Beyond Grateful

fwf1

These are days
These are the days you might fill
With laughter until you break
These days you might feel
A shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
It’s true
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking
To you, to you                                                         ~ 10,000 Maniacs

Well, we have officially entered the holiday season. All around me, I am hearing snippets of conversations of how Thanksgiving is approaching too quickly or arriving too early  this year. Within the same conversations lie the predictable follow-up of how the Christmas season is fast on the heals of the feast-for some as early as midnight when they begin their Christmas shopping. Most likely the reason that some of us are feeling a sense of dread is that the holidays have become just another thing to do on our already overloaded “to do” list.  These exchanges obviously miss the point of our annual celebrations. As I have gotten older, I have become more and more cognizant of the materialistic and falsely cheerful feel that these holidays are supposed to imbue. Let’s be real: some of us don’t like our relations! Let’s be even more real: some of us have split families and are in the annual psychological juggle of whom we  choose to spend time with.

When we allow ourselves to get into this weird time warp of unhealthy thinking and situations, we are stealing our own joy. I remember the extraordinarily difficult time that my boys and I had with the changes in holiday traditions once their father left the house. It was so ridiculous to have to split time or have them choose between mom and dad. Now they are older and able to make their own choices that fits their desires so that the days are filled with celebration, laughter and emotional warmth.  They can begin their own traditions so that they can create life long memories of the season.

I want this year and every year to be an Appreciation Celebration. I want to dig deep and reflect upon what has really mattered in my life and savor it.  I was thinking about this recently as I drove up the highway to a favorite port city of mine. I was on a gift purchase mission for my sons and boyfriend.  Interestingly enough,  I had never driven alone to my destination and I found myself taking a different exit. I was not panicked by my detour in the least; I knew the city well enough. Also, since I only had a dollar bill, I would need to find parking on the street as opposed to a garage. So, I was quite proud of myself when I arrived at a near perfect parking spot that charged just a buck for 1 hour of parking and was close to the store!  One of the best parts about shopping at small businesses are the personal connections you can make with the store’s owner. During my shopping, the owner and I had a meaningful conversation about relationships with our children and even a bit about our own lives. He struck me a person who had experienced some of life’s hard knocks and had come out a better person as as result. I was so delighted by our talk that I left the store ready for another solo shopping adventure in yet another port city! As I traveled south, the sun was setting. Sunsets on the coast are huge-the whole sky looks like it’s awash in a golden orange. I remember thinking that I started the week basking in the sunrise and now I was doing the same with the sunset at the end of the week-very fitting. So onward I drove until I arrived at yet another terrific specialty store. And of course, my experience there was equally as positive-having made a connection with the store manager around the miracle of finding love the second time around and the challenges of a long distance relationship.

When my shopping was complete,  I felt energized by the experience. Not only had I done something by myself for the first time (on a Friday night in the dark) but I had enjoyed an authentic connection with 2 strangers!  All of us crave some form of connection to others.  Of course, I cannot expect everyone to be like me. But I do believe the we can at least be kind to one another or give a person a smile. Often we are too caught up in our own personal agendas to take the time to perform simple acts of kindness. And, of course, this is exactly what gets lost in the holiday rush.

I feel like I have finally arrived in the life that I was meant to be living. I have an unbounded sense of freedom. I am surrounded by love daily. The other day, I needed to call my youngest son while we were both on our way to work. When he answered the phone, I could tell that he was glad to hear from me just by the way he said hello. For the past two Saturdays, he and his girlfriend have asked if I have dinner plans.  What nearly 20 year old wants to hang with his mom on a weekend night? (Great way to stay out of trouble, though!) My oldest son and his girlfriend are now regular attendees at Sunday dinner. When the five of us are together, we relax, talk and chow down. What especially strikes me is how my sons’ girlfriends love the boys for who they are. As a mother, I could not ask for anything more.

Life is not only short, it is fragile. Go out and live this season and every season with purpose, love and good intentions.

Please note that this post was originally published on 11/19/12 as my own free write and well before I had so many wonderful and inspiring followers of my blog. It fits well with today’s prompt. I am grateful to all of you for your unending support. And I am forever grateful to Kellie Elmore without whom this blog would not have grown. HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!

#FWF Free Write Friday: Gratitude

by Kellie Elmore

Traditional Non-Traditions

images-celebrating

Celebrate we will for life is short but sweet for certain” ~ Dave Matthews

As I write this, another holiday has wound down. For the boys and me, the Easter festivities have become an opportunity to step out of the straight jacket that any holiday and its overwrought hype can bring. Any change in family circumstances will naturally impact the usual rituals of all holidays. For the most part, we have been able to keep many of our family customs-especially the Christmas ones-alive and well. For my sons, these latter traditions hold a very special meaning and they have been quite forthright about maintaining them.

