Friday, October 16, 2015

Mittens and Me

When your cat has been missing for over 72 hours, there comes a point when you have to admit to yourself that she isn't coming back. My husband and I are 90% sure that the cat seen dead along halfway blvd early Tuesday morning was in fact Mittens. There is, of course, no way to know for sure since the dead cat disappeared by midmorning. It is heartbreaking to not know for sure. It all comes down to which neighbor we want to believe. One is sure she saw Mittens alive, waiting at our door in the early morning light. The other is positive that the cat on the road was Mittens. And sadly, they both could be right.

I have 20 Lost Cat posters that I could put up in our neighborhood. But I am not sure I want to. I have known since Wednesday morning that there was a strong possibility that the dead cat seen on the road early Tuesday morning was Mittens. I'm just not sure that I want to hold out hope for something that isn't likely to happen. It isn't likely that Mittens will ever come home again. The last 3 days have been difficult—every shadow on the window, every slight cat like noise, every kitty item in the house—are all reminders of a precious cat who made life so much more interesting. And that knowledge hurts. It's an everyday battle. Do I dwell on the hurt or do I push past it?

Personally, I want to push past it. I want to clear away the kitty items. I want to vacuum the house—chasing down every last bit of cat hair. I want to erase all evidence of my kitty. The idea of doing so hurts so much that I haven't had the courage to start. But it is Friday. It is time to clean and I will just have to buckle down and do it. The trash can will be full of tissues by the time the house is clean, but at least the healing can start.

Why do I want to erase all trace of my beloved kitty—you may ask? Because I have a beautiful baby girl to take care of, to nurture and to grow. I am finding that I can't grieve the loss of Mittens and stay in the present. It is a type of multi-tasking that I just can't do. Yes, I am well aware that it was just a cat, but that cat was part of our family. She was my companion during the pregnancy. My snuggle buddy after hard days at work. My walking buddy on country roads. The kitty who brought me her "beloved" presents of rodents and bunnies. The kitty who disliked TLC, even though he loved her dearly. And she was the kitty who for the last 4 months has circled up close doing those early morning feedings.

I will always remember Mittens, just like I remember Keiko and Copper. For the time being, little TLC will be living with my parents in the country. It is safer out there for a cat you likes to wander. Besides, Oscar needs to loose weight.

Mittens made her mark in our hearts. She was greatly loved and will be greatly missed. Just a few pictures that made up her 3 years of life.

 Seriously mommy, why did you wait so long to get me my own bed?

 If a dog can wear a harness and take walks, so can I. (But I'll do it with more class)

 Perfect place for a catnap....zzzzzzzzz

 Seriously Oscar, that dog was SO annoying—you can have her back. Please never share her again.

 "I wuv you Mittens" says TLC....purrrrrrr!

These toys are mine, all mine. What??

Bath time. Worst part of the month. 

Let me in—its cold outside. Look at my face, do you think I am joking? 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Big Changes

It was my last day.
Boxes were packed, desk was cleared, book shelf bare and my filing cabinet had been emptied. Paintings were stacked nearby and as I looked about my old office, I began to wonder why it was that I had been looking forward to this day.

Rain pattered against my windows and my walls were bare—all except for that ugly "fabric" wallpaper, so 1980s—eww.

I wasn't going to miss the stress, the unrealistic workload, the attitudes, politics, the leaky ceilings, the geese, or even my office with the ugly orange carpet.

The day just felt melancholy. Life was changing, again.

Interestingly enough, life is like that. Just when you think you've got a handle on things—life sends you another curve ball. Or in my case, three extra ones for good measure.

And now ten months later, life is different. Priorities are different.

This is my new normal. I'm no longer just a wife—I'm also a mother. And I wouldn't change that for the world. And to be perfectly honest, I am quite content with my career change.

[Meeting our daughter for the first time]

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Notes for the future bride

I was planning my wedding before I was officially engaged. Not in the sense of the hypothetical wedding planning that all us women do—but in the sense of we are getting married and while I don't have a ring on my finger yet—the event is happening this fall! Oh my! 

It was all very complicated. My boyfriend, Stephen, was waiting for a specific day to pop the question. May 18, 2014 to be exact—and so he busied himself with putting together two mock proposals—which really didn't go over very well, as you can imagine. Stephen is very mathematical and as such pays close attention to the importance of dates and numbers. He wanted to propose on our 500th day of dating. And so I had to wait. But while I waited I figured that we could at least start planning the wedding. After all, four months wasn't a lot of time.

