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The unexpexted Gift

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Hi there,

When someone you love is no longer in your life what you miss about him or her gets scattered over time.

For instance, I didn’t miss the way Larry took responsibility for the maintenance of our cars until I needed to get work done on mine. I didn’t miss his photography skills until I had to ask someone else to take our holiday photo. (To be honest, there has been an extreme decline in photos of my children since Larry died.)

And I didn’t miss his thoughtful generosity until I had to face the first anniversary, birthday and mother’s day without him. It wasn’t the gift that I missed but his excitement in finding just the right one and, most of all, his desire to include our boys in the process so they could learn what it meant to give to others.

Larry loved giving gifts. What I loved is that each gift had a story that he shared as he waited for me to open it.

When the boys were old enough to walk he took them to the store so they could pick out a gift for me. He never persuaded them one way or another because he knew I would cherish whatever gift I received from my children.

Hence the butterfly earrings and pyramid salt and pepper shakers! The only problem was they were so excited about it that they wanted to tell me what they bought as soon as they got home from the store! Larry always found himself reminding them to keep it a surprise.

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I can’t give my children credit for all the unique gifts I’ve received over the years. One year Larry decided I needed a ceramic pig with a chef hat and chalkboard for the kitchen! I still have it (pictured here) minus the chalkboard, but only because it broke. Despite some wacky gifts I also received beautiful ones that I cherish to this day.

I’ll always remember one of the last birthday gifts he gave me: a set of candles and an infuser with a white ceramic tray. He knew how much I loved to relax in the tub and even though we didn’t have the space in our current home to display it in the bathroom, he said I could save it for when we moved to a new home (the one we put a halt on when we found out he was sick). So I stored my birthday gift high on a shelf in my closet knowing one day I would get to use it.

On my first Christmas without Larry my wonderful sisters took it upon themselves to present me with a gift on Christmas day even though the adults in our family no longer exchanged gifts. They didn’t want me to go through the day without receiving something.

The following year I chose to stay in Arizona for the holidays even though it meant we would celebrate Christmas without extended family. I certainly didn’t expect my sisters to send me a gift, and this is when I really started to miss the lesson of giving Larry had been trying to teach our children.

With this in mind I talked to my three boys about buying gifts for one another, including me. I could tell they were excited about getting me a gift. I created a small list and took them to Target. I gave them money from the gift jar that we added to throughout the year and told them I would wait at the front of the store for them.

I loved seeing the smile on their faces and each one hushing the other not to tell me what they bought. It brought back fond memories of when Larry took them to the store and they were bursting with excitement to tell me their secrets.

That year, Christmas morning, after the boys opened their gifts they encouraged me to open mine.

Here is the list I gave them:

• The movie Bridesmaids starring Kristen Wiig. I saw this in the theater after a really difficult day and it made me laugh so hard I wanted to have it on hand for future laughs.

• Open-toed slippers. I live in Arizona and my feet get hot, even on cold mornings.

• New pajamas. I realize now I should have been more specific with this one.

Here is what I got:

• The movie Bride Wars starring Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway.

• Faux fur-lined closed-toe slippers.

• New pajamas: size extra-large, I’m a medium.

Oh they were so excited to see me open my presents there was no way I could be disappointed. So I watched the movie and had to admit there were a few funny parts that made me laugh. And I still wear the slippers, although they are reserved for REALLY cold mornings. The pajamas I did end up taking back, but only for an even exchange to get the correct size.

Seeing the joy it brought my children I decided to keep up this tradition so we repeated it the following year. This time I just gave them carte blanche: I decided Larry gave them free reign and so would I.

So yes, I’ve received a few more “unique” gifts over the years. The bungee chair for mother’s day comes to mind! But I love each gift because I love the feeling that a little piece of Larry – and his love of giving- is shining through each of the boys, and that is the best gift of all.

Then came our first Christmas in the new house, which happened to be our third Christmas without Larry. We followed the same routine of the boys opening their presents first, with me trying to take a few pictures to capture the moment, and then I opened my gifts. Afterward the boys really wanted to play with their new games, so I went to take a bath. I figured I would relax in the tub for a while before I had to start cooking.

In my bathroom I opened a cabinet in search of bath salts. Instead what I found took me completely by surprise and forced me to sit down while tears streamed down my face.

The move from our old home to the one we live in now was very emotional. I struggled with the feeling that I was leaving Larry behind.

