Family

embracing the dark

20170923_234138Sometimes you have to sit quietly and embrace the darker side of things; the unpleasantness that life brings.

I hadn’t realized I had dwelt in this place for the past few months.

There are many issues that pervade our world and society that are not within my control. Fires, hurricanes, politics, economics.

I found refuge in books, seeking classics like Wuthering Heights and Fahrenheit 451;  plots and themes dark in nature.   I disengaged.

We think we can determine our life’s paths but it’s the paths our life takes that influence our determination and resolve.

My words were in the word cloud of my mind; jumbled and unfocused.  I stopped trying to find them; choosing to escape in reading others’ words instead.

I had lost my way.  Instead of grabbing the steering wheel to drive where I wanted to go; I let cruise control take over with the windows rolled up and the music turned off.

At work I held the phone as the doctor shared her health concerns.  The hubs stood nearby as he heard my responses and queries.  I looked ahead at my calendar; buying time past the crazy hectic fall schedule of our household.   He, thankfully, is a man of few words and embraced me with quiet strength.

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I see beauty in the dark.

The monochromatic subdued hues of black, white and grey are comforting.  My favorite time of day is when I jog in the pre-dawn stillness before everything awakens; the black of night lightening to shades of purple, red and orange.

My mind clearly sees the vibrant garden of my youth filled with calla lilies, roses, lupine and geraniums.  At seventeen many days were spent looking out my bedroom window.    I questioned how I would find my way and where life would take me.

Recently I cleared the weeds in my garden; the chaos that always tries to take over fertile soil.  I smiled when the hubs came home with bulbs and seeds as I hope to recreate the wildflowers from my childhood home.

The “C” word was unspoken as hospice frequented my home and at my high school graduation my father stood proudly hoping for better things for his only daughter.  His time was short and five months later, he was gone.

I now find myself thinking these same thoughts for my sons as cells proliferate a little out of control.   They are always there; deep within, indiscriminate of race, religion or social class.

Life circled me back to my own senior year as my son had me fill in the parent portion of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).   As he pondered various career paths to pursue and colleges to apply to  I remembered having great expectations; buoyed by the ideal that hard work and education would bring me happiness.

I felt the weight of reality as my thoughts dropped me back into my present.  I listened quietly and made myself remain quiet; though the words were on the tip of my tongue.

Life isn’t everything roses.  It isn’t predetermined.  We can’t always control where life takes us.  I lost my resolve.

The questions and thoughts currently in my mind are the same as the seventeen year old teenager.  Where will life take me?  Who am I supposed to be?  What makes a life well-lived?

I feel anxiety each morning, focusing on taking one step-at-a-time.

I prefer the cloak of darkness to the harsh light of day.  The hours turned into days turned into weeks and into months.  Life kept me busy and I pushed through my days on autopilot.

Today, the words unexpectedly came after a dear friend shared her concerns about our teens.  I finally engaged.

I arrived home from work  and asked my two sons to sit with me at the table as I inquired about their school day.   I had pondered how I would unveil my project as I worked through worst case scenarios in my head.  I told my sons they were my “control” group and handed each the following boxes.

20171017_123614I was met with shocked guffaws.  My eldest grabbed the box and said, “I’m game.”  The middle son needed something to drink before being able to provide a sample.  The youngest emerged from the den wanting to know what all the commotion was about.

Our local high school is a “commuter school;” meaning students are dropped off by dual working parents.  Teens are left to their own devices with disposable cash to get themselves into trouble.  The instant gratification of social media and technology allows lives to be changed in an instant.

The hormones rage; the peers influence.

The pressure cooker of helicopter parenting and performance (academic or sports) permeates our children’s self-worth.  The stakes are high and with a son in the college application process; I find my parenting peers to be as stressed out; if not more, than their own kids.

What twisted fate has both mothers and teenagers on hormotional rollercoasters at exactly the same time in their lives?

I stand by my garage door as my sons back out of our driveway each morning; watching them grow before me as tears gather.  I hear my youngest son talk about everything under the sun on our short ride to the junior high as his voice fluctuates; deepening and squeaking.

I am running out of time.

I entered the den as all three of my sons worked on computers.  I thanked them for taking part in my project and informed them that their results were negative.  I voiced that I appreciated their candor and hoped they would always feel safe to share the good things of their every day; but especially the bad. 

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There is beauty in the prickly things that don’t need a lot of watering.    I feel an affinity with the cacti planted along my entryway and patio.

I do not shelter my sons.  I try hard not to hover.  They know that life is unfair.

I welcome the physical labor of manufacturing; rolling threads mindlessly as the  rhythmic gears of the machine bring steadiness to the unknown.  My resolve is slowly returning.

It’s my job, as a parent, to teach my boys how to navigate through life’s disappointments and to persevere.  

 

We can’t numb the disappointments life brings with food, promiscuity, alcohol, medication or drugs.

Cutting and self-inflicted, controlled pain, or eating disorders are extremes to our life balance and well-being.  Control is a false sense of security.  

It’s okay to sit quietly in the dark for a little while.  To ruminate and contemplate; filter and sort.  

It’s the relationships that matter.  Engage and embrace them.

 

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Uncategorized

flat tires

It was 9 PM and I was hungry and tired.  The eldest son playfully nudged me at the dinner table, late Sunday night, noting my mood as he shared our excursion with his younger brothers.  Get it Mom!?

When you’re feeling flat and tired, what do you do?  You get pumped up!

I’d been feeling a bit flat, lately and when our tire blew on the freeway, it wasn’t the only thing feeling deflated.

We had been on our way to a grocery shopping excursion and, for reasons unknown, our eldest son decided to join the hubs and I.  I had inwardly grimaced, knowing this growing boy was planning to fill our grocery cart with junk that I wouldn’t normally buy for our household, and the first week of summer was to begin the very next day.

As we rounded the corner onto the freeway we heard the Pop! and hiss.  By the time we exited, at the very next off-ramp, the person peddling at the stop light pointed and in a friendly voice, mentioned that our rear tire was, indeed, flat.

Our son ended up assisting his father in changing the flat tire.  He read from the vehicle owner’s manual while the hubs grunted beneath, releasing the spare from the undercarriage.  They worked in tandem.  The hubs loosened the lug nuts on the wheel then the son jacked the car, manually.

