Mistakes and Miscommunication

Have you noticed an increase in mistakes being made by service staff? How about misinformation, inaccurate assumptions, and errors in communication of information? I have noticed all of these and attribute them to our current challenges due to the pandemic. While I do not want to “blame” things on the pandemic just because it is our reality, I do believe our current state of affairs caused by the pandemic results in some particular problems. My purpose in bringing this into our awareness is so that we will all be more careful, kind, and diligent.

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Looking Back

Before we get too far into 2021, I want to look back on 2020, specifically the COVID time, March to December. I do not want to forget this time. This will be my month-by-month chronology.

March 2020 started out as any March; windy, cool, and some days sunny. Mike and I went to Georgia to celebrate with our granddaughter, Mary Grace, for her 15th birthday on March 12. The next week, with the advent of the pandemic and restrictions caused because of it, our world changed. From March 23 to April 22, I cooked with abandon. Most of my days and evenings were spent nesting, trying new recipes from cookbooks I rarely used as well as cooking recipes from old favorite cookbooks.  Mike and I ate well, and I filled the freezer with meals for later. There was no eating out, since most restaurants were closed for eating in. I have never enjoyed take-out, so even when some restaurants opened for take-out, I chose to cook and eat in. My outings were mainly to the grocery stores. I maintained my daily walk routine, glad to be outdoors and away from a mask.

 Celebrating Mary Grace’s 15th birthday March 12 before the pandemic changed our world.
One of the less complicated meals I cooked in March, but so delicious and nurturing.

April came and I still cooked. Mike and I started a ritual of going outside for an hour each afternoon, both to get some sun and to break the monotony of being indoors. After that I would usually take my walk, then have a cappuccino. April was the first month that I missed seeing our grandchildren (credit to COVID) in fifteen years. Mike and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary at home with a delicious take-out meal from our favorite restaurant, Margaux’s, compliments of our special family friend, MoMo. Later that evening our family’s world was changed forever with the news of the death of our son-in-love, Stephen’s, 41-year-old brother, Robby. Our anniversary will never be the same; it will always be shared with Robby’s passing. Hold tight to your loved ones, for we never know when we are having our last time with them.

Mike sitting outside on our daily outing.
Mike sitting outside on our daily outing.
One of my favorite new recipes from a cookbook I rarely used before COVID.
One of my favorite new recipes from a cookbook, Milk Street The New Home Cooking, I rarely used before COVID.

May began with our governor putting NC into Phase One of a closing/reopening plan.  Restaurants remained closed other than for takeout, and bars, salons, and gyms also remained closed. Many people isolated themselves from anyone outside of their bubble, including family, and we did also, until late May. We saw our daughter and her family who live in Raleigh periodically, careful about our exposure to or from our grandson who was in daycare. Our daughter and granddaughters came up from Georgia in late May. We remained safe from all of these visits, thankfully. My dear hairstylist, Anne, came from Durham and set up shop in our home, and gave a haircut to our granddaughter, Mary Grace, and cuts and color for MoMo and me. May 30th Mike and I checked into a condo in Hilton Head ahead of other family members for our family’s yearly vacation. The next morning, we discovered that someone had broken into our van during the night and stolen some valuables that should not have been left in the vehicle.

My Mother’s Day cards.
My Mother’s Day cards.
COVID made this even more true.
COVID made this even more true.

While our vehicle break-in was not a fun way to begin our weeks’ vacation, we managed to enjoy our time away, and all stayed COVID free. We were so glad to begin to resume some of a normal lifestyle in June. We began to eat in restaurants as those opened up, yet not at our normal level pre-COVID. We travelled to Georgia the last weekend in June to celebrate with our youngest granddaughter, Virginia, on her 8th birthday.

Our bubble: Mary Grace, Elsie, Bridget, MoMo, and Virginia at The Salty Dog Cafe in Hilton Head.
Our bubble: Mary Grace, Elsie, Bridget, MoMo, and Virginia at The Salty Dog Café in Hilton Head.
Fun times boating in St. Marys, GA the weekend of celebrating Virginia’s 8th birthday.
Fun times boating in St. Marys, GA the weekend of celebrating Virginia’s 8th birthday.

