Calmed

This long weekend has been good for me. It’s provided me some breathing room, and the realization that I have been neglecting to keep a positive focus. That is something I’ve been purposefully striving for over the past few years. I remember when I first realized that it’s possible to remain hopeful even in the midst of storms.

How easy it is to slip back to old habits. I hadn’t even realized how fretting and worrying had overtaken me lately.

But like I said, maybe a break in routine is all I needed.

Jack and I were able to go to the ball game with our friends Friday night. It had been raining all day, and the rain continued as we drove to the field. If the weather didn’t break, we were just going to find a restaurant downtown and have dinner. But the clouds parted and it ended up being a perfect night for baseball.

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St. Paul Saints games are SO much fun! We had great seats, behind home plate with a clear view of the game. We enjoyed silly fan events held on-field between innings. And the “cheerleaders” in the form of a nerd couple who danced on top of the dugouts kept us laughing and cheering the whole time.  The post-game fireworks, choreographed to commercial jingles were the perfect ending to such an enjoyable night.

Saturday morning arrived with more rain, the perfect day to be stuck in the house painting walls. I called Mom before we dove into our project and was relieved to hear she was finally feeling much better.

Jack and I got started and we made a great team. I did all the taping, while he edged along the ceilings and then the baseboard that I had protected with blue masking tape. While he continued with the detail work, I followed behind with the roller. When those first patches of sage and caramel hues hit the walls, I wondered if we’d made the right choice, but by Saturday evening when we were almost done, we were really pleased with the results.

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It’s hard to take pictures of walls, so this photo doesn’t do it justice, but there is definitely a new vibe of serenity in the living room.

Yesterday, I had plans to go with my Mom and my siblings to visit my Dad’s grave. While waiting for my brothers to arrive, I received a message from my best friend’s husband that I should call him. My heart sunk. My friend has been battling cancer and it’s not been going in her favor. When I called, her husband told me that he was aware she has not been communicating much with her friends, and basically, while he did not feel anything was immediately imminent, I might want to plan a trip to see her sooner rather than later. My mind reeled. How phenomenally difficult it must be for that poor man to have to make that call and to have that conversation with his wife’s friends. Yet he was calm and detailed. Clearly, he has reached some level of acceptance.

IMG_4229aAs I stood quietly with my family around  my dad’s grave yesterday, I tried to process all of the pain and struggle I see happening all around me, not just in the world in general, but too close to home these days, in the lives of family and friends. So often lately, I think of the world as a dirty, ugly, dark place. It’s so easy to feel lost, and it’s hard to keep moving forward with a hopeful spirit. But at the same time, I realize that I have to, that the whole point is to find the joy in spite of all the chaos that surrounds us. Otherwise, what is the point?

Difficult as it may be at times, even if it feels like I’m just sometimes just going through the motions, I’m moving forward … with prayer, hope and optimism.

Paint Therapy

I took the day off to extend my long holiday weekend to four days. I just need a change of pace, some breathing room…

… and to paint.

I need to paint walls. I’ve been saying this for much too long without doing something about it. Every time I look around our main living space, the walls look outdated and tired. I have this constant urge to give them a facelift. They’ve looked the same for too many years. These old walls have really been driving me crazy for about three years, but something always seems to stand in the way of doing anything about it. I decided a couple of months ago that this year would not pass by without fresh paint.

I’ve been picking out colors for months. I want at least two that will complement each other. I’m planning to make over the dining area,  living room, hallway, and the foyer as well. I want something different and yet I kept veering back to the same family of colors that already fill our spaces.

Maybe a fresh pair of eyes would help. I asked my friend. She’s familiar enough with my house in order to express an informed opinion. She recommended bringing some green into the mix. I typically tend to gravitate away from greens. I like fall colors … golds, reds and browns. I like the warmth they offer. But my friend mentioned that green offers serenity. I gave that some consideration. I looked around at my furniture, floors and woodwork. I realized that green could definitely provide some balance in our color schemes.

