Food Peace Journal – Final Entry – Just Living My Life

Today, four years ago, my mother lost her brave and ferocious fight with cancer. I’ve spent the weekend quietly reflecting in quite a bit of solitude. I was melancholy but not overtly sad. Reflecting on life. My mom was only 72 when she died and I’m already 48. Life is so short. Shorter than you can ever fathom. This is going to be my final entry on food peace not because I am giving up the journey, but because by focusing on this even though I’ve given up dieting, I’m losing precious moments of my life that I could be spending in other more meaningful ways. Diet culture and worrying about weight and what you eat steals days, probably years from people’s lives.

For me spending a bunch of time listening to podcasts and reading books on intuitive eating, etc. is also really not necessary. The just of it is, eat when you are hungry, eat until you are satisfied, don’t beat yourself up if you eat too much sometimes, don’t restrict foods or you will binge, you’ll emotionally eat occasionally, and eat when you want (no food is off limits except for medical or religious reasons). Trust your body and go back to living. Take the hours you worry about weight, size, diet, etc. and live. Spend time with your family, focus on your career (if that’s important), find your calling, help others, immerse yourself in your favorite hobby, travel, hike, bike, run, swim, spend time outdoors, raise money for a charity close to your heart, go back to school, start that dream career, sit and watch the waves roll in, whatever you love because it is all over in the blink of an eye. Get out and live. Get out and have fun. Enjoy life as much as you can.

For me, I unsubscribed from all my food/non-diet podcasts and I am going to replace them with audiobooks because I realize there are so MANY books out there I want to read. I’m going to streamline my home chores as I spend a large amount of time cleaning. You get the picture. Looking in my life to see where I am wasting time on things that don’t bring me joy and replacing them with things that make me happy as much as I can. I’ll still blog occasionally, on whatever happens to inspire me at the moment (hence the ‘random thoughts’ tag). I may take my blog back into more a travel/adventure type blog with entries about places I visit. I really enjoy writing about them (as well as exploring).

Thank you for reading my food peace journey, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or want some additional resources. It’s encouraging to see so many items available now to help you reach peace with your eating and loving your body just as you are. Acceptance is a wonderful thing as is diversity. We can’t all be skinny, we can’t all be white, we can’t all be straight, etc. The world would be so boring without the wonders of differences. Now quit reading this and go do something you love! Ciao!


Getting Angry With Chronic Mild Depression (Dysthmia)

For most of my life, I have struggled with depression at least mildly. There have been a few incidences where it has become more serious and dark for which I needed anti-depressants and therapy. Before I write anything else, if you are struggling with serious depression and/or are thinking of harming yourself, run, don’t walk to the phone and call your doctor or therapist. They can really help you even if it feels nothing can. Disclaimer: what I discuss next is not meant to replace treatment or a health professional’s advice or prescribed treatment. This is only my experience and may not work for another soul. Please do not stop your treatment without your doctor’s approval. Or not see a doctor or therapist if you feel your depression is persisting or serious. I can’t stress this enough.

Depression just isn’t just in you head but it is a physiological condition in which your brain chemistry is affected. I have been diagnosed with Dysthmia which is a chronic mild depression which you can find more information about at WebMD: Scientists aren’t sure what causes dysthmia but they believe it could be possibly genetic, major life stressors or a combination of things. My cousin on my paternal side is affected by depression similarly to me. Over the past few years, we have discovered that frequently we can be in similar bouts of depression at the same time leading us to wonder if it is part of our genes. Also, our parents, his mother and my father, were seriously alcoholics and we both suffered dysfunctional as well as traumatic childhoods from this which also might be another reason we struggle with depression so frequently. People who have been victims of abuse and trauma seem to have higher incidences of depression as if the events whack out our brain chemistry. There are a ton of articles out there about this, feel free to do your own research.

The great thing about my cousin and I reconnecting after many years is that we have candid conversations about our current life struggles. Mostly by text as we are several states apart, we offer each other support and a sounding board. This fall, I was out hiking alone as I do frequently and felt the enormous weight of depression spoiling what was a beautiful hike. I had just written a post about depression a few days before and decided I was going to start keeping a depression journal in order to pinpoint what makes it worse and what helps ease my depression: For two days, I took a notebook and made notes on how I felt, how bad was my depression, etc. Then, feeling depressed, I decided to get out and walk since the day was warm and the sun was out. Trying “nature’s cure” (I do believe time spent outdoors in nature helps my depression immensely), I drove to one of my favorite hiking spots and started walking.

