Honorary Aunt

When I was growing up, it was a “thing” for us to refer to certain special people in our lives as “Aunt” or “Uncle,” regardless of relation. I don’t know if this is a WV thing, a Smith-Family thing, or just our way of giving people titles of endearment, but I love it. I have several biological aunts and uncles, but I also have many, many other important people in my life who bear those titles.

One of these amazing “Aunts” in my life growing up – and still to this day – is my Aunt Carol. No, biologically not an aunt, but being my mom’s best friend and growing up with her kids and actually being taken care of by her own mother, my Grandma E (no, not my biological Grandma), she definitely earned the title.

Pause here for a moment to talk about my Grandma E. Holy moly the importance of that grammaEwoman in our lives and the love I have for her is still in my heart, though she is no longer with us. Grandma E was tasked with watching me, my little brother, and my Aunt Carol’s two kids while our parents worked as teachers during the day. Back in those days, in rural WV, there wasn’t a day care on every corner, and finding someone to watch kids often fell to family members. Grandma E did it with ease. (Side note, E = Eleanor; I love that name.) I could write a book about the adventures the four of us had with Grandma E, whom she called her “Four Mice.” The word ‘special’ cannot even begin to describe her, so I’ll stop there so I don’t cry.

Any time I get to see my Aunt Carol feels like, well, a big warm hug. She was a teacher like my mom, and an amazing one at that. They met as two young educators at a new elementary school, having both been recruited from out of town. My mom still remembers the day she met my Aunt Carol, and they have been best buds since, with neither time nor distance getting in their way.  She is a pioneer in her own way for attending college as a woman and then working while she raised kids…. Not too common then as it is now! She was raised by her parents and lived with her two siblings, who were much older than she is, and always knew she could count on her parents’ love.  Aunt Carol said she can sum up their parenting philosophy by a quote from John Wesley,

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can.”

Not a bad philosophy! I’m going to keep that handy…

College life was a memorable experience for my Aunt Carol as it exposed her for the first time in her life to very liberal and forward thinking views and ideas that were quite the opposite from her upbringing. She loved learning and reading, and even participated in a couple peaceful protests! (How cool were the 60’s?!?)  She chose teaching as her path, and eventually chose her specialty as Special Education. I actually remember from my elementary school days going into Aunt Carol’s special ed room. It was such a blessing for me to see kids who were different than I was and their learning environment; it was unique and special and filled with love, just like Aunt Carol!  She always kept a sign hanging in her room that said, “ALL CHILDREN CAN LEARN.” I remember when we were growing up, Grandma E would occasionally ask us kids what we wanted to be when we grew up. As with most kids, what we “wanted to be” certainly changed over the years, ranging from vet to banker to fortune teller to garbage man to doctor to teacher to lawyer (just to name a few), but regardless of what we said, Grandma E would tell us as long as we were happy, that’s all that mattered. (None of us turned out to be any of those listed, of course, but we eventually all found our way.) This philosophy was reinforced and passed down the generations, as Aunt Carol’s career advice to her kids growing up:

Be happy. Find an occupation that feeds your soul.

“Married… with Children”  Like my mom, she’s been married a looooooooong time (but how is that possible, Aunt Carol, when you are SO young?! Inside joke between me and Auntie C.) She has been married to my Uncle Carl for 40 years, and they have two awesome kids, a son and a daughter, close in age to my brother and me. My cousins are, like their parents, amazing adults with wonderful, loving spouses. Growing up, they enjoyed camping adventures (my family would tag along sometimes too!) and traveling.  Aunt Carol & Uncle Carl still love to travel, and now, Gumby goes with them! As you can see from the slideshow, Gumby gets around and is a pretty good time…

