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I have a lot of Christmases under my belt.

There were those when I was a kid and followed my mom’s tree-decorating dictates demanding tinsel was to be strung one … strand … at …a … time, then collected in the same fashion when the holiday finished, put away carefully, then stored for the next year. (I swear she was still using some 1958 tinsel in 2010!)

The years my first batch of children were little were at times fraught, but we always had a tree with gifts under it and Santa always did his midnight visit. We’d open gifts and such, then go to Grandma’s house for the feast that never varied. (Okay, once it varied; mom made orange jello-mold salad with carrots instead of green jello-mold salad with the alternating pineapple slice/cherry pattern we’d grown up with. She never heard the end of it … nor did she ever again try that sketchy menu change.)

When those kids were older, money was less an issue and the house was much bigger, so the tree was a sixteen-footer and decked to the halls. Gifts were more lavish and home was the gathering place for relatives from near and far. My brothers played basketball in my living room, the turkey was huge and the table could sit 25.

One Christmas found me in Australia with a family that wasn’t mine, but was still family and lovely. It was my first ‘Summer Christmas’ and a pool party was a novel idea in my mind that took a bit of adjusting to, but there were laughs and fun … and the fire to roast chestnuts was a barbecue. I had my first Pavlova that year and I heartily recommend that addition to the traditional meal no matter where you are.

Christmas in England encouraged every Dickensian fantasy I’d ever had, and my daughter’s decision to spend the holiday with me over the pond made it pretty perfect. We were introduced to crackers and crowns and the weather gave us a bit more perspective on poor old Bob Cratchit’s issues with coal.

By the time the holiday rolled around in Seychelles I was accustomed to the Beach Christmas concept and surrounded by friends. Christmas gatherings were huge affairs attended by people from many countries speaking often up to 10 languages, all bringing their own flavors in food, traditions and entertainment. One year we had Shetland Island folk songs played on mandolin and fiddle by an authentic Shetland Islander, and a fabulously funny game of euphemisms … another word for the male member, the sex act, etc. … which allowed submissions from any language.

Once Sam and Cj joined the family Christmas was again about kids.The tree went up, the house draped in various sorts of holiday tat, gifts went under the tree. We’d host a party Christmas eve, then trot up to Gay’s for what had become the traditional food Bacchanal with participation of people from all over the world. The last time this happened was 2 years ago and the festivities of the Eve and the Day included folks with roots in Seychelles, England, Kenya, South Africa, the USA, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and probably a few I’m not recalling.

Last year I was back in England to celebrate with the kids in their home-from-home. To say there was a bittersweetness to it would be an understatement, but the ‘sweet’ was very and the ‘bitter’ was easily swallowed. To Cj’s disappointment, it didn’t snow, but it was cold enough to warrant extra coal on the fire. The circle of family had expanded wonderfully and embraced all.

Yes, so many Christmases under my belt.

This one, however …

For the first time in my life I am alone for Christmas. I have already watched the 1951 version (my fav) of “A Christmas Carol” AND “It’s a Wonderful Life” as tradition dictates, but must admit that big a dose of the ‘spirit’ didn’t help much.

Yeah, yeah … I know there are a load of songs on being alone for Christmas, but listening to any of them is not on my to-do list. I’m at loose ends, confounded, stuck between I-don’t-give-a-shit and bawling.

But I’m a grownup, FFS, fully aware that for millions of people this is just another day, and millions of others haven’t one-tenth-of-one-percent of what I have to be grateful and happy for.

Thanks to the age we live in, I will Skype with my kids on Christmas Day … a gift beyond measure! I can take a bottle of wine to the beach and toast the holiday, the ocean, the sky above me and the Earth beneath my feet … and be thankful. I can reflect on Christmas Past, ponder the years, remember those who are no longer reachable by technology, and I can set my focus for the positives.

And I will do all those things. But today, the day before Christmas Eve, I’m indulging in a bit of some whine in the sun. (Poor me. What a bummer. If wishes were horses I’d be elsewhere. Etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam.)

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas filled with love and food and making merry. I will raise a glass to all with love and hope and to Christmas Yet To Come!

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A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. ~William Hodding Carter

8f4e475e09b0cabef9884f079ebd24e2Sam went to Germany for the weekend. A school trip had him en route for about as long as he was en Cologne, but it seems he enjoyed the trip and, equally as important to me, is now safely back in his home in England.

It’s not easy to sit on the sidelines as my children get on with life in other parts of the world. Not at all.

