September 2010

I took my laptop on vacation with me last week, not so that I could stay “connected”, but so that I could use spare moments to work on my ancestry project.

My husband is a horrible night-time sleeper, but a world class napper, so each day when he and Little M headed off for their afternoon naps, I grabbed the laptop and my pile of papers and got to work adding my peeps into my new family tree software.

As I worked, entering names, dates, and scraps of information pertaining to my relatives stretching back more than 300 years, it occurred to me that I’ve taken on a daunting task, but more importantly a fascinating and exciting one.

Unfamiliar names sparked my curiousity – Who were they? What did they do? What were there hopes and dreams for the future?

Some names brought to mind faded memories of long ago meetings, or snippets of conversation between closer relatives.

Then there were the names of my grandparents and great-grandparents – all are gone now. My grandparents I remember vividly and miss everyday. My great grandparents, those I knew well, are memories that fade in and out, some vivid, some ghost like. All are bittersweet.

As I add each name to my tree I realize once again how quickly time is passing, how quickly my own memories are fading, and how many of my family members and their stories are slipping away. That knowledge has only served to remind me of the importance of my project and the urgency attached to it.  One day when my daughter looks at those same names I want her to be able to have a sense of who they were and where she came from.

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Image by jvh33 via Flickr

I just came back from a lunchtime stroll through a retail store where all the Christmas do-dads were lined up on the shelves in all their glittery splendor. It seems the Season of Panic has begun.

I imagine that is how retailers want us to start feeling right about now – panicked. What do I need to buy to have the perfect Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years? Because it does have to be picture perfect – just like in the store displays and commercials – doesn’t it? Or does it?

In the past I have always begun (to the dismay of many) thinking, talking about, and planning for Christmas in late July. This is partly because the majority of my family’s birthdays fall between August and December and it is easier to think of birthday and Christmas shopping in one lump. The other predominant reason is that I’m a planner by nature and like to think and work ahead so I can cram as much holly jolly in as possible.

This year, however, I’m going a different route. I vaguely thought about Christmas some time in mid-July, but let it pass without much ado. When my sister sent out the annual “let’s get the gift list rolling” email, I proclaimed this to be The Year of No Stuff for me (well, except for an airhorn, but that’s a different post altogether).

Now, here it is September, and *gasp* I haven’t made a shopping list, haven’t bought a gift, haven’t started addressing Christmas cards – don’t even have Christmas cards, and I’m still not panicking. I have decided to let the seasons and holidays unfold naturally and prepare for and enjoy them as they come. I’m toning it all down a few notches – will even be purging many of my decorations as they come down out of the attic.

Don’t get me wrong – I love, love, love this time of year, but somewhere along the line it’s all gotten to be too much of everything and not enough of the right things. For years my husband and I have had an ongoing discussion about the holidays. I tell him he hates the holidays, and he tells me, no, he does not hate the holidays! The truth is he hates the hype of the holidays – how it comes weeks or months before the actual event. So this year, I’m flexing my newly found but growing, minimalist attitude and giving my husband, my daughter, and myself the gift of a low-key holiday season. Less decorating, less fretting, less gifting, less its all got to be perfect, and more fun and togetherness.

In the past I have gotten involved in various ways (Secret Santas, walkathons, fundraisers, Relay for Life, literacy tutor), but at times it has been sporadic and there have been long stretches (especially during times of illness or stress) where I found it easier to write a check for a cause as apposed to doing.

But with parenthood comes hopes and dreams for a childs future and subsequently a lot of self examination. We all have ideas about the type of person we want our kids to become, and as I look at my daughter and consider my hopes for her future character, I know the best way to convey those traits is to emulate them myself. Which leads me to…getting involved.

There are a number of avenues that come to mind that I want to pursue – some now and some later when Little M is a bit older and can take part. But two that have been nagging at me of late are Relay for Life, and becoming more involved in supporting our troops.

