A Lot Less Commercialism… and a Little More Christmas, Please!

Christmas seems to have snuck up on me–again.

texas christmasI don’t know if this is a result of living in Texas where December is more in line with the fall of my childhood, or perhaps it’s from the general chaotic pace my life has taken on, or maybe it’s some other factor that I have yet to identify. Whatever the reason, I’m staring Christmas in the face, and I feel totally unprepared.

ChristmasTooEarlyI used to put my tree up on November 1. I figured that, so long as we had passed Halloween, it was fair game. It wasn’t a matter of finding the time, but more a waiting a respectable amount of time before putting up that first sign of Christmas. I was ready and waiting, a runner poised for the blast that singled “Let the games begin!”

My Christmas shopping used to be done by December 1, and the only thing I needed to scramble for were a few extra stocking stuffers. I leisurely wrapped the gifts while listening to Bing croon about the white Christmas I could already see outside my window. I savored the season: enjoying the moments, admiring them, fingering them one by one.

christmas_stress_shoppingNow it’s more of a mad scramble, a dash from one event to the next–a chaotic sprinting, not a leisurely stroll.

The tree is put up in stages. First there is the bare tree, then days later it acquires some lights and maybe a ribbon or two. Finally, when we can all fit in a spare couple of hours together, we add the ornaments. And then at last the tree bedecked in all its glory to remind us that, yes, Christmas is coming (like a freight train), despite the blue skies and sunshine outside my window!

mom paperGifts are bought in a helter-skelter, often last minute fashion these days. Presents are wrapped only to be opened moments later–literally moments later. No enjoying that pretty wrapping paper peaking from beneath the tree branches. No children having days to wonder about the mysteries wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. There’s no shaking of the boxes, wild guesses, and the peeled back corners of gifts that sit under the tree to tantalize the little people in my life. Nope, there is a still puffing Mama who did a wrapping marathon only to thrust the presents into the eagerly waiting hands. I barely wipe the sweat from my fevered brow before the little people are tearing that pretty paper off and all my efforts are now crumpled in a heap on the floor…

And then there is the Christmas baking…don’t let me get started on the Christmas baking!

I used to love the smells wafting through my kitchen, the strains of the Trans Siberian Orchestra in the background, and the cup of Joe or the glass of red in my hand (depending on what strikes my fancy at the moment). I relished my role in my husband’s family as the maker of delectable desserts (it probably helps that their idea of a Christmas spread is cookies and pie bought at the local supermarket, but never mind that, I relished my role as the Martha Stewart of Christmas yumminess). They waited with anticipation for me to walk in with my homemade oreo cookies, my peanut butter bonbons, and what ever else I decided to throw into the mix that year.

They start anticipating early, at Easter, throughout the summer (never mind that I have spring and summer versions of dessert decadence), already anticipating the Christmas treats that are to come.

Oh, the pressure! I created this beast and now I have to feed it!

cooking messAnd the baking, no longer the savored Christmas experience, is something that I smoosh into my hectic Christmas Eve morning somewhere between the candlelight service (which they now have early in the afternoon which allows us to maintain our scavenger hunt tradition in the evening) and the scant few hours of sleep I’ve managed to cram in with all those last minute Christmas errands the day before the stores begin to close up shop and tell us procrastinators to “go the hell home! We have families too!”

Ah, Christmas. Still my favorite time of year, despite how quickly it comes and how quickly it’s over! How I miss the time to savor you as you so deserve!

My house may not be decorated to perfection, my array of treats might be appallingly scant, and the gifts might yet be crammed in shopping bags in the corners of my closet, but somehow, I don’t think that is what my children are going to remember (I know that’s not what I remember, though I’m pretty sure my mom was probably the chaotic, sweating, marathon running mess that I am today!).

Family-exchanging-presents-at-ChristmasMy children will remember, not the presents or decorations, but the time spent together. They will remember the traditions, the games, and the warm fuzzy feelings that Christmas will bring their way for years to come (until they have kids of their own and the chaotic insanity becomes their very own!).

I find myself reminding myself that it’s not about perfection. It’s not about a beautifully set array of cookies and perfectly wrapped presents. It’s not about the perfect kids’ craft that results in perfect little treasures for grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles.

The kids won’t notice the clutter around the house. They won’t notice that there are only two kinds of cookies this year. They won’t notice that the handmade presents are a bit less spectacular this year.

And I shouldn’t either.

Christmas CardIt’s time to stop running around like a crazy person and settle in and just enjoy being with my family.

And it’s time to remember what this season is really all about. Not the great commercial rush it has become, but something so much more–infinitely more.

Sometimes I need to remember that.

You can only do what you can do, and really that’s not the point of it all anyway.

Merry Christmas from my chaotic family to your own! May it be perfect in its imperfection!

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Even giants can have a shoe fetish you know!

tall girlMost of the time, I don’t feel like a giant.

There have been a few times when I have felt like one.

When I sprouted from a normal 5′ tall to a 5′ 8″ amazon height in the fifth grade . . . then I felt like a giant.

It probably didn’t help that my classmates called me Amazon Woman (the fragile female  adolescent ego doesn’t take that so well).

But, eventually the boys caught up, and I felt pretty much normal again. Tall, but not so tall that I felt like a freak.

giant girlWhen I went to Bangladesh, there I felt like a giant. I was very much the giant among the Lilliputians. I towered over many of the men, much less the women. I pretty much felt like a sideshow freak for most of my three months there. I was a novelty to them I’m sure, this big, white haired giant of a woman with the strange colored eyes.

They’re probably still talking about me today, twenty years later. “Do you remember when that giant girl who said she was young, but who must have been old, because she had white hair, came to visit? Do you remember her strange eyes . . . and so huge! Do you remember her feet!” and then they shudder at the outlandish freakishness of the memory. . .

