Friday, April 26, 2013

Small Business Spotlight - Introducing "Your Errand Angel"

Hi friends!

It's Small Business Spotlight Friday! Jenn and I would like to introduce you to

Jodi Miller, founder of Your Errand Angel.

Jodi has lived here in Ladera Ranch for eleven years. She is a single mom raising two daughters. She realized when talking to other parents, everyone had a similar complaint, that there was never enough time during the day to get everything done! A friend mentioned that she felt she needed another pair of hands to finish her to-do list and Your Errand Angel was born!

Your Errand Angel offers personal (i.e.,grocery shopping and dry cleaning) and business (i.e.,courier) errand services, pet services (sitting and walking), and party planning! Helping new mom's to get the things they need without ever leaving their home and running errands for those that can't leave their house are some of her specialties!

We are giving away 2 hours of FREE errand services to a lucky reader! You can use them for yourself or give them to a friend in need! To enter, like this post on our Facebook page. If you want to double your chances of winning, leave a comment below!

Visit Your Errand Angel's website to find out about all her incredible services, rates and availability and set up an appointment! Help support our local Ladera businesses! We will be spotlighting a local Ladera business once a month! If you'd like to be considered and featured on a future Friday, please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Garden of Love

Our anniversary is coming up and I can't believe how many years it's been! Seventeen!?!? How does that happen? The years that separate today from my blissful wedding day have flown by, like the rice propelled at us as we sped off to our honeymoon. I don't feel that much older, but I do feel wiser.

Michael and I got engaged on my twenty-second birthday, seven very romantic months after we met. We were married before I turned twenty-three. We didn't really know much about being married, none of our close friends had done it yet, so we were the guinea pigs.

We lived in Laguna Beach. He was getting his Masters. We were both working hard and playing hard too. At the same time, we were still getting to know each other. It became clear, very quickly, that I wasn't very good at the domestic arts. As much as I loved playing house as a child, I didn't love the cleaning and the cooking and the laundry, FOR TWO, of married life. It was a hard transition from college-student-who-takes-care-of-herself-on-her-parents'-dime to married-working-person-with-to-do-lists-and-LAUNDRY. I'm better at it now, with lots of practice, but I can't say I always love it. But I'll save that for another day. Carpe Kairos, right Monkees? (Check out Momastery for more on Carpe Kairos.)

Michael learned very quickly that it was hard to share his space with a woman who didn't love cleaning that space, often including a closet crowded with clothes strewn about in an order that he didn't understand. He had to pick up the slack where I left off, like laundry. I sucked at laundry and he happened to be very skilled in that department. But over time, it worked. We worked hard to find a balance that was fair for both of us, taking into consideration our talents, like his mastery of laundry and my mastery of the bills.

The way we interacted and the way we spent our time also went through a transformation during those first few years. I learned very quickly that it was important for Michael to get his play time - surfing, golfing, snowboarding, watching sports - even if those activities didn't include me. Sometimes it was hard for me to understand how a Saturday morning at the beach with his buddies could be more appealing than bagels and a Target run with his lovely wife. (I see the absurdity now, but back then, I was still learning.)

Michael, on the other hand, didn't always appreciate the things I signed us up for, like swing dancing lessons, or that third cat, but he did them for me. We found a way to make most things work. And we worked at it.

Those first few years were filled with weekend trips and big purchases, late nights and weekends sleeping in, movies, dinners, and great newlywed passion. They were also filled with arguments and compromise, ironing out the little kinks, going to therapy to conquer the big ones, and learning how to live with someone who had different ideas and priorities than our own. The greatest lesson we learned was that giving to each other, things like time, respect, a break, patience, a love letter, etc., made the other person happier and, in return, more giving. And we haven't forgotten that.

The years since then have looked similar. We still work at our marriage, when it's hard and even when it's easy. We don't stop learning how to live with each other just because we are practiced in it. With a growing family and shifting needs, we have to focus on adapting. And communicating. And appreciating what we have. We try to be forgiving and giving, even when it doesn't serve our cause, like when he has to navigate my messy closet and doesn't call me a slob, or when I shred the to-do list so he can have a few hours at the beach.

Hopefully, we have twice as many years ahead of us as behind us, to hold tightly to each other and the commitment and interest in working to maintain a strong and fulfilling marriage. A wise man once told us that if we water our own garden instead of wasting time admiring someone else's green grass, we will have a happy life. After seventeen years, I'm blessed to say I agree.

So today, do one small thing to cultivate your garden of love!

Love,

{J}

Monday, April 22, 2013

Green Day

Happy Earth Day! Today is the day we celebrate all the creative ways that we can leave less of a footprint on this planet we call home. Wasn't it Kermit the Frog that said "It's not easy being green?" I've seen many blog posts today that have shared about all the things we "should" be doing, so that we don't add to the landfills and, in turn, it is supposed to give us peace of mind for our future generations. The hope that they will be able to enjoy endless supplies of clean water, clean air and green pastures (like we do) is motivation for us to make changes in our daily living. Frankly, I'm with Kermit.

