Monthly Archives: November 2017

Oh Tannenbaum!

00 foodI love decorating my Christmas tree. My tree has never been the normal commercial tree everyone seems to have. When my children were small, I hung candy on the tree. Not just candy canes, I had strung gumdrops. They are really cute on a tree, but a huge pain to string. I had lollipops hanging. There was a local candy

12/1976

If you look closely at this tree from 1976, you can see the popcorn & cranberry garland.

store in St. Louis who made perfect beautiful oval lollipops, and their colors were see-through and wrapped in clear cellophane. I taped a ribbon loop to the back of the lollipop, and hung them like an ornament. I also purchased chocolate coins, wrapped in gold foil. For those I used a small needle and threaded through the top of the foil to make the loop to hang. I made sure the foil was closed good in the back so it wouldn’t fall out.  (I won’t go into the story that one of my sons carefully unfolded and refolded the coins and ate all the chocolate before Christmas, to the disappointment of his brothers–and me)!  I tied a ribbon to a twisted pretzel, added a hook and hung them from the tree. I also strung popcorn, but thought it was rather plain, so my popcorn strings were actually 4-6 popcorn, 2 or 3 cranberries, repeat, repeat, repeat! Of course, my ornaments started out with Hallmark character ornaments.

00 1st treeMy Christmas tree has simplified over the years when it came to candy, but was still unique. I have always used multicolored lights. One year, I decided to go with all clear lights. Wow, that was a mistake. Four young adult and/or teenage sons were so disappointed that I changed the lights. They said my tree looked like everyone else’s tree, and please don’t make that mistake again. So, the next year I went back to multicolored lights. Buying artificial trees have been pretty difficult if you are a fan of multicolored lights. I hunted down and found a beautiful artificial tree with the correct lights. A few years later, I went to put my tree together, and the center of the tree was missing. I was heartbroken. I loved that tree. I was so heartbroken that I didn’t even want to put up a tree, but my daughter-in-law knew that would not make me happy. She showed up at my house with an old artificial tree and lights, and she proceeded to put up my tree. It wasn’t the tree I wanted, but she saved my Christmas! The following year I was surfing channels on the television, and QVC popped up with a deal of the day of a 6’ pre-lit artificial tree that had both clear and multicolored lights. Not only that, it operated by remote control, and the price was reasonable. I immediately ordered it, and it was a magnificent tree for many years.

 

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This is NOT an ornament, but the cat did like climbing into the tree!

My first grandchild was born 22 years ago.  As Christmas approached, I was looking forward to this celebration with my first grandchild, although she would be only 3 months old. I purchased two ornaments for my tree that year. The first one was a “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornament, and the other was an ornament with her photo in it. That began a new tradition which I love to this day. Every year I purchase an ornament for each of my grandchildren. Their first 5 years, I also do a photo ornament. As they grew, I searched each year for an ornament that is about their current interests. Once in a while, I make my life easy and just get a cute traditional ornament. Each ornament has their name printed on it along with the year. When the grandkids come to visit, the first thing they do is go to the tree to see what kind of ornament I got for them that year! When they are all grown up, out on their own, and ready to have their own Christmas tree, I will pack up all their ornaments and give to them for their tree. In the meantime, I get to reflect over all the ornaments for them each year.

Another tradition I started was to purchase ornaments for the many places I have visited on vacation. My tree has ornaments from Yellowstone, the Queen Mary, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Niagara Falls, the Golden Gate Bridge, Carlsbad Caverns, to name a few! Every trip I go on, I add to this collection. Just the other day I purchased an ornament of the Alamo.IMG_3282

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The Singing Chickens

My tree also has Mardi Gras beads. I had a beaded garland on the tree, and the Mardi Gras beads hang on the limbs downward, giving the tree a bit of a gypsy look. I have an alligator in the tree (each year the grandkids look to see where it is hid). I have 2 American Flags in the tree. I received the first one when I made a donation to help restore the Greek Orthodox Church that was damaged in the 911 Attack. I have early Hallmark Keepsake ornaments going back to the early 70’s that were my mom’s. I have old musical ornaments that are strung on an old string of lights because it’s the only way they will operate. When my tree gets turned on, all of them play at the same time—the Statue of Liberty plays the “National Anthem,” IMG_0391the space ship counts down to blast off, the chickens cluck “Jingle Bells.” It’s so funny, because they all play at the same time. My singing chickens are dying, and I cannot find a way to open the ornament to do a repair. I will be very sad when they totally quit clucking “Jingle Bells.”

