Modified Gratitude

It’s November. Gratitude season. It’s also November: ten months after my dad died.

Holidays are painful this year. I don’t feel like celebrating a year that has been washed over with grief and pain, but I also don’t want to deprive myself of the traditions that bring me comfort and joy. I’m still deciding what to keep and what to skip.

Every November for the past 5 years, I’ve made a “Grateful Jar” and filled it with lists of things that I’m grateful for. Each one is a tiny time capsule. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make a 2017 jar, but I decided to make one that reflects my dad. I decorated it with photos of him and phrases that remind me of him like:

  • stay humble
  • listen more
  • let it be
  • be kind

I gathered paper and pens, but I didn’t pressure myself to write every day.

When I did write, I’d focus on experiences I’m grateful my dad and I got to have together. The good thing about gratitude is you can start small, and it snowballs. Sometimes I wouldn’t write anything for a week, and then I would write down one memory and that would remind me of another and another.

On Thanksgiving, I opened the jar and re-read each one. I was flooded with happy memories. It was such a special (read: emotional) way to start the day.

In addition to so many wonderful memories with my dad, I also wrote that I’m grateful for:

  1. My little nephew, Sebastian.
  2. Velveeta the cat (always)
  3. Bret for being such an incredible partner and making me French Press coffee in the morning, half marathon training with me even when it’s freezing outside, and for playing songs on his guitar when I’m sad.
  4. A wonderful therapist and an incredibly empathetic doctor who have helped me better understand and manage my traumatic grief and depression.
  5. Friends who made the long trip “up the mountain” to visit me in Boone this fall, friends who sent me thoughtful snail mail, and friends who continue to check in with me and talk with me even on those difficult days when I’m not myself.

I have a lot to be grateful for, but some days, I can’t see it. I feel helplessly sad. Or I feel angry. Or I feel numb. Because I wasn’t sure how I’d be feeling on Thanksgiving, Bret and I decided to stay in Boone. I missed being with my family, but staying home was peaceful and comforting: the two things I’m seeking most during this season. Bret did ALL of the grocery shopping and made mashed potatoes from scratch. I made Spinach Gratin for the first time which was really, really good (recipe here!) and we also made cranberry sauce and brussels sprouts and bought the most delectable yeast rolls made from scratch at Stick Boy Bread Co.

Side note: Looking at these pictures reminds me I’m grateful for Stick Boy and their delicious yeast rolls, cranberry apple pumpkin bread, and pecan pie, all of which graced our table this week. I think Stick Boy may be my favorite thing about Boone.

It’s difficult to find gratitude in the midst of grief, but sometimes, there is room for both. I can be painfully aware of my dad’s absence and I can be missing him, but I can also be thankful for the holidays that we had together in past years.

I hope you had a wonderful, peaceful Thanksgiving holiday. I’m hoping to create a holiday season that is as comfortable and manageable as possible. If you are looking for ways to support a friend or family member dealing with traumatic grief this year, here are some things to keep in mind.

Year 4: Life is short & love is forever

Four years ago, while writing my wedding vows, I imagined a future with Bret: traveling the world, writing books together, moving to new cities, and finding adventures. I probably thought about the hardships, too. I figured we’d support each other through challenging careers and hold each other up through life’s struggles, whatever they may be. Maybe in the back of my mind I considered a far distant future after our parents had the chance to retire, travel, and live full lives when we’d have to say goodbye to them, but I never imagined losing my father so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and so young.

My dad is on the forefront of my mind all the time. I miss him so much that it hurts, and this pain impacts every aspect of my life including my relationship with Bret. Bret has assured me, a hundred times, that I’m still me and we’re still us, and we’ll survive this and continue to honor my dad and have him be a part of our lives forever. And I believe that. But still. The ground under my feet is unsteady.

One of the questions in my daily journal is: are you craving adventure or stability? Every year, I write: ADVENTURE! But this time? Stability. Stability because I feel unsettled and unsure of everything I’ve ever believed to be true. Nothing feels real and I’m not my normal optimistic, joyful, or adaptable self. And I hate that.

One thing that doesn’t feel real or make sense right now is time. I know that it’s May, technically, but most of the time, I feel stuck in those early weeks of January, and then I forget what month it actually is. I almost forgot about our anniversary, for example. I remember looking at Bret sometime in early March and saying, “Our anniversary is next week” and it was just a passing thought.

