Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten Years Ago Tonight

I met James at work in December 1999. We were working for the Caterpillar dealership in Portland. I was doing double duty as a staff accountant and the payroll clerk and he was a parts writer, meaning he sold parts over the counter. He was working for one of our divisions that was down the street from our main building and the decision had been made to sell that division.

The employment status of those employees was up in the air and James wanted to get on with our credit union while he still had a job, thinking he wouldn't have one for much longer. This is how we started talking. As the payroll clerk, I was the company liaison to the credit union and handled the paperwork on our end. We were able to do all the paperwork through inter-company mail, so I didn't meet James face-to-face through all of this but I did fall in love with his voice. I asked the other staff accountant if he knew James and he said no. I said I had never seen him but I could sit and listen to him read the phone book.

James and two others ended up being transferred to other departments within the company. Being the procrastinator that I am, I waited until the last minute to dispose of the fixed assets of the sold division. (That was also due in part to my hatred of our fixed asset software). I was down to the wire, and of the three employees that were retained, James was the only one who was there that day that could tell me what had happened to the assets-whether they had been sold in the fire sale, given away (which is where the display case that holds all my recipe books came from-he had snagged that), transferred to another department or just tossed. That is how I actually met him. We had fun going through the assets and the next day, he came over to my desk to see if I had everything I needed. I said I did and thanked him again for his help.

A few days later he saw me in the hall and said hello. He asked how my Christmas had been and after talking about that, he asked if I had any plans for New Year's Eve. I said I hadn't made any yet. He then asked how I would feel about spending New Year's Eve with a bunch of people I didn't know. He was going to a party at his old roommate's and said I was more than welcome to join him.

I rang in 2000 at a party with a bunch of people I didn't know wearing a pair of size 8 pants. I say this about the pants because I was not a size 8 at the time and hadn't been for a couple of years. So, when I tried on these pants in a 10 and they didn't fit and I had to get the 8s, I was estatic. Even if the rest of the evening sucked, at least I was wearing skinny girl jeans. I got rid of the pants years ago but still have the sweater I wore with them, which I have only worn a few times.

Obviously, the evening didn't suck. I rang in 2000 with a stranger who would come to be the man I would plan to spend the rest of my life with and who would spend the rest of his life with me. Happy Anniversary, Honey. I love and miss you with all my heart.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

"I still carry a sadness with me. But I have been feeling lately that I have gotten to a point where I am as happy as I can possibly be. That my life is pretty full again and as complete as it is going to get for right now."

That is not an exact quote, but it is pretty close. The sentiment is accurate. I know I have the sentiment right, if not the words. I know this because I am the one who said-and meant-these words this afternoon to my co-worker and dear friend, A. (Thanks so much for everything A! You ROCK!!!)

It is actually pretty overwhelming and scary to feel this way. I am encouraged by the possibilities this holds for me; I am afraid the other shoe will drop and I will end right back up where I started. I still hate not knowing what comes next. I don't expect it to be smooth sailing. There will still be difficult days that knock me on my ass and make me feel I have just been kidding myself-that I haven't made any progress at all. But I love that I really am looking forward to the coming year and all the promise that it holds. And I am tearfully aware of how huge that is. James would be so proud of me. I know I am.

Now this I can live with...

Every now and then, just for grins, I like to check my horoscope. I go through phases. The last phase ended because it always had to do with watching my money or something to do with getting ahead at work. Even my love horoscope said to watch my money. Talk about boring and not the least bit useful.

Today I saw a headline on Yahoo that said "What your astrological sign says for 2010." The little blurb under it read: "Get your horoscope's predictions for your career and love life in the coming year. Are changes ahead?"

Well, that's what I want to know. Are changes ahead? So, I clicked on it. The romantic outlook for Capricorn for 2010 is:

"Your love life can be in one of three positions in the next year: single, in a relationship, or in a committed relationship. Regardless of where you find your status this year, there will be change, and it will likely be for the better. (Um, I don't see how it could get much worse). If you're single and looking, there are a couple of windows of opportunity this year to change that. Forces are coming together to make April and September to November this year prime time for you to either find someone, or (even better!) for someone to find you. (Sounds like Hide 'n Seek. Ready or not, here I am!) Even if you are in a relationship during those periods, you can expect the romance to get a little better. (Ooh la la).

If you're already in a relationship, May and June mark a time when the love and warmth will be ramped up. If there has been any distancing or difficulties in your love life, it will be an excellent time for the two of you to sit down and truly hear each other out, and do the work to make things stronger.

And if 2010 finds you in a committed, long-term relationship -- hang on to your hat! (I could be committed by the end of 2010-in more ways than one. Not sure white is my color though. I'm pretty pale). Two eclipses in 2010 will make for major shifts in your relationship, both of which have been building for a while. January is the first: watch for changes in your relationship that come to a head in July, when the second eclipse comes into play. If you want to move your relationship to a new degree of closeness and/or commitment, July will be the time to make your move. (So, start something in January; ramp it up in July. Got it).

Even though I don't actually put much stock in my horoscope, I like that this is at least positive news (for once). So, for even more grins, I decided to see what my love horoscope for today is. It is:

"Stop trying to be author of your romantic fate -- let the universe kick in and lend a hand. Not only will you end up somewhere surprising, but you'll also start to have much more fun when you surrender control."

I found this amusing and ironic as yesterday I was trying to decide whether or not to delete my profile on OK! Cupid-to stop trying and just focus on having fun for awhile. I do have some skepticism about this, however. Anyone who really knows anything about Capricorns knows that one of us surrendering control of anything is not all that likely to happen. I wouldn't even let James run the remote on TV night. (We TIVO'd everything during the week and watched all our shows on Thursday evening). And Hawaii would be a really nice surprising place to end up. On a cliff overlooking the ocean at sunset, in the presence of a ukulele player. Not that I am trying to control anything, of course. It is merely a suggestion.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ok, Cupid.

On Christmas Eve, I put up a profile on Ok! Cupid, one of the free dating sites. I think it is safe to say you get what you pay for and right now, after only 5 days, I am already thinking "Seriously, Cupid?"

I have come to the conclusion their matching system is one-sided. I am pretty sure there is not much difference between using this site and Craigslist. I say this because I put in an age range for my desired match (and yes, I did venture a little bit to the cougar side. Meow). Of the 43 people who have publicly viewed my profile, 19 are out of that range. Five are over 50. One is 62. Eeww. My dad wouldn't even be that old if he was still alive. That is just wrong on so many levels. Six are under 30. Even putting my lower limit at 30 was a bit of a stretch for me.

I stated they had to live within 50 miles of me. Last I checked, New Jersey, British Columbia, Florida and Italy were not that close.

I stated my matches had to be single. My most frequent visitor (every day for the last 3 days) is married. (According to some study that was probably not scientific and may or may not be accurate, about 25% of all men on dating sites are married. Doesn't really do much for dispelling the whole men are pigs theory, now does it?).

Of these options, my highest match is 84%-with a 52-year-old from New Jersey (at least he's single). If I do a search based on my criteria, none of these 43 men come up-not even the single ones in my age range who actually live in this area. Only 11 come up who match my criteria; if I put in "reading" as an interest, it drops down to 3. (One was a 93% match so I checked it out. Not bad, but I don't meet his criteria as I am older than 32). According to their little "world love map," this area ranks #1 for my worst place in the whole world to find a mate. That's encouraging. My best option is North Dakota. At least it's in the United States.

I set up filters for who can and cannot contact me. Actually, the ones outside of my filters can contact me, it is just supposed to warn me that they don't meet my filters but are interested. The only one who has contacted me should have come with a warning as he does not meet my filter criteria. He does, however, meet the criteria to be a Nigerian scam artist (reportedly the 4th leading source of income for their country).

I am not sure what I am going to do at this point-just close out my profile and give up on online dating-again-or just let it ride for a bit. I do have a very negative attitude towards online dating as it is. And I really do believe you do not find love when you look for it-and putting up a profile is definitely looking. Maybe I need to step back from this and just focus on getting out and having fun with my two very active meetup groups (one of which is a singles group) for awhile instead.

(Ok! Cupid encourages feedback on how well their matching system works. I should send them this).

I know it's silly, but...

I only wanted one thing for Christmas: to win my fantasy football league-to add that virtual champion trophy to my virtual trophy case. It would have looked so nice with the champion trophy from 2004, and the third place trophies from 2003 and 2007. I wanted this more than I have wanted anything in a long time. I put it on my Christmas wish list on the widowed board I post on. I told my brother that is what I wanted (and a Snuggie-green, since they don't make purple). I asked Santa for it. I had visions of telling the poor souls who I forced to follow how my season was going they can now refer to me as the Gridiron Goddess. I wanted this. Badly. I finished the season in first with a record of 11-2 (after finishing last season in last place with a 1-13 record. Thank you Yahoo for storing that little tidbit!). I had a first round bye for the playoffs and blew my opponent out of the water in the semi-final game. I only had one more game to go, against a team I had already beaten once. And I was projected to win.