When I got married and moved to the country, I brought all my Christmas decorations with me. Our living room has 20’ ceilings, and a 6’ Christmas tree would look dwarfed in the room. We purchased a 12’ pre-lit tree. The only problem with the tree is that it only came with clear lights. That would not do, so we purchases strings of multicolored lights and wired them to each section, so that there are approximately 3,000 lights to the tree. That tree is covered with memories. Every ornament is wrapped and packed separately, and every year, as I unpack them, memories come flooding back of my family—my parents, my sisters, my kids and grandkids. My tree will never win the prize for the most beautiful tree, but it might win the prize for the most fun and memorable tree!

Tree

 

 

King of the Road

When I was a single mom, I had no money or time to go on vacations. I did take my kids for a 3 day trip to Branson, MO. This was before all the shows took over the city. We stayed in a small cabin, and I brought food for 2 meals a day, and we dined out for one. We spent two days at Silver Dollar City. We took in Marvel Cave. I have been through it again a couple years ago visiting Silver Dollar City, and I cannot believe I took little children through this cave. It is a miracle that we all survived. It’s a pretty scary place, especially for one who is afraid of heights. On the way home, we visited Fantastic Caverns, which was a lot more palatable since the only way through the caverns is to ride in trams. That was pretty much my travels. Later in my career, I was fortunate to travel around the country for conferences and business meetings. I could extend my business travels over the weekend and take time to visit the local areas.

Five years ago this week, I met Dennis. We have been married now for four years. Dennis is the king of all road trips. I was used to flying everywhere I went, and he pointed out all the things I missed seeing on the way. We are leaving to visit my son and his family in the Los Angeles area. We will be driving all the way to San Antonio, Texas. Why? Because I have never been there, and Dennis says I should see it. We will go through Oklahoma City, Dallas, Waco, and then on to San Antonio. From there we will catch Interstate 10, which will take us right to LA.

I want to share with you some of the scenery and unique places we saw to and from our road trip we took three years ago. This will be more of a photo album of beautiful, and also off-beat places you might want to see.

00 corn palaceOn our way to Big Sky, Montana, we went through Mitchell, South Dakota.  It is the home of the Corn Palace.  It’s an old fashioned entertainment venue.  What makes it so interesting is that the building is decorated with corn cobs.  They change the murals annually.  Unfinished murals look like paint-by-number canvases.  We were told that they grow locally the different colored corn just for the corn palace.  They cut the corn through the cob lengthwise so it has a flat surface, and then fill the spaces with the different colored corn to make the murals.  It’s pretty amazing.  There is a gift shop across the street that has a lot of — you guessed it — corn stuff!  They also have an annual Corn Festival at the end of August.  Now that might be an interesting time to visit

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As we continued west on this trip, I took photos from the car as we were traveling full speed down the highway.  I was amazed at how well these photos turned out.  One of the most amazing was of what I thought was an old house.  It appears to be a church, and possibly a tourist attraction.  I did not notice until I was home that there was a live camel in the photo!  The location was somewhere between Mitchell and Rapid City, South Dakota.  Take a look!_DSC0056 - Version 2

As we continued on this path, we saw signs for miles that advertised Wall Drug Store, as they offer a free glass of water on the way to the Badlands.  It is worth the stop, and I wish we had more time to really spend in this quaint little shopping area in the middle of nowhere.

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We moved through the Badlands and onto Mount Rushmore.  We stopped at a service station for gas and found a Museum of stuffed animals from around the world–yes, at the service station!  Not sure why it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it made for an interesting stop.

