Tag Archives: Family

Marching

24 Jan
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My daughters, Nora and Isa with my husband, Rene at the Los Angeles Women’s March last Saturday.

This past Saturday I marched. While my husband and two of my daughters drove to attend the women’s march in Los Angeles, I opted to participate locally in Santa Barbara and marched down State Street with two of my closest friends. I’ve never attended a protest march before, and I’ve got to say, it was a magical experience seeing so many people come together to make a statement. But then, I’m a white woman of privilege, and this gives me the option of feeling good about my participation. I’m allowed to pat myself on the back for taking part in this wave of change.

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The crowd in De la Guerra Plaza, Santa Barbara

It’s difficult to admit to myself that because I’m white, my life is easier than those of my family members and friends of color. I can try to assert that as a woman, I’ve been on the receiving end of sexist and misogynistic behavior, but the truth is that because of my color, (or lack thereof) I’m given a free pass to do pretty much what I want with my life. Although for almost thirty years I’ve been married to a man of color while living comfortably in liberal Santa Barbara, California, I’ve gotten comfortable wearing my upper middle-class blinders all these years. I’ve deceived myself into believing that most people are color blind.

They’re not.

We’re not.

I’m not.

The sooner we talk about this, the sooner real change can happen.

Please read the following for some valuable perspective on this issue.

From my author friend, Tracey Baptiste’s Facebook page:

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Tracey Baptiste

January 22 at 5:15am ·

This picture has been making the rounds, and making people feel a lot of things. Some think it’s an image of defiant division on a day of unity. It’s not. But I’ll get to that.

There are a lot of things about this image that I love. I love the faces of the women, the colors, the composition: the way the foreground is off to the side, and the background is centered. I love the juxtaposition of the sign and its message with the women standing behind and above it. I love that the holder of the sign is looking away, sucking a lollipop.

This image holds many ideas at once: beauty, defiance, mockery, chill, joy, power, bravery, which is probably why it strikes a nerve with different people for different reasons. It does much of what I was taught art is supposed to do: provoke, entertain, speak real emotional truth.

But there is another idea I see in this picture: betrayal.

People are hurt by this photo because “not all white women…” except that’s not the point of the sign. The sign is hyperbole. But the feeling of betrayal this woman feels, and is expressing are not.
She has come to the march with her sign, with the very women she feels have betrayed her at her back. But she has come anyway because there is a bigger cause. A bigger fight. She probably feels if it was a black issue that none of these women would stand with her as she is standing with them, but she has come anyway. And she has come with a clear communication to those around her that their activism has not been intersectional. Their calls for unity are hypocritical. But there she is.

This is not an image of divisiveness. This is an image of unity with the very people who would divide HER, despite their divisiveness.

I love this photo.

ETA: Photo credit: Angela Marie Peoples co-director of Get Equal Now

 

From my daughter, Leah’s Facebook page in response to an article in the Huffington Post: 

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/before-you-celebrate-the-zero-arrests-at-the-womens-march_us_588617e4e4b0e3a7356a3ee4?

