Pandemic Birthday #2

Yesterday was my birthday — my second birthday during the ongoing Pandemic. It’s a weird milestone. But then, I think everything, from the mundane, everyday things to the milestones, feels weird right now. How can it be otherwise, in a world that has turned topsy-turvy? I remember, at my birthday last year, thinking, “So it all feels eerie and strange. But next year at this time, I’m sure everything will be back to normal.” And yet, here we are: One year farther along in my own, personal odyssey of life, and, still, nothing is normal.

There was no gathering of friends and family. There was no fancy dinner out with my husband and daughter. There was no weekend trip into the city to celebrate. There were none of the things that we are used to doing and having in order to mark down the special occasions and milestones in our lives.

But there were other things. There were beautiful roses — my favorite! — from my husband and daughter. There was a lovely and cheerful Spring bouquet from some dear friends. There were phone calls from family and well-wishes over Facebook and text. There was a rainy, chilly day spent feeling cozy and comfortable in my office space as I worked on nail photos, wrote a nail blog, and watched a show on Amazon Prime BritBox. There were cuddles with the dogs and the cat. There was a beautiful cake ordered by my sweet husband and watching movies with my little family. There was a session of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with my daughter, staying up late to watch videos on YouTube, and reading a good book before I finally turned in for the night … or early morning.

In all, it was a quiet day, quietly spent with those I love the most in the world. And you know what? I think it was just what I needed. I needed some time for my brain to sit quietly, forgetting the constant anxieties of making sure people are 6 feet away from me or whether I remembered to bring my mask, or whether my elderly parents are able to stay safe. I needed some time to take a deep breath after a tough work week and enjoy puttering around doing things I love but so often have to put off to a time when I’m not so busy. (And you know what? “Not so busy” never seems to come!)

I wonder if, maybe, this is “normal” now — a “normal” that is quieter and hums contentedly in the background. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I do miss the “normal” of my recent past, from before the pandemic. I miss not having to wear a mask and, especially (!), not having to be afraid of catching a virus that might kill me or those I love. I miss being able to head out to eat in a restaurant or go to a bar whenever I want, without having to worry or plan ahead. I miss being able to travel for a weekend trip on a whim. I miss seeing friends and family in person. And, yes, I do miss those more public types of milestone celebrations that we blissfully enjoyed in the past.

And yet, this new “normal” is lovely, too. There is something graceful, beautiful, and comforting about celebrating a life milestone quietly with those few people you love the most in all the world. There is something soothing about celebrating yourself with the kindness of spending time doing things that you love and that bring you joy. For me, I feel like these things got a little bit lost in the past.

If we get past this pandemic and are able to go back to our old “normal”, will I be unhappy about that? No — not in the least! That’s not what I’m saying at all. But I think it’s important to stop and think about and realize all the beauty that is in our new “normal”, too. I suppose the point, for now, is just this: It was a good birthday. And I am ready to face another year.

A Snowy Adventure …

Have you ever been stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere, Illinois? I have. Just a couple of days ago, in fact.

It all started out innocently enough. After a looooong string of snowy, cold, and gray days, we finally had a couple of days of sunshine this past Thursday (or was it Wednesday? Hmmm …) and Friday. On the first sunny day, we decided to head out in the evening for a little family drive. We were all feeling a bit stir crazy from the pandemic and the cold and the snow. Hubby and I haven’t even been able to walk because it’s been too cold. It was so nice being in the car, just enjoying the sunlight and being outside the house. Of course, I neglected to take my DSLR with me on that trip, and we had the most glorious sunset that evening. It was bold and magnificent and awe-inspiring. I grabbed some pics with my phone, but I felt dissatisfied with them, overall.

So, when Friday dawned with sunshine and blue skies, I was excited. My whole plan was to head out in the afternoon, about an hour or so before sunset, to enjoy the light and, hopefully, grab some fabulous sunset pics with my DSLR. The whole day was sunny and gorgeous. Cold, but gorgeous. Until it was time to head out for pics. Like clockwork, the clouds rolled in. It was like the Universe was trying to tell me something.

I refused to be daunted. I had planned to take pictures, and that was what I was going to do! I sent my “RAWR!” out at the Universe, and determined we would head out for sunset, after all. Hubby and Darling Daughter were more than willing, even with the cloudy skies. Have I mentioned we are all feeling more than a little stir crazy?

It was not a wasted trip in the least. I love Winter Sky. It’s almost hard for me to put it into words. There is something so peaceful and compelling about the way the skies turn pastel and soft during a Wintery sunset. I feel like these muted skies happen often in the Winter, but particularly so on cloudy days. It’s almost like I can look at those beautiful skies, with their soft pinks and purple-toned blues and blue-grays, and I can breathe again. I feel stress fall away, and my soul is uplifted. Winter Sky is like pastel watercolors that paint themselves before my very eyes. Sunset is a slow and unstoppable process. It marches across the sky at its own pace. And yet, I find I cannot take my eyes off of it. I could sit for hours, just watching the sky change colors and begin to darken toward night.

But, much as I love it, this story is not about Winter Sky. This story is about being stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere, Illinois. I don’t know if all of Illinois is like this, but our town is weirdly surrounded by rural land, roads with no visible road signs or names, and corn fields. Lots and lots of corn fields. Our town is not big. It has around 100K in population, and the back roads lead to other, smaller towns that surround it. Most everything is flat, which means there are not many landmarks. This is particularly so in the Winter, when the corn is gone, and the fields are bare and full of snow. It doesn’t take long to get turned around or completely lost out in the midst of those back roads that snake between those fields.