July began with our daughter Tara’s family from Georgia in Raleigh for the 4th of July holiday. We felt very fortunate to be able to be together, while remaining safe from COVID. So many people for various reasons were separated from their loved ones for months, and we (obviously) were not.

A 4th of July family celebration.
COVID gave us the opportunity to do more of this than ever before.
COVID gave us the opportunity to do more of this than ever before.

August found us travelling to Alabama for a very sad gathering, the funeral of a good friend, Jim Townsend, who passed away on August 22nd at 48 years of age after a long and brave battle with cancer. My wonderful friend for fifty-three years, who lost her husband eight years ago and now lost her oldest child, remained steadfast in her faith. I remain in awe of her grace.

Miracles abound, even during the pandemic.
A promise worth believing.
A promise worth believing.

September began with granddaughter Mary Grace coming to Raleigh for a visit for the Labor Day holiday. Mid-month Mike and I went to Key West for our annual vacation and were pleased to find social distancing and masks in full force. We ended the month with a visit to Virginia to celebrate with my uncle for his 90th birthday. Again, although we definitely pushed the envelope with all of our travelling, all of our family remained COVID free, thankfully. Most of our travelling was by car, and when the family was together, we were usually only with those we considered in our bubble.

Key West was serious about social distancing and masks.
Key West was serious about social distancing and masks.
Uncle Barry’s 90th birthday celebration.
Uncle Barry’s 90th birthday celebration.

October was filled with the upcoming U.S. presidential election discussion, disagreement and widening division. Given the increased vitriol, many people just wanted it to be over. The middle of the month we went to Lake Gaston with a group of friends who normally get together in July, which COVID preempted this summer. It rained all weekend, which did not dispel our enjoyment of being together. Mike and I went to Blowing Rock, NC for a few days at the end of the month, arriving home on Halloween to see our grandson, Drew, dressed out.

Walks on the beach centered my soul.
Walks on the beach centered my soul.
Many people threatened this if the outcome of the election did not go their way.
Many people threatened this if the outcome of the election did not go their way.

The outcome of the November 3rd presidential election is still being debated by some, but Joe Biden will be installed as President on January 20, 2021. There is already discussion of Donald Trump running for President in 2024. Thanksgiving 2020 was a quieter event than usual for our family. Usually more than sixty people gather in Raleigh for the holiday, but all agreed that the pandemic precluded that this year. A small group of us gathered for Thanksgiving in Georgia.

The children’s table at Thanksgiving in St. Marys, GA. MoMo is always requested at the children’s table!
The children’s table at Thanksgiving in St. Marys, GA. MoMo is always requested at the children’s table!
Thankful for all of our blessings, even during COVID.
Thankful for all of our blessings, even during COVID.

December 2020 brought family together once again for Christmas. Although experts warned against families gathering, our family came together in Raleigh. We were not unconcerned about the risk in doing so yet chose to be together as safely as we could. While the number of people diagnosed with and many dying from COVID or its complications continued to climb, we stayed safe, and are so grateful for that. If this year has taught us anything, it is that life is fragile, and we should not take it for granted.

Granddaughter Elsie and daughter Tara at Elsie’s soccer tournament in Savannah. GA has had in-person school, sports, and activities since August.
Granddaughter Elsie and daughter Tara at Elsie’s soccer tournament in Savannah. St. Marys, GA has had in-person school, sports, and activities since early August 2020.
Patti and granddaughters Mary Grace, Elsie, and Virginia at a Christmas luncheon at Raleigh City Club.
Patti and granddaughters Mary Grace, Elsie, and Virginia at a Christmas luncheon at Raleigh City Club.

Many people are touting 2021, glad to leave 2020 behind, yet not much has changed. While there are two vaccines approved for use in the U.S., vaccines will not be available for widespread use until mid-year. Many parts of our economy are not yet recovering, and some never will.  Many people are struggling financially, and in other ways as well. Weight gain and alcohol sales have increased. Stress is at an all time high.

What will 2021 bring us? Will we be able to leave the pandemic behind, strengthened by the lessons it taught us? Or will we continue to struggle with the unknown, not knowing when things will return to (what many believe will be a new) normal?

The answer will come. But when?           

