Tag Archives: The Truth for Now

When Christmas is not Perfect.

I want to write about something that a lot of people don’t talk about, including myself. In fact, for many years, I lived in blissful denial until reality smacked me in the face, each and every time. For some people, the holidays can be difficult.joy

Yes, I know that this acknowledgement doesn’t have everyone running for Christmas cookies and singing Christmas carols. In fact, maybe you just threw the cookies at the screen, stuck your fingers in your ear and started singing extremely loudly, “Fa la la la la la la la la…”

I know this isn’t true for everyone but I was blessed enough that both my mom’s family and my dad’s family got along well enough that we spent holidays together as a group. That’s rare and special and I treasure those memories very much.

Then my parent’s divorced.

Here is the lie I told myself: Nothing really is going to change. Your parents still love you. Your parents still parent you together. Your parents respect one another and care for one another and even laugh together. Count your freaking blessings. It’s Christmas! Joy to the World, NINA!

I don’t blame myself for telling myself this lie. In a way, I needed to tell myself this lie. But the lie got me into trouble, especially during the holidays. Because I would sing Christmas carols and wrap presents and talk about advent as the day approached without even thinking about the lie I told myself. Then the day would happen (it could be any holiday, but let’s focus on Christmas) and I would wake up with this unbearable sadness that I took out on everyone around me in the form of meanness. Total Christmas cheer for everyone, right? Joy to the world is right.

Finally, after a couple of years of reality smacking me in the face, I admitted: holidays are difficult in some ways and that is okay. It is okay that it makes me sad that not everyone can be together. It’s okay that it makes me a little sad even when I am having a great time with my dad’s family because one crucial person is missing–my mom. And It’s okay that it makes me a little sad when I am laughing with my mom’s family too. It’s okay to admit that it is not fun to leave one family’s house early to go to dessert at the other house.**

This bit of sadness comes from a good and healthy place. It’s not wrong to feel it (which is what I thought when I lied to myself and took it out on others). So now, I feel it. I let it wash over me. I go into the holiday knowing the push and pull that is in my heart (not because anyone ever makes me feel guilty) because who doesn’t want to be with everyone they love on Christmas?

It’s not just divorce either. If we’ve lost someone, we can feel the joy of Christmas morning but also be very aware of who is missing. I would argue that we are more aware of loss on the days that our families come together. And that’s okay. What do we expect of ourselves?

I learned that I could feel this way without sinking into that feeling, that in fact, admitting it, kept me from sinking into it and becoming withdrawn or angry on the actual day. And yes, I realize I am a grown woman, and on a daily basis there is no woe is me about the divorce, but on holidays, yes, there are hard parts.

I am by no means an expert but the biggest piece of advice I can give people is to actually allow themselves to feel however they are feeling (and no, that does not mean I am suggesting anyone wallow in it) and to actually consider the day before the day happens so there isn’t an avalanche of feeling on Christmas morning. If you need to talk about it, talk about it…beforehand. With someone it is safe to talk about these types of things with. But, don’t try to talk about it on the actual day, because I don’t think I need to spell out for you how that is a recipe for a domino effect of depression. Haha?

Do the best you can and give yourself grace.Hope

Please know that I will be doing these same things this Christmas. I am in process, constantly. Aren’t we all?

*My disclaimer that I must give is that I continue to be blessed by my family. Everyone, and I mean everyone, works very hard to make it easier for both Joe and I, whether that means eating dinner earlier than normal or just saying to us over and over again, “It’s okay. Do not feel bad. It’s okay” when we leave early. I am never made to feel guilty (I can only imagine how difficult that would be in a situation like this); I am well aware that people in similar situations cannot always say this. I am encouraged to spend as much time as I want or is necessary with either side of the family by either side of the family. My nonna puts together a plate of her infamous, delicious shells for my cousins on my mom’s side because they still miss them. My mom gives my nonna a Christmas present. The place my feelings come from is a good place because I am blessed to have all these incredible people in my life .

Last Christmas. Nothing is difficult about this little girl. I mean, emotionally speaking. Haha.

Last Christmas. Nothing is difficult about this little girl. I mean, emotionally speaking. Haha.

You know those Christmas cards that are pouring into your mailbox? They are great and I love them. I do. But just know, that is a picture. That is a flat image. Christmas doesn’t always go as beautifully as those cards. Something burns. Someone brings up politics. Whatever it may be. Isn’t that why people love the Griswold Family so much? I mean, maybe it’s just us, but my family could be the Griswolds. But then I remember, and I suggest gently that you also remember, that Christmas is not actually about you or me or decking the halls with boughs of holly.

