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Benton MacKaye Trail Winter Thru-Hike Slide Show!

Regina, founder of Forgiveness Walks, completed the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail during a walk in January, 2013. Follow her journey, photographed by John Lemberg in slides and music.

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Gratitude Celebration 12: Generosity and Persistence

Generosity and persistence are my brother, Tom’s, virtues for which I am thankful. I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude for people in my life. Enjoy! Please comment with your own stories, and feel free to read previous and subsequent essays.

Today’s gratitude goes to my brother Tom for his generosity and persistence. What I’ve noticed about Tom is that he insists on making sure that people have what they need. He goes out of his way to help people. He did that for me when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. My trip started close to San Diego where he lives. Tom, and his wife, Mary, invited me and my hiking partner to stay at their house for our last few days of preparation. Tom opened his workshop to create a special mailing tube to send our food canister when we needed it.

He drove us to Lake Moreno for the ADZPCTKO, which is the abbreviation for Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off, the 4-day camping gathering for PCT hikers. His support didn’t end there, either! He went out of his way at least four other times to support us on our long journey.

Tom and Mary came all the way from San Diego to Kennedy Meadows to bring us our change of gear as we left the desert and entered the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For me, it was the closest we could come to “going home” while still being on the trail. They brought the comforts of a resupply at home out to us in the wild – our gear, sumptuous and ample food, and family.

There were other times that I remember Tom being a generous provider.  During the family’s visit to Idaho for our niece, Naomi’s, memorial, Tom coordinated and supplied a meal for all of us.

He traveled to Ohio to build a 25-ft ramp for my dad to get out into the back yard during his long degeneration.

I believe his passion for helping the underdog had early roots as well. I may have this wrong, but wasn’t it Tom who secretly harbored a neighborhood waif, Papine, in our laundry room closet?

I love seeing pictures of Tom’s current recipient of his compassion and generosity. That’s his grandson, who he pampers and enjoys as only a grandpa can!

Thanks, Tom, for your generosity and compassion. You made my walk through California comfortable and safe!

 

 

Gratitude Celebration 11: Seeds of Self-Forgiveness

Today’s gratitude is for Seeds of transformation planted by my sister, Mary Rose.  I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude for people in my life.

My gratitude today must begin with an apology.  I’m sorry that I wasn’t a better big sister, a kind and caretaking big sister to my little sister, Mary.  I was mean to her by kicking on her mattress on the bunk bed above mine, trying to get her to stop rocking herself to sleep. It didn’t occur to me to hold her or sing to her or tell her a story.

When she was pregnant for her first time, feeling really crappy all around, I practically scolded her for not doing things the way I thought she should be doing them!  I’m sorry, once again, that I didn’t know how to affirm her and love her just the way she was and just be there to suggest gentle next steps.

And again, when Mary Rose offered a song for our family gathering to remember our dear niece Naomi, I discounted it, which upset her and left her feeling unwelcome and ostracized.  And I was totally oblivious to what I had done!

Still, somehow, Mary Rose.  and her husband, Vince, have weathered  my self-righteous and arrogant bossing, parented four loving children,  and coordinated annual retreats for spiritual growth.  And they still talk to me! In fact, I credit Vince with introducing me vicariously to the tools of Radical Forgiveness which have implemented my transformation from arrogant, self-righteous sister to grateful and compassionate one.

This turn-around is actually a perfect example of the worldview at the foundation of Radical Forgiveness. That’s the view that at the soul level we have chosen to be with others who help us experience the OPPOSITE of what it is we came to Earth to experience. It’s by knowing the absence of compassion, in this case, that both of us can come into an experience of compassion.  So, from a Radical Forgiveness view, Mary Rose and I have been doing a healing dance with and for each other.  We were not aware of that, of course, as children and young adults. But, having now awakened to that possibility, we can be open to it and see what we have done and what we have been for each other. Make sense?

In 2007, when I was leading my first Radical Forgiveness Circle Ceremony, I invited Mary Rose and Vince to join the circle. I wanted someone in my family to be there to support and witness my graduation into this new way of being. They graciously accepted my invitation and squeezed the quick trip into their busy lives to participate. I was honored by that! I didn’t realize at the time just how influential the tools of Radical Forgiveness would be in the following years for helping me choose a new path for my life.

