Little Things

I started today with the most beautiful note about Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude. The note was from someone that I admire and love, and greatly respect her opinion. Her warm words washed over me like the absolute best of hugs — you know the kind, the long, strong hug from someone you love that makes the world seem right.

One of the things she mentioned in that note was a memory about the two of us listening to the song “Clouds” by Zach Sobiech. Check it out here: CLOUDS

I asked her to listen to that song after our youngest had gone to a Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership event, and heard it there. He’d gotten in the car to come home, and insisted we listen to the song in the parking lot. That’s how much it meant to him.

I fell in love with that song, and the next day at work, I asked that friend to listen to it with me. And she did. And she held my hand, cried with me a bit, and made me feel loved and supported.

This is an example to me of the idea that little things matter in life. That friend taking the 3-4 minutes to listen to the song meant so much then, and still does now. The friend sending a text to just say hi? That matters. The friend handing me a tiny giraffe eraser? That matters.

One of the things I’ve learned in the years since Sam’s death is that big things matter, but sometimes the smaller things matter even more. Sometimes we get so hung up on the big things, like I want to get that really special gift for someone, when just picking up the phone and calling to say hi would matter just as much.

My Grandfather, Alfred

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On this Veterans’ Day, I wonder a lot about my grandfather, Alfred. Actually, both of my grandfathers were named Alfred, but today, I am wondering about this Alfred.

My paternal grandfather Alfred came to the United States as a very young man, coming from somewhere in the Balkans. It seems like it probably was from Latvia, but we aren’t completely sure of that. He arrived in the United States, became a citizen, married, had children, divorced, married again, and fathered my dad.

Along the way, he enlisted to fight in World War 1 — long before there was a real rush of Americans enlisting. This is a picture of him in his cavalry uniform. I would love to know why he enlisted so early. I know he went to Europe, I know that he suffered through, and survived, trench warfare.

My grandfather died more than thirty years before I was born, and he has been gone almost eighty years now. He died when my dad was only three years old. So even my dad has very, very few memories of him, and certainly, never asked him about why he enlisted.

After the war, Alfred was a court translator. He worked in Boston, making sure that people that came before the bench knew what was happening, that it was in language they understood. I really like that idea — he was protecting the rights of others almost a hundred years ago!

So today, I honor Alfred, and all our veterans. I give thanks for their sense of duty and honor, and I am thankful for them protecting the rights and freedoms of others.

This was going to be about grief…

I started out writing about grief today.
 
Like so many others, I am grieving this week. Another week, another mass shooting. Beyond the horror of the event, is the horror that we (as a society) are getting so used to such events. So I grieve. I grieve for the loss of the individuals, and grieve for the pain and loss of their families and friends. But I also grieve for us collectively as a society, as human beings. I grieve for us reaching a point that if only a couple people have died or are wounded, it doesn’t even make the news cycle.
 
But then I thought more about. I grieve, and will continue to grieve, but instead I need to feel that we can take action to change the reality. I choose to not become afraid to go to public events or places. I choose not to avoid making eye contact because I don’t know someone. I choose not to say that “this is the way the world is now.”
 
Instead, I choose to look for the good, the beauty, the kindness in others. I choose to actively look for the light and love, not the darkness and hate.
 
On Wednesday, I left a class pretty late, waiting for a ride to see family. I was waiting in a less than stellar neighborhood, tired and hungry.
 
I’d been standing out there about five minutes when a man who’d been in my class came out. “Waiting for a ride?”
 
“Yes.”
 
After he offered to give me a ride, and I assured him that my ride was on the way, he said he was going to keep me company until my ride arrived. We stood in that parking lot by the crumbling school in that rough neighborhood. We talked about views about education and school safety. We talked about maple syrup. We talked about public state colleges and private ones. And when my ride pulled in, he smiled and said, “Just wanted to make sure you were safe.”
 
I didn’t know him. I knew his first name only, and we will probably never see or talk to each other again. I’d heard him talking to others in the class, so I know that his political views are as far apart from mine as possible. But after a really long day of an intense class, he chose to keep me company rather than leave me alone there.
 
I’m sure I would have been fine waiting there alone. But that really isn’t the point. The point is that a relative stranger made an effort to take care of another human being.
 
While I grieve, I also recognize the beauty and wonder of humans. I want to live in a world where we aren’t desensitized to the horrors, but also don’t forget the wonders.

Fish and Chips

Our two youngest children love (loved) fish and chips. You know, the English style fish and chips. When Sam was about 8, and Ben was 3, we traveled to London as a family. Setting aside the seeming insanity of taking three of our four children (3 to 18 years old — the fourth went to North Carolina) and my parents (dad who had never been out of the US or Canada), it was an amazing trip.

