2016, My Year in Review

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2016 has certainly had it’s highs and lows. For me and my family, we’ve had a pretty good year. In our little bubble, we’ve been fortunate and I count our blessings daily. Gratitude means a great deal, I’ve learned over the years. Gratitude and hope. On the periphery, 2016 wasn’t as kind to our nation as a whole. It seems more divided than ever before: half the country is left with dropped jaws and the others disgusted by the apparent hypocrisy of it all. In entertainment, we have been robbed of much talent; while I recognize all the people who passed brought smiles to our lives, there remains empty spaces in their loved ones’ hearts and homes, and that leaves me sad.

BUT, life is cyclical and the world keeps on spinning. I remain hopeful as we look ahead because there is no sense in wallowing in what could have been. Strong people move on; I believe, together, we are a strong people.

I am hopeful that my family will remain healthy and prosper in the upcoming year. I hope Ryan’s plans for work fall in place they way he would like for them to. I hope Tyler finds his niche or at least his upcoming internship @ WPLR w/ Chaz & AJ in the Morning points him in the right direction. I hope my daughter takes advantage of a study-in-Italy opportunity over the summer because I know it will shape her in ways she cannot yet conceive of; likewise, I hope she continues to excel at and LOVE her major at school.

I am thankful for so much this year. First and foremost, the health of both my immediate family and that of my extended family. Anthony and I have also been blessed with the opportunity of excessive travel this year. We have taken every kind of transportation you can imagine (the most exciting being driving a car through parts of Italy, including Rome (yes, I am raising the imaginary trophy we earned for getting there safe and sound). We’ve traveled throughout Italy (from Venice to Florence to Tuscany to Pisa to Rome to Sorrento to Capri to Amalfi/Positano) on a 10 day tour; then, we flew to Paris for 3 days, and finally took the Chunnel from Paris to London for another 3 days from June 24th- July 9th. I can’t imagine another trip will top this one. It’s something we have dreamed of for years. The planning took about two years to pull together. We planned every leg of the trip together. It was exciting to experience what we had put into motion, with very few kinks, and a lot of adventure. It was also a turning point in our relationship. I think it marked a transition into a new chapter, one in which we relearn to enjoy each other’s company without the distractions that come with raising a family. Earlier, we took a trip to visit our son Ryan who is a chef @ Dusek’s in Chicago; we also met his girlfriend, Sarah. Just hanging out with him in his element was both relaxing and eye opening. We got to see his world through his eyes. In August, Ryan and Sarah joined the four of us at Cape Cod, our collective happy place. We could only manage to get there for a long weekend, but we made the most quality of our time there. In October, Anthony and I got to Las Vegas for the first time for a long weekend. It was a first for both of us; while I didn’t expect to like it, really, just the opposite was true. I loved it and we both can’t wait to return. It’s akin to a Disney World for adults. So much to do and see, something for everyone, really, a true spectacle.

There is nothing I enjoy more than travel except spending time w/ my family. We had a lot of quality time with family this year. We are learning to approach this time differently than when our children were, in fact, children. It’s an adjustment, I would say Cape Cod was the first reality of that lesson, but we’re working on improving and we’re getting there. Ryan has been home since the week before Thanksgiving (it’s been 6 weeks, now) and it’s been so wonderful. After he’s been gone for technically three years (but really five), it’s sometimes difficult to navigate what’s changed and what’s remained the same. This time with him, home, as helped us all put some things into perspective. It’s been good. The five of us enjoyed a weekend in NYC. We went for the purpose of seeing a Ranger’s game. We stayed overnight, saw some Christmas decorations, we visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum, and ate @ Pellegrino’s in Little Italy and @ The Spotted Pig in SoHo,. Ryan has been cooking for us at home, such that I feel spoiled as if we have our own private chef. But better than anything are the quiet normal moments between/among us. Nothing makes me feel more whole than being together — just the five of us– whether we are doing something new and exciting or just hanging out watching a Ranger’s game.

