In The Holiday Spirit

I’ll never forget when I was given a gift of the spirit. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas, both of which fall in this month of magic, but Thanksgiving Day when my aunt decided that it was time this jewelry, so treasured by my grandmother, made its way to me. As I cracked open the hinges and peeked inside, my grandmother’s face flashed before my eyes, and in my vision I saw her with the deep red garnet heart-shaped locket around her neck, the matching earrings dangling against her dark brown curls. She’s been gone for years now, but her spirit stays here with me every day. And in this moment of gratitude, of passing love from one to another, she was smiling.

I’d rather forget the time I received phone calls in the middle of the night – the ones that gently announced the passings of spirits. My grandfather died decades ago one November night; it seems as if I’d just drifted off to sleep in my future husband’s college apartment when I was summoned to go back to his house and comfort my grandmother. Those types of calls, the ones that jolt you out of bed and shatter your world, are at once impossible to dismiss and yet impossibly etched in our minds. She had the pendant on when I arrived that night; his spirit, his photo, fastened to the back of her garnet locket, stays with me. He was smiling, too.

holiday spirit

During the holidays, I usher in the day in the same way from beginning to end: Christmas tree lit, white mantle lights glowing, candle flickering, and I write. I listen for inspiration, for the spirits to remind me that this, here, now, is what the season is about. I know that as soon as the sun rises behind the heavy garnet colored curtains the moment is lost, the magic is put on hold until I return at dusk, and the busyness of everyday life will be upon me.

Today, as the rain pours down the windowpane and the wind whips the trees around my house into a frenzy, I breathe, and pause, and think of them. I remember their love for each other, and for their families. I call in their spirits as my pen scratches gratitudes into my journal, filling the pages with small moments of the extraordinary ordinariness of my life, feeling their love, grateful for 50 years with their spirits by my side.

50 years

The sun will be up soon, my teaching day will begin, but in a dozen hours you can find me, back here in my front room, surrounded by spirits and lights and love.

It’s a gift I’ve learned to give myself; the gift of the holiday spirit, feeling present right here, right now, and remembering all that brings love and comfort and beauty to my life. Today, her pendant will hang softly against my chest. holding their love and spirit, and I will be grateful.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Every Day is a Gift

Getting him out of bed in the morning typically takes multiple attempts and a variety of approaches-literally and figuratively. I start with the quiet, gentle approach – silently walking in, whispering ‘good morning’ to the darkness, and try to locate his cheek amidst the tangle of blankets and pillows and an occasional small-but-furry dog. If I’m greeted warmly, I continue to whisper encouragements. If not, I retreat and try again later.

This Saturday morning was no exception – except that when I make my first ‘fly by’ attempt the sun was beginning to rise and, as he gruffly reminded me, it wasn’t a school day.

“If Cathy can get herself out of bed, load up her wheelchair and get there on time, so can you. You’re not going to let one little leg cast stop you, are you? Now get up. We’re going to be late.”

He grumbled and groaned about why we had to leave so early when the walk didn’t start til 10, but I wasn’t in the mood. Every day is a gift, I reminded him, and he’d better make the most of this one. And remember – it means everything to Cathy to have you there. And she even has a cape especially for you.

By now he was awake enough to process, and realizing the importance of his presence, cast and wheelchair and all, he scooted over and thunked his heavy left leg to the floor. “Ok, ok. Just give me a minute.”

I smiled and backed out of the room. Mission accomplished, for now.

By the time we pulled into Raley Field, all fifteen teens and parents were ready for action. The energy was palpable, and the emotions flowed synchronously with the beat. ALS is a devastating, debilitating disease, brought to national attention last summer with the infectious “Ice Bucket Challenge’ fund raising campaign. But that’s not how we know ALS. Two years ago ALS walked (or rolled) into our lives with the gift of Cathy Speck, a vivacious, feisty and blunt-in-the-best-way-possible spirit who has become both a friend and a paragon of living life every day, in every way possible.

