Category Archives: Keep It Simple

The Myth of the Perfect Holiday

Life has a way of building up, of stacking situations, events, emotions, needs and tasks on top of each other. Until it gets difficult to clearly see what is a priority and what is really important.

The holidays are especially a time like that. Making sure presents are gotten and wrapped. That the decorations go up. That the tree goes up and gets decorated. That you can find where the menorah is. (We celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Winter Solstice). There’s excitement in the air and the kids can’t contain it (often the adults can’t either).

There’s traveling or guests coming to your house. Is your house clean? I better put away the empty bottles from the kitchen. And dust everything. And did I vacuum the floor in the basement where no one will go and that no one will see?

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in all the things we need to do and all the details that we fail to pay attention to the “other” things. Like driving. I’m not certain why, but once it hits the week before the holidays it seems that many people forget how to drive. Blinkers? I know where I’m going! Stop signs and speed limits? I need to get there 10 minutes ago.

And the inattention continues in the stores. People rushing and carelessly bumping into others. Failing to hold the door for the person behind you. Huffing at the long lines at the check out. Even fighting over the last of an item.

How is this beneficial to anyone? We’re all stressed out. Rushed. Anxious.

Everyone would like to have the “perfect” holiday. The perfectly decorated house. The perfect holiday meal. The perfect gifts, for loved ones and ourselves. But not at the expense of others and ourselves.

How about some goodwill towards others? Hold the door for the person behind you. Donate to those less fortunate, with monetary donations, donations of a gift or food, or volunteering your time. Say thank you to those helping you at the stores. Retail is brutal this time of year (and year round!) and a simple gesture such as thank you goes a long way.

Even if your house isn’t perfect. Or your meal doesn’t turn out as planned. Or the presents you give/receive aren’t exactly what was wanted. Be grateful of what you do have. And slow down.

Be kind to those around you in your daily travels. Be thankful of the food you consume. Be present in the moment and enjoy the time you’ve been blessed to spend with those you love.

It isn’t about the food. Or the presents. Or the decorations. Or what you receive. Or what you didn’t receive.

It’s about the moment.

So slow down, take a deep breath and just be here.

Wishing you all happy holidays, whatever you choose to celebrate.

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I enjoy taking photographs.

I love taking pictures of my two daughters and capturing their larger-than-life personalities along with their beauty. I love taking pictures of my pets (2 cats, a black lab and a ferret, in case you were curious). I love taking pictures of my partner and my other family members. And pictures of my friends and their families.

I love capturing moments. Frozen in time. That when I look back on those pictures years later I can recall exactly what was happening in that moment long ago.

I love capturing feelings. Of joy. Of surprise. Of happiness. And even of sadness and sorrow. Because those feelings are genuine and, even in sadness, are beautiful in their unique ways.

But perhaps one of my favorite things to photograph is nature. And the tiny details of life that, if we’re not paying attention to them, we miss. These pictures remind me that sometimes all I need to do is slow down, to take the moment and appreciate all of the little things, the beautiful, amazing things, that I might have otherwise not seen.

A very small selection of little things I captured this year:

For One Minute…

You may have seen one of these pictures floating around your town. Or on facebook. Or tumblr. Or twitter.

Or maybe you haven’t.

Either way, I love the concept. Take one minute – where ever you are, whatever you’re doing – and just look at the sky.

In silence.

For that one minute, contemplate how awesome life is.

Right now, as it is.

(Not how it used to be. Or how you wish it would be. Or how it could be.)

Just how awesome life is, right now, in this moment of being alive.

Really. I encourage everyone to do this.

Being mindful in the moment. And grateful, thankful, of just how awesome it truly is.

I Miss You

July 7, 1949 – November 10, 2010

One year ago today my father passed away. He was 61 years old and died alone at his house from heart related problems. He was also an alcoholic. I don’t dare omit that information because it’s important. For most of my childhood my dad was sober. For the last five or so years of his life, he was in a cycle of active alcoholism, treatment/rehabilitation, being sober and returning to active alcoholism. At the time of his death he had been sober for a brief period.

I loved my father. He was the person I most looked up to. I tried to help him. I drove him to hospitals. I offered my support. I called to check up on him and to help him with anything he might need. But, here’s the thing that I feel those who have not directly dealt with alcoholism/addiction may not understand: Only the person using (alcohol and/or drugs) can decide to get help.  Family and friends can assist in creating conditions that may make that decision more attractive.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD) offers

I know my dad knew I loved him. I don’t have any guilt over how I acted towards him. I feel no regret that I didn’t do enough for him, because there was nothing more that I could have done. I felt I needed to set boundaries to protect myself and my children. I don’t feel bad that he didn’t see them more, because when my daughters saw him, he was well. He wasn’t falling down drunk and they will never have those memories of him being like that. Instead they have memories of a papa who made them fairy houses and brought them presents from the festivals he had been to and who dressed up on Halloween like a fisherman.

I refuse to let the years when my dad was an active alcoholic cloud my memories of him. Instead I’ll focus on the years prior, when he was the dad I looked up to, who believed in me, who understood me, who was my hero. That’s the dad I’m going to remember.