I texted my cousin as I stood on a picturesque bridge that crosses a small stream. I don’t remember what I said exactly but I told him it’s a beautiful day out, my life is good and I’m fucking depressed AGAIN. I returned to my hiking and for whatever reason I started to wonder if I was making my depression worse by focusing so much on it. Was I giving it more power than I should? Was doing journal entries on depression just keeping it in my life? I found myself angry. I was tired of struggling with this shit. The mind is an organ that we don’t understand but there are many studies on the ‘placebo effect’ where if you believe something is ‘curing’ you, it actually can work. While I don’t believe depression is “just in your head” and it is physiological, could I not change this utilizing the placebo effect theory? I didn’t know but I knew I did not want to go through the rest of my life with this monkey on my back.

Out of nowhere the mantra “Fuck the monkey, I am happy” popped into my head. Anger swelled around the words but also determination. Luckily, it was a weekday and the trails were fairly empty because I am not sure what people might have thought passing a middle-aged woman muttering loudly to herself “Fuck the monkey, I am happy!” At that point I didn’t care. I just kept hiking and repeating this phrase until surprisingly, by the time I reached my car, the heavy weight of my depression wasn’t there. A fluke? I wondered but felt better. When I got home, I tore out the pages from my notebook where I had been writing my depression observations. What if I focused not on the issue, but on something positive? So I started (and still am keeping) a “Challenge” journal. Each day I log two things – 1. What I did that day to get outside my comfort zone. It can be as simple as “pushed myself to walk faster” or “Spoke to a stranger at the store instead of ignoring them”. Whatever I can do each day to stretch myself, goes in this journal. I’m in a rut. I need to get out of it.

The second thing I record is a “Good Deed” or GD for short. Each day I am looking for opportunities to show kindness and love to people outside of my normal routine. Being nice to someone I don’t really like even though normally I just ignore them (seems like I ignore people a lot), helping someone at the store, saying hello and smiling at a stranger. One day, I was checking out at Walmart and there was this enormous woman in one of those electric carts behind me. She smelled bad and probably had a hard time showering. I heard her grunting painfully as she was trying to reach stuff out of her cart and put it on the checkout belt. Normally, I would have just kept my back turned and prayed they hurried up checking me out. This time, I turned and politely asked her if I could assist her. She was surprised and didn’t answer right away but she finally said “Yes, that would be really nice.” So I held my breath and emptied her cart for her. She smiled bit and thanked me. I told her to have a nice holiday as it was before Christmas and she wished me the same. While the action was small, it made me feel good to not be such a snob and do something for someone else even if they did smell bad. Just the act of stretching out of my normal ways, helps me feel more alive.

Two months have passed since the day I was hiking and adopted my “Fuck the monkey” mantra. Every time I feel depression slinking up, I meditate on this mantra no matter what I am doing or where I am. As soon as I can take five minutes to myself, I sit or lie quietly even if there is a lot of activity around me and meditate on those words with my eyes closed. I focus hard on the desire to no longer struggle with dysthmia. So how has it worked? So far, it’s been awesome. Even over Christmas which is very difficult for me since I lost my mom, I felt a few tinges of sadness but I did not sink under the dark, heavy blanket of depression. I’ve actually been truly enjoying life. I’ve been more positive and much less negative. I feel joy. I feel light. I feel peace.

While I hesitate to say that I’m cured from depression because I don’t want to jump the gun, I believe I found a powerful way to deal with it’s chronic presence. Getting angry and making up my mind that I was no longer going to allow depression to make me so unhappy, seems to have helped. Utilizing my mantra and meditation at the first twinge of depression so far seems to short-circuit the days and days of darkness. The mind is a powerful tool and I don’t believe we even understand the smallest portion of it’s function but I will take my results. I was using depression as a way to hide from the world and an excuse not to participate fully in my life. Oh, I’m depressed, I’m going to go brood in bed all day. Poor me. I suffer from chronic depression. Depression was my safety net when I didn’t want to engage in life. Maybe I was making myself depressed to hide. I don’t know but it makes sense.

