Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It Will Be A New Year

The card my mother sent this Christmas has a saying by Rainer Maria Rilke on the front:
And now let us welcome the new year,
full of things that have never been.

I like the way that sounds. I am taking that as my tactic to start 2009. I will welcome things that have never been...

while I let go of things that have been and are gone by. There are no do-overs. I can't go back.

Two weeks ago I used the word reconciled to describe how I feel about some of the decisions I have made in the last three years. What's done is done. The word reconcile means to bring harmony and that is the perfect description of what I want ~ to bring harmony into my life.

There will be no room for things that have never been and harmony unless I finish the process of letting go of regrets, old habits, and stories that no longer define me. I may not get a do-over, but I can begin anew. Then anything is possible.

Happy New Year everyone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sometimes A Hug Is Enough

I have a friend who is going through a tough time. I don't know the details because I haven't asked.

Two weeks ago I received her Christmas card. She shared that life had been difficult but that things had taken a turn for the better. I gave her a call a week later to see if we could plan to get together. Things had taken a turn for the worse and she was in no condition to talk. She asked me to call her back after Christmas.

Today I was on my way home after hours of errands. Something told me to give my friend a call. I asked if I could stop by to give her a hug, and she said that would be okay.

She walked across her kitchen to meet me. I didn't plan to stay, then she made me a cup of tea. When I asked what was going on with her, tears filled her eyes. We quickly moved to talk of other topics. We shared thoughts about things that mattered today and laughed about things that were funny.

It may be weeks or months before I see her again. I may never know the extent of the pain she is feeling. Many years ago she was there for me when there was no way she could understand the depth of my sadness. I just needed to know she was there for me, just as I am there for her now. Sometimes a hug is enough. Sometimes it's all we have to offer.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Present

Our tree for Christmas 2008 ~

We brought the tree into the house a few days before Christmas. The next day I strung the lights, and the following day Ken and I hung our favorite ornaments. Later, our son T added his favorites. When I told my daughter about the stages, she said oh, it's a progressive tree.

Our family has always waited until just days before Christmas to decorate a tree. Since I rearrange rooms from year to year, the tree doesn't always sit in the same place. In our old house, the addition of a tree to our living space always required that furniture be moved and space be made. We enjoy the tree until after New Year's.

Decorating the tree used to be a family event. My children each have a collection of ornaments that started when they were babies. We also have family ornaments that Ken and I have collected since we started dating. It was fun to remember where they came from and joke about the different ways we've decorated trees over the years. In recent years we would wait for children to get home from college to decorate the tree.

That was Christmas Past. Now Ken and I decorate the tree when we are ready. Schedules are different and subject to change, so our children can choose to add ornaments when they get home.

Progressive tree decorating is symbolic of Christmas Present. Our family with grown children celebrates with new traditions. Gone are the days of Santa and school vacation. Now we shop thoughtfully for each other and relish whatever time we have together.

Like everything else in our family, holiday celebrations are changing. Like everything else in my life, I need to ride out the transition to adapt to something new.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

Saturday evening Ken and I watched the movie The Family Man, which stars Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni. It has become a holiday classic for us. Similar to It's a Wonderful Life, the premise is the question "what if life was different." The setting is New York City on Christmas Eve, and Cage's character, Jack, is a high-powered executive. Courtesy of an angel, played by Don Cheadle, Jack gets a chance to see the life he could have had if he had made a different decision 13 years earlier. In Jack's dreamlife he is married to Kate, Leoni's character. There is humor, romance, cute kids, and the realization that decisions have consequences.

There are certain scenes that will always be funny. There are sentimental moments that touch me every time.

It's a fantasy that any of us can ever know what might have been. One decision leads to another which shapes the next...and so on. That is how a life is constructed. Any change along the way would result in the creation of a different life.

Christmas Eve represents a time of decisions and events that have shaped my life ~ faith, love, birth, and death. The day holds memories of ultimate joy and deepest sadness.

