Christmas Peace Comes After Loss

Holidays have been really tough for me since 2013, a few months after my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Those last holidays together were excruciating and the years after have been difficult to say the least. You are just going through the motions feeling empty inside. While you try hard, it is never quite the same again and really that’s okay. It’s a change in your life, you keep old traditions and strive for new ones to make sense of the loss. The change is a way you cope and it seems that each year you embrace the old with the new, like feeling a warm hug from your lost loved one.

My mom loved the holidays and Christmas was her birthday so that day is a double whammy of grief for me and my daughters as well as the other people who loved my generous, kind badass of a mom. The first Christmas without her was blur and by the second Christmas, we no longer lived in the same house as so many of my memories which helped me immensely. But not everyone wants, can or needs to move, it’s just what happened in my life for other reasons but the change helped me spark into a new part of my life.

Last year, my oldest and middle daughter moved out just days before Christmas when my oldest bought her first house. Exciting and a little disconcerting at the same time. More changes. The nest was more empty but what I have found is that while at first, when that whole empty nest starts hitting you, you want to cling to the old and familiar life you had. That’s normal. I went from being a caretaker for my mom, to being an orphan, to having a mostly empty nest in just a few short years. Mid-life can be tough sometimes. There is a ton of transition not to mention the fact you realize, hey, my life isn’t all out there in front of me now like it was twenty years before. But that in of itself isn’t a bad thing either. I mean it sounds horrible but what it does is focus your energy, you start becoming very picky how you spend your time and whom you spend your time.

Chances are if you have made it midlife, you’ve seen some shit. You’ve dealt not only with joys and happy moments, but tragedy and loss. You’re nostalgic for the old days when you gathered at a table with your grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles but you realize that a good many of them may have passed or you live at different corners of the country. While this seems sad and it can be, you refocus once again on the ever-changing station of your life. This is the same things your grandparents and parents probably had to do. Let go of the past and embrace the present, the future. Nothing stays the same but there is joy in today.

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Mom opening presents

Today is a bit snowy and grey in northwestern Ohio promising a white Christmas tomorrow. After leaving my daughter’s house this afternoon, I decided to visit my mother’s grave as it will be arctic cold tomorrow and really, other than checking on it, I never feel that my mom is there. The graveyard sits on a hill above the small white clapboard Lutheran church where we have attended church off and on since the mid 1980’s. Many of the graves around my mom are people I knew as a kid and were very welcoming to us all these years. Before my mom passed, I would ride my bike on these hills and on a hot day, stop and sit under one of the pines to cool off. The graveyard is a peaceful, beautiful place if you aren’t creeped out by dead people (I am not). But since my mom has been buried here, it always made me incredibly sad and I avoid it for the most part other than to look after her grave.

When I drove out, I thought I’m probably just setting myself up to be down in the dumps. I was alone for the remainder of this Christmas Eve afternoon until my husband gets home later from work. I parked in the snowy circle next to my mom’s grave and bundled up. As I stood looking at her grave, I found I didn’t feel sadness but peace. My mom isn’t there, just her body. The graveyard is not a big one, but I walked to the side that faces the church standing between tall evergreens that have been there longer than I have been alive. The snow blanketed the plowed field between the church and cemetery, creating a pastoral winter scene that one might frame and hang on their wall. Maybe this is the point of acceptance. Not that I don’t miss my mom every day, but the point where peace finally settles over you like a warm blanket of love and memories.

I hesitate to say that I won’t have a day where I’m back at the cemetery in tears but this is a step beyond what I have felt. Grief isn’t something I do well but who does? My mom should be here with us, celebrating, wrapping presents, giving us orders on what food we will bring and so on. Except she’s not and it’s taken me four long years to get back into the Christmas spirit. A spirit that is different from my last happy Christmas. Loss changes you, changes the way you see life and now I embrace the small things even more. The edge softens and you start to be able to enjoy the happy memories without crying. There is no magic number or time that this will happen as I am certain it is personal for each one of us.

However, there is hope that one day the pain will dull, your heart will fill again with your changed life and while there is always that empty space, love fills that void allowing you to feel mostly whole again. The road to here isn’t easy. It really f’ing sucks. But now I understand how my grandparents were able to move on, their parents moved on and still be happy. They say that mid-life is one of the most unhappy points of a person’s life and I think with all the change along with just the stuff you have gone through just from living, it’s true. The flip side of that is that as people age past mid-life, they generally grow happier. I thought how could this be? But I think you grow and learn to appreciate the moment more. Each moment becomes more and more precious as your life quickly speeds past.

This year we started even more new traditions to keep our family close. First we had a Christmas Craft day where we did different crafts to help decorated cheaply for the holidays. I’m not a crafter so I rarely do this kind of thing since the girls have grown up. But it was so much fun as it was like when I used to do little projects with them as kids and we laughed so much. Then a few weeks later, we had our first official cookie baking day. Now I see why families do these kinds of activities as it’s a way to recapture the joy of having your kids around and doing what made you happy years ago. Just because the nest empties, doesn’t mean you can’t sit down and decorate sugar cookies with your kids anymore, it just means that the decorating might be more R rated than G now. Well, at least in my family where we all have a crazy sense of humor.

Life changes, you lose people your love, your kids grow up and move out and you get older but there are many beautiful things as well. There are the memories of holidays with my mom and the appreciation today of how our holidays have gone from complicated and exhausting to simple. That my kids can actually cut out and bake their own cookies, so I’m not exhausted by the end of cookie baking day. Where we can relate on a much different level, like friends, where it’s more fun anyway than telling them quit eating the icing. I seriously don’t miss fighting with them over things. I don’t miss them being little. One day, maybe I will have grandchildren but like my mom said the beauty of grandkids is you can spoil them and send them home. I can see where she is coming from even though I’m not a grandmother.

