I’m Grateful for Check-Ins

It’s that time of year again where I struggle with the accurate spelling of “mantel.”  Or is it “mantle”?  Like “Capitol” and “capital,” this distinction in spelling gnaws at me (in a good way, I suppose).  In any case, as you can see, my mantel is doing just fine.  And so am I .  Thanks to check-ins from many unexpected friends and caring neighbors.  And of course, my constant therapy buddies, Pudgey and Vanilla.

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There is something about the month of December that always leaves me feeling warm, loved and grateful.  It’s not just the ordinary pre-Holiday buzzing around that sustains me.  In fact, it is the opposite.  I like the quiet, reflective times of December and I defiantly make them a priority.  I started reading about “minimalism” a few years ago (check out Joshua Becker’s becomingminimalist.com and the excellent writings and Netflix documentary based on the thinking of Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, theminimalists.com).

More than anything, studying the principles of minimalism has offered space and support in my thoughts and lifestyle these past few years to begin a transformation that has led to the greatest clarity and personal satisfaction of my life.  I don’t need more “stuff,” I need less clutter.  I don’t need more “fake friends,” I need a small circle of amazing friends who check-in with me.

Quite unexpectedly, I left a great job this month and immediately became completely helpless  to a very painful sciatic joint “situation.”  I’ve been knocked off my horse and there’s very little I can do about it.  Yet I feel joyful.  I have abundance.  I see goodness.  I am hopeful.  And my small circle of amazing “check-in” friends and family are exactly where I want and need them to be.  Lovingly offering kindness and ready to ease the pain of loneliness or regret or whatever my ailment of the moment happens to be.

For whatever totally undeserved reason, I have received the gift of loyal friendship and support of friends I was close to twenty and thirty years ago back in my life recently.  Old friends are the most comforting treasure in the world.  One glance or utterance can unfold memories, laughter and complete understanding between old friends that gives meaning and purpose to my humanity in the here and now.  Just yesterday, I reconnected with Shelley, a pal from my twenty-something, unmarried, professional days over lunch.  We are both married, in our fifties now and navigating raising teenagers, nurturing marriages of twenty-plus years, and learning to laugh at our common mid-life physical and emotional challenges.  She texted me first thing this morning:

“I’m so very proud and impressed with all your personal accomplishments!  You don’t give yourself enough GRACE!”

My dears, when a friend who knows you inside and out says these beautiful words to you, I don’t care how or when or in what format, you are LUCKY.  You are enough.  You make a difference.  And you are certainly loved and appreciated.

Like the beautiful fresh greenery another dear friend recently draped across my mantle (or is it mantel? More amazingly, she did it without duct tape!), life is full of simple joys that can be overlooked if you don’t intentionally slow down.  Check-in with your soul on a regular basis and feed it with acceptance, inspiration, a cup of tea, a conversation with an old friend, or a friendly chat with the neighbor walking their dog down the street.  These are the gifts I am grateful for this December, regardless of what packages happen to end up under my tree.

I hope that 2019 brings you lots of positive “check-ins” from loving sources you have encountered and nurtured throughout your life.  A check-in doesn’t have to be lavish – just a few simple words to express what you’re feeling in the moment are all that another person needs to feel supported and ready for a new day.

I dedicate this to all my check-in friends of 2018 and look forward to growing that number in the coming year: Shelley, Pam, Mary, Melissa, Vicki, Vickie, Victoria, Jennifer, Jeanne, Sherry, Stevie, Johanna, Christine, Susanna, Malin, Kit, Laurie, Kelly, Carol, Lincoln, Rob, Mark, Alex, Julie, Susan, Erin, Jenny, Carmen, Alejandre, Ann, Linda, JoEllen, Sarah, Mike, Gwyneth, Bill, Caryl, Sheila, Isa and Mario.

Merry Christmas, friends.

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That was me, 2 years ago, before I got Sober

0429160942_HDRThis is me today.  In 9 days, I will celebrate my “First Sober Birthday” with my my AA friends and family.  I feel grateful and humble and raw.

For every person, the desire to become sober and begin living a life in the truth, however imperfect, comes from unique motivations.  Sadly, many find themselves seeking sobriety after huge losses or tragedy.  I am lucky that my story is pretty simple.  I knew alcohol consumed ME, not the reverse.  I knew I needed to find something I wanted more than the feeling of numbness and relief I got from consuming an entire bottle of Malbec on my couch every night.