In the movies, Christmas Eve provides the perfect setting for looking back and dreaming beyond. Historically, it is a time for perfect love and great miracles. Realistically, Christmas Eve is a time for reflection, gratitude, and hope.

May all of us find peace this Christmas Eve. God bless us everyone.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Welcome Winter

The thermometer reads 14 degrees. Snow on every surface, there's a lot of clearing out to do.

With the skill of a sculptor Ken will carve out the driveway and walkways. His tools - the snow blower, shovel, and broom. He took this week off work, so there is plenty of time for such winter chores. We spent yesterday watching the storm from inside, grateful we had no other place to be. We brought the tree in last night, and it stands ready for decoration.

We have goodies to eat and ingredients ready to make more. I went to a cookie swap last week, so there are different treats to taste as well.

I learned long ago to slow down at this time of year. It takes special focus for me to stay present. It takes little effort for me to feel grateful.

There are others to remember. My stepfather had a stroke two weeks ago. My elderly friend in town slipped on ice a week ago and broke her ankle. I have more than one friend with a child in trouble.

Today I have Christmas cards to get in the mail. There will be no letter included. Some years a simple greeting is best, and this is one of those years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

No Signal

No digital signal to either television. The networks ran another test during tonight's local news to show viewers if their television is "digital ready." No luck. I will make another call tomorrow to ask about what we do now...aside from installing satellite, which is an easy option when I win the lottery.

No job offer from my most recent interview. I got the letter today, which means it arrived in yesterday's mail, which I didn't pick up until today. The letter was dated Monday. That didn't take long. Disappointment. Embarrassment.

No more job updates. I thought if I shared my job search it would make me feel better. It has helped to have support from family, friends, and readers. It hasn't helped to repeatedly relay the disappointing news that I didn't get a job I wanted.

No idea what comes next. Oh, I have plenty to do. I always have something to do ~ that has never been a problem for me. I finish up one round of projects to be ready to take a job, only to start another round when I don't get an offer. What else do I need to do to be ready to go back to work? I'm missing something.

No signal received. Just static.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday Melting

We never lost power. Twenty miles south of us 37,000 have had no electricity for days, and 20 miles north of us homes and businesses have lost power for hours at a time. Other than a few small limbs down, we escaped unscathed.

I honored our good fortune with good old-fashioned domesticity. On Saturday I reorganized the closet in the family room to make room for various items and containers that have never had a permanent home. I made a space for the vacuum cleaner, that has roamed from room to room since we moved, and my new full-sized ironing board, because the table-top version I bought when we moved is just not working for me.

Saturday night I made crab cakes for dinner and oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert. I baked peanut butter cookies on Sunday and tried a new recipe for chicken and sausage cassoulet for dinner, which passed with flying colors.

The temperatures over the week-end stayed well below freezing, single digits at night, although the sunshine made it seem warmer. On Sunday Ken asked if I wanted to go into town and walk around. I asked if he meant we should bundle up, get into a cold car, and drive 20 miles to a place where the power is still out. He said we could get a cup of coffee. I said I could make coffee.

Monday brought 50 degrees. The water poured off the roof, and the icy coating on the driveway turned to slush, which I managed to shovel off the steepest incline over the course of the afternoon.

Our road looks to be a string of potholes. I haven't been past the driveway since Wednesday, when I had studded snow tires put on my Outback. I've driven the last two winters with all-season tires, and I got the feeling last week that I was pushing my luck. I felt good about my decision when I handed T the keys to my car on Thursday.

Hunkering down is my default position. When in doubt, stay put.

Today I will hit the road again for a haircut and acupuncture. In between I will have coffee with my daughter, who is working nights this week and next. I have other errands to run, but I'm not sure I feel like braving the stores today. I think I will re-enter the fray with caution.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ice Storm

We still have power, although I don't know why. The trees in our yard are coated with ice. Off and on all day the power went out and then came right back on. Every time I went to the kitchen I filled another container with water - our pump stops working if we lose power.

