Learning to Let Go …

Well.

Let’s just get the obvious over with … address the elephant in the room … etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

It’s been a loooong time since I came into this blog. It’s been a long time since I had anything to say. No. That’s not true. I’ve had lots to say. I’ve had lots of stuff running around in my brain. Maybe too much stuff. I’ve been spending a lot of time trying not to think about most of it. My life, basically, has become a routine of just putting one foot in front of the other in an effort to continue moving forward through Time. Because, if I stop … if I think about any of it too much … if I try to put any of it into words … I dunno. It just feels like it would spell disaster. My guess is that I’m not alone in this. This pandemic and the accompanying wave of unkindness and incivility is mentally and physically draining, isn’t it? Just moving forward with life seems like an insurmountable task in the midst of all of it. And yet, Time moves forward. Life moves forward. Things change, whether we want them to or not.

Which leads me to this post and to my need to learn how to let go. I’m not good at this. There have been points in my lifetime when I’ve looked around at my life, at all the people I love who are in my life, at the pets I hold dear … just, you know, all of it: the whole crazy, busy, weird, wonderful thing … and I find myself thinking, “Yes. This is a Good Life. This is perfect. I like how this feels. I like how this is. I do not want it to change. Ever.” We all know these thoughts are silly, right? Right. Maybe “silly” isn’t the right word for it. Perhaps “fanciful” is a better description. Whatever you call it, this idea that your life is perfect and that you want it to hold its breath and stay just the same is a dream. It is impossible. Because, Time. And because Life. Even so, I find myself grabbing hold of all my beloved people and life things and memories and everything with both arms. I am grabby with it, and I want to hold on so, so tightly.

It doesn’t do any good, does it? No matter how much I grab and no matter how tightly I try to hold on to all of it, my beautiful, perfect, never-want-it-to-change life slips right through my fingers. It’s like trying to hold on to water. No, because I can hold water, if I cup my hands just right. It’s like trying to hold on to air. And I know, if I am lucky enough to still be walking this Earth ten years from now (if our beautiful Earth is still here!), I will look back at this time in my life and see it in the kind of golden-tinged warmth that colors my most treasured memories. Because, for this moment … for this one, delicately balanced moment in time, everything feels perfect and beautiful and “right”. Are there stresses? Yes, of course. Is there frustration? Yes, of course. But these are passing things. Underneath all of that, I am peaceful and happy and content. Most of the people I love most in the world are still in the world. The people I love the very most — my little family — are all together under one roof. My dogs are healthy and happy. Our cat is healthy and happy. Our home feels peaceful and cozy and safe from the world. We laugh and love and live.

And yet, change is out there. It is just around the corner — literally. My daughter graduated from High School in May. My dad turned 90 in May. May was a difficult month for me. Change is one heartbeat away from breezing into my life and turning everything onto its ear. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s just a thing, you know? It’s a thing that is out there and that is coming for me. And so, I have to take a deep breath. I have to say to myself, “You can do this, Girl. You can let go. You can move forward. You can find even more beautiful life up ahead.” Right now, I’m still trying to hang on to all of it with my two arms and my grabby hands. But slowly, ever so slowly, I am listening to that whisper in my heart. And I am learning to let go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy News … and Life Getting Really REAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curious Case of the Missing Shoelaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Summer Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Week of “Meh” …

Last week was a week of “Meh”. Remember how I mentioned I was doing some contract work for a local nonprofit organization? And remember how I mentioned that I was enjoying the work? And remember how I mentioned that I was starting to feel more alive and better about myself than I had in years?

Yeah. Well … that’s all gone. Thank you, COVID-19. I found out last week that I won’t be getting any more contract work for now. Luckily, the company feels it’s a temporary pause. They didn’t cancel my contract, and they told me they are looking forward to having me back on the team when things go back to normal — whenever that might be.

