The Mama I’ve Wanted to Become

IMG_6654

On the eve before Mother’s Day, I laid awake most of the night, thinking. About motherhood of course, and about my life. I have been reading every single book by Elizabeth Strout lately, as I just went to hear her speak at the Philadelphia Free Library. Her words are the reason I have lost much sleep over the past few weeks. Last night’s culprit was Amy & Isabelle. It is a story about motherhood. Amy’s mother, Isabelle, was not the best. She would not have given me what I personally needed growing up had I been her child. A friend of mine’s daughter told me many years ago that she needed someone like me to be her mother, not her own, who was not very warm and cuddly but staunch and strict and cool. Amy & Isabelle made me think of my own mothering techniques and how I fared in comparison.

I laid there and searched my life for signs. I thought of how I used to pick my children up from elementary school and before even going home to change clothing, we went to a favorite hidden gorge in the Pa state game lands and slid down a steep, forested, fern-covered slope to the wild Pine Creek below. In my day pack were thermoses with fresh peach milkshakes in them. We were headed for a favorite moss-covered log where we spooned the refreshing ice cream into our mouths, looked for wild trout in the stream and up at the towering old growth populars overhead. Bryce had pale beige khaki pants on and when he slid down the dirt, it was ground in permanently. I didn’t care. We were celebrating school being over for the day.

This may sound like excellent mothering but the truth was, my children never wanted to go to school. They asked me every day to let them homeschool. I was afraid I would lose my life, not be able to write, as I just received two book contracts in one year and so I put them in public school, for the first time at 6 & 8 year old. When Bryce learned that he would have to go to school, he was helping me change the sheets and he said, “Oh Mama, I would rather help you make beds all day long then go to school.”

Marianne Williamson said, “And how ungrateful and irreverent to listen so little when angels themselves have moved into the house. I have never seen such honest demonstrations of enlightenment as in happy children. They laugh a lot, yet they are every serious. They understand everything without letting on that they understand much. They are old and young, innocent and loving. What are we doing pretending to know more than they do? And why are we putting the things of this world before their well-being?”

It took me seven years to get up the courage to do it and they spent the last 4 & 6 years teaching themselves with me as their facilitator. Home or world schooling was the second most powerfully positive thing I have done in my life as a mother, next to deciding to bring them into the world. After all these years of raising and educating them, my book, The World as Our Classroom- How One Family Used Nature & Travel to Shape an Extraordinary Education, will finally be coming out next May 2018 and I am so excited to share what we learned with my readers.

Neither of my children will be here to celebrate with me this year. One is in Colorado, the other in South Dakota. I am not feeling sorry for myself but I am reviewing my relationship with them, twenty five years of mothering, as I lay awake in bed.

How do you know if you did a good job? When my little son would get off the bus, I would walk down to the mailbox to receive them, and he would run towards me with his arms open wide for many yards, anticipating the embrace. I remember feeling tight inside, like his arms were wrapped around my heart and my eyes stung with tears. I knew that moment was incredibly fleeting. Other times he would take my face in his little hands, squeeze my cheeks and look into my eyes very closely and say, “I love this Mama.” He filled up this mother’s heart.

When my teenage daughter took my arm and linked hers and walked with me, on a woods trail, in public with people all around, never minding that the world saw her being affectionate with her mother, my heart swelled. When she let me climb into bed with her every night and rub her back and be there for her to talk about her day, that meant the world to me. When she came down to our bed on weekends and climbed in and wrapped the blankets around her and my arm draped over her, then I knew for sure.

No matter where my adult daughter travels to now-a-days and many of her destinations are far flung and for long periods of time, she never hesitates to call or SKYPE, and sometimes even twice day, when she gets up and gets ready to turn in for the night. When my adult son finished with his teaching job every day at Tyler School of Art, he called me and reported on his class, as he walked back to his apartment. The night before he had class, he called and reviewed with his father and I, the upcoming day’s lesson, looking for feedback and ideas. He valued his parents’ opinion.

This Mother’s Day, their father will celebrate with me. He rose early and went to the farmer’s market for homemade sticky buns, popped them into the oven to warm them up. We planted the rest of our garden this morning while the sun broke through last night’s rain clouds and the birds sang unusually loud and cheery. I brought my cell phone out with me as I didn’t want to miss my children’s calls. Even Bryce’s girlfriend Calan, called and wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. Every day feels like Mother’s Day to me because I talk to my kids every day, not just on this special May day.