Yep. I will become a myth passed on to their children. Maybe I’ll morph into and angel over the years, or maybe a vampire or a demon as the stories are re-told.

vampire girlThat could be kind of cool. The big white-haired freak will become their boogey man. I’ll keep their children from sneaking out of bed at night. I’ll be the tale to spook the little children into obedience. Awesome.

Perhaps I have a complex. Maybe it’s residual PTSD from the experience . . . I went to help, and instead I left pathologically warped. So much for karma!

Yep, definitely felt like a giant then!

But, for all of that, I am not so tall that I haven’t at times felt downright small.

(Okay. Maybe I should restate that. On one lone occasion I felt small. And maybe it doesn’t count. Standing next to a 6′ 7″ Scandinavian freak of nature probably isn’t fair to count . . . )

So, maybe the idea of feeling small is foreign to me, BUT I don’t usually feel like a freak outside of the aforementioned unique circumstances.

fit dammitAnd when I go shoe shopping.

Yep, shopping for shoes does it every time.

Look at me! The big ol’ giant with the ginormo feet!

When shopping for shoes in Bangladesh, (the sandals I brought broke) I became a spectacle of enormous (catch the pun, haha, enormous, taheehee) proportions. When I, using halting Bangla, communicated what I was after, the shop attendants started staring at my feet (no no, that’s too polite, gawking would be more accurate), talking rapidly, all the while using great hand gestures to express their awe at my greatness (catch it, another pun . . . aren’t I hoot!).

bearded_ladyPicture it. The one blond head towering over them, and a crowd of little men beckoning other little men forward to stare at the anomaly, feet the size of . . .  well, I doubt they had a decent comparison! Quite literally, a crowd of people started jockeying for position, all to get a glance of these feet. I was the bearded lady. I was freakthe freak they didn’t need to pay to see.

And this is when I wore a size 10 shoe.

But then I got married, and had this wonderful idea that having a slew of little babies would be fantastic!

If someone had told me that my feet were going to get even bigger as a result, I think I may have changed my mind!

Who needs affection and cuddles when your feet are at stake!

Alas, no one warned me, and I got pregnant not once, but four times.

Little Serena did minimal damage. She was little. I stayed little. My feet stayed in the realm of . . .well, at least not obscenely huge by American standards.

But then I got pregnant with my son, all 9 pounds 13 ounces of him.

I turned into a whale.

My poor feet had to carry said whale around.

My feet, large though they were, were not made to carry around a whale.

Pacific Walrus hind feetIn protest, they spread. They morphed from feet into flippers.

Yes, I am now known as “she of the flipper feet.”

Thank you, Gavin.

I did not just go up a size. Oh, no.

I went up a size and a half. From an, “I can get shoes anywhere” 10, to an

“I’m sorry, we carry shoes not . . .whatever it is you call what you put on your feet” 11 1/2.

I don’t know where it is they expect us giants to shop. I sure haven’t figured it out.

Even places that used to carry shoes in my size, are no longer carrying them.

drizellaOut of desperation, I used to wear the cheap faux shoes at Payless, because at least I could make them fit (If I tried really, really hard . . .think Drizela from Cinderella–“They do fit . . . I tell you they do . . . ” as I force my foot into an obviously too small shoe . . .).

But these days I have about four choices at Payless.

Ugly, UGLY, UGLY-ASS and

grandma shoes“Dear God, would anyone be caught dead wearing those!”

Just because I have huge feet, does it mean I have to be completely lacking of any sense of style! I mean, seriously!? Grandma shoes! That’s what you’ve got for me? Really?! Nothing but, God awful, so ugly even my grandma wouldn’t wear them, shoes! Come on! I’m a girl too–if a giant one!

So, over the last few weeks, I went to store after store, and left deflated.

No shoes at the store for me (I felt like Mary being turned away from inn after inn–rejected, unwanted, marginalized!).

Finally, in desperation, I scoured the internet, and scoured some more. Finally (do you hear the chorus of angels singing?) I found shoes in my size.

So I bought some.

And I bought some more.

And, “Oh! Those boots are so cute! And they have them in my size?!” so I bought some more.

I went a tiny, tiny bit crazy.

My inner girl could finally, after a decade of plastic, too tight trendy shoes or comfortable ugly-ass grandma shoes, come out and not only play, but downright dance a jig.

So, yeah, I bought a few pairs of shoes. . .

And then my husband saw the bank statement . . . (damn it! The one day he beats me to the mail box!) and asked me why in the world I spent that much money on shoes without at least talking about it with him first (the audacity of him!).

So, I did what every girl cursed with flipper feet would do. I broke down in tears. I mean, I started balling. Full on, sobbing basket case.

Because: “You just have no idea how hard it is to be me! I’m a girl too! I want to have pretty shoes too!”

I think he was probably sorry he even asked.

My latent psychosis was definitely more than he had bargained for.

But finally, I too, have pretty shoes!

cute shoes

We live in a Photoshopped Perfect, Plastic World

emotional vomitI have a cousin who is prone to emotional vomit.

Yes, she spews her emotions (typically rapidly changing from one extreme to the next) all over social media. I know every problem she has. I know when she’s not feeling well, when she’s angry at her boyfriend, when she decides that she HATES somebody–everybody (And boy! She holds no punches, dropping f-bombs and oozing hatred with every syllable), when she’s depressed, when she’s filled with self-loathing, and when she’s ready to give up on it all.

It’s all right there–in black and white–for the whole world to see.

Many times I have thought about saying something, but I know too well how she would respond, so I keep my peace. It’s simply not worth it. She will not hear. She’ll just point her anger and hatred in my direction, and frankly, who needs that?!

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way, because last week, when she posted something especially venomous, people started weighing-in. They told her (and there were many of them) in gentle, and not so gentle terms, that facebook was not the place to air all of her problems.

