A Tale of Two Plates

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If you are someone who knows us personally, or you’ve read Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude, you know something about why these two plates matter to me.

The plate on the left (with grapes) is one of our “date night” plates. As many of you know, one of our rituals as a couple has been a weekly date night at home. We have done it every week since we moved in together in 1992 with one exception — we did not have a date night the week Sam died. Back in the 1990s, it often was a simple and quick meal such as nachos. Over the years, the meals have improved, but the sentiment remains the same. Date night started as a time each week where we sat down together at the table, shared a meal, and remembered all the things about each other that caused us to fall in love in the first place. When it started, we had young children in the house, and didn’t have the money to go out, or the money to pay a babysitter, so the ritual of the kids having a special dinner (frozen pizza!) and a movie while we had our dinner was born.

A couple years into the ritual, I went into the local TJMaxx, and saw the grape plates. They only had two dinner plates and three salad plates, so I bought them all, and they became our date dinner plates.  Our children and their friends and our parents have all come to recognize that when those plates come out, we are going to have our time together as a couple. Time to talk, to dream, to mourn, to plan, to laugh, to cry, to look both to the past and the future, and time to bask in our love.

The other plate, the white one, is equally important in a different way. Our very first date was dinner at Boves in Burlington. Boves became our family restaurant. We celebrated report cards, championships, getting into college and so many other things there. The first place we went out to dinner after Sam’s death, almost three months after he passed, was to Boves. We laughed and cried that night as we ate spaghetti, remembering our first date, and all the times we’d been there with our children. We toasted Sam’s love of the wallpaper there.

When it was announced that Boves was closing, I cried. It was as if another part of our lives with Sam was leaving us. So I reached out to the owner, as asked for some plates, which now proudly live in our house. We only use them a couple times a year, but each time they come out, they exude love and memories.

These plates represent love, memories, hope and rituals. One of the things I have learned on our journey is that rituals that speak to your love of others helps keep you grounded and connected to others, and I am so glad we have the ones we do.

A Give-Away!

As the winter winds down, it’s time for a give-away. For every person who shares this post out, or shares the ones on Facebook or Twitter will be entered to win a prize.

What are the prizes? Three winners will be picked from everyone who shares or retweets the posts, and they will have a choice of a signed copy of one of my books, or a “Do a Sam” mug or pins. If you live outside of the United States, I hope you will still share the posts, and if you win, your prize is an e-copy (Kindle) of one of my books.

Please share away!

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Love In So Many Forms

As our break week comes to a close, I stood in the sunshine this afternoon and reflected on the week. What did we do? We went to a concert, had medical appointments, worked some, made home renovation plans, and saw two great games with our kids.

The home renovation process/discussion is a difficult one. So many things were planned for years for our home and land, and with my husband’s diagnosis, we may not be able to (or want to) achieve some of them after all. For example? This was the year in our long-term plan that we were going to add more beehives and expand the gardens even more. Now we don’t plan on having bees this year, and we are scaling back the garden. No, we aren’t giving up, but we are being realistic and also wanting to focus on the quality of life and joy, not stressing over how many bushels of tomatoes we have sitting on the counter needing to be canned.

The appointments? They went well but still cause lots and lots of stress, uncertainty, and fear. The good news? We have such wonderful people around us, we can express all of those things and go forward.

But around all of that, we had a concert and two games (hockey and basketball). The concert was perfection. Great music, new friends and old, love, and the reminder that even if Sam is gone in body, his soul and love continue to motivate us on a daily basis. The games? They gave us different joy, but all based around family and friends. At the hockey game, we had the joy of watching our youngest granddaughter overcome her fear of the mascot and her pride in being so brave. We watched our oldest granddaughter get to know her uncle’s friends and talk and talk, something we didn’t know if she’d ever be able to do. We watched our grandson yell “Zamboni” at the top of his lungs, full of joy to see the machines. Then we went to a basketball game, watched great D-1 basketball and had the joy of watching our sons with their significant others, and realized that we have great kids. No longer children, they have all found their way into adulthood, have great partners, and have more strength and poise that I could have imagined at their ages. Our living children have navigated the worlds of losing their brother and now their father’s changing health without awkwardness, and they make me so very proud.

And then today, as I was sad about the end of the break, I watched Hila the sheep leave the grain trough to run over and rub noses with my husband, her favorite person in the world.

