On Certainty

One of my dear friends from college, who is currently attending law school at Georgetown, (yes, she is brilliant) had some time amidst her frenetic final schedule to connect on the phone. Yes, in the age of texting and snap chatting, we spoke to one another.  Although we don't get to talk as frequently as I would like, we are able to pack quite a lot into our catch-ups. She is as thoughtful and grounded, as she is intelligent which for a friend is a stellar combination. We share our candid feelings and help to develop one another's frame of mind. I am especially grateful for these affirming discussions. 

While we talked of both being busy, doing things, and hopefully doing the right things to shape a future we can be proud of, there was a general undertone of, well "I'm not really certain but..." Certain about professional goals, personal goals and well, goals in general.  It made me feel a bit better that someone I admire for being so "together" is uncertain too. I've come to the conclusion that I need a role model who isn't certain. Who doesn't know exactly what they want to be or maybe never did. But they are happy. Adaptable. And pleasantly accepting of the unknown.

Almost every person I have read or heard about, who has achieved something formidable by our society's standards, seemed to have a very clear mandate or inclination toward their goals. Whether divinely, personally or otherwise inspired, they just "knew" what they were meant to do. Since birth, they were singing, dancing, inventing, swimming, creating.  Others find their calling later in life, but there is still a level of certainty in what is right before them - the steps they should take to get to their desired destination. As for me, I've been breathing since birth. I learned to swim by diving into a lagoon when I was probably four or five. Been worrying about lots of stuff since I was about nine or ten. Ask my parents.  Hopefully been a good family member and friend for as long as I can remember. Besides that, I generally go in the direction of what satisfies my intellectual curiosity or warms my heart. More concrete than that though, I'm still trying to figure it all out.

There is abundant research about specific goals. Make SMART goals, they told us in college. Specific, measurable, umm. achievable, I think? Realistic and, time bound. These are great in theory. For me, the over thinker, it feels like a lot of pressure, though. Small goals, I'm fine with, but the bigger stuff, the life list kind of stuff is the real doozy. Where is the calm, uncertain guru in the storybooks?

Much of life just happens, and we never could have anticipated or adequately prepared for it. These detours are still a part of our story, nonetheless. Maybe they were the intended path all along unbeknownst to us.   There aren't enough of these sorts of success stories, about people who can do many things but weren't always sure what they were meant to do. Life still turned out quite special, filled with memories, a comfortable balance of ups and downs, and a general feeling of self-worth. Success stories don't have to be about certainty. They can be about the unknown, and the process. Embracing where we are as we discover where were going.  

I love this sentiment; it captures what I am trying to say in far fewer words. 

"The important thing is to strive towards a goal which is not immediately visible.  That goal is not the concern of the mind, but of the spirit."    ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Flight to Arras, 1942

Certainty. I want it and sometimes need it. But it's like a unicorn and exists only in the abstract. Besides, if my life depended on a unicorn sighting, well... sh*t. 

Thanks as always for the chat, Maria.

Make Time for Dreams

Even if they do not always come true...

Your mind will have always been filled with beautiful possibilities.

And to live like that, full of hope, is a dream.

A Christmas Kind of Mood

Mom and Dad prepare the stuffing like Nonna would have.

Thanksgiving was a whirl wind. It went as quickly as it came.  Our family prepares such an abundant feast that we convened on the Saturday following Thanksgiving to share a meal again. I love that. Such a wonderful holiday, and we get to have it twice. Having been so late in the year though, soon after the turkey and stuffing was digested, Christmas preparation was upon us.

It is the first year in the last seven, that I am home for the entire month of December and it has already been something special. Simple things make it so. Nothing extravagant, but the tangible anticipation of Christmas heightens the enjoyment I suppose. The scarcity of the season, only available one month in twelve, empowers us to live and love more freely? Or maybe Christmas music has subliminal messaging that teaches us to be kind to one another. The egg nog is spiked with happiness. The sugar cookie scented Yankee Candle puts you in the mood to bake. Or maybe it is the Holiday Bloom and Cheer Febreeze. That must be it.

In December, people sing along: in stores, at their desks, in the car. I pretty much sing along all year, and mess up lyrics through and through, but during this time of year it is more common and socially acceptable. The inhibited even sing. Some whistle. There is skipping. All do it to the tune of Carol of the Bells or Sleigh Ride. On Spotify, A Charlie Brown Christmas is alive and well.

In the past few weeks, I have spent more time than usual in Michael's craft store, buying Christmas stickers, treat bags, glitter pens, and blank cards. I've done serious time in the baking aisle as well. What to buy, what to buy? Brown sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Shall I splurge on new muffin pans? No Francesca, yours are fine. A can of pumpkin here and Anise extract for Mimi's Anisette cookies. Chocolate chips of every variation.

Sitting in my pajamas one evening I was working on Christmas cards, cutting out shapes with my Cricut and deciding on a color scheme. From experience, I know if cards aren't started well in advance, I won't finish them. I made some hot cocoa and added a splash of Eggnog as it needed a little dimension. It felt slightly gluttonous and perfectly "holiday".

Christmas card making.

Christmas card making.

Dad and I went to Corrado's to pick up the tree, a seven foot Frasier fir. It was loaded into the pickup truck and we drove home sharing a little heart to heart. He works quite a lot so any time he has my ear, I come away feeling grateful and loved. At home, James was preparing the pierogi Mom bought from the Polish Church. They are divine-the potato and sauerkraut kinds. He also made cabbage and kielbasa to round out the perfect, comforting meal. We huddled around the table, elbows knocking one another which happens in an average sized kitchen.  Smaller the better I say, as there is more affection packed into each square foot of the space. Take that, monumental kitchens with islands and elaborate cabinetry. (P.S. Don't get me wrong, if I ever came to have a kitchen like such, I would just have to pack it with more mouths to feed and merriment to share - to maintain the good stuff ratio of course.)

