Reading Recap #5

I set a goal to read fifteen books this year. At the time of this post, I’ve read twenty-eight. At this pace, I’m on track to add fifty books to my Goodreads tracking system when 2019 comes to a close. This would be an all-time record for me, and one that would put me hot on the heels of the king of bookworms, Nick B. Below is a list of the twenty-four books I’ve read since my last update. It includes fiction, memoirs, and a few “how-to” books. I’ve grouped the list by genre, and included a comment or two on a select few. Oh, and five stars (*****) indicates that I especially enjoyed it and therefore, highly recommend it.

Fiction

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo– Stieg Larsson

The Story of Arthur Truluv-Elizabeth Berg

Night of Miracles– Elizabeth Berg

The Couple Next Door– Shari Lapena

A Stranger in the House– Shari Lapena

Stop Dressing Your Six-Year Old Like a Skank-Celia Rivenbark

What Alice Forgot-Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect Strangers-Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies-Liane Moriarty

Memoirs

Dying To Be Me-Anita Moorjani *****

Lucky-Alice Sebold *****

Born A Crime-Trevor Noah *****

After Life: Answers From the Other Side-John Edward

Once More We Saw Stars-Jayson Greene ***** (The premise of this book is both sad and tragic, but the story is worth sharing. A beautiful tribute.)

All Over but the Shoutin’-Rick Bragg ***** (This is my favorite book on the list. Mr. Bragg is an exceptional writer. Like books I’ve read by Pat Conroy, I felt somewhat sad when I finished this one. I wanted more.)

No Happy Endings-Nora McInerny

The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There’s Life After Death-Annie Kagan ***** (I purchased this book when I couldn’t check it out at a local library. It now sits on a shelf with other spiritual books. It’s a keeper.)

The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After-Julie Yip-Williams ***** (Spoiler Alert. If you google this title, you’ll learn that it does not have a happy ending. Don’t let that keep you from reading about the life, experiences, wisdom, insights, and lessons the author gained as she successfully navigated her way through life legally blind, and then later as a young wife and mother diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer.)

How-To

On Writing-Stephen King ***** (I own this book, and first read it about five years ago. I reread it while working on my forthcoming memoir. If you feel inclined to pen your own work of fiction or non-fiction, I encourage you to read Mr. King’s book. His advice is spot-on, and he’s actually funny, which is refreshing for me as his works of fiction are generally much too scary for me to read.)

Writing Down the Bones-Natalie Goldberg ***** (I’ve owned this book for years. This was the third time I read it. It contains valuable advice for any wannabe writers.)

Resilient Grieving: Finding Strength and Embracing Life After a Loss That Changes Everything-Lucy Hone, PhD. (I’ve mostly shunned books about loss as I traverse my own journey of grief. In some ways, I feel like I could write my own grief guide. This book was given to me—a kind gesture from one grieving mother to another.)

Fraternity: An Inside look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men-Alexandra Robbins ***** (This book is a must-read for any parent of college-bound kids, male or female. I found the stories and research contained within its pages disturbing and even somewhat horrific.)

Caregiving Elderly Parents: Real Stories From Two Caregiving Baby Boomers-Marky Olson and Dauna Easley ***** (This book was co-written by my friend and mentor, Dauna Easley. She and her long-time friend, Marky, share their experiences caring for aging parents.)

Online Marketing for Busy Authors: A Step-by-Step Guide-Fauzia Burke ***** (If you are planning on self-publishing a book, this guide is for you. It’s easy to read and full of useful information on how to market your book.)

I will soon add another book, Carried By a Feather, to this list. I’ve actually read the manuscript countless times, and am anxious to read it one more time in its final version. This is my debut memoir, and it’s coming soon………..

