Sitting on the Sand

It was March of 2005, I was in Costa Rica with my then husband, our daughter and Costa Rican son in law. It was my first visit to this paradise country and my daughter was anxious to take us to a secluded beach where they had spent part of their honeymoon several years back. As our rented Jeep wound around a sharp curve in the road, there it was, a pristine marvel of white sand dotted with amazing palm trees with large branches that would provide a shady respite from the glaring sun.

As we unloaded the car I began to panic, I didn’t see any beach chairs or benches on this deserted beach and I knew we didn’t have any in the rental car.  I turned to my daughter and said “where will we sit”, she replied, “on the sand”, oh crap….I knew if I sat on the sand, I didn’t have the core strength to get myself back up again. My daughter sensed my panic and asked her husband and father to run back to town and find a couple of beach chairs. They returned a short time later with chairs in hand and we were able to enjoy some time on that beautiful beach in Costa Rica,

For many years I blamed my fitness limitations on my bilateral hip replacements and carrying around way too many pounds.  And as I aged, I had a new excuse to throw into the mix, I was getting old….old people don’t sit on beaches, old people aren’t expected to be fit and beautiful and on and on…and in many ways I had just given up on myself, my self esteem had left the house with the door slamming in it’s wake.

A few weeks after returning from Costa Rica my husband and I parted ways and after 33 years of marriage began divorce proceedings. To everyone who has ever been through the whirlwind or the more accurate description, shit storm, of divorce, one of the offsetting benefits can be the loss of weight, and in my case my divorce diet netted me a 40 pound loss. With the weight loss and the new found freedom for the first time in my life I put myself first. Like that George Strait song “She Let herself Go”, I went to NYC, to Las Vegas, and even to the beaches in Mexico and began to live life through a new lens.

Part of the new lens was regaining my physical strength, I knew I’d never run a marathon like one of my daughters, but perhaps I could ride my bike for a few miles or walk for an hour on the rail trail, or utilize the hotel gym when I traveled for business. all small steps toward a healthier lifestyle.

Eventually I married an awesome guy who is the healthiest person I’ve ever met. While dating,  we spent lots of time biking and hiking together and he introduced me to the concept of gentle yoga. After retirement I began yoga classes, beginning with one class a week and now 3 weekly classes. There are so many healthy benefits of yoga, the core work, the balancing flows and the peace of shavasana, the restful, mindful, delicious part of just being at the end of each yoga session.

So this past week on vacation on South Carolina during a 6 mile walk out to a breakfront on the beach I managed to sit in the sand to take a break and on my way back up to standing managed a few downward facing dogs and a plank. Life is good and being healthy is the best gift we can give ourselves even if we’re old..

Searching My Roots

For Christmas 2016 my dear husband bought me Ancestry.com DNA test, so a few days after Christmas I spit in a plastic tube and sent my saliva to some lab somewhere and then I waited and waited and waited.

My moms parents were both born in Sicily and immigrated to the US in the 1920’s, my dad’s mom was from Canada and his dad was born in England, so I assumed I was half Italian, at least a quarter English and that other quarter would be a combination of Canadian, Irish and Scottish. Imagine my surprise when I reviewed the results and found out that I was only a quarter Italian, half English and a full quarter a combination of  DNA from France, Scotland, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Serbia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria, Croatia, Bosnia, Romania, Turkey, Slovenia, Algeria, Tunisia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo and Greece. It was a very interesting exercise and I highly recommend using this service to analyze your DNA.

In the course of building out my family tree, I found many very interesting stories about my ancestors.  The most fascinating began with my 15th great-grandfather Ralph, who was on the wrong side of the War of the Roses and at the age of 29, was beheaded for treason. He was a Knight and his wife, my 15th great-grandmother was a Baroness, thankfully his son, my 14th great grandfather Edward was born before his untimely demise. That’s just one of many stories I have uncovered, just on my father’s side.

When your DNA results come back you have an opportunity to connect with other members on Ancestry.com that match to a certain degree to your DNA. This by far has been the most interesting part of the journey. I have discovered at least one new relative and it’s been wonderful learning about this part of my family.

I have almost 200 matches with people as close as 1st cousin to distant 4th-6th cousins that match my DNA. Through some of these matches I’ve found some pretty fascinating stories about my ancestors.

What strikes me most about learning about my DNA matches is the fact the world is a very small place and that we’re all connected to one another. We may live in different places, or look different, or speak a different language,  and there’s the Kevin Bacon six degrees of separation..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Solstice

Today is the shortest day of the year with the sun rising at 7:13 AM and setting at 4:17 PM. And if that’s not exciting enough for you, there’s some funky stuff going on with Saturn, which is the reason one astrologer thinks that anything you try to do today will be more difficult, take more time and be more frustrating …..you can check Google for all the celestial details..