I have read in metaphysical books that, as souls, we pick our family that we are born into. We make a compact on the other side and choose our parents, those who will help our souls evolve the best for the path we are individually on. I guess they do not always look the most ideal down here but perhaps we learn the biggest lessons after a lifetime with them. For me, I feel like I really scored. My children taught me all about love, perpetuated by my mother, who was a great lover too. May the circle continue.

Marianne Williamson continued, “A key to mothering is to visualize our children as the adults we would love them to become: strong, happy, serious and loving.Now imagine what kind of mother they must have had to grow into such fabulous grown-ups. And whatever that is, becoming it is the task that lies before us all.”

“Never Give up your Dream”

As an author, you sign a book, write a greeting, if the buyer tells you a bit about themselves, you try to make it personal. When my first book was published, A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail, I spoke at many different venues, as I did for all of my books. A Woman’s Journey is hand written in calligraphy and illustrated with 125 ink and charcoal drawings. Thirty-five years ago, I spoke at Millersville University in PA. Many students purchased a book and of course, you forget who you spoke with, let alone know whose life you may have touched. One sale was to a young student who said she’s like to hike the entire AT someday. I wrote, “Never give up your dream.” That was 35 years ago. Of course, I forgot all about her.

This past weekend, I was honored at Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County Reading Council, an affiliate of the International Literacy Association, to receive the “Celebrate Literacy” Award, on behalf of my work as a writer and published author. I spoke about being a Triple Crown Hiker and Author and on my upcoming book due out next May with Skyhorse Publishing, NYC…The World is Our Classroom: How One Family Used Nature and Travel to Shape an Extraordinary Education.

When I was at the table signing my Triple Crown books, Marian Tichy came up to my table with a first edition of a Woman’s Journey. She opened to the first page where I autographed it with the inscribed words, “Never Give up your Dream. She wanted me to know that she never forgot me, nor her dream all these years, and 2016 finally saw her on the AT. She successfully finished her thru-hike 34 years later. She never did give up.

I was pretty floored. Thinking about her life- waiting patiently all those years for the time to be right to do her thru-hike. She had to be in her mid-50’s now, if she met me in her early 20’s. It just made me feel good, doing my job as a communicator, hoping to touch someone’s life, helping their dreams come true. Sometime, you’re lucky enough to get a sign that you’re on the right track in life. Thank you for that, Marian.

A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail has been in consecuative print for 35 years. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is the current publisher. It is available through the organization’s Ultimate Trail Store. http://atctrailstore.org/a-womans-journey/

For the rest of my books head to Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/cindy-ross-Books

Pockets Full of Peanuts and Dad’s company

My father used to shell peanuts on his drive up to Potter County, God’s Country, where our family hunting camp was. He was adept. Driving a big station wagon loaded with four active kids, and a comatose wife, drugged up with Dramamine to prevent car sickness, who was good for little but handing back peaches to us kids and then wet wash rags to clean our sticky fingers afterwards. Just don’t ask her to move her head and never turn around to settle the boys down. My oldest sister sat up front between the parents, the place of honor, as she was the parent’s favorite. I was stuck between my two younger brothers in the back, who attempted to swat each other across my body.

I don’t remember if Dad threw his shells out the window. They would have just came back and hit us in the back seat as we certainly didn’t have air conditioning and must have had the windows rolled down. We were headed to camp for our family vacation. Riding dirt bikes, hiking, campfires, swimming in the Lyman Run State Park lake, picking berries that my mom made into pies. No fancy vacation for our family, except for the drive to hell to Florida one AUGUST which was the absolutely the wrong time to go. I’ll take Potter County in the summer over Florida any time. It took me almost twenty-five years to want to return to that southern state, so scarred were we from that car ride.

Dad must have just created a landfill on the car floor with his empty peanut shells. I admire him for that, as he was a bit of a neat nick at home. But he loved his roasted peanuts and only got to enjoy them when we drove from our home in Pennside, outside Reading, up north, through the Port Clinton gap and past the Peanut Shop. I don’t remember eating them myself, or any of the kids. I imagine he offered but maybe not.

When my husband Todd held his chainsaw carving open house the other week, we kept a campfire going all day long for our guests, as the 80 carvings were situated in the woods around our log home and pond. Peanuts would be a good snack for our guests, I thought. Shelling them provides something to do with your hands while you chatted and, they take a long time to eat. You can throw the combustible shells into the fire or even on the ground in the woods. And they are so tasty- fresh, flavorful, and fun.

