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Kicking 2016 to the Curb

To say 2016 was a difficult year is not giving enough credence to all that transpired. I have felt in upheaval almost all year. So many things have happened I can scarcely recall them all. Of course, life has a way of allowing sparkling moments in the midst of heartache and I must acknowledge there have also been some truly sparkling moments!

The year started with a dramatic change in lifestyle. It was a chosen change, but dramatic nonetheless. I was so excited to be near my sister after being so far away for so long. She had been fighting cancer for years and just being close meant the world.

img_2740Unfortunately, five months after I relocated, my sister lost her battle with cancer. Losing her was devastating. Her passing came at the end of a difficult hospital stay and all the family was lost. For me, this was the second sister we lost to cancer, so every sad memory from before resurfaced again. I still have not grieved the loss of my sister even after all these months. I have built a very big and ugly wall that keeps me isolated from my feelings. I know when the moment comes it will be extremely difficult. The funny thing when you lose a sister and there are ‘closer’ family members, I think some people may not realize the depth of the loss. I do not want to diminish the impact her passing had on each and every member of our family – it was SO hard for everyone. Maybe it is my wall, but I felt isolated and alone in my grief – I still do.

A few months prior to my sister’s passing, my brother was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was in treatment but did come to see her in the hospital. I know this loss has had a tremendous impact on him as well. Again, as siblings, I don’t think people understand the impact. We all lost our mother to cancer when we were young adults, and that witnessing and experience never leaves you. My brother and I talk almost every day and his wife is taking such good care of him. I am witness to yet another fighter – strong and defiant – but I know it has not been easy on him.

We also had another cancer diagnosis in my husband’s family so it has been a pretty tough year where family health has been concerned. We are steadfast in our love and support – the fight goes on.

img_7433We were fortunate enough to find a place we loved near the mountains. It has been glorious but even this had it’s challenge. This year we had a long drought and the mountains near us were burning. We had smoke, but thankfully we were never really at risk – others were not so fortunate. The good people of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN, suffered tremendous losses. It makes you realize just what’s important.

My sparkling moments were spectacular – all my children and grandchildren together for the VERY FIRST TIME to help me celebrate my birthday. It was more than I could have dared ask for.  I watched them talk and play and just be here and that was all I needed. It was truly beautiful.

Another sparkling moment occurred when I met four beautiful souls I had never met in person. You would not believe the amazing connections we all shared. It was beautiful. SARK brought us together ages ago and the relationships were built over many years. Such long-lasting connections were not unusual in our group of online friends. Luscious and succulent and even more so in person! It was a beautiful blessing.

I was able to attend a family reunion this year and see cousins I have not seen in – oh – say 40 years or so. My brother was there, too, which made it extra special for me. I’ve learned so much about our family as I have taken the plunge into genealogy, so seeing everyone again and remembering our parents and grandparents was so rewarding. Looking forward to seeing everyone again in 2017.

Then there was the election. No political discussion on my blog other than to say my wildly beautiful and culturally rich family and friendship circles are worried about what lies ahead. If you are in my circle and love me, I expect you to stand beside me and fight for the rights of those I love if the need arises. Enough said. I have faith – for without it I would be lost.

And let’s not even talk about all the amazing musicians and entertainers we lost this year.

But back to the sparkle – I still get the sparkle.  Some of my most sparkling moments are very personal and very private – those protected moments are blindingly beautiful. They involve my heart and soul.

So, I prepare to say goodbye to 2016. It is with a heart that is both heavy and overjoyed at the promise of what the future holds, that I say goodbye to this year of my life. I look forward to 2017 with hope, love and unfailing faith in the inherent good in people. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I just know that I need to focus on the promise of a better 2017. Bring on the JOY!

Cleanse is my word for 2017.

“I dismiss _________ in favor of _________” is my phrase. (There will be a LOT of those phrases!)

theothersideOut with the bad – in with the good. Here’s to crumbling my emotional fortress and allowing myself to feel and grow. And in saying goodbye to this difficult year, I say goodbye to my sister. I really miss you, Sis. More than I think you ever could have imagined I would. My life is forever changed.