 

 

 

 

 

If You Build It; They Will Come

Okay. We really didn’t “build” anything. We purchased a pricey, fancy-schmancy, squirrel-proof bird feeder, filled it with equally pricey no-mess bird seed, hung it in a tree, and they came—birds young and old, male and female. Business at our Seed Smorgasbord was sluggish at first, but once word got out you might say these winged creatures flocked to our neck of the woods. My guy and I often spend time on the deck observing the comings and goings of these avian beings. Binoculars aid us in identifying certain markings, and then we flip through our Birds of Ohio guide to determine the exact species. We’re up to fifteen types now, all of which have been alphabetically chronicled in an Excel spreadsheet. Yep. We’re officially Bird Nerds.

Just weeks after our initial foray into all things birds, we expanded our operation with the addition of a hummingbird feeder. According to our handy, dandy bird book, only the Ruby-throated Hummingbird spends time in the Buckeye state. So far we’ve witnessed only a male (or perhaps more than one male) stopping by to quench his thirst with our free nectar.

It seems logical that some bird families would take up residence near a 24-hour diner, which is exactly what happened this spring as two robin couples chose our yard as a place to settle down and start a family. Nests were constructed, eggs were laid and then hatched, producing triplets for each set of parents. I wish I could report that the infant mortality rate was zero, however, that’s not the case. Sadly, I’ve found three fledglings who didn’t survive. And that’s not all. We’ve also had three adult birds meet a natural or unnatural demise as well.

At first I was a bit distressed over finding the remains of so many birds. Is it possible this new-found hobby that brings so much life, song, and beauty to an otherwise tranquil landscape can also contribute to the low-lying cloud of sadness that hovers over our homestead always poised to shed its droplets of grief? And even more so, am I ready to take that on? The obvious answer is “yes.” Our backyard bird oasis is merely a microcosm of the yin and yang of life—good and bad, positive and negative, beginnings and endings. And in the creature world, survival of the fittest is the norm not the exception, as is the very real existence of a food chain. (You can thank me later for the science refresher.)

I recently resumed my role as a volunteer with a local hospice after completing a mandatory one-year hiatus. I’m generally assigned one patient at a time, whom I visit  weekly or bi-weekly. I enjoy the camaraderie and connections gained via time spent with these individuals. I’m a captive audience of one as they share stories about their life, family, careers, hobbies, and more. I guess hospice volunteering is another way I invite “endings” into my life, though I don’t look at it that way. I am grateful for the opportunity to create a bond or friendship that won’t be defined by its length, but instead is focused on sharing, caring, and creating a space where reflection, laughter, and tears abound, often all within the same visit. I had such an experience today with my current patient who has chosen to spend her final days at the home she shares with her husband. Her hospital bed has been placed next to a large window where she can pass some of the daylight hours observing her own flock of winged friends who visit the feeders hanging within her view. I haven’t asked, but I’m hopeful that a connection to nature comforts her and provides her with some sense of peace.

This post’s (slightly modified) title is taken from a favorite movie, Field of Dreams, and its clever storyline that connects this realm with another. And so it seems fitting that it should be wrapped up with a quote from another treasured flick, The Lion King:

“It’s the Circle of Life and it moves us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love, ’til we find our place on the path unwinding.”

The Circle of Life is a real, normal, and necessary part of human and animal existence. And for me, the birds that stop by to nourish themselves within the confines of our yard serve as a reminder of this cycle. An “end” isn’t just for the elderly or infirm, but also happens to the young who seem so full of life and potential. I have witnessed both.

 

Birthdays

Spring is the season of birth. Nature comes alive in vibrant hues as trees sprout leaves of green and perennials burst through the ground, dotting the landscape with shades of yellow, red, orange, pink, purple and blue. And creatures large and small meander among us, preparing nests for the arrival of their offspring. There are two birthdays worth noting from my teeny corner of the planet.

First, I would like to wish a belated Happy Birthday to this blog, Joan’s Jottings. I launched this site in March 2009 with the help of my midwife and fellow blogger, Jane. For more than a decade, this blog has provided me with a place to create, vent, share, and hone my writing skills. Here are a few stats worth noting:

This is post number 167.

I file these jottings within fourteen categories, including books, cancer, family, humor and life.

