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Fearless Angel

When I graduated from college, my first job was in customer service at a publishing company in Florence, KY. We shipped books from our warehouse and worked with the publisher in New York.

That’s where I met Carl – the most kind, fearless and fabulous person I would ever know.

Carl came down to train us and he and I were cubicle mates.

Now at that time in my life, I was a bit lost and adrift in life.

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for work. I was at odds with my parents. My love life was full of drama and mess. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere and was about to spiral down a deep, dark hole.

Then Carl showed up.

Carl and I became inseparable. We were thick as thieves.

We went dancing in the clubs. Carl would put on a silver metallic dress and heels and walk down the streets of Cincinnati at night in the early 90s without a care in the world.

I was in awe of him. And he looked better than me in that dress.

I’m not sure any of us that knew him in KY had ever encountered a spirit so open and so free. He was so kind and so fun – that everyone loved him.

I had always felt different – but Carl made me feel that it was O.K. to be different.

It was in fact, amazing.

I would spend the night in his apartment in downtown Cincinnati. He couldn’t sleep without the sound of traffic and sirens at night from his time living in New York City. That intrigued me. I had seen little of the world, so I asked him to take me to New York.

Since he had lived there, he took me to all of the best places – the best hole in the wall Chinese restaurant, the underground clubs, the best bagel shop.

We marched through the streets in the New York City Gay Pride Parade with thousands of people. I nearly cried with joy. I felt so alive and free.

We lost touch for several years until social media showed up. Then he was my Facebook friend for many years. I was so happy to see his smiling face again. I deeply loved Carl.

Three years ago, I had a business trip to CT. I thought, Carl! It was my chance to see him again! I contacted him and we made plans. We went out to dinner and then sat outside my hotel by a firepit talking for hours like old times. I think I cried and hugged him repeatedly before watching him drive away.

Now, he’s gone – which feels unreal.

He was really looking forward to Wonder Woman coming out on Christmas Day.

I was very angry at God that Carl didn’t get to see Wonder Woman. But, now, I think maybe God let Carl be Wonder Woman – he would have the most fabulous angel costume in heaven.

Carl used to wear this cologne called Angel. I bought a bottle of it once and sometimes I wear it to remind me of him.

He may be an Angel now. But, the truth is – he was always my Angel.

I don’t think I would have had the courage I have had in my life without his example.

I wouldn’t be the girl that showed up at work in an Elf costume or the girl that traveled to Europe or the girl that got artificially inseminated or the girl that wrote a book.

My world would be smaller.

And the world will be smaller now that he’s gone.

But it will always be more magnificent for him having been here.

A Room of One’s Own

Day 2 of Isolation – I hear my son’s laughter echo through the house. I ache to hug him. My back aches from being in bed. I pace the floor. I stare at my fingernails and wonder if I should cut them.

I have coronavirus. After 8 months of social distancing, avoiding going almost anywhere, wearing masks, exercising extreme caution – the thing most feared has happened.

Day 1 was crying, hysteria, anger. How could this happen? I searched my mind trying to find the one factor that I didn’t control. I can’t find it.

I don’t have any symptoms. Mentally, I have cabin fever, anxiety, depression and a profound sense of being cut off from humanity.

Physically, it feels like any other day. I feel grateful I’m not terribly ill or in a hospital.

The health department sends documents to sign. You call everyone you’ve seen like you’re reporting that you have an STD. You feel like people will judge you and you feel terrible.

I try to sleep, to make the day go by quicker. I watch a lot of TV. It feels like company. My husband brings meals to the door. We watch a show together on Zoom at night.

I hear people bemoan how awful not having Thanksgiving with everyone would be. I was excited to have Thanksgiving at home with the boy and the husband.

Not to be – at least not on the day.

I toss and turn at night. I have a headache – stress or symptom? My chest is tight – anxiety or symptom? Every ache becomes a worry. It does not help to watch the TV briefings anymore.

