Belated Christmas Cheer

For this post, I wanted to share pictures of some of the Christmas decorations I did for our house this year. This is our first Christmas in this house. I feel like I am still getting to know it and still figuring out what looks best where and what the house likes. This was also the first time in about 16 or 17 years that I was able to pull out all the stops and really decorate the heck out of things for Christmas. We decorated in our townhouse in Virginia, but there wasn’t as much room or opportunity for it due to space constraints and how our rooms were laid out in that house. Anyhow … Let’s just say I went a little “extra” this year. I should be ashamed, but I am NOT. (I bet you guys already knew that, right?)

So … let the post of many pics commence!

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Our Christmas tree falls into the category of “early marriage”, so it is about twenty years old. This is the last year we will be using it, as it sheds needles like crazy. Also, it used to be pre-lit, but none of the lights work any longer. We string colored lights on it every year. We found a great place to put it in our family room, and I think this tree is going out on a high note. It definitely makes our family room cozy on these cold and dark Illinois nights.

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We did net lights for the big bushes in front of our house. The funny thing is that we used to have tons of net lights when we lived in Texas. But, after living in Virginia for so long, we ended up giving them all away. We didn’t have anywhere to use them. This means we had to go out and buy brand new net lights this year. Womp-womp. Other than these and a wreath on the front door, we didn’t do much outside decor this year.

We’ve had snow a few times. I think the biggest snowfall so far was around two and a half or three inches. I thought the lights looked pretty under a blanket of snow.

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This was our entryway this year. Our front door opens right up to the back “wall” of our staircase. The stairs descend down into the family room, which is at the end of the hall to the left of this wall as you come into the house.

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This is above the previous picture. You can see this top banister as ¬†you come into the house from the front door. I wrapped it in garland (fake, since I’m allergic to the real stuff) and lights. In our unpacking, I found some large paper lanterns that are star shaped. I didn’t put lights in them, but I hung them from the banister. The lights are pretty in the dark, and the paper stars are pretty in the daylight.

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The bulk of our Christmas decor was in the family room this year. I decorated the library, too, but I didn’t take many pictures of it. This is our mantel. I feel like I don’t have a ton of space for decorations along the top of the mantel because our TV takes up most of the room. I’m not too mad about this, as it’s a pretty fabulous TV. We spend a lot of time together watching movies or Netflix.

I hope to do a little more with the mantel next year, but I stayed kind of simple this year with just a few “Christmas Llamas” — because they crack me up. The silver deer actually stay there all year, but they feel festive, too. I wanted to put something fun and festive into the little vases, but I never figured out what I wanted to do. Next year, I shall tackle this conundrum!

It’s kind of hard to see in this picture, but I used a silver jingle bell garland for the front of the fireplace, topped off with a cranberry wreath, some Santa ornaments, and a “Noel” sign.

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I am enjoying the heck out of our built in bookcases! These are on either side of the fireplace, and I went a little bit overboard with them. I left a lot of the “everyday” stuff in place and tried to put Christmas decorations in and around them. This is the shelf on the left side of the fireplace, closest to the windows into the backyard and the Christmas tree.

Aaaand, a few detailed, up-close photos of the shelves:

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My daughter and I painted these little plaster buildings. We used to paint one each every year to add to our Christmas village. Sadly, I don’t think anyone makes them any longer. It has been a few years since I have been able to find them in stores, so I think our village is destined to remain small.

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Of course, this is a mix of old and new. I’ve had this blue glass ornament for about forever. When we lived in Virginia, I would consistently forget to put it away after the holidays, and it ended up living on the doorknob of my china cabinet. Hopefully, it will make it into the Christmas ornament box this year. The mirror stars are also old. I have had them packed away for ages, and it was fun to rediscover them this year. The little cardinals are new, and so are the round balls I scattered along the shelves.

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This is the shelving on the right side of the fireplace, closest to the double doors that lead into the library. It is harder for me to photograph, because that side of the room is consistently darker.

And, of course, some up-close photos of those shelves.

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The main thing I LOVED on this set of shelves was the little, wooden village. I find it so cute and kind of nostalgic. Parts of it light up with little battery-powered lanterns, and I could have run a string of white lights through the rest of the village. I chose not to fool with doing that this year, but I might next year. This little village was new for this year. We found it during our Thanksgiving trip to Virginia.

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I also love these little birds. They are fun for the holidays, but I like how they just feel “wintery”. I keep my holiday decor up all the way to the end of January, at least. Sometimes, I keep it up even longer than that! I like to have things that can be seasonal as well as festive. I feel like this makes it easier to stretch things out for at least an extra month.

