Friday, December 31, 2010

Drowning My Sorrows

Today, some of my previous euphoria at having gone to the knitting club on Wednesday evening dissipated. My oldest son is grouching about the van being out of commission and sent me a text at work today that he tried starting it again and the battery just died - this was after I filled it with one of those portable gas cans. "We are screwed!" he informed me. That just about killed my internal mood the rest of the day at work. I've worked the lunch hour all week and it has been very busy on account of the holiday and people being off of work and families visiting and so forth. I have been tired standing the five hours on my feet.

I'm not sure what is going to happen with the van. My little sedan still needs the $600.00 work on it that I've put off since September. When I drive it, it sounds like I'm in a truck but I've gotten used to it and have just tried to grin and bear it. I still have to get my son to Springfield for the talent contest in mid-January besides (another worry). Only having the one vehicle makes it difficult for my son to get to work after school (I can pick him up in the evening) and over Christmas break he has been walking to and fro. Not bad when the weather is mild but a mile and a half walk in snow, bitter cold and ice isn't pleasant (especially with a backpack of school books).

The other damper on the new year is that working this new job means my income kicks me up out of the bracket for eligibility for health insurance provided by the state. So if I keep working this job, I'll actually be worse off because I'll need to pay out of pocket for health insurance and it will cost me more than I'm making. So we will even be further in the hole! The cost of health insurance for my family has ranged from $500-$600 when I have had to pay for it out of pocket and that doesn't even include the co-pays.

I am so sick of this life. Just trying to get by. Single/only parents are really hit hard. I understand why it is better for some people not to work. As it is, how does working this job help me right now if I'm tired and drained afterward and not making any progress because all my income now has to go toward health insurance coverage? Instead of being able to dig myself out of our hole, I just keep digging myself down deeper!

What is so desperately needed in our country is affordable health insurance for everyone! Especially those most in need, single/only parents raising children on reduced incomes. The only thing that will save me here is getting a full-time job with benefits. All these part-time jobs just end up leaving me without benefits and put me in an income bracket that doesn't allow me any type of assistance. It is so discouraging to be stuck in this hole and not seeing an easy way to dig out. As it is, we just have enough to barely make it much less have anything left over for car repairs.

So I am somewhat down and wanting to drown my sorrows in drink since it is New Year's Eve after all. My apartment friends have invited me out to a sports bar tonight for a drink or two. I wish I could get tipsy so I could forget the worries and troubles weighing on my soul. But I only have $10.00 and that will probably only cover two drinks. I'll have to make the most of them.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Taking The Plunge

I decided to go to the knitting club last night because of my terrible morning. My son was starting work at 9:30 and I was to start at 10:30. He left for his job and then came running back home after the van died around the corner. He was hysterical, worried about being late and not wanting to lose his job. I took him to work and then had to deal with the aftermath - the van was almost in the middle of the side street with the flashers on. My son had failed to mention that the van was practically in the middle of the street - I was grateful I hadn't been ticketed or towed!

So now I had to deal with moving the van to the side of the street, getting dressed and to my job within an hour. I got my youngest son out of bed and the two of us were unable to move the van ourselves. It was icy and neither of us could steer the wheel and my poor son was unable to maneuver the van backward. A nice maintenance man from the apartment complex next to ours took pity on us and assisted. He ended up steering the van while my son and I pushed. Then I slipped and fell on the ice - a total wipe out according to my son, which he said he saw coming.

We got the van moved safely to the side and I made it to work not on time, but not late enough to cause a problem. Then I got to start my brooding and worry about what is wrong with the van. It has been giving us trouble with starting but the gas gauge is also broken (sometimes) and my son told me it had stayed at the same position (above the halfway mark) for the past four days and he hadn't filled it. So, I am hoping that we simply need to get one of those red containers you see the poor people walking with on the side of the road and put in $5.00 of gas and see if it starts.

But what got me really moody and sad was the reality that yet again, I am picking up the pieces when something goes wrong and trying to figure out the solution. It was at this point that I definitely decided to go to the evening's knitting club. In the past, I would have been so down and out with the morning's events that I would have canceled. But the way I was looking at it was that this was the day I really should go to the club - when things have gone wrong and I am in need of a pick-me-up. When we keep waiting for all our ducks to be in a row before we can be happy or do something, then I think we'll be waiting forever.

And so despite having a crummy morning and then worrying about fixing the van and then being upset that I have no more energy to keep functioning as an only parent I made the decision to just go to the knit club and not put it off another week, when hopefully next week would be "better."

I walked up to our building entrance and ran into the nice woman who hosted the Christmas party I attended. She invited me to go out with some of the residents to a nearby sports bar New Year's Eve. I talked with her a little about my hectic morning and she commiserated with me having raised two daughters on my own. We both concluded that the nice maintenance man was a blessing because my youngest son and I would not have been able to move the van on our own and I didn't have the time to get it towed and get to work. She just encouraged me to keep going because in the end that is what we have to do - keep at it for our children.

At the knitting club which meets at a bakery cafe in the next town over, I was introduced to the 20-some women there (I was the youngest besides a member's granddaughter). I worked on my door stoppers/draft dodgers and turned out to be the fastest knitter among the group. The cafe owner treated our group to a tray of cookies fresh from the oven (he bakes something every week). We talked a little and he told me that many of the group members including himself are Facebook friends and involved with each other's lives, watching out for one another.

I am glad I went to the knitting group and plan on going again next week. I am enjoying knitting my draft dodgers, which are my Christmas gifts to myself. The cookie hot and fresh from the oven was divine! It was nice to meet and interact with new people. It was empowering to finally go out and do something just for myself instead of having the activity revolve around the boys. It was also exhilarating to go to an event without knowing anyone and have it turn out well. It gives me some confidence to go to other activities in the future.

One of the things I learned this year is that we shouldn't put our happiness on hold until our lives become better or more stable. If we do this we'll always be waiting to be happy. I have a feeling that my seeking happiness even in the midst of hardship will end up resulting in more happiness instead of the other way of thinking - that to be happier I have to already be somewhat happy.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Not Missing Anything

Heard today that holiday shopping sales were up 5.5%, the best sales figures since 2007, the year we started experiencing hardship and I stopped shopping. I have to say that since that time, I have missed buying Christmas gifts, decorations, household items and clothing. We've pretty much used what we have already owned and haven't replaced items unless absolutely necessary.

I've just stayed out of the malls and stores as much as possible with the exception of the used book store and going to the craft store every once in awhile. There are times that I have to go to the mall or a major department store for one of the boys, but not very often. I guess over the past years I have felt deprived and as though I have been missing out on things. It has been hard. There is a sense of pride that I've made it three years without buying myself any clothing (except one top on sale for $11.00). I find when I go to the stores and see items that I start to want them. If I don't see things, I don't miss them or care.

I'm not sure why holiday sales were up this year because I think we are still a nation suffering economically. This year was better for us not so much that I had more money, but that I was able to be better able to navigate the "system" (finding out about the Christmas Store in our community that allowed me to buy new gifts for my sons at greatly reduced cost) and getting the online gift card and gifts from the kind woman at the food pantry. My sons also received gifts from a friend of their late father so actually had a total of $70.00 cash!

