2014

When you have children, every year has its milestones. Each birthday celebrated brings with it new experiences and challenges and responsibilities. But this year was big for me. It was the first year in my adulthood that I’ve stood on my own two feet, alone, and kept everything going. I left a very broken 26 year relationship and with it I slowly let go of a lot of fear, stress, sadness, frustration, confusion, low self-esteem and found courage and happiness and the ability to recognize what was good for me and what wasn’t.

And while I worried tremendously about my children throughout all of this, they seem the better for it. Their parents are able to talk and agree on things, for the most part, and there’s no bickering or the tug-of-war I felt when I was a lonely child with warring parents. This divorce has been overwhelmingly healthy for the three of us. I’m learning – still learning! – to let go of the habits I learned during a childhood with a narcissistic mother and a long marriage with a self-absorbed husband. I did this without family subsidy (and while I’m getting nominal child support, I did not ask for alimony). I refinanced the house in my name only. I took on all the debt. Just me. I continued to keep the household humming, the children fed and clothed and entertained and happy (as much as one can; you can’t force happiness on anyone else but you can certain mitigate damage and not be an asshole).

We had adventures and no one went without the things they needed. I’m proud of that.

Things that happened in 2014:

* Painted Dusty’s bedroom, got her a new bed, and created a hang-out room for the kids.

* Painted my own bedroom – feel like an adult now. New mattress. Next year, I hope to buy a bed frame.

* Re-did my kitchen with paint and press-on tiles.

* Took writing classes – in town and in the mountains. Though I did not start a new story until this week, I kept my “hand in”.

* Began The Artist’s Way again and am proud to have kept up on morning pages (written in the morning, no less!) each day.

* Expanded my garden and sold some stuff at a farmer’s market.

* Dropped out of girl scouts. Some things had to go and this was one of them. Dusty lost interest so my involvement became pointless. I worked really hard to make a go of the new troop but Dusty’s heart wasn’t in it and it seemed more of a social ladies’ night than anything else and so…I had to cut the cord.

* Reconnected with numerous friends. Lots of friends. Saw some people I hadn’t seen in years and met one or two “imaginary friends” for the first time.

* Had many adventures: took the kids to Belle Isle in the city over spring break, gave a presentation in Philadelphia, went to the beach (the girls each brought a friend), went to a One Direction concert in DC (and we’re planning to see them in Baltimore in August), went to Sacramento & Berkeley, went to Chicago on a Bowie pilgrimage. These last two trips were thanks to an amazing, generous friend. Memories I’ll carry forever.

* Saw a lot of movies. A lot of movies. One of the positive changes in my life this year was free time without the kids to do….whatever the hell I wanted. I haven’t had that opportunity since I was in my early 20’s and too poor to do anything anyway. I watched every episode of Breaking Bad, ate guacamole and chips for dinner many nights, organized the hell out of the house, did a lot and nothing in turns, became reacquainted with myself.

* Won some things, lost some things, came out ahead, psychically.

* Finally fixed my painful feet with a few pairs of expensive but cool orthopedic shoes.

* Took a lot of walks in the woods including an entire silent day. It restored me in incalculable ways. There’s nothing better, most days, than a long walk alone amongst trees and birds and moss and sky and quiet.

* Made it through the ups and downs (and there were some very down downs) with the help of a core group of friends who made sure those downs didn’t get too dark and helped applaud the ups. I sloughed off things I didn’t need to be doing, gave up relationships that weren’t doing me any good and were mirroring the old narcissistic /co-dependent patterns I’m still learning to break, and came out the other end much more relaxed and happy and content.

This year’s success has been the culmination of eight long years of sorrow and confusion and growing and discoveries. I could be frustrated that it took this long but a journey is what it is and you can’t know, from the outset, when you’ll reach the end of it. But you never will until you take the first step. And then the one after that, etc. I have confidence that 2015 will be filled with more up than down. By June, I’ll have a high school freshman and a new middle schooler in the house and that should be….interesting. But I couldn’t ask for any more wonderful, amazing girls than I have. We’ll pack next year with more adventures and keep taking those steps into the unknown future. Together.

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Solstice

So far, our winter break has been restorative and lovely. The girls made cookies this afternoon and we’ve slept in, had dinner at their grandfather’s, watched One Direction on SNL, seen Annie, lolled around, relaxed….you get the idea.

I’ve been reading a lot. Sitting and reading with a cat on my lap. And I’m up to Week 8 in The Artists Way. I’ve suddenly started paying attention to the quotes in the margins and circled those that are speaking to me right now. The photos in this post are from my Silent Ember Day last week. I never get tired of walking in the woods.

Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.

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Genuine beginnings begin within us, even when they are brought to our attention by external opportunities.

