Snuggle Bunny

Our youngest is here with us for a while and bringing such JOY to our pandemic days as we continue our three-generational experience here at the High-Risk-VanAmVilla.  She and her delightful feline companion, Coop, keep things fun, young, and energetic, especially for my dad.  The two of them have a deep connection and she definitely has a special way with Pop.

Gratefully, while staying with us, she is helping me tackle the daunting task of our attic. She understands how sentimental I am, why it is often challenging for me to let go, and how best to navigate this task with me as I recall the story about certain treasures.

A little backstory:  When we moved here three years ago, there was little time to deeply clean out everything from our home of 20+ years (even though MUCH was donated too), so instead of impulse decisions, several sentimental items were stuffed into bins, sealed, and loaded onto the moving truck for the 1,300-mile journey east.  In my defense, my parent’s house of 35 years had been completely cleaned out and sold while at the same time I retired and brought home an office filled with treasures, all within the same year.  Yes; daunting is an understatement.

Fortunately, we have a HUGE, and I mean HUGE, walk-in attic in our current home.  Unfortunately, it allows me the space to store bins of items we no longer require in our lives.

So in true 2020 reflective fashion, it is time to simplify this situation, be grateful for the service and JOY each item has given, and now pass along for someone else to treasure.  There are, however, a few items others will not find so “treasurable,” and sadly, Snuggle Bunny is one of them…

My favorite term of endearment, “Snuggle Bunny,” came into being before I married St. M (not very manly, but it makes him grin even today).  When our oldest was born, we both used the term “Snuggle Bunny” as we hugged her up.  Her first Easter, I stumbled across a t-shirt with this phrase (who knew?) and she “‘gave it” to her daddy as a surprise.  He wore it proudly until she asked to wear it to sleep one night at about age 3.  She wore the t-shirt as a night shirt until her baby sister took it over about five years later.

While I won’t reveal exactly when the shirt was officially retired, let’s just say it has endured multiple years of wearings and washings from three members of our family.  And as you might have guessed, this little jewel was folded on top of the first bin I opened.  Memories, stories, and anecdotes flooded me.  I’m so grateful for the comforting service of this soft cotton shirt stitching together two generations of our family in smiles and sweet dreams, bound in love.

So on Day ???? of our gratefulness journey (in true 2020 fashion, I have no idea what day it really is, but it feels like Nov. 239):  Ponder over a sentimental item in your life and the significance it continues to hold for you. Why are you grateful for it?  And the next time you’re cleaning out and find a special sentimental treasure, take a moment to reflect on your own “Snuggle Bunny” and gratefully remember it will always be a part of you, my friends. 🙂

PLENTY of gratefulness…

There is a quaint old cornucopia sitting in our kitchen these days.  It is filled with yummy seasonal fruits and veggies in anticipation of our impending Thanksgiving celebration.  This particular ornamental basket has been in our family for four generations, and even though it shows some wear and tear, it continues to showcase abundance in my life. As a young child in particular, I was always fascinated by the unique shape, the decorative motif, and the visual reminder it provided as a symbol of nature’s bountiful harvest.  But explaining this to Kindergarteners during Thanksgiving…well, that’s another matter.

It was the fall of 1983 and I was teaching my morning class of 32 Kinder friends when I pulled out my cute cornucopia.  Innocently asking the question, “Now friends, who can tell me what this item is? What does it do?  Where might you see it?”  Everything from “turkey tooter” to “basket whistle” fell out of little mouths.  Not one child knew “horn of plenty” or “cornucopia.”  Being a very young, naive student teacher, I was determined to right this obvious injustice (as my mentor master teacher softly snickered in the back of the room 🙂 ).  Quietly and methodically, I reached into my secret sack to fill my cornucopia with little fruits, nuts, vegetables, a tiny pumpkin, and other harvest foods, asking my learners to name each item as it was placed inside the cornucopia (vocabulary building during morning meeting was critical).  When it was filled to overflowing, a child brilliantly exclaimed, “Well, it’s plenty full of food now!”  This is when we talked about the cornucopia being a “horn-of-plenty.”  Our language experience quickly turned into a lengthy and excited discussion about much more that just a cornucopia.  Each child created a personal cornucopia, filling it with objects or items best representing individual interests as a reminder of all they had to be grateful and thankful for during the season; the results, and their simple writings about them, were truly remarkable!

Even today, this family cornucopia remains a Thanksgiving centerpiece in our home.  So on Day #24, think about filling your own cornucopia.  What items best represent what you are grateful and thankful for in particular this year?

