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Family Life

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My childhood home is for sale.

It was designed by my father, an architect. He and my mom imagined it together, planned and coordinated the construction and details for close to a year, and then moved us all in when it was complete.

I vividly remember my first entrance through the front door, a five-year-old excited by the newness of it all, being greeted by my mother in the entryway and told to look around and tell her what I thought. I told her I loved it.

My parents decorated our house in the colors of the times – brown and yellow, rusty red, avocado green and white accents. It would have been easy for them to overdo it, but they managed it well, creating a classy balance of hues and tones. They included personal elements from their lives; large wall hangings from South America, pieces of art they’d created, reminders of their travels together. The house had a distinct personality that was warm and inviting, unique yet comfortable.

After my sister and I grew up and moved out, my parents sold the house. As happens, the new owners made changes to fit their preferences. When they sold, the next owners did the same.

I get it, I understand. The privilege of ownership allows for these decisions, regardless of what was before. But it’s a hard thing, seeing the changes.

Viewing the carefully-staged online photos, the ones intended to attract buyers and encourage showings, I felt cold. Where was the wet bar where my father crafted Pisco Sours while family friends filled the living room with music and dancing and happy energy? What happened to the walls of wooden bookshelves, the ones with a warm glow that perfectly sheltered the collections they contained? Why were walls and doors moved and colors erased? Why did everything seem bland and boring, perfectly perfect yet lacking the personality that I knew so well?

Perhaps if my father was still alive and if my mother wasn’t nearing the end of her life, it wouldn’t matter as much to me. It’s possible I’d look at those photos and be able to focus on the improvements – the extra kitchen space and the hardwood floors and such – and simply be glad that the house exists. Perhaps I could be happy that it is cared for and a place where new memories are being made, even if I don’t like what’s been done to the place itself.

I’m unable, however, to do that right now. All I see is what’s missing. All I notice is that it’s not the house that I remember, the house that I knew.

Not all of my memories are pleasant. There were sometimes troubled times within those walls. And, I have since created my own home, the place where my children grew up and where my adult memories live. When I think of “home” now, that is what first comes to mind. Nevertheless, I will always feel a deep connection to the house my parents built.

Here’s to accepting that life is full of change. Here’s also to allowing for the sad ache that comes from missing what used to be real.

Categories
Family Good Life

Companions

Not long ago, my husband surprised me with a new copy of one of my favorite childhood books. I’d lamented the fact that my copy, saved for decades among my most beloved possessions, was tattered and missing sections. He quietly took note, searched for a replacement, and gifted it to me.

The book is I Go By Sea, I Go By Land, written by P.L. Travers (yes, the Mary Poppins P.L. Travers). It tells the story of Sabrina Lind and the journey she and her brother make from their home in England to the United States during WW II. It’s told from Sabrina’s perspective, a journal of days detailing the people, events, and emotions she feels as she lives the experience. It’s a children’s book, but it’s not a childish story.

As I read my new copy, I felt warm and content, like I was in the presence of a friend. I think of this kind of reading as “comfort reading.” The excitement that comes from reading a book for the first time is wonderful, but the re-reading of a favorite book creates its own special magic. I was grateful for the happy spell made possible by my husband’s loving gift.

Coming to the last sentence, I reflected on how the story, the characters and events, has gently accompanied me throughout my life. It is always present within me, ready to supply an image or a sentence. I can go for days or sometimes weeks without thinking about it and years without rereading the words. Yet when fitting and needed, it is there.

Today’s cuppa celebrates companions – the living ones who listen with their hearts and respond with love, and the ones within our souls, ready to give whenever they are needed. May we all have the good fortune of having both in our lives.


Categories
Animals Life Nature

Coyotes

Early this morning, before the sun was up, I heard the sound of coyotes, yipping and yapping and howling. They weren’t directly outside of my house, but they were close.

It’s the second time this week I’ve heard them. So, we are now at Coyotecon level 5, meaning that the pups are supervised in the yard, even for short periods of time, and the cats aren’t permitted out at all.

Most likely, the full-on daytime hours are safe; coyotes aren’t typically active when the sun is up. And, we live in a typical suburban neighborhood, with houses and fenced yards and concrete sidewalks. It’s unlikely we’d encounter a carnivorous hunter in the middle of the day. Nevertheless, a hungry coyote can’t be expected to follow the rule book.

I don’t fault coyotes for doing their coyote thing. But – coyote howls are creepy. They echo and fade, casting a warning, sending a message to those in the vicinity: fear us. Run. We have your scent; we are on your trail. I can allow for instinctive animal behavior while at the same time acknowledging the need for human precaution.

Here’s to doors and walls and the safety they provide. Here’s also to vigilance and wisdom, to watchful decision-making and careful awareness. All may be necessary when the night is full of howls.