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Life Throws a Curve-ball  A few years back, my Uncle Carl was diagnosed with Behavior Variant Frontal Temporal Dementia (bvFTD), which is a type of dementia that causes major changes in social behavior and conduct, and poor impulse control. Basically, it turns a person into a version of his or herself that can anger quickly, act inappropriately in situations, and is apathetic to the feelings of those around them. Quite the test for any marriage, to have the person you have spent your life with change into someone you don’t recognize. aunt and uncleBecause of this diagnosis, my aunt and uncle packed up their 40+ years in the small town we grew up in and moved to Milwaukee, WI, to be closer to family and medical care. They went from a town of 800 and their large farmhouse in WV to a city of 600,000 and an urban condo! Her heart is still in WV where they will always have strong ties, but as my uncle’s symptoms worsened, the close proximity to my cousins and big-city medical care was a must. Making such a huge change at a point in life where people are usually strengthening roots is scary, but she followed Grandma E’s advice to “bloom where you are planted,” and she most certainly has! They even got rid of their car!! I cannot fathom it, but it piques my interest to think about just jumping on the bus at the corner and being dropped off wherever you need to go… no need for gas, parking, etc. I wish I could do that! #nocarpayment

Like me, Aunt Carol is an avid reader. We often exchange book ideas and talk about what we are reading. She has a friend with a book coming out soon called Is it Time to Freak Out Yet, and I can already tell from the title I will be adding it to my list! She loves to volunteer and work in her new community and has definitely “bloomed” there. She met a friend, Anita, whose husband suffers from the same bvFTD as my uncle, and knows this woman was placed in her life by God. On my aunt and uncle’s refrigerator is a bible verse.

1 Thessalonians 5:13:  In all things give thanks.

Gratitude   Days are hard, but life goes by fast. Along the way various obstacles and burdens and excitements and celebrations come your way, but the attitude with which you approach these things makes all the difference.  “Pick your battles,” Aunt Carol says. “Save your battles for the big things in life.”  Or maybe employ the “10-Second Rule” …

“Our family has employed the 10-Second Rule many times. When something dire/horrible happens, 10 seconds from now it will still be bad. 10 minutes from now, still bad. 10 hours, less so. Then 10 days… less. Days turn to 10 weeks, then 10 months, then 10 years…”

It’s all about attitude. When Aunt Carol met her friend Anita, she shared with Aunt Carol that, in her experience in dealing with a loved one with bvFTD, you just have to accept what is, let go of what was, have faith in what will be. Time will continue to march on, but how we choose to face obstacles and all the things that life can throw at us will impact us and the people around us. We have choices in these situations, but we have to keep moving forward. Choose a perspective and attitude that will help you gather the strength in any situation, just like my Aunt Carol. Life is SO good. Have faith.

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A Resolution Worth Keeping

It may seem a bit odd to post about New Year’s resolutions (NYR from henceforth) in early April, but if you think about it, it’s actually a good check point to see how you are doing. For me, NYR have always been a bust. (It’s only taken me about 20 years to realize that this isn’t an effective avenue to “lose weight.”)  So this year it seemed to me that the more comfortable choice was to approach my self-betterment from a different direction: Reading!

My NYR this year was to read one book a month, and while that may not sound too daunting to some, I felt like it represented a nice balance between self-improvement and enrichment. I love to read; making time to do so is always the problem, and since we live in an era of “self-care,” I set my mind on success for this resolution. Being a working and fully-scheduled mom of two young and energetic kiddos, fitting in time to read is hard! But I’m passionate about this goal and I want to achieve it.

As luck would have it, I was discussing my NYR with another ballet parent and she graciously invited me to join her book club. PERFECT! Not only do I get to digest a great read, but I get to discuss it with a group of intelligent and interesting women, and there is wine involved. Win-win!

So far, I’m ahead of my pace of one/month. I want to try to keep this post alive throughout the year as a collection and a quasi-review of the books I have read. Here’s a start:

  • House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner: Strong writing and a good book – the author really paints a beautiful and sometimes magical picture of this island that kept me entranced and interested. One drawback: It is VERY long. This is a beautifully written tale about a boy/man who ends up living his life on a little island off the coast of Italy, beginning in the early 1900’s. The interesting part of this talehouse edge was the perspective from a remote island as the world developed and experienced wars and revolutions. Living in WV, I can certainly relate to technology and “stuff” in general getting here later than everywhere else; we always seem to be a step or two behind. So I could certainly empathize with this little remote island that was always a little behind the times.

