A Trip Down Memory Lane

Gram and GrampOne of the hardest parts of growing older is missing people who’ve passed. Today I’m thinking of my paternal grandparents, Louis “Luigi” and Francis “Francesca”. These two beautiful people made my childhood magical and left me full of warm memories.

They were the ones that hosted Sunday dinners with family, the table laden with mouth-watering homemade Italian food. There was the treehouse my grandfather built around the apple tree in their backyard, fully equipped with a tire swing. Saturday nights were for watching Love Boat and Fantasy Island with my grandmother.

On Sunday mornings my grandfather would head to the bakery at 6:00 a.m. for a fresh loaf of Italian bread while my grandmother and I slept in. My breakfast choices upon waking were warm sliced bread with melted butter or his famous thick-sliced French toast, accompanied by fresh-squeezed orange juice.

They spoiled me and loved me unconditionally, in the way only grandparents can. By revolving their lives around family and each other, they turned an ordinary life together into an extraordinary one. Their love and life stories are engrained in my heart.

One of my favorite stories is of how they met at a dance hall right after World War II ended. My grandmother was there with her sister and cousins. The place was filled with war worn soldiers looking for wives, my grandfather included. Grandpa said the instant he set eyes on my grandmother, who was about a decade his junior, he knew she was the one. He kept an eye on her throughout the evening and when finally she went to the restroom alone, he was waiting by the door as she exited.

The story that shocked me when I heard it was that they separated for a while early on because my grandfather started gambling. One day my grandmother went to the bank to withdraw some cash, only to discover that the money they’d had in the account was gone. My grandfather had gambled it away.

My grandmother left him, taking my young father and aunt with her. Her instructions to my grandfather were that she’d take him back once he earned back all the money he’d blown. To his credit, he did, sometimes taking on crazy gigs to do so, such as a stint as a private detective in New York. Also to his credit is that he never gambled again.

Grandma was a woman ahead of her time. While most mothers back in the late 1950s and 1960s were stay-at-home moms, she worked, first as a bookkeeper and then later, after earning a college degree, as an accountant. At one point she worked as a bookkeeper at a factory across the street from their house so she could look out the window and keep an eye on things.

Most important is that she enjoyed working. There was none of the agonizing over work/life balance or of finding her life purpose that besets so many women today, myself included. Grandma knew her purpose; it was to provide and care for her family and have a little fun while doing it.

She was also a strong helpmate to my grandfather. At one point he was having trouble finding a good job. My grandmother took it upon herself to write a letter to the city mayor, a fellow Italian, in which she highlighted my grandfather’s qualities and service to his country. She then asked the mayor if he had a job for him. The mayor responded by offering my grandfather a position as a groundskeeper at a public golf course. It was a job my Grandpa loved and kept until he retired.

When Grandpa died of heart failure Grandma, who was already showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, went downhill quickly. Without him there as her memory keeper, she was lost. One of the most heartbreaking moments in my life came when we were in her kitchen and she burst into tears because she couldn’t make sense of the numbers in her checkbook. She said that in all her years as an accountant, she’d never once made a mistake with the numbers, and now this. Eventually that horrid disease took her away from us.

Once, when I was pregnant with my youngest son and having a difficult  last trimester, I awoke in the middle of the night because I felt someone sitting on the edge of the bed beside me. I thought maybe my husband had come in the room (he was sleeping in the spare room because of my nonstop tossing and turning). But no one was there, at least no one I could see or touch. Yet I could feel a strong presence. I felt afraid for a moment, then relaxed. The presence was so loving and comforting that to this day I’m convinced it was my grandmother.

Thinking of my grandparents makes me yearn for a simpler time. Perhaps that’s part of what I miss, not just them but the way life was with them; simple, relaxed, grounded in what really matters. For just a moment I can close my eyes and I am back in that place.

Don’t Be a Dream Drifter

About two years ago, a middle-aged higher education colleague did something that shocked many of us. He left a secure, well-paying, prestigious job to fulfill a childhood dream of owning a candy store.

Those of us he left behind were either shaking our heads, wondering if he’d gone mad, or were in a state of inspired awe that he would “give it all up” to chase a dream. I fell into this latter category. Not only did I admire his courage, I admit that I was a little envious. I wanted my own candy store dream.

I’ve spent most of my adult life drifting as it relates to my dreams. Part of the problem is that I have so many. I want to publish a novel. I want to own a holistic center. I want to spend a summer in Europe.  I want to get my real estate license so I can fix up rundown houses and flip them. I want to sell antiques that I refinish myself out of our garage. The list goes on.

Dreams are amazing. They can inspire, motivate, and keep us going when life is less than dreamy. They are the starting point for nurturing our deepest passions, desires, and goals. But as Antoine de-Saint-Exupery said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” The same goes for dreams.

I’ve made some attempts over the years to turn my dreams into reality, with varying degrees of success.

There was the little yoga room I rented to teach classes in after completing teaching training, which I ditched after six months. At the time it seemed like too much work combined with my job at a community college. Plus, I hadn’t intended to open a yoga room. I fell into it by accident. But that’s a story for another day.

