Thanks for Reading

I wrote my first blog post a year ago today. It would be so easy to say ‘what a long strange trip it’s been’, so I will do better. These past twelve months have been difficult for me. There has been a lot of healing going on both internally and externally. There was significant, hard, emotional work to be accomplished involving my family of origin, the family I created, and the family I am recreating. I had a serious financial challenge coupled with extraordinary expenses (did I tell you my furnace was CONDEMNED??!?!) And it was a shit year for the country, a place where I thought we had well established rights, freedoms, laws, and expectations. But as much as I have been dealing with, it has been a healthier, happier twelve months than the previous fourteen.

While I am pretty sure you don’t care about the stats I looked up, I still want to list them for my own reference. I averaged nearly three posts a month and 20% of them had over 50 views. That’s really exciting to me. I don’t know that I need to post as much now since my life is again on track, but I am happy that I took the plunge. My therapist told me I needed to find a way to be both vulnerable and not care about how my vulnerability was received. It’s also been a good place for long form discussion of my thoughts. I still have some ideas on things to say from misophonia and prime numbers to chocolate and OCD, so I’ll keep going.

The good thing is that I am well settled into my “baseline state of being happy”, which is something I regained several years back, but had a hitch in the get along for a while. I know what I need, I want what I like, I am willing to fight for both. Just like the damned cliche of not finding love until you stop looking (yeah, I did that) so too you often have no idea how resilient you are until you are tested.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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Go West, Young Man

In May, I took my two teenaged sons on a trip I didn’t know I was dreaming of. The excuse was my older son’s graduation from high school, but really it took shape shortly after I returned from the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque last fall. Taking a trip always makes me think of what my next destination will be. I thought it would be Iceland. But after traveling, hiking, and sightseeing in the southwest, I was overtaken by the fact that I had never been able to take my kids on an extended trip out west like my parents had done during my incredibly impressionable summer between eighth grade and high school. Several years ago, I had plans to spend three months in a Winnebago doing just this with them but that fell apart through no fault of my own. Fault or not though, I had not gotten my kids the experience I had such fond memories of. The trick, of course, was how was I going to swing it? I didn’t have the courage or the time to travel across the country in my parents’ camper as my sister had. This left me with flying, getting a rental car, and hotel rooms. And that was going to be pricey. I didn’t want to skimp on my boys, but coming up with the money I would need stunned me when I priced it out. Fortunately for me, I had a stack of U.S. Saving Bonds from my grandmother and that made all the difference in being able to afford it.

I planned the trip for the week between Evan’s college courses – 9 precious days in the beginning of May. The route I picked was to fly into San Francisco, drive from Yosemite → Sequoia → Joshua Tree → the Grand Canyon, and then fly out of Phoenix. I didn’t get the kind of pre-trip excitement from the boys that I would have wanted, but during the trip, they were wonderfully engaged, active and pleasant in everything we did, and genuinely appreciative of the adventure we were having. The last night I had the sweetest exchange that simply melted my heart – I knew it was perfect that we had done this. I was so happy to experience my kids and think “hey, I like them” again.

Some stand out moments for me included watching the moon rise from the front porch of our house at the Grand Canyon, taking a plein air watercolor class at Yosemite, and making a very profound life decision while driving through the California desert listening to Bear’s Den. I also collected a lot of experiences and phrases from the kids and created this:

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One unexpected joy was watching the kids’ excitement when we flew over the Rocky Mountains. They had never been west of Ohio and I just forgot how magnificent that mountain range is. Evan said it was in his top three things of the whole trip! Another surprise bonus was that they were completely turned off by the dry, non-verdant environment of everywhere that wasn’t the actual National Parks of Yosemite and Sequoia. “It’s so brown” and “there’s no grass” was a common refrain. This spurred both of them to announce that they never wanted to live anywhere other than the east coast. Score one for close future grandchildren!

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Half Dome enshrouded
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This is a BIG tree!
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Sequoia National Park
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Kyle using his Life Straw to drink directly from the stream
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Rock climbing at Joshua Tree
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Mighty, mighty Evan
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This is as far down the canyon as we hiked
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Hiking under the rim at the Grand Canyon makes all the difference

I am thrilled beyond measure that I was able to take them on such a wonderful trip. We got along well, we were great traveling companions, we got to see majestic sights, and it gave us some special shared memories that I am pretty sure will remain with them for years to come. I am also hoping that it will inspire them to take their own children on a special trip out west some day as well. Even though teenagers can be tough sometimes, I love my boys.