And so, these are my notes for the future bride:

Congratulations! You're engaged!
Now before you rush off to buy that drop dead gorgeous dress that costs more than your monthly rent, do take a step back and make a list—what you have dreamed of for years and the reality of your budget are two very different things. Because life continues on after your wedding day and you don't want to spend too much on one day when you have a lifetime of memories to make with each other. Also try to remember that your fiancé has a voice too—even if you have to pry them out of him, sit that boy down and find out what ideas he has before you blow right past him.

The date.
This was a tricky one. You can't just go by what you and your groom want. There are SO many little details to consider. Location, officiant, family schedule, season, etc.

We started with season. I wanted a September wedding. The weather in Maryland is usually a bit more pleasant during September. So I did my research—which led me to the farmers almanac, a free source that gave me a rough idea of the likelihood of pleasant weather on any given day during a specific month.

Next we contacted the pastor that we wanted to officiate the wedding. He was an old family friend, had known both of us since we were kids and had plenty of embarrassing stories to tell. He also travels, a lot. So knowing his schedule and working with it was really important. We narrowed it down to 3 dates—September 14, September 21, and October 5.

That is when we took it to our families. Who out of the extended families were a must? Who needed to know right now? And for goodness sakes Auntie, I know you are excited, but don't tell the whole world! We aren't even officially engaged yet! (Never tell my mom's oldest sister a secret that you don't want the entire extended family to know about within 48 hours.)

Once the conference with both sides of our families ended, the date for our wedding was set—September 14, 2014.

The venue.
This is often where dreams hit reality. The venue can either enhance or destroy the day. An outdoor wedding is great, unless the weather makes things miserable. Expensive venues aren't always the most practical or affordable option. Sometimes you have to do the groundwork yourself and make compromises.

The best advice I can give you on this is that what you want can often be achieved without spending thousands of dollars on a location. For example, I wanted a rustic, artistic, outdoor feel—where guests could relax and mingle. I really wanted a barn reception—but I'm allergic to hay. So where was I going to find an inactive barn that wasn't already used as an over priced venue? We ended up taking rustic to a new level. Church ceremony (complete with logs, ferns, and lanterns). And an outdoor reception with benches, tables, blankets, and games. The church courtyard needed some serious Tender Loving Care: flower beds weeded and mulched, bushes trimmed, branches cut and extra flower pots provided for the day of—but in the end, I was very happy with the results.

Take a look at your hometown. You don't have to go somewhere fancy to find a beautiful outdoor location or stone church. Drive around and look at parks, barns, churches, and other venue attractions on your own time. Do the research yourself and leave the promoted venues from weddingwire and theknot alone. The core price advertised on those websites is the cost of renting the buildings or field—not the full cost that you will be paying when all is said and done. And remember—as your guest list grows, the price to feed them sky rockets too.

The invitations.
You can save a lot of money by being smart about how you invite your guests to your wedding. There are a lot of awesome ideas out there, creative ways to announce and it is very easy to get whisked away. If you are having a relatively small wedding, you can be more creative with your invites. But if you are inviting 350+ people, you will want clean and simple. As a rule you don't need the following: save the date cards, RSVP cards with pre-addressed envelopes, or even the wallet-sized engagement photo. The more you stick into that envelope, the heavier it will become and the more postage it will require to mail each and every one.

Keep your invitation simple. Your guests just need to know the information—not a bunch of flowery words. One card, one sided, and use the RSVP function on your wedding website. Simple.

If you can, design the invitation yourself or ask a creative friend of yours to do it for you. That will save you money in the long run. I designed the invitations myself, which meant that I had quality control at my fingertips. The more colors you use, the more expensive it is to print them. Select 2 or 3 colors and use tints/shades to add interest to your invitation. Use the color of the paper to your advantage. All of these things will save your budget.

The wedding and reception coordinator: 
Yes, you will need both of these. They make the day of run so much more smoothly. Most churches and other venues have a wedding coordinator that will be working with you. They think of the details that you might forget about.

My wedding and reception coordinators were awesome. Meeting with them brought out so many ideas that I myself hadn't already thought of. [Yes, my fiancé got upset a few times due to him thinking that these women were changing my mind on what I really wanted—and with me for failing to explain to him throughly that with the reception, I had ideas for the decorations and feel of it, but not the food aspect. More on that later.]  As the months passed by I actually ended up with several different coordinators. Linda was my wedding coordinator, she knew the church inside and out. She knew who to call about certain questions and where we could store wedding items as the days grew closer. Leslie was my reception coordinator. The word amazing doesn't even cover the extent of her creativity and cooking ability. Everything looked and tasted awesome. We divided up certain food items and had family and friends help out when Leslie began feeling overwhelmed. The food was excellent and we had leftovers galore.

