Thursday, May 27, 2010

Me mind on fire, me soul on fire...

I don't know what your experience has been, but 2010 hasn't lived up to my expectations. 2009 was a difficult year; almost everybody I know looked forward to a new beginning in January, only to meet with continued or new financial, health and personal challenges.

I will be the first to admit that I haven't lived up to my OWN expectations. I have enjoyed success in some areas but have failed in others. I have learned a few lessons; I have dealt with some losses.

I like to think of myself as an optimist, but some days I feel so defeated I consider the possibility of protecting myself by expecting less. I also like to think of myself as a strong woman. But just today, after receiving some mildly disappointing news and subsequently dissolving into a heap of tears, I realized just how fragile I am right now. I am physically exhausted and spiritually challenged.

I need a vacation. Thankfully, I am going to get one.

Nathan's last day of school was Wednesday; he and I plan to head out bright and early Saturday morning for Tampa. We will spend the night in a lovely hotel, then ride a shuttle to the cruise port and board the Carnival Legend, where we will enjoy two days at sea and visit Belize, Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Isla Roatan. I plan to knock at least a couple of items off my Amazing Life List, but mostly I am going to eat, drink, and sleep in the sun.

I love cruising. I love that someone makes my bed every morning and places a chocolate on my pillow every night. I love the towel animals and the coconut scented shampoo. I love having sushi before dinner and free champagne at the art auctions. I love dressing up and going to the dining room every evening. I love the shows and the deck parties and dancing in the clubs. I love visiting beautiful beaches, meeting local people, and buying inexpensive jewelry and trinkets to bring home.

As a matter of fact, the only things I DON'T like about cruising are the big screen television on the deck and the hairy chest contest. So I generally steer clear of those.

Also, if I meet any handsome strangers, I will run as fast as I can in the opposite direction.

I am hoping to return home rested and refreshed, with positive energy and renewed perspective. In the meantime, happy summer!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Home Is Where the Wine Is

Before I started writing a novel, I spent a lot more time reading. Still, over the past few months, I have managed to squeeze in a handful of good books, and I have decided to post reviews of some of my favorites. Here is one of them.

by Laurie Perry

Laurie Perry, also known as "Crazy Aunt Purl," started out as a blogger. Several years ago, while going through through a painful divorce, she signed up for a knitting class with a friend, and fell in love. She started blogging about her experiences, both personal and knitting-related; one thing led to another, and her first book, Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair, was born.

I discovered this delightful author late one night as I explored "more items to consider" on Amazon. I remember it distinctly: I was newly single, sipping a glass of wine as my cat purred contentedly in my lap. I had recently dug out yarn and needles following a lengthy hiatus, and was shopping online for some new books on knitting. It is obvious why the title resonated with me; recognizing a kindred spirit, I placed the volume in my shopping cart, anxiously awaited its arrival, and devoured it in one sitting. Shortly after, I started following Laurie's blog, read all her back posts (this took a while!) and I have been a loyal fan ever since.

Her latest book, Home Is Where the Wine Is, begins on New Year's Eve, as she contemplates the coming year, grateful for her accomplishments but still feeling that something is missing. So she decides to take on her life as an "art project" and develops a list of goals. Over the course of the next twelve months, she explores several paths to "enlightenment": creating a vision board, travel, sock knitting, online dating, growing a garden, going to therapy, joining a gym. I can easily relate to most of this, but as you might guess, I especially enjoyed the chapters about dating. If this woman didn't live in California, I would swear that we have gone out with some of the same guys.

The constants in Laurie's life are her family, her friends, her cats, and her knitting; these are woven throughout the pages of the book. She has a unique and optimistic outlook, and a charming and utterly hilarious voice; her writing often makes me laugh out loud, and her perspective makes life's foibles and challenges somehow easier to bear. The final pages of both books have instructions for some great knit and crochet ideas, like hats, scarves, hand and arm warmers, a felted wine bottle cozy, and flip flop coasters. The directions and diagrams are clear and easy to follow. Currently, I am working on a project from the first book, the magic scarf; I will post a picture soon.

The end of the year found Laurie vacationing in Maui for Christmas, alone and content. Summing up her journey, she said this.

I am so lucky. I got the chance to see that I can be one whole woman: complete, responsible for my own happiness, responsible for my own well-being, taxes, happiness, comfort, choices, decisions - all of it. Happiness is an inside job. There is no list, no catalog from the Universe we sift through to order up a perfect life, a perfect mate, a perfect home. We make our lives. There is no perfect. There is only goofy, flawed happiness and everything in between. I can stop fretting about my unfinishedness.

I love that. I love Laurie Perry, and I think you will, too. I hope I will have the privilege of meeting her one day. For now, I content myself visiting her blog. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fifty-One Favorites

Similar to a gratitude list, this is a list of fifty-one of my favorite things in the whole wide world. They are in no particular order. Some of the best are free, and most of the rest cost no more than a few dollars. But they all make me very happy, and even the simplest satisfy on a very deep level.

