On Thanksgiving and Tradition, redux

I wrote this post in 2011 and repost it every year in tribute to my mom, who passed away in February of 2013. (It has become my Thanksgiving tradition, I guess you would have to say.)

Wishing you every joy of this blessed holiday.

~~~

The past three nights I have had dreams of my mother. In each, I was the age I am now, living my current life. But her age changed—early 40s, then 80s, then some age in-between.

I know these dreams came to me because it is Thanksgiving and I will not see her. She and Dad live in a retirement community in another state, and for health reasons, no longer travel. We are staying here because it is my daughter’s first holiday from college. She needs some “home” time, and she will spend Thanksgiving day with her Dad and his family. Those grandparents, who face debilitating health challenges of their own, will be filled with joy to have her there.

It is the right decision.

Nevertheless, my mother is heavy on my mind. My dreams mark that small, tight space in which I live, wedged between aging parents and maturing children. I want more time with both, and still the demands of our lives—mine, my mother’s, my daughter’s—pull us in three radically different directions.

Here is what the dreams were about. In some pretty obvious ways, and some veiled, the situations represented traditions my mother established when we were a family of six: Mom, Dad, my three brothers and me. While “tradition” infused all aspects of our family’s life, from sports superstitions to station wagon vacations, the most vivid to me are still the holidays.

Thanksgiving at our house in Virginia was exactly the same every year. My grandmother lived next door, and my brothers rolled her wheelchair down the tiny hill that connected our yards to bring her to dinner. La-La wore fur in the cold mountain air and brought with her a green cut glass bowl of homemade cranberry sauce. She also made pineapple fritters, a treat reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Mom roasted the turkey, always in a brown-n-bag (70s) which meant it could not be stuffed—a choice about which my father expressed disdain year after year after year. Still, he was the carver, and I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday “testing” bite after juicy bite in that formica-countered, wood stain-cabineted kitchen while my mother instructed my oldest brother, Sutton, on the finer points of making giblet gravy.  (“Stir like hell!”) When we were seated, and Mom complained once again about not making the dining room big enough when they built the house in 1965, my brother Randy would ask of the table:

I wonder if next year we’ll remember asking this year if we would remember asking this last year?

 

In my family today—the one in which I am the mother—we have no such traditions. Instead, Thanksgiving is a surprise every year. In the early days I made my way back to my mother’s house, first as a single girl, then married, then divorced with a small child in tow. Then the small child learned to dance and Thanksgiving week was filled with an endless schedule of Nutcracker performances that kept us bridled to South Carolina.

 

Eliza, in blue, a Party Girl in The Nutcracker

 

I married again, bringing another branch to our beautiful, complicated family tree, and our celebrations diversified once more. I especially loved the years Tim’s mother, Dorothy, joined us for Thanksgiving. I can still see her in the kitchen, making the Monetti family’s traditional creamed onions—a novelty to me. One year, just after a break with the ballet company, we found ourselves with no Thanksgiving plans at all. Along with our dear friends, the Coles, we hopped a plane for New York City and the Macy’s parade. I ate pumpkin ravioli for Thanksgiving dinner; it was divine.

 

at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade

 

And so, you see, my daughter has grown up rather traditionless. Instead, her life has been filled with a cornucopia (forgive me) of holiday celebrations. And I ask myself why it is that I now regret this? Why has this thought invaded my dreams? I think it is that space that we find ourselves in, we Mothers Squeezed Between The Generations. Guilt lurks on either end. I regret that I haven’t established the traditions of my childhood in my own home, for my daughter; I feel guilty not abandoning all for the mere opportunity to be with my parents—a remarkable blessing in itself.

And so tomorrow will come, and Eliza will head out the door toward her Ellis family. I’ll pull the big turkey from the fridge, overstuff it with dressing, and load it on my Williams Sonoma roasting pan. Then while I watch my husband carve the big bird, sneaking bites every chance he gets—I will smile and stir the giblet gravy.

I will remember, Mom, to stir like hell.

 

 

I’d love to send a little note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.

it’s always there

IT’S ONE OF THOSE TIMES that makes you realize you never really know the joy life will bring, one moment to the next.

First there was the fact we had a slew friends staying with us in the mountains for the weekend. Then others were to arrive late Saturday afternoon, our plan some happy time out on the deck, followed by a big, casual, family-style dinner.

Then Jessie called.

“You can say no,” she said, “and I will totally understand.” She totally meant it, too.