My youngest wanted to get his girlfriend another small gift to go with the key necklace he had already purchased. We had discussed the idea of a perfume set. So on Sunday he asked me to take him out to some stores and we hit Walgreen's first where the perfume aisle was stripped bare. The Christmas aisle was also getting empty and was full of people tossing through items - the whole scene reminded me of a mob mentality - not that bad but still crazy and chaotic. We went to WalMart next with again entire shelves lying empty. Onward to Bath and Body Works which was insanely crowded. My son and I were getting claustrophobic from the pushing and brushing up against us as others passed by. My poor son asked me to choose the fragrance and dutifully smelled the sample cards in front of his nose. But after about 15 minutes he said they all had started to smell the same and he didn't care what we got as long as we chose something and got the heck out of there!

We ended up with a cute pair of fuzzy and soft socks on sale for $3.00 and then got three fragrances for $10.00 in the Cherry Blossom scent, Midnight Pomegranate and Vanilla Berry - total amount, $13.00. Then we stood 29th in line to pay for this small purchase. Yes, we were the 29th customers in line. How nutty is that?

I haven't witnessed this kind of shopping in a number of years and it made me feel sad. Go home and spend time with your families I wanted to say to some of the people. At the same time, being in the store for an hour or so resulted in me starting to want some of the things I saw - in particular, a nutmeg scented candle even though I still have a pretty ample supply of candles left to burn.

My oldest son went to the mall to buy a set of sheets for one of his girlfriend's gifts a few days before Christmas; (I like his practicality, she needed them and had requested a sheet set) and told me he would never go to a mall again so close to Christmas - it was crowded and he did not enjoy the experience although he got a good parking spot.

My youngest son and I were relieved to leave the fragrance store and head on home. The only thing I think I enjoyed out of the experience was looking at the cute snowflake garland hung from the ceiling in pinks and reds.

All these years I've thought I've been missing out on the shopping experience and the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Now I realize that I haven't really missed out on anything at all. It meant a great deal for me to be able to have gifts for the boys this year but I realize that the past years without gifts weren't the end of the world. Gifts are nice in moderation but not worth fighting over in a Walgreen's aisle or spending the better part of an afternoon getting. Going without has made us far more grateful for what we did receive and what we have. I think all of us realize as well that things don't make us happy and that we can learn to live without when need be.

We've all become far more thoughtful and deliberate in our actions, thinking, speaking and spending. In the end, maybe the biggest surprise is that looking back, not having gifts has ended up becoming a gift. Go figure. Never would I have thought that or even considered that in 2007!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Giving and Receiving

It has been difficult for me to accept assistance and charity the past few years. I know despite that adage that we all heard as youngsters, "It is better to give than to receive," there is still a stigma attached to seeking help when you are down and out. The pain of having to go to a food pantry and then witness the masked disapproval is something I wasn't prepared for. We are a society of contradictions. On one hand, we gloat that we are willing to help the less fortunate but then we quickly lash out in criticism that those who are needy aren't trying or working hard enough. I think that along with the message that we're such a giving and generous nation, there is also the belief that all of us should be able to make it, and if we can't or haven't, then something is wrong with us and we're not good, decent, honorable people. Maybe that view is changing as the financial struggle becomes more wide spread.

Another problem is that some of us have never been in this position and don't know how to accept help, much less find it. For me, having been the oldest child of four, I was always the one who helped and was relied upon to hold up the fort. There is a huge sense of damaged pride to not be able to do what I've always done, and been good at doing.

Maybe it is easier to give than it is to receive sometimes. I know that it has been an almost automatic response for me to refuse gifts. There is just so much emotional conflict surrounding the issue.

But this year, I was gifted with an online gift card before I could refuse it. When it arrived, in early December, I contemplated not using it or sending it back (however that is done). But my sons both BEGGED me to keep it. And it was hard for me to do so. But I did. Then I had the pleasure of imagining spending it entirely on myself (for about two minutes). Then for another two minutes I had the pleasure of imagining spending it all on the boys. In the end, it was split the way I suppose it gets split up with families - 90% of it going to the boys, and the remaining 10% to mom.

My sons spent a few days looking up and deciding on the gifts they wanted. Considering that I haven't given them birthday gifts in a number of years (we only celebrate with a cake and choice of dinner) and that there haven't been Christmas gifts either, this was a BIG DEAL - and a lot of fun. My oldest son handled all the ordering because after being a victim of credit card fraud three weeks before my husband died (another story for another time), I refuse to buy anything online and have never done it. The boys were wonderful figuring out the exact postage amounts and keeping track of the running total.

I had been encouraged by my benefactor to not get a book but to chose something nice and pretty. And I did try looking for a piece of the vintage glassware I collect and browsing the selection of craft items. But in the end, what I really coveted was a copy of the audio book by Caroline Myss, "Navigating Hope." Considering I get all my books for usually 25 cents at the second hand shop this was a big splurge because at the used book shop there aren't audio books.

The boys were thrilled as their gifts started arriving. One came on my oldest son's 18th birthday and I let him have it as a gift. My oldest ended up with a long sleeve t-shirt and socks from the college he wants to attend, my youngest got a Wisconsin hoodie and looks very handsome wearing it - that dark red Wisconsin red just highlights his dark hair and dark eyes. Both boys got wrist bands with the imprint of "France" since they are so proud of their French heritage and together they got some kind of memory disc for their X-Box.

I was able to get the boys a few inexpensive items and stocking stuffers. And they received some practical items like socks, boxers, and p.j.s from the nice woman at the food pantry who "adopted" me. I struggled with accepting her gifts as well and initially told her no. But she went on to share some of her story, telling me that the reason she had connected so strongly with me is that she was raised by a single mother from the age of 13 when her father walked out on them. For whatever reason, I reminded her of her childhood situation and she wanted to get some gifts for us. Along with the clothing there were also wallets for the boys with a $20.00 inside.

My oldest son remarked how different this Christmas was from past years. Having gifts did help. And it doesn't have to be extravagant. We had a modest Christmas and the majority of gifts were practical and useful. But it was so nice that the boys had an opportunity to get some items they really wanted and to choose them. And they received some electronic gifts from Sam that he was able to get as samples from the store he works at. I will talk about the gift he gave me in a separate post as it relates to widowhood in a strange way! Plus my girlfriend gave us a $25.00 Subway gift card along with a bag of chips, box of cookies and bottle of coke - I'm planning on that being our dinner later in the week and it will be a huge takeout treat for us!

I am grateful for the kindness and generosity of those who thought of me and offered gifts. I hope this post helps convey how hard it is for me to accept such offers. We were greatly blessed with the online gift card and for the gifts from the nice food pantry lady. In the end, I told her I would accept her gift only under the promise that we would go out together for coffee/tea so we could meet under "normal" circumstances and not as a food pantry volunteer/pantry recipient.

To the lovely person who sent us the surprise online gift card: You started out our holiday season on a positive and hopeful note setting the tone for the entire season. Your gifts are useful, wanted and very much appreciated. And you taught me a number of things too. For one, I need to get over my belief that I can't or shouldn't take gifts offered in the spirit of loving kindness. I don't always have to be the one giving, I can take a little too. I also need to learn to be more gracious in accepting gifts that are offered. And I can strive to keep giving in whatever ways I can despite my limited circumstances now. There are many ways to be of service and to give - not all involve having money.

