Monday, September 20, 2021

Depression Is Not A Sin (So Why Do I Still Treat It Like One?)

[Image by Hieu Van from Pixabay]

When I was a young teen, maybe a preteen, I mentioned to my dad that I thought I might be depressed. This was my non-confrontational way of letting my parents know I was struggling. My dad replied in his usual dismissive and adultlike condescending way that "Christians can't be depressed. If you have God, what do you have to be depressed about?"

To understand the effect this off-handed yet reprimanding remark had on me, you have to understand how seriously I took my faith in God from as far back as toddlerhood. Being a Christian was the most important aspect of my being. Pleasing God and striving for righteous perfection was my deepest desire. (Even now, I feel the obligation to add the disclaimer that while it was my deepest desire, I was so imperfect at it at the same time. I can't even talk about my sincere faith without reminding myself how imperfect I was, lest I forget.) So to discover that my depression was yet another sign that I was failing God and failing as a Christian was a blow that struck deep and hard. 

I must have been around 13 or 14 when this exchange occurred. I had been feeling depressed for a while and my suicidal thoughts were starting to drift into suicidal considerations. Not quite "plans" but more than ideation. I felt bottomless, endless, hopeless. I didn't know who to talk to so I gathered up my courage to broach the subject with the person I believed had more wisdom and righteousness than anyone else I knew. 

In that moment of vulnerability he confirmed one of my deepest fears - that I did not love God enough, and that was why I was depressed. Worse, my being depressed was in itself a sin. The word "depression" became synonymous with both sin and the wages of sin. A never-ending cyclone, and the only exit was "obey God more". 

So I internally replaced depression with guilt. 

Depression is a lonely prison in the human experience. Whether you are surrounded by the physical presence of a dozen other humans or isolated from all other sentient beings doesn't really matter. You are trapped inside yourself by locks with no keys. There are either no windows, or there are bars on the windows six feet above you. Or perhaps it's like being buried alive, and the harder you try to claw your way up, the deeper you dig your grave. Eventually you give up trying and find yourself lying curled up in the dirt, exhausted and listless. Your eyes glaze over. Your muscles are tense but weak. Your body is there and not there at the same time. You feel everything and you feel nothing. 

There could be friends and family reaching down to help you up or you could be in utter isolation. Either way, you feel the same. Alone. Powerless. Dead inside yet crawling with maggots of feelings. Mildewed, like your insides are a damp rag shut inside a box, spores bursting into mold and caking every inch of surface, no extra oxygen needed for decomposing. 

Not everyone experiences depression the same way, of course. The scenery, the lighting, the make-up, and the characters are all performing a similar play but with different directors. Passive directors, oftentimes, who have in some way lost control of the show, powerless to direct our own lives. 

My play's theme is saturated with religious guilt and external condemnation (possibly perceived, most often real). It is heavy on self-blame, self-isolation, and self-punishment. I dress it up for my audience with self-deprecating jokes, a pretense of coping, and over-compensating perfectionism. I learned from religion that the best Christians are humble and meek, honest about their imperfections, but ever striving to finish the race. If you are down, it's okay to talk about being down, as long as it is couched in a story of perfect grace, of a savior who will lift you from the depths and restore your joy. To "wallow" in it though, or talk incessantly about it, will only dampen your witness, so keep the real shit to yourself.  

It took me nearly 20 years to shed the fallacy that depression is a sin and something to be ashamed of. But a few things from that brief conversation with my father have never left me:

1) I still equate depression with guilt. I look at all the things I did to bring this on myself. I look at all my failures, all my mistakes, all the steps I took to get myself into this mess and spend all of my time berating and hating myself for them. I then look at how my miserable self is affecting others negatively, particularly my children and my relationships, and I heap the guilt on over that. I blame myself for not being able to "get a grip and get on with it." I punish myself as a means of reformation. I dare not "spare the rod" of discipline against myself, because that's exactly how evil people become more evil. This is what Christianity taught me. To achieve salvation, you must be purified by fire. You must destroy all the evil inside of you at whatever cost. If that "evil" manifests itself as depression, then destroy the depression by destroying all the parts of you that suck. Leave nothing but perfection behind. Blame nothing on anyone or anything else; the blame is solely yours and the worse you feel about it, the better you'll be in the end. If I am depressed, it's because I deserve to be. 