Prior to the move I got help from people to help me pack and even with more help it took months for me to unpack. To this day I honestly don’t recall packing or unpacking what I found in my cabinet that glorious Christmas morning.

It was the set of candles, infuser and white ceramic tray Larry had given to me on my birthday which I had stored high on a shelf in the closet of our old house.

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I sat there for what seemed like an eternity marveling at this completely unexpected gift. It felt as though Larry had given it to me that morning and a great sense of peace washed over me: no matter where we live, he will always be with us.

That is my hope for you this holiday season: that you have faith. No matter where you are or what you face, know you’re loved one is with you, always.

I hope and pray you have a magical holiday.

Pam

P.S. Congratulations to Kim K., the winner of the December Holiday Stress Buster Giveaway!

To all of you who entered the giveaway, thank you, and please don’t despair, there will be another giveaway in January 2015!

P.P.S. I am taking next week off to spend time with my family so there won’t be a weekly newsletter. The next weekly newsletter will be on January 7, 2015! Until then, I wish you and your family a very Happy Holiday!

MB 12_17_14

‘Tis the season to be humble.

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If your house is anything like mine, the closer we get to Christmas the more I hear “I want…” from my children. “I want an Xbox One, I want Legos, a new baseball bat, a hockey bag…” The list is endless!

I don’t take away the wishful thinking from my children- I have plenty of fond memories of my own as a child combing through the huge Sears catalog that came every fall (yes, I just dated myself!), circling more toys than could possibly fit in our home.

And I was very fortunate to get the games, dolls, strollers, etc. that I did.

But as much as I want to fulfill my children’s every desire, like most parents, I also want them to appreciate what they get. Basically I want them to be humble with what they already have and accept what’s given to them graciously.

Is that really too much to ask?

Unfortunately sometimes it is. We’re constantly being targeted by marketing campaigns that cleverly tell us we need their product to enhance our lives. How can we decipher what’s really important?

It also makes me wonder if humility can we be taught or does it just happen naturally?

I believe it’s a combination of both. But trying to teach it is much more difficult mostly because in order to be humble we need to show our vulnerability, which many of us, myself included, may not feel comfortable showing.

Yet, it’s the exposure of our vulnerability that brings out our humanity and connects us with one another.

In my experience, in order to teach my children how to be humble, I first had to figure out what it really meant to be humble.

One of the steps I took was turning to a trusted source, my dictionary, to figure this out. This is what is defined as humble: low in rank, importance, status, quality, and having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservient.

Wow, with those kinds of qualities, why would I ever want to be humble?

But as I kept reading, the definition transformed: not proud or arrogant; modest, and courteously respectful.

The latter definition brings to mind some of the greatest leaders known for their humility: Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and being a Christian, I believe the greatest teacher of humility is Jesus.

So even though I can wrap my arms around the teachings of these wonderful leaders and can relate to being modest and courteously respectful, I still find times where I don’t want to be inferior or subservient… Really, who does? I don’t think that part of being humble can be taught.

And this is where life (or whatever higher power you believe in) stepped in and served me many slices of humble pie, some small and some too big to digest in one sitting.

One that I’ve been served time and again is with respect to my son who was born with special needs.

Shortly after he was born he underwent a necessary battery of tests, including an echo-cardiogram at 6 weeks of age to make sure all the chambers in his heart closed properly (they did). At 9 months of age he had to undergo multiple EEG tests and a CAT scan to determine if he was having seizures (he wasn’t). When he was 3 years old he had his second surgery to put tubes in his ears and remove his tonsils and adenoids. It all went well.

I was more than thankful each time results came back in our favor. I wanted to rejoice at our good fortune. But as I walked the halls of the different hospitals we visited, I learned to be courteously respectful of others who weren’t so fortunate.

We had many visits to Children’s Memorial hospital in Chicago and Phoenix Children’s hospital in Arizona. Each time I walked the halls I saw courageous children being pushed in wheelchairs or pulled in wagons with oxygen tubes and feeding tubes protruding from their little bodies. Children who had no hair as a result of chemotherapy. Children who had to spend Christmas in the hospital.

Yes, my son was the lucky one. On those days I was grateful for being low in rank and priority with regards to an appointment with the doctor.

And then Larry got sick.