It's not that I DON'T want my great grand-daughter (in fifty years) to enjoy a lungful of fresh air and clean drinking water, but on some days when the clock is moving faster than it is supposed to and the day has brought its complex web of trials and tribulations, an extra long hot shower is just what the doctor ordered to keep this mama sane. I'm just not willing to give that up.

I also don't want to give up paper plates. Sometimes they save me time and energy and that is almost always better for everyone in my family. I will probably never make my own shampoo. A compost bucket is not in my near future. And what is up with those CFL light bulbs? Do they save energy because the light is so bad and glaring that it would be better just to leave them off anyway?

Does this sound selfish to any of you? Am I being rude to future generations? Are you on this page with me or are you far more organized and able to deal with stress in much better ways so that you have decided that you will never purchase a paper plate again? I wish I could join you.

Not that I wish I could give up the convenience of paper products. But I do wish I could be more organized and have more creative ways to deal with stress so I wouldn't mind doing extra dishes. Will that ever happen? I know I could simplify and have more down time but will I ever really not mind doing extra dishes after a long and tiring day? Let's just say I never would have made it during the pioneering years.

Now, before you write me off completely as someone who is sending the future environment to Hell in a hand-basket, let me tell you what I do to contribute.

I DO walk to school everyday with the kids. We turn off lights that are not in use. We try to run the dishwasher after 4pm (but sometimes it's earlier and it can't be helped). My kids are good about turning off the sink water while brushing (they remind me). We do our best to recycle. I recently found out that you're not supposed to put the cap of your plastic water bottle in the recycle with the bottle...sorry about that, I just never thought about it...it's all plastic right??

We will try to do better. That's really my learning point today. We will do our best to improve, but please don't judge my Zip-lock bags and NORMAL light bulbs. I agree, we each have to do our part but we also have to know we can't do it ALL. I am also aware that we live in a society of convenience and I am grateful for the choices I have. I know many live with no choice. I promise that I will work harder to not take those choices for granted. I promise to live in a way that bears in mind the others that I am sharing this Earth with. So, my kids will walk home from school and empty the recycle bin when they get home. I will pick up trash when I see it to keep our neighborhood clean. I will try not to take a long hot shower EVERY night. But don't try to talk me into using those "other" bulbs and I promise you won't find a compost box on my porch any time soon. If you can live with that then maybe it won't be so hard to be green after all.

{H}

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What's Next? Chapters 3 and 4...

Today has been a day for writing...my FAVORITE kind of day! If you are following my novel, I'm happy to announce that I finalized the title. Below, are chapters 3 and 4 of The Possibility of Her. If you've missed it, you can read the beginning under The Write Time. Feel free to leave feedback. I'd love to know what you think.

Chapter 3

March 2011: Full

When I was a child, I couldn’t comprehend the statement that my mother frequently used to describe her life. “My cup runneth over, Gwen,” she’d say, sometimes with a smile and sometimes with a sigh. But until I was a mom, I was unable to relate to her experience.

My mom was a stay-at-home mom even amidst a rising population of mothers who decided to go back to college, learn a new trade and pursue their dreams once their kids were apparently old enough to fend for themselves. Not quite certain her children could survive on their own, my mom chose another path, one that was fulfilling, exasperating, selfless, harrowing, heroic, hectic and completely right for her.

I was the youngest and only girl, with two older brothers, Charlie and Aaron, who were always wrapped up in sports and friends and paper routes. My dad was an engineer, who in my eyes spent his days designing and building, and his nights loving all of us. It was a harmonious home, from the vantage point of the little girl within.

Mom did everything. When she was completely fed up with a laundry basket full of wretched, soiled, basketball clothes (my brothers were both aspiring Globetrotters), or a progress report came home with less than par marks, or my father had installed another hook somewhere in his effort to “home improve”, she would merely sigh and move on to the next item on her list. At the end of the day, though, when the family filed in around our small but cozy dining table and elbow-to-elbow, said grace, a contagious smile would accompany her declaration, "My cup runneth over." It was magical.

One day, I asked her what the saying meant and she stopped what she was doing, looked me in the eyes and took a deep breath. I couldn’t tell if I was adding to her feeling of exasperation or if she was frustrated merely from the items waiting on her to-do list. But I somehow knew deep down that when she recited those four little words, it was important.

“Gwen, you’ll know what I mean when you have your own family one day. You’ll see,” she said reassuringly.

And I trusted her, even though that statement was equally perplexing. Since the dawn of days children are told they’ll “understand when they’re older,” once they reach a certain milestone, or grow to a certain age. Although it’s true, it’s slightly embarrassing to contemplate your own adulthood (marriage – yuck, kids - what?, job, house!?) at age twelve. With that, I quickly turned on my heels and left it all there.

But mom was right. Most moms are, I suspect. Now that I have the title, I am unwavering in that fact. However, in an effort to blaze my own trail, I have abandoned the poignant biblical quote that will remain forever hers. I worry that my mother resents that my tarnished replacement “my plate is full” is a downgrade to her mantra, but for me, it does the trick.

That’s how I begin my Thursday. Plate full. Kids to rush off. Work to attend to. It’s March and we are slightly overwhelmed. Not because it’s March, really it’s a year-round dilemma. And not just my family – husband, three beautiful blessings: eight-year-old daughter, six and four-year-old sons – it is a community affliction.