I stopped at The Port Clinton Peanut Shop and purchased a 5 pound bag. We had left overs after the home show and I have taken up a new little habit on my daily walks. I fill my pockets with peanuts. I shell them as I walk and pop the tasty nuggets into my mouth. I’ve been working hard getting my manuscript to where it needs to be by its May 1 deadline and I don’t always bother to make a decent lunch. Consequently, soon after I begin to hike, I realize that I have used up all my reserves and I am hungry and not enjoying my walk as much. But now I always take peanuts in my pockets and now I always feel like I am taking my dad along too.

My father has been dead for thirty five years maybe. A long time. I don’t think of him all that much and don’t usually talk to him. Until the peanuts came to be in my pockets. Now we chat on my walks and I tell him what has been going on. I feel him with me, in the woods, along my side as I break open the crunchy nuts. Eating roasted peanuts was a great joy in my father’s life and I have decided that they will be a part of my life now too. Eating them on my walks in the woods is a simple lovely pleasure. I have not felt, lately, that there has been an overabundance of joy in my life. There is no sadness in my life, however, and I am certainly not depressed and never have been. But we are still dealing with the empty nest bullshit, although it has gotten better. I have been very focused and hard at work on a manuscript, which is unusual for me to deprive myself of regular fun. It is almost over. Then we will up the fun factor. Full moon walks, dinner picnics by the river, attending the theatre, hopping on the river for an evening run. I see light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, I have my pockets full of peanuts and my dad’s company to help me through.

Missing Out at Easter (or so it seemed)

in honor of tomorrow- in case you didn’t get to read this post two years ago…

cindyrosstraveler

Sound travels as if there were no walls or ceilings in our log home. Todd and I were in the bathroom taking a bath Thursday before Easter and I was whining, for I had recently learned that my son would not be home for the Easter weekend. And the daughter is in Boulder. Todd said, “You only have a few more days to prepare for Easter.”
“Bryce won’t be here Easter morning so he isn’t getting a basket. You’re not getting an Easter basket either. There won’t be an egg hunt if Bryce is not here Easter morning. No one has time for an egg coloring party, and what for? I’m not making homemade coconut cream nor peanut butter eggs. No one wants the calories. Easter is not what it used to be,” I said sadly.

A few minutes later Bryce came into the bathroom and told me I was…

View original post 1,343 more words

People Who Care- Angels & Money Dropping out of the Sky

I don’t go out and solicit for money for my non-profit, River House PA. I’d rather be putting what little time and extra energy I have left over from being a writer into just being with the Veterans. I quietly go about doing my important work at helping them get better and every now and then, angels drop out of the sky to help.

That would be “Women Who Care,” a women’s organization in my local town of Orwigsburg, organized to do, you guessed it, be of help wherever they are needed because they care. How wonderful. A member of the group, Deb Cooper, my dear friend, invited me to speak at their monthly dinner meeting. I told them about River House and shared stories of the Veterans getting better, of one Vet hiking 4 miles on crutches with one leg, up and down the Blue Mountain, crossing a rocky stream and descending down a steep game lands road hill that makes us wipe out every time on our cross country skis. Wayne was a rockstar and gave every Vet a reason and a purpose to fight the good fight, to get better and heal and make better choices in life.

I told the Women Who Care about my upcoming programs and how the Vets LOVE to inner tube as it makes them feel like kids again and takes them back to their happy childhood. I told them we only have a handful and I have to get them to share and what I really want to do is let them go down the Little Schuylkill River like Huck Finn and forget life and their nightmares. One of the Women Who Care looked at me across the table and said, “You want inner-tubes? We’ll get you inner-tubes.” OK!

The women said they enjoyed doing hands on work and so I mentioned that they could sponsor an event and bring the food for dinner. Fifteen covered dishes! Women who care, I bet you cook up some pretty sweet casseroles and pot luck recipes. How lucky the Vets who sign up for that event.

I left that evening with 15 new comrades in my work to help these Veterans get better.

The very next day, I was invited to speak at luncheon benefit for International Women’s Day. It was being held at a huge engineering firm outside Reading, Worley Parsons. The young women in charge, Kristine Wessner is the niece of my wonderful friend, Dale Derr, Director of Berks County’s Veteran’s Center. Kristina gave me a short list of River House PA topics she suggested I cover in my talk over lunch, and then asked me what kind of sandwich I would like to eat for lunch- Italian, ham on roll, or turkey sub? I was surprised to hear that but also happy to hear it would not be a formal lunch and I didn’t have to get too dressed up. My husband said, “They probably want you to come in to entertain them over their lunch break.” Whatever.

