gratitude-a-thon day 746:they come and they go

IMG_5941

In the past several days, I have eaten enough to feed a small Italian village.  And I am grateful for every morsel. My jeans, not so much.

I love having my boy home. But he just left again. And I am lying in bed, with my coffee, the temperature a depressing 28 degrees.

I contemplate what next Thanksgiving will feel like. So much crazy excitement at having both my kids home, and so much sadness when they both pack up and leave again. This is college parenting. They come and they go. And every time, your heart shatters just a little, and it takes you a minute to readjust. Well, more than a minute. Without modern technology, I’d be in a corner drowning in my own tears. But with texting and FaceTime and email, and the ability to call them from anywhere, anytime, it’s like having kids, but without all the laundry.

 

IMG_5933

I love you, Jake and Ally. Damn, I LOVE YOU.

 

gratitude-a-thon day 745: the sound of fun

 

IMG_5936

Riley likes football. He plays it with Tiger every night.

I don’t like football. There, I said it. I don’t even know anybody else who doesn’t like it. My family loves it. My husband always says he doesn’t like it, but he watches it all the time, so I guess he’d be in the stands if he actually liked it. Peter and Jake and Ally and Ally’s boyfriend, Elijah, and Riley are all downstairs watching USC vs. UCLA. I tried to watch. I put on my sweatshirt to catch the spirit. I did a couple rounds of the fight song, but I just couldn’t get excited. It’s so violent. Plus it’s boring. Plus I really never know what exactly is happening.

It’s just not my thing. It’s like fish, I want to like it, but I just don’t.

So, I’m upstairs perusing The Christmas Book from Neiman Marcus, marveling at stuff like The Dream Trip to India for $400,000, and the Iris Apfel Trunk of Accessories for $800,000 and The World View exploration at the Edge of Space for $90,000. I find it so much more fun than watching  guys set one another up for life-long arthritis, and Trauma Related Brain Disease.

Anyway, I like hearing the family screaming downstairs, knowing they’re having fun. I’m grateful for that. I imagine next year, when Ally comes back from college and the sound of two kids hasn’t been heard in the house for a few months, I will like it even more.

gratitude-a-thon day 744: gratitude topped with mashed potatoes

quotescover-JPG-82

Happy official day of gratitude! Damn, I love this day. Course number one reason is because of its thankfulness slant, but number two, practically almost edging out number one is: MASHED POTATOES.

Not really, but sort of. Really, it’s the gratitude. (But the mashed potatoes…..). I am way too invested in the potato situation this year. I need to reboot this day and get back to the gratitude before I gain 10 cyber pounds.

Anyway, I hope that you are with  people you love, or at least like (or just don’t hate), and that you have too much food, or enough food, or at least some mashed potatoes, and that you really think about all that you have that is good, and none of the stuff that is bad. Just for today.

I mean, why do you think this is the favorite holiday of millions of people, including me? It’s because feeling gratitude makes you feel good. (It could also be the mashed potatoes, but not completely, could it?).

Happy thanksgiving to all, and to all some love, friendship, gratitude and of course, mashed potatoes.

 

 

 

gratitude-a-thon day 743:fake your gratitude if you have to

NYTquotescover-JPG-71

 

“Building the best life does not require fealty to feelings in the name of authenticity, but rather rebelling against negative impulses and acting right even when we don’t feel like it. In a nutshell, acting grateful can actually make you grateful.” –Arthur C. Brooks

 

I’d like to tell you that I’m a naturally grateful person, that I came out of the womb thanking my mom for the cool, full equipped 9 month rental. But I consider honesty, as important as gratitude, and the both of them almost as important as warm french bread. so I can’t tell you that, because that just wouldn’t be the truth.

The truth is, that I grew up with a very optimistic mom. Whatever came her way, she looked on the bright side of the street. Conversely, I grew up with a very pessimistic dad (this is maybe part of why he drank). He passed on his ability to worry about EVERYTHING to me. If only he could have passed on his genius-level math skills, but I digress.

Anway, I didnt’ want to be a pessimist, it’s just that I seemed to be on automatic pilot when it came to worrying. Like my dad, I tended to worry things would go wrong instead of right. I was actually named most pessimistic in my high school class! Yes, that happened.

