What a Motley Crew!

Over the holidays, I traveled to the Los Angeles area with my teenage daughter, her friend, my 20-something nephew, and his friend. So that’s five travelers, ranging in age from 16 to 52…that highest number being mine.

We came together for meals while we were there and just a few other activities, but we did our own thing a lot. During the final dinner of our trip, I asked my fellow travelers to go around the table and tell what their favorite part of the trip was, and I expected to hear lots of different answers, but they surprised me.

They all answered the same thing…our day in Malibu. The day we were in Malibu was also the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death. It was the one day we all spent together, and I was thrilled to know everyone enjoyed it. While we were in Malibu, we dined at my very favorite restaurant…on the deck, right on the beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Those of us who were old enough had some fun cocktails. We drank a toast to Mother, and we took lots of photos. After leaving the restaurant, we walked down to Malibu Pier…a favorite landmark and another great photo op. The walk was only about a half mile, but we laughed and talked all the way to the pier.

Like I said, before I asked, I thought they would all have different answers. Throughout the trip, we had seen lots of celebrities! We had eaten great meals. We had shopped till we dropped. My nephew and his friend had never been there before, so they did more sightseeing…I thought that might have been their favorite part of the trip. But nope…they all enjoyed the day we were all together. As a mother and aunt, it made me very happy. And knowing it was the second anniversary of my mother’s passing made me more grateful for the time we all spent together. She had to be smiling down on us as we laughed and ate and drank and walked and laughed some more.

My daughter is 16, and I always think she just wants to be away from me. She loves me, but I remember 16…I remember wanting to have more independence. She certainly enjoys any independence she has, but it warms my heart to know her favorite day was the day she was with her old mom and her cousin and their friends. We were a motley crew…the conservative-looking 52-yr-old mom/aunt, the two 16-yr-old girls who are too cool for school, and my 20-something hippie-looking nephew and his girlfriend. No one would have put that group together in a million years, but that motley crew had a great time!

It was a great way to celebrate my mother’s life, and it was infinitely better than the first anniversary of her death. It’s much better to spend days like that with people who are important to you…people you love…people who always have your back. So if you ever find yourself facing this kind of “anniversary,” remember to spend it with people who will wrap you in love. Avoid people who won’t.

It warms my heart to know they all enjoyed being together. I can hardly wait for the next trip!

I Won’t Get Jewelry for Valentine’s Day

I won’t get jewelry for Valentine’s Day.

That’s one thing I know for sure. My husband and I agreed a long time ago that Valentine’s Day isn’t a time for us to exchange big gifts. It’s a little celebration that means little gifts. In fact, if my husband got me jewelry for Valentine’s Day, I’d be a little upset with him. Long ago, my husband learned that I’d rather have a vacation than jewelry, so he just lets me plan my own vacations, and frankly, I think he loves that the pressure is off.

Every year, we also pretend “Cupid” came by our house on the eve of Valentine’s Day. Cupid always leaves a few little gifts for our daughter, who is now 16 and thinks the whole Cupid thing is ridiculous, but she likes the little treats anyway. Remember how I mentioned my teenage daughter’s eye rolls in my piece about work pants? Well, when we tell her Cupid visited (or the leprechaun visited on St. Patrick’s Day), we get one of those eye rolls.

Cupid is bringing bite-sized cupcakes from Baked by Melissa this year for the whole family! You might still have time to order if you do it quickly! Order here.

Since it’s getting a little late for ordering things for Valentine’s Day, here are some things you can get locally at the last minute:

