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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday 5: Hurry it up! Edition

1.  4 1/2 hours left before Christmas vacation officially begins for me!  I'm very thankful that this year the state of Kansas gave their employees a half day on Christmas eve, all day Christmas, and all day on the 26th as holidays.  Let's face it, no one's been cranking out any 'real' work since last Friday!

2.  I got pretty much in and out of the post office today, miraculously!  Clearly, I'm a bit behind in sending packages, but my nephew will get it on the 26th.  Close enough, right?  :/

3.  Please don't drive 25 mph in a 35 or 40 mph zone.  Especially if you then decide to turn and don't use a blinker.  There should be a separate circle of hell for those people.

4.  Still no completed Christmas cards.  Ugh.  They are sitting here practically staring at me.  So rude!  I did buy a bunch of stamps today, but I don't wanna do them tonight.  Maybe they'll be Happy New Year's cards instead?

5.  I completed this list in 20 minutes.  Partly because I'm lazy and don't want to think of a better idea for the Tuesday 5 tonight and partly because I'm in a hurry to change into my pajamas and curl up in bed with my Kindle.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday Random 5!

1.  I am making English Toffee Cheesecake for my work's Christmas party tomorrow.  I just realized when I looked in the refrigerator that I was one block of cream cheese short for the NY cheesecake recipe I was going to use.  So I Googled 'cheesecake with 24 oz. cream cheese' and pulled up that recipe, for which I have all the ingredients.  Yes!

2.  I haven't been drinking much pop lately.  (I live in Kansas, it's pop.)  However, when we went to the store the other day, my husband was looking for some Squirt.  It's one of those citrus-y types of pop, but WAY better than Mountain Dew.  (That stuff is nasty!)  He made me want some, too.  I hadn't had it in quite a while.  It's still delicious.  I like all the 'Midwest' sort of brands.  Dr. Pepper, Squirt, and R.C. Cola, which I very much prefer over Coke & Pepsi.  Pepsi is just gross, but Coke is okay, and I'll order it if I go somewhere they serve Mr. Pibb.  No, it is NOT the same as Dr. Pepper!

3.  I have gotten into the habit of buying big bouquets from the grocery store every couple weeks.  The previous owner of our home left a huge vase on top of the refrigerator.  Until recently, it was being used to store wine bottle corks to use for an art project.  However, for my birthday, my hubby bought me a gorgeous bouquet, didn't know where I kept my lead crystal vase, and pulled this one down to use it.  It is currently holding a luscious mix of magenta alstroemeria, red roses, trachelium, white spider mums (I think) and white pine needles.  It makes me happy to see fresh flowers in a beautiful vase.

4.  I just taught myself to crochet (again) over the weekend.  I had the book for a long time, but finally decided to pick up the hook again and start.  However, I'm confused by a notation in the book for directions in making a blanket.  It says to decrease as before, 4 times.  Does that mean I decrease into the next 8 stitches, since a decrease usually uses 2 for a double crochet decrease?  Or does it mean something else?  I'm a little confused.  To be honest, it's all still confusing, except for the actual crochet stitches.

5.  I got to volunteer with Harvesters today through my work.  We helped sort boxes, pack apples, and tie produce bags.  It doesn't sound like much, but I'm sure the prep work we did today will help things run smoother.  If you haven't heard of them, I recommend visiting them here.  They are an organization based out of Kansas City and they do a LOT of good.  Did you know they provide backpacks full of food for children to bring home on the weekend?  The kids are identified by school personnel as at-risk students who may or may not have food available to them at home, due to all kinds of reasons, but mainly because their parents are incapable of providing for them.  Very, very worthy of donated time and money.

Have a blessed week everyone and let's hope those Christmas cards write, stamp, and mail themselves sometime between now and Saturday!  Blerg.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Food quirks

"Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double beetloaf...I hate meatloaf!"

Ralphie's younger brother Randy, in "A Christmas Story" had it right.

I cannot stand meatloaf.  It is usually dry and gross and the flavor is in no way appealing to me.  

I grew up in a family 6 brothers and sisters and when I was younger, my Mom made meatloaf, meatballs, and hamburger A LOT.  I was the child that had to sit at the table for hours on end, because I wouldn't eat my hamburger.  Boy, was I stubborn!  

To this day, I am not a fan of ground beef.  I prefer black bean and spinach enchiladas to beef ones and do not eat hamburgers on a regular basis, if I can help it.  I refuse to eat pizza with beef on it. *gag*  I actually don't like any meat on my pizza at all.  About the only thing I like with ground beef in it is bierocks.

However, my husband LOVES the stuff.  He loves my beef enchiladas.  He devours my BBQ meatballs and he loves super supreme pizza with everything but the kitchen sink on it.  Ugh!

