2 AM & the Drink of the Gods

It’s 2 AM, and here I am … typing up a blog post for which I have no concrete plan or outline. It has been a long day, and I am tired. For that matter, I’m still tired from our Hawaii trip and the Texas trip. I don’t want to admit this to myself, but I might be getting old. No … surely, it’s not that. It must be something else. You know, like the weather. Or the government. Yes, that’s it. I’m sure it’s the government’s fault. Somehow.

Why am I up at 2 AM, you ask? Or, perhaps you didn’t. But I’m going to tell you, anyhow. I had some bubble tea, which usually wouldn’t bother me at all. Except, I drank it at around 10 PM. “I know I’m not going to sleep at all,” I said to myself as I imbibed the drink of the gods. The bubbles were fresh and the perfect consistency, too. And they put just the right amount of ice (which, when it comes to bubble tea, is almost none).

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So I told myself to look on the bright side of the whole situation. I mean, what’s done is done. My husband had already bought the tea. It would have been churlish of me not to drink it. Even worse, it would have been a waste of perfectly lovely tea! It’s not like I can go back in time and not drink it. Or drink it earlier in the day, when it wouldn’t matter. Instead of having regrets over my near-sleepless night, I decided I would be wildly productive, instead. While my family was slumbering, I would get so much writing done. It would be amazing. Amazing, I tell you! How could it be anything but? After all, this nighttime interlude is fueled by the drink of the gods.

Here’s the thing: Once one reaches a certain age, it is nearly impossible to be truly productive at 2AM. I am not sure when that age is, and perhaps it varies from person to person. For me, it was around age 34, because that’s when I became a mom. Once you become a parent, you really can’t avoid that whole “adulting” situation. Things need to be done. Errands have to happen. People must be fed. And all of these things, in general, happen in the daytime. From what I can tell, about 99% of adulting occurs in the daytime, with a good deal of it seeming to happen in the wee hours of the morning. (As in, before 10AM.) If you know you are required to adult but you are awake at 2AM, you end up sitting around thinking about nothing other than the fact that it’s 2 AM, you are still awake, and, thus, will be unfit for any adulting activities that may be required the next day. Or, later on during this day. Or … something like that.

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Which brings me back full-circle, to me … awake at 2AM and most definitely NOT adulting in any way, shape, or form. But you know what? I don’t regret the bubble tea at all. Such is the siren song of the drink of the gods. I would do it all again, if I had the chance. And, really, I might. Because I’m going to need something to keep me awake tomorrow! (Or later today. Or … something.)

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The End of Summer

Today is the last day of Summer. Not officially, according to the calendar. And I’m sure the hot weather is going to hang around for a while yet. But, according to the powers-that-be in my daughter’s school system, Summer is kaput. Tomorrow, she starts band camp, and, from there, it’s a quick downhill slide into the school year. It feels like Summer was over before it even began. I am sitting in my parents’ sunny kitchen, frantically typing out this post when I should be doing some last minute packing. In a few hours, my daughter and I will head to the airport, and then, we will wing our way home.

It’s been a good Summer. Busy and full of travel, but also good. I haven’t blogged at all about Maui yet, as I only had a week of downtime in between trips. That week was taken up with appointments and other miscellaneous things that have to happen when one is forced to “adult” for a living. But the Maui trip was a good trip. We reconnected with family we seldom see. We laughed and met new family members, in the form of our new little niece and nephew. We saw spectacular things. We made memories to last a lifetime.

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Kerrville, Texas isn’t nearly as exciting as Maui. I can admit this. There’s not much to see. There’s not much to do. Life is quiet here, and a little bit slow-moving. I don’t think it qualifies as a tourist destination in the least. And yet … There is something about this place that I love. I’m sure it’s not the town, in particular, that captures my heart. It is because my parents live here. But it’s also because I miss my beloved Texas so much. It’s the place where I am from. I don’t know how to explain it any better than that.

It’s not necessarily an easy trip in terms of the personalities involved. My daughter is sometimes snarky, as are most teenagers. She also has a tendency toward sarcasm, which I think she inherited from her father … and, possibly, me. My parents are getting on in years, and they are kind of cranky and grumpy. I honestly don’t know if all elderly people are like this. But my elderly people are. They have aches and pains. And they complain a lot about things they can’t control. News Flash: None of us has control over anything. But I wonder if, maybe, you get to a certain age and you feel like you should have control over at least one little thing in your life. I don’t know. My mom also takes things a little too much to heart at times. She gets offended easily and takes joking as being serious. She has always been this way, but it sometimes makes for a touchy situation at the casa.

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Even so, life is relaxing here. It is calm and peaceful. It is the perfect place to sometimes listen to one’s thoughts and to reconnect with a daughter who is becoming an adult right in front of my eyes. In three years, my daughter will be done with high school. I say the words out loud, and I can’t believe they are true. She will leave me in three years. Guys … that’s not a lot of time. It’s really not.

The weather was overly hot this time, so we didn’t get to walk every evening. But we managed it when we could. And that was okay. My daughter and I laughed and told inside jokes. We hunted Pokemon together. We sat quietly at times, each of us reading at different ends of the kitchen table. We talked about hopes and dreams and fears — you know, the BIG conversations. But we had lots of small conversations, too. We went to the movies together. We played a favorite board game with my mom almost every evening. And we all laughed and teased and got loud and rowdy. In short, we had fun. We made memories.

