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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Freedom is not Free

Tomorrow Americans celebrate the birth of independence, the birth of country, the longevity of the United States of America. We’re old, by some reckonings, barely started by others.

We’ve had glory days, amazing stories that fill our history books, our movie scenes, fill our hearts with pride and nostalgia. We rightly remember the heroes, the brave ones, the  hardworking backbone of this country.

And we’ve had the other…the moments, many captured to live indefinitely online, that haunt and hurt and damage our national story. We’ve had days of sorrow, internal family feuding and fighting that’s hateful, and embarrassing.

We’re all siblings, of a sort.

National siblings. 

Lately, I’ve wondered…are we, the citizens of the United States, really worthy of the freedom we enjoy? Do we deserve the rights and privileges we’re so accustomed to having?

Do we take voting seriously? Do we know about the issues, take time to understand more than the sound bites and talking points that we’re already drawn to, by our pre-determined stances and opinions?

Do we look for candidates who will be leaders, or do we just check boxes when we vaguely recognize a familiar name?

Do we bother to learn about local issues, the unexciting realm of politics that influences school boards and community elections? Do we know what’s happening at the level of governing we can all be a part of? Do we participate in our own back yard?

Do we look for ways to help? Or are we just enjoying the show, enjoying the role of critic without the burden of involvement?

Do we look for the good of the whole? Are we focused on self-interest, or are we interested in our siblings…our national siblings?

Are we nurturing a nation, caring for our collective integrity and honor?

Sometimes it seems like we’re talking all the time, but not really saying anything worthwhile.

Is anyone even listening anymore? Or are we all talking over each other? We can all feel good that we’ve had our say. But did anyone hear anyone else?

I don’t have all the answers, nor does anyone else. Our issues are big, and getting bigger. Our debt is enormous, and our resources are limited.

But our hearts are not limited. Our imagination is not limited. Our capacity for compassion and hard work is unmatched.

Rather than hoping we can reach agreement on all our many areas of conflict, I hope we’ll look for opportunities to make actual contributions to real needs. I don’t have to agree with someone to work beside them for common good. And there so much that we can do if we choose to cooperate, instead of using our energy and time to tear one another apart.

Tomorrow we celebrate the heroes of thought and words who conceived a land built on freedom and liberty. We celebrate the heroes of action who brought the idea to reality. I hope we’ll also be celebrating the heroes of quiet deeds, the people who continue to make the United States great…the people who give, generously; who care, ferociously; who live, courageously; and who love, whole-heartedly.

We are siblings, all of us citizens. We’re national siblings, and we need to remember that. We pay a price to live in this land. Freedom isn’t free, even for civilians. There is a cost to everything, for everyone. And I’m not talking about taxes.

I’m talking about the price we owe from the heart.

Are you paying your share?

Happy 4th of July, Americans! Happy 4th, my siblings!

 

 

 

 

Memorial Day: welcoming summer, honoring memories

It’s not often my summer begins with the Memorial Day weekend, even if the end of May marks the unofficial start to the season for the rest of the US.

Most years in the past decade I’ve been in SE Alaska, and while spring is in the air by the end of May, summer is definitely not.

The past week found us in Virginia Beach, checking out a different side of the country, a different beach experience, and yet, oddly enough, with the same weather we thought we left behind us in Alaska: chilly, rainy, overcast. I understand this is unusual, just the luck of the draw. But still…I packed for different temps!

Finally, to launch the beginning of the weekend, we had a glorious day of sun, views, travel and music. A nice cap to our trip, and we also enjoyed a moving history lesson walking the length of the Virginia Beach boardwalk, reading the posters honoring events in US military history, and the beginning of the holiday now known as “Memorial Day.”

To celebrate the sun coming out, we left Virginia Beach and drove south. Sitting on top of North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks (OBX) was too tempting, so we made the easy drive south to explore another region of the Atlantic coast.

A couple of hours down the road you find yourself in the chain of communities that form the upper group of holiday / tourist coastal towns: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head.

Where did they get those names?!

Headed down we drove through rural NC communities dotted with restaurants offering Southern food at its finest, barbecue, fresh crab and other local seafood, and fresh produce markets. Couldn’t resist stopping at a couple of these, picking up tomatoes, peaches, cantaloupe, jam, corn, and muscadine bread. (For anyone unfamiliar with muscadines, these are a type of grape which grows in the South.) You can make anything from jam and jellies to wine, eat them fresh off the vine, or, apparently, use them in baked goods. I’ve never eaten anything baked with muscadines, so this will be a first!

