Getting the Answers Before It's Too Late

by Christine

Her response to my email was disappointing but not completely unexpected. In the oodles and oodles of photographs that I have been scanning, I found three 8 ½ by 11 black and white wedding photographs. It was not my parents wedding or anyone else in the family. Candidly, my family has a history of eloping so I was pretty certain these must have been friends of the family. My father was part of the wedding party and in one picture my mother is sitting in a pew. I had hoped my Aunt would have some answers. Unfortunately, she didn’t know either one of the two brides or bridegrooms in the photo or the dozen or so in attendance kneeling before the brides. It was a fancy wedding!

Of course, since my mom’s passing, there is no one to answer my questions. That is not to say mom was forthcoming with a lot of information before she died. She never was one to talk about her family or her life before she met my dad. But in retrospect I have come to understand that her lack of answers in the last few years of her life had more to do with the dementia that was overtaking her than her unwillingness to fill in the blanks. She would bark, “I don’t know why you want to talk about that” and we would all back off.

I am a political scientist/historian at heart so I want the facts- documented and correct. My brother on the other hand never let’s a fact get in the way of a good story. He just fills in the blanks to his satisfaction. I know he is less stressed than I am about getting the “right” answer. I have learned from others that what I am experiencing is not uncommon. It seems that questions bubble up after the death of a parent or even a spouse. The questions can be as mundane as “What happened to the little Christmas houses that we had as kids?” to the serious, “Is there any history of autism in the family?” to the scandalous, “Who is that women in these pictures of Granddaddy”? But all the questions go unanswered now.

My Aunt Carolyn shared with me that she had numerous questions for her parents after their death that went unanswered. So she is keeping an ever-expanding letter that answers questions she thinks her daughters may have after she is gone. I know that there will be questions that will go unanswered but my Aunt Carolyn’s time is well spent. Her daughters will appreciate her thoughtfulness.

I would love to read her letter today and it has made me think. I cannot spend my time documenting my past; I want to live in the present. But I want to be thoughtful of my children and grandchildren.  I was a hospice volunteer for many years and they have a document called The Time of My Life. It has hundreds of questions that start with “Did you know either of your Grandfathers” and ends with “Is there something you always wanted people to know about you”? It is a wonderful tool for sharing personal and family history particularly with children.

I am reminded of the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. The play is popular with high school theater directors and seems to be performed continually. I assume that is because the performance rights are cheap and the main characters are young people. I also think the concepts are well beyond most high schoolers. Emily, the main character, comes back from the grave where she pleads with her mother to “look at me one minute as though you really saw me”. What she asks is impossible but a longing that all of us feel once those we love are gone. We want just one more minute to fill in the blanks. Today is the day to take just one minute to really look at the people you love. 


What’s on the Books for the Weekend: Letter Writing

by Christine

I am a words person. I even have favorite words such as arugula and bok choy. They are fun words; speaking them into existence always feels like a party. For the most part I prefer communicating important or emotional ideas through the written word instead of the spoken word. It gives me time to think through what I want to communicate without all the emotion of body language cluttering up the message. I relied on this tool throughout the highly emotional times of the last 6 months of my mother’s life.

As I have been working on the Somers Family History photo project, I have also come across letters and other documents covering the lives of multiple generations of my family. My mother was a bit of a pack rat and unorganized pack rat at that. I found my grandmothers marriage license in an old suit case stuffed with old photos, loose change, clothes, old newspaper clippings and other sorted odds and ends- a junk drawer in a suitcase.

But the letters, particularly between my grandmother and her sisters have been the most revealing and poignant. My grandmother and great aunts lived in a time before cell phones, email and text messaging.  They shared their lives with one another through a weekly letter. The letters were not profound; the sisters wrote about the dresses they were making, the success of their baking endeavors and whom they had “visited” with that week. The letters allowed me to see my grandmother as more than my grandmother. She was a friend, a sister and a proud mother.

Last night, my oldest grandson phoned me so that he could walk me through setting up FaceTime on our iPads. We stopped everything to talk about his day and mine; I treasure each moment of that call. I love the technology that allows me to see and hear my grandson when we are so far apart but I love the tactile feel of a letter that can be held and read over and over again.

I cling to the idea that letters can transcend time and that future generations will catch a glimpse of the era of those long gone. So this weekend I am going to write letters to my grandchildren and share a story from my week. Nothing profound, just a little something that gives them insight to what I do when we are not together. Maybe I will share with them my favorite words. 

If you were going to write a letter, whom would you write to and what would you write about to them? 


