The Good Stuff

A few years ago my daughter gave me a beautiful personalized journal…..It came complete with color coded stickers and a lovely laminated cover. It was so beautiful that I thought I would ruin it by writing in it, so after looking at it for a few days, then thinking about what I would write, then going to Pinterest to check out how everyone else was using journals, I put it away in a safe place. And there it stayed until I stumbled across it a few days ago while putting away some books.

As I look around my house I see many things we never use. Top on the list is the collection of crystal glasses that each year I pull out of the china cabinet, wash, and put back. I can’t recall using the brandy glasses since my scotch phase several years ago. We have on a few occasions used the delicate etched glass ice tea glasses, but I have to say I never really enjoy using them because I am afraid they will shatter when they are washed. We finally gave up on the crystal matching wine glasses after so many broke and left us with a crazy assortment of glasses from wine tasting tours.

When we were first married, we had a group of 12 completely mismatched everyday glasses, no two matched. We would joke and say that our glass collection represented the different phases in our lives. The lone survivors of the matched sets, the sturdy ones that weathered all the storms. And even with all the mismatched everyday glasses, I never once thought to set our everyday table with the good glasses.

And the glasses are just one thing I save for best, let’s not even get started with the good china, the good platters, the good candles, the good linens, the good purse, the good sweater…. we all have our lists, they are endless.

According to all the health experts the next few months of this pandemic will be difficult at best. So what better time to use all the good stuff?

May this New Year bring you good health, joy, peace and love.

O Holy Night

My mom was the soprano soloist at our little Methodist Church in Wakefield, Massachusetts and each Christmas Eve I would sit in the pew with my dad and siblings and listen to my mother’s beautiful voice sing “O Holy Night”. It just wasn’t Christmas Eve until mom sang. As a kid I was always nervous that we were totally messing up Santa’s schedule by being in church. I was convinced we should be home in bed…what if we missed him? Even as a young child I had the need to want to control everything…I’m not fond of surprises.

Now as an adult one of my favorite parts of Christmas is the Christmas Eve Service at our church, seeing the faces of people who have traveled to be with loved ones, the ones with the youngsters and the ones who make their annual trek to the building. The service ends with the congregation singing Silent Night by candlelight and for me that is the love of Christmas.

So let’s just fast forward to this year and hopefully you can stand one more rant about just how much this entire year sucks….because of course, we won’t be attending church on Christmas Eve, we’ll be watching it on Facebook Live….and I think that just about sums up this entire year, Christmas Eve on Facebook…

This past week I listened in as our little guys teacher tried her very best to make the kids holiday celebrations seem normal, and our little guy tried his best to keep his camera shut off and had no interest in the virtual activities. Other than looking for that ridiculous Elf every day, he doesn’t even mention Christmas…

Since March I’ve tried to keep the “this is ok, we’re all in this together, we’ll be OK” going but I have to admit I’m hitting the wall….hard…Yesterday was our 13th wedding anniversary and our tradition for the past 6 years has been to book a luxurious room at a Boston hotel and attend the Boston Pops Concert followed by a wonderful dinner at one of Boston’s finest restaurants. Of course that’s not how we spent our day yesterday…

Our family is large and we value our Italian roots and most of all I will be missing our gathering tomorrow, our marathon of grazing on amazing foods and drinks sprinkled with the unwrapping of gifts, all the laughing…I will miss our blended kids annual candy exchange, a tradition that begin the year after we married. The grown up kids decided that a bag of candy would suffice as the perfect gift and so the tradition began..in hindsight, they were smart…one size fits all and everyone is happy…

So this evening, I’ll make our families traditional pasta with seafood, my mom’s recipe, and at 5:00 my family will arrive for their Christmas Eve take out dinner…and tomorrow we’ll gather again in the morning, in the garage, staying socially distant from one another and wearing masks to exchange gifts and food each to bring back to their own home. It’s the best we can do under the circumstances.

And tonight, I’ll tune into our church’s Facebook live and do my best to think about all the Christmas Eve’s past and hopefully this ache in my heart will be lifted. And I hope and pray that next year things will be back to normal…..whatever that may be!