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Of course, Mount Rushmore is beautiful.  The second photo is exactly what the sky looked like at the end of our day at Mount Rushmore.  Just breathtaking!

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_DSC0320Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and The Grand Teton National Park–no words to describe it.  Why had I waited so long in my life to see these places?  I am awestruck by the beauty of God’s creation.  I was amazed by the wildlife in the road.  They own the land–they move around, and we watch in awe.  I was struck by how big the sky really was.  The mountains, the roads winding through, all visual eye candy.

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11 Mo riverAs we drove, I realized I would not have seen all this scenery if I was on an airplane.  There is so much beauty in this county that we miss because we are in a hurry.  We are concerned about getting from destination to destination.  My husband has taught me to love all the beauty in-between.  We finally arrived at Big Sky in Montana, which is located in the Gallatin National Forest. We saw folks fly 11 horsesfishing in the streams, horses grazing on the mountainside.  The views were breathtaking.  We were a short drive to Yellowstone National Park.  We saw the headwaters of the Missouri River where Lewis and Clark camped out in 1805.

Yellowstone National Park was the final destination.  Wildlife roamed the park.  They had right of way on the road (try to tell them they don’t)!  In all my life, I have never seen any place like Yellowstone.  Photos don’t do it justice.  It boils, it roils, it smells like sulfur, it is desolate, it is full of vegetation and animals, it is the most unique place on this planet that I have seen so for.

 

I hope this little tour of our trip out west in 2014 has inspired you to get in your car and drive.  Stop along the way.  Take longer than it takes just to drive.  See the sites, meet the people.  Take photos, and know it will never be as good as seeing in person.  I am so grateful I married the “King of all Road Trips.”  He has shown me so many places all over this country that I had never seen or experienced before.

 

 

A Stressless & Delicious Thanksgiving!

00 clockTime marches on faster every year. It is already November, and I am still trying to figure out what happened to summer. Yes, summer is my favorite season, but there are some special things about the upcoming holiday. I never thought I was really a traditional person, but sometimes I surprise myself with traditions that I have grown to love over the years.

Thanksgiving was not my favorite. It came at the end of a working week, and required a lot of preparation. I was pretty clever back in the day. My sister, Judy, was an excellent cook. Nothing was ever ordinary on her menus. She cooked and served with the flair of a Martha Stewart. For more than a decade she and I were the only immediate family in St. Louis. Our mom had been gone for years, our dad relocated to warm Arizona, and our other sister, Marilyn, lived near Washington D.C. Thanksgiving and Christmas became the holidays we did together, adding our children and their expanding families to the mix. I convinced Judy that she needed to do Thanksgiving every year. She had the time to do all the prep work that I did not. I could do Christmas, because the company where I was employed shut down between Christmas Eve and New Years. I had plenty of time to prepare on Christmas Eve, and clean up during the long stretch off work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat all changed in 2012. My sister, Judy, passed away after a very short and difficult battle with cancer. It was a super hard year. Watching my sister who had been healthy all her life slip away from us in her 68th year was heartbreaking. My holidays changed forever. Later that same year I met my husband. So not only did my holidays change without her, my new life the following year in a new community in the country, changed my holidays even more. Tradition is wonderful, but we have to be prepared for changes, and how to shift and adjust to these changes.

Now I was in charge of all my holidays. I like my life to be stress free, so I look for ways to do that even during the holiday season. I never liked cooking turkey. I thought it as a big super dry chicken! Ha! I started watching the Food Network and going online to find the best way to cook a turkey. I found that the secret was brining the turkey before 01 dinnerroasting. The first year I tried a brine that Alton Brown had on one of his cooking segments. He always gave the science behind what happens to the molecules while cooking, so I understood the brining process, but I wanted a brine that would be more my taste and style. I discovered a sweet and citrusy brine that worked to perfection. It is made with apple juice, brown sugar, kosher salt, orange peels, and a few spices. I will post the recipe below. The first thing I had to do was get a brining container. I went to the local Home Depot and purchased an empty 5 gallon plastic paint bucket. It cannot be one that ever had paint in it. I cooked up my brine days in advance, and when cooled, returned it to the apple juice bottles, including the peels and all, and refrigerated it until the night before Thanksgiving.

