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It’s 10am on Friday, September 1st.  I should be teaching in my third grade classroom right about now, but instead I’m at home for the 7th straight day thanks to Harvey’s interference, and to be honest, I only know what day it is because I changed my kitchen calendar this morning.   This time last week, I was trying to finish up my classroom prep in anticipation of our scheduled first day the following Monday.   That seems like eons ago, with the start of school now delayed til September 8th for teachers, and September 11th for students.

South Texas and the Gulf Coast is currently devastated.  When Harvey’s eye slammed into Corpus Christi last Friday morning,  Rockport and Port Aransas were flattened at the same time.  Aransas ISD announced that they have closed indefinitely.  To the east of us, as the bands of Harvey slowly moved out of Houston, and in range of the Golden Triangle, the town of Beaumont’s water supply was turned off, and parts of Port Arthur and Orange are unrecognizable with storm-strewn debris lining the streets and waterlogged homes.   North and west of us, the Brazos River is still cresting and has not peaked, so those towns in the path and already inundated are taking on more water.  In my adopted hometown of HoUSton, the destruction is indiscriminate.  Communities less than a mile from each other are alternately safe or completely under water.   35 HISD schools are flooded or have water damage.   Beltway 8 is a river south of Memorial Drive.  Gessner road is still flooding as the Addicks Reservoir and Barker Dam operate under a controlled release, and a voluntary evacuation order was issued yesterday for families in that area with already-flooded homes.

In our little corner of the city, we are definitely the lucky ones.   We didn’t lose power, and although the drainage ditch behind our house rose within a few inches of the top on Monday and Tuesday, it did not overflow.    We had foot-high water at the end of our street but that was as far as it got.   This wasn’t my first rodeo hurricane, but it was the first time since Ike in 2008 that I felt completely at the mercy of Mother Nature.   Friends we’ve known since my daughter was in preschool evacuated their homes by boat, and have no idea what they will find when they are able to return, which could be weeks, not days.   Another friend’s mother-in-law was winched out of her neighborhood by helicopter.   Neighbors waded through chest high water to rescue others, and have extended family, or strangers staying in their homes.   Other communities who had very little to begin with, find themselves rehoused in shelters across the area, wearing only the clothes on their backs, with their beloved pets lodged or crated elsewhere.   First responders are working 48-hour shifts, staying in high schools abc furniture stores with organized meal trains delivering food and water.  The reports and footage from our 367-mile Texas coastline are, quite simply, jaw-dropping. This sobering collection of satellite before/after images only tell part of the story.

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-weather/hurricaneharvey/article/Before-and-after-photos-Harvey-Houston-12165244.php

I first fell in love with Texas and its people in 1991.  Newly-arrived from the UK, I was sent to Atlanta with half a dozen hapless twenty-somethings to beef up sales in the offices of an educational travel company for which we all worked as tour guides in Britain and Europe.  The student travel business was down, following panic after the recent spate of European bomb threats earlier that year, and the company owners had recruited a bunch of Brits to help out in their stateside offices for three months after our touring season was over.    After a week of training and getting to know the routines, our female and formidable chain-smoking-Southern-belle boss weighed us all up along with our personalities, and announced that she was assigning me to Texas, because the state had a “straight-up, no-nonsense attitude” that would suit me just fine.   She was spot on.   I had a blast talking on the phone with my new clients, and while my all y’all didn’t get added to my vocabulary until I moved to Houston years later, I got plenty of the “I just lerve your acc-sent” comments, and doubled trip sales in the state I’d been assigned. That November, I was sent to the annual language teachers conference to put names to faces and develop client relationships further.  The conference was held at the convention center in San Antonio, walking distance from the Alamo.   My first taste of Texas was an assault on the senses: strolling along the River Walk there were restaurants of all ilk offering tacos, margaritas, queso, salsa, mesquite barbecue pulled pork; mariachi and country music playing from adjacent pubs; while guided pontoon boats cruised the slow flowing waters under the bridges.   It was a mini-Venice, Texas-style.

