Tuesday, August 22, 2017

On Dating

…Until death do us part

The vow we made almost 17 years before his death. As quick as the filing of the death certificate, I’m now single for the first time in 21 years.

While married, we’d discussed remarriage in the event we ever split up, or more often, if one of us died. Are we the only ones that talked about these things?

Ghon often said he’d never remarry. He’d been married once, twice, and if I were to leave or die, I couldn’t be replaced. He wouldn’t do it again. I argued that he would, and it’d be relatively quickly. He’d never been without a girlfriend/fiancé/wife for more than, well, maybe 36-48 hours since his first divorce. Even before his marriage, he jumped from one girl to another, sometimes admittedly, he had multiple girlfriends.

I always said I’d never remarry. My opinion was been there done that, especially if we’d ever divorce. Why go through that all over again? I could see myself being set in my ways. Ghon would of course tell me I would, and more importantly, should. He didn’t think I should be alone. He even named a mutual friend of ours that he would approve of me marrying!

The first thing Jonathan asked me after I told him that yes, his Daddy died (Genevieve told him first!), was if I was going to get remarried. I remember thinking, “WHOAH!” I told him I really didn’t think so, but what did he think about it. His response was yes, because he didn’t have a dad. Then he quickly changed his mind, because he didn’t want my name to change.

At my first primary care visit following Ghon’s death, about four months after, my doctor made the connection between the death of one of his patients (Ghon) and me. We talked for a few moments about what happened, then why I was there, then near the end of my exam, he asked if I was going to get remarried! Slow down, Doc! I couldn’t believe he’d ask that – then tell me I should. How about you let me process what’s happened? How about you let me get through this first year? How about you let me figure out who the hell I am without Ghon, however long that takes, before we talk dating, OK?

After I got my memorial tattoo with Ghon’s ashes, and later a second tattoo that has many elements in memory of Ghon, including the pattern of his wedding band, I was told that the tattoos sealed the deal that I’d never remarry. I was taken aback and perhaps even offended. Certainly, I wasn’t entertaining the idea of dating. I’m not thinking about marriage. But I couldn’t fathom why having my relationship memorialized would prevent me from dating or marriage.

It wasn’t long after this conversation that Jonathan slammed me with it again, but this time, Genevieve was there to encourage him. He asked me again about dating, and told me I should because I need an adult to talk to.

Another primary care doctor visit and after checking in on any health concerns, he asks if I’m dating. When I said no, he told me I was a young attractive woman and I should go find a man. But not one in Winchester, look out toward Northern VA so I didn’t find a redneck. I guess he didn’t know Ghon that well, and that a well-visit really checks on all well-being.

There have been iterations of this post, or at least parts of it, in the making for months. I have countless notes, half written posts, or short quips about interactions I've had with people since Ghon died about the potential for me to date. It’s interesting to see how time changes perspective.

In the last few months, I've noticed something I'm not sure I ever thought would happen. Different times, different places, different situations and different tactics employed. If it has happened in the past, I can't say I've noticed until now. Men were paying attention and showing interest in me. Am I acting differently? Has the unspoken period of 'respect the widow' been lifted? This is just, well, weird. And maybe a little exciting.

After a while, I did start to think about dating. Over the last 14 months there have been times the idea absolutely terrified me, nauseated me and overwhelmed me. Recently however, there have been times that I wish I did have a date once and a while. Someone to go out with me when I want to dress up or feel particularly pretty or confident.

I’ve had mixed reactions from friends regarding me and dating. They vary from "you are awesome, go date, find someone to love and appreciate you!" to "no one will want to date/marry you" (yes, really) to "oh, (insert dramatic pause) you aren't thinking about dating already are you?"  Let me tell ya, I've had all those thoughts myself, but never at the same time I hear them from friends and acquaintances. 

Yes, I am awesome, and I don't need a man to tell me that. But it's pretty nice to hear. It would be nice to have someone, an adult someone, to talk about my day with. To just kick back and relax with. Someone that appreciates me for me.

And yes, no one will want to date me because, well, I'm becoming more and more independent. I don't need a man to open jars or carry heavy things. No one will want to date me because my kids keep me so busy, I'm almost always unavailable. While I’m independent, I do also think I can be a touch needy, and who is going to want that? No one will want to date me because they won’t know I want to date because I don't go out to meet guys that need dates. (Go ahead and read that again if you need to.) I don't have single friends and I'm not going out alone. It's a vicious cycle and as an over-thinker, I will over think every scenario.

Have I already started to think about dating? Yes. Yes I have. If you think I should spend the rest of my life alone purely because my husband died, well, you can stop reading my blog. Am I looking to replace him? Find someone like him? No. There is no replacement, there is no one just like him. How do I know I'm ready? I tested the water and felt no guilt.

Few people know that I have actually spent a lot of time talking to and occasionally hanging out with one person. The best part of our relationship is just what Jonathan said; it’s great to have an adult to talk to. (Maybe I should just take all my dating advice from him?) He encourages me to keep figuring out what I like, what I want, and basically who I am. He challenges my way of thinking, introduces me to new things, and isn’t afraid to hear my point of view. We share our experiences, fears, and maybe a few plans and dreams for the future. He compliments me, helps me (whether I admit I need help or not), and does little things that mean a lot. There is a lot we have in common; and many things we don’t.  