It actually IS about Joy to the world.

…and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Don’t beat yourself up for feeling a certain way. But don’t relish in it either. Relish in The Joy.

Okay, so I hope I handled that diplomatically and graciously.

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Urgent To Do List.

I doodle. And this is it right now.

I doodle. And this is it right now.

Time is a funny thing. Wow, so cliché…but my time in San Francisco, so far, flew by. Reading a favorite blog I follow, I realized she announced her pregnancy and her child’s birth and sitting there, reading on my iPhone, it hit me that it takes nine months to cook a baby. For me, that time felt like a finger snap. I turned 25; I was in a dear friend’s wedding; we celebrated Ava’s third birthday. Yet I was so caught up in the daily necessities that I woke up, did what I had to do, and went to sleep. The end.

But then I learned about my aunt’s diagnosis. Everything changed. We are a we family. Time stops, or perhaps just stills. There is such urgency but there is nothing hasty about it.

Time is different. It is precious and cherished, as if moments are things we can hold in our hands and keep, like the finger painting I did in preschool my mom packed away.

Let me be real. Our family vacation? It was great. But I would by lying if I said it was all rainbows and kitty cats. But the point was there were seven us in a boat of a car and we were together. Yes, we sniped at one another. But we also laughed, a lot. No one cried (I just realized this…Family, way to go! Is this a first?!). It was a tight squeeze and no one wanted to be in traffic but the point was we were in that boat-car together.

So here are some things I want to do with the people I love during our time together.

  • -Watch It’s A Wonderful Life
  • -Go to the movies with everybody.
  • -Reenact this with my family. Oh yeah, guys. Get ready.

  • -Eat here.
  • -Eat at my favorite restaurant.
  • -Eat at my second favorite restaurant.
  • -Make this with Ava. Let her go to town.
  • -Have a sleepover with my mom.
  • -Have a sleepover with my aunt and my nonna.
  • -Have many sleepovers with my sister
  • -Get lunch with my mom, Auntie Laura, and Nonna.
  • -Paint my sisters nails. When I showed her this, I realized I didn’t need to get her a Christmas present because she gasped and shouted, “Oh my gosh! Thank you, Nina! Thank you, Nina!”
  • -Make these with my aunt and with my mom. Taste test.
  • -Play in the snow with Ava
  • -Get a pedicure with my aunt
  • -Ice skate at Millennium Park with Ava
  • -Craft (One year, Karen hosted a crafting party for her side of the family and dad’s side of the family. It was right before I asked if she was pregnant with Ava (another post and adventure), so it was kind of symbolic in a weird way, looking back. Anyway, the point is, I never thought I would ever see my nonna–the energizer bunny who never sits still–painting with any kind of patience. And yet, there she was. Of course, because it’s my family, it became a competition. And she actually made people vote to see who had the best Santa even though her Santa has a very bad orange tan. I use the present tense because my nonna sets her Santa out every year to make a point. She still defends him.)craftparty

    Auntie Laura's Santa//Nonna's Santa Who has made the better Santa?

    Auntie Laura’s Santa//Nonna’s Santa
    Who has made the better Santa?

  • -Bake with Ava and let her get all messy with decorating cookies (when I asked her if she wanted to do this her eyes went big and she said, “That sounds great!”)
  • -Bake something pretty
  • -Get doughnuts with Ava and Joe. (Tradition requires it to be a sibling only excursion.)
  • -Let Ava paint my nails.
  • -Take photographs with Ava. She got such a kick out of it when I let her point the camera (with the strap still around my neck) and click the button.
  • -Have dance parties with my little sister and my family. (New Beyonce album. We are not only a we family but we are a Beyonce family from Ava to Nonna.)
  • -Laugh a lot.
  • -Have deep talks with my aunt. Get her opinion on some things I have going on.
  • -Get pineapple mango salsa and guac and try to hide them from my dad.
  • -Dream.
  • -Go to work with my aunt for the day.
  • -Get my teeth cleaned aka go to work with my dad for the day.
  • -Do this with Ava and Auntie Laura. Other people are welcome as well. I’m no Grinch.
  • -Do this too. (!!!!!!!)
  • -And this. Or have Dad do it. He makes the pancakes.
  • -Oh, and finish my Christmas Cards. The mugs took over that project.
  • -Read with Ava.
  • -Teach Ava more Italian. Right now, we can count to seven. Say goodnight. Say hand. Say goodbye. Without any prompting or help and a whole lot more with prompting. I think that’s pretty good considering she is three and I live in California.
  • -Take a nap with Ava & then have someone make us these for a healthy sister snack.

