Thanksgiving, 2018

It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m counting my blessings.

It’s hard to do. But also easy. Life is full of contradictions now, and always will be, I guess.

When one is missing, the absence is as sharp and noticeable as the presence of others is visible, and sweet.

But it’s not only Alex who’s gone. We’re missing so many from our family. A good number are on the other side now. It’s tempting to get lost in that reality, to focus on the years gone by.

But if memories of other Thanksgivings are part of this day, we’re also mindful of the good things of life. There are so many to count.

We talked about the list before eating. One of the mentions was “thankful not to be homeless.” This, from the five-year-old in our group. What does it say about our society, that this is so common? And that five-year-olds are aware this happens?

So we talk a bit about that, and other things. The usual, and the normal: family, friends, love, relationships. The physical. Food. Pets. The good stuff.

It’s a day to savor, and to mark. I try to practice gratitude every day, and most of the time I’m successful. There is always, always, something to be thankful for.

But it’s meaningful to do it as a group, oldest to youngest, to acknowledge all the things. Maybe one day, we won’t need to reference the issues of the homeless. Or watch news stories of soldiers celebrating far from home. 

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you find yourself. May you have many good things to count, and more to come in the future.

And God bless us, every one!

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Today Alex is 31. I talk to him, think about him. What do you say, when the years aren’t adding up on this planet any longer? Do you still say “happy birthday?”

I think about other birthday celebrations for those who are gone, the way we honor heroes who left a mark.

We hold parades, declare holidays, and remember their gifts. We look back with gratitude, and find inspiration in stories of lives well lived.

Alex left his mark too, on so many lives. He left stories of kindness, humor, a strong work ethic, his unique vision of life. He left grand memories.

There won’t be any parades today, and businesses will all be open as usual. Other than a few people who know this date as his, to the rest of the world, it’s just another Monday.

But for those who love him…it’s the first birthday without.

We had a running conversation about this time of year…me always trying to find a gift he would enjoy, and him standing firm, saying all he wanted for his birthday was a sandwich.

I don’t remember how that got started. When he was still a kid at home, the tradition was always that the person celebrating their birthday got their dinner of choice…favorite home cooked meal, or favorite restaurant. Somewhere along the way, Alex decided to keep it simple, and started requesting “just a sandwich.” In mom mode, I could never do that. A sandwich wasn’t festive enough. Sometime in the teen years, he began choosing pie as the birthday sweet, lemon icebox or key lime, to mark the day and round off the evening, candles burning and presents stacked, ready to be opened.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the birthday reminder from Amazon, sent to alert me that June 18 was coming up. Then a reminder popped up on my calendar.

As if I needed that.

Though there’s no danger I’ll forget his birthday, and no need to remind me to buy a gift for him, I won’t take him off my birthday calendar, or Amazon reminder list. There are already so many ways he’s missing from life. His phone number is no longer his. He doesn’t have a mailing address any more. His bank account is closed.

I won’t erase him from my lists. It’s not that I need any reminders to think of him. But it’s important to me that his name is still there.

Like so many pieces of the tapestry of loss, there’s no logic to my thoughts. I couldn’t tell you why I can’t take him off my Amazon gift list, or delete his address from any of the other sites where it lives. I just can’t. Even though I know that deleting an address doesn’t mean anything…doesn’t change any facts, and doesn’t lessen his place in my heart…I won’t do it. Somehow it means something to me to see it.

In this new era of life, without Alex, everything counts, everything matters. It’s strange the way this works. When someone you love is living, of course they’re important to you, and you’re concerned with them, and for them, and things that impact them impact you. But when that person is gone, and what you have left are the memories, photos, physical reminders of their lives, and the digital footprints left behind….it’s all important, to a level you can’t begin to understand, until that’s all you have.

It all becomes sacred.

Where once I loved the boy / man, now I cherish the traces of him, wherever I find them. So nothing is meaningless, not even the email from Amazon to remind me of his birthday approaching.

And yet nothing fills the void.

I’ve been fearful of this day. Wondered how it would feel to wake up and know there’s no birthday call to make, no sandwich joke between us, no hearing if he liked his gifts. Nothing. Just nothing.

But today, as much as I miss Alex, I’m celebrating his life, all 31 years of it. Somewhere he’s 31, and he’s probably having a sandwich, hopefully with bacon.

There are 364 other days in the year to mourn him, to feel the sorrow of loss. Today, I’m just choosing to find the joy, and to be thankful for his life. He was amazing, and a gift.