This storm doesn't begin to compare with the ice storm of January 1998, but for 200,000 people in southern Maine it means they will be without power for two to four days. From the coverage on tv, Maine wasn't as hard hit as New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Temperatures will drop drastically tonight. Tomorrow and Sunday are predicted to be seasonably warm and sunny. The weather seems to be following the example of Wall Street.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


My youngest child, T, is twenty-one years old today. I think this means more to me than it does to him. His life will go on pretty much as it has been, except that he can now get into Boston's 21-and-over clubs to see bands and comedians. Oh, and he can drink alcohol if he chooses to do so.

T has always been exposed to opportunities before his time. As an infant he attended school activities because his siblings were students. As a toddler he ran the halls of the school he would someday attend. He was always a step ahead because his sister and brother led the way, which seemed to suit T's easy-going personality. Then he found ways to make each experience his own, which is reflected in the poem I wrote for his senior yearbook: "You are the third of three and one of a kind; You do things your own way and in your own time." These words surrounded a photo of T as a toddler hanging on the railing for the kitchen steps.

What makes today meaningful for me is that I remember how my life changed when I was 21. I got a full-time job that summer and was married that fall. Those changes led to the move to Maine, where my life really started. My children are the essence of how my life changed.

T still has two and a half years of college. Within his program, though, each year he will work in his field July through December, and he may find a job before he graduates. Like his brother, T will probably not return to Maine to live after college because bigger cities offer more job opportunities for engineers. I have known this all along, which is why his last six months of working and living in Maine have meant so much to me. He would have preferred to be in Boston, while I have been grateful to have him home.

I have always held more tightly to T than he wanted. He was an adventuresome child, and he had siblings to keep up with. I was 31 when he was born, which seemed older then than it does now. After I heard the news of the death of a young mother, I remember tearfully praying that I live long enough for T to remember who I was. That prayer has been answered. I have watched my youngest son grow into an intelligent, responsible, personable adult.

This birthday milestone may be marked with more than shepherd's pie and coffee cake - his choices for dinner and dessert. It has started snowing. Schools are closing in anticipation of the sleet and freezing rain predicted for later today. We have a generator, knock wood, that we haven't had to use yet, so we will have limited power if we lose electricity. Nothing says "celebrate your 21st birthday" like an ice storm.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Disheveled Day

I woke up this morning wanting to run a comb through my life, to straighten things out and set them right. Things feel out of place. I like to think that after the last two years I feel more comfortable with randomness and the unknown. Some days yes and some days no.

Two women I know have a handle on what's important right now. Elaine and Anne at WiseWomenCoffeeChat have started a contest to donate to a reader's favorite charity. Go to this Easy as 1-2-3 post and leave a comment with a link to your favorite non-profit charity before December 17. There will be a random drawing for a winner the next day. In addition to $100, they will contribute one dollar for every comment between then and the end of the year. What a great idea in these uncertain times....

Even the weather here is unsettled. Yesterday morning it was 10 degrees at 9:00 a.m. By 10:00 it was snowing, lightly. I had a job interview 43 miles south of here, and I knew to leave plenty of time to get there. Sure enough, the plows were out and the speed limit on the highway was down to 45 mph. Streets were fairly clear until I got into the city, where snow was accumulating and travel was slow. I got there in plenty of time.

The interview went well, I think? I won't know if I'm asked back for a second interview for at least a week.

Early this morning I could hear the wind and rain against my window. The temperatures today will be in the 50's. Yesterday's snow is no more.

As I lay in bed, waking up, second thoughts about the interview came to me: How did I answer the questions? Did the real me come through? Am I ready to jump back into a full-time job? Do I dare hope that I get the job?

Disheveled. That's how life feels right now, and the feeling is likely to continue. More snow is predicted for Thursday night with icing possible, too.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Place In The World

It started snowing late last night. Fine crystals of white quietly blanketed the world outside.