At work, I have also seen a transition. We experienced a tough several years, and I feel we are on the cusp of something deservedly satisfying and gratifying. I used to say I felt like I found a job in Shangri-la, then there came a very dark period, and with some recent changes, I am hopeful for what’s to come. I feel a positive vibe. And, as always, the silver lining is working with the kids whom I truly enjoy. This year, I have the pleasure of working with one of my former students as she begins her career as a teacher; she’ll be student teaching for me in February which I’m really looking forward to.

Personally, I made the commitment to work on myself. Anthony and I dieted, which it’s true, but I prefer to think of it as making some life changes. I lost 25 lbs and he lost 35. We both feel great, but more so, I think we learned some things about eating and being healthy that was long overdue. I hope we continue this way of eating and living into the future.. Now, this year, I need to work on the exercise. I hope by this time next year, I’ll be reflecting on how glad I am to have put daily exercise into my life. Time will tell.

I don’t know what’s ahead. I hope it’s filled with good, but I’ve lived long enough to know we have to overcome the bad to enjoy the good. We will. I BELIEVE in us. I wish us all health and happiness and love. I wish our nation cohesiveness and tolerance (and more than tolerance, appreciation of one another and acceptance of our differences, all the things that make us individuals). My wish for our controversial leader-elect is to use his intelligence wisely, to practice patience, and to think (and seek counsel) before he reacts (in speaking, writing and, most importantly, in action). I wish all of us world peace.

Welcome, 2017!

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The best of 2016, my year in review:

Moments:

  • Our journey through Italy, Paris & London– too many moments to list/ I loved them all!
  • Spending time w/ friends (Smith/Drakes) in London
  • The triumphant climb to Montmartre
  • Venice gondola under the Bridge of Sighs
  • Driving w/ my husband (all around Tuscany down the coast to Rome, in Rome [thank you, God, for keeping us safe])
  • Amalfi/ Positano Tour w/ Vincenzo including the Green Grotto boat ride & lunch @ Marina Grande & even my surprise visit 😛
  • 9/11 Memorial Museum– such a somber, sobering experience that every American should experience once if not for any other reason than to pay homage to those who perished there– a day that changed us all for always
  • Hanging out @ the White Horse Tavern w/ my family when the reality hits me that I’m drinking with all of my adult children for the very first time. Where does time go? (Waiting for a table @ The Spotted Pig, which was delicious!)
  • Big Star, Wicker Park, Chicago w/ Ryan having drinks & nachos: Anthony and Ryan were sizing up the New York Rangers while I read Tyler Knott poetry
  • Tyler entertaining us on Christmas night by serenading us w/ an original (and the many other occasions of laughter he’s brought us this year and always)
  • Working w/ Alexa as she created a design for a renovation project of my kitchen/dining room (measurements, ideas, sketches, Pinterest… TBC)
  • Being asked to review former (now, adult) students’ film/scripts (2 of them)
  • Receiving a copy of an essay in which the writer credited me for inspiring her to become a teacher– the icing on the cake!
  • My Pixie tattoo (got it w/ my besties AB & DCM @ Lovecraft: my ode to Angelique)
  • Every trip to CC with Diann & Amy (the laughs…simply infinite [What the what!])
  • 1st tasting menu meal (12 courses) in Las Vegas w/ the Baliscianos– such an experience!
  • Losing 25 lbs & feeling great 🙂

Songs:

“Go Now,” Sing Street, Adam Levine

“When We Were Young,” Adele

“Always You,” Jax

“One Call Away,” Charlie Puth

“EXs & OHs” Elle King

Best Artist:

Adele

Jax

Sia

The Lumineers

TV Shows:

Breaking Bad

House of Cards

Downton Abbey (so sad it’s over… I’m missing my friends, but looking forward to a possible movie!)