So He Put a Ring on It

Engaged, affianced, betrothed – things we are not.
Going steady, hooked, matched, pinned, pledged – also things I won’t claim.
Committed, intended, spoken for – much better.
But I’ll go with the archaic definition of plighted – “pledge or promise solemnly one’s faith or loyalty.”

You see, Jim and I have decided that we want to wear rings to symbolize our commitment to each other.

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Deciding to do this was different than being a twenty-something “surprised” with a proposal. We talked about it and what it would mean to us. We discussed what kind of rings we wanted. I definitely wanted something that would not be confused with an engagement ring or a cocktail ring. But since it would be the only “relationship-identifying” ring I got, I wanted it to be a little fancier than a plain gold band. The amethyst ring that we settled on meets this criteria and suits me perfectly. Jim’s ring is kind of special too. To begin with, it’s not metal; it’s made of silicone. This ring was originally designed for people in the military and those who work with electricity. It’s made to easily compress (essential when lifting heavy weights as he does,) break under stress, and not be conductive. Additionally, he wears it on his right hand because as a violinist, wearing a ring on his left hand impedes his playing.

I am over the moon that Jim wants to wear a ring and as of now, he has worn a ring for me longer than my ex-husband did. Sounds not quite right, doesn’t it? As it was, my ex came home from our honeymoon, took off his ring, and never put it on again. His reasoning was that as a police officer, the integrity of his finger was potentially in jeopardy with a ring on it. That is actually a valid argument (Jim’s ring breaks under tension for precisely this reason.) However, my ex was a street cop for a total of three years since joining the force in 1993. All other positions he held were desk jobs. One could argue that I should have asked that he wear his wedding band again, but there are A LOT of things I should have done…..

So why aren’t we engaged? That word and several others carry with it the implication that an actual marriage will follow. And that is not the plan. I know there are people, typically older, typically with at least one failed marriage behind them, who become “long-term engaged”. They never set a date, they never talk about a wedding, but they feel they have legitimized their relationship by “being engaged.” That doesn’t feel authentic to me. I’m not saying these people are being duplicitous, just that for me it would feel inappropriate and dishonest. Because in fact, the two of us not only have no current plans to marry, we may never marry. There are very real legal and financial reasons that bar us from joining officially now and those reasons may continue indefinitely. Then there is my overwhelming desire to avoid having anyone EVER say to me “Well, third time’s the charm!” I am SO not looking for platitudes. My current happiness is hard won and I don’t want it trivialized by the fact that I am wearing a ring for the third time. In our short (yes I consider three and a half years to be very short) relationship, we have faced some significant hurdles and difficulties. We have worked through many a concern to get where we are. We have sorted through more hard issues and discussed their implications than I thought one could have at this stage.  I think this is a good thing and it bodes well for the future of our “un-marriage”.  Add to all this the notion that joining one’s debts, finances, homes, and families when one is over 50 is no mean feat and the prospect of marriage becomes even more complicated.

Suffice to say, I am happy with the current arrangement. Without the use of a judge’s chambers or a house of worship, we have placed upon our relationship a greater permanence that I welcome. And we avoided the cost of a wedding – that’s a win in anyone’s book!

Mon the Biff!

Biffy Clyro made their 9:30 Club debut last month and I almost missed it!

Biffy are one of the bands that have had a major influence on this portion of my life and, as a point of fact, are represented on my body as one of my now three tattoos.  Biffy tattoo  So to have me sit out their ascension to 9:30 Club would be almost unthinkable. Why did I almost miss it? They were playing Easter Saturday – a holiday that sees my extended family gather at my parents’ house in northeastern Pennsylvania. Hmmm, what to do, what to do? For a “normal” family, perhaps I would have bowed out of attending this year’s festivities (egg hunt in the backyard, Easter baskets, a new dress for a family photo…) But as you might possibly have guessed, my family is just slightly better than normal. My solution included moving Easter to MY house and having the entire family go see Biffy. And guess what?  That’s what we did! It took no convincing at all because my sister and mom love the band as well – my mom has seen them four times now! It was quite exciting to have one of my sons join me at a full on show at the 9:30 Club (not an acoustic radio/record store thing). Now he knows just a little more about his mom’s life.

I managed to secure an ADA stool for my mom up in the top bar and my sister and I decided to forego our usual rail spots and stick with the family. It’s definitely a different experience when you are not right up front.

