Monday, November 27, 2017

Christmas Magic

Decorating for Christmas was always a grand affair for me.  What started out with a little train village and a few extra lights when our oldest son was a baby, turned into a magical Christmas Wonderland pulled from approximately 20 crates and including ten trees and almost 250 Santas.  It was a grand affair until two years ago when we moved to Toad Hall.  We planned to be back in Portland for Christmas, so I hadn’t planned to decorate here at all.  Then, in Goodwill, I saw a cute little tree (little by our 12-foot tree standards).  It was pre-lit and the lights worked, so I bought it and a couple ornaments.  Later I picked up a couple Santas to round out the decorations.  Other than that, I’ve put myself on a strict rule of No More Christmas Decorations – 20 crates are enough, even if they’re not being fully used any longer.  Two years later, I’ve transported a few of our decorations here, but most are still packed away back at our other house.  Decorating has been a bit of a chore as I do a little here and a little at our other house, but no grand affairs and certainly nothing magical.

When our children were little one of our favorite Christmas stories was The Polar Express where the little boy who believes in Christmas magic hears the bell Santa left him, even though most around him cannot.  We had a similar bell on our tree.  Every year, when that bell was pulled out of the ornament box, we shook it to make sure we could all still hear it, that we all still believed in Christmas magic.

Yesterday, I took down the fall décor and pulled out my two measly little boxes of Christmas decorations.  I looked around the room and thought, This isn’t adequate!  This isn’t Christmas!  I told my husband I was going into town and off I went to the thrift stores.  Two stops later my trunk was full of lights, garland, runners, Santas, ornaments.  I was in Christmas heaven.  I was reveling at the joy this little outing had given me when I suddenly realized, I had heard the bell!  Our decorations still won’t be as extensive as in the past, but this year Toad Hall will definitely be feeling a bit of Christmas Magic.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Empty Nest

Even though our empty nest is rarely empty, I didn’t really appreciate just what an empty nest means until the last two weeks when we’ve had toddler grandsons with us.  Don’t get me wrong, I love having these little guys around and I cherish the moments with them.  However, like the pains of labor, I’d forgotten what it’s like to be responsible for a little human 24/7.  I’d forgotten about having to plan workout time and juggling naps.  I had slowly slipped into a life where my responsibilities all centered around me and my schedule was my own to create.

With my grandsons here, my morning walk with my dogs has to wait until another adult is available to stay with the little guys, working at my computer for several uninterrupted hours just doesn’t happen, and a trip to the recycle center and the grocery store can only be accomplished during certain midday, non-nap hours.

I’m not complaining; like I said, I love having them here.  I’m just appreciating my new normal routine and this new life stage that eased in so quietly I didn’t really understand what it meant and how pleasant it has become.  With our large family, the active parenting years of our lives took up a big portion (three decades) of our adulthood.  Now, our youngest is almost out of her teen years and we are into a new stage.  A new stage I didn’t really appreciate until temporarily stepping back into the old one.

Here’s to appreciating empty nests…and grandchildren (and children) who visit frequently.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Little Nudges

I wrote the following piece for my 366 Somedays blog, but I think it's relevant to all of us.  As I've aged, I've become acutely aware that life does not go on forever and I feel a little panic at all I still want to do.  Here's to prioritizing and doing some of those Somedays...

You know how the universe sometimes conspires to send you a message?  Well, I’ve been pondering an issue for the last few days and the universe is busy throwing answers my way.

This weekend we hosted two artists who were displaying at our local art fair.  Listening to them talk about their art (both make jewelry) made me yearn to be more proactive about allotting time for my art, making cards.  I felt a little frustrated that even after focusing on card making during my 366 Somedays and again a couple of months ago, card making is still a “someday”, with the exception of the ones I make for friends and family.

Then, my second son read me a passage from The Fellowship of the Ring:

Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea.  That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all’.  Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.

My son clearly feels this describes our home, Toad Hall, but the quote made me feel a little sad.  That was how I felt the first summer I was here.  After a winter of intense work on our new house, I spent the summer luxuriating on the deck, reading and writing for hours and relishing the eclectic qualities of the house that brought me joy.  Since we didn’t yet actually live here, there weren’t the homeowner’s chores staring me in the face.  It felt like a summer-long vacation.  For the last two years we have actually lived in this house.  I still enjoy the beauty surrounding the house and the views on my daily walks never get old, but I’ve lost the feeling of relaxation and “just sitting and thinking best”.  I’ve let my priorities shift to the do, do, do.  I need (want) to sit and think.  I want to be creative with my cards.  I want to write and read.  I want to bring back those feelings of relaxation and bliss.  But how?

