Archive for November, 2010

“In this world of change, nothing which comes stays, and nothing which goes is lost.”

— Anne Sophie Swetchine

Today is a day filled with changes.  That could be said about any day, I suppose, because the one thing we can rely on about living is that things always change; but today will bring many noticeable transitions to my world.  It is a good day to realize that although nothing which comes stays, nothing which goes is lost.  For ten days, we have had the pleasure of a visit from our eldest son and his family.  We have watched our son be a husband and a father, watched his family in action, and had some up-close time with our grandsons, Oskar and Gus.  This morning we will take them to the airport.  By early afternoon, they will be back in Atlanta and on their way to the familiar life that is their own.

The transition began several days ago.  We could see that the boys were beginning to wear thin after a week away from their own beds, and their parents were not so far behind.  After days on end of all the siblings gathering to spend precious time with their big brother, the need for sleep began to claim its place in everyone’s priorities.  Right up to the last flurry of activity as the little cousins and their parents built gingerbread houses last night, we all refused to admit that this morning really was on its way. How appropriate that we should sit in this place on the last day of November.  My first thought when I opened my eyes today was that tomorrow would begin December, and I no longer could pretend that winter was only a distant possibility.

I want to cling to my Atlanta family and tell them not to go; yet I love the sense of pride I feel when I see how they have built their own life, and I enjoy being a part of their success and independence as well.  I am struck with awe when I realize that my feelings about the transition from Autumn to Winter are so similar to those of sending off the people I love.  That is what transitions are about — holding on to the beauty and delight of things past, but trusting that change will usher in different sorts of days and a new kind of beauty that will be born of allowing life to continue its circular path.

I will reflect on all the details of my visit with the kids, and I will let those memories carry me through the months until we meet again.  Just as I will look out the window one day and see the world clothed in silent white beauty, I will be sure to look through the window of my son’s life and see the beauty in his return to the life he has built.  To love deeply is to hold on and want to postpone the inevitable changes that living brings.  To love deeply is to embrace change and know that nothing lasts forever, but nothing that moves on ever is really lost.

May the skies be friendly as they carry my loved ones home.  May the winds of change be friendly as they blow autumn away and bring the silent beauty of winter.

“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”

— C.S. Lewis

Let us begin our brand new week with love for all we meet.  The Thanksgiving holiday is over.  The crazy weekend of shopping and football has had its time.  Now we return to the routines that are the realities of our lives.  So many of us have taken time to list all the things we are thankful for; and many of those lists include people who touch our lives in special ways.  A friend who stopped by yesterday shared that someone had told her, “everyone should have at least one friend they can call at any hour of the day or night to share sorrow or joy.”  She wanted to tell me that I am that person for her.  I am honored; and I still feel warm inside this morning, although the moment is long gone.  It is a joyous thing to be recognized, affirmed, and held dear just for being ourselves.  Any gift of friendship this woman thinks she receives from me was returned ten times over in her simple statement.

Let us carry love for all into the New Year.  I will remember how a simple statement made me feel validated and encouraged me to go on loving.  I will try to remember to do that for others and love them for the things that make them unique and not only for the things that make them similar to me.  Can you imagine what sort of world we could create if we loved people with a steady wish for their greatest good?  Too often, we judge others by our own standards rather than seeing their unique and different contribution to the greatest good of all.  Let us love our own beauty; but let us not hang it as a filter that requires everyone else to pass through it in order to be considered lovable.  Let us step outside of our egos and recognize, affirm, and love the beauty in others that might also encourage us to grow.  Let us love one another so that each of us moves closer to our own ultimate good.  It is a warm thing to be loved for who you are.

“If every day is an awakening, you will never grow old.  You will just keep growing.”

— Gail Sheehy

It has been one busy week around here!  With our eldest son in town with his family, our home has become the epicenter of the earthquake!  At least a dozen people have come to our table at most meals, and the frenzied pace of young children trying to play with every toy at once has sent a wave of energy rippling through the house that we haven’t experienced in many years.  I keep thinking, “Yes, there are very good reasons why women my age are not physically able to give birth!” The amount of food that has been consumed in the past week has been staggering, and the constant cycle of cook, eat, clean has sometimes left the cook staggering a bit herself.  It is easy during these busy times to fall into survival mode and think only of sleep, rest, or silence.