We both had a player in the game on Christmas. My player was projected to be worth 6 points. He was worth 23. My opponent scored 5. I had a nice lead going into Sunday's games. I checked the score after the morning games were over. I still had the lead. It was smaller, but still mine. I felt good. Not cocky-I've seen the movie. I know that on any given Sunday, anything can happen. But I was going to win. I just knew it.

I checked again after the last (NFL) game on Sunday had been played. And I saw that my ass had been handed to me. I was down by 50 points and only had one player in Monday night's game. Adrian Peterson may be my best player but no one is that good. And I knew I was going to lose. I knew I wasn't going to get the one thing I really wanted-the one thing I had put tons of positive energy into getting. (Final score: 102-129. Good effort Adrian! But I guess I have to accept Pigskin Princess).

And then I panicked. My friend is a firm believer in the law of attraction-you get back what you put out there. I put every ounce of positive energy into winning this game and I didn't win. Is this a sign that I am not going to get the other (realistic) things I want either? Does this mean I am not going to find happiness again? That there is no MH #2? That all I am going to get is more and more bad news and bad things happening? That I am going to be unbearably sad for the rest of my life? I have been doing what Mom said and asking my angels for a sign before I go to bed-but everytime I do that, I have nightmares-like the one I had the other night that my brother was killed in a car accident and I found out about it because someone had posted a link to the newspaper article on Facebook. No one even bothered to call Mom or I to tell us.

I called my friend. I told her I was panicking over something ridiculous and she needed to confirm it. Logically, I knew pinning my life on the outcome of a fantasy football game-something I never had any control over-made no sense whatsoever. She's a believer and she would tell me if I was doomed. I don't know if she wanted to laugh or smack me upside the head or both as she told me I was being silly. And reminded me that fantasy football is just a fantasy. I told her that everything I want in life is just a fantasy right now. I reminded her of the other things I had been putting out there that I wanted that were proving to be not meant to be. She said they weren't meant to be (and that MH #2 is coming my way-she can feel it). I asked her what the point is then, if everything is already decided? Which is pretty much how I have felt all along-there is no such thing as freewill and it doesn't matter what we want or put out there because it has all already been decided. And that scares me because I really do believe now there is no point in trying to be positive because it isn't going to do me any good anyway. It doesn't really matter what I want and it never did.

This morning on my way to work, I saw a shooting star. At least that is what I decided it was. Whatever it was, I made a wish on it. A very specific wish. There is no mistaken what I wished for. I used small words. I enunciated very clearly and spoke loudly. I repeated it. I know what I want and I wished for it. I may be on the fence about the law of attraction and freewill but apparently, I still believe in wishing on stars.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Advent #24: Christmas Eve

As an adult, Christmas Eve hasn't really been that big of a deal as I have usually had to work at least part of the day. With Christmas being on a Friday this year, I had the day off. I ventured out in the morning to what was probably the only retail store that was not busy: PetCo. And I debated before that whether or not I could get away with feeding the boys treats for a few days so I could avoid the crowds. Starbucks was surprisingly not busy either-since Starbucks is located in the same shopping center as PetCo, I decided I had to have that last piece of gingerbread before it is gone until next year.

I spent most of the rest of the day working on a craft project and watching "Mythbusters" until it was time to go get the pizzas and head to our best friends'. You have to love a friend that invites you over and doesn't say anything when you complain that you hate the type of pizza they are planning to get!

My friend wasn't feeling well so it was a smaller gathering than what she had been planning. It was still fun-we had an overabundance of pizza as we were expecting more people, and her mom brought all kinds of pastries from their bakery, several small bags of which ended up coming home with me. I am pretty burnt out on pastries and pizza right now!

In addition to dinner, we had a white elephant gift exchange and for the second year, I ended up with the gift given by the older of their two boys: this year it was a small stocking with three lumps of (char)coal. I guess I have been a naughty girl this year! There was a gift exchange after that, and while my friend and her mom did give me gifts, I found myself feeling really sad as I watched the family members open their gifts from each other. As much as they have embraced me, I really felt I shouldn't have been there for that-I felt I was intruding. And it made me long for a family of my own.

So, I came home and put up a profile on a dating site (because clearly I never learn). The two single guys I know who I would date aren't interested in dating me and I am not going to meet anyone sitting on the couch working on crafts while watching "Mythbusters" marathons. I also signed up for several events with a couple of really active meetup groups I joined. It's time for me to really put some effort into moving forward.

Advent #23: Christmas Sweetheart Memories

James and I met in December 1999, so we had been together for just shy of a year when we had our first Christmas together in 2000.

I had been having some problems with extreme pain in my side, which had been going on for years, when I finally had a doctor recommend a laparoscopy to see if I had endometriosis. I had that surgery on December 18th, so our first Christmas was spent with me recovering from surgery and James having to pick me up off the floor in the kitchen of our apartment because I was bound and determined to make the perfect Christmas dinner and overdid it. That was the first of many Christmases I ended up in tears over dinner-everything was almost ready and I realized I had not turned on the oven like I thought I had so the ham wasn't actually cooking. Eventually, James asked me to stop preparing big dinners so we could try to have a holiday dinner in which I wasn't crying.

Holidays were always a bigger deal to me than to James. He just felt they were another day, but he didn't try to squash my enthusiasm for them. We would exchange gifts in the morning, have dinner around 2:00 or 3:00 and watch a movie or two. I find now that he is gone I try to treat them like they are any other day-it's much less painful that way.

Advent #22: Christmas and Deceased Relatives

I don't do anything special to acknowledge my deceased relatives on Christmas. I am very close to the point of having more dead relatives than I do living.

As I mentioned in my last post, the year my dad died, I remembered him by listening to the CD I gave him the year before.

I do have a pair of James' socks that are Christmasy. I count them in my Christmas sock collection and I wore them to our best friends' on Christmas Eve so he was there in spirit that way. And I hung up his stocking.

I have reminders of my grandmother: the quilted wall-hanging she made for me, the Christmas tree skirt she made for Dad and the Christmas rabbit she made for our side of the family that lived with Dad but now lives with me. (She made them for my aunts too).

I have reminders of my aunt (Dad's older sister): the angel that usually sits on the top of the tree and the snowman I sit up on the kitchen table were both gifts from her.

Normally, the only way I remember the deceased is to leave them on my Christmas card spreadsheet for the first year after they die even though I don't send them a card. I would visit their graves, but Grandma is the only one in a cemetery and it is in Florida.

Advent #21: Christmas Music

I am not really a fan of Christmas music. There are a few songs I like, but I can only listen to a couple of songs at a time before I start to feel depressed. It reminds me of spending time with family and I currently don't have one of my own. And by that I mean a family I chose, not one I was born into. Hearing the songs reminds me of that and it also reminds me that finances are too tight for me to be able to go spend the holidays with my mom and brother. It is just another reminder that I am not living the life I had planned or the life I want and the holidays are a really sucky time to be alone.

I am a fan of Trans-Siberian Orchestra however. Several years ago, I discovered my father was as well. I bought him their most popular CD one year for Christmas. When he died the following November, I took the CD back and James and I listened to it while we ate our Christmas dinner. I fought hard not to cry the entire time. I haven't listened to it since.

I did find myself singing along to a really awful rendition of "The 12 Days of Christmas" the other day as there was no escaping Christmas music on the car radio (it was Christmas after all) no matter which station I tried and there are a couple of songs I really do enjoy, such as "The Little Drummer Boy," and "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (gotta love the underdog!). And I still smile when I hear "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" when I think back to caroling when I was in the Girl Scouts and all of us girls singing "God and sinners wreck the child" instead of "reconcile" and acting like we were going to sing that for real when we went door-to-door.

Advent #20: Christmas Services

My mother was raised Catholic; my father Presbyterian. By the time I was born, both were non-practicing and had been for years. So when my brother and I got to the ages of having sleepovers with our friends, they let us decide if we wanted to go to church with our friends or just come home. Usually, we went to church as it allowed us to spend more time with our friends, and then after our parents divorced and Dad re-married, it allowed us to spend less time at home with our evil stepmother.

