One of the best things to come out of our weekly family Zoom calls has been revisiting shared memories. I grew up in a wonderful family – I was extremely fortunate to have parents who had the resources to give me and my brother what I now recognize as one of the best childhoods I could have asked for. They were strict but not TOO strict; they allowed us to stretch our wings as we grew; they gave us so many opportunities to learn, to grow, to find out who we were and what we wanted to bring to this world. Things were not handed to us – oh, no, far from it. There were many Saturday afternoons spent cleaning the bathroom / cleaning our rooms / doing other neglected chores in order to gain freedom for the evening. I honestly credit them with everything – because of that strong foundation, I am the person I am today. And I know how fortunate I was.

I’m also fortunate that we all like to spend time together. As evidenced by the weekly Zoom calls. I have always talked to my parents (on the phone, usually) at least once per week, and usually more. We’ve added family texts and daily emails to the mix, as well. To say that I am close to them – despite the physical distance – is an understatement.

Plus, the family members who have joined us (my spouse, my brother’s spouse and kids) also seem to enjoy spending time with us. That, or they tolerate us. Perhaps a bit of both.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that sometimes our family virtual get-togethers turn into rather hilarious trips down memory lane. Food. Vacations. Fights. Adolescent missteps that will never, ever be forgotten. (One of mine was, believe it or not, mispronouncing “adolescence”…. they have never let me live it down, despite my protestations that I was young and had read the word but had never heard it spoken.)

The food memories have been particularly hilarious lately. Oh, the things we ate. My mother is a fabulous cook, but, well, kids eat what kids eat. We ate Cheez Whiz “nachos” with tortilla chips. There was the summer I lived on vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup (and left the sticky bowls in my brother’s room, where the Nintendo that we were addicted to lived). The fish that my mother served for years – orange roughy – that we all detested and she insisted on cooking every week. The special requests (chili without beans, please!). The special meals, like the fried egg my mother made for my breakfast on the first day of fifth grade. Why do I remember that? I have no idea, but it stands out vividly in my mind. Sandwiches, fruit, and cookies for high school lunches. And finally, finally, moving into more, well, grown-up and modern foods… finding out that (except for my father) the family that eats sushi stays together. Homemade crab cakes on Christmas Eve. My mother’s epic chocolate birthday cake. Peach kuchen for my birthday (I’m the one non-cake person…). The pies and brownies served at my wedding (told you I’m not a cake person).

So many family meals, consumed with joy. So many memories.

For this one, turning to an odd source…

Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them. ~Bob Dylan

Answering the questions

There are years that ask questions and years that answer

~ Zora Neale Hurston

An old favorite. Yet so appropriate for what is still the beginning of 2021. 2020, for me, was a year that asked a lot of questions. Obviously, there was the pandemic, and all of the questions raised by that. But I also questioned relationships, my work, my ability to do my work, whether I’ve made the ‘right’ choices in life, and so on.

Even though it is only a month and a half old, 2021 seems like it might be a year that, for me, answers some of the questions. There are a lot of things happening in my life (sorry to be vague, but well, that’s pretty much all I can say) that are going to help me with direction in my personal life, my professional life, how I show up to the world…

I’m looking forward to it. As much as I love asking questions – it is, after all, what I do in my everyday life – sometimes, it’s really nice to get some answers. I’ve found that you can’t rush the process. As much as I would have liked to get some of these answers last year, it wasn’t the right time. Now, apparently, it is.

I’m not going to lie, though – it’s a bit nerve-racking (side note: huh, I always thought it was “nerveWracking” but according to the Interwebs, that’s a less-accepted variant spelling… you learn something every day!) to know that I’ll get some answers to questions that have persisted for, well, over a year now. But I do better with certainty than uncertainty, so I’m just trying to remember that no matter what the answers are, things will be okay.

I hope that 2021, for you, is whatever you need it to be – a year that asks questions, or one that answers a few for you.

A quick reminder

I’m a better person when I take time for myself. When I show up here, when I write and share my thoughts. When I get all the … well, “stuff”, out of my head and onto a screen.

When I jump right into doing-doing-doing? That’s when I know that I am not the best version of myself. That I’m not bringing what I want to bring to my work, my interactions with others, my life…

And yet, the past week+, I’ve felt compelled to DO, not BE.

Last night, I reminded myself that I chose focus as my word of the year. That my intention is to be focused on being the best version of myself, on making sure that I am bringing good into the world. Although it’s only February, I think I lost sight of that a bit already.

So today, I’m taking the time to remind myself to focus. To be. To take the time. No one is going to die if I get to work 20 minutes later than I did yesterday…. rather, it’s more likely that things will be better than they’ve been the last few days. Feeling frantic, panicked, and always, always, out of time? That’s not the best version of me.

Time to REfocus. Already. Yikes. Let’s hope I get better at this, or my year of focus is going to be a long one…

Focus quotes “Focus more on your desire than on your doubt, and the dream will take care of itself.” – Mark Twain

Aiming for focus… and getting to frazzled, instead

I was hoping to write about my word of the year – focus – and my, well, concept of the year – finding my true north – at the end of January and beginning of February.

And instead I felt like I got on a treadmill and someone turned the speed up to 10. Let’s just say that things got a bit crazy the last few weeks, with the run up to the semester starting, then the actual first week of the semester last week. It’s made me more frazzled than I like to admit. It seems a bit more out of control this year, probably because I also (stupidly) scheduled my review for the beginning of the semester. Nothing like adding a bunch of updates and document preparation to my list…

But everything seems to be calming down a bit now, and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that we’ve made it to February, even though it’s shaping up to be another hard year. As much as I had hoped for some semblance of “normal” by summer and fall, these new variants are really worrisome. I can only hope that the new administration – and its emphasis on science – is able to respond nimbly and quickly. I know we’ll get through it – we have so far, right? – but it’s going to take longer than anticipated.

It’s times like these – when my brain feels like it’s on a hamster wheel of thinking-thinking-thinking all the time – that I remember how much MORE important it is to focus and center myself. So I’m focusing on what I can – the amaryllis that a friend sent me that not only lived (woo hoo!) but also bloomed. The beauty of a fresh new snow. The full moon the other night, veiled by clouds. Random music that I sing along with in the morning. New tea flavors. A really good soup that I made yesterday. My students, always. Knowing that my parents got one dose of a vaccine and are scheduled for their second. Friendships that are growing stronger, somehow, despite distance. And new poetry and essays.

I hope that you are surviving and thriving in this winter time. I’m looking forward to another good class today and – hopefully – some sunshine. And I’m reminded of my mother’s favorite quote – an oldie but a goodie…

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson