Happy Valentines Day

So, this holiday of love has its roots with the execution of two men named Valentinus by the Emperor Claudius II in the third century AD. Later their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church and that my friend is the origin of this holiday of love. Of course, lots of stuff happened between the third century AD and 2019, but you know where to look to get the rest of the story.

When I was a kid, we would buy a package of valentines, write out the to and from sections and bring them to school. The special “room mothers” would bake delicious sugar cookies topped with a thick layer of frosting and topped with pink sprinkles, that we washed down with a big paper cup of Kool Aid, chock full of chemicals and red food dye. We were by today’s standards mean kids because not everyone in the class got a Valentine. The ride home on the bus was a painful time for some of the kids as they watched the popular kids count their cards…I’m glad the policy has changed.

So fast forward to 2019 and how this new generation handles the Valentines in Grade 2. Everyone gets a Valentine, a class list is distributed to each student, each student brings their Valentines to school a day in advance in a bag, there are restrictions on the type of Valentine you can bring, no food, no toys. And there won’t be any food served at school during the exchange.

Simple stuff I figure, I got this. We go to the store two weeks in advance to get the Valentines, my little guy looks at every single package of Valentines in great detail and to my surprise every package contains either food or a toy…what to do…is a sticker inserted in the Valentine considered a toy? I look at all the other options, he has chosen the most non-toy Valentines.

For two weeks I remind him to write out his Valentines, thankfully the day before they are due there’s an early dismissal day due to a snow storm which will give him plenty of time to write his to and from 19 times. I watch as he carefully looks at every message on the animal themed Valentine, as he matches the right message to each of his classmates. He reminds me that it’s very important to get this part right, that you don’t want a Valentine to say love if you’re giving it to someone you don’t love…. smart kid…

For some friends, this holiday is a painful reminder as they are faced with the hearts and images of happy couples, they deal with the very real loss of their life partners. For others just beginning to heal after a difficult breakup, they would prefer the calendar skip from the 13th to the 15th.

For the cynical ones, the thought of an entire industry making an enormous amount of money based on a holiday that makes it mandatory, that is if you want to stay in your relationship, to profess your undying love with an overpriced card and a bouquet of flowers most likely grown in conditions that exploit the workers, seems unnecessary.

I would like to think that every day is a good day to tell the ones in your life that you love them, the one that still makes your heart sing, the little ones, and the ones who are just hanging on by a thread. Tomorrow is never promised, so we should love and appreciate the people who are in our lives everyday.

Happy Valentines Day!

Does it Spark Joy?

If you’re a fan of Marie Kondo, this title will bring a smile to your face along with the urge to spend the next few days dumping all your clothes on your bed.

I stumbled across Marie a few weeks ago while on a very cold evening I was bundled under a comforter looking through Netflix. I love her gentle non-judgmental approach as she helps folks organize their homes. Unlike the myriad of all or nothing home organizing reality shows I’ve watched through the years, I find myself relating to a process that nudges you to reflect on what’s behind keeping the piles of stuff in your home and if an object doesn’t bring you joy, why should it take up valuable space in your home or in your life?

The best way to control clutter is to move! My mom told me once that her mother, when she would get mad at someone would say to them “I hope you move”, because after all moving is right up there on the top 10 list of stressors of life.

In a fifteen year period I moved 5 times and each time I let go of stuff that at the time I thought I would miss. The memories from when my kids were little, school papers, craft projects, or mementos from various trips, my collection of spoons, or single crystal candlesticks, or my awesome collection of cows, because if you work at a place with a cow in its name, you must love cow milk pitchers, right? And the 20 large containers of Christmas stuff that’s now pared down considerably

As hubby and I began to settle into our forever home that we bought 3 years ago, we’ve been very intentional about what we bring through the door. No trip souvenirs unless they can be useful, like my wool scarf from Scotland that’s been keeping me warm this winter. No magnets for the refrigerator or mugs for the little kitchen. Instead we take lots of pictures that we make into small photo books that can be easily stored and found!

