Wrapping Presents

Somehow over the years, I became the unofficial wrapper of the majority of the gifts we give as a couple or family. And I’m not very good at wrapping presents. There are members of my extended family that wrap presents with crisp corners, neat seams, flat and limited amounts of tape. The bows sit neatly on the packages.

Not mine. Mine look a lot like they got dropped several times on the way to the Christmas tree. The paper often has small tears in it as I struggle to make the packages as neat as possible.

The thing is, even though I complain about being the family wrapper, I actually like to do it. I put up a table in our bedroom, either put on junk TV or holiday music, and wrap, wrap, wrap. Sometimes I forget what is in a package so I have to peek before I put the tag on it. Sometimes I get frustrated or bored and put smaller things in envelopes that I put in the tree like decorations.

This weekend I plan to do the wrapping. Not sure if it will happen or not. Going into it, I am telling myself that this is the year I will cut the paper properly, make crisp corners, not rely on lots of tape to hold it all together, and will not have crinkled and bunched up tape on the seams. This is the year I will write the tag first, then wrap the present and put the tag right now. That’s the plan — I’ll let you know how it goes.


Holiday Traditions

As we move further into the holiday season, I’ve been thinking about holiday traditions. My own family had some odd ones. For example, because my father is a minister, every Christmas Eve of my growing up had me folding bulletins for church that night. I still have the urge to carefully crease paper on Christmas Eve. Then there was the tradition of everyone sitting together on Christmas morning and you each opened one present at a time, from youngest to oldest. Of course, before long, only the youngest few had any left to open, but the forced order gave us more time to focus on each other, enhanced the anticipation, and caused a lot of laughter about who is the oldest.

In my husband’s family, one of their traditions was eating French Canadian meat pie around Christmas. I’d never heard of such a pie before we got together. But on one of our earliest Christmases together, he asked me about making the pie for Christmas Eve dinner. I learned how to make it, love eating it, and now it is a tradition every year. The funny thing is that tradition has now spread to my parents, who take a pie home for Christmas dinner.

What are your holiday traditions?

Do it your way!

The other day I wrote a post about talking about grief to the grieving. I forgot one of my most dearly held thoughts about grief, that it is your right to grieve however you want as long as you don’t hurt yourself or others.

Let me explain. If you need to grieve by going and sitting by the lake, looking at the water, thinking about that person, do it. If you need to go to church and pray, do it. If you need to look at photos, or can’t ever look at them again, do it. Do what you need to do.

The flip side? Don’t judge others who grieve differently than you do. As I have said to people, my mom needs to go to the cemetery to Sam’s grave. She goes because it matters to her that his final resting place is beautiful year round. She brings flowers, plants, gourds, and other things to show her love and enhance the beauty of the site.

Me? I don’t go to the cemetery often. I go when something major happens in my life, such as bringing Sam a copy of the bookmark from my first novel, or bringing him garlic and hot peppers at the time of the harvest. I also go when I need help “kicking over the bucket” of grief, meaning when it is welling up in me, and I need help releasing the pressure through a good cry. I go, play one of his favorite songs and cry. Going there makes me cry.

What we have learned about grief is that we each grieve differently. I don’t tell my mom that she shouldn’t go as often, and she doesn’t tell me to go more often. We respect that we each need different things in our grieving.

So if you are grieving, grieve how you need to grieve. Don’t let others tell you the “right” way to do it, and do what your soul and heart need. Take care of yourself, be gentle with yourself and others, and do what works for you.

Love, just love

This weekend I have thought a lot about love. I have watched/read as people I know and love have posted online about how everyone should say “Merry Christmas,” or that certain songs should be celebrated or banned. I have watched as people have posted about how they have finished shopping, while they then trash others in their posts. And through it all, I have seen/felt an undercurrent of anger.

Why so much anger? Is it because we are bombarded by the “wonders” of the holiday season, while so many of us are struggling? Is it because our world seems to be a chaotic and negative place? Is it because we are so convinced that our views are right?

My views are my own. I don’t have the right to shove them down the throats of others. I don’t care who someone loves, how they love them, what someone’s gender identity is, religion, political affiliation, or whether they celebrate a holiday or not. All I care about is that person does no harm to others, and hopefully, tries to do some good.