The fifteen or so engineers that shared their lunch with me, as they unwrapped their hoagies and opened their crackling potato chip bags, seemed very interested and asked good questions. Dale Derr was there and he spoke first about his program and then I spoke second. They were very nice people, especially Kristine.

As I’m gathering my belongings and heading over to say good bye to Kristine to thank her for the opportunity to share my non profit with them, she was occupied counting a boat load of money with her colleague. A ton of ones, many fives, tens and twenties, they gathered the wad of bills together and handed it over to me. “This is for you, for your Vet programs,” they said.

What’s this ?” I asked incredulously.

They told me that they held a fund raiser, the first of its kind, where they pre-ordered sandwiches from a local grocery store and sold them to the employees along with homemade cookies, chips, and drinks. ALL THE PROFIT went to River House PA, as in $374. I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea. They girls also generously gave me a large plastic tub of leftover homemade chocolate chip cookies and a large cardboard box half full of individual chip bags, as I was holding a RH event in the next few days and always need a ton of food to feed the guys.

I packed up my car with a swelled heart. First the Women Who Care and now Kristine Wessner and the engineers at Worley Parsons who also care very much. It sure is nice that there are so many out there wanting to help, doing their part anyway they can, so I can do my important work. Such healing work for us all, helping and taking care of each other. America should could use more of this right now and I feel very blessed to be the recipient. Passing it forward!

Sticking Together- A Cat Does Yoga

 

The kitties in our family have to be as independent as they can. They don’t come into the house as a rule, not because we don’t like their company but because they need to be able to take care of themselves, as in growing substantial fur to be able to live out in the south-facing sunroom through the winter. We go away a lot and they need to be able to sleep out there. There is a swinging cat door in our sunroom that enables them to go in and out at will, and they prefer digging in the flower garden or leaf debris to have a bowel movement. One time, a fat raccoon stuffed himself through their cat door and somehow knew there was a loaf baking pan of dry cat food to gorge himself on. Of course, our kitties high tailed it out of there and left the coon to his own meal. Our neighbor kids feed the kitties (as well as the goats) when we go away for a long time but for a few days, they are more than fine.

Our cats are pretty independent. They don’t feign affection and will visit you if you’re weeding in the garden, walking through the onion row right where you are working and they will come out to greet you on the driveway, roll over to get their belly rubbed, but if you try to pick them up and maul them, they will run away. They are in charge. They embraced this independence we pushed on them pretty seriously.

My husband does not normally go away for very long but this past week he was up at Ridgway, PA at a huge international chainsaw carving event. He normally goes for only a few days, not a full week. And me, I am not normally home alone without him and not normally attached to my computer and desk as if I had shackles on. Right now, I am on deadline to complete my manuscript about alternatively raising and educating our kids- A Big Life. May 1 the completed manuscript must be handed in as polished and perfect as possible. I am not used to such focused, fevered dedication. I do little else but eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, and write. One hour’s walk is all that I am allowed. I have the phone, my e-mail and Facebook to connect.

This past week, it grew crazy cold for early spring and we got hit by a historic snowstorm. I decided to let the kitties in and hang together through it all. One cat severely hesitates at the door, walks around for a few seconds inside when I grab him and drag him in, but makes a quick run for the door in a very short amount of time. I think it is too hot for him. The other little shrimp of a cat, has found that he loves being indoors in the winter, however. He is at the front door in the morning as soon as his treat of wet cat food is devoured.

One of the reasons we made it a house rule of no indoor kitties was because a cat prior to these did not know enough to go to the door when she needed to pee and deposited it on our living room rug or other inappropriate places. These kitties however, have a voice and a brain and let us know when they need to go out.

This little cat who spent this past week with me, I’ve discovered has some amazing skills and quite a cat brain. One evening, I stretched out on the library floor up here in the loft on my yoga mat and put on a Rodney Yee tape to work out with. The cat got off the futon and came down onto the carpet alongside me. OK. Not weird. BUT, he proceeded to roll onto his back just like me and proceeded to stretch his limbs while I was. I had a Yoga for Abdomens tape on so I spent all of my time on the mat, mostly on my back. When I did “the cat” position, I looked over at him and would have been downright scared had the kittie moved into that one. He did not. But when Rodney instructed me to spread out my arms, the cat took his and stretched them out and touched his paw to my torso. It was the weirdest thing because this went on for the whole 20 minutes that I was on the mat, him mimicking me. I have NEVER seen this behavior before.

