Gatherings, Gratitude, Guidance and Gumption

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Photo courtesy of D. Jacavanco (jacavancostudios.com/blog)

I’m writing this piece looking out at my new back forty; a verdant park is now my backyard instead of the long expanse of grass and thick woodlands. The journey to my new life is at once complete and just beginning. We were married in late June on the beach with the roar of the Atlantic and soft tunes of a love song in a circle of friends and family.

 The day was picture perfect-the bluest of skies, the warmest of suns and greenest of grasses. The party was held outside in the backyard, a culminating celebration and the best way to say goodbye to my house and land that survived loss and was revived by love.

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The boys had moved to a beautiful apartment on the other side of town earlier that month. We had time to adjust to being apart before my own big move a thousand miles away. Although I had been in the house alone before, it was never so empty. I had trouble sleeping, not out of fear but in the sense of knowing it was permanent. It was difficult to work with all the emotional upheaval that comes with making five life changes at once. I was saying good-bye to everything.

I went for one last big hike in the mountains with my youngest during that time- a necessary reprieve from the planning of the wedding and packing whatever I needed to bring.

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I said good-bye to my therapist- a woman who provided me with strength and courage  for a decade and helped me get back myself.

So, two days after the wedding, we hit the road with everything I had- and all that I needed- packed in the car. Books, clothes, photos, paintings and two cases of wine arrived safely  three and a half days later.

And, two weeks after the wedding, my house was sold. My husband and I are  at last making our own home together. At times, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. The climate is different-and I am not just talking about the humidity! I will leave the details of my observations for future posts; they are stories unto themselves.

Until then, stay tuned!

Days Like This

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The house is quiet. The kind of hush that comes from the end of the holiday season and the bitter cold of winter’s kiss. The tree came down today and along with it all the decorations which filled this small space called home. I am at once sad and relieved. My last Christmas under one roof with my sons. No matter that a new life, a new start awaits us all-change is difficult. I don’t need to say good-bye to the warm memories of all the shared holidays; they are in our hearts and minds forever. Even though my boys are in the twenties (oldest turned 24 yesterday!), the little child in them still exists during this time of year. This despite their responsibilities as young adults at work in the wide and wacky world!

Last night as we sipped champagne, my youngest son’s best friend remarked as to how rich we are. We are indeed awash in abundance.  This wealth does not come from living an overly large home that is pristine in its vapid sterility. At best it is cozy with photos of family gracing shelves and tables. Moments of warmth and love captured and held still in time. Places experienced. The refrigerator door is covered and cluttered with quotes of the famous and not so famous ( that would be us!) and more photos-especially of the boys through the years. Our bedrooms reflect who we are and serve as a haven after long days when the outside world causes chaos.

Our wealth comes from a multitude of sources. We’ve grown into our present life through the fits and starts.  The rocky adolescence made worse by their father’s shenanigans and ultimate abandonment was tempered by the saving graces of therapy, our awesome faith community and the determination to always make joy and positive memories amidst the pain.  We mined loving nuggets of gold from these times.  We grew a new and better life.

So here I sit on this chilly January night, holding fast to all that is good. Preparing once again for a new phase. Glad to keep one another close as we walk the path together for a short while longer until the road diverges.

 

 

A Day at the Beach(Elevated!)

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Anyone who lives in the Northeast region will tell you that the weather can change on a dime. We can have gasping heat as summer says goodbye one day and near frost temperatures by the end of the same week. Tonight as I write this, a cool drizzle has begun with promises of a rainy day tomorrow.

But yesterday, oh yesterday was indeed a brilliant Sunday! Perfectly warm with no forecast of precipitation. A day planned for one final ascent before our October challenge in 13 days (weather permitting!). Mt. Osceola-considered to be one of the 4,000 footers in the region-awaited our arrival.

For me, the  trip up is one of jittery anticipation. While I do extensive reading about and preparation for each hike, I am aware that one can never fully know a mountain until the boots start walking. The road to the trailhead lies seven miles off the highway on a barely paved then gravel road that is closed in the winter. Wilderness camping spots sporadically dot the roadside. No luxuries here. Seven miles feel like seventy when we finally locate the parking area. Full already with eager hikers like ourselves, we park the car roadside along with others and check in. I eschew the porta-potties for the privacy and cleanliness of the woods, risking only a mosquito bite or two.

