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Riding Day #1- part 1

I wake early after little sleep, attend the tire changing clinic, eat a quick breakfast amongst chattering fellow bikers, and lug my heavy bag across the field to the truck that will carry it to our next tent site. Why didn’t invest in a wheeled bag? I return to my tent and gather my gear for the first day of riding–map, water, helmet, rain gear, repair kit, determination… I have never ridden in a large group. Ho w do I keep from running into someone else or keep someone else from running into me? What if I fall and break something? What if I fall and embarrass myself? What if I can’t make it to the next stop? The sag wagon is there to help us out, but what if I am the only loser that needs it? I search for the internal pull that has transported me to this starting line and find a slim thread remaining to tug me there.         

There is a formal start off ceremony on this first day, but I decide to leave early to avoid riding in the sizeable crowd and give myself extra time to make the day’s miles. I am not a ‘group’ person, and I am not here to celebrate and have fun. My tent mate starts with me and I am grateful to have company as we learn to discern the hot pink trail markers, painted on the road, that will direct us for the next seven days. We find our way through five miles of city streets to the off-road trail. My tent mate stays with me and I feel certain I am hindering her speedier cleat clad feet from moving ahead. My eyes relentlessly scan the trail for hidden roots and rocks waiting to steal my stability. Fear of the gravity devil’s fingers threatening to topple me, turn me into a timid rider, erupting into a terrified one on downhill slopes or uneven terrain. An erratic cadence and clumsy shifting broadcast my rookie status as a distance rider. My pale knuckles seize the handlebars, relaxing only when the pedals came to a halt and my feet touch solid ground.  

We reach the first rest stop 17 miles from the start. Water, snacks and rest rooms await our arrival. Only a few of us are here, but the number increases rapidly as those from the initial pack arrive. I fall back on my practiced non-committal smiling as a primary way to interact. There are some friendly brief exchanges with other riders, but most seem to be traveling in familiar groups. I overhear stories of past trips similar to this one. Apparently this type of thing is a vacation destination. There is an older couple on a tandem bike, others on reclining bikes, a bike with a third wheel and extra seat for a young child, families with children on their own bikes and large adult tricycles. I had not imagined so many possibilities for participation.   

So far-even with 500 riders-there has not been a crowd on the trail. This will be true throughout most of the trip, as I often find myself beyond eyesight of any other biker. I relax a bit in the ease of these periods of isolation, beyond judging eyes, alone but not lonely. I enjoy alone time, time to think without the need to carefully put words together to meet other’s expectations and needs. My ride share guy comes over to join my tent mate and I as he arrives close behind us. The two of them seem to have a lot in common and converse easily. I excuse myself and get back on the trail, knowing I will need all the time I can grab to get to today’s goal. They will either easily catch up or meet me there. 

The trail is peaceful as it passes by fields and farmland. Overhanging limbs provide a shield from the hot sun. Parts are paved and parts are covered with crushed limestone that seems to want to direct my tires without my consent. Some of the trail follows the towpath used to drive mules as they pulled barges filled with people and/or goods along the original Erie Canal – started in 1817 and completed in 1825. Piles of large jagged rocks, called rip-rap, line sections of the shore to preserve it from erosion. At times the path runs so close to the sharp drop off I feel as if the rocks are magnetically pulling me towards them. One startle -an animal running in front of me or a speed biker racing by unexpectedly could lead to an abrupt swing of the handlebars, and I picture myself broken and bleeding on the rocks. Not a pretty thought. I move closer to the middle of the path. Others will just have to go around me if I’m going too slow!

The Trip before the Trip

I rent a car and my ride share arrives -fit and athletic and definitely a spandex kind of guy. We secure the bikes and gear and the journey begins. We share some details about our lives: he is married with kids and his family is on vacation at the beach while he pedals across NY; and our biking experience: he drives from NJ to NY City each day, picks up a bike from the bike share systems, and rides through congested streets with crazy honking drivers for his daily commute to work. Yes, we have lots in common. The chatter soon wears thin and we both seem content with silence.               

