The Good Day

I feel like my life has been filled with mostly-bad days over the past several weeks. Certainly, it feels as if all of January passed by me in a fog of … Well, “not good”. I’m tired and grouchy and feeling a bit overextended. It’s not just that I’m physically tired. I’m mentally and emotionally tired, too. There are a lot of days when I wake up and have a few moments of blissful ignorance before the reality of it all — heart disease and quadruple by-pass and sodium levels and blood pressure numbers and fluid restrictions and pain and anxiety and fear — comes crashing back down on me. In a way, I love those few moments of quiet in the very early morning right after I open my eyes. I love them because, just for those few ticks of the clock, my life feels “normal” again. It feels like the type of normal I’m used to. The type of normal I understand. The type of normal I know how to do.

But, of course, it can’t last. Because my life isn’t normal any more. I mean, all of this will become normal in time. And, when it does, I will know how to live this new “normal”. For now, though, I have been set afloat in a sea of life-stuff that I don’t understand and find terribly frightening. My footing is unsure, and I keep expecting the next tumble to come along at any moment. My husband had a heart attack. My husband has heart disease. My husband had a by-pass. “This is my life now. This is our life now,” I whisper to myself as I lie awake in the dark, waiting for the alarm clock to go off. I know it’s true. And yet, it seems surreal to me. It almost feels like all of this happened to two other people, not to my husband and me.

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Our sudden and unexpected plunge into the realities of heart disease brought along a lot of baggage. The fear of the unknown … the waiting for his surgery to happen … the horrible wait WHILE the surgery happened … the new merry-go-round of medications and vital signs and learning how to change the way we eat even more … the exhaustion … the stress. At first, I thought the surgery would be the bulk of the “bad” stuff. I thought that, once the surgery was done, we could relax a little bit and get on with the job of helping my husband to recover. Maybe it works this way for some people, but it didn’t happen like this for us. We had blood pressure that was too low, which impeded his ability to walk in the hospital. We had a sick child at home. We had almost constant nausea and vomiting for the first two weeks he was at home. We had a re-admission to the hospital because of this.

I’ve basically been on edge since January 13. I have been wandering through my life, holding my breath and waiting for the next bad thing to happen. Waiting for that next crisis or drama. I can feel it out there, lurking just around the corner and waiting for the perfect chance to pounce. I can’t let myself sit down and think about any of this for too long, because I will start to cry. And, if I start to cry, I have the feeling I won’t be able to stop. It’s not possible to live like this. I can’t continue being on edge and stressed and worried about what might happen. It’s too mentally and emotionally exhausting. No one can live like this. And yet, I find I am afraid of letting myself relax. I’m afraid to say to myself, “Okay, Self. This is our new normal. We’ve got this. We can do this.” Because, if I say that to myself … if I believe that … I’m going to jinx all of us. It’s not rational. But this is the thought in the back of my mind.

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Yesterday, though … Yesterday was a good day. My husband felt nausea-free for the first time in two weeks. He managed to get through the whole previous day without nausea medication, and he got a good enough night’s sleep that he managed to shake the grogginess that is a side-effect of those meds. He felt strong enough to get out of the house. We took our daughter to her basketball game. We went to Crate and Barrel so that he could walk around a little bit in a place that had chairs handy in case he wanted to rest. We got tea at Peet’s Coffee. He felt good enough to go with me to pick our daughter up after her game was over. He enjoyed the sun on his face. He even told me it felt good to be outside, in the fresh air. He managed to spend several hours outside of the house.

Today hasn’t been a great day. Today is more of a “meh” on the daily fulfillment measurement scale: not bad, but not so good, either. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know if it will be a good day or not. I don’t know if I will be able to handle whatever tomorrow throws my way. I don’t know if I will even want to handle any of it.

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But I do know this: In the midst of all the yuck and ick, yesterday was a good day. It shines in my memory with a brilliance made all the more poignant by our recent experiences. Yesterday made me feel happy. And hopeful. And — dare I say it? — normal. And I’m going to take those feelings, wrap them up tight, and store them away in my memory. Because the good days are too precious to let them go so easily. The good days are worth keeping.

The January Blues

You know, I never much liked January. It’s always been my least favorite month, even as a kid. There’s nothing particularly fun or special that happens in January. A few of my cousins have birthdays. And there’s New Year’s Day. And MLK Day. And Chinese New Year. But, really, all of these things just feel like they fall flat for me after the magic and over-decoration and fun that is Christmas.

For me, January is a month filled with gray and rainy days. It’s when the Christmas decorations come down and get put away. School break ends, and we all have to go back to the drudgery that often makes up our normal lives. If there was snow, it’s all melted into mush or gray, icky slush by now. Or, more likely for a lot of people, everyone is sick of snow by the time January rolls around. It has long since stopped being beautiful and started being a nuisance. January is a long month, too. When I get to the middle of January, I find myself thinking this month is never going to end. Ever. I mean, it just goes on and on and on and on and on. Yeah. I get it, January. You’re here. You’re a long month. You want everyone to know this. Bleh.

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This year, I find I hate January even more than ever before. This month has been an emotional roller coaster for me and my family. I feel like I’ve been slogging through each day on the calendar. Or, maybe, like our actual lives stopped on the 13th — pulled up short by my husband’s heart attack and subsequent surgery. My days this month have been an endless litany of worry, stress, fear, and heartache. I can’t seem to get my brain to settle on any one thing. There are days when I simply go back and forth from room to room, as if I’m searching for something but can’t quite remember what that “something” is. Here’s a hint: It’s probably my sanity. Trips up and down the stairs to fetch things for my husband … trips out in the car to pick up my daughter or take her to her activities … hauling stuff into the house … hauling stuff out of the house … feeding the dogs … letting the dogs in and out and in and out and (well, you get the idea). And laundry. Oh my gosh, the laundry! My hampers runneth over.