Into the midst of all this excitement yesterday came a visitor — the significant other of our daughter-in-law’s stepfather.  We shared a few words, and I realized that there was a kindred energy between us.  We didn’t say much that was profound; but the conversation we did have offered me a chance to take a break, remember to breathe, and look beyond all the activity to find the new revelations of the day underneath the layers of work and play and noise.

Before she left, we managed to find a quiet corner and compare notes.  We actually talked about our shared feeling of excitement upon awakening each morning.  We talked about how important it is not to be caught in the swirl of activity and the need to manage or control life to the extent that we see only the tasks and miss the parts that lift us up and energize us as we live each day.  I realized how wonderful it is at our busiest and most stressful times to meet someone who touches that spot in us and reminds us to live rather than only survive.

Stay young today!  Find something new and enlightening in your world — you know it is there.  Be renewed each day rather than only growing a day older.  And if you are fortunate enough to meet a kindred spirit, encourage one another.  It will lift your heart when you lift the spirits of another.  Breathe!  Live!  Grow!

We didn’t see it coming.  They struck from out of nowhere.  A day that will live in infamy.

In ten days, we will mark the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day.  On Pearl Harbor Day in 1985, Mark and I were married.  I have endured many years of jokes from my sweetheart about sneak attacks and being blindsided — all good-natured, of course.

As we herded our large crowd toward the turkey buffet yesterday, there was a knock at the door.  Oh, no!  Was I expecting someone else?  How could I have forgotten a guest?  And where on earth will I find another plate?  At the front door stood Elaine, my old friend and matron of honor.  Her husband stood at her side, carrying flowers.  Oh, man.  Talk about your bad timing!  I opened the door and greeted them with, “Welcome to Franksgiving!”  The chaos swirled all around us as children scurried under our feet to hook up with their parents and find spots at the table.  “I’ve been talking with your son,” Elaine tells me.  “Happy 25th Anniversary!”

Soon my children all gather around.  They present me with an embroidered coverlet with our names and the dates of our marriage and today’s celebration.  A silver tray bears this message:

Mark & Pamela Jones

Happy 25th Anniversary

Married December 7, 1985

The greatness of your story  is not told

in the silver etchings of a marked occasion

but in the lasting legacy of the family

you have grown, the shared experience of

memories you have created and the love

returned to you by those whose

lives you have touched.

— Your loving family

For reasons known only to men, I suppose, Mark was left off the hook and I was tapped to read the inscription out loud to the roomful of people.  I guess this picture was taken after I stopped crying, because everyone seems to be enjoying a good laugh — probably at my expense.

At the end of the day, I had many surprising things to be Frankful for.  And Pearl Harbor Day was commemorated once again with a sneak attack.  I never saw it coming!  And it isn’t easy to surprise the woman who makes all the plans.  I suppose that sums up the last twenty-five years pretty well.

When I look at the picture of the young couple, setting out to pursue their dreams together and then reflect on all the years and all the love and all the challenges and all the triumphs, I have to stop and think, ‘Wow!  We never saw that coming!”

I am truly blessed.

“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams.  Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.  Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”

—  Pope John XXIII

I’m up with the chickens this morning — more accurately, I’m up with the turkey.  I know most of you are already stuffed with Thanksgiving delights and either lurking in retail-store parking lots or sleeping in and vowing never to eat that much pie again, but we are just preparing for our celebration of thanks.  Mark and I decided when our children began to marry and leave the nest that we didn’t want to make holidays stressful for them by setting up a contest with the family celebrations of their significant others.  So it is that Franksgiving was born.

Franksgiving n. — A somewhat obscure holiday whose name is derived from the day of the week on which it is celebrated — Friday — and the traditional holiday name, Thanksgiving.  It allows celebrants to express thanks for one more thing — the fact that they need not consume two turkey dinners on the same day.