Blessings and Peace to all

My Angel Tree

My mom was an expert at choosing just the rights gifts and after reading Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, I’m convinced her love language was gift giving. For anyone who hasn’t read this book, I highly recommend taking the time to read it cover to cover and if you’re in a relationship, it’s fun to read it together.

Giving and receiving gifts is not my love language so when I’m asked what I want, I usually just glaze over and respond with candles, or a bottle of wine or some warm fuzzy socks. My husband is always amused when I tell him his gifts of the electric can opener and the cookie scoop rank among my favorites.

I don’t think my mom ever asked me what I wanted, but every year both for Christmas and my birthday she managed to give me the perfect gift. At some point I expressed interest in collecting angels and from that point on she added a new angel every year to my ever growing collection. Each year I would look forward to her angel gift.

The first Christmas after my divorce I decided against a big tree and instead went to my local Walgreens and purchased a 4′ tree and filled it with all my little angels. The little tree now 15 years old, represents all my blessings, and I especially love the angels that came from far away places like Armenia or Guatemala, given to me by some very special people.

Long ago when I was still working at Heifer International http://www.heifer.org, I was with a group of volunteers and donors in Alabama visiting some farmers of a self-help group who received some livestock and training from Heifer. When we rounded the corner, we saw a trailer that was partially destroyed from a fire and as we entered, there was a banquet of food served on a table covered with beautiful linens. The food was made lovingly by the group members. At the conclusion of the meal, our host gave us each a beaded angel ornament, she told us that these beautiful crafted angel ornaments were made by their self help group and sold with the proceeds used to buy food for the poor. That’s right, this woman lived in a partially burned out trailer and she was raising money to help others.

My beaded Alabama angel is a constant reminder during each holiday season of the generosity that is shown to others. I’ve learned through my years in non profit fundraising work, that it’s often those who have the least that share the largest percentage of what they have with those who have less. Maybe it’s because they have experienced first hand what it’s like to be hungry, or not pay the rent or keep the lights on, that compels them to share with others.

This Christmas season is like no other we have experienced in our lifetime. And as difficult as things are right now, my spirits are lifted by all those who are actively looking for others to help this year. Our own church is sponsoring Food is Love, Donate (paypal.com) a program to provide food to those struggling and since May we’ve provided over 13,000 meals. It’s a staggering amount considering where we live. Our family is forgoing gifts this year and we along with some friends are donating bags filled with hats, mittens, blankets, socks, journals and toiletries to 33 residents at a local addiction recovery center. It’s our way of paying our good fortunes forward.

So this season I encourage you to find what makes your spirit soar, give it some thought, you may be surprised at what you learn!

Blessing and peace to you all

Thanksgiving 2020 Style

Never in a million years would I have thought we’d still be dealing with this pandemic. The first week in March we were in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina sharing a beach side house with friends. Every evening before dinner we watched the local news. With every passing day, there were more and more stories about Covid and at that time especially about the horrors coming out of Northern Italy. Little did we imagine the Northeast corridor, our neck of the woods, would be next.

And yet here we are, just days before Thanksgiving and not only are the numbers are rising, but there is speculation that we are heading into unprecedented growth…in the wrong direction. Hospitals could reach their breaking points and our entire healthcare system may be on the brink of disaster if we don’t contain this virus.

We have a large blended family, 6 grown children, 5 grands and thankfully both our dads, each in their mid 90’s are still very healthy. There has been much discussion over these past two weeks about what the holidays will look like for our family. We are like every other family right now, we feel frustrated that we can’t just do what we want to do and be with who we want to be with.

After weighing all the options and looking ahead to a dreary Thanksgiving weather forecast we’ve decided to try something completely different this year. We’re fortunate that several members of our family live relatively close by, so we’ll each make one or two dishes and divide them into several containers. Then we’ll meet briefly outdoors with our masks on and hands sanitized and exchange containers, a smile and some virtual hugs. The end product will be our complete traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but instead of eating it together at one table, we’ll each bring the exchanged containers back to our own homes.

So just as we’ve reimagined school and work in this time of Covid. It’s time IMHO to reimagine our holiday traditions. So maybe that means we put up the Christmas decorations after Halloween and that our traditional Turkey dinner this year is not all being physically together around one table, but that our dinner comes from several take out containers…who knows, maybe some of our reimagining will result in the making of new traditions.