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I feel bittersweet and nostalgic about the ending of Summer this year. Usually, I am already looking forward in terms of planning the upcoming school year and figuring out how to get everyone into their normal routines and schedules. This year, there hasn’t been any of that. I haven’t looked at school supplies or tried to figure out what my daughter might need to start the new school year. I feel much more chill about that whole aspect. Last year, she didn’t have supply lists until the end of the first week of school. Or, maybe it’s more that I’m in no hurry for any of it to happen. In my heart, I feel like I am hanging on with my last shred of strength and dignity to this beautifully sweet and bitter Summer. My parents are getting older. My dad is 87. My mom is 81. My aunts are both gone. My uncles are both in bad health, and so is my brother. Part of me wonders how many summers I will have left to come here and walk the sidewalks of Kerrville in the evenings and look at the deer and tell jokes with my parents and play Pokemon Go with my daughter. Even though there has been a lot of bitter in with the sweet, today I am looking at the sweet parts of it all and thinking, “Yeah. This is all right.”

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I am heading back to a dirty house and a near future that feels uncertain and a little bit scary because of my husband’s work situation. School is coming. Busy schedules and family drama are coming. Feeling rushed and panicked and like there is too much to do is coming. I hope snow is coming, too. I love snow. And winter. But through it all, I will have my memories from this Texas trip. And the sound of laughter ringing through my imagination. And you know what? I think that is pretty good.

Out of Step

Do you ever feel like you are completely out of step with the rest of the world? I’m sure everyone feels like that from time to time. It seems to me a perfectly human way to feel. I feel like this a LOT. Usually, I can brush it off and ignore it enough to continue about my day with my normal amount of zany weirdness. But there are times when I become so aware of my out-of-stepness that I can’t ignore it. It sneaks up on me at the oddest moments, and brings with it an almost physical pain laced with a longing that is all too familiar. It’s a weird feeling — almost like stepping outside of yourself for a moment. One moment, you are sitting there, minding your own business and living your internal sort of life. And the next, you are standing there, right next to yourself, looking in surprise at … well “you”. It brings reality into sharp-edged focus in a way that is singularly disconcerting.

This happened to me not that long ago, as my daughter and I were sitting down to breakfast at a favorite restaurant. We had gotten up early that morning for an appointment. My daughter recently got her braces off, and we had to go into the dentist’s office that morning so the techs could make her permanent retainer. We decided to grab a little breakfast while waiting for the retainer to be completed. I hadn’t slept well the night before. My allergies were bothering me more than usual, and I had been up most of the night not feeling well at all. I am NOT a morning person, even on the best of days, but this day was particularly bad. I felt horrible. And grumpy. And yucky. My hair was a mess. I had on an old t-shirt and an even older pair of yoga pants, because I had been running late that morning. These were the first clothes I could grab. I had no makeup, although I seldom wear makeup. I had forgotten my glasses and only had my sunglasses to wear so that I could see the world. My eyes were swollen and puffy from lack of sleep and allergies. I had dark circles under them, and I couldn’t breathe. Basically, I felt like my entire body and soul had been coated in slime. I was sitting at our table, slumped over a glass of iced tea and feeling really pretty awful about the world, and I kept seeing these cheerful families walking by. Whole families of morning people, joking and laughing and smiling and having a great time. And, just like that … it hit me.

These are not my people.

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I wish they were. I wish I was one of them: a person who goes to bed on time and gets up early in the morning with a smile on my face. I wish I was a person who looked forward to the coming of each new day with anticipation and excitement and fun in my heart. I wish I was always turned out and put together perfectly: makeup on my face, cute outfit, hair done and in place, matching shoes. I grew up striving for this ideal of “perfection”. I grew up being told this is what I should want. I should be pleasing to those around me. When people look at me, they should see things that are socially accepted and expected. The face should always be done. The hair should always be done and perfect. The nails should always be done, in an appropriate color and with no chips. The outfit should always be cute — not cute to me alone, but socially acceptably cute. The shoes should always match, and they must be socially acceptable as “girly” / feminine shoes. This means high heels. There should always be a smile on my face, even if my feet hurt.

I’m not any of those things. I’m not girly. Although both my husband and daughter think I am (thank you, God!), I am not particularly pretty. I hate clothes. I hate the whole process of shopping for them and mixing and matching them into different outfits that use all the same pieces but look completely different so that no one will know I only own three skirts. (I really, actually only own, like, three skirts. But I only like one of them. So I wear that same one over and over again.) I would walk around wearing a garbage bag with holes cut out for my arms and head, if I didn’t think it would get me arrested for public indecency. Now that I no longer work in an office setting, I am strictly a t-shirt and jeans or yoga pants kind of gal. I fail at hair, so mine is generally messy. I can’t fix it so that it looks nice, no mater how many times I try. And it’s blue — well, mostly blue, but with some purple and green tossed into the mix. My clothes are wrinkled and look as if I slept in them. Sometimes, this is actually true. My shoes don’t coordinate with any kind of “pretty” or “girly” outfit. I only own 3 or 4 pairs of shoes, to begin with. I used to have more, but my feet grew after I got pregnant.

I am scoring big on the nails, though. The rest of me might be a hot mess, but my nails always look good. I feel I should give myself points for that.

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I never get enough sleep. I plan to go to bed early. I have the best of intentions, but it never works out. I get distracted. Or I hit productive creative streaks late at night. This means I never get up early, given the choice. I am never willingly up at the crack of dawn  and looking forward to a productive morning. I seldom see “morning”. For me, “morning” starts around 10:30, which is practically lunch time for most people. I am never happy to face a new day. In general, I am hung-over and groggy from too little sleep. And I look it, too. I can admit this. It hurts, but I can admit it.

