How is it February?

I don’t even know where to begin.

My father had a stroke on Dec. 8 while on a business trip to California. On Dec. 12, he underwent open-heart surgery to remove the tumor that caused the stroke and also to undergo a double bypass. My mom flew to Santa Clara to be with him, and they ended up staying in California for nearly two full months. While there are plenty of things to be grateful for (financially, medically, and otherwise), it has been a long, hard road since this whole mess first started.

Finally, thankfully, Dad was approved to fly home to East Tennessee in the last week of January. Unable to fly commercial, they were afforded a leer jet for medical transport, followed by an ambulance ride from the airport to the rehab center where he’s been since. My sister booked a flight from Chicago, and we were all together in one room – finally – by the beginning of February.

It is unreal, honestly. The stroke is making everything difficult, as one would imagine. How does one focus on treating cancer when basic activities, such as walking, are so hard to accomplish?

Again, we are grateful for small yet significant mercies – Dad’s swift progress, his stubborn resolve, personable and knowledgeable healthcare providers. He is a determined man, and we’ve been placed in good hands. Still, we are anxious to move even more quickly, eager to get started on treating this damn tumor that no one saw coming.

As one does, I’ve spent a lot of time remembering fun memories from my childhood and looking at photos of my parents when they were first sweethearts. I have pictures taped to the lamp on my desk so I can easily be reminded of how good things have been.

In between the moments of frustration and desperation, we’ve been able to laugh and enjoy being together. It’s so easy to get stuck in sadness! It’s too easy to slip into a dark place and dwell on the things that scare me. So, when the laughter comes, it feels like a release. Plus, everything is funnier in sleep-deprived delirium.

It’s been especially nice to have more Treadways around to share stories, laugh, and help carry the weight of our burdens and decisions.

In between these moments and trips to the rehab center, our life is trudging along at a steady pace. The boys are keeping up with school, I’m teaching at the co-op and putting out a monthly magazine, and Chuck’s work schedule is as steady as usual.

Fortunately, I was afforded a surprise Girls Weekend prior to my parents flying home. Oh, how I needed those two days! We stayed in a cabin in Townsend and did precious little, only getting out of our pajamas exactly one time to grab a quick meal.

In the quieter moments of my day, I retreat to the bedroom. More now than ever I need to cut out the extra noise and distraction (in true INFJ fashion). Salem, per usual, is my constant companion. I don’t know how you non-animal people cope. If I could slap a therapy vest on this cat and carry him around with me, I totally would.

A perpetual gray cloud

January is supposed to be an inspirational month, a time when folks have the most amount of resolve to improve upon themselves. We should all be ripe and energized, attacking our day with fervor and hope.

But good gracious almighty – how is that supposed to happen when East Tennessee is under a perpetual gray cloud? This may look like a black and white photo but it’s not. This is what the sky looks like from my back patio, and this is how it’s looked for most of January.

As a result, we’re drowning.

If we had snow to accompany the gloom, we’d embrace it. We’d relish it. We’d go sledding in the front yard and open up all the curtains.

But one dreary day after another does not help anyone’s mood. We are all unmotivated, uninspired, and snippy. None of us can seem to find a kind word. Nobody wants to do anything or go anywhere. Nearly every day in January has been one sludge after another.

Currently, as I type, there’s the tiniest peek of blue sky coming through the clouds. Sunlight may follow, if I don’t jinx it with these words and the forecast is actually true. We’re supposed to have sunlight this afternoon. Real, live, refreshing sunlight, and if we do see the sun today, I’m making everyone sit outside in its glory for a solid hour. My goodness, we need a recharge.

It’s a curious thing – the power the weather can have over me. Not only do the shorter days make me want to sleep later, go to bed earlier, and not exercise, but I find myself having extreme thoughts about quitting my freelance jobs or redecorating entire rooms in the house. I daydream about expensive travel, the sort of trips that only happen once every few, five, or ten years. None of this is helpful since major changes should never be made under a perpetual gray cloud, literally or figuratively, but it’s a pattern I’ve noticed throughout the month. The gray cloud in the sky hovers over my head and holds my brain hostage.

