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Mom & Grandma

Mom & Grandma

I moved 21 times before I turned 12. That makes 22 different homes and no, my parents weren’t in the military. 22 apartments but only two school systems. So actually, all that moving wasn’t as disruptive as you might think.

I mean, sure, it was draining. And we did reach a point where we stopped unpacking the essentials and lived out of boxes.

Boxes. Most of us live in them already: big boxes with doors and windows, divided into smaller boxes with doors and archways. And we live out of them too: cabinets, closets, drawers and shelves. And we create them: boxes in our minds and walls in our hearts. When I was a kid, some of our boxes just happened to be made out of cardboard.

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CHRISTMAS TRADITION DOs & DON’Ts | DON’T Hang on to Traditions for Traditions’ Sake!

Tree

Tree (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

For the first 12 years or so of our marriage we had a real tree. I wanted our family to have that quintessential New England experience of singing carols while riding a horse-drawn carriage into the tree fields, cutting down the perfect tree and bringing it home to decorate before a cozy fire. I so firmly believed in my Hallmark Christmas Special fantasy that it took me 12 years to finally wake up and admit what tree shopping was truly like for this cold-weather-loathing family of perfectionist chiefs.

Let me paint you a little picture:

First we bundle everyone up in coats, snow pants, hats, gloves, scarves & boots. Then we squeeze into car seats and seatbelts even though it’s now hard to breathe properly. After arriving at the farm, we ride in a noisy, exhaust-emitting, tractor-drawn wagon that drops us off in a seemingly endless field of trees.  Two hours later, after trudging through the snow from one tree to another to another to another, someone asks, through chattering teeth, to look at the first tree again.(That person is probably me.) Of course, we can’t actually find the first tree but we try anyway.

Once we finally do choose a tree, we strap it on the car, drive home and cut the trunk so that the 10 foot tall tree we bought will actually fit beneath our seven-foot high ceilings. We then wrestle the tree into the house, struggle to make it stand up straight, fill the stand with sugar-water while trying to convince the cat not to drink said water and vacuum up all the pine-needles. After all that, we explain to the children that, no, we can’t decorate the tree yet because we must wait 24 hours for the branches to “settle,” whatever that means. (Come to think of it, that sounds a little like the kind of excuse exhausted parents might make up in order to give themselves a break before hanging ornaments. Mom? Jeb?)

Not quite the Hallmark Special I had in mind. Though, when considering the quality of Hallmark Specials, maybe we weren’t that far off.

Well, a few years ago my mother offered me her beautiful artificial tree. (She has vacillated between artificial and fake trees over the years.) I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this tree is the most realistic looking artificial tree I have ever laid eyes on. Seriously, ask my friends. The tree is so realistic it’s like its own little Christmas miracle. And she bought this woodless wonder at…wait for it…K-Mart!

So while the naturalist snob in me balked at having a tree that needed to be put together, the thought of spending another year in tree farm perdition propelled me to say “YES!”

And you know what? My kids get can’t wait to put the silly, plastic thing together!

Just finished putting it together | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

They’re getting kind of big aren’t they? | Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

It takes all of about 30 minutes and then we’re ready to decorate. (After I string the lights, that is.) And I love this tree. I absolutely love our K-mart, snap-together tree. And you know what? Having an artificial tree is a lot less stressful than trying to reach some artificial, unattainable Christmas ideal. That goes for horse-drawn carriage rides or Who-roast-beast or finding mom the perfect gift.

So if you have some traditions you’re hanging onto because that’s just the way it’s always been or because, like me, you have some artificial idea about what Christmas should look like, don’t be afraid to let go.

Set yourself free! Try something new you’ve always wanted to do or wait before God with an open hand and see what He has in store for you.

Lessons from Grandma

I haven’t posted anything in quite some time, but I have been writing! Today I want to share an excerpt from that writing. It is about my grandmother, the most influential woman in my life after my mother.  She passed away 3 years ago this August and I miss her as much as I did the first day she went away. This post is not only about her, but about me and just a few of the life lessons she taught me. I hope they speak to you and bless you as well.

