Friday, December 30, 2016

If you love something, set it free...

I am starting my resolutions for 2017 a touch early.

I am purging my books.

This is possibly one of the most difficult tasks I have ever taken upon myself.

I have literally thousands of books. I never, ever get rid of a book. I even have a hard time loaning a book for fear that I won't ever see it again.

And yet, here I am, surrounded by my mounds of books-that I love, mind you-and realizing that the time has come to let them go.

Some of this is fun. Some of it is life affirming. Sending a book off with someone that I know will read it and get some joy out of it is kind of like being a matchmaker. Some of my newer, nicer books are finding homes that way.

But, I am a book hoarder. This is something that I ordinarily say proudly, as though it in any way is different from any other hoarding problem. My grandmother, who died 10 years ago, saved everything. She lived through the Depression and so the idea of throwing away a milk bottle cap or a bread bag was just anathema. She lived in mounds and mounds of stuff just because she could not bear to waste anything.

This past year of my life has been a shedding of my soul. Living through my divorce, I have come to realize (with the help of a lot of therapy) was a trauma. Is a trauma. That I am still dealing with. It took me a while to realize that if I rearranged the furniture, it made life easier. Just because it made the path we walk through different-and somehow this helped us to be able to begin to move forward.

I don't understand a lot of the things that I have done that have helped me to move on, but I do know that they have worked. Changing the bedspread helped. Rearranging the cupboards helped. Purging the closets of clothes and toys and just things has helped.

And so, I have come to the books. At first, I couldn't believe that I was actually considering purging the books. I love them. I love having them around even if I have no intention of ever reading them again. My college books state out loud that I took cool sociology classes. I have read classics-surely every home needs the classics on the shelf, even if they will never be pulled down and opened again? And my children-they need to know that books are treasured and loved by their crazy mom, so having books at every turn surely signifies that?

Well, it turns out, no. My children know I love books. They value books. But if they desperately need to read a book about the impeachment process or how potatoes are grown or the history of Canada, they are going to have to go to the library like I did, or, as is quite more likely, just Google it. We have become a storehouse for books, so much so that we don't even know what all we have, and that isn't doing anyone any good.

And so, I am purging. It is a long and arduous process. It will take a long time, even just to physically move them out of all of the nooks and crannies and figure out where exactly I can take them that they will do anyone else any good.

I'm not getting rid of every book, by a long shot. But if a book has served its purpose in our home, it is time to move along and let it go.

That's what 2017 is to me, letting go. I can't begin to express how much it hurts my heart to hold something that I loved and say goodbye. But it's time. It's time.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Best Christmas Movies You Might Not Be Watching...

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I love movies. I also love Christmas, possibly because it is my birthday too, but mostly because I love ritual. Ritual, in my little world, is what makes Christmas such a special time. I love sharing the same books with my girls year after year, lighting our advent candles on Sunday nights, picking out our live tree at Morrison's Tree Farm, getting our ornaments out of the boxes and remembering a certain vacation or character that my girls used to adore...I could go on and on.

And so, obviously, I love Christmas movies. We never get to quite all of the Christmas movies (there are just too many, especially since the girls are at their dad's every other weekend), but there are particular ones that we make it a point to watch every year. Of course we always watch the classics-Charlie Brown and Miracle on 34th Street and White Christmas. I thought for this blog post I would shine a light on some of our perhaps lesser known favorites, in case you were looking for something to watch over the next weekend.

Santa Claus, The Movie

Oh, I adore this weird movie. It's really sort of two movies-the beginning tells the story of how a toymaker named Claus and his wife, Anna, are taken to the North Pole and introduced to the Vendequm, who are the elves who live there making toys. The second half of the movie (the much more fun half) involves Dudley Moore as a rogue elf who ends up working for John Lithgow's evil toymaker B.Z., who ends up nearly destroying the world with exploding candy canes. Really, what more can you ask of a Christmas movie?


Prancer is hands down the most realistic Christmas movie I have ever seen. Jessica is a young girl reeling from the death of her mother who discovers a hurt reindeer that she becomes convinced is Prancer. There are all kinds of great performances in this movie from Cloris Leachman, Abe Vigoda, Ariana Richards, and of course Rebecca Harrell Tickell as Jessica. But the primary reason that I love this movie is Sam Elliott's role as Jessica's dad. A completely ordinary man undone by the loss of his wife and completely unsure of what to do with his precocious daughter, he is the heart and soul of this script.

Babes in Toyland

Babes in Toyland is really two entirely separate movies with the same name, so we call them Babes in Toyland with Annette and the other Babes in Toyland.

Babes in Toyland with Annette is my personal most favorite Christmas movie of all time and it simply would not be Christmas if we didn't watch it. It's an absurd script that is at times over long, but I love the story of Mary Contrary and Tom Piper and the evil Barnaby (played by Ray Bolger, we always carry on about how the scarecrow is the bad guy). I love Ed Wynn and Tommy Kirk and most especially the wedding at the end with Annette's beautiful wedding dress and red cape. It is my favorite of all of Annette's movies (and I love all of Annette's movies).

Babes in Toyland, the Other One, is mostly a completely different story. There is still an evil Barnaby and a Mary Contrary but Tom is replaced by Jack and there's Georgy Porgy and most of all Lisa, who is played by Drew Barrymore, and who is the child through which we are meant to see the movie. It was depressing to me when I read Drew's biography in the 9th grade and discovered a scant few pages devoted to this movie which she seemingly forgot in a drugged out haze. But that is neither here nor there, as it is such a fantastic movie that is, like its predecessor, completely absurd, but it involves my favorite song in a movie ever of all time, "Cincinnati." And one of my most favorite lines ever, after sure disaster has been thwarted by merely singing this song, "I told you Cincinnati was a great place."

Small One

Lastly, our favorite. Small One is a short cartoon about a young boy tasked with taking his donkey, Small One, to the market to sell. Small One has grown old and slow and no one other than his boy really wants him. I won't ruin the ending, but it hits my heart every single time (in exactly the same way that I always cry buckets trying to get out the line, "The wise men will always be Leroy, and Claude, and Ollie Herdman, bearing ham," and Betsy always says," Why do you cry every time when you know that's what it says?"). Because Christmas. And love. And that's what Christmas is all about.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What I'm Reading Tuesday...

So, I have been reading a lot, as usual. I have also had the girls the past two weekends, so I have watched a ton of Christmas movies, decorated my house for Christmas, and generally enjoyed my life, including getting to visit with my sister and her family. Anyway, some recommendations:

The Legacy by Katherine Webb

April discovered Katherine Webb somehow and told me that it was similar to Kate Morton. I love Kate Morton, but I have not loved the last two books that she put out. I feel like she is using way to much coincidence to tie the stories together anymore. That said, The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours are among my top twenty books ever of all time.

The Legacy reminds me very much of those two books, with the story dashing wildly apart and then merging together. I especially loved the ending, and I rarely ever like endings, much less feel like gushing over them, so I greatly recommend this book. I am looking forward to reading more of Webb in the near future.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

I really enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. The premise is that two couples attend a barbeque at the home of another couple and something happens and everything unravels. It's funny at times, and profound at times, and mostly it talks about how we have these friendships that occurred when we were children and continue into adulthood on tender hooks of familiarity and offense and love and hate.

A Labyrinth Walk Under a Full Moon

Lisa Whelchel has been my friend for a very long time. Practically as long as I can remember, if we go back to her days as Blair on The Facts of Life. Her books have always reached me at just the right time in my life, dealing with motherhood and parenting and adult friendships. Somehow Lisa's life is always just a few steps ahead of my own. I have been anxious to see what she creates from her divorce and subsequent path forward for somewhat obvious reasons. She is at work on a book, but in the meantime she blogged about her travels as she walked a 500-mile pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago. It is an excellent blog series (her life veered off on a path that she was completely not expecting) but this particular blog post that she wrote clear at the beginning of her journey struck me to my core.

"I felt the Lord saying to me, “I know you want me to seal this courage and feeling in your heart so that you will never lose it and will always trust me in faith but that’s not the way life works. The journey will always be more like two steps forward, one step back. Life is a mystery and it is not controllable. Trust the flow of it."

