Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, from a scary vampire, a junior high nerd, a teenager, and the dog!
*photo of the kids in their costumes (Hollywood was herself):

Be on the lookout for tiny little girl vampires - they're scary!
*photo of Bumblebee looking scary:

Watch out - she'll sneak up on you and be deadly:
*photo of vampire Bumblebee biting the neck of The Boy Nerd:

I spent yesterday carving pumpkins.  That always takes about a thousand times longer than I think it will, but it's a good way to expend some creative energy.  Plus, the dog was in heaven since he LOVES pumpkin.  Every time a chunk of pumpkin would fall to the ground, he'd scramble over and eat it.  He had so much of it that I made The Husband do a google search on whether pumpkin was harmful to dogs.  Turns out, it's actually good for them!

Behold, the alien pumpkin:

The scary face (aka Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas):

and last, but not least - because it was the hardest to do - the Packer's football helmet pumpkin:

*photo of all three together:

Hope you have a Spooktacular Halloween!!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The post where I get all deep and thoughtful, à la Dr. Phil

I’ve been trying to write this post for a week.  I keep starting it, working through my thoughts and then scrapping it.  The thoughts are nagging at me, though, and I want to get them on paper so they can leave me alone! They’re swirling around, faster and faster in my head. Kind of like when you stir liquid in a bowl and get going so fast that it sloshes on the counter.  That always happens to me when I make instant pudding.  (Speaking of which, don’t try the pumpkin spice instant pudding.  DISgusting.)

Or my thoughts are like when I’m in spin class, spinning the bike pedals so quickly that I can’t stop or my leg would pop off and fall to the ground.  Popped off legs remind me of Barbie, and how Reggie likes to chew them up, leaving the dismembered body parts in the middle of the hallway floor. Sometimes I’ll get up in the middle of the night and step on something.  When I stoop to pick it up, and my bleary mind registers that it’s a mutilated Barbie leg, I drop the mangled limb in disgust and curse the dog.

Hold on.  Pudding and Barbie legs are not what I want to write about today. I really do have a serious subject, and some thoughts that have been weighing heavily on my mind. I’m going to try to plow ahead. Bear with me.

I have a very dear friend who is getting a divorce.  She and her husband haven’t been happy in a long time, it’s been a difficult marriage for her.  I’m sad for my friend, because I know she’s in for a rough ride, but I have faith that because she’s strong and capable, she will figure things out in her own way.

I’m surprised at my reaction to her news.  My primary reaction has been concern for my friend.  I hope she knows that she has my unwavering support through this tough time.  But that’s not the reaction that surprised me.  In the back of my mind, a tiny seed of thought began wiggling up through the soil of my mind, making me feel scared and vulnerable.  If divorce can happen to my friend, it can happen to anyone.  Which means it could happen to me.  

Intellectually, I know that divorce happens all the time.  One in every two marriages ends in divorce, or something like that, right?  The Husband and I are both children of divorced parents.  I have other friends who have gone through a divorce.  I know that it’s common, and I’ve always known that.

This particular friend of mine and I have known each other for 25 years.  We go back to a time of awkwardness, braces and fluorescent, oversized clothing.  We had crushes on the same boys, navigated the angst-filled halls of our high school together, and went off to the same college. She got married a couple of months before me.  I know that her marriage has been challenging – we’ve talked about it before.  I remember commiserating with her during times when my own marriage was rocky.  Within the last few years, her marriage deteriorated to the point where she felt that she had to make the choice to end it.  Like I said, my first reaction was sadness for her and I wanted to make sure that she knows she has my support.  But my second reaction, an internal, private reflex, was to personalize her tragedy and feel very vulnerable.

Here’s where I get honest and hope that I’m not sharing too much information.  The Husband and I have had some rough times.  It once got bad enough for me to seriously consider separation. So I understand that ‘things are beyond repair’ feeling.  In our case, we spent a weekend apart to think things over.  That weekend didn’t make the issues we were facing disappear, but while I was away, I knew that I couldn’t follow through with a real separation.  As angry and confused as I was with The Husband over our troubles, I realized that I just don’t want to be without him.