So I wonder, sometimes, what my goal in life should be. Should I be longing, even in a subconscious way, to be more in step with the rest of the world? My husband thinks I should be. My parents think I should be. I know it sounds weak and a little bit lame as I type it out here, but I have tried to be this way. I have tried to change so that I can be the way those around me want me to be. I have tried to change so they will be proud of me and happy with the person that I am. Is this me, trying to gain acceptance and love? I’m sitting here thinking about it, and I think … yeah, that’s probably what it is. I’ve tried so hard to be someone else — anyone else — just so I won’t be “me”.

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But isn’t it kind of stupid to continue trying, only to fail miserably every time? Each time I realize this is not who I am, I feel a sense of utter failure. I feel bad about who I am. I feel bad that I am not normal or conventional or creative in the proper ways. I just feel … bad. It doesn’t sound like enough to describe the true depth of how I feel, but it’s the only word that comes readily to mind. How many times do I have to bang my head against the same wall before I realize all I’m going to have at the end is a headache?

Maybe, instead, I should try harder to focus on the person I am. Maybe I should try harder to learn to love her. Maybe I should look at her, in her t-shirt and her slightly ratty yoga pants, and think, “She is a great gal. She is smart and creative and not afraid to live her own life.” And, if I think this enough times, maybe one day it will sink in. And then, it will be true. I won’t be afraid to live my own life and be who I am. I won’t feel out of step with the rest of the world. Instead, I will feel perfectly and beautifully in step with ME.

A Rough Flight & The Kindness of Strangers

When we last met, I was (rather unhappily) preparing to wing my way to Hawai’i with my family. Oh, how I hate to travel. I like going to new places, having new experiences, and making great memories. But I hate the mechanics of getting there. I hate it with a passion. I keep telling myself to roll with the flow, or whatever, but I am not sure I will ever learn to do that. The whole act of traveling from Point A to Point B is stressful and overwhelming, especially when going by plane. We are three days into our trip now (well, 2.5, technically), and I am far enough removed from our airport experience to say it was worth it. It has been a fun and relaxed trip so far. In fact, I have thought of so many things I want to blog. But I have been too busy living and enjoying my family to take the time for it! Now, that’s a good vacation!

This afternoon, my husband and daughter are at the beach, enjoying sand and sun and ocean waves. I begged off, since I have little to no interest in going into the water. And I am just about the whitest person I know — literally. I am so fair-skinned I could almost be invisible. Hours in the sun are not a great idea for me, even if I slather on the extra-heavy sunblock. And so, it seemed like the perfect time to sit down and blog a little.

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So … Let’s start where any good adventure story must: in the beginning, with planes, trains, and automobiles. Remember how I said life would be grand if I could figure out a way to drive to Hawai’i? If that underwater car or a personal submarine ever becomes a thing, sign me up! Because our trip might have been a lot smoother if we had used some other mode of transportation. Sadly, Hawai’i is surrounded by water. Islands tend to be that way, after all. Right? So our travel choice was by plane. The first leg of our trip left at o’dark-thirty. We got up around 3 AM so we could leave home by 3:45 and get to the airport two hours ahead of our 6:30 AM flight. My husband thinks I’m insane because I have to be at the airport 2 hours ahead of my flight. It’s not just a suggestion with me. It’s a compulsion. I have so much anxiety and dread over going through airport security and getting scanned and talking to strangers that I need to have the mental luxury of knowing I have lots of time in which to accomplish this entire process.

We did the trip in two legs: Dulles to Chicago O’Hare. And then Chicago to Maui, which was our final destination. The first part was a little under 2 hours. The second part was a little over 8 hours. And all ten hours was pure, hellish torture.

Remember how I mentioned my daughter has strep? We got the diagnosis and her antibiotics on Thursday afternoon. We left home on Friday morning — way, way, way early on Friday morning. Even so, she had two doses of medication, and we knew she wasn’t contagious. I was worried about her flying with a lot of congestion, but her doctor told me it was okay for us to go on the plane. Keep in mind her doctor didn’t diagnose her with a sinus infection or anything like that. Initially, they told us to do the saline rinse and antihistamines for congestion. After the strep test came back positive, they prescribed the antibiotics. Which is fine. I’m not complaining about this at all. I am happy for my daughter to have as few doses of antibiotic as possible and only when absolutely necessary.

The problem is that, while the antibiotics went to work on any bacterial infection in her system and her throat calmed down, her congestion just got worse. And worse. And then, we added in a pressurized airplane cabin and all the air pressure changes from going up and down and maintaining cruising altitude. It was horrible. There’s no easier way to say it. It was just horrible. Things started out okay, but once our Chicago flight reached cruising altitude, the pressure built up and up in my daughter’s sinuses and ears, until it felt like her head was going to explode. She was in so much pain. She was in tears because it hurt so badly. I haven’t seen her in this much pain on a flight since she was a little baby. It tore me up, especially since there was very little I could do. When we landed at Chicago, we had a 2-hour layover. We were able to eat and get her some decongestant, and she felt a lot better. I breathed a silent sigh of relief that, maybe, the worst was over.

