It’s the little things


I have seen all the posts on Facebook. Everyone is talking about spring break and posting pictures of themselves in warm, relaxing atmospheres. But they are not alone.

I am also in a warm environment. It is in the low 70’s here and dry with no breeze. We are getting plenty of exercise. My family is spending quality time together and I know that at the end of the week, I will feel refreshed. The best part about this spring break – it has not cost us any more than our regular expenses.

What are we doing for spring break? We are home. Cleaning out closets.

For many of you lying on beaches, this may seem like the worst vacation ever. Like you, I looked forward to a week off from work and school. This was my rare opportunity to purge the house.

The whole family is pitching in. We are cleaning fingerprints off walls. I am vacuuming up dog hairs that try to hide in the darkest corners of the house. We are emptying closets of clothes that no longer fit, games with missing pieces, and things we no longer use. There are piles for charity, piles for our garage sale (blog for another day, I’m sure!) and tons of garbage. I didn’t realize we had so much STUFF! If you ever feel like your closet space is small, start pulling everything out. It’s amazing how much crap you can fit in such a small space.

Now I wasn’t kidding about the quality family time. I have been warning my kids about having to do this for weeks. They were mentally prepared. The kids are going through their rooms with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. They are happily stuffing clothes into bags and filling garbage bags with widowed socks and stained shirts.

My kids helped me clean out the closet under the stairs, too. This is a closet of “out of sight, out of mind.” We have toys in there that my kids have outgrown years ago. We have two large Barbie houses and a box of Barbies. There are boxes of plastic food, dress up clothes that no longer fit, Lincoln logs and large sized Legos. We have books that haven’t been opened in years and enough “play school” items to start our own school district.

They had a great time going down memory lane. We laughed at the journal entries my 12 year old made four years ago. They listened intently as my 15 year old read her favorite childhood book and showed them the pictures as if she was reading to a classroom of kindergarteners. They happily parted with toys that another child might enjoy. The girls tucked their dolls nicely in the cribs. (Thanks to Toy Story, we were unable to get rid of a doll missing her arm, lest she wind up looking like the ones at Sid’s house.) I honestly think they bonded more in that hour than they have in weeks.

I even got my husband in on the fun. Earlier in the week while we were both trying to pick out clothes in our walk in closet, I complained about the wasted space in the closet. The builder only put in one shelf and rod lining the inside of the closet and there is easily room for two. I complained about the closet 16 years ago and probably every year since, but something else always got in the way of improving it. I guess my husband had heard enough.

So, on Friday afternoon, the two of us and my handy Suburban headed to Lowes. We picked up everything we needed for a weekend of closet expanding fun. My husband even offered to paint the inside of the closet and put in a brighter ceiling light. This is going to be the best souvenir from any spring break we have ever been on!

On Saturday, I emptied the closet onto a couple of folding tables and filled every empty spot on the floor. To say our room is a disaster is an understatement. We look like we can rival the best hoarders on TLC. There are shoes and blankets and boxes and general junk all over the floor. The clothes are heaped precariously with hangers shooting out in several directions. It is quite a sight. I hope I can stand up to the temptation of putting it all back in after the extra shelves go in.

I have to say, at the end of my first day of vacation, I already feel refreshed. I ate a delicious steak dinner (prepared by my painter/electrician/carpenter husband) and shared a nice bottle of wine. Unlike my beach going friends, we slept soundly in our own beds without having to shower off the sunscreen or the sand.

Last week we put our Christmas tree up. Every year when we decorate the tree, my family takes the time to find their favorite ornaments and reminisce about each one. All of our ornaments are special and tell a story. We have ornaments from our vacations, ornaments that belonged to me as a child, some from the first year we were married and many, many for each child and the interests in their lives. Each Christmas, we get to relive those good times and happy memories.

A week before our tree went up, my daughters and I went to my grandmother’s house to help her put her tree up. It is a job that my parents usually fill, but this year, I told them we would like to help. My grandmother, or Granny, as the kids call her, sat on a chair near the boxes and handed things out to us. She had very specific places for everything to go – including the ornaments on the tree. As we decorated the tree, Granny often made my daughters move the ornaments to a better spot or to space them out differently.

“Honey that ornament goes near the top” Granny told them. When they moved it, she would often correct them again. “No, move it a little more to the right.”

Halfway through the tree decorating I held up an ornament that my sister and I made for my grandparents when we were kids.