Today, I’m getting ready to lead another Radical Forgiveness Circle Ceremony – as the featured workshop at their healing retreat! It’s quietly magical how the seed that Vince planted has worked in the soil of my soul and now I can give it back for us to nurture together.  I am grateful for my sister, Mary Rose, for dancing with me even when we didn’t know it!

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Do you have something from your past that you want to forgive yourself for? The tools that I used to do that myself are powerful, and actually pretty easy to use, if you’re open to the idea that what happened in your past had a purpose.

13 Steps to Self-Forgiveness

13 Steps to Self-Forgiveness

What really worked to help me forgive myself for being mean to my sister was the 13 Steps to Radical Self-Forgiveness. The simple process and especially the song helped me let go of the guilt and shame from my past and come to a new realization and acceptance of myself that on a spiritual level my sister and I were doing a healing dance with and for each other.

 

I’d like to share this with YOU!
The first 10 people to schedule a one and a half hour ($67)
“Heartsingers Self-Forgiveness Experience”
will receive a FREE 13 Steps to Forgiveness cd ($13 value)
To schedule

send me an email at regina@forgivenesswalks.com
with the subject Self-Forgiveness and Free cd
and a short description of what you want to forgive yourself for

I will respond and we’ll set up a date to meet by phone for your Heartsingers Self-Forgiveness Experience

contact me today, and you’ll soon be singing along with me,

“I’m working on forgiveness, working really hard
‘Cause I’ve noticed how it lightens up my spirit and my heart…….”
~Karen Taylor Good

 

 

Gratitude Celebration 10: Noble Heart

“Noble” is how I describe my brother, Mike, who I celebrate today in my Gratitude Celebration series. I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude for people in my life. Enjoy! And please add your comments!

Today, I want to thank my brother, Mike. He’s three years younger than I am, but I look up to him for his courage out in the wide world.  Mike’s world is completely foreign to me! He had a career as a naval officer, living on those floating cities of aircraft carriers. I have only laid eyes on one, and that was when my brother Tom took me to the naval yard near San Diego right before my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. The size of the ship astonished me, as I struggled to imagine a seaman’s lifestyle. I’m pretty content walking on the firm earth of hiking trails. And that’s as close as I’ve come to understanding Mike’s way of life. But, I’m still fascinated by it!

I have great respect for the courage Mike had to pursue his dream of the sea, whether to move TOWARD something or AWAY.  It’s only been in the past couple of years that I’ve been fortunate to get to have some conversations with Mike exploring our personal views, beliefs, and life journeys.  What a wonderful new phase it’s been. I am deeply grateful for Mike’s respect for my views while standing for his own. Someone who is willing to say, “Frankly, Regina, I don’t see it that way, but I can see how that works for you, and I’m willing to consider that view,” is a breath of fresh air.  The irony here is that I’m not sure others have the same experience with Mike.

Here’s what I’m making of this. I think my brother is mirroring my own willingness to respect the views of others while standing for – and sharing my own. You see, in the past I have been invisibly keeping my way of looking at the world to myself, silently detaching myself from conversations that are fueled by opinions and personal perspectives.  My reason was that I didn’t respect myself and my opinions, especially ones that differed from the arguments on the table.  As I have gained more experience in the power of authentic sharing and with acting on my passionate calling to walk long trails, my courage to share what I’m thinking has increased.  The more I’m being true to what really lights me up,  and taking responsibility to do the work that I’ve always wanted to do but was afraid to pursue, the more authentic I feel. And the world is answering me back with respect. Well, Mike was giving me that all along, even before I had it for myself!

I’m grateful to have begun having conversations of the heart more and more with Mike, especially as several traumatic events have occurred within our family. Being able to open our hearts to each other has been a blessing that I appreciate more every day.

I am also grateful for my brother Mike’s golden tongue and trustworthy influence in helping my son Adam get his first job. Mike, without complete assurance that his reputation would stand, introduced Adam to his acquaintances at a software engineering firm.  They hired him based on Mike’s recommendation.  Adam exceeded everyone’s expectations and now stands on his own reputation, but Mike helped him get his foot in the door.  Thanks, Mike, for seeing beyond Adam’s experience to his potential and his character and being willing to boost him up!