It wasn’t. Because the same thing happened on the Chicago to Maui leg of the trip. Only this time, she was in unrelenting pain for 8 hours. The pain was so bad that she ended up throwing up, which has never happened for her on a plane before. We weren’t fast enough with the airsickness bag, and barf got all over her and me. Luckily, we didn’t get any on the seats or the floor around where we were sitting. There are few feelings that are worse, as a parent, than having to sit and watch your child suffer. She spent nearly the entire 8 hour flight leaning on my shoulder for comfort, although I felt completely inadequate to truly comfort her. I did my best, and maybe just being close and knowing someone loved her in that moment helped. A little.

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And this is when an amazing, beautiful thing happened. After she threw up, my daughter went into the bathroom at the front of the plane to try and clean herself up a little bit. I followed her up there to see what I needed to do to dispose of the “yuck” bag and to get some supplies so I could clean our area of the plane, to the extent it needed it. I explained to one of the flight attendants that my daughter was having a hard time with sinus pain and pressure, that it was so severe she was sick to her stomach and threw up, and that I needed some supplies to make sure our area was clear. And then I kind of hovered outside the bathroom door, waiting for my daughter.

As I was anxiously hovering and, I’m sure, looking as socially awkward as a person can possibly look, a lady sitting on the front row came up to me. She told me she had overheard what I told the flight attendant. She asked if my daughter had motion sickness. She said, if that was the case, her family had Dramamine and would be happy to give some to us. I told her it wasn’t normal motion sickness, but caused by too much sinus pain and pressure. I explained that my daughter was on antibiotics and had taken decongestant a couple of hours earlier, so I wasn’t sure about giving her additional medication. This lovely woman nodded and said, “Don’t worry. I have just the thing.”

She went back to her family and dug through her bag, coming up with a pair of Sea Bands. These were brand new, in their little plastic case. They had never been opened. She said they were traveling with her grandson for the first time, and they had bought these for him. But he was fine and didn’t need them. She said we could take them and use them, to see if this might help settle my daughter’s upset stomach.

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So, picture this: I am standing there next to the bathroom door, trying to be inconspicuous and out of the way and failing miserably. I am disheveled and grungy. My hair is in a quick and messy bun, but it is flying all around my face. I have on no makeup. I have been up since way before 3 AM because I wasn’t able to sleep the night before we left. There are dark circles under my eyes, and I am about a split second away from crying. And I have barf all over my shirt. And this lovely woman … this absolute stranger … is standing there, holding out a thing that gives me the hope I will be able to help my child. When I told her I was worried about giving the bands back to her, she pressed the little box into my hand and hugged me. “Don’t even think about it, Mama,” she said. “We’ve all been there.”

“Don’t even think about it, Mama. We’ve all been there.” Could any one person say anything wiser than that to another person? I mean, think about it. We are living in pretty crappy times. Sometimes, it seems like we all hate each other. Sometimes, it seems like we are all so caught up in being angry and miserable that we can’t even see the beauty of life around us. I swear there are a lot of times when I think people are just looking for a reason to be angry and hateful and miserable. But there are good people out there. There are beautiful, caring, and loving people out there. Even now. When you are bogged down in the accusations and the hate and the vitriol spewing forth from every direction, close your eyes and remember that there are people out there who are capable of loving you, even if they don’t know who you are.

And I think that is what this post is really about. Because the pain and dread and awfulness of that flight will fade in time. One day, probably in the not-so-distant future, the story of my daughter’s flight from hell will become one more family memory that we trot out during Christmas or when we are all comparing the war stories of life. But I will always remember the stunning kindness of that stranger on our flight. I will always remember her hugging me tight, telling me without words that I can do this … that I am strong, and that I can do what’s right for my child … that I am not alone. I don’t know her name. I don’t know where she is from. I don’t know anything about her. But I will always remember the kindness on her face and in her heart. She will always live in my own heart. And I hope that, one day, I can pass her heroic kindness along the way.

“Don’t worry, Mama. We’ve all been there.”

The Adventure Season

Summer travel season is upon us. It managed to sneak up on me, just like it does every year. I always feel like I have plenty of time. It seems like school was just out yesterday, but, somehow, a couple of weeks have gone by. And now, my family heads out on our vacation tomorrow morning. EARLY. Like, 3 in the Blessed AM. Yeah. That type of early. For me, I would be perfectly okay with a 3 AM wake-up call if I hadn’t bothered going to bed. I’m a night owl, and will happily stay up until the wee hours of the morning. If I have gone to bed, though, forget about it. I am miserable.

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My family is going to Hawaii. Everyone I have told this to looks at me with a mixture of surprise and delight on their face. “Hawaii!” they say, “You’re so lucky. I wish I was going to Hawaii.” Guess what? I wish they were going to Hawaii, too, and I wasn’t. It sounds terrible when I type it out loud, doesn’t it? I know, it really does.

It’s not that I don’t want to go to Hawaii, specifically. It’s that I don’t want to go anywhere at all. I am tired and grumpy. And I hate traveling. There. I said it. I hate to travel. Once I arrive at my destination, I am sure I will have a great time. But I am filled with dread at the idea of actually getting from Point A to Point B. It will require spending time in large places crowded with people. It will require talking to strangers. It will require being crunched up next to someone I don’t know, all the while acting nice and friendly, when I am really pretending I am alone in my own private space with plenty of leg room. I think I should be able to drive to Hawaii. Yeah. That’s the ticket. We need to make that underwater driving thing happen … or something.