If you add together Winter Solstice, 4 days before Christmas and everyone and their brother out and about today trying to get some last minute shopping done, common sense would tell us today could be more difficult, very frustrating and take more time…as a matter of fact I had to wait 30 minutes today to get a mani pedi…so that was both frustrating and difficult for me today.

While the shortest day of the year seems depressing, our ancestors celebrated this day in so many ways knowing that in the days to come the days would be longer. Did you know that Yule logs are a leftover from the Pagan celebration of Yule?  People would celebrate with song and dance and burn a real log as an offering to the Solstice. Who knew the large chocolate log shape cakes we buy at Costco originated from a real log offering to the Solstice? The internet is a wonderful thing…

So how do we in the 21st century celebrate the Winter Solstice? I don’t think we do….perhaps one of our Facebook friends posted something today, perhaps we heard it on the radio or TV, but consciously celebrating this day I don’t think is on anyone’s radar. What with the shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning and moving the Elf around, we barely have time to breathe, let alone celebrate the shortest day of the year.

So tonight I’d like to find a reason to celebrate, just because it is the shortest day. We’ll screw on the Christmas lights in the windows, light the Christmas tree, switch on the twinkling lights on the garland over the fireplace, light up the little village and flip the switch on the floodlight outside the front door, then relax in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine. And then maybe, just maybe, we’ll crack open the Spring 2018 seed catalog we received in the mail today to pay homage to the longer days to come. And then top off the evening with an episode of The Crown to honor the Stonehenge Winter Solstice gatherings. That will be our Winter Solstice 2017 celebration…hopefully Saturn won’t mess things up..

Happy Winter Solstice everyone!

 

Santa vs The Wisemen

I’m a baby boomer who grew up in a neighborhood built for the returning veterans of WWII. The homes were all pretty much identical, cape styles with a small kitchen and living room, one bathroom, two small bedrooms and an unfinished attic where the dads with handyman skills could expand the little house to include two additional bedrooms to accommodate the growing families.

It was the type of neighborhood where all the kids knew one another and hung out until the street lights came on at dusk.  We organized our own basketball and kickball games, and we even managed to choreograph shows that we would perform for our moms in the finished or sometimes unfinished basements of the little houses.  It was a fun childhood.

At Christmas time the little neighborhood would come alive with Santa and his reindeer on the front lawns and roofs, lots of big bright colorful lights covering every shrub and tree and various renditions of  large wrapped gifts on the front lawns. That was every house, except ours….my mom and dad weren’t like the other moms and dads in the neighborhood. My folks were a little different, they enjoyed the theater, the arts and my mom especially enjoyed her opera and show tunes.  It wasn’t unusual for me to come home from school to mom singing along to her favorite music.

But, back to Christmas, our house had no outward signs of Santa and bright lights, instead, my artistic dad painted a beautiful mural of the Three Wisemen which he put on the front door and illuminated with a single spotlight.  As a kid, I was embarrassed, we were the only ones in the subdivision without a Santa and we were the only ones probably in the entire town with the Three Wisemen on the front door…kids would ask us, what’s that, and where is Santa and how come you don’t have any lights? We were confused…which led to the anxiety…what if Santa gets mad…what if he skips our house because we don’t have bright colorful lights and an image of him on our front lawn? How could our parents do this to us?

Many years later I was able to reflect that this was an early lesson about the importance of being just a bit different. Whether it was the Christmas decorations, or being the only Protestant family in the neighborhood, or the parents that weren’t like the rest…at the time, when you’re little and you just want to fit in, it seemed a bit unnerving,  but as an adult and looking back, my folks were mavericks, they were ahead of their time. And if my dad could market his artistic interpretation of the Three Wiseman today he’d probably be a rich guy!

Thankfully, I’ve managed to get over the trauma of not having a Santa and flashing bright lights at my childhood home. I’ve found that in the scheme of things, it’s not such a big deal. What’s important is the love that’s in your house and not the flashing lights and decorations outside…and looking back, I can never think of a time when I didn’t feel unconditional love from my parents, and that was always the best present of all.

 

 

Decorating for Christmas

It’s that time of year when I spend lots of time decorating the house for Christmas. When I was working I had a very stringent schedule, prepare Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, visit the relatives on Friday, put away the fall decorations and clean on Saturday and after church on Sunday decorate the house for Christmas. Now that I’m retired I sometimes forget I can use all the week days.

Decorating the house means dragging all the boxes up from the basement and then going through each box, ornament by ornament, Santa by Santa, angel by angel, snowman by snowman to try to find just the right spot for everything. This is the time of year I’m envious of people that have been in their same home for decades, they just open the boxes and place everything in their appointed places. For those of us who have moved way too many times, like 5 moves in 15 years for me….it’s been a struggle to match the decorations to the space. In the 5 moves, some things were left behind or just tossed.

My favorite decorations are the ones my kids made when they were little, the Christmas Nativity pyramid powered by candles and the colorful collection of Nutcrackers my folks bought in Germany the years they spent the holidays with my sister and her family overseas. Also precious to me are the few ornaments my husband and I have added to our collection since we’ve been together these past 10 years.