Even though we lived in a very small town, there were several churches. I attended most of them at least once with my various friends; the only exception, ironically was Presbyterian. It was one of the larger churches in town, but one none of my friends attended. I started to go to the Lutheran church pretty regularly with a friend and was even in the process of going through the Confirmation classes, which I didn't finish as I realized it meant I would be baptized Lutheran and by that point I had discovered the Methodist church, which I liked better. I would have been baptized Methodist had we not moved to Idaho when we did.

I don't remember ever going to Christmas services at the Lutheran church, but I attended several at the Methodist church. They were always such beautiful services and I loved how the sanctuary looked at the end of the service when everyone held up their candles. I started going to the Methodist church about the time I was in the 6th grade so I was never a part of the Christmas service, but my brother was in it a couple of times.

I have not been to a Christmas Eve service in years. I was going to church regularly when we lived in Arizona, but felt guilty about it as I was living in sin. I went a few times when we moved back, but the guilt got to me and I decided to stop going until after the wedding, which of course never happened. I have no excuse now especially since my anger at God for taking James has greatly subsided.

Advent #19: Christmas Shopping

I love buying gifts for people, but find that I am always rushing around at the last minute to buy Christmas presents. Part of that is because I always say I am going to make gifts and then don't end up getting around to that either.

I always found James both easy and difficult to shop for. He loved to read and he loved the Pittsburgh Steelers, so books and something to do with the Steelers were always on the list, but I began to feel like that was all I ever got him. There were other things as well, but the problem (for me) with James was that when he wanted something, he would inevitably go get it for himself, so by the time Christmas (or his birthday) rolled around, he already had everything I had been mentally storing as gift ideas. I didn't really make it easy on him either as there was rarely anything I really wanted.

This year, I found myself finding all kinds of things I would have gotten for James. I tried not to but it just happened. It made it a little hard to shop so it was a good thing there weren't many people for me to buy for this year as it limited the amount of time I had to spend in the stores.

I posted something on Facebook the other day about vowing my annual vow not to wait until the next minute to get everything done next year. My brother responded with "oh this I gotta see." I thought that sounded like a challenge. So that is going to be my challenge: next year, I want to have all the shopping (and shipping) done by the middle of the month so I can sit back and enjoy the holidays instead of rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Advent #18: Stockings

The stockings are hung above the couch with great care
Because try as he might Charlie can't reach them there.

Growing up, we always had stockings. They were filled with the usual holiday trinkets and candy and my brother and I would always investigate them when we got up. The gifts were usually wrapped so we still had to wait to really see what was in them, but we would dump them out and try to guess what the little packages were. As we got older, the stockings usually included a tangerine, candy, a couple of small items and one larger item-one year for me, that was the Kylie Minogue cassette I really wanted.

For the last couple of years, my mother-in-law has sent stockings filled with treats for the boys. The first year was an applique stocking for both of them. Last year, they each got their own. Last year, when I was decorating, they realized they can pull the appliques off their stocking, so this year, when I was decorating and saw they had gotten a hold of it, I put it up on the wall above the love seat so they couldn't reach it. Not that it has stopped Charlie from trying!

Since I have several stockings, I decided to put them all up this year. I have never done this before and I really like the way my living room looks with stockings all over it.

James' stocking. I cross-stitched his name and Santa and sewed that on there. It isn't pretty up-close and I never did get around to making mine.

Last year's stockings for the boys. My grandma made the rabbit.

I got this one several years ago from a (now former) co-worker. It had a gift in it.

Can't remember where this one came from.

I have had this one for a long time. It is in the front entryway.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent #17: Grab Bag #2 (Christmas ships)

There are two rivers in Portland. The Willamette River separates the east and west sides of Portland, and the Columbia separates Oregon from Washington with Portland right on the border. In fact, the State line is actually in the middle of the river.

Every year, several area boat owners decorate their boats for the holidays. Some go all out with their light displays; others not so much. These decorated boats are known as the Christmas ships and for about two weeks in December, they sail nightly with part of the fleet sailing the Columbia and the other part the Willamette.

I have only seen the Christmas ships once since moving here in 1996. And I had a great vantage point for doing so: on board one of the ships. I don't remember the year, but I want to say it was 2001. James' old roommate had a friend who captains one of the boats and James' friend and his wife were going to be sailing with their friend one night. Not knowing about the captain, James had mentioned to his friend I wanted to see the ships. When another couple cancelled at the last minute, James and I were invited to join his old roommate and wife on the ship, despite having never met the captain, who was very nice and who had a very nice boat.

It was so cold but we had a great time. We could see all the other ships in our part of the fleet (we were on the Columbia). We had food and drinks while sailing and luckily it was a calm night so I didn't get sick. There were a ton of people along the edge of the river and we waved to them and sang Christmas carols at the top of our lungs. Not pretty on my part as I can't carry a tune and the louder I get, the angrier I sound!

When I hear people talk about the Christmas ships, I think fondly of that night and about how much fun it was to not just watch them but to actually be a part of the parade. I almost went to see the ships this year with one of my meetup groups but there was hiking involved and it was a really cold night. I have a really hard time breathing when it is cold out and when I start to lose my breath, I make it worse by panicking. James was always so good at anticipating the moment I was about to start panicking and talking me down. I was also battling a cold and didn't want to be out late in the cold. Maybe next year I will see the ships again, but from the docks this time. It wouldn't be the same to be on one of them without James.

Advent #16: Christmas in School

There are only two things that really stand out in my mind about our Christmas celebrations in school: the first is making the green and red construction paper chains that were never equally red and green and were always completely squished by the time they got home. The other is being bussed to the nursing home to sing to the residents.

Every year, a few of the classes would be sent across town (about 5 miles if that) to the nursing home, which was always just a little too warm, so we could sing 2 songs, visit with the residents for a few minutes and then be taken back to school. I always hated the smell of that place-to this day, I hate the smell of nursing homes. I know the residents were appreciative of us though and sadly, for some, we were the only visitors they got over the holidays.

When I was in college, my sorority had a Christmas celebration in which the members decorated the tree to surprise the pledges. After the pledges were brought back to the house and pretended to be surprised about the tree, we sat around and sang carols and then had a nice lunch. It was quite the sisterhood event and a great way to help bring on the end of the semester (and finals-ick!). The best part of this celebration, however, is that each pledge was given an ornament that had been decorated with their name. When the tree came down, the seniors got to take their ornaments and the rest were packed up for the following year. A few years ago, when James and I were living in Phoenix, I was one of the advisors for the Arizona State chapter. They were a very small chapter and did not have any holiday traditions and I was so proud to make each of my newfound sisters an ornament and share with them why I had done so. Each year when I do my decorating and pull out my "Heather" ornament, I am reminded of this wonderful tradition.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Today's happy moment brought to you by the US Postal Service

I have been in an amazingly good mood the last couple of days. I don't know what has brought it on and I am fearful it is going to be short-lived, so I am trying my best to enjoy it while it lasts.

Being the slacker that I am, I had to stop at the post office after work today to mail a last minute Christmas package. I was pleased to find the line was pretty short, unlike yesterday when I was pretty sure I would be there for at least an hour and was happily surprised to be in and out in about 20 minutes.

The package I had to mail was pretty light so I was holding it. The little old man in line behind me told me he normally puts his packages on the ground and kicks them to the front of the line. I said I normally do that too, but it wasn't really heavy. He said it didn't matter if they were heavy or not, he still kicks them. I told him it was my weightlifting for the day and it was light at the moment but would probably be getting heavy by the time I got to the front of the line. He said by then it would be heavy and I would be wishing I had just kicked it to begin with. And then he said "You are going to have a great Christmas because you are happy as heck." Wow. I have not been called happy in almost 2 years. It warmed my heart to have this little old man, this stranger whom I have never seen before call me happy. It gave me hope that I am finally on the right path to happiness-I know that lately, I have been feeling a much fiercer determination than usual to make that happen.

After a couple of minutes of silence he told me he was at the post office because he was going through the drive-up lane and had accidentally put a stamped envelope in the metered box and wanted to know if it had to be pulled out. I said I thought it would be fine. He said it was a bill that needed to be paid so he needed to be sure. He was waiting his turn and was moving toward the box when the car in front of him stopped. He stopped and the guy behind him started honking his horn and he got distracted. I told him I felt that when you waited until the last minute to go to the post office, you lost your right to be impatient. He said he agreed but it doesn't always work that way. He then told me he is 80 and that he has had a great life; that he has loved every minute of it. I said I was only 35 and couldn't say the same but I was determined to make the best of what time I have left. He said he wished he was 35 again, but at the same time he wouldn't trade a minute of his life that got him to where he is now. He also said that all I could do is try my best to make life happy.

Then it was my turn to head to the counter. With a cute smile he said "You're in," and said he had enjoyed talking to me and wished me a merry Christmas. I repeated the sentiments to him. He was fun to talk to, even for a minute, and he told me something very important, that it didn't hurt to hear even though it is something I already know: the rest of my life is in my hands and what it ends up being will be what I make of it.