Which brings us back to what sparks joy in our lives. At one point in my life when I was younger I found joy in stuff, but as I got older I find the biggest sparks of joy are in the hugs from my grandkids, the morning texts and phone calls from my kids, the connection I have with my church community and friends and the spark of joy I feel every morning when hubby greets me with a cup of black coffee and a smile.

It’s in the small things that spark joy, a lit candle, a roaring fire on a cold winter evening, a campfire in Maine with dear friends, pot luck dinners, Sunday brunch, drinks after choir, overnights at the lake, vacations with family and friends, spa getaways, and hikes that don’t result in a trip to the ER.

I hope you find what sparks joy for you and be mindful that it’s not always stuff. What’s in your heart is enough to spark joy for a lifetime.

11 Years and Counting

We got married on Sunday, December 23rd but before the wedding there was the annual church pageant and my youngest grandchild at the time was the Baby Jesus, so right after church I rushed home to get into my wedding attire and head back to the church to walk down the aisle to marry my best friend.

Before the marriage ceremony we made arrangements to have the family photos taken, and it was the first time all six of our grown children were in the same room together, in fact for several, it was the first time they had met their soon to be step brothers and sisters. And from that day forward, everyone would refer to our family as the Brady Bunch, I have the 3 girls, my husband dad to 3 boys. We only lacked a large station wagon, a mid century home and a maid named Alice.

We met online on Match.com and we corresponded for almost 3 weeks before we decided to meet. I think that gave us the time we needed to have the assurance that the person we were writing back and forth with was real. I’m glad we waited to meet, although he suggested our first in person meeting be a hike at a state park in January, my friends thought I was crazy. As it turned out, it was rainy, so we met at a local coffee shop and spent over 2 hours that day getting to know one another.

Before I started dating again, I made a list of all the qualities I was looking for the second time around, it was a very interesting process. At the top of my list was honesty because without honesty, you can’t have a healthy relationship. Another top contender was thoughtfulness followed by by integrity. My personal favorite on the list was the ability to untangle Christmas lights, because if you can do that without yelling, swearing or cracking open several beers in the process, that’s a good thing! I didn’t have any tangled Christmas lights, but I did have a broken rod in my closet that he was able to fix without any drama.

I think another test is the ability to move, that’s a big one, lots of stress coupled with physical stamina and not knowing where all your stuff is, it’s the perfect storm of a relationship test. We passed that test with flying colors after we were married, not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in an eight year time period.

It takes courage to take the leap the second time just because you have first hand experience of how everything can go horribly wrong. But with honesty, thoughtfulness, humor and love you learn to let the little stuff stay little and you think twice or even three times before not choosing a hill to die on.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be a divorce statistic and that I would enter the dating scene in my mid-fifties. Life is funny that way, you think your life will take a straight course, marriage, kids, grand kids, sitting in the rocking chair celebrating 50 years, and then something else happens, but it’s still kids, but now it’s three more kids, it’s still grand kids, now with one more cutey pie to love and now instead of celebrating 50 years together, we’ll happily take each year as it comes along.

I know how fortunate I am, to find love with the kindest man I’ve ever known, and to be embraced by his family.

On this our 11th Anniversary we’ll celebrate with our usual tradition and be thankful we were given another chance at love and happiness.

Waiting for the Light to Shine

It was Christmas 2008, we were living in what we referred to as “the big house”, the house Jeff and I built 6 months after we were married to accommodate the wave of 5 of our 6 grown children needing a safe refuge due to the upside down housing market, job loss, divorce and going back to school.

In January of 2008, my 50-year-old sister tragically and suddenly passed away, and even 11 months later, we were still in a daze, just going thru the motion of celebrating a holiday, if you can even call it celebrating. My sisters two grown sons, both in their early twenties flew up from Florida so we could all be together. They were still numb with grief as we tried our best to focus on the 4, 2 and 1 year old grandbabies and not on the elephant in the room which was the absence of our loved one.