I went to bed after midnight but I couldn't sleep. I got up at 1:00 to look outside. The deck had a layer of white, snow still gently falling.

Since I was up, I checked the computer. My daughter had posted for the first time in weeks. She had decided to share her intention to convert to Judaism. I knew, but I didn't realize she was ready for others to know. She knows I'm writing about it now.

For well over a year my daughter has been exploring her options with regard to converting. She has accumulated a small library of books, attended services at temple, and met with the rabbi. She has ahead of her at least another year of study, services, and meetings.

This is a journey she started a decade ago. While she was at college she attended a variety of churches, and during the summers she worked as a lifeguard at a UCC summer camp. I encouraged her curiosity.

When I was in college I attended Sunday morning services at a Lutheran church because I liked the minister and his sermons; I joined a youth group at a Methodist church because I enjoyed the sense of community; and I savored the sermons from my church at home, a progressive Church of the Brethren in Washington, D.C., because I missed the open-minded perspective of the church that I had known since I was a child.

My husband and I love our daughter. We will honor her decision and work as a family to meld our beliefs and holy days. The irony of this journey for my daughter, born on Christmas Eve and baptized on Easter Sunday, is not lost on me. The world works in mysterious ways.

I woke this morning to the cushioned quiet that only snow can provide. I thought about my daughter, a young woman searching for ways to live her faith. I thought about me, a woman in mid-life looking for ways to live my purpose. We are each looking for a place in the world, a journey beautifully described in the lyrics of Mary Chapin Carpenter:

A Place In the World
from the album of the same name, 1996

What I'm looking for, after all this time
Keeps me moving forward, trying to find it
Since I learned to walk all I've done is run
Ready, on my mark, doesn't everyone
Need a place in the world.

Could be right before your very eyes
Just beyond a door that's open wide
Could be far away or in your own backyard
There are those who say, you can look too hard
For your place in the world.

Takes some of us a little longer
A few false starts gonna make you stronger
When I'm sure I've finally found it
Gonna wrap these arms all around it.

Could be one more mile, or just one step back
In a lover's smile, down a darkened path
Friends will take our side, enemies will curse us
But to be alive is to know your purpose
It's your place in the world
Your place in the world
Your place in the world.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

No Tears Today

Last night Ken and I watched the movie Death at a Funeral on DVD. We saw it in the theater and liked it. I wanted to see it again. I particularly wanted to hear the speech that Daniel gives at the end, at his father's funeral.

Twelve years ago today my father died of a sudden heart attack. My mother called me the next morning, but I wasn't home. When I did get home, Ken told me the news.
"Your mom called. Duane died last night."
"The minister at mom's church?" I asked.
"No. That's what I thought, too. Sharon, your father died last night."
"Oh. I'll call mom and see how she's doing."

I called my mom, who told me as much as she knew. I told her we wouldn't be able to get there until Monday evening because I had to write lesson plans to cover four days. She said, "You're coming? I didn't think you'd come." I explained that I was coming for her, not my dad. He was gone.

From the time I was a small child I tried to figure out what my father wanted. I behaved myself, I earned good grades, I took care of my siblings, I showed interest in what he cared about, I did everything I was told, and I tried to stay out of his way. It didn't matter. Nothing made him happy.

When I was thirty years old I learned that if I wanted to be a sane, healthy wife and mother, I had to let go of the idea of a relationship with my father. My lifelong attempt was making me sick. I could not be one person for my father and someone else with the other people in my life. I had to set boundaries, and I knew that when I did my life would change forever.

My life did change. My dad didn't accept me, and I could no longer be anyone else.

I shed no tears the day I heard that my father died. I had cried for thirty years and lived farewell for ten. In comparison, the final good-bye was easy.

In his speech in the movie, Daniel says, "You have to grow up yourself." In the end, that's all you can do.