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There are so many thought-provoking pieces available on the significance of the women’s march this past weekend. They all put into words what I haven’t been able to articulate over the past few days: the feeling of simultaneous joy and discomfort that refuses to settle in my stomach. Because, let’s be real: the march, a beautiful display of love, respect, unity, and progress, was also evidence of the continued issues of intersectionality (racism, classism, cis-predominant and anti-trans sentiments, ableism, etc.) that exist within the realm of feminism and women’s rights.
I just want to say…as a biracial, white-brown woman, I am used to the nausea that comes with feeling two things at once. The feeling when you are both right and wrong; both white and brown; both privileged and oppressed; both an activist and the perpetrator. But for those of you experiencing it for the first time – namely, the first-time protesters who marched on Saturday and are all of a sudden being told that your activism was only motivated by convenience and Facebook likes – listen to me. Take a deep breath. It’s okay!! You, and those who are saying these things, are both right and wrong. Yes, both. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But you marched, or thought about marching – you’re an activist now. And to be an activist is to face your own faults, privilege, and mistakes head on, humbly, and with the understanding that just because showing up late is better than not showing up at all, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to celebrate your arrival.
I am fortunate in that my contradictions lie directly in the diluted melanin of my skin – it’s like my light-brown tone serves as a constant, visual reminder that I can have two truths at once. To my white women friends and family members, I am sorry you do not have as obvious of a cue to own your dual realities, because it is going to take so much more effort to get used to your co-existing identities of being both the oppressed and the oppressor. And I am sorry for wishing this transformation upon you because I know that being called out for your privilege is not a good feeling – but it is a necessary one, because it is truth.
So don’t avoid the articles like this one. Seek them out. Embrace the discomfort. Preach the duality of your identities to those who might not have woken up yet, but are on their way. Because we are all needed right now, at the marches, on the phones, and in the everyday conversations that change minds and promote empathy. We all need to show up, shut up, and get to work.

 

Let’s start talking.

Really talking.

Happy New Year

11 Jan
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The Mireles Family: Back row: Nino, Nora and Leah. Front row: Rene, Isa and Jessica

I’ll be honest–due to my complete lack of preparation and general malaise, I neglected to get my annual holiday letter out before Christmas. I did manage to send out a few cards, but if you didn’t get one this year, here it is. I’m sharing it on my blog because after a rough 2016 for all of us, I feel the need to spread some love.

Dear Family and Friends (and Blog Followers),

Okay, I know I’m late in getting our annual Christmas letter out this year and I’ve no doubt most of you were paralyzed with fear and dread that I wasn’t writing one. Rest assured, I will not leave you in your state of angst any longer. You may now drag yourself out from under the covers and move on with your life.

As difficult as it is to focus on the good after 2016 went flying off the deep end, my plan of action is to try my best to focus on the one thing that has the ability to solve everyone’s problems: LOVE.

Here goes:

NORA: My oldest and favorite child. I love that Nora still lives at home even though she worries that she’s too old to still be living at home. I love that she adores her job working with such amazing women at California Retina Consultants and has developed wonderful relationships with them. I love that Nora plays coed fast pitch softball and that she’s really, really good at it. I love that Nora drives a Prius and has become totally vegan and is now super healthy. I love that she’s trying to convince the rest of the family to do it too (hmmm….we’ll have to see about that.) I love that she’s goofy, funny and kind and still tolerates me and René (most of the time.)

LEAH: My second oldest and favorite child. I love that Leah is will graduate in May from USC with a masters in Hospital Administration. I love that after working a full-time unpaid internship at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles while going to school full time, the hospital hired her for a paid position. I love that Leah wrote an incredible essay about healthcare and won a huge scholarship that paid half a year’s tuition. I love that she took a solo trip to Italy to meet up with a friend. I love that Leah and her boyfriend, Jeff come and visit us often and bring their dog Luna, who is my favorite granddoggy. I love that Leah is so funny, kind and generous to our family as well as the rest of the world. (And I love Jeff, too.)

NINO: My only son and favorite child. I love that Nino graduated from UCSB last June as an art major. I love that in July he moved to Oaxaca, Mexico to live for six months (he just got back right before Christmas which is why this letter is late—I mean, what kind of mother would I be if I took our family Xmas photo without him? I love that the minute he arrived home, he got his old job back (with a raise) and started working right away with the intent to pay off his student debt within the year. I love that he makes me belly laugh all the time. I love that I didn’t realize how much I missed him until he was home again.

ISA: My youngest and favorite child. I love that this kid is so great that sometimes I have to close my eyes and thank the universe that she’s here with us. I love that she was elected La Patera School’s student body president and when she came home from school that day, she very nonchalantly told me she’d won. I love that she does cartwheels and handstands around the house like a crazy person, plays soccer, takes piano, voice and dance lessons and does her homework without asking. I love that she begged for an iPhone and got it for her 12th birthday (and Christmas and sixth grade graduation.) I love how she laughs all the time and that she can come up with puns and zingers that put her siblings to shame. I love that I don’t embarrass her in public (or at least not yet.)