This is exactly what happened on Friday. We were following the sunset, trying to get whatever photos we could. And, before we knew it, we were completely turned around and a bit lost. Not to fear, though, because we had GPS. And all wheel drive. What could stop us?

I’ll tell you what: S-N-O-W.

Our GPS took us down a road that was not plowed. We saw a sign saying it was not plowed, but the snow did not look that deep. This was our first mistake. And, clearly, it shows that we don’t know what it truly means to live through a snowy winter in Illinois! The GPS was pointing us down that road, so we headed in that direction. Once we got a little ways into the road, we realized the snow was much deeper than we thought. And we were in our very low sedan — mistake number 2. We got stuck once, but we managed to get unstuck and felt that we had no choice but to continue moving forward. We couldn’t really turn around and head back because the snow was too deep for that. Was this mistake number three? Maybe.

We made it a bit farther before we got stuck a second time. By this time, we were well and truly STUCK. We couldn’t back out. We couldn’t go forward. We couldn’t dig the car out enough to get it moving. Basically, we were at “leave the car here until Spring”. It was not pretty. And it was getting dark. And remember how I mentioned that a lot of these roads don’t have visible signs? If you are from here, you know exactly where you are at all times. But we are clearly not from here. We had no idea where we were.

I was the only one in the car wearing snow boots. So I got elected to hike back to the nearest house while Hubby and Darling Daughter tried to get a tow truck. I was not privy to all their efforts, but I know it involved a disastrous call with AAA. By the way, if you are ever stuck in the snow in Illinois, don’t bother calling AAA. They won’t even try to come help you. They won’t even try to figure out where you are! There was a second tow company that was closed due to illness. And then, my hubby finally called the tow company that actually came out and rescued us. Of course, since we didn’t know where we were, Darling Daughter had to figure out the GPS coordinates so that the tow truck could find us.

While all of this was happening, I was hiking through knee-high snow and 19 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. I originally thought the house was only about a quarter of a mile or a mile away. It turned out it was probably closer to two miles, and it was through deep snow the whole way. The whole time I am struggling through the drifts and the ruts in the road, I kept thinking to myself, “Self, why were we so stupid? How in the world did we think we could get through all this dang snow?!?”

My entire walk through the knee-deep snow was for nothing. Just about the time I got to the porch of the house, Darling Daughter texted that they were on the phone with a tow truck, and that I should come back. Well, I take that back. She texted just after I struggled up the house’s icy steps onto the porch and knocked at the door. Guess what? No one came to the door. So it was a wasted trip in more ways than one. I sighed and carefully made my way back down the icy steps. And then, re-traced my way through the ruts and the deep drifts all the way back to the car. It’s Sunday evening, and I’m still coughing from all that cold air, by the way. And I’m still sore as heck!

By the time I got back to the car (after tripping and falling into a pile of snow), the tow company had figured out where we were. They told us to sit tight, and one of the drivers would be to us in about thirty-five or forty minutes. And so, we waited. And tried not to think about how we were in the middle of nowhere … in the cold … in the snow. Actually, it wasn’t all that bad. It was peaceful and quiet. And we had some good family time. We laughed and talked and shared memories.

Eventually, we saw the tow truck come up behind us. It was some distance away, but by this time it was dark. We could see the headlights. They parked and stopped for the longest time before, slowly, turning around and leaving. I looked at Hubby and said, “I think they can’t get to us.” But my tone was one of disbelief. It never occurred to me that the tow truck might get stuck. And yet, that is exactly what happened! The first driver got stuck twice. He shoveled his truck out both times, only to get stuck again. Eventually, he realized trying to move forward was futile.

The company owner called us and told us that the first truck was stuck and not able to reach us. He was coming to us with a bigger truck, so we should just sit tight. He was out of town on another job, and it would be about another hour before he could reach us. But he was coming. And so, we waited some more. By this time, it was pitch dark. And, of course, there were no clouds, so we couldn’t even look at the stars while we waited. Tempers were running a bit shorter by this point. Darling Daughter was hungry. Hubby was annoyed with all of our bad life choices. I had to go to the bathroom. Plus, my clothes were all wet. Remember how I fell into that bank of snow? Oh, and it had started to snow. Yeah …

Eventually, we saw the lights from the second truck behind our car. They were far back, around where the first truck had gotten stuck. I saw them stop and pause for a long time. I saw them flicker, and I knew the driver was walking in front of them, moving from one side of the truck to the other. I felt this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, because I was pretty sure this second truck was also stuck. I made myself keep this thought to myself, because everyone in the car was feeling guardedly optimistic at the sight of those lights. I didn’t want to ruin that.

The truck lights came a bit closer. Then, they stopped again. And I saw the flicker of someone walking in front of them again, moving from one side of the truck to the other. I had that same sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. But eventually, it kept moving forward until it was actually there, right behind our car!

In the end, it turned out the second truck also got stuck. But because it was higher than the first one, the drivers were able to dig it out. For what it’s worth, the first driver never left. He just turned his truck around and parked it on the side of the road, slightly out of our view. The two guys were so kind and friendly. And they were a very welcome sight! They drove their bigger truck back and forth over the snow behind us to pack it down. They ended up digging our car out of all that snow. They hooked chains to our back end, and they basically just winched us out of the snow while Hubby kept the wheel pointing straight so that we didn’t run off the road.

As Hubby was paying the bill, the second driver asked, “What kind of car is this, anyhow?” Hubby replied with the make and model and asked why, and the driver replied that he thought he wanted to buy one. He was very impressed we had managed to make it so far down that road. Hey, if you do something stupid, do it in the most spectacular manner possible. Right? Right!

