43 Things I Am Thankful For

On this Thanksgiving day, I wanted to reflect on the positive things in my life. I feel it’s important to spell these things out because it can be easy to take one’s blessings for granted. I chose 43 things not because I felt I should have at least as many things to be grateful for as the number of years I have spent on this planet. They are in the order they popped into my head and not necessarily in order of importance.

43 Things I Am Thankful For

  1. The gift of Life
  2. My decision to move back home to be near my parents
  3. Living in a warmer climate after 24 frigid winters in Massachusetts
  4. Spending a lot of time with my Dad before he passed away last year
  5. Becoming closer to my mom than ever before
  6. My devoted, selfless, loving husband
  7. My sisters, brother-in-laws, niece and nephews
  8. The 18 years I got to spend with my cat, Hunter, who passed away October 16th
  9. My kitties Gwenny and Normie, their crazy antics, and their adorable vocalizations
  10. A safe and secure roof over my head
  11. Plenty of good food to eat
  12. The ability to pay my bills
  13. Never having been physically or sexually assaulted
  14. Growing up in a relatively safe and peaceful town
  15. My poor health, which motivated me to finally start taking care of myself
  16. Finally learning to love working out and lifting weights at the gym
  17. The ability and opportunity to attend college and grad school
  18. My sense of humor and personality, which people seem to enjoy (for the most part :D)
  19. Physically living closer to my family
  20. The encouragement and support of my friends and family who believe in me
  21. That I learned to love reading
  22. Social media that allows me to keep in touch with friends and family far and wide
  23. Easy travel access to New York City
  24. The ability to eat, sleep, walk, dress, and wash myself without assistance
  25. GPS/Phone capabilities that give me directions whenever I need them
  26. Learning to drive and getting my driver’s license
  27. Learning to live without a TV and cable
  28. Online streaming of the few shows I want to watch
  29. The staff at Bregman Veterinary Group for all the care they gave Hunter in the last year of his life
  30. My former vet who let me pick his ear about Hunter’s medical care near the end of Hunter’s life
  31. My EMDR therapists who helped me through some rough situations
  32. The ability to see and talk to friends long distance via Facetime
  33. Volunteering with kitties in need of forever homes
  34. My daily meditation routine that transformed my life
  35. That I can afford the medication I need in order to function as a person with fibromyalgia
  36. The friendly, supportive staff at the LA Fitness gym in Lake Success, NY where I work out
  37. Spending holidays with my family
  38. A home that is an oasis from the world
  39. The privileges that have allowed me a better life than other people and better treatment from other people
  40. Access to great dental care by a funny, talented, and singing dentist whose office staff puts me at ease
  41. Warm socks
  42. A cup of hot tea on a cold day
  43. The year 2014 that brought me writing, blogging, and more writing

I hope you’ve been inspired by my list. Go ahead! Write yours out, too.

Post Poned

We shall return to our regularly scheduled blogging schedule on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 27, 2014. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Seeing and Not Seeing

This whole week, I have been immersed in re-reading the Harry Potter series. I swear that JK Rowling is a witch herself who put such a spell on her books through her storytelling that I simply cannot stop reading. I put down my book long enough to eat and brush my teeth, and then I’m back to reading.

On a related and unrelated note, I have a smartphone and frequently look at it. The calendar app also shows up  on my home screen. I can see the first of my all day listings, the first of which has been BLOG POST. I put biweekly all day reminders to myself to write my blog post so that I don’t forget.

What happened? I forgot while reading. Seeing and not seeing. I looked at the words BLOG POST on my phone MULTIPLE times today. Yet, here I am at 9:50pm, about to read another chapter in the last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when the words BLOG POST finally penetrated my brain.

Oh, yeah, I said to myself, it’s Thursday.

I knew but didn’t know it was Thursday – the very same Thursday in which I regularly write in my blog. I knew I wrote blog posts, but then how can it not register in the brain?

Have you had this happen to you? Set yourself a reminder but then your brain completely glosses over the reminder as if it were never there?

It’s like hearing but not listening. I think that’s a better way to explain it. The brain just gets so used to hearing or seeing the same pattern that it no longer sees the pattern as being anything other than a kind of mental silence.

Well, at least, I remembered.

Rereading Old Favorites

After my aunt fell ill and died shortly thereafter last week, my brain entered the “Don’t You Dare Try To Think or Be Productive” zone called grieving. My NaNo writing gave up the ghost, and I gave up the writing of that story. Instead, I decided to reread an old favorite story of mine, the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.