Even if none of these things happen, I want to love with urgency and not with haste.

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The Truth about Adventures: soooo…I need a bed.

Don’t forget to enter the contest (my first one!) by leaving a comment and possibly winning the card of your choice. You know you want to click here.

Previous posts about the Truth about Adventures (or at least mine) so you can catch up.

One (brief background)

The Truth About Adventures in Oz

The Legacy of Adventures

How to Run a Marathon.

Moving my babies to SF.

How to Move Across the Country.

Mortification.

Slowly but surely, I am trying to take you back in time through the process of moving because it was blog worthy, trust me. And that’s part of the adventure this blog is about. So yes, today, circle around, my friends, to hear a little story, I like to call: “I need a Bed.”

IMG_2342

From the call offering me an interview in San Francisco to my plane taking off, we  (because let’s face it, I could not have done this without either of my parents but at this point, when it comes to packing, I could not have done it without my mom) had 48 hours to pack. My mom, oh wise one, decided we should pack one large suitcase and then put into piles what she would send and when, if I got the job and decided to stay.

This felt real. If I had time, I would have been freaking out but every time I tried to freak out, my mom said, “We don’t have time for this.” She was right. So I didn’t get to freak out.

Meanwhile, I ran between my Dad’s house and my mom’s house trying to get the things I needed. At one point, my stepmom stopped me. I looked at her with crazy eyes, so frazzled and trying to find everything I needed. She decided that this was an ideal moment to say something brief, but serious. I will have to paraphrase but I believe I am pretty close to what she said. She was also completely genuine.

“Nina, I am just so glad this is happening so quickly for you so you don’t even have time to think it through.”

Say what?

I just nodded, as if I understood what she was saying, because hello, I wasn’t going to be able to sleep for the next two days with all the stuff I had to do.

“It’s just so perfect. God knows you so well. Because it’s happening so quickly, you don’t have time to analyze it, or think too deeply about it.”

What are you saying to me????

With no time to analyze these insane musings of an otherwise normal stepmom, because ain’t nobody got time for that, I peaced out.

***

I fly to San Francisco.

I spend the week with a boy I knew from high school where I clean  their bathroom with bleach so I can use it. (I don’t want to get into it and you don’t want me to either.) I need a place by Sunday. So I go on the internet, find a sublease. On Monday, works starts, so on Monday I go to work.

And on, and on, and on it goes.

Each day, there is a very clear immediate need and all I can focus on is that next step, nothing else.

Of course, I didn’t really see this at the time. Probably because I’ve never acted like this in my life. If there is something to worry about, I will find something to worry about. Everyone who knows me personally is nodding their heads together now.

It comes to the point in the summer, where I decide to stay, and need an apartment. So I find an apartment.

directly from Instagram...71 weeks ago...Crazy. Follow me here.

directly from Instagram…71 weeks ago…Crazy. Follow me here.

This should overwhelm me, especially me of all people, but I need a place to live. What am I going to do? Not look for an apartment because it can be stressful? Insert the rising prices in SF (beating Manhattan in rent, wah hooooo) but now I’m the one solely responsible for an apartment, I could freak out. (Okay so in all truthfulness, I did call my dad crying because prices were so high there was literallly NONE in my budget, even in the bad parts of town but, he had the same, you-need-a-bed attitude. “You have to raise your budget and figure it out, Neen.” 5 points for dads!) After said phone call and taking in the high rents and this great responsibility, I sign the papers. I now sell my soul every month for a studio apartment. But do I have time to freak out? Nope. You know what? I cannot worry about those things. Because I needed, how do you say, a freaking bed to sleep on?

So that’s what I do next.

I buy a bed. I pay some kid with a pick up truck to take me across the bridge to Ikea to pick up my 89 dollar bed that would have cost double to ship and I coordinate the mattress delivery. (Please scroll up and look at that picture though. That’s a pretty nice 89 dollar bed!)

Normally, I would freak out. So many things could go wrong. But what am I supposed to do?

I need a bed.

Ironically, that day at work someone realizes I moved across the country. “How are you doing this job and dealing with all of that?”

I just look at them and say, “I can’t worry about all the extra things. Today, I need to do my job. And I need a bed..”

