All my Christmases have a different story

Merry Christmas Across the MilesAll my Christmases have a different story, generally reflecting the state of my life at the time. My childhood Christmases – when I still believed Santa brought the gifts – were full of excitement and anticipation. Those were also the times when I still enjoyed going to church services and even sang in the choir when I was 13 and 14. I’m an only child but my mother had 6 siblings so I grew up with plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins and we all went to my grandparent’s house for dinner on Christmas. I have happy memories of those years. In my early adult years we all started moving away and then I got married and entered a new phase.

Our relationship was a rocky one with lots of ups and downs during our almost 9 years of marriage but, I have good memories of some of the Christmases we spent together. He had a great sense of humor and was very quick-witted so he could usually make me laugh, even when I was mad at him. Some stories only became funny in later telling; like the year he came home drunk from a work Christmas party and fell onto our little 4′ tree that I had just finished lovingly decorating! He was almost 6’5″ and about 230 lbs so you can imagine what happened to the tree. Then there was the year our dog got into a whole tray of gingerbread men and spent the next few hours puking and pooping (this is a companion story to the year my son’s cat got into his Easter basket and came walking across the floor the next day with a long strand of green cellophane trailing from her butt!) In the fifth year of our marriage our son was born and we had some nice Christmases together as a family – until we didn’t.

Then there were all the single parent Christmases. Except for the first Christmas in the first house I owned, all those years blur together in my mind. The stress, financial anxieties, and pressure (mostly self-inflicted) of doing everything possible to give my son happy Christmas memories. The sadness and feelings of failure despite all the effort. The difficult relationships. The loneliness of not having a partner when it seemed that everyone around me was part of a couple. The awkward social gatherings with my ex-husband’s family – he there with his girlfriend and me, of course, alone. Forced joviality for the sake of my son, when inside I was seething over another year of late child support payments and neglectful behavior.

After I moved to Florida, my feelings about Christmas gradually changed. I let go of unrealistic expectations and began to take responsibility for my own happiness instead of thinking like a victim. A few years later my parents retired and joined me and I had a lot of really nice Christmases with my parents and my son, who arrived from wherever he was living to spend Christmas with us. Gradually, and privately, I began to find my way back to God and reconnect with the meaning of Christmas.

This year marks another big change in Christmas. My 40-year-old son finally got married and had a baby so his life is completely different from when he came here last Christmas. Naturally, they wanted to celebrate Christmas in their own home and with her family so they came for a visit a couple of weeks before Christmas. We had a wonderful visit and my mother was thrilled to meet her great-grandson but, Christmas this year has been very different.

Matthew with his Nanna Catton 12-8-17

The new great-grandmother!

On Christmas Day Mom and I had a nice dinner and then we opened Liberty’s gifts – 2 new toys and lots of treats and chewies!  We exchanged our gifts and then watched “A Christmas Carol”, as we always do. My son called from his home a thousand miles away to wish us a Merry Christmas and thank us for the gifts we sent. It was so nice to hear his voice but, his presence was certainly missed. I had some sad moments this Christmas but, I’m thankful that my feelings have mostly been of happiness and gratitude. That is a gift in itself.

If you’re struggling with feelings of unhappiness during this time of the year I have two suggestions – find a way to be of service to others, and read “Happiness is a Serious Problem” by Dennis Prager. (I’m not talking about clinical depression or any serious mental health issue – if you fall into this category please seek professional help). I’ve mentioned this book before because it was such an eye opener for me – I’ve read it all the way through three times and I periodically re-read sections. He also has a YouTube video in which he lectures about happiness – one of his favorite topics!

Liberty - Christmas portrait #1

Liberty’s Christmas 2017 portrait

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

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Sentimental Journey

Don't be afraid of storms_edited-1Recently I took a long, long journey – a sentimental journey of a thousand miles and many years. I drove from Florida to New Jersey with my dog, Liberty, to meet my new grandson and daughter-in-law.

My grandson was 6 weeks old that weekend and, when I held him in my arms and looked down at his sweet little face, I had the physical sensation of time pulling me backwards. Could it really be 40 years since I first held his father? Time was playing that old trick on me, the one where it feels like you’re remembering some other lifetime but it could also have been just yesterday.