Throughout my life I have been a giver. Now I hope that it might be easier for me to be both one who freely gives and one who freely receives. And enjoys both!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Scarf of Grief

About the time the lunar eclipse hit Chicago land last night (approx. 1:30 a.m.), it was cold, overcast and snowing. I was up reading - a frantic, rather annoyed and angry mother because my oldest was out and hadn't checked in, nor was he responding to my calls to him or texts. The book was "Second Chance" by Jane Green, an author I very much enjoy. The plot revolves around four school chums who are reunited after 20 years when one of the group is killed in a terrorist attack. The following words about grief so well stated how I have felt over the years:

"The problem with grief is that it doesn't go away. As time ticks on, the rawness dissipates somewhat, and you find yourself settling in to the pain, becoming accustomed to it, wearing it around your shoulders like an old, heavy scarf.

And life has to go on. There are children to look after, meals to cook...playdates to organize. Grief has to be filed away, compartmentalized, allowed out only when the rest of your life is sufficiently organized when you can have time to yourself to give in to the pain."

I love the analogy of wearing grief around your shoulders like an old, heavy scarf. And I know that it can be terribly challenging to go on with life, putting grief on the back burner for lack of time, feeling as though there may never be an opportunity to fully mourn.

At same time as I was reading this passage and the solstice and eclipse collided, my father passed away. The hospital had my brother's work number as a contact and of course when they called his business there was no one there to answer. He had been aware that my father had been taken to the hospital but due to the heavy snow and late hour did not travel the 45-minute distance from his home to the hospital. In the morning he called the hospital to be told that my father had been discharged! He then called the assisted living facility to be advised of my father's passing. A confusing, strange exchange of messages and phone calls to say the least. I guess the hospital should have better informed my brother that my father had been "discharged" to the morgue!

I decided to go into work but felt shock and numb, sad but happy that my father is no longer suffering physically on this earth. He was in the hospital around Thanksgiving and I refrained from mentioning it because frankly, I had become so sick of the medical efforts to always heroically "save" my father's life only to have him back in the hospital the next month. When I sat in the hospital back in November with my brother we had an opportunity to talk and heal and then over Thanksgiving, the same occurred between my sister and I and we have been talking, emailing and texting regularly since. A small blessing of my father's last hospitalization was that it did bring family back together, perhaps in anticipation of what would happen less than a month later. I predicted my father would be back in the hospital by Christmas but did not think he wouldn't pull through this time. He has had more than nine lives - always making it. I should add that the last charge for his ICU room in November was $90,000.00! For a single day! Incredible!

It is tough to be a widow wearing the scarf of loss once more. There is no one here to put comforting arms around me. I read the draft of the death notice to be placed in the paper and got upset seeing that I am the only family member with no spouse's name beside mine in parenthesis. A trivial thing to be bothered about but it I can't deny that it didn't. When you lose a spouse, much of the grief borne is a solo experience because the person you relied on before is gone.

There is a different sense of loss with that of my father's passing. He was 89, in ill-health, not 54 like my late husband, in the middle of life and career with young children to raise. But there is still loss and grief and sadness. The mere knowledge that I am now without my parents is sobering.

I think between the snow, the eclipse and solstice last night that there was some magic in the air. I see my father being picked up by a sleigh, possibly even being driven by Santa and flying through the sky as he is transported to his next destination!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Word Power

I miss my daily nature walks but at 7 degrees I do not enjoy going outside at all! I find that I am drawn to pots of evergreen, probably because they are the closest I am going to get to nature until it warms up a bit. This morning before work, I checked my email and read two that really touched me. One was from a newsletter I get from Lissa Coffey, author; very into kindness, spiritual growth, compassion. You can look her up at Today's message was about change. "Everything is connected...No one thing can change by itself. Paul Hawken" Her message goes on to say that through the words of her newsletter, people are connecting all over the world. "The internet has made the world much smaller, so that we can experience our connection with each other more tangibly. our community grows, and we each experience our own spiritual growth, we affect change in our world. Little by little, one by one, we are making a difference. And as the world changes, it inspires us as we see the possibilities, and we continue on our journey."

Wow! Talk about being blown away at 7:00 a.m.! I identify with Coffey's insight because I see blogging as a way of connecting with the larger world. I know that I hope my words reach others in good ways and that I have been touched by the words of others.

Some weeks back I had that chance encounter with two women from a neighboring town involved in a knitting club and got put on a weekly mailing list. Over the course of a few weeks, the initial emails I was receiving have increased. Now, I receive emails from other members of the group. I like this! I am benefiting from this group before I've even attended a single meeting! One email from last week, also struck me. The woman wrote about her knitting and how as she knit, she was reminiscing about her mother, now deceased. She reflected that she wished she had not been so at odds with her mother in the past because she misses her so much now.

Finally the second email from this morning was a lovely surprise Christmas greeting from a male friend, who graduated from the University of Missouri. He talked a little about some of the highlights from the past football season then wrote: "As all Mizzou fans know, we cherish our highlights because they seem to quickly disappear...we live to enjoy the moment! Everyone - enjoy your moments with your family and friends this holiday season...there is no better gift! Be safe."

Sometimes I find the words of others to be more profound than my own and so I pass them on here. I am grateful for the messages I receive via the internet, email and blogging throughout the year. I do believe, that change and kindness begin in each of us and that all of us have the power to bring more of the positive into the world. Here are three examples, four if you count this blog post of that occurring.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Shopping

Yesterday my youngest asked to be taken out to purchase a gift for his girlfriend (they've been friends awhile but going out for just about a month). He wanted to get her some kind of jewelry with the $11.00 he had as well as a fleece scarf from Old Navy. The scarves were advertised for only a dollar and we got to the store about three hours after they sold out. It was my fault we got there too late - when you have teen boys sometimes everything that goes wrong becomes mom's fault. So then we hit Walmart. They had some earring and necklace sets for $5.00 but my son preferred the ones a little higher in quality. Those were necklaces ranging from $9.00 - $12.00. He wasn't keen on a heart but eventually was convinced by my assurances that keys were big this year, judging from the ones I've seen in catalogs. So he went with the necklace in the middle of the photo because it was sterling vs. stainless steel and I had to kick in an extra two dollars.

I've been pretty good thus far this year not getting envious or upset when I see the jewelry commercials on t.v., particularly the ones with husbands buying their wives Christmas gifts. I will say though that I started to covet a Pandora charm bracelet after seeing the commercial with the three daughters saying over and over, "Did Dad go to Jared? Oh yeah, he went to Jared," they affirm as the mom oozes over her Pandora bracelet.

Some days I feel so naked. I don't wear any jewelry anymore, having sold it all or pawned it for pawn shop loans. I have a few pieces on loan that I pay a small amount for every month until I can afford to pick them up. These include one of my wedding/engagement rings sets from my first marriage and the wedding and engagement rings minus the diamond from my second marriage. It was custom designed by me and I figure one day I can replace the diamond with perhaps a less expensive gem stone. I have a couple other nice diamond and gold rings I'd wear on my right hand. Nothing extravagant. Just nicer than costume jewelry and pretty.