This is a precision sort of holiday, and in order for the main dish to be ready by the traditional hour of one-ish PM, the cook needs to start the roaster no later than 5:30 AM.  I am thankful that nature has made me an early riser by default, which makes the first step an easy one. The list of tasks is posted on the fridge.  This is essential since I have houseguests and early arrivers who really want to help but don’t know what to do.  The list lets them choose something vital and check it off when it’s done.  I am thankful for willing helpers who are able to read and who now can reach the countertops without climbing on chairs.  My shins are thankful that the chairs can be parked in their designated spots at the table.

I am daunted by the realization that I will be serving dinner to thirty people.  I am more daunted by the thought that eight of those people will be under the age of seven.  Babyproofing is at the top of the list, and it extends from waist-height down to the floorboards.  This is quite a challenge in an adults-only house.  I am thankful that we have so many friends and family who love us enough to give a day of their lives to our celebration.  I am thankful for so many little ones to brighten our day and show us the hope of the future.  I am thankful for all the possessions we take for granted until we must move them in order to keep the children safe.

I am a little bit sad that we will not pursue our Franksgiving craft project this year — a tradition begun by my mother-in-law, where each person can make a Christmas ornament after dinner.  We simply do not have the space in our house to pull this off without taking away the play space for the kids.  We will defer to them until they are old enough to enjoy crafting and bask in the delight of watching their antics.  Instead, I will place my new journal, “ Stars Inside Her,” in a conspicuous location — along with a pen — and invite people to write or draw the things that make them frankful…er, thankful.  I am thankful for such a beautiful vehicle for people to express their gratitude.  I am thankful for a year that inspires thanks.

We will gather at one-ish, bringing our hopes and our dreams.  We will sit in community, filled with potential that encourages us to stretch our limits and become a little bit more in the year ahead.  We will share the stories of our days since the last time we met like this; and in speaking of our failures, we will be encouraged by the love of others to live in the possibility of the days yet to come.  I

I’m thinking of you all and hoping that your celebrations have left you filled with love and joy and true thanks.  As for me, I’m off to peel the yams.  Happy Franksgiving!

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.”

— William Blake

Last January, I made the decision to commit to a year of blogging.  Part of that commitment involved coming here each morning and sharing some thoughts with whomever decided to stop by and read.  The second part of the commitment was to post a daily photo on my other blog page — 365000 Words.  It has been a true adventure to spend the year wandering with camera in hand and searching for the nuances of beauty that escape us when we hurry through life.  I have learned many things about the plants and animals that inhabit my world this year; and many of those lessons have come from seeing them through the zoom lens of my camera.  When we stop to take a closer look at all the things we dismiss as commonplace, we discover that each of them has many aspects that make it unique and miraculous and sometimes stunning.

Thanksgiving Day is much like the zoom lens of my camera.  It is a time when we reflect on all the unremarkable and ordinary events and people who are part of our daily lives; but for one day we place them in front of the zoom lens and see the beauty in each person’s contribution to the world and to our own journey through it.  We slow the video for a minute or two and capture the subtle but profound experiences that make up our moments.  I could make a list here of all that makes me thankful today, but surely it would be incomplete.  Today I will be thankful for the zoom lens that has taught me to look closer, to see things from several angles, to see the beauty in both the rose and the thorn.  Just as my camera has shown me different ways to look at the world around me, Thanksgiving Day reminds me to see each moment as a gift of extraordinary value.  Good or bad, joyful or sorrowful, each moment enriches our lives with learning.  When we learn to recognize the gifts of life in every form they take, we then will be the recipients of an abundant harvest.

Wishing you the most plentiful harvest of life’s abundance this Thanksgiving Day!

The other day I told you the story about the way Lily’s crayons shaped a day of family warmth and celebration for our group.  Today we are off to celebrate crayons in a different way.

