No More “Empty Nest”!

To clarify, my nest is technically ’empty’ now since my youngest daughter just recently moved out and I have no more offspring living in my home. But my nest isn’t “empty”. No I don’t have any babies at home but I do have my husband, myself and my fur babies. ‘Empty’ is such a harsh word for this part of my life. Let’s look at the definition of the word:

1 containing nothing; having none of the usual or appropriate contents: an empty bottle.

2 vacant; unoccupied: an empty house.

My home and life are not vacant, containing nothing, unoccupied. My nest has changed, it had one less occupant but it is far from empty.

I’ll admit it, I suck at change. Growing up in an abusive alcoholic home where from day to day, minute to minute, you never knew what crazy shit was going to happen, change becomes the enemy. Even decades away from my childhood and adolescence, I struggle with change but mostly I struggle with any kind of a major change whether it is good or bad. Ask my husband, getting me to move out of a house I lived for fifteen years was no small feat even though I love my new house. I sat outside with my three daughters and two of their significant others last night around a big fire looking up at the million stars. It was the perfect summer like night that I would not have enjoyed living in town. We talked, laughed and made s’mores. It was awesome. I haven’t lost my kids, I thought as I stared up at the sky. They are right here. We can still get together and do the things we enjoy, it just takes some scheduling around our lives.

Since 2011 when my oldest moved away to college, I’ve been preparing for the ’empty nest’. Except I couldn’t really prepare for it. Because I didn’t know what it would be like. I could only guess at it. I started making lists of what I could do with all my new found time I would have since I wasn’t taking care of kids. I fretted and worried over this new ‘season’. I read books on empty nests, blogs, articles and so on but nothing clicked. The advice they give you is pretty lame but I think that’s because none of it resounded with me. Frankly, for me at least, it’s not that huge of life change when I think about it. My kids don’t disappear and I never see them again. Plus, I’m not cooking every day which is a bonus!

Logically, I wasn’t taking care of my 22-year old college graduate. She took care of herself. We spent a lot more time together after her two sisters moved out. But now she has moved in with her boyfriend and is starting her own new ‘season’. In a way, as a parent, you feel a little left behind watching your chicks fly the nest and starting up their own lives. It makes you think of when you left the nest, all full of goals, hopes, ideas and excitement. Maybe in a way, I was envious of them because my life never turned out how it was planned. But then when you think about it, so few people ever have everything turn out exactly as they planned anyway. Life isn’t like that. We get crap in our heads that we are a failure because we didn’t exactly reach this goal pristinely. But maybe we achieved it in another way. Which is pretty much how my life went. I achieved most of my goals, just not exactly as I saw it when I came up with the goal or imagined my future. We need to be flexible when we plan our goals and realize, they may happen differently. Flexibility is not a strong suit of mine in this area. I’m going to work on it though.

I’ve spent months dreading my youngest moving out. Who would I go for walks with? Who would I make ice cream runs with? So on and so forth. She was moving almost an hour a way. Her sisters both work second shift which is opposite of mine but they live ten minutes from me. My husband works a swing shift so 7 out of 28 nights, he works. OMG what was I going to do with myself with so much time alone? I was going to be this big loser that sits around her house feeling sorry for herself because her kids were all gone and her husband was working nights that day. As I type this, I realize I really can work things up in my mind, can’t I? I go to the worst case scenario and work my way out. It’s how I am wired. Then whatever it is that I’m afraid of happens, I recover after a few days or weeks, then I’m fine. I think it is more the fear of the unknown.

So I’m alone more often. Big deal. I’m also freer, with less responsibility and a lot less mess in my house. I’m spending less time cooking and cleaning now. Grocery trips and expense have significantly reduced. More time and more money to do fun things or buy myself something frivolous if I chose. I’m mainly an introvert though I hover close to extroversion on the tests. No, I’m not socially awkward or painfully shy or afraid to talk to people. That isn’t necessarily introversion. Introversion just means that people and noise, etc. drain me where extroverts are recharged by these interactions. Hence, I need a lot of quiet alone time compared to an extroverted person. I’ve just recently accepted this is who I am and stop beating myself up because I’m not a fan of group activities, loud parties, a lot of social interaction (social media is a blessing for me), and so on. I’m not a loser because I prefer to take a journal to a coffee shop and write rather than gather up a bunch of friends and go out to dinner. Bottom line: More alone time – good for me.