Friday, December 5, 2008

My Body Made Me Do It

I had to be somewhere at 9 a.m this morning. I have gotten in the habit of making appointments early in the day so I get up and get moving. I usually wait as long as possible to get out of bed, jump into my clothes, and hit the road. I always arrive on time, but just barely.

This morning I was up, dressed, and on the treadmill before 7:30 a.m. My body made me do it.

It must have been my body because my brain has been trying to get me up early for months. I've made plans for special projects, promised myself rewards, and set the alarm - all to no avail. I don't get out of bed until I absolutely have to. I would much rather stay up late to finish my tasks than get up in the morning to do the work I have to do.

For some reason my body made me get out of bed this morning. I felt compelled to put my feet on the floor and start my day. My body needed to move. I walked for twenty minutes, took a shower, and arrived at my appointment before 9:00.

Of course, there is a downside. I can't burn the candle at both ends, and by 9:00 tonight I was all in.

I don't know that I will become a regular early riser. I think I will take it one day at a time and see where my body takes me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Read and Read Again

I was invited to a book club meeting today. A friend I've made, a woman who came to see my yard this summer, invited me to meet her friends. A chance to meet new people and talk about books? Count me in.

This month's meeting was to share a book we are currently reading and to recommend a book for the group to read next year. My current read is The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin. Several years ago I thoroughly enjoyed The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong. Now I'd like to have a better understanding of the current Supreme Court as we head into the new presidential term. I am 50 pages in, and so far so good.

My selection of a book to recommend for the group to read didn't take much thought. I pulled one of my all-time favorites off the shelf ~ Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler. I first read the book in 2003, and again a couple years later. The opening line reminds me of why I love this book: "Once upon a time, there was woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person." Oh, my....

One of my favorite quotes from the book is on page 87: "Distance was the key, here: the distant, alluring mystery woman whose edges had not been worn dull by the constant minor abrasions of daily contact." What woman my age doesn't know exactly what that means?

Then I tried something that Annie wrote about this week ~ turn to page 123, find the 5th sentence, and write the next three. In this case, the essence of the main character comes through loud and clear: "In fact, some part of her had always wanted softness and abundance - the Aunt Ida look. (Which may have been why she had slipped off every diet she'd every attempted: the first pounds she lost invariably seemed to come from her cheeks, and her face would turn prim and prunish like her mother's.) The problem was, soft and abundant women were seen to their best advantage when naked." I really do love this book. Time to read it again.

It was good to meet new people and hear about what they are reading. Except for another woman and myself, the people there today are retired. I am not retired, not do I want to be. I left when they started talking about their next "senior" activity. I cannot see the day when I will call myself a "senior." I am not in denial that such things exist, but I am not there yet. Maybe when I'm 70....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Afternoon Tea

I had errands to do today and got home about 3:00. Between unloading groceries and making room on pantry shelves, I put the kettle on. My new routine includes a pot of tea in the afternoon. In fact, I look forward to tea time.

This is something different for me, steadfast coffee drinker that I am. For almost two years I have been attempting to cut back my coffee consumption, on the stern advice of my acupuncturist. She says coffee heats things up, and my metabolism is already hot enough. As a rule, I have been able to cut down on the amount of coffee I drink. Then cold weather or a befuddling day comes along, and my first reaction is to crank up the coffee pot.

Oh, I have enjoyed black tea and herbal teas for years. Occasionally. Last year I tried to make green tea a regular component of my diet. I like it okay, especially if I combine green tea with lemon or grapefruit tea. But I don't want green tea every day, and it never came close to being a replacement for an afternoon infusion of coffee.

Then last winter my daughter found the most amazing black tea at The Christmas Tree Shop. Bromley Estate Tea. Oh, my. I knew at the first taste that she had come upon a tea that I could love. When I went to her house we would share a pot of tea, or I would make myself a single cup. Mmmmmmm. I like mine with a teaspoon of sugar. Steaming. Comfort in a cup.

