everyday musings for extraordinary women

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Dear Husband,

Take a close look at this picture. See how I’m looking at you? Eyes wide open. Smile bursting across my face. Shoulders relaxed. Head slightly inclined toward you. That was the moment you entered my heart.

How amazing it is to see the moment captured this way. It speaks of permanence. I see me looking at you looking at me, and I’m there again, in the moment when joy took root within me. Five years later, the roots are still growing.

The moment is then, now, and forever.

Happy Anniversary,

Your wife

Family Reality

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I’m giving up the dream, today, right this second, before I lose my mind. I have a habit of imagining how I want things to be and then actually expecting them to be that way. The problem is that what I imagine is almost never what is. There’s often a wide gap between what I desire and the reality that I experience, especially when it comes to family.

My family is lucky even though we clearly don’t realize it or perhaps it’s that we take it for granted. My mother, father, sister, brother, and me—we’re all still here, living, and in reasonably good health. We can pick up a phone and talk to each other or travel anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to see each other. We have the option to improve our relationships with each other, whether that means talking more regularly or spending more time together. We can choose to be closer. There’s nothing stopping us except us. Time is moving on, and change is imminent. You know, the kind of change we don’t really want to face—loss and limitations. Loss of our loved ones. Limitations that often accompany illnesses, which tend to surface as we age. When we’ve been forced to face loss or serious illnesses in our family, we’ve tended to automatically come together, which is a good thing, but we don’t have to let these kinds of changes drive our relationships.

I want to make purposeful changes in order to have better relationships. I’m no longer spending time wishing my relationships were a certain way. Instead, I’m accepting my relationships exactly as they are, in whatever state they are in, right now. This isn’t something I could do just a couple of weeks ago. It would’ve been impossible because I was obsessing over family dynamics that (to me) seem to have roots in generational favoritism, excessive selfishness, crippling low self-esteem, depression, co-dependency, suppressed or over-expressed emotions, the inability to truly listen and at least try to understand the perspectives, ideas, and actions of others, and a serious lack of willingness to forgive. That’s a long list. I know, but there they are—all our ugly ways and challenges.

Now, if you’re not related to me, then these family dynamics probably don’t mean much to you. However, if you are, then know that I’m not writing about a particular family member. So don’t bother to accuse me of blogging about you (see other posts for that—kidding, sort of). This post isn’t about you. This post is about us—living family members and many of those we know from previous generations.

I know many family members who’ve been part of a few situations where our ugly ways and challenges caused some kind of separation in relationships. I’ve revisited my own experiences and those I know about concerning family, and it’s clear that our ugly ways have held us back from being happier and healthier together. None of us probably wants to admit any of this, but we’d be better off by taking responsibility for the parts we’ve played. Believe me, I don’t like admitting it, but my ways can get pretty ugly sometimes. I can’t undo the damage I’ve caused others in the past, but I’m making a small adjustment that I believe will go a long way to improve future family experiences. The past two weeks have shown me that it’s not hard to face reality even if I don’t like it or understand it. Acceptance is a good place for me to begin.

Coping with loss

20140410_230055I’m going to do something that’s very difficult and uncomfortable for me. I’m going to try to write about the kind of change that I really don’t want to write about or even think about. I tried to do it before, but it felt like I was peeking around the corner with just one eye open while gripping the wall to steady myself. I couldn’t take another step closer. I didn’t have it in me to even stay still long enough to focus on what was happening. All I could manage was a glimpse of it. Then, I had to turn away. But I can’t keep turning away and closing my eyes anymore. It’s all around me now. The loss of a loved one has a way of demanding your attention no matter how hard you try to turn from it.

This is the permanent kind of change my family is dealing with right now. Let me just get this out. My husband loss both of his parents in the past six months. It’s only been a week since his father transitioned. I couldn’t even cry until now. We were with his mother during her last stages in October. I tired to write about the experience we had with his mother (Mom Alice) at some point during the fall, but I couldn’t–not really. I just left it–unwritten. Now, here we are again, and I’m still unable to write freely about it. In fact, I don’t know when I’ll be able to do it.

But here’s what I can say…I don’t want my husband to feel that he’s alone. He’s the kind of person who has been there for so many others. He’s a truly giving person, and most of the time, I think he’s given to others while expecting nothing in return. Now he needs support. I’m hopeful that there are a least a few people who will show him the same kindness that he’s shown others. He has me, but I think he needs the comfort of more arms wrapped around him. He hasn’t said this to me, but I know.

