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Friday, November 11, 2016

Be Each Other's Light

When members of my family turned on us, it was a quick and easy decision to remove them from my life. It seemed the only practical thing to do. Why go to family parties, sit in the corner, and fear an outburst of hate? Why bring someone I love onto an unfairly weighted battlefield? Why bring our future children into a family that would make them feel bad about themselves solely based on their mixed race? Why live in fear of hate?

Upon hearing the verdict, and I say verdict because it feels to me like a guilty man has just been released, I found myself shaking. My first thought was shock. I had believed, that the outrageous, hateful rhetoric that was shared by our now presidential elect would be enough for America to stop him in his tracks. My second was to reach for optimism, to say there is a light at the end the tunnel always, right? But I found myself asking, what if the sun has set and there is no more light?

I have struggled a lot with this election. I have spent the last week constantly near tears. It feels like the air around me has changed. I can't really explain it, but last night, when Brandon texted me from work to say there were protesters outside and police in full equipment blocking off streets, that he had walked through this to get inside, it hit me. The hate, from both sides, is way too close to home.

The last time I felt this way, all I had to do was change my email address, stop going to family parties, and spend more time with people who lifted me up than those who were bringing me down. Now, I cannot just change my email address. I cannot just stop going to events. But I can do the latter. I can surround myself with people who lift me up, who love no matter what. And I can lift others up and love them.

There are a lot of scary things happening in this country. Both sides are turning on each other. People are angry. People are afraid. While this week has felt like walking through a tunnel where the sun is setting and the light is slowly dimming, there is something I was reminded of.

There will always be hate. There was before and there will be tomorrow. It may be from our families, strangers, neighbors, political figures from around the world and while I admire optimism, it is a fact that we will never truly be at peace. People are different and that is what makes us human and powerful and strong. It is this realization that must be embraced.

We must live together despite our fears and beliefs. We must not let one man define how we interact with each other. We cannot give one human being that kind of power over us. So whatever your political affiliation, whoever you voted for, whatever your fears, we must be each other's light at the end of this tunnel. It is the only way we will get out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Wear Your Power Pants Proud

These are my "Power Pants" so named by my best friend and routine shopping companion.


What are "Power Pants" you ask? They can be anything that makes you feel powerful the second you put them on. They could be a pair of athletic pants, your favorite pair of jeans, or something like these, pants that make me feel like I am on my way to change the world. They don't even have to be pants, though. Maybe it's a shirt you got from a race you finished, a pair of comfortable socks, or a rockin' pair of shoes.

I have met many people who say that what you wear doesn't matter, but I am a firm believer in fashion. No, not the type of fashion you wear to impress other people or show off your wealth. I am talking about outfits that make you feel fabulous, clothes that you wear with confidence because that is the way we change the world, being confident in ourselves, our abilities, our beliefs.

I wrote once before about getting rid of clothes that don't make you feel fabulous. Since that post, I have not bought anything that doesn't. Why waste your money on clothes that make you feel mediocre when you could be stocking up on "Power Pants?" Heck, these were only $12.00 so it just goes to show that you don't even have to break the bank! You just need to find things that remind you how beautiful, fashionable, and powerful you can be.

The other day, I was at the YMCA, talking to a girl in the hot tub who shared way too much of her story with me, a stranger she had just met in a hot tub. I could tell though they were things that were weighing on her, that they were things she just needed to get off her chest. When she got out and went to go change, the first thing she did was weigh herself. I thought about my "Power Pants." I thought about the fact that I don't even know what size they are, that this never even crossed my mind because of the way they made me feel. It made me forget to check the size.

Hell, I know that on any given day I could weigh more or less than the day before. I know that I weigh more and wear different sizes than I did when I was sixteen because that's normal. I know that sometimes, my pants size is not going to be consistent because brands are different. I also know that I work out at least a few days during the week, eat as healthy as I can without sacrificing things I love, and according to my yearly check-up am considered healthy. For me, feeling healthy and happy has always been what matters most.

But so many are obsessed with numbers on a scale or clothing labels. So many wear things that make them feel like less than their potential. Hell, at points in my life, I have too. Maybe it is because we are scared. It is hard to stand out and that's exactly what "Power Pants" make us do. This is how we change the world, though. We embrace ourselves for who we are on any given day, wear and do the things that make us feel the best, and forget about the numbers. It is this that people will notice. It is this that will help us be as powerful as we can be. It is this that will change the world.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Reminders from Paradise

I am lucky enough to work in a school district that has the means to send us to conferences, especially out of state conferences. This week, I was in San Diego for a School Mental Health conference that I not only was able to attend, but also was honored to presenter at with other members of my team. That in itself has been an amazing opportunity!

Our conference presentation/adventurous group

I am also lucky enough to work with people who are adventurous, energetic, and flat out fun. We had so many adventures and laughs and got to know each other in an entirely different way. I am currently sitting on my balcony, listening to the Star Spangled Banner coming across the Harbor from the Naval Base, and reflecting on all the things San Diego has reminded me of.

On Wednesday I was reminded, while two of my coworkers and I sat on the four hour flight and literally talked the entire time so my one coworker wouldn't be so nervous flying, how important it is to take out your headphones, put away your phone, computer, book, whatever it is and take the time to talk. The flight flew by, my coworker wasn't AS nervous, and it made something that could have felt unbearable (I know four hours isn't much, but it can feel like a lifetime), enjoyable.

On Thursday I was reminded, while going on an impromptu kayaking tour with two of my coworkers and three random locals who agreed to take us out (they were affiliated with a kayak shop... don't worry!) and show us some of the wonders that sit right in their neighborhood, how important it is to go out of your comfort zone and take time to do new things. We saw sea lions just feet from us, a sunset over the bay, a college rowing team practicing, and hundreds of gorgeous boats. I almost didn't go, but as I was sitting in the kayak with these people, watching the sunset through palm trees, I realized how important it is to embrace adventure.

On Thursday I was also reminded, while riding in an inflatable dingy, in the middle of the night, across the same harbor, because the locals had offered to give us a ride to where we were meeting the others in our group and we thought it would be more fun than an Uber, that life is about embracing every moment to the fullest and not settling for the easy way. Sure, we could have taken an Uber. It probably would have been safer and quicker, but flying through the water on this little dingy, laughing about how ridiculous it was, and seeing the Harbor from a different perspective made me happy we didn't take the easy way.

Our "head honcho" and I riding across the harbor in the "dingy"

On Friday I was reminded, while we were standing on the beach on Coronado Island with Tijuana Mexico to our left, the Harbor we were staying at on the right, the Hotel del Coronado behind us, and of course our toes in the sand, how important it is to take off your shoes every once and a while and put your toes in the sand. What I mean is, so often in life we walk around busy and distracted from the world around us. It is important to take off our shoes if you will, stand on the beach, and really take a look around you to realize there is so much wonder to the world we live in.

A panoramic view from the beach including Tijuana Mexico, the Hotel del Coronado, and the sunsetting over the ocean 

On Saturday I was reminded once again, while walking through the San Diego zoo with our group, the importance of being in the moment, being adventurous, not taking the easy way (they have buses that literally take you up and down hills if you don't want to/can't walk them), and looking at our world with wonder. It was the perfect culmination to our trip. There was so much to see we didn't get to see everything, but that was okay. And that was another good reminder. Life isn't about seeing all there is to see. It is about embracing every moment for what it is and finding the good in everything you do.
A flower in the San Diego Zoo

Friday, September 23, 2016

"That Guy" In Friday Traffic

There is always "that guy" in Friday traffic. The one who speeds up, rides people's butts, just to change lanes and sit in the same position they were in before. The three second spacing rule goes out the window and all others on the road must bow down to them. Heck, sometimes they even ride on the shoulder just to bypass what everyone else is dealing with.

Maybe sometimes, we are "that guy" or wish we could be. Today, I found myself sitting in Friday traffic, not even to the highway yet and I watched one of those guys squeezing his way between cars with inches to spare only to change lanes again seconds later. I began to think about our unhealthy obsession with getting places quickly.