My most consistent writing came during my dive into the online dating world where I posted weekly about my matches, churning out a record forty-six entries. During this time, I developed a following of sorts, which mainly consisted of my very married female friends. These ladies vicariously entered this brave new world of mate hunting from the safe and cozy confines of their living rooms.

The second birth is not really a birth yet as she is still incubating, awaiting the perfect and precise moment to make her debut. I am, of course, referring to my BOOK and not a post-menopausal miracle. I have been nurturing this embryo for nearly six months, investing more than 220 hours of labor. She currently weighs in at approximately 36,000 words, divided among eighteen chapters. After completing the first draft, I conducted a self-edit and then handed the manuscript to three exceptional beta readers, Dauna, Jane, and Nan. These ladies provided me with valuable insight into the flow and content of the story as well as pointing out errors in grammar and punctuation.

Armed with the information provided by my beta readers, I completed a second edit which prepared the budding manuscript for a more microscopic critique performed by someone with trained, unbiased eyes—a professional editor. During a first pass, Miss Miranda used her knowledge, experience, and little red pen to clean-up and perfect my draft. I am currently working through her corrections and suggestions before handing the manuscript back to her for a second go-around. After all of the editing is complete, she will make a third and final proofreading pass. Her insight and expertise are aiding me in elevating this work to a higher level. Also, her initial comments have provided me with the motivation and stamina I need to continue to plow forward with this project. Her summary began with these words:

“Your memoir is powerful, and I enjoyed reading it. I think you did a great job of describing everything and providing the reader with powerful emotion.”

I hope to announce the birth of my book sometime late this spring or early summer. I have selected a name, but am not ready to share it just yet. Once she arrives, I will exchange my writing pen for another new and unchartered realm—the world of marketing. This critical and important step will be crucial to introducing my baby to as many people as possible. When the time is right, I might humbly ask for your help in sharing her, but more about that later.

I will continue to update my progress as I waddle through this final trimester. I look forward to introducing you to my baby girl.

 

The Room

It has been a calendar full of days since the boy entered the room, dumped his bags on the floor and plopped onto the bed for a power nap. This very brief, impromptu trip home served one purpose-the boy required yet another visit to the dentist to repair a chipped front tooth. Once the incisor was bonded, making it whole again, this student was re-deposited on the grounds of the university. Who could have known that this would be the last time the boy graced this space with his physical presence?

This particular room is of average size and comes complete with a smallish closet and one south-facing window. The furnishings are few-a queen-size bed, five-drawer dresser, a desk and a chair on wheels. The once Bomber blue walls have been slathered in a somber gray, a shade that matches the aura that drapes itself over the house, often coloring the mood of its inhabitants. Two large, black-framed photographs that once adorned the walls were never re-hung after the paint dried, however, there is a plan to complete this task in the near future. The room is tidy and dust-free. A well-worn black, blue and gray striped comforter cuddles the mattress. The bed sheets have been laundered, washing away any lingering scent of the boy who once lounged, studied, slept and dreamt between these cottony, woven threads. On sunny winter days, the blackout shade that normally conceals the window is flung wide open, inviting light and warmth into an otherwise dark and depressed space. There are a few photographs of the boy scattered throughout the room. One is a collage of wallet-sized school photos, Kindergarten through twelfth grade, a sort of visual age-progression of his growth. Another image, captured nearly twenty years ago, is of a smiling father and his toddler son snapped during the elder’s cancer pause.

A chunky, space-hogging computer rests somewhat sad and lonely atop the desk. The boy spent oodles of life-snatching hours tap, tap, tapping away at the keyboard in a Herculean attempt to conquer some online game. These rapid-fire clicks confirmed that there was indeed life behind the (frequently) closed door. Today, only an eerie kind of quiet seeps from the room. The faint blue light that once flickered from the base of the monitor has now been extinguished. There simply is no logical reason to keep this somewhat massive machine connected to its electrical source. The cord has been unplugged much like the cord that once tethered the boy to this lifetime.