When Cameron met Cathy at school as part of his Peer Helping class, something magical happened. What could a thirteen-year-old boy and a XXXX-something-year-old woman connect over? That’s the real gift here. It’s between them. Maybe it’s her straight talking approach and honesty about dying that intrigues him. Maybe her sarcastic, sassy sense of humor? Her positive attitude about life and living? Lately, I wonder if his ‘broken’ body and fractured dreams have offered him new insight and compassion. I’m not sure that anyone could witness her indomitable spirit and zest for life, even as she’s dying, and not want to learn from her.

ALS walk

I knew she had arrived as soon as I saw the half-dozen bright yellow smiley-face balloons hovering above the crowd. The kids ran for her with the gusto of a crowd smothering a rock star. She’s that beloved, I thought. This isn’t something we see every day at school. This is something extraordinary. Within minutes she called me over. “Jennifer, I have his cape,” she smiled as she handed the turquoise blue felt to me. STOP ALS, it read. We’re trying, I thought. She was ready to roll, so I quickly tied it around his neck and watched as he settled back into his wheelchair and smiled as his friends jostled to be the first to push him into the crowd.

stop ALS cape

All around us thousands of folks rolled, walked and skipped to the infield and began the triple loop of support. Banners and balloons and costumes marched around the track, following Cathy’s chorus of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, ALS has got to go”. With every pass by home plate I looked around and breathed and took it all in – the azure blue of the sky, the scent of sunscreen and happiness, the smiles and laughter and love walking and wheeling along side me. The 15-year-old boys supporting Cam as he wheeled around the first base line, Cathy’s life-long friends gently holding an umbrella over her head, Cameron’s teacher and her son mixing with parents, teachers, and kids in a sea of adoration and support and extraordinariness on an ordinary day.

ALS walk

Every day is a gift. It really, really is.

This post was inspired by The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith, memoir about how  random acts of kindness transformed her family’s bereavement and grief during the holidays. Join From Left to Write on October 28th as we discuss The 13th Gift. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Fun Holiday Times

 

What has happened to the month of December? Is it really almost Christmas?

Panic hits. I haven’t finished shopping. In fact, I’ve barely started.

There’s something wrong when Christmas comes down to shopping. Buying something just for the sake of checking off a wish list isn’t my idea of fun holiday times. I don’t even really like the idea of making a ‘Christmas list’ unless you’re under the age of 18; adults shouldn’t be asking for things. Christmas should be for the children, right?

I love trying to find the ‘perfect’ gift for a family member. If someone has to give me a list of what to buy, I might as well just give them cash and let them pick it out for themselves. Gift lists take all the mystery out of gift-giving.

Panic builds. I’ve only got a few days left to find gifts…I suppose there are always gift cards. Cookies. A nice bottle of wine, or maybe a plant. Eew, but these feel so…impersonal.

I really dislike Christmas shopping when I feel panicked and pressured. I much prefer sitting by the fire, sipping some Christmas tea and listening to Bing croon some Christmas classics. Shopping malls are DEFINITELY not my hangout. I cannot stand crowds, traffic jams in parking lots, people struggling with oversized shopping bags, and the kids crying in the strollers who just want to go home and play.

Panic intensifies. The deadline is looming. I need gifts, and I’ve got teenage girls to shop for!

I’ve got an idea…and it won’t involve any driving, fussing with salespeople or fighting crowds! I can simply pull out my laptop, sip my tea and take advantage of a great holiday offer that will surely make my long-haired teenage girls happy on Christmas day!

Fekkai is offering 10% off your total order and a complimentary exclusive holiday headband with $50 purchase (while supplies last) Promo Code: HEADBAND.
Click here to take advantage of this special offer:


And just think: with one click, you can save money, find unique gifts for people on your list, and not have to leave the coziness of your living room!