My Christmas Eve has been quiet and relaxing with a hike thrown in this afternoon. Ten years ago, it was always a frantic mess of wrapping presents, trying to do as much cooking as possible among tripping over a bunch of bodies milling in and out. I’m looking forward to tomorrow as I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to rush through cooking, last minute present wrapping, etc. I’ve had the presents wrapped for a week. I have been spreading out the cooking the last few days. We have simplified our holiday menus, picking dishes that are easy to prepare rather than having more food than anyone could ever eat. Probably a leftover from when women stayed home and were graded on their homemaking skills. Now we’re out working and we don’t have time to make 3 kinds of cranberries. I get to pick how I want to do the day. There is no pressure. I wouldn’t care of my kids came over in the pajamas… None of that stuff ever mattered anyway. Being together matters.

I hope others who are grieving find some peace tonight and tomorrow, well, every day. As close as I was to my mother, I never thought I would really enjoy a holiday again. But I’m pleasantly surprised this year that I actually am looking forward to Christmas as is my daughters. Not that I haven’t had sad moments of missing my mom. They just are less frequent and intense. A relief from the past four years. Life changes, have faith that one day you will feel more peace. I don’t know when, but it happens.

Wishing you a very blessed Christmas (or your holiday celebration of choice) and a wonderful new year full of fun, love and laughter. Yes, there’s going to be some crappy stuff, but in between, I pray you find peace, love and joy. Bring on 2018!

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Memories of Mom – Micro Road Trips

Once I reached about 15 years of age and we had moved into the townhouse apartment in my now hometown, my mom’s finances started improving as she moved up at work. It seemed after the first winter in the townhouse, when spring finally arrived, a new feeling came over our small abode. One of relief and hope as we were able to start doing a few things without fear of not paying some important bill, like electricity. The money had been so tight, my mom must have just buckled down at work and did what she did best, excel in whatever she put her mind to.

One late spring day, she had my sister and I load up in the red Ford Fairmont and we went for a drive. We probably packed up some sandwiches and drinks as the extra gas was a splurge and to balance that, we wouldn’t be able to eat out. This was of little concern because we were so happy to be out on an adventure and escaping the grind of our every day lives. It felt like heaven. I remember bits and pieces of these trips. We would drive way out in the country in an area where chicken farms/ barns were very common and I remember passing one barn where there was this huge statue of a white rooster stood in the front yard. We dubbed him “Super Chicken” and laughed about it for years. The statue still stands today and while I don’t pass it often, it makes me melancholy for those more simple days with my mom when I see it again.

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Super Chicken!

Another time, she took us to a local lake where the swimming area wasn’t exactly sandy but mucky. I remember her sitting at a picnic table, trying to hold down papers she was working on while we kinda swam but mostly ran out yelling ‘ewwww!’. We were there for a long time and I could tell my mom was stressed with whatever she was working on. I felt bad thinking she should be able to have some fun with us too but when I asked her to come wade with us because she never learned to swim, she just shooed me away. That day always stuck with me because over the years I watched the stress and strain of my mom’s job tear at her health. Most people who knew my mom wonder why I didn’t follow in her footsteps. For that exact reason, I did not.

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Grand Lake St. Marys

I remember four-hour trips to Youngstown to stay with my grandparents for the weekend. These trips were our big treats. Sometimes on a long holiday weekend or during the summer, these trips would lead to going in ‘home’ as they called it. These were trips into Friendsville, Maryland and Garrett County, where my great-grandmother Sadie and my great-aunts, Betty & Grace both lived. Trips to Maryland were exotic times as we went from the flat landscape of northwestern Ohio to the mountains of Maryland where much of my maternal side of the family lived in some of the most beautiful land I’d ever seen. Roads that my great-grandfather, Samuel, helped build and the old road leading up to what had been my great-grandparent’s farm was named “Sam Friend” road after him. It is this steep, twisting gravel road that came up through the woods and popped out right next to one of the farm’s barn. We would drive by it and I would listen to my mom and my grandmother wax nostalgic about the idyllic days on the farm and it was a shame what the current owners had done to the place.

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Youngstown, Ohio – Grandparents Home

For our Youngstown trips, an hour into our drive was a road-side rest area just beyond Upper Sandusky that we eat our picnic lunch. I remember a few years later, we were able to stop at McDonald’s and actually have lunch in the restaurant though we decided if it was nice out, we would get our food to go and visit the little roadside park which was much nicer than the noisy fast food joint. Sometimes, we would get KFC which was an extra special treat. Now that seemed like a real picnic to us. Fried chicken? What’s a better picnic food than fried chicken?

The fried chicken brought back memories of happier times of when we lived in Knoxville, Tennessee. My mom would fry her own chicken to pack cold along with some sides and we would eat in the mountains, the four of us. My dad, mom, my sister and I just enjoying a day out as a family. I am sure there were moments when my mom had to be wistful for what she thought life as a married woman would be but she really never said much. But I know she cried when we left our brick front home in Tennessee packed in a U-Haul headed to Missouri. To be honest, I did too. We went from a nice two-story tri-level home to a falling down old rental owned by a paternal great-uncle I think I met once in a nursing home. My dad would lose his job and then become convinced life somewhere else was better, if we move here, things will be great. No matter how many times we moved, it was only great for a short time until his drinking would return full-force.

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Our Home in Knoxville – Happier Times

These road trips whether they were just micro one hour drives in the country or a bigger foray into ‘home’ to Maryland were some of the happiest moments of my adolescence. They were the signs that things were getting better and that if you work hard and keep the faith, you’ll come out on the other side of darkness and into the light. It is why when I had my kids and even when I didn’t have a lot of money, we would load up in the minivan, lunch packed, and head to a park or lake. I knew these simple acts of escape, being outdoors, exploring new places would couple together many happy memories for my own kids. They were the ones who coined these trips as ‘going on an adventure’.

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Laura – Tennesee Mill –

Even today, I get ancy if I’m home a lot. I don’t know if it is just my personality or if being ‘stuck’ in one place for long periods of time reminds me of the times when things were harder. I love getting into the car and driving simply nowhere. Exploring shops, restaurants, historical site and parks along the way. It’s amazing what you can find with no itinerary. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a quick vacation of sorts. The simple things in life are true blessings. Sure that expensive vacation to somewhere tropical is exciting and will always be in your memory, but taking a drive in the country can be just as fun and rewarding. There is so much to explore close to home.

