Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Archive for the category “Love”

June

I almost didn’t realize June began because I was entrenched in a conference in Maine last week that I was co-organized and helped to run. It was a success, but it was a blur of activity, moving boxes, running around to check on projectors, and various other duties that left me tired and more than a few days without seeing the outside of the hotel.

When I left my house on Memorial Day, I said to Q that I couldn’t wait for the conference to be over so we could finally have some time for us. We’ve had a stressful spring with some work woes for both of us, the fire next door to the house, deaths on both sides of our families, and this conference. We were looking forward to doing some vacation planning, buying new outdoor furniture, fixing our grill, and many other little things that bring us happiness.

Life, of course, has other plans.

Sadly, Q’s brother in law passed away unexpectedly over the weekend, and once again, we’re putting our plans on hold as we help his sister and niece. Things are still shocking and fresh right now and I think will be for the foreseeable future.

 

I’ll still be posting on here and have some book reviews coming down the line, but the big blog revamp I had in mind for June may get pushed back a bit, depending on how things shake out with life. Despite the curveballs that seem to keep coming our way, I’ve realized over the past few months that writing is the one thing I want and need to be doing and won’t abandon this space, even if it’s only my mother and aunt who still read it ( hi Pat and Cindy!).

Be well, friends.

Traditions, Old &New

For as long as I can remember, my mother and I have been making cookies for Christmas, as so many others do this time of year as well. Growing up, we almost always made them on Christmas Eve Day so there would be fresh cookies for Santa, and for family and friends who came to our house for Christmas Eve, and later for the many houses we would go traveling to on Christmas Eve. It was often just her and I who baked, with my brother frequently helping with the decorating. My Dad was usually out last minute Christmas shopping that day by himself, as that was a tradition of his own that he enjoyed.

As adulthood as crept in, we now make the cookies usually on the weekend before the holiday, bringing them to our coworkers and saving the rest for ourselves. It’s been a lot of fun in the past few years as now my sister-in-law joins in the fun. I think we made 7 different kinds of cookies this past weekend- all delicious and almost gone!

cookies

a small sample of our cookies, decorations by my brother!

Q and I are still working to establish our own holiday traditions with Little Man as each year it always depends on how Christmas falls and when we’ll end up seeing him to celebrate. In the past two years, we’ve made sure to decorate the house together and buy Little Man a new ornament every year for our little tree that he gets to pick out himself. We watch Christmas movies on the weekends we have him in the month of December, trying to expose him to new ones and favorites of ours that he has not yet seen ( he really liked Home Alone).

This year, it’s just the three of us for Christmas and while we’ll miss the rest of our family who are spending it in other places, I’m also very excited that we’ll have Little Man for Christmas Eve and a portion of Christmas Day. Seeing the fun of Christmas through the eyes of an 8 year old boy has brought a lot of joy to me this year that has been missing since my Dad died. I might be more excited about Christmas morning and the excitement of seeing what Santa brings than he is! We’ll continue a tradition from my family’s Christmas mornings too– cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

As a lover of history and family, I find traditions- no matter the holiday or time of year, fascinating. I’d love to know some of yours! As life changes around us, our traditions are often the things we hold onto for the memories, but the new ones that emerge bring excitement too.

 

3 Years

There’s no rule book on grief. If you ever lose someone and people try to tell you there’s some timeline to stick to, that “things get easier,” or whatever platitudes they think you want to hear, it’s totally fine to be polite and say thanks, but to know that it’s absolute krap.

People say things like that because they honestly don’t know what else to say. Often times those people haven’t ever lost a person close to them, someone they talked to every single day and relied on for so many aspects of life. I used to be that person who tried to find the right words, but mostly sounded silly and felt inadequate and uncomfortable around people who have lost someone.

Dad&me001

And now that I’ve solidly been in the category of losing someone who was in my inner circle of life, I can say that things don’t get easier– they get different. And they will continue to get different. Every day that you live is a day away from the person you lost. Every new thing that happens, every possibility of life is something that you can’t go and call that person or ask their advice. And that’s the tough part of grief. The loss isn’t just about changing life circumstances, though that can be huge. But it’s about not knowing what the person would say to you, how they would react, or what they might do to help a situation.

Three years after unexpectedly losing my Dad, after having our lives shot out of a confetti gun, I’m still trying to grab at the pieces. I think this past year has been the hardest for me since his death. The first year was all about working through the ‘grief-stones’– the birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. and figuring out the various bits of life like finances, belongings, etc. The second year was about supporting my mother and family as they made decisions that came as a result of losing Dad.

