Sunday, November 17, 2013

Autumn Exploration

It's been a while (as usual). As often happens, life has been busy.
That's why it was wonderful to get out of the house yesterday afternoon. My little guy and I have been fighting a horrendous sinus infection. Rather than be cooped up with our shared coughs and boxes of tissues, I suggested that he and I get some fresh air. So, cameras in hand (I let him use my old one), we hit the cross country trail through the woods.
Most of the leaves are off the trees at this point, but there was still some beauty to be found. We wound our way up trail after trail. I snapped pictures while he played "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." It was so relaxing and fun. I think we may make it a regular occurrence.
So, here is a sampling of the pics I snapped. I haven't processed them all; maybe there'll be another post in the future!

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Isn't life crazy?
The last two weeks have been the kind that open your eyes in so many ways. And as I sit here trying to type this, I find myself struggling to find the right way to express the myriad emotions and understandings that these weeks have brought.
In fact, I just deleted about three paragraphs. In trying to be careful with my words, I'm not entirely being honest. I don't mean to say that I was trying to lie with this post. Anyone who knows me knows that I am probably too honest when it comes to matters of my heart.
What I find myself doing, though, is not fully opening up and simply struggling to adequately describe the profound power of balance in life.
My friend and I have noted over the years that our work life balances with our personal lives. The happier we are in our personal lives the more difficult our work life seems to be, and vice versa. Where we seem to be now is on the cusp, waiting to see in what direction the scales tip.
Balance has also presented itself in the types of people around me right now. I have my core group of families and friends, of course. It's not about them that I am thinking right now. What is fascinating to me is the people on the periphery of my life and the roles that they seem to be taken. On the one hand, I have that acquaintance who every once in a while shows me what a true friend she can be. And I think I need to explore furthering that friendship. On the other hand, I have that person who I once viewed as a true friend...who isn't so much anymore. And I don't condemn that person; I just think he is so stressed and depressed that he isn't capable of seeing the consequences of his actions.
And if I were a medical anomaly, I would have a third hand on which I could count that crazy stalker...but that's another story...
I think the most profound sign of balance comes via family and the balance between life and death.
Of course, there is my own loss that I wrote about in my last post. And that loss is balanced by the perfect little boy that is now in my life.
But this week has provided another distinct example of the balance between life and death. A few days ago, my uncle lost his mother. Though her health had been in a steady decline, the loss of a parent is still profound. And my cousins lost their grandmother which is equally profound. The balance? My cousin and his wife welcomed their first child, a beautiful little girl, into the world.
On the cusp of grief, joy.
Balance. Finding it. Recognizing it. Accepting it.
That last is probably the hardest. Accepting the balances in life. Accepting that with the flow must come an ebb...

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Seven Years

Seven years is a long time.
So much has happened in seven years, the chief amongst them being the birth of my rainbow child, Nicholas. He's five years old, a thriving kindergartner. He's bright and silly and inquisitive and creative. He's coming into his own in so many ways, and my life and heart revolve around him.
Still, these next several days take me back in time in a heartbeat. Though I have moved on and healed so much over the past seven years, I cannot help but to remember. To ache. To yearn. To wonder.
I do not regret the events of seven years ago. That is not to say that I am glad that it happened. That couldn't be further from the truth. But I think that I am a profoundly different mother because of my loss, and as someone who wholeheartedly believes that every event in our lives has a deep reason behind it, I understand the reasons that my first son, Gregory, was born with angel's wings.
Over the next few days, I will grieve anew. I will look at the date on the calendar, the time on the clock, and I will relive those moments of seven years ago. October 5th was the last day of hope for a different outcome; by the next day I was in the hospital awaiting the inevitable. At 9:00 a.m. on October 8th, my beloved husband and I were learning how to say the most difficult good-bye of our lives.
It changed who I am as a mother, as a wife. As a human being.
And though I wish it had never happened, still I am grateful. God showed me how strong I am. He showed me what an amazing and loving man I married. God showed me how amazingly blessed I am through the outpouring of love from family and friends and colleagues, even complete strangers (some of whom became dear friends). He gave me the opportunity and voice to share my story, one that is so often taboo and unspoken, so that I could help others to understand their own grief and to find their own paths toward healing.
God blessed me with my very own rainbow of hope in the birth of a living son in 2008. He led me to understand that motherhood is more than just giving birth. It is opening your heart to love and care about someone more than yourself. I am a very different mother now than I would have been seven years ago, I think. I don't take my role as a mother for granted. I know how profoundly blessed I am.
I am blessed beyond my capacity for words.
I will grieve anew over the next few days. I will remember and mourn. I will embrace my husband and share his tears. I will visit the rose garden and pray for peace.
But I will also hold Nicholas's hand. I will watch him run through the garden with delight and joy and life.
I will live in the joy of each precious moment with him and with those I love.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Other Side of the Mountain