I have always admired Mike for leading with his heart and for his willingness to take a stand for the truth, even when his view is not understood or supported by others. This virtue has been called upon at least twice that I know, once, when his son was killed in a bizarre car wreck and just recently when our youngest brother died.  In both of those heart-wrenching losses, Mike has been the one to take a stand for an unpopular position and view. Although wounded to his core, he has maintained what he thinks is right. To me, that’s what it is to be noble.

Who do you know who leads with their heart?

 

Gratitude Celebration 9: Home and High Notes

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude for people in my life. Today, I bring to mind my older brother, Dan who keeps high notes coming and the home fires burning.

I have a few clear memories of childhood play with my brother, Dan, who is just 16 months older than I. As toddlers, we created our world in the dining room with stools, chairs, and blankets. Our playhouse included an upstairs formed by the wooden window seat. That 5’x8’ space between the dining room table and the window was our preschool playspace for doing the important work of three and four year olds.

Dan was also my companion as teenagers riding our bikes across the neighborhood to the Leland Science Center in Dayton, Ohio, where we took a class exploring the Stillwater River.  We would take a two-gallon metal bucket with us to collect our river treasures. Dan would hang it from the handlebars of his bike, taking the lead with me close behind. Well, one morning, the bucket got in the way of his turn and he and the bike hit the pavement. I couldn’t stop in time and just ran over his arm with my big balloon tires. Upset and hurting, Dan picked himself up and said, “I’m going home,” and turned around. I don’t remember if we discussed it, but I continued on to the Center, just another quarter mile up the road and went to class by myself. I don’t know that I ever said, “Dan, I’m sorry for running over your arm!”

Dan tried to teach me how to drive his stick-shift truck. Well, that didn’t work!  I couldn’t pull the seat up close enough to get solid pressure on that clutch pedal, so guess what?  All we did was jerk and stall, jerk and stall each time I tried. So, Dan gave up on that! Well, I am grateful that he tried, and I did eventually learn to drive a clutch well enough to drive a dump truck when I was 25, which is another story!

When I was 17 and considering my options for life after high school, it never occurred to me to stay in my hometown! My view of growing up meant leaving home, getting away from all those younger brothers and sisters, and discovering the World! But Dan must have had a different view because he stayed in Dayton, moved to a house in another neighborhood, had a business installing siding, and years later got a degree in engineering that allowed him to get a desk job. I can’t admit to always being gracious and appreciative of Dan’s choice, being self-righteous and all about my own, but I now appreciate that he and his wife, Anita, are providing a stable home base for my mom and for the extended family. I admire their 10-acre homestead estate with its pond and trees.  There’s just something really grounding for me about Dan’s husbandry of the land as he mourns the loss of the half acre ash woods and his efforts to reforest his land. He’ll stay there and keep working on it.

Dan and Anita have a roomy house, so they could take the big oak dining table that my dad refinished 50 years ago.  And Dan could accommodate Dad’s massive workbench, making it even better with refinishing. There’s a little tug of the heart strings when I see those symbols of the idea of “home,” and hold them up to my nomadic lifestyle.

But, what I most enjoy about my big brother Dan is that he can hit the most amazing high notes on a trumpet! I have always been proud that my brother Dan was the one, in whichever band he was in, who had the high-note solos! I remember when the first band was starting up in our grade school. I was a little jealous of Dan and my older sister Karen for getting to play band instruments while I stayed with piano. Dan got to go to Band Camp! From my view at the time, that seemed like a really fun thing to do – march around outside all day playing music!  I guess I never wanted to do it bad enough to switch instruments, though!

I rarely see him play in one of his several bands now, but when I do it’s simply delightful! I still feel proud that the one hitting the high notes is my brother Dan!  So, Dan, I’m grateful to you today for having the fortitude to keep the “home” fires burning, for keeping the happy music flowing, and for hitting those high notes every time!

If you’re in Dayton, Ohio and like jazz band music, go hear my brother Dan hit the high notes with Generations Big Band!

https://www.facebook.com/GenerationsBigBand

 

 

Gratitude Celebration 8: Graciousness and Interest

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday by expressing gratitude to people in my life for 60 days. Today, my nod goes to my Aunt Priscilla and Uncle John.

