Tag Archives: Holiday

Happy Mother’s Day!!! A note from the heart

Hello and Happy Mother’s Day to you, friend.  What follows is a post that I wrote four years ago on the afternoon of Mother’s Day as I thought about my amazing Mom.  I happened upon it this week, and it gave me a good cry.  Enough time has passed now that it feels okay to put it out there again.  I hope it gives you a smile, maybe even a good cry, but definitely some thoughts of gratitude about your own mother.  All my best to you and yours.  –William

“All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” –Abraham Lincoln

Hello friend,

Happy Mother’s Day! Last year at this time, I actually got to spend the weekend with my amazing Mom. I admit that I haven’t always given Mother’s Day its just due as a holiday—often lumping it in with “greeting card holidays” like Valentine’s Day, which I mostly ignore—but having that time with my Mom on a day made just for her was pretty darn cool. Maybe I can appreciate it more now that I am a parent, or maybe it just hits home a bit more now that we are both old enough to realize that these earthly lives don’t go on forever. In any case, Mother’s Day is important to me now.

Holidays and birthdays, for me, have kind of taken on the role of “good excuse to let someone know how much I care”. I know that it is pretty lame that I don’t have the guts and/or don’t make the time to do that often enough in my day-to-day interactions, but that is where I am right now. This is why I have come to appreciate these holidays: I need the excuse to share my feelings. These days are helping me out.

So, in honor of Mother’s Day, here are some of the reasons I love my Mom so much:

  • I love my Mom because she birthed me and raised me. That may sound obvious, but really, having now witnessed a couple of births in person, I know that every mother, no matter what they did afterward, deserves a thank you. And to think, that is the easy part! Raising kids is hard!!! My kids are absolutely fabulous and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world, but raising them is still the most taxing thing ever, too. So I am so grateful to my Mom for just hanging in there with me through it all. I didn’t know what a trooper she was—and I may not fully know until these guys go through the teenage stuff—but I know enough now to say she has my utmost respect.
  • I love my Mom because she was crazy enough to have five of us. Who does that? Seriously, I have two kids and can hardly see straight. How did she turn out five of us—four, including me, in very rapid succession—and keep it all together? As many times as I have probed her and other parents of big broods to figure it out, I simply cannot wrap my mind around the idea. But my Mom pulled it off. Even though I am stopping at two, I am so glad I had my many siblings all along the way. Amazingly, we actually still like and respect each other. My Mom is a wonder!
  • I love my Mom because I have always been her little boy. I admit it, I have always been a Momma’s boy. I was the fourth kid, and my little sister didn’t come along for seven years after me. I don’t know if that explains it, or if she just somehow knew I had a unique path that required her special support, but she always provided it. Even at this age and with me about twice her size, she has a way of making me feel like her special little boy. I love that.
  • I love my Mom because we have been lifelong roadtrip partners. In my previous post “Roadtrip Down Memory Lane”, I shared with you how my Mom would throw us five kids, a cooler of soda, and an Alabama cassette into our van and trek across the country. Those trips were amazing, but they were just the beginning. She toted—“tolerated” is probably more accurate—my friends and I around to every little town that had a Summer tennis tournament. Even as an adult, she and I have covered this great country on adventures up and down both coasts and seemingly everywhere in between. She even made it through an epic day in which I dragged her to every possible site in Rome, finally limping up the Spanish Steps in the dark of night. We have shared a lot of beautiful miles.
  • I love my Mom because she shows me how to be a good spouse. After all these years, I am pretty sure my Dad realizes that he landed a good one. I learned the most from my Mom in her most trying times as a wife. When I was wondering, “How in the world is she holding up and hanging in?” she was a rock. She never wavered. I am still amazed by that, and I always return to it whenever I have a “Darn, marriage is hard work!” moment.
  • I love my Mom because she is a fabulous grandmother. My kids—and all her other grandkids, really—totally adore my Mom. She gets right down to the level of whoever she is playing with and really digs in. She snuggles with the infants, plays on the floor with my kids, and reads novels aloud to my teenage nieces (yes, at their request!). I am in awe of how connected she is to each of them. She is the grandma version of the kind of grandpa I want to be.
  • I love my Mom because she showed me how to be the adult child at the parents’ end. My Mom’s mother—my sweet Grandma Jeanne—had a long bout with cancer and needed a lot of care. In what had to be the toughest thing for her to witness, she sucked it up and did it all. I am sitting here bawling as I think about having to do that for her one day. I can only hope I do half as well. She then spent so many more happy years with her father, becoming his best friend and constant source of support, even as his mind began to betray him. She was, again, the rock, right to the very end. How lucky my grandparents were to have her.
  • I love my Mom because she has been, through it all, everything I would want in a best friend. In life, you want someone who is going to love you no matter what. You want someone who is proud of you even when you aren’t proud of yourself. You want someone you can have a great time with. You want someone who will tell you their Truth. And you want someone to be your biggest fan. My Mom is all of that to me. I love her without end.

