Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: The Most Unexpected

At the close of 2013 I wrote how it was the hardest year and yet the best year. 

When I wrote those words, I had no idea what was around the bend.  I had no idea that I would be called in for more interviews.  That I would get the job offer and that in a few short months my world would be turned upside down.

When I went back and read over my last post in 2013, I somehow get the feeling that I knew 2014 was going to be great.  Or maybe I was just hoping desperately that 2014 would be better because if it was anything like 2013 I wasn't sure if I could handle it.  

It turns out 2013 was so rough because God was pruning me for the future.  It's like that sometimes, isn't it?  We don't realize that the hard times are just God cutting things away so when we need to blossom, we can blossom to our full potential.  The hard times just feel...well...hard. 

I honestly don't know how to put it into words when I look back over 2014.  How do you appropriately write how amazing life has been and all the wonderful gifts God has given?

He provided me with an incredible job.  A job where I can grow into the person He meant for me to be.  I've only been there for 8 months, but I already have become a much, much stronger person.  I have incredible managers and leaders and am so very excited for the next year(s) to see where this path takes me!

I was able to buy a home in Ellington.  This is a miracle in itself.  After I sold my home in Ohio, I wasn't sure when I would be able to purchase a home again.  But because of some wonderful people giving me opportunities I was able to buy a house.  My brothers and sisters in Christ jumped in and remodeled the house into a gorgeous home for my children and I.  I hadn't realized my kids were desperately wanting a place that they could call their own and the stability it would bring. 

The kids have settled into life in Connecticut easily.  It wasn't without its rough times, tears, and moments where I wanted to give up.  But time has a way of working things out.  The kids have found the places where they fit in and are doing wonderfully.  Riley had the hardest time (isn't being 12 difficult in the best of circumstances?)  but recently he said "Mom, when we were in Ohio over Thanksgiving, by the end of the week, I was ready to come home." 

*****
Another miracle is that I was able to purchase us a new to us car.  Jack the Jetta was tired from all the miles I made her go.  Two family friend mechanics told me this summer that I needed to get rid of her or at least not drive her between Ohio and Connecticut.  That was 2 trips ago.

I had been looking into types/costs of vehicles since June and I knew what I wanted.  After Jack making an awful racket and her gauges and dash board lights going crazy while driving through Pennsylvania, I decided I should do a bit more than just browse vehicles online. 

I was just going to test drive a few cars, narrow it down, and then buy something in the spring.  But God had something for me sooner.  I found a car online at a local dealership, went in to test drive it but they had already sold it.  So I drove another one. 

I loved it.

I called a few people to give me 'wise counsel' on cars and they both said "GO FOR IT!"

The next day (Saturday) I told the dealership I would be back in Monday morning to drive it again and crunch numbers.   I went back in Monday but they had sold it Saturday night...BUT the original one I wanted was back.  The person purchasing it couldn't get her financing so the car was back on the lot. 

I drove it for an hour or so and after a few hours of negotiating, we made a deal and I drove back to moms with my new to me car! 

I feel guilty for having it.  Kept thinking that I could've pushed Jack a little further, but the Jetta wasn't safe anymore and Riley had to sit sideways in the back seat to fit.  I just feel guilty having something nice when so many have nothing. 

I'm excited to have a car that is safe and  also has enough seating to take extra friends with us if we need.

****
2013 I was pruned...cut back.

2014 I was given much. 

Looking back over both years, I am thankful for it all.  I'm thankful for the hard times because it makes the good times that much better.  Without our valleys of life to look down on, sitting on the mountain top wouldn't be as sweet.

I'm not sure what is around the corner.  But I'm not concerned.  I've been through hard times and have learned to appreciate those times. 

Life is certainly not perfect, but it is most certainly good.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Pause That Refreshes

Tonight on the way home from Parent-Teacher Conferences I breathed a happy sigh. 

Things are good.  At this moment, things are good.

I've lived enough life and had enough experiences to know that these good moments will only be there for a moment.  So breathe them in while you can, because they won't last long.

I was a bit nervous before the conferences.  I always feel like these meetings are opportunities for teachers to tell you how you are failing as a parent.  Ridiculous, I know.  But that's how I feel. 

I had never been to a conference at this school yet and wasn't sure what to expect.  I assumed each teacher would tell me all the assignments my kids were missing, how their reading log isn't always signed, and how I needed to be more active in their education. 

See, the kids come home from school everyday and do their work.  I occasionally check it and sign the necessary reading logs, etc.  But other than that...they are on their own.  No micro-managing parenting going on here.  I simply don't have the time and I need my kids to take ownership of their work.  Its just what we do for us to survive. 

