Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lost Minds and Cookbooks

You know it is bad PMS when you go ahead and order the XL frozen hot chocolate. $4.00 well spent.

Had a bad week. Was getting worried since I felt so down and out, not to mention fatigued/drained. What was getting me the most down was even just the thought of doing all the household chores - laundry, cleaning, cooking. shopping, taking the garbage/recycling out. Didn't have it in me to do any of this stuff - virtually no energy. Also, feel some testiness which means general annoyance at stupid people, e.g. semitruck drivers who don't wait in line like the rest of us for 15 minutes in construction zones and just cut in.

I do get depressed at having to do everything on my own and living alone. It seems so endless and I'm so tired from the previous years of doing everything. It is a big fat myth that adversity makes one stronger. In my opinion, it just makes you more depleted with less hope and energy. The exact opposite of what people always perkily quip.

Tonight I was ready to make two dinners with sale ingredients from the store, but then I couldn't find the cookbook I needed to use. I was so dispirited after this. Not being able to find things is pretty much a daily occurrence in my home. I would say that it stems from a combination of not enough time to stay on top of clutter as an only parent always running around after teen boys and trying to maintain a household without another parental unit for support or teamwork.

So I decided to stop fretting about the cookbook - I mean where can a cookbook go if it is not on the bookshelf, or floor (looked under all furniture and the bed) and in the kitchen and even went out to the cars, but how or why it would have ended up there didn't seem likely. I decided to whip up a huge batch of French Toast to use up some eggs. But then I couldn't find the vanilla extract when I'm sure there was a full bottle around just the other day. Where would a bottle of vanilla go if it isn't in the cabinets or with the spices? Maybe I am really out of it and just don't remeber using it all? That's another side effect of always having to stay on top of life by your lonesome - sometimes you do lose it, you just can't help it, the cards come tumbling down.

I try to keep the stress of my life as a long-term only parent out of the equation of my moods but find that sometimes I can't. Why should I put on my happy face all the time? "It is what it is," everyone always says. Combine life with PMS and it can feel pretty insurmountable.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I was at Barnes and Noble last week for a browse (can't buy anything there when there is a half-price book store down the street) and flipped through "Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life" by Gail Blanke. There was a chapter that caught my attention titled "Letting Go of Needing to Feel Secure." Really, I mused. What's so wrong with wanting to feel secure? Isn't it an almost instinctive quality within us?

Think about how some have been told to marry for security over love. Or even my parents urging me to change my college major from Music Therapy to basically anything else because they didn't think I'd find a job. Or if I did, it wouldn't pay the rent.

After losing my home, which provied me a tremenous amount of security and a sense of identity along with two husbands (ditto the security and identity) I think it would be questionable if I just threw up my hands and said, "Let life take me where it will. I'm ready for the ride!"

Somehow these losses have made me less open to the randomness of the future. I want to feel some level of security within my life be it a strong, loving relationship. solid home around me or decent job in which I feel valued and productive. I think when these things are lacking it is very difficult to feel content and "happy" in one's life. I guess I believe that there has to be a certain level of stability surrounding someone or all bets are off for personal happiness.

Maybe it is easier for people who have a decent level of structure and security already existing as a foundation to throw more caution to the wind. But I believe when your foundation has been shaken and you have lost what has been of value to you, that there is no harm in seeking what makes you feel secure. I am finding that as I continue this widowhood path, the more I seem to disagree with all the advice, like this, out there. I'm finding it all doesn't pass muster with what I have felt and experienced. As for this advice, no way am I going to give up on my search for attaining more security in my life.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

I never had any observations for my late husband after the funeral and memorial service. The immediate years following his death resulted in my caring for my youngest who'd been diagnosed with a heart condition and then my parents. There wasn't much time or energy to think, reflect or honor our past. We were all just so tied in with the current chaos.

Now that has all ebbed and so today there was some time for reflection while we were at our baseball game - the boys play in a summer league with the same team they've been on since their dad died. I will admit that there was a small pang seeing all the kids with their fathers and to be sitting on the bleachers without a hubby by my side. After the game, the boys and I went to Red Lobster for that 4-course $15.00 meal special. A splurge I know, but I felt like going out and wanted to experience the special before it ended.

