Saturday, December 29, 2012

Technology: The Savior--Sort Of

The Dixon family was terribly disappointed to learn that neither Kenny nor Rex would make it home for Christmas this year. Kenny is a student at Columbia University who couldn't afford the plane fare and Rex was scheduled to work with his Staten Island Coast Guard crew. Christmas would not be the same without these guys.

But wait! With Facetime we could bring them home--sort of!

Sandie set up computers on the dining room table and dialed the boys. VIOLA! There they were. We opened gifts, laughed and cried with them. And not just once but twice: first, on Christmas Eve when they opened their Christmas jammies AND again on Christmas morning when everyone was opening gifts. We laughed when Rex explained that he had locked himself in a room at the station so his buddies couldn't tease him about his gifts "from Santa." And we teared up when Kenny broke down about missing Christmas and his dog Summer licked his tears away. It wasn't flesh and blood, but it was close. The spaces they usually occupied on the couch next to their sister Sabrina opening gifts were not empty.

Later in the morning, nephew Perry called on Facetime from Virginia, and the whole extended family got to visit with Perry, his wife Erin, and their four kids. The wonders of technology brought them across the country to the big family celebration.

Meanwhile, I was communicating via email with my siblings about our Uncle Buddy who at 90 is approaching the end of his life and needing our attention. Because of email, we are able to all be part of one conversation about his care even though we are miles apart in Florida, Northern California--Fremont, Fort Bragg, Jamestown-- and in Todos Santos, Mexico.

Holiday celebrations put the focus on family, and this year, the wonders of technology enhanced that focus--pixelating and dispatching sights, sounds, and news. And to prove my point, as I was writing this blog post, I got an email from my Aunt Jean in Yuma AZ to which she attached a scanned photo of me, my brother, and my maternal grandparents taken in 1951.

I'm thankful for the technology that saves spaces, faces, and memories.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Abundant Heart

My heart filled again and again in the week before Christmas, this year. It all began with Occupy Christmas. For a time, I didn't think it was going to be possible to pull off our annual Christmas party, but with the creative thinking of four people, the event was more than I hoped for. My heart was so full with the sound of family after the party that I had trouble going to sleep. What I didn't know was how much that party set the stage for the rest of the week as each day found me doing and experiencing things I never thought possible.

On Monday, Clare and Mary Autumn spent the afternoon with us. Four-year-old Clare is a delightful chatterbox, but my heart melted in conversation with Mary Autumn. As Clare hung out chatting with Cindy, Mary Autumn and I colored and talked-- truly talked. Eight-year-olds aren't usually interested in how their grandmothers spend their days, but Mary Autumn's curiosity was deeply sincere when she said, "What did you do before we came over today?" Her mature inquiry was matched with careful listening and questions about my broken car which I'd taken for repairs and the chores I'd performed. What a joy to find a sympathetic ear in this young granddaughter.

On Tuesday evening, I joined a powerful clan of women for dinner. Each woman had served as Faculty Senate President at the local college, and the group meets three times a year to discuss the challenges of leadership and celebrate successes. After retiring from the college, I stopped attending these gatherings, but one of the gals reminded me that I am always welcome and encouraged me to join the party this year. A surge of energy pulsed in my heart in the presence of all this glowing feminine power. Wit, intelligence, and camaraderie were abundant at the table. I'd misplaced this measure of commanding influence and was thrilled to partake again.

On Wednesday, I enjoyed two heart boosters. At Masters swim practice, I didn't think it was possible to swim six 100s faster than my base time, but nestled in the middle of four lane mates, I gave the task my all and surprised myself with the speed I needed. Later I met with Write-on Women, my writers group. Despite icy roads and December demands, eight creative women made this meeting a priority. Being in the company of others--be it writers or swimmers-- injects my heart with a can-do spirit when most of me is screaming "I don't want to!."

Thursday was a heart melting day all day. My 35 year-old son Raleigh volunteered to accompany me on the three hour drive to San Francisco to see my 90-year-old Uncle Buddy who is in the hospital with delirium and severe back pain. Raleigh infused the trip with his philosophy of love. The city of my birth was beautiful beyond belief from the first clear sighting on the 580 to unsurpassable views from the Chapel in the VA Hospital. Uncle Buddy was sweetly demented in his brown beanie addressing me as the 12 year old he once knew. I held his hand-- deeply veined and pearly translucent-- while Raleigh prayed until Uncle Buddy sank back into his chair and slept. So dear is the arc of life.

Friday night, my dharma buddies had an end-of-the-world-party. The instructions were to wear something we never get to wear and bring a gift to recycle. We also each brought specialty foods for an elegant potluck dinner served on china with crystal glasses and silver flatware. Twelve gorgeous women dressed to the hilt, enjoyed a stellar meal from an amazing table and engaged in several hours of noble conversation. We were prepared to go out on a superior moment! My heart was buoyant with promise and no need to know what would come next.

Saturday was a heart-opening yoga workshop, in which the instructor Rocky Heron had no doubt that students could do things they previously did not think possible. And so with his help, I did my first handstand at age 64. I was overwhelmed, grinning and crying at the same time. My heart was wide open as I headed home to find dear Cindy sweetening the house with her presence, her love of the holidays, and her boundless energy on behalf of our family. Hers is a love that always lifts me higher!