This isn’t to say that I couldn’t have another major depressive episode or that the dysthmia will return full force but I am so very happy at this moment that for the first time in years, I feel really good. That I’m not anxiously waiting for the next episode. I feel as if the clouds have parted and the sun is shining over me for the first time in many years. The monkey on my back, weighting me down, is on hiatus. Hopefully forever. Life is too short to sit around feeling depressed all the time. It’s too short to hide behind depression. Maybe my brain chemistry is challenged, I think this is true, but if I have any way of influencing it, I’m going to keep using that method. Though I do not want to be on drugs. Those are good for short term if I have major depression, but I don’t want to utilize drugs every day if it can be avoided.

What I do know is I enjoy my life much more in the past few months than I have since, well honestly, I can’t remember. Maybe when I was a kid. Maybe ever. One of my goals for 2018 is to work on gaining inner peace even when there is a ‘storm’ raging around me. To not let people get under my skin so much, to be more positive in general, and as my other posts recently state, find peace with food, my weight, and my body. To live in joy even though life is far from perfect.

Here’s to finding peace and happiness.

Week 1 – Peace with Food Daily Journal Entries

Below I’ve detailed the first seven days on my peace with food journey. A quick summary of the week is thus: I finally put away my scale and tape measure to further cement my commitment to trusting myself and my body. I’ll admit, it’s a little scary letting these go. I’ve reintroduced some “bad” foods back into my diet and the world didn’t end. I discovered that especially at work, I tend to starve myself without realizing it and I have a lot of subconscious ‘food rules’ I’ve picked up over the years. Eating when I’m hungry doesn’t mean forcing myself to wait until a certain time to eat and if possible, I need to stop whatever project I am working on and eat even a little snack if I can’t break away completely. I need to go shopping and stock my desk with more options for snacks. My diet mentality is strong and infiltrates most parts of my life. This is going to take a lot of time and mindfulness to get out of my life but I believe it will make me happier and more at peace. After the first week of trusting myself to eat when hungry, I still fit into my jeans and I have no idea if I gained or lost any weight. And it doesn’t matter either way. My weight doesn’t make me as a person. I am a bit happier person at the end of the week. And I definitely feel a sense of freedom. I am more than a number on a scale. Keep reading for a more detailed account of each day.

Day 1 – January 2, 2018. My first full day back in the office. What I noticed is I forcibly starve myself ignoring my hunger cues. Why? Probably a combination of I don’t want to be that fat woman sitting in her cube constantly eating for people to make fun of, not that I actually think any of my coworkers even care. Second, it is probably learned diet behavior. I’ll wait for lunch time to eat, no earlier than noon or my day will seem longer. Stupid rules I made up in my head. I found myself feeling very joyful and excited that I could eat whatever I wanted when I was hungry. I even ate my lunch before noon. I need to stock my desk more with snacks and foods I like to eat. We have vending machines but nothing really appeals to me there except once in awhile. Did I overeat? Nope. I ate until full. I ate only when hungry. Day 1 – fun, happy, joyful.

Day 2 – January 3, 2018. I work at home on Wednesdays and I was up early to get caught up on emails and entries that I couldn’t get to yesterday. I’m slammed with a major project and focused all my energy yesterday on getting the first part, the most time consuming part, done. I’m dealing today with some emails where people annoy me. I changed a process to prevent the annoyance. I take charge as much as I possibly can. Around 10:30, I start to feel hungry so I scan for what sounds good to me. Wheat toast lightly buttered and spread with a perfect layer of grape jelly. I never eat jelly! It’s all sugar and no fruit right? It’s BAD for you. I feel myself balk as I spread the dark purple deliciousness on my bread. No, diet mentality, you will not win! I sit down with my toast and a side of a Colby-jack cheese snack and savor something I haven’t allowed myself to have in, well, I don’t know that’s how long. Why have I denied myself a bit of grape jelly? I forgot how good it is, mixed in with a bit of melted butter. Mmmm.. My heart soars for grape jelly.

Day 3 – January 4, 2018. Had to take hubby for a medical procedure so my focus that day was more about him. It was a routine one but the whole thing brings back memories of dealing with my mom’s cancer because this procedure is how they found her first cancer. I wasn’t worried about him but the whole thing makes me anxious. I struggled with wanting to eat to comfort myself especially later that day once we were home and everything was confirmed A-OK. We did stop at one of my fave BBQ chains for lunch but I didn’t overeat. I ate my pulled pork (lunch portion – no bun because I have no interest in that bun) but I only ate about 1/3 of my potato salad (didn’t taste good to me) and half my hush puppies (did taste good but was getting full). I can remember when normally I’d stuff it all down until I was sick. Other than fighting feeling a big snackish in the evening which I think was more due to trying to comfort my previous anxiety, I didn’t overeat.