I asked my sons how they felt today, what it is like to be a fatherless kid on Father's Day on the way to the restaurant. At one point, I mentioned how I have always hated hearing that pat phrase that kids are so resilient. What does that really mean anyway? I find it interesting that those who relate that statement to me are people who haven't experienced a major loss in their lives. I have come to believe that if they had, they wouldn't be spitting out this phrase to me. Because it means nothing. It doesn't take away the fact that my kids grew up without a father for most of their lives (he was sick for three years before his death).

Losing a father is a major loss and it should be respectfully acknowledged as such, not brushed away by the belief that kids will survive and go on. Yes, they will but their childhoods do influence their futures. Instead of being told that kids are resilient I would have rather heard some statement validating our reality - something along the lines of: "Your kids suffered a tough blow and it is too bad." Don't try to gloss over their situation and make it better by spewing out these statments we have come to believe as being true without having the personal experience to verify them as such.

My youngest son replied, "People are so naive. They have no idea." It got to the point that when people would say things to me like, "There are lots of widows out there funcitioning just fine" and so on, that I would hotly reply, "Oh, really? How many widows my age do you personally know?" Then when they would admit "None" I would just look at them - enough said.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I really enjoy antiquing, although it has really taken a back seat in my life the past years. Now, I am making a point of visiting antique stores. The American made pottery and glassware I collect offer many items that can be found for $10-20. To me, there is something so fun and exciting about the "hunt" for pieces. But I think it may also have to do with the fact that as a child, my family would go to flea markets every Sunday. Then after the market, we'd have a meal out.

All four kids and two parents packed into a Beetle Bug. Funny how I have no desire to drive one (too small) but I do drive a PT Cruiser. Anyway, I recall these excursions taking place while I was in Junior High through my first year of high school. I remember that all of us kids would bring our homework to complete in the car! One of my brothers would have had to sit I think in that tiny back. We called it the "way back." I started to collect antique dolls and Valentine postcards. Nothing costly - I even believe I spent the first $5.00 I earned babysitting at a flea market.

It was at those markets that my family "acted" normal. Although my parents could still yell at each other in the Bettle, at least in the flea market mall they had to behave themselves. Maybe that is why I am finding myself "feeling" so secure and safe when I'm browsing in an antiques shop. It brings back memories of when I really did fell safe and secure as a child in a childhood where there aren't many memories of that.

My youngest son and I have gone on a couple of antique jaunts together and he has become quite in-the-know about the glassware I collect and is able to spot it. This time my oldest agreed to accompany us, maybe inspired by the fact that I offered to splurge on Steak n' Shake with the coupons I had. Oh I forgot, his girlfriend was out of town at her college orientation in Iowa. But no matter, I was happy both of my sons would be with me.

We hit a store out in the country about 45-minutes away. I'd never been there and it was in a beautiful old stone house. My oldest son was enthusiastic browsing and found a minature horse family in Bone China for $9.00. He purchased it for his girlfriend who is planning to be a vet. He also bought a beer stein for $10.00 deciding to start a collection in honor of his dad who was of Austrian heritage. I told him that his father had a collection himself and that I carefully packed it away, although it is hidden somewhere now in the storage shed.

I found it interesting that he would decide to start this collection which is similar to why my youngest son collects sports items from Wisconsin teams - it is where his dad grew up and went to college for his BA.

The women vendors at the shop fell in love with my sons. The fact that my oldest bought the horses for his girlfriend was sweet, as was my youngest going around and spotting my glassware. My boys are tall, good looking young men - like I don't state that enough in these posts. They're just such nice kids, wearing their Young Life shirts and interacting so pleasantly. I got to talking with one of the women who told me about her two daughters in college. I mentioned raising the boys on my own because of my husband dying. I don't bring it up that much anymore but I think I wanted some credit since the women were gushing over my sons.