Sometimes I pass the two castles about 40 minutes from my home that my mom, sister and I found on one of our drives. Since there was no internet, we didn’t even know they existed. We were just driving out and about, the Ohio map tucked between the seats in case we got lost, when we drove around a bend in the road and there stood this small castle tucked into a hillside. And down the road there was another one. When we got some extra money, we went back to the castle that interested us the most and paid for the guided tour. While this was probably no big deal for most families, for us it was really exciting to actually be doing something out of the ordinary. Every time I pass this castle now, I think of that day, how we were all smiles weaving through the castle rooms with our tour guide. This memory is dear to my heart. Now, I wistfully wish my mom was still here as I would treat her to a tour to this castle that would probably seem tiny and not such a big deal today but just for old time’s sake.

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One of the Piatt Castles – The one we toured mid 1980’s.

As parents, we do the best we can with what we have. We worry that maybe if our kids don’t grow up with everything that we fail. I struggled a lot when my kids were younger after my divorce from my father. My mom was there to help us and she spoiled them rotten at Christmas and birthdays. I listen to my girls talk now as adults, and there were some bad times in their childhood and adolescence but mostly they have fond memories. They thank me now for not being a helicopter parent and teaching them how to do laundry, cook, do chores, etc. Just like I had to learn to take care of myself and also my mom and sister when my mom had to work so much. Independence and appreciate for the little things in life is a good thing.

This weekend, I think I will make time for a drive, just for old time’s sake.

Happy Holidays, I so appreciate you reading my blog. My biggest reward in writing is when I can touch my reader’s hearts or souls. I wish you the very, very best in 2018. Ciao!

Memories of Mom – Chicken Soup Days

Most people remember my mother as a sometimes intimidating corporate director figure who was also generous to a fault. She worked many years to get to that point though and she showered her family with lavish Christmas and birthday gifts. But before she ‘made it’ in the corporate world, back in 1983-1984, she was a struggling single mom working long, long hours to try to support two kids without any child support from my deadbeat alcoholic father. I loved my dad, but that is how things were and how he was.

Circa 1980 or 81 before the split

1980? Before we moved to Ohio.  My mom, her mom, my sister and I before the split.

My middle school years were punctuated with memories of cold dark holidays and barely getting by. My mom kicked my dad out of the house when I was 13. She came home from a business trip to find my dad passed out at the kitchen table of our small rental house in a pile of beer cans and a rifle pointed at me and my sister. That was it for her. Done, fini, terminado.. whatever. Eventually my dad retreated back to his home state of Missouri and my mom was left with one less ‘kid’ to take care of but also one income. Though if my memory serves me correctly my dad had by then quit or gotten fired from his job as an alcoholic (I know ironic right?) counselor from the County Health Department.

I remember the first Thanksgiving after my father parted, my mom couldn’t afford to take us up to Youngstown to spend the holidays with her parents and siblings so we stayed at the dark, depressing rental house but she had found enough money to buy an off brand turkey and the fixings. She was humming as she fixed up the turkey and slid it into the oven announcing that we would soon be eating our fill of delicious turkey. We started waiting for the roasted aroma to waft to our anxious noses but we never smelled anything. She went into the kitchen and opened the oven door.

“Oh No!” She exclaimed. “The oven isn’t heating right.” Not knowing what else to do, she literally cooked the turkey for hours at the lukewarm temp since a call to the landlord who briskly told her it wouldn’t be until tomorrow before he could fix the oven. Basically we pretended the half raw turkey was great only eating the most cooked parts while praying we didn’t get sick. I think it was one of the saddest holidays I’d had other than the ones after her death.

At this time, designer labels were all the rage and I had none really. I got made fun of at school for having ‘bobo’ or non-designer label clothes. We simply couldn’t afford them. My grandparents had tried to help out but there was no way my penny-pinching grandmother thought it was worth the money to have a pony on my jeans’ pocket. These jeans at Kmart are just as nice. I just smiled and agreed because otherwise, I would have no new school clothes at all. My grandparents sent me home from summer break with some new clothes and a pair of Nike’s with a baby blue swoosh. I was so proud of those tennis shoes that I probably used several bottles of white shoe polish trying to keep them looking almost new. I only had 3-4 pairs of jeans to my name so on Wednesdays, I had to wash a load of dark clothes so I had enough clean clothes to make it through the week. The re-wearing of the same jeans in one week also brought down the fashion police on me and I was tormented over that as well but again, I couldn’t help it.

My grandparents also sent home several cases of Campbells Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup cans. I often wondered why they didn’t send us home with different kinds but it seemed like we were living on this soup that one year. My grandmother wanted to make sure her grandchildren didn’t starve to death and I guess as long as we had soup, we would live. We were old enough to use a can opener, add a can of water, stir and heat. There were also a lot of TV dinners as well. Though I still love TV dinners once in awhile though their appeal isn’t as great as when you’re 13 and you’re digging into half-cooked chocolate cake ensconced in its own square of your disposable tray.

Once my parents’ divorce was finalized in early 1984, when I was 14, (stop counting to see how old I am- stop it!) the darkness started to lift from our lives. My mom traded in her 1979 Ford Pinto on a brand new Ford Fairmont which we thought was just the shit. Though it was rear wheel drive and mom had a hell of a time getting to work and back in the winter. I think about her on those cold freezing winter mornings and evenings because she would work incredibly long hours, driving alone praying she stayed on the road and the car made it in the frigid temperatures. We had no family close. But we did have some friends through her workplace, now my workplace as well, and some of those friends still work with me. So we were blessed to have a support system.

The Ford Fairmont Circa 1988

The red Ford Fairmont circa Christmas 1988 at my Grandparents (in middle)

My mom was incredibly brave when I think about it. She just did it, she had no choice. But once the weather started to get nicer and she got her financial feet under her, we moved to a townhouse in the next town which was much bigger than our current one. My sister had to switch elementary schools but I don’t think she minded. I missed having a yard but not the landlord beating on the door scaring the crap out of us. I remember weekend day, my mom kept the curtains drawn and told us to keep quiet. A car pulled into our driveway and she told us to hide in our tiny bedroom closet. We could hear the landlord out there bellowing “ANITA! I NEED THAT RENT MONEY! I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE!”. Finally he left after what felt like an eternity. We slipped out of the closet and I will never forget the sight of my mom climbing out of her blanket chest in her bedroom. That stuck with me until this day and I still have that same chest.