It was our turn to walk in the shoes others had filled. We consulted with doctors at John’s Hopkins and Mayo Clinic, and as they delivered devastating news at each visit, they remained courteously respectful. They had the education and years of experience to hopefully heal, but there came a time when even they knew they couldn’t cure the patient and they knew the odds better than we did.

This experience gave me the greatest lesson in humility I could ever learn: the loss of someone who meant the world to me.

I wanted to crawl into a hole and fade away but the parents where my children went to school wouldn’t let me. Some had experienced a similar loss, others simply wanted to help. They sent me emails, cards, meals and gifts that were truly unexpected.

I graciously accepted every meal, card and gift given and I was touched beyond belief.

Parents I didn’t even know very well reached out. That’s when I understood humility transcends race, gender, religion and age.

As human beings we are all vulnerable at one point or another in our lives. It’s our greatest connection to one another. It also provides the catalyst we need to want to help others in times of need.

So as a parent I will do my best to “teach” my children to be humble, but I also know life will teach them more. It already has.

Because of this I know they’ll be happy with what they get, albeit a little disappointed (no Xbox One!) but appreciative none-the-less.

And I know it sounds cliché when I say I have everything I need (mostly the people I love and who love me) but it’s true.

There’s still a piece of humble pie I take a bite of every time I write a post and reach out to all of you. I know you’ve had your share of pain and heartache as well and I pray this website provides an avenue for us all to stay connected.

Our stories may be different, but we’re all a part of humanity.

Instead of my usual sign off I will turn to the words of one of the leaders mentioned above, Mother Teresa:

“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”

Pam

HB 12_17_14 Winter salad

Hearty Winter Salad

HB 12_17_14 Winter saladThis salad came to fruition one day as I opened my refrigerator and tried to find something for lunch. I had a bunch of leftovers from the previous nights dinner and started throwing everything together on a plate. I added some fresh heirloom tomatoes and avocado.

Over time I’ve enjoyed this salad many ways. I use different salad dressings, depending what I have a taste for that day, and I’ve served it both ways, with the potatoes and asparagus warm or cold.

 Basically any way you choose, it tastes great!

 This would make an awesome addition to any holiday dinner!

 Which dressing does Chef Walter choose when he eats this salad?

 He prefers to dress his salad with the cider vinaigrette while his wife enjoys the white miso vinaigrette.

 Our house is divided as well, that’s why it’s so nice to have options!

 Serves 4

 Ingredients

 1 bunch Standard (Pencil) Asparagus Spears

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 – 3/4 cup Organic Vegetable broth

 

4 cups Organic Red Potatoes, washed, cut into quarters 1/2″ thick

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

3/4 teaspoon Sea Salt

1/8 teaspoon Black Pepper

3/4 cup Organic Vegetable Broth (low sodium)

 

2oz Baby Arugula

2oz Mixed Greens

2oz Organic Romaine Lettuce

1 -2 Large Heirloom Tomato diced or cut into small wedges

1 Ripe Avocado

1/2 Red Onion sliced

1 can Organic Northern Beans, drained & rinsed (optional)

 

 

For The White Miso Vinaigrette:

1T White Organic Miso (must be organic!)

1/4 cup Organic Tamari (gluten free soy sauce)

Juice of One Lemon

 

Mix all ingredients, toss over salad

 

For The Cider Vinaigrette:

1/2 Cup Olive Oil

1 Clove Chopped Garlic

1T Dijon Mustard (I prefer 365 Organic)

2T Apple Cider Vinegar

 

Mix all ingredients, toss over salad

 


For the Red Potatoes:

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Put in bowl potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss potatoes to coat all of them with oil and seasonings. Put in 3-4 qt casserole dish, pour vegetable broth over potatoes.

Cover and put in oven for 40 minutes. Toss halfway through.

When potatoes are done you can assemble salad to eat immediately, but also put some in the fridge and eat cold the next day.

 

For the Asparagus:

Wash and trim ends of asparagus, about two inches, discard the asparagus stems.

Place the asparagus spears in a large sauté pan, add 1/2 -3/4 cup organic vegetable broth.

Sauté over medium heat, sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over asparagus.

When the broth begins to boil reduce heat and cover for 3 minutes to lightly steam asparagus.

I like my asparagus slightly crunchy, especially if it is to be saved for the next day.

