Category Archives: General

A Military Wife’s Perspective on the Shutdown

I woke up very early with a massive migraine.  My migraines can be extremely disruptive, and usually they limit my activities drastically for at least a day or two.  But this morning, I jumped out of bed to check the news with all the hopefulness of a kid praying for a snow day.  Is it over?  Did they fix it?  Oh.  They aren’t voting until this afternoon.  And so I waited, hoping for the best.

Once the kids were dropped off at school, I folded a huge ice pack over my forehead and took a much needed nap.  I woke up famished and fixed breakfast from leftovers found in the kitchen.  While nibbling toast, I inventoried the pantry and refrigerator again; both are emptier than they have been since before Thanksgiving.  This is actually not because of the shutdown, but an indicator that since the holidays, I have failed to sufficiently restock our family food supply.  If we have to go without a paycheck, this will very quickly become a serious problem!  While finalizing my grocery list, I considered several thoughts. Do our lawmakers understand what they have demanded of us, have they ever made such sacrifices as we have, have they ever experienced such trepidation while facing a perpetually uncertain future?

My shopping trip was interrupted by a phone call from the school.  My youngest felt ill and wanted to come home.  Once I had her bundled up in bed, I checked my phone’s news feed for progress from the Capital.  Headlines boasted that the shutdown has come to an end, and tomorrow it will be back to business as usual.  I didn’t feel elated or even slightly relieved.  Instead, I felt paranoid.  Social media didn’t offer any consolation, as the shutdown now has many Americans ensnared in heated online arguments over the ethics of withholding military paychecks, and how or even if  there is a correlation to DACA.  Normally a passive bystander during social media melee, today I had difficulty resisting the urge to throw in my two cents, especially when encountering  inflammatory comments directed at the military community.

Soldiers expressing concern about possibly not being paid, while on dangerous deployments no less, were blasted by angry strangers for their failure to demonstrate selfless service (which, by the way, is one of the Army Core Values), military spouses sharing their stories were criticized for not being sensitive enough to include the larger audience (which was apparently everyone in the entire damn world) , and were even accused of presenting their children as tragic victims in an effort to yank the spotlight away from Dreamers.  Ugh.  When did people become so hypocritical and hypercritical, not to mention so completely intolerant of any point of view that deviates even slightly from their own? I threw my fist in a couple of times, landed some solid hits, and made some valid points, but by the time I walked away from the computer, my only thought was it doesn’t matter, and it probably never did.  Everything is out of control for a reason.

As the day winds down, I am avoiding Facebook and instead thinking about what happens next.  I’m tired.  My head is throbbing and I’m not entirely certain that I’m seeing out of both eyes (yay, migraines!).  I spent a lot of time on my damage control strategy over the weekend, and while I woke up confident enough today to handle the shit storm, now I’m disappointed that I had to plan for a shit storm in the first place.  The shit storm is apparently not going to hit, but now I’m paranoid that my future is even more precarious than ever.  Should I feel grateful or angry? If the shutdown is really over, will things go back to the version of “normal” to which my family has become accustomed in our years of service? Maybe our “normal” actually isn’t healthy.  Maybe the promises made to us mean nothing.  Maybe this is a sign that it’s time to break away.

On a personal note, my family doesn’t serve this country because of the great pay and benefits, or for the adoration of peers, or to feel superior and worthy of special treatment.  We do it out of a sense of deep respect and love for this country and for our fellow Americans.  We do it because we believe in the Army Core Values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.  We do it because we love America.

Sadly over the years, more often than not, we have seen that our leaders, and in some cases our fellow American citizens, view us as nothing more than worker drones and bargaining chips.  Military families are angry, and justifiably so, because at some point America stopped seeing us as valuable citizens, stopped seeing us altogether.   The real issue at the heart of our angst over the government shutdown is trust.  No, we didn’t technically suffer, our leaders pulled through and we weren’t left to our own devices after all.  Everything worked out.  We will continue to remind ourselves that we should be grateful, but we won’t forget that our leaders exploited us and broke our trust.  Twice now in five years.  When trust is gone, gratitude can’t be won.

G

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Shutdown Blues II — The First 48 Hours

In October 2013 I wrote a post about the government shutdown and the negative impact it had on my community.  Although it was frightening and infuriating at the time, my family wasn’t impacted financially, and eventually I came to look back on it as a temporary discomfort, a bee sting.  Our paychecks arrived on time, we didn’t end up going without anything, and we were mildly inconvenienced.  Other people were not so lucky.  Those tagged as “non-essentials” were put on furlough, and those required to work without pay likely experienced long term negative effects that went unacknowledged.