Alex taught me many things, some of which have come in the past months. Even now, I’m learning through him, because of him. Today is another of those gifts, teaching me, reminding me, that lives intertwined don’t unravel because one has moved to another realm. They’re still connected, and always will be.

The people who touch our lives, and whose lives we touch…our stories are forever joined. Alex will be forever young, in photos and human years. But in my heart, and in another world, he’ll keep having birthdays.

“There are three things we cry for in life: things that are lost, things that are found, and things that are magnificent.”
Douglas Coupland

Alex has been each of these: found, magnificent, and lost. He is lost to us now, for a time. But not forever.

And that is something to celebrate.

Laura, Will, & Alex, June 18, 2017

Alex’s 30th birthday, with friends at the Colorado Renaissance Festival, June 18, 2017

“The beautiful thing you did, that no one knows about, or forgot, it’s there always; light, grainy light- even if cruelty gets its hands on it. It’s done. You were born. No taking that back.” 

~ Thank you, Laura, for the quote. It’s perfect. ~

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Happy Mother’s Day!

This year, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t need to send flowers or do anything long distance for Mother’s Day. Over the past week, I’ve spent time with my mother, my mother-in-law, and my daughter. And of course, I’ve been with the littles. Wonderful to give gifts and love in person!

Beautiful mothers all, the inter-generation connection is sweet and powerful to experience, as I’ve been blessed, again, to touch people who are part of the fabric of my ties that bind.

My goal as a mother was to be the best example, parent, friend, and teacher I could be. Of course I didn’t always live up to my aspirations, but I tried. That much I know. And that’s all any of us can do…we try, and keep on trying.

I learned so much from my mom and my mother-in-law about the work of parenting, of friending, and of the on-going nature of mothering. Watching my daughter parent reminds me of the stages and the changes of this life of motherhood…how it shifts and grows, widens and deepens with the years.

Thank you to all the mothers in my life…for the joys, the patience, the humor, the tears, and the memories. It’s been an amazing experience, and a gift that keeps on giving.

Roses

The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children. ~ Jessica Lange

Let the holidays begin!

December 19, and I feel like I’ve been waiting all year for this moment. After months of thinking, planning, and anticipation, a lot of things have come together.

This year is ending differently than I would have guessed in January. I didn’t foresee a lot of things then that have happened.

I saw the evolution of our lives, swinging from nomadic to settled, once again.

I watched the small clinics we work with lose providers, deal with changes, welcome new faces.

I saw the ebb and flow of relationships, friendships, and partnerships.

I witnessed growth, change, loss, and reality. Well, isn’t every year filled with all of those elements?

I poured my heart into a book, into a site, and into creating an online presence, that, so far, has mostly been a learning tool for me. I could say the same for the book…maybe one day it will be a best seller, but so far that fairy tale hasn’t come true.

And yet…it has done me good. This year has stretched me, surprised me, and humbled me.

I feel so blessed.

And now, after a year full of work and busy-ness, we’re spending the next few weeks with family, seeing the littles, marking the moments, doing it all one more time.

I can’t wait.

And then, on the very last day of the year, my Christmas present…a trip to New York to see a play that’s captured the imagination of many people. Rob surprised me with planning a trip to see the hit show “Hamilton.” And he capped it off with planning a cruise on the Queen Mary II, leaving New York on Jan 3.

We’re ending the year with a bang, and beginning the new year with an adventure.

We don’t own a home, we don’t own a car, and we still work part-time. But we travel, and we have family, and we’re able to do some good in the process.

It’s a rich life, most of which has little to do with money, and everything to do with intangibles.

Every year I feel like I’ve learned so much, so much that I didn’t know, just a few short months before.

This year I’ve learned, again, that life will surprise you when you least expect it. I was reminded that magic happens in the every-day as much as in the once-in-a-lifetime…the settings are so different, but the ingredients that create the magic are the same…love, people, good hearts, laughter…

I was reminded, again, how much I love to travel, and to explore. I’m a nester, and that need has been satisfied, now that we’re re-settled and mostly unpacked. But I’m so glad life gives opportunity to ramble, to trip-plan and day-dream, road-trip and fly.

It’s not the life I imagined I would have, but it’s a good one.

I’ve known holiday seasons that were less than joyful…those come to every life, for many reasons.

Because I’ve known the other kind of holiday, I appreciate what I have so much. To love and be loved, to have friends, to have hope…it truly doesn’t get better.

May your holiday season be filled with love and light, peace, joy, and acceptance…for what is, as well as what you hope for.