Plus, my daughter is sick. We just found out this morning that she has Strep. And I am sick, too. I hope it’s just an allergy thing. It feels like an allergy thing. Given the multitude of allergies I have, it is likely an allergy thing. But traveling when you feel less than yourself is never fun, even if you love the whole act of going from one place to another. When you’re a fuddy-duddy stick in the mud like me who hates to travel … well, it’s really pretty awful.

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I left my packing to the last minute. I did pick out my vacation nail polish a few days ahead of time, but that was about it. Up until about 10 minutes ago, I was frantically rushing around, getting the last load of clothes dried and tossing the last couple of things into the suitcase. I’m sure I forgot something. But hopefully it’s nothing vitally important.

And, for what it’s worth, my nails look fabulous. So, Hawaii — here we come! Ready or not.

Living Life’s Moments: Things I Learn From My Dogs

I love dogs. This is no big secret. I like living with them. I enjoy being around them. I have loved a few dogs during the span of my life so far. Each time I lose a beloved dog, I swear it will be the last time. Because losing hurts too much. And yet, once a little time passes, I sign up for it all over again: all the laughter, all the love, and all the tears, too. I am one of those people who needs at least one pooch in their life at all times.

I love watching my dogs live their lives. It’s fun to try and figure out what they’re thinking at any given moment. With my current pups, I often believe they aren’t thinking anything in particular. This is okay. I’ve known “thinking” dogs, and I’ve known goofy dogs, too. My fuzzballs fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. They think about how to get extra treats and how to wriggle into their favorite spots on the sofa. But, overall, they are goofballs. They are happy dogs. This is the main thing. I love seeing a happy dog with a silly grin on its face.

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Both of my dogs love to bask. They have vastly different styles, but they both seem to get immeasurable joy out of sitting in the sun.

Fae has a favorite corner in our yard. Winter tends to be hard on our back yard. Between off and on freezing temperatures and the cycle of snow piling up and then melting, all of the grass in our tiny yard dies off every winter. It leaves behind a muddy, mucky mess. Once the weather turns nice and warms up a little bit, the grass starts to grow back in her “sun spot”. This is the moment Fae has been waiting for, all winter long.

She doesn’t camp out there right away. She spends some time scoping things out, first. After all, Fae is a cautious princess-dog. For a few days before true spring-like weather hits, she inspects her corner each time she heads outside for a potty break. She sniffs all around, as if checking to see how well her grass is growing and if all the muddy bits are covered up yet. Once the grass has come in nicely and we get our first string of balmy days, she is a maniac for her sunny corner. She whines every five minutes or so to go outside, and, when I check on her, she is always there: in her basking spot, stretched out with her eyes closed and her face turned toward the sun.

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Shiner likes to bask, too. I’ve thought about this, and I’ve come to realize that basking is not a simple thing when you are a black and white dog. Being mostly black on top — where the sun normally hits — Shiner has to be a bit more pragmatic about things. He enjoys running around in the yard, acting like a goofball and dodging the sun’s rays for a bit. After about ten minutes, he’s had enough of outdoors, and he wants to come in. He is bossy and usually wants Fae to come inside with him, but she is good at ignoring his subtle (and not-so-subtle) cues. Eventually, he gives up on her and heads inside on his own. There will be no outdoor sun worship for this boy.

Shiner has a basking spot in our kitchen. There is one place, near the pantry and next to our sliding glass doors, where the sun hits for a good part of the day. The floor is white linoleum, and the sun heats it nicely through the glass door. It is toasty warm and comfortable. But, even better, this spot has a floor vent for our air conditioner. Shiner likes to spread out here, half in the sun and half over the vent. He looks at me every time and sighs with contentment. Truly, he has found the best of both worlds!

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From watching my dogs, I’ve come to realize basking isn’t an active sort of thing. It’s more of a close-your-eyes-and-sit-back activity. There is something indulgent and hedonistic about it.

I love to watch both of my dogs worship the sun in their own, individual ways. They seem the very definition of “peace” and “contentment”. They are happy and comfortable and completely at ease with their place in the universe. They are living in and for that one moment in time. They are feeling every, single second of it in the best way possible. They aren’t worried about what might happen tomorrow — or even in the next ten minutes. They aren’t stressed about getting everything done, or about how they are going to keep from disappointing all the people in their lives who count on them. They aren’t wondering what’s for dinner or when dinner might be or, even, whether or not there will be dinner. It is enough, in that moment, just to sit in the sun.

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I watch them … and smile … and think to myself, “I want to live like that.”

Feeling Sad

 

I live half a country away from the place my heart calls “home”. It’s a 2-day car ride. It’s a 3 to 4 hour plane ride. In terms of quality of life, the place where I live might as well be on the moon. It is that different. It’s more expensive and more stressful and filled with people who are, at best, inconsiderate, and, at worst, downright mean. We’ve been here for fifteen years, which feels like an eternity in exile. In many ways, I feel I have adjusted to living here. There are even things I like about it. But the longing for home and to be with my family is always there. It’s an ever-present ache deep down inside me. Some days, I’m okay. Other days … not so much.

Today was a “not so much” day. It didn’t help that the weather was gray and muggy, threatening rain all day long. Or that I woke up with a headache. Today, my anxiety was through the roof. I felt I couldn’t breathe, like the weight of this place where we live was pressing down and down on me, until I would be ground to dust beneath it. I’m tired. I think that might be the best way to explain it. I’m tired of living here. Not the kind of tired that can be cured with a good night’s sleep, but the kind of tired that makes you feel worn thin in all the important places.