Grandma. 5’ 10” with short, dark-blond hair (before it went white) which she set in curlers weekly for that June Cleaver kind of look. Not that my Grandma was much like June Cleaver. Gosh, I’d probably catch heck if she heard me comparing her to June Cleaver! Kim Novak…or Angela Landsbury…maybe she would like those comparisons better. After all, Grandma traded in skirts and dresses for elastic waisted, pocketless denim or polyester slacks long before I came along. And whenever she was at home, the only thing she wore on her feet were those toeless, backless, slide-on, terrycloth slippers. I guess she figured if clothes weren’t comfortable then they weren’t worth wearing.

I, along with my brother and mother, had the privilege of spending more than half my childhood living with my grandparents. While she didn’t work outside the home – and she cooked, cleaned, washed and ironed on a schedule you could set a watch to – my Grandma, Arlene was her name,  found no bliss in her domestic duties. Domesticity was her job. Period. She lived for the moments in between. Those filled with piano playing, crossword puzzles, game shows, family visits, apple pie with cheddar cheese, diet coke, Pall Mall non-filters, Murder She Wrote and Fred Astaire.

One afternoon, when I was about 10, I came home from school with an assignment. I plopped myself down on the floor in front of the chair where she sat.

“Grandma, I have to ask you a question for homework. If there was one thing you could have done differently in life, what would it be?”

“Oh, let me see,” she said, resting her elbows on her knees and rubbing her wrinkled hands together. She turned her blue-green eyes to the floor to think, then looked back up at me and said, “Well, I probably wouldn’t have had so many kids.”

I, the firstborn of her fourth and very last child, stared back, wide-eyed, slack-jawed.

“I think I would have stopped after the first one. Raising all those kids…ah.” She waved her hand as if brushing away all the chores of childrearing. “Then maybe I would have gotten a job or something.”

She said it so casually, so matter-of-factly. My mind reeled. My grandma – the most dependable, reliable, non-threatening person I knew, one whose love I never doubted and whose care I never lacked – just wiped my name from her book of life!  I imagined the consequences: my mother, my aunt Joanne, my uncle Gibby, my cousins and me…all gone. Uncle Thomas and his kids the only survivors. How easily she dismissed our familial line!

I took a breath and checked myself, searching for any internal hurt or anger. There was none. In fact, if I hadn’t been so shocked, I might have even laughed. Geez Gram, I thought, you can think those things if you want, but maybe you shouldn’t say them out loud…to your grandchildren!

But I found that I couldn’t hold it against her. Rather, my appreciation for her grew. She had hopes and dreams beyond motherhood and housewifery; she wanted more than us. I wondered what held her back. Was it falling in love with grandpa that caused her to settle down and have kids? Was it her limited education? Or just a lack of options for farm girls in the 1940’s? Whatever the case, she wanted something different and yet her dutiful, personal sacrifice betrayed none of those regrets.

My grandmother was the solid ground beneath my shifting sands of life. Borrowing from singer Sarah Evans, “she was steady as the sun.” Faithful. Predictable. Available. Consistent. She loved us all and would stand by us until the end. Of that I had no doubt. That day, I saw in her, perhaps for the first time, the incomparable value of a life sacrificed for others.

She was no saint. I’m pretty sure a woman who at times shared vocabulary with sailors can’t be canonized. And her insistence that “that Mary, she wasn’t no virgin” probably wouldn’t have won her any votes either. But she was ours and nothing, not even her own dreams, would change that.

At that moment, I made a point to tuck this little conversation away, knowing that someday, when I was old enough, its retelling would make us all roar with laughter.

I learned a few more things that day. I learned that while our choices matter, life is bigger than our choices. And that our regrets don’t have to define us. But perhaps, most importantly for me, an unplanned child, I learned that our plans might not always be the best plans.

How precarious was my entrance into this world! What if my parents never met? Never dated? What if they’d chosen to abort me? It was 1973 after all.

Or what if my grandma had stopped at just one child and went off to get a job instead?

