Monday, October 24, 2016

Love and loss continued

Tonight I posted a FB post about missing my mother. Doing so opened up a whole lot of thoughts for me about love and loss.
It isn't easy and it is often confusing. When you first lose someone dear, people hover around you and your reactions are "normal". It gets stranger as time passes. Facebook shared with me recently a blog post I made three years ago after Glenn died, about realizing that the world wants you to move on...and so I had found a safe therapist with whom to work through my grief. I knew at the time that after awhile, people don't want the truth when they ask, "How are you?"
What a journey it has been. My whole belief system and spirituality has grown exponentially. I am probably more of a believer than ever  before, but in a much broader sense of the word. I also believe and know that the veil between the beyond and earth is very thin. I know now that "heaven" or whatever it is, is beyond my understanding as a person still on this earth. And it is much more limitless than we can imagine. I know now that it is bigger than what denomination or even what faith you practice.
But that isn't what I've thought about tonight.
My dad died in 2008. My MIL died in 2010, Glenn died suddenly in 2013 and my mom died 9 months later. Suddenly loss was my identity.
And expounding on my post tonight what I have learned is this.:
1.Life and health are not guaranteed. Be responsible but don't put off your bucket list.
2.You never really "get over it." We are survivors by nature...we go on without our loved ones, but the trauma of loss shapes you forevermore.
3. And there lies the paradox-you can mourn for lost loved ones and still be happy in the life you are leading while we are here. I am a perfect example of this. Jon and I have built a wonderful life out of the ashes we were left. Who would have imagined?
4. And on that is for living. Our loved ones who left do not want us to be unhappy. Truly.
5. The veil is thin. I have so many examples.
6. The shock of loss really doesn't leave. When we drive to Brainerd and pass a Culver's that Glenn and my mom and I used to eat at on the way to see the kids, I often am amazed that they are both gone. Even now.
7. Again...the veil. In Europe we were discussing this one night and I asked whether Jon had ever had a sign from his late wife. He said no, that he still dreamed about her sad death and the events leading up to it, but no. The next day we were on a bus to Italy when a truck kept passing us. The name in huge letter on the side was "Duarte". That was her last name.

My thoughts tonight are that death shapes the living forever. And it hurts and it make us lonely and it makes us cry. But it also wakes us up to THIS life. The one that we have to make a difference in. The one that if we live it right, that our children or loved ones will be in the aisle at Lund's grocery store and cry because they miss you you so much. That is what living is about.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Just when you think......

I'm sitting here this evening, almost all packed for a two-week  journey with my husband through Spain, France and Italy. For the past 29 years of my life I have either been getting a child ready to go back to school tonight, or getting myself ready to greet a new batch of students. Until this year. As you know, my "new" job last year after moving here turned out to be less than ideal. When I left in June, I thought I would never have my own classroom again, and I was okay with that. Well, not really okay, but I felt like my energy and emotional well-being would not allow me to take on another public school experience. I was to become a professional substitute teacher.

Both Jon and I have rather fatalistic attitudes toward life, after losing spouses and dreams in our adult lives. So this summer, while I continued to work through my pain and grief of essentially losing my job, we decided that we would not wait for "someday" for that big trip. One June day, we sat on our deck and called Delta...cashed in our many Skymiles and booked flights to Barcelona, returning two weeks later from Florence. We spent the next few weeks planning train travel and reservations through France and Italy as well. It was exciting...yet it felt unreal. In between we babysat, visited family in Wisconsin, Chicago and Colorado, went back to Brainerd and never really believed it.

Then my daughter Emily sent me a link about three weeks ago for a job she saw posted. It was rather vague; a small Jewish school in Highland Park (our neighborhood) looking for a middle-school teacher for 12 hours a week. I almost ignored it, but sent a brief letter and my resume. Ten minutes later I had an interview set up for the following Monday. I almost didn't go, but I did. I was up front about the fact that we had this trip planned, and I couldn't start until we returned. I was sure, SURE that would scare them off. Nope. They offered me the job, increased it to 20 hours a week at a very decent wage, and seem delighted to have me. What they don't know, is that I am delighted to have them. I will teach five, yes five, fifth and sixth grade boys from 11-12:30, and then four seventh and eighth grade girls from 1-4. Monday through Thursday. Wow. What they also don't know is that I am as excited to be student (learning about Orthodox Judaism ) as I am to be a teacher of general
education. I so, so, so want this to work out. I'm hoping my confidence as a teacher returns.

So what does this have to do with our trip? Just that I keep getting surprised by how this life rolls. When Glenn died so suddenly, I thought, "Well this is my life now." And then I was surprised by joy
again with Jon. Just when I thought, "Well I'm done teaching.", this new opportunity shows up. And in the midst of it all, this dream trip of a lifetime looks like it will really happen.