We realized our anniversary was the same day that our car, Sparky, was scheduled for service so we just went together at 7am and enjoyed the complimentary Panera bagels and coffee that Subaru serves while you wait. Then, we had typical work days. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but after we ate, we opened a couple sweet cards from friends and family. I tried to reflect on the past year like I usually do, but it felt surreal in a bad way. It felt wrong because those past 12 months were wonderful until they weren’t.

In Year 4 of marriage, we:

  • Explored Scotland, England and Wales with new friends
  • Visited Bret’s parents’ in their new Florida home
  • Spent time with my family in a town my dad had always wanted to visit
  • Watched the Olympics (Bret LOVES the Olympics)
  • Celebrated Bret’s birthday in Asheville with friends
  • Attended the first JMU football game of the season
  • Had friends & family visit us in Boone
  • Watched the Gilmore Girls revival together
  • Spent an amazing time in Disney with my in-laws
  • Enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with my family

…but then my dad died. It still doesn’t feel possible. And my heart hearts.

One of my friends described the experience of losing her father as a “crack in the universe” where there is a definitive ‘before’ and ‘after’ and I already feel that so much. It’s impossible not to.

Since January, while attempting to navigate this life that doesn’t make sense, I’ve leaned on Bret in ways I never wanted to. He’s been there through uncontrollable tears and panic attacks. He’s brought me food and water and tissues on demand. He’s let me be angry without being angry in return. He’s dropped everything to drive me to Richmond (a 10 hour round trip), or to watch a family home video (17 of them), or whatever I’ve needed. He helped me set up a shelf in our living room to honor my dad when I decided I needed that done immediately, for example. Just, anything. I’m sure I’d be doing the same things for him if our situations were reversed. This reality we’re living: it’s just something I never, ever anticipated.

At some point when Bret was consoling me for the third time in a single day and listening to my same difficult questions, I told him I felt bad because he didn’t sign up for this, and he just said something like, “Of course I did. Remember that whole marriage vow thing?” which made me cry more.

Days after our actual anniversary, I realized we hadn’t taken our annual photo. It was snowing outside so Bret suggested we just stand outside on the deck. We set up the tripod and wore our matching JMU sweat pants:

Taking this photo felt sad and forced – completely different from every year before. I’m glad we have it now, though, that I see it added it to the collection:


Year OneYear Two | Tallahassee, FL


Year Three & Year Four | Boone, NC

Usually this is where I’d say cheers to year five, but I don’t know what I want for this year. I feel guilty even acknowledging this anniversary, to be honest.

We do have one big thing planned: we’re traveling to Japan. Bret is teaching in China this summer and I’m going to fly over and meet him in Tokyo when he’s done. Part of me wants to stay here, tucked away safe at home, but I have been dreaming about visiting Japan for years, and my dad encouraged me to take this trip from the start and again whenever I shared any hesitation in going. So I’m going for him. And for me. And to try to scrap together any semblance of hope that life can still be an exciting adventure.

Some days that does feel like a distant possibility, other days it doesn’t. For now, I’m just going to stay grounded in the truth that has never felt so true: life is short and love is forever.

Stronger Better Faster 30

Well hello faithful readers! It’s been too long. Truthfully, it’s been difficult for me to write post-election. Seven weeks later, I’m still experiencing waves of shock. Every time I begin to feel a bit better, I learn that another under-qualified person with dangerous or degrading messages has been appointed by our president elect. I’ve grieved and allowed myself to feel angry and now I’m channeling that into action. I called my senator and a few offices in DC to voice my concerns, and I’m supporting organizations who still care about women + LGBT rights. I’m also looking for new opportunities to volunteer. I may not be able to change much on my own, but I can’t sleep if I don’t try.

All that’s to say, it’s a good thing that I started planning my 30th birthday before the election because otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have had a party at all. And that would have been sad because thirty is a big milestone and I love birthdays and I love parties.

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This is Boone | Starry Night edition

A few weeks ago, I spent a Saturday night on my friends’ back porch. We were rocking in rocking chairs, staring up at the stars, and drinking beer and homemade moonshine while there were guns and/or firecrackers firing in the not-so-distant distance. We were enjoying a good conversation and I had one of those moments like I did when I first put on snow boots or that time I wore flannel to brunch where I thought… this is Boone. This is my Boone life.

And then I picked up my rental car the next morning and I drove up to DC for the week.

Sometimes I feel like I’m being pulled in different directions: working in DC and living in North Carolina. Continue reading

Great Britain Adventure: Loch Ness + Ben Nevis

In June, Bret and I spent one week in Great Britain. I planned on summarizing that week in a few blog posts this summer and I’ve really fallen behind on those (sorry!) but I’m back. Here’s Day 4! (You can catch up on the first few days here).