The mountain will be busy today but not overly crowded. Merely populated by others like us who are seizing this day, for we know old man winter will visit soon enough making treks like this a little less possible. We lose daylight in just over a month and the climate in the higher elevations (even as low as this one) changes rapidly.

The ascent is one of large rocky switchbacks surprisingly easy on the legs and lungs. The cooler air in the woods helps to keep the heat at bay just a bit but I am soon down to a mere singlet. I lead and my son chats away about work and other things. Conversation comes easy to him here as opposed to other venues. We are in a natural rhythm as the trail climbs higher with slanted rock and delicious muddy puddles that my boy delights in tramping through-still so much a playful child but this time with waterproof steel toed size 14s!

When you work hard and sweat, it is easy not to feel hunger but hard to ignore thirst. We drink a lot of water but I begin to feel low on fuel. I am hopeful the summit is just minutes away, judging by the changing skyline. More blue than green tells me the top is close and I can’t wait to eat!

Sure enough, it appears in all its glorious beauty. We are smiling at not just having arrived, but at the vastness before us. The granite turf is filled with many others cheerfully chatting and feasting on their well deserved nourishment and drinking in the view that is like no other we have seen this season.We take a big break and move closer to the ledge-a front row vista in real 3D!

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(Me in shadow, thankfully!)

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(The boy’s gunboats and the infinite expanse are a good match!)

Reluctantly, we take our leave of Nirvana. Admittedly, I dislike descents. Unlike my son, whose large feet propel him with seeming ease over slabs both large and small, my lower center of gravity has me twisting and turning and landing on my ass (always at least once every time!). But it is a social event as well. Dogs, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, groups of friends older than me, clearly glad to be anywhere but mostly here. We stop to let others come up past us and I recognize a woman who is climbing with her friend. “Excuse me, but do you go to South Church?” I inquire. She does and quickly confesses that she is not in church today (neither am I!). I always find it humorous when this happens-as if one has to feel guilty for some reason. The party behind assures us that we are a congregation and we laugh. I am sure our pastor would not mind at all. My son once again is amazed at the fact that I ran into someone I know somewhere far from home (It is true; it happens quite often).  He says that even if we went to Europe, I would see someone I know!

While each step down brings me more fatigue, I am filled with joy for this day. There’s an energy to this place that inspires one to keep on going. I’ll have to hold onto that feeling and bring it to my everyday life and harness it for the next big climb.

 

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Firsts and Lasts

 

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We loaded the old boiler onto the truck Sunday night. It died two weeks ago during the last of summer’s heat. A few mornings of cold showers were tolerable, keeping us grateful that we weren’t enduring the endless cold snap of winter. A chilly house is an entirely different story during the dead season. Truth be told, we’ve been hanging in there with the old girl for at least two years. Replacing worn out  parts here and there and enduring the fickle temperatures of the house’s water was all I could financially and psychologically manage. The day the new one was put in was drenched with unusual humidity. My youngest son was called to a job in the city first (but not before his vehicle was hit in the drive-thru getting his coffee!) to fix the clogged drains of helpless college students, leaving his boss to literally do the heavy lifting.  A day of limbo-too hot to move or get things done in the house, so I watched and waited.

Daily life here has taken on a form of time out of mind. September began as and continues to be a state of fervent motion. My job in education this term has found me in a vortex of all-consuming energy leaving me little time to write. My house is full of people. My sons and their loved ones who are in need of shelter and peace take up space. Finding my groove this last autumn season here has proven to be challenging.

Perhaps this is how it is meant to be. I find myself in an acute state of high alert and awareness, this all-knowing sense of the last go round before the birth of a new life in a new place.  (Truly- nine months from Sunday is the wedding day! ) I hear myself saying “This is the last time…” more often.