Now it has happened again, and I am suddenly feeling this unique and devastating variety of angst so easily forgotten after 2013.  I appreciate the outpouring of support from those not directly impacted by the shutdown, who are outraged that the government would once again use its own employees and the military community as pawns in a selfish political game.  However, I’ve also noticed the absence of personal stories on my social media feed about how the shutdown is affecting fellow military families.  Perhaps it’s because we’re experts at staying cool under extreme pressure, or we’re reluctant to share what’s going on in our personal lives to maintain a persona of stoicism in the face of adversity.  So I wanted to show readers what the shutdown is like for a typical American military family.  Here’s my Day in the Life…

Day One     I didn’t know about the shutdown right away.  While my coffee was brewing, I found a Roseanne rerun on TV.  I avoid watching the news in the morning because I prefer to wait until later in the day to lose my faith in humanity.  Rosie was giving her boss a hard time and sassing back when her kids acted snotty.  She’s one of my heroes, a gal who can handle the shit life flings at her.  During the day, I would frequently summon imagery of Roseanne facing up to random bullshit as I muddled through my own interior turmoil.  As soon as I logged into Facebook, an article about the shutdown came across my feed.  That unique combination of panic, dread, embarrassment, and rage overtook me, and suddenly it was 2013 all over again.  How in the entire hell did this sneak up on me ?  I thought, knowing it had been lurking in the shadows all along, a vicious cancer posing as a bee sting.  While I chatted online with friends and family about the situation, I analyzed each emotion individually.  How long had it been since I’d felt so many negative emotions all at once!?

Panic    As a military family, we really depend on the government to pay us for services rendered!  What if they don’t? Will there be enough money for expenses? Will we miss a mortgage payment or a car payment?  If we do, will it hurt our credit scores?  If we end up in financial trouble, how long will it take to recover?!  The cruel truth is that our lifestyle has failed to provide us with a financial safety net in times of major crises, not because we’ve been irresponsible over the years, but because the military life is actually quite expensive.  Many costs aren’t covered.  We go into debt every time we move, we pay out of pocket for things that our insurance should cover, but doesn’t, and we  often don’t actually see substantial savings from military discounts.  There are perks, but we pay a premium just to have perceived benefits and imaginary luxuries.  So when the government doesn’t pull through and support us, we are left with nothing but what-ifs.

Embarrassment      Why in the hell am I embarrassed?!  Maybe because I never imagined that at this point in my life, I would have to bend and flex every which way just to survive the tsunamis created by governmental mismanagement.  I’m embarrassed that I don’t have a clever fall back plan for situations like this, because I certainly should know better by now, shouldn’t I?!  I’m embarrassed for assuming that the government wouldn’t pull this stunt again because it’s so unseemly to do this to any American, not to mention our own military!  Most of all, I’m embarrassed for my fellow Military Spouses, our Families, and our Service Members who have to put up with this, and we deserve better because we’ve earned better.

Dread     I considered upcoming social plans, debated whether or not to cancel, and felt embarrassment all over again.  Can I even afford to go out with friends at this point?  Embarrassment.  Should I cancel my haircut so that the money can be spent on essential items?  Oooh, there’s THAT word — essential.  The government seems to have a handle on who’s essential and who’s not, who goes without and who doesn’t.  Dread.  I should have seen this coming, and the worst part is that I did see it coming, but I didn’t see it coming!  More embarrassment.  I decided to save face by extending my hair appointment another few weeks under the pretense that my hair looks fine (it doesn’t).  My daughter wants her side shave re-done.  It is overgrown by at least an inch, and sticks out in a funny little tuft.  But she hasn’t mentioned it since Thursday, I think she forgot that I promised we’d go to the barber shop.  Maybe she won’t mind waiting as well.

Which brings me to rage.  RAGE.  Why should I feel all these other emotions in the first place?!  Why should my family continue to be jerked around, stretched increasingly thinner while we wait for the government to figure things out?  Why are we dangling like carrots for politicians to either grasp or bat away?  Our leaders haven’t learned anything in five years except how to fine tune strategies for torturing innocent people.  And maybe we citizens haven’t learned much in the last five years either.  There is no question that the rage felt by so many right now is completely justified.

But I wasn’t going to make this about my political opinion.  After my emotions self assessment, I went into damage control mode.  I checked the bank account and jotted down the balance, noted upcoming expenses, changed a few plans (mostly my plans to go thrift shopping for vintage sweaters and get my hair cut) and organized my coupons to maximize savings during my next grocery run.  For at least the next several days, EVERY trip to any store would have to be carefully planned, and EVERY purchase would have to be carefully considered.  I inventoried our toilet paper, cleaning supplies and food.  I made a meal plan to efficiently use food and reduce waste.  I do this every week anyway, but now it’s even more important to conserve as much disposable income as possible in case things get crazy.  We would have to be very well disciplined. I told myself that this is an opportunity to tackle my list of chores.  Chores cost nothing to complete.

