Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Christmas Creativity

In keeping with my New Life, I've begun focusing on being more creative.

For years, my family (parents and siblings) have eschewed spending money on Christmas gifts. But this created a problem, because we all enjoyed gathering as a family and giving items that we'd lovingly selected.

So one year we decided that we would set some rules. Gifts could only be 1) made, 2) bought used, or 3) recycled. In other words, no gifts purchased new. This was a great boon to our wallets, but it soon became apparent that we were trading money for ingenuity.

I love to sew, so most years I ended up sewing gifts. Over the past twenty years, however, I've run out of ideas for making gifts that anyone would actually want to receive. No one really wants a tea cozy, ya know?

A few years ago I came across this book, It's a Wrap, and I thought it would be great fun to make tortilla warmers. It took me a while to make the time, but I finally decided to do it.

This was for my oldest sister, a musician, whose favorite color is purple.

Made for my middle sister, an artist who loves bright jewel tones.

For my nephew (another artist), who just started college this year
and who probably eats a lot of tortillas.

My parents' ... my mom loves blue and green
and is an artist as well and so likes funky stuff.

For my parents' helper, who lives about four miles away.
A real country girl, hence the leather.

Any suggestions for gift I can make next year? Bring 'em on!

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Year, New Life

Seeing as we’re coming up on the end of January, I decided it’s high time I make a New Year’s post. (Better late than never, right?)

Some of you may have wondered why I went from blogging almost every day to being virtually silent these past couple of months. Frankly, I’ve gone through a bit of a mid-life crisis, and something happened recently that forced me to take stock of what’s important, and thus reevaluate my priorities.

Toward the end of last year, I started feeling overwhelmed. What with aging/declining/dying parents who depend on me for their emotional strength (and their ER visits - even though they live three hours away), menopause, puberty (times two), homeschooling (times three), and all my volunteer work, I was feeling a tad stretched. And mentally I felt like I was going to break.

I’d finally come to the conclusion that something was going to have to give. I’d been sacrificing sleep, exercise, patience, health, and time (and love) with my children and husband, and that wasn’t something I could continue over the long haul.

Then I got a phone call that created something of an epiphany for me.

One Thursday morning my mom called. You see, my dad’s sister has the same sort of undetermined dementia that my dad has. She’s younger than he by a few years, and although she started into the dementia at an earlier age, her disease has progressed more slowly, and today she’s still able to dress herself and manage (to a certain extent) her day-to-day activities with help.

But that’s not why my mom called. She called to tell me that my aunt’s son - my cousin - was just put on Alzheimer’s medication.

He’s 52.

The same age as my oldest sister and a year younger than my husband.

I’m 47.


This shit is inherited.

To say that that was like a kick in the stomach was putting it mildly. I felt like I’d been given a death sentence.

Would I suffer the same fate, at perhaps an even earlier age?

How many good years did I have left?

How long before I began forgetting conversations with my husband? Milestones with my children? Graduations? Weddings? Births???

I sobbed in H’s arms, cried on the phone with my sisters, and spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself.

Then, a few nights later as I lay sleepless, realizations flashed into my mind. This was the epiphany. Suddenly, I could categorize these realizations under the “what I know for sure” label.


1. Only a few things in life really matter. My children. My husband. My family. Love. Life. Creativity. Joy. The right now.

None of us knows how much time we have left. Does it matter that I might mentally begin to decline in five, ten, or even three years? Of course it does. But not nearly as much as how I spend those years. I could die in a car accident tomorrow. Do I want my children’s last memories of me to be ones in which I’m feeling sorry for myself, lamenting what might be ... rather than seizing the moment and living what is right now?

2. I know what my priorities are. I decided to dump everything that wasn’t a priority, everything that didn’t feed my love for life and make me feel energized. If I was doing something “selfless” (i.e., volunteering) but it wasn’t filling me with life energy and love, then I was doing it for the wrong reasons and, ultimately, I wasn’t helping anyone.

I came to realize, after some soul searching, that the reasons I volunteered weren’t the right ones. Like the celebrity who does some charity work simply for the PR (and thus ends up with the public looking at him with distaste), I found that I was needing the “strokes,” filling my need for recognition - I was still looking outside myself for validation. Not good for anyone. Who needs a “helpful hand” when that hand is simply grasping for praise?

But still, I was torn. Everyone is supposed to volunteer, give ‘til it hurts, smile while doing it, and be fulfilled from it.

But giving to others to the extent that I was somehow didn’t fit in with my priority list. It sounds extraordinarily self-centered, I’m fully aware. Nevertheless, I decided to give up my volunteering because I couldn’t devote myself to my family and also give to those outside my family ... and I experienced some guilt for choosing not to help out those who need it. (If I had removed myself a little from the emotion, I would have realized that the guilt in and of itself was an obvious sign that I wasn’t on the right track. Ask and It Is Given mentions guilt as a sure signal that you’re not on the path to happiness.)

Want to hear something interesting? This one thing solidified my what-I-know-for-sure decision to focus on my priorities and drop my volunteering. A few days after I mailed my letters to drop some of my volunteering efforts, I was on my once-a-week walk with one of my dearest friends, and as usual, we got to talking about spiritual matters and personal development. I filled her in on my reprioritization of my life and the fact that I was scaling back in order to devote my time to my family - and how torn I was about it. She looked at me wide eyed and said something like, “You won’t believe how many volunteer opportunities have landed in my lap this week!” She explained that she had lately been feeling the urge to get more involved (she once was a member of the Peace Corps but hadn’t volunteered in ages) but hadn’t found anything that seemed doable.

What are the odds of me deciding to quit volunteering the very same week that she suddenly found herself in the midst of half a dozen golden opportunities after years of dearth? Well, if you look at the world as a place of connected consciousness, I guess the odds are pretty high after all.

If I had any lingering doubts about refocusing on my priorities, that one conversation put them to rest. I have since completely embraced this decision, and I feel stronger, clearer, healthier, and happier than I have in a span of time that’s too long for me to remember. To change a phrase, the universe works in mysterious ways.

3. I’m lucky. I had only the potential of a life-threatening issue to bring me to awareness. I want to heed this and not wait for a true crisis to figure things out. All around me I hear of people who have cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or other immediate and possibly fatal issues. All I have is a threat. I’ve got it pretty good.

One more interesting thing ... Since my epiphany, I haven’t lost my temper. Not once. I walk through my day smiling and singing. If I have only three good years left and if I can spend them all without losing my temper, it’ll be worth it.

Odd, isn't it ... this threat of looming dementia causing joy and light-heartedness?

Thanks for reading through this long explanation. As far as this blog is concerned, the fallout is that I’ll continue to post occasionally, but it won’t be nearly as often as I had once planned. If the spirit moves me and I want to share something, I will. If I don’t, I won’t feel guilty.

I won’t be venting, chastising others for their parenting practices, or lamenting about how inconvenient/horrible/tedious anything is. This will be a place for my celebration of life in all its forms: good books, happy parenting snippets, interesting homeschooling stories, creative outlets, and all other enriching facets of life.

Come back and read about my new life. Or not. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter?

Your family. Love. Joy. Creativity. Life. Your connection to the world. This moment.

Experience them all to the fullest. And if in doing so you never visit my blog again, I’ll be ecstatic.