Family, Marriage, Work

spring cleaning through the years

I want someone to tell me how to get through the bad days.

  • When the hubs arrived at work he found our motorized gate broken.  Again.  Hours are spent dismantling the motor and eventually removing it.
  • When I drive into our parking lot I watch a woman dump clothes on our public easement.  I yell to her to pick-up her used clothes and she walks away.  I am left to put them in our trash bin.
  • The J-bolts from the platers are mottled and rejected.  It is when we question the quality that we discover they’ve also increased their price with new ownership.

It’s days like this when we feel the burden of small business.

Hours in labor spent maintaining our building and equipment.  Picking up other people’s messes.  Whether it’s used clothes, low quality plating or just unprofessional practices we are left to our own devices.  Most times we eat the cost.

  • At home I stare at the washing machine wondering why it won’t spin.  Again, the hubs spends time dismantling.
  • I walk into bedrooms with overfilled hampers because sons don’t understand to lift the lid to place the dirty clothes, inside the receptacle.  I yell to my sons to pick-up their clothes and they walk away.  “Okay, Mom,” is all I get and so I leave the mess.
  • I look at progress reports with grades that I cannot accept.  I question the quality of time my boys put into their studies since their primary responsibility is to do well in school.

I feel the burden of parenting tweens and teens.

After work I spend time maintaining our house and appliances.  I am cleaning up my family’s messes in the place that is supposed to be my sanctuary.  Whether it’s dirty laundry, dishes or irresponsible sons who make poor choices and don’t have their priorities straight, I feel the mental and emotional cost.

I am spent.  Financially.  Physically.  Mentally.  I tell my husband, I am done as we dejectedly sit across the desk at work.  He is too.

 

This past weekend, my father in-law (FIL)  requested the help of our eldest son with the upkeep of a car.  Eight hours were spent doing various things as the grandfather passed his car knowledge to his grandson. First he was under the hood learning about the parts of the motor.   Later I found myself stepping over my husband and son, under the car, as they discussed what to do with the oil pan while my FIL stood nearby supervising and instructing.  Finally, bemused, I pulled up a chair as I listened to the grandfather explaining to the grandson how to detail a car interior.

I found myself detailing my own car’s interior.  It had been untouched for years and as I scrubbed and emptied the Simple Green spray bottle, my seemingly random, disorganized thoughts formed together.

When you don’t do what you love or love what you do, it makes getting up in the morning that much harder.   It’s not realistic, sometimes, to love life.

There are days when I don’t even like the ones I’m supposed to love.

I wake up each morning wondering, What am I supposed to do?

I want someone to tell me the answers but really, I need to figure this one out for myself.   If someone else tells me what to do, it’s easy to not accept ownership; to blame others.

I scrubbed years of grease from my car’s upholstery and carpets.  I saw the cracks and tears, the mottled colors.  But my vehicle feels new.

I accept the scars and abuse my interior has endured; remembering how they got there.

…the time my youngest son thought my light gray leather interior was a drawing board and chose to write on our dashboard with Sharpie pen.

…the double phone charger at the bottom of the seat pocket, bought in Arizona outside the Grand Canyon, as the older boys constantly fought for the lone rear battery outlet.

…the indentations from the carseats all of my sons formerly sat in.

…the sticky markings on the car ceiling from the soda that exploded as we rose in altitude during a snowy Memorial day camping trip.

It took several hours to detail the inside of my car.   Normally I take care of the exterior, the big things that people see, and sweep things under the rug to deal with another day.   I have spent the least amount of time maintaining the interior.  Thankfully, my hubs handles most things under the hood which allows my car to run.

When I drive my SUV, on a daily basis, I don’t see the outside.  I live and breathe on the inside.  A lot of my time is spent behind the wheel commuting to work, shuttling kids to/from school.   My most meaningful conversations with my family occur within this car’s interior whether it be on short trips or long ones.

I was mistaken in thinking my house was my sanctuary.  The reality is, my happy place is in my car…windows down, music blaring as yellow lines blur in open spaces.  I love my solo commute to work but I also love people driving in my car with me to infinity, and beyond.

While reading the novel, The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney for our monthly book club, the line resonates.

You can make your surroundings as polished and empty as you like.  But it doesn’t really matter if you’re still messed up inside.  And that’s all anyone’s looking for really, isn’t it?  Someone to take care of the mess inside our heads?

I finally took ownership of it.  All of it.  It is time to repair, clean and maintain my mental interior.

In dealing with a sticky situation, in one of the organizations which I serve, I found myself seeking answers once again.  My goal is always transparency but the time has come for me to stand my ground, to stop having others tell me what to do based on past history.  To filter and sort my words.

I know what I need to do.  I trust my gut.  And so my boundaries are becoming defined as I mentally prepare for uncomfortable and awkward moments to do the right thing.  To handle the messy details.  To not sweep things under the rug to help someone save face for appearances’ sake.

I must deal with my mental interior and sift through the clutter and detritus.  To make things simple and wipe away at the years of neglect, accumulated gripes and pent-up frustrations.

I will let go of the idea that I must love what I do and shoulder the things life brings my way; to carry my own weight.

The reality of life is that there are many things we do not like to do, that must be done.  To consistently wake up each and every day with the goal of trying to be the best person that I can be.  And not just for me.

I strive to stop worrying about appearances and embrace the people whose relationships keep my cup full.  The ones who make me get out of bed every morning who need me; and I, them.  There will soon be a day where there will be no mess to pick up after (okay, maybe the hubs but someday, not even him).  There are days when nothing needs to be repaired and all things are pristine.

I gaze over to my grease covered hubs as he labors beneath the machine with our employee.  I don’t have to love what I’m doing every single minute of the day.  I can do without the tenant drama behind our building, the broken gates, the shoddy workmanship from vendors, the not-so-reliable appliances at home and my broken kitchen tile.

The accumulated daily grime, through the years, builds and it’s time to spring clean and make it like new.  Scars, flaws, head clutter and all.

Most days I don’t love what I do.  But I work alongside the hubs, the one I love.

It’s never really been about the money, the candy and roses.  It’s about going through the monotonous daily grind, through the years, with someone who loves me unconditionally and helps me take care of the mess inside my head.

I trust my heart.  I own this.

 

 

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Marriage

my happy place

I am with my hubs 24/7.  We work together in the small business we own.   I handle office matters and accounting and he handles everything else.

Admittedly, it is trying being with this man all of the time and when I meet couples who have endured through the years, for much longer than our mere eighteen years, I am compelled to ask this burning question in my mind.

How do you do it?  What’s the secret to a lasting marriage?

Last Saturday I awoke to bright, glaring sunlight as our cat pounced upon my foot above the covers.  Our bedroom, and entire house, looked like a hurricane had blown through it.  Normally this brings me anxiety and frustration.  I am a creature that thrives on order and routine, but I am learning to live through the chaos of my  life; to be present in the moment.

I recently was reminded of this after learning of two people’s passing.  A seventeen year old girl, who had performed with her high school band at Grand Nationals in Indianapolis as a vocalist and flutist, had been instrumental in placing their band in the top ten in finals.  Upon driving home that night, the car she had been in was struck.  She, her father and grandmother were killed.  This band program had experienced both its highest and lowest point,  in the same evening.

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During a district showcase event, featuring our local band programs, we learned of the loss of a staff member’s infant child at full-term.  Upon our flight’s return from Indianapolis our family of five had run into this family at a local restaurant.  They had beamed in happiness as they excitedly looked forward to the addition of this child.  We quietly absorbed the news in the high school stadium, saddened by this loss.

