On learning life lessons…

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Photo Credit: Steph Romine Photography 2012

I’ve had pets for almost as long as I can remember. My family got our first cat when I was probably ten years old. It was a huge error in judgment on my part…I didn’t realize that once you feed a feral cat, he will continue to come back for more food. But he was the sweetest thing in the whole world and when he finally died, it was a rough day for our entire family. He was a busted up black cat with a chunk missing from one ear and one eye that was milky white from having been scratched in some alley cat fight. He was tough as nails, but when it came to us kids he was a constant cuddler, just the loviest thing I’ve ever know.

We grew up on a small farm and raised chickens. Whenever a new bunch would come home, they’d stay inside the house under warming lamps until they were big and strong enough to go out to the coop. Our feral black barn cat would just lay next to their little box by the fireplace and ensure their safety from both my little brother and our newest little kitty. He’d often get accidentally locked in the chicken coop with the hens and would just sit patiently by the door until we got home from school to let him out. Never once laid a paw on those birds.

Until I was 28 years old, I’d never had more than barn cats or chickens as pets. And they were, as we caustically described them in our family, “disposable pets.” I don’t mean that we got rid of them willy-nilly. I mean that we knew they were all outdoor animals and that nature would eventually have its way with them. We were just okay with that.  Circle of life, or whatever. It was still very upsetting when, one day, a cat wouldn’t come home for dinner. We knew it was over for him. We’d developed an understanding about how life worked for our pets, but that didn’t make it hurt much less when their time finally came.

When I was 28, I adopted two small dogs from a weird little rescue center south of Denver. The dogs were perfect! I went in wanting only the one and wound up walking out with two. They were best friends and I couldn’t bear the thought of separating them. It just seemed mean.

It’s been eight years since I first brought them home and I’ll be the first to tell you: I did not think they’d still be alive! One suffers from massive seizures and, until very recently, had a mouth full of rotting teeth. The other is old, was horribly abused, was fixed after she had a litter of pups (so her teets never receded), and now has only three teeth left. They have been known to eat things like full bags of Hershey’s kisses, tape dispensers, a small deep fryer’s worth of oil, a chocolate orange, a marble rolling pin, a compact disc…I legitimately have no idea how they’re still alive. Their doctors have told me recently that, aside from their teeth (which are now all better), they are basically as healthy as puppies. I call them my robot zombie dogs because NOTHING WILL KILL THEM.

I’ve learned a lot about pets and life in the last eight years. My dogs are remarkably intuitive. I’ve gone through some hard and painful things in the last five or six years and they’re been far more sensitive to me than I ever imagined possible. When I was angry, they’d get riled up which would force me to walk them to calm them (and me) down. When I was sad, they would snuggle up against me and just be. And the few times I hit the bottom and was crying on my bedroom floor drinking wine straight from the bottle, they’d sit next to me and lick my face every so often as if to say, “It’s okay to be sad, but you need to eat…and so do we.”

When I was pregnant with my first baby, Leo was somewhat annoyed by the fact that my lap was quickly disappearing; Suki took to cuddling my belly like a champ. “Been there, done this, mama!” Once the baby came home, Leo was constantly at her side. If she cried, he would come to get us (he still does this, nearly two years later). He’s very protective (even if a bit over-zealous sometimes) of our little Godzilla. Suki was a little more withdrawn at the sight of a real baby. I wonder if she was sad because she never got the chance to snuggle her own babies? She’s warmed up to the now-toddler and readily welcomes her snuggles (however unintentionally not gentle they may be).

On top of all that, they have welcomed my husband as their “pack leader.” That’s never been me. I’ve never been strong enough to take on that role for them. I’m lucky they’re well-behaved animals (for the most part). But when he came along, he loved them like they were always his and I think they felt that. They knew he was going to be around for the long haul.

It’s amazing the things I’ve learned from my two mutts in almost a decade. They have taught me to take the time to be silly. I’ve learned (or am better learning) the fine art of acceptance. I am far more protective of “my own” after having them.

But more than anything, I think the one universal lesson that dogs teach us is that of unconditional love. It doesn’t matter how mad or depressed or upset I get (at life, at myself, at them), they will always be happy to see me. Their kisses and snuggles don’t have strings attached. All they really want is a couple meals and a place to call home…and isn’t that much of what anyone really wants in life?

On eating it all up…

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Thanksgiving is nearly upon us and now that Mothra has finally eased up on me, my pregnancy appetite is finally starting to kick into high gear. With my first pregnancy, I craved a lot of really healthy foods…I drank fruit and spinach smoothies like it was my job (technically, I guess it was) and stayed far far away from fried food and general junk. It was great!