Now THAT’S what I call some fun holiday times!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Friday Photo: In The Moment


Taking a road trip can be a stressful experience.  There is the planning, the packing, the money, the time, the scheduling – all that can make leaving the house a real hassle.  Adding into the mix any sort of scheduled activity just further complicates the matter.  Then, tossing in children, pets and a spouse and most moms would rather stay home.

This week all my best-laid plans completely turned upside down and I found myself needing to make an unexpected 260-mile road trip on Friday afternoon.  Logistically and rationally, it didn’t make any sense, but nevertheless I booked a hotel, packed my bags, took off from work a few hours early and loaded my daughter and her ski gear into the car and headed for the southeastern Sierras.

Being the type of planning oriented person I am, spontaneity can often really stress me out.  Having children 
is teaching me that sometimes life is unplanned, uncontrolled, and I’d better just learn to go with it.  I’m
 trying to take life as it comes, but sometimes it’s really hard.  Like many things in life, the more I practice
 the easier it becomes.  Still, stress otfen wins out until I’ve slammed the door shut and there’s no
 turning back.

After several hours of cruising down highway 395 we crested a pass and before us lay the most awesome expanse of Mono Lake.  Descending the hill and climbing closer and closer to the shore the sun began to set, encircling us with a cotton candy pink glow.  As the highway lined the lake I began to see a white edging against the jade green water, and ice cream cone shaped ivory turrets starkly jutting up out of the lake.  Snow?  The rest of the landscape was dry and brown, so I began to look deeper.  I stopped to get a closer look, and realized that what appeared to be snow was simply rock taking on a different hue at that precise moment as the sun went down.

 Hopping back in the car, I realized how lucky I was to be in that exact place that exact moment with
daughter by my side.  I realized that if I hadn’t let go, if I had resisted and refused to change plans, this
 day would have been very different.   What I saw with my eyes was awe-inspiring, and what I saw with
 my heart was awe inducing.  That simple moment with my daughter reminded me of the power of being
 present, and the weakness of being in control.
 So when you think of the days and plans you have in front of you, imagine what would happen if 
you stopped, let something slide, and slipped into the present.  What would take on a different hue for you?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Questions and Answers

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” 
– Zora Neale Hurston

Zora had a point.  We all may start off each new year with our to-do and to-don’t lists, our resolutions, our diet plans, our financial makeovers, travel itineraries and dreams for the upcoming year, but somewhere things always seem to go a little off course.
 

There’s a reason why gym memberships and weight loss centers see a spike in memberships in January and a decline just a few months later.  Humans just seem to operate that way.  What seems ‘good’ or ‘right’ or ‘popular’ in one moment can quickly fade to black in another.

Today’s world is creating a culture that allows and even encourages shallow thinking.  Instant messaging, texting, information at our fingertips and the ability to lose ourselves in games, videos and social media that we carry in our pockets fosters constant mind chatter.  Working parents and over scheduled kids find it easier to succumb to these temptations, seduced by the images and messages of what ‘we’ should be like, look like, and act like.  Sadly, many of these icons are just as lost as the people who are finding solace in their stories.

Perhaps what we need to do most is re-look at the way we see ourselves.  By focusing on the ‘issues’ we see in our lives we deny the deeper, richer, more powerful parts to surface.  Comparing ourselves to some media enhanced ideal of the perfect mother, father, parent, student, child, family or athlete surely places us in a state of lack.  Instead, finding solitude and time alone may allow us to relax and listen for what is really meaningful and valuable, and give us a chance to question what is missing in our lives.

What if we intentionally go into this new year to either ask for questions or search for answers in our lives?  What if we push aside all the lists and resolutions and instead resolve to look within?  What if we spent 10 minutes a day on ourselves, in solitude, asking and listening for answers and resolving to trust in the messages we receive?  What would happen?  Would that be scary?  What would shift in our lives?

File:Michelangelo Caravaggio 065.jpg
This year, let’s set ourselves up for success.  Throw out that resolution list and instead use that time to plan a daily session of solitude.  Ask questions.  Listen for the answers.  Choose this year to be the one that makes a difference.

You might just amaze yourself.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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