Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Seeking Significance

My Great Aunt Margaret McCarthy was a fount of what we now know to be timeless wisdom. So I'm not surprised to learn that when her son, Tim, broke the news to her that he was about to become a very wealthy man, Aunt Margaret's response was, "Oh honey, I'm so sorry." She was concerned about the burden that wealth would become to Tim, having "seen better people than [Tim] changed by money."

Tim has written a very thoughtful and thought-provoking book titled Empty Abundance in which he details his winding path to wealth and the empty rewards and lack of satisfaction that came with that wealth. Most importantly, his writing describes the solution he discovered to the problem of illusive happiness - the happiness our culture conditions us to expect as a reward for wealth. The solution is what Tim calls 'mindful giving' and while his application of that solution is unique to Tim, the principles and guidelines he shares are a great foundation to anyone seeking to find meaning in their lives.

While I don't speak from a position of wealth, I do speak from a position of a decent understanding of the human spirit. And I can say without hesitation that at any time in my life when I was lonely, discouraged, grieving, helpless, or unhappy, my reliable cure was to give whatever time or talents I could offer. There is tremendous power in giving but we sometimes forget that we have much to give. For all of those low times in life, the feeling of significance craves attention. And there is nothing like giving to bolster that feeling. From the richest to the poorest, everyone seeks significance. How great that the answer lies in helping others.

I was taught from a very early age that wealth doesn't always mean money. From the inevitable question of a child - "Mommy, are we rich?" - to the answer I grew up with - "We are rich in the very best of ways" - there is always room to give. And if there is no more room, then receive, and give when you are back on your feet.

Tim's personal solution involved seeding and now continuing to support and grow his The Business of Good Foundation which serves those who serve the poor. His great posts on the Foundation's blog give a sample of his writing, humor, mission, and what makes him tick, including excerpts from his book. I encourage anyone who is curious about how to find meaning through mindful giving to take a look at his blog and consider ordering his book. 

I wish Tim and everyone an abundance of happiness and good reading. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Pulling Away

I have come to learn that there are many different kinds of "pulling away."

As I get closer to the day when my oldest son heads off to college, it makes sense that goodbyes are on my mind. But it isn't the physical pulling away from the curb and heading off to college that I'm writing about. It is the psychological change that happens as my boys hit their teens and pull away in the sense of connectivity. I'm now knee-deep in the third pulling away and it is the hardest of the three, and I'm not sure why.

There has been the here's-your-hat-what's-your-hurry pulling away, when this energetic teen couldn't spend a minute of down-time with us without going out of his mind (and driving us all there with him). It hurt to have my company be considered so undesirable! But it wasn't unexpected. And I admit to encouraging the space, at times.

There has also been the pulling away that has felt like prying his hands, one finger at a time, from the handle of home. Where constant prodding, brainstorming, and offers of way-paving were met with deep-seated resistance and flat-out rejection. I suppose that only vaguely resembles pulling away. It is more pushing than pulling, but it is still a kind of reluctant, necessary, underlying pulling away.

This last one, is so subtle. There is no deliberate planning to ensure maximum time with friends. There is no obvious withdrawal. There is no need on my end for persuasion toward going out or inviting friends over. It is found in small steps away such as a new disinterest in usual conversation topics. It is found in the polite declines of offers to do the things we liked to do together. But I can usually still bring him back to pre-teen mode: He will even pose for a picture holding a doorknob if I ask it just right.

It is harder because he is the youngest. I know. And because I didn't really have the perspective or experience to see it in real-time with the others. The two older ones still drive a lot of activity around the house, but I can see the direction in which their pulling away is taking them. At the same time, I cherish the new mother-son relationships developing. I'm thankful for the little stuff. Liam spent most of the drive from Boston to Philadelphia patiently trying very hard to explain quantum physics to me. I will always support his passions, keeping up as best I can. I should get an A for effort as a captive student. Garrett makes sure to warn me when to look away from gory movie scenes (we don't watch many romantic comedies in my house). If this is budding compassion, I'm all for it. He has figured out pretty much on his own that Mass is hard for me. That gives me hope.

