Archive for 'Appreciation'

Oh yes, it’s that time of year again when we are bombarded with messages that we’d better get shopping if we want to do things right and that unless you walk in with perfect gift in hand, you are doing something wrong. And believe me, the companies spreading those messages are spending WAY more than you are to make you think that you need to spend WAY more than you are. Not that spending and buying things for loved ones is a bad thing, but spending and buying things for loved ones just because you think you have no choice, that’s where we can draw a new line for ourselves.

And if you don’t believe me, check out the overloaded men’s sweater and pajama aisles at the thrift store. Not only do most people not need it? Most people don’t even want it.

So how can we make this season of giving and sharing more of about the connection and less about the obligation? (Other than sending everyone you know a copy of my book that is!) How can we give without the dictate of the marketers? And how can we make it more fun and more meaningful than walking through the masses in the mall with a check list in our hands?

  1. Leave a comment here about one of your favorite family traditions for a chance to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of my book. It can be mailed to you or mailed to a lucky person on your gift list within the contiguous United States.
  2. Talk to your people about doing things differently. Especially your adult people. Oftentimes the permission to do things differently will be welcomed and celebrated. If not at first, then eventually. Then before you know it, it just becomes how you do it.
  3. Pick names. Not a new idea but one many people tend to forget about. If you’re gathering with a variety of adult family members, have everyone choose just one name. How much fun it is to think of one super thoughtful gift rather than scurrying to get something for everyone.
  4. For your children, think of the feeling you want on Christmas Day. Do you want a creative day at home? Or an outdoor exploring day? Or maybe a snuggly day around the kitchen table? Think of gifts that will help you create the feeling you want. Paint sets, building blocks, magnifying glasses and field guides or a 1000 piece puzzle that you can leave out over the holidays for everyone to work on together.
  5. Give experiences rather than things. Coupons for an art workshop or a day together or a movie or a walk or tickets to a show or an ice rink or whatever! The possibilities are literally endless. And if you need a “thing” to wrap up, make it something pertaining to the activity.
  6. Do it white elephant style. This doesn’t always work out for kids as there can be some sadness if someone takes your gift away, but for adults it can be super fun.
  7. Create fun parameters for gift giving. Make it a requirement that the gift be second hand, regifted, within a certain price limit, consumable, edible, handmade, kitchen based, whatever works for you. The parameters actually can help people get creative.
  8. Give your loved ones a list of all the things you appreciate about them. Make it big. How about 100 points of appreciation? Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!
  9. Forget gift giving all together and decide instead to do a collection for other people. Maybe collecting socks for homeless people or blankets for a shelter or canned goods for a food pantry. Then maybe even make the delivery of such items a part of your celebration.
  10. For family and friends far away, leave out mailing boxes for each household in the weeks before Christmas. Let each person put things in that they find, love, make, buy, and create. Things like drawings from the kids, handmade notecards, love notes, baked goods, regift items. By leaving them out for a while, family and friends far away will become a part of your daily life. When they are full, tape them up and send them on your way full of the love of the whole season.
  11. Remember that it’s a season not a day. Celebrate all season long with good deeds and little presents when you think of people and notes sent off to those far away. And free yourself from the panic of getting things done by a certain time and day. Just relax. Enjoy.
  12. And remember the idea behind gift giving is to include a little bit of love and gratitude in everything you give. If not, then what’s the point?
  13. Remember that there are no rules. You can do things your way, or a new way, or a way that has never been done before. Perhaps it’ll become tradition. Or perhaps the tradition will be that every year you try something new.
Enjoy! Keep the home fires burning. Have fun. Love. Revel. Find the goodness. Celebrate! Inspire. And truly feel the joy of giving and receiving too.

 

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Whatever your family connections, here are two statements that can bring you all closer to the feelings of peace, love and joy that we all want from this holiday season. Because even if the base of it all is deep, unending love, it can still be tricky to  spend so much intimate time together.

1. “What do you need?” Rather than reacting to whatever emotion is being shown – pause, breathe and ask this simple question. If you’re having trouble remaining calm, then ask yourself the question first. Then ask those around you. Whether they are freaking out, falling silent, or throwing up their hands in dismay, these words can bring folks, including you the asker, to a better place. It is remarkable how so much can be resolved, solved, settled, and completed, with this simple question. Because even if needs can’t be granted, just having someone ask, just being the one asking, just understanding that underneath the big emotions is a need, just being granted the space to get clear with what exactly one DOES need,  and just feeling seen and heard can make us all feel a whole lot better.