So far, recovery is a bit rough, both for my husband and for me. He was home from the hospital for about three days, but he was having stomach issues the whole time. On the third day, we ended up back in the hospital. We spent the whole night in the ER, and he ended up admitted back onto the cardiac surgical unit. We landed in the exact same room we had left just three days before. What are the odds? It was an eerie feeling. He improved quickly, though. The doctors concluded it was “probably” a stomach virus, and he only had to stay over one night. We came home, and he was doing so great. He even got out of the house yesterday for a short shopping expedition to one of his favorite stores. But today, he woke up feeling sick to his stomach. Again. And I thought … “No. We’ve already done this part. It’s supposed to get easier from here on out. It’s supposed to be that way, Universe. We already paid for it.”

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Apparently, the universe hasn’t gotten that memo just yet. One step forward, two steps back: that’s what life feels like to me right now. I feel like I’m in that movie, Groundhog Day, and I’m reliving the same shitty, shitty day over and over and over again. Mostly, I’m just tired. I can’t remember the last time I was this tired. I feel frazzled and worn thin, both emotionally and physically. I keep telling myself it will get better. Things will get better. But there are some days when I have a hard time believing this to be true.

And so, I will not be sad to see January go. I am not sure I can expect much better from the month of February, but I’m willing to give it a chance. So come on, February, don’t disappoint me!

Where the Heart Leads

My husband’s heart was broken. Not like the kind of broken where someone has wounded you, and you feel as if you want to crawl into a deep, dark hole and hide forever. His heart was literally broken. As in … not functioning.

On January 13, he told me he wasn’t feeling well. He had a cough that sounded big and wet. And he was anxious to the point of having a panic attack. We thought he had bronchitis. This all started at around midnight. Well, I suppose he had been having these symptoms for longer than that. Certainly, he had had them all day. And the cough had been a fixture for a couple of days, although he thought, at first, it was just a cold. Initially, he decided he would sleep in our recliner and go to an urgent care in the morning. He was tired and felt yucky and didn’t want to be poked and prodded. He just wanted to go to sleep and be done with the day. But his anxiety wouldn’t let him rest. It pawed at him and spurred him into snapping anger. Finally, I brought him his pants, keys, and wallet, and I told him to go to the ER. I wanted to drive him, but our daughter was already asleep. He didn’t want to wake her up and scare her like that. Once he got to the ER, he texted me that there was fluid in his lungs. But that it wasn’t because of bronchitis. It was because he had had a heart attack.

“I had a heart attack.”

That’s how he wrote it. Right there, in text form, blinking at me from the screen of my phone. It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t feel real. And yet, it’s real. As real as a heart attack, as the ridiculous saying goes. In that moment, staring at my phone and feeling my breath catch in my throat, I knew our lives were never going to be the same. I didn’t know in that instant how they would change. Or if the change would be good or not. Or even if I would still have a husband by the end of that night. Or the next day. Or the day after that. I never thought I would be sitting in my own home, reading those words and feeling as if my entire world was crashing down on top of me.

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Of course, they admitted my husband to the hospital’s cardiac wing that night. The doctors ran tests and scans and poked and prodded and did all the things that doctors do. They determined that every artery going into his heart was blocked. Some with multiple blockages. And part of his heart was not functioning.

My husband’s heart. His beautiful heart that beats in time with mine and calms my fears. His loving heart that beat out with joy and made him smile as he held our little daughter in his arms for the first time. His generous heart that draws friends to him in the unlikeliest of places. The heart that I have laid next to for over twenty years, listening to it beating in the still silence of the night. The heart that I love more than anything else on this Earth.

How could this be? How could my husband’s heart be broken? How could I have to face the possibility of being in this world alone? It didn’t seem possible. Maybe they made some mistake. Maybe they were looking at pictures of another person’s heart. Because they don’t know my husband’s heart. They don’t know it like I do. And yet, it wasn’t a mistake. It was real, and they had the pictures to prove it.

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On January 18, my husband had open-heart surgery. We were lucky, in a way, that the doctors felt it was safe to wait for a few days before doing the surgery. At least, that’s what they all told us. We were lucky he had come into the ER that night. We were lucky that he was young. We were lucky that he was in relatively good health and in good physical shape. We were lucky that they felt able to give his heart time to calm down after the attack, instead of rushing him into surgery right away.

In the days before the operation, we didn’t feel lucky. I mean, in some ways … Yes, we did. My husband was alive. He had survived a heart attack — one that had come suddenly, without warning or symptoms. We were together. We could still laugh at things. We could still hold each other. But, in other ways … No. We did not feel lucky. We had to talk about death and wills and durable powers of attorney and health care directives and when I should pull the plug, if it came to that. We had to talk about finances and which bills I should pay off and how much life insurance he has and what my daughter and I would do if the worst happened. And the whole time, my own heart screamed out in protest. I did not want to talk about these things. I did not want to think about these things. I wanted to crawl into bed with him and feel safe and secure in his arms. But his arms were full of IVs, and I’m an adult. So, we talked about all the “important stuff”.

His surgery lasted for four and a half hours. I know, in terms of open-heart surgery, that is not a long time at all. It’s actually a fairly quick procedure. But for me, those were the longest four and a half hours I have ever spent. I can’t remember what I did during that time, other than wandering the waiting rooms and halls of the hospital, feeling lost. And hugging my daughter close to try and calm her fears. I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. I was numb.