In preparation for my empty nest, I had joined some social media groups for Empty Nest. Which was depressing. It was either people trying to convince these heartbroken (mostly moms) parents to buy into whatever business they were selling to ‘fill the void’. That pissed me off. Nothing like preying on people who are hurting. Yes, I grieved a bit the passing of that part of my life but on the flip side, it’s wonderful in it’s own right. I’m not saying there won’t be times where I miss my girls or that I feel wistful for the past but that’s normal.

When I miss them, I just open my messenger app and shoot them a group message. One or all three will respond. Thank you messenger app. It’s not like twenty some years ago where you might get a call once a week. We can be in touch all the time if we want. But I’m also lucky in the fact that the fours of us are extremely close. I read posts in the empty nest groups and so many people don’t have this kind of relationship with their kids so I am fortunate.

So no “Empty Nest”. I’m not an “empty nester’. That’s not a label I want to put on myself or my life. I’ve allowed myself to grieve that passing phase of my life. It is a big change after 28 years to not have kids in the house. But I did my job, they are out there in the world being responsible, contributing adults who are for the most part happy. It wasn’t easy, it was pretty damned tough at times. And I’m sure the future won’t be all roses and kittens but for now, it’s all good. My life has changed not ended. It is all part of living, seasons come and go. I need to learn to embrace change better.

Make your own path in this life. Decide what you are willing to accept and not accept. I’m not accepting that my life is empty because it is actually full. I accept that I am fortune and blessed. I chose not to put any label on this part of my life either. I just am, life just is. The end.

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Empty Nest – #1 – Second Season

My youngest daughter graduated college a few months ago and yesterday she left to spend an extended period at her boyfriend’s apartment almost an hour away. They are doing a test run of living together, which when compared to me, is way more thoughtful and smart than anything I did when it came to relationships. But it has brought on a serious case of empty nest for me. The end of an era, twenty-seven years of having kids living with me. Granted she hasn’t moved out yet, but it’s soon and I’m a preparer, I need to figure out how I will handle the quieter home, the next or second season of my life.

They don’t really tell you that sometimes being a parent really sucks. They don’t have a good way to prepare you for life after the kids move out. The advice is all the same, pursue that career you always wanted (not applicable for me), take up a new hobby (I have a ton already), travel (can’t do that every day), take classes (maybe if I can find something I like) and so on and so forth. The thing is, I didn’t really put my life on hold when I was raising my daughters, especially the last ten or so years. I don’t believe you should give up your entire person to raise kids. Granted I had less time for hobbies and such back then when we were full on into school activities, etc. but I still kept time for me. I believed had I done that, lost myself to raise my kids, this moment would had totally crushed me since the majority of my identity would be wrapped up in being a mom. I’m still a mom, but it’s different and in some ways, it’s better because it’s a sense of freedom not being responsible for them and our relationship becomes more like friends.

So while I’m grateful I kept my own life while raising my daughters, I’m still a bit shell-shocked on this ‘second season’ (or whatever you wish to call it but I feel empty nest seems to be a negative term). I’ve been sitting here in my bed this morning, trying to sort out my feelings and thoughts when I decided to put them into my blog. Maybe someone else needs to hear this as well.

I am choosing to look at today as the start of my next chapter or season or whatever. Today is the first day of the rest of your life attitude. So lets start with my assets being 48-years old:

1. I’ve raised my family and am in awe of my daughters and their successes. They have done so much better for themselves at their ages than I did. Goal accomplished.

2. I own my home, need little materialistically. Household established. Live in my “dream’ home (though I am a bit of a simple person so I’m happy even without Italian marble floors). I have everything I could ever want and more. Very blessed.

3. My retirement is on track so I can retire at 67 and live comfortably barring any catastrophes

4. Have a good job with flexibility and excellent benefits. Pays well, not my ‘dream’ job but I believe in our mission, enjoy the people I work with for the most part, some are like family to me. Career – check. (PS – I have no idea what my ‘dream’ job is anyway)

5. Health – Could improve a bit, but overall good health. Very important.

6. Family and friends – Don’t have a huge family or friend group but I am close to my ‘tribe’ as they call it. I’m an introvert for the most part so this is exactly my style. I have a lot of love in my life and am very loved. Again, very blessed.

7. Hobbies – I have a lot of different ones. Interests – I pursue what I am interested in. I have the resources to take on new hobbies if I wanted them.