"I need help."
There are few things that feel truly impossible to do. Most times, when we feel that something is impossible, it's just a matter of not wanting to do it for myriad reasons. Sometimes, however, something does feel absolutely impossible.
Swallowing your pride and admitting that you need help is one of those things.
And I did it. I hit that point where I barely recognized this person living within my skin. And I realized that she had been living there for quite some time. True, I had controlled her for a while, kept her at bay with jokes and sarcasm and self-deprecation and creativity. But she was there; I have only to look back at my journal entries over the past few years to see that.
And I didn't like her. I very nearly loathed her. She was anxious and fearful. She felt this continuous spiral of being out of control. She was so very sad and felt so very worthless. She questioned everything about herself. And she just wanted to curl up into a ball, curl up tighter and tighter until she disappeared within herself.
I couldn't live like that any more. I have too many blessings in my life to allow myself to feel that way.
So I turned to my husband, who had been waiting for me to come to that moment when I was willing to admit that I needed to so something. I went to the doctor and got my first round of anti-anxiety medication. It made me feel better, but it also made my heart race like all four valves were open. I switched to another medication and began to feel a little better. My heart stopped racing in fear; the bands of anxiety stopped tightening around my chest.
But I still wasn't feeling that respite that I so desperately longed for. That voice in my head (I heard it deemed the "bad roommate" once, an apt description) was less anxious but the other feelings hadn't dissipated. And because I was less focused on my anxiety, the depression--for that's what it was--came to the foreground.
I found myself crying. Often. And uncontrollably. I felt completely overwhelmed and unable to face anything. I was on the verge of being unable to function at more than a base survival mode. I hid it, cried privately and tried to put on my brave face. Hoped and prayed that I would just be okay...
And on one of the days when I very nearly gave myself completely over to this virus within my mind, a friend--a dear, sweet, blessed friend--looked at me and said, "You're not okay."
It was what I needed to hear. I called the doctor's office that afternoon. I was in his office the next day. And I burst into tears as soon as the words were out of my mouth: "I am depressed."
Just those words, just saying them felt like an invisible pair of scissors had cut this wire that had been attached to me. I started an antidepressant that night. Part of me cringed, for this all felt like weakness, but I know that it is weaker not to seek help.
Two weeks later? I'm more me than I have been in a very long time. I still have my moments, but they are just moments. I'm laughing more than I have in a long time. And my laughter is genuine again.
I turned to my husband the other day, tears in my eyes, and I told him that I hadn't realized how far off I had been. It's like a personal renaissance. I'm feeling creative again and indulging in a wonderful round robin art experiment with two of my sisters in creativity. I'm feeling like a wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend again.
Jenny Lawson, known to the Internet world as the Bloggess, speaks frankly about the battles she faces with her own demons. She says often, "Depression lies." She's right; it does. It lied to me for a very long time, and I am so relieved to be free from its spell. I have a long way to go, but it is so very beautiful to be on the other side of the mountain. The view from here is spectacular.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Enough is Enough, Right?