As I gazed down at my grandson, I was overcome with waves of emotion – certainly great joy, but also sadness because I already felt an ache for all the times in his life that I won’t be there. Matthew and Nanna 9-8-17I don’t want to live where my son and his wife live and they don’t want to live where I live so this gaping distance will always exist between us and I will have to accept that. My daughter-in-law’s parents, who live in the same town, will be the ones who babysit and who will be a regular presence in my grandson’s life. They will be frequent visitors to his house and he to theirs. He will celebrate Christmas and all the other holidays and special occasions with his mother’s family and I will be the disembodied, slightly unreal Nanna he talks to through the computer, the one he only sees a few times a year. It will take him a long time to understand that I’m a real person and not a character on TV! I know there are many people who have grown up far away from their grandparents. My parents immigrated to this country from England when I was five so I only knew my father’s mother through letters and photographs. I have friends who live far from their grandchildren. At least these days we have computers and smart phones and, yes, I’ll utilize them to stay in touch but, I haven’t quite adjusted yet to the fact that I won’t be able to be a “hands on” grandmother. I guess I’ll get used to it but, right now, it’s still hard to accept.

For now, I’m just trying to focus on how happy I am for my son that he has finally settled down and has a family and home of his own. It is obvious that he is happy – happier than I’ve seen him in a long time – and I enjoyed seeing him in his new roles of husband and father. I was pleased to see how loving and protective he is of his wife and child. He fully participates in all aspects of caring for his son but, more than that, I can see that he genuinely takes great pleasure in him. I always knew those qualities were deep inside him but it’s so gratifying to see them come to fruition. I felt so proud of my son; I even allowed myself a moment to take some credit for the man he has become. It was a long, rough road for both of us!

I can’t write about this journey without mentioning my wonderful little travel companion, Liberty. She not only spent many hours in the car without complaint but, she also adapted beautifully to all the changes involved in staying at a hotel and two rentals – not to mention visiting my son’s house and his in-laws. She was very interested in the baby – the little noises and movements he makes all attracted her attention and, of course, he smells like milk! I could see that she was distressed when he cried and I think, given a bit more time, she could become quite protective of him. When my son, the germaphobe, was out of the room I let her lick the baby’s toes – no harm done!

Liberty & Matthew 9-10-17

Liberty guarding HER baby!

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I’m still learning from Mom

Java Joint 4-11-17While we were out for a walk on Monday, May 15, my Mom fell and fractured her hip. We found out later that, during the fall, she also had a heart attack. After 24 hours in the ER she was moved to the ICU, where she stayed for 5 days as the medical team worked to stabilize her heart, lungs and kidneys. May 15 was another example for me of how quickly your life can change and how important it is to never take anything for granted.

For the first 6 days I spent 8 hours a day at the hospital – 4-5 hours in the morning and another 3-4 in the evening so that I could go home and let Liberty out of her crate for a couple of hours. Mom was in a lot of pain but could not be cleared for surgery on her hip because of her heart and overall condition. By the middle of that week I was afraid she was going to die and then, miraculously, she slowly began to rally. Her strong character began to surface and her condition improved to the point where she was moved to PCU and was finally cleared for surgery, which she had on May 23. Three days later she was moved to a rehab facility to begin the long process of recovery. She has been there for 10 days now and has made amazing progress in her daily physical therapy sessions.

Mom at Jump Off Rock, Hendersonville 5-2017

Mom on a recent trip to the mountains

Throughout my life Mom has taught me a lot, not only with words, but also by her example, and I’m continuing to learn from her in this new situation. She is an independent person who prides herself on being in control of her life and she lost all of that in an instant. Aside from a couple of rough patches, she has shown cheerfulness and gratitude to all her caregivers and to me. She has kept her good sense of humor. She has accepted her current situation but, is not resigned to it – and that’s a big difference. She has shown determination in her physical therapy sessions and, as a result, she is growing stronger and more confident each day.

As soon as she’s ready, she’ll be coming to my house for the remainder of her recovery. I feel very blessed to still have my Mom and be able to care for her but, I know this new situation will be a challenge for each of us. She will be dependent on me for many things and I know this will bother her because she doesn’t like to be a “burden” to me. We’re both people who need to have our own space and alone time so I’ve been making my guest room into a comfortable escape for her. It will be a big adjustment for me, not only being her caregiver but, also sharing my home with her because I’ve been living alone for so many years. I’ve become accustomed to doing whatever I choose and coming and going as I please. I think the best way for me to deal with this change is to follow Mom’s lead – with cheerfulness, gratitude, humor and strength of character.

Youth is a gift of nature. Age is a work of art.