I’ve connected those dots, so no rash decisions will be made on my end. But geez – what if I wasn’t mentally strong enough to recognize it? How many people are out there being ridiculous when all they need is a little sunlight and perspective?

I think the sun is trying, though. I can see it now. Lord help us all, I can see it.

Spring, please hurry.

Signs of Life Day Twenty-Eight

In January I took a hike. It was a required hike on account of a freelance assignment, but I welcomed it heartily because I needed a free and clear break from the world. It came along at the right time. I went alone.

I was gone for hours and in that time I thought a lot about the current political climate and how many people I loved and cared about were suffering inside of it. Sure, the country is split, and I’m upset about a lot of things too, but it was more than that. Relationships were fracturing. Marriages were suffering. There was so much discord among people I knew and I had a front row seat for it.

On that hike I cried. A lot. I prayed and I stopped occasionally to watch the wind blow through the trees or track a sound I heard in the distance. I passed few people, which I was glad for, because I probably looked a fright.

At some point during the final miles, I got an idea. In an undefined moment, on the top of a mountain on the clearest of days, I decided that I would actively counteract the negativity. For the month of February, I would narrow my focus so tight in an effort to find something good about every day among the mundane aspects of daily life.

This wasn’t for anyone else. Signs of Life wasn’t a movement or a series designed to speak to the masses. It was for me. It was a personal effort to not dwell in the frustrations and anger that had become a daily practice. I needed a new practice, and it started February 1.

So what was learned? What did this intentional focus teach me in the last 28 days?

I learned that it is entirely possible to choose happiness. I also learned that happiness is not the same as contentment, and the difference between these two things is important to understand. They aren’t even always connected.

Happiness is going out to dinner with my family because it means someone else is cooking and there’s not a kitchen to clean up afterward. Contentment is knowing the time spent with my family is worthwhile no matter where the meal happens.

Happiness is going to Girls Weekend and enjoying the company of two people I adore. Contentment is knowing these are friendships that have crossed over into family.

Happiness is a good movie, a good book, a beautiful sunset. Contentment is knowing life is good even when we can’t afford to go to the movies and the day has been so bad that the sunset goes unnoticed.

Happiness is finding a magazine that doesn’t Photoshop its images to project an unfair view of women. Contentment is knowing that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Happiness is a wonderful thing. It feels like a lifeline when the world around you is dark and heavy. But friends, it is fleeting and unreliable. It changes by the day, the hour, the minute. Enjoy happiness when it visits. Seek it out. Work towards happy moments, but know that ultimately happiness will fade and circumstances will change and you’ll be hard-pressed again and again to see the good.

Also know that in the process of seeking the good, contentment might be there waiting for you.

February was a good practice for me, someone who, like my mamaw, is “turned” towards depressive, anxious thoughts. I could have 99 compliments flood my way, but I will dwell and obsess over the one negative remark. I can compare myself to beautiful, smart, successful people and let it steal every ounce of my joy and ambition. I can run five miles and berate myself for not running six. So I needed February. I needed a practice that pushed me in another direction.

The political climate is still tumultuous, and I don’t expect it to resolve itself anytime soon. More than ever we have to find what is good and dwell on in. Bathe in it. Sprinkle it everywhere. Sit very quietly and remember that this life is all we have. We are all we have, and in a blink of an eye, it could all be gone.

If you’ve walked this journey with me, thank you.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and another journey will begin. This time, we walk to the Cross.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Trudging along in winter, Lent, and this awful, no-good political season

Friends, we’ve been busy. It’s hard to tend to a blog when I’m writing for freelance work, writing the novel, and teaching Jeremy how to find the circumference of a circle with decimals and fractions. Thank goodness Jackson has picked up double-digit division with such ease. My brain can handle only so much math at one time.

Bouts of snow

We’ve had bouts of snow here and there, icy conditions that closed area schools or delayed them, but nothing substantial that provided any solid sledding in the front yard. It’s fair to say that we’re all sick of winter and looking forward to warmer days. The boys are tired of being stuck inside and both Major and I need to run off our winter fat.

Even the traditional Ash Wednesday service at our church was cancelled on account of weather. Fortunately, our pastors offered the imposition of ashes at a local coffee shop, so we were still able to officially observe the start of Lent.