2. “I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you. Thank you.” It’s called Ho’oponopono and since I first heard it from a therapist a few years back, I have heard it in many places from many people and I have uttered it a thousand times or more. Frankly, I think it packs the healing power of the whole world in just 10 easy words. It frees the utterer from anger and arguments and dissatisfaction and disappointment and so many other hard to feel feelings. And it frees the person you’re facing from it all too. Say it before you find yourself reacting to someone. Say it over and over and over until the words become like ancient sounds. Chant it in the shower. Shout it to the mountaintops. And at the end you’ll feel like hugging someone – even if you initially you felt like lashing out against them.

I am thankful for so much this week, perhaps the biggest thing being the understanding that we are all in this together. From the clerk at the grocery store and other random strangers, to my family who has known me since birth, to my four beautiful children, to my friends and extended family around the globe, we are all in this together.

Happy Thanksgiving! I wish you all a peaceful week together.

 

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I was digging through some old essays and blog posts recently – revelations I had when my children were small, things I learned along the way, discoveries I’d made about my role as mother or just as person. I’ve decided to bring some of them here in a format I’ll call Flashback Friday. Posts I’ve written on various other blogs I’ve had over the years that I think might be of interest to some readers today.

This is a post I wrote about sisters...

Oh my sister. My beautiful sister who is gone from us now. The grief continues to come in layers, waves, alternatingly soft and sneaky then firm and direct like slamming on the brakes of a fast moving car. Her death makes me look more closely at so much, sisterhood especially; my own and the amazing sisters I  birthed.

2 girls. Sisters. Friends most of the time. With the ability to be together and work together and play together and camp and sing and share ideas. Sharing a room. Sharing a genetic make up and a sewing machine and the last cookie in the drawer. You split, I’ll pick first.

Sometimes not all that crazy about each other. But always with an undertone of love. And admiration. And always looking at each other, each one equally amazed, at how different they can be. Sharing so much. Yet, each one bringing something completely opposite to the table, something that marvels the other. Or annoys. Or boggles the mind of the one who is witnessing the bringing. “WHAT THE…?” the mind says as they confound each other with their different-ness. But really. always. with an undertone. Of love.

I am thankful when the undertone is allowed to shine. I am thankful when the younger is in a state of total adoration and isn’t brushed aside in irritation. I am grateful when the older is in a state of wonder about the crazy beauty of the younger’s eccentricities. (And by wonder I mean, Ah!!! Not what the? although that exists too) I am so appreciative when the love shines bright between the two. And I am able to see the gift each has in the other. The yin and the yang walking side by side swinging along from the limbs of life.

Sisters. I love you. Mine and the ones I birthed. I love the love you share. I love your night to each other’s day. How you (we) came together is beyond me, but what you (we) bring to each other is plain to see.

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I was approached by a mom once, someone whose world randomly intersected with mine both professionally and personally. She was a mom of two littles and I at the time had my three. She had recently seen this picture of me and with a slight twinge of accusation and envy, and a huge dose of fatigue, she said, “UGH! How do you do it? You always make it look so easy breezy. You’re like a mother cover girl.”

I don’t remember exactly what I said next but I think it had something to do with me spitting out my coffee. And then laughing for several minutes uncontrollably, with tears in my eyes.

Occasionally yes, it’s breezy. And even easy. And when it is I try to take notice of those moments in time. Those moments when things are going exactly as I imagined they could go. But mostly, where I live, in a house with 6 people, the line between calm and chaos is a thin one indeed. But what she perceived in that snapshot wasn’t even close to what was.

Which is often true from the outside looking in. Like in this photo. That isn’t even close to a look at the big picture.

Because in one hand, the hand that you can’t see, the one that’s cut out of the photo completely? I’m holding the hand of a rather frantic toddler who is standing precariously on top of a bucket and who is about an hour or so past her naptime and who resisted the idea of lunch just before that and who has hit the proverbial wall of toddler meltdown brought on by the dreaded combination of hunger and fatigue. In the other hand? The one she thought was some sort of handmade bag of fabulous vintage material? Well, that’s actually said toddler’s pants. Full of pee. Which at the moment right before this photo was taken was dripping down my arm. Into the sleeve of my fab dress. 

So the look that to the onlooker seemed to be the very picture of easy-breezy was actually an expression of surrender-to-it-all, if-I’m-not-laughing-I’m-crying, this-is-my-life-and-this-is-what-it’s-like, holy-sh*t.