This morning I was feeling industrious and really wanted to start cleaning out some extras that had piled up in my freezer.  I had 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef left over from a 3 lb. roll I'd bought a couple weeks ago and half a pound of ground beef left over from a 2 lb. package when I made sloppy joes a few weeks ago.  (I do like the sloppy joes I make, though I don't make it very often.)  I Googled 2 lb. ground beef recipes, which led me to

I am not a huge fan of, but sometimes you can find some real gems.  Today's search led me to a recipe for Smoky Chipotle Meatloaf.  I had everything on hand, which is always a plus.  I hate having to run to the store for stuff when I just want to cook something and be done with it.  I actually had a small Tupperware in my freezer that had leftover chipotles in adobo sauce from the last time I made something with it.

By the way, what is with the recipes that call for chipotle?!  You only ever need a couple for each recipe.  That's why I always freeze the rest.  I also freeze leftover broth and tomato paste, because Lord knows I never make two recipes in a row that use all of the leftovers!  

Anyhoo...this is the very first time in my 10+ years of marriage that I have actually made meatloaf!  And?  It was delicious!!  I really, really liked it.  It was really moist, so it doesn't hold together incredibly well,  (I actually almost double the oats called for in the recipe) but it was super moist and delicious.  I totally forgot to put potatoes on  ( I got distracted by my stepdaughter whining about being BOOOOORED) but I did get some home grown frozen corn to go with it.  I think next time I'll have to make the cheesy hashbrown casserole to go with it.


Oh, and tell me, what food quirks do you guys have?  Mine's actually not just ground beef.  I cannot stand regular boneless chicken breasts either.  They are always too dry, no matter how you prepare them.  Not a fan of pork either.  I could easily be vegetarian, or at least pescetarian, because I LOVE seafood.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tuesday 5: My Favorite Christmas-y Things

Okay, so I have a friend who, for the last two years, has thrown a "Favorite things" party.  It's a group of fun gals that get together at a restaurant.  We usually have some drinks, share lots of laughs and chat a bunch.  We also bring one of our favorite things to give as gifts to everyone else. It can be homemade or something from a store.  It's a really fun idea and I received some wonderful gifts last year.  We are having one again this year, so I thought about a Tuesday 5 dedicated to some of my favorite things.

1.  The gift I gave last year was a Li Bien ornament from Pier 1 Imports.  I give one to my Mom every year, usually get one for myself, and love to give the smaller ones with the dove as gifts.  They are beautiful and hand painted, on the INSIDE of the glass.  They are crazy good.  I usually go for the nativity scene one for myself, but they also have little woodland creatures, a nutcracker, an angel, and a couple of other ones in different shapes and sizes.  If you go just before Christmas, you can usually pick them up for 40% off, even better!!

2.  The best present I have ever received from my parents, as an adult, was a nativity set that we found at Sam's Club.  They are probably 10 to 12 inches tall and ceramic, but the clothing is actual fabric.  It also came with a big creche that is made of real wood and includes a light in the stable that really lights up.  It is one of my favorite decorations and is absolutely gorgeous.  My parents said they tried to find them again the next year, for some of my other siblings, but couldn't.

The three wise men actually had little necklaces and the sheep's wool is fabric as well. 

3.  So, a few years ago, my husband gifted me with a 
Julia always did do her own thing, didn't she?  (Relax, it's a starting pistol!)
cookbook featuring Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.  There's a recipe in there for pan-fried duck.  I decided to make it for Christmas Eve a few years ago.  It went over like gangbusters!  Everyone loved it!  I even used the liver and heart and cracklings in a salad that I made a homemade dressing for as well.  We all cleaned our plates.  Since then, we have duck every year for Christmas Eve.  It's a satisfying meal and my hubby and I have a great time preparing it in the kitchen.  (I'm totally the one sipping wine and pretending the duck is a puppet.  My husband is usually the one with the butcher skills, shaking his head at me.)

4.  Speaking of Christmas traditions, one of my very favorite traditions as a kid was driving around and looking at all the lights.  In our small town, it probably took an hour or so to drive all around the town checking them out.  We would "Ooooh" and "Aaaaah" and point out the window exclaiming, "Did you see that?!"  "Cool!"  It was especially great, because usually we would get home and leave all the lights off in the living room, except the tree and listen to Christmas music in the glow of the tree.  That's how I remember it anyhow.  We would listen to all the oldies...Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams.  Now this was all on albums kids, you know, the large, round plastic circles with grooves in it, actual records?  My parents still have that stereo and all of those records, though if you're reading this Mom, I'll gladly take the stereo and all the records off your hands.  You know, so you can upgrade to the latest rip-roarin' sound system!  ;)  I still love driving around looking at lights and our bigger city now has a special lights display set up around the lake that you can drive through for a donation.  You can even tune in to one of the local radio stations for music that goes with it.  

