Being Present is the best Present!

began writing this piece early in Oct.

Alina, Nora and Adam

Once again, I am astounded by the early interruption of fall and its beautiful foliage with the premature invasion of holiday commercials.  I blogged last year about the fact that Halloween costumes and Christmas ornaments would be vying for space on shelves this year- and they were.  Went to Target and saw one display that had Halloween candy (as it was being moved) and Christmas ornaments (as they were being added) end to end. Read my Christmas Schmismas blog from last year (

And while my children don’t always agree with my perspective of the holidays, I am standing firm once again to keep true to myself and what it all means to me.

The holidays are a time to remember the love that fills my life- God’s love and the love of my family and friends and sharing that love and my blessings.

It’s a time to investigate new ways to use my blessings to help others.

It’s a time to remember that I can give gifts from the heart, some handmade and some purchased, with meaning and gratitude.

It’s a reminder that there is much suffering in the world, and that I must always do my best to help those in need.

Choose to be present…

My friend Sara and I were talking about the holidays and the fact that most people barely get through them unscathed- that all of our “obligations” make the holidays a time of errands and deadlines.  That some shoppers run around disgruntled and tired and frustrated and hardly have time to reflect on the season’s true meaning.

We came to the conclusion that the best gift of the season should be the gift of learning to be present and I welcome and challenge you to join us!

Before we can learn to be present this holiday season, we’ll need to start by creating lists. No, not another shopping list, but a list of holiday traditions and events.  First make a list of the things which bring joy this time of year.  Call this list “Joys”.

Then create a list of obligations that occur this time of year.  Review this list carefully and consider what can be removed.  Call this list “Obligations”.  Obligations are things that might be important to the people we love, but may not be meaningful to us. What is important to us is that we show the people we love that if this event holds value to them, we can honor their wishes.

So, dressing like an elf and taking a picture with your mom may not be on the top of your Joy list, but it may bring you joy, if it brings your mom joy.

Look carefully over the list of obligations. Is there anything that can be removed this year? Is there an alternative suggestion for an obligation that you simply prefer to avoid?

Example 1: Obligation- Sending holiday cards

The kids want to send out holidays cards.  Postage is expensive.  You aren’t sure why you send cards to people you are close to and see over the holidays.  Can holiday cards be made as a family project?  Perhaps make and send cards to friends and family members who haven’t been seen all year? Take the time to sends cards to those you miss and include a picture as well.

Evaluate each obligation with these questions:

Is this event really important to me for the holidays? 

Is this really important to those I love for the holidays?

Focus on a few family traditions and enjoy them. Do less and appreciate more.

Once a commitment has been made to an obligation, be present and grateful. Focus. Listen.  Breathe.  Participate.  Be gentle with yourself and know that it isn’t always easy to be present and that we will fail again and again.

Practice being present…

Learning to be PRESENT is not easy.  It means that the past is behind us and out of control.  It means that the future and the worries that come with it, is also out of our control.  NOW is all that is certain and should be celebrated.

You will still think about the past and the future, but when you do, try to center again, take a deep breath, and put things into perspective.

If we spend too much time worry about the past or the future, we miss the present and the blessings of that particular time.

So, for the gift of being PRESENT, try the tips below.

Do one thing at a time!

We are trained to multi task and some of us do it very well, but during the holiday season, do one thing at a time and celebrate that moment.  Turn off all electronic devices (cell phones, computers, video games, tv ) and return to the simplicity of life before such luxuries (and invasions) occupied your time.

If it’s making cookies that have meaning to you, do this while avoiding the modern day invasions and connect to those you love. If it’s cutting down your own Christmas tree, make it a family event and allow each person to have an important role in that tradition.

Delight in simplicity!

Gifts don’t need to be expensive or wrapped; they can be from the heart and equally beautiful.  Find a craft that’s appealing and fun and spend time with your family creating gifts.  Children, especially, will love this idea.