I miss having jewelry to wear. I enjoyed it and it was fun to express myself that way. I preferred rings most of all. I think that when life improves, I'm going to celebrate and treat myself to a custom ring. Something not expensive but meaningful. I want it to symbolize survival, strength and growth. I saw a woman recently with such a ring, I think just crafted out of sterling. I noticed it at some school event and commented on it and she told me how she had had it made for herself. This might be an idea for someone to launch onto: "Survival Jewelry" to symbolize triumph over life's adversities.

Seeing the inexpensive costume jewelry at Walmart made me wish for a little necklace or a new pair of earrings. I always lose my earrings and am down to one pair. At the holiday concert the other week I spied a woman with a quilted Vera Bradley bag and yes, I drooled. I am not into shoes but boy I do appreciate a nice purse and Vera bags are so colorful and fun. I've been wanting one for three years! It's okay to want nice and pretty things. A Vera bag wouldn't break the bank at about $50.00.

Anyway, I've done pretty well as I said before avoiding not feeling bad because I can't afford anything past essentials right now. I stay out of stores on purpose if at all I can avoid going into them. But seeing all the people at Old Navy and Walmart buying gifts did jolt me out of my self-imposed blinders and it surprised me how quickly I wanted to indulge in a small treat for myself.

I love vintage jewelry and always thought that if I ever remarry I'd ask my spouse for an old pin on gift giving occasions instead of other more expensive options. Vintage pins run about $10.00 - $20.00 and are so fun, with such variety for every season.

I don't have expensive tastes and boy have they become even less expensive in recent years. But I also want to be real and admit that I'm tired of pinching pennies and a few extra dollars to have for discretionary spending would be nice. I don't want to be so poor anymore.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Coffee Break

I have not realized with the intensity that I have felt the past few days, of how essential conversation and connections are in our lives. Maybe these past few years I've been so busy just dealing with all the turmoil and changes that have resulted. But now that the dust has settled a bit, I realize how much these two elements have been lacking in my life. I suppose this blog has served as a way for me to "talk" and "communicate" - to release and get out some of my feelings. But it is only a substitute for what I used to have in my life - someone to talk with at the end of the day, to share and relate with, to bounce off ideas, problems and solutions with, to joke and laugh with. It is not the same talking on the phone with someone. There is a different chemistry when you're actually with someone and that person is close and intimately known to you.

Random thoughts circle around in my head. Before, I would have shared them with my husband. So I will now get them out here.


1. Solved the cookie dilemma by baking up some Tollhouse cookies in a pan vs. on cookie sheets. Just do not have the time or desire that the extra steps of baking individual cookies takes. I try to cut corners wherever I can to save time and energy. At least for now that is what I have to do. Maybe in the future, I'll have more leisure time to do more.

2. They love my son at his new job. One of his football coaches came in with his children and sought out the manager to tell him they'd hired a great kid. The manager replied that they already know that and he has proven himself and is extremely trustworthy.

3. I'm doing okay at my restaurant job. After two days of training they've cut me loose on my own instead of having to complete the typical four days of training.

4. My younger son (boy does he know me) asked if I'm able to be pleasant on my job. He said, "I can imagine you feeling resentful and jealous of all the people coming in and being able to have a lunch out," etc. I replied that I am very nice, upbeat and pleasant with the restaurant guests but yes, do envy the women who can sit in a booth all day chatting and drinking wine (4 glasses each!). But instead of being upset about it, I am realizing how much more we all need to go out once in awhile and add more fun activities into our lives. That will be a goal for 2011!

5. I hate doing laundry in public machines. Whenever I have gone to the apartment office to add money to my laundry card this week they've been closed. It has almost become comical! Yesterday it was for the office Christmas party. I would start doing laundry at another facility but with the cold it is more convenient to do it in my building. But come the new year, I'll check out less costly places. Another thing to add to the list.

6. I do my best to take care of my sons and think of their needs and I want to do that. I had a very tough and difficult childhood and I have always felt my sons have had a heavy load losing their Dad. So if I can make their lives a bit easier I have no aversion to doing so. But it would be nice to receive a thank you once in awhile. Yesterday, I asked my youngest for one. Just another aspect of this life that I don't believe I'd be dealing with if my husband were alive. Because husbands and wives often provide that type of feedback and support that doesn't come from the children.

7. Being at this restaurant job is a little odd for me. I feel like I am regressing and going backward. I mean I've had my share of cashier, server, sales clerk, babysitter, etc. type jobs as a teen and in college. Working with these younger people is a bit disconcerting. I want a sit down, office job. My son told me that one of his duties when he closes at his job is to clean the restrooms. I told him I did that too when I worked at the Big Box Store. I guess I grew up with the expectation that once you hit middle-age, that would be a job no longer even in your realm of consciousness. Oh, well...

8. Getting out and meeting new people and then interacting with the public at this restaurant job has been a good thing for me. Forcing myself to be social and pleasant helps me remain so the rest of the day. And even at this "fake" job, I do feel a sense of accomplishment leaving and having done something positive with my time.

9. It has been very difficult starting a job along with the boys being in their last week of school before Christmas Break. I wish I didn't have to do it because I have ended up feeling more frantic and crazed with it being the holidays as well. I know I don't have a choice. I hope in the future that I have more options and choices. Being forced to always have to do something or take something or there being only way gets very old quickly.

10. I look back and see how I've been living my life the past few years. Always on the go, driving one of the boys to some game or activity or another. Frantically trying to clear out storage sheds. Being buried in past possessions and memories. Never really stopping and taking a moment or two for myself. Or when I do, it is crammed in between some other activity or tied in with one (such as visiting Sam but helping him out with his son). Seeing all the people come into the restaurant and take the time for a break has make me realize that I need more coffee (tea) breaks too. More nature walks, more time for reflection and fun! I think a lot of us widows are way short of self-care, self-nurturing, time alone and doing things just for the pure pleasure of it. We lack extra free time in our lives and have so much on our plates already. And I think I feel guilty too letting domestic duties sit to take a breather. But seeing how the real world functions a little more, has been an eye opener. And so the dishes can sit another day. I'm going to make more plans to smile, laugh, joke, get out and about and be with others. It's time for more coffee breaks and fun. Time to get a little tipsy once in awhile and stop constantly worrying. To throw caution to the wind again and take a few more chances... I want to be able to go with a girlfriend to a restaurant and sip wine all afternoon, while talking and laughing (just once!). To be referred to as "one of the wine ladies" instead of the widow!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Yearlong Starbucks Fast Finally Broken!

My oldest forgot his lunch again this morning so I trudged over in the darned cold and could not resist taking a photo of the other "forgotten" lunches awaiting student pickup. This was less than the load that was out on Friday! My son is a good kid. He starts his new job after school. It's the week before Christmas Break and the kids are preoccupied. I'm not going to bash him for being an 18-year-old with a lot on his plate and make him suffer the consequences by having to forage amongst his friends for something to eat. He was voted out of this year's graduating class as:
1. Best Musician (Boy am I proud of him for this!)
2. Most Flirtatious (Even though he has had the same girlfriend for two years!)
3. Biggest Spaz (Whatever that is - I guess it means forgetful!)