I'm not denying the fact that I was feeling anxious about the snail's pace it felt like I was going, but to me, it always seems more important to get home safely than it is to get there quickly. Don't get me wrong, I love to get home early so I have more time to get things done or relax. What gets me through that Friday traffic, though, is keeping in mind what really matters, getting home safe. 

I also thought about the parallels to these situations in the rest of my life, times that I catch myself being "that guy." Standing in line at the grocery store, or the library, or the movies. The times when I have gotten annoyed at having to wait, to go at a slower pace. I think that there is something innate in us to feel this way.

But what are we missing out on as we worry about our lateness? What risks are we willing to take to get someplace on time or early? What danger do we put other people in because we are impatient? What cost does our need for speed have on ourselves and other people? 

The answer to those questions cannot be positive. More good cannot come from rushing to get places than it does to take our time, be safe, and enjoy the ride. So I am going to try not to be "that guy" in Friday traffic or in the rest of my life. I am going to try and take my time, get home safe, and remember that that is what really matters. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Age of Losing Friends

We all have that friend or friends who never seem to be available. You invite them to all functions you plan and they always have something else to do, but for some reason you always find yourself inviting them anyway. We all also have those friends that take it one step further, either pretending they don't see the invites or just flat out ignoring you. As time goes on, eventually you just stop reaching out at all and they fall off your list of friends.

About a year ago, one of my best friends from high school moved literally down the street with his fiance. We talked about how great that would be and how much more we would see each other. At first, we did, but that quickly changed. After a few get togethers, attending one of their wedding showers, and eventually the wedding, we lost touch.

It wasn't for a lack of trying on our part either.  Messages would be sent, clearly read (Facebook messenger shows when messages are opened...) and were flat out ignored. Texts were left unanswered, phone calls never returned. It appeared blatant. I mean, most everyone knows you can see when someone reads your message. Were they trying to make a statement? It left Brandon and I and other friends who had reached out collectively wondering what we had done wrong.

I wracked my brain and combed through our last few interactions to see if I could figure out what had gone wrong. Was it something we said or did? Did we offend them somehow without realizing it? Did something happen that we were totally blind to? I had a lot of theories, but just couldn't be sure. All the more confusing, my friend drove by us while we were walking one day, stopped to talk, and acted like NOTHING was wrong. Of course he suggested a get together and nothing ever came of it.

I still don't know the exact reason they pulled away from our friendship, but I have been thinking about this a lot lately. It seems that within the last few years, this has happened with many people I considered friends. Just last week I texted a friend to get dinner, she didn't acknowledge the dinner invite, asked me a question, and never responded to me after I answered. Then there are those who respond, but two weeks later. I find myself asking WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?! IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME?!

It was late last week that one of the morning radio shows I listen to was talking about just this. According to a recent study by Aalto University in Finland and the University of Oxford in England, when people reach their mid-twenties they begin to lose social contacts at a rapid rate. PHEW! At least I know I'm not alone, but it still didn't make me feel much better. If the decline has already started to happen, what does that mean for my circle of friends in 5 years or 10 or 20?

Apparently, the study blames the fact that people's focus tends to shift around this time in life. They start to weigh out what they want and who provides that for them. According to the findings, women especially tend to focus on "best" friendships as a way to create a tight inner circle, specifically for when they begin to have children. So basically, what the study is saying is the people who aren't answering or are not putting in the effort don't see me as a part of their inner circle.

Cool. Cool. I get it. While my initial reaction is to be offended, it got me thinking. I have started to frame things much the same way. You people don't want to respond to me? That's okay, I have people who do respond, enjoy spending time with me, and care when things are going well and maybe are not going so well. Is it worth putting the effort in for those that don't? No! And that's okay.

I wrote a post a month or so ago after our housewarming party. We invited over 40 people and in the end only about 10 showed up. When we looked around the room we realized it was a majority of our bridal party and family. Those are the people who have stood by us before and are still standing by us now. That's not to say that there aren't others who I will still try and reach out to.

I am realizing that we are going through the "Age of Losing Friends," but I am choosing to look at it in a positive light. According to the numbers we may be losing friends, but we are also creating a tight inner circle that will be with us through all the joys and troubles we might face. At this point in life, it's not worth chasing someone who doesn't consider you part of their own circle, so here's to those who do! Thank you for being part of my entourage!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Your Full Name and A City To Go With It

It's almost official! In May of 2017, I will be done with my first Master's Degree. It still doesn't seem all that close, but last week I got a form to fill out asking for information to be included in the graduation program. While most of the information was easy to come up with, one question caused me to pause.

The form wanted me to fill out my full name and a city I wanted listed next to it. My first thought was to put Kenosha, since that is where we are living now. I began to think, however, about what place I most associate with myself and I realized how many I have to choose from.

This left me all the more confused. See, I grew up in Palatine, went to a Catholic grade school and then a public high school there. But I also worked at a special recreation association in Rolling Meadows, went to college in Elmhurst and was a student worker in a variety of offices, got my first job in an elementary school in Vernon Hills, and now I work for a high school district in Glenview and live in Kenosha. This led me to another realization.

We are not only associated with places, but businesses, schools, religions, jobs... My best friend and I were discussing life, as we often do, and she shared how hard it has been for her and her husband since he left the Marines. "My identity for the last four years has been a military spouse," she said. "Now, it is hard to come up with an identity."

Since moving to a new state where I don't know anyone, I have been struggling a bit with my own identity. Sure, I have things that I identify myself as: teacher, sister, daughter, wife, poet, pet parent, and the list goes on. I am realizing that everyone has so many different things they use to identify themselves. So what city most defines me now that I am not living in the place I did for the majority of my first 23 years?

How can we ever state one city, business, school, or even sometimes religion that defines us? We are who we are because of all of these things. For now, Kenosha is home, but who knows where I will end up living next? For now, Olivet Nazarene is my school, but who knows where I will end up studying next? For now, I work in Glenview as a transition teacher, but who knows where I will end up working next?

While it might not seem very concrete, I am relieved with this revelation. I am not defined by where I am living (though I am loving living in Kenosha). I am defined by all the places I have lived or visited and the experiences I have had. I still don't know what city I will list in the graduation program next to my name, but I have found comfort in reflecting on all the places I have been and all the places I have yet to go.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Uncensored Rap, Heavy Metal, and Showtunes

I am going to be honest. Lately, I have been exhausted! I find myself going to bed earlier and earlier and if I don't, I can't help but nod off on the couch. My alarm goes off in the morning and it is like waking the dead. I have been doing my morning yoga with my eyes still closed and if I go to the gym after work, I feel like I am a zombie, going through the motions.

It is slightly unnerving. Maybe it is because I slept in all summer and now am up at 5:00 a.m. every day. Maybe it is the fact that I am back to work. Maybe it is the extra time and mileage to my commute. Maybe it is my students. Maybe it is the fact that it is my second year on the job (I thought I would have a better handle on things, but I am finding that I have so much more to figure out). Maybe it is our new home, new city, new routines.

While I was driving home from work yesterday at 9:00 p.m., after our back to school parent night, I did a little reflecting. After all the parents had left, my coworker and mentor had expressed how exhausted she felt and it was then that I realized just how much that rang true. Staying at work so late and being "on" for two hours answering parents' questions was exhausting.

I began to question, though, why I felt like this every day for the past few weeks. While listening to my loud mix of uncensored rap, heavy metal and showtunes, I realized that I hadn't done that in a while. Listening to this weird mix of music after a long day at work used to be comforting. Lately, though, I have found myself listening to whatever is on, zoning out on the drive home.

I also began to think about the other things I have stopped doing regularly. Things like writing, grocery shopping once a week instead of anytime we need something, meal planning, going for nightly walks with my husband, and the list goes on. I began to realize that somewhere along the line, I have lost my balance. I have put all my effort into being "on" at work and zone out during the rest of my life.