I sat on the deflated tire, quietly watching as the sun went beneath the horizon.  Within thirty minutes the father and son had changed the flat tire; filthy with asphalt but grinning like fools.  This was a teachable moment since this boy is now a driver with a vehicle of his own.

We then made our way into the grocery store, filled our cart and headed home to make dinner another hour later.

This morning I made my way to work worrying over the additional expense of getting a new tire; as we prepare to embark on a long road trip in the coming weeks.   It was one more thing to weigh me down with health concerns for immediate family members, looming trip expenses and juggling various work projects.

The transition from the hectic school year into summer is never an easy one.  I am a creature of habit and routine and it takes me several weeks to adjust.

Transitions are not my thing.

I struggle to stay motivated and inspired.  I wake each morning with the goal of having a decent day, to feel like I am not spinning my wheels; stagnant.  I strive daily to find my balance as a wife, mother and friend.

There is not enough time in the day to do all things and I have learned to let things go.  I must say more nos and consent with fewer yeses to give quality time.  To not feel barely adequate.  To give my best with each endeavor.

I am counting my days.

I mourn the changes that come due to health issues, life situations, relationships or job changes.    In this stage and age of my life I see less progress and more loss and resignation.  I am having to process how to let things and people go, gracefully.

Later I found myself in the tire store, tears in my eyes.  My tire was irreparable.

I had been prepared for this possibility and as the associate before me discussed my tire options, the store manager negated his reasonable price quotes.  He took me aside to his computer while saying the following.

We will take care of you, you’ll see.   A call came in from our associate to treat you well.

To my shock the price quote for four new, exactly the same, tires was well below what I had imagined.  I would even receive a rebate!  I had not expected this favor.

The husband of my girlfriend, a warehouse manager for this national tire chain, had called in to take care of me.  I hadn’t realized the hubs had been in contact with him, deciphering what kind of tires I should purchase.

I stood with tears in my eyes, thinking of my girlfriend who passed just over a year ago; leaving a son and dear husband behind.

This girlfriend had been in my thoughts as they commemorated her one year anniversary with a balloon release; two weeks ago.  Her unwavering faith and ability to always see the positive; even faced with adversity, had amazed me.  She had been a force to be reckoned with, while she lived.  She had never been bitter.  She had fought with the hope of recovery until the very end.

In thirty minutes, the same amount of time it had taken the hubs and son to change my flat tire, I pulled away from the store with four new tires.  I felt lighter, humbled,  and the cheesy words of my son came to mind.

I was fated to be here, a reminder from my girlfriend, to get pumped up.  To be grateful.  To not lose hope.  To embrace change.

My daily mantra is to alter my frame of mind.  To set a daily goal.  To be transparent.  To be a fair and effective communicator.  To be humble and empathetic versus trying to always be right.  I get distracted with the details and negative things that can weigh me down; an easy place for my mind to dwell.

Instead of counting my days, I should make my days count.

I am not always spinning my wheels or getting derailed with flat tires.  I drove away, today, feeling hopeful and progressing forward.

Family, friendships

my wake-up call

Last Thursday night, I remembered the importance of life’s checks and balances.

Upon entering my garage door, at 9:57 PM, my eldest son explained why my husband’s truck was not in our driveway.  Their aunt, my husband’s sister, had flat-lined and he’d rushed to the emergency room to be with her and her husband.   I immediately looked at my mobile phone log, remembering the distinct cell ring of my mother-in-law at 8:16 PM during the budget meeting I had been presiding over; balancing income versus expenditures.   My sister-in-law had been at the right place at the right time; immediately revived.  She is expected to have a full recovery.

On Mother’s day she had complained of feeling under the weather, sharing that age was catching up with her as she entered her fifth decade earlier this year.   I had noted that, instead of mother’s day being a day of celebration, it was a day of higher expectations and stress.  In trying to celebrate her mother-in-law, her own mother, as well as being a mother herself and acknowledging her daughter, a young mother, she had been worn out trying to do it all.  The symptoms she had exhibited on Sunday came in full force Thursday; finding herself in an emergency room and being resuscitated back.   This was a definitive wake-up call.   Literally.

We, women, try to do it all; at a cost to ourselves.

My own physical body felt the stress and I took the time to sleep from Friday afternoon through Saturday morning.

This weekend, at a family BBQ, I was reminded of the earlier years of motherhood; my younger cousins now beginning to have kids of their own.  As toddlers roamed and babies gurgled in delight on other Moms’ laps, my pre-teen and teenaged sons attempted to sit on my own; dwarfing me.  Only a decade or so earlier I had been pushing double strollers and carrying boys on infant carriers; trying to do everything.  My days had been filled with caring for their every need and these days, I struggle knowing that I must let them go.

I am feeling the weight of life’s transitions as I watch family and friends go through their own.    My sister-in-law is now forced to make her own choices versus trying to please everyone.

  • Deteriorating health issues commanding lifestyle changes and watching numbers.  Blood sugar, high blood pressure, liver and heart function.
  • Burying loved ones and caregiving for those left behind.
  •  Worrying about the future with our current economic and political climate; including retirement
  • Adjusting to the empty nest and discovering new interests, occupations and relationships
  • Raising grandkids when your own kids can barely make ends meet

We look at the numbers and ponder statistical probabilities and outcomes.  We worry about aging successfully, both in health and in wealth; as we navigate through midlife and beyond.  We work to define our roles, roles that constantly change and merge into one another.

We are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and we try to balance it all.  We nurture everyone, but accept care from none.

Something has to give; and it usually is the mother giving.  It is in our support community of family and friends that we must gain strength.

For the past month I have walked from one room into another, assuming different roles.  I step out of our business into the threshold of my home; briefly getting dinner before heading into a volunteer role at one of my sons’ programs or schools.  It is important for me to serve and contribute; knowing this is my way to remain involved in my growing boys’ lives; lives that no longer need me to hover in the wings.  And so I work behind-the scenes to promote and support the activities that sustain them since the time with my sons grows short.  I am thankful for the distraction and rarely complain.

I watched my older sons turn left, in their car, as my own vehicle continued straight; our paths diverging.  I hadn’t expected the sharp pang as I drove alone in my SUV to my destination and I turned down the music; preferring silence.  The loss of their presence in my, now too large, car was felt and the tears began to gather.  But the bright glare of my destination, among adults, brought me back to the tasks at hand.