And I could use some serenity. I have not felt serene lately. My mom seems to be going downhill, especially this past week, and I worry about her constantly. I’ve been in a downward spiral of self-pity because I feel very alone in managing her care. She’s still living on her own, but I wish she wasn’t. It’s just beyond my control.

At my lowest point this week, I took out my frustrations on Jack, angry at him because he could not see inside of me and realize how scared and helpless I’ve begun to feel. I hope that I’m off-base, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that Mom’s body is simply wearing out. I’m not ready for that. I’m having trouble keeping my mind in the present, constantly battling against the tendency to imagine how much worse things might get if she keeps losing ground like she’s been. I disaster-fantasize that while I’m still working through the grief of my dad’s passing, I’ll be adding to it a fresh blanket of grief.

I keep reminding myself to think positive thoughts, but I’m having trouble remembering how.

Of my three siblings, one has typically been there to tag-team with me in taking care of Mom. But that sibling has had some struggles of her own building lately, actually for much longer than I’ve been aware. We talked yesterday and I learned that her burdens are way beyond anything I could have imagined. She needs to focus on her immediate family right now. She apologized for not being more involved with Mom. I told her not to worry. I said I could handle Mom. And I will stop being so reluctant and afraid to ask for help from the other two siblings. I have a new perspective and a huge reminder that when I think my struggles are more than I can handle, in comparison to others, I’ve got it good.

Last night after getting Mom settled for the evening, I went back to the home improvement store for yet more paint samples. I think I’m closing in on a combination that combines my love for fall colors with some serenity.

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The four samples on the lower right are in the lead for winning colors.

My mom has had a bad week. She’s been extremely fatigued and uncomfortable. I took her to the doctor on Wednesday and he made a best guess as to the reason for her symptoms, of course, all the result of her debilitating chronic conditions. He put her on a broad spectrum antibiotic and advised that she would probably go downhill for another day, but if he had the issues pegged, the medicine should kick in by today. If not, I’ll be taking her back to the doctor and worst-case-scenario, to the hospital. But I’m hopeful that the magic meds do their job and she’ll feel stronger today.

Jack and I were invited to go with friends to a St. Paul Saints baseball game tonight. It sounded like such a welcome opportunity since my days have become so routine. (Gym, work, time with Mom, bed. Lather, rinse, repeat.) I was reluctant to commit to the game before I knew if someone else could prepare dinner for Mom and even better, share the meal and spend some time visiting with her. She spends way too many hours alone as it is, and I don’t want a day to go by without someone stopping in to at least check on her well-being in person. I reached out to my youngest brother and was pleasantly surprised when he readily agreed.

Hopefully Mom will report that she’s feeling better this morning. If so, I’m going to a ball game and diving into a long weekend of paint therapy.

My Niece’s Wedding

What a beautiful weekend it has been! I love this time of year, when we can sleep with the windows open and wake up on a lazy weekend morning to brilliant sunshine spilling over blossoming trees, carpets of lush green grass, and the colorful blooms of spring flowers.

What a perfect weekend for a wedding. My niece got married on Friday night. It was beautiful. And I? Was an emotional sap. After all, this niece gave me my first experience of Baby Love. She is my sister’s oldest child, born just months before my own oldest child, Jaeger. I remember when she was born, how precious and small she was, and how my heart instantly ached with love for her. She is Jack’s and my godchild. My parent’s first grandchild. I have many nieces and nephews, but this niece holds a special place in my heart. This was a momentous occasion! Not to mention, we just adore her new husband, J!

IMG_0150aHow can I describe this wedding? It was unique. Niece and J tossed many traditions to the side and just poured their own spirit and personality into their special day. Both the ceremony and reception were held in a hotel banquet room. I know that several of our very Catholic family members frowned upon the fact that the ceremony wouldn’t take place in a church, but I wasn’t bothered. This wedding was so filled with love and joy, that it was hard not to rejoice with the happy couple. Months before the big day, my niece had asked me to participate by doing a gospel reading at the ceremony. I wore my dad’s ring on my thumb, wanting him to be there with me, with all of us as we celebrated his granddaughter’s wedding. I wasn’t nervous standing in front of all of those people, maybe because I envisioned Dad standing with me, reading the word of God as he so often did in his time here on earth.