I considered the timing of the shutdown.  Every military family knows that PAYDAY is a time of celebration, and for about a week after, we live high on the hog.  Keep in mind that for military families, living high on the hog is not what one might expect.  For my family it means splurging on organic meat and non GMO produce, filling our fuel tanks, and restocking household goods like dryer sheets, Clorox wipes, and maxi pads.  I know, exciting! We also take advantage of not being broke for a few days by paying for kids’ extracurricular programs, out of pocket medical expenses, and all the other miscellaneous expenses that gnaw away at our wallets.   A pretty typical financial strategy for many Americans, if I am not mistaken.

Usually by the following week, we are back to living frugally while waiting for the next payday.  I’m not proud of this cycle, and in thirteen years I haven’t figured out how to break it.  I would LOVE to be financially independent from the military.  Unfortunately, our family has been forced to survive on less income than we actually need in order to be classified as ‘thriving’, and there is absolutely no wiggle room for all the unexpected things in life that cost money.   As humble as our lifestyle is when we HAVE money, our lifestyle when we don’t can be both oppressing as well as depressing.  As payday approaches, my Army spouse friends play a game to compare who ate the saddest dinner; usually something like Saltines with generic peanut butter wins.  Cheetos and wine continues to be my low point as well as my contingency plan.  Even when times are good, we all feel the pinch, from the lowly Private to the high and mighty Colonel.

I spent most of the morning making decisions that aren’t important on normal days, but under the circumstances, they are of utmost importance.  These decisions will set us up for success or failure in the days to come.  Instead of getting a haircut, I can just wear my hair in a pony tail.  I can make simple, inexpensive meals and send leftovers in the kids’ lunches.   I’ll avoid going shopping just to shop, and I’ll get things down around the house.  I felt okay about the plan, still angry, but okay and more confident.  I had Roseanne telling me not to give up, because that’s what the bastards would want.

In the early afternoon, I realized that I’d promised to send a friend German rye bread from a local bakery.  I knew she would understand if I didn’t send the bread, but I had made a promise, and this suddenly because my most important mission, shutdown or no shutdown.  The bread became symbolic of me fighting the system.  I had to succeed, I had to get it.  Roseanne would be proud.  I would be proud.  I needed this victory.  The bakery was already closed, but I could visit a nearby German deli that sold the bread.  If I couldn’t find it there, I would have to try the commissary on Fort Carson.  I did not want to go to the commissary.  The Army wife rumor mill on Facebook was humming with news that the commissary would close by Wednesday.  Another non-essential service, food for military families.  I imagined the hectic scene there and resolved to exhaust all other resources before driving to Fort Carson.

Due to an IT glitch (I was assured that it had nothing to do with the shutdown) my bank account was temporarily also shut down.  I checked my pockets and found $45. That would have to be enough.  I spent $20 on the last two loaves of bread and a jar of rose hip jelly at the German deli, thanked God for sparing me a trip to the commissary, then spent $20 on a box of wine at the neighborhood liquor store.  With $5 left in my pocket, I headed home to check on the beef roast in the Crock Pot.

My husband had been out all day, and I decided to greet him with a positive attitude and creative solutions rather than bitchy complaints about the shutdown.  He has been deployed, risked life and limb, worked long, exhausting hours over many years to provide our family with a good life, and when we hit low points, it’s my job to build him up.  I choose to be with my husband, and he chooses to serve his country.  He’s the best man I’ve ever met, and he does everything, gives everything, to provide for his family.  He has served his country selflessly and inspired countless soldiers along the way.  He is loved and respected, and has earned his reputation as “the guy you always want in your corner”.  So for these reasons, I approached him calmly and offered support, even though my brain was still spinning with countless what-ifs.

Day 2    Still pissed.  The shutdown is a weird type of psychological punishment, a widespread mental abuse, with lingering negative effects that the government will fail to address.  Our leaders want to exploit us and fuck with our lives, then say “Oh we’re going to pay you…eventually…but you’ll do have to work without pay…indefinitely, oh and by the way, thanks for your service.”

The weather here is terrible.  Normally I go to the grocery store for the Sunday papers, but I don’t want to leave the house, so I’m blogging and watching TV, reruns of Monk today.  Monk is my hero too.  He knows what mental abuse feels like, but he refuses to give up.  I can admire that. I’m trying to decide when to put gas in my car.  I still have 110 miles to go before the tank is empty, it snowed last night, and the wind is blowing, so I can procrastinate for another couple of days.  There is almost nothing worse than putting gas in a car when it’s very cold and very windy.

I organized my coupons into a stack for Wal-Mart and a stack for Safeway.  When I tried to print a dozen coupons from the Coupons.com Website, I discovered that our printer was out of black ink.  Apparently black ink is a deal breaker.  It won’t work until I replace the cartridge.  My husband needs to print important documents for the week, so ink is indeed an essential item, and at some point I will brave the traffic, snow, and wind to go to Wal-Mart.  Toilet paper is on the top of the list, but it usually is anyway.  Toilet paper is a constant, shutdown or no shutdown. I have six coupons for toilet paper, so maybe I’ll stock up.  If things get really bad, we can always eat the toilet paper.

