Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 in Review


Betrayal
  You cold, dirty, back-stabbing traitor.  I signed up for a life of a married woman with a loyal husband, with 2.3 children, a golden retriever, a career, a good retirement plan, an iPhone 6 with longer battery life, and a tiny piece of land I own to build a modest hut and call it home. The American dream.  Is that so much to ask? I didn’t just “sign up” for the taking of this life. I played the game and earned it. I attended school for something like 19 years by the time I was 24 years old, have worked since I was 15 years old, took my sweet time to pick the right man (loyal, handsome, funny, a provider, someone who life has kicked in the teeth a few times, and no ex-wives) to have kids with, waited until I was educated, employed, and insured.  Then I bought a house, got married and had babies (in some such order).  I thought I was doing it all right. I never anticipated being a “single mom”. I never thought I would be widowed at 32.  I thought I was in control.  Then, 2014, you came along. A sudden catastrophic event and nothing looked the same. Oh, how little control I actually had. Like a dark night falling in the desert, far from familiar city lights, my life turned black. The color drained out of the familiar, comforting surroundings.  I could no longer recognize things right in front of my face. I felt like I was suddenly a different person. Because I was. I will never be the Claire I used to be, ever again. My story had changed. I was living a whole new life, feeling my way around the pitch black desert. Joke’s on me. Touch√©, universe, touch√©. It mattered not that I planned or worked hard.


Blessings
  So, I prayed for daylight. With weary eyes, I see amazing beams of light and hope shine through the blackness. Daylight is coming. Tip-toeing ever so cautiously out of survival mode, my eyes started to adjust to my new surroundings, and I could see.  I had the most amazing support stand behind my girls and me while I found my way around my new life. I met selfless people who gave me what I needed. I am forever indebted to a circle of virtual strangers, old friends, and new companions who supported me with kind words, prayers, food, company, love, childcare, and let’s face it, some money to get us by for a while. Harper is just *now* on her last box of diapers that were gifted to her, 10 months later. What amazing love that I got to experience first hand! I could never have gotten through the first season of my new life without YOU. I believe God has put a few good people in my life for a reason.



Side Effects
  I am not bullet-proof. There have been consequences and repercussions to the events of this fine year. Of late, I have been experiencing something I didn’t believe really existed in this capacity. Anxiety. I have had some serious tolls to pay in the anxiety department. If you haven’t experienced it, I cannot ever make you understand. And if you have, then you know. My senses became heightened when Jason died. I know it sounds superhero-ish, but that isn’t always a good thing. I now fear something bad will happen to myself and leave my children without a parent. I am hyper aware of the fragility of life, and I am under no notions of myself or my family being the exception. My theory is that most people think “yeah but that won’t actually happen to ME (if you are reading this and don’t have life insurance or a will, you are one of them)” as a normal human life-coping or defense mechanism. It’s mostly a good thing to have, so you won’t know what hit ya. I don’t have that anymore. Mortality is a very real concept to me now. And I have worked myself up enough to end up in the doctor’s office a few times to make sure I am not dying, a cardiologist to make sure the ticker is good, and even the ER because I didn’t believe when the first 2 doctors said the ticker is good… all the way to a therapist’s chair.  I didn’t survive totally unscathed, but I have faith I will work through this part, too. It’s all part of my journey, even the ugly stuff like this. I have to work on BEING STILL AND KNOWING…



Today
  I mourn what was taken from me and my children this year, but I will never forget what was given to me this year. Perspective. Strength. Will to survive. Fellowship. Support. Love. Gratitude. Humility. A massive character-building exercise, if you will. I am not alone in a dark desert. Not today. God and I are working things out, but I know He is with me and He is patient. I am strong. I will not quit. I won’t give in to darkness. I am placing my bets on ME. Let me make it crystal clear that it takes PRACTICE to get in the right mindset. The mindset of a grateful heart, appreciation, and an open mind. The mindset of belief and hope. Without that, you ain’t got much. 


 
Tomorrow
  2014, you are definitely a “winter” year of my life. Almost a whole year of holidays and birthdays without daddy. But I know there will be a spring. The cold ground will thaw. Birds will sing again. The sun will warm my face again. There is still a promise of a spring with new leaves, new green, and new birth (just not of the human variety!). That’s the beauty of a New Year. 
Now, don’t EVER show your face here again.


