Counting My Blessings Instead of….

Torn label

The Christmas lights are glowing; the snow is falling; our puppies are snoring softly on the couch across the room.  ‘Tis the season for…  Were you expecting some feel-good affirmation of what I count as blessings in my life?  Not so fast.  For me too often ’tis the season for stress and worry.  Who am I kidding?  Every season is an opportunity to focus not on my blessings but whatever may be amiss in my admittedly somewhat limited and fortunate universe.  I  believe in God and grace, but for me is the path of micro-management and self-examination of every flaw and perceived fault, not to mention those forces that seem aligned against my contentment and happiness. I once told my husband that worry for me was much like a Pez dispenser — take care of one and another pops immediately into its place.   I read those wonderful affirmations over November and December by individuals who seem to move more easily in the circles of grace and love, affirmed through sentences that actually end in a period while I seemingly can’t avoid …

A couple of weeks before Christmas, on a snowy Saturday, I found myself rushing a somewhat bedraggled return package into a UPS store in Plaistow, NH.  My folks were in the car; we had spent the day shopping and navigating the poor driving conditions and bustling crowds.  I had managed to affix and remove this particular return label about four separate times (wrong side, incorrect packaging for type of delivery, etc.) and it now clung feebly  to the backing.  “I need help,” I said to the UPS man who came to the counter and then explained the series of unfortunate events that had led to the use of an airmail only package for a ground return and to the poor condition of the label.  He reassured me that all was well; they really didn’t worry about those pesky rules printed on the sides of padded envelopes, and it was with some frustration that I once again attempted to remove the label from the (wrong side) of the backing only to see it rip right through the UPS code.  Disaster. I looked at him in sheer helplessness.  He reached over the counter and gently took the package and label from me.  Then he leaned towards me.  “Listen to me!” he said, urgently but not unkindly.   I gave him my full attention, expecting a lecture of some sort or other on my multiple transgressions in following the UPS return process.  He continued.  “Go home.  Have a glass of wine, and forget it.  This is supposed to be the season of joy, not worry; I’ve got this.”   I burst into laughter thinking about what he had just witnessed — here was grace when I least expected it.  As I walked out considerably lighter of heart than when I walked in, I heard him say, “And if they ask me about this, I never saw you.”

I find myself thinking about my unlikely angel as I catch myself worrying about this and that, whether petty or apparently more serious.  I’m reminded of that old Irving Berlin song in White Christmas, “Counting My Blessings”, except, with apologies, I think I would update it to “Counting My Blessings instead of *bleep*”.  There is so much more blessing to my life than hardship, and what hardship there is I am thankful for, because there lies opportunity and a reminder that I am still on a path of challenge and growth.  Count my blessings?  You bet!

Count Your Blessings

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

Irving Berlin

The More Things Change…

The Trip Home Redux

It’s been over seven months and 1200 miles since I’ve last visited you.  I came across an interesting quote from Katie Couric a couple of months ago, “Life is a series of reboots.”  Reboot is one way to describe our family’s last months; for me, it might be closer to describe it as a return.   In the pleasant cool of a sunny southern Illinois morning in mid-September, I found myself packing the back of my 2010 TDI Golf (including spacious accommodations for our two dogs)  for the journey from O’Fallon, IL to Strafford, NH.  Our youngest, Emily, was similarly packing her Golf (my previous car) to make the journey with me.

Flash back to 1981 when my much younger version packed my 1978 Champagne Edition VW Rabbit to the gills with all my worldly possessions (except for my piano) for the move from Dover, NH to Brighton, MA to live with my friend (and now my stepsister) to reboot my nascent professional journey in the big city of Boston.

In the first days of spring the following year, I packed my car and moved on again, this time leaving New England to embark on my new career in the Air Force.  The intervening years were full of change including marriage, children,  moves to the midwest and west coast punctuated by time overseas in Turkey.  While we had settled in the St. Louis area after David’s military retirement, we had not truly decided on our “home”, often discussing selling our home and moving.  Exactly where that might be, we weren’t sure — maybe a smaller home, maybe closer to a town center. The result was that we simply stayed, unable to define a true focus or muster the energy to put our house on the market.    Little did we know that in just a few short months, everything was about to change.  In late June, for many reasons, including being closer to family, we decided to test the waters on a possible move to New England.  After a few frenzied weeks clearing, repairing, and staging our home of over seven years, we put it on the market in mid-July.  In eleven short days, we accepted an offer, about the same time David found a new position as a high school math teacher just a few short miles from my father and stepmother.  Allowing only a few days for advance househunting, I flew out alone and found our new home in just a few days — a picture-perfect cape on several acres just minutes away from the beautiful lake where David had spent many childhood summers as a camper and counselor.

It still hasn’t quite registered that we are now here and this is our home.  It’s one thing to pack and move possessions; it’s another to put down roots and establish your new life.  Having lived in the area so long ago, and in a very different phase of my life, things are familiar and strange all at once.  Viewing my packed Golf, though, I had to smile, thinking of my life as more circular than linear.