One year, a friend of mine gave her circle of friends the first book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was one of those lucky recipients. After reading that book, I went out and bought books 2 and 3 in the series. I couldn’t believe there were 7 books in the series, and I had to start waiting like everyone else before I could find out what was going to happen next.

Every year, I would preorder my book and then start counting the days until the book was released. After I got my book, I would go home and read the whole thing in one shot. Book four has 731 pages, and the other books are even longer, each one in turn. I read quickly, but even a 900 page book at approximately 100 pages an hour will still take you 9 hours to read, maybe 10.

Yes, I really did stay up until the next day reading the book I had stayed in line the night before to read.

Have you ever read the books? You simply cannot put them down. Each page, each line is a necessary party of the story. To pull yourself away and read it later requires an amazing amount of self-control and disciplines, which I seem to lack when it comes to reading fantastically-written stories.

Let me tell you, I am not complaining!

One night last month, I dreamt about one of the scenes in the book. Without giving too much away, let me just say it’s the scene where Draco and Harry are up on their broomsticks after Draco takes Neville’s Remembrall. After I woke up, I figured my brain was telling me that it was time to re-read the stories.

I no longer remember how many times I have read the series, but I am not tired of it yet. Now that I know the story very well, I find that I am noticing little details that I may not have caught before. For example, Harry & Hermione sneak out of the castle under the Invisibility Cloak and hear something in a closet that they do not have time to investigate. Later, you find out who or what was in the closet. I am not sure I caught that in prior readings, and there have been other examples that have come up as well like that.

Catching these little things makes me appreciate the kind of excellent writing, referencing, and story tracking that Rowling must have done in order to make the Harry Potter series the kind of gripping, well-written, and thoroughly thought out story that it is.

Another of my favorites that I read last month was Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. A friend of mine rereads the story every October before Halloween, and I started doing the same thing last year. To me, October is the quintessential fall month, with cider and ghost stories and candy and Halloween and the changing of the colors on the trees and the leaves as they fall on the ground. October is the perfect time for re-reading ghost stories.

For our Halloween wedding anniversary, we visited Sleepy Hollow, NY cemetery. Sleepy Hollow is the town where the story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving takes place. Afterwards, I ordered and received a 1939 printing of a collection of Irving’s stories, which also includes his story Rip Van Winkle. I started to read it, but then had to put it aside for NaNoWriMo.

With Christmas coming up, I will be rereading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the only story by him that I enjoy.

Do you have books that you like to read during the year? If so, what are they and why do you like them?

Accountability and Writing*

I made it through the first 10 days of NaNoWriMo. The story is about a teen wizard who blows himself apart into 3 separate people, one of whom is insane and out to destroy the other two. Who will be victorious?

When writing in NaNoWriMo this year, I was a “pantser” – someone who wrote by the seat of their pants without regard to structure. The point is to start writing and keep writing. I made it to 10,057 words out of a 50,000 word goal this month. Then my auntie passed away on Monday, and I gave up.

I also “pantsed” it the first time I did NaNoWriMo in 2008. I put a lot of thoughts that were into my head onto paper. A lot of it I knew was terrible, but I just needed to keep going.

This year, I struggled writing every word. I wanted to give up, but kept pushing. And I probably would have kept going, maybe, if my auntie hadn’t passed away. My mind was elsewhere and not onto my writing. I considered reverting to my still unfinished 2008 NaNo story rewrite, but even that couldn’t get me going.

In the week before my aunt passed, I reconnected with a friend online and over the phone. Both of us work independently. In the course of our discussion, I suggested that we talk on a regular basis to support each other through our challenges. My friend A suggested once weekly, and we talked again this week as well.

One significant challenge I have had is keeping up the enthusiasm and commitments to myself. By committing to talking to a friend who, although she is in a different line of work, can both give and receive advice, we both benefit. A and I met at a mutual place of employment, so we are already know we work well together. We both work hard, try to give the best service we can, and want to spread our wings instead of working under someone else.

My friend has been far more successful than I, which is why it is extremely important for me to connect with someone that I respect and that I have a weekly meeting to discuss work. I feel accountable to both my friend and myself. I have to do some work so I have something to discuss.

