Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ending the Year with a Thank You

I think the best way to celebrate the end of another year is with gratitude. I am grateful to have survived another year; it's nice to be 66 years old and in good health. So for the next several days I will be giving thanks on my blog for all of my blessings in 2007.

Today I give thanks for my family. And I will begin by being grateful for my husband of 43 years. Although we have had many stormy times over the past year (make that years), there is probably no one else that would have put up with me for so long. And vice versa. I am grateful for the strengths I have developed from being his wife. He encouraged me to get my Masters degree and to pursue a career, in the days when husbands didn't want their wives to work. My perspectives have been broadened just because he looks at life so differently from the way I do. Thanks to him, I finally learned how to smile more and take life a bit less seriously. And thanks to him, I developed my patience to the level of a saint! But most of all I thank him for our three children, without whom we would not have our six grandchildren. More about them tomorrow.

Here's another hint. Whenever you feel blue or depressed, start giving thanks for your blessings. It really works!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I've been tagged!

My daughter "tagged" me and so I am filling in my literary pickings below. Unfortunately I don't know how to "tag" so I can't pass this on.

1. One book that changed your life:

Awareness by Anthony De Mello

2. One book that you have read more than once:

The Trilogy of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island:

The Bible (I figure I will need a lot of help to survive!)

4. One book that made you laugh:

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriott
(This is a book that made me laugh out loud on the NYC subway.)

5. One book that made you cry:

Oh My Stars! by Lorna Landvik
also, Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
also, Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
and the last Harry Potter book
(I must love sad books.)

6. One book that you wish had been written:

The book I've been meaning to write about Paradox.

7. One book that you wish had never been written:

The Da Vinci Code.

8. One book you are currently reading:

Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light

9. One book you've been meaning to read:

Sink Reflections by Fly Lady to help me declutter and to "Just Do It!"

My Christmas Letter

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Well I thought that retirement meant lots of free time to reflect and relax. Wrong! 2007 has flown by at warp speed and I am busier than ever. My part time job at the NY Citizens’ Committee on Aging is blossoming, as our elder poverty project has struck a chord with the aging and advocacy communities. After many rejections, we got a grant in November that will fund our work into next year.

Outings with friends are now a monthly event – whether its lunch with my pal Pat, museum-hopping with the “Met Club”, or chatting with e-buddies, I am enjoying these treasured friendships. In June I made a week long retreat on the Hudson; the theme was “Transitions”, a timely topic indeed. Most exciting, with the help of my blogging daughter, Tina, I began my own blog in July, where I share my thoughts and poems on the world wide web. And I am also working on a chapter for the new Partners in Healing book. Plus I finally caved into the Harry Potter hoopla and read all seven books. Wow!

The year began on a scary note when my “baby” brother Jeff suffered a heart attack only days before his 52nd birthday. Thankfully, he is now doing well. If you know me at all, you know how much I value family, where the joys and sorrows of life are lived. And so Jeff became a Grandpa when Adrian was born on 07/07/07. Then sadly, we lost my dear Aunt Alice very suddenly the end of July. She was the matriarch of the Pennsylvania branch of the family; now all the elders of my childhood days are gone. Suddenly I am the oldest – Yikes!

Time spent with family is precious: My husband accompanies his brother to the senior center daily. We both enjoyed trips to Longwood Gardens and the Bronx Botanical Gardens with my sister and brother-in-law, Kathy and Rich. We visited my Dad’s younger sister, Aunt Elizabeth (age 88) and her family for the first time in years. The highlight of the family year was the wedding of Audra and Brian in September. The whole Pennsylvania clan was there, along with my brother Jim from California with his family. Just what I like - a huge family Lovefest! Best news of all – Audra will present my sister Kathy with her 1st grandchild next year!

My granddaughter Marina had a banner year: winning 3rd place in her town’s poetry competition; serving a 3 week internship at the Bronx Zoo in August; and being confirmed in October. She even got braces! Chase and my son-in-law joined us at a Mets game in July, hosted by Primerica; Chase is now going for his Bodan Belt in Tae Kwan Do. Sierra started home school Kindergarten and is becoming quite proficient on the computer, especially Zoo Tycoon. Tina’s blog and comics are receiving recognition; she’s been invited to write for a home school magazine.