I keep wondering what he’s feeling. He seems the same on the outside. He smiles the same smile I’ve loved from the beginning, but I know there’s something neither of us is experienced with underneath. We’re in unfamiliar territory. So I keep asking him. I keep watching him. I keep listening to him. I keep praying for us. I don’t want to push him to share if he’s not ready, but I also don’t want him burying his feelings too deeply either. As I said, this kind of change won’t allow you to turn away forever. At some point, it will catch up and you will have to turn to face it.

Change is in the air

20140408_200350Change is in the air, and I’m not just saying this because we’re finally thawing out and spring has returned. Although warming up to 70 and 80 degree temperatures is the kind of change I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. I’m talking about change that’s closer to home, intimate, and unique to you. I’m talking about when change becomes the central theme for an extended period of time in your life. When it touches multiple areas at the same time and forces you to stop right where you are because you’re held captive by the knowledge that the world–your world–as you’ve known it, doesn’t exist anymore. It seems as if everything you’ve known and grown comfortable with is different. Some of the differences can be easily explained–easy to get your mind around. Then there are nuances and unknown effects that you can’t begin to grasp. Things that you can’t know until you’re further down the road, unless you’re blessed with the gift of foresight. If this has happened to you, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If this is happening to you right now, then perhaps we can help each other find ways to cope with the changes that are currently playing center stage in our lives.

It’s funny really. I used to think that the most difficult thing is to know you need to change but not know how to actually do it or to somehow not be able to do it. This is when change is in your hands. You control whether or not it happens. However, now that I must face permanent family changes and career changes, I’m beginning to think that change that’s out of our control is far more challenging. This is when change is controlled by others or an external force or power. It’s when you can’t stop change from happening. You might not have even considered it. In fact, once you learn that it’s happening, you might not even want it. Nevertheless, the change will happen regardless of how you feel or what you think.

We’ve all heard the advice that it’s best to accept change, particularly when it’s beyond our control. In fact, this is an essential step in a healthy approach to coping with this kind of change. I understand this. I really do, but I spent most of October 2013 to February 2014 in denial and some level of fear about the changes going on within my family and at work. I was deeply bothered by not being able to do anything about the changes. I couldn’t even delay or alter the changes. All I could do was figure out how to cope, and if you’re like me, you don’t particularly care for being in situations where you feel a loss of control or powerless. It’s April now, and permanent change is still the dominating theme in my life. I believe that I’ve made some progress towards acceptance, but now I need to find the best ways to adjust to my new world. Perhaps you have suggestions or advice. I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

My Snow Story

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Now that the sun has returned and reminded me that winter won’t last forever, I feel so much better.  The last two weeks have been tough for those of us who live in southern states like Georgia.  If you’re like me, until recently, you could count the number of times you’ve felt temperatures in the single digits and the number of times you’ve seen snow, sleet, or icy weather conditions on one hand.

Two weeks ago, I didn’t think much about the winter weather conditions predicted for Atlanta and the surrounding areas.  But then the snow began to fall fast, stick, and accumulate, and within just a few hours, the sky darkened, the temperature dropped, and everything changed.  Suddenly, I realized that even though I was safe at home and my husband and children were engaged in their routine evening activities, there were dangerous and scary situations developing on all major interstates and secondary roads all around us.  If you turned on a television, checked a notification from any news source, or spoke with anyone living in the Atlanta area, you know what happened.  I don’t need to rehash it.  It was an all out crisis for the city and the state! Little did we know what was headed our way the day before…

1/27/14

At 1700 hours, all members of the family were home and confirmed receipt of a winter storm warning for our area.  The children had received word in the hallways and when their teacher’s back was turned during class.  I had received notification by phone from my mother along with explicit instructions regarding preparation.  The husband had been made aware of the hazardous weather coming our way when he came upstairs after finishing his work day.

At 1900 hours, it was agreed that a trip to the neighborhood grocery store was while not desirable, indeed necessary.  A short list was prepared, and we hustled up the street to acquire the goods and hopefully, to avoid any issues related to scarcity.  Once the oldest son and I arrived at the store, things did not go as planned.  We forgot all about our list and proceeded to walk up and down each and every aisle in the store.  There was absolutely no rational reason for abandoning our list and acting as if there was no plan at all.  We watched people load up their shopping carts, but we pushed our nearly empty cart from one end of the store to the other, barely touching anything.  You’d think that we’d have focused on getting critical items such as water, peanut butter, nuts, fruits, granola, cereal, bread, and an assortment of other non-perishables.   That would’ve made perfect sense, but we just strolled about as if it was just another Monday evening at the grocery store.