My eldest, Jenn, being an adult, and a very sensible one at that, has been taking care of her own family for 20+ years, but that’s not to say I’m worry-free when it comes to her. I keep an eye on the weather in North Carolina and fret constantly over her health, her safety and her happiness as is proper, still being her mother and all. Too much sharing of my anxious thoughts, however, would be annoying for her, so I mostly keep them to myself.

Sam and Cj, being young and now far, are another story. Although completely trusting in the environment they now inhabit and the wonderful woman who cares for them in every way as I would, I still lose sleep.

They’re in a different, wider, more dangerous world now, so my worries have expanded as they ride their bikes to the park and go to big schools with kids I don’t know and take busy motorways and visit London for days out. All of those things are wonderful and broadening and educational and experiences they couldn’t have here with me on this rock. Live theater in the West End, music festivals, camping, playing in the snow … all great and all adding to their lives in ways that will serve them well.

But …

My son passing through France and Belgium while making his way, with a busload of other school kids, to Germany at this point in time scared the shit outta me.

The world our children are inheriting seems a terrifyingly dangerous place rife with automatic weapon-toting fuckwads drunk on the smell of blood, people strapping on ‘suicide belts’ with no intention of going alone, bomb makers tinkering away in neighborhoods with visions of mass mayhem filling their zealot pea brains as democracy fails through wanton avarice and the planet attempts to cope with massive interference with nature in ways that will not be kind to any of us.

So, the questions plaguing me are …

1) How can my children be prepared to be safe and secure as possible as they construct their lives in a world that seems to be going to hell in a hand basket?

And, 2) What messages can they be given that may help them find happiness and satisfaction in their lives?

If my own chaotic childhood taught me anything, it was the value of adaptability, and this does seem key over the next decades. No one could have accurately envisioned today’s world even 30 years ago with its tech advances (and reliance upon), the perpetual war-without-front and its tendency to catch people out in mundane circumstances, ever more drastic weather and global financial meltdowns.

Predicting 30 years ahead is even more of a crap shoot, a future I can’t begin to imagine. Most certainly there will be catastrophic events as human population grows, then must shrink from lack of space and resources, as sea levels rise and wipe out swathes of what is now considered habitable land and the struggle to survive is armed to the teeth and merciless.

With luck, 30 years from now Sam will be 43 and Cj 40 … in their prime.

So … what to do? How to plan?

First, they must have access to all the information they will need to make informed choices. This does not mean filling their evenings with every horror of the day via the BBC, or any other media, but answering their questions honestly and providing sources for research.

Second, assuring they are educated to the fullness of their potential and allowed to specialize in whatever ignites their passions. Knowledge is power and a solid foundation built from study provides a platform from which one can put perspective to the past and have some clues to what’s ahead.

Third, and most importantly, encourage them to grab every bit of joy they can whenever they see it and wherever they find it. Although it may not always seem so, life is a gift, and every single day, no matter how difficult or sad or tiring or tedious is full to the brim with fleeting moments, and it is the ‘fleeting’ bit that we all must be aware of. What is life if not a series of moments? (In a conversation with my brothers this morning, we chained together quite a few shared moments of our combined childhood, and it dawned on me how vital it is that my kids grab and keep as many as they can for future examination, amusement and contemplation.)

I want my children to know joy as well as they know grief, to feel bold even when fear haunts the corners, to recognize gratitude as easily as they do indebtedness, to feel love as deeply as loss. I want them to be as ready to jump for joy as they may have to be to jump out of the way, to accept challenges with as much certainty as they throw their hands up in disgust and walk away. I want them to live as fully, as involved, as engaged, as enthused as possible for as long as they can.

Just Skyped with Jenn, and then with Sam. Jenn is feeling better, able to laugh and catch me up on what’s what in her world. That makes me happy.  Sam is tired and snuffy, but very happy for the experience of three countries in 36 hours and waffles and wurst. He’s safe and sound and a bit more worldly, so I’m happy, too.

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

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What a good sleep

What a good sleep!

England in November is such a drastic change from Seychelles at any time that the point is well made that I’m not in Kansas anymore, Toto. I’ve been here for more than a month now, quite comfy since the first day on the cold, cold ground when I traded in my flip-flops for a pair of boots and pulled on the jeans, jumpers and overcoats that had been hanging in my closet for the last 13 years … the last time I faced a winter.

I will be retracing my steps along the way in blog fashion in future, but for now I’m motivated to share a bit for those who may be looking for a great place to spend Christmas while there’s still time to sort something wonderful out.