We live in a suburban Southern Californian town with three elementary schools within two miles, a renowned sports park for endless soccer and T-ball games, pocket parks and walking trails...every imaginable amenity for a young and emerging village. We are a slew of well-intentioned, involved parents, outnumbered by children, activities and to-dos, all with cups “runnething” over, flooding us.

“Victoria, do you have your library book?” I call out formally so she understands the importance of recovering that book.

“Tommy, get your interactive journal and make sure daddy wrote in it…I think he’s brushing his teeth. Take him a pencil,” I instruct my middle child, hoping he remembers my three step directive.

“Noah, where are your socks and shoes? I thought I sent you to find your socks and shoes?”

My sweet four-year-old, dazed by his assignment, replies: “Mommy, I couldn’t find ‘em but I found you a sticker so you can remember me while you’re at work today, my lovely mommy.”

Sigh. Lost socks and shoes, forgiven. I swoop up my charming little man and give him a big squeeze trying to remember to store his sweet sentiment somewhere. I’ll call mom on the way to work and tell her what he said. That will memorialize it somehow, right? I think to myself. Just in case, I grab a note pad by the phone and affix my new Scooby Doo sticker-accessory to it and jot down: “To remember me.” ~Noah 3/17/11 What a love!

“OK, who’s riding with me?” Owen ambles down the stairs, short golden hair still slightly wet from his morning shower.

Dressed in gray pants, a blue, long-sleeve collared shirt, top button undone, sleeves rolled twice, gives my handsome husband a classic, yet casual look. He grabs his backpack among the four lined up in the overcrowded, buzzing kitchen, and heads for the coffee maker.

We have been married for almost fourteen years and he still has the power to make my heart skip a beat with just a look. He unleashes that kind of look at me now as he moves through the kitchen and greets the family.

“Hello wonderful little Masons, and mama Mason. Are we ready for a great day?”

No one can resist Owen’s happiness so we all soak it in and respond in kind: “YES!”

Noah, who’s lingering by my side, gives my leg an extra squeeze.

“Have a wonderful day my lovely mommy,” he purrs up at me.

“By my love,” I reply, heart warmed. “Tory, Tommy, have a great day at school. Love you!” I call out as they careen past me, eager to get to school.

I remind myself often that one day they’ll complain about school, feeling so blessed that today is not that day. We have enough on our plate.

As he collects his keys and wallet, my husband swiftly circles me and wraps his arms around my waist. Owen’s “Have a nice day” would seem like such a generic statement but he thoughtfully enhances it by moving my hair aside and placing one small peck on the side of my neck,, lingering to take in my scent. Swoon. Even after fourteen years, and all we’ve been through, he still takes my breath away, and I am grateful. Too many couples we know have allowed their intimacy to convert to companionship. Owen and I work at making sure our tenure doesn't pay the price for our passion.

“Come on kiddos. It's time to be in the car,” he calls, reluctantly releasing me. A common theme in our household, among many: there is always someplace we’re supposed to be, now.

I escort the gang out through the garage, grabbing jackets and lunch boxes on the way, like putting the final touches on the fancy dining table as you run to greet the guests at the door. Once they are all nestled in the car, I lean in Owen’s window and quietly plead, “Please call the doctor today.”

He nods and starts the engine. We’re immediately interrupted by Jack Johnson’s school-age relationship advice booming from the radio and the kids all shout, “It’s always more fun. To share. With everyone!” Snappy tune; one I’ll surely have in my head all morning. Owen kisses me through the open window and assures me he’ll call. I give him a concerned glance as he backs out of the driveway. I say a quick prayer. A warm wind accompanies me as I go back in the house to get ready for work, for a day of welcomed distractions.

Chapter 4

I jump in the shower, eager to get out of the house. Getting ready always takes too much time. Not that I don’t appreciate the soothing effect of a steamy shower, or the peaceful calm in the early-morning, family-free house, but today, no amount of heat or quiet can ease my worry-du-jour: Owen.

We have been awaiting test results for just over a week. The few in our inner circle - our families, my best friends Karly and Melanie, my boss, Rose - reassure us that no news is good news. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. No news sometimes equates to a nurse who's called in sick to play hooky and take her kids to Disneyland or a doctor whose elderly father had a bad fall and is getting checked out at the hospital up the street. No news is no assurance. It is merely a potentially fatal delay.

Out of the shower, I press the crisp linen pants and heather gray sweater I’ve picked out for work. Even during the blazing days of summer my work attire rarely varies - the result of my biggest occupational complaint: a perpetual chill spewed by an irritating overhead vent. A quick glance out the bathroom window excites me as I assess the gloomy skies and grab a fancy scarf. Winter has merged with spring this year but I don’t mind the extended season. Despite the residual steam and warmth from the shower, my skin prickles. When the weather gives me an extra excuse to bundle up, I take it, gratefully.