I was tired and afraid.  Our family had been through so much and I sort of resented (WARNING! Resentment is so dangerous! ) having to start over again with our young children after the course my husband and I had put in motion in 2002 did not succeed.  Starting over after moving to the comfort and simplicity of small town life in the company of dear friends, in every sense of the phrase, had not been in our consciousness whatsoever.  It happened.  Everything we had planned on failed (and then some) and we were forced to come up with another plan.  Meanwhile, my parents were getting older and I  resented the fact that I was so preoccupied with caring for my own family.  I resented everybody and everything for a very long time.  I lived with the awful sense of complete domination by choices of others for many years and it broke me.  I started to drink.  Then I started to need to drink.  Then I couldn’t stop.

When you resent people and situations, you forget the power you have to change your life and you lose all hope of ever experiencing serenity.  Though I did not know this is what I was doing when alcohol dominated my life, it was.  And it was destroying me and moving closer to destroying my family.  After suffering the indignity of watching a friendship and business partnership destroy my husband and interfere with our marriage, I did not want to live in the present any longer. My drinking was the equivalent of hiding beneath the covers.

Slowly, after many bad hangovers and raging outbursts that produced nothing but hurt feelings and distance between my husband and me, I began to have tiny inklings of desire to climb out of my self-protective shell (what irony, alcoholism is anything but) and live in the truth everyday.  I couldn’t do it by myself.  I had to be humble, grateful, open, raw, willing to confess my bad behavior, open to listening to others’ stories, and willing to being broken open over and over by memories and feelings I thought I had long ago dealt with at any moment. This is the life of a sober alcoholic. And it is beautiful.

“After we’ve been in A.A. for a while, we find out that if we’re going to stay sober, we have to be humble people. ….Gratitude to God for His grace makes me humble.  When I think about the kind of person I was not so long ago, when I think of the person I left behind me, I have nothing to be proud of.  Am I grateful and humble?”

Richmond W., 1954

 

At the end of the day, however imperfect, I want to live life instead of copping out.  Even though unpleasant, feeling fear, anxiety, pain, dread and powerless are part of everyday life.  I had to learn to cope.  I love the lessons God is giving me, even unto this very moment, in coping with life and my feelings.  It has given my family a new life.  Sobriety is my joy and I am willing to fight for it every single day.

 

 

 

T-365 Days ‘Til Our Household Shrinks

I LOVE BEING A MOM.  I especially love days when JUST being a Mom gets to be my main focus.  Today was one of those days.  It was great!

Though 17 and 15, my daughter and son still need their Momma for support, advice, caring, guidance and help shaping their world views.  (They need Dad, too, for all the same things.  We do it differently, of course!).  It is late May and they are weary from a long school year.  My daughter is a little teary as the pressure of her impending Senior year mounts:  ACT prep; Drill Team camps, practice, leadership; saying goodbye to friends who will be leaving for college; making plans for her departure from the nest; bonding with her friends through each of the “lasts” of 12th grade.  Yesterday, I left a pair of socks with the word “relaxed” in her room for her – an “I love you” just from me for her sweet dancer’s feet.11194554_10205531647904213_7725532153420392392_o

My son, who is very much a free spirit and his own person, drudged through his 9th grade year – it has been a long year for him and he his looking forward to summer and a possible career as a life guard!  A week ago, he referred to each remaining day of the school year as “7 hours of soul-crushing disappointment.”  This morning, as it poured rain in Kansas City, and I had the entire day off to myself, I received this text from my son:  “If you get me I’ll give you a foot rub and 3 quarters.”  So I did!  We went to lunch and had a wonderful time.

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I may not always get things “right” as a Mom.  But I try and I definitely enjoy the experience.  My children know I love them and they will always be FIRST in my world.  I have been fortunate to be able to spend alot of time at home with them.  And, like many other Mothers have said before, I can honestly say that I have found things to LOVE and enjoy about every stage of their young lives.  Somehow, it always works out that the stage we happen to be in together feels like my “favorite” stage until it changes again and the new stage becomes my favorite.

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I made peanut butter cup pancakes for dinner – it sounded good to my son and will be comforting to my daughter when she comes home a little melancholy after attending her boyfriend’s graduation.  I love being a Mom.  I love living in the moment. What a beautiful blessing it is to have the privilege of bring another human being into the world and preparing them for their journey.