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I’ll finish out with one last photo of the little village my daughter and I painted. It’s slightly out of order, but I wanted to try and show the whole village, because I was happy with how the different levels turned out. I bought new snow this year, and I really liked how fluffy it was. I think it is going to last for next year, too. Bonus!

I bet you guys know what I’m going to say already. Because I feel like I say this ALL THE TIME, and I sound like a broken record. But I’m going to say it, anyhow: December kicked my butt. Yep. Mark another one in the “win” column for Life and the month of December.

I had so many post ideas for the month. I had so much I wanted to say and share around the Christmas holidays. And yet, I did not do any of it. I was a little bit too busy enjoying the season to take time out for blogging. Maybe that can go into my “win” column …??

Whatever the case, we had a pretty good holiday. It was kind of wild and crazy at times, which will (hopefully) be a blog topic in the near future. We traveled a lot, and it was exhausting. Truthfully, I still feel exhausted from all of it. But I had some really great “family time” with my husband and daughter. That makes it worth every bit of feeling tired now.

 

 

Ghosts of Christmas Past (and a bunch of pictures, too!)

As in, just recently past. As expected, Christmas came and went in a whirl of activity. Remember how I posted about dreading our trip to Texas? I dragged my feet like the sulkiest toddler in the park. I dithered over getting things ready for our neighbor to take care of the pups. I dawdled over packing. I complained (to myself, silently — thank goodness!) all the way to the airport. I grumped through security. I pouted at the gate.

And guess what?

It was all for nothing! I was so silly about the entire thing, and it turned out to be a great and fun trip. We saw old friends. We laughed. We made memories. I had a really nice, albeit quick, visit with my parents. Even my mom seemed more upbeat than she has in quite a while. The only downer was that my husband got food poisoning on the last day we were in Austin, so we had to delay our trip to Kerrville for a half day. As bad as that was, he bounced back quickly. I was thankful for that! By the time we were preparing to come back home, he was feeling much better.

So, this is just a short post to give the universe a shout-out and say, “Okay, Universe! You were right! It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. And thanks for the memories.”

It was a good Christmas. And even a good New Year’s Day, too. I hope the same is true for all of you guys. I want to close out the post by showing a few of the pictures I grabbed of our tree and other things over the holiday — here and there.

SOME SCENES FROM HOME:

I thought our tree was particularly lovely this year. This is the second or third year we have used colored lights, and I love their soft and gentle glow. I can’t take any credit for the tree, as my daughter and her friend decorated the whole thing for us. I think this made it even more beautiful and special!

I’ve been trying to get in some extra “play time” with my macro lens. And the tree ornaments were willing subjects. My husband and I just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in October, but we have been together for around 28 years. And we have had some of these ornaments almost that long!

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THE TRIP!!

Of course, I had to grab at least one “on the plane” picture. Unfortunately, I had stashed my camera under the seat in front of me. I didn’t want to dig it out, so I had to make do with my phone camera. Still, I think it turned out okay. We left so early that we got to watch the sun rise as we flew across the sky. Pretty special!

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SOME AUSTIN SIGHTS:

We got to visit some of our old haunts in Austin. Weirdly enough, it happened to be raining during most of our visit. We checked the weather before leaving, and the forecast was for temperatures in the mid to upper 60s and sunny weather. That is not what happened AT ALL! We definitely packed all the wrong clothes. But it worked out okay, in the end.

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AND KERRVILLE, TOO!

I think I have mentioned before that my parents live in a small town in the Hill Country. Kerrville has a population somewhere around 23,000 people. I was really proud of myself that I managed to keep up with exercising on this trip. Of course, I ate a lot of terrible things that I would never eat at home. But that’s okay! It was the holidays! And vacation!!

I love to walk all around Kerrville when I visit. In the Summer, my daughter and I stay with my parents for around a month or month and a half. I generally walk every day, either in the early morning or the evening. It was fun to walk my same route on this trip, in the chilly dampness of a winter morning.

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And, really, that’s all I have for this post! I mostly wanted to touch base about our trip and share some pictures. I have thoughts on the New Year, which I hope to share in a post soon. I would like to get back on a more regular posting schedule with this blog in 2019. So I hope to see you guys again soon!

 

Oh, the Humanity!