Yes, let the holidays begin!

~ Sheila

 

My mother’s table – Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m celebrating this Thanksgiving at my mother’s table, once again.

It’s not often, at this point in my life, that I find myself surrounded by family for the holiday. We often visit in summer, or at Christmas, but the Thanksgiving break is shorter, and makes for a harder trip.

But this year, the stars aligned, and we have a cross-section of ages and family branches, from multiple time zones and states, gathered to share the day and the feast, to tell stories and catch up on news, to snap photos and give hugs. We’ll hear about what’s new, remember what’s past, (and who’s passed), and talk.

Most of all, we’ll talk.

In my mother’s kitchen, around my mother’s table, we’ll talk. The stories will flow, and mostly they’ll be funny. Sometimes the talk turns to country and opinions, and the opinions are always strong, and strongly voiced. But no one is uninvited here, whatever is said. We’re family, and that’s that.

My mother has two tables, in side-by-side rooms. There’s a formal dining room, and we’ll have enough people in the house that both tables will be used.

But it’s the kitchen table where the magic happens.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, when we gather, we eat, we talk, and we laugh, often late into the night.

Like so many families across the country, we’ll do the traditional things, eat traditional foods, and mark another year.

There are some missing from our clan. Some just can’t be here, too far to travel, and too short a break. We’re missing others who’ll never sit with us again. But they’re here in spirit, and in stories, and in the recipes we use, the names we recall…”Papa,” “Mama,” “Daddy,” “Mother.”

The day will be full, and we’ll be full, stuffed with all the trimmings, and all the favorite dishes offered up to mark the meal, to say this is a special time, to remind us of tradition and occasion.

We are thankful, the lot of us. We’ve all known joys, and we’ve each known loss. We’re a cross-section of Americana, in so many ways…from careers to interests to where we live and how we talk. Some accents are southern, some less so. Mostly we’re united by common genes, common faith, and heritage of place and upbringing, though we’ve wandered far and wide from our starting points.

Thanksgiving is a day for many things…a national pause to say grace and peace, to thank and remember, to eat and celebrate. Mostly, to me, it’s about family. Purer than any other holiday for that focus, it’s a day that allows us to be together with no other motive than that…to be together. The food and the other traditions are really the extras. It was never really about what’s on the table.

What we’re really thankful for are the people, gathered around.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! May your table be full of food cooked with love, and the chairs be filled with faces you love. As you look around tomorrow, may you know who you’re thankful for, and find kindred spirits to talk and laugh with.

I’ll be at my mother’s table, and I’ll be thankful to see the faces, hear the stories, and feel the love.

~ Sheila

Happy #6!

This little is six years old today! Six! I couldn’t believe it when it was my girl growing up so fast, and now I watch Riley.

To say I love her is an understatement. She seems to embody all the best of little girls…the princess, the silly, the funny, the sweet, the cute.

 

She makes us laugh. Sometimes with her, sometimes at her. She’s a joy, and full of surprises. She’s oddly wise for her years. She’s tall for her age. She’s a blend of her dad and mom, daddy’s girl and mommy’s helper.

She loves doughnuts, dolls, and crafts. She alternately nurtures and tolerates her little brother. She’s picky about her clothes, loves to wear skirts and frilly things.

She’s a kindergartner, reading, learning, swimming, getting big. She has a loose tooth…how did that happen so fast? I have to remember: it’s time. Soon her baby teeth will make way for the new.

She’s made a home in my heart.

Riley girl, the one and only. Happy birthday, little!

 

He’s on the way!

Look who I found at the Seattle airport last night, headed north!

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We came down to be part of this:

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I told Riley and Jack Santa was making a last minute stop in Seattle to check on the kids here…see how they’re doing, before heading out on his Christmas Eve trip.

This morning we did a few last-minute errands…stocking stuffers, an impulse buy or two. This afternoon we’re cooking, and watching holiday movies, getting excited.

Oh, it’s the good stuff!

The boy is three, just this month, and the girl is five. Perfect ages to drink in the fun, the rituals, the excitement. Jack occupies himself with checking out the gifts under the tree, asking if it’s time to open yet, hearing (again) we have to wait until Christmas morning; he wonders which are for him. He shakes them and looks at them, identifies what belongs to who, makes stacks of his boxes.

It’s a hard thing to wait until the time is right, when you’re three.

Riley sings favorite songs, “Rudolph,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” She absorbs the traditions, knows we have to put out cookies tonight.