My son, daughter-in-law and grandson Sam took us to a minor league ball game on his company night in June. My son got a job promotion and finished paralegal courses this year. Daughter Lisa and family just returned to California after a long visit; it is amazing how big Jackson and Aidan are getting. Aidan has some powerful arm for a 2 year old! Watch out, A-rod! We enjoyed an old fashioned Family Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania with Lisa’s family and all the Pennsylvania cousins.

If you want to know more about my adventures during 2007 or would like to read my poems, I invite you to visit my blog at Especially the December entries. Meanwhile, I wish you all a happy, healthy 2008! Keep in touch!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Clutter-free Gifts

So how do we free ourselves from adding to the clutter caused by more Christmas gifts? I like what my sister did this year. Kathy is the generosity guru of the family. This Christmas she treated the whole family to Cirque du Soleil at Madison Square Garden. Now this is great. It’s a shared experience with those we love, great fun and best of all, it doesn’t take up any space in our house (unless you buy a souvenir).

I have given Kathy trips – that’s how we discovered Longwood Gardens – and treated family or friends to dinner or a show. A gifting experience that is remembered fondly and doesn’t add to our treasure troves. To really hit the spot, these should be shared experiences. Then you get the best present of all – the gifter’s presence to enjoy the dinner or show with you.

Personally, I love gifts that you can literally eat up. My hubby and I have gobbled up fruit baskets, fruit cakes (yes, we love fruit cake), homemade Aunt Kate cookies, etc. etc. And we never forget who sent us these treats. My friend Mary sends us a 2 lb. box of See’s Chocolates from San Francisco each year and we think of her with each sweet bite. Even though this gift sends my Weight Watcher points sky rocketing.

And then there are the “contribution gifts”. My son likes us to donate to favorite charities, like Doctors Without Borders in their honor. This idea has become more imaginative lately because people still like a tangible token, along with their altruism. This year the World Wildlife Fund had a great gimmick – adopt an endangered animal and receive a certificate and photo of “your” animal. I got one for each of my grandkids and threw in a stuffed animal for the youngest three. Anyway, it’s a wonderful way to honor a friend, support a cause and get a tax deduction. And best of all – it takes up no space at all!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mother Teresa and Too Much Stuff

Lately I’ve been trying very hard to de-clutter. I feel buried by my “treasure”: too many boxes, too many clothes, too many trinkets. And yet… it is so hard to let go. If I could be sure that an individual or an organization would appreciate my precious thingys, it would make it a lot easier to donate them. But each item seems to have emotional baggage and I end up feeling like a prisoner of my possessions.

First of all, they need to be organized or I don’t remember that they even exist, much less where they are. Items with sentimental value – like drawings made by my grandkids (come to think of it, I may have some of my kids' drawings too!) or the last Avon pin that my Mom gave me or a birthday card from my daughter – these are especially hard to part with. It’s like I’m throwing away their love. And then there’s the hundreds of old photos. I can’t breathe thinking of it!

And of course I want to guard all my things, especially the emotionally valuable ones. When my house was robbed last year, I discovered how painful it is to lose my belongings. I felt violated. From time to time, I remember another thing that was stolen and the wound opens again.

The very act of cleaning out forty plus years of accumulations and to whom I should bequeath what, raises the terrifying thought of my own mortality. Bad enough to die but then to have your sweet stuff forgotten too! Oh no! No wonder I am stuck in this house that I think I want to move out of.

Filling up the bottomless black hole with “stuff” enslaves me in a way. Yet no matter how hard I try, I wind up buying more “stuff” I don’t really need. I have been reading Mother Teresa’s letters: Come Be My Light. The beginning reveals how she pestered the powers that be to let her heed the “call” to live in the slums of Calcutta. What intrigued me about this mission of hers, is how much she longed to become one of the poor, to give up all possessions. And I have come to see that this is what truly frees you. Maybe this is not as selfless as it seems – maybe it is just smart to detach yourself from material goods.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gifting Games 2

The List Game also facilitates another gifting game – creative gift management or varying your gifts from year to year to prevent recipient boredom. Of course some people I know like to get the same gift – which is why my brother is getting yet another Swiss Colony package this Christmas. And I confess I would never tire of a Barnes and Noble gift card from here to eternity.

Games to curb our over-gifting tendencies include “Silent Santa”. Put the names of all members of a group in a hat; each person picks one name, which equals one gift each. How about the Competition Game? It goes like this: “Well I put so much thought or spent so much money on her gift and look what she gave me!” Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of gift giving? I struggle to give up this outdoing game lest it escalate into bankruptcy. Not to mention petty res
entments, hurt feelings and other negative baggage I can do without.