This morning, as has become her habit in recent years on Mother’s Day, she sent an email to me and my siblings. It was titled “Your Mom”, and here is how it went:

Ahh, it’s my favorite day of the year once again! And now that I say that I know it’s not totally true, my favorite days are when I actually get to see you! But today is the day that I feel like I can take some of the credit for the 5 greatest people the world has ever seen and I do mean that! I know that without God taking care of you every day and your Dad’s help I couldn’t say that and I am just so very thankful that I can. I really couldn’t be more proud of each of you than I already am for everything you have accomplished and everything you have become. You truly are the 5 greatest people I know and you are raising 14 of the greatest kids there are anywhere. Mom or Dad, you should be as proud of yourselves as I am of you for doing such a great job and having so much fun with all of them. Nothing makes me more proud of you than to see what great parents you are and the love you have for your children….that really is the most important thing in your life as I know you can see even now. They are and always will be the greatest source of joy to you even in the difficult times so treasure each moment…it doesn’t come again. Thank you all for making my life so special…..you will only know how much I love you as you experience your own love for your children.

All my love, Your very blessed Mom 

Oh yeah, I love my Mom for that letter, too.

How about you? Open up your journal—or better yet, a letter or the phone line or her front door—and write down all the reasons you love your mother. If you are anything like me, it will be a tear-filled entry, but, trust me, well worth your time. I bet your Mom would think so, too! Leave me a reply and let me know: how awesome is your Mom?

You are loved,

William

Lutefisk, Lefse, & Other Holiday Traditions

DSC_0893“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things—not the great occasions—give off the greatest glow of happiness.” –Bob Hope

Hello friend,

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us! There are so many different holidays & reasons to celebrate this time of year—Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, Winter Solstice, even Wright Brothers Day (December 17, of course!), and more—depending upon how you were raised and the choices you have adopted since then. But let’s face it: in America, at this time of the year, it is Christmas that dominates the scene. We are a nation of Christmas. Even though for some, the holiday retains aspects of its original religious significance, it is safe to say that between Santa, the amount of money we spend on gifts, and the cross-cultural dominance of its symbols, Christmas has become mostly a secular celebration, like Halloween or Thanksgiving.

Because of this secularization, whether you are a Christian or not, you are probably about to embark on a week or two of Christmas-related rituals, leading right into the New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day shenanigans. Many of these rituals involve your family, of course, and that means they are not simply rituals. They are traditions. They have been in your family for years, maybe even generations. Some are heart-touching. Some are vomit-inducing. Some somber. Some hilarious. All are meaningful in ways you can’t totally explain. So, basically, they are like your family!