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You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

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Trust in yourself. Your perceptions are often far more accurate than you are willing to believe.

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When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside at fate.

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Surround yourself with people who respect and treat you well.

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2015 will be the year, I hope, that I’m more adept and aware of who I surround myself with. Those who treat me well and respect me. Those I respect and treat well. The giving and taking that is as equal as it can be, considering how unequal and unbalanced our lives can be at any given moment. I’ve been incredibly blessed this year by friends and family who have held out a hand when I needed one, pulled me up from the bottom of a well when I fell down one, and just were there at the right moment, without judgment. 2014 was a trial. 2015 will be better.

Good Things

Things that have made this week worth getting up for:

1. Receiving a completely unexpected compliment from someone whose opinion matters to me.

2. Buying gas for $2.14/gallon.

3. Purchasing local goats’ milk soap.

4. Winning the baby picture contest at the office holiday party and then being allowed to go home at 2pm.

5. Having all the Xmas shopping (and wrapping of gifts) completed.

6. Making plans to see people whose company I enjoy over the holiday break.

7. Knowing that after tomorrow, we can all sleep late until January 5th.

8. Knowing that I’ll have a week with my kids just hanging out and a week without them.

9. Spending a day walking in the woods in silence and not having to come up with small talk with strangers and not having to talk about the experience at the closing circle.

10. Knowing that I’ve learned a lot about myself and others this year and will begin 2015 making better choices for myself. I can already hear the Phoenix rising out of the ashes of 2014.

Doors and Windows

Christmas creeps ever closer.

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One more week of school and work until a fresh new year begins. Next week will be one of doors closing and windows opening. On Tuesday, I’ll be signing divorce papers making my singlehood official. The day after that, I’ll spend in the woods on a silent meditation retreat. I have no idea what to expect but that’s been true of this entire year. I’ve had no idea how to do what I’ve done but I did it and we’re all still alive and generally happier. I had no idea what I’d gain and lose but I think I’ve come out on the winning end of things. In terms of peace of mind, if not financially. Friends have come and gone but the ones who’ve stuck with me have underscored the meaning of friend. I’ve tried to give as good as (or better than) I’ve gotten and that’s generally worked out okay. Some days it’s hit or miss. Some things, you just have to let go of. I’m counting my blessings.

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A long time ago, I was a very different person. I’ve spent a lot of this year trying to grow. Trying to learn from past mistakes. Trying to figure out how to not make them again without losing my trust, which is always shaky at best. It’s hard to give away a part of yourself when it might be stepped on and ground under someone’s heel. Or worse, ignored and dismissed.

But, you move on. One foot in front of the other. The alarm goes off and you just get up out of bed and begin another day. With kids, there is no other choice. You could lie around and call in sick but I can’t and won’t. I make the breakfasts and cajole people into clothes and out the door and meet the bus and get behind the wheel and make sure everyone’s where they need to be even if my brain isn’t really there. It’s thinking ahead, rarely behind. Planning the next adventure, paying the next bill, adding more things to the to-do lists, hoping that all of this is for something good. That adults will be created from this house who will go on to be good productive people in the world with fewer issues than I have, with fewer hurdles to jump, with less fear, with more love and security as a foundation than I ever had. With just more.

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She thought she had a perfect childhood but really she was scared and confused but turned out okay in the end.

Vacation Box

It’s the time of year where it’s just so easy to have bad thoughts, to see the grey and the black rather than the color, where it’s too cold to have that positive slant on things we’re told makes us healthier and happier.

But I’m trying.

I’m often cynical about the idea that if you put a thought, a want, into the ether, it will come to you. It’s not magical thinking but it’s something. Often, the thing you think you want isn’t what you really want or need and so you have to be open to what arrives in your lap. Because it doesn’t look like what you told the universe you wanted but it actually is. Don’t be fooled by the wrapping.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of working at where I work. Actually, come March I’ll have been here 11 years, but Workplace holds an awards dinner each December. I always decline because Friday night dinners at work, with children, is the very very last thing I want.

But, there is an award attached to each milestone. Not money – what I really want – but a thing. At 5 years, I got a key chain. I think it got lost.

This year, I’d heard rumors of an etched pint glass which would have been lovely. Instead, to paraphrase Charlie Brown: I got a box.

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Which I need like a hole in the head.

But here’s the thing: Since I’ve moved to two different offices in under a year, I’ve packed up various items I hold dear and I have a couple different baggies of sand, shells, sea glass, rocks, etc. from various beaches. Sandbridge, VA; Staten Island, NY; Cancun. I have been thinking in the back of my head for months (so far back it hasn’t even made it onto a list, and boy can I make lists!), that it would be cool to find something to put it all in, where I could see it but where it wouldn’t spill or get messed up, kind of like those zen sand boxes they sell in fancy magazines with little rakes and stones, all of which you can probably find for free but the magazine will sell to you for $39.99.