Yes, I need that. I need to know that no matter how much I manage to feel that I am moving forward, healing this damaged heart, it is okay that I am going to have moments where I have to step back, to feel something that I do not want to feel. To allow this grief it's life within me and know that it is serving some kind of purpose.

The Fine Feather

And lastly, there is a blog that I cannot say enough wonderful things about. January went to high school with me and we became friends on Facebook and Instagram sometime ago, as you do, and I discovered that she lives in Prague and takes beautiful pictures and has a little girl and is an amazing writer. And she has begun a blog, The Fine Feather. It is gorgeous. It is profound. Her life and my life could not be more different-she is happily married and living on the other side of the world, while I live in the house just beside the house I grew up in, divorced and somewhat badly broken. But her words sink deep within my soul. The internet has brought much negativity into my life, so much so that I purposefully have begun really monitoring my time and attention to it, but it has also brought connections to people that I now treasure and cannot imagine my life without.

Monday, November 14, 2016

How to be an adult (at 37)...

When I began this blog post, well on a month ago, I wrote that I fear that I worship at the altar of busy. I was busy most of the time. I felt like the girls and I barely ever had a night at home anymore. We had soccer, cheer, and dance going on, which equaled out to practice or a game pretty much every single night and on Sundays. Plus I have a never ending list of meetings that I attend, more often than not in the role of the secretary and half the time as a part of my job (meaning I can't back out of it).

I wrote, "Busy is a good thing most of the time. Busy keeps us moving, keeps us from dwelling on the life that we used to live. Busy keeps us focused on the future."

Busy kept me so busy that this blog post never did get properly written.

Life has slowed down in the past few weeks-soccer ended, cheer ended. Meetings and dance still exist, but everything is at a much more manageable pace. As the days grow darker, it is my instinct to draw inward, to allow our lives to get quieter, less hectic. I am an introvert at heart, and while I have learned that I don't necessarily have to be a hermit, I enjoy spending time at home, and the girls enjoy it too.

This weekend was not my weekend. Meaning that I had 3 days to do something that I wanted to do. Or needed to do. Or felt like doing. That's the crazy thing about shared parenting-for 10 years you just sort of take for granted that you do everything together. And then suddenly you don't. I don't have anyone anymore to spell me while I take a shower. I don't have anyone to help one kid with homework while I help the other. I don't have anyone at the end of a long day to talk to, to watch tv with, to even just sit beside while we read books.

What I have instead is every other weekend entirely to myself. To do whatever I choose. It's daunting. I know what that sounds like-you probably want to say to me, I could think of a hundred things that I could do with an entire weekend to myself. I am not complaining, I promise. But it's not busy-it's not the constant drone that all the other days in my week are, even with our lessened schedule. It's hour upon hour of deciding what I want to do-which is usually reading and sleeping and watching old movies.

Someday I will look back at this time in my life and envy myself, I think. All of this time to marinate in things that I enjoy, in books and movies and yoga and writing. It's a constant battle inside my head-enjoy this time, I keep telling myself, even as I physically ache for my kids. I sometimes can't believe how much I can miss someone. To the very marrow of my bones.

My children need time with their dad. They need time away from me. They need to spread their wings, even if just a little bit. My life-this year of transition-is about learning to really, truly be a grown up for the first time in my life. I am responsible for all of my decisions. I don't have anyone to fall back on, to swoop in and save me from disastrous choices. That is not to say that my parents haven't been helpful-they have helped me so much, I could never, ever repay them. But for the first time in my life, I have to figure out who I want to be. At 37, that is just strange. I have defined myself as a wife and a mother for so long, it is difficult to know who I am outside of those parameters. Much less to like that person and feel like I am at all useful outside of those roles.

It's all most challenging, in ways that I never would have anticipated. But I look back at who I was a year ago and I am so proud of how far I've come. I have screwed up and made mistakes, but I have swallowed my lessons, learned from my faults, and have been met with grace again and again. And yes, I am scared, and unsure, and quite certain that I don't know at all what I am doing. And that, for now, is exactly as it should be.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The sweetness and the sorrow...

I am a musical theatre geek.

This is probably not too shocking if you read my blog or follow me on social media. In truth, I love all theatre, not only musicals, but I love to belt out a show tune at the top of my lungs and pretend that I am Bernadette Peters.

My sister loves musicals too, and so my birthday gift has morphed into season tickets to Playhouse Square in Cleveland, one for each of us, which is pretty much the most wicked cool gift anyone could think to give me. My sister rocks.

Last night we wound up this season and are anxiously awaiting our new tickets for next season. This season we were blessed to see If/Then, Beautiful, The Phantom of the Opera, Steel Magnolias, and Kinky Boots. April also took her daughter Mallory to see Matilda because it was the day of Felicity's dance recital and not even a Broadway series can actually compete with Felicity.

They are all excellent shows. Theatre's ability to take you out of your own life, to connect with you even as there are so many people around you absorbing this story with you-it's incredible.

The Phantom of the Opera I had seen before, in New York when I went with the choir in high school. Much of Phantom is based on its elaborate scenery, which I think it gets a bad rap for. What Phantom was at the time was revolutionary. The songs are amazing in their range. The story is one of those better in theory than practice pieces to me, but it is certainly unique.

If/Then is a beautiful, intricate story of choices and intersecting lives. The set pieces in particular stood out to me as so compelling in a story about a city planner, about a meaningless decision leading to the fate of your life. It was, of course, a profound play to watch just a couple of weeks after my divorce was final-what if you had made a different decision, and your life had gone a completely different way, and this particular, horrific pain that sears through every memory of the past 15 years of life would just never have existed? Anthony Rapp was in this production, reprising his role from the Broadway production. I adore Anthony Rapp. Yes, because I love Adventures in Baby-sitting but also because I read his memoir last year, Without You, and it was one of the best memoirs I have ever read in my life.

Kinky Boots I loved. It was right up my alley, as I knew it would be. I knew that a story of a shoe company saved from closure by boots made for drag queens would be fun and profound and life changing and it was. Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me, but I love looking around and seeing all of these older people giving a standing ovation in Cleveland, Ohio for a drag queen in thigh high red boots. It gives me hope for humanity that sometimes gets lost.

Beautiful had by far the best music. I love Carole King and Tin Pan Alley. This too felt like a play that I needed to see in this year of transition. Carole King lost more than a husband when she divorced, she lost the other half of her creative side. How hard must those memories have been to release? And yet she eventually created Tapestry from that experience. Oh, I can only hope for such beauty from such pain.

Surprisingly to me, Steel Magnolias was my favorite of this bunch. I love the movie (I especially love Dolly Parton) and I wasn't sure what to expect from the play. Sally Field screaming in the cemetery? How could they transfer that? Shirley MacLaine fighting with Olympia Dukakis? I mean, Dolly was born to play Truvy. But I loved this play. All of the scenes take place in the beauty parlor, and so it is primarily a play of people talking. As a writer, it sank beneath my skin and stayed there. It was amazing.

Next season we get to see Funhome, Finding Neverland, Into the Woods, The King and I, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Something Rotten!, and An American in Paris. April is most excited about Something Rotten! I am most looking forward to Funhome. But I am sure that we will be surprised by what we love next year.

Theatre geeks to the end.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ohana Means Family...Or How I Coparent with Nick and Jenifer...

One year ago, give or take a few days, I had my first experience "coparenting" my children with Nick and his new family.

That is how I viewed Jenifer and her kids-as Nick's new family.

We spent the day at the Ohio State Fair because Betsy had been selected to take her 4H project to be judged. It was a surreal day to me, looking back-watching the man that I was still married to walk in with his girlfriend. I had met Jenifer once before, just her and me. Which was a surreal experience as well. But this was the first time that we had spent the day all together. For me, it was awkward, wanting so badly to figure out how to best handle the sudden change in my life, and at the same time feeling like I had been kicked to the bottom of a well that I could see no escape from. I had nothing inside of me to give to anyone. Least of all my children, who I love more than I can ever say. All I knew clearly was that they needed their parents, and I was going to have to figure out a way for that to happen.