The groom had asked his aunt to read as well, but he wanted something other than a Bible passage. He wrote something personal and from the heart. I wasn’t the only one crying as we listened to his aunt read his words of deep love for his new bride, and the anticipation of an adventure in their life ahead.

Chesney was in the bridal party. She’d been provided an itinerary for the day of the wedding, which began early  on Friday with hair styling, continuing on to the hours of photos, taking them up to the start of the ceremony, and finally ending with Dance your faces off!

After dinner, there were speeches galore from both Dads and Step Dad. A bridesmaid and several groomsmen offered toasts as well. Finally the bride and groom expressed their thanks. More tears from all around. It was just such an incredible celebration of love and joy.

And later, we did indeed dance our faces off! It was bunches of fun, with family and friends just enjoying the celebration and having fun together. As the night wore on, most everyone let their hair down and we just had a good time, talking, laughing and being silly.

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Jaeger, Ryker, Chesney and the Boyfriend

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Another Niece, me, Youngest Brother, Jack and Chesney

It was really amazing to be a part of this special day, to put aside for a while the sadness that still often lingers in the wake of Dad’s absence from our lives. Any hard feelings were tucked away as we remembered that this is what life is really all about. Being together. Forgiving our differences. Remembering that through thick and thin, we are family. And LOVE.

It was a beautiful day!

Working the Land (or) If I Ever Quit my Day Job

After twenty-six years in their four-level home that was located just a block away from mine, my parents moved last July to a single-level townhome just a few miles away. We had barely got them settled in when Dad broke his hip in September. By December, following several additional illnesses and complications, Dad was gone from us, and the long winter had arrived.

Understandably, through grief and figuring out a new “us,” there hasn’t been much attention given to making the new place feel like “home.” And as much as the decision to move to from their previous home was Mom’s, she still often says that the townhome still doesn’t feel like home. Too much has changed too quickly. Too much sadness is still fresh in her mind and heart. But we’re going to continue trying to make Mom’s new house a home, as much as is humanly possible.

In the months since Dad’s passing, I’m spending more time than ever with Mom, in part, to make sure she’s not alone for too many hours, and also to help with things she can’t manage by herself. We’ve settled into a routine. Almost daily, I stop by Mom’s after work and on weekends. I often take her to my house to have dinner. Since she isn’t able to get out much on her own, this gives her a needed change of scenery. Sometimes I prepare a meal at her place or we get something to go. It’s mutually beneficial. I know she’s eating a hot meal on a regular basis, and it’s forcing me to cook more regularly, something that had fallen to the wayside especially since our kids have grown up and begun lives of their own.

As a result of so much time together, I’m often noticing and managing things that need doing around Mom’s place. We talk a lot about the projects she wishes to have done to make the townhome feel more homey. The vaulted ceiling and tall white walls are screaming for a splash of colorful decor. She’d like a big clock to hang over the fireplace. There are still boxes upon boxes of framed pictures that haven’t found a home yet. (And with fewer walls than in the old place, many never will.)

The back yard needed work. Generally speaking, it’s a lovely little place where Mom now lives, and her next door neighbor has a gorgeous perennial garden in plain view. But Mom’s back patio needed some attention. The former owner had moved to a nursing home, and the townhome stood vacant for more than a year before my parents took ownership. The landscaping in back had fallen into disrepair. Being so limited in her ability to go anywhere on her own, the backyard is the one outdoor space Mom is really able to enjoy without assistance from someone else.

The back yard is just beyond her sun porch and is where Mom lets her dog hang out at various times throughout the day. A black plastic landscaping border along the cement patio had long since been pulled away. The rocks that had once been enclosed there were now spilling into a patch of dirt and weeds where once there was probably lush, green grass.

“I’d like to have something done with that,” she’s said to me on more than one occasion. I had an idea. We discussed it and I asked if she thought she’d like it.