Our reception had two parts to it—food and games. With the food and serving table decorations taken care of by Leslie—I enlisted the help of Angie. She is incredibly creative and knows just about everyone—perfect person for the job. Angie enlisted the help of her mother, Marilyn, and her mother enlisted the help of Sharon, one of her close friends. Those three ladies made the outdoor reception happen.

The courtyard reception had been a sore point between my mother and I. Mom wanted there to be enough tables for everyone to sit down. Stephen and I wanted people to mingle, with optional seating elsewhere. It was the week before the wedding—mom and I were still at odds. We were gathered in our living room with Angie, Marilyn, and Sharon. Mom was expressing her concerns and I was just feeling overwhelmed. That is when Marilyn took over, she asked me point blank what I wanted and so I told her. And her response was—we will make it happen.

We would have tables, but in addition there would be more country styled seating available for those more adventurous. We would incorporate the yards of fabric I had gotten for picnic blankets and have them tucked off to the side in a basket. The various games would be scattered around the courtyard—for more easy access for the guests. And we also decided to use lawn furniture borrowed from friends and family to force guests to mingle with each other.

Who you have as your coordinators is up to you. They could be close friends or complete strangers. The bottom line is, you want to be able to enjoy your wedding and being worry free is a huge component of that.

The decorations and flowers: 
This is an area that will break your budget if you are not careful. Sites like etsy or pinterest—give you lots and lots of ideas. And with each idea comes a convenient price tag. Just click and buy, so simple. Except it isn't, not when you are on a budget.

Borrow, don't buy. This concept will only cost you your time. Ask around. Your friends and family have friends who have friends that have the oddest of items stored in their basements and garages. Crates, boxes, vases, lanterns, old victorian chandlers, etc.

Make it yourself. Oh the ideas you can get from the internet—but it is best if you use these types of sites as a research resource only and not as a store. If I (or someone in my family) could make it, we went that route.

Grow them. The flowers we used as centerpieces for the reception were grown locally. A friend of the family had a beautiful garden, with lots and lots of zinnias. My mom and I planted zinnias and other September friendly flowers in our flower beds. The Friday before the wedding mom led the troops out  to pick flowers and they came back with buckets and baskets full of flowers.

Yard sales and thrift shops. Looking for something specific? Check out the local thrift shops and yard sales. One man's trash is another man's treasure—or so the saying goes. I like antique stores and little thrift shops—you can find just about anything in them.

Sales and coupons. When you absolutely must buy certain items—look for the sales and the coupons.  We need tulle, lots and lots of tulle. And tulle by the yard isn't the cheapest, so I visited the fabric store when I knew they had a sale or I had an awesome coupon. In this area—it is all about timing. Know what you need and keep your eyes open for the various sales at the stores local to you.

Signs. Do them yourself or find a friend with amazing handwriting that can write with any medium. Use canvas instead of wood or paint bulletin boards black and write on them with chalk. Do all of this in advance and store the signs in a safe dry place where they won't get ruined.

The art of communication.
This is so important. Let me stress that again, VERY IMPORTANT. Planning a wedding will bring out all the inner demons lurking about. Everyone in your family has ideas. And if your parents are paying for it—you have to step very carefully into the territory of disagreement.

My mom and I have different tastes. Which is only natural. We learned a lot about each other during those four stressful months. It is possible that this will not be an issue for you. But I would advise you to be careful of how much you vent to your fiancé about your frustrations. It is natural for women to need to vent when stress out and overwhelmed. But the problem is that your man will want to come to the rescue and vanquish the foe. Which is all well and good when you are in immediate danger—but not so good when you and your mother are disagreeing on something as simple as napkin colors.

The dress.
This is where selfishness often takes hold. Oh yes, you want to wow your groom—but in reality you are way more interested in outdoing your friends. Put that aside and set a realistic budget for your dress, this is your day and you want to feel like a princess—but do so without destroying your bank account.

Choose a date and keep your shopping party small. You don't need unnecessary opinions floating around—just two or three people who know you well. I went dress shopping with my mom and sister. I had a budget of $400 and I told the sales person that I would not budge from that price. Remember, you can find quality in the year before styles and clearance section—who really is going to know the difference? 

Don't judge. Try them all on, even that puffy Cinderella dress that looks like it crashed into a Claire's store, which inwardly makes you gag. And remember, your body type is different than the models you see in magazines—you won't really know what you want until you see the dress on you.

The price. Pay close attention to details. Try to find a dress that wont need altering. Select the veil without sequins and go without the in store bra or corsets—these are all items that you can pick up later and will save you big.

The outcome. I have known girls who have spent over $1500 on their dress. And when I look at their dress—I don't see outstanding, I see an overpriced dress. So the question remains, is it possible to find the perfect dress without spending a wad of cash? Yes, quite—I am a bargain shopper (learned that from my mom) and will search until I find what I am looking for. My dress was originally $800, it was from the season before and had therefore been marked down to $399. There was also some "big savings" going on and so I got another $100 off the final price. Add in a 2-tier slip, a veil, and a garment bag and the total was $435.

