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…

Reblog – Veteran’s Day

The following is a post that was originally published in 2012.

With great love and In Memory of Grandpa Ray:

Grandpa, Veteran, poppy

When my oldest daughter was about 3 or 4 years old,  we were at the grocery store one day and there was a man selling poppies for Veteran’s Day.  Of course she loved the bright red bloom and wanted one, so I bought it.

When we got into the car she asked “Mama, why was that man selling flowers”, so I explained that he was a Veteran and he was selling the poppies for Veteran’s day. This was of course followed by another question: “What is a veteran?”  I explained to her that a Veteran was someone who served our country, a soldier. I told her that her Grandpas were both Veterans, and in fact, her Grandpa Ray was in World War II. I told her that we were thankful to all of these soldiers who served their country and protected us and that we should be proud that we had Veteran’s in our own family.  We continued our conversation about Veterans and soldiers and wars for a bit, but moved on to other things.

The very next day we visited Grandpa Ray at his house and my daughter immediately asked him about being a soldier.  I was afraid that this might be a subject that my father-in-law, who was a Marine and had seen active duty in the war, might not want to discuss with a three-year old child.  Ray has always been the “happy man” of the family, our children’s delightful, cheerful mentor and subjects that are unpleasant are usually met with a change of subject from him.

This was not the case at all though.  He took her into the other room and answered her questions and told her about some of his days as a soldier.  I don’t know what the conversation was, exactly, because they were out of earshot.  Ray has never talked much about his time in the service or what he experienced there.  The family respects his silence on the subject and does not ask for many details.  Grandpa and oldest grandchild talked for a bit and then joined Grandma and me in the kitchen for cookies or some other treat, as I recall.

The amazing thing to me is how that short conversation has stayed with her all these years.  She has remembered her Grandpa each Veteran’s day since then…first by making sure we always purchased a poppy and then, as she got older and moved to different cities by phone calls to wish him a Happy Veteran’s Day and thank him for his service. Each November 11 they have talked – without so much as a reminder from me. Birthdays and anniversaries have come and gone and sometimes I have had to send notes to say….”Don’t forget”, but no matter how far apart the two of them have been, they have never missed a single Veteran’s Day.

This year, Grandpa is unable to take her phone call.  He is recovering from a recent illness in a Rehab facility, and his speech isn’t what it once was.  She did remember, though,  and sent him a lovely bouquet of flowers – red, white and blue, thanking him once again for his service. They were delivered on Saturday, because this year the holiday falls on a Sunday and the florist does not deliver.   He smiled with pride when he got them, and I know he was remembering that conversation that the two of them had all those years ago. It made me proud to be his Daughter-in-Law and also proud to be her Mother.

Thank you to Ray and all of the other Veteran’s out there who have served us in so many ways.  We are proud of all of you!

Long Distance Grandparenting

Nearly every Monday morning at about 5am, I wake to the sound of my cell phone vibrating on my nightstand. I don’t really mind this early interruption to my slumber. My weekly “Morning, GaGa!” photo makes me smile every time. Sometimes, if I am really lucky, I even get a video!

If you know me, or have read some of my other posts, you know that our only granddaughter lives very far away. This makes it quite challenging for us to see her (or her Mama and Daddy) with any regularity. I will say that we are well acquainted, though, thanks to the use of technology. We Skype at least once a week and my phone is full of photos (nearly 2,000!) and videos of their daily activities.

I love the fact that we can experience their daily life from afar, and I feel that Fee knows us pretty well, something that would not have been possible twenty years ago, when our children were small. She takes our weekly visits in stride, greeting me enthusiastically when the screen pops up with a “Hi GaGa” and a smile, or hiding away in the corner under a blanket fort while I ask “Where is Fee?” She is a smart one, that one. When I ask her if she could give me a kiss or hug she replies, “I can’t – there is glass there!” referring to the computer screen that is between us. He first question is always “Where has Poppa gone?” and when he is here he will sneak up and surprise her, receiving a squeal and a giggle when she sees his face appear behind me.