So. All’s well that ends well, as they say. We managed to get winched out of the snow. The tow guys were kind enough not to laugh at us to our faces. We got turned around and headed toward home. We had left our house around 4:30PM that afternoon, and we finally made it home at 9PM that night. We made eggs, bacon, and pancakes for dinner. And we watched some TV together before heading to bed. I was exhausted from my snowy adventure. I’m still exhausted from it!

And I have resolved that I shall not leave the house again until Spring. Or, until the next time I want to take pretty sunset pictures.

The Longest Month

January is the longest month. Objectively, I know this is not true. It is not any longer than other months. Well, it’s quite a bit longer than February, but then, so are most of the other months in the year. January isn’t even the only month that has 31 days in it. And yet, January seems to drag its way through my mind, as if an entire year is encapsulated in this one month. I think about this every year during January. No, “think” isn’t quite the right word for it. It’s more like I fight against this feeling of funk every January. As December slides to a close, it’s as if my mind takes a deep breath and whispers, “Ah, January. My old nemesis …”

I’m not sure why this is. I have my suspicions and feelings about it — so many suspicions and so many feelings! But I couldn’t tell you the actual, psychological ins and outs of it. Because, of course, I am not a psychologist. I’m just a blogger who is sitting at her desk and tapping on her keyboard in order to send words sailing out into the ether.

January is a month of grays and blues. While I personally love those colors, there is something different about the blues and grays of January. It’s as if someone has, ever so slowly, drained all the color from the world, leaving behind something that feels not quite real or not quite solid. And it won’t feel real or solid again until all the colors come back in Spring. This is my second winter here in the midwest, and I am finding the lack of color to be particularly true here. The richness of the fields and farms around our town seems to be slumbering until warmer weather calls it back into existence. The weather is cold. The skies tend to be that kind of gray that is more like a lack of color, instead of being an actual color of its own. The ponds and creeks are crusted over with ice. The earth is hard and unforgiving.

I think of January as a month to endure. December is festive and fun, although (perhaps) also more than a little stressful with family obligations and all the expectations that we tack onto the holiday season. But December has color and sound and laughter and memories. It’s kind of loud and brassy, in a way. February feels like we are just about to turn the corner into Spring. In February, the whole world seems to hold its breath in preparation for what is to come. But January … January is just “there”. It’s a time to pack away the happiness and festiveness of the winter holidays. It’s too early to watch for those little, tell-tale signs of Spring. In January, we slog forward, although, for me, it often feels as if I make little progress.

Depression tends to come for me in January. It’s not like depression ever leaves me completely. I always struggle with it and with anxiety in some form or another, but it seems easier to keep them at bay during other months of the year. January is a quiet, introspective sort of month. It’s a month for thinking about things that have happened and about things that are to come. It’s a month for planning and, maybe, hoping. But all that thinking and self-evaluating sometimes gives depression a foothold in my life. The good thing is that I can usually reason my way out of it, and my coping mechanisms work well for me. But depression and anxiety feel particularly close in January.

January is that one month out of the year in which my life tends to feel like “too much”. I’m always busy, particularly now that I am back to working. But it seems like January saps my energy and leaves me feeling exhausted and used up. It’s strange to me, because I am not doing any more things in January. I am the same amount of “busy” as in all the other months, but it feels more overwhelming and unending in January.

And yet, I try to remind myself that January has its own beauty. Because it is a quiet and unassuming month, I feel like January gives me a chance to see the small things in life that might otherwise go unnoticed. Spotting a cardinal on my fence, its red feathers bright and almost garish against the white-gray background of a snowy yard, is even more of a treat. A day of sun and pale blue skies emerges as an unexpected blessing and breath of fresh air amid the cloudy gray days. There is a special kind of beauty to be found in the heavy quiet that falls over the world on a snowy night, when fat flakes drift down and the earth speaks in whispers. Frost curls and grows across our window panes, creating delicate and lacy filigree.

I try to keep my spirits up in January. I leave my Christmas decorations out all the way through the month. I make sure to turn on the trees every evening, and I like to spend some time sitting quietly in our darkened living room with a cup of tea to enjoy the lights. I spend time with my daughter re-playing Breath of the Wild and adventuring in beautiful Hyrule. I give myself time to think and dream on story ideas and character outlines. I read fanciful and cute little romances. I watch Pride & Prejudice on repeat. I play with nail polish.

And so, January passes. One day soon, I will look at the calendar and feel surprised to realize it is February. I know I will feel a bit of relief to have survived another “dreary” January. But this year, I hope I can also look back on this, the longest of all months, and see the beautiful memories and moments, too.

Ringing in the New … and Good-Bye, 2020

I spent a lot of time in 2020 trying not to talk about all the weirdness of the year. I think, because I was living in the midst of it (as were all of us!), I didn’t want to spend time mulling it over or thinking about it. It took so much energy to deal with social distancing and isolation and cleaning my groceries and coping with the bizarre mess that has been my daughter’s senior year in high school and worrying over my parents and feeling anxious about the state of US politics … Well, as you may be able to guess, I could go on and on. And I would not be telling any of you anything new, different, or unexpected. Because, wherever you are, we are ALL living through this time together. We are all trying to figure it out day-to-day. And we are all trying to muddle through.

I think my touchstone saying for 2020 quickly became, “I’m doing the best I can!”. This is something I have been saying to myself on a daily basis all year long. There were many days when I felt my best was never going to be enough. On those days, this whispered reminder helped heal a little bit of my soul. Because, really, it IS good enough, isn’t it? It’s not just good enough … it is our best. And that has to be worth everything. In a way, 2020 taught me this. Of course, it was something I always knew — somewhere, in the back of my mind. It’s something we all know and have known. And yet, it can be so easy to forget, can’t it?