A few years ago, we had an unusually warm Easter. In fact, it was quite hot-“beach weather” as we would call it. So I proposed that we throw out any of the usual sit-down dinner plans and head to the coast instead. We started the day with our faith community’s sunrise service in the woods. There is nothing better than rolling out of the sack with bed head, throwing on your” what-evers” for clothes and standing in the woods with the sounds of mother nature and peaceful music around you.  Second best part-donuts and coffee afterward! We then hauled it back home to pack a picnic lunch, beach chairs and reading material.  Let me tell you, very few people go to the beach and catch some rays in April around here! We were glad of the sparse population for sure.  We ended the day with a late afternoon hike on one of the high points in our area. Just a perfect, uninterrupted respite for all of us.

Since then, we have managed to find ourselves doing things that create long lasting memories for this season.  There have been times that we have been on the road home on Easter day. Two years ago, my youngest and I were on a church mission trip, helping to restore homes on an island off the South Carolina coast. We had sunrise service in the back green of the hotel’s parking lot and the kids had an egg hunt in their vans!  Last year, we went out to the far reaches of our state to enjoy an overnight in a coastal town that is a hubbub of liveliness in the summer. The shoreline there is wide and has a vast expanse of dunes. The boys had never been to this part of the state before and we had a wonderful chance to enjoy the company of our friends, Manny and Tom. I loved the idea of a mini road trip to a place that is geographically and culturally diverse from where we live. We still talk about the experience and share some hilarious memories about it together.

This year, we had a bonfire the night before Easter with a few friends. Despite my evident fatigue, I still enjoyed the evening.  We had a symbolic burning of things from the past, including the old stair treads from the recent home renovation as well as four boxes of old papers. I could not believe how long it took to burn those babies! And surprisingly, the purging was void of any emotional attachment. No joy, anger or sadness- just something that needed to get done to make room and to cleanse ourselves of negativity.

On Easter day, my youngest chose to spend time with his girlfriend’s family. This freed my oldest and I up to hit the city and enjoy some very fine art at the museum (this is not my second child’s thing) and a cheap lunch in one of the Jewish neighborhoods (yum!). We ended our day at his girlfriend’s family home for dessert. The funny thing is that  when we got to our lunch destination, my oldest said that he felt as if he landed on another planet! Even though we were just thirty minutes from home, we were experiencing a completely different holiday feel. It was quite liberating!

My sons have come to the mature understanding that holidays are overrated. Too much pressure and too much of “must-dos” can prevent an authentic enjoyment of given days such as these. We believe it is important to be together but in ways that do not obligate us to one another. We believe it is important to take the time to do something different; to think outside the box of what our materialistic culture says is the “right way” to celebrate. In this way, we can create better loving connections with one another that can last long after the holidays are done.

My friends! I encourage you to give it a try; it is a worthwhile experiment!

A Fragile Keepsake

In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past, a bridge to our future ~Alex Haley

When I graduated from college thirty years ago in May, my mother presented me with a family heirloom. The opal ring-set in twenty karat gold- was given to her by her mother, who in turn, received from her mother. I became the fourth generation to wear this precious piece.

The ring, for me, is a vehicle for family stories-most especially about my late great-grandmother who received the gift from her husband. She was a native of Genoa,Italy ( a red head no less!) who married a Siscilian and then came to America.  She bore 16 children (two of whom died in World War II) and had two kitchens in her home.  The second was in the third floor attic where she prepared her ravioli and other delectable treats. My mother remembered Sunday dinners at her grandparents house where her grandfather commanded the head of the table and her grandmother stayed in the kitchen waiting for him to order his next course. He would often say, “Old lady get me this.. old lady get me that…”, according to my mother. In fact, my mother told me that her grandmother’s dresses often had black grease marks on the back from leaning against the stove!  She had no memory of her grandmother ever sitting down to eat with the family. So, I guess somewhere along the way he must have expressed his appreciation for her dedication and gave her the ring.

I don’t know when my grandmother received the ring; perhaps it was given to her when her mother died. She was definitely the favored child of  her father so I can only assume that is how she came to have it given the numbers of sisters she had. My grandmother was a feisty, sometimes ill-tempered woman who often got her way. She enjoyed her whiskey and loved to gamble.  In fact, it was during a card game that the ring met its current physical state. My grandmother was having a bad night and was dealt a particularly poor hand. In her frustration, she slammed her hand down, palm side up, chipping a corner of the opal stone. The stone-fragile in nature- could not be reset for risk of shattering it completely.

