Motherly Advice

motherly advice

This will be a strange Mother’s Day across our land. Typically, two places are full on the day when we honor our moms (churches and restaurants), but not this year. I have had several people tell me that they even forgot that Mother’s Day is this Sunday.

I’ve compiled some motherly advice after asking Facebook friends for their best-remembered advice from their moms OR what they felt was their most commonly offered advice to their own children.

My high school friend Jan Loughner Devlin (who is fortunate to still have her mom with her) gives us this: Never tell a lie. Mom always finds out the truth. You know, I believe I can hear Mrs. Loughner saying those words!

Church friend (and a wonderful mother) Amber Kiffney says, “When I became a mother, my own mother told me, regarding the advice a new mother gets from everyone, heed the advice that makes sense in your heart and ignore the rest.”

Nancy Duggan, another church friend, says her mom was fond of saying, ”Nothing changes unless something changes.” Short but profound advice.

“Never let on that you know how to or are capable of painting a wall, or you will be doing all the painting for the rest of your life!” Sound advice from Mrs. Reed, mom of my high school best friend, Linda Solich.

Friend, artist, and marketing advisor Michelle Coe has parenting advice for those walking-on-eggs-teenage-days: “When dealing with teenagers, pick your battles and keep the long game in mind.”

From my friend Judy Jones (one of the most giving and beautiful souls on earth) is this: “Very often I would print out the lyrics to a beautiful song that meant something to me and give it to Russell and Andy.” One of those songs is linked at the end of this post.

Toni Shreve (wow, I’m fortunate to have many church friends) says as her children were growing up and pushing boundaries, she tried to instill in them the rule of asking for permission if they wanted to do something, rather than just doing it and getting in trouble afterward.

Surprising advice from my sister Bev because she’s been happily married for 50+ years: “Never argue in front of your children because it scares them.”

From my own mom (and something that my daughter Laura follows as well) I learned the value of being on time. Never having learned to drive a car and having a husband who worked shift work, LaVerda Shingler had to depend on friends to pick her up to go places. I can still see her being 100% ready, purse in hand, waiting at the window for a girlfriend’s car to pull in the driveway.