2) I still experience depression as a deficiency. I don't believe depression is a deficiency in anyone else, just in me. I will speak up loudly against the stigma surrounding depression in regards to everyone else, but when it gets to me personally, I only share the talking points, the management-approved topics. To go into depth about what I am personally experiencing would be an overshare and a nuisance. I try to avoid being a burden on anyone, especially if I can't give them anything back in return. I learned from early on that love (or in this case support) is transactional, and unless you can pay up right away or at least promise to pay it back later on, you don't ask for it. 

I learned this about love because that's how salvation works. Salvation, like love, is freely given on the outset, but it requires a sacrifice of your entire life to accept. Just like Jesus had to give his entire life for us, we must in return give our entire lives to him to attain the forgiveness offered by the cross. If we can't give everything, we might as well give nothing. So if I can't promise that I'll be able to give the same level of support back to those who have supported me, then I won't ask for it in the first place. If I feel I'm more of a drag on someone than a support, then I won't lean on them. I won't put my yoke around their necks. I'll carry my burdens completely alone to avoid placing them on anyone else. Depression is my deficiency, not theirs. I don't even share everything with my therapist because I'm too embarrassed and ashamed of my defects.

3) I do not expect family to be my support system. As I said before, I believed "good Christians" were allowed to experience a version of depression as long as it didn't last too long and didn't bring anyone else down with it. Christians can receive support from other Christians, which often involves prayer and Scripture verses, and sometimes (when it's starting to get really bad) a good old-fashioned  kick-in-the-backside tough love. But when you are no longer a Christian... well, that is a horse of a different color.

When I was an evangelical Christian, I believed that non-Christians (or even those liberal Christians) felt depressed because of the God-shaped hole in their lives. Of course they were depressed! Without God, what did they expect? Joy?! Please. If they would just change their lives and live the way God intended for them to live, they'd be on a much happier path. My support often looked more like evangelism than love. So it's no surprise this is the mentality I expect from my family. This and the words my dad said to me all those years ago. If I'm depressed, it's because I don't love God enough.

I don't believe in God any more, but my family does. Even if I did feel comfortable enough to reach out to someone for support, knowing I may not be able to give it back in full, I would not expect that person to be a family member. They would only see me as a lost soul, someone struggling with depression because of my own poor choices and lack of faith. I already blame myself enough, I already see my inability to cope with life as a deficiency; I don't need those false narratives repeated back to me. I need someone to tell me that I'm not at fault, I'm not the cause of all the pain and suffering around me, I'm not weak, and I'm not inherently bad. But I learned long ago that those words will never come from the mouths of fundamentalist Christians. The only support and love they know, they learned from the same source I did. They only know it as evangelism. They only know it in context of God's example of love "freely given" at an unpayable price. 

So where does that leave me? It leaves me here, right now, in my pajama pants and sweatshirt, trying to keep my job, my home, my children, my relationships, my finances, and my public-facing image out of the six-feet-deep prison that I am lying in. Sharing just a little more than my management-approved talking points with nobody and everybody at the same time. Resisting the urge to end this with my pre-programmed note of hope and everything-is-going-to-be-okay (what I call the Christian finish). Because I don't know if everything is going to be okay. I really don't think it will be. I will keep going because I have to, but not because I'm strong or hopeful. I will keep going only because too much depends on me.

Friday, July 10, 2020

100 Things About Me (Version 4.0)

Every now and then I update my "about me" page. As an ever-evolving person (always reforming! *Calvinist joke*) the 100 Things About Me inevitably become obsolete after a period of time.

So. If you want to know way too much about me, pour yourself some coffee, get comfortable and meet Lori Arnold, 2020 version.

Hint: If you want to REALLY get to know me, you can read the past 300 things about me listed in the "about me" page. 

*BONUS! You get to choose how to digest this highly important information: watch the video, or read below.

100 Things About Me - 2020 Version from superlori on Vimeo.

100 Things About Me - 4.0

1. As I've stated before, I was born and raised in Arkansas. That has not changed.

2. It has also not changed that I went to college at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and majored in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing.

3. Okay, several things haven't changed, but they will soon. After graduating the U of A, I married a Scotsman named Scott and moved to Scotland, where I lived for the next 9 years of my life.

4. After, you know, several years, I ended up with three children, who shall be referred to here as Fifi, Lolly and Jaguar/Cub. (He didn't like being called Jaguar, so a couple of years ago I acquiesced to his wishes and changed him to Cub.)

5. I have had a lot of pets, mostly cats, which is weird because I kind of hate cats AND I'm allergic to cats. But I have a soft spot for kittens, and that's how they get you.

