Making up for lost time

My family received long-awaited news this afternoon: after months of prodding, my aging grandparents have finally decided to move to Montana. My grandfather is suffering from Alzheimer’s and my grandmother is nearly blind–not a good combination. So my initial reaction upon hearing the news was relief and a sense of victory. What can I say? I can turn anything into a competition, even the town in which my grandparents live.

And then I realized that their move here would bring more than just peace of mind knowing they were being cared for. It would also result in three generations of my family living in the same town, something that hasn’t happened in precisely two decades.

We moved to Idaho from Arizona when I was seven years old. My dad’s parents spent every summer with us in Idaho, so I’ve remained very close to them. I know all their stories about growing up, and could always count on my Nana to make me a coconut cream pie whenever I had a craving. My mom’s parents rarely came to visit, on the other hand. Not because they didn’t want to, they just weren’t in the same financial situation that allowed my paternal grandparents to travel so much. So we would see them once a year when we made the drive or flight to southern Arizona for spring break. Over the years, and as I grew up, I visited less and less frequently. A long weekend every two years or so. 

But in just a few short weeks, all that will change. I’ll get the opportunity to make up for lost time with them. I can’t wait to sit down with my grandmother and hear how she and her sisters would sneak out to go dancing. I can’t wait to hear my grandfather’s stories about being in WWII. 

I’m grateful for the chance to know my own history a little better, and grateful that I’ll get to make up for lost time.

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Need time to breathe? Syrup can help with that.

My dad is in the kitchen, mixing and measuring, pouring batter onto the waffle iron. I’m eight years old, and my feet swing from  my chair at the kitchen table. I giggle as I read the Sunday comics and read some out loud to him. He laughs along with me, not because they’re particularly funny, but because he wants to take part in my happiness. Meanwhile, the timer dings and he places a waffle on a warm plate in front of me.

“There’s maple syrup in the microwave too,” he says. “Want some?”

I nod, and he brings it over, carefully drizzling it over the waffle. One by one, my mother and brother make their way into the kitchen and the four of us eat our waffles in shifts as the timer dings and a hot breakfast is put on a plate. This is our family routine every Sunday: my dad makes waffles, we all laze about for a while, then rush to get ready for church. Even as a child I wanted to hold onto that hour or so when everyone took the time to breathe deeply and laugh at comics that weren’t really all that funny.

Sunday morning waffles. That’s my source of gratitude today. Even though I haven’t lived with my parents in nearly a decade, I still get to have my Sunday morning waffles. Before he left for the Peace Corps, my brother gave us the offspring of his sourdough starter, and now, every Sunday, my husband and I sit down to sourdough Belgian waffles while we read the comics and listen to the radio. It’s our time to breathe deeply and laugh at things that might not be funny to anyone else. It’s our time to just be with each other, happy in the moment.

And it’s a tradition we’ll keep up when we do start our own family some day. That way, when our children are adults, they can have that comfort food that takes them back to a time when their feet swung from chairs. It will be a good reminder to breathe deeply.

“Us” vs. “You and I”: Coming together around the dinner table

I’ve read a lot of articles lately (most recently this one on NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/02/26/172897660/family-dinner-treasured-tradition-or-bygone-ideal) that explore the benefits and challenges of family dinners. Working parents feel pressured to whip up a fantastic, healthy dinner for their brood, while ensuring their kids are still excelling academically and in about five different extracurricular areas. That certainly sounds exhausting, and it’s understandable that family dinners are falling by the wayside.

What I’m grateful for today are the family dinners I did enjoy as a kid. My family made a point to have dinner together every night when I was growing up. Of course, once or twice a week I would have basketball practice, or my parents would have a date night and we would eat in shifts. Overwhelmingly, however, our dinners were spent together, and I’m pretty grateful for that. Research is starting to show that the one-on-one time parents spend with their children reading, playing games or walking the dog can be just as beneficial for the parent-child relationship as eating dinner together. I don’t dispute that; what I do dispute is how getting rid of family dinners affects the entire family’s relationships, not just the relationships between parents and children.

My brother and I were like most siblings growing up, meaning we did nothing but fight. My parents refereed us as best they could, but it was not an easy job. There were only two instances in which he and I would get along: at the dinner table and on road trips. In each case, there was something about coming together as a family, as a single unit, that encouraged a friendship between us.

The point of this blog is not to judge other families’ traditions and practices. There is no doubt in my mind that families can be happy and healthy without eating every meal together. But to put it in simple terms, I’m grateful my family did make that time to sit down together, and I’m grateful my husband and I make a point to sit down together for dinner every night, regardless of hectic work schedules. It reminds me that we are more than just him and me, that we are an ‘us.’

What about your family? What family rituals or traditions are you grateful to be a part of?

In with the in-laws

Last Friday, I went out with two of my girlfriends to a local wine bar. We imbibed a few cocktails and took turns sharing humiliating stories about ex-boyfriends. It was your standard girls’ night out, but with one caveat: these women were my sisters-in-law, not just my girlfriends.