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But this gave me an idea. Because I am always at the front, there is no need or opportunity to crowd surf. But tonight? This was possibly the most perfect chance and the most perfect band. I picked my moment, chose the group of rowdy boys I thought would put me up, and headed off. It took a few seconds for the chosen guys to figure out what I wanted, and I was almost dropped (staff inexplicably did not come the barrier to pluck me off the crowd like they usually do), and my friend Haley was the one who grabbed me by the waist and lowered me to the floor instead of having me tumble into the photog pit. Still, it was exhilarating!  It was a fabulous night shared with my family. And everyone agreed that moving Easter was a great idea.

Biffy Surf

Usually I get to see Biffy more than once per leg of their tour and this time I just squeaked in another one. The day after I came home from a trip out west (blog post to come) was show #2 for me. This time in Baltimore. I took my dutiful place in the queue to wait for hours to get a spot up front and rocked out lBiffy upfrontike I love doing.

The venue was undersold, but the crowd was loyal and boisterous. At the end, Ben tossed a drumstick directly at me. Despite the many hands that surrounded mine, it flew right into my hand. It was the first time I have caught a drumstick in mid-air! After the show, my friend Haley (yes same Haley who prevented me from landing on my head) and I waited for the band. Although a band’s set is often only 90 minutes long, the before and after is sometimes the best part. Queuing with friends and catching up; waiting with friends and talking about everything else. But I can’t lie, talking to the band is always a thrill. I have been chatting with Simon, James, Ben, and various members of the crew for over seven years. I am recognized and greeted by name. I have had some spectacular experiences with them that I have felt were very personal (Patron, anyone?) I am also grateful that they are wonderful, caring men who are still interested in chatting with the people who make an effort to come see them play. That night was no different, hugs and hellos all around.

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In the many years that I have been following them, I have been privileged to hang out and chat with them on so many occasions.  You can see the years go by simply by watching my hair grow!

So who is this band that I love so much? They are a Scottish rock trio who have been around for awhile. I always tell people I would never make anyone go to a Biffy show, they have to want to. They are loud, shirtless and sweaty, and if you don’t know the words, sometimes unintelligible. I know I’m not making a great case for them, but if you like it, you LOVE it. I didn’t come to know about the band until 2009 – when they were already five albums in. The very first time I saw them, they were playing support for a band I had never listened to, in a town near where I was visiting my sister. I BEGGED her to agree to go. We only stayed for Biffy (babysitter issues), I had no earplugs (last time that ever happened – my ears hurt for a day and a half), I stepped on/bounced on a girl with a cast & crutches (her fault, she shouldn’t have been at the front), and I was in heaven. I couldn’t wait to see them again. And I did, four days later and closer to home. But the real excitement came a few months later when they played their very first headliner show in the U.S. It was at DC9, a place that has a capacity of 200 people. This was a band that could sell out small arenas at home and they were playing DC9!  We actually had a friend from Scotland come over to join us to be able to get the experience of seeing them in that intimate of a setting. I have traveled up and down the east coast to see them and even met up with Haley in Austin because they were playing there ON my birthday. Got a birthday shout out from Simon on stage that night. 😉 Despite their exterior presentation – long sweaty hair flying around, heavily tattooed, curious lyrics “Kill your bizarre mindset, fuckhead , soldered to a three-layered concrete brainwave castration” is one of my favorites, they are some of the nicest guys I have met in the music industry – sincere, genuine, interested. I truly feel like I have been rewarded for my loyalty as a fan with a fairly personal relationship with a rock band. Do I want to see them “break America”? Sure I do. That’s what’s best for them. I’ll always have the days when I shared a drink with them at small clubs and for me, that’ll be enough.