It then hit me that my stepmom was not crazy at all. (Yay, Karen!) She knew me very well. If I had three months to mull over what it would have meant to move across the country…guess what?

I would have never done it.

If I knew now what it would take to move across the country, even though it has been great and I’ve learned so much, guess what?

I wouldn’t have the guts to do it.

It’s a lot of work when you list out every single thing I had to do and still have to do. Yes, the process is still ongoing a year and a half later.

But when you just think: “Today, I need a bed,” things tend to clear up quickly. Priorities, people, priorities. So even now, when stressed, I try to say this to myself:

“Nina, you need a bed.”

So that, my friends, is the story of my bed.

Love and all that,

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P.S. Obviously a major point, in case you missed it, is that it takes a village. My mom and dad were amazing, each in their own unique ways. My nonna and aunt were incredible (more on them and the move later). And I’m blessed to have an extra person in my corner of the village, my stepmom.

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Living with Cancer.

SONY DSCThis may be the hardest thing I write here.

It’s about that word, you know the one. We hear it all the time. Foods to fight cancer. Wear sunscreen to prevent cancer. New advances in cancer research. We read about it in the headlines. We buy pink things in October, maybe because we know someone who fought breast cancer, or maybe just because it makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves.

The word changes though. It morphs–from something we see across headlines, in bold print on books, a word we hear on the news–when it attaches itself to someone we love.

I love my aunt. She is everything kind and patient about our family. When we shift towards being too loud, too abrasive, too argumentative, she is the center–always pulling us back. I wish you could all meet her because she is the type of person everyone likes. She isn’t overly sweet (who likes those types of people?). She’s just herself–down to earth and real. There are very few people (in fact, I can’t think of anyone) she can’t get along with or make laugh. She is good.

These are things I have always known about her. Since I moved across the county on my own and started working in the corporate world, I learned more. I got to know her as a woman. I go to her for advice about work and life because I respect her, yes, but because we are different. She is the center.

Let me be clear. This is not a eulogy. Laura (that is her name) is very much alive and very much still the center. Her name, Laura, comes from the laurel tree (amazing what the internet teaches us) and is a symbol of both honor and victory. This, I think, is fitting.

I’ve thought long and hard about whether to share this on the blog. I’m all about the honesty here, but I fear the overshare. Besides, this is not my story. But Auntie Laura gave me her blessing and so I am trying to say the right things, to do right by her, the center. And yes, because parts of her story will very much, has very much, affected the way my story continues to be written.

It’s in her spine. It started as breast cancer which she fought and beat many years ago and now it is in her spine. Someone saw something on an x-ray and within days she was in surgery where doctors would place two steel rods to reinforce her spine for two reasons. First, so that her spine would not collapse (and it was a miracle it hadn’t already). Secondly, so she could undergo radiation which weakens the bones in and of itself.

The x-ray and the surgery happened within days of one another. Imagine yourself in her position, already beaten a disease, a routine x-ray that leads you down the rabbit hole to, yes, here is that word: cancer.

It has different connotation now, doesn’t it?SONY DSCShe finished radiation like a champion. I try to make her laugh. I consider that my role. I bought her a necklace that says F cancer and I mean it. When my nonna (her mother) heard what I bought Auntie Laura, she reprimanded me for about two seconds before I said: “If ever there is a time to use that word, it’s about cancer.” And then my nonna said: “You know what, you’re right. F cancer!” (I bought her a keychain with the same phrase. My aunt and I knew she wanted something but a necklace would be too daring. Who knows though? My nonna is a daring woman.)

The necklace is pretty, in a rose gold color. My aunt loves it. I told her that if anyone ever dares to say anything to her that she should reply: “I’m really sorry that my necklace offends you but cancer offends me.”

Cancer does offend me. It offends us. F cancer. Don’t mess with us.

Recently, Laura met with doctors over scans. There are no new spots but the tumor remains in the bone. This was the best news Laura (we…we are a we family) could have gotten. And still, she is a woman living, breathing, walking, talking, working, laughing, crying, facetiming (me), with cancer.

And F those two last words.

I hate cancer. I hate it so much.

I am proud of my aunt. I am so proud of her.

She is real. She is here.

Auntie Laura and Ava, holding hands.

Auntie Laura and Ava, holding hands.

My dad went with his sister and mom to hear the results of the scans (we are a we family). First though, he spent the morning playing with my little sister, who thought that Dad must have the day off. When he started to get ready, she was a bit bummed. Then he explained he was going to the doctor with Auntie Laura. Ava doesn’t know what is going on but that explanation appeased her.