The boy also spent time in another room located about thirty miles away. This home away from home, part and parcel of the landscape of a rural, picturesque, idyllic college town, was located on the third floor of a dormitory built of stone. This somewhat small and cramped space also served as a place where he studied, slept and just hung out, but unlike his bedroom, these quarters were shared. The boy had been co-existing in this room for the better part of six months, save for time spent at home during Thanksgiving and the school’s interminable winter break. He returned to this place of higher learning in late January, just about five weeks before an unexpected, unfathomable and life-altering event would occur.

A trusted source has revealed that the boy’s father, a lovely soul who resides just beyond the veil, visited this particular dorm room on March 6th, 2018.  He most likely arrived around the time the boy slumped to the fake wood floor, slipping into unconsciousness. As his son prepared to make the transition from one life to another, the father was there to escort him home. Once the pair arrived on the other side, it is likely that a huge reunion ensued as the boy was re-connected with grandparents, great-grandparents, and other members of his spirit family. It seems possible that two former childhood friends also attended this gathering, having made their own premature transition in the latter months of 2015.

Back on earth, the boy’s mother remains in human form, having been left behind by her son and one-time spouse. Though time was up for the father and child, it seems obvious that mom’s earthly mission is not yet complete. She still inhabits the cozy, ranch-style house where she and the boy shared their earthly journey, however, an emptiness now permeates every crevice of this residence. This place that was once full of hope and visions of a future for her only offspring, now serves as a constant reminder that the boy will never again live within its walls.

For the most part, the boy’s room remains much as it was on that Tuesday afternoon one year ago when he scooped up his bags and walked towards the door, intent on a punctual arrival at the dentist’s office. It is extremely likely that just before the boy headed down the hall towards the garage, he stopped, turned and took one last sweeping glance of his space-a sort of quick and final OCD inspection confirming that he had gathered all of his meager belongings. As his feet finally crossed the threshold, the boy had no idea that he would never again return to this room.

 

2018: A Year in the Books (Reading Recap #4)

According to the Chinese calendar, 2018 was The Year of the Dog.  According to the Calendar of Joan, 2018 was The Year of the Bookworm.  Yep.  I read 20 books this past year, an all-time record for me, or at least I think it was.  I am proud of my achievement, but I know that there exists scores of Evelyn Wood speed readers who make my list look mediocre, pale, gaunt or even a tad bit pathetic.  I know of one such “reader extraordinaire,” Nick B., who recently published his 2018 reading list which contained an astonishing 61 titles!  That, my friends, is A LOT of books!!!  By the way, Nick’s surname is not Book, though I think it would be fitting.

It would seem rather obvious that in order to read a lot of books, one must also have the gift of time.  I did have the gift of time for the better part of 2018, and I chose to spend a fair amount of it alone, in quiet, save for the company of a book or magazine.  Below is a list of fifteen books I have read since my last update in September.  It contains four works of fiction, as well as memoirs, two anthologies, and a sampling of self-help type books.

If you are NOT a reader and therefore would be bored and uninterested in perusing this post, scroll down towards the end, just past the last title on the list.  I have included a little teaser about a book not yet published, but one that is in the works.  Here is the list of books that captivated my attention from late summer into winter:

1.  Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons From the Crematory–  by Caitlin Doughty

This book was an easy read for me.  Miss Doughty found her way into the business of death (and yes, it most certainly is a business) at a rather young age.  The book was enlightening and entertaining despite its somewhat macabre subject matter.

2.  Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and Premonitions by Amy Newmark and Kelly Sullivan Walden

How can you go wrong with a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology?  This one does not disappoint, and is chock full of mini stories about dreams and things to come.

3.  Confessions of a Funeral Director: How the Business of Death Saved My Life by Caleb Wilde

Caleb was born into a family where both sides, maternal and paternal, worked in the funeral industry.  Like Ms. Doughty’s book, Caleb also shares stories about the people and families he has served as a funeral director.