Life is short.

This past Saturday morning  was the first, in several months, where none of us needed to be somewhere.  I imagined myself lazily rousing, just as our sixth grader came bounding into the bedroom in search of the cat.  He had returned from a week- long science camp, immediately following our travel from Indianapolis.  The hubs and eldest son had fallen asleep downstairs, watching movies late into the night.  So much for a leisurely awakening.

Within an hour, all of my sons had made their way into our bedroom; strewn across our bed.  The dog and cat hairs clung to their pajama bottoms as the dog excitedly barked and the cat demurely purred.   Suitcases and blankets were pushed aside as my teens offered their own backs to be scratched and the tween found room in-between.

My mind flashed back to these boys as infants longing to be underneath our covers; jockeying for space on our queen sized bed.  It is now I who fights to find room, these sons now taking up most of the space.  When the hubs joined in, we were crammed; all of my boys somehow laying atop one another.

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It goes by in a blink.  I no longer take them for granted.  I cherish each one of them for who they are.

But in all this, it is the hubs that gets lost in the chaos.  Of all my family members, he is the one most taken for granted.  Most of this fall season I have busily coordinated our schedules, accounted for numbers for work and made sure we met our obligations to be where we’ve needed to be.  It is rare that I am being with he; the one who started this all.

I sat in bleachers in another stadium.  Whenever I meet a couple, my other most pressing question is how and when they’ve met; particularly those who have endured the years and have been married longer than ourselves.  This woman shared how she had met her husband of thirty-two years and I pointed out to her my other half, sitting in a far corner in disheveled and unmatched camouflage-wear.  We grinned at one another in understanding.

We appreciate our spouses when we step out of our normal routines and see them as others do.

It’s easy to get distracted and derailed with details and detritus.  The work-a-holic who bends over backwards  to make another customer happy with an unreasonable timeline.  The man who doesn’t bother with clothes or appearance and comes just as he is.  The father who sometimes forgets to check his sailor mouth from his days as a naval aviator, with his kids.  This man of spontaneity and my complete opposite in more ways than one.

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I type this from my happy place.

I had been shocked when the hubs saw the fall savings email and urged me to book an overnight stay at our beloved winery.  Financially we are recovering from our  recent travel, as well as large material purchases for the business.  I was anxious about leaving our sons at home, even overnight.  Our home was a mess and there was plenty to do to prepare for Thanksgiving and the holidays.

I’ve learned that more is not better.  That living with less makes life simpler and more clear.  That all these things to do, can wait.

The hubs and I walked across the road to honor the girlfriend who passed this last May at her preferred winery.  It is one of my favorite memories with her and another dear friend, as we headed to a book signing in San Diego.

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I passed on the extra glass of wine, only choosing quality versus the excess quantity. I watched as people stumbled around me and spoke in too loud voices in the wine tasting room.  I could taste the tannins on my tongue, smell the bouquet of flavors and appreciate the time and patience required to ferment grapes into an award winning wine.   As I sipped, I thought of the various answers I’ve received, over the years…

  • from the couple who sits behind our pew each Sunday… they’ve made it over sixty years because they give one another space.  He reads the paper in one room, she watches novellas in the other.   They appreciate one another’s diverse interests and do their own thing.
  • from my in-laws who just celebrated fifty years this July…who’ve made it because they never go to bed angry and are together 24/7.  They’ve weathered storms, since their teens, together against all odds and spent twenty five years creating the business we have inherited.  Currently they enjoy their years of retirement side-by-side on slot machines.
  • from the woman in the stadium…they’ve made it because they separated home from work and independently pursued what was important to each of them.  We had laughed out loud as she referred to her husband in third person…a separate entity from the one she usually deals with, in the first (person).  In watching him work she remembered the man she had fallen in love with.

And so I watched my own hubs in the third person; trying it on for size.

Instead of grimacing when he changed our schedule to stay late to appease, yet another customer, I saw the man who selflessly gives of his time.  He is the reason why our customers return.

I ignored the mess of our home; pushing aside clothes strewn on couches to sit and watch movies in a spontaneous movie marathon with our boys.  This is my hubs’ favorite pastime as I flit around picking up around them.  I decided to just sit with them instead.

I thought of my book club girlfriends who refer to my husband as, “the good guy” and tried to see the man they see…the one who teaches our boys how to build campfires, creates chef quality meals, assists them with trig/calc/physics/all things technological and being an all around “good guy.”

We stepped out of our normal routines, leaving our three sons  (with grandma nearby) and even taking a day off work, to decompress after this whirlwind of a year.  All things work related, financial and school  remained at home.  We sat among the vineyards, he with an electronic book; myself with my son’s laptop typing words.

Life is short and I would not want it to end without this man knowing the depth of love and gratitude for what we have (the good and the bad).  For years I’ve considered him my parenting partner or my “evil” work boss.

I had forgotten the love that began it all and the ties that bound us together. We are quite different in many ways but in things that matter, our beliefs are the same.  I considered all the answers people have shared over the years, finding my own on how our marriage will endure.

Marriage is like a fine wine requiring lots of attention and endless amounts of patience.

I may not always be in love with my life.  But I’m thankful to be here to live it.  It’s tough to always do what you love and love what you do...but I’ll spend the rest of my time trying, with this guy, ’til death do us part.

My heart is joyful as the holiday season comes upon us.  It isn’t about the material things and gifts.  In my marriage, my presence is the only present I have to give.

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This Thanksgiving be grateful.  Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

Marriage

my midlife crush

I have a crush.

My husband called me out and I, quickly defended, I do not.  But, as in all things, my mate happens to also be the one who knows me most and I had to take some time to deliberate his preposterous idea.  To which I came to the guilty conclusion that he was right.

I do.  

I am happily married to my husband, the one I’ve known since age eighteen.  We are approaching twenty years of marriage.  We have lived apart, during his flight training years and my graduate school studies; as well as the sixteen years he served on active military duty.   For the past seven years we have finally settled in our “forever home,” where we work, side-by-side, in the family business we assumed from his parents.   He no longer deploys, by choice, to watch our three sons grow after missing ten years of our eldest’s life.  We are together 24/7.

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The hubs merrily dubs him as “my boyfriend.”

I thought this crush was temporary, a distraction from my normal daily grind.  The crush recipient happens to be one that I admire, older, and A LOT like my husband regarding his personal and political views.  He is happily married and is unaware of my silly infatuation.

My girlfriends knew I had a crush on the former NBC news anchor, Brian Williams, and this continues to be a source of amusement.  When fires destroyed our neighborhood and we had evacuated, I had been tempted to return to our local supermarket where this TV anchor reported from.  Upon his departure from NBC for his misleading reporting, I received many condolences and smirks.

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After a year and a half,  I had thought this crush had gone away but found myself, once again, tongue-tied while at a recent event.  For those who know me, this is rare indeed.  I can usually talk to inanimate objects and hold trivial, as well as deep, conversations.  As an adult, I have become an extrovert.  But I find myself becoming the person I was in high school, shy and introverted; upon being in the presence of my crush.

I shared this with my book club girlfriends to which one replied, “this is where affairs begin.”  Is this true?  I frantically searched the internet for resources as to why people have crushes.  Is this my midlife crisis?  Am I on the path to adultery?

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Thankfully, my girlfriend heard me over brunch and laughed.  She reiterated the answers I had hoped to hear.  Crushes are natural and are ways we distract ourselves.  Many of the things that irk her about her own husband, are ones that I share.  Does he have to snore so loud?  Wake up!  Why does he have to be messy?  Can’t you pick up after yourself?   Small things in the longer, wider picture.  Her husband’s words, upon her lament of all things trivial, sat between us in the crowded restaurant.   The material, trivial details that we mull and obsesses over, all even out in the end. 

