What I’ve learned in 33 days

March 9, 2014

It has been a month. A month? Really? It feels like yesterday. It seems like a decade. At various times in my life as a corporate drone, I’ve heard “this is going to get worse (name of issue) before it gets better”. I hope this gets better. I’m making a list; partially as a gentle nod to my mom and mostly so I can remember. In no particular order:

1) Sadly, I have family and friends who have lost their parent(s) too early, too quickly, and/or without warning. I need to remember when they say “I get it”: they do. They may not get the complexity of a relationship but they get the watching Law and Order at 12:43 am while writing a blog post.
2) This sucks. It sucks because even in the hardest, most complex times of a complicated mother-daughter relationship, I knew, somewhere, that if I needed shelter, she would have welcomed me (and the cat collection) home.
3) I have wonderful, amazing, beautiful friends. I have people in my life who I have known since Girl Scout days who have made sure I’m ok. I have college classmates who reached out and continue to make sure I am ok. I have friend who DESPITE bad news checked in and kept checking in (person who turned me on to half marathons and your spouse, I’m looking right at you).
4) I struggle with the mitzvah’s. From the randomly strange to the sublime love (the asking if I needed a peanut butter sandwich as I tried to get back to Knoxville, to the making sure I had cash, to a pet sitter cleaning my home, to a friend spending 3 hours helping me remove 3 FEET of snow from my car, to the TSA guy helping me get through security), I have no idea to how to repay the kindness.
5) The pain, I am told, is a good pain. It shows the love. Ok, whatever. File that under one day I’ll understand.
6) As painful as this is for me, my grandmother buried a child, my father buried his wife. It must be worse for them. No matter the age, even I get that your child dying before you must tear you in a way that makes no sense.
7) I am lucky/blessed/grateful for my friends. The ones that just sent random insane texts to try to make me laugh, the ones who understood when I said “I can’t talk”, the one who listened to me babble for an HOUR while stuck in rush hour.
8) There are people who came out of the woodwork to show their love and support. There are people who never acknowledged my mother’s death who I thought “would always be there”. Both surprised me; one day, maybe I’ll let go of the anger regarding the second part.
9) My paternal cousins. You’ve been there. You know where we are. You’ve called, e-mailed, texted, Facebooked and poured wine into a glass.
10) I’m learning what is important. No crazy changes for a year: but I’m learning.

Next week March Madness starts. As crazy as my mom was for college football, she loved basketball. She’d call me: Are you watching Boise State vs Alaska-Fairbanks? (um, no). You need to be a student of the game! I’d laugh. I like my teams. She loved the sport. I’m flying back to Knoxville and will be attending the women’s Final Four in Nashville. In my fairy tale ending, it’s The Ohio State University vs University of Tennessee and it goes to 5 overtimes (I don’t care who wins). Or Uconn (then it better be UT) – my mom liked the program Geno runs in Storrs. I know sitting next to my dad will be hard: my parent’s and I would met for the Final Four in various locations even when things were hard in our relationship and have a good time. I know my Dad and I will have a good time. I know we will have a hard time. And I know we will have a good time.
This month has been hard. I completed my second half-marathon. I feel myself un-numbing from the death of my mother. I’m trying to remember the advice somebody gave me: one good step at a time.

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#Hyannis Half Marathon: The Aftermath.

February 23, 2014

I walked the Hyannis Half Marathon today. My time was a disaster (I finished last; by almost an hour). I’m never going to be able to run because of various orthopedic maladies. Right now, my body feels better than when I did the Philadelphia Half Marathon last fall: I was on pace to break that time by an hour. What happened? Put it this way: I have more respect for any high level athlete who plays through a cold, bronchitis or the flu than before. The last 4 miles were torture. But here is where I ran into kindness. It was obvious I was struggling. I was wearing a University of Tennessee dry-weave shirt. Marathon (it was a combined Marathon, Half-Marathon and Marathon Relay) would turn back and yell: You have it! Keep going. Don’t stop and my favorite “Come on Volunteer! You can do it!”. These are people who can still speak after running 22 miles. I was stopping every 200-300 yards to cough my head off. One runner STOPPED to make sure I was ok. At mile 11, I let a few tears slide out. I could feel a blister, I was coughing and damn it there was a hill! There was no way I was quitting with only 2 (ish) miles left. Marathoners, half-marathoners and wanna be’s (that would be me) are nice. They encourage, they yell support and then? After running 13.1 or 26.2 miles, a group stands and cheers for the stragglers.