Despite this, if you shook the magic 8 ball and asked about our future, it would probably come back with “try again later.” Most days, a romantic relationship doesn’t seem to be always be in the cards for us, timing often working against us, and that is OK. We gave dating in a more traditional sense a try for a very short time (I think it holds the record for my shortest relationship ever – talk about an ego killer at the time), but it just didn’t work. Regardless of any future potential for more, the main thing is that I still have an incredible friend in my life who isn’t afraid to hear me talk about Ghon, thinks I should date lots of guys until I find one as amazing as me, and vows to run off any losers I do try to date in the future. If we are both old and single, we have laid out some basic retirement plans together.

I can't really imagine him not being part of my world right now. I wouldn't trade his friendship in for anything. It was due to our friendship that I even began to see the possibility of loving someone else again. And because I know he reads my blog, and will understand this – 🌟🌞, I JUST love you. Thank you for being you and tolerating me.

Now let me back up and note that I’m not soliciting marriage proposals here. I still don’t know if I ever actually want to be married again. I would however, like to find someone that I can share my limited free time with. The kids and myself will always come first. But sometimes, I just need adult interaction and well, I’d like it to be a guy. This is also not a solicitation for sex. M’kay? Sometimes a girl just wants to be in a man’s company and maybe get some cuddles.

Now that I’ve cleared that up, as I’ve continued to learn more about who I am and what I want as a single parent, single woman, and though I don’t like to admit it, a middle-aged single woman, I want someone to do stuff with. Someone that shares some of the same interests as me. Someone that may not like what I want to do,  but is still willing to go somewhere with me because I want to – and would ask me to go with them to someplace maybe I would not be regularly into. Why? Because we enjoy not just the company, but the company of each other. I’d like more of that encouragement, support, thought-provoking conversation, and someone to share my day with and in time, maybe someone to grow old with. I don’t want to be a third wheel, I don’t want to be a pity invite, and I don’t want to be a crazy old cat lady when I get older. I don’t need to be anyone’s top priority; but a priority would be nice.  Balance.  I crave balance.

I mentioned before the book about moving from we to me. It suggested I identify what I want in a future partner and after a few quick thoughts, I came to two conclusions. He either did not exist, or, he was going to have some other serious issues, like being a serial killer or something if he wasn’t already married.  Back to the drawing board.

Qualifications for dating me:

1.     You must like kids. My kids are a little crazy, a lot of fun, and are my world. They had a dad; you don’t have to be him. You will never be him. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to be a role model, play Xbox, play catch, watch their sporting events, maybe watch them when they are sick, and support and guide them as they grow. If you’re in it for the long haul – you have to appreciate and respect them, as I’d expect them to do for you. Not only must you like my kids, you will need to respect my relationship with my biggest kid, my stepson. Our relationship did not die when his father did; if anything, we grew closer. If you thought your days of seeking a father’s approval for dating a girl were over, think again. He’s not my father, but I seek and respect his opinions. He is one of my trusted guides as I consider dating.

2.     Honesty and respect are key for me. Do not lie to me. Do not lie by omission. If you do, there is no trust. No trust means no future. I’ve had my trust violated in the past, so bear with me as I learn to trust again. Respect me, my feelings, my opinions, and my decisions. Respect that I’ve been married and I will talk about my deceased husband. Respect my time. If you regularly can’t keep commitments, I am not likely the girl for you. I enjoy spontaneity, and can do some things on a whim, but life with kids means I schedule, a lot. If I’m making time for you, it’s more disruptive to cancel plans that it can be to make them.

3.     Like music. Like live music. Go see shows with me, on any scale.

4.     Have a life; but appreciate sharing it with me. If there is something I want to do different in a relationship, it’s being comfortable doing my own thing, having a partner that is comfortable doing their own thing, and doing many more things together. You are probably going to be close to my age – so I hope you have your own interests and hobbies. I don’t want to change you or them, nor do I want to change me or mine. I want my life to be enhanced, enriched, and more fulfilling as a result of a relationship.

5.     Make me laugh.

I have several well-meaning friends tell me that I deserve someone great and fabulous, that I have so much to offer, I’m a great person, never settle. It makes me wonder then why haven’t I found someone to spend even a little of my time with.

I also know that I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to meeting people.

I’m not into hanging out at bars, and certainly wouldn’t go alone. I’m not asking any of my married friends to go hang out at a bar on a Friday night with me. One, it’s that third-wheel thing again, and two, I could care less about drinking. I think I’m approachable, but then again, maybe I’m not. Once I know you, I’ll talk your ear off. Until then, I’m not the best at starting conversations with strangers, even in a professional/networking environment. The whole idea makes me uncomfortable. I don’t go out much, because, again, I don’t have anyone to go out with.

And no, at least not at this point in time, am I not interested in any online dating sites.

I’ve come to realize unless a guy is a single parent with a kid in the same extracurricular activities as my kids or potentially at work; I’m never going to meet him. Unless I already have and just don’t know it. As much as I’d like to find someone to do stuff with, I also find the idea of dating a little exhausting.  I’m not looking for potential blind dates out of this post, or a bunch of “hey you should meet my brother/cousin/friend” either. I’m a firm believer in when the timing is right, and the person is right, even if right for a period of time, our paths will cross. Until then, I'll be working, mom-ing, and listening to my music. And maybe shopping for a red dress

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


I am a woman;
filled with childlike naivety,
red, purple, blue and black. 

I am a mother and caregiver;
a protector,
rarely a risk taker.

I am a friend;
shy and awkward at first,
loud, loyal, and slightly obnoxious ‘til the end.

I am a giver;
a reluctant taker,
providing what I can, when I can, when I want.

I am a manager of things;
a list maker,
a planner planning more spontaneity. 

I am a widow;
an emotional person,
searching for me in a world of we.

I am a musicophile;
listening on repeat,
finding life, meaning, and purpose in someone else's words and a wicked beat.