“I remember these,” I said as I held the ornament up for my mom to see it. My mom nodded in agreement and we tried to remember how old they were.  At the same time, one of my daughters picked up the matching ornament. Granny saw it and told my daughter that her kids – my mother and my uncle – made the ornaments years ago. She told my daughter to put them in a special spot on the front of the tree.

My mother corrected her. “Mom, Mike and I didn’t make those ornaments. The girls made those for you.” Granny looked at her daughter as if she was trying to remember before she spoke.

“No, it wasn’t the girls. You and Mike made those and I always hang them in the front of the tree.”  When I verified my mom’s story, Granny just looked at us and then went back to the boxes without another word.

I felt sorry for my grandmother for a minute. At 42, I remember the story that goes with every ornament on our tree – who made it, who it belongs to and approximately how long we have had it. After 91 Christmases, Granny’s memory was starting to get fuzzy.

The one of my biggest fears of aging is losing my memories. I worried that it was beginning to happen to Granny before our eyes. After a couple of minutes of watching her direct the placement of the ornaments, I realized that my grandmother was not losing her memories; she was just forgetting the details. That afternoon, we learned that “Who, When and Where” were not as important as we aged. It is the “What” that is most vital in the winter of our lives.

It has been over three months since I last posted in my blog and I decided to shake off some of the cob webs with a post of gratitude. In the quiet early morning hours, I started to think about all the things I had to be thankful for. For me, it goes beyond the basics I often take for granted –  the roof over my head and the food on my plate. I am most grateful for the gifts received and journeys taken that allow me to live under this particular roof and enjoy my time with the people who make my house a home.

▪ For my husband’s support with the kids, our house and my job. He is my rock.

▪ For the many gifts God has given me and especially for the ones that I did not know were gifts.

▪ For the hard work ethic that I learned as a child, that I share with my husband and that we are teaching to our children.

▪ For my health and the health of my family, for with that, anything is possible.

▪ For all the shoulders I cried on and ears that I bent. You know who you are.

▪ For the times when my dogs bark during the night, knowing they are protecting us when we are most vulnerable.

▪ For the nights when my son wants to snuggle with me in front of the TV. It is no longer an every day occurence.

▪ For the determination that I see in my daughters when they are going after something they really want. They are both strong young women.

▪ For the cold nights when my cat inches closer to me. The shared comfort and warmth makes us both sleep better.

▪ For a long to-do list and a full email box because I know I am still needed.

▪ For the kindness of strangers that have crossed my path.

▪ For the dreams my husband and I realized together and for our long list of dreams still waiting to become a reality.

▪ For the mistakes I have made along the way. It has been the best education I have ever received.

▪ For the stories and secrets that my daughters trust me with. May they always know they can come to me.

▪ For the ability to get back up when I am down.

▪ For the confidence my kids display on the stage, the field or the court. It will take them far in life.

▪ For the drive that pushes me to try things outside of my comfort zone.

▪ For the people who tell me it can’t be done. I enjoy proving them wrong.

▪ For the reminders that I am aging so I don’t waste a single day.

▪ For the sunrise each morning. No matter how bad today was, I know tomorrow is an opportunity to start over.

▪ For the rare one-on-one time I get to spend with each of my kids and the knowledge that they enjoy our precious time as much as I do.

▪ For the entrepreneurial spirit passed down from my grandfather and my dad. It is a thrill to see something grow from an idea to a thriving business.

▪ For the ability to express myself through my words and the hope that it  makes a difference in someone’s day.

▪ For the curiosity that encourages me to seek the answers to “What if?”

▪ For the desire to live up to the next challenge.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May you all live by the blessings you have been given.

I took my dogs for a walk after dinner. On our route, we came upon a little girl drawing on her driveway with chalk. I will call this girl Amelia, although I do not know her real name. Amelia was startled when she saw us approaching and jumped to her feet. Watching us, she slowly backed up toward her house. I can imagine that the sight of two large dogs walking towards you is very intimidating when you are on the ground. I moved the dogs away from Amelia’s direction when she asked loudly,

“Are those dogs friendly?”

I stopped and answered her with a smile. “Yes, they are very friendly.”

“Can I pet them?” Amelia was standing at least 20 feet away from us when she asked.

“Of course,” I said. I told the dogs to sit while Amelia slowly approached.

As Amelia walked closer, she stopped every few feet to ask me another question. First, she wanted to know if the dogs were boys or girls. So much for the pink collars, I thought.  Hearing that they were girls, Amelia wanted to know their names. Every time I answered a question, Amelia got closer.