“If you like it, I’ll like it,” Mom said, giving me the freedom to do as I pleased. So as Mothers Day weekend approached, I enlisted my husband’s help in gathering the necessary supplies. On Friday evening, Jack and I made a trip to the local home improvement store and with his expertise, purchased just the right number of landscaping bricks as well as a roll of weed block. Back at home, we loaded shovels and rakes and a Sawzall into the back of my vehicle.

Saturday morning arrived, warm, sunny and beautiful. Jack went off to work for the day, and I dressed in an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt before making the short trek to Mom’s house. I sat with Mom as the morning sun rose high in the sky and she sipped her morning coffee. Soon my sister arrived, ready to help transform the back yard.

Some of the elderly neighbors were already outside as we began to work. As is their habit, they sat in lawn chairs in front of their own townhomes, watching as I traveled along the side of Mom’s house, from the driveway out front and along to the back, my arms loaded with supplies and tools. My sis and I shoveled what remained of the old rock from our work space. The roots of two large pine trees had crept into the area, and I used the Sawzall to cut the ones that were nestled on the surface of the yard. We dug, we raked, we pruned, and we smoothed the dirt, making the ground level enough for our project.

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The mostly-before view

Next, we figured out a pattern for the landscaping blocks and began to lay them out.

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Once the pattern looked right, we used a level and made adjustments to ensure the new area was as perfect as possible. Then it was off to another home improvement store to purchase more rock. Shopping amongst a sea of others, my sister and I heaved ten bags of rock onto a dolly at the garden center, then once paid for, heaved them off the dolly and into my sister’s vehicle. Then back at Mom’s house, we hauled the heavy bags from the car to the yard, and then put our muscles to the test once more as we cut the bags open and dumped rocks into the new space. (Who needs the gym?)

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Five hours after we’d begun, the space had really begun to take shape. We were tired, sweaty, dirty and smelly and we called it a day. After dinner, with Jack now home from work, I enlisted his help again to purchase and transport a few rolls of sod.

The next day, I requested middle-son Ryker’s help.

“Isn’t it Mothers Day?” he asked, wondering why I was proposing to do manual labor on this day.

“Yep,” I replied.

“Did we get you anything,” he asked sheepishly, clearly assuming his sister would have and should have organized some sort of gift for me.

“Not yet,” I smiled, making it clear that his help was all the gift I needed.

Back at Mom’s house, Ryker tilled the areas of dirt and dead grass, then we worked together in rolling out, cutting and fitting the sod into place. Finally, we mixed some grass seed and soil and spread it around the edges of the sod and into a few remaining small bare areas.

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We stood back and surveyed our work, and we were pretty pleased! We had bought Mom a new outdoor rocker for Mothers Day, so she can sit outside with her dog and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine now and then. A few pots of flowers will come soon to give the space some color. She is ecstatic!

I totally enjoyed the process of planning and creating this little bit of landscaping. And as I think about the work my own yard needs, my mind is now filled with possibilities!

Meeting the Pen Pals

Since early this year, through a volunteer opportunity offered by my employer, I’ve been exchanging letters with two boys who attend a local elementary school. I signed up for the program because I wanted to volunteer in some capacity, but couldn’t imagine much that I could do between working full time and taking care of my mom. Then along came this program, and I instantly knew it was something I not only could manage, but wanted to do. The time commitment was flexible. Once the school sent the notebooks to the office, I’d have a week to write a few paragraphs to each boy, whenever my schedule allowed. Plus – it involved writing. It was the perfect fit for me.

Darius, Theo and I have been passing a notebook back and forth for the past few months. I really lucked out with these two boys. They were very engaged and open with me, and I felt a sense of attachment right from the start. They made me laugh at times with the things they wrote. They proved they were typical grade school boys with their love of video games and all things Star Wars. Sometimes they pulled on my heartstrings, like when each told me they had siblings who did not live with them, and how that made them feel sad.

I began to really look forward to those days when my focus on some work project was suddenly interrupted by the familiar plop of the notebook landing on my desk as the program facilitator walked through the office passing them out to the volunteers. I couldn’t wait to read my letters from the boys. Sometimes the pages were filled with words and drawings. Other times, I could tell their interest had fizzled for the moment, or maybe they simply hadn’t had time to write much. Sometimes Theo would write on behalf of both Darius and himself. I often found myself seeking out my coworkers to share something the boys had written. I think my boss is sorry he didn’t get in on this program. I’m sure he will participate next year!