One year later, here we are. Back to the fair because Betsy is awesome and was selected for 4H project judging again. This time as a family-as one family.

Jenifer and I have become friends in a way that I didn't really imagine could be possible when I met her. I expected that we would learn to get along, and maybe even to parent my kids together in a do-your-homework, go-to-dance-recitals-and-softball-games way. I hoped that maybe one day I would think that Jenifer was my friend in a casual way.

Instead, we have become something quite more than friends, something that doesn't have a proper name to it. We are partners together in raising these kids. She is happy to help in the parenting areas where I am so at sea, she backs up my decisions, she respects who I am as their mother.

It's such a strange thing, being glad that our lives dovetailed in the end of my marriage and the beginning of theirs. Very few people seem to understand it. And yet, it is true with every beat of my heart. It's one thing for me to hashtag a picture "coparenting," and it is quite something else to live it. It takes a strong woman to allow me a place in her newly created family, and it's something that Jenifer doesn't get enough credit for.

I was a stepmother for 15 years. It's a tricky place to be, a parent to a child who is not yours, who lives most of the time with another family. I was so young when I became a stepmom and I had no idea what I was doing at all. I know what it's like to fall in love with someone that you are just intoxicated with and then have to deal with this whole other family that existed before you got there. It's hard. It's far from romantic. But from the day Jenifer met my kids, she has loved them as her own. I am beyond grateful for that.

My therapist pushed back on me this week about this. Do I really expect that someday when and if I ever meet someone and fall in love again, that this person will just be on board with the fact that I consider my ex-husband and his wife and her kids my family? The answer to that is yes. Yes, mythical boyfriend of the future, this is my family. This is my circus, these are my monkeys. We don't do everything together-the girls and I do things, and the girls do things with Nick and Jenifer individually and as a family and every other which way-but we do some things together as a family. The fact is, strange as it sounds, we love each other. In the DivorceCare workshop they have an entire section related to reconciling. What I took away from that is not that it will ever be possible for Nick and me to reconcile our marriage to return to what it was. But I can, and hopefully have, reconcile within my heart our new normal, our new reality. Accepting what is in the past is past, and enjoying my life today as it exists.

Is it always easy? No. But it gets easier every time we spend time together, figuring out how best to do this, learning which of us is good at what so that these children feel like they got the best that all of their parents had to give.

Is it weird? Probably. Is it unique? Possibly. Is it crazy? I don't think so.

It's us. It's who we have become. Ohana means family. Forever.

Friday, July 29, 2016

What I'm Reading (and Listening To) on the Internet...

I have been blessed in this life to raise girls. I always wanted girls, for as long as I can remember. I was so thrilled when I married Nick that he already had a son because I knew, deep in my heart, that I was going to have two girls.

It is a privilege that I don't take lightly, making sure that my girls know that they are capable of anything in this world. Betsy hopes to become a pediatrician and Felicity's goal is to become a hairdresser. Both of which I so hope happens because it would be wonderful to have my own personal doctor and my own personal hairdresser. But I promise, I will be thrilled with whatever they chose to be. I never would have dreamed when I was in college earning my English degree that I would end up being the water/sewer billing clerk for the Village of New Concord, but I am and I love my job.

This week I read these two articles that highlight women and the struggle that lays ahead for all women, everywhere,to be considered equal to their male counterparts.

In Pakistan's Heartland, A 'Perfect Storm Of Obstacles' To Protecting Women

I am blessed to live in a country where I can at the very least expect my girls to be valued as human beings. This article serves to remind us that is sadly not the case everywhere. No woman should live in fear for her life simply because she is a woman. No woman should ever live in fear of being raped as a punishment. We live in a world where this happens. We live in a world where the solutions prove as hard as the problems themselves due to cultures and education and just different world views.

For Olympic Boxer Claressa Shields, Round 2 Brings New Expectations

This is not your typical gold medal story. Claressa won gold in London. She will most likely win in Rio."Everybody was saying, 'You should be signed with Nike, you should be on a Wheaties box, how come you aren't in this magazine?' It got to the point where I just shut everybody out. I can't hear that anymore. I really can't dwell on what I didn't get," she told me.
Why didn't any of those things happen?
"I don't know why it didn't happen," she said. "I take it as I wasn't ready for it, I guess. I wasn't the ideal woman. I wasn't the pretty girl who wears her hair straight. I don't know. I guess I wasn't what they were looking for." Why do we not celebrate this young person of color? Because of her sport? Because of her home life? Because we want to believe our athletes heroes and when they don't conform to our boxes we shut them out and ignore them?

Why LaCroix sparkling water is suddenly everywhere
This has nothing particularly to do with women. But it is a fascinating read.

And lastly, I have fallen in love with a lead singer. As I am known to do from time to time. He's not Freddie, but he's damn close. Luke Spiller. Sigh. Enjoy.

The Struts-Put Your Money On Me

Monday, July 25, 2016

What I'm Reading Monday...

The Girls by Emma Cline.

This came highly recommended. It is a basic retelling of the Charles Manson murders, albeit fictionalized and slightly changed.

I somehow was first introduced to Charles Manson on Dateline sometime in the 1990s. He scared the dickens out of me. Still does.

But of course it wasn't really about him. It was about his followers, those girls who had done his killing, and who smiled through their trials with nary a thought to the people that they had murdered.

It is those girls, now grown into women the age of my mother, who have become model prisoners, who have obtained degrees and mentored others in the prison system and who all claim to be remorseful, who claim to have been brainwashed by a madman, and who want nothing more than a life outside a prison wall for the last few decades of their life. This was denied just two days ago to Leslie Van Houten despite recommendation by the parole board to allow her her freedom, as California Governor Jerry Brown declared her a danger to society.

This novel imagines the life of those girls, and of one in particular who is at the edges of the fuss, but still intrigued by their smiles, their purpose, their seeming happiness.

It's one of those books that you don't really see the genius of until it is completely finished and you set it aside and realize what world you just emerged from.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Goodbye grey skies, hello blue...

The first show I ever loved was Happy Days.

That is not entirely true. The first show I ever loved with all of my heart was Sesame Street. But Happy Days was the second and I loved it with a fierceness that still endures today. I honestly think that it is the absolute best sitcom ever in the history of time.

I say this as (at least a former lover) of television. I don't really watch much television anymore other than the news and sports, but once upon a time I loved tv so much that just threatening to take away one television hour was an easy and productive punishment in my world.

So, yes, were I to make a list of great sitcoms, it would include all the best-I Love Lucy, Cheers, Seinfeld, All In The Family, and on and on until we eventually even would get to Homeboys In Outer Space because yes, I used to watch literally every episode of television on the air.

But the top of my list is reserved for Happy Days.

I was born in 1978. Fonzie had jumped the shark by then. But I loved him. And Joanie. And Chachi. Oh, how I loved Chachi.

The Cunningham home was a place of love, where Joanie and Richie's friends were accepted no matter the situation. Potsie is constantly referred to as someone who is disliked by his own father, but he has a heart of gold most clearly seen in the episode in which Joanie develops a huge crush on him and he is forced to let her down gently. So many faces make their way through the Cunningham's house-from cousin Roger to Jenny Picalo to Flip and K.C. Silly comedy highjinks ensue, but the characters always come home to a place of acceptance. When Richie blows the final shot of his high school basketball game, Howard is there to offer him a life saver.

I wanted to live in that world, where the biker was really a sweetheart scared to have his tonsils out, where the dorky Ralph and Potsie made even square Richie look cool, and most of all where I could meet and fall in love with a boy who always wears a bandana tied around his knee.

The world that Garry Marshall created was just a happy world where funny things happened. And today everyone is talking about how he made these sitcoms that were like comfort food for a decade that had seen the end of an unpopular war, the rise of an urban environment, the birth and death of disco, the maturing of hippies who left Woodstock to raise families in the suburbs-children who would grow up just in time to become teenagers in the mall loving, Reganomics eighties, abandoning those notions that the seventies presented as truth, the idea that all we needed was to read a lot and love each other and messy things like unequal pay for women could be swept away by passage of the ERA.