Yes, last Friday was Valentine’s Day, but for me, love can be found in a helping hand at a concert, a hug that makes you feel loved, a mushy bagel shoved in your mouth because a child wants to share, a UVM mascot waving to a child as she works up the bravery to wave back, a son starting the car so his dad won’t be cold, and a sheep saying hello.

Love is all around us if we just take the time to recognize it.

 

Yes, I’m looking at my comfort zone in the rear view mirror…

Recently, someone commented that I seemed stoic. Then someone commented that I seemed so comfortable in my own skin. Wow…

Neither of those observations are how I feel about myself, but I am glad that I give off a sense of calm and peace. Now, let’s be clear, I am at peace about many things, and have learned to accept many things I can not change or control. But comfortable in my own skin? Maybe at times. It would be more accurate to say that I have been out of my comfort zone every single second since that phone call at 5:34 a.m. on October 9, 2013, and I am learning to make peace with that fact.

Before that call, I was in my comfort zone. I was cruising. Life was exactly what I wanted it to be. My kids seemed to all be as healthy and happy as they could be, we were expecting our first grandchild. Life was good. Really, really good.

Then Sam died, and from that minute on, I have been looking at my former comfort zone in the figurative rear view mirror. We now try things and meet people we would never have connected with prior to that change of life.

Some days, I long for that comfort zone of old. But trying new things, meeting new people, trying to be as open to the world as Sam was is pushing that old comfort zone farther and farther away. And that’s okay.

“Doing a Sam” was not my intention in my life. Sam was going to do his own “Sam-ing”, not us. But we have the obligation, and the honor, of trying to live our lives to the fullest both in his honor and because it was what he always wanted us to do, no matter how uncomfortable we may be in doing so at first. And maybe we are helping others do so too, at least I hope so.

So, as I reflect on where we are now as opposed to where we were on October 8, 2013, I can say that I am okay at only seeing my comfort zone in that rear view mirror, fading fast.

 

True Icy Love

I have written about the constant and unwavering love of our animals many times. As you know, just about a  year ago, our two lambs Lana and Hila came to live with us. After they lived in the house until they were big enough, and it was warm enough for them outside, they transitioned down to the alpaca barn, moving in with our elderly alpaca Ellsy (short for Ellsbury, honoring Jacoby Ellsbury who played for the Boston Red Sox).

Ellsy has always been a very smart alpaca. Very curious. Beautiful, gorgeous fiber. And scared of his own shadow. When we had other alpacas, we had to hand-feed him because he was so docile and submissive he would give up his grain to the other alpacas. When his last alpaca buddy passed away, the vets suggested giving him a couple of lambs to protect, feeling that at his age, any new alpaca would be so dominant over him, it would be a problem.

So we brought Lana and Hila home, and eventually, they moved in with Ellsy. And the most amazing relationship was born. Months later, they are such a close-knit family. They share their food, they play together, they are together day and night. Ellsy has gone from being an exceedingly shy alpaca to being very assertive when he feels someone or something might be a threat to his babies. The funniest part? He now plays like a sheep. He plays tag with them, running and jumping like they do, and it is so much fun to watch his joy and love.

Right now, Vermont is in the midst of a nasty storm. Sleet and freezing rain have fallen for the last 30 hours, and everything is coated in a thick layer of ice. Everything. And Ellsy…

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Now, why is he covered in ice when he has a nice dry barn to keep him out of the elements? Because of true love. True icy love in this case. Lana and Hila like playing out in the sleet. When he was alone, or just with alpacas, Ellsy would stay inside for days instead of venturing out in unpleasant weather. But if he stays inside now, his girls will be unsupervised and away from him, and he can’t let that happen.

The sleet continues to fall, snow is coming later today, and Ellsy follows Lana and Hila faithfully, keeping an eye on their safety, playing when they want to play, and never going inside until they are ready for their nap. When they nap, they go into what was their lamb pen, and curl up, and Ellsy comes in, cushes (the way an alpaca lays down) by the opening to the pen, and sleeps a bit. Now, he’s completely warm himself, that thick layer of beautiful fiber ensures his comfort, but still.

This is the image of true love. Ellsy loves his lambs so much, he stays out in the weather, getting coated in a layer of ice himself, to be with Lana and Hila.

Everyone and every creature should be loved that much!