I believe that my mother was given the ring when she graduated from high school. Or maybe when she married my father; I am not sure. She did not wear it as often as she would have liked for fear of losing the stone.  When it became my turn to have it, I too, wore it sporadically for a while. But then, in my mid-twenties I started wearing it daily. I had heard that the oils from your skin kept the ring from drying out and breaking apart. It was then that the ring story took an unusual turn. One night I took it off so I could exercise before leaving for a vacation with my boyfriend and friends. It was a busy time, packing etc. and in my rush I misplaced the ring. I looked all over my apartment but could not find it. I was quite distraught; so much so that I never told my mother.

Fast forward to a year later. I am on my honeymoon in the British Virgin Islands. We arrive at our seaside cottage and begin unpacking. As I take out the last of the items from my very large suitcase, I hear the sound of something rolling across the floor. It was the ring! Apparently it had been stuck in a corner of the suitcase the entire time. From then on, I wore the ring quite regularly and when I didn’t I was careful to place it so as not to lose it again. I don’t think that I ever told my mother about losing it. I wish that I did; she would have gotten a kick out of that story for sure.

For a lot of my married life, I wore the ring on my right hand. When my marriage was going south, I took off my wedding bands more regularly and place the opal there instead.  Then I stopped wearing my bands completely and put the ring back on my right hand. I suppose this was a way for me to physically accept my single state. When I became seriously involved with my fiance’, I put the ring back on my left ring finger. It was a perfect way to prevent men from pursuing me and a way for me to show my committment to my new relationship.  When I became engaged, the ring was once again resting on my right ring finger.

Today the ring sits on my dresser. Last month, I noticed a new piece had broken off making the already precarious setting even looser. I am quite afraid that it will come off altogether. My hope is that I can find a way to preserve it without shattering the rest of the stone. It is very important to me that I pass it on to a future granddaughter. I want to share the stories of not only the ring but of the women who wore it.

Beyond Grateful

fwf1

 

 

These are days
These are the days you might fill
With laughter until you break
These days you might feel
A shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
It’s true
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking
To you, to you                                                         ~ 10,000 Maniacs

Well, we have officially entered the holiday season. All around me, I am hearing snippets of conversations of how Thanksgiving is approaching too quickly or arriving too early  this year. Within the same conversations lie the predictable follow-up of how the Christmas season is fast on the heals of the feast-for some as early as midnight when they begin their Christmas shopping. Most likely the reason that some of us are feeling a sense of dread is that the holidays have become just another thing to do on our already overloaded “to do” list.  These exchanges obviously miss the point of our annual celebrations. As I have gotten older, I have become more and more cognizant of the materialistic and falsely cheerful feel that these holidays are supposed to imbue. Let’s be real: some of us don’t like our relations! Let’s be even more real: some of us have split families and are in the annual psychological juggle of whom we  choose to spend time with.

When we allow ourselves to get into this weird time warp of unhealthy thinking and situations, we are stealing our own joy. I remember the extraordinarily difficult time that my boys and I had with the changes in holiday traditions once their father left the house. It was so ridiculous to have to split time or have them choose between mom and dad. Now they are older and able to make their own choices that fits their desires so that the days are filled with celebration, laughter and emotional warmth.  They can begin their own traditions so that they can create life long memories of the season.

I want this year and every year to be an Appreciation Celebration. I want to dig deep and reflect upon what has really mattered in my life and savor it.  I was thinking about this recently as I drove up the highway to a favorite port city of mine. I was on a gift purchase mission for my sons and boyfriend.  Interestingly enough,  I had never driven alone to my destination and I found myself taking a different exit. I was not panicked by my detour in the least; I knew the city well enough. Also, since I only had a dollar bill, I would need to find parking on the street as opposed to a garage. So, I was quite proud of myself when I arrived at a near perfect parking spot that charged just a buck for 1 hour of parking and was close to the store!  One of the best parts about shopping at small businesses are the personal connections you can make with the store’s owner. During my shopping, the owner and I had a meaningful conversation about relationships with our children and even a bit about our own lives. He struck me a person who had experienced some of life’s hard knocks and had come out a better person as as result. I was so delighted by our talk that I left the store ready for another solo shopping adventure in yet another port city! As I traveled south, the sun was setting. Sunsets on the coast are huge-the whole sky looks like it’s awash in a golden orange. I remember thinking that I started the week basking in the sunrise and now I was doing the same with the sunset at the end of the week-very fitting. So onward I drove until I arrived at yet another terrific specialty store. And of course, my experience there was equally as positive-having made a connection with the store manager around the miracle of finding love the second time around and the challenges of a long distance relationship.