And to a degree, I agree with that. Garry Marshall was a genuinely nice guy who set out to make a show of what life was like in the 1950s. And another that was full of two women doing physical comedy to rival Lucille Ball. And yet another show that introduced a comedy legend to the world in the guise of an alien.

But he also introduced characters that wouldn't have been welcome on television a decade before. The idea of a leather-clad biker being the heart of a sweet family sitcom would have been unheard of in the 1960s. Two single women sharing an apartment and having active dating lives in which they talked often about "vodiododo." In his way he changed the face of television.

So allow me to add my voice to the chorus today saying goodbye to Garry Marshall, to say thank you for all the hours of joy from not only television, but so many movies and even characters in shows that he didn't create (Stan Lansing, I am looking at you). Thank you for making my childhood a happy place. And for Chachi.

Friday, July 15, 2016

What I'm Reading (On the Internet Version)...

I read a lot. Lots of books, newspapers, magazines. If it has words, I read it.

I read a lot of cool articles on the internet. Here are a few from the past couple of days:

Doctors Must Overcome New Red Tape In Struggle to Treat Veterans

I have been doing all of these pushups in an attempt to encourage people to learn about the issues facing veterans when they come home. Pro Publica and NPR recently did an entire series of excellent articles on veterans healthcare, with this article in particular being illuminating. I highly encourage you to read it, to contact your representatives, and especially to show patience to any veteran in your life having to deal with this healthcare system.

I Was One of the Interns Reading Your Lit Journal Submissions

The publishing world is a scary place. While I used to have dreams of working in publishing and finding a gem hidden among mounds of poorly written Mary Jane pieces, this is surely a more accurate picture. Submitting is chilling. (Said in a Chuckie Miller voice. I heart Seth Green.)

1984: The Year We Unwittingly Stopped Watching Movies and Started Watching Franchises

I love movies. If you follow me on social media, you surely know this. I am mostly not a fan of sequels, but that isn't entirely true-I love Grease 2 nearly as much as the original, and all of the Parent Trap sequels, which were all made-for-television movies. It all really depends on how old I was when I saw said sequel. Anyway, I am totally jazzed about the Ghostbusters reboot, mostly because I adore Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones.

An Important Timeline of Everything That's Happened Since Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris' Breakup

Because I love Taylor. A lot. And she seems to have jumped into this relationship. It's concerning. I have issues. It's okay. I'm aware.

I wrote most of this post Thursday, July 14, before the terrible tragedy in France. So allow me to say that I am so sad for all of those affected. I was in France and Spain exactly 20 years ago and am sad that in the world that I live in 20 years later I express sympathy every single week for some horrible atrocity that has occurred in the world. I believe with all of my heart that most people have good hearts. Love and forgiveness and kindness ultimately must win.

Monday, July 4, 2016

What I'm Reading Monday...

My sister and I read a lot. We like absolutely none of the same books. April loves mysteries, series, Jane Austen, and most especially anything concerning World War II.

World War II is extremely important, and I love many books concerning it. But last year we read The Book Thief on the heels of Life After Life and The Secret Keeper and I just had to have a break. Reading so many at one time makes them all swirl together in my head. And there is just a breaking point within me where the sad just cannot keep going-the Holocaust is surely the absolute worst atrocity of the modern age.

But today I pulled out my copy of Night and spent my holiday of independence reading about the horror of one boy's loss of his family, his faith, his humanity really. Night is brutal in its depiction of death, of terror. That human beings are capable of such brutality is one of the scariest of thoughts, and we really do require constant reminders of exactly how inhumane people can become when they begin to think of anyone as "other."

It has been a very long weekend of reading and movies for me. I hope that someday I look back on this time in my life-this time of such aloneness-and feel that I spent it wisely. Everything that I do anymore, from morning until night, is in an attempt to become a better person. I suppose if we dug down deeply into that we would discover my belief that somehow I can fix whatever was so wrong with me that the person who was supposed to love me forever decided that fifteen years was enough. But, at the same time, becoming a better person is surely also a noble endeavor. So we will hope that I am going about this healing correctly.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The bend in the road, one year on...

One year.

There were days that I never would have believed that I would get to one year.

There were dark days filled with fear and grief and sadness. Days that whispered you will never see the end of this. You have messed everything up so much the world would really be better off without you.

Oh, I hope I never go back there.

Instead, one year on, I have hope. I have peace. I am almost, almost, ready to whisper, "I am happy." To silence the voice in my head every single morning that asks, "Were you happy?" To say yes, I was happy, and I am happy again.

Oh, that girl that I was one year ago. I want to hold her and say, it will be okay. You will survive. You, believe it or not, will thrive. You will become someone that you were meant to be.

How crazy, she would say. I like who I am, I like my family as it is, please go away and leave me alone.

No, I would tell her. You really did like who you were, you really did love your nuclear family as it was, and you really did not want any of this to happen. But, Joy, you are so lucky that it did.

Having your world shatter at your feet is not only the scariest feeling in the world, it overwhelms everything inside of you. Everything that you have worked so hard to build, this family that you have created, these dreams that you have, they all have to change. To shift and move. To create space around them that you didn't want to be there.

What is life like, one year on? Life is different. Life is joyful. Life is harder in ways, and easier in ways, and just different.

Our family is changed for the better. The girls are the center of your world and it is endlessly fun for that to be the truth. Life is full of junk food and old tv shows and this rabbit that somehow wormed its way into your heart. Life is full of movies and trips to Claire's and always getting to order dessert. Life is what you always wanted-these two beautiful girls who have movie dates and listen to show tunes and 90s music without complaining too much and who love you to the moon and back.

In Jenifer you have found a friend. Which seems hard to imagine. But now it has become hard to imagine how we did this without a Jenifer before. Jenifer is a partner in parenting, she listens, she loves the girls. She respects you as their mom. And-this is the biggest blessing-she takes care of Nick. Everything shifted, which took time to process and appreciate. But one year on, you are part of each other in a way that very few people seem to understand. You are blessed to have Jenifer in your life. I promise.

You are different. In mostly wonderful ways. You are more patient with yourself. You are more deliberate in your life. You are more sure of yourself-catcher of mice, cleaner of drains-you know yourself to be capable of anything. If there is a mountain in front of you, you climb it instead of simply staring at it and admiring its beauty.

You are learning. You are figuring out your truth. You are devouring books, you are eating right and exercising and amazed at how that clears your mind, you are determined to learn to cook, to learn a new language, to try everything that you were afraid to do before.

Of course, you are not perfect. You still screw up. You still worry endlessly that you didn't say something kindly. You aren't always kind. You still want to sleep way more than you should.

But mostly, mostly you are happy. You are finding your way on this new path. This bend that nearly took you to your knees. It was a gift, Joy Elizabeth. It was a gift of a stronger, healthier, more confident person. It's not always easy, it's definitely not always fun, but it's important and different and ultimately, it's going to lead to a beautiful life. I promise.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Confessions of a former stay-at-home mom...

My life is a checklist.

I'm just that type of person-I feel accomplished at the end of the day when I have checked everything off of my list.

Tea with lemon. Banana. Devotional. Prayer. Meditation. Workout. Shower. Sunscreen. Straighten hair. Get dressed. Makeup. Greek yogurt. Read the Skimm. Watch the beginning of the Today Show. Brush teeth. Pack lunch. Leave for work.

That's my morning. Every day. Skip one thing-my day is off, ruined. (I'm working on not letting it be ruined. But mostly, ruined.)

Becoming a mom was like the ultimate checklist for me. I read and read and read everything I could get my hands on about the proper way to raise a child before Betsy was born.

Betsy's days in her first couple of years of life went something like this:

Get up. Breastfeed. Tummy time to Mozart. Get dressed. Sunscreen. Mommy and me workout. Baby Einstien video. Read. Breastfeed. Nap. Breastfeed. Read. Play. Read. Breastfeed. Nap. Breastfeed. Read. Play.

