Monday, May 30, 2011

Never Forget

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up your quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

~John McCrae*

*Maj. John McCrae of the Canadian Army is best know for his famous war poem "In Flanders Fields," written following the death of a friend during the 1915 battle in the Yspres salient. McCrae composed the poem while sitting in the back of an ambulance, looking out on a nearby cemetery filled with wild poppies.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Freshman Year - A Mom's Retrospective

In the blink of an eye, Katie's freshman year of college is over. She came home last Saturday and it's so hard to wrap my mind around the fact that her first year of college is over. Incredible.

In the week or so leading up to her homecoming, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my experience over the course of the last 9 months. The range of emotions and my experience adjusting to this new stage of parenting is incredibly varied.

The first two weeks were spent in perpetual thought of her. I was constantly thinking of reasons to call her. I found myself on her Facebook page (something I hadn't done much of in the past) just to see if I could glean any information about what her days were like. And when I did find something I obsessed about whether I should comment. Would she think I was stalking her (I was) or would she feel bad that her mom wasn't wishing her good luck on her first college math test? What to do? I was wracked with indecision and angst. It was a rough two weeks. The good news is that she called and texted often. So I did have a sense of how she was doing. The bad news is that a lot of our conversations were about things that were worrying or upsetting her. So then I was worried and upset. And of course by the time we next spoke, the crises was long over - for her. That was difficult lesson to learn.

After the first couple of weeks, I really felt that I had adjusted to having my first child out of the nest. But I was wrong. Without realizing it, I was a total wreck. I knew I felt a little "off" and I craved a retreat of some sort, but I wasn't connecting it to Katie's departure. I was fortunate enough to arrange a week long getaway in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. I went with a friend in a similar situation and we spent our time in quiet contemplation and exploration of the surrounding area. We even spent one night taking turns talking about issues that were weighing on our minds. It felt good to get it all out. But my real relief came after my friend left (she had to get back) and I had a day and a half to myself. I drove to the top of a mountain, hoping to climb the observation tower for a view of the valley. The tower was closed for the season (it was late October), but I decided to explore a little on my own. After walking around a bit, I sat on a low stone wall, overlooking the valley below and without warning all my emotions rushed to the surface and I began to quietly weep - releasing all the pent up emotion of the previous weeks and even months of Katie's leave taking. Another solo visitor saw me sitting there and approached me and asked me if she could pray with me. Not being a religious person, I politely declined her heartfelt and generous offer. But her care and concern touched me deeply. Despite my lack of religious belief, I do believe she was there for a reason. I will never forget that moment or her kindness. It was certainly a defining moment for me.

And it wasn't just I who was changing. Thanksgiving was a difficult visit for Katie and me. She was difficult and demanding and I regretted the tone of that visit. I was apprehensive as winter break approached. Five weeks is a long time. I hoped it would not be a repeat of Thanksgiving. And it wasn't. I noticed in change in Katie. She was less combative and more cheerful. It was a great visit. And each subsequent visit - a weekend in February, spring break in March and Easter weekend - proved to be fairly positive. Still I was concerned about summer. Three months is a long time. Could we all live harmoniously? It's a big transition to live on your own at college to re-assimilating back into family life. Would it go smoothly? Would we all be at odds with each other? How would the family dynamic change? Would it change?

I think it's too soon to answer these questions. The first few days that Katie was home I noticed a concerted effort on her part to be amenable and cheerful. It seemed as though perhaps she had grown up some while away at college. But signs of our old tensions and struggles are starting to appear now. I sense her struggling to fit back into the new family dynamic that has emerged while she has been away. I can tell she feels a little out of place. I am struggling with this. How do I make the necessary adjustments that she seems to require, when I'm unable to anticipate or recognize what she wants from me? And what if what she wants is unrealistic? I think there are more adjustments to be made as I navigate this new stage in parenthood. Perhaps I'm going to have to find another mountaintop to visit before the summer is over.

Monday, May 16, 2011


You can't make this stuff up. Here's a conversation I had today with a patron.

Patron: Are you Pat?