When my shopping was complete,  I felt energized by the experience. Not only had I done something by myself for the first time (on a Friday night in the dark) but I had enjoyed an authentic connection with 2 strangers!  All of us crave some form of connection to others.  Of course, I cannot expect everyone to be like me. But I do believe the we can at least be kind to one another or give a person a smile. Often we are too caught up in our own personal agendas to take the time to perform simple acts of kindness. And, of course, this is exactly what gets lost in the holiday rush.

I feel like I have finally arrived in the life that I was meant to be living. I have an unbounded sense of freedom. I am surrounded by love daily. The other day, I needed to call my youngest son while we were both on our way to work. When he answered the phone, I could tell that he was glad to hear from me just by the way he said hello. For the past two Saturdays, he and his girlfriend have asked if I have dinner plans.  What nearly 20 year old wants to hang with his mom on a weekend night? (Great way to stay out of trouble, though!) My oldest son and his girlfriend are now regular attendees at Sunday dinner. When the five of us are together, we relax, talk and chow down. What especially strikes me is how my sons’ girlfriends love the boys for who they are. As a mother, I could not ask for anything more.

Life is not only short, it is fragile. Go out and live this season and every season with purpose, love and good intentions.

 

Please note that this post was originally published on 11/19/12 as my own free write and well before I had so many wonderful and inspiring followers of my blog. It fits well with today’s prompt. I am grateful to all of you for your unending support. And I am forever grateful to Kellie Elmore without whom this blog would not have grown. HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!

#FWF Free Write Friday: Gratitude

by Kellie Elmore

The Love Jar

Where there is great love there are always miracles –

Willa Cather

The LOVE JAR. Well, that’s what we call it, anyway. The blue and gray pottery jar with the cork lid sits on the counter near the dishwasher. “Unconditional Love” is engraved across the front. We’ve had that jar for seven years now and it has been incorporated into our family’s language. It was given to us when life as we knew it blew up. Julia’s gift brought me immediate inspiration and became a vehicle for the three of us to experience joy and laughter. When I brought it home to the boys, I told them that the jar would be a means for us to make good memories. Then we came up with an astounding idea:  “Let’s go to New York City!”  So, we devised a plan to put away as much money as possible into our “LOVE JAR”.  Both boys immediately broke open their over-sized piggy banks and poured their change into the jar. I emptied my wallet of loose coins and spare one dollar bills. My oldest son, (who worked at an after school job at the local grocery store) volunteered to contribute a portion of his paycheck to it. My youngest son agreed that anytime he received money as a gift, he would put it in the jar. Spare change from each grocery store excursion was added. We even began to find money on the ground-some in major denominations!  When we told friends about our trip to the Big Apple, they would drop money in the jar whenever they visited.

The jar was magical! When I called my aunt to ask if we could stay with her for four days (she lives in the vicinity), she said that she would be thrilled to have us. We were relieved to know that we would be staying in a safe place with someone who knew and loved us. The trip was to take place right after Christmas- just in time for the school winter break.  And we were ready! We met our savings goal and off we went.

It is difficult to put into words how it felt to be in the warm embrace of my aunt’s hospitality and generosity. Not only were we fed and sleeping in warm beds, but my aunt drove us each day to the train station and presented the three of us with rail passes for the duration. When we went into the city one last time, she handed me cash and told me that I’d better not come home with any change!  The trip was the first of our many happy new memories that we were making during that time. And it would not have been possible if not for Julia’s thoughtfulness.

Needless to say, we came home from the trip with money to spare. It resided in the LOVE JAR where it continued to be depleted and replenished over time. The jar has become a reliable resource for us. We took a second trip to the city six months later, seeing new sights and enjoying warmer weather. It helped us enjoy our “Celebration of Three” party that spring. Part of our recent weekend trip to the mountains was funded by the jar. Sometimes we use it to buy something as simple as a stamp, a gallon of milk, or a loaf of bread. To this day, friends still put money in whenever they visit.

The LOVE JAR is my family’s miracle. It was a way for the three of us to begin to heal from one of  life’s worst heartaches and become a whole family in a different way.  We take care of each other. We rely on each other. We hold one another up. We love one another unconditionally. The LOVE JAR has restored our faith in the meaning of and power in family. THANK YOU JULIA!