It worries me that I don’t feel worse.

How many people are out there who have it but don’t think they have it because they feel completely normal?

If I wasn’t tested every 3 weeks for work, I would never know.

My son yells through the door, “Mom, are you still in Rona Jail? Mom, I miss you. Mom I can’t wait more days.”

My husband is sleeping in his office.

I feel like this year has aged me. I see new wrinkles in the corners of my eyes.

It seemed people connected more in the beginning.

As the chronic stress has dragged on, I see less of that.

It’s like we forget that everyone is having a hard time.

Everyone is alone in a room longing for a way out.

Hindsight is 2020

My birthday dinner at Bella Notte

the last time I ate inside a restaurant

I wish I had ordered the dessert.

Broadway tickets, concert tickets

Too expensive I would say.

To feel that energy and joy again

That would be priceless.

Had I known March would be the last time

I would hug my mother for 7 months

I would have hugged a little longer

and not rushed out the door.

Parties – I’m too tired.

Vacations – who has the time?

Festivals – too much traffic.

Now I watch movies to see people celebrate.

As I hunker down and batten up the hatches

turning inward for winter hibernation.

My one wish is to remember

when the spring comes

to remember the winter

and never take another moment for granted.

The Purpose of Goals

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I used to think goals were about the goal itself. I would attain the goal and then somehow I would reach a sense of inner satisfaction. Or I would rebel against setting goals because somehow I felt the striving and the routine was too much pressure on myself.

As I change and grow, I’ve become to feel differently about them. I no longer care so much what the goal happens to be. I care what working on a particular goal will teach me, what the process of that goal will help me become.

People often ask about when I will write another book. In some weird way, none of my books have been about creating the book itself. When deep inside there is something I need to process, something I need to work through – the book flows out like water.

My first book was about learning to believe in myself. My second book was about learning forgiveness. I sense there is a third book, but it is not yet time. Trying to write it before it’s time is like trudging through cement, forcing a solution. When I’m ready, I will know.

I notice that I struggled with fitness goals in the past. I found a million justifications and then I would beat myself up. I wasn’t ready.

Now I find that it’s weirdly easy and I crave it. Solutions come to me. Problems that seemed baffling disappear.

It’s no longer that I particularly want to be fit. It’s that my fitness goals are teaching me to make myself a priority. They are teaching me consistency. They are teaching to process anger and frustration and irritation before it builds up. I wake up and I feel strong and I treasure that feeling. I feel drawn toward people with similar goals that have become my anchor in this pandemic. New adventures are opening up.

So, now when I think I want a new goal. I ask myself why. How will this goal help me become the person I want to be? Why do I want it?

If the why is strong enough, you will always discover the how.

Thirteen in Quarantine

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2020 – The Year of the Quarantine Birthday

Nick’s birthday is May 5.

I’m not sure if it will be his best birthday, but it will certainly be memorable.

If there is a good age for a child to be in quarantine, 13 might be it.

He’s old enough to understand what’s going on. He doesn’t ask to do things he knows are not possible right now.

He’s also not old enough to have created a social life outside of the house as a teenager might.

He’s at the age where he likes to hole up in his room and play video games.

So, he seems relatively content.

The NTI was really stressful the first couple of weeks. But, we’ve developed a routine and he fusses less now.

He still fusses – just less.

He can pick me up and carry me across the kitchen floor. He’s almost as tall and almost weighs as much as me.

He likes to look me in the eye and say “Get Noob.” I have no real understanding of what that means. So, I tell him to “Get Noob.” He finds that both shocking and hilarious.

He’s developed a great sense of humor. Not only does he laugh and understand sarcasm, but he can be witty with a completely straight face.

I find that I don’t just love him – I really like him and find him good company.

We’ve had some precious moments being quarantined in the house together. We break out into random dance parties in the living room. He talks to me a lot more.  He actually takes the long walk with me on occasion.