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Thanksgiving 2015

File Nov 25, 3 45 40 PMTomorrow is Thanksgiving. My husband and I will be together this year without any other family. We are both recovering from a cold and plan to have a scaled back meal instead of the annual production that normally accompanies this holiday. So instead of baking pies and making my grandmother’s cranberry salad, I am texting with my daughter who is making it for the first time ever and wants it to be perfect. Perfection on Thanksgiving is not something I ever aspired to. I am sure it will be perfectly delicious!

Someone asked me if I was sad to spend the holiday alone. Well, that’s funny, because I am not alone. I am with the man who has loved me for the past 20 years. No, we won’t have our parents or children or grandchildren or siblings with us, but we are not alone.

I imagine it must be similar to couples who get married and talk about their dreams for a future family over their first Thanksgiving meal together. For us, we will sit and talk about all the wonderful memories we have shared over these 20 years together. For me there is no sadness in knowing the people I love have other people who also love them. And as for my husband and I, well, we still have dreams for our future, too and they will be part of our conversations tomorrow I’m sure.

The memories have been flooding my mind all day. So many Thanksgivings, so many memories and so many blessings. The bottom line is I am SO thankful. Just having a few quiet days to reflect on the life we’ve shared is good for us – especially as we move into the next phase of our life together. Doesn’t mean we do not miss everyone – oh, goodness, how we miss them, but their happiness and their joy is everything to us.

This Thanksgiving the world is in such chaos and it is hard not to get overwhelmed. So many staunch ideas and opinions it is hard to just stay steadfast in your own beliefs sometimes. In a time when our country should be coming together as this crazy-quilt of different ethnicities, we are letting the world tear us apart. The hatred of Americans is all-encompassing – we all fall into that same bucket like it or not. Seems we would be better served to pull together rather than fueling the flames of hatred within our own people. I do not understand it all, but I think I would be insane if I did. How can you understand what is unfolding in front of us?

So, tomorrow, we will start our day with coffee and the traditional Thanksgiving breakfast of sausage balls. It will be a quiet but joyful day. We know we are blessed and we know that even with our own problems, we enjoy so much that so many people only dream of. Remembering that helps keep us balanced in an unbalanced world. And we will give thanks.

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NaNoWriMo and a Cast of Characters

IMG951291November 1st is fast approaching. That crazy time every year when I try to architect 50,000 words toward writing a novel. I can honestly say that I am 100% successful in starting the process. I can also say the completion of my goal is a bit more on the dismal side. I could moan and groan about that, but the truth is, I’m okay with the results. As I look over the challenges our family has faced over the last 10 years, I am amazed any of us are still able to speak in complete sentences.

My focus today is a little preparation before the writing starts. I don’t do character development, nor do I create plot lines. I fly by the seat of my pants. That works for me. The characters live fully within my head and I take them everywhere I go. They have coffee with me, sometimes they take my side in arguments and sometimes they laugh at me in my most clumsy moments. That’s how I know they are real and relatable.

I will say I need to get into the mindset of writing. I don’t use a lot of flourish, but I call on memories to remind me of the feeling of a moment. It’s hard to explain so I decided today I would write a little about some of those memories and get the creative juices flowing.

I have a memory that has been in my mind for weeks now of my grandmother. She was a strong woman and when I close my eyes, I see her vividly. I remember long ago I was on a plane and I stared constantly at the woman sitting on the aisle one row in front of me. She looked just like Granny, just a little younger. I found myself wanting to talk to her, to tap her on the shoulder, to have a moment with her. She was quiet and reserved, but her face, her stature, her smile. It was crippling.

My memory:

She sat in a rocking chair crafted by my grandfather, but it wasn’t rocking. It was pulled forward, rockers mid-air, balanced by her bare feet in front of the old heating register by the window. Wisps of gray hair escaped the bun and framed her face. Her glasses magnified the intensity in her eyes. I watched her grimace and blink as she read which made me realize some sort of conflict must be at hand. I had seen the same trait in my own mother so many times as she immersed herself in stories that kept the world at bay. These were the women who worked hard to make a small space in this world for me and for my life to come. I felt a great sense of admiration balanced with a healthy dose of caution because in some ways I slightly feared the woman I loved so much. I guess it was strength she exhibited for I had never seen her cry. She came close once when she told she had been accused of killing her own mother by controlling the dosage of morphine required to ease her pain. We never spoke of it again, but as I looked at her now I knew I saw her differently than most people. And for that, I was glad.