Instead of hearing that things were in a disasterous mess, I heard nothing but good.  All the kids are on target for their grade and in some instances, the kids were ahead. 

Riley's teacher said he was respected and trusted by his classmates...that they look to him as a leader.  He said that typically new kids come in nervous and scared and expected the same of Riley.  He said he was surprised that on the first day he walked in with confidence and seems content to be who he is. 

Rhianna's teacher said she was a model student, active in the classroom both socially and academically.  Truly a great kid to have in class and adjusting well.

Reagan's teacher said he was a hard worker and can focus on his work.  She said he will sometimes be the 'funny man' but while most kids are obnoxious when they do this, he isn't.  That he is polite and respectful. 

I'm not writing this to brag about them, but to show myself how well they are adjusting.  How they are finding their place in their new school and have the respect of the teachers and fellow students. 

And that felt good.

As I drove out of the school parking lot, I took a breath.  I was going to enjoy that moment in time.  I know that good things won't last forever and we will soon be faced with more challenges.  And I can accept that.  We've conquered a lot and we will be required to conquer even more. 

But for now?  For now I'm going to savor this. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

His Visit

I'm writing this for myself.

So I don't forget this. 
***
Tuesday morning I woke up to the sound of my alarm. 

I stumbled across my bedroom to shut off the noise.

For a split moment, I had an excitement in my chest. 

My dad was coming to visit.

Then I realized.

It was just a dream.

A dream that had taken me to Illinois to a friends wedding.  A place where I saw Riley in the crowd and he told me Grandpa Dale brought him.

I asked where he was (in the dream it wasn't weird that my dad brought Riley to this place) and that I wanted to see him.

Because I missed him.

As I searched the crowd, the familiar ache was there. 

The lonely ache that has taken up constant residence.

A thought passed through my mind.

I only missed him because I had moved.

He lived in Ohio, I lived in Connecticut.

No wonder I missed him.

And all he had to do was come visit and I wouldn't miss him anymore.

I could show him where I live.

I could show him where I work.

And maybe that would make him proud.

I couldn't wait to find him and tell him the news.

All he had to do was visit.

My eyes scanned the crowd for his familiar face.

I couldn't wait to find him.

I knew he would hug me.

And I am so lonesome for that hug.

Then the noise came.

And I woke up.

I jumped out of bed.

Excited that I could call him.

And invite him.

Then a millisecond went by.

And I remembered.

I don't miss him because I moved.

I miss him.  Because he's not hear anymore.

It smacked me in the face like a cement wall.

A reality I didn't want to face.

I wanted to run back to bed.

Crawl under the sheets.

And race back to that dream.

I wanted to see him.

Wanted to talk to him.

Wanted one more hug from him.

But I couldn't.

I had an early meeting.

I knew I wasn't in the state of mind to get there in person.

Thankful for technology that I could call in.

Be present, without being present.

***

Last night I dreamt again.

I had a dream he came to visit.

I showed him my house.

I showed him where I work.

And he said he was proud.

But I didn't get a hug.

That bear hug I so desperately need, but know is impossible to get.

***

I don't know where these dreams came from.

The only thing I can tie them to is Riley's birthday. 

The day he was born was hard, yet healing.  And each year it brings back a flood of memories.

It was hard because he was my dad's first grandchild.  A grandchild I know he would have adored.

Healing because that moment Riley was laid on my chest, I knew he would be like my dad and me...and would fill part of my heart that had been ripped apart. 

Maybe God let me have a visit from my dad.

I don't know why or what has set it off.

While it is hard to wake up in the morning...

it is impossible to describe  amazing to have these visits at night with my dad.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Just call me Grandpa

Reagan has a sweet little friend from church.  He spends quite a bit of time with him; at church and otherwise.

This sweet little, freckle faced, boy has a grandpa.

This grandpa came to me one Sunday and said "I just love your family"  He told me how he told Reagan that he could call him Grandpa.

Last night I asked Reagan about it.

He said "It made me grow another thing out of my heart.

Not sure what that meant, I asked him to explain.

He said: 

"You know how your heart isn't really shaped like a heart? 
But it has those things coming out of it?
Those things grow when something or
someone makes you feel loved. 
Having him tell me that I could call him Grandpa made one of those things grow."



Sunday, September 28, 2014

And then she turned ten

My little girlie turned 10 last week.

Where did that decade go?

We did the traditional 'balloons all over her bed while we sang to her' again, only this year she was awake and we made her lay back down and pretend to sleep so we could wake her up with the SURPRISE of balloons on her bed. 

She giggled and obliged.