4.  Reaching to Heaven– by James Van Praagh

5.  Healing Grief-Reclaiming Life After Any Loss by James Van Praagh

These two James Van Praagh books were recommended to me.  I read Reaching To Heaven some time ago, and still owned a copy.  I reread it and then obtained a copy of Healing Grief from the local library.  If you are not familiar with James, he is a Medium and one of many who have gained notoriety via television.  These two books mostly reaffirmed things I already knew, but I am always up for a refresher.

6.  Almost Everything-Notes on Hope – by Anne Lamott

I am a longtime fan of Ms. Lamott.  I greatly enjoy her humor and admit that I am a tad bit envious of her writing skills.  As she traveled the country promoting her latest gift to the literary world, she made a stop in my hometown.  It was at this event that I picked up  my copy AND was treated to time spent in her company.  She shared a bit about what motivated her to pen this latest work, and then spent time reading portions of it to the mostly female audience.

7.  At Peace-Choosing A Good Death After A Long Life – by Samuel Harrington, M.D.

This book is relevant, important and timely.  We are all getting older, with many of us living well into our 80’s, 90’s and beyond.  This book speaks to our societal death phobia as well as our lack of planning when it comes to end-of-life care, funeral and estate planning and more.  If you are a caregiver to an elderly parent (or two) and/or are getting up there in age yourself, this book is a must read.

8.  The Book Thief – by Mark Zusak

I was a late bloomer to this work of historical fiction.  The book was published in 2005 and quickly rose to the top of the bestseller list.  The book has a unique narrator that is Death, which also happens to be a common theme in the books I listed above.  Mr. Zusak is a fabulous writer who “shows us” rather than “tells us” this heartfelt story.

9.  Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It an anthology inspired by the bestselling memoir.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray Love, became an instant hit among hordes of women (and a few men, too) when it hit the shelves in 2006.  Ms. Gilbert apparently inspired many to launch their own search of self, which in turn, created many similar stories of self-awakening.  A sampling of these quests are shared within the pages of this anthology.

10.  Organized ENOUGH-the anti-perfectionist’s guide to getting and staying organized by Amanda Sullivan

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE books and stories about getting organized, downsizing and de-cluttering.  Even though I live an organized and de-cluttered life, it does not prevent me from wanting to read and learn more about this subject.  This book was written by a professional organizer, who just happens to be the cousin of a friend of mine.  If you are looking for something to motivate and inspire you to take control of your STUFF, then this book just might be for you.

11.  Where The Crawdads Sing – by Delia Owens

This murder mystery will capture and captivate you until the bitter end.  It is the beautifully written story of the “marsh girl,” set in South Carolina.  This book brought back fond memories of the writings of a favorite author from that region, the late and great Pat Conroy.

12.  Mr. Mercedes – by Stephen King

I was loaned this book by a family member and was admittedly reluctant to read it.  I have read only one book of fiction penned by Mr. King, The Shining, which scared the bejesus out of me.  Once I decided to give this murder mystery a chance, I ended up finishing it in about three days.

13.  The Lovely Bones – by Alice Sebold

The Universe sent me two very clear suggestions to read this book.  And. I. Did.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story told from the heavenly view of its narrator, a young girl who was brutally raped and murdered.  This first novel penned by Ms. Sebold, catapulted her into her own literary heaven, the one where your story resonates with scores of readers, landing it atop a bestsellers list.

14. Death-What Is It? – by Jane Halliwell Green

I picked up this little book at a Psychic Fair after attending a mini seminar Ms. Green      (a Medium) presented about death.  The message contained within the book is valid and worth sharing, however prior to self-publishing it, the author could have benefited from some professional editing and organizing of the material.

15.  The Book You Were Born To Write – by Kelly Notaras

This 15th and final title on this list is perhaps the most important one.  The book is a newer release, and one that I was meant to read.  Ms. Notaras shares a plethora of information regarding writing and publishing a book, knowledge she acquired after years spent working in the industry.   I picked up this gem from my local library just about the time I enlisted the services of a professional book coach.  It is here where this list ends and my announcement begins.