2014, I bid you good morrow,

Claire







Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving

  For my whole life, the holiday season has always been my favorite time of year. Thanks to the efforts of my mother, my brother and I have always had festive Halloweens, plenty to eat at Thanksgiving, more than our fair share of presents to open on Christmas morning, and confetti to throw when the ball drops at midnight welcoming in a New Year.
  But life isn't always fair and losing people in my life, like my mom and Jason, has threatened to take away some of the joy I have always felt during this, my favorite time of year- I like to call them the "ber" months... Septem-ber, Octo-ber, Novem-ber, Decem-ber (seriously, not that creative of a name). It's easy to focus on things we think aren't fair to us or how good someone else must have it. It would be easy to "skip" Christmas or Thanksgiving this year. And nobody could blame me. I could ignore the tree in my attic waiting to litter its needles all over my wood floors. I could turn the other cheek from the sparkly lights waiting to blow my fuses. I could ignore the years' worth of Christmas ornaments my brother and I made during our childhood, tucked in boxes. I could forgo eating stuffing and turkey (and wine). I could. But, I refuse to allow that kind of thinking into my heart and head. That's the easy way out, and it is contagious. It will take over, like a fast-progressing cancer and make you a sad person. It is a thief of joy. And dammit, I hold onto my joy with both hands. It is the true wealth.

 When that poisonous thinking does try to infiltrate my thoughts, I force it out. It takes practice to obtain this mindset. But I get better and better at it. And one of the things I do on an almost daily basis is take an inventory of all the things I have to be thankful for. Something we should all do this time of year anyway, hence that whole giving of thanks day. I hope this year's "ber months" find you and your loved ones in good health, joyful spirits, and in an abundance of the true wealth. We all have so much to be thankful for, regardless of what we are going through. Happy Thanksgiving. 

Here is my list this year, including but not limited to:

Memories from Thanksgivings past





My healthy and happy kiddos



My family who has made an effort to be present



My cozy little house



My PIC


Tiny ballerinas 


Naps. Dear Sweet Lord, naps


My BFF


The ability to get on my feet and WORK- from my education, my accomplishments, to my retirement plan, to my coworkers... while helping my community. Bread & butter.


My fun part time gig & the girls I have met doing it




My continually improving commitment to my own wellness (and workout buddies)


My ever so patient dog, Jasper

 
My security detail



The girls' school, so helpful and so educational. Lila can count in Spanish. (sorta)


That I am woman, that I am here. Hear me ROAR! (LOL is this real life?!)



I'm a survivor
I'm not gon give up
I'm not gon stop
I'm gon work harder
I'm a survivor
I'm gonna make it
I will survive
 And keep on survivin'
 
Love, blessings, Thanksgiving & a little Destiny's Child,
Claire-can't-even-take-a-selfie-alone

Friday, November 14, 2014

That First Night Home Alone, Part 2

  I stood there at the end of my hallway thinking "you have GOT to be kidding me! I asked for ONE f***ing thing tonight!" But, regardless of my begging for power, I lost my power. The electricity in my home and in my soul. The house fell so silent, ironically, it was deafening. You never really realize how much noise your house makes until the power clicks off. I could hear every single noise outside. I was suddenly hyper aware of the weather, the darkness, the stillness and how vulnerable I was standing there alone. Actually, I was worse off than alone. I was responsible for two little people. If something happened, I would have to save them AND myself. I had to consider them into any survival plan. A much bigger task than saving myself.

 My mind started to get the best of me and I started imagining danger. There was only a door between me and the outside. There are something like 20 points of entry in my home if you factor all windows and doors. I imagined bad men hiding in my flower garden waiting to catch me off guard. I could hear the wind ripping branches off of trees, the rain beating sideways on my windows. I could hear distant voices outside, though I still don't know why someone would have been outside during that storm. My sadness was replaced with fear and I felt like I was living out some horror movie. I was sure my phone was about to ring and tell me "the call is coming from inside the house."  My dog started to growl at every little sound. I wanted to shush him so he wouldn't wake the girls, but I was glad to at least have a dog there to bark (attack?!), should my fear of the imaginary boogie-man come true. It was so dark I had to use the light of my cell phone to make my way around the house looking for candles and flashlights. I managed to find 1 working flashlight, 1 small candle, and 1 big candle. I made my way back to my bedroom and curled up in my bed and lit my candles, placing them next to me on the nightstand. I did what anyone without power would do... got on Facebook on my cell phone. I derived some level of comfort from that until Harper started to stir, and I assumed it had to be because their sound machines weren't on. So, I pulled up the sound machine app on my phone and turned it all the way up, placed it in the hallway floor between the girls' two bedrooms. They should have the last remaining comfort in the house, not me.