 

Abrazos Fuerte for 2016

Dear Friends,

Last year, ironically without anticipating all the difficult emotional terrain I would cover, I selected the word “Awaken” (or awake, I cannot recall!!) as my “Word of the Year.”  Boy did I subconsciously Nail It!  The Universe mercifully gave me lots of wake-up calls……and my Divine Power gave me the strength to answer.  Suffice it to say, our family soared through potentially staggering emotional challenges and I am now a strong, proud “Friend of Bill’s” (aka Recovering Alcoholic).

This year, it took fewer than 5 minutes to imagine my guiding phrase/philosophy:  “Abrazos Fuerte” – Translated from Spanish, it means “Strong Hugs.”  Our wise and adoring Primo from Argentina (Spanish for Male First Cousin), Charlie, always ends his written communication with this beautiful phrase – it is his “signature.”

Cousin Charlie (pictured above, enjoying his 71st birthday in Bariloche, Argentina and in 1998, “supervising”  my sister-in-law Christine in the family tradition of empanada making), is a strong and loving figure in our family.  He is the existing “Patriarch” of the Tamburini family of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the homeland of my husband’s father, Mario Tamburini (my son has his name).

Charlie is the lifeline between my husband and his Argentinian heritage – he can tell us stories and share history that brings the family ancestry to life and provides a strong foundation for our children.  When my husband and I announced the news of our engagement to the Argentinian branch of the family, they sent telegrams of congratulations and Charlie offered me abrazos fuerte in the form of one simple line:  “Grandma Isabel is smiling for she would have found you extremely simpatico.”  Simpatico means likeable and easy to get along with.  WHO COULD ARGUE WITH THAT?!!!!

Anyway, life continues to amaze me and the journey would be impossible without MUCHOS ABRAZOS FUERTE.  As a side note, I should add that the Tamburini family are known to be extremely strong huggers – so much so that my sisters, as Aunts, have had to caution my son Mario before hugging, “Not too hard, Mario!”.  I am the proud Mother of 2 very strong huggers – they will do well in life.

The infamous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo published in Time Magazine from “V-J Day in Times Square 1945” really, for me, visually depicts the spirit of what I hope to achieve in everything I do with everyone I encounter in 2016.  In life, one must march onward and celebrate moments with laughter and abrazos fuerte or else what the hell is the point?

Happy New Year, friends!  May 2016 bring each of you your own special moments of warm embraces that melt away life’s jagged edges.

Love always,

Joanie, the Big Cheese on Cheeky Street

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If This Is What 49 Feels Like I Can’t Wait For What’s Next!

first xmas 1 I came into this world the youngest of 7 children and have been loved more than the average bear.  To say that I feel fortunate and blessed would not be adequate.  And as my “days increase,” I am evermore keenly aware of the Gift living is. joan yard My family gave me lots of freedom to play long hours out in the fresh air of Southern Missouri and to be myself.  The early years shaped me – I felt secure, happy, loved and cherished.  For those in this world born with less who have nonetheless managed to live full, happy lives, I feel empathy and awe.

I did nothing to deserve all the goodness in my life – it was just gently placed before me and continues to unfold like a beautiful tapestry.

At 49, here is a short list of the things I have learned and the wondrous joys that captivate me:

  • Don’t ever refuse help of any kind when it is offered – you will find an open heart can swell with love, joy and abundance that affects everyone around you in a positive way – say “Yes!” and “Thanks!” often and mean it;
  • Bring all of yourself wherever you go – holding back will only limit the joy you feel and overshadow the illumination of the experience;
  • Admit when you feel frightened – it won’t diminish anything, only brighten the path before you;
  • Listen to children because they know what’s best – God gives us about 9 years of complete innocence in this life for a reason – it is to show others how to live courageously;
  • Accept change and move forward as soon as you can – so many wonderful experiences and people await for you in your future, don’t put them off by feeling regrets, guilt or sadness over what is in the past.