In 1903, Edwin Binney and his cousin Harold Smith decided to launch a new product.  Edwin’s wife, Alice Stead Binney, was a school teacher, and she was excited about their invention of drawing crayons that were safe for use by children.  It was Alice who coined the name, “Crayola,” by combining the French word, “craie,” which means “chalk,” and “oleaginous” which means “oily.”  Crayola crayons have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Today we will take a group of eleven of Alice’s descendants to the Crayola Factory in Easton, PA.  There they will learn how crayons are made, participate in some art activities, and hopefully take away a feeling or two about the source of their own creativity.

You see, Alice Stead Binney was my great-grandfather’s sister.  In addition to being the wife of Mr. Binney — her claim to status in those days — she was a very creative woman.  Years ago, my great-aunt Alice — her “only niece and namesake” according to family tradition — shared with me some of Alice’s writings about spirit and nature and life.  I was stunned to see that her subject matter and opinions paralleled my own; and her writing inspired me to continue to put my words to paper.  Alice also wrote music, and we were delighted to be given copies last year.  My creative brother digitized some of her compositions, and I share one with you here: Helen’s Caprice by Alice Stead Binney Stereo MP3 28jun09

I just know that the tune will be playing in my head as I watch the grandchildren light up with color today.  I hope they will also come away with a sense of their creative heritage.  We will linger a bit at the historical exhibit and look for a picture of their great-great-great-great aunt.  She truly was quadruple great.

As for me, I will breathe in the intoxicating aroma of brand new crayons.  May your day be filled with color.

“You must be a Lotus, unfolding its petals when the Sun rises in the sky, unaffected by the slush where it is born or even the water which sustains it!”

— Sri Sathya Sai Baba

The holiday season is upon us.  Some of us will travel to visit distant family.  Some of us will be the hosts who prepare the meals and provide the places where traditions are shared.  These will be times of great joy and love; and, for some of us, they will be times of great stress.  For those whose lives are happy, family time at the holiday season multiplies that happiness.  For those who suffer grief and despair, the load feels even heavier as they find themselves surrounded by a celebration that does not seem to include them.

Let’s take a lesson this year from the flowers.  They have no expectation except simply to exist.  They don’t look around themselves and judge whether the spot where they grow is worthy of a blossom — they simply unfold their petals and let the world see their beauty.  One of the most colorful lessons of nature is the one taught by the flowers.  Whether they find themselves in the midst of a tended garden or on the edge of a rocky cliff, they do exactly what they were made to do — they bloom.

Let’s be like the flowers this holiday season.  Unfold your petals and be who you were created to be.  Let your beauty color the lives of all you meet and let the color of those around you delight your eyes and your heart.  Pay no attention to the cold rain that might fall.  Let it sink into the earth at your feet and sustain you rather than drown you.Open your petals to the sun — open your heart to the love and the happiness.

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

— Rachel Carson

Lily brought the crayons.

When she arrived in town for a weekend with her Dad — our son — she was looking through some of the things he keeps at his house for his daughter’s visits.  Often they are off to a martial arts class or to visit friends, but on this Friday they had no particular plans.  There on the shelf, among so many other choices, Lily found a hinged plastic box filled with crayons.  She put them on the table and let her father tuck her in for the night.  Saturday would be an exciting day.  Our entire extended family was gathering to welcome Uncle Max, Aunt Lauren and cousins Oskar and Gus.  Grandma and Grandpa picked them up at the airport.  Aunt Emily set the tables for lunch and ordered their favorite pizza from the shop where Max worked as a teenager.  Uncle Dan and Aunt Crystal picked Ivy up from her basketball tryouts and brought her along with Cheyenne and Harper to await our arrival.  Lily arrived just as we did, and she brought with her the box of crayons and some blank sheets of paper.

We ate pizza amid a flurry of hugs and excitement, as the adults who had grown up together in this house returned to our home for a reunion with their brothers and sisters.  The next generation joined right in, sensing the joy their parents felt and grabbing hold of it themselves.  As the table cleared, Lily took out her paper and crayons.  She asked if we had any coloring books.  I found one that was left over from her father’s generation, and brought it to the table.  Her eyes sparkled when she saw the intricate pictures, and she sat down to color a page.

