Saturday, December 29, 2012

"I'll Dream a Motorcycle..."

I always come home from Christmas break with a heavy sadness inside of my chest. It seems that I don't get an adequate enough fill of family time and am left wanting for more.

The holidays create this bubble separate from reality, a bubble filled with pure happiness in being with each other. At Christmas, we forgive each other's wrong doings, bicker less, and are simply content to be surrounded by family. There is nothing I enjoy more than the easy companionship of one's siblings and parents, and this companionship is always in its full glory at Christmas time. So that's why I hate leaving my family after the holidays; I'm leaving behind a perfect week filled with love and happiness, and the simplicity of just wanting to be with one another. It's so hard living far away from my family, knowing that this togetherness is only guaranteed once a year. Who wouldn't be sad?

At a bonus family gathering this year (our wedding), my three-year-old nephew grabbed Garrett's hand, looked up to him, and said,

"I'll dream a motorcycle. You dream a helmet. K?"

Garrett loved this question, and so did I. It's amazing, the pureness of a child's imagination. To think that one can imagine something that only gets better when conjoined with somebody else's imagination is an ideal hard to grasp amongst us adults. That's the one thing I dislike about aging--losing touch with my imagination. So today, in my loneliness and sadness that has resulted from leaving my family during this holiday season, I am going to let my imagination run wild.

 I am going to dream an island that is perfect for one reason: it is filled with all of the people I love. It's a happy place, where the sun shines 80% of the year--enough to support perpetual happiness but enough to allow cozy days inside from the rain. Snow will start falling December 1st and cease January 31st, allowing temperatures to warm enough in February to bring fresh flowers and sprouting grass in March. Christmas time will be filled with houses trimmed in white lights and candles burning in the windows. Christmas trees (and Menorahs for the lovely Jews in my life) will be excessively large and decorated in every household. Families and friends will gather around pianos to sing Christmas carols and everyone will come together to ring in the New Year. Health and happiness will be plentiful.

Come springtime, grass will be springy and green. Lawns will be perfectly tailored and adorned with tipped over bicycles left by playing children. Hanging baskets will grace porches (did I mention that all of the houses will have huge wrap-around porches?) and hummingbirds will dart in and out of the flowers sprouting in each yard. There will be running streams, wave-crashing seas, and fish-filled ponds. The island will be home to both a delightful town and cozy countryside. Delectable restaurants and cute boutiques will fill the town, horse farms and dairies along rolling hills will fill the country.

The summer will be full of swimming, popsicles, and games of hide-and-go-seek for the children, dances, picnics, and open-air exercise for the adults. Lightning bugs will dot the night sky and cicadas will conduct their orchestra all summer long. The days and nights will be carefree, filled with laughter and skin warmed by the sun. Berries and vegetables will grow fresh and plentiful for picking. Travel will be always be open and easily accessible to all; in fact, travel to far-off places will be done by teleportation. Harry Potter style. No jet lag or time lost to interfere with the exploration of new places.

Autumn will slowly creep in come late September and will be filled with bright oranges, reds, and yellows. The sunlight will shine golden and keep bodies warm as temperatures start to fade. Pumpkin patches will be abundant and families will make weekend trips to the local apple orchard to drink cider (while eating apple cider donuts, of course) and pick apples for homemade pies. Firewood will be chopped for the impending cold weather and seasonal coffees will start to brew in all of the cafés. Scarves, hats, and mittens will be pulled out with thick coats and heavy boots. Holiday preparation will begin.

Adults will have careers, but only those so desired. The work day will be short and consist of a midday siesta. People won't work to attain more money, because money won't matter. Those who wish access to unlimited amounts will be granted unlimited amounts; those who wish to live more frugally will certainly be allowed to live more frugally. Money problems won't exist.

The one animal shelter will only be there for families to quickly reclaim their rambunctious lost pets; every animal will have a loving home. The local doctor's office and hospital will only be necessary for the patching up of scraped elbows and knees that come from having too much fun. Major health problems do not exist on my island. Everybody is granted perfect health.

