Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014. Hello 2015

I can't believe that it is the last day of 2014; this year truly flew by for our family. Most of it was a haze of great things. There were celebrations for friends, my husband's most terrific 40th birthday party and his fantastic celebratory chartered sailing expedition, my oldest daughter's fretting over and then rocking her first standardized tests, warm summer days by the pool and nights at the baby's swim meets, beautiful birthday parties for both of my girls, a family trip to the beach, a glorious garden, summer camp, a swoon-worthy back to school dinner, a Fall that went well at a maddening pace between Hebrew, dance and violin lessons, Disneyworld for autumn break, precious teacher appreciation lunches, so much volunteer work, and holiday celebrations enjoyed from the warmth of our home. I think I'll post some of it as I make our family album for the year. I have no complaints, really, but I was in a malaise through most of it. I was not depressed or stressed, but I had a sense the whole year that I was just "checking the boxes." You know? Just getting through it.

I have thought long and hard about why this year, filled with such beauty and excitement, was just okay. It started a few years back. I am pretty sure this blog has only been read by my friend Julie (Hi Julie!). If on the off chance you read this blog, you may remember that I had a dear friend who was diagnosed with brain cancer on the eve of 2013. My 2013 was busy as ever with a calendar full of activities and celebrations and that was even the year I tried my hand a professional party styling (a bar mitzvah and wedding)--more on all that another day. The main purpose of 2013, however, was helping my friend, her family, and our community during her illness. I was not alone in this; there were many of us who devoted the year to driving to treatments, making dinner, helping their kids and making plans. She passed away at the very end of 2013 and we "celebrated" the new year with her funeral and repast. It was all not-so-neatly put away by January 5th of this year.

I thought that 2014 could only be good after that. During my friends' illness I had gained a bunch of weight (grief bacon as the Germans would call it). I thought I would work-out hard (which I did) and get it off (which I did not, but more on that later too). I thought I would feel refreshed and recharged and enjoy the chance that I had to enjoy all the moments with my family she would not get to enjoy with hers. I couldn't wait to resume my normal roles with friends too, talking about other things than care calendar or her illness. I resumed my normal activities, but it was not so easy. I was still so tired from the year before. So. very. tired--too tired to really enjoy all those beautiful moments.

Another factor contributing to my "blah" this year was that my friend's absence had a ripple effect in our friend group . Not only did we all miss her; there were new friendships forged in her absence and shifting alliances. I know this sounds crazy for a 38 year old woman to say, but I felt like I lost all of my friends this Spring. I was constantly reminding my self of the very thing I tell my seven year old daughter; "nobody "stole" your friends." Some of the shifts are real, no doubt, but much was that I was too tired to put in the effort to really maintain my friendships both near in our newly reconfigured group and with my friends from high school and college. That is probably why everything felt muted.

I have set many goals to get more enjoyment out of 2015 (all of which will be revealed on this blog soon). The goals are things I aspire to do and will devote all my power to doing. Some may be accomplished, some may not. They are just goals after all. The one thing that I truly resolve to do is "say hello first". I mean this on many levels.

Saying hello is an action that requires almost no effort but means so much. I was taught that saying hello is a Jewish value--that when you acknowledge a person with a greeting or blessing, you acknowledge their worth. Why not just do it then? We have all felt shunned by the old classmate who seemed not to remember us or the acquaintance who averted their eyes even though they saw you across the crowded restaurant. I am going to say hello first in 2015--it will make them feel at ease if they really don't remember me, and I won't have my feelings hurt that they didn't acknowledge me first. Same goes for the "lost" friends; I am going to call them and say hello first! Then there are My kids and husband---yes they appreciate the fabulous groundhog day breakfast buffet or whatever I'm cooking up (don't laugh it happens), but it means nothing if we don't really talk to each other. So, I am "saying hello first," and rethinking what it means to really celebrate and connect with them. Finally I am saying hello to myself. It will mean figuring out a lot of things, and I intend to use this blog as a journal along the way. Perhaps some of you will join me. If so, "hello!"

Friday, December 19, 2014


The mensch is at it again. Today he is teaching about Shabbat (which is our weekly day of rest that begins at sundown on Friday). Though our family does not keep Shabbat in the same way that an Orthodox Family would, we do remember it each week with candles, challah, blessings and family time. This week the challah baking duties went to the mensch. Here is how the girls found him this morning:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Paybacks are you know what!