I’ve spent a lot of time letting go of ideals and unmet expectations in my life.  As my sons soon embark on their journeys beyond high school, I recalled my own hopes and dreams; hoping their paths will be smoother.  Their accomplishments do not need to be grand, photo shopped or shared on social media with hundreds of followers or likes.  The bigger things are fleeting.

Life is lived in the details of waking every morning and striving to do the best that we can.  To give the best of ourselves without expecting much in return.   When life gets busy and crazy, as it always does at the end of the school year, it is the boring, routine that I crave.  To make the smallest of choices within my own spaces and cultivating relationships within these places.  

I struggle to find my balance, each and every day.  But numbers no longer define me.  Not on weigh scales, clothes sizes, bank accounts, friendships nor age.  Age is just a number.

Successful aging is embodied in the spirit we choose to live our lives.

We can awaken each morning expecting the worst.  Or we can awaken each morning hoping for the best.  To continue to believe that we serve a purpose and that the world is still filled with people who are good.  It’s not about what the world can do for me.  It’s about how I can contribute to the world.

My sons and husband know I chirp,  “Good morning,” as they grumble and throw covers over their heads or turn off alarms.  Some days I take it personally but most days I take it in; hoping to get a smile or a, “Good morning” in return.  These days, these gestures are few and far between.  But occasionally I catch glimpses and it is enough.

No longer do I project into the future past twenty-four hours.  I have learned to focus on the minutes before me; to be present in them.  To not use my words to break, but to build.  To not be present where I do not want to be.  To not compare with what I don’t have.   It is a huge learning process, this change in mindset.  Success is measured in navigating through the day and looking forward to the next one.  

This is my wake-up call, each and every single day.  May your life be resuscitated by those who revive you.

And I STILL sing this song to my boys; much to their annoyance.

 

 

Uncategorized

my status

Amidst the March madness our schedule finally settled.  It is rare for my family of five to sit at home with nothing to do and so I let my three sons choose their preferred mode of unwinding;  online gaming.

Unlike my sons, the overcast outdoors beckoned.  The hubs chose to accompany the dog and I and, book in-hand, we headed out for a walk through the equestrian stables adjacent to my neighborhood to the duck pond park.

I get so absorbed with the things that happen between my four walls that I needed to see the world beyond.

As we walked through the neighborhood park I observed the various families with small children and remembered my former afternoons spent here.  When my boys were very young I frequented the local parks every afternoon, surrounded by the sounds of people to break up the monotony of my days.  During those years my husband was often deployed and, living away from a military community, I often felt isolated.

I knew most of the people who worked at the local supermarket, nearest to my home, who always greeted me by name.   Although the produce and items are much more expensive here than a wholesale grocer, I remember why I continue to frequent this store.   In the thirteen years that I have resided here, the employees have remained the same.  We are like an extended family and to this day, they continue to greet me by name.

In the park we walked past the birthday party that looked Pinterest worthy; the tables set with tea cups and beautiful decor.  I enviously wished I was young like the birthday participants; the cares of the world revolving around what color of dress to wear for a party or what the next meal to be served would be.

My sons also had these type of parties and the hubs and I both remembered the motorized jeeps my in-laws brought to our middle son’s third birthday party in this very same park.  The eldest, then four, had immediately settled at the wheel and driven his brothers around.

These days the eldest son is behind the wheel of my car, driving his brothers around.  The middle son is already chomping at the bit to take the test for his permit.  He is not eligible to do this until December of this year.

In the early predawn hours I am always grateful to live in this community; one where I feel safe enough to jog solo on my neighborhood streets in the early morning dark.   I trek past my sons’ elementary and high school and use the outdoor resistance equipment of the community park across the way before making my way home to awaken my household to begin a new day.

Normally I take comfort in daily rituals and routines; the cyclical wheels and spokes that drive my life forward.  But lately I’ve been feeling stuck.

My rose colored shades have been getting blurry and so I’ve tried to wipe them off; to see clearly.  The sun shines too brightly into my eyes.  I feel like a hamster running in place.  I seek inspiration and motivation without a lot of success.

I walk through my life a bit like one of the walking dead zombies my husband is fond of watching.  Talking heads.

My hubs, sons and dear girlfriends know that when I get fixated on a song that it stays on repeat until I finally get it out of my head.   The Katy Perry song appears light and frothy but upon listening to the message, is deeper.  It resonates with the undertones that currently are stuck in my head.

Usually music is the one medium that can take me out of my funk.  I’m losing faith and I’m stumbling along trying to find my way once again.

The text from my girlfriend was most welcome.  Occasionally our vehicles pass one another in the library parking lot as we pick-up or drop-off our sons and, surprisingly, my schedule was clear to meet her the very next day.  We chatted books, food, family and everything in-between and we talked of retirement; something I am nowhere near.  We imagined what our lives will be and I get a bit disheartened, wondering if I’ll ever get there.

The utopia that my baby boomer in-laws’ generation lives will be vastly different when the hubs and I get there.

Our generation is so lost in work, with no play, and we’ve passed this on to our own children.  We supervise their play dates, their extra curriculars, their resumes.  What will motivate our own kids when their lives are comfortable little bubbles managed by others?  The things that normally motivate people: money, things, titles continue to drive people to run faster on their hamster wheels.  Things like relationships, familial ties and loyalty are filtered by online screens and cyberspace.

My hippocampal brain space isn’t being used because I rely on my mobile device to memorize and organize my life.  I don’t even have my sons’ cell numbers memorized.  I put the book down at the duck pond and process the people activity around me, instead.  I tell the hubs that I want my own tea party.

On our walk home the hubs asked if there was a reason I was walking so fast.  It took me a minute to respond, slowing my stride and noting it is my normal pace.  He reminded me to slow it down, as he pointed at trees.  He stopped mid-stride and had me glance up to the patriotic military banners that grace this grand avenue and pointed to a fellow booster parent’s image in his army/national guard uniform.  I have jogged this route, weekly over several years, and have not once noted his banner above.

I watch my friends live their lives on Facebook and Instagram.  I, too, like their posts and pictures…escaping my walls in cyberspace.  But it’s time for me to step out of my rhythm and comfortable spaces; to journey untraveled roads in unexpected places.