2020 also gave me Time. I was lucky enough to be busy with work during the week for most of the year, but we spend a lot of time rushing from one thing to another outside of work hours, don’t we? But, in 2020, we didn’t have anywhere to go. There were no extra-curricular activities for my daughter. There were no plays or concerts. There were no museums to visit or movies to attend. There was just a lot of time to sit around at home. It sounds terribly boring, doesn’t it? And yet … I had time to sit around and think about things. I had time to spend with my family every evening. Probably, we should have been doing this all along, but we had fallen into the bad habit of going our separate ways at the end of each day. More importantly, I had time to spend with my sweet daughter before she flies the nest and starts her own life adventure.

I feel grateful to 2020 for these things. They are quiet blessings. They are not flashy. They are not necessarily things that would jump out at a person as something you would want or desire. And yet, like many things that are not flashy, they are extremely precious. Without the weirdness of 2020, I am not sure I would have realized any of this.

At the same time, I have to admit I am happy to show 2020 the door, so to speak. It’s been an exhausting, worrisome, and anxiety-producing year. No matter how grateful I am for the quiet life lessons 2020 has shown me, the year wore on me. It grated on my nerves. It made me feel so tired and hopeless and just … sad. I feel like I have been looking forward to the end of 2020 ever since March. And, at last, it is here. Huzzah!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think life is magically going to be easier just because 2020 has ended and 2021 has begun. It’s not like anyone can wave a magic wand and make COVID disappear or make people suddenly have good sense. Honestly, I am not sure there is enough magic in the universe to make that last thing happen. COVID is here to stay. Vaccine roll-out is going to be slow going. Many people will elect not to take the vaccine, even when it is available. We still have to figure out how to move forward and make our way through a life landscape that has become eerie and unexpected. We still have to figure out how to live with all the faults and frailties of human nature.

I don’t know what 2021 will bring. I know it will have its ups and downs, but I don’t know if it will end up being good or bad, overall. But right now, when the year is still new, I feel hopeful for the first time in many months. I feel like better days are coming; they are just on the horizon and out of sight. One day soon, I will get to hug my parents and brother. One day soon, we will be able to sit with friends and laugh and eat together. One day soon, my daughter will start her own adventure in college, which I hope will be in-person and on-campus. One day soon, we will all figure out our new normal.

Thanksgiving … and Giving Thanks … in the Time of ‘Rona

So it’s the day after the day after Thanksgiving. And I am sitting here thinking about the holiday. I bet I speak for a lot of us when I say that this holiday wasn’t what I expected. And it wasn’t what I wanted. No … not that. It wasn’t what I thought I wanted. What I wanted was a Thanksgiving that was like those of my youth, with family and laughter and sharing old memories and making new memories. We used to all gather at my parents’ house. My mom would cook all day getting ready for it, even though everyone brought something. My two sweet, beloved aunts, my uncles, all the cousins — basically anyone who was able to make it — would all gather around for the big meal. Afterward, we would tell all the stories — the same ones every year — but, of course, no one minded a bit. We would work puzzles or play board games or challenge each other to dominoes. We would get rowdy and loud. At the time, I don’t think I truly appreciated it. Because it was all I knew, it was boring to me. It was just “more of the same”. But now, I look back on those beautiful Thanksgiving holidays, and they make me feel warm inside. How I miss them.

For the many years that we lived in Virginia, we celebrated Thanksgiving with dear friends. It was a make-shift family, cobbled together out of shared experiences and lots of love. And, yes, there was laughter and the sharing of stories and good memories. My sweet friend who always hosted has the most amazing, beautiful little house. I think it is one of the most sheltering and welcoming places I have ever been, and being able to share the holidays with them — knowing that these incredible people were willing to open their hearts and home to us — meant everything. It still does, even now. I am sitting here, smiling to myself, as I remember those warm Thanksgivings of my recent past.

This year, there weren’t any travel plans. There was no gathering of family and friends. Because, of course, we are still living through the time of ‘Rona. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting, isn’t it? I know I am so sick and tired of the stress and worry and heartache. And yet, we have to remain brave in the face of it all. For me and my family, part of being brave this year was admitting that it wasn’t safe to travel or to gather with our family or friends, no matter how much we wanted to see people and hug them in person.

So we had a quiet Thanksgiving at home. To be honest, I went into Thanksgiving week dreading it. I wanted to see my parents and my brother. If I couldn’t see them, I wanted to see our dear friends. I wanted to hug people so tight. I just … I wanted it so badly I could feel it in the deepest part of my heart. And it hurt to know I wouldn’t — couldn’t — have that. I didn’t see how this holiday would be any good for any of us. I didn’t see how it could possibly be happy or jolly or … well, “holiday-ish”.

But you know what happened? Somehow, Thanksgiving worked its magic. Outside, the weather was bleak and gray and chilly. But inside our house — our home — it was warm and comfortable and cozy. My daughter and I cooked together. We made stuffing and two pies. We played Christmas music. We danced around the kitchen and sang as loudly as we possibly could. We told funny stories. We shared memories. We laughed — a LOT. I don’t know if you realize this, but Time is such a valuable commodity when you have a seventeen-year-old child who is on the cusp of leaving the nest. We can buy all sorts of things in our lives. We can shop for anything on the internet and have it delivered right to our doorstep. But you can’t buy Time. There’s not enough wishes or money in existence to allow that to happen. Time is a gift from the universe.

