an afternoon…

The afternoon sun poured through the windows. The breeze carried with it the songs of the birds, high in treetops.

Full disclose, though I sat curled up with a book, a notebook and a pen, in the coziest chair my sunporch holds, this is not that porch.

I absolutely adore this image from Arno Smit. I would be in heaven over a room like this, but my husband, ever the engineer, would have none of it. He’d note the plank floor and old everything. It would never fly.

That’s ok, though, because I love this space of ours.

It was this very sunroom that sold us on this cottage, in the first place.

I imagined a napping daybed, for all of those glorious naps that I do not take.

I imagined late nights of cocktails and cards, which this room has proven absolutely perfect for. Beneath its dim ethereal of twinkly globe lights, many a beautiful bottles of wine have been shared over life sustaining conversations. Tears have been shed, cathartically; stories told, life lived.

It is the ghosts of these moments, the ticking away of the seven hundred and thirty-eight days that this room has been our home. We may grumble over the impossibly tiny kitchen, or the minuscule bathroom, but each whine ends in resolution when one or both of us sighs the sunroom…

The jars of tea brewed in this room, the books read, the chapters written… SO MUCH life.

Simply put, it’s a painted concrete slab of floor, surrounded by uninsulated window screens. It isn’t really wired for electricity, as it was a much-later-after thought to the home itself. Even so, realtor photos showed us potential. We looked at the space and knew the life it could live.

The lives we could live.

naming mistakes…

Monica Gellar’s parents aren’t known for esteeming her life choices. In one episode, when Monica is beginning to (finally) feel like her mom may have some faith in her, after all, when her mom reminds her that they expect failure from her.

She charmingly refers to it as pulling a Monica.

It basically means: screwing up.

Mistakes and struggles Monica may have known were seen as dismissive and typical, by her family. These were the antics they expected of her…

Ever the faithful friend and advocate, one of Monica’s best friends Phoebe declares that from this moment on, “pulling a Monica” would mean successful and good things.

I LOVE seedless red grapes! In fact, one of my favorite meals is a bowl of these gems of antioxidant goodness paired with cubed chunks of cheese. So good!

Additionally, red grapes are my favorite side dish, a preferred late night snack and far more tasty than any packaged chocolate bar.

One evening I was having a “working dinner.” My husband was away, on a business trip and I had a looming press deadline. My rumbling stomach had led me to grab this delectable go-to grape & cheese dinner and retreat to my office.

There I sat, alternatingly plopping grapes and cheese into my mouth as I typed away. I was so in the zone that it took a couple of chews to realize my mouth was harboring a slimy, possibly fuzzy and altogether revoltingly mushy grape.

I’m not going to lie- I totally threw up.

A few times…

I couldn’t eat anything else, that evening, and possibly well into the next day. Whenever I would remember that heinous atrocity, my stomach would send out tremors to shake throughout my entire body.

For awhile, the sight of grapes made me cringe, but eventually my love of them one out and I’m proud to say that I am once again a grape eater, though I am much more thorough about checking and washing them…

One bad grape did not ruin them for me. While I will likely never forget the horror of that one, it was only one.

One.

Instead, I learned to alter my own behavior regarding the fresh fruit I eat.

~

At some point, for some odd reason (possibly, maybe tied to the show Will & Grace?) the basic, middle aged, difficult, American-white-woman became known as a “Karen.” It probably began as some social media moment of ranted-sarcasm that caused viral laughter, thus a trend was born.

Was one terrible woman actually named Karen deserving of her vile behavior become a pop culture mockery? Perhaps.

I’ve encountered many, many women who would fit into this label, especially when working retail. This sort of delightful peach goes back much farther than the birth of the Karen meme.

They are so frustrating, I KNOW. To be honest though, I’ve never encountered one named Karen.

Not one.

