Counting my blessings…

Squirrel Hill, Family Home, Middle Age, Sandwich Generation, Family, Empty NestSo today I am starting the second week of my 55th trip around the sun. It is cold and grey outside and there is snow in the air. These things do not generally make me happy, especially in late March, but despite the weather and my ever-increasing length of time on this planet,  this particular morning I am feeling relatively content. Note…If this concerns you at all, don’t worry…I will revert to my discouraged-mostly weather related grumbly commentary (see my Twitter feed to the right of this post) soon, but for now things are pretty a-OK.

I have much to be thankful for as of late, and now feels like a good time to count my blessings.

There have been some pretty major changes here on the hill over the past two years. Big, scary changes. Life-altering changes that have left me both terrified and joyful – sometimes both at the same time.

Our nest is truly empty now – our youngest moved away last summer – and it is very, very quiet here most of the time. We have completed a few household projects and our domicile now boasts TWO updated bathrooms after several years of hints and complaints on my part. (Go Jim!). We have moved even farther along the path of ‘sandwich generation’ children, taking on more  care-related responsibility with parents and other family members. We welcomed a second granddaughter (and took a trip across the pond to meet her), and got to know a special British toddler quite well during that visit. (We miss you so very much, Fee!)

The biggest change, however has been in my own personal circumstances.

In the fall of 2013, with the love and support of my husband and family, I left the world of full-time employment to focus on more important things. Our family and my health were the two biggest reasons for the change. At the same time I started a new venture – my own business – working in an arena that I enjoy; Marketing (of the Social Media kind, mostly) and writing (particularly of the content creation and press release variety).

These changes have not come without cost. The obvious one, a very real decrease in our family income, has been softened somewhat by a bit of pre-planning and a small IRA. With a little luck and a lot of persistence, I have increased my client load slightly and am ever optimistic that I can continue to operate this way financially for at least the near future.

Another slight drawback has been a change in daily schedules. My husband, who also works from home, has been very gracious about sharing the office space, but I know that he finds my presence here distracting some days. Things get better in the summer when I move to the porch or the deck to do my thing, but it is a little weird when each day feels more like it should be a Saturday.

My personal writing has also suffered…it has consisted of a few essays that will probably never see the light of day, several half-hearted fits and starts of blog posts and a (very long) list of possible subjects in the notes section of my iPhone. If only I could write in the shower, I would be all set. I am a genius in there, I tell you!

Now for the blessings… I have discovered a joy for Yoga. meditation and EFT Tapping.  If you know me at all, you know how strange that sounds. I am NOT by any means, your ‘typical’ Yogi. Although my flexibility has increased, my over-all physical fitness still needs much improvement. Restorative and Yin are my favorites, and I have actually established a home practice as well! Meditation is a struggle for me because of my ever-present Monkey Mind, but I continue to try. The breath control alone has helped me with my nervous energy and anxiety. EFT is amazing – especially for an eternal skeptic like me. It has helped me work through a lot of things, much to my own amazement. These things have all taught me about ME, and that new intuition has been invaluable. I have increased my focus, decreased my propensity for worry and stress and generally learned to live more in the present than ever before. My newly found loves have also led me to many friendships and opportunities that I would otherwise never have known. I am a true believer that we are provided what we need when we need it, and everything has crossed my path for a reason.

When I made the decision to move in a new direction I also made myself a couple of promises. The first was that I would work on my personal outlook and my health. I can say with some certainty that I am getting there. I am surely enjoying the journey, and am lucky to have made the realization that I needed a change when I did. Life IS short!

The second promise that I made was to work on my friendships. As an adult woman who has worked (more than) full-time for the past two or three decades, I have to say that establishing and keeping friendships has been very low on my priority list. Since I made this vow to myself I have found that I have rekindled and developed some wonderful relationships with many awesome and interesting people. Each one has made my life richer and I feel fortunate to have each one of them in my life.

As cheesy as it may sound,  I have to say that at this point I am probably the happiest I have been in years. Who knew this was possible? The opportunities that are out there are endless, and I can say that I am glad that I took a leap to go and explore them. Trust me, it isn’t all as rosy and wonderful as I have made it sound –  I have my days of doubt and sheer terror – but lately it seems as if I have more hopeful, optimistic days than I have in a long time.