 

 

  • The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin: This was my first Book Club read, and right off the bat it showed me how fun and enriching a book club can be as I never would have chosen this book for me, but I’m so glad that the book club did. Much like House at the Edge of Night, there is a historical aspect to it as it is about the Lindbergh family and their journey through life told from the perspective of Anne
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    Morrow Lindbergh, Charles’ wife. It really brought forth some raw emotions during the chapters about the infamous Lindberg Baby told from a mother’s perspective. Once I got into this book, I couldn’t put it down. They were an interesting and dysfunctional family to read about. This book is classified as “historical fiction” and the author did a good job of outlining the parts that were factual and those that were simply for storyline.

 

  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: Book Club read #2. Holy cow. Couldn’t put it down! Quick and firesdevourable (is that a word?) read about some kids coming of age in the 90’s, which made it even more fun as these “kids” are technically my age based on their ages in the 90’s setting. There are a few intertwined storylines that really had me wondering how this was all going to play out. It touched on a few hot topics, such as adoption and abortion and parenting rights, and you could feel the very-relatable teen angst, as well as the struggle their parents faced. This would be a great spring/summer break or beach read! It’s fast and easy to read, and I really could not put it down. The characters were amazingly written, and the author’s attention to detail was amazing. And, oh, the drama of being a teen in the 90’s (without social media)!

 

 

  • The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty: I love books where I learn something interesting about a topic that I had never really contemplated before, such as hypnotism. This was another one I had trouble pulling myself away from as it had a hyplovelittle streak of “creepy” to it (in the form of a crazy-ex-girlfriend/stalker! Yikes!) It takes place Down Under, which added a bit of interest to the story line as I have always wanted to go to Australia, save the ridiculously long flight(s). Definitely put this one on your summer reading list!

 

 

  • Sometimes I Lie by Alice Fenney: I’m on a streak right now because my last two reads were SO good, and then this one comes along and WOW! I love a good liepsychological thriller, especially ones that involve a little bit of the medical field. Without spoiling too much, this main character is telling the story from a comatose state. There were twists and turns I did not see coming at all. This was my Book Club read for the month of April, and I cannot wait to discuss. I finished it in the first week. It’s one of those books with shorter chapters, and as a busy working mom, to me that is appealing so that I don’t have to stop in the middle of a chapter and can catch a quick snippet of the book easier. (I hate to stop in the middle of a chapter; I usually end up starting it over because I lose the whole train of thought.)

 

  • The Other End of the Stethoscope by Marcus Engel: This book was sent to me by stethMarcus himself as he is a motivational speaker I was researching for work. My job requires knowing and teaching a lot about empathy in healthcare, and Mr. Engel put together what is almost a manifesto of his healthcare experience after a devastating trauma. So, yes, it is technically a book for work, but he does such a great job illustrating what it felt like to go from a healthy teen to a completely helpless, blinded, and (literally) broken patient lying in a hospital bed, completely dependent upon his team of healthcare workers and unable to see a thing. If you’re in healthcare and want to know more about empathy and a patient’s perspective, go to his website and check him out! https://marcusengel.com/

 

  • What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty:  What a sweet little read this was! I really enjoyed this perspective from a woman who forgot the past 10 years of her life. I couldn’t help but put myself in that position and wonder what it woulwagd be like to forget my last 10 years. It’s a scary but introspective dialogue to have in your head! On one hand, forgetting my kids and marriage ever happened?!? No way! But then again, what if you forgot every “bad” thing… What if you forgot your arguments with your spouse? Would you fall in love all over again? It was a fun and quick read that made me think, but not too hard 🙂

 

  • The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni:  This book was written in the fivestyle of a fable a la’ “Ghosts of Christmas’ Past” where a young leader is met throughout his commute home by a few characters that walk him through some common mistakes that leaders make. It is a short book and easy to read and digest. If you are looking for a quick book on basic leadership, check this one out!