This time around, I have to manage a toddler’s manic gastric desires and that rarely includes produce these days. On top of that, Mothra seems to have taken a real liking to Taco Bell and Totino’s party pizzas. I’ve probably eaten a thousand pizza rolls in the last week. I’m sure that can’t be good more me or for her, but after five months of not really wanting to eat anything, I’ll take what I can get.

So it makes me quite happy that my appetite is coming back just in time for Thanksgiving. Even better is that we’re spending the weekend with my grandmother and that woman can put out a spread. It’s insane. To the point my husband gets borderline angry about the amount of food he has to prepare to eat. (As if he minds. My eyes are rolling so hard, I can see yesterday.)

Every day at Grandma’s house is basically the same: breakfast (usually toast, eggs, bacon, breakfast rolls, juice, and coffee) then some kind of mid-morning snack then lunch (something like tomato soup, grilled cheese, and a veggie platter) then a mid-afternoon snack then cocktails and hors d’oeuvres (I’m very upset about missing out on cocktails this year because Grandma has primo liquor) then dinner (Thanksgiving involves turkey, stuffing, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, salad, some kind of warm casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls, and wine) then dessert and coffee (pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies for Thanksgiving) and finally post-dinner/pre-coma cocktails.

I’m not even kidding…every single day is like that when Grandma has a brood at her house! It’s remarkable. I think she starts planning for the next holiday the day after we all leave from the current holiday. I don’t know how she does it! All I know is that it’s fun and it’s delicious and I will never care so little about my caloric consumption as when I’m at her house.

It’s not really about the food, though. Not entirely. It’s that I love being with my family. There are aunts and uncles and cousins around the table. We laugh a lot, we watch football and silly YouTube videos, we discuss whether or not to succumb to Black Friday shopping at 9pm or Thanksgiving night or if it’s all just too much (I have forever fallen in the latter camp; everyone else in the former. That may very well change this year because kids are expensive and Godzilla’s birthday is less than two weeks before Christmas so doubling up is no small price tag).

This is the last holiday I’ll have with any of my family for at least the next three years. Moving overseas doesn’t lend itself well to traveling home for the holidays inexpensively. I’m okay with it. It just means that this year, my heart is going to be more invested in the holidays than ever before. I’m bringing my camera and using it ad nauseum and without apology. Maybe I should be doing that every year.

I don’t know what your family dynamics look like, but whomever you choose to spend your holidays with this year, take a moment to step back and just look at what’s happening. Enjoy the company of those you choose to share your table with. Take mental and physical photos. Eat too much. Play games. Remember what the holidays are supposed to be about and do your part to make it so.

 

On falling out of trees…

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I’ve been practicing yoga for a while now. Not a terribly long time, but for me (a person who chronically gives up on sports) it’s been something I’ve stuck with almost as long as I did cheerleading. It’s been about six years I think (I was a cheerleader for ten years).

Yoga has been something that really resonates with me on many levels. It’s deeply personal. It’s challenging. It’s athletic. It’s peaceful. It’s spiritual.

And because it’s all of that, it’s an incredibly balancing activity.

One of the things I’ve loved so much about yoga is that I’ve been able to find my favorite poses. I’ll do all of them (except Half Moon. That pose can suck it.) and I enjoy finding and practicing new ones, but the ones I always come back to and really love are leg balances, specifically Tree and Dancer. I feel fancy and free and capable when I do them. I love photos I have of me doing them .

I did yoga throughout my first pregnancy and I was able to successfully hold Tree up until the week before I gave birth. I was giant and clumsy and felt insane doing things as simple as Down Dog, but when I did Tree? I felt powerful again. It felt good to be able to hold such a challenging pose while in such a challenging physical state. It was awesome.

So imagine my surprise and my distress when, this past Sunday, I couldn’t hold that pose worth a damn. It was all I could do not to cry. I’d spent the entire week practicing acceptance of the political state of this country so I just didn’t have it in me to further extend that acceptance to my yoga practice or myself. I was spent. I dropped my foot from my inner thigh to my calf and finally down to my toes and my heart just broke.

My mat is one of few sacred spaces I enjoy in my life. I only invite onto my mat that which I choose and that usually means it must be beneficial to me, whether that be spiritually, mentally, or physically.

On Sunday, I invited all the wrong things. I invited judgment and negativity and defeat. None of those things serve a purpose in yoga, nor do they serve a purpose in my life.

So now what am I supposed to do? Well, I’m certainly not willing to accept defeat. Not even a little bit. I will accept that it wasn’t my best practice and that’s fine. But it’s time for me to dust myself off and get back to work. It’s time to inhale the positive and exhale the negative. I’m ready to clean off my mat, clear my mind, and get back to the business of life and love.