None of this is life-changing advice, of course. But collectively, we’d do well to still follow the sage wisdom of those who have come before us.

~~~~~~~~~

Rascal Flatts singing “My Wish”

 

Empty Chairs

Empty Chairs

Don McLean is most well-known for his iconic “American Pie” folk-rock song from 1971. (I’ll wait for a bit while you sing a few lines because you know that you want to.) But I prefer his hauntingly, beautifully sad song “Empty Chairs.” There’s a link at the end so you can listen to it. You might want to grab a hankie first.

The song is about him living alone after the love of his life left him. Apparently she had given fair warning that she wouldn’t be staying, but he didn’t believe she meant it. Here are the last two stanzas, courtesy of LyricFind.

Morning comes and morning goes with no regret
And evening brings the memories I can’t forget
Empty rooms that echo as I climb the stairs
And empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs

And I wonder if you know
That I never understood
That although you said you’d go
Until you did I never thought you would.

There are many empty chairs around the world during this isolation the pandemic forced on us. Church pews, baseball bleachers, office chairs, concert venue seating, classroom seating of all types, restaurant booths, park benches, seats in movie theaters, hairstylist chairs, waiting room chairs, and even the chair your dentist’s assistant places you in while telling you to relax.

And maybe most importantly, our own chairs. You know…the ones around the dining room table where friends and family sit when we gather to share a meal. Or maybe it’s the front porch chairs we sit in to visit with people who drop by. Or the picnic table in the backyard where we play games. Or the chairs around the fire pit or the seating in our family room…all empty of the people we love.

It stinks.

I happen to really like chairs. My mother-in-law Rosalie gave me the one I’m sitting in right now; it belonged to her mother so it holds special meaning to me. And when I was getting ready to retire from my office job, I asked the company’s president to just let me take home a side chair from my office instead of buying me a gift.

And during the two years when our family was in transition house-wise, most of our household furniture and belongings were in a storage unit. We’d occasionally stop by to pick up one thing or another, and each time, I’d pull out the rocking chair where I had lulled my babies to sleep. I just wanted to sit in it for a few minutes and feel my sense of home.

As beautiful and meaningful as chairs are to me just as they are, I am impatient to fill them with people. My guess is that I’m hearing a chorus of AMENS! out there!

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

Don McLean and Empty Chairs

 

Love Story x 3

love story

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll share a trio of love stories. But they may not be what you’re expecting.

Barbara Elaine Smith, a beautiful and outgoing African American woman, had two successful careers. As a model in 1976, she was the second black woman to appear on the magazine cover of Mademoiselle.

Her modeling work spawned her second career. As a model, she lived in Italy and France for a while. While there she developed a passion for what the Washington Post called, “food, drink, and beautiful things.” She was bent on success as she slipped into the role of famous restaurateur and lifestyle guru. Known simply as B., she opened her first restaurant in 1986 in New York.

Smith was once a customer of mine when the company where I managed the credit serviced her Washington, DC restaurant named (appropriately) B. Smith’s. That restaurant closed after twenty years shortly after B. was diagnosed in 2013 with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Her husband Dan Gasby (a second marriage in 1992 for both of them) has been a solid rock for B. as her disease has progressed. They have the desire, financial means, and family support for B. to remain in her own home. Dan’s adult daughter Dana moved in with them and helps care for her step-mother. This is love story #1.

The most widely known facts about Alzheimer’s are these:

1) It’s the most common form of dementia.

2) The disease is progressive.

3) There is no cure; Alzheimer’s is irreversible.

Some caregivers of Alzheimer’s-inflicted loved ones have noted that eventually it’s like caring for a toddler in an adult’s body. Patients may end up talking gibberish, wandering off, and stalling at bath time. Despite the deep and abiding love one feels, caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can be an exhaustive life of frustration, depression, and guilt.

Professing a continuation of great love for B., Dan Gasby has fallen in love with another woman. He’s 65 and Alexandra Lerner is 53.

In 2017, having been in the midst of a struggle with her own father’s dementia, Alex overheard Dan talking to someone at a restaurant about his loneliness as a caregiver. The two struck up a friendship that soon blossomed into love.

An article in the fall 2019 People Health magazine stated Alex has her own room in the couple’s house. She commutes from Manhattan to spend weekends with Dan and B. Dan’s daughter supports the relationship. Not having outside help, the three of them care for B. who recognizes none of them.

Dan has been open about sharing this unusual relationship. As you can imagine, there are legions of judgmental people who have taken their hate to social media over this. Some tie their rants to racial hatred since Dan is black and Alex is white. When several of B.’s former (and famous) friends used their celebrity status to voice their negative opinions, Dana remarked that none of those “fraudulent friends” had been to visit B.

B.’s own neurologist Sam Gandy recently noted that “a third of family caregivers die before the Alzheimer’s patients they tend because of crushing stress.” Dan feels better able to cope with the caregiving with Alex in his life. He said, “I could have put my wife in an institution, but I love her. It’s just a different type of love now.”

(Be sure to watch the video linked at the end of this article.)

Their regular waiter at a favorite restaurant enjoys serving the trio. “It’s beautiful,” he says.

So Dan and Alex, in love with each other and both loving and caring for B., is love story #2.

I will tell you the truth: When I first read about this, my immediate response was that it was plain wrong. Then I slipped on Dan’s moccasins and asked myself, “What if it was Norma who no longer lived in the real world, who had no concept of who people were. Wouldn’t I want my caretaker husband to find new love and joy?”

And I would. Just as he would want the same for me.

And that’s love story #3.

~~~~~~

 

How To Not Forget

how to not forget

Several commercials that first aired during this year’s Superbowl have people talking. Google’s Loretta is one that many folks are responding to with deep emotion.

The commercial tells the love story between the unnamed man narrating and his late wife Loretta. Obviously elderly, he appears to be fearful of forgetting the details of what their life together had been like.

When it opens we see his computer monitor as he’s typing a Google query “how to not forget.” Part of the advice we see for holding onto memories is to repeat them.

Then the man requests the voice-activated Google Assistant to show him photos of Loretta and himself. We see photos from the recent past as well as older pictures from when they were newlyweds and middle-agers traveling to Alaska. The man offers verbal commentary such as, “Remember that Loretta hated my mustache!”

Each time he says the phrase “remember” the Google Assistant types back, “OK, I’ll remember that.”

We see a clip of Loretta’s favorite movie (Casablanca) and short videos of her with their young children.

As the commercial comes to a close, we see some of the memory markers he has asked Google to remember…that Loretta used to hum show tunes, that her favorite flowers were tulips, that she had beautiful handwriting. At the end, the man says, “Remember I’m the luckiest man in the world,” presumably because he had loved (and been loved by) Loretta.

The reason why this commercial tugs so darned hard on our heartstrings is because it’s based on truth. It’s the story of a Google employee’s 85-year-old grandfather who actually voices the commercial.

In today’s hurry-up-preoccupied world, we may subconsciously long to be known as deeply as the unnamed husband knew Loretta—all the little things that made Loretta a unique person.