 My house will have two stories and a perfectly thatched roof. The wrap-around porch will be decorated by rocking chairs, hanging plants, and flower baskets on the railing. Friends and family will stop by frequently to sit in these rocking chairs and chat about life over baked goods and tea (or wine in the evening). Bay windows will poke out onto the porch and above it; inside these windows will be filled with cushioned seats and pillows for reading. Hardwood floors will line the house and fireplaces with exquisite mantels will be in almost every room. There will be a library filled with shelves of books from floor to ceiling; a ladder will be needed to reach the top. The kitchen will be the biggest and most important room in the house; it'll consist of a top of the line oven and a wood-burning stove. There will be both a breakfast nook and a large center island for people to gather around to sip drinks and prepare food together. We'll have a large stone patio that overlooks our back yard, which is complete with an in-ground pool and horse barn in the distance. Above the patio will be an upstairs balcony with a chaise lounge for drinking morning coffee and reading. The bathrooms will have tile floors, claw-footed tubs, and showers with two heads (something funny to wish for, I know. But try showering with a large man and you'll know what I mean). Bedrooms will be full of lush bedding and mattresses so perfect, you'll never want to leave. Except you will, because family and friends will be waiting to fill your day. My sisters, parents, and in-laws will all live a stones-throw away and friends won't live farther than a walkable distance. We’ll all get together frequently, as we please, to share in laughter, comfort, and good spirits.

That's my perfect world on my perfect island in a nutshell. Yes, everything will be aesthetically pleasing, but most importantly, it'll be filled with a healthy and happy reality of all of us being together at the snap of a finger. We won't have to part and go our separate ways after the holidays; well, we can if we want to (skiing in the Alps? Surfing in Hawaii?), but when we come back, we'll come back to each other.

I did my part in dreaming my it's your turn to dream the helmet. Go ahead, exercise your imagination and make my island better. What would you want?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

We did Christmas BIG growing up. There were two Christmas trees (one fun, one pretty), railings covered with garlands, poinsettias in every corner, miniature Santas dotting the house. The fireplaces were always roaring and hot cocoa was served around the clock. Bing, Ella, Frank, and Dean sang to us about mistletoe and sleigh rides. We would make at least one snowman a year. Each of us had our own pair of ice skates and there were sleds aplenty for the whole family. Sugar cookies were rolled out, cut and decorated to be snowflakes, candy canes, and reindeer. We usually baked so much that there were almost always leftovers in the freezer from the year before.

Our family hosted an annual Christmas bash, something that I looked forward to all year long. The night was filled with singing carols around the piano and dancing to the hired band. Drinks spilled out of glasses as people sang and danced and reveled in each other's presence. You would either find me hovering around the food table, quietly following around my sister's male friends (all of whom I was hopelessly in love with), or (as I got older) sneaking pulls of alcohol in the basement bathroom with my friends (sorry mom and dad!). The night was always perfect. It was pure excitement, pure joy.

And on Christmas morning, oh, Christmas morning, presents spilled out from under the tree. It was wonderful, the kind of Christmas every kid hopes for. We would spend an hour or so gleefully handing out and unwrapping gifts, smiles glued on our faces, and then retreat to our bedrooms to be with our presents in peace. A Christmas Story played on repeat until I snuck my favorite movies in (A Flintstone Christmas, The Santa Clause). Dinner was served in the late afternoon and usually entailed way too much food for just the five of us. Christmas was bliss. And if it just so happened to snow on Christmas morning, well, life was complete.

This year marks the first time in 24 years that my family will not all be getting together for Christmas. Some of us blame the cost of travel while the others will admit the uncertainty of how to handle my parents' divorce. The reasons are moot; like it or not, we'll be apart for the holidays. No more annual Christmas party (though that's been done for years), no excessive cookie baking, no peeing our pants with laughter and fear while ice skating. I'm sad that I won't be waking up to little faces 3 inches away from mine at 6 in the morning, just staring and waiting for me to get up and play. I hate that I won't get to meet my squishy 4 month old niece and hold her in my arms for the first time. I'll miss sneaking extra glasses of wine with my sisters and playing board games in front of a fireplace with my competitive brother-in-laws. What I won't miss, though, is the lack of snow.

