friendship, giving

Longest Night

When became an adult, got married, moved into a house and had kids (not necessarily in that order), I joined a Methodist church. I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school, so this was a big change. One of the first new traditions I embraced was the Longest Night. Each year, on Winter Solstice, the Methodist church had a service that focused on the darker times of the past year. People came who had experienced loss, depression. grief.

At that point, I had recently lost my mother. I had a new baby, a new home, and was overwhelmed and heavy-hearted. I joined the bell choir and played for that service. That first year, I remember just crying through the whole thing.

As you can imagine, the service is not just about loss. Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Once Solstice is over, brighter days are literally ahead. So the service is also about finding hope. About persistence. About the triumph of good and light.

I love symbolism so this service always meant a lot to me. I like the idea of things getting better. Of marking time. The cycle of increasing light. And it always comes just before Christmas, a time of frantic preparation. It is a moment to just be still and reflect.

I don’t attend that church these days, but I still take time to reflect every Solstice and remind myself that lighter days are ahead.

This year the Solstice seemed both especially poignant and especially necessary. COVID has wreaked havoc on many lives. So many in my circle have lost loved ones this year. Some due to COVID, others for other natural reasons, but COVID took away our ability to gather and mourn in the way we all want and need to. Still others are hunkered down at home to protect themselves and loved ones, which brings all the pain and challenge of isolation, disruption of routine, and more.

It has just been a heavy year.

I started hearing about the “Christmas Star” (or Great Conjunction) a few weeks before Solstice. Again, the symbolism of Solstice, this unique astronomical happening, and the stars were literally aligned.

I also had it in my mind to go caroling this year. I say every year I want to sing for people more (and not just the poor people at the gym who have to hear me sing along to the soundtrack when I’m squatting). I don’t know why I expect opportunities to be a backup singer for Yacht Rock Revue to fall out of the sky. This Solstice I see I need to create those opportunities.

Who could I bring some light to? We decided to visit two special Moms who have had challenging years, each in their own ways.

I loaded my car and started the night by going out to see the Christmas Star. I went to a parking lot in a remote park about 15 minutes from my house. I was surprised to find about 25 other cars in the lot, all there to view this planetary wonder. I just took some time to quietly look and think about this year and its gifts.

Then, it was over the river and through the woods to the first grandmother’s house. A couple of friends and family members joined in. We dressed silly, I brought my sleigh bells and song books, and off we set to spread some cheer. Our living room concerts brought laughter and tears, smiles and singing along. We took requests. We flubbed the lyrics and stumbled over melodies. We jingled our bells, giggled, swayed and twinkled. In the end, we brought cheer and good tidings and light. On the way to grandmother two’s house we saw lights and so many other holiday sights.

Both these women have lived through this challenging year. They’ve made the most of it. I hope we brought some light and hope to their lives this December. I know their smiles and delight lifted me up. As one of them put it, when we said our goodbyes, “same time next year!”

It’s a date.

family

Fresh Air, Fresh Hair

Don’t underestimate the value of fresh air or fresh hair. Today I had a little of both. This weekend I had a plan for me and my mom. Normally my weekend involves toting kids to activities or getting to point a, b and c at set times. This weekend was different. No have tos. Only want tos.

First event was sunrise yoga. I got a fresh start on crisp morning with some wonderful gal pals. This step was important. I stepped outside first thing in the morning. I had clarity of the mind. I was all-around peaceful. Ready for the rest of the weekend.

Stop two was a pick up. A kidnapping of sorts. I got to grab the beautiful, one-of-a-kind mother of mine. I was taking her from her home to get some fresh air and a haircut. 12 weeks she had been cooped up thanks to Corona. The opportunity was there and I took it and her. Off we went. The haircut didn’t take long but how she enjoyed the shampoo and the cut. She felt like a million bucks. Even if you can’t go places often feeling good about yourself is important. She needed and wanted the hair cut for that sole purpose: to feel good. I felt amazing for making it a reality.

We didn’t stop there. We packed up for a mountain escape to the amazing cabin in the woods. A short drive but one that yields gorgeous views.  From icicles on the rock formations to mist on the mountains, it’s part of the experience. She doesn’t like to eat in the car but I packed her some sweet treats for the ride and it made for a perfect picnic. No crowds in a restaurant to worry about. Just yumminess to go. 

The weather was perfect. The cool mountain air was just what was needed. Fresh air. No smog. No mask filtering the air. Just fresh, crisp mountain air. Secluded. Peaceful. Surrounded by amazing views. What more could we ask for on our escape?