Liberty & Nanny 4-11-17

Liberty and her “Nanny”

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Thanksgiving in Apalachicola

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Mom & Liberty in front of our guest cottage

As regular readers of this blog know, I take my Mom away for Thanksgiving week and another week in late spring. I started doing this the year after my Dad passed in 2006 and these trips have become special times for us. This year Mom, Liberty and I spent the week of Thanksgiving (and my birthday!) in Apalachicola, FL. I had never heard of Apalachicola – called Apalach by the locals – but a few months ago I heard someone talking about it on TV and thought it sounded like my kind of town so I read about it on the Internet. I found a comfortable dog-friendly house right in the heart of town that was perfect for us – The Apalach Guest House, which I rented through local realtor and property manager, Kathy Robinson (www.robinsonrealestate.com)

Apalach is a charming old small town with the Apalachicola river on one side and the bay of the same name on the other. It is a fishing village well-known for oysters and back in the days before trains it was a busy shipping port for all kinds of goods. There is a 17 block historic district with beautiful homes, with some built as far back as the 1840’s. We enjoyed being able to walk just a short block or two from the guest house to the main “downtown” area and we found friendly people everywhere we went, both working in the restaurants and shops and just walking along the streets. Also, lots of dogs everywhere! Early every morning Liberty and I walked along the riverfront and through the deserted downtown.

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Sunrise at the riverfront

One afternoon we toured the historic district and the town on an 8 person golf cart. Since we were the only two passengers (three if you count Liberty), we had our very knowledgeable tour guide, Judi, all to ourselves. Judi is quite an interesting character herself having retired from a 36 year career with the federal government and returning to Apalach, where she has 5 part-time jobs (including being part owner of the tour business and a connected shop) and serves on the library board of directors! If you go to Apalach, I highly recommend a tour with Judi (http://www.enjoyapalachicola.com/vacation-services1/historic-tours). That was Liberty’s first ride in a golf cart and, although a bit apprehensive of the open air experience at first, she quickly acclimated to it and seemed to enjoy herself. I think she realized it was even better than sticking her head out of the car window!

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One of Judi’s favorite homes in the historic district

As vegetarians, it is often challenging for us to find restaurants that serve dishes we can eat but, for such a small town, we did surprisingly well. We enjoyed very good wood-fired oven pizza at Slice of Apalachicola, one of the best veggie quiche I’ve ever had at Cafe Con Leche, and for my birthday Mom treated me to dinner at Up the Stairs (http://www.upthestairs.me/) where we enjoyed a delicious pasta dish and the decadent “Nonnie’s chocolate cake” (made with a recipe from Chef Richard’s grandmother). Funny side note: when we arrived for dinner, there was Judi at the door – it turned out that one of her part-time jobs is as a hostess at Up the Stairs, which is owned by her step-daughter! Small town life!

One afternoon we walked to the Ormon House Historic State Park, adding another one of Florida’s great state parks to the list we have visited. For a paltry $2 we were able to tour the beautifully restored house, which was built in 1838 and overlooks the Apalachicola River, stroll the grounds and enjoy the Chapman Botanical Garden. Also on the grounds is the Three Soldiers Detail, a bronze replica of the Vietnam memorial statue in Washington, DC.

I like Thanksgiving because it is such a uniquely American holiday and I hope all of you, like us, took a few moments to be thankful for all the blessings we Americans have. In fact, it’s good to take time to be thankful everyday!

If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily. ~ Gerald Good

 

chapman-botanical-garden-11-16

Good spot for a rest!

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October Musings

Opal - October birthday for herThere are many things in my life for which I’m grateful. I thank God every day for my good health, the people who care about me, my four-legged best friend Liberty and my home. Last week we were fortunate to make it through Hurricane Matthew unscathed – power was out for less than two days and the only damage my house sustained was one shingle that ended up in the yard. So why have I been so down in the dumps this week?

It’s a combination of things – the awareness that time is passing by, I’m getting older, and I still haven’t met my soul mate, the feeling that everything I’ve accomplished in my life is in the past and now I have no real purpose, and just general concerns about my future and the future of our country. I knew this was a passing mood because it does descend on me every so often. Most of the time I’m content with my life but the other day I was wondering why love has always been such a challenge for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts and someone who is reading this has also thought that, although their life is good, something is still missing. I believe there is a reason for everything and that God has a plan for each of us but that doesn’t mean I’m always able to patiently accept the unknown!

