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ode to summer

I’m sitting on a California beach watching my daughter jump the waves. This year we swapped our annual crazy road trip for a stay on the west coast, and at the end of an idyllic, albeit busy, ten day vacation with my family, I suddenly find myself staring at a new school year lurking just around the corner. While I’m excited to get my class list and finish organizing my room, I’m definitely not ready for summer’s last hurrah. 

When I was my daughter’s age, I counted the days to our annual two-week beach trip by number of sleeps until the big day arrived.    We didn’t own a car, so travel was by motor coach to the south coast of England, a 7-8 hour mostly tedious journey, endless motorways finally giving way to the first views of the twinkling blue waves at the bottom of the hill as we pulled into the bus station at our destination. 

We always stayed at a B&B for our fortnight of sand, sea, and sun; usually chosen sight-unseen from a holiday book, sandwiched somewhere along a row of Victorian three-storey homes, mostly the same on the outside, but revealing the personal stamp of the owners on the inside.  Creaky floorboards, uneven staircases, and old paisley carpets were de rigeur, however; along with the smells of morning bacon wafting up the stairs as we woke to the alarm call of the gulls wheeling in the impossibly-blue skies; the sound of stainless steel spoons in bowls of cereal, the scrape of knives and forks as you ate up every scrap of that full English breakfast which always tasted better on holiday.

Most days were unplanned but usually had the same routine –  heading down the Chine to the beach with a towel (sometimes splurging on a deck chair); digging sand castles with a new bucket and spade; salty-sea-lips, mixed in with the taste of suncream and lunchtime baps filled with tomatoes, cheese, the obligatory packet of crisps,  and some form of lunchmeat.  Most importantly, it was essential to time the return to the B&B perfectly so that we’d be first to stake a claim on the communal bathroom – otherwise we’d be relegated to a quick cold dip in the tub, or worse, a ‘lick and a promise’ with Quickies and cold water in our attic twin room.  The bedroom sink did double duty as an underwear rinsing station too: M&S smalls hung to dry on a makeshift clothesline outside the window – and never a problem until one day a gust of wind blew a very sparkly pair of my purple knickers off the window sill and onto the No Vacancy sign in the parking area, where they remained until Mum rather sheepishly reclaimed them before dinner that night.

On the days when the tide was high and the beach area was reduced to a few feet, we’d take day trips to explore nearby towns and sights: a local safari park and forest, miniature recreations of British and worldwide monuments; we’d play mini-golf or time-waste in the penny arcade; or shop for souvenirs at Beale’s or W.H. Smith’s.  In the evenings, we’d walk into town or hop on the open top bus and ride the cliff roads with views of the bay: the Aqua show, Pier Theatre, and the fairy lights in the Public Gardens were always at the top of our post-dinner to-do list.  

Sometimes we would go to the pictures – I remember seeing the Sound of Music for the first time and crushing on Colonel Von Trapp; belly-laughing at the corny jokes of Airplane!; and the summer of the disaster movie – Earthquake with the simulated shaking in the theatre; Towering Inferno with a sweaty Paul Newman and George Kennedy; and Jaws of course, after which every innocuous black shape in the sea caused a mild panic on the beach.

Years later, I look back at old photographs and find great joy in those memories of childhood summer holidays.  How lucky I was!  And how lucky I am in my summers now, to be able to spend many days off with my own daughter.   My Junes are filled with swim team and Vacation Bible School – quite possibly the best summer invention ever; my Julys and early Augusts calendared with trips by road or plane to visit family.

This summer, my goal was to get my house in order and focus (my one little word for 2017) on the myriad personal projects I never have time for during the school year.  I’ve organized and reorganized my pantry, kitchen, and the bedrooms; prepped for my new classroom; purged, tossed, and shredded paper piles; donated, sold, and put away the contents of my closet; finally tackled my tangled up jewellery boxes;  read more books for pleasure than for professional development; and most importantly, carved out serious quality time making new summer memories with my girl.

Last week, on our connecting flight here, I found myself sitting next to a mother who had recently lost her Navy son to a tragic accident.  She was on her way to give comfort to her daughter-in-law, who was drowning in despair, struggling to come up for air with a seven-month old son.  We talked about loss; about hanging on to faith by your fingernails when everything seems overwhelming; how there is no timeline on grief; how anxiety and depression can overwhelm your soul in those early days of loss; and how the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel can seem as unattainable as the summit of Everest when the pain of loss is but a few days old.  

In 9 days, I will be exactly the same age as my husband was when he left this earth – 52 years and 98 days old.  28 days after that will be the 6th anniversary of his passing.  My daughter is a rising 5th grader who will turn 11 in October.   She tells me she remembers his voice.  I hear his laugh in hers, and see his kindness in her thoughtful ways.  She is his legacy of love. 