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On January 23, my husband came home from the hospital. It was a good day. A happy day. But also a nerve-wracking day. Would I be able to care for him? Would he be able to continue his recovery? Would we know what to look for if another attack happened?

His heart isn’t broken any more. It is all fixed, good as new. Maybe even better than new. But now, our spirits are a little bit broken in its place. I think we had reached a place where we thought we had most things figured out. Things weren’t perfect, but it was a life we knew how to handle. Or, maybe we were just fooling ourselves. I’m not sure now, when I look back on the weeks and months leading up to all of this. But I do know this: The new life we have … We don’t know how to do this one, yet. I think we are both afraid and unsure. We don’t trust things. It’s almost like we are balancing on the edge, holding our breath, and waiting for the next bad thing to happen. There have been a lot of bad things lately. This is true. But it doesn’t mean there HAVE to be more bad things. This is also true. But, somehow, it’s harder to believe.

For now, my husband is home. He is getting better every day. And, at night, I can move in close to him and listen to the beat of his heart in the still silence. And I know: I am home, too. It’s enough.

The Tiny Bag of Sheets

Today was a day of chores. Well, it was supposed to be a day of chores. I have a lot of things I need to do in order to catch up from the holidays and to get my house back in order from hosting my parents for a couple of weeks. I love hosting my parents. I’m happy they were able to come, and having them with us made for a memorable and joyous holiday. But … Having guests in your house tends to mess with normal routines.

I don’t particularly like doing chores. I have mentioned (many times) that I am lacking the domestic goddess gene that would make me a whiz at the whole stay-at-home-mom/housewife thing. But, really, I suppose no one enjoys chores. I mean, if we enjoyed them, they wouldn’t be chores, right? They would be something else, like a hobby. And no matter how much I don’t like the whole chore thing, life happens. Chores happen. Stuff needs to get done so that we don’t live in complete squalor.  And someone needs to do that stuff. Since I am the stay-at-home someone, I am elected. As I’ve said before: It’s my job.

I have plans for 2017. I have things I want to do in my house. I have stuff I want to organize. I have stuff I want to get rid of. Basically, I want to go room-by-room in my house and clear out years worth of clutter and junk and stuff we don’t use. This is going to be a huge project, and I will likely blog about it in more detail in the future. Because it’s such a huge project, I keep avoiding it. I can’t do this forever, though … But that’s a story for another blog, I think.

Today, I had planned to do a few different chores. I had some errands to run. I had some bathrooms to clean. I had dishes to do. I wanted to vacuum and maybe dust a bit. And I needed to do some laundry. There is always laundry. My morning didn’t go as planned, however, and I ended up not getting anything done. Except some of the laundry.

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In particular, I decided to wash our new sheets. Is there anything more refreshing or nicer than the idea of freshly laundered sheets? I really love getting new sheets. It’s a huge treat, as we don’t buy sheets often. We have a king size bed, and bedding can be pretty expensive. We generally use our sheets until they completely wear out. Our last two sets ended up with holes in the fitted sheets, and they both wore out at about the same time. Luckily, Target had a bedding sale. Score!

I love the sheets from Target. They are made from nice quality material, and they feel soft and comfy once they are all laundered. I also love that the fitted sheets have extremely deep corners, so they don’t pull off the mattress. I don’t have many pet peeves with regard to housework stuff, but having the sheets pull off the corners of the mattress in the middle of the night is a huge one. It might be the only one. At any rate, the Target sheets solve that problem with their deep, very elastic corners. I never thought I would be a person who was this excited about something as mundane as deep corner pockets on sheets. But … there ‘ya go. I guess we all grow up at some point. I’m still not sure I’ve completely grown up, but perhaps I’m on the way.

The Target sheets come in this cute little cloth bag that matches the pattern or color of the sheet set. I love this little bag. I’m not sure I can explain exactly why I love it so much. Maybe it’s because it matches the sheet sets. Maybe it’s because it’s little and cute. Maybe it’s because I tend to have an obsession with things like bags and boxes. As much as I love dogs and consider myself a dog person, my bag and box obsession makes me question whether or not I might have been a cat in a previous life.

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At the same time, the little sheet bag makes me feel like a failure. The sheets come perfectly packed into the bag. They are perfectly rectangular and perfectly folded, and they fit inside the bag … well, perfectly. The bag is the exact size of the sheet set. And it has a velcro closure on the front. It is obvious that this bag is meant for storing the sheets. I have no idea why I do this, but I always wash the little bags with the sheets. I mean, you can’t store your clean sheets into a not-clean bag, right?

Actually, you can’t store the sheets in the bag at all. I know this. I KNOW this. There is no way I can ever fold up my sheets small enough and rectangular enough to fit back inside this stupid bag. I am not a robot. I do not have access to magical sheet folding powers. I do not possess the sorcery or cardboard needed to get clean and newly-fluffed sheets back into this itty-bitty, just-the-right-size bag. It doesn’t matter how cute the bag is. It’s just not going to happen.

And yet, I will try to get the sheets into the bag. It feels almost fatalistic, in a way. I know, going into it, that I will never manage to do this. And yet … I will try this every single damn time. Why? Why do I torture myself this way? Because I’m determined and awesome? Because, maybe, I will manage to do it one of these days and this will make me feel like the most awesome form of amazing that ever walked the Earth? Because I’m crazy? Because … Goals?

I have no idea, and I don’t have time to sit here and figure it out. Because there is a little bag of sheets calling my name out in the hallway.

My Dirty Little Secret

Okay … Confession time.

I do not enjoy walking my dogs. There. I said it. I have admitted this rather nasty truth both to myself and, now, out loud. It’s not pretty. It has long been my private shame, and I feel pretty guilty about it.

