Thank You Thank You Thank You

You will remember
for we in our youth
did these things
Yes many and beautiful things

I imagine myself reaching a great old age someday, perhaps 93, which I hope to see in good health.  I think of that future me remembering the me of right now: a woman in my thirties with a loving husband, a sweet toddler son and another baby on the way.  I'm glad I'm writing some of it down.

One year ago, I started writing this blog with the intent to slow down, savor and share memories.  I chose the name Shine Memoirs because I like the idea of polishing memories - by remembering and sharing them - until they shine.  As I look back on this past year and the posts I’ve written, one word keeps filling up my brain and my heart:  gratitude.  There are so many people and so many things to be grateful for in my life. 

  • My supportive, loving and adventuresome husband who is always game.
  • My laughing, crinkly-nosed, happy-go-lucky son Xavier who helps me slow down and play more each day.
  • My extended and far-flung family who all lift me up continually.  You all add color and texture to my life.
  • My wide community of friends who offer inspiration, laughter and a big dose of joy on a daily basis. 
  • The technology which allows me to skype, call or email family and friends when I can’t run over to knock on their back door.
  • Writers, books and libraries for the steady diet of inspiration.
  • And you, my community through this blog.  Some of you I know in person, some are new friends through this magical thing called the internet.  Thank you for the time you take out of your day to read Shine Memoirs and for your supportive and genuine feedback.  I love the on-going conversation.

Gratitude is a practice, a meditation, an art form.  I want to continue to hone my gratitude skills and one way to do that is to keep on writing.  Here's to another year of making wonderful memories!

"If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough."

~ Meister Eckhart


Twelve Generations of Amotts

For Easter weekend we took the ferry from Seattle to Victoria, BC on a sunny Friday.  It is always a treat to visit Christian’s father Allan and his wife Grace in this pretty harbor city. In addition to the usual feasts they cook for us, the pure adoration they give Xavier and the overall generous hospitality, we were looking forward to something extra special this time.  Allan was to give us a presentation about his extensive research into the genealogy of the Amott Family. After a Saturday night dinner of grilled lamb chops and Malbec from Grace's homeland of Argentina, we settled into the living room in front of the fire to listen.

Allan was born in England in 1936 and he remembers hiding under the table during the bombing of London in WWII.  After sailing the world as a merchant marine, going to college for engineering and marrying Christian’s mother Jane, he immigrated to Canada 1960’s.  As "Landed Gentry," Jane's family history was well-documented in the Burke's Peerage back to the 1600's.  But when Allan asked his father about their background he didn't know much as he’d never thought to ask his own father when he was alive.  Thus began Allan's forty-year hobby of tracing his family tree and at this point he has compiled a remarkably detailed history going back 400 years and twelve generations.  In his written report he has included maps, reigning monarchs, fashion of the times, family photographs and supplemental pdf files for many Amott ancestors including their life history and chronology. All this adds rich detail to the history and makes for fascinating reading.

For instance, the definitive family history starts with Thomas Amott, an excise officer, in 1746 in Tewkesbury (before that the information on direct descendants is spotty).  John Amott was the Organist at Gloucester Cathedral for 35 years and is buried there.  His younger brother Thomas had a habit of "borrowing" musical instruments and then turning around and selling them at London flea markets, a crime for which he was then tried, sentenced and sent off to the penal colony at Devil's Island, Hobart, Tasmania in 1842.  Interestingly Thomas's eldest son Thomas went on to become the mayor of Hobart. Allan has traced 180 Amott ancestors and has provided so much more than birth and death dates for most of them.

Through his research and correspondence - much of it before email - Allan has connected with fellow Amotts also interested in their common family tree and they've pooled their respective research.  Not only has he has deepened his knowledge but he has also become friends and collaborators with distant cousins, some of whom he's gone on to meet in person during recent trips back to England.

From the 1600's Allan has traced the family all the way down to our son Xavier Rhys Amott, the latest  decedent in the blood line. When I was pregnant with him, my father-in-law had expressed hope we’d have a boy to carry on the Amott family name as Christian is his only son.  It all makes sense now and I hope that Xavier might someday have a son to continue the family name.

Allan's obvious passion for his ancestry is contagious and I'm suddenly very curious about my own father's Burns family history and my mother's Markley side.  I have some aunts and cousins who have done some research so I need to call them up to learn what they've discovered and ask how I can help.


Live Your Poem

April is National Poetry Month! Below a few poetic things that inspire me...

What a treat to find this postcard in my mailbox from my friend, the lovely and talented writer Irene Latham. Thank you for the colorful visual reminder, Irene!

The postman also delivered my Official 2014 National Poetry Month Poster from the Academy of American Poets which you can find here, along with activities and inspiration for the month (and all year long).  I look forward to receiving the new poster every year and this year's quote comes from Walt Whitman's Song of Myself:  “Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged. Missing me one place search another. I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

Hanging in my window, above my "corner office" in my kitchen is this sweet and colorful quote you may remember Gwyneth Paltrow defiantly proclaimed in the film Shakespeare in Love. I bought it at the Portland Farmers Market a few years back, but sadly the artist Laini Taylor no longer makes her Laini's Ladies although apparently some fans still collect and trade them.

I think I've mentioned this before but each morning the first email I like to read is the Writer's Almanac from Garrison Keillor and PBS.  For me, this dose of a daily poem and fascinating tidbits from literary history is akin to meditation.

Samantha Reynolds writes the blog Bentlily, where she posts the daily poems she writes about her family.  She started the practice when her son was a wee babe and everyone kept telling her to savor the moment, as kids grow so fast.  She mentally takes note of little moments during her day and then she sits down in the evening and gives herself ten minutes to write a free form poem about a little nugget from her day.  She refers to this practice as "the art of noticing your life."  Oprah was inspired by her and so am I.  Be duly warned, her poems often prompt tears from laughter or poignancy.

My brother Matthew and I used to have a Sunday night poetry reading, which needs to be recommenced.  We'd both select a poem to share with the other over the phone or email or even text sometimes if we didn't have the time to chat.  Poetry was a shared love and a way for us to connect on a weekly basis, an extra reason to pick up the phone.  We both enjoyed reading poems to each other and had such fun introducing new poems or poets to each other, while other times sharing classics.  While that tradition has waned, still when we find ourselves visiting the other in various places, late night poetry readings fueled by wine and laughter often ensue.  As much as I love poetry, there aren't that many people in my life who like to read poetry aloud with me. We need to reignite those Sunday night poetry readings and to kick it off I'm working on an anthology of the poems we've shared over the years.  Oh yes, I've kept a list.

Mark your calendar for Poem-In-Your-Pocket-Day on April 24th!  

I'll leave you today with a poem about--what else?--noticing the here and now.  That is what all poets are really writing about in each and every poem no matter the country or the century.  In William Stafford's title below, I like how he points his finger at each of us to hold us accountable.  There is an anecdote about Stafford at one of his poetry readings:  After one poem, a person in the audience shouted out rudely, "I could have written that!"  Stafford smiled magnanimously and said, "But you didn't."  Pause.  "But you could write your own."   

You don't have to read or write poetry to live poetically.  Perhaps your poetry is photography or the food you cook for your family.  Perhaps the home you decorate is the poem you inhabit.  Perhaps your poem is the marathon you train for or a sporadic yoga practice or the sports you play with your kids on the weekend.  Perhaps your poem is the ongoing text conversation with your best friend or the full email correspondence with your lover. Whatever it is that makes you come alive, write it, make it, do it, live it.  As Oscar Wilde so eloquently put it, "Life has been your art.  You have set yourself to music.  Your days are your sonnets."

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

~William Stafford