The OA

Fixer Upper

Best Quotes:

“Happiness is only real when shared” Chris McCandless (a student had this quote tattooed on her after reading Into the Wild in my class)

“Imagination is its own form of courage” Francis Underwood, House of Cards

“Hold your sorrow gently” 9/11 Memorial

“This Google phone is awesome” Ryan Carbone, endorsement 360

And in honor of the late Princess Leia, “I heard someone say once that many of us only seem able to find heaven by backing away from hell. And while the place that I’ve arrived at in my life may not precisely be everyone’s idea of heavenly, I could swear sometimes — I hear angels sing.” ― Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

Movies:

(This was a sucky year for movies, Hollywood. I’m disappointed)

Suffragette

The Revenant

Me, Earl & the Dying Girl

You & Me

Sing Street

Mr. Church

Books:

Paris Bookshelf, Nina George

Everyday, David Levithan

Miss Bossypants, Tina Fey

Us, David Nicholls

The Wonder of All Things, Jason Mott

Best Food: (not in any particular order)

Gnocchi, Pellegrino’s, Little Italy, NYC

Gnudi w/ black Truffle, Papaveri e Papere, San Miniato, Italy

Squash flower pizza, Mattarello, Rome, Italy

Creme Brulee, Union League, New Haven, CT

Suffriete & burrata, Portofino’s, New Haven, CT

Clam Chowder, (always) The Black Cat, Hyannis, MA

Pumpkin Soup, The Spotted Pig, SoHo, NYC

Everything I ate @L’Atelier, Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas, Nevada

Best Restaurant:

Papaveri e Papere, San Miniato, Italy

L’Atelier, Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas, Nevada

Dusek’s, Chicago, Illinois (which earned their first Michelin star this year. Congrats, Dusek’s and to my son, Ryan, who took part in that distinction; I’m so, so proud of you!)

Best Play:

Chasing Rainbows

Best Social Media Link:

James Corden Carpool Karaoke

Jaw-dropping Moment(s):

Trump running for president.

Trump being endorsed by the GOP.

Trump being elected president of the United States (Wait, what?!)

My Bucket List Adds:

Lose 15 more pounds

Exercise 5 times a week

Go to Bryant Park

See Hamilton & A Bronx Tale

Return to Venice

Visit Sicily

Live in the UK for a summer (Cornwall, maybe…)

Eat @ Ryan’s restaurant

To see Tyler pursue a career where he synergizes his sense of humor, his intellect and his creativity

To implement Alexa’s design in my own home

Visit Amsterdam, Greece, France (beyond Paris), Bora Bora… (the list continues)

Get a family tattoo (symbol of something that represents our bond)

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Thank you, 2016. CHEERS to 2017!!

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Reflection, NOT Resolution

New Year's resolution

I’m setting a new trend for myself for New Year’s day. Instead of establishing lofty goals that, often, I set too high for myself, I’ve decided to instead look upon New Year’s as a day of reflection rather than resolutions.

A cup of warm lemon water each morning (before eating or drinking anything else) is a wonderful thing. Not only does it balance out the liver and give your metabolism a boost, the daily dose of vitamin C has made me feel better.

Being forty-something isn’t as bad as I had originally anticipated, for it has helped me evolve into a woman who can, in fact, let “it” roll when it comes to stressors in my life that I can’t control. Take “#randomkid” (earlier post), for instance, as a teacher a decade ago, he would have sent me reeling; instead, I looked beyond his adolescent behavior and stood the course, which has led me to deal with “#latekid” (future post, to be sure!) in a much more calm, resolute fashion. This one doesn’t even ruffle my feathers!

Which leads me to another very valuable lesson that only age and experience has afforded me: not to take everything so personally. Instead of internalizing and jumping the gun, assuming all fingers point at me, I can do the opposite, now! This is a wonderful feat for myself; in fact, it’s one I’m very proud to have accomplished. (Kinda’ makes me wonder, now, where I’d be had I mastered that one twenty years ago– another future post, perhaps).

I spent most of the last five years feeling disillusioned about my profession– so many facets of it changing in directions I see as not being productive or positive. I have stood up on several occasions to make my opinions known. I’m not shy about standing up and speaking my mind. But I’m not sure what difference it’s made, if any. What I don’t like about my job, I’ve learned, is how entangled public education is with politics, money more specifically. Never before, have I felt it as oppressively as of late– a sign of the times, I suppose. I grappled with this negatively affecting my perspective on coming to work every day. I felt hopeless and helpless. I’m not sure how I turned the corner or which corner I turned, but I’ve learned to focus, not on what’s wrong with education, but instead on what my true priorities and capabilities are as a teacher. First and foremost, my responsibility (and my joy) is in the day to day contact I have with the kids. It’s in developing them as people (more so than any skill that I can impart); I seek to create critical/creative thinkers and confident self advocates. Reforms will come an go. I will agree with some and adamantly oppose others. But, through it all, I can always remain true to myself and my students; no one can change that.