Last week our 63 year old neighbor saw us walking our golden retriever Elenor. She adores Elenor and was so excited, as she began crossing the street towards us. And then, instantly she was face first, on the ground, in the middle of the road. This woman, who cared more about making sure her friends were safe, not sad, not hungry or going without anything during the pandemic. This kind woman who lives alone and has devoted her life to taking in senior rescue dogs that have come from horrific neglect and abuses. She nurtures them, loves them and insures the rest of their days are spent somewhere safe where bowls are full, beds are plush and loving kindness is plenty. When they pass on, she grieves them because they were her heart, and then she opens her door again.

This beautiful heart gets up from her grieving losses, from her face-first street falls, and she smiles and showers love on Elenor anyway. She leaves special gifts on our doorstep and puts such a light into our quiet neighborhood.

This beautiful soul of a neighbor is Karen.

~

Through a chain of events, about a year ago, I was lucky enough to be connected with a lovely Canadian woman as she was enduring the death of her mother.

Her soul, cavernous and longing for the woman who gave her life, poured her own raw grief out into poetic and aching words filled with so much love. Love for the woman she’d lost, but also love for those of us hurting, who read her words. Such genuine transparence etched itself into the grieving hearts of these readers.

Into me…

This woman, who I am now so incredibly lucky to call friend, has taught me so much about grace, love, authenticity, faith and a hundred-thousand-trillion other vital things.

While my own name is merely a weather condition, envied by none, this beautiful soul’s name means PURE, and this is one hundred percent accurate because she absolutely is.

Karen means PURE.

In my 44 years, on this earth, I have known many Karens, and every single one of them have left marks of humanity and heart on the people lucky enough to know them.

Perhaps you don’t know Karens like the ones I’ve known… Think of the kindest and most worthy woman you’ve known. Perhaps a grandmother, or the sweet neighbor who always baked your favorite cookies and taught you to watercolor. Whoever this spirit is- give her a moment of space and honor in your mind… There is so much power and peace when we take a moment to reflect, honoring women who have shaped us in good ways, isn’t there?

Now, imagine the heroin’s name is an insult.

For being pure, raw, tender and honest women who love, and do it well, their very identity is a joke.

Everytime we call some awful, mean white woman a “karen”, we tarnish the names of women who are nothing like her. Women who are anything but basic. Everytime we use their name, we HURT them. We HURT their children and the people who love them. Doesn’t it kind of seem like that might be uglier behavior than the ridiculous way the “Karen” in question behaved? Who is the jerk now? We are.

When I was younger, if we were venting about the mean customer at the counter, we simply referred to her as a bitch. Feminism has shown us that if we want men to respect us and stop minimizing women into little labels of cruelty, then we need to set the example and not do things like calling other women derogatory names either.

Derogatory names, like bitch.

I’ve got to say though, if we are incapable of not labelling women like this something that conveys exactly how terrible they are, in that one word, then isn’t the vulgarity a kinder option? Isn’t it kinder to say the words “I had a customer today who was such a bitch, and here’s what she did…” rather than victimizing innocent women, their legacies and reputations because of one difficult woman’s selfishness.

Maybe it’s just me though… One day I hope there’s a world where we don’t need to exploit the behavior of someone for laughs and likes and sensationalism. One day I hope people resort to kindness and don’t inspire that reaction. This isn’t the world we live in, and so I simply have to ask if we can get some perspective when it comes to the actual Karens of the world…

The actual blondes, who aren’t ditzy.

The Black women who are beautiful and brilliant and inspiring.

The single moms who work hard and are not lazy or easy.

Can we just decide today, right now, to intentionally see people and stop this lazy minimization? Can we agree that one bad piece of fruit is incapable of destroying the whole orchard?

what i learned…

One of my first ever, favorite blogs belonged to Emily P. Freeman, way back in the early days. I still read and follow her, and find such value in this voice she has developed.

