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…

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And they said it wouldn’t last

newlyweds, wedding, buggy, surry with a fringe on top, just married, just hitched, bride, groomIn 1982 I was 21 years old.  I had not ever seen the ocean or traveled on an airplane.  I had never lived more than 10 miles from my parents’ house.

Since then there have been:

3 children

2 apartments

1 house

15 jobs

11 vehicles

3 dogs

3 cats

1.5 grandchildren

18 trips to Mexico

On September 11, 1982 it was hot and humid. I wore a long-sleeved high-necked dress (not to mention a corset and stockings!) to that little church in Chautauqua, NY. In front of all of our friends and family I married my best friend. The very next day you took me to see the ocean for the first time in a borrowed car using a AAA Trip-tick for directions. I remember being terrified as we walked along the sand and I held fast to the bag that held every dollar we had.

That was only the beginning.

We have lived here on the hill for most of the years since then, and it has been a wild ride at times. We have experienced births and deaths, new jobs and unemployment, graduations, funerals and weddings. We have weathered the tough winters and enjoyed the sunrises over the lake each morning. We have watched each of our daughters leave this place, one by one. I still live less than 10 miles away from my childhood home, but we have traveled the world together.

I wouldn’t trade one minute of the laughter or the tears that we have shared for anything.

Thank you, Jim, for filling the past 32 years of my life with love and care. God has blessed me far more than I ever deserved by bringing us together.

I am amazed at how far we have come.

Love you, Willy.

“Lil”Feet, sand, Mexico, Beer, Beach

Five Things

I haven’t done this in a while. Who am I kidding?  I haven’t done much of any blogging in a while….but today I feel grateful and good, so…

Five things that make me happy right this very moment.

1. Early morning yoga.  I woke up to sunshine today and my heart just told me that I needed some time on my mat before anything else. It felt refreshing and good. My body feels loose and warm on this cold summer morning. I like that.Pink yoga mat, porch, practice, morning yoga, namaste

2. Morning texts from my Fee (and her Mama). It is always nice to know that someone is thinking of you as you start your day. Texts with pictures are even better. (hint, hint)Pigtails, granddaughter, toddler, happy, little girl

3. Coleus plants. As I look out on my (frigid) porch this morning I can see the beautiful green, yellow and burgundy colors of the coleus that we planted this past spring. They have grown gorgeous and large and bushy and have weathered the non-summer that we are having this year far better than any of our other plants. The memory of the evening drive that we took to the Amish greenhouse last May and finding the palettes of tiny starter plants is a happy one.Summer Plants, coleus, planters, porch

4. Coffee.  Always coffee. There is nothing better than a good sip of strong black coffee from my big red mug. It warms my belly and wakes me up. I LOVE my coffee in the morning!Coffee cup, desk, Starbucks

5. The view of the sunrise over my front lawn. No matter what time of year it is,  the sunrises here on the Hill are always spectacular.  Every morning I do my work facing the lake so that I can watch the sun coming up. I would much prefer to be outside, sitting ON the porch, but I will take the dazzling pink and orange colors reflecting off the water from wherever I can see them. Today it is inside, but I am hoping for a warm up soon. Maybe a cup of afternoon tea would be nice out there later.Sunrise, Chautauqua Lake

What are YOUR five things today?

My Mother’s Voice

I don’t really like to talk on the phone anymore.

There was a time when I would spend hours with it crooked between my shoulder and my ear. I could do almost anything that way….fold clothes, make beds, clean out the refrigerator…having a telephone conversation didn’t slow me down. When they were little, I think that my children may have actually thought it was a piece of my anatomy.

I still reach for it every time I do the dishes. Our main house phone hangs on the wall right there within an arms distance. It always seemed to make this tedious chore go faster, and it was usually the best possible time – after dinner, when everyone was settled into their before-bed routine.

I rarely make calls any more. The reason for that is that the person who I always called is no longer there to answer.

I miss my Mom.

I talked to my Mom on the phone nearly every day for years, even though she only lived a few miles up the road. I called her for recipes and advice about how to discipline my kids. I called to complain about my terrible day or (honestly) to gossip about people that we both knew.