I’m in North Devon at the moment, in the lovely village of Lynton. <http://lynton-lynmouth-tourism.co.uk/>. Having last visited during a different time of year and a far different time of life, I’m happy to be back to wander the Valley of the Rocks and gaze across the Bristol Channel and wave at Wales.

No time to write much about the experience, but I do want to let people know about a fabulous opportunity for a Christmas getaway/get-together in time to actually do something about it should this be the answer you’re looking for. snooker

Sit down or a bit of telly?

Sit down for a bit of telly?

Victoria Lodge <http://www.victorialodge.co.uk/>, previously a 5-star B&B, is now a fully-kitted and beautiful semi-detached that sleeps 12 in posh comfort in the heart of Lynton and is, unbelievably, not yet booked for the holidays. I can personally attest to the luxury of the accommodation, the two gorgeous sitting rooms, the lush beds, the fab kitchen and the convenient location having stayed here before, and being back in now.

xmas table portrait

My dear friend, Jacqueline, spent a few years in Seychelles as CEO of Cable and Wireless, and since I still miss her presence there I visit her here when I can. It’s not often, but as it goes with true friends we pick up right where we left off, so it’s not just the fact that her place is fab.

Main lounge

There’s much to do and see in the area. In addition to the Exmoor ponies and goats in the Valley of the Rocks there are sites of historical interest that range from Dunster Castle <http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunster-castle/> to the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway <http://www.lynton-rail.co.uk/&gt; with its funky steam train. You can check out the lot here <http://www.victorialodge.co.uk/index.php?page=explore-exmoor>.

If you’re looking for a place to bring the whole family for Christmas … or one to fill with friends avoiding family … this is the perfect place to fill with whatever your version of holiday cheer might be, and at a very reasonable price. Kids and dog welcome.

You can book online, or give Jac a call on +44 1598 753203. Trust me … you’ll LOVE it!

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Five years. Five years? Five years!

I have nothing to say today, so will simply link to the first post I wrote after the death of my amazing son, Jaren.

There are many others here about him and me and death and grief you can find and read, should you be so disposed, by typing his name in the search box. I’m reading them all today.

Five years.

I miss him.

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SaminCam copy

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
~ Nelson Henderson

Now that I’m no longer ignoring my blog, I’ve been prompted by another (Thank you, Lori, for your post that stirred me into action!) to do a bit of gap filling on gap filling.

As do all internationally adopted children, my kids have gaps in their personal stories that can’t be filled. Not only do they have little information on their genetic links and the specific circumstances that preceded their adoptions, their country of birth is also somewhat of a mystery.

They know a lot about Cambodia, of course, from books and photos and films and the tales of our family history, but those can’t convey the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Southeast Asia any more than breathing into a freezer compartment can relate the experience of being cold enough to see their breath.

It has long been in the works for the kids to spend time in their birth country, and this happened for Sam back in February.

Some years back I wrote about Gay’s plan to have him accompany her on an annual housebuilding trip for Tabitha. She’s been doing this every year since Sam came home in 2003, and now that he’s eleven-years-old, it seemed the right time.

I had my concerns, of course, as any mother would seeing her young son travel far without her, but knew most of the building team (Brits, Americans, friends … ) and trusted in their dedication to my son’s safety and had the team leader, Dave Richter on my radio show just a month before, assuring me that Sam would be well looked after.

I won’t say that I was thrilled by him going, as I knew I wouldn’t relax until he was back under my wing, but his excitement was contagious and I knew he was leaving on the trip of a lifetime.

After almost two full days of travel, the first item on his agenda was a 10K walkathon benefitting the building of a women’s hospital in Phnom Penh which he completed with no problems whatsoever … and had raised almost £600.00 for on his Justgiving page. (He’d also raised over 3,000 Seychelles Rupees at a carwash conducted here!)

More difficult were the orientation visits to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the killing field at Choeung Ek. Although he has been familiar with the tragic history of Cambodia since he was old enough to turn the pages of a book, there’s a lot to process in those places for anyone, even more so a Cambodian-born 11-year-old.

The housebuilding days were a joy for him. Meeting and playing with the children in the village reaffirmed his hope for his compatriots. Working hard felt good, too, empowered as he was at his age to contribute something so substantial to some he knows are his people.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. ~ Anne Frank

Gay had wisely decided to end the adventure at Angkor Wat with its evidence of the rich and grand history that is also Cambodia … an amazing wrap to an amazing time had by my amazing son.