And this past year, the third year which I felt was finally time for me to figure out my life– that I felt I finally was settled financially after my divorce almost left me broke, secure in my new relationship, and certain that my family was all going to “be OK”– that it was time for me to make my changes, my move, and do what I wanted. And it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced.

In some ways, I feel like this past year was the first time I really faced the grief. I’m a task master, a planner, and a to-do list maker. The pragmatic, practical side of myself worked through Dad’s death by making lists, organizing food, plans, people. I did this for year one and year two. But year three was just me. And as I faced questions of what next? and possible moves, I have never felt so lost without my Dad.

I realize I might always cry when there’s something on TV or a movie when someone says “I love you Dad.” I know that he’s with me and I talk to him on a regular basis. It kills me to think that he never met Little Man or any potential grandkids. I know that feeling isn’t going to go away. I know that it might lessen with time and that as things happen in life, I’ll figure it out.

It’ll never be the same, it will never be better, it’ll just be different.

Harry Potter

Almost 10 years (!) later, I finally read Harry Potter. Only the first one, but I’ve already got the next 2 from my coworker and they’re on deck after I read a few library holds.

What took me so long? The books came out when I was in high school and I had no interest in fantasy or magic. I probably thought the books were silly since a lot of young readers were into them, though I can respect and appreciate that the series and J.K. Rowling are the reason so many younger readers fell in love with books and reading.

sorcerers-stone

And why now? Partly out of curiosity to see what the hype was all about, especially as this year brought some new Harry Potter related books and movies that brought the subject back onto my social media feeds and had many friends and coworkers talking about it. I originally thought it might be something Little Man and I would read together, but he didn’t have much interest yet ( he is very clearly a Star Wars kid and not much else right now). I also have realized in the past year or so that I do have some interest in fantasy, as I’ve expanded my cultural horizons with the movie interests of Q.

Of course, I loved it. It took me longer to read than I would have liked, as the busy pace of the month of November took over. If I had an uninterrupted weekend to sit down, I likely would have read it in one or two sittings. As it was, when I had 150 or so pages left, I let Little Man watch an extra hour of cartoons on a Sunday morning so I could lose myself in the book ( a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning in my opinion).

And the funny/weird/amazing thing about the timing of my reading it. With the Thanksgiving holiday and the upcoming 3rd anniversary of my Dad’s death, I was particularly emotional last week. I found myself missing my father more than I have in awhile and feeling a bit lost in grief and life. Sunday morning I was emotional and thinking a lot about my Dad after spending Saturday night at La Salette Shrine’s Christmas display (more on this tomorrow), I got to the end of the book, and this passage below. It gave me goosebumps and made me teary, but made me feel comforted in a way I needed.

potter-passage

“…To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”

I’ve always believed in the power of books for many things, but at that moment, it was exactly what I needed to read.

 

Opposites Attract

3.5 years ago, Q and I “met” on OKCupid, about a week before I was about to cancel my account. I was post-divorce, trying to be open about meeting new people, even if they didn’t seem like ‘my type.’

If you wrote down our various interests and traits between us, it would look like we’re mismatched. He doesn’t read a lot, isn’t super into traveling, and isn’t a huge fan of social get togethers outside of close family and friends. He likes sci-fi, watching the Weather Channel, and would eat the same meal every day if he could ( likely beef). I’m not exactly the polar opposite of all those things, but we have our differences for sure.

But what we share the most (other than a love for each other and who we are as human beings) is our value of respect and honesty. We both came from marriages where we didn’t feel like we could be ourselves with the person we were with.

We’re together because he’s kind, compassionate, and an amazing listener. When I’m hyped up about something, I literally can feel my muscles relax and my blood pressure come down when I’m in the same room as Q. We’re together because he makes me a better version of me- highlighting all the awesome Kristen things and challenging me on my bad habits and quirks. He supports me- and all my crazy ideas.

Q and me

Maybe it’s because we both have been married before or maybe it’s because we’re in our 30s and aren’t interested in the games. We let each other be ourselves- he’s picky about some things and I let him make those decisions on his own because he’s an adult.

As I’ve learned so many lessons from being a ‘bonus mom’ to Q’s son, being a partner to Q also has helped me grow as a person. It turns out, I like some sci-fi and he likes some history! I have taught him that vegetarian meals can be just as delicious as a big steak and that making a list for the grocery store will make the trip less annoying. There are the big things too of course, as he is a constant reminder that getting angry in any situation is often the worst thing to do as he is one of the most even-keeled people I know personality-wise.