  • Valentine card. I know, it sounds obvious, but lots of us forget to get or make an old-fashioned Valentine card. In fact, maybe I’ll make a card for my husband this year. I love a good craft. That doesn’t mean I’m always good at crafts, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Country Living has some great DIY card ideas here.
  • Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Krispy Kreme has some heart shaped doughnuts with icing for Valentine’s Day this year, and my mouth waters just thinking about them. I was talking with a single friend yesterday and told her to go buy some Krispy Kreme Valentine doughnuts to celebrate her love for herself. In fact, I  might have to pick up a dozen for me too!
  • Dunkin’ Donuts. Dunkin’ Donuts also offers heart-shaped donuts for the special day. I love Dunkin’ Donuts too…and I’d love to get Medium Iced Coffee with cream and four Splendas with those Donuts!
  • Chick-Fil-A heart-shaped trays. Chicken is the new chocolate! ChickFilA got in on the Valentine’s Day game a couple of years ago, and this year, they are continuing the tradition. You can get ChickFilA Chicken Minis, nuggets, or their chocolate chunk cookies in a heart-shaped tray. I’d love for my husband to surprise me with breakfast in bed this weekend! What says “I love you” more than some Chick-Fil-A Chicken Minis served in a heart-shaped tray?! Hint hint, honey! You can read Chick-fil-A’s blog post about them here.
  • Papa John’s Pizza. Papa John’s will deliver a heart-shaped pizza right to your house! Right now, they have a special…a heart-shaped pizza plus a brownie for $16! That’s delicious and inexpensive! Order on the website here.
  • Olive Garden. I don’t even know the last time I stepped foot into an Olive Garden, but I do remember some yummy bread and salad from there. Well, they have a Valentine’s Day Dinner to Go for Two that starts at $35.99. For that price, you get breadsticks with a choice of soup or salad, a choice of dipping sauce, an entree for two (Chicken Alfredo or Five Cheese Ziti al forno), and a dessert to share. It’s actually a good deal and a good idea! You can order here.
  • Flowers. Sure, you can order from your local florist, which is always a great way to surprise your Valentine and a great way to support the local economy. But if you find yourself in a bind on Valentine’s Day, you might be able to find some beautiful fresh flowers in your local grocery store.
  • Any Favorite Bakery item. My husband has surprised me with some of my favorite bakery items for Valentine’s Day, and I’m always thrilled by that. One year, he brought me a patty cake sized chocolate cake with buttercream icing, and very little makes me happier than that.
  • Gift card/certificate. I have lots of friends who would love to receive a gift card or certificate for a mani/pedi or for a massage at a local spa. Or maybe your loved one would rather have a night out? You can give a restaurant gift card, and instead of going out on a very crowded Valentine’s Day that falls on a Friday this year, promise to go on another night!
  • Coffee in bed. Lots of people would love nothing more than a good cup of coffee served in bed first thing in the morning.
  • Bottle of Champagne. What’s more romantic than a bottle of Champagne? You can run into your local grocery store or wine store and grab it on the way home on Valentine’s Day!
  • Cheap Valentine’s Candy. Last year I wrote how one of my favorite Valentine’s gifts was a box of conversation hearts from someone I’d only gone out with once. It was perfectly simple and sweet. You can run into any local Target, Walmart, or grocery store and grab some different Valentine’s candies for you Valentine. I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Hearts myself.

It’s just two days away, so we’re down to the wire for Valentine’s Day gifts. Hopefully, you got a few ideas here. Personally, I’d love to wake up with coffee and Chick-Fil-A Chicken Minis in bed, followed by the special Valentine lunch from Olive Garden with a bottle of Champagne, and maybe order a heart-shaped pizza from Papa John’s before having every possible heart-shaped doughnut in town for dessert! Oh, and I’d need some iced coffee somewhere in there too.

Hoping you have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Picture Tells a Story

A picture tells a story.

At the end of every year since I got an Instagram account, I go back through all the photos I posted for that year. Recently I went back through my Instagram photos for 2019, and I truly realized that some of the pictures really tell stories.

My first post for 2019 was a photo at the Charlotte airport…not much of a story except that we were starting vacation…meeting friends from Ohio in LA. But the next picture, a photo of me and my friend from Ohio, Jenn, tells a real story.

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Sure, looking at the photo above, all you see is two friends on a chilly day with the Pacific Ocean in the background. But what I see is love. Having just survived the first anniversary of my mother’s death (she died December 30, 2017), I was still reeling. I was feeling lost. And then we arrived in Los Angeles, and Jenn and her daughter arrived. After telling her what a terrible day that first anniversary on December 30 had been (there were additional factors at play)…and crying…Jenn made me feel better. Jenn, the perpetual ray of sunshine, hugged me, listened to me, and made me feel loved. So every time I come across that one single photo that looks completely nondescript and meaningless to everyone else in the world, I remember how much better she made me feel. I can look at my face in that picture and see the pain melting away. I see the relief in my eyes and in my face. That picture reminds me that good friends are hard to find. And that picture reminds me that when we find good friends like Jenn, we need to keep them.