Whether it’s a cornucopia or another symbol of the season, here’s hoping we all find plenty to fill our hearts, minds, and souls with gratefulness, especially this year.  Please stay safe and well as you take care of yourself and each other, my friends!  🙂

Attitude of Gratitude

My Granny B told me, “Gratitude is your best attitude each day because there is calmness and quiet JOY to living gratefully each day.”  Her Granny B’isms, as I’ve come to call them, were her small pondering pearls of wisdom imparted during the important work we did in her kitchen.  I spent a great deal of time with my maternal grandparents during my formative years and there was a great deal of conversation and wisdom imparted!

Granny loved being in the kitchen.  She planned elaborate baking opportunities for us on Saturdays (in between watching Julia Child on PBS each week) as she told me stories about her life while quietly dispensing her B’isms.  Ironically (although never formally diagnosed), she was manic depressive.  Before there were self-help books, talk shows, and the medications used today, she created her own form of self-help and hope.  She believed strongly in her faith journey and in the power of gratitude as her personal prescription toward a deeper gratefulness for life. Somehow, celebrating daily gratitude became her habit, her attitude, and her unspoken effort.  I know she struggled during many dark days, but she kept giving her personal best, consistently applying some element of cheerfulness. Expressing gratefulness was a powerful way to positively connect with those around her.  Besides, who doesn’t like being around a person who’s genuinely grateful?  I asked her one day what motivated her:  “First thing each morning, reflect on your day ahead and aspire to be grateful with an open heart and mind. At the end of the day, think over what you have done, if you fulfilled or rejected your aspiration.  Either way, gratefully rejoice that you are able to see and go forward, no matter the outcome, with renewed clarity, confidence, and compassion in the days ahead…”  Whew…lots to ponder indeed!

So today, think back over your formative years.  Who first demonstrated the power of gratefulness with an attitude of gratitude?  If given the opportunity, what would you say to this person today?

In our complex world and challenging society, it is my sincerest hope we continue to seek and find an attitude of gratitude daily, and as always, gratefully choose to lead with hope and always in the greatest of these…love.  🙂

Deep breaths…Day #12

“Breathe it all in, Love it all out…”  ~ Mary Oliver

Living through uncertainty and change is a constant challenge in life, especially in 2020! Everyone is navigating a culmination of both in this moment, especially this past week, all while dealing with a new wave of the pandemic. I won’t mediate a conversation on politics, but whether your election weight was lifted or burdened by the results, the uncertainties of what comes next during transition exists, leading us down unknown and ever-changing pathways.

When you’re a recovering control freak like me, worrying about every little thing outside my control is also a constant struggle.  This phenomenon is a direct gene-pool mutation from my  mom, who coined the phrase, “preventative worry.”  Guilt and preventative worry are food groups in our family.  Thankfully, I’ve learned to better identify and accept my response, embrace my reaction, and appreciate how uncertainty is part of my self-care journey each day (even when it’s uncomfortable).  A caveat:  accepting the uncertainty doesn’t mean I’m okay with it or with the situation tied to it, but it allows me space to better explore what it might mean while I check my attitude and effort–the only two things in my control.

Gratefully, my attitude and effort allow me to remember these critical points:

  1. I have the power to care for myself and others during challenging times and during the best of times…
  2. I have the power to pay attention and make space for my feelings and also show up for others as they do the same…
  3. I have the power to speak my truth and then listen when others are sharing their truths…
  4. I have the power to let go when needed even though holding on is often easier…
  5. I have the power to explore outcomes even though being wedded to the outcome is not essential…

Gratefully, you have all these powers too!  Simply breath in and breathe out as best you can.  Dig deep into your well of reserves and ask yourself:

In what ways will I gratefully ‘breathe it all in and love it all out’ today? 

Keep breathing in and out, my friends, and please know I’m sending masked-covered smiles and so much love! 🙂

Buck up, buttercup!

A very personal Thanksgiving came today about three weeks early and a little over 13 years later.  My urology-oncologist used words I never anticipated hearing:  “Your most recent lab tests, scans, and the procedural scope this morning indicate your bladder cancer is completely gone, and unless you need us, we don’t plan to see your smiling face this time next year.”  It took a few seconds to grasp his meaning while sitting on the table in a wrapped-up sheet.  “I need you to say it again, please,” I whispered He glanced up from the scanning screen to look me directly in the eye:  “No more bladder cancer, no more maintenance meds, and no more annual followup required. You have defied odds, beaten this foe with your bladder intact, and this medical chapter is closed. I wouldn’t expect anything less of you because you always do what you have to do.” 