With that in mind, I am disconnecting and reconnecting to people and places which I’ve known for more than half my life. The town I live in and raised the boys no longer fees like home. The neighborhood-almost a last holdout for regular working class and middle class folks- is undergoing  the transformation to over-sized and up-scaled  new homes. The prices are ones I would never pay even if I  had that kind of money. I no longer frequent the coffee shop  in the busy center either. The familiar faces are scarce and the chances of running into my ex-husband and/or his current girlfriend keep me on edge. Not worth the trip! The shift is palpable; I feel like a stranger in a strange land.

That said, I am rediscovering the mountains that loom just a mere two hours from my house. My youngest son (and my dear friend Emily as her schedule allows) are hiking some of the 4,000 footers. The experience is always unique (see Trails, Tales and Tails) . Labor Day weekend found us hiking on Mt. Liberty, a rugged and steep climb culminating just above tree-line.

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Credit: http://www.summitpost.org/summit/461392/c-151121

The descent was challenging as well and we were briefly entertained by a hiker holding court on the trail wearing only his tighty-whities! I guess Captain Underpants does exist…

Our most recent hike was an easy one; it’s purpose purely preparatory for the 5,000 footer we hope to ascend in October. The packs were heavier and the climb not as steep but we were moved by the bravery of a ten-year old boy with spina bifida who was climbing his first mountain with his family. Tomorrow is a new mountain, higher in elevation than the last with a day that promises to be brilliant.

These excursions (and others in June and last weekend with my fiance’ to other places that I hold dear to my heart) have helped remind me of the beauty in the surrounding region. It is the place where I grew up and grew older- and hopefully wiser! The time spent with my youngest (my oldest works on Sunday afternoons, unfortunately) takes on a deeper meaning and allows for new memories to be born.

Being wholly present during this shifting paradigm has continuously been a goal for me. Allowing myself to partner with the universe keeps me grounded and prepares me for the harder decisions and changes in plans for the future of my home and loved ones. Mostly it is empowering!  The turn of events to come both sheds more of the past and sows the seeds for the future. One where we can all marry simplicity and strength.

 

(I’d like to thank all of you who have continued to follow me as well as my new followers during this unplanned break in my writing. Happy to be back with Kellie’s prompt! )

#FWF Free Write Friday: Image Prompt

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Sideways Stories in Life

Credit: sachakalis.deviantart.com

Did you ever feel both present and nonpresent? Did you ever notice the rapid passage of time and more so, the rapid changes all around you? Do you ever feel sucked into a vortex where your life as you knew it no longer exists? Do you feel that your world is spinning out of control because of one powerful person’s decision that you cannot change? Do you feel that when you’ve already experienced the worst another rogue wave in the tide of life knocks you down?

It is August 1st. The last August in this house for me. Having been away for most of the summer, I have a different perspective on my hometown of 25 years. Some of it is physical. Newer and bigger houses are being built next door and across the way along my tiny and narrow road.  The selling price is beyond belief and the socioeconomic divide just got wider. We miss our old neighbors; the ones you could borrow sugar from or the ones who brought you homemade chicken soup when you had the flu. The ones whose kids you watched over when they were all so young. The age of McMansions has finally cast its net on our side of town.

All change is hard. Neighbors eventually leave. New families move in, taking advantage of the good schools and prime location. Who can blame them? But we already miss our quiet and the working class feel of our spot. What this means for us in the shorter and longer run will soon reveal itself.

The sons continue on. Moving forward in their jobs with possible newer prospects on the horizon. What this means for  them in the shorter and longer run will soon reveal itself.

The responsibilities of my job will be changing at the end of the month. What this means for me and for future job prospects elsewhere will soon reveal itself.

All of what we are experiencing is the natural flow of life. We try not to fight it. We stay positive. Old anxieties creep in, of course. But Heaven knows we have had it so much worse (and this is not bad at all, it is all good, good, good). That helps keep everything in perspective and gives me the energy and wisdom to be there for others.

It is my turn to pay it forward. To give back to others when others gave back to me all those years ago. Good and loving friends are experiencing tough upheavals and wrenching turmoil in their lives presently. I can identify with their pain. I am witness to how it changes both their inner and outer selves, as at one time that was me. Their children were my children.

I wish I had a magic wand. Saying it will get better seems trite and untrue.  Better how? They wonder and worry and grow weary by the moment. It is hard to be present when your past feels like a lie and your future appears bleak. You not only feel like life has gone sideways; you feel sideswiped.