My Safeway list is mostly food items.  I’m agonizing over whether or not to just fill my cart to overflowing and let the chips fall where they may.  Money is just money, and shutdown or no shutdown, we will need food!  Or I could just buy enough for the week, which will cost less but ensure another trip to the store later in the week.  As I go over meal plans and grocery lists, I’m also kicking myself for checks I wrote last week for the girls’ school activities.  I could have floated one until late March, but wanted to pay so that I wouldn’t worry about it later on.  But I’m worrying about it now, kicking myself for not using that money to fill my gas tank or pay a bill.

I’m also kicking myself for using a few gift cards left over from the holidays.  I could have saved them for groceries, or toilet paper, but I didn’t.  Well, it’s all water under the bridge now.  No sense in beating myself up for past decisions.  Instead I’ve started itemizing a bill that I hope to send to the government, for my family’s expenses incurred during the shutdown.

It’s the end of the day.  We survived.  I picked up one daughter from a ski trip, and drove the other daughter to a Girl Scout meeting.  Now my car has 98 miles until E.  My coupons are ready for tomorrow and I have a plan to get through the day.  For now, I plan to pamper myself with cucumber slices under my eyes and a glass of wine.  I think I will add the 68 cent cucumber to my itemized bill for Washington.   I also think that I will add that box of wine from yesterday.  Self medicating may not have been necessary if it wasn’t for the shutdown…

Stay strong, people!

G

 

 

 

One Year Chip

An alternate title: today I called a total stranger a bitch.

For several months now, I have been trying to motivate myself to come back to my blog and write something, anything.  My last post described how alcoholism had torn my family apart after decades of substance abuse, denial and enabling behavior.  When my family disintegrated, it kind of killed me inside.  I lost the desire to write, and instead spent my time seeking security and continuity in my life. My efforts to be a happier, healthier, just plain better person have not always led to success, which brings me to this morning, and this blog post.

This morning.

I managed to stand, not merely step, but stand, totally oblivious, for entire minutes in a puddle of gasoline while fueling my car.  My shoes reeked when I arrived at the veterinary clinic to have my dog checked for a post operative infection.  I was distressed by his frantic attempts to scratch his oozing sutures, and when the veterinary technician reached out his left hand to take the leash, I misunderstood his intent and grasped his left hand with my right in an incredibly awkward handshake, which just set a really weird tone for the rest of the appointment.

After leaving the clinic, I noticed a missed call from an unfamiliar number, and there was a voice message.  Returning the call was certainly not my first mistake today, but it proved to be my worst!  I ended up locking horns with a perverse collections agent who clearly takes pleasure in antagonizing innocent citizens. She wanted me to give her information so she could contact my father. Of course, she refused to divulge any herself, but I had researched the number prior to calling back, and once I had identified that she was from a collections agency, it wasn’t a huge leap to figure out why she was calling.   Her understated Gestapo tactics indicated that she meant to intimidate me, but I have dealt with villainous types before.

We were more or less at a stalemate when she stepped waaaaay over the line by making weirdly menacing comments about other members of my family.  Doesn’t matter the situation, don’t use my family as leverage to intimidate me. I informed her that she was a bitch and hung up, then plotted my revenge while driving home.  I considered calling her back incessantly and hanging up for the rest of the day, or playing the ever lovely skull searing fax tone full volume every time she answered her phone…Not my finest hour.  I’ve never actually called anyone a bitch or plotted revenge.  But she did make vague threats, and she named names…

The upsets of this morning continued to linger after I returned home, removed my reeking shoes, and gave the dog a sedative.  The incidents at the gas station and clinic were just comical, but the phone call in particular shook me more than I had anticipated.  It was just another reminder that things are so not cool with my family.  I am getting into fights with creepy collections agents on behalf of my family, so no…things are not cool.  A flood of embarrassment and humiliation had washed over me during that phone call.  My family drama suddenly brought to the attention of a total stranger, my measly explanations about being more or less estranged from my parents, and the interrogation slicing open a wound that I thought had been adequately soothed with months of affirmations, quiet reflection, and pretending that my life is super awesome.  I vented my outrage into a Word document.  How dare some smug anonymous witch make me scrutinize my feelings when I had better things to do!

After considering whether or not the unfortunate incident was worth pursuing, I decided that although this individual was totally being a bitch, she was just doing her job, and a miserable job at that.  I can’t really hold a grudge. Intimidating people over the phone is, aside from obviously being a source of enjoyment for her, likely a useful tactic when dealing with people who actually have information but are hesitant to be forthcoming. I decided that this was not a battle worth fighting today (after all, there is also a rat caught in my egress window and at some point I will have to fight that battle), then put the document into the trash, walked away from the computer, poured myself a fresh cup of coffee, and threw a load of laundry in the washing machine.  For some reason I thought about the One Year Chip in my antique dish cupboard.  Even though I started this day horribly, thinking about the chip sitting there reminded me that there is time to make the day better.