I can’t remember my thank-yous to the medical team, ringing the bell of victory, or the long walk back to my car in the massive hospital parking garage. I do remember bursting into broken sobs of relief and pure JOY as St. M answered his phone to hear me repeat this unexpected news.

In the formative years, my momma often reminded me:  “We do what we have to do until we can do what we want to do, so buck up, my little buttercup.”  I never truly grasped the significant depth of this until recently.  I’ve always done what needed to be done.  I am not, however, always certain what it is I really want to do, but I intend to gratefully ponder and explore many options.

So today:  Gratefully think about something in your life you have to do versus something you really want to do.  What will you do to “buck up” in your own way? 

In the meantime, I am grateful to my extraordinary family, friends, medical team, colleagues, students, church family, and others for your hope, faith, JOY, assistance, meals, jokes, stories, prayers, smiles, hugs, reassurances, and unconditional love shared no matter the day, time, or status in my ongoing medical journey.  Your gentleness and grace, especially on the darkest days, allowed my hope to grow and blossom into endless possibilities, and special thanks for reminding and helping me to show up and “buck up” every step of the way. 🙂

Sprinkle it everywhere…

“Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.”  I heard this daily as a child and have done my personal best to remind my own children as well as those in my daily charge.  A student even painted a little sign for our classroom I keep close even today:  “Kindness is free; sprinkle that stuff everywhere, please!”

There is great power in kindness because kindness is a personal choice.  Kindness is a simple gift each one of us can easily afford to give daily.

So, as we get ready to “button up” the most divisive, costly election in American history in an overwhelming year when every human you see could use it…

What will you do to gratefully spread some kindness today?

Here’s hoping we create clever ways to simply overwhelm others and, in turn, help ourselves, in the two things never wasted in this lifetime…love and KINDNESS!  Stay safe, stay strong, and be well, kind friends!  🙂

Calling all saints…

All Saints’ Day…All Souls’ Day…All Hallows’ Day…Sabbath Soul…Dia de Muertos. From my perspective, this particular day has always provoked a powerful response.  Within our worship service, this day is marked with responsive readings, special hymns, remembrances, lit candles, the presentation of a white rose to a surviving family member, and clergy reading aloud the names of those saints from the congregation who have passed during the previous year.  Most disheartening, the list was long this morning.  It’s a marked day of remembrance for all who have gone before, not just this year, and, as my Granny B. would often observe, “to open and honor the ‘thin space’ where all the saints meet.”  

Thanksgiving, 1996.  My mom in her kitchen holding court while preparing the feast in her authentic holiday attire, festive jewelry, coiffed “Steel Magnolia” hair, completely spotless makeup, and brilliant eyes sparkling intelligence and southern sass.  I would quietly sneak up to her with my camera, especially on holidays, because she NEVER liked having her picture made; she always took stunning pictures though.  She passed in 2016 and I miss her every single day, especially on certain days each year like today.

In a strange way, I find myself deeply nostalgic and profoundly grateful every year on this day…grateful for all who came before me, whose shoulders I continue to stand upon…grateful for the treasured stories, the powerful memories, and the lasting legacies of these saints…grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the transformational stages of my life journey…grateful for the blessings of each day and the chance to clear away the broken parts while exploring new paths to grow in hope and grace.  So today, reflect on the saints in your life.  Who are you particularly grateful for and why?

Here’s hoping we never lose sight of the gifts gratefully given to us by those who go come and go before us…for when one is missing, the whole is somehow less.  “For all the saints who from their labors rest…”      

HopeFULL…

I opened the sweetest little card sharing newsy information from a former student who regularly writes me even though I’m no longer her principal.  We spent a great deal of time together during those formative elementary years, and she continues to stay in touch, keeping me updated on her life.  She is a blessed reminder of the impact we have on others when we least expect it.  A couple of sentences into her message, she caught me off guard: “I remember you often talking with me about holding on to hope in life.  Through this recent experience, I see how hope what is like the night sky with  stars twinkling above.  Even though there may be storm clouds in the way, the stars, especially the North star, are still there leading the way, reminding us to hold on and always be hopeFULL.”  Talk about an inspiring, uplifting  thought to ponder!  Couldn’t we all use a little more hope floating to the top these days?  I know I could.  Perhaps a tinge more deep reflection, gratitude, giving thanks, sharing kindness, and holding on to hope are in order.