Since this exchange we’ve added another member to our family and a little more chaos, and in all that time I’ve been aware of the danger of looking in on someone else’s life and thinking I know their whole story.  I know that what I see is a snapshot. A blink. And that I have no idea what’s on their plate at any given moment in time. If I find myself judging – the real of the the virtual, the good or the bad – I know my judgment isn’t really about them at all. But about me. About how I”m feeling in that moment of time. And about what I need. To make me feel whole and happy.

 

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On Christmas Eve I found myself huffing noisily and irritatedly from the Santa storage under the stairs up into the living room to the tree. Up and down I went a couple of times each time louder and louder. I was excited about the gifts we got. We chose carefully for each child. We bought some second-hand, some new. Some things they wanted, some they needed (everyone got lots of socks!). Some things to do, eat and play. I was GLAD for all we selected. But I was huffing because I wanted my husband to see what I was doing and see that I wanted help. So I huffed louder each time I walked by him. And finally I said something snarky. Who knows what the words were, it was the tone that carried the message. He looked at me and said, “I didn’t even know you had started. Next time just ask for help.” Duh. And oh. And of course.

A couple of days later my kids were lounging on the couch reading in various states of repose and I was slamming about in and out of the

Do they look like they’re paying attention?

room picking things up and tidying and putting things away and after a few minutes of doing this seemingly invisibly, I snapped. What the words were I don’t know. Something with the message of “WHY CAN’T YOU READ MY MIND AND KNOW WHAT I NEED???” but in different words. My now teen son looked at me and said, “Don’t get all mad at us, just ask us for help. We ‘re not paying attention. We’re reading.” Again oh. And duh. And of course.

So it’s become my practice this week, a practice I hope to carry with me everyday, now and into the new year and every year beyond that.  Rather than imagine everyone is completely tuned into me and my needs, I’m going to try calmly asking for what I need. Be it time or things or energy or help. I’m going to put it out there to the people around me.  Kindly. Without rancor. With the full expectation that  my needs will be met. By someone. In some way. By the partner. The children. The community. The universe.

And before I even ask, and certainly before I freak out, I’m going to ask myself, “what do I need?” Because surely getting it clear in my head is the first step in putting it out clearly to those around me.

What if we all did this? Took these four easy steps…

  1. Pause.
  2. Ask yourself, “what do I need?”
  3. Believe you can get it.
  4. Put it out there to those around you. In your home. Your community. Your universe.

Think of how good you’d feel to state it kindly. Think how happily you’d help someone who asked so nicely and didn’t wait until they were freaking out. Think of how trusting you could be of all the people in your home/life/world if you knew full well they were stating clearly what they needed. No need for passivity. No need for mind reading. And no need to get all bent out of shape.

Just ask. Clearly. Calmly. Joyfully.

And trust.

It’s worth a shot right?

 

 

Here’s something I’m trying to do at home. And even in the very brief period that I have been practicing it, it has made an incredible difference in how we all get along. I learned it this weekend at a workshop, along with lots of other great tips for creating more love and joy in my life and especially in my home. It’s such a simple shift, and honestly, it has had a ridiculously profound effect on my interaction with my children and my partner.

Instead of saying “but” I say “and”.

Instead of saying “you want to do it this way BUT I want to do it that way.” Instead of thinking, “You want to go here BUT I want to go there.” Instead of feeling, “You like this BUT I like that.” I replace the “but” with an “and”.

So it sounds like love and acceptance instead of arbitration and rejection. It feels like agreement instead of contradiction. It allows for two realities co-existing instead of argument of one way being right and the other being wrong. AND it feels like a whole lot of understanding that in a family with 6 people in it, there can of course be 6 different ways of feeling/thinking/wanting/seeing.

We all like different things. We all have different ideas. We all need/want/have/love different ways of approaching life. AND it’s all perfectly true and beautiful and okay.

Honestly it is that simple. AND it is that good. You want this AND I want that. You feel this AND I feel that. You see this AND I see that. You are perfect AND I am too.

It could be just the tool you need this holiday.

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Celebrating Love. And Life.

I am this week at the Jersey Shore celebrating a cousin’s 50th wedding anniversary. We toasted, they talked, their children shared anecdotes, and what I realize is, it’s the little things that keep a family connected.