I have spent the better part of two months seated at my desk, typing away on my computer.  I am very close to completing the first draft of a memoir I have been wanting to write for some time.  Once the initial manuscript is complete, my book coach, Christine, has instructed me to step away from it for at least two weeks.  When I return to this project after the suggested respite, I will be reading and re-writing it through the eyes of an editor.  First comes my own self-editing, and then I will most likely enlist the help and guidance of a professional.

I plan to share my progress as I navigate my way through the unfamiliar territory of self-publishing.  This is both an exciting and somewhat intimidating time for me as I will learn rather quickly whether or not my writing can move beyond the safe and small confines of this blog (and my very private journal) out into the real, competitive and somewhat saturated market that is the book world.  I intend to share more about my book writing journey on this blog, via emails as well as social media.  In addition to publishing, I will also be responsible for marketing my work as well.

As 2018 came to its natural end just weeks ago, a new year began.  I believe that 2019 will be for me, The Year of The Book.  (No worm.)  And this time, it will be mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude Amidst Grief

A can of Coke wrapped in a red ribbon.  How could I possibly have known this gag gift would be the spark that would inspire my last post of 2018.  More about an iconic, carbonated, syrupy sweet beverage later.

Today is December 28th.  IT is over.  The holiday season is mostly behind us save for the tooting horns, fireworks, dropping of the ball, midnight smooches, and the familiar sounds of Auld Lang Syne that signify the flip of the calendar from one year to the next.  March 6, 2018 will go on record as the most devastating day in my life-past, present AND future.  There has never been and can never be a more horrible event that can occur that will knock this date from its perch on top.  And yet, with a heart and mind so heavy with grief and sadness, I feel it is important to take some time to reflect on ALL that occurred this year and expose the positive that rose out of the mucky muck.  And so, I offer this thank you note of sorts, an expression of gratitude for the good that was found in a year full of sorrow.

I am grateful for the 101 sympathy cards that we received, and for the cards, emails, text and Facebook messages that are sent to me on random days “just because.”

I am grateful for the $6,000.65 that was so generously donated to the JDRF-Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

I am grateful for the thoughts and prayers that have been sent our way.  It is impossible to obtain a count on the intangible, but I am certain that we have not walked this journey alone.  We have been carried by many, and I want you to know that we appreciate you.

I am grateful for the women I know who are also unwilling members of The-Club-No- Mother-Wants-To-Join.  I am not grateful for the tragedy that forever links us, but for the unconditional love and support they provide, and for the plain and simple fact that they “get” what child loss looks and feels like.

I am grateful for my sister’s current and former co-workers who donated money for a tree planting near the gravesite of my son.  A plaque bearing his name and dates also includes a foreshadowing quote he penned at the age of 18: “Realize the importance of everyone in your life before the clock runs out of time.”

I am grateful for the 60 minutes that I have spent in the company of a Medium.  Utilizing his God-given ability to communicate with the other side, he provided me with concrete evidence that Mark did not die, he merely changed form.  He also confirmed that Mark is well and spends time in the loving company of my parents, grandparents and his own father, Alan.

I am grateful for the signs Mark has sent to let us know that he is around.  It is relatively easy for those in spirit form to trigger things that are electrical, and Mark has taken full advantage of this form of communication.  He has managed to turn on lights and an iPod, and also tinkered with the clock in one of our cars, to name a few things.  Mark used the Medium to confirm that he was responsible for causing the alarm in his Honda Accord to suddenly begin honking numerous times in the days and weeks after he passed.  Funny for Mark.  (The Medium heard him chuckle as he took credit for this prank.)  Not so funny for our neighbors, especially the time he tripped the alarm at 1:00 AM.

I am grateful for the gift of time.  I left my job on March 30th and have spent the better part of nine months doing things that have aided in my healing.  By far the most productive form of therapy has been writing.  My journal and this blog have provided me with a safe place to vent and share my feelings and perspectives.  Grief can take a toll on the body, so it is important to get your feelings out, whether this takes place in a grief support group, talking with family and friends and/or getting your thoughts and feelings scribbled onto paper or typed on a computer.