When I crossed to the last turn, the 3 guys who passed me twice and called me Tennessee were standing there with their friends. They yelled “we told you we’d wait for you at the end!” I’ll probably walk at Hyannis next year (unless, of course, I have a re-run of a vicious cold). From the volunteers who didn’t leave, to the people in the area who stood out between water stops with water/Gatorade, I had fun. It might take my lungs a bit to heal. But if you want to meet a nice group of people? Lace them up. Because sometimes even dead last can feel like winning.

Yahoo!  I did it!

Yahoo! I did it!

Dear USPS, perhaps you should NOT JUDGE

February 20, 2014

There was a nasty note in my mailbox when I got home: mail being held at post office. You need to do a better job of getting your mail. REALLY? Maybe I called them; maybe I forgot. I know I had every intention to call the post office. I went to the counter to pick up my mail; I handed over my license and apologized. I explained my mother passed away and thought I had called requesting a hold.

The mail clerk returned. She told me the carrier felt I hadn’t been picking up my mail enough in the past two weeks. I said again, my mom died, I had to fly home. It won’t happen again. She replied “the carrier said this was going on for two weeks.”

Over the line. I’d like to say it’s because I’m exhausted. I’d love to attribute it to just having a bad day. But nope. In that moment it was too much of not being listened to over something that probably happens a bit in the life of the USPS.

I pointed to the stack of mail: exactly 49 items of mail accumulated over a 16 day period, roughly 3 items of mail per day. I said do you think this is an unreasonable amount of mail for 2 weeks. I continued. You can tell the mail carrier that he won’t have to worry about me not picking up my mail in a “timely” manner again: I highly doubt I’ll get a phone call saying my mother is dead and I need to fly across the country. But if I do, the first thing I’ll do is stop by to let you know.

I sorted the mail in the lobby: 17 pieces of real mail. 16 days. Yeah. I feel the angst for the US mail carrier. Glad the mail carriers of my hometown and those who work in the office feel the need to tell me all about how I don’t pick up my mail. And they wonder why the USPS isn’t exactly appreciated?

Getting sick and other such dramas

February 19, 2014

It’s been a little over two weeks since my mom died. I’m fine at work. I become distracted by my excel tables, reports and general amusement. And then it stops. My last two commutes have been snowy messes which passes the time. My cats seem to be glad to see me (ok two of them . . . Sir Fluffy Butt remembers the cone and runs. He’s not afraid, just smart).

The bad thing? Aside from the unknown path of not knowing how I’ll feel hour to hour? I’m getting sick. It’s more a combination of digging out my car for two hours with help from a friend who rescued me from the Logan Express parking lot snow pile and the stress I’ve been under. It doesn’t matter how impractical it’s always been, when I’m sick I want my mom and chicken and dumplings. Never mind the decades that have passed since that happened, that is what I want. As I feel like I’m swallowing razors and itching my ears, I know I’m treading on dangerous ground. I know my Dad, brother and my sister would feign interest in my illness, it’s not the same as my Mom calling to make sure I gargled (I never did) and all of her other home remedies. The reality is I just want to curl up and sleep. I want my mom to know I’m sick and pity me (ok, she never really did).

I know in my heart that my mom died the way she wanted: quickly, at home with only my dad. Part of me (ok, a huge part) wishes we had the chance as a family to say good bye. Would it make it less sucky? I don’t know. Maybe we did at Christmas without knowing it. For all of the travel misadventures of my family, we were all at my sister’s for three days. We had fun. We poked fun at each other. We played some Wii dance game. We laughed. A lot.

I move from numb to angry and back again. Except I’m not really angry. The anger comes when I hear the debates about the efficacy of mammograms. A mammogram gave my mom 17 years. Cancer sucks. It is exhausting. I know my mom is finally pain free and at peace. It just sucks to be left behind.

I’m supposed to walk the Hyannis Half Marathon this weekend. My mom was all excited about it because it goes by the Kennedy compound and she wanted a picture. Who knows? Maybe I will.