 

To Assemble The Salad:

Wash, rinse & dry the romaine lettuce. Toss with baby arugula & mixed greens. Add one of the vinaigrettes. Divide onto 4 plates. Cut your heirloom tomatoes into small wedges and cut your red onion into thin slices. Seed, dice and scoop the avocado onto the dressed lettuce. Next, add your warm potatoes & asparagus spears. Arrange your salad any way you like!

 ENJOY!

Pam

 

Here are some of the nutritional benefits this salad provides:

Apple Cider Vinegar:

There are numerous benefits to apple cider vinegar, but I like it for the benefits it offers my digestive system. It’s beneficial in building up good bacteria in your gut and helps to build (or maintain) hydrochloric acid which is vital and necessary for the proper digestion of food.

Avocado:

Avocados are a staple in my home and they are packed with nutrients. They are an excellent source of potassium and have an assortment of vitamins such as: B-vitamins, Vitamin A, and Vitamin E. One of the key benefits the avocado provides is it contains the essential fatty acids necessary for brain function, as well as growth and development. Our body can’t make essential fatty acids so it’s imperative we get these good fats by making healthy food choices!

Asparagus:

Very good source of Vitamin A and C. Good source of some major minerals: calcium, iron and potassium. Excellent source of dietary fiber. It also contains almost 3 grams of protein per cup.

Beans:

Beans offer the benefits of an array of vitamins and minerals, but they are mostly known as an excellent source of dietary fiber and protein.

Leafy Greens:

Leafy greens provide an excellent source of Vitamin A and K. (Vitamin K is necessary for the absorption of calcium) Leafy greens also provide iron, folate and potassium, although the amounts vary by choice of green. General rule of thumb, the darker the green the better!

Potatoes, Red, baked with skin on:

Potatoes have gotten a bad rap over the years, however, with the skin on potatoes offer an array of vitamins and minerals. They are an excellent source of potassium. Another good source of protein and fiber. Contains essential minerals; calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus.

Fermented Soy products:

While there is a lot of controversy surrounding soy products today one indisputable truth is that fermented soy products such as: miso, tamari and tempeh (to name a few) are actually VERY beneficial to our over-all health. The only caveat is that it must be organic. Soy is one of the highest genetically modified crops in the United States and I am not a fan of GMO’s.

about pam page

Massage your holiday stress away.

 about pam page

Hi Sweet Friend,

Now that we’re into our second week of December my holiday to-do list is picking up speed. It seems as though there are a million activities planned for the next three weeks, including- school projects that are due before break, winter recitals, and holiday parties. In addition there’s shopping for gifts and food and… Wow, I can feel the muscles in my neck and shoulders tighten just thinking about it!

During this time of the year I find myself turning to the multitude of wellness techniques that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. I eat well, exercise regularly, write in my journal and take deep breaths throughout the day, but I can still feel my muscles constricting by the minute.

Unfortunately this is nothing new for me and I’m sure many of you can relate to sore muscles in the upper back and neck area. That goes double these days with the amount of time we spend hunched over the computer.

It seems like I’ve had this issue forever and the tension in my neck increases when I feel stressed.

The tension really came to a head years ago when I was studying for the CPA exam. If you read the post, My Path to Healing, you’ll know this was the same time I was diagnosed with severe acid reflux. Between work and studying I was stressed out to the max!

I shared with Larry (who was my boyfriend at that time) what the doctor told me about learning to cope with stress and he agreed that if I continued like this I would do myself more harm than good.

While Larry always supported my goals he was also concerned about me. As usual, his love and concern really showed when he gave me my Christmas gift that year: a gift certificate for a massage.

Eleven years my senior, Larry had been in the business world longer than I had and knew a thing or two about stress. Next to his office was a health club that he frequented on his lunch hour to exercise and occasionally get a massage.

Of course I had heard about massages, but at the time I viewed it as a luxury reserved mainly for those who could afford the time and the money, both of which- for me at least- were in short supply.

Little did I realize that his gift was two-fold: while it took away my concerns about having to pay for a massage, the bigger gift was learning to find the time to take care of myself. That gift served me well when I became a mother and still does today.

I’ll never forget that first massage, I actually fell asleep! I emerged from the warm and cozy experience that night feeling more relaxed than I had in a long time. I couldn’t wait to call Larry and thank him.

The only problem was I had become hooked! I made the decision a long time ago that I had to incorporate this into both my schedule and my budget no matter what. I was worth it!