It’s cherry blossom time here in my neck of the woods. Last weekend was the peak weekend for our annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Having lived in this area for a number of years, I think my family and I have become a little bit jaded toward the whole blossom explosion. Truly, it is gorgeous, but there are flowering trees everywhere around here. When you see them constantly on your daily drives — and even have one in your front yard — it all starts to be a bit “ho-hum”. Cherry Blossom Festival time stops being something exciting and new and becomes nothing more than a pain in the hoo-hah because of all the tourists flooding the area.

cherry blossoms in the early morning light

This year, for the first time in about eight or nine years, my family and I decided to go into town to see the trees in full bloom. We planned our outing carefully, deciding to get up early so that we could avoid the crowds and get some nice photos with the just-past-sunrise light.

This was a fantastic plan, and I went to bed the night before eagerly anticipating all the amazing photos I would manage to capture. I had visions of deserted sidewalks and softly pinkish-orange light on calm water, which would, of course, give all my photographs a fairy-tale quality that would shock and amaze anyone looking at them. What can I say? I have a vivid imagination. Too bad I can’t manage to use my powers for good.

Our plan wasn’t easy to implement. I think I have mentioned this before, but I am not a morning person. Let me emphasize: Not A Morning Person. At all. So rolling out of bed before 6:30 in the AM took what can only be described as a Herculean effort on my part. But, I told myself, it would be oh-so-worth it when I was at home later in the afternoon, smugly gloating over my incredibly beautiful photographs.

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So, you can imagine my dismay when we got into town only to discover that EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE ENTIRE FREAKING UNIVERSE (!!!), apparently, had the exact same early morning cherry blossom attack plan. There were people everywhere — at 7:00 in the blessed AM, even! I couldn’t believe it, and I felt my dreams of gorgeous pictures fizzle right before my eyes. I think I heard them make a sad, little popping sound as they imploded with my first view of the crowds thronging toward our destination.

I mean, really! Didn’t they all know I’m not a morning person? Didn’t they all realize I had gotten up super early and made a special trip into town just to see the cherry trees and get beautiful pictures of deserted sidewalks and pink-orange light on the calm waters? Yeah … apparently, none of them got the memo. Thanks a lot, Universe.

cherry blossoms reflected in the water

It ended up being a nice walk and a lovely morning. And I got to see much more than I had bargained for when we originally planned this excursion. Sure, deserted sidewalks strewn with fallen cherry petals and the soft light of sunrise on a calm river are beautiful. But they can’t hold a candle to the actual sights and sounds we encountered on our cherry blossom outing.

A funny thing happens when you toss bunches of people together into a small space: Humanity, in all its whacked-out, weirdly beautiful glory. We saw a slice of all of it during our stroll along the river and under the beautifully blooming trees. From the Honor Guard at the memorials … to a little dog wearing a coat and sauntering down the sidewalk like a Boss … to happy couples so in love and taking their engagement photos … to people in traditional Japanese dress, who looked right at home amongst the petals as they drifted to the ground on the gentle breeze … to brides in their veils and white dresses … and, yes, even the pregnant lady sitting on the side of the river taking “pregnant belly” photos, which, I have to admit, made me feel awkward and uncomfortable — mainly because the lighting was all wrong, and I just know those photos are going to be terrible … there was a little bit of everything on display. People were letting it all hang out, as people are wont to do, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and, probably, celebrating the demise of a winter that seemed to drag on for way too long this year.

I felt my spirits lift, just being among them. The carnival atmosphere was contagious and made me happy to be alive and outside enjoying the sunrise and beautiful morning. And I thought to myself: “Yep … It was worth it.”

No deserted sidewalks. No artfully strewn cherry blossom petals. No hushed quiet of the breeze through the trees. No sunrise on calm waters. Just a cacophony of sounds, sights, colors, and crazy, crazy people at every twist and turn. And I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.

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A Wednesday Confession …

Well, it’s still Wednesday here in my little corner of the universe. Barely, but it counts. My mom always loved telling me, “Close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes.” But I beg to differ; I think it counts in blogging, too, particularly when one is trying to get something in under the wire of an arbitrarily determined personal deadline.

Anyhow, I thought I might try something a bit new. I’ve never done a “themed” sort of post, but I follow several blogs that employ this tool to wonderful effect. I figured it might be a fun way to shake things up a bit in the middle of the week, as well as helping me attempt to get posts out more frequently. The ten or so people who read my blog might thank me for that. Then again … perhaps you won’t. It’s hard to say.