And in this season of thanksgiving, I'm thankful to have them all under our roof. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I'll be sure to coerce them into a family game of Scrabble, for some forced connectivity. They moan at the beginning, but then we settle in for some good old fashioned fun. At the core of it all, I just try to listen. Sometimes it is all I can do. Other times it is all I need to do.

So they pull away. But if I'm blessed, we won't ever lose our connectivity completely. They will have successes and failures. Loves and losses. And they may seem physically or emotionally far away. But I'm confident that the pulling away won't take them to a place we can't both share. I may be wrong. But I hope I'm right.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A New Direction

This blog started out as a business idea, one that I hoped would help me build my social media portfolio and become my own independent business. My primary goal was to start and maintain a business I could manage from my home so that I could achieve the perfect home/work balance I sought. Unfortunately, my financial portfolio and backers didn't have the patience to wait for me to grow Red Cupboard Solutions into a bona fide business. And when I received a great offer to market for a software company part-time, I couldn't refuse. So the blog posts became less frequent.

Then I published my book and dedicated space on my blog for promoting Preacher Kid. Always, the posts are interspersed with completely unrelated topics on my thoughts or beliefs, as I navigate through life.

So I thank those of you who have subscribed and followed me on this journey. I am not retiring the blog but I am going to turn it very definitely in the direction of personal experience and opinion and life lessons. I'm sure I will still find myself blogging now and then about the challenges and successes of small businesses, because it is a topic dear to my heart. And I'm positive that my book will slip in here now and then as I move into my next writing project: an eBook for the 10- to 15-year-old girls in my life about a fictitious young girl growing up in early 20th Century Ohio, based on Esther Miller's story.

To my subscribers, I value your loyalty but respect that you may have come upon my blog for reasons other than hearing my personal views. And if you choose to unsubscribe, that is perfectly understandable! If you choose to stay, thank you! Staying may mean you will hear, with irregularity, about raising three teen males (who are quite sure they don't need any more raising), how I miss the Midwest, and the silly questions in my life such as should I replace my 100-year-old main staircase that has gotten progressively creakier. Oh, wait. Those are just my knees. Ah yes, that fun topic of aging and all of the retrospection, realization, and grounding it brings.

So if someone were to stumble newly upon my blog and peruse the archives, they would see a journey from small business social media maven (2012), then author promotion (2013 and a little in 2014), turning to life in general - which has been going on all along, in and around the marketing and promotion. Now, maybe as I see my years of direct parenting dwindling in front of me, it is what I should have been writing about all along. It is the best job I've ever had.

So the journey continues. And for those who have been following my more personal posts...My family traveled to the Grand Canyon this summer (in addition to 1,600 other miles of adventure)! Another check off my bucket list!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Making the Marquee

As a child and teenager, I spent countless hours at the Rocky River Public Library and my children became intimately familiar with it on our many visits back to see my parents. Growing up, if we ever couldn't find Dad, we knew to look at the library. Though long gone, I can tell you exactly where the enormous card catalog used to sit. And my mom enjoyed immensely her terms on their Board of Trustees. So it was very special for me to speak there last week. I even made their marquee!

Thank you to all of the kind folks who came to listen, especially my fantastic family, a wonderful high school friend who has kept in touch and helped me out all these years, the mayor and her husband, one of my mom's friends, and the friend who drove by the marquee at 6:50pm, looked it up online because she is interested in family genealogy, and came in to listen when she recognized my name!

It was a very special event for me, made more so by my nephew who went home and began a genealogy search of his own (in the lull before driving to UC Berkley for grad school). See?! Everyone can find a little time to find their family story.

