My Disney World Adventure

Is it every parents and grandparents dream to take their children and subsequent grandchildren to visit a large mouse in Florida at least once in their lifetime? Judging from what I saw in Florida this past week, I believe this to be a true statement.

I took my kids twice, the first time was back in the mid 80’s when they were all little and again in the early 90’s, it was our last family trip before my oldest began college. Of course, those trips took place before the age of electronics, we had to navigate the park with a paper map, this was long before the magical Disney app with the interactive maps and up to date wait times. We still managed to have make some great family memories and it was nice that I was able to return with one of my children and my two youngest grandsons in tow.

I lost count of the number of groups I saw in the magic kingdom wearing matching t-shirts, everything from the ordinary Family 2019 trip, to Birthday kid and I’m with Birthday kid, and I’m birthday kids brother/sister/aunt/uncle…to the Cheerleading groups, the youth groups, the middle school music groups and on and on…the best one I saw was the Thing One and Thing two shirts on a group of about 20, it was a large family and grandpa was in a wheelchair being pushed around by one of his many grandchildren.

I also saw a few moms in wheelchairs with bandannas to cover their bald heads…I can only imagine how emotional on so many levels a visit to this special place meant to them and their young families.

I do believe that the Magic Kingdom is one the happiest places on earth. So it’s raining, let’s have a rain parade, it’s no big deal, everything’s ok….continuous parades and happy music..screaming kids, it’s’re at the Magic Kingdom.

I am amazed at the unbelievable coordination at every single level to make the visit as enjoyable as possible, from the easy entry, to how skillfully the lines are arranged so standing on your feet in 89 degree heat doesn’t seem so unbearable. The occasional fans, the interactive activities for the kids, each designed with the intent to make the experience pleasurable. The wristbands should be mandatory for every theme park, they truly are like Magic.

For a long time I had a wish to bring all our six kids and grandkids together for a trip to Disneyworld, maybe I just wanted to be part of the group with the t-shirts….we tried several times but we could never manage to come up with a date that would work for everyone…go figure

What I’ve learned as I’ve aged is that you can plan to your hearts content but sometimes your well intentioned plan and reality get together behind your back and make their own plan…and in this case it couldn’t have worked out any better for me.

So I’m chillin in my golden years…not getting too worked up if things don’t go as I’ve planned because my unplanned stuff has been pretty amazing, so reality and well intentioned plans can have at it anytime as far as I’m concerned, I’m always up for a good surprise or two.

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 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?

The Summer Colony

Little did I know when our family first decided to vacation in Maine in the summer of 1985 with our three small daughters under the age of 9, it would put in motion a foundation for a tradition that to this day our family and extended family still enjoy.

Over the years we ventured back to our sweet spot in Maine where we met several families with children of similar ages that quickly became BFFs for life with my girls. The girls and their friends sobbed every year on the last day of vacation and 50 weeks later they all reunited like no time had passed. We were very fortunate that the parents of these children were wonderful people and over the years the adults enjoyed our times together as much as our children.

Over the years our colony families enjoyed campfires, canoe trips, hayrides, trips to the beach, the penny candy store, ice cream, playing restaurant, and eating lobsters caught the same day at our favorite lobster pound on the water. We also enjoyed the local entertainment, marginal rock and roll bands, karaoke night and hands down the kids favorite, a children’s singer songwriter, who to this day our offspring can still recite the lyrics and remember all hand motions to most of his songs.

The kids had a carefree two weeks in Maine, and we were not spared the teenage craziness, late night curfews, dating within the gang, and probably their hands down favorite, an overnight camping trip to a deserted island on the lake accessible only by canoe. Unbeknownst at the time to the teens, there was always a watchful eye by the parents. Upon their return the next morning,  we would awake to the loud commotion on the peaceful lake before 7:00AM of the tired, hungry, bug bitten, sunburned group, ready to shower, eat and sleep in the remainder of the day.

As the kids grew up, went off to college, got married and had children of their own, many didn’t make it back to Maine for many years, but by and large, the parents kept showing up. Each year when we reunite it brings forth a feeling of completing the circle, of friendship and warmth. We share the ups and downs of the past year, the good stuff, the not so good stuff and all the stuff in between,

Of course with a group of many families over the span of over 34 years there were many changes, we lost one of the dads to cancer in the early 90’s just as the oldest kids were heading off to college, then in the early 00’s two of the couples divorced, and a few years later, tragically, one of the youngest of the kids, at that time in her early 30’s died in a horrific accident. It was the summer after her funeral some of the original children, now adults with children of their own, decided to come back for a service of remembrance. We met at the dock at sunset and launched paper boats lit with tiny votive candle made lovingly by her parents. We sang songs, said a collective prayer and then sat around a campfire and exchanged our best stories about this brave, sweet woman. When her mother thinks of her daughter, she thinks of her in a kayak gliding across the lake to the sound of loons and that is the image brings her the most peace.

I was half of one of the couples that divorced and when the divorce was very new and raw one of my biggest fears was that I would no longer be part of the Maine Colony, but with time and healing, we’ve moved forward with our respective new spouses and we are all able to enjoy our friends, children and grandchildren for this one week every year.

Very shortly it will be time for us to gather in our special spot in Maine and reconnect with our Colony. The grandchildren are getting excited about meeting up again with the friends they’ve made in previous years, just as we’re excited about spending quality time our group of friends.

I hope you each have an opportunity to find your own special Colony, to share the ups and downs of life, to listen, to learn and to love….oh, and to eat lobster together!