What Does It Take To Stop You?

by Christine

I have a quote that hangs on my office wall by racecar driver Alan Kulwicki that I read daily to keep me going… The real test of your character is what it takes to stop you. I reflect upon that quote whenever I get frustrated. I am the first to admit I can have a low frustration thrush hold. I am not a big fan of standing in line, poor or slow customer service or automated phone systems. But as I aged, I developed what others would call maturity but what I recognize as my ability to multi-task to keep my frustration quotient in line when standing on line.

But there is one area that still rattles my cage and causes me to become irritated or question my commitment to my cause. It is technology. I believe I am a reasonably intelligent person who has had a good deal of success in many areas but when I tackle the manual functions on my digital camera or try to schedule the publication of my articles for this blog I can promise you what can go wrong will go wrong.

It started years ago before the proliferation of the personal computing device. It began with phone systems and copiers. My first real job was as a “switcher”, the person who punched the buttons to put local TV programming on the air. I was good at it; I had fun doing my job. I would have multiple projectors, video sources and audio sources all going at one time but ask me to make multiple copies of the show log and I knew there was going to be trouble. The copier would jam, it would run out of toner, it would run out of paper…it had a million and one things it could do to stop me from getting the job done. Unfortunately, the bigger problem is that technology doesn’t stay fixed. It is like cleaning up after a 3 year old. You know you are just going to have to do it all over again the next day.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that machines were or are out to get me. Or at least I don’t think they are. I just know my personality and this is an area of challenge for me. I struggled with math in school, a subject that made me feel dumb. Those same feelings come to the forefront when trying to master a new skill set on certain types of technology. To this day, the flash button on the phone is just another way to hang up on the person you are talking to before you tried to connect the third party.

As I work to live my life intentionally, sometimes that means pushing through the frustration, the childhood feelings of inadequacies and just plain staying the course. When the frustration builds, I take a walk, vacuum a rug or call Marty who commiserates with me and then reminds me of my goals. I, of course, no longer throw things against the wall… that became too costly.  I remind myself, who I want to be and what I want my life to look like and that helps me keep my frustration quotient low.

What gets you frustrated and how do you handle it? 


Taking Care of My Health

by Christine

Another picture from our recent trip to Maine.

I have been flat on my back for the past week with a mega cold. It was a lovely parting gift from my twin grandbabies. Two very huggable six month olds whose smiles caused me to experience a momentary lapse in judgment. Truthfully, I weighed the pros and cons for engaging with two sick babies. Over the past ten years, each one of my grandchildren have shared a cold with me at one time or another so I thought why should these kids be treated any differently? Little did I know twins pack a double dose of cold germs.

In 2007 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. To hear the “C” word is mind numbing and momentarily debilitating. As my doctor explained to me “if God said to you that you were going to have cancer but you got to choose, thyroid cancer would be the choice.” Thyroid cancer has a 95% cure rate and 2012 marked my 5th anniversary cancer free. But thyroid cancer changed my life.

Pre-TC I lived life as though it was a sprint, moving from thing-to-thing as fast as I could. My capacity to raise my children, manage a home, hold down a job and volunteer in my community on minimal sleep and a marginal diet was great. No was rarely used in my vocabulary unless it was to say, “no problem.” 

But in 2007 my life became a marathon. I had to pace myself. I had to eat properly, exercise and get enough sleep. I had to learn to say no. Now this didn’t come easy and it took me a while to figure it out. Slowly, maybe too slowly, I understood that the key to living the life I wanted started with taking care of myself. Yes, maybe others could stay up late to watch David Letterman but not me. As for alcohol, even moderation was sometimes too much and exercise, a requirement.  Slowly, healthy living has become a way of life.

The most difficult skill I have needed to learn was to say no.  To say no to myself, “no, you can’t stay in bed, get up and go exercise”. To say no to others, “no thank you. I don’t want a drink.”  But what I have learned was if I use the word judiciously, I would be healthier and ultimately, have the energy to live the life want. Sometime though the life I want includes cuddling and hugging a sick grandbaby. Of course I did suffer the consequences of my decision.

There is a quote by the writer, Augusten Burroughs, “When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.” It is a clique for only those who have never experienced the loss of good health. I ask you to take this day to make a conscious effort to care for your health. Notice if it takes work or does it come easily?  And finally what advice would you give to someone not caring for his or her health?


Welcoming the Weekend: Alone Time

by Christine

The weekend is ahead and wide open. Marty and I both travel for our jobs but this weekend I will be home while Marty will be away. I truly value the occasional solitary weekend, as I know Marty does too. When I was younger, the thought of being away from the man I love was torture. I would mope around counting the hours until his return, desperate for a phone call. Today I shake my head at that young girl and think “girl what a waste!”