As I type this all out I have to wonder if James had a hand in this-if this was the sign I am on the right track that I asked him for this morning. And the little old man can rest assured tonight-I overheard the clerk telling him it was okay that his stamped letter went in the metered box.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent #15: Holiday Happenings

I always thought it was really cool that my dad's birthday was 3 weeks before Christmas and mine is 3 weeks after. I don't know why I thought this was cool; I stopped questioning how my mind works a long time ago.

Having a birthday right after Christmas is kind of a downer actually. Growing up, I would look forward to Christmas as it approached, and then I would look forward to my birthday to see if I got all the things I wanted and didn't get for Christmas then. And then...nothing. I would have to wait for the entire year until it was gift time again all while listening to my friends getting all excited about their birthdays. My parents didn't believe in giving gifts for reasons other than birthdays and Christmas.

When I went to college, my birthday was forgotten by my sorority sisters more often than it was remembered because it usually fell right as we were returning from winter break. As one who has always been good at remembering birthdays (though not always so good at acknowledging them on the right day), this really hurt my feelings. I do have a couple of good friends and my co-workers, and of course my mom and brother, who do remember it and I really am appreciative of it. There are just more people in my life that forget it than remember it. It may not sound like much and it may be petty to have hurt feelings over it, but what can I say. I have abandonment issues and this simple thing feeds into my insecurities that I am not the least bit memorable or worthwhile.

James always stressed out about having Christmas, my birthday, and Valentine's Day all right in a row, but after that he was done with the gift giving and I still had his birthday in June to stress over. Last year, my first birthday without him and the last significant date before the 1 year anniversary of his passing, I was a sobbing wreck all day. It was so hard to get through that knowing he will never have another birthday and one day, I will be older than him as he is forever 41. I turn 36 in a few weeks. I am looking forward and am really hopeful it will be a great year, but right now, I could care less about the actual day.

Advent #14: Fruitcake

Well, this should be an easy one. I have never had fruitcake, nor do I have any desire to ever try it. Growing up, I always heard it joked that fruitcake was only good for being used as a doorstop. If I am ever given a fruitcake, I will have to test out that theory. I am curious as to whether the dogs would eat it, however, or if they would turn up their noses at it too. It is really hard to say with these two.

Advent #13: Holiday Travel

As a child, we never traveled over the holidays. There just wasn't anywhere for us to go. We could have gone to New York or Nevada to see one of my grandmothers, but it really wasn't feasible. I don't remember Dad getting a lot of time off around that time of the year.

After my parents divorced and Mom left the state, my brother and I spent Christmases with Dad and our evil step-mother. Some years our step-brothers came to visit over the holidays but that was it. We talked to Mom on the phone and didn't spend Christmas with her again until I was in college. She and my (then) step-father came to visit and it was a disaster that ended with my brother and I threatening to run away and have Christmas dinner by ourselves in a restaurant. And we were being the mature ones.

It is hard not to be around family at Christmas. I looked at going home this year, but with airfare and boarding the dogs, I was looking at about $500 to only be there for 2 1/2 days. I just couldn't justify that. Whether or not there is travel involved, I am hopeful this is the last time I will be alone on Christmas day.

Advent #12: Charitable Work

Growing up in a small town, I was not introduced to the wonderful world of volunteering. That is something I discovered on my own as an adult. I started to do it as a way to give back to my community-as a reminder that there were far worse things in life than being 25 and lonely. I also did it as a productive way to try to meet people.

I enjoy volunteering. I think it is fun to spend a Saturday morning painting the hallway at an elementary school or sorting and shelving books at my favorite non-profit. I have a friend that I do a lot of my volunteering with, and getting to spend that time with her is an added bonus to doing a small part to make a difference.

That being said, I have never volunteered on the holidays. This year, I am signed up to help serve dinner to the homeless at the Union Gospel Mission. I have been assigned to the dessert table, which could be a challenge. Putting someone with a massive sweet tooth in charge of the sweets is just plain mean. Or a cosmic joke-I'm not sure which yet as I don't know who is in charge of the work assignments.

I am looking forward to doing this project. I downloaded and filled out my volunteer application today, which was a little odd. I don't think they are going to like my answer concerning how my relationship with Jesus Christ has changed my life. I wasn't rude about it, but per their instructions, answered honestly that my faith has been sorely tested by James' death and that relationship is going to take time to heal. I'm pretty sure it isn't going to hinder my abilities to hand out cookies. Wanting to eat them all on the other hand...

Advent #11: Other Traditions

Growing up, we had one tradition that really stands out in my mind: on Christmas Eve, my brother and I would head upstairs just before bed and would stop in Mom and Dad's room to open a present. It was usually picked out for us and was usually designed to entertain us when we got up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning and Mom and Dad weren't up yet. For me, it was usually a book or a puzzle or a puzzle book of some sort-usually crossword. For my brother, it was usually a toy of some kind.

As an adult, I don't really have any traditions, although every year without fail, I get one of the packages all taped up and ready to mail only to discover I forgot to put the Christmas card in the box. This year it was Mom. And of course, I had already written "Mom" in big letters across the envelope, so that is who the post office is going to deliver it to instead of a person with a first and last name.

Last year, I went over to our best friends' for pizza and a white elephant gift exchange on Christmas Eve. I will be doing the same thing this year. Though that is their family tradition, it is one I hope to be included in for many years to come.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent #10: Christmas Gifts

There is one gift that really stands out from my childhood because it was a mistake-sort of.

We lived in a very small town when I was growing up and there wasn't really anywhere for my parents to shop for gifts other than the Sear's catalog and the overpriced drugstores. So, they would go to Spokane to get our gifts, which was about 35 miles away. It's funny how far away that seemed as a child compared to now when that really doesn't seem like that big of a deal. One year, I really wanted Western Barbie. I got my Western Barbie, but apparently Mom had gotten distracted in the store and accidentally grabbed the black one instead of the white. She wasn't sure whether or not to give it to me since she figured I would be disappointed it wasn't exactly what I wanted, but I didn't care. A Barbie was a Barbie to me. The next Christmas, I got the black Beach Ken so she would have a boyfriend. I guess my parents didn't approve of Inter-racial Barbie relationships. Strawberry Shortcake's little friend Orange Blossom ultimately joined my little African-American Barbie family.

In recent years, the best gift I received was my Kitchenaid Stand mixer, which was a gift from James. His co-workers told him he was screwed-you don't get a woman appliances for Christmas! He just told them "you don't know my woman." And he was right. I wanted one of those mixers and I absolutely love it.

As I have been doing my shopping the last couple of weekends, I have seen several things I would have likely given James for Christmas this year. It is still hard to understand at times that I will never give him another gift. I hung the ornament from our first Christmas on the tree and I hung up his stocking. I didn't even hesitate on that. He is still in my heart and part of my life; it is up to me to decide how to remember him.

But at the same time, I find myself wondering where my life will be this time next year and whether or not there will be someone new on my list of people to buy Christmas presents for.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent Calender #9: Grab Bag

When I was in the 6th grade, one of my stocking stuffers was a pair of white socks with Santa's holding small Christmas trees all over them. These were my very first pair of novelty socks, and I thought they were pretty cool. I can't remember if I wore them every Christmas after that or just sporadically, but I do still have them. They are still in excellent shape, but then again, they are only worn once a year.

Several years ago, I picked up a couple more pairs of Christmas socks on a whim, and a couple more the year after that. Before I knew it, I had enough pairs of Christmas socks for the "12 days of Christmas." I had 11 pairs of my own; the 12th pair was James' Mickey Mouse Christmas socks.

Of course, I couldn't just wear the Christmas socks. I had to model them for my poor co-workers. Everyday, first thing, I would show off that day's socks and then go on my merry way. And when we exchanged gifts, a couple of them gave me socks, so they must not mind too much. (I also now have Halloween, Easter and Valentine's Day socks. I could use St. Patrick's Day socks-that would make it so I didn't forget to wear green).

My collection of socks has now grown enough that this year, I started the "Sock Countdown to Christmas" on December 8th. The week before, I proudly announced (or warned, depending on your point of view) to the sock viewing co-workers when the socks would begin. I almost sent them text messages this weekend of the socks of the day.