Interestingly (or maybe predictably) I married an optimistic. I mean, I married an optimist like you’ve never met before. This guy made my mom look negative. He was constantly trying to get me to put on his rose-colored glasses. I wasn’t having it. If you didn’t put in your worrying hours, all hell could break loose. You can imagine this was a bit of a conflict for us. The thing is, and I hated to admit it, his way of looking at the world seemed to work for him. Things always seemed to go well for the guy. He expected them to, and damnitall, they did.

Over the years, in and out of therapy, I worked on Peter’s way of looking at the world, occasionally wearing his sunny specs. Slowly, I got better and better at replacing negativity with positivity. You would never mistake me for Pollyanna, but you know, I was better.

Then, two years ago in the month of December, things weren’t good. Several things happened at the same time, which sucked the life out of me. My uncle who was like a dad to me (my mom died 23 years ago, and my dad, 13) was losing his battle with dementia, my husband had a health issue, and something else I can’t remember (probably that I am losing my memory). I was feeling down in the dumps, and negativity was creeping in. I was on Facebook, but not really using it much. On the first day of December I decided I would use it to write something I was grateful for every day for one month. It was kind of a whim. I thought, why not? I called it the gratitude-a-thon. All of a sudden people were commenting and sharing in my hunt for good stuff. By the end of the month, and the posts,  people were encouraging me to start a blog, or write a book. I had no such intention, but when I stopped my Facebook rants, I found I missed the hunt for gratitude. I missed the positivity that came from being grateful. Gratitude was like a souped up multi-vitamin that made me feel good. I was looking at my days in a different way, looking for the good stuff. A month later, I started this blog.

The thing is, that having gratitude, noticing things that are good in your life and being grateful for them, really does make you feel better, happier. It’s so simple. And yet, it’s undeniably profound. I even find having gratitude has helped me cope with bad things much more easily and successfully. This is really something for a former negativity queen.

I was not surprised to read this New York Times article, in which the science of gratitude is explained.

“Evidence suggests that we can actively choose to practice gratitude — and that doing so raises our happiness.

This is not just self-improvement hokum. For example, researchers in one 2003 study randomly assigned one group of study participants to keep a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while other groups listed hassles or neutral events. Ten weeks later, the first group enjoyed significantly greater life satisfaction than the others. Other studies have shown the same pattern and lead to the same conclusion. If you want a truly happy holiday, choose to keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving, whether you feel like it or not.

How does all this work? One explanation is that acting happy, regardless of feelings, coaxes one’s brain into processing positive emotions. In one famous 1993 experiment, researchers asked human subjects to smile forcibly for 20 seconds while tensing facial muscles, notably the muscles around the eyes called the orbicularis oculi (which create “crow’s feet”). They found that this action stimulated brain activity associated with positive emotions.

If grinning for an uncomfortably long time like a scary lunatic isn’t your cup of tea, try expressing gratitude instead. According to research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our “reward circuitry” that produces the sensation of pleasure).

It’s science, but also common sense: Choosing to focus on good things makes you feel better than focusing on bad things. As my teenage kids would say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” In the slightly more elegant language of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has.”

Anyway, during this week of Thanksgiving, when you’re all thinking about it, at the risk of being annoying and like a religious fanatic, I just thought I would share my gratitude conversion story. I mean, you can doubt me, but are you really going to doubt the New York Times?

 

gratitde-a-thon day 742: the true benefit of soccer

 

Oh no, I’m writing about soccer again, so those of you sick to death of reading about it can sign off now. I’ll wait. Go ahead. See you tomorrow……

It’s not exactly soccer, I want to write about. It’s the dark web of soccer, the hidden benefit, the unspoken hero of futbol.  I’m specifically talking about the friendships that are made when big girls and little girls commit themselves to kicking a ball around a field with their feet, like they  didn’t have hands.

This weekend was a reminder of this little-discussed phenomena, but I’ve been observing how this goes down for years. The real honest end of year soccer party happened Friday night. This is an off campus, wine drinking, dinner where the underclassmen roast the seniors. They do funny skits and write tear jerking letters to say goodbye.

