Saturday, December 31, 2011

Settling Up

Yes, it’s the last day of 2011.

And for the past two weeks my Inbox has been inundated with suggestions for reflection. Lists of questions to answer about the good, the bad and the ugly. What’s worth remembering? What’s best forgotten? What was accomplished? What wasn’t? What can be done better or differently in the year ahead?

While I appreciate the inspiration and have had all good intentions of coming up with meaningful answers, I’m finding the whole process to be downright daunting.

Frankly, I’m just plain tired.

Which may be why I’m so drawn to Gwen Bell’s concept of the Monthly Review. The notion of doing a monthly accounting of what’s working and what’s lacking feels so much more doable than dealing with an entire year’s worth of life.

Best of all, I get to settle up with myself—literally and figuratively—and move into the next month with, as Gwen puts it, “a beginner’s mind.”

It’s worth a shot. Who knows? Maybe I’ll feel a little less tired on the last day of 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


This lyric from an old O'Jays song sums up how I feel about the holidays this year:

"Christmas just ain't Christmas,
Without the one you love..."

Without giving in to the craziness of the season, getting together with the people I love seems to have happened effortlessly. Being more relaxed helped me stay more I really felt the connectedness that makes being with them so deeply soul-satisfying.

That's what this time of year is all about.

Friday, December 23, 2011

New Traditions

It was recently pointed out to me that the expression “starting a new tradition” is a sort of oxymoron.

I went to the source (still Webster’s for me) for the definition of tradition: “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior.” No surprise there. But if the fact that it’s something long established means there’s no such thing as starting a new tradition, then I’m forced to redefine this entire holiday season.

It began with Thanksgiving, when my mom’s health was so compromised that, for the first time in family history, she was unable to cook dinner. My brother and sister-in-law, along with Jim, Jake and I—under Mom’s surprisingly dictatorial direction—put the meal on the table and handled the cleaned-up. The consensus was that it was one of the best Thanksgiving’s ever and we should do it again next year. Voila! A new tradition was born.

When Mom landed in the hospital the following week, my sister Deborah and I conspired to hold a Christmas cookie bake-off to prevent her from trying to do it all herself. New Tradition Number 2 turned out to be so much fun that, as we toasted our success with the best Bloody Mary’s on the planet at the nearby Howard House in Elkton, MD, we vowed to—you guessed it—do it again next year.

Jim invented New Tradition Number 3 during a conversation about the need to simplify Christmas dinner because of my parents’ continued poor health. Roast beef and twice-baked potatoes is their go-to menu, but I braved my father’s wrath by putting forth Jim’s alternate suggestion: spaghetti and meatballs. To everyone’s surprise, Dad thought it was a splendid idea and we’re all bringing sides and apps to round things out.

I freely admit to taking comfort in tradition. In the way that my favorite down quilt keeps me warm, traditions keep me fulfilled. But I’d be lying if I said these changes haven’t been refreshing. The dust has been blown off of old (and admittedly stale) patterns of behavior. And I’m really enjoying the process of creating new experiences and deeper connections.

And yet…I was thrilled when Jake and his sister Carly made the time this week to keep one holiday ritual alive. As we decorated the Christmas tree and munched on pizza, I was filled with pure and simple joy. New or old, tradition gives us something to look forward to. And hope is what this season is all about.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tell Your Stories

I believe that our lives are the sum total of the stories we tell about them.

Not everyone agrees. In fact, saying this out loud at a cocktail party can be a real conversation-starter. But think about it: once a moment or an experience is behind you, all that’s left is the memory of it. As you tell people about it—or tell yourself about it—whatever version of that memory you tell becomes the story of that experience. Over time, that story becomes the experience.

String them all together—and that’s your life.

Yesterday was a perfect illustration of this theory. I spent the day with one of my oldest, dearest friends. She lives in Peekskill and we both have crazy-busy lives, so time alone together is a rare gift. We passed the hours in typical fashion, beginning with a lose set of plans (a skincare treatment and yummy lunch) and making the rest of it up as we went along.

We ended the day in a local mall, despite the fact that we’d finished all of our holiday shopping. But it allowed us to get out of the rain and continue to walk and chat. Along the way she picked up a pair of stockings for an upcoming wedding and I took advantage of a 40%-off sale on my favorite bras.

As we headed for the exit, we had to pass through the Lord & Taylor shoe department. Because everything was deeply discounted; and because she had a coupon for an additional 20% off; and because you saved another 10% for using your L&T credit card; and because she got an additional 15% off because she had to re-open her credit card account—I bought a long-coveted pair of La Canadienne boots.

We laughed about this coup the whole way to the car, and as we stashed our bags and fastened our seat belts. Then Maryanne said, “Well, this day has been another story to add to our collection of Donna-and-Maryanne stories.”

The part of the story we’ll both remember is that I saved $135 on a fabulous pair of boots. Chances are that, as we tell this story over time, we’ll disagree about some of the details. Maybe she’ll say we bought the boots at Nordstrom. Maybe I’ll forget the name of the restaurant where we had lunch.

But the bottom line is that this story will be memorable because it’s about so much more than the bargain. For me, it’s a tiny chapter in the book about my friendship with her. About what she means to me. About what relationships mean to me. And, ultimately, about how I live my life.