As I expected, she pointed her canon at them and started unloading. Most of what she said, does not bear repeating. But one thing was telling. “You guys don’t know the half of my f&^%$#@* life, So, until you walk a day in my d*$# shoes. . . Yeah sorry I don’t have 3beautiful kids an awesome husband and a family who supports me.”

Why was this telling?

photoshoppedBecause her assumption is based on a fundamental misconception: that who we are on facebook is an honest reflection of our lives. She honestly thought that the view she was getting of peoples’ lives on facebook was their reality, and when she compared that to her own life, she became angry and bitter.

I’ve blogged about this before (check out The Grass is Always Greener . . . ). Most of us do not do what my cousin does. We do not spew our worst days, our failings, and our heartbreaks all over facebook. We post our special moments, our successes and our good times. We post our best selves. We want the world to believe that we are doing it, that we are living the dream–that we’ve arrived.

This is a cultural failing that we have–this impossible grasping for perfection. Even our models, the most beautiful among us, are photoshopped, because even they are not perfect in their beauty. We, especially the women, live under a continual pall of insecurity because we cannot attain the unattainable–we cannot look like the     photoshopped images we see on a daily basis.

I absolutely love Meghan Trainor’s song “All About that Base,” because it addresses this head on. We are making generations of women feel as if they are inferior because they cannot be, what no one can be.

Facebook can have the same affect. We post only the pictures that make us feel beautiful, the moments that show that we are special, the events that paint us as successful. Our facebook selves are photshopped selves. They are the selves we wish we were, not the selves that we really are.

We are a disingenuous culture. We are rarely honest with anyone, even ourselves.

perfect familyTo the casual observer on my facebook page, I might look like I have it all together (with the exception of the loss of Serena which I am fairly open about). I have a handsome, intelligent husband, three beautiful children, a great house, and a great job. I get to have vacations every now again and do fun things. I look happy.

And sometimes I am.

But there is another picture. Another side.

Facebook knows nothing of my struggle with insecurity. It shows nothing of the days when I hate my body and feel too keenly my fading beauty.

Facebook knows nothing of the years of struggle with depression after losing Serena.

Facebook knows nothing of the shame I walked when Aaron lost his job and for six months we struggled to even pay rent–when, despite the humiliation, we found ourselves walking into the human services office to see about our options with public assistance. It knows nothing of the shame I felt every single time I had to scan that EBT card.

Facebook knows nothing of the resurgence of my temper in the wake of grief and stress. It does not see the ugliness I show when I am pushed beyond what I feel as if I can bare. The times I yell, the times I snap at my husband and children, the times when I end up sobbing from the weight of it all.

Fmom-chaosacebook does not see when my house is a wreck, and the dishes pile up in my sink, and the laundry starts to pile to the rafters. It does not see the relentless and endless drudgery of cooking and cleaning for a family of five. It does not see the times when I feel reduced to a cook and maid, a faceless, powerless drudge.

Facebook does not see the ways Aaron and I have wounded each other by both word and deed.

Facebook does not see the many times he and I have wanted to give up, to walk away, to say, “We’re done! We can’t do this anymore!”

Facebook does not know, cannot know, because I refuse to show it.

Facebook does not see–so you do not see.

barbieYou see the window dressing. You see the outer shell I choose to show.

Every once in a while, we give a window in, but it is only a window. It is a snapshot. Not the reality.

Do not compare yourself to these Facebook Selves, these shadow selves. They are allusions, projections, phantasms. They are not substantial, attainable or replicable.

Do not compare yourself to me or to anyone else.

Do not compare your life to someone else’s life.

Because, I promise you, you will be comparing yourself to something that does not exist.

How can I know this? How can I promise such a thing?

perfect lifeBecause no one is perfect, no matter what you think. And no one has a perfect life, though to an outward eye it might appear as if they do.

No life is without pain.

We all hurt. We all bleed. We all have moments when we feel as if we can’t possibly keep breathing, keep walking, keep standing.

Not one of us is untouched.

For some, the pain starts when we’re children, and we never know life without pain. For others, childhood leaves us untouched, and we enter adulthood with shining eyes and expectations of a perfect world, but at some point, somewhere on our journey, pain will find its way in.

People die. They get sick. They leave.

Sometimes, the ones we trust the most betray us. Sometimes the ones who should have our back, are the ones who slide the knife in. Sometimes our heart bleeds, it breaks, it shatters.

And everyone, every single person on this planet, will have these moments–because these moments are life.

The amazing thing, the wonderful thing, is our capacity to endure.

I've learned that you can keep going long after you think you can'tWhen we feel like we can’t keep going, we can and we do. When we feel like we can’t possibly take one more thing–when it comes–which it inevitably seems to–we find ourselves somehow battening down the hatches and fighting our way through. Sometimes we cannot run, or even walk. Sometimes all we can do is put one foot in front of the other, and that’s all we have. That all we’ve got to give. But we do it. One. Foot. At. A. Time.

How do I know we can do this, when life pummels us, and people fail us, when we fail ourselves, how do I know we can push through?

Because we exist. The human race is still here.

We live in the height of human existence. We live a life of plenty: plenty of food, plenty of the basic necessities (clothing, house, healthcare) and plenty of leisure/extravagances (entertainment, hobbies, options, etc.).

Historically, people lived in want. They went to bed hungry. They had limited, or no, healthcare. Death was a frequent visitor.

If anyone had a reason to give up, they did–but they didn’t. They kept living. They kept loving. They kept walking. They kept fighting. They gave us a future.

I am an anomaly having lost a child. Most people, at least in the developed world, do not have to bury their children.

In the past, they didn’t just bury one, but instead, usually several.

