December 31, 2013

I won't lie--I'm happy to say goodbye to 2013, and I fervently hope that 2014 brings peace and joy to my family and friends.  It was a difficult year, full of health worries about our loved ones, coping with chronic illness, financial uncertainty, job concerns and a host of small, niggly problems that don't seem like much at the time but taken all together made for a year I am glad to say goodbye to.  There is so much to look forward to in the new year---baby and wedding showers for close friends and relatives, my first grandchild, and my daughter's wedding.  I look forward to a year of celebrations!

But on a deep level, I know that I and so many of my friends are searching for a way to make every day a happy day-- how do we acknowledge all the quiet days of going to work, taking care of our family's needs and trying to be a good mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend that exist outside of the few celebratory holiday and special days?  How do we conciously recognize that each day has the same opportunity for "finding" happiness?   I've had Lincoln's quote on my refrigerator for years--the paper is wrinkled and ripped from packing and unpacking and living on a number of refrigerators, but it is such a meaningful quote that resonates with me and no matter how battered it now looks, it is a constant reminder that I set the tone of the day for myself and for my family. 

That is why I was intrigued when I saw this suggestion recently.  It comes from the Hunting Happiness Project (link here) and I thought it is an idea worth trying.  I kept a "gratitude journal" for several years, but wasn't very consistent with my entries and it eventually ended up on a shelf in my library.  I think this is a more visual way to remind myself daily to look for the good things that happen spontaneously.  I already have one of my treasured vintage blue mason jars set out in my kitchen, ready to start recording happiness moments.  I love the idea of reading all those special little moments next New Year's Eve and remembering that even when life gets tough and the path is unclear, happiness still arrives.  All I have to do is greet it.


December 30, 2013

It's a new world...

In one of my favorite musicals, a bemused Tevye turns to his wife, Golde, and mutters "it's a new world, Golde."  My husband and I have used that phrase many, many (many!) times over the past thirty years as we raised our children in a world that was changing faster than we could keep up with.

And certainly this Christmas was no exception.  My husband and I tend to gravitate towards a simpler 33 RPM world (I won't tell you how long it took for us to figure out how to access Netflix on our television, and I certainly won't mention that I JUST THIS MONTH discovered Pandora radio...).

But this Christmas was filled with bells and whistles we now need to figure out.  Please don't get me wrong...the gifts are all lovely but the instruction manuals are just a tad daunting.  I gave my husband a valet box from Monticello for his dresser top...that includes slots for cords so that he can charge his smart phone and his MP3 player and always know where his chargers are.  (Do they mysteriously disappear in your home, or is this a phenomenon that happens over and over at just our house?)

Charging Station Dresser Box

I received a Trio mini-tablet that is tiny but oh so powerful--it links to wi-fi and allows me to check my email, and facebook, access the internet, watch movies and you-tube videos, take pictures and download music and books for my reading and listening pleasure.  It's basically a smart phone without the phone part.  I don't have it all figured out yet, but I did manage to download the free books that I could access..."great literature of the Western world" including almost all of Jane Austen's works.  My family was not surprised that Jane Austen, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were the first downloads.  If you are going to build an online library, you still want to choose carefully, right?!

And our daughter now has a nifty new tablet that attaches to a mini-keyboard so that she doesn't have to lug her laptop to school and work:

So while tradition (tradition!--sorry, Tevye's theme song is playing in my head...) calls for us to all settle down with our new books on Christmas afternoon (and there certainly were new books a'plenty--everyone received at least three and I was the lucky recipient of six new books!) this Christmas found us poring over instruction manuals and charging up our new little engines of information.  We may always be Tevye and Golde, but we are trying in our own slow fashion to change with the world!  

And miles away, my sister was busy setting up a Skype account on my mother's computer so that we can all check each other out.  I'm not sure yet how I feel about this technological advance...I'm often in a fuzzy robe and no makeup when I talk on the phone--not exactly "company" ready.  And as for my mother?  She told me last night that her new year's resolution was to "not be like my husband's sweatshirt."  It is indeed a new world, Golde!  

I think poet James S. Huggins also lives in my 33 rpm world...