I hope whatever you decide to do this Thanksgiving it’s the best decision for you and your loved ones.

So stay safe and keep wearing your mask and lathering yourself in hand sanitizer!

The Promise in a Bulb

As we enter our 7th month of Covid lockdown, we’ve had lots of time to work in our yard at the little house. With no vacations, or extended outings, there’s lots of time to spend planning out new gardens. This spring we planted new gardens in our back year with the goal of attracting honey bees and butterflys. We were pleased when on a recent afternoon our little guy spotted 6 honeybees gathered on one of the new plants.

Being cooped up for such a long time means spending time looking at gardening sites and creating new boards on Pinterest for all the ideas to improve the gardens. One photo that caught my eye was a spring garden awash in yellow daffodils of every variety. With some more research on where to plant and purchase said daffodil bulbs I put in an order for 100 assorted bulbs. When the order arrived, I spent some time researching the various methods of planting such a large quantity of bulbs.

As with everything else in the age of the internet and armed with a plethora of information from several Youtube videos, I embarked on the project. There were three different methods of planting these bulbs, the first, just dig an indivdual hole and plant a single bulb, the second idea, dig a circle large enough to hold 6 bulbs in a circle and put one in the middle, and the third method was to just dig up an entire area and pretty much just scatter the bulbs and after checking to see they were all turned the right way, cover up the area. I couldn’t make up my mind to which method I should use, so I used all three methods and come April, I guess I’ll know which one worked best!

As I planted the bulbs I thought of Natalie Sleeths hymn “In the Bulb there is a Flower” and specifically the verse “In the cold and snow of winter there’s a Spring that waits to be, unrevealed until it’s season, something God alone can see”

Made me think about the hot mess time we’re in right now, how as the cold and snow season begins we’ll be back in forced hibernation. How a corner of our dining room has been transformed into a make shift classroom for our 4th grader who spends 6 hours a day in front of a Chromebook screen trying to keep up with his school work. And how it breaks our heart that we have no plans to visit our youngest grandchild because we don’t feel safe getting on a plane. If I’m being completely truthful, I’m not feeling too optimistic about the upcoming season

Then I think of the bulbs I just planted, how with a combination of hibernation and their stored nutrients they will emerge strong and healthy in a swarth of yellow beauty.

So maybe I should take a cue from the bulbs and try to enjoy this upcoming time of hibernation, to prepare the little house with the comforts we’ll need to keep ourselves safe and comfy during the cold and snow. And look forward to emerging in the Spring to see the beautiful blooms of the yellow daffodils

Fall in the time of Quarantine

The leaves are beginning to turn, the artificial orange fall scented candle is burning by the stove and my favorite pumpkin spice coffee is back. The calendar still says summer, but in my mind and in the aisles of CVS, trust me, it’s fall.

In any other year, fall also means back to school, but in our time of quarantine, fall this year means scrubbing off an old Ikea desk and setting it up in our dining room so we can have the pleasure of spending every weekday from 9-3, supervising little man as he begins 4th grade. I’m especially looking forward to watching him do his Zoom gymnastics, over and under the chair, camera placed so only the top of his head is showing….all of you with kids, you totally know the drill….the struggle is real.

Fall is the time we Bless the Backpacks at our church, but this year, instead of backpacks, our pastor will bless the laptops….we also have a Sunday when the pets are blessed, not sure how that will be handled over zoom in case it’s too cold in New England to worship in the great outdoors.

With Fall comes apple picking, our annual gathering of the grands dressed in their appropriate Patriot team shirt to pose for the grandkid photo that ends up as a refrigerator magnet until the following year. Not sure how we’ll manage that while wearing masks, socially distancing and fighting off other families in the orchard for the best apples

Fall is also Halloween…..will every piece of candy come with a Lysol wipe? Can you even buy Lysol wipes?  Will we just throw the candy bars into a sterilized pillowcase?  I can’t wait to see all the options erupt on Facebook with all the mommas….yes, I’m on several momma FB local pages….and I’m thankful there was no social media many years ago when I was raising my kids.