After encountering my first health obstacle this year (and so it begins…), I realized I’m the kind of person who goes on the counterattack, something I didn’t really know about myself before. I’ve decided to look at this as an opportunity to put my health first, something I should have done a long time ago, and so I have. It’s a daily call to consciousness, something I’m grateful for.

We have three dogs, all labs, who are very much part of our family. The eldest, Bailey, 13 years old, is nearing the end of his life. We’re kind of lucky because he’s sort of had 9 lives. We’ve said goodbye to him twice, already, in fact, sure he wouldn’t make it through the night. The reflection is this: people deal with death differently. If it were solely my decision, I would have put him to sleep months ago. He struggles getting up, cries out in pain at times, has a hard time climbing up one step. I’m of the mindset that if one isn’t living a quality life, the right thing to do is to allow him/her to die with dignity. Unfortunately, this luxury is afforded to animals more so than people (but that’s for another post, too). My husband and two of my children are of a different mindset– I see it as them having a hard time letting go. My husband is looking for a decision to confront him– a choice that puts the choice out of his hands. But then he said something that I can respect and live with. He said, “I’m trying to keep him alive until Ryan (my eldest child who lives in Chicago) comes home, so he has the chance to say goodbye.” Everyone needs closure.

The little things really are big things. Having an impromptu breakfast with all of my children. Hearing the excitement in my first born’s voice when he gets a promotion at work. Watching my second born play hockey again. Seeing my third born’s eyes widen when she realizes the college that will make her happiest. Knowing my kids are all under one roof, asleep at night. Observing the rhythms of my children as they enjoy just being with one another. A cup of coffee in the morning. Quiet time to write. My graffiti wall and the memories it calls up. The scent of pumpkin in the fall. A family reunion. My dogs rushing to greet me. Laughing uncontrollably. The quiet in my head (and house) when the only sound I can hear is of my narrator speaking words through fingers pressing down letters on the keyboard of my writing universe. Listening to my favorite new song on repeat. Realizing the all the little things that keep propelling me from one day to the next, from one moment onward…

As with any marriage, my husband & I have had our share of highs and lows. Undoubtedly, the most difficult time has been in raising our teenage-young adult children because we often don’t see eye to eye. The differences in our own upbringing have shone through this time unlike any other in our parenting. It’s almost broken us, but I’ve come to realize, instead, it’s made us stronger which I believe speaks a lot to the core of our relationship. We could have given in, called it quits, but we have both stuck it out in the name of love for each other and our family. You know, 25 years ago, when I married my husband, I fantasized that we’d be together forever; it’s taken me 25 years to know. And, that, is a good feeling.

Selfishness and putting oneself first is not the same thing. When I was a kid, my parents used to call me selfish. It stung; it had a lasting impact on me such that I think I’ve gone to the other extreme to try to prove them wrong. And, now, I’ve come back to somewhere in the middle, to a place that I realize this is, after all, MY life. In large part, my friends are responsible for this epiphany. Their observations of me helped me to see myself clearly. And I have finally developed the courage to live my life for me and what makes me happy because, at the end of the day, if I’m not happy, I cannot be happy with anyone else in my life.

Being the best and being my best are two totally different things. I’ve always been uber-involved in many things; I don’t like to be idol. I like to take on a task and see it through to perfection (“Ah, there’s the rub”). At forty-nine, I finally understand that perfection does not exist. I can be okay with what is in my control. I can be okay with putting MY best efforts forth and I realize that, in life, as over-committed as some of us are, that something’s got to give. I no longer feel a failure at saying no or not living up to another person’s expectations of me. My own expectations matter most. At the end of the day, if I can say that I gave what I could give, I’m happy.