One of my favorite gifts is an ornament my husband made for me.  Every year I ask for peace on Earth for my birthday and Christmas gifts (I was born on Christmas!). A few years ago, that’s exactly what my husband gave me:  Peas on Earth.  He took a clear round ornament and painted the Earth on it, then glued peas all over it!  Clever and special and a keepsake! Priceless.

We aren’t all crafty.  There are many other ways to give homemade gifts.

Making breads or cookies is another way to spend quality time with your family while making holiday gifts.  And there is no long line necessary to make your purchase!

Donations in honor of or in memory of loved ones is another way to express gratitude and appreciation.  Making a donation is a great way to give a gift while allowing others to give as well.

Nothing is less complex or expensive than volunteering your time.  Many soup kitchens need additional help when the weather gets cold.  Stores and organizations typically collect gifts for those in need.  Involve children in this giving by having them help pick out the gift and contribute some of their piggy bank money to the cause. Children should learn that gifts are much more than wrapped toys and that giving can feel much better than receiving.

It may be the first time your child goes to Toys R Us and returns with a gift for someone else!

Bring yourself back!

It’s impossible (unless you are the Dalai Lama) to be present all of the time. You will get bent out of shape, discouraged and anxious plenty of times. Find a quote that helps to bring you back to a place of peacefulness when tough times arise.    You can also use a healing stone or a serene picture as a guiding tool if needed. If you have the time and place, sit quietly with your eyes shut to regroup and replenish.

Stop and take deep breaths before you speak or do (count to 10)! 

The holidays can be noisy, busy and chaotic.  It’s easy to get impatient.  Stop and take a deep breath and exhale the stress before responding to anything which causes anxiety. The ten second rule with avoid causing a scene when that fifth shopper butts in line!

Read and learn from our great teachers.

Late professor and psychologist, Abraham Maslow said, “The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

This is much easier said than done, but with good intention and practice, we can celebrate the holidays with more love and joy than commitments and stress.

There are a number of great books about living in the present:

Power of Now, What About Now?, The Book of Awakening, Mindful Moments

Buy and read them.

Eckhart Tolle (author of The Power of Now, and A New Earth) talks about being present in his books.

“…the foundation for greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment instead of pursuing the idea of greatness.” p 266, A New Earth © 2005 “…the foundation for greatness is honoring the small things of the present moment instead of pursuing the idea of greatness.” p 266, A New Earth © 2005

Cherish the small things that can bring great joy (a child’s delight in the box that big toy came in, hot chocolate with marshmallows, the hug from Grammy when she receives your famous banana bread) and flow with that joy as long as possible. 

Go to the River!

I like to concentrate on the river metaphor when I am stressed over my holiday obligations.  Think of a river- it is only made up of water and yet, it is made up of layers, just as we are.

On the surface of the river there is turbulence, but below that turbulence, the water is still.

Being present means to reside in the stillness of the water, the stillness in you. Regardless of the turbulence of life around you, practice being still and calm among the turbulent waters.

No matter what the season, acknowledging life’s blessings and celebrating them with gratitude is an important step towards living in the present.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Anon


Warren and Jodi’s Excellent Adventure!

Estes Park
Jodi, Warren and Abbe

My husband’s blog!!!!  Part 1


My husband Warren Benton Ames decided that we could have a great road trip.  His sister Abbe was moving from Colorado to Maryland, and needed a car driven back.  He loves to drive and I love to travel, so….I  was (improperly) informed that we would be filling one of Abbe’s six sports cars (oh, my poor husband!) with valuables and would have just enough room for ourselves and some camping supplies. I envisioned pottery, classware and jewelry boxes.  No. Turns out, as Abbe is a very high-ranking Army Doctor, she possesses a lot of high-ranking Army valuables.

Therefore, we drove a neon yellow BMW sportscar from Colorado to Maryland- filled with legal and licensed weapons.

The vegetarian, peace activist, serenity now woman that I am was not happy with this miscommunication! “It’s in the details hon!”

Part 1 – Our Time in Colorado

Part 2 will cover the travelling (not light) adventure with valuables.