I made it to Ireland after falling in love with Irish literature while in college, my husband, toddler, and mother-in-law in tow.

I completed a historical romance novella and submitted it to Harlequin’s Undone e-book line. Two years later, I finally received an email from them apologizing for not getting back to me sooner. They’d closed down the line and only now realized that the email linked with it was still active.  Though they encouraged me to send a new manuscript to another line, I haven’t bothered.

Then there’s the sad state of my career. On the outside it appears perfectly fine. Inside, it’s killing me slowly.

Until six years ago, I worked mostly part-time, sometimes piecing together several jobs at once. I never saw this as a problem because the arrangement worked out great. It gave me flexibility and plenty of time to spend with family, tend to home, and pursue personal interests and passions.

When my husband began having job issues it became necessary, or so I thought, for me to pursue full-time work. Since I’d worked in higher education part-time for years and enjoyed it, I decided to stick with this field. I left the community college I loved and went to work full-time at a large university.

From the start I knew it wasn’t a good fit. Not the work itself, but the rest of it. The culture felt cold and corporate compared to the community college. Working nine-to five with little flexibility was akin to torture. I hated being away from my home and family 10 hours a day (commute included), five days a week, at the nonstop beck and call of others.

The symbolism of my dying soul came in the form of my vegetable garden. It was during the first summer at this job. Summers require working 10-12 hour days. My garden withered and died, choked by the weeds I didn’t have time to pull. I haven’t bothered with one since. That was over five years ago.

Even worse, I was making choices based on what was expected of me, not on what I truly wanted. For example, I expended tremendous energy pursuing a master’s degree that meant almost nothing to me. I earned it because, well, that’s what one does when working in higher education.

Then there were my husband’s job issues, which were causing financial stress and overall wrecking my life, as I liked to tell him often and quite loudly at times.

I felt trapped, stuck, and unable to see the light.

I was no longer in charge of my life. My dreams were just ideas and possibilities stuck in my head with seemingly little hope of ever becoming reality. Topping it off was the realization that I had no one to blame but myself. For too long I’d allowed myself to be swept along in life. I’d let necessity, fear, negative thinking, and other people’s expectations, problems, and demands become my masters.

I made a conscious decision to take action. I didn’t want to be on my deathbed one day regretting my life choices. My first action was to stop blaming circumstances (and my husband) for my perceived stuckness and start putting my energy into creating a life I loved.

The bottom line is that our circumstances will never be perfect. We must take action in spite of them. There is simply no other way.

Now when I catch myself falling into a negative mindset, such as fear or blame, I immediately stop and say a prayer. I ask a higher power to replace all fear and negativity with faith and love. This has helped tremendously. It is retraining my brain to see the positive aspects of life.

I’m committed to living life on my own terms, no matter how long it takes, though the sooner the better. To accomplish this, I needed  to get clear about my core values. These include:

  1. Satisfactory work/life balance, including being home for my children before and after school, and having time to tend to my family, friends, home, gardens, and self.
  2. Freedom to create my own work schedule and call the shots in my own life.
  3. Creative work that lets me be authentically me, that serves a higher purpose, that energizes and excites me, and provides a generous income.
  4. Time and energy to help my husband either start his own business or make a complete career shift, which in the end will benefit us all as a family.

To this end, I recently applied for a part-time position at the university that would allow me to utilize my creativity more . It would also provide me with more balance while I work on my dreams. To my surprise and delight, I was offered an interview, which went better than I expected. I’m now waiting to hear back.

Though I’m a little afraid about the possibility of a salary cut, and certainly I may not get the job, I’m convinced that taking this step was necessary.  It’s telling the universe that I’m serious about creating change in my life and making room to pursue dreams.

Change one thing, change everything.

I’ve thought long and hard about what I would do if I won the lottery. How would I spend my money and time? I realized that once I remodeled my kitchen, bought a condo in Florida, did some serious traveling, and immersed myself in everything yoga, I would want to open that holistic center.

I’m passionate about helping people live happier, healthier, more balanced lives. I do this now to a certain degree as a college counselor, but I want to do it differently, on my own terms, without sacrificing my values.

I’ve decided the best approach is to start by opening a small office/studio that offers one-on-one yoga sessions, Reiki energywork, and workshops and series classes.  To prepare for this, I’ve taken the following action steps:

  1. I wrote down an opening date of January 2017.
  2. I started a daily home yoga practice again; no excuses that I’m too busy or tired.
  3. I enrolled in a class with the woman I completed my Reiki training with to refresh my skills and deepen my knowledge of the energy body.
  4. I’m researching advanced teacher trainings at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health website  to refresh my skills and learn some new ones.
  5. I started writing copy for the future website that will represent my business online.

I am coming to understand that the way to manifest your dreams is through strategic and sustained action. The dream alone is not enough.

If I can earn a master’s degree that I didn’t even want while working full-time, caring for a family and home, and dealing with my husband’s midlife crisis, I sure as hell can make my dream of owning a small holistic business come true.

As for the Ph.D. turned entrepreneur, his risk seems to have paid off. With over 400 candy varieties, an online store, gift baskets, kids’ birthday parties, and specialty products such as a PMS Rescue Pack, he is living the dream.