As I pondered this throughout the weekend, I began to feel even more sad and I knew I would need to address this situation and find an answer for myself.  Well, my pondering brought some answers.  I unpacked a bag from my last trip to Portland and discovered two books I’d bought at a garage sale while there.  Both are on the topic of women and creativity.  Then, I picked up a magazine that’s been sitting around for almost a year and I opened it to an article titled, Be Your Own Life Coach, with five steps to begin sorting out the needs, the must-dos, and the wants.  I had just been in the kitchen discussing my sadness with my husband and then, BAM, there were these books and there was this article.  I thought about this upcoming weekend when I will be out-of-town with my husband while he is working and I suddenly realized this is the perfect opportunity to do some thinking, to take stock of where I am and where I want to be.

And then yesterday morning I opened a gift bag I’d been given as a thank you for volunteering for an event.  Inside was a lovely little tea towel with the words, “Do what makes your soul happy!” emblazoned in gold.  I hung it in my bathroom where I will see it regularly.  I need to remember to make the time to let my soul be happy.

Little nudges, little reminders and I’m listening!  Yesterday I enjoyed my coffee out on the deck, I made cards, I took an evening walk, and I’m writing.  My soul is happy.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Another Baton

Last week, in the middle of the night, Middle Daughter dreamed she was being taunted by some guy so she struck out and punched him – hitting her nightstand which held a small water glass.  Without waking up, she rolled over and kept sleeping.  Her fiancé dreamed he heard glass breaking and awoke to find their bed sheets doused with blood.  The water glass had broken and cut Middle Daughter’s hand pretty badly.

Fiancé woke me up to say he was taking Middle Daughter to the ER.  After helping her wash away the blood and clean the wound a bit, I was pretty sure he was right and stitches would be needed, but I didn’t think ER was necessary.  They both prepared to go out while I looked online for the earliest-opening urgent care center in our area.  Within a few hours they were gone and back with six stitches in Middle Daughter’s hand.

I’m glad I was there when this happened since I do have some experience with kids and injuries, but it was eye-opening to me, and a reminder of my children’s lessening need for me, that there was no question about who would accompany Middle Daughter to her medical appointment.  It wasn’t me, the mom who has taken her to many, many, many medical appointments, procedures, and rechecks over the past twenty-two years.  Instead, it was Fiancé who will, undoubtedly, accompany her to many, many more medical appointments over the course of their lifetime together.

Another baton has been passed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


A year-and-a-half ago we moved to an area that experiences all four seasons.  We have beautiful, awakening springs; hot, sunny summers filled with tourists; cool, lazy falls; and harsh, cold winters.  This is the first time I’ve lived in an area with four seasons.  The area where I used to live had two seasons:  rain and no rain.

This fall the youngest of our seven children left for college.  My husband and I have now entered a different type of new season:  empty nesters.

I love routine!  For years, my husband and I set our alarm for 4:37 a.m.  One snooze and we were out of bed by 4:45 and in our exercise room by 5:00.  We worked out for an hour, had an hour to shower, dress, and prepare for the day, before waking the children at 7:00.  My husband was out the door, headed to work at 7:15 and the kids caught the school bus just after 8:00.  Every day, year after year.

When we moved here, our routine was like a game of 52-card pickup.  One day this, the next day that.  No routine, just willy-nilly.  I tried to get into a routine, but none of my attempts lasted long.  Then, last week, it hit me!  I’m not only in a new location with seasons influencing my routine, I’m also in a new season of life.  I need a new way of looking at routine.

There are certain parts of my day I’d like to have as part of a daily routine:  workout (yoga, stretching, weights, running/walking), walking my dogs, coffee and reading, and (on a productive day) showering and getting dressed.  In this new season of my life, without the need to be up and ready to prepare children for the day and without my husband needing to head to the office at a specific time (he now works from home), I’m no longer constrained by an early morning alarm setting off the next three hours of activity aimed at getting everyone out the door, unrushed and on time.  Likewise, living in this area with four seasons, I’m unable to set a morning routine that works year-round.  In the summer, when our community trails are full of tourists running, walking, and riding bikes, I need to be out walking the dogs by 6:00 a.m. at the latest.  That’s not a problem, because I’m usually awake by 5:00.  I get up, put on my workout clothes, and hit the path.  In the winter, when it’s dark and cold, I must wait until at least 7:30 to walk the dogs, yet I still wake up before 5:00.