It’s not so much that there is shame in doing things one does not enjoy. I would guess that about 90% of the things I do on a daily basis are things I dislike. Laundry, for example. Or cleaning bathrooms. Or grocery shopping. Or cooking dinner. Or cleaning and dusting. I’m a stay-at-home mom. It is an occupation for which I am, apparently, not well-suited. So most of my days are a veritable litany of stuff I don’t like to do … or stuff that doesn’t make me feel fulfilled or good about myself. I still do those things. I’m not sure I do them particularly well, but I try. It’s my job. But, for me, being the at-home parent is just that: a job. And one that doesn’t pay particularly well, at that.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining here. This is not meant as a whine or as a bid for pity. I am not trying to shout out about all the things I do on a daily basis and this is how incredible I am and yadda, yadda, yadda. No. I am simply putting this out there as a background fact: I am a person currently in a job for which they are not qualified and which is, mostly, not that much fun. The one bright spot is that I get to spend oodles of time with my daughter. This was, of course, a lot more fun before she hit her teenage years. But … Eh. I still love her, even if she is surly and does the eye-rolling thing — A LOT. I am convinced that, one day, she will wake up and be a mostly kind, mostly sweet human being again. In the meantime, we play Pokemon Go and Dragonvale together. We will always have that. I think.

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The thing is this: I never thought “walking the dogs” would fall into the litany of things I don’t enjoy doing. The realization that I don’t enjoy this came out of the blue and hit me as quite a shock. I love my dogs. Anyone who knows me knows I love my dogs. Sometimes, I love my dogs more than I love my husband and daughter. The dogs are always happy to see me. They seldom complain. They don’t try to second-guess everything I do. They don’t turn every decision into an inquisition. They think I’m awesome as long as I manage to get their food mostly in their dishes somewhere within the general umbrella of mealtime. Most days, I can manage this so well that I am hitting rock star status. It’s a giddy high.

The dogs are with me all day, every day. My English Springer Spaniel, in particular, is a velcro dog. If I am in my office, trying to write (and mostly failing), he is right there, curled up in his bed or laying on my feet. If I am in the kitchen, he is right there, staring up longingly at the counters. If I am at the table, he is right there, under my chair. If I go to the bathroom and forget to close the door all the way … Well, you get the idea. My rescue girl, although not quite as clingy, is also affectionate and cuddly in her own way. She likes to visit me and check in several times a day. And she loves hugs and gentle pets on her tummy. I love this about both of them. I love knowing they are right there, at my heels and sticking their little noses into everything I’m doing. I also love knowing they are always available for a cuddle or a quick game of fetch-up-the-stairs. Basically, they are lovable, fantastic, great dogs.

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Until we head out to walk. And then, they turn into doggy jerks. Can dogs be jerks? I’m not sure. But, if they can, then my dogs are. Because I have two of them and because my rescue girl doesn’t like to walk on her own, I have a leash splitter so that I can walk them together. I used to have a separate leash for each of them, but it was too much trying to juggle two leashes and bags and picking up poop. Because it’s inevitable: Poop Happens.

For a while, I walked them separately. I would walk three or four miles with my Springer and come home to switch dogs so that my rescue girl could have her turn. She has a lot of anxiety issues, though, and she would end up unhappy after only about a block or two. Three blocks, if I was lucky and she was having a really great day. It felt so uneven, with one dog getting a forty to fifty-minute walk and the other one getting barely ten minutes. And so, I thought the leash splitter was the answer to all my problems. In some ways, it is. I am still trying to get back to my previous activity level after the car accident I was in way back in June. I’m still having back and hip problems from it, which annoys me to no end. I’m ready to be done with all of that and back to my previous activity level.

At any rate, I now walk both dogs about thirty or forty minutes. It’s much better for my rescue girl, because she actually gets a decent walk. She has no choice, because my springer boy is one of those dogs who must move forward at all costs. He would walk and walk and walk until he, literally, dropped to the ground from exhaustion. He has a huge personality packed into his little, furry body, and he doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. Clearly, I am not very good at training my dogs (something my mother continually mentions while she is visiting my house), because he also doesn’t know the meaning of the word NO. Well, that’s not totally true. He understands NO sometimes. But not when he’s walking. And pulling. And walking. And pulling some more. I had to buy a very sturdy harness for him because he kept choking himself. I was afraid he would damage his throat. He also loves to bark at the people we see on our daily walks. Old people … young people … people on bicycles … people wearing hats (he hates hats with pom-poms on top) … people on motor scooters … little kids … It doesn’t matter. He barks at them. With prejudice.

My rescue girl is sweet and timid and dainty. It doesn’t matter how many times we walk the same exact route, she always has this reaction of doom and gloom. She always thinks she is now the farthest she has ever been from home and that she will never, ever, EVER get to go home again. EVER. And when this realization hits home for her … Well, she Can’t Even. Whenever my springer pauses his forward motion to sniff at stuff or look at stuff or pee on stuff, my rescue girl takes the opportunity to spin around and try to head back home. Forcefully. It becomes a ridiculous, delicate dance between forward motion and backward longing. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere, but I’ve yet to find it. My rescue girl never pulls at the leash as we are walking away from home. She pulls on the way back, which means that I now have about 100 pounds of dog pulling me along at a brisk pace. Negotiating traffic with 100 pounds of unruly dog trying to tug you in two directions at once can really make you question your life decisions.

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Sometimes, I see other people out walking their dogs, too. They always seem to be happy, smiling or texting or talking on their phones. They are having a good time, out in the fresh air with their dogs. They have a sort of smugly content aura about them. Their dogs meander gently along at their sides, sometimes stopping to sniff at a blade of grass or to look at a blowing leaf. But never pulling them along or barking at fellow pedestrians or acting like they will eat the next small child that wanders across their path. (My dogs don’t eat small children, by the way. This is hyperbole. Or a metaphor. Or … something.)