My love and my gratitude for my children are the greatest gifts I’ll ever know. They are all spreaders of light … candles all.

There are two ways of spreading light – to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. ~Edith Wharton

Here’s a video Gay put together showing some of the highlights of the trip. Huge thanks to Gay, to Tabitha Cambodia, Dave Richter and everyone involved in making this such a wonderful experience.

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Not dead today ... just at the beach ...

Not dead today … just at the beach …

Today is my 15th Not Dead Day.

Yes, I have had a few thousand days of being not dead, but on this day in 1999 I very well could have been.

During the course of what I thought was a routine checkup with a cardiologist while on holiday in Singapore I was yanked from a treadmill after about 10 seconds, told to lie down, had a Heparin patch slapped to my chest and was informed that I was within one to thirty days from a massive and certainly fatal heart attack.

Good thing I took that vacation, huh?

I’ve written before about the process, recovery, etc., so no need to do that again. What I would like to do today is talk about living. Fifteen years … nothing to sneeze at. I would have missed a lot had I not been around. Not that everything has been peaches and roses (sometimes not even coming close with pizza and rotgut), but an unpleasant slog through what we know as real life. There have been times I’d have rather avoided, some that almost broke me …

You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave. ~ Quentin Crisp

But so much has been worth much more than the price of admission. Fifteen years of sunsets and puppies and laughs and love and friends and fresh fruit and hugs and cuddles and kisses and great books and conversations and new experiences coming seemingly from out of the blue.

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies. ~ Erich Fromm

I’ve had

They're growing, and I get to watch the process...

They’re growing, and I get to watch the process…

another fifteen years to learn new things, to confront my personal ghosts, and wrestle them for lessons, to put effort into making the world a better place.

Life has meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I’m still around to see Sam at 11 and Cj at 9, to fill their heads with as much wisdom as I can and as little baggage as possible, to do my best to leave them with as few gaps as I can … and I have no doubt I will leave them before the gaps are full, just as all parents do … and to live up to Walt Whitman’s edict in “Leaves of Grass”

“…the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”

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This evening, as the kids and I watched the “Wizard of Oz’, I had a sudden recollection that ties the generations together for me.

The movie came out in 1939, the year my mother turned seven-years-old, and made quite an impression on her.

It began what was to be an annual run on American television in 1956. I was five that year, but we watched it as a family every year of the ‘50s from then on.

I don’t remember ever not having a TV in the living room; sitting in front of that tiny (by today’s standards) screen in the huge wooden cabinet on the oval braided rug as my mother … either perched on the brown, skirted couch, cup of coffee in hand no matter what the time of day, or standing behind the ironing board with a bowl of starch water at hand … did the ’50s version of multitasking. It was a position I must have mastered very early. Color TV had yet to arrive, so black-and-white was all we knew. Ricky and Lucy’s apartment, Sky King’s sky, everything the Mouseketeers got up to … all were sans any shade but variations on gray.

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The 1939 Poster

And that was fine … most of the time.

The exception to the whole being-okay-with-B&W thing came with the opening bars of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. My mother’s WoO had imprinted itself on her brain before the age of television, when films were only seen in ‘movie houses’ where a show cost a dime … unless you wanted to sit in the loges … and grownups could add a bit of atmosphere with clouds of cigarette smoke.

By 1939, cinemas also offered films shot in Technicolor, something this movie was made for:

Notable for its use of Technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score and unusual characters, over the years it has become one of the best known of all films and part of American popular culture. It also featured what may be the most elaborate use of character make-ups and special effects in a film up to that time.

The fact that this beloved experience was reduced for us kids to NO color annoyed my mother no end, apparently, so she did a running commentary to enhance our viewing pleasure … or hers.

This is where, all of a sudden, everything goes into brilliant color!

That is the YELLOW brick road!

The witch has GREEN skin! (No mention that she looked just like our Aunt Mary when seen in B&W until we were much older.)

Those flowers are poppies … bright red poppies … and are so beautiful.

The whole city is GREEN!

That’s the ‘Horse of a Different Color’ and as it walks around the color changes from green to purple and more!

And so on …

All these years later, I found myself tonight explaining my mother explaining the colors to me to my kids as they watched a hyper-hued DVD of the road and the witch and the poppies and the horse, realizing as I did that time sometimes moves in circles.

Now … if I can just find those damned ruby slippers. I know they’re around here somewhere …

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