Let it SNOW!


Truth be told, I never used to be a snow person.  As a kid I would have the occasional snow day off from school, but on those same days, I'd have to go out and shovel with my mom and grandfather--there were no friends or siblings to play with me in the white stuff afterwards.

Fast forward to my adult years, and snow became both beautiful and inconvenient.  It was beautiful to see our landscape changed into a wintery wonderland, but snow also meant cold, ice, treacherous driving conditions, and being stuck indoors.

When Little Lewie was born, snow became magical.  I finally had someone to play with me in the snow!  Hubby, Little Lewie, and I would sled, have snowball fights, and make snow angels.  We did this for years (on our days off from work) until the magic stopped.  Mother nature would either deliver us snow one day and then melt it the next, or we didn't get any.  During the last two years, the only way we could enjoy the white stuff would be to seek it out.  Hubby, Little Lewie, and I would venture 90 minutes north to a ski resort that made the white stuff just so we could enjoy a fun day of snowtubing.

This winter was trending to be the same...a dry December and January with almost 40 degree temperatures meant another boring year of waiting for spring.  Without snow, winter had simply lost its charm... And then came February...

February 1and 2nd brought 12 inches of snow; then a week later, there was another 10 inches.  The pandemic made it so that there were no more snow days.  Little Lewie's teachers would conduct lessons from home via Google Meet, and I'd still have my virtual work meetings, but being home meant we could still sneak in a walk in the snow or some sledding down the street.  Without the commute, enjoying the snow was possible during lunch and even after work hours (the sun isn't setting now until almost 5:30).

All I can say is "Let it Snow!"  For the first time in my life, I've been taking regular hikes in the snow and loving every moment of it.  Our puppy Bruce (who loves the white stuff) always comes with me, and once or twice a week, I get hubby and Little Lewie to join me, too.  Our walks have been breathtakingly beautiful, and it has been so much fun to watch this little pup play in the snow.  Speaking of playing, we even had a chance to go snowshoeing for our very first time as a family.  Before this winter, Little Lewie didn't even know what a snowshoe was...now, he's seen tons of people with snowshoes on our walks, and he's even tried it out for himself.  We all loved it so much, we're considering buying some...

Today as I write this, it's raining outside.  Other states that are not used to snow, like Texas and Louisiana, are getting snow and ice (causing terrible power outages).  The weather patterns are crazy. I'm not sure if this is the last of our winter wonderland here in CT or if we have another week or two to enjoy it, but I'm hoping for the latter.  During one of my last hikes, I realized how much more I love to walk in the snow--the fresh air, the quiet, the beauty.  (I'd take it over mosquitos, ticks, poison ivy, and humidity any day of the week.)  

Our winter of 2021 will go down in history as the year we truly enjoyed this season and all of its glory.  Staying home during the pandemic helped me understand its simple, understated pleasures even more.  There's another rain/snowstorm in the forecast this Thursday...  These last few pictures will demonstrate exactly why I'm hoping it's a snowstorm that is on its way... 

The Year of the Puppy


On Mother's Day last year, we did the unthinkable--we adopted a puppy!  After 20+ years of being dogless, our family decided it was time to reintroduce a fur ball to the mix.  

Bruce at 10-weeks old.

At first, I was against it.  "Our house is going to smell like dog," I whined.  There will be the fur, the messes, the poop, the dead grass from dog urine, and of course, all the money going out--for food, toys, treats, vaccines, vet bills, etc.  

Then when we adopted the little stinker, there was the biting, chewing, and jumping.  Chairs, clothes, towels, shoes, and our inflatable pool toys were ruined.  My legs were unsightly with scratch marks and black and blues, and my arms were sore from all the pulling and tugging.  "What did I get myself into?" I thought, as this fresh little puppy wasn't seeming to understand the word, "No." 

Bruce at 13-weeks old.