With a solitary weekend, I am allowed to do whatever I want, guilt free. It’s my fun time. But keep in mind fun time is not the same for everyone. Marty tends to do guy stuff like not showering after exercising, watching endless hours of sports on TV in between working on his computer and eating take out, pizza and Chinese are two of his favorites.

My guilty pleasure is putting the house in order on Friday evening confident in the knowledge that it will stay that way.  Saturday morning is a blast because I can get up early and make all the noise I want without worrying about disturbing Marty. In good weather I make a cup of tea and sit out by the lake want watch the morning light change.

This weekend I plan to continue work on the Somers History Project. I have set-up a table in the yellow room and it is already stacked with photos to be scanned. I looked into professional scanning companies and while a little pricey they sure make the process easier. I may use a service on the slides but right now I am enjoying going through the old photos and remembering.

I am also going to “do something” with the apples we picked last weekend. I have built quite a reputation with my children and my grand children through my apple pies and “killer” macaroni and cheese.  I enjoy baking and preparing good food for the people I care about in my life. It is a labor of love.

I may also take in a movie or even go into the City to see a play. Or just snuggle up on the sofa and finish that book I am reading. So as you can see, part of the fun is in the dreaming and planning. What are you doing this weekend?


Feeling the Loss

by Christine

Sometimes I forget she is dead. Mainly it happens when I am driving and I involuntarily think, “I should call Mom”. Then I remember; then I feel sad. It is not an overwhelming sadness just a fleeting shadow that reminds me that I can no longer talk to her. At those times, I call my sister.

Julia’s experiences are similar and she understands. We chat long enough to share our reaction to the uninvited impulse and to share an antidote-involving Mom. Our calls usually end in laughter and surprise at the phantom impulse that ambushes us during the most mundane activities.

I recall that months after my father died, I walked into a Hallmark Store to purchase a birthday card for a friend. It was the week before Father’s Day and the entire storefront was covered in Father’s Day décor. Midway into the store I realized I was going to lose it and burst into tears. The emotion came over me so suddenly and violently; I put everything in my hands on the closest shelf, turned and left the store.  I sat in my car and just sobbed.

Working through the loss of my mother has rekindled the feelings of loss for my father. I guess in my heart they are packaged set. But I believe the grief I feel is not just for the loss of my parents but over the loss of an era, the loss of my childhood. I was unprepared for this feeling; to know the people who were with me since birth are now gone. They are fully in my past; we are no longer creating new memories.

It is not easy to feel the sorrow but I have learned from experience that the pain will lessen and the good memories will once again come to the forefront. My life is good and I hold fast to the knowledge I have my parents to thank for where I am today.

Who do you have to thank for where you are in your life? How do you handle your grief?


Connecting With The One I Love

by Christine

I have jokingly said that life is “all about me” but in reality when you love and care for another person what happens in your life touches them too. While it was grueling for me to travel back and forth to Florida to care for my mother in response to each one of her health emergencies, it was draining for Marty to be left behind to wait and care for our home alone. When he dropped me off at the airport he would ask me when I was going to return. My standard answer was “I will let you know once I get there and see what is going on”.

After Mom’s funeral, I realized that Marty and I needed to reconnect. We needed and wanted to be a couple again after spending so much time apart. I suggested we take a trip together so that we could navigate “reentry”. That is the actual term therapist use when describing the process couples go through when coming together again after being separated. The longer the separation the bumper reentry can be.

The idea captured Marty’s imagination and for the first time in our relationship, he planned the trip from start to finish. He chose a charming B&B a little north of Camden, Maine and even planned several activities, including a sunset sail on a schooner. One morning we took the ferry over to the Island of Islesboro to ride our bikes and have lunch at the only restaurant/lunch counter on the island. For the most part it was a lovely time.

But our holiday was not without some tension. I had been away or preparing to be away for a year; my attention had been diverted from my business and my home. Even though it was my idea to take a trip, I found that I was restless to be home. At the same time, Marty was attempting to do all those things that we had been unable to do together for the previous year in one week. From 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM we were on the go.  After 4 days in Maine, I asked Marty if we could go home. He understood and agreed but I do believe he was disappointed.

But a curious thing happened when we got home. Together we started to complete a long list of neglected repairs and tasks at the house. As our home was mended and restored we found that our relationship was mended and restored. We were able to relax, take in a movie or two and even find humor in our differences again. Finding our equilibrium took a couple of weeks but it was important to both of us to take the time to reconnect.