When yet another problem arrived at my doorstep, my father would tell me that it was just another rock in the road that I needed to move. Sometimes those stones were pebbles and sometimes they were boulders. Looking back (and yes  forward, there will be more!), I have come to understand that those obstacles became the foundation for my new life. They didn’t break me. I fashioned them in the form of hope and an inner strength that I never knew existed.

My friends far and wide and those near and dear, you are in my heart and mind as I write this meditation. Stay strong. Be well. Look up for inspiration. The Universe has a message just for you.

 

The Summer I’d Like to Forget

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#FWF Free Write Friday: Are You Up For This?

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I’ve been debating with myself as to whether it is even worth writing about a decade old story. I have alluded to it in poetry ( Hidden Hunger ,Witness ) but never in memoir.

It is difficult to admit that there was a time that my family went hungry.  The details of how we arrived at our sorry state are way too complicated and frankly, too boring. Here are the highlights:

  • Husband gets fired-not laid off- from six figure job.
  • Husband decides to start own business causing significant decrease in income.
  • Wife works part-time while in a year-long clinical graduate program.
  • Wife told that her job must now carry the benefits, cutting her measly salary in half.
  • Wife told that since her job does not pay in summer, she must get full-time work and the children can stay home alone all day without mom and dad.
  • Wife is not able to get full-time job but finds work that keeps her away from home for just a few hours.
  • Wife’s tiny wages go to food.
  • Wife eats less to save food for kids.
  • Husband squanders all savings  and other finances while secretly making major purchases.
  • Wife tells no one about situation even though her parents live just eight miles away and her brother thirteen.

I spent the summer of 2004 in a state of shock, or as a friend said “survival mode”.  I knew things would get better in the fall when my job resumed to a nearly full -time position. But the 12 weeks of empty bellies seemed endless. A wall of resistance and repudiation was put up by my husband. In his eyes it was my fault for not getting full-time work. Not his fault for getting fired and pursuing something that barely brought a paycheck in to pay bills.

I felt stuck. As summer turned into fall, a latent anger was born. I took it out on everyone but him at first but then it boiled over when I found out about another major purchase he had made. I went into therapy where I began to unravel the pieces of my situation as well as my marriage and more importantly, myself.

We never went hungry after that summer. I refused to have my sons experience that dull, hollow feeling that comes from not having enough to eat ever again. Their father never accepted responsibility for his decisions and instead continued to lay the blame on me. But for the  next summer and for all subsequent summers, I secured positions where I could make money and have my children productively occupied and supervised.

Life trucked on, the marriage ended, battles were waged and the three of us (as many of you know by now) have a wonderful, wonderful life. He lost us but we gained ourselves. I still worry about food and going hungry. I cannot have the refrigerator or cabinets or the pantry ever be empty. It triggers that feeling again.

The boys and I did talk about that time a few years ago. I apologized to them for what happened but they both said I did the best I could. They had come to understand the circumstances that caused the situation in the first place. It was just one of many moral violations committed by their father.

I eventually confessed to my family, who were at first angry that I did not come to them for help. I was too ashamed and I knew I would suffer the consequences of revealing the secret. It didn’t seem worth it at the time.

And do I have shame today? No, I let that go a long time ago. Although I was not conscious of it at the time, I was being abused. The blaming, the passive aggressive behavior, the snide remarks began in earnest that summer. They increased over time until I finally realized what was happening.

When one is in the midst of negativity and abusive behavior, it is nearly impossible to see a way out. One only wants the abuse to stop-not for the abuser to leave. Strange dichotomy but oh so true. Lucky for me, he left. But he still abused from afar in various ways. I only got stronger and my children got wiser.

We know how to feed our bellies and our souls. Loaves and fishes abound. Abundance is present. And we are very grateful.

Never let yourself be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.

~Robert Frost

 

This was THE most challenging free write for me.  I really went back and forth as to whether I could write about it. Frankly, I didn’t want to. But sometimes you just have to put your muscle into it. It was NOT cathartic. It just had to be written and done with once and for all.