So … A Wednesday Confession …

statute with flowersI only like grape jelly. Oh yeah, I know. Shocking, right? I think I just heard at least a couple of you guys scream in fear and run from the room in order to escape your computer monitors. Little do you know that my words will follow you … Everywhere. (not really)

Here’s the thing: I have only liked grape jelly from my earliest childhood. When first faced with the decision as to what jelly I should eat, I selected grape. And grape it has been, ever since. This was rather a big deal in my growing-up years, as I come from people who either can their own jellies, jams, and preserves or have ready access to (free) homemade jellies, jams, and preserves. We were not a rich family. And yet, since I subsisted almost entirely on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for most of my childhood, my poor parents were forced to purchase grape jelly from the grocery store. Because, of course, no one we knew had a vineyard. Or even a grape vine.

As I grew older, I toyed with other flavors. I tried marmalades and different types of preserves. I tried “normal” flavors, like strawberry, and I even headed over to the exotics for a taste of fig or quince. I won’t lie. I liked some of them. I particularly like fig jelly with the right type of cheese and cracker combo. But I always came back to grape. And, like a lovely memory from my childhood, grape jelly was always there, ready to welcome me back with open arms. It wasn’t that I felt I had been unfaithful to grape. It’s more that my foray into the more adventurous world of jelly-dom deepened my devotion to my childhood favorite. Which is pretty odd, considering I don’t particularly enjoy eating grapes. And I don’t like grape juice, either. What can I say? I’m a complicatedly simple sort of person.

grapes in a vineyard in californiaIn some ways, I feel I have failed at becoming a true adult. I think adults branch out more. They might even do something as insane as eat strawberry jam on their toast. Whereas I remain firmly rooted in the habits of my past. And yet, each time I reach for the Welch’s Grape Jelly, I can’t find it in myself to regret my choices.

So there you have it. My name is Pish … and I like grape.

 

 

The Ice Cometh …

So, how does that Christmas carol go? Something about, “Gone away is the bluebird … Here to stay is a new bird …”

One of my Well, I can tell you one thing, for sure: If the bluebird had been around yesterday, she would have been coated in ice.

So the snow from my last post faded away into oblivion. Did it, as expected, leave behind mud? Or grungy-gray slush? Oh no! Not this snow. This little snowstorm, apparently, had its “big girl pants” on, because our minuscule bit of snow melted away into ice. Not only that, but it brought along wind and freezing rain in order to put on one glorious show.

faded rose blossom covered in ice. dec 2013Yesterday morning, my hubby told me I should get up early-ish (if left to my own devices, I will choose to sleep in, every time), because there was “some ice out there”. He thought I might enjoy the photo opportunities. I have to admit I was more than a little bit grumbly about having to roust myself out of my warm and snuggly bed at the inhumanely awful time of 8:30 in the AM. (Yes, I am being a bit sarcastic there. This is an early time for me, but I realize it is not for most of the normal people out there in the world.) I thought to myself, “Why the heck am I bothering with this? It’s just a little bit of ice. What’s the big deal?”

icy trees and sidewalk in my neighborhood. dec 2013I was not mentally prepared for what I would see once I stepped outside my house. “Awe” seems so cliche and silly, but it is an apt description. Nearly every surface within view was coated in a thin sheet of ice. The early(ish) morning sunlight, although weak from filtering through heavy cloud cover, hit the high spots and seemed to sparkle and twinkle off the glassy coating. Each tree branch looked as if it had been dipped right into the stuff. They hung low and heavy toward the ground, burdened by the extra weight of their beauty. The last of the fall roses hadn’t escaped. Each one wore a new, shining decoration, as if Mother Nature had decided to ¬†preserve each delicate blossom for us to enjoy through winter months that tend to be filled with brown and gray.

brown leaves in ice. dec 2013There is something eerie and unsettling about an ice-bound landscape. There is no noise. The birds and the squirrels are all hiding away, tucked in safe and warm, so the familiar, lilting songs and the rustle of the leaves are missing. It’s funny how familiar noises seem to make a hole in the world when they are no longer there. I hear the squirrels chasing each other through the leaves pretty much every single day; I get to the point where I almost don’t notice it at all. But then, when it’s not there … Well, the world is no longer complete. There might be a breeze, but the trees don’t bend and sway to its rhythm. They are too heavy and brittle. And so, everything seems still — but not a peaceful kind of stillness. This is more tense, as if the world all around me is waiting for something to happen. As if everything has paused to watch and wait for whatever comes next, and none of us know what that thing might be. It’s only when the breeze kicks up into a genuine wind that the trees move. Then, there is sound: the clicking of ice-bound branches as they strike against each other. It’s a small kind of music.

my mums in ice. dec 2013Today, there was more snow. It settled on the ground in fluffy drifts, softening the glistening, unforgiving brilliance of the ice. As the temperatures rose, it began to melt. Of course, the ice melted, too. Our streets are clear now, and this second round of snow has already turned to slushy mud in my yard and at the corners of the curbs.