I am a loner;
valuing time to myself, for myself,
struggling with being alone.

I am a fighter;
standing up for what I believe in,
defending those that deserve it.

I am a believer;
in God, karma, attraction, the innate good in others,
in myself.

I am the sea goat;
practical, responsible, independent,
stubborn, and often fearful.

I am not cookie cutter;
uniquely defined,
constantly evolving my shape.

I am strong;
I am awesome;
I am fierce;
I am enough;
I am me, undefined.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Control of My Happy

The last two weeks have been pretty exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting.

Fretting over the possible sighting of a grey hair and a long faded home dye job, I contemplated coloring my hair. Coloring requires upkeep. Upkeep requires time and money. As with most people, when I have one, I don’t always have excess of the other.

The fun began with a sassy new demi-permanent dye job. Red, copper and a little purple. I wanted something different, something fun, but not entirely outrageous for work. I mean, I already push boundaries wearing leggings and black lipstick, I didn’t want to come in with unicorn hair. Since it is demi-permanent and already fading, I have my next appointment set in five weeks. We’ll see what direction the color goes; I leave a lot up to my stylist.

Two days later, I was off to the Total Package Tour that I mentioned in an earlier post. BoyzIIMen, Paula Abdul, NKOTB. What a great show with a great friend. Followed by the car adventure the next day.

That's me touching Donnie Wahlberg!
Hello, Jordan Knight!

Four days after the concert, after nearly three months of searching, I bought a car! I did a lot of research and had a few friends also help with the research and provide advice. Test drove cars on two days, negotiated then purchased on the third. This is huge for me. Thanks to the employee pricing benefit Ghon had while working at Carmax, we did buy a couple vehicles that we didn’t necessarily need. Like my Yukon. At one point, we had 2 drivers in the house and 5 vehicles. His truck, his Le Mans, my Camry, my Yukon, and an old Corolla that he used to commute in while Linda was abroad at school. Otherwise, and thereafter, we ran cars to the ground. To go shopping for a car when my KIA was still in decent shape was not the norm for me. But, I’d already put a ton of miles on it the two years we owned it, it was worth less than I owed and the kids and I really did need something bigger. I traded it in, gave a hefty down payment, and am now the owner of a 2016 Honda CRV.  It’s a little different for me to now have sole (well, joint considering banks) ownership of, or maybe sole indebtedness, of a car and a mortgage. Just me, myself, and I. Who’s a big kid now?

Meet Diana! (As in Diana Prince)

I could have spent more time car shopping, but the next family adventure was at hand. Vacation! Road trip!!

Saturday, July 1, the kids and I set off on our first vacation. Last summer, we did a 1 day, 2 night trip to Rehobeth Beach but otherwise, no vacation. I took them to Reno in October, so I guess that counts too, but when the kids think vacation, they think summer. We packed late Friday and a little Saturday morning. Typical for my packing, I over packed my clothes, just to be sure I had plenty of options. I packed the kids bag just right, allowing one extra “just in case” outfit. When I loaded the car Saturday morning, I was somewhat impressed. One bag for me. One bag for both of them. One collapsible cooler bag for food and drinks for the ride. A tote with enough snacks to last the entire trip (and it did!). And another small bag for all my tablet, charging cords, and maps. Each kid had one small backpack of their car stuff.  If I’d had the KIA still, the back would have been full. I had room to spare! Lots of room!  Something was very different about this trip. Very different; and I’m not talking cargo space or Ghon.

Ready to go!

I was taking the kids to New York City and Boston. I didn’t make a packing list. I didn’t have a hard itinerary, aside from our tickets to see the Statue of Liberty. I make lists. I plan. This time; I had mental notes, a transit app on my phone and goals. Goals that were not all met. To an extent, I gave up control again and tried to go with the flow. We left Saturday morning, maybe half an hour later than I’d liked, but I had no steadfast plans for that evening that required specific timing. Get to the hotel, get into the city, go to Coney Island. Eat dinner at Nathan’s, walk the Brooklyn Bridge, ride the Wonder Wheel. Two of these things did not happen, and it was still a good night. We had a safe drive to our hotel. I fretted over getting into the city since we stayed in Secaucus, NJ. I looked at three transit maps, and couldn’t believe that once I made it to the Port Authority Bus terminal, it would take over 90 minutes to get to Coney Island. I felt fear creeping in over me about taking the NYC Subway. I can drive in Baltimore. I Metro through DC. Suddenly, I felt less like a city girl and more like a country bumpkin. Intimidated by the thought. Maybe it would be easier to just stay at the hotel that night. No. No, no, no. This was Coney Island night. Not a hard plan, but the best day to accomplish these wish list sights. We threw our sneakers on and left.

The bus ride was OK. We ate cupcakes from Carlos’ Bakery. I found the Subway. It took me FOREVER to get three subway passes. Found the right platform. Track work. Change trains. Nearly two hours after we left the hotel, we made it to Brooklyn. We ate our hot dogs. We did not walk the bridge, we did not ride the Wonder Wheel because it was closed. We did walk around the boardwalk and eat gelato. We did make it safely back to the hotel. It was a good evening.

For the majority of our time in New York, we made use of one of the hop on – hop off tour buses. Again, for Sunday, very little agenda. We hopped on and off, visited many locations, and to keep happy kids, worked in a pizza lunch – and eventually a pizza dinner, a trip to Dylan’s Candy Bar, M&Ms World, and we took a horse and carriage ride around part of Central Park. Monday, we saw a few more sights from the bus, then visited the Statue of Liberty. I bought tickets in advance and we had access to the pedestal, which was pretty awesome. Quick stop at Ellis Island, back to the bus, to Manhattan, eat more pizza, to the hotel for our car and we were off to our friend’s house in New Hampshire!

Grant's Tomb

July 4, we attended the Amherst, NH parade and watched our friends Hazel and John ride in the bicycle parade! After some down time at their house, moms and kids headed to Boston. Melissa and I both carried backpacks with us that day and once we attempted to enter the esplanade, found out that no backpacks were allowed! Next adventure – find a bag we could take in! We walked around the gardens, just missed a swan boat ride, bought some souvenir bags then ate at the bar/restaurant where the TV Show Cheers was filmed. Back to the esplanade and we worked our way in and watched the Boston Pops! Now this didn’t mean a ton to the kids, but for me, this was pretty cool. Especially when I found out there were additional live performances by Melissa Etheredge, Leslie Odom, Jr, and Andy Grammar! Very cool!! Following the show we switched spots and watched fireworks!
Me and Melissa
Jonathan, Genevieve, Hazel and John

The crew in Boston!

Andy Grammer and the Boston Pops!

My favorite things include chocolate, live music and fireworks. I was with friends, eating chocolate ice cream during a concert that was followed by fireworks. It was a great night.

July 5th was the long ride home. Quick stops for bathroom breaks and gas and we made great time. I did so well with the packing for this trip, despite no plan or list, that I had everything unloaded, put away, and laundry done in the first hour we were home! Not only that, I repacked the kids who were leaving the next morning to go camping with my dad for 4 days!

Insert a couple days of work and cleaning the house up, purging more stuff, a trip to a salt cave for a little relaxation, and a visit from a friend on Saturday afternoon. That night, off to Baltimore to stay with my best friend Melissa. The next day, it was a girls trip back to New York with her daughter Rylee and my friend Amanda to see Kinky Boots on Broadway. Brendon Urie from Panic! At the Disco, one of my favorite bands, was starring in the show for a limited run, so we went to see the show while he was performing. The show was phenomenal! Following the show, we hung out by the stage door and was able to get autographs and photos of many of the cast members, including all the leads. THIS INCLUDES BRENDON URIE! (Insert ultimate fangirling here.)  A great day with friends. Only downside, was not getting home til almost 2am!!

Me, Melissa, Amanda

If only....
J. Harrison Ghee - Lola

OMFG BRENDON URIE!!! - Charlie Price

Self explanatory - See that B? BRENDON URIE!!

The euphoria of getting that close to BRENDON URIE and driving through the city with the top down. :)
I thought briefly about this, and Facebook of course gave me a reminder, that this time last year, I was three weeks out from losing Ghon. Existing in complete fog. Barely functioning and not knowing how to accomplish much of anything. A year later, I feel like I’m living. New hair. New car. Two concerts with 7 different performers. A Broadway show. Two trips to New York City and a trip to Boston. All of this, much of it with two kids, in just barely over two weeks. Sure, I might be a little tired. But I’m having a great time.

There is one thing that is a guarantee in life: you will die. Yep. No denying it. You will not always know when it’s coming. You may have a long time. You may not. The people you love, whether by choice or death,  may not be with you forever. You may be the one left behind. It’s that control thing again – you cannot always control when you die. Likewise, there is no timetable for when a grieving person should live again, or not be sad, or not be angry. By living my life, I AM moving on. It’s what you should do. You meaning everyone, not just those in a grief situation. Some people think that’s a bad thing. Hogwash. You are alive. Be alive. Insert a million ways to say it; eat dessert first! Live each day/moment like it’s your last. Make a bucket list and do it!

While we can’t control death, what you and I can control is our emotion and reaction. I navigate a world of emotions on a regular basis. I chose which ones I allow to take hold. Occasionally there are some I don’t care for some that breakthrough for a bit. I give them their moment, as they are here for a reason, acknowledge the feeling, and if it’s one I’m not comfortable with, I change it. During a conversation with Melissa (NY trip not Boston trip, LOL), when I was running through a myriad of emotions and confusion, her words to me were “I just want you to be happy.”

Happy. Yep. I deserve that. My kids deserve that. You, reader that is still here with me, you deserve to be happy. Happy isn’t forgetting my past or being specific, Ghon. Forgetting him would be the opposite. Happy, is acknowledging and remembering the good times we had. Happy is moving on and living my life as it exists now and as I chose to make it.  Happy is thinking of all the things I want to see and do, and learn about myself and others and doing them. Happy is not letting negativity rule my world. Happy is saying F-off to naysayers and doing what I want to do for a change. I’m a big girl now. Happy is seeing my kids have experiences that I didn’t have or didn’t think they would have. Happy is getting a break once and a while from them; but not too long because my house gets too quiet and I get into weird non-happy emotional places and miss them. Happy is knowing that I like a noisier house. Happy is having friends stop by and help kick the silence out. Happy is having friends to chicken-sit for you so you can live outside the house. Happy is going to New York City. Happy is knowing I will be going back; happier would be knowing when! Happy is feeling the sun on my face. Happy is having friends that care, dark chocolate, live music and seeing fireworks. Happy will be getting more than 4 hours of sleep tonight.

While it’s fun and even necessary to give up a little control and learn to roll with the punches once and a while, like having no plans in the city or ditching your backpack so you can make Bostonians feel better, I will always maintain some control. Control over my happy.

With that, I leave you with a request and a question. If you are part of my happy or contribute to my happy, please keep it that way. And tell me, what makes you happy? I want you to be happy too. Comment below!!