What’s your status?  

I don’t have one.

Family

When you’re fed up

When you’re finally fed up , I asked my husband, what do you do?

He looked at me mutely, knowing I had reached my boiling point.  I didn’t have an answer as I fired the question to the hubs and left our business quiet and frustrated.  It wasn’t until I walked through the aisles of the large wholesale grocer; the $0.88 cake boxes in the main display, that my answer arrived.

You feed.

I made my way through the produce aisles, noting the garlic from Gilroy, California.  Other grocery chains only carry imported garlic from China and my angst returned; knowing that cost drives our current economy.

It would be nice for the consumer to have the choice to purchase the cheaper garlic bulbs from overseas next to the garlic grown in my home state.  But most times these choices are made by higher powers in large corporations or political chambers.   I mull this over as a long time customer finally chose the larger profit margin, acknowledging they will be purchasing fasteners from overseas.

I grabbed four Betty Crocker cake boxes and threw them into my cart in various flavors; chosen specifically for their colors.  Red (red velvet), yellow, white and brown (chocolate) and a white frosting tub for good measure.  This was an impulse buy.

I had remembered my youngest son’s request to bake a cake for his sixth grade plate tectonics project; something that required time.  When my two older sons had to do this same project in sixth grade, foam globes from the craft store littered our kitchen table as they painted, cut and mounted the various strata layers of the Earth.  The youngest’s globe currently sat upon our dinner table, primed and ready to be painted.  The layered strata cake was not required.  It was one or the other.

This son’s voice penetrated through my anger; the one that reminded me that sometimes I don’t hear him.   He is lost among the older brothers whose problems seem to take precedence.  Why reinvent the wheel if the globes worked with the older sibs?  But his words came back to haunt me and I needed the distraction.

You never hear me.  It was the icing on the cake and so IN the cart the cake boxes went.

This was fortuitous.   Immediately upon entering my garage door, with my grocery bags, this youngest son sheepishly stood nearby.

“Mom, my project isn’t due on Thursday.  It’s due TOMORROW.”  

The cake mixer came out as he continued to prep and paint his foam globe.  When called to choose his cake layers he quizzically asked,  Why are we doing both?  To which I replied.

I heard you.

Fed up with the world, the very least I could do was feed my kids.  Not with junk food and cake..but with my time, and my bottled up energy.  I sometimes wonder why this is all worth it and it was as I watched my son painting his Earth project that I realized what my subconscious wanted me to do.

It’s love that makes the world go round.  It makes it all worth it.

It may not be perfect, ever.  But it’s the reason I wake up each and every morning…even lately when it’s something I don’t want to do.  I worry about our financial future for my family.  I worry about the direction our country is taking.  We are a balanced household, the hubs and I moderately on either side of the political fence.  I am a proponent of global economy but want things to be fair.

Everyone looks out for their bottom line.

Small business and customer service are becoming a thing of the past…transitioning into large, subsidized corporate profits with technological interfaces.  Customer service comes in the form of chat rooms and emails; not voice or face-to-face interaction.

Our globalization is allowing us to reach wide, but leaving a deficit in how to converse locally.

My sons sit with phones across from their friends with no words audibly spoken.  We are losing our ability to communicate up close and personal.

When the weeds took over our garden after a record winter of rain, our family had mandatory weeding time for an hour this past weekend.   The hubs and I noted after this physical, outdoor activity among gripes from our boys, that they animatedly returned to their computer screens and interacted with one another.  It’s easy to get lost in cyberspace, independently saving the free world or trading stocks and bonds.

With the ground cleared, our yard looked empty.  But removing the weeds made room for new growth.  A level playing field to start over.

Thankfully, our customer of fifteen years was not a sizable portion of our business bottom line.  But relationships and loyalties no longer reign in the climate we live in and we are cultivating future generations to forego these relations; to rely purely on statistics and numbers.

In the grocery store I see the choice to pay more for organic and/or made in the USA versus overseas.  I want to stretch my dollar, to make the fiscally sound choice.  But I grab the yellow squash from the produce home grown in my home state.  I will pay extra for the choice.

Why purchase the cheaper import produce that is flown on an airplane; that creates a larger carbon footprint in our world with the fuel it uses to get to my location?  I want my produce fresh, not gassed.

I ponder what my bottom line is.  I’ve been silently shadowing and sulking, not standing my ground.  I am finally fed up and need to make a choice and have a stance.

In choosing to feed my kids and family, fresh and locally sourced produce, I make my choice.  With the help of my sixth grader I bake for several hours, cooking dinner with my garlic from Gilroy and spinach from Salinas.  I buy strawberries from Oxnard, cauliflower from Santa Maria and beverage from Paso Robles.  My grass roots campaign is seemingly small but our business will be following the same path.

I am sowing seeds in my own garden.  I want quality relationships with my family, my community, our customers.

I carried the cake box into the sixth grade classroom this morning and told the teacher to please share with her thirty-two students.   She was surprised to learn my son submitted two projects.

When fed up with the world, I choose to feed the world instead.  For my sons.  For myself.  For the future.

 

 

 

Family

deep in the 3rd quarter

xmas

The gift I gave myself for Christmas 2016.  One week.

  • The week between Christmas and New Year’s I left the LED lights on.  On trees.  Outdoors.  On garlands.
  • I allowed the mess to accumulate downstairs…foam and plastic packaging inside boxes, discarded ribbon.
  • I did not fret as I lost sight of my tile floor or that crumbs littered my tablecloth at the dining table filled with trays of cookies.
  • I chose not to cook meals and instead; tried to re-purpose the various items in our very full fridge.  Leftovers were my friends.
  • I lit my 3-wick candle and let it burn into the late hours of the night; the aroma filling my home with a book, always, in-hand.  I read three of them.
  • I didn’t live by the clock; all alarms off.  I awoke when I wanted to and allowed my routine to be flexible.
  • I ate anything my  heart desired (in moderation).  The cultural foods that only come out this time of year were my faves.
  • I spent as much time in my pajamas as possible; changing only to do things I wanted to do.
  • The paper piles were untouched; the laundry hampers overflowed and the dishwasher filled.  They would all get cleaned and sorted through in good time.