Theo often wrote to me about his dog, how Hades likes to chase (and eat) squirrels, and how he ruined most of his toys by chewing and tearing them apart. In another letter, he told me about his favorite book, Runt. His description of the story was so compelling that I’m determined to read it myself before long.

In one of his letters, Darius wrote, “There’s something I haven’t told you. I have a limb difference on my right hand and instead of 5 fingers, I have 5 little nubs and if somebody punches it, it won’t hurt and my hand packs a punch!”

When I replied, I thanked Darius for sharing that with me. I told him it sounded like his hand gave him a super power!

In one of their last messages, the boys again worked together to write to me. They got silly this time, with Theo describing how he had discovered that Darius doesn’t actually have a limb difference. It’s just that his hand is invisible. “I figured it out,” he wrote, “because he kept saying it is invisible. I pinch it, he screams, and look at the light and see glitter. YAY!” He then added, “And what did you do for spring break?”

So adorable, and imaginative, those boys!

At this point, we were warned that the program was winding down and it was time to start saying our goodbyes. I wanted to give “my” boys something special by which to remember our pen-pal friendship. So playing off the little story Theo had written to me about Darius’ invisible hand, I wrote them a story. (Four pages of handwritten story feels like a lot when the keyboard is my usual medium!)

In my story, I described how everyone thought that Theo and Darius were just your typical third-grade boys, but that they had a secret. Darius told everyone he had a limb-difference, but the secret was that it was really an invisible hand with special powers. If Theo pinched Darius’ special hand, it would make glitter rain down from above. The glitter had magic powers to make everyone forget what was happening at that moment, and to make any bad situation better.

I went on to describe how on one particular Monday, the boys’ teacher, Mrs. Sauerkraut announced there would be a surprise test on spiders, centipedes, worms and water beetles. The class was disappointed, but the two boys saved the day when they used their super power to make their teacher forget she had planned the test. After the glitter had showered down over the class, Mrs. Sauerkraut was confused and asked the class if they remembered what she had said they were supposed to do that day. The two boys told her she had just announced they were having a class party with video games, ice cream and dancing. The whole class shouted with joy!

I hoped the boys would like my story. I didn’t think they would be writing back to me again, but it turned out that they would write one last time. When my notebook arrived, I excitedly turned to their last entry.

“Dear Tee,” it said. “We are not in 3rd grade. We are in 4th.”

That was it. I was mildly disappointed. And confused. I had thought they were in 3rd grade. I paged through the letters and realized neither had ever confirmed this.

Yesterday was our year-end celebration. The other volunteers and I hopped on a bus and we all rode over to the elementary school to meet our kids. After donning our sticker guest passes which authorized us to be in the building, we all strode through the hallways to the classrooms where our kids were waiting. Lined up at the front of the room with the other volunteers, I faced a classroom full of young and eager faces. The kids were smiling, shouting hello, and trying, but failing to keep still as they waved at us with eager anticipation. I scanned the faces to see if I could pick out my boys when I heard my name called out. I followed the sound of the voice and saw a curly haired boy waving right at me. As soon as I saw the hand he was waving, I recognized Darius. Momentarily wondering how he knew it was me, I realized I had been holding our notebook against my chest. The front of the notebook where our names were written in large print, was facing the class. Darius had seen it and recognized me.

As soon as we were all paired with our kids, we each moved to separate places to do an art project and enjoy some ice cream. The first thing Darius did was show me the nubs on his hand. He twisted one around and when I asked if that didn’t hurt, Theo responded for him. “Nope! No bones!”

In our writings, Theo was clearly more engaged, but in person, it was Darius who spilled over with the most enthusiasm. Both boys chattered on comfortably with me, asking me to elaborate on things I’d told them in my letters. Theo frequently paged through the notebook, pointing out things we’d discussed. At one point, he mentioned, “We didn’t think you’d look like you do.”