On Thanksgiving Day, my little family of three gathered around our table. We played favorite Christmas songs in the background. We said a prayer. And we talked about the past and the future. There were old memories and new memories. We were all together, warm and cozy in our home, with a beautiful abundance of food for our meal. We were all healthy and safe. We were all alive. Maybe we can’t see our families or our close friends, but our families are all healthy. And our friends remain healthy, too. This year has been such a shit-show, from start to finish. Our family has had struggles this year, the same as everyone, I am sure. But, when we were sitting there together around our little table, I realized how incredibly fortunate we have been. In those moments, it hit me: we are so amazingly, incredibly blessed. And I am thankful.

In the end, this year’s Thanksgiving will live in my memories, shaded in the sepia tones of old photographs. In so many ways, it was a throwback to the holidays of my youth: quiet and slow-paced and so, so beautiful. I think it will remain one of my favorite Thanksgivings ever. It wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t what I thought I wanted. And yet, it was just exactly what I needed.

Happy News … and Life Getting Really REAL

My baby is seventeen. She’s not just my “baby”. She is my ONLY. And she is seventeen and a senior in high school. The day is swiftly approaching when she will be spreading her wings and flying swiftly away from our nest and into her own future. And that is as it should be. I did it. My husband did it. All of us, at some point or another, did it. Unless you are reading this as a person who is still in high school, and, in that case, you WILL do it. One day. I promise; it will happen.

I know this is as it should be. I know children grow up and leave home and enter their own lives. And, honestly, I want this for my daughter. I want her to have a life filled with fun and laughter and her own memories and as much awesomeness as she can grab with her two hands and her amazing, beautiful heart. I think I probably speak for every parent ever when I say that this is what we all want. We want our kiddos to go out there and be amazing. And yet … we also don’t want this. I know. I know. It makes no sense at all. And yet, that’s just how it feels.

This weekend, we got some amazing news. My daughter got accepted into one of her two top college choices. Of course, all of her college choices are out of state from where we currently live. Much like her parents, she is not in love with the state of Illinois. We are still waiting to hear on her other early admission applications. But it was thrilling to know, for sure, that she will be able to go to a school she wanted to attend. I think it was a huge relief for all of us. No matter what, she is going to be off for a new and fun adventure after High School is done.

I knew this was coming, y’all. She has been walking away from me ever since she took her first steps. Because this is the way. It is the way it has to be. It is the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way I want it to be. And yet … All of a sudden, this all feels so incredibly, unavoidably, painfully, really REAL. And I discover that my heart is not ready for it in the least.

I’m not sure how I am supposed to learn how to do this. I have spent so many years following her around and keeping track of her and worrying over her and needing to know exactly where she is at all times. In many ways, it feels like I have spent my whole life doing this. she has been my everything for a long time. Her little face was the first thing I saw every morning and the last thing I saw every evening. When my husband was working crazy hours at the law firm and traveling all the time, it was just my daughter and me. The two of us, against the world, so to speak. And now, in what feels like just a few short months, I have to open my arms and be brave and let her go. I’m not going to lie. I will still want to know where she is at all times. But I have to learn how to keep that to myself.

I want to scream out to the universe, “Not ready! Not ready! Not ready!!” and duck back into my safe little hidey-hole where I can pretend none of this is happening. And yet Life is marching forward. It doesn’t seem like it as we shelter in place and work from home, but it is moving ever forward. Life is resolute. It doesn’t care. It doesn’t wait. It doesn’t pause to give me time to feel ready for this.

And you know what? That’s okay. I’m not ready. I may never be ready. But my girl is. She is ready to fly.

The Curious Case of the Missing Shoelaces

It’s been a hot minute and a half since I bopped into this blog. I feel there are things I “should” be blogging about, such as COVID … life during COVID … life lived remotely … not seeing my extended family … the isolation … the craziness of the U.S. presidential election … Well. You get the idea. The list goes on and on and on. And I do have thoughts on all of these things. But I just don’t want to blog about them. I think the feeling of “I should blog about this” — like I have some sort of obligation to do so — has kept me out of my blog for the most part. It’s almost like I feel guilty for not wanting to talk about certain topics in here. But the truth is that I am so entrenched in worrying about COVID … and feeling isolated due to COVID … and stressing about COVID … and missing my elderly parents (who I have not seen or hugged in person in almost a year) … and feeling guardedly optimistic about the presidential election, but, at the same time, continuing to channel all the stress and worry and chaos of the last four years … Just thinking about all of it makes me tired. And sad.

So, instead, I am going to tell you about the Curious Case of the Missing Shoelaces. This is, in fact, a true story. Not clickbait! Not fake news! I suppose I should set the stage for my tale by admitting that I am not the most organized person in the world. I’m not even in the top 100 for most organized people in the world. My house is comfortable, and I love nesting in it. But I am not always good about putting things away. This is particularly true for shoes. I guess I figure it’s no use to put them away when I am just going to use them again. And, normally, in short order, as I am taking my dogs outside every two to three hours for potty breaks throughout the day.

This bad habit has been passed along from me to the rest of my family. So we have quite the pile of shoes laying around near our downstairs closets. We seem to keep our shoes separate from each other. I tend to let mine congregate near the stairs or in the laundry room. My daughter keeps hers next to a wall that is near our kitchen table. My husband actually wears his shoes all over the house. I can’t get him to switch to house shoes for the life of me. I do switch my shoes out by season. I have one pair of Keenes that I wear all year long. I suppose they are an “oxford style”. When the weather gets colder and more rainy, I have a couple of pairs of boots that I wear. One is a pair of hiking boots by Keene, and the other is a pair of boots that are lined for warmth.