If you want to wish me a merry Christmas, go for it. Happy holidays? Great. A blessed season? Great. None of the above because this time of year is hard for you? Absolutely fine. I just know that I care about you, want what is best for you, and that I have no right to say that I know how you should live your life.

One of the things that Sam was best at was laughing at our (collective) stupidities. He would openly call people out in this really humorous way about their extreme views or behaviors, and do it in a way that didn’t cause anger or defensiveness. I haven’t get figured out how to do that, so all I can say it that be however makes you happy, make eye contact when you see me, and assume good intentions all around — and I will do the same.

Love, just love. That is the answer.

Talking about grief to the grieving

This past week, I had the opportunity to speak at a local event celebrating and remembering those who have passed away in the last year — primarily those who had been supported by one of the local hospice organizations. It was a beautiful, touching event, one that impacted me more than I expected.

The great thing about being in a room of grieving people is the shared understanding. No, we don’t completely understand what motivates each one of us, as we each have our own experiences that shape us. The love and acceptance in that room? Amazing!

That evening I spoke about grief, specifically about some of what I have learned in the last years. Here is a bit of what I talked about:

  • Grief is exhausting, period. It is exhausting to carry the weight of that loss around all the time.
  • Grief does not get better, it gets different. You get to a point where you make a very uneasy peace with it.
  • It can still sneak up and smack you when you least expect it, driving you to your knees. For example, later in the week, I went to a school concert. I was keeping an eye on all the moving parts, when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tall young man in a work jacket, wool cap, lots of curly blond hair sticking out under the cap, big work boots clomping on the gym floor. For a moment, I thought it was Sam. My heart raced with the completely unrealistic jump of joy that it was Sam. And then the reality hit, it was just a young man who looked a lot like him — and in that crowded room, in my official role, I had to suck in my breath, hold back the tears, clench my fists until the nails bit into the palms, and find my center again.
  • The people we have lost had passions. I think we owe it to them to keep their passions alive. They liked to fish? Teach someone to fish. They liked to bake cookies? Share that favorite recipe. Sam loved unconditionally? We need to keep that love alive.
  • Joy will return. It takes a while, you feel guilty at first, but it does happen. You do reach a point where you smile talking about them more than you cry.
  • Be gentle with yourself. That is true whether or not you are grieving. We all are doing the best we can on any given day. Be gentle with yourself and others, ask for help when you need it, offer help when you can.
  • Love, love, love. Love often, fiercely, unconditionally. Take all that love rumbling around inside of you for the person who is gone, and shine it back on the world. Be that relentless love in the world.

The holiday season — ideas for gifts

December has started. Yes, as a family, we celebrate Christmas, so we are now firmly in the middle of the holiday season. The last leftovers of Thanksgiving dinner were made into a turkey pie that is in the freezer for a treat sometime in the next few weeks.

We have some interesting holiday traditions, such as we always cut our Christmas tree from the tree stand on our land. The thing is, our trees are now like 30 feet tall, and we have kept a lot of them as a beautiful little forest on our land. So our holiday tree options are the ones that need to be thinned out, so frankly, they are not the most perfect of trees. Each year we suggest to our youngest that we could just go buy a tree, and he insists that we go with one of our own. Then we start the haggling over what we think is the least ugly tree, and cut it down, make wreaths from the extra boughs, and put up our tree. That will happen a week to two weeks from now.

This past weekend we went to the nearest shopping mall. The store wasn’t as busy as I had expected, but it was still pretty crowded, and holiday “stuff” was everywhere. Besides the fact that my allergies kicked into overdrive with all of the perfumes, scented candles, and other smells, something struck me. I didn’t see smiling families, or happy couples. I saw a lot of couples who seemed really irritated with each other, and many families where either the children were crying or the adults were snapping. Why? It seems wrong to have families piling shopping carts full of what clearly are holiday gifts when they were grouching at each other. Where was the joy? Where was the togetherness? Where was the love?

As far as I am concerned, gifts given out of a sense of duty, or out of the dreaded “they gave me something, so I need to give them something” are wrong. Gifts given to try out “out give” are wrong. The stresses we put on ourselves and others at the holidays are wrong.

