.  With the mastic and trowel he plugged holes, clearing leaf debris from the gutters.  Inside I awaited the cell phone call for his return trip down.  We are expecting more rain on Thanksgiving and so we prepare.

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We are moving steel parts today, the deliveries coming and going.  Our children laze around on couches as they enjoy a week’s break for Thanksgiving.  We have 3-1/2 weeks to get all outstanding orders out-the-door.

Half the battle, during the holiday season, is mental.  The overwhelming feelings of all the details to do: shopping lists, cleaning lists, Santa lists…it is never ending.  Christmas cards, letters, invite lists, parties, parades & performances…my calendar is already full.   How will I create white space in the X’d calendar boxes?  The howling winds of the holiday blizzard are already upon us.

How can I simplify our holidays?IMG_8312

As the hubs plugs the roof leaks with mastic I must also plug holes, the pitfalls, during the holiday season.  I try to clear the debris in our messy life by mentally preparing.  The beauty of constantly photo journaling and blogging is that I can look back and see what we have done.   Last year I filed for memory that the gingerbread house, a tradition I have done with my boys since 2005, was quite stressful.  The eldest placed the icing directly into his mouth, the middle child refused to help and the youngest ate most of the candy and dropped the excess to our dog.  We had honored a family member who, unexpectedly, died of alcoholism at age 38; leaving behind a 10 y/o and 7 y/o.  The Home Depot gingerbread house was for her.  Home Depot, apparently, takes care of their employees and paid a portion of her funeral costs.  We will nix this tradition this year.  If the boys make a fuss it will make a triumphant return in 2014.

My Christmas cards are already in envelopes, photo cards from my beloved Shutterfly ordered while ON-SALE.  Each year I pare down my list…decreasing it from the 100+ to a more reasonable amount.  Last weekend I sat with my spreadsheet, something I have not done in a few years, and calculated the cost of printing cards, labels and stamps. $93.82 does not include the specialty paper or the ink I use to write Christmas poems…a tradition I have done since 1997.  Surprisingly, this is much cheaper than what I used to do; handcrafting cards with stamps, sequins, bows and various specialty paper.  I am  foregoing the poem this year.   I cringe when I open the Christmas cards with the lengthy, single spaced letter sharing about all the trips, awards and promotions.  I avoid Facebook for all of these reasons.  Humility.  The holidays aren’t supposed to be about bragging.  It’s about giving thanks and celebrating a humble baby’s birth.  If people get upset, I’ll refer them to the blog so they can hear me rant and rave at their own leisure versus forced reading and the wasteful use of trees.  (grin)

Over the years we have accumulated various decorations.  I dreamily gaze at color-coordinated trees with white twinkly lights and sparkly, over-sized ornaments in decorating magazines and Pinterest.  I am led to believe that if, I too, create this wonderful masterpiece of beauty that my children will gratefully sit in awe by the tree, graciously fuss and profusely thank friends and family for gifts received and smile happily with goodwill.   The reality is that the shiny hand-picked wrapping paper (truly people go to great lengths to choose gift paper since presentation is everything) means nothing when the gift inside is not what they want.   The expectations are way too high.  I search for a way to prepare my boys to be disappointed; that Christmas is not about the material gift.  It is easy to say this cliche but it is quite another  to make them understand and practice this.  What self-respecting parent doesn’t want to grant their child what they want, within reason?    I search for how to teach them the true, reason for the season.

Thoughts whirl around in my head.  I contemplate sharing with my older sons my spreadsheet; the costs and expenses of the holidays.   Yesterday at a party, I asked the parents present when they learned how to budget money.  Some adults still do not know how to do this and the ads and consumerism become a teachable moment.  I would like to ask my sons what reasonable amount of money they should spend on one another.  Should they pool their resources for one large gift?  When asked, by family, what they want for Christmas the deer-in-the-headlights expression crosses their faces.  Only the youngest has articulated his desires and he added a caveat that was reasonable.   Each year as I observe my sons on Christmas morning it isn’t always the big ticket item that generates a response.  What has more weight and meaning is the thoughtfulness in selecting the gift and the element of surprise.  It is unexpected.

Because sometimes getting what you want isn’t really what you need.  It’s the sheer joy from the anticipation of the unexpected.  Who knew the bike, one year, would be set aside for the blanket that still is carried throughout my home by my eldest son seven years later?  There is no joy in telling someone what you want unless you absolutely have to have it.  And if that’s the case, buy it yourself when it goes on sale.  You can be giddy that you got it discounted!  Sometimes the hunt is more fun than the purchase.  What do I really need this Christmas?

IMG_8644It used to be fun to search for the perfect gift on sale.  But over the years we have simplified this with extended family.  On the hubs’ side we draw names, amongst the adults, and since my boys are the only children under aged 21 I let family members know that they have everything they need.  It is usually their own choice to buy the boys something.  On my side of the family our gift exchange is a white elephant…the “Miracle Eyes Jesus” and “Vomiting Mary” being a memorable moment last year.  That was the best!  My dear cousin and significant other had no idea the white elephant wasn’t, really, a white elephant and brought these items last year to hysterical laughter.   I can’t even recall what it was that I brought home!  I share the same sentiments with my side of the family; that my boys have everything they need.  Once again, my sons are the only kids under aged 21.

These exchanges slim down the cost and simplify things immensely.  The only things allowed, on both sides of our family, are homemade, consumable gifts, created for each family.  This usually entails cookies, jams, rubs, fruit, wine.  The only stress felt is to decide what food item to prepare and for those who do not bake or cook; to purchase.  We went from purchasing over 35+ gifts to two.  J-O-Y.  Simple things.

The battle I always lose is creating time on my calendar to just gaze at the lights; sitting by the tree with a hot cocoa in hand.  The quiet moments to watch the flickering candles of our Advent wreath.  Since there are no more crafts and the accumulated decor is simplified our time is spent shuttling kids, here, there and everywhere.  Party this, performance that.   Instead of fighting my schedule I must learn to be grateful for it.  Ten years from now my youngest will leave the nest and I will, no longer, be running around like a crazed parent, photographing and videotaping.  It flashes by in a blink of an eye and I am always grateful for the reminder from those who have been there and done that.  I must firmly plant my feet in the present and accept the things I cannot change; gracefully.  I will work at not adding things to my calendar unless it is something we really want to do;  like spending time with friends and family over food and drink.  There will be no Nutcracker performances, football tailgates or involved home projects. As Ann Voskamp advocates…I will slow down the P A C E, insert space  (between the P and A with an E) and create P E A C E.

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Acknowledging the above allows me to spend the energy and time on my gift; of being hospitable.  To merrily open up my home to celebrate all things miraculous, continued health and the wealth of the people who touch our lives.   I am thankful.  Simplicity is all I need.

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‘Tis the season.  Time to spread holiday cheer!!!