You see, the past couple of Christmases have been spent in South Carolina, where it doesn't typically snow (except for the one horrible year that it did and resulted in my parents having to leave early to have a safe drive home). Although I loved being with my family, I secretly missed the snow.

And my husband-to-be, of course. Garrett and I always separated for Christmas; he stayed behind to celebrate with his family in Michigan as I traveled to South Carolina to be with mine. It sucked, not being able to spend my favorite day of the year with my favorite person in the world. So this year, I am grateful to spend Christmas with my husband. I couldn't, shouldn't, ask for anything more.

Except maybe for snow? In exchange for not being with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephew, I would like a white Christmas, please. It's been years since I've made a snowman or gone sledding. I want to sip hot cocoa next to a window and watch the world outside turn white. I'm ready to don chunky sweaters, knitted hats, flannel pajamas, and thick socks. It would be nice to have a fire and snuggle up to Garrett that much more to stay warm as the outdoors are blanketed in snow. I want to feel the peace that only comes from the quiet of a heavy snowfall. Michigan, can you do this for me? It's time to make Christmas BIG again. And I think a snowy Christmas is exactly what I need.

Santa, I know you can't box up snow and put it under the tree, but if you could make some things happen in the snow department, I won't ask for anything more. I've been pretty good this year. So go ahead; make your list and check it twice. I've been a little naughty but mostly nice. When you come to town, please bring snow for me. In the meantime, I'll be dreaming of a white Christmas.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cheers, 23!