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The negative space between people was just as important as the positive space we occupy.” ~ Alyson Richman, The Lost Wife.

We can both look past our husbands’ flaws to remind ourselves why we are still married to them.  It is for the heart within; the steadfast beat that puts up with my daily in and out.  The one who hears my laments and doesn’t fight to make me hear his.  I am the yin to his yang.

The crush is a mental separation; to give me space to ponder other things.

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Life is not a bed of roses.  We have transitioned into small business in an economic recession.  Finances, never an issue before, lie in foreboding. We have three sons to feed, clothe and house and future educations to fund.  We have old drainage pipes and vehicles, cracked tile, leaky roofs and a plethora of other problems associated with home ownership.  We are sandwiched between aging parents and raising tweens/teens and are confronted with our changing body images and new health issues.  Wrinkles, gray hairs, unwanted belly fat, and inner cellular changes came at a time when the stressors of life run high.

Gone are the years where we are trying to climb ladders, at this point we are holding on in hopes to maintain; to not drop the ladder or fall off.  Aging has a way of slowing our metabolism and diluting hopes and dreams.  We’ve buried parents and friends, marriages disipitate and friends and/or their kids, fall dependent on drugs and alcohol.  Faith in our nation, our future, in religion are at an all time low.  It’s easy to take hold of our own destinies; to forge new paths than to work through deep seated wounds and issues.  It’s much harder to work things through.

… I believe the measure of a vow does not lie in saying it, or in upholding it when things are easy.  The power of a promise is proven in times of difficulty, when keeping that pledge is hard.” ~ Stephen P. Kiernan, The Hummingbird: A Novel.

Is this what I’ve lived life for?  Where is the promised ease of reaching our pinnacles;  our hopes and dreams?

And so I delve into the real reasons for a crush.  Dissatisfaction of where one is in life.  In a mate.  In a career.  All of the above.   Do I really see myself pursuing a senseless crush?

Thankfully, these have all been musings in my mind for the past year and a half.  I can communicate these questions, sometimes uneasily and heatedly, with the hubs.  It has helped me appreciate our relationship as it has matured through the years.  Even though our experiences have changed us, essentially he and I are the same two kids who met in a calculus class lamenting derivatives and integrals.

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At the happiest place on Earth, amidst my angst of being late in traffic to my cousin’s wedding, our son grabbed my camera to snap the shot of his arguing parents.  One of our very first “dates” had been at this same place and the picture of us, in a roller coaster car on Splash Mountain with a white corsage on my arm, had been the beginning of our relationship over two decades before.

After grinning for our shot the trivial traffic worries disappeared; the love from the newly weds shared among the guests invited to celebrate with them.

My husband looks past the stretch marks and wrinkles and I do the same.  But my crush puts things in perspective.  He embodies a few of the things my husband does not have; the things I desire that are unfulfilled.

In comprehending these things I can communicate this to my spouse; as he reciprocates with me.

It is fun to project my ideals on someone else and to entertain my mind.  But the history, love and understanding; the acceptance of one another’s flaws and fears are what binds the hubs and I.  It is in our transparency with one another that makes our ties stronger.

The hubs endures this song as I play it on repeat as I process and blog my thoughts.  He is my bestie and a keeper.

Family, friendships, Marriage

In memoriam

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I spend a lot of time looking through the rear view and not enough time in the present.

In the hustle and bustle of end-of-year school projects, concerts, open houses and competitions there was no time to be still.  I took the days, one-at-a-time; focusing on the schedule and things needed to be done that very day and not looking ahead to the next.  Juggling three sons at three different schools, our work schedules and family commitments was as much as I could handle.  So when the text from my girlfriend came that a dear friend was in ICU; I pushed it to the back-of-my mind.  I quickly shared the words with my hubs as I pushed through invoicing and his response shocked me.

Go now. 

I verbally retorted the tasks due that very morning.  I told him that I probably wouldn’t even get in to see her; the rules for ICU usually allowing few visitors except family.   This 38 year old girlfriend has been in and out of hospitals for the past two years and I have visited her in these different places.  To this my hubby had replied.

You never know.

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I did go, standing by her bedside with three other women.  I stared at the monitors and IV tubes, looking at O2 saturation numbers on the ventilator.  On a whim I had returned the following evening before our school’s open house; the place where her presence was always felt in PTA.  Less than two days later, this girlfriend would leave us to greener pastures in the heavens above; free from the burdens placed upon her body.  She rests in peace.

I pushed through each event, each day, and in random moments the memories would return with this fellow parent and friend who leaves a husband and eleven-year-old son behind.  The feelings of guilt came upon me of the email she had sent, just a week before.  I hadn’t had time to return her words while at work.  Her request had been simple.  She had asked my girlfriend and I to write a letter for her son’s sixth grade promotion book; to encourage him as he transitions from elementary to junior high.  It would be presented later in this month, in the classroom, with a breakfast.  Each child would receive their book to read the letters from family and friends.

As news of her passing spread through our school there were many parents who also felt guilt.    The recurring undercurrent was in the guilt of not seeing our friend often.   As  I sat in the memorial service I had been surprised at the reach this girlfriend has had in our community.  When healthy, this woman could unceasingly talk with boundless energy and tenacity; a force to be reckoned with.  Most people only saw this side and it was rare she would reveal the person she truly was.  She was generous and loyal; to a fault.  She had many groups of friends but very few knew her.  Those of us who had these glimpses of who she was realized the fragile woman who sought close meaningful connections within.

When I questioned the medical advice she received from her physicians she’d remained strong in her convictions and in her faith in God.  I often offered to advocate for her, to question the cocktail of infusions and drugs she received for her treatments.  But she always remained steadfast; knowing she was always in God’s hands.  The book she had given a few of us, several years back, has always remained on my nightstand.  I am always the doubting Thomas; the one that must always question, why?

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This is the gift our dear friend has given me; her strong and unwavering conviction in her faith through adversity.

As I jogged, out of breath, in the mornings I would think of my girlfriend on the vent struggling for air.  As I picked up in my sons’ messy rooms, I thanked God I was still here to be a mother to them.  I reflected and dwelt on the past too much; not appreciating the life I currently have.  Soon my boys will leave this home and the noise and mess will be gone with it. I look through my camera lens and capture great shots; but am not really present in them.   I take shots through the rear view mirror of the amazing views that I’ve already left behind.

But it’s time to change all that.  It’s not too late.

We have to live life to its fullest each and every day.  This isn’t to say that we must be perfect, far from it.  What I am learning is that I must own the things that I do, the good and the bad.  I should let go of expectations and of trying to please others and solely focus on those lives who directly impact my own.  The relationships that nurture and build, not the ones that make me feel inadequate and tear me down.  Bank accounts and grand vacations, kids’ accomplishments, large cover-worthy homes; even plenty of friends are not things that define who I am.  The dramas of people around us are inconsequential if the relationships that matter remain strong.  I may not see my dear friends or family often but I know that they are there and will always affirm me.

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Discover and invest time with those who make the time to be with you and accept who you are.  Forgive those who’ve done you wrong; you never know.  And if you are fortunate to have already found them, take the time to appreciate them and tell them so.

That includes your spouses.  I know, I am guilty.