 

 

 

  • The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Shumer: This was a Book Club tatooselection for the month of April and it was very entertaining and a nice shifting of gears to something a bit lighter. It is an autobiography of the hilariously inappropriate comedienne, and after reading this book I have a newfound appreciation for her as an artist. I think it is easy to snap judge her just because she puts herself out there and can seem to be an easy target, but at the same time, there’s a level of vulnerability and hard work to get to where she is that this book helped me appreciate more. Warning: This is a raunchy read, but oh it is funny! There are also some serious parts to it, too, that bring to mine this meme. After all, what kind of interesting personality comes from a boring and uneventful upbringing? Zero.

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  • Stuff White People Like by Christian Lander. I cannot emphasize enough that this swpl.PNGbook is purely satire. And it’s funny as hell. Yes, it pokes some fun at white culture, but in a tongue and cheek way. I skip through the chapters from time to time for a good laugh. I think my favorite ones thus far are the chapters on Brunch and Recycling, as those are the ones I can most easily relate to. LOL!

 

 

  • The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy:  It took me all of four days to devour this book. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next! And I would have never guessed how it turned up. Very clever writer, this Miss Molloy! This one is another great tpmbeach/vacation read, and as a mother of young kids, it is easy to relate to as it touches on the need for mothers to have balance in their lives and how hard it is when you have a newborn and the whole fiasco that is parental leave in the US…. Don’t get me started on that topic. But, I digress. Grab this one for your next getaway! Or better yet, have your girls read it so you can discuss as a group as it will strike a nerve with anyone who hasn’t completely blocked out the newborn days.

 

  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara:  I’m a Podcast fiend, and a friend recommended one to me about the Golden State Killer entitled “The Killer Unmasked.” My husband and I listened to it on a recent road trip about a serial rapist and killer in California in the 70’s that was still at large present day! This ill-be-gone-in-the-darkpodcast was so interesting and kept mentioning a book and Michelle McNamara, so I downloaded the sample and was immediately hooked. Michelle, married to actor/comedian Patton Oswalt, met an untimely and unexpected death a couple years ago while she was writing the book, so there are other contributors who carried on and finished this legacy she started to hunt this man who ravaged and ruined so many lives. Yes, it is about a awful and disgusting crime spree, but it isn’t too graphic or too high on my “Nightmare Scale” (totally just made that up just now. TM). The book is more about the chase, and as folks living in current day with DNA and forensics, we have to look at this through the lens of the late 1970’s when all of this technology and these advancements weren’t available.  Michelle is an amazing author. She writes in a way that makes you want to know more, and I think that is because she was on the hunt of her life that turned into an obsession.

 

  • When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger: This is the same amazing luluauthor who gave us The Devil Wears Prada, so I kind of knew what to expect from a plot standpoint, and she delivered. This book gives us more from Emily, the catty assistant in TDWP infamous for “helping” Andy Sachs as Miranda’s assistant. We also get a glimpse of Miranda Priestly in this book, too! It’s a great story and a fun and quick read. Some scandalous and salacious activities wrapped up in the charming and affluent atmosphere of the NYC suburb, Greenwich, CT.

 

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman:  Another book club selection that further cements why book clubs are so amazing. I would probably never have picked this book on my own, but I was in love with it from the very beginning. Eleanor is dear, sweet, clueless gal who to me represents that awkward “coming of age” phase we all go through in life, it’s just that she goes through it a EOiscflittle later than most due to her interesting and mysterious life circumstances. It’s endearing and humorous, while being interesting and heartfelt at the same time. I felt emotions for Eleanor as I read it…. awkward embarrassment, anxiousness, excitement, warmth and more, complete with a little twist that I did NOT see coming! I don’t know what other words to describe it other than this was a “calming” book to read. (There are some books I cannot read at certain times because they just get me riled up or scared before bed). This was the perfect book to read on a very relaxing vacation. Thank you to the Book Club for this choice!

WANT TO READ MORE??? Check out the latest section of my blog, Readworthy, for more of what I’m into these days when it comes to this resolution to read more.