I decided I needed to talk it over with a good friend so I stopped at her house after my yoga class. I know she has experienced the challenges and disappointments of trying to find love and self-worth. She was divorced, and then spent many years as a widow. She tried online dating, fix-ups, blind dates and had no luck with them, just like me. She decided at some point to put it in God’s hands and just make the most of her life. It didn’t happen right away but, a few years after she came to that decision, she finally met the love of her life in a totally unexpected way. Actually, I came to the same decision myself several years ago but, every so often, the old doubts resurface and cause me to question “what is”.

It was good to talk with my friend because, having had many of the same experiences, she understands my feelings and offers just the right balance of reassurance, encouragement, and sympathy. She reminded me that, even when you don’t think you’re doing anything “important” you may be making an unseen impact on someone’s life. She said I have no way of knowing how much I may be helping a child when Liberty and I participate in PAWS to Read. Hmm. I just do it because I enjoy the kids and it’s fun for Liberty so I hadn’t thought about it that way but, as soon as she said it, I knew she was right. She suggested that I write two lists – one being 10 things I think are good about my life, the other being 10 things I’m not satisfied with. She remembered doing that in the past and feeling that it helped to put things in perspective for her. I know the positive in my life far outweighs the negative but I’m going to do the lists because I always like the idea of gaining new perspectives. Meanwhile, I already gained some perspective and lightened my mood just by sharing my feelings with such a caring friend. As I drove home I thanked God for the blessing of her friendship. Later on, she gave me another blessing when she sent an email saying that our conversation had helped her, too. She has been going through a significant health challenge this year and, in helping me with my concerns, she realized she needs to reassess some things in her life, too.

This morning the temperature was in the low 40’s – I’ve been waiting for a morning like this for two months! The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, Liberty was feeling very frisky and we had a lovely long walk on a wooded trail. As I walked along, saying my prayers, I could feel the last of my heavy mood lifting and blowing away on the breeze. I stopped to get a fresh baguette at the bakery then went home, toasted it and slathered it with butter and raspberry jelly. I sat in the screened porch and enjoyed the baguette, Starbucks Cafe Verona and the beautiful morning. Life is good 🙂

So, you may ask, what’s the point of this post? I guess I just wanted to share my thoughts about how I deal with down moods in the hope that it will be helpful to someone out there who might be feeling sad or alone. Some suggestions: 1) talk to a good friend whom you can trust with your feelings; 2) focus on the blessings in your life; 3) do something nice for someone; 4) adopt a dog from a shelter!

Happiness is not the absence of problems; it is the ability to deal with them.

2016-halloween

Treats? Yes?

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September 11, 2001

Don't be afraid of storms_edited-1Like most of you, I will always remember certain historical events that have occurred during my life. Some of them I can even remember exactly where I was and how I felt at the time. I was in my 8th grade gym class, sitting on the floor during a break, when the announcement that our president had been shot in Dallas came over the PA system. He was buried on my 13th birthday and I spent the day watching his funeral on TV with my family. In April of my senior year in high school Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis. I don’t remember where I was when I heard the news, but I do remember the shock we all felt about it. In June of that same year, while we were busy preparing for final exams and graduation, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. In July of 1969, while on my first “grown-up” vacation at the Jersey shore with a friend, we watched the Apollo 11 moon landing and the amazing sight of Neil Armstrong actually walking on the moon.

15 years ago, on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in the conference room of our county Emergency Operations Center waiting for the start of the weekly department directors meeting. As always, one of the wall mounted TVs was tuned to CNN with the sound muted. I remember chatting with a couple of people when someone suddenly pointed toward the TV and said “Look at that!!” and we all turned to see what had caught his attention. It was a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers, which I soon learned was the North Tower. We were astonished by the sight but we all assumed it was a private plane that had somehow gone off course and lost control. If we saw that today we would immediately think it was a terrorist attack, but 15 years ago that was the last thing on our minds. Just a few minutes later, in real-time, we saw another plane hit the South Tower and someone turned up the sound on the TV. We all sat in shocked silence watching the images and listening to the announcers trying to piece together and report the unfolding events.