The conclusion. Saving money on your dress is both feasible and possible—no matter the length or style, the bargain dress you choose will be perfect on you. I was very happy with the dress I chose, it was just perfect—and yes, I wowed my groom.

The accessories.
Something new, something old, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in your shoe. This tradition comes from an old English rhyme, but there is truth in it. Not every item needs to be brand new. You might decide to use your mother's veil or borrow a necklace from a friend.

Take a good look at what look you want. Shoes that match you dress are great, if you can find them—but don't outweigh the importance of comfort. You will be in those shoes over 6+ hours and you are going to want to be comfortable.

The attendants.
You have probably already asked your best friends to be in your wedding. My advice would be to keep the bridal party small. Four or five of your closest friends or family. This choice is hard, because someone will ultimately get their feelings hurt.

If your fiancé has a sister (or two) this is where things get sticky. Should they be included as bridesmaids or should they not? I would say that it depends on the relationship you have with them.

I made the mistake of not talking to Stephen's sister about it first. What followed was a fiasco, literally.

To solve the problem and restore family peace, Stephen asked his sister to be one of his attendants. She would wear the same dress as the rest of the girls, hold flowers, and stand up front with him. It turned out perfectly, everyone was happy.

[The girls]
Their dresses, oh my this is always a fun one. It is important to remember the concept of wearability when you are deciding on the look. If you have chosen a long dress for yourself, look into knee length dresses for your girls. If you have gone with a short wedding dress, find bridesmaid dresses that are longer. Pay attention to cut and style, color and flower combinations. You begin to understand this better once you have been a bridesmaid. Between my sister and I, we have a closet full of dresses that are unwearable. No girl wants a dress that she can't wear again. As for the useless dresses in the closet, I am planning on turning them into princess dresses for my daughter and niece.

The point is, it is highly annoying to pay $165 for a dress that you will wear once. It isn't even economical. In some cases the color is repulsive or the dress is too formal. Other times the style of the dress just isn't flattering. Whatever the case, that dress will end up in a closet or GoodWill bin—and your style choice will be remembered long after. If the dress you are choosing for your girls isn't something that you yourself would want to wear—reconsider your original choice. Try the dress on yourself, no one likes uncomfortable dresses and if you can't stand it, they probably won't be able to either.

Also remember that not everyone has the same taste in style as you. Be aware of that and plan for it. Two of my bridesmaids were conservative, so I kept that in mind with the length and cut of the dress. My future sister-in-law was also 7 months pregnant at the time of the wedding and the high waisted dress we chose worked out perfectly for her.

We tried a variety of dresses before we settled on a navy blue dress made out of jersey fabric. The girls loved their dresses. So comfortable. The dress itself was very simple and the price was perfect. I bought each girl a bracelet from Khol's ($9 each) and selected bright flowers for their bouquets. We went with gray or silver shoes. I told them that I'd like their shoes to have a bit of a heel if possible, but to go for comfort over exact color. Worked out just fine.

[The guys]
Stephen didn't really have a lot of say in his attire. I knew what I wanted and it wasn't going to be the typical suit. I also wanted the guys to be able to wear their outfits again. We went with gingham shirts, charcoal gray vests, orange bow ties, and dark rinse jeans from Gap. Which went perfectly with the dresses I chose for the bridesmaids.

There are Sabbaths in which all three guys match perfectly—which is slightly amusing, but totally worthwhile.
[The boys]
Keeping kids comfortable and presentable at the same time is often a challenge. We already knew that the boys would be ready to destroy their outfits as soon as the ceremony was over. So we planned accordingly. The three boys got to wear dark rinse jeans, white linen shirts, and matching blue checked ties. We also skipped the idea of shoes and they got to run around barefoot. All three of them were simply adorable and added fun memories to the day.

[The girls]
I had looked at the flower girl dresses early on and was highly dissatisfied with them. They were stuffy and stiff. What little girl was going to feel like a princess in one of those itchy things? Ick! I was already using etsy for decoration ideas, so I decided to add the dresses to the search. And the ones I found were perfect. Since each dress was handmade upon order, they had to be ordered first. Which certainly added to the challenge of making sure everything went together flawlessly.

The baskets were leftover from the early 1990's when my sister and I were flower girls in a wedding. Why my mom still had them, I'll never know. But they were in perfect condition for being stored in the basement and just needed to be wiped down with a wet rag. We decorated the baskets with simple ivory and navy blue ribbons. We filled each basket with brightly colored origami paper flowers.