I want to honor my Aunt Priscilla for following her heart and leaving the convent when she wanted to get married instead. My memories are those of a teenager as I witnessed her making that transition. Of course, at the time, I only watched. But now, I have a little more understanding of what a significant choice that would have had to be, and I honor her for it! The family she and Uncle John raised are all truly wonderful people!

I am grateful for being invited to stay with Aunt Priscilla and Uncle John several times when my oldest son was just four years old so I could visit my grandmother while she was dying with cancer. It must have been a stressful time for everyone, so adding me and my son to the household was very gracious. My son had such a good time there, especially playing with John’s model train.

I’m also grateful for her interest in my business! Even though I’ve been self-conscious talking about what’s so dear to my heart with my family (There’s that old story of unworthiness creeping in!), when Aunt Priscilla asked about it, there was genuine interest and concern there. And why not, for she may have had the same questions for Uncle John when he was considering leaving his sales job to open a hardware store, the first relative I knew to have his own business.

“What do you mean by forgiveness?” she asked. In the past, I would have felt all defensive and speechlessly clammed up.  To my surprise, this time I sat still and answered the question. “By forgiveness, I mean to feel light and peace in one’s heart having the perspective that whatever happened had a spiritual reason, so in that regard there’s really nothing to forgive.”  I realized at that moment that my aunt was mirroring back for me my OWN development of worthiness and willingness to share myself openly with my family!

I’ll do that more now, and I have Aunt Priscilla to thank for opening that door for me.

Gratitude Celebration 7: My Steadfast Connection with God

I’m celebrating my  60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude to people in my life. Today’s gratitude goes to my cousin, Susan.

Today, I want to express my gratitude to the one person in my life who always reminds me of God, in particularly, how I am staying – or not staying – mindful of a reverent path.  I haven’t spent much time with her. We have only shared a few conversations in the midst of large family gatherings, and those just within the past 7 years. I have never visited her where she lived, never saw where she worked, never gone on an outing with just the two of us. She has not seen any of my homes or walked with me on a trail. If we have shared any of these moments, I don’t remember them!

Her yearly birthday cards and greetings, often simple handmade ones, have anchored me in the steadfastness of her role. She’s my Godmother, the woman who held me at my Baptism in the Catholic Church and said she would see to my spiritual growth. We have never talked about this, as far as I know, but just thinking about her is a reminder that tending to my spiritual path is a good idea.

My favorite of all of the cards she sent was the one for my First Communion when I was seven years old. It was made of a square of wrapping paper, gold background with two columns of white circles. In the left column, each circle contained a letter of my name R E G I N A. The words in the right column’s circles started with those letters. The only one I can remember today was the one with “I”. It said, “Instant obedience.” I’ll have to search through my secret box of special things in my storage unit and see if that card is still there. Even if it isn’t, the meaning that I’ve taken from that card and the consistent greetings over the years is that in God’s eyes I am special and unique and lovable.

There have been years when I was pretty sure that I was spiritually on my own in the world, when the Catholic Church was the last place I would go for my own connection with God, and still her cards or emails would arrive around my birthday. I would reflect, “So, here is one person who feels the movement of Spirit, especially in Nature and in the Mother Goddess energy, and who acknowledges my life in Spirit. Perhaps I can stay open to that Mystery as well.”

It still feels most sincere and authentic for me to practice a personal Spirituality, particularly while walking in Nature, and I’m still reluctant to talk about that with my Godmother, but my gratitude for her consistent reminders that I am precious in God’s eyes can be openly shared today!

So, to my cousin, Susan, who also goes by her religious name, Sister Pat, Thank You for being my steadfast connection to God, whether you have known it or not!

 

Gratitude Celebration 6: Music, Ingenuity, and Humor

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 posts of gratitude for significant people in my life. Today’s gratitude goes out to my Uncle Paul. Enjoy the story! Then, share one of yours!

Tears welled up in my eyes and I pulled my shoulders in and tucked my chin so I could be invisible. The thought forming in my mind at that moment was, “I don’t matter, even when I have served generously.”

It only took a few seconds for my Uncle Paul to notice me, but for me it was an eternity as I burned a limiting belief that would grow into my way of life into my heart’s hard drive. It was one of those moments of childhood that I can replay at any time to illustrate either a victim story or a story of transformation. At the time, it was a Victim Story. Now, it’s a transformative one.  And I have my mom’s youngest brother, Paul, to thank for it.