  When I returned to my bed, my thoughts began to race. I started reliving the night in the ER. The beeping machines, the urgency of nurses and doctors rushing in and out of his room. I got mad Jason wasn't there with me and that seemingly incompetent people practice medicine on human lives at Texas Health Presby. And I was scared. I had never been scared to be in my own home. I don't live in a bad area. But I am also a probation officer and am aware of some pretty horrible, real stories of things that really do happen to people. I started to fear for my kids and myself. I am sure this sudden fear and arguably unreasonable anxiety came on because of the totality of the circumstances, combined with being a person who was born a natural worrier. I could hear Harper stirring a little in her room, so I went back and stood in their hallway for a few moments until she was quiet again. I gazed longingly at my brand new cell phone on the floor, a Christmas present from Jason not even 2 months prior. I wished I could waste some brain cells on social media to take my mind off the stillness and the darkness, but I couldn't make myself take away their only source of white noise, hoping it would win over the claps of thunder.

  I felt my way back to my bed, and stared at the candles burning next to me. It wasn't even a scent I liked. I set my focus on that tiny bit of blue at the base of a flame, knowing that is the hottest part of the fire. I imagined being that piece of blue flame, trying to will myself to be a tougher cookie. I got up out of bed with the flashlight and pulled Jason's gun out of its safe place. I put it on the nightstand next to me and decided that if someone comes in my house, I will shoot them. This is Texas, after all. I started playing all the scenarios in my head about how I would hear them and what Jasper would do and how I would get to the girls. I have been told the body cannot go where the mind has never been, so I allowed myself to imagine what I would do and what walls my kids were on the other side of. I decided I needed an alarm system on my home, but I couldn't quite make that happen tonight. Yes, there I sat, poor little me. In a very dark, screamingly silent house, with a stinky candle and a loaded gun. Staring at the wall thru burning tears, waiting for some horrible thing to happen. Is this real life? Have I really lost this much of my security and feelings of comfort and safety? Short answer: yes. Rational thinking and security has left the building. It was stolen. And now I was left a stepped-on flower with broken, torn, and missing petals, barely pushing up through a crack in the concrete.
Slowly the rain died down, but the wind still beat relentlessly on my home. I bundled myself up under the covers, flashlight and Glock in hand, and waited for the power to come back.

  I woke up 3 hours later to Harper's crying and the power had come back on. Random lights were on all through my house and the fans were singing their comforting song, as was my humming refrigerator and the girls' white noise machines. I went to retrieve my cell phone and turn off all the lights on my way to Harper's room, where I sat for another hour rocking her back to sleep. When I got back to my bed, it must have been about 2am or so. I blew out the one candle that still burned and turned off the flashlight that had been on next to me for all those hours. I didn't put the gun back though.

  The next morning my own power had come back, despite my minimal sleep. I managed to calm down and, yes, I put the gun back up before getting the girls out of their cribs. The light of day and clear sky made the previous night of terror seem so silly. It was as if nothing had ever happened there at all. Lila and Harper woke up early and I gave them pancakes, got them dressed, got myself dressed, and packed them up to take to school. This was usually Jason's job and Lila did ask for daddy several times. I told her he was with Jesus, and though some professionals think you should be more "honest" with kids about death (they suggest you tell your child very directly that daddy has died and won't be coming home), I could not tell my 2.5 year old "you will never see your father again in the capacity that you have known him". When your husband dies, you handle it however YOU want. I headed off into rush hour traffic with my large diet coke and sleepy eyes to work to do this all again. But today was a new day and I was NOT going to let it be like yesterday.

  Sllllloooooowly, the days and nights got a little better. I stopped sleeping with my guns right by my head and I called a home security company and they came out promptly and installed a super high tech awesome wireless alarm system on my home. Each door and window, glass break sensors, carbon monoxide detectors, motion sensors, wireless fire detection, and cameras... the whole nine, all of which can be monitored by my phone. That at least provided me with some comfort and a warning if someone opens a door. Not that you are inadequate, Jasper! Forgive me.
I no longer spend each night trying to lasso my kids all alone. I have help from people who love me and I cannot stress enough that I DO NOT DO THIS ALL ALONE. I have help. Anyone in my position would need help. If you are in my position, take the help. Take the love. Make new relationships. Let your kids love people.


Love, a flashlight, and a Smith & Wesson,
Claire

Batting practice with Sara at Ashley's house. Gotta earn that college scholarship!
 

My littlest ghost at a birthday party.
 

Harper was Elsa for Halloween. I made her dress, which is impressive since I am un-crafty.
 
