Spring Blessings

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Spring is my favorite season. I am so happy when the days are get longer and warmer but the nights are still cool. I love seeing the daffodils, tulips, forsythia, azaleas, rhododendron, and all the other spring flowers blooming and slowing adding color to the grey and dreary days of late winter. The green grass and trees seem so fresh and even though my head aches from all the pollen, I feel recharged and energized, much like waking up after a good night’s sleep.

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The past few weeks, our entire family has been spending more time outside. We walk or scooter to the morning bus stop, the kids ride their bikes or play outside after school and the dog is getting walked more each week then he did the entire winter. We went camping two weekends ago overnight and last weekend we spent an hour or so helping clean up around the Sligo Creek trail. I smiled when I heard my four year old say, “Hairy vine, no friend of mine,” as he pointed to a particularly thick strand of poison ivy running up a tree. He had heard that phrase a couple weeks before at his good friend’s birthday party at the Audubon Nature Center in Chevy Chase.

Three weeks ago, I enjoyed for the first time this year one of my greatest spring pleasures. I rode my bike outside. I feel the sun on my face and the breeze as I went up and down hills. I only biked for about an hour that day and barely made ten miles, but it was great. I biked to my kids’ school and surprised them by pulling them out of their classes to go to the school book fair. The following week, I biked to Whole Foods to pick up a few groceries and then back to my starting point. Today, I had planned to stay home and catch up on cleaning, but when my neighborhood carpool fell through, I had to go out anyway so the bonus was another bike ride.

Today, I biked farther than I have previously and I can feel my body getting stronger and faster. I am getting more familiar with the bumps and hills on the trail and my muscle memory is kicking in. I am not nearly as fast or as nimble on my bike as I was when I used it to commute regularly in Philadelphia or when I worked part-time as a bike courier, but I love using my legs to pump up and down and actually take me somewhere instead of just spinning on the trainer. The trainer serves its purpose and has prepared me for these for now short jaunts outside. I am looking forward to longer rides and rides with my family and friends.

There were many people on the trail today, running, walking, biking, jogging and just enjoying the beautiful day. It is on days like this, that I feel lucky and blessed to be able to use my body and to be outside and enjoy the sun and soak up much needed vitamin D. Today was my day off from my squat challenge but I felt good stretching the muscles that I have been working so hard lately. If you are on Facebook, check out https://www.facebook.com/Samantha.Gibson.Fitness?fref=ts, for her 30 day squat challenge and general health and fitness tips. I am working on changing my life one habit at a time and working toward a stronger healthier body. After my bike ride, I even came home to take the dog on a short hike in the woods.

This outdoor exercise not only works my body, but it also feeds my soul and makes me a better wife and mother because I am happier and healthier.IMG_20130424_102944_950

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Life’s Distractions

I know that I haven’t written anything for several days now, because I have been distracted. The things that have distracted me this past week are pretty big and worrisome and I know most of us have been thinking about all the tragedies and loss of life that have happened since the bombing in Boston, the explosion in Texas and the earthquake in China. My thoughts and prayers are going out to all the survivors and families affected in each of these.

The events of the past week are big, but it is easy for me to become distracted. I am going full force on a project, then bam, I get a phone call or one of my kids needs my attention or it’s time to change the laundry and my first task goes uncompleted. Actually it doesn’t really take that much to distract me and I lose focus. I have been sidetracked at least half a dozen times already in this first paragraph.

I suspect losing focus happens to most of us. This disruption becomes scary or even dangerous when we are doing something that affects other people’s lives. It can be as complicated as flying an airplane or as simple as crossing a street, but if we allow ourselves to be preoccupied then our actions affect others. One of the biggest distractions I see today is electronic devices of all types but mostly cell phones. I see people walking around talking on their cell phones and they have no idea that they dropped something, someone is trying to get around them in the grocery store or the clerk is trying to speak to them. It’s even worse when you see those people in traffic talking or texting away completely oblivious to what their main focus should be. I have seen people driving cars, riding bikes, driving buses, walking, pushing baby strollers, running, etc. and are at any given moment seconds away from causing an accident or being in one simply because they aren’t paying attention.