My mother was a young mother and I often think we grew up together, more like friends than mother and daughter. She had a million friends, and always knew what was going on in our small town.  I could count on her to know the family of the boy who my daughter was dating or the name of a seamstress to hem a recital dress.

As my children grew older and busier sometimes the main contact that I had with my Mom for a few weeks was only over the phone.  She didn’t like this and would often complain that I was too busy.  I felt terribly guilty and we would even argue about it from time to time, but we still always managed to talk nearly every day.

The last time I really remember hearing my Mother’s voice was in a message that she left on my machine.  “Well, hello!! It’s just your Mother”. Her tone was self-depreciating as always, like her call was unimportant to me. I remember feeling guilty and thinking that I had better call her back as soon as I could.

A few days after she died I was all alone in the house and I had that urge to pick up the phone and I remembered the message.  I ran to the kitchen and pressed the button, but it was gone. We had never replaced the battery on the machine and the power had gone off recently. I cried for quite a while when I realized that I wouldn’t hear her voice again.

But I do.

When I play with my granddaughter her voice comes out. She sounds happy and silly and goofy and her laughter rings out. When one of my daughters asks how to cook a roast or what to use to remove a stain out of a good white blouse she answers them with patience and humor.  When my sister calls me in the evening frustrated at the trials of raising a five-year-old she is there offering support, love and understanding – if not answers.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I know that I can’t call you today, but I know that if I could you would be there for me like always. Thank you for all of the wisdom that you shared with me over those many hours on the telephone. I know sometimes it felt like a phone call wasn’t enough, but I appreciate every conversation that we had. ❤Mother, Daughter, family, Motherly love, Mother's Day

 

My least favorite holiday

I have to admit that I woke up this morning feeling a bit sorry for myself. Eating, cooking, family drama….Thanksgiving has the makings for a stress-filled day. One that I usually face with a considerable amount of trepidation.

I had worked myself up to a pretty good level of self-pity.  This year felt different. Two of our children (and a granddaughter and a son-in-law) would not be home. Two of our parents (my Mom and his Dad) are no longer here to share the holiday with us. My father has a different living situation this year and it has caused us quite a bit of family strife. I had even written a blog post yesterday to be posted this morning about the reasons that I dislike the holiday (hence the title, previously written).

Then I got a call from a friend’s husband letting me know that her mother had died last night. I haven’t been a very good friend lately – I have been too tied up in my own misery to pay much attention to anyone else’s distress. I only learned that her Mom was gravely ill a few nights ago because I had been so out of touch.  I didn’t know what to do to help, so I offered my prayers. It didn’t feel like enough, but it was all that I had.

The phone call made me think. I have been spending way too much time thinking about how I feel and not enough about everyone else in my life. So many people have it so much worse that I do at this moment. I felt selfish and petty. If I were TRULY thankful I should have realized how lucky I am to be able to celebrate the holiday at all. A lifetime of Thanksgivings had set me up with a certain expectation of what the day should bring, but I was looking at them with the wrong focus.

Tonight I took a look back at the photos that I have stored on my computer of past Thanksgivings that we have shared with our family up here on the Hill. Yes, there has been a good amount of stress and drama during our past 30+ years here, but there has also been much laughter and happiness. Looking in to the faces of the people in the pictures I saw what I should have been seeing all along.  We are, indeed, truly blessed to have what we have here in the place where my husband has spent over 50 Thanksgivings. A lot of living has happened here on the Hill.

I am thankful to have been a part of it.

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.

I grew up in Mayberry

Photo credit: http://www.retroweb.com/40acres_tour_pt3.html
Photo credit: http://www.retroweb.com/40acres_tour_pt3.html

That’s the God’s honest truth.  The small town that I grew up in might as well have been Mayberry RFD.  As a matter of fact, many of the people that I grew up with (especially the ones that moved away) actually call it “Mayberry”.  My hometown is a small town on the Northeastern end of a 17 mile lake in Western New York State.  When I was a child there were a couple of factories there, a small school and a relatively busy business district.  You could get anything that you needed there, there was not much need to leave the village limits, and we rarely did.