01 family festThe night before Thanksgiving, I remove my thawed turkey from the refrigerator. (Remember to take out all the stuff on the inside—you know that little bag containing the neck, heart, giblets, and liver). I got my paint bucket and poured in all the brine ingredients. (Another reminder: don’t forget to wash the bucket well with warm sudsy dishwater, and rinse well). I put Tom Turkey down into the brine. If the turkey isn’t covered, I add water and ice to bring the solution above the turkey. I cover the bucket with one of my very large Tupperware seals and place a pot on top to keep the lid on. If the weather is not freezing outside, I set the bucket out on the screened-in porch for the night. In my other home, I put in on my patio, which is why I needed a heavy pot on top, so the critters wouldn’t try to get in the bucket. If it was a freezing cold Thanksgiving, I put the bucket in the garage which gives it enough protection from the cold, because the last thing I need to happen is the turkey refreezing.

Another preparation I did in advance is all the chopping of everything fresh for the stuffing, and yes, I stuff the bird. My mother stuffed the bird, my sister stuffed the bird, I 00 buffetstuffed the bird—and, no one has died yet! The celery, onion, and any other fresh ingredients used in a stuffing recipe is chopped and in containers in the refrigerator. I don’t like stress. I don’t want to be working like a crazy person on the day everyone is arriving. I want to relax and enjoy my guests, and not spend my time in the kitchen while everyone else is enjoying each other’s company.

My stuffing recipe is a pretty basic one, which is actually pretty much the one my mom made. There is something about eating food that tastes like my childhood to bring back warm fond memories of my mom and our family feasts. Once I am ready to stuff the bird, I retrieve it from it’s hiding place—the bucket. Hint: I put a couple bath towels on 3 piesthe floor around the sink because I have not found an easy and clean method to pull a big (18-22 lbs) bird out of the bucket and lift it to the sink. There will be a brine mess on the floor. My sink had been washed out so I can lay the bird in it, and I start rinsing it off. One of the secrets about brine is that through osmosis, the salt gets absorbed into the meat. Having too much salt on the skin surface is not what I want. I rinse and rinse and rinse. I make sure the crevices and interior of the bird is well rinsed. It will not take the salt or added moisture out of the meat. I pat the bird dry, set it in it’s rack. Side note: I have the best turkey rack in the world. I bought it years ago from QVC. This rack comes in three pieces — the two sides and a long pin that forms a hinge that holds them together. When I lift the rack with the turkey in it to the cutting board, the rack will wrap tightly around the bird so I have a stable grip. Once on the cutting board, I pull the pin out, and the sides of the rack slip off, and the bird is safely, without fuss ready to set and be sliced. Roasted meat should set for 20-30 minutes for the juices to settle in place before slicing.  I cover the bird with aluminum foil to keep it warm during the setting time.

What is amazing about the brine, is that the turkey is moist, like no turkey I have ever eaten, and it has just the right amount of salt—no one has to salt their meat. I cannot describe what is like, but if you don’t like turkey because it is dry, worry no more, brining is the answer. My 99 year old mother-in-law does not like turkey. When she came to my first Thanksgiving four years ago, she politely took a small serving of turkey, and then proceeded to ask for more. She said it was the most moist turkey, and the most flavorful turkey she had ever had! Now that’s saying something since she at that time had 95 years turkey experience!

00 assembly lineI have grown to love making Thanksgiving dinner. I do as much prep as possible ahead of time. Last year I had 30 guests for Thanksgiving. I made the turkey, stuffing, and pies. I actually made two turkeys, because it is all about the leftovers!  Everyone brought sides and more dessert, because you can never have too much dessert! My pies were even prepped ahead of time, so that the evening before, they assembled and baked. All my side dishes are prepped in advance, and the table is set the day before (except when having 30)! Some tables have to wait!

