Freedom

Recently, I got a second tattoo. I now have two little swallows etched on my wrist and every day they serve as a reminder to myself that Nat and I are still here. We are still alive and we are bound together in this life.

I’ve always found the idea of flight fascinating and in particular, the careless, free-falling swoops of the swallow entices me. They look so free, so beautiful, so full of the joy of life. Every time I walk Biscuit in the evening and I see the silhouette of a swallow against the sky, I feel inspired. The little birds never fail to make me smile. And they always seem to fly in groups. To me, they symbolize grace and beauty and most of all – freedom. The freedom to create a new life, the freedom to choose happiness in spite of loss and betrayal and cruel people. The freedom to forgive and move on. The freedom to love and live. On the dark days, I look at my little swallows and I am inspired to keep trying, to not give up.

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Paying tribute

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I stopped today when I saw you, a simple metal cross, slightly rusted with a faded photo attached and bright plastic flowers perpetually blooming at your base. I stopped when I saw you because I wanted to acknowledge you, this makeshift memorial on the side of the road, and pay homage to you, a stranger. I feel your family and I are bound together by the inner knowledge of profound loss. Loss that is unnatural and unexpected. A deviation from what should have been. I paused today and read those brief dates – 1995 to 2015 -inscribed I know, not only on metal but on your loved ones hearts. Two simple dates that contain birthdays and Christmas’s and a million memories in between. You were – no, you are – someone’s son, perhaps brother, uncle, nephew. Someone loved, whose loss has forever left an empty hole in many hearts. I know how terrible it would be for you to be forgotten so even though I do not know you, I stop and I remember you.

North Carolina ❤️

There comes a moment every spring when I catch some un-named scent – damp soil, perhaps, or new growth of leaves – or I hear the cooing of a mourning dove hidden in the boughs of the neighbor’s pear tree or I catch sight of dogwood blooms, newly unfurled and still slightly green at the edges, and I am immediately transported back in time. I’m taken back a decade and dropped at the airport at the very moment I walked into tropical-like heat to hear a mockingbird singing at midnight. I’m taken back to a time when everything was new and strange and exotic. When I was freshly introduced to North Carolina and everything here took me by surprise. I was a tourist in my adopted country, exclaiming over the deafening din of summer cicadas or marveling at the explosion of green each spring. I stared in wonder at peaches that grew on trees in backyards and dirt as bright as rust. The August humidity was stunning as were possums, turtles and the magnitude of most of the insects.
Now, most of the time, after 15 + years in the Tar Heel State, it just feels like home. I’m here carrying on with daily life in comfortable surroundings. I don’t feel like a foreigner in a strange land anymore. I can even understand people when they speak.

It’s just every so often I’m startled out of the familiarity and reminded that I’m in another world than the one I came from. A beautiful, captivating, complicated place. It might be home, but I’m lucky to still – on occasion- be able to see it with the wonder of a newcomer.

Fresh start

Five days.
Five days until Nat and I embark on this adventure of living in a special place. Instead of the van life or tiny house life, Nat and I will be embarking on the barn life. Maybe we’ll start a new trend.
#barnlife
We are both full of excitement and anticipation, and yes, maybe a bit of trepidation and fear. It’s a big change and one I never foresaw coming. I mean, who imagines they’ll grow up, lose the love of their life and then end up unemployed, living in a barn? In all seriousness this feels oh-so-right. It has the right mix of unconventional, adventurous and different that I just need right now.
It feels like the fresh start we’ve been seeking. Nat and I will be living a little closer to nature and much closer to each other. Our little barn apartment is tiny. It has a cozy little kitchen and living room, a bathroom off the kitchen with stand-in shower, sink (and of course toilet). A beautiful big window in the living area lets in lots of light and stairs lead to the loft with its sloping ceiling and room for a bed and a few other pieces of furniture. A window in the loft looks out over the barn below where we can keep watch on prowling barn cats and dozing horses. It’s beautiful and full of an aura of peace and tranquility. And soon it will be home.
Before we can move, however, I am faced with the task of sifting through 34 years of life and all that I’ve accrued in that time. No small task when your future living space is about 500 sq feet. I didn’t think I had many possessions until I started packing. Now I realize I have way, way too much stuff so I see this as a challenge to minimize in a big way and to only bring what is absolutely essential or will enhance our lives. I want each item to be carefully considered and selected before I take it with us. Everything else is either being put in storage, donated, thrown away or sold. I think having less things is liberating and can lead to a richer, more fulfilling life. The hardest part will be deciding which books to take and which to give away. I’ve already donated around 100 books and probably have at least 100 left. I love them like friends.
Getting rid of anything Brian used or touched or owned is also incredibly hard. I still have his favorite coffee creamer in the fridge, long outdated but precious because he bought it not long before he died. His things still feel like a link to him and it’s difficult parting with any of his belongings. I have a storage unit in town and I’m putting most of our personal items there for safekeeping and I’ll be getting rid of almost all of my furniture and Nat’s. Fresh start. Welcome to the beginning of a big adventure!