My guess is that, after viewing the commercial, many of us wondered what our loved ones might say about us. What little idiosyncracies set us apart? What is OUR favorite movie, favorite flower, favorite song?  What makes us laugh? And what makes us cry? What’s something we’re truly passionate about? And what family story have we told too many times but still laugh every time we tell it?

Life is so short. But it’s packed with thousands upon thousands of little memories. We just need to make a point of learning how to not forget them.

Even if you’ve watched Loretta already, be sure to watch it again (link below) with new eyes and understanding.

And just for the record, I have terrible handwriting but my favorite song is For Always by Josh Groban and Lara Fabian.

~~~~

The Loretta commercial

The story behind the ad

Blog from Lorraine Twohill, Chief Marketing Officer of Google

For Always

A Flash of Unforeseen Remembrance

flash of unforeseen remembrance

Life lessons appear around us each day if we can just remember to be attentive. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find one at a celebration of life ceremony for the son of a friend. I guess because it was unexpected that I felt (and still feel) a tremendous sense of awe and gratitude.

At just 31 years old, unable to recover from a devastating two-year battle with a brain infection, Catzby Pitzvada died on December 17. I had never met Catzby; it was only through the stories of his mom Denise that I knew of him.

The ceremony was TRULY a celebration of life because Catzby lived a full life…full of adventure, travel, learning, music, friendships, laughter, and love.

Although the eulogies and tributes were each uniquely personal, one clear message shone through them all:

  • Catzby cared deeply about people.

  • Catzby understood that relationships need to be nourished.

  • Catzby encouraged those in his orbit to also care deeply about people and nourish their relationships.

A high school friend of his was brave enough to admit that she’s always been kind of a loner. She said she had let many friends drift away, but that Catzby always kept in touch over the years and nudged her to do the same, to keep reaching out, to maintain bonds.

That was the lesson that hit home for me. Because it’s easy to get lazy about relationships.

Right now (without having to think twice about it), I can name four people I’ve been talking about visiting for over a year. Each lives within an hour’s drive from me so why do I only talk about it? Do those people feel loved by my inaction? No. Likely they feel forgotten.

A line of poetry by Edwin Arlington Robinson goes like this:

We cannot know how much we learn

From those who never will return,

Until a flash of unforeseen

Remembrance falls on what has been.

Catzby, thank you for being such an inspiration, for choosing a full and joyful life, for having smile lines around your eyes before you hit 30. And especially thank you for the flash of unforeseen remembrance that we need to hold onto our relationships, to value them and care for them like the precious gifts they are.

~~~~~~

Catzby’s obituary

 

Just Like Cupcake

Today’s post is based on my 2005 Christmas letter.

In November 2004 we made the difficult decision to put down our beloved family dog of thirteen years. Like most old dogs, Cupcake had developed many physical problems. She endured twice daily insulin shots for diabetes. Minimal pain medication for her aching joints had to be carefully monitored as it could have further damaged her ailing liver. Cupcake’s clouded over eyes severely limited her vision. She was nearly deaf as well, and she often became confused, appearing to not know where she was.

We no longer put her on a leash for walks since there wasn’t a risk of her running off. She loved to be outside; rooting around near the trees and bushes smelling for squirrels and other dogs. I usually lingered slightly behind her, letting her enjoy herself. At some point, she would look up and her body would stiffen. I knew she was afraid that she was lost and alone outside. She would stand frozen until I came up to her, touching her gently, saying her name and telling her I was there watching over her. I swear I could see the relief that flooded over her old body. Soon, and with a little spring in her step, she would continue on her way.

It dawned on me that most of humanity ends up like Cupcake. Our eyes become so filled with visions of “things” we want that we lose sight of what God wants for us. Our ears turn deaf to His voice when we are too caught up listening to the busyness and needs of our daily lives. We stumble along and are suddenly frozen with fear that we’re lost and alone. Then God touches us gently, speaking our name, and gives us loving reassurance that He is there beside us, watching over us, loving us more than we can possibly know.

With Open Arms

with open arms

The iconic Cristo Blanco, a 26-foot white statue of Jesus Christ, towers over the city of Cusco, Peru, on Pukamoqo Hill. Legend has it that Pukamoqo Hill holds soil from the four quarters of the Inca Empire, so this was a spiritual place for the Incas. Cusco has been described as the gateway to the more famous Machu Picchu.

But an even large statue of Jesus Christ is in Rio de Janeiro. At 98 feet (not including the base), Cristo Redentor, (Christ the Redeemer) stands tall on the summit of Mount Corcovado. It’s said that the statue is the most recognizable landmark of Rio.