And that is where my actual story begins: with the boots. Last year, on a particularly rainy day, I decided to wear my hiking boots. I had to go search for them, as it had been several months since I had last worn them. I finally found them in the dining room, behind some boxes of things we need to donate. My Boy Dog gets excited and, in true spaniel fashion, he loves to grab things and carry them around when he is feeling particularly exuberant. This means that things go missing and sometimes turn up in unexpected places, and I am sure it is what happened to my hiking boots. But here’s the weird thing: When I found my boots and went to put them on, they were missing a shoelace. One boot was completely laced and ready to go. The other boot was as naked as the day it was born. Or … something like that.

I mean … it’s weird, right? Like, really weird. This is not something you expect. Well, maybe you are better at figuring out what strange things Life throws your way. But I didn’t expect it. And I was certain I hadn’t been responsible for removing the shoelace. I was positive I would have remembered doing something like that. I looked everywhere for it. I enlisted my husband and daughter in the search. We looked behind boxes. We looked under cabinets. We looked out in the garage. We never found it. To this day, I still don’t know what happened to that shoelace.

Over time, I kind of forgot about the whole missing shoelace thing. In fact, in typing this post, I am reminded that I still need to replace that shoelace if I want to wear my hiking boots any time soon. But, no matter how strange a thing might seem in the moment that it happens, Life goes on. It carries us with it, and I think we have all realized, during this longest of all years ever, that Life can, indeed get stranger and stranger and stranger. A missing shoelace doesn’t even compare, in the grand scheme of the weirdness that is Life right now.

A couple of weeks ago, I wore my other pair of boots — the ones that are lined for warmth. I like to wear them in chilly weather when I wear my fleece-lined leggings and long-tailed, long-sleeved t-shirts. (How many hyphenated words can a person fit into one sentence, anyhow? Do you think there is a prize for this? Hmmm.) My boots were fine. I even wore them on my daily walk with my hubby. They were warm and comfy, and they had all their shoelaces.

I bet you already know where I’m going with this. Today, I went to put on my lined boots so that I could let out the dogs. One boot was perfectly fine. It was laced up and ready to go. The other boot … You guessed it! Totally and completely lace-less. What is this madness?? One lace I can shrug off as being some sort of oddity of the universe. But two missing shoelaces? Two shoelaces missing under mysterious circumstances? It has to be a conspiracy. Or a curse. Or … Well, something really, really Weird.

My husband thinks it was the cat. Or one of the dogs. I think not. The cat is too busy. She loves to run all over the house and climb and get into things. She is still a kitten, really. She doesn’t have the time or patience to sit there and unlace a shoe. Girl Dog would never do it. She is too much of a lady to stoop so low. Plus, she is afraid of everything. I am certain the idea of the shoelace would terrify her. That leaves Boy Dog, who loves shoes and paper and small objects — anything, really, that he can carry around when he gets excited. In my heart, I know Boy Dog is not the culprit. It’s not that he doesn’t look guilty. He always looks guilty. But, truthfully, I don’t think he’s smart enough to figure it out.

So here I am, with two missing shoelaces and no idea of how all of it happened. It’s funny how, after COVID and months of protests and sorrow over how entrenched systemic racism is in my country and months of people screaming their political beliefs and more COVID and job stress and election stress and worries over money and struggling to find toilet paper and paper towels and more COVID … Well, it’s funny that the problem of the missing shoelaces is what has me completely and utterly flummoxed. “Solve the problems that you can solve,” people say. And this is wise advice. It makes me feel uneasy, however. If I can’t even find two shoelaces, how will I ever solve any problems at all?

I’m sure there is a perfectly logical explanation for all of it. Perhaps the cat really did do it. Perhaps she is building her own Fortress of Solitude in the unfinished part of the basement. She does love to spend a lot of time in there. And she needed my shoelaces to hold everything together. Or we have Borrowers. Which, actually, would not be a terrible thing. I quite like the idea of that. It’s like there would be a little bit of charm left in the world if this was true. Or there’s a ghost. Not a scary ghost or a mean ghost. Just a ghost that needs to borrow a shoelace or two. You know, for walking around at night.

I suppose I will never know exactly what happened to my shoelaces. But I do know this: I had best start keeping better track of my shoes. And everything on them! Oh, and I need to remind Alexa to put shoelaces on the list.

The Hole in My Heart …

I’ve been thinking about grief today. About how it is so strange and sometimes so unexpected. About how you think you are “over” something … or how the world around you thinks you should be “over” something … but how that something never truly seems to go away. Perhaps it will sink to the background for a while. It might even sink out of sight for a long while. But, eventually, it is going to jump up and take you by surprise. As I worked away today, these thoughts were in the back of my mind, humming away beneath the knowledge of all the things I needed to accomplish before my work day could be done.

And it all started with a dream that was so vivid and clear and unexpected. Have you ever had a dream like that? This was a dream of years and years ago, when I was younger and, in many ways, more free in my life and my choices. I wanted to stay in this dream so badly that waking up to my reality was a shock. I woke up in tears and feeling unsettled, and it took me a few moments to figure out why. And then, of course, I felt ashamed of my grief that should have passed long ago. I am left wondering why I can’t get over this. Why does this particular grief continue to creep up on me and steal my breath away even now, over a decade after I suffered this loss?