There is a time and place for sadness, but as with all things, it is only seasonal. And for me, I need sadness to be a rather short season. I can’t let it linger lest it think it can take up residence in my heart and my soul. Rather, I am choosing to accept that I was defeated, but that I can phoenix the hell out of myself and my Tree.

It’s time to rise up.

On learning to change…

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I’d probably never use the word “addict” to describe myself. Even at my worst (which was when I was in my early-20s), when I was engaging in seriously questionable behavior and activities, I never would have said I was an addict. I say this because while I have a very malleable personality, when I’m doing doing something, I’m just done. There’s no weaning process. I just quit doing the thing.

But I am definitely addicted to my phone. It’s literally the first thing I look at every morning. I’m not even that important a person! It’s not like I have some high-powered corporate job where universes may have imploded overnight so I must immediately jump to action. No. I’m a stay-at-home-mom and a writer. If something implodes in my world, I’ve either done it myself or I’ve been watching it coming for some time.

I find myself checking my phone for new texts or Facebook updates or emails without even thinking about it. I’ll be looking at my phone, set it down, and pick it up three second later thinking, “Um, didn’t I just do this?” It’s embarassing. I’ll admit it.

And because I’m so easily persuaded (please don’t even dare me to a drinking game. I will take you on and I will win, but it will be at great personal loss…to my digestive tract), I read things on the interwebs and get emotionally invested in them. Sometimes that’s fine; most times it’s not.

So when, after the most recent election, I opted to take a hiatus from Facebook, I felt remarkably good. I wasn’t getting worked up about seriously stupid things. I didn’t feel the need to rant. I wasn’t compelled to lay waste to certain (very ridiculous and obviously  hyperbolic, but somehow still believed by the masses) false claims. I disengaged and I suddenly felt happier.

It was kind of like how I’ve felt when I’ve spent a week eating nothing but Taco Bell and Totino’s party pizzas and then I eat a damn vegetable for the first time and all of a sudden, I don’t feel like I’m tetering on the edge of my own demise. I want to get out and do things. I want to be active. I want to have real conversations with people I really care about. I want to get out of bed and do something more than watch 30Rock for the fifty-seventh time this year.

But then I go back and I end up pulling that oh-so-obviously-an-addict stunt. “Just one little hit.” And oh god, it feels so good. That burn, the fire in my gut, the tension in my neck. I know that ultimately it’s not going to be good for me, but dammit, I’m going to say my piece!

And the cycle starts all over again.

After this election cycle, I’m really starting to re-think how I engage on social media, if at all. Even in just the last three days, I’m finding it so much more productive to have real, geniune conversations with people that, while we may disagree on certain issues, I care about. It’s about being willing to educate (rather than yell) and be educated (rather than roll my eyes and snark).

So I’m hopeful that I can stay away from my phone (and specifically from Facebook) for a little longer this time. I’m hopeful that I’ll spend all this free time researching and developing my own thoughts while engaging with others. And I’m really hopeful that I won’t feel the draw back to whatever it was that made my feel so good a week ago.

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On fighting the fight…

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I’m still at a loss today. I was hoping that a good sleep would help me wake up refreshed and ready to face a new day. Well, the sleep didn’t come. I woke up in the middle of the night and actually thought, “This has to be a joke.”

Sadly, it is not.

I’m still working through whatever it is my anger looks like. I don’t know what or who to be angry with (if anything or anyone at all). I just know I’m angry. I’m coming to realize part of that anger stems from the fact that my candidate has never lost before. This was my fifth election and until Tuesday night, I didn’t know the feeling of losing on such a large scale.

Traditionally speaking, I’m not a sore loser. Most of the time, I really don’t care if I win or lose, I’m just happy to be in the game. And maybe I’m being naive this time, but I don’t think I’m being a terrible loser about this. I’m legitimately dumbstruck. How did this happen? Could I have done more? What more was there to do? Someone please explain this to me!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had (maybe sometimes still have) some really ugly thoughts floating around in my head. I’m not going to voice them because it’s not beneficial to anyone, least of all myself. And if anyone says they haven’t had a single ugly thought this entire election, I’m gonna have to go ahead and call bullshit.

Here’s what I’m willing to say right now, though.

Please don’t tell me to calm down. I’m, frankly, being really friggin’ calm right now. I’ll calm all the way down when the black, brown, LGBTQ, female (and countless other disecfranchsed) populations tell me it’s okay to calm down. Until then, just…don’t. I’m allowed to process all of this in my own way and in my own time. We all are.

