A Relaxing Winter Break

1.08.2019

Our family ALWAYS looks forward to winter break.  I can't emphasize the word ALWAYS enough.  Little Lewie obviously looks forward to it because it's a week off from school.  I look forward to it because it's a week off from work--a week to relax, a week to reconnect with family and loved ones, a week for enjoyment, and if I'm lucky, a week to begin organizing my house for the New Year.

In the past, hubby and I would use this time to go on couple trips to places like Las Vegas, San Francisco, New Orleans, and San Diego.  (Those were our pre-Lewie days; in fact, some of those trips were pre-wedding days, too.)  Now, for the past ten years, our priorities have shifted.  We mostly spend time at home, unless we try to squeak in a one or two day trip. 

This year was no exception to our "new norm."  Aunty Kiki, our beloved family member that is battling Ovarian Cancer, stayed with us for almost a full week as she recovered from surgery.  Then, Aunty ReRe from Delaware came up to stay with us, too.  After celebrating Christmas, we had a few more days of fun--a day for art, a play date with hiking and ice cream, a day at our local aquarium, and a night with friends to welcome in 2019.

Here is a glimpse of our break through pictures:

Cousin Sarah painting ceramics at the Clay Date



My lovely vase...

Cousin Brooklyn's Dragon

Cousin Lily's kitty cat...


   
Our winter hike at White Memorial Conservation Center


Hikes are better with family and a best friend.







A day at the Maritime Aquarium











The end of a fun day...

It's hard to name one single favorite moment as our break was full of them.  Still, I did have a favorite activity and that was going to see the IMAX movie Backyard Wilderness, which was part of our trip to the aquarium.  The movie, having received rave reviews, explains how the cycle of nature/life occurs all around us when we're too busy indoors watching TV, playing video games, or going to school or work.  It shows how plant and animal life changes during all four seasons with a particular emphasis on spring and the birth of newborn baby animals, like frogs, salamanders, ducks, raccoons, deer, coyotes, and other wild animals.  The movie resonated with our ten year-old Lewie who often turns down outside activities to stay on his computer, and it made both my husband and me cry as we're reminded about the beauty, splendor, delicacy, and sanctity of life.  (I had no idea I should have armed myself with a package of tissues before beginning the movie.)

Our winter break this year, in short, was a reminder to us of what's important.  By spending time with family, friends, and nature (or observing nature), we had a chance to focus on the areas of our life that should be held in the highest regard but often gets pushed aside because of school and work.  My challenge this year will be to schedule more time like this each month, so we don't have to wait until summer and winter break to find balance.

New Year's Resolutions 2019

1.01.2019

New Year's Day is my FAVORITE holiday.  For me, there's something therapeutic about starting a brand new year.  Just like I welcome each morning as a blank slate, I welcome January 1st as the ultimate blank slate--a time to release past pain and regrets and to begin a  new adventure.  It's a time for reflection.  What did I learn in 2018?  Can I take any of this wisdom and apply it to the New Year?


I actually learned a lot in 2018.  My resolution was to make more "me time," and I was successful in some areas and unsuccessful in others.  

I did ensure we continued our National Park tradition as we spent an amazing week in Yosemite National Park and its surroundings.  I also checked off another item on my bucket list.  In September, hubby and I had a chance to go on an actual spiritual retreat at the Omega Institute.  It was a dream come true--one I harbored for six years when I first learned about the place.  Both trips gave me an opportunity to feel my essence as I found pure, unadulterated joy in communing with nature and listening to my true consciousness.  

Around the same time of the retreat, a family doctor recommended the audio book, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.  Our doctor told us the book would be transformational, and indeed, it has become my "go to" book whenever I need to reconnect with the present.  As someone that prides myself on my "to-do" list, I now realize I spend most of my life living in the future with the tunnel vision of checking off goals.  The book awakened me to see how the present is really the only time we have and how our thoughts often lead us down paths that take us away from our inner light.  Whenever I find myself feeling stressed, self-pity, anger, resentment, or jealousy, I turn on Eckhart Tolle's audio book to regroup.  