As the hours pass on the Thruway at 65+ miles an hour, I find it difficult to imagine traveling this same distance using only my two legs to propel me forward. If I were alone in the car, I would surely turn around – entrance fee be damned! Then a massive field of sunflowers appears along the highway. My heart leaps. Hundreds of huge yellow flowers wave at me in the breeze. It is a wonder. And I begin to wonder how much beauty in the world I have missed because I was afraid to step outside the familiar, to take the risk of being judged or laughed at? 

  Late afternoon we arrive in Buffalo. Groups of people are unloading, chatting and laughing. Everyone seems so jolly! I am not. I am surprised at the array of shapes, sizes and ages of my fellow 500 riders. That pressing need to know where I fit and how I measure up places me midrange in the ranks. I relax just a little. We unload our bikes and head to registration, where I meet my tent mate – another stranger found online. I chose to rent a tent with an inflatable mattress that will be set up and taken down for me each day. It was a last-minute luxury. I could not afford to rent a private tent, but couldn’t imagine setting up and taking down my own each day after riding 60-70 miles. I learn my tent mate is from Washington DC and rides her bike to work through the streets of that city each day – yep, another one. She leads me to our tent in the middle of neat rows of identical domed dwellings, surrounded by a ragged rainbow of individual tents inhabited by the heartier participants. Each day will begin and end at this traveling tent city, set up on football fields or park grounds.

The most immediate need is to return the rental car. My ride share guy offers to accompany me, but true to my deeply ingrained lessons: never expect or ask for help, and do not inconvenience anyone else, I say I am OK on my own. I regret this decision as soon as I drive into rush hour traffic in the large unfamiliar city. My new portable GPS system helps me find my way to the rental office at the airport. That is not the major problem. Now I have to find my way back. I ask for directions and there seems to be a fairly direct city bus route. I decide not to waste what feels like a lot of money on a cab and go for the bus. Midway there we travel through city blocks populated with boarded-up buildings and empty storefronts. The driver kindly lets me know I need to get off here and wait for my next connection. Dusk thickens as I wait, unsure that a bus will ever arrive. I ask a woman with a shopping cart full of laundry if this is the right stop, and she graciously assures me the bus will be along soon. I have no idea where I am or how to get to where I am going. There are no cabs in sight. I regret not spending the money on one at the airport. My thumping heart seems to suck my breath away as I continue to wait.

 Finally, a bus stops, but the driver says it is not my bus, that another will come by soon. Tears threaten to give away my near panic as I step back and wait some more. Another bus arrives and I could kiss the driver when he says it is the right one. My body sits erect and stiff, but my eyes dart around relentlessly, looking for some kind of landmark-even though I have no clue what I’m looking for. Nichols Academy, the school where we are staying, comes into sight and the driver gestures for me to get off. I am ready to head back home right now, but that is not an option. I missed dinner, but my ride share and my tent mate saved me a plate. I am surprised at their thoughtfulness, these total strangers. They ask how returning the car went and I say “just fine” and don’t elaborate on the bus trip back. I keep it all inside, push it down, deny the reality of the fear I felt. I am here now.

  An evening orientation describes what awaits us over the next week. Everyone seems so excited and happy. Am I the only one filled with doubts about my ability to do this? Do they each have a friend or mate to help them along the way? Bits of information drift by, then suddenly I snap to attention- what did he just say? If I have a flat tire, I need to repair it myself? I thought that was what the sag wagon (the van that follows along in case there is a problem) was for. It was the promise of back-up that made me even consider this trip! I have a spare inner tube and a small pump, but I have never changed a tire! Is he kidding? Apparently not. They will hold an early morning clinic for those of us that need to learn. My tent mate and I head to our tent to turn in early. We chat briefly and then I become quiet, filled with thoughts of the day’s challenges and of those that still wait on the other side of nightfall.