You get the idea.

I mean, eventually solid foods, storytime, MOPs, all of that stuff made its way into our days.

But I had a checklist always: the most important things Betsy needs. They were mostly breastmilk, books, sleep, and stimulating playtime. Not just regular old playing. No, we had to be playing with goals in mind: we played with letters to learn the shapes tactically, we discussed letter sounds, we sang and sang and sang about everything.

And it worked, I thought. Betsy knew how to read, all of the presidents, all of the states, all of the capitals when she was five. Clearly I had done everything right.

I did all the same things with Felicity. Now, I will admit that because I had a three year old at the same time, Felicity's day looked a little different. I was slightly more laid back. Felicity was a more laid back baby, so I held her a lot, didn't quite get in her face as much.

But Felicity was not interested in learning the presidents. She knows a couple that she particularly likes. She knows the capital of Colorado is Denver because she likes the word Denver.

Felicity is perfectly capable of reading and spelling. She does have more trouble with math than she probably should, but she comes by that honestly as I am terrible at math. But the thing is, Felicity doesn't care. She gets middling grades and she is find with that. I have tried making a big deal of good grades, I have tried encouraging words and workbooks and songs.

But Felicity is just perfectly happy being an average student.

Before this year, this life changing year that shifted my world, I would have just cried and cried over the fact that I know that Felicity is nowhere near the top of her class. I would have blamed myself, blamed the fact that I let her sleep in my arms so much instead of creating all of the challenging games and rote memory facts that Betsy excelled at.

And maybe there is some truth to that. But it doesn't matter.

Felicity is going to go out and change this world because she is Felicity. She is funny, and she doesn't have a shy bone in her body, and she loves everyone. Her strengths lie in things that aren't tested in school. I used to hear people say that and think, you just don't want to put the time in. I would say, in what I imagined was a humble voice, "I am not doing anything you can't do. I am just putting in the time and it just shows in what my kids are capable of."

I now realize that, as sincerely as I meant that, I was being a snob. A stay-at-home mom snob who deep down thought that, even though we didn't have much money, we were creating exceptionally smart children.

The fact is, my children being smart or funny or sociable has nothing to do with me. What I have given my children is a safe place to be who they are, a love that nothing can break, and a home that will never leave. It was great that we played and learned and read so much. But ultimately the point was that we were together.

The three musketeers. Forever. Check it off the list.

Monday, June 20, 2016

I cannot spell...

So, here's the thing: I am a terrible speller.

Normally this is not a huge deal. I use spell check. I google words that I am not sure of the e before or after the i. There really is no excuse in the year 2016 for poor spelling.

And yet, I managed to link to my blog yesterday my piece about my love for Cleveland. Or, as I wrote, Cleaveland. All over my Facebook page. Yep, for all of Facebook to see.

My first thought was, "Brian Elliott will see this. He will know how dumb I really am." Not that I exactly know that Brian Elliott actually reads my blog or looks at my Facebook feed. He did one time like a link to one of my blogs, which was basically the equivalent of receiving the Pulitzer to me. But does he do this on a regular basis? I doubt it.

But now he, along with the rest of the Facebook world, knows that I cannot spell. I am an English major fraud.

Here is another of my deep, dark secrets: I am not all that great with grammar. I cannot parse a sentence at all.

I was an English major because I like to read and write. And I often write faster than I should, and I often type the completely wrong letters. Normally I can fix it, though. But Facebook, with its weird updating, editing system, would not let me change it.

For reasons that I cannot understand, I have issues with doing things a certain way. I am not a perfectionist-I do not think that I do anything perfectly nor should I-but I have obsessions with doing everything on this checklist of my life in a certain way and if I can't check it off correctly, I feel like I deserve to have my life fall to shambles.

It's a weird combination of OCD and magical thinking that I have always had, and it tends to rear its head the most when my life is falling apart. I know what causes it-I want to feel in control of a situation that I have no control over. But it is still my weird quirk.

Someone recently praised my blog. And I must admit, that probably went to my head a bit. So this is just really a nice grounding for me-never get to high up on your horse, Joy Elizabeth, you are as human as anyone else.

I know that most people probably don't even care.

Still, I apologize and bury my head in shame. And I will try very, very hard to take this as a good thing, an understanding that no matter how hard I try, sometimes I will look like an idiot. It happens. It will surely happen agian again. And again.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Cleveland rocks...

I am a Browns fan.

I will wait for your collective sigh.

I know. It actually hurts me to tell people that I am a Browns fan anymore. The last couple of seasons have taken nearly all I have left inside me to give them.

I am as exhausted as anyone else with the never ending carousel of quarterbacks and head coaches. I know as well as any other somewhat knowedgable person that we are never going to have a good team to build on when the quarterback changes every year. Every year some great hope that this will be our year. It won't be.

I still hold a grudge about Brady Quinn. Quinn was our chance, he actually wanted to be there, he had the tools necessary, he just needed the time to improve. But no. No, because we are Cleveland.

Tonight we have a chance. Just a chance. But we will take it.

When Lebron left, it was like a kick in the stomach. I understand why he did it. He had a legacy to create, a family to feed-he could not stay and maintain the hype with a team that couldn't get him there. I understood that in my head. But it hurt. Lebron was ours. We were all witnesses, remember? We finally had a glimmer of hope and he took it away, along with his talents, to Miami.

So, I kind of hated Lebron. Not really. But a little. Because a true Cleveland fan would have understood how much we needed him.

And that is why I was thrilled that when he came back, he seemed to acknowledge that. He could go anywhere and win a championship. He could only come to one place on earth and deliver a championship so cherished.

If they win's like I can't even imagine. The pure joy of a championship in Cleveland is beyond what I can actually picture in my mind.

If they lose, we will love them still. They fought a good fight against a team having a golden season.

Bu we will love them either way.

"We are all witnesses. Cleveland rocks."

Friday, June 3, 2016

Summer of the Cicadas...

It's the summer of the cicadas. My Facebook feed is full of complaints about them. Personally, I am enjoying them-the noise just doesn't really bother me. But I seem to be in the minority.

Lucas is the most perfect summer-of-the-cicadas movie ever. I can't get over how many times I have mentioned this to people lately only to be met by a blank stare. I assumed that most people my age had seen Lucas. But apparently no.

Corey Haim is the title character. This is 1986, pre-the two Coreys days. This is young, geeky Corey Haim, illustrating to the world that he really did have mounds of talent, making his death all the more sad. Lucas is a geek, a 14 year old who skipped 2 grades and who loves bugs. Over the summer-the summer of the cicadas-he meets Maggie, played by Kerry Green, who is new to town and lonely. She strikes up an awkward friendship with Lucas. When school starts, Maggie becomes a cheerleader and becomes friends with Cappy, played by Charlie Sheen. Cappy is popular but nice-he genuinely likes Lucas-but of course, given the choice between a bug loving 14 year old and a popular football player, Maggie is falling for Cappy. (Despite the fact that his name is Cappy-seriously, he sounds like an 80 year old man.)

This movie is full of nuanced, completely believable portrayals of bullying and well intentioned teachers who aren't in the least helpful, and just teenage life in the early 1980s. It's a beautiful movie. The performances are stellar. Corey Haim is pitch perfect as a tiny, picked on kid who absolutely refuses to lay down and play dead. This is my all-time favorite Charlie Sheen performance. A few years ago, when Charlie seemed to be having a nervous breakdown in front of millions of people, I kept thinking of this humble performance at the beginning of his career. I do worry endlessly over people that I often do not really know. I have no idea if Charlie Sheen was ever in the least like this portrayal. But it existed on the screen, and I hope that eventually when all is said and done, this performance will be weighed in with his over the top exploits and excessively negative attitude towards women, particularly his wives.

Kerry Green is also most awesome in this movie. Kerry Green had the perfect career, I think. She starred in these classic movies-The Goonies and Summer Rental-and then she just disappeared, never having to go through the awkward transition to more "adult" roles and shedding her girl-next-door image.