Now there's a lights display!  Love the silo!
5.  Finally, I can't talk about my favorite Christmas-y things without mentioning SNOW!  I know, I know, snow can be a real pain in the butt.  Unfortunately, it doesn't just fall on your lawn, it has to go and fall on the street, too and you usually then have to drive in it.  However, every year I mentally beg for snow.  I can't say it out loud, I get too many boos.  I love Christmas snow.  It's so magical.  One of the best Christmases we had was when we lived in a tiny little town and got snowed in for Christmas.  We got a couple feet and couldn't go anywhere we were supposed to for the big day.  So, we stayed home, in our jammies 'til the afternoon, watching Christmas movies and drinking hot cocoa.  Then, my stepdaughter went outside and played in the snow with the neighbor kids for a long time, building forts and having snowball fights.  Not to say that I don't love going home to see my family, because I do.  I love catching up with everyone and playing pitch and eating and drinking late into the night, but that year was a great time.  It was totally still and beautiful and practically a holy experience.   Let it snow!

Merry Christmas all!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesday 5: Interactive Blog Edition!

Man, did that 4 day weekend fly by or what?  Yikes!  Amidst all the gabbing and cooking and card playing, I never did manage to sit down and write an extra blog post.  I really wanted to, but I got a bit lazy on Sunday.  So, here's the regularly scheduled Tuesday post.

I am calling it an interactive blog edition, because I need some help from my readers on a few issues.

1.  As you may have noticed, the title of my blog changed.  Frankly, the old name just wasn't doing it for me and I needed a change.  However, I'm not sure I like this one either.  I need your help.  Vote  in the comments for a (potentially) new name change.

Here are the choices:

     A.   The Stepmom Files
     B.  Rarely Wicked Stepmother (That's my name now.)
     C.  The Occasional Mom
     D.  Your idea here  (Submit a suggestion below.)

2.  Tonight I made a great, easy, hearty meal that I loved as a kid and still love today.  Goulash!  What's your favorite recipe for a cold winter night that is simple and hearty?  Leave the recipe below if you'd like, so everyone can add another recipe to their list.

3.  I am a catalog hoarder.  I love catalogs.  I will sign up for catalogs whenever I am presented with the opportunity.  My favorites are Crate & Barrel and L.L. Bean.  Any of you have guilty pleasures like that?

'Tis the season!
4.  My top 5 Christmas movies are: 

  1. A Christmas Story
  2. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
  3. A Charlie Brown Christmas
  4. Elf
  5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Rankin-Bass claymation version, of course). 

 If you could live in any Christmas movie setting, which would it be?  My choice would be the glowing nostalgia in A Christmas Story.

5.  Advent is upon us and those of us who follow along will know that this is a time of anticipation and waiting for the Christ child.  I am not a patient person by nature.  However, I love the tradition and meaning of the season.  What more beautiful and perfect gift to be given to us than the Savior?  I hope this season of waiting brings you hope and joy, love and laughter.  Please share your most favorite Christmas gift that you have received?  Mine was a camera that I received as a kid.  It carried 110 film and I loved it.  

I hope everyone has a blessed week!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday Random 5: Turkey Day Edition

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is only 2 days away?  Wow, has this month gone fast!  My husband and I are hosting my oldest brother, his wife, and their three girls and my youngest brother, so there will be 10 of us.  This week's random thoughts revolve around this holiday.

1.  My husband is doing the heavy lifting this year.  He's smoking a turkey and making a stock that will be used for gravy and stuffing.  He did a trial run a few weeks ago and it turned out phenomenally well.  I don't even LIKE smoked turkey and I thought it was delicious!

2.  Speaking of stuffing, this year we're trying something different.  Muffings!  Stuffing muffins.  I'm not sure how I feel about that, because I'm not a fan of overly crispy things.  I always ask for my hashbrowns to be done lightly.  I don't like the super crispy parts...ick.  I also have a thing about french fries.  I cannot stand the super crispy ones.  I love the steak fries that are nice and fluffy.  One of these days I need to share my double fried fries recipe.  (Not that it's incredibly difficult, but oh are they amazing!)  Stuffing in muffins is a 'thing' people!  It's going to be one of my sides this year, along with the corn we grew and froze ourselves this past summer, and the cranberry jelly in a can.  My favorite!

3.  Hubby has asked that any leftover turkey go to a turkey pot pie this year, so that'll be new and different.  I love my homemade chicken pot pie, but we'll see how it translates using leftover turkey and gravy, with peas and carrots.  Sounds good, though!

4.  I was going to try to make pumpkin spice creme brulee this year, but a decent butane torch is nearly $40 and I would have to buy ramekins, too.  Instead, I am making traditional pumpkin pies and individual pecan caramel cheesecakes.  I'm very excited about that last one, because I HEART cheesecake, so much.  Hubby wanted traditional pecan pie, but I really wanted something different.

5.  I'm hoping it will be decent so the cousins can all run around outside after lunch, but we shall see.  Kansas isn't exactly known for consistent weather patterns.  Ha.  It'll be nice having them here though, since my parents are halfway across the country visiting a brother and a sister that live on the east coast.  