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Today was my daddy’s birthday. He turned 87. And I wasn’t there. I couldn’t be there to eat lunch with him. I couldn’t be there to give him a gift and watch him open it. My daughter and I sang Happy Birthday to him over the phone, but it’s not the same. I’m half a country away, and I miss my family.

A few months ago, it looked like we might be able to move back home. My husband was interviewing for a job in our hometown. He had cleared every hurdle with flying colors. He got nothing but positive feedback at every stage, from everyone in the managerial chain. He was called back for a second interview, and then a third. The company even insisted my daughter and I come to town with him to look at houses. And then … everything went right down the drain. There was some last-minute political maneuvering within the company, and my husband ended up on the losing end. It was one of those “friend of a friend” things.

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It sucked. There’s no nicer way of putting it. It just sucked. It still sucks. It was like, for one moment, the heavens opened up before me. I could look forward and see the future. I could see all of my closely-held dreams, moments away from coming true. It’s stupid and more than a little ridiculous of me, but I can’t let go of it. I still want to go home. I still have that dream. I still feel blindsided by the way the whole thing went down. Months later, and I’m still blindsided by it. I think my sweet husband has moved on from it so much better than I have. But my heart is still grieving.

I want to be with my family. I hate how morbid it sounds, but I want to have time with my parents before it’s too late. I’m lucky they are both in good health. They are rather curmudgeonly and set in their ways, but they are relatively young at heart. But, still … How many more birthdays will there be? Today, it really hit home for me. Just a few short months ago, it looked like we would be packing up to move by the time the end of May and beginning of June rolled around. Instead, it now looks like we are forever stuck in our same, old, fast-paced rut.

Today was my dad’s birthday. He turned 87. I sang Happy Birthday to him on the phone. And then, I hung up and cried.

The Junk Drawer

There is a neighborhood near where I live. I love this neighborhood. I’m not sure exactly what it is about it that attracts me so, but the attraction is undeniable. There is something homey and lovely about this neighborhood. It’s not exactly old, but also not exactly new. It’s a grid of sidewalks and broad streets lined by well-kept houses with beautiful yards. It is full of bird song, and, sometimes, I even see bunnies or deer, if I walk in the back parts of the neighborhood, where it connects with a city park. There is something that’s just so … “Norman Rockwell” about this neighborhood. The houses, for the most part, aren’t big or fancy. Some have been added onto over the years, expanding to settle in and fit on their lots. Some seem to have been unchanged since the day they were first built. It’s not the kind of neighborhood you would drive through to ooh and aah over the houses. It’s just a normal, everyday neighborhood where people go about the business of living their lives. They go to work. They come home. They tend to their yards. Maybe they drink coffee on the patio and watch their kids play. Realistically, I know there is nothing special about this neighborhood. Nothing at all.

And yet, this neighborhood never fails to give me happy feels. This particular little spot on the map calls to me on a soul-deep level. It’s not too much of one thing or another. It’s just a whole lot of “normal”, and I think this is a big part of why I love it so. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood like this. I’ve always wanted to have a cute, not-too-large and not-too-small, house. I’ve always wanted to have a beautiful yard full of flowers and budding trees and birdsong and the buzzing of happy bees. In my imagination, there would be a porch in front and a patio in the back, both perfect for sitting quietly to enjoy a cup of tea and a book. Maybe, if I were lucky enough, even a nice spot for getting busy with my writing. My kitchen would be warm and welcoming and homey. My closets, table, and hallways would be uncluttered. My floors would be honey-colored pine, and they would always be clean. I would be organized and good about putting things away. In short, I would have all my shit together. And life would be the most perfect kind of beautiful normal I could make it.

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I’ve never lived in a house like that. Or in a neighborhood like that. I grew up in the country, so we didn’t really have neighbors. I mean, neighbors existed, but we never saw them because everyone lived far from each other. We might as well have been all alone. There were no sidewalks. There were no manicured yards or perfect flower beds. Not that I regret the way I grew up. I don’t — at all. I had horses and cats and dogs. I was able to experience fresh air and nature and hard work, all of which are beautiful and wonderful things. At night, I could sit on our front porch and watch the stars come out while listening to the scurrying night sounds of life around me. I loved growing up this way, and a part of me wishes I could live in the country, even now.

But the other part of me, the realistic part, knows that I will never live in the country again. My husband is a city person. He needs activity and things around him. He doesn’t like being alone with his thoughts or with the quiet of nature. He gets bored easily. So, that part of me — the part that knows I am destined to be a city dweller for the rest of my life — has wished for a plain little house with a big yard and beautiful flower beds in a quiet, welcoming neighborhood. Instead, I have a townhouse. It’s in a teeny cul-de-sac neighborhood with six other houses. My house is too tall and full of stairs. The closets are too small, and my family tends to hoard things. Seriously, we never clean out our junk. My house is laid out in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, but it isn’t practical. It lacks storage space. The kitchen looks large and inviting, but, in reality, it is too small for more than one person to be in there at a time. It’s hard to find a place to put the Christmas tree. There isn’t enough space for an office and a guest room. My flowerbeds tend to be overgrown. I’ve found I’m not good at weeding them. They don’t seem to have enough dirt, so planting anything is difficult. All the front lawns have to look the same; it’s an HOA rule. Our backyard is smaller than a postage stamp, which means it is constantly muddy and torn up from our dogs.