RENE: My favorite husband (so far.) I love that René comes home from work each day raving about how much he loves his students. I love that he still drives to L.A. almost every weekend to see his sister who is confined to a nursing home. I love that he yells at me to get off my phone and then proceeds to spend hours playing games on his. I love that wherever we go, he meets someone he knows. I love that he values family above all else. I love that he stops for coffee at McDonald’s everyone morning on the way to work and has breakfast with a group of homeless men. I love that even when I want to kill him, he makes me laugh. I love that we will celebrate thirty years of marriage this coming June. And I especially love that I still love him after all these years together.

ME: my favorite self. I love that I’m blessed with the best job where I teach children how to love music. I love that I got to spend several days at a beach house with a group of women friends I’ve known since junior high. I love that I finished my novel and am now trying to find an agent. I love that I’ve received over thirty rejections (really—I do love this because it will make it all the more sweet when it actually gets picked up.) I love that the five people I’ve allowed to read my book have raved about it (including Nino, who is a hard sell.) I love that my mom is still going strong at eighty. I love that my kids tease me and laughingly accuse me of turning into my mother. I love that I dote on my two lap dogs, Cody and Leo. I love that I still work in my flower garden and that it brings me so much joy. I love that our extended family spent Christmas together and had such a wonderful time.

2016 was a challenge, and perhaps 2017 will be as well, but I love that I will ALWAYS try to find the good around me. I love that I will always try to be a helper to those who are disenfranchised and looked down upon. I love that I will never stop believing that the majority of us are kind and moral people who choose to see that deep down we are all the same.

We send our warmest wish of LOVE, happiness and good health to all of you in the coming year!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

René, Jessica, Nora, Leah, Nino and Isa (and Cody and Leo, too!)

Thankful

26 Nov

There is nothing more blissful than a rainy Saturday afternoon. Even better, being able to get outdoors during a break in the rain and revel in the beauty of this wet day. Even though my heart is heavy about what’s happening in our country right now, I’m choosing to set my worries aside for one lovely, quiet afternoon and reflect upon all the gratitude I have for my wonderful life.

There is a lovely park near our home that used to be a private ranch but is now a county park open to the public. Numerous hiking paths meander around a small lake filled with all kinds of water fowl. Come along and take a walk with me. Perhaps you will even be able to smell the wet earth…

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I absolutely love the vibrant red of these berries!

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Before long, these grasses will be bright green.

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The dogs (and Rene) are so happy to get out of the house!

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A new tree popping up in front of trunk of a dead tree

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Almost felt like I was in the English countryside!

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Nothing better than the scent of wet Eucalyptus!

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Stow House at Rancho La Patera in Goleta, California

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And because it’s Thanksgiving week, I can’t resist sharing a photo of my wonderful family.

That Time of Year Again

4 Nov

I have my husband to thank for bringing the celebration of “Day of the Dead” into my life. This is a tradition that he grew up with in Oaxaca and always brought a great deal of excitement into his family’s life. They are a family of bakers and during this time, they baked and sold many loaves of pan de muerto or “bread of death”  which people would place on their altars honoring their relatives and friends who had died.

The Day of the Dead altar has now become a tradition in our family. During the process of setting up the altar each year, our family takes the time to reflect on those we’ve loved and lost. It’s not our intention to forget our loved ones, but busy lives often keep our minds on other things. As my husband says, “Everyone dies twice. The first time is when you physically die. The second time is when people forget you.”

Celebrating Day of the Dead keeps those we love from dying twice.

Here are some photos of this year’s celebration.

 

Who am I?

16 May

 

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For Mother’s Day, my children got me one of those DNA testing kits where I have to spit into a vial and mail it in to a company who will test it and tell me who I am.