There are other photos from 2019 that stand out for me. In fact, any photos I post on Instagram, I share for a reason…maybe I think they’re funny or cute…maybe I want to share something cool…or maybe there’s another meaning behind the picture. Of course, when I posted the picture of me and Jenn, I had no idea how powerful the picture was for me. It was only when I was looking through pictures a few months later that I saw it again, and the meaning behind it floored me. Instagram photos certainly tell stories…maybe not to the casual observer, but to the originator of the post. Most of my photos tell stories of family, friendship, and love. And then there are some that tell different stories…like this photo of me and my daughter in front of Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The story? In 2015, I took a crazy road trip with my friend, Mary Ann, and our kids. We spent a few nights in Chicago, and while we were there, I had hoped to get the kids up to Wisconsin…just so they could add another state to their list of “states visited.” There was a Six Flags amusement park we could have visited just over the line, but that would have taken too much time, so instead, I suggested Mars Cheese Castle, a giant cheese store shaped like…you guessed it…a castle. We never made it in 2015, and I regretted it. So in 2019, when I was in Chicago with my daughter and one of her friends, we made a quick trip up to Kenosha to visit Mars Cheese Castle. You can see how happy I was!

Those are just a couple of examples of how pictures tell stories, but I can look at every picture on my Instagram account and remember stories and conversations behind them. Right now, though, I keep going back to that picture of me and Jenn. I need to call her and thank her for being a good friend.

 

The Sad Season

The holidays are winding down. Lots of folks get depressed after the holidays…Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or just plain old sadness that the holidays are over. And then there are people like me who have experienced loss…and the unfortunate few of us who have actually experienced loss during the holidays.

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of my mother’s passing…two years without my mother. She fell ill on Christmas Eve 2017, and I received a phone call at 8:30 that night…she was in the hospital in Alabama. My little family rushed through opening gifts in Charlotte that night, and before the crack of dawn on Christmas Day, I left to go be with my mother. As I drove to Alabama, I was thinking of how I was going to tell my mother that she was coming back to Charlotte with me. I was thinking of how angry she would be that I wanted her to leave her house. But I never got to tell her she was coming home with me. The doctor made it clear to me on December 26 that she would not recover, and since both my grandmothers had died on December 26 in different years (eerie, right?) I needed Mother to make it past that day. I asked the doctor if she was likely to make it to the 27th, explaining why I was asking, and he assured me she would…but not much longer. I didn’t want her to die at all, but if she had died on the 26th, every year after that, I would have been waiting for something to happen to me on the 26th. We needed to break the cycle. She made it to the 30th.

Last year, the first anniversary, was a terrible day…terrible. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, and it was just a terrible day. But this year, I am bound and determined to make it a happier day. Of course, I’m still sad my mother isn’t here, but instead of crying all day, I hope to be celebrating her life…drinking a toast to her memory.

In fact, as I type, I’m on a plane to Los Angeles…a vacation with my daughter, her friend, and my nephew and his friend. Mother would have loved knowing my nephew is vacationing with us. We have a lunch reservation tomorrow at a fabulous restaurant, where we will remember Mother. We might even order a Bailey’s and coffee, her favorite, after lunch.

And as hard as I will try to be happy, positive, and upbeat, I know a little sadness will creep in. I know that, because I just tried to read a piece by Sean Dietrich (see Sean of the South on Facebook here), and I couldn’t get past the first couple paragraphs about his dad, who he lost years ago.

So right now, for this second anniversary, I’ll take “mostly happy with a little sadness creeping in.”

All this is my way of reminding everyone that some people are sad right now. Some are suffering. Some are just trying to push through the season. And then some will be even more sad at the thought of starting a new year without a loved one. I hope I will show mercy and offer courteous goodwill to those who need it. I hope I will try to help my friends and family into 2020…with some love, patience, hope, and clarity. And I hope they will do the same for me.