Relay for Life is particularly near and dear to me because of the devastating affect that cancer has had – especially in the last ten years or so – on my family and friends. It seems almost epidemic. I participated on a team long distance a few years ago and had a blast, but this year I’d like to form a team locally so that I can be more involved in fundraising. Now that vacation is over, this will be my next major project to tackle.

Supporting our troops is a no-brainer, and doubly so because of the large number of family members that have served. I have been looking at and am interested in a number of their programs. I’ve decided to start with their letter writing program – because showing our gratitude is one of the single most important ways we can show our support. Then I’d like to join one of their sewing project teams.

Yesterday I talked about how vacation had inspired me to edit – by addition or subtraction – my life so that it is more in line with with what I value and want out of life. Getting more involved in the community and world around me is one way of adding to my life things that are important to me. It also gives me a prime opportunity to demonstrate to my daughter my values and to help her see beyond herself.

If you have children (or even if you don’t), I would love to hear from you about how you incorporate community service into your lives. What do you do? How do/did you get your children involved? What has been their reaction to it? What have you/they learned from the experience?

Yesterday my family came home from vacation. We stayed in a beach house where we lived amongst someone else’s house full of too much stuff, only to return last night to our house full of still (!) too much stuff. The irony did not escape me.

While on vacation I chose to just “chill.” I didn’t take all the projects I had originally intended to take, opting only to work on my genealogy project. I took two books but read only one. I let my mind slowly empty of all the excess stuff. It was refreshing and calming.

I also used the time to reflect on what was clutter in my life (beyond actual belongings), and what was missing. I determined that I was a long way off from where I want to be and that it was time to start editing. Good editing doesn’t just take away, it adds where needed to make the most of what is already there.

Due to a few unforeseen hiccups our vacation “wasn’t the most perfect vacation ever” as my husband so aptly put it, but it was great to get away, and as a bonus, it gave me all the inspiration I needed for the next phase in my life.

This past week my husband, Little M, and I have been on vacation. We rented a smaller, older house on the beach and have been enjoying a bit of quiet time together without the distractions of everyday life and the hassle of in season crowds.

Thursday we took a day trip up to Manteo to visit one of my all-time favorite places to shop – The Island Gallery and The Christmas Shop. For those who aren’t familiar with it, The Christmas Shop has been a much beloved institution on the island since 1978. (I’ve been going there since the 80s.) A few years ago the owners decided to call it quits, retire and do other things. They sold off everything and closed down. Then following a public outcry, they brought the store back to life and reopened.

The new version of the store has the same flavor as the old, but with differences that only a seasoned veteran would notice. But this post isn’t about the changes to my favorite store, instead its about the changes in me it forced me to acknowledge this week.

In the old days I would have walked through that maze of passageways and old rooms oohing and aahing in every nook and cranny and trying to narrow down what I wanted to leave with to a reasonable amount. There would have been ornaments, snowmen, nutcrackers, jewelry, and prints all vying for my attention and any number of things in the upstairs Halloween room screaming to go home with me.

This time? Didn’t happen. My heart didn’t race, nothing begged to be bought. I realized as I walked through the shop that I felt detached from it all. At first I thought it was because the store had lost it’s “aura” for me. Then I realized it wasn’t the store, it was shopping that had lost it’s “aura.” That’s when I knew I had truly turned the corner and that something more important had taken over the spot that the “desire to acquire” had formerly held. I told my husband as we drove away with my one tiny purchase, that I’ve come to realize that there are too many things that I want to do and that moving crap – I’m mean clutter – around, isn’t one of them anymore. I’ve even announced that as the holiday decorations come out this season, they will get severely edited. No more holding on to things out of guilt or  habit. If we don’t love it, it goes. Just thinking about it makes me feel like the Grinch – not when he stole Christmas, but when his heart grew ten sizes because he discovered the meaning of Christmas…and it ain’t about the stuff.

When did you turn the corner? When did you know that shopping and acquiring had lost its hold on you?