The winter storm that hit us brought less snow than expected but bitter chill. Minnesota and Indiana have been really pummeled. But still, the cold these last few years has been hard for me to bear. Winter brings with it a whole lot of other and extra widowhood issues for me. But let's not dwell on that right now. Life is looking up.

It was a super busy weekend with the party on Friday night, taking my son to get his senior yearbook photo taken on Saturday, attending a "Christmas store" held in the community where parents could shop for low cost gifts for their children, choosing two per child and then the holiday concert extravaganza which historically lasts ALL afternoon at the high school, since all the music groups perform. This year they split the concert into two and my son had the later concert performance time. But my girlfriend wanted to see some of her students perform in the first concert (she teaches at the school) so I agreed to go to the earlier concert with her. So I was listening to holiday music from 1:00 in the afternoon until 5:30!

Thank goodness they split the concert into two, which should have been done years ago in my opinion. There wouldn't be enough seats for older folks, people would be reading the paper for the groups their kids weren't in and there was no available parking. This year was bad enough with the stormy weather - on Sunday there were wind gusts blowing snow of 40 mph!

Overall, despite the busyness, it was a good weekend. I was thankful that the yearbook photo was over since my son was so stressed out about it. He kept having me reschedule the appt. because of his minor acne even though I assured him that his photo would be retouched. Then I was able to get stocking stuffers and two gifts for each son for under $20.00 at the "Christmas store." AND my year long Starbucks fast was finally broken! My girlfriend treated me to a venti tea and peppermint brownie after the first holiday concert and it was heavenly!

I started my "fake" part-time job at the restaurant yesterday. It pays weekly and allows me more time to be around for the boys and to look for a "real" job in my field. I'll start up the search again full force after the holidays if the social services case mgt. position I interviewed for last week isn't offered to me. With this job there will be enough for groceries at least and that is a huge blessing! And it is way less work than that awful CNA job but I am the oldest employee there (think college kids with odd degrees that can't find work) and that is a little strange for me. I feel out of my element but am trying to bite the bullet and do what has to be done. Though let me tell you, sometimes that is way easier said then done!

Well, that's a recap of the past few days. I am so grateful the boys will have a modest Christmas. It is so much better than having nothing at all. Everyone seems to be in more hopeful and positive spirits. We still all have our moments - it remains hard at times. But there is food in the pantry, I've made some new friends, my son is graduating with wonderful memories and a solid athletic, musical, social and academic foundation behind him, relations between my family members have improved, I've still managed to maintain a long distance relationship with Sam despite numerous obstacles and the new year ahead seems brighter! And I've realized you can manage to survive without a Starbucks for over a year and still come out okay. In fact, maybe you come out ahead in the end, because that tea and brownie were so much more savored and truly appreciated compared to the days just three years ago when a weekly Starbucks visit was a routine part of my life.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Not Watching Dateline Alone

I am so glad I went to the party in my building tonight. I met a teacher, activity aide for seniors, school counselor who just obtained her master's, 72-year-old-grandma who holds a black belt and teaches karate, a hospital worker, and newly retired former business owner. The apartments I went into were furnished well, clean, attractive and tidy. Everyone was nice, pleasant and more than friendly. They all wanted me to go out dancing with them afterward but I begged off since tomorrow is a busy day for me. They're going out dancing again next week and want me to join them.

I know for a long time I have harbored intense feelings of failure and shame with myself for having had to move into an apartment. I've never lived in an apartment before. Perhaps I had some sort of white trash image of myself for having to be an apartment dweller. Tonight, however, my stereotypes were broken. That 72-year-old grandma worked two jobs after her divorce to raise her two daughters. She comes from another country and had no family to help her. She did what she had to do, she told me. The other women were divorced too, some with tales of rotten ex-husbands in jail. One of these women was an Irish dancer in the Riverdance Troupe. One divorced woman now lives with her mom. The 36-year-old activity assistant is raising an 8-year-old, although there is a dad whom he visits on weekends.

All in all, a bunch of pretty talented and interesting people. I showed them the video tape of my son performing at the talent contest this summer and told them he will be having an original composition played by the band for the spring concert. This new group of friends all said they wanted to attend the concert! Some of the group is going to take a self-defense class next week together. One woman showed us how to make these amazing star ornaments out of cut paper. The activity assistant asked the Irish dancer to show her how to perform an Irish jig so she can dance it in front of the seniors she works with.

I was complimented on how handsome and nice my sons are and that they have always been polite to the residents. I felt a sense of community, kindness and friendship that has certainly been lacking in my life. People offered to help one another in various ways. When I said I don't really have clothes suitable for going out dancing I was told that they'd come up with something between themselves that I could wear.

I sure hope this is not a one-time interaction. I'd like to be able to socialize like this again. Maybe I can plan a pot luck Valentine bash of my own or a January chilly/chili snowman party. I had been thinking of inviting two of the women I've gotten to know in for tea. I joked with them both that it was good I hadn't done so, because it was clear everyone would have enjoyed something stronger than tea!

Anyway, some aspects of my life seem to be on the upswing. I'm looking forward to socializing with the knitting group (one of the members brought in homemade English toffee at the last meeting - what a treat!). Now I've met some nice friendly people here. I'm feeling more confident about pursing a job in my field and not giving up during the process. Most of all, I feel I can hold up my head a bit higher. I'm an only parent doing what I can for my sons to keep them in the community so they can graduate from the high school they've both thrived at and the town they feel most comfortable in. I've done my best under the circumstances. I'm one of those nice people living in an apartment. So what. It doesn't make me less of a person or diminish my worth. As the 72-year-old grandma said to me to tonight as I complimented her apartment, "We might not own it but it is still our home." I learned a lot tonight and I am grateful for these lessons.

Cookies, Donuts and Other Ramblings

Today was a rough start to the day. The van had trouble starting, my youngest kept imploring that he had to get to school earlier than usual, and the van needed to be scraped. In all the hustle and bustle, my oldest left the lunch I made for him at home and sent me a text which said if I couldn't drop it off at school he'd "find" food. But good mom that I try to be I dropped it off at 10 a.m. It was amusing for me to see that there were about 20 other lunch bags sitting on the counter in the office, and the secretary told me it had been a bad day for kids forgetting their lunches. So I got a hearty laugh out of that. Still, the incident took a little bit more out of me. Always doing, always running. Little time for rest or restoration. Pulling up the slack when it is needed like when kids forget their lunches. Busy mornings happen to us all. Today was one of ours. But sometimes I just want someone to do something for me. Just pick up the slack for me once in awhile, especially when I'm feeling drained and weary - and I might add a little grumpy too.

Which brings me to the topic of cookies. I was given a Christmas gift that is made up of cookie baking items; flour, sugar, sprinkles, vanilla and the like. This person meant very well and was so excited to give me an opportunity "to bake Christmas memories with my sons!" I hate what I am going to end up saying here but I don't want to make any cookies right now. I have all this stuff in my pantry already and am too tired to mess up the kitchen any more than the messiness it already exhibits.