I’ll remember the dad who I could call when I locked my keys in my car for the 5th time – an hour away. I’ll remember when he would take me fishing. When he took me to pick fiddle heads and dandelion greens. I’ll remember his obsession with the Iditarod. And the presents he would make me out of wood. The time he taught me how to weave a basket. And when we would find him on his mail route and have lunch with him, car-side. I’ll remember going camping and walking on the beaches. The time he took me out in the boat on the lake, gave me a canvas and paints and told me we would both paint what we saw and then compare it. I’ll remember all the times he helped me get my cats down from trees they had climbed and become stuck in. The 4th of July parade. The times he snuck my brother and me candy and drove us around looking at holiday lights, so we could finish it before we got home. Canoeing. All the talks with him about anything and everything. The lasagna and soups he would cook. His tattoos. I’ll remember how he taught me about gardening and flowers. His love of animals. Bob Dylan songs. And trips to Vermont and the cows…

Despite the sadness, I honestly also feel relief that he doesn’t have to suffer anymore. He wasn’t perfect but he understood me more than most people ever have.  He shaped me so much in my love of nature, animals and literature and, most importantly, in believing in yourself. I love you dad and I miss you.

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Resources on alcoholism and recovery:

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD)
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Resources for people affected by alcoholism of a friend or family member:

Al-Anon/Alateen
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)

Regaining My Voice & Perspective

I lost my voice. For almost four days there was no talking from me, save for scribbled down notes, text messages and vague resemblances of whispering. Today, I’m beginning to regain use of my voice. I can talk, though not in the same voice I used prior, but none the less I can talk.

Not being able to talk and thus effectively communicate for the past few days was frustrating, not only for myself but for those around me. I found that my lack of speaking led way to a great deal of miscommunication and confusion. Apparently while the hand jive is (in my opinion!) an awesome component of dance and ’50’s culture, it’s not an equally awesome manner of communicating. Along with mistaken communication there was also a great deal of intentional miscommunication, mainly on the part of my lovely daughters:

What mom? We can have 3 pieces of candy?!?

*I shake my head no*

Yes? You said yes?

*I shake my head no again* and quickly write N-O in big letters on a piece of paper, which is ignored as they each eat their 3 pieces of candy I “said they could have”…

I’m also baffled by the thought of how other’s who have lost their voice prior to the age of technology handled communication. With the  assistance of the internet/my smart phone, I was still able to communicate. I was able to email a professor to let her know I couldn’t attend class, text message information that needed to be relayed to my partner and even post an update on facebook letting people I know (many who live near me and who I see daily) what had happened, so they wouldn’t try to call to contact me.

Having regained limited vocal ability today (and just in time to video record a mock counseling interview for school this morning!) I realize how many abilities are taken for granted on a daily basis. Talking. The ability to walk. The ability to read. The ability to hear.

Flickr: Snoshuu

Today I am taking the opportunity to pause and reflect on how fortunate I am for all the abilities I do have, instead on focusing on any I may be lacking in.

I’m Still Here

Not every day is a good day. Some days everything seems to go wrong, everyone seems against us and it feels like nothing will ever get better. Such black-and-white thinking will surely lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. In this struggling, courage is persisting through and braving to try again. To have even the slightest amount of hope and the ability to say, “I’m still here.”

All the Small Things

I spend enormous amounts of time thinking. Worrying, analyzing, trying to determine all possible outcomes in all possible situations. I often get caught up in all these details, in all the things that could go wrong that I often don’t focus on or even notice the little things that go right.

We all do it. We get wrapped up in the big picture, making sure our kids have lunches packed for school and that their homework is finished. Completing the never-ending list of chores: laundry, dishes, meal planning and prep, vacuuming, cleaning, organizing, yard work, more laundry. In assuring that the pets are fed, that holiday presents are bought, that we keep in touch with family and friends and on and on and on… that we sometimes miss out on the little things.

Yesterday, as I stood in the driveway of my friend’s house after a particularly long and stressful day, I noticed the stars. You know, the same ones that are there every night. The same ones that most of the time I don’t notice or, if I do, I take for granted. For some reason though last night I noticed them. And they were beautiful. And in that moment I felt a sense of wonder. A sense of calm telling me to slow down and look around myself. Because there is beauty right in front of us. I pondered how many times lately I had missed other beautiful, wonderful, amazing things that were right there for me to enjoy.

Later that evening, on my drive home, I noticed movement on the side of the street. On any other day I may have not given it a second thought. A squirrel, a dog, something. But I didn’t turn away. Two deer, one full-grown and one much smaller, were about to cross the street. I slowed my speed and they crossed directly in front of my car. The larger one paused for a moment before scurrying off to the other side, the smaller one in tow. Just a moment. Just a moment that I could have very easily missed out on.

Today, throughout my travels, I noticed things that very likely may have previously been there. I saw how crisp and warmly colored the leaves on the trees were. Many branches already bare. I saw how the rain droplets fell on the grass, pooling together into bigger drops. Tiny purple and blue flowers I had written off as being already gone this far into autumn grew along the parking space my car occupied.

So many things. So many little things that go unnoticed daily. And yet they fill me with joy; with pleasure. The old saying “don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff” feels true to me at this moment.