“Oh yeah?” I laughed. “What did you think I would look like?”

“Darker hair,” they both nodded, but offered no reason they might think this. I could only smile. Ten year-olds are cute!

“Sorry I thought you were in third grade,” I said, referring to the story I had sent them. “They told us before we started writing to you that you were in third. Did you like my story anyway?”

“It was awesome!” they exclaimed. Theo added, “You should be a writer.”

(Thanks, Kiddo!)

These boys were not only cute and funny, they were smart! They told me about research projects they were working on, and showed me the work they’d done so far, including columns of notes, and colorful paintings. When I asked about favorite books they’d read, I didn’t recognize some of the titles. Trying to think of things we might have in common, I asked if they’d ever read the Harry Potter books.

Darius grew solemn. “My family doesn’t read Harry Potter. We’re Christian. And you know Christians don’t really like Harry Potter books.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well I’m a Christian, and I read a couple of the books. I liked them, but they’re just stories, not real.”

Darius looked at me skeptically. “Are you Baptist?”

“No, I’ve gone to a few different kinds of churches, but I guess I’m mostly Catholic.”

This statement excited him. “You’re Catholic? Let me ask you this! Do you like Popes?”

This kid was killing me! I laughed and said, “Well I guess I like the current Pope pretty well. Why do you ask?”

“Because,” he said. “Catholics put the Pope second in line behind Jesus and that breaks the second commandment, you know. Thou shalt not have …”

“… other gods before me?” I guessed. (I don’t have the exact wording memorized, but I figured I knew where he was going with this.)

“Yeah!” he said, seeming pleased that I was following him. “You’re not supposed to do that, you know.”

“Well, we don’t think the Pope is a god,” I explained. “I guess we just think he’s a pretty smart guy that can help us understand what God might want us to do.”

I did not in a million years think I’d be discussing religion with these kids. I found out later I’d probably lucked out with the religion conversation. One of my coworkers ended up hearing about how one of her kids wouldn’t vote for Trump, because he hates a particular ethnicity.

Wanting to steer our conversation back to something we could all appreciate, I asked if anyone had seen the new Jungle Book movie. Soon we were back to normal with both boys talking over one another, each wanting to tell me more things and ask more questions.

As we spent time together,  it occurred to me that my role all this time was supposed to involve helping the kids develop their writing skills, but these boys made the entire experience so unbelievably rewarding for me. The hour of time we had together flew by. I had no awareness of the other volunteers and kids around me in the noisy classroom. I was completely immersed in “my” kids. When it was announced that it was time to say goodbye, both boys expressed a disappointed “Aw!” I felt exactly the same. I could have easily spent more time with them and felt a sadness that we would no longer be able to write each other.

Theo mentioned that he wished he had his phone. Vaguely marveling at the fact that a fourth-grader has a cell phone, I asked why he wanted it.

“So we could take a picture!”

“I have mine,” I suggested. His eyebrows rose in anticipation and as the teacher strolled by our table, I asked if it was okay for me to take a photo. She assured me that was fine. I tried to get a selfie of the three of us, but Darius was busy dancing around and Theo insisted on sticking out his tongue the entire time. I ended up with nothing but blurred photos. Finally, I managed to get them to sit still long enough for me to take one of just the two of them.

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I will never forget these two boys. I’m glad I thought to make a copy of our letters before the notebook was finally returned to them to keep. And now I have a photo by which to remember them as well. As we rode back to work after our visit, my heart was filled with sincere gratefulness that I’d been “given” these two particular boys and had the chance to enjoy their friendship for a little while. I hope that I made a positive impact in some small way, and that they’ll grow up and meet the potential that’s so easy to see inside of them today.

Best Things

img_4159I was just thinking that the best thing about today was the sunshine. Blazing, almost blinding at times sunshine.

And the brilliant blue sky.

And the sound of chirping birds filling the air as I stepped out of my car upon arriving at work today…

…Taking a break from a challenging day to enjoy a walk around the pond with a coworker/friend. Sun on our skin. A slight breeze and fresh air. Catching up on one another’s weekend doings and forgetting, for fifteen minutes, about the things going wrong back inside the office.