Before cell phones were popular, I used to see people combing their hair, applying makeup, brushing their teeth, reading, doing crossword puzzles all while attempting to drive a car at the same time! I understand that we live in a fast paced society and there is a lot to be done. I don’t know any mother who hasn’t mastered the art of multi-tasking. We have to keep up with the demands of our families and society or we feel like failures. We are forced to schedule doctor’s appointments while waiting in line to pick up our children from school. It’s a shame that we can’t slow down more and enjoy each moment. I also realize that driving can be boring especially while waiting in traffic, but if we all put away the distractions and focused on driving, perhaps there would be less accidents that happen or almost happen and we would get where we need to go in a timelier manner.

I try to ask myself, what is the worst thing that will happen if I don’t answer that email or text immediately or if I am a few minutes late to any given appointment? I blow up the scenario until the outcome is almost comical and I realize that it is better to avoid the interference and drive carefully and arrive alive if I am driving.

I wish that more people, including me more often, would take a moment to figure out what is really important and focus on one thing at a time. That doesn’t mean you can’t throw in a load of laundry while you are cooking dinner, but if one task is something that can be life threatening, please give it your full attention.

Check your pulse

All too often, we get caught up in life and forget to be grateful for our blessings. Some people are better at this than others. They feel blessed for their morning coffee to their cozy bed and everything in between. There are others who feel life has dealt them a cruel blow and their coffee is too weak or too cold and their bed is too hard, well you get the picture. The other day a friend posted one of those cartoon-like pictures on Facebook that I felt compelled to re-post  The saying was, “Don’t have anything to be grateful for? Check your pulse!”

I was compelled to re-post because I believe it is so true and in the last few years, I am realizing more and more what a precious gift life really is. After two miscarriages, I was fortunate enough to go on and have three healthy boys. I have watched my neighbor and several family members struggle with cancer. Some have beat the battle and some have not. I have also watched family and friends struggle with the deaths of those close to them. Some due to the aforementioned cancer, old age, but others were completely shocking. Each of the survivors would be grateful for another day with their loved one.

Over a year ago, one men escaped death and his family and friends celebrate each and every day that he has had since. Last fall, my family and I met Travis Mills. He is the young man who escaped death. He was serving in Afghanistan with the military when he set his bag down on what was unfortunately a IED. Travis became the fourth of 5 quadruple amputees in the war and has every reason to be bitter and ungrateful, yet on April 10, he celebrated his Alive Day.

We met because my oldest two sons were selling popcorn with their dad in front of a grocery store in Rockville. My youngest son and I happened to stop by to get a few groceries and to visit the boys, when the other boys were talking to Travis. The older boys had asked Travis to buy popcorn and he was trying to get money out of his wallet using his claw hand. He asked my seven year old for help. The boys were a little nervous and uncomfortable at first, but they also thought it was kind of cool because they are fans of Star Wars and in real life they got to see someone with artificial limbs that were functional.

Travis was amazing and so patient with the boys. He told them what had happened to him and showed them how his arms worked. That day he was in a wheel chair without his prosthetic legs because they weren’t feeling good. He had gotten a new pair and had worked out really hard the previous day. Travis was with his father in law, but was clearly independent. He was grateful for his service and he did not regret being there even though he lost all his limbs. He was also grateful for his life and  his family especially his young daughter.

I am grateful my family and I got the chance to meet Travis. We have talked about how inspiring he is and how he has had to overcome many obstacles to resume his life. Even though we have not met again, my family and  I are following Travis and his journey on his Facebook page. I invite you to follow his journey as well. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-for-Travis-Mills-and-family/525105887541986

In addition, I challenge you all to start keeping track of the things you are grateful for. When the days are dark, it is helpful to see how many blessings you really have. Not everyone is an optimist and can see the glass half full, but each of us has something (probably many things) that are blessings in their life. Go out today and be sure to count your blessings. When you do, you will be surprised at how many more come your way.

Book Club

The past few days have been very busy. Part of the reason for that is because I hosted my book club yesterday afternoon and attended by son’s book club on Friday night.

My book club consists mostly of women that I met over ten years ago during graduate school at the University of Maryland when we were all in the Library Science program. Currently there are nine regular members in the group and all but one of us attended grad school at UMCP. Since the book club began, members have come and gone as circumstances and lives have changed. We have one former member who has moved to Alaska and she often reads the same book and even gives us book suggestions. She has yet to be able to Skype in for a meeting but would like to some day. I was not one of the original members and after the birth of my second child my attendance to book club was sporadic. After the third child, I decided I needed this group more than ever, so until he could crawl, Henry attended book club with me regularly. One of his earliest foods was a delicious Moroccan chicken that my friend’s husband made for book club. I now make that dish regularly at home and we all love it. When he was big enough, Henry stayed home for boys’ nights too. When it’s my turn to host, their boys’ nights go outside the house.