Speaking of Lent, I’m really enjoying Thomas Merton’s book right now:

Happiness isn't a grabbag

He’s a thorough storyteller, and even though I’m not far into The Seven Storey Mountain, I’m settled in for the long road that maps out his life. As long as the frigid temperatures continue, I’m happy to lay in bed with a mug of coffee and read.

Random plug: I don’t enjoy politics anymore and really struggle to watch current debates. I’ve yet to find a candidate that represents me, so when I look at who’s running for office I feel utterly lost. However, we recently discovered The Circus on Showtime, a documentary-style series about the campaign trail. It’s an interesting peek into what candidates are like on the road. It’s not scripted, which I appreciate, and I’ll tell you something – even though I disagree fundamentally with everything Bernie Sanders believes about the role of government, he’s a likable guy. He seems authentic, and for a politician, that’s rare.

July so far

Friends, it’s been a minute since we’ve talked, and most of that has been because (1) I refuse to discuss anything in the headlines (aren’t you glad?) and (2) we’ve been busy with generic busy-ness. Some important things have happened – like Jeremy getting his head gear and Jackson getting some metal thingies on his back teeth to prepare for some sort of “appliance” that he’ll get in six weeks. I’ve also been busy on the board of the Presbyterian Campus Ministry (UKirk) at UT and reading, running, and writing in my spare time.

We also celebrated the Fourth of July in the driveway.

Fourth of July driveway fireworks

Otherwise, we’ve been laying low and staying dry. Have y’all had as much rain as us? SHEESH.

The boys got wind that I’m preparing their curriculum for the next school year and they’re none too pleased. We’ll start mid-to-late August, which means we have about six weeks left of summer. We’re still keeping a flexible time table – eating whenever, going back and forth between playing outside and enjoying mind-numbing screen time. All the camps are over and we have no travel plans, so we are as free as birds.

Girls Weekend starts in three days! Whoop!

Sliding into July

June has been a whirlwind, so I’m happy for things to slow down and ease up. We’ve had two Vacation Bible School sessions, Jackson’s birthday, one soccer camp, one drama camp, a quickie-trip to the beach, Father’s Day celebrations, and one sick husband who is happy to be home and sleeping in his own bed.

Summer is scooting by.

Summer sun

In my spare time, I’ve been researching new curriculum, learning about horses, editing photos, and rummaging through all the junk in this house in preparation for a yard sale. Despite my attempts to weed through our excess stuff, I added about 30 books to my collection following a library sale in a neighboring town. Patrons could fill up one bag of books – full to the brim, poking out on all sides – for five dollars.

FIVE DOLLARS. We left with four bags of books. Thirty-some books for twenty bucks.

But back to the yard sale.

I’ve been feeling the pull to lighten our load for a while, which is really hard to do with sentimental things. Case in point, a Brandon Walsh pillowcase and a Bon Jovi purse made from an old 45 record:

Brandon and Bon Jovi

But I press onward, because we have too much stuff and it’s embarrassing – too many things that go untouched and unused. I’ve already filled five large totes of sale items and I’ve only gone through two rooms. TWO ROOMS. I’m partnering with another family for this yard sale, so I hope we have a good showing and all the stuff gets sold.

Going through old stuff has its perks. Chuck won’t let me post our prom photo on the internet, but that didn’t keep me from showing the boys and capturing their reaction:

Our old prom picture

We looked awesome. Take my word for it.

When there’s no WiFi

We have power but no internet, which the boys find most confusing. Doesn’t WiFi just exist, you know, in the atmosphere?

This winter weather has turned us all upside down. We were already a family that spends a lot of time together, but… We’d be okay with a little space. And WiFi. We’d also like WiFi.

(null)

Headaches, bathroom breaks, and reading for pleasure

I would love to tell you this weekend was positively perfect since I finished my genre paper a day early and therefore started my week-long school break Friday afternoon, but I am going on Day 3 of a headache and I quite literally want to punch myself in the face, just to see if that will help it go away.