Thanks for joining me on my journey.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Write Women Back Into History

It is not every day that someone says to me, "It never would have happened without you." Maybe the three days when my boys where born fall into that category, but little else. That is one of the reasons why I was so touched when my neighbor stopped by to hand-deliver a letter that included those words. Rose and I live less than 40 yards from each other, but I hadn't met her until a few days before I gave my genealogy talk at our local library. She had been frustrated by the experience of having secured an agent to help her find a publisher for the book she had written, but seeing nothing come of the agent's commitment. She ditched the agent and was tentatively wading into the pool of self-publishing when someone at our library steered her toward me.

Rose has written a biography about Katherine Gibbs, the (1911) founder of the secretarial schools that bear her name and which became the best in the world. I am confident Rose's book, Katherine Gibbs: Beyond the White Gloves, will have broad appeal among alumnae, educators, women's history experts, New Englanders, and many others. It is wonderful that the bureaucratic world of commercial publishing did not prevent Rose's book from being published. I am very proud and honored that my guidance and encouragement played a small role in the publishing of her book.

As I look forward to reading Rose's book, I read about Rose's subject and see why Katherine Gibbs was recently honored by The National Women's History Project as a woman of character, courage, and commitment. I see my grandma's adaptability in Katherine Gibbs' story. I also see in the Gibbs story my great-grandmother, Maggie Kelley Saunders, who succeeded for many years in business after, as a young mother of two toddlers, losing her firefighting husband in a winter blaze -- advancing on no more than a high school education, her natural skills, and her determination to succeed.

Our history is full of women who have adapted to difficult circumstances. The National Women's History Project encourages us all to write women back into history. This is what Rose Doherty and I have done - Rose with a famous subject and I with a family subject. Writing my grandma's story was a very personal project for me, but it took on a broader perspective as I dove into her story, better appreciated what she overcame, and recognized how understanding the lives of our ancestors gives our own lives deeper meaning and value.

When I delivered my presentation at our local library, I focused primarily on genealogy, with just a small primer on self-publishing. My goal was to come out of that talk having inspired at least one person to begin or restart their genealogical journey. I'm pretty sure that happened, based upon the conversations I had after the talk. So to have also helped someone overcome the publishing hurdle is a wonderful bonus.

Do you know someone who should be written back into history? Man or woman, it is well worth the effort.

If you are on the west side of Cleveland this July 23rd, please consider stopping by the Rocky River Public Library for my 7:00pm presentation: "Are You Ready to Find Your Family Story?" If you know someone in the area who likes genealogy or is interested in self-publishing, please spread the word. It is a bit of a homecoming for me and I promise to give it everything I've got!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Always Adapting

We all have to adapt to survive. In fact, even though we don't like to admit it, we are in a constant state of adaptation. We like to believe that we are in control of our lives, as well the lives of the dependents in our care. And we can usually perpetuate the mirage of control, until one of life's larger forces rears its head - such as illness, accident, or death.

My grandma, Esther, mastered the art of adaptation, but I don't believe she purposefully schooled herself in adaptation. I think her ability to adapt came out of a deeper drive, lodged down in her soul, that placed survival above all else. Adaptation became a by-product of survival for her, as it does for many of us. Esther adapted to her nomadic life as a Preacher Kid, the chasm created in her family by her marriage to a Catholic, the sudden death of her 11 year-old son, the taking of her home by the state, and the deaths of her three spouses. Her story of adaptation in the face of adversity is an inspiration to people facing challenges of their own.

Whether it is a chronic illness, handicap or death of a child, depression or mental illness, relentless addiction, the premature death of a spouse or parent, a dooming medical diagnosis, a tragic accident, or a dramatic shift in life's course, we all have experienced tragedies or watched others navigate their own. But we adapt. We soldier through. We give support. We accept help. And what was once unthinkable or nightmarish, becomes the new normal. If it weren't for role models of resilience, we would be lost.