On the eve of my 24th birthday, I would like to toast my 23rd year.
It was a good year.
I'll state the obvious: I got married. Wahoo! The wedding was awesome, and so has been my marriage. While the wedding was a highlight of my year and probably life, it isn't the sole reason why I loved 23. I loved 23 because I got back to being Audrey again.
Up until about this time last year, I was really content with my life. I was planning a wedding, building a home with my husband-to-be, and working full time. I was so content with how things were and how they'd been going that I hadn't noticed that I'd let go of so many things that once defined me as a person. All of the sudden, content with life wasn't enough. I had to be happy with me.
You see, although things were going well, I started to feel lost and unfulfilled. Who am I? I'm happy with myself, but do I really love me as a person? Am I that strong of an individual? What do I have that is my own? The answer to a lot of these questions remained blank.
Instead of getting pulled down by my sudden epiphany of lack of self-substance, I made a plan. I love to make lists, so I made one for myself. I thought really hard about what is and what used to be important to me.
1)      Relationships: The way that I relate to people is my top priority in life. Fiancé (at the time), family, friends, co-workers, strangers...all of my daily encounters with these people matter hugely and really shape my being. But I was doing well with maintaining these relationships and didn't have a heavy need to work on them. So onto the next item.
2) Horses: I grew up in a barn. Really. I had my first pony ride at age 3 and was hooked. I started taking weekly lessons at 7, leased my first horse at 9, bought (thanks dad!) my first horse at 12. While I enjoyed the sport, I really loved the environment. I raced home from school at the end of the day and woke up early on weekend mornings so not a minute that could be spent at the barn was wasted. Altough my childhood and adolescence were rocky at times, I wouldn't change either, for the time that I spent with horses made it all worthwhile.
Mucking out stalls and taking care of a large animal taught me responsibility. Forming friendships with fellow horse lovers of all ages taught me to be open-minded and relatable. Competing taught me the value of reward that comes from hard work. Learning how to communicate with an animal taught me compassion and patience. Most people are quick to refer to "growing up in a barn" with disdain and as an insinuative joke, but to me, it's where I became a person. And a good one at that.
Anyway, horses weren't just a part of my life for a long time, they were my life. This changed, however, as life got busier. School became more demanding as I got older and my parents (thankfully) forced me to partake in team sports. My plate became too full. Unfortunately, horses came off of that plate for a while.
I worked hard, though, to keep horses in my life. After selling my horse and taking a break I came back to lessons. I studied animal science in college and focused in equine studies. I was determined to not let go of something that meant so much to me.
I lost touch with horses after moving to Arizona. I couldn't afford lessons and frankly, after working full days, didn't have the energy to ride. Life again became busy, and horses fell to the back burner. Until last December.
I put horses on my list. I had to get them back in my life, no matter how. I started frequenting all job engines, simply plugging the word "horse" in the search box, and low and behold, I found a job working with horses. And landed it. Yes! I got horses back in my life. I checked it off of my list (excited to do so so soon), and have been so much happier ever since.
3) Music: I have never lived a day without music. My father hails from a family of musicians, so it was only natural for him to carry this music-laden lifestyle over to his children. Most evenings and all weekends were filled with music being played throughout our home. I grew up with the sounds of Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin resonating throughout the halls. There was Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong. B.B. King and Eric Clapton. Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, Schubert. Buena Vista Social Club. My uncle Benny's Sessions from the Hearth CD. Ballads, blues, folk, classical. My father dabbled in all types of music; that is, all types of real music, as he would call it. Once synthetic sounds starting coming into music productions, he stopped listening. That meant no rock, no pop, no hip hop being played on the family CD player. That was left up to me to find on my own.
In addition to always having music playing, we were forced (yes, forced) to practice musical instruments. All three daughters took piano lessons. Years upon years of piano lessons. Could we show for it now? No. We all participated in chorus, however, and enjoyed it. I also played the viola and trumpet, each for a year or so. I was filled with glee when I was allowed to quit. One of my biggest regrets is not taking my music lessons or practicing seriously. 10 years of piano lessons should be enough to produce a good player. If that player practiced, and I never did.
But back to the point. Once I left my childhood home, the presence of music in my life dwindled. No more constant flow of music throughout the home, no more musical instruments to practice, no more groups to sing in. I still tried to find new bands and update my iPod, but only when I found the time. And I didn't find the time enough.
Music went on my list. I dedicated a part of my monthly budget to downloads and concert tickets. I've been to more concerts in the past year than my entire life combined. Boom! My life is now that much more enriched.
4) Writing: I love to write. My written word is stronger than my spoken one. However, the field that I've chosen to study and work in doesn't require or facilitate creative writing. Because work takes up so much of my time and energy, I stopped writing.
My mother is an artist. We all grew up with easy access to paint and canvas, and all tried our hands at drawing and painting. For me, painting became more of an emotional outlet than anything else; I wasn't aiming to be good or make any artistic career moves. It was just nice to go into my mother's studio after having a bad day, blast some music, and take it all out on a canvas. I eventually started doing this with writing. It was easier to make sense of things when I wrote them down.
It's amazing how many stories I've started to write and haven't finished. I decided last year that this had to stop. I had to start writing again, and finish what I started.
So, writing went on my list, and this is the last goal that I have met. While a novel or anything long is too ambitious right now, I thought that a blog would be perfect. If I wrote stories to share, I would be more compelled to write them in the first place. And so I have.
I did it! I got three things that once defined me so well back into my daily life. And I'm all the better for it. And now I can answer with ease the questions that I struggled with only a year ago.
Who am I? I am Audrey, of course! Lover and keeper of relationships, horses, music, and the written word.
Do I love me as a person? I do! I am so happy to have passions of my own that I pursue and enjoy. They make me a richer person every day.
Am I a strong individual? Yes! I know who I am. I am confident. I like who I am, and I hope you do too.
What do I have that is my own? My daily work with horses. My search for good music. My attempt at writing. These are all things that I do for myself.
I like this game. I accomplished my list and feel like a better person for it. So 24, what can I do for you, or what can you do for me? Let's start with a list:
1) Pick up the French language again
2) Develop a steady workout routine (yoga, please!)
3) Set out to volunteer. Even if I volunteer twice a year, it's more than I'm doing now.
4) Any more suggestions?
So, on this last night of being 23, I'll thank myself, and I'll thank my year. As I said before, it was a good year. 24, meet your challenge. You've got a lot to live up to.