Any task that involves extra work or steps right now is a total turn-off to me. I wish someone would just give me some cookies. I don't want to have to go through the process of making them. It is kind of like being given a bunch of yarn and told to knit your own scarf. I know not exactly the same but similar to how I feel about this. I need more relaxation and simplicity in my life right now and already made is just fine in my book! Personally, for me, standing at the stove making sure the cookies don't burn and putting them in the oven at 10-minute intervals is way more stressful and far more relaxing to me is the image of opening a box of holiday themed cookies and sitting down with one with a cup of tea.

I wonder if I could pass on this bounty to my son's girlfriend with the instructions that the two of them spend some time in the kitchen baking me a batch of cookies that they can then give to my as my gift! Now there is a thought! Let the young folk enjoy baking since they haven't been doing much of it in their lives yet, and leave the tired, drained moms out of it.

On another note, the nice knitting friend I've made emailed last night to see how I've been and to ask if I am going to start taking some Library Assistant classes. She told me it is one of the best things she has ever done and wanted to encourage me to consider it. She totally understood my reasoning and hesitation for not wanting to start the group in December. I was reminded again of how we "think" in similar ways when she wrote about taking a knitting class to learn a new technique. She said it was one of her New Year's resolutions and that she only believes in making resolutions that involve new learning or exploring. No forbidden eating or restrictive diets for her! And I totally agree with that. Resolve to do new things, take chances, explore different possibilities rather restricting yourself and telling yourself what you can't do. Then punishing yourself when you fail besides. For years one of my ongoing resolutions has been to teach myself how to juggle. This past year, one of my resolutions was to make donuts (not cookies) because I've never made them and wanted the challenge. I have failed to fulfill these resolutions. Maybe when I get away for a few days over the holidays I'll bring my How to Juggle kit with me and Sam's son and I will spend some time trying to learn - he might enjoy that. As for the donuts, a deep fryer and a waffle maker remain on my wish list. I could try frying the donuts in a pan. What the heck? I'll add that to the possible ideas of what to do on a cold, winter day for cheap entertainment. Maybe some of that flour and sugar will get turned into donuts!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Making Spirits Bright

Poor snow covered pumpkins. It is so cold outside. And more snow coming - 8 inches over the weekend. We go from 60 degrees to single digits in a matter of days. Typical for us here.

But this morning when I was out early scraping the car, there was the most glorious and colorful sunrise. Of course, by the time I ran in for my camera and back out to take a picture, the colors had faded and the moment had passed. Seeing that sunrise though was a special blessing. It inspired me and gave me some hope. I was feeling good vibes about my job interview.

The interview went as well as it could. It couldn't have gone any better. I felt totally at home at the agency - the job is a great fit for me, and in fact, there are two openings. I'm an even better fit for the case mgr. opening because of my master's. The other job involves more work out in the field/community with some flexible evening and weekend hours. The case mgr. job is during the day and I'd be home for volleyball, band concerts and track meets. The HR rep and I got on very well. It is a small non-profit agency and that type of environment is where I have always felt most at home. Now I have to wait to be called for a second interview. But even if I don't get one of these jobs, applying for it and then interviewing for them has done me a world of good.

I felt renewed confidence talking about my previous experience which is extensive along with my volunteer work. These are almost entry level positions but I explained I am fine with that since I am reentering the job force having been out some time. This agency would be getting a great deal hiring me. I am a dedicated and very hard worker. But if it doesn't go I am motivated to keep up the search and to continue to find an entry back into the arena of social services where I belong again.

So I'm still set to start the restaurant job on Monday but I sure hope the agency moves fast and a positive result occurs because I'm not that much looking forward to working there. Although I'll do what I have to do. Having been given a glimpse of where I could end up is like holding that elusive carrot just out of reach of the poor hungry rabbit.

I received an invitation to a holiday party being held by a very pleasant and interesting lady downstairs, which is tomorrow night. I have decided to go although the boys will be at a basketball game with their friends. It has turned out that most of the residents of this complex are very nice, decent people. It will be another positive change to have an opportunity to have a drink and some snacks while getting to know them better. I wish I were in a better position to invite people over but our apartment is still pretty full of stuff that seems to not have a place. I have put up two little trees though, although the best I could muster up in decorating ideas was to trim the 4 ft. silver tree with mini candy canes. I'm going to see if the boys will join me in making some yarn pom poms. But that is going to be it this year. Still it is something and an improvement from last year. I'd still like to add a few pine boughs to my antique crocks and put them in the kitchen hung with cookie cutter cinnamon ornaments. I'm figuring I can cut some branches while out on a walk but it has been too cold for walks the past week.

Our apartment has been pretty chilly (well, it is very cold outside) and I've been knitting door/draft stoppers for the windows and front door. This is my Christmas gift to myself! I am debating filling them with rice or beans (from the overflow in the pantry) but wonder if that might attract bugs. I'd love some ideas for depleting my rice and dried bean supply. I think, however, that I'll end up filling the stoppers with kitty litter which is often used.

Getting one of these jobs would pull us out of the near poverty bracket and allow me some flexibility in affording food, clothing and a few extras for the boys, as well as those dreaded car repairs. I have to keep up my optimism and hope. I have to continue to believe that the new year will bring better opportunities and an end to some of this hardship. I think that people need a shot of hope to feel hopeful. Maybe it was receiving that bounty of food last week or the fact that we received some gifts from a kind stranger wanting to provide something for my boys. In any event, those displays of generosity have instilled a greater surge of hope within my soul and I am finding that that is a very powerful force!

But maybe the best news of all (kidding) is that the 4-Bean Chili is finally gone! I finished it tonight instead of last night (wanted to avoid chili before my interview and any tummy troubles). It had been in the fridge awhile so I didn't want the boys to eat it. But I have a steel stomach and cannot see ANY food go to waste right now. Thankfully it has departed but right now I cannot look at a bean!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hello, 2011!

Ran to the store trying to figure out what to make for dinner tonight - French Toast or grilled cheeses. Didn't see any sausage, ham or bacon on sale so decided on the grilled cheese with soup and pears. Passed by the magazine rack and saw the first ones of the new year! Almost felt some relief. Thank goodness 2010 will be over, along with the holidays. I am not into this seasonal festivities and look forward to the month of January. It seems as though there is so much emphasis on Christmas yet by the time it comes, I haven't done near what I need to and I feel even more dejected and down. The alternative as I see it, is to try and prepare for the month of December a little at a time throughout the year. Then it won't sneak up on us and pass us by just as we are getting our bearings.

I loved the headline for Oprah's magazine: "Hello, 2011! 50 Ideas To Make It Your Best Year Yet." I have a feeling in my bones that next year IS going to be better. My son just got a job yesterday, his 18th birthday. He wore a suit and tie to his second interview. The managers were impressed the first time they met my son - his attitude, maturity and ability to get along with people. He impressed them more the second time by showing up 12 minutes early. Now this is not a place where he needed to wear a suit to an interview but he said he wanted the job so much he was still going to wear one. He starts his job on Tuesday and I should mention that a girl from school works there too so he had an in to the job. I believe that an inside contact really helps in this market. That is also how my youngest son got his seasonal summer job too - from someone he knew at school whose mom was in charge of hiring...