Goodbye Mom. We will miss you.

February 15, 2014

Here is the eulogy I mostly delivered at today’s service of my mother’s life. Sometimes being an adult sucks.

On behalf of my siblings, Sarah and Nathan , their spouses Don and Evie , the grandchildren Donald, Patrick, Kathryn, Emily and Lauren and Evan , we wish to thank you for the love and support you have shown our parents throughout course of our mother’s battle with breast cancer. As the Boston daughter, I was often asked by my friends why I did not have my mother seek treatment at Dana-Farber in Boston or Sloan-Kettering in New York. I truly and honestly believe that the care my mother received at the University of Tennessee hospital by Dr. Timothy Pinella, her primary nurse Ruth Borden and countless others including Merritt Brakebill was equal to or better than the care she could have received in Boston. For this, I am truly grateful.

Cancer never defined my mother. Approximately 15 years ago, we received the crushing news that my mother had a 3% chance of survival after one year with the return of her cancer. As her children and probably her spouse, sister, mother, in-laws, nieces, nephews all tried to wrap our heads around the probability, my mother in her mom way simply told Dr. Pinella “I don’t have time to die, I have grandchildren.”

While others may have faced the odds presented with complacency, my mother fought cancer. In my eyes, she won. She continued to teach through chemo and radiation and she learned. She learned and re-instilled into her now adult children the lesson of a cancer diagnosis. Learn what is important: and if it isn’t important, it doesn’t matter. For her, this was simply her family, her faith and teaching. I’ve reached the decision that being a teacher must be like being a mother: you never give up the role.

Others will speak and have spoken about my mother as an educator: To me, she was simply, complexly Mom. Looking back through the pictures that were shown in the fellowship hall with my siblings; we laughed at the bad 80’s hair, the horrific 70’s plaids and discovered our parents as a couple before they had kids and cried at the pictures of graduations, weddings and baptisms.

Sorting through wedding pictures from nearly fifty years ago, I am reminded how my parents lived out their wedding vows: for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, sickness and in health, to love and cherish. Dad, she loved you. She loved telling the story of how, in vanity, she didn’t wear her glasses at her wedding and couldn’t see when you stuck out your thumb instead of your ring finger and the minister smacked you. She couldn’t stay mad (for very long) if you winked at her. She took great pride in causing the great Philadelphia Phillies collapse of 1964 and reveled in the fact that Yankees triumphed in the 2011 World Series over the Phillies. As hard as it is for your control freak daughter to admit, mom died how she wanted: at home with only you by her side. You were truly the love of her life as she was yours. As parents, you taught us the most important lessons: family, faith, service and the love of college sports.

Sarah and Don, Mom marveled at your ability to raise your family, volunteer, work in time consuming demanding jobs. Sarah called me and said “oh, Don just made a big mistake, he told me he wanted to collect cast iron. What’s going to happen when mom finds out?” Don, Mom took pride in converting you into a cast iron collecting college football fan. I think it’s time you raise the white flag of surrender; you’ve been assimilated. Sarah, mom was amazed at your ability to teach Kindergarten to Algebra II and just about every subject in between. Seeing you and Don as a couple, is like looking back at Mom and Dad. You have faced the challenges set forth in wedding vows and as a couple have met them. She was so proud of you. She admired your ability to be calm in the face of adversity and take one step at a time. It is a skill I wish I had. She told me this fall you two were probably the proudest parents in the state after Donald, Patrick and Kathryn lead worship: I know she was probably the proudest grandmother on the planet that day.

Nathan and Evie, well, let’s face it. Mom bought Nathan at a garage sale and then got mad when I sold him to a friend for some baseball cards and jacks. She made me take you back AND grounded me. Evie, I told somebody this week that the only s who can sing are the ones who married into the family. She loves the fact that you and Crystal sang today. She appreciated how grounded you were by your faith. Nathan, you totally inherited the rabid live and die with your team football mentality. She loved laughing at your Saturday antics and she never quite got how you became such a rabid UT fan especially when there was a perfectly good team located up I-75 in Columbus. She was thrilled that you took Evan to the Horseshoe last year for his first Ohio State home game.