After a completely perfect day exploring our new favorite city: Edinburgh, Scotland, we woke up early as usual, packed our backpacks, and enjoyed a traditional Scottish breakfast in the hotel. Then, we boarded the bus and began our drive up to Inverness! Continue reading

James Madison and Me

Weekend before last weekend was the best weekend.

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Bret and I knew we wanted to take a trip to enjoy Labor Day weekend. I wanted the beach – any beach – but Wrightsville and Myrtle Beach are the closest and they are still 5+  hours away. Bret wanted to go to Knobels and Hershey Park with his friends in PA. That is about 8 hours away. Nothing seemed ideal and we couldn’t decide, and then we learned that it was JMU’s opening football game, and instantly, the decision was made. Continue reading

Great Britain Adventure: Edinburgh, Scotland!

The first thing you need to know about our experience in Edinburgh is this: Scotland is usually cold and gray and dreary. It often rains. We were prepared for a chilly, gray day.

Instead, we got this:

Edinburg Castle

The weather was BEAUTIFUL and warm and sunny, and everyone was in an extra joyful mood because of it. Bret and I got to spend half the day with a local who was a friend of a new friend we met on our tour, and he was completely in awe of the weather, too. Everyone was eating ice cream cones and lounging outside. All this is to say, my Edinburgh experience was not typical. Continue reading

New York to London

One of my favorite things about our trip to Great Britain was all of the political conversations I had with my new friends from all over the world. I felt like I’d heard plenty of perspectives on American politics here in the states, but hearing how other countries talked about our education system, gun violence, and healthcare was a really fascinating point of discussion.

I especially loved talking about top political issues in other countries. It was humbling, for one thing, because I realized that even in my own attempts to diversify my media sources there were so many things I didn’t know much about, like the Philippines newly-elected president, Rodrigo Duterte, who has being called “the Donald Trump of the East,” how English is a national language in Hong Kong (and how you definitely do not equate Hong Kong with China), and then, the many reasons for and against Brexit: Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. And to think that I had so many real political conversations with new friends – FRIENDS – who live in each of these places over a span of a week. It’s such a privilege.

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Great Britain Adventure | 2016

I’ve wanted to travel to Europe forever.

I’ve dreamed of visiting England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany. Backpacking. Exploring. I’d hoped to study abroad in college, or find a summer job overseas, but that didn’t happen.

There’s always been an obstacle: lack of money or lack of vacation days. But in January, when Bret and I talked through some our hopes for 2016, we returned to our Europe dream and asked ourselves IF NOT NOW, WHEN?! So I did some research, found a reasonable tour, and booked it.

Passport

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Boone Life: Good, Familiar

Yesterday morning, after snacking on a couple Snickerdoodle cookies from our party the night before, I made a bowl of fruit salad: watermelon, strawberries, and blueberries drizzled with syrup made from sugar, water, and oranges. I put on a blue cotton dress and a flannel shirt, and Bret made me stand outside to make sure I wouldn’t freeze since it was only 44 degrees outside. In May. Surprisingly, I didn’t freeze! I’m acclimating.

We got in the car, and drove 20 minutes to our friends’ house. Ten minutes of that drive were spent driving up, up, up a narrow mountain road. As usual, we couldn’t rely on the GPS completely. Something about winding gravel roads on a remote mountain doesn’t scream “priority” to google, I’ve learned. More than once, when trying to navigate home at night from a friend’s house, we’ve been stranded without GPS signal… or phone signal! Thankfully, Bret has an incredible sense of direction.

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Three Years of Marriage

Bret and I have been married for three incredible years.

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I clearly remember driving up from Florida three years ago and wondering if the snowstorm making it’s way through Virginia was going to prevent our vendors and guests from making it to our wedding. The sky was clear and the sunshine was warm and we just laughed because we knew we were heading into a blizzard. It’s funny what you remember. Continue reading

Running the Disney Princess Half Marathon

So, in case you missed the earlier posts, I registered for my first half marathon last summer, trained for six months, and very much enjoyed my Disney vacation leading up to the race.

…which brings us to RACE DAY! Finally.

Sunday February 21, 2016
We woke up at 3:00AM. I managed to get a decent night’s sleep and even woke up a few minutes before my alarm clock which was a great way to start the day, but I still felt a lot of race day nerves. Continue reading