Men very commonly lost their wives in childbirth. Women lost their husbands, and, when they did, what options did they have to provide for their families? They either married again or were forced to walk paths that they never would have chosen.

keep goingLife was hard. It was ugly. It was survival–but they did just that–they survived. And because they did, we are still here today.

We need to end this delusion that perfection is possible. We need to stop hurting ourselves and each other with this endless striving for what does not exist–the perfect life and the perfect person. We need to stop pretending that it does exist.

We need to give others grace to be imperfect.

We need to give ourselves grace to be imperfect too.

My husband cannot be the prefect man that some writer has created in a book, or that some actor plays on tv. Those men don’t exist outside of words that were created by a clever person and put on a page. My husband can’t be that man. Neither can your husband.

Neither can I live the photoshopped lives that I catch on the pages of social media, the images I see in magazines, or the brief glimpses into others’ lives that I am allowed, when they choose to show me, what they choose to show me.

I can’t live those lives, and neither can you.

They don’t exist. They’re not real.

perfectPeople are not perfect. Our lives are not perfect. . .

And that’s okay.

Let it be okay.

Give yourself a break.

And give the people around you a break too.

 

 

 

Evil Tree Spirits…If I promise to knock on wood next time, will you give me a break . . . Please?!

I’m starting to become superstitious. I think our ancestors knew something that we don’t. They warned us that bad things happen in threes. They warned us to knock on wood (have you ever wondered where that came from? I have. So I consulted my trusty friend google and it told me that it is to keep the evil spirits that live in trees from hearing, lest they take away our good luck or to keep the tree gods from hearing and thinking that our pridefulness needs to be brought down a peg or two) to prevent our good luck from souring into bad. They warned us not to jinx ourselves.

tree spirits

But what did they know? They’re just old fashioned and unenlightened. We, being so much more advanced, don’t believe in such archaic myths. We are beyond that. Smarter than that. They’re just primitive–and more importantly–wrong.

Or are they?

I know that I feel like I have a great big cosmic bullseye affixed to the front of my “Sons of Anarchy” t-shirt (yes, I am dressed like Gemma from that hit show to portray them and their drug smuggling, gun toting ways as villains for spirit week here at my high school. How many of your high school teachers dressed up like biker babes?! I think I should score a few cool factor points on this one.). I must have forgotten to knock on wood when I shared how much better I am enjoying this school year teaching my Sophomore classes. I must have forgotten to ward against jinxes when I shared how much better my son was doing at school. I must have forgotten to not allow my contentedness with life to be too obvious. The tree spirits heard, and they retaliated.

tree spirit attack

Both of our water heaters broke at the same time last week. Not too big of a deal unless you live in a place like, oh, let’s say Texas– where the flood plane is too high, and where there is too much clay in the soil, and where flash floods are so common, that we can’t have basements.

Where do you put water heaters if you can’t put them in a basement because you don’t have one? The attic, of course! Duh! Silly you! We don’t want anyone to see them after all. No one will see them up there. It’s the perfect place!

Ummm, okay architect genius who came up with that idea . . . did you not take into account the fact that water heaters have a shelf life and are prone to start leaking when they corrode, and by the very nature of being out of sight, they often leak without detection, until they leak so badly that it, quite literally, starts pouring from the ceiling?!?!?!?!?

Yes, that’s right. Pouring from the ceiling. That is what my children came home to on Friday. Ceilings that had actually collapsed from the water pouring down, beautiful wood floors that were already warping, and carpets that squished when you walked. Fun times!

ceiling

Thank God for insurance companies! They set us up in a hotel for a week until they could dry things out. They even insisted on a hotel with a kitchenette for our convenience. But then it came time to check out, and, oops! They hadn’t quite remembered to send that check on time so, “Sorry! You’ll just have to cover that on your own for now! We’ll reimburse you!”

Ummm . . . $1000 hotel bill plus a $1500 bill for a newly installed water heater . . . I don’t know about you, but we don’t have that kind of cash lying around so financial crisis ensues. Ho–ly–Crap!!!

Being a silver lining kind of girl, I take my best friend up on a girl’s night out to take my mind off of it all. This will be good. I’ll get to see a preview of the movie “Gone Girl” with one of my favorite people. Just what I need.

Where is that damn wood when I need it! If only I had had some to knock on!

lurking

Just as I tried to leave my school to head to the Angelika, the heavens opened and burst. My drought dry land was all of a sudden Venice. I think I could have gotten there faster on foot. Even running to the car with my head covered, I still managed to get sopping wet, and then I had to sit in traffic for a good 2+ hours only to arrive at the wrong location (thank you GPS). By the time I finally got to the theater, it was too late to eat, so we had to make a dinner of popcorn. I love popcorn and all, but not really what I had in mind for dinner!

But all’s good. I was with my awesome friend who I hadn’t seen in far too long, and I was getting to see one of the most anticipated movie screenings of the year. Lucky me!

WHERE is that damn wood when I need to knock on it!

Great friend, great movie, feeling better . . . and then the lady sitting next to me got up. She got up and quite literally dumped an entire coke in my just finally dried from the spontaneous flood lap. From shoulder to foot, I was covered with cold, wet, sticky coke.

The fitting end, to a fitting week. So apt. Almost poetic really. How could I be upset? It was the epitomy, the concrete portrayal, of my week–quite literally getting dumped on. It couldn’t have been penned better.

Surely, it’s over. At last. It’s a fitting ending, so that means it’s the end, right?

Dammit! Where is that wood!

Excuse me, while I take this phone call . . .

“What? My daughter ran into the door on her way into school this morning? Did you say concussion watch?! What the *&%^$#@#@@#$$%!”

knockonwood

That’s it. Our ancestors KNEW something. Bad things come in threes (or tens) and I am never again going to forget to knock on wood. Jeez already! I learned my lesson now back the *&%$ off! 😉

I’ll have a pan of brownies, a Bud light and a book on the side please–I’m a little bit stressed

Everybody has heard of the “Stress Eater.” Lots of people fall into this category. When they get stressed, they go buy a chocolate bar or, better yet, they eat a whole pan of brownies. Pretty typical. Pretty normal.