He was a college student then, living with us while he earned his engineering degree at the University of Dayton. My parents had gone away for the weekend and Mom charged me with making beef stew for dinner, enough for all of us kids. There would have been 7 or 8 at the time. I was around 10, maybe 12. I had seared, and cut, and chopped, and simmered up that pot of stew and felt really proud to sit in my mom’s chair at the foot of the big oak table while Paul ladled out bowls of stew for everyone, well, everyone but me. He sighed with his own relief at having accomplished the task of serving, when he saw me, too late for my fantasy wish of being acknowledged and praised. He asked, “Regina, what’s the matter?”

“I didn’t get any,” I whimpered.  He soon remedied that and passed me a bowl of stew. Done.

And there, my dear reader, we have a tale of how my “Life’s Story” of being invisible, unworthy, discounted, and never doing enough earned another credit, another ounce of proof for its veracity.

It was many years later that I learned about the whole idea of subconsciously building up false beliefs based on events that we misinterpret. I can always look to that moment as one of those. Of course, my Uncle Paul is totally innocent of perpetrating the STORY!  All he did was delay a bit in serving me a bowl of stew! But, I can thank him now for being part of my story, especially since it has become a story of transformation!  I now know that I do matter very much to lots of people, and I am only invisible when I choose to be.

And there’s so much more to share about my Uncle Paul too! I’m grateful to him for bringing music and ingenuity, good humor, and Aunt Jean into my life!

His Music came with songs that became family favorites, “One meatball, and no spaghetti……. Ya get no bread with one meatball.”  So pathetic and fun to sing.  And, when he pulled together a guitar arrangement of “On Wings of Song” for my wedding with about an hour’s notice.

His Ingenuity allowed the music to flow as he somehow hauled his bass violin all the way across town from our house to the University on his motorscooter. I loved watching him play it and hearing the deep bass notes keeping time for his band.

His Good Humor brightened up my high school graduation day with a silly film he made with me feigning to miss my ride.

And when he traded the bass violin for his girlfriend, Jean, to ride on his scooter, that was the most fun of all. They got married right after college graduation and immediately joined the Peace Corps for a two-year service in Peru. Their wedding was a highlight in my 12-year old life. Wearing the blue polka-dot dress with light blue velvet ribbon and catching Jean’s bouquet were delightful fairy-tale moments for me. I didn’t feel invisible then!

But, I’m most grateful today that Uncle Paul and Aunt Jean have grown into maturity together, that they have stayed together and supported each other in love.  I have lately taken Paul up on his offer of many years ago to “call and talk when I need to” and found his support genuine and heartfelt.

And one more thing, “Uncle Paul, would you please serve me some stew? I’m just learning that all I need to do is ask!”

P.S. Paul has been a faculty member in a wonderful organization called Engineers without Borders. See what they do here:

http://www.ewb-usa.org/

Please share YOUR stories of planting seeds of limiting beliefs. That’s the first step in transforming them to stories of gratitude.

 

 

Gratitude Celebration 5: $50,000 Roller Skates

This is my fifth day of 60 days of gratitude for people in my life. For 60 days I’m writing a post to celebrate my 60th birthday. Enjoy this essay about my Uncle Walt and Aunt Aileen!

“So I took the fifty thousand dollars and I bought a pair of roller skates!” That’s what my Uncle Walt said once and it became the line that everyone used to characterize him! I never understood the story, but those words somehow encapsulate his lighthearted view of life.

Uncle Walt was my Dad’s oldest brother by fifteen years. He was an attorney in the small town of Celina, OH, not far from the even smaller town of Coldwater where the Bernard family grew up.  Aileen Courtney, his wife, was my Grandma’s younger sister, making Aileen my aunt AND my great aunt!

We visited them regularly for summer holidays, driving the one and a half hours from Dayton, OH through small towns until we passed Grand Lake Saint Mary’s with all its tiny cottages right next to the road.  The usual activity at Uncle Walt’s house was playing croquet in their back yard. If you’re not familiar with croquet, it’s that game with wire wickets set up in a course around the yard through which players hit wooden balls with wooden mallets trying to be the first one to maneuver the entire course. Like the other games our family played, anyone could play, and my Dad and Uncle Walt offered handicaps to level the field.  It felt pretty good to be able to beat one of the grown- ups every once in a while!