She had to not pay the rent I think to be able to move us to a less expensive but nicer townhouse in what is essentially now my daughters’ and I’m hometown. However positive the move was, there were some casualties that absolutely broke my heart. She had to give away our Shih Tsu mix dog I had for years, Boomer, because the townhouse had a no pets policy. Then she had to sell her Baldwin spinet piano. I just remember crying myself bleary eyed when each one left. Before Boomer left, I think she took him to the humane shelter, I took a small Avon box that had housed a ring I loved and lost while still living in Missouri, and I cut a lock of his dark grey hair to put in that box. After we moved, when I missed my doggie, I’d pull that out and touch the fur. And cry. But never in front of my mom, I knew she had no choice. Now I have a Baldwin piano and a shih tsu mix dog… I guess you can say I came full circle when I was able to afford to do so.

My last birthday in that rental house, my mom couldn’t afford much. I would have been turning 14 and I was a huge fan of Garfield. She found these plastic drinking cups with the cartoon cat on them. I still have one of them tucked away in my keepsake boxes. She did her best with what she had. To this day, I still appreciate all she did for us.

While my youth wasn’t ideal, I learned how to fend for myself, I started to teach myself to cook after we moved into the townhouse. I would pull down my mother’s Better Homes & Gardens cookbook and just follow a recipe. Sometimes she would help me on things I couldn’t understand or didn’t get from reading a recipe. Before we moved, I had started learning how to fix my own bike with tools my dad left behind. I could tear a ten-speed apart and put it back together and adjust the shifting until it was smooth as butter. I also learned how to fix some minor electrical issues, how the breaker box worked, how to do some oddball plumbing fixes because my mom was afraid of the landlord and didn’t want him in the house. That house eventually fell in on itself, the roof collapsing and now it’s simply an empty lot. It’s better as an empty lot.

Every time I see Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, I think of those dark days. I think about how much my life has changed in all those years. I am grateful that we made it, for the help we had along the way, for my mom’s tough spirit that kept going no matter what. I am grateful I didn’t grow up to be a helpless girl, that I wasn’t afraid to fix it myself or dive in when I needed to. Now I’m spoiled because my husband does a lot of this stuff and is better at it than me, but I don’t walk around afraid that if down the road, if I were to be on my own for whatever reason, I’m not helpless.

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My mom Christmas time 1987 – Our last in a rental – the townhouse

I have my mom’s fiery, determined spirit.

Depression & Nature’s Cure

Depression affects millions of us every day at different levels. Some people are able to function but at a dulled existence. Other people end up bed ridden, unable to function while some even feel that ending their lives are the only way to ease their pain. If you ever feel like part of this last sentence, please, please, please seek help. There is nothing wrong with getting help because it’s not all in your head, you’re not weak or stupid. Trust me.

My own lifelong fight with depression is not a secret and I’ve mentioned in several of my blog posts. And others in my family suffer from it too which lends me to believe it’s somewhat genetic. Though with millions of us suffering, maybe a lot is environmental. We’ve gone from being outdoors, to spending most of our time inside for work and after work. With so many ways to be in front of a screen, we’ve become more of an inside society. Me included. I’d much rather lounge on the couch binge-watching Netflix than go outside especially when the weather isn’t perfect. But therein I believe lies my issue. Too much inside.

I really hate the anti-depressants and I only have utilized them when in a severe depression. My goal is to find ways to keep from going ‘there’ where I’m so dark and despondent that I feel like I don’t want to live. Find my preventative medicine so to speak. I read most articles I see on depression and have read many books on it as well. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist but I think they are just crap-shooting what’s really going on with our brain. There are many studies out there and the one thing I think I have noticed in common is ‘nature’ as far as people feeling better.

They were pushing vigorous exercise as an alternative to anti-depressants. After my mom died in 2014, I rode my bike a lot. After about 20 minutes of riding after literally forcing myself into the gear and out the door, I’d feel like someone flipped the happy switch. I thought maybe it’s a runner’s high type of thing. So I went on the theory that vigorous exercise was the antidote. Late fall I joined the Y so I could continue the vigorous exercise, except it didn’t work. Didn’t matter how long or hard I rode the spin bike, the happy switch never flipped. I tried the treadmill, elliptical and rower going as long as an hour until I was completely drenched in sweat and nothing. Which of course just added to my depression because then I believed well maybe I have to do my vigorous activity outdoors and I just hate riding in the winter and cold.

But the thing I think was missing in this study was where the subjects did their exercise, indoors or out in nature? Japan has practiced ‘forest-bathing’ for years and done studies on spending time out in the woods to combat stress and depression. Other countries and academic institutions have also studied nature’s affects on our mood and depression. I could link up a bunch of studies but feel free to research yourself.

In late 2015, we moved into the country. I started walking the dog up and down the country roads where its more fields and woods than people. When I lived in town, I also walked the dog except it’s not really nature. A lot of concrete, homes, people and while there is grass and trees, I never felt much difference in my mood walking even five miles around town. However, I started to notice after walking the dog about twenty minutes, I’d feel the switch just a little less prominent which lends me to believe that vigorous exercise forces you to breathe in more air which might be why when I was riding, I felt the ‘switch’ stronger than when I’m walking. Maybe there is some microbe or something biological in the air when you’re in nature or the woods that your body needs and a lack of it, throws your brain chemistry off.

I believe exercise helps, exercise is super important no matter what. If you don’t keep moving, you die which is why Medicare and such are pushing seniors to work out and exercise. My theory, which I will test over this next winter, is that the antidote to my depression is nature, being outside at least twenty minutes most days and coupling it with exercise is a double whammy. Which means, I am going to have up my outdoor gear so I can do this on the most frigid Ohio -20 windchill days. I’m fortunate because I live on 1.5 acres surrounded by prairie and woods. I have a pine grove in the back corner of my lot where I can go stand or sit or walk circles around. I love the smell of the pines. Essentially, even if I can’t fathom walking the icy roads, I can walk around my yard to get my nature pill. Vitamin N.

