Advice, Memoir, Relationships

The Gratitude Letter

To many of my friends and family, my husband Doug is known as Mr. Happy.

He has a degree from University of Pennsylvania in Applied Positive Psychology.

 

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He has fun finding new ways to apply the principles of positive psychology in his consulting work and even in our family.

Since it’s November, the month we celebrate gratitude, it’s the perfect time to share an experience I had with a positive psychology “intervention” called The Gratitude Letter.

thank-you-515514_1920Basically, you choose someone who has made a positive difference in your life and you write him or her a letter explaining a specific thing they did that made a difference and how it affected you. Then, you visit that person, read them the letter, and give them the letter before you leave.

I chose to write my letter to my brother, Kelly, who had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and given only weeks to live.

kelly & cambree

I confess it was a little awkward. I explained the rules of the game and made him sit quietly and listen to me while I read the letter aloud to him.

Let’s just say sitting quietly and listening wasn’t his greatest strength in life… but he did it. He gave me a few minutes of his complete, undivided attention.

In the letter, I wrote about our mutual dislike for each other as teenagers. My mother said that during those years, “the tension was so thick, you could cut it with a knife.”

I remember that tension well. So did he.

After high school graduation, he went off for a job in Wyoming and I went off to college.

architecture-3124331_1920One day, I went to the mailbox in my college dorm and found a letter from him.

I stared at the envelope for the longest time trying to imagine what he would write in a letter to me.

I took it to my room, opened it carefully with equal doses of curiosity and wariness.

I was shocked to read a very kind, warm letter from him. He said he loved me and missed me. He asked me how I liked college. He told me about his job, his life, his friends.

Did you catch that part where he said he loved me and missed me?

I just sat on my bed and cried. I couldn’t believe that after all those years of barely speaking to each other, he took the time to write me a letter and to tell me he loved and missed me.

The next time we were both home for the weekend, he drove me to Terry’s Drive-in on Main Street of our hometown and bought me a Coke, took me for a ride, and wanted to know everything about my life.

That letter and the Coke run to Terry’s changed everything between us. It was like all the years of anger just slipped gently away and we became best friends like we were before junior high and high school transformed us into uptight angsty teenagers.

I told him I was grateful he had the courage to write me that letter and for all the healing that took place after that.

He smiled and said he had forgotten about writing me the letter. He couldn’t remember what initiated the change in our relationship.

To me, it was crystal clear. He initiated the change and I was forever grateful.

He said, “If you had a tear reading the letter, I can only imagine the tears I had writing it.”

It was a sweet moment and I was glad I did it.

I’m especially glad now since he died a few days later.

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In this month of Thanksgiving, who could you thank?

Give it some thought and make it a goal to write, deliver and read a gratitude letter to someone who made a difference in your life.

It might surprise you what a difference it will make in your life now.

I’d love to know how it goes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advice, Family

Wedding Planning 101

Several people have asked me to share what I learned about wedding planning after planning Annie’s December wedding. 

This might be more than you ever wanted to know…

dad and annie

The most important thing I learned is that it can become tedious, frustrating, and filled with tension if you let it.

So, decide at the beginning that you will have fun, and make it memorable. I told Annie our motto was, “When we stop having fun, we have to take a break.”

We took several breaks!

Some parts of it were not all that fun — like dealing with a soiled, stained wedding dress after the first photo shoot.  (Thanks to the genius and patience of dress designer, Nancy Barrus at Avenia Bridal, the dress was repaired and was perfect on Annie’s wedding day.)

Other lessons:

  1. It’s deeply personal and emotions run high. Just plan on a few tears and moments of exasperation.
  2. People have different stress levels and their limits don’t always coincide with the wedding planning timeline. You can’t stop the planning because someone is tired of it, but, like I mentioned, you need breaks. break
  3. If you use Pinterest as your only idea board, your wedding might look and feel like every other wedding in the universe. Also, florists and decorators don’t want to copy what’s on Pinterest. They want to have their original work pinned!

cambree4. Having a blog or a social media presence, and calling yourself a professional, doesn’t really make you one.  For example, anyone with a camera can call him or herself a photographer. But, you should look carefully at experience, equipment, credentials, references, and background before you hire someone.