Stopping the clock to freeze our favourite moments in time; pushing the snooze button on summer; tweaking the past with a time-turner – these are not available options for us.  In times of loss, it’s easy to clutch at the past, as a drowning man grabs for a lifebelt.  Time passes, and the rawness of immediate grief gives way to what is often called a new normal (I hate that term by the way); we resolve to go forward; to try to live our best lives, appreciate what we have, while we have it.  To be present in the moment and enjoy those simpler pleasures.  Dust bunnies and laundry can wait til tomorrow. Our lives shouldn’t be measured by piles of stuff, but too often, those piles become our defining memories. 

So summer of 2017, here’s to you and your simple pleasures…..

….to lazy days of walking on the beach and jumping the waves….

…..to that can’t-put-down novel and languishing in luscious language……

…..to sunburned shoulders and freckled faces…..

…..,to diving in the deep end of a pool and blowing bubbles through noses….

…..to cold pizza and icecream for breakfast, juicy watermelon dripping down chins, and everything good to eat…..

…to sleeping in on weekday mornings, and napping on the wraparound porch as the hummingbirds dive bomb the hanging baskets like kamikaze pilots…..

Cheers to you, summer….. 

…… until next year.

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Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Robert Burns


It’s a half hour or so to the end of 2014 and I’m sitting here reflecting as I usually do on New Years Eve.    For the past four years, I’ve chosen a word to lead me forward at the beginning of each new year.   Appreciate.  Recharge.  Simplify.  For 2014, my word was Balance.    I became a dual citizen; reconnected with dear old friends back in the UK, stateside, and worldwide; found a new teaching job in an environment I love with much less stress;  joined the Y and lost some pounds (gained a few back over Christmas but enough said about that), and reduced much of the clutter in my house to the point where I feel comfortable entertaining company again – to name but a few major positives.    I shifted the balance and evened out my life.

There have been many times in the past few months I came to this blog to express myself as I used to do, and found myself wordless and uninspired.   I kept a diary faithfully for many years but less so in the past decade, and when I started this blog, it became a new form of self expression while I faced some personal challenges.  Following the loss of my husband and my job, and then the illness of my mother, all within a 12 month span, it was a way to respond to the “but how are YOU doing” unspoken questions hanging out there.  Sometimes I published my posts, and sometimes I just reviewed them privately, feeling too raw and exposed to share my emotions.   Much of the blogging I’ve done here has been so connected with my grieving days as a widow, that as I have turned the corner and felt more energized and balanced, I have felt less inclined to write it all out for public consumption.   I’m not sure if I will continue this blog in 2015; start a new one; or find a new form of expression altogether.

In four months, I will turn 50.   Five decades of living, loving, and traveling well have produced more grey hairs than I’d prefer but less of a sprinkling of wrinkles than expected.    My forties were tough and exhilarating and sometimes shitty, but overall it was a roller coaster ride on which I wouldn’t have changed a thing (well maybe a little thing here and there).    Just like the song, I’m still standing, yeah, yeah, yeah.  I’m excited to see what 2015 will bring, which is why I’m still mulling over my one little word for the next year.

In the meantime, here’s to the last of the year with a quote from a classic (turning 25 next year, believe it or not).

Harry: [about Auld Lang Syne] What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?
Sally: Well, maybe it just means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about old friends.

So cheers to you all, my old friends, and new friends, and to all of us not looking back, but looking forward in 2015.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets


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The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature.

To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.

Alfred Austin

I’ve always loved grubbing around in the garden, ever since I was little and my Nana would give me a trowel to dig about while she was planting and weeding.  I haven’t done much of anything in our little patio garden for the past couple of years, but today I decided it was time to end the bleakness and add a bit of colour in our lives.  Home Depot was having a sale on some of my favourite annuals, and after just twenty minutes pottering about, I emerged victorious with a trolley full of petunias, impatiens and begonias, and a Texas sized bag of potting soil for less than fifty bucks.

Two hours later, it’s time to sit back with a pot of tea and some Gabriel Garcia Marquez and admire the progress.  Still a few pots to fill, but the pinks, purples, yellows, and reds are watered and fed (with some very fragrant soil, I might add) and it looks like my garden again.

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

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I’ve always had mixed feelings about the month of January.   There is a sense of relief that the holiday season is over and I can de-Christmas the house – box up the ornaments, throw out the non-working lights, and so on.  Along with that comes a mild sense of panic that the start of school is imminent and the five-days-a-week-routine is knocking on the door.   And then some resentment that chores and to-do-lists have taken the place of lazy vacation days and making new memories with family.