My girlfriend and I were not very far removed; both of us seeking meaning in the diverse groups of people we are a part of.  We both realized those friends who were superficial and those who were genuine.  We both were blessed with husbands who endured our over-the-top ways of giving in service, and who balanced our personalities with their strong, silent ones.  We were bound by the need to contribute, to leave legacies so that our only child lives would have some kind of meaning; primarily for our sons.  We were both driven to give our boys the best and to be involved; unlike our own parents growing up.

And so I grieve alone, through words, as I know this girlfriend has these past two years for the losses she has endured.  She would understand my guilt for living, while she is not here, and she’d feel guilt in leaving so soon.   She would want the best for her husband and son in the years to come and would be happy at the outpouring of love from our community.  She would be surprised that so many people would remember her contributions at her school, her church and the lives she touched outside of her family and small group of friends.  Her short life had not been in vain.

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It had been said, during her service, that our girlfriend’s overwhelming nature was because she would have to make up for the short years she would be on Earth with us.  For those of us who knew her, we have been blessed.

This Memorial Day it is important to look back to those who have laid down their lives for our freedoms.  I am grateful to my own father and my veteran husband, for serving this purpose.  But we must also live our every day lives so that we, too, embody these things.  So that we do not regret or look back at the things we never said or did.  Plant yourselves in the present (not past or future) and appreciate what our country is NOW during this controversial presidential election year.  We are the land of opportunity and of the free.  Today, (and every day), be grateful.

 

Family, Marriage

pursuing adventures of a lifetime

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The hubs and I found ourselves sitting in the little kid chairs in the crowded room; intently staring as the numbers flashed upon the screen.  My number soon appeared and in I went.

Within five minutes I returned and the hubs and I walked out into the bright light and heat beyond; the weekend beckoning.  He proffered his arm, as all military men do, and I looped my own within.  Three days later I walked into our offices; the piles of work awaiting.  I quickly logged onto my computer and the Valentine’s screensaver filled my screen; replacing the Windows login.  And then the phone rang and my day began.

The week ended with another phone call; one I kept missing and not really wanting to receive.  In the midst of a task, the hubs heard my questions and sat alongside; my notepad filled with squiggles and doodles.  I thanked the nurse and replaced the phone on the cradle, turning to my hubs and sharing what I had suspected.  I matter-of-factly told him of the scheduled tests and appointments; only looking away when his eyes filled with liquid.  Life happens I say to him; the busyness of our business erasing the moment.  He stood and quickly strode away.

said I can’t go on, not in this way
I’m a dream that died by light of day
gonna hold up half the sky and say
only I own me
and I feel my heart beating
I feel my heart underneath my skin
oh I can feel my heart beating
cause you make me feel
like I’m alive again
alive again
oh you make me feel
like I’m alive again

turn your magic on, Umi she’d say
everything you want’s a dream away
under this pressure under this weight
we are diamonds taking shape
we are diamonds taking shape ~ Coldplay

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I sometimes feel like I go up and down stairs not really getting anywhere; stuck in-the same place.  That deja vu feeling stayed with me these past few days as I finally completed the last of my unwanted financial tasks.  The audit now sits complete and packed away in a bag; ready to hand-off.  It is done.

I crank up the Coldplay song and let it fill me, as only music can; filling the void.  Life has hardened me to its ability to take things away and at a young age; I had journeyed alone.  The bff across the miles understood this as we continue to live our parallel lives and it was only when my paths crossed with my future husband; that I shared the adventure of a lifetime.  There were years where our paths diverged as he served active duty and I remained home raising three young sons.  But being an only child taught me to be comfortable in solitude and I found strength in being able to do it alone.  We’ve weathered our storms, over the years, but I know this man always has my back.

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It’s Lent and so each day I receive an email on “What to Give Up.”  My goal was to discipline myself to not take second portions.  I fought the physician’s orders to take the med which will, most likely, cause weight gain.  I read the bff’s text, and all that it implied, from 2,000 miles away; from a gym as her daughter scored another point at her basketball game.

Vanity is a small price to pay.

I stood in the crowded courtyard, silently watching as my eldest huddled in a group of teens and leaders in prayer after a weekend confirmation retreat.   I was surprised, on Tuesday morning, when he wore it to school; this son who only wears solid colors and polo shirts.  To Pursue.  Romans 14:17-19. NLT.

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17 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. 19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

The message:  To continue to pursue his Catholic faith in a society that doesn’t value it.  To pursue his dreams in a world of chaos and instant gratification.

The definition of the word pursue is to follow, catch or get involved with something over a prolonged period of time.

Our children have been raised in a world where everything is instantaneous and now.  My sons are not accustomed to having to look up words in a dictionary, search for topics in an encyclopedia or use cards in a library.  They build relationships online via gaming, texting or Skype.  Gone are the days where you see teenage boys with arms around one another; working together and most definitely not in prayer.  The Catholic faith has taken a beating in this last decade and as a parent I struggled on how to keep my sons in my faith.

It was as he walked out the door to leave for school that my eyes welled up; heart overcome.   He chose to wear his t-shirt.  I hope he continues to pursue who he is, his faith, and his dreams.

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b :  to follow up or proceed with <pursue an argument>  “Pursue” Def. 4b. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.

I found myself in another office, in a discussion I had hoped to resolve last fall.  To my surprise, my opportunity had come to pursue this sensitive topic once again, at his request.  I quickly mentally weighed the pros and cons; pondering if this discussion would provide closure for myself or for the person involved.  I chose harmony and building him up versus words and details that were unproductive and would wear him down.  I am a person full of words who yearns to share them.  I fought the urge to let them fall where they may.

There are times in life where we need to know when we need to pursue and when to let things work themselves out.

The adventures we live are sometimes not of our choosing.    My life isn’t always full of joy and peace or goodness.  It is our attitudes, on how we choose to deal with life’s obstacles, that makes life worth pursuing.   To those who always have my back, I thank you.

if we’ve only got this life
this adventure oh then I
and if we’ve only got this life
you get me through
and if we’ve only got this life
in this adventure oh then I
want to share it with you~ Coldplay

Family, friendships, Marriage, Work

Note to self…go for broke

2005

Our bookclub recently read the book, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.  It is about a thirty-nine year old woman who suffers memory loss, after a fall, and has forgotten the last decade of her life.  During our discussion, amongst the ten of us, we pondered how our lives were ten years ago and how we’ve changed to whom we are now.  Have we changed for better or for worse?  What will we be like ten years into the future and what would you write to your future self?

2006

Ten years ago I’d hear this phrase repeated often.  Enjoy it now because it goes by in a blink.  At the time I lacked sleep and chased three sons under the age of five.  But you know what?   It is so true.  Time is flying.

2007

As  I had looked around the circle, at bookclub,  I realized that I had known this month’s host for over ten years.  Our eldest children were in kindergarten and I had a three month old son (hers was still in utero) when we met in September 2005.  From 2004-2007 the hubs had lived on an aircraft carrier and so our three sons and I lived one hundred miles away where both sides of our family lived.

2008

When his three year sea duty ended and he transferred to shore duty; our young family relocated from our “forever home” to live together for the next three years.  This girlfriend and her family came to visit us when we moved away and three years later, in 2009, we returned.  Soon after she and I formed our current bookclub, which officially began in January 2010.   We’ve both gone through many transitions in these ten years and I found my eyes refocusing on her, to arrive back into the present.

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We should do it.  Write letters to ourselves ten years from now.  We had all looked at one another expectantly.  One of the girls had written letters to her daughters when she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and revised it, recently, when undergoing another health scare.  But what would you write to your future self?  It was an intriguing thought.