This year I am making Thanksgiving dinner, but I am not serving it at home. I will roast my turkey a few days in advance, and prepare the sides. We will drive to St. Louis on Thanksgiving morning and stick the sliced turkey and side dishes in my son and daughter-in-law’s oven to warm up. We are leaving the next day for a long trip out west. I don’t want the mess or all the leftovers. It all stays with them!

I miss my sister and would much rather be celebrating the holidays with her, but I have learned to enjoy entertaining on this special holiday. I have so much for which to be thankful. My cup overflows, and I could not ask for more for which I have been blessed.

Everyone, wrangle up your family and your friends, and have them come to your place for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. The most important ingredient for the dinner is gratitude! We should take time on that day, like the Pilgrims did in early America sharing their harvest with the Indians who taught them to farm, and be thankful for all the blessing our God has given us. Don’t forget why we have this holiday—it’s not about gorging yourself and watching football. It’s about being with those you love and being grateful for them and the life you have, even in its challenges. Happy Thanksgiving!

Ultimate Brine For Turkey

Brining a turkey results in an incredibly moist and juicy (not “watery”) bird every time.

  • 1 1/2 cups, KOSHER salt (not regular, use Kosher)
  • 1 1/4 cups, brown sugar
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 3 teaspoons, black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 gallons (6 quarts) apple juice or cider (non-alcoholic)
  • The peel 3 oranges (colored part only – not white pith)
  • Optional: 3 teaspoons, dried thyme and/or 3 teaspoons, dried sage

Note:  I don’t always put all the spices in if I don’t have them.  It’s really the apple juice, brown sugar, kosher salt, and oranges that make the brine so good.

Combine all ingredients in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes (partly covered). Allow brine to cool completely.

Rinse turkey under cool running water, inside and out (remove giblets from body cavity – but reserve them, if desired, for giblet gravy).

Pat turkey dry with paper towels, then immerse turkey in cooled brine.* Turkey should be COMPLETELY submerged in liquid (place a plate on top of the bird if necessary to keep it covered with the liquid).

Cover the pot and refrigerate for at least 8-10 hours, up to 24 hours.

Remove turkey, rinse, pat dry, and roast as usual.

Let the roast sit at room temperature for at least 1/2 an hour prior to carving.

Note: *Be sure that the container for the turkey in brine is non-reactive: use enamel, glass, crockery, stainless steel, even a plastic bucket – never cast iron or aluminum. The pot should be just large enough to contain the turkey (so the brine will be sufficient to cover the bird).GIVE THANKS.jpg

Are you like them? Are you not?

I have been retired a little over four years. I love retirement, and I love I get to do it with my very sweet husband. Although I am retired, every so often I get to dip my toes back into Human Resources. As I am writing this, I am sitting in my hotel room in Wisconsin killing time before I have to drive to the airport to return home.

i_love_hr_mugThe past two days I have conducted five sessions of Diversity and Inclusion training to a company in southern Wisconsin. This was mandatory training for this company. I met their Human Resources Manager about 15 years ago when I was her professor at Lindenwood University. We have kept our connection over the years, both serving on the board of the St. Louis Chapter of the National Human Resources Association. We called it NHRA, but not to be confused with the National Hot Rod Association, who actually owns those initials! Paula moved to Wisconsin several years ago, and when the opportunity to have diversity and inclusion training came up, she contacted me and asked if I wanted to come to Wisconsin to present. I jumped at the chance. I love being retired more than being employed, but I also truly loved my career in Human Resources, and I jump at the chance to occasionally serve as a consultant and/or trainer for some company that needs a bit of extra help.

As these employees filed into the training room, I could tell that they were there to check off the box of the required training. What they didn’t know is that I would involve them to participate and connect with their fellow employees. I also promised them that I would not be boring, and if I became boring and they were on the verge of falling asleep, they should raise their hand to remind me to pep up the session. I did two training sessions of shift workers who had just completed their full shift and were being paid to stick around an extra hour for training. They were willing to do so, and I could tell that they had less energy than the participants of the other sessions.