Unfortunately, this week is shot. However, on Monday, I will restart my rewrite of my 2008 NaNo story that I had throw out about half of the words because they were rambling and did not fit the characters.

For now, I start the beginning of saying my final good-byes to my auntie.

* I apologize for not writing my post yesterday as my aunt’s death has occupied much of my thinking as of late. 

Goodbye to My Lovely Zia

Unexpectedly, my Zia – Italian for aunt – passed away in the hospital at 3am in this morning after brief illness. I’m not going to get into the condition or what happened because that’s not what this post is about. I want to share some memories of my aunt and think about some happier memories.

When I think of my Zia Lucrezia, the first memory I have is spending Thanksgiving at her house. The 3 major holidays of the year went like this: We went to my Zio Raniero’s house for Easter; to my Zia Lucrezia’s house for Thanksgiving; and, for Christmas, both sides of the family came to my mother’s house.

If you’ve heard the phrase “from soup to nuts”, then you would know that such a phrase was actually a reality in our large, Italian holiday dinners. Out of all the dishes, I remember a few in particular. Her turkey and stuffing were moist and delicious. Zia made the best holiday dessert: lemon cake – spongy white cake with lemon and sugar. I remember waiting with anticipation all year just to be able to taste her lemon cake again. I recall sitting around the dining room table cracking nuts – walnuts, almonds, and, of course, hazelnuts. Shells were strewn all over the place. What a mess!

I remember Godzilla movies playing on the TV. Or was it football? I seem to remember football in later years, but I would swear to you we watched Godzilla movies on TV all afternoon. I remember sitting in the living room, post feast, and watching my crazy boy cousins running around, going in and out.

By the time I moved back home last year, my aunt was elderly and ill. She’d had at least two open heart surgeries that were very hard on her. A once chubby woman, she had become thin, frail, and could only speak in whispers. But she still had her mind and her spirit.

One day after my Zio Luigi died in July, my husband and I took my mother and my Zia Lucrezia out to lunch at a diner. We had a good time, just the four of us.

In the last few months since my uncle died, my aunt accompanied a son and his family on a trip to Canada to visit her cousins. Then, last month, relatives of hers came to visit. They toured NYC, and my aunt and her sons and their families, in rotation, went sightseeing all over the place.

Saturday night, she fell ill before going to church and was taken to the hospital instead. My husband, mother, and I went to see her that evening. She was awake, and we got to tell her how much we loved her.

When we came back on Sunday, she was much worse and ailing. We left with heavy hearts, and woke up to news that she was gone. Right now, we are in the calm before the wake and funeral storm. Watching someone decline is difficult. Having someone die after a brief illness feels like  a slap that wakes you from a dream.

I love you, Zia Lucrezia. I wish I had asked you for your lemon cake recipe and been able to make it for you for once. Just once.

Blessed be and peace to you, dear readers.

Follow Your Dreams Using The Gym Principles

I have learned and relearned a number of positive things since I began working out with a trainer in August. In my post “5 Truths I’ve Learned from Working Out” on October 23rd, lesson #5 was that I need to treat my writing like I treat the gym, but I didn’t give specific details on how to do that beyond committing to doing it.

In today’s morning writing, I thought about my trainer repeatedly telling me that he likes the way I work, that I’m motivated. He tells me that every time he tells me how many reps to do and I try for the higher number – every time. I think he’s saying that he likes that I’m always willing to give it a try before I decide that I can’t do it.

I began to wonder: What else about my attitude on going to the gym has been helpful?

Then I realized that I could take these principles and applied them to my creative life, too. I’ve long struggled with pursuing my heart’s desires, using logic to talk myself out of things I yearned or loved to do. Take it from me, people, that’s no way to live.

I am calling these lessons The Gym Principles, but you can apply them to any area of your life where you are feeling blockedThese principles are not in any particular order.

Approach your next step or task with an open, nonjudgmental, positive attitude

When Leo tells me I can do 15-20 reps, I shoot for 20 reps every time. Why decide ahead of time that I can’t do something? I won’t know what I can do until I try. If I stop short, then I only did what I told myself I could do. If I try for 20 and can only do 18, that means I challenged myself.

So often in life, we get derailed by others. Why do you want to be one of those people, too?

Set gentle goals, both large and small

My large, long-term goal for the gym is to get moving and stay healthy. Going to the gym and training are two ways in which I move myself towards the long-term goal. It’s a goal with a line that doesn’t exist because I will never be done. I am OK with that, and you should be, too.