This truly sounds a bit crazy but google it, you will find studies where they have looked at city dwellers and found the ones who live near more green spaces have less depression. Case in point, I haven’t been feeling the best so I hadn’t been outside much. To add to it, they spread turkey shit across the street after they harvested the soybeans. You literally can’t breathe that stuff just smells of death. Coupled with rain, I hadn’t been outside for several days and when I was at work, I noticed I was feeling depressed. So when I got home, I bundled up, grabbed doggo and headed out to walk for 35 minutes.

I left my headphones at home and focused on the surroundings. I walked west from my house pretty quickly as the frigid air was blowing against me but within a quarter of a mile, I can turn south and down into a more protected road. There is more woods on this road as well and the traffic is a bit lighter. The only aggravation on this route is the people on the corner let their two Rottweilers run free and they always come running out to us. They are mostly friendly but my dog goes batshit excited about ripping my arm off. I wish they would put them on a containment system because I’m afraid they will get hit.

Within 20 minutes of my walk, I felt my mood lift. Again, it’s not as dramatic as when I cycle but it does happen nonetheless. Once I got back to the house, I let the dog inside and walked the perimeter of my back yard. The sky was cloudy but the hue of the sunset was cast in the sky as a grayish pink. I stood behind my shop, underneath the pines and listened to the wind rushing through their branches. I felt all the anxiety just flow out of me and go with the wind. I know that sounds hokey but that’s really what it felt like.

After my walk, I picked up some dinner and watched some Netflix. I’m really into Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown where he travels to places like Libya. My sense of darkness, depression were alleviated for the most part and I enjoyed relaxing the rest of the night. I even slept well. Maybe I’m crazy but I’m going to try adding Vitamin N or nature to my regimen this winter, well, all year round, to see if it does indeed keep me from going into a deeper depression. I don’t figure outside of a chance for frostbite and getting hit, it can’t really hurt me to walk or hike this winter. Even maybe just wander around my own back yard on the days I can’t walk on the road or get to a park.

I am going to keep a notebook to jot notes in every day to help me study what helps and what doesn’t. And this spring I will revisit my notes and blog my results. Of course, I must add the disclaimer that just because this might work for me, it may not be for everyone struggling with depression. The best thing to do is to see a trusted doctor and also get therapy especially if you’re not quite sure depression is what is going on with you. Rule out medical conditions because you don’t want to guess you have something when it could be something serious medically. Therapy is also a great tool especially if you have things in your past that may still bother you, even subconsciously. Every now and then I go get a check up as I call it. But try getting out in nature as well. It doesn’t cost much and see how you feel after 20-30 minutes.

Remember, depression affections millions of us, you don’t have to have anything bad going on in your life to be depressed, it can be biological. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s no different than having something like hypothyroidism or another illness. We understand so little about the brain right now. Go with your gut and if your depression gets severe, get help.

I’ll be reporting back later with my results. So give it a try, the nature antidote. Get outside!

The Problem with Relationships (or My 2 Cents)

First off, I am NOT a relationship expert and I’m only writing from my past experiences of relationships in general. Mostly I am going to refer to romantic relationships regardless of sexual preference – straight or gay or whatever as this isn’t a consideration. This is somewhat my shit list regarding the romanticism of love and society ideals and even religious expectations. Things I wish I knew way back when, even before I was old enough to date because most of this can apply somewhat to friendships or familial relationships as well.

1. Don’t believe the fairy tales – relationships are hard, they are work and they aren’t perfect. This whole idea that there is only ONE person out there for you is complete and utter bullshit. And here’s the other caveat of that ideal – the whole premise that you have to be in a relationship to be worthy and whole. Here’s a tip – before you delve into the world of seriously dating – make sure you’ve got your own shit together. Be able to support yourself and don’t be out there looking for your sugar daddy or sugar mama. Don’t base your worth or happiness on another person. Get counseling or therapy for past issues. Sure a great relationship can add to your happiness but it should not be the key to your happiness. Don’t lay that on another person. Just don’t. Get your education or training, get a job, move out on your own for awhile. Get a strong sense of yourself, don’t be afraid to go to a restaurant or a movie alone. You’re not a loser, you’re a strong, independent person if you can enjoy just hanging out with yourself once in awhile. The flip side to this is that you offer another person a good, stable foundation for a relationship since you aren’t hanging on them for your every need and happiness, and that’s a relief to them as well.

Marriage or long-term partnerships will have their ups and downs. There will be days you want to walk out and never come back. You will find that the initial frenzy of feeling in love will fade and be replaced by something more steady (read boring) as biology does her job. People expect that your relationships should be how it is in the beginning all the time but we are wired to have that first flush of love to bring you together and make the connection and then eventually, most likely within a year or less, that fades away to something more common but if you put the work in, stronger and more significant love. True love. Real love. Love you can build a lifetime on as partners, friends and lovers. People will jump from relationship to relationship mistaking this lack of lusty heart-throbbing flush of feelings (or desire) for a relationship failure. It isn’t. It’s just how relationships work. You could be dumping a very good partner for the next attraction only to find they weren’t a better person for you, just new and different.

2. Don’t be an enabler – Don’t rescue, try to fix or help someone do things they can damned well do themselves. I’m raising my hand for this one because prior to my current marriage (been married 3 times), I was the enabler. Not just in my romantic relationships but ALL my relationships. If you have grown up in an abusive or dysfunctional situation or even have heavy religious training, it’s easy to fall into this over-helping way of thinking. For me, I just always wanted to keep the peace and not rock the boat. Then due to the abuse, I subconsciously felt I didn’t deserve what others did and I kept myself in the victim role until I was 38… Yes, almost 40 before I figured this out. Here is the golden rule of not enabling – If a person can and should do it themselves, then don’t do it for them. I’m not talking if your friend is sick and she needs help with her kids, I’m talking the person who is perpetually relying on others to do things for her she should do herself or himself.