This woman replied with one of those ignorant remarks that makes you just want to scream and which we get our share of. Hers was after a mumbled kind of I'm sorry: "Oh, I know someone whose father-in-law just died." Hmmm I thought. How does that relate to me or losing a husband and then having to become an only parent? Answer: absolutely nothing. But I wasn't in the mood to comment or correct her. She'd said a lot of nice compliments about my boys and I decided to let her slide. If I ever go back to the shop though and she is there, I may say something.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Seven Year Fatigue

I seem to be more tired than I ever have been before. Why is this I wonder? My life is on the upswing. Really. Have seven long years of widowhood and only parenting finally caught up with me? And why now?

Yes, I only get three-four hours of sleep a night some nights. I wait up for my sons to get home. And with many graduation parties going on to 2:00 a.m. the past few weeks, that has taken a toll. I try to nap and catch up on my sleep but I'm still groggy during the day. And I suffer from headaches frequently. Senior year, especially this past winter-spring, has been especially busy for us with lots of events to attend, etc. So we can add that to the mix. Along with college apps. and all that stress too.

All these years of focusing on my boys and pretty much devoting my life and free time to them. And here one will be off to college in two months. I should be kicking up my heels with happiness at my son's success and my part in helping him succeed.

Maybe concentrating so much on my sons' lives has caused me to not know how to do so with mine? Maybe I don't know how to deal with free time or life without a dozen conflicts to keep me busy. Case in point: Graduation Day. We failed to get our graduation tickets. I didn't open the envelope until that morning, and could only think, "Why me, why us? We've already had to deal with so much." But come heck or high water, I was going to be at that ceremony. My son spoke to the principal beforehand and we got it covered. But then I stepped in gum in the parking lot...

Maybe our bodies have some kind of sixth sense where they don't break down until they know it is safer to do so. Maybe now that life is settling down for me, my body is collapsing. That is kind of a scary thought.

So, I am doing my best to focus on summer fun. I've been taking little day trips on my day off to the nearby countryside which is very relaxing for me. I am finding parks and hideaways that bring me peace just looking at them. And I am going to take a summer vacation - a weekend retreat by myself, which I've been promising to do for years. It'll be the first vacation in what, nine years? No vacations may have something to do with that fatigue I'm feeling right now.

If I had to describe it, it would be like wanting to just collapse on the floor and then melt away... I sometimes talk about all the myths of widowhood and only parenting that I have come to know. One is that stress and having to constantly make it on your own don't end up making you stronger - just more exhausted and defeated. You'd think that after seven years I'd be used to this lifestyle and all that goes with it. But I just feel the walls tumbling down. This is not a "normal" life at all. Another myth, that there can be "a new normal" whatever that is supposed to mean.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Curse of the Cap Sleeves

Ha, ha. I told my youngest that I was having trouble with a title for this post. He looked at the photos and suggested "Purple Odd Clothing." Maybe the clothing manufacturers should listen to him. Anyway, this post is inspired by the fact that I tried to buy a new outfit for my oldest son's graduation without luck. I ended up wearing a pretty linen top in coral paired with a pair of sage green capri pants. It looked nice with the addition of a multi-colored stone necklace. But I would have enjoyed wearing something new.

After a number of years of being unable to afford to buy new clothing and making due, I am severely disappointed by the choices greeting me in the stores. What is it about the cap sleeves this season? Those cap sleeves are why I didn't purchase anything for the graduation. Really. How many women are lucky enough to be able to wear tops or dresses with them?

The average size of an American woman is 14. And based on the women I've seen in these tops, they shouldn't be wearing them .

Designers take note: if you want to play toward a trend go for it but at least offer other options. To go into Talbot's and not find one top with sleeves other than capped is pretty bad.

Now on to the bathing suit issue. As it is 101 degrees here I decided to get a new bathing suit so I can use the pool in our complex. Went on the "dreaded" bathing suit hunt only to find that the stores don't have any more in stock! I asked the saleswoman at the national clothing store chain when I "should" have purchased a suit and she advised in January. Now that was the time we were dealing with overly harsh winter and I tell you even thinking about a bathing suit was the virtual LAST thing on my mind!

Lucily, I was able to order the absolute last suit remaining in my size online at the store! It better fit because if it doesn't I quess I won't be going swimming this summer. I have heard of some moms who have been unable to find mittens, gloves and hats for their kids who've lost them in January. This is so silly. Appropriate merchandise should remain out and available when it is needed.