The next nomadic generation

Give me grace

I need grace.  Too often I forget my fallibility, and steam ahead under my own power.  It all goes so well — for a time.  Then, oh so inevitably, I tumble.  Ever the fix-it girl, I attempt to sweep up my own mess, and sometimes that works.  More often, though, it is in those very times when I am most exposed that I fail miserably, betrayed by my own flaws and emotions.  Only then do I turn, finally, to the Author of my life.  Even then it takes time before my restless spirit hears His voice — “be still and know…”.  So, here I am, once again laid bare — no strength, no defenses, just a flawed woman in need of the grace that covers me with His love.  May I not forget where I am right now; may I not only seek and be willing to receive precious Grace but be a source of it for others.

Leaving the Light On

It feels like it just happened — our children are not those little girls who rushed out of the house in the morning, leaving turbulently tossed rooms in their wake.  No longer do I hear the soft knock on the bedroom door late (much too late) at night to let us know that our youngest is home, or the breakneck tumble of words positioning the launch of some “must do” escapade that we need only grace with our approval to watch it lurch into motion.  It happened seductively, slowly, then in a rush — like being thrown off my feet by a sudden, overwhelming wave.  Our oldest had her course mapped out, and then she followed it, step by step, first going to school, then interning summers, and finally moving to Seattle to work for the same company.  It wasn’t easy, but certainly predictable, and we still had our youngest at home (well, the term “at home” must be broadly defined as she has wanderlust in her veins).  After finishing her degree, she stayed in her university town for several months, something she called a “victory lap”.  Finally, it was time for her to come home.  I would go into her room and survey the heap of stuffed animals in the corner and the tangle of clothes and stuff in her closet, frozen images of years past she had discarded in her wake.  At least we would have a child back under our roof again, and I could breathe.

It was not to be.  Before she had even set foot in the door, we took a breathless call that she had taken a sales position and was going to move to New York City.  This time she didn’t need our approval; this was her course to chart.   A few weeks later, two co-workers arrived on our cul-de-sac piloting a rental truck stuffed with the possessions of other parents’ children.  In half an hour, she too was gone.  So, our sweet girls’ father and I are living with the ghosts of years past — old school papers, photos, their girl scout vests, boxes of books, Barbies, and other once-treasured possessions.  Out of self-defense, I keep a bedside light on in our baby’s room.  It shines out a window overlooking the street.  I can see its soft glow when I drive home, and I think of her and her sister and how much I love and miss them, and how proud I am of the women they are becoming.  It comforts me.

The Unfairness of It All

A year ago last spring, I was on a health kick.  Exercising regularly, eating well, and keeping strict accounts of my portions led to a nice weight loss.  I felt so good, and more vital than I had in years.  Surely, the hard part was over.  Not so fast,  my little cream puff.   Over the intervening 16 months or so, my resolve has gotten, shall we say, “squidgy” around the edges.  It started innocently enough.  I started having excuses for not exercising that day, giving me more time to snack, which gave me less time to do all that pesky recording.  At first, the scale didn’t budge.  I would be the first person in the history of the world to cheat the irritating rules of intake and output when it came to maintaining weight and fitness.  That was just fine with me.

Which is why I’m panting here, on an elliptical trainer next to my husband, feeling my toes go numb.  Grace did not cover me sufficiently  in the weight and fitness department — apparently checking the box once was not good enough.   We finally went back to our local YMCA and joined for the third (or was it the fourth) time.  How unfair is this?  When I think about it, so much in my life requires ongoing maintenance and effort, be it prayer, fitness, housekeeping, pulling weeds, or playing the violin.  I’m sure there’s a life lesson in here somewhere, but I’m too busy panting and sweating right now to think of what that might be.

The Rich Life

Kitchen of Fragrant Smells

I was very blessed growing up to have wonderful grandparents.  My Grandmother Lynch was a successful business woman, a trailblazer for working women of the 1950s and 1960s.  The Sims side was almost as boisterous as our family of three rambunctious boys… and me, the lone daughter.   As the first grandchild and only girl for years,  I was, frankly, spoiled.   There, the world was my oyster.  Not one to remember details, I can see their Savannah Gardens home clearly even today.  I truly thought my Grandmother and Grandpa Sims were rich because of the abundance that came from their kitchen and home.  I remember the size of the postage stamp structure totally belied the amount of activity within.   As I grew older, I realized that my grandparents did not lead privileged lives in the sense of material wealth, but they were wealthy nonetheless, and I’m the richer for having been their grandchild.  If you’d like to know more about my rich relatives, read “My Rich Grandfather” under “Miscellaneous Musings”.  What are your precious memories?

The Mighty Dolmuş

My transportation championMy Transportation Champion…

There are things we take for granted in our own country, simple acts like communicating and traveling.  Once you leave your home turf, though, the simple becomes complicated.  Imagine waking up one day in a world where no one understands you, and you understand no one.  Imagine a place that has familiar elements, but they make up a whole you’ve never seen before, where a grocery store may look like one back home, but the produce has names you’ve never heard of.  Think of navigating congested streets governed by inscrutable order — chaos with its own set of rules.  This is what we faced in Ankara, but that was just the beginning.  What happened next?  You’ll have to read Part III of  “Strangers in a Strange Land” under “My Air Force Life”.   Teşekkür ederim!