Me: No, I'm Pam. Can I help you with something?

Patron: I was in here the other day and I bought one of the music cassette you had for sale. It was the worse 10 cents I ever spent. I put it back in the box. I'd like my dime back. The woman upstairs said I need to speak to Pat.

Me: ....... Well, I'm not sure where Pat is, but I can give you a dime. (hand him a dime)

Patron: Thank you. (he leaves)

Me: Am I on Candid Camera?

Now I've heard it all!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Project 52 - Weeks 15, 16, 17, 18, 19

Well, so much for updating my Project 52 goals once a month. Since I'm a week late, I'm including Week 19 as well!

Weeks 15-19 were all pretty good weeks for me. I did a decent job of keeping up with my weekly and monthly/multi-event goals and I even crossed off 2 of my one-time goals! But I have noticed that my motivation on my weekly goals is definitely waning. Not only the motivation of keeping up with them, but also the motivation to keep track of them. One thing I've learned is that if I participate in Project 52 next year, I will not include any weekly goals. Here's my accounting of how I did:

Weekly Goals

3. Cook 3 times per week - Epic fail! I didn't accomplish this at all in Weeks 15-19. Ugh! Score: 9/52

10. Walk/Exercise 3 times per week - I'm still going strong on my exercise goal. I walked 7 days in Week 15 and 19, 6 days during Weeks 16 and 17 and 4 times during Week 18. I think I've been successful in making exercise a permanent part of my routine! Woot, Woot! Score: 16/52

30. Pay attention to local politics - Check! I'm still doing a good job keeping up with local politics. And I did do a better job of keeping up with international politics during the month of April, which I had set as a goal last month. I'm going to continue to work on that in May. Score: 18/52

33. Post at least once a week - Nope. I missed Week 18. Score: 16/52

34. Write a weekly letter to Katie - Done! Score: 14/32

36. Keep fresh flowers in the family room - Check! And today I was given a lovely bouquet in honor of Mother's Day. It was made even more special because Geoff and Madeleine both remembered my favorite flower, Gerbera Daisy, and chose a bouquet featuring a lovely light pink one. Score: 18/52.

Monthly and Multi-Event Goals

1. Try one new non-soup recipe a month - April was a bust! But I have already made one new recipe in May - Moroccan Zucchini Lamb Chili (Geoff and I loved it. Madeleine, not so much. What else is new?) Score: 4/12

5. Invite my mother to dinner once a month - Gulp! Another failure in April. Are you noticing a theme here - anything to do with cooking is a real struggle for me. Madeleine and I did take her out to a Mother's Day Tea today. I'd like to count that for May's dinner, but I won't. That's really not in keeping with the spirit of this goal. Score: 3/12

31. Watch one Netflix month a month - I am really on top of this one. Not only did I watch a Netflix DVD in April (Mad Men Season 4 Disc 1) I have already watched one in May (Conviction). I loved both, btw. Score: 5/12

32. Go to the movies once a month - Another success! I saw movies in April - Jane Eyre with a girlfriend (loved it!) and Water for Elephants with a group of girlfriends from my book club (we all loved it!) I also already met this goal for May since I saw Something Borrowed last night (exactly what you would expect from a romantic comedy). Score: 4/12

37. Donate to a charity or cause once a month - Done! In April, we donated to a political cause whose values match our own. Score: 4/12

38. Just say "no" at work - Without going into details, I did have an opportunity to express myself about an issue at work and I got up the courage to be honest about my opinion. It was a little nerve-wracking, but in the end it all worked out. However, I have a very specific event in mind when it comes to saying "no" at work. An event that should be coming up in the next few months. Let's see if I can stick to my guns on this one. *fingers crossed* Score: Making progress

40. Schedule one Mental Health Day a month - I did follow through with the plan I formed in late March to have a Do Not Disturb day in April. On April 8th I stayed home, cozied up on the sofa and caught up on DVDs I'd been wanting to watch (Never Let Me Go, Made Men and episode one of Cranford. All excellent!) Score: 3/12

One Time Goals

4. Buy a Dutch Oven - This one happened quite by accident. I was shopping at Sam's Club and saw a gorgeous bright red Dutch oven for a very reasonable price. Sold! Score: Completed!