Who am I?

It’s all the rage right now to find out who you are by researching your ancestry. Many of my friends are going onto Ancestry.com to find out more about their distant relatives. Families are truly fascinating. I especially love that PBS show Finding Your Roots where celebrities learn about their backgrounds.

I’ve never really felt connected in any way to one specific ethnic group. Being born a white American I’ve always envied those who come from big families and wholeheartedly embrace their culture. My parents migrated to California from Baltimore in the early sixties and I grew up without any extended family nearby. To this day, I’ve not met several of my first cousins. Beyond my immediate family, I’ve never had that sense of belonging to a clan.

I know some of my heritage. My father was half-Italian but didn’t discover this about himself until he was in his forties, after my grandfather—the estranged son of immigrant Italians—died and his secret past was uncovered. Maybe that’s why I married a Latino man with thirteen siblings and a strong family connection—that little bit of Italian in me was crying out for some familia.

I’m intrigued to find out if there are any big surprises in my DNA—besides being part Italian, maybe I have something else going on from my mom’s side—something other than western European—something exotic.

My kids also got my husband a DNA kit. I think he’s a little hesitant to do it—probably because he doesn’t want to know how much Spanish blood is mixed into his Zapotec blood.

I guess it doesn’t really matter what we find out about ourselves. Sometime in the future, there will be so much genetic mixing that we’ll all end up looking pretty much the same.

Which is really what we all are on the inside anyway—the same.

I’ll be sure to let you know who I am when I find out.

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My Italian great grandparents, Giuseppi and Rosa Intrieri (a.k.a. Joseph and Rose Winters)

The Pacification

19 Apr

 

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My son, Nino is graduating from University of California Santa Barbara this coming June. He is an art major who specializes in printmaking. This week he’s having a solo art show at UCSB’s Glass Box Gallery entitled “The Pacification” which explores his relationship with his father. Since many of you won’t be able to attend, I thought I’d share some of his work on my blog.

I’m so proud of Nino for following his passion. He started U.C.S.B. as an Economics/Accounting Major and I knew this was not the path he should have chosen. Luckily, he realized that creating art is what makes him happy and changed his major. In July he’ll be off to live in Oaxaca for sixth months where he will continue to study printmaking.

Here is the explanation behind this show and some examples of his work:

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The artist, Nino Mireles

Breathe

12 Feb

I recently read the inspiring book—When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. It’s the story of a highly educated man with degrees in English literature and biology who becomes a renowned neurosurgeon and neuroscientist. A lover of literature and philosophy, Kalanithi writes eloquently about his family, his education, and being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer at age thirty-six.

Here’s a doctor who treats terminally ill patients suddenly facing his own mortality. Before he dies, he’s able to write this poignant book about the true meaning of life.

I guess what really resonated with me about his story was that for years Kalanithi put life on hold while working diligently to become the best possible neurosurgeon—spending hours and hours studying, researching and performing surgeries to leave his mark on the world. Yet in the end what really mattered was not his career, but his wife, baby daughter and extended family.

Why does it take something so devastating to wake us up to what’s really important? When my own daughter was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I had learned my lesson. Yet after almost ten years it’s still a struggle for me to consistently take pleasure in the little things. That darn “if only” pattern of thinking seeps into my subconscious, constantly diluting all the precious joy.

Fortunately, I have found a way to break free from these negative thought patterns—by practicing gratitude. Every day as I go about my daily tasks, I try to consciously think about how very lucky I am.

Today was full of the little things: Sleeping in because of a school holiday; breakfast out with Rene and Isa followed by a glorious walk to our local butterfly preserve. Watching the dogs romp happily through the grass, soft and green from the recent rains. Running into neighbors at the local pizza parlor and joining them for lunch and delightful conversation. A trip to the library. Little things, really—but oh, so very big.

Life is short. Be kind and show gratitude. Nurture relationships.