2010

Throughout the nine hours it took to obliterate Christmas from our household, I contemplated this.  I wrapped my photo ornaments with care, my prized possessions.  Each year I buy three of them; placing each of my sons’ current school portraits until each one graduates from high school.  I told the hubs that one day I would give each of our sons their ornaments (from birth to age 17) for their own Christmas trees.  He had scoffed.  Who was I kidding?  I probably will keep them for myself.   I found the Christmas card photos from the past ten years.  I remember each and every photo as if it was taken yesterday.

2011

Here it goes, my note to self.

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Dear Ten Years Older Self,

I’d like to imagine that you’ve become wiser, aged gracefully and currently live an active and fulfilling life.

I pray that you are still happily married to the man you met, at age eighteen, in calculus lab and have weathered through any “itches” and mid-life crises “storms” successfully.  My hope is that the hubs and I better communicate our needs with each other; that we’ve mastered the art of compromise.  My ego has, hopefully, lessened with the desire to always be right and I’ve learned grace and forgiveness. Time is the greatest equalizer and after almost thirty years of marriage I trust that we’d have figured all of that out.   The date nights without kids, over the last ten years, were supposed to prepare us for when we became empty-nesters.  Did they work?  If they did, then we have other things to share instead of always talking about work or the kids.

I hope that we’ve grown the business where we’re financially secure, that our home is almost paid off and upgraded with our wish list we had ten years ago.    I expect that we have hobbies and travel with our newfound freedom.  That we’ve  dropped any excess weight from our fourth decade, and continue to aspire for better health and fitness goals.  We are supposed to hike the great outdoors and continue on our quest to hit as many National Parks and “ancient world wonders” as we possibly can.  The hubs better still be alive to do all these things with me!  I dream of growing old together in matching rocking chairs; the hubs with the DVR remote; myself with a book and blanket rocking alongside.

Please tell me that you enjoyed the time with the boys while they still lived under the same roof!  That you stopped and made time to hear them and found your balance, instead of busily doing acts of service for others.  Did they become what you imagined them to be?  Now the boys are in their twenties and, hopefully, the youngest is almost out of college.   I’m optimistic that the older boys have found careers where they do what they love and love what they do.   My wish is that they’ve met true friends, maybe found true love.  I’m not sure if I’d want the boys to have kids just yet; they have their whole lives ahead of them. 

I also hope they’ve made healthy choices and continued in their faith journey.  I desire a strong, close relationship with each of our boys and if, upon reading this, I do not; then it is time to make things right.  Unlike my mother, I won’t require my sons to come at my beck and call.  I want them to explore new opportunities, travel and discover who they are.  I want them to visit or talk to me, not because they have to but because they want to.

I’m hoping the bookclub girls are still reading alongside and that at this point in our lives; we’re attending one another’s children’s weddings and, quite possibly, becoming grandparents. Maybe we now have found the time to take our “field trips” to various places we kept talking about visiting and are doing our own version of the book, Annie’s Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish.  I hope that we navigated through life’s milestones, the good, the bad and the ugly, together and built each other up versus tore one another down.

Am I still volunteering time to the organizations that have impacted my life and family?  The Alzheimer’s Association?  The music programs my kids were involved with?  I’ve been blessed to have worked with phenomenal individuals and expect to continue to advocate for these programs so that others may have this same experience.  If I’ve given this up, then now is the time to start; to pay it forward. 

I know that the friends who’ve remained with me, this long, are keepers; our relationships deepening and aging like a fine wine with an aromatic bouquet.  We have so many memories together and I hope for many more to come. But I will always leave room to meet new people and to continue to diversify.  May I have remained open-minded and hospitable.

I’m realizing my letter to myself is getting a bit long; that I have many expectations of what I want to have accomplished.  So ten years from now I wish to have the love and friendship of those who can grow with me and accept the changes and transitions that life is always going to bring.

Love from your former self

**************************************

2012

Surprisingly, it took me over two days to actually type the above letter.  The hubs and I walked down grocery aisles as I asked him what he wanted for us in ten years’ time.  We began to think back over the last ten years.  Was it what we had expected? 

2013

For the hubs, he has reaped the rewards of being home with his family.  When he exited the military he had already spent nine years away from our eldest, seven from the middle and three years from our youngest.  He had been gone more than he had been home.  It has been a privilege to see our progeny grow into the men they will become and the financial hit we took was worth the opportunity.  But he had not expected the finances to be so lean, for the recession in the economy to impact the small family business that has existed in his family for over twenty five years.

2014

Life is always give and take.   Already in this new year the tidings have not been good.  The girlfriend who had returned home from the hospital is, once again, back in it.  The dear family friend, whom we just visited over the holidays and diagnosed with lupus, is now on a kidney transplant list.  And the news arrived that the great grandfather to our sons passed away yesterday and, though it was expected, still brings sadness to our entire family.  Life is so precarious and we never know where it will take us.  As we walked to our car, discussing these things, we decided that this is the year we will go for broke.

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We must always give our best in everything because why live life if we don’t? 

What we give to our life is what our life gives us in return.  Go for broke.

Family, joys of jazz, Marriage, Work

the big and little things

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This holiday season took me by surprise.  For some reason I was stuck in the month of October and ignored the Christmas displays in supermarkets.  In fact, I did not frequent brick and mortar establishments unless I absolutely had to.   It was only when I received notice that property taxes were due on December 10th, for both our home and business, that reality set in.

I wept when the checks came in the mail; grateful that one of our biggest business customers actually paid on time.  I don’t need an economics degree to see that we are not out-of-the-woods from a recession in a pre-election year; our vendors taking longer than the thirty days to pay.  Manufacturing is at the bottom of the totem pole to receive payment.   The months of  November and December are always our slowest and the mass marketing frenzy that marks the season was a reminder of how little our bank accounts had.

I lived day-by-day.  When people asked if I was ready for (any date in the future) my answer remained the same.  I was trying to get through today.  There were due dates, scheduled events and the ever present Christmas looming.  I had no gifts for my family and it is our turn to host Christmas eve.  The tree was not up.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday came and went and I crossed off one day of the calendar at a time.   Begrudgingly I asked the hubs to get down our Christmas decor after our kids continued to ask where they were.

Where is our tree? What about the gingerbread house?  Why aren’t you playing ‘White Christmas’ on the piano?  And when are you going to bake, Mom?  

Today I, unexpectedly, found myself in front of thirty plus teenage girls.  I am the person that handles student finances in the large booster organization I serve.  Inspired by one of the songs that define me, Sing Your Life by Morrissey, I had been dressed in jeggings and my Doc Marten boots thinking I would not cross paths with many people as I ran last minute errands.  I had only come to receive checks from a fellow parent and found myself standing before these teens listening to an instructor sharing his story.  He had lived in a garage and poverty and shared how he couldn’t afford to participate in a high school trip to Hawaii.  And so he got smart and saved for twelve months to make things different the following year; to follow his passion to perform.  The girls only saw his high-end import car parked at the curb, not the kid who struggled.   He and I stood before these girls to ask for funds to allow them to travel to an out-of-state national competition.

I remembered being on the other side.   My mother was prideful and would remind me to not mention that my father’s medical bills usurped all of our funds; that we relied on Medicaid.  I was eligible for free school lunches but she pinched pennies to hand me a weekly allowance of twenty dollars for gas and lunch.  I was sixteen, having obtained my license on my actual birthday, since my father, diagnosed with colon cancer, no longer could drive.    My high school was fifteen miles away; the closest “city” nine.  I drove my parents for doctors’ appointments and myself to school and extra-curriculars.   My parents never were in the stands during games or performances.  My father was dying and my mother remained in our home to care for him.  Music had been my salve.  In high school I had always longed for the Dr. Martens boots I currently wore.  The irony of my situation struck me; empathizing with these girls.