“How old is that one?” she said, already forgetting their names.

“They are both five. They are sisters.”

As soon as I said that, Amelia’s face lit up and she caught her breath. “I am five and so is my brother and we are twins!”

“Then you and the dogs have something in common,” I told her. Apparently, hearing that common bond was enough to give Amelia courage to walk up and pet the dogs. One of the dogs licked her face and she laughed.

After a minute or so, I told Amelia that we needed to go and we said our goodbyes. As I was leaving, Amelia’s brother came out of the house. I heard her tell him about the friendly dogs she just met.

As I continued on our walk, I thought about my encounter with Amelia. She was afraid of the dogs, but didn’t really want to be. Like many of us, Amelia wanted something just outside of her comfort zone.

Her first reaction was fear. When the dogs and I approached, she jumped up and back to the safety zone of her house. But instead of going into the house, Amelia stood there and contemplated her next move.  Amelia wanted to interact with the dogs, but they were twice her size. She was understandably intimidated. Thankfully, her curiosity outweighed her fears.

Amelia looked more at ease as soon as I told the dogs to sit. The two dogs patiently waited while she asked her questions. What Amelia did not know was that the dogs were probably a little intimidated by her. They live with older kids who don’t pull on their tail or ears and whose movements are more predictable.

When Amelia did finally work up the confidence to step outside her comfort zone, you could see the joy in her face. She conquered her fear and reached her goal. Having been there myself, I know that high will cause her to smile for the rest of the day. She learned something that day. Each time you step outside of your comfort zone, it grows bigger.

When I heard Amelia sharing her story with her brother, I had to smile. She told him that she got to pet two big dogs who were five and twins like them. She giggled as she told him how one of the dogs licked her. She left out her fear and hesitation and only focused on the happiness she felt.  If only all accomplishments could be rewarded by a big friendly dog who licks your face!

I am not about “The Day”. I don’t need to celebrate a holiday, anniversary or birthday on the exact day. I think once you stop believing in Santa and the Easter bunny, holidays become just another day. With everyone’s busy schedules, it is not always possible to get together on “The Day”.

Sunday was Mother’s Day. As tradition suggests, Mom is supposed to be treated to breakfast in bed and get heartfelt gifts from the children she selflessly carried for nine months. She will not have to lift a finger all day. Someone else will clean the dishes, take care of the pets and pack the car for whatever adventure they have planned for the day. (They will also unpack the car and put everything away when they return.) After 24 hours of pampering, life returns to normal and “The Day” is over.

I have never liked that idea. Twenty-four hours once a year? That is all the pampering Mom is worth? Maybe pampering is not the right word. Appreciation? Better.

Because of our schedule, we could not have a 24 hour Mother’s Day event. My family stretched it over three days. Friday night my husband and I had a date night. (Isn’t that how the whole Mother-thing starts?) We ate at our favorite restaurant and then strolled by the Riverwalk holding hands.  We were home by 9:30 so we could get up early for the next day.

Saturday morning my son had a soccer game across town and we had to be on the field at 8:45. His team has had a rough year and lost most games by one goal. My son is goalie so the only goal shots he sees are the ones coming at him. In the 2nd half of the game he played midfield. In honor of Mother’s Day (at least that is how I am telling it) he scored a goal. It was very exciting and I had a smile that went from ear to ear! His team won the game, 2 to 0.

After the game, we went on to the rest of our Saturday routines. I worked and then ran to the store for last minute items for the Mother’s Day breakfast with my mom and grandmother planned for the next day. When my husband was done coaching my daughter’s softball practice and I got home from the store, the whole family went to the mall to buy my Mother’s Day gifts. It was a fun way to spend the afternoon and we were all in good spirits.

Some might not like to see their gifts ahead of time but I think it is a lot more practical. I picked everything I wanted. I tried clothes on at the store so there were no returns. No one had to wrap anything when we got home and I didn’t have to get up any earlier on Sunday to open gifts.

You see, I didn’t get to sleep in on Sunday for Mother’s Day. As I said, my own mother was coming over and I had to clean my house and start preparing breakfast. After breakfast, my husband and I cleaned the dishes and put the house back together. How do you host without lifting a finger? It can’t be done.

After they left, it was back to life as we know it. I took my son to soccer practice. My daughters hung out with friends in the yard. I worked on my writing class assignment. My oldest daughter wrote something sweet on my Facebook page. My middle daughter bought ice cream from the ice cream man for her siblings with her own money. My son gave me a hug for no reason. My husband cooked dinner after mowing the lawn. We all watched TV together at the end of the night.