An email from my oldest with a picture attached. Sharing his past weekend’s adventure.

“I think I want to spend more time at the North Shore,” his message said.

I opened the picture and replied, “Wow. Can I come with next time?”

And, “Is that you in the photo?”

“Yup, that’s me,” he replied. “Fighting a fish. Or a rock.”

Spontaneous cooking at home once I’d left work and picked up Mom. I hadn’t thought tonight was going to be one of my nights. Jack is at work for the evening, so … nothing planned for dinner.

“I’ve been thinking about making your goulash,” I said to Mom as she settled in the living room chair waiting for Wheel of Fortune to begin.

“Oh, that sounds good,” she agreed.

“You’ll have to remind me what all goes in there. It’s been forever since I’ve made it.”

Ground beef, onions and garlic cooking in frying pan. Salt and Pepper. And after the meat had browned and was sizzling, stewed tomatoes and some pasta.

“Put a few tablespoons of ketchup in too,” she reminded me.

Mom wanted a slice of buttered bread to accompany her meal. I said that reminded me of dinners at Grandma’s house, where there was always a plate of sliced white bread and plenty of butter with every meal. I pulled some cantaloupe out of the refrigerator and put that on the table too. Not exactly the healthiest of meals, but it was hot, and it tasted good. Then again, food always tastes better when you’ve got someone to enjoy it with.

Just a really good day…

New Life

Springtime is in full force. The past week brought rain nearly every day, sometimes for endless hours. The grass in the backyard feels like a wet sponge. Lucy comes inside with muddy paws and is learning again that at this time of year, she needs to stop and sit on the rug by the patio door before continuing through the house. She’s not fond of it, but waits patiently enough as someone towels off all four of her soppy, grimy feet. It’s so good to see the sun again today.

The lilies and irises that I split and transplanted a couple of weeks ago are thriving, and the flowering crabapple tree in the front yard is bursting with buds. It won’t be long before it explodes into full pink bloom. It’ll be gorgeous for a few days before all of those tiny flower petals fall off and litter the black asphalt driveway.

Spring is having a positive effect on me too. It always does, but the impact feels more significant this year than ever before. The events of the past winter weighed so heavily on all of us. Lately, I feel as if a sludge is finally draining from my spirit. I’m beginning to find more balance and enthusiasm. Instead of every other day,  or even less as had become my habit during the darkest days of the past few months, I’ve been to the gym daily the last two weeks, and add mid-day walks whenever I can fit them in. It’s good for the body, but maybe more importantly right now, puts my head in a much brighter place.

It’s always amazing to me to realize that no matter how old I get, I can always change and improve, not just my habits, but  the way I view the world, my circumstances, and whether I’ll rise to meet them, or let them drag me down.

Although, I’m apparently a slow learner. I hate to think how many years I spent maintaining feelings of bitterness and unforgiveness in the face of difficulties. How often I was willing to believe that some things would never change. Too many. And honestly, those feelings are probably still my first reaction. Every time I hear my mom’s shortness of breath because she had to walk from another room to answer my phone call, or when I see her drooping with exhaustion after a walk from the handicap parking spot into her church, I think how unfair it is that a woman who never touched a cigarette in her life has been saddled with such a debilitating lung condition. She makes remarks now and then about how she probably won’t be around all that much longer. Just typing those words makes me want to cry. I think about all of the years we didn’t “get” each other, all of the time wasted not appreciating one another. And only now, since my dad is gone, have I realized just how very precious my parents are and should have always been to me. I’m not proud to say that I spent too much time feeling put-upon to take care of their needs when I didn’t feel I even had enough time to keep my own life together.

Still, this is usually the way it goes with parents and their children. We go through phases, the joy of the early years, the frustrations of the middle years, and finally reaching appreciation later on. We can only forgive ourselves for the past and move forward as best we can. I’m beginning to realize this more every day.

I think my dad would be proud today.