When I was a kid, we would drive a couple of hours to the town where my parents grew up so we could spend Christmas Eve with my grandparents and cousins. My Grandma Jeanne would make a traditional turkey dinner for us, which was delicious. My Grandpa Mel, though, always insisted that she include on the menu a platter of lutefisk. If you don’t know what lutefisk is, consider yourself lucky. Picture a very pale, very fishy-tasting slab of rubber soaking in warm water. Come on, Grandpa Mel! Give me a break! This is your Norwegian tradition? This is the part of your heritage you want to pass down? I am glad to say that lutefisk is one tradition which has met its demise in my family’s current generation.

Food & drink are such an integral part of so many of our traditions, though, aren’t they? In my family, the favorite food tradition comes on Christmas morning, when my Mom makes her cheesy, hammy eggbake (is that a word?), caramel rolls, and sliced oranges. That may sound like an odd combo to you, but there might be a mutiny in the house if she did not make them to eat before we all go down to open presents.

Ah, the presents! We are totally a Christmas morning family. When I was a kid, we would get to open one present on Christmas Eve: the one from our cousins who were Christmas Eve people. If my parents had a “family present” to give us—a game of some sort—we might get to open that one too. But now that the cousins don’t exchange anymore, we are a Christmas-Morning-Only house.

And we have to be at my parent’s house—the house that I grew up in—to open them. When I was a kid, if we took the two-hour drive to be with my grandparents and cousins for Christmas Eve, we turned around at the end of a long night and drove back across the frozen tundra so we would be home for Christmas morning presents at our house. Even as we got into our college and early adulthood, no one dared to miss Christmas at home. Wouldn’t dream of it. Multiple kids with spouses and in-laws have complicated things, of course, and in recent years a couple of my siblings have had to take their turn at the in-laws’ houses instead. Spoiled as we are, none of us take it well. I am happy to say that even after all of the wandering I have done over the years, I have always made it home for Christmas. Some years there are twenty of us sleeping under one roof, with only our spouses feeling cramped. My kids absolutely love it, as do I.

One of these years, one of the families of my siblings will announce that they are starting their own tradition and will no longer be going to my parents’ house—or my parents will lock us all out—and I will be very sad about that.

I think one way that my family might be peculiar—just one, of course—is that we have no Christmas Eve traditions. The only thing remotely like it is that most people go to church. But some years, people are just getting to town that night and thus don’t go, and my little part of the family never goes. Other years, folks have split up and gone to different churches. So, even the church part is not so traditional. And then we follow it up with a totally random meal that changes from year to year. As I said, we are a Christmas Day people, not Christmas Eve.

But I do love Christmas Dinner! After the late-morning eggbake and the presents, my old man goes up to the kitchen and has his own tradition of getting very surly about anyone getting in his space for the next several hours as he prepares his prime rib. So, we are all desperately hungry by the time dinner rolls around. And it is a true delight, including the traditional Scandinavian specialty, lefse, covered in butter and tons of sugar (which guarantees that my kids will continue this tradition). But alas, no lutefisk. Sorry, Grandpa Mel. The best part of the whole deal for me, though, is the Swedish Cream with raspberry sauce that my Mom makes for dessert. That smooth, creamy-dreamy concoction slays me every year. It is my kind of tradition!

One of my personal traditions is writing in my journal in the afternoon between presents and supper—seeing as I am shut out of the kitchen by the surly guy upstairs—and including a list of all of the presents I got, for posterity’s sake. I like to think I will enjoy looking back on those entries one day, the thought of the presents bringing back lots of fun memories to swim around in.

Thinking now of all of these traditions is doing just that. I haven’t been able to wipe the smile off of my face since I started writing this letter. I love the holidays for the memories they create. That reminds me of one last thing I do every year no matter what: I thank my lucky stars for the family I get to share the holiday with and for this wonderful life I get to live every day in between. I am wildly blessed. I thank the holidays for reminding me of that. Every year. Same place, same time.