All of which, of course, means that I have to return to the real world tomorrow. There will be muddy dog prints in the entry way and muddy boot prints on the carpet. There will be worries over how I will accomplish all the things I must do within the stingy amount of time allotted for them. I will wonder what to make for dinner. I will wish I didn’t have to cook dinner at all. I will go to the grocery store and on a field trip with my daughter. I will have to tackle cleaning out my over-stuffed office, because, apparently, the house-cleaning fairies are on strike this month. I will hate every second of it. I will put gas in my car. Everything will return to the comforting mundanity in which I live on a daily basis — in which we all live on a daily basis.

red berries in ice. dec 2013But, underneath all of that, I will remember that, for one magical moment, I stepped outside my house and walked through an entire world made of glass. When the boring reality of my life eats away at me and I want to scream out of frustration, I can close my eyes and see all of it there, right in my mind. I can remember the clicking of the tree branches and the way all the colors seemed brighter and more real than ever before. And I will know that, if we look hard enough, even “normal” can be something pretty special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Then … I Paused

We had our first “snow day” today. I suppose it’s really more of a snow/sleet/freezing rain kind of day, but whatever. Snow fell out of the sky, so, for this winter junkie, it totally counts!

I get stupidly excited about snow. I’m not sure why, but it seems to grab hold of that little kid who lives deep down inside of me somewhere. I usually keep her hidden, but snowy days drag her out into the light, where she promptly starts squealing in excitement and dreaming of making snowmen.

My truck  yard light, covered in the first snow of the winter. Dec. 8, 2013

 

I suppose it’s terribly cliche of me, but I think the thing I like most about the snow is how quiet it is. I love to watch the flakes fall from the sky, drifting and twisting on the slightest breeze. They seem so fragile and delicate, and, yet, they obliterate everything in their path, turning even the most rank and disgusting things into something new and beautiful. A surreal landscape decorated with the winking sparkle of nature’s diamonds.

There is something peaceful about it. So often, life is too much. It’s too busy, and it moves too quickly. It’s full of people who are grumpy and rude, or, even, just plain cruel. It seems we are all crammed up against each other and all fighting, tooth and nail, for the same little tidbits life tosses at us. We all want the same parking space … or the last item on the shelf … or to be first in line … or to get home faster than anyone around us … or to make sure we’re the ones the world notices, that everyone knows we are the ones who count. We scratch and claw and honk and spit at each other, until life comes to resemble one of those ridiculous Black Friday videos that go viral, showing two ridiculous people punching each other over who should get the cheapest crappy TV set.

My neighbor's rose, covered in the first snow of the winter. Dec. 8, 2013

I often feel overwhelmed by life and by this place where I live. I long for a quieter, simpler life — perhaps in a smaller town — and I find myself ending most days feeling a bit shell-shocked and beaten up by those around me. But, as the first snowflakes tumble to earth, I hold my breath in anticipation. It feels like, all around me, the entire world does the same, as if my universe decided, just at that moment, to step off the tilt-a-whirl for a little while. The very air around me feels heavy with expectation and the deliciously painful struggle of waiting for the change that, soon, will come.

I stand at my window and watch as the familiar view in front of my house shifts and changes. The curbing around the flower beds disappears. The metal bird beneath my cherry tree becomes some new and mysterious beast. My beloved roses go into hiding beneath a blanket of fluffy white.

I listen as the sounds change, too. The rumble of the train deepens as it rolls over tracks laden with snow. The sounds of people honking at each other on the highway seem more distant, and I can even begin to believe they no longer exist. The sounds of traffic on the street in front of my house fades away, replaced by the quietly comforting shush of tires against a snowy street.

my azalea bush, covered in the first snow of winter. dec. 8, 2013Tomorrow will probably bring a return to normality. It might herald the pressing rush of trying to accomplish all the things I didn’t manage to do today, as well as all the things I am supposed to do tomorrow. It might bring with it gray skies full of rain, a muddy yard, and the smell of wet dog all over my house. And that’s all right. I suppose tomorrow is going to have to take care of itself.

For today, there is peace. And quiet. And space to breathe. And that’s enough.

