Reverb 10 for December 30 – GIFT

December 30 – Gift. This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year?

By far, the best gift I received this year was two, uninterrupted weeks of vacation in Maine this summer. Nothing is more memorable than traveling to a new place and having the opportunity to take in some of the most majestic scenes of natural beauty that this country has to offer. I can think of no better way to spend the days than with a hammock, a lake, knitting, and a stack of books.

Reverb 10 for December 29 – DEFINING MOMENT

December 29 – Defining moment. Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year.

Those who have lost loved ones are probably familiar with the point in the grieving process where you realize that the person is never coming back. Obviously, you’ve known all along that death is pretty permanent, but it still takes quite some time before the less rational parts of your being accept the fact as well.

When my father’s portrait was placed in the lobby at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, I realized that there was the end, right there, on the wall. The portrait “unveiling” was like a period at the end of a sentence of the last paragraph on the last page of a book. Full stop. “Well, that’s that”, I thought. It’s amazing how we are born, we live and carve a path on this planet, we die, and all that is physically left is a painting on a wall in a lobby of a busy urban hospital. Dare I say millions of people will come to pass that portrait? They will read the accompanying plaque and wonder about the man behind the spectacles. There is no more knowing him. I have avoided stopping and staring at the painting when I am in the hospital for fear that someone with “catch” me and wonder what the heck I’m doing with my nose practically pressed up to the thing. I think about my dad, bodiless, floating around somewhere, watching me watch him. I get an odd feeling in my gut – the same feeling I get when I misplace something. I know that I KNOW where the darn thing is, I just can’t find it, can’t grasp it. It drives me nuts. Just where could he be? Where on earth could I have put him? I usually have to open up the box I keep in my closet of “mom and dad” to find him. I guess in a way, he does come back. Just not in the way I would like.

The portrait is so life-like, so warm and golden in its tones, that you almost expect him to wink as you pass by. But Hogwarts, HUP is not and I don’t expect to see my father’s visage floating in and out of the frame any time soon. My auntie Jackie, who lives in Richmond, on the same street that she once padded down barefoot as a child when it was a dirt road, told me of how she regularly talks to her deceased husband. Sometimes, when she visits him at the cemetery, she even yells at him. “I just go and cuss him out when I’m mad at him for leaving. Nothing wrong with doing that once in a while.” And I think that’s ok. It’s ok to be angry with people about being left behind and all the things they didn’t say and the questions they didn’t answer.

The aunties, or Daisies as the elder matriarchs in our family have come to be known, remind me that my grandma ‘Ree – whom I seem to greatly take after at times – did things a whole lot crazier than talking to dead relatives, so there should be no shame in it. I’m guessing there may be some days when I take a chair in the lobby and look across the corridor and have a word or two with my father; maybe even yell a little bit.

Reverb 10 for December 28 – ACHIEVE

December 28 – Achieve. What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

I most want to achieve physical wellness. I imagine that I will feel pretty darn elated when the scale hits a healthy number and I get to try on anything I want off the rack and my back no longer hurts and I have energy to burn.

I can experience that feeling today by…

– going to the gym (which I already did!) to get myself in motion

– eating breakfast (which I already did!) to start my day with a happy tummy

– creating a manifestation board to better visualize my goals

– to compliment myself about one thing I did really well

– remind myself that I have an adorable nose and awesome hair

– choose a recipe to try from my new Jamie Oliver cookbook

– write one paragraph in my journal before bed

– put aside my worry about my kidneys until my next doctor appointment in two weeks

– try the LA Fitness Aqua Fit class and keep in mind that just about everyone looks bad in a bathing suit

– spend less time at my computer

– sew more, knit more, be with friends more

Reverb 10 for December 27 – ORDINARY JOY

December 27 -Ordinary joy. Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

Nursing brings me more joy than I had thought. Yes, it is messy and complicated and patients can be infernally frustrating, but I still feel that it is such a privilege to be able to care for people when they are at their most vulnerable. The best moments in nursing for me aren’t in the critical moments when I’m making tough decisions about patient care or trying to keep a patient from the brink of medical disaster. The best moments for me come when I’m taking a patient history, helping someone with their medication, rocking a scared child. I feel joy when I know a connection has been made between myself and a patient. Despite the fact that nursing is such an intimate profession, it’s not very common to make a profound connection with patients because there is just so much to do in a shift. Most of my time is usually focused on just maintaining the status quo. Sometimes, though, I recognize a kindred spirit, or someone opens themselves up enough to trust in my care, or I get a “thank you” and that sustains me.