 
We had friends over for dinner the Sunday night before her special day.  A couple families with girls close to her age and a two couples who have taken us in as their own.  We ate pizza and chicken and we were visiting when one of the men said "Let's finish up so we can leave the table." 

I thought it was a bit odd, typically we will visit a bit after we finish eating, but I shrugged it off and thought nothing of it. 

After we said our finish up prayer, he hands Rhianna a card.  The front said "HAPPY BIRTHDAY RHIANNA" and inside was a note.  It said they knew she liked trivia and for her birthday, they were giving her a few trivia questions. 

The answer to all the questions was the same thing...and their was a flap at the bottom of the card that when she opened it up, read 'Go look in Joe's truck for your gift'.

The answer to all the questions was 'a bike' but I was thinking "there is no way they went together and got her a bike" (something she had been wanting very badly).  We walked outside and opened the back of the truck and sure enough there was a brand new 18 speed bike. 

It takes a lot to make me cry, but right then I had tears.   She has ridden her bike almost every single night since then.

What she asked me for her birthday speaks volumes of her character.  She asked for a day out with me.  She didn't want anything else, just some one on one time.  (Which made me feel guilty thinking I wasn't giving her enough one on one time).

I knew she just meant, spend part of the day somewhere fun, but I wanted to plan something more.  I had been to Newport, RI the summer before and toured the mansions and thought she might like it.

We left early morning on Saturday with plans to spend most of the day in Newport.  She had seen a few photos, but I knew she had no idea of how amazing this place is.

It is a bit over a 2 hour drive and we chatted the whole way.  She became more and more excited as we drove closer.  I wish I could have taken a picture of her face when we finally climbed up the huge bridge that crosses into Newport.  You look over parts of the Atlantic and the harbor is filled with sailboats.  I can't think of a more beautiful place on earth. 

We found a little cafe to eat a quick lunch at before heading to the mansions.

We found a fun surprise at the table. Something that reminded us of Ohio.

SMUCKERS JELLY.

We took a picture and texted it to Aunt Kate!






 
 
The first mansion we went to was The Breakers.  It was the summer home of the Vanderbilts.  I couldn't take any inside pictures, but keep in mind that these homes were only used for 8-10 weeks out of the year. 
 
It reminded me of the mansion in The Sound of Music.  So amazingly grand and surreal.  I had to keep reminding myself that people actually lived here.
 




 


 

This porch was on the second story of the house....right off the hallway from the bedrooms.
Imagine waking up to this view every morning.
I could get used to that!




I let her find a little trinket in the gift shop. 
She picked out a Japanese fan that the Vanderbilt girls
would have used at a dance on a hot Saturday night.




 We had to rely on selfies to get pictures of us together.
We had fun getting some pics on the porch.

They had a play 'house' out in the yard where the children would
have played in.  This house is bigger than some of the
apartments I have lived in!
 
Next house we toured was 'The Elms'. 


 
 
 
We did the servant life tour at this house and got to go upstairs to the third floor and see where the servants lived and learned more about them.  If you ever make it to Newport, this tour is a must!!
We went out onto the roof top to see where the servants might slip out onto to grab fresh air or catch a break.  We could see to the harbor and it was a gorgeous view!
 



 
 
When we first arrived at this house, we both had to use the bathroom.  They hadn't changed much in it (except to make it more of a public place) so it still had the grand marble walls. 
 
I couldn't help but take some selfies in the mirror to send back home to a few friends of mine because of a long time ago joke.  How could I not?  When would the next time I be in a multi-million dollar home and use the restroom? hah
 




 
We were getting tired after the tours at The Elms and was ready to get home.  We were taking a few more selfies in the circular drive that is canopied by wistera when a French gentleman asked if he could take the picture for us.
 
We happily obliged.
 


 



 
To get to our car parked in the side lot, we had to walk through the back yard. 
 
Oh what a view. 
 



Showing off her birthday present!
 
My absolute favorite is the video I took of her.  I asked her to tell me about her day.  She said this:
 
"My name is Rhianna and I am ten.  This (geturing with her hand) is my birthday present."
 
I decided at that moment to stop the video.  
 
It was too cute. 
 
She may have only gotten a few trinkets from me this year.  But I hope that what she got what much more.  I hope she remembers our day for the rest of her life. 
 
I know I will and I can't wait for more days like this. 
 
I've had this little girlie in my life for ten years. 
 
It has been nothing but pure joy to be called her mother. 
 



Friday, September 19, 2014

Zucchini 500

Ellington has a farmer's market every Saturday at the park in the center of town. 

Each week they have a fun activity planned for the kids. 

