Happy New Year everyone! Today is the first day of the first month of the eleventh year of the new millennium. It’s a fresh page on a new calendar. A clean slate. A blank page on a new pad of paper. It’s time to write the story of the rest of your life. Enjoy!

2010 is drawing to a close and the promise of the New Year stretches out before us. Tantalizing, intoxicating in its newness.

It’s the perfect time to reflect on where you are and where you want to be. In the New Year I will turn 45. Forty-five!!! So to say that I have been reflecting, pondering, thinking, ruminating, and “dream bubbling” (a term my BFF and I coined to describe our larger than life wishes), is an understatement.

I can list without hesitation all the tangible things I want, but there was something else, something intangible, that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Then I ran across a blog post by Gretchen Rubin of http://www.happiness-project.com challenging her readers to find one word to set the tone for the New Year. One word to sum up your entire theme, everything you wanted to achieve for an entire year. I was intrigued!

Then I was stumped.

I thought and thought and thought. And then I thought some more. (Picture the Grinch trying to understand why the Whos in Whoville were singing on Christmas morning after he stole all their stuff, and you’ll come close to imagining my stumped-ness.)

Finally after still more thinking, and some mindless swimming around the bottomless ocean that is the Internet, a vague idea began to form. Then it became clearer. Then it became…a word.

Better!

What I want for 2011 is for everything to be a bit better. Overall my life is pretty good and I am extremely grateful for that. However, there is always room for improvement – my house could be cleaner, I could be more organized (like I used to be pre-baby), I could be healthier, I could work harder at my relationships, hobbies and projects, I could be a better parent/spouse, I could be early more often, eat better, exercise more, remember to take my medicine and vitamins everyday. The list goes on and on. In short, every area of my life could be better – some a little, some a lot.

So my theme for 2011 is BETTER, and my goal is to work everyday to make my life a little better than it was the day before.

With that vision in mind I no longer look nervously at 45, but welcome it and better version of me it will bring.

Recently I was thumbing through an issue of Good Housekeeping Magazine and ran across an article where various authors, celebrities, and readers expressed their reasons for gratitude. Some were interesting, some thought provoking, some of the oh, please variety, but one stood out from the rest. It was written by Maya Angelou, and I quote it here in its entirety:

There was a time when I was in a state of utter despair, immersed in guilt over promises made on which I had not delivered. I went to my vocal coach, Fred Wilkerson, weeping copiously. He asked what was the matter. I responded, “I’m going crazy. I am almost at the brink of suicide.” He offered me a legal-size, lined yellow pad and a pen. He said, “Write down your blessings!” Furious that he didn’t understand my condition, I shouted, “Don’t talk nonsense, I’m telling you I am going crazy.” He said, “Write down that you could hear me say ‘write down’ and think of the millions who cannot hear the cries of their babies, or the sweet words of their beloveds, or the alarm that could help them seek safety. Write down that you can see this yellow pad and think of the millions on this planet who cannot see the smiles of their growing children or the delight in the faces of their beloveds, or the colors of the sunrise and the softness of the twilight. Write down that you know how to write. Write down that you know how to read.” Wilkie, as he was known, gave me that lesson in 1955. Fifty-five years later, I have written 31 books, essays, plays, and lyrics for songs — all on yellow pads. I remain in an attitude of gratitude.

Maya Angelou performer, poet, and author of Great Food, All Day Long  

Even though I consider myself to be very grateful for my life overall, there are times when I get caught up in busyness, frustrations, and the daily grind, and forgot how to express my gratitude.

I found Ms. Angelou’s quote particularly inspiring because it reminds me that even people as talented as she is have dark days, can admit to them, and sometimes require help to get out of them. It’s a lesson to us all that there is always something to be grateful for even when we feel we – or life – is at its worst. 

Some of the many things I am grateful for today:

My husband, my daughter, and my wonderfully large, extended family

Old friends and new acquaintances

A pleasant conversation when and where you least expect it

Resiliency

Freedom

A curious mind

Warm clothing on a cold day

Access to books, movies, music, magazines, the Internet

Cookies, brownies, chocolate

An abundance of good, healthy food to eat

The ability to cook

The ability to read and write

Glasses and contacts that correct my vision deficit

Modern medicine that saves my life on a daily basis

The sun when it shines bright and warm

Nature’s endless variety

The chance of snow

Tomatoes straight from the vine

Love, smiles, and kisses

Laughter

Clean drinking water

A tiny candy cane

Help from someone just when I needed it most

A message from a loved one that says: “I love you,”  “I miss you,” or  “thank you”

Memories

Cindy Bogard did a great guest post over at www.365lesssthings.com on Day 340 about what the “experts” say – via Real Simple Magazine – that we should save for our children.