Please don’t quote scripture at me or tell me God is in control. Don’t do that unless you’re also willing to put all of that in action. And I don’t mean just praying. Praying is great (if that’s what you do). Sending good vibes and good energy into the world is great (if that’s your thing). But it absolutely does not stop there. I’m struggling right now to figure out what it is I personally  need to be doing in the coming weeks and months. That’s going to look different for all of us, but we all need to be willing to take action.

Please don’t tell me how to process my feelings. It’s going to take time. Hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, we’ll reach a place of acceptance. A lot of us are in full-blown grief mode right now. I need those five steps. I don’t need trite platitudes or meaningless advice. I need space and time. Please grant me that. Ask how I’m doing or what I’m feeling, but don’t try to fix me. Not just yet.

Tuesday night was a devastating loss in more ways than I can possibly count right now. It’s going to take some time to move through and past it and to figure out what to do next. But you can bet I’ll be doing something.

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On losing my luster…

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“If you could say one thing to Hillary Clinton today, what would it be?”

What about all the things I’m going to have to say to my daughters?
– What a time to be alive!
– What a time to be a woman!
– What a time to raise daughters!

None of these things have the excitement and anticipation they had yesterday. My spirit feels utterly crushed. I’m a person that can almost always find the good in a person, in a situation, in a circumstance. I can’t find that today. The weather in my town matches my heart. It’s dreary and cold and sad. My normally optimistic outlook on life…it’s just…gone. I don’t know how I can be expected to be okay with anything right now. My country is the laughing stock of the world (and seriously…we had BREXIT to follow. I don’t think anyone thought we could be that crazy. Joke’s on you, World). I feel like a rotting unicorn. Yesterday, there was an air of hope in me. I was happy and confident and ready for an evening of champagne. Today? I feel crushed and burdened. I don’t know how to sparkle right now. My glitter is just crusty, crappy sand and mud.

But I guess the thing I most want to say to Hillary is THANK YOU.
For being brave.
For being smart.
For being kind.
For persevering.
For trying.
For offering hope.
For humbly accepting defeat.
For taking this seriously.
For giving me someone I can tell my daughters about for decades to come.
For being like me.
For being flawed and damaged.
For owning it.
For not letting that define you.
For not putting up with anyone’s bullshit.
For showing generations of girls they don’t have to either.
For proving yourself a worth contender.
For giving me a candidate I could get completely behind.
For showing me that I, too, could be a brave woman.
For being the kind of woman I can tell my daughters is worthy of emulating.

I knew I would cry today, no matter the outcome. I had hoped I would be crying and dancing with my daughter. But today, I cry and I hold her and I tell her that everything is going to be okay. I don’t know that I believe it, but I need her to. She’s too young to know what’s going on. I’m glad for that, in some ways. I don’t want her to feel the weight and enormity of what’s just happened. I need her to keep smiling and playing and running too fast. I need her to be happy for as long as she can. I need her.

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On reliving the past…

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If you could redo one moment in your life, what would it be and why? How would it change who you are now?”

I don’t particularly like looking back on life and wondering how mine could be different if I’d have made choice B over choice A. There are certain things I wish I’d have done differently…stayed on the cheer sqaud through my senior year, purchased the wedding gown I first fell in love with (both times), not cut all my hair off…things like that. They’re all fairly insignificant things, in the grand scheme of things.

But when I think about the big mistakes I’ve made? Nah. I made them. I own them. They’re part of my story. I can’t change them so I choose not to think about “what could have been.” I wouldn’t redo a single moment.

Especially not on a day like today.

It’s Election Day in America. And it’s a big damn deal this time around. Sure, one could argue that every election is a big deal. But this feels bigger than normal. This is the fifth presidental election I’ve had the priviledge of voting in. Every time I’ve voted, I’ve done so thoughtfully and after careful consideration. I do the best I can to educate myself on all the candidates (which swiftly turns into *both* the candidates), as many of the issues as possible, and try to geniunely engage with people on the whole political spectrum.

This years is no different in that regard.

How it is different is that, for the first time in my life, I’m also considering two other people when I make my choice: my daughters, one who is two years ol and one who has a few months yet to cook. My choices now affect not only me, but them. And that’s a big deal.

So tonight, as I eat my pizza rolls and drink from my HRC crystal tumblers and don my Nasty Woman tank top, I’ll watch election coverage with my husband and one daughter. And long after she’s been put to bed, we’ll have an announcement of who our next President will be. I’ll stay awake as long as possible, fueled by carbs and ginger ale and hope.

At some point, I’ll cry. Happy tears, I’m hopeful. But I’ll cry.

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