It’s finding that special juice that one likes and getting them one for their very own. It’s the touches. And the ability to lean a head on the other’s shoulder. It’s the whispered I love yous. And the laughs when there is chaos. And the commitment to the very simple, but not always easy act of being kind. It’s the knowing that the other is there when you need them and the knowing when to walk away in silence. It’s the big support group that surrounds the union and gives them a chance to regroup. It’s the willingness to let it all show – the tears, the laughs, and everything in between. It’s the being there for the big things and the little things too, and knowing that in 50 years it’s not all fun and games but it’s satisfying nonetheless. It actually can be mostly joy. It’s the being there for each other, the serving as witness to life’s ups and downs. And the willingness to sigh, forgive, let go and move on. It’s the daily gratitudes for the things big and small and the willingness to sometimes look beyond a singular act or mood, and see the reason behind it – be it fatigue or hunger or overwhelm. And it’s the hug that says, “I’m here when you need me.”

It’s inspiring to see a couple together this long who still feels such love for each other and who are still so demonstrative about it. And to see the trickle effect of their big love on all the people gathered here at their party, young and old. It inspires us all to love bigger, truer and to appreciate the people that are right under our noses. I want to celebrate 50 years one day. And in the meantime I’m going to try to celebrate one year, month, week, day at a time.

 

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Why I’m Here

A friend sent me this beautiful poem yesterday. Perhaps it caught my attention more than usual because I had woken up VERY early that morning and wrote a short piece myself about a similar topic. The piece I wrote was about remembering the love that started our families. It was about the fact that if we knew all there was to be done in family life we might not sign up at all but because we start in love it makes it all feel possible. And when we can remember and reignite that love and burning desire that started our families in the first place, it’s not only possible but very much joyful too. My piece you’ll be able to read in 2013 when it comes out in book form from Perigee Publishing. And this poem, that makes me cry everytime I read it, you can read right now…

Why I’m Here

Because my mother was on a date
with a man in the band, and my father,
thinking she was alone, asked her to dance.
And because, years earlier, my father
dug a foxhole but his buddy
sick with the flu, asked him for it, so he dug
another for himself. In the night
the first hole was shelled.
I’m here because my mother was twenty-seven
and in the ’50s that was old to still be single.
And because my father wouldn’t work on weapons,
though he was an atomic engineer.
My mother, having gone to Berkeley, liked that.
My father liked that she didn’t eat like a bird
when he took her to the best restaurant in L.A.
The rest of the reasons are long gone.
One decides to get dressed, go out, though she’d rather
stay home, but no, melancholy must be battled through,
so the skirt, the cinched belt, the shoes, and a life is changed.
I’m here because Jews were hated
so my grandparents left their villages,
came to America, married one who could cook,
one whose brother had a business,
married longing and disappointment
and secured in this way the future.

It’s good to treasure the gift, but good
to see that it wasn’t really meant for you.
The feeling that it couldn’t have been otherwise
is just a feeling. My family
around the patio table in July.
I’ve taken over the barbequing
that used to be my father’s job, ask him
how many coals, though I know how many.
We’ve been gathering here for years,
so I believe we will go on forever.
It’s right to praise the random,
the tiny god of probability that brought us here,
to praise not meaning, but feeling, the still-warm
sky at dusk, the light that lingers and the night
that when it comes is gentle.

“Why I’m Here” by Jacqueline Berger, from The Gift That Arrives Broken. © Autumn House Press, 2010.
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Spreading the love

I have realized lately that I love Valentines Day just about more than any other holiday. It brings together so many of the things that are so important to me – appreciation, crafts, letter writing, chocolate and all done in the name of love.  What’s not to love?

I’m not talking the commercial celebration of it all – the guilt, the obligatory rose, the holy crap I don’t have a gift to give kind of feeling.

I’m talking the heart of it all. The sharing of the expression of love. The letting people know just how much they are appreciated and valued and loved. Truly loved. No other strings necessary or attached. Love is where the heart is. The heart is where the love is.

I’ve decided this year I am going to extend the holiday to be more than just a day. I’m going to stretch it into an entire season starting, well, starting now I guess. I have dug out the necessary paper, scissors and glue. I am clearing a place on our table which will be active for the next 3 weeks at least. We are going to make cards and we are going to write love letters to each other and to family members spread around the country.

If Christmas can be extended like it is, why not Valentines Day? Starting today I’m going to write one love letter a day in an effort to spread the love. I’m going to start with my own family under my own roof then I’m going to send them far and wide. And perhaps the beauty of love is, giving it is just as much fun as getting it. Gotta love that!

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Encouraging Thanks

It’s the time of year for thank-you notes! A habit I love to model and encourage in my children. And one that I know isn’t always that easy to do – especially when there are so many to say thanks to and so much to be thankful for! Sometimes those lists just feel overwhelming. To me and to the kids.

This year we have a new way of doing them. A way that not only says thanks but encourages family connection as well. Read about it on Future Craft Collective and then gather the family for a little collaborative gratitude session!

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