This is my favorite end-of-year party, because it’s about one of the things that I understand. It’s not about offsides, or tackles, or set pieces, but instead about my part of the world–relationships.

The thing is, that while club soccer is based on performance among same-aged kids (and I should say, super strong relationships are made on this kind of team too, but that’s a whole other story), high school soccer is made up of a team of mixed-aged kids, so there is a big sister/little sister thing that happens, a role model deal, a mentor situation. And this, this is the real money shot of team sports, if you ask me. Especially for teenage girls.

Ally was one of two girls who made the varsity team her freshman year. This was exciting, but a little bit daunting, too. Lucky for her, a few exemplary senior girls took her by the hand and led her in all things, from soccer, to academics, to her social life. (I should say, we were lucky that Ally’s brother’s girlfriend happened to be one of these girls, who Ally knew well, which was pretty awesome, because this girl could be a role model for God.) At an impressionable moment in time, these girls were the girls Ally wanted to mimic. They were her blueprint for success, not just in soccer, but all things. The cuteness factor of these relationships was off the charts. The gushy way she spoke about these girls, dressed like them, and quoted them was adorable. And when they finished the season, and we had the traditional party to roast and toast the seniors, Ally cried so hard giving her speech, that she couldn’t speak.

Al was not a girl who played with dolls, or couldn’t wait to babysit. She didn’t have the kind of maternal side I had when I was young. So, I wondered if she would ever be a role model to a freshman when she became a senior. She didn’t have to, of course, but it interested me to see how she would react when she was the upperclassman.

Fast forward.

When Ally was a junior, an unprecedented 12 freshman made varsity. And much to my surprise, Ally became a fun mother hen to many of them, one in particular. While I hadn’t thought she had it in her to be the “big sister,” right before my eyes, there she was setting an example, showing the freshman how to work hard on the field and off, while also having a good time. It was happening. Again.

Friday night it was Ally’s turn to hear from the girls who she had impacted. And as if on cue, four years after she was the girl standing up and reading from her phone, crying so hard she ultimately couldn’t speak, there were girls reading from their phones, crying so hard, they couldn’t speak.

You can tell me all you want about the benefits of physical activity from playing soccer, the way it makes you think strategically, keeping you nimble in your body and your mind. But if you ask me, I will tell you that high school soccer has the biggest impact on girls supporting and teaching other girls. I will tell you that the kind of relationships that are made are rock solid, and unforgettable. I will tell you that at a particularly vulnerable  time, when the Kardashians are vying for the attention of every young girl, it’s these older, soccer-playing girls who can be the difference. I will tell you that to me, this is the goal of soccer. This is how soccer wins.

 

gratitude-a-thon day 742: tradition

 

IMG_2793

My world’s most favorite people (Jake is missing from this photo. Where are you Jake?!) Also missing, California Gabe.

 

Things change. People die. Traditions morph.

For as long as I can remember we went to my Aunt Chris and Uncle Louie’s for Thanksgiving. Uncle Louie was a foodie. Also he was Italian, so there was always way too much to eat. Also he was funny, so that’s always good.

I love his three boys, who are super intelligent and well read, hilarious, and like my brothers (if I had any). I was really happy to introduce my husband into the mix, and then  of course, my kids. There would be varying numbers of people over the years who celebrated with us, from 30, to later, when Lou began getting very bad dementia, just our family

Unknown

Rye bread, rye bread, rye bread. That is all.

In my little clan, we had a tradition, we always left Boston Thanksgiving morning, we always stopped at Rein’s Deli, our favorite deli halfway from Boston to Connecticut, and we always brought with us way too many mashed potatoes, or too many appetizers, or pie for every person (this is what happens when you’re Jewish & Italian).

Aunt Chris would always decorate the table with the most beautiful candles and flowers. We ate in a glassed in sunroom. She always used real china, and we always drank good wine, and sat around afterward holding our stomachs, wanting to puke, and wondering when we could eat again.

We always told family stories. Of the old country, of the old people, of those we’d lost, and those we’d gained. And always we laughed. A lot.

The next day, my kids would always beg me to take them to the nearby mall, because they loved the crazy mayhem. I always acquiesced. The mall is on the very land that one of the greatest yearly events of my life was located, The Danbury State Fair. Sometimes when I would walk around, I would think about what part of the fair used to be in that very spot. That place was magic to me. Disney World had nothing on the Danbury State Fair when I was 7.