Stephen has never been one of those guys who will shower their girl with flowers—just because. I don't usually get flowers for Valentine's day or anniversaries (due mostly to my cat eating said flowers). Anyway, when we were dating he would present to me an origami paper flower for our month-aversaries. Which is why, when the time came to decide what we would fill the flower girl baskets with, I chose paper flowers.

The ceremony.
The ceremony is often up to the bride and groom (depending on the traditions found in certain churches). And while I can give some tips, the most important part is to make sure that the ceremony speaks of you as individuals. Stephen and I wanted a pretty traditional and simple ceremony. There were aspects that we added to make it more unique to us (through decorations and audience participation)—such as having a family unity tree and using logs, ferns, candles, tulle, twinkle lights and lanterns as the perfect backdrop in an already beautiful church.

Music was also an important to us, so we chose our music carefully. Staying away from the traditional wedding songs and welcoming something a little different.

The reception.
Just as with the ceremony, the reception is usually more of a combination of individual likes and family traditions. We wanted our reception to feel less structured and more like a big family reunion. We also wanted to kindly force the family and friend groups to mingle with each other, after all—we were all somewhat related now.

Make sure there is plenty of food and drink available—and then enjoy the rest of the day. As you have probably heard from other brides, it is unlikely that you will actually get to eat any of it. Luckily there are usually leftovers. Which in our case were delicious.

Have things available for your guests to do while you are off taking pictures with your extended families. Things can get pretty boring for a guest with nothing to do. We had different games available, a photo booth, and we made sure that there were hors d'oeuvres and drinks available for our guests to partake of. Once the pictures were finished, we joined our guests out in the courtyard. By then Stephen and I were about to drop from exhaustion. And while the main meal was delicious, our stomachs were too queasy from excitement to really enjoy it.

The getaway.
People do different things for their departure. If you are unlucky, your attendants will likely trash your car. With this in mind, Stephen refused to tell anyone (including me) what our mode of transportation was going to be.

Our getaway vehicle changed from pick-up truck to sports car five minutes before our scheduled departure. It was a surprise to me and made for some really great memories.

And that is the most important part—the memories. Looking back at all the memories and pictures gathered from that day is such a privilege and blessing. You will want them available for those days where it is hard to love the man you married. Of course he isn't perfect, but neither are you. You made a commitment to each other—for better or for worse, through sickness and in health, until death do you part.

So my advice? Don't be so caught up in the day, that you forget about the tomorrows.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Embracing Motherhood

The best thing a girl can be is a good wife and mother. 
It is a girl's highest calling. I hope I am ready. —Nancy E. Turner

Motherhood brings with it a lot of attention. And often the advice and unwanted comments begin pouring in before you are even pregnant, let alone married. 

Complete strangers will ask nosey questions ranging from when you will be getting married to how soon you and your hubby will start having kids once you are. If you did make it out of college without a ring on your finger (like I did) then you obviously didn’t take advantage of the resources available to you. What were you doing during those four years anyway? 

Once you are married the clock begins to tick. Expectantly people wait to see if the honeymoon did the trick. Will there be a little munchkin in 40 weeks? After an appropriate amount of time (though generally not long enough for most of us) the dreaded question begins to be asked. When are you going to start having kids? 

For my husband and I—we were asked the question the day after we returned from our honeymoon. When I say we I really mean me. I wasn’t on birth control and we weren’t not trying to get pregnant.  So I knew that it would only be a matter of time before we were—unless we couldn’t. Which meant my typical response to the question was to give us a few months. While privately thinking that this was none of their any concern anyway.

Perhaps it is our technology saturated lifestyles or the need for gossip—but people tend to want to know all the juicy details of everything before anything has actually happened. 

And with all the technology comes expectations. The imaginary measuring tape that you suddenly find yourself being compared to, comes into play not long after you say “I do”—so just in case it wasn’t daunting enough to face a world that expects us to be beautiful Victoria Secret models with flawless features and amazing homemaking skills, like Martha Stewart (without the jail time)—we are also expected to embrace the role of motherhood.

As I write this I am six months pregnant. And I still feel the pressure of being this perfect Victoria Secret supermodel coupled with motherhood. It isn’t like becoming a mom is an easy thing. Everything about my body is changing, let alone the size of my stomach. I feel like I am looking over the edge of Aslan’s Mountain—tiny white clouds can be seen far below and I am completely terrified to take the leap. 

Because it is a leap. A giant leap. You don’t just wake up one morning and discover that you are a parent and everything is going to be just perfect. You spend the most uncomfortable parts of your pregnancy curled up on the couch reading parenting books. You find yourself talking to all your mommy friends as you figure out the necessities for your baby registry. You ask them about their experiences in child birth and begin to worry more as you think about your pain tolerance or lack there of. You begin reading mommy blogs and start looking for ways to squeeze a nursery into your tiny one bedroom apartment. 