This is not to say that it is easy. I long to hold her on my lap and tell her a story, or to tuck her in to bed at night and kiss her forehead. When I am out and about and see other grandparents doing things with their grandchildren I feel a pang of envy. I am sure they see me staring, and probably wonder what kind of a creepy individual I am.

When our children all began to move away their lack of proximity was tough at times, but it was manageable.  They have all been able to come home quite often, and we text each other almost daily. It has been exciting to visit each of them and get to know the cities that they now live in. It wasn’t until Fee was born that we truly realized how difficult the distance would be.

Our girls were very lucky.  Both sets of grandparents lived close by. They were always available for birthdays and Sunday dinners. They babysat whenever we needed them to, and even watched them for the day when they were sick so that we could both get to work. My mother-in-law loved those days. She would settle them into her own bed and serve them toast and chicken soup. Our parents were close to the girls and very involved in their lives.

When two our daughters came home a few weeks ago they paid a visit to their paternal grandmother. She took them upstairs to the apartment that she had lived in with their grandfather when they were both little girls. It was wonderful to hear them reminiscing about the times that they had spent there as children. Listening to them recalling these special memories made me think about my own impact on my grandchildren and what their memories will be.

In less than a month Jim and I will be grandparents to two little girls.  These last few weeks are almost as hard for me as they are for their parents.  I wish that I could drop by and give my daughter a break from chasing a two-year-old around so that she can rest. I want to be there to see our new granddaughter soon after she makes her appearance in the world. I wish I could see the expression on Fee’s face when she meets her new baby sister, and be available to reassure her of her place in the world when she feels displaced and out of sorts because she is no longer the center of the universe.

After Christmas we will take another trip to see them in their own home. It will be a long plane ride that I wouldn’t even consider again if it weren’t for the prize at the end of the journey. When we get there I will have to load up on enough kisses and cuddles to last me until the next time we visit. It will be hard to leave not knowing exactly when that visit will be.

In the meantime we will rely on technology to keep us familiar. I think I may have to upgrade the memory on my phone!

Granddaughter, little girl, toddler, hello, greeting, sundress
“Morning, GaGa!”

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

Coming Clean

I have a confession to make.

I do not own a dishwasher.

I guess that this is not very common these days, but to me it is normal.  In all of my adult life I have only had one (secondhand, portable) dishwasher. It was messy and sprayed water all over the kitchen. It was cumbersome and loud.  I used its butcher block top for extra counter space for a while and stored my Tupperware cake keeper in it, but I think I used it less than a dozen times.

A conversation that I had recently with an acquaintance went something like this:

She “I could not LIVE without a dishwasher.”

Me “Never really wanted one.”

She (horrified gasp) “That is unimaginable!”

By the tone of her reaction you would have thought that I had said that I preferred an outhouse to indoor plumbing! It is true, though.  In my 30+ years up here on the hill I have wanted many things…a hot tub, a sidewalk, even a bathtub for a time (but that’s another story), but a dishwasher is not one of them.

Another friend whose own dishwasher broke down right before the Thanksgiving holiday one year told me that she couldn’t possibly host the festivities without one.  To her the dishwasher was as important as the oven itself!

Don’t get me wrong – when I was a teenager and washing the dishes was a chore that had to be accomplished before I could slip away to be with friends, I hated the job.  I would do anything to get out of it, including trickery and deceit. I would make promises to my siblings that I never intended to keep so that they would relieve me of the job, and I was quite often successful.

When my own children were growing up washing the dishes and folding the clothes were the two main chores that they had to do each day. They will tell you that if I came home to a sink full of dirty dishes there would be much commotion. It is true that when I was exhausted from a long day at the office and needed the sink for meal preparation, I did not relish the task.

The kitchen sink is the heart of our home. Each member of our family has spent a significant amount of time in front of it.  We’ve bathed our children (and now our grandchild) there, pulled up chairs so that they could help us and taught them to do it on their own.  Thousands of basins of soapy water have been drawn there. My memories contain hours of telephone conversations had while scrubbing and rinsing and drying, watching the seasons pass by through the windows that are situated just above it. Gossip was shared, tears were shed, good news was revealed and bad news received – if only those walls could talk! Long conversations had while cleaning up after large family gatherings – holidays, reunions, graduation parties and even a rehearsal dinner brought friends and family members together long after the meals were finished and the table was cleared.