I can trust him with more chores. He can make macaroni and cheese. He can wash, dry and fold his laundry. He can unload the dishwasher and mop the floor. He calls himself the “Ultimate Dish Master.” I dig it.

I feel bad that he’s missing the birthday sleepover. Vacations are cancelled and summer activities will change.

But, I’m glad he gets the opportunity to deal with disappointment now and to learn how to respond to it before going off on his own.

He’s learning to dance in the rain, sing in the storm and weather the pain.

And ultimately, that might be the best birthday present one can get.

An Apple a Day

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I always wanted to be a teacher. I think school was the place where I felt safe and seen and successful. I wanted to give that feeling to others.

So, when I was 18, I declared an education major at college – which I quickly changed. I forgot that teaching meant standing up in front of a room of people and I found that terrifying.

So, I retreated back into my introvert shell and decided to become and editor. This sent my career plans in another direction for a few years – until I was training people at work one day and someone said, “You’re a good teacher.”

So, I went back to school and became one. For many years, I greeted classes of high school students. Creativity and helping people express themselves was my gift. Classroom management and discipline not so much.

When I left to pursue my writing, I thought I wouldn’t miss it. I got to crawl back into my introvert shell. But the students had given me gifts over the years – hope, inspiration and resilience.

So, I supposed I will always be a teacher in some form. I’m getting ready this morning to go give my final for my college English class. I teach yoga every week. I’m contemplating teaching some journaling classes.

This shiny crystal apple ornament is the most sparkly ornament on my tree. It reminds me that even the most simple gifts can be dazzling.

When we teach, when we parent, when we train – we give a little piece of ourselves to the next generation.

And over time – our simple gifts – the apple a day – start to bear fruit. And we see in them something that we thought we had lost long ago.

They return our hope to us – and that is the greatest gift of all.

 

Home Sweet Home

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I bought my first house on accident. My ex and I had moved in to the rental a year before. The owners decided to sell. So, instead of moving (which we didn’t want to do), we just bought it.

I can’t say I know a lot about home ownership. But, it was a condominium with the outside maintenance taken care of, so I thought we could handle it.

My father always built houses and knew a lot about how to fix them up. That wasn’t passed on to me. I think I fixed the toilet once – that has been the extent of my work as a handyperson.

But, I loved that little condominium and lived there for years. I bought this ornament to commemorate its purchase.

I remember the first time I went with Michael to see our current house. I was in awe of the neighborhood with the lakes and rolling hills. I liked the idea of having a big front porch to sit on and read. The porch swing sealed the deal.

Now, as we are getting older, we talk about our last house. We think about things like stairs, steep driveways and bedrooms on the first floor. It’s kind of crazy to think about.

My idea of home has changed somewhat, too. I want to downsize. The idea of cleaning a big house no longer appeals. I often like the idea of being a snowbird – spending the winters in the South and the rest of the year here.

We’ve talked about tiny homes, RV’s and rental units. I want to be near my grandchildren, but also have a little bit of beach and adventure.

Wherever we end up, I know Christmas will involve a visit from my very own, Saint Nicholas.

After all, the people we love are what makes a house a home.

Shine Bright

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‘Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.’ ~ Anne Lamott

I am a lifelong Kentuckian – except for the four months I lived in North Carolina.

Growing up, I was always trying to get out of this state. When I was 18 and applying to colleges, I got a shiny brochure for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Something about the campus spoke to me. I wanted nothing more than to go there.

But, my parents had other plans. They wanted me close to home and put on the monetary pressure to make that happen. So, I let that shining light of hope fade away.

7 years later after a rough breakup, I decided now was my chance. I used the newly formed internet to secure a job, a roommate and lodging in the great state of North Carolina and off I went – tiny Uhaul in tow.

It was beautiful there – two hours from the beach and two hours from the mountains. I would take long walks in the forest and spend the afternoon lying next to the waves. The winters were mild.