I guess my kitty knew we had to stick together, and he was there for me through this hard week of being alone, working very hard on my book, and I was there for him during this cold and snowy weather. How wonderfully strange.

The Power of Music & Art

IMG_7249

The first time I had the Veterans from the Lebanon VA Hospital inside my home for an event, I wasn’t concerned about my privacy or property. Even though every event brings new faces, they always feel like family after sharing a few hours of an experience with them. I was concerned where I would put them for the very cool event we had planned that involved music and art.

IMG_7253

We first planned a walk, of course, right here on Red Mountain, on the ridge with the silly goats, to get the Vets outdoors in nature and moving. And then the real fun began. Some time ago, I was put in touch with a professional cellist, a friend of a friend, who wanted to offer a classical music program to my Vets in the re-hab program. Our handmade log home was a beautiful setting for a solo performance.

Maire-Aline Cadieux has been teaching music for almost 30 years as a professor at Kutztown University, and playing for 45. She recently discovered that she enjoys less formal performances because they allow her to have more of a connection with the people who are listening. She found that they really feel a part of the whole event, more than at a more traditional concert. When she heard about what we are doing for the vets at River House, she thought it seemed like a good place for this kind of music-making.

Before her performance, she came early enough to join in on the hike and get to know the Vets. As did my friend, Wilfreda Axsmith, a silk painter and fabric artist. Wilfreda discovered a wonderful meditative art of drawing designs called Zentangle that she would share with the Vets before Marie began to play. This was after dinner of course, brought to us by the generosity of sponsor, Carolyn Schwartz in Colorado. Thanks Carolyn & Bill. She and her husband Bill cycled the 50 mile Camino de Santiago with our family across Spain some years back and she wanted to contribute to the cause and sponsor a meal. The Vets signed a thank you card to her and Bill and I propped a photo of them up by the card so they could connect a face with their gratitude.

IMG_7277

After dinner, Wilfreda set up a large tablet on her portable easel and gave the Vets tips on how to start and do a Zentangle. “Zentangles are miniature pieces of unplanned, abstract, black and white art created through simple, structured patterns called tangles. Zentangles are not only exquisitely beautiful, they are fun and relaxing to create.The process of creating a Zentangle is a form of “artistic meditation” as one becomes completely engrossed in making each pattern, deliberately focusing on “one stroke at a time.” The creativity options and pattern combinations are boundless.

IMG_7291

IMG_7303 (1)

Wilfreda printed off examples that she passed around to help them come up with design options. Some Vets went upstairs to our balcony and watched Wilfreda’s demo over the railing. Everyone got cozy on their chair or sofa or stool and turned all ears on Marie and her cello.

Kahlil Gibran said, “Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” We saw it happening in our home right before our very eyes. Hearing Marie’s bow slide along the strings of her cello and have that beautiful instrument speak to all of us, in our warm log home, was mesmerizing. The Vets sat back and peacefully drew, as their minds emptied and their hands worked. Probably no one in the room had ever been so close to a musical instrument like a cello before, nor heard its sweet voice so intimately. It was a huge treat. Maria von Trapp said, “Music acts like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed heart opens.” I looked around and I didn’t see anything closed in the room.

IMG_7319

Marie played music by Bach: the Prelude from Suite No. 1 in G major, and the Bourreés from Suite No. 3 in C major. She told the Vets to imagine ball rooms and people in very elaborate (and heavy!) dresses dancing together, with most of the motion being subtle, from the arms and feet.

Next she played two dances by Squire: Danse Rustique and Tarantella. She told them to imagine a barn dance, and a flirtation between a young man and woman and then a frantic dance meant to cure a toxic spider bite!

They quietly and meditatively drew and drew. I thought about what Gustav Klimt said, “Art is a line around your thoughts.” Marie was so happy to share her gift. She said, “Music making brings me such joy. I want to involve people who might find some healing and peace from that joy.”

I never know when I schedule these programs if the Vets are going to think them lame or feel intimidated because they never did anything like it before. Last year, we only scheduled events once the weather warmed up and we could be outdoors the entire time, eating and connecting around the campfire. But I didn’t want to waste so many of the winter months if there was a way to offer some winter programs. Staging our last two event with St. John’s UCC Church in Orwigsburg as we used their space to get together, and then at our home, enabled us to help the Vets year round.