Today, I choose my favorite scarf of the season: an extra long, black and gray woven, Parisian scarf, the ends embellished with hand-stitched flowers. It’s the type of accessory that attracts attention and I relish in the chance to say it’s Parisian, even if the journey and acquisition aren’t mine to boast. In fact, Melanie just returned from France with an extra suitcase full of fabulous finds like the scarf she presented to me last week. She was so excited she found it.

“It matches that cute gray hat you love, the one we got last time we were out,” she proudly stated.

Melanie, a fashion designer by trade, is always up on the current trends. She is extremely savvy in the world of apparel. Equally invested in her children, when her fourth was born she retired her pads and pencil sketches for Crayola water colors. We met at a co-op preschool when our girls, both three at the time, got in a fight over a princess puzzle. Neither of us the defensive, my-kid-can-do-no-wrong type, we discovered we had the same ideas on conflict resolution. After successfully helping Torie and Maddie master the art of sharing, we were immediately united.

Five years later, Melanie is the closest thing I have to a sister and she’s always available for a lunch date or some retail therapy. The cute gray hat with a shallow rim and a big flower was a result of such a trip. Her knowledge of my wardrobe is even more touching than her thoughtful Parisian purchase.

The house seems lonely when the hustle-bustle has left me behind. More often than not, we all plow out through the doors together, leaving the silence to unnerve no one. Occasionally, like today, I linger behind after the house is emptied and ready myself in solitude. It’s an almost eerie sensation, hearing the house exhale all the noise that goes along with my family as the garage door closes and they drive down the street. The silence can be unsettling.

I really shouldn’t be left with my thoughts on a day like today, a day when we’re waiting for test results, a day when worry overpowers rationalism, a day when vulnerability percolates on the surface of my soul. On a day like today, I find it hard to reconcile that some people lead happy, non-eventful lives while others struggle, and I wonder, is there some cosmic relationship between the content and their actions, or the plagued and theirs? Do we have the power to earn "happy"?

Standing in front of the mirror, as I comb through my wet and tangled hair, I find myself playing an illogical and disturbing version of the “what-if” game. During today’s match, I can’t help but wonder what it would feel like if it was really only me in the house – permanently. If in one tragic instance, everyone dear to me, the essence of my existence, was gone.

Then, maybe in an effort to see where my breaking point is, or maybe to diminish the possibility of such a shocking outcome, I go through them one by one. What if Owen was really sick and I lost just him. Would the kids and I stay in this house? How could I live without our nightly prattle, our recap, our familiar intimacy? I wouldn’t know how to move forward. I would be lost. My heart would break. Then it would shatter for the kids, losing their daddy. Reserved Torie, sensitive Tommy, sweet Noah, they would have nightmares. Would I have them all sleep with me? We could just have sleepovers every night, and that way I could keep them close, folded into my fortress built from the fear of more loss. Would it be fair, though, for the burden to rest on them to collectively be my proverbial blankie?

What if it was a child that we lost, or more than one of my children, all of them? What if Owen lived and they were gone? Could we survive that? Could we stay in this house while all the evidence of them remained and their absence severely palpable? I don’t think I could stay, but I surely couldn’t leave. I’d be frozen, immobile. How would we survive that? What a terrible fate to consider.

I realize then that stinging tears are trickling down my cheeks. It’s hard for me to breathe. My head aches. The pain in my chest is too much to bear. Then I look in the mirror. My reflection is a depressing semblance of me, frowning and pained. I’m ashamed, for more than one reason, even though no one has witnessed my tragic, unnecessary, morbid game of fictional loss. Sometimes the game feels all too real.

I close my eyes and say aloud, "It's not real. It's not real," and suddenly, I feel a warm draft envelop me. As I come back to the moment from my twisted imagination, I am reminded that my worry is a waste of precious time.

It takes roughly five minutes to talk myself completely off the ledge. I make every effort to get lost in my primping, to shift in focus from weariness to work, from ancient guilt to practical resolve. My shift is successful.

A few minutes later, hair dried and loosely curled, fancy French scarf in place, mug of mint tea and favorite lemon-blueberry scone in hand, I exit through the cluttered laundry room to pile into my Suburban in the garage.

There are at least a dozen things I could stop and do along the way: empty trash, stamp bills, check messages, fold towels, etc., but momentum propels me out of the house, worry left behind, and to Seaside City Hall - my place of employment since shortly before Victoria was born. Today is a work day and I can’t be late. There is much to do and I envision my list growing as I turn the key in the ignition. At that exact moment, I leave the mom-wife job at home and transition to Human Resources Specialist.

Before children, I was an executive recruiter with status, a company car and more airline miles than I could use, particularly since my career left no time for any real sort of vacation. Now, I am a part-time recruiter and trainer, employed by the City of Seaside in the Recreation Department. It’s my job to search for and train the finest parks and recreation staff around, stocking our city with services and resources for every resident. My move included a significant downgrade in hours and rank and a substantial upgrade in balance.

The drive is quick but scenic. Lush hills and an abundance of transplanted trees thoroughly nourished with recent rains, line my path. I navigate the empty roads amidst a thick layer of fog and mist creeping in from the nearby coast, and I am reminded of a scene from a Stephanie Meyer novel, sans appealing vampire coven. My music is turned up really loud, and lends to the mysterious mood as I steer through round-abouts and stop signs on my way to the main drag that will take me straight to work, albeit a little too fast.