We baked a chicken. We made a salad fresh from the garden and it was ever so tasty. Fresh bread warmed in the oven topped off our meal on girls weekend. Off we went into the darkness to view holiday lights. First stop was the small town decorations. Then into the hidden homes that each played 20-minute light shows set to music. It was a new, fresh holiday treat for us. Windows were down, fresh air flowing, holiday music was blaring and lights were flashing. A great way to make new memories in a new place away from the crazy of life the dark shadows 2020 had cast on many.

Tomorrow is not guaranteed. I never know how much time I have with my mom. For now, I enjoyed the peacefulness of fresh air and many smiles and giggles with the woman I have adored for years.

Many I know don’t have the luxury I have of still having their mom. I share mine when I can so others can have a sliver of her wisdom, her personality, and her sweetness. Getting to your 80s is a milestone. Still moving about and experiencing new things and places is a gift. Living through a pandemic and bending and flexing to rules and lockdowns is draining. Fresh air and fresh perspective can put the fog of tomorrow in the rear view, even if it’s just temporary.

awareness

Grief

Grieving is different for everyone. Grieving is more difficult for some than others. This year I saw a lot of loss around me. Too much if you ask me, but it’s the hand I was dealt this year.
I lost a dog just before COVID. There are many times he is thought of but the memories in the heart last forever. He is running with the angels somewhere. There was just one Axel in my world. Forever a memory just like my childhood dog named Tuffy. 

Then a jovial business associate lost his battle with cancer in the early days of COVID. That was gut-wrenching but at a distance due to COVID. He made so many laugh. He inspired many in his years. He was just a big loss to many. He is better off now, in peace. No more suffering.

Then within 48 hours of my dad passing naturally my mother-in-law passed. Boom. Just like that. Two family leaders gone in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Amidst a pandemic. Travel bans, burial restrictions. So many nos. Not the goodbye one ever expected. The roller coaster and shock of a double whammy still makes me shake my head yet it still seems surreal.

Boom another colleague drops just like that. He was suffering in silence. Away from people due to isolation requirements with a low immune system. Gone and somewhat forgotten. Why? No service beyond the immediate family because of full-blown COVID. Time has passed. People have moved on. Did they forget? For those closest I see the hurt. Their healing is a delayed state. Still isolated. Lacking drive. Wondering why the circumstances are still what they are.

Time passes. Grief lingers. Everyone emotes differently. The fall/winter holidays are hard. The first Thanksgiving meal without that special somebody. That first Christmas tree without a special helper to decorate with. A new year alone. Isolation of a different kind sets in.

Depression hits some hard. Anger hits others. The pandemic is still here after so many months. Some haven’t moved on but some have. Isolation. Stress. Loneliness.

Check on your loved ones. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. I share my losses to help others who may still be grieving alone or in silence. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to miss that person. That’s all part of the process. You will have good days. You will have days that are a mess. Just keep picking yourself up and dusting yourself off. You can do it.

It’s time to honor the memories and cherish the moments you had with that special person with others. I’ve really thought about what I will do this holiday to make sure I include the one who’s missing in the celebrations of my family.

Their spirit can be echoed on in many ways. May you have a peaceful holiday no matter how you celebrate this year.

Make the most of what you have. Make memories. Share the special moments while you can. Even if it’s virtually.

friendship

First Impressions

Picture it: Disney World, pandemic 2020. We had a lot of time together that day. When lines were longish, there were games and idle chatter. We had a few precious maskless minutes as we enjoyed a meal in a social distance sit down restaurant. Lunch was wrapping up.

Somehow the idea came up…let’s do impressions of each other. Wow. Immediately queasy.

This group has known each other for a while and let’s just say we’re pretty friendly. We’re farmily after all. So the ups and the downs were all on display. All the quirks. Things we say too often. The things we complain about. How someone always forgets their wallet. Take too many pics on insta. Little phrases we use. How my daughter always loves to shut me down with “It’s FINE Mom” whenever I am freaking out about something.

Finally the spotlight turned to me. Yikes.

My laugh is apparently a thing. I laugh loudly and hysterically. And I slap my hand on my leg when I do it. Yup, now that the light’s on it, I can’t deny.

Then, I burst into song all the time. Right in the middle of a song, in the middle of a conversation or an otherwise quiet moment. Yup, totally me. (Do they know I’ve been singing the whole time in my head and some finally just popped out?)

I have photos of everyone going back to the beginning of time. I take pictures way more than anyone likes. Need a pic of a game or an event or a moment 10 years ago? Give me a sec while I scroll. Yup, I have the 256g phone. Alllllll the pics (even though I never post any of them.)