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Or the stress drinker. When you’ve hit that stress point where you feel like you’re going to break, do you grab a Bud Light from the fridge? Or maybe you’re more a merlot kind of gal. Again. Normal.

Image

Normal was never an adjective used to describe me. When I get stressed, I tend to lose my appetite. Well, except for the sweet tooth. I mean, let’s be honest, when does cheesecake NOT sound good, right? And though an occasional glass of wine at the end of a bad day is not something that I’m opposed to, it’s just not something that I’m ever going to make a habit out of–it’s just not me. No, when my world becomes too big for me to handle, when the daily grind feels like it is going to grind me into flour dust, I don’t reach for a Kit Kat or a Sam Adams–I reach for a book.

A book you ask? Okay, well that’s weird. Like I said, I never claimed to be normal.

I fall into a very small group known as “Stress Readers.” What, you’ve never heard of that before? Well, fine. I confess, I just made the term up. Still, it totally fits–so looky there, I made a new word (or term, whatever)!

Ever since I was a girl, when stress hit, I would escape. I would run from my reality and live someone else’s for a while. I would live their problems and get through them all from the comfort of my bed, leather recliner, sunroom, etc. (Depending on the year, my reading spot of choice differed). I would feel what they felt, and thus, separate myself from what I personally was feeling. I would read until, finally, one day, the stress would feel manageable and I would re-enter my own reality. Of course I couldn’t just take a hiatus from my life until that moment happened, but somehow the hours reading gave me an emotional buffer from its impact in the meantime.

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Through the years, this has morphed and changed. As a kid, Terry Brooks and his “Sword of Shannara” series gave me my first taste of escapism. I then quickly moved on to Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin (yes, I have been a fan from the beginning folks! Not a bandwagon groupie like most of you! 😉 ). I re-read those books more times than I can count. When my problems loomed large and I felt like I would be swallowed whole, I  would become Daenerys for a while and conquer the world, Image

or fight and scrape with Arya, proving my spunk and courage to all who knew me. Image

The books were so much more than books–they were worlds where I was able to be a different version of myself–they became alternate realities where I was tougher, spunkier, wittier, and prettier than I was in my normal life. And somehow, when it was time to re-enter my own skin and get back to being myself, I did so with confidence and a knowledge from all of those whom I had walked with and so my life seemed more doable, more achievable, and I felt more like its heroine–not just a girl struggling through.

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When I was a stressed out mom with three little ones all at home, I have to admit, my crutch, coping mechanism, whatever you want to call it, failed me. How do you escape when you are the go-to person for needy little ones? You don’t. And so for the first time in my life, I rarely read or had any opportunity to escape. I can honestly say that those were the most stress filled years of my life. I wept often. The weight of my stress felt like it would crush me into a formless mass of goo. I think in a lot of ways I survived those years, I didn’t really live them–and I certainly wasn’t able to escape them.

But now, I am in a different phase of my life. My kids are a little older and so they are a little more independent. Guess who’s back? My handy little crutch. And with age and wisdom, I have mastered the art of stress reading. It is not a “one size fits all” kind of crutch anymore. Oh, no! There are different types of escapism for the different levels and types of stress. For your average, run of the mill stress, I still run to fantasy or dystopian worlds. Though my authors of choice have changed because, as we all know, George Martin seems more interested in doing anything BUT writing and if I waited for his next book, I might die (or he might) before it arrived! So, I have branched out.

I have found a lot of fodder among YA authors: Alison Goodman, Libba Bray, Sherry Thomas, Cassandra Clare and Veronica Roth among others. Oddly, in the adult section, there seems to be fewer choices. Charlaine Harris was my favorite until she tanked the Sookie Stackhouse series with very possibly the WORST finale in the history of writing. I stumbled on Gillian Philip who is quite good, as well as Jim Butcher and a few others.

But when the stress gets really rough, I find even fantasy takes more brainpower than I am capable of and so I retreat to light, fluffy chick lit or romance. Kristan Higgins and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are my preferred choices, but unfortunately, I’ve read all of their books and so I’ve been forced to wander further afield. I’ve found that Susan Wiggs’ and some of Nora Roberts’ (sometimes–some are way TOO fluffy) books can do in a pinch.

When the stress reaches epic proportions, and remember, I am a teacher, and there are most certainly times during the school year that I simply cannot bear to speak or even listen to one more syllable or when I cannot read another word (imagine grading 200 Freshmen essays in the course of a few days)–days when my brain is complete and utter mush, on those days I succumb to a TV series marathon for my escapism stress relief. I feed my family dinner, help kids with baths and homework, and then I retreat into my bedroom with my computer and my friend Netflix and begin to burn through every single episode of a series.

For instance, “Walking Dead.” Life had hit the high intensity level when I turned to the zombie apocalypse for my alternate reality. I mean, what eases stress more than the end of the world as we know it and unthinking, gory, once humans trying to make a tasty snack out of you? Not to mention that, should the zombie apocalypse ever become a reality, I now know everything to do (find a remote farm in the middle of no where) and what not to do (ever trust anyone ever again). Escapism and educational!

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So, what’s your “vice” of choice? We all have one–something that helps us get by when life has us in a death grip. Any tips? Have you found the fail safe stress relief strategy that will make the mountain into an ant hill? Any good escapism must reads or sees? Share my friends! I’m running out of stuff to read! 😉

I made a right turn at love, a left turn at happily ever after, and ended up in Oz

Sometimes lately, I feel like I’ve made my way into someone else’s story. There’s nothing wrong with this story; it’s just not my own. It feels like some great cosmic trickster picked me up and dropped me into a life I never planned on living, and yet, here I am–going through the motions.