Donald, Patrick, Kathryn, Emily, Lauren and Evan, Grandma loved you with everything she had.

Donald, Grandma always shook her head in amazement at you. From your helping any kid with homework, to standing up for your beliefs she was proud of the young man you’ve become. Her favorite stories of you, though, are from when you were a toddler: when you tried to mow the grass with your toy mower and you couldn’t quite figure out why the grass wasn’t getting mowed, to cutting your own hair because your head was hot and playing all positions in a one person football game, she was always impressed with how you managed to stay occupied.

Patrick, Grandma loved your inquisitive curiosity. She had so much fun finding odd ball treasures for Patrick’s collection (I mean, how many grandmothers would buy a blow dart?). Your voracious reading is just like Grandma. She loved your explorations in linguistics and vocabulary. She would often tell people about one of your teacher’s making a “Patrick vocabulary list”. She always laughed when remembering how I caught you climbing up a ladder to the roof and when I asked the 4 year Patrick what he was doing, I was promptly told “Climbing down”.

Kathryn, you are your mother’s daughter. Your mother was her mother’s daughter. I think, by extension, that makes you grandma. Grandma loved your fierce competitiveness. Your glare cracked her up. From the time you could glare, you glared: from not wanting to share kiwi, to a server taking your plate too early or simply clearing the table after dinner, we all know the glare. Somebody, usually your mom, could get Grandma to stop glaring. Nobody has been able to stop the Kathryn glare. Grandma marveled your adventures at Russian and Chinese camps. She loved watching you play softball. You have amazing artistic ability. She probably told everybody she knew that your carving won an award at the Oklahoma State Fair.

Emily, you are a fireball of energy that Grandma loved to enjoy. She called me last summer to tell me you cartwheeled UP the hill from Tic-Toc without getting hurt! She told me she didn’t think she could turn that many cartwheels ever. She was so impressed with the dress you made last summer.

Lauren, Grandma loved your library. She loved how organized your lists were. She made lists and thought it was the best way to stay organized. She loved the letters you wrote Grandpa. You are a much better letter writer than Grandma (and she’d always remind me how busy you were when I kept saying ‘Lauren owes me a letter’).

Evan, Grandma loved how you thought everything was awesome. She smiled every time you shrieked with enthusiasm. Your joy and happiness makes everybody happy. That is very special and Grandma loved it.

Emily, Lauren and Evan: Grandma loved Camp Chaos. She loved playing cards (she did not like losing to the kids), watching the dance competitions of kids versus adults (I think she secretly cheered for the kids’ teams since she didn’t dance) and having you at her house playing, laughing and breaking some of the rules. I know that Grandpa will be great at leading Camp Chaos this summer. Take turns, but each day one of you needs to make sure he wears his hat while working in the garden.

You six are her legacy. Continue to stand up for what is right as your parents have taught you. Do justice and love with all your heart.

Dad, Sarah, Don, Nathan, Evie, Donald, Patrick, Kathryn, Emily, Lauren, Evan and all of those who loved my mom, in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss that I was reminded of by my cousin Matt, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” We aren’t quite there yet. But we are working on it and that is all my mother would ask as a parent and an educator. Via con dios, Mom, go with God.

Iceland, Poland or Vietnam: Seeking an Escape in 2014

January 4, 2014

So, I know I’ll need an escape mid-fall (read, after Labor Day when the airfares return to mere highway robbery pricing). I prefer to travel off season: I’m not that wild about packs of tourists (blame that on living in 3 (count them 3) tourist towns) stampeding and acting like idiots.

I posted the query to my Facebook page and Iceland seemed to be the runaway winner (also the closest given my New England location). I know I couldn’t pick three more different locations. Each one holds a certain allure for different reasons.

Iceland is more remote, rugged and geared to the outside (which might make it a better early May destination in ’15). I also might starve to death in Iceland given the 2 most popular sources of food being fish/shellfish and lamb (Kidding. Almonds travel well). The thought of being almost completely unplugged for a week is refreshing. Looking at volcanos, an iceberg and even an approved side trip to Greenland? Tempting.

Poland. Seriously the history of Poland is amazing. Growing up in the Chicago area (when Chicago had the second largest city of native Poles? In the world?), I can’t remember how old I was when I figured out Gdansk wasn’t on Lake Michigan. So much history, so much fascinating architecture.