Walking the dogs is a given.  We do not have a yard for them to play in, so they must have a walk to stay healthy and happy.  As I’ve gone through these changing seasons in my new season, I’ve struggled to figure out how to create a routine that allows for the other parts of my morning:  the other workout, coffee and reading, and showering and dressing.  I’ve been trying to create a routine similar to what we did for so many years, but that just doesn’t work.  And, even though it doesn’t work, I’ve been fighting it.  I’ve been fighting the seasons of the year and the seasons of my life.

Last week, with the sudden awareness of these two types of seasons, I realized I actually have new freedoms.  I don’t have to do things the same way, every day, all year.  I can still have routines, but now they’ll be seasonal routines.  With this realization I am now spending the first half-hour of my day doing yoga, then settling in with my coffee and book until it’s light and warmed up a bit before heading out with the dogs.  When spring arrives, I can choose to walk the dogs as soon as it’s light or I can wait.  I’ll figure out then what routine works best.  Instead of fighting the seasons, I’m relishing the new freedom.

Now the coffee is ready and it’s time to read.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Traditions & Transitions

We’re big on traditions in our family and, of course, the holidays come with many traditional activities nurtured over the years, but this year, as I experience traditions, I’m also experiencing transitions.

We’re officially empty-nesters in the sense that our youngest has turned 18 and is off to college and we’re okay with that. I’m reveling in watching our children make their way in the adult world, finding their places, marrying, starting families.  Even though they are all developing their own lives, we do see each other regularly and it’s fun.  However, as the holidays approached, I wondered whether we’d all be spending Christmas together or if this would be the year some go their own way.  The answer?  We are spending Christmas together and I’m thrilled, but I know it won’t be forever.  I jokingly said, “When y’all decide to have Christmas in your own homes with your own families, somebody please invite Dad and me to join you so we’re not alone!”

So, thankfully, we’re not experiencing the “big” transition this year, but smaller transitions keep popping up reminding me of the changes to come.  A month ago, while we were all gathered together, our oldest daughter brought up the idea of not exchanging Christmas gifts amongst the kids.  They’d already transitioned to drawing names a few years ago, now the suggestion was made to not exchange gifts at all.  I liked the idea that the real basis of gathering for Christmas is to spend time together, but the idea of no gift exchange between the kids nagged at me a little.  Eventually I accepted the idea as I realized they’re embracing the love of the season, not the stuff of the season (though I don’t think they’re sticking to the edict too strictly).  Transition – sort of.

Last week I walked into the kitchen where my daughter is living and there, on the counter, was the big white plastic bowl with the blue lid.  This bowl is really big and, over the years, has been used for only two purposes:  marinating Korean bulgogi and storing the Chex Mix my husband traditionally makes during the holiday season.  My husband was not in town and the house didn’t smell of marinating bulgogi.  “Did you….?” I asked my daughter as I lifted the lid.  Yes, she did.  There was a bowlful of Chex Mix.  My husband won’t be making Chex Mix this year; it’s already made.  Transition.

Earlier this week I began wrapping Christmas gifts.  I’m not into fancy packages, but I do like to use a little ribbon as décor.  The problem with using ribbon is getting it tied tightly around the package.  Having had children in my home for the last 35 years, there have always been little fingers available to hold the first tie of the ribbon in place while I tie the second, anchoring, tie.  As I began wrapping gifts this year I realized I’d have to hold the first tie myself because there are no children watching and waiting to offer a tiny finger.  Transition.

Small transitions, for sure, but reminders of the bigger transitions to come.  We’ll weather them as they come, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


In 2001, at the age of 43, I walked the Portland Marathon.  I had severe blisters on my feet by the time I finished, but the next day I was feeling pretty good except for those darn blisters.  Around that time I remember a friend, a bit older than I, telling me how long it was taking him to recover from a ski injury.  He said an injury that used to take a couple of weeks to mend was now dragging into months of recuperation.  Now that I think about it, I think he was, then, about the age I am now – and I know what he meant!

Saturday I ran a 6k.  I ran it; I didn’t rock it (run-walk).  I was pretty proud of myself and feeling good about my fitness.  To be fair to myself, I also walked an additional three miles, stood for most of a football game, and sat in a car for five hours.  It was a long day – and I felt it Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday.  A decade ago a long physical day meant, perhaps a day of (say this in a perky voice) “recovery”.  Now I sadly realize my athletic activites take a greater toll and a long physical day entails days of (say this slow and low) “re-cuuuuv-errrr-y”.

I’m not letting that stop me, though.  Today I am going on a 9-mile hike with a group of women most of whom are older than me.  They’re fit and active and I’m sure they know about “re-cuuuuv-errrr-y”, but they’re out there setting the example for graceful, active aging – and I will be there, too.