Life is not only bigger than our choices; it’s bigger than me, bigger than all of us. That day, I stopped asking “What if?” and began to wonder “Why?”

Why was I here? Why was my mother here? My grandmother? Anyone?

I was Curious.

Cross Country Days 31 & 32 – Ocean City, MD & home

On our Deck

Our two days at the beach were fabulously relaxing and I have a renewed love for the Atlantic Ocean. We slept in(glorious!), had breakfast at 1:00 and walked the boardwalk. Then we returned to our hotel for a swim in our salt water pools! Throughout the entire trip Christina kept trying to make a whirlpool in just about every pool in which we swam. This was difficult because the pools were big and there were just four of us. Imagine her excitement when we found that the children’s pool housed a constantly moving whirlpool all its own! What a treat this was for her and us; we had so much fun!

Late that afternoon we walked along the ocean, played in the waves and buried Christina in the sand. For dinner we ate grinders from a local deli (yummy!); we brought them to Rita’s, ate at their tables and then ordered up some delicious custards and italian ice.

That night we tried to go for a swim in the indoor pool. Doug and Christina dipped their feet in its warm waters the night before and encouraged us all to go. Unforunately, the pool had been drained and refilled that morning and this time the pool was like ICE!!!! Christina was so sad, but I told her, “No worries! We’ll fill the jacuzzi!”

That cheered her up tremendously. Until we began filling the tub and found that the water was yellow. We all stood around the tub, staring into the water, bewildered. As the water level rose, the hue slowly deepened to a rusty green. I kid you not – our feet were in green water! Umm, had we been showering in that? Doug called the front desk and said these words exactly, “Trivia Question. What color is your water?” Without hesitation the man answered, “A brownish, greenish.” What?! He claimed that because of a drought they shipped in water and that, due to the containers, the water is tinted greenish brown. He also said that the water had been tested and is free from any dangerous chemicals or bacteria.

As we continued to fill the jacuzzi, the water turned a deeper shade of brown and eventually, we could not even see our feet. This is not a literary device of any kind – no hyperbole here – just brown water! Testing or no testing, we couldn’t take it anymore. We drained the tub, popped some popcorn, watched the end of Finding Nemo (to which we had all fallen asleep the night before)  and tried to forget that this is the same water with which we brushed our teeth!

 

Our last day was spent swimming in the pools and walking along the shore at high tide. Even thought we all loved the hotel and beach, we were anxious to get home! Our drive back to CT was typical: heavy traffic in Jersey and toward the GW bridge. When traffic stood still, we exited and took the Tappanzee. On the other side of the bridge, our GPS tried to direct us to 95 via the Sawmill Parkway South. Doug nearly threw it out the window! We have learned that while the GPS handles most parts of the country very well, from Virginia to points north, the technological wonder seems a little confused. Maybe it was just tired!

We called a Chili’s in Milford when we were about 20 minutes away, ordered our dinner to go and ate in the car. (Still had some gift cards left!) As Hartford came into sight, I couldn’t help thinking that our little capital, all lit up at dusk, never looked so beautiful. We couldn’t avoid one final rest stop (someone had a lot to drink with dinner) at the McDonald’s on exit 37, and then we enjoyed an amazing light show as we drove north on 189. The giant black clouds hovering over Massachussettes flashed pink and gray with lightning every few seconds.

How strange and wonderful we felt driving into Tariffville. When the girls saw the signature cliffs along 189, just before the stoplight at the bottom of Elm St., they cheered! We pulled into our driveway with a well-lit walkway thanks to our solar powered lights! After 9456.4 miles, 32 days and 27 states we were finally home!

We were most excited to see our pets for the first time in a month! We were also welcomed by food and treats from my mom and a “Welcome Home” sign from our neighbors, Jay and Pam. We didn’t get here by clicking our heels three times, but no matter what, there is no place like home!