Vietnam. I seriously haven’t explored Asia enough. I’ve always been fascinated by Vietnam. Part of me wants to go see the places I’ve studied. The country my dad where my father was deployed. I’ve wanted to wander the streets in part to see what we fought about (ok, don’t tell me it was that creeping communism idea). Again, I run into the deathly-allergic-to-sea-creatures aspect (again, almonds travel well). While I wouldn’t be unplugged in Vietnam, the time change will make it hard to find me! Of course, the oppressive humidity might leave me beat red without of control curly hair in under 20 seconds (but can it be worse than Hong Kong in May?).

I haven’t been out of the country in five years. I need to go somewhere new. Somewhere where I can just wander without anybody knowing me. Where I can explore a quirky side street or sit and watch people. Where there isn’t pressure to see something (aka, if you go to Paris you MUST go to the Eiffel Tower!).

So many choices. . . so many blank passport pages.

Food waste? Thoughts for the New Year

January 1, 2014
It's what's for dinner

It’s what’s for dinner

 

I read somewhere along the way that Americans waste approximately 40% the food they bring into their homes (I’m not sure if the statistic is true but it brought home a point).  How much to we ‘over buy’ at the grocery if we have the luxury? One of my lame-ass New Year’s Day traditions is to clean out my refrigerator.  I was shocked to see what I tossed:  odds and ends of cheeses, a few science experiments, long ago expired milk (in defense, I did buy the smallest container available for one item and I just don’t drink the stuff).  I made a quasi-resolution.  I’m going to eat what is in my freezer, pantry, fridge before heading to the farmers market.  Yes, there will be some things that I need to buy but I was stunned what I had versus what I thought I needed to go buy.  Dinner/lunch for the reset of the week is above:  a pork roast done in the crock pot with balsamic vinegar, onions and honey.  Mashed potatoes.  I do need to pick up salad stuff (but trust me when I say that will wait until the snow has past!).  Also cooked for the week ahead? A chard/corn/cheese frittata for breakfast.  And with the exception of the cheese and balsamic vinegar? All locally sourced.

 

I have no idea how long this experiment will last: fresh vegetables are hard to find in New England this time of year.  It will be an interesting, creative experiment.  If anything, it might help me learn what I actually eat versus buy because “it was a great price”.  But right now I’m mourning the mac and cheese I could have made had I only been paying attention!

Ringing in 2014 with a Different Philosophy

January 1, 2014

From the onset 2014 looks to be shaping up as a challenging year.  Some is personal, some is professional some is just the fact that adulthood has more valleys than childhood (hey, let’s face it, even playing with Soviet Russian sharp edged cubes beats trying remember you are allowed to take 10 minutes for yourself).  A college friend of mine over at Mockingbird’s Nest did something in December that I thought was slightly insane: something new each day (including  the couch to 5K plan).  While I think the idea is GREAT, doing it in December is slightly insane.  But she is slightly insane plus her kids are 4-legged so she didn’t have to worry about the damn elf on the shelf drama but had the normal host of holiday insanity.

I’m not throwing down the gauntlet of insane challenges for 2014 (plus after the 5K turned into a half-marathon issue of 2013, I distinctly lack common sense).  My plans for 2014: work less, experiment more from the kitchen to pampering activities, write more, read more, pay down some of the damn student loan debt and walk a few road ‘races’, and figure out what is important and let everything else just go.  But the number one goal? Working less.  I’d be happy with a 45 hours week!  Oh, and Iceland.  I want to go to Iceland this year.