I remember my mother standing at my sink washing the dishes, even as her health began to fail.  She would bend from the waist, leaning on her elbows as she cleaned each plate and glass and pot.  She taught my sister and me that it was rude to leave someone’s kitchen without offering to help with the dishes, and I know that both of us feel the same way to this day. Sometimes when I am at the sink by myself I catch myself standing the same way she did as my back begins to ache from a long day of preparation and celebration. I smile to myself remembering how important this task was to her.

I would love to have my big country kitchen remodeled. I have thought many times about how I would arrange things, and what kind of cupboards and flooring I might have.  I have added marble counter tops, farmhouse sinks and tile floor coverings to my Pinterest boards, dreaming of how beautiful it might be.  The one thing that I never make room for in my imagination, though, is the dishwasher.  To me it is just unnecessary.

Think of all of those missed opportunities for memory making….

“Unimaginable!”sink, kitchen sink, country kitchen, dishes, doing dishes, chores

Dear Fee

It’s been a little while since I left you a note here.  So much has happened since the last one….you visited again last Christmas and we had a wonderful time! It was my pleasure to ring in the New Year with you and your Mommy and Daddy (and I think your Poppa enjoyed it as well). We had such a lovely time with all of the family up here on the hill.  It was a bit crowded at times, but that just gave us all a chance to get to know each other a bit better, didn’t it?New Year's Eve, Baby, Celebrate, Grandma, Celebrate

You have become such a wonderful, spunky, funny little girl.  I really enjoy our weekly Skype dates, even though you are usually a bit too busy to chat for long.  It is nice to get to know you as you grow and change.  I really wish that you lived a little closer, but I guess these video visits will have to do for now.

Now I hear that your life is going to change in a BIG way! Word on the street tells me…

YOU ARE GONNA BE A BIG SISTER!Baby, sonogram, big sister

What a wonderful, terrible, fabulous thing for you, my girl! Soon you will be able to enjoy the company of a sibling who you can talk to, boss around, and connive with to make your Mommy and Daddy crazy. You will get to be the leader, the teacher, the one with “experience”. I know that you will thoroughly (well mostly) enjoy your new role in the family. I am sure that this change in status will possibly cause you a bit of consternation, but trust me – it will be worth it in the end!

I remember very clearly the night that I went to the hospital to have your Aunt Kelsey.  I worried so about the fact that your Mommy would be upset to lose her status as the only child. I was afraid that she would dislike her new sibling and be angry with Poppa and me. I really didn’t need to worry. She did love her sister – most of the time.  Sometimes she loved her a bit too HARD by squeezing her a little too tightly, and there was that one incident with the potted plant, but mostly I think she enjoyed her role as the first-born, and to tell you the truth I think she still does. When we added Aunt Kylie to the mix she REALLY got to be in charge, but I think it may be a bit early for your family to think about three, don’t you?

In the meantime, little one, you and your Mommy need to enjoy your last few months of ‘just we two’ when you are together. I hope you make the most of your Daddy and Daughter Mondays, as they may be harder to come by in a few months.  I know you may not always remember this time, but your Mommy and Daddy truly will. Soon your two-year old tantrums and antics that keep them up nights and exhaust them for days will seem like a walk in the park in comparison.  These early days with just three will be precious memories to you all, but honestly once your family starts to grow the real fun begins!

As for me, I want you to know that you will always be my special girl. After all, you are the one who named me GaGa, aren’t you? Thanks for helping me to experience the joy of being Gram. My friends told me before you were born how wonderful being a grandmother would be, but I didn’t truly know until I held you in my arms and looked into your eyes for the very first time. It was magic!

I can’t wait for you to tell your new little brother or sister about me. Only good things, OK? And maybe you can talk your parents in to bringing you both back over here to live so that I can spend more time with you and spoil you. Does that sound like a plan?

Finally, I have to tell you that your new baby will be the luckiest one of all because he or she will have YOU for a big sister!

I love you forever and always and guess what?  Now I get to come see you again in November. This is going to be fun!!

❤ GaGaFee and Gram