6. Besides the many cats, I've also had pet rabbits, dogs, and a long succession of fish who refuse to stay alive. I've also had plants that I got attached to only to watch them die as well. Oh and in high school, I had a pet rat.   

7. Right now I'm totally fantasizing about a pet bird. I know this is a bad idea, especially because of said cats, but wouldn't a birdie be cute??

8. Wouldn't a puppy be cute too??

9. Okay, so maybe I just like naming pets. In order, my pets have been named: Squirt, Remedios the Beauty and Clementine, Kate and Wills, Dora and Boots, Chewbacca and Zelda, Gracie, Kitty Whiskers (to present), Sassy, Isobel, Pumpkin Spice, Butterbeer, Panda (to present), the OneRedCrossBetta, Sushi, Betta O'Rourke, and Cookie (to present).

10. Enough about pets. I also like cake. No, I take that back. I LOVE cake.

11. Yeah, so back to the timeline. I moved back to Arkansas in 2013 with Scott and our three kids.

12. Scott and I split up a few years later though. But we remain good friends and great co-parents.

13. Then I met Neil and a few years later, we married. So now I'm married to Neil. 

14. Since he has four daughters, I now have seven children I call mine. Seven children and three cats.

15. I still live in Arkansas, but Neil lives in Mississippi. So that's an interesting dynamic. 

16. Neil and I are both writers. He writes for a blog called Godless in Dixie. I *ahem* used to write for a blog called *this one* and I've also written a book called The Last Petal Falling.

17. A cursory glance at either and you will correctly surmise we both used to be Christians and we are not anymore.

18. Just to rip off the rest of the band-aid all at once, I'm a humanist who believes in Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ equality, feminism, a woman's right to choose, humanitarianism, impartiality, and that free or affordable healthcare is a right, immigrants and asylum seekers are people who deserve to be treated with humanity and dignity, and the earth is round. Oh, and COVID-19 is real. #virtuesignaling

19. Social Justice Warrior points aside, I also believe in open and compassionate conversations with a wide range of people and view points, keeping an open mind, being willing to accept when I am wrong, confronting my unconscious bias, and not jumping to conclusions about people based on preconceived notions. I am against cancel culture, which I do not think is helpful for encouraging anyone's individual growth or consensus. 

20. I may be an atheist, but I support the rights and beliefs of people of all religions, and as long as one's religious practices don't hurt or harm others, I take no issues with people practicing and standing by their faith.

21. I love chocolate.

22. I also love cheese.

23. I'm a shopaholic. 

24. I love hiking, camping, and backpacking. 

25. I am a pluviophile

26. I hate sports, except soccer (to watch) and tennis (to play).

27. My favorite cuisines are Thai food, Mexican food and pizza.

28. I love to sleep.

29. I enjoy reading, though with my busy schedule, I tend to do more audiobooks than paperbacks these days. 

30. I have a slough of hobbies that I go in and out of, depending on the seasons of my life, like sewing, painting, writing, crafting, and baking. (But not cooking. I hate cooking.)

31. I am an ENFJ, an Orange/Blue, a Three/Eight and an Expressor/Controller. (Any other personality tests out there I'm missing?)

32. I don't believe in horoscopes, but I'm an Aries.

33. My main love languages are words of affirmation and gifts.

34. I donate blood every 56 days (or so).

35. I work for the American Red Cross (and so as a disclaimer: all my opinions are completely my own and do not always necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer). I love the mission, values and fundamental principles of the Red Cross. <-- That link is worth following!

36. I'm afraid of spiders, heights, enclosed spaces, and failure.

37. I love bright colors. The colors that I'm most attracted to are bold and bright like red, yellow or turquoise.

38. I hate my feet.

39. I like my hair. 

40. My hair has been a variety of colors and shades, lengths and styles. Some of these were good choices, others were not. Currently my hair is dark brown and long, though I'm slowly going redder with every root touch-up.

41. As cliche as it sounds, I like a wide variety of music, but I get the most out of indie music. I get the least out of country. 

42. I like indie movies too, especially ones that make me cry. 

43. I'm an empath. 

44. I like for people to like me, and I put too much stock into what other people think of me.

45. I'm a perfectionist, an overachiever, and an overthinker.

46. I live too much in the future. Neil is more of an in-the-moment guy, which makes us a good match for each other. He is teaching me to enjoy the present.

47. I keep a gratitude journal. *Almost* every day, I write three things I'm grateful for and one thing I'm looking forward to for tomorrow. I've just added a third category too - something I like about myself. I call that my "worthiness" column, because it occurred to me the other day that I don't often believe I'm all that worthy of anything special. 