My first husband used me as a vehicle to reach his goals, all while cheating on me the entire relationship. Here’s the kicker – he pushed really hard to get married and my instincts were screaming Oh My God NOOOOOO. I was an idiot and listened to him not me. My second husband was a lazy MF’r and when I finally kicked him out, I was relieved. He would sit and guzzle Pepsi and watch tv nonstop while barely working a minimum wage job while whining all the time he was overworked. WTF right? We get caught up in this in families as well. Even our friendships. That friend who everything is always about her. She barely calls you, you’re always the one to call. Ever relationship has times where it leans one way or the other but when you find it’s consistently not in your favor, it may be time to just quietly stop carrying the load. Or you can confront the but chances are they are a narcissist and they will only argue with you anyway.

3. You can choose who you spend the minutes of your precious life with – So much obligation out there right? We do all this stuff in the name of family, love, romance and friendships. We feel we HAVE to like this person or deal with this person or spend time with them. This happens mostly with family. Oh go see your mean, hateful Grandma Edith who insults you and makes you feel awful. Why? I see these memes about it’s sad when people don’t spend time with their family. My first thought is why is it sad? Maybe their family is a miserable bunch of abusive assholes. Why subject yourself to that kind of hell? Granted when you’re a kid, you’re kind of stuck going to relatives homes and so on but once you’re an adult, you get to make these decisions for yourself. I don’t think people distance themselves from certain family members just to be mean, there is most likely a reason for the distance. Maybe it is to protect their sanity and well-being.

The saying ‘blood is thicker than water’ is kind of obtuse in a way. I have blood relatives that wouldn’t walk across the street to help me because there is nothing in it for them. However, I have close friends who wouldn’t hesitate to help me. Your ‘family” should include the people who have your best interests at heart and vice versa. Family is not always blood. And frankly, you can distance yourself from the people who have screwed you over time and again without a big confrontation. Send them a Christmas card if you want, but frankly who cares? Don’t waste you life trying to make other people happy, living up to expectations that are not your own and wasting your time with people who only care about themselves. Surround yourself with love and positivity. With people who cheer you on and not try to tear you down. Remember none of these relationships are going to be perfect because we are human so look at the relationship as a whole, not just one event where she forgot to call you back, how dare she!

4. Choose wisely – Sit down and make a list of what you really want in a romantic relationship. If your goal is to find a guy as hot as Channing Tatum, well good luck with that or in other words – be realistic. Physical attraction is important but if you aren’t movie star perfect, don’t expect to net someone on that same level. I find that having similar ideals and morals and goals in life really helps a lot. You won’t agree on everything but if you want to live in the city and they hate cities, you need to ask yourselves is there a compromise you will both be happy with? People think love is the only thing you need but having similar outlooks on life, helps enormously. Especially about big issues like money, where to live, and children (if you both want them).

If it is very important to you that your partner or spouse share the same faith, then you need to find someone who meets that criteria. No, it’s not romantic but in the grand scheme of things, it will save you heartache down the line when you become resentful and angry at this person who told you they didn’t want to go to church, ever, and you overlooked that important need for yourself. Don’t get so rushed that you feel you have to take the first person that’s really interested in you or succumb to society or family pressure about time. Divorce sucks, breakups suck. There is no way to guarantee that a relationship will be forever but if you can agree on the major points then it’s a lot easier than fighting about them.

5. All relationships require compromise – If you want your way all the time and never want to compromise then don’t get into a relationship. Even the best relationships are going to require compromise, almost every day. And patience. Relationships require tons of patience. It’s a dance of give and take. It’s like ordering a pizza and you get what you want on your half and order what they like on their half. That’s what a relationship is like most of the time. You’re not the same person so you have differing wants, needs and desires. Sometimes the pendulum swings more their way, sometimes in your favor and sometimes it is balanced in the middle.

Pick your battles, make sure whatever it is you are fighting for is really worth it or are you just being a controlling ass. My husband doesn’t like the feeling of not being in control when in the car so mostly I let him drive. My driving scares the shit out of him and it’s just easier to sit in the passenger seat than argue about it. Another example is that I work 32-26 hours a week and he works over 40 with a longer commute. So I pick up more household chores and duties to make up for me working less. Every couple has to find what works for them. But don’t expect it to be all your way. You’re going to have issues if you want to go at a relationship wanting to control every aspect.

6. If you are miserable and unhappy consistently, it may be time to leave – If you are in any kind of abusive relationship, leave now. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200, make a plan and get out. If it’s life-threatening, go today, right this minute. Your life is not worth this person. I don’t care what your vows said, what religion you are, no one should stay in these situations. There are people who can help. Message me and I will find you help, just don’t stay.

That aside, if you find yourself years unhappy and you’ve tried and tried with no change, then you are going to have to step back and take a very honest, brutal inventory of why you are still there. Many people are afraid of being alone and will suffer miserable relationships just so they don’t have to face this fear. There may be financial limitations. Rejection from your family, your church, your friends. Your entire world will be turned upside down and it’s tough, really really tough to walk away from a long term marriage or relationship especially if you have children. So many people stay together for the kids. I can’t really say much here. If it’s not an abusive situation, then I really don’t know. I can see both side of the argument here. Keeping a stable home to raise the kids seems more important than your own happiness sometimes. This is a personal decision and not one I can make any suggestion on. It was hard for me to leave my first marriage but I couldn’t keep dealing with his infidelity and other issues. I would have eventually committed suicide or murdered him. It was time to go.

The truth is that plotting up is brutal and hard many times (and in the case of my second marriage it was easy, a relief) but if you can’t find a way to happiness in this relationship, most times the difficulty you will face at first will be hugely overshadowed with the joy of the new life you create. This doesn’t even mean you find someone else. You could be perfectly happy without a serious relationship. People do it all the time. It is scary to go it alone, you have to make your finances stretch further or in the case of my second marriage, I actually was in better shape. Many times when you can’t find a way to fix a relationships, you are better off without that person in your life. Or maybe you’d make better friends.

7. Avoid narcissists at all costs – Narcissistic people think only of themselves and they use manipulation tactics to control you and get what they want. Doesn’t matter ow smart you are, they seem to prey on people with big, generous hearts. These people rarely change and being in a relationship with them is like running into a wall over and over. You get nowhere. There is plenty of information on the interwebs and in books on how to figure out if someone is a narcissist and so on. I married two of these and it’s miserable. Completely and utterly miserable.