Day 4 – January 5, 2018. Back in the office and super busy. I wasn’t hungry right away so I had a banana to get me going and then ate my steel cut oatmeal about mid-morning when I became hungry. I did have to force myself to stop working when I got hungry because I caught myself thinking I could wait longer. On Fridays, I go out for lunch with my best friend to this little ‘dive’ type place. I ordered my usual (for now – it changes off and on) of a grilled cheese and a half order of fresh cut fries with a can of Coca-Cola. They were a little slight on the fries and I worried I would get hungry later but I didn’t. I ended up packing my fruit back into my tote bag at the end of the day. I kept feeling like I wanted candy, I think because it’s Friday and that seems like a day for celebration but when I asked myself what I really wanted, nothing appealed to me. I got busy into my work again and completely forgot about candy. When I left work, I thought maybe I’d go through town and stop for a treat but I couldn’t find a treat I wanted, so I just got my car washed and headed home. Later I made a pan of from scratch cream cheese brownies because these sounded really good to me. I ate 1.5 brownies over the course of the night. I ate what I wanted. I didn’t go all batshit crazy and consume the whole pan because I baked the forbidden sweet. Knowing I could have the brownie or two or three brownies if I really wanted them and was actually hungry definitely soothed my fear of ‘not enough’ or the guilt from ‘being fat” or ‘needing to diet’ shame. Today I noticed how I use food to reward myself. It’s Friday, I need treats, I made it through the week. Except when I step back and really look at what I wanted, my usual go to treats weren’t even on the list. And I didn’t feel guilty for succumbing to my love of baking. I had all but given it up because I thought it was making me fat. That made me sad to not bake. Now I have given myself the freedom to bake whatever the hell I want. Feels really good and makes me happy.

Day 5 – January 6, 2018. To weigh or not to weigh? I’m struggling with this question. I’ve been considering weighing myself either once a week or once a month on the same day. While I am no longer looking to lose weight and accept whatever my natural size is, I still have a strong desire to measure my ‘progress’. On one hand, I feel like I should get rid of the scale completely and never weigh myself again, ignoring the number even when I have to be weighed at the doctor’s office. That idea makes me anxious and a bit panicky. Does this mean the scale has way too much power over my life? I think so. If I weigh myself even once a month, doesn’t that mean I’m still using that measurement to judge myself and my worth? Yes. Do I NEED to know my weight? Doctors need it when they have to prescribe but they take it in the office. There are weight limits on rides and such but I have no plans on going to the amusement park soon. So no, I don’t have many reasons to need to know my exact weight every day. Maybe once or twice a year if that. My clothes can tell me if I’m getting bigger or smaller. That’s pretty reliable. So if I keep weighing myself, I am utilizing the scale as a judgmental tool. What if I gain weight? I’m going to feel horrible about myself. If I lose weight I’ll feel good but then I have a tendency to eat more in celebration (I know, it doesn’t make much sense). I think it’s time to move the scale out into the garage pantry and forget it is there. I can’t be free of the diet mentality until I stop caring what that number reads on the scale. I can’t trust my body if I’m relying on a number that can change 5-8 pounds in a few days based on how much water weight I’m holding. I vow to give up the scale and not care about my weight. I am more than a number. This is a bit scary but I can do it. I won’t balloon to 500 lbs if I don’t weigh myself. I will trust my body. I will trust myself. I’m not out of control. I don’t need supervised, I am a grown ass woman. I got this!

