That's What It's All About!
What IS life about? “All of the above” might be an appropriate answer if life was a simple multiple choice question. Throw in a good dose of personal expression, and some sort of acknowledgment of and/or reconciliation with your Maker, and our days are mighty full! But are they FULL-filling? Ahhh, as Shakespeare quotes in Hamlet, “…There is the rub”.
A pastor I knew decades ago loved baseball, and he once likened life to a game of it . ‘The game lasts for hours’, he said, ‘but the amount of time the ball is actually in play is pretty darn short’. It was a good analogy. I had gone to him seeking some elusive answers as a disillusioned and questioning twenty-something, and even though I’m not personally a sports-minded person, it made me think about how much “my game” was really “in play” in all the important ways.
I’m in a good place right now in my life. I’m healthy, active and in good shape. I am married to a good man who has provided well for his family. I have a business I love, and even though we’re struggling as much as the next guy in this economy, I love what I do and we’re hanging in there. I am prouder than button-poppin’ punch over all my kids and their spouses. I have several deep and meaningful lifelong female friendships; and I’ve learned to say “no” when appropriate, carving out, instead, sacred personal spaces within which I can be myself, create my art and write my heart out.
But in essence, it isn’t about the “what we do” in life that is most important, it’s about 1) who we share our time and ourselves with; 2) how we do it; and 3) our personal reconciliation with our Creator and understanding our unique relationship to everything in this wonderful, confusing, awesome and sometimes insanely tumultuous world.
I had the wonderful opportunity to experience The Big “What-It’s-All-About” last week, for the occasion of my mother’s 85th birthday. My sister and I have been planning it for about a year and a half, and I can’t believe it has so quickly come and gone! However, the memories of this event will be with us all forever.
Back about a decade ago when my husband and I were writing out our ‘Pros and Cons’ list about uprooting our HudsonValley-based family for a New England mountain adventure in Innkeeping, the list was pretty top-heavy on the “Pro” side. The biggest negatives for my husband, myself and our children were being so far away from our parents (and grandparents) in their golden years. This has continued being the hardest thing to adjust to, but interestingly, I see my mom more now than I ever did when we lived a stone’s throw away! For many years she would come up for long stretches in the summertime, until she got too busy with all her committees and newsletters and the wonderful work she does for retired teachers and education in New York State. The 7-hours trip is longer than I like her to make alone, although she would (and could) do it in a heartbeat and think nothing of it. But now I go down to visit her for about 10 days each spring and fall, and we talk on the phone and email every single day, and occasionally someone will drive her up here in between. And that’s what happened for the Milestone Birthday, which was an opportunity to honor and show our love and appreciation to my mother … and all get together to have one big family fun time.
Our ‘reunion’ of sorts was not really a full blown family reunion, as many of our clan were not able to be here. Our oldest son, Christopher, had just moved to Rochester, NY where he was working at a relatively new job, and his wonderful wife had just started her doctoral program at the University that week. Obviously, they were not able to get away. Neither was our second son, Noah, who had just started a new job in a new city as well. Several of my sister’s children and grandchildren were also unable to come, as well as my dear, sweet Aunt Ruth, whom we spoke to on the phone every day. They were all sorely missed but we all understood why it wasn’t possible for them to travel so far. But the rest of us were all here with bells on … and the interactions that took place amongst us made fun memories that will last a lifetime.
I’d love to share our cast of characters with you. First and foremost is my mother, Harriet … or “Hattie” to many of us, Grandma or “Amah” to some. She is awesome!! Years ago I was asked to write an article about her for one of the teacher’s newsletters that were paying tribute to her, and I started it out by saying “My mother is the original Super Woman”. It is so true. A graduate of Barnard College, with a Masters in Education, and a long and impressive educational resume, she is equally at home running a statewide meeting as she is publishing a newsletter, painting a house, wallpapering a room, butchering a deer, putting on a gastronomic feast for 20 or being an encouragement to her grandchildren! … ALL of which she has continued to do with great finesse even within the last 12 months!