For a long time now, she has sat aside space to share what life’s seasons have taught her, issuing the challenge to her readers as well, and occasionally I have. One of the things I am trying to do, this year, is be more intentionally about noticing, breathing, and using this space for such. Reflecting on the winter months of this year seams like a great place to start… Here’s what I’ve learned-

1.} I overcomplicate…

A simple conversation, with a woman whom I respect and value so much, led to the “official” coming together of a group of like-valued women, on a regular basis. While it is mastermind-esque, it is something different too. From the first moment it was clear that this was an important, nurturing and vital space.

For a very long time I’ve dreamed of being a part of something like that, but I have stayed quiet, within that dream. It seemed too big… impossible…not for me. And yet, one silly afternoon conversation became this unboxable thing. While I like to think it hadn’t happened before because life was waiting for us to come together, in that exact moment, I have to admit that I stand in my way a lot. I overcomplicate things, believing they are far bigger than they are… When we get hide inside our thoughts, we miss out…

2.} sometimes over-complication looks like…

Avoidance.

I was playing an odd “dance” with my memoir, for awhile now. I would lose myself in it, for a season, and then when I needed breath I would pull out, and avoid it.

Over and over again.

I am practicing boundaries within my work. Self care through the hard things. Sometimes this is a walk, while other times it may look like losing an afternoon to a shallow book.

3.} I might be a bar person…

My husband is from an alcoholic family, and so our only (shared) experience of people who hang out at bars, stemmed from that. If someone had told me they were a “bar person”, I would instantly picture a falling-down-drunk person, or an intoxicated-fist-fights person. To be honest, I think my imagery may have been heavily influenced by movies and tv too…

But the thing is, there is something really special about finding a spot that feels like yours. I place that is not home, where you can sit with your spouse and just breathe. Take in the live music, maybe dance a little, and enjoy the company of friends.

4.} If you look, you WILL find it…

In my line of work, I have a lot of women who confide in me that they are desperate for a community of women who see them, love them and find value in them. This is an ache I identify with. Much of my adulthood looked just like that…

We are so fortunate to live in an era where there are worldwide, online communities, connecting people with commonalities, 24/7. It is amazing really. I’ve known this, but it wasn’t until this particular season when I really had my eyes opened to the powerhouse of community that we can become a part of, through social media.

5.} Five minutes here, really helps…

I have lived a majority of my adult life procrastinating the more tedious “chores”, in life, pushing it until I had more time… These same columns of tasks would travel, from day to day, on my agenda. Whenever my eyes would land on them, I would feel equal parts shame and guilt. My negative self talk would chime in with words like lazy.

It didn’t seem to matter that there may have been 73 tasks on a particular days list, and I accomplished all but the Tedious Four, that rolled over, yet again. LAZY, I’d think. Lazy? SMH.

Then I began to realize a few minutes today, does make it easier. It sounds so simple, but I just didn’t get it. Its like I’m finally growing up!

6.} it is ok to say “no”…

As I transitioned through December, and into the start of this year, there were a few areas of life that I had to strongly evaluate. Things that I was a part of, that were only leading to overwhelm.

The guilt was HUGE, as I cut those commitments. There were people who were disappointed, but I had to acknowledge that I was allowed to choose things to fill my time that kept me on the path I needed to be on. Maybe, to outsiders, this sounds selfish.

In truth, I needed to be free to invest myself in my biggest priorities. Being spread too thin meant that nothing was getting enough of me.

What did you learn, during this winter? {Also, have you entered to win two Fandango movie tickets? The winner will be chosen tomorrow.)

It’s beginning…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere we go. Most towns, come this part of the year, begin to morph into something straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie. When I was growing up I swear that I remember our town tree being decorating with tin pie pans, and yet believing it was the most gigantic and magical tree in the world. I’ll admit, my memory may be off, re: the pie tins, but it is true that the holiday season really does evoke this sense of magic and wonder in children.

And then, for most of us, that fades away. We chastise ourselves internally, that Christmas is for kids. That it is better with kids. That it is childish. Do you know why, as life-jaded adults, Christmas is better when kids are around? Because we try to absorb the joy and wonder they still hold. And it doesn’t make us any happier, and so a lot of times we get sad.