When I stopped placing expectations on myself, or others, an amazing thing happened.  I was content.

This is a 180 degree change in mindset from Christmases past.  I had been a slave to my expectations; the Rockwell portrait Christmas where everything fell into place in perfect harmony.  Time and time again I’ve felt the sting of disappointment of things unfulfilled.  I’ve felt the bile lodge in my throat as I clenched my teeth in frustration when events didn’t go my way.

This one week allowed me some needed respite and serenity among the messiness of my life and home.  It is rare for my family of five to have nothing on our schedules.  We took the week off from work.  The boys were on winter break.   We were free.

sf2-0

I took a mental retreat from the things that normally filled my days: work, social dynamics and parenting.  I focused on my five strengths discovered from the StrengthsFinder 2.0  book borrowed from a dear friend.  I reflected and sought closure on things that happened in 2016; sorting and filtering.   Usually at this time of year I am cataloging the things I need improvement on; including cleaning and organizing my messy home.  But as 2016 drew to a close, I considered my talents and strengths and how to build upon them.  How can I be the best me that I can be?  What does that even mean?

You would think that during my “mini week retreat” that I had focused on myself.  But instead, I decided to consider what I have to give.  I spend a lot of time considering what people do for me, and what I receive in return?  Who’s getting the better end of the deal?

But that’s not really what I want my life to be about.  What do I have to offerto my kids, to my spouse, to my friends, to the world?

I’m going deep.

Every day it’s the little mundane choices we make, that occupy our time.  Should I have coffee or tea?  Where do I need to be?  What shall we have for dinner?  Are these daily details of any consequence in the greater scheme of life?  I think not.  This is when the if only statements start to circle in my brain.  If only I had this, if only I did that, if only I had chosen…  It’s an endless spiral with no end, circling, circling…

I’ve decided to alter my mindset in 2017.  When my world starts narrowing and spiraling inward I need to expand it outwards; to give of myself to assist others. 

I am usually like most people, withdrawing when everything doesn’t go well.  But in 2017 I will focus my attentions on a cause, person, project that I can give of myself without any expectation in return.   I won’t dwell on the things I cannot change and will pray for wisdom to know the difference (Serenity Prayer).  I will choose to use my strengths to change outcomes in other ways; ways that I don’t need to laud over people, or to receive recognition.

I gain greater joy in doing things for others without them knowing I did them.  There is a quiet satisfaction in being humble and in trying to do good for someone else.

Each day has its trials and January 3rd was no different.  I found myself yelling to my motley crew of four males to awaken on this first day back to school and work.  When the eldest sarcastically responded that yelling wasn’t working, I quieted and simply said the words.  I. Am. Done.

In the silence I had quietly made lunches, gathered my bills and files for work and prepared to leave.  My sons and husband made their way downstairs and were surprised to not be greeted with snarky remarks about being organized, being punctual and attitude.  Each son thanked me for their lunches, the hubs quietly asked to grab some silverware and I took deep breaths, silently focusing on the things I could change by making different choices.  I could rage at 6:53 AM at my family, or I could move the responsibility onto their shoulders knowing that I had tried my best to wake them and let it go.

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Today I sat in the cushioned pew, in the hills that bear my name, at a family funeral service.  Of all places…this setting was where the random thought settled in my mind.   I have finally grown up.  

Silly as it may seem, over the holidays my thoughts circled this and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  As I sat with various family members and friends sharing conversations and memories, the trivial things that would set me off did not.  No longer do I feel the need to prove myself.  I am not compelled to out do anyone in any of my pursuits.  I have settled into my own skin and take responsibility for the choices I make.  I do not blame outside circumstances to justify my current life predicament.

  • I stared at the feasts and ate only what I could consume.  I chose not to overeat and would mentally remind myself that I can choose to bake these things for myself.  These aren’t things I have to eat only once a year to justify a binge.
  • For the past two years I have told myself how much I hate to run and it was only, over winter break when I awoke of my own accord, that I discovered I don’t have to do this if I don’t want to.  I actually wake up on my own, because I want to.
  • I’ve surrounded myself with the things and people whose values align with my own.  They aren’t there to prove their agendas to make me see their way, or for them to see mine.  We walk alongside to celebrate our imperfect lives together.
  • I acknowledged family dynamics and drama but chose to let things go.  Most times I try to pacify and have all parties reconcile but I do not have control over others; only how I react to them.  I must enjoy these people based on my own relationships with them.
  • The only games I chose to participate in were in kids games… giant jumble tower Jenga, card games or cheering for my alma mater in college football.  I quietly observed the mental games, in other areas of my life, get played out and trusted my instincts on how to handle situations and people.  Normally I get sucked right in; trying to hash through things and making all things transparent.  To show others my point of view (which may or may not be right).  I no longer question myself.

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These thoughts of clarity came once I owned the statement that I had finally grown up.   The past few years I’ve been underwater, things swimmingly unclear and murky.  But once I broke through the surface, I could take a deep breath and saw things clearly, for the first time.  The words to articulate what I’ve been feeling finally came.

Over winter break I had sat in the back of a college information session at my alma mater, as the puzzle pieces snapped into place.  It is only through the eyes, as a parent, that I could truly appreciate the sacrifice my parents and others have done for me.  For years I felt cheated thinking if only I had different opportunities things would’ve been different.    Sorting through my own issues helps me become a better parent to my boys.  It has taken me almost three decades to figure this all out.

I am deep in the 3rd quarter of my life and I’ve finally gotten my head in the game.  Everything’s coming up roses.

The best conversations happen in my SUV and as I vocalized these thoughts to my hubs and sons, this afternoon, I felt the weight lift from my shoulders.  No longer do I dread this coming year of worrying about my eldest son’s educational future.  Instead, I shared my new motto with my family for 2017 and I hope they will take it to heart.  It is simple.  I’m putting myself out there; to offer my strengths and talents in service, outside of my comfort zone.

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Own what you do (or say) and follow it through.

Get your head mentally in the game and play.  Go deep.  Live.  Don’t stand on the sidelines of life waiting for the perfect pass or opportunity.   Own it and follow it through.

Family

sitting still

It’s hard to sit still.  To let life blur past, spinning on its axis while I remain in one spot; unmoving.  It is normally not my modus operandi (m.o.) to sit still.

But sit still, I do.