Jodi and Warren’s
Excellent Adventure

-or, “Are We Somewhere Yet”

Saturday – (D)epart Day. 05:30 am. And that is depart time, as  well. Trouble is, we’re still in bed. As we are both ‘worriers’ neither of us  has slept more than about twenty minutes all night. Pure speculation on whether  we slept through the 05:00 alarm or whether it never actually went off, but it  doesn’t matter. Out train leaves the station in forty minutes, and it’s a  twenty minute drive to the station. (Slacker) Jodi can’t get herself together  enough to prepare the Eggs Benedict and Cappuccino I would have normally  expected, but no matter. Tumble Alina out of bed, pitch the luggage into the  diesel Benz, and we’re officially clattering and belching exhaust smoke toward  wherever it is we’re going. West, Old Man. Colorado. We arrive at the train  station with time to spare (78 hp from a three litre diesel isn’t much, but  it’s the TORQUE that got us there on time!) VISA card buys us one-way tickets  to Newark airport (as well as a one-way ticket to Secaucus, NJ – somehow. But  remember, I’m running on twenty minutes or so of sleep.) Uneventful train ride to Newark,  nifty monorail to the airport. Delta flight ETD 08:20, and we’re at the ticket
counter seventy minutes before scheduled departure. Or, as it turns out, just  short of four hours before departure. Pilots and crew were late getting in, and  federal regulations specify ‘x’ hours of rest before they can take off again.

Bored and tired! Fantasizing about the snuggly bed we abandoned not too long ago, Jodi and I make ourselves as comfortable as possible in the  torture devices the airport calls ‘seats’. 07:50 and I’m thinking the five or  six people sitting at the bar might just have the right idea.

Short flight to stop-over in Detroit is uneventful, and we  have an hour or so to stretch our legs in the airport and see black-and-white  photos of the Motor City in its heyday. We telephone my sister Abbe to let her know we’re way behind schedule and won’t
arrive in Denver for another three hours. Or, actually, we telephone somebody  whose phone number is one digit away from Abbe’s number. Slight typographical  error – I eventually figured it out. There may still be some poor schmuck  sitting at Denver International Airport waiting for us to rendezvous with them,  but we don’t know them and they don’t know us so it’s all OK.

Somehow, though,  Jodi has upgraded our flight from Detroit to Denver to first class!  Clearly, she didn’t mention the name ‘Ames’ in the negotiations. So we  watched  “Win, Win” which is a movie  featuring a high school kid who dropped out the high school I drive by every  day, and ‘our’ flight attendant provided Jack Daniels and ice in place of the  Eggs Benedict I so rightly deserved earlier in the day. Either way, my liver will  wind up harder than woodpecker lips.

Denver International proves to be quite a disappointment, to me  anyway. I had heard (“Discovery Channel” I think) that this was a very difficult  airport to fly into, as it sits in a bowl with tricky crosswinds and  downdrafts. Fool plane just glides down and eases onto the tarmac. Where’s the  excitement in that!? I’d squawk about a refund, but  Jodi informs me that  not only did we fly first cabin, we did already indeed get a couple hundred  dollars discounted from our next Delta flight. Shoot, between that and  the ‘free’ JD it’s probably cheaper for me to be on vacation than it is to be back at home. And right about now, if Abbe completely forgets to retrieve us at  the airport, I don’t much care.

Because I have a plan: Once in Denver, we’ll just take a  shuttle into The City and see a few sights I’ve picked out. Plenty to do, and
we’ll just drift along according to Abbe’s ETA. Just one problem. I don’t spend  an awful lot of time in airports, so the fact that every major airport in the  world is built in The Middle of Nowhere just didn’t register. “Denver” airport  is in “Denver”, which is a big city, right?