Let’s make 2020 a good year.

 

And They Said It Wouldn’t Last

On August 19, my husband and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. We were married in 2000, when we were both rapidly approaching our mid-thirties. We had known each other for three years, having met through a mutual friend with whom I worked.

I was 33, and he was 34, and when we got married, I was living in Mobile, Alabama, and he was living in Charlotte, North Carolina. We had met in Mobile in 1997, but he had moved to Charlotte soon thereafter, so we had a long-distance relationship, and I had no plans of moving unless I was married. I’m sure I could have found a job in Charlotte, but at 33, I wasn’t willing to make a partial commitment to a man; I needed a full-on commitment if I were going to move.

So we were married on August 19 in the historic First Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka, Alabama. When we returned from our two-week Hawaiian honeymoon, we went to Mobile and loaded a truck with all my belongings and moved them to Charlotte. I had lived in different places, so moving was not a challenge for me. In fact, the longest I had ever lived anywhere at that point in my life was nine years…moving wasn’t a problem. Of course, my family was in Alabama, but I could visit whenever I wanted, and we talked every day.

Not gonna lie. The first year was challenging. Remember, we were 33 and 34. We had both been living alone for years, and I loved living alone….eating cereal for dinner in front of the TV; staying up as late as I wanted; being in charge of the remote control; not answering to anyone…you get the picture. We were two (and still are) two very different people. He likes to be home. I like to be on the go. In fact, home, for me, is just a place to change clothes. And I’m always planning my next trip. He’s quiet. I’m not. Seriously, he is very quiet and reserved. But we were married. Suddenly, I had to be more grown up. I had to cook and eat real meals at the table instead of sitting cross-legged on the floor. My husband liked to go to bed earlier than I did, and he always held the remote control. Life was different, and when I was down, he didn’t understand. What did I not like about leaving a one-bedroom apartment? Well…that little one bedroom apartment was my space, and after getting married, it seemed I rarely had my space. I’m sure there were people who could sense the tension and thought, “They’ll never make it.”

But one year in, I was accustomed to married life. In fact, one year in, and I was flat out enjoying it. We got a dog…an Airedale Terrier I wanted to name Fannie after a college friend, but the husband wouldn’t go for “Fannie.” We opted for Annie instead. She has been gone for several years now, but I still wish we had named her Fannie.  And then, 2.5 years after we married, we were expecting a baby. We found out in May 2003 it was a girl, and we were thrilled. She was born in October of 2003, and no one ever loved a baby more than we love that girl. But again, there was added stress. We were sleep deprived. We were exhausted (mostly me). But after the first few months, we started to get more sleep. We started to have more fun, and the stress of having a baby in the house subsided. We were a happy little family of three.

It hasn’t been all fun and games. In 2005, my husband’s beloved grandmother passed away, and all of us were heartbroken. She was kind and caring, and she was a force of nature. At the same time, my mother was driving from Mobile to Birmingham (4-5 hours) all the time, trying to get my grandmother settled in to assisted living, and my daddy was having undiagnosed health issues. In February 2006, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he died that same year…eight months after his official diagnosis. My heart was broken. While I had lost grandparents, I had never experienced a loss as terrible as that one. It was the hardest time of my life, at that point. I was truly devastated. My heart ached in a way I didn’t know it could.

After that, my husband had not one, but two brain surgeries, and we survived that. I say “we,” because it was hard on both of us. Physically and mentally, it was difficult for him. It was emotionally and mentally hard on me. He came back from surgery a different person, but we got through that too. You can read about it here. And then, I lost my mother in December 2017. It took the wind out of my sails. I slept for a month afterward. I had learned some coping skills after the losing my daddy, but it didn’t matter. Nothing could have prepared me for the loss of my mother. I can still get upset at any moment, and it has been 20 months since she passed.

But my husband helped. He understood. He knew that when I stayed in bed in January of 2018, I needed to be there. He looked out for me. He supported me. And then, one of my dearest friends died in June 2018 after battling cancer for 30 years. My husband supported me through that too.