My writing calls upon those strong tactile memories. The small details that invoke a mood or a smell or a memory. Close your eyes. See someone. Now bring them into focus. All of your experiences with that person create what you see – often years of experiences that craft a very simple, fleeting moment.

In 4 days I will sit at a keyboard and attempt to write. I do not know what story will have formed in my mind by then, but I will sit and write and create something magical. Even if the only person who ever reads it is me.

For all my fellow writers – good luck. Drink lots of coffee and live fully with your characters. They will talk to you and may even try to distract your muse. Play along and remember, they aren’t in control – you are.

See you on the flip side.

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I Will Not Always Be Here

 photo of roses and candyToday I sit between Mother’s Day and my birthday.  I suppose it could be the resting place between two pinnacles on the roller coaster of life. One day filled with love and acknowledgement from your children and the other coming face to face with how fast life is passing. 

Age is a funny thing. You go along and your mind’s eye still sees you as the same core being. Mentally you are the same. Spiritually, you may have grown within your core values, but essentially the same. Still young at heart – you are, after all, the same person you have always been. Then you catch your reflection in the mirror and wonder about the face that returns your stare.

I tease my daughter that I have ‘chicken neck’. It is true, though, and thus the slow adjustment to the new you begins. How do I ease into the new me?

So many things have changed inside me since I started my genealogy work. I have become more aware of how precious life is and more aware of how much easier our life is than it was for our ancestors. Still, we find so much to complain about. 

I started this blog by saying I will not always be here. It is the truth we do not face when we are young, but it is the truth that motivates us to lead a simpler life as we age. Things become less important and people become the most important. We are able to feel the effects of anxiety much faster and self-correct our path.

  As I write this I am sitting in the auto mechanic’s waiting room. The news has been on the TV for two and a half hours. I notice the rhythm of my breathing change as I am being incited to into an environment of fear. It is ok to turn off technology. There is no requirement to watch the negative news stream constantly. Anxiety comes when we are overwhelmed with situations out of our control. I will not always be here, so how do I want to spend my life?

I want the people I love to know it!  I want to laugh and talk and reminisce and experience joy. I want to breathe easily, hold babies and experience endless sunsets. I want to support causes that make a difference. 

Age is such a state of mind. The lady sitting beside me the waiting room is having her oil changed before she leaves on a trip. She easily talks about being 87 and evaluating whether it was time to buy a new car. Perspective.

“I may not always be here.” So what? It is the truth that keeps us on an equal life-playing field with everyone else. We are promised nothing, yet have EVERYTHING available to us. 

I will not always be here, but while I am here, I get to choose. And I choose happiness. I hope you do, too.

 happiness photo 

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Hawks on the Hunt

IMAG1712-1-1My internal clock is out of sync. I open my eyes and realize it is early as I pull the sheet over my head in hopes of coaxing sleep to return. Thoughts start to swirl in my mind unwelcome at such an early hour. I concede that morning has claimed me as I swing my feet onto the floor.

I want to write, but nothing comes to mind other than all the chores and tasks that lie ahead of me. My mind has always run amuck and I have been helpless to stop it. I start writing……..delete, delete, delete. Nothing. Instead I decide to read other blogs for a bit. I try to write again……delete, delete, delete. This desire to write is really my desire to make this time productive. Relaxing is hard for me these days; I feel every moment must have a purpose.

That’s when I hear the hawks. The sun is just breaking through the trees — it must be time for breakfast. I step outside to hear them better. Usually the hawks are high in the trees, but not this morning. I can tell by the chatter of the squirrels they are on the hunt. With phone in hand, I try to record the sound. It’s audible, but the layers of morning sounds are hidden. I stop and listen. The hawks are the most prominent sound. Then, the squirrels. I hear a mockingbird and then the high-pitched chirp of the cardinals. As I walk the perimeter of the pool, the hawks take flight. Of course I am not prepared so I do not capture the grandeur of their flight into the morning sun.

IMAG1713-1-1I move on to the window seat and see activity starting at the bird feeder. The male cardinal is balding. This is a common sight this time of year – a condition caused by feather mites. On the ground, the squirrel digs for seeds dropped from the feeder. The squirrels are relentless, but we have one or two feeders designed to keep them at bay. They are only slightly effective.