My excitement over my Christmas socks may seem silly, and it is. But this is the one part of the holidays for me that is not centered around family-it is the one holiday tradition that did not die with James as this was always my thing, not ours. It is the one part of the holidays that still truly brings me joy. And my co-workers graciously play along (and support me by giving me more socks. There was a pair waiting for me on my desk when I got to work not too long ago). So, I will continue to wear and show off my socks daily (when I went to volunteer today, one of the girls there asked what today's socks were and said she forgot to see if I was wearing Christmas socks at bunco last night), ending on Christmas Day with the socks that started this ball rolling 23 (wow!) years ago. Maybe next year, I will have enough that I can start wearing them the day after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oh good, more tears

This has been a very bad couple of days on the ol' grief roller coaster. I have been crying pretty much nonstop since Thursday night, when I let my feelings get hurt over what I perceive to be a personality flaw of mine: the fact that I am reliable and predictable. I ended up feeling like the only time people want to be around me are when they need someone they can count on to show up. I know James' death changed me, but this made me feel that the change is so drastic that I have become unbearable to be around. It has made me miss James a lot more than I already was.

Sometime in the next week or so marks the 10th anniversary of the day I met James. I don't remember the exact date-a fact that has never bothered me until now. It is driving me nuts that I can't remember this, though what really matters is I do remember the circumstances and of course, the date of our first date.

I have also been struggling with trying to understand how in just 10 short years, I ended up back where I started: alone, lonely and fearful this is how it is always going to be. Only now, I have more stuff and two dogs. And I have more wisdom. I know what it is like to love and lose and what matters and what really doesn't. I try much harder not to take things for granted and to accept that if something isn't meant to be it isn't because of anything I did or didn't do. It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with me-that I am not good enough. It means that isn't the path for me. It is hard for me to look at things this way, because let's face it, rejection hurts no matter how you slice it. It doesn't compare to your partner dying by any means and it isn't the end of the world. But it does make you long for what you had and it is a step back. I was starting to feel like life was good again and now I feel like I am back in Square 1 and the walls need to be reinforced with steel because concrete just wasn't strong enough.

The thing is, I don't want to live behind a steel wall, or even a concrete wall. Living with walls to prevent getting hurt is a very sad and lonely way to live. I don't want to be sad and lonely for the rest of my life-I want to be able to open myself up to the possibility of being seen as more than just that really reliable girl. Because I am so much more than that. It's just really too bad not everyone can see that.

Advent #8: Christmas Cookies

I jumped the gun a little on this by talking about Christmas cookies along with holiday foods. I still haven't decided if I am going to make cookies this year or not, but it isn't looking very promising at this point. I am coming down with a cold and I am pretty sure no one wants to eat cookies with cooties.

I am kind of bummed about this, but at the same time relieved about the possibility of having Sunday, the day I would bake, to do nothing but just chill out with my homedogs. There will be other times to make cookies-this summer I had an arrangement with my neighbors: they mowed my lawn and in exchange, I made them cookies. Maybe if that arrangement continues next summer, I will make them Christmas cookies in July. Hopefully, next Christmas I am back to being my organized self and will be a little more in the spirit to bake.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent #7-Holiday Parties

I have been thinking about this one for the past few days. I'm really not coming up with much on the topic of holiday parties. I am sure we had cookies at school when I was young, but what I really remember is trading Valentine's Day cards and having treats for that, not Christmas.

As an adult, my holiday parties have not been what I consider to be the "typical" holiday party in that I have only been to one in which everyone dressed up and went to dinner after work. That was for a party for James' company several years ago. It was out at McMenamin's Edgefield and I was not thrilled about having to drive all the way out to Troutdale on a dark road by myself. I don't have the best night vision, especially in areas I am unfamiliar with but James and I were coming from different directions and it made more sense to meet there.

We ended up being the first ones there, so we explored the hotel and some of the little shops that are on the grounds. It was so cold! We ended up watching a blown glass demonstration, partially because it was cool to see how it was done, and partially because it was warm. A couple of weeks after the party, I went back and got James the paperweight we had watched them make and gave it to him for Valentine's Day. He kept it on his side of the headboard and that is one item of his I will always keep.

Soon, the others started to arrive, but they still weren't ready to seat us so a group of us girls explored the hotel looking for ghosts. We really wanted to get into the attic, but it was securely locked up and there was no way to get around it. So that was a bummer.

Finally, we were seated. James, our best friends, another couple and myself were seated at the far end of the table-we felt like we were at the little kid's table, and proceeded to act like it. It all started when the server came to take our orders and as seriously as he could, James asked her if any of the menu items were kosher. That was so random to the rest of us we couldn't help but laugh. It ultimately became a running joke and has now been asked at several restaurants. He did at one point actually go to a kosher restaurant and was quite impressed with how the food is handled and prepared. If James was interested in something, he was not shy about asking questions and learning all he could about it.

After determining Edgefield does not have a kosher menu (at least they did not that night), James moved on to using everyone's wine and water glasses to make music a la Sandra Bullock in "Miss Congeniality." He was quite good at it. The rest of us, sadly, could not get the hang of it, though that did not stop us from trying for much longer than was really necessary.

Those of us at the kid's table had a great time that night. I am pretty sure the same cannot be said for the grown-ups.

The company I work for now has a pizza party and white elephant gift exchange one day during lunch. That is usually entertaining as there is usually one really raunchy gift, at least one Starbucks gift card, a couple of nice gifts and a $10 bill. So far, I have come home with a copy of "American Pie: The Naked Mile," which I traded for to add to our "American Pie" collection, a dart board, and a flask shaped like a hammer, which is still in my desk drawer and which I have been granted permission to use on a really annoying co-worker.

Our best friends' family also has a white elephant and pizza party on Christmas Eve. Last year, my friend braved the nasty roads to come get me for it and I ended up with a white elephant, which was kind of bittersweet as after my work party last year, James had made the comment that it would be really funny if someone took a white elephant to a white elephant party. It sits on my filing cabinet at work. He is carrying Budha around and is protected by my ninjas. I have an interesting assortment of things on my filing cabinet that I am always looking to add to. Maybe one of this year's white elephant parties will give me a new toy for my collection.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent #6: Santa Claus

Dear Santa,

If I could win my fantasy football league this year, that would totally rock. I would also like MH #2, all the stupid people to lose their licenses until after the first of the year, Charlie to stop barking at the shrub-like thing I am passing off as this year's tree, my salary returned to what it was before the pay cut, and good road conditions on Christmas so I don't have to bail on the volunteer project I am signed up to do. Oh-and I would also really like a Snuggie. Green, since they don't come in purple.


(p.s. Thanks for your patience with posing with my dogs last weekend. I know that couldn't have been easy. Sorry Sammy was such a pain!)
Ah yes, letters to Santa. They were so simple when I was younger. I would usually ask for something to do with Barbie. I always wanted the dream house, which was always too expensive. I did get the less-expensive slum house one year though and I was happy with that. I still have a lot of the furniture, which may actually be back in style. I also got the Corvette, which was super cool. The letter to Santa was basically a list of everything I had marked in the Sear's wish book, which I just realized was probably my parents way of getting out of going through the book to see what I wanted.

As I got older, letters to Santa became letters to Mom. My parents divorced when I was 9, as I mentioned before, and although my parents had joint custody, we lived with Dad. My wish list of toys gradually grew into more grown up things like books and CDs. And then I got to the point of not really wanting anything specific. When I would tell my parents I didn't really have anything in mind, they would ask what I wanted for my birthday. I never understood this. If I don't know what I want for Christmas, how the heck am I going to know what I want 3 weeks later? This year, I am prepared. If Mom asks, I am going to tell her I want a green Snuggie. I already told my brother but it doesn't hurt to have a backup plan.

Every year, I have received a gift from Santa (who apparently employs Mom as his gift labeler). I am curious to see what Santa will bring me this year.

Advent #5: Outside Decorations

We did not have outdoor decorations when I was growing up. We decorated every inch of the living room and the bonus room we could, however, so the house was very festive. I love pulling out my childhood ornaments now and picturing where they used to sit in my childhood home, although some are a little worse for the wear after all these years!

When James and I bought our first house, I wanted to decorate outside. So, we went to Wal-Mart and bought way more clear lights than were needed for a 1458 square foot house. In our defense, we were novices. I insisted on clear lights. I like the classy, clear light look outside and the fun, colorful look inside. (The lights on the tree HAVE to blink). We (and by "we," I of course mean "he") strung the lights around the front of the house. James even got up on the roof to string lights around the dormer roof-while I watched with a knot in my stomach that did not go away until he was safely back on the ground. He was very methodical about the whole process. Before any lights could be hung, he got out a piece of graph paper, drew the house to scale and mapped out how the lights should go. For as anal and organized as I am, I do not have this kind of patience. I don't want to deal with logistics: I just want to put them up. In addition to the lights on the house, we replaced the light bulbs in the lights on either side of the garage with red and green bulbs and we put those grid-like lights over the shrubs along the front sidewalk. I loved how it looked.