We learned so much on that trip, which was the April after September 11th. Ben assertively introduced himself to a group of middle eastern looking men when I would probably have kept my distance — not proud of that, but being honest. The friendships we developed because of his assertiveness? Priceless! He taught us to look beyond the stereotypes the media was pushing then. We traveled around England, learned about traveling with multiple generations involved, saw great sites, and went to Lego Land.

My dad wanted fish and chips on that trip. He really, really wanted them. So we found a great local restaurant that had fabulous ones, and I think my parents ate there every night of the trip. Sam and Ben loved that place, and they loved the fish and chips except for the peas that came with them. I ate the peas. Lots and lots of peas. We have great pictures of dinners there, and we have reminisced about those meals and that trip a lot.

Last night, while on a work trip, we went out to the hotel restaurant. I don’t usually eat in a hotel restaurant, but I was too tired to go elsewhere. The fish and chips there were the best I’ve had since England, and they came with peas. Peas. It made me laugh.

As I ate my peas, I thought a lot about how thankful I am that we were able to travel like we did when our children were young. Those memories, those laughs, make me smile — even though they will always now have a tinge of sadness because we can’t ever make new memories with Sam.

Make your great memories while you can, don’t wait for the perfect moment to do something. We almost cancelled that trip to London because the world seemed to chaotic then, and I will be forever thankful that we went.

Tomorrow — PLEASE

The second school district I worked in had a mission statement that said (I’m paraphrasing) that we committed to treat every child as if that child was our own. That mattered to me. I thought about that every day of my time there, and still think of it years later. Treat every child as if they were our own.

Tomorrow we vote. I’m not telling you how to vote, I’m asking you to vote. I voted by absentee ballot. I voted as if I was voting for the world that I want for my children, for my grandchildren. I ask that you do the same. However you vote, please vote for candidates that support the world you want our children to inherit. And please, please vote.

The 10 Book FB Challenge

Many of you have been tagged in the Facebook 10 Book Cover Challenge. You know the one. You are nominated by a friend, and you post the cover of a book once a day for 10 days, with no explanation of why you picked the book.

I was nominated by my friend Laura, and was nominated in a truly spectacular way. She posted the cover of my first novel published as her 10th book, and then nominated me. How cool!

So I started my ten days, and while I followed the rules on FB, here I want to explain why I picked the books I did.

tacky

Tacky is a family favorite. Every new baby who comes into the world in our extended circle of family and friends gets a copy. Why? Because Tacky doesn’t limit himself to the societal expectations of others. He is his own penguin, and that is truly a wonderful thing!

back to basics

This book is used constantly in our house. It has basic information, like how to bake bread or stack your firewood so that air flows through and dries the wood. It has simple explanations, great photos and drawings, and makes it clear that anyone can strive for a more self-sufficient life style.

ferdinand the bull

Ah, Ferdinand! I was probably in my 30s before I realized this is truly an anti-war book. Instead, I saw it as a beautiful story about how one bull refused to give in and become violent, no matter how he was pushed. The idea of him sitting under a tree sniffing the flowers makes me smile. Shouldn’t we all take more time to do that?

jitterbug perfume

When I lived in Spain in college, there was only one English language bookstore near my apartment. Considering that I had moved there planning to be there for a year, and only was able to take two suitcases with me, books didn’t make the cut. When I got to Madrid, I went and bought this novel, frankly, because it was on sale. It is a great story, made me willing to try beets (other than pickled ones), and I read it over and over and over as I couldn’t afford to buy more novels. I still pick it up at least once a year, because it makes me smile.

janet evanovich

I started reading Janet Evanovich’s series with Stephanie Plum back decades ago, with a good friend and her mother. Great stories, laugh out loud funny, and now, each November they are my treat over the Thanksgiving weekend.

life in a jar.jpg

What a great book! An amazing heroine, high school students who followed the trail to find her again, a true story of how amazing humans can be to each other. I also picked this book because it was written by a local writer, who helped me see that it is possible for someone from Addison County, Vermont to get published.

night

This book made me both marvel at the strength of the human spirit, and grieve for the evil humans cause.

the family nobody wanted

I bought a copy of this book when I was in grade school, from a book order form. I read it, and loved every page. The story of a couple who takes the children who are unwanted by the rest of society made such an impact on me. I still read it at least once a year!

cover

This one? This is because it was my first novel to be contracted to be published. It was the first complete novel I wrote. I’m not sure it is my best novel, but it was my first. The joy and excitement of getting that contract still resonates even now. It also was the book that I wrote (most of it) when Sam was a baby and wouldn’t take a nap — it will always be connected to him.

And finally, this book. Yes, I know, it is another book that I wrote. But being honest, it has had the most impact on my life of any book. It ripped me apart to write it, and has helped rebuild my hope and strength as it has gone out into the world.