Our "COVID summer" was far from relaxing.  I spent nights on YouTube trying to learn the best ways to train Bruce, and we all had many sleepless nights trying to get this little pup into a potty routine.  Then there was the car and going for walks.  Before we adopted Bruce, I had daydreams of taking him on car rides and going for long walks together.  Now, I was staring at this little pup that 1) was scared to death of the car, and 2) parked his rear-end on the pavement every time I tried to get him to go for a walk with me.  

On one particularly difficult day, I managed to get little Bruce into the car, so I could take him to our town park about three miles away.  He sat in my lap during the entire car ride while I fed him treats--a method I employed every time to get him to stop being afraid of the car.  Once we arrived at the park, in standard form, he jumped out of the car and sat on his tush.  "Come on, Bruce," I coaxed.  "I have treats for you."  Surely, this little pup would walk with me on his leash if he knew I'd be doling out his favorite treats.

Little Bruce wouldn't budge.  In fact, he got off of his rump and started tugging in the opposite direction.  Now he wanted to go back into the car!  "What the...?" I mumbled under my breath, "Oh no you don't!"  A battle of the wills ensued--Bruce jerking in one direction and me in the other.  I was tired and cranky (after getting less than four hours of sleep because of you-know-who).  "Look," I scolded, "you're not the boss.  I'm the boss.  We're going to take a walk in this park, and you're going to like it."  I scooped the then 15 lb. Bruce into my arms, and I carried him to the trailhead.  Then I put him down.  The car was no longer in sight. "Are you ready?" I asked.  

Little Bruce belted out a few whimpers, but then he reluctantly walked.  By the time the 30 minute walk was up, the little pup was practically trotting with excitement.  (Now he didn't want to go back in the car!)

Bruce at 22-weeks old. (About 35lbs.)

As I write this now (almost seven months after our Matthies Park escapade), I'm giggling.  My stubborn little 15 lb. puppy is now almost 60 lbs.  There'd be no way I could scoop him up.  It was a long spring/summer/fall/winter, but sure enough, like magic, Bruce has become this lovable fixture to our family.  After 200+ car rides and walks, Bruce has officially become the walking buddy I've dreamed about, and we've explored at least 25+ new trails together in Connecticut.  (If I didn't have to work, I would have easily tripled that number.)  

Don't get me wrong.  He's still a puppy, and he still gets himself into mischief.  Watch out for unsupervised chicken tenders (or anything food related), rolls of toilet paper, and slippers/hats/gloves.  If it's out in the open, he will find it!  However, most of his mischief is done in a teasing manner...usually to coax a treat out of us when he lets go.  When things relax a bit this summer, I might sign him up to get a bit more training, but for the most part, he's a happy-go-lucky pup that loves to play, explore, eat, and give everyone love.  Now we can't imagine a day (or night) without him!

Some Fun in the New Year!


We started the first weekend of 2021 with SNOW--snow tubing to be exact.  After spending the Christmas holiday shuttered in away from family and friends, we decided snow tubing might be the exact remedy we needed to have a safe visit with friends!

I read through Ski Butternut's COVID policies and decided they were safe.  First, they reduce the capacity of snow tubers on the mountain by selling only a certain number of pre-ordered tickets.  Second, they require that masks be worn at all times (even when social distancing), and third, they had workers stationed in various areas, which made sure that everyone was following the rules.

In years past, we would all drive up to Great Barrington, MA in one car and go out to eat together.  This year we met up at the facility and brought homemade lunches to eat outside in the parking lot before hitting the "slopes."  I was afraid the new arrangement, including the wearing of masks, might make the activity less fun, but I couldn't be more wrong.  We had a blast, and even more, we could enjoy ourselves without the slightest worry of not being safe!  We could come home to my mom and not feel as if we would be putting her own health in jeopardy!

Here are just a few pics of our mask-wearing, snow tubing adventure.

To be honest, we had so much fun, we may go again in February or March.  The reduced capacity made it so that there were no long lines and no waiting.  Plus, the higher than average winter temperatures around here means that there's been no snow.  We have to have at least one more day of playing in the white stuff!!