Reading that list, I am one very blessed individual. Granted, some of it is luck but most of it is hard work. Even with all the stupid decisions I’ve made in my life, I survived. And thrived. I am going to sit with that knowledge for a moment, soak it in. Sometimes we forget to stop and enjoy the moment, the present. I’m really bad about that. I always want to push forward to the next thing.

And maybe that is part of my problem. I’m always pushing for what’s next. What would happen if I just stopped that tendency and just live in the moment? Why do I feel like now that this ‘job’ as a parent is done, that I have to rush out and immerse myself in something new? Why not just stop and enjoy life? Why not just work on my writing when I want. I’ve been considering just self-publishing my last novel as is and then starting a new, fresh project. I’ve been trying to rewrite this novel for 6-7 times and frankly I’m tired of it. Who says it has to be some art of perfection? What if I just did what I wanted for once? Instead of always pushing myself toward some expectation from where I have no idea it came from.

What if I just stopped and allowed myself to breathe? What if I stopped expecting myself to have some ‘great, fabulous’ goal? Would the world end? Deep inhale, full exhale. Repeat. Let go. Just let go of all my self-imposed ideas of what I am supposed to be doing and let’s make a list of things I have to do at this stage in my life (I love lists can you tell?):

1. Feed and take care of myself. Aim to be more healthy – physically, mentally, etc.

2. Feed and take care of my two pets: Baron and Lexington

3. Go to work, make money – pay bills/ taxes

4. Take care of home/yard

5. Spend time with husband and family and friends. Be a better wife, mother and friend.

Really, just the basics of living are left. Is that such a bad place to be in? I don’t think so.

Breathe in, breathe out, let go. That’s what I am going to work on right now. Letting go of the urgency to find the next big thing now that I have raised my kids. Allow myself to decompress, get off the hamster wheel, and just live in the moment. I will admit, this idea of letting go the need to always be achieving something makes me incredibly anxious. It feels as if I stop this track, I will fall apart and I don’t know why I feel that way. Old habits, old expectations, or being busy is my way of coping with hard things? Probably the latter.

I have a hard time just sitting with my uncomfortable or sad feelings. I’m learning to be able to do this and have found that each time I do, I feel better in the long run even if it does feel like I will drown in my emotions or feelings when I experience them. Considering the fact that I am still breathing, still here to write this blog, that’s an overreaction on my part. I have not drowned from experiencing my feelings. No matter how yucky it feels, I will survive by facing them down, by feeling them, by allowing them to pass through and go on their way rather than holding them inside, stewing on them for years. Not good.

The bottom line is, I’ll be fine. I just need to let go.

Name That Emotion!

Growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic family, you learn quick that your emotions are BAD. Don’t be upset, don’t be mad, don’t be scared, are all things I heard. I wasn’t allowed to have emotions, to respect my own feelings as it was always about the addicted person who was my father. Everything in the family dynamic becomes about placating this person and hiding the craziness from the world. The problem is, I have difficulty sorting out what emotions really are even though my father has been dead since 2002 and I’m 48 years of age.

Case in point, my husband and I work opposing shifts some weeks and on top of that my nest has pretty much emptied leaving only my youngest daughter at home. My older two daughters live in our town but they work second shift while I work first so I pretty much only see them on the weekend. I realize I am lucky they live close as many people’s adult kids scatter to the winds after school. My extended family is small, my choice of close friends even smaller as I have become very picky about who I spend my time with since my mom died in 2014. I think once you reach mid-life, you realize your time on this earth is more limited than you ever imagined so frivolous interactions are no longer your cup of tea. Also, evenings alone have been more difficult for me than days alone. I’m guessing this is because for most of my life, there’s always someone home with me at night.

To clarify, I am not afraid to be alone, I’m an introvert and I enjoy my own company. Which when I started to feel very anxious, sad, and what I thought to be lonely, I started to get frustrated. Last week, my husband left for work at 430 p.m. I knew my youngest daughter would be home in 3-4 hours from her job. I literally had people around me all day, I am not isolated. Between work, my family, pets, friends, and activities I enjoy, I really don’t spend a whole lot of time completely alone. I had even talked to my therapist about why do I feel so lonely? And then when I tried to do things to get me more out of the house and among people such as a writer’s club, I resisted fiercely. No, I’m not a socially awkward person. The writer’s club looked like a nice group of people on social media and I have 0 issues interacting with strangers. I simply did not want to go and ended up in my fave coffee shop writing in my journal while watching big snow flakes hit the sidewalk from their big plate glass windows. I was contented alone but I couldn’t shake the feeling of loneliness.