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I didn’t buy asparagus, but these were so tiny and beautiful I couldn’t resist making a photo.

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In the midst of our rambling, we visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, honoring their historic and life-changing first flight, back in 1903. Though Kitty Hawk often gets credit for the location of the first flight, it actually happened in Kill Devil Hills. There’s an impressive monument to their feat, which continues to impact life…and I doubt it’s an exaggeration to say every life…on the planet.

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The Atlantic was a heavenly blue with brilliant sunshine out to herald the arrival of summer. Honestly, I could have been happy just driving the coast, taking in the views, soaking up the warmth, and appreciating the mix of kitsch and beauty.

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But we were only out for the day, and by late afternoon made our way back to Virginia Beach.

At the end of the day, we wandered down to find multiple outdoor concerts, restaurants, visitors biking, walking, eating, playing on the beach…a mix of ages, styles, cultures, languages…a melting pot, all around us.

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It was a nice reminder of the meaning behind the holiday, and how everyone living in this country in peace and freedom owes a debt of gratitude to those who’ve made it possible.

We’ve explored the Boardwalk a few times during our stay, but the other times we’ve been out have been more a fight against the wind and rain. This walk was leisurely, strolling and reading posters highlighting critical points in US history. I learned a few things about the various wars and conflicts that dot our history…these are just a couple of examples:

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Thank you, people of the past who made a difference, and gave your all doing it! Looking back at the past, the eras of bygone sacrifice, fears, victories and losses is sobering, but also reassuring.

It’s our responsibility to honor the past, but also to safeguard the future. And we do that by living with courage, respect, and thoughtfulness. How are we caring for the legacy of freedom today? That’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves, and the answers will vary, depending on the lens you use to filter. I think the best we can do is to live with personal integrity, value life, and understand that differences don’t have to divide. They can actually make us stronger, if we allow for that.

And guess what? Summer has begun!

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

 

Happy 4th of July! The Star Spangled Banner

 

The 4th of July is here again, a day to remember and celebrate heritage, and a day to remember that freedom comes at a cost. The national anthem of the United States was born during battle, and reminds us that freedom requires courage…we must be brave if we want to be free. Bravery comes in many forms, some more visible than others. How are you being brave in your life?

Here’s a treat:

The Star Spangled Banner at the Lincoln Memorial

And a little history of this song…

The Star-Spangled Banner

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
’Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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

 

 

 

Cranberry relish on my table

In this season of holiday meals, of traditional foods, one of the debates that’s ongoing is over the delicate subject of cranberry sauce: do you have what you grew up with (for me it was the jellied sauce that pops out of the can, complete with the ringed indentions of said can) or do you go for something homemade?

To be honest, I have to have both…a nod to my past, and the sauce of my childhood. (I’m not sure fresh cranberries were even available in the market in my childhood years, so far did we live from the source.) And I love a berry-filled, sweet/tart version, simple and yet perfect to grace any table.

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe. Possibly that’s because I’ve been in the kitchen less in the past year than any time in my life.

But even I, living a couple of weeks here and there at a time, have to do some holiday prep. There are a few dishes I love, that are the essence of the winter holiday flavors for me.

One of these is the homemade cranberry relish that’s on the menu every Thanksgiving, and often at Christmas too. It’s so delicious and simple, and pairs beautifully with all sorts of savory dishes. But the important thing is that it tastes amazing. And it’s beautiful. And it’s easy, and keeps for weeks in the fridge. How perfect is that?

Baked Cranberry Nut Relish

  • 1 lb fresh whole cranberries, washed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups orange marmalade
  • Juice of one lemon

Combine cranberries and sugar in deep baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for one hour. Spread walnuts in a shallow pan and toast in oven during the last 10 minutes of baking time for cranberries, stirring walnuts a couple of times. Remove cranberries and walnuts from oven, combine in bowl with marmalade and lemon juice. You can serve warm or chilled. This will keep for several weeks in the fridge. Perfect for gift giving…fill jars and add the recipe for an easy and charming hostess gift or stocking stuffer.

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Love is

Love is perhaps the most over-used and least understood word in any language.

And today, Valentine’s Day, it is especially overworked. Love is the key word in all the cards and messages that go out across the world.

But what is its essence?

To love without condition means selfless reaching out, a giving up, putting the other person first.