It’s a weird feeling and I truly hope it will last. Time will tell.

Thanks for listening! Stay tuned…

Little Sister

My memory of that October afternoon is very vivid. The sky was clear and blue and it was the peak of fall leaf season.  I was at the neighbor’s house on the corner climbing a tree. As I emerged from the red and orange canopy I looked out in time to see Grandma Mary’s old green car pull up beside me. She called to me through the open window and told me it was time to go home. Mom had gone to the hospital – to have a baby.

It’s funny how old memories like that are clear about some points and fuzzy about others. My recollections don’t really contain much anticipation about your imminent arrival. I am sure that my self-involved,  seven year-old mind had probably not spent much time thinking about how your presence would affect my daily life.  I honestly don’t remember much about your homecoming or subsequent baby and toddler years. Small bits do come to mind – your long, blonde hair (that I envied – mine was coarse and a nondescript dark brown), your kindergarten graduation, Easters and Christmases and a few birthday parties you had with friends. There were typical sibling skirmishes and “two against one” divisions, but nothing is really distinct.

When we were young we were far enough apart in age that we didn’t do a lot together, outside of the regular family gatherings.  I was a pretty independent and social child, always going to play at the neighbors or off to a school or church or scouting event. As a teen I was extremely detached – far too ‘cool’ to hang out with family. I was always out with my friends or at school. I really didn’t spend a lot of time at home, except when our parents went out every Friday and Saturday nights.  Being the family babysitter was a job that I was not particularly fond of. I know that I was not an attentive caregiver.  I am sure that I spent most of that time on the phone or in front of the television, not bonding with my siblings.

I do remember that one summer when I was in college. You were about 12 years old, worried about middle-school “girl problems” – friends, school, fashion. I was 19 and very worldly (or so I thought). We spent the summer sleeping in the same small bedroom while we redecorated yours. We stayed up late, calling in requests to the local radio station. I gave you a ton of advice –  it was heady stuff, being looked up to like that. I loved the attention. The best part of the summer, however, was discovering the joy of having a sister to share things with.

It seems like we have almost always been at different points in our lives, and that has made it tough at times. When I got married and you were my Maid of Honor you were only 14 years old. When my children were babies you were enjoying college. I recall how I coveted your freedom then. It was great fun to come and visit you in your dorm and pretend to be a co-ed for a weekend, though. It felt good to forget my responsibilities for a while. The long letters and telephone calls we exchanged did keep us close then. I had never been away from home that long myself, and I think I felt your homesickness almost as much as you did.

Over the years our relationship has ebbed and flowed, sometimes strong, sometimes distant. It seemed at times we both focused on what was in front of us, taking each other’s presence for granted.  Once you were an adult on your own, much like when we were younger, I sometimes let my own self absorption get in the way. My jealousy of what I saw as your single, carefree lifestyle plus my additional obligations to husband/children/work made it easy for us to drift a bit. Dealings with parents certainly added their own complications to our relationship…first driving us apart, then bringing us back together.

Now we have come full circle. You have your own family responsibilities, just as my girls have all left home. We don’t have Mom to bring us together any longer, it’s completely up to the two of us. To me, sometimes our bond feels tentative and new..

You are a now single parent – something that I never experienced. I am humbled by the amount of work I know you face every day. You made a courageous choice to do it on your own, something I don’t think I would ever have had the strength to do. I also appreciate having the opportunity to be “Tia”. I know you have been a wonderful Aunt to my girls and I only hope I can do half as well with your son.

I cannot tell you how happy I am that we have become close once again. I think that your physical proximity will be good for us as well. It is so nice to have family just up the road, someone who shares much of the same history and understands me because of it. We are finally getting to the point where we can have a conversation that doesn’t just center around our parents and their needs. That is refreshing.  It is nice to have you as a friend.