Another success this year was making more time with friends.  (The time was still not enough, but I've come to learn that sometimes it's more about quality than quantity.)  Hubby, Little Lewie, and I finally drove down to New Jersey to visit my best friend and see her "new home" that was purchased three years ago.  It was fun to experience a day in the life of my best friend, getting to know her children, her community, and her activities and travels.  We reminisced about our old college days and then laughed about the hustle and bustle of our current lives with kids.  Then in November, another best friend and I made last minute plans to go to a holistic health expo in Massachusetts.  We ditched the husbands and kids, and actually made a whole day for ourselves to sample healthful products like protein powders, teas, shakes, lotions, and tinctures.  We even had a mini acupuncture and cupping therapy session.  That day, we learned more about each other than we had during our many years of friendship.  I discovered the best recipe for wellness wasn't found in any of those products; it was found in the laughing and enjoyment of sharing time with a true friend.

Yes, how do I take the wisdom from this year and bring it to 2019?  Well, I've learned that sometimes momentous events happen because we plan for them, and other times they happen spontaneously on their own.  With a very full life, I find that the planning, however, usually works better than the spontaneity.  This year, when I didn't specifically schedule in "fun" time with hubby, Lewie, my mom, or myself, I found that weeks and even months would go by as if I was reliving the same day over and over again.  Wake up, get ready for work, get Lewie ready for school, drive to work, go to my meetings, come home, have dinner, go to bed, repeat.

This year, my one resolution is to get more organized.  That means first to clear away the extra clutter, which I know for certain drags me down.  I can feel the "stuff" zapping my energy as I enter certain rooms of the house.  The second is to organize my months and weeks better.  On a grand scale, I will write in activities, vacations, trips, etc. for the year, focusing on three month intervals at a time, but then each week, I'll zone in on the particulars.  When will I find time for exercise, reading, walking, spending time with hubby, Little Lewie, or my mom?  Weeks go by when I just "do" but don't accomplish any of these.  This year, I'm looking at each of these 52 weeks as they begin, and I'm writing in each activity, making sure I am allowing enough time for each of them.  With practice, my goal is to live with more intention and meaning. 

I do know the pitfalls--schedules can lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment.  After all, life is not always kind to schedules.  All it takes is a family illness, accident, storm, or other disruptive event to erase even the best of plans.  Still, I don't think this is a reason not to have them.  The other pitfall is living by a "to-do" list--the very "to-do" list that keeps me thinking about the future and not focusing on the present.  For that, I say, I'm going to allow myself to think future when it comes to planning, but once my day begins (with a framework in mind), my goal is to live as consciously as possible--making each activity, whether it be walking, doing homework with Lewie, or spending time with my husband, focused and intentional.    


Today is actually "the first blank page of a 365 page book."  As with every new year, I am determined to write "a good one."  All the New Years resolutions in the world can't predict the future, but as long as I have some free will throughout the journey, I'm going to do my best to make it a meaningful year--not perfect--but meaningful.

Favorite Christmas Memories of 2018

12.28.2018

This month went by super fast, but I have to say that we enjoyed every second of it.  There was shopping, decorating, laughing, and singing along with some adventure and even a Christmas miracle.  If I wasn't lazy, I probably could have created ten blog posts about all of these events, but since it's now the end of the month, I will give you the abbreviated version in one post.  Here are my top ten favorite memories, provided in chronological order:

1.  The Christmas Photo Shoot

For the past two years, I have been obsessed with having family Christmas jammy photos. If we had a photographer in the family, I would hire him or her in a heartbeat, but since we have no such luck, our next best option is going to our local JC Penny Portrait Studio.

This year we took a morning off from school and work for the photo shoot.  For one, weekday mornings are way more peaceful as they avoid the mobs of families waiting to take their pictures on weekday evenings and weekends.  Second, we look refreshed because we just showered.  (Last year, after a full day of work, I had to reapply my makeup, and I still looked tired!)  Here are just a few of my favorite pictures this year...