Almost there I get a text: “Left message for doctor. Please don’t stress. ~O” With that, I attempt to let the worry go. I make my final turn into the parking lot, find a spot, turn off the car, apply a coat of pearly gloss to my lips and sing a few lines from one of my favorites by The Killers: “Let us be in love, let’s do old and gray, I won’t make you cry, I will never stray, I will do my part, let us be in love tonight.”

I leave my worries in the passenger seat and head out into the heavy drizzle from a sky that threatens rain. There’s no place better to escape than work. Or so I think.

{J}

Friday, April 19, 2013

Katie's Story Part I (from the OC Register article published April 12, 2013)

I know a girl named Catherine Elizabeth Hawley, Katie for short. She is one of the most courageous people I know. She is thirteen. She is gorgeous! She has cancer.

Pediatric cancer is a difficult and painful subject to discuss. It breaks my heart to think of all the families that have heard the words "it’s cancer" when they have hoped and prayed they would hear anything but that. It's a gut wrenching, cut-you-to-your-soul kind of pain that too many families have to experience on a daily basis. The Hawley family first heard those destructive words in 2009. Neuroblastoma. It had the power to take their breath and joy away. Those five little syllables. What happens then? How do you pick yourself up and keep walking that path? Especially when you’ve battled and fought to get off the path and then you hear “it’s back”. February 13th they heard those words.

I don't know the answer, but in getting to know this family and doing life together, I would hope I could do it with as much grace and faith. Watching them has given our family a new view of how precious and fragile life is. We have no guarantees. Whether we are here for 9 more weeks or 90 more years, we need to make each one count for something. Putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward even though we don’t know what might be waiting down the road, puts our focus on each step. It brings the reality of our time here into full exposure.

Mary Kay Hawley, Katie’s brave and courageous mother, is walking that road for the second time. Some days, skipping down it, determined to keep groups of young teens entertained while teaching them the importance of building friendships and having each other's backs. Other days, crawling on her hands and knees, refusing to give up, fighting just to take another step. Since first hearing the news of recurrence, it has been a daily rally of balancing the terrible with the beautiful. Family, friends, and fun, mixed in with doctor visits, hospital stays, tests, chemo treatments and tears. The silly faces, long nights of hanging with the people that mean the most, and snapshots of those giggles and belly laughs are what gets her through. Finding those blessings among the uncertainty is a gift and those that live with more-than-they-ever-wanted-to-know-about-cancer wait with open arms to receive it.

That's the other side of Pediatric Cancer: the side that you can’t fully comprehend unless you are living it. It changes the focus from the everyday routine to the moment by moment. It becomes something that reminds us what real life is all about. Real life struggles and disappoints, but it can be pure joy when in the midst of that hurt, you find yourself laughing, smiling and enjoying a moment that will be remembered. That is what is important. To be continued…

If you are asking yourself, “What can I do?” please follow these links for some life changing ideas: Donate to Pediatric Cancer Research

Sign up for Reach for the Cure! {H}

Monday, April 8, 2013

Battle of a Lifetime

A few weeks back, we entered our first essay contest...it was very exciting! Sadly, our entries didn't win but that's not the real reason behind our writing. It's the great NEED to tell a story...our stories. Here is my entry. The contest theme was "Transitions." Enjoy!

Battle of a Lifetime

by Jennifer Hale

It is a sweltering Saturday afternoon in September and I'm frazzled. It's one of those days, packed with more activities and places to go than physically possible. The boys' games are on opposite sides of town and only an hour apart and somehow, I volunteered to be snack mom for both games. Really?

As usual, my husband and I are forced to divide and conquer. That means we have to locate two coolers in the mess we call a garage, sparingly spread the ice from the freezer between those coolers, and cut and package obscene amounts of oranges and cookies. Add to that my daughter's dance class and a birthday party she is due to attend, for which there is no present yet, and my stress levels are maxed out. I'll admit, almost all of my anxiety is my own fault. I should be more organized, but that fact doesn't help me at the moment. The heaps of mommy-guilt and mommy-insufficiency will just have to wait.

"Honey, I'll take Noah now and you take Logan to his game in half an hour. He has to be there 45 minutes early, although I think the kids are going to be exhausted before the game even starts, warming up in this heat," I grumble, annoyed by the stifling weather and our competitive coach.

"Just drop him off and swing by the store to pick up a gift card for the party. Bella, do you think Lexie would like a gift card for Target?"

At that moment, I look at my thirteen-year-old. Her eyes are wide and her nose is all wrinkled up. She looks just like she did when she was a toddler and she got hold of a lemon wedge. Disgusted.

"No, mom, gross! That's so lame! You like Target. Teenagers don't like Target! I can't bring a Target gift card to the party! God!" She hisses.

"Ok then. Michael, you're taking Bella with you so she can pick out a gift card that won't be offensive. And then, she can go to her brother's game and help pass out the snacks."

I turn to her again. "That should cheer you up," I smile, a little too sweetly.

"And I'll get you after Noah's game and drop you off at dance. Bring clothes to change because Tatum's mom is going to pick you up and take you to the party. Ok?"