 

Pandora’s Box

Where does a person find “confidence”? Is it something we learn to have (or not have) throughout our childhood? Is it something with which some people are born? What is it that makes one person able to stand at the top of a mountain and shout out: “Hey world! Look over here. It’s me! I’m fantastic!!”, while another person can hardly manage to whisper her good qualities out loud in the privacy of her own room.

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot this evening. I had my piano lesson today, and my teacher told me I am making wonderful progress. In particular, there was a piece I had worked hard at over the past couple of weeks, and he told me I played it beautifully. He said the main thing I needed to work on was having more confidence when playing. When I came home, my husband asked how the lesson went, and I told him what my teacher said — you know, that thing about confidence. My husband shook his head sadly and said I needed more confidence in most aspects of my life, not just in playing the piano.

piano keyboardI wish I could disagree, but I can’t. My husband knows me better than anyone, and he still loves me. This means I have to respect his opinion, and I have to be brave enough to admit when he is right. In this instance, he is absolutely right. I do not have confidence. I have a habit of going on the defensive, even when it’s not necessary. I tend to apologize for things I’ve done wrong before they even happen. I feel flustered and overly upset when I make a mistake. The same things I would excuse or overlook for another person become akin to capital offenses when I do them. I don’t believe in myself. I never have.

Where do you guys find confidence? What gives you the courage to send your words or art or thoughts or dreams out there, into the world? What makes you able to stand on top of that mountain and holler, “Hey world! Over here! Look at me, because I’m awesome!”

I don’t want to be obnoxious. I don’t want to be the center of attention — not even for the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame to which all of us are supposed to be entitled. I just want to like myself. I just want to believe in myself. I just want to see myself for the funny, goofy, slightly off-kilter (but in a good way), creative, nice, loving, beloved person I am. I know that person is in here, somewhere. It’s just that, when I look in the mirror, I can’t see her through the doubts and the criticisms and the self-hate.

two-colored roseSometimes, I imagine Pandora, standing there holding her empty box. And, as she looks down into it, she finds not only Hope left over, but Confidence, too. Maybe, if ask nicely, she’ll save a little bit of that for me.

 

 

Little Victories

Today, I am celebrating the “little victories” in life. Sometimes, life can run us over, use us up, hunt us down, and, in general, leave us feeling like something the cat dragged in … ate … and, then, barfed up onto the rug. I’m not proud to say I’m all too familiar with that side of life. The past two or three years have been rough ones for me, mostly because of depression, but also because I’ve felt unmooored. Lost and wandering, with no safe place to land. It’s hard when your internal and external lives are both chaotic, leaving you feeling as if you have no way to turn — no set direction in which to go, and no way to get there, even if you did.

hubby's reflection in a window, parking lot behind.

 

My creative life and, in particular, my writing, were hard hit by these emotional and mental struggles. “Hard hit” is a rather gargantuan understatement. Things pretty much ground to a halt. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t create. And I didn’t have the energy to care about any of it all that much. But, underneath, I felt myself dying a little bit more each day. A little bit of whatever it was that made me “me” slipping away with each lost word and unfinished project. I told myself it didn’t hurt. I told myself none of it mattered. I told myself writing wasn’t for me, so I was better off. I told myself … well, lots of things.

These were all lies. Were they good lies? Were they necessary lies? Were they bad lies? I don’t know. At this point, I don’t particularly care, because I feel just recognizing them as the lies that they are is a big step forward for me. Little victory number 1 — and a hard-fought battle.

bethlehem chapel: national cathedralLittle by little, I feel my spirit and my burden becoming lighter — still there, but easier to carry. Perhaps this is because I now have a place to go, where there are loving arms that will always welcome me, and where, at last, I can see I have worth. If you’ve lived a “normal” sort of life, you probably can’t understand the power of realizing, finally, that you are a person worthy of love and respect. I can’t explain it, but, even now, just in typing these words, the power of the emotions I feel threatens to overwhelm me. For perhaps the first time in my life, I know I am real. I know I am good, even if I struggle. I know I am worthy of love and respect. Little victory number 2 … although, really, it’s an enormous, earth-shattering victory. Even so, my pedantic nature forces me to cling to the theme for this post.

butterfly, bishop's garden: national cathedralAll of which brings me to my final “little victory”, which happened today. After two and a half (or three? yikes!) years of begging, bribing, threatening, and sobbing in heartache, I sat down today to write … and I managed to get my character across the street and into a tavern. I know. It doesn’t sound like much, but, for me, we’re talking about the literary equivalent of swimming the Atlantic Ocean. Without floaties.