Thanksgiving was the big day with them, though! Every year, with only a rare miss, until I was 24, I celebrated Thanksgiving at Aunt Aileen’s and Uncle Walt’s. We’d get up early and trundle into the already-packed car, arriving when they were just getting up. Dad wanted to go early so he and his brother, with an army of others, could go rabbit hunting in the farm fields of Mercer County.

Starting at around age 10, I had the privilege of going hunting with them. I didn’t carry or shoot a gun. My job was to walk abreast of my Dad, Uncle Walt, my cousins Terry and Nancy, then later, her husband, Stan, and my brother Dan. Those were the usual hunters who I remember. My job, I started to say, was to flush out the rabbits. I only remember flushing out one rabbit, and that was a frozen one, sitting perfectly upright and still!

Mostly, what I loved was just walking across the fields of cut corn and soybeans, smelling the dry crops, studying the frost on the edges of the broad leaves and listening to my relatives talking and making jokes.  It felt really special to me to get to go hunt rather than stay at the house with all the other family. I got to be outside all day!

There were so many farms there in the countryside, but Uncle Walt would say, “Oh, it’s OK if we hunt here. I know this farmer.” Sometimes he would talk with a farmer outside near the barn. I thought he must know EVERYONE! In fact, he even knew somebody at the ice cream stand on the other side of town from their house! I never did figure out who we were going to see when Uncle Walt would say, “Come with me. There’s a man I need to talk with on the other side of town.” Then, he’d drive to Dairy Queen and buy me an ice cream cone.

And I thought it was pretty impressive that my uncle had his name in gold letters emblazoned on a certain window on the second floor of a building on the main street in Celina. “Bernard Law” the arching letters said. “He must be really important,” I thought. Well, I knew he was important to ME, because he did those same fun things with me and my siblings every time we visited! We’d play, go see that man across town, build a fire in the fireplace, and cook out in the backyard.

The picture was completed with my Aunt Aileen’s part.  For Thanksgiving, she would make chili for lunch, her own brand of chocolate chip cookies for snack, and prepare a sumptuous banquet for supper. My mom would always bring the pies, but Aunt Aileen made everything else.

A few times I got to go visit Aunt Aileen and Uncle Walt (that always rolls out as one long word!) for a whole week by myself! Just like solo visits to my Grandma’s, these were special visits too. I don’t remember being lonely there because there were so many fascinating things to play with. Aunt Aileen had a cupboard in the kitchen with the games I could choose – Pick Up Sticks, Mr. Potatohead, and one of those cards with the face and the iron shavings that you’d move around with a magnetic rod. In the living room there were several decks of cards in a certain drawer. I would build card houses for hours!  And then, downstairs in the basement, there was this Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest board game to play.

But nothing created memories of Aunt Aileen’s basement like roller skating! Either by myself or with siblings, roller skating in Aunt Aileen’s basement was a formative practice second to none! I could skate there for hours, getting my maneuvering around each pole just right, moving around the chairs and the ping pong table without poking my hip, even occasionally sneaking through the huge built-in closet with two doors.

So, maybe that’s where that $50,000 for the roller skates came from! Maybe that’s all got to do with the investment my aunt and uncle made in taking care of his brother’s kids, that priceless gift of making us feel special and having childhood adventures and being conscientious community people in a small town. I’m sure Aunt Aileen and Uncle Walt had struggles and disagreements and difficult times, but in my eyes they were prosperous, generous, and optimistic.

It’s still hard for me to send off a loved-one who is driving off without dancing after them waving goodbye with both arms, making funny faces and shouting Goodbyyyye!” until they’re out of sight. That’s what Uncle Walt used to do, and it caught on.

So, thanks Uncle Walt and Aunt Aileen for helping me develop a light heart!

 

 

 

Gratitude Celebration 4: Grandma Graciousness

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 posts of gratitude for people in my life. Today, I’m remembering my Grandma, Mary Zugger.