How about you? What are your holiday traditions? Get out your journal and be ready to smile as you write. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Are there any traditions that you plod through every year just because “it’s tradition,” gritting your teeth through every bit of it? How tempted are you to step up and suggest ending that tradition? (I remember being so relieved when we finally stopped buying presents for every single person in the extended family, but it took someone finally saying something before it happened.) What is the oldest tradition that you take part in? Is it more meaningful because of its longevity? Which traditions mean (or meant) the most to your parents? Are those the ones that mean the most to you, too? Which ones are the most fun? How about the food? Do you eat the same meals every year at your gatherings? What are your favorite dishes specific to holiday meals? Do you have a version of lutefisk (i.e. something awful but traditional) at your meals? Is there something like a Swedish Cream that only makes an appearance once per year but that you dream about the rest of the year? Do you have any holiday traditions that have nothing to do with family? If you had to pick only three of your traditions to continue for years to come, which would you choose? What makes them keepers? Do all of the traditions make the holidays more fun or more overwhelming? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Cheers to you and yours,

William

P.S. If this letter got you in the holiday spirit or brought up some fond memories from the back of your mind, pass it on. Spread love this season!

Remembering America

DSC_0181“Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed.” —Brene Brown

Hello friend,

I just returned from my 4th of July holiday weekend at the lake with my whole family: wife, kids, parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. It was awesome! I am a huge lover of family gatherings, and when you add the lake and Summer to the deal, I am ecstatic. So, needless to say, I was feeling very happy and grateful all weekend. I was reminded of so many of the reasons I am glad to be me. Being surrounded by loved ones has a way of doing that.

But, even as I was enjoying each moment of the weekend, I couldn’t help but become a bit nostalgic for bygone days. Some of that nostalgia was the natural result of being on the lake where I spent the blissful, carefree Summers of my childhood. However, there was one event in particular that really sent me reeling back in time—back even before my time—and made me long for those bygone days of America in simpler times. What event could hold such an unexpected power over my heart and my memory? A boat parade, of course!

Like many lakes around the country, every year on the 4th of July, my family’s lake has a boat parade. Usually there is a theme—e.g. cartoons—and folks decorate their boats and passengers accordingly. This year, though, in an effort to get more boats involved, they invited anyone to join, and with any décor. So, at the very last moment, we decided to be a part of the parade. We grabbed a bunch of American flags and jumped on the pontoon. As we headed across the wavy waters on a dark, windy day—getting splashed in the face with each bump—I thought we would end up miserable and regretting our decision to participate. How wrong I turned out to be.

As we pulled our boat into the line that had already passed a quarter of the lake’s shoreline, I instantly took note of all the people who had come out to their decks and docks to watch and wave at us. It was people of all ages, often three generations at a single cabin. My nieces instantly got into it, shouting “U.S.A. Rocks!!!” at each gathered group as we slowly passed. My daughter soon jumped into the act, and my son relished the opportunity to blow the horn at everyone. Even as we fought the wind and waves, there was quite a celebratory spirit alive on the boat. The more people that waved and shouted at us from shore, the more fun it became. I was tickled at the joy that the children got in waving the American flag and greeting the onlookers with shouts and waves. I found myself openly joining them. It was a surprising treat.

That childish joy, however, was not the greatest gem that I discovered on that 4th of July boat parade. No, the real prize that was uncovered in that pontoon and on those docks was a sense of community and patriotism that I thought was long lost, a throwback to yesteryear. The longer the parade went—we were on a very big lake—the more amazed I became at the number of people who had come out to wave and to support both us and their country. It was almost every cabin! But it was not just the numbers that got me; it was the age range. It was little kids getting a great kick out of a parade, and it was their parents happy to share the experience with them. It was senior citizens. It was even teenagers!

It seemed clear to me that these folks had been coming out of these cabins to watch this parade for years and years, generation after generation, to pay a simple but heartfelt tribute to the good old U.S.A. and to the neighbors that had made the effort to make this holiday special. It felt like a real throwback to the time after the World Wars, when people actually were sincerely grateful that America existed and that they got to live here. There was a purity and innocence about it that moved me deeply.