I am grateful for friends and laughter; Homemade cinnamon rolls or anything freshly picked from one’s garden and friends that will bake them and drop them off at my doorstep; The infinite possibility of sunrises and sunsets, especially over the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas – though I never thought the day would come I would admit this; The tiny hands of children placed with complete trust in my own hands – proof that we are all worthy of love and affection. Today is my 49th birthday – I thank God for all the goodness in my life and look forward to continuing the journey. Flint-hills-Kansas-State-US-650x364

An Apple Crisp for Suri

Kitchen-Parade-2009-Apple-Crisp-400-776195 Last year, I decided to do several things to “educate” myself in hopes it might lead me to my next “thing” in life.  I enrolled in Community College – but it didn’t take long for me to realize what a dumb idea that was.  I’d been away from the rigors of school too long.  THAT’S the “big lesson” I learned from that.  But earlier in the year I committed to volunteering a few days each month at a local Food Pantry.  Starting to get the sense that this is where my “big learning” took place? For months, I was too shy to work directly with the visitors to the pantry – I would smile and greet them while packing away food items in the back.  It took a lot of courage for me to be ready to face them one-on-one and feel that I could answer questions with confidence and sufficient cheer.  You see, I am a bit of a crybaby!  When I see suffering, sometimes I cry.  And I certainly did not want to repeat that horrific scene from 25 years ago when I broke down in tears in front of a Cancer Survivors group as their guest speaker!  I was not expecting their faces to be so young – I panicked and suddenly the room closed in on me and I got hot and then the tears started rolling down my cheeks in spite of my wish to appear “professional.”  It happens.  Vulnerability.  Compassion.  It catches us by surprise throughout life.  Well, it was never going to catch me by surprise again.  So I remained in the back of the Food Pantry dutifully stuffing bags for people to take home. Until the day Margaret told me she needed me at the front counter.  She was too busy to do her ordinary job at the Pantry that day and I had been there more than long enough to be able to check id’s and cross off names.  I heaved a big sigh and headed over towards the counter.  I tried not to let Margaret see the enormous panic I was feeling as the line outside the door began to grow.  One by one, our visitors politely stepped inside our Food Pantry and graciously accepted whatever we had to offer that morning.

Things were going really well.  Until the thing that caught me off guard happened.  Until the opposite of my “image” of what a Food Pantry patron ought to look like stepped up to my counter.

He was in is early 40’s, very physically capable looking and quite handsome.  And his smile and cheerful attitude would have made you think he was shopping somewhere really special.  I realized I had a few misguided preconceptions about pride before this moment, too.  As naturally as if we were longtime friends, he initiated the conversation, “Oh, my goodness!   You have fresh apples today!  I have already picked up my oats and my flour.  Is that butter I see behind the apples, also,” he pointed toward the back of the table I was managing but that thing was starting to happen to me when I am caught off guard by big emotions – I could not see anything around me and I was getting hot!!!!  Margaret noticed right away I was not myself and, fearing I might be afraid of this man, she answered very nonchalantly, “Yes, we have lots of free butter for you today!”.  That helped, I had a moment to take a breath.  The man smiled an even bigger grin and let out a robust laugh then said, “Suri is going to be so happy when she gets home from school today!”. Before I could ask, he started to tell me, “Suri’s my girl – it’s just the two of us.  She’s five and she loves school.  And more than that, she LOVES a fresh apple crisp!.”  I began placing fresh apples and butter in a bag for the gentleman and my thoughts immediately went to my own children when I heard his words.  I love baking for my kids, too – and I especially love surprising them with their favorite treats after a long day at school.  We’re not so awfully different, then, from our Food Pantry patrons, are we?

After Suri’s Dad was long gone and we were preparing to close the Pantry for the weekend, I noticed a slip of paper that someone had dropped in the hallway.  When I looked at it, I recognized Suri’s Dad’s name and the date was the same day.  Before coming to the Food Pantry, Suri’s Dad did something I’ll bet he hated – so he’d have weekend cash for his little girl.  He had been to a Pawn Shop and left some dvd’s – and in exchange, he was paid $10.00 plus 423% interest due when he retrieved his belongings!  But precious Suri would have her apple crisp and her Dad will have provided for his child – and experienced the joy we all do as parents when we are able to give our children special treats.  He just had to pay a much bigger price than most of us to do it. This lesson is sticking with me.  It makes me profoundly humble for all the abundance in my life.  It makes me appreciate that unique feeling that not all parents can enjoy all the time – of being able to provide for my children. For to give really is much better than to receive!!!