Tom Hodges is also at his best, playing one of Lucas' tormentors. (Jeremy Piven is the other.) I had such a crush on Tom Hodges when he was Rich on the The Hogan Family. His role is pivotal here. He really deserved a much bigger career than he was granted.

And lastly, there is Winona Ryder. Lucas was her movie debut. Isn't it amazing to think how big Winona was, how huge a star, how she was a first consideration for so many iconic 1990s roles, and now she is barely a blip on the map? It's kind of like Jennifer Grey on a much larger scale. But here is her beginning, showing all of the talented, slightly weird and somehow off girl role that would propel her to stardom two years later in Beetlejuice.

The girls and I have talked about how when the cicadas come back they will be 28 and 25. Adults, maybe with families of their own. So I am treasuring this summer of the cicadas with my girls who still call me "Mommy" and curl up to watch whatever movie I decree they will enjoy.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

End of a long weekend...

So, I spent all day Monday reading a book. Which is my favorite way to spend a day alone. My favorite way to spend a day ever is clearly with my girls. But they were with their dad and his family on Monday. I try really hard to be okay with that-I got Christmas and Easter, he got Memorial Day and the 4th of July. I mean, I clearly made out on the deal. But it's still hard-if you have read some of my really old blog posts, you know that Memorial Day was a special day for our family, a day that we spent with each other always, even as life kept twisting and changing around us.

So this Memorial Day weekend, I was alone. I went shopping with April on Sunday, which was fun (it does boggle my mind that I like to shop now, but I do). I managed to do pretty well-two tops from American Eagle (my absolute most favorite store), a new workout shirt and flip flops from Old Navy, a swimsuit (a bikini, good Lord-April insisted it looked good), a new pair of sandals, and, of course, a book.

What Alice Forgot. By Liane Moriarty. I know that Moriarty is kind of a big deal right now, but I had never read any of her books and only knew what this was about by the blurb on the back. Basic plot summary is that Alice hits her head and thinks it's 1998 and that she is newly married and pregnant with her first child. In reality, it's 2008 and Alice has three children and is getting divorced. It seemed well suited.

What would myself of ten years ago think of the me of now? I flatter myself to think that she would really like that I work out and spend time on my hair and, you know, have a job and support myself and the girls and am "an independent woman of substance."

I always told Nick that I was "an independent woman of substance." It was a joke, because I was the farthest thing from it.

In truth, the me of ten years ago would probably be appalled at the me of today. Who cares about your hair or your abs? You have lost Nicholas. That is what she would say.

Which is sort of the point of the book. What we have in the beginning is so changed by the end that we can't even recognize who we used to be. But, young Joy of 27, I do recognize you. I do validate you. I want so to tell you to enjoy this very minute because everything is about to change. The first big terrible is about to happen. The first big terrible is the first truly awful thing that you have ever endured. And it changes everything between you and Nick. Not right away. At first you cling together because you are all that you have. Then Nick pulls away and everything falls apart and then HE COMES BACK. And this is truly the worst thing, but I won't deny you living it, because it is the greatest feeling ever.

In my lifetime, I have been kissed three times that were magical. Every time was with Nick.

The first kiss was in my parents driveway, December 6, 2000. It was our first kiss. I was scared to pieces to kiss Nick because I really liked him a lot, and I had kissed just a few boys in the past (two, I had kissed two), but it never, ever lived up to what a kiss was supposed to feel like. It always just felt like lips. But the first time I kissed Nick, there were fireworks and explosions and everything that happens inside of you to let you know that this has been what you were waiting on.

The second kiss was when he came home from Iraq. He scooped me up and kissed me and held me so tight and we both just knew that we would never, ever let go.

The third kiss was when he decided not to leave me. The decision had been made, he was set on leaving, he wasn't happy living with me anymore. It was February 2009, Betsy was 4 and Felicity about to turn one. And just as it was all settled, Nick came in and scooped me up and carried me upstairs and kissed me and promised never, ever to leave.

It was that particular kiss that was my downfall. Because I believed that kiss over anything I ever felt again. Even when Nick got distant, even when everything felt slanted and wrong, even when I knew that something was so off we could never get it back-I would remember that kiss and that promise and stake my whole life on it.

We are almost a whole year out from all of this. I wish so much that my life would turn away from grief and sadness. It does sometimes, and I feel such relief I can't explain, and then it comes crashing back over me like a wave.

It's not really that I miss Nick. I miss the ghost of someone long, long gone. That may sound like a cop out, but it is true. The Nick that I talk to now is not the old Nick of those kisses. Nick was careful and smart to draw strict boundaries around us. I do often wish that we could joke around like we used to, that we could have even half of the friendship that we used to. Maybe, someday. But for now the wounds are too fresh, the guilt is too heavy in the air between us. And, of course, there is the fact that Nick moved on right away, while I am over here like a snail trying to climb a mountain. We are in different places.

So, dear Joy of 27, no, you cannot understand at all how any of these decisions that the next ten years are going to force you to make could have led to where you are. And that's a good thing. Because of everything that I know, the one thing that I am most certain of is that I wouldn't change any of it. Changing anything would have led to a different place, a different life, a different family. I am as happy as I can be with our family the way that it is. I am genuinely glad that Nick has found someone who is able to love him unconditionally. I refuse to begrudge him his happiness. Because I would never want him to begrudge me mine, when and if I ever get somewhere.

It's hard though. I need a new word for hard. A word that conveys such sadness, and grief, and just despair that I am never going to see the end of this. I know that I will. I know that the me of ten years from now will say, oh, Joy, stop being so dramatic about Nick. He's not the be all, end all. I know it in my head. Someday I will believe it in my heart. And until then, I will pretend that I am sure that this is how it is supposed to be.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


How to parent by myself.

How to keep a schedule that seems anywhere near the same as the old one.

How to straighten my hair.

How to wear a belt properly.

How to unclog a drain.

How to catch a mouse.

How to drive in snow.

How to drive in ice.

How to smile at people I don't know.

How to look into people's eyes when they are speaking.

How to add pictures to my blog.

How to prioritize my books.

How to write a resume.

How to write a cover letter.

How to concentrate on today.

On this minute.

On this second.

How to lift properly.

How to keep my eyes on my own yoga mat.

How to make appointments. On the phone.

How to be alone.

How to sleep alone.

How to maintain a relationship that it would be easier to give up on.

How to make peace with a past you cannot change.

How to live with a future that seems undefined.

How to unmoor from all that you know to be who you are.

How to be.

How to feel joy again.

How to feel again.

How to feel at peace with your decisions.

How to forgive.

Really, truly forgive.

How to move forward.

How to let memories find a place to live.

How to remember that you are the only one who remembers.

"If I'm the only person who remembers, did it ever really happen?"

Monday, April 25, 2016

What I'm Reading Monday...

Mondays are for books.

I enjoy Gillian Flynn, though not quite as much as most people, I think. I like her premises, I like her style, but I always feel that she chases one too many white rabbits. I must be one of the only people who liked Gone Girl as a movie better than the book. I felt like the movie tightened everything up, did away with so many overreaching elements that Flynn throws in-I feel like she is trying so hard to make it twist, she ends up tying herself in a knot.

This is true of her other books also. I have actually read Sharp Objects twice because I didn't remember that I had read it and I promised April I would read it with her. The concept is better than the execution, this one is clearly a first novel. It is fairly easy to guess the twists, and it goes on too long. Dark Places is my favorite, as promised it goes to incredibly dark places, but Flynn is afraid to stay there and the ending is a muddled up mess. The rest of the book, though, is excellent.

And today I read The Grownup.

I found it by chance at the library last week. It is a very short story. Flynn does slightly better with short stories, I think, because even though she still wants a twist every few sentences, there are by nature fewer to be had. She has to be concise. This was a nice, easy read if you are in the mood for some suspense and only have, you know, a half hour while your youngest daughter is at dance class to get a book read.

So that is what I read today. I haven't quite decided what to read next, I have collected such a stack that I may have to play eeny, meeny, miny, mo in the next few minutes.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The story of a (tattooed) girl...