Day 7 – January 7, 2018. While cleaning the master bathroom, I moved the scale to a less tempting place and I also put away my sewing tape measure I use to track body measurements. I have removed all the ways I can track progress of weight gain or loss except for how I feel and my clothes. Doing so makes me anxious as how am I going to stop myself from blowing up even bigger without my tools of measurement? I reminded myself that I can trust my body, I just need to pay attention to my hunger cues, etc. and I will be fine. Trusting myself is going to take some time but on the other hand, I feel freedom and peace with this decision. I’ve had a diet mentality since I was around 11 years old when my well-meaning grandmother was weighing me and putting me on diets which started my binge eating. Though I was tall, maybe 5’5 then and only weighed around 125 lbs, I was not fat at all so I’m not sure what my grandmother was thinking. Now I’m 47 years old and maybe even as much as 100 pounds overweight though I don’t know what my “ideal”weight is because I carry a lot more muscle now from my athletic pursuits. I do though have to undo 36 years of diet mentality. Thirty-six years of people telling me I am fat, doctors chiding me, reading 1000’s of fitness and health articles as well as many diet books, going on what seems like a gazillion diets, not to mention all the shame and guilt I’ve carried over my weight. What if I could get all that time back? What if I could have treated myself kindly instead of beating myself up for eating X or weighing myself only to cry over the number on the scale? I don’t have the answer to that question but I do know that I have a lot of work ahead of me to break the diet mentality. My daughter was browsing the Valentines candy at the store and she sent me a picture of a 3 lb Hershey milk chocolate bar. I love Hershey’s bars but my first through was OMG I can’t buy that, I’d weigh 300 pounds. I caught myself and thought you can have it if you really want this giant candy bar. For a moment, I felt giddy like a kid who is looking forward to Christmas. When was the last time I felt that way about food? Can’t remember. Though I don’t think I will buy that candy bar, just having the option to have it guilt free if I want it, makes me happy.

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.


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!

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?  

Life is So So Short… 

You hear all the cliches.  Life is short, YOLO, your health is everything, just do it, and so on.  They are everywhere you turn. When you are younger and you hear “if you have your health, you have everything”, you probably smile and nod then go on with your day.  It never really sinks in unless you are suffering some medical maladie at the time.  Most of these saying float around us, especially on social media, and we note them or ignore them but never really consider what they mean.

Yesterday was my first volunteer day at a local nursing home.  I chose the state-funded home rather than a private nursing home because they don’t have a lot of volunteers and most of their residents had no money or family to help care for them.  I’m no expert on nursing homes, so if this is ring, forgive me but that is my best guess.  My employer gives us one day a year to volunteer but while I used this paid day off to help, this is also my new volunteer project outside of work.  My therapist suggested that I was missing helping people and that maybe I try more volunteering.  I’ve been lost since my mom died and my girls are grown.  You go from being needed to being well, not needed quite as much.  And while I didn’t want to rush into something that would be as difficult as caring for a parent with terminal cancer, I did miss helping people.

I chose to try the nursing home becuase when my mom passed, we donated many of her medical supplies to this nursing home.  The lady who took them said how desperate they are in need for donations and help.  The building is an old brick building that once was an old infirmary.  The inside is a little dated and worn.  It’s not posh or set up to feel like a resident is in their own home.  It is simply like an older hospital inside.  They don’t have a lot of money to work with but the place is spotless and the residents are well cared for as far as I could tell.  When I walked in and asked the activities director about volunteering, she whisked me to a nurses station to start my TB test rounds.  They don’t get a lot of volunteers it seems.  It felt good to be needed again, even if it was for a few hours or so a week. 

People shy away from nursing homes because they seem depressing.  This is the place you go to die, confined to small areas.  And honestly, before my mom’s ordeal with cancer and her death, I felt the same.  What changed my mind was in the last weeks of her life, they had moved her to the nursing floor of the hospital and kept her there as long as they could to help us take care of her in her final days.  My mom at this point could not walk or care for herself, she was a shell of who she had once been which was a formidable force of nature who had rose through the ranks of her company to be one of the top people at her site.  Even today, people will tell me, I remember your mom.  She was quite a lady and didn’t mince words.  Yeah, that pretty much sums her up a bit.  She had spent so much time confined to her house and couldn’t do the things she loved anymore.  

For a month, she was under the care of the nursing floor.  They would have different people volunteer and come in and do crafts, or bring in a dog to visit her.  She had people around her in and out all the time.  The thing that was most surprising was she didn’t seem to want to rush home like her past hospital stays.  What you don’t realize is when a person loses their health, their world shrinks incredibly.  Suddenly instead of being grouchy that someone wanted to come sit and do a craft with her, she was excited about it.  Though it seems like a small thing, to her this person added happiness to her quickly fading life.  It gave her a way to feel productive and useful from her bed.  She crocheted up until the last few weeks of her life to keep herself productive.  She hated to be idle and useless.  I read a news story where a bed-ridden man knitted thousands of hats for people in need.  He couldn’t do much, but he could bring warmth and comfort to a stranger.  

