Happy Thanksgiving with Biscotti memories

Thanksgiving memoriesTomorrow will be the first Thanksgiving I spend without Gene and without a loving family around my table. As a poor substitute, I am baking biscotti today (recipe link, I substitute walnuts for pistachios), in the hopes that the scent of these yummy breakfast morsels baking in my kitchen will fill my heart with warm memories of Thanksgiving turkey dinner and all the trimmings that we enjoyed with our cousins and moms, year after year.  Gene and I both lost our dads in the late ’80s, so you won’t see them in most of our photos. But for many years, we hosted Thanksgiving for our cousins, who in turn hosted Christmas, and our moms joined us until they passed away. It was tough watching the Thanksgiving crowd dwindle over the years.

I can tell so many funny stories of turkeys that took forever to cook, and perogies that exploded on the stove top (I forgot I had them in a glass casserole and the burner was ON! Duh!).  When Jake was a puppy, Gene walked him for hours in the rain to try to tire him out before dinner so he wouldn’t make mischief.  (No matter how many times we were told that you can’t tire out a young Brittany hunting dog, we still tried). And no matter how much I screwed up the turkey, everyone always LOVED my sausage and onion stuffing!  And the pies were always delicious too, whether I baked or bought them.

No matter what the menu, it was assured there would be TOO MUCH FOOD, and everyone would enjoy taking some home for next-day leftovers.

So tomorrow, instead of whining about what I don’t have this year, I will give thanks to God for all the years of Thanksgiving blessings that I did have and that Gene and I were blessed to have together.  And tomorrow, I will celebrate with a new friend I met here in Florida. Her name is Carole and we met at the dog park.  Our pups get along great together, Megan and Jake.  Carole and I will celebrate the holiday aboard the Marina Jack II, a sightseeing vessel that motors around Sarasota Bay while serving up a gourmet feast.  No cooking, no clean up, and no crying, please.  There will be entertainment and the weather promises to be sunny and warm.  How lucky am I?

I’m not really kidding myself or anyone else though.  No amount of counting my blessings can erase or lessen the amount of grief and sadness that finds its way into my heart and ambushes me at inopportune times during the day, mostly early morning and night.  But I pray, as I do every day, that the joy I find in my new life by extending myself to others and doing things to contribute in some way to my new community, will make it possible for me to get to the next hour, the next day, the next holiday and even the new year.

I wish you all the blessings of fond memories, funny stories, and precious moments.  Happy Thanksgiving!
Julianne and Jake

OLMC Book Club – a stimulating way to connect…

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel windowsYou know, my move to Florida was intense.  It took some chutzpah to pick up and move over 1,000 miles with my dog, Jake, in tow so soon after my loving husband Gene passed away from cancer. But here I am.  I survived the move and so did Jake.  The biggest challenge of course is not fixing up the house or finding my way around, but rather forging new relationships and friendships.  That’s the stuff that keeps me going.  The human connections keep me sane.  The alternative is to exist as if in a space walk, where I float freely with nothing to hang on to.

One of the ways I found to connect is through the local Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Osprey. I’ve always loved palm trees and when I walked into this church, I was surprised by the stained glass windows adorned with stately palms.  At OLMC, I found my way back to my religion and my God and I was welcomed into a community that embraced me.  Through a Grief Support Group facilitated by Darwin Reeck, OLMC Pastoral Minister, I met others who are going through the grieving process, and I found a safe place to cry with the support of those who know exactly how I feel. I also joined the OLMC Book Club, and that is where I went today.

When I was married, we socialized mostly with friends, usually other couples, and I didn’t spend a lot of time in the company of women.  This Book Club is attended by some of the most intelligent, inspiring, and compassionate women I have ever met and I honestly feel blessed to be welcomed and to participate in the lively discussions.

The group is facilitated by Doris Brodeur, Ph.D. Adult Faith Development, whose depth of experience, love for reading and knowledge of culture enriches me as I listen to her stories and anecdotes when she elaborates about the setting of the book or the author. Along with other volunteers, Doris organizes the group, helps us select the books and provides handouts and refreshments.  Doris and other volunteers generally make each meeting a true joy for all who attend. Each woman in the group has a unique background and experience, and from what I can tell, all of the members are honest and straightforward in expressing their views and impressions.  The books on the reading list have been engaging and offer many topics of discussion.

Today we discussed the book by Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years.  Frankly, I didn’t really enjoy or appreciate this book. Each chapter delves deeply into the issues of aging, like loneliness, solitude, memories, regrets, success, tale-telling, and many others.  You’d think such a book would be “right up my alley,” but while reading it, I felt only pressure.  The pressure that comes with expectations.  Let me explain.

When I turned 65, I felt I was officially a “senior citizen,” even though I had been receiving AARP magazines for years prior. Of all the privileges that come with age, traditionally many looked forward to the retirement years when we are free from the constraints of the working world and where all we are expected to do is play golf, relax in the shade, read, knit, take bike rides at dusk, and maybe bake a few cookies.  My mom and dad had that kind of retirement.  They enjoyed Florida and all its gifts. They swam in the Gulf; my dad played golf and bought a boat so he could fish.  They cared for their home and took trips around the world and with their grandchildren, they enjoyed Disney, Busch Gardens and all the Florida attractions.  No one expected them to find any special meaning in their older years or to contribute much to the world. They did their part and now they deserved to relax.

Today’s retirement is undefined.  When life spans have lengthened for many to 90 or 100 years, we have the responsibility to continue.  How we continue can be perceived as an opportunity or a chore, depending on what we are going through and how we feel emotionally and physically. Right now, I’m stressed by the role of “grieving widow.”  Continuing for another 30 years or more is not a pleasant prospect to me now.  I pray that changes.  I have some skills, lots of interests and passions, and I want to continue to express myself through whatever number of “retirement” years are granted me.

But not today.  Today I need to relax.  Thank you ladies, for welcoming me and for your caring thoughts and insights.

How about you? What are your retirement plans?

–Julianne, your Lifetime Writer