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The End and Beginning of a Year

Just two more days to go and we will say goodbye to 2020. It has indeed been a difficult year.  2020 will go down in the history books as the year of a worldwide major pandemic, one that caused the deaths of many people. Many families were disrupted, unable to see their loved ones for almost a year. Many businesses closed, never to reopen. Economic conditions for many people have been dire. Food lines were longer, and more people than ever before struggled with poverty.

Yes, 2020 has been a very difficult year. But as I write this, I am aware that we still have much for which to be grateful, especially life. For we should not forget that some we love did not survive this year, and not just from COVID. If we are able to lament the conditions of 2020, we are alive, and have hope for things to improve, while we greive the loss of those who are no longer with us.  

Our family friends Bryan and Jim Townsend, reunited in heaven with the passing of Jim in August, joining his dad Bryan, who left us eight years ago.
Robby Kinney, our son-in-love Stephen’s brother, passed away suddenly in April, reinforcing to us the importance of holding tightly to our loved ones.

With two vaccines being dispensed in the U.S., hope is on the horizon. Predictions are that by mid 2021, many of our current conditions will be greatly improved. While we may have social distancing and masks around well into the new year, gradually our lives will be able to return to a (new) normal. It remains to be seen what we will want to keep from this COVID time, while we gladly shed many of its restrictions.

The COVID Experience recorded by 29 freelancers of the Triangle Association of Freelancers. Available on Amazon.

The end of a year and the beginning of a new one has some people reviewing their progress in the year ending and planning for the new year. While doing so this year with so many unknowns still with us is more difficult, it is still a worthy endeavor.

Lunch at City Club Raleigh with daughter Tara and granddaughters Mary Grace, Elsie, and Virginia.
Grandson Drew loves dinosaurs, and received at least 30 for Christmas!

Reviewing my blog from this time last year, I have some successes that I can celebrate. A year later, I am still a non-drinker. I have not just kept my weight off that I had lost, but I have lost even more, now at a weight that I plan to sustain. I have had success with these two commitments in spite of this year’s challenges. I am not prideful about these successes, just grateful.  

The table set by 8 year-old granddaughter Virginia. Virginia knows the rules about silverware and napkin placement, and chooses to break them!

Managing my money better in 2020 was also one of my commitments, one with which I did not have as much success. I did have some improvement in this area, but not as much as I planned. COVID gets some of the credit/blame, but my spending habits are really the culprit. I once again plan to improve in this area in 2021.

This year’s family ornament. Only family who sleep over on Christmas Eve are on the ornament.

How has 2020 been for you? If you made some resolutions, in reviewing them, how have you fared? Are you proud of your progress, or did you fail to keep your promises to yourself? Other than the obvious, the pandemic and many overall challenges, what reasons do you have for your progress, or lack of it?

Where do you want your life to be this time next year? It is time to make those decisions and put in motion actions that will help you to be successful. Time is to be treasured, and a year is a long time in one regard, and a short time in another. Once gone, we can no longer recover what that time could have been for us.

Mike and I wish you the happiest of New Years!

Would you not love to have even a few more minutes with your loved ones who are not able to welcome a new year? Sadly, that is not possible; that time is gone. It is possible, however, to spend time with yourself, grateful for the ability to say goodbye to a difficult year, and hello to (hopefully) a year full of promise. Do we not owe that to those we love, both those who have passed and those who are still with us? Time, and life, are to be treasured.

Happy New Year! May 2021 be all that you want it to be.   

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It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, or Is It?

Our Douglas Fir tree, a first!

2020 is soon to end, but not before Christmas is celebrated. We would probably all agree that this has been a year unlike any other. So, it is expected that this will not be a “normal” Christmas. Of course, I am referring to the secular part of Christmas. The real meaning of Christmas is not affected by COVID.

‘Oh how I miss the hustle and bustle of NYC at Christmas!
The Rockefeller Christmas tree in 2016. 2020 is the first year we have missed being in NYC during the Christmas season in many years.

I respectfully acknowledge that everyone reading this does not celebrate Christmas, and I ask that those who do not celebrate Christmas read this in the spirit of celebration, not just Christmas celebration.  

I mentioned in a previous post that I was not excited about decorating for Christmas, and I wasn’t even sure that I would. But, I did. I did not decorate as much as I normally do, but I did decorate. I am glad that I did, although there have been some challenges.