On this anniversary of that October day so long ago, I would like to take the time to wish you a Happy Birthday!  I want you to know how much I appreciate our relationship – every bit of it. You have helped me throughout my life in more ways than you could ever know.  I am blessed to have you as a sister. I Love You!
Sisters, Concert, summertime, adult sisters, Middle-age

Perfect – A birthday story

When you get to be my age, birthdays are really no big deal.

Right?

After all, I am well past most of the significant years, the ones that are generally remembered with celebrations.  This year my age didn’t even end in a zero. Why then, did my weekend begin with such a feeling of disappointment?  And why do I now feel the need to apologize to my spouse for the next 12 months?

Let me explain.

When the girls were living at home, birthdays here on the Hill were a pretty big deal.  I always tried to make the day extraordinary for the recipient.  We had many traditions that our family followed from year to year. They received a small morning gift before school, the faded “Happy Birthday” banner was brought out and hung in the kitchen on the night before the big day and there was a large family birthday celebration complete with the honored person’s favorite cake. They each had parties with friends invited on those extra special birthdays…5, 13 and 16.  In a word, I tried to make the days memorable for them.  Perfect. Over the top? Perhaps, but we really didn’t do much for them individually at any other time of the year, so it felt good to spoil them on this one day.

As a matter of fact, all of our birthdays were celebrated with a family dinner and a cake; even the adults. We usually had the get-togethers here – we had the space to spread out and it was much more convenient when our children younger – but even when we went out to a restaurant we usually returned here for the cake.  Several years ago my father added his own little extra – he bought everyone one lottery ticket for each year of their presence on the planet.  Each gift had a guaranteed minimum; he would buy any of the losing tickets back for the dollar it cost – but if the recipient actually won anything they got to keep the winnings as a bonus. The whole family would sit around the kitchen table after gifts and cake and scratch the tickets together.  Unbelievably, there were never any big winners (even when my mother received 60+ tickets!), but we still enjoyed the ritual.

In the years since the children have left home and my mother has been gone, the lottery tickets have been replaced by single dollars, usually sent in the mail in a card, since everyone has moved far away. The big family gatherings have been less frequent.  The year that I turned 50 I decided we needed to go to Mexico to celebrate, so there was no family gathering at all.  It didn’t really bother me that year, so why did I feel so blue this year?

It has been said that I am difficult to surprise.  This is true.  It does seem that every time that someone tries…I figure it out.  I definitely do not do it on purpose – I spoiled far too many Christmases when I was a child by searching for my gifts.  I LOVE planning surprises, so I am always trying to think of new ones. There was the year that I bought my husband a dog, or sneaked my oldest home to be here for his birthday one summer. We even had a surprise “Sweet Sixteen” for our middle daughter at a beach bar in Mexico one year. I love to plan surprises – I am  the official “planner” of the family – but I am inquisitive by nature, so I inadvertently stumble upon things.    This does not keep me from  hoping that one year they will “get me”.

This year my birthday fell on the weekend,  so there was the possibility of something special.  Since nobody had asked me what was happening that day, I was sure that there must be something brewing. I tried to ignore little things that I thought might be clues so as not to spoil any pending surprise. On the day before my birthday when family members began to ask me what I was doing on Saturday it became apparent that there was nothing in the works. I have to admit that I went to bed on Friday night feeling a bit disappointed. I felt sad that I wouldn’t be seeing my children. I had planned a lunch with my sister and my nephew, which was nice, but mostly it felt like my “big day” would be just another day.

When I woke up on Saturday, this is the first thing that I read.Enjoy life now, don't wait for the perfect moment It made me start to think.

I had overreacted the night before when I allowed myself to feel the way that I had. I do tend to always look forward to the next big thing, building it up in my mind to such a production that I am bound to be disappointed.  I am always thinking “we could have”, or “I should have” instead of enjoying things just the way that they are right now.

Sunflowers make a wintery day feel like springWhen I came downstairs, I was met with a wonderful bouquet of flowers sitting on the kitchen table.  As I was drinking my morning coffee my husband suggested that we take a drive. The little monster in my head immediately began to think…”sure…there is no real plan”, but I kept my composure and agreed.  I called my sister to cancel our lunch (sorry Sis!), and we were off.  As we were driving we started to discuss where we would actually go.  We tossed around a few ideas, but since we were both starving we decided that lunch would be first on the agenda. We settled on the Melting Pot, which was located in a large mall just outside of Buffalo – about an hour and a half from home.