I grew up with one sibling, a younger brother, and had always thought it would be nice to have another girl in the family. Well now, thanks to my husband’s traditionally gigantic Catholic family, I have four sisters, three of whom I would definitely be friends with even if I hadn’t married their brother. We workout together, shop together, make dinners together and get everyone gathered for Apples to Apples tournaments. I finally have sisters, and I love it.

The following night after the girls’ night out, my husband’s parents treated the two of us to a dinner with them. That’s right, I’m using “treated” in a completely non-sarcastic, non-ironic sense of the word. It really was a treat to sit down with the two of them and hear about the construction project my father-in-law is managing and the trip to Israel my mother-in-law took a few years ago.

I know that many people have difficult relationships with their in-laws, so I’m extremely grateful for the enjoyable one I have with mine. I’m grateful not just because it makes my life easier (we all live in the same time, so it could be rather hellish if things were tense between us), but because it gives me insight into my husband as well. He is not one to offer up his feelings or past experience without plenty of prodding. When I listen to his siblings or parents tell stories about him growing up, a few more pieces fall into place.

Gratitude for family who are friends. That’s what I’m feeling today.

Let’s explore diabetes with owls

For those of you who are David Sedaris fans, I hope the title of this post got a bit of a chuckle out of you. For everyone else, I apologize for what probably seems like an incredibly bizarre sense of humor. But on to the diabetes part.

On occasion, I am really, truly grateful for the challenges in my life and for the ways they have shaped me. I’m not going to sit here and claim that I overcame utter poverty, a childhood as an orphan, or really any other debilitating event. I have, however, successfully lived with Type 1 diabetes for 16 years. At age 11, after months of feeling sick and rapidly losing weight, I was admitted to the local hospital to receive some medication and a lot of education. Since then, I’ve lived an incredibly full life of travel, parties, outdoor pursuits and so many other things diabetics historically were not supposed to enjoy on the same level as non-diabetics (I think we’ll call them Muggles, just for fun).

But those are the things I’m grateful for having in spite of having diabetes, not because I have diabetes. This disease has also given me so many amazing friendships I would not otherwise have. Every summer, I would go to a camp for kids with diabetes. It was the one and only time in those difficult teen years that I did actually let myself be myself. Though popular in school, I chose to hang out with the dorkier, goofy group at camp because they were so damn fun and carefree. I’ve lost touch with many of them over the years, but there are some great memories that come surging back every time an Avril Lavigne song comes on the radio. Which is not often, I’ll grant you that.

Then there are days like today when diabetes gives me a chance to give back. I was put in touch via the grapevine with a young family whose nine-year old daughter was struggling with her diabetes. When I drove out to their house today and met the family face-to-face, I realized it wasn’t the daughter who was having trouble as much as it was the parents. Not that I could blame them–it would be terrifying to let your child live a normal life when she also had to remember to test her blood sugar, bolus for any carbs she ate, watch out for lows. I spent well over an hour just chatting with the family, letting the parents pepper me with questions and doing my best to answer them. Do you wake up when your blood sugar goes low? What are some good recipes that won’t make her sugar spike? How can we keep her from drinking alcohol when she’s a teenager?

I’m pretty sure every parent wants the answer to that last question, but unfortunately I don’t have it. I certainly drank plenty in high school and college. As I was gathering my coat and purse to leave, the mother jumped up, ran out the door and came back with two dozen eggs.

“These are from our chicken coop! I don’t really have anything else to say thank you with, but please take these at least.”

I grinned and gave her a hug. If nothing else, diabetes has helped me earn 24 farm fresh eggs, and I’d say that’s something to be grateful for.

And you? How have your own challenges influenced your life? Please share any difficulty that ended up becoming a blessing in disguise.

Just the two of us

Today, I’m grateful for not having something in my life: children.

Okay, wait, hear me out. I love kids. Really, I do. Despite the fact that I have a career, I still babysit on the weekends just because I have so much fun playing ninjas and tag. On top of that, I mentor a middle schooler every week. Someday in the not-too-distant-future, I’d love to have a couple kids of my own. Just not right now.

Right now, I’d rather soak in that special brand of marital bliss that only comes (or so I’ve been told) in the first year of a marriage. The newlywed glow and all that. Last night when my husband got home from work late, the two of us uncorked a bottle of wine, heated up some leftovers and plopped ourselves firmly on the couch to catch up on each other’s days and on the latest episode of New Girl. We didn’t worry about anyone but each other for the next three hours before we turned out the lights. Instead, we talked, laughed, and yes, even flirted a bit. I know romance doesn’t end when you have children, but right now it’s nice to focus solely on the romance and communication in our relationship. I know it will make us that much stronger when we do take the plunge into parenthood.

So my gratitude reminder for today is this: At whatever point you are in your life, it is absolutely worth celebrating. While you may not have it all right here, right now, it’s on its way. So sit back and soak up today. And maybe flirt with your spouse while you’re at it.

What future goal are you happy to not have attained yet? Owning a house? Finishing a degree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.