But, really, the only thing wrong with my house is that it’s not what I wanted. It’s not the kind of home I ever imagined having. It’s not the kind of house I wanted. I was so excited when I moved here and we started looking for houses. My excitement lasted exactly five and a half minutes, because that was about how long it took for sticker shock to set in where property values were concerned. Even so, I was pregnant when we moved in, and I was ready to nest. I wanted a home I could put my heart and soul into, a place I could LOVE. But we had a long-term houseguest when we first moved in, and I quickly discovered my husband didn’t want to do anything new to the house. And I was too pregnant to do any of it myself. And then, I had a baby and a toddler and a little kid. So, life just kind of zoomed by me. I think I gave up. I gave up on the possibility of loving my house. Instead, this house, in my mind, is the compromise my husband and I made. We never planned to stay here. It was a “temporary thing”. We have now lived here for almost 15 years, partly because the economy unexpectedly tanked and partly because my husband hates change. And I am beginning to believe this is the only house I will ever have.

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This is where that neighborhood I love so much becomes dangerous to me. Even as I enjoy my walk through there, taking in the smells of flowers and the sound of birdsong, I feel this aching longing inside of me. I am proverbially standing on the outside and looking in, just inches away from what my heart wants. But still impossibly cut-off from those hopes and dreams. It makes me sad, sometimes. And, sometimes, I can feel my depression creeping in on me.

And that’s when I have to remind myself about the junk drawer. As I walk these sidewalks and look at these houses, it’s so easy to think about how perfect and beautiful they look on the outside. When I see the swings and the toys in the yards, I think about happy children running and playing and screaming in delight. When I see the flowers blooming all over the neighborhood, I think about quiet cups of tea on a perfect patio. Each house looks kept and loved and beautiful on the outside. It’s easy to think that life on the inside must be perfect, too. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that all these people have everything figured out, that they have managed to do what I seem to have failed at in magnificent fashion. In contrast, my mind thinks about my own unmade bed, my overgrown backyard, my overstuffed closets sorely in need of a good clearing-out.

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But, if I think about it, really hard, I bet every single one of those perfect-looking houses has a junk drawer. I bet they have at least one place where all the flotsam and jetsam of life ends up collecting. One place where they put all the things they can’t manage to toss or all the things that don’t seem to have a place. And, if there is a junk drawer, maybe there is also a cluttered table top. Maybe there are times when the people who live in that house can’t get along. Maybe they sometimes yell at each other, or they are late for dinner, or they forget to put gas in the car. Maybe their kids have problems in school. Or maybe they are sad over the death of a relative.

And then, I feel a little better about my own life. Because, maybe, my life looks perfect from the outside, too. I know my bed isn’t made. I know my kitchen table is cluttered. I know I have an overflowing junk drawer. But no one else knows this.

The point isn’t that I’m happy thinking about the potential unhappiness of strangers. I’m not. I actually hope the lives of all these unknown people are as perfect on the inside as they seem on the outside. The point is this: None of us has a perfect life. We all have to compromise, here and there. We all have to make the best of things. We all have to learn how to be happy with what we have. We all have to learn to count our blessings. But, in spite of not being perfect, life is beautiful. My life is beautiful. I have a husband I love. And he loves me back. I have a daughter who laughs with me and plays Pokemon Go with me. I have two dogs who love to snuggle with me. I laugh, every day. I love, every day. So, yeah, it’s not perfect — not on the inside, and not on the outside, either. But this life is mine.

And, once I learn how to cherish that idea, maybe I can start learning how to fall in love once again — with my beautifully imperfect life and with my unexpected house, too.

A New Hair Day … Again

I got my hair done recently — maybe a week ago or a week and a half ago. My natural hair color is just about the same as my skin tone. I think I’ve talked about this before, probably more at length than anyone cared to hear. (Or … read …?) But, the short story is this: In my younger years, I was a natural white blonde. As I got older, it turned to more of a honey blonde. And then, in my early to mid-twenties, a strawberry blonde with golden highlights. My twenties were great for my hair. I look back at them as my best hair years, by far. Heading into my thirties, I already had a good deal of gray interspersed throughout my head ‘o’ hair. And the hair that wasn’t gray was starting to turn into a mousy sort of ash blonde. I have very fair skin, and my natural hair color doesn’t present enough of a contrast with my skin color. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I look like I’m all one color. The ashy blonde of my hair makes my skin look sallow and ashy, too. And, thus, I become rather invisible in my natural color, which caused me to turn to dye. I was a bottle redhead for a number of years.

I had my daughter in my mid-thirties, and pregnancy wasn’t kind to my body. Or to my hair. For several years after my daughter was born, I did nothing at all with my hair. I didn’t cut it. I didn’t style it. I didn’t color it. I barely even brushed it. I would like to say this was because I was too busy being a super mom and having all kinds of fun with my growing daughter. But that would be a lie. The truth is that I was depressed. I suffered from depression for many years before I finally sought counseling for it. I felt like my hair was thinning, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Frustration plus depression all added up to: “Screw it. I’m not going to care any more, because it takes too much damn energy.” It’s not a great place to live, but I floated there for a long time.

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Eventually, things got better. That’s a really simplistic explanation, but I could write post after post about depression. And this isn’t about that. It’s about hair. I started caring once again. It didn’t happen overnight. But it happened. Once I started caring, I didn’t want to be invisible any more. So I went back to dying my hair. I started out quite normally, moving from a dark brown to the darkest, blackest of blue-black. And then … I took a deep breath and decided I would try “crazy” hair colors. I had always wanted blue hair, and my stylist was fun and supportive and completely willing to give it a try. She didn’t treat me like I was silly or ridiculous or insane.