My stepmom did not mention the doctors again to Ava throughout the day. But that night, Ava, Dad, and Karen read from their preschool advent book and lit the advent candle. And then Dad asked: “Who wants to pray?”

My little sister spoke up. “Ava.”

Then she said. “Dear Heavenwee Fader. Dear Ward. Thank you that Daddy went to the doctor with Auntie Waura. Amen.”

She is three. While my role has been the sarcastic jokester, her (unknown role) has been one of unbelievable cuteness and silliness. It is impossible to be with her and not to laugh. She made our family vacation. Meanwhile, I’ve watched my brother grow up, to be the strongest thing in the hurricane. He drove my aunt to her appointments, stayed with her. He kept my aunt and my nonna positive when the negatives threatened to overwhelm. We are a we family. And we are we siblings. That is a comforting thing to know, deep down, in the farthest parts of me.

I’m in California, across the country. I do what I can. It never seems like enough. Not because anyone makes me feel that way but because she is a woman living, breathing, walking, talking, working, laughing, crying, facetiming (me), with cancer.

And because we are a we family.

Blog posts should end with a hook, with a bow. But there are none in this case.

She is a woman living with cancer.

I love her.

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Choosing Fearlessness.

SONY DSCDespite the smile in this picture (read: I know I am three and cute and everyone in this family wants a picture of me on their own iPhone but I want to get off this rock and play in the sand), there is no one in my life who has taught me more about fearlessness than this girl.

One day, while we were on our vacation, a man purposely went into a garbage can and took out a bunch of food. I just thought he was homeless but I was wrong; he just wanted to created a Seagull Riot four feet away from me and my little sister. They were rabid for this half eaten pizza and trying to kill anyone who got in the way. Because of the way we were positioned, I couldn’t get the two of us away and so unfortunately, we watched all this happen.

I am not going to lie, I was scared. These birds wanted that food and there were sounds of aggression and sounds of pain as they hurt one another to get it. (I think there is a metaphor here for another post but I’ll stick with my point here). Most of all, they were close to us! In order to keep the food to themselves, they kept coming closer and closer so they could turn their back on the flock, thus bringing the flock with them.

Maybe it’s just me but I don’t love rabid seagulls. Especially when I am holding my little sister.

She sat on my lap, watching all this happening. “It’s okay, Neen,” she murmured to me above the din of the birds and pat one of the hands I had around her waist. “Don’t be scared.”

I know her well enough to know that she wasn’t scared based on the tone of her voice. She’s said the same thing to me when I screeched that the Wicked Witch stole Toto in The Wizard of Oz. She knew, sitting on her sister’s lap, with our brother right beside us, that those birds were not going to hurt her. Period. End of story.

“I’m scared of birds,” I admitted to her. (Okay? So what? I am. And no, I didn’t know I was until I was in Venice and surrounded by them.)

She tilted her head back and gave me her trademark smile. “No, you’re not scared,” she told me. I can’t tell you the number of times she has said this to me in the past year–the three year old to the twenty five year old. I love the way she says it too–as if I’m being silly, as if her big sister Nina would never be scared of a rabid seagull flock because her big sis is too tough for that. It’s that simple for her and maybe it should be.

People take care of her. They make sure she is safe and protected and rightfully so, since she is three years old. She doesn’t really have anything to be afraid of–even when she is literally leaping from furniture into my arms, she isn’t afraid because I always catch her. I’ve never missed. She doesn’t know fear yet, this little girl who thinks the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are funny, and I would be lying if I told you she is not constantly teaching me things.

She’s fearless.

“I’m scared,” I admit to her.

“No, you’re not,” she always replies, as if I am so silly.

When I consider my brief twenty five years (perhaps a bit longer than three but still brief), I don’t have the same track record as Ava. People have failed me and more often, I have failed myself. But. But. But.

There is always Someone catching me, every single time. And if He allows me to fall, there has always been a purpose behind it–something better. Every single time. So I can leap with just as much fearlessness as Ava. Sometimes I just need my little sis to remind me of the these huge, important life lessons.

And let’s face it, adventures require fearlessness. That doesn’t mean, I am never afraid; it only mean I choose something different.

SONY DSCThis is my favorite photograph I took during the whole trip because it encompasses so much of who this little girl is today and perhaps maybe a little glimpse of the girl she will become someday.

Listen to my sister: be fearless,

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“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.” Psalm 56:3

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