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  I am very thankful for my thoughtful readers (i.e.-the friends I forced into reading this).  I am also thankful that God has helped guide me to a better place in my life.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Trying to Be

I was reflecting this past couple weeks on the last year.  This year has been full of ups and downs.  It has been nearly a full year since the traumatic incident that caused my anxiety.  I have found out many things over the last year.  One of the hardest lessons to learn was that getting anxiety is like opening Pandora's box.  Once you have released it, you can't ever shove it back in the box and close it.

There are certainly days better than others and days worse than others.  I can tell though, that the good days far outweigh the bad ones most recently.  When I first started having anxiety, it was so bad that almost every night when I got home, I immediately got in the bathtub or went straight to bed.  It was much easier to sleep than to stay awake with my thoughts.

My main anxiety has been over death and dying.  I wrote about this in my previous post, here.  The traumatic incident was me thinking I was having a heart attack and/or some other health-related issue while on the way to my in-laws' house for Thanksgiving last year.  (I have a heart condition and a pacemaker.)  I found out later that it was apparently a panic attack.  It didn't matter, because after that I could think of nothing else than my death and anticipating it.

I have had several health issues the last year and each time something happened, I would instantly sink into the anxiety abyss.  It has only been through a combination of therapy, meditation, and working out that I have finally crawled out of the black hole.

I still have some things to work through, namely my vertigo issues.  I am terrified of heights and always have been, but the last year has taken that to a whole new level of anxiety and fear.  There are times that I cannot even watch commercials that show outer space or that one commercial where the people climb to the top of the tree or the other one where they hang off the side of a cliff.  Ugh.  The two or three weeks leading up to Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk between those skyscrapers in Chicago, that commercial was nonstop and I nearly fainted every time I saw it.  It was agonizing!  My husband and I were out to a bar, watching the World Series, and that came on and I instantly had a huge pit in my stomach and practically threw up from anxiety.

I have reached a lot of small turning points over the last year.  I have realized that not every pang means I'm dying and I really need to get up and get moving whenever I start to feel anxiety.

One of the biggest turning points has come within the last few weeks.  A young lady in my community, 15 years old, has been fighting an inoperable brain tumor for a year and a half.  Her family had a Facebook page set up for her that they updated frequently with any concerns or triumphs.  Sadly, she passed away last night.  They knew the tumor had begun growing again and were going to try to hang on and get her into a clinical trial in Michigan, but she took a turn for the worse at the beginning of this week.  This girl, who was just a beautiful young woman, had so much courage and strength.

She would talk with her mother frequently about death and purgatory.  (She's Catholic, as am I.)  She met with her priest and prepared herself in every way.  She seemed to always have a smile on her face and never got discouraged.  She even made it to church last Sunday, in her hospital bed, after being sent home under hospice care.  When she started drifting in and out of consciousness, they had the priest come in to perform last rites.  They said that she was more awake and alert yesterday, but was comfortable.  This young woman bravely headed into the great unknown with true dignity.  I know Jesus welcomed her home last night.  I cried this morning when I checked Facebook, knowing that I would probably read the news of her death.

This young lady has taught me more about living and dying than I have probably ever thought about.  She was 15 and I am 37.  She lived her life so fully, anticipating the worst, while I have been so hesitant to do so, fearful of the unknown.  I am so privileged to have, in a very tangential way, been there through her experience.  I know now that I need not be so fearful.  Mighty Moe, as she was known to her friends and family, showed me so much through her courage and her fight.

We all have heard that we need to live life to the fullest.  We don't know how long any of us have.  It's true, it is so, so true.  I have also realized that I shouldn't stop to think about my ending, I have to make this tenuous middle part worth it!  I am so thankful for the lesson Morgan taught me about dying, because it has made me want to live my life more exuberantly than before.

If you are the praying type, please say a few extra prayers today for Morgan's soul and for the peace and comfort for her family and friends during this time.  Thank God for giving them so many blessings and so much grace to be able to bravely face this time in their lives and to help Morgan transition peacefully to Jesus's loving arms.

"Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep.  Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell.  And when you get angry, get good and angry.  Try to be alive.  You will be dead soon enough."--Ernest Hemingway 

(Hemingway is the man!  He's one of my favorite authors.)

By the way, you know what was at the bottom of Pandora's box? 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday Random 5: Why I love the Saxophone

So, last week's post was all about the music I love.  It was a really difficult task for me to narrow it down and I didn't even get to mention any of the instrumental music I love.  One of the things I looked forward to as a child was 5th grade.  5th grade was the year that band started in our school.  Actually, we technically walked to another school for band, because I went to a small town Catholic grade school and our band played with the public grade school's band.  My oldest brother played the baritone, the 2nd oldest played the trumpet, and my older sister played the clarinet.  I had my instrument chosen well before I was asked what I wanted.  The saxophone, specifically the alto saxophone was the instrument that I chose.