The beginning of this summer.

I hadn’t seen my father in over a year.  My last good memory of him was two years ago, when we spent a whole day in the Black Hills.  It remains one of my favorite memories.  We packed sandwiches and cans of Coke, took the four wheeler out to the mineral claims, and updated boundary signs.  I took a thousand pictures and inhaled as much of the pine scented air as possible before my journey back to Missouri.  If I was forced to forget all memories of my father except one, this memory I would keep.  Everything since has been tinged with grief.  So when I saw him again, a few months ago, I was actually quite numb.  I had put my emotions on ice for so long, and there was a distance. It was nice to see him, and it would have been nice to catch up, but the connection was lost.  It was like trying to continue a phone conversation over heavy static.

We came back to see Dad because it was necessary that we retrieve furniture and personal items from the school where my parents had lived.  Time was of the essence because the building was rapidly falling into disrepair and Dad had been ordered to sell to liquidate assets and pay debts.  There was also some danger of the family heirlooms being damaged or looted. I was extremely anxious about the whole retrieval process, at the same time wanting to save anything with family history attached, but also feeling dread at the prospect.  I hadn’t been in the building in nearly two years, and seeing the decay was shocking.  I wandered around in disbelief, staring at crumbling walls, water stains eating through the wood floors, and garbage rotting in corners.  The building smelled like a dying creature and many of the items we brought back emitted the same fetid odor.  I threw away old papers and fabrics that simply would not air out, unable to hold onto anything that smelled like the school, not after seeing it in such disgrace.

Not everything rescued from the building was damaged, however.  Most of the furniture and family heirlooms were successfully recovered, save for a few things that we could not find; these probably made their way to a pawn shop or some crackhead’s trash can fire.  I felt bitter that some things were missing, grateful that most items were not, and guilty for being so attached to things in the first place.  The heirlooms would never be a replacement for the relationships that I wanted from my parents, but if relationships were impossible, the heirlooms would at least buoy me to my own history and identity.

One particular item was especially important, and I agonized over whether it would still be in the school when we arrived.  It was a very old dish cupboard that had belonged to my great grandmother and then my grandmother.  As a child I included the dish cupboard in many of my daily adventures while visiting my grandparents.  My grandmother kept it in a huge family room built over the garage.  I spent hours in that room, parading my horse figurines and Barbies across the carpet, staging exciting chases across the land forms which I made from old furniture.  Tables made wonderful mesas, and chairs were perfect for hair raising cliff top rescues.  The dish cupboard sometimes became involved, because I could open one of the bottom cabinet doors to let my ponies “hide” in the cave-like interior.  When tired of playing, I simply gazed through the glass of the top doors at the little collections of tea sets and souvenir plates that Grandma brought home from her many road trips and exciting vacations.

When the dish cupboard made its way to my parents’ school, I still enjoyed looking in through the glass at the arrangement of special dishes, though over the years it held fewer items until by the time Mom was ready to leave, the cupboard was nearly bare.  It had been neglected for so long that when we moved it into our home in Colorado, I discovered that the wood had shrunk considerably and pulled away from its once perfect seams, and great cracks had begun to travel along its length.  I saturated it with oil to protect it from the extreme dryness of the Colorado air, one coat, then another, and finally a third for luck.

After the outside was oiled to my satisfaction, I began to clean and oil the interior.  That is when I found the One Year Chip from Alcoholics Anonymous.  It had been my father’s, something he must have earned and carried around at one time.  It must have been dropped into the cupboard, perhaps as an afterthought.  Or maybe it was deliberately placed there.  It’s hard to say.  It had adhered to the back of the cupboard where a sticky stain kept it from shifting during the journey down several flights of stairs, onto a U-Haul truck, across a handful of states, and then into my home.  Holding it in my hand, I read both sides.  The message seemed to be meant just for me, for that moment.  I considered the infinite varieties of circumstances that would have brought this coin into my possession and determined that it should be a reminder to me when life was giving me a rough turn.

“God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Today.

I was mean to a total stranger on the phone.  Granted, she was asking for trouble and pushing my buttons on purpose.  But I don’t like the way the whole situation developed, as though the scene were everything, and I was merely playing a minor part in an undesirable melodrama. I knew when I dialed the number that there was only one way the scene could end, and I played my part, on cue as always, falling into the role of the ever reliable character, buffering my parents from the realities that they had created. The morning’s incident left me feeling disgust at being duped once again into playing a character I no longer want to be.  It’s time to start living by the Serenity Prayer on the One Year Chip.  I must sort out the things which cannot be changed from the things that I can change, and focus my energy on what is actually my responsibility.