Then finally last week, it dawned on me as I watched my pets stare at me sadly as I was putting on my shoes to go pick up some dinner. I’m like them – Don’t leave, I’ll miss you! I’m not lonely, I’m missing my hoomans. I’ve been telling myself I’m lonely because it sounds better than I miss my grown daughters and my husband when he goes to work. I simply miss the people I love most in this world when they are not around me. That is a lot different than being lonely especially since I was frustrated because I’ve been trying to fix lonely and getting upset with myself when I don’t want to take the ‘cure’. Rather than listening to my internal cues, accepting the fact that I miss my fave people, I just kept fighting the truth. I can join 100 things and still have that same feeling because it’s not loneliness.

I can tell myself things like The kids are grown and this is normal. Stop being a woos. Or You’ll see your husband tomorrow, think about those spouses of deployed military personnel, stop being a big baby. But by berating myself for my feelings, I am invalidating myself which is exactly what I experienced growing up. I should honor my feelings no matter how ‘babyish’ they seem. It doesn’t mean I wallow around in them, but I need to acknowledge that I’m sad and missing my family and then do things to make myself feel comforted. The next night I was supposed to be home between 430-1030 p.m. alone. Everyone was working but me. Since I now knew my feelings weren’t loneliness but missing my family, I didn’t feel all out of sorts. I did things to comfort myself like snuggle up on the couch in a blanket watching movies no one wants to watch with me (OMG not that!). And the funny thing is, my daughter got home early so I wasn’t even alone very long. But the weird empty, unsettled feeling wasn’t there. Just like magic, after several years of fighting it, the feeling dissipated as if it had never been there. It may come back but I will know how to deal with it.

Every time I have ignored my gut feelings or my emotions in general, I have paid. When you meet that person and all the red flags are flying, big ones, like the US flags over dealerships but I covered my eyes to pretend I didn’t see the signs. You knew in your heart that person wasn’t good for you but yet you let them berate you, put you down, and just take out their insecurities on you even when you didn’t do a damned thing to deserve it. You thought you loved that person so much but really when you peel back those dysfunctional layers, it wasn’t love but the familiar pattern of abuse and dysfunction. If they truly loved you, they wouldn’t have been so narcissistic and brutal. This doesn’t even have to be a romantic relationship, I’ve had friendships like that in the past. You get all caught up in their drama that they want you to believe is your fault. But you’re scratching your head like WTF? Then you start thinking you can change them or they will change, so on and so forth the cycle of crap continues.

That first feeling, the gut feeling was the one telling you the truth. It was screaming RUN! Run you idiot! But nope you slogged around in the foggy woods while the murderer snuck up on your dumb ass. We have the choice to honor our feelings and our emotions even if we may not like them. And if you feel like you are beating your head agains the wall over the same issue, step back and make sure you’re really seeing the whole picture. Are you denying the real problem? Maybe. I sure was.

So hint to myself – when I get stuck, step back and look at it different ways. Stop assuming. Maybe all I need is just a hug and a comfy blanket.

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!

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!

Hello 2017! 

Happy New Year!  I want to first thank everyone who reads my blog on and off.  I’m really grateful that you do!

January 1st is considered a day of new starts and new beginnings.  People make resolutions to save money, get into shape and find a partner.  It’s great to look into the universe and ask for what you want but you must really believe in it, visualize it.  At times of doubt, reform your positive thoughts, see yourself 20 pounds lighter, see yourself with more money or see yourself holding hands with your love walking in the park.  You can make all the resolutions you want but unless you really believe that it is possible, that it will happen, you will only sabotage yourself.

But enough about resolutions.  I quit making them several years back.  Every day is a new beginning and a new start.  Last night after a dinner out with my husband, we were talking about things like vacation, bucket lists, what we want to accomplish in the new year.  I reflected back ten years ago when my life was quite different.  It only changed when I made up my mind that I could no longer live in this 2nd marriage.  Today my life is much different.  In 2006, I was unhappy and miserable just holding it together.  Day by day, week by week fighting against the negative energy of someone who didn’t have mine or my daughters’ best interests at heart.  Fast forward to today and there is little I need or even want.  If I died tomorrow, there is very little on my bucket list.  I would only regret leaving the people I love.

