This and That

I set out to write at least one post per month and hit the ground running with two in December.  I missed January, and February is drawing to a close so I’m just going to write a little about what’s going on in my life.  Takes the pressure off of coming up with something creative and meaningful!

Ali just started Volleyball and Blythe just finished Wrestling season ~ she took 3rd in both her tournaments and pinned a kid in her very first match, the kid’s a natural!  Too bad she lost interest~ and is also still taking art classes a couple of times a month.  Since we currently live 30 minutes from town and I drive them to and from school and then to and from practices, games and art classes, I spend a whole lot of time in the car.  They also go to their dad’s 3 weekends a month, which means 3 hours of driving for me, 3 Fridays and 3 Sundays every month.

Luckily, I’m able to have a flexible work schedule where I work from home during the week doing bookkeeping and other behind the scenes winery-related stuff and then one of the two tasting rooms I work for on the Saturdays the kids aren’t with me.  It frees me up to be able to be really active with the girls’ school and extracurricular activities, and also be social in the tasting rooms when they go to their dad’s.

Nathan and I were able to buy out his former business partner ~ who was also his ex-wife, whom he continued to work with for several years, making things extra interesting ~ from his winery a little over a year ago and things have been so incredibly good.  We came up with a 5 year plan than started with the buy-out and we hoped could finish in a property of our own with our own house and winery facility.  Currently we lease everything: a tasting room in town ~ which we will continue to do, because commercial real estate prices in town are astronomical ~ where we pour wine on the weekends for tourists, plus space for our barrels and production from another winery that Nathan makes wine for, and then a home on the same property, which is absolutely, stunningly beautiful.  It’s honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, much less called home.

Fortunately, the ex and I have agreed to sell off the properties we own together, so that we can each make a fresh start.  He and his fiancee are looking at houses about 45 minutes closer to us than they are now, so that will be awesome for the girls.

With the hope of some cash coming up soon, Nathan, the girls and I have been looking at some properties near us.  Our hope is to find something that’s still far enough out of town that we can enjoy the scenery and go on hikes, but closer to town so that driving to and from doesn’t take up quite so much time every day.  In order to have a working winery facility, we we’ll have to find a minimum of 20 acres, so fingers crossed on finding something perfect, even if it’s not quite so gorgeous as the spot where we live now.

Life is pretty good!  Busy, always, but in the best possible ways.  The girls are both doing tremendously well in school.  Ali’s consistently gotten all A’s, and although 1st grade doesn’t give out “grades”, Blythe is also doing very well, meeting or exceeding all of the benchmark goals for kids her age.  They’ve both made some wonerful friends in our new community and fit in as though they’ve been here all along.  It’s odd for me, sometimes, to think about how different of an experience we would be having if Blythe still had all of her health issues.  The school where the girls attend take food allergies very seriously and have gone above and beyond for the kids who have them, so I think, maybe, things would still be pretty ok.  But man, oh man, am I grateful for the changes and improvements.  I could never have asked for anything better.

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Mother & Daughter

Blythe attends art class after school twice a month, and now that Ali is finished with Basketball season, it allows us to have some much appreciated mother & daughter time.

We do simple things.  One time, we sat side by side on a park bench beneath an oak tree, each with our nose buried in a book, and let the sun warm our faces.  Another time, I treated her to ice cream and we walked through town watching the tourists window shop.  Usually, though, we run errands.

Yesterday, we had to drive to the nearest “big” town – one with chain stores – because I needed to find some festive seasonal decorations for our winery’s tasting room.  I love the eclectic boutiques in our little township, but I don’t necessarily want to pay boutique prices for that sort of thing.

As I was perusing the Holiday Offerings at Big Lots!, Ali asked if she could borrow some cash because she’d forgotten to bring her purse.  She works hard for her money and I’ve tried to let her manage it as she sees fit, so I didn’t even ask her what she wanted to buy.  I told her she could borrow as much as she needed, as long as she was certain she had enough to pay me back when we got home.

I was so traumatized by our very short trip to Wal.Mart immediately after, that I forgot to ask what she’d bought.  You know it’s bad when you’re so flustered by the Wal.Mart experience that you can’t even find the Christmas Decoration department, which I’m sure takes up half the store.  I am turning into a small town girl!  Not such a bad thing, I think.

Driving home after grabbing slices of pizza, Ali told me that she’d noticed there are a lot of terrible parents out there (between Wal.Mart and the pizza place where two parents let the five children in their care be complete and utter hooligans, she was feeling pretty traumatized, herself) and she wanted to thank me for being such a wonderful mom to her and her sister.  Blythe piped up and said she thought I was the best mommy in the whole world.

Yes, I cried.  Of course I did.  Oh, the wonder of being appreciated by my children while they’re still children!  Even if it’s just for a few hours.

Later, as I was helping Blythe with her homework, Ali put something around my neck.

Mother necklace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s half a heart with the word “Mother” on it, and Ali was wearing the other half of the heart, which says, “Daughter”.