But I said yes, and that’s how it came to be on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in October I was standing, camera in hand, just up the way in a lovely mountain meadow photographing the prettiest wedding I’ve ever seen.

I am not a real photographer, let me be clear about that. Plus there were three or four guests intentionally snapping away–each of us aware the professional had cancelled at the last minute and that surely–surely between all of us there would be enough good shots for a proper album.

Still. It was a wedding.

None of this is even the point of this post. I merely want you to understand how it was I found myself in a meadow on a mountain on a picture-perfect afternoon in October, a witness to the sweet, sweet wedding of a couple I’d never ever met. And I want you to feel the surprise that experience–unexpected as it was– brought to me. Turns out it was one of the most love-filled, light-filled, joy-filled afternoons of my life.

 

FIRST MY FRIEND and soul brother, Jay Coles, was visiting and offered to give me a ride up to the wedding. He knew I was anxious (!!!) and graciously agreed to hang around, bringing his camera as a backup. The two of us fussing around getting our “gear” ready so tickled our crowd that someone demanded a photo.

Thank heavens I am not sporting a camera in this shot!

 

Then Jay and I arrived and went to work, doing our best to capture each thoughtful detail.

 

IT’S AN ODD THING to attend the wedding of a couple you don’t know, even more so when it is an intimate gathering of family and dearest friends. I felt removed but also all up in it, every unknown face coming to me through my camera’s zoom lens. It gave me the opportunity to look and see and experience the color and shape of every emotion in a heightened and powerful way.

There was so much love.

Sister and sister.

Mama and daughter.

Father and bride.

Brother and brother. And brother.

Bride. And groom.

Oh, this bride and groom.

Their joy overflowed in a way made manifest, I swear, by the wide open setting, the colors of autumn, the October sky. They blushed; they laughed; they cried. As did the Justice doing their marrying (who I think may have been the groom’s brother). As did everyone else in attendance (but for those ADORABLE children).

As did I.

I stood there, my lens trained on the love-filled faces of these strangers, and tears rolled down my cheeks.

 

LOVE IS ALL AROUND is the point I’m trying to make, love is present and moving in a hundred trillion ways you never see or even know. Love is flowing, good and strong and remarkable, all across the globe, in every country, three states away, just a little ways up Ogle Mountain.

Even when we forget it. Even when forces divert our attention elsewhere, and we’re unaware.

Love is all around.

 

XXOO

 

I’d love to send a little note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.

Relief.

photo: David LaFuria

 

Full-on summer is here with the South Carolina temperature soaring to nearly 100 degrees most every afternoon. It’s the kind of heat you can literally see in the air: your eyes hurt, your lungs burn, your spirit feels the proverbial finish line is way over there on the other side of a giant vat of syrup.

No wonder I keep thinking about this photograph. Dear friends had come to spend the July 4th weekend with us high in the (much cooler) North Carolina mountains and Sunday morning headed to the North Toe River for sweet bit of fly fishing. David snapped this shot on their outing and was gracious enough to share it with me.

Relief. Oh, yes.

Here’s hoping the folks who landed there found just that. (Although it does feel like a long shot from the look of things.) And here’s hoping you find some, whatever it is you feel bearing down on you in this oppressive summer heat!

XXOO

 

I’d love to send a little note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.

Introverts Unite.

I guess the proper place to begin is with the admission she was not even on my radar. Oh, I’d heard of the book. I’d been drawn to it for years, the title alone tugging my heart until it pulled itself all the way to the top of my To Be Read list. But I don’t watch Grey’s, or Scandal, or How to Get Away With Murder, and so Shonda Rhimes, who created and runs those blockbuster shows, was a not a familiar name to me.

All that has changed. I just finished Year of Yes and can proudly say Shonda Rhimes rocked my world in the most powerful, gorgeous, healthy way possible.

The book is her telling of the life explosion she experienced when her sister offered, in a casual comment: You never say yes to anything. It pierced her, this thought, and it became the driving force behind a commitment to spending one year saying yes to anything that came along that scared her.

(This is a woman who hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances, just saying.)

This book is good, y’all. So good. And not in the way I expected. Shonda gets real, going deep enough into her hesitancies to actually identify what it is that scares her. Then she works hard at addressing that particular thing, which changes her perspective, which opens up her life.

My favorite part of the story is the commencement speech she delivered at her alma mater, Dartmouth College, in 2014. The audiobook (read by Shonda, which is so powerful) features that speech. I want every young person everywhere to hear it. I wish I’d heard it at 21.