I liked my grandma. She was the only grandma I knew, my Dad’s mom having passed away when he was only 16. Grandma would come from Buffalo, NY on the train. My grandpa had worked for the railroad for his career and earned her free rides on the train. My memory snapshot is of her sitting at our kitchen table with beer in a glass and a cigarette in her hand. She would send me to the neighborhood grocery store with a note giving the store manager permission to pick up her Lark cigarettes, a whole carton of them.

A couple of times I got to go visit her by myself, with no other brothers or sisters from among my 9 siblings,  I would ride the train with my grandmother to spend a couple of weeks with her. Once, when I was 12, I got to go by myself. My mom put me on the train wearing my navy blue sailor dress and clutching a whole role of cherry lifesavers. It would take us probably 7 hours to get from Dayton, OH to Buffalo, then we’d catch a cab and ride to her house. When we got to her flat in the upstairs of the house where she grew up and raised her own 5 children, she would immediately make hot cocoa.

She would light up her old gas stove, lifting up the burner plate and striking a wooden match to spark the blue flame. She’d make the cocoa with milk, cocoa, and sugar.  That was the beginning of the special things grandma would do with me.

We’d go to the band concert her son conducted. We’d walk to the 5 and dime where she bought me a doll. It was NOT a Barbie doll, which my mom would not approve. This was a Barbie look-alike, though. For the next week or so that I stayed with my grandmother I played with that doll. My play spot was a really neat closet in the bedroom adjoining the kitchen. It was two steps up from the floor and closed with a folding vinyl door. That closet became my doll’s world where I could give her a wonderful life. I made her clothes from scraps of fabric left over from a dress I had seen my grandmother wear.

My grandmother gave me a big challenge on one of those visits. The downstairs neighbors had taken me with them to their family beach outing. I had a great time and bounced up the stairs into the kitchen at the end of the day. Grandma, with her neatly combed grey hair, looked at me with a firm look, saying, “Did you say ‘thank you’ to the Biddles for that nice outing?” I looked down at the floor. “Well, you go right down there and tell them.” I was so ashamed and shy that I inched down the inside back steps to their kitchen door – and just sat on the bottom step. I sat for a good 20 minutes but I did not knock on their door. I never have understood my reason for refusing to thank the Biddles, but I just couldn’t do it!

Funny how this memory of my grandmother insisting on gracious behavior and me being ashamed and afraid of giving it, has stayed with me!

I’m grateful for my grandmother being a regular presence in my life. Because of her, I usually had a fully ironed blouse to wear under my high school uniform. She caught me one morning, running late with my morning dressing and rushing to get a blouse ready. “You need to iron the whole thing, not just the collar and front, Regina,” she said in that soft and commanding grandma voice. “But, Grandma, I’m wearing a sweater and that’s all that shows!” I argued. She didn’t need to say anything else, just watch me – as I ironed the rest of the blouse. I won’t claim to consistently iron my blouses to her standard after that, but I always heard her voice cajoling me to do it!

As a young adult, newly married and rehabilitating an old house in Covington, KY, my grandma visited me and my husband in our ramshackle abode, slipping between the stacks of drywall and happily chatting in the only finished room, the kitchen. Our entertainment for the Saturday she was there was to go to our rehabbing friend’s house to help bash old plaster off the walls. Grandma said, “Sure, I’ll come along. I want to meet your friends.” She perched herself on an upended barrel or something, sipped her beer, and smoked a cigarette, happily watching everyone for the few hours we were there. “What a cool grandma you have!” everyone agreed. She claimed to have had a good time too. That felt really gracious to me that she would do that!

When she was dying of cancer at age 80, I went to visit her with my oldest son who was four years old. I was pregnant with our second child. The last time I sat with her and talked I told her that I’d name this child after her. She smiled. I didn’t see her again, but I kept my promise and named our second son Adam Courtney Reiter, using her maiden name as his middle name.

So thanks, Grandma Mary Courtney Zugger for being a firm authority who was also gracious and generous. Thanks for showing up frequently in my life and giving me special attention and time on my own.

Gratitude Celebration 3: Karen: Perfection Emulated

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude to people in my life! Today is the third day. I honor my older sister, Karen.