BTW - Blog comments on the blog post also make me happy. So do it!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Losing Control and Finding Me

I'm in the process of getting to know myself. I'm sure you've heard of this concept before. I’m trying to be comfortable in my own skin. Understand what makes me tick – and what ticks me off. I'm understanding how important it is for me to recognize who I am as a person and not as part of a couple. 

I read a book on moving from “we” to “me” for people that were widowed or divorced. How do you transition from that couple status to an individual? How do you define yourself? If you become involved with another person, what qualities do you want that person to have? How do you maintain “you” for the future and potential relationships.  Some parts of the book I didn’t care for. Some, it made me think, so that’s a good thing. The book did confirm that I need to continue to know more about me before I can think of any potential “we”. I don’t want to lose me again.

After 21 years with Ghon, I realized that I wasn't so sure who I was. I attempted to start this process, of figuring me out, or at least deciding I needed to, right before Ghon died. I put Ghon, the kids, and my job so far ahead of myself that the definition of who I was focused on my roles of wife, mother, and project manager. The biggest project I needed to focus on, the most neglected, was me. After my weight loss, I became an entirely different person physically. Mentally, there is a slow mind shift.

Shock and grief put a hold on all this. I needed to go through the motions, at least those of mom and project manager before I could focus on me. 

Ever see the movie Runaway Bride? I kinda feel like Maggie. I'm trying to decide if I really like my eggs scrambled, or if I like them scrambled because that's how Ghon ate them.

What are the things we did that I really enjoyed or would consider doing without him? Not too much. What did I like doing before him? I have no idea. I was 19 and in college. Before him I was, well, let’s just say I don’t want to be her either.

Signs of my own growth and development are sometimes slow. I am beginning to recognize that to an extent, I may be a control freak. As a parent, I've had to let that go and accept that there are things I can't control. That was easy. I do go with the flow a lot in that respect. One of the biggest things I teach the kids is control of our emotions. We are human and we are allowed to have feelings, any feeling we want. But it is our reaction, our response and behavior that we can control. That it's OK to be angry and hurt but it is not OK to throw or break things or use hurtful words. These reactions may give temporary relief but have lasting impact and not always a positive one.

On Monday, I had my own mini-epiphany along these lines. 

If you know me, you know I am a huge New Kids On The Block fan. Just six hours before show time on Sunday, my friend Brandi agreed to go with me to their show that night in D.C.  I didn't have tickets. Totally impulsive. It was exhilarating to make such a decision, then buy tickets in the pit, and go!! I’m a planner. I don’t mind spontaneity, but it’s not always easy. This was exciting!

I'll spare the concert details, but it was amazing. Then as we tried to leave, we couldn't. We missed the last Metro train home. Quick thinking and a call to another friend who was also at the show, we made it back to Winchester. Now of course, I had to figure out how to get my car from the Metro on Monday.   

Fortunately, yet another friend agreed to drive me nearly an hour and a half to the train station to get my car on Monday. It was early in that ride that my epiphany began.

Ghon had a 68 Pontiac Le Mans convertible. Driving that car was therapeutic for him. For me, unless we were driving in a city, and even then there were episodes, riding in the car gave me anxiety. He loved to drive it fast. Top down of course. And it scared the shit out of me. Is he going to stop in time? If we were rear ended, would I fly out of the car? What if we rolled? Oh my are we really passing a tractor trailer it's fishtailing I think I’M GOING TO DIE!

I couldn't ride on any highway in the car. In general, I drove almost everywhere we went (but never the Le Mans) except on vacations. If I was a passenger, I felt out of control, and that often extended to other people driving. Ghon may have been driving the same speed I would have, but I felt so unsafe. It was better for both of us, to spare my anxiety or any arguments from me yelling at him to slow down or announcing the presence of every stop sign, to just do the driving.

What does this have to do with getting my car? I was about to ride, not drive, in a Jeep with an open top and virtually no doors on the interstate. I almost panicked, but realized I didn't really have reason to. OK, I did mention once how this ride had anxiety inducing potential, but I shut up after that. I had no control over the drive, only my reaction to it. Take a deep breath and settle down girl…

So what happened? First, I enjoyed the ride. 

Second, I was able to view and appreciate the view around me. When I drive, I am too focused on the drive to appreciate the mountains, the valley, and thanks to an open roof this time, the sky and clouds. We live in a beautiful world. OK maybe at first I looked around and up to not look forward; but it was still refreshing.

Third, I realized what was happening. I was comfortable not having control of the vehicle. I was comfortable in the passenger seat, my hand not always in the vehicle  (don't tell the kids!), and just being present in the moment. I let go of control. I was content, relaxed, and combined with only 3 hours sleep the night before, I almost fell asleep.

I had no reason to be anxious or fearful. My previous reactions were likely a result to the fact I'd been in a car accident while Ghon was driving, and the continuing anxiety and need to find control while in a similar situation. I hadn't felt that, and when my brain tried to remind me that I was in an open vehicle on an open road and I needed to breakdown; I denied the fight or flight response. I controlled it. The reward was insurmountable. 

Control. It’s power and influence over another person’s behavior. It sounds so heavy and negative. In my past, it was control of, well, almost everything. Schedules, meals, shopping, activities, laundry, finances, you name it, I ran and did it. Ghon and I didn’t always have a balanced at home life. Sure, he’d help here and there, but 90% of the time, it was me. I’m not so sure it was so much that I needed the control as much as it was that someone had to do it, and that someone was me. The one thing I had no control over was Ghon. Influence maybe, never control. And I wouldn’t have wanted it.