Have you ever watched a movie and drifted off for a couple of scenes and when you woke up, nothing made sense? You weren’t really sure how the characters got there or what it all meant? That’s what my life feels like. Like I drifted off for a while and when I woke up, I found myself in a world not of my own choosing, one that I never planned to live–an alternate reality of sorts.

It’s kind of surreal. Like I’m on a cosmic caoursel that just keeps moving, turning and turning, never slowing down, never stopping. Around and around I go . . . no chance to get off and to get on the ride I’m supposed to be on. And yet, all my choices led me here. . . Or have they?

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We all set out with a destination in mind. When we’re young, the world is wide open, our minds are full of dreams. There are things we know we want–marriage, children–at least sometime down the road. Some things, we think we want–but when it really comes down to it–we don’t really want them at all. Others, we want, we pursue–but then life gets in the way. These are our dreams deferred, delayed, and sometimes, our dreams forgotten and lost forever. They drift into the land of “should have been,” “could have been,” and “if only.”

When I set out on this journey called “life on my own,” adulthood, or whatever you want to call it, I had it all plotted out. I knew what I wanted: where I wanted to go, who I wanted to become, the lifestyle I wanted to live. I saw it all as a story, and I was the heroine. My life was progressing from one logical chapter to the next logical chapter, and it all looked just how I wanted it to be.

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But then I met my husband.

He was part of my story, the story I wanted, the one I had planned. He was, but still he changed it–my story veered, turned, took a side road. The destination appeared to be the same, but it took a different route. He rode in with his charm and his own story–and a pile full of plans and dreams of his own, and so, he changed my story forever.

He was one of the characters I wanted, one I dreamed about, but the thing about life that is so different from a story is that it’s not written by the mind of one, but the mind and wishes and plans of many. Even though our dreams seemed to be in alignment, I was no longer making choices based only on myself–and so the story changed.

And after marriage, of course, come the children. That’s when you really start seeing the unfamilar territory. Road blocks, no outlet, detours. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t get rid of a single one of them (well, at least most days!). They are my joy, but, though we know in theory how much those little people are going to change our lives, the reality is so much more than we can understand until we live it. Nothing in our world is ever the same. It’s not the same story–we’re not even the hero anymore. We become a supporting character so that our children can be the hero or heroine in their own story.

The reality is that we can plot out our lives and outline our story, but life doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t follow our plans, and it certainly doesn’t consult us. Life is messy. Chaotic. Life is filled with the unexpected–disappointments, doors closing and doors opening. It is filled with heartbreak and loss, new birth and growth–and change.

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We think we choose our paths in life, but, in so many ways, we really don’t. It chooses us. In the past, they attributed it to fate or the cosmos. Today we sometimes say it is God or maybe mere chance–luck or unluckiness. Whichever way you want to term it, the reality is, so often our choices are few, and sometimes, even when we think we are choosing, our choices are really being chosen for us.

I recently read Lauren Oliver’s trilogy because my students are reading her book Delerium for my class. (I loved that book, btw! So much better than I expected!) In her final book  of the trilogy, “Requiem,” she makes a statement that puts it so well.

“They wanted the power to feel, to think, to choose for themselves. They couldn’t have known that even this was a lie–that we never really choose, not entirely. We are always being pushed and squeezed down one road or another. We have no choice but to step forward, and then forward again, and then forward again; suddenly we find ourselves on a road we haven’t chosen at all. But maybe happiness isn’t in the choosing. Maybe it’s in the fiction, in the pretending; that wherever we have ended up is where we intended to be all along.”

We start out choosing, but so often those very choices are dictated by the pushing and squeezing of fate and the cosmos. So few of us really end up where we intended at all. We come to terms with where we are. We might even love where we are, but it is not where we set out to go in the beginning.

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Maybe this is where I was meant to be all along, even though it’s not where I intended to go. Maybe I ended up here because of random chance and a good dose of both luck and unluckiness. Maybe it doesn’t feel like the life I was supposed to live, but it is the life I am living.

Maybe I’m just having an early mid-life crisis and no one else has every felt this way or knows what I am talking about at all . . . 😉

Or maybe, life is about rolling with the punches, accepting the role of fate and making the most of the choices that God–life–fate–the universe–allow us to make.

I think I might be a bit pathological . . .

It would likely not come as any real surprise to any who know me that I tend to be a bit compulsive. I mean, why do anything part way when you can jump off the deep end? If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it right, right? So why buy one new outfit when you can make it a mission and get the whole summer wardrobe updated in one fell swoop. Why tackle one room in your house when you can tackle them all (and drive yourself crazy in the process)? That’s kind of my approach to life and it definitely is a bit pathological!

Most of the time, despite the obvious pathological nature of this “all or nothing” way of life, it doesn’t rock my boat all that much. Sure it means that periodically I find it necessary to hole myself away in my bedroom, feed my family pizza and carry-out while I re-read every single Sookie Stackhouse book before the finale is released (only to be as thoroughly disappointed as I have ever been in any book I have anticipated I might add!),  but hey! Even a mom needs to indulge her pathology once in a while, right?

Most of my life, this has worked without any real negative side effects. Yes, I’m a crazy person until I can mark that task (say decorating my entire house within the first year after moving in) off of my to-do list, but by golly! I get it done! And usually in record time. Lately, however, the boat has started rocking and what once seemed like little more than a quirk, seems like a somewhat bigger problem and often ends up being an impossibility.

So, can I just back off and go about it normally, you know, like just watch the new season of Game of Thrones without having to re-watch every bloody episode (pun intended) that came before first? Nope! It just loses the full affect! So, here I sit, somewhere in the third season unable to jump in and watch tonight’s episode–all because I’m neurotic.