My relationships are important to me and I take care to cultivate and nurture them. It takes time and it takes focus but I know my life is better because of the effort I put into them. How do you reconnect with a loved one after spending time apart? What do you do to nurture and care for your relationship with those closest to you? I would be interested in hearing how you sustain the bonds with your loved ones.


Welcoming the Weekend: Tackling a Big Project

by Christine

As I mentioned last Friday, I have become the family historian who is responsible for sorting and organizing my parent’s family photos. My father was extremely organized and had meticulously labeled thousands of photos. My mother on the other hand was the yin to his yang and just tossed photos into the drawers of her nightstand along with receipts and other bits of paper.

I decided to tackle the contents of her nightstand first. I discovered that most people (and that includes my parents) aren’t discerning about the photographs they save. I found out of focus photos, poorly composed photos, faded photos and many photos of people that I don’t know. My advice is to let them go. It’s trash and it just obscures the good stuff.

In an effort to reduce clutter, I made the decision to digitize my family photographs. But I am aware that not every photo is worth the expense of digitizing. I don’t want to keep poor quality photos…the rule is, “If it is not worth digitizing it is not worth keeping”. My advice is to use the same critical eye with your own photos. Your children will thank you.

My next hurtle was to identify all the people in the photos. Mom had tossed pictures of her family from when she was a young girl into the pile. They are great images from the 1930s and 1940s but candidly, I don’t know who these people are and I don’t know how to find out. Mom was an only child who did not keep in touch with her cousins. Candidly, they are great black and white period photos so I will keep them but it would be even better if I could identify the family members.

As you can tell, this job is not going to be quick or easy but already the time spent has been enjoyable. I found photos that were like little time machines of fashion and design while others that made me smile. To quote Rod Stewart, every picture tells a story and I am putting together the story of our family. 


The Lavender Shed

by Christine

The change of season stimulates my desire to complete any outstanding projects and drives me to action. Fall, in particular, stirs up those feelings. The light changes, the days become shorter and a sense of urgency comes over me. Maybe it is primal and I am looking to organize things before hunkering down for a long winter’s sleep. But now is the time to speak into existence those ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for several months.  

This past August Marty and I went to Maine and stayed at The Spouter Inn. The place was immaculate and charming as a B&B should be but my favorite part of the Inn was the herb garden right out the front door. Each time we came in and out of the Inn we were treated to the wonderful smell of basil, rosemary and other fragrant herbs. I mentioned more than once I wanted to create a similar garden at our home

Sadly, just thinking about it is not going to make it happen. I don’t have that whole wiggle my nose-bewitched thing to help me out.  Happily, I have decided to move forward with my plan and it all begins with the boathouse. The boathouse is at the edge of the lake and at the end of the section of land I am going to transform. I will start by painting the boathouse and work my way up the parcel.

The only difficulty I see with the project is getting started. I want to get Marty involved because he has an excellent mind when it comes to these kinds of projects. But I can see now that the first hurtle will be color…I want lavender. Marty designs sets for a living and he is not afraid of color in that setting. But I know he won’t be so sure about a lavender boathouse.  I will post pictures as the project progresses so you can see the color we decide upon.

I would enjoy hearing about your fall projects plus once I get the pictures posted, let me know if the lavender works for you.


With Fall Comes Change

by Christine

I love autumn. The vibrant colors, the crisp morning air and the rows and rows of pumpkins at roadside markets all signal change. It is also a wake up call. It is that gentle nudge to do those things that I have been putting off because I was lulled into believing summer would last forever. 

I am constantly reminding myself to just do it.  And do it now! Before Nike trademarked the slogan I would whisper under my breath just do it when I found that I was being weighed down by my procrastination. Visualizing the relief and pride I would feel once the task was completed got me to take action. This past summer I kept talking about painting the boathouse. The boathouse is a little 7 by 4 foot shed that houses our life jackets and other water related toys. I visualize it in pale lavender with possibly cobalt blue or yellow accents. But as I sit here today, I know I need to just do it.

While I want my home to run like a well-oiled machine and my entire project list to be completed, I also want to go outside and play. When I was a kid, our neighborhood spent the whole summer outside playing. We ventured so far from home that my mother purchased a silver whistle that could be heard for blocks away. When she blew that whistle we knew it was time to go home. 

I still remember the joy of being allowed to play in the rain during a summer shower but now as an adult I run for cover. I think it has something to do with my hair. Maybe it is time to find a wash and wear hair cut. What experience has taught me is that the hard part of life is making the decision. The easier part is implementation. 

What are you putting off until tomorrow, planting the spring-blooming bulbs, cleaning the garage or basement or painting the shed? What does it take to get you going? I look forward to hearing from you but right now I think I will go outside and play.