And let’s not even begin to talk about Thanksgiving. What will happen to all the 25+ pound birds that are being raised now when the chance of large family gatherings the end of November held indoors with no viable vaccine has current odds of happening between slim and none?

Let’s face it, there will be no magic vaccination ready in October, that’s just another lie….and if we can’t get this virus contained the only certainty is that more people will die….and as they say, that’s just the facts.

With the warm weather we’ve been able to get out and visit with folks outdoors while maintaining our social distance…..sometimes things seem like normal…but that’s only until the cold weather returns and once again we’ll be forced to stay indoors and back to socializing on Zoom, and for me, that’s just a very depressing thought.

So next week, I’ll put away the white pants, as every true New Englander has been taught to do….and break out all fall decorations from the basement and visit the local nursery to buy some big mums to plant next to the haybales and pumpkins I’ll get from a local farmer….and I’ll try not to think about how much this season will be different this year.

I will try hard to count my blessings, for I have many….and not to dwell on all that we’re missing…but I also need to acknowledge that it’s hard, and sometimes the most difficult part is giving myself permission to take the time to acknowledge that things are upside down right now.

Stay well and stay safe my friends and above all else be kind to yourself, remember, these are not normal times and somehow, we’ll get through this mess!

Priscilla

Today the world lost Priscilla, my dear sweet mother-in-law. I met Priscilla six months after I started dating her son and the first thing she said to me was “Jeff tells me you have daughters”, and on our ride home Jeff told me that before we left she pulled him aside and said, “don’t you lose her”. Priscilla had a way about her that made people instantly connect with her, it was her smile, her demeanor, and her sincerity that drew people in right away.
Priscilla was the only child of Fred and Rowena, she was born in 1925 and in 1931 she suffered the unimaginable loss of her sweet dad, Fred who passed away after a tennis accident resulted in an infection. This was in 1931, before the antibiotics we have readily available today. Rowena and her young daughter developed a very strong bond that helped them both get through a very difficult time, When Priscilla was 14 her mother remarried and along with her new step-father came a 14-year-old step-brother. Priscilla and her step brother remained close friends until his passing many years ago.
Priscilla met the love of her life, David, at a church youth fellowship group held at the Congregational church in Brockton that catered to the newly immigrated Swedish population, both Priscilla and David’s mothers were first generation Swedes. The young couple were also in the same Physics class in high school and attended the same dancing school. After they both graduated from High School, Priscilla attended Simmons College in Boston and David went to complete his education at Norwich Academy in Vermont. With the outbreak of WWII, David’s classes were cancelled and he eventually found himself enlisted in the Coast Guard until the war ended. In 1947 they were married. They moved back to VT so David could complete his education and on their first anniversary they welcomed their first son Jeffrey. She would always tell me that his arrival was the best anniversary gift she ever received.
In the years that followed two more sons arrived and Priscilla and David’s cape style post WWII home in the suburbs was full with three boisterous boys and the coming and goings of the neighborhood children. Priscilla enjoyed her days when her sons were young, she gave back through volunteering her time at the boy’s school and as a den mother.
When the boys were still quite young, Priscilla and her mother purchased a cabin on the water on Sawyers Island in Maine outside of Boothbay Harbor. It was there Priscilla and her mother along with the three boys would spend their entire summer with the husbands coming up on the weekends and for a two week stay during the summer. The boys enjoyed picnics, boat rides, hikes, lobster bakes, and freshly baked berry pies. An idyllic childhood memory for these three boys.
There came a time when the boys grew and moved out and began families of their own and ultimately the addition of five grandsons. The grandsons loved spending time with their grandparents who by this time had retired to New Hampshire. It wasn’t unusual to see all five boys camped out overnight on the floor of the living room after an evening of playing Up and Down the River and Tripoli with Gramma. They cherished her and she had a special spot in her heart for each of them.
Once David retired, they set off to see the world. They purchased a Road Trek van and hit the road. They would be gone from NH for about 5 months a year visiting friends and relatives, birding, visiting National Parks and exploring the USA. Their longest trip was when they drove to Alaska. Along the way they would meet fellow campers and very quickly strangers became friends. They also did a fair amount of international travel usually with the tours that included lots of hiking and lectures. In the 7 months they were home in NH each year, Priscilla continued her tradition of volunteering at the local theater and library.
Priscilla said she loved having me in the family because there just weren’t enough women, she would say that we were surrounded by men and she was right! When the great grandchildren began to arrive, after two great grandsons, she welcomed her first great granddaughter. She had a special place in her heart for all the great grands but I suspect there was a bit of favoritism towards the girl.
We loved to spend time with them in NH and when we vacationed together in South Carolina. We enjoyed their ritual of popcorn and wine before dinner and playing games after dinner. Priscilla was a great bridge player and nothing gave her greater pleasure than playing games with her family.
The last few years of Priscilla life were challenging with battling the ailments associated with aging. She was optimistic and upbeat and usually the staff’s favorite patient. These past few months were especially difficult due to Covid-19, she couldn’t see her beloved David in person, but they talked almost every day. Thankfully they were able to spend a little time together in the past few weeks. In one of her last conversations with her son a few days ago after having trouble reaching her husband, she told him “tell dad that I miss him and that I still love him”. In just 2 days they would have celebrated their 73rd anniversary, a milestone very few people attain.
So tonight, a bright light has been extinguished with the loss of Priscilla, I’ll miss her smile, her warmth, and her love for her family and I know her spirit will live on in the lives of all who loved her.