The thing is, I’m so jealous of those other dog-walking people. They all seem to have their proverbial shit together. I mean, maybe their lives are one big mess. But, from the dog walking perspective, they have it going on. I look at them, calmly walking along with their perfectly reasonable dogs, and it makes me realize how completely and utterly ridiculous I must seem: a pudgy, middle-aged woman who is sweating buckets even on the coldest day and is red in the face … my hair flying all over the place … speed-walking behind two dogs who want to go in different directions … all the while cursing under my breath and regretting my life choices. And I think to myself, “Self, clearly, we are doing something wrong.” Clearly.

The Holiday Sneak

Christmas is a sneaky holiday. It had to be said. It’s one of those holidays where, even though you know it’s coming … Even though  you’ve known this for an entire, freaking YEAR … Even though you’ve been hearing about it for months on the radio and news and advertisements … It still manages to land in your lap before you realize what’s happening. It still manages to make you scramble and rush around to try and get things ready in time for “the big day”. It’s one of those holidays for which one can never quite feel prepared or truly ready, and so we end up just tossing out our best effort and going with what we have at the moment Christmas happens. Well, I guess most of us do that. Okay … so I do that. Every darn year. Maybe I’m the only one. I hope I’m not the only one but … yeah. I might be. My Domestic Goddess abilities are definitely lacking, both in terms of skill and level of enthusiasm.

I think part of it is that Christmas comes with so many unreasonable expectations. It’s a time of year that is fraught with emotion and longing. We have to keep moving forward in life. Always forward. We have to keep living every day and remembering how every day is precious and a beautiful gift. Except for Christmas. On that day, it’s hard to continue moving forward. We look backward, toward memories of our youth, and think about the things we have lost along the way over the course of a year. Or five. Or ten. Or twenty.

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Again, maybe this isn’t something everyone does. Maybe it’s just me. But I find myself approaching each Christmas with a bittersweet longing in my heart. The older I get, the more I think back to the Christmasses of my youth, when my whole family would gather together, and we would all be loud: eating and loving each other and playing rowdy games of dominoes and telling funny stories and laughing. Things felt perfect back then. Of course, they weren’t. Nothing is ever perfect in our lives. This is part of being human. But, I remember how full my heart felt back then. I remember the feeling of love and security that came from having my whole family around me. I remember what it felt like to belong. And I do remember thinking, somewhere deep within my little child-sized heart, how things couldn’t quite be more perfect or more glorious. Even then, as a child, there was a part of me that knew it couldn’t stay this way. Things change. We have to grow up. People leave us, even if we don’t want them to go.

For many years, I have gone to extreme lengths to recreate those childhood memories for myself each year. I’m not sure why. I guess part of it was that I wanted to recapture that warm feeling of completeness and safety. And, perhaps, part of it was that these were the things I knew. These were the things you “did” at Christmas, so it didn’t occur to me to do anything different. Each year, I would exhaust myself trying to get everything “just right”. And, of course, I would always fall short. Memories are sweet and beautiful. You can’t recreate them, not really. You can come close, but something will always be missing. Memories live in our hearts. They can’t come out to live in the real world.

This year, Christmas snuck up on me even more than usual. I love Christmas. I love the holiday spirit and the decorations and the carols and the special movies and the excitement and anticipation. I even love the mad rush to get everything done: tree, cards, decorations, baking, gifts.

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Not this year. This year, I couldn’t get past the fact that our family will be celebrating Christmas for the first time without two of our most beloved members. There is nothing like having to unwillingly say good-bye to make you realize nothing can ever, ever be the same. No matter how sweet and perfect your memories might be, they are just that: memories. They will never be real again. Living so far away from the rest of my family, I hardly ever got to see my aunts. I hadn’t been able to see my eldest aunt for at least a couple of years, because she was very ill and frail. I was lucky enough to see my other aunt, very briefly, last summer, during my annual trip home. It’s silly to miss someone you never saw any more. And yet, I do miss them. So much. Just knowing they were out there in the world somehow made my life better and complete. I can’t explain it well, but I feel set adrift by their deaths.

And so, I couldn’t muster any Christmas enthusiasm this year. I was literally at the last minute getting out my cards and my gifts that had to be mailed. I think my husband mailed them on the very last day possible for delivery before Christmas. I didn’t care about our tree. Or any of the decorations. I filled my daughter’s Advent calendar two weeks after December started. I did manage to sit down and paint it. This was my “big” decorating project for this year, and my daughter loves the results. So I suppose that’s something. I waited until the day my parents were to arrive to do any house cleaning, so that I ended up having to do the mad rush around to get the guest room cleared out and ready for them. I was wrapping gifts right up until the night before Christmas Eve. I only baked one pie. It really has been the year of the Grinch in my Christmas heart.

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But you know what this year has taught me? Christmas is going to happen, whether I choose to participate or not. Things still got done, even if they didn’t happen when I thought they should. The tree is beautiful. The decorations are up and festive. There were presents. There was a Christmas Day “feast”, cooked by my mom and me. We had a lazy, quiet day at home for Christmas: church on Christmas Eve, sleeping in a bit the next morning, presents gathered around the tree, and then my mom and I laughing and talking all afternoon as we cooked together in my kitchen. And my heart was full.

Maybe the memories of my childhood can only live in my heart. Maybe things feel bittersweet and hard sometimes because we have to keep on living, even if we don’t want to do so. Maybe things won’t ever be quite the same as they used to be. But that’s okay. It’s not what I would have chosen, but it’s beautiful in its own way. We will make new memories. We will laugh and love and make new traditions. And those will live in our hearts, too.