My Mother’s Day was not about “The Day”. For me, it was about the moments. Motherhood is not about a perfect 24 hour period. It is about several good moments over the course of a lifetime.

 

When the alarm went off today for what seemed like the millionth day in a row, I fantasized about having a whole day with nothing to do. In the first years of our marriage, I had a lot of weekends like that. No plans. No reason to set the alarm. No one needed a ride. I didn’t have to get up to let the dogs out. I could just sleep in and do whatever I wanted to do.

I remember one Sunday morning when my husband was working retail. He had a 6am to noon shift. I slept through his entire shift and was just getting out of bed when he got home. I slept away a whole morning. I would never do that now. First, I don’t have that opportunity anymore. Plus, I like the mornings and my back will not let me lay in bed for more than 7 hours.

I still fantasize about it. It goes something like this:

I don’t have to set the alarm. I wake up after a good night’s rest, not because I have to pee or that the dogs need to go out, but because I got enough sleep. My dogs, which have been let out by someone else, greet me as I head down the stairs. My husband is already waiting in the kitchen with a latte from Starbucks (good timing, it is still hot). My kids are up and dressed with made beds and clean rooms. There are no dishes in the sink or dog hair on the carpet. Everyone has arranged their own rides for whatever activities they are in or better yet, there are no activities. They just entertain themselves!

I take my coffee out on the deck where the sun is shining. I sit and read my book for an hour while the dogs lay at my feet and my husband sits next to me. I debate whether I should shower or make it a pajama day, but the promise of hot water and a clean bathroom are too tempting. After my shower, I find exactly what I want to wear in the closet (which is also clean and organized).

I spend some time checking off a few little things from my to-do list (so I feel somewhat productive), before my husband suggests we go to Portillos for lunch. I come home to write a little in the peace of my bedroom (where someone has made the bed). My kids come in and suggest we play a board game. We eat cheese and crackers and laugh at our luck while playing the game. I suggest a family bike ride, but only my husband wants to go (which is fact, not fantasy). It is fine with me as they never want to go very far. After our ride, my husband pours me a glass of wine and I sit and talk to him while he makes our dinner. We all eat together without rushing. Everyone changes into their pajamas and we find a movie that we will all enjoy and watch it while snuggling under blankets. After the movie, we head up to bed and since this is a PG rated blog, we go to sleep.

The only thing missing from my fantasy day is finishing some big project that has been looming over my head. The only way to make that happen is to make my day longer than 24 hours. Or – get this – have a fantasy WEEKEND. That way, I can fit it all in. With any extra time I can get my nails done and maybe even fit in a massage. Think of the possibilities!

I recently read a great book called “The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal” by Lily Koppel. It is a true story about the author’s discovery of a 5 year journal written by a teenager in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The diary was found in a steamer trunk in the dumpster on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and belonged to a girl of privilege, Florence Wolfson. The diary was given to Florence on her 14th birthday. Florence wrote of her relationship with her parents, her friends, her first loves, going shopping, enjoying theatre and the arts. She was a very strong willed girl who knew what she wanted.

The young writer who found this treasure decided to track down Florence, who would have been in her nineties. Thankfully, Florence was still alive and shared the rest of her story with Ms. Koppel. Because the journal only left a few lines available for each day, the entries were brief and sometimes confusing. Florence helped to bring all the pieces together and shared pictures of those people named in the journal. It was a very interesting story.

You can purchase this book "used" at Amazon for under $2.00

It was so interesting that I bought a 5 year journal for myself. I love the idea of journaling, but at the end of my day, I just want to crash. It gives me the chance to record moments of my life. Usually it is nothing exciting. However, it is a whole bunch of nothing-exciting that make up everyone’s life. When I look back at pictures of my grandparents or great-grandparents at my age, they have only captured the big events – holidays and birthdays. I often wonder what their everyday life was like. Did they have unfulfilled dreams? Were they always as happy as they were in pictures?

After I started my journal, I thought about what a nice gift a journal would make for a newlywed or new mom or even a graduate.

My own daughter is 14 and will graduate from 8th grade this year. Why not buy her a journal like the one in the book? The next five years of her life will go fast and further shape her into the adult she will become. She can record her dreams, her struggles and the people that were so important to her during high school and her first year of college. Those years were a big turning point in my life. I wonder if they will be the same for her?

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