Remember When
A Poem About Technology

A computer was something on TV
From a sci fi show of note.
A window was something you hated to clean
And ram was the cousin of goat.

Meg was the name of my girlfriend
And gig was a job for the nights.
Now they all mean different things
And that really mega bytes.

An application was for employment.
A program was a TV show.
A curser used profanity.
A keyboard was a piano.

Memory was something that you lost with age.
A CD was a bank account.
And if you had a 3 1/2" floppy
You hoped nobody found out.

Compress was something you did to the garbage
Not something you did to a file.
And if you unzipped anything in public
You'd be in jail for a while.

Log on was adding wood to the fire.
Hard drive was a long trip on the road.
A mouse pad was where a mouse lived.
And a backup happened to your commode.

Cut you did with a pocket knife.
Paste you did with glue.
A web was a spider's home.
And a virus was the flu

I guess I'll stick to my pad and paper
And the memory in my head.
I hear nobody's been killed in a computer crash,
But when it happens they wish they were dead.

Have a lovely start to your week, and stay warm.  It's -20 degrees wind chill outside this morning.  Brr!!

December 24, 2013

Christmas Miracles

Christmas miracles!  I have decided to post my 2012 Christmas Eve post because truly, this is my favorite story about a BIG PRAYER and a little girl, and who doesn't need a miracle or two right now?


The Christmas my daughter was four, she had mentioned several things she hoped Santa might have tucked away in his sleigh, but she also kept hinting that there was one special gift she had secretly wished for but was keeping that wish to herself, much like little Susan in Miracle on 34th Street.  Since she had three older brothers, we were working very hard to keep the magic of the Santa story alive and she wanted desperately to still believe in Christmas magic.  As all moms would do in a situation like this, I called on my friend Rita to see if she could get to the bottom of this special request to Santa. During a Christmas concert she leaned over and promised my daughter her secret would be safe with her, so we eventually found out that the desire of my little girl's heart and the gift that would prove Santa's existence was.....a Little Mermaid giga pet.  Problem solved--order one from the Disney Store and Christmas would be saved!

Except that (you know the rest of this story, right?) the Little Mermaid giga pet was sold out.  Completely.  Back ordered until May.  Maybe later.  I called on friends and cousins who lived in larger communities to scour the shelves of their Disney stores.  No luck.  Cue to Christmas Eve afternoon and I'm in the kitchen baking pumpkin pies and experiencing that awful feeling that a mother has when she knows she can't deliver Santa magic.  My oldest son wandered in, and always empathetic, picked up on my dismay.  I shared with him the whole sad saga of the back-ordered giga pet that would prove to my sweet little girl that Santa magic didn't really exist.  He listened carefully, and then put his hands in mine and earnestly asked if I wanted him to go upstairs to his bedroom and pray his BIG PRAYER.  I didn't even know he had a big prayer, but I thanked him and off he went.  Then, of course, I began to feel even worse, because now in addition to my little girl feeling let down by Santa, my son would feel let down by God!

A few minutes later, down he came, happily assuring me he had prayed and I should stop worrying.  Oh ye of little faith, right?  I simply could not have felt worse. And then, fifteen minutes later, the doorbell rang.  On our snowy steps stood the UPS deliveryman with a package.  From the Disney Store.  With a Little Mermaid giga pet.  I think I glimpsed angel wings on his back as he turned towards his truck.  To this day I have no answers for this, my very own Christmas miracle.  All I know is that I do believe in Christmas magic and Christmas miracles.  And I believe in the power of a little boy's love for his sister and his steadfast belief in the power of prayer.  God bless us, every one.

Merry Christmas to all my friends and family!

December 23, 2013

Getting up early yesterday morning afforded me the time to wander around my house, rejoicing in the loveliness of our Christmas tree and the beautiful snow storm outside. 