5. Utah is the best place to get married. Professionals know how to do it beautifully, creatively, simply, and affordably. And, they’re just so nice.

IMG_31136.  If you get married in the DC area, you have to, think carefully about what you really want. Once you drop the word “wedding” to a caterer, you’re instantly beginning your planning with anywhere from $130 to $180 per person. This is probably a separate blog post but here are some highlights on this point:

    • The types of venues come down to historical inns, taverns, plantations and manors; hotels; community centers; and country clubs, and your church. There is a venue rental fee and you need to find out exactly what comes with that fee — tables, chairs, kitchen, parking, etc. Sometimes all these things are additional costs.
    • The majority of venues require you to use their in-house caterers, bakers, and other preferred vendors, which can make things easier for you, but be ready for their inflated costs, and talk to them about what they can offer. Try to get a sense of whether they will be creative and work with you to personalize your event. Some of them want you to stick to their standard menus, which may not appeal to you. I worked with some self-proclaimed “high-end caterers” in DC and felt like they were too rigid and inflexible. I didn’t want the menus used at other events. I wanted a menu that fit our event. And, Annie didn’t want any food with names she couldn’t pronounce. And, there is a lot of that fancy-schmancy stuff out there.
    • If you come from a Mormon Do-it-yourself culture, like I do, you will be appalled at how much everything costs, because, of course, you know someone who can cater, design flowers, make wedding cakes, decorate, be more creative, etc. You know how to stretch a dollar because you’ve planned a thousand church events with a total budget that is less than the per-person cost of your caterer, and you are not used to having to pay just to use a big room. This means you either have your event at the church or find one of the handfuls of venues that let you bring in your own caterers, etc. Then, you rely on your friends to do everything or you suck it up and pay what you know are exorbitant rates. (We did a little of both.)
    • Before you even think about venues, set a budget — a steel-clad, hard-edged budget. If you don’t set it, and respect it, you will absolutely exceed it. I know this from experience… Enough said. Be prepared because when you set the budget and adhere to it, you have to make hard choices and a lot of compromises because “all of the above” is not an option.

7.  Create a guest list first. This will help you decide what kind of venue you need. Then make some decisions about the scope and type of your event.  If it’s a formal, sit-down dinner, and you are living within your budget, you might need to really trim down your guest list.  Because we are a social family and love our friends, we struggled with this, but our D.C. venue had a capacity that we could not exceed.  So here is what I came up with to help us stay under capacity:

      • Start with family first
      • Then add best family friends – you know, the ones you have Christmas Eve with or the ones that are like your family, especially if you don’t live near your family.
      • Now comes the hard part, friends who have been important influences in your child’s life and will likely always be in your child’s life forever.
      • If you still have room for more, then you consider friends who have been important in your lives in the past but may not be central to their daily lives now.
      • Next: people you adore but don’t have occasions to see often. BUT, you still want them to celebrate this occasion with you and your family because if circumstances were different (like if you lived near each other) they would be up higher on the list.
      • Then, you have your “other” category – the people you would love to see but may have to cut because of cost, room capacity, etc.  I know. Ruthless and calculating but unless you are a Rockefeller and do not have a hotel-sized mansion of a home, and a budget to match, you have to make some hard decisions.

8. Listen to the opinions of others. Politely nod, and freely ignore if their ideas don’t match your vision, budget, priorities, or taste. (I had to ignore Caren’s strong opinions about engraved invitations, for example.)

9. Prepare to feel like a hemorrhaging ATM.  Block all thoughts like, “This is enough money to buy a private island.’ Or, “These kids could pay their full tuition or buy a house for the cost of this wedding.” Or, “We could educate and feed a third world country for this.” As Doug kept saying, “It is what it is.” Forget practical. Repeat this mantra daily.

10. Most important of all – remember this: It is worth it.  Every bit of planning, cost, negotiation, and everything else, is worth it. It will be the best party of your life.

11. Have a DJ and/or a great playlist. That makes it a real party.IMG_3148