It's risky to step out in the world with my heart wide open, but this week, open-heartedness allowed all manner of joy and love to flow in.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Occupy Christmas

Reinventing family traditions after a divorce can be a real challenge, so I'm delighted to be in the 5th year of an annual Christmas Party thrown by my kids' father, his new wife, Bonnie, and me and my partner, Cindy. Splitting the costs and labor, the four of us start prepping for the party in September. Then each year, despite incredibly busy lives, our 3 children and their families--14 grandkids in all-- come together on a Sunday afternoon in December to make merry. A trimmed tree, lights and streamers, food, gifts and stockings are part of the mix, but also lots of catching up for both kids and adults. Though we all live in the same county, we lead full, rich lives, so connections are haphazard and intermittent and rarely involve the whole crowd. Speaking for myself, the best part of this party is the chance to make memorable connections with cousins, in-laws, uncles and aunts. Of course, the kids are pretty interested in the gifts and stockings too.

This year we ran into some hurdles. Our finances got murky, and Cindy and I weren't able to squirrel away a regular monthly deposit to our Christmas fund. Raymond was scheduled for knee replacement surgery three weeks before the party, and we knew he would not be doing much elfing. Plus, he was very entrenched in the local "Occupy" movement, and he wanted to Occupy Christmas. For a brief moment, we considered canceling the party this year, but that idea went up in a poof of smoke. Instead, we put on our thinking caps and started modifying our usual modus operandi, especially when it came to gifts.

We began with the Occupy Christmas motif and grabbed the idea to choose gifts that were made in the USA. Then we decided we wanted to involve local merchants or businesses somehow. The year before, I had come up with the idea of including one personal treasure that belonged to one of us in each stocking. We decided to include those treasures in the main gift and ask the grandkids to each contribute 3 small treasures of their own as stocking stuffers. We gave them stickers, asked them to attach their names to the items, and we collected them the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The kids complied with a delightful array of things from compasses to toy cars to nail polish.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the day before Raymond's surgery, we met to decide which kids would get which treasures in their gifts and stockings. This was a super fun chore. When one of us suggested a certain treasure for one of the children, we went with it, totally trusting our very first instincts. I named Huck recipient of my magnetic poetry. Cindy thought Leon should have Nell's dream oil. Bonnie thought Anna Mae would like her sleep mask. Raymond dropped the hacky-sacks into Aliou's pile.  For the main gift, we had ordered American made bath sheets for each child and hired a local seamstress to appliqué each child's name on his or her towel.

I admit to a bit of trepidation the morning of the party. Would the kids be disappointed with this variant on previous parties?  Definitely not!  The smiles, laughter and shouts rang with full-fledged Christmas wonder. Huck wore his towel like a toga for an hour after opening it. Mary Autumn and Nell lined their gifts on the floor beside the tree to admire. Leon pumped dream oil on anyone who approached him, and the four who got our headlamps ran out in the dark to play.

Granddaddy had to leave early as this was the most activity his bionic knee had seen in weeks, but everyone else stayed late-- occupying Christmas.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Graduation Advice

Two grandsons and a niece graduate from high school this week. All week, I've been trying to come up with some kind of wisdom to posit with these young people. Graduating high school is really a big thing, but the truth is that from my vantage point at 64, all I can see is that they are babes with only vague ideas about what they want to do next.

And I don't think it should be otherwise. I don't see how a young person of 17 or 18 can possible know what he or she wants to do with the rest of life. It seems crazy to me to ask a kid to not only keep going to school—i.e. college-- but also to choose a major which will lead to life work. So the fact that these kids have only loosely defined plans for the next year or so doesn't bother me.

I do think they need to go somewhere and do something. I just don't think school is necessarily that thing. A summer of work and some good times with friends is a great next step after high school. Then it depends on the kid what will come after that.

These three don't have a great deal in common except for the fact that each of them has been super engaged in sports during high school. As I was making their graduation cards, I realized that I was tapping into this sporting interest for images for the cards. Then early this morning when I was cutting, arranging, and pasting pictures of bicycles and skiing onto the cards, I had a flash that the athletic learning that took place during my teen years has been the most enduring skill set in my life.

I certainly learned concepts in Geometry and facts in Government and read classics in English class while in high school, but it was the skill set that I developed as a competitive swimmer that has been with me every step of the way into adulthood, middle age, and on into my twilight years.

I learned to roll out of bed and get to work early, even when my body was screaming for sleep. I learned to push through fatigue, exertion, breathlessness, disappointment, and pain for greater gain. I learned to cooperate, respect authority, and recognize my self-worth. I learned to win and lose. I learned to laugh, congratulate, and lean into hard work. I learned how it feels to come in last and to be first, second, or tenth. I learned how to be coached and how to mentor. And most of all I learned how to celebrate!

So graduates—August, Cody, and Sabrina—remember what you learned on the ski slope, the soccer field, the bike trail, the softball diamond, the yoga mat! Those were the lessons that are full of life! And celebrate this landmark accomplishment.