A year ago I was excited to begin a new job as a teaching assistant at N’s school, welcoming the start of a possible new career and looking forward with optimism. As I review the last twelve months, I have a lot to be proud of – riding a huge learning curve, working on my teaching certification by cranking out online courses over the summer and passing my test, stepping up to the plate in a number of ways in and out of the classroom.   N is blossoming, reading like a champion, loving school,  and acing her report cards;  we have a closeness that is supreme and we are both blessed in so many ways with family and friends near and far.

For this past week, though, I’ve been fighting off the blues, unsure if the direction I’m going in is the right one, and feeling adrift for the first time in years.   I tend to be a bit of a plodder sometimes, I like routine, I like safe choices, and sometimes I’ll stay in a situation for longer than needed just because I’m not comfortable rocking the boat (cue past relationships, past jobs soundtrack).

It’s no wonder that the enormous changes I’ve endured over the past two years or so have finally caught up with me.    Apparently, two of the most stressful life events are death of a spouse and loss of a job – check and check – September and November 2011.  Add to that a third – the illness of a close family member – fall 2012 – and I’m three for three.   Three of the things I took for granted and relied upon are gone, or changed.  My stable and somewhat boring predictable life came to a screeching halt, and not because of any conscious decisions I made myself.

There’s a scene in an episode of the current series of Downton Abbey where the great actress Maggie Smith, as the Dowager Countess, says to recently-widowed Lady Mary:  

“You have a straightforward choice before you.  You must choose either death or life.”  Somewhat surprised, Mary responds with a question: “And you think that I should choose life?”

Choosing life is hard.   Those first twelve months after we lost R weren’t too bad, actually.  Mostly because the adrenaline kicks in and you’re still in a state of disbelief, I guess.  Plus we traveled a lot, because it was better to be Anywhere but Here.  Here had too many reminders.   Year Two was a whole lot harder.  There were days after that first anniversary of R’s death when I had to force myself to get going and not spend my day moping about.  Not having a job became a concern instead of a relief.  Taking off my wedding ring, cleaning out his closet, shredding papers, sorting out endless boxes of stuff – it all sucked.

On the second anniversary last September, we scattered R’s  ashes on the Galveston coast.   It seemed like the right time to let him go.  Death can be a beginning for those of us left behind, as well as the end for those who are gone.

January 2014 marks the beginning of the third full year R won’t see.   For tax purposes, I’m not a “surviving widow” any more, just a “head of household”.   A household with a 7-year old first grader, a constantly-shedding dog, and boxes-of-old-job-and-marriage-things-still-to-be-sorted.    I’m not used to feeling blue, as I’m usually fairly even keeled emotionally.  Having N around helps, as it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when someone so little depends on you so much.  But raising my daughter alone isn’t something I planned on, either.   Sometimes it’s all a bit much, this being  a working-single-mom thing.    Some days I am just tired of being strong and responsible – paying the bills, doing the grocery shop/laundry/house chores, putting on my happy face.    Some days I really miss having someone around who “gets” me, someone who shares the same vision for our daughter, someone who understands my bull-headed crabbiness and can make me laugh harder than anyone.    I shared all this in my grief group this week, and another widow told me she was in the same place emotionally and feeling overwhelmed too.  It’s good to know I’m not alone where I’m at.

I know that it’s normal to have those troughs of sadness mixed in with days of sunshine.   I know it won’t always be this hard to get through every day.  And I know that have a lot to be thankful for.   I’m not living paycheck to paycheck, I love working in a school environment, and I love my (dust-bunny-filled) home.  But I still have too much emotional and physical clutter in my life.

For a few years now, I’ve tried to use one little word for each year to refocus myself when I’m feeling unfunctionable.   Appreciate, Recharge, Simplify – 2011, 2012, 2013.   For 2014, it’s Balance.  Not just balancing Me, the Mom, and Me, the Teacher; but more importantly, Me, the soon-to-be-49-year old Woman. Realising that I have needs and wants, and if I don’t take care of them first, I won’t be much use to anyone.

So here’s to more balance for the next twelve months.   I choose Life.

2014 olw

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til death us do part

This past Sunday saw the two year anniversary of my husband’s death.   To honor his memory and our time as a family, we spent the weekend on the nearby island of Galveston, a place we all loved and had visited on several occasions while he was still alive.

Saturday found us at Schlitterbahn with some friends – it was our first time in the water park and turned out to be a great way to make some new memories.   Rafting, lazy river tubing, whizzing down a mini loopy luge together, the perfect way to relax and enjoy some mother-daughter time.   Later, we headed to Casey’s, the un-Gaido’s restaurant owned by Gaido’s next door – we had eaten there a few times as a family and loved the casual atmosphere.   We sat on the patio and enjoyed dinner in the warm ocean breeze, watching flashes of sheet lightning from a distant storm to the south of us.   Serendipitously, a new item on the menu was Shrimp Robert – and yes, I ordered it, and yes, it was yummy.  Too tired for dessert, we headed back to our hotel and crashed.