My thought on the subject is that we should take our cues from our children – find out what they enjoy/value about us, or what holds special memories of us for them, and save those objects.

As I ruminated more on this subject, I couldn’t help but think about my parents and grandparents, and what objects that I would want to have of theirs as a personal memento. Some are still possible others are not. These items stretch beyond photographs or personal papers, which for the budding genealogist in me, goes without saying as desired items.

Here are just a few examples of things I’d love to have…

From my maternal grandfather – he died suddenly in July 1991 of a massive heart attack. I still remember getting the call from my Mom like it was yesterday. Grandpa was a quiet, to himself kind of man, but he always made me feel like I was completely adored. I would love to have any one of the worn Louie L’amour books that he was always reading, or anything from his World War II service. Mostly though, I would love to have the inexpensive little candy dish that was always stocked with Hershey Kisses (my grandparents called them Silver Tips). Whenever I came to visit, he would always open the candy dish and offer them to me by saying, “Sweets for the sweet?” I could recreate this on my own, but it wouldn’t be the same.

From my maternal grandmother – my grandma died in the spring of 1998. When I was a little kid I went every summer and stayed one week with my grandparents. It was a mini vacation from home life for me, and an extra pair of hands around the house for them since my grandparents both still worked full-time in those days. Over the years my grandma did many things for me, but every summer I did one thing for her that is now permanently associated with those summers in my memory. I rolled her change. (This was decades before CoinStar, debit cards, and mindless spending with credit cards, when cash was king and change was still considered spendable money by most people.)  

Grandma kept her change in a giant, plastic peanut and would collect it year round. When I came to visit, I’d dump that peanut out on the bed and would count and roll until I had orderly little stacks of rolled pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. It was one less chore for my hard-working grandma, and looking back, probably soothed my budding obsession with order and organization. Now, all these years later, I want that plastic peanut.

Sidebar: My paternal grandfather was a peanut farmer, so that plastic peanut is meaningful on a variety of levels.

From my Dad – I’m positive that there are a gazillion objects that my Dad owns that would remind me of different aspects of my Dad, his life and personality. But one object that forever shapes my memories of him from when I was a child, and my knowledge of his life throughout the years, and our relationship, has sat in his garage collecting dust since 1978. It is a blue, soft-top, 1968 Super Sport Camaro with white interior. I lust after that car in a way you can’t imagine, and I’ve told my Dad more than once that I would love to have it. His answer has always been, “I’ve got two boys that would probably love to have it too.” Yeah, but I’m the only one old enough to remember riding in it.

From my Mom – Mom has a lot of wonderful things, but the most sentimental of them to me would be her recipe collection – handwritten in little notebooks. My Mom is an incredible cook, from a long line of incredible cooks and those books would be an irreplaceable item of my heritage, our shared love of good food, and a pathway through her life.

There you have it, four eclectic but meaningful objects that remind me of dearly loved individuals and time spent with them. Now there are my paternal grandparents, my step-parents, my siblings, and countless aunts and uncles still to think of…

I’ve written a few times about the various projects I’ve been taking on lately and thought it was time for a progress report.

Relay For Life

I have initiated a RLF team at my church and have been working to recruit members for my team for the local Relay event. I have one other person on the team so far, and a few others on the fence about joining. The holidays are a difficult team to spring something new on people – especially when it involves money – so I’m not terribly discouraged that new members aren’t beating down my door. Build it and they will come.

I’ve already started fundraising, and find that it is simultaneously daunting and exhilarating to raise money for a good cause. I’ve been extremely lucky so far and have already reached my initial fundraising goal of $500, and have upped it to $1,000. Even better, over the weekend my sister volunteered to help sell Hope bracelets and earrings to raise money for my team, and she is on a tear. She has already texted me that she has sold everything I gave her. Yay! 