Revel in the beauty around you. LOVE. I will die someday and so will you.

Breathe deeply before that breath becomes air. It’s that simple.

Our Home Away from Home

28 Jul

oax 16Our family just returned from a two-week vacation in Oaxaca, Mexcio. We had a wonderful time lounging on the beach, eating the most delicious food, visiting with family and traveling up to my husband’s isolated hometown in the mountains.

Much of the novel I’m writing (which I swear to you is almost finished!) takes place in Oaxaca so it was wonderful to travel there and research even more ideas and descriptions for the book. It is truly a magical place.

The Oaxacan people are some of the most interesting, kind and generous people in the world. Someday, we hope to build a vacation home there. Ah, it’s good to have dreams…

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This is the main church in Yalalag, my husband’s hometown.

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While we were in Yalalag, we attended a wedding. This is the bride, Melina who is wearing the traditional wedding outfit of Yalalag.

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I thought this was interesting because the little girl is tied to the back of her mother with a traditional Mexicanl “rebozo” and yet the little girls is wearing sparkly gold shoes instead of huaraches.

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This is an old photograph hanging in the municipal building in Yalalag. It was taken in 1936 and shows a family standing in front of their home wearing traditional clothing. Not much has changed in 75 years (except that the town now has internet!)

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You can’t go to Oaxaca without eating Mole Negro. Delicioso!

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A painting of La Virgencita in one of the churches.

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Oaxacan chocolate is to die for!

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The fresh produce in the marketplace smells wonderful!

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen any building painted this shade of cobalt blue before!

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Dried chilies for sale in the marketplace.

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My absolute favorite Oaxacan treat: Rose flavored sorbet!

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Another stunning doorway in downtown Oaxaca.

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The inside of the Church of Santo Domingo. Awe-inspiring.

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One of the many meals served over the course of the weekend for the wedding. First the men would all sit down and be served by the women, and then the women would sit and be served by the men.

The Long Road Home

26 May

Eight isa pile of puppiesyears ago, our lives changed forever.

The doctor sat us down in the hospital room, his face full of concern. “We finally know what it is,” he said, quietly, “She has a form of leukemia.”

For two agonizing days, my husband and I had been pacing the hospital hallways waiting for the bone marrow biopsy to tell us what was wrong with our daughter. Now a pediatric oncologist with tired eyes and a stethoscope around his neck was telling us that our fourth child—our baby girl—had cancer.

Those ominous words should have expelled all the air from my lungs, buckled my knees out from under me, or caused me to run screaming down the hospital corridor—but they didn’t. Oddly, I felt only relief. We finally had a definitive answer as to why my two year-old was so sick. Yes, it turned out to be cancer—but at least we knew what it was and could immediately get started on saving her life.

I can do this, I told myself, not realizing that our ROAD TRIP TO HELL was about to begin. For the next two and a half years, our family would travel down that bumpy, pot-holed road, the gas tank running on empty, the tires balding and the radiator constantly threatening to overheat as we navigated our way through a cancer diagnosis without a map. Isa, strapped into her car seat, would thrash about in the back, sweaty and miserable as she crammed Lays potato chips into her mouth, the salty snacks the only food she ever wanted to eat. In the rearview mirror I watched in horror as my beautiful daughter morphed into this hairless, grotesque creature with a protruding belly and swollen cheeks. Her normally sweet brown eyes were filled with an unrecognizable fury caused by the steroids that we crushed into a white powder and mixed with cherry syrup, feeding it to her each night like a special treat.

The constant fear was the worst part—the multiple surgeries to infuse chemo into Isa’s spine; the weekly lab reports signaling her low blood counts which indicated a non-functioning immune system. This meant staying indoors, constant hand-washing and no visitors. A high blood count report meant that I could actually breathe again until the next round of chemo started. For years my hands rarely left Isa’s body as I felt her skin for any sign of fever. When her skin burned with a temperature over 101.5 it meant a trip back to the hospital—cool skin under my fingertips meant no infection and it was such an enormous relief it was like diving into a refreshing swimming pool on a hot, summer day.