At one time my father earned his One Year Chip from Alcoholics Anonymous.  He must have spent an entire year attending meetings, gaining perspective and motivation from peers like himself, and refraining from using a dangerous substance.  Perhaps that year was glorious, or perhaps it was a living nightmare.  I will never know.  What I do know, when I look at the chip, is that for me it represents my goal to learn which battles are mine to fight.  Someday I will look back on this morning as a stronger, healthier person. Perhaps the next year will be glorious for me, or perhaps it will be a living nightmare. But I will never know until I break from the prepossession that I am obligated to live out someone else’s drama.  It is time to be the author of my own story.

 

~G

What I Learned

It’s been a while since my last post.  I’m a little embarrassed, possibly slightly horrified, but mostly I’m unrepentant over neglecting my blog.  This year has been so jam packed full that it is a miracle I have a few minutes today to sit down and type!  And what better topic to reflect upon than things I learned this year, among all the chaos and clamor?

The year is nearly over, and in one week I will be celebrating a wedding anniversary.  This year, more than others in the past, I am especially grateful for my husband.  You see, this year we struggled a bit more than we had before, and there were days when I wasn’t sure we’d make it.  I guess after ten very good years, we were bound to hit a small bump.  We fought a lot, I cried — a lot–  and gave my husband the silent treatment, he hid in the garage to avoid my icy glares.  Had we become terrible at communicating and getting along?  Were we just too lazy to try hard enough?  Were we burned out?  Were we incompatible? I worried about the dreadful possibilities and What Ifs.

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Aren’t we adorable?

Then some things happened.   We started to walk in each other’s shoes, to see the world from each other’s point of view.  Now, with our anniversary just seven short days away, I am feeling as though my worries and doubts have been swept away by a giant cosmic broom.  Okay, that was a bit sappy, but after surviving the year and every obstacle that presented itself, I am looking with joyful anticipation into the future.  Both my husband and I have grown this year, trough trial and error (lots of error), tough decision making, sheer stubbornness, and a refusal to give up on ourselves or each other.  It wasn’t always easy, but we grew together and moved forward as a couple.

When we tied the knot, I was unsure that I could be a good spouse.  The demands, real and perceived, seemed too intimidating, and I spent many years feeling like a perpetual failure.  I am very lucky that my husband never gave up on me, because there were days when I wanted to give up on myself.  Many people use the term “better half” in jest, but in our case, I truly believe that he is mine.  He is the one who completes me, complements me, and tempers me.  And if you ask him, he will tell you that I am his better half for the same reason.  It took a few years to get to this point, but thank God for the situations that brought us here!

So, to tie things up neatly, on to what I have learned.  A marriage, or any long-term romantic relationship for that matter, is not a complete thing upon inception.  It’s more like an empty vessel which must be filled to be of any use.  The couple must contribute constantly to the relationship, creating an abundance of memories, warmth, forgiveness, trust, encouragement, and of course, love.  A full vessel will help the couple remain resilient through the tough times.  A vessel that isn’t constantly being refilled will produce nothing for the relationship.  My biggest mistake over the years has been neglecting to contribute as much to my marriage as my husband deserves.

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My better half at Bear Butte, May 2015

I’m really lucky that he is about the most patient person I know, because despite my flaws, he is still here.  And yes, I give myself some credit for sticking with him despite his flaws.  😉  This year we both learned how valuable our individual contributions are to our marriage.  A good friend of mine who once gave me invaluable marriage advice would call this ‘growing together’.  What better way to grow together than to tell our significant other “I choose you every day” during the difficult times.  So, I am delighted to wrap up my eleventh year of marriage with a new found wisdom and a deeper appreciation of what I have (everything).

 

~G

Lasts and Firsts

During our last trip to the park this week.

Ross during our last trip to the park.

It has been two weeks since our family lost Ross The Dog to kidney failure.  We were a bit naive to how painful the grieving process would actually be when the time came to say goodbye, and many of the realizations took us by surprise.  After spending seven good years with Ross, it wasn’t just the last moments that broke our hearts, it was all the firsts.

The first time I had to come home to an empty house, I stood in the garage, terrified to open the door leading inside.  I knew who wouldn’t be on the other side, and so I stood for nearly ten minutes, sobbing and willing myself to have the courage to open the door.  When I did, it felt as though a knife had been expertly and cruelly pushed directly into my heart.  This was the first of many firsts without Ross.  The next day, my husband would encounter this same heartbreak, equally painful, as he realized Ross would never again be there at the door to greet him when he came home from work.