My mot joyful ordinary moment this year occurred during the days I got to care for infant A. at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He arrived on our unit at about 9 days of age – so new to the world. I took such delight in seeing him grow and achieve developmental milestones over the months that I cared for him that the other nurses teased me. There is just something so magical about seeing a human being develop that it is hard not to be mystified. I knew that I wasn’t his mother but I felt such elation the first time he made purposeful eye-contact with me. I enjoyed being his cheerleader – encouraging him during feedings, quieting him after procedures, updating the medical team on his progress. I never once saw or met his parents in the 14 weeks I was on that unit. Their absence – complicated reasons I won’t go into – ignited a little fire within me that kept my anger on a low boil for weeks. I eventually got tired of wondering who these individuals were and speculating about their parenting abilities. Instead I focused on providing A. with lots of positive energy in the time I could give him. Just because I wasn’t his mother didn’t mean that I couldn’t love him in a way, too. My nursing care improved when I focused on communicating to this little babe that he was loved and cared for and going to do just fine in the world. Once I let go of the anger, I found there was certainly a whole lot more room for the joy.

Reverb 10 for December 26 – SOUL FOOD

December 26 – Soul food. What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

I have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast on a given day, let alone what I ate throughout an entire year! Technically, this year could be considered rather disappointing in terms of what I ate given that I didn’t really try anything new or spectacular, I didn’t sample any cuisine in a foreign country, and I certainly didn’t attempt to cook my way through anything like Julia Child’s life work.

Bread cooling from the oven.

I did learn to bake my own bread and continued to make my own jam. These experiences were particularly significant because making things from scratch allows me to connect with food on a level that transcends basic preparation or tearing through a package. Since I’ve tended towards always having a rather unhealthy relationship with food, gathering the ingredients (I pick my own fruit) and then creating something from those separate ingredients makes me feel that I really am nourishing myself as opposed to just feeding myself. I’m amazed at how a gelatinous mound of dough can transform into a crispy, chewy slice of bread after a little bit of time in the oven. When I know where my food comes from, when I participate in the harvest, when I create meals from foods created by nature, there’s a comfort I get that doesn’t come from preservatives or carbohydrates or sugars, it’s the the comfort of knowing that I’ve given myself exactly what I needed, no guilt added.

Rhubarb pocket pie!

Reverb 10 for December 25 – PHOTO

December 25 – Photo – a present to yourself. Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

Well, this is a tough-y since I am usually taking the photos and not having them taken.

Disneyland, California

This photo was taken a smidge before 2010 when I spent Christmas in LA in 2009. My uncle took the photo with my camera while we were waiting in an interminable line for Space Mountain at Disneyland the day after Christmas. I think it captures a good deal of what people tend to notice about me. Despite having what I consider “horse teeth”, I’ve always liked my smile because it’s genuine and lights up my entire face. If I’m happy, you will know it! I also like the way my eyes light up when I smile. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I am a vibrant, happy, outgoing, boisterous person who gets excited about the silliest things because it’s the littlest things that are most important: waiting in line with family during a day of fun, creating and sharing memories, laughing together.

Reverb 10 for December 24 – EVERYTHING’S OK

December 24 – Everything’s OK. What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

I hate to be a debbie downer, but I don’t know if I can really say that there was a moment in 2010 that could serve as proof that everything is alright. Even in the movie “The Kids are Alright” nobody was as really as happy as everyone imagined or assumed.

I think that, this year, I learned that everything is probably not going to be ok when you consider just how many things can go wrong in a lifetime on this planet. I also learned that I am ok with everything not being alright. Do I wish that there was a lot less tragedy in life? Of course. I also acknowledge, though, that I’ve weathered some pretty major storms and come out the other side relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, life’s trials and tribulations, no matter how seemingly trivial, are the impetus for growth and change. The aim is to be a person who recognizes that, embraces it, and works towards being a happier and healthier person as a result.

There were a lot of “oh crap!” moments in 2010. None of those moments were really followed by my realizing that my world would somehow go back to the way it was. Instead, those moments were followed with my flipping out to some degree and later being ok with things not always going according to plan. And I really think that that is what has made a difference.

Reverb 10 for December 23 – NEW NAME

December 23 –  New name. Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

Eulalia Howlett

My first choice would be Eulalia. However, the name of my great aunt usually causes people to wrinkle their noses and ask “Eu-what?” And forget asking other people to spell it! I love the name, though. It has always had a particular musical quality that I love. I have been forbidden by my mother to name any children after her lest they be tormented throughout their grade school years. Aunt Eulalia was my father’s favorite aunt because, being a teacher, she was always a big supporter of his education. He used to recall her helping him with long division and the encouragement she gave him to pursue his aspiration of becoming a physician. She was also a very beautiful woman whose body language and elegant stature commanded respect. Sometimes, I imagine having a little shop that sells homemade jams and breads and even yarn and I would call it “Sweet Eulalia’s” after her.