So, I’m wondering how many of you are as crazy as me and have to re-read every book or re-watch the whole series before jumping into the latest installment of your favorite show/book?  Am I alone in this, or are some of you just as nuts as I am?

 

 

Ready! Set! ROAD TRIP!!

So, I’ve been a bit silent on the blog front. It was one crazy summer!!  You forget how nice and peaceful (at least comparatively) it is to have your older children at school leaving only one at home . . .  until summer break rolls around and the inevitable rounds of bickering, tattle-tailing and sound barrier breaking games begin and remind you that the stress of the school year is more like butterflies floating around and birds singing than the stress that is now your life.

There were days when I felt completely shell-shocked by the time my husband came home. All I could do was stare at him blankly. It’s what I like to call MAJOR stimulation overload! This partial introvert starts to report an error signal in such moments. It’s as if my brain starts shouting, “MALFUNCTION!! Must stop! Shutting down now!” And just like your computer when it shuts down, forcing closed any running programs and becoming unresponsive, well, that’s pretty much me. My face is like a black screen with one little blinking light that does not respond to any of your commands. It just . . .stares back at you . . . blankly . . . blinking . . . but not responding. Yep. That’s pretty much me this summer!

So, what do you do when your kids are driving you crazy?? What do you do to bring sanity back to the chaotic cacophony of a mother’s summer? You plan a cross country trip of course!

Did I mention that said cross country trip is all by yourself with said children?!

Okay. So maybe that wasn’t my brightest move ever! But children overload was trumped by the desire to flee the debilitating heat of a Texas summer. So, yes, I piled my three children into our little PT Cruiser and the kids and I hit the road for our annual trek from Texas to Wisconsin. Yes, I drive it by myself, and yes, we do it all in one day without stopping. Maybe I’m a bit crazy. Yeah . . . I suppose I kind of am . . .

This year, might have been enough to have given this “I can do anything . . . I am woman hear me roar . . . power Mama” a dose of very much needed sanity! You see, somewhere in the middle of Missouri, our overly helpful bank decided to put a hold on our check card due to these unusual out of state purchases. After all, they wanted to protect us!

 Normally, though it might have been frustrating, it wouldn’t have been cataclysmic. However, in the chaos of getting me and my three heat-weary, sibling overloaded children packed and out the door, I had forgotten to take my typical trip to the ATM for the “just in case” cash I usually bring. Yep. All I had was that frozen bank card and a twenty at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon . . . well besides my three cranky, bored children who had already been cooped up in that little car for almost 12 hours! 

Yep, Mama lost it! Tears, drama, and I have to admit, some fairly bad (okay, VERY bad!) language came pouring out of me all at the same time. I think I called my husband about thirty times in a half hour trying to get to him before the bank closed, and failing to get a hold of him, I called my poor mother and poured out my tale of woe to her regardless of the fact that she was 1000 miles away and unable to do a thing for us except worry. Not exactly fair for her, but I was desperate!

Luckily, my husband finally received my frantic SOS and skipped out on work to high tail it over to the bank and play the hero, which he has to do way too often to suit this independent, strong-minded woman of the modern world! I’m so glad that my husband isn’t averse to playing the knight in shining armor to my damsel in distress. (The truth is, I kind of like knowing that I have a knight in the back ground who can come and “fix it” when I can’t do it myself.  While you’re at, feel free to hold the door open for me . . . whichever feminist decided to throw THAT baby out with the bath water  . . . let me tell you . . . !)

Needless to say, next year, when that colossal road trip rolls around, I might have to rethink doing it by myself, or at least consider not doing it all in one day . . . And I will DEFINITELY have cash as well as my bank card . . . and maybe a credit card too . . . just in case . . .

In what reality does Flynn Rider end up with Mother Hubbard?

                As most of you know, I have put my career on hold for the last ten years to devote myself to my children and the domestic life. There are days when I doubt the sanity of this choice, but overall, I don’t regret it. Though I like to think of myself as an intelligent, career-minded woman, I feel that my children needed the hands-on, there for the little things, mother and I treasure all the special, tender moments we’ve had along the way. It also helps that, in my most antsy, struggling with a sense of self moments, I have the coolest friend in the world who allows me to live vicariously through her.

                Christa Banister was an old college acquaintance for lack of a better word. We hung out occasionally, so we were more than acquaintances, but we really weren’t close enough to be considered friends. All that changed when she, like myself, decided to transplant herself from the Twin Cities down here to Dallas. All it took was one real conversation for us to realize that we would be friends for life.

                As I mentioned, Christa is not only an amazing person, but she also lives the most amazing life. (Check out her blog to get to know her a bit!) She is a two-time published novelist which is super cool, but not the coolest part actually. She is also a free-lance writer who has a regular gig writing movie reviews. That means, not only does she get to see all the movies before they come out, but she also regularly gets to do press junkets to LA and NYC where she gets to meet and interview the actors. One of my favorite things to do is go through a list of actors and actresses that I’m curious about, find out which ones she’s met and get the skinny on them. Are they really as attractive as they seem? Are they nice or a spoiled diva? You get the picture.

                So, this regular old mom gets to see the reflected glitz through her best friend. After one of her last press junkets (one that she wanted me to go with her btw but I couldn’t swing the airfare at the time!) she stayed at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills and told me later than my crush Ian Somerhalder was staying in the same hotel at the same time she was. Sigh . . .  granted the crush is more about the fictional character Damon than Ian the actor, but still! I couldn’t resist daydreaming about running into him in the hall on a hiatus away from Mommyville!

                Though I have yet to go to one of the junkets with Christa, she has taken me to a few of her movie screenings. I have to admit, it is pretty cool to not only get to see movies before they’re out, but also to get to walk to the front of the line passed the mass of people who have been waiting for a couple of hours and getting to sit in a chair that says “Reserved for Press” even if I’m only there by association and am not the real deal myself!