One of our two matching trees of 2019.

Whereas I normally have (at least) two live Christmas trees, this year I only have one. It is a good thing that I decided to only have one tree, for although I went early to select our tree, there were very few trees left, and no Fraser Firs. I had to settle on a Douglas Fir, and I am not happy with it. The branches are not sturdy, so it is difficult to hang any ornaments on them. It looks bare in too many places, and it isn’t easy to hide those bare places. Worse than this, however, is the fact that the tree is dying one week after it was decorated! Although I have filled the stand with water, the tree is not drinking the water. When I realized this, I googled “Douglas Fir not drinking water.” I found this to be a common problem with Douglas Fir trees. I discovered that the base of this particular tree has to be cut a certain way, or this problem happens. Obviously, the young man who prepared my tree did not know this either or did not do it if he did. There is no solution to this problem other than hope it holds up until Christmas day, and ignore how sad it looks while it is dying. Although I am disappointed, I am not really surprised. Since this year is unlike any other, it is fitting that this year’s Christmas tree reflects this.

This wooden Santa was lovingly made by our dear Shirshee many years ago.

One of my favorite things to do at Christmas while decorating the tree is remember where our ornaments came from. So many of our ornaments were given to us by friends and family through the years. Our collection is extensive, and I can remember who gave us most of them. Then, there are our two family ornament collections that Mike started, one of them thirty-seven years ago, and the other also a long time ago. 

Last year’s family Christmas ornament.
One of our annual family Christmas ornaments. Only the names of those who sleep at the house are on the ornament.

Our daughter and her family who live in Georgia will be coming home this week for Christmas, and we hope that we will all stay healthy. We are not unconcerned about COVID and would understand if they chose to forego coming home this year, although we are certainly happy that they will be with us. So that part of our holiday will be normal. Other parts will not be. We will not go to our church’s Christmas Eve Candlelight service, preferring to watch it virtually instead of exposing ourselves to a number of people outside of our bubble. We will also not go to Christmas Day dinner at a relative’s, so as to not expose his elderly mother to those of us outside of her bubble.

From our Sesame Street ornament set purchased in Gadsden, Al in the late 70’s. So many memories!
Most of our White House ornaments, a collection started by Mike years ago.

How will you celebrate this year? Is your planned holiday celebration similar to years past, or very different? Is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas at your house?

One of our family’s “rules” is no one can come into the presents area until everyone is up. This photo from 2019 is Virginia, Elsie, and Mary Grace patiently waiting on the adults.

More importantly, is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas in your heart?  

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What We Get Used To

I just finished my lunch of romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, diced onions, and 1 tablespoon of Garlic Expressions Vinaigrette, (my favorite salad dressing, discovered from a fellow blogger, Susan of Between Naps on the Porch) and it was delicious. Those ingredients were the only ones that I had to make a salad with, at least of things that are healthy. I used to not like salads, and now I love them. Thinking about this reminds me that we are creatures of habit and are more prone to like what we get used to, and not like what is unfamiliar. I can think of more examples of this, especially things that I had to get used to before developing a taste for them. Some of those things were good for me, and some not.

Oatmeal is healthy nourishment. Adding brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon, and vanilla makes it a special treat.
A delicious and healthy meal at Canyon Ranch’s café at the Venetian in Las Vegas enjoyed before COVID.

I have written previously about my decision to no longer drink alcohol, a decision I made May 7, 2019. I am now a non-drinker. I made the decision to stop drinking to lose weight, and it helped me to do that. I also had to change my overall eating habits to lose the weight I wanted to lose, which I did, and met my Weight Watchers weight goal July 13, 2019. Once I met that weight goal, I continued on my plan, and have lost a total of 57 pounds. Accomplishing this required that I change my habits, learning to like some things I previously did not enjoy, and giving up some things, such as Chardonnay, that I enjoyed. I still miss the Chardonnay, but I enjoy the weight loss and the general feeling of well being more.

March 31, 2019; Moscow. 150 pounds.
May 6, 2020; 105 pounds.
November 29, 2020; The Angus Barn, Raleigh. 101.8 pounds.