My daughter gave me a few teabags to take home with me. I used them sparingly. She reassured me she would pick up another box of Bromley Tea the next time she went shopping.

Then she couldn't find it. She looked. I looked. I looked again. No luck. It was a good thing I still had a few teabags stashed away. Months passed. I was down to my last two bags.

Mid-November my daughter made one of her quick trips to the grocery store, the kind where you need a little bit of everything but don't want to buy too much of anything. The kind of trip where you wind up going through the entire store. Lo and behold, there in the coffee and tea aisle, beside all the standard teas that we've been drinking for years, she found boxes of Bromley Estate Tea. She bought a box and promptly forgot to tell me. Then she remembered to tell me but forgot to bring it over, until this past week-end.

The timing was perfect. I was down to my last teabag. I had been saving it for a special occasion.

Now I don't need a special occasion. Every afternoon this week I have enjoyed a pot of Bromley Tea for no reason other than it tastes delicious and warms in a way that is just right.

I think I better buy another box while the grocery store has it in stock. This is one habit that is actually good for me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cat in a Basket? Or a Box?

Last week I left the clothes basket at the top of the stairs. It held a few items that needed to be ironed. Leo jumped into the basket and stood there meowing. I removed the clothes, and ten minutes later he was settled in, sound asleep. I guess he didn't like the cushioning effect of clean clothes ~

The day after Thanksgiving my family continued a game of Rummikub they started the night before. Leo found the box and managed to get comfortable ~

My husband and I have played games with our children since they were old enough to hold cards and roll dice, and they still like to play cards and games when they come home to visit. My favorite part is spending time with my children, and I want everyone to win. My husband likes spending time with the kids, but he also likes to win. So he enjoyed some games more than others over Thanksgiving.
Ken's scorecard:
Cribbage: he won two games, one with me and one with C.
Rummikub: he came in last place, which he would blame on changing chairs halfway through, but I have the score sheet that tells a different story.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Post-Holiday Quiet

It snowed last night, just enough to cover the ground and roads. It was our first snow of the season and a fitting way to end the holiday week-end. My house, like the yard, is blanketed with quiet.

It is wonderful to have grown children home for the holidays. My oldest son and his girlfriend drove up from Boston Wednesday night, with a homemade apple pie and wine for Thursday's dinner. It was a treat for me to watch my sons catch up with each other, hearing about what's been going on in their lives. Their conversations are different with each other than with me, and I enjoy the chance to see them together.

Dinner on Thursday was wonderful. I was organized this year and had made the rolls, pies, sweet potato casserole, and a batch of cookies the day before. I even bought donuts for breakfast so we could have a leisurely morning, making oatmeal and eating cereal as people were hungry. Between breakfast and dinner there was a parade to watch, football games to follow, snacks to eat, and a cribbage game at the kitchen table. The remaining side dishes and turkey cooked without incident, and dinner was delicious.

My daughter was on 24-hour call at the hospital through Thanksgiving night, so she was unable to join us Thursday. We thought ahead and made plans for all of us to have brunch on Friday at a local restaurant, which turned out to be the perfect solution. No one had to plan a meal or cook. We could each order what sounded good and visit while we waited for the food. We talked about everything, from politics to cell phones. We shared stories and laughed and enjoyed being together.

Back at the house I put away clean dishes while everyone else continued a Rummikub game started the night before at the kitchen table. I chuckled to myself while I watched my sons and husband joke around. I smiled to see my daughter talking with my son's girlfriend ~ two women who share different aspects of my son's life.

After a dinner of turkey leftovers, it was time for P and C to drive back to Boston. Hugs all around and they were on their way. It will be a while before we are all together again because C will spend Christmas with her family in California.

There is nothing better than having my family all in one place. It is something I have never taken for granted. When my children were younger, there was enough time. Now that we are a family of adults, we make time to be together. While my children are my favorite people, they have their own lives. I am glad they like to come home and enjoy being with each other. I could not be more proud of each one of them or more grateful for the time we spend together.