The Hole in My Heart …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Summer Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Belated …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Productive Day …

I am having a productive day today. And yesterday was a good day, too, in terms of “getting things done”. It sounds like a tiny thing, when I type it out loud. “Today is a productive day.” Or “I’m getting things done today.” It almost sounds like nothing at all. I mean, loads of people get tons of stuff done each and every day. I’m sure they’re out there: People who are organized and have all their life-shizzle together and have a checklist for their day and actually check off things from that list as the day progresses.

I am not one of them. I feel like our society (or culture or whatever you might want to call it) values those people. They are the “go-getters”. They are the entrepreneurs. They are the people we all look up to and admire. I wish I was one of them. I used to be organized and together and all of that stuff, but it wasn’t really ME. It was a way that I coped with my own anxiety and nervousness. It was a masquerade, of sorts. Everyone around me thought it was real. On some level, I even thought it was real. But, once Life and Depression caught up to me, I realized this is not me.

Basically, I am a mess. Depression has made me forgetful and disorganized. I don’t write things down or make lists like I used to. I have all the best intentions, but I don’t seem to get things done like I used to. It makes my poor, long-suffering husband crazy. He was used to overcompensating, super-organized me. I don’t think he knows quite what to make of the squidgy mess of a person I am now.

So … this is all a lot of background to lead into my productive couple of (so far!) days. When COVID roared into our lives and our state told everyone to stay at home, I thought, “Okay! This is the perfect time to get some things done!” We are nearly a year in our house here in Illinois, and we still haven’t finished hanging pictures or arranging things in all the rooms or clearing out the bits we no longer need. My office space, in particular, was a huge mess, with things tossed crazily onto shelves and nothing put away. This was mostly because I never took the time to find places for all the things.

I went into stay-at-home at the end of March feeling a little bit eager and excited about the possibility that I would get some of my “home” stuff done. And from the end of March to the end of April, I managed to accomplish … basically nothing. I did get my closet done, because the installers were considered “essential” in our state and were able to keep the appointment to install the shelving and drawers. If not for that, my closet would still be a mess. But that’s a post for another time. The closet happened at the end of April.

From the end of April to now, nearly the end of May, I have, once again, accomplished … NOTHING. Seriously!! Every night, I went to bed telling myself, “Tomorrow, I’m going to …” You can fill in the blank with whatever household task comes to mind. And every morning, I got up feeling stressed and anxious and depressed and completely unmotivated. After each day spent binging British crime shows on Amazon Britbox, I would go to bed feeling horrible and useless. Depression sucks, you guys. It gets you coming and going, and it makes you feel like an ass both ways.

But no more!! At least, not for now. Because yesterday and today, I tackled the shelves in my office. They started out much like the above, only imagine less books and more clutter and dust. It wasn’t pretty. Just looking at them made me want to cry and run off somewhere to hide. I’d been doing more than my fair share of that since we finished moving into the house, so I told myself to suck it up. Start from the beginning, I told myself. Take it one step at a time.

Because that’s the way of any task, isn’t it? No matter how overwhelming it might seem or how unpleasant, if you start at the beginning and take things one step at a time, you will eventually make progress. It feels so much easier breaking things down into smaller bits. Before you realize it, you’ve done all the bits and the entire task is accomplished.

Yesterday, I started at the top of one side of the shelves and worked my way down. I gathered up all the little decorative doo-dads I have collected over time. There are a LOT of them! I love them, but they are horrible dust catchers. I found display cases to corral all my miniatures and fiddly toys and small anime figures. These are awesome, by the way. I love having these display cases. I dusted everything. I put up racks to display my dragons. You guys know I have a thing for dragons, right? I’ve mentioned that a time or two in here. I shifted things from shelf to shelf so that they made visual sense to me.

Today, I dusted some more. I brought books from the library downstairs to store up here on the shelves. I’ve decided to put my manga in here, instead of taking up library space for them. I took out the things that don’t need to be in here any longer. I arranged all the books and looked for book ends to prop them up. I found a decorative basket to hide away my power strip. Because power strips are ugly, aren’t they? I put up my fun little stained glass signs. I untangled my wind chimes and hung them in the windows.

It’s not done. Not yet. I know I have one more box of books in the basement that need to come in here. I need to find a couple more book ends. I still have a few small pictures to hang up here and there. I know things will have to shift around to find the “best” spots. There is always a lot of fiddling and finessing to do before shelves are settled and done.

But that’s okay. I am on the way and nearly done. I had a productive day — two days in a row! And you know what? It feels pretty darn great.

COVID-19 Dreams & Elusive Ideas …

I know, I know. My post title is weird. And guess what that means? Yep: My post is probably going to be weird, too. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Really, what I want to talk about in this post is dreams, in general. Over the past couple of days, I have had two dreams that really stand out to me. One of them because it continues to feel so fresh and vivid in my brain. The other one because it is humming away in the back of my brain, but I can’t recall any of the details. And, of course, the dream I don’t want to remember is the one that continues to stand out to me, while the dream I very much want to hang on to slips and slides away from my memory. Isn’t it crazy how that works? Like … why, Universe? Why???

A couple of days ago, a story idea came to me in a dream. It actually came to me in that twilight time when I was suspended between being fully asleep and fully awake. Y’all! This was the greatest, most amazing, most awesome story idea ever. Ever! Even as I was sleeping, I remember thinking to myself, “Self! This is a fabulous idea! We need to write this!” This idea had everything: great characters, action, a little bit of drama, and even some funny parts. As my alarm went off to tell me it was time to get up, I felt so exhilarated and excited about this idea.