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As small business owners we realize the foundation can be pulled out from under us at any moment.  Many of our former customers have chosen to go overseas, to buy bulk for cheap.  Small businesses lose to cheap, subsidized imported goods.   But our selling point is always in our relationships with our customers.  We follow-through and deliver.  We provide quality and if there is a problem, we readily fix it.  We are custom all the way and the feedback we receive is that our vendors trust that we will do things right.  I will never have large bank accounts.   Every dime we earn is solely based on what we put out and it has to be quality every time.

In the past week I realized trust, transparency, follow-through and hospitality are the big things that count.  I don’t care if someone can offer me gifts or favors.  Money and material things mean little.  I want the friends who surround me to be the ones whom I can trust not to break confidences, who will tell me what is on their minds without worrying about offending and who will open their homes and hearts to my quirks and imperfections.  I have to trust that they will follow through and reciprocate.  This is HUGE for me.  People can appear to have it together, to have nice things, titles or look like a million bucks.  But it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters.    I am affirmed by those who are true to who they are.

My sons have surprised me this year.  Most Christmases I am the driving force of all merriment as I command my elves to happily comply with my decorating whims.  This year they were the ones urging me.

If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff. ~ Catherine M. Wallace

Eventually the hubs put up the tree.  Normally he is the bah humbug one in our household; the grinch who steals our Christmas joy.  This year he placed the boxes inside and over the course of the week, strung up garlands and lights with the help of our ever growing sons.  I found myself unwrapping a few ornaments and rearranging them on the tree.  The Advent wreath finally was placed on the coffee table and the poinsettias from the fundraiser arrived and were placed on the piano.  Slowly, but surely, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  Tree.  Check.

Three years ago I had decided to never do gingerbread houses again.  Because I had been an only child in a quiet household I wanted to create my own traditions with my three sons for the holidays.  When they were toddlers I began purchasing gingerbread house kits imagining hours of Christmas creativity and cheer.  But I had been too worried about the mess, the arguments over the candies and frosting.  In 2012 the boys fought so ferociously that I put the camera down; feeling like a fraud.  I was attempting to capture a picture moment that was forced.  They didn’t want to build gingerbread houses and I didn’t want a mess.  I vowed I would never do this activity again.

So I was shocked at the boys’ insistence, this year, that I purchase a gingerbread kit.  After a week of constant reminders from my sons, the quote above came to mind.  I found myself purchasing a gingerbread village so each one could build their own house without argument.   Three years ago it had been the eldest who ruined our experience.  This year he was the one who kept championing it.  Gingerbread house.  Check.

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I had no words to type, no images to share.  I observed people saying one thing and doing the other.  Longtime friends parting with irreconcilable differences.  People who lacked transparency, broke confidences and lacked hospitality.  The thoughts were stuck circling in my mind and I struggled to find peace with all of it.  I heard my middle son struggle with a jazz riff of ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ and it was only when he placed the saxophone in my hand, with my mouthpiece, that I realized the unifying theme of 2015.

Music breaks through all economic, social and cultural barriers.

He asked me to help him, to play alongside.  We sat together at the piano bench with our saxes; my chops sore.  Soon my fingers were running over the ivories and the bars of ‘White Christmas’ echoed in fits and starts within the walls of our home.  It took a few more practice runs for my hands to remember the keys from memory.  I am always amazed that I don’t need the sheet music, even after all of these years.  Eventually the songs of the season reached me; bringing me out of my reverie.  White Christmas.  Check.

The hubs and sons grabbed the baking items needed for their favorite cookies: snickerdoodles, peanut butter blossoms and chocolate chip.  Time was starting to get away from me with all of the preparations needed to be done before the 24th.  I laced up my sneakers and forced myself outdoors in the drizzly morning; knowing that my intake of calories would exceed what I would expend.  There was nothing on my schedule and I had everything I needed.  No more procrastination, baking day had arrived.  As the whir of the mixer and smells from the oven filled our home, the younger sons emerged from the den to assist with  unwrapping Hersheys’ kisses.  Some were for cookies, others for their own consumption.

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It was then that I remembered my song and I quickly found it on YouTube as I waited for the timer to chime for my next batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Others sang your life
but now is your chance to shine
and have the pleasure of
saying what you mean
have the pleasure of
meaning what you sing
oh, make no mistake, my friend
all of this will end
so sing it now
all the things you love
all the things you loathe
oh sing your life ~ Morrissey.

I cranked up the volume on my eldest son’s laptop.   He emerged from the den with his portable speaker for better sound quality.  The middle son listened as I sang the words loud and clear.  I began to type furiously on the laptop, the thoughts from the last few weeks finally being able to be put into words.  The youngest grabbed milk from the fridge to happily eat the cookies straight from the oven as I tapped my booted foot to the beat.  Cookie baking.  Check.

Don’t leave it all unsaid
somewhere in the wasteland of your head
and make no mistake, my friend
your pointless life will end
but before you go
can you look at the truth?
You have a lovely singing voice
a lovely singing voice
and all of those
who sing on key
they stole the notion
from you and me so sing your life ~ Morrissey
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The hubs had been frantically cleaning our pool after we received the text from my side of the family that they were joining us for Christmas eve.  Traditionally my hubs’ family celebrates on the 24th; the location alternating between his sister and our home.  Then the phone call came from the estranged niece and after communicating our desire to have her join us; the guest count increased by ten.   The hubs worried we wouldn’t have enough food until he looked at our very full refrigerator.
My home is currently in a state of disaster after two days of consecutive gingerbread making and cookie baking. I don’t require gifts, the picture perfect house and the fancy Food Network worthy recipes to ooh and awe.  All that I long for, this Christmas, is for all of my family to unite under the roof of my loud and messy home.  This may be the last Christmas with a grandfather diagnosed with terminal cancer.  There are other days to carry on family feuds.  I tell the niece that Christmas is about the kids, the babies; and this year three will be in our home under 18 months old.
It’s because of a baby that we celebrate this season in the first place.
Like the stable that birthed the newborn that is the reason for this season, my light will be on and my doors always open.  I merrily sing the words to my song, loud and clear, about all the things I loathe and love.   I needed the push from my sons and hubs, their words heard.  I had to follow-through with these little requests and things that add up to something bigger.  I want them to share the big stuff when they are big.  To remember what’s important.
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Have a musically merry Christmas and a rockin’ New Year.  Sing the big and little things of your life.
Marriage

the follow through

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Every day I wake and hope for the best.

When I rearranged my hectic schedule to meet with friends and it wasn’t reciprocated, I felt it.  When I’m blown-off because something/someone better comes along, I felt it.  When I voiced my words and the recipient’s body language hoped I’d just go away, loud and clear, I felt it.  When the customer, after six months, has still not paid their invoice, I felt it.  The changing season turns cold and I can’t seem to layer myself with enough protective layers to not feel the sting.

How does one keep moving forward?

One morning a week, in the predawn hours, I lace up and head outdoors; flashlight in-hand.  I traverse trails in the dark, sifting through my thoughts and looking ahead to my day.  Today I headed out in the sun, squinting as my run seemed longer, harder, in the harsh light of day.   I pounded out my frustrations on hills; the sharp intake of cold air hurting as I pushed through.  It was at the end that I felt the sense of accomplishment, the sore muscles becoming conditioned to get stronger.

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It is through disappointment and pain that I can discover my strength of character; my threshold of resilience.