Guess what? Christmas is for EVERYONE. This season is full of wonderment and magic because the very heart of this season is generosity.

It is the giving of compassion to others.

It is the wrapping of treasures, to give.

It is the baking and creating of special things to share with others.

It is the time most people think about others outside of themselves. Charities receive the most attention…

It is when we open ourselves up to receiving, which is cathartic and honestly pretty difficult to do.

THIS is why the season is magical. When we are children, our only job is to simply witness it all. We see illustrations of this play out in cartoons, storybooks and holiday specials. Living life by the light of a twinkling tree, we are able to capture the magic that is not only unwrapping a mystery adorned in festive paper, but also watching the eyes of loved ones as they open their own gifts. The magic never disappears, honestly it just gets buried beneath the weight of adulthood. The bills, the expenses, the stresses…

The lack of, instead of what is all around. (that’s a line in one of my favorite Christmas movies: Christmas really is all around. Bonus points if you can name that film- although, as Drew Carey used to say- “the points don’t matter.”)

It is beginning to look a lot like a magical time, and already I am hearing so many people FREAKING out. Tinsel triggered stress is a real thing.

While I can’t personally limit your stress, I CAN actually help a little bit. If you don’t subscribe to my email list, then you likely missed a few important announcements. I have three things that might reduce a little bit of your stress load, as we enter into this holiday season. Well, two technical things and then a little thought provoking advice to back up the two things…

1.) I have once again created a holiday gift guide of my favorite things! I do this every year, I know. This guide has helped many of you buy some great gifts, and prompted you to reach out and ask for my help for additional treasures. THIS year, in addition to my guide, I have put together an actual SHOP on Amazon, FILLED with something for literally every age or interest, on your list!

2.) Working alongside very capable and passionate women, I have created the Personal ShopHER directory. This is a growing directory of small, women owned, online businesses. This directory is ever growing so I encourage you to keep checking it out! (And currently the Beauty Counter link is gifting a free gift with every purchase, but ONLY through November 25th.)

3.) Shopping in these ways really captures the holiday giving season. Whether it is the Amazon storefront or the women in the Personal ShopHER, each purchase directly benefits a woman who is simply doing her best to build and create a business for herself and her family. Can we say that every time we check out at the big-box store? No, we can’t. As we go into 2020, I know that I am growing increasingly more aware of ethical spending and how frugality seldom leads to the best decision. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but there it is. With solely frugal decisions, everyone loses. When we train ourselves to consider how a purchase might put good into the world, we create something altogether different. Jen Hatmaker used an analogy and I’ll borrow it now:

Say I need a white t-shirt. I could get one for $7, from a big box store, or I could buy a similar one for $67 from a smaller company. Most would choose the $7 one, right? But what if we had the opportunity to trace that shirt back to its origin? (that company back to its origin.) One company likely exploits women and children, basically enslaving them to do back breaking/taxing labor for nominal pay insuring that they produce as MANY of those cheap white t-shirts as possible. These can be the people creating the fabric, the people in the fields, the people sewing…(Important uncomfortable fact: Do you know how many women working in these fields are raped on a regular basis? Here is one example. Google it- there are many. This is an issue even within migrant workers and US agriculture.) In addition, there is the carbon-footprint of the transportation. OR you can have the small company with grassroots origin, who goes out of their way to insure that their products are not only made by adults who are paid fairly, looked out for and not exploited. This then means that children don’t have to work for pennies, and can do things like go to school and play with their friends. They painstakingly brainstorm ways to get the best quality of materiel in the most ethical way. Ethical spending isn’t about getting the LOWEST price, but about getting the BEST price.