What they didn’t expect is that I would share with them that everyone sitting in this training room was special and unique, and not one person in the room was exactly like the other. We bring our whole selves to work, not just our outer appearance. We have cultural differences, and whole life experiences, be it education, another country we were born, values, religion, and personalities which make us different and unique individuals.

passportWhat they also didn’t expect is that I would tell them about myself, and how I probably don’t fit the picture they have of me in their head from just meeting me. I showed them a few photos on my PowerPoint presentation. The first was the photo my dad’s passport picture, and I explained where he was born, and the language he spoke, I showed them a photo of my sisters and me with our great grandmother, who came to America when she was 73 years old, was deaf and only spoke German, and yet we communicated with this 011language barrier with much love. Then I show my great grandparents on my mother’s side. I told about them coming to America. I explained I had grandparents who spoke two languages, each side a different first language. I am also different and unique, just as everyone in the room is. I am sure they had a different view of me from their first impressions when the session began.

I then kicked into an exercise in which everyone, and I mean everyone, participated. They got into groups, but I made them count off to work in groups so that they might be with Completed Diversity Flowersomeone they didn’t know as well. I figured they were sitting with their friends, and it was time to expand their horizons. Everyone moved around the room to their designated groups. The first thing was to figure out what they had in common with everyone in their group. Some found these similarities easily, and some groups really struggled to find something that all 3-4 of them had in common. Nevertheless, they did find something and usually a few things. Then I had them each share with their group what was unique or special about themselves. Some were quick to share those things, and others had difficulty finding things to say. I helped them with ideas, hobbies, where you live, what you like to eat, family, sports interests, etc. All this information was written on a big flower. The middle was everything they had in common, and the petals were things that were distinctive about each person—they each were one petal of the flower. I wanted them to see that without those unique petals on the flower, that flower wouldn’t be that pretty flower we see. We need the center to the flower, but we also need the petals.

Throughout this exercise, there was a lot of talking and laughter as they were trying to find those things they relate to. When they were complete, each group shared their commonalities. There wasn’t a group that didn’t have something in common outside of work! That is always our starting point. We always try to find a connection to start a conversation. Then we can start to learn about others as we see them as unique individuals with different, backgrounds, culture, interests, and thoughts. We learn to appreciate them for who they are, not for just their outward appearance that we first see.

001 toolboxOf course, we went into the dynamics of bias, prejudice, stereotypes and generalizations. What does one do when they hear something that is hurtful? What does one do when they put their foot in their mouth and say the wrong thing? We put together our toolbox of skills one can use in these situations—what to say, with respect, in these situations.

The training sessions were fun for me, and I think everyone took away practical skills they can use everyday, not only at work, but everywhere they go. I was pleased to hear that as the HR Manager was walking down the hall, she overheard in someone’s office a conversation where they actually tried out one of these toolbox skills.

Not everyone will go out feeling inspired to practice these skills, but it is there for them. We don’t live in a perfect world, and every one of us will, at some time or the other, put our foot in our mouth and say something that may offend or hurt someone. We also discussed the skills to acknowledge and apologize.

I would love to think everyone will go out holding hands and skipping, but this world is real. We will always have something we will disagree about with someone. We will always be put in situations where we have to interact with people who are nothing like us. The key, though, is respect. We accept that there are those who are different than us, and it is okay, and we learn to respect and value them.

Once again, I go back to my personal ignition statement (the thing that catches me on fire), and a vision statement for my life:

I want to enjoy each day to the fullest, show love to others, be a light to those who want direction, accepting others where they are, being their cheerleader, showing passion, forgiveness, love and connection. My Life Vision is: To let others know they are not alone in their challenges, they have value and worth and a voice. I want to be surrounded by those I love and enjoy the grace of their love to reach out and share it with others.

What a privilege it was to share how we can love, care, respect, (you fill in the word that works for you), everyone on this planet—all were created in God’s image, and deserve our respect.00 Verse

 

Are You Grateful?