Also, today, I got a part time job at a restaurant through a contact - that nice woman at the food pantry who has befriended me knew of the opening and encouraged me to apply. The hours are during the day and I figure I can take it and still look for social services work. It is down the street from our home and would allow me to earn money for food and be at the boys' school events in the evening. I am supposed to start Monday if I accept the job but I also have a REAL job interview tomorrow for an actual honest to goodness social services job that seems it would be a good fit. Full time hours, benefits, tuition reimbursement - the whole shebang. Wish me luck. I went on the restaurant interview as a back up in case I don't get the social services job and for the practice. But again, it illustrates that when you know someone, you can have an in to a job opportunity.

On a final note, I have been affected by the death of Elizabeth Edwards but I'm still reflecting on my feelings. I do think she demonstrated amazing courage, strength, grace and dignity in the face of much loss and especially what she endured after her diagnosis. She is an inspiration to me as I continue to try and rise out of our circumstances. I too can face my trials with courage, strength, grace and dignity.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chilly Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Winter again. It is so cold out there. Over the weekend, it snowed but I didn't scrape my car off until this morning - we all drove the van, and it took me almost an hour to do so since the ice was frozen on under a layer of snow. Winter has become my season of dread because it involves having to do more - check the weather, warm up the vehicles, scrape them off, wear more layers and boots... All these other extra steps to add to my already overburdened shoulders.

I had to go out to an appointment that led me through a strip mall. I noticed a number of elderly men dropping off their wives at the doors of various stores. It made me think back to the days when my husband scraped the cars and filled them with gas. Such a blessing when there was another pair of hands to assist with chores and duties. I went on thinking that I sure hope these women realize how nice it is to get dropped off in front of a door, to have someone pay you attention with kind, meaningful gestures that make a task or duty a little easier. I always say that if I am fortunate enough to remarry and live with a husband again, I will be way more thankful for gestures such as this than I was with my husband. I pretty much took his filling the tanks for granted.

I feel in general that all of us need to be more kind, gentle and tolerant of others. We seem to be so quick to snap to judgments and to be right. I hope these women are kind and caring wives at home. Carolyn Myss suggests that when we are ready to criticize someone, that we take those words and turn them on ourselves - try them on for size so to speak. Then after saying them to ourselves, we need to see how we feel. Chances are the criticism we're dishing out doesn't feel so hot. She then advises that we modify our words to be more gentle and less harsh. I really like this idea. To take a moment and step back and think about our words before delivering them. I know it is sometimes easier said - when we're angry or upset words tend to fly out pretty quickly. But with practice, change becomes easier. Just having this idea in my head will help me the next time I am ready to fling some words that would probably be better not spoken. I have a plan in place to step back and reflect. If I don't like hearing the words/advice/criticism I'm giving out if it is directed at myself and it is hurtful, why would I want to pass that on?

Step back for a moment and listen to the words being stated with your head. There is then time to modify those words with kindness from the heart.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pumpkins, Prosperity and Hope

I saw these almost hidden pumpkins as I drove by on the road and stopped to take a photo. They got to me in some way. Seeing them holding on to their dignity and beauty, left by someone after Halloween perhaps as a gesture toward feeding some wildlife.

When I picked up my son from school on Friday he had a pair of new track shoes (retail $139.00) given to him by his track coach. He sat out most of last season due to a foot injury and the coach told him they can't afford not to have him on the team this year. My son explained that the coach has some deal with the shoe company and gets about 10 pairs of new models a season. I asked who else got a pair and was surprised when he told me the name of one of his closest friends.

Said friend's dad has been out of work now two years and counting. Imagine a typical upper-middle class suburban family. Handsome son, two adorable daughters, mom with long blond hair, wearing stylish skinny jeans and boots. Lovely, large in-town home. When I expressed some surprise, my son told me that his friend has also been on reduced lunches since starting high school three years ago. We have been on reduced lunches since my husband's death so I know what the income guidelines are. My son's friend is struggling as are we.

Then over the weekend, I received an email from a female acquaintance. She was selling items to be able to afford groceries and necessary car repairs. No mention of gifts or Christmas. Just the need for food and repairing cars. Again, a nice middle-class suburban family with a little girl on the swim team. Smaller home than the one my son's friend lives in, but still located in the coveted downtown area of our quaint little city. I know this woman's husband has also had job issues but the last I knew he was working.

As I reflected on these two families over the weekend, I thought about how many people are dealing with tough times, trying to stay afloat or survive and ride out this economic crisis. I felt a little less ashamed at myself for being in this position also. I have had a very hard time accepting the loss of my home and financial position and been pretty down on myself because of it. But here are two intact families caught up in this horror and having to make the best of it.

At least these parents have one another to lean on. I haven't written much lately about the fatigue and drain of widowhood but that is a constant in my life. Dealing with all this, making all the decisions, going to bed alone, getting up alone, living without another adult in the home have been extremely wearing on my soul, energy and outlook. I need to give myself some credit for having done the best I've been able to under the trying circumstances without much support.

In honor of this pumpkin theme, I made a loaf of pumpkin bread this morning. I have gotten a lot of rave reviews on it. When I was at the food pantry last week, I spied the six pound can of pumpkin in the photo and coveted it. My sons are both pumkined out but to me that huge can represents peace of mind and plenty. Something I can really use more of. I want to display that can on my kitchen counter as a symbol of hope and prosperity, remembering those two brave pumpkins cast off by the side of the road. And I'll eventually use the contents - six pounds of pumpkins will sure make a bunch of pumpkin loaves.

Wonderful, Quick and Easy Pumpkin Bread

1 box pound cake mix
1 cup pumpkin pie filling (not plain pumpkin puree)
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
cinnamon and nutmeg (I usually add with a heavy hand)
I also added 1 cup of chopped nuts although the recipe didn't call for them

Combine and mix all ingredients. Pour in greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Bake at 300 for 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pain For Gain

Before my widowhood and my close girlfriend's divorce, we wanted to work on a volunteer activity together. So for a number of years, we ran and coordinated the monthly food drive at our local elementary school. This involved contacting a food pantry in the area to find out their specific needs, having collection boxes in each classroom and school office, "advertising" the food drive in the school's weekly paper, working with the students to collect and assemble the donations at the end of the month and then drive it over to the pantry.

Of course, looking back now, it is somewhat ironic that I was involved in this specific activity. I generally wrote-up the notices for the school newspaper and always tried to tie in our requests to the season at hand and what the needs of the pantry were.

What got to me the most, was how some donations were of items that should have been thrown out. Clearly long expired goods, open packages and one of my favorites - the inside contents of either jello or pudding but without the external box. I would try to tactfully address this issue in my notices and encourage generosity and the like.

As I think about all of this now I am struck by the knowledge that I have walked both sides of the fence, so to speak. When I was a volunteer it was with the best of intentions and I wanted to help and make a difference. And I did. But having had to become a food pantry recipient, I must say that what I have gained in terms of internal knowledge and growth has far exceeded those volunteer efforts. I have been confronted with and had to face: humility, guilt, shame, embarrassment, being humbled, grace, dignity, thankfulness, hope, hopelessness, anger, and relief (I could probably even go on with more).