                Last night was one of those times. She asked me to go to see “Snow White and the Huntsman” with her. It took a little brainstorming since my in-laws are out of town and my husband works late and has a long commute. We decided that I would take the kids with me and that Aaron would swing by on his way home and take them off my hands (we were also trying to avoid the cesspool known as Dallas traffic!).

                The meeting spot was at the North Park mall. I cringed. You see, there are malls, and then there is North Park. Get the image of the traditional, child friendly mall with the standard Gap and Charlotte Russe type stores out of your head. There is no child play area at this mall. Oh, no. North Park would much rather you leave the kids at home!

                North Park is what you would call an elitist mall. You don’t dare go to North Park in jeans (unless they are True Religion) and a t-shirt (unless it is an obviously high end designer one). Hair and makeup had better be up to par and you’d better pull out all the stops. Even if I dress my girls in the latest Gap outfit, I feel a bit cliché at this mall! Better to pull out one of the boutique outfits if you don’t want to feel like a wannabe!

                Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but not by much!

                I didn’t know there were actual stores for Versace and Gucci until I unsuspectingly stumbled into this mall for the first time! The very air smells rich. If ever a mall was pretentious, this one would be it!

                So, you can imagine my tremor of concern at the idea of taking three young, easily bored children into such a place. My kids aren’t bad kids, but they are kids, and being that not one of them is confined by a stroller anymore, well, this Mommy was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the very thought!

                Still, despite the difficulty, a night away from Mommyville with one of my favorite people in the world was too much of a temptation. I just had to brave it!

                I was in for a pleasant surprise. North Park mall might not want kids, but, the Disney Store, of course, feels differently. They’ve had a bit of a renovation since my last adventure to the “Upper East Side” so to speak.  Now they have an actual walk-in castle with three magic mirrors where the little girls can admire themselves with all the princess beauty in the background until Rapunzel magically appears in the mirror before them. They now have a coloring station with a large movie screen where they can program a playlist of all their favorite Disney movie tunes. A bit over the top? Maybe. But this was North Park after all and it was heaven to this stressed out Mama!

                We made the most of it and settled in until Christa and my hubby showed up.

                Lily’s favorite thing was standing before the castle mirrors and waving a wand at it yelling, “Bippity, boppity boo!” in an attempt to make Rapunzel reappear. When she didn’t come on command, Lily would just yell at the mirror which I found hilarious.

                When Christa arrived, we stood nearby, next to a “Tangled” display, chatting.

                Christa glanced at the display, laughed a little, pointed to the doll of Flynn Rider and said, “Look! It’s Aaron!” I laughed. She was right. The doll could have been modeled after Aaron!

                    “Looky there! I married a real Prince Charming!” I couldn’t help thinking to myself. I felt a burst of pride and admiration until that thought was followed by a more sobering one. How in the world did Flynn Rider end up with Mother Hubbard?!

                    One never thinks of Rapunzel turning into Mother Hubbard, but there it is!

                    It is a very sad state of affairs that men get better looking with age (at least mine did!) and women, well, we just age! The most that could be said for me is that I look good for my age or that I look good for having four children. Aaron needs no such qualifiers! It’s enough to put me in a good pout!

                   At least, the movie cheered me up a bit. Kristen Stewart’s youthful attractiveness couldn’t hold a candle to Charlize Theron’s more seasoned beauty. Maybe there’s hope for us yet . . . then again, I’m no Charlize Theron! 😉

You Never Can Tell What Your Kids Might Pick Up From You . . .

                Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good bargain. My motto is “Why buy new when you can buy almost new for a fraction of the price?” It’s as much about the hunt as the purchase. It’s a game of sorts, and there is a high that comes from stumbling on a new with tags Macy’s cocktail dress that looks amazing on you for ten bucks at the local thrift store (Yeah, that happened last week 🙂 ). I mean seriously, how can you not love that?

            Since our family has had some hard economic times the last few years, I have become quite the pro at finding exactly what I want at the price tag I can afford. I started with garage sales (way too hit and miss), graduated to ebay and since moving to Dallas where everything is truly bigger and better, the fun has really exploded. Dallas thrift stores are simply way too much fun!

            Don’t get me wrong, I don’t settle. The things I buy are not only top brand, but they look brand new. Thanks to craigslist, my home is filled with Pottery Barn and Bombay Company furniture that I paid next to nothing for. My kids closets are full not only of Gap and Crew Cuts clothing but even the harder to find top brands like Narrtjie, TEA and even a few Deux Par Deux and Matilda Jane dresses. Like I said, I take the hunt seriously and I know my brands! 🙂

            What I didn’t realize is that my little recreation would rub off on my children.

            I was chatting on the phone with my husband the other day when I noticed that my seven year old son was on the computer. Normally, that wouldn’t phase me. However, being that Gavin lost his gaming privileges due to a VERY bad week at school, I not only noticed, but instantly assumed that he was defying us by playing anyway.

            With extreme wariness I asked Gavin what he was doing. His answer floored me.

            “I’m on Ebay.com mom. I’m looking for some Batman toys.”

            I stared at him. He’s seven after all.

            “I can get this Batman for $1.50 and it’s way more than that at the store.”

            I couldn’t help laughing and I filled my husband in on what was going on. My husband responded that it was a good thing that Gavin didn’t know my password as Gavin said, “Mom, I want to put a bid on this. What’s your password?”

            “There is no way I’m giving you my password!”

            “That’s okay, I’ll try the password you use for the computer.”

            I was very glad that my ebay account predated my current password trend or I might have a nightmare on my hands! Though I’m thrilled that my son is learning wise money habits from me, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder if I’m inadvertently creating a monster?!