If my life were a book, I am fairly positive that I would begin with my tattoo. My first tattoo.

The butterfly that was etched into my left ankle as a present for my 22nd birthday was meant to illustrate a rebirth, an emergence of a new person, a new woman. It was a gift from my boyfriend of a month. He went with me and looked through books of pictures and forked over $60 and watched as my leg was scarred black. It was bliss.

I got my tattoo the day that I met Isaiah. It was meant to be a permanent reminder of the day that I met the boy who would become my stepson. Isaiah had just turned one. He scared the dickens out of me. I didn't want to let on, of course. I wanted Nick to see me with his child and marvel at how wonderful I was, what a fabulous stepmom I would be. In reality, I had never been around babies very much, certainly not little boys. I had no idea what I was doing.

Luckily for me, Isaiah was laid back even as a baby. He made things easy because he just took to whomever was willing to play with him. I didn't realize at the time that things could have been much harder.

So, on December 22, 2000, I met my future stepson in the morning and I went to a tattoo parlor in the afternoon. As you do.

Truthfully, I wanted a butterfly on my ankle because I love the movie Son-in-Law and in it she gets a butterfly tattoo on her ankle. But I am a writer and I do love a narrative, so I easily created one: I was changing, transforming, metamorphosizing into someone new. I was leaving a young girl behind and emerging as a whole new being, my first step on a road that would lead to my becoming a wife and a stepmother.

Nick played along because he always does. He gave me a birthday card in which he wrote, "Tattoos are forever and so is my love for you."

I couldn't look at my tattoo without remembering that.

I know it's stupid. I know in my head that he meant it at the time. I know that neither he nor I could have imagined that there would come a day when everything would turn so inside out and backwards. It all seemed so straightforward at the time. I loved him, he loved me, we were becoming a family.

I could even have spun a story in my head that Nick does still love me, just in a different way. But somehow, the butterfly just needed to go. It took awhile for me to be okay with that feeling. I love Isaiah exactly the same as I always did. He is the girls' brother (and he is a wonderful and patient big brother). Ultimately I know that Isaiah knows that I love him even if I'm no longer technically related to him.

Getting a tattoo as a 37 year old woman was a completely different experience than getting one as a besotted 21 year old girl. First of all, I did all of my research ahead of time, looking at all kinds of tattoos to decide what I wanted. I asked my friend Shawna, who has a wicked cool tattoo on her shoulder, where she got it. She led me to Jenn Seigfried of Red Rose Tattoo in Zanesville. I emailed Jenn with pictures of my tattoo and ideas for what I liked, and then I met with her to discuss what was possible. I found her to be super nice and friendly and loved her artwork.

It all felt most grown up.

And so, last night I went to a tattoo parlor after work. I cannot begin to describe how much I love what Jenn was able to do with my general ideas about what I wanted.

It is a large tattoo. It is much bigger than I felt at all comfortable with, but as I sat there, I realized that it was exactly what I needed. I am making a statement with this tattoo. This tattoo is not about being crazy in love and excited to do something that no one would expect me to do. This tattoo is telling a story, my story, and it is telling it loudly. I will be proud to be a grandma with this tattoo on her leg.

My transformation this time is not a complete and total changing of my being. The butterfly represented a whole new me, someone frankly that I barely even knew. She was so excited by life. I have always described meeting Nick as winning the lottery. And even at this end of the story, I would describe it that way. Meeting Nick led to absolutely every dream I ever had coming true. I have discovered as an adult that not everyone has what I had, has been as contented and happy as I was, even if it didn't last a lifetime. I wouldn't trade what I had even knowing how much pain there has been living through my marriage ending.

So my transformation this time is not that of a whole new being. My transformation this time is about evolving, emerging from one existence into another, still carrying all of those memories, all of those feelings, but bringing it forward in a new (and hopefully better) way. The best way to illustrate that was with a flower. A rose, because I love roses. The seed that began is still there, underground, but it has blossomed into something that it didn't even realize that it was capable of becoming.

The key is actually part of a story that I've been writing for most of my life. Maybe someday it will find a life somewhere other than the inside of my head.

While she was working on the tattoo, Jenn said to me, you know, the old tattoo is still there. And I hadn't thought of it that way. And that brought such peace to my heart that I really hadn't expected. The butterfly is still there. That Joy is still a part of me, a part of who I bring to the world. She is just absorbed into something bigger, something that she never expected, something that she didn't know she was missing. She was so happy and contented to be Nick's wife. It was the culmination of her dreams. And now I am so thrilled to see how much more there is to who I am. I would never have asked for the life that I have been given, but in the past few weeks I have somehow discovered that I have been given an opportunity to figure out who I am outside of the definition of wife. It's the most freeing thing that I have ever experienced.

I don't mean to make light of my marriage. I wouldn't be who I am without it. But I had been allowing myself to be surrounded by darkness because of it ending, instead of realizing that it wasn't an ending, it was a beginning. My grief has given way to light. It's just the most profound change I've ever felt in my life.

Lastly, there is an E in the middle of the rose, and an F in the middle of the key. For Elizabeth (Betsy) and Felicity. My life. My loves. No matter how I change and evolve from this unexpected turn in my life, they are rooted within me. Where they led, I will follow. Always.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Postcards from a hybrid weekend...

And just like that, I blink and it's Tuesday.

This was a hybrid weekend. I had the girls an extra day. We call it bonus Friday. Bonus Fridays seem even more special that regular Mom-weekend Fridays because it's like we are getting a gift of time. So bonus Fridays involve fun. We wouldn't want to waste bonus Friday on reruns and homework.

This bonus Friday involved the movie theater, shopping, and dinner. Loads of fun.

We saw The Jungle Book. We all three enjoyed it. Not quite as much as the animated version, because it is crazy silly and this, being more realistic, just couldn't be as wacky. But taken on its own, it's a good movie. A little intense at times, but the story is a good one-family is family no matter how they came to be, which is timely in our little family. The 3D is decent and not a complete waste of money. And I sort of love Christopher Walken and feel that his casting as King Louie is pretty genius, though I did hate the monkeys themselves-I am not a monkey fan and these particular monkeys are filmed in such a way that they kind of resemble bugs crawling all over him. Not a pleasant image.

We shopped-new dresses for all of us, new swimsuits for the girls-and had Olive Garden for dinner. It was a pretty great bonus Friday, as they go.

Saturday we were able to participate in Let's Pick It Up New Concord before heading to opening day for softball. It was a beautiful day, but unfortunately it was apparently a high UVA/UVB day, and Felicity and I both now resemble lobsters. The old Joy would never, ever have forgotten sunscreen. The old Joy was in so many ways a better mom than the new Joy. The new Joy is more fun, she's nowhere near as particular about things, but she is also forgetful of things like sunscreen and balanced meals and perfect spelling words. I know that I need to find a balance, that I am more than capable of being this new person and still not allowing Felicity to turn red, but I am still struggling with that.

Hybrid weekends, of course, mean that the girls then left with their dad and Jenifer. And so I was left with my normal, what should I do now? I went to Adornetto's for dinner. I highly recommend Adornetto's for eating alone because they have no bar and you can sit at a table with a book and not be bothered. And, hello, Adornetto's.

Then I went and saw The Boss. It was much like all of Melissa McCarthy's movies to me, meaning that it is hilariously funny in places and then drags on in others. Melissa herself is hysterical to me. She just needs tight scripts. It is very similar to how I felt about Jim Carrey before he only did important movies. But for the most part it was an enjoyable movie even if it didn't exactly make a whole lot of sense.

Sunday my sister and I went to Playhouse Square in Cleveland to see Beautiful, the Carole King musical. It is appropriately titled. I love Carole King and her music. This is particularly about her days on Tin Pan Alley. It is really a glimpse behind the scenes at these songwriters who were expected to churn out hit after hit like a factory. Carole's story is that of a wife and mother trying her best to love someone who is just unable to love her back, try as he might. But she takes that loss, the loss of more than a husband but that of a partner, of the other half to her creative side, and uses it to create such beauty that became Tapestry. It's inspiring.