I had this view of my life that I would follow in my sister, Karen’s footsteps. She’s three years older than I, and did everything perfectly (well, except play that Chopin piece with so many repeated notes I wanted to scream down the stairs from my bed, “Just play the thing through! Stop repeating. Stop repeating!”). She was smart. And popular, but not in the boy-attracting way my older sister, Claudia was. Karen dazzled me with her ability to gather groups of friends into marvelous events that I always wanted to be part of. Her friends were so interesting, and talked about important things like social activism and personal growth and things like that. She was such a nice big sister that she did invite me a few times! I was invited to her friend’s party on the night of the first Moon Walk. I was in Karen’s glorious circle of friends with eyes glued to the full moon on July 20, 1969, sure that I could tell that the moon had been breached.

And I was a participant in a weekend retreat with Karen’s friends and some of the religious brothers of the all-boys high school that matched our all-girls one. I felt so grown up to be included, and yet my shy unworthiness drove me to escape to the privacy of the bunk room when I got scared to share my true feelings during one of the talking circles. I’ll always remember how one of Karen’s friends discovered that I was missing and came to gather me back into the group.

Karen set the example that I wanted to follow, and thought that I would. She played piano for her senior class play – South Pacific. Wow! She was good. When I was a senior, I was chosen to accompany the play, but our director didn’t have an orchestra like the one in South Pacific. We just had two pianos and classmate Paula and I took turns playing half of the score – the treble clef – while our music teacher, Rose Geysbers, played the bottom half. I was not as good as Karen had been and our play was not as grandiose.

Karen led the way with having her second child born at home. That home was a cabin in the backwoods of northern Idaho, a couple of miles down a dirt road to the nearest gravel road about 20 miles from town. My husband and I, when we had been married two years, had the job of going to town to call the midwife when it was time for Karen to deliver. Well, when that moment arrived, we were out walking in a nearby marsh, watching a moose! We saw Weezil, Karen’s husband’s, drive by and we realized that we had probably missed that call. We arrived at the house in time to see their son’s birth, everything under control without our help. Afterward, as we sat in the kitchen talking with the midwife, I said, “When we have children, we’ll probably have our first one in a hospital. It would be safer that way.” The midwife promptly replied, “Why sacrifice your first one? That might be the only one you have.”  We thought about that, and when our first son was born, exactly one year later, we were at home with a midwife helping us.  Thanks, Karen, for leading the way!

Homeschooling was another endeavor that Karen mastered and I simply accomplished. As our children grew, we rarely saw each other, both occupied with our all-consuming jobs of raising children. She still lived in Idaho. I was in Arlington, VA and then Evansville, IN. I heard of all the impressive things she was doing with her kids: learning Proverbs, winning fiddle competitions, reading the classics out loud in groups, sewing quilts. I was muddling along with my sons, but never thought I was doing things as well as she was. It was several years later, when my youngest son was 16, playing his solo cello recital, with me accompanying him on piano, that my sister’s admiration for ME dawned on me.  She had made the trip to be present at his recital and gave a tender greeting to our guests, applauding me for being a dedicated, skillful, and talented mom and exemplary homeschooler.  I had never thought that SHE admired ME! So, thanks for your graciousness, Karen!

One of Karen’s expressions in perfection is in piecing quilts. Hers are stunning works of crisp, meticulously angled patterns in vibrant colors. I continuously marvel at the precision displayed in her designs. While Karen’s fabric projects have been amazing quilts and dresses, mine have been hiking gear. I can get by with sewing that just does the job of holding the pieces together! I’ll leave the perfection to her!

It used to be that I compared my lower level of perfection with Karen’s high level. Well, it’s true that we’ve played in some of the same arenas and that our performance there has been different. I’m happy to say that now I’m able to simply celebrate our unique creations and ways that both of us have been willing to be women of courage and perfection, not afraid to stand outside the norm and to be pioneers in birth, education, and crafts.  I thank you, Karen, for being someone who strives for perfection and high quality in everything you do!

There’s an experience that Karen has had that I don’t want to follow.  Karen’s youngest daughter passed away just three days after her eighteenth birthday.  It’s been a number of years since then, I have lost count, but I know the wound is still raw. With deep sadness, and heartfelt sympathy that I know I can never truly express adequately, I turn my sister to the care of other mothers who have lost children. So, it’s not really gratitude, but compassion that I offer to my sister for weathering that sadness and leading the way through grief and loss. Perhaps my sharing this can encourage any of you readers who understand to enfold my sister in your loving care.