Continuing the journey:

My last piece was the conclusion to what will turn into the memoir I am working on (with lots of changes!)

I am grateful to all that offered their input and suggestions. I will continue with other stories that occurred after that time.

The next few months will focus on a 360 mile bike trip along the Erie Canalway from Buffalo to Albany. In some ways I feel it was a synopsis of my life that came before it. You may recognize some of the information included for background, but the trip itself is not included in my prior writings. I am also going to change to posting every other week and see how that goes for a bit. As always, I appreciate all input and suggestions. May our journeys continue…..

The Long Trip Home

The path beneath my two thin tires alternated between asphalt, dirt, and the dreaded loose gravel. My pale knuckles seized the handlebars for hours on end, relaxing only when the pedals came to a halt and my feet touched solid ground. Fear of the gravity devil’s fingers toppling me towards scrapes or broken bones turned me into a timid rider-who erupted into a terrified one on downhill slopes or uneven terrain. Yet here I was, riding over 350 miles on the Erie Canalway Trail from Buffalo to Albany. Dreams of joining this annual event had teased me for over ten years. Its first name, “The Big Fat Fanny Ride”, had placed it within the realm of possibilities; a ride for ‘normal’ people, not just athletes dressed in spandex! But a convenient excuse arrived each year as it approached: kids, work, elderly parents, the floor needed mopping….. The kids were grown, care for elderly parents had ended and the only excuse left was… well, there was no valid excuse! It was time to get in the saddle or take this one off the bucket list.     

Training – a first for my sixty-year-old, petite, curvy physique never destined to morph into long, lean or athletic – began in April for this early July adventure. Across three months, I pumped past my starting five mile limit to forty-mile excursions. Growing definition of my calves and thighs, less gasping for breath on hills, and the fortification of the area where the bike seat met my seat, testified to the hours spent preparing. On good days, a voice from a place I usually ignored coaxed me past doubt and resistance. But more familiar refrains often grew louder by the mile: “You’ll never be able to finish.” “You’ll be laughed at for even trying.” “Who do you think you are?” The swinging door between belief and uncertainty threatened to close before I allowed myself to commit to the entrance fee. 

Another uninvited but familiar companion followed at my heels. Fear. Fear of falling, of being hit by a car, of losing my way, of losing my nerve.  Fear squeezed my gut, accelerated my heartbeat, restrained my breath and crunched my shoulders towards my ears. And that was before I mounted the bike!

 Despite hesitancies, preparation moved forward in all areas except one. This trip was a choice, but not an easy one. The little girl that had literally clutched her mother’s sturdy leg, with averted eyes and words locked behind closed lips around strangers, often surfaced and slowed or stopped my progress. My natural tendency towards shyness had been fortified by the confinement inherent in being raised in an isolated rural setting. Parental constraints that limited social activities further hindered the development of self-confidence. But discontent had grown as I grew, and an inherited stubborn streak had refused to accept limitations set by others. I had left home despite efforts to keep me there and became the first in my family to attend college. I soon realized that the social skills others had already acquired would require as much effort to understand as the course curriculums. Lessons learned through developing friendships became as important as those taught in the classrooms.

 A network of friends became the support system I depended on during tough times, both as a naïve college student and throughout the years beyond. But although well wishes and verbal support were abundant, no one was available to accompany me on this trip. My husband promised to rescue me anywhere along the way, but also declined participation. I would be on my own.                    