On our first  morning without a thumping tail and slobbery kisses to emphasize the alarm, no walk to the back door for a morning constitutional, no dog food and water bowl routine, we didn’t want to even get out of bed.  Without a dog to summon the morning, what was the point?  I found the house much too lonely after Van went to work and the girls went to school, and would wait to hear the tinkling of Ross’s dog tag on the tile floor.  I caught myself looking for him, thinking that a pair of blue jeans thrown on the floor was him just lying down for a nap, then crying when I realized that my brain was playing mean tricks on me.  I kept walking to the back door, opening it, and standing there stupidly, waiting for a dog who would never come in or go out.

Ross as a puppy.

Ross as a puppy.

My husband calls Ross his conscience, says that he must have been mine too; a creature who reflected back to us our very thoughts, hopes, potential, goodness, and joy in simple pleasures.  He could just look at us and communicate exactly what we needed to be told in the moment.  We didn’t realize how much of a routine we had developed around Ross; he may have trained us better than we trained him!  Van’s first time mowing the yard after Ross passed was very emotional for Van because Ross loved to roll in the fresh mowed grass.  We had to constantly remind each other that the firsts would be the hardest to overcome, and we leaned on one another more than usual.  About two days after Ross died, I felt a presence in our bedroom after we had laid down for the night.  The room was dark and quiet, and there was a heaviness near the foot of the bed.  It seemed to lean against my legs and warm me with a sensation of peace.  I had never given any thought to the idea of a loved one’s energy dispersing from a place after death, but for the first time since Ross passed, I experienced his energy around me, and it was a great comfort.

Teddy, being adorable during a nap.

Teddy, being adorable during a nap.

Van couldn’t wait long before we got a new puppy.  I wasn’t sure that it was wise to just get another dog immediately after Ross, but Van made a wonderful choice in Teddy.  Theodore Baker, named after Theodore Roosevelt and a bottle of Baker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, came to us from South Dakota, and stole our hearts.  The first time I saw him peering through our front window quizzically, asking to be let into his new home, I knew he was the right dog for us, and it wasn’t too early.  He isn’t intended to replace Ross, but to bring joy to our lives and be the new companion that we need.  As Van said about Ross, “He was the right dog that we needed at the time, and he did more for us than we can ever repay.”  Teddy is the right dog to start a new chapter in our life as a family, and he is in just the right place to continue the legacy begun by Ross the Dog.  We are looking forward to all the firsts with Teddy.

~G

Strange Form of Relief

I have taken a rather long break from blogging because of continued migraine attacks.  Anyone suffering from migraines can likely sympathize, as the last thing one in the throes of a squeezing, throbbing, eye popping headache wants to do is stare at a computer screen while attempting to assemble intelligent sounding sentences.  So intense were my headaches that the only thing I could do was curl up in bed after work and pray for unconsciousness or death — whichever was fine by me. I know that probably sounds morbid, but fellow migraineurs can relate.  This insane form of torture has been going on for nearly two months now, with no apparent end in sight.  After several visits to my physician, experiments with various OTC and prescription medicines as well as homeopathic remedies, and one or two nervous breakdowns, I was ready to check in to the ER — for an extended stay if necessary.

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A photo of my Easter Lilies taken by candlelight during the blackout, and edited with a vintage effect.

Finally something happened.  The headaches eased off, leaving me mystified, exhausted, and terrified that, like some invading alien force, they would return just as I was starting to return to a normal state of being.  The paranoia of wondering when I would succumb to another attack was almost as bad as the actual migraines, and I nearly worked myself into a  panic over my own speculations.  I found myself curling up on the couch feeling just as helpless and vulnerable as ever, wanting answers and resenting the person that my migraines had created over the last several weeks.  But, this story isn’t really about the misery of migraines; it’s about the severe thunderstorm that we survived this morning, and how it provided some relief from my current state of discomfort.

The storm was building when I woke up early this morning, so I opened windows to let in the cool, rain scented air, and found ‘Murder, She Wrote’ on Netflix.  Whenever it gets stormy I love to turn on murder mysteries.  I have a full library, everything from the wholesome crime solving school teacher portrayed by Angela Lansbury to the more grisly but highly entertaining ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ series from Canada; and let’s not forget Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, or Psych.  But I digress.

After the storm had raged into a flood inducing tizzy, the lights began to flicker, and one last enormous boom of lightning did them in.  My daughters are particularly sensitive about living in Tornado Alley, so I reassured them that we would be just fine.  I lit several candles and placed them around the house, then opened blinds to bring in more natural light.  It was still very dim and gloomy outside even after the rain had subsided, and a river of brown sludgy water rushed down the street.  Our back yard was flooded, but it would drain quickly enough.  I was just relieved that I hadn’t planted anything yesterday — the seeds would have been washed away!