What if instead, we tried to give gifts of time, memories, love? What about making an audio file of you reading a favorite book to a child, and giving them a copy of that book so they can read along instead of more plastic toys? What about making a dinner that can be frozen and giving it to a busy family as their gift? Lasagna is a great choice! What about taking an older relative somewhere they might not feel comfortable going anymore on their own, such as to the mall or for a scenic drive? What if we taught children about giving time and love instead of teaching them that buying love through expensive gifts is a good idea?

The holidays are a wonderful time. They also are a time full of stress, unrealistic expectations, family pitfalls, excess, and the potential for misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Even if you don’t have familial issues, or struggle with mental health, or are experiencing grief, they still bear a very great emotional weight. Let’s try to lift that weight with love, kindness, acceptance, and giving the gifts of time and support for each other.

The dreaded, but delightful, eye contact

Last night we went to the grocery store, and it struck me how many people look down at their feet as they pass people in the aisles, not making eye contact. Why? Why do we do that?

Think about when you see young children in stores, or other places, and they tend to look at you and say “hi.” And we all like that, and almost everyone responds when a little one greets them. Why don’t we do that as adults? What changes in our souls that we no longer feel we can greet others?  Or even it we can’t say hello because it seems like too great of a gesture, why can’t we make eye contact?

So, as you know, I’ve been trying to “do a Sam” over these last years. I make eye contact, even if it’s just a second or two, and I say “hi” a lot. Sometimes I get no response, sometimes I get the look that says the person thinks I’m crazy, but usually I get this brief instant of bemusement before the person responds. The funny thing is, if it happens in someplace like a store, it becomes almost a game. When I see that person in the next aisle, there is a smile. By the third or fourth time, there is a “hello again.” By the dairy aisle, we are laughing about seeing each other in the checkout line. Inevitably, we are both smiling by then.

It’s a really small thing to do, to just make eye contact or say hello to another human being. But we have no idea of what impact that may have on someone, just knowing that someone else noticed they exist.

Don’t we all want someone to know that we exist?


The importance of quiet

The last couple days of my life (professionally) have been noisy. Very, very noisy. Not bad noise, just noise. Lots of noise. Constant human voices.

Normally, at the beginning and end of each day, I have some time outdoors or at home where we are quiet. No human voices talking, or very little talking, soft music, time to let the day consolidate in my brain, time to focus on finding my center again. The last few days, I haven’t had the time, and I can tell when that is the case because I become more frustrated with others, and am quicker to irritation.

Tonight, after another very noisy day, I took some time to stand (and walk) outside in the dark, just hearing the silence. How beautiful it was! Just a couple minutes of not hearing relentless chattering made me re-calibrate, and I found my center again.

Just my own opinion, but I think everyone should find that silence at some point every day, just to be able to hear their own hearts, and remember who they are.


SpongeBob and us…



Many, many years ago, okay, about sixteen or seventeen years ago, Sam wanted to start watching this show on TV called SpongeBob. This was when I was home for the summer when I was still teaching. He asked, and I forbid it. It seemed stupid and too loud to me, so I just plain said it wasn’t allowed. I didn’t say that often, so it was a bit of a surprise to Sam.

And he ignored me, and watched it (with Ben) when I wasn’t around, usually when my mom was watching them. When I would find out, I would yell about it. Then one day, in his completely Sam way, he calmly asked, “Have you ever watched it? How can you say it’s garbage if you haven’t really watched it.” I really hated when he would reasonably question authority like that!

So I did. I sat down on the couch and watched an episode with them. And by a week later, we were watching it as a family when we had TV time in the evening. Turned out, I loved that silly show. I loved the devotion between the friends. I loved the humor that went right over the kids’ heads. I would still grumble, making it sound like it was a concession on my part, but truth was, I liked it as much as the kids.  And I still do.

As the boys got older, there were still times when SpongeBob was on, and we would laugh. We watched the movies, one of them even in the theater (a big deal for us)! We sang along to the songs and we watched it in Mexico in Spanish.

After Sam died, I made a playlist in his honor, and shared it on FB, and it is shared here in one of my prior blog posts. In that list was The Best Day Ever song from SpongeBob. Here is the link if you don’t know the song:

The Best Day Ever

The thing is, I learned a lot about myself in learning to love SpongeBob. I thought I was too smart, too educated, too politically correct to watch such a show, and it took a little boy to make my stop and think, and in doing so, I learned something and made some great memories.

Today I learned that the creator of SpongeBob has passed away. I thank him for his creativity, and for helping us make some great memories.