Thankfulness is the best gift one can give to oneself. I learned this last year during one of the lowest periods of my life. I performed a “Thirty days of Thankful” experiment with myself which has colored the way I see each and everyday. I am thankful for “just being here,” the words and platitude a very close and wise friend gave me. I am thankful for my family, for who they are and all that they mean to me. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with kids everyday and, hopefully, positively influence them and the course of their lives in some way. I am thankful for my friends, each fulfilling a different facet of my life. I am thankful for the ability to notice the little things as they happen, the experiences that become memories to cherish. I am thankful that each New Year is almost like a reset button to stop for a moment to reflect, in order to learn and move forward, a little wiser and more thankful than the year before.

POST- 30 Days of Thankful: Reflection

PTF today I am

On the heals of a school year ending badly, despite it mostly being a great year, and an even worse beginning to summer, I was searching for levity to move forward– in dire need of levity to move forward, a coping mechanism of sorts when I came upon Wayne Dyer’s quote which states that if we write one thing down we are thankful for each day, our lives will improve.

I took his suggestion in an earlier blog– writing down what I’m thankful for each day.

https://mirrormuses.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/30-days-of-thankful/

I have learned several things during this month of focusing on thankful. Some days are like hidden treasures of an overabundance of thankful. Conversely, even on a completely crappy day where nothing seems to go right, there is always something to be thankful for. On my mission to pluck out happy/lesson-worthy pearls from my day forced me to look for good in everyday. Sometimes, what is good in my life didn’t come as a surprise at all, but on these days, I cultivated a heightened sense of appreciation of them. On other days, what I found to be grateful for snuck up on me. Like an “Oh, there’s this!” As if I’d not considered it before. What I’m trying to say– and feeling like I’m saying it so poorly, is that when you look for the good in every single day, in seemingly insignificant moments, it does color everything you see. And it arms you with the ability to put difficult situations, challenges, obstacles, negativity in its place and say, “Okay, this is there, but I am here.” In simply being present, the position where you look outside yourself, you suddenly provide yourself with this gift of clarity.

I would say, the beginning of this summer (with one child, altering decisions impulsively, and moving across country for God knows how long, and the other child dealing with so many consequences that his inner demons have caused him — all of which making me to feel utterly helpless as a mom) is one of the toughest I’ve ever experienced, but in allowing myself to see what I can be thankful for makes me realize that all of that other stuff is transient– we’ll get through it. It will pass. And what we’ll be left with is the really important stuff, that each and everyday, I’ve set aside at least a moment to recognize as the positive.

PTF Thankful

In reflecting upon my 30 days of Thankful, this is a list of what I’m grateful for:

FAMILY— the whole lot of them: Anthony, Ryan, Tyler, Alexa, my mom & sisters & brothers and dads, my nieces and nephews, my grandmother (who is with me every day)

PEACE— that the ocean, our boat, our dog, reading books, spa days, my flower garden at home all bring me– calm

SPONTANEITY— welcome the unexpected turns of events like having more time with something or someone– embrace it

CATHARSIS— that is recognized from one life experience to the next. Only when we have the perspective to reflect upon it can we truly appreciate it

TIME & LIFE— Nothing is ever guaranteed. We must live it and love it, NOW.

PASSION— we all need a muse, something that propels us forward. For some, it’s art or sports, for others it’s knowledge or nature– no matter the muse, allow the passion to flourish– to breath life in you every day

COMMUNICATION— that essential component in every relationship. Without it, we are each an island, and no one wants to be alone.

HOPE & FAITH— I write these together, because I believe they are one. The more difficult my experiences, the deeper my faith becomes and the more hope I’m given that everything will work out okay

PERSEVERANCE— which I think relates to the previous two. We must forge ahead and never give up.

ME TIME— carving out time to nurture myself is important. As a mom and a wife, with a career, that is one difficult task, as our nature is always to give. But, I’ve learned that if I don’t take some time to care for myself, I will not be able to care for others in the way that I want to

INDULGENCE— it isn’t bad to pamper yourself, on occasion, so long as you never lose sight of what’s most important

PTF gratitude