I am grateful for my spouse, the Guy in my life.  He, too, has suffered greatly as a result of this tragedy, yet he always has my back.  It was Guy who encouraged me to leave my job and take time to absorb and process all that has taken place.  He listens to my woulda, shoulda, coulda moments in regard to things I did or did not do in the weeks before Mark’s passing.  He is my number one fan and consistent reader of all of my writing.  And, he is currently supporting and gently nudging me as I quietly and diligently work to complete a project that has been a goal for quite some time.

Lastly, I am grateful for the 20 years, one month and one day that I shared with my son.  My very human mind tells me that it was not enough, and that there were SO MANY things left to do and experience, but my soul knows that our time together was up.  Mark fulfilled his journey and has moved on, and I remain here to complete mine.  I know this loss can never be fully healed, but I know that my life still has purpose.  And so, I will do my best to fulfill my earthly lessons in my remaining days, weeks, months or years, and take comfort in the fact that Mark and I will be together again one day.

And now back to that can of Coke.  One week ago, just days before all of the forced joy and festivities that accompany Christmas, the fella that picks up our recycling did something that not only made me laugh but reinforced my belief that most people are good and thoughtful and even a tad bit funny and mischievous.

A few months ago, my husband happened to be home on a Thursday, our normal garbage pickup day.  He saw the recycling truck pull up, grabbed some money from his wallet and proceeded down our driveway where he struck up a conversation with the driver.  Just a few weeks before, another employee of our local waste management company had been struck and killed as he went about his daily route.  My husband had been touched by the news of this tragedy and he wanted to make a small donation to the family.  He figured he could use our driver to deliver this contribution.  During the course of that brief driveway conversation (and unbeknownst to me), my husband shared a story or two about his own close encounters on the road as a driver for Pepsi.  Apparently, this rather brief interaction left an impression on the young man.

Our recycling was picked up last Thursday morning, right on schedule.  After the driver emptied the contents of our can, he closed the lid, wheeled it back to its spot on the driveway and placed a small, red gift on top.  He then climbed back into the vehicle and drove off.  I happened to be in the kitchen at the time and looked out the window and saw something on top of the can.  I immediately ran outside to see what it was.  As I approached our receptacle, I spotted a single can of Coke wrapped in a red ribbon.   I recalled the encounter a few months earlier between my man and this driver and instantly surmised that my husband must have shared that he was employed by Pepsi.  I jumped in my car and found our Secret Santa one street over.  I pulled up behind the truck, found its driver and proceeded to ask him if he had left us a gift.  He smiled and nodded yes.  He also confirmed that my husband did indeed share that he was a driver for Pepsi.  I KNEW it!  We had a good laugh about his “gift,” and I thanked him for his kind, thoughtful and comical gesture.  He would have no idea that his holiday prank not only made a sad lady laugh, but also reaffirmed her belief that most people are good.  All thanks to a divine encounter and a can of Coke.

And so, I end this rather long and wordy thank you note.  I believe it serves as proof that there is always SOMETHING that we can be grateful for no matter how difficult or challenging or tragic life can be.  There is always positive in the presence of negative.  And there most certainly is Yin to the Yang.  It is my hope that as you put your own wrap on 2018, you take a little time to reflect on the events of these past twelve months and come up with your own gratitude list.  And perhaps instead of making this a once-a-year kind of thing, you might even choose to take time each evening before bed to list a few things for which you are grateful.  It is a wonderful way to end the day on an upbeat note.

Oh, and by the way, this post was in no way a plug for Coke.  Drink Pepsi.  My hubby needs a job, at least for a few more years.

 

 

 

Tis The Season?

It’s official.  The holiday season is upon us.  A time of year that offers several opportunities to gather together with family and friends for food, fun, conversation, connection and the exchanging of gifts.  For many, this is what puts the HAPPY in HOLIDAYS.  However, for some, there is little cause for celebration.  Life might be challenging them with illness, unemployment, financial burdens, or estrangement from family.  I consider myself among those who find little reason to embrace the season.