Marie Frances Johnson (nee Howlett) 1943

My second choice would be Marie. Marie is my middle name. I am named after both of my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother was also Susanne Marie and my paternal grandmother was Marie Frances. My father had a habit of calling me “Marie” when I was in a bossy mood and reminded him of his mother. According to family lore, Marie was one helluva lady and even kind of crazy in her later years. Just this weekend, an auntie of mine told us of how, when she went to the cemetery to visit family, she would look and the ground and mutter “You SOB’s! All you left for me was arthritis!”. She was quite overprotective of my father and tried her darndest to keep him out of harm’s way, not allowing him to go ice skating or swimming or walk on the same side of the street as a funeral parlor or cemetery. She had all sorts of quirky beliefs, one of the most notable being that soaking in the same tub of water you used to cook corn would make your skin soft and silky. She was fond of scrubbing my father raw in an old washtub full of corn water with a generous bar of Octagon soap. She was an intelligent woman who had aspired to be a seamstress and attend the Pratt Institute, but segregation kept her from realizing that dream. I like to think that my acerbic wit probably comes from her as she was pretty much known for speaking her mind quite plainly. Family members describe her as a pistol and she was most certainly a woman before her time. I probably get a good deal of my “domestic” interests like sewing, knitting, baking, canning, and cooking from my maternal grandmother who raised 5 kids in Chicago and surrounding suburbs in the 50’s. She made most if not all of my mother’s clothes, though my mother drew the line at a homemade bathing suit one year. She also produced fantastic meals on a shoestring budget and kept the family entertained with her piano-playing.

Interestingly enough, I never knew any of these women as they died either before I was born or shortly thereafter. Their names are special to me, though, because they are names I hear frequently in family get-togethers where we hoot and holler over funny stories about Grandma ‘Ree and Auntie ‘Lalia. My father’s mother always wanted a baby girl in the worst way and I’ve grown up hearing how thrilled she would have been to see me come up in the world. I like to think there is a little bit of each of these women in me.

Reverb 10 for December 22 – TRAVEL

December 22 – Travel. How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

2010 wasn’t the most exciting year that I’ve had in terms of travel. I visited family in South Pasadena, California for Christmas, visited Arlington National Cemetery and Washington, D.C. for a few days, spent two weeks in Ellsworth, Maine, spent several days in New York City in January and June, and just returned from visiting more family in Richmond, Virginia.

Next year, I would like to see more of the family that I have scattered throughout the United States. I’d like to visit friends who have moved to new homes. I’ve never been to Boston which seems rather embarrassing to admit given the 25 years I’ve lived on the East Coast. I think I’d like to take lots of “little” trips in 2011, to nearby places that I don’t really know. Pennsylvania and the tri-state area is filled with wonderful historical treasures that I have yet to discover.

Reverb 10 for December 21 – FUTURE SELF

December 21 – Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

Dear Susanne,

Yes, you will get to stop taking prednisone and your face will no longer look like you’re related to a chipmunk. You’re kidneys will probably be fine as well, so stop worrying about that dialysis fistula. Oh, and it’s highly unlikely, given your anal retentiveness and keen organizational skills, that you will make a mistake and “accidentally” kill one of your patients. Try to be a little less self-critical, would you? Your nursing career, despite the early mornings, night shifts, and potentially aggravating patients, is going to be phenomenal. You may even publish papers or even a whole book from your experiences. We’ll see. This year, you’ll sew your first quilt which will keep you cozy for years to come. You still need to work on keep your mouth closed and your eyes and ears open, but I’m thinking you’ll mellow out a bit with time and maturity. This year, you’ll learn to become more financially savvy and maybe give doing your own taxes a shot. You should remember to always take time for yourself to do self-renewing activities: try yoga, it’s not as hard as you think. Cook more foods at home than you eat out, your GI tract will thank you. Always get a flu shot. Remember the swine flu you got in 2009? Within the next ten years, you’ll probably do some stint abroad again since I know you get antsy when you stay in one place for too long. I imagine you’ll do a lot of traveling, too. Personally, I’d like it if you visited Croatia but I won’t push the subject. At some point, you’ll learn that not all men are soul-sucking lunatics and you’ll find someone your speed who won’t mind sharing household chores or owning free-range chickens. Don’t buy a huge house and fill it with useless things, fill it with people – I imagine that your potluck dinners will continue to be a hit.