Because, you see, I have a hole in my heart. It is not a physical hole, but a spiritual one. And it is shaped like a dog. Not just any dog, but my soul-mate dog. I wonder if everyone has one of those. Honestly, I didn’t know they existed until my sweet Tex came into my life. He was my first Springer Spaniel. He was my first puppy that was all mine; my first dog that I was solely responsible for as an adult. He was my first dog to live inside, as my mother never allowed us to keep our pets indoors when I was growing up. And, for many, many hard years, Tex was Everything to me. That dog was my entire world. He went through law school with me, which was a horrible and miserable time in my life. He went through my first few jobs with me. These, by the way, were also horrible and miserable. He helped me survive a painfully long and difficult long-distance relationship. This, eventually, had a happy ending, but getting to “happily ever after” was a slog. He slept with me and comforted me when I was alone. He stayed by my side when I had pneumonia. He Velcroed himself to me in every aspect of my life. I took him everywhere with me. I know many people will roll their eyes as I type this, but you dog people out there will understand: He was my child before I had a human child. Tex was, and still is, THAT dog for me. If I could have had him for forever, even if it meant I would never have another dog, I would have been happy with that. It’s not that I don’t love my current dogs. I do. But I would have happily lived with Tex for the rest of forever.

And that brings me to my dream. It was such a simple dream: me, sitting under a tree reading a book … and I looked up to see Tex running toward me. I was overwhelmed with happiness, just seeing that silly dog grin on his face and his floppy ears flying. Just seeing him again. And then, of course, I woke up to the reality of a world without my beloved boy. Thoughts and memories of him have kept me unsettled all day today. It’s lucky for me I didn’t have to do any phone calls or video conferences for work.

And yet, I feel I must hide my grief. Tex has been gone for a LONG time. He left me when he was almost fifteen, and that was fourteen years ago. He’s been gone much longer than he could ever have lived. And yet, it feels like just yesterday when that bond was shattered. I feel … embarrassed … like there is something wrong with me. Why can’t I get over this? Why do I still cry when I dream about him? Why do I keep his baskets of toys packed away in my basement? None of my current dogs play with them. No dog will ever play with them. And yet, I keep them and move them from house to house. I just can’t let them go. I have to keep them hidden away. Just the sight of them is enough to break my heart and cause the tears to flow.

The world tells me he was “just a dog”. The world tells me my broken heart should heal. For that matter, the world tells me I shouldn’t even have a broken heart. And yet, I do. I think the world is wrong. Tex was never “just a dog”. No beloved pet is ever “just” a pet, like they are unimportant. They are our joy and our hope. When life is hard, they are our reason to keep going. They teach us to be better than we ever thought we could be. We love them. With great love comes great joy. Love creates a bond, and, when that bond is shattered, it HURTS. It hurts down to the very core of everything we are. I loved that dog. I loved him with all my heart, and I still do. So, maybe, I don’t need to be ashamed of my grief. Because it is honest and born of love, and because it fills the dog-shaped hole in my heart.

Summer Summer Summer

Summer is upon us in full force, it seems. I guess I should feel lucky that it is nearly the end of July, and I am only just now feeling the heat. But man! I am really feeling it over the last couple of weeks. We had a few days in the low 80s this past week, and I found myself reveling in how cool and refreshing it felt. How sad is that? I’ll tell you: S.A.D. Extremely so.

Remember how I talked at length a few years ago about not being a fan of Spring? Yep. You can lump Summer in there, too. I am not a Summer person. I never have been. I don’t enjoy the beach. I don’t love lounging by the pool. I don’t sunbathe. Not that anyone really can sunbathe any more, but I never did it even back when we still had ozone. I’m so pasty-white that I’m practically invisible. Seriously. I bet I could get sunburned from looking at a picture of the sun. I’ve never been a big fan of participating in Summer sports. When school was out for the Summer, I was that strange kid who was looking forward to reading all day long.

After becoming a Mom, I found myself looking forward to Summer more than ever, especially after my daughter started school. Summer was “Mommy time”, meaning it was my time to spend with my sweet little girl without the interruption of school or homework or projects or lessons or after school activities. It was a time to read stories together, take walks in the evening, and just generally slow down. During the school year, it was like my daughter belonged to the whole world. But she was all mine for the Summer.

Summer this year should have been more of the same, but doubled. My daughter is going into her senior year of high school, so this is pretty much my last chance at a “Mommy time” Summer. I should have been looking forward to walks and talks and going to movies together and all the things.

But, of course, this Summer is not at all like any Summer that has come before it. And y’all know why: The ‘Rona. It’s like my brain was so busy trying to catch up with the reality of life within the pandemic that I wasn’t mentally ready for Summer at all. It’s like I had no idea Summer even existed until it was upon us in all of its sweltering, sizzling glory. I know that sounds goofy. How could I not know Summer was coming? Of course, I knew it was out there. It’s just that everyday life has been physically and mentally exhausting since Spring. It’s almost like time stopped completely when we went into social-distance-at-home-quarantine back in March. I know the outside world has continued to turn. But the things that were touchstones for me have all stopped because we seldom leave our house. I feel like I went to sleep one night in the crisp Spring coolness of a March evening and woke up to find myself in the midst of a sizzling July day. It’s disconcerting.

Has this last Mommy Summer been a total bust? No. Not at all. Because, amid the anxiety and worry and mask wearing and cleaning off groceries and staying at home … In and around all of that, the little moments of life continue on. I’ve had evening walks with my daughter. We have binged anime together. We share popcorn every evening. We have hung out in her room and talked. There have been so many fabulous talks. I love hearing my daughter’s opinions and thoughts on things. I have learned a lot this Summer, and I have realized something pretty fantastic. There is an amazing, kind, and wise young woman standing where my little girl of yesterday used to be. And you know what? I think that might make this the best Summer yet.