College students were everywhere. There was a vibe of academia and excitement in the air.

But, at the time, I was terribly shy and ill equipped to be out in the world alone. I was like a boat lost at sea in a terrible storm.

Though I had plenty of gumption, I didn’t have the inner resources to weather a move of that magnitude.

And so four months later I returned broken and discouraged.

Things started to turn around and my dreams of North Carolina faded into the background.

I still dream of it sometimes and this little ornament of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse reminds me of that time.

Now, twenty years later, I am no longer that little boat tossed around by every rough wave.

I have ceased running around trying to save everyone else.

I am slowly learning to become that lighthouse – shining my own little light and seeing who responds.

When you do that, no matter where you are – you are home.

Holiday Joy

ornament3I remember seeing an Alvin & the Chipmunks cartoon as a child and loving it. I don’t know if it was because little Alvin was sassy or because I liked the one with the glasses or because I can relate to high pitched voices, but I loved it. This adoration is not shared by many.

But, when I was 18, my then boyfriend took me to see the most magnificent Christmas light display and my love of the Chipmunks was cemented forever.

It was just around the corner in his neighborhood. We parked the car and got out to look at the house across the street. There was a Santa sleigh in the yard, reindeer flying over the roof and a small ice skating rink with skaters. It was a dazzling display and many cars stopped to look a it. But, the centerpiece for me, was in the front window. All day, every day, three animatronic Alvin and the Chipmunks danced and sang their Christmas song.

I squealed with delight as the snow fell around me. And long after me and this boy broke up, I would take a yearly trip to that house to see those chipmunks. It was my favorite Christmas tradition.

I never knew the residents of the house. Perhaps they got old and tired of the elaborate display preparation. But, for more than 20 years I went and looked at that house. I took friends. I took people I dated. I took my son from birth. I even drove an hour to see it after I moved.

But, then one day, the Chipmunks were gone. I was so sad. It was like a piece of the magic had disappeared.

Now, my only reminder is this Alvin and the Chipmunks ornament I have. And yes, it does sing the song. I do still light up when it comes on, despite the groans of others.

“Christmas, Christmas time is here. Time for toys and time for cheer.”

I’ve been trying to find another Christmas tradition. At the college where I work, they have a night where everyone sings “Silent Night” on the lawn and then they turn on the Christmas lights for the first time. It was quite beautiful.

Whether your tradition is quiet or quirky, enjoy these yearly rituals.

We can all use a little bit of holiday joy.

Kodak Memories

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Remember carrying around camera bags with little tubes of film? It seems so long ago now. And yet, most of my memories were captured on cameras with limited photos. You never knew how they were going to turn out. I remember the anticipation of taking them to the drugstore for processing and excitedly picking them up a week later.

I sometimes miss that – having more tangible photographs. Now, I take all of my photos with my phone, rarely have them developed and use Facebook as a photo storage facility.

Sometimes I wish camera phones had been developed earlier. All of my photos of Europe are stuffed in a box in the garage no easily accessible. But, then there are many photos of my youth that I’m glad don’t pop up in social media. My life wasn’t on display back then. And there’s a blessing in that.

This ornament was a gift from my high school friend, Leslie. It’s made out of a photo of us on Halloween. Long ago, I lost touch with Leslie. But, still here she is on my tree.

I remember her being really smart with a thick, southern accent. I have a video of her from my 18th birthday. But, other than this one photo – my memories exist only in my mind.

I’m not sure what is more true anymore – the photo world we display to our Instagram and Facebook or the memories locked away in our subconscious. I sometimes wonder if my memories are accurate, tainted as they are by my perceptions at the time.

But, the photos themselves never tell the whole story. They capture a moment of joy in perhaps a day filled with some boredom or squabbling.

But, maybe that’s why they are precious to us. In the swirl of memories in our muddled minds and in our days filled with tiny irritations – photos remind us of the moments of joy.

So that we can find them again.