"Good luck at the game, Logan! See you in a bit."

And we're off...

We don't stop running until four hours later when we finally land at our air-conditioned home base. I ignore the sink full of dishes and the counters piled with paperwork from school, and head for the couch. No sooner have I collapsed, a leftover Gatorade and a Real Simple magazine in hand, when my youngest, Noah, comes a-calling.

"Hi, my lovely mommy," he sweetly sings. I can tell he wants something.

"Hi Noah. What's up?" I reply, taming my terseness.

"Well, mommy, I wanted to know if you would like to have a Lego battle with me?"

Yep, there it is. My adorable eight-year-old wants to play with me. And as much as I completely love him to bits, at that moment, I would pay large sums of money to NOT play with him. I am done. All. Done. But I can't say that. It would ruin his day. So I stall.

"Oh, babe, I would love to have a Lego battle with you, but can I just rest for a little bit? Mommy is tired. I just need a few minutes to relax. Is that ok? Can I have fifteen minutes?"

He kisses me on the cheek and promises to wait. I secretly hope he'll ask his brother to take my place, but, as he leaves me to my magazine, I hear the "beep, beep" of his watch. He is timing me.

Flipping through ads and articles of various appeal, I find my favorite section, the advice columns. They always provide good perspective. The second article catches my eye: "How to Handle an Empty Nest." I laugh at the irony. At that exact moment, all I long for is an empty nest, and here this woman, Rebecca from Colorado, is simply yearning for a few more minutes of chaos.

"I'm not sure where the time went..." she is saying as I drift off.

I'm startled by a beeping noise. Silence surrounds me except for the timer sounding from the microwave. I groggily drag myself from couch to counter. The slow cooker is steaming. It smells delicious but I don't feel hungry. Actually, I feel a little nauseous. My head aches and my chest feels heavy. I survey the kitchen - tidy and organized surfaces, neat pile of bills, everything in its proper place - but it all feels wrong. Desperately, terribly wrong.

Michael comes in from the garage and turns off the timer. Standing alone at the sink, he washes his hands.

"Is dinner almost ready?" He asks.

I nod and watch him as he grabs two plates from the cabinet, two forks from the silverware drawer, and two napkins from the pantry.

"What would you like to drink?" he asks as he pulls two clean glasses from the un-emptied dishwasher.

"It sure was nice when the kids were around to help with the dishes. Remember when they used to fight over who did it last?" he reminisces.

"I do remember," I reply, "and I remember the countless dishes they chipped trying to hurry through it. They were always in such a hurry..."

My voice trails off as the tears begin to fall. Michael has me in his arms before the sobs are unleashed, holding me upright until they pass.

"It was over too fast," I cry. "I wasn't ready for them to grow up. One minute, we're stocking band aids and kissing boo-boos and the next, we're buying sheets and towels for the dorms."

The hole in my heart seems to expand out through my ribcage and into the pit of my stomach. It physically hurts me. "I know," he says, rubbing my back gently.

We hold each other in the heavy silence. The crock pot sputters, ready to boil over. That's how I feel, like an ache from my core is seeking a place to escape, a way to find solace. But there isn't any. Not there in that quiet kitchen. My husband, certainly hurting in his own way, missing our gone-too-soon children, willingly absorbs some of my pain.

Broken-hearted and drowning in our depressingly empty nest, I sob and mutter:

"Can they really be gone? It just feels so empty..."

"It's just so empty..."

"I'm empty..."

From a distance, another beeping sound slowly penetrates the confusion and sorrow-filled space around me. I hear a little whisper and feel an ever so gentle tap, tap, on my shoulder.

"Mommy...mom...it's been fifteen minutes. Are you ready for our battle now?"

I open my eyes and the leftover tears from my dream trickle away as my blessed present returns. I still have time.

"Absolutely, Noah. Let's go play."

{J}

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Letter to My Daughter...

I'm so excited about our blog. It's like a personal scrapbook of all the important things that happen. One day, when we're old and gray, we'll be able to transport right back to this time in our lives because of these records. Our children and grandchildren will inherit these stories, stories about them. That thought makes me smile. So, without further ado, may I introduce our next series titled "Letters to our Children."

Dear Bella,

I'm writing you this letter because I love you. Part of that love includes hope and happiness and dreams, but it also includes fear and worry and limits. I understand that can be annoying to you, since you're almost 13 and you seem to know it all, but one day, God willing, you'll understand.

So there's been a lot of hype in the news lately about Victoria's Secret line of underwear called "Bright Young Things." Wow, people are upset. Critics complain that when a popular and successful company like Victoria's Secret sells underwear that says "I Dare You" or "Wild," they over-sexualize young women and send the message that your value is connected to how you look in your underwear. Victoria's Secret says that the BYT line is designed for college-aged girls so it's ok, since the girls are 18 or older. I think that teen girls and college-aged girls, and even 39-year-old moms, should be hearing one message only: YOU ARE ENOUGH. YOU ARE A GIFT. The way you look in your undergarments does not define who you are. Period.