I have always taken pride in my strength. My strength of character. My strength in times of duress.
I had a good run.
Lately? Well, for the last eight months, it hasn't been the same. Anxiety. Panic attacks. Depression.
Perhaps it's just that there is too much all at once. Dealing with one stressful or emotional situation is doable. When you're hit by one after another? When your plate overflows? It's too much for anyone really. Heck, even as I type this, I can feel the anxiety building up, the fluttery sensation that comes with it flowing right down my arms.
What makes it all worse is that I'm getting hit in directions that I didn't see coming. It's one thing to face something that is expected, an elderly grandparent's illness, for example; it's another thing when you turn to face a direction that usually provides the sun...only to be blinded by the light of your preconceived expectations and to get blindsided by a speeding truck.
I can't keep up the façade any longer. I can't keep pretending that it's all okay. It's not. I'm not.
I even turned to art this morning, seeking release. No such respite...
 Façade, A Collapse
I'm not seeking help, or even sympathy, in writing this. I just need to get it out of my system. And were it not for my cursed trait of restraint, I could do better than what I have written here. Still, it's a start, I suppose...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Let Me Take Your Picture

It happens every time.
People see me coming, and the smile freezes on their faces. The fear flashes across their eyes, and they're gone, ducking into a kitchen on some made-up task or into the bathroom.
You'd think I was coming at them with a machete.
But no, I'm coming at them with something they deem even more frightening: my camera.
I love to take pictures. It is a hobby that brings me great relaxation and joy. And most of the pictures in my vast collection are of landscapes and farms, much like this recent one:
But much to people's chagrin and dismay, it is not just on rides through the countryside that I take my camera. No, I bring it along to every family function. And if not my camera, then my cell phone, which has a pretty high quality camera all its own.
Contrary to what some may believe, I don't do it as a way to blackmail or embarrass them down the road.
No, what I do is an act of preservation.
My husband's father passed away unexpectedly in 2012. As part of the necessary process, we have been going through the family treasures that have been amassed through generations. Among those treasures are tins full of old photos and reel after reel of slides.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I started to go through those slides, and it was this indescribable moment. One minute we're looking at great-aunt whomever that we're not even sure if we're related to...the next minute we're looking at my sister-in-law's smiling baby face, both of her grandfathers on either side of her. It is a family treasure, that picture. And if someone hadn't been there with one of those annoying cameras, it wouldn't exist. That moment, that memory...well, it could be gone.
As we get older, our memories fade. It is an inevitable part of life. And someday, despite our protests to the contrary, we will all be gone. With us go our specific memories of people and occasions. What can we do to preserve these things? To pass on not only the stories but the feelings, the emotions, that go along with those stories?
I cannot tell you the feeling that my husband had finding those old slides. I can only tell you that I saw the look on his face, the mist that appeared in his eyes. I can describe to you that moment of silence that happened in the middle of his sentence. I can show you this picture of him, lost in remembering...and of our son, learning about his family's history:
I can show you other pictures, as well...
Showing off birthday presents
Still holding hands
The silliness of a grandmother
Over fifty years of love
One of the only times they've ever danced

Forever friendships

Playing with loved ones

Hands held (taken by my cousin)

Nearly every member of my mom's family

My mom's hands as she preps beans

First sets of Mickey ears

My grandmother responding to her great-grandson, post-stroke

Naps with Daddy

Making music

Passing time at the hospital

Joining a motorcycle gang with Pap

Generations (taken by my cousin)

Remembering and Honoring
In five, ten, or fifty years, we won't care if your hair was a mess, if your wrinkles were evident, or if you weren't ready. We won't care if you're carrying a few extra pounds or if you were making a silly face.
What will matter is that we have that memory frozen in time. That when we look at that photograph, we can hear your laugh, smell your perfume, and feel you in the same room with us. That for a moment, we have you with us.
Only photographs have the power to do that, to give those moments back to us.
Don't run off and hide. Just smile, wrap your arm around the person beside you, and let me take your picture. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Family and the Fourth