Fast-forward twenty years and getting a massage has become more mainstream. Thanks to extensive research regarding the benefits of massages it can also be classified as therapeutic, meaning in some instances it may even be covered by your health insurance.

For those of you who may not have had a massage before, you may have some questions or reservations that I’d like to address.

Let’s start with some basic information.

Exactly what is a massage?

Basically a massage is the manipulation of the superficial and deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue using various techniques.

What kind of massages are there and what’s the best one?

There exists a wide range of massages, including- deep tissue, therapeutic, hot stone, shiatsu, Thai, reflexology and pregnancy, just to name a few. The one you choose really depends on your level of comfort with regards to pressure and the benefit you are looking to achieve.

Since I suffer from chronic inflammation I like a deep tissue massage with a focus on my neck, shoulders and back. It really is a personal choice. I recommend you spend time with a massage therapist to discuss your options before picking from the menu.

What are some of the benefits of a massage?

The benefits of a massage are numerous- even major medical institutions are offering massage therapy, including the prestigious Mayo Clinic. The following is a list taken from their website of some disorders that studies have found massage therapy may be helpful for:

• Anxiety

• Digestive disorders

• Fibromyalgia

• Headaches

• Insomnia related to stress

• Myofascial pain syndrome

• Paresthesias and nerve pain

• Soft tissue strains or injuries

• Sports injuries

• Temporomandibular joint pain

I’ve personally experienced at least six of the disorders mentioned above and I can attest that a massage has offered much needed relief when I was in pain.

Even though you may believe in the benefits of a massage, I suspect some of you are still going to throw up a few roadblocks. Here are a few that come to mind:

What about the cost?

And in today’s economy this is a very valid concern. However, there are many more opportunities available today than there were twenty years ago that make massages much more affordable. Here are some options you can look into:

• Is there a massage school near you? Many offer reduced rates if you’re willing to work with an advanced student under the guidance of an instructor.

• Look for deals on Groupon, Living Social and Deal Chicken. I’ve seen offers as high as 90% off!

• Join a monthly massage club for a reduced rate.

• Use the barter system. Do you have a skill you can trade with a professional who gives massages?

• If you have a chronic illness, check with your insurance to see if massage therapy is covered.

• Put it on your Christmas, birthday, or any other special occasion list you have.

I don’t have the time for a massage- (this is a personal favorite of mine).

We all have responsibilities with work, kids, our home, and goodness knows what else we put on our plates.

I’ll always remember the Christmas gift Larry gave me. He cared enough about me and my health to encourage me to take care of myself. I honestly don’t know where I (or my children) would be today if I didn’t.

The greatest gift you can give all the people you love is to take care of yourself so you can be there when they need you most.

So as you load up your arms with packages from shopping and fill up your calendar with activities, make sure you pencil in some time just for you.

And if you have the means right now, I highly recommend you relieve the holiday stress with a therapeutic massage. Better yet, put it on your Christmas list!

This holiday season I wish you relief from any pain or stress you may be experiencing and pray that peace surrounds you and your family.

Pam

P.S. I have a special announcement coming in today’s follow up post. Be sure to look for it!

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Let someone else put up the lights!

MB 12_3_14Hello Sweet Friend,

Congratulations, you made it through Thanksgiving! I hope you had a wonderful day.


Now that Thanksgiving is over my attention quickly turns to Christmas (it’s hard not to since they’ve been playing Christmas carols for a few weeks now).

It’s been a tradition of mine to trim the tree and decorate as much as I can the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, not everyone in my house has always shared in my enthusiasm! Larry preferred to watch football, whether college or professional. As for my children, they would excitedly hang a few ornaments and then turn their attention back to their toys.

As much as I loved to decorate there was one task I absolutely detested: stringing the lights on the tree. Surprisingly, Larry didn’t mind putting up the lights. I saw this as an opportunity to create a win-win situation: early on Larry and I agreed that if he strung the lights on the tree I would absolve him of any further decorating. It worked!

This arrangement fostered peace and the holiday spirit in our home and worked well for quite a few years.

Until Larry died.

When someone you love is no longer in your life their presence is missed in so many ways.

The first two holiday seasons after he was gone I didn’t have to face the tree lighting issue. Since we sold our house and put all of our belongings in storage right before Larry died, I didn’t have our big tree to put up.