Anwyay, the Thanksgiving before we lost Lou, Jake was studying in Barcelona, and we went there to spend it with him, this was our first real break with traditon, and it wasn’t easy. Then the first Thanksgiving after my Uncle Louie died was last year, and the crew came up and ate at our house. But this year they can’t, because of a recent surgery one of my cousins had. We are in the same boat, with Ally having just had her ACL rebuilt.

We will break tradition this year. Plus my sister and brother-in-law are going to be with his parents in New Orleans, so tradition is getting all sorts of trompled on.

Friends we love have invited us to their table. And we just might do that. But it will not be without some tears for me, for all the November Thursdays I spent in one of the houses I love best, with some of the people I can’t live without.

But that’s the thing about traditions, sometimes the only way they can continue is in your head, and in your heart. You keep going, allowing them to morph into something else, and taking the time to remember what was.

 

 

 

gratitude-a-thon day 741: not just on thanksgiving

 

quotescover-JPG-62

Thanksgiving is when most people are forced to think of some stuff that they feel grateful for. You always have that one person at the table who’s saying, “Ok, now let’s go around and say something you feel grateful for.” And you’re all like thinking, “SHUT THE FUCK UP, THERE ARE MASHED POTATOES ON MY PLATE, I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING, EXCEPT THOSE MASHED POTATOES.”

Well, that person at the table is right. Gratitude can change you, alter your state, make you happier. Check out this study from USC’s Dornsife Brain & Creativity Institute. 

I’m not going to come to your house and force you to think about what you’re grateful for (although I would if there just weren’t so many of you), but I would like to prod you a little to make it part of the other 364 days a year, when there aren’t mashed potatoes on your plate.

gratitude-a-thon day 740: things to do while the world goes crazy

IMG_6150

Eat art, like it were a peach that’s so ripe, it drips down the front of your shirt and embarrasses you.

Laugh like you’re going to wet your pants and have to change them.

Feed yourself a big fat meal of family and friends.

Cuddle with your dog (if you dont’ have one, borrow one, better yet, get one).

Dance to annoyingly loud music, until your body is sweating like you live on the equator.

Minimize thinking about the stuff you haven’t any control over (you know, like everything).

Smile up at the sun once a day.

gratitude-a-thon day 799: we’re the same, but different

screenshot-2015-09-11-14-07-30

When i say that I don’t understand the Paris Attack, or similar attacks, here’s what I mean.

We all need a couple things that make us work.

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. Shelter
  4. A way to make money (so we can afford the food, water, and shelter)

We need a couple more to make us flourish

  1. Love
  2. A sense of belonging
  3. Meaningful relationships

We all

  1. Long to fall in love
  2. Want what’s best for our kids, if we have them
  3. Bleed when we get wounded
  4. Want to be respected

See how many things we have in common as people. At least 10 things. With so much in common, I feel like we should be able to understand each other. I believe that underneath we are all the same.

I am apparently, naive.

But do you see where I’m coming from? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because the truth is, it’s the differences that are fucking us right now, and not the similarities.

I leave you with the the loving-kindness meditation (it’s all i got….):

 images

gratitude-a-thon day 739: paris is burning

Unknown-1

I went to a movie with a friend last night and afterward we went to my favorite neighborhood restaurant for dinner.

We sat at the bar and I said to Sam, who is the best bartender ever, “Hey, how are you?”

He said, “Well, Paris is burning, but I’m ok.”

Now, that’s a movie title, so I thought maybe that’s what he was referring to, but then I thought that was sort of weird, so I said,”What?”

He said, “There have been a bunch of terrorist attacks all over Paris.”

Suddenly I didn’t really want my meatballs anymore.

I came home and did what I do when these sorts of things happen, I turn on the tv and flip from news station to news station, I open the computer to the Times, Huffpost, Twitter, Facebook.

I pray.

I don’t understand why people can’t just talk over their disagreements. Go into a big room with a lot of sandwiches and a lot of potato chips and not come out until they can make compromises, peace.

I don’t understand. I just don’t understand.