Also, Chuck fought a stomach bug nearly all of Saturday and most of Sunday, so that wasn’t particularly pleasant either. We took his father to Tupelo Honey Cafe last night for a birthday dinner (Happy Birthday, Bill!) and Chuck wasn’t able to enjoy the food like usual for fear that the bug would resurface.

To top it off, my insomnia came back to visit me Saturday night. It was like the insomnia of 2011 when I’d lay away for four hours, doze for 20 minutes, then lay awake until giving up on sleep altogether.

The weird part is that I wasn’t even fretting Saturday night. I genuinely have no imminent worries that keep me in limbo or in a state of potential catastrophe. Life, in general, is good. But my brain refuses to shut off because it prefers to think about what might happen on Season 5 of Downton Abbey, what clothes I should donate to Goodwill, and whether or not I’ll ever lose ten pounds. Stupid nonsense nothingness that should not keep a person awake at night.

See, I stopped taking Ambien in May. My prescription ran out and I thought it would be good to wean myself off the drug and save whatever memory I have left. (Have you taken ? Has it wrecked your memory or made you do weird stuff?) I’ve been sleeping mostly well all summer, taking the occasional Melatonin or Advil PM if I wanted to ensure myself a few good hours of shut-eye.

But Saturday night scares me. Insomnia is no good. It wrecks my mood and mental capacity, and with another semester starting next Monday, I’m not willing to risk it.

BeautifulRuins_small-330The only good that came out of not sleeping is that I finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. That’s right. I read for pleasure. It didn’t matter that I was reading for pleasure at three in the morning. It wasn’t theory or philosophical drivel or some book I had to read for class. It was a thoughtful, well-crafted story of a wishful love affair between a young Italian man and an almost-movie star. Jess Walter takes you from the coast of Italy in 1962 to present day Hollywood through a series of mistakes, lies, and starry-eyed daydreams. His writing is impeccable.

It’s a book I wish I’d purchased instead of borrowed from the library.

Yesterday I started The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, and after that, it’s likely I’ll finally get to The Signature of All Things by Liz Gilbert. However, if I don’t get to that it’s because I’ll be full swing into my novel again.

Y’all, my stomach is all jittery just thinking about it.


 

Big Bugs and Ear Plugs

First of all, look at the little monster that showed up on our front porch the other day. I tried to make R2-D2 ride him (or is this R3-S6?), but the bug’s shell was too slick. He looks so cool and huge! Jeremy said that this is a dung beetle and that led to a very long, descriptive conversation about poop.Monster beetleSecondly, practice started for tackle football, which meant we had to return Jeremy’s helmet and pads from spring practice so another player could use them. It was bittersweet. Since we hadn’t formally explained Jeremy’s withdrawal, the coach wasted no time asking why he couldn’t play. I told him that Jeremy was born with a hearing deficit and his audiology reports haven’t changed in ten years – until now. After being sent to Children’s Hospital to see a specialist and get a CT scan, it was confirmed that he’s suffered a significant hearing loss in one ear during the last year. The consensus is that it’s on account of tackle football – emphasis on tackle.

After this lengthy explanation, the coach tilted his head, shifted his feet, and asked, “Well can he wear ear plugs?”

Hmm. I bit my lip.

“No,” I said gently. “This isn’t an auditory issue. It’s anatomical. It’s structural. From the tackling, you know.”

He nodded, then said, “Did a doctor tell you this?”

“Yes,” I said more gently. “We went to Children’s. He had a CT scan.”

“Cause, you know, some doctors tell you not to let your kids play football, but sports doctors don’t say that.”

“No, this is a legitimate reason. It’s not worth risking his hearing even more.”

“No, of course not,” he said, surrendering. “I was just looking forward to having him on my team.”

I appreciated his concern. He’s lost a passionate, hard-working player. No doubt he’s disappointed.

But ear plugs? Really? Bless him.


 

Not bored

You know how there are some days when there is little to do and you find yourself with free time to read a book, watch some television or lose eight hours on the internets?

And then there some days when there isn’t time to breathe or groom yourself or finish a sentence?

I’m in the second category this week, which is baffling since our homeschool co-op and zoo classes are over for the semester. We’ve had vet appointments, chiropractic appointments, errands, favors, freelance assignments, and – oh yeah – school. For whatever reason we’re going non-stop and I’m unable to keep my thoughts in order. How come all of a sudden Christmas is in two weeks?