Categories
Life

Invitation

I’ve read hundreds of books in my life so far. I hope to read hundreds more.

Some were fun and frivolous and made me laugh. Others were darker, containing madmen and their victims, monsters and the suffering they created – but also full of hope and the battle to preserve good, and truth, and love.

Looking back, I realize that they all shared a common thread: the experience of empathy. Each book was the author’s invitation to join not only in the dialogue and action on the surface of the story but also the feelings and thoughts within.

Each time that I accepted an invitation, I added a layer to my personal awareness and increased my capacity for respect, trust, and gratitude. I liken it to the way a pearl develops within a shell; blankets of time and knowledge gradually building into a quiet (and not always perfect) glow.

I think about my reading past a lot these days, likely because the topic of book bans keeps popping up in the news and in conversations and in social media. Perhaps book banning really is becoming more prevalent, or perhaps it’s simply being noticed more often. Either way, I can’t help but wonder: what’s really driving the action?

Is the goal to forbid the words and pictures, the tactical elements that make up the story, because of their potential to offend? Or is the writing itself so terrible that the only solution is to deny access, lest a reader erroneously believe that is how stories should be written?

Or is the true motivation a fear of empathy? Is the real catalyst a desire to prohibit the sharing of emotions and the outcomes that doing so may create?

As I ponder these questions, I raise today’s cuppa to all who offer, and all who accept, the invitation. The journey may require courage to start and wisdom to finish, and there are no guarantees that every story will have a happy ending. Still, I hope the opportunity will always be available for those who want to participate.

Categories
Good Life

Air

My earworm this morning was (is) The Air That I Breathe by The Hollies.

I woke up with the usual internal chatter, questions and thoughts and ideas rolling through my brain, the kind of stuff that makes it impossible to sleep. But there was also this song in the background. Gradually, it moved front and center, draping itself over the words in my head like a warm, cozy blanket.

Here’s to the music that brings us calm delight and reminds us that, sometimes, all we need is the air that we breathe.

Categories
Good Life People

Reset

In general, I find it easy to focus on the good stuff, the warm, fluffy, happy notes in life. I started this blog as a means of doing so and sharing those moments with others.

I also believe in the value of honest observations. Life isn’t always smiley faces and puppy dogs. Sometimes, life contains disturbing and discouraging news, front and center, ominous and unsettling. In those moments, finding the good and keeping it in focus requires a conscious effort.

Not long ago, I learned of an organization called Alice’s Kids. They have a simple goal: making things better for kids, with the perspective that a little help goes a long way. They provide targeted donations through their partnership with teachers and social workers who make requests on behalf of the children they know. For example, a teacher might be aware that a child wants to join the school band, but the family can’t pay for the required uniform shoes. Alice’s Kids provides the teacher with the means to purchase the shoes, staying in the background and allowing the teacher to take care of the details so that the experience is personalized to the child.

The Alice’s Kids story starts with a woman, Alice Reilly Fitzsimmons, who always did her best to manage through difficult circumstances in her life. Sometimes, she’d scrape a few extra dollars together to buy her children something new, clothing or other items they couldn’t normally afford, thrilled to be able to create a special moment for her family. As she got older, she continued to do what she could for the people around her, small gifts of love and care. Her adult children’s memories of their childhood and their love and respect for their mother’s generous spirit inspired them to create Alice’s Kids.

In 2020, Alice’s Kids spent $265,440 to help 6005 children. This year, thanks to donors and increased awareness of Alice’s Kids mission, they’ve almost doubled their impact. If you’d like to know more about Alice’s story and how you can contribute to the work they do, please visit their website: https://aliceskids.org.

It’s unwise to live in denial, to pretend that troubling and sinister elements don’t exist in this world. We can’t allow ourselves to ignore reality. Organizations like Alice’s Kids, however, remind me that the good exists, always. That is what is most deserving of our time, our energy, and our rewards.

Here’s to the reset, the shift in focus from the painful to the positive, that helps us move forward.

Categories
Life People

Lobster

The National Today calendar tells me today is National Lobster Day. This reminds me of a video I saw recently about a lobster fisherwoman, Virginia Oliver.

Ms. Oliver lives in Maine. Along with her son, she fishes for lobsters three days a week from May through November. She first began fishing for lobster when she was a child, with her father.

It’s a nice family story, a tale of generations and traditions, the type of story that’s easy to enjoy. There’s more to it, however.

Ms. Oliver is 101 years old. Her son who fishes with her is 78.

If you ask her, Ms. Oliver makes it clear that she does what she does because she wants to, because it’s what makes her happy. Her response to the idea that she should stop? Laughter. Lobster fishing is hard work, sometimes dangerous, but she can’t imagine her life without it.