Like so many people in Florida, I’m originally from the NYC metropolitan area. I grew up in northeastern New Jersey, and attended the School of Visual Arts in NYC. I made numerous trips into Manhattan over the years to visit museums, shop, or take visitors to see the sights. I used to go to bars with my friends when the drinking age in NJ was 21 and in NY it was only 18! Because I grew up in the shadow of NYC – I can remember looking at the skyline from the upstairs bedroom in my grandparent’s house – I always felt a connection to it but, on that day in 2001, my most important connection was my son because he was working for a company in midtown Manhattan. He was sent out each day to jobs in different parts of the city so I had no idea where he was that morning but, I knew he often worked in the Wall Street area. Like millions of other people, I couldn’t get through to him on his cell phone or on his employer’s phone. I didn’t speak to him for another anxious, heart pounding 7 hours. Thankfully, my son had not been on a job near the World Trade Center that morning so he was physically safe, although emotionally very upset.

Looking back with 15 years of hindsight, I realize that September 11, 2001 was the beginning of a change in some of my attitudes. It still took me another ten years to become fully engaged in politics and news but, 9/11 awakened something in me. I began to have a real appreciation for what a great country we have and how blessed we are in so many ways. I saw many acts of heroism from ordinary people in the days after 9/11 and I felt such pride in the resilience and generosity of the American people. I’m not a naive, flag waving, blind loyalty, “America, love it or leave it” type of patriot and I’m not in lock step with any politician or political party but 9/11 taught me to love my country in a way I didn’t before. I love the flag and the national anthem and what they stand for. I revere the Constitution and I know that, if our elected officials protect and defend it, we will be able to overcome anything. I feel deep gratitude and respect for all who have served, bled and died for our freedoms. Seeing the Twin Towers come down made me realize for the first time how vulnerable those freedoms really are and I don’t take them for granted anymore.

God Bless America.

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.  ~Edward Abbey

Liberty wearing her new bandana 12-25-14

She was named Liberty for a reason

 

 

Small and not so small blessings

Lynda Linke logoJuly 8th will be the fifth anniversary of my “reinvention” journey – the day I retired from the working world and began living life in a different way than I had for the previous 35+ years. Years ago I read somewhere that retirement for “Boomers” is different from their parent’s retirement and that many of us like to think of it more as an opportunity for “reinvention”. That’s a fairly typical Boomer way of looking at things – slightly self-centered and egotistical, goal-oriented, forward thinking, and always striving to be different from previous generations. We’re not going to have our parent’s retirement! Perish the thought!! We might even be the first generation that really didn’t believe we would grow old, or at least the most vocal about it. Remember “don’t trust anyone over 30”? How about The Who talking about “My Generation”? Now that we’re all in our 60’s and 70’s, it’s our turn to confront the challenges of aging and, once again, we are determined to experience it in our own way.

Although I’m sure there are plenty of people in my age group who are happy to spend their retirement playing golf or fishing (nothing wrong with that!), I have read interesting stories about people who are using retirement as a time in their lives when they can create a different lifestyle. Many people have chosen to start a small business after retiring, often completely different from the careers in which they worked for 30 or 40 years. Maybe for the first time in your adult life you’re free to explore interests for which you never had time. You might make a radical lifestyle change – perhaps you always wanted to live on a houseboat or maybe you’re fulfilling the dream you’ve had since you were 18 of traveling the country in an RV. I just read a story about a couple who spent a year visiting all 59 national parks!

Although I can’t say I have created a radically different or unique lifestyle in the way some people have, it is certainly different from the one I used to have. For one thing, the reduction in stress and responsibility has allowed me to change in some important ways. One change, which is a small blessing in itself, is a real understanding that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing at this point in my life. I have accepted my current limitations and restrictions and I’m content. That’s a biggie for me because I’ve always been restless and thinking about the next “thing”. I’m not living an exciting, adventurous life but I appreciate the small blessings of being able to immerse myself in a good book, walk with Liberty, have lunch with a friend, take my Mom on a vacation, go to the beach, get away on my own for a few days and a myriad of other simple pleasures.

I started out 5 years ago with a long to-do list, which is still only half completed. It’s been a small blessing to find I don’t care about accomplishing the rest of the goals I set for myself back then! I’ve learned some things about myself and one of them is that I’m not ambitious enough to be a successful artist or author or to start a business, and that’s okay because an important part of my journey has been learning to accept myself. I no longer feel like I have to be accomplishing something important every day. There are places I’d like to visit, things I’d like to experience and a soul mate I hope to meet before I die, but I don’t have the anxious restlessness I once had about those things – and for a former chronic malcontent that’s no small blessing.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~E.M. Forster

Lake Hall Tallahassee 4-16

Liberty is thankful for the not so small blessing of encountering NO alligators during her recent visit to Lake Hall in Arthur B. Maclay Gardens and State Park in Tallahassee. 

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