And here is my grand finale! My Mary Maxim Craft Catalog arrived in the mail today - the Fall issue! But I just don't have any urge to be crafting pumkins and scarecrows right now!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Four Things to Remember

The graduation speeches were excellent. I gained a lot from hearing them even though they were geared to the graduates. One speech in particular really hit a nerve. It was given by a retiring history teacher, which my husband also taught.

The speech centered on four things this teacher hoped the students would remember. He joked that the only thing he remembered about his high school graduation was the three parties he attended afterward.

The four things he spoke about were:

1. Do what you love. If you don't, you're probably not going to be very happy.

2. Learn and practice humility. We're all going to fail and fall.

3. Life is difficult. Accept that and accept responsibilty for your actions instead of blaming others.

4. In a society that seems to only recognize greatness, it is okay to just be good - a good parent, a good neighbor, a good citizen of the world, a good employee...

How applicable this insight is for people of all life stages. Here I am at mid-life, like so many others, trying to figure out a new career direction. It was good to be reminded to concentrate on what I love.

Boy oh boy, have I fallen in the recent years since my husband's death. I've had a hard time making it on my own as an only parent. And I've made mistakes and the wrong decisions. I need to cut myself some slack.

Just the other day I was mulling over how hard I've been on myself the past years as a widow, always putting myself down for seemingly not being able to keep up with married parents. I thought that I need to stop this way of thinking and simply accept that I truly have done the best I can under sometimes trying circumstances. I totally agree that it is a fine accomplishment to be excellent but sometimes good is actually what is more important.

Fine points to consider and reflect on for all of us "graduates" of the world.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Everything With Grace

A few weeks ago, my son's original composition for wind ensemble was performed at the Senior Farewell Band Concert. The piece was great but I was even more impressed by the creative thought process behind my son's work.

His director introduced the piece by admitting that when he had first heard it, he had not believed my son had written it - it is that good. "Where did you copy this from?" he asked my son. He went on to say how much the top band had embraced the piece and one of the students had quessed it had been my son's. During the semester, the director asked my son to address the band about his compositional process. And this is what I am most proud of.

My son related that during life we all grow and change. We face trials and tribulations. But he believes through it all that we must conduct ourselves with grace. That grace needs to be a part of everything. I reflected on this and tried to understand what my son meant. That whatever happens to us, we need to be gracious, strong and have dignity. That we celebrate our successes joyfully but without gloating. And we rejoice when others have their turn at the top. When times are tough, we don't give up but stand tall and keep on going. And we are kind, respectful and understanding to others.

My sister said that my son's piece sounded as good as those written by actual composers. As a surprise, my son got to sit in the audience to hear his work when he had expected to be playing it along with the rest of the band.

The director said he is very moved whenever he hears my son's composition and told the audience he felt they would be moved too. The piece is titled "Grace Be With Us" and I am inspired by my son to try and hold the words "Everything With Grace" close to my heart. We were asked to write a speical message to our senior for the band memory book. I included how much my son inspires me because he lives his beliefs every day. What a cool thing to be at a place where I am learning from my son instead of the other way around.

I was out in the country visiting an antique shop (something I've wanted to do for eight years). I took these photos and now see them as a good representation of my son's journey to college, in a very rural town, four hours away. He will be taking that road into the future in just a few months but I am feeling confident that he is starting out on his new path with a strong foundation under him. Maybe stronger than most other young people.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Do What You Love

Seeing this picture of the graduates throwing their caps into the air brings tears to my eyes as it did when it occurred earlier this afternoon.

The ceremony started with the playing of my son's composition, which took a moment for me to figure out was his because he added orchestral parts. When I asked him about this later he told me he had composed the string parts his last two days of school. The piece was even more amazing with the addition of the orchestra. I wanted to scream into the audience, "My son wrote this!" But most people were talking and preoccupied with their own families and kids...

The message that came up over and over in the speeches by staff and students was to do what you love. Just a few weeks ago I voiced my reservations about my son majoring in music. I suggested he focus on criminal justice. When I mentioned this to my sister she asked me why? I told her I felt there is more stability in that field vs. music. She replied, why should I doubt that my son might make it in a music career - he certainly has the talent.