2.  The Cub Scout Holiday Party

Hubby and I were in charge of offering the holiday entertainment at this year's Cub Scout Christmas / Holiday Party.  Lew played the guitar, Little Lewie rang the bells, and I lead everyone in song to "Jingle Bells," "The Jingle Bell Rock," "Frosty the Snowman," Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."  We have a lot of young boys in our pack this year (Lions at age five and Tigers at age six), so they were EXCITED when Santa came to visit.


These were the adorable cupcakes a mom made for the kids.  Gosh, I wish I had this talent!

3.  Don't Be a Cotton-Headed Ninny Muggins

I love the movie Elf.  I had a chance to watch it along with some of my other favorite holiday classics like A Christmas Story and A Christmas Story 2.  At work (I work for a college), our financial aid office decorated their door with one of my favorite Elf quotes:




The door gave me so much joy, I had to take a picture.  Plus, for all of December, this became my favorite phrase.  I would tell Lewie to stop being "a Cotton-Headed Ninny Muggins" whenever he failed to do the following:  close the outside door, put on his coat, forget where he took off his shoes, ask for too many desserts, etc. etc.


4.  The Holiday House Tour

Every year, my mom and I go to Woodbury, Connecticut for their annual Holiday House Tour.  (It's been a tradition for us since the year 2000; we only missed two years in between due to sickness and snow.)  Each year, the Women's Club of Woodbury select six different houses for us to view that range from the 1600's to modern times.  While I enjoy seeing some of the newer homes, which are usually big, bright, and spacious, my favorite homes are those that date back to the Revolutionary War era.  With their low ceilings, squeaky wood floors, and their tilted staircases, these older homes really have character.  Plus, many of such homeowners like to decorate their houses with period pieces, which truly provide a glimpse of what it must have been like to live "back in the day."  As a big fan of HGTV, I could honestly tour houses all day long.  Words cannot explain how much I look forward to this tour every year!

This year we toured an old, one-room school house from the early 1800's.  Here were some items on the teacher's desk.

It's the little touches that make some of these Christmas tress so beautiful.


I would die for a kitchen like this!



5.  Pushy Santa

Admittedly, I didn't have much time to cook this month.  Oh, who am I kidding?  As a full-time working mom that also teaches a college English class and is a volunteer for our town library, church, and Cub Scout program, my family and I live on smoothies, salads, and frozen dinners--plus dessert.  One day in December we decided to go to our local diner for a "real meal" and discovered that joy of joys, Santa was there in the flesh to take pictures with all the boys and girls in the restaurant.  We hardly had a chance to sit down at our booth when Santa and his elf came over and insisted that Lewie needed to come into the next room for a picture.  (Evidently, there weren't many kids in the restaurant, and Santa felt like he needed to earn his keep.)

I went with Little Lewie into the other room while my husband held our table and waited for our food.  Lewie didn't say anything, but he politely stood by Santa for the picture.  This, of course, was not how it's supposed to go.  Santa insisted that Lewie sit on his lap, so he could tell him what he wanted. Lewie obliged, and we took the picture, but afterwards, we all agreed that his man earned the title of "Pushy Santa."



6.  Our Christmas Tree  

I have to laugh when I think about the antics of getting our "real" Christmas tree this year.  Usually we have time to pick one out during the first few weekends of December, but this year, we were busy with the visit to Santa's Village, then Cub Scout activities, and then the Holiday House Tour.  I somehow thought places would be open to pick up a tree on a weekday evening, but we drove to a place rather far away on a Wednesday night and had no such luck.  (Next time, I'll call before making the trip!)

On the third weekend of December, we decided the easiest solution would be to buy two trees (one for us and one for my mom) from our local fire department and have them deliver them to us in their firetruck.  On Saturday morning (December 15th), Little Lewie and I drove by the firehouse several times only to see that there were no trees in their parking lot.  Hmmm....  We called and found out there were only three trees left (in back of the building).  Little Lewie and I hauled ass back to our car again and drove down as fast as we could.  One tree was much too large for us, so we settled on the two smaller trees.  Who cared what they looked like...we needed a tree--two trees to be exact!  I won't bother telling you when we finally ended up decorating the said trees.  I won't even go into the story about how we needed to buy two brand new tree stands.  The moral of the story is that our Charlie Brown Christmas tree ended up looking beautiful, and since it went up late, it will stay up until February.  The end.