Yesterday I took out some time to reflect on my life. I couldn’t find a single thing to complain about, instead I found a whole lot of things for which I am grateful. I know, it’s not Thanksgiving yet. It never hurts to be thankful any time of year.  As Thanksgiving is approaching, maybe I can inspire you to think about the things you that make you grateful. Here is my list:

Men in My Life
I have four sons, and four years ago, I got to add a husband and step son to the list. They are all very different. Now granted, four of them kind of look similar, but they are definitely distinct individuals. My oldest son was born in September of 1972, and my youngest son was born in June of 1978. Yes, that’s four little boys in less than 6 years! (My Image 3mom said I was a bad bookkeeper)! As I had these babies, I expected they would all be born looking alike. How wrong I was. They all looked different as newborns, and even though they have many similar characteristics, they look alike and they don’t look alike. They definitely look related. They differ, from one being a risk taker and another being risk adverse. The youngest (like his mom who is a youngest) knows no strangers. He is the ham in the family—loved being on stage and in the action, although the oldest is that way also. Numbers 1 and 2 were in a rock band together in their youth, and number one son was the lead singer—no surprise there. Number 3 son was the quietest of them all, maybe because it was hard to be heard within the buzz of numbers 1 and 4! He is the one who thinks everything through. He doesn’t work without a plan, and he is successful in working out his plans. Even though he is the quietest of them all, people love him because he is genuinely sincere and loyal.

Four years ago I got married, and added two more great men to my life—my husband and his son. My husband who I wrote about before, so I won’t go into details, is so kind IMG_1062hearted. He cares for his 99 year old mom (okay, she’s not 99 until Saturday), and he loves his two brothers. He cares and treats my sons with love. His son, my newly acquired step-son, is so much like his dad. They look alike. He is smart, caring, and goofy just like his dad. How could I not love him when I see his dad in him! He and my sons just fit together like they have always known each other. They have much in common and have a great time when together. (They even get together when my husband and I are not around). Are any of these men in my life perfect? NO! They are real. They try their best. They admit when they are wrong. They work hard. They are full of life. They all enhance my life in ways that are beyond explanation. I love them all so much.

Extended Family
I get blown away when I think about my extended family. I had two older sisters who mean the world to me. One passed away five years ago, and I still miss her everyday. I am connected to my sisters’ children (5 nephews and 1 niece). I love seeing them and have been blessed to get to know them and their families as they have moved into adulthood, and some have even become grandparents themselves. My extended family is huge. My dad was the oldest of eight children, and my mom was one of four children. I have only one aunt and two uncles still with us today, and I have dozens upon dozens of cousins all around the country. Some of these cousins I knew well because I was raised with them as a child, and we have kept in touch over the years. Some I didn’t get to know until I met them on Facebook, but I feel very connected to them, and I look forward to meeting them in person whenever the opportunity arises. Some i have met as my husband and I have traveled and ended up visiting in the cities my cousins live. I am very different from my cousins in many ways, but also very much alike. There is a strong tie with them. I also have extended family that includes my husband’s relatives. l am so grateful that I have two great brothers-in-law and two great sisters-in-law, and have gotten to know their wonderful children also. I also have dear family ties to those I was related by  previous marriage. These people are still special to me, and our friendships have lasted over the years. Nieces and nephews, along with cousins, related through friendship now.

Where I Live
IMG_5356I live in a big, beautiful home in the country sitting on a small lake (large pond) with a big in-ground pool, and a great screened-in porch that looks over the woods and lake. I haven’t always had a beautiful home like this. I raised four boys in a home that was only 800 square feet. To do that was difficult, and sometimes I had a difficult time paying the mortgage or the utilities. The kitchen was so small that If we were having dinner at the kitchen table, and one of the boys wanted another glass of milk, someone had to get up and push their chair under the table so we could open the refrigerator to get the milk. IMG_0026Over the years since then, I turned my life around, figured out how to have a career I loved that paid an excellent wage, and even had a modest 3-bedroom home built new from the ground up. I don’t need to have this large of a home, and one day we will downsize. Maybe because I lived without a lot in my younger days, stuff is not important to me. I don’t need to fill a home with stuff. I just need memories and love to surround me. But, I am grateful for this home in the woods, for the serenity it provides, the opportunity to have many guests, and for a whole new outlook on life away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Where I Have Traveled
IMG_2475In my last jobs before retiring, I did a fair amount of business travel. They weren’t always exciting places to be, but they were a new landscape for me, and I appreciated every opportunity I had to be somewhere new. Between work meetings, and career conferences, I traveled to Los Angeles, San Diego, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., North Carolina, Chicago, Connecticut, Iowa, and Michigan. Since I have retired and married to the king of road trips, I have seen southern states, western states, part of New England, and everywhere in between. Next year we have reservations to see England, Germany, and France. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get to see so much of the world. I am grateful for every short trip and every long trip I have taken.