Now, eight years after Isa’s diagnosis of cancer, the lives of our family have returned to normal—if there even is such a thing. Isa is perfectly healthy with no long-term effects from the chemotherapy. Now I can’t even remember the names of all the medications she took. Our daughter is blossoming into an intelligent and thoughtful young girl with a wicked sense of humor. Every day when I see her beautiful smile and hear her laugh, my heart fills with gratitude.

And although we are beyond delighted with our happy outcome, we do carry residual sadness in our hearts from losing children we have known and loved during this long trip. That sorrow gets easier as time goes on, but it will never go away. And I believe that’s a good thing—because in remembering those who have died, we are more apt to cherish those who are still here with us.

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As we approach the eighth anniversary of Isa’s diagnosis, I’m truly thankful for what our family went through all those years ago. I’m grateful for the friends, family and those in the medical field who supported us back then—and who still support us today. I’m grateful that this experience changed me, and that I’m not the same woman I used to be. I’m more loving, more appreciative, more present in the moment, and more at peace with myself than I was before Isa got sick. I’ve realized how incredibly strong I am. I understand that there is only right now, and most importantly, that not only is it acceptable for me to put myself first at times—it’s often necessary. After all, I’m the one behind the wheel.

Our long road trip was arduous and exhausting and I consider it a miracle we arrived home safely. I’ve no doubt there will be other journeys as our family navigates down that long road of life, but lately it’s become a much smoother ride. So smooth, in fact—that now we can actually take time to roll down the windows, breathe in the sweet spring air and marvel at the scenery.

Spilling Over

21 Apr

spilling overFor a very long time  I carried a feeling of wanting inside me, like I was a hollowed out tree trunk and if I could just fill up that space with proof of my extraordinary accomplishments, I’d be fulfilled. As a young girl, I chose to spend endless hours practicing the piano thinking that my talent and musical endeavors would be enough to fill that void inside of me. I gave concerts, won competitions and went on to major in piano performance at a prestigious music school, only to find that the accolades from the outside world wasn’t enough—the space inside of me still felt cavernous.

Through my twenties, thirties and most of my forties, I couldn’t see that all I had in my life—my happy marriage, my four beautiful children, my successful piano teaching career—were more than enough to fill up that hollow space, but I’d been in the habit of feeling empty for so long that even having it all wasn’t sufficient to fill that void.

Looking back on all the time I wasted feeling dissatisfied and empty, all I can say now is thank goodness for old age. I finally understand that old adage, “Youth is wasted on the young” is absolutely true. It’s unfortunate that we don’t live in reverse as  I’d like to enjoy a youthful body to go along with the wisdom, patience and understanding I have now that I’m middle aged.

I’m wise enough now to realize that the center of my universe is right there within me, and my reality is only what I create in my mind and what I see through my own eyes. What I choose to think and feel is ultimately what will fill up that empty space inside of me—the approval or admiration I get from others means nothing if I don’t believe it myself.

But old habits always die hard and I realize that finding the joy and goodness in the little things in life is always going to be a struggle for me, but at least I realize that all the accolades in the world are meaningless if I don’t first feel them within me.

Yesterday our extended family came over for a barbecue. We did the usual things—ate delicious food, talked, joked around and shrieked with laughter for most of the afternoon. Years ago I would have thought of it as just another stressful family get-together—I would have fretted and worried and been angry  that I had to do all the work. I would have been too resentful to enjoy myself.

But I’m different now. Now I’m able to see that  it was a perfect chance for me to spend time with the people I love most in the world and all during the afternoon I felt my universe expanding with the love they feel for me.

My once hollow tree trunk spilled over with joy and gratitude and I realized that life couldn’t get any better.

 

Taking a walk with Rene and Isa at dusk on Easter Sunday.

Taking a walk with Rene and Isa after the party.