Last year and in the year prior, I tried consciously to create a strong work/personal life balance and this year I feel like I have lost that. I come home after rushing around to get things into order for my students and staff and worry about what I might have forgotten to do. My students and ways to improve the way I am teaching is constantly on my mind. The bad thing about that is I have stopped doing the things that comfort me. I have stopped being present in things that are not work related. I am just going through the motions of the day when I am home.

The thing that strikes me is how easily this happened, how quickly I slipped into this school year trance. I am thankful, though, for the moment I realized it. I am grateful for a weekend to relax and for time to be present in things that are separate from my job, but still bring me joy. I am grateful for my new "long day playlist" to drive home to and candles and books and tea and all the things I find comfort in. I need to remember to stay balanced and present always.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

15 Signs It's the First Week of School (For My Fellow Teachers)

Being a teacher is a rewarding job. There are so many joys we celebrate with our students, but sadly... the beginning of the year always seems to be an exciting, but chaotic whirlwind. While driving home today, I started to think about all the ways you know, as a teacher, that it is the first week of school. While my job is a little different than a traditional classroom teacher's I think you (my fellow teachers) can all relate to a few, if not all of these:

1. Your commute to school started out feeling unbelievably quick, but slowly seems to gain 10 minutes each day as the week goes on.

2. You have heard EVERYONE'S answers to "What did you do this summer?" at least 10 times.

3. You have already realized the plans you came up with this summer might not work.

4. You can't remember what, if anything, you ate for lunch yesterday.

5. By the end of the day it feels like you spent more time on the phone or answering emails from parents than you did working with your students.

6. You end up leaving to go home at least a half hour to forty-five minutes after you planned.

7. Your commute home started out feeling unbelievably quick, but slowly seems to gain 10 minutes each day as the week goes on.

8. On the drive home, Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home" comes on and the irony makes you smile (or cry depending on how your week is going).

9. You get home, look in the mirror, and find that your hair looks like you walked through a tornado.

10. It takes everything in you to stay up watching TV, doing homework, or reading...

11. ...so your bedtime has gone from 10:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and as the week goes on it gets earlier.

12. Your alarm clock scares the living daylights out of you because you were so sound asleep and dreaming of... school.

13. The effort you put into your morning routine changes into just... COFFEE

14. When people ask how your first week is going, the only word you can come up with is "exhausting"

15. Even though you're exhausted, this poem (and that cup of COFFEE) gets you pumped up to do it all over again!


STRIVE!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Better With The Lights Out

This past weekend I had it all planned out. We had invited various friends and family members to come see our new house since we are finally, pretty much settled in.

It was going to be sunny, but not too hot and not because that was the forecast, but because I would will it to be so. We were going to have a taco bar and a bonfire with s'mores. We had bought brand new sets of games for the yard and coolers to keep all the drinks cold. I had made the perfect playlist.

If you didn't know already, I am a planner, but because of this, I have often been told the cliche quote, "People plan and God laughs." Oh, how he must have laughed on Saturday. 

That morning I checked the weather only to find that it was supposed to thunderstorm starting in the afternoon and going on through the night. By that point, I had already set up everything in the yard. Trying not to begin panicking, I moved everything into the house or the garage just in case.

I spent the afternoon preparing the food, organizing chairs, and trying to figure out where people would fit if we did all end up having to be inside. My friend and her new boyfriend came early to help us set up.

About a half hour after they came, just as we finished filling up the coolers with ice and drinks (which were now in the kitchen instead of on the planned patio), the forecasted storm blew in. Rain coming down sideways. Lightening illuminating black skies. Roaring thunder.

And then... a flicker. The lights. They went off. Then immediately back on. We laughed, thanking God it was just a flicker of the lights.

And then... they flickered again, but this time they didn't come back on. We had no power. No lights. No electricity to the crockpot my taco meat was cooking in. No air conditioning to keep all our guests, who would now be inside our house instead of able to come and go, cool.

By that point, people were already on their way. My friend's family ended up turning around because the storm was so bad where they were coming from they couldn't see the roads. People trickled in, talking about how scary the storms were.

I thought about how blessed I was that these people battled a thunderstorm to drive to Wisconsin to see us. Ironically enough, it ended up being my family and the majority of our bridal party. Which really makes sense and affirms our having chosen them to stand by us on our wedding day.

None seemed to care all too much about the lack of power. We ate tacos that had stayed warm despite the lack of electricity and drank beer that had been kept cool in our brand new coolers. Brandon gave candlelit tours of our new house. We listened to my perfect playlist off of my phone (thank God for battery saver mode)! We laughed and played drinking games by candlelight.

By 11:30, the power came back on. Just in time for the house to cool down before people started getting ready for bed. It was if it were planned that way, power off just long enough for all of us to hang out together in the dark, but back on in time for us to sleep comfortably.

Though things didn't go as I had envisioned them, everything turned out perfect. We were surrounded by friends who cared about us enough to, as Peter put it, drive into the movie Twister, so they could come celebrate our new house with us. We ate and sang and laughed and played and everybody was safe.

Though I don't know if I will ever stop being a planner, I think it is getting easier as I get older to laugh along with God when things don't go as planned. Moments like these prove that even though you envision things going one way, it can be even better if they take a completely different turn.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Marriage is...

I sit here, on the morning of our first anniversary, reflecting. I have written already of the many things that have been happening for Brandon and I in the last year. I have written already of the many things we have been through that make us a strong team. 

Today, I am thinking about all the things we were told marriage would or would not be. Marriage is life changing. Marriage is hard. Marriage is not a compromise. It is either a lose-lose or a win-win. Marriage is not something to be taken lightly. Marriage is a blessing. 

Today, I am reflecting on all the things we have found marriage to be in our first year. Some align with the advice we had been given and some are far from it.

First, marriage is a compromise. A friend of ours told us, quite passionately, about a retreat he had gone on that preached how marriage was not a compromise, it was always a win-win or a lose-lose. He was so adamant about that making sense, but I remember leaving his apartment with Brandon and trying to sort through that logic.

Going into marriage thinking that every decision you make together will end in a loss for both of you or a win for both of you is going to set you up for frustration. Sure, its a nice sentiment to think that if your spouse doesn't get exactly what they wanted and take a "loss" you will also be taking a "loss" because marriage is a partnership. The reality however, is that marriage is a partnership, but if you go through life thinking that unless your partner is "winning" you will not be, you will find yourself very conflicted.

You are two different people. I have different ideas than Brandon does about a lot of things. If we always go with what I want or always go with what he wants, where does that leave the other person? Sometimes you have to take a loss for your partner to win. Sometimes you have to let yourself win and accept that your partner is losing. Sometimes you both don't get what you want, but end up with something just as good. That is a partnership.

Second, marriage is not something to be taken lightly. Brandon and I knew for a long time that we would marry each other. When we did, we were young newlyweds for this generation. He was twenty-three and I was still twenty-two and I am sure that many people questioned why we were getting married so young.

Here's the thing, when you find someone who you can see being your partner through life, through the good and the really really bad, life might get hard sometimes, but your marriage will not be. So often people decide to marry solely because of love. Love is only part of a marriage. Brandon and I love each other very much, but we also know that whatever life throws at us, we can handle and will handle together.

Finally, a year goes by really fast. Some weeks you will feel like they are being dragged out, but by the end of it, you will question what happened to all your time. In one year, Brandon and I accomplished A LOT and looking back there are so many moments I wish we could slow down. Our honeymoon. Hunting for our first house together. Our wedding day.

Marriage is life changing because you get to spend your life with someone who loves you, supports you, and will be there with you through it all. The biggest thing I have learned this year is to be present in every moment together because they go so quickly. Take time to just be together and continue to view your marriage and your time together as a blessing because it is.
July 11, 2015

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Twenty Something Boxes and A Couple Rolls of Packing Tape

It is amazing how quickly you can pack all the things you consider yours using twenty something boxes and a couple rolls of packing tape. Just when you aren't sure how you are going to do it, you find yourself packing the last few items you have been holding off on into boxes. The last pans. Your tea pot. The baking supplies. The silverware.