1. My family and cherished friends

2. A glass of pinot noir

3. Mexican food

4. Tiramisu

5. Scented body lotion

6. Homemade soap

7. Anything on a cruise ship

8. Lying on the beach, soaking up the sun, listening to the ocean

9. Scented candles

10. Cinnamon

11. Chocolate

12. Hot pink

13. A cat purring in my lap

14. A bowl of popcorn and a good movie (with a happy ending)

15. Cuddling in front of a fire

16. Holding hands

17. Jasmine green tea, lightly sweetened (hot or iced)

18. Taking a class and learning something new

19. Glitter

20. My iPhone

21. Sundresses

22. Flip flops

23. Fresh cut flowers

24. Amicalola Falls

25. Dancing

26. Homemade whole wheat bread

27. Toll House Cookies

28. Christmas

29. Sterling silver rings sold by street vendors

30. Cowboy boots

31. Day trips in the car

32. Breakfast out

33. A picnic and a concert at Chastain

34. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

35. A beginner playing “Jingle Bells” on the piano for the first time

36. The Nutcracker ballet

37. A spa pedicure

38. The woods in autumn

39. Fresh strawberries

40. Handmade quilts

41. The first snowflakes of winter

42. A well-tuned acoustic piano

43. Four-leaf clovers

44. TiVo

45. A perfect song

46. A great pair of earrings

47. Hot wings, celery, blue cheese and beer

48. Starbucks soy chai latte

49. A thought-provoking novel (with a happy ending)

50. Finding just the right word/turn of phrase when I am writing

51. Hearing someone special say “I love you” and knowing they really mean it

What would you put on YOUR list?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

100th Post

It's hard to believe that this is my 100th blog post.

I want it to mean something.

But my head is full of cobwebs. I feel confused and overwhelmed. I can't seem to sort the significant from the mundane.

It's not always like this. But right this minute, after all these years of living, I feel like I don't have a clue.

I have been riding an emotional roller coaster the past couple of weeks. I participated in two high school graduation ceremonies - I am really gonna miss my seniors - and survived a couple of sad anniversaries. I have deleted text and email messages from two ex-boyfriends I have begged not to contact me while stumbling down the rocky path of a new relationship. I am looking forward to a week of vacation with Nathan in June (paid in full), but there is a lot to do to get ready to go. Meanwhile, I am also trying to figure out how I am going to manage my bills during the month of July, when I will have no income from piano teaching because I have been summoned for a three-week stint as a juror in district court.

All this in addition to my regularly scheduled life.

My daily to-do list is long, and every item is vital. Write morning pages. Add 500 words to the novel. Put in an hour at the gym. Make sure the kids get where they need to go and have what they need. Shop and cook and clean and do laundry. Take care of the dog.

Sigh.

The truth? Okay, not EVERYTHING is a priority. Cooking and cleaning are pretty low on the list most days.

Because there is so much to do, and because it is all up to me, I cram as much as I can into each morning. I rush from one activity to the next, and usually find myself blow drying my hair as my first piano student arrives each afternoon. I feel rushed and depleted before my work day really begins.

The hours pass quickly when I am teaching. My students inspire and rejuvenate me. But I run at high speed until nine or ten o'clock every evening. By that time, although I am physically exhausted, my brain is still wide awake, and sleep is elusive. Most nights I attempt to compensate for this by having a glass or two of wine. This usually helps, but afterwards, I tend to wake up in the wee hours and have difficulty going back to sleep. At some point, I stop fighting, get out of bed, and have a cup or two or three of coffee.

You can see how this might turn into a vicious cycle.

I have other bad habits, too. For one thing, I eat too many hot wings.

Eating ONE hot wing is too many. Officially, I am a pescetarian, which makes anything food item that comes from the flesh of a chicken off limits. Occasionally, though, I lose control; I find myself at Taco Mac seated in front of a huge plate of Three Mile Island wings and an ice cold brew. I pretend that hot wings are vegetables.

Less frequently, I am able to convince myself that bacon is a vegetable, too. Ah, the guilt...

But I digress.

I know I am on a fast road to burnout. Maybe I've already reached the destination. I'm just not sure what to do about it. Because, in fact, I need to do MORE.

I need to write 1000 words a day instead of 500. I need to practice the piano more consistently. I need to find an hour or two each day to work on my jewelry designs; I think I could sell my stuff, and the extra income would really help out. I need to finish the afghan I am knitting for my brother. (It was supposed to be his Christmas present. Last year. I'm sorry, bro.)

I need to deep clean and de-clutter my entire house. I need to do the same in the my garage. I need to arrange for some household and lawn maintenance before the gutters fall off (I'm not exaggerating) and the homeowner's association sends me a letter about the rest. But there's no time. And there's less money.

Sometimes I feel like I am on the verge of coming apart at the seams. It's a cliche, I know. But it really fits.