My dependence on the comfort of a close companion in social situations was challenged. I felt as vulnerable as the girl sitting at the rear of the classroom praying not to be called on fifty years ago. I worried that my solo self would not be able to weather exposure to the judgments of strangers. Training could not prepare me for this piece of the trip. But I was ready to let go of this worn out dance between fear and desire, control and faith, wanting and doing. I hoped to learn a few new steps to the tune of possibility

 I submitted the entrance fee at the last minute. No turning back now-I never took a monetary commitment lightly! The next step was reserving a place on the bus to transport me one way to my destination. But the bus was full! How could that be, are that many people crazy enough to do this? Are they all those athletes I thought would find a big skinny fanny ride somewhere else?  Then again, the name had changed to the Erie Canalway Ride – no fanny’s mentioned anywhere anymore!  Panic lead to a phone call to try to get on that bus. A long wait list was my answer. My mind sped backwards to another bus missed a very long time ago, in High School. I had been the only student left behind due to what appeared to be my failure to measure up. In reality, it had been another one of my parent’s rigid restrictions that had limited my participation in activities for my entire seventeen years. But that disappointment had been the final straw, had set me in motion to change the direction of my life. The motivation for this bike trip remained unclear, but it felt as linked to a change in direction as the trip I had missed so long ago. I would not let missing this bus stop me. I checked online to see if I could arrange a ride share with some others that still needed transportation.  I pushed past my resistance to contacting strangers online and posted a request to share a ride. I quickly received a response from a younger man.  We decided I would rent a car one way, he would travel to me and we would make the trip together. A total stranger and I, five hours in a car with nothing to say to each other – a personal nightmare. But that fresh voice inside that believed in me, whispered: “You can do this, it’s OK to be afraid, you’ve been there before and succeeded, you’ll be OK.” 

Three weeks before the ride my well loved ten speed Peugeot bike, an extravagant purchase from my first professional paycheck at the start of a career that spanned over thirty-five years, gave out. I considered yet another repair of the bike with a frame that fit my body like no other ever had. I had replaced brakes and tires and wires in the past, but I didn’t believe I could bring it up to speed for a trip so far beyond any challenge I had ever placed before it. Another old friend unable to accompany me. After a few days exploring and test riding, I replaced it with a modified lighter model with more gears than I would ever conquer!  I rode the new bike as far and often as I could to gain confidence in our ability to work together to make the long trip home from Buffalo.

Out of the Woods

Being alone at the small house on the river became easier.  It was quiet there.  I was quiet there.  The pull to be with others loosened.  The pull to be with the worry and drama of my own thoughts, also loosened.  One day, while writing in my journal about Ron’s struggles, I began to wonder about what hidden wounds I possessed that bled into my daily actions and reactions.  I knew they were there, but focus on Ron’s issues provided a convenient excuse to ignore them.

 I reflected on my search for inner peace over the past few years.  Bits and pieces swirled in an eddy of confusion.   My brain understood the call for compassion, but my heart still felt anger.   My heart also felt love, but my brain pierced it with doubt.   One night, I woke in the heat of anger from a nightmare about Ron cheating on me.  But he wasn’t the one that had committed the act in real life.  He was the wrong target for my fury.  I thought about past nightmares and recalled one about being frozen in place while Ron yelled at me.   My resulting fight for control had also been aimed at him, but again – wrong target.   Growing awareness sent me deeper into shadows from my past.  Threatening eyes peered out at me. 

Yes, Ron had cheated on me with alcohol as his mistress.  Yes, his abuse of alcohol had exerted control over many parts of my life.  But it was not that simple.  His love and fidelity were major reasons I had stayed through difficult times.  His gentle nature had been a key attraction when we met – he never yelled!   I began to wonder, had my strong attraction to him been due to the positive characteristics I saw?   Or did the alcohol fulfill the needs of a damaged ego to be  controlled and cheated on?  Or was it both? 

The answer to that question was not as important as the door it opened.   The turmoil inside me didn’t go away, but the writing in my journal turned in a different direction.   What part had I played in our family’s difficulties?  Ron had obviously brought alcohol on board, but what had I loaded onto the rocky vessel?  My anger for sure, my stubborn nature, my need to feel in control.  But we had both also brought love for each other and our children, persistence, and the ‘glass half full’ view of the world.   I started exploring reasons to stay together, instead of just reasons to part.