As our family schedule transitioned from hectic end-of-school activities to the summer we, traditionally, jumped right into Father’s day, two of my three sons’ birthdays, the 4th of July and various camping excursions and vacations.  We are always on the go and my most favorite pastime is sitting in the passenger seat as the yellow center lines on highways blur.  The camera strap causes neck burn as I twist and turn snapping shots from my wide lens.

I laughed out loud as a line from Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell’s book, It’s Hard to Be Five, came to mind.

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Most summers I leap from one hectic schedule to another, keeping busy with vacation itineraries.  My hubby, the type B personality, is happy to stay put while I schedule various points of interest to sight see.  His constant complaint that there is no rest or relaxation on vacation falls on deaf ears as the boys and I look for the next thing to visit; happily tired at the end of each day.  Our summer months usually are filled with leisurely things to do.  Things that are fun.  But to some, leisurely means staying in one place and taking in the scenery.

Last year we traveled too often; neglecting things needed to be done at home: the garden, the garage, unplugged family time.  We stayed busy to distract us from the normal, mundane every day but when all was said and done, it still awaited us when we returned.

The epiphany came recently.  My constantly busy personality stems from a very boring and lonely childhood.  Our sole trip, each summer, was a one week trip into the city from our rural town to visit family.  Sometimes I would be asked to join trips with a friend; but most times I remained at home.  As an only child I entertained myself with books, reading of faraway places.  I often dreamed of what life would be like away from this small town and would get absorbed in music to pass the time.  Each day seemed to remain the same.  This was my life for the first seventeen years.

Once I moved away to university my life never stopped.  I ran to catch up with the years I missed to pursue bigger and better things.  I moved further away to pursue post grad studies across various state lines.  On my very first cross country road trip; the boyfriend (soon-to-be fiance and hubs), shared the drive to help me move.  My fond memories of road trips stemmed from our to and fro on Interstates 10, 20, 40 and many more.  He and I have since traveled to many places near and far by plane and by car.

I glanced at Fakebook at the vacation pictures from friends as the hubs glanced over my shoulder.  We both feel the pull to travel, to get on the road and go and as the long 4th of July weekend approached; we began to consider options.  Our summer plans to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons were re-scheduled to next summer due to school related activities for our two teenage sons.  This year, due to work and school related commitments, we have only traveled once.

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I long for redwood trees and tall mountains, large bodies of water and purple clouds strewn across red and orange sunsets.  I enviously glance at other friends’ scenic outdoor pictures and pull up the gallery of my own.  But pictures don’t do the outdoors justice.  I need to be out there too.  I am counting the days until we meet my childhood girlfriend and her family for camping; a trip that is becoming an annual outing for us both.  We come from the same place.

I continue to sit still.

I purposely chose to remain home for the first part of the summer.  Why?  To decompress.  To adjust.  With most social obligations on hiatus, I have chosen to find my inner introvert.  To fill my time and space with nothing but my own breath and thoughts.  The silence is deafening and I struggle to sit with it.  To let it wrap itself around me; like a peaceful, comfortable item of clothing.

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I’m trying this one on for size this summer.  And it is hard.  I am easily distracted and default to complacency.

In my mind I see the outdoor places I long to be.  Sunsets on lava rocks; waves rolling to the shoreline.  Boulders in rivers as my sons and dog swim in the cold flowing waters.  High vistas spanning miles of natural landscape.  I center these things in my mind for brief moments and open my eyes to where I am at the present moment.  And I sit still.  I have always told myself that if only I was: (fill in the blank) that all things would be better.  But really, I need to clear that mental block.

I. am. here.  Enjoy where I am right now.  There are too many if onlys and too little nows.  These past years I’ve lived my life in the rear view instead of the present moment.

I move from one room to another in my home, following the sun with a book in hand.  I sit on warm concrete with a towel, the sun filtering through my hat.  I put away dishes and focus on the scenery of my yard instead of the cracked tile that sits nearby.  I soften my gaze to see the green plants out my kitchen window.  The ones that create my landscape; clearing mental images of outdoor vistas of past trips.  Instead I evoke the feelings of gratitude and appreciation from these memories to the present ones.

This mental work makes all the difference.  I don’t have to travel to other places, rely on external people or things to bring me happiness or to affirm who I am.  Instead of distracting myself with itineraries and busy work I sit still and do my mental work.  I am grateful for right now.

My need to move is based on not dealing with things not dealt with.  I now do the simple tasks to fix these little things in my every day so that each moment isn’t based on distraction, but interaction.  With my hubby.  With my kids.  With my immediate surroundings.  But most importantly, with myself.

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To be true to others, you must take the time to discover your own truths.  Until then, you do not live authentically.

My sons are amazed at my silence this summer.  I work on little things: cleaning closets, organizing paperwork, understanding finances.  I water gardens and clean yards.  I work on my own inner struggles and discontent to communicate them with my spouse as we journey this midlife path together and beyond.  I make time to interact with my ever growing sons who continue to seek their own spaces and discover who they are.

In the silence I am finally listening to the beat within that has always pushed me forward.  We all have our own rhythms and without all the noise, I can finally hear them once again.

I am trusting my body cues to tell me when I’m hungry, when I need activity.  I find myself yearning to be outdoors on predawn jogs and late evening swims.   There is no magic program or elixir to perfect health.   If everything is in balance (portion control vs. activity) it works out on its own.

I surrender control.    My successes, my failures.  My needs and my wants.   I used to think I could control these things and get riled up.  I have no control over these things and can choose to not let them control me.  I am learning to accept things as they are and walk the path that fits who I am.

To dwell on the things not dealt with.  The dramas that unfold in family, social groups and organizations. To laugh, to cry, to shout.  To find my inner introvert and look within; to reflect in solitary silence and figure out how to progress forward or if not, to let it go.

In the silence the words emerge, the inner writer finding solace in them.  I read books, once again, of far away places.   I unexpectedly found a novel that filled my desires to travel while still sitting still.  I escaped to Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion and many places in-between and gained insight on the mental work I continually push through.  I don’t need to be on the move searching for answers to my queries.  In fact, I think I know them and finally made the time to actually sit and listen to them.  They have been with me all along and this summer, I don’t need to travel far to appreciate my destination.

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I am here sitting still.  I have already arrived.