Monday marks moving day, an impossibly fast approaching date that seemed forever away when we accepted the offer on our place and heard news that our offer on our new house had been accepted a month ago, but now it is three days away.

I knew it would be stressful, moving to a different state, but I didn't think it would hit me this hard. Last night was my last night volunteering at Barb's Precious Rescue and I found myself unable to even say a proper goodbye because I was fighting back tears. I cried the whole car ride home and into Brandon's arms once I got there.

Today, I found myself near tears checking out a library book because I realized it was the last one I would check out from the library I have gone to my whole life. I found myself thinking of all the places I won't go to regularly anymore and all the people who are there, most just acquaintances, but who are familiar and comforting to me.

I am finding that it is not the act of packing my things that is making me so emotional. It is the fact that there are so many people, places, and experiences that make me feel at home that I can't take with me.

The thing that is getting me through this though, besides the occasional, emotional cry, is that Brandon and our three fur babies will be in our new home with me. We have a sign on our wall (currently packed in a box) that says "Wherever we are together, that is home." It may sound cheesy, but it is true.

There are so many people and places in this town that I will miss seeing on a regular basis. I have lived here my whole life. How could I not miss them? But I know that moving to a new place is a fresh start, a chance to find familiar places and people to call our own, together.

Moving doesn't change the fact that familiarity is comforting. It doesn't just instantly make us forget the things we associate ourselves, our home, with.  It just forces us to find new familiar things to find comfort in. I don't know what they will be yet, but I know that we will find them.

Wisconsin here we come! 

Friday, June 17, 2016

I Will Not Let You Recite My Pain

Last night, as helicopters circled over head and I found myself worrying that violence, in whatever capacity, had found its way into my neighborhood, I began to reflect on the terrible things we have been hearing about as of late.

The local shootings, the mass shootings, the bombings, the hate. So much hate. And the fear. And as a writer I find that often, I feel this intense need to write about these things as a way to sort through them. I also, however, keep finding myself at a crossroads.

I am a straight, white, woman who grew up in a middle class, Catholic, suburban home, who does not know and cannot pretend to know what people who are different from me feel regarding these situations.

It is infuriating to me when people try to comment on the situations without having been a part of it or the community it effects. Perhaps this is just social media and the media in general exposing me and my fellow Americans to a platform where everyone feels they should have some long, often political, reaction to the news headlines.

I am not saying that we cannot all mourn the loss of life or have an opinion. Lord knows I have seen the comments about how everything offends people nowadays. As I said before, I know that often we just don't know how to sort through these situations without saying something. I know that as human beings we all have a reaction.

I am saying that there are some situations that call for us to sit back and listen to the victims, the witnesses, their families, their communities. I am saying maybe we need to let them tell their stories. I am saying we don't all need to share our feelings about things because so often we worry so much about what to say that we miss the chance to learn about each other and grow as a nation, as human beings.

I came across a poem (shared below) today that I had written for the 30 Poems in 30 Days challenge in April this year. This was before the horrific Orlando shooting. It was not even in response to any sort of similar situation, but as I reread it, I feel that it is so relative

-      -     -

My Pain

I will not let you recite my pain
for it is mine to share or hide.
I have the privilege of choice, so
I will recite my own pain, thanks.

For it is mine to share or hide,
this image of the hardest in my life.
I will recite my own pain, thanks.
Maybe another day you will share yours.

This image of the hardest in my life,
it means nothing coming from you.
Maybe another day you can share yours,
so we will all understand each other better.

It means nothing coming from you.
I have the privilege of choice so,
So we will all understand each other better.
I will not let you recite my pain.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Settling Into Life

Last January, Brandon and I got engaged.
Last February, we decided to buy a condo together.
Last April, we had the wedding shower, closed on our condo, painted the whole thing in one weekend, and moved our stuff in with just a U-Haul pick up truck and my dad's mini van.
Last May, we adopted our two cats.
Last June, I accepted a new job, my dream job.
Last July, Brandon and I got married.

Now, just one year later I feel like I am doing it all over again. Now, I have my dream job and can't imagine doing anything else every day. I am married and happy to be celebrating our one year anniversary soon and not having to worry about planning a wedding. Despite all this though, there is still a lot going on in my life.

This May, Brandon took a job with the Milwaukee Bucks, his dream job.
This May, we decided to move to Wisconsin so we could be halfway between our jobs, both of our dream jobs. (Yes, I am keeping mine because he would never ask me to leave it for him and I wouldn't anyway. Being asked this is a new pet peeve of mine.)
This May, we listed our condo and it sold in two days.
This May, we found a house in Wisconsin that we absolutely love.
This May, we adopted a new cat since we will have the room to care for more.
And this June, in three weeks, we will be closing on our old place, then our new place (all in one day) and making the move to the great cheese state.

As I have been telling people all of this, they have been joking that things seem to happen so quickly in my life. I have been thinking about this a lot lately (maybe to avoid thinking about how much I have to pack) because it seems so true. Decisions are made and things just get done. Maybe this is because I stress about things if I let them go on for too long. Maybe it is because I know what I want and I make it happen. Or maybe, this is just because this is how things are meant to be.

I think this is the next step in Brandon and I settling into life together. I will have my dream job. He will have his. We will have a house that we can grow in together in the state we always joked we would retire in together. We will be leaving our family and close friends here too, but something tells me the distance won't matter. Something tells me that we will still be surrounded by these people whether near or far, but also be welcomed into a new community. Things happen for a reason and I can't help but think that this is the next step towards finding our home together.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

An Open Letter To The Boy Who Took A Girl With A Disability to Prom

Dear you, the boy in the news article, who is being praised for taking a girl with a disability to prom,

I am choosing to believe that your intentions were of the purest sort. That you did this, out of the kindness of your heart, not because of the potential news coverage. I want you to know, that I am not writing because I am unhappy with what you did.

I am writing because I don't think it is right that a newspaper covered this. I don't think it is right that something like this, such kindness towards people with disabilities, should be portrayed as a miracle, as something out of the ordinary, as if you are a hero.

Maybe to that girl, you are. Maybe this is something she will remember for the rest of her life. BUT maybe the newspaper didn't need to write about it. Maybe someday, kindness will not be something seen as heroism, but the norm. Maybe including people with disabilities will someday, not be something seen as heroism, but the norm.

My sister, Karlee, has Down Syndrome and she has spent her whole life longing to fit in. She does not want to be treated as different, as someone who needs saving. She wants to be treated as someone worthy enough of a prom date. She wants to be treated as someone worthy enough of a paid job. She wants to be treated as someone worthy of being included in her community without the newspapers writing about it's novelty. And that is all I have ever wanted for her.

I have chosen to devote my career to this. I work every day to help people with disabilities integrate into their communities, to have meaningful experiences that benefit themselves as well as everyone else, to be independent, successful members of society. I work every day towards a world where someone with a disability going to prom or getting a paid job isn't deemed as newsworthy, but is something that is expected.

During Autism Awareness month, I saw a Facebook post saying we should not be focusing on "Awareness," but rather on "Acceptance." The newspaper article about you, served as the awareness piece. Yes, there are people in our communities with disabilities, but we have all known this. This, is not newsworthy. The fact that they are wanting to join their peers in age-appropriate acitivites is not newsworthy.

Instead, we should be educating. We should be teaching people about inclusion and acceptance, that a label of a disability does not mean pity. It just means they might do things, hear things, see things, differently. We should be teaching people to accept and accommodate people with disabilities.

Maybe someday we will celebrate Autism Acceptance Month or Down Syndrome Acceptance Month or Disability Acceptance Month, but maybe someday we won't have to. Maybe someday people will be able to live their lives without the newspaper covering the story of someone's kindness towards them.