Family History Project 

This project is getting off the ground with a herky jerky motion – a bit like the Wright brother’s first attempts at flight I would imagine. That said, I am making progress.

A few weeks ago I dug through some boxes in the attic and found a tiny gold mine of photographs, an obituary for my great-grandmother, an oh so precious handwritten letter from my grandmother, and a few other treasures.

I also wrangled some formal given names from my Mom’s memory via email which are easier to research than “Great-Grandma Ella.”

Then, this past holiday weekend, a visit with my Dad produced a cornucopia of information. I learned a great deal about the family farm and how it came to be, and a bunch of things about my grandparents and my great-grandparents. I also got my hands on some great old pictures and found out who has more, and then – Cha-Ching! – my Dad produced two books that will be hugely helpful with background data – one on the County in which my family has lived for generations, and the other on the church that my great-great-grandparents help found. As if that weren’t enough, Dad, Little M, and I took a short drive down the road, and picked pears and pecans off trees on the farm that have been bearing fruit since my grandfather was young. A priceless outing. (And yes, I got pictures.)

Letter Writing Team

In October I joined the letter writing team at www.soldiersangels.org. Each week I receive the name and address of a new soldier (male or female) in one of the branches of the military, and I write them a letter of gratitude for their service. I have found this to be the most uplifting of my projects, but also the most difficult. It is a privilege to be able to write and express my gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy everyday. However, at the same time, it is incredibly difficult to find the right words, to figure out what to say and not feel like I am sounding like an idiot. You are told upfront when you join the team that you may not ever hear back from your soldiers, but that regardless if you do or not, the letters are invaluable and to keep writing. I have taken that message to heart and will keep writing and trusting that my letters are helpful…and hoping that I don’t sound like an idiot.

Decluttering

A few weeks ago my BFF, bouyed by the success of my yard sale back in early summer, agreed that we should have a sale together.  Get rid of stuff, make money, spend time with BFF. Hurray! 

Wait…now this crap has to sit in my basement until Spring? Boo!!!

I have discovered over the years that I am very much a light switch person. Either on or off. I’m fine with the stuff hanging around until I flip the switch in my mind and decide it has to go. Once I make that decision I want it gone yesterday, so the thought of having this stuff lurking around taking up valuable real estate (especially now since it is piled in the basement instead of stashed here and there) is slowly killing my sanity. In light of the impending sale, I’ve decided to take a break from serious work on decluttering until mid-January in order to preserve what is left of my mind. In January I will be a few weeks away from the sale and will be able to stack, sort, and price with abandon because I’ll know it will all go soon. Hurray!

Back in September my husband, daughter, and I took our yearly vacation to the beach. It was good, but while there I came to grips with the fact that I was tired, burnt out, frustrated. Pick an adjective, I was there, or in the neighborhood. 

When we got home I tried to convince myself I was “refreshed” and continue as before, but it wasn’t working out. So, I took a break, stepped away from my blog and other things and examined my life. Or rather, I looked at what was missing from my life. 

It occurred to me after all this reflection that somewhere along the line I misplaced it,my life that is. Not all at once, but incrementally, which is the worst way really, because its like the proverbial frog in the pot – he jumps out of a boiling pot, but will cook himself to death in a pot where the heat is turned up slowly. 

With the clarity that comes with hindsight, I realized that I have been ever so slowly turning up the heat on my own pot for, oh, about ten years now. Women as a rule are people pleasers, doers, the glue that holds things together. It is one of our greatest assets, and one of our greatest downfalls. Often, in the course of being that glue we sacrifice or morph a little too much and one day wake up and realize we are a shadow of our former selves.

What to do? What to do?

The short answer: Get a life!

The long answer: take a look at your life and decide what is missing, what is important, what you want back in this thing we call life and make it happen. That’s what I’ve been doing.

In formulating this post, I took pen and paper and quickly jotted down a list of things that I have over the course of time deleted, severely limited, or sporadically done that were once an important and enjoyable part of my life. In just a few minutes I came up with 25 things.  TWENTY-FIVE THINGS!!! Twenty-five things that I tell myself I can do tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, in favor of what needs to be done now. That is no way to live…happily.

So now that the information has been gathered and assessed, the only thing left to do is make the changes needed to put me back in the saddle of my own life again. Time to get movin’!

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.