Anyway, we are super duper ready for a break from school but I’m doing my best to keep going until that Friday before Christmas so I don’t feel pressured to start again right after New Years. When I say I need a break, I mean a good two (or three) week break from pencils that need sharpening, hard-pressed markers screeching across paper, and incessant moaning before a spelling test.

P.S. The Christmas tree is still in progress.

Lit

A Day of Testing

Nobody told me there’d be a test, but I suppose there has to be. How else will you find out if you are parenting correctly? It’s only 11:50 a.m. and I’ve already taken a handful of tests, failing two of them, I’m sure.

The only child who’s being perfectly fantastic today is the furry black one. I think the brass fixtures bring out the gold in Salem’s eyes, don’t you? I love that he doesn’t talk back or whine or argue. And when he gets sassy, I throw him outside.

SinkingKnow this: I love my boys. I INSANELY ADORE THEM. They are EXACTLY what I wanted.

HOWEVER, if you see me running for the hills later this afternoon, you will know they’ve won. Send help.

Random Picture Day

In scrolling through previous photo uploads, I found a few that I meant to share and never did.

The first is one that Jeremy took of Chuck and me on my birthday. We finally have a child old enough to work the camera so we don’t have to do that extend-an-arm-and-snap-a-close-up thing anymore. Yay for older kids!

Next, we have a super cool webmaster living in the backyard.

Continue reading “Random Picture Day”

Plugged in at Starbucks

Moving farther into the county has proven tricky for obtaining Internet service. We ordered service from AT&T and subsequently cancelled it because they cannot read a map and sold us services which they cannot provide. (Read: I sat at the house for two hours waiting for a technician who was never coming.) There have been additional delays, which is why I’m sitting in the Starbucks parking lot posting from the iPad.

The house is coming along nicely, but we’re about to turn our focus to sweet little Jackson, who turns six on Monday. He is all a-flutter about going bowling and eating Avengers cupcakes. I cried last year on his fifth birthday, so I expect this birthday will be no different. Pictures are coming soon!

The Most Exciting Room

Image

This picture was taken on the day of our inspection. It may seem ordinary to you, but to me, it most certainly is not. To the left is the kitchen, which isn’t worth showing right now. (Trust me.) And the main space you’re looking at isn’t the focus either. (Though the fireplace is nice.)

Instead, focus your eyes to the back room, where the sunlight shines upon an enclosed space. That, my friends, is my library. Oh the plans I have. 

We close this afternoon. I’ve got my cleaning supplies and rubber gloves at the ready. 

House Plans

We’ve been planning to buy this house for two months now. Would it surprise you to know that I’ve laid out every piece of furniture in my mind? That every wall is painted the perfect color, every kitchen and bathroom tile is laid and my future backyard is a relaxing retreat with a fire pit and outdoor grill? Well it is! In my mind I’ve also won the lottery.

Buying a foreclosure is a first for us, so we are trying to limit the things we want to do to the house so we can afford the things we HAVE to do to make it livable in these first few months (or years). Though it is structurally sound, the perimeter of the house is outlined by ant hills. The driveway is covered by a canopy of overgrown tree limbs. The child who lived in the house prior took time to write her name (or someone’s name) on the walls. Someone kicked in the bathroom door in the hallway. 

But I digress.

We’re still in love with it. Brass fixtures and all. Should you come and stay with us this summer, bring your work gloves. I’ll find something for you to do.

Bonus: At least the front yard landscaping is already done.

Image

Bullets

  • I’m in a medication fog, so listing my thoughts is currently the easiest way to focus. 
  • We’re under a cloud of allergen attacks, so drugs are being heavily used in this house. East Tennessee is covered in yellow poison pollen. 
  • I signed up for the Knoxville half marathon next Sunday. I’ll be running on April Fool’s Day, which could be an omen considering how I feel right now.
  • We need to do school right now but I’d rather stab my sinuses with a fork.
  • Jeremy is a big ball of mucus.
  • Salem killed another mouse. I thanked him that it wasn’t a bird, a bunny or something cuter.
  • We’re house hunting, which means we welcome all donations towards down payment money. 
  • Happy Weekend! (cough, sniff, sneeze) 

Well Hello Spring.