The nursing staff became my mom’s friends and they joked with her, got to know us and even shared cake in our last birthday celebration (my husband, my daughter and my birthdays are all in February – my mom died mid-March) with her.  As sad as this all seems, they are the sweetest, most precious moments.  And yesterday, I walked the halls of the nursing home, pushing carts of presents, finding residents packages for ‘Santa’ and ‘Mrs. Claus’ to pass out to people.  Santa and his wife were telling me they do over 40 nursing homes a year and they enjoy it very much.  Watching them walk into an otherwise quiet dining room where half the people are sleeping and seeing them all light up like kids on Christmas, reminded me that it’s often the littlest things that are the most important.  

If you have your health you have everything is truer than we know.  Right now I have the world in my hands because I am able to walk and care for myself.  The people in this nursing home, the only things they own are probably right in their room with them.  You can’t take it with you.  You certainly can’t.  There is a married couple that have to reside in separate rooms.  Which I wish they had a way to reside in the same room.  I’m not familiar with why this is, but I am sure there is rules that require this.  I thought about my husband and I having to live on different areas of a nursing home and I held him a little tighter as I fell asleep last night.   

I watched the staff interact with the residents and saw very real caring.  They love the residents and watch out for them.  I’m not saying you don’t get a bad person in the crop sometimes but the people who work there aren’t doing it for the money because I doubt they get paid premium working in a state home.  I collected a lot of smiles yesterday.  I helped put a new bead on a lady’s charm bracelet, I heard how one of the residents had a sore butt.  I had talked to this lady  before when I was waiting for a nurse to read my TB test.  And just like the first time we talked, she took my hand, smiled and thanked me for stopping to talk to her.  I about cried, I should have thanked her for talking to me.  She was in the memory unit so I don’t even know if she remembered me but it doesn’t matter.  If me talking to her made her day just a little brighter, then that was awesome.

I went home feeling elated.  Yes, some of what I saw could be considered very depressing but reaching out to people, strangers, it felt very good and it made me realize that at this point and time, I own the world.  I can sit around and feel like I missing out on something, that I didn’t achieve this or that goal that in the end, doesn’t even matter.  I have my health, I have my family, I have a home, a job and health insurance, I have food and clothes and more possessions than I know what to do with sometimes (and donate a lot).  

It is easy for me to feel sorry for myself sometimes especially around the holidays.  I miss the hell out of my mom.  Christmas (her birthday) just isn’t the same.  But there are people in that nursing home with no family or friends that care for them.  The activities director was telling me that residents’ families bring in the gifts to be passed out by Santa but they also donate extra items to make sure each person receives a gift.  I recognized some of the people since it is a fairly small town.  A lady who had been a cashier for years at the small grocery store.  I never knew her whole name but I do now.  A gentleman I vaguely remember from my church when I was younger.  His wife had given me a Precious Moments figuring when my first daughter was born.  She had passed years ago and her grave is close to my mom’s.  He no longer remembers me but I said hello anyway.

Yesterday’s experience really gave me levity in this week of Christmas.  It is a tough week for me.  I want to be happy and celebrate for my grown daughters to carry on our traditions but part of me just wants to take down all the decorations and forget there was Christmas at all.  Last night I came home and felt much different.   Who knows how many Chrisstmases we have to celebrate in our life or even the choice as to where we celebrate it at all.  If our body gives out, if our mind fails, we could be sitting in a wheelchair half asleep when ‘Santa’ brings us a small gift.  

Life is so short.  Love today.  Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.  Do yourself a favor in 2017 and volunteer if you don’t already.  It is a wonderful gift.  

The Storm and Happiness

            How do you define “happiness”?  The dictionary states: good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy. Happiness is very personal because what makes me happy may not make my friend or neighbor happy. Then there is momentary happiness and happiness in general as a way of life. Illusive happiness and centered happiness. And the demanding question “Are you happy?” Are you? Are you happy? Happiness as a mindset. Happiness as a measure of how successful your life is. Happy Birthday. Happy Halloween. There is a lot of pressure for one to be happy at any given moment in their life.