I was grateful for the mid-week Veteran’s day holiday to recoup.   I pulled the covers over my head, wishing to hibernate; losing faith in finding good.  And then I read the long Facebook post from the girlfriend who has not returned home for almost a year; battling a host of illnesses and setbacks.  She is upbeat and grateful and I am humbled as she shared the every day trials and tribulations from a hospital bed.  She hopes for the day she will return home.

The whir of the vacuum could be heard at 9:45 PM; the hubs cleaning.  He chose not to partake in the various Veteran’s day freebies or festivities; instead, longing to be away from the crowds.  He does not need the ceremonies to affirm who he is; his reasons for serving.  Our wish for all our veterans is for them to return home.   It’s what they all hope for as they serve long deployments in far and distant places away from their families.  On this day we picked-up our house; the mess of two months of busy weekends taking its toll as we put things in the places where they belonged.  We enjoyed an impromptu date to celebrate a birthday with a dear friend.

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When the discussion comes to finances the hubs and I go round-and-round.  He reminds me that money matters; that it pays our mortgage, the clothes on our backs and the food we eat.  Money is a necessary evil, I argue, but it is not what makes the world go-round.  I place value on principles and morals, not large bank accounts.  I am not a money person.

It is a grim twist of fate that I am always accounting for money.  I have served in volunteer organizations as a treasurer, auditor and finance director.  I handle our home and business finances; reading financial ledgers and tax forms that make my head spin.  It goes against my nature to make people pay; to follow through on debts and fair shares owed.  I stared at my computer screen at debt collection agencies and procedures for small claims court; reminded of the arduous process of evicting tenants from our home.  Why don’t others honor their financial and moral obligations?  I wanted it all to go away for another day.

I push through my issues.  It’s not really about the money.  It’s all about principle.

Principle:  noun. a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved November 11, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/principle.

And so I must follow through with the arduous process of filing.  Of confronting.  It is daunting and I find that I would much rather talk about death and dying than money.  I argue with the hubs and with myself,  grinding my teeth in frustration.  This is not who I am!  But the hubs reminds me that it is.  I always follow through for what is just and fair.  It has always been who I am.

I am finding through this process that I have become my father’s daughter; the man who died too soon and could never know who I would be.  The small businessman who handled all people with aplomb.  Who brought his wife a Mounds candy bar and his daughter an almond Hershey bar home, every day.  To this day I cannot eat either candy; choosing other chocolates instead.  My father was a man who stuck to his guns and advocated for what was just and fair; even if unpopular.  I felt betrayed when he didn’t live; his lack of follow through to survive when I needed him most.

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I’ve recently realized what matters to me above all else.

To stand by one’s word.  To do the right thing.  To follow it through.

I hold my head high as I briskly walk, hoping for warmth.  I feel the wind whipping my hair as I tighten my scarf; the visual of the cemetery with my parents’ headstones vivid in my mind.  I think of the girlfriend who pushes through physical therapy; to return home once again.  I am accustomed to walking alone, in the dark, finding my own way.  But on this day, my own veteran home, I know that his quiet presence walks alongside; embodying the values of my father and providing the strength as my mate.   He who always stands by his word and does the right thing.

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Thank you for humbly serving.  For always coming home.  For always following through.

 

 

Family, friendships, Marriage

choosing right

I am Catholic.  I am accustomed to guilt.

As an adult whenever the topic of religion came up, particularly amongst non-Catholic Christians, I felt inadequate.  Other Christian denominations read and touched their Bibles, often, whereas Catholics read from missalettes and heard verses only at Sunday mass; if and when they went.  My Bible-thumping friends constantly quoted and lectured; questioning why I chose to remain in my faith during the years when the priest molestations became public.   As an infant I had been immersed, not of my own choosing.  Soon after my father died I chose to walk away from my religious upbringing; aged 18.  It was several years later, dragged to an Easter Sunday mass with grad school classmates in a city 2,000 miles away, that I slowly made the choice to return.    I had silently wept and grieved for my father’s passing the entire mass; my friends unsure what to do.

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I drove to the local supermarket, Halloween morning, and bought three bags of Halloween candy; the guilt eating away at me.  My eldest son’s schedule currently rules our household and so the younger sons’ Saturdays are filled with high school field competitions.  Various parents offered to have my younger boys trick-or-treat with their families this Halloween; sharing how awful it must be for them to have to sit in a stadium and miss out.  When I offered these choices to the thirteen and ten year old, neither answered right away.  As a parent, balancing the load (between work, school volunteering, social commitments) and being equitable with my time is a juggling act.  If I spend more time with one child’s needs than the other, I constantly question how I can make thing fair.  I feel guilt that some of my sons require more maintenance and attention than others.

I think of my bff as she learned the passing of her late father a month later; this man the epitome of guilt after making selfish choices.  She pondered what we did to the universe to deserve the lot we’ve received.  Both of us are only children, both of our parents deceased.   It is the reason I dislike my birthday; the reminder my parents no longer are with me.  The holidays hit her the hardest…Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Between the two of us we have seven kids and two loving spouses who prop us up.  They hear the gripes and issues; sometimes our only connection with our husbands as we struggle to balance the hectic every day.  We harbor escapist thoughts or fantasize crushes.  We feel guilt that there is no time for them, our roles as mothers trumping our spousal ones.

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I feel the guilt as I decline invitations to meet with various groups of friends; my schedule busy balancing just my family.  We constantly look at our calendars, finding a day when our schedules align.  I’ve discovered that the friends who understand this are the ones that remain.  The ones whom I can go for periods of time without face-to-face contact but, once together, can catch up and fill each other’s cups.  The ones who are always hospitable without conditions such as the state of their homes, the mess of their lives or their skeletons in their closets.  The ones whom I can inconvenience at any time.

The thoughts weigh heavily on my mind, in one of the organizations in which I serve, and I ponder how to resolve them.  I feel guilty that I want to wish them away, to deal with on another day; telling myself this is not my battle to fight.  Is my self preservation stronger than my moral obligation?

Time is my enemy and I must sacrifice & prioritize to choose how & where to invest it.   I must find a way to balance my load.

I  push the thoughts to the back of my mind; working hard to solely focus on the present things before me.  But when left alone to my own devices, my mind runs in circles considering all of the above.  Thankfully  there is not much time to think, these days, but the guilt never goes away; returning to pursue my sanity another day.  The choice is always mine to make.

Slowly the healing to my angry interrogations came with parenthood; the desire to choose how to raise my sons and discovering what it meant to be fully responsible for another human being.  But my guilty conscience returned when it came time to enroll my young sons in religious education.  If I chose to raise them by this faith, the onus would lie upon me to be equally educated in it.   And so, the avid reader, I tackled reading the Bible as a textbook, myself an academic or philosopher.  The guidelines gave instructions on how to read the entire tome in one year.  Muslims read the Koran and Jews studied the Torah…I could do it too.  I asked questions and tried to reconcile my answers; which didn’t always agree.  The priest answered my queries which I carry with me to this day.  When we stare at the black and white page, we forget to look at the gold gilded edges or illustrations; the bigger picture.

Sometimes life is not so black and white.  The words were only a guide, not the answers.  We must seek our own truths.

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My younger boys chose to remain with us on Halloween.  I repeatedly asked the youngest if he was sure and after the fourth time, he pretended to consider his answer.  This son easily asserts his opinions and in clear language answered, “Mom.  I have plenty of candy and would rather be with you.  Halloween is just not my thing.”  I recalled giving the same answers to my own friends at their ages.  Halloween wasn’t really my thing either; my guilt at dragging him to another competition making me nag my sons to do what most of their peers chose to do.  He’d rather be with me; with us.  