In 1999, after working continuously for the same educational company in Atlanta, and Boston, and then living for 18 months in Paris, I was given the opportunity to open an office in Texas.    Even as my role with the company had changed and evolved, and I’d moved cities, I had kept a beady eye on my former sales territory, and felt quite possessive of the teachers who had chosen to travel with us from the Lone Star state.  I jumped at the chance to relocate, and chose Houston – because I had one friend there  – another English lass from my high school in Bolton – and because it was an airline hub city for Continental (with whom I already had lots of air miles) and I knew I would be traveling quite a bit around Texas, and overseas.   I moved to Houston in January 2000, found an apartment, and began setting up my new office in a nearby high rise.  My one friend in the city introduced me to a happy hour group who met every Thursday at a different watering hole: we were mostly transplanted thirty-somethings from elsewhere, who had landed in Houston for various job reasons and decided to stay.    18 months later, I had a thriving social life, two enthusiastic employees, and our office was rocking the sales for Texas and the other states we had been assigned.

At that point, I still hadn’t committed myself to living permanently in Houston, but after 9/11, I realized that nothing was guaranteed – I had a good life in my adopted city and decided to buy a house here.   There followed a green card, husband (himself a transplanted St. Louisian), and daughter (born in Houston), and eventually, dual citizenship  – finally able to vote again, after enduring years of taxation without representation (insert tea jokes here).    I made new married friends thanks to my daughter’s schools and our church, and we lived our lives, cheering for the Astros, Texans, and Rockets; enjoying local restaurants; and traveling to see family now and again.  Up until marriage and a baby, I saw Houston as a lesser-populated Los Angeles: a sprawling city without a true heart, made up of a transient diverse population, who had ended up there and just decided to stay.   True that I also found it one of the friendliest cities I’d ever lived in, right behind Sydney in that regard – but certainly not very attractive, with spaghetti-junction freeways and an over-abundance of strip centers lining treeless four-lane boulevards.   In contrast, I loved that our neighborhood was so accessible to the cultural center downtown, with its world-class theatres and opera, as well the museums and science center in the Rice University area, and myriad diverse neighborhood restaurants.

After our daughter was born, and through preschool and grade school, I have realized that Houston is, in fact, just a big small town: diverse pockets of nationalities with families who had been here for years next door to new neighbors who spoke a different language; public schools who had seen generations of children pass through their grade levels; a town where cowboy hats were not de rigeur on a daily basis but came out as part of full hats-and-boots regalia during our annual February rodeo; a city noted for its philanthropy, and its friendliness, y’all; the latter two so much so, that after Hurricane Katrina devastated NoLa and southern Louisiana, it’s estimated that almost 150,000 of the quarter million people evacuated to Houston, remained here.

And now here we are – the city that rescued Katrina, now needs to be rescued post-Harvey.   Those of us who have truly been spared the worst, and those who have not, have all come together as one.   To the drysplainers who don’t live here, say Tex-ass got what it deserved, and keep pontificating that we should have evacuated  – shut up for f*&%’s sake.  We just had a category 4 hurricane hit our 367-mile coastline and park itself on top of the 4th largest city in the US for 5 days, before looping out to sea and coming back in for another landfall as a severe tropical storm with tornadoes, high winds, and more rain.   There are close to SEVEN MILLION of us in Houston.  You tell me how to safely evacuate that many people without stranding them on freeways for hours on the dirty side of the storm – remember Hurricane Rita, anyone?   We have had enough rain to keep Niagara Falls going for 15 days, and to cover the entire lower 48 states in a couple of inches of water.  That’s the ENTIRE lower 48, people.

Recently Texas has been a bit of a laughing stock for other  – and yes, blue-er parts of the country – our legislature seems to be obsessed with special sessions pushing an agenda of private school vouchers, permit-less open carry, and who-pees-where laws in public and school bathrooms.  Those who know me well, are very aware that I am no fan of our governor or legislature (except for Speaker Joe Straus and let’s give three cheers for him), nor of our two state Senators (who by the way voted against Hurricane relief for the NJ coast after Sandy), and I’m definitely not a cheerleader for the current WH occupant or his administration either.   Socially responsible yet fiscally conservative is how I’ve always described myself – but the vehemence of my frustration at the widening divisions in this country I love – coming on the heels of the Brexit vote – along with the 4am tweets from the toilet, and the tin foil comments from MAGA hat wearing supporters, just about sent me over the edge.  I’ve been unfollowed on social media by dear friends who quite frankly got fed up with my post-November and suddenly very political pontifications from my Facebook pulpit.  Which is too bad, because the only way we can come together and end this division is to start listening to each other.   It’s a measure of how selfish and self-absorbed our society has become, when it takes an overwhelming tragedy like this to shut us all up and show us what truly matters – and it’s not color, race, sex, or creed.