I talk about my workouts. I talk about my watch rings. I’m a little too vocal about burpees. Yeah, ok, I’ll take that too.

I guess that’s about it. Could be worse, I guess. A giggling, singing, photo taking, fitness buff. I’ll take that.

We giggled. We gawked. We acted each other out. When you’re friends like us, it is what it is. No holds barred. For better or for worse.

What’s your latest impression?

perspective

Social Disneying

This was a new term for me this week but apparently it’s all the rage. I went to Disney World on a last minute-trip and boy did I see a lot of 2020 nuances.

Let’s start with the temperature checks. I get it but wow of all the times at Disney this is new and different but definitely expected in 2020. Then there is the mask up rule. Over the mouth and nose at all times. It’s on signs, it’s broadcasted all day on speakers and cast members let you know often.

Only time to remove the mask is when you are actively eating or drinking in a stationary position. No shifting the mask on the move, in line or just for fresh air. Not to mention their mask guidelines are specific. No neck gaiters. Must be two layers. No mask with the vent. Kids over 2 need one. Not just at the park, at Disney Springs and pretty much everywhere. I only felt like I could take a mask break in the bathroom of all places – behind closed doors.

It’s normally a popular fashion statement to have matching Disney shirts, family reunion shirts or special occasions like a newly wed couple or first trip to Disney, but this year the theme was different. Majority of shirts said Socially Disneying or Disney 2020 with toilet paper for the zeroes. Interesting, new and something I didn’t expect.

I also didn’t expect lines to get into retail stores to get a souvenir. One-way traffic when walking. Cow corral type setups at entry points to separate people. Limited food service. Reduced choices all around for snacks. I only found one place that sold my turkey leg that is a normal purchase at Disney. Such a disappointment but with only 30% capacity, I am sure all staff is not working which impacts sales. 

The longest, twisted and turned lines that only an imagineer could have designed! I am an adult I can adjust. Kids over age 5 seemed to do well with masks. Kids 0-4 seems challenged A-Z. Take a look. 

I thought back to taking my kids in the 0-4 years old category, Squirming around in lines. Wanting an ice cream while waiting in lines. They always thoroughly enjoyed character visits and autographs. Guess what visits are at a distance. A far distance!

Parades at Magic Kingdom were interesting. One float – people gathered in closed proximity. The float moves on and people disperse. 20 minutes later another float. Same scenario. What a clever way to still offer a parade while keeping people together less than fifteen minutes. Genius.

Then at Animal Kingdom they put the characters on a pontoon boat and sent them around in a water tour with music and cheers and waves. Seemed to uplift those around even at a distance. Such creative ways to bend and flex on Disney’s part so people can still enjoy a little different Disney experience during the pandemic.

Disney also did a great job with signage. Reminders in lines to be 6 foot apart. Signs to separate. Seating even on walls or resting places by bathrooms had signage showing not available for seating due to 6 ft rules. In addition there were plastic dividers on rides where lines wrapped and people would normally be in close quarters for an extend period of time. Just creative overall.

Although the theme park was at a drastically reduced capacity it still had lines. Mainly because every other seat was empty on rides.

Now that I covered all the steps Disney took to comply with new rules and regulations, let’s talk about judgment. Those who thought I should not go to such a public place. Those who believe social distancing involves becoming a recluse and staying trapped inside your home avoiding people.

Sorry folks that’s not me. I maintain my health and sanity in more than one way. I work out for mental clarity, stress relief and to get out of the four walls of my home. This is a requirement for me but a risk to others. I support local small business because I am a small business owner and I need to go out to stimulate the economy. I can mask up and comply with local rules but I won’t be a prisoner of the pandemic. 

I enjoy fresh air each day. I walk my dog. I go to the park. I ride my bike. I’m sure some particles in the air could get me sick. Particles in the air could have gotten me sick in 2019 before the pandemic too.

Just wrapping up this post with one can socially or physically distance and still be active. Maybe social Disneying is for those who are extreme risk takers but even the most cautious people need to interact with others, breathe fresh air and really just celebrate life. Anything less just isn’t living. I’m not even sure if I’d say it’s surviving. It’s more like being robotic and slavelike. 

Everyone has a right to an opinion. Everyone has the freedom to speak. However one should never judge another unless you walk a day in their shoes. And at Disney that means walking a marathon on most days.

I had a great time in Disney. Made mask memories and saw a side of the country practicing safety measures that I would not have seen otherwise. I may not do it again but I enjoyed my spontaneous trip.