Be open my friends. You never know what this crazy life has waiting for you.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tuesday's with Ryan

Every Tuesday that we were in town this summer, our calendar said "Ryan" on it. He spent the day with us and we looked forward to it every week. And now school is starting and our time with him goes back to after-school care. I'm missing our Tuesday rituals and I began to think today about all the life lessons I learned from my seven-year-old grandson this summer.

1) Your shoes should automatically come off when you enter the house. It's a good habit that I try to remember. Life is better with routines!
2) Even doing summer "homework" can be fun and funny if you do it on a big bed with fruit snacks. Life needs some laughter and silliness now and then!
3) Just because you like a certain food, every Tuesday for the entire summer, doesn't mean you can't change your mind at the end of the summer and want something else. Life is about choices!
4) Dryers were meant for clothes that got wet when you help out watering the yard. Life is about getting wet now and then!
5) Don't talk in movies!! I was shushed with a very direct index finger to the lips when I was whispering during a movie. Twice. Life is about following the rules!
6) I finally got better at the game Memory as the summer went on, although I never won. Life is about never giving up!
7) Ryan told me that our house was teeny. I said I thought we had too much furniture and he agreed. He was right by the way. Life is about listening to those you love!
8) It is nice to know that all your "stuff" is in the same place for easy access. Life is about being spoiled now and then!
9) Sometimes quiet is nice. Especially in the car. Life is about just enjoying the ride!
10) And finally, Ryan taught me that loving a grandchild so much is a precious gift. Life is good!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Looking Out A New Window

Yesterday, I found myself in a place I never expected to be. The Minnesota Unemployment Work Force Center.  Wow.

I received a letter from my union telling me that I qualify for benefits because I was terminated without cause. Whatayaknow. So, I went ahead and filled out the application online, it was approved and I got a check, and that is very helpful right now. But it makes me so uncomfortable. I keep thinking I don't deserve it. My friend Sally pointed out that I most certainly do, given that I've paid into it and my taxes all my adult life.  But it is surreal to me. I'M unemployed? I've never left a job by other than my own choosing. I think it is hitting me now, as I would be getting ready to go back to school. And now I'm not. I can spin it anyway I want--retirement, new paths, new opportunities, but at the end of the day, I'm unemployed, and not by my choice. But that's old news.

So, last week I got another letter from the unemployment office, requesting (ok...requiring) me to show up on July 20th at 9:00. The letter was very unclear as to the purpose of the meeting. In my head I imagined being grilled by a rude state employee who would find out I was a FRAUD! A CHEAT! Not that I am either of those things, but that's where my head was. I was dreading the meeting, so much so that I asked Jon to drive me, which he did of course.

When I arrived at a pretty grungy building, I was given a number and escorted to a computer to register on the MN Works site. As I sat there and typed in my information, and began to create a resume on their site, I got very angry. Oh yes, I've had some moments, especially at the end of the school year, but this was different. What I now know was a truly "uppity" anger at someone like ME being in the unemployment office because of what I still believe to be unfair treatment at my job. "Why," I thought,"I don't belong here! I'm a good teacher! I have a Masters degree! All these people here just want a job in a warehouse." How snobbish that thinking was.

And guess what. That wasn't true. Apparently the reason why I was there was to sit through a presentation about navigating the MN Works website. There were six people in the room. Yes, two men were looking for truck driving work, (good for them), and of the remaining four people, three had degrees, and the other woman owned her own business. Apparently she sold it and the new owners fired her two weeks later. Ouch. As I listened I got some excellent information, and their site is amazing. It contains all kinds of online tutorials ranging from computer skills, to resume writing and many, many links to employers. At the end of the presentation, we were called up one-by-one (hence the number), to update missing information etc. And the employee was wonderful, kind and nice. No shaming.

I've never once thought that I would not work again. I want to and I need to. I'm still planning on being a "professional" substitute this year, but it got me thinking of all the other possibilities I can do with my degree and experience. For instance, I applied to Barnes and Noble today on a whim. I'm not sure what will come of it, but it was fun to think outside the box.
I realized that with my new resolve to live intentionally, and NOTICE things around me, that it showed me a new window to a part of the world I'd never seen. Looking out that window reminded me that everybody has a story, and experiences, good and bad.