My weight loss was accomplished before I started a daily walking routine. Almost every day I walk two miles and have done so since January of 2020. I started walking for my health, specifically my osteoporosis and cholesterol. I have walked for exercise before, but never this consistently or for this length of time. Even if the walking is not directly related to my weight management plan, I feel much better overall from this exercise, and plan to continue it. I use this time for listening to podcasts and catching up on phone calls with friends. I hope that I will also see improvement in my bone mass and cholesterol, but even if not, I feel improvement in my mental health and overall physical health. This is another example of getting used to a routine before beginning to enjoy it.

Walking on the beach is a peaceful way to exercise.

I have known for years that I have an addictive personality. I am addicted to food that is not healthy or good for me, specifically sweets. While I am able to eat sweets in moderation, I will never be able to eat all of the sweets that I would like to if I want to maintain my weight loss. That is a non-negotiable fact. While I do not want to be deprived of food I enjoy, I am willing to control my food intake to remain healthy, and to maintain a healthy weight loss. That does not feel like deprivation, but discipline.

I do not think that I was addicted to alcohol, or I would not have been able to quit drinking so effortlessly. I certainly had a habit of drinking Chardonnay daily that was not good for me.  I did not drink alcohol at all until I was in my mid to late 20’s, and usually only drank wine, and an occasional Lemon Drop Martini or Appletini. I remember having to develop a taste for wine, not enjoying the taste at all when I first started drinking it. Initially I only drank socially. Over the years that changed to enjoying Chardonnay very much and drinking it daily. This is an example of getting used to something that wasn’t good for me.

We are called to be our best selves.

Other than rejoining WW and walking daily, the two behaviors that have helped me maintain my weight and health focus, I have other systems that help me to remain committed. The most important of these is daily recording of everything I eat and drink. If it goes in my mouth it is written down. I use the WW app for this. Sometimes this discipline keeps me from eating something I am about to put in my mouth! I also weigh myself daily in the same clothes and try to determine how my weight fluctuates up or down a pound or two and make changes accordingly.

I haven’t read the book, but I am living the life!

What we get used to can help us or hinder us. Sometimes our habits develop over time and we are not even aware that what was once occasional has become a habit. Some of those habits are not good for us. Also, as motivational speaker Jim Rohn said many years ago, our habits build on each other, one good habit leading to another. Jim Rohn gave the example of eating an apple-a-day made taking a daily walk easier. The same is also true for one bad habit making another bad habit easier. I recall eating more sweets and other carbohydrates with my Chardonnay. 

Food is nourishment and can be pleasurable, but should not be for stress relief.

What have you gotten used to? Are those things serving your higher purpose, or making it more difficult for you to be who you want to be? If so, are you willing to change some of what needs to change? If you are stuck, just get started. You may be amazed at what you can do once you get started. Do not try to figure it all out at once. Just get started, and the rest will come.

Let me know If I can be of any help. The purpose of this weekly blog is to inspire positive change. One step at a time.  

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Time, Our Most Valuable Resource

This sunset of Lake Gaston taken on one of our trips with friends.

With time to spare, I sit pondering the subject of this week’s blog. Just like I do not usually know exactly what I will say until I begin a speech, I usually do not know the subject of my weekly blog until right before I begin to write. Neither of these is because I am unprepared; I usually overprepare. It is because I want both to be as timely as possible, so I allow for the events and insights of the moment to lead me to the message I am meant to deliver.

As I ponder, I am reminded of the gift of time, and how rare it is to have time to ponder, to just think. Most of us are so busy, rarely slowing down to think about how we spend our time. Perhaps this is a subject worthy of this blog as we enter the busiest season of the year during a pandemic.

Time spend cooking and baking with the granddaughters is always time well spent. Virginia is baking cookies here.

My mind is wandering all around, thinking about the value of time, and how we spend it. I think of two groups of friends and times we spend together, just visiting, eating, and playing.  Playing includes sunning, boating, and other lake and beach activities. We do not watch TV, other than when it rained the entire weekend at the lake recently with one of our groups of friends! We mainly just talk, catching up on each other’s lives even more than world events. I am so appreciative of the time our hosts spend preparing for our times together, and the gift of time we all give each other to come together for these, leaving all other priorities behind to do so. I think friends who spend time together like this are rare, and so valuable. Then, of course, there is the valuable time that we spend with family.