A Lifetime to Love

Today is my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. I’m sitting here, repeating this to myself so that the words can sink in. I say it aloud a few times, rolling the words around on my tongue so that I can taste the meaning of them. And yet, it takes a while for the true impact to register. Because my brain almost can’t fathom 60 years. When I say to myself, “Wow. That’s a long time,” it feels ridiculous. Because, of course, I am stating the obvious. It is a long time. It’s a lifetime.

Growing up, I never really thought much about my parents or their marriage. I was a kid, and they were just my parents. When you’re young, you don’t think about things like that. Really, you don’t think about much outside of your own, immediate concerns. I was blessed to come from a stable home, with parents who had a good marriage and who, at the base of it all, loved each other. I never thought about my parents getting divorced or separating. Because it seemed impossible to me. My mom used to say, jokingly, that she and my dad might end up killing each other … but they would never leave each other. Which sounds ridiculous, but, really, it was her way of saying she did not want to live a life without my dad in it. No matter how difficult things might be — and they were difficult at times — my mom and dad both chose to live their lives and build their futures together. As a child, I took this for granted. As an adult, I look back on it and realize just how amazing and incredible this was. It was a gift. A precious, intangible gift.

How much laughter fits into sixty years? How much love? How much sorrow and pain? How many sweet memories? How many times, over the years, have my parents turned to each other, knowing they only had each other to cling to in the face of a  world that is, often, all too terrifying and brutal. There are images of my parents that will be forever written on my heart. My dad, coming up behind my mom as she stands at the sink, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her neck until she finally scolds him and swats him away with a dishtowel. But I remember the smile on her face and the way my dad laughed. The sweetness and playfulness, all wound up together. Or the night my brother nearly died, after a terrible motorcycle accident. Terrified, I watched my mother sitting in the ER waiting room, waiting to hear if her first-born would live or die. She was stoic and brave and refused to cry, until my dad, who had driven all night to reach us from his work, came rushing into the room. And then, she melted into him, letting him hold her and comfort her. These memories … and hundreds more … live inside of me, all built from my parents’ lifetime of love.

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My parents don’t celebrate anniversaries. It’s not that they ignore the day. They remember it and mark it every year, in some small way. But they are not “party people”. They have never been ones to do lavish gifts. There will be no huge celebration to mark this milestone, other than my husband and I taking them out for a nice dinner once they arrive at our house next week. Instead, I believe my parents choose to live every day in the moment. They fill every day with all the love and laughter and memories they can. In a way, every day is an anniversary for them. This morning, my dad got up and gave my mom a kiss, telling her, “Well, looks like we made it, Old Girl.” It doesn’t sound super romantic, but it pleased my mom to no end. And, I guess, really, it says it all.

My husband and I celebrated 18 years of marriage this past October. And, like my parents, I think we both sometimes feel as if we might kill each other … But we will never choose to live without each other. My husband often tells our daughter that we will never separate or divorce. I know you can never say “never” in this life, because nothing is certain. But it warms my heart to know he loves me deeply. He loves me enough to put his faith out there, so that he feels he can say “never” with confidence. And I can do the same for him. I can’t even think of a life without my husband in it. He is my best friend and my sweetest love. Will we make 60 years together? I don’t know. But, if we do, it will be because of the lessons and the gift my parents gave to me. My parents taught me to love in the deepest and best of ways. My parents paved the way.

The Saga of the Hair

Quite some time ago, I decided to dye my hair black. “Don’t dye your hair black,” people said to me. Or, “Black? What? Are you SURE you want to do that?” Sometimes, they would stare at me in horror — you know, with that expression folks reserve for extremely nutty people they think might be teetering on the very edge of sanity. But, I paid them no mind. I was sure. I’m a natural blonde — platinum in my little kid years, and then getting increasingly darker until I entered my second twenties as a sort of dark, ashy blonde liberally mixed with gray. I always wanted black hair. Always. I never would have admitted this to my mom when I was a child. I never would have dared to speak my secret desire out loud as a teenager. It’s a long story, but such things just weren’t done. Besides, no one would have taken me seriously. They would have told me I was wrong, and that I didn’t really want to do that. I’m not sure why, but people are always telling me stuff like this. So I have learned over the years to guard my dreams closely. Even the small ones.

Anyhow, when I hit my second twenties and felt increasingly unhappy with my drab hair color (not to mention those grays!), I decided I would just take the plunge. I would go black with my hair. I was nervous, so I started going with darker and darker browns. I did this over the course of a year or so. It was never good enough, so I finally worked up my courage and told my stylist that I wanted to dye my hair black. Like, black with blue undertones … the blackest black. Luckily, my stylist was totally on board with this. She said, “Sure. You still have great skin. You can totally pull it off.” I love her. She never fails to make me feel better about myself.

And so, I ended up with super-duper-blackest-of-the-black hair. And I LOVED it. I had no regrets whatsoever. I still have no regrets over it. I loved having black hair. I have incredibly pale skin — like, so pale that I’m almost invisible. I loved the contrast of my dark hair against my pale skin. It made me feel so good about myself, and it truly was a dream come true.

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Like most dreams, it faded a little once it became reality. I can’t say I will never go back to black hair, because I really did adore it. After almost a year, I decided I wanted to try another of my “hair dreams”: blue hair. I started out small, with some bright blue streaks underneath my hair, so that it only showed when I pulled my hair back. I loved it and found myself constantly pulling my hair back so the world could see my blues. Emboldened, I moved forward to doing streaks of blue highlights in my black. I loved this as well, and, eventually, I told my stylist I was ready to go full-on blue with my hair.