Thankfully, as I'm writing this, my mom has her first vaccine shot scheduled for Sat., January 30th.  We can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel...  It's coming, but in the meantime, we'll enjoy safe activities like this one.  Of course, we can always try ski lessons--are we brave enough in 2021?  Probably not!

Goodbye 2020. Hello 2021!


Goodbye 2020.  HELLO 2021.  This is how I'm feeling as I'm ready to begin a New Year--a year of health, tranquility, and peace of mind.

2020 was a year of anxiety, grief, and sadness.  We lost both my mother-in-law (Ninny) and my great aunt (Aunty Kiki) to Cancer, which led to many days of tears and regret.  Regret as in why didn't we invite Ninny to more pool parties, or why didn't we ask Aunty Kiki to come on vacations, like Woodloch, with us?  Still, when I give myself the opportunity to take a step back and examine the "why," I realize it wasn't a "one-way" street.  Sometimes I did extend invitations, but it was my relatives that lacked the time...

Anxiety came in many forms this year, too. First and foremost, I was worried about contracting COVID and bringing it back to my mom (something that still worries me); I was also worried for other compromised friends and family members.  My sister-in-law actually had it and was hospitalized.  At that point, the disease became very, very real.  One night in August I lied awake in bed having a panic attack because I thought I had actually caught it and gave it to my mom; we were both feeling cold and flu-like symptoms during the summer!

Fear took hold in other ways, too.  Was Lewie going to struggle with distance learning?  Was his fifth and sixth grade education going to be compromised?  Was he going to feel isolated and alone because he wasn't allowed to have friends visit or sleep-over the house?  

Also, what about job security?  Would we see a cut in our salaries or be asked to take a furlough?  Would my mom be forced to file for unemployment and then have to retire early?  Would her friends at work miss her?  Would she feel just as isolated and alone as Little Lewie?

Then, of course, there was discord on the national front.  Devastating fires and hurricanes, police brutality caught on camera, riots, hate groups, militias, political divisiveness etc.  I could continue, but why?  

Unfortunately, 2021 will have some of 2020's baggage.  There will be more deaths to COVID, more political unrest, more unemployment, more bankrupt businesses, etc.  Our hope and faith will be tested, for sure, but there's a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Perhaps the most profound moment of 2020 is when I participated in a neuroscience webinar about emotional adaptability.  I'm not a psychologist, so this was a beginners' version.  It taught me a lot about the brain and how we think; our brains are actually wired to have negative thoughts (as a means of survival).  Eighty percent of all our daily thoughts are negative and 95% of those negative thoughts are the same ones we had the day before.  

Surely, we can't change our brain chemistry, but knowing this is all the more reason for us to pay attention to "mindfulness"--"a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment," including "one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations."  Being aware of our negative thought patterns is half the battle--the second part is to try and change the narrative.

This year, my one resolution involves changing the narrative.  I spent so much time worrying in 2020 that it negated the good times, such as adopting our puppy, Bruce; watching Lewie excel at distance learning and be named the first "virtual" Student of the Month; enjoying family dinners and game nights; and having more time to walk, reflect, and be in the moment (instead of making the mad dash to and from work each day).

Mindfulness is not going to change the fact that my brain, like everyone else's, will still continue to produce 80% negative thoughts, but those thoughts can be stopped and redirected to be happier ones.  This year, I will redirect my fear and worry and redirect all the negative self-talk that tells me I'm 1) too tired to do anything, 2) too unorganized, 3) too old, or 4) too boring.  I'll also try to stop the phrase that repeats itself in my head over and over again, "There's not enough time."  

What if this year, I started saying, "There's plenty of time" or "I will find the time?"  What if I used the words energized, organized, young, and fun in my vocabulary to counter the other words?  It won't be easy as our brains like to hold onto predictable patterns, but my mantra this year is Energy, Organized, and Fun.  If I believe it, then it becomes truth, right?