There is no going back. It’s like I crossed some sort of no-man’s land that exists only in my mind. Or, maybe, like I finally found the truest, most honest form of my own existence. I’m not sure how to explain it, really. I’m an introvert. Like … Introvert, with a capital “I”. You would think I would hate having crazy hair, because people notice it. Some people love it, and they aren’t shy about telling you so. Some people hate it, and they aren’t shy about glaring at you in disapproval. But I love it. I freaking LOVE it. It’s like I wasn’t truly alive until I started going crazy with my hair color. It gives me joy and makes my spirit lighter. It makes me feel, really and truly, like ME.

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My latest hair adventure is something I like to call “Grunge Mermaid”. I wasn’t expecting it to look exactly like this. My last hair color had a very ocean or mermaid look to it. It was two kinds of blue with a little bit of green thrown into the mix. Having been off of my beloved blues for a while, it felt refreshing to have my favorite color back on my head. This time, I thought it would be more of the same. That’s the thing I love about crazy hair adventures. You kind of know what you’re going to get, but not really. And, so often, the reality far exceeds any expectations.

My latest hair is bright blue. And peacock green. And red. And even a little bit white, where some of the bleached strands show through. It is bright and vibrant and kind of like “KAZAAM!” up in front. In back and on the sides, it is this unexpected mix of colors that look like the ocean and graffiti at the same time. It’s the best hair yet. I say this every time, and I think it’s true every time.

I’m already thinking about what I want to do in a few months, when this hair fades. Purples were good. Maybe it will be time to revisit them. Or, I could go pink once again. One thing is for sure: I hope I never have to go back to “normal”.

 

An Interesting Outing

I think I live a pretty boring life. I don’t mean this in a bad way or a negative way. I just mean it as the truth. I look at blogs where the owner/writer seems to have a constant stream of daily adventures to post. Ditto with Instagram accounts or Podcasts. (I don’t actually listen to any podcasts. I just read the descriptions of them and think about how interesting they sound. I know. I am strange …) And then, I think about my own life in comparison. For the most part, my life is a never-ending series of “same old, same old”. I don’t have daily adventures. I don’t even have weekly or monthly adventures. I am a creature of habit and routine. I suppose no one wants to admit to this, but I’m pretty much okay with it.

But, every so often, an interesting day or outing comes along and surprises me. Like today …

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I had a nice walk this morning. This, in and of itself, isn’t interesting. I didn’t see anything unusual or bizarre in my wanderings around my little neighborhood. But I got to start my day off feeling rather accomplished. And then, I got to have breakfast with my sweet husband — an even bigger treat! I indulged in two glasses of iced cold brew coffee, which has had me buzzing all day. I love that giddy coffee buzz!

This afternoon, I headed out to my favorite restaurant for a late lunch. It’s Tuesday, which means my favorite dish is on the menu. I mentioned I’m a creature of habit, right? Um … yeah. My server had pink hair, which is wonderfully interesting. As you guys may know, I currently have blue hair with some red/pink and teal/green mixed in at the ends. It was fun to encounter a kindred spirit.

On the way home, I saw a man standing at a bus stop. He was holding up a phone and yelling, and there were three police officers surrounding him. The police officers weren’t doing anything. They didn’t seem aggressive or even overly perturbed. They were just standing there with their hands on their belts. Perhaps this, in and of itself, is aggressive? They do have guns on their belts, after all. But I don’t know. I was driving, and the scene went by quickly. I hope everything turned out okay for everyone involved.

A little ways up the road, I was in the left lane approaching a traffic circle. The left lane and the middle lane (the one immediately to my right) both go straight through. The farthest right lane curves around into the circle. My light was green, as was the light for the lane next to me. So I picked up speed in order to continue through the light. The truck in the lane next to me did the same. Just as we were approaching our intersection, an 18-wheeler started to run the red light from the circle. The cab of that truck darted out into our lanes of traffic, and we all had to slam on our brakes to avoid a collision. It was a near miss. You could hear the squeal of tires on pavement and smell the burning rubber. It was nerve-wracking for me, but, I’m sure, not as much as it was for the driver next to me. The truck cab was blocking his lane completely. It was fortunate he had good brakes on his vehicle.

I don’t mind admitting my heart was beating a little faster after that incident. But I continued on my way. I went through that intersection, then a couple more intersections. On the third or fourth one, a car suddenly stopped and put their emergency blinkers on in the lane to my right. A couple of cars started to swerve into my lane, right where I was, but they ended up going around into the right turn lane. Another lucky miss!

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My normal route home takes me through a small and quiet neighborhood. Usually, the streets in there are deserted in the middle of the day to early afternoon. I don’t mind telling you I turned into that neighborhood breathing a sigh of relief after all of my unexpected adventures on the road. I was home free, I thought.

Not so! I stopped at the first stop sign. I saw no one coming, so I started on my way. Just as I turned the corner, another vehicle came out of nowhere. It raced around the corner in front of me, going so fast that its momentum carried it out into the middle of the street — right in the path of my car! Luckily, there was no one around, and I was able to swerve out of the way. But it was a close call.

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I’m home now, safely ensconced in my comfortable office chair in front of my computer. I love to hear the click-clacking of my keyboard. It is soothing away the surprises and near-misses of the afternoon. I would like to say I refuse to go back out into the world, but I don’t have that luxury. In about ten minutes, I have to pick up my daughter from school. Surely, I have had my share of “interesting” for the day. Right?