We’ve had our share of heartaches, but we are a team, and we deal with them together. We have had our share of disagreements, but we’ve moved past them. Sometimes he thinks I’m absolutely insane, and vice versa. I’m not going to lie and say it has been easy. It hasn’t always been easy. I don’t always understand him, and he doesn’t always understand me, but we try.

But married life hasn’t been all about loss. It hasn’t been all been difficult. We love raising our daughter together. We love sitting out on the patio together in the evening…sipping Prosecco and listening to jazz music. We have enjoyed going to lots of concerts together. At night, before we go to sleep, we watch an episode of Chrisley Knows Best, The Young and The Restless, or CSI: Miami. He helps me plant the garden every year, and I tend it. We both love to watch college and NFL football, so fall is a busy time for us. And we try to go to all our daughter’s field hockey and lacrosse games. He brings me coffee in bed every morning, because he learned that I’m a lot happier if I wake up with caffeine. I go to bed earlier, because he likes to get to bed earlier than I do. We laugh a lot…at each other and with each other. We have fun together. We are thankful we wake up every day. We appreciate the life we have together.

Our daughter is about to start her sophomore year of high school, and in three short years, she will be heading off to college somewhere. We will enter a new phase of life, God willing. And we will have to adapt to more changes. Right now, we aren’t always on the same page for our plans for the empty nest years. But I’m sure we will find ways to compromise. We will find ways to make sure we both get to “live the dream.” He wants the Gulf Coast, and I want to travel to different cities. We will find a way to make it all happen, and we will have fun along the way….God willing.

Happy 19th Anniversary, Cary! And they said it wouldn’t last…

True Friends Are Like Warm Blankets

True friends are like warm blankets.

This weekend, I spent three days in central Florida with a dear friend from college. We have kept in touch since we were 19 years old and students at the University of Alabama. We’re both 52 now…do the math.

We have shared a lot over the years…secrets, tears, laughs, good times, sadness, hard times…heck, we even have the same wedding anniversary, but she married five years before I did. We are true friends…through thick and thin. Oh, the stories we could tell! Stories of fun nights, bad dates, good parties, bad boyfriends, great experiences, terrible breakups, exciting jobs, sad losses, new babies, teenagers, and some stories of things that could only happen to us…or at least it feels that way. And we have shared some of those stories with our kids. They didn’t really seem to care at the time, though. In fact, they likely rolled their eyes, but one day, they will remember the stories we have told them…and they’ll laugh about some of them, and likely cry about others.

As for this weekend, we didn’t talk about old times a lot. We have covered that many times over the years. Of course, we laughed about some of the funnier things that happened when we were together, but we didn’t rehash it all. We talked about life as we see it now…33 years after becoming friends. We’re middle-aged moms now. We have a different vantage point now than we did at 19. We talked about things we have been through…things we have survived…and we talked about happiness. We talked about how, at 52, we know happiness doesn’t come from having material things. We are very aware that not worrying about how the bills will be paid can contribute to a peaceful, happy existence, but all the extra stuff...not so much. You can have lots of jewelry and fancy cars, but do those material things make you happy? We discussed that what makes us happy is experiencing life with people we love.

We know that for a lot of reasons, but mostly, we know it, because we didn’t sit around talking about material things at all. We didn’t talk about cars, jewelry, handbags, or clothes. We enjoyed talking about interactions with people. We shared stories about life experiences. It wasn’t about bragging rights. It was about sharing life events and how we handled them. We discussed painful experiences and what we learned from them. I’ve lost both parents, and she has lost her dad…we talked and cried about that a lot. And we talked about joyful experiences…things we did together; things our kids have enjoyed; stories of our children’s childhoods and our own childhoods…and more.

Did I mention we laughed a lot?

And while no one can “relive” their youth, we found ourselves absolutely slack-jawed while we watched Endless Love (rent it on Amazon here), a movie we were too young to see when it was a released with an R rating in 1981, but we both watched later on HBO. In fact, it had been so long since either of us had seen it that we forgot Tom Cruise and Jami Gertz had bit parts in the movie. And we had never realized before that a then-unknown Ian Ziering (of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) was in the movie. We also watched Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink (you can rent both on Amazon.com) and reminisced about seeing those movies as teenagers. And before you even think it…I know Sixteen Candles could never be made today with its sexism, underage/nonconsensual sex, underage drinking, and more…but it’s comedy, people! It’s supposed to be funny. I thought it was funny in 1984, and I still think it’s funny now.