Beyond Grateful

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These are days
These are the days you might fill
With laughter until you break
These days you might feel
A shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
It’s true
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking
To you, to you                                                         ~ 10,000 Maniacs

Well, we have officially entered the holiday season. All around me, I am hearing snippets of conversations of how Thanksgiving is approaching too quickly or arriving too early  this year. Within the same conversations lie the predictable follow-up of how the Christmas season is fast on the heals of the feast-for some as early as midnight when they begin their Christmas shopping. Most likely the reason that some of us are feeling a sense of dread is that the holidays have become just another thing to do on our already overloaded “to do” list.  These exchanges obviously miss the point of our annual celebrations. As I have gotten older, I have become more and more cognizant of the materialistic and falsely cheerful feel that these holidays are supposed to imbue. Let’s be real: some of us don’t like our relations! Let’s be even more real: some of us have split families and are in the annual psychological juggle of whom we  choose to spend time with.

When we allow ourselves to get into this weird time warp of unhealthy thinking and situations, we are stealing our own joy. I remember the extraordinarily difficult time that my boys and I had with the changes in holiday traditions once their father left the house. It was so ridiculous to have to split time or have them choose between mom and dad. Now they are older and able to make their own choices that fits their desires so that the days are filled with celebration, laughter and emotional warmth.  They can begin their own traditions so that they can create life long memories of the season.

I want this year and every year to be an Appreciation Celebration. I want to dig deep and reflect upon what has really mattered in my life and savor it.  I was thinking about this recently as I drove up the highway to a favorite port city of mine. I was on a gift purchase mission for my sons and boyfriend.  Interestingly enough,  I had never driven alone to my destination and I found myself taking a different exit. I was not panicked by my detour in the least; I knew the city well enough. Also, since I only had a dollar bill, I would need to find parking on the street as opposed to a garage. So, I was quite proud of myself when I arrived at a near perfect parking spot that charged just a buck for 1 hour of parking and was close to the store!  One of the best parts about shopping at small businesses are the personal connections you can make with the store’s owner. During my shopping, the owner and I had a meaningful conversation about relationships with our children and even a bit about our own lives. He struck me a person who had experienced some of life’s hard knocks and had come out a better person as as result. I was so delighted by our talk that I left the store ready for another solo shopping adventure in yet another port city! As I traveled south, the sun was setting. Sunsets on the coast are huge-the whole sky looks like it’s awash in a golden orange. I remember thinking that I started the week basking in the sunrise and now I was doing the same with the sunset at the end of the week-very fitting. So onward I drove until I arrived at yet another terrific specialty store. And of course, my experience there was equally as positive-having made a connection with the store manager around the miracle of finding love the second time around and the challenges of a long distance relationship.

When my shopping was complete,  I felt energized by the experience. Not only had I done something by myself for the first time (on a Friday night in the dark) but I had enjoyed an authentic connection with 2 strangers!  All of us crave some form of connection to others.  Of course, I cannot expect everyone to be like me. But I do believe the we can at least be kind to one another or give a person a smile. Often we are too caught up in our own personal agendas to take the time to perform simple acts of kindness. And, of course, this is exactly what gets lost in the holiday rush.

I feel like I have finally arrived in the life that I was meant to be living. I have an unbounded sense of freedom. I am surrounded by love daily. The other day, I needed to call my youngest son while we were both on our way to work. When he answered the phone, I could tell that he was glad to hear from me just by the way he said hello. For the past two Saturdays, he and his girlfriend have asked if I have dinner plans.  What nearly 20 year old wants to hang with his mom on a weekend night? (Great way to stay out of trouble, though!) My oldest son and his girlfriend are now regular attendees at Sunday dinner. When the five of us are together, we relax, talk and chow down. What especially strikes me is how my sons’ girlfriends love the boys for who they are. As a mother, I could not ask for anything more.

Life is not only short, it is fragile. Go out and live this season and every season with purpose, love and good intentions.

Please note that this post was originally published on 11/19/12 as my own free write and well before I had so many wonderful and inspiring followers of my blog. It fits well with today’s prompt. I am grateful to all of you for your unending support. And I am forever grateful to Kellie Elmore without whom this blog would not have grown. HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!

#FWF Free Write Friday: Gratitude

by Kellie Elmore