So yes, the story is about family and generations and traditions. It’s also about tenacity and perspective, with a little bit of good humor thrown in. It’s about not letting age define you, of paying less attention to the number of days behind or in front of you and more attention to the one you’re experiencing right now.

Living that way isn’t always easy and isn’t necessarily the right course of action in every situation. Still, it’s hard to argue with success.

Here’s to Ms. Oliver and her approach to life. May she have many more trips on the boat, out on the water, with her son by her side.


Categories
Life People

Photograph

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it would be like if I had no photographs. No family pictures, no holiday photos, no moments in time captured forever in a two-second snap.

It wasn’t so long ago that photographs were a rarity. I have a few photos of my great-grandparents; one that is formal and posed, a scene from their wedding day, and a handful of others reflecting daily life with the family. I also have two or three of my great-great grandparents, but none from earlier generations. All together, the photos I have fit into one thin envelope and represent a tiny fraction of the days that my ancestors spent on this earth.

In contrast, my life and my children’s lives are captured in countless pictures. Halloween costumes, first days of school, family pets – chances are, there’s a photo somewhere. Even the ordinary moments -the ones around the breakfast table, or in a car, or on a sidewalk – none of them obviously noteworthy but still, at that time, calling to be captured, are available to me.

I’m glad to have these records. There are some that I truly treasure. I like the visual reminders of happy times and everyday life. I appreciate being able to see the people I love, at all the stages and days, especially those people who are no longer here.

I remind myself, however, that the lack of a photograph doesn’t mean the moments and the people didn’t exist. That, in fact, generations of people have lived full, complete, purposeful lives without photographic evidence of their days. I must be careful not to equate the ease of taking a picture, of grabbing an experience and making it repeatable anytime I want to see it again, with the value of what is contained in the photograph.

The moments that make up our lives – the laughter and tears, celebrations and failures, love and connections – are what is real. It doesn’t matter whether any of them are captured forever in a two-second snap.

Here’s to memories and the people within them. They are all meaningful, even when the proof is only in our hearts.

Categories
Family Good Life

Potential

My father loved going to garage and estate sales.

Most every weekend during the last few years of his life, he built his weekend schedule around his sale tours. Each time I visited him, he’d have something new to show me. Sometimes, it was a large item, such as a rug, or a painting, or a piece of furniture. Other times, it was less significant, a trinket or bauble that caught his eye.

He especially loved to collect fishing poles. When he died, he left behind two large racks of poles, everything from basic and new to those that were weathered and experienced, full of memories of water and fish and hours at the pier, or on the boat, or in the salty surf.

I don’t remember ever going to these sales with him. He preferred to shop alone; he had a plan and didn’t want to be distracted. Still, I enjoyed the tales of his discoveries. I shared his feelings of eager curiosity and optimism about what could be found. He saw these excursions as a treasure hunt of sorts, a means of discovering something useful and precious, sitting quietly unnoticed in the grass, or behind a door or on a shelf.

Yesterday, I stopped into a local resale shop. While not exactly the same as a garage or estate sale, it had a similar vibe. It was full of items with previous lives, things that once served a specific purpose elsewhere and were now ready and waiting to serve, once again, in new roles and environments. I walked through the aisles, stopping here and there as I noticed something interesting. Sometimes when I paused, I found myself holding my breath, just for a second; a heartbeat of anticipation and hope. I wasn’t standing in the midst of riches and jewels, but it felt like a treasure hunt just the same.

Here’s to the things that once belonged, the pieces with memories and the still-useful items, and the potential of discovery on a Saturday afternoon.

Categories
Entertainment Life

Answers

Tonight, all will be revealed. Maybe.

I, like many others, have been watching Mare of Easttown. The finale is tonight, and all signs point toward a riveting episode.

We’ve already gotten some answers; it turns out there are more than a few questions in Mare’s world. The seemingly most complicated one, however, remains unsolved. For now.

Even if we have the answers, I can’t help but wonder whether that will truly be the end of the case. The way things have been set up, and the way things have played out so far, suggests that a nice, neat ending isn’t guaranteed.

But then, that’s one of the reasons I like the show. It’s real. It’s unpredictable. It’s believable.

Sometimes, life gives simple, obvious answers. And sometimes, it leaves as many questions at the end as there were at the beginning. Different ones, perhaps, based on what’s been learned or what has happened. But not fewer.

I do have my theory, suspicions about certain characters and their involvement in the mystery. I hope we get closure on the actual whodunnit tonight.

If we’re left with new questions, however, the kind that require us to look within ourselves to find the answers – or, alternatively, to admit that we don’t have them – that would be okay. That would be in keeping with the story itself.

Here’s to Mare and the people of Easttown. Thank you for giving us an interesting, gritty, suspenseful, emotional ride, along with most (but maybe not all) of the answers.