And then I opened my present and here was a box! With a lid! I was disappointed because I saw that glass in my head. What in the hell would I do with this thing? And then I felt my brain twisting that thought around and creating a different, better thought. To my right were those baggies of sand and rocks and shells. What if…….and I dumped all of them into the box, taped a postcard (sent by a friend) to the inside of the lid and PRESTO!

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Instant Vacation Box! When I need a bit of beach during the next few months…I can open the lid and be there. I am learning to see what things CAN be and really ARE instead of what, at first sight, they appear to be. And my first reward is an everlasting vacation. I might need to find a tiny friend to sit in there and enjoy it up close for me. I’ll send that thought out *there* and see what shows up.

Beauty

Okay, more things I love.

1. Watching huge flocks of birds fly in clouds comprised of themselves, dipping and soaring, like an animated drawing on a sheet of paper.

2. The same flock of birds rising up from a picked over field of corn stalk stubs. I wonder if there’s a leader who decides when and where they’ll go? “All together now, mates! To the west!” One minute the field is covered in pecking feathered bodies. The next, a cloud rises and flies off. Makes me want to join the adventure.

3. That warm dry winter day sandwiched between a succession of cold wet ones. Like Mother Nature hit the pause button while she got up to pee or make a sandwich or something. It gives me a chance to wander around the yard, gather fallen branches for a future fire, pick up things that have blown off the deck – an empty flower pot, a tarp I’d forgotten had been draped over the railing to dry, or to just remember what it’s like to be outside and not miserable. That alone is worth a lot.

4. I’m not really a huge fan of Christmas. It’s a stressful holiday (well, they all are, but there’s more at stake at Christmas). I really hate Christmas songs (Except a few. For just a couple days.) and I hate that some radio stations switch to an all-Christmas format in early November and then every time you walk into a store to do all that stupid buying-of-things, you are assaulted by it. I’m not in the mood but I’m forced to listen to it. Like “Contemporary Country Music Day” radio at the grocery store.

That said, I do love Christmas lights. Lots of gaudy lights. Colors! White is too uptight for me. Give me color!

But I especially love how magical a lit Christmas tree (real only, please; I’m pagan at heart) looks in a dark room. You know what that looks like. I don’t need to describe it. You can see it in your head, can’t you?

Beauty. Beauty in nature. I guess that’s what ties these things all together. Beauty is all around us if we look for it.

Defining Joy

Well, its Monday again. And no one in the house is particularly happy about that. But, we’ve broken out the three “countdown to Christmas” calendars and we’ve got our eyes on the prize. Not necessarily The Day but the beginning of winter break. Three weeks to go. Two more Mondays.

This Monday is a warm, beautiful day and I drove to the bank and Target with the new One Direction cd blasting in the car. It makes me happy and I’m trying to surround myself with things that make me happy.

In The Artist’s Way, it’s time for me to be kind to myself, splurge a bit, notice how I spend my time and money. On others? All the time? Maybe I should find a way to be kind to me. I haven’t done that monetarily today – it’s not all about things, is it? – but in the spirit of a book (the title escapes me) a friend recommended recently that helps you declutter by surrounding yourself only with things that bring you joy, I’ve decided to define joy for me and find ways to bring it close, like a soft blanket on a cold night.

So, here are a couple of things that are bringing me joy right now:

1. The sun and the fact that it’s 70 degrees today. It’s hard to ask for a better start to the work week than that.

2. One Direction. I know, I should be ashamed of myself, a 48-year-old mother who might be a bigger fan of the band than my daughters, but I’m not. They have such lovely voices (and faces – let’s be frank) and there are some really lovely harmonies on the new album that touch that place inside me that still carries the young me, the girl I was; a place that’s raw and hopeful and longs for the love of a nice sweet boy. I haven’t ever found that boy but the hope hasn’t completely died. And this album reignites that flame.

3. The fact that I’ve begun to write the new novel. If four pages counts, than yeah. I’m writing. That gives me great joy and might keep the negative thoughts at bay for a bit. I hope.

4. Pumpkin pie. It’s so versatile! It’s breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert! What more could you want?

5. My room. I’ve spent the last few months painting and decorating my bedroom. A while back, I finally found a comfy chair for the reading corner and when Franklin isn’t hogging it up, it’s become my second favorite place to be in the evening. While the kids are on the other side of the house watching tv, doing homework, bickering over who agreed to let who braid their hair, I am in my tiny oasis with a book or a journal or a list. Thinking or writing or reading in peace. It’s something I’ve wanted for years and now I finally have it.

What brings you joy?