We made it to Steamboat in February for our annual family ski vacation before COVID closed everything down.

Christmas decorating requires a lot of time, and each year I wonder if it is worth it for the two to three weeks that we are able to enjoy the efforts of the time spent. I question if it is worth it until the decorating is done, and then I do not question its value at all! Each year is a new decision, however, and since I haven’t yet decorated for this season, I am not making any promises. Through the years I have gradually reduced the amount of decorating that I do. We still have live trees. Each year I revisit the live trees decision, and probably will this year as well since I haven’t begun the process.

One of our 2019 Christmas trees
This ceramic tree was made by my mother many years ago. She passed away in 1998, and this treasure is a wonderful reminder of her.

Although I love how our home looks all decorated for Christmas, and I am glad I made the effort once it is done, is this really how I want to spend this time? Time spent can never be recovered. I am less sure this year than any other year. I will let you know my decision next week, for if the decorating is to be done, it must be finished by then. While writing this, not really trying to listen to the conversation of others, I hear a woman near me telling someone on the phone that she is not decorating for Christmas this year, that she has too much going on to do so! Touché!

This gift from my friend Pam introduced me to one of my favorites things, Sarawak White Pepper. I can only find it online!

There is also the time it takes to select and purchase Christmas gifts. Some people no longer give gifts for various reasons, and not (just) because of the time it takes to do so. One of the reasons is that some people are concerned about our excess consumption. The type of gift giving has also changed. For many people, gift cards have replaced gifts, and not even gift cards to a special store. I am not implying that gift cards are a problem, but that it doesn’t take much time to purchase them. Money is also given by some, and (I assume) appreciated by the recipients. Again, there is not much time required for this gift. But if one takes time to determine just the right gift for someone, whether the time is spent in physical stores or online, it does take time. Not to mention the time spent by the recipient returning gifts when the gift does not fit or is returned for other reasons. When I think of this, perhaps gift cards or money are the right approach, for they take less time for both the buyer and the recipient! If the gift, whatever it is, is given with a giver’s heart, in the true spirit of giving, the method of delivery or the specific gift do not matter much. It is time well spent.  

This etching on a sidewalk in Key West is a poignant reminder of the importance of how we spend our time.

This subject of the value of time could cover many other aspects of the use of time, but that would take too much of your time to read! Let’s just acknowledge that however we spend our time, we should do so thoughtfully, with full knowledge that time spent is never recovered.

How we spend our time and the choices we make are intertwined.

May your holidays, be they Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, be filled with meaning and joy, and may we all stay healthy, with masks and social distancing, until we are able to return to our (new) normal.  

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Thankful for Another Year

The children’s Thanksgiving table at Tara and Stephen’s. (L to R) Virginia, MoMo, (who the children always want at their table!) Mary Grace, Elsie, and Drew.

Thanksgiving 2020 has come and gone. It was a very different holiday for most of us. Although many elected officials and the CDC warned against travelling, many did so anyway, willing to take the risk to be with loved ones. We were in that number, travelling to Georgia to be with our daughter Tara and her family. We just hope that our decision was a healthy one, and that a couple of weeks from now we are still COVID free.

The adult Thanksgiving table. (L to R) Stephen, Stephen’s parents, his mom Jane and his dad Steve, Patti, Tara, and Mike.
MoMo, Virginia, and Elsie relaxing and reading.

Whereas the past two years we have seated 65 people for Thanksgiving in Raleigh, this year there were 11 of us in St. Marys, GA.  Our daughter and son-in-law hosted a lovely gathering, with the tastiest turkey I have ever eaten. Tara said it was the freshest turkey we have ever had, running wild a couple of days before it graced our table. I tried to forget that, focusing instead on the dry brine that must have made its taste so wonderful! 

(L to R) Stephen, Tara, Virginia, and Mike boating on Thanksgiving Day, a first!
Drew and Virginia.

Although our number was much smaller, Tara kept some of our traditions alive, including pasta night on Thanksgiving Eve. Sister Dianne would have been proud. She would also be proud that I mastered her Strawberry Pretzel Salad, which the children all requested.  I must confess I was nervous about that and was so glad that it turned out well.