I loved playing the saxophone and I played it through my freshman year in college.  There are days that I really wish I could play it again, but it's been nearly 20 years since I last picked one up.  I would love to eventually resurrect that hobby, because I loved it.

What made me choose the saxophone?  Oddly enough, it was due to public television.  Yup, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and Sesame Street led me to play the coolest instrument in the world.  The Muppet Show also did to a lesser extent.  Below are the 3 videos that made me fall in love with the sax.

1.  Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, "How a Saxophone is made"

Mr. Rogers frequently showed a segment on how things are made.  Several of them stick out in my head, one being the segment on making crayons (they made orange crayons) and the one on making saxophones.  I was fascinated with the shiny keys and gentle curves of the sax, plus the noises it made, enthralled me.

2.  "Put down the Duckie" from Sesame Street

Those of you as old as I am will hopefully remember the cool owl from Sesame Street.  He wasn't on a lot, but when he was, I paid attention.  He played the sax.  Ernie wanted to learn, but couldn't figure out why it was making a funny squeaking sound.  Thankfully, not the same unnerving squeaking that occurs when your reed isn't moist enough or you don't tongue correctly.  (Ugh.  Just writing that made me start licking my lips.  Please don't ever lick a popsicle stick after the popsicle is gone around me.  Just don't.  *shivers*)

3.  Opening credits to The Muppet Show with Zoot

I love Zoot.  In fact, I love all of the Electric Mayhem.  Zoot is my favorite.  I couldn't find the opening credits that showed him at the end giving a final blast on his sax, but I did find this.  You should also look up the video for "Sax and Violence" from The Muppet Show.  So great!

Those three shows influenced me to choose the sax, but playing the sax is a whole 'nother level of falling in love.  I'll never forget junior high, when the sax player next to me, a friend and classmate, taught me how to play the theme from the Pink Panther, the ultimate sax tune when you are a kid.  We would play it A LOT while on breaks between practice.  Everyone that hears this song knows it, or at least recognizes it as a familiar song.

4.  Pink Panther theme

I also LOVED playing in pep band.  I played in pep band for my freshman year in college as well.  It was always so much fun to play the Star Spangled Banner, our fight song(s), and classics such as Johnny B. Goode and Eye of the Tiger.  The one song I didn't like playing as the saxophone?  Pomp and Circumstance.  Ugh.  So. very. booooooooooring.  I'll leave you with a video of some of the best saxophone solos and sax players in contemporary music.  This my friends is why I love the saxophone.


P.S.--Band is seriously SO GREAT for your kiddos.  Not only is it lots of fun, but learning an instrument or learning to read music and just being musical in general is proven to help kids be successful academically.  Band geeks are awesome and you can be a band geek and still play sports.  Trust me, I knew plenty of people that did both, including myself!  There are usually ways to pay a small rental fee for instruments through schools so that you don't have to invest a huge amount right away and I know several music shops around here that will allow you to basically 'rent-to-own' an instrument, but will allow you to return the instrument if your child doesn't love it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday Random 5: Soundtrack of my Life

Hello!  I'm baaaack!  Sorry for the neglect, I have been busy with life and whatnot.  No excuses, I am a lazy, lazy writer sometimes.  However, here's one to get us ALL in the mood to jot down a few sentences!

One of my ol' college pals started up a Facebook post every Tuesday that she named the Tuesday Random 5.  It can be a thematic post, or it can be totally random observations or experiences from the past week.  Eventually, it spread and now there are probably 8-10 of us that post on a weekly basis.  I decided to move it to my blog after one of my friends did the same.  A good way to make an honest effort at writing again.  Please, by all means, join in!!  We would love to have you.

This week's post is taking a lot of thought and planning.  One of the normal Random 5 posters suggested that this week be a "Soundtrack of my life" sort of post.  Therefore, I will try (desperately) to limit this to 5 songs that define my life.  This is going to be difficult.  I am a musical person.  I love music, concerts, playing instruments, singing (off key and rather deficiently), and otherwise moving and grooving to the sound, man.  I sing and dance along to musicals in the kitchen.  I bob my head and play the drums on my steering wheel in the car and I play air guitar when Green Day comes on my mp3 player at work.  I have a soundtrack constantly playing in my head.  In other words, music influences my daily life.

This is why it is agonizing, to say the least, to narrow down my soundtrack to just 5 songs.  Here we go...*eeeeek*

1.  As a child, there were numerous musical influences in my life.  Many memories are punctuated with songs that I will never forget.  My parents had a collection of vinyl records and 8 track tapes that were a mixture of country, rock, and Christmas music, but what I really remember for much of my youth is hearing the oldies.  My parents loved the oldies.  Every family vacation, we would listen to them and my parents even bought one of those Time magazine cassette tape sets of the best of the oldies.  We love them still.  One in particular that I pick out again and again is "The Wanderer" by Dion.  He's also the singer behind "Runaround Sue", another of my all-time favorites.  Here's proof that even as a child, I loved the rebel.