Savoring Freedom


Ankara from a hill perspective

It’s been nine years since we made our around-the-world journey to live in Ankara, Turkey.  It’s a time I will always cherish, but I didn’t know that then.  On this day that we set aside to celebrate our nation’s independence, I’m reminded of the lessons we learn, not at home, but by journeying far from it.  As much as we grew to love Turkey, we also learned to appreciate the tremendous gift of freedom we enjoy just by virtue of being U.S. citizens.  I am grateful for so much, not least is the opportunity to breathe free on U.S. soil.  I hope you will continue to take this journey with me in “Strangers in a Strange Land, Part II” (“7,000 miles from home”) under “My Air Force Life”.   Happy Fourth of July!

Sailing, sailing….

Just give me five minutes...

An ounce of prevention…

I stood in the driving rain on our back deck, the freshly finished surface slick and wet, the wind pushing me against the railing, just as it had rudely shoved all the plants and furnishings to carelessly assemble into an untidy heap around me.  There was no sign of the new steel pergola, but then I knew where it had gone.  There it was on the wet grass about twenty feet below me, disassembled and flat, two posts resting partially on the concrete pad, the top inverted and angled into dense bushes, water gleefully pooling in its canvas hollows. The two forward posts were nowhere to be found, but I could see the trajectory path of broken branches where they had been launched into the vegetation hiding the swollen creek that roared in the background, more a raging river than its usual meek trickle.

That morning, David and I had left for work early.  I listened to the weather forecast, but the heavy storms weren’t predicted until the afternoon.  We considered removing the pergola cover, but decided we didn’t have the five minutes it would take.  Later would be good enough.  As I rushed home at lunch to walk our dogs before the darkening skies erupted, I didn’t even consider the potential air glider that even then was billowing under nearly full sail.  When the storm hit, it was too late.  I was in the kitchen when I heard the heavy sliding sound of objects moving outside.  First, the lighter plants, then the wicker furniture, finally terra-cotta pots as the posts of the pergola strained under the torque of wind applied to cloth.  I stepped outside to the tremendous clap of a lightning strike nearby and beat a hasty retreat.  Now, that would really be stupid.  I’ll call David.  I reached him at work just about the time a final lethal gust of wind erased any sign of the steel structure.  I did what any capable, intelligent woman would.  I screamed.

David came home in the driving rain.  By then, I had been outside retrieving whatever I could.  It took us about 45 minutes to finish disassembling what had briefly been the pride of our deck.  My bare feet were mud and grass covered, and my drenched clothes were in a similar state.  The result of our labors was to make the destruction look more deliberate than accidental, ordered mayhem if you will.

Today, after another spate of morning storms, it is lovely.  A gentle breeze wafts across the sunny surface of our deck.  The only mementos of violent weather are a broken pot, a few damaged flowers, and the pieces of our pergola neatly stacked on the concrete pad below.  Maybe she will rise again.  That is for another day.  All I can say, is that if she does, I can spare the five minutes.

There’s no place like…

As much as I am somewhat of an introvert, a homebody if you will, I have a healthy dose of wanderlust in my blood.  I come by it honestly through a childhood of frequent moves and my own voluntary entry as an adult to a life spent in and around the military.  Having been in our current home over five years, I have been engaged in a raging emotional battle as my internal moving alarm has been persistently jarring me from any sense of domestic complacency.  I know something is amiss when I gaze wistfully at motels as we drive by, yearning for the days when we were reduced to the simplicity of a few suitcases, the preponderance of our earthly possessions tucked away in storage or safely stowed in a moving van.  If I had my druthers, most of our things would be forever in transit, never reaching a final destination.  It would be easier that way.

It’s time to move.  Who needs this two-story home with its high taxes?  I take my husband on weekend drives in older neighborhoods, filled with smaller dwellings that promise a simpler life.  We will sell our house, drastically downsize, and make the move.  It will be better that way.  We even speak with our builder, and he makes us an attractive offer on a smaller home in a nearby subdivision.

In preparation, we have our sun damaged deck replaced and refinished.  Did I tell you that our lot backs up to a dense stand of trees and lush bushes?  We buy a pergola, the better to shade the space and draw in potential buyers.  I decorate with some pretty potted plants, certain to impress.  For the first time ever, we sit in the shade and enjoy breakfast in the cool morning air.  Examining our handiwork, my husband turns to me.  “Where will we find another lot like this?”  I have no answer.  I think of our day lilies enthusiastically budding; they will burst into a profusion of beautiful blooms any day now.   I think of the seasons to come, of the fall pumpkins against the warm brick stairs leading to our red door that will yield to brightly lit Christmas greens in December. “Why are we doing this?” he asks me.  For the life of me, I can’t remember.   We talk about our next project; after five years, a home needs some tender loving care.  We may need to stay a while.

At Home