The whole ‘bucket list’ thing I somewhat understand.  It’s great to motivate you to go out and experience life.  While there is some traveling I want to do and I want to write that best-selling novel, my focus is very small.  I used to have grand ideas and dreams but my mom’s terminal cancer and death put life into a whole different context.  Things I believed were so important whether they were material or intangible, are really not important to me now.  The meaning of life to me is to spend time with the people you love and find ways to show love to others.  It means stop taking crap you don’t have to take (though sometimes you have to do it to make a living), stop doing things you don’t want to do especially social obligations and start doing the things you enjoy the most even if it is not something everyone else finds exciting.

Rather than a bucket list, I want to focus on a gratitude list.  Recently, I started volunteering at a local nursing home and have found it very rewarding so far but also very sobering.  Imagine what it would be like to one day wake up and your life is limited to a small room (possibly shared) and a hallway leading to the dining room/ rec room.  Physically you are no longer able to walk or care for yourself.  All your possessions are now in the room with you and can be placed in a few large boxes.  That isn’t how it ends for everyone, but it is a reminder of what is truly important.  Our health, love and the people we love.

I have so much to be grateful for but it is easy to get into this cycle of feeling sorry for yourself or focusing on what you may have lost.  Grief has a way of pulling you down under murky waters and you can’t see the light.  I’m sure this is normal and it’s hard to live without someone you were very close to that was also a big part of your life.  Eventually you surface and start swimming for shore but the thick water of grief keeps pulling at you, making your progress slow and painful.  Some days the swimming is easier and other days you just want to slip back under the surface and never come back up.  I have no sage advice though time does help but it’s not magic either.  You have to be careful though to not forget your life and the ones who are still here.  My grief became somewhat selfish and self-centered.  I felt bad for myself, my mother is gone, and I kept living in that cloud.

The problem with living that way is you short change the people who need and love you.  You don’t mean to do it, you are lost in your own grief but at some point you have to get back onto shore and walk.  Even though it’s hard, and you would rather just keep swimming in the thick dark lake of grief and sorrow.  You need to look at all that is good in your life right this minute.  For me that is my husband, my daughters, my extended family and friends.   That I live is a beautiful comfortable home, drive a nice vehicle and have all the food and comforts I could ever want.  I can walk, cook and take care of myself.  I can literally walk a few feet, get into my truck and go wherever I’d like.

At least for now.  I am the most blessed woman on the planet even though I’ve lost my mom and other people I love.  Even though I had two shitty marriages and made a bunch of mistakes in my life.  But no matter what, I think being grateful for what you have at that moment is very powerful.  This brings happiness and joy to your life.  I went from nothing, an abusive home, sexual/verbal/emotional abuse, poverty etc. to still lead a good life.  Life may kick you hard but it is up to you where you end up.  You have the choice to be grateful and look ahead at improving your situation or you can sit around feeling sorry for yourself.  Be a victim.  I chose gratitude.  I chose to live the life I want.

This year after living most of my life in dysfunctional chaos, I am going to chose to live in peace.  Even if events are out of my control, I am going to chose a different path.  I’m going to focus on what I have to be grateful for and I’m going to ask for what I want in life.  I want to publish a book.  I want to be fit.

What do you want?  What are you grateful for?  

The Best Birthday Ever… 

The other day I was going through some of my saved emails and I found a Lowe’s e-gift card that had been sent to me on my 44th birthday in 2014 by my mother.  I opened up the email and it displays the “gift card” with her message.  The message said:

“wISHING YOU THE BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.  LOVE YOU.  MOM”

Yes she had written it in all caps on her iPad while sitting in her hospital bed with just one month and five days of her life left.  She was on heavy pain killers, couldn’t walk by herself any longer and needed 24/7 care but she still insisted on doing everything she possibly could by herself until the end.   That was just my mom, independent and head strong and a hella stubborn woman.  

 I can’t tell you what I used the gift card for anymore but I remembered I printed out two copies of it.  One to use at the store and one to save in my keepsake box.  Because it was the last birthday I would celebrate with my mother.  I remember feeling incredibly sad when I presented the cashier the card because it felt as if I was losing another little peice of my relationship with my mother.  As if I could hold onto that gift card, that it was keeping her a little bit alive.  Keeping her love for me alive but it really doesn’t work that way.  