 
And Lila was Anna. I am well aware these aren't original costume ideas, but they weren't sold on Susan B. Anthony and Malala Yousafzai this year.


Trick or treating. Yes we go early so we can make it home in time to pass out candy. That is really my fave part.


Pumpkin patch trip
 

Harper guarding the sandbox at the fall festival. She yelled at anyone who dared pass.
 

Lila consuming her yearly intake worth of sugar in one sitting at a dance birthday party.


Lila wanted to sleep in my bed, so she gets to. She won't always be little.
 


love.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

That First Night Home Alone, Part 1

  It was a Monday night. Or heck, maybe it was a Tuesday night. I really cannot remember the specific date or day. But I remember the feeling. And I will NEVER forget it. I am so glad I do not have to live this night (or the many like it that followed) anymore. So now I am willing to share it, purely in celebration that I no longer feel this way.

  It was the first night after Jason's death that I was home alone with the girls. My family and friends had been there with me every minute of every day (probably on what-is-she-gonna-do watch) for the first month or so. I spent not one single night alone, nor had even one meal alone to that point. Family and friends had flown in from all over the country and taken days and weeks off of work to see me and make sure they helped as much as possible. My uncle Matt was the last man standing after about a month of the chaos. And it was chaos. Between my crying fits, family and friends were a revolving door of in and out, too many cars in my drive way, and air mattresses in several rooms of my modest 3-bedroom, plus-a-study house.  Over this time, they had helped me take notes on all the things I now needed to do, make phone calls, get some necessary meetings taken care of, plan a funeral, force me to eat, help with the girls, insist on installing a garage door opener, flooring my attic, putting all of the garage junk in said attic, and insisting I now park in the garage.

    {Aunt Carole helping with baths}

  I hugged my uncle Matt goodbye in the garage that morning before work and headed out, knowing he would not be there when I got home. I tried to be tough all day, and dammit I was. It was easier to be at work because I could pretend life was normal. I still laughed with my coworkers that day. I didn't want people to treat me differently at work, because that would remind me that I am no longer the Claire I was just a few weeks before. I had been forever changed in the matter of a few fateful hours. But I didn't want to dwell on that. So, I carried on, much to the surprise of my coworkers, as if nothing had happened.
  After work, I picked up the girls, as I always have, got home, checked the mail, and started looking for dinner for them to eat. This was typical and nothing new. I was always home alone during this part of my day, as Jason has always gotten home from work after me. Around 6pm, bath and get-ready-for-bed time, it dawned on me for 1/100th of a second that Jason was late coming home. I almost reached for my phone to text him "Oh hey, got 2 of your kids here covered in sketti sauce. Plan to come help today or anything?"
Then a much darker realization sunk in. It took all of my fibers of strength not to curl up in a ball on my cold tile floor and cry. I had my 2 babies watching me, and I was determined to figure out a new normal routine for us all. Usually now is the time Jason would take over a kid and I would take the other. We would switch off each night. Man to man coverage. Then after they went to sleep, we would reconvene in the living room for a couple hours before our own bedtime. It worked great. In fact, I had just started thinking we had this parenting thing figured out. But now I was alone doing this. Harper was still only 8 or 9 months old and I hadn't mastered the art that is bathing them at the same time. Lila likes to "swim" alone in her bath with colored water tablets, but Harper hates colored bath water. Harper can't even sit very well in the bath tub yet. Lila wanted to run cold water, but Harper was not ok with cold water in March. By the end of that first bath alone, Harper's soapy slippery baby skin had slipped out of my hands no less than 30 times, and Lila was still confused on why she had to share her bath tub that everyone was in tears. I opened the bathroom door and saw the sun had started to set and my house fell dark. Jasper, my dog, paced back and forth outside of the bathroom door, following us from room to room, probably sensing that I was lost and frustrated... and alone. I wanted to call my friends and tell them to come help me, but I couldn't. I knew that this was my life now. I didn't have Jason and I needed to figure this out alone. This is how it will be now, at least for a while.

Now I had to figure out how to get my infant to sleep and still keep my toddler entertained. At this point, Harper was still being quietly rocked to sleep with a bottle in her room. And Lila was used to wrestling around or reading books with myself or Jason in the other room. This was possibly THE biggest adjustment and hurdle for me of them all. Our favorite, most bonding time of day was now the worst and saddest time of day. I knew I had to make changes to the routine because it was a 2-man routine. But not today. Today I tried my best to do the 2-man routine alone. I tried with moderate success to get Lila to quietly read a book next to Harper's rocking chair while I slowly rocked back and forth, watching Harper's innocent eyes droop and roll into a quiet slumber. I wished I could be her for that moment. None the wiser to the sadness and reality that was all around her. At that moment she had peace. She wasn't worried about the years ahead of her when she would not have a daddy to go to daddy-daughter dances with. She didn't think twice about donuts with dad for father's day. She wasn't thinking about who would walk her down the aisle at her own wedding one day (hopefully) at least 25 years from now. But as much as I was jealous of clueless little Harper, I wasn't her. I was her protector. And I decided then and there to keep things as normal and happy as possible for my girls. No matter the cost to myself.