I won’t go into the nature of issues that we faced, but I will say that for a long time I felt that The Husband needed to change.  For many years, I nagged at him, shot him disapproving looks, and in the really bad times, argued bitterly with him.  After the realization that I didn’t want to be without him, I began to think long and hard about what I could do to be happy in my marriage.  I knew without a doubt that I didn’t want to be apart from The Husband.  But I needed to figure out how to be happy with him.

I realized that expecting him to morph into an unattainable version of my prince charming was unfair, and nagging and fighting about it was fruitless.  I couldn’t  force him to change.  But I could change myself. I decided that I should try to find happiness by becoming the person I wanted to be.  I began taking more time for myself, going out with girlfriends, exercising more, and spending time doing things I enjoy.  It seems counterintuitive that spending more time apart would bring us closer together, but for me, that’s exactly what it did.

As I began to feel happy and fulfilled in my life, I naturally began to dwell upon The Husband’s faults less and appreciate his strengths more.

DUH, right?  That’s common sense.  But it took me years to realize that the key to happiness is in ME, and not in him changing into someone I think he should be.  Some of the issues that seemed so huge and insurmountable before have naturally begun to erode.  He became more helpful around the house, he became more emotionally available (which is chick speak for ‘he talks to me about his feelings more’), and we began to treat each other as a priority again.  That, right there, is what I was after all along. To feel that our marriage is important and a priority.

It has made all the difference in the world to me.

So back to my friend and her divorce.  I have obsessed over this in my mind.  (It's amazing that I get anything  accomplished with my mind constantly working on overdrive like it does.) What can I do to make sure that The Husband and I don’t end up on the other side of the divorce statistic?  Not because I believe my friend is wrong or that divorce isn’t right for her, but because I don’t want to lose what I have built with The Husband.  We’ve worked so hard to get where we are, and I value his partnership and I love so many things about him.

Also, he's really cute.

Watching my friend’s marriage end has made me sad for her, and I wish her nothing but the very best.  I know she will find happiness and things will be ok, and that this is the path she is meant to take right now.  But it’s not the road I want, despite any struggles I may face with The Husband. My friend’s divorce has awakened some need inside of me to continue this quest to find satisfaction within myself, and by extension, to my marriage.  But it has also stirred up anxiety too.  Are we ok? What if we don’t make it? Am I doing everything I can to make sure he realizes how important he is to me? Probably not. I know I can do better at this.

I guess that’s a place to start, and maybe having something to work on will ease my mind.  So, tell me… Have you ever been affected by a friend’s divorce like this?  I can’t be the only neurotic one out there, can I?

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Cafe

*photo of Hollywood behind the counter at work:
Reising Sun
Hollywood has her first part time job at an adorable little small town cafe.  She makes food, takes orders, serves ice cream, lattes, desserts, you name it.  

The cafe is the cutest place ever.  Outside there are little metal bistro tables with flowers on them:
*photo of Bumblebee seated at one of those tables:
Reising Sun outside
Inside, the decor is amazing. Not only did the cafe's owner paint all of the decorations herself, but she did it in purple and orange. Purple and orange!  My favorites!! I love it:
*photo of the interior of the cafe:
Reising Sun interior

The Husband thinks I take too many pictures (who me?) so he tries to foil my plans by putting on a goofy face in them.  In this case, he seems to be thinking really hard.  "Should I order the patty melt or the reuben?"

The best thing about the decor at the cafe is the bathroom.  There are four paintings on the wall depicting each of the seasons. Check it out:
*photos of the bathroom
Reising Sun Restroom

Reising Sun bathroom

Reising Sun Bathroom

I think Hollywood's boss did a great job of decorating the place.  It's small and comfortable and did I mention they have coffee and a dozen flavors of ice cream and homemade desserts? Well, technically they're cafemade desserts.  But they're good. Trust me.