Abbe arrives  to collect us from baggage claim. One smoking AMG burnout (or two), and a five  dollar parking fee later we are breathing mile high air, hurtling up the interstate  at Mercedes Benz speeds (and opulence) that would embarrass the Boeing 767 we  left behind. Having optioned for soda crackers and organic water on the plane,  the warning light for Jodi’s energy level goes from yellow to red on the way to  Fort Collins so the Benz rolls to a stop at “Austin’s Grill” and we all top off  our tanks. Buffalo Meatloaf for me (was OK, but Mom’s venison version is much  better) and, I forget, more soda crackers and water for the girls. On the way  back to Abbe’s house, through and enjoyed the comforts of her home.  She shared the relics collected from her travels worldwide.  Everything sacred, everything with a memory. End of day one, safely horizontal on a comfy  bed at Abbe’s house, exact hour of the night uncertain (even without  considering the time zone thing) – coyotes are howling us to sleep. This is  already great vacation!

Sunday – Day two. The itinerary I’ve planned for the week is  somewhat complex: Wake up. Decide where we want to go, what we want to see. Drive there. Jodi isn’t comfortable unless every eventuality is planned for and  mitigated, which is how she plans our vacations. So I’ve somehow sold her on  this free-spirited (read: low effort on my part) vacation plan, and now it’s  Show Time. The next plan was Estes Park, which I remembered my dad talking  about and looked good on Google. That’s it; The Plan. Right about now I’m  wishing I’d packed Rosary Beads. Abbe volunteered to guide the tour, so we  packed ten or twelve boxes of MRE (combat rations, to us civilians) into her  X5  and headed out. Left turn, right, left, left, left, right turn out of the  neighborhood.

I am  SO glad Abbe is driving! Even here on the flatlands there is too much to see –  rust-free ’58 Corvette in that driveway, 12-window micro bus in the Rite-Aid  parking lot. Here we are, and my  check book is 1200 miles away. Like the $376 I have left in there would buy  anything more than a set of hubcaps. RUST FREE hubcaps, though! We drive past a  small dirt lane with a hand-painted “Used Auto Parts” sign out front and it  takes everything I’ve got to resist venturing in. This is not just YOUR  vacation, Slick. At the foothills outside Estes Park Abbe points out the  Stanley Hotel, where the Jack Nicholson movie “The Shining” was filmed. Way  cool! We gotta see this. $5 to park the car and hoof it around, and it doesn’t look like there’s  any shortage of  tourists. It undoubtedly looked better in the movie and  I already saw that. Maybe more than once. Bootleg turn back the way we drove in,
and venture up into The Rockies.

Estes Park is, well, just like the pictures only better. Exponentially  better. We take Trail Ridge Road which follows a decent-sized creek part way up  the mountain. I suspect it’s very picturesque most of the time, but heavy rains now have it looking like if you just stuck your toes in the roiling water your  next stop would be the Pacific Ocean. Part of The Plan had been to do a  whitewater rafting (day) trip while in Colorado, but I’m thinking maybe a  rattlesnake roundup would be safer and less risky. Abbe gets the $.25 cents for  the day, being first to spot elk. Eventually, a whole lot of elk, including  some calves and one nice bull. We rolled the windows down for a photo opp (a  long line of like-minded tourists had brought all vehicles to a standstill) and  we could hear elk cows ‘whistling’ to each other! No doubt they were making  rude comments about these idiot tourists, as well they should; ‘elk watching’  out the window of a BMW seems a bit lame in retrospect. Through Iceberg Pass,  Lava Cliffs, up to where the road snakes through six-foot walls of snow; temperature  was in the nineties when we began our ascent. We stop at Gore Range (elevation  12183 ft.) to play in the SNOW! a bit, but scramble back to the BMW when the  cold rain and hail start. Looking down the valley, with the Poudre River and  Continental Divide (far) below, nasty black clouds are tearing away at the  sides of mountains that look more than durable enough to shrug it off.  Just imagining how life here must have been
for the ‘mountain men’ who lived here is tremendously humbling. I was thinking  we were pretty brave to sprint through the hail in the parking lot at Alpine Pass to buy post cards and coffee. With hazelnut-flavored cream, just like the mountain men.