48. I love to travel. My job keeps me on the road a lot (at least when we're not in a pandemic). I've traveled all over the world, mostly on mission trips when I was a young person. I've been to Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, England, Scotland, Wales, France, Israel, Jordan, and Pakistan. I've visited 19 states (not counting states I've merely driven through) and Washington D.C. I want to travel more. Visiting every continent is on my bucket list; I still have Africa, Australia and Antarctica to go.

49. Riding in a hot air balloon is another item on my bucket list. I'm afraid of heights though. (See #36)

50. I'm a neat freak. I hate disorder.

51. I pride myself on my ability to perfectly fold a fitted sheet. 

52. I have ADHD, and I deal with anxiety and depression.

53. I'm kind of a hippie, crunchy mom who practiced co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, baby-led weaning, baby-wearing, baby signing, gentle parenting and cloth diapering. My kids are older now, and I have yet to determine how my kids will turn out.

54. I have awesome kids though. Just for the record. 

55. I love Bernie Sanders. 

56. I am in support of an independent Scotland.

57. I met my new husband on the internet (sort of - via his blog). My previous husband actually introduced me to his website years ago when I was first deconverting. (But there was zero funny business or even contact with him until well AFTER we split up, just in case your mind went there.)  We have, shall we say, a very "non-traditional" marriage. And it's the happiest I've ever been. *Insert heart emoji.

58. I used to write poetry. I will eventually get my poems into a book so I can say I've published TWO books and be an even more authentic author.

59. I like alliteration. Technically, actually, it is consonance that I like more.

60. I like to start projects with alliterative or consonant titles. I'm more likely to stick with something if it has a catchy project name. 

61. I'm a bit of a diva, and I love singing on stage, acting on stage, and public speaking. Pass me a mic, I'll find something to do with it. 

62. I wish I were funny enough to write like David Sedaris. 

63. I love thunderstorms - just not the damage they can cause. 

64. I'm both an adrenaline junkie and risk adverse. Figure that one out.

65. My current favorite TV show is The Good Place on Netflix. My all time favorite TV shows are Gilmore Girls and Scrubs.

66. I am always starting and failing diets.

67. I am always starting and failing exercise plans.

68. I love real mail. I enjoy writing letters and sending cards. I love receiving real mail too, so ... hint hint.

69. I don't enjoy conflict or fighting, but I appreciate and value direct communication, even if it's uncomfortable. I just don't like when people get defensive or reactionary about it. I will always point out the elephant in the room, because I can't stand awkwardness or inauthenticity. 

70. I also can't stand passive aggressiveness. I don't like aggressive aggressiveness either though. Just be an adult about it! (Unless you're a kid. But even then, be an adult about it!)

71. I often talk to my kids like they are my co-workers. I can't understand why they can't just be collaborative and work together more?

72. I enjoy event planning. When I was a stay-at-home-mom, this was expressed in throwing killer birthday parties. As a professional, this looks like organizing creative fundraisers and special events. If I can include a theme too? Oh man. 

73. I'm a Rotarian.

74. I serve on the board of the Arkansas State Independent Living Council as the board secretary.

75. I love to deploy to disasters with the Red Cross. Being on the ground during a large scale disaster response and physically touching the mission is what keeps me going when the day-to-day going gets tough.

76. I value honesty and compassion above pretty much all other values in life. 

77. I prefer everything to be clear and unambiguous. When ambiguity is inevitable, I do not like it. That makes 2020 a really tough year for me.

78. I have ten tattoos and ten piercings. I think it's ten for both... I haven't counted in a while.

79. I have an affinity for cute shoes.

80. I live by my day planner. Not my digital Outlook calendar - my 18-month spiral-bound paper planner. 

81. I use color-coded erasable pens in my day planner, and I reward myself for accomplishments with stickers.

82. My birthday is April Fools Day.

83.  I know it's cheesy, but I love Valentine's Day. It's kind of my favorite. I love all holidays really though. Any reason to celebrate and I'm on it. Shall we plan a themed party? I'll hit up Party City.

84. I have Imposter Syndrome. 

85. I'm a bit of a hypochondriac.

86. My favorite dessert (besides cake) is homemade banana pudding. I make it from scratch using my great-grandmother's recipe. I want some now. 

87. I also love pies. All pies. All Pies Matter.

88. I was briefly in a fake band in college called Heart Union. We didn't actually play instruments or perform gigs, but we sold merch.