          If you have followed my blog at all, you already know my life has been a crazy, dysfunctional series of ups and downs. My childhood and adolescence was marred by alcoholism and abuse. Anyone who has grown up in this type of home knows that any fleeting moment of happiness is usually quickly followed by something horrific or terrifying at times. It doesn’t take long before you become skeptical at any feelings of joy or happiness because you know it won’t stay, something or someone will ruin it for you. Volatile is your world, not happy. You are always waiting for that other shoe to drop. Happiness is a temporary state.

          Since my mom passed away March 2014, I finally adjusted back into the world of the living. But I had been sleepwalking in my life for a long time. At the end of this last year, I realized I needed to start focusing on myself and what I wanted out of life as I sat down to do my five yearly goals I set each December to give me some guidance throughout the year. This is really the first time since I was in my teens, that I was focusing on goals for just myself. I registered for classes to try and finish my business degree but this time I went in and talked to an advisor. I walked out of that appointment with a list of things to complete and registered for two more classes and my graduation date in early May. After ten years of on and off taking classes online, I was going to finally graduate.

Having a goal and something to focus on has brought me a little bit of anxiety but since I am out of the fog I had been living in, this has given me a new spark. My therapist told me I was in a ‘valley’, your life is so busy and then suddenly you dip off. It takes some time but you recover and start the next journey of your life. Being me, I thought that meant a few months but for me it was really a few years.

This past Monday, the sun was out and I had spent the morning at the college library researching for my history paper. I had stopped at home to see my oldest before she went off to work. Then I had to drive to the grocery store and I really hate grocery shopping but at least on Monday, the stores are not usually crowded. My music is playing in the truck and I have my sunroof cracked when I notice this feeling I was not familiar with. A light feeling, like I do not weigh anything at all. Floating on a cloud. I had been singing with the song, loudly I might add. Inside I did not feel sad, down or pensive. I realize I feel, happy. Contented. Light. I had this feeling since I got up that morning felt this way and had just focused on the feeling because it felt strange and unfamiliar to me.

When you grow up the way I did, and spent decades of your life in miserable situations, you have moments of happiness but this was new to me. I’ve always tried to be grateful but it was usually during another storm in my life. I fixed my marital and financial problems, then my mom became sick again. Happiness is something that is temporary until the next storm rolls into your life. Except this time, it has been with me on a new level. Evolved into something I am not used to but am finally learning to embrace rather than stare at it warily with suspicion.

Twice that day, two people had referred to me as ‘young lady’ and let’s face it, I’m middle-aged at 45 though most people guess my age at 35. Usually it is only the elderly that call me that or someone being a sarcastic ass about my age. The first woman was a mid-20’s librarian at my college and she seemed sincere about the comment when she told me “Young lady your coat fell on the floor.” I had just spoken to her face to face at the circulation desk when I picked up some books I requested so she had clearly saw my face. She was very much twenty years my junior. I didn’t think much of it, she seemed like she was in a good mood.

Later that afternoon, a woman in her early 50’s, not far from my age, asked me a question and added ‘young lady’ to the end. I had left the store feeling bewildered and wondered if people were just feeling good because it was an unusually warm, sunny first day of February. Later that night as I was lying in bed, I was thinking about that odd coincidence and it dawned on me that maybe that light, happy feeling made me look younger to other people. I have no idea if that was true but it was not something that happened to me before. Maybe that should be a beauty tip, if you want to look younger, find your happiness.

Right after my mom died, my daughters and I were in the grocery store, we had split up and they found me again in the produce section bending over a display of oranges. My middle daughter remarks they couldn’t find me at first. I asked her why and they all thought I was some old grouchy lady in her sixties because of the expression on my face. I just sighed and gave up on finding decent oranges. I was just weeks into life without my mom. So maybe our feelings and level of current happiness can make us look older or younger.

Moral of the story, I’ve been learning how to be happy and let it be part of my life rather than just a fleeting moment. No my life isn’t perfect but when will it ever be? I can’t control most things in life but I can control how I react to things out of my control or other people. Allowing myself to be happy is new for me, but I really love that feeling of lightness I’ve been carrying with me. Life will always hand me knocks and challenges. It’s up to me to keep my inner peace, embrace what is good even in the storm.

Sometimes storms can be the most beautiful moments of your life. Give yourself permission to be happy, even in the rain.