During the day, we drove around the lovely town where she lives. We looked at historic homes, parks, flowers, and trees, and one day, we went tubing with her teenage son at Ichetucknee Springs State Park…quite the adventure! The water was refreshingly cold as we floated down the river…laughing and talking. She laughed at me when I would float off into the grasses on the edge of the river, and I laughed at her when she missed the entrance to the disembarkation ramp. We made new memories we will laugh about for years to come.

But what I enjoyed most was simply being with my friend. She knows who I really am and loves me anyway. Spending time with my friend was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. She’s comforting. She has been around for a long time. And she makes me feel secure. I came home feeling rejuvenated. I came home feeling content.

Sure, we are middle-aged moms now, and we have had a lot more life experience than when we became friends. We are, in fact, older than our parents were when we became friends. Wow…we really are middle aged.

She’s a keeper.

Decide To Be Happy

Sometimes, life hands us lemons. We’ve all heard it…we need to make lemonade. My mother used to always say, “You have to decide to be happy.”

Every single day since I lost my mother in December of 2017, I remind myself that I have to decide to be happy. It’s not that I haven’t experienced any happiness, but sometimes, when I get sad about having lost her, it’s hard to bring myself out of it. And every time, I hear her say, “You have to decide to be happy.”

I try not to write about death and loss very often, because I know people don’t want to hear about it. I know it’s a downer. I know that sometimes, I feel better if I think of something happy. But right now, it’s OK if no one wants to hear about it. It’s OK if everybody skips over this, because right now, I need to write about it.

I’m in the process of closing out Mother’s estate. No, there were no loose ends to tie up. She made it as easy as possible. She had a will. She listed survivors on bank accounts. She didn’t have any debt. She made it easy. Maybe if she had made it complicated, I could have gotten angry with her and been in a bigger hurry to close everything, but nope…she made the division of assets easy. Yet, I still haven’t closed out the estate, and it’s time for me to do it. I should have done it six months ago, but it’s downright depressing.

In fact, I feel more sad now than I did immediately after her passing. Weird, I know, but I guess I feel like closing out the estate is like closing the final chapter on her life. There have been days that I knew would be difficult…my parents’ anniversary, Mother’s Day, her birthday, Christmas Eve (the anniversary of her hospitalization), Christmas Day, the anniversary of her death (December 30)…but I never expected this part to be so difficult. I thought it was completely transactional, and being a tough chick, I thought I’d be able to treat this as a transaction. But I can’t. I realize that now, because I’ve been delaying it…and I’ve been sad.

And I’ve been off my game. Sure, I’ve gone through the motions of regular life, but deep inside, I’ve been off my game since she took her last breath.

And now I’m faced with closing the book on the estate.

But something occurred to me today: Maybe…just maybe…it will be freeing. That’s all I can hope. Maybe I will feel a little sense of freedom, like a weight has been lifted, when I sign all the papers. Maybe closing the estate will actually make me feel better. We’ve all had times like that. We put something off because it’s scary, but once it happens, we feel a sense of relief or freedom. I have friends who put off signing divorce papers, because it was depressing, but once they did it, they felt like the albatross had been removed from their necks. Maybe the estate is my albatross? That sounds terrible. My mother would not like it that I referred to it that way, but she doesn’t get a vote in this.

After my daddy died, mother was talking with her doctor about anti-depressants, and she said, “My husband wouldn’t like it.” The doctor, very calmly, said, “Your husband’s not here anymore. He doesn’t get a vote in this.” And he was right! She knew it, and she actually laughed! For the record, she started taking the anti-depressant, and it made a big difference in her approach to life. Sure, she was still grieving Daddy, but the anti-depressant helped her decide to be happy.

As soon as I receive all the paperwork, I’ll sign off on closing the estate. In fact, I’m going to invite friends to a brunch at my house for that very day, so they can come over and drink some champagne with me to celebrate the closure…the freedom.

Mother would laugh about that, and she would be happy to know that it’s done.

I will decide to be happy…just in time for spring!