This is a day of mixed feelings for me.
First of all, it's my little sister's birthday. That fact, as far as I am concerned, trumps everything else and is cause to celebrate.
That being said, it's also a difficult day for two reasons.
This was my father-in-law's favorite holiday. Even more than Christmas, he loved the Fourth of July. Giant picnic. Tons of food. A fireworks show to rival those displayed by professionals. And now? It's different. Low key and subdued. We still get together and celebrate; he'd probably haunt us if we didn't! Still, it is a bittersweet celebration.
The other reason that it is difficult is that today is the day that my maternal grandmother passed away, and it is that particular day I'd like to remember. Sounds strange, doesn't it? Nonetheless, on that day and with that memory, I have proof that there is nothing bigger than the love of a family.
As I said, July 4th is my sister's birthday. Nothing terrible should ever happen on anyone's birthday, yet it did. It was such a difficult day, and as we neared the dinner hour, my Mom declared that we couldn't just let my sister's birthday go by uncelebrated. In the face of death, we celebrate life.
So that night, after we had completed our nightly farm chores, my family (my parents and siblings and I) returned to my grandparents’ home. Behind their house, about a quarter of a mile up an old farm road, is the family pond and pavilion. We celebrated my sister’s birthday up there, had a picnic and ate cake.
 The sun was starting to go down, and we were just sitting, enjoying the serenity and lost in our thoughts. The sun was golden, reflecting and shimmering in the surface of the pond. Occasionally, that reflection would ripple, the water furrowed by a gentle summer breeze. From our hilltop perch, we could see the back of my grandparents’ home, see the lights of the house and the lights of cars as they came and went.
Just as we were thinking that it was time to head home, stopping at the house to see the family once more on the way out, we saw movement from the end of the road that leads to the pond. A head appeared, soon transforming into an entire body as someone walked in our direction. That body was joined by another and another; an entire group of people was moving toward us.
As they crested the hill on the near side of the pond, the breeze carried a sound to our ears. It was the voices of some of my grandmother's children and grandchildren singing "Happy Birthday" to my sister. Their voices grew louder as they reached the pavilion and finished their song. We clapped and laughed, even as our eyes filled with tears.
That memory? It defines today for me. And when those bittersweet feelings are overwhelming, I will remember the sound of wisps of a song caught on a summer sunset breeze... 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wanted: Gumption

Remember those old "School House Rock" segments that used to air between Saturday morning cartoons?
One of my favorites, probably because it was catchy and always got stuck in my head, was "When your get up and go has got up and went..."
I feel that way now.
It's finally the end of the school year; only two inservice days to go! And in that strange paradox that often seems to occur, the year went really slowly until it was suddenly and inexplicably over. Over the last week, I have been scratching my head and wondering where the time went. (Of course, as the mother of a suddenly five-year-old, I find myself doing that more often than not.)
While I have about 90% of my loose ends tied up on the school front, I'm finding that I'm walking in a sea of loose ends when it comes to just about everything else. It's like walking beneath a willow tree and each fluttering, viney branch is one more thing that I should do. But there are so many waving about me that I just don't seem to do anything but walk around in circles.
Or play Candy Crush Saga. So, you know...
What's a girl to do?
I think I need a detox, a chance to get away and rejuvenate my creative mojo. Other than iPhoneography (yay for my new 4s!) on Instagram, I just haven't been too creative lately. I did process (well, re-process) an old image from the archives this morning:
Other than this, though...and some old pics of the little guy...I haven't done anything creative. And quite honestly, I haven't done much by way of the noncreative either!
Boy, my get up and go has really got up and went!!
I think this will even out soon. Two more days of school, and then I'm giving myself the month of June off before I start even thinking about next years lesson planning. Fingers crossed that my creative mojo will return in some way, shape, or form...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