The night before I had watched from afar in the football stadium as the teens and tweens mingled by the water; surprised that my two elder sons sought one another, without prodding, when the middle son’s junior high band joined the eldest’s high school program.  Were these the same two boys who fought not an hour earlier?   As I wistfully snapped the shot I realized that my sons get complete access to the hubs and I, when needed, and that being fair and equitable isn’t always in the amount of time spent.  It is always in the quality.

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I sat in the hard pew last Sunday as I watched my three sons serve as altar boys; holding their breaths as the incense smoke rose within the church.  I heard the sermon about mercy and remembered that day long ago at the Easter mass as I grieved the if onlys.  I had been angry with the world, with a God who stole my father…placing my trust in things I, alone, could control and choosing to study the sciences.  I reasoned that I must’ve been a bad person to have my father taken away from me since for every action, there is an equal an opposite reaction (Newton’s Third law of Motion).   I understood my best friend’s lament as she currently ponders these same questions.  If only we had done (fill in the blank), maybe the outcome would have been different.  It’s easier to accept the blame and guilt; thinking we can control our lives and the people who reside in them.  But alas, the truth of the matter is, we have no control of those things; only our reactions to them.  We need to let our guilt go knowing that the bad things in life happen, sometimes for no reasons at all. 

I am reminded to not take my husband, my partner, for granted as I daydream of other things.  I take the effort to make some time, however short, to affirm him.  I have a fuller life because he resides in it.  It is with him that I am most transparent as I share my escapist thoughts and he shares his own; the guilt overriding.  It is this open communication, unconditional love and respect for one another, that we can share our issues and compromise or work towards resolution.  We both discovered our thoughts were normal; cajoling one another and pondering how we’ll journey together into old age as our time at home with our kids grows short.  We hope we won’t drive each other crazy when we become empty-nesters and make the time for date nights together sans kids.  The friends who remain walk this same journey alongside; sharing the ups and downs without judgment.  We catch up when we can and it is enough.

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I continue to seek my own truths as I consider that there may be no resolutions to my endless questions in the organizations to which I serve.  I always have a choice as to how I invest my time and my life.

I must choose what I love and love what I choose; for all the right reasons.

 

Family, Marriage

walk your talk

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I was not in the frame of mind to be festive.   My jaw had been clenched as I made the commute to the house where my extended family has always celebrated birthdays and holidays; since its purchase in 1981 by my late cousin.   I sat in heavy traffic, for two consecutive days, to attend events leading up to a wedding this past weekend.

I tried to push the negativity out of my mind as various commitments pulled me in opposite directions.  I mulled over bits and pieces of information; sorting and filtering through my observations to the truths that lay somewhere in-between.  What I was discovering was not what I had wanted to find.  For once I was grateful for the stopped traffic; buying time to think my thoughts in the privacy of my vehicle alone.   The F words come to mind.

I think of those who govern by Favors versus Fairness.  When Fear of being Found-out drives others to Follow.  It always comes with bitter disappointment when you discover someone is a Fraud versus a Friend.   This has been happening to me a lot lately and it is Frustrating.

When you choose to walk-your-talk and do what you say, and say what you mean; you realize how many others do not live by those same rules.

I can say what I mean but others don’t want to hear the words.  I can do the things I say I will do; but can’t make others do what they say they’ll do.  When you choose what is right; not what is easy, you find that it gets a bit lonely.   I begin to lose Faith in my fellow human beings.  It gets really lonely finding my way alone.

Whenever I question what I do and the reasons why I serve, I repeat the following.  Serve the program, not the people.  Program, not people.  I find myself repeating this phrase often as I watch politics and power positioning occur in various organizations in which I serve.  I must find my way to navigate through these waters; to remember my own moral compass and to know my boundaries.  I am a people person and naturally want everyone to communicate their thoughts and to receive others’ feedback. But this doesn’t really happen.  I keep waiting to be inspired, for someone to lead.

I sat at the empty reception table for seven; four of the members headed towards a field competition almost two hours away, two others in line at the bar, and myself.  I didn’t mind the solitude; my dear cousin and her new husband only a few feet away.  I caught her glance at the empty table in the midst of the festivities and I gave her a reassuring smile.  I am most comfortable being by myself; the only child.  I was surrounded by my extended family as I gazed up at the lanterns and various lights strewn across my cousin’s backyard; an idyllic setting for a garden wedding.  In the 34 years this home has been in our family, celebrating a wedding was a first.   It shouldn’t have caught me off-guard as my younger male cousins began their toasts to the bride; each sharing their sentiments of the significance of the location and how we all claim this as our family home.

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My mind brought me back to the first time my older cousin had excitedly shown my parents and I his purchase.  He was newly married and, as a young girl, I only remembered tall weeds obscuring the dilapidated barn and the creaky Victorian style home.  He claimed it had good “bones” and soon he and his wife moved in and started their young family.  There were countless birthday parties and holidays for my cousins and I, and as the bride’s brother shared his toast I saw the tears in the bride’s eyes; the same tears forming in my own.  We had all grown up here.

Every Christmas day I have had Christmas dinner here; save for the year of 1998 when the hubs and I traveled from Virginia Beach in a military cross-country move to return to our home state.  We had not arrived in time for Christmas.  It has been the only time I’ve missed.  The last time our entire family came together at this location was at this cousin’s unexpected funeral in 2010.   He loved to throw parties and his hospitality is the legacy he has passed down through the rest of us.  He was Mr. Hospitality.

It was laughable that my cousin’s widow and I were the hostesses for the bride’s garden wedding.   What does one do as a wedding hostess?  I haven’t felt hospitable in a long time so I don’t exactly make a good poster child for Mrs. Hospitality.

We found ourselves moving tables, hiding linens, arranging floral arrangements, giving directions on cell phones and answering questions the wedding event planner had about the location.  We grinned at guests in 103 degree heat, with no air conditioning.  The luxurious port-a-potties had air conditioning that the Victorian home did not.  When the cousin, closest in age to me, shared his Facebook post of a selfie in the port-a-pottie to enjoy fifteen minutes of air conditioning I had to laugh.   The bride paid attention to details and as the toasts were said, I contemplated the touches most people would take for granted such as the two luxurious air conditioned portable bathrooms.  The bride’s creativity is always Pinterest board worthy and those touches were found everywhere.

Sitting alone under the twinkling lights, surrounded by family and wedding guests, reminded me that I don’t need to perform acts of service to find worth or prove that I belong here.  The love between the bride and groom was obvious.  I was happy the groom was officially a part of our family.  Finally.  There are no sides.  We all belong here.  On Facebook various family and guests took picture upon picture.  I am in none of them and that is okay.  I don’t need to be seen and I’m working on the part about not having to be heard.  I need to just do, for the sake of doing; not for acknowledgment, favors or friends.  I only need to serve the one not of this world.

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I serve for the F’s that matter to me.  Fairness.  Freedom.  Family.  Friends. 

I push foward through the dramas, botched communications and misunderstood intentions.   It is hard to stand up and buck the tide, to call-out what is wrong and what is right.  To live by example and forge my own way.  Waiting for someone else to motivate, inspire or lead is a cop-out and an excuse.  My vision is focusing and my thoughts are centering; words forming.  I know where I am from and what I stand for.  With my hair flying behind me I stride forward,  leaving others in my wake.  I hope they all figure it out and sort through the mess and drama.   I’m walking my walk and not looking back.