In many ways, your dad and I want to shield you from growing up too fast. We want you to remain our innocent little girl who loves music and coloring and dressing up. We are still trying to get used to the pain that comes with packing away American Girl dolls and Disney Fairy books and too-small holiday dresses. It physically hurts to finish these chapters of your life even amidst the excitement of the present. In so many ways, we watch as you teeter on the brink of growing up and we witness the competing magic of your childhood encroached upon by the inevitable dawning of adolescence. It is a conflict for you, we know. We are conflicted too.

On the other hand, we want you to be prepared for what lies ahead, to feel comfortable with who you are and what you believe in, especially when the teen culture surrounding you emphasizes things like popularity, looks and wealth. And that preparation requires your dad and I to do some hard things.

Bella, we don't want you to ever feel like you're more or less, because of the clothes you wear or the things you have.You are unique, lovable, wonderful and worthy just by being you. God created you and you are a GIFT. You will know girls whose parents have unlimited resources to get them the trendiest clothes, the latest electronics, and one day, even a great car, but they do not limit the amazing potential that you possess. Likewise, you will know girls who are going through an acne phase, who wear their sister's hand-me-downs. They are no less deserving of your kindness. Please remember, you shouldn't place value in those girls merely because of what they look like or what they have. Each one of them deserves the opportunity to achieve greatness separate from their circumstances. Please, take the time to get to know them.

Sometimes, there is so much attention given to outside forces of influence that we, as parents, forget the great amount of influence that we have at our fingertips, inside the home. That is a mistake. I want you to know that you will have friends who are allowed to wear shorter shorts or more make-up than your dad and I are comfortable with. You will meet people whose parents give them more freedom than we allow. And that's ok. We live in a community that embraces diversity, from cultures to curfews, from religions to rules, and rather than waste time judging, your dad and I are committed to finding the right rhythm for our family. Our job is to thoughtfully, responsibly, teach and care for you. And you will notice that our recipe will differ from other families that you know. Remember, that's ok.

There will be a time when you will want more than what we permit and that may even cause you to roll your eyes and swear at us under your breath. But we promise to be consistent, to love you, to remind you that what you are made of is much more important that how you make yourself up. While you are under our roof, we will establish rules and renegotiate them when necessary. We will talk to you and always be available to answer your questions. We will challenge you to be the very best version of you, starting with your beautiful heart. And we will love you even more.

We will outline our standards and hold you to them. We will strive for your respect, more so than your friendship, even though that's harder than being "cool" parents. We will love you in ways that feel like smothering and nagging, but trust me, it is love.

We promise to tell you things when the timing is right for us, and for you. We will not scare you or use guilt as a motivator. We will teach you things that you will need to know as you partake in life's greatest adventure: growing up. And that will be hard for us because we want to protect you and keep you from feeling the inevitable pain and heartache that life delivers. But we will do our best because we know that along with the falling and hurting is the growing and soaring and oh so much happiness that life also has in store.

And when you purchase your first pair of lacy underwear, you will remember that you are much more than fancy packaging, because we will always tell you that and show you that. And I would be lying if I didn't also tell you that one day, donning a pair of sexy underwear will be important to you and your husband, that it will be completely appropriate and enjoyable and healthy. But we can't have that conversation until you're much, much older.

Love you forever,

Mom

{J}

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

As the Story Goes...

This is Chapter 2 of Jenn's project. Don't miss the previous posting of the Prologue and Chapter 1 here. Feedback is welcome. Thank you!

Chapter 2

When you’re a child and you experience something painful, troubling, the ache often fades like a box of photos that ends up in the attic: remembered in its snapshot form, never lingering for too long, easily shifted to another, less-visited area of your memory. As an adult, however, when trauma occurs, that pain comes marching through the front door, finds a place to hang its hat and settles in for a while. No amount of distraction can completely dull the intensity, make you forget. That February, during my junior year in college, my world was invaded by a pain that came to stay.

I remember much of it very clearly: sounds, sights, smells. Sometimes when I close my eyes I’m transported back to that dreaded hall, that fateful day. If I’m feeling weak, I’ll quickly open my eyes in an effort to keep the pain at bay, but it relentlessly rushes in and the sensations tend to loiter. When I’m feeling strong, however, I’ll try to focus on the fuzzy particulars, those that haven’t found a place to settle yet. Too often, my recollection becomes hazy and threatens to roll away like a receding fog: slow, persistent, unable to grasp and hold onto. I’ve found my best vision is peripheral. I may try to focus my attention forward but I’m searching the details dancing at my side.

Over time, moments of strength and determination have allowed me to assemble most of the pertinent, heart-stopping, eerie details. College lecture hall, benign and ordinary in every way. In front of me is a large platform stage, semicircle protruding into the immense sea of theater chairs. Standing in the center of the stage, strong and silent, is a sturdy oak podium, empty though still demanding attention. It’s as though the knowledge and motivation emitted from that esteemed pedestal are stored in the aged wood rather than the mind of an apt professor at its helm.

The gathering crowd is restless, varying degrees of anxiousness manipulating their focus. Seasoned scholars have found seats and have settled in, impatient as they wait for the class to just get on with it. The newbies are milling about, trying to find a comfortable spot, concerned about recording all the day’s academic details. There is a noticeable hum in the air. Then a thickness, a heaviness, is added to our surroundings.