The Melting Pot - Dark chocolate and peanut butter dippersWe enjoyed a wonderful meal and the two glasses of Pinot Grigio that I consumed (it was after 1PM, and it was my birthday, after all) definitely improved my outlook.  Jim told the server that it was my birthday and we were enjoying a “spontaneous” day.  She seemed impressed and congratulated us and he gave me a wink because he knows that I am not a particularly spontaneous person, but I played along.

We wandered around a bit and did a little shopping – an outfit for Fee and three pairs of work pants for Jim – before I had enough of the mall. After that we stopped at the Home and Garden show, hoping to find some inspiration for a few summer projects. It turned out to be a bit of a bust, but we did still find it amusing to watch all of the people.

It had been an easy and enjoyable afternoon and we were ready to go home and relax, but since the shopping in Buffalo had not produced any significant finds, I asked Jim if we could stop at TJ Maxx on the way home. It seems that I can always find something in this store and that day was no exception. I found a dog bed, some bath mats and a sweater.  I ended up in the home decor section on my own and I found a wall sign that I liked.  It said “I Love  You More”, which is always my response when someone tells me that they love me.

When Jim came around the corner, I showed him the sign and told him that I thought I would buy it.  He responded with “you don’t want that”. This annoyed me. Yes, I DID want it.  It was my birthday and it wasn’t very expensive. I insisted.  He said “Honey, you really don’t want that.” When I stared to object again he finally said to me “You actually already have it at  home”.  I was confused. I had never seen the sign before; how could I have it at home?  Then it struck me. He had already purchased it for me – as a gift.  I had spoiled the surprise, once again.

I put the sign back and we drove home laughing.

Once we got back home he disappeared for a few minutes and came back with not one, but several packages.  As I opened them, I discovered that each one contained a small but meaningful gift.  The sign, of course, and some oil and vinegar from a special shop in a little town that he passes when he is on the road.  A magnet with a picture of a yellow lab, a wrought iron cross for my collection and a witches ball like the one that I have that was my mothers. The perfect gifts

I felt like a real heel.  He had actually been planning my birthday for days.  In his own way. As I apologized for being such a brat (for the first time), he told me that he had wanted to make the day special just spending it with me.

I am lucky to have such a thoughtful caring guy…even if I don’t appreciate him enough.  I have been blessed.

And my birthday?

It was perfect.

Dear Fee

Well then.  Today is your first birthday party! Poppa and I are so sorry to be missing it, but I am sure you will have a wonderful time. Your Mama and Daddy have a great reason to celebrate with their friends. Your little family is one year old!

We have been very lucky to have been able to see you in person a few times since you were born. (Here is a link to your Mama’s post about your birthday and the lovely slide show that she made that documents your first year) Each time we were together it was amazing to see the changes that had taken place since the last time.  The fact that we can’t see these things happen gradually is the hardest part of living so far away from you. Skype is good, and I am very glad that we get to visit with you a few times a week, but it doesn’t make up for the lack of cuddles and kisses. I haven’t been able to steal you away from your parents for some special time alone (for you and me and for them), and I haven’t had nearly enough time to spoil you properly!

I have seen you transform from that tiny wiggly creature with the great shock of straight black hair to a busy, active curious little girl.  I love your happy laugh and your rosy cheeks. Even your temper tantrums make me smile! We have enjoyed visiting and blowing kisses, and I was lucky to see a few firsts – the first roll over, the first tooth, the first crawl and the first steps. We play pat-a-cake and I love to listen to your animal noises.  I am most impressed with the elephant.  I watched you feed your breakfast to Max and Moe (much to your Mother’s dismay), and even got you to fall asleep on my shoulder – one time. It has been such a joy to see your Mama grow and change as well, and your presence in our family has brought back many memories for your Poppa and me from our own first year as parents, so long ago.