 

 

 

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

a place found

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Most times, when a void occupies a place in my life; it sits empty and hollow.  Bad things hover on its edges; thoughts of insecurity, anger and sadness hope to fill the empty space.  My tendency is to venture into the void to dwell; to remain in its shadows.

It is when I let my expectations go that I gain unexpected joys.

This morning I had, unknowingly, jogged past my destination; lost in thought.  When the realization registered I was overcome with happiness.  It is a chore for me to awaken, early in the dark hours of the morning, to get some form of exercise for myself.  Initially the expectation had been to lose weight; to regain the body image of years before birthing three boys.

But in the year or so that I have forced myself outdoors; it was only today that the true benefit was realized.  My early morning  run is my time to sort through my dark and jumbled thoughts; to clear my mind.  The end had arrived too soon and I finally was experiencing the adrenaline of a “runner’s high.”

I no longer jogged for vanity; I jogged for sanity.

I came to work and stared at our office entryway.  The paint brushes and trays remained from our additional accent color on our office wall.  The small Christmas tree sat upon a dusty table.  The banker boxes leaned against the wall.

The hubs found me sifting through files, storing away the years to make room.  I had let my worries about the future go; concentrating on the present.   Somehow my perspective had changed and I racked my brain for answers; wondering How?  When?  Why now?  What had changed?

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I have finally taken ownership of my life circumstances and claim them as my own.

I held onto the Yellowstone National Park reservation; the one I knew I had to let go of due to a scheduling conflict with my sons’ activities.  I had made the reservation a year in advance; securing a coveted area at an enviable savings.  I had been looking forward to this vacation and was shocked when the middle son shared that his favorite memories from our family excursions were our road trips in our car.  The car?  I had realized my favorite memories of trips were always in the journey and spontaneous stops along the way.  To hear the teenager say he enjoyed the car had brought unexpected tears.

As I sadly and regrettably cancelled our reservation with the ranger; she reminded me what great amenities I had given up.  But, as a consolation prize, she then proceeded to instruct me on how to get the better and preferred room for the same price as the one I had given up; for 2017.   The information she passed along was priceless and I profusely thanked her.  I will get to this destination next year with better amenities.

In letting this go; something unexpectedly filled the void.  Our schedule opened up to share the fiftieth anniversary milestone with my in-laws and family.  The hubs who refused to take a cruise finally relented; at his mother’s request.  The years are rapidly flying by and opportunities for our sons to vacation with their grandparents and aunt’s family will soon be few and far between.

Friends have come and friends have gone.  In letting relationships run their course, for lack of reciprocity,  the unspoken words no longer wound me.   I, the only child, have been fortunate to have friends that continue to walk alongside as young as age four; who’ve shared my various milestones, both good and bad.  We camp together, our high school kids are in classes together, we meet in various cities and quickly remember the ties that bind.

I assumed I had no room for others, after recently feeling disappointment, but I had been wrong.  In the void that was left; my capacity to feel connections with others was rekindled and surprising.    We have boated on lakes, sat in bleachers and homes eating cookies and cakes and served in programs that matter.   This was freeing.

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I am coming to terms with my new stage in parenting; the letting go.  I am not the end-all, be-all, person for my children any longer and to be a good mother, I need to pursue things that bring me happiness.   I feel an affinity to cacti and how they sustain harsh climes and weather systems and remain standing tall.  They fill my entryway.

I have rediscovered the joy of growing all things green.  It is not the short-lasting showy blooms that bring beauty to my yard.  It is the variegated leaves, trees and shrubs, that are present all year long, that fill in my canvas; the textures and varying heights that bring interest and pleasing diversity to my outdoor landscape.

It is the friends that remain constant, with diverse backgrounds and varying views, that fill my life’s stages.  I can finally look past what’s popular and expected; to create my own canvas and fill in my open spaces.

The books pile upon my nightstand and I am devouring them.  The fifth grader snuggles nearby with his own blanket; the avid reader reawakened as his stack grows.  My thirst for reading is currently unquenched and with that in mind; I have let go of my expectations of the various social dynamics in our ever-changing bookclub.   I focus on the books; the words that have always brought me comfort and escape.  With or without  these women, I would still be reading them.

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It is how people choose to deal with one another; with authenticity and transparency; that matter the most. 

I am grateful for the people in my life who value these same things, who keep things confidential and will speak their words clear and true.  I repeat this often to remind myself; to not get complacent or get stuck in the void.   I have found meaningful relationships with my husband, my family and friends (old and new).

They sustain me in this space.  They continually give me grace.  In their lives they grant me a place.

There’s a spanner in the works, you know
You gotta step up your game to make it to the top
So go

Gotta little competition now
You’re going to find it hard to cope with living on your own now
Oh oh, oh oh

Let’s make this happen, girl
You gotta show the world that something good can work
And it can work for you
And you know that it will

Let’s get this started girl
We’re moving up, we’re moving up
It’s been a lot to change
But you will always get what you want

Took a little time to make it a little better
It’s only going out, just one thing then another
You know, you know

Took a little time to make it a little better,
It’s only going out, just one thing then another
You know, you know

Let’s make this happen, girl
You gotta show the world that something good can work
And it can work for you
And you know that it will

Let’s get this started girl
We’re moving up, we’re moving up
It’s been a lot to change
But you will always get what you want ~ Two Door Cinema Club, 2009.

Uncategorized

my in-between place

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There are those who seek and those who settle.  And those of us in-between.

For years I stared at the barren space adjacent to my front walkway.  Some years I planted annuals that fit my whim.  Other years I transplanted items from neighbors or family members; unsure what to do with them.  Each weekend my neighbor cultivates the shared plantar between our front yards, fussing and pruning.  Every year-or-so the yard landscape changes; concrete plantars re-paved, outdoor light fixtures removed and added.  I have watched various appliances come and go, large yard renovations constructed and indoor items redecorated.  Our homes are mirror images of one another and ours has always remained the same; original to the builder’s plan.  You would never believe our houses are the same.