At 1945 hours, we checked out, returned home, and unloaded a single shopping bag of what we felt were essential items for surviving a snowstorm:  Pop Tarts, Lunchables, and a jar of Smucker’s Jelly.

At 2000 hours, the husband announced that he would be in charge of rations if we found ourselves snowed in for multiple days with no power and limited food and water.

At 2001 hours, I took an inventory of foods that could be eaten I if we lost power.

2% Milk–2 cartons

Almond Butter–1 jar

Almond Slivers–.50 bag

Apples–6

Biscotti–1pint

Blueberries–1 container

Bread–2 loaves

Cashews–.25 can

Cereal–4 boxes

Cereal Bars–6

Chocolate Candy–.50 bar

Chocolate Cookies–8

Crackers–2 boxes

Granola–.50 container

Greek Yogurt–10

Ice Cream–1 gallon

Jelly–1 jar

Lunchables–6

M&Ms–.50 jar

Peanut Butter–2 jars

Pop Tarts–2 boxes

Prunes–4

Rice Milk–1 carton

Sorbet–1 pint

Soy Ice Cream–3 mini sandwiches

Soy Milk–.50 carton

Soy Yogurt–6

Sparkling Water–3 bottles

Tuna–3 cans

At 2006 hours, I seriously wondered whether or not I should hide all of the foods I like in the house where no one would think to look.  I mean really, I was in a house with an ex-military man and two male teens, who eat just because the food is there. No one was going to stop to think about the vegetarian in the house.  Clearly, I needed a strategy to survive.  I had to think quickly…

If the power goes out, do not hesitate.  Grab the soy ice cream and chocolate cookies first.  Leave the regular ice cream, sorbet, and yogurts of any kind behind.  The yogurts are packed with protein, but you’ll get over it and even make up for it with almonds, cashews, and granola, oh my!  Peanut butter, yuck!  Let them fight over it because almond butter is way better with crackers and sparkling water will be perfect to wash them down.  When they go for the 2% milk, grab the rick milk, at least one box of cereal, and an entire box of Pop Tarts.  They aren’t as quick as you.  By the time they divide up the milk and other refrigerated items, you will have already moved on to the chocolate candy bar and M&Ms.  They probably won’t even remember that we have these goodies.  If one of them spots you going for the chocolate candy, just run.  Run upstairs to your room and lock the door.  After you’ve hidden everything, negotiate half-heartedly, and then give up.  Unlock the door and go about your business as usual until everyone is asleep.  Then, go back to the kitchen and eat the blueberries.  You know they can’t last very long unless you store them outside on the patio in the snow, and let’s face it, you’re not going to do that.  Suck it up!  It’s about survival.  They’ll be alright.  You’re leaving the apples, biscotti, bread, cereal bars, jelly, prunes, tuna, and even some soy milk along with other eatables.  They’ll figure it out. 

At 2008 hours, I snapped out of it and settled into my normal evening routine just like everyone else in the house.

1/28/14

At 1030 hours, I received a call from my mother, who let me know that it was snowing in Cartersville, which is about one hour north of Atlanta.  I was working from home and felt quite distant from whatever might be happening outside.  Plus, what happens in Cartersville…well, you know the rest.  I remained unfazed.

At 1130 hours, the first snowflakes were seen falling outside my window.  I immediately contacted the husband to urge him to leave his client meeting immediately, and sent a text message to the children to alert them to be ready to leave school when he arrived.

At 1430 hours, no one had made it home yet, which was crazy.  The distance from the school and house is 4.91miles or 12 minutes.  I was still working.  There didn’t appear to be much snow on the ground outside, so I began to wonder.  What was taking so long?

Over the next few hours, images of people sitting in their cars, bumper-to-bumper, going nowhere began to flood networks.  My own family finally made it home after being stuck on Peachtree Street for three hours.  One of my cousins didn’t make it home until midnight after spending seven hours on Georgia 400, and my nephew almost got stuck at school overnight.  It turned out that we were the lucky ones.

Needless-to-say, my light-hearted attitude from the day before changed significantly after seeing the impact the weather had on our city.  I’d definitely learned my lesson.  When reports of another winter storm headed our way were announced earlier this week, there was no playing around.  Just as before, we headed to the neighborhood grocery store and shopped for essential items for surviving a snowstorm, but this time we came home with much more than Pop Tarts, Lunchables, and a jar of Smucker’s Jelly.