Thank you for your kindness, but your story has shown me that we have a lot more work to do.

Sincerely,
Emily
A sister, a teacher, a friend, a concerned citizen

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Finite Number of Words

I recently read a book called "The Mystics of Mile End" by Sigal Samuel, which is a beautifully written story of lives intertwined. It follows a Jewish community, specifically a young family whose loss of their mother has changed their relationships forever. The family is attempting to sort through their faith, grief, and the meaning of life.

One of the characters, Mr. Goodman, is a Jewish teacher and Holocaust survivor. Readers are given a glimpse into his relationship with his wife, whom he met before the war, was separated from and sent to different concentration camps, and later found again and married. The interesting thing about their relationship, however, is that they rarely speak to each other. This is because Mr. Goodman believes that people are only given a set number of words and once they have used up their words, they will die.


This is not a new concept to me. I have seen the movie "A Thousand Words," starring Eddie Murphy where this exact thing happens. He is told that he only has a thousand words left to speak before he dies. As he speaks, each word causes a leaf to fall off a tree that mysteriously grew in his backyard. When all the leaves are gone, his words are used up, and he will die.


Upon reading the book and reflecting on its connection to the movie's theme, I began to think. I am a teacher, a writer, a poet, a student, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and on top of that, I love to sing in the car. I speak A LOT of words in a day and can't imagine how many I will speak in a lifetime. Even as I am writing this, my natural instinct is to read the words aloud to make sure they sound okay.

BUT what would happen if we did only have a finite amount of words to speak before we would use them up and die? If we knew what our number was would we speak differently than if we just knew that someday we would run out?

Would I write as much, learn as much, sing as much? Would Brandon and I stop talking to each other as Mr. Goodman and his wife did? Would my teaching and relationships with my students be better or worse? Would my relationships in general be better or worse?

Some days I know that I should speak as if I only have a thousand words left. Some days, I speak carelessly anyway.  Maybe reading this story was a hint that I should talk less. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Either way, it made me think...

Friday, April 15, 2016

Finding the Meaning of Life

Such a bold title for a simply story about something fun and rewarding Brandon and I started this week, but that I just can't help but sharing!!!

Last year, on Labor Day weekend, Brandon and I decided that we were going to go to a shelter and see about adopting a cat. Now, I grew up with dogs, big dogs, German Shepherds. I had no experience with cats except the occasional visit to a friend's house who had one. Brandon grew up with no pets in the house so basically we were flying blind.

We happened upon a shelter that was fairly new and close to our house. So, on a Wednesday night we drove over to Barb's Precious Rescue and Adoption Center to visit some cats.

(CHECK THEM OUT!!! http://barbspreciousrescue.org/)

The shelter is an old house that was refinished inside to serve as a home for over 100 cats. Each room is designated for a different age group of cats. Included is the preschool, kitten room, toddler room, teenage room, and adult room. Also adorning the hallways are even more cats. The rooms are full of trees and beds and blankets and toys.

Barb, the owner, knew every cats name and story. It was one of the most amazing places I had ever been, truly a save haven for homeless cats while they wait to be adopted. Two cats from the kitten room ended up choosing us. I say they chose us because I truly believe they did.

I wanted one that would curl up on my lap to read so I sat down in a big arm chair in the room and waited. Almost instantly I had a cat in my lap, tail wagging, and softly purring. "This one," I told Brandon. While he was standing there another cat had peeked her head out from one of the cat trees and gently licked his fingers. She was so timid, but felt compelled to make the connection. When Barb confirmed they would get along in our house together we were sold!

This coming Labor Day will mark our one year anniversary with Scout and Tigress and we couldn't be more happy. They have become part of our family and while I used to identify as a dog person, when people ask now I'm not quite sure what to say. It is undeniable that the way the cats cuddle with me might have swayed my decision.

 Tigress (aka "Lil Baby" because she hasn't grown since the day we got her)
Scout (My Cuddle Buddy from day one!)

Anyway, Brandon and I recently attended an Open House supply drive and benefit for the shelter and afterward decided that we wanted to give back in more than just a monetary way. This Wednesday was our first time volunteering and it was such a great experience!!!

Ironically enough (or perhaps Barb planned things this way) we were in charge of cleaning the kitten and toddler rooms. We did things like sweep the floor, clean off their beds and trees, but we were also instructed to "just spend time with the cats." They didn't have to tell us twice!

We spent about two and a half hours there not only cleaning the rooms, but also visiting the other rooms to socialize the cats. Aside from the fact that we could spend time with the animals, it was nice to feel like we were part of a team doing something meaningful for these cats. While it broke my heart that there were so many there, it felt nice to know that we were helping them have somewhere clean and kept to live in until they found their forever home.

The moral of the story, and the reason for the bold title is that cleaning those rooms and sitting with a lap full of cats made me think, maybe the meaning of life is to continuously do something meaningful with your life. I am a teacher. That is the main way I identify myself, but I am also a volunteer and that has added so much meaning into my week.

Can't say enough good things about Barb's Precious Rescue. Seriously, check them out!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Spring Cleaning

Spring is notoriously a season of renewal. It seems to come naturally to most that as the winter leaves its last few flakes of snow only to be replaced with buds, we are cleaning out our lives and looking forward to a new season of warmth. Naturally, I was feeling this way and began reflecting on the habits that I have recently taken on in an attempt to clean out my life and renew.

So... here is my list of 5 healthy spring cleaning habits that I have found useful and maybe you will too:

1. Get rid of and donate any clothes that don't make you feel FABULOUS! I told my mom that I was doing this at first, as a joke. I was looking through  my closet one day at the many different items I owned and realized that while I had A LOT of clothes, not all of them made me feel my best. You know the things I am talking about, those clothes you keep just in case, but every time you wear them you just don't feel good about yourself. I realized that I had a lot of clothes and that I had no business owning and wearing things that I didn't feel good in. So, I literally got rid of everything that didn't make me feel FABULOUS and began only wearing things that made me feel like my best self. It has made a world of difference in my everyday attitude because, as I have always believed, dressing your best just makes the day better.

2. Find a time for yourself. For me, I have found this through yoga. I have always been a fan of yoga, but haven't been practicing recently because, well... I was lazy, but I began to yearn for some kind of physical outlet. The cold months often leave us bundled under blankets and eating large meals, but eventually I reached the point where I just had to get up and move. Thus, I began practicing yoga again. While the physical benefits have been obvious, with it came another benefit. I was able to set aside even just a half an hour a day to focus on bettering myself, breathing, and paying attention to my needs. I am calmer, more reflective, and much more energized.

3. Drink lots of water (and tea). I often found myself having digestive issues (not a surprise after the comment about curling up under blankets and eating big meals). I tried eating lots of different things, but couldn't seem to find relief. I have recently been paying close attention to how much water I am drinking and began to try and double it. With it, I have been drinking at least two cups of green tea a day, my goal being two cups in the morning and two at night. This has greatly improved my digestion and makes me much less hungry throughout the day. A double bonus!!!

4. Have meaningful conversations, daily. While the last three might seem more obviously related to spring cleaning, you might say, "How does having a conversation relate to cleaning and renewing?" It is obvious when someone uses weather as a conversation starter, they don't know what else to say. When someone does, or even I do, I notice and cringe. Brandon and I try to go for walks (more physical exercise) every single day. We often spend these walks talking about things we both are very passionate about. This could cover a variety of different things, but I can assure you if it is rarely about the weather (except for an off hand comment about the blizzard conditions in March). There is so much to talk about and taking the time to explore the things that you are thinking about anyway, will clear out your mind and help you sort through them.