I haven't managed to come up with any answers. But maybe I should follow my own advice.

Not long ago ago, one of my piano students was playing a work in progress for me. She has been taking lessons at my studio for just a couple of months, and is largely self-taught. Despite this, she is an excellent sight reader, and her sensitivity and musicianship are remarkable. After just a week or two of practice, she was playing this particular piece as nearly perfectly as is humanly possible. I was mesmerized.

Then, towards the end, she stumbled over a note. One little note. An untrained ear probably wouldn't even have noticed. But she whispered to herself: "Stupid."

I couldn't let it slide. I stopped her immediately. Joking, I threatened to wash her mouth out with soap. Seriously, I asked her if she would ever call her best friend "stupid" for making a simple mistake. "No," she replied, sheepish. I told her she should treat herself at least as well as she would treat her best friend. It was a turning point in our relationship.

Now, the question I need to ask myself is this: would I push my best friend to set unachievable goals, then berate her for not accomplishing them?

Of course not.

So I think it's time to back off on myself a little. To set the bar somewhat lower on work days, and to schedule time for some of those other admittedly important things on my days off. To limit the caffeine and avoid alcohol. To stop exercising when my body is screaming in pain and to sleep when it tells me it is tired.

And maybe it wouldn't hurt to eat more hot wings. And bacon.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mackenzie

My daughter, Mackenzie Colleen Geyer, would be sixteen today. She was born May 4, 1994 with an extremely rare genetic condition called Trisomy 13, meaning she had three copies of chromosome 13 in each cell of her body instead of the normal two copies. This disrupts the normal course of development and causes the associated anomalies: heart defects, brain and spinal cord abnormalities, very small or underdeveloped eyes, cleft lip and cleft palate, and weak muscle tone.

I had no idea anything was amiss until I reached 26 weeks gestation and went to the emergency room with abnormal bleeding. An ultrasound revealed the abnormalities; a subsequent amniocentesis revealed the cause. Most cases of Trisomy 13 not inerited; either the egg or the sperm ends up with an extra copy of chromosome 13 as a result of random events. And it is very rare, occurring only once in every 16,000 newborns.

Before the technician became aware of the situation, though, she revealed that the baby was female. A little girl! I had about two minutes of pure joy, contemplating the fact that I was going to have the daughter I had always wanted.

But once the diagnosis was made, I was gently encouraged to terminate the pregnancy, because even if it were to run its course, and the baby were to survive birth, she wasn't likely to live more than a few days. Only a tiny percentage of Trisomy 13 babies make it to their first birthday.

However, that was a decision I didn't believe was mine to make; I continued with the pregnancy. Instead of being put on bed rest, I was instructed to go about my normal routine. Some folks prayed for a miracle, and encouraged me to do the same; others were sure I was being punished for some horrible transgression. I did my best to ignore them. I got up every morning, put one foot in front of the other, and survived each day.

The pregnancy reached full term; I waited as long as I possibly could before going to the hospital. Unfortunately, everyone in the delivery room wasn't prepared for my daughter's birth. Some seemed shocked when they saw her. They looked at me, wondering what my reaction would be. Babies with Trisomy 13 have low birthweight, a small head with a sloping forehead, and major structural problems with the brain and skull. Their eyes are close set and underdeveloped, as are the nose and nostrils. Most have cleft lip and cleft palate. Mackenzie displayed all of these.

The first question I asked postpartum was, "Is she alive?" And she was. I didn't know whether to feel happy or sad about that. It was very strange. I wanted my baby, but I knew she didn't stand a chance.

Everything changed once I held her in my arms. I didn't want to let go. I wanted to keep that little girl forever. I would have done anything to make her healthy and whole.

We were sent home just a few hours later. Mackenzie was tiny and blue and had many physical challenges. She was unable to nurse and had to be fed with a tube. It was all rather overwhelming. My parents and my then-husband's parents came and stayed with us for the duration. Our pediatrician made house calls and hospice came to assist.

Mom and Dad with Mackenzie

My little girl touched so many people in the short time she spent on this earth. No one can tell me her life wasn't worthwhile. Yes, I suffered those last twelve weeks of the pregnancy. But I would have missed out on so much if I hadn't known Mackenzie. She was soft and warm and sweet. I hardly slept, wanting to spend every possible moment with her. Her big brothers adored her. Casey, 2, beamed every time he laid eyes on her. Josh, 6, got to hold her ten times.

Josh with Mackenzie

And after a couple of days at home, she seemed to improve. She turned pink and became very peaceful. I think she must have sensed all the love that surrounded her. We fell into a routine. I didn't want it to end. But six days after she was born, she stopped breathing. Her dad and I gave her permission to go, and she left us.

Despite my fears, I made the decision to get pregnant one more time, and two years later Nathan was born, normal and healthy. For that I am eternally thankful. But I think about my daughter every day, and wonder about the young woman she would have grown up to be. Happy Birthday, Mackenzie. I love you. I miss you.