 Before I could accept Ron the way he was, I needed to accept and own human frailties.  I needed to aim my intense love at the one person I could change, and who seemed most in need of it – me.  I also needed to determine what I wanted – not just from Ron, but for my life.   I possessed control over my own actions and responses, but could I give up the need for a sense of control over things outside of myself?  Could I instead work on understanding why I responded with anger or fear?  I wanted to feel free to express myself, even when it conflicted with others.  Could I find the key to unlock my true voice?  And perhaps the biggest challenge of all: trusting Ron enough to let go of my fierce need for independence.  But what would that mean – dependence?  This one sent a shiver of fear down my spine. 

Days passed, and I realized I would never be able to allow myself to be dependent on another.  But independence wasn’t working either.  Then it came to me, like sunlight breaking through a leafy canopy overhead.  There was a third choice: interdependence – two people giving and taking, interacting with and for each other, mutual dependence between two people, not just one person’s dependence on another.  I wasn’t sure I could do it, trust Ron enough to let my guard down, or allow him to trust me enough to lower his.  But interdependence might offer a full spectrum of possibilities, along with the flexibility to change from one moment to the next.  Life is full of changes.  Was I ready to move beyond the shadows of the woods?

            We did reunite.  Ron went back to the Vet Center for a while.  Today he continues to drink, but less.  When drinking increases I express my concern out loud, without anger – usually – and he cuts back.  I accept that this battle will never end, but we can work to maintain boundaries we can both tolerate.  I also accept that I value his kind heart, his ability to make me laugh, his fidelity, and his unyielding love and acceptance more than complete sobriety.  The pain that leads him to drink does not have to spill into my heart.  I cannot mend it, but I can have compassion for his plight without making it mine.  I can offer support without anger or fear of being controlled.  It is not a fairy tale marriage, not a choice some would make.  But it is the story of our marriage, moving in the general direction of ‘happily ever after’.

                       The End       (but possibilities always continue!)

Lost in the Woods – part 5

Ron and I started spending more time together at the camp on the river.  It was quieter there, and fewer remnants of past troubles had been swept into the corners.  Ron asked me to move back home.  I resisted.  Part of me was not sure I could return to the turmoil.  Another part wanted to gain an ounce of control, make him wait, not let him know I wanted to come back.  I could feel that familiar pull of stubbornness – a tool for self-protection?  I didn’t want to be alone, but I wanted to keep the power of the threat alive.  But who was I kidding, that was all part of why I was here now.  I was tired of the threats, of holding back for fear of betrayal, of my one foot out the door. 

I wanted to go back to our home, but I did not want to go back to my role there.  A role I had created to address my fear of being controlled: the role of an angry woman that resembled a bear in the woods!  I knew I did not want to be dependent – but independence was not working either.  I needed to feel connected at a level I had never allowed with Ron, or few others.  How could I connect without risk, without opening the door in my heart that exposed the most fragile part of my being?

I had deep relationships with women friends without this fear.  I could bare deep feelings without fear of being hurt, despite having experienced the mauling of my emotions from other women friends in the past.  What held me back with Ron?  Was it trust?  I trusted that he loved me.  I trusted that he would step in front of a speeding car to save me.  I trusted that his efforts to make changes in his life were sincere – even when he was unsuccessful.  I trusted his desire to make me happy.  I trusted his fidelity.  That’s a lot of trust!  What, exactly, didn’t I trust? 

I knew that answer, on the surface.  I feared that he would never be able to stop chasing his pain away with alcohol.  I wanted him to gain control over the alcohol.  I wanted to gain control over the alcohol!  To tie up all the horrors in a neat little package and send it to the bottom of the sea.  In other words, I wanted to fix his world in order to fix him.  But I knew, knew as a cold hard fact, that I didn’t possess that power.  And maybe he didn’t either. 

The move back took more time.  Before the decision to become a couple again could be made, I needed to know what I wanted from Ron.  I needed to think about how to handle the things there was no guarantee I could have.  My journal was kept busy at all hours.  The kayak floated on the river following the pull of the current or push of the wind as I sat in silence.  The yoga mat hit the floor over and over again.  My paper mentors were pulled from the shelf.  It all helped, but ultimately a decision needed to be made by me, for my one life. 