CC Day 16, 17 & 18 – Home is…

The last three days top our list of favorite vacation experiences. We didn’t visit a theme park or tour a big city or marvel at the sights of a national park. We were with family!!! Before Thursday, we hadn’t seen my brother Ryan, his wife, Val or their daughters, Autumn and Hailey, since our family trip to Disney World in March 2009. This was also the first time we’ve ever visited them in Arizona. What a treat it was to see them in the place they call home!

When we arrived in Phoenix, our car’s thermostat read 117 degrees! Ryan and Val informed us that this is monsoon season so the air was a humid. To be honest, at 117 degrees, I am not sure I could tell you anything other than, it was wicked hot! Later that night a local weatherman reported “high humidity” with dew points in the mid 50’s. Well, now I understood! In CT, weathermen don’t usually call “high humidity” until dew points reach the upper 60’s. A dew point of 53? I’m thinking that just means I can be outside for more than 5 minutes without having to slather Vaseline all over my face. The weather is like Ryan has always described it: like opening the oven door. Even the wind blows hot. And I mean, hot!

 We stayed at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa. Mile points covered two of the nights and we paid for one. This meant three nights in one place – our longest stay of the trip. Upon arrival, Doug upgraded us to a magnificent two room suite (which allowed us to entertain family) with a view of the pools. Yes, pools. This resort boasts five pools, two hot tubs, a water slide, an outdoor café bar and poolside service. We all spent lots of time enjoying the amenities and finding relief from the heat!

 I had such fun seeing my “little” brother in his own home, which he and Val have decorated so beautifully. I feel a need to share with you that, in addition to nine- and two-year old daughters, they also house four dogs and a cat! Ryan and Doug find they have much to commiserate about, as men outnumbered by girls, or as they say “living in an ocean of estrogen”. Ryan and Val also graciously allowed us wash about 2 weeks worth of dirty laundry in their washer and dryer! How nice it is to have fresh, clean clothes again!

On our last day, Ryan and his ladies came over for a final swim. As we made our way into the pool area,  we found that the July 4th weekend had transformed our quiet, relaxing, sophisticated resort into something like Spring Break for Adults with Children. The place was a madhouse! Sure, it was nice having someone deliver iced cucumber water to me as I waded in the 3 ½  foot pool. However, dodging splash balls, rubber balls and footballs, (real footballs, mind you, not Nerf balls), children’s feet kicking next to my face and highly intoxicated, stumbling guests, made things a teensy bit chaotic!

For dinner, Ryan and Val took us out for a little local flavor at Joe’s Real BBQ in downtown, historic Gilbert. This counter service restaurant serves down home, comfort food such as spare ribs, chicken, ham, corn, potato salad, cornbread with honey butter, baked potatoes, mac ‘n cheese, homemade root beer, fresh lemonade and a colossal root beer float. You can’t find many, if any, restaurants like this back home. Of all the places we have eaten so far, Joe’s is one my favorites! We finished our night playing a round of Apples to Apples at their home and then saying good-bye. The usual sadness of saying good-bye was eased somewhat by the hope that we will see them all in October at my baby brother, Derek’s wedding.

Arizona was the first place I found myself thinking, “I could live here. This feels like home.” Then I realized that the reason I felt so at home was because I was with family. Being with Ryan, Val and the girls and saying good-bye has made me miss home more than any other time thus far. When we were at Disneyland I met a grandmother who has lived in L.A. all her life; she said she could never leave because her kids live there also. Isn’t that what “home” is all about? Home isn’t a place. Home is loving and being loved. For most of us, that means being with family. For some, it may mean being with your best friend, church body, neighbors or even your pets. I am blessed enough to say that I have all of the above.

As I ponder all this, I can not help but think about a better home, a greater home that calls to each of us. We are all aliens in a foreign land; restless wanderers looking for a place our souls can find peace, security and rest. In a sense, we are all homesick. If this is true, and if being “home” is loving and being loved, then the only place we will ever find genuine rest is in the lap of our Creator ~ the One whose perfect love fills every empty hole, soothes every open wound, heals every scar ~ the One whose love never fails, never wearies, never forgets but passionately endures forever. I love and miss you all and pray that today, wherever you are, your heart is truly at home.