You never know what kind of therapy will resonate with each Vet. It is an individual thing. I believe nature is the great healer but there are so many other ways to seek and bring peace back into your life. I see my role as Director of River House PA to introduce as many tools in their tool box as I can. Music or art might do it, yoga, meditation, who knows until you try it out.

IMG_7337

I am indebted to folks like Marie & Wilfreda who give up their time and expertise to help my Vets. The ability to change someone’s life for the better lies in these bi-monthly events. You just don’t know whose heart these chords will resonate with.

Marie finished up with the “Tango for solo cello” by Carter Brey while the Vets put their finishing touches on their art work. Of course, they all wanted to take their little gems home, a reminder of their great day with RiverHouse PA as it added one more rung on the ladder of health, as they learn ways to rise above the sadness and a life of damaging habits. As Pablo Piccaso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of every day life.” I would say it was a very successful evening here at River House PA!

IMG_7264

Veterans Stretch Themselves in More Ways Than One

img_0631

Amy Cook the recreational therapist from the Lebanon VA Hospital was skeptical about getting the Veterans in the re-hab program to do something unusual (for them) as Yoga. These guys were toughies, she told me, and would be hard to convince to try something weird like doing Yoga.

Yoga isn’t weird, Amy,” I told her. There’s been lots of studies showing how healing it is for everyone, but especially for people suffering with post traumatic stress disorder.

We had not had a scheduled River House PA event for a few months as I was traveling in Asia with my family over the holidays.

I know Yoga isn’t weird but these guys don’t know you. They are a new group, I’m afraid they won’t come.”

Version 2

And so we decided to hold a Owl Pellet Dissecting Class (that sounds weirder than Yoga to me!) and an Night Owl Walk as our first event for the new year. That was hugely successful and everyone learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Everyone left hugging. I said to everyone as I embraced them, “Make sure you come next time,”

Oh, I’ll be there for sure.”

img_0634

But the group of Veterans piling out of the vans in the parking lot of St John’s UCC Church in Orwigsburg, were mostly new guys. Many of the Vets form two weeks ago had already cycled out and graduated from the program. Alright, I thought, they are stretching themselves already, just by trusting enough to come here.

Yoga instructor, Ed Folk, offered to put on the special class for free in the beautifully carpeted peaceful gathering space at the church. He regularly teaches a Tuesday evening class that my friend, RH friend Susan McCartney joins in on and also helps coordinate between our organization and the church.

My friend Bonnie Boyer, who has the Second Floor Yoga studio in Orwigsburg, PA, lent us her mats. The vets filed in, grabbed a mat and rolled them out on the floor.

img_0654

Ed began slow, doing some head rolls, shoulder shrugs, some of the guys even had a hard time sitting on the floor with their legs crossed. Some of them got the message that they should wear comfortable loose clothing, other swore tight constricting jeans, but they made the best of it.

Ed was the most unassuming instructor for the Vets. Many poses he would say, now you can take your arms over your head , or lift up your leg behind you, but only my more advanced people can do that, I can’t. That made all of the vets feel OK about their performance which is paramount when you are trying to win them over to a new activity like Yoga. Even my board member, Mike Schnurr, Vietnam war vet who tells me has bad knees and a bad back and who knows what else bad, said he wasn’t going to do it at first (just come for the camaraderie and food afterwards) and I said , “Oh yes you are,” and he did, in the rear, but I opened my eyes and peaked, cause I joined in just for the fun, and he was looking real good. One time, I peeked and saw everyone with their eyes closed and a blissed out calm and peaceful look on their faces and I felt so proud of them. Maybe this will resonant enough with one or two to use it in their tool box of aids and helps to get better and choose a healthier lifestyle.

img_0669

That’s what these River House events are for, to give them tools and give them hope that we at RH believe in them and are here for them as they work to navigate a new life.

Afterwards, Nancy and Tom List, certified teachers of Transcendental meditation, gave a little info session on the fabulous results many Vets are getting from practicing TM. This form of meditation helps reduce and in some cases eliminates symptoms of ptsd as it takes practitioners from a state of noisy thinking to a state of inner quietness.

img_0664

Then, we ate- homemade chili and corn bread and cake and fruit. The evening’s event was sponsored by Fran Pepoon from California, who is originally from the Reading area and believes in our misison. The Vets signed a thank-you card to her while they went up for seconds. Everyone helped with the clean- up some of the guys dove into the sudsy dish water, and left as always, with a full belly, a full heart and more tools in their tool box for getting better. We have so much fun at RH events, learn so much and enjoy each other’s company so much, who needs drugs and alcohol. We’re learning a better way, stretching oursleves to embrace new things and people. Life is good.