I could only go back if I gave up my desire for Ron to act the way I wanted him to act.   If I could allow the positive to outweigh the negative.  If I could accept the wounds he harbored that were not going away.  If I could soften my anger and open that door in my heart.  

Lost in the Woods – part 4

A vacation had been scheduled prior to the Vietnam reunion, and plane tickets were non-refundable.  We were both emotionally drained and decided to go.  The condo had two bedrooms and we could be away from the scene of our troubles.  Maybe I could get some sleep.  As we were leaving the airport in a rental car a thought, unrelated to our relationship, occurred to me.  I started to ask Ron his opinion – but then stopped myself.  This was how I interacted with my friends, bantering ideas back and forth, listening to what each other had to say – maybe agreeing or maybe not.  This was not how I interacted with Ron.  Our conversations focused on his drinking, the kids, his drinking, the house, his drinking, dinner ….   But our marriage was done, what did I have to lose?  So I asked his opinion.  He responded with the silence I expected, for a minute.  Then casually stated he had never had the experience I referred to, but had experienced something similar, and then went on to explain his thoughts.   A real response!  He had heard me, thought about it, and then replied with his own thoughts – like one of my friends.  In that moment I realized that even though I had asked for his love and taken him as my husband, I had never asked him to be my friend!  Never talked to him like a friend.  Had I ever even observed or experienced friendship within a relationship between a man and a woman?  The door to a different way to interact squeaked open, its hinges rusty from disuse.

It was hard to keep the wheels of habit from slipping back into the deep ruts carved from years of use.  It was hard to even see another route beyond the one I had been trained on – despite all my efforts to avoid its path into the woods.  What was waiting, hiding in the shadows if I dared to venture off the beaten path?  Claws and teeth and blood and pain?  But despite the fear I did veer into new territory, a few steps at a time, cautiously placing each foot, glancing over my shoulder, listening for the whisper of courage.  The call of courage grew louder each time I expressed a personal thought or idea.  It crept past conversations with Ron, into more honest conversations with my kids, parents, friends – and even with acquaintances and strangers.   Sometimes my thoughts and ideas were not in accord with those of others, but I set them free despite fear of disapproval.

Anger towards Ron did not disappear.  It was not that easy.  But it was released more freely on the wind of my voice, defusing the explosions self induced silence always led to.  Anger was my most familiar mode of expression.  I had grown up with it, learned it, and used it to manipulate situations with Ron.  But I was tired of anger, and it had never really worked to change things anyway!  My heart yearned for peace. 

The journey began, but it bucked with fits and stutters.  A particular fit was initiated by a perceived inconsiderate response.   Adrenaline rushed the blood to my heart, then pumped it to my brain as I prepared for a fight.  “How dare he!  After everything I’ve done!” I carried the load for about 15 minutes before I came to a halt in a doorway, realizing I had expected the response I would have provided.  I had not allowed the extra processing time I knew he needed before he could make a shift in his rigid routine; nor had I provided a reason for my request.  Even as a trained specialist in disordered communication, I found it difficult to see weakness in my own.  Maybe we really do teach what we need to learn!   The patience I extended to children that required extra time to process requests seemed to have been left at the therapy room door.  I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, consciously letting my ‘fight’ response settle down.  And then it was over, gone, just like that.  I had been known to carry the tension from similar interactions for hours, maybe even days – or longer.  Was this related to why my blood pressure was so difficult to control??

More to come next week…..

Hopes for the New Year 2021

I am filled with hope for the coming year.  Last year at this time who knew how unusual 2020 would become?  It seems hope may blossom in the face of challenges.  I am practical to a fault at times, and am guilty of placing the lack of control hope offers beneath the power of taking action.  But what happens when action is limited by circumstances beyond control?  I think that’s called 2020!  Maybe hope can be used not as a substitute for action, but as a tool to direction action.  Hmmmm….