Simone processes Garrett’s threat immediately, her instincts are sharp. My understanding is sluggish, a few critical seconds late. His hateful glare. I can’t hear. Movement at my side. A seemingly simple shift as she takes a seat, but it’s disturbing, when it shouldn’t be. It catches my attention. Simone slumps like a tattered rag doll beside me. Her face as lovely as ever but her eyes are empty. A thin stream of smoke curls upward from behind her head where her hair is slightly disheveled. Funny, I didn’t notice her hair mussed up like that before. There are mere seconds of increased movement, panic. I don’t immediately recognize the chaos. And then I’m gone.

I didn’t feel anything. Even as I try to remember, borrowing details that belong to others, witnesses, I can’t get back that exact instant, the moment my life was forever altered. No matter how hard I try, every time I tug on those particulars, I lose. The rest of my story is pieced together through various accounts and rumors. It possesses a familiarity that sometimes resembles memory, but it always feels more like a movie I once saw or a book I’m pretty sure I’ve read.

Every handgun has a specific design and its functions have been refined to achieve the optimal shot. Its distinct traits can influence how successful a person is at discharging his weapon: how quickly the pistol fires, how exact the trajectory, how forgiving of the human element: the aim.

Garrett was using a 38-caliber Smith and Wesson Model 36 Chief’s Special revolver that he purchased at a Walmart in Plano, Texas while visiting his mom’s side of the family over Christmas. It cost $749.99 plus tax and included a box of ammunition. This lightweight, sleek, five-shot double action revolver unloads five bullets with a gentle depression of the trigger. The gun has a mechanism added that will cock the gun as the trigger is pulled. It’s a point and shoot, no delay. A stabilizer is built in to manage external vibrations. On that bleak Monday, five bullets were fired in a matter of 12 seconds. Four people were wounded, only one fatally: my beautiful, best friend Simone.

I was shot in the head and remained unconscious for almost a month. Directly after the shooting, friends and family members flooded our sad, coastal community making hospital visits and holding prayer sessions aiming for understanding, hope and recovery. It was a mass of open arms and houses welcoming sorrow and trying to warm away the pain. The stories that were slowly narrated to me after I woke up helped me piece together the days and weeks that passed before I was back amongst the living again.

The college offered grief counseling for a whole month. For the victims, even those with wounds of the psyche that bandages didn’t protect, a month was an insufficient amount of time…not even enough time to remember the regular routine of school. There was very little recovery after a mere month. Any subtle healing was barely noticeable.

But for the students on the fringe, it seemed excessive, an inconvenient reminder that interrupted their preferred state of oblivion. Those students, even some adjunct professors, were annoyed by the continued state of mourning. They longed to return back to some semblance of “normal.” No one could blame them. Like our broken town, I too yearned for a familiar ease that accompanied all things ordinary.

Only the select few can relate to the condition we found ourselves in. When life unearths a tragedy, the world around you keeps moving forward while you are rendered immobile, fastened to the pain by weighted tethers. It’s rather like careening through a dream. The movement is too fast, disorienting and most of all, unsettling. It provokes an anxiety that catches your breath. Coping is almost impossible. Empathy is really hard to find. Pain is everywhere.

Almost two weeks after the shooting, Simone’s family held an emotional memorial service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, the church they had belonged to since she was eleven. She loved her church and she attended services frequently. Even throughout college, she'd often make the drive home to go to church with her parents. It remained a place of comfort and familiarity for her. I was raised Catholic, but upon declaring my major in Philosophy, I, like many soul-searching college students, considered myself on a path of enlightenment. I challenged my preconceived notions of the origins of religion and more so, my faith. That was all the justification I needed for my spiritual, Sunday-service hiatus.

I missed the funeral too. Simone’s parents tried to wait, to push out the cremation and the release of her ashes, but my recovery was uncertain and their rites of grieving could not be postponed any longer. There’s no etiquette book, no “Ask Martha” column that details how to plan funeral services for your child when her best friend is on the brink of death. The relationship that our parents had developed over the last three years didn’t ease the guilt and suffering for either family. Their pain was a mutual experience. My parents were heart-broken for Candice and Nigel, Simone’s cultured and warmhearted parents, and despite the immense grief drowning them, my mom and dad came up for air long enough to leave my hospital bedside, back to our home town to the church, and mourn with their friends.

It wasn’t until many months after I woke up that I began to catch glimpses of how far the suffering extended those early days, the days while I slept. Especially when I overheard edited details about the memorial service, I could feel the devastation. My parents did their best to shelter me but they couldn’t hide the fact that they felt somewhat out of place amongst the mourners. They sensed a level of blame directed at them by some of the other guests. Maybe it was imagined, or maybe it was self-imposed, after all, it was their daughter’s ex-boyfriend who took Simone’s precious, promising life. That heart-wrenching and cruel fact was never paired with equally painful words and uttered aloud though, and I was thankful for that. Etiquette book or not, you can’t blame an unconscious, dying girl, regardless of her guilt.

Stay tuned...

{J}