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Welcoming Life

December 2012

Gold Stars

We are about to greet a new year, having just celebrated the season of formally giving thanks and wishing joy and peace to family and friends.I imagine that most of us think of the new year as a way to look at our lives and wonder if there are self improvements that should be considered.The need to make resolutions sneak into the frivolity after the champagne bubbles have burst.Even celebrating the countdown by watching burning embers lose their glow sitting by the fireplace , there still seems to be the need to contemplate a new slate for the next 365 days.A new beginning-a new chance to correct those things that weren't just right in the last 365 days.Perhaps it is the curse of the over achievers--my hand is raised in acknowledging that description--although, I'm not sure I like the term at all, maybe I could be more accepting of the word "striver". Is the notion of wanting to do better each year a bad thing?It depends on what good things want to be achieved.I love gold stars--you know the kind that started in kindergarten for not talking in class (I never got one for that) or spelling words correctly, or neat penmanship.Gold stars to bring home to my parents made me very proud; I relished their praise.As I got older the gold star achievements got harder--stars were replaced with number or alphabet grades and then when I reached the big time--performance evaluations.I miss the affirmation of my parents' pride, I even miss the formality of being judged by the people I worked for.Now it's up to me to decide what I want to achieve in the new year.About five years ago, I decided to make up my own "gold star standard". Each year, I write five things I did well in the last year, five things I did not do well, and five things I want to achieve in the new year.It has been a wonderful exercise.It's helped me see how I spend my time and with whom I spend my time.It helps me to focus on the real aspects of life and whittled down what really counts in helping me to be the best person I can be.Some of  the things I want to do in the new year are not epic--some are--such as last year, I committed to publishing Above & Beyond Wellfleet.I am about to start this year's look at my life.I'm looking forward to it.I like to think of the process (such a sterile word) as a way of taking stock--not a time for regrets.I like to gather up in my mind all the things that have made me happy and fulfilled in the last year and see if I can work hard to focus on what really matters in the next year.This I am sure of--my friends and my family are the shining stars of my life and as such--I wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

The lights of the season

I took this photograph eleven years ago in Quebec City. I was searching for the light. I had "run away from home" not able to celebrate the happiness of the holidays.My husband had recently died, and I couldn't face being faithful to the traditions that had brought us so much happiness.My heart was dark.The lights of these trees in  Old Town Quebec City with the beautiful monument standing guard above them helped me see the light--helped me to see that all was not dark.I saw the light.
Last Friday, December 14, the lights flickered again.The unspeakable tragedy that struck the families of Newtown, Connecticut made all of our hearts grow dark. How could something so horrific happen?I suffered the loss of the love of my life--but we'd shared a good life together; I had treasured memories.My grief paled in comparison to what I knew these families were suffering.Words are little comfort when your world is turned upside down, so why am I writing this?Perhaps, because the image of these lighted trees and the hovering monument gave me hope eleven years ago, and I pray that in some way that hope can be felt in some small measure by all of us.I have always regarded this season as a time to focus on peacefulness.A time when all of us can take stock of what really matters--broadened to include all faiths--a time to come together and concentrate on the miracles of friendship and love of family.Every night for the past six nights I've lit a candle and said a prayer for the families who have suffered loss last week and this year. The worst part of grieving is when you feel alone--my prayer is that some how, some way these families will feel the light of our hopes for their peace.

Home for the Holidays

Sixty two years. For sixty two years, I spent Christmas Day with my mother. And before that with my mother and father (he died in 1996).I almost skipped a year.In my book Above & Beyond Wellfleet, I share the story about how the first holidays without my husband was too much for me to bear.I write "I ran away from home". I took a four-week sojourn traveling to five cities in Canada-two stops in Quebec Province, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa.I stayed in small hotels, visited museums, took long chilling walks,tested many onion soup recipes, wrote nightly emails to friends and family who were following me describing what turned out to be a reawakening of appreciating not what I had lost but what I had slowly gained.I love traditions,but on this trip, I broke many of them.For example, I spent Thanksgiving dinner at Les Trois Canards-a small bistro. I had onion soup and listening to Christmas music.Before lunch, I visited and prayed at the Benoit Abby in the mountains-working so hard to make my prayers about gratitude.That really was the point of my trip to make the holidays completely different from traditions that made me happy--but at that point the old traditions accentuated my loss.The trip worked its magic.I found that while my loss was great, I was still tethered to what had made me happy for most of my life--my family.My 91 one year old mother (pictured at our Cape House at Christmas the year before ) waved goodbye to me from her assisted living home as I started my journey-believing and more importantly accepting that this Christmas would be the first we would not spend together.My children and grandchildren met me on December 14th in Montpelier, VT for what they thought was going to be our family Christmas that year.But they were wrong.I surprised them all Christmas Eve Day. I surprised mother, gave her hug and said get on your red Geiger jacket (one pictured in the photograph) you're coming to my house for Christmas Eve. I called my daughter and said "what are you doing tonight" --she answered well, I don't know-I said "why don't you come to my house?" "Why?", she said "you won't be there." I said, "oh, but I will."I then called my son in Connecticut (unmarried at the time) and asked him to come for Christmas Day. I power shopped for the groceries and had a great time at Marshalls buying new Christmas decorations.I was coming home for the holidays, I was continuing an unbroken record with my mother.A record that stood intact until she died six years later at 97.The heart that thought it couldn't take the happiness of the holidays learned that the message of the holidays is about love, faith and family.

Holiday Cards

I just brewed a cup of tea, lit a candle, and put on some of my favorite holiday music. I am about to start a yearly tradition that was faithfully followed by my parents--sending cards to friends and family expressing wishes for happy holidays and hopes for a peaceful new year.It is a tradition that has been abandoned by some, particularly because the holidays can get too crazy with so many added responsibilities--shopping, cooking and attending holiday events.All of the things I just mentioned are supposed to add to the magic of the holiday moments, but too often they become a long list of tasks that have to be met--within a certain deadline.The easiest task to eliminate seems to be setting aside time to personally communicate with one another.And by personal, I mean the written word--the hand inscribed word or two personalizing the message. The image accompanying this post is a poem written every year by our Maine cottage neighbor.I cannot begin to guess her age--all I know is that my family and I watch in awe as she rows her dory in the early morning. We guess Peggy is in her  80's. Her holiday poem is almost always the first one to arrive in my mailbox.She sets the bar high when it comes to communicating a personal message to friends and family.So did my mother.When she died at 97, I took her address book and wrote to special friends who would wonder why they hadn't received a holiday card from Frances.It still makes me tear up thinking of her sitting in her chair the last few years of her life having received her cards from the Pine Tree Society (which provides services to the disabled and adaptive equipment for children).It took her quite a few days to write to her friends--because she did just that.Every card carried a personal message.Her messages were always about the recipient.She wrote a few brief words about her life-but mostly she inquired about the lives of others to whom she was writing.It was an unselfish communication, but it also resulted in her friends and family being eager to answer her questions.When my mother and father did the cards together (they had a separate address book for holiday cards) my father would also add a word or two and it was his job to keep track of cards sent and cards received.I save cards received each year and put them with my holiday decorations.I like to reread the messages and then I recycle the front of the card to use as gift cards for my presents.While I still prefer the handwritten note, I do believe that any way you can wish friends happiness and peace is meaningful.So I wish those of you who read this blog a very happy holiday season and much joy in the new year.

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