Heck, the truth is I want every young woman I know to read this book.

So thank you, Shonda, for lessons and inspiration and a grand nudge to walk more boldly toward.  For the reminder that as women, and as human beings on this earth–it is our honor and our glory to step out of the shadows and fully, confidently, into the light.

 

this morning’s light

 

XXOO

 

I’d love to send a note when there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here.

 

little love birds

 

 

Several sweet bird couples live with us here on Bickley’s Pond, but none are more devoted than the finches. They are demonstrative little creatures who, when courting time comes around each Spring, are not shy in stating their intentions. 

But theirs is also a full time love. 

Several times each year one or the other finds its way onto our giant screen porch where it becomes more and more panicked in its (in)ability to find a way out. We humans do our best to assist, propping open the door and attempting to shoooooo the bird in the right direction.

(This never works.)

And so the frightened little bird flits around from one column to another, clinging to this screen and that, not making a single rational decision about what might be the best course of action in making a way out.

 

Why does this always happen to me?

 

And then.

And then love wins.

The devoted mate appears.

 

I’ll save you!

 

Inevitably the devoted mate appears, and from the outside in, coaxes and calms in the sweetest bird voice until she steadies, looks around, and finally finds her way back out the door. 

 

Yes, yes. To your left. To your left.

 

Oh, courting is lovely and sweet. 

But having a mate who is there for you in the crazy times–when you are irrationally afraid, or ridiculously wound up, or simply overwhelmed by the events of an otherwise ordinary day–that, my friends, is love.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day to you.

XXOO

 

I’d love to send a note when there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!

What’s Saving Me Right Now*

First, a confession*. I don’t actually need to be “saved” from the winter blues. I love this flat white season, finding that–quite the opposite–the quiet fills my soul, steadying me, somehow, for the crescendo of Spring. Still I’ve enjoyed the theme as it has been passed blogger to blogger across the internet. And so I thought I’d take a minute to consider All The Things bringing me joy right now.

 

Reading. In winter, I make the time. Of late I’ve had at least three books going at once: 1) fiction, 2) memoir or essays, 3) audiobook–and this triumvirate is allowing me to make some headway in my vast “To Be Read” list. Since the list is lengthy, I’ll give some detail in my next post. Suffice it to say I’m excited about some of the suggestions.

 

some from my “read” and some from my “to be read” pile

 

The Crown. I’ve been reading more partly because we’ve committed to less television in my house. Except, except. Except for this. An original series from Netflix, The Crown tells the story of the current Queen Elizabeth II, her marriage to Prince Phillip and her ascension to the throne. It is remarkable, gorgeous and surprising. It is also the most expensive television series ever made. It shows.

 

My Brave Daughter. She inspires me. Seriously inspires me. She up and moved to California for three months with her job, doesn’t know a soul, and doesn’t have a community of young people around her (due to the nature of her work). And so she made a commitment to set off on an “alone” adventure every day, which she has been doing. Not only that, she’s making a point of trying out new things, like the area’s most famous Ramen restaurant. (She did not care for it.) Plus all along the way she sends me Snapchats that make me laugh. Like this one.

 

Podcasts in general, and The Making Oprah Podcast in particular, and the Making Donahue episode of the Making Oprah Podcast most of all.  I am an Oprah devotee, so much so that there wasn’t much new to me in this fantastic podcast series produced by WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station. It is so well done and so worth a listen, whether you know a lot about the making of the Oprah show or not. Of particular note is the bonus episode in which they use more material from their great interview with Phil Donahue and talk with him about the making of his show. It–and he–are priceless.

 

Those Fantastic Women’s March Signs. I did not attend the Women’s March although I am in full support of those who did, and of the march’s intentions. And heavens I enjoyed their signs as they rolled along my Instagram feed. I still think about this one–posted by my friend Joe–and it still makes me smile.

 

Prep Dish. After hearing about the menu subscription plan called Prep Dish for months and months on The Happy Hour podcast, I finally took advantage of the free week. It revolutionized my cooking life then and there. Each week Allison, the chef, sends you a gluten-free (or paleo) menu, a shopping list (organized by store department–brilliant) and step by step instructions for doing the week’s prep all at once. I LOVE IT. And I am not a paid promoter–just an enthusiastic subscriber!

What are you loving this winter? Do share in the comments!

 

XXOO

Gifts of a New Day

 

It’s one of those things you wonder how you made it a lifetime not knowing.