5. Go out of your way to do things you enjoy. Obviously I mentioned the yoga and having meaningful conversations, but I'm talking about doing more! Over spring break I read four books, watched potentially hundreds of poetry videos on YouTube, began writing poetry again myself, and attended a benefit for the shelter we got our kitties from. (I also spent a majority of the time I was reading cuddling with my cats). These are all things I truly find joy in. In taking the time to spend my free time, not on social media, but engaged in meaningful activities that better myself and others, I have found a renewed contentment with my days.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Surprise Party

I haven't written in a while. I'm guessing its because I needed an emotional detox from writing about the situation. It also, however, might be because of the surprise party. See, I wrote about the situation because I kept worrying and reliving it. I was worrying and reliving it because this year is my dad's 60th birthday.

In the years that have passed, my father has reconciled with his side of the family. He used to ask if any of us wanted to join him to visit them, but has since learned the answer will always be no, at least for my mother, younger sister, and I. Karlee, who called my grandmother a bully, goes sometimes. I can only hope it is of her own accord and not because she feels badly for my father.  

Anyway, this year my dad turns 60 and my mom planned a surprise party for him. She asked if it would be a problem for Brandon and I if she invited his family, knowing how much it would mean to him if we were all there. My initial thought was, Sure, we can be the bigger people. Brandon said something along the lines of, Eh, it's been almost three years. If they still have a problem with us that will only be their problem. And with that, the plans for the party began.

In the weeks leading up to the party, I had flashbacks of things that had happened before. Brandon and I, strong and unphased as we tried to be, talked about what could potentially happen in an attempt to prepare ourselves for the worst. My other grandmother, who I think was the most worried of all of us, assured me that she would be there if anything happened as my grandpa replied, "Yeah? What will you do?!" teasing her.

About two weeks ago, on a Friday night, it was time. My dad thought that him and my mom were going out with some family friends for dinner. Little did he know, we were all going to be at the restaurant when they got there. Brandon and I had gone to pick up my friend and the cake. My sisters came a little later with balloons. Everything was set up nicely and then we waited.

The first people to come were of course my aunt, uncle, and cousin on my dad's side. The one who had shared with me the story of my great-grandmother and a variety of Bible quotes. In that moment, I decided gracious and welcoming was all I could be. I walked up to all three of them and gave them a hug, welcomed them, showed them were to put gifts, and where the drinks were.

More and more people began to come with no incidents. It was almost the time that my dad was supposed to be there and my grandparents, his parents, weren't there yet. A minute before I got the text from my mom that her and my dad were there, my grandparents walked in.

At the time, I was talking to my mom's brother and his wife, my back to the door. The minute they walked in both of their eyes got wide. "They're here. Your other grandparents are here," they whispered in the most indiscreet way possible. I couldn't help but smile because I realized that if Brandon and I were nervous, so were all the other people here who loved us.

Again, I chose to take the gracious route, turning around and welcoming both of them. Maybe it was my imagination, but they both looked like they deflated with relief. Again, I realized that if I was nervous, they were ten times as nervous. Oddly, that made me feel better. Maybe they finally knew that what they had done was wrong.

A few minutes later, my dad showed up. He walked through the door with my friend's dad laughing, expecting to be seated at a table to eat. When he looked up to a booming yell of "Surprise!" the look on his face was priceless. Not only was he surprised (which if you know my dad, was a surprise in and of itself), but I saw him scan the crowd of us and take in the fact that we were all there to celebrate him.

When I think back to that day, of course the worrying was really all for nothing. The party went as well as it possibly could have. Though I didn't spend the whole time catching up with my dad's side of the family, we were in the same room together with no incidents. I haven't spoken to any of them since and honestly don't plan to. I just can't deal with that kind of emotional distress and worry for every family function.

Life is full of enough distress already without it coming from your family. I am relieved that for my dad's sake they put their hatred behind them. I can breathe a sigh of relief that Brandon didn't walk into another ambush on my or my family's account. Nothing will ever fix the damage, but I feel like that night I finally got closure. For that, I am unbelievably grateful.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Part 6: Stronger Than Before

Part 6: Stronger Than Before

My best friend, who had moved to North Carolina with her husband who was a Marines, was home and wanted to come and visit. Brandon and I had planned on her coming to my apartment at school and then we were going to go out for margaritas at our favorite salsa bar.

Moments before she was due to get there, we got into the biggest fight yet. Just for background, Brandon and I had never fought until the night of that wedding. It may sound crazy and you might think, "but everyone fights," but we really didn't. Sure we had minor disagreements, but we never had a reason to fight and scream at each other before.

This time, we really didn't have a reason to fight or scream either, except that we were both so tense, confused, and angry about what had happened to us. As my friend rang the doorbell she walked into a war zone neither of us had ever stepped foot into together.

It was not either of our brightest moments, but I thank God that she stepped in when she did. Without hesitation she grabbed Brandon's arm and told him to come with her.

To this day, I don't know exactly what she said to him, though I have heard pieces from both of them. All I know is that when he stepped back into my apartment, things were different. They weren't fixed by any means, but we both had realized something very important.

We were fighting because of something someone else had done, someone's opinion, someone's reality, but it wasn't our reality. Really, our relationship was as strong as it had ever been. We had been through something so traumatizing and came out loving each other even more. They hadn't ruined our relationship, they had made it better.

-     -     -

Brandon and I got married July 11th of last year. The wedding was about half the size of what it would have been if this whole thing hadn't happened, but we were surrounded by people who truly loved and supported us. 

Through all of this, I think that was the most important lesson either of us have learned:

Life can get complicated sometimes and there will always be people there to tear you down. These people, regardless of blood relation, are not family. The people who love and support you no matter what are family.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Part 5: Catholic Guilt

In the aftermath of the situation, one of the biggest things I have struggled with is my faith. This is not to say that I was ever angry with God nor is it that I felt less connected to my own personal beliefs. The thing I have continued to struggle with the most is finding a home for those beliefs.

I was raised Catholic, attended Catholic grade school, taught religious education in my parish through high school, and sought out a Catholic religious group in college. For the majority of my life, Catholic was a large part of my personal identity. It was, in essence, my home. It wasn't until my merit as a Christian was questioned that I really began to wrestle with this aspect of my life.

I found myself rereading those Bible quotes that were sent to me. I questioned whether or not I really wanted to be associated with people who identified with a faith they used to make me feel guilty for being, well, human. I attended services with my family and could not focus on anything, but the negative association I had with my family. I found myself getting angry at church. I didn't mean to, but I had let them ruin my faith identity.

I now realize that it was a blessing in disguise. I have used this time to explore my own personal beliefs as well as other faiths and churches. I can't say I have found my home yet, but I will continue to use this time as a self-reflection.

The following poem was one that I wrote to sort out all these hostile feelings I had about not only the people who were using my faith to hurt me, but the faith I had associated with for so long. It was also the poem that sparked my aunt's rant about how I "should just go write another poem about it."

Whether they agreed with me writing about our family or not, this poem was the stepping stone towards my current journey of faith exploration and for that, I am grateful.

-     -     -

Part 5: Catholic Guilt

The Lord is my light and my salvation
Of whom should I be afraid?
Psalms 27:1


A sign above the sink in the teacher’s lounge
warns that God is always watching.
This is why all the dishes are clean.

It is the same reason that we were taught
to always ask ourselves what Jesus would do
so we could “decide” were our values lied,
why I always sang in church,

why when I turned 13
and began wearing mascara to school
and rolling my uniform skirt,
my teacher thought it appropriate
to stop the entire class and inform me
that I didn’t have to try so hard
to get God’s attention.

I didn’t tell her that her God is not mine.
I couldn’t afford one more sin on my conscience.

I was raised to believe that all I have to do
is openly admit my sins, ask for forgiveness
and they would be cleansed.

So why did I spend my whole life
feeling so guilty for being human?

Sometimes I still find myself wondering
what Jesus would do in my shoes
and I remember the one day each year
that we spoke about the story of Him in the temple
how He screamed for the disrespectful people
to leave His presence.

So when she pretends her intentions are pure
as she tells me that she will never forget
the image of my great-grandmother
throwing herself on my great-grandpa’s coffin
and begging for his forgiveness,

when she reminds me that by then it was too late
and attempts to leave me speechless with a Bible quote
about how I won’t get into heaven unless I forgive,
I will picture this Jesus.