I’m not mad about getting shut down. I totally get it, and, honestly, I was not surprised. I felt really fortunate to be getting work as this pandemic started rolling across the U.S., but, in the back of my mind, there was that feeling of dread. You know the one I mean: that nervous, sinking feeling that tells you things are going too well, and that you are soon in for some disappointment.

april2019-dandelion-macro2-sm

It sucks. I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that. The people I was working with were very apologetic. I know they feel terrible about it. But, really, they have no reason to. It’s not their fault. It’s not my fault. It’s just the way things are for right now. Times are uncertain. We have no idea how long we might have to huddle in our houses. Maybe only until the end of April. But maybe all the way to June. Or maybe even longer. Everything feels uncertain and scary now. Businesses have to cut expenses. And, of course, an independent contractor is the first expense to go. I’m not angry about it. I’m just … sad.

So, my contract work dried up last Monday. Before the pandemic happened, I had applied for a job with a company in our town. Last Tuesday, I got a call from the hiring manager for that job. He wanted to let me know they are dropping me from consideration, although he appreciated my interest in the job, and he said he wants to introduce me to other people in the company’s legal department once we can all leave our houses. I came into the hiring process late, and they already had people lined up for second interviews, so I didn’t have much of a chance, from the start. The hiring manager told me this, up front. I appreciate his candor and his willingness to continue offering me some of his time and assistance. It was incredibly kind of him to make the effort to call me in person, instead of letting the form rejection letter speak for itself. But … getting rejected sucks, too. Even if you weren’t totally sold on the job (which I wasn’t), getting rejected is a blow to the ego. Last week felt like a combination knock-out punch!

summer2018-maui-mamasfishhouse-sunset1-sm

And so, I have been feeling bad about myself. No matter how much I tell myself none of this has anything to do with my skills or qualifications … No matter how much I remind myself no one could foresee how everything has had to shut down due to COVID-19 … No matter how much I remind myself that this is all a matter of bad timing and nothing more … I feel like a big, fat, ridiculous, stupid LOSER.

Depression has joined the party in my head, whispering that I am worthless and making it hard to do anything I want or need to do. It’s hard to get up in the mornings. It’s hard to work up the energy to do even the simplest household tasks. Luckily, I can’t avoid cooking, as my family still needs to eat. And the dogs still need to be fed and loved on. These have been saving graces for me. Even so, I can feel it pushing down on me — that black cloud of self-hate, tinged at the edges with feelings of failure and worthlessness.

Here’s the thing: I need to get my shizzle together and stop whining over what I have lost. Today, I sat down and thought about all the good things in my life: my family loves me, my parents are still in good health, my dogs are a constant delight, and so on. Yes, I may have lost out on something that made me feel good about myself, but my family is still okay. My husband’s job seems stable, and we are (so far) weathering this crisis pretty well. I don’t hate staying at home, which is a huge positive right now. I can still enjoy nail polish and reading and all the little things I love on a daily basis. No one I know is sick with this horrible virus. I am so fortunate in many ways, and I don’t even realize it.

tx-hwy1-IG-sm

No, I think it’s not quite that I don’t realize it. I think it’s more that Depression has a way of hiding these things from me. At times when I start feeling down on myself, I have to remember to go looking for them. This isn’t to say that feeling sad over getting rejected or losing work is wrong or anything like that. On the contrary, it’s a valid feeling, and I need to let myself grieve over the things I lost. But I need to remember I haven’t lost everything. I need to remember I have also gained. And I need to remember that this loss, no matter how awful it feels, isn’t the end of the world.

Today, I took a walk in the sunshine. I felt the wind against my skin. I smelled the freshly cut grass. I raised my arms toward the blue sky above, and it was Good.

A New Normal …

So. It’s Spring! Like, officially Spring!

Aaaaand it’s snowing outside my window. Lots and lots of snow, although none of it is sticking to the ground. Talk about a “new normal”.

See what I did there? Smooth segue, right? Right!

5587261314_1064d70600

Last week, I was working my way through Blue Bloods on Amazon Prime —  you know, watching it in the evenings when I was done with work for the day. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the show, but it’s about a family of NYC law enforcement officers. The father, played by Tom Selleck, is the Police Commissioner for NYC. The grandfather is retired NYPD, and also served as Police Commissioner in the past. The two surviving sons are police officers, and the daughter is an Assistant District Attorney. In one episode, the oldest son’s wife, who is a nurse, suffers a traumatic injury while doing her job. This leads to several episodes where she and the rest of her family have to deal with the mental fall-out from what happened.

There is a point here, I promise. And I’m getting to it. I’m just being slow about it. In one episode after all of this happens, she tells her husband, “I just want everything to go back to the way it was before that day.”