On Sunday morning, before dawn, still groggy from not enough sleep, we struggled out of bed and headed to the beach.  Climbing down the steps below the sea wall, we stood for a while together, quietly, watching the water splash gently against the rocks.   Away went my husband’s ashes, into the waves, off on his final journey, following the ocean tides.

…..To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance……  

I was filled with emotion as we said the Lord’s Prayer together.  The waves turned pink, then gold, as the dawn broke.  And then the sun appeared, and it was glorious.  A pelican with a torn wing suddenly wheeled above us and flew away south, looking for breakfast.  We wondered where R’s ashes might travel – to New Orleans, perhaps, or Florida, or even farther away from us, to Mexico,  or to Vieques once more,  from Gulf to Atlantic, and then to Europe or maybe even South America?  Wherever was going, he would always be around us, like the ocean, and that was a comforting thought.

“Stand over there,” said my daughter, suddenly, grabbing the iphone from my hand.  “Put your arms up like you’re the queen of the sea, I want to take your picture.”  I felt silly in my pajamas, standing there like King Canute, but she insisted.   “Okay, I’m done.  Can we go have breakfast now?”

Our dawn goodbyes were over, and, just like that, it was all about fruit loops and hot toasted bagels back at the hotel.

Two years on from R’s death, we are still grieving, but it’s true that time does heal, and the hurt doesn’t hurt quite so much as it did in those early days of loss.   All of the life changes we have endured since that day in September, 2011, have only made us both stronger.   We may have said goodbye to a husband and father here on Earth, but the memories of our time together will always sustain us.

“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.”  A.A. Milne



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It seems like only five minutes ago we were counting down the end of our first year at the local elementary school.  The last days of lazy are already upon us as we enjoy the first of our two September long weekends since school began officially last Monday.

After making the most of a wonderful vacation in Florida, the rest of our summer was spent with family and friends around the country and at home;  we enjoyed a myriad late bedtimes, no-alarm-mornings, and please-yourself days.

Here are just a few of my favourite moments from July, August, and yesterday.    Have a great Monday everyone!











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Summer is a time for the pool, for sunshine, more relaxed schedules, and making a conscious effort to spend more time with the people you love.

For us, this summer has also involved a whole lot of purging out the clutter from our house: clothes, papers, junk mail.  And yes, even a couch.

The sofa we bought ten years ago became a giant dog bed after R passed away.  Every week the same routine.  I remove couch cover, bleach and wash it, vacuum the couch, I put a cover on.  Dog curls up at one end, me and N at the other.  Gradually, over a period of days, dog works his way toward our end of the couch, and sleeps on it during the day when we are out, and at night, probably.  I take the cover off and bleach it, vacuum the couch, replace the cover, dog gets on, moves over, and so on, and so on.  Endless washing and vacuuming.  No more.  The dog looked extremely depressed this week as I dragged the couch through the living room, hall and den, then out on the patio, into the carport, and then the garage, where it remained until our super awesome private trash people picked it up yesterday.

For the past few months, there have also been many trips to Goodwill, a short drive to the church activity centre to drop off R’s clothes and shoes for the  Lord of the Streets,  endless visits to the recycling plants to drop off countless loads of shredded paper, innumerable plastics and flattened boxes  – paint, old chemicals, junk mail, old medical and financial files;  finally I can see my kitchen counter and our house is beginning to look less like a jumble sale and more like a home we can enjoy and host friends and family in again.

In the midst of patting myself on the back for my achievements yesterday, I discovered an old People magazine on my dining table – underneath which were lurking a stack of 2012 Christmas cards (enveloped, addressed, but not stamped), and another stack of We’re So Glad it’s 2013!!!! cards looking at me in an accusing way.   Ah well.  Nothing a sharpie and a new envelope cannot fix when the time comes for the holiday season again…..

My late husband used to tell me I had a permanent sign on my head – the one that reads – Don’t Bother Asking, I’m Fine.  And yes, several friends had offered to help with the couch.  As usual, however, I stuck the sign on my head and hauled it out myself.   Changing the car headlamp the day before took longer and involved more swear words, for sure.  The rush of adrenaline and relief that comes after achieving something great is akin to no other feeling one can have.   Some people run a 5K or a marathon, others deliver a new royal prince, or pass a final exam, and get that feeling.   In my case, it it came when I managed to change the headlamp one day, and move the couch the next.   Welcome to the New Normal.


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