And then we got the power bill. And James, who rarely denied me anything, said that we would not be doing lights again, unless I wanted to make up the difference in the power bill (we had a his-hers-ours approach to the bills). I decided I did not want to do this and all those lights sat unused for several years.

The second year in this house, I decided I wanted to do something simple and just put lights and garland around the pillars on the porch. That lasted for about a week before I pulled all the garland down because the actual look did not turn out like the image in my head (note: do NOT use the cheapest garland available for outdoor decorating). I left up the lights but took down the garland, only to be told by the neighbor across the street she had been enjoying the way it looked. I guess it did look like what I had in mind-but only from a distance.

Last year, my first Christmas without James, I decided I wanted to really decorate outside. With the help of my neighbor, I put up lights across the front of the house and garage, which I never did bother to take down. I also put them around the pillars. I broke my "clear light only" rule and put purple lights in the rhododendrons that are in front of the porch. I put the grid-lights (I can't think of what these are called) over the little shrubs that sit in front of the rhododendrons. I set up my little wooden snowman on the front porch and plugged him in too. I tied big red (store bought) bows around the lights on either side of the garage. I got a Christmas doormat. And I got to enjoy this for about a week before we were hit with the worst storm this area has seen in 40 years and my shrubs were buried under a foot of snow and my lights along the front of the house were encased in ice. My purple lights did not survive (so NOT happy about that!), nor did some of the clear ones, including one of the strands along the front of the house.

my front porch, 2008

After the storm

This year, I am not doing outside lights. I am being a scrooge as the paycut I took in February makes purposely increasing my power bill a luxury I can't afford. I do love driving through the neighborhood and seeing all the houses all lit up however so hopefully, next year mine can be among them again.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Advent #4: Christmas Cards

I love getting mail. (I especially love getting mail that isn't seeking payment. I do not love getting what appears to be home loan application paperwork on a Friday afternoon for someone who does not live here from a lender that is not open on the weekends). When I was a little girl, one of the biggest thrills for me was to ride my bike across town to the post office to get the mail. I don't know why this was such a thrill-there was rarely anything for me.

This time of year, I love it even more because each day when I open the mailbox, I wonder if there will be any Christmas cards. Receiving Christmas cards brightens my day and makes me feel so much more festive. I especially love the photo cards and seeing how much the children of my cousins and friends have grown from year to year. I have a wall in my kitchen that I have been hanging them up on for the last couple of years and then after Christmas, I tear the covers off and keep them for a craft project of some sort that will probably never actually get done. (The photo cards go in my box of photos for safekeeping). The original idea, which still floats around my little pea brain from time to time, was to make a wreath out of the card covers.

I typically send out about 40 cards a year. I have (wait for it...) a spreadsheet I use to keep track of who I send to and receive from. If I send one to someone for 2 consecutive years and don't get one in return for those two years, they are off the list. Family is the only exception to this. Also, if I only use a partial box of cards, I write who I sent them to in the box so I don't send them the same card twice in a row. Normally, I work on them the first Saturday of December (that is also usually when I decorate), but I am behind this year. I haven't even looked to see if I have any cards yet. I normally buy them the day after Christmas when they go on sale. I don't remember buying any last year, but in all fairness, there really isn't a lot about last year I do remember. Now that I think about it, I was snowed in last year so there is a good chance I am out of cards. Good thing I plan to go shopping tomorrow!

For the last several years, I have wanted to do a photo card with the boys and Santa but have never had a good enough picture to use. This year's pictures were taken by a professional (I get them tomorrow) so I have high hopes that next year, I will finally get to do my photo cards.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Advent #3: Christmas Tree Ornaments

When we were growing up, we had the usual assortment of store-bought ball ornaments. We also had this set of old ratty cardinals that my mom insisted had to go on the tree. She said she didn't know why other than "it's a Catholic thing." My mom is a non-practicing Catholic.

We lived in a small town and for something to do, Mom took up ceramics. One year, she made a really cute collection of little mice ornaments. One is in a mailbox that says North Pole on the side, one is in a wreath, etc. When my parents divorced, they stayed with Dad. When he died, I took them. They go perfectly with my "theme."

When I was in college, my best friend introduced me to cross-stitching. I did a couple of small ornaments, and then really got into it after I graduated. Most of what I have made has been samplers and bibs I have given as gifts to other people, but I do have a set of the "12 Days of Christmas" ornaments I made for myself. At first, they were the tree skirt for my little Kmart tree. Now, instead of putting them on the tree since it has to be so small, I hang them up on the mantle.

Having these was part of my inspiration several years ago for deciding that with a few exceptions, I only wanted handmade ornaments on my tree. I bought several kits from The Oriental Trading Company and spent quite a bit of time assembling my ornaments. I was pretty grumbly by the end (James was pretty unsympathetic: "you're the one who only wants homemade ornaments on the tree") but in the end I was pretty happy with the end result and even he had to admit it looked pretty good (very wise on his part to realize I would pout if he didn't admire the tree!). I think having the handmade ornaments takes away from the commercialism Christmas has become.

I have a couple of store bought ornaments that were given to me as gifts that go on the tree if there is room. I bought us an engraved ornament from Things Remembered for our first Christmas together. That one is guaranteed to go on the tree. The angel I use for a topper is not handmade but it was a gift from my late aunt so it has special meaning.

Several years ago, I started cross-stitching ornaments for my nephews. My plan was to give them one a year until they graduated so they would have their own collection to take with them when they left home. I told my brother about this and he threatened to keep them, so now my plan is to make the ornaments and give them to the boys when they have their first Christmas on their own. At the rate I am going, I am going to need all the time I can get to finish them!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Advent #2: Holiday Foods

My parents divorced when I was 9. I don't remember having any holiday meals as a family of Mom, Dad, my brother and I but I am sure we had them. I had to have learned the traditions of Thanksgiving (turkey), Christmas (ham) and Easter (ham or duck) from somewhere. Between James and I, we didn't/don't like most of the things served for Thanksgiving, so that meal was only slightly traditional. Christmas was a little better, but after several years together he asked if we could just start having pizza on the holidays because he was tired of seeing me cry every holiday when I didn't get the timing down perfectly and therefore felt I ruined the meal. Plus, I always made way more than two people could ever eat before the leftovers went bad.

Going back to my childhood, I do remember Mom always made a ton of Christmas cookies. The ones that really stand out in my mind are the M&M cookies and the Cherry Bon-Bons (which she just sent me the recipe for-yea!). I know I get my baking gene from my mother and I suspect she also gave me the gene that insists I make at least 5 different types of cookies every year for Christmas-all in the same day. I have a few that I make every year (well, that I will resume making when the braces come off and I can eat them again. I am so not making my favorites if I can't enjoy them. I am not that nice.) and I try a new recipe or two every year as well, one of which usually gets added to the standard list. Last year, I made these little chocolate covered cheesecake bites that a couple of my co-workers liked so much they informed me I didn't have to wait until Christmas to make again. I haven't even looked at the recipe books yet for this year.

I miss having someone to make a holiday dinner for-traditional or not-and someone to pawn half the cookies off on to take to work. I would package them all up and put them on the front seat of his car so he wouldn't accidentally forget to take them to work in the morning. James, like most people, functioned on auto-pilot in the morning and grabbing containers of cookies was not part of the routine. At his funeral, a couple of his co-workers told me they were not only going to miss him, but also my cooking. (They had a lot of potlucks). I thought that was quite the compliment.

I hope next year I will be blessed to have someone new in my life that I am planning a holiday meal with-and I bet there is a single guy out there somewhere with co-workers who wouldn't object to his bringing in a sampling of his girlfriend's Christmas cookies.

Advent #1: The Christmas Tree

My dear friend maintains a genealogy blog which I love to read. First of all, my friend is a fantastic writer. Her style is very personable and inviting. Secondly, I like her ancestors a lot better than I like mine. Her ancestors are out there just waiting to be found. My ancestors make me wonder if perhaps my parents were telling the truth when they said they found me on the side of a cactus and when they went back 3 years later, they found my brother.

My friend is currently doing an Advent calendar series on her blog, the idea for which she got off the Geneabloggers website. I have been enjoying her memories of Christmases past so much I decided I wanted to play too. Of course, I was supposed to start this on December 1, so I have some catching up to do!

The topic for December 1st was the Christmas tree. Growing up, we had such wonderful Christmas trees. Every year, Dad would go out to the woods and come back with this huge tree. He would always end up cutting the end off the tree about 3 times before it would fit in the house. Mom would put up the lights and we would help decorate.