Hollywood gets to work with her friends - here she is with her good friend Mason:
Brie Mason Cafe

Watching her work brings back memories of when I was her age and worked at the Maid-Rite in my hometown.  There were so many fun people to work with there. Even though it was smelly and greasy and we had to deal with cranky customers, it didn't really feel like work as long as our friends were working too.

I'm sure she'll have similar memories when she's out of school.  I realize the theme of 'she's growing up so fast' keeps popping up here on my blog, but DUDE. I'm not kidding!  She IS growing up so fast!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Little Avril Lavigne

I was on the way home from work yesterday and had my iPod doing a random play of the gazillions of songs I have on it. The song I’m With You by Avril Lagivne came on.  And oh.  Oh.  The memories.

Hollywood was a huge Avril Lavigne fan when she was about 10.  She dressed like her and kind of looked like a miniature version of her. With less eyeliner:
*photo of younger Hollywood next to Avril Lavigne:
Hollywood Avril

She used to dress up and rock out with her child’s guitar. Like this:
*photo of 10 year old Hollywood dressed like a rock star:
Picture 297

The song I’m with You has the word ‘damn’ in it.  I remember Hollywood singing the song in her bedroom and skipping that word because it was a swear word.  So cute.

Sigh…  Hollywood, you're growing up so quickly. Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Football season can't be over already!

*photo of The Boy is his football uniform:
IMG_1124 - Copy

Tonight was The Boy's last football game of the season.  I can't believe it!  I know he'll miss it - he mentioned that he won't ever have to practice on the 'practice field' again because in high school football, they get to use the real football field.

I'm not even sure if he'll go out for football next year, but if he does, I'm sure he'll enjoy goofing around with his buddies like he did this year.
*photo of The Boy goofing around with two of his friends:
IMG_1120 - Copy

And he'll miss the team huddles and the camaraderie:
*photo of a team huddle
IMG_1119 - Copy

And the action:
*photo of a football play:
IMG_1102 - Copy

Even the action on the sidelines is fun:
*photo of the guys on the sidelines:
IMG_1101 - Copy

But going after a big guy and getting a tackle is even better:
*photo of a football play:

Time for everyone to shake hands:
*photo of teams shaking hands after a game:
IMG_1111 - Copy

Good game.  Good game.  Good game.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sick day.

Bumblebee started claiming that she didn't feel well last night. We were at a Mexican restaurant having dinner when it started. At the time, she wasn't fabricating an illness. She had a bad case of indigestion. Or constipation. Or the opposite of constipation. Who knows, that kid has bathroom issues. I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that she ate little more than a plate of refried beans for dinner.

But anyway. She wanted to snuggle with me last night and she woke up this morning saying that she didn't feel well. Even though she had stomach issues last night, her illness transformed into a cough and sore throat by this morning.

Look at this face. She wouldn't ever tell a lie. Right?
*photo of Bumblebee, closeup of her bright blue eyes:

Of course not. She's an angel. And since she's got it in good with all of the other heavenly beings, she called in a miracle today. I'm not kidding - as soon as the school bus drove past our house and she deemed that it was too late for her to make it to school, she was cured.

*photo of Bumblebee:

Completely, 100%, dancing around the living room in her dress-up clothes cured.

I'm not one to encourage sick days. But I needed an alone day with her as much as she wanted one with me. Maybe even more.

Bumblebee, go get Finding Nemo. I'll make some popcorn.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thoughts on a very difficult week. Part 3

I wrote about the rest of the week in my journal, but my memories of our time in New York are a blur of tasks to accomplish and emotions to deal with. As a result, the account that I’ve written isn’t fit for public consumption. Here, then, are a few disjointed thoughts:

