Thursday, December 31, 2009

My year, summed up in picture and prose

As the year winds to a close, we all tend to think "Where has this past year gone? What do I have to show for it?" and more times than not, we struggle to remember what has happened to us. I've been very fortunate this year to have preserved my 2009 in pictures. Some of the pictures may make sense to you, some may not. You may even find yourself in some of the pictures.

The early months of 2009 were quiet and unobtrusive, for the most part. I caught a killer sale at Dillards, discovered a fantastic new author whom I adore and threw a couple of birthday parties for my kids. I camped out in 20° temps to be one of the first people in line for concert tickets. I stood next to a childhood classmate and watched him cry as Toby Keith sang about him and the hundreds of thousands of other American Soldiers fighting for our country. I snuggled with my kids, my husband and my pets. I sat through school music programs and embarrassed my kids by taking hoards of pictures. Why? Because I am my mother's child and pay-forwards are a bitch.

I traveled. Lord, did I travel! 6,000 miles overall in 2009. I finally hugged new friends I'd met online. I was introduced to the wonderful taste of Portello's Italian Beef sandwiches. I met New Kids on the Block (some of them more than once). I slept on the streets of New York City with a thousand perfect strangers that I now call sisters. I stood at the top of Rockefeller Center and let the wind blow through me. I stood at the base of Ground Zero and sobbed, letting grief blow through me. I rode the subway for the first time. I strolled through Central Park. And had a pretzel. And got lost. And got hit on by a hobo. And listened to a three piece band perform for pocket change. And loved every minute of it. Okay, not every minute of it. Being lost in Central Park kinda sucked.  I had Cuban food for the first time and discovered a serious love for fried plantains.

My niece, whom I also consider my baby sister, graduated from high school. One of my oldest and dearest friends finally moved back  home. We went camping. I nude-sunbathed for the first time ever. I learned to take time to stop and smell the roses, or in my case, peonies.

We traveled some more when I won tickets to the CMT Music Video awards in Nashville (Thank you, Reba!). I got to see the Ryman Auditorium up close. I also got to see numerous music icons. I got to see Kid Rock stoned out of his mind (and really? Who doesn't wanna see that?!) while trying to announce nominees for an award.

I traveled some more and met more BlockHead "sisters," in Chicago. I had caramel cheese popcorn from Garrett's. I shopped on Michigan Avenue. I stood at Navy Pier with my new "family" and played "Thriller" on my Blackberry when we learned that Michael Jackson had died. I stood the next day with the same family and sang along to "Man in the Mirror" as our boys paid tribute to the man and his music. I held hands with the son of a pop star.

I began a new fitness program and dedicated myself to a healthier lifestyle. I started a new tradition of attending my old hometown's 4th of July festival with my daughter. We ate snow cones, cotton candy (so much for that healthier lifestyle) and watched the fireworks blaze over the ball fields on the edge of town.

I traveled again. This time, RiceChex and I drove to Colorado. We spent several days in Denver teaching our good friend Crisillyus how to properly stalk a boy band. We toured historic hotels (for reasons that will remain unmentioned until the statue of limitations runs out) and outdoor malls. I got a kick-ass new makeover and sang Cher songs during Karaoke at a gay bar (I killed it, thankyouverymuch!). I met more new BH sisters (and reminisced with old ones). RiceChex and I then discovered that Kansas is actually the largest state in the Union as we traveled through it on our way to Texas. She and I learned that Oklahoma doesn't have winds that whip through the plains, but they have thunderstorms that last for 400 miles. I determined that there is no place hotter than Texas in July and that the Indigo Hotel is the most adorable hotel on the planet. I vowed to return to Dallas to eat at Porta di Roma's (ask for Michael!). I shopped in a regular store for the first time ever and purchased an adorable shirt at Anthropologie. I partied at a club with pop stars (and 500 over-the-top groupies) and saw Jesse Metcalf in person (he's as beautiful in real life as he was on Desperate Housewives). RiceChex and I discovered the biggest gas station in the world (everything really IS bigger in Texas!) and tried Beaver Nuggets for the first time (I'm a fan. She's not.).

August brought the end of summer, the Iowa State Fair and the first day of School. I began Fall with more concerts and time spent with Chick Clique, my local girls-night-out group. I traveled with ProjectDance to Sioux City to help teach a dance routine, participated in the Race for the Cure and celebrated Halloween "Karen Walker" style with friends at numerous parties. November brought "New Moon," our family Cranksgiving at FatBoyz and some remodeling around the house. The office and living room both got make-overs. Friends and family helped us celebrate Christmas and I rounded out the year being cozied away at home thanks to Mother Nature's fury.

It's been a remarkable year and I am so thankful for all the memories I've made and the people I've made them with.

Thank you for sharing 2009 with me.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Have I done the best I could?

I was talking with a friend tonight and we were tennis-matching back and forth truths about ourselves. I admitted to not being very fond of Christmas. He joked that either I'd had a miserable childhood or I didn't have cable television. I told him that Christmases when I was a child were great. But Christmas 1989 was the last really great Christmas I'd had. He asked me if I'd tried to recreate those good Christmases with my own family. I answered that I had, but felt like I'd fallen far short of my goal.