They’re ready. The adults are not quite. But we will be, before the littles get up tomorrow, bright and early.

Stockings wait to be filled, cinnamon rolls will be made tonight, ready to pop in the oven in the morning.

Is it perfect? No, it’s never perfect.

Is it magic? Yes.

They’re five and three. And that’s magic enough for me.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

~ Sheila

 

 

 

Best of Christmas

This is a most unusual Christmas season. But it’s already one of my best.

I don’t have a tree, or even a home for the tree I don’t have. I haven’t decorated anything, and don’t plan to. That just isn’t the focus this year.

But this is what I do have:

~ I’ve bought gifts and planned surprises, some on my own, some with the help of elves. From a kitchen faucet to movie passes to legos to all things Amazon…Brings a smile to my face to play Santa!

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~ I wrote cards to friends. For years I was a dedicated card-sender. And then a few years back, I just stopped. It was a difficult season for me, that year, and I didn’t do much of my usual holiday routine. Since then, I’ve mostly ignored that tradition. But this year, I wanted to do it again. It feels good to restore that custom.

~ I’ve listened to beautiful music…ah, the wonder of music! Thank you to Spotify and Pandora, companies that give me beautiful and beloved music to enjoy, courtesy of the wonder of internet radio.

~ I’ve read. Inspiring words of faith, insight, truth, mercy, sacrifice…how they move me to be a better person, a stronger person, a more generous and loving person! Thank you to the gifted writers and voices who remind me to cherish what is truly important in this life.

~ I’ve baked! Even the clinic housing apartments we stay in when we’re working have ovens (!), and I’ve baked gingerbread and treats that fill the air with Christmassy scents. It’s comforting to find myself in the kitchen, even if it’s not “my” kitchen. Food is one of the ways I connect with people, with memories, and with creativity. It soothes me and settles me, takes me to a feeling of home.

~ I look around and see joy. I sat in the Seattle airport Sunday afternoon, en route to work in Alaska for the ten days before Christmas, and I found magic, right there in the big center food court. A talented musician filled the air with holiday tunes, there was hustle and bustle all around, the light streamed in the huge window that looks out onto the runway, and I was grateful to be there, in the moment.

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~ I anticipate. I look forward to seeing and being seen. We’ll be with family for Christmas and New Years, and we’ll smile big, eat well, laugh, cry, be silly. We’ll look at one another and say, “this is the good stuff.”

Version 2

Life isn’t about perfection. It is about minding the minutes, seeing the good in the cheerfulness around, in the thoughtful words, the helpful acts of kindness. It is about love, and grace, forgiveness, and trying. Especially it is about the trying, for that’s really all we can do. We try, and sometimes we get it right.

I’ve never understood why some Christmas seasons are so beautiful, so perfect, even without perfection, while others can seem right, look right, but never really take root in my heart. Why is that? I don’t know, can’t put my finger on just what makes some years magical, and other years mechanical. I know it’s not for lack of heart, or desire. But there it is, just one of the realities of life.

Magic moments are mercurial, they don’t come with explanation or make sense; they’re shimmery things, like bubbles. You have to cherish them when you feel them.

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It’s a grace-filled time, this season, and I’m grateful. So grateful.

~ Sheila

Bibbity Bobbity Boo!

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It was a weekend with the Littles, and two weeks out from Halloween, it was a weekend to visit the pumpkin patch and pick the perfect ones to carve for the big event.

Riley and Jack take me to my childhood, and to memories of my kids’ childhoods. What a joy, this third time around to experience the magic and the firsts.

And even though this Halloween isn’t a true first for either of them, they’re young enough that each year is still fresh, a new experience of abilities, awareness, and memory.

They’re at that tender age when their traditions are forming. They’re beginning to know what they do “every” year. Riley, especially, is reaching the age to anticipate, to forecast, to know.

She knows Halloween is coming, that Christmas is around the corner, and that her next birthday is on the horizon.

Jack parrots Riley, so even though he doesn’t have a lot of understanding about dates and events yet, he pipes up with the right words. He copies what she says, and how she says it, right down to the tone of voice and the emphasis and excitement.

It’s delicious to be around them, to hear the baby wisdom. To hear Riley say yesterday that she would “just be the bigger person!” Of course she wasn’t…she was immediately the smaller person, in response to something Jack had done. But she’s working on it. She’s got the words, and she knows when to use them. She just has to perfect her follow through. I recognize pieces of Riley through my first-born self and my first-born daughter, and now another of us. Riley mothers, and orders, and knows. She knows what she wants. And she understands how life works, even at five.