The Kids Are Alright

I have a terrible confession. I don’t miss my kids when they are gone. Not now that they have been whisked away for a week with their father during Evan’s spring break, not in the past when they went to boy scout camp, not when I went away for a stint somewhere for something, not ever really. I actually wondered once just how long I would have to be separated from them before I would actually miss them. Clearly it’s not two weeks.
I have pondered as to whether an element of this was that, especially when they were young and needy, I spent *no* time away from them, as in no date nights with a babysitter, no weekends away, no vacations with family watching them.  I was always the primary parent and am still. Add homeschooling on top of that and you have a pretty intense parenting situation. It has definitely changed the tenor of my relationship with my kids (as well as the relationship they have with all adults, really) for the better, but it certainly was ALL KIDS ALL THE TIME.  That had to have affected me. In spite of my entrenched extrovertedness, when my kids were young, my Myers-Briggs actually swung ever so slightly into the “I” (introverted) side because I so desperately needed time alone that I wasn’t getting.
Perhaps, even still, time without them feels like a precious gift. I am all too aware that the time is fast approaching when one after the other they will leave my house and start lives of their own. I’ll miss them then I am sure. I can only hope that they will choose to live close enough that we will be able to visit each other like I am able to do so with my parents and sisters. But who knows, maybe I won’t miss them then either?
So what did I do when they left? Well, as I write this, I am sitting in the sun-drenched front room of a friend’s beach house, I’ve been eating fresh seafood for every meal, got a massage, and am headed out thrift shopping. I do pretty well in my own.
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Gorgeous sunny day with a perfect summer drink. Sometimes life is great.
As a side note, I hit up a liquor store too and discovered the drink of the summer – Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach.  So many possibilities, I’m drinking it with seltzer right now, but in champagne it would be divine!

Viva la ‘Braska

Today is a special day. Eight years ago today my sister brought Snow Patrol into my life. No, it wasn’t that ‘Chasing Cars’ song – I probably had heard it before because I do remember Denny dying on Gray’s Anatomy, but that particular song had no impact on me whatsoever. Instead it was ‘Make This Go On Forever’.

The repeated last line “Please just save me from this darkness” burrowed through my layers of self-imposed isolation and reached me in a way that nothing yet had. I grabbed hold of that line and used it to pull me through my darkness and loss. Without going too much into it, this was the time when I was mired deep in a marriage that neglected me and a parent/child relationship that sucked me dry. Something broke free in me that day and music re-entered my life. It filled me, changed me, saved me.

Things then happened fast. Both my sisters liked Snow Patrol too and we started plotting how to see them play live. Turned out that just months later they were playing in the U.S. (they are a Northern Irish band.) But, they were coming over as the support band. Not knowing ANYTHING about touring bands at the time (and thank heavens for that because we would have missed an awesome experience) we thought this might be our only chance to see them. We had the choice of either seeing them support Coldplay in Omaha or U2 in Chicago. Since none of us had ever seen Coldplay, we decided to go to Nebraska. Yeah – NEBRASKA. Crazy, I know, but it was the best decision of the decade! So the first concert I went to in fifteen years, the one that started my obsessive live music attendance involved flying 1,150 miles to see a support band! Don’t get me wrong, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida tour was to die for, but that is NOT why we went.

So here’s the story. Before heading to Omaha, we learned that there was going to be an in-store at a local record shop before the show that evening. That meant we planned on two nights in Omaha, so we would arrive the day before to be able to attend the in-store. Julia and I met in the airport when we arrived and called for the hotel shuttle to ferry us into town. As we tittered and schemed in the back seat, the driver suddenly asked, “Did your other sister arrive earlier today?” Yes she had and we exclaimed excitedly wanting to know how he knew she might have been our sister. He only cryptically asked, “Do you know the secret?” When we said no, he said he’d leave it to our sister. Cynthia was waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel when we arrived and could barely hold herself together as we made our way to the elevator. As the doors closed, she announced the secret – Snow Patrol were staying in our hotel that night! We squealed all the way up to our floor!

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Enjoying our first day in Omaha, knowing we were going to try to meet the band that night.  First time we had ever tried fried pickles too.  (I *still* think they are weird.)

After calculating when we thought the band would be rolling into town based on where they were playing that night, we enjoyed the evening in Omaha and then camped out at the “Cookie Bar” (I kid you not – cookies, milk, tea, the works!) in the hotel to wait for the band to arrive.

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Seriously – see the different outfits?  Cookie bar vs. with the band?  That change almost cost them!

Some point after midnight Julia and Cynthia went upstairs to change, so I was sat there alone. And the bus pulled up. I was one step from paralyzed! I managed to get to a house phone, dial my room, and Julia answered. “BUS!” was literally all I could manage to shout into the phone. Moments later I heard the clamor of feet pounding down the stairs, no time to wait for a damned elevator! We three stood in the lobby of an old-fashioned, boutique hotel and through the enormous, iron, double doors the guys from the band walked in one by one. Right past us. As we stood dumbfounded in silence. They gathered at the chairs by the elevator while their tour manager did the checking in and we were still standing there, rooted, stockstill. Finally Cynthia found her senses and propelled herself forward saying hello and introducing herself. Next thing I knew, I was shaking hands and introducing myself to each of the members of Snow Patrol and all I could think of as they introduced themselves was “NO SHIT you’re Gary, NO SHIT you’re Nathan, etc.” They were lovely to us as we stumbled over our story of coming from the east coast for the show. We then got the most awesome photo of the three of us with the entire band. To this day, we are still the only ones I know that have a photo with the entire band.