2013: The year in review

December 22, 2013

Some will take 5 minutes, some a few months. . . . just a list of random things I thought I’d try to do in 2013. (The update)

1)    Polar Bear Plunge
2) Read 50 Shades of Gray
3) Read Team of Rivals
4) Read In the Garden of Beasts
5) Read Fall of Giants
6) Read The Great Influenza
7) Read Book #6 (Title: TBD)
8) Read Book #7 (Title: TBD)
9) Read Book #8 (Title: TBD)
10) Read Book #9 (Title: TBD)
11) Read Book #10 (Title: TBD)
12) Read Book #11 (Title TBD)
13) Read Book #12 (Title TBD)

14) Participate in the SNAP challenge (one week, $25 all 7 days)
15) Run a 5K
16) Write a letter instead of shooting a long email
17) Walk the Freedom Trail
18) Go to a Red Sox/Yankees game
19) Participate in the USPS 3K challenge
20) Unplug from social media for a week.
21) Walk, run, jog 500 miles (I mean, I’ve got a YEAR)
22) Go to Walden Pond. (Such a bad local tourist)
23) Get over my fear of needles and go to the dentist
24) Take a yoga class
25) Volunteer 50 hours
26) Go to Northern California
27) Go to New Orleans
28) Go to Puerto Rico
29) Learn to cook tamales
30) Make an intentional collage
31) Go vegetarian for a week
32) Menu plan for a week . . . and follow it!
33) Bike 1000 miles (see the I’ve got a year note)
34) Walk away from an argument
35) Work a 44 hour week

36) Make sure all that dang adult paperwork is taken care of
37) Pay off the remaining credit card debt
38) Go to the MFA once a month
39) Go to NYC just to go to MOOD!
40) Walk the Freedom Trail
41) Prehab my shoulder in an attempt to avoid surgery
42) Organize guest room
43) Organize kitchen
44) Find new homes for orphaned socks.
45) Start to learn Spanish.
46) Finish my holiday shopping by October.
47) Hollins Hanukah II
48) Journal more

49) Sending my 2012 Christmas cards by oh, St. Patrick’s Day.
50) Go fall camping
51) Take a fun class at one of the zillion extension centers
52) Try to be more zen.  (failed but tried).

Shoulder surgery really wrecked some of my plans (and finances).  2013 will be remembered as a pretty neutral year.  Some great things, some good things, a few new bolts in my body, the adoption of Windsor (aka Sir Fluffy Butt), realizing there are some people I just don’t like and I don’t have to like them.  (Read: you don’t have to be friends with everybody you have known your entire life on Facebook).  I did get a laugh at looking back at this list.  I can honestly say that on 12/31/2012 if you had told me I’d have done a half marathon and NOT a 5K in 2013, I’d have laughed in your face!  Enjoy the holidays and remember to take time for you.

A new record on the way to the #PhiladelphiaMarathon

September 22, 2013

Less than sixty days to the insanity!  I am becoming excited about walking the Philadelphia Half Marathon for OAR (shameless fundraising plug).  In an effort to not become injured, I’ve started to cross train at the gym.  Between kicking, swimming, stationary biking and (ugh) weight lifting, I was injury free until I dropped a bed on my foot.  Yup, you read that right.  I dropped a bed on my foot.  I was attempting to rescue pink mouse (REALLY? AGAIN?) and blue rat (new cat, same issue) and the board came crashing down.  After few A lot of curse words, I realized my foot was not broken just going to have a massive bruise. Right across the top of my foot.  It healed.  And I was ready to resume walking.

Today, I started on my Sunday morning trek with the goal of “hit seven miles”.  7.4 miles later, I unlocked the key to the front door.  Really.  Ok, the time wasn’t great but it was done.  I skipped a ready-made excuse of the pouring rain thinking WWTD*?  Yeah, if it’s raining that day, I’d go. . . better get used to walking in the rain (although when it hit downpour level I did wait it out under the entry to some local business).

Somewhere between mile five and six, I found myself aware of how I was pushing my body. I see why runners run.  There is a point where it’s the next step, the air in your face and a feeling that is so completely different than anything else I’ve felt.  I can’t remember the last time I walked seven miles (maybe never).  As I walked through the office park on my path, I saw a dead snake (ew, but grateful for his/her demise), saw two deer romp along the front of an office building and realized the town next to me has an intersection of Bartlett and Lyman.

Two hours after coming home, I’m not hobbled in pain.  And I’m thinking this is the best impulsive idea I’ve had in a long time.

 

Move the bed, get my toy human!

Move the bed, get my toy human!

 

 

*WWTD in no way shape or form resembles a popular religious acronym.  The fact that the third letter refers to a person with wildly long hair and a strange cult like following is purely coincidental.  Pretty sure the other guy ate pie.