I left with a sense of humility, and a new toolkit for the future.
Not a bad thing at all.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Giving Myself Permission

For my entire adult life, I've carried the Protestant work ethic, without even knowing it. When I was home with my kids when they were small, I always felt that I should be DOING something. If they were in school or napping, I felt guilty if I sat down to read instead of cleaning the bathrooms, kitchen or some other household project. Down time felt wrong. I remember a woman from a study group I belonged to, who was probably close to the age I am now, shaking her head and telling me that all those things could wait. "Take care of yourself!," she proclaimed. I hadn't the foggiest idea how to do that.

After they were grown, the trend continued. Weekends were meant to do all the things I didn't or couldn't do during the week. Sunday's were especially chore-filled. "I have to go back to work tomorrow! I must do xyz," which often included school work. My time for reading or thinking came at bedtime, which didn't amount to much as I was tired. I found myself overreacting to small things because I lacked the time or skills to process them.

As you know, on this part of the journey, I'm trying to live intentionally. I recently made a small quilt for my impending grandchild, and I could feel the difference. I wasn't trying to do five things at once. I concentrated on and prayed for the child that will one day lie on this quilt. It was a peace-filled, almost meditative project leaving me wanting for more.

Of all the bad things that happened at my last job, one of the positives was learning the practice of mindfulness. For ten minutes after lunch, the schedule allowed for a time of quiet and centering for the students. I used many techniques that were shared with me by a great colleague, and I often used a website called I did it at first for the the end of the year, I needed it just as much as they did.

Mindfulness teaches you to live in the moment and to let the other "stuff" float away for a bit. Oh how I have needed that this summer! When I start to feel anxious about the unknown future, I take a cleansing breath and realize that it will work itself out as it is meant. That is how life is. It also lets me answer the self-doubts of past decisions with a phrase I now call, "Yeah but...." "Yeah but" let's me answer those doubts with positive things that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't done the other thing.

So today I woke up already tired. We had friends and family over last night and it took some energy to get our not-cleaned-up house up to snuff, in addition to buying, planning and then conversing with dear people. Add that to the fact that I dream like crazy right now and I was back taking a nap about two hours after I got up. The rest of the day I finished my novel, worked on the NYT crossword puzzle, played in my gardens, and had a glass of  wine in mid-afternoon. Not once did I feel guilty, (okay not much anyway), that I wasn't producing or running errands or being physically productive.

I consciously kept bringing myself back to the moment and realizing that it is okay to do what brings me pleasure when nothing else is pressing; reading, gardening, thinking, relaxing, and just being in the moment.

I wish I had known this back in the day. My friend was right; everything will wait a few minutes. Enjoy the moment; even if it is only just that long.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Chance Encounters on the Journey

If you follow my FB posts, you know that we are on a trip through Milwaukee and Chicago to visit friends and family. It's been a whirlwind week full of wonderful conversations; we have ten visits planned in 7 days. At the end of the evening, we've taken to sitting in a quiet spot with a drink to process the day and the conversations, and enjoy a little quiet before retiring.

Last night that quiet was interrupted, and this morning we woke up with a feeling of, "Wow...that was an amazing experience." As you know, I'm trying to be cognizant of life and my experiences as I move forward, hoping to grow and learn from each one.

There is a family reunion going on at the hotel this weekend. The family and its extensions are African American and more than 100 people have come from all over the United States to reconnect--that in itself is amazing.

The first woman who sat down in the empty chairs across from us in the lobby was from Tennessee. She and 10 others drove straight through in a large van and she told  us she had been drinking since they left Tennessee...that much was apparent, and she was still at it. She works in a factory in a small town outside of Nashville where everyone she associates with is black.The statement that caught my attention was when she told us that she was disgruntled because she found out that  half of her larger family is white. I can imagine that it put her way outside her comfort zone. It was my first glimmer of..."Wow...we haven't come very far."

She left and just as we were getting up to leave a young man from Alabama, very handsome with gorgeous dreds sat down. He wanted recommendations of clubs in the area where there weren't any black people. Ok. I HAD to ask, "Why?" He didn't want to go to a "black" club because he just wanted to hear some good jazz...he didn't want to feel like he had to go somewhere because of his race, as he felt people expected of him. Wow. 

That began an incredible two-hour conversation about race, guns, gangs and life as an African American. I knew we should go to bed, but it was one of those MOMENTS I'm looking for on this journey. I still maintain that we need to listen and talk to each other to save our country and our planet.

He was joined shortly afterwards by a man closer to our age and listening to their differing views was incredible.