This really hit me hard. It’s funny how you can be humming along with your life and, all of a sudden, a gut punch comes at you out of a dark corner of your mind. For me, this line was one of those unexpected left hooks right to the kisser. It got me to thinking about how often I say these same words, or some version of them, to myself.

bloomington-wintersunset-nov2019-sm

Three years ago this past January, my husband had a heart attack, followed by quadruple by-pass surgery. I’m not sure what to say about it, other than it shook our whole family right to the core. It sounds stupid to say we weren’t expecting it, but, of course, that’s true. I don’t think it’s possible to expect or plan for something like that. At first, I moved from thing to thing to thing, just trying to keep all the proverbial ducks in a row and keep everything going. But then, in the weeks and months that followed, my husband started to recover. And I started to let myself hope and look forward to that one day in the future, when everything would be back to normal. When everything would go back to the way it was, before that day.

Then, of course, my husband’s job change happened. It was a great opportunity, but it meant moving. So I went right from all the heart recovery worries to the finding a job and moving worries. There was a house to get ready and sell. There were plans to make. There was stuff to clear out and pack. There was a teenage daughter to console. There were months of living apart, splitting time between Illinois and Virginia. And, of course, there was the move itself: days of traversing the country like a band of hillbillies, with a car full of dogs and a U-Haul trailer full of stuff. (I can say “hillbillies” because I actually grew up in the Texas Hill Country. So I am, in reality, a “hillbilly”. I say it with love.)

This wasn’t a fun time for me. There was too much to do. There was too much stress. And I was all alone. To a large extent, I feel like I have been in this thing alone ever since the heart attack happened. But, I reminded myself, this is all a temporary thing. Once we are in our new house in our new town, things will settle down. Everything will go back to the way it was before all of this happened.

roadtohana8-sm

But you know what? It didn’t happen. None of it happened. Nothing went back to normal, and nothing went back to the way it was before all of this happened. And, as I sat thinking about it, I realized I need to stop telling myself that it will. I need to stop wishing for something that can’t happen.

Because, of course, Life can’t go back to the way it was before all of these things happened. I’m not the same person I was three years ago. My husband is not the same person he was three  years ago. My daughter is not the same person she was three years ago. Because Life has flowed past us, pushing us in its wake and creating changes all along the way. We live in a different house. In a different town. We want different things than we did three years ago. In some ways, I think we no longer know just what we want. Maybe none of us knew any of that, anyhow. Maybe we never did, and we were only fooling ourselves.

The thing is, “normal” isn’t static. Just when you get to a place where you feel comfortable or like you have everything figured out, the whole thing will shift and slide out from under your feet. Just when you look at your life and think about all the things in it that you love and that make you happy, everything changes. And it’s not just life itself that changes. We change. As people, we are always changing. We are always growing. We are always moving forward. And, sometimes, we slide backward a little bit, too. If we are always changing, then “normal” has to be a shifting thing, too.

bloomington-newhouse3-july2019-sm

So I’m living in a new “normal”. After so many huge changes in such a short time, I find I can’t feel comfortable in it. I can’t relax and feel happy. I’m not saying that I’m unhappy, exactly. I’m not … not completely. It’s more that I feel like I am wearing clothes that are too small. I’m edgy and unnerved and … Exhausted. I’m just so tired of all of it: grumpy spouse, grumpy child, muddy dogs, filthy floors, a flooded back yard. And blah, blah, blah. On and on and on. Now, of course, I have to include “sheltering in place” in my litany of things I’m tired of. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not tired of sheltering in place myself. I’m tired of doing it with my grouchy husband.

Last night, I was thinking I wanted things to change. But, now, I realize that’s not true. I think what I really want is for things to settle down. I want to finish unpacking all the boxes. I want to finish hanging the pictures. I want everyone to calm the frak down. I want to settle back into life without feeling like I have to look over my shoulder all the time, waiting for the next terrible thing.

I’m ready to find my new “Normal”. And I’m ready to live in it for a little while.

 

Into the Deep End … And Where I’ve Been

Y’all!! It is MARCH!! Even more than that, it is nearly halfway through March. And I have been MIA since the beginning of January. Ugh. This feels like the same song, second verse for the story of my life lately.