I was a child of the 60’s; my early childhood was spent in the golden days before the civil unrest of the end of the decade. Our mothers – for the most part – were there to greet us when we came home from school at 3:15 and our fathers were to be feared when they walked in the door at 5:30. Most everyone had jobs that they could walk to and most families were one income, two parents.

There was much about this time (politically and socially) that I do not agree with today, but let me say that it was definitely a time of innocence for me as a 7 year old child.  I was blissfully unaware of things like divorce or poverty. The world outside our own little bubble did not really exist for me.  I had very little exposure to the world as it actually was because our family only owned one black and white TV and my father had control of it in the evening, watching the news (which I found extremely boring) and variety shows like Ed Sullivan or Laugh-In.

My family knew everyone in the small town, from the grocer to the mechanic to the insurance agent down the street.  We lived a block from the school, in the house that my mother grew up in. It was a duplex and the next door neighbor was the proprietor of a ladies dress shop downtown.  She was an older woman who lived alone.  I used to knock on her door and visit with her from time to time.  It was nice knowing that there was someone there – I guess it was comforting.

After school and on weekends all of the neighborhood children moved from back yard to back yard to play and our mothers each had their own special way of calling us home to dinner.  I believe my mother used a large cow bell at one point, but my memory is slightly fuzzy, so this may be an exaggeration.  We spent most of our time outdoors; I still remember my mother kicking me out of the house and telling me to “Go get some fresh air!”

We were sent to the store with a handwritten note to buy a pack of cigarettes for our parents, along with a carton of milk or a loaf of bread. We had Coca Colas at the Sweet Shop with our grandparents on Sunday and for an extra special treat we went to the local “Dog and Suds” for a dinner out (actually delivered to our car on a tray that hooked to the window) of gourmet hot dogs, fries and root beers.

We walked to school, going cross lots through the morning dew, or following the sidewalk plows in the winter.  We would wear sandwich bags inside our boots to keep our feet dry when it snowed, since most of us were wearing hand-me-down winter boots. The school was small, so everyone knew each other – the younger kids looked up to the older ones in awe and fear.  We would pray for specific teachers and be sad when we got one of the “mean” ones – we relied on our older siblings (or in my case my friends older siblings) to give us the inside information on which one was good or bad.

Summers were spent at the lakeside.  The bus would pick us up on the corner to take us to the park for swimming lessons and arts and crafts.  We would eat soggy bologna sandwiches that our mothers had packed for us in the morning for lunch, or if we were lucky and had a quarter or two we could order French fries or a frozen Milkshake candy bar for a special treat.  I still remember the smell of French fries mixed with the damp smell of the towels we sat on while we ate them.

The holidays were a special time when we all looked forward to the annual Christmas drawing.  Each of the merchants would donate an item or two, which would be displayed in one of the larger shops windows for the period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Every time anyone made a purchase in any of the shops they would enter their name and address on a small slip of paper and drop it into a container at the register.

The week before Christmas, the big event would be held outside on the main street downtown.  The entire community would come out – everyone bundled up against the cold – and wait as each item was given away one at a time.  There were usually dozens of gifts given away.  One year I won a die cast piggy bank made by the local plastics factory. Santa Claus would appear at the end of the evening, handing out oranges and candy canes to all of the children who were there.

In the wake of the events of the past weeks I think about the world that our children grow up in today and I can’t help but be nostalgic for those simple times. Part of me wishes that my own children and grandchildren could grow up in that world.   Don’t get me wrong – my childhood was far from picture perfect, but on days like today I choose to remember it that way.

I cannot imagine my adult life without the advances that were made in the past few decades in terms of women’s and minority rights and modern conveniences. I would never have become the person that I am today with the wealth of opportunity that I have now. My ability to travel and experience other cultures and the fact that my children have been exposed to a world much larger than that small town are blessing that I have been very fortunate to have.

Perhaps it was just my youth and inexperience that make those days seem golden. Maybe most seven year olds look at the world; however changed it is from the years of my childhood, with the same sense of comfort and security. I wonder what my own children’s recollections of their early years will be.  I can only hope that for all of our advances and improvements they can still keep that feeling that I recall. As I sit here with my memories I am so very thankful to have had those times.