For the sake of my children I purchased a small, already-lit tabletop tree. I hung some stockings and scattered a few snow globes around the house. It was a far cry from my usual decorating, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.

At the request of my son I did venture outside to hang a few strands of lights around our home. As I retrieved the ladder from the garage and proceeded with a heavy heart to hang the lights a well-meaning neighbor walked over and offered to help.

When Larry passed away family and friends offered to help at every turn. But like a stubborn adolescent I dug in my heels and kept refusing. I’m all alone now, I thought to myself over and over, I have to learn to manage on my own.

“No, thank you,” I responded politely, “I’m good, I can do it myself.”

I believe the pain I felt inside blinded my ability to believe people truly wanted to help out of the goodness of their hearts.

This is a belief I carried with me for a long time.

Then in 2012 we moved into our new home and I got all of my decorations out of storage. I decided I wanted to decorate like I had in years past.

I mean, it had been over two years since Larry died and it was my third holiday season without him, surely I could handle putting up the tree by myself.

But by the time I had assembled the tree and plugged in all the strands of lights to separate the good strands from the bad ones, I was emotionally undone.

Seeing all my holiday decorations for the first time in over two years brought back all the memories of past holiday seasons spent with Larry.

My emotions quickly evolved from sad and crying to angry and royally ticked off. As I stared at my naked tree I had one thought: I can’t stand doing the lights!

In that moment of despair I called my then eleven-year-old son to help me. I’m sure he could tell from the look on my face that I had been crying and he quickly tried to comfort me and agreed to help.

Well, as much as I love my son and appreciate his efforts, in that moment the mix of an eleven-year-old trying to rush through getting the lights strung on the tree and my already incensed feelings was enough to create an argument.

It certainly wasn’t a parenting moment I’m very proud of. I nit-picked the way he tried to string the lights and he in turn expressed his frustration right back at me.

Needless to say he walked away not knowing what he did wrong and I went to my room and gave myself a much needed time-out.

I was angry with myself for the way I had interacted with my son and I was angry in general because I had really hoped this holiday season in a new home would give us a fresh start. Plus I truly hoped I could find some beauty in it all once again.

But just like a kid who finds out Santa Claus really doesn’t exist, my hopes were dashed and the disappointment was acute.

After a while I emerged from my room and apologized to my son for my behavior and dug down deep for strength to finish the tree.
The following year I wasn’t sure how I would cope as the holidays approached, but I knew one thing: I wasn’t going to put up the lights!

I didn’t want a reenactment of the prior year’s fiasco with my son. So after some thought I decided to do the one thing I always had a hard time doing. I asked for help.

My parents had made the move to Arizona the prior year to escape the harsh winters in the Midwest and to be closer to me and my children so they could lend a helping hand when needed.

I decided for my sanity and to preserve the peace of the holiday season- and the peace in my home- to go ahead and ask my mother to help me trim the tree.

One of the great qualities about my mother is that any time I ask her for some help she is more than eager to be there for me. Little did she know I’d give her the task of stringing the lights. But she did it with an attention to detail my son and I no longer had the patience for.

And this year, well, my mother was there for me once again.

This time, though, it became a family affair. With some good-natured moaning and groaning the boys were enlisted to help put up the tree and we did it together.

As I reflect back on this past Friday I recognize it was more than a simple exercise in tree-trimming: it was all about the memories that we created.

And the holiday spirit is in our home once more.

Of course we had some frustrating moments: the angel kept leaning and threatened to topple over, the lights went out on half a strand after they were already strung on the tree, a few ornaments were dropped and shattered, and the boys kept repeating, “Can we be done?”

But there was also laughter, Christmas music (until my eldest son decided he had heard enough and changed it) and good-natured joking while the tree got trimmed and stockings got hung.

Most importantly, I’m learning I don’t have to do it all on my own.

So as I sit in my living room with my laptop and write this post, I’m grateful once more for all I have: a beautiful tree to glance at as I gather my thoughts and reminisce about a nice afternoon I shared with my family.

As for next year…you can bet I’ll enlist the help of my mother once more.

If you’re having a difficult time deciding what to do about decorating for Christmas I encourage you to reach out… And let someone else put up the lights!

Wishing you a holiday full of light and blessings,

Pam

P.S. Click here to check out the Blueberry Almond Coconut Smoothie. It’s awesome!