It was a long process. Black dye doesn’t really fade or wash out, so we had to bleach my hair down as light as we could without damaging it. I didn’t much care what color of blue, although I wanted to stay a bit dark. My stylist picked out a gorgeous, bright, bold, electric blue. It. Was. Glorious. I’ve worn this color for a while. I am pretty good about taking care of my hair color, so it doesn’t fade out very quickly. My stylist redid this electric blue a couple of times. The last time, I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled with the result. For some reason, my beautiful electric blue came out so dark that it looked purple. It eventually faded out to a more blue color, but it was darker than I liked. And it had lost that “electric” brightness, which was my favorite thing about this color.

This got me to thinking. I started looking around at different shades of blue. I looked at images online. I looked at the beauty supply store each time I went to browse nail polish. Not that I would ever try dying my hair at home. I am sure that would be a disaster. So many women are able to do a beautiful job dying their hair at home, but I am not one of them. I would probably end up making all my hair fall out or something.  But I wanted to see the different colors and tones of blues. I knew I wasn’t in love with my super dark blue any longer, but I wasn’t ready to give up on my blue-haired dream.

Eventually, I decided I wanted to go with a  lighter blue — something between a gray-blue and a light, almost baby blue. There was a cyan blue that I loved, but my stylist told me it would look super neon. So that color was out. I don’t want neon hair. I’m not sure of many things, but I am certain of this. I have to admit I’m a little bit nervous about going lighter. My hair is fine, which means it never looks thick. I worry that the lighter color will make it look like I’m going bald or something. Going bald, like, for real, is a fear of mine — thanks so much for that, PCOS. In reality, my hair is in good shape. I have decent growth, and it looks decently full on my head. Still, the fear is there. My stylist feels like the lighter color will be a great idea, though. And I trust her.

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Here’s the problem: My dark blue hasn’t faded. At all. I have plenty of growth at my roots, so that color is light enough to take the lighter blue. But the bulk of my hair is still a deep, dark, electric blue that looks purple in some lights and black in others. This is the curse of taking really good care of my dye job. Yes, it lasts for a long time. But, if you get tired of it and want something new … Well, it lasts for a long time.

I don’t feel good about bleaching out my already dyed hair. Luckily, my stylist said the same thing, even before I could voice my concerns. I love that about her. She never hesitates to tell me she won’t do something that will damage my hair. So … She sent me home from my appointment yesterday with instructions to try and fade my super dark blue.

I went to Safeway and purchased Suave shampoo. Basically, any shampoo loaded with sulfates is a no-no on colored hair. And I washed my hair with Suave and hot water. Over and over and over and over and over. And then, I washed it some more. I’m not kidding when I say I washed my hair all afternoon yesterday. I probably washed it 35 or 40 times. I washed it until I was completely sick of washing it, and the water coming off of it was running, more or less, clear. I figured that was enough for one day, particularly since my scalp felt all itchy and dry. Plus, I had to go to my daughter’s band concert.

Today, I got up and took a good look at my hair in the daylight. It’s faded out quite a bit, but it still is darker than I would like. So I mixed up some Head & Shoulders, Dawn dish soap, and lemon juice (for the vitamin C). I put this on my hair and let it sit for 45 minutes. I rinsed it out in hot water, watching yet more blue dye spin down the shower drain. And I mean SCADS of blue dye. I can’t believe there was this much dye in my hair. It was a river of blue. I had enough of my concoction left over to do one more application. And, again, I ended up with a river of blue dye down the drain.

My new appointment is tomorrow. I’m still not sure if my hair is light enough for the new dye. But … I’m done. I just don’t want to wash my hair any more. I slathered it and my scalp in coconut oil — both for the conditioning my poor scalp needs and because coconut oil apparently also fades hair color. And I’m letting it sit for a while. Oh … how I have suffered for beauty. And now, when someone says to me that they have to stay in and wash their hair, I know exactly what they mean!

The Monday After

The Monday after Thanksgiving is one of my least favorite days of the year. After a wonderfully long, cozy weekend of nesting at home with my family, this is the day on which we emerge, blinking in the bright light of day, and attempt to carry on with our normal lives. I love the Thanksgiving holiday. It is one of my favorite holidays because it’s all about spending time with family and friends. It’s all about laughing and doing things for others and just taking the time to LIVE and LOVE. I feel like Thanksgiving actually is what Christmas should be. The problem is that Christmas often gets too caught up in the materialistic parts of life and stress-inducing “to do” lists and things like that. It shouldn’t be this way, but it often feels harder to keep Christmas pure. To keep it about family and friends and love and all the beautiful things in our lives.

I love having my daughter home from school. I love the way our normal schedules stop for a few days: no sports practices, no music lessons, no homework, no after-school activities, no appointments. There is time for lingering over tea and a snack at a favorite restaurant. There is time for seeing a movie … or two … or three. There is time to sleep in a little bit and take a road trip. Time is something we don’t have nearly enough of during our regular weeks. I feel like we are always busy running from one thing to another, and I’m always trying to get stuff done (like laundry or making dinner or walking the dogs) in between errands. It’s a stressful and frazzling way to live.

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I love that my husband doesn’t go to work. The Thanksgiving holiday means I have a lovely chunk of time with him, too. We get to go for coffee or breakfast. We can laugh at each other’s stupid jokes. We can cuddle in bed while watching a movie. We can talk about our hopes and our dreams. We can go for long walks. We have time to reconnect. I think this is one of my very favorite things about Thanksgiving. My husband and I don’t see a lot of each other during the week. He works long hours, and I am usually running our daughter from place to place. We can sometimes grab ten or twenty minutes together, if we are lucky. But we are usually both too tired to talk or connect. I don’t think this means we have a bad marriage. On the contrary, I think we have a strong and solid marriage. I think we just have too much going on in our lives. Or, maybe, we live in a place that is too “go go go” all the time.