Now that I've had a little time to gnaw on it, I really wonder if I've tried all that hard afterall.

Christmases when I was a kid were SO crazy. I remember playing with my cousins and eating tons of great food and making audio tapes of all of our clan singing Christmas carols for my aunt who lived in California and couldn't be there with us. I remember the sheer number of people and the chaos that resulted from it all. I can't do that myself. I can buy great presents for my kids. I can cook a great meal. I can invite family & friends to my house. I can start Christmas traditions for my family, but I can't recreate the things that made my Christmases so great as a kid.

That's something only my mom could do.

And I miss her.

God, I miss her.

We're talking about a woman who sacrificed SO much for me...everyday of her life she sacrificed for me. She always went without things so that I had what I need and wanted. She knew what the cancer took from her, but she was much more aware of what it took from me and she tried to make up for it in so many ways.

I remember one of her last Christmases, she went on this big charade to surprise me with a Happy Holidays Barbie doll. I'd seen the picture of the doll in a magazine and as a huge Barbie girl, I fell in love with the blonde beauty in the red ball gown. I carried the picture around with me for weeks and weeks. I was too old to play with Barbies anymore, but I couldn't help wanting that doll. She was beautiful. My mother worked at Target that year and she managed to snatch one of the limited edition dolls that came in and she hid it from me and surprised me with it on Christmas. I still have that Barbie, but I will always cherish the memory more than the doll. It was symbolic of what my mother was...constantly selfless.

My mother was no saint. And I recognize that. She was a real person with real faults...but if there is one quality I wish I could draw from her, it's the selflessness she had.

When I remember those times, I really have to ask myself, have I done the best I could? And I have to answer "No."

Sometimes the truth hurts.

Friday, December 25, 2009

I wasn't alone afterall.

I miss you, mom.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
~Mary Frye~

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"I Made My Family Disappear!"

For the last thirty-six Christmases, I've celebrated with family, friends or both. My house was always the hub of chaos during the Holidays. Our family hosted get-togethers that rivaled those of the Kennedy Clan. Kids, grandkids, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, friends of friends, girlfriends and boyfriends of friends of friends - our house was FULL!

Those were always my favorite memories, too. Wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. My mother never skimped on a holiday meal, of course. Big, steaming pots and casseroles, desserts, appetizers, whatever you call the prequel to appetizers, side dishes, salads, name it. Pop & beer were always stored in the back porch, where it frequently got so cold the cans would freeze and burst. Yep..just wasn't Christmas without a foamy Pepsi can bubbling over.

When my parents divorced, our family events became a bit smaller, but still happened. Fewer people, but still lots of people and food. We included more friends in our gatherings, too. Then, mom died and we had one last Christmas with the whole family before we finally decided it was more work than it was worth. We had small get-togethers then, usually just us siblings and our immediate families. It was fifteen years before our entire extended family got together again.

That was a fun year. I'd been working that year on special presents for my aunts & cousins. I'd dug through old pictures and scanned & printed them off, creating unique calendars for each of them. The kitchen was full of those mouthwatering smells again. We played games and visited. The kids played and left chaos in their wake -- just how a family get-together is supposed to work. We've since tried very hard to keep those traditions going.

When my husband and I got married, we discovered quickly the need to alternate the big holidays. His family is much like mine used to be: huge gatherings with all the kids, their spouses and children. Hoards of food, lots of noise and so much wrapping paper in garbage bags afterward that Greenpeace has our family on their Most Wanted list. As time has gone on, though, I've grown less tolerant of the noise and the chaos that comes with eleven grandchildren (seven of which are under the age of 12). It's no secret that I'm not fond of children, nor should it come as a surprise that I prefer peace and quiet. Combine the chaos with religious judgement and completely different parenting styles for our children  and I spend most of the holiday in petulant silence. Sometimes the migraine I fake to get away from the noise isn't so fake, after all. As time has gone on, Hubby and I have developed a holiday tradition of our own: fighting about whether I have to attend his family's Christmas celebration. I always end up going, though in order to keep the peace. (Whenever he goes to see his family without me, he's bombarded with questions about what's wrong with our marriage since I'm not there.)

This year, I was granted a pardon.

Long story short, Hubby screwed up. He trusted his mother with something in confidence (which she didn't keep so confident) and quite honestly, I'm tired of pretending to be someone I'm not and since the valve between my opinion and my mouth is permanently disabled, it's bound to get ugly. I was still prepared to go...that whole keeping-the-peace thing, you know...but he told me the other night that I don't have to go with him this year.

What does that mean for me? I'm Home Alone this Christmas. Our family is going to my cousin's house on Christmas Eve, then we'll be dropping the kids off at their dad's before heading home. Hubby will get up bright and early Christmas morning and head to his parents'. I will be staying home. By myself. Just me (and three cats) (and a dog) (and whoever's on Twitter) (and Facebook).

I will be making a big pot of my mom's homemade tomato soup. And I'll spend the weekend sleeping in and staying up late, watching movies, reading books, soaking in a bubble bath and doing whatever the hell else I feel like doing.
I may even sing "White Christmas" a'la Kevin McCallister. You never know.