The further we went along the parade route, the more beautiful the experience felt and the more grateful I became, both that we had chosen to participate and that I live in America. I really liked that there were these last vestiges of simpler times here in our increasingly impersonal, jaded, modern world. I so often find myself lamenting the fact that, even in my relatively safe neighborhood in suburbia, I don’t feel comfortable letting the kids out to play alone in the driveway or yard, and that it seems awkward to let them run over to see if the neighbor kids are home before I text the parents to see if it’s okay. I hate that I probably wouldn’t answer my doorbell if it rang right now. It seems that, in spite of all of our amazing technological advances in recent years, our sense of community has been lost. Likewise, it feels like it is open season on our country’s leaders and our nation’s actions around the world.

And yet, there I was in a boat parade on the 4th of July, and an entire community of people stepped out of their doors to wave to their neighbors and cheer on this magnificent place called America. I must say, it made my heart feel really, really good. It restored something inside of me that needed restoring. I remembered not only how great my country was, but also how great it still is.

How about you? How do you think America has changed in your lifetime? Get out your journal and take a trip back in time. How safe did you feel as a child? Did you know and trust your neighbors? How patriotic were you? How much respect did you have for the President and your government’s decisions regarding world affairs? Compare your answers to those questions with how you feel today in your neighborhood and in your country. How much has it changed? In what aspects of your life do you feel a genuine sense of community? How nostalgic are you? Do you look at the past through rose-colored glasses, or do you think you remember things quite accurately and impartially? Was our country better in your youth or now? How about your community? What other events—like the boat parade—feel as though they bridge the gap between today and yesteryear? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you like to remember America?

Take the first step up your mountain today,

William

My Family’s Adopted Holiday

1975154_10202817070604257_1405049607_nHello friend,

My normally-silent cellphone was buzzing on Monday.  It was St. Patrick’s Day, and text messages were flying across the country seemingly every few minutes, loaded with photos of all sorts of green and/or shamrock-shaped food and other shenanigans.  It wasn’t my friends out on the town getting silly on green beer.  No, it was simply my siblings and parents, each in their respective homes, celebrating this minor holiday in a major way.  They were putting photos and comments on Facebook, too, sharing recipes for home-made shamrock shakes and photos of big spreads of corned beef & cabbage and shamrock cookies.  I have four siblings, and every single one—along with my parents—were doing the day for all it is worth, and then some.

As I watched the messages and photos pour in, I couldn’t help but think we are an odd bunch, making St. Patrick’s Day our unofficial family holiday.  To most people, I think this holiday is nothing more than a chance to get an extra party night in the year or to wear a green shirt as a conversation piece in an otherwise normal day.  Otherwise, on every 17th day of March, the world goes on the same as it did on the 16th or 25th day.  Schools are in session, banks are open, and no one is gearing their vacation around it.  As holidays go, it is more April Fool’s Day or, at best, Halloween, than it is Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Those are the big ones, the ones that not just get families together but bind them together.

Not my family, though.  No, while we enjoy the other holidays (and certainly gather more frequently at Christmas), the day that binds us together is St. Patrick’s Day.  It is only in the last couple of years that I have recognized this, and truly it was not always the case.  When I was a kid, we wore green just to avoid getting pinched, and of course I loved to get a Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s when we went to Montana on our annual skiing trip (I still love those shakes, too, and that is the one and only day of the year I visit the Golden Arches, driven mostly by nostalgia but also by that minty, sweet goodness).  But that was it.  St. Patrick’s Day came and went like Arbor Day or Flag Day.  It is only in my adulthood that it has become this sort of glue to my family.  But why?  This is what I was shaking my head about as I watched the messages keep flying into my phone that night.  Thankfully, it was about that time of the night when I usually sit down with my journal.  As always, my old friend helped me find some much-needed clarity on the topic.