The end of a year, and of a decade…

2010 started with hope and joy. It was going to be the decade when I finally became a published author. We were looking forward to what would come with our children, and full of hope for our professional futures.

Ten years later, we have weathered storms, survived crippling loss, welcomed grandchildren, left our comfort zones far behind, laughed, cried, traveled, mourned, celebrated, and so many other things.

As this year and decade come to a close, and we face the uncertainty of what is coming for us as a family, the one certainty is love. Relentless love. That is all that matters for any of us.

Go into 2020 loving relentlessly. Love loudly, proudly, consistently, even when it is hard to do. Love with all of your heart and soul.

Sending love to you all!

 

 

 

 

Complicated Love

It is Christmas Eve, a time for both reflection and insanity. It is the time to make sure all of the last minute tasks are done. It is the time to make sure we are ready for all of the family meals over the next days. It is time for the mine-fields of emotional entanglements that are always part of family life.

It is also the time to think about love. Complicated love. Love that has joy, laughter and hope. Love that is tinged with grief and sadness. Love that looks both to the future and to the past.

As we enter Christmas Day, I encourage you to look in your hearts. Is there someone in your life from whom you are estranged? If so, reach out in some way. A text, an email, a call if you are brave enough.

Time is not promised to us. Life is not promised to us. Everything can change in an instant. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of assuming there will always be enough time. Make people the priority, and find the time now before it is too late.

Wishing you love, hope, health and peace!

 

Three Tattoos

Those of you who have read Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude know the story of my first two tattoos. To be clear, prior to 2013, the only time I had ever thought of getting a tattoo was after a night of too many martinis while living in Madrid. I also planned on getting my nose pierced at the same time. While I didn’t go forward with the tattoo, I did make an appointment to get my nose pierced but cancelled it when my mother (over the phone) told me that it was fine for me to get my nose pierced as long as I also planned on paying my own college tuition…

Fast forward to late 2013, after Sam’s death. We knew that Sam had planned on getting a tattoo of his favorite tree of life emblem on his 21st birthday. As Sam didn’t live to see that birthday, we (my husband and I) decided to get that tree in his honor, with a star above it because we talk to Sam looking at the stars. That appointment to get our tattoos was one of the most profound, spiritual and emotionally fulfilling events of my life. I learned more about the human spirit, relentless and unconditional love, and generosity that afternoon than I ever did attending church services.

Later, after the birth of our first grandchild, we each got a second tattoo. This time, we both were getting them as a way of symbolizing why we keep going each day, but the actual tattoos differed. For me, that second tattoo was on the top of my foot, symbolizing putting one foot in front of the other. It symbolizes our four children, Sam’s favorite place, our grandchildren, and our place in the universe.

This past spring, after my husband’s diagnosis of ALS, we each got one more tattoo. Mine is an infinity symbol, with a note written by my husband, recognizing that at some point, he will no longer be able to write. It is a daily reminder of the infinite power of our love.

Each of the tattoos has been done by the same artist. He makes us laugh, he cries with us, he makes us think about life and death with blazing honesty and openness. He has been part of this journey in a very unique way, and again as I say so often, Sam brought the most amazing people into our lives. Without Sam wanting that particular tattoo, we would never have gone to get one in his honor, and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have new people teach us so much about stereotypes and finding love and support in the most unusual places.

Musings…

It has been an interesting and busy week for us. Some medical appointments, endless paperwork, time with family, iffy weather, and lots of interesting conversations.

As we get closer to Thanksgiving, I know I will spend more time thinking of the joy and excitement Sam felt about the holiday. There was nothing he loved more than people he loved sitting together at a table, sharing a meal. Add mashed potatoes, and he was in his element. I miss hearing him insist that I recite the planned menu over and over. I miss him good-naturedly complaining about watching a documentary about the Pilgrims. I miss hearing him plan the annual weigh-in with his friend Brian. I miss him grinning in joy as he looked around the family table.

This past week, we were showered (as we always are) with the most incredible love. Friends drove long distances to join us, we had family time, we clarified future goals, set plans in motion, and in all of that, we had people cheering us on and supporting us.

In the end, what I realized anew is that love is all that matters. Not weather, not wealth, not professional accomplishments. At the end of the day, what matters most is that I have left the world a better place than I found it that morning. Did I treat people with respect and dignity? Did I hold firm to my moral beliefs? Did I open my heart and mind to new experiences? If I did all of those, it was a good day.