Above all else, I will remind myself to let go of fear.  Fear is part of our brain chemistry (found in all animals) that is used to keep us safe, but when left unchecked, it festers.  It turns to worry, stress, anger, and even hate.  It prevents us from living in the moment, from seeking adventure, or even from bettering ourselves.  This year, I will turn the life lessons of fear, anxiety, and regret in 2020 to start a new beginning and a new narrative.

Christmas 2020


Unlike our December Christmas parties and Disney vacation in 2019, Christmas 2020 was quiet--eerily quiet.  For one, two prominent family members, my mother-in-law and aunt, were missing from the celebrations.  There was no-more Florence to spoil the grandkids with gifts, cookies, and yummy treats.  (I could always count on her for a care package of comfy pajamas, chocolates, and a Yankee Candle.)  There were also no more antics from my beloved Aunty Kiki; no reindeer antlers, no dancing Snoopy, no singling Christmas ball, and no last minute shopping and wrapping presents on Christmas Eve.  It was as if time stopped, and we were stuck in some sort of confused new reality.

A strange quiet rattled the house this year because we didn't have our usual house guests and slumber parties.  Both my Aunt Kiki and my Aunt Irene would travel to our house to stay overnight--sometimes for several days.  Until the wee hours of the morning, I would hear the TV blaring from my mother's side of the house with occasional talking and laughter.  While saying goodnight, I would peak my head through the door to see the same setting as the night before.  My mom would be sitting in her recliner, entranced by whatever show or movie; Aunt Kiki, the multitasker, would be watching TV with piles of papers surrounding her--sometimes mail, sometimes students' schedules (she was a guidance counselor), or sometimes bowling paperwork (she was the President of the Connecticut Women's Bowling Association for three years); Aunty Irene, the socialite, would be texting friends and family or scrolling through Facebook while occasionally glancing at the TV screen in front of her.  The "three sisters" (my mom, Aunt Irene, and Aunt Kiki) were so different from each other (kind of like Rose, Blanch, and Dorothy of the Golden Girls), and yet, they had the strongest bond any sister could ever have--they were lifelong friends and advocates for each other.

This year it was the five of us only--my mom, hubby, Little Lewie, me, and our now nine month-old puppy, Bruce.  Hubby offered to cook us an amazing Christmas dinner, which didn't disappoint, and we spent Christmas morning opening up presents, which now included treats and toys for Bruce.  The "big gift" on Lewie's list this year was the Oculus Quest, but he and Daddy were surprised by others such as a Gskyer Telescope; pool toys--a light up beach ball and pineapple float; books; and chocolates.

We also visited family members through Zoom.  After dropping off gifts to each other's houses, my sister-in-law's family and ours took turns opening up our gifts "on camera."  It was surprisingly fun to watch each other's reactions, and in many ways, it was better than the usual visit where all of us would be opening up each other's gifts at the same time.  We were deliberate in having each child take his or her turn, so we could lengthen the fun.  My sister-in-law created a board game and snack theme for us, so we could have many new games to play in the New Year (with food to accompany those games, of course).  My favorite game, which I can't wait to play, is one about visiting National Parks seen here:

Since we couldn't go to one this year, we might as well learn about them.  My sister-in-law knows me all too well!

The second Zoom session was with my cousins from DE, OR, and CT on my mom's side of the family.  It was fun, but since my family doesn't really get Zoom etiquette, we were all talking over each other.  It was a little hard to grasp what each person was saying.  Then again, that happens in real-life visits, too.

At the end of Christmas day, I crashed hard on the couch with Bruce by my side.  Even without all the physical visiting, I was plain tuckered out, which to me, is the sign of an awesome holiday.  Of course I missed seeing everyone in person and giving out real hugs, but just knowing that real visits and hugs will be a reality again in 2021 is good enough for me.  We have so much to be thankful for, which starts first with health.