What I came to see in the process of my writing is that the underlying motivation for us to not just celebrate St. Patrick’s Day but share it with each other in this unusually passionate way stems from our deep love of our father and our attempt to let him know that in a way that he can let in.  Let me unpack that thought.  My dad’s mother—my grandma (we called her “Nana”, and she was a gem)–was fully Irish, her parents having come from the old country and settling on the open plains of North Dakota to raise a family.  She died while I was in high school.  In the ensuing years, my old man became more sincere in his remembrance of St. Patrick’s Day, seemingly in an attempt to make sure that all of us not just remembered but honored our Irish heritage and, as an extension, his dear mother.  As my siblings and I started having kids, it was not unusual to get a little package of green necklaces, headwear, and other paraphernalia just before the big day to ensure a complete celebration and a passing of the torch to the next generation.

Tracing this back to my grandma’s death helped me see the source of the passion from my Dad’s end, but still the question was lingering about why my brothers, sisters, and I have so completely climbed onboard with it and are passing it to our own children.  It turns out that for us kids, it is also about paying tribute to a parent.  You see, my old man can be a bit difficult to get close to.  Like a lot of guys his age—or any age for that matter—he doesn’t really let his guard down enough to allow you to share a truly intimate moment with him.  He tends to disappear when it is time to say goodbye after a visit, leaving the hugs and tears role to my Mom.  It is tough to say “I love you” and have him truly receive it; he just doesn’t take that in very well or make it comfortable for you to try to say, even.  It is tough to get past the wall.

I love my Dad like crazy.  I always thought I would never be able to tell him that, though, never be able to share with him that he really means the world to me.  As you might guess, I am more open and expressive with my emotions than he is, so we are not always on the same page in the communication department.  But, as I came to understand while writing about St. Patrick’s Day in my journal on Monday, it turns out that I have, unknowingly, learned to speak his language and say what I want to say in a way that he can hear.  In the absence of a lot of hugs, terms of endearment, and the like, adopting this holiday has become the one way for the kids to tell the old man “I love you” in a way that he can accept.  We can kind of slip it in under the radar.  No one has to admit—even if we are aware of it, which I wasn’t until writing about it—that this is what is really happening.  Embracing St. Patrick’s Day to the hilt is our tribute to him and our acknowledgment of his love for his mother.  We celebrate her to celebrate him.  And since no one says that out loud, he doesn’t put up any walls or keep the celebration at arm’s length.  Even though that sounds like a lot of subconscious smoke & mirrors, it actually seems to work for everyone.  I am okay with it.

So, it seems that for my siblings and I, the depth of our sincerity in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is less about honoring our Irish heritage than it is about honoring our Dad.  My Mom sent us all a text message Monday morning with a picture of the old man all clad in green (see above) and a quote from him: “If you’re lucky enough to be even a wee bit Irish, you’re lucky enough!  Happy St. Paddy’s Day.”  To that I would say of the man who bestowed upon me the middle name Patrick: if you are lucky enough to have a Dad even a wee bit like mine, you are lucky enough!

Okay, your turn.  Get out your journal and start exploring your mind.  What holiday has your family adopted?  What is it about that holiday that connects you to each other more than the other holidays?  Is it, like mine, underlined by a sentimentality toward a parent or grandparent?  Also, how do you communicate with your parents or family members?  Are you as affectionate and physical as you are with your close friends, or do you feel like you have to filter yourself?  Have you found a new language to speak in, like my placing uncommon importance on a holiday?  If you have kids, is the pattern reproducing itself, or have you charted a new course in affection and communication?  Probing the depths of your heart and mind about family matters is an enormous can of worms, but the digging is, in my experience, simultaneously fascinating and liberating.  How deep are you willing to dig?

Be brave and be YOU,

William