I am not proud of this. I distinctly remember ripping through a huge stack of presents only to be disappointed at least once in my childhood. I also remember the time that my mom sent me back to college after Thanksgiving with all 8 of my Hanukkah gifts as we wouldn't be seeing each other until after the holiday. I should have been grateful that at that ripe old age that my parents were still giving me gifts at all in addition to my tuition, sorority dues, housing, clothing, etc, etc..., I should have opened them on the appropriate nights of Hanukkah and been happy to have a treat each night. Instead, I opened just one early. It was a cookbook and, by 90's standards, it looked dated with its brown spiral cover. I didn't like it, so I opened "just one more." Different gift, same ingratitude. So I opened just one more. I think you get where this is going. In a matter of minutes, I was sitting with a pile of opened gifts, paper strewn everywhere, feeling ungrateful. Ungrateful for the carefully wrapped gifts, ungrateful for the thought and care that went into them, ungrateful for the house around me, even ungrateful for the 20 year old body that I thought was too fat (it was, but I'd take it now because 20 year old fat still beats 38 year old medium, but that is a different story). My roommates stared at me in horror---rightfully so. In that moment I had a turning point.

It wasn't instantaneous. Believe me, there were some BIG missteps long the way. I am not sure that my parents would see me as grateful even today. But I am, and it began right there. I started becoming grateful. Now I really count myself lucky. I am so grateful for all that my parents gave me (the "presents"and for the presence) and for all that my husband provides. I feel like we are rich, though my husband reminds me we are middle-class. This isn't to say I am a braggart or immodest. I just realize how much we have, and I am so grateful for every last bit of it. So I want my kids to feel the same.

Well, you know what they say about paybacks? On Tuesday the girls got big gifts for the first night. A got a Barbie Dream House. It is large and colorful and took hours for my husband to assemble. N received a pair of tall black Uggs and clothing. The Uggs alone cost more than the Dream House, but they were small and black--far less fun. N knew this and handled herself with a lot of grace and gratitude. She kept it way classier than I had as a child (for which I am grateful) but there was a sadness in her eyes. Later she asked if she would be getting any toys. I feel so guilty. Silly right? The girl has boots more expensive than mine, but I am wrought with grief that she didn't open something flashier.

Here is the problem: I want to give them everything and simultaneously want them to feel immense gratitude for even small things. I know that these goals are incongruous with each other. You can't give someone everything and expect them to be grateful for the little things. As I mentioned yesterday, the girls didn't get a gift from us last night. We did let them open some small gifts that were sent from aunts and uncles and a former babysitter. After opening them they didn't look as satisfied as I had hoped. Where was the glow from knowing they gave to charity? Again, they were way nicer than I had been as a child, but still not as grateful as I had hoped.

I had them list everything that the had received so far. As they were listing, I do think they both realized that they had gotten quite a lot by any standards and a massive amount considering it was only day two. To my great joy, A also mentioned that she received gifts to give to charity (not the glow I wanted, but a glimmer was there)! Perhaps it was like me in college--the moment I opened myself to gratitude. I was not yet there, but I was on the road. I hope they are too.

Today, the mensch showed some gratitude of his own. The girls found him writing thank you notes this morning with a "gratitude list" (This is ironic given that the mensch plans were made weeks ago).

By the way about that brown spiral cook book: It is one of my most prized possessions. It taught me to make spinach artichoke dip, mini cheesecakes, "my" famous tenderloin, and the food I eventually wooed my husband with. It is splattered and stained and so well-loved that you would never believe that its owner once discounted the book on its cover.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mensches give Tzedakah

Today, the girlies found Mr. Mensch tangled up in wrapping paper and ribbon. He must have been wrapping gifts when he got stuck! My girls knew that the gifts were not for them,but rather that they are for a child in need. Today's sign read, "Mensches give Tzedakah." Tzedakah is a Hebrew word meaning justice or righteousness, but it often is used to describe to act of giving to charity. I am no rabbinic scholar (obvi. from this blog!), but I think it means that justice is served when we equal the playing field by sharing with those who have less. My husband and I really strive to do that all year round here through charitable donations and service on not-for-profit boards, but for the kids giving holiday gifts to a needy child is a great time to see tzedakah in action in a way that relates to their own experience. Tonight we will forgo gifts from us to the girls. They instead will have the best gift of all--the satisfaction that they helped another child.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Guess Who's Back?

The ORIGINAL Mensch on the Mantle is Back! As always, mensches are neither magical nor mythical creatures. The only "magic" of a mensch is that all of us have the innate power to do good! To that end, the mensch teaches a lesson in kindness, righteousness, and loving acts each day. Since our mensch is Jewish, honoring Jewish traditions is a part of his message (but anyone can be a mensch regardless of their religious beliefs).
Today's teaching is that mensches keep traditions alive. My sweet girls awoke to find the mensch already hard at work setting up our Hanukkah Houses, a traditional favorite at 31-derful. They will have the opportunity to decorate them later today. Future lessons will include giving to charity, being grateful, visiting family, taking responsibility and care of yourself, and respecting other's time. It is going to be a fun and informative week as we celebrate Hanukkah!