(Also, this isn’t part of this post, but I’ve gotta toss it in here: It is freaking SNOWING right now. As in, big, fat flakes floating to the ground outside my window and at least an inch on the ground so far. Crazy!!)

rose-snow3

Anyhow, where was I? Oh yeah. My life and the twisting, turning story of me being “me”. Or something like that. I wish I could come in here with some interesting, funny, and fascinating tale. But, as often is the case, the truth is more than a little boring.

Our move to Illinois is still a work in progress. We are pretty much settled into our house, but we still have a lot of things to unpack. I am amazed, on a daily basis, at how just three people can possess All The Things In The Universe. I swear the movers brought stuff that wasn’t even ours. I swear this every time I go down into the basement and start unpacking boxes. Unfortunately, each time I unpack a box, it turns out all the stuff inside it actually belongs to us. I’m still working on figuring out where to put things. I’m still working on which pictures to hang on which walls. I’m still getting my home office unpacked and put together. Aaaaand, I am still cleaning out my closet. It is all a very slow work in progress. But our new house has kept us comfortable, warm, and dry all winter long. And, apparently, even into the Spring. (Did I mention it’s snowing outside right now? Did I mention how this is crazy?) Our new house is starting to feel like “home”. And that’s a good thing.

But this post isn’t about that, not really. It’s all just background to what I really want to talk about. When you step away from your blog for a long time, you have to do a little bit of catch-up to put things into context.

bloomington-july42019-fireworks1-sm

Last month, I took a deep breath and jumped, feet-first, into the deep end of Life. I have been thinking about this ever since my husband got this new job. I have been talking to him about this ever since he got this new job. Finally, I did it. I decided to jump back into the work force. Yikes! It feels weird to be typing it out loud like this. And it feels weird to read the words in black and white as they flow from my keyboard. Maybe “weird” isn’t the right word for it. Maybe it’s more that seeing the words here in front of me makes it feel more real and more scary.

I left my last job in 2002. It is now 2020. I’m sure you can do the math and instantly realize I have been a stay-at-home mom for almost 18 years. I say “almost” because there are a few months leeway between the date I actually left my last job and today. Eighteen years! It sounds like a lot of time when I type it out loud like this. It sounds like a lot of time when I roll the words around in my head. It doesn’t feel like a lot of time, because all of it passed me by in what feels like the blink of an eye. All those years of laughter and fun and silly memories. All those years of watching my girl grow into a beautiful, thoughtful, amazing young woman. I feel like I turned around three times and, suddenly, I’m a lot older and my daughter is nearly grown.

roadtohana6-gardenofeden-peahen1-sm

I don’t want to face the reality of it, but my little chick is almost ready to fly the nest. I will never be ready for it. And she may not feel she is ready. But she is. I know it, and I have faith in the person she is. Next year, she is a senior, and we are in the midst of SAT preparation, college visits, and dreams for the future. She still needs me. I hope, in some ways, she will always need me: as a friend, as someone to turn to for advice, as a person who will always have her back. But she doesn’t need me to “mother” her any longer.

It was time to do this. It was time for the next step to happen, and my husband’s new job made all of this possible. I never planned to be away from the work force for this long. But I stayed in the background, keeping the home fires burning while my husband built his career. I was the parent on duty, 24/7/365, while he traveled for work and worked crazy hours and we hardly ever saw him. I’m not saying these things to throw him under the bus or anything like that. The way we ran things in our home and our family was something he and I agreed to, from the beginning. And I didn’t mind it. At the time, I didn’t feel like I was giving up anything. Because, of course, I had all those rewards: all the hugs and kisses and laughter and memories.

Now that I’ve decided to go back to work, I am starting to feel the weight of what I sacrificed. Not that I would change it. Let’s get that out and straight right now: I would not change a thing about it. If I had it to do over again, I would still do it. I would still stay home with that little girl and soak up all that love each and every day. I have no regrets about it.