8. Trust your instincts/ trust yourself – This is one of the most important lessons in life I’ve learned not only in relationships but in everything. Trust your instincts, trust yourself. Even if it’s just a faint niggling at your psyche, pull it up and really look at what is bothering you. It’s easy to get swept into popular opinion or whatever, but you are the best compass of what is right for your life. Even if you end up going against the main stream.

The Quiet Foe

When I decided to ditch any of my metric collecting apps and electronics in the name of living a freer, more spontaneous life, I didn’t realize that these items were motivators that kept away the quiet foe I have fought for most of my life. Without goals like riding 50 miles a week (or near that), walking several miles a week, tracking my food intake, I slipped under the murky waters that I fight every day of my life.

Thanks to my genetics, my traumatic past and who knows what else, this quiet foe is simply chronic depression but it has a way of sneaking up on me. While at first, I felt freer and happier not tracking my steps, miles and calories, I didn’t know that these were indeed motivators that kept depression at bay. Left to my own devices, as depression started winning again without me noticing, I stopped riding my bike as much, stopped walking and hiking, stopped paying attention to what I’m eating. At first I thought that oh, it’s just peri-menopause so I rested more. I was taking care of myself, listening to my body. Except I didn’t realize I was slipping under again. Depression feels so normal to me, it’s so hard for me to detect until I’m almost drowning.

So, I can’t just be what I consider normal. I can’t trust my body or mind to tell me what I really need because without consistent exercise or eating healthy, I get swept back under the current of apathy, disinterest, fatigue and agitation from sleeping less than my usual nights. I can’t trust my body to tell me what I should eat because the depression has me seeking sugar as if it is my only life force. Without healthy food, I further compound my issues especially lack of energy. Without my weekly fitness goals, I lack energy and motivation to get outside, to ride, to hike and do yoga which counteracts my depression. My body just slips deeper into a ‘lazy’ pattern as I lose interest in things I enjoy. I just stop caring about doing these things.

Without forcing myself out to ride, walk, hike and so on, I just will not exercise. Or I make a half-hearted attempt at whatever I chose to do. It’s the curse of the depression. Once I have the goal set in my head and I’ve started into my first minutes of the activity, I find myself enjoying it but sometimes the hardest thing is just putting on my shoes or riding gear or driving to where I am going to perform the activity. Just starting can seem so overwhelming, I end up on the couch or lying in bed reading. Which if I do this often enough, it becomes the norm which lets my quiet foe sneak up on me and drag me down under the surface again.

It isn’t an easy thing to accept, that I can’t just trust my body or my mind to tell me the best things for me because it is so easy for me to slip into behaviors that make my depression worse because it is tiring always having to force yourself out to exercise. The benefit of this though is, the more I do it, the harder I work out, the easier it becomes to get myself started. The less depression has a hold on me. The happier I am. I wish I could just trust my inner judgment but the truth is, depression has skewed my perceptions of what is ‘good’ for me. Lying around all the time is not good for me. Lying around reading after I rode 20 miles isn’t the same. I’ve worked out, I’ve been outside, I’ve taken the sword and struck at the depression monster again pushing him back into his dark cave. The cave that he insists on dragging me back into with him. When I become complacent, he gains ground and when I fight (keep on the fitness, eating well path), I gain ground. The tug of war is so slight, so quiet that it happens without me knowing.

So bottom line, I have reinstalled my apps, I will clip my cyclocomputer back on my bike, I will reset my goals and keep fighting the good fight. This is what I need to do to live well and live happy. Maybe it’s a bit of a burden, maybe it ties me to my electronics and apps a bit, but the tradeoff is greater. The tradeoff is feeling alive, feeling happier and more alert. Goals aren’t a bad thing. Trying to go through day-to-day without any motivation, anything specific to work toward is like walking around blind at times. This has been an interesting manifestation of my theory of taking care of myself meant unburdening my life of everything that motivated me. As it backfired. Big time.

Taking care of myself means having these fitness goals to keep me moving. Otherwise, the quiet foe wins.

New Blog Series – Memories of Mom – Introduction

I've been tooling around the idea of capturing memories of my mother who passed away in 3/2014 in a blog series, mostly to capture them for later use and I've found as I get older, I tend to forget more and more details. I had considered just putting them down into a Word document journal fashion but this way I can share these memories (good and bad) with other people who loved my mom, like my daughters, other family and close friends. The posts won't be in any chronological order and I will probably be guessing at the general date of occurrence and honestly, our memories aren't the most reliable so it may not be exactly accurate but simply the way I remember things occurring.

My mom's name was Anita Marie and she was born on Christmas Day 1941. After 8 years of bravely fighting cancer, she went to Jesus as they say, at age 72 just shortly after my daughters, husband and I's birthdays in February 2014. In 1970 she gave birth to me, the fabulous oldest child and in 1972, to my sister who ruined my only child gig (just kidding). My parents were married in Washington DC, the city in which they met, on February 18, 1966, and they split up in early 1983 following years of abuse due to my father's raging alcoholism and what I believe was mental illness stemming into paranoia schizophrenia later in his life. My father passed away in 2002. The divorce was final in 1984 and my mother never received any child support from Dad. So she ended up working long, long hours to barely support us.

Her parents helped us out from time to time financially and such, but only when my mother was desperate because she hated asking them for help. I'm sure knowing my grandmother, it was held over her for marrying such a worthless piece of trash (my grandmother's words) not realizing my mother had been more than punished for her choice. My mom wouldn't have had any idea my dad would end up being an alcoholic when they got married. He was handsome and very charming. The thing was, when the pressure of life came down on him, he couldn't cope and turned to alcohol. Maybe this was part of his growing mental illness.

Back in the 1970's, you didn't get a divorce, it was shameful and against her faith. Though had she divorced him early on when the drinking and abuse started, I think maybe she wouldn't have killed herself working so hard and maybe met another man who treated her better. By the time she got away from him, she was done with marriage and close romantic relationships. If she dated, she kept it quiet for the most part. She was just too afraid that she'd make a wrong choice and someone else would make her life a living hell. She never deserved what my father did to her regardless of the reason.