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What are your top 10 books?

Our Chickens and Fluffy 2

I have written before about how much I enjoy our chickens. We have free range layer hens, a small flock of them, who wander our property all year long. They have a lovely coop and fenced yard, but during the day, the coop is open to let them wander as they wish. Once in a while, one may be taken by a fox, which we hate, but we feel it is better for the chickens to be able to wander.

This year two young hens joined our aging flock. Each year 1-2 of them come new to the flock, as we usually lose 1-2 a year due to old age or a fox. Now, hens don’t lay eggs immediately, they have to be at least six months old to start laying. Once they start, it is a bit slow for a while. Once layers get really into their stride, most of them lay one egg about every day and a half.

Our newbies, Arucanas, have just started laying eggs. The first tiny blue egg made us smile. Now, we are getting at least one blue egg a day.

Yesterday, one of the babies and two of the older hens decided to lay their eggs in the hay barn.

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Now, they have beautiful nesting boxes in the coop, but obviously yesterday it seemed better to hunker down in the hay.

One of our new hens is this beautiful black Arucana. She is just gorgeous. She loves to walk around the garlic bed.

Soon after she started free-ranging, we noticed something about her. She likes to be with people. She likes to walk around with us, “talking” to us. Imagine our surprise when she started squatting down near us, clearly wanting to be carried. Fluffy, our beloved Fluffy, used to love to be carried. So this newbie waited for us to figure it out, then was happily carried back to the coop.

Now she gets carried every day, cooing to us as we carry her. So she has a new name (usually we don’t name the chickens anymore), she is Fluffy 2, usually just called 2 now.

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Yes, 2 took a selfie. Isn’t she gorgeous?

 

What does it mean to love someone?

Those of you who know me personally know that often say that when I was a teenager, my older cousin Mike died. Mike was ten years older than me, he taught me to love the Boston Bruins and Saturday Night Live, irritated me by singing the Alka-Seltzer song, protected me, and helped me put together my gerbil house.

When Mike died, our little extended family felt it deeply. It rocked us all to the core, and the loss still reverberates. Every single time I hear the name Bobby Orr, I think of Mike, and I grieve anew that we never got to get to know each other as adults. But, one thing that came out of his death was that we all got better at saying “I love you” to each other. Let’s be realistic here, our extended family and our family life was not all roses, puppies and unicorns. We dealt with our grandmother being killed, mental health issues, addiction, infidelity, major health issues, and lots of other really fun stuff. But even at our darkest moments, we told each other that we love each other, and we meant it, and mean it still.

Loving someone is not always easy. Liking people can be pretty easy. Love is so much deeper than that. Love is caring how the person is, even when you want to smack them. Love is being willing to stay up all night holding someone’s hand, even when you think they have made the wrong decision. Love is being able to forgive.

As I’ve said so many times before, Sam was and is love. Sam cared how people were, and wanted people to feel love and acceptance, and feel valued. Over and over, people still come to us and say, “he didn’t judge me,” “he accepted me for who I am,” “he asked me to sit with him at lunch,” “he made eye-contact with me.”  It didn’t matter to Sam if someone agreed with his political views or not, he still saw them as humans, as worthy of being loved. Sometimes he would actively pick an opposing view for a conversation, just to get the other person thinking, but it was never done with malice or hatred.

I think about that a lot right now. I keep saying “the world” is a chaotic and sad place right now, but what I am really saying is that I see our United States that way right now. The ugliness was always there below the surface, but now it is in full awful view, and it seems to be getting deeper and uglier by the second.

Having said that, I am not sure that I, or anyone else, is doing enough to combat that ugliness with light and love. It is too easy to retreat to the “that group is doing this,” or “THEY are doing that.” In our anger about the reality, are we shutting out others? Are we marginalizing people?

So I ask myself, what have I done today to make someone’s life better today? What have I done to actively combat hate? What have I done to look at situations and see what is there that is beautiful and good? Have I reached out to someone who is marginalized? Have I treated others the way I would want my own children to be treated? Have I upheld Sam’s reality and practice of how to treat others?

I’ve quoted Twiddle a lot over the last years, but I will once more. Their song White Light calls on people to “love relentlessly.” I absolutely love (sorry to overuse the word) that phrase. “Love relentlessly,” not “love when it is convenient,” or “love people like you,” or “love those who are in power or have money,” it says to do it RELENTLESSLY. Not once in a while. Not when it is convenient. Not when it is easy to do. Relentlessly.

As this day comes to an end, I ask myself, have I loved relentlessly today? I can say I did my best, not perfectly, but I will continue to do so with every ounce of my being. In my mind, it’s the right thing to do.