13. Join and complete Shape Up RI - Back on February 7th, Geoff and I joined a group of 9 other friends to form a team for the our statewide health and fitness challenge - Shape Up RI. The idea of Shape Up RI is for participants to track their exercise minutes, steps per day, weight loss and number of fruits and veggies consumed for twelve weeks. The challenged ended on May 7th and I'm proud to state that both Geoff and I finished in good standing. Over the course of the 12 weeks I lost 8 pounds, walked 870,178 steps and exercised for 3,790 minutes. (Geoff lost an amazing 25 pounds!!! I'm so proud of him!) I did not do as well on eating my requisite 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, however. I always thought I ate lots of fruits and vegetables, so I was very surprised to see that in reality I do not. Ugh! Perhaps that can be a goal for 2012's Project 52. Score: Completed!

How about you? How are you doing on your Project 52 goals or New Year's Resolutions? I'd love to hear about your progress.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's Not About You

As some of you know, I'm on the nominating committee for Reading Across Rhode Island (RARI). This year I was so please when the committee chose Rhode Island native, Craig Mullaney's amazing memoir The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education. When I saw this book on the list of nominated books my immediate reaction was that I had no interest in reading a "war book" and would wait to see if was eliminated in early discussions before committing to reading it. During our first session, another member of the group stated that she had the read book (even though she was sure she wouldn't be interested) and that it was fabulous. That got me curious. I decided to read it before our next meeting. And it made a very positive impression on me. At our next meeting there were several of us who had read the book and we all gushed about what a wonderful choice it would be for RARI. The rest is history.

This past weekend was the official celebration for The Unforgiving Minute. I had the great fortune of being invited to attend a reception for Mullaney on Friday night at his alma mater, Bishop Hendricken High School (a Catholic HS for boys). It was an extremely informal affair and I had a chance to talk briefly with him and have him sign my book. I told him how much I enjoyed his book and that I was strong supporter of it as our RARI selection. He was very gracious and humble. Then on Saturday I attended RARI's culminating event, the May Breakfast, in which Mullaney appeared and gave a talk to 425 enthusiastic readers. I attended the event with 10 members from my two book clubs. Part of the May Breakfast is also a food drive for a local pantry and participants are encouraged to bring canned goods and use them to create a centerpiece for their table. This year one of the women from my library book club, Donna, created a centerpiece that was reminiscent of one of the photographs from the book. She finished setting it up before the breakfast officially began and it immediately caught Mullaney's eye. He came right over to our table and spent the next 20 minutes talking to Donna, her husband Joe and the other members of our group. He even graciously agreed to pose for photos. It was very exciting. In the four years that I have been attending these events, no author has ever come into the crowd to visit with participants! We were all thrilled.

He then went on to give a very moving talk about the lessons he learned during his years at West Point, Ranger School, and at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He also explained to us how those lessons prepared him to lead a platoon in Afghanistan. He spoke emotionally about the deep toll the loss of one of his men had on him and stated that writing the book was really his letter to that young man's parents. This was the first time I have been moved to tears at a RARI breakfast. He also spoke eloquently of personal responsibility, responsibility for others and responsibility to our communities. He summed up this sense of responsibility when he remembered the words of one of the men who trained him at Ranger School - "It's not about you". Mullaney related to us how the full force of those words hit him when he was told of the final words uttered by the soldier in his platoon as he lay dying. Private O'Neill asked, "How are the other guys?" It's not about you. Quite a powerful message.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Day for Quiet Reflection

Does anyone else feel that the public celebrations of Osama bin Laden's death being telecast on national TV are inappropriate? I think it's entirely natural to feel proud, relieved, thankful and even pleased. But, I also feel that this is an occasion that should lead to quiet reflection and remembrance. Not a party in the streets as though your favorite team just won the Super Bowl. This type of behavior seems disrespectful and even offensive. Please take a moment today to remember all the innocent lives lost on 9/11 and all the brave servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of this goal.

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