We talked openly about the tragedies of young black men shooting each other over trivial disputes. The young man (34) professed to having been in a gang before guns were an issue. Disputes were handled with fists. He joined because he wanted a "family." He claims that it is the recruitment of young kids--14 and even younger--who aren't mature enough to realize their actions. And yet, he said that he loves guns and owns many. "Why?" I asked. His answer was that his number one responsibility was protecting his young children. So even though the guns are locked up tightly, he knows that if he is going somewhere with his kids, and he has the "bulge" under his shirt, no one will mess with him. The older gentleman, probably 50+,also owns guns, but his are for hunting; a way of life he grew up with. He professed frustration at someone being on a terror watch list and not allowed to fly, but being able to buy a firearm. Both were in favor of background checks and making it a little harder to get a gun, but neither of them think that we should or could ever outlaw handguns or assault weapons. The younger man told us that he bought an AK-47 once for cash in a back room. It took 10 minutes. The NRA? Both said that's a group for white people. Remember these are opinions I'm reporting; not fact.

Elections? Not super interested, which disturbed me- these are employed men making a contribution, although the older man said he never thought he would see a black President. That meant a lot to him.
Do they feel prejudice? Yes. On a regular basis. The young guy just kinda shrugged his shoulders, the older man said he thought things would be different all these years later and it makes him sad how we as a nation haven't come very far.

Police? "White people get shot and beat up too." Older gent said, "All lives matter." Wow.

As we ended the conversation, the older man said the saddest thing. 
I've thought of it all day.

"Well with Trump trying to be President, at least the world isn't hating on us as much- they're after the Muslims so we're getting a break."

I had no response.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

If not now, when?

My mom was a dedicated dieter when she was my age. She had more willpower in her pinky than I have in my whole body.  But there came a time as she aged that she realized, " If not now, when?" And then she would have that extra treat she always had denied herself in years past. Good thing, because the ravages of really old age caused her body to continually shrink. She used to lament the years she spent worrying about her weight; when in the end she couldn't keep it on.
I told her sister that story the other day as she was craving a piece of bacon.

And ever since then, I've had those words. "If not now, when?" in my mind.

We've been planning a trip through Provence and Tuscany since we married. It was the dream trip that we would take "someday." You know, SOMEDAY. Which usually ends up in being NEVER.

 Ever since I told my aunt the story of my mom saying, "If not now, when?", I've been thinking,

If not now, when?

I've never had a birthday affect me this way. 60 starts making mortality a reality. And anyone who says that 60 is the new 40, hasn't spent much time with 40 year olds. 😜
The point is this. There is no guarantee of tomorrow. None. People we love die well before their time with no warning, or with plenty of warning but by the ravages of cancer. We have both lived this nightmare.

And at this moment in time, on June 25th, 2016,  we are healthy enough, and have enough sky miles to make this dream trip come true. But, with our experiences in life, we still bought trip insurance. Cuz you know, shit happens.

So, if fate or whatever is on our side, we leave on this trip on September 6, 2016 for 2 weeks. And a dream comes true.
Because, in the words of my awesome mother,


Thursday, June 16, 2016

God Blessed The Broken Road

Yes...the road was broken..but still I remain grateful that...

1. I am in a loving and secure relationship where I can express any emotion that crosses my heart, including missing Glenn on the anniversary of his death and being completely supported in that sorrow.

2. Both Jon and I feel completely free to regale each other with stories from the past; we just shared gross stories about mice infestations. Sometimes it's about great trips we have taken and the happy times we had; sometimes I share what it was like to become a mom or a grandparent; at times it's been about the heartaches and hurts we've both had...we speak the truth about our pasts...the good, the bad and the ugly. I'm really grateful for that. I am also grateful that we were together as high school/college sweethearts. We have a baseline. We knew each other's parents and homes and young experiences. I told him yesterday that I'm thankful our lives started together and will end together.

3. I left all that was familiar, dear and secure to me to start anew in this city last year on this date. Many times I've wondered if it was the right decision. My job didn't work out. It crushed me. I've been homesick for Brainerd often. But one thing I've learned in Part Three is that risk is part of the game of life. You can't move forward without it. Whenever I doubt the move, I think of all the LITTLE stuff I would have missed with my family if I hadn't  made the choice. After school pick-ups, swim lessons, helping to juggle a blended family schedule, dog-sitting, sibling time and impromptu gatherings. For instance, tonight, my daughter and son-in-law were taking a bike ride....they decided to stop to say hello as we were entertaining my sister and brother-in-law and niece and fiancé for my bro-in-law's birthday. It was a fun evening. Impromptu. Grateful to be here.

4. Wow. I get to PICK how to live out the rest of my days and make some money. I'm scared and excited. I'm officially "off-the-grid." This is a brand new  experience. Did I mention I'm scared??