The ages of our members ranges from 30 something to 60 something. There are married women with young children and adult children, divorced women with young children and adult children and grandmothers. It is a wonderful dynamic and I look forward each month to meeting with this great group. I don’t care too much what book we are reading but I love getting together and discussing our families and our lives. These friends have watched my boys grow from babies to little boys to bigger boys. I have watched and marked their milestones with them as well.

Each time we meet we eat delicious food and drink wine and talk a little bit about the book and a lot about our lives. Our book club is not overly structured and sometimes the book barley gets discussed. Other times we get into animated discussions. Finishing each book is optional although with a group full of librarians the choices are amazing, so we usually do finish unless life gets in the way. At the end of the meeting, we consult our calendars and throw out suggestions for the next book. Both the date and the book are chosen by consensus. We don’t keep a formal record of who hosted last, but we all know generally and offer to host when the time works for us and when we believe it is our turn. The book club spans three states, not counting Alaska so we carpool when we have longer drives. We go to Delaware and Virginia once or twice a year and the rest of the time we stay in Maryland.

My son’s book club is run very similarly as mine, but is much more local. It was started last year when he was in second grade and was just becoming a strong reader. The women who put the group together had an older daughter who had been in a book club since she was in 2nd grade as well. We started out with six second grade boys and when the founder moved out of state, we decided to keep the group at five. Each boy has at least one friend they would like to include but with five boys, five mothers and five regular siblings, any extra would be a bit much. The boy who moved to Washington state had Skyped in and often reads the same book.

The boys choose their books a little differently because we do try to keep track of whose turn it is to host and when it is their turn, they get to choose the book. We still gather, eat delicious food, drink some wine, juice or soda and spend some time discussing the book. Usually the host and his mother come up with questions or a project because eight and nine year old boys need a little more structure for book discussions than adult women.

In both cases, my son and I have learned to appreciate books that we might not have otherwise picked up. We read classics, typical book club books, popular fiction and nonfiction and in the boys’ case they have even read a comic or two and one dual language book since they are all speak and read Spanish.

If you like to read, I highly recommend a book club. It is social and stretches your mind at the same time. Some of my favorite books have been ones that I never wanted to read, but did just because of book club. In a future posting, I will try to list books that both clubs have read.

Blogging

Just over five weeks ago, I started writing my blog. Since then, almost 1000 visitors have read what I have written. It is so amazing to me that people want to read what I have to say. For many years I have been keeping a journal. My journal is deeply personal. I write about what happens in my every day life, my thoughts, my feelings, my joys, my hurts and sometimes I write about strangers. I see people on the subway, at the grocery store, in cars next to me and I imagine what their story is. I describe with written words, what they look like, what they are wearing and how they act. Then, I imagine why they act or look the way they do.

My blog is similar to my journal but different. The blog is still pretty personal. I write about what is on my mind and what I see in my every day life. I still write about my family and my friends and strangers I see in public, but don’t lay my feelings as bare in the blog as I do in my journal, though. Don’t get me wrong, I am nervous every time, I hit that publish button. I am scared every time Facebook and Twitter publish the link to my new writing. My breath no longer gets caught in my throat when I watch my husband read what I have written. I do care what he thinks, mostly because I want him to be proud of me.

Blogs are a lot like Christmas letters. Some people love them and some people hate them. I love Christmas letters because I like reading about what is happening in my friends’ and families’ lives. I know that some people hate them because they think people are just bragging about their lives and their perfect children. Well, my children aren’t perfect, but I am happy with my life. I try to make the best out of what I am given and strive to make things better. Writing this blog is making things better for me. I have always wanted to write. I am writing and people are reading what I write. I want to thank you all for encouraging me and motivating me to push myself each time I write and publish.

Look at me
Don’t look at me
I’m important
I’m nobody
Confusion
Confidence
Flip sides
The same coin
One person
Two identities
What you see
What I want you to see
I need you
I don’t need anybody