Though we could technically still get a snow storm, it feels like spring is here, especially since scary tornado weather is visiting. Yesterday we were under a tornado watch (then a warning) until 8 p.m., and the weatherman is saying tomorrow will be much the same. Unlike in Amarillo, I am so very thankful to have a basement here.

Tomorrow is supposed to be the start of Girls Weekend Spring 2012 at Susan’s house in Middle Tennessee, but the weather could throw a nasty wrench in that plan. Lesli’s flight from DC will surely be delayed if last night is any indication of tomorrow night. I need Girls Weekend, but I also need not to be in a car wreck from twisters on the interstate.

The plus side of spring’s arrival is that it brings perfect running weather. With the race just weeks away, I decided to replace my running shoes now (which were nearly a year old and had more than 600 miles on them) so I could break them in before race day. I am definitely a Running Shoe Snob. Having years ago tried New Balance and Mizuno with much dislike, I went back to Asics – specifically to the Gel-Nimbus, which has asymmetrical lacing. LOVE asymmetrical lacing! 

See how the lacing is on a slight diagonal, shifted towards the inside of the foot? This has completely eliminated any and all soreness in the top part of my feet after super long runs.

Or as Asics puts it, “The function of this new lacing system is to align the medial and lateral quarter-panels evenly on either side of the bony topline of the foot. The benefit is an upper that moves more efficiently with the foot, minimizing the potential for irritation.

Sorry for the gushing. In other news that the grandparents will care about, the boys and I are nearly finished with our salt dough formation of the United States. After making Tennessee, they wanted to make 100 other things, so we compromised on the major landforms in the US. Pictures to come.

Busy as Bees

With all of our recent travel, family responsibilities, and work, we haven’t happened upon a day where we just. sit. still. It’s just as well because I don’t do very well with still. I become very bored with still, even though still sounds so lovely. Bravo to all of you who know how to pull off still.

Yesterday we brought home a new mattress, which no doubt sounds very unexciting but I was THRILLED. The last time I remember sleeping on a new mattress was when Mom and Dad bought bunk beds for Becky and me in the mid-80s. Since then it’s been hand-me-downs from relatives, which is why Chuck can barely bend over to put his shoes on each morning. With his back screaming at him and my insomnia making a regular appearance, we decided to amend these issues with a new mattress.

He slept fine last night. I laid awake until 1 a.m., dozed for a while, woke at 3:30 when Jackson had a nightmare, and dozed again until 6 a.m. However, I choose to look on the bright side. At the very least, I was quite comfortable while I laid there willing myself to fall asleep.

Yesterday I received in the mail a proof of the book, so I’ll spend the next few days thumbing through it to find glaring errors. It’s too late for major changes now since 50 copies have already been printed for an event the author is attending next week, but perhaps I’ll find something incredibly wrong and fixable before the next batch is made. I have to say, it was really nice to see the [mostly] completed project sitting on my kitchen counter. It was especially nice to see my name on it.

 

 

Comments Made Easy

WordPress has made it easier for people to comment on blogs by allowing readers to sign in via their Facebook and Twitter accounts, which makes me really happy! I love when people comment but the bulk of that happens over on Facebook. Now all of those lovely remarks can be left here with ease. See?

The biggest reason I prefer comments here is because this blog has always served as a diary of sorts for the boys. These are the things they’ll read when they get older and I’d love to have all the wonderful remarks from family and friends in one central location rather than copying/pasting from Facebook. Make sense? Thanks, folks!

PS – You do have to allow WordPress to access your Twitter or Facebook accounts in order to do this, but don’t fret. It’s just a technicality.

A Love Letter

Dearest Ocean,

Very soon, we shall be together. I know, I know – I can hardly wait either. Only a few more days, hours and minutes until I hear your sweet sounds of serenity from sunrise to sunset.

I’m giggly just thinking about it.

Karin will be joining me. Make her feel welcome, will you?

Yours most sincerely, with longing and anticipation,

J
xoxo