The first weeks of losing Ghon, I had no control. I just went where nudged. Did what I thought was right or was told was. Slowly, I attempted to regain control of my life, of the kid’s life. Attempt; as sometimes it still seems a little chaotic. Maybe this is why I have such a hard time asking for help. I’ve been wired to do it all with no help. I control the who, what, when, where and how. There are many days and situations where I wish I could give some of that control over to someone else. Not to a Stepford wife level of course.

For now, I will attempt to keep focusing on doing what makes me happy, outside of my kids and career. Is there anything I want to change or improve when it comes to who I am? Who do I want to spend my time with? What do I enjoy doing? I want to try new things so I can decide whether or not I like it or not. Knowing I’m not into something is just as important as knowing I am. To be open to learning from people that have lived different lives so I can see what life is like outside of the “we” I lived for so long. I know I like to help people. I know I like to do things for people. I like to take care of others. I like yoga, massage, acupuncture and exercise. I like the beach, but don’t like sand anywhere but on my feet. I love live music, chocolate, and the sun. I don’t like kale, snakes, and rodents. I don’t like little cars, negativity and scary movies.

And apparently, I can now appreciate and enjoy long rides in vehicles with no roofs and open doors.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Rollercoaster of Tears

It hit me like a ton of bricks tonight.

I really don't know what it was, or how it came about, but it hit. Hard.

I had a wonderful weekend. Every last bit of it. A decent day at work. The kids are spending their first week of summer vacation with my sister, so I had no time commitments after work. I headed out to do a little shopping and start checking off more to do list items. Things to do  in general, things to do while the kids aren't here, things to do before the mini-memorial next Sunday.

Out of nowhere, the wind left my sails.

I left the store I was in, got in the car, and cried. Not a lot, but a few tears. I drove to the next store, went in, got everything I needed and as I loaded the car, I felt all wrong again.

I've never smoked anything, let me repeat, anything, in my life. Suddenly, it felt like a good time to smoke a cigarette.

I got in the car.

Maybe, tonight would be a good time to have a drink. And I don't mean water.  No, no, that wouldn't be good either. Head to the next store. Grind my fresh peanut butter, check out, back to the car, what the hell is wrong with me? Change the song on the iPod.
The rollercoaster ride's a lonely one
I pay the ransom note to stop it from steaming
Hey, what are you looking at?
I was a teenage girl when he met me...
(slightly edited...)
 I listen to Sour Girl the entire 35 minute ride home. I cry, the entire 35 minute ride home.

I'm wailing along to the song, tears streaming down my face. I don't know why I'm crying so bad. I get goosebumps, completely up my arms.

What the hell?

Is it because tomorrow is the one year mark from Ghon's surgery?

Is it because today when I went for a walk, I looked at that little meadow and wanted to sit down, right there in the middle of the sidewalk and reason with it? Tell it why it was special, why I loved the flowers and why I hated them?
The girl got reasons, they all got reasons
Damn if I know what the reason is. Hell, I don't even know if I care what the reason is. I just know, that tonight I cried the hardest and the longest I have in weeks.

I wanted to come home and get something accomplished. I debated in my head the merits of doing as much as possible, sleep be damned, stay up all night versus crawling into bed and not doing anything. Let sleep win, or lay there and wait, and wait, and wait for sleep to take over.

By the time I got home, unloaded the car, washed the makeup off my black teared face, and changed, it was really to late to do anything. I washed today's lunch dishes, prepared tomorrow's breakfast. As I debated, I could hear the words of the this post taking shape.

No, I won't start drinking or smoking. I will write. Writing is cathartic, at least when  you can see the screen through the tears.

I think it's the loneliness. It just hit me - at the weirdest time.  Just like on Mother's Day. Now if you know me well, and where I live, this isn't an open invitation to come rushing over here. Yes, I know, there are some of you I can call. But in the middle of lonely, I don't want company. Lonely has it's purpose. Lonely makes me feel whether I want to or not. Lonely doesn't hide.

Or maybe, it's when I'm lonely, that I'm reminded that I'm not really alone. Because it's then that I think even more about Ghon, and eventually, I'm OK. Perhaps those goosebumps, were my reminder of his presence. I'm reminded that there are people I can call if I really need it. But yea, you know I won't.

I knew there would be some whacked up emotions leading up to the first anniversary. Today, was the first nosedive. Hopefully, I can keep it together a little better the next few days. My to-do list isn't getting any shorter.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Getting Better

I'm back to squishy feely, at least for tonight.

Today, I reminded the world (AKA Facebook) that my mood swings the next two weeks may induce whiplash. While I apologize for that, it was also a reminder for friends to not only understand what I'm going through, but for me to remember what I'm going through.

In just 13 days, 365 days will have past since I last held Ghon's hand. Since I last laid beside him. Since I last kissed his lips. Since I last tried to make him better, like I'd always done. But this time, I couldn't.

If I can't make him better, there's only one person left to make better. That person can be strong-willed, temperamental, needy, determined, weak, driven, and may operate without focus. She can build walls of protection as fast as she can tear them down. She often doesn't know what she's protecting herself from or why. Most days, she doesn't even know who she is.

But I know her. She's fragile. She's lost and afraid of being found. She's confused, she's tired. She will fight for what is hers, for those she loves, and for what she believes in - when she knows what that is. She is loyal; she is fierce. And stubborn. I can't forget stubborn.

There are days I'd like to throat punch those responsible for putting me on this journey. Not so much for my sake, but for me kids. They are doing OK, but grief rears it's ugly head from time to time, as expected and it's hard. I want to run and hide from every Father's Day advertisement, corny t-shirt or coffee mug, and father-son matching clothing. I don't want to insulate the kids and never give them opportunity to feel and remember. I want them to do it on their terms. Their grief is their love for their dad.