~~~~~~~~~~~

We’d come to the mountains for a long weekend just the day before, arriving late and promising that since it would be Saturday, we really were going to sleep in. But morning came and our eyes opened and before you could say October we were out on that deck, coffee in hand.

There was the tiniest thread of light just along the ridge line.

 

moonrise1

 

We inhaled, exhaled, and gave thanks for another day.

But then I looked closer. There was also a rising crescent, a sliver so slight I wondered if my eyes were playing tricks. There, just above the mountain. What is that? I said to Tim. It looks like the moon.

I think it is, he said.

But it’s morning, I said. And that’s about where we expect the sun to rise.

I got my big lens, and this happened next.

 

moonrise4

moonrise5

 

It’s difficult to tell since the zoom changes from image to image, but just as the moon began to disappear, sure enough, right behind it (and just slightly west) came the sun.

 

moonrise3

sun1

 

sun-2

sun3

 

It was the New Moon, I’ve since learned, one that all these years, from the beginning of time, has risen with the sun.

Wow. And thanks and praise!

 

I’d love to send a little note when there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your address here!

 

This is Us.

 

I REALLY DIDN’T HOLD OUT much hope, to tell you the truth. The commercials were on ad nauseam and the promotion seemed too much. It was like one of those films for which all the good moments are shown in the previews leaving nothing to delight in during actual viewing.

But there is so little television Tim and I watch live these days. A new show, we both agreed–one with even with the tiniest modicum of promise–seemed a worthy spend of an hour.

What a good decision that turned out to be.

 

THIS IS US is a new drama on NBC that has stolen my heart. The storyline is meant “to challenge your everyday perceptions about the people you know and love,” a fine line to walk if ever I’ve seen one. In less skillful hands this show could go so wrong so fast. But so far, so good (there are a few exceptions*), and Tuesday night’s “The Game Plan” resolved nicely in a lovely and surprising way as Kevin shared a Painting of Life with his nieces.

 

 

AS I WATCHED I couldn’t help but think what an important message this is for our world today, for our country today, for each and every one of us, on every side of every issue.

What if we’re in the painting before we’re born, what if we’re in it after we die, and these colors that we keep adding—what if they just keep getting added on top of each other until eventually, we’re not even different colors anymore. Just one thing, one painting…There’s no you, or me, or them. There’s just us. 

 

image: NBC, This is Us
image: NBC, This is Us

 

And this sloppy, wild, colorful, magical thing that has no beginning, has no end, is right here. I think it’s us.

It’s us. There’s just us. Yes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*His making of the painting, perhaps. But the looks on the faces of those girls as he shares it way more than makes up for that bit of willing suspension. Right???