On this anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, I think about the Richard family who lost their little boy, Martin, in the blast. As Denise Richard surveys her surroundings through her one eye that she did not lose to the bomb fragments, she may see her husband's permanent scars and compensate for his hearing loss. She would see her daughter with her prosthetic leg and her surviving son with his lost innocence who saw more horror and loss in an hour than most Americans see in a lifetime. But she also would see the living room full of friends and supporters who sit down with her family to discuss and decide the best course on which to move forward to honor Martin's life. The Richards have chosen the shadows in which to learn to acclimate to their new normal. But today forces them into the limelight. And their presence and resilience is nothing less than heroic. I hope these days and weeks under the microscope are not too hard on them.

I have had the sad experience of feeling the shroud enveloping the community that lost a child. The heartache of everyday activities is soothed by the love of the community that understands the space the family must be given, but also the arm stretched out at just the right time and length to assure the family that they are not alone. One of the most poignant moments of my grandma's life was when a couple reached out to her family after the death of her son, when everyone else around them chose only distance.

I look to my grandma for inspiration when I am conscious that I must adapt. If I didn't have to adapt, I would be heading to Rocky River this July to visit my parents. But instead, I have the honor of presenting at the Rocky River Public Library. I am looking forward to the evening with great anticipation. It will be a genealogy discussion similar to the presentation I gave in Needham, MA in January. I am a bit overwhelmed - in a positive way - at the prospect of presenting my genealogy journey and my book at the library that helped foster my love of reading. If you are in the Rocky River area, I hope you will come! If you are busy that day, you will soon be able to check my book out from the library. And I hope my donated books will be given book plates in memory of Jack and Peg McCarthy, who will be at the presentation in their own, special way.

Author Visit: "Are You Ready to Find Your Family Story?" Wednesday, July 23rd, 7:00pm, Rocky River Public Library Community Room

If you would like to support the MIT community and survivors and families who lost loved ones in the Boston Marathon bombing, here are some great sites:

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How the 40s Look from Here

I crossed the threshold to 50 recently and have been trying to decide whether to take a moment here for a personal blog post about that milestone. Then my wonderful big sister did it for me. She wrote an amazing response to a NYT piece and, in her response, beautifully summed up her 40s from her rear-view mirror. Here is guest blog post author, Maureen Lewis, with a take on the 40s, like no one else can write.

About the 40s...

An established author and New York Times Op/Ed contributor wrote an opinion piece in the NYT a few days ago titled “What You Learn in Your 40s.” That’s all well and good, and I’m certain a lot of people read it (what with it being by a best-selling author, and, you know, being in the NYT…). But I had a tiny problem with the fact that she wrote it on the eve of her 44th birthday; I really have to believe (or HOPE to believe) that she has NOT yet learned all that she will learn in her 40s. 

So, I thought about it, and tossed together some of my own discoveries from that decade, ones I’ve experienced myself and/or shared with my friends and contemporaries, all of who, like me, are freshly arrived on the other side of our 40s. What we say about that: truth. Or as my slightly-more-badass friend Maria says: church.

This is the decade where your parents might get hit with some bad news about their health. If not your parents, then the parent or parents of your friends. Your parent, or parents, or those of your friends, may die. Suddenly, it becomes a priority to get your business in order, square up your relationships if they are not there already, visit more, drop what you’re doing and get there. I think the 40s taught me a lot about the fine art of showing the hell up.

You may have a peer get hit with a tough medical diagnosis. Or it might be you who is on the receiving end of some real bad news. You may bury your college roommate. But before that, when she calls to tell you the cancer is back and she’s entering hospice, you and all your other college roommates fly across the country, shipping Wisconsin custard to arrive there at the same time, and spend an unforgettable weekend in the mountains, eating too much, staying up too late, laughing til you weep. You don’t hesitate, and you show the hell up. Later, about six months after her death, you all fly again to the other side of the country to walk/run as a team in a national event for the Cure. And when you’re done doing that, you sit-and-drink-by-the-pool-for-a-Cure, and call that an event, too. 