After all my worrying and fretting, somehow it's all decorated, village up, holiday shopping finished and presents wrapped, packages mailed.  The "roast beast" for our annual Christmas movie night is in the crockpot and my children are all safely home with plans to bake cookies all afternoon in anticipation of tonight's time together.  Christmas officially starts for us on December 23, when we celebrate a traditional British feast of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and roasted Brussel sprouts/potatoes and pancetta, followed by Wassail punch and our favorite cookies as we watch It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol (with George C. Scott as Scrooge.)  We have watched them for so many years that it has become "participatory theater" kids say the lines along with the actors.  Think Rocky Horror Picture Show, without the Bic lighters!  Every time poor little Tiny Tim says "God bless us, every one" they all roar with laughter.  Tomorrow night we will attend the candelight service at our church, and then watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  True to form, while I listen to the sweet song at the end (Welcome Christmas) with a few tears in my eyes at the purity and simplicity of the song and its meaning, my kids are busy holding hands and pretending to be Whos.  Oh well, I love them anyway.  That's what I get for having actors in the family!
Yesterday's snowstorm left us with no worries about having a White Christmas!
But inside the house was warm, quiet and beautiful so early in the morning:

And the villagers went on about their business--travelers waited for the train at Victoria Station, a quartet cheerfully played Christmas carols, worshippers attended a candlelight service at St. Martin in the Fields (unlike our local churches, which were closed due to the snowstorm) and the Queen was in residence at Buckingham Palace (note the Union Jack is flying over the palace):

And for a brief moment in time, the magic of Christmas hung in the air...

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.
--Christina Rossetti

December 18, 2013

Just in case you were wondering, my family did manage to pull themselves away from their cell phones and gaming devices long enough to celebrate my son's graduation. My daughter hosted a lovely reception following the ceremony and we all had a great time.  Here's a peek:

Our family

Our extended family:

 My son and daughter-in-law:

My son (the graduate!) and his girlfriend:

And my daughter and her fiance' (also a graduate!):

Instead of a poem today, I thought I would share a great story from the commencement speaker, UW System President Kevin Reilly.  At this time of year in particular, it is nice to take time and reflect on how we choose to spend the time we have been given on earth.  Are we choosing to work in order to live or are we living to work?    Here is the parable of the investment banker and the fisherman...

An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.
The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, senor.”
The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”
Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions.”
“Millions, senor? Then what?”
To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
I choose wine and music with my friends!  Have a wonderful Wednesday!

December 17, 2013

I wish I could report that I spent Jane Austen's birthday yesterday reading some of my favorite passages from her books, while sipping tea in front of the fireplace, perhaps stitching a little on my current sampler, and watching Colin Firth  any old actor--playing Mr. Darcy in a Pride and Prejudice movie. (Okay, I really do mean Colin Firth, in my mind there just isn't a substitute....)  But alas, I am sorry to report that I spent the day at work in front of a computer, followed by a snowy and cold bus ride home, and then spent the evening putting finishing touches on my holiday decor in anticipation of hosting my team's office party on Thursday after work.  Oh well, perhaps one of you were able to pick up the torch in my stead and celebrate in true Jane fashion?

And speaking of celebrating, I wanted to share some special pictures of my son's college graduation from last Saturday!  As you can tell, the speakers were riveting and the messages were touching.  Or perhaps not, judging by how interested my family was:

Son #1 playing solitaire

Son #2 listening to music on his headphones

Daughter taking a break from her Solitaire game to show her Dad how to play the Tiger Woods golf game on his new smartphone...

Meanwhile, down among the graduates...
Son #3 looks like he is dozing off....(he's the cute redhead with the beard in the middle of the picture, sitting at the end of a row right next to the nearest yellow stanchion...the one who looks like he is sleeping.  If he's not sleeping, then I guarantee you he is playing a game on his smartphone or texting someone...)

And what was I doing, I can just hear you ask.  I was a good girl.  And it was hard.  Because I had a book in my purse and really wanted to pull it out, but thought better of it.  Probably because of the following story about son #3....When he was a little boy he was on a little league team.  I had four children all playing some form of baseball that year so I spent the whole summer watching games and I am the mom who finds sports boring.  I blush to admit this, but I try to be truthful on my blog.  I always swore I would never have anything to do with athletics, which is why God laughed and made sure I fell in love with a football star, who put himself through college on football AND baseball scholarships, and later coached football and diving.  The universe has a warped sense of humor, have you noticed??