Back in the day, I was the kid who fought him on all things church-related. Church was boring. And I hated having to dress up for mass. Besides, my friends’ parents didn’t make them go to church every single weekend, every holy day, and every holiday. Why couldn’t I skip it now and then? Our family’s weekly attendance at mass made for the longest hours of my life.

When I began to have children of my own, we decided it was important to make religion a part of their lives. But our reasons were more about family tradition than anything. I was mostly just going through the motions, hoping for something bigger, but rarely finding it long enough to hold on to it. As our kids grew older and busier with activities, and as I became the bad guy, making everyone stop what they were doing to go to weekend mass, I wondered why I bothered. And I stopped. We all just stopped.

For a while I felt guilty, then eventually, relieved. It was pretty easy to give up religion. When we were regulars at church, I always felt like I was falling short on all the rules about attendance, tithing, attitude, and forgiveness, to name just a few. There was a kind of peace that came with not having anyone breathing down my neck about all the ways I was falling short.

Still, I’m grateful for a nagging feeling that remained in the back of my mind all of the years I was drifting. It’s the thing that eventually taught me that I’d missed the memo at some point, that I’d never really understood who God was and what He could be and do in my life.

These days, it is that very faith that keeps me going. It feels all new to me. Like I’m finally starting to get it, and every day my eyes are opened more and more. I have found healing in a relationship I didn’t think could ever be salvaged. I have experienced calm when I might otherwise have gone off the deep end. I have understood joy amidst the deepest feelings of grief. I have found acceptance at times when I might have railed at the world in anger and frustration. Not always, but often enough to know I can face with confidence whatever life throws at me, instead of living in fear. I guess you could say I’ve learned to believe in miracles.

I still experience bouts of anxiety over any number of things. My kids’ happiness, safety and well-being. My mom’s health and how long she’ll be here with us. The cancer that plagues my best friend. A host of other worries about the people I know and love. The difference now is knowing that no difficulty has to leave a permanent black mark on my soul. I’m learning to say thank you for challenges – not because I believe there’s some magic trick that turns every act of thankfulness into a happy ending, but because I choose to believe these experiences can take me in positive directions. And choosing to believe anything is half the battle toward making it reality.

I’ve broken outside of that shell that would have me believe you must participate and believe in only one specific segment of Christianity. Or even Christianity. It is my choice, but if someone else finds peace in a different way, more power to ’em.

While I’m back in regular attendance at the Catholic church, and while that would please Dad, it’s mostly because that’s where my mom wants to be. And since I am usually the one who takes her to church, that’s where we’ll go. Realistically, I find the teachings of other denominations to be mind-blowing at times. And thank God for the internet because I can hear from other churches at home while doing other things. And some of these people are so COOL! And “cool” is not something I ever thought I’d believe church could be. Listening to the word in unfamiliar settings, outside of the years of routine and repetition have helped me to really hear. I have to laugh at myself sometimes because I’m just hungry to know so much more. And it wasn’t that long ago that I could easily have just throw it all away.

I’m finally getting comfortable with prayer. It’s no longer just the reciting of age-old verses known by heart, but conversations in my head and heart, picturing God on the receiving end, acknowledging all of my fears, asking favor for my specific needs and those of others, and most importantly, expressing thankfulness for all things that make my life as good as it is. It all helps me recognize that my life is remarkably more blessed than I’ve often acknowledged.

I’m reading the Bible, willingly, for the first time ever. (Hey, Dad! Did you catch that? I’m reading the Bible!) My dad wanted all of this for me while he was here. I didn’t even begin to grasp it until he was on the downhill slide of his life. And the big boom of it came with and after his passing. Better late than never, I guess.

I understand now why so many people need and have faith in God, or any other belief system or practice that helps them get through each day. Life is hard sometimes. So many of us go through the days all knotted up, worried, fearful, or angry. I’m guilty. Every happy thought used to be dampened by another worrisome thought. I think we’re all just looking for peace. And now that I’ve discovered how I might find it, it gets easier each day. And when you find something that works, you just want to share it. I’m really grateful to have so many people in my life who never gave up on sharing their stories. I guess it’s my job now to share mine whenever the opportunity arises.