The tragedies unfolding  around the world and watched by Houstonians on national television – whether terrorist-driven or because of Mother Nature: Oklahoma City, New York, London, Paris, Boston, Sandy Hook, Nice, Charleston, Manchester – often seemed worlds away and endless – but as we are hit at home, I have never been so proud to be Houston and Texas Strong as I have this week.  When our own tragedy struck, we didn’t wait.  We rolled up our sleeves, pulled on our big girl pants and cowboy boots, and got on with it.  We are big.  We have enough room in our state and are hearts for everyone, y’all.

I was thinking the other day about my favourite quotes from Le Petit Prince: “Voici mon secret,  Il est tres simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.  L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” 

We have seen a lot of heart in the past week. Random requests for boats and kayaks on the other side of town are answered via email and text; friends are housing strangers who have lost their homes; families trapped on their roofs are being rescued by helicopters, which fly overhead constantly.  The National Guard has traveled from other states near and far to relieve local first responders pulling 48-hour shifts.  Our neighborhood YMCA even became a makeshift donation center for needed items as shelters were filled with the tired, the wet, and the hungry – both people and animals; vast makeshift shelters at the convention center and local churches have been overwhelmed with donations and volunteers, and yesterday visits from the Houston Astros on their day off.   The mayor and other city officials are constantly updating us with flood, evacuation, and shelter information, and Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist Jeff Lindner and his ASL translator have become local celebrities.

The other day, I was walking with my family and a neighbor and her son, along a main road, quite simply just to get some fresh air after being cooped up inside because of the endless rain.   A Metro bus pulled up alongside us and the driver asked us if we needed a ride somewhere.  Admittedly, my friend’s son was still wearing his pajamas, but we hadn’t showered in a few days either and probably looked like a motley collection of ragamuffins who needed help.  The driver’s simple act was just a small gesture of kindness in a sea of many.

This.  This is what matters.  People matter.  Our pets and livestock matter. In the midst of a crisis, nobody does, or should, give a sh*t if you’re black, brown, or yellow; young or old; immigrant or American-born; Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist; LGBQT or straight; or who you voted for last November.   I truly hope that in the aftermath of Harvey, and in the coming weeks, and months, we can continue to uphold that sentiment.   We joke that everything’s bigger in Texas, but you’d be hard pressed to find people with a bigger heart than that which has been shown here in the past week.

It’s as simple as the message inscribed at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, 
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Texas is lifting its lamp, y’all.  After we’ve emptied our boots of floodwater, barbecued our defrosted pork, and stress-eaten every last bag of tortilla chips dipped in salsa and queso, we’ll be back.

To quote a bumper sticker sent to me when I first moved here in 2000:

Don’t Mess With Texas.

If you would like to donate to help Texas rebuild, these are my favourite sites so far:

JJ Watt’s Foundation:

https://www.youcaring.com/victimsofhurricaneharvey-915053

Lin-Manuel Miranda via Baker-Ripley:    https://twitter.com/Lin_Manuel/status/902154945306210304

Rescued Pets Movement Houston: https://www.rescuedpetsmovement.org/

Houston Independent School District Foundation: http://www.houstonisd.org/Page/164281

Harvey photos below from various sources:  personal photo album, Facebook friends, local and national news stations, WaPo, NYTimes, Houston Chronicle.

The end of our street, Sunday Morning

Bering Ditch water level, Monday – usually dry, but here just a few inches from the top

Harvey parked on top of the Gulf Coast

The beginning of the storm – David Muir – where IS David Muir, by the way?  Muir?  Muir? Anyone?

Monday and Tuesday at the local YMCA:  Donations pouring in from our neighborhood and being sorted

M

 

You’re going to need a bigger boat

Toro and Cedric still smiling after two very long, backbreaking days at the Y

Wednesday afternoon – wait. what? Is that blue sky and SUN???

Only in Texas are the salsa, chip, and queso aisles as empty as the milk and water shelves at the grocery stores

Still hasn’t lost her sense of humor even after four straight days of cabin fever

Nobody minded being Heller-ized : updated flood areas

Friends who evacuated the Beltway area, revisiting their flooded home and checking on their chickens – still smiling!   The normally busy tollway is completely flooded.

Possibly my favorite evacuation photograph, ever

Only in Texas And while we’re on the subject, our local Whataburger is FINALLY open again

Pet rescues over the weekend

 

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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?

CHORUS:
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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