  • Even though my dad claimed to hate the apartment he and MJ made into their home in Buffalo, leaving it was emotional for him.
  • There was a lady who worked at Tim Horton’s (a coffee shop) who moved me to tears. She took Dad’s coffee order every morning and got to know him well enough to ask about Mary Jane and have his order ready without asking him what he wanted. When we visited Tim Horton's to say goodbye, she came from behind the counter to give my dad a huge hug. They exchanged addresses (for Christmas cards) and she wished him well. People like her restore my faith in humanity.
  • I missed The Husband something fierce while I was away. Especially when I watched my sisters-in-law giving comfort to my brothers. He needed to be home with our kids, and I knew that, but I missed him, and would have welcomed his arm around me or the soft grasp of his hand. And I'd have sold my soul for one of his back rubs. I took this photo of my sister-in-law (this is Kim, who helped me all week) and my brother as we visited Niagara falls. It encapsulates the sadness and beauty of the week perfectly:
  • IMG_1217
  • I am a control freak, but I feel like I did a decent job of controlling those control freak tendencies. (Don't laugh at me, Kim. I could have been so, so much worse!) I learned that if it will ease tension or give someone comfort, letting go of that control is worth it. Even if you want to take charge of a situation so badly that you have to stuff your hands in your pockets and bite your tongue clean off to keep from acting upon your irrational control freak urges.
  • Writing a eulogy is hard. I know how to write, and can usually ramble on about any subject fairly well. But I felt pressure while trying to create our family’s official goodbye to someone we loved very much.
  • The song “Me and You” by Kenny Chesney will make me cry from this day forward. It was played on the day of Dad and MJ's wedding and at my step-sister’s funeral in January. It was played again for MJ at her funeral, as a dedication from my dad.
  • I didn’t know my two step-brothers and step sister-in-law all that well before this craptastic year, but I left New York knowing that I will miss them very much. I hope we can stay in touch. Here is a photo of all of us, taken after the funeral luncheon:
  • IMG_1152

The focus of the past week has been to make sure my dad is doing ok. Kim and I spent every minute of our trip to New York making arrangements, comforting him, and trying to ease his pain. When we got home, after the longest drive of my life (we were dumb and drove straight home, 14 hours through the night) Brother Z and I got Dad settled into his home. When I finally stumbled into my own house, weary from my trip, the kids went to school and I was all alone. I wanted to crawl into bed and let sleep carry me away into welcome oblivion, but it was the first time that my mind allowed me to confront the reality that Mary Jane is really gone. Instead of succumbing to sleep, I began to grieve.

I will miss her loud, clear laugh. I will miss her thoughtfulness. I’ll miss getting text messages from her. I’ll miss the way she and my dad giggled together like teenagers.

She became a part of our family almost seven years ago. I have no idea why God chose to bring MJ and my dad together when they lived 900 miles away from each other only to tear them apart a few years later. It makes no sense to me. But that’s not for me to understand. She is gone, she is missed, and we are all grieving the loss of a true ray of sunshine.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thoughts on a very difficult week. Part 2

*photo of the rear view mirror in my car showing the cars behind us in focus:
Rear View Mirror
Kim and I got up and hit the road right away. It was pouring down rain as we drove through Cleveland on Sunday morning, and driving through that city isn’t fun in perfect conditions. I’ve driven through many big cities and I normally don't get too worked up over traffic, but this small town gal thinks the stretch of I-90 through Cleveland sucks! I was glad that it was Kim’s turn to drive. The rest of Ohio and Pennsylvania weren’t bad, though, and we arrived at Dad and MJ’s apartment in the early afternoon.

Dad was glad to see us and greeted us with emotional hugs. “She’s not hurting anymore.” He said. This comforting thought was repeated throughout the week. She was in so much pain towards the end that even a slight touch on the shoulder, arm, etc., caused her to wince.

Nick, Darin, and Amy (my step brothers and MJ’s daughter-in-law) were at the apartment with Dad when we arrived, and we talked about how things went rapidly downhill. Even though we knew the end wasn’t far off, you could tell they were shell shocked by how quickly it ended. They’d lost their sister in January – MJ’s daughter died in her sleep and the cause of death was never explained. Weeks after she returned to Iowa broken and empty from burying her daughter, MJ was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The boys only had these past few warm summer months to spend with her.