 

The Great Reset

As we enter week eight of our shelter in place it’s becoming very apparent things will never return to normal, it feels like we will never go back to our pre pandemic days, our lives have been forever changed. Sometimes it’s even hard to think back on how things were before the lock down. I think when this is all over, when a vaccine is readily available, we’ll segment our lives between what life was like before and after this pandemic.

Our little guy, 8 weeks out of school and away from his friends commented that perhaps this virus was the result of years ignoring the damage we’re doing to our planet. As I see images around the world of the smog lifting and the clear skies, I think, maybe he’s onto something.

As spring is in full bloom, it’s weird to go by the school and see the flashing signs but no sign of life in the parking lot or playground, to wait in line to get into a super market and obey the one way trail around the store, to be very aware about staying a minimum of 6 feet from one another, even when that one another is one of your children, grandchild or an elderly parent, or go to Zoom church on a Sunday morning while still sipping coffee, and to always have on your person a mask and hand sanitizer. It’s hard to be living in this new reality.

For the first few weeks I went into a full on cleaning organizing mode, hubby and I tidied up the basement, and then I went through all the closets and junk drawers, spent way too much money on the Container Store website organizing the new pantry and even managed to unpack moving boxes left untouched for 20 years, or 5 moves….thankfully that phase has passed and things are back to normal, whatever that is!

I watched a piece on PBS about what people were doing with all the time they were spending in isolation, it was an interesting look on how people are dealing with our new reality, between making music videos, to sewing masks, to mastering the art of cooking to learning new games and languages….it ran the gamut…from the overachievers to the folks who find it difficult to just deal…the ones that are coping day to day juggling home schooling their kids with trying to work from home…and then let’s just throw in there the anxiety about keeping our elders and our high risk population loved ones safe, or the sadness around missing graduations, weddings, birthdays and other milestone events or watching those we love on the front lines battling this disease, or losing a job or the business you’ve put your heart and soul into….or the absolute worst, losing someone you love and not being able to say goodbye… It’s easy to see how depression can begin to take hold.

And in the darkness we do see some light, people coming together in their own ways to help, they make masks, cook and deliver meals, make check in phone calls, offer to pick up groceries for neighbors, make an effort to support local businesses, drop off a basket of goodies, participate in a drive by birthday celebration, the list goes on and on….everyone doing their own part for the betterment of all.

I wonder when this is over, will we jump back to how our lives were before? Or will we bring the best parts we’ve learned forward?  We will have lots of time to think and ponder and my hope is when this is all said and done we’ll have a greater appreciation for what’s really important and my guess is what’s really important can’t be found in a store or a restaurant or a gym.

Be safe, be well and let’s lean in on one another in the dark times to help each other through this hot mess…it’s the only way we’ll make it through.

Look for the Helpers

We’ve all heard this phrase made famous by our beloved Mr. Rogers, and in these hot mess times, his message resonates loudly.