89. I was briefly in a real band in college called Sharkie. I was briefly in a band in high school too called Oswald's Pool. 

90. I was a DJ on our college radio station, KXUA 88.3.

91. I like all of my dishes to match and put away in a very specific layout. However, I like all of my coffee mugs to be mismatched and different, so no one gets their cups mixed up. 

92. My clothes are arranged by color in my closet. (Consonance!)

93. I make my bed *almost* every day when I get up. 

94. I listen to NPR.

95. I don't believe in ghosts, but I kind of do.

96. I don't care how old I am, I love stuffed animals.

97. I like to problem solve.

98. I take my tea with milk, no sugar.

99. I love musicals. 

100. I love lists.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Jump Into July: Embrace the Budget

In my last post, I talked about diving back into the Love My Body Project, but I've got several grandiose plans for July besides caring for (and loving) my body. I also desperately need to care for and love my bank account!

I thought quarantine life would do wonders for my budget. I'm getting, like, 3 weeks to the gallon in gas, I'm not eating out for lunch, and I'm not buying new work clothes. I figured I'd be swimming in spare cash.

I forgot about Amazon.

I didn't realize how many home improvement projects I'd suddenly be compelled to undertake.

And I certainly didn't factor in just how much food my kids would consume by being home 24/7.

I recently moved into a new home, and the move alone comes with costs. Neil also recently moved into a new place. Making two houses a home(s) can be costly. We've spent more than we really should have on decorating our new homes and making them perfect for our needs. I'll confess that I've used the fake money (credit card) more often than I should've, telling myself that Future Lori can deal with it.

Hello, I am Future Lori. And I'm dealing with it.

So part of my Jump Into July self-improvement plan is to Embrace the Budget. Of course it needed a title. I thought of several catchy project names - Balance the Bank, Curb the Cashflow, Manage My Money - but "Embrace the Budget" fit the best for what I'm trying to do. Rather than fight against the total of income vs expenses, I want to embrace what I have. I want to live within my means and learn to be happy with spending less and shopping more carefully.

Oddly enough, our topic of conversation in this morning's Women of Rotary Coffee Chat was smart shopping strategies, and they shared this quote:

Buy less, choose well, make it last. - Vivienne Westwood

This is my goal. I have SO MUCH. I couldn't even fit all my clothes in my new closet; I sent all my winter clothes to Neil's house to keep in his closet for me. I have more books than I could ever read (and so many of them I haven't yet read, but they are on my forever-long reading list). I have all the things I need. There's likely very little on Amazon that I can't live without. The problem I have is that I'm a total SHOPAHOLIC.

I love to shop. LOVE IT.

Grocery shopping, clothes shopping, home improvement shopping, gift shopping, card shopping - hell, put me inside a tractor supply store, and I'll find all kinds of things I didn't know I needed. ("A chicken coop!! Let's buy a chicken coop and raise chickens!!")

It's an addiction, and it's not a healthy one. I truly do use retail as a therapy. If I feel down, I shop. I don't have to even be shopping for myself. I love shopping for other people too. I'll see some random object in a random shop and think, "Oh man, that would be perfect for Sally, that woman I met three weeks ago at the tractor supply store, and what a great way to keep in touch with her!" Giving gifts is one of my love languages, which is generous and all, but not exactly inexpensive.

I'm fairly good at budgeting. I've kept a personal budget for almost a decade, so my bills always get paid. I put money into savings every paycheck. I contribute to my 401k. On paper, Dave Ramsey would be proud. It's all the other things that I'm bad about. I have no impulse control when it comes to shopping. I have no concept of delayed gratification when it comes to things. I used to be good at keeping track of my grocery spending, but I've gotten lazy. I love comfort food and I love comfort things. So I buy them.

That's gotta staaahhp. 

So, my Embrace the Budget goal for July is to not just stick to my budget, but be kind to my budget. I am lucky and blessed that I make enough money to cover my bills and groceries and still have some to spare. Having some leftover to spare doesn't have to mean leftover to spend. I'm tracking all my purchases in a notebook and totaling them all up by category. Anything that doesn't fall within an already budgeted category shouldn't get purchased. I've given myself a set budget for those extras, like getting takeout or buying my son's birthday presents, so it's not like I'm going to force myself to have no fun. I just won't be allowed to buy every book that gets reviewed on Fresh Air or a new dress every time I have a new event to attend. (I'm not attending events right now anyway! Coronavirus!)