Our trees being delivered by our very own volunteer fire department.  They are the best!
Here they come...

The final product...not bad for one of the last trees on the lot!

7.  Santa's Letter

Last year I knew Little Lewie still believed in Santa Claus, but this year felt different.  He said he knew the Santa at Santa's Villlage "wasn't the real Santa" because "the real Santa didn't have time to take pictures."  Thus, I knew he wasn't going to be fooled by the Santa at the Cub Scout Holiday Party or the one at the Route 67 Diner either.  Still, does he believe there's a "real Santa"?

No less, he wrote a very nice letter to Santa and made sure to decorate it with lots of holiday stickers.  Then, we followed our time-honored tradition of mailing it at our local post office by placing it in the "special Santa mailbox."  (Within a week, Santa mailed back a letter letting us know it was received--I love our Post Office!)





8.  The Children's Christmas Mass

Every year, our church has a 9:15 a.m. children's mass where each child takes turns putting their handmade ornaments on the tree.   As a forth grader, Lewie has now celebrated this tradition for four years.  It's a joy being part of this tradition, and yet, I was a little sad this year because he's seen as one of the "big kids" now.  The tradition will stop for him next year in fifth grade.




9.  Christmas Morning

Lewie woke up at 5:50 a.m. to open his presents on Christmas morning.  I had just gone to bed at 3 a.m.  Yay for me!  Daddy woke up for most of it but then fell back to sleep in his recliner.  No matter how early it was in the morning, Lewie's excitement was priceless.  He already thought he'd get the xbox gift card and the drawing tablet for his computer--the two main gifts he requested from Santa in his letter.  Still, he was equally excited about the smaller gifts like the books from his favorite authors (Brave by Svetlana Chmakova and Posted by John David Anderson), the pineapple reindeer ornament (Lewie had an ongoing joke about pineapples this year), and his chocolate Kisses.

As he gets older, more and more of his interests are computer related, which means wanting new computer applications, games and software that are "in the cloud" and not easily wrapped.  On the one hand, it does take a little bit of the excitement away from Christmas but at the same time, it also saves the environment on the waste of unnecessary wrapping and paper.  In the end, it's the joy of giving, no matter what form, that means the most.


He woke up so super early in the morning.  It felt like midnight.

I made his take photos again when the sun came out.





10.  The Great Miracle

Christmas itself celebrates a miracle, but we had our own miracle in our little family.  Early this year, our beloved aunt found out she has stage four ovarian Cancer.  She was sick for Easter, for Lewie's First Communion, for Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, her birthday, our birthdays, and even Thanksgiving.  After many rounds of Chemo, her doctors decided it was time to perform surgery, and so on Dec. 12th, she was admitted into Yale New Haven Hospital with nothing more than a hope and a prayer (actually many prayers).

That same day, the doctor claimed the surgery to be a success, and we were allowed to bring her home to our house a week later.  Now, we are not saying the Cancer is completely gone.  There will be another round of Chemo and more tests for 2019, but over the course of the week that she stayed at our house, we watched her health, her strength, and her vitality drastically improve.  When she first came home, she could barely lay in the recliner or eat anything.  When she left to go back to her house (yesterday), she was walking, dressing herself, climbing stairs, eating well, smiling, laughing and telling stories.  We had her for Christmas, and she was happy, vibrant, and dare I say, healthy.  Our prayers were answered, and Little Lewie was beyond elated as Aunty Kiki (as she's affectionately known) was able to spend quality time with us after missing her for almost the entire year.

(Aunty Kiki is hugging Little Lewie in this picture.  I don't have a Christmas photo as she was still recuperating.)
So, this December was filled with joy, laughter, adventure, worry, and then an answer to our prayers.  I am so thankful for these wonderful memories, and even more, the ability to make more of them in 2019.  How lucky are we!