2.  My tween years were devoted to Poison and hair bands in general, because, the 80s happened people!  However, I wouldn't say any of those songs defined my life.  Then came college and in 1996, my friend Ryan introduced me to my first taste of alternative rock, a genre that I still listen to more than any other.  This type of music was a little beyond my small town country upbringing.  We didn't even get a radio station that played this music.  My friends, "The Distance" by Cake

3.  One of the happiest moments of my life, dancing to this song with my new husband.

"Could I have this Dance" by Anne Murray  Cliche'?  Perhaps.  Still love it, though.

4.  I love musicals.  They are my jam(s).  Rent, Les Miserables, West Side Story.  I cannot get enough.  It's hard to pick one that really defines me, but I have to say that for a long time, I felt a kinship with Eponine from Les Miserables.  I've had those relationships of longing and it can be nearly soul destroying.  The song "On my Own" is so poignant and beautiful and when Lea Salonga sings it, I am practically in tears.

5.  Oh no, I'm already to my last pick!  How is that possible?  No room for The White Stripes' "Icky Thump", "Grapevine Fire" by Death Cab for Cutie, or Mumford and Sons' "The Cave".  I didn't even mention my devotion to the greatest rock era that includes Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Queen!  I didn't talk about my love for old country, mainly Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues", "Lady" by Kenny Rogers, and Eddie Rabbitt's "I love a Rainy Night", nor did I dissect for you my love of one of those songs that no one's heard of, like The Killers' "Jenny was a friend of mine".  ARGH!  It's okay, it's okay, it's okay....*breathing*  No, really.  It's okay, because my last pick is great.  You'll love it.  If you've never heard it, click play and enjoy.  It's one of those songs that I barely knew existed when I was younger.  It would pop up on my mp3 player and one day, I really noticed it, ya' know?  It tripped me up.  A defining sound of a generation, The Beatles played good music.  They occupy 23 spots on the Rolling Stone's Top 500 songs of All Time for a reason.  My favorite though, is Eleanor Rigby.  Sad, soulful, masterful.

Good news!  Upon researching, reviewing, and singing along to a myriad of songs today, I already have a great theme in mind for next week!  Can't wait to see you then!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Essence of Faith

This is what we are called for:

"Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,but do it with gentleness and reverence,keeping your conscience clear"

This is from 1 Peter, Chapter 3, Verses 15-16 and really spoke to me today. What is the reason for our hope? The cross.
A shot inside my father-in-law's barn
I am not trying to proselytize, but I hope this story touches hearts. As most of you know, we lost my father-in-law this last Sunday. We said our last goodbyes to his earthly self on Wednesday. Grief is overwhelming and yes, religion, and my belief in Christ, is certainly a great and powerful tool to cope with this loss. However, it is more than that. Rick was able to bring some tools home with him that had belonged to his father. One of these things was a scroll saw. Last night I volunteered at our church's annual Summerfest and walked by a room a man and woman were working in. I entered and asked them what this room was for and the woman replied that it was for the book sale, but they were wrapping things up. She pointed to a pile of boxes and said that everything was now free and I was welcome to look through the boxes and pick out what I wanted. The very first thing I saw, laying on top of a stack of boxes, was a book entitled 300 Christian & Inspirational Patterns for Scroll Saw woodworking. Now, some of you may poo-poo this as just wishful thinking or dumb luck, but I just can't believe there would be that many books related to this subject matter at a church bazaar. To me, this was a sign from Ernie, letting us know that he was alright and our faith was real. It was done in his own Ernie way, unobtrusive and poignantly specific. I immediately grabbed it up and brought it home for Rick. I hope that each of you today will be attentive and look for these signs. I wasn't even asking for anything and it was still given to me.

Mark 13: 32-33 "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come."

Monday, May 19, 2014

Measure of a Man

Lying beside my husband, I traced his brow bone with my index finger and played with the three little white beard hairs that all grew beside one another on his chin.  His handsome face was relaxed and he was sleeping soundly, heart beating steadily.  No worry lines showed and his beautiful brown eyes were now closed to the haunting grief that had flooded him last night.

We had just gotten home from dropping my stepdaughter off at her mother's house, about 30 miles away.  We dropped her off on our way home from Kansas City, where we attended a friend's baptism for her infant daughter and her spouse.  Rick went inside with my stepson and I stayed outside chatting with the neighbor.  Pretty soon, Rick came outside, talking on the phone and furiously waved at me to come back over.  My heart sunk, as my sandals furiously weaved through the neighbor's hostas and I was haphazardly babbling, "Sorry, sorry, sorry" for trampling through their landscaping. 

I knew the instant he waved that it was his Dad.  As we were driving home that evening, we were just outside of the town where my stepdaughter lived with her mother, and I had this feeling of dread.  I thought then that Ernie was going to die very soon and how would Rick and the kids react.  I shook it off as just my anxiety playing mind games.  Less than an hour later, we received the news.