You get to conflict with your kids. In order to not have an ulcer, you decide that year (or two) that you butted heads over politics or policy with your teen-who-knows-everything is in fact your opportunity to teach about disagreeing respectfully, about listening to both sides, about not strong-arming anyone into an opinion. Then much later, when that same son studies abroad for a semester, maybe you’ll receive the best Mother’s Day email ever, that says in part, “if I could go back and do one thing over, I would kick high-school-me in the ass.” It’s lonely on the high road, but when the sunrise comes, it’s pretty stunning…it’ll blow your hair back.

Listen to music your kids like, and have them listen to yours. Maybe then when your son and his buddies form a band and are playing out live somewhere, he’ll introduce a Warren Zevon cover with, “I learned this from my mom.” And maybe one day, someone will play you a song on the guitar, from deep in the archives, and tell you, “this makes me think of you”, and that may also blow your hair back. It’s important to be loved, but it’s profound to be understood. Also, watch movies your kids like, and have them watch something you like. That’s how your kids will know that “Chicken Run” is the same story as “The Great Escape.” If you’re exceptionally lucky, one of your favorite movies (“The Intouchables”) will be thanks to a recommendation from your own child.

Teach your kids to man up, to lead not follow, and to care for and include others. They may find they like that role, and you may find yourself in an all-school assembly where your 17-year-old son is the speaker, and talks eloquently about how when both of his parents were diagnosed with cancer, others picked us up and carried our family, and that he now believes our role as members of a community is to create a Body of Christ, by accepting help that is offered to us and by in turn offering a helping hand to others. That’s his definition of purpose, but you can adopt it as your own. In your 40s, you may learn from those you’ve taught.

You don’t get much vacation time, but take a week to chaperone a teen service trip to Appalachia. You might learn to attach underpinning to a tornado-damaged mobile home. Or, you may get to watch your daughter’s face as she sees a man in a wheelchair use the ramp she and her team built to enter the home he hadn’t been able to live in since a storm ripped his old ramp away. You can talk about the importance of giving, or you can walk the walk. Maybe your daughter’s friend (the one who has vacationed with your family, and been like a bonus sister-daughter to your family) will ask you to be her Confirmation sponsor because she likes the way you try to live a message of service.

Make new traditions. You might have to. Both your parents could die a year apart, and your childhood home is sold, and you have no physical connection to your hometown. You have no one there to spend Christmas with, and nowhere to stay. So your sister finds a rental house in the rural area near your hometown, and you all go there and build a new idea of holiday. And when you put up the tree that first year in this new unfamiliar place, and there is no tree-topper, your daughter and nephews fashion one out of cardboard and duct-tape, and that too becomes part of your new tradition.

You can learn something new, and you should. You might change careers, because you want to, or because you have to. You might find that it is indeed possible to pursue a Masters of Arts in a field you love, even if that pursuit includes 700 daunting hours of supervised clinicals in addition to working full time, raising a family, and having a home life. You get a lot of street cred when you tell your kids to buckle down and do school-work, while you are doing your own. Even better if you put your phone away while you do it; that resonates with them. But when you walk across the stage, in cap and gown, the last month of your 40s, to receive your degree, hearing “YEAH MOM!” shouted from the balcony is pretty awesome.

You may end up getting a dog. Even if it loves your husband best, you may witness that dog’s ability to make him a better man (as dogs are wont to do), and bring out the best in him. Or the dog may love you best, and you may learn a whole new chapter of the meaning of companionship.

Give books 30 pages to pull you in, even if you’re a voracious reader. Life is short and there are unanticipated struggles; there’s no need to struggle through a book.

Get fit. You realize this is the body that’s going to take you the distance. Honor it with real care. You might find out you really like lacing up your running shoes and getting out for a few miles at sun-up.