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The entire glorious band!

The next day we went to the in-store and staked out a spot literally sitting at the feet of the lead singer and guitarist (the aforementioned Gary and Nathan.) There were tears.

When the tour manager was packing up at the end, I had a plan so I made my move. I have often said that while I have a hard time asking for things for myself, I have no problem asking for things for others, especially my sisters. So I stepped over the monitors on the floor and approached Neil (yes, I had already researched his name!) I quickly told him how my sisters and I had come from the east coast just to see Snow Patrol and could he upgrade our seats so we could loudly scream for them? And you know what? He did! We then got a few minutes to meet and talk to both Nathan and Gary (and kinda apologize for ambushing them the night before) before heading out to get ready for an amazing concert experience. There we were, in the Snow Patrol guestlist row, dancing and screaming our lungs out. Oh, and Coldplay was way better than OK too. 😃

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This is how insanely close we were to Chris and Jonny when they came down the side ramp. Only photogs between us the them!

That was the beginning of my journey into live music. It started an obsession that developed into something that I cherish and nurture. That first show in Omaha, NE made me feel alive like nothing had in many, many years. Fortunately, eight years later live music still does.

How Much Worry?

The last time I saw a therapist in person, I filled out what seemed like reams of paper questionnaires. When we spoke, it was clear she thought I had an anxiety disorder. It kind of surprised me though because I never figured I had any issues. I knew what anxiety looked like, my son has suffered with it mightily since he was a small boy. I had never before considered it was an issue in my life because I never had Evan’s problems. Nothing I dealt with looked anything like what Evan dealt with.

Evan has suffered with anxiety for as long as I can remember. It was actually diagnosed at around seven, but I was on the front lines dealing with it, in all its forms, when he was tiny as well. We had a brief and disastrous medication trial but decided to create an environment where he could thrive and his anxiety could be managed without it. I often thought to myself “it shouldn’t be so hard to be eight” – or nine, or ten. Of course we went to many, many professionals of all ilks and stripes. I don’t remember exactly when it was that we found Steve – but he was the one. Even now when things get tough, “I need to talk to Steve” will prompt a call for an appointment. As a teenager, things have leveled off a bit. But every once in a while something will happen to set him off and it will hit me in the face, “Oh yeah, this doesn’t really go away, does it?” My old skills kick in and try to help him rebalance. But sometimes I no longer have the patience to deal with an almost grown boy when my own stuff is looming over my head. And believe me, I’ve got stuff. When he was little, I didn’t allow myself to have “stuff” (again, a topic for another time.)

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I remember the first time I actually considered whether or not I had an issue with anxiety, I was reading this article about having an outgoing personality but an anxious mind.  All the points in the article hit home surprisingly hard for me. While I probably suspected that some of those things were iffy, I truly did not understand that they were not the norm for most people. Think about it, if you aren’t someone who is comfortable sharing stuff like this in the first place, how can you possibly know that what you are feeling is not the common, universal experience? The one that that really got me was #8 – you mean other people don’t worry that someone has actually died if you don’t hear back from them. That’s real for me. I don’t even know why.

One of my significant issues is that I have a hard time opening up enough to share my problems with people. I don’t know if it is because I have trouble trusting people, or it’s because I inherently don’t believe people want to hear about me. I also worry incessantly over things I have already said and done. I understand the futility in that, and still it literally keeps me awake at night. Oddly enough, “anxiety” would also explain my absolute abhorrence of calling people on the phone. I have a repeated pattern of closing myself off, going into myself, shutting down, when things get tough. I even know it’s happening. What I don’t know is when to come out, when it might be appropriate to prevent it, or how to reverse it. Guess I still have work to do.

My son definitely has an anxiety disorder; but maybe I do, too. It’s hard to say whether or not what I deal with would rise to the level of “disorder” or not, but I have come to realize that there is something going on. After all, did I really think Evan’s issues came out of nowhere? (For the record, yes. Yes I did think they came out of nowhere.)

This was harder to write than I thought. I’m going to have to try again later and say more.