What the statues have in common, of course, is the outstretched arms.

Arms open wide can have various meanings. When the arms belong to my friend Judy it means get over here so I can hug you. They can signify this is the real me; I’ve got nothing to hide. Or I come in peace. And as Episcopal priest Rt. Rev. Michael Curry was quoted as saying, “Our belief (is) that the outstretched arms of Jesus…are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”

Consider my favorite parable, the prodigal son. When the father in the story sees a far-off figure trudging along the road, he knows without knowing that it’s his son. You remember…the young guy who scandalously asked for his portion of the inheritance before his father died, then left home to squander it away on a wild life. When the money ran out and he was reduced to daydreaming about eating the pigs’ food, he decided to return home and ask for a job working for dad.

This father, who likely had been shamed by that son and who had also probably spent many sleepless nights worrying about his younger progeny in that faraway country, might have been justified in a little passive-aggressive behavior when the boy showed up. Dad could have stood with his arms crossed, tapping his foot on the ground as the boy approached.

But no, we’re told that the father ran to the son with open arms, hugged and kissed him, and then arranged a huge celebration to welcome him home.

Those open arms meant I love you. I forgive you. There is nothing between us that can’t be overcome.

We’re now in the second week of Advent. My wish is that you embrace the beauty and peace of the season of waiting with open arms.

~~~~

Interesting painting and discussion of Jesus’ open arms

The Color of Christmas

a blue Christmas

This entire day I have been thinking about people I personally know who are suffering in some way. My heart is full of loving compassion for them. If you are one of those people, you will know that this is written for you tonight.

Thanksgiving was not happy for these friends nor will Christmas be merry.

Some of the tragic circumstances involve recent deaths—a loving mom not yet 50, a grandson from a brain tumor. The year of “firsts” is upon those families; the first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas without that special person; birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays will follow.

One friend has a grievously ill adult child who has spent the past several months in the hospital; this mom already lost her other son a few years ago. I pray for them and have asked many to pray for Denise and Catzby, and yet I feel as though words are not enough. No matter how much I wish I could, I cannot fix this for them and I feel useless.

Some of my friends have a chronic illness and live everyday with pain. Cancer and other life-threatening conditions have entered some of your lives. Getting ready for the holidays may not even be something you’re considering.

Others have lost a special someone…a mom, a dad, a grandmother, a grandfather, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend. Regardless of how much time has passed since that person’s death, we all miss them terribly. If Christmas was especially important to our loved one, this time of year is even more difficult for us.

And it’s made all the more trying by the “noise” about Black Friday and Cyber Monday and Doorbuster deals and how much everyone will be stressing because there are only 28 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas instead of the usual 35. None of that matters to people who struggle to get out of bed each day because they are desperately sad.

Some churches offer what’s referred to as a blue Christmas service. My church, St. James’ in Warrenton, VA, is one of them. To quote from the church’s website: A “blue Christmas” service acknowledges that Christmas is not always met with joy and celebration. Sometimes it can be difficult to participate in the glad carols and merriment of our Christmas services. This service provides an opportunity to light candles acknowledging the people we miss, the pain or emptiness we may feel.

If Christmas is a difficult time for you, this type of service may offer you some hope, and I encourage you to find a church near you that provides a blue Christmas service.

For the rest of us who are doing okay, let’s remember to live the words of Henri Amiel from 1868:

“Life is short. We do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So, be quick to love; make haste to be kind.”

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

The Piano Guys and Craig Aven “The Sweetest Gift”

One man’s take on the “year of firsts”

Invitation to St. James’ Warrenton blue Christmas service on December 18

 

Billy Joel Nailed It

Billy Joel Nailed It

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

I want you to label your friends. No, not in a bad way. Take some time and think deeply about your core group of friends and pose this test to yourself: Identify the aspects that each good friend possesses that prompts you to hold them close to your heart.

Ponder this for a while. Don’t let yourself settle for a quick non-specific response such as, “He’s just so nice,” or “She’s a great person.”

And then tell each friend why you’re so happy they are a part of your life.

Yes, even if you’re NOT a mushy-gooey person who enjoys sharing deep feelings, you need to do this. And here’s why.

Linda, a very close friend of 50+ years, is in the midst of an extremely serious health crisis: ovarian cancer. Besides having a dedicated husband and loving family, she is blessed with a wide circle of friends from her librarian/teaching days, neighbors from both their Florida and Pennsylvania homes, people who know or work with their grown children, and many other outlets including a group of high school friends of which I’m a part.

Linda recently shared that the one bright spot in this scary situation is that so many people in the circle of her life have reached out to her with cards, calls, texts, emails, and visits. She said she was completely unaware of how much she means to all of these people, and how wonderful it is to actually know it NOW.

Another friend made the same type of comment after a healing service for her was held at church. How amazing it is to be told what you mean to many “someones”! One person commented that too often we wait for someone to die and then we tell those appreciative words to their surviving family. Yes, at a loved one’s funeral it’s comforting to hear, “Your mother stepped in to help me when I really needed it.” Or “Your father once gave me advice that changed my life.”

But it’s sad when the words have gone unspoken to the persons themselves.

Linda is one of my most faithful blog fans. So publically, here’s what I’m telling Linda:

Linda, no one has ever made me laugh like you do. You make every story funnier. Even though it takes a long time for you to finish telling a story (because we’re both laughing so hard), you are my favorite storyteller ever.

You remember what’s important to other people. Even now, at a time when it’s not easy for you to even take a breath, you remember how much my dog Riley meant to me and you ask how I am doing without him. 

You are a source of encouragement and inspiration. The night before you left for college and I was staying behind, you convinced me that I could learn to cook by walking me verbally step-by-step in the dark how to make mashed potatoes. You are a big part of why I blog. On a Christmas card some years ago, you encouraged me to write a book. I didn’t get that far, but from reader comments, my writing means something to others. If it weren’t for you, this blog wouldn’t exist. 

I love you the same as I have loved you all these years, and I pray that the cancer is on its way into remission even as I type these words. 

Yes, Billy Joel nailed it; you have a way about you. And everywhere you go, a million dreams of love surround you…everywhere.