Throughout the evening, at bedtime as I kissed her goodnight and as she got ready for school this morning, she would whisper, “Mama, let’s put our hearts together” and we’d have to hug each other tight so that we could make a whole heart between us.

She turned ten years old (!!) last week.  I think I’ve been bracing myself for the disconnect that often happens at the onset of the tween years, when she may feel the need to be her own separate and independent self, not a “Mama’s Girl”.  This extra close bond we have may not last forever, I realize that.

But for now, I will hug her tight and put our hearts together every time I get the chance.

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In the Here and Now

I miss writing.  It’s funny that something that came so naturally for me, for the majority of my life, now feels so foreign.  I’ve been trying to write here and there, but I always end up abandoning it for some reason or another.  My goal is to write one post a month, just to get myself used to stringing words together.  Here we go…

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One of the hardest, but most important, lessons I learned in those years when Blythe was ill, and our family was falling apart, was to live in the here and now.  It can sometimes be an annoyingly overused phrase in parenting circles, but it is so very true: Happiness exists in living in the moment.

I wasn’t able to do that, before.  Things needed to be planned, structured and organized at all times.  And when, inevitably, things didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, I went through feelings of stress, anxiety and sometimes, if my expectations were high enough, I’d find myself grieving the loss of something that never existed anywhere but in my mind.

Let’s say expectations, hopes and dreams are differently sized helium balloons, and in my former life there were so very many that I couldn’t ever find solid ground.  I clung to them, and they lifted me ever higher so that I had to focus all of my attention on what was ahead, making sure nothing escaped my grasp.  I had this perception that holding on to them was what put me in control of my life, but in reality, my thoughts and emotions were ruled by the wind and its whims.

Years ago, I struggled to hold on even as those balloons slipped from my fingers, each more rapidly than the last, because I felt as though letting go would cause me to crash to the Earth and be shattered and broken.  But then, as the future I planned disappeared into the clouds, I realized how good it felt to have my feet on the ground for the first time in years.  Sure, I was a little battered and bruised, but stronger and wiser.  The few balloons that remained were no longer a burden that needed my constant attention, yanking me this way and that.  They just lightened my steps and gave me something pretty to look at.

If I were an artist, I’d paint hopes as the smallest and most understatedly beautiful balloons, dreams a bit bigger and more dazzling, and expectations as gigantic, garish balloons that are hard to maneuver around.  Seeing them for what they are, I have learned to live without expectations because they’re not worth the trouble.

I am happy in a way I never knew was possible.  With no expectations about how things will turn out, disappointment is impossible.  Each new experience is much like a small child’s delight in a game of peek-a-boo, and as a result I find joy in the smallest of things.  This past summer, I watched clouds create themselves out of tiny little wisps of nothing, gain momentum, and go off to join thunder boomers in the higher mountains.  Have you ever witnessed a cloud being born?  In my whole life I’d never experienced such a thing, and it was truly amazing.  Something I not only wouldn’t have taken the time to do, but probably wouldn’t have appreciated, in my former life.

The goals I’ve set are so much more realistic and rewarding, because I keep them in the form of hopes and work my way toward them, accepting changes as they come.  It’s crazy how opportunities present themselves in the smallest of ways, and when I’m paying attention I can see them for what they are.

I find myself in want of nothing, and in need of little.  I live a simple, modest life in a small home with few possessions, but my life is far richer than it has ever been.  I’m surrounded by beauty in every direction.  I am fascinated by my work and that makes me feel like I’m not even working.  The relationships I have with my daughters are better than I ever could have imagined, and I am so proud of who they are.  We share our little life with a very special man, who values in me the things I value most in myself, and that is a wonderful feeling.  We have the best dog, and three mildly annoying but affectionate cats.  As a family, the little moments we share each day bring us so much joy, and the hopes we have for our future are bright and clear.

My feet are planted firmly on the ground, where they belong, and I am living a life I never would have thought to dream for myself.  Looking back, I can see that letting go was the best thing I’ve ever done.

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What Matters

There seems to be so much less beauty in the world during the winter months.  The leaves, once so lush and dazzling, have fallen and turned to mush on the wet ground.  All that remains where they once thrived is brown or gray, the branches seeming lost and forlorn without their adornments.  Looking day after day at the bare and harsh landscape can threaten to become a reflection of what lies within, rather than what surrounds, if we’re not careful.  But the sun, though it prefers to hide in winter, also teases its presence.

I cherish the sun on the days when it shines, promising to thaw the chill in my bones.  Walking through the woods, where the light is pale and thin, I brace myself against a gust of wind that tries to bully, determined to convince me that coldness is in charge, and I do not belong, there is nothing to see here.

And yet.  Without the lush and full foliage, I am able to see so much more clearly the things that are usually hidden away.  The roots of a fallen tree, weaving intricate patterns among thousands of towering Oaks, have become home to an entire eco-system of moss and I am reminded that “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”*.  This is the season of change.  Of ending one year and putting it behind us, striving to be better, stronger, and more true to ourselves in the year to come.