I will remember His teachings
that we are to treat others the way we want to be treated
and that if I were to be as hateful as you were
I would never expect to be forgiven.

I will remind myself of the stories my mother tells
of me sitting in high chairs at dinner time
and trying to show her and my father the angels
watching over us from the corner.

There is something more significant in this
than in the out of context Bible quotes,
passive aggressive notes convincing me
to clean my dishes or feel God’s wrath,
the overdramatic stories about our family.

And I cannot let guilt be the reason I try to forget
because I know that when I am standing
at the gates of my God’s heaven
He won’t have to ask why I never spoke to you again.

He will smile, knowingly,
remembering the time that He got angry
and cast the ignorant out, too.

So keep telling me
that I don’t need to try so hard
to get your God’s attention,

but my God knows what I’m going through
and He likes a little spunk,
would rather me stand up for myself
than feel guilty
for being what He made me.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Part 4: BULLY!

Part 4: BULLY!

When we had finally made it back inside the venue, the decision was made that it would be best if we all left so my dad, mom, sisters, Brandon and I got back in the car and drove home. 
The ride was silent. 


What do you say after something like that happens?
Ironically though, when we got back to my parent's house, my memory is mostly in phrases...

My dad
"I am so sorry."
"I hope you don't think this is a reflection on me."

My sister Karlee,
the one who had been crying,
who has Down Syndrome
and loved when her grandparents came
to watch her compete for Special Olympics,
screaming:
"SHE'S JUST A BIG BULLY!!!"
at the top of her lungs,
crying.

We drove back to my apartment at school that night. I remember walking in to find my roommates and friends laying around watching a movie.
"How was the wedding?"
They asked enthusiastically.
I shook my head.
"I'll tell you about it later."
-     -     -

The days, weeks, and months that followed were by far the most emotional and trying of my life. 


Brandon and I fought, really fought, for the first time in our relationship. Every time the argument kept coming back to the same thing...


"But it was just my crazy grandma!"
"Yes, but that's the thing, its your grandma!
How can we be together if someone so important in your family hates me?"
I watched him slip into an intense period of self-doubt. I caught him in moments questioning not only our relationship, but his own self-worth. He spent most of his time in worry and I spent most of mine trying to assure him what had happened wouldn't define him or us.

To top it all off, I received daily emails from my family. I don't remember everything in them, but like I said before, my memory consists of mostly phrases...


From my lesbian aunt, who had been sitting with us that night:
When I came out to grandma she reacted the same way. When I was pregnant and then had a miscarriage she told me I deserved it for the lifestyle I chose, but now she supports me. She even tells the other seniors she swims with in the pool that she has a lesbian daughter.

From that same aunt in a different email:
Don't you dare come to my mother's funeral. I will personally escort you out.

From my aunt, whose daughter's wedding it had been: I can still remember the image of great-grandma throwing herself on great-grandpa's coffin, but by then it was too late. Please don't let it get to that point.
From that same aunt:
"For if you forgive me when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." -Colossians 3:13

From the lesbian aunt who shared her horrifying experience with my grandmother and promised to escort me out of her funeral if I showed up:
How can you call yourself a Christian?

My mother also received messages...

From my other aunt, who had for the most part stayed out of it:
Your kids were always the favorite. They loved them more than they ever loved my kids. How dare they choose to not speak with them. 

From the same aunt:
Why doesn't she just go and write another poem about it?

The sharing of these thoughts sent my brain into a frenzy. 

Why would sharing your similarly horrifying experiences make me want to welcome my grandmother back in my life? That just proves that she has done it before and will most certainly do it again.

What makes you think I would show up to her funeral? I plan to only attend funerals of people who I respected when they were alive. (I know that sounds horrible. I have felt guilty about this thought since the day I had it, but can't dispute it's truth.)

So are you saying I am like great grandma and will eventually be throwing myself over grandma's coffin, begging for forgiveness? I guess I just don't understand what I should be asking forgiveness for? 

How dare you bring my faith into this? I refuse to feel guilty for not welcoming her back into my life with open arms. Who are you to tell me that I am a bad Christian and how could you possibly know that I haven't forgiven her? 

I asked for them to leave me alone continuously. Some days, I avoided opening email because I was so afraid of the hurtful things that could be there. Eventually, though, I sent one response that stopped it all:

There is a big different between forgiving and forgetting. 
I forgave her a long time ago, but I will never forget what she did.
Whether I marry Brandon, or someone else, 
I would never willingly subject them, let alone my future children, to such hatred.
We have faced too many hateful situations from outsiders
there is no way we need to also hear it from family.
so I am making the conscious choice to forgive, but never to forget
and surround myself with people who love and support me.

I have not seen or heard from anyone on that side of the family since I sent that message.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Part 3: A Line Was Drawn

Part 3: A Line Was Drawn

I grabbed Brandon's arm and with my sisters, walked back to our table. It wasn't until I sat back down that I realized I was shaking. My mom looked over, wanting to know what had just happened, why we were all so upset. My dad sat smiling, obliviously watching the dancing.

As I began to explain what had happened, my mother grew angry. My father, realizing something was wrong, also wanted to hear. I reexplained, this time the rest of the table, my aunt, her partner, and my two cousins, listened in as well.

My mother was fuming. My father didn't believe it at first. My aunt shook her head. Her partner, a psychologist, claimed early onset dementia. Brandon sat quiet, eyes staring at the floor, a single tear running down his cheek, when suddenly his phone rang. It was his mother.

"I'm going to take this," he whispered, getting up from the table, and walking towards the door.

"I knew it," my mom said. "There was no way she actually wanted to say hello to him." Her face was red, the agitation growing. My father attempted to calm her down. My aunt's partner continued to try and explain away the outburst. I stood up.

"I'm going to make sure he is okay," I said, making my way towards the door. As I walked around the dance floor I came face to face with my aunt, whose daughter's marriage we were supposed to be celebrating. She hugged me immediately. I told her how sorry I was that we had ruined her day. She assured me it wasn't my fault.

I continued on to find him. At first, I didn't see him outside. I panicked, until I saw him pacing at the far corner of the parking lot. He was still on the phone with his mother, but I approached anyway, waiting. When he hung up I didn't know what to say.

Eventually, 
I found myself apologizing again. 
It was my fault. 
My family. 
My request for him to get up. 
My naivety that led him to such embarrassment, 
such pain. 

We talked. 
We yelled. 
We cried. 
We yelled.
We cried. 
We questioned. 
We talked. 
We hugged. 
We decided 
to go back inside. 

At some point, my grandparents, my aunt who had been sitting with us at the table, my aunt whose daughter had just gotten married, and their sister had made their way outside. A mob we would have to walk through to get back in.

My mother was waiting inside the door, watching for us. As we made our way through the crowd, they yelled. All of them yelling. Some at us. Some for peace, but all screaming for something. Instantly, my mom came out the door, defending.

I don't remember exactly what they said to us, or what my mother said in our defense, but it was in that moment that a line was drawn. It had suddenly become all of them versus us.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Part 2: Setting Fire To The Olive Branch

I believe that when certain people or things begin to appear in your dreams, it means that your subconscious is trying to work through a situation in your life, much like I do with my writing. Last night, I dreamed about them. I think it was my cue to tell the next part of the story.

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Part 2: Setting Fire To The Olive Branch

Fast forward about two months later. It was time for the first grandchild in our family to get married! It was my cousin and her fiance's wedding, which was going to be interesting anyway because my grandmother openly disapproved of him since they began dating.

Brandon had been invited and though I explained to him that he didn't need to feel like he should come after what happened, he assured me it would be fine. We got dressed up, drove out to my parent's house (because we were still away at college), drove with my parents and my sisters about forty minutes to a beautiful, restored barn, and got ready for a potentially awkward scene.