And yesterday I hosted a party. I never do that. Ever. But I have come to really love Lularoe clothing, particularly their dresses, which are so comfortable but still really pretty. They are like the yoga pants of dresses. And so I hosted a party, and had a fabulous time talking with my friends and trying on pretty clothes. It was so far out of my comfort zone and yet I think it went well. This new Joy, she tries so many things that the old Joy would never even think to do. It can make my head spin sometimes.

And so, somehow it is Tuesday. And I am looking forward to an evening with nothing on our calendar, an evening of reading and running with Betsy and probably watching Saved by the Bell. Mostly my life is complete bliss. Blistering, red skin and all.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

No friendship is an accident...

I met Jennifer at MOPS. She was friendly and nice (of course, Jennifer was the homecoming queen, she is super nice to everyone), but we didn't really get to know each other until retreat. And at retreat, I talked to her about my friend Christy, who was looking into some speech therapy for one of her sons...

Christy I met at school during the Thanksgiving lunch when Betsy and Amberleigh were in kindergarten, but we really got to be friends when both girls were on the same softball team in the spring. I always took Betsy to practice and brought along my book to read. But Christy always sat beside me and just started talking to me. And one day she mentioned Amberleigh's dance teacher to me, said her name is Lacie, and I laughed and said, yes, I know Lacie...

Lacie I have known since she was born. I can remember of being at church for a dinner of some kind (it really seems like we had a lot of church dinners when I was a kid) and Lacie was a baby sitting on the counter in some kind of car seat type deal. Lacie is six years younger than me, but she had Brooke at the same time that I had Felicity and we would sit together in church and nurse them and talk...

And somehow we all, Jennifer and Christy and Lacie and me, became close friends. We aren't quite sure the organics of it beyond that they were all friends with me, so clearly I am the linchpin.

I hadn't had a real friend outside of my sister and Nick since high school. A friend that I really call in emergencies, a friend that I text in the middle of the night, a friend who let me collapse at her house when my life fell apart at every possible seam and I was scared to be in my house alone for fear of what I might do to myself.

It's a genuine friendship that I couldn't live without.

Who would have dreamed just a couple of years ago that one of us would move away, two of us would have babies, and one of us would get divorced? Lucky me on that lovely roulette spin.

We don't get to hang out like we used to. Christy moved away, I have a full time job, and Jennifer and Lacie have babies-but when we do get together, it's all just the same as it was. We laugh a lot and act silly and talk about our kids and our families. They talk about their husbands, while I bemoan ever dating again, which they kindly act like is ridiculous.

I could not have gotten through this year without them.

It is easier to see, looking back, all of the people that have come into my life to help me to transition to who I am becoming. I am grateful to all of them. I am grateful for friends that I have reconnected with from high school, for new friends from Genesis and Village Hall and MOPs. And I am immensely grateful for these three ladies that I know that God brought into my life when he did so that when everything fell apart, I would have someone to lean on. Someone to listen. Someone to be silly and crazy with and not worry that they will think any less of me. They have seen me at my worst. They have seen me out of my mind with grief, they have seen me scared and lonely and down a dark hole. And the most important thing is that they stayed with me. They knew that I had to work this out for myself.

I can never thank them enough for knowing that being my friend meant just sitting beside me while I cried.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Dead boys don't have birthdays...

Jonathan Brandis would have been 40 years old today. If he were alive.


It is hard to wrap my mind around Jonathan at any age other than about 18. But then again, I would surely feel that way even if he were still alive. He would likely be someone that you would look up on a 'where are they now?' site and be amazed at a receding hairline or much weight gain. But he would still have those piercing blue eyes. And I would remember how my little 12 year old heart sped up at the sight of those eyes.

Jonathan was my all-time favorite teen idol. I bought every teeny-bopper magazine that featured his picture when I was around 13. I made collages of photos. I learned everything I could about him from those magazines, which was mostly things like his favorite food was Italian and he liked Pepsi.

I loved him with all of my heart.

He starred in many movies that you surely don't remember, or at least have very hazy memories of watching at a slumber party with your friends and making fun of it. At least, if you are any of my friends from middle school, because it was at my slumber parties that I forced Jonathan upon you. The Never Ending Story II. Sidekicks. (Yes, I forced my closest friends to watch a Chuck Norris movie.) And my favorite...Ladybugs.

Ladybugs was a vehicle for Rodney Dangerfield. In it, he basically stars as his standup character, a kind of a sad sack guy, Chester Lee. Chester is really a great guy stuck inside of Rodney Dangerfield's body. He is trying to gain confidence by asking his boss for a raise so that he can marry Bess (Ilene Graff from Mr. Belvedere), but he somehow ends up agreeing to coach his boss' daughter's soccer team. It just so happens that Matthew (Jonathan), Bess' son and Chester's soon-to-be-stepson, is a soccer whiz. Wackiness ensues. Chester puts Matthew in drag to play as Martha. Jackee provides lots of comic relief as Chester's assistant. Matthew develops a crush on Kimberly, the boss' daughter, who is a terrible soccer player but drop dead gorgeous. Will Kimberly discover the truth? Will Chester get his raise? Will Chester and Matthew learn to love each other despite obvious character flaws?

It's all completely and totally ridiculous. And I loved it so much. I read an article a while back about teen idols and how many of them are actually very feminine looking, very 'pretty' boys on the verge of puberty. The article assumed that this was due to girls wanting someone safe, someone not really spit and cuss and muscle, like, say, Axl Rose. (Axl is another huge crush of mine...but that is a different blog.)

Anyway, all of that is likely true. This is an actual Leonardo DiCaprio quote, "My two main competitors in the beginning, the blond-haired kids I went to audition with, one hung himself and the other died of a heroin overdose..." Assuming, of course, that he is speaking of Jonathan and River. And River is just a whole different blog post, so I will let that lie. My point here is that we seldom think about how we adored these beautiful boys who grow into men with facial hair and deep voices.

But likely for me, my love of Jonathan probably had something to do with the fact that he was dressed as a girl. Sleepaway Camp had done its number on me by that point, and that movie made me obsessed with boys who dress as girls. So, so obsessed.

And so, I loved Jonathan. I watched SeaQuest DSV even though I didn't especially love it because he was in it. I obsessed over him. I disliked Tatyana Ali for no good reason because they dated and were very obviously in love. I watched a movie with him and Kellie Martin as druggies sometime when I was in high school, even though my friends made fun of the entire premise of the movie. I loved him long after I had graduated away from teen idols and 90210 and all things 13.

But somewhere along the line I stopped paying attention. Or maybe he just fell so far off the radar I couldn't find him. Or, as is most likely, I became obsessed with Nick Johnson to a ridiculous degree in the year 2000 and he just took over all of the space that I had for obsessing over anyone else. In November of 2003, Nick was in Iraq. My husband, who I loved with all that was in me, was in mortal danger every second of every day.

In November of 2003 Jonathan Brandis hung himself.

I don't know when I found this out, because it was not when it happened.

As a result, I kind of just have little snippets of news releases that I have found on the internet long after it was all over. And sadly, that is probably all that there even was at the time. But there is precious little to be found about Jonathan at all after his roles kind of dried up. He didn't leave a note. He was depressed over the turn in his career and drinking-that is all that you can find to sum up his final days.

Why would someone kill themselves in such a dramatic way? I say this as a person who has been up against suicide and a death wish more times than I care to admit. I understand depression. I understand grief. I understand the desire to go to sleep and leave everything behind.

I do not, however, understand being able to harm yourself in such a painful way. I don't understand leaving your body in such a way that you know whoever stumbles upon you is surely going to have issues to deal with for the remainder of their life.

I am sad that Jonathan would have felt so bereft that this would have seemed like a reasonable solution. I am sad for his parents every year on this day because I do know that he was an only child and I cannot imagine having the strength to go on if one of my children died, much less died in such a violent way.

I know in reality that I was just a young, dorky girl with a crush. One of millions of girls who professed their love to him and then years later moved on to actual human boys who professed to love them back. But love him I did. I would even watch that Chuck Norris movie again. Maybe.