But … It’s scary, going back. The weight of just how long I’ve been out of the game is heavy. And it’s hard to explain away my choices again and again. Not actually hard, but emotionally hard. It feels like being judged, in a way. It feels like people expect you to say you regret what you did, or that you would make a different choice, or that you thought about and missed working every single day that you were gone. Of course, that’s not my story, and that’s not what I have to say when asked the $64,000,000 question.

double-rainbow1-sm

In some ways, going back to work feels selfish. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve consciously chosen to do something that is just for me. So there’s that. It’s not like my daughter or husband are going to suffer from this choice. My husband has more regular hours now. A big reason for taking this job was the chance to move to a smaller town and for him to spend more time at home. He has some precious time now to be fully present and share in the laughter and memories. They are teenage memories now, but still just as sweet. My daughter is ready for this, I think. It will be good for her to learn some “adulting” now, before she is out of the house and on her own at college. And yet … that guilt. It is a pervasive thing.

I sucked it up, though. I told myself I needed to look that guilt in the eye and own it so I wouldn’t back away from it. And I started looking for jobs. I redid my resumé, which was a whole ordeal. I drafted a template cover letter. I got a rejection. I moved on from that and kept applying. And I got another interview, which was awesome and exciting. It was just a first-round thing, and I am waiting to hear back. Maybe I will get to move on to step two. Maybe not. But I’m out there. That’s what matters.

july2018-kerrville-bluechairs+sidewalk

In the meantime, I got a little bit lucky, too. I lucked into an amazing contract gig. I’ve been working at it since the end of February, and it’s perfect in every way. I’m able to work remotely from home. It’s with a nonprofit, and the legal department is small. This is amazing for me, because it means I get to work closely with two fantastic lawyers. It’s a part-time gig, from fifteen to twenty hours a week. This means I still have plenty of time to take care of household chores, pick up my daughter from school, and run her to various appointments. And the best part yet is that I am doing transactional work. This basically means reviewing and drafting contracts. It might sound boring, but it’s pretty exciting to me because I am learning a whole new skills set. I love learning new things!

All in all, I can’t believe I was lucky enough to snag this contract job. It is perfect for me at this moment in time. It’s a great way to ease back into the working world. It gives me some great new and recent experience to put on my resumé. And I am loving having daily chats and contact with colleagues. I feel really good about the work I am doing for them, and it is a huge confidence boost when I am able to have an in-depth legal discussion with one of my colleagues or when they tell me they appreciate my work.

On the slight downside, my new work is forcing me to re-learn how to schedule my time. I am trying to get back into good routines and habits, and it is a little bit of a slog. I will get there, but it might take a couple of months for it to happen. So far, this has meant less blogging time and more “running around crazy” time. But I am trying to settle in more and make time for all the things in my life that are important. That includes my blog, because hanging out in here helps my mental state. For now, I hope that will mean once-a-week entries on Saturdays or Sundays.

And that’s where I am right here and right now. Hopefully, I will see you guys back in here next week: same time … new story. Fingers crossed!!

 

Belated Christmas Cheer

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

So … let the post of many pics commence!

bloomington-christmastree-christmas2019-sm

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

bloomington-frontbushes-christmas2019-sm

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

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

bloomington-foyer-christmas2019-1-sm

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

bloomington-entrylights-christmas2019-sm

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

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-14-sm

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

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

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

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-1-sm

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

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

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-3-sm

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-4-sm

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-5-sm

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

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-8-sm

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-7-sm

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

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-2-sm

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

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

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-9-sm

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-10-sm

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-11-sm

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

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-13-sm

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

bloomington-familyroom-christmas2019-6-sm

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Christmassing We Will Go

See what I did there? I made up a whole new word. Hear me roar, Universe. Rawr!!

Okay,  yeah. I know, I know. It’s lame. But I’m still rollin’ with it.

ice3

Thanksgiving in Virginia was a success. It was a long drive — 12 hours each way — so that was pretty exhausting. I didn’t even have to drive, luckily. I am such a wimp that I was exhausted and sore just from riding in the car. How dumb and goofy is that? My daughter and I passed a good bit of the drive entertaining ourselves with “Carrobics”. It’s a thing that we invented. I’m not sure yet how to spell it. I think I’ll have to keep working on it for the time being.