Any advice for when your child says they don't really want to look at a chicken leg bone, because it reminds them of how Daddy used to chew off all the extra pieces they left behind?

I didn't think so.

This mind dump though isn't supposed to be so angry sounding. Insert that whiplash warning again here.

Because grief is a journey, it is a process; I know we (myself, the kids, and those of you reading that knew Ghon) will be traveling this road for a long time. But I've felt change coming. Despite the anxiety brewing over making it through the anniversary, things really are getting better.

Let me pause and reflect on the mess of emotions one feels when saying that things are getting better.

Better doesn't mean I don't still love Ghon. Better doesn't mean I don't miss him. Better doesn't mean there are days that absolutely hurt.

Better means I'm surviving. It means I am working on saving that girl. Trying hard to figure out who I am instead of who we are. Better means most days, I manage my chaos than I used to. Better, means knowing that I have, and will, continue to live my life as I choose to define it.

This house. This massive house would have been filled by Ghon's laughter, by his anger, by his passion. His energy is still here. But it's not stealing pies from the kitchen window like he'd planned. The kids are begging me to either shoot, or let them shoot the groundhogs in the yard through my bedroom window with Dad's .22, just like he used to do.

Getting better and living my life - it's part of the process. I can't do the things Ghon planned. I can't do the things we planned. I have to make my own plans and do those. They may be originals or adaptations from our plans - but they are mine going forward.

Getting better is feeling slightly more confident in who I am.

Getting better is acknowledging that I may need help - and getting it.

Getting better is understanding that distraction and lack of focus is a coping mechanism and it too shall pass.

Getting better is remembering Ghon, telling his stories, and not breaking down in tears every single time.

Getting better is taking care of me for a change.

Getting better is tearing down walls so I can see who is on the inside waiting to come out. Tearing down walls that keep me living in the past. 

Getting better is still making lunch on a Sunday afternoon, eating on the porch, and not freaking out that your husband isn't beside you - according to plan.

Getting better is taking selfies in the mirrors at Wal-mart again, because you know you looked that good today. (Seriously, she is vain some days.)

Getting better is looking at the field where you last took pictures, and it isn't as pretty as you thought it was.

Getting better is taking off the rose colored glasses.

For tonight, I'll feel, well, better. As for tomorrow, I just have to wait and see. Live with minimal expectations. Let the life that is to be, with the memories I'll always have, carry me forward. Can't promise I won't kick and scream or cry some days, but I'll keep moving forward.

This girl is too stubborn; too fierce; not to.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Nineteen Chickens and Counting

When I first sat down to write this post, I thought I was going to finally deliver a story that didn't deal with death. But no, this one does too. Death 19 times to be exact. This time however, it was intentional. It was planned. And it should be tasty.

In the past, Ghon had tried to raise chickens for meat, not just egg laying. Tried meaning limited success not at any fault really of his, but of the constant predator threat. Well, not just threat, but the dang critters would kill our birds before we could raise them for slaughter. He was successful one round and we were able to to put 6 or 7 fryers in the freezer.

I'm not sure why I felt compelled to do it this year myself. Maybe it was to see if I could. To try some farm "thing" in his spirit and honor. Or, we like chicken and it felt like the right thing to do.

When Ghon did process the chickens, it was part of a learning experience. He met a couple online via a Facebook farming group. Sharon and Greg were nice enough to let Ghon come out and show him how they handled the slaughter.  Ghon was even more energized by the idea of raising chickens as a protein source for profit. He'd made plans to buy the plucker, talked about where to do the deed itself. He hadn't gotten that far, and in one way, that left me at a disadvantage if I was going to raise and slaughter our own chickens.

Fortunately I was able find Sharon on Facebook, sent a friend request and started messaging. I'd asked if Greg would be willing to help me process if I raised my own hens.  As we discussed options, she offered a few of their large order from the hatchery so I didn't have to order my own.

A few weeks later, the kids and I headed to their farm to purchase fifteen chicks. The hatchery they use also threw in some "bonus birds" which were all roosters. We took five of those too.

What little girl doesn't love a chick?

Transferring the chicks to our box.

We brought the chicks home where the had a short stay in my utility sink. Much happy peeping kept the cats interested and my nerves slightly frazzled. At this point, it's still to cold to put the chicks outside and I didn't have good space set up for them inside. Fortunately, our friends Jason and Rachel agreed to raise them at their house for a few weeks. Again, what kid doesn't love chicks, and with three at their house, it was a fun adventure for them to have around.

Makeshift coop until the transition!

A few weeks pass and it was time to move the birds back to the farm.  Six years ago, Ghon had built a 12x12 chicken coop and later, sectioned off a space that we could finish raising chicks in and keep them safe from the older, larger birds. I put my boots on, my big girl farm panties, grabbed a screw gun and put the plywood walls back up so I could use the pen. I AM FARMGIRL HEAR ME ROAR!

OK, hear me, but don't give me too much credit. I had a problem getting the screw in on one post, but it was secure enough that I rolled with it. Baby steps farm girl, baby steps.

Jason delivered the the chicks and got them settled in their new home. They spent a few more weeks inside until I felt the old flight pen was secure from predators and the weather nice enough. The flight pen has a wire roof, but nothing to protect the birds from rain. We had an old piece of plywood close by, so I was able to repurpose it as a roof. Yep, got a little She-Ra action on to lift it over my head and up onto the pen roof.  The grass in the pen was at least a foot high, but I knew that wasn't likely to last!