My compassion toward others has increased 100-fold! No longer will I ever look with judgment on someone needing or asking for help. This experience has stretched me far beyond any limits I could have imagined when I was just a middle-aged suburban mom trying to help out a bit in the community.

Once my grief counselor/life transition coach assured me that one day I would surpass the obstacles in my life and reside in a home again and have a better life restored to me. She added that the experiences I've gone through have served as amazing teachers and I am a better person for having lived them. Then she looked at my face and quickly added, "But of course I know that you would trade all of this inner-growth and self-actualization for having your husband still alive and your old life back." And she was right. I would trade it all in an instant to be the less evolved woman that I was seven years ago.

But of course, that isn't possible. So one way to look at it now is to accept that I have grown as a person and to hope that in the end this will all result in some good toward others and the world.

Part of the reason I blog is to try and convey to others about my life in the hope that it will result in greater compassion and kindness to others, especially widows. But I have come to realize that unless you walk in my shoes or live this life, it is impossible for someone to really ever totally understand. That is not a bad thing. Maybe I need to be preaching to the choir or those who are already in my shoes. Maybe I need to shift my focus.

It is hard to hear criticism. But the point is that we learn equally from praise and criticism. And maybe even more from the criticism. I've been thinking about some comments made to me about my not being proactive or creative enough in my situation to move and forge ahead. Yes, I'll admit that is true. I've been depressed and tired and hormonal these past months. But thinking of these comments has inspired me to think a bit more outside the box.

What if I could take some of this knowledge I've gained from my losses and use it productively? I know of a homeless shelter seeking volunteers and thought that even one or two days of going in a month would allow me to meet professionals in my social services field (thus increasing job contacts and giving me updated social services experience on my resume). The boys have also expressed an interest in doing some type of volunteer work. Maybe we could do this together as a family? In any event, I am going to the next volunteer training in early January and we'll see where that goes. I at least can serve as a compassionate listener to those in worse situations than myself.

Part of my message today goes out to others struggling. It is true that we grow more from the hardships than what is easy for us. Some of us will end up suffering and growing more. It doesn't make us better or the suffering less painful. But in the end, I don't think it is for naught. I believe somehow, someway our experiences will end up serving some purpose in bettering the world. Or at least I want to believe this because that is what gives me the most courage and hope.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Grace Be With Us

Words and books have always been my salvation, especially in times of trouble. I read the following words from Jennifer Weiner's book, "Certain Girls," which I finished last night. One of the book's characters, Joy, has to write a speech for her bat mitzvah. She scraps what she has prepared and wings it. This is taken from her speech but I've left out some of the parts to make it more applicable to the meaning I want to convey here.

"I'm supposed to tell you about what I've learned this year... but really, the truth is , what I learned this year is that life is hard. Good people die for no reason. Little kids get sick. The people who are supposed to love you end up leaving. When you don't get what you want, you take what's left and make the best of it. Even when I did the wrong thing or made the wrong choice, my family stood with me. Bad things happen. Stuff doesn't work out. Everyone has sorrow. Everyone has obligations. You lean on the people who love you. You do the best you can, and you keep going."

I pulled out my battered and highlighted "The Five Things We Cannot Change" by Dave Richo and reread words that had profound meaning for me as I struggled during the time of my divorce and moving from my house. His wisdom is "... we notice that we sometimes have to bear more than we can handle, and we may fold under the pressure. Our purpose in life is not to remain upright at all times but to collapse with grace when that is what has to happen. Thus the fact that we are given more than we can bear at times is not a flaw in life or in us..."

Richo is a proponent of loving-kindness and he ends the chapter (Pain is Part of Life) with this:

"As I say yes to the fact of suffering, may I accept the dark side of life and find a way through it, and may I then become an escort of compassion to those who also suffer."

These words were a gift to me from two vastly different people, authors and books. I offer them out now to others in hope that they may offer healing, compassion, strength and grace to us all. My oldest is composing a new musical piece for his final in music composition that his band director wants the band to play at the spring concert. He has titled it "Grace Be With Us." Those words and feelings of a 17-year-old seem to say it all.

Dismal Holidays Forcasted

Two million people are expected to lose their extended unemployment benefits this holiday season. People talk about not having trees, being able to afford gifts for their children and their lack of holiday spirit. I wrote about my food pantry experience yesterday as a way to deal with my own pain/frustration but to also increase awareness of the situation as well. To put a real and personal face on the matter, so to speak. I created another blog where I try to deal with my "living under reduced circumstances" issues but sometimes there is overlap and I figured I'd go ahead and post about my experiences here.

I went to yet another food pantry recommended to me yesterday and again admitted that I do not qualify for emergency food assistance based on the Federal guidelines. This time, the pantry was far more generous than the last one I visited and provided me with food although I will not be able to become a client. We received more food yesterday than we have had in literally months. When I shop at the store, it is always $20.00 or less because I can't afford to fill my cart or vehicles with gas ($5.00 or $10.00 fill-ups are the norm).

I was told to take as much bread as I wanted - good, decent, fancy bread not the generic stuff. I was led to a table of "cast-offs," items that clients did not want to take and left behind. I was also told I could take whatever was there. I almost cleaned the table off taking every can of vegetable that was there. I got two bags of potatoes and three bags of apples, sweet potatoes, lettuce, watermelon and pineapple, eggs, milk and a huge block of cheese along with meat. I took everything that was offered and it is probably enough to last through the whole month!

Here is where I struggle - I have enough to keep a roof over our heads but not enough to provide good, healthy, adequate food for my kids. People out there are receiving food stamps and able to visit a food pantry like this, twice monthly. No one in our country should have to go hungry. I always believed that the greatest nation in the world would provide for its own but am learning that is not the case.

Receiving this bounty increased my mood and spirits 10-fold along with that of my sons. People have to have food to get out there to look for work, to continue parenting and to simply remain hopeful enough to face the next day. I only see the situation getting worse, not better. I know of people who have been out of work now two years. They are surviving either because their spouse still has a job or they are receiving support of some kind from family.

It is especially difficult for single and only parents struggling on their own with no one to emotionally or physically lean on. It can happen to you. You can be a well-educated, professional, middle-class citizen and have your world topple over and fall on your face. I'm not finding a whole lot of assistance out there or those with kind, helping hands stretched out with compassion. Criticism and blame continue to be lashed out at the unemployed. Having been there now I can add that to simply tell someone to go out and find a job and take whatever is offered is not sound or positive advice. I've made the rounds of fast food places, restaurants (waitress/server), grocery stores and the like and have been told I'm overqualified. Then when I apply for jobs in my field, I am competing with better qualified folks. I'm caught in the middle. A male friend my age, lost his fancy advertising/art director job and was a bartender all summer. He also took training to become a nanny but so far has met with resistance because he is a male and hasn't been hired. I am actually considering the bartender training as a last resort myself.

In the future, I'm going to try and keep issues like this separate on my other blog but felt I needed to finish what I started. This is my experience and my opinions. No one needs to agree or feel sorry for me or my situation. But I do hope it in some way it softens the criticism others may have against people struggling right now, including the two million people worried about feeding their families during the holidays. I've gotten a break this year - others won't be as fortunate.