Any day in which I’m exercising for 30-60 minutes is a better day than one where I didn’t. I want to get to the gym at least 4 days a week and train at least 2. On the other days, I do what I feel I can do (fibromyalgia pain can limit that) or take a class. Today’s a high pain day, so I’m going to walk slowly on a treadmill for 45 minutes.

Celebrate each day’s accomplishments and challenges

When I’m done at the gym, I feel better. The endorphins are pumping to whatever degree, and I can feel it. Since my goal was to get to the gym and do something, I am able to meet my goals on a regular basis. But I’m not detailing it to the most minute degree where any deviation is unacceptable.

Life is hard enough. Don’t join that team.

Instead, feel good about feeling good. You’re endorphins are running? Good. Did you challenge yourself? Great! So maybe you’re making slower progress than you like, but so what? Who says we’re entitled to anything going any way that we’ve already decided it should go?

Let it go. It’s OK to be proud of yourself.

Enjoy yourself

Yes, you. I’m talking to you. ENJOY YOURSELF. Are you working as a civil rights lawyer? Fantastic! But you should also be enjoying where it is you’re spending your time. Enjoying what you’re doing doesn’t mean that it can’t be serious or have a positive impact.

What more positive impact on the world can you have than being healthy? The world needs YOU and all the enthusiasm you can muster. You can be a force of positive change in the world simply by being positive. You can’t help but feel positive when you’re enjoying yourself.

So what are you waiting for?

20th Wedding Anniversary Adventures

For a variety of reasons, we decided to have a low-key celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary. This called for something more than a Hallmark, store-bought card. So I made one for Mark instead:

20th Anniversary Card Front 20th Anniversary Card Inside 20th Anniversary Card Envelop Front

On Thursday night, we went to dinner at Marble, our favorite go-to restaurant in Floral Park. We’ve developed a good relationship with their main bartender, Doug, who recently featured an article about making drinks in an industry bartending magazine, and Matt, their eminent chef.

On Friday, Halloween, we drove up to Sleepy Hollow, New York, which is about an hour from where we live. We walked around the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery for two hours and took many pictures. You can see the whole lot of them in my Sleepy Hollow, NY album on Flickr. However, some of them were particularly beautiful, including this Egyptian – themed mausoleum:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary Egyptian Mausoleum

The front of Henry Villard’s monument:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary Henry Villard Front

The stained glass inside the Helmsley’s enormous mausoleum:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary Helmsley Inside Glass

Harry and Leona Helmsley’s epitaphs:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary Helmsley Inside Epitaphs

And a panoramic view from the front of the Helmsley’s mausoleum:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary View from Helmsley Front Panorama

The faux Headless Horseman’s Bridge over a brook and under fall foliage:
Sleep Hollow Cemetary Bridge

I snapped 90 photos. Too many beautiful graves, monuments, statues, and views to put here. I definitely want to return because I failed to get pix of the Crane and Van Tassel headstones that were there.

Afterwards, we ate lunch at JP Doyle’s in one of Sleepy Hollow’s neighborhoods. We drove over the Hudson River on the Tappan Zee bridge to the AMC Palisades in West Nyack for a retro showing of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, one of my favorite holiday movies.

I continued the anniversary celebrations by cooking some of my husband’s favorite childhood and current foods. I went a little overboard with the desserts. I had to make banana bread because the bananas were very ripe. And I couldn’t help but make two of his favorite desserts: pumpkin pie and apple pie. I wanted to make sure we had dessert ready before I started in on the dinner foods.

20th Anniversary 3 Pies

For dinner, I cooked up the sauerbraten that had been marinating in the refrigerator and spaetzle. Both are German dishes that Mark’s mother used to make, and it had been a while since we’d made them.

We had a few technical difficulties. I had to ditch the red cabbage dish we were making because we did not shred the cabbage enough; it became a huge unwieldy pile. I also didn’t stir the dough enough before putting it in the ricer, so the spaetzle (German pasta) came out very tiny. The sauerbraten and spaetzle had a ginger snap & stock sauce pour over.

#Sauerbraten with #spaetzle and #gingersnap sauce #German #food

Overall, not as good as Mark’s mom used to make (How could it?), but edible nonetheless. Luckily, I bought a huge cut of beef that we cut into thirds so our future sauerbratens await!