  ~~~~~~~

Billy Joel singing live “She’s Got A Way About Her” 

Pick A Card But Not Just Any Card

postcard

Image by Pezibear on Pixabay.com

When my children were young, my sister Beverly traveled extensively with her husband as he performed custom brick-laying across the country. She usually mailed my kids postcards from each new town.

And before cell phones changed everyday life, when we vacationed at the beach we’d troop to the closest store to buy postcards to mail to family and friends.

When’s the last time you bought a postcard? And did you actually mail it to someone or did you purchase it as a souvenir?

Why would I need to send postcards of the amazing place I’m visiting via the US Postal Service when I can post 37 photos on Facebook or Instagram and/or email and text the photos directly to the recipients within seconds of the shots being taken? And all for free.

There is no need, of course. But a recent story in the June Real Simple magazine caused me to rethink postcards.

The precursor of postcards occurred between 1848 and 1870 when envelopes with pictures on them were popular. Then in 1873 the federal government produced postal cards without envelopes that could be mailed for one cent of postage. Private producers of similar cards could not use that designation, and the postage for non-government cards was two cents.

In 1901 the two-word term post card was allowed, with an image on one side and room for the address on the other. Personal message writing was not permitted. Then in 1907 the divided back came into existence so that a person could write a short note on half the back with room for the name and address on the other half.

Postcards currently cost 35 cents in postage and to be officially considered a postcard, the size must range from 3 ½ x 5 up to 4 ¼ x 6 inches. They have to be .007” thick which is about the thickness of an index card.

Many businesses that still do direct mail advertising use postcards. And custom printed postcards have come into vogue for use as invitations and announcements.

But Jeff Gordinier, author of the noted magazine article titled Postcards: A Love Story, was talking about actual, honest-to-goodness postcards. He had used postcards earlier in his life as a way of keeping in touch with friends after college.

So years later when he realized he’d fallen in love with Lauren just as she was moving across the country, he worried about the problems inherent in a long-distance relationship. His job was keeping him in New York. Yes, of course, they could be in constant contact via calls, texts, emails, and FaceTime, but where is that romance in that?

So he fell back on the practice of sending postcards. Lots of them. And every single one was different. Lauren received at least one postcard a day. Jeff traveled all over the world as a food writer and he said he hoarded local souvenir cards by the dozen.

He chose randomness as his personal messages as well; he wanted to “keep the element of surprise alive.” So sometimes he’d write an observation of something he’d seen, a few lines of remembered poetry, memories from childhood, a favorite short recipe, a quote, something he’d overheard, a sampling of song lyrics, and so on.

To quote from the article, “The point wasn’t to say anything profound. The point was to express, in a form so compressed that it flirted with haiku, the very core of connectivity.”

Isn’t that deeply romantic? Forget the flowers. Give me a man who speaks to my soul.

So did the postcards keep their long-distance relationship alive?

I’ve included a link to the online article. You can read it for yourself to find out!

~~~~~

Here’s the Real Simple article in full