That’s when it happened.  One by one, the adults who once played around the same table chose pages from the book and sat down to color.  “What color should I make this part?”  “Blue,” Lily answers, “Sky Blue,” and she hands over the crayon.  By the end of the afternoon, only three pages remained in the book.  The rest had been brought to life by the sharing of crayons, joy, and understanding — by Lily, her cousins, her aunts, and her uncles.

Lily left at the end of the day with her crayons and another book from Grandma’s collection.  My refrigerator is more colorful than it’s been in years.

When we met the following morning for Lily’s goodbye breakfast, she announced, “There are 144 crayons in here — I counted them.”

“Why don’t you take them to your Mom’s house?” offered her Dad.

“Really?”  Lily squealed.  “I don’t have any crayons at my Mom’s.”

I have a hunch that more than crayons followed Lily back home yesterday.  That box was full of the magical feeling of shared joy and the affirmation of a child’s delight in something as simple as coloring.  And I have a hunch that the grown-up children who inscribed all their work with dedications to one another will have color on their own fridges today — and maybe in their hearts as well.  Eyes are twinkling all over town — all because Lily brought the crayons.

I learned from my Grandchildren — and all in one afternoon!  One of my favorite things about spending forty years as a mom is the fun we have when all the kids make it to town at the same time.  Because of distance and busy lives, this only happens once a year; and this year the occasion for gathering is Thanksgiving.  Yesterday we drove to Philadelphia and met our eldest son, Max, as he and his family arrived for their ten-day visit.  By the time we returned to the house,  three of his siblings and their significant others, two close friends who grew up with our gang — our surrogate kids –, and four more grandchildren had gathered to greet us.  Lunch had been ordered from the local pizza shop, and an extra table was set up in the dining room.  Each of us brought our own expectations, our own contributions, and our own expressions of love to the day.  The last time we did this was a year ago; but if the children didn’t look a year older, I might have thought that we had returned to the same table after only a half-hour break.

What did I learn from the kids yesterday?

Love deeply — especially your family.  Expect good things when they arrive and be open to all the good things they want to share with you.  Don’t hold back when you have the chance to be together.  There is nothing more delicious than spending a day with the people who just feel like a good fit.

Know what is important to you.  If you bring something valuable to a party, hold onto it and keep track of it.  Whether it might be a special toy or a graceful attitude, be sure not to lose it in the hubbub of life.  When something is an integral part of who you are, be sure you remember to leave with it at the end of the day.

On the other hand, always be prepared to share the things you love.  There is nothing more attractive to others than something that lights up your eyes or illuminates your spirit.  Be sure to let others touch the things that touch you so that they, too, can feel your joy.  Joy is infectious.  If you don’t believe me, just watch two two-year-olds playing together.  When one lights up with the excitement of playing, the other cannot resist wanting a turn.  Be generous.

Know the people you can trust, and follow your heart when you find yourself in their presence.  I am always amazed that the little ones carry the memory of their aunts and uncles and cousins at such a tender age and fly into their arms after a year’s absence.  I smile as I think of my greeting from little Gus at the airport yesterday.  He just turned two and, except for webcam visits, has not seen me since last Christmas.  He came running to me, arms wide; and when I picked him up, he planted a big kiss on me and looked me right in the eyes, proclaiming, “I MISSED you!”  Know who loves you and be sure to miss them when they are away.

Finally, when you do have the chance to be with the people who love you best, give lots of hugs.  You will take them with you as memories that will open the door the next time you meet.

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Even if you’re almost fifteen, don’t be too sophisticated to enjoy the little ones.  Even if you’re a big eight-year-old and only can visit for one day, join in wholeheartedly and leave your mark.  Even if you’re just a little boy, be sure to line up and say cheese.  If you’re pretty and purple, don’t be shy about bringing your favorite car and letting it make vrooming sounds.  Even if you’re four and it isn’t too exciting to have your picture taken, share a good example for the little ones and show them how it’s done.  Finally, if you’re not quite sure about this whole idea and you still want to participate, see Grandma — her lap is always available, and she is comfy and safe.