For months I have been working at getting my creative juices flowing again after a long lapse, and have been doing pretty well. I’ve made some summer dress and tops for Little M. I’ve mapped out sewing projects for the fall including sleep mats for school, her Halloween costume (Little Red Riding Hood), and some PJs among other things. I’ve made a ton of progress on my decluttering and reading projects. I’ve started working on my ancestry project that I talked about HERE. I’ve put out feelers about starting a Relay for Life team at my church. I’ve even been working on designing my own Christmas cards to make this year. I was feeling pretty good about getting out of the work work work, box-checking mindset with some great projects, then it all came to a screeching halt. What happened?  It took me a little while to figure it out.

I’m contemplating a move. Not like from the couch to the recliner, but from one side of the state to the other, or one coast to another. Let me explain. My husband is considering a career change of sorts. He would be staying within his same field, and even the same company, but it would be a different type of job and the next natural progression within his field. The thing is, to be considered, you have to be willing to move. Anywhere.

At first the whole idea of it gave me a knot in the bottom of my stomach…we are comfortable here, our families are relatively close, so much to pack, etc. The possibility of it threw me off my tracks. In the past, talks about moves were based on other factors, not a job change.  Then, my husband took the leap, and the more I thought about it and what it meant, the more I realized, we are comfortable here, and that is the problem. With excessive comfort comes lathargy, boredom, sameness, lack of growth, and that my friend, gave me an even bigger knot in my stomach. I love change. I love to grow, evolve, see new places and try new things. These are the things that inspire me, and keep me feeling creative without having to force it. And my husband, he needs a change too.

So, now that I’ve made the mental leap into the exciting possibilities for the future, my creative juices are boiling out of the pot. The problem is they are running amok with thoughts about the life we might lead – if these changes come to fruition – and not about the life I currently lead. Time to redirect. Time to refocus on what I can do now – those projects for Little M, and what takes on a heightened importance were we to move – decluttering, reading through and getting rid of the stacks of books and mags in the basement, and working on my ancestry project with my cousin who (for now) lives relatively close.

2pm this afternoon…

Breathing: A natural state of being we all take for granted, until we can’t.

For years my husband has suffered from seasonal allergies that for a few weeks each year would shut down his ability to breathe without lots of OTC medical intervention. He had always dealt with the allergies and the occasional sinus infection with minimal (okay, a bit more than minimal) complaining until this past winter when he began getting sinus infections every month. Yes, infections every month, and complaining every day. That’s when we had both had enough.  A trip to the doctor and then to an ENT determined that his allergies were multiple and some actually off the charts, but his real problem was that his septum and sinuses were a mess. A really big mess.

So now my husband is in surgery and I am sitting in a freezing cold waiting room beside a giant bank of windows overlooking a parking lot, and wondering…

– will this help?

– will he be able to breathe again?

– if he can breathe again, will he be able to sleep again (finally)?

– if he can breathe again, what will he find to complain about instead?

– and finally, what will this surgery do to the endearing little curve in his nose? (A result of a fight long before I met him.)

As I wait and ponder those questions I can’t help but also consider how our roles are reversed today. Since my diagnosis with Crohn’s almost ten years ago,  it has always been me in the hospital gown and slip resistant socks with tubes in my arms while he sits wondering how long the procedure will take, and if when its all said and done, will it help, will everything be okay. Now it’s the other way around. The circle of life.

10pm this evening…

Home again.

It was a long surgery followed by a very long time in recovery. The doctor’s exact words to described my husband’s septum and sinuses was “jacked up.” Doctor speak for REALLY BAD. We left the surgery center with instructions, prescriptions, and  a bunch of gauze pads strapped to my husband’s nose with rubberbands and medical tape (an odd but very efficient system to contain bleeding).

A quick stop to pick up the baby and a surprisingly decent drive through rush hour traffic landed us at home in good spirits and hopeful for a restful evening. Instead we discovered that our air conditioning had decided to die while we were out. As it turns out, the A/C’s capacitator was “jacked up” too.