Being good stewards of our money means KNOWING where our money is going, it was never meant as a justification for bargain/exploitation. It might be checking out Facebook Marketplace or a local used furniture store, over Walmart, when you need a desk. Maybe a quality built desk from a local carpenter will cost ten times what that particle board desk-in-a-box might, so you have to save your money. Those dollars spent mean so much more than what you give at checkout… We can be charity minded, but we can also simply begin (start small) to think about what we spend, and why. Buying from local and/or small business really does help us to meet our shopping needs while also giving back. Everyone wins.

At such a time as this…

I remember there was a time when blogging demanded more hours from a week, and for many of us- hours from a day. Though there are still those faithful webjournal crafters out there, clickety-clacking about their daily ins and outs, blogging simply isn’t what it used to be…

We’re a product of the drive-thru generation, so I guess it makes sense that something like blogging would evolve in such a similar fashion. These days most would rather scroll endlessly on Facebook (no thanks!) or double tap the hours away on Instagram rather than tediously following blogs that have to be read. Both FB & insta offer a variety of microblogging, but for every fifteen “likes” a post gets, it is doubtful that more than one person actually read the words. It’s kind of weird, isn’t it? Especially those of us first generation bloggers. But then again, as a first gen, I seem to have a pretty difficult time posting on my blog with any regularity at all. (my micro-blogging game on instagram is strong though, so at least there is that. To the three of you who actually read those daily jottings, I thank you.)

In what has been the strangest year I have lived thus far, (strangest, longest, deepest cutting, most surreal, etc…) I have felt the need to process it all in a written way, less. Is it maturity? Possibly. Truthfully it could be a little bit of detachment as well. We tell children that they can be anything they want to be, when they grow up, but as an adult reflecting on such a kernel of wisdom can convey different things all together. Motherhood, for example… Physically, I could not actually succeed in conceiving, carrying and birthing a living and healthy baby. Did that actually make me less worthy as a woman? Honestly, it may have. We tell ourselves it didn’t, but I guess it really comes down to which lens we look through. Did it make me less worthy as a wife? Absolutely it did. Beyond the technical terms of motherhood, I have loved children who were not my own. I bought in to the lines we are fed about children just needing love. I loved, I lost, and as pieces of me drifted off in hot winds of heartache, time and again, I chose to love knowing that it would continue to lead to loss… Did that make me a mother? No. No it did not.

I had one hell of a time pretending though, and even believing for a time.

This year has been a lot like that, the fine tuning of perceptions and cross referencing them against forty years of beliefs, then challenging what is real, what was fed/programmed and what has changed. The things that I am: a woman, a survivor, an empath, a believer, a loyal friend, an artist, a writer, a creative, a compassionate individual who loves deeply, forgettable, easy to leave.. The things that I am not: a daughter, a mother, a successful (by the world’s standards) writer…

I have begun to see that I spent my entire life pursuing the first two, and dreaming of the third, to such a point that I missed so much within the things that truly make me. I agonized over biological parents who did not want me, fragmenting more and more as people came in and out of my life, those who found it so easy to walk away. Somehow, with the bleeding hospital moments of my first miscarriage, I transferred every ounce of that life-ache into achieving motherhood. If the will I had harnessed could have actually kept me pregnant, I would have had ten litters of babies, but it didn’t. It did nothing but accelerate my need to become a mother. In case any of this sounds familiar, let me just say one thing: No matter how much you love a child, and no matter how much you fight to love them in the ways that you were not loved, you cannot will such things to be their truth. It doesn’t matter how much we love someone, if they neither believe nor are able to accept that love, it is pretty powerless. I loved with the force of a million mighty horses, I advocated, I remained faithful to that decision, even when it cost me more deeply than anything I had known before. My son once told me that I was like a mom to him, and it stung. Though I’ve heard him say “my mom” about me, he’s never called me anything but my given name. For so long both things reflected failure, and screamed to echo that life lie that I could never really be enough. Finally I am seeing, I was like a mom to him. He actually hadn’t known the experience of a “real” mom in any healthy capacity, and maybe in ways I was the closest he’d gotten. It is a sad truth, and in my heart he will forever be my son because I choose it- because I will it, but in truth his perception is more reality based than mine. Maybe I am like a mom, to him. And that’s ok… Our society loves to quip affirming quotes and then deem them fact. Things like “there is nothing more powerful than a mother’s love”, and though the sentiment is pretty lovely, it feels super shitty to those of us whose mothers simply didn’t love them. Sweet words, and if you’re own motherhood elements find such things relatable than I am genuinely happy for you. I am. But those things are not one-size-fits-all and when we are expecting adoptive moms, foster moms and children of those situations to identify within them too, we just end up with a lot of people feeling like they just can’t fit in.