This doesn’t mean the hard times are over and done. My depression is always there, lurking around in the background, whispering to some part or other of my brain when I’m not looking. And I don’t know if I’ll always have the words I need when I need them. Tomorrow might find me pulling my hair out in frustration and weeping as I stare at the ceiling and wonder, “Why?!? Why?!?” For today, though, the words were there. And that’s good enough for me.

Little victories: I’ll take as many as I can get.

 

 

If a Writer has Nothing to Say …

And she trips over a fallen tree while running through the forest in order to escape her muses … Can you still hear the clacking of her keyboard?

farm somewhere in pennsylvaniaOr … something like that.

And so, I find myself sitting here in front of my computer, full of the desire to feel the keys of my keyboard bucking and jumping beneath my fingers, but sadly bereft of any original ideas. Even entertaining words with which I could express my unoriginal ideas would be all right. It’s not the ideal, mind you, but it is something. Something is a whole lot better than “nothing”. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can summon up the words for my unoriginal ideas, either. Which sucks.

In contrast to a few days ago, when I found myself nearly giddy with the prospect and promise of a “perfect” day, I fear I have ended up in the doldrums of life today. I am grumpy and unsettled — restless … and annoyed, too — although I can’t say exactly WHY I feel this way. And, in spite of my excitement and happiness over the coming of a new school year, I am finding slipping back into the normal “routine” of life much more difficult than I expected. I want to do so many things. I have so many ideas. But I feel unmotivated and exhausted.

It’s okay. The doldrums happen, right? They happen to all of us, and they will pass. Doesn’t make it fun to be stuck there for any length of time, but it won’t last forever. At least … that’s what I keep telling myself. At the moment, I’m not sure I believe it. I rather relish the idea of finding my “positive self” and socking her in the nose or something. Perhaps that’s too harsh. Maybe I would just put glue in her her hair or call her names behind her back.

giant windmill / turbine thingies in pennsylvaniaThis evening, I’ve been thinking about that old adage that I’m sure all of us have heard about a million times: “Write what you know.” Specifically, I was remembering a time when I shyly confessed to someone close to me my ambitions to be a writer. I told them I was working on a book, even. I had never, ever confessed this to anyone else in my whole, entire life. Never. Ever. Ever. This person seemed interested, and they asked me to tell them about my story. I excitedly told them all about how it was a fantasy novel, with a world-hopping protagonist and his Viking-inspired bodyguard / friend, and how they worked for this entity they couldn’t quite trust but also couldn’t quite escape. I went into great detail, as this was back when my story was still new, and I was still excited about the whole thing. At the end of it all, my relative frowned at me and grunted in derision, saying, “Why do you write crap like that? You should write something you know.”

some little town in pennsylvaniaAnd you know what? Here I am, years later, still struggling to bring that idea — the very one my dear relative slammed — into being. I have a first draft, but there’s just so much MORE to the story. It has morphed and changed over time. My characters have changed, too. They’ve grown and matured, just as I have grown and matured. But … I don’t know. I believe in this story. I really, really do. I think it has legs … and teeth. It darn sure won’t let me go. At the same time, I have to be honest and say doubt has crept in to sully the whole process.

What do I know? What am I doing trying to write a story like this, instead of something more familiar? What if I’m wasting my time and effort? What if I’m wrong about this story and about these characters? What if I can never finish this stupid story, so that I’m stuck with these characters rattling around in my brain, talking to me and demanding free pie, for the rest of my life — until I slowly go (even more) insane?

I know. It sounds ridiculous. Laughable, even. But doubts are like that. They are insidious and, even if you can laugh them off as goofy when they first occur, they tend to hang in there. Until, finally, you’ve had enough, and they start to look like Truth.

weathered, red barn in pennsylvaniaHere’s the thing: Behind all those doubts, there is a sliver of true fear. And it is this: What if I don’t know anything? Sometimes, I wonder if my life and past have to be tortured and difficult in order to make me a good, relatable, or moving writer. And I tell myself that, if this is the case, I’m out of luck. Because my life hasn’t been hard. Or painful. Or difficult. Or any of those things. I’ve never been tortured.

And yet … truth is a funny thing. When you think about it objectively, you get the idea that it’s only one thing. It’s “The Truth”, and that’s that. I don’t think life is like that. And I don’t think truth is like that, either. It’s like an onion. You painfully pull back the layers of your thoughts and your memories and your life, crying the whole time and wishing this wasn’t something you had to do in order to get things cooking.