You have to deal with the comments of others. People are excited for you—they want to know everything. And I do mean everything. And as you continue to grow in size—there are always those who comment on your weight. Oh, we women should be used to that by now—shouldn’t we? 

I used to worry that once I did get pregnant, I wouldn’t be able to gain the weight needed to support the growth of a healthy baby. I am one of those naturally thin body types. Where you are able to eat large quantities of food and not gain a pound. Any woman’s dream, right? Ummm . . . No, not really—at least not when you see our grocery bill.

Often the most hurtful comments come from the people closest to us. And often they aren’t even aware of how their comments come across. Everything about us is changing, and we have become ultra sensitive to comments and remarks. Perhaps it is because our “mommy radar” is starting to take formation or that we still are a little uncomfortable in our own skin at times. But leaving the house on days when you feel like a bloated hippopotamus takes a lot of courage. Because inevitably you are going to run into someone who can’t believe that you are only 5 months pregnant and not about to pop at any moment. 

And then there are the horror stories your friends have told you. As you get further along in your pregnancy your fingers will begin to swell and you will no longer able to wear your wedding rings. At which point snide comments and remarks begin to follow you around. “Another pregnant teenager! The shame of it all!” Ah, yes . . . for shame that we are more polite than you and won’t humiliate you in public with a tasteful response on the subject. Tempting though it may be. 

Your stomach will suddenly be considered public property. And those meddlers that bothered you before? Well, they will be out there waiting for you and their advice will be just as bad as it was previously. 

You will have creepy old men staring at your stomach and women trying to touch it. Depending on how they approach the subject you find yourself more willing to talk about your pregnancy to complete strangers. You are bombarded by advise that is both helpful and terrifying. You are judged by your lifestyle. Asked countless questions. And are regarded as a poor lost soul in need of guidance. 

When I first suspected that I was pregnant I was terrified. Things weren’t feeling right. Something was up and it most certainly wasn’t the stress of the work/home situation. My period was due to arrive in a few days and yet something just felt different. I had tried to shrug it off for the last 2 weeks. The sick feeling in the morning was the stress of getting my 2 week notice at work. The exhaustion was from packing when I got home from work. But deep inside I knew it wasn’t any of those things. And it scared me—because I wasn’t sure that I was ready to be a mommy. That night my husband held me close as I cried into his shoulder. 

Twenty-six weeks later I have a baby bump. To me, it is a large bump and tends to hinder the simplest of movements that I used to take for granted, like retrieving a cat toy from under the couch. There are days when I feel massive. My husband tries to console me with precious complements about my beauty and his love for me. And yet when I look in the mirror I am shocked by how much my body has changed. I feel like a beached whale when I roll out of bed in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Taking naps is now a necessity. I can no longer see my feet when standing nor hide my bump from prying eyes.

My appetite has grown with the size of my stomach. I must eat—constantly. I consume my already large portions of food and then serve “baby” her portion. I amaze my mother as I pack away more food then my husband on a regular basis. I crave fresh fruits, vegetables, and homemade breads. I balk at our grocery bill as I realize that the fresh ingredients will only last a week and not two. 

And again I stare over the edge of Aslan’s Mountain. And I’m afraid that I won’t be ready to take the leap come June. The worry that accompanies motherhood starts the moment you suspect you are pregnant. And there are days when I just don’t get out much, the effort it takes to leave my little apartment is just too daunting. It is too much to face the world that is gearing up for spring. Because with spring comes summer and with summer comes my precious baby girl. And it frightens me. 

Because with the arrival of baby girl comes the arrival of motherhood. And that is something that will never go away. You are forever changed by a squirming bundle of joy who has spent the last 9 months inside of you. And while I am excited, I am sad too. Sad that, for a time, I will not be able to take part in many of the outdoor activities that I once did with my husband. 

But I suppose the exciting part is that there will be new activities to do. Long walks with baby in stroller, picnics in the park, outings with friends and their children—all new and exciting things to look forward to. And while I am having to give up certain activities for a time, I am very grateful that I can keep one of them for the next few months. 

My midwife assured me that cycling was an excellent source of exercise and as long as I wasn’t planning to run a marathon too—I would be just fine. Which made me happy (even in the dead of winter), because there is nothing better than feeling the wind in your face and sun on your back as you zip across the ground. I’m a bit slower now, hills are a bit more daunting—but I can still do the miles. My husband is patient as ever as I slow him down. Never complaining about my pace and being there if I need extra push to get up a particularly steep hill. And baby girl? I think she likes it. She is cradled in my belly, comfortably situated on my bladder—rocking back and forth over the bumps. And generally making my ride a little less comfortable. 