True Gifts

Five years. Where the heck does that time go?
My little guy turns five on Monday, so we had his fifth birthday party yesterday. When it was time to start planning, I asked him what kind of party he wanted. I figured he would say Toy Story because that was his favorite at that time, but he surprised me with the fact that he wanted a pirate party. A pirate party? Awesome!!
So I started planning, and thanks to Pinterest, I got a little silly and theme oriented. I tried not to go too overboard, but I did have some fun!
First up, some themed decor. Black tablecloth, pirate banner, and the little guy's Jake and the Neverland Pirates toys as backdrop!
Then, of course, there has to be pirate food! That's probably where, if I went overboard at all, I went overboard the most. Why? Because everything had a pirate-themed name. And I labeled it. Yes, I did. And I had so much fun figuring out what to call everything! From the "Yo Ho Hoagies" to the "Scurvy Dogs" to the "Quicksand Dip" and "Polly's Crackers"! Tee hee!!
Fit for a buccaneer!
And then the cake. A cake decorator, I am not. The translation from my brain to the actual cake never quite turns out...But the little guy loved it and helped me decorate it. So in the end, I was thrilled.
Captain Hook searches for treasure
On your mark...Get set...
BLOW! (I hope every one of his wishes is granted.)
The most important aspect of the day? Not the theme or the food or the cake.
We are so very blessed to have such a strong and loving family. There is no better gift that I can give the little guy. To have that foundation of love, those examples of love and strength. It is all so very important. All that love will carry him through whatever life throws at him. From his family he will learn to love, to care, to support, to lean, to laugh.
What more can I give him?
A strong foundation: Over fifty years of love
Grandparents who still hold hands
A Gram who isn't afraid to be silly
Sibling solidarity
Aunts and Uncles who get down on the floor to play
A sweet cousin to be his forever friend
Seriously goofy parents
In the end, more than toys and parties and themed foods, what more can I give him? Family and love are the most important gifts in his life.
And he is very blessed with those gifts.



Sunday, April 21, 2013

On the Hunt...for Inspiration

Before you start reading, I must apologize. This is really just a long brainstorming session in which I try to figure some things out. But feel free, in the comments, to give me your opinion, your guidance, or your thumbs-up!
Last night I went through a bunch of my old blog entries, ones from two years ago. What I discovered by doing this is that 1) I used to write much more, 2) I was more diverse in what I wrote about, and 3) I really miss writing.
Amidst the snippets of my life were little bits of creative writing that I had done either in the moment or as the result of a writing prompt. And some of them were, I think, pretty good. And the ones that were pretty good made me want to write more.
I hadn't realized until last night how much I truly miss the practice of writing. And I probably wouldn't have been thinking about it if not for something that happened the other day.
My favorite movie, Stranger than Fiction, was on TV. I love, love, love this movie. If you've never seen it, you should. Part of the movie focuses on a writer and watching it makes me want to write, fervently and desperately. There's this press of ideas within me, full sentences and paragraphs that explode in the periphery of my mind, and I want so very badly to allow them out into the world.
So, watching the movie the other night, these words just came into my head. Over and over. Finally, I just listened (sometimes the hardest thing to do), and I wrote:
                The day that Lizzie O’Rierdon died was exceptionally sunny in the way that only the perfect Spring day can be. The sky was a perfect azure; the clouds were creamy swirls of white; the breeze was crisp but not too cool. Had it not been for the fact that it was the last day of Lizzie’s life, it would have been, for her, the most perfect day of her life. As it stood, it was still a wonderfully amazing day with the mere exception of the final four minutes and thirty-seven seconds. That said, of course, the minutes immediately thereafter were quite phenomenal in her estimation, though it is not that part of the story with which we shall start.
                We shall, instead, start at the beginning. Not at the beginning of Lizzie’s life, but at the beginning of a series of events that would bring it to its untimely but poetically necessary end.
I have no idea where these words came from. I know that sounds strange, but it was like they were dictated to me. The problem is that the dictation stopped. I have no idea where these words are going. I don't know what the story is. The voice went silent.
And I think that's because the rest is solely up to me. Crap.
So this morning, I started scrolling through my photographs, looking for inspiration. What will Lizzie O'Rierdon's story be about? I still don't know the answer to that, but I know that the following pictures play into it somehow...

I don't know. I don't know if I'm any closer to figuring out Lizzie O'Rierdon's story. But I feel like somewhere in these pictures, I can find some answers.
What do you think?