My senior year of high school, Dad let my brother, my (then) step-brother and I go out into the woods behind our house to cut down the tree. "Don't get one that is 12' tall," he said. We assured him the tree we brought home would fit perfectly into the house. And it did. After we cut about 3 feet off the bottom (As they say, the apple doesn't fall very far...).

While I was in college, my sorority had a beautiful tree every year. The pledges would be taken to a classroom in the the freezing cold UCC Building to study for our pledge test or to work on our plaques for our sis-moms (big sister). Meanwhile, everyone else would be busy decorating the tree to surprise us and would be outside singing carols to greet us when we came back over the hill. It was up to the member in charge of the pledges for the morning to try to convince the pledges the tree decorating was not happening. We had scrapbooks-we all knew about the tree. So it wasn't much of a surprise, but it was a great tradition.

When I graduated and moved to Portland, I was shocked to find out that people here didn't just go into the woods and cut them down. That here, you have to pay for them and get them from a lot. (Kind of makes me wonder if we had illegal trees my entire childhood). Out of protest, I bought a small (about 1 1/2' tall) fake tree from Kmart. It was so small my string of 35 lights was almost too much for it. Living in an apartment, however, I needed something easy to store and it was just me so it didn't need to be fancy.

When James and I bought our first house, I was excited to have a real Christmas tree again. We put up lights outside and we got a small tree. And we quickly learned that a Christmas tree and two puppies were not a good combination-especially when the puppies like to eat the tree. So, that put a stop to my having a tree as I had given my little fake one to Goodwill.

We didn't have a tree again until our second year in this house, which was 2006. We moved in in October 2005 so the holidays that year got lost in the shuffle of us getting settled. In 2006, I was going to host December bunco and I really wanted a tree. We decided that we could put a small one up on the shelf above the fireplace-out of reach of the dogs. We measured how much space we had and bought a small tree from the church up the street. It was small enough that we were able to bring it home in the trunk of my Lancer. And it was still too big. By the time we trimmed it down to fit, it looked more like a shrub than a tree. We got quite the chuckle out of our Christmas shrub and did a lot better job of getting a tree in 2007.

The Christmas shrub of 2006

Last year was my first Christmas without James. I decided at the last minute to try to get in the spirit of things and bought a small tree from Lowe's, which I was going to plant in the backyard but ended up killing. Plants that come to live with me do not have a very high survival rate. I wasn't ready to try to get a small tree/shrub on my own last year and now that I think about it, I am not sure I am ready this year either. But this weekend, I plan to try.

It would have grown up to be a tree. (2008)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's Beginning to Look Kinda Sorta Like Christmas

I haven't really been in the Christmas spirit this year. It greatly annoyed me when the people up the street put up their lights on November 14th. It annoyed me further to see that it was apparently contagious. Other than craft projects that take time to do, I don't believe in anything Christmas until after Santa has made his way to Harold Square to end the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I hate how commercialized everything is and I hate that Thanksgiving gets lost in the jumble of Halloween and Christmas. (And I am really not happy that I saw Valentine's Day cards on display the other day. Seriously people).

So as I have been watching everyone's displays of lights go up, I have had a very bah, humbug attitude about the whole thing. Last night however, the neighbors behind me put up their lights. Because the back of my house faces the back of their house, I can only see a small sampling of lights from my office window. They put up a simple strand of light and dark blue lights, just like last year, and they look so pretty. That made me feel a little more festive.

This morning, I braved the cold to take the boys to have pictures taken with Santa. That was an ordeal, as taking them anywhere always is. (I will blog more about that next weekend when I get the pictures. They were done by a professional, and I will be getting a CD with 12 pictures). This is my third attempt at pictures with Santa; I am hoping to finally get one good one.

I had been planning to do this for a few weeks. But other than sending presents to my family, that was all I was planning to do for Christmas. I wasn't even going to do my holiday baking this year. After we got back today, however, I found myself feeling much more in the spirit of things and dug out the totes to put away the Halloween decorations. (Yes, those were still up. No one ever comes over so there wasn't really a rush to take them down). While I was at it, I got out the Christmas totes. One tote is all lights; the other is decorations. I put up a few decorations. I switched out my candles in the kitchen so they are now green, white and red instead of just green and white. Most of my decorations are for the tree, however, and I decided that next weekend, I am going to get a tree. I may have to get myself a couple of presents to put under it while I am at it. I could really use a Snuggie...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Advice from a bumper sticker

The other day I was out and about and of course, I was stopped at a red light. I was annoyed because I really do not deserve to get stopped at pretty much every light. I idly noticed the assortment of bumper stickers on the car in front of me. One of them has stuck with me. It read "Never let someone be a priority who is only willing to make you an option." Wow. That's pretty deep for a bumper sticker.

It got me thinking about how there is someone in my life that I would like to be a priority, but who doesn't seem to consider me to even be an option though I know he does care about me. It made me realize I need to let go of the hope this person will some day wake up and think "I better snag Heather before someone else realizes how great she is and beats me to it." I will maintain the friendship as I still need that in my life, but not the romantic illusion I have been holding onto. Even though I know it was the right thing to do, I am pretty sure I blew my chances there. I regret that, but would probably regret it more had I allowed something neither of us was ready for to happen.

I miss having someone in my life who is my priority. I don't really know how to be single anymore and I was never really any good at it. I want to have someone in my life who is my priority again. I have always been so much better at putting everyone elses' needs first-something that drove James nuts on occasion, usually because I was getting walked all over or my feelings hurt in the process. But making other people happy makes me happy. And I also realized the one person who has never been my #1 priority is me.

So that's my new goal: to allow myself to be my own priority. I have no one else to take care of right now and might not for a very long time. I might as well take care of myself while I wait for MH #2 to come knocking on my door.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Her name is Lola

Last night I was laying in bed thinking about James, Widower Friend and Volunteer Guy and about how boys pretty much suck.

"It's December 1st" randomly popped into my head. "Yes," I thought back, "it is. What does that have to do with anything?"

"Tomorrow is December 2nd!"

"That usually follows the 1st." Even my thought process is sarcastic.

"It's Lola's birthday."

"I should see if she is on Facebook."

I don't usually blog using the names of the living so this is a rare exception. Being that today is indeed December 2nd, it is my cousin Lola's 28th birthday. She is my second to youngest first cousin on my mother's side. Her father is my mother's younger brother. He is also the youngest of four-and the only son. Lola, to the best of my knowledge, is his only biological child. He had a couple of stepsons (Lola's half-brothers) at one time that were the same ages as my brother and I.

Today when I came home to let the dogs out at lunch, I did a quick search on Facebook for my cousin. There were several Lolas with her last name, but none were her. It occurred to me that she could be married by now and not have included her maiden name on the site.

I decided to do a Google search. In the ads on the right hand side of the screen, proudly proclaimed "We found Lola!" So, I looked at their listings. I found her. I know it was the right one because the relatives listed were her father and our grandmother. I didn't pay for the record. Considering that Grandma died in 1994, I am just not sure how reliable that is. (I did a Intellius search for myself just for grins and my relatives are my deceased father, my brother and both ex-stepmothers).

I saw a link for Lola on Myspace, so I decided to search there and I did find her. She is definitely not the little girl I remember from, oh I don't know, 20 years ago. I have to say, seeing her pictures made me feel more than just a little frumpy! I had been planning to send her a note if I found her, but when I did, I lost my nerve. I don't know if she even remembers me. She was mostly raised by my uncle and Grandma and Mom and Grandma were pretty close so I am sure we were mentioned from time to time. However, she was only 12 when Grandma died. And then I thought "what is this cool person going to want from a strait-laced geek like me?"

But the bottom line is we are family and I don't really have a connection with anyone from Mom's side despite having tried to establish a relationship with my cousins who are a couple of years older than me a couple of times in the past. (I did just find them on Facebook and sent friend requests). My cousin that I am really close with is not actually my cousin-she's James'. We just adpoted each other after he died, for which I am so grateful. She is so awesome! So, I got over myself and sent Lola a note explaining who I was and wishing her a happy birthday. I know I got the right girl because her brother is one of her friends (so much for Mom's story that both her brothers had died. I am pretty sure when I tell Mom at least one of them is still alive she is going to tell me I am wrong).

All I can do now is wait and see if she responds (and try to get "Copa Cabana" out of my head. My cousin is not a showgirl, however). And if not, at least I tried.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I Cross My Heart

The other night, I was putting books on the new bookcase my friend came over and helped me put together. I now have 5 bookcases and still have a box of books that don't have a home. Now if I just had time to read all of these books! (I am currently reading and loving "Undead and Unwed" by MaryJanice Davidson).