PS -Once again, if anyone wants to sponser ($200) or co-sponsor ($100) and just contribute to making these events happen, message me. If you live nearby, you can join in the fun on that event and meet all the Veterans so they can thank you in person.

 

Version 2

Batting Balloons Through the Years

When my kids had a birthday, I used to wait until they were asleep and take colored crepe paper (pink for girls, blue for boys) and decorate their doorways of their bedroom, twisting and taping and creating a grand exit. Their chair at the kitchen table would also be decorated with streamers and a helium “Happy Birthday” balloon would be tied from a rung with a ribbon.Their place setting had an etched glass and a special fancy plate with their wrapped presents and card sitting on top. I thumb tacked up the 12 foot long Happy Birthday sign across the log ends but the real treat is what happens in their bedroom when they first open their eyes.

Todd and I blew up at least two dozen large colorful balloons that we placed on the floor of their room, forcing them to swim through the balloons to get out. As soon as they pushed open their eye lids on their special day, it felt special for them. That was the whole idea. When we heard their little feet padding on the wood hallway, we began to sing “Happy Birthday” loudly from our perspective beds. Then we spent the first half hour of their birthday lying on the floor and the bed batting them up into the air, taking turns, passing them back and forth, trying not to let them hit the ground and yelling when they did.

This was just the start of the big day. They got to choose their heart’s desire of breakfast, lunch and dinner. The years they attended public school, they got a wellness day and were forbidden to go to school. Todd wasn’t allowed to go to work that day either. I baked their favorite cake and they got to decide what we all did together from sun up to bedtime. Sometimes it was going to see the new Harry Potter movie, other times it might be riding an elephant in Thailand. It ran the gamut, from local to very far away.

When Sierra and Bryce were very little, they spent the first part of the morning fashioning a construction paper cone hat with ribbons or strings of seed pearls hanging down from the point. In magic marker, “Happy Birthday” was written on the hat. It was secured around their neck with Christmas ribbon and it was worn all day long. That way, everyone, from the mail lady to the postmaster to the grocery store cashier would know what special day it was. And they’d throw out quarters or lolli pops to honor them.

I pulled out their birth photos on their special day, as embarrassing as it was to see their naked mom with the huge belly pushing their bloody heads out, and the photos from their first year of life too. I had Sierra at a birth center and Bryce right here in our bedroom, so Sierra was present to watch the miracle of her brother being born. It always felt like their birthday was something I, their mother should equally celebrate, as I had a big hand in making it happen.

I wanted my children to know that they were valued and celebrated. As their mother, I honestly felt as though I celebrated their presence in my life every single day they were with me. They were my greatest joy and the gift I was most grateful for out of my whole life. Their actual birth day was the most special.

What Marianne Williamson said about little children struck a cord with my heart:

And how ungrateful and irreverent to listen so little and watch so casually when angels themselves have moved into the house. I have never seen such honest demonstrations of enlightenment as in happy children. They laugh a lot, yet hey are very serious. The understand everything without letting on that they understand much. They are old and young, innocent and loving. What are we doing pretending to know more than they do? And why are we putting the things of this world before their well-being? We tend to treat children as we treat God. Not always well.

I believed in the importance of ritual and raised Sierra and Bryce in that same vein. Rituals and traditions enrich a family’s life and are an excuse to come together and share and make memories. They help us celebrate life and each other.

Our family often went on long trips over winter break and the holidays. As Bryce’s birthday is December 29 and Sierra’s January 23, we often celebrated in some far flung country. When we packed for those trips, I secretly bought balloons along and somehow tried to blow them up without the birthday child knowing. The idea was to surprise. This tradition did not stop, no matter the age. If we were with our adult children on their birthday, they got balloons.

This past winter, our family was on holiday in Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. Sierra’s husband Eben was along as well as Bryce’s girlfriend, Calan. I was also celebrating my birthday on this trip and for the first time, I had my bed and room filled with balloons by Calan and Bryce. They burst in come morning with a garbage bag and unloaded them on top of me. We proceeded to all lie on the bed and played a game of balloon batting for a good half hour. In sixty-one years, this was my first personal bed of birthday balloons and it felt wonderful. (I take that back, in doing research I remember my daughter and her then boyfriend, Eben, flooded me with balloons on their sofa when we visited them in their tiny apartment in China when I turned 56.  That had been a wonderful surprise too as every balloon bed bash is because you never know if your loved ones had gotten their shit together or not to remember the balloons especially if you were  not at home).

img_0946

Next after my birthday in Vietnam, was Bryce’s. To make his day special, Calan rented a a bungalow in Ninh Bihn on a lake and cycled along the edges of rice patties and boated down drowned valleys with Vietnamese captains handling the oars with their bare feet. Our side by side double beds had mosquito netting draped from the ceiling down the bed’s sides to the floor. They would provide the perfect holding container for balloons.