As my pastor recently reminded us:  “Even though we’re currently living between a world of hope and the reality of what is circulating all around us, choose to hold on to hope, because hope is worth holding on to, my friends!”  So today, please take a moment to ponder:  How do you hold on to hope?

My hopeFULL and grateful wish for you today:  an abundance of positive feelings warming your world to bring a smile your way along with a hopeFULL reminder of how much nicer the world is because of you… 🙂

Showing up once again…

As I’ve shared before, when you’re traveling the path of Alzheimer’s with a parent 24/7, you can expect daily kinks in the routine.  Some days are relatively smooth and we roll along, while others, well, I can’t say it very nicely so I’ll leave it to your imagination.  Most mornings dad pops up in bed as I present him with a hot cup of coffee, a smile, and a cheerful greeting.  I remind him to shower, help lay out his clothes, and leave him to his personal rituals. Once he presents himself in the main part of our home, he grins and announces, “I’m here; let the day begin” (even though it may be pushing noon).  He chooses to “show up” and we do too.

Dad requires more and more assistance with specific daily tasks, especially those involving medications, reminders to carry his cane, wash his hands, cover that cough, and such.  He easily confuses things or chooses to just skip them.  Some days while gently reminding or assisting him through a specific task, he looks at me as though I’m bossing him into submission.  (even though I realize I’m a red-headed benevolent overlord at times).  To dad though, I’m his little girl again and by golly, no daughter of his will tell him what to do.  But the instant St. M opens his mouth to repeat exactly what I just asked, dad immediately complies.  WHAT?!?

It’s the power of what I call “show up.”  You see, St. M carries compassion in abundance and uses his super power of show up to his advantage with dad.  In his calm voice, he coaxes dad to do what’s in dad’s best interest.  I’ve learned to also appreciate this additional assistance when my patience well runs low.  In reality, it’s a grateful outcome because someone other than me took the time to show up in a needed moment.

What’s a super power of yours you use to help another?

Some dear friends frequently remind me on this journey of these powerful words:  show up…pay attention…let go…speak your truth…don’t be wedded to the outcome…”  This is my morning mantra as I show up in gratefulness for the opportunity to start another day with dad. And here’s hoping your super power(s) offers you the opportunity to start another day in gratefulness too! 🙂

Restoration…

Restoration…

Yes, it’s been a few weeks since the last post. So much life…soooo much 2020!  While we all know everything will work again if it’s unplugged for just a bit, even that is not a complete guarantee this particular year, huh?!

Today, however, marks exactly 30 days until Thanksgiving, my personal favorite.  In an effort to jump start myself and find ways to focus on this important season of thanks and giving in the midst of an ongoing Pandemic, these next 30 days are once again about GRATEFULNESS.  As a way to express appreciation, share a word or two of kindness, and reflectively narrate on the grace of simple gratitude, there will once again be a question posted each day.  Here’s hoping this helps us pause briefly from the anxiety, stress, and frequent-overwhelmingness of this unique time in our lives.

Personally, being grateful is a feeling of appreciation for a kindness, a welcome experience of gratitude and of thankfulness.  Being authentically grateful brings pleasure and contentment on a level everyone could genuinely use in daily life.  The word itself comes from the Latin derivative, gratus, “showing grace, blessing, and JOY…” Just like daily physical exercise, we must create and cultivate mindful ways to powerfully practice daily gratitude in an effort to recharge and reboot mind, body, spirit, and soul.  As always, we start with a simple question on Day One: 

What is ONE thing you are grateful for today, only today?

Me?  RESTORATION.  Waking up to a beautifully crisp fall morning following lots of fog the past week (literally and figuratively) with regained energy.  The woods have regenerated with leaves swirling, and it’s Pumpkin Carving Day around here to boot!  My personal battery is restored from  yesterday because the blank page in the journal of life at this moment on this day is clean, crisp, and ready to unfold a fresh story!  Hopefully, restoration brings more patience, forgiveness, kindness, understanding, and generosity.  Perhaps we work to right wrongs, learn from yesterday’s mistakes, listen more, talk less, or simply put down our phones.  Hope is not lost and mercies are abundant, if only we seek them. 

Gratefully, restoration brings another day and offers renewed energy as many times as we need it!  And as my favorite Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau observed, “I am grateful for what I am and have…my Thanksgiving is perpetual.”   So, in this moment, take a deep cleansing breath, and gratefully name aloud your ONE thing today.  🙂