Our neighbors had been surprised, last weekend, to find me in our front yard digging through dirt.  They peered through the beautiful flowers and trees, between our homes, to the stark barren landscape of my yard and splotchy green grass.  I grinned as their curiosity got the better of them and chimed that my yard could not possibly compete with the beautiful landscaping, the wife, maintained.  In prior plantings I had hoped to create a vignette to complement my neighbor’s meticulous garden; always to no avail.  None of my entry walkway ideas remained for long; my desire easily distracted to the messy and neglected things indoors.  When the hubs turned off the water and sprinkler systems to maintain our state’s drought mandate, all things wilted away and returned to the earth.  My neighbors continued to water their gardens and washed their vehicles.

I knew this time, my inspired planting was different.  This one was sustainable.  I finally found what I’ve sought for so long.

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Although I’ve been on this mental journey for quite some time, this last year finally brought me some answers; ones that I would’ve known all along if I had listened and trusted myself.

I had spent quality time hiking local mountain trails with my family of five.  The recommendation to have breakfast on a mountain peak dissolved when we learned the lift was only open on weekends.  The one local cafe to eat would not open for forty-five minutes.  The five of us were hungry and knew there was a long hike ahead but, at the hubs’ urging, we pushed forward anyway.  We hiked-in for 2.5 hours before our grumbling stomachs urged us to turn back.   All we had with us was water; erroneously thinking we would have a large breakfast at the summit and a local mart to purchase granola bars.  When all of our options dissipitated in the cool mountain air, we trudged on and told ourselves we wouldn’t hike in very far.

But on this day, as we improvised and returned for dinner in the quaint, college village nearby, I shared my desire to visit a local garden and library.  The hubs and sons gave me blank stares and, knowingly, I heard the words none of them were saying.  This was not their thing but they knew I always liked doing family outings together.  When the hubs gently suggested I should go on my own, he hadn’t really considered that I would do it.  But I had known that this was something I would do, solo, and, with my family’s silent blessing, I planned my outing for the following day.  I am responsible for my own happiness.

I found myself on the streets I traveled often where my extended family lives.  During college summers I lived with my late cousin and his family, working in a local hospital and then the university research lab during my four undergraduate years.  I realized that I knew this area more than my childhood home as I drove by the gated Mediterranean and Colonial style mansions with the large expanses of manicured lawns and entryways.   In my mind I had returned to this place to quietly reflect on the Chinese and Asian themed gardens; to find inspiration in their beauty and walk the paths to sort through the various thoughts and ideas in my mind.  No one knew me here and, amidst the tourists and visitors; I noted there weren’t any kids my own sons’ ages.

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I was comfortable being alone.  I quietly ate my Chinese lunch overlooking the bridge; listening to the different languages being spoken all around me.

The next day as I roamed nurseries, the plants I thought I’d be choosing weren’t the ones I had gravitated towards.  I had returned home to stare at the plants in my backyard and saw the theme I hadn’t realized I was trying to create in my house and outdoors.  I love all things spherical and instead of the bonzai trees or cherry blossoms, it had been the prickly golden barrel cacti in the desert gardens that had beckoned to me.  I stood before the succulent section picking, and being picked and poked, by the various drought resistant plants that withstand high heat and low water.

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I chatted with my neighbors.  I realized I had no desire to compete with the artful garden that graced both of our homes’ front yards.    I wished to complement it with simplicity to withstand our drought.  I felt an affinity to the lone cactus in hostile weather and infertile soil; reaching for the sky. The golden barrels were prickly on the outside but they were survivors and withstood the harsh elements.  For the woman who spends most of her time indoors and toiling with trees and vegetables in the backyard, this was the perfect solution and fit all of my parameters.   This was sustainable.

Sustainability had been the answer I had searched for all along.

I sat in the crowded Asian gardens teeming with people and found myself walking the paths in the reverse direction.  I felt no refuge or beauty in the crowded, popular areas.  Instead I walked the hilly, curvy paths; past the formal gardens of herbs and roses and into the stark and silent beauty of the cacti.  I sat amongst the aloe vera plants amazed that, beneath their prickly and bony exteriors, lie the balm for burns and dryness afflicting humans’ outer skin.

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We, humans,  are well-kept and appear approachable on the outside; but most are brittle and hardened on the inside.

In these past few years I’ve circled back to the young girl I used to be; the one without expectations.  It was at this time that I began to collect circular globes and items that serve as decor within my home.  The corniness of the whole idea made me laugh out loud.  Who knew I’d be considering my life staring at a cactus; once again finding my passion, my value and my spirit?  This wasn’t quite the beauty I had envisioned.

My former expectations of success were not mentally or physically sustainable.  I sought value in the wrong places and settled in circumstances that were within my control.   It is a blessing to have others to walk alongside; supportive and full of encouragement.  I am responsible for my own happiness. 

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I existed in my in-between place; transitioning from one phase of life into another but never really taking stock of what I needed to simply be happy in my own prickly skin.  It wasn’t the lithe physique, fancy appliances or luxury cars; nor the full resume of degrees, titles or bank accounts.  We must all find our own happiness within and follow it.  To seek beauty, speak our own truths and have meaningful relationships (with family, with friends) and to follow where the path leads us.

It had been a conversation with my late cousin’s widow that made me finally see.  After being offered severance pay in the successful career she held for four decades, surviving the loss of her husband and watching her kids leave the nest and begin their own families; she sought to do what she loved best.  She didn’t sit around and wait for opportunities to find her; she sought them.  It was in these gardens that she offered to volunteer her time and share the beauty of this place.  Her love language is in service; just like my own.  It was why I had returned here, on my own time schedule, so I could explore the areas I wanted to follow without worrying or catering to anyone else.

For two days I tirelessly worked outdoors gardening.   Our own backyard represents the yards from our childhood; the sago palm from my in-laws, the trumpet vine from my late cousin, the rhododendron from another cousin.    The hubs handed me a gift card to splurge on a rose tree.  The fruit trees and vegetable gardens reflect the can do, independent spirit of both sets of parents; both wishing to go off-grid.  There is joy in watching things grow and blossom.    The things we’ve planted actually have a story or history; a purpose for why it is there: my husband’s obsession with horse radish, my sons’ desire for all things citrus.

I have settled into our home; no longer seeking greener, verdant pastures and in-between places.  Our landscape reflects who lives here now; simple and sustainable for many years to come.   I find beauty and inspiration in the place that matters.  The rain continues to come down as I sit at my window indoors; contentedly watching my gardens and sons grow.