Grief poured out of my husband's eyes and sobs wracked his wide shoulders, as he tried to process the information.  The anguish was elemental and, like water, ebbed and flowed through him.  At times he would sit and contemplate, quietly reflecting on his father.  The next minute he would rasp, "I miss him so much" and the tears would frantically chase each other down his cheeks to crash at his feet. 

Rick expressed regret over the times in his life that he didn't appreciate his father as much as he could have.  He bemoaned the fact that he couldn't make it all up to him the way he felt he should have.  Rick was eternally grateful that we were all able to see him one last time, a few weeks before.  My husband was utterly devastated, his spirit crushed.  He would talk about his Dad, the steady and stable, unshakeable rock.  A man who, in his prime, could bring a high school football player to his knees, just by placing a giant hand on their shoulders.  He could outrun his kids well into his forties.  He sent his teenage son, kicked out by his unbalanced mother in high school, what he could, even though he was barely able to do so. 

That's the moment that my husband said he truly understood that his Dad loved him unconditionally.  His father welcomed him home with open arms, when Rick wasn't able to sustain himself on his own, once passing out from malnutrition in high school, because he didn't make enough working nights to pay for his rent AND food.  His Dad, afraid Rick would leave again, allowed his son liberties he probably wouldn't have under normal circumstances.  Rick would bemusedly consider the times that he was out far later than a high school kid should have been, drinking and carrying on, crawling into bed at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning, only to have his father bellow downstairs for the boys to get ready for church. 

His father was a big, burly man, who in his declining health, started gaining a lot of weight in his belly and had to rely heavily on oxygen forced into his nostrils, to keep him from passing out.  The last time we saw him, he asked Rick to take a look at the mower out in the barn and Ernie accompanied his son in the truck.  Rick recalled this torturously last evening.  He said that he knew his Dad didn't care about the mower, but only wanted to go out to the barn one last time.  As we were getting ready to head out, Ernie asked his granddaughter, my stepdaughter, to help him up.  She assisted him, arm locked with his, to his recliner, and helped get him settled.  After some long, lingering hugs, we finally left.

So it is today, that my husband opened his eyes, pulled me close into the crook of his arm, and sighed heavily.  Today begins the heavy task of preparing to say goodbye to this man, this unshakeable rock, that we all clung to like moss.  My husband got out of bed, scrubbed his tear-stained face, and ran his hands through his shaggy hair.  He grabbed his one good suit to take to the cleaners and left to get a haircut.  The deep brown sodden eyes gave me a lingering, woeful look, and took a breath.  There were tasks to be completed.  This steady man, so much like his father, will have several more devastating days ahead.  Last night, in reflection, when he felt miserable and completely swathed in grief and loneliness, my husband said something both utterly soulful and completely heartbreaking.  His rejoinder to me stating the timeless platitudes of loss, saying once again that Ernie was in a better place and at peace, was to state that he knew he would be a great man if he could leave half the legacy that his father Ernie had left on this earth.  What he doesn't realize is that he's already well on his way.

Monday, January 13, 2014

New Book Review

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I honestly don't know what to say about this novel. I feel like there were a lot of reasons for me to love this novel. There was an array of strong characters, a lovely European location (for half of the book), and a story that spanned half a century. 

However, it just didn't all work for me. I really liked the simplicity and beauty of the relationship between Pasquale and Dee Moray. A man who feels he must be honorable and "save" this damsel in distress, whom he also happens to become enamored of at first sight. A woman who loved a man who she would never have (Richard Burton) and recognizing the choice she needed to make to respect herself, all while becoming emotionally vulnerable with Pasquale and somewhat attached. The man recognizing himself that to be truly honorable to this woman, he needed to face the dishonor in his own life. 

However, I felt like the intervention of the movie business into the novel was contrived and really made the novel end in a tailspin. I didn't like the jumps in years (decades) between chapters as it felt very disjointed to me, and I didn't like that he had to use Richard Burton and Liz Taylor to make the story more "interesting". 

I really felt that if he had invested in the central characters in Italy: Pasquale, Dee, Alvis Bender, and Amedea, that there would have been a much better story there. The same themes could have been explored within that story. 

The central theme is great and I feel like the "honor" of the one story could have been beautifully handled, with the same outcome, without having to integrate a horrible, self-serving Hollywood producer, Michael Deane, and the terrible character of Shane Wheeler, who was literally just a translator. I actually agree with Shane's ex-wife Saundra when she calls him milk-fed veal. He's just so simpering and self-serving and just like Michael Deane, but supposedly having "learned his lesson" about being that way. Claire Silver, her boyfriend Darryl, and even Pat Bender and Lydia, were just there to provide a couple more subplots (not great ones either) and why, oh why was the Donner party even mentioned in this book? Ugh.