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A special letter of gratitude

 MB 11_25_14 c

The art of practicing gratitude has been around for centuries. It’s the foundation for many old religions and was observed by stoic philosophers as far back as 2,400 years ago in Greece. But even though this is an ancient tradition, as a society we’ve only recently begun to study and understand the positive effects practicing gratitude has on our emotional well-being.

What does it mean to “practice” gratitude?

It means we have to make a conscious effort every day to find something or someone to be thankful for (not only on Thanksgiving). It’s a way of being present and appreciating what we have today.

Let’s face it: being optimistic doesn’t come naturally during difficult times in our lives. Sometimes we have to work hard at finding the silver lining.

There were many moments when I’ve struggled with practicing gratitude, even before my husband Larry died.

As a parent to a child with special needs I’ve faced moments in my life where I’ve been overwhelmed with therapy appointments, educational meetings and assessments, not to mention the constant research I took upon myself to do at all times of the day and night searching for more ways to help my son.

In addition to the physical demands of running around, the roller coaster of emotions a parent of a child with special needs faces is enough to make one want to yell: “STOP, I need to get off this ride!” A good report from therapists or teachers would send my excitement soaring high into the sky; a negative report would leave me with my head on my desk and crying, wondering what more could I do, what therapy I could’ve missed…

Then Larry died and I really had a hard time finding anything- other than my children- to be grateful for.

When the holidays approached I put on a good face, but inside the pain and guilt I felt was very real. Yes, I felt guilty. I mean, how could I appreciate the food I was about to eat when Larry wouldn’t be here to eat it with me?

One thing I knew for sure: after getting through the holidays and facing depression from grief I just had to kick up my wellness plan. That meant that along with all the other tools I’ve mentioned in past posts I started to practice gratitude on a daily basis.

Yes, but, does it really make a difference?

It most certainly does. According to the Greater Good Science Center in Berkley at the University of California, those who practice gratitude on a regular basis show benefits in one or more of the following:

• Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure

• Higher levels of positive emotions

• More joy, optimism, and happiness

• Acting with more generosity and compassion

• Feeling less lonely and isolated

So each morning as I took my walk I had a running list in my mind of all the things I was grateful for. Mostly it was a list of what I call the “typical” things: my children, my home, my extended family and friends.

Then one day after we celebrated Larry’s birthday in July (which we do every year), I decided to get more specific and write down everything about Larry having been in my life that I was grateful for.

I grabbed my journal and instead of focusing on what I was missing from him each day, I decided to thank him for what he brought into my life.

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This following is an excerpt taken from my journal on July 23, 2011.

Dear Larry,

Thank you for loving me.

Thank you for always encouraging me.

Thank you for marrying me.

Thank you for three wonderful boys.

Thank you for giving me the ability to provide for the boys.

Thank you for your generosity.

Thank you for teaching me what it means to be in a good relationship. 

Thank you for showing me respect.

Thank you for allowing me to be me.

Thank you for helping to create this family.

Focusing on the qualities Larry had and what he brought to me and our relationship didn’t mean I stopped missing him. Quite the contrary, I missed him every day- I still do. But writing down his qualities helped me appreciate that he was in my life and even though his death brought an immense amount of pain into my life, the positive aspects far outweighed the pain. I’ll always be grateful for having the privilege of knowing him, loving him and creating a family with him.

After going through this process for Larry I was left with a sense of peace that I didn’t have before. It also led me to do the same for my son with special needs who has certainly taught me as much, if not more, than I’ve taught him.

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To my son:

Thank you for loving me unconditionally.

Thank you for showing me how to forgive, even at the hardest times.

Thank you for showing me how to persevere each day.

Thank you for teaching your brothers to have compassion for those who struggle.

Thank you for your wicked sense of humor!

Thank you for choosing me to be your mom!

This doesn’t erase the hard times we’ve faced, or still may face, but each day I spend with him I know we were meant to be together.

So, like most of you, I’ll share what I’m thankful for tomorrow with my children and parents as we sit down for our Thanksgiving dinner, but I have one more thing to be grateful for this year:

I’m grateful to you for trusting in me, believing in me and choosing to join this community and travel down this path of healing together.

Thank You and have a Blessed Thanksgiving!

Pam

P.S. Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving and many of you will be spending your day shopping, cooking or traveling, I won’t be sending a follow up post this afternoon. Happy Thanksgiving!