A few  weeks ago Rhianna was there and came home and said that she wanted to sign up for the Zucchini 500. 

She needed to build a car out of a zucchini to race.

I sighed.

My kids have big imaginations and think of no limitations to reality.

I had no idea how to build a car (I'm not the most mechanically minded individual) let alone have the time to build it.

But, Rhianna had her heart set on it and I was going to give it my best shot.

Friday night rolls around.  (I admit.  I procrasitnated.)  And we start building this thing around 10pm.

I had been told by someone who saw this race last year, that the wheels don't have to be vegetables.  Just the body of the car must be a zucchini.

Rhianna told me that she knew there was no way she would win the fastest.  (She knows me and my building skills all too well) so she was going to go for 'Most Healthiest'.  And try to get the most variety of fruits and veggies as part of her car.

We had the design finished and I was working on finding something for wheels.  I tore apart one of Reagan's cars, hoping to use the axel.

It wouldn't work.

Next, I tried unscrewing the wheels off his Tonka truck, thinking a monster truck zucchini car would be fun.

It wouldn't work.

At this point (11pm) I was almost in tears.  I felt like a failure..imagining all the other kids probably spent hours on this with their dads and would make our car look pathetic.  I knew I was, once again, going to let my child down.  I figured her car would fall apart (if I could even find wheels to make it roll) or it would be tacky or whatever. 

All I knew is that I dreaded the next day. 

While I was sitting there beating myself up, a thought came to mind.  (I still cannot think what made me think of it).  I remembered that she had a plastic scooter for her dolls. 

I ran in the bedroom and dug it out of the storage bin.  I unscrewed the top part and set the zucchini on the base of the scooter. 

It fit perfectly.

I tied the back part of the veggie with a multi-colored piece of yarn and the front was attached by a rubber band. 

Stop laughing. 

It was pushing midnight at this point and I was done for the day.

The next morning we pulled in to the market and I had that sick feeling of dread.  I figured all the other cars would look wonderfully put together and here was ours, stuck to plastic wheels with yarn and decorated with all kinds of fruits and veggies.   I was waiting for the moment when she would realize that hers looked worse than all the others simple because her mom just doesn't have time.

To my delight, as we walked closer, I noticed that all the cars looked pretty much the same.  They were cars made out of a zucchini, after all.





The time for the race came closer and my little girlie was getting really nervous.

video

She paced until it was time for the race. 

They had it set up where two cars would race...the winner going to the winners bracket and the loser going to the losers bracket. 

Rhianna and Auntie Tricia
(Excuse the thumb)
We were SO excited Auntie T was here to watch Rhianna race.

Once they had the winner from the winners bracket, the winner from the losers bracket would come back to race the winner from the winners bracket and race it.  If the winner from the loser bracket won; they would race one more time to beat the winner of the winners bracket to go on to win first place.  (Are you confused yet?)

I hoped Rhianna's car would make it down in one piece, once. 

All I wanted was for her to walk away feeling proud that she did her best, but not feeling like a failure. 

First race?

video
Believe it or not...

She won.  She smoked them.

I'm not sure what emotion was stronger...excitement or shock that we actually won one race.

As the races continued, I realized she actually had a shot at winning the entire shebang.

There was one other zucchini that looked slightly faster than hers...it was roped onto a firetruck and was speedy as it beat every other car.

The time came for Rhianna to race it.  The first half of the track she was smoking it and then it happened...

her car veered to the right and slightly rubbed against the wooden track snapping her rubberband.  The car careened out of control and rolled to the end. 

She lost the race.

Oddly enough, I was devastated.  I was sure she was going to win; and upset at my flawed design.

A man from the crowd came up to us and said "I have zip ties in my bag...here fix the car so she can race again."

My first thought was "Who carries zip ties to a farmer's market?" but shrugged it off and accepted the kind offer.

We fixed up her car and she was good to go.

She made it through the losers bracket to come back to be the winner of the losers bracket.

The time came for the first place race.

It was her versus Mr. Firetruck Zucchini. 

The only car she had lost to.

There was a large crowd gathered around at this point.  Quite a few people in the crowd were from church (many came over while shopping at the market because they heard Rhianna's name announced).  It was so wonderful to see so many people supporting her...not because they wanted her to win necessarily, but because they love her and want good things for her.

She put her car up at the top of the race track next to Mr. Firetruck Zucchini.

The race master lifted the wooden bar and off they went.

AND SHE WON.

I was shaking uncontrollably.

I know.

Ridiculous.

But I had always failed my children in the past when it came to building things...and finally...for once their car was winning.

The kids grabbed their cars and ran to the top of the track.