My life has been painful. And difficult. Growing up wasn’t easy, and I’ve done many, many things I wish I hadn’t. I’ve given up bits and pieces of myself in order to make others happy, only to find, in the end, that this was something beyond my power. I’ve towed the line my whole, entire life, trying my best to be “perfect” and “good” … to do things exactly as the people around me wanted … only to realize I would never, ever be good enough. I’ve lost things and people who mattered to me. I’ve been kicked around and hated and vilified by people I thought I loved. I’ve had to face up to being a disappointment and a failure in my own eyes.

little pennsylvania town

 

These are the things I know: Love hurts — a lot. You can never live your life in a way so that it counts for two people. You can love someone and not like them all that much. It hurts when you don’t belong. Most of the time, it’s best to keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself — until the depression sets in and you can’t do that any more. There are things in life that are beyond understanding. And, once time has done a thing, it’s not possible to go back and undo it. You don’t get a “do over”. Sometimes, the truth hurts, too — enough so that it’s better and kinder to live a lie.

But I can’t write about these things. They are still too painful and too close. And I’m afraid of hurting people I love, because they wouldn’t understand. At the same time, truths need to come out before healing can happen. So I couch the tale in fantasy terms, with a hero who is flawed but trying his best, a demanding outside influence he can never please, and a family that will desert him, in the end.

farm with silos, pennsylvaniaWhich brings me back to …

If a writer has nothing to say, and no words with which to say it … And she trips over a fallen tree while running through the forest in order to escape her muses … Can you still hear the clacking of her keyboard? Can you still hear her scream?

 

 

 

 

Summer’s Sweet Revenge

I suppose Summer read my post yesterday about how I was so looking forward to the coming of Fall. It would seem she is the jealous sort, because she has managed to take her revenge out on me in quite a handy manner. It appears I have caught a “summer cold”. (I am hearing very dramatic music in my head as I type this. Sort of like: “summer cold” — dun … dun … duuuuuuun!)

some bird houses with red roofsThere’s something extra pathetic and whiny about the summer cold. It truly is a fearsome and unpleasant beast. I can’t think of many things less fun than being stuck in bed while your friends are posting pictures of themselves at the pool or out camping or picnicking or partaking in other fun, summery activities. Truthfully, I don’t even like the pool, but the summer cold renders me even more whiny and pitiful than usual. When I see pool pictures, I find myself wheezing in my saddest nasally voice: “The pooool! No fair. I wanna be at the pool.” Inevitably, my husband will remind me how much I dislike the pool, to which I am forced to reply, “That’s not the point. You don’t get anything.” And then, he will wander away looking confused, leaving me to rumple around in my twisted up sheets and comforter as I grumble about all the things I’m missing because I am sick.

hydrangeasThe truth is — and I think I can admit this here, within the safe confines of my blog — I am not a pleasant sick person. I pretty much feel as icky as I look, and I tend to feel very dramatic about the whole ordeal. As if the universe is out to get me or something. Or, perhaps, it’s just Summer, trying to shut me up about how fantastic Fall is. I can hear her cackling right now. The witch.

I don’t like people hovering when I am sick. I pretty much want to be left alone to sulk and sleep and die in peace in my own bed. If someone comes in to check and finds my body cold and still, they are allowed to call for help. Until then, just hop to when I ask for something and stay out of my way. This has been a bit of a struggle today, as my mom is visiting, and she is a hovering sort. She keeps asking if I need things, and she wants to hug on me, too. I’m not ungrateful. My mom is lovely, and I appreciate that she loves me and wants to show her concern. At the same time, I am allergic to her hair spray and perfume, which just makes it harder to breathe. I can’t tell her this without hurting her feelings, so I just do my best to wheeze my way through it.

After a rather exhausting bout of dinner, I managed to slink away upstairs. I wallowed in my bed for a bit, and, now, I am sitting here in my dark office. I feel a bit like a dog that has retreated to the safety of its den. I could probably even manage a growl or two, if I tried. Why is the dark so darn comforting when one isn’t feeling their best?

floaties: cape codOne of the things I like best about being sick — once I can get people to leave me alone, that is — is how it gives me a chance to play hooky from my every day life. A day spent lounging in bed, reading or watching a movie? No problem! You’re sick. And so, I’ve stocked up with stacks of books on my nightstand in preparation for tomorrow. Hopefully, Summer’s revenge will be short … but not too short! After all, I’ve got some juicy reading to catch up on. Perhaps I’ll even manage a grumble or a groan every so often, just so folks will know I’m still alive.