For dinner that night we meet Jodi’s friend April and her  two kids in Old Town Fort Collins. Jodi and April had their own adventure driving out here together (in a fire engine red RX-7- July and no a/c!) back when gasoline was $1.25 for a  gallon. Dinner was great, the company outstanding (April’s son Caleb had brought along  a copy of “Calvin and Hobbes” so I at least was able to converse with someone  at my own intelligence level) and plenty of people watching in a college town  aptly nicknamed “Fort Fun.” And, just for fun, on the way home we made an  emergency stop at a pharmacy as Jodi’s dinner had included some kind of cheese  she turns out to be allergic to which put her in mild respiratory distress.
Monday – Day Three. Pike’s Peak or Bust! Second most visited  mountain in the world, likely because it is the ONLY one with a road to the  top. “Monster” Tajima became the first person to make it to the top in less  than ten minutes the week before we arrived, which was an enormous relief for  me as it took the pressure off me to do it. His 910 hp / 150 mph Suzuki wasn’t
available today, so we took Abbe’s son Talon’s C43 Benz. Eight cylinders and we used ‘em  all. We got just past the dam over the reservoir at the bottom of the mountain  and the rain started. Not a problem until the Traction Control light on the
dashboard started flashing. And the balls of hail started pounding the car. We’re driving on icy marbles in the pride-and-joy car of a guy who has more  guns than I do pairs of socks! You think “Monster” had pressure here at 150 mph?  Fearing for the Benz’s sheet metal and glass (and hence my life) we do an  about-face and park along the reservoir where it’s only raining. I weigh our
options, thinking we may never get this chance again and we’ll be safely back  in Jersey before Talon sees the hail damage to his car. Up we go, all the way  to Glen Cove before we are OFFICIALLY turned back due to severe weather. One hour drive uphill to see  “Road Closed” sign due to inclement weather.

Temperature is 41 degrees with  a stiff wind blowing, so Jodi and I hole-up in what must be the tackiest (but
warm) gift shop in America at  (the almost top of) Pike’s Peak.  For an hour we get updates on the weather at the top, the plows trying to keep the road clear enough for traffic, and  commiserate with the (few) other foolhardy souls waiting for a chance to perish far, far, from home. Outside, the ranger is using an infrared detector to check the temperature of brake rotors on cars coming down the mountain and detaining  the ones that are overheated. I debate asking him how severe the penalty would
be if ‘somebody’ just drove past the roadblock and on up the mountain. Eventually the weather report calls for no  break in the storm, so all the cars are chased off the mountain. All but one, as  I discover when I stop back at the toll gate for a rain check. One car remained at the summit having been struck completely dead by lightening! I talked to the  driver, who said the lightening came through the open passenger side window,  gave him and his wife next to him a severe jolt, and rendered the car a  complete write-off! And I turned around On the way up....just because of hail?! Disappointed  though we are, there is a bright side: I have a plan. The Plan in fact, which dictates: ‘Let’s Do Something.’

We passed  the Air Force Academy on our way in, which I was sure would have some cool airplanes on display. We like cool
airplanes, don’t we honey? OK then, there was a sign back there for Wind Cave  National Park. Yeah, there’s that claustrophobia thing isn’t there honey. OK,  Garden of the Gods it is! Right off the main highway, and no admission fee.
Just like I planned.

We glide the Benz past a handful of house-sized boulders which are anchored to the ground by nothing more than substantial than a Dairy Queen sugar cone.

Kids are swarming all over the rocks,  parents are dutifully recording it on video, and I wonder if we are the only  ones who actually saw the “Climbing on Rock Formations Forbidden by Law” sign.

We take a quick snapshot and venture further into the park, where there are now  apartment building-size rock formations in shapes only Nature could conceive. We stumble past the “Beware of  Rattlesnakes” signs – lots of them – and are fascinated with what we see.  There are also nice brick  walkways around the park for those with a fear of heights and /or rattlesnakes.
I’m pleased to report that you can tour the park quite nicely from these  walkways. Just like apartment buildings the formations come in all shapes and  made from all manner of material. Solidified lava fields giving way to  chalky-white limestone monoliths, shoulder to shoulder. Didn’t they have zoning  laws three hunderd million years ago? We explore until out legs can’t explore  no mo’ and the Benz glides us back to Fort Collins.