When I was helping one of my daughters clean out her basement, I was reunited with my Christmas Village where it had been carefully stored away for safe keeping during one of the many moves. My challenge was to find the right spot to set up the village, complete with the fake snow, laden with glitter that leaves a trail of sparkle throughout the house, the houses that light up, and the little fake snow covered pine trees. Thankfully I found a perfect spot for my little village.

It’s amazing how we can get so attached to the stuff during this particular season, especially since everything we pick up reminds us of that period in our life. Memories of loved ones no longer with us, of friends who have moved away and children who are now grown and have young ones of their own. It’s a wonder that between digging up the past; good, bad or indifferent, coupled with the unrealistic expectations of what’s expected during the holidays, that we’re able to power through until at last on Christmas Day we’re able to kick back and enjoy the fruits of all our labor.

This season, I want to take my own sweet time and go lovingly through each box and keep what makes my heart happy and give away or toss the things I no longer need or want or will fit in our small house. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about the stuff, it never is, stuff can always be replaced, rather, it’s about the people in your life that you love. That’s the nice thing about the decorations, especially the ones that remind us that our loved ones are always with us.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the time of year when we gather with family and friends to eat an enormous meal and to give thanks for all we’ve been given. I’m thankful for an understanding husband, our children and grandchildren, our three remaining parents all healthy and in their 90’s, a warm house, a full refrigerator, good health, a caring, loving community…..and Netflix..

Looking back on Thanksgivings past, so many memories flood my mind. As a young child with my parents, brother and sister, cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents we would often spend the holiday with my mothers Italian family.  Our Thanksgiving dinners always included some type of pasta and I have a memory of a stuffing that contained ricotta cheese. Yup, ricotta stuffed turkey…along with some other awesome Italian dishes not usually considered typical Thanksgiving fare.

Next, as a young wife and mother we would generally go to my parents for Thanksgiving, my mother was not only a fantastic cook, but she would also go the extra steps to set an elegant table and create a warm inviting atmosphere for our meal together. Between me, my brother and sister, we managed to produce 8 grandchildren in 10 years, which meant various booster seats, high chairs, tantrums and food fights…I think it took my mom the entire long weekend to put her house back together after Thanksgiving dinner.

One Thanksgiving that I will always remember took place in 2008. My sister Janet had passed away earlier in the year and my sister-in-law Joan was dealing with terminal cancer. At the last minute, my parents decided not to come, it was just too painful for them, the thought of never spending a holiday with their beloved Janet was just too much to bear. We ate dinner with our children, grandchildren, Joan and her husband and pretended there was nothing wrong. One of the biggest regrets in my life was never mustering the courage to tell Joan to her face what she meant to me. I was so afraid if I told her she would think that I was giving up hope that she would somehow survive her cancer. I looked and looked through all our pictures and none exist for Thanksgiving 2008 or Christmas 2008, we were all in shock, paralyzed with grief and pain. No one thought to take a picture, no one wanted to document the sadness. Sadly Joan passed 2 weeks after Christmas of 2008.

I can understand how some people like to avoid Thanksgiving, maybe they’re alone for the first time due to a death or a divorce. Maybe there is an estrangement with family members or different political views (very popular this year!) or anticipation of the consumption of too much alcohol which brings on its own share of craziness…

This Thanksgiving we will gather again and give thanks for all the blessings in our life. We will remember our loved ones who are not with us and we will celebrate our newest members, all gifts to remind us that life is an unending circle of love. And maybe, just maybe sometime over the long weekend we’ll watch Elf…

Happy Thanksgiving to you

Changing Seasons

The squirrels in our backyard have been crazy busy since early September getting ready for the changing season. They scramble up the oak trees and chew off the the small branches laden with acorns. Once the branch hits the ground, the squirrels come back down the trees, gather the acorns and put them in their secret hiding place.  After the acorns are stripped, the branches remain on the ground in a scene that resembles a micro burst storm.  All this work so they’ll have enough food to sustain them through the winter.

As I was putting the duvet cover on the down comforter today, I thought about the squirrels and how we prepare for changing seasons. If you’ve never had the opportunity to put a down comforter in a duvet cover, you should try it sometime. You’ll need a large room devoid of all furniture because you’ll need lots of room, and you may want to check out Youtube just in case someone’s figured out a better way to put these two things together. It’s not an easy job, it requires concentration, the ability to crawl on your hands and knees and dexterity to tie tiny knots.

Putting the down comforter on the bed represents the beginning of the next season. The season of harvest vegetable soups simmering on the stove, of real wood fires in the fireplace, of long brisk hikes along trails laden with leaves and pine needles. It’s the short season between the onset of the cooler weather and the impending holidays. It’s a time to savor the change while it’s still new, embrace the darkness at 4:30 and like the squirrels gather our treasures to sustain us for when we enter the next season of craziness called the holidays.