As far back as September, I developed an awareness that the holidays were creeping forward on the calendar.  I began thinking about the traditions that began many years ago.  I married into a Jewish family in the 1990’s.  My husband celebrated Hanukkah by hauling out his brass Menorah, lighting the candles and reciting the applicable prayers from memory.  He did this in honor of this festival of lights. He never bought into the consumerism that has (also) infiltrated his religion, choosing to concentrate only on the spiritual meaning of this holiday.  After he passed, I continued to commemorate Hanukkah in his way with our young son, which for me included gifting him for eight nights.  I also began acquiring the trimmings associated with Christmas, and thus began new traditions for the boy and his mom.  This included a photo shoot for the holiday card, decorating a tree, the decking of the halls, the sweet smells of baking, Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra belting out classics such as Jingle Bells and Silent Night on the CD player, adopting a family in need, and the purchasing and wrapping of gifts.  My brother-in-law referred to this meshing of religious traditions as “double dipping.”  I guess the boy did get the best of two (religious) worlds?  As he entered his teenage years, I began to do less and less in regards to Hanukkah and focused more on just the one holiday.

After much consideration and deliberation, I have decided that I will do very little in the way of participating in this holiday season.  The Hanukkah mementos have been passed on to family members.  The Christmas ornaments, decorations, and tree shall remain tucked away within their containers, safely stowed in the basement to gather another layer of dust.  The stockings will not be hung by the chimney with care.  There will be no mailing of the annual photo card and letter updating family and friends on the events of the past twelve months.  There is little to share that is positive in regards to the year two thousand and eighteen.  We have lost not one, but two treasured members of our unit-my 20-year old son and my husband’s mother, the strong and feisty matriarch of a large, loud, and loving family.

Annually on Christmas Eve, my husband’s family gathers together to enjoy food, drink, laughter and games.  During the evening, Santa arrives, bearing gifts for each youngish child.  (Mr. Claus is usually lovingly portrayed by a male family member volunteer who steps up to don the suit and beard and chant the obligatory Ho, Ho, Ho.)  Last year, we stuck a hat on Grandma and morphed her into “Santa.”  As the kids came forward one by one to receive their present, they posed for a photograph.  And later, more photos were taken of Santa and all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  My immediate family (husband, son, bonus child and I) made a memory with Santa that was forever captured by the click of a camera.  The five of us are seated cozily on the couch smiling for the photographer.  A happy and festive image frozen in time.

Today, as I reflect on that photo, the oldest and youngest souls posing for that moment are gone.  We had allowed ourselves to consider that perhaps it just might be the last Christmas for the 88-year old matriarch, which is why we selected her as Santa and made her the center of attention for the evening’s festivities.  No one could have imagined that Mark, the college sophomore, would be experiencing his 20th and final Christmas.  For me, the sad reality of the season is front and center.  Mark and Renie’s seats will remain empty at holiday gatherings.  There will be no gifts bearing their names.  Their sweet faces will be absent from cell phone snapshots.

When dealing with grief, there is often much said about “the year of firsts.”  This term generally refers to all of the occasions that arrive within a calendar year that can no longer be shared or celebrated with a loved one who has passed on.  Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas.  I understand the thought behind “the year of firsts” and how those certain days or dates might accentuate or magnify one’s loss.  And. They. Do.  However, when you truly think about it, our loved ones who have passed are gone everyday, not just the ones we note as special or celebratory.  With that said, I did survive Mother’s Day, family birthdays, two graduations and a cousin’s wedding.  Thanksgiving will arrive in a matter of days, followed by Hanukkah and Christmas. Soon, I will find myself smothered by the sights, smells and sounds of the season, the most wonderful time of the year.  And I will choose to mostly abstain from the decorating, parties, shopping and the general “hustle and bustle” that consumes the month of December.  Instead, I will hold close my memories, traditions and photos of holidays gone by.