I have created two alphabetical listings – one for sensations I experienced in 2020 that I would like to leave behind, and one for hopes for 2021 – a tall order, but isn’t that what hope is about? 

2021 – hope for:                                               2020 – leave behind:                                             

Alignment                                                                  Alienation

Belief                                                                           Blame

Communication                                                         Combat

Discussion                                                                    Division

Ease                                                                             Epidemic

Focus                                                                           Frustration

Gratitude                                                                      Gloom

Hope                                                                            Helplessness

In person                                                                      Isolation

Joy                                                                               Jadedness

Kindness                                                                      Kvetching

Love                                                                             Loss

Meet ups                                                                      Masks

Nurturing                                                                    Nightmares

Openness                                                                    Oppression

Peace                                                                           Pressure

Quest                                                                          Quarantine

Recovery                                                                      Ravage

Serenity                                                                        Stress

Trust                                                                            Terror

Unity                                                                            Unrest

Vaccine                                                                        Virus

Wellness                                                                      Worry

Xylophone (OK, find something better!)               Xenophobia

Yin                                                                               Yang

Zen                                                                              Zealots

**Happy New Year to all***

May all your hopes direct you to personal fulfillment!

My story will continue next week!!

2020 Holiday Thoughts

It seems the hardest things to give up this year as I head into the holidays, are the expectations.   The anticipated joy seems diminished by the sense of loss from missing family and friends, by the frustration of trying to find that perfect gift without actually seeing and touching it in person, and by downsizing a holiday meal to satisfy just one or two instead of gathering as a group to feast.  Why make cookies when we will be the only ones here to eat them?  Should I just forget the whole thing?

We finally decided to still get a real tree – but a bit smaller than usual.   The aroma stimulates memories of people and places and parties.  Adding each ornament brings back the special history it holds, as it always has, but with even greater meaning this year.  The tree lights brighten each day, and I’ve added a few new ones on the porch to illuminate the darkness that feels deeper than usual. 

 I sent out more holiday cards.   With less to fuss about, I had more time to write a quick note and address envelopes.   I love sending the latest Jib Jab to bring a few laughs, but the personal connection of a real card pulled my pen to the paper.

We’ve ditched a few of the ‘old favorite’ cookies and are experimenting with some different recipes.  I have felt too rushed in the past to focus on the intricacies of decorating cut out shapes.  This year I am eager to join in the search for the perfect royal frosting recipe. Small glass bottles of colored sprinkles and sugars are lined up like children, calling ‘Pick me! Pick me!’

The sense of the season is heightened as Christmas music enchants our home more frequently than in past years.  And I will still watch the movie ‘Elf’ on Christmas day – laughing at his ridiculous antics even though I already know what’s coming – while remembering the groans of good-hearted tolerance  as I subjected the rest of the family to my earnest holiday entertainment.

Gift exchanges will be moving to a virtual Secret Santa mode.   We have electronically selected a name and sent a gift to just one person, to be opened during a group Zoom meeting Christmas Eve.  At first it felt strange not to buy for everyone as usual (‘oh, he would like this’, or ‘I know she wanted that…’) but simplifying by buying just one gift (note – there are no young children in this group yet which would change things a bit!) released hours of time to be used in other pursuits.  

The hustle and bustle energy sparked by expectations of Christmases past, took time – along with a growing shift in acceptance – to quiet and find new direction.   I knew everything would be OK one day when I found myself relaxing and reading while sipping eggnog!  I do not feel any less loved with fewer gifts aimed my way, or any less loving because my own target for gifting is smaller.    Instead I feel calmer overall, and more aware of the simpler pleasures I can choose to embrace and celebrate.  Maybe it is the choice, rather than the urgent need to meet expectations, that is the greatest gift this year.

May you find peace and joy within your unique holiday celebrations.