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The moment I woke up, I rushed to my office space, intending to write this idea down. And when I say “the moment”, I mean it. I didn’t even pause to do my morning stretches or use the facilities. I know, I know. That’s TMI. But it’s important that you get the idea here. This is how excited I was. This is how awesome this story idea was!

And guess what? As soon as my butt hit the chair in front of my computer … *poof*. My fabulous idea was gone. Well, it’s not completely and totally gone. It’s still in there, hanging around on the edges of my memory and taunting me with its awesomeness. But I can’t remember any of the details from it. None. I am left with this fabulous-shaped hole and nothing with which to fill it. It’s so frustrating. Frustrating beyond measure.

And then, last night, I had a completely different type of dream. We are living through such a stressful time right now. I feel like I do a pretty good job of maintaining — or attempting to maintain — my usual optimism. I’ve been trying hard to “just keep swimming”, as Dory would say. But it’s stressful! Sometimes it hits me just how much things are out of control. How much I don’t have control over anything in my life or anything around me. I realize control is nothing more than an illusion at the best of times. But, at the best of times, it’s easier to believe in the magic. When times are tough, it seems like you can see the magician pulling every wire behind the curtain.

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Last night, I guess the stress built up to a boiling point for me. It manifested in a stress dream. It was a ridiculous stress dream that made me laugh in the light of day. And yet, it was no less stressful for all of its ridiculousness. Even as I told my husband about it and laughed at how silly it was, I felt the uneasiness and stress of it gathering inside my mind and body. And you know what? I can recall every single detail of the upsetting dream. The colors around me, the sounds, and even the smells all come back to me in vivid detail. I don’t even have to try and recall it. It’s just there, lurking under the surface of my subconscious.

Why is it that I can vividly recall the dream I would rather forget, but I can’t remember anything about the dream I want to hold onto? It seems like this is always the way of things, isn’t it? We let go of things we should cling to and cling to things we should let go. I’m sure I don’t have the answer to why this is, and I’m not going to figure it out in the space of one (or a gazillion) blog entries. But I guess it is something to think about, in our spare time — you know, when we aren’t foraging for toilet paper or disinfecting our groceries or washing our hands.

Don’t mind me. I’ll just be over here in the corner, trying to remember the things I should and forget the things I shouldn’t. Or … something like that.

 

A Pandemic Birthday …

It was my birthday last Friday (April 10, not April 17). Honestly, I’m not much for birthdays, in general. I love to remember and celebrate my husband’s birthday and my daughter’s birthday. But I have never gotten all that excited about my own birthday. I believe I have mentioned this before. I have probably mentioned it once a year in here — you know, in connection with other birthdays. I didn’t go back to check, but it seems like the kind of thing I would say. It seems like the kind of thing I would feel obligated to say, in a way. I mean, most people love their birthdays. I’ve always felt kind of weird and out of step in this regard.

This year, it was a strange birthday. Even for me. I always like a quiet celebration with just my little family. And, of course, we had a very quiet celebration this year, since we are all still social isolating. Or quarantining. Or social distancing. Or … whatever you want to call it. My husband sent me a beautiful bouquet of roses. We took a walk together as a family. I FaceTimed with my parents, who were supposed to be visiting us for my birthday but, of course, couldn’t. My daughter waited on me hand and foot for the entire day. We had ice cream sundaes and take-out from a couple of places I particularly like in our new town. And we watched two movies together. All in all, it was a lovely, sweet day. In so many ways, it was perfect. I think I will have warm memories from it for many years to come.

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As I went to bed that night, it hit me that the day had felt entirely normal. For once, I didn’t think about COVID-19. We didn’t watch the news or read reports about new cases in our county and state. We didn’t scour the internet in search of toilet paper and paper towels. My husband and I didn’t talk about how likely it would be that this virus would come back with a vengeance once we all start socializing again. I didn’t sit and think about how weird and different and uncertain everything feels. We laughed and ate and enjoyed ourselves. We told silly stories and jokes. My daughter and I sang along to all the songs in Moana.

Now that I think back on it, I feel it might have been the very best of birthdays. Over the last few months, life has devolved into something I don’t quite recognize and don’t quite understand. Or, maybe it’s more that I don’t want to understand it. Or, let’s be honest: it’s probably that I want to deny any of it is happening. Even as I wear a mask and gloves on my infrequent trips to the grocery store and disinfect every item that comes into my house and studiously maintain at least 6 feet of distance between myself and others when out in public and avoid walking on favorite paths and trails for fear they will be too crowded and wash all my clothing in hot water — just in case … And on and on. Even as I obsessively perform these new and slightly exhausting daily behaviors, there is a part of my brain that wants to sing, “Lalalalala … None of this is real!”

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And yet, it is real. And it grows more terrifying by the day. I am afraid for my husband, who is high risk. I am afraid for my daughter, who still has her life in front of her. I am afraid for my elderly parents. I am afraid for friends that I love and who live in areas with a greater number of cases than my own town and county. I pray for strength and faith. But, inside, I am still afraid.

And so, a day of “normal”, even if it feels somewhat bittersweet in retrospect, was exactly what I needed. It was a day to pause and take a deep breath. It was a day to remember how lovely life is. It was a day to remember in the best of ways.

It was a good birthday.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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