I guess my point is- for so long I wanted to be a mom. Just like I had longed to be a daughter, longed to be chosen, valued, and loved. They are all very different desires stemming from the same wound within. Sometimes, in moments, I have been bits and pieces of each of those things, but they were never full journeys I would travel. I chose to love children, without condition, and I succeeded. I chose to see value in these amazingly resilient and worthy individuals even when they were neither willing to truly see it in themselves, or believe I did. There are many who will attest to the fact that no one ever loved, fought harder for them them or believed in them more than I did, but the end result is still the same.

This year I have buried an uncle was like a dad to me, when I was small. I have stood among strangers with whom I share blood, to lay to rest my father. I have been drowning in a nightmare situation with my birth mother, that it feels like will never end. This year two of the three reasons I ever even wore the hat of motherhood decided I wasn’t worthy of that role. The wearing down, which led to that point, had thinned my heart to such a threadbare state that it almost didn’t even matter anymore. In the end I saw that it had never mattered what I had or hadn’t done for them, behind the scenes or with them in my embrace, their journeys were theirs and they are not my own.

There is this dangerous lie the adoptive world feeds achingly searching people, this lore of that non-biological child actually being meant for you. We eat it up, because we ache for “meant to be”. We ache for belonging, and we identify within that sweet little soul, that they do too. With every swig of that deceit we swallow, however well-meaning that it is, we only hurt everyone involved a little more. While I felt that I was meant to be a mother for so painfully long, obviously I wasn’t. We have to reconcile ourselves to being honest.

“Meant to be” is only ever really that we are meant to love. To love in heart, to love in action, to be love. There are no guarantees that this will work, that it will pay off, or that we will “win” and the reason for this is that all of those results are outcomes for games, manipulations and strategies we play, they are not the end results of a love.

I love my kids. I will always love them, and in my heart they will always be my kids, because for a such a time as that, it truly felt like they were. Those were some of the most beautiful moments, held within ten years that I would never trade for anything. They weren’t perfect, because nothing real is. Of the four decades I have walked this planet, that one was the best I will ever know. The biggest part of loving them, or anyone really, is giving the other person the option to stay or to let go and walk away. Thats the part of love that we fight so hard not to have happen, but this year I’m learning that I have always been okay in a loved one’s rear view mirror.

We can’t regret the loving. Love requires us to be open and raw, and with such vulnerabilities comes hurt. We can’t really regret the losing either, because loving someone enough to respect their good bye is the most selfless thing we can give them. I am told that motherhood is the most selfless role there is, so maybe in some ways I truly was a mom, just not in any of the ways I had hoped for.

It all sounds so sad, in print, doesn’t it? Growth and realizations can be sad sometimes. Rest assured, I am not sad. A bit pensive at times, and there are moments when I can be easily distracted by the place I had always hoped the motherhood/grandmother journey would take me. Even so, many things have come into focus this year, so many things that I felt (or I believed) were so different than they truly were. On the other side of these once unfathomably feared truths, there is goodness. In my end, whenever that is, if I am asked if I used this life to actively love, I can say honestly that I did. I still do. I will until I breathe no more. This is who I am, and I am grateful for that. I am proud of that.

That being said, if the rest of 2019 wanted to chill the F*** out, I wouldn’t complain.