My sister was a vibrant woman, she could light up a room, she was beautiful and she fearless. Hers was the home where all the kids gathered, she was the cool mom, her door was always open to her sons’ friends. And on this Christmas day, she wasn’t with us, her absence was felt by everyone.

Added to the mix that fateful Christmas was my sister-in-law, my best friend, who made the incredible effort to be with us knowing this would be her last holiday because at age 56, she was in her final stage of terminal cancer. She passed away 11 days later.

When I was organizing my photos recently, I couldn’t find any photos of that fateful Christmas, not even one, no one took a photo that year.

When I think about a time when I was waiting for a light to shine, I think this was one of the darkest points in my life, and like everyone else, I’ve had my share of dark times.

What I regret most about that dark time was how we all did our best to keep busy so we wouldn’t have to deal with what we were feeling.  Christmas can act as the great diversion, there’s so much going on, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and craziness and not have to deal with the feelings of grief and loss. At least that’s how it was for our family.

Grief is a funny thing, at first, it’s like you’re at the ocean and you can’t take a step or even a breath without feeling a wave knock you over, but in time, the waves get smaller and less frequent, until one day when you think you’re ok, you hear a song, or see a picture, or have a thought and then you get hit with a huge wave. It’s as if grief has the last word, you never know how it will hit you. Even if you think you have total control over your emotions, guess what, you don’t.

And in a strange way, it’s the grief that will help make that light shine again, because when we grieve, we feel, and when we feel, we heal and it’s in the healing we have those wonderful moments when we know our loved ones are with us, when we can sense their presence. When we can talk about them to one another and laugh and cry and it’s OK because they will always be with us.

This Christmas, like every Christmas for the past 10 years, we’ll remember Janet and Joan and now Mom and we’ll laugh, and we’ll have tears, and remember, and in our love for those that are no longer with us, that’s where the light will shine.

Grandparent to Parent

It was a Sunday night late in the summer when we caught a rerun of 60 minutes. The featured story that evening focused on two couples raising their grandchildren. I can remember my stomach turning watching these two couples put aside all their retirement dreams to care for the most vulnerable ones in their family. My stomach was uneasy because I knew in my heart and head, just how close we were to assume this same role for our 7 year old grandson.

Fast forward two weeks to when his aunt and I along with our pastor entered a courtroom to seek legal guardianship. For those of you not familiar with the court system, this is a daunting and very emotional experience. As a mom and grandmother, there was a sense of betrayal to my own child in order to provide a safe and stable environment for my grandson. At the end, the judge saw that I was visibly upset and his response, “you did the right thing”, helped me feel better about my choice.

The reason why my daughter or her husband are unable to parent now is complicated, there’s no easy answer or quick fix and I’ve had to learn to embrace patience and the 3 C’s, I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it.  All I can do is love her unconditionally and to make sure she knows her son is safe and cared for with us.

I am grateful for a family and community who have embraced this new arrangement.  And, it’s often in the small things I see God’s grace. The strong bond with his aunties, uncles and his cousins, the church members that invite him to sit with them so my husband and I can sing in the choir, his Sunday school teachers and helpers with a kind word and praise for his work, his school teacher praising him for his achievements. It’s in these little things that I see his transformation, his awareness that others really do care about him and appreciate and love his quirky little self. It really does take a village.

I’m most grateful for my husband of almost 11 years who never signed up to be a surrogate father at age 70.  I’m appreciative of his patience, his thoughtfulness and the love he has for me and for this little man. He’s taken it upon himself to be the transportation parent, the one to wait with little man at the bus stop, to answer all his questions about the worms, the squirrels, the bees and our resident fox. And he’s also the parent to greet him at the end of the school day by meeting his bus. I’m also grateful to him for introducing his love of the outdoors, helping gather firewood and starting a fire and for taking little man on his first hike to Mt. Wachusett

Our retirement mode has morphed into full on parent mode, supervising homework, bed time and morning routines, eliminating processed foods as best as we can, and our personal favorite, monitoring the devices. He’s an avid reader, we can hardly keep up with his love of Captain Underpants, Dog Man and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And we believe he may have inherited the artistic gene from his great papa Gray, as he loves to create his own comic books.

And an added benefit is his new relationship with my husband’s side of the family. Now that he lives with us, he comes with us when we visit my husband’s parents, so he’s gained a new set of great grandparents, Ahma and Great Papa and an uncle and two very special cousins, one with the same name as his, although they are 50+ years apart in age. And I believe he’s mastered how best to navigate the buffet line at their assisted living community.

Meanwhile our retirement travel plans have been put on hold, I’ve stopped looking at the glossy brochures from Viking River Cruises and an occasional night out is a real treat. But just as satisfying is our new Sunday night tradition of popcorn and hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire and maybe, just maybe, we get to eat dinner in the Living Room. And the joy of experiencing the magic of Christmas through the eyes of a sweet little boy.

I hope when he is older and looks back at this time in his life he won’t think of it as the most traumatic time of his childhood, of being taken away from his mother and father. I hope he’ll be able to look back and feel this was a time he was loved and cared for. And I hope my family and friends know just how much I appreciate their support and love for both our little man and his momma, as we all navigate this new journey in our lives.

I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know what the future will hold for him, but I do know he’s strong, he’s resilient, he’s incredibly bright and most importantly he’s loved unconditionally by many people and with all that in his favor, how could his future not look bright and wonderful?

Thank you Charles Eliot

Thank you Charles Eliot because way back in the late 1800’s you saw a need to preserve special spaces for Massachusetts residents to enjoy. You proposed that special lands should be overseen by a non profit organization and be free from taxes.  Thankfully the Massachusetts Legislature worked together and in 1891 they voted to establish The Trustees of (Public*) Reservations “for the purposes of acquiring, holding, maintaining and opening to the public…beautiful and historic places…within the Commonwealth.”  For the complete history, you can check this out: http://www.thetrustees.org/about-us/history/

Which brings me to our adventure to Worlds End in Hingham, Massachusetts. World’s End is a 244 acre peninsula that juts out into Hingham Bay and it’s one of the special spaces that the Trustees of Reservations purchased in 1967. This parcel of land was originally owned by a Mr. John Brewer and he had big plans to place 163 homes on this pristine piece of paradise.  He even hired the world renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to lay out the groundwork for the housing project. The acres of tree lined carriage roads Olmsted designed still remain to this day on the property.

And as we read more about this piece of property we found out that not only was it in the running to be the United Nations Headquarters, but the site was also considered to house a nuclear energy facility. Thankfully, the Trustees of Reservations stepped in to preserve the property in perpetuity.

So all of that background to get us to our 5+ mile hike around the peninsula. Just imagine the perfect hiking weather, low 60’s degree temperature, no wind and no bugs,  a combination of wide open carriage roads, with winding trails by the water, beautiful vistas, including a view of the Boston skyline, a healthy dose of history and strategically placed benches. A picture perfect day.

Because we choose to be members of the Trustees of Reservations by paying a membership fee, we get free entry or discounted entry to all the reservations, a wonderful book with a fold out map that describes each of the properties and other great benefits. All of this for or the price of a nice meal out. If I sound like I’m endorsing this organization, it’s because I am, I think everyone who loves the outdoors should become a member.

But back to Charles Eliot and all the forward thinking people in this world who have a dream and don’t back down. I don’t think Charles Eliot knew the impact of his idea would result in the preservation of over 100 properties spanning over 25,000 acres in Massachusetts, so people like me can enjoy the beauty and wonderment of this state I call home.

 

 

 

My Nana, Concetta

In 1946 my grandparents divorced, as you can imagine back in 1946 this was almost unheard of, people of that generation stuck together no matter what the circumstances. Except in this circumstance my dear, sweet grandmother was diagnosed with a form of  postpartum depression after giving birth to her third daughter in 1944. Back in the good old days a diagnosis of severe postpartum depression got you locked up in an institution with experimental medications and a prognosis of spending the remainder of your days in a mental health faculty.