The mood was somber on that first afternoon, but I picked up on an undertone of relief. They’d been on edge for days, sitting around her bedside, watching to see when she’d take her last breaths. The stress of it all had to be exceedingly hard to bear, so I think their relief was natural. We discussed what had to get accomplished before the visitation and the funeral, and came up with a plan of action for the next few days.

We knew that Dad wouldn’t want to stay alone in the apartment, and so Kim and I had him pack his things and come to the hotel room with us. Sunday night we got him settled into the hotel and I called my grandma to tell her how Dad was doing. After I’d given her the update, I handed the phone to my dad. Dad doesn't hear well, so Grandma was speaking loudly, and Kim and I could hear the conversation from both ends. Dad's voice was full of grief and Grandma was comforting. As she finished the conversation with, “It’ll be ok. You’ll get through this, sweetie. I love you.” I realized that you’re never too old to need the comfort of your mother.

Speaking of comfort from your mother, my own mom writes a weekly letter that she sends out to her family and friends. This week’s letter included a remark about how proud she was of me for going out to help my Dad, and doing the hard work in situations like this. I read her letter as I was sitting in the hotel room, taking deep breaths and trying to stay in control of myself during that first tough day.

Dad was happy to have a comfortable bed to sleep in (the hospital bed he'd used for the past four months apparently wasn't comfortable) and after a while, he settled into sleep. Kim and I sought refuge in the hotel bar. For a couple of hours it was nice to relax, drinks in hand, and watch football. We even had a man buy us a round of drinks. It didn’t matter that he was an old dude who looked like a deranged Danny Glover. Also, the odd fact that he was at the bar wearing pajama pants didn’t bother us, because, hey – free drink!

Dad was still asleep when we returned to the room, but he didn’t stay that way for long. His sleep was fitful, and he awoke several times in the night. I could hear him crying softly, trying not to wake us. I thought about how awful it must have been to wake up, blissfully unaware for just a second, before the realization that she is gone washed over him. None of us got much sleep that night.

(to be continued…)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thoughts on a very difficult week. Part 1

*photo of the hot air balloon that MJ and Dad went on:
Balloon ride

We got the news late last week that Mary Jane had taken a turn for the worse. Her body was shutting down and she was in the final stages of her fight with cancer. I struggled with the decision on what to do. I wanted to drive the 900 mile trip to be there for my dad, but knew that she could linger for days or weeks, and I couldn’t leave things behind indefinitely. On the other hand, my Dad was a wreck and he needed someone out there with him.

My sister-in-law made the decision easier when she offered to go out with me. Her generous offer to leave her own family to help Dad with me would turn out to be the biggest blessing of the trip. It is not something I could have done alone.

We set out for New York on Saturday afternoon. The first leg of the trip was easy, an evening of companionable conversation and decent travel conditions. At 1:30 a.m., we checked into a hotel in Toledo, Ohio. As I closed my eyes to sleep, I saw visions of the road before me. Endless miles of interstate rolling on by.

We were jerked out of sleep at six a.m. on Sunday morning by the shrill ring of my cell phone. My heart skipped a beat, and when I saw that the display on my phone read my Dad’s name, I knew this was the phone call we were both dreading and expecting .

“Monica?” He said, his loud voice shaking. He broke down crying and told me she’d just passed away. Dad and her children had sat at her bedside since Thursday, holding her hand and telling them that they loved her. Her sons went home early Sunday morning to get some sleep, and Dad stayed awake with her until 5 a.m. They had matching hospital beds set up next to each other in the rooms so he could lay beside her. He fell asleep holding her hand, and a half an hour later, one of her sons came back to the apartment to check on her and she had passed away. I like to think that she waited until nobody was looking to slip out of this world. She never did like for folks to fuss over her, so this seems just about right.

(to be continued...)

*MJ had always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon. She finally got her wish in September, and the photo above was taken of them on their ride.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Me. Today.

Oh Bella, (my mother-in-law's dog) This is about how I feel today too:
*photo of Bella yawning, but it looks like a snarl:

Her bark is worse than her bite...

Back off, world.

Although... I have a nice weekend planned, so hopefully my mood will improve a bit when this work week is finally over.