A movement in the grapefruit tree catches my eye. The hawks. I watch as they move in and out of the low branches of the cedar and the grapefruit tree. They are stalking a squirrel as it uses the fence to find its way to the feeders. The hawks are almost always in pairs, so when I see a third hawk I look closer. There are two sets of hawks hunting. I watch them dive in and out of the trees, so caught up in their beauty I forget to try to photograph them. Quietly, I step outside, still only armed with my phone. The hawks are well concealed so my camera phone is ineffective. One hawk approaches the squirrel, but my movement thwarted its attempt. The second hawk flew out of hiding close overhead. The sound of the huge wings send chills down my spine. For a moment I wonder what it must be like for the creatures that fall prey to them – I shake my head. The hawks are gone.  As I turn to go back IMAG1714-1-1-1-1into the house I catch a glimpse of grey out of the corner of my eye.  I turn to see the hawk perched on the fence. I couldn’t get very close, and the camera is inadequate, but I am always so thrilled to see these majestic creatures. As quickly as he appeared, the hawk took flight again. Maybe this was the single reason my internal clock woke me at 6:00 am this morning. I smiled to myself as I walked back into the house.

Time to put the coffee on.

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My Sister’s Birthday

IMAG1677-1It started ten or fifteen days ago. I walked through the grocery store, looked up and saw the card display. Rosie’s birthday was approaching.

I’m not sure I will ever fully come to terms with losing her. I still reach for the phone to call her before it hits me that she is gone.

I struggle to remember every little thing about our life together but try as I might, I cannot remember everything. Of course, none of us remember everything. We don’t realize it until it’s too late – too late to capture the memories in some tactile way. I have a message from her on my answering machine. Every time I play it, I cry. I have a few cards and letters, but not near all the letters and cards she ever sent me. As I sit here today, I wish I had kept them all. This electronic world we live in is great, but nothing can replace the handwriting or the slow tenor of a voice you hear when you read a letter from someone you love.

IMAG1699-1After Rosie passed away, I wrote a simple blog entry entitled Rosie’s Rose. The blog was about a rose that suddenly bloomed after years of lying dormant. Today when I glanced out the back door, I saw a flash of red. There, as bright as it could be, was a rose. Rosie’s rose. I walked outside with my phone and snapped a picture. There are two roses blooming and seven buds. Never has there ever been more than one rose on this bush at one time. I guess some might say it a coincidence that this rose appeared today. Perhaps. But I believe in a spirit that lives beyond the confines of this world and I think this rose appears when I need to know my sister is with me.

Rosie, tomorrow, is your birthday. It feels strange not to pick out the perfect card to send you. Tomorrow I will feel a certain sadness when I cannot pick up the phone and call you. Even so, I am blessed to have you as my sister and I know you remain with me still.

Happy Birthday, Sissy.  I love you to the moon and back again.

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DOMA and Proposition 8

Landmark Supreme Court rulings today as sections of DOMA were ruled unconstitutional and California’s Proposition 8 was struck down:

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

For many of my family members, my friends and so many people I do not even know, this is a landmark decision. I know the arguments will continue and I know that people will continue to take sides.

I do not care to discuss the ‘sides of this argument’ with anyone. Today I only want to tell a story of love.

In 1975, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. We have been through so much together – good and bad I guess, but falling on the GOOD side of the scale. We have always loved each other and supported each other in this life. She reached a point in her life that she trusted our relationship enough to tell me she was gay. She wept with worry about so many things, but I knew in my heart she felt free to be herself for the first time in her life. My love for her would never change — how could it? I do not understand how you love a child one day, and withdraw that love the next. Nothing had changed. She was the same person I had spent my entire life loving, and I was the same person she had spent her life loving.

This year, we were proud to attend her wedding to a beautiful woman who is now my second daughter. I love her as my own. Their marriage is not legal in this state, but it is every bit a marriage in terms of love and commitment to each other. If anything ever happened to either of them, we would be steadfast in our love for the other – because as in any marriage – they are now one spirit in two bodies.

This morning before the ruling, I again watched this video hoping change would be forthcoming. For some people in this fight, the rulings are too late, but these individuals are just as much a part of my fight as my own children.

For my niece and her wife and their baby girl, I celebrate. For my daughter and her wife, I celebrate. Their love has taught us all a little bit more about love – the kind you REALLY have to fight for.

I came back to edit this post and add a link to another long-ago post entry that is so relevant in my heart and my mind, that I felt I needed to connect the two:

In Memory and Honor of Michael