After half an hour of rocking in a dimly lit room, I carefully maneuvered my way through the minefield that was putting Harper gently in her crib without waking her, I rushed Lila out of the room and we continued on to have our story time. About this time, some bad Texas weather was rolling in. I could hear the wind picking up outside, beating against my windows and roof. I could hear the rain start to fall, and soon after, warnings of severe weather interrupted my regularly scheduled programming on TV. I could feel my anxiety rising because while I usually love a good storm, this was just not the right night for it. More than anything, I was worried about losing power. For whatever reason, it seems like whenever the wind picks up, we lose power in my neighborhood. I didn't want to lose power. I kept whispering to myself "Don't lose power," because I would literally and figuratively be LOSING POWER. The movement and dull white noise from my ceiling fans and the comfort of turning on every light in my house to chase the shadows of this day away helped me to keep moving. I needed the hum of the refrigerator and the background noise of the TV to make me feel normal. Plus, the girls needed sound machines and little princess night lights in their rooms to sleep!  I kept begging God, and my electric company, please just don't let me lose power.

I put Lila to bed, crept slowly out of her room, and reached the end of the hallway, where I would normally see Jason sitting on his end of the couch. I just stood there staring a burning hole into the couch, almost paralyzed. This exact moment. This moment had been THE moment I knew was coming for weeks. The moment I would reach being ALL ALONE, while my girls slept, and knowing that is how my life would be now. As I was wallowing in my own misery, a huge flash of lighting filled my kitchen, blinding me.
And the power went out....




TO BE CONTINUED...

Friday, October 10, 2014

New Life Projects- Size Matters

  I may be living one of your (and mine) worst nightmares, but there is a lot about life that can be fun, exciting, and new. I have been trying to continue taking on new adventures and projects to enrich my life, because I don't want to die before I'm dead. That's my mantra. *DON'T DIE BEFORE YOU'RE DEAD*

One of my most recent adventures is facing a fear and actually EMBRACING my biggest insecurity and SHOWING my curves instead of cropping my body out of every picture. Headshot selfies for days, not so much on body shots!



YES, I AM PLUS-SIZED! *gasp*

No, I don't love that fact. No, I don't want to stay here. I want to get back to a healthier size. I wish I was still in my Hooters glory days, but I'm just not... FOR TODAY. I lost focus on the time and motivation required of me to run a 5k three and four days per week, while meticulously weighing and counting my carrot sticks (and ranch). My comfortable marriage, full time career, and two active children took all my attention away from myself and my fitness. When my mom passed in 2012, I lost my workout partner and my will to work up a sweat. I definitely own that fact and am NOT making excuses, so if you are about to give me a speech on how important health is and making excuses, save all that for someone else. I already know. (read: You ain't me. STFU)

   Glory days circa 2005




Where I am today is not my ideal place, but it's still me TODAY. I can still be beautiful in the size I am NOW. So, I reached out to my most favorite online boutique. I have been following Kiki La'Rue for quite some time now because they have cute clothes for ALL sizes, not just teeny tiny girls (but they have those too!). My closet grew every time I would shop their website. I was always so happy to find clothes that fit me and looked good. I do not want to wear a potato sack just because I cannot fit in a size 8 right now. I clicked with Becka, the KLR boss-lady, and we decided to work together. 

Lately, I have been lucky enough to try my hand at modeling some of their clothes! Because it's fun. Because I like the girls I work with. And because YOLO! I must say, it's a little nerve-wracking, yet refreshing, when they mention to the general public what size pants I am wearing! Yeah, I have big hips and a big butt. Get over it. 
I am happy to be part of the KLR family! Check us out!

Some of my recent pics from kikilarue.com








I am going to continue to strive to be closer to where I want to be, but there's nothing wrong with loving who you are while working to who you want to be. Before ya know it, I'll be modeling the size 10 pants! 
What are you doing to improve your life? What fears and/or challenges are you taking on?  
*Whatever you do, don't stand still.*


                 Love & Empty Calories,
                          Claire