After today, I am ready to say to him, "Just go for it." Every night he is at the computer composing music and every day I come home to a notebook left on the sofa with the words to a new song in it. It is what he loves.

My son's half-brother attended the ceremony with his wife. He is a teacher like his dad, 10 years older than my son. He gave my son a gift check and a card in which he wrote the words their father had written to him upon his graduation, a few years before his death. My son was very moved by these words. They were to the effect to do what you love but to not forget to be of service to others. My son cried and felt that his father was a part of this special day. And I was reminded of the strength and character my late husband always demonstrated. My husband, the man who loved fine arts, music and teaching history. But who gave tirelessly to the community and others.

I think my son inherited these gifts from his father and I. His musical talents and his kindness and compassion to others.

The music director is submitting my son's compositon to a national competition as an entry. I believe my son is already a great winner.

We celebrate milestones with special ceremonies like this one today. All this talk about doing what you love makes me realize that that is still one area in my life that I have to work on. Going to work as a restaurant hostess has quickly lost its appeal. I need and must do something with my life that has more substance and meaning. It is not so easy to rebuild one's life on so many levels - it takes time, planning and sometimes must be put on hold because other aspects of life require more attention, such as raising kids and getting them through high school.

Today was my son's day and a very good one at that. But it is also a wake-up moment for me to see that there is still work to be done on my end. It is funny but after eight long years of widowhood and only parenting, I'm not sure what I love anymore. I thought the library assistant program might be an option but there aren't any jobs in that field in the state Sam resides and where I will be moving next year. Back to square one.

But in the meantime I will reflect on this special day and the wonderful four years my son had in high school. I could not have asked for any more for him in regard to a positive high school experience. The teachers as a surprise, lined up in the hallway to clap for the students as they progressed out of the gym. Apparently the line was delayed because my son hugged all of his teachers as he saw them. My friend, a teacher at the school, told me how well my son is liked by the staff. Would he have been as popular and as much of a school leader if his father hadn't died? I guess I tend to think we pretty much are who we are, although I have no doubt that my husband's death has affected my son's overall outlook and spirit.

I was unaware of how difficult from an emotional level these past few weeks would be. Now that it is over I can see how much I wish my husband could have been by my side celebrating in the success of a very talented young man, his son.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Summer Slowdown

Haven't posted in a bit. Too much going on with my graduating senior and the end-of-the-school-year. Plus, our computer wasn't working well and I ended up buying a new one. We were without a computer a few days and now I'm trying to get used to this one's format. My youngest had to upload this photo for me as I was having trouble...

Anyway, I saw this gardening truck near my job this week on my way to work and stopped to snap this photo. It made me think of how summer is the season for most of us when we can relax a bit more and slow down. And if it isn't, we need to make an effort to do so. That will be my focus this summer. To make more time for fun and to recover from the eight long years that I've devoted to my boys - to get them through high school and on their way to college - concentrating on all their activities and interests so they'd become well-rounded and stay out of trouble.

It was all worth it and I'd do it all over again. But the past years have taken a severe toll. I am drained, tired, depleted and spent.

Tomorrow is my oldest's graduation ceremony. The band will be playing his original composition again (still need to post about the band concert in which it debuted). I absolutely dreaded attending this event on my own. For some reason it seemed doubly painful to be sitting alone. Although my close girlfriend will be on stage as she is a teacher at the high school, I will be sitting with her family - her ex-husband, his mom and their two sons. I could not bear to be in among the sea of parents by my lonesome without some anchor to grab on to. Especially on this significant day.

I am so happy and elated for all of the accomplishments my oldest achieved in his highly successful high school career. But there is also a part of me that is somewhat numb as this era comes to a close. I think widows often find themselves feeling conflicted emotions - it comes with the territory. It has been a long, hard road and although the ending is turning out to be a good one, I simply can't and won't wipe out the tears and trials that accompanied this journey.

There is celebration but also a sense of reality and somberness about the past. All the more reason to make this summer of fun a reality!