During dinner that night, Calan excused herself and said she wasn’t feeling well and was going to lie down. But what she really was doing was blowing up balloons. She stuffed them into a garbage bag and hid them between our bed and the bungalow’s bamboo wall. Then in the early am, she pretended to get up and pee and her and I gently, slowly, lifted up the one end of the mosquito netting and filled the bed with colored balloons, then woke up the happy birthday boy. Although Bryce was turning 25, he was not too young for batting balloons.

Batting balloons seems like a silly thing and almost a dumb thing to continue into adulthood, but my children don’t feel that way. To remember to buy them, stay up late enough to secretly sneak away to blow them all up, then having childlike fun as the whole family bats them up into the air, is a lovely simple pleasure. It speaks volumes on how much you care. It warms my heart that it means enough to them to want to continue it themselves, even before they become parents. This is the true test that something that you did in their childhood meant something deeply to them- they continue it in their adult lives- the true litmus test of importance. 

I saw a video on FB the other day, of very elderly folks in a home, sitting around a long cafeteria like table, in wheelchairs and such. They sat on both sides of the long table and each had rulers in their hands. A few balloons were being batted back and forth between them. Ballon Volleyball. Adult recreation. That will be Todd and I someday. The kids can visit us in the old folks home and join in on the fun. They will have had a lot of practice.

LET’S RIDE! Many Hands to Make a Non-Profit Work

img_6942

It started with my board member, Annie Schnur. She sent the message…”My friend Kathy Jones is going to an auction in Philly in February and she said that on the inventory list are used police mountain bikes. They do need repairs but are we interested ? She said in the past they went for. $10.00 apiece ! She would handle the bidding and bring them up to her shop. I have no idea how many or what shape they are in. ” My answer was “YES!”

Then Tom Bucci got involved. Tommy regularly attends and helps out with River House PA functions but is connected to the Coatsville VA Hospital, as an employee and as volunteer with dog therapy. He offered to bid for RH and drive down to Philadelphia to pick them up after the auction is over. It took a lot of paying attention to watch the bidding, which climbed higher and higher. “I’ll pay up to $150 for the 5 bikes,” Tommy generously offered, who hoped to keep one of the bikes for himself, which we were happy to agree too.

Then the bidding went past $150 and he asked, “How high do you want to go?”

I involved my husband, Todd’s best friend, Shawn Shoener, who once was the head bike mechanic at the local bike shop. We brought up the auction website and blew up the photo of the bikes to look closer as to what brand they were and in what kind of shape they were in. They looked like good bikes, but without the seats and seat posts. “Keep bidding,” I instructed Tommy, and so he did.

Tom won the bikes at $310, which brought each bike to $60 without the repairs/parts and tuning. When Tom fetched them in Philadelphia and brought them over to our house, Shawn looked up the model numbers and said that some of the bikes were $1200 new. We did well.

img_6972

Shawn and Todd went right to work looking them over, taking notes on what parts were needed and immediately drove to a bike shop trying to find the missing parts. Todd picked up where Shawn left off, purchasing parts and putting the seats on. Then Shawn will need to tune them up. Come spring, we will have four great mountain bikes added to our fleet so we can take the Lebanon VA Hospital Veterans on a bike ride on the Schuylkill River Trail. It is my hope to get some of the graduates from the program who have gone on in their lives to go an extended bike trip down the pike.

img_6957

All these hours of work and time spent, (as well as $ from Tom Bucci) out of the kindness of their hearts, to help our Veterans. It warms my heart. I can’t do this myself and I am glad that I do not have to. Thanks to my husband Todd, Tom Bucci, Shawn Shoener and Annie Schnurr and Kathy Jones for thinking of us in the first place.

Another wonderful board member, Tim Minnich has a GoFundMe page started to get more bikes as we could use a few more in our fleet. I also purchased a few other other mountain bikes at yard sales. If anyone has a mountain bike that is in good shape hanging in their garage, we could put it to good use.

Thank you everyone for all that you do. Let’s Ride!