Since we'd had such issues with predators in the past, I was really nervous that I'd lose some or all the birds. Every morning, I'd look out my bedroom window and see a little white flock pecking around in the pen and felt happy to know that they'd made it another night!

Seven weeks into the adventure, it was time to slaughter. Technically, the roosters, being a different variety as well, should have been held off a few more weeks. Not knowing how I'd handle this whole processing business, I figured I'd better get it done all at one time, and they could be my little single serve almost cornish hens.

Fortunately from the get-go, Jonathan and Genevieve understood that these were not egg laying hens and would not be staying at the farm. That these birds did not get names other than tender, baked, fried, pot pie, soup, and grilled. Their sole purpose was to eat and be eaten!!

Since they were accepting of this idea, they had no issues helping me load them into a cage so I could take them off to Greg and Sharon's farm. Can't say I blame them for not wanting to be there for the slaughter.

Bucket of chicken!

My dad came to watch the kids while I was gone, so he manned the cage door for us.

Squeezing through

I can still remember the first night she caught a chicken!

Excited about the prospect of fried chicken

Bye bye roo-boy!

How Momma does it! Bam!

The last three to load in. Jonathan can't wait for a fried chicken leg, again.
Chickens loaded, cooler and ice loaded - off we go!

About this time last year, we took our VA tags off the truck and put farm tags on it. This restricted our ability to drive the truck, but with over 285k miles on it, it needed a ton of work to pass inspection. I haven't driven it much since Ghon died. This was the longest drive - and appropriate farm use.

As part of the deal for Greg to process the chickens, there were a few expectations set for me. I was asked to watch, learn and help, or at least provide entertainment. I assured Sharon I would watch what I could and whatever I couldn't - well, that in of it's self would be the entertainment.

Once I arrived, I recognized all the equipment from when Ghon shared his experience with me. Now for those of you that are squeamish or wondering if I have pictures of dead or dying chickens, the partial answer is yes. But not to worry, the dead chickens look no different here than they do at your grocery store. If your curious to the process, keep reading.

To get started, Greg already had a pot of soapy water starting to boil. This is to scald the birds, which helps get the feathers off. But, before you can do that, the first step is the actual slaughter.

We loaded six birds into the yellow cage seen above. One at a time (up to three), Greg would put the chicken in the cone, head first, get it snug, hold tight, and very quickly, cut the head off. Before the first, he was kind enough to ask if I was going to be OK with this part. I gave the honest answer - that I had no idea, but felt I needed to see at least one and then we'd go from there. Fortunately, I did just fine. I didn't watch intently every single time, but I also didn't get squeamish or running off crying.

After the birds rest a few minutes, the next step is scalding. The water has to be a a magic number and holding the bird by the legs, Greg dunked, dunked, and dunked the bird to help pull out oils from the feathers and make them easier to pluck. Then, enter the wizbang plucker. A contraption Ghon thought about getting many times before.

Making quick work of plucking feathers!

The bird is dropped into the blue barrel. At the bottom is a metal plate that spins around. The chicken bounces around and the black rubber fingers pull the feathers off. A little water is added from the top. Quite an interesting little machine and it did an amazing job.

Once all 6 birds were slaughtered, it was off the butchering table. Once again, Greg did a great job teaching me about the process, the steps he takes to clean out and do the final prep on the bird. My job was to perform quality control. I checked over the birds and pulled any feathers left behind and rinsed the inside cavities out, pulling out anything that didn't look like it belonged. Once that was done, it was off to the ice bath to chill. We repeated the process until all 19 birds I brought were complete.

19 birdies all ready to go!
If you're a math person, you probably realize we are one bird short from our pickup. One hen did die as a chick before making it back to the farm. It happens.

Once we were done, I helped clean up the butchering area and anything else I could figure out. Greg was super patient with me, taught me a lot, and may be able to help me out with some other farm needs - or need nots. I'm thankful and grateful for his time, talent and the conversation we had Sunday.

As I drove away, with a now flat crate and a full cooler, I asked Ghon what he thought of that. Even I was a bit stunned at what happened. It was truly a team effort and I had a lot of support along the way - but I had just raised chickens for the family, took and sorta helped with the processing, and was carrying them around like it was nothing. Not to bad for a city girl from Baltimore.

The next step is to vacuum pack the 16 birds and toss them in the freezer. Yes, math folks, I dropped three more. One of the cool things I get to do as a pseudo-farmer is barter. I gave my dad a hen for watching the kids. Our neighbor and friend Daniel helped me get air in the truck tires so I could actually drive it to a shop to get new tires put on - I gave him dinner and a jar of honey. My friend and co-worker Joey gave me the tires that I needed to get on the truck so I could take this little adventure - and he got 2 chickens in return. And they've already been turned into soup! Barter all the things, all the time!!

Chicken not yet noodled soup!
So there it is - finally, a farming story. A farming story that required the death of 19 chickens, but gave so much more. I did a farm thing. (yes, that's technical farmspeak). I did a farm thing almost on my own; something Ghon would have loved to have done and I imagine is proud of me for doing. It's something he wanted to do more of and sell. And while I don't think I'm going commercial, it is pretty neat to say I will be cooking and eating chickens I raised. A farming story that proved once again there are a lot of good people out there, good people willing to lend a hand when needed with just about anything (thank you friends!!). Hopefully, I can be just as good and helpful when someone else needs a hand. Or a chicken. Or eggs.

If you've made it this far - a hint was dropped in this post about another farming adventure Ghon started and I'm completing. Hopefully, I'll have that one written soon. In the meantime, anyone have any good chicken recipes? And Eric - slop does not count.