One of the many wild horses we saw on Cumberland Island.

My birthday usually falls within the Thanksgiving holiday, and this year was no exception. The night before we travelled home, I was surprised with a birthday party complete with a delicious homemade cake made by Tara and the girls. The next night other family members Paula and Bryan surprised me with a birthday get together, complete with Edible Art cake. The next day, on my actual birthday, Mike hosted my third birthday celebration at the Angus Barn, which was so festive, all decorated for Christmas. The Angus Barn tradition ends a birthday dinner with a pound cake.  I think this is the first year that I have had three birthday cakes!

My surprise birthday party hosted by Tara and the granddaughters.
Mike and me celebrating my birthday at the Angus Barn.
Thankful for another birthday.

Other than appreciating being honored by family, I wasn’t excited about my birthday this year. This is the last year of my sixth decade of life. I am amazed that the years have passed so quickly. While I am grateful for the years I have lived, I know that there are more years behind me than in front of me. I was lamenting that fact, until I remembered how fortunate I am to be alive, and to still have birthdays. The memory of a few people who passed away this year brought into clear awareness how blessed I am to be alive. My regrets of aging turned into gratitude for aging. How quickly our perspective can change. The same situation can be viewed from different angles and present us entirely different views. Regret for aging becomes gratitude for aging. And my age did not change, just my perspective. Thankfully.  

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Thanksgiving 2020

Thanksgiving 2019

We may forget some of our holiday gatherings, but most likely we will all remember Thanksgiving 2020, during our time of COVID. Most of us will gather in much smaller groups this year, heeding the warnings of the CDC and countless others. Our 65 family members will not gather with us in Raleigh this year, putting safety above tradition and the desire to be together.

One of many tables at Thanksgiving last year. Feeding 65 people takes a lot of tables, chairs, and china! Hopefully next year we can gather again as a large family.
Another table set for the Thanksgiving feast.

Many people will not travel to be together this year due to the risk of doing so. Mike and I, grandson Drew, and family friend MoMo will be in St. Marys, GA at daughter Tara’s for the holiday. I hope that our decision to travel to be together is a good one. We struggled with the decision, concerned about all of the warnings to stay home and only be with those in our bubble, yet decided to go, and will maintain social distancing and wear our masks. With son-in-law Stephen’s parents joining us, there will be 11 of us.

We miss being with Beverly and Uncle Barry this year.
The adult cousins had a contest that involved an adult beverage last year.
Mike was a week post op ankle surgery last year at Thanksgiving, and enjoyed visiting with the cousins at Sawmill Tap Room, where our Thanksgiving holiday begins on the Tuesday before turkey day. Not this year.

Photos of past Thanksgivings take me down memory lane and reflect how blessed we are. Seeing how much the children have grown, and noticing the other changes we have experienced, I am humbled by being healthy, recognizing those in our family whom we have lost. Two of our patriarchs, Dad Fralix and Chuck Monahan, are no longer with us except in memory and spirit. We miss them often, especially so at holiday times.

Dad Fralix and Uncle Barry at Sawmill Tap Room, Thanksgiving 2017. Dad passed away in September of 2019.
Virginia and Kennidy at Thanksgiving in 2017.
The young cousins at Thanksgiving 2017.
Mary Grace, Elsie, and Autumn at Thanksgiving 2017.

Hold fast to your loved ones, for we never know when we will be together for the last time.  The Steve Kinney family knows this all too well with the sudden loss of Stephen’s brother Robby seven months ago. Robby’s death left his family with a void that will never be filled.

A small gathering that began our 2015 Thanksgiving.
Virginia and Aunt Patty preparing for Thanksgiving in 2015.

Take lots of photos as you gather this holiday, and frame some so that you have them present when your loved ones are no longer present physically. Spend time enjoying being together, remembering those who are not with us, especially those whose absence from us in this earthly life is permanent.    

Dr. Danks and Mary Grace at Thanksgiving 2012.
Elsie and Dr. Danks at Thanksgiving 2012. My how fast the years have passed.

I wish you a safe and healthy holiday, however you celebrate. May Thanksgiving 2021 find us able to be together physically again.   