My mother was 14 when her baby sister was born in 1944 and she spent her weekends alternating visits between her mother in the institution and her baby sister in an orphanage because her father was unable to care for his infant daughter. No parties and hanging out with friends for my mother, she went from carefree teen to an adult woman in a matter of days.

Then there was the middle sister caught in between who was 9 years old when her baby sister was born in 1944, she was too old to go to an orphanage, but she was old enough to be shuffled from relative to relative carrying her belongings in a paper bag…constantly losing her belongings along the way…

In spite of their early separation and the hardships they suffered, these three sisters were fiercely close their entire lives. They had a bond, maybe an unspoken pact of somehow surviving a childhood no child should ever endure.

My grandfather was told his wife would never be cured, that she would spend the remainder of her days locked up. So he made a decision to move on with his life and the first step was to divorce his wife, the mother of his three daughters. He didn’t have to look very far to find a new wife as his sister-in-law, also his ex-wife’s best friend, was  recently divorced. So in 1947 they tied the knot combining their new blended family of 5 daughters, first cousins by blood, now step-sisters by marriage into one big family of seven, and my mother and her two younger sisters were forced to choose their allegiance between their aunt, now step-mother, and their mother still locked away in an institution.

My parents were also married in 1947, my mother was a 17 year old bride…..and the newly weds continued to spend their weekends visiting mother in “the home”. When I was very little in the early 1950’s, I have vague memories of playing near a car with my brother and dad while my mother visited her mother in “the home”

So fast forward about 12 years to 1959 and with new medications, lo and behold, Nana is well enough to be released from the mental health facility. The decision is made for Nana to alternate her time between her two oldest daughters homes, now bursting with the combined addition of five small grandchildren. We lived in a very small post WWII Cape Cod style home, so when Nana stayed with our family she shared a room with me and my younger sister.

As a kid, I had a sense that there was something about my Nana that was different, I don’t recall having conversations with her or playing cards with her like I did with my dad’s mother, but I do remember she loved to cook for our family and she was the happiest when she could venture out to the local 5 and Dime store and pick up small toys and trinkets.

My Nana was about 57 when she was released from the facility. .I think about what must have gone through her mind…what happened to her life? Her home, children, husband and best friend gone, a faint recollection of her baby daughter, vague remembrance of her older two children. I regret not asking my mother while she was still alive who was the one who told Nana that her husband married her sister in law?

Once Nana moved in with us, it was an awkward situation for my grandfather and his wife to visit, that was until someone in the family came up with the idea to remove Nana from her home and take her to a relatives house so my grandfather and his new wife wouldn’t feel uncomfortable in her presence.  As a child, I didn’t give this a thought, it was a decision made by grown ups, so it must be right. But now, as a grandmother who has been through a divorce, to this day, I cringe when I remember how my Nana was treated.

Somehow my mother and aunts knew this charade couldn’t go on forever, that at some point, both women and my grandfather would be destined to be in the same place at the same time. That time came in 1971 at my brother’s wedding when during the reception, my mother went into the ladies room and found her mother and her step mother engaged in conversation. I don’t know what was said….but there wasn’t shouting, or fainting or wailing or anything terrible…all things that had been predicted for years to happen.

I often think about my beautiful Nana Concetta and her life, how after experiencing the incredible high of giving birth to her third daughter, her life completely changed. Everything that was near and dear to her gone and then to reemerge on the scene to find the ultimate betrayal of your husband and best friend.

In spite of all the challenges, Nana survived and in her later years she shared an apartment with her dear sister Mary where they both thrived.

My Nana was an inspiration to me several times in my life when I went through some difficult challenges, any time when I felt particularly tested I would think that my difficulties paled to what Nana Concetta went through. I know my mother inherited her strong willed tenacity, her love of books and music. And through our bloodline I know I have a bit of Nana Concetta coursing through my veins, and for that I am grateful.

 

Nana Concetta on her wedding day with her husband. The other people in this photo are Concetta’s brother and his wife, her best friend and the women who would eventually marry her husband….I like to name this photo “It’s Complicated”0195e272263888f8f5f248af6b1847fc1a31859d1d.jpg