5. I'm here and almost 60(!)  I think of my friend Peggy in the old neighborhood where my kids were born; her daughter was Emily's age and she died of breast cancer when the girls were six; almost 30 years ago. She has missed so much and I've been blessed with watching my children grow to adulthood and beyond. I don't know why I was spared,  but I'm grateful.

Yes. God blessed the broken road...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Marathons and Teaching

I have a  wonderful young friend who completed the Boston Marathon this spring. She described to me the last few miles as grueling and painful...there were tears. She persevered and finished. Her time matters not; the fact that she finished was the whole point. It reminded me of watching my son finish his first half-marathon....the look on his face of complete exhaustion, disbelief and pride is one I will never forget.
That's how I felt today. Not that I could physically run to the corner and back, but the feeling I had of of completing the marathon that was my teaching year. I've realized that it doesn't matter if you've taught one or 15 years, beginning again in a new district is like being brand new all over again. Or at least it was for me. Today, there was an exhausted sense of relief and disbelief that the year was over. And I made it to the finish line. And a maybe there was a tear or two. 
Over the years, I've shed a few tears on the last day as my students went on to the next stage. I didn't expect that this year; my kids are tough and I didn't feel as if I'd made any relationships. Today that changed as I heard, "Please stay...I'll miss you so much!"
 "Does this mean I won't ever see you again?" 
 "I just want to give you another hug."
 "Will you visit?"
 I had to dig out the Kleenex I'd packed at the end of the day, after they'd gone. Most of the comments were from kids who weren't always so well-behaved. It was a bittersweet cry.
I'm not looking for accolades or, "See? I told ya so's". For me it was all part of the "disbelief" stage of the marathon. The realization that maybe mile 10 or 14 or 20 meant something after all in the "race" of teaching this year. 
But it's a new start! A new chapter! I'm tired, a little melancholy, but I'm not wallowing. This is not going to be a "Wendy the Whiner" blog. Will there be posts where I'm lost and confused about direction? Probably. But my intention is for this to be a place where I notice LIFE.  Where I step out into the unknown and get my toes wet. Where I have the time to notice all the good things in this world of ours.
I have  NO indication of where this will lead. I am however, reminded of this great lyric from a modern song. It is my new mantra
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong (I'll be strong)
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me
Know I've still got a lot of fight left in me

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


My school year is ending this week..
For the first time in my teaching career, I have no job to anticipate this fall.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.
No. Not at all.
I was supposed to be called out at a last staff meeting, given a token of appreciation from the district, (a blanket in Brainerd), and a lotta pat-on-the-backs from younger colleagues.
I was supposed to leave by my choice, knowing that I had made a difference in the lives of kids.
It isn't happening that way.
And I'm really sad.
And somewhere inside me I feel really ashamed.
I failed.

You see, ever since the state of Minnesota issued me a license to teach at the ripe age of 45, it's been my whole identity. I'm proud to say I'm a teacher; I can criticize the system, but will defend it adamantly if you do. I have a handful of former students in their late twenties who still write me to tell me eighth grade was their favorite year in school. I loved my time in the classroom. I felt that I really made a difference.
So last year, when I began to believe that Jon and I needed our own place to call home; when I realized my precious ones were growing up so fast, and I realized I missed being there for the small stuff like school pick-ups and piano recitals and impromptu dinners with my funny wonderful adult kids, I took a gamble.

I left all that was familiar and secure and I changed jobs. Because really, I thought, "I'm a teacher! There are kids who need me everywhere! Same job, different place."

Except that wasn't true.

It was all so different and foreign. Being a tenured teacher in Minnesota, I had one school year to show my worth.
And I failed.
And that's where my shame enters.

My head knows I'm a good teacher; my heart is having a hard time catching up.
It's nobody's fault; the kids, wonderful in their own way, didn't "get" me or my personality as the year went by. I'm used to giving kids second chances and having them rise to the occasion. Second chances this year caused me to look weak and like a push-over.

But what's done is done.

 I know that time will show me the answers.

I titled this new blog Part Three because it is how it feels to me.

Part One of adulthood was early careers and raising my children when they were small.

Part Two of adulthood was my life with Glenn and beginning my teaching career and my children becoming adults.

So Part Three?
 It certainly is about the gift I've been given in Jon Kavanaugh and our new life together. And I think it's gonna be about a brand new beginning. I don't know what that is yet...another teaching job? Subbing in the neighborhood? Starting my own tutoring business? Working at something entirely different?
My intention is that Part Three includes "smelling the roses", and a time of high creativity and simple living and just appreciating the TIME, for it passes so quickly.
As I approach a milestone birthday this summer, it all becomes so precious.
I will heal from this defeat, and I will find gratitude in what I found on that journey.

And I will continue to look forward, because that's the only direction that matters.