Small town life

The sun hangs low in the sky and the air has a cold bite to it that keeps me moving at a brisk pace. It’s late afternoon and I’m walking around town planning, thinking and dreaming. The forward momentum always inspires me for some reason. As I walk and think about all the places I want to visit and see, it strikes me that this town where I live is full of small wonders and eccentricities. The sheep farmer is a prime example.  Off on a quiet little side road, dozens of sheep and lambs nibble on bales of hay or lay resting on the winter grass. A few donkeys in their fuzzy fur coats watch me as I pass. Mixed in with the sweet sounds of the sheep calling to each other is the delicate strains of a violin. The classical music is coming from the barn and it carries on the crisp, cool air. Usually it’s opera singing that drifts over the fields but I have never walked by without some kind of music serenading the animals.  In the upper window of  weather worn building by the road a statue of Buddha serenely keeps watch. The farmer is a gruff bearded man who is liable to chase you away if you stop to take pictures or talk to his animals. I always risk it anyways.

There are many other reasons I love this place. The train that rushes past on the tracks through town, plaintively whistling as it goes by is another one. Then there is the building where a man grinds coffee beans for various coffee shops. The scent of roasted beans hangs deliciously on the breeze and some days I can smell it all the way at my house.

By and large, the people are also the best and kindest you’ll ever meet. I’ve lived in this town for nearly a decade and although I plan to close this chapter of life soon the memories I’ve made here will last a lifetime.

It’s 8:45 and the house is quiet. Nat is asleep in bed and I have a small, warm dog curled up on my lap. It’s a peaceful evening and I feel a sense of contentment on this cold night. I’m finding I’m able to experience happiness and gratitude and laughter, even though a deep layer of sadness always seems to lurk underneath. I feel as if every day is a battle to get up and accomplish tasks and keep everything in order. It can be so overwhelming to keep everything together when I feel like I’m falling apart. I often don’t feel like doing the things I have to do but I’m discovering if I just take one step forward, others will usually follow. I rarely accomplish everything I think I should have done in a day, but every task completed, no matter how small, is a victory.
This morning I felt heavy as lead and weary in body and spirit. I wanted to stay curled up in bed all day, oblivious to life and responsibility. I wanted no part in it. The daily routine appeared so empty and pointless. But I got out of bed and I decided I was going to pretend there was a point to everything, whether it felt authentic or not. I think there’s validity to all emotions but they shouldn’t predict or control how we act. I completed a small decluttering job that I’ve been putting off for ages, and although it didn’t make me feel a whole lot better, it was a step forward. That step led me to the next until I finally had worked myself back into a place where I felt a renewed sense of purpose and determination. I continue to write down goals and plans and dreams and on the days where nothing seems to matter and I want to give up, I make the decision to keep walking towards them. It will matter again some day and I want to be ready.

Christmas crafting

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Several weeks ago, my daughter’s teacher sent home a note in her planner.

The class was doing a holiday gift exchange and whoever wanted to participate could sign up. The rules were simple. The gifts had to be handmade and they had to be created out of every-day household items that were already available.

“Oh mom, let’s do it!” Nat said.

With some trepidation I signed the permission slip and agreed to give it a shot.

Although I enjoy scrolling through Pinterest as much as the next mom, my attempts at crafting seem to always fall short. Far short. Nat’s enthusiasm, however, had rubbed off on me and it didn’t take long to come up with an idea. We decided to make ornaments using three simple ingredients already in our kitchen: Flour, water and salt.

It doesn’t get much easier than that and a fresh snowfall from the day before created the perfect atmosphere for holiday crafting. We turned on the Christmas music and spent the afternoon creating in our cozy kitchen.

Together, we measured out the flour and salt and mixed it together and then slowly added warm water until we had a thick paste. We had to roll up our sleeves and get our hands in it to get it mixed completely and I had to use a little extra water to get the right consistency, but eventually we had a nice firm ball of dough. Natalie was tempted to try it and pinched off a tiny bit to taste but ended up spitting it out in the trash. It was salty enough to melt ice.

Once the dough was smooth with no lumps or dry flour remaining I broke it into several smaller balls and added food coloring to each one. You can also cut out shapes, bake and then paint but I liked the baked in color better. Using a pie/cookie cutter, I created green leaves, plain stars and blue snowflakes and then punched a hole in the top with a drinking straw. We baked them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper for approximately an hour and then cooled them on the counter before spraying them with a clear coat spray to protect them. I love the way they turned out and not only will Natalie be bringing one to school for her gift exchange but I plan to give them out at Christmas as gifts as well. It was an easy craft that allowed my daughter and I to spend a cozy afternoon baking in the kitchen. And it was pretty easy cleanup as well.

For all of you parents looking for a way to keep the kids busy and create a lasting memory that can be brought out each Christmas, here is the recipe:

Four cups of flour

One cup of salt

One and a half cups of warm water

Then either add a few drops of food coloring beforehand and then bake or pop them in the oven and then decorate them after. Either way you’ll have a beautiful, handcrafted ornament with lasting memories!