Which leaves kayaking. 
By the time it is warm enough to go (late May/early June) I will be much too big to easily get into and out of a kayak. I would still like to try—I’m sure it will be highly entertaining to those watching. 

And so, I end with a this: There will be days when the sun doesn’t shine and the flowers appear dim—but I think I will sit up here on Aslan’s Mountain and enjoy the view for a little while longer. The flowers are just beginning to bloom and the weather is cool. And while the months are racing by at a frightening pace, come the end of June, I will be ready to embrace motherhood.  

I can’t wait to meet her. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

What defines you

If I could have told Leelah (Josh) Alcorn one thing before he killed himself on December 28, 2014—it would been that checking out early in the form of suicide accomplishes nothing. It changes nothing. You are now defined as a number—a mere statistic.

I read your suicide note. It sounded more like an "f-the world" note. Maybe no one ever told you this, but life isn't a walk in the park. Each and every generation grows up with something different. You would have been too little to remember a time when you could fly across the country without being strip-searched in security. Which would have made you about four years old when President George W. Bush declared war on Iraq. I was 17 years old and a junior in high school. By that point we had been at war with Afghanistan for almost 2 years. And kids, not much older than you were getting blown to pieces by IEDs.

The point? We all grew up with something different affecting ours lives and you can't go about life with an "f-the world" attitude.

Yes, your parents "totally" ruined your life when they pulled you out of public school and then took away your cell phone and internet privileges. I don't know why they did that—but it might have been to protect you. Why? Because they have also seen people at their worst. They know how kids react to someone who is seen as different by their peers. And you were different. The acceptance of gays/lesbians is still relatively new and not highly accepted everywhere. And the idea of being transgender is much harder to understand and a lot less likely to ever be accepted. I've never met someone who is transgender. So, I don't know what it is like to stand in your shoes.

But I do know what it was like to stand in my shoes. I know what it is like to be bullied. I know what it is like to be different then the other kids. I know what it is like to have a learning disability and to be ridiculed by both classmates and teachers. I know what it is like to not feel feminine. I know what it is like to have zero self confidence. I know what it is like to feel like I don't fit in.

Our shoes aren't so different. And I wish that someone you trusted could have told you that.

In your suicide note, you wanted your death to mean something. And that is what breaks my heart the most. It doesn't mean a thing. You didn't stick around long enough to make that difference—to be that change. Did you know that there are kids out there who know they have a death sentence? Who know that they won't get the chance to grow up? Yet instead of giving up or having an "f-the world" attitude—they have decided to change their world?

Change doesn't happen by checking out early. Had you stuck around you would have learned a few things. You would have learned that life is made up of experiences. Some are pleasant and others aren't. We learn from our mistakes and failures. That is how we grow. We are shaped by our experiences, but they don't define us. You would have learned that becoming who you are takes a lifetime of living to achieve.

And so—to the next child, teenager, or adult who has or is contemplating the thought of suicide—don't let the negative experiences of your life define who you are. Don't let the bullies of this world define you. Life is worth living and it is up to you to decide what it is that will ultimately will define you. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


My last day on the job was October 13, 2014.

And there are days when I feel like I'm still picking up the pieces.

Have you ever worked somewhere that was run by a bunch of hypocrites? Crisp business suits. Specific job descriptions. And the inability to sincerely thank those making them look good. You are never good enough. And you are told so every time you don't meet their unrealistic expectations. And to make it even better, you work for the church.

It will destroy you, from the inside out.
Each little word. 
Each little reminder that you aren't good enough. 
Each tiny mistake enlarged for all to see.

And you try. You try so hard not to let it get to you. You try to have that "tougher shell" that those who inflict the pain insist you need to have to survive. Except it doesn't work.

Because you are a sponge. You take in your surroundings. You put your heart and soul into what you create. So when your superiors find fault with your work—it hurts. But if they just critiqued your work without making it personalyou would be tough enough.

And because you are a woman, you are continually passed over for raises. Because you are a woman you are shamed in meetings. Because you are a woman, if you do stand up for yourself—you'll wish by the end of the day that you hadn't.

In college I chose art as a career. There weren't many girls in that career path when I was in college. Which made it a delightful challenge that many of us embraced. Looking back if I knew what I know now—would I have still chosen that career?

Quite likely.

The work loads got bigger, and those left to keep things running began to crack under the pressure. The church politics loomed over our heads and things became less business and more personal. It became a game of survival—church style.

Each little word would end up cutting a little deeper—a bit more personal.
Each little reminder would cost you a bit more of your soul.
Each tiny mistake would be used as blackmail—until you yourself began to doubt your abilities.