The winner of this race would be the First Place Winner of the annual Zucchini 500.

The block went up and....

video







SHE WON.

SHE ACTUALLY WON.

That shrill scream you heard at the end of the video??  That was her, so excited she won.

After the race, the second place winner came up to her and shook her hand.

video


I was hugging her, almost jumping up and down.  She was excited she won.

I was excited I hadn't failed her (once again) because I couldn't build things.

I looked up and saw a photographer taking our picture.  The idea of us being on the Ellington Gazette (or whatever it is called) with me hugging her jumping up and down horrified me.  I wanted to tell them why I was so excited. haha.

(Note:  The picture was not printed...at least to my knowledge it wasn't.  Thank goodness.)

I saw the zip tie man still standing in the crowd and I wanted to thank him once again.

I went over to him and said: "You have no idea what you helping fix her car means to her.  I'm a single mom...always failing when it comes to building things like this.  Thank you for saving the day for her."

His response made me stutter...

"It was my son she beat out."

Uh. um.  What do you say to that?

He continued on so graciously...he said "I'm glad she won.  She deserved it.  My son, he always wins, and needs to lose occasionally. "

It wasn't a big deal...it was only a Zucchini 500...but it was a heartwarming story to me.  That there are still a lot of really good people out there. 

She won a gift certificate to the market and a huge bag of kettle corn. 

Now she has a reputation to uphold.

Next Saturday, the 27th, there is a Summer Harvest Drag Race.

And you can bet she is entering a pumpkin car!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Ms. Williams, my thoughts exactly"

If you have been anywhere any type of news lately, you will have heard that Robin Williams died this week.

I know there have been a million and a half blog posts written about their view on it, their view on him, their view on suicide. 

I'm sick of it. 

I'm sick of it in my face.  I'm sick of hearing people's stupid and ignorant opinions of something they know nothing about.

This won't be one of those blog posts.

I didn't know him (obviously) and therefore shouldn't be feeling as melancholy as I have.

I know this.

But I can't help it. 

News like this makes me sad.  News like this affects me.  News like this brings back a flooding of memories I don't want to relive.

In the first moment of hearing he comitted suicide, I had that pit in my stomach, sick, black inky feeling that comes when I hear that ugly word spoken.

Part of me is sad for me.  For my generation.   Growing up in the 90's, he was a major film star with many roles that impacted our culture and will forever be etched in our memories.  He made us laugh and sometimes, even cry.  In each of his films, you could sense that he had a deep soul, some depth to his thoughts, his emotions, and what drove his ability to make others laugh with such feeling.

I feel things big.   When I laugh. I laugh.  But when I'm sad.  I'm sad.  There is no happy medium.

 Most days I'm thankful I feel big, but there are times that I hate it.

 I hate that painful news is like being stabbed in the gut and there is no escape. Even if that painful news isn't yours to hear.  I hate that hearing of someone else's pain, hurts me, and only because I'm frustrated I can't soften their pain.   I hate that hearing bad news that reminds me of my own heartache will affect me for days, and the only escape is time. 

And tears.

Which is slightly ridiculous....crying over Robin Williams. 

In a way, the thought of Robin Williams not being here to make us laugh, does hurt my heart. 

But what really hurts are the reminders.  The knowing how his family feels.  The questions they are asking.   The anger, the sorrow, the questions, the pain.

it just plain hurts.

I came across online a letter that was written by his daughter (or so it says she wrote it) and I was in awe that she wrote the words that I have been trying to form for years.

"While I'll never, ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay..." 
 
This is one question I ask repeatedly.  How could he (my dad) know that I loved him so deeply, but not find it in his heart to stay...
 
It is a question that there is no answer to.  People can give pathetic attempts to answer it...with the concept that it will bring me comfort.  But reality is, there is no answer.  Or only one possible answer.  But that is too painful to let the thought pass through my mind.  So I stop it from crossing over my thoughts.
 
I am slowly healing, I laugh more than I cry,  but  most likely I won't ever complety heal.  Some days I think I've moved on.  Doing great, the stabbing pain has lessened. 

Then I am reminded.
 
And find myself with tears silently and ridiculously streaming down my face while riding the bus into work after hearing about Robin.  
 
I love how she closes her letter:
 
"Dad was, is and always will be one of the kindest, most generous, gentlest souls I've ever known, and while there are few things I know for certain right now, one of them is that not just my world, but the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence.  We'll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again."
 
I can't say that the entire world is a little darker because of my dad's death.  I can only say that my world is definitely darker because of my dad's death. 

"Ms. Williams, my thoughts exactly"