“Car-robics” (see what I’m doing there? testing out different spellings — ha!) is when  you jam out like a crazy person to the song that’s on the radio at the time. My husband loves to play dance music mixes when we are on the road. These tend to have a beat that gets right down to the bottom of your soul and refuses to let go. No matter how tired you are, it is nearly impossible to sit still when one of these songs is going. We jumped around and sang along, waving our arms and doing all kinds of crazy gestures. I bet we looked insane to every car and trucker that passed us on the highway. Hopefully we entertained them as much as we entertained ourselves!

Thanksgiving and the trip itself were delightful. We ate with friends who are like family to us. We have all missed them dearly. I was able to see another of my very close friends on the trip, too. And our daughter stacked her visits up on a tight schedule. I think she was the most successful of us all in the visiting department. Her friends even hosted a “Friendsgiving” in her honor. I think she had a great time, although she was sad to leave. We all were — a little bit.

christmas2018-tree9-sm

We are still getting used to our new town and our new house. It is our first Christmas here and our first Christmas in this house. I’ve been excited about decorating for all the seasons, but, in particular, for Christmas. I’m a little nervous about it, because I feel like I don’t yet know all the quirks and “ins & outs” of this house. But I am looking forward to getting to know it better as the years go by. It’s also been a while since I was really able to do things up for Christmas. I decorated when we lived in Virginia, but not that much; we were in a townhouse, which meant we didn’t have a lot of space to display or store decorations. This is another source of nerves for me. I mean, can I even remember how to “Christmas”?

Needless to say, I returned from our trip ready to get my jolly Christmas spirit going full force. And I have been working at it since Monday.

You guys … Like everything else with this move, this whole Christmas thing has turned into a process. A frustrating, maddening process. I feel like my holiday jollies are fighting me every step of the way this year.

christmas2018-austin1-sm

It all started out fairly simply. We bought this adorable little wooden village during our trip to Virginia. So I already knew I wanted to put that out. And I knew we had some decorations all ready to go in the basement. Unfortunately, the decorations that were readily available in the basement weren’t the ones we really wanted. In fact, they weren’t even the ones we use every year. I have a surplus of Christmas stuff. I tend to buy it on clearance because I love this holiday so much. And, over the years, people have given me different decorations and Christmas things. And, of course, there are sentimental family decorations in the mix, too. Most of this stuff has been stored away for the entire time we lived in Virginia. And these were the boxes we had in the basement.

It figures, right? You go into a task thinking it will be a breeze, only to find you don’t have what you need or want to accomplish it. And, then, you realize it’s going to take a lot longer than you planned or expected. Family grumbling happens. And then, an argument or two. Before you know it, no one feels like doing anything remotely holiday-related.

That about sums up what happened for me last night. I was all excited to decorate the tree and really get our holiday fun rolling. I was ready for Christmas music or, maybe, a movie, some yummy snacks, and some fun family time. Needless to say, it didn’t happen. My husband and I got into a huge fight because neither of us could remember where the lights were for the tree. Our tree came pre-lit, but it’s old, which means the “pre-lit” part doesn’t work any longer. Every year, I say we should replace it. And then, I look at the prices on new trees and decide we can use ours for at least another year. And, of course, it’s kind of sentimental for us now. I mean, it’s “early marriage”, after all.

christmas2018-tree4-sm

Anyhow, instead of fun family tree trimming, my husband and I ended up going through boxes in the garage. It was not fun. And it was not pretty. We were both mad at life and at each other. It kind of sucked all the fun out of Christmas for me.

Today, I resolved to recapture some of that Christmas fun and happiness for myself. Even though I didn’t want to go through the boxes in the garage last night, it’s a good thing that we did. It needed to be done. So that’s a positive. We found the ornaments and lights that started all the trouble, so we had those ready to go. All of this was a positive. And, no matter how mad we were at each other yesterday, we both apologized and feel better about stuff today.

So, once hubby was off to work and child was off to school, I put on some Christmas music. I started going through the older boxes. It was so much fun to rediscover treasures I had pretty much forgotten. I laughed. And, yes, I cried a little bit, too. There were some good memories in those boxes. I finally have a place where I can pull some of my beloved things out for display. I put up lights and garland. I put up jingle bells and ornaments. I hung the wreath on our front door. Tonight, after everyone got home, we ordered pizza and put the lights and ornaments on the tree.

christmas2018-tree1-sm

And you know what? It was a good day. And it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas over here. I am loving every moment, too!