There is something so precious and perfect about having my whole family — husband, daughter, and two dogs — all camping out under one roof for several days. The four days of Thanksgiving feel like the most precious gift. My heart feels full, and my soul feels content. Everything I need is right here, right where I want it to be. I love the sounds of my house when everyone is here. I even love it when we all get in each other’s way. I wish I could describe it better, but I can’t seem to find the perfect words for it. It’s that feeling you get when you think your heart might just flutter away with you because you are so happy. It’s that feeling  you have when you just NEED to hug someone — anyone! Or, maybe, you would wrap the whole world in a big bear hug, if your arms were big enough. It is warmth and coziness and happiness and all the things.

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Inevitably, it has to come to an end. I know this, and I dread it somewhere deep inside. I dread it even as I am humming along, feeling happy and content with the beginning of the long weekend. Because Monday is lurking out there, just around the corner. Today, we all went our separate ways. My husband went to work. My daughter went to school. I walked the dogs and had to make a last-minute run to the grocery store so I could put dinner into the crockpot in time for it to cook. There was a late appointment and my daughter’s class at church. Tomorrow will be a doctor’s appointment in the morning, after school activities, allergy shots for me,  and a flute lesson in the evening. Wednesday and Thursday will bring late-night basketball practice. Our busy week is starting off with a bang, steam-rolling right over us as usual. And yet, there are the memories of that beautiful, four-day Thanksgiving weekend to keep me going. I think it might be just enough.

A Road Trip

This morning, my husband woke up, looked at me, and said, “Do you want to go to Charlottesville?” Charlottesville is about two and a half or three hours away from where we live. So, what he was really suggesting was quite clear: ROAD TRIP!!

I’m a big fan of road trips. I love going to a new place, or to a place that’s not really “new” to me, but that remains unexplored. I love traveling there via car. I love taking the more scenic and roundabout ways to get there. In Texas, which is where both my husband and I are from, road trips are a big part of life. Most things are pretty spread out, and you wouldn’t even think twice about traveling three or four hours to get from one location to another. We used to road trip all the time. Back then, we were young and a lot more spontaneous. We didn’t have a child, so we didn’t have as many responsibilities or schedules as we do now. We did have a dog — my much-loved and very-missed Springer, Tex — but he loved going in the car. We would load him up and hit the road at a moment’s notice.

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I think we have become a bit lazy and spoiled during our Virginia years. Now, if we have to travel even twenty or thirty minutes from our home, we complain about how “It’s soooooo far away and takes sooooooo long to get there.” I know. We have become a bit pathetic in our old age. In our defense, Northern Virginia has horrible traffic. Traveling to a place that is supposed to be thirty minutes from home can sometimes take forty-five minutes. Sometimes, it can take an hour. Also, there are a lot of really crummy and aggressive drivers in this area of the country. Everyone seems to be in a big hurry all the time, and they don’t mind running right over you to be the first person to get to that next red light down the road.

Traveling by car isn’t nearly as fun or carefree when you feel like you’re traveling right into the danger zone. It becomes a stressful and sometimes frightening experience. You can control your own car and  your own actions. But you can’t control the crazy person who is road-raging away in the car next to yours. When you multiply that person by a gazillion, you realize you are surrounded by crazy, and you just feel like giving up. And staying home. With the doors and windows locked.

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Today, we made the decision to put our cares on hold, to forget our responsibilities for the day, and to hit the highways and byways of Virginia. We took the roads less traveled, winding through beautiful mountains showing their autumn color and little towns that were already starting to decorate for the Christmas holiday. Since it’s the middle of a holiday weekend, traffic was fairly light. In Texas, we might have gone hours without seeing another car, depending on exactly where we were. That didn’t happen today, but we went several minutes at a time without encountering our fellow motorists. There were tiny little stretches where we could pretend we were the only intrepid explorers in our corner of the universe.

We stopped off at cute little country stores to do some  Christmas shopping. We detoured for soft serve ice cream. We paused along the way to hunt for Pokemon. We admired the beautiful state in which we live. The day was cloudy and a bit gray, but with sunshine peeking through every now and again. The fall colors around us seemed so vibrant and bright, and the clouds made the most amazing designs in the sky. There were piles and piles of moody, gray-blue clouds. They were fantastic with the sunlight dancing through them. We saw barns that were tumbling down and covered with vines. We saw neatly kept farms with perfect, white fences and cows grazing in the fields. We told jokes and funny stories. We listened to favorite songs. Sometimes, we even sang along.

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It was a meandering kind of day. Sure, we set out this morning with a plan and a schedule in mind. And yet, no one seemed particularly upset when our schedule somehow fell by the wayside mere hours into our trip. As the sun began to set and we turned our car toward home, where we knew two hungry pups were waiting for their overdue dinner, my husband jokingly commented that we spent too much time “dicking around”. Next time, he said, we needed to be more focussed on getting to our final destination so that we have more time to look around.

It’s a good thought. But the next time we head out on a road trip, we will do the same thing we did today. We will detour and slow down and wander around a bit aimlessly.  We will stop for snacks and ice cream and interesting little stores on the side of the road. We will spend time staring at the scenery and taking pictures. In short, we will “dick” around. Every single time. He knows this, as do I. And, no matter what he says, I know he doesn’t mind in the least. With a road trip, the point really isn’t your final destination. It’s the journey. Today, we did more than zip from Point A to Point B. Today, we took our time. And that’s the most precious gift of all.