My mother, my sister Sue and brother Don
My wonderful sister Sue drove up with her, her son Ryan and her friend Collette. Sue lives in the state of Florida, and even though we are sisters by birth, we are Friends Forever. Sue is the one I sometimes write about who has the gift of laughter, and making everybody happy just by walking in a room. Her son Ryan is a roofing contractor on the hot roofs of Florida. Ouch!
Ryan Collette in the kayak Ryan and my sister Sue
Collette splits her time between Florida, where my sister met her shortly after high school, and Amish country in Pennsylvania where her family is originally from. We have all ‘adopted’ Collette into our family and love her a lot!
My brother and his family live not far from my mom, and keep good tabs on her while my sister and I live so far away. Donny is my youngest sibling and the most awesome auto mechanic, having won Chrysler’s Mechanic of the Year more than once. He is an all-around great guy. My sister-in-law Jeanie is very ecologically minded, and an extraordinary painter, quilter, gardener and generally artistic person.
Their oldest son is Danny, a supreme outdoorsman who hunts, fishes, grows his own food and is generally self-sufficient. He is an RN and in the Air Force Reserves. His girlfriend Alyssa is a teacher, and shares all his interests.
Lori, my brother’s daughter, has MANY interests. A former teacher of Montessori, she is very much into mountain biking, running, yoga, rock climbing and nutrition and health, and is a Zumba instructor. Her boyfriend Nate is a former racer.
Danny & Alyssa Me My niece Lori
My mother’s cousin Emelie Tolley is the author of dozens of books on herbs and gardening. She is one of my kindred spirits, who lives in the state of Maine.
Last but not least is my cousin Barb, one of my best friends and my ‘adopted sister’! Barb arrived days before everyone else to help me get ready, have some one-on-one time before the crowd descended, and generally gave me a lot of moral support as I prepared for almost a week of family fun!
Danny My Mom & Cousin Emelie This is me My Cousin Barb
Of course I don’t want to leave out my husband Dana, daughter Alida and youngest son Joshua, who all helped me get ready in lots of ways. And, oh yeah ... I had a lot to do with organizing it all.
Dana, my husband Josh and my daughter Josh and me
Family reunions can be challenging, but if you are well prepared and very organized (without being too structured), it will almost always run smoothly! Almost all of the food preparation was done well in advance, so meals ran like clockwork, and no one spent too much time in the kitchen instead of having fun with the family.
The first half of our get-together took place at our inn in White Mountains of New Hampshire over Labor Day weekend. It was pretty laid back. Some went on a 3 ½ hour zip line canopy tour through the mountains and had a blast! Others went to see waterfalls or look for moose. Lori and Nate did some mountain biking, and yoga class. One night we had a wonderful dinner at our favorite restaurant across the street. Afterwards, we came home and celebrated my mom’s birthday with homemade birthday cake. We made it to look like an afghan she knitted for a charity raffle. Here it is, mimicking the photo of it, and looking like Noah’s Ark.
Although I had been praying for perfect weather for months, we actually could have used an ark for some of the NH trip. I was very disappointed with the forecast of rain, until I realized that I needed to take the advice I have written on a sign in our lobby: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass, but about learning how to dance in the rain”. How true!! We certainly got plenty of opportunities to do this, and everyone had a wonderfulk, happy time being together, regardless of the weather.
The second half of our trip took place at our cottage on the coast of Maine, where we hiked, kayaked, picnicked, went to the Botanical Gardens, and played games. We laughed so hard sometimes that we could barely breathe! We reminisced and told stories about memories from long ago. And in what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time to go our separate ways. However, we prolonged the inevitable by having lunch at LL Bean in Freeport, and then visiting our daughter’s apartment and Tea House in Portland. We basically got most of another day out of it!
And so it was that I think we all realized how precious family time can be. In the aftermath of our friend Prescott’s untimely death last year, we are hyper-aware how fragile life is and how it doesn’t come with any guarantees for any of us. Being together, sharing laughs, sorrows, some problems, playing games, taking walks together … generally being there for each other and feeling the family bonds of unconditional love … and THAT, Farmgirls, is what it’s all about!
Until next time,
Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from Cathi
The Mountain Farmgirl