I want you to know that I have great plans in the Grandma department. I can’t wait to spend time with you as you get older, doing fun things together.  I hope to have sleepovers and shopping trips and special secrets.  I plan to braid your hair and take you for ice cream and slip you a little “pocket change” when you get older. You, like your mother, are my first, so I am sure that I might make a few mistakes along the way, but it is my understanding that a Grandmother’s sins are always forgiven, right? You will be the one who teaches me “how” to be a Gram, so your future siblings and cousins will benefit from our time together, I am sure.

Right this minute you are probably enjoying your “smash cake”, opening presents and giving your parents and Godmother a great photo opportunity. I am thinking of all of the fun that we will have when you come and visit us this summer. I really hope that today it is a lovely day for you all and I want you to know how delightful it has been to get to know such a special little girl this year. Congratulations on your first birthday and I hope that the next 12 months are filled with happy things for you.

I love you more than words can say, sweet girl.

Fee Birthday Balloons

Love and kisses,

Gram

Twenty One

I remember.

I remember waiting and waiting during that long month of January.  We thought you would never come. I didn’t know what to expect and I worried about what kind of Momma I would be, if I could keep up with three of you. I wondered if you would be an easy baby…if you would be happy or difficult to soothe…if your sisters would accept this new change for our family.

I remember the storm that followed your entrance into the world.  The day after you were born the skies opened up and a blizzard arrived. The hospital was so quiet that day.  It was our time to be alone before the whirlwind that our life was now to become.

I remember those first few months when you made your presence known. You yelled and cried and would not be ignored. It was a difficult time, but it brought us all closer, trying to find ways to pacify you. Everyone pitched in, your Papa, your sisters, and the rest of the family.  We all had our time of getting to know you.

I remember your independence and persistence and shouts of “ME DO IT!” as you kept up with  your sisters.  You taught us all patience and understanding as we watched you learn and grow. It was wonderful to see how quickly you learned new things. You were never one to be left out.

I remember leaving you at the sitters when I went back to work.  You cried and held on to me…she had to rip you from my arms so that I could go. My heart broke.  I drove away blindly, my eyes overflowing with tears. I felt so guilty to be leaving someone so small with a stranger.

I remember watching you transform into a sparkler, our “smiley” one. The little girl who made friends easily and was always the one that the other children wanted to sit by and play with.  Your beautiful blonde bob was always whirring around the group, very easy to spot! (I know you hated that haircut, but it suited you so well)! You danced and laughed and sang and made a mark on everyone who crossed your path.

I remember the teenage years, when you fought so hard for your independence.  The need to be different from  your sisters, to succeed on your own. You didn’t want to be known as the “littlest” one – you wanted to be counted on your own merit. It was hard at times, but you did a wonderful job of forging your own path.  You are such a true leader!

I remember long car rides to Buffalo, and Ohio, and Kentucky, and Atlantic City.  All those hours talking and singing every song that came on the radio.  You have such an amazing memory for all of those lyrics, it astounds me!  We spent so much time together during those years that you were the “only” one, after your sisters were gone.  You put up with me not only as your Momma, but your coach as well.  You were such a great example to all of the younger ones, and you made me proud so many times on that big blue mat.

I remember looking for colleges and hearing about your plans for your future. You were serious and thoughtful and so mature. It surprised me a little that you weren’t my baby any more.  The excitement of finding a place – then finding a better one.  The shopping and planning and preparing for you to leave us, then the awful/wonderful moment when you did.  The quiet and adjustment of your absence on a daily basis. The joy that you found a place where you feel so happy. The tears when I look at your empty room.

On this day, my beautiful daughter, I marvel at how quickly it has all flown by.  Twenty one years, gone in a flash! You are truly a “grown up” now, not the little tow headed tag along of all those years ago. You are amazing and smart and independent and strong.  You have made friends and started your journey out into the world on your own. I am in awe when I watch you do your thing, with your sisters, with your friends, with your co-workers and supervisors.  I am happy and proud and a little bit sad sometimes because I miss your presence.

I remember all of the hours of joy that you have brought into my life.

Please remember that I am ALWAYS here.

Happy Birthday! ❤