Our last large group photo; Thanksgiving 2018. Dad Fralix and Chuck Monahan will be with us in memory this year, joining us from above.
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Leading from the Inside Out

Leadership has always been one of my driving forces. I think my interest in leadership comes from the influence of my given family, especially my mother, father(s,) and maternal grandmother. Some of the influence was not positive, but it all affected me, nonetheless. I am not going to delve into the whys and wherefores of my family related to leadership; that occurred in therapy in my early 30’s. I will discuss the practical applications of leadership, and how we all benefit from having leaders who inspire and develop us.

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Getting More Comfortable with Ambiguity

People who have a need to control are having a very difficult time these days. So many things are outside of our control. They really always have been, but we have sometimes been under a delusion that we had more control than we actually have had. Not so lately. There are so many things that have happened in the past year that we could never have predicted, and that have taken away any illusion of control that we might have had. One of the results is the need to get more comfortable with ambiguity. Ambiguity, the unknown, results when we cannot anticipate with any certainty what is going to happen next. That is exactly where most of us are, not being able to anticipate with any certainty what will happen next.  

The most obvious happening we have experienced is COVID. We cannot see the end in sight. Our daily lives have been disrupted by this pandemic and we do not know how long it will last. It seems that we are at least months away from any widespread solution to this, such as a vaccine. In the meantime, we will experience very different Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Many of us are physically distanced from our extended families in a manner that we have not been before during holidays.

Sometimes we just need time away!

Additionally, many people are struggling financially.  Also, we should not forget that many people have family members that have suffered from COVID, some who did not survive the disease. COVID has disrupted our lives to varying degrees, but we have all been affected. The ambiguity that is still with us as a result of this pandemic makes our daily lives feel out of control, and they are.   

Then there is the recent presidential election. Whether your chosen candidate won or lost, or whether you believe we do not yet really know who won or lost, the ambiguity involved in still having a country so divided continues to threaten our sense of stability. Even when the decision of who has been duly elected as our next President is known, the division in our country will still be with us, and we do not know for how long. Regardless, we have to go about our daily lives trusting that the wheels of our government will take us where were need to go. The ambiguity involved in this can create a lack of trust in our institutions that will make it difficult for all of us.

In addition to those mentioned, you have your own list of happenings outside of your control. Some are dealing with serious illnesses, some even death, not related to COVID. Some are dealing with job losses, not knowing how they will support their families. Some families have been broken apart; the stress created by the other happenings being the last straw in already fragile relationships. 

My afternoon cappuccino centers me.

We should not fail to recognize that there have also been positive happenings. Babies have been born. Some have been cured from serious illnesses. Engagements and weddings have happened, and others are planned. Some families have gotten closer and stronger, choosing to stay together. But even the positive happenings, when we feel they are outside of our control, create ambiguity. The ambiguity created from positive happenings is more desirable than that created from negative happenings, but both create a level of stress that can be difficult to manage.

So, what can we do during these times that there is so much outside of our control?  When thee is so much we can’t control, it is even more important to focus on what we can control. What we can control is our attitude and behavior. These are always within our control.

We cannot control the behavior of others! We can only control our own behavior.

During difficult times it is very important to insulate our hot buttons, those things that get under our skin, and that can create a negative response in us. People need our best at these difficult times, as hard as that can be.  We need to doing whatever we can to stay centered and calm. Recognizing that our loved ones will remember what we say in moments of anger, even if they forgive us our outburst. Once harsh words are spoken, they can’t be taken back. It is especially important for parents to show their best to their children during these times. Our children get their sense of security and stability from the adults in their lives, especially their parents.

Our behavior needs to stay positive, as positive as possible. We should remain productive. One of the positive benefits of COVID is the recognition of how meaningless some of our “stuff” is. Now that we have been home for longer periods of time, we are now clearer about what matters, and what doesn’t. This can help us transform ourselves from people of consumption to people of creation. Doing so is not easy, but easy is not what we are called to. The lessons of this time should not be wasted on us, we should embrace them.

The attitudes and behaviors that we can control are an important focus for our attention. There is not one road map for all of us in this regard. We need to spend time going within to figure out which attitudes and behaviors are most important for us to control. If we do, we can manage the ambiguity in a manner that allows us to be our best.

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