The hardest thing about change, though, is letting go of what was and having faith in what will be, if we will only allow ourselves the opportunity.  Wanting tomorrow to be safe and sure, we often shy away from following in nature’s footsteps by cutting back to the bare roots of ourselves to see what will sprout.  To take that leap, we must mourn the loss of things that have ended and look forward, also, to what will begin.

Now is the time to discover what hides in plain view right in front of us when there is too much color, too much other life surrounding it, to notice in other seasons.  To find beauty when it seems there is none to be found.  I am reminded of a dreary winter evening years ago, in another place, in a different life.

Overwhelmed and feeling like Atlas, with the weight of the world on my shoulders, my daughter climbed into my lap and took my face in her chubby little toddler hands.  Trying to ask me what was the matter, she looked deeply into my eyes with more care and concern than I thought her capable of, and asked, “What matters, Mama?”.   In that moment, my perspective forever changed, and the weight I had carried for far too long floated away, as if the world of Atlas were filled with helium.

There are five simple rules of life that I now live by.

First, don’t take things personally without a damn good reason.

Second, a quote from Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them”.  Inherently, people are who they are.  It is better to accept that and plan accordingly, than to be repeatedly blindsided by disappointment.

Third, be kind and respectful.  In turn, be someone worth respecting.

Fourth, live a life you can be proud of, right now.

And fifth, remember that you are not the author of your life’s story, but you can certainly choose to turn the pages.

 

*Lyrics quote courtesy of Semisonic’s “Closing Time”

I’ve got a regular gig writing for a local monthly newspaper, and since that’s pretty much the only writing I’m doing these days, I figured I should post those articles here as well.  I won’t have an article in February’s issue, but other than that you can usually find me in the Calaveras Chronicle (formerly the Mountain Chronicle) if you’d like to follow along.

What Matters was originally published in the Calaveras Chronicle’s January issue, page 15.

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The Beginning

I’m writing a little something.  It’s about Blythe’s life, from my perspective.  What she went through, what I went through.  I feel like I need to do it now, before the memories fade too far into the past.  It’s important to me that those years not be forgotten.  Some day, I hope to give her story to her in book form.  She deserves to know what happened.

I’m going to post bits of it here, perhaps all of it.  All of this will be my first draft, to be perfected in time.  I welcome your feedback, your questions, your input.  In fact, I request it.  Please help me get this right.

Self and Other Self

A child’s illness. 

A father’s secret addiction. 

A family’s journey through discovery and recovery.

Introduction:

I might tell you that this is a story about pain, deception and heartache.  Or maybe I could say it’s about redemption and forgiveness.  It is all of those things, I suppose, but at the core, this is a story about my daughter, the two people she was, and the beautiful person she has become.

The beginning:

Her life began as lives tend to begin.  One day, a bean burrito looked appetizing after a lifetime of bean-induced revulsion, and there she was, growing inside of me.  Three quarters of a year later, her dad, her 3½ year old sister Alison and I welcomed her home a few short hours after her quick trip into the world at a birth center.

Blythe slipped easily into our day to day life, a happy, healthy, contended baby who ate ravenously and slept deeply.  From the very beginning, she seemed fascinated by the world around her.  Sometimes I replay those first few months in my mind and I’m saddened by how remote the memories feel.  There were times that I wished I could wrap myself up in them, like a heavy down blanket on a cold winter night.  But they are the equivalent of an afghan.  They kept me from freezing, but were riddled with holes.  Why didn’t I pay closer attention, and savor each minute?

Instead, I lived life as though every day would be like that one in June, when we sat underneath the canopy of trees that grew tall and wide in front of the barn.  It was deliciously warm, and the hair at the nape of Blythe’s neck was in damp spiral curls where it rested against my knees.  Her feet pressed gently against the small bump of my belly where she kicked from within just a month prior. 

The world revolved around us in that moment, mother and child.  Her hazel eyes, not able to see more than the distance of my face according to medical science, took in the swaying leaves above our heads.  As the limbs of those mighty trees danced in the summer breeze, I watched my daughter and wondered about who she would become.  I couldn’t wait to find out what kind of thoughts she would have, the kinds of things that would make her laugh, what her little voice would sound like when she began to put words together.

When I play that memory in my head, I feel as though I’m in a theater, tempted to yell at the naïve and unsuspecting people on the screen to run for their lives before they are massacred by a chainsaw-wielding lunatic.

Or, perhaps more deeply, more truthfully, I want to whisper quietly in the ear of the woman I once was.  I want to tell her that she should memorize every smile, and every bit of happiness.  “These are the moments you will cling to,” I would say, “this is the child you will fight for.  This one, right here.” 

As for Blythe, that sweet and innocent baby, nothing I might say could prepare her for what she would endure in her first few years of life.  But maybe I would say, “I know youYes, I do, and I will never give up on you.”

 
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