Now it’s two and a half years later, my life has adjusted to not having my mom around.  Not that you really ever want to adjust to the loss of someone you love but it happens over time.  You still feel their absence every day but it is not as acute. There are times you want to hug them, sit and talk to them and instead you end up talking out loud to yourself hoping that they will hear you, that they know.  Sometimes I wrap the yellow, ivory and brown crocheted afghan she made me around my shoulders and look at all the stitches to remind myself that she made each one of them out of love for me.  Or put on her worn red Ohio State pullover that I now wash with the care of my most delicate clothing item so it lasts for years and years.  

I sometimes look at pictures, or put on a peice of her jewelry I gave her to feel closer.  I don’t care what anyone says, she may still be with me in spirit, but it sure does suck not having her here in person.  Especially last week when I finally got a promotion she thought I deserved years ago but didn’t live long enough to see it.  No it wasn’t any big new title or a bunch of new responsibilities and money.  Simply it was just the next level in my current job position which I have been doing since 2006.  She retired from where I work in 2010.  Moments like that are stark reminders that she is absent from my day to day life making that accomplishment just a little bittersweet.  

My sister, Dad, Mom and me


Back to the gift card and my 44th birthday.  I reread her words several times.  And I realized that it had indeed been a difficult birthday.  My daughters, my husband and I all have birthdays in the same month so after my birthday, I bought a lemon cream cake from Olive Garden because this is what she wanted and we had a little joint birthday party with her in her hospital room.  We shared the leftover cake with the nurses who were giving her really great care.  And I don’t think one of us has eaten that cake since.  

On my actual birthday, she had employed my middle daughter who had quit working and school to take care of her, to be her legs and get me a card, a potted mini rose and my other gift.  As she laid heavily medicated in her bed, I opened the gift which was my grandmother’s wedding rings.  Of course I started crying and hugged her frail frame tightly.  Simply this was my hardest birthday ever.  My last one.  There was no doubt that she would not be alive for my 45th birthday.  But looking back it was also my best birthday just like she had wished me in the E-gift card.  I can’t look back on any of my birthdays and pick out a more memorable one.  

Birthdays in my family have always been fairly quiet occasions.  Sometimes family would come for dinner and cake when I was kid depending on where we lived.  There were no big parties like I did for my daughters though in today’s standards, their parties would be quite simple.  A few friends over for games, cake and balloons.  Later they would have sleepovers and in their teen years even bigger sleepovers.  Usually I didn’t have the space or the money to give them a big party.  Their birthdays being in the winter, it was hard to have a lot of kids at our house, cooped up in its cramped spaces.  We never do surprise parties either.  I don’t like surprises so that has never been an option.  

Keeping to tradition, my 44th birthday was a quiet affair celebrated with family.  Except it was celebrated with two of my daughters absent for school or work and at my mom’s hospital bedside.  It sounds bleak but really it will be the one birthday I always remember.  I will remember the presents because they are etched into my memory.   I will remember my mom’s smile as I opened my grandmother’s wedding rings.  Simply there was nothing more meaningful she could have given me and she knew it.  I am sure she knew just as I did, this was our last birthday together.  


Dying of cancer sucks.  Knowing you are going to die has to suck even more.   A close friend of mine and I have both lost parents to long battles with cancer and we have decided that our preferred way of dying is to dimply drop dead of old age.  No warning, nothing.  Though it is a shock to your family, you don’t go through those agonizing days of wondering how long you have together.  Or wondering how much time you have.  Or the pain, the helplessness.  It is agonizing for everyone, especially the person dying of cancer.

Out of the suffering, the nightmare of pain and sadness, there are some of the most beuatiful moments borne of reality of the fact that we are indeed mortal.  None of us lives forever and death is a slap in the face reminder that you need to cherish every moment of every day no matter how mundane that moment feels.  That you need to put your head up and look beyond the routine for ways to show love and e kind to others, to enjoy another precious moment with someone you love even if it is as simple as sending a text message to them reminding them you love them.  We only have so many moments.  The only guarantee in life is death.  

No my best birthday ever wasn’t spent on a Carribean Cruise or in a five-star hotel.  It was spent with my mother in a dull hospital room.  What I wouldn’t give for 44 more birthdays together but that is not how life works so I cherish the memories of the ones I did have knowing I was fortunate to have all those years with her.  

Mom circa 2002 four years before cancer disgnosis