While I was shelving the books, I had Windows Media set to random and found myself listening to "I Cross My Heart" by George Strait at one point. I found myself thinking I could see myself dancing with my husband at our wedding to this song. Then I thought it was a little creepy to be picking out first dance songs when I don't exactly have a wedding on the horizon. I wonder if part of that is a residual effect of not having picked out a first dance song for my and James' wedding? Our recessional song was going to be "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer and I wanted "You're Still the One" by Orleans to be the song played after our first dance when everyone joined us. It seemed fitting as we weren't the traditional young couple and all our coupled guests have been couples for many years. I now think of those as our songs. We had not yet decided on a first dance song yet and hadn't even really talked about it that much. We still had 8 months to plan, after all.

I don't know if "I Cross My Heart" would have been on the short list or not. The major con is that James did not like country music. The pros however, are that I do, I love the song and he felt the wedding was really all about the bride. However, I would not have made him dance to a song he really didn't like and I know he really liked "There is Love (The Wedding Song)" by Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary, which his aunt and uncle danced to at their wedding. It is a pretty song and I would have agreed to it.

So here I am, haven't even had my first "new life" date and yet I find myself thinking about wedding songs. And then I started to really focus on the lyrics of the chorus:

"I cross my heart and promise to
Give all I've got to give to make all your dreams come true.
In all the world, you'll never find a love as true as mine."

I realized that this is a promise I could see myself making to MH #2. I know what it is like to love and lose. I know there are no guarantees. I know that when I get a second chance at love, I am going to make every minute count because there is no telling how many minutes there are going to be. I know I will give it everything I have and do everything I can to give us a happy life-just like I did for James. James will always have a place in my heart, but MH #2 will be given all I have to give. He will be my #1 priority.

So, I have a song I like. Now I just need a boy I like to like me back.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Painting Project #3: My Thoughts

One of the things "they" say you should do after the loss of a spouse is to make the house "yours" instead of "ours." (I am still not sure exactly who "they" are). I have done a couple of things along those lines by painting the guest bathroom and upstairs hallway. About 6 months ago, I decided I wanted to paint our bedroom purple. That would definitely be a healing move, right?

The painting supplies have been upstairs since the 4th of July weekend when I painted the hallway. I was going to paint the bedroom over Labor Day weekend, but decided against it at the time. Then, when I hit the 5th anniversary of my Dad's death on Veteran's Day, I decided I needed a clean start and was just going to sell the house. I even did a drive-by on a cute little 3 bedroom, 2 bath not far from here. It took about a week for that urge to pass and getting my new property assessment cemented it: I am not going anywhere for the time being. The value of my house dropped by quite a bit. And, truth be told, for where my life is now, my house is in a good location.

So, I went back to my bright idea of painting the bedroom. I get a 4-day weekend for Thanksgiving and knew I wasn't going shopping on Friday. Contrary to popular belief, I am actually a rational, sane person. I decided that this would be the perfect time to paint the bedroom. I also decided this was something I needed to do for myself, by myself. I am rethinking the rational, sane person part.

I got the paint Wednesday on my way home. I also ended up with a stud finder. That's the sort of thing that happens when I get bored waiting on the paint department and wander aimlessly around Lowe's. I have found the presence of studs in my bedroom. (Yea!) Sadly, they are not the kind with strong-yet-tender, arms. (Boo!) I spent Wednesday evening packing up the knick-knacks and other random items in the bedroom and taping off most of the baseboards. I put the bed in the bathroom, moved the dresser out from the wall and put the night stands in the other room, so this only left the wall behind the armoire, which I decided to move at the last minute so I could have the TV on for background noise. I needed it for the Macy's parade. Being a grownup means I can watch the parade if I want to and no one can make watch stupid football instead. Being a grownup has its perks!

Thursday, when I got up, I started to tape off the ceiling before heading over to our best friends' for dinner. After dinner, I finished off the taping. This was not easy for me as I had to get on the 3rd rung from the top of the ladder and I am afraid of unstable heights. I had one slight misstep early on that caused me to come close to falling off the ladder and made me realize this was not the best idea I have ever had. My hands were sweating so much, I was making the tape not be sticky anymore. Then I realized I could use one of the vacuum attachments as a tape dispenser and that made it a lot easier. I was relieved when that part was done but was filled with dread knowing I was going to have to get back up to the top of the ladder to get the newspaper down.

Friday, I started painting around 9:30. I finished the first coat around 1:30, which I didn't think was too bad. The edges near the top of the vaults were hard to do. I attached the paint brush to the stir stick and just dabbed at them until they were covered. There corners in the alcove I couldn't reach and decided it wasn't worth falling off the ladder over. So, they aren't done. I had to use the roller on the pole sideways going backwards to do the alcove as it was so I was getting pretty freaked out about the whole thing as it was.

By the time I finished the first coat, the first wall was dry. For the second coat, I decided that anything that required me getting on the ladder above my comfort zone was just not happening. This made it go so much quicker and with a lot less stress. The alcove and the tops of the vaults only have one coat but oh well!

I left the paint to dry, went to Wendy's and DQ for the now traditional post-paint food (grilled chicken go-wrap, and fries from Wendy's and a DQ Peanut Buster Parfait), and after dinner took a 2 hour bath. I thought about just staying in the tub until Monday.

Saturday morning, I had a chiropractor appointment. That was painful. After I got home, I removed the tape from the baseboards and what I could from the ceilings with just the step-stool. Then it was time to face the ladder again. As I had to keep going higher up, I thought about how nice it would be if I had something that I could use to grab the paper and pull it off. And then I remembered I do own one thing that is meant to grab stuff...

My grab method worked quite well and did not require me to go past my comfort zone on the ladder. I about cried tears of joy when I got the last of the newspaper down and had not fallen off the ladder in the process. I then went to see "New Moon" with my friends, thinking I was far enough along with my project I could take a break. Turns out I did nothing but stress out during the movie thinking of all the things I still needed to do.

When I got home, I shampooed the carpet in the bedroom. I figured it would be a great time for that since the furniture was moved. Sunday, I put the headboard, dresser and armoire back where they belong and shampooed where they were sitting. I had a meeting to go to for a volunteer project I am doing on Friday so I whipped up some brownies for that and headed off to Beaverton. When I got home, I was thrilled to find the carpet was dry and I could put my bed back together. After 4 nights on an air mattress, I was more than ready for my own bed! I have body parts I can't move and my bruises have bruises. I wanted to cry this morning when I went to wash my hair. Acting like a 25 year-old male stud muffin when you are in actuality an out-of-shape 35 year-old woman with a bad knee results in pain. Lots of pain.

The personal effects are still in the spare bedroom so my room looks very impersonal at this point. I am going to put a shelf above the dresser and put the stuff there instead of on the headboard and dresser. I still need to hook the TV back up to the satellite box and the VCR/DVD player but I know that isn't going to go well and was already too frustrated to deal with it last night.

I know this was a good move. I know it was stupid to have done it all myself and the stress of having done so outweighs the accomplishment of having done it. I think there is some numbness there too-denial that it is my room now-there is no longer an us. (MH #2 is either going to have to live with purple, hire someone, or paint the damn room himself).

I always turn the TV on in the morning to hear the weather and traffic reports. It is out of habit from when we had long commutes. I don't really need this information. I have a 4.5 mile commute that is all surface streets and I always wear jeans and a sweater or sweatshirt to work because my office is only slightly warmer than a walk-in freezer. Since the TV is not hooked up, this morning, after I grumbled at the alarm clock, I turned on the radio for something to listen to while I got ready. It is on a country station. I woke up to John Michael Montgomery reminding me "life's a dance you learn as you go. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. Don't worry about what you don't know. Life's a dance you learn as you go." I have been wondering "what's next?" a lot lately. Somehow, this seemed like a perfect end to my weekend and a perfect way to start whatever it is that comes now.

Painting Project #3: in photos

After deciding I was going to do it about 6 months ago, I have finally painted our bedroom. I haven't been able to get the right light for the color to show up properly, but I now have the purple bedroom I have always wanted. I have decided to do the pictures and my thoughts on it separately.

The room has vaulted ceilings, a weird shelf thing (aka "the alcove,") and really heavy furniture.

So many choices...

The winner: "Guardian Angel," by Olympic. It is the one with writing on it and this is the only picture you can really tell it is purple even though it is still off.

Bed in the bathroom. It fits so nicely in there.

Ready to paint. I moved all the furniture myself. That was stupid.

The boys staying out of my way-for once.

You can see the new color on the left-much brighter even after one coat than the old.

Sammy decided to "help" after all by snuggling up against the wall.

I don't know how Charlie got paint all over his ear. Nor do I want to.

My room put back together-except for the TV. And it really is purple.