And Jack! That boy, he’s stolen my heart with his laugh, his energy, his very joy of living. He’s almost never still, until suddenly he is, passed out in a heap of exhaustion.

We wait for that moment, every night. He’s precious, but he’s a busy one. And at his bedtime, I think you can hear an audible “aaahhh.” It’s just a wee victory, Jack quiet and down for the night.

His language is growing, every day. But he still has some of the charming baby phrasing I find so irresistible. Two months short of three, he sometimes sounds like a little boy version of Riley, who sometimes sounds like a little girl version of a teenager.

Such is the power of culture. She picks up the tone and phrases, and he learns from her.

But he’s still a Little, too. Often throughout the day he comes to announce, “I hungry!” Like the book he loves about the hungry caterpillar, he eats and eats and eats. And he runs. He’s a runner, and a jumper.

As always, any time they’re in my keeping, the goal is to pass them back safely. Bones intact, no stitches. 🙂

Tonight we’re done, getting ready for bed, the Littles are home with parents. But we’ll see them in a couple of weeks, gear up for another few days of being in their world, their routines, remember the rhythm and the magic.

We’ll carve the pumpkins and buy candy to hand out at the door, feel the building excitement of Halloween for little kids…the non-scary, candy collecting, neighborhood walking event.

It’s a charm-filled time in their little lives, and I’m so thankful to share it.

Earth in the soul

I’m drinking my coffee, looking out at morning sun over vineyard rows, the symmetry and orderliness calling to my soul.

What is there about farming that sings to me? I don’t have any real ambition to work the land, to tend crops or fret about the impact of weather on harvest. But there is something there.

I think it’s the heritage of my grandparents, farmers all, at one point or other in their lives: tied to the soil, to the rhythm of seasons and the cycle of labor, prepare, plant, nurture, harvest, rest.

My grandmothers were gardeners. They were primarily gardeners of vegetables, real food. One of them also raised chickens, and the other was an avid flower gardener, in addition to the plants she grew for food.

They worked hard. As a kid growing up, I had the luxury of helping on the fringe, shelling peas or some other child-friendly task. I wasn’t out doing the real manual labor.

I got to enjoy the bounty. My grandmothers’ tomatoes and corn, peas and butter beans, strawberries and cucumbers were all features of their summer tables, in fresh-from-the-field dishes. Canned and frozen versions appeared in the fall and winter months. Pickles, jams, and all things good lined their shelves and filled their freezers.

In my childhood home, gardening wasn’t a hobby, it was a necessity.

I wish I could say I learned this skill from these women, but I didn’t. At the time, I was too young, and later, too busy, to value the knowledge and the work of putting food on the table the old-fashioned way. I thought, in some place in my younger-self brain, that growing your own food wasn’t glamorous. It was too lowly. It wasn’t where I would put my efforts. Give me a nice clean grocery store, vegetables and fruit clean and neatly arranged in artistic rows.

No sweat and dirt for me, thank you!

Now I look out over these rows and I’m wistful. I wish, sometimes, I could be still long enough to see a season through from the planting to the harvesting. I wish I could know the satisfaction of raising my own food. I look back at the women of my youth and I appreciate them in a different way. They were hard workers, and they were so knowledgeable. How did I miss that? How could I think that because they weren’t well educated in a formal sense that I couldn’t learn from them?

I don’t know that I ever really thought that. But I demonstrated it. I didn’t try to learn what they knew. I took it for granted, and shelved what I saw into the category of “nothing I’ll ever need to know.”

I wish I could go back and sit with them, appreciate them from an adult point of view. I wish I could tell them how proud I am of them, how inspired I feel by them. Knowing, as I know now, more about their lives, how hard they worked, how selflessly they gave.

I look out over the rows and I feel it, the call to my blood. Is it some sort of genetic memory? I don’t even know if such a thing exists, or if I believe in that. But something pulls. Maybe it’s just nostalgia for connection to the land that I used to have, through them.

Maybe it’s knowing I missed chances, and I don’t want to do that anymore.

My grandmothers knew I loved them. I said that, many times. But I don’t know if they knew I respected them. I’m not sure I did, as my younger self. I didn’t think of them in that way. But now…now, I wish I could tell them that.

I respect them for the love they showed, for their work, for who they were in their time of life. Their lives were so different from mine. But finally, looking out over the vineyard, I know that’s not important. IMG_0029

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What is important is that they lived their purpose, and planted a heritage.

And I thought they were just planting vegetables…