I get some religions' idea of the sanctity of marriage and you should stay married since this was done in the eyes of God, but I don't get why it would be upheld in the face of physical, mental, verbal and emotional abuse. Why weren't these men (and women in some cases) held accountable for their actions instead of excused back then? I have a hard time believing God would condone that kind of treatment of anyone and I'd think he'd given my mom a pass. As I think back, people excused my father's alcoholism, trying to hide it because it was embarrassing as if they didn't call attention to it, then it would go away but it only got worse. Using religion to trap women into horrific marriages was criminal.

Oh, poor, Larry, he struggles so much. Oh bullshit, he should have been held accountable for his actions. I loved my dad but I think he should have been in jail for the physical violence and domestic abuse to my mom and also to my sister and I on a smaller level. Unfortunately, this all happened before the domestic violence laws were established. Even today, it happens all the time. Don't stay, get the hell out and get safe. This person may love you and you love them but you don't deserve that kind of terror, pain and abuse. It is their responsibility for getting well and if they refuse to do it, then you don't have to stay with them and be a victim. Stop this shit! And honestly, some people just can't get well or we don't have the ability yet to treat whatever is going on with them which I believe many times stems from mental illness that has just now started to come into the light.

Anyway, my mom's life wasn't always easy and she spent 29 years working herself into the grave essentially with all the stress and long hours. The problem with the way she coped with the stress, was by smoking and drinking too much (until she quit smoking in 2000), and her health took a serious hit. People wonder why I don't want to rush into a high pressure job because I could easily be good at more than what I do for a living, this is why. Life is too damned short and I don't want to make it shorter if I can help it. I still may get hit by a bus crossing the street, but I just saw how unhappy my mom was in the midst of all that stress and I just could never bring myself to go there. I think my husband would be happier if I made more money and worked some high-powered job but I wouldn't be happy at all. I'd rather do with less than kill myself the way my mom did.

On a happier note, my mom was resilient and she found joy in many things especially her three granddaughters. Though I regretted my first marriage and having kids so young, it worked out the best because they had more time with their grandmother. My mom was always a survivor, a fighter and she always wanted to see you do your best and get what made you happy. She spoiled the girls, with the kind of Christmases she couldn't give my sister and I when we were younger. She had a strict work ethic and liked to do things by the book so her job in quality assurance kept with her personality. She loved Tennessee and while she only lived in Knoxville for a few years before my dad's alcoholism forced us to move to Missouri near his parents in the late 1970's, we returned most years starting in 1997 for spring break vacations which gave us many happy memories.

Mom and Corrinne on 1997 Tennessee Trip

My mom lived modestly even though she could afford a more lavish life because she was terrified of being poor again. She sunk back literally almost a million dollars in 30 years in investments which would have been more if not for that market downturn. I've always regretted she didn't spend more of her money on herself but she did what she wanted to do, which was pass on a safety net to my sister, my daughters and I. She didn't want us to ever have to live off of cases of Campbell's chicken noodle soup my grandparents brought to help us get through the leanest times right after her divorce.

Though growing up in the 1980's where designer jeans and such were the metric in which your worth was determined in school (and I fell way short because I didn't have most of these things), I never felt poor. We had enough to eat, we had the three of us (my mom, my sister and I) and we were making it day by day. Actually it was a source of pride for me. I was 13 when my parents split up and I had long been taking care of myself admist the chaos of dysfunction but once my dad left, it quieted down considerably and I stepped up to do what I could to help my mom. When we had plumbing issues in our rental house and the landlord couldn't get to it right away, I found my dad's toolbox and fixed it myself.

I took over being the 'housewife' because my mom had to work such long hours to support us. A lot of times I did the cooking and cleaning, making sure we were all fed. This gave me a sense of accomplishment that I never resented. No I didn't have much of a childhood and was bitter and angry about it for many years until I realized it helped make me who I am today. There isn't much I can't do or learn to do. I can take care of myself and I've passed this down to my daughters who are also very independent. My mom and I became this team, even working together for about 13 years until she retired. I also looked after her during her cancer (along with my daughters and husband) fights. I was there beside her when she passed, holding her hand. My mom was not only my parent, but my best friend. And when she got more sick, the tables turned and I took on the role almost of parent to her, though god knows, she fought me on damned near everything until the last few weeks.

Losing her was the most devastating thing in my life so far. She was so influential (good and bad) in my life. I walk around some days still, pretty lost, wishing I could call her or go over to her house, to sit on the couch and eat some dinner she put together. Though I hate shopping, I'd give anything to have her drag me around the mall and Kohls for long hours again thinking how bad my feet hurt. Or when I went to her house when she was still working in that jungle of her gardens, to have her walk me around her yard to show me what she weeded or what flowers were blooming. I notice when I visit my oldest daughter's house, we do this as well. Walk around to see what she's planted or is blooming and vice versa when she visits me. But this seems to be a family tradition, because all the women on my mom's side of the family garden and we all walk around the beds admiring their handiwork.

My mom was tough but she loved even tougher. She was always in my corner even though I made two poor marriage choices and divorces. She looked out for my girls, being more a parent to them than a grandparent. They spent their school years walking to Grandma's house after school because her house was closer to the different school buildings especially once my oldest daughter was of age to watch them and we no longer needed a sitter. She'd buy snacks to keep in the house for them as they huddled up at her house doing homework, playing video games and watching tv, until we came home from work together. Sometimes we would stay and eat dinner together at her house. I'm grateful my girls have so many wonderful memories and had so much time with their grandmother. She helped shape them into the amazing women they are today.

So in closing, I look forward to bringing different memories of my mom to my blog. My mom was so influential and so much a part of our lives, that this is a way for me to feel closer to her. It's always a good way to get these memories down before I forget them. I can't think of the times I wished when my family had told me stories, I had jotted them down because you do forget. Not all of the stories will be positive, but life isn't all good. Though I think I will dwell more on the positive than negative. I prefer to keep the happy memories close and let the painful ones drift into oblivion of the forgotten. Though the good times wouldn't have been so important without the bad times. C'est la vie.