What is Your Cultural Groove?

Upon first glance, working class suburbia would seem a place devoid of an authentic culture.  After all, my childhood hometown was, and continues to be, a place that is overwhelming white, filled with small ranch houses, older capes, and a main thoroughfare that is packed with strip malls and small office buildings. However, if I were to define my culture based on this shallow exterior, I would be doing it an injustice.

Both my parents grew up in two different small cities just outside of a larger city in the Northeast. Like all young couples that married in the late 1950’s, they were drawn toward dreams of homeowner-ship. Within seven months of my birth, they left their small apartment behind and moved to the town that my brother and I were to grow up in.

I have come to realize over the years- through stories that my mother told me and through example-the great sacrifices that my folks made in order to offer us a better life. Early on, my father needed to work two full-time jobs so that he  could support his family. Back then, of course, it was nearly unheard of that women worked outside the home once the children were born.  But for many working class households, it was an absolute necessity to have a second income. Frankly, I have always wondered why this past phenomenon isn’t  part of a larger public discussion today. These days we always talk about the need for both parents to work. In my day (gosh don’t I sound old!),  the money was needed for food and the  mortgage for the small ranch house- not for lavish vacations and other material items. Please don’t get me wrong- I know that the need for two incomes just to feed your family still exists today.  But I also see the pursuit of more tangible things in my generation- a great shift in the overall culture to be sure.

But I digress. The better life that  I am speaking of included endless times of running around in the woods with the neighborhood kids, swimming in the pool and long bike rides to lakes and the coast. And along with the traditional culture of 1960’s and 70’s suburban childhood, came a more subtle change-one that broadened my family’s horizons. Since the work my father did was closely associated with a university and since he also was becoming a dedicated runner, our family crossed paths with people from all generations and ethnic backgrounds who enjoyed the sport as well. Our home became a haven for hungry graduate students and other idealistic youth as well as people old enough to be my parents’ parents! Because my brother and I met so many different kinds of people, we learned compassion for, and an understanding of, others who existed beyond the borders of our little town.

These changes set the stage for  a newer definition of culture and its accompanying values for my family as well as myself.

So, as I was growing up, running became our focus for family time as well as our social network.  It was especially  exciting to be a female runner in those days! Women were just beginning to become more visible in the sport and I can say for certain that running gave me strong self-confidence and leadership skills in other areas of my life.  Moreover, I witnessed my father sacrifice his own running career in order to provide increased opportunities for my brother and I. Additionally, both my parents helped to support various youth in the neighborhood and town in their running endeavors.

My parents taught me that culture is not just about your ethnic heritage and where you live but how you live.

Therein lies the “groove”!

Certainly, too much of the 21st century’s “busy and distracted” and selfish culture creeps into our lives today and attempts to throw us off track. But even if it has, it doesn’t mean that we’ve lost our groove! Sometimes it just gets put in a pile of someone else’s agenda for a while.

The trick is that you have to learn to create a way of life that fits you and those you love. It means staying grounded and resolute in that idea. What is it that you value? How do you want to live your life?

When I think of how I grew up, it can be summed up in two words: Building Relationships. Now, I cannot say the my life thus far is an exact replica of my parents’ . That is impossible.  I can only  say for sure that I wanted that life and tried darn hard to bring in some of the same experiences. In truth, it has only been in the last five years that I can say my life fits into this mold. And guess what?  It came from letting go of all that I had known in my adult life.  The life that I once lived was shallow and not what it appeared to be.  I had a hand in making sure that it looked perfect because I was too afraid to face the fact that I thought I had been a failure.

But good gosh! It wasn’t failure; I had lost my groove. I wanted it back- not just for myself but for my kids. They deserved to enjoy a legacy where they had an opportunity to understand that life is about relationships with others. They needed to know that Community-, whether it is a faith-based, family-based ( in any incarnation), school- based, town- based, athletically- based (or all of the above)- was where it’s at.

Sometimes finding your cultural groove means risking the end of relationships that are detrimental to how you want to live. If it is harming you, then it will harm those you love in the long run ( no pun intended). Pick it out of that pile and make it your own again my friend!

I have come to understand that you have to ride the rough waves at times -and for a lot longer than you want to- in order to find that spot on the shore that allows you to live more honestly and freely.

And yes, it is absolutely worth it.  I guess you could say that I’ve reclaimed my spot on the beach. Boy,  it feels good to sink my feet in the sand!