Figure out you don’t need ‘things’ as gifts. The best gifts are time together, a sweet note, lying in bed watching ‘CBS Sunday Morning’, sharing coffee, or a gift-card for a session with a personal trainer, or a voucher for airfare to go see your sister. Get rid of the things you don’t need.

Talk to the ones a generation ahead of you. Get those family stories written down; archive your story or have your talented sister self-publish the narrative that is your history. Have your mom teach you how to make those popovers; but if she’s gone too soon, and you still don’t know how to do it because you never asked, let that be your only regret. Those were some damn good popovers she made.

Donate the jeans that are too small. Buy the comfortable boots. Bring flip-flops to wedding receptions so you don’t have dance in killer heels. Eat pancakes for dinner. Cultivate friendships with your girlfriends; you know you’d be lost without them – tell them so. Sing along to “Brave” or “Countdown” even when your daughter’s friends are over.

Tell people you love them, even if you’ve never said it before, or you haven’t said it in a while, or maybe you just haven’t said it yet today. Hug the ones you love, leave nothing unsaid, and enjoy every sandwich. I’m no longer in my 40s, but I’ve learned a lot, and plan to learn a lot more.

Sister-extraordinaire, Maureen McCarthy Lewis

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Find Your Family Story

My Miller Roots: Esther on the Right
A big "thank you" to all who attended my talk at the Needham Public Library on January 26th. I loved every minute of it. But some of the best parts I couldn't have possibly anticipated.

Showtime was 2:00pm. I arrived at 1:15pm for an equipment check and I was not the first one to arrive. Besides the wonderful Friends members who were setting up, there were two guests who had arrived together early to take the extra time they needed to get good seats. They were followed closely by a handful of other early arrivals who came in pairs: a son and his elderly mother, some friends, and two sisters. One of the sisters offered me the speaking tip, as a former despiser of public speaking, to hold my pointer finger to my thumb as a stress diffuser. She and her sister also told me, with examples, how much they love people from the Midwest, so they won me over right out of the blocks. Actually, they had me at "We've been talking about this all week."

After the talk and questions, a number of people approached me with tales of their own genealogy research, one woman even carried a prized research document. From my friend who came here as a young woman from Ireland, who knows all about her ancestry, but is inspired to have her daughter sit with her mother and write down her stories the next time they go "home," to the retiree who asked me to sign my book for him as he explained how he recently buried his father and brought his mother to the event because they are interested in exploring their genealogy, it was a wonderful, heartwarming experience for me. There is strong interest in the subject of family genealogy and a sort of "strength in numbers" as people who work away at it on their own feel a collective boost from learning or knowing that others are doing the same. I think it makes what can be a somewhat solitary job feel less lonesome. Not to mention the boost given to those who have thought about beginning the journey and attended the talk to get started in the right direction.

I'm fortunate that my son and husband recorded my talk, even though I was at first skeptical about having my family in the front row! I've added a link to the recording (now a YouTube video: Are You Ready to Find Your Family Story?) here and as a permanent addition to my blog (the smaller screen seems to give the best resolution). It would have been silly to record the before and after conversations because it would have been impossible to capture my feelings or the sincerity of the people I met. But those are great personal memories I am now the better for having. 

If you missed the talk, I hope you have time to view the recording. My cameraman had to switch cameras with about 3 minutes left, so the last few minutes are not as clear. But you can get the general idea in the other 45 minutes. In case you can't make out the last few minutes, I closed with the story of my Uncle Max, previously blogged about here, and the following advice: The genealogy resources that are available to us are amazingly large in volume, many are free, most are readily accessible, and all will continue to grow, but the people who are alive today to tell their stories won't be here forever. Don't waste any time in listening to their stories.

I feel as though I reached my talk's goal to inspire at least one person in the crowd of 50 to find their family story. I hope I have the opportunity to give the talk many times again at other libraries and other venues. There are so many people thinking about beginning the journey to find their family story and I want to say to them again, don't wait!