Finally, I couldn't stand the last chapter of this book. The last page was okay, but all of the "up-to-dates" of everybody's lives was just someone trying to tie up the loose ends quickly. It felt sloppy to me.

In the interest of not giving this a completely scathing review, the only other plus in this novel was the relationship of Pat and Lydia. I think I would be bored if I just read a cliche novel about these two and overcoming hardship and blah, blah, blah, but I really feel like this was the only other relationship that was real in this book and I wish it would have been left for another novel, instead of trying to shove them in, just so you can continue referencing Richard Burton for another 10 chapters. 

There, that's it. I'm sorry that I didn't like it. I really wanted to and I really tried. I liked a part of it, but that little piece just wasn't big enough for me. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

And so...

And so it goes that I am 36 years old and seeking therapy for the first time in my life.  I have come to the realization lately that I cannot, in fact, do it all on my own.

I cannot always pull myself up out of the rabbit hole of disturbing and frightening thoughts and I cannot always rely on others to pull me out either.  I have had dreadful thoughts lately.  Thoughts that I can barely reveal to myself , let alone to my spouse, my children, my family.  Thoughts of darkness and death.  Dying and what really happens at the end.  I am Catholic and I totally believe in heaven and purgatory, but this transition terrifies me.  Will it hurt?  How painful will it be?  Will I even know the difference since I don't remember the nonexistence that was there before my existence?  I start down that rabbit hole and go all the way down, to the wretched bottom, gasping for air and becoming hyper-conscious of my heart and how it beats and oh my goodness, is it starting to go faster?  Is it skipping beats?  Oh no, maybe this is it!

I actually had these thoughts on New Year's Eve.  As the clock ticked down to midnight and the New Year, I honestly questioned whether I would just die right there on the spot.  I try to assuage this fears by remembering that while I was under anesthesia for my stereotaxis ablation (for my atrial fibrillation) that apparently my heart stopped and I didn't remember a thing, nor did I feel a thing.  However, that's not enough.  I obsess over these feelings.  Even now, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to write this piece without starting the spiral.

Apparently, the spiral is the commonality.  The commonality that links all those like me who suffer from acute anxiety and panic attacks.  Something I had never experienced until the night before Thanksgiving.  Something I couldn't even identify as that at the time.  I have sought (almost wrote seeked, for shame English major!) out mentors and people that listen well.  I have talked over and over with my spouse.  One of them is in my husband's RCIA class (he's converting to Catholicism after 9 years of marriage).  She is a team leader and she has helped talk me off the ledge, when I was starting to spiral and I had tears in my eyes and thought I was going crazy.  She reminded me that Jesus is there in every moment.  My guardian angel is there.  To seek them, turn to them, instead of wrapping myself up in the fear.  It helps.  Praying the rosary on the way to work each morning helps.

 Trying to give myself up to the Lord is difficult and frightening.  I've never been great at praying.  Brief moments of lifting thoughts up to God constitute the majority of my prayers.  Even then as I am praying I can feel myself focusing too much on my fear.

I've taken up meditation.  I try to meditate 15 minutes a day, during my morning break at work.  I currently switch between one of 3 mantras.  "Inhale Peace, Exhale Love", "Christ is my Center", and "Ever Faithful, Ever Loving".  Meditation does help, but sometimes even that isn't enough.

So, I broke down.  I did something that I have never done before.  I hadn't done it, because I grew up thinking that I would be weak for reaching out.  I would be looked at as even more nuts than most people probably already think that I am.  I talked with my PCP about it and she prescribed anxiety medication.  She also recommended several different therapists to try.  She explained that anxiety, like cancer, can go into remission and that therapy and medication can help abate the fear and give back control.

I am ready to fight this thing. I am ready to spend more time with my husband and my kids and enjoy the day.  I am ready to not want to curl up in a ball and sit all day long.  I am ready to let these avenues of support open up and help swallow that fear whole, after being flooded with positive light and faith.

God of mercy, God of eternal love, 
Help me to raise my cries to you.  Help me to seek you in desperation and pain, in joy and solace.  
The leper's faith was enough for him to be healed.  Let me also seek that healing in my heart, so that I can give more of myself to you. 
 Mary, help me to emulate your beautiful example of obedience in doing God's will and not my own.  
Lord, grant all my friends and family grace and blessings and thank you for the blessings in my life.  

Tonight, in the shower, I sat on the floor of my narrow tub, letting the hot water pelt the end of my nose and my eyelashes and flow over my lap and legs and feet.  As the water pelted me I asked myself what I wanted from this moment, this day, this life.  As the water washed away the fear trying to set up camp in my gut, I felt strong, because I knew what I wanted.  I wanted to choose joy and not fear.

I hope all of you understand that reaching out for help is not a bad thing.  It isn't taboo.  We all need help.  We all need support.  Please, if you have anxiety issues or feel depressed, see you doctor and ask for recommendations for a licensed clinical social worker or other therapist to speak with regularly.  You are NOT alone.