In December, calendars fill up with Cookie exchanges, Christmas concerts, and holiday parties. There is ice skating and tree lighting. Menus are planned and dishes prepared. Flannel sheets with snowflakes make their way on the bed. Gingerbread are decorated with candies and icing. Stockings are hung and gifts are wrapped. Regardless of how little they may have, people find a little extra to give to someone else. My friend Joey suggested we start a message chain in which we share daily with each other what we are thankful for. It has become my favorite part of the day.

I often wonder what would happen if we prolonged the season. Why must it only last from Thanksgiving to New Year's? The holidays can be tiring with the planning and gatherings, I know. We need not have cookie exchanges all year, although it would be pretty gnarly. I am thinking more about the spirit of it all. It would be just lovely to feel that warmth and gratitude all year. Maybe reconcile with someone you have been avoiding or donate your time to a charity drive. Make time for a dinner with old friends.

If I am not mistaken, research shows that Jesus was born in the summertime so I think it's only fair we share the love with the rest of the year.

Crafting for a Cause - Operation Gratitude

Working at a Web Design studio, I spend much of my day navigating the web for information and inspiration. While the extent to which people (over)share frivolous information is sometimes alarming, every so often I find a real gem; I was elated to discover Operation Gratitude.


Operation Gratitude "annually sends 100,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed in hostile regions, to their children left behind and to Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors and their Care Givers. Their mission is to lift morale, bring a smile to a service member’s face and express to our Armed Forces the appreciation and support of the American people." 

In just ten days, Operation Gratitude will send their Millionth package. Yes, you read correctly: one million packages to past and present heroes and their families. 

Having been raised to consider the needs of others and attending a university that stressed Jesuit values, the notion of service above self has been relevant as long as I can remember. The pressing question remains,  how can we integrate service into our daily lives? Having my fair share of student loans, writing a lofty check to a worthy cause is not an option for me, at least not yet. But there are abundant other ways to help. 

Mother Teresa said it best. 

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” 

Operation Gratitude makes it easy and fun to do some good. I like crafting personally, so the hand-made projects looked to be the perfect opportunity. Admittedly, I horde scrapbooking materials and thus had an abundance of paper, decals, stickers, and blank cards on hand. My boyfriend James, a Veteran with twelve years of service in the United States Marine Corps, bought me a Cricut machine for Christmas last year; it was put to good use card making. 

Friends and family were over to celebrate my parents' anniversary, so I took advantage of the crowd, got everyone to the table, and distributed supplies. We decorated Christmas cards and signed them with heartfelt messages of thanks. The guys with poor handwriting relayed messages to be written by their wives; they stuck to stickers and glitter. This unlikely group of crafters made it all the more memorable. 

My friend Lindsay, who makes quite a fantastic Christmas card I might add,  is a school teacher and was motivated to get her students involved too. The children wrote letters to the troops, decorating them with hand-shaped American flags.

Fostering gratitude is important in younger generations. Tthis type of experience will likely leave an impact on them.  As they age, they will hopefully continue to give of themselves to deserving people and causes.

As the holidays draw near, I know not everyone will be home with their loved ones. Some are called to serve abroad and their families are called to carry on at home. Others dedicate their lives to bringing these families comfort and support.  All sorts are heroes in my eyes and it is essential we say thanks...

 Thank you.

How will you share your gratitude this year? 

To learn more about Operation Gratitude and the great work they do, follow them on PinterestTwitter , or Facebook

Pocket Full of Paradise

I think "conversations" are named as such because they allow your heart to converge with the heart of another person.  The best of them leave you feeling enriched, inspired and if you're really lucky, renewed. They sometimes move you to tears. So, you look away from your conversation partner or feign an itchy eye. (A propensity for shedding tears has made me quite adept at these maneuvers.) Great conversations are organic and need no catalyst. They just happen, and rattle your core for the better.    

You learn a lot about someone when you take the time to converse. Typically, you can tell what a person values. Their disposition too. Are they a pessimist or eternal optimist? Do they keep a firm exterior, but every so often grant you a glimpse of vulnerability? Do their eyes widen with pride when they talk about their children? Or do they cringe when they talk about an unsavory encounter, as they search for some reassurance that their life has not been ruined even if it feels as such.  If you listen hard enough to someone else, they just might teach you something about yourself too, and remind you of your pocket of paradise.

I find it funny that something special can stare us in the face day in and out and we never realize it until someone else points it out. There are times I feel as if I am in control of or have been able to do very little, until another person convinces me otherwise. Their stamp of approval and reassurance are just enough to override my internal doubt (for the time being). We want different things, things we don't have, until someone tells us that we are lucky to have what we have; for a moment in time we are contented that someone validated who we are, and where we are.  We stop seeking greener grass.    

Recently, I had such a conversation. We talked of snow mobiles, fishing, vacation homes too. Life with kids and how it compares to life before kids, and reservations about knowing when the right time is to have kids. Family dinners and gift giving. What makes a home versus a house? How to establish a comfortable balance of money and time, and determining personal and professional goals. Finding one's purpose, a desire for clarity, and the profound importance of patience and hard work.

I left the conversation feeling grateful for dinnertimes, my family who love me despite my imperfections, for a short commute, a warm home, and the understanding of others. For friends and colleagues, memories from summers at the bay even if we no longer have the house there, and a solid education even though I have loans that are not going away anytime soon. For sausage and peppers, crusty Italian bread, a fire, and the sacrifices of veterans and their families. Grateful for the unknown. Although I hunger certainty, it would be dreadfully dull to always know what was coming, I imagine. Most of all, I was grateful for that candid conversation and a pocket of paradise all my own.