What I Have Done For A Living

ajw typewriter

Yes, I photoshopped my head to this because she is typing on an IBM Selectric typewriter!

In college I majored in Sociology with a minor in Psychology. Nice fields of study, but what does one do with only a Bachelor of Science degree in these fields? The year was 1970, and I had no idea how to find a job. I went on an interview, and in the course of the interview, I was asked if I could type. Not realizing that this would put me in a box, I willingly took their typing test, and scored above 70 words per minute, and I was offered a job as a secretary. This was in the days before administrative assistants. I was required to have a pot of coffee with the Wall Street Journal on my boss’s desk when he arrived to work. I was a horrible secretary. I couldn’t figure out why these guys couldn’t do some of this work themselves—did they really need a mommy at work? I went back to school. I thought I would have to get a new bachelors degree, but fortunately the school I talked to thought that my 17 years in the workforce could prepare me to get my MBA (Masters of Business i_love_hr_mugAdministration), as long as I could pass the entrance exam (GMAT—Graduate Management Admissions Test). I enrolled and received my MBA, and tailored my learning in the area of Human Resources. At that time, there were no HR graduate degrees. I worked some really bad paying, entry level HR jobs, just to have it on my resume. My first HR management position was as a Manager of Human Resources for a credit union where the employees had just certified a union. I negotiated their first 2 union contracts. This position, although not a high paid one, gave me a background that led me to larger companies with larger pay. By the time I retired, I was a Senior Human Resources Manager at a Fortune 100 company. I loved my career. I still dip my toes into the HR world by doing occasional consulting with large and small companies needing some extra help. I am so grateful for this opportunity to have a positive impact in the lives of employees.

My Friends
I have never realized how much my friends mean to me. My friendships have deepened over the years. In the last 10 years, I have reconnected with many from high school. We are very different, but we care about each other—we celebrate when they have good news, and we grieve with together over illness and death. Every so often I will get together with a friend I have not seen in years or even decades, and we pick up where we left off, just like we never missed a beat. What a blessing to have these friends.

God Who Loves Me Unconditionally
The thing I am most thankful for is my faith. I have gone through a lot of seasons in my life, some good and some bad. Some of those seasons I thought God was mad at me and had abandoned me. As I searched for my “higher power” as I was recovering from my codependent behavior, I realized, that God had never left me, nor was he angry with me. He was there waiting for me to come back. God has blessed me in so many ways since, with my family, my extended family, my career and my friends, that I am overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.

Gratitude has many benefits for us.  It affects us emotionally by making us more relaxed, more resilient, and less envious.  Our personalities are affected by making us less self-centered, more optimistic, and having increased self-esteem.  It affects our health with improved sleep and increased energy.  It affects us socially because having a grateful heart deepens relationships, makes us kinder, and increases our friendships.  Those who show gratitude make better managers at work, have increased productivity, and improved decision making skills.  In all these areas of life, when there is gratitude, happiness follows.  Gratitude is talked about a lot in 12-step groups, because it takes the focus off our dysfunctions, and puts the focus where it should be, and we start the healing process.

At the end of this month we will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the United States. It is a day where we feast with those we love, but it is really a day that we should take time out and be grateful for all our blessings. We get so busy doing life, we forget to just sit back and take in all the great things that have happened in our life. Now is the time. Start making your list. Who and what are you grateful for?

Andrea gratitude2