Love forgives, and doesn’t look back.

Love holds on, and doesn’t give up.

Love doesn’t measure past faults.

Love stands up and braces against the challenges of life.

Love is strong.

Love is soft.

Love is amazing when you feel it flowing out, and overpowering when it comes in like a tide.

The greatest love is not found in a season of new. It can only be fully discovered and revered in maturity. How can we know what we have without comparison, without recognizing we’ve weathered and grown? And how can we know how strong love is unless it has been through the fire?

We can only know we love unconditionally when we’ve confronted conditions.

The beautiful moments make the photos, the Facebook page, the Twitter feed.

The hard times make the love. 

It is the hard times that tell you if you have the real thing or the pretty thing, the last-a-lifetime connection or the last-as-long-as-it-feels-good relationship. There are plenty of those around, and yes, it is easy to mistake one for the other.

Who doesn’t like it when it feels good?

No one has the answers, a formula worked out neat and predictable, least of all me.

But I know it when I see it.

And I know it is worth having, worth working for.

On a day of icons, roses and chocolates and pretty cards, if you’re receiving or giving, I hope you’ll enjoy the moment.

Just know…the real thing is likely to show up on a Tuesday, disguised as something not glamorous, not photo-worthy, even unexpected.

And I guarantee…the Tuesday moment when love is demonstrated, not with beauty and ceremony, but in a flash of nitty-gritty, real life, and inconvenience…look there for the meaning, for the stamp of belonging.

Look to those moments to see love in all its power, showing up without the disguise of romance, standing in the gap and holding firm when you need it most and maybe deserve it least.

We can all be pretty and sweet on date night. But on a Tuesday…that’s when the real thing happens, and the bonds are forged.

Happy Valentine’s Day, to all the romantic souls who dress up today and celebrate the moment.

And may your Tuesdays be beautiful too, full of opportunity to give and receive real love, without condition, with all your heart.

Love is Blind

Merry Christmas 2014!

May your day be merry and bright! Here’s a little treasure to enjoy, courtesy of the US Air Force Band. And God bless us, everyone! ~ Sheila

Merry Christmas

Christmas Eve

Another Christmas! This one is unique, and will take its place in the hall of Christmas memories. All years have their special joys, and some bring special sorrows. And sometimes the combination of the two lends the greatest poignancy. On Christmas Eve, I slow myself to think, and to absorb.

I mark the mystery. I celebrate faith in an event that shaped the world. Expectation hangs over the season and the day, mirroring the waiting of birth and the joy of new life. Faith is personal, but faith is also shared, and joyously visible in words and symbols. Faith is on display, a reminder that I am not alone. I will never be alone.

I mark the magic. I drink in the sight of children who are just old enough to realize: something is happening, something is coming, something is in the air. The growing awareness, the wonder, the anticipation…does it ever get old? And does it ever lose the power to restore a grown-up’s heart to child-like innocence? Children remind us that there is always goodness in life, always hope, always a reason for gratitude.

I mark the memories. Scenes from the past flood my thoughts as special moments flood my heart. I remember giving, and receiving; gifts that were unexpected, and all the more precious for the surprise; the times when we could say, “this is the good stuff.” I look at the loved ones in my life who celebrate with me and know: I am so blessed. I think of the ones who are no longer here, no longer part of the family scene, and know: they are so missed. The blessing and the missing get tangled up in my heart, until I hardly know which is which. Blessing and missing are inseparable realities of the day, and how could it be any different?

I mark the miles. The days of being surrounded by family are long gone. It’s hard to get everyone together…just too many challenges of distance, schedules, ages, and needs. But I’ve learned to appreciate the people and the moments, and if some gifts are exchanged before, or after, Christmas Day, well…it isn’t the opening that counts, it’s who you’re opening with. And sometimes you have to adjust your schedule to open gifts with family who are far and wide in many time zones. The important thing is that distance doesn’t separate hearts, and time zones don’t prevent us from sharing.

Tonight I’ll make my traditional foods for tomorrow morning, homemade cinnamon rolls and hand-rolled sausage balls. I’ll make full batches, though we don’t have a big group this year. But we’ll share around, and spread the joy, and snap photos. And we’ll mark this year’s surprises. We’ll add to the collection of memories, sweet and funny, heartwarming, and yes, the bittersweet. And in the end, I know we’ll say, “this is the good stuff.”

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Lighting the way!