And those are the pieces I'm sifting through.

Which words were a product of a bad day.
Which reminders had more to do with church politics and less to do with the job.
Which tiny mistakes were just a reason to get even.

There are a lot of pieces. I worked there for five years. It will likely take awhile to sort through them all.  

The pieces that were a product of a bad day are easy.
You just toss them out and forget about them. 

The pieces that dealt with church politics are more difficult.
You can't just toss them out. As much as I wish you could, you can't. Each piece contains too much of your soul. It may take weeks, months, or even years before you can remove one piece from the pile.

The pieces that were used as blackmail revenge are both difficult and easy.
The use of blackmail worked when status actually mattered. And now that it doesn't, you can be cheerful around them without being thrown under a bus for mistakes that weren't your own. And the best part isit annoys them. At which point you pitch the pieces. They weren't worth keeping anyway. 

The healing process is still in progress. Five years is a long time. But maybe when I am done with the sorting, the pile will look more like this:

Pavement Fractals, 2009 by Cynthia Fisher

Thursday, January 8, 2015


We rely on stereotypes. We prejudge people with our preconceived ideas—and "people watching" is a classic example of this. Especially when you are stuck in a waiting room at the Social Security office and your phone is out of commission.

I took the room in at a glance. If needed, I could probably describe the room in detail from the number of chairs to the limited artwork on the walls.

The first human interaction I had was with the security guard. Who directed me to a computer to sign in with. He didn't smile. He was clearly of Asian decent, with a stocky build and weathered face. He sat behind a desk and the most you could see of him at any given time were his eyes and balding head. He reminded me of our head copy editor—an Asian version of Gerald. His face was encased by wrinkles, with a hint of merriment in his eyes. I liked him.

We each received a stern reminder from the security guard. Turn off your phone. Which is stated on a sign taped to his desk as well. I marveled at the inability some people had with that simple task. There were two in particular who stood out. One was an African-American woman and the other was a youngish white guy.

The woman sat in the chair closest to the man in the booth. She had braided hair that tastefully wound around her head. Her attire was casual and her phone case was pink. She looked to be in her mid to late 50's and was not overly interested in staying off her phone. She kept to herself and left with a printout.

The youngish white guy was likely in his 30s—he wore black shorts (with red on the seams) and a baggy red shirt. He had black sneakers and slouched. His hair was messy and he was overweight—very overweight. It looked like moving probably hurt. He was likely on disability. His mother sat next to him. She clutched papers and seemed to be a bit frazzled. At one point she even pointed out the sign and the request of the security guard, but her son merely grunted.

There was an older couple sitting in the back. The man had the sniffles and I wasn't able to see his wife until they left. My first thought was Ebola—oh no! and then reminded myself that he was likely a farmer, probably wasn't in the habit of eating bats or monkeys and like myself, has never been to Africa. He wore a baseball cap, it was red—with that weird red plastic netting in the back. He respectfully took it off when his number was called. As he left, he asked his wife if she had a number too—"no, of course not" was her response. I thought they were cute.

The couple who entered right after me had their daughter with them. She was at least 2 and had short blonde hair, with two gold earrings—one in each ear. She wanted to touch everything and was a little chatterbox. Her parents wore jeans and baggy sweatshirts. Her dad had a beard, but it was nicely trimmed. He was also very respectful of the security guard and used "yes, Sir" and "thank you" often. Apparently potty training was a hot topic in their family because when her mom went to use the bathroom, her response was—"oh, mommy is being a good girl." And her daddy agreed.

A young Asian woman, who looked to be about my age, arrived with daughter in tow. She was petite with straight brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was well put together, wearing skinny jeans, cute flats, a gray form fitting sweat shirt and carried a dark pink clutch. Her daughter was dressed in pink with adorable grey and pink hiking boots. she toddled past me to "talk" with the other little girl—listening to mommy wasn't on her agenda either. What a cutie.

The last to arrive was a "gangster"—his attire made me feel uneasy as I watched him sign in. The security guard gruffly told him to turn off his phone (if he had one). He was polite in his response of "yes, Sire"—he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. It's odd, but you can tell a lot about someone by their cell phone. It was an ancient thing. Perhaps you remember them—a classic flip phone. That detail pricked my conscious and I silently chided myself for my earlier reaction. Immediately I began to study him. African American, at least 6'2", muscular build, likely played basketball at one time, and then I saw his shoes. Work boots to be more exact. I know what work boots look like, my husband wears work boots everyday. And they are costly. My respect for him grew—he was a blue collar, like my husband. There was nothing "gangster" about this one.

Soon my number was called. As I left the building a few minutes later, I began to process what I had seen. Stereotypes—why do we let them matter so much?