Many good people I know have tried to curb the gifting frenzy. But sometimes it just doesn’t work. People are where they’re at and we must honor that. There may be a whole psychology of giving, for all I know. Meanwhile, it is much easier to give than to receive.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gifting Games

Do you play gifting games? I guess the most famous is “Re-gifting”, where you put aside a gift that you think you will never use and give it to someone else. Of course, the trick is to never give the “re-gift” back to the original giver or to anyone in his circle.

To prevent re-gifting embarrassment, I play another game – Lists, a favorite of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) sufferers. I keep yearly lists of all the gifts I give and to whom plus gifts I receive and from whom. That way, if I decide to re-gift something, I won’t give it to the “wrong” person. Now, this may sound terribly insensitive or even worse, ungrateful, but admit it. Who amongst us has never played the Re-gifting Game? In fact in some primitive cultures, it’s a revered tradition.

Those who practice re-gifting may be interested in an experimental game we played back in Grad School. Players place an unwanted possession, nicely gift-wrapped, before them on the floor or table. Using a spinner or dice, players choose any gift in exchange for their own when it’s their turn. After several rounds the gifts are unwrapped. As the game advanced, it was amazing to observe how players reacted when their “unwanted” gifts were prized by others. They began to fight to get them back and many went home with what they brought! Hey! This may even be a way to cut down on the overgifting syndrome known to plague 21st century families.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Guiltless Gift Giving

Some years ago my friend Sister P. came up with a great Christmas project at our agency: “Adopt-a-Family”. The idea was to match a poor family with those who wanted to do something charitable for the holidays. Only needed items, like clothing or household items were listed on the recipient’s profile. But of course, the adopters, who were recruited from the Archdiocese’s parishes, usually outdid themselves, supplying toys and games along with the sweaters and blankets.

I know many religious congregations have versions of Adopt-a-Family – there are Jesse Trees and in my parish, we have paper Angels that the children color: on the back it simply says “4 year old boy” or “Woman size large”. I think it’s a wonderful idea. Because it brings together those who love to shop with those who really do need stuff! A win win opportunity if ever there was one. Or what I liked to call “guilt free shopping”.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Christmas Shopping Season

With mixed feelings, I embrace that most frenzied time of year yet again - Christmas Shopping Season. I have mentioned before my love-hate relationship with Malls. Too much stuff, too much choice, too much temptation. Advent, the period of reflection and waiting, has instead become the Shopping Olympics of my year. So why do I succumb?

That brings us to the subject of "gift giving" and all the baggage that weighs it down. Gifts, in my family, were a way of showing affection. We were not raised to be particularly demonstrative, physically. So birthdays and Christmas were an opportunity to demonstrate our love for each other. As a child and young adult, I worked feverishly to find the perfect gift for each of my loved ones. Sometimes I made the gifts myself, like the year I made pastel paintings of nature scenes to give my Dad and Grandmother for Christmas. I even spent hours on creative wrappings. Maybe it was more about my creative efforts being recognized and appreciated than about expressing love. In truth, it was all of it.

I learned from the masters of gift giving - my Mom and Dad. Mom loved to shop. She gifted her family all through the year with bargains she uncovered in hidden racks at Bloomies and all her favorite stores. Once when I complained that Mom could not afford her generosity to me and my kids, my brother John wisely observed that it was her way of expressing her love for us. And I accepted that. So Christmas was the "mother" of all shopping sprees for Mom. She shopped up to the final hour and had her gifts wrapped only moments before we exchanged them on Christmas Eve.

For Dad, his gifts were tied up with the "bow" of his own self-esteem. If the gifts he so thoughtfully planned did not elicit the hoped for, enthusiastic delight on the part of the recipient, he felt painfully rejected. So I remember fondly his Christmas surprise to me one year during my teens - a stereo! (For all you younguns', a stereo in those days was today's I-pod.) Anyway, that was the perfect gift for me and I hadn't a clue. Looking back, I feel happy that my joy at that gift gave Dad even more joy. Now I understand.

This is too hot a topic to drop. So "shopping" and "gifts" will be featured in my pre-Christmas blogs and maybe I will blog more this month. Besides, I'm off to the Mall now. To do some Christmas shopping! And then to spend time with the best Christmas gift I ever received - my daughter Tina. Happy Birthday Tina!