Happy Belated …

This is my very late “happy birthday USA” post. I only missed the Fourth by 7 or 8 days, so I’m within the window of birthday-ness. Right? Eh. Considering the mess that is this year and the mess that is my country right now, I think 8 days late isn’t too bad.

I’ve thought about this post a lot. I’ve thought about a lot of posts a lot. Basically, COVID, self-isolating, and the ongoing racial injustice in the United States has led to lots and lots and lots of thinking. Along with some worrying and some crying and some feeling hopeless. It’s been sort of a cycle for me. Right up until the actual fourth of July, I didn’t feel much like celebrating. In all honesty, life in general and life in this country, in particular, has begun to bear down with all the weight of despair and hopelessness it could possibly possess.

It didn’t help my mood that everything was canceled. No public fireworks. No getting together with friends. I had hoped for my parents to come visit this Summer or to visit them, but that couldn’t happen, either. Of course, people in our neighborhood set off fireworks on their own. Until the extremely wee hours of the morning. I hate neighborhood fireworks. I know I sound like the grouchiest, grumpiest grump that ever grouched. But the noise scares my dogs and makes it impossible to sleep, especially when fireworks are going off until 2 or 3AM. And I always worry about my roof catching on fire. Anxiety is not your friend, folks!

So, by necessity, it was a quiet Fourth of July for me and my family. My daughter has a friend whose family has practiced the same level of self-isolation as us, and that friend came over to spend the night. My husband grilled. And we all watched Crazy Rich Asians together. Was it the type of Fourth I would have wanted? Probably not. But it wasn’t a bad holiday. The long weekend was peaceful. My family is all safe and, so far, healthy. We are really fortunate in many ways.

That evening, I sat on my computer and read through articles about the protests happening all over the United States. I read about statues coming down and about brands changing their names. And … I don’t know … somehow, my mood improved.

I love my country. I love it very much. But I do not love all the things about it. I do not love all the things that happen in this country. In particular, I don’t love the way so many of us in this country are complacent and casual about the racism that is bone-deep here. We grow up with it, and it permeates so much of our everyday life that we get to the point where we “just don’t see it”. As a country … as a people … we have lived with and profited from this callousness and cruelty for far too long. By “we”, I mean white people like me. “Just don’t see it” just doesn’t cut it any longer. And you know what? It never should have. “Just don’t see it” was NEVER good enough. We should have seen it, all along. We should have looked for it. We should have fought to root it out and expose it to the light of day.

But now, changes are happening. Black and POC voices are being heard more than ever before. It seems like more than ever before to me, a person looking from the outside. I hope this is the truth. Because these voices need to be heard. We need to listen to these stories and face the uncomfortable truths contained within them. Protests are in the news, people are talking, and people are listening. People are learning. I hope we are all learning.

I know the changes that have happened so far are small. In the grand scheme of things and to Black and POC people who have struggled their entire lives to feel valued and respected, I imagine these changes are minuscule. But they are changes and a sign that our future has a chance of looking different than our past. Each small change … each protest … each instance of a Black or POC person feeling empowered to tell their story and speak their truth … Every one of these things gives me hope that we, as a country, can be better and do better. I have hope that the momentum will keep going. I have hope that voices will continue being heard. I have hope that we will ferret out the stink and dirt of racism at every level in this country.

Because that’s what we have to do. We HAVE to be better than we have been. We HAVE to do better than we have ever done. This country is a dream. It is a dream of a place where all are equal, all have justice, and all can live without fear. I know this sounds naive and idealistic of me, but I love that dream. I want to live in that place, where Black and POC mothers can send their children to the store without being afraid for their lives. Where Black and POC people are respected for who they are, and where Black and POC achievements are celebrated by everyone. Where Black and POC people can find justice — not justice in name only, but real and true justice. I want this dream for myself because I am a selfish person. But mostly, I want it for my daughter and for all the children of every race who are coming behind us. We owe it to them. We owe them more than what we have given.

I often think there’s nothing I can do. I feel powerless in the face of the injustice and unfairness running rampant all around me. I feel sad and hopeless. I am just one voice, and I am not the kind of voice that should be heard right now — that NEEDS to be heard right now. So I fall into the trap of thinking I should stay out of it or just stay quiet or whatever. But you know what? That’s bullshit. It’s the same thing as living with all of this my whole life and “just not seeing it”. Because I was naive and stupid as a child and a teenager and, even, as a young adult. I didn’t see it because I didn’t know what to look for. And, much as I hate to admit it, I never even thought to look for it.

I know better now. I have seen it. I know it is out there. And I know I can do something. I can listen. I can continue to learn. I can think about my own thoughts, my own actions, and my own words, and I can take care that those things reflect the true feelings and beliefs in my heart. I can — and will! — continue to have hard and uncomfortable conversations with others I encounter. In many instances, I am sorry to say I have those conversations with my own family. In the past, I might have backed down or let it go. But no more. It’s a small thing, but I can stand up each and every day. I can do better. I can be better.

My one corner of the United States is small. My reach is small. But maybe — just maybe — I can change one heart. Maybe — just maybe — I can change one person’s way of thinking. Maybe I won’t change anything, but I don’t care. I am going to hold myself accountable to continue working in whatever small way I can. Because I owe it to every Black and POC person in this country who has ever felt fear because of the way they were treated by white people … who has ever felt anger because of the way they were treated by white people … who has ever been made to feel less than human because of the color of their skin … who has ever lost a beautiful son or daughter or mother or father or anyone to the systemic racism that pervades our country.