We were without power for a little over one hour.  The house was mostly dark, with fractured light coming through the windows and flickering candlelight in some of the rooms.  I took advantage of the darkness and quiet.  For a migraineur, dark, cool, and quiet is the best possible form of existence.  For the last two months, this is the only way I have wanted to exist.  The cobwebs of residual pain forming in my head when I woke up began to clear as I busied myself with odd jobs — anything that could be done sans electricity.  I swept the tile, put away laundry, organized items on the kitchen counter, all in the cool darkness.  I caught myself grumbling a bit that the electricity wasn’t on “yet”, but then immediately admonished myself.  The break from light and noise was a blessing in disguise for someone like me, so easily overstimulated by glaring lights, beeping alarms, blaring T.V.s and other forms of technology.

With  no excuse to check my e-mail, update my Facebook status, or shop on the J. Crew Web site, I had so much more time to listen to the birds singing in the rain, joke with my daughters about our immense pile of laundry, and let my head clear from weeks of compounded pain.  When the lights came back on I felt a jolt of surprise and slight disappointment.  I almost wished the entire day could have been spent in such a state of conservative peace and quiet, with nature overseeing the background lighting and sound effects necessary for entertainment.

 

Being Resolute

Are your New Year's resolutions leaving you dog tired?
Are your New Year’s resolutions leaving you feeling dog tired already?

A new year brings the promise of a new life, new possibilities, and of course, the siren song of resolutions.  Even when we know they can be unrealistic, problematic, and sometimes ill-timed, nonetheless it is hard to resist making New Year’s resolutions.  I for one haven’t had much luck with mine in the past, usually jumping ship by mid-February due to impatience, injury, illness, or lack of funding and sponsorship.  Past resolutions have always been kind of self-centered, like trying to lose weight that has been creeping up on me.  Or a bit ambitious (paying off credit card debt and a car loan, and selling my husband’s truck, all before summer vacation!), leaving me to wonder if maybe this year I need to scale back and think differently about my goals.

As rough and woolly as 2013 was, I achieved my resolution to get our family out of debt and sell my husband’s truck to a really nice family.  I also finally accomplished the long anticipated goal of losing that  weight!  Don’t ask me how; I suspect that it might come back soon because I don’t exercise and I eat bacon and white rice all the time.  But hey, it counts for now!  The point is, my resolutions were accomplished not entirely under self imposed schedules, but after several series of circumstances had played out in my life.  This is why I think it is time for me to reconsider resolutions.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to self-improve, but maybe self improvement comes when we look at life from a different angle.

The definition of resolute is: “admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.”

Synonyms include: resolved, tenacious, firm, strong-willed, unshakable, spirited, brave, plucky, stalwart, courageous.  There are many more, but you get the idea!

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The Party Animal has left the building.

As noble as ‘being resolute’ sounds, the downside of a resolution is that sometimes no matter how resolute we try to be, we just don’t reach our goals.  For example, I spent more years than I care to count worrying about my weight and giving myself a pretty short deadline every year to lose that weight.  It never happened.  Finally, after I stopped making my weight the central theme of my life and turned my focus toward my overall health, I encountered the success I desired.  We can’t always force resolutions on ourselves and then make them happen the way we envision; sometimes the journey of self-improvement takes longer than our predetermined itineraries.  As my husband always says “timing has everything to do with the outcome of a rain dance.”  We can’t rush what Providence has planned for us, and sometimes the journey involves much more adventure, patience, and self discovery than we originally had in mind.

What I am saying here is that despite your best efforts, plan on failing at some of your resolutions during life.  I know a few readers won’t like that statement, but more often than not, we don’t accomplish our resolutions the way we think that we will.  This is where we have to reexamine what being resolute really means to us as individuals.  Being resolute does help us accomplish goals, but we also have to be flexible enough to go with the flow, so to speak, when obstacles get in the way.  For years, I tried to train for whatever 5k race was coming up in the springtime…and ended up with shin splints and messed up knees.  I had to eventually adapt to something more practical for me…yoga and long relaxing walks.

This is not to say that I think we shouldn’t push ourselves and face new challenges.  The fact that I started a blog and began writing again after a decade of dormancy (another past New Year’s resolution) is evidence to myself that I can and should push myself to the limits.  And you should too; just don’t entirely give up if it seems like you aren’t attaining your goals.  It might just be that it isn’t quite time for the triumph yet.  Remember that you are on a journey, keep trying, and be flexible.

With that in mind, my New Year’s Resolution for 2014 is to be here.  By being here, I mean not being preoccupied with what I think I should be doing, what goals I should be setting and accomplishing, but to be in the here and now, with my family, my friends, the people who depend on me, taking my journey one day at a time.  I can be resolute in my journey knowing that I am learning as I go.  If I do it right, everything else will fall into place.  If I don’t, everything else will still fall into place.

Wishing you a Happy and Blessed 2014

— G

Special thanks to Ross the Dog for being my model and not running away to hide when I put the Happy New Year headband on him.  He did roll his eyes at me and sigh like an annoyed teenager though.