Much like the texting conversation, I only remember pieces of the ceremony and cocktail hour. Mostly, I remember images. Tea bag party favors. A bar set up in the silo. Old family wedding photos. A white distressed door adorning the altar.

For the most part, everything went as we had expected. My family whispered throughout the ceremony, complaining that it was too nontraditional. We drank cocktails to curb the awkward atmosphere. We did not speak with my grandmother because we weren't sure what to say. My grandfather, however, came right over to us and shook Brandon's hand.

I should not have assumed that this was the olive branch to restore peace again. Maybe it was one two many cocktails. Maybe it was the emotional effects of the wedding. Maybe it was something else altogether.

Where my memory really begins to pick up is the dinner. We were all seated at farm tables that were labeled with the type of tea our party favors were. The tables were lined up all along the walls, a dance floor in the middle.

We watched my cousin and her bridal party enter the room. We watched the typical wedding dances occur. It was during the father-daughter dance that my grandfather came over to our table. He told us that my grandmother was upset that neither I nor my sisters had said anything to her yet.

Feeling a certain obligation, I went over with my sisters to say hello. I was the first to hug her, leaning over and telling her how beautiful she looked. She was crying as my sisters hugged her next. We stood there awkwardly, when my grandfather suggested that I bring Brandon over to say hello.

Not really thinking anything of it, I went back to our table and said my grandparents wanted to see him. My mother, already predicting it wasn't a good idea, protested. He assured my mother it would be fine and followed me to where they stood, still surrounding the dance floor as my cousin danced with her father.

When we approached, Brandon leaned down to give her a hug. Just as he was reaching out his arms she threw hers up over her head and yelled, "Get away from me! You've ruined her!" It was in this moment, that set fire to the second attempt at an olive branch.

The people surrounding us, just trying to watch the dancing, stared. My sisters, still standing there looked on in horror. Karlee, my middle sister, began to cry.

Brandon took a shocked step back as she continued, "You have ruined her reputation! How dare you?!" His eyes fell to the floor and his only response was, "but you know that I love her." I think this was the moment I knew I would marry him...

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Part 1: The Pregnant Trophy

After my last post, I have done some self-reflection. I asked myself the same question I posed in that post; What poem do I find myself writing over and over and over and why? For me, there are a few, but this has been on my mind for the last two and a half years.

I have written countless poems attempting to sort through the situation, my feelings about it, and the ultimate effects it has had on my life, but I have not been satisfied. After reflecting I have concluded that maybe I just need to tell this part of my story, no metaphors, no finesse, just the straight forward truth, so that is what I am going to do.

Before I begin, I want to say that I don't plan on telling it all in one post. It is too long and at moments, too hurtful, so this story will be told in parts. This is part one. 

There is also some background information you should know. First, my husband and I are in an interracial relationship. He is black and I am white. We have had a variety of experiences with people who don't necessarily agree with us being together, but my immediate family has always been supportive and have welcomed him into our family with open arms, as has his immediate family with me. 

Second, when I was growing up, I had no contact with my dad's side of the family for about ten years. To this day, I still don't know exactly what led up to this, but after the story I am about to tell you, I think we can all take an educated guess. When I was entering high school I lashed out at my parents, blaming them for the lack of contact with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was this argument that played a hand in regaining contact with them. I feel guilty about being the one to initiate the rebuilding of those relationships every day. After you hear this story, I think you will understand why.

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Part 1: The Pregnant Trophy

I was still a student and gave tours of the college. It was a weekday and I had just gotten into the office, greeted my coworkers, and went into my boss's cubical to find out what the plan was for the day. She wasn't there yet so I sat in her cube and checked my cell phone.  On the screen was an alert for a message. Assuming it was from another tour guide, I opened it.

The message read something along the lines of: What is with the comments on Facebook from Brandon (my husband, then boyfriend) about you being a white trophy girl and pregnant? Are you pregnant?

At that moment about a million questions ran through my mind. The first was who is this and what are they talking about? I immediately forwarded the message to Brandon with a question mark and went to check my Facebook.

At first, I didn't know what this person was talking about. I had no notifications, let alone any from Brandon about me being a white trophy and pregnant, but eventually I came across a picture we had taken together that weekend. It was posted to his page and there were lots of people that had liked and commented on it. All were very nice and respectful. One of the newest comments, however, read something along the lines of: Nice picture with your white trophy girl, bro. So when are you gonna be a pops?

BUT it wasn't from Brandon (as I had figured) it was from someone I didn't even recognize. Brandon texted me back. He was horrified with the comment. It had been a cousin of his who he hadn't seen in years, but still remained friends with on Facebook. He told me he had deleted the comment and apologized.

Still not knowing who this person that had texted me was, I sent a simple message back explaining the situation. No, the comment is not from Brandon. He hadn't even seen it until just now. It was a cousin who he had not seen in years and was probably just trying to be funny. No, I am not pregnant. 

Time and pain have blurred certain parts of the story, one of them being the texting conversation that followed. Eventually though, I realized that it was my grandmother on my dad's side, which brought up a variety of other questions.

Since when does my grandmother text? How did she find the picture on Brandon's page? She wasn't friends with him so why had she been searching his Facebook? What had she been searching for? What was an eighty-something year old woman doing on Facebook at all?

I contacted my mom to explain the situation because, knowing my grandmother, within a few hours the rest of the family was going to find out about the comments and our conversation. I didn't want my dad to find out from her and get a twisted version.

For a while, nothing happened. My parents were not worried by the situation, knowing that the comment from his cousin was in no way a reflection on Brandon's character. Brandon was horrified that my grandmother thought this way of him. He even deleted his Facebook saying that if someone could warp his image so quickly and by just a simple comment, he wanted nothing to do with it.

Unfortunately though, that was not the end...

Monday, February 15, 2016

Never Ending Poems

After the last post I wrote, two things happened.

First, I attended a lunch seminar at my job about mindfulness and the benefits. This was ironic because the woman began her presentation by asking if we had ever driven in the car, gotten home, and not been able to remember how we got there.

In my head, I screamed, "YES!" She proceeded to tell us that this was referred to as "mindlessness" and that she was going to teach us about being "mindful" and aware of our surroundings as well as our body.

Second, a friend came up to me and said she had read my post and that she had heard that technically we become hypnotized while we are driving, which is why we can't always remember how we get places.

Both of these things reiterated my concern. How many other moments are we hypnotized to the point of "mindlessness?" What effect does this have on the rest of our lives?

Though these questions are still lingering, the woman giving the presentation about mindfulness said that simply thinking "I am breathing," or "I am currently driving home and passing the grocery store," or "Wow, I am thinking about that specific topic a lot" is considered being mindful and can have an enormous benefit on our health.


As I was thinking more about the mindfulness practice, I came across a TED talk from one of my favorite poets, Sarah Kay. (Video posted here for you to enjoy!!!).

In her talk she shares (along with some of her amazing poems) that while teaching poetry one of her biggest tips is that:

"...it is tempting to keep writing the same poem or to keep telling the same story over and over once you have figured out it will gain you applause. It is not enough to just teach that you can express yourself. You have to grow and explore and take risks."

This advice hit home for me in a way I hadn't thought about in a while. I haven't written poetry in months and as I began thinking about why, I realized that it was because I was writing the same poems over and over and over and was never satisfied with the results.

For me, it was not because I wanted applause from an audience. It was to sort out things that I haven't realized I still need to sort out. When those poems didn't do that for me, I was left unsatisfied and found myself continuously writing about the same topic.

So, after listening to the mindfulness talk, hearing Sarah Kay's advice, and trying to break myself from the hypnosis of life, the first mindfulness task I set for myself, was to be aware of the things that I think about too often, the things I wish I could write the perfect poem for and really hone in on the "why?"

This week, be aware of the thoughts you have over and over and over that you may not even realize you are having. What poems do you find yourself writing over and over and over because you haven't sorted them out yet and why? Why that topic? Why isn't it satisfying yet? How can you get there and once you are there how can you continue to grow, explore, and take risks?