Holiday Blues

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We’re already three weeks into the new year, and I haven’t even begun to get on with the few things I need to focus on this year.  It’s not that I’ve been sitting around doing nothing, but I haven’t exactly been making a serious effort to tackle my to-do list for 2014.   Instead, I still can’t believe the holidays are over and that January is coming to a close.  Time seems to be moving too fast for me, and I want it to slow down or at least back up a few weeks, back to the holidays.  I think I’m going through some sort of post-holiday blues.

Feeling a little worn out or down the first day or two after the new year is probably not uncommon, but it’s been three weeks!  “Come on,” I yelled out loud to myself last week when I finally decided that the holiday decorations had to come down.  It’s telling that as I boxed up the ornaments, trees, and jingle bells, I didn’t want to do it.  I really didn’t want to close the boxes and put everything back in the storage room, but I made myself do it anyway.  I can still see my little tree sitting on my desk sometimes.

Then I had to deal with the holiday movies I recorded on the DVR. I’m sure that in most households holiday movies are nowhere to be found by the third week of January, and I know this is probably normal and healthy.  Yet, I couldn’t make myself delete them, not until after I’d closed the boxes on the decorations.  Once the decorations were gone, I sat down, scrolled through the list, and one-by-one, I watched my favorite holiday movies disappear from the screen. Right now, only two remain, and I have no plans to delete them anytime soon.

It’s funny, I didn’t have the same problem with the music.  I stopped playing holiday music a few days after the new year without too much difficulty.  I can only assume that this is because I started playing it on October 1st and after three months, well, it’s probably time to listen to something else.  You’ll still hear me hum a few favorite melodies from time-to-time, but I’ve moved on to other genres.

It’s Saturday night, and I haven’t let those holiday movies go.  They jump out at me every time I scroll through my playlist.  I must confess that I’m watching one right now.  Perhaps I need a cup of strong, hot tea (Yogi St. John’s Wort Blues Away) to help me get over this, but for tonight, I’ll continue to enjoy my holiday movie and pretend that it’s still the middle of December.

Alone on Christmas?

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Yesterday, I was feeling a real lack of Christmas spirit in my city, but I had a change of heart by the time I reached my parent’s home, which is about an hour north of where I live.  I made a stop at a grocery store in town.  My parents live way out in the country, where you can’t see your hand in front of your face after dark.  Town is about 20 minutes away without traffic.  You’d never think this place is right outside of Atlanta.  It’s a world unto itself.

It was raining hard.  In fact, it was already flooding in some areas.  I really didn’t want to stop, but I needed to get a few things.  As soon as I walked through the door of the grocery store, I was greeted with a smile and a compliment on my shiny santa hat.  This surprised me because I didn’t think it was anything special.  I picked it up a year ago somewhere just for fun, but I smiled back and thanked the lady.  On every aisle there was someone ready to help, and it turned out that I did actually need help.  I couldn’t find the sun-dried tomatoes or soy nog on my own, and you already know how I feel about soy nog.  I appreciated having someone nearby, who could direct me to the right place in the store.

“Can I help you find something?”

“Are you finding what you need?”

“Good evening.”

“How are you this evening?”

“Are you ready for Christmas?”

“Love the hat.  Where did you get it?”

“Have you finished your shopping for Christmas?”

No less than 10 people offered help or greetings to me, and I was only in the store for 30 minutes.  By the time I made it to the checkout, I was feeling quite relaxed and cheerful.  Then, something else unexpected happened.  The cashier helping me began to chat about her day and went on to say that she’d be spending this Christmas alone for the first time.  She added that her daughter had been telling her how she could expect being alone on Christmas to be awful.  I was touched that she’d share something so personal with me, and I was struck by how her daughter’s statement was so obviously affecting her in a negative way.  She seemed a little sad, and I wanted to say something that would help her.

I followed my own intuition and told her what came to me.  I suggested that she plan her day.  I told her to do something special for herself.  I remembered reading an article about how people are choosing to eat out on holidays instead of cooking at home.  So I encouraged her to consider eating lunch or dinner out at a restaurant.  She was concerned that they would all be closed, but I assured her that this was not the case.  I told her that a quick search online for restaurants open on Christmas would help her decide on where to go.  Then, it was time for me to go.  She wished me a happy holiday, and I wished that she would find peace and happiness of her own this Christmas.

For anyone who expects to face Christmas alone this year, be adventurous. Embrace whatever your situation is and make it into what you want it to be.  Let go of whatever is supposed to be.  It’s good to create your own new traditions.  Spend your time alone if you wish or get out of the house and set yourself free.  You never know who you might meet on Christmas.  Know that you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be.

Related: Atlanta restaurants open on Christmas Day 2013; Tips for spending holidays alone; 50 Tips on how to enjoy holidays alone

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