Sure, we drive each other nuts sometimes, mostly because we’re both stubborn and often very independent people. I like to do things my way, no matter the mess or trouble, but he’d rather be practical and do something once. I’m a clean, organized person who gets joy out of order, while he has piles of paper and clothes ( what I call the ‘floordrobe’ these days), and would never make a to-do list to save his life. We balance each other out in a way that makes being with him the easiest part of my life.

So we may rarely mutually agree on a movie to watch and I might have to push and plead to get him on a plane, but we work. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Wisdom of a 7 Year Old

Excuse me, 7 1/2 year old. I’m told the half is very important.

This past weekend we had Little Man and Saturday night’s dinner conversation somehow turned to the presidential race because Election Day occurs a week after Little Man’s 8th birthday. Here’s pretty much how the convo went, paraphrasing a bit.

Little Man: And then after my birthday, we elect the first woman president.

Q: Well, we hope to elect the first woman president. There is someone running against her.

Little Man: Is he the guy who yells all the time?

Q: Yep. Not everyone likes him, but not everyone likes Hillary, the woman who is running against him. The same thing happened with Obama.

Little Man: Obama is our president now.

Me: You’re right, and he was our first ever black President. It’s a big deal for him and for Hillary because women and black people didn’t always have the right to vote.

Little Man: That’s not fair. Why?

Me: Because a long time ago white men thought they were the only ones who had the intelligence and ability to make decisions.

Little Man: Well that’s just silly.

Oh the wisdom of a 7 1/2 year old.

****

On a related note, I was incredibly surprised how moved I was last night when Hillary’s nomination became official. I don’t talk about politics often and have tried to keep a lot of the noise and media rants out of my head the past few weeks, but between Michelle Obama’s speech on Monday night and the official nomination last night, I have found myself tearing up on more than a few occasions. I think it’s because I see the perspective of the very special 7 1/2 year old little boy who doesn’t even question a woman being president and the prospect that I could someday have a little girl of my own that could change the world when she grows up now that this barrier has been broken. Whatever your politics and where you stand on the issues, it’s an amazing thing to see happen, no matter the outcome.

Life Partner

 

As  Q and I celebrate 3 years together today, it’s amazing to look back on the life we’ve built together in such a short period of time. We’ve supported each other through our fair of challenges and while I feel strongly that this year is for us and making our dreams come true, I know that whatever craziness comes our way, that we will face it together.

JOhn & me July 2013

Thanksgiving Week

 

The anticipation of Thanksgiving is more exciting to me than Christmas.

I love all the planning and preparation that goes into a day that is solely focused on family, friends, and food.

A day to be openly grateful, even though I am that way the rest of the year too. But it’s a great reminder to take the time to remember gratitude and blessings. I’ve been particularly negative with a few aspects of life lately and I’m making the conscious effort to combat that negativity with kindness and positive vibes. It’s not easy, but the alternative is making me miserable ( and yes, I’m being vague on purpose).

I’m looking forward to making our family stuffing on Wednesday night, a recipe passed down from my grandmother, and until last year, made almost every year by my grandmother, aunt, and myself. Even though I do it solo with Q’s help, it still makes me feel connected to my family in important ways.

In my own soapbox moment, I think it is completely ridiculous that some stores are open on Thanksgiving. Massachusetts, with its Puritan beginnings, has some strict “blue laws” about holidays and retail (liquor too), so no stores can be open until midnight of Black Friday. The idea of getting more deals on a holiday that is supposed to be about taking time to reflect and give thanks makes me feel yucky and shake my finger in shame at even my favorite retailers. I will never shop on  Thanksgiving.

I have to work on the day after Thanksgiving ( it’s one of the most quiet and productive days of the year), but even in the past when I haven’t, I’ve never really taken part in the Black Friday early morning shopping festivities. It’s just not worth it for me, plus I like sleeping in late!

 

Love & A Wedding Gown

I started this blog as I was in the middle of the divorce process and haven’t spoken a lot about the particulars about the ending of a marriage–I don’t intend to start now. As frustrating as the marriage and its ending were for me, it is still a part of me and my life, even as heartbreaking as it was. I’ve come out the other side a better person and found love in a way I hadn’t imagined before- not just with another human being, but with the way I love myself.

Ending a marriage made me think more about love and respect than I had before I entered into it- sort of twisted thinking which probably is what got me into trouble to begin with. That aside, I came out of divorce seeking and believing in love more than ever and finding the institution of marriage in a different place. I have respect for it and for people who seek out being married, but I see love as something so much more than a piece of legal paper defines it.