Covid19, or Corona virus has our country in the thick of a pandemic, people are going back and forth between fear and uncertainty. Schools and places of worship are closed, professional sports have been put on hold and through all of this we have a leader more obsessed with the optics rather than the good of everyday citizen. We find ourselves in a moment where we are looking for guidance, who do we trust, where do we get our information, and where do we find our hope?

Right now, I’m finding my hope through the posts and interactions of my neighbors and friends. On a recent community FB post, someone posted that they would be willing to run errands for the elderly, another offered to give food away to any family that found themselves hungry, and that offer was soon matched by several other people. Posts offering to babysit for the families scrambling to find childcare now that the schools are closed,  posts about the best places to bring kids to hike and one of my favorites, a list of so many really cool things to do with your kids to keep them busy over these next few weeks.

My faith community was mobilized 12 hours after the decision was made to close our building. Many in our faith community are elderly, or have an autoimmune disease or various other issues. A phone bank was set up to check in with every single member over the next few days to asses any needs and once the assessment is complete, a bevy of our wonderful volunteers will spring into action to help as needed. Our worship services will be virtual, but the love given and received from one member to another is most certainly real.

Since coming home from South Carolina earlier this week, hubby and I have felt a bit under the weather, nothing major, just extra tired and low on energy so we’ve made the decision to self-quarantine. And because we’re staying in, I missed my weekly coffee date with some of my besties…..but they were thinking of us and one of them stopped by to bring us this lovely basket of goodies….I will pay this forward in the near future.

People are good, really good and when faced with a situation like we’re in right now, it seems the best way to cope is to reach out and help others, as opposed to clearing the shelves at Costco of toilet paper and hand sanitizers…….

I’m finding my hope in the caring and love of my neighbors and friends, each looking out for one another. Where do you find your hope?

Stay safe my friends, wash your hands with soap and as my Italian Grandmother would say to me “cover your head and don’t take chances”, seems pretty good advice for this crisis.

 

Club Sandwich Anyone?

My husband and I were in his mother’s room at the nursing home visiting with his father and the Director of a nursing agency that will provide home care for my mother-in-law when the call came in from the elementary school Principal. Seems the 8 year old got a bit carried away in art trying to recreate a Jackson Pollack masterpiece by shaking down some paints and making an enormous mess. That’s after he slammed down on a ketchup packet at lunch, which when released, found its way into the eye of a classmate…not his best day….As I stood there listening to the call, I just kept thinking, please, please don’t ask me to come and get him…I need to be with my hubby and his parents right now..

Our little grand guy is 8 years old, and my husband’s parents will both turn 95 this year so we we are most officially members of the club sandwich generation. A sandwich generation is defined as taking care of your parents and children at the same time, a club sandwich just means you’ve added an extra layer of another generation to the mix.

I am blessed to belong to a family where there is so much love and respect for my in-laws. Together they raised three sons, who produced 5 sons and they now they have 3 great grands, and thankfully 92 years after my mother-in-law was born, one of the great grands was a girl!  They will celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary in June. They’ve had an amazing life together, in retirement they traveled throughout the USA in their Road trek and joined active travel groups to see sights around the world. They were always very active, hiking, birding, walking, volunteering, and making new friends along the way.

Currently they both reside in a local Continuing Care Retirement Community, with mom living in a nursing home and dad residing in an independent apartment. Our current plan is to spring mom from the nursing home and put her in her own place with a full time care taker.  It’s been quite an ordeal working through all the options, but in the end, she’ll gain back some of her independence which will in turn make her happy. Her wants are small, she wants the option of having a poached egg for breakfast, an occasional bowl of fresh steamed clams and sleeping in until she wakes on her own and not being aroused when it’s convenient for the staff. We hope by her 95th birthday in April, she’ll be all settled in her new place.

We have to look at this time in our life as our time to give back.  My husbands parents and my parents were the type of folks that always had time for their children and grandchildren. One thing my husband and I had in common walking into our second marriage was the incredible bond our children had with our parents. That’s the type of bond, the legacy we hope we leave with our children and grands.

In the meantime, we’ll find the joy in caring for the oldest and youngest members of our family, taking each day as it comes, the good and some…..well, let’s just say we’ve banned ketchup packets from the house!