So on a really warm summer day I found myself sitting on bleachers at a park, watching my son out in left field.  He wasn't doing much, just kind of standing there.  I had a really interesting book with me that had me pretty absorbed, although I would remember to look up occasionally and yell something encouraging like "way to go, Matt!" although he was still just kind of standing there.  I was in the middle of a suspenseful part when the mom next to me nudged me and said softly "I think your son is trying to get your attention."  I looked up and there he was, looking straight at me.  Then he quietly brought his two hands up and mimed slamming a book SHUT.  The whole bleacher full of moms laughed.  Message received!  I didn't find the game any more interesting, but it wasn't for lack of watching after that!

And as I sat there in the auditorium, watching my beautiful baby boy walk across the stage, receiving hugs from the professors who had come to like and respect my son, I was filled with pride.  Pride at his accomplishments.  Pride at his amazing talents.  Pride at his sunny disposition and cheerful way of meeting life head on.  And pride that I had managed to leave the book in my purse.  

And although the speakers had all insights to share with the graduates, I still think Rudyard Kipling summed it up best:

IF you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

December 16, 2013

Happy Monday to all of you, and Happy Birthday to one of my very favorite authors, Jane Austen!
Back in college I was the geek with the JA novels lined up on my bookshelf.  Since then, my admiration for her writing has only grown, and you can imagine how fast my heart was racing when I was able to visit Bath a few years ago and see the Pump Room, the Royal Crescent and her home.  Jane lived at Number 4 in Sydney Place from 1801 -1805.

Jane Austen's home
Jane lived at Number 4 in Sydney Place from 1801 -1805.

Jane's novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey are both situated in Bath. You can stroll along The Gravel Walk and arrive at the Royal Circle to see fine residences. Characters in Persuasion went to the Royal Crescent and the Pump Room to see and be seen.  I was so excited to see buildings I had only read about!
 Royal Crescent
Royal Crescent townhouses


 Mineral Waters from the Pump Room

 Mineral Waters from the Pump

I think I love Jane so much because of her sharp tongue...I have an unfortunate tendency to sometimes get a little "snippy" but I think Jane and I could have been kindred spirits in that regard...
So here is a delightful cake in her honor...I wish we could all meet and enjoy it together!  But it really is too pretty to cut, isn't it?  Have a lovely Austen-esque day (call everyone Miss and Mr. and do not use any contractions; use the word amiable in conversations; sip tea and do some needlework) and tomorrow I'll have some pictures to post of our son's college graduation! 

December 13, 2013

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Christmas is coming, you can't deny that
Each day it creeps a bit more near
But today we stop and celebrate Matt
Who graduates tomorrow--hip hip cheer cheer!!

I never said I was a poet, I just like to read and write about poetry!  But feeble verse aside, before I can really settle down and focus on Christmas, this weekend we will first celebrate my youngest son's graduation from college.  With a double major in theater and radio/tv/film, we have sat in the audience and been moved to tears and laughter by his flawless performances.
The Underpants, adaptation by Steve Martin
The Madwoman of Chaillot
We have sat at home and roared with laughter at his truly zany screen persona in the nationally award winning television series "Tales from a College Dorm."  And cringed just a little when his craft called for "unusual" hair styles...

Tales from a College Dorm

Solid State
We've bit our nails in suspense watching him try to save his wife and newborn child in the student film Surface (that received special mention by documentary film producer/director Michael Moore).  We have watched him grow from a young man who dreamed of Hollywood...

 into an accomplished actor, screenwriter, stage manager, and director.

And he seems to have all the right moves!!
We are so very proud of you, son.
And as an added bonus, not only is our son graduating tomorrow, but also our daughter's fiance', who our son introduced to our daughter, telling her "she had to meet this really great guy."  And he is exactly that.  A great guy with a big heart and now a college degree!  

So today we celebrate two amazing young men who are setting out on their own unique paths.  We wish you all the best.  We give you our love, our congratulations and our undying support.  Now get on your way!