A lot of these feelings have surfaced lately because we’re cleaning out my mother’s house as she readies for a move. I was confronted with a big box- my wedding gown. It sat in the bridal gown preservation box since the weeks after my May 2010 wedding, relegated to a high shelf in my childhood bedroom closet. By late summer of 2011, it was clear my marriage would not last and the box was pushed even further into the closet, obscured by pillows, linens, and off-season clothing of my parents. There was no need to do anything with it- my emotions were too raw  and the anger too heavy to think of anything related to a wedding.

2015-08-15 12.24.23

When I ran into some financial woes through the divorce, I debated selling it, desperate for cash, but being the sometimes lazy procrastinator I am, the ‘sell wedding dress’ slipped farther down the to do list and never was accomplished. It made its way onto the list every year it seemed, but every year I thought of other things more important to take care of first.

This past week, knowing that I had a limited timeline in which to figure out what to do with THE DRESS ( either get rid of it or it would end up in my attic), I finally kicked myself into action. I researched best sites to sell gowns on, what makes a good gown listing, and so on. I spent time searching through  friends/family facebook pages from 2010 to find pictures of me wearing it, ready to crop my head out of pictures to show potential buyers what the dress looked like on a human being.

And then last week, I decided I wasn’t going to sell it.

Why? Mostly for sanity sake- wanting to not spend more time than I had already in measuring, taking questions, and so on from potential buyers. But honestly, it felt sort of strange to try to financially benefit from a dress that brought joy and represented so much promise and love.

Truthfully, I adored my gown. Even though it was a hot day and wearing layers of luxe satin made me sweat like crazy, I loved every inch of it–the gorgeous beading and huge train. The marriage didn’t work out, but the wedding was awesome ( that’s got to be some sort of metaphor right there) and I felt amazing wearing it. It was bought with my grandmother, mother, and future-mother-in-law, and made me smile in ways I didn’t know I could. I didn’t want to try to hock the dress to the highest bidder– it felt almost cold and loveless. If this divorce has taught me anything, it’s in the power of love– and so I couldn’t sell.

But I couldn’t keep it either. Yes, I loved it, but it was also representative of another time, and really, of another me. Keeping it around didn’t feel right and frankly, I have enough stuff in the house that I don’t know what to do with that has more sentimental attachment. Some people suggested I could remake it into something else, which I explored a bit, but it felt weird to cut up something so gorgeous too.

2015-08-15 12.24.57

When I found the answer, it was so easy and obvious that I knew it was the right decision for me. I would donate my gown to one of the many charities that takes lightly used dresses and sells them to less fortunate or needing brides. After some research and review reading, it was an easy choice for me to donate my gown to Brides Across America. The organization provides gowns for military brides and I was more than happy to send my beloved gown to a group that truly helps people who need it.

My marriage didn’t last, but my belief in love did. I hope that bit of joy and hope still lives within the ‘spirit’ of the gown, bringing happiness to whichever lucky gal gets to wear it next.


All opinions are my own and was not prompted by Brides Across America to comment on their organization. 

Grief, Hope, & Gratitude

You know what I love lately? All the honest conversations happening in the media because people finally feel they can talk about grief, gender identity, sexuality, miscarriage, and so on. All these conversations give me hope.

The coverage of the death of Joe Biden’s son Joe and Sheryl Sandberg’s husband Dave have opened up a lot of dialogue about grief that, oddly enough, make me so happy. Grief, death, and dying was a thing I was so not comfortable with before I lost Dad- but since losing him, the ability to talk about it with people in open, truthful ways– either crying or mad or neither– was so incredibly helpful as I tried to parse out all the things I was/am feeling.

Sheryl Sandberg’s piece on life after losing her husband struck a chord for me, especially the concept of no ending to grief. I find lately that yard work and my career have become my triggers– my Dad used to do so much of mine for and with me, and he was a go-to person for career/life advice in ways other people haven’t quite fit in.

And then to think of Joe Biden, who has lost two children and a wife, yet has a great outlook on life. Someone sent my Mom a quote shortly after my Dad died that was something along the lines of- “the greatest gifts we can give our loved ones who have passed is to live fully in their memory.” I think Biden certainly has done that, but also, as this writer acknowledges, it’s the art of gratitude and being thankful for the blessing of a loved one in your life. I’m constantly reminded that I was blessed to have my Dad and call him my best friend, and what a special gift he was to everyone in his life. But it’s more than that too, as the losing of a loved one also shows you the kindness of others. It’s made me realize how many little things make life sweet– whether the cool breeze on a warm, sunny day or a gorgeous morning spent with family.

Grief, tragedy, heartache, sorrow– they all teach you something.

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