It takes a month to form a habit. (Actually, I have no idea how many days it takes to make a habit.) If I can curb my cashflow, manage my money, and embrace my budget for the month of July, maybe I can do it in August too. And maybe I can do it again in September. I think it's possible! But it starts with baby steps, just like my health plan. A book was mentioned in the Rotary meeting this morning that I immediately looked up on Amazon. But I didn't buy it. I wanted to. I really wanted to. But I didn't. Because I have so many books to read already. I can live without it.

Just as I need to learn to love my body, I need to learn to embrace my budget. So bring it on, July! I can take it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Jump Into July: Love My Body Project

While at the beach this weekend, I asked my husband to take some "pretty pictures" of me in my sundress because I was feeling cute and the sunrise was doing great things to my skin. I told him to take a picture of me that *I* would like, so get those angles right, buddy!

Here's what I got. 

Waveland, MS, June 2020

After seeing this and a dozen other photos that looked roughly the same, I couldn't believe how ugly I looked. I asked for a PRETTY picture, man! His response was that these pictures were gorgeous and he loved this and that about them. All I could see was my fat arms, my protruding belly, my chubby cheeks, my flabby shoulders and my saggy boobs. What on earth was HE seeing? The pink clouds and the calm ocean in the background?

I've had a lifelong problem with my body image. (Surprise! I must be the only human on earth with this issue, right?) I've also had a lifelong issue with food. (Again, 100 points to me for being so unique, right?) I am either starving myself for days on end or gorging myself with goodies. Sometimes I eat healthy and sometimes (most times) I eat garbage. But delicious, tasty, mood-satisfying garbage!

Then I stare at my naked body in the mirror and loathe what I see. My husband can come behind me and see something totally opposite from what I see, and sometimes I believe him, sometimes I don't. I tell him he's biased. I tell him he's looking at me with rose-colored glasses because he loves me. Sometimes I can tell by the hunger in his eyes that he really DOES think I'm a legit snack, but honestly, what is wrong with his eyeballs?

More importantly - what is wrong with ME?

Why am I so obsessed with thinness? Why do I still, after all these years, have this belief that I'm supposed to be bone-thin and stretch-mark free to be beautiful? Indeed, there are beautiful women who are bone-thin and stretch-mark free. But there are also beautiful woman who are full-bodied and soft all around. In fact, I myself am really attracted to women with those sexy curves, just as much as to women who could model for Vogue. If I can see the beauty of others in a variety of bodies, why am I so mean to myself?

Let me also say for the record, that I'm not fishing for compliments here. I'm also not knocking any other body types. There will be people thinner than me that I don't want to insult and there will be people bigger than me that I don't want to insult. I genuinely look at other people and think how beautiful they all are, in every shape and size. I see beauty in so many other bodies. I just can't seem to apply the same principles to my own body. Again, I'm not unique in this; I'm willing to bet 90% or more of you readers (all 6 of you!) have the same issue. Please don't get mad at me if you are bigger or smaller than me for anything I say. Body image is such a sticky subject. It's hard to hit the right tone! I'm just speaking from my own perspective.

A few years ago, I started the Love My Body Project. Along with some very practical disciplines like getting more exercise and eating better, every day I would stand in front of the mirror and tell myself  "I am beautiful." I'd find some feature to praise, however small. And I'd repeat it over and over until I believed it. 

This year has been, well, it's been 2020. What else can I say? I've been working from home for three and a half months. I started out wearing work clothes to keep myself in work mode but soon resorted to jeans and t-shirts. If I have a video conference, I might where a nicer shirt. Today, as I prepare for a day-long virtual meeting, I've put on a dressy blouse paired with shorts. Who's going to see my lower half anyway? 

And makeup? What's makeup? Hair? Why, a dirty bun looks fine through a pixelated screen.

Plus, this working five steps from the kitchen hasn't been good either. I have LEGITIMATELY gained the COVID 15. Like, I weigh exactly 15 lbs more than I did in March when I left the office for the last time. When we do return to office life, I am afraid none of my work clothes will fit anymore. I've been reticent to try them on because the longer I don't know, the longer I can keep eating Spaghettios With Meatballs (mmm) for lunch without guilt. 

So here's where I'm going with all of this.

It's time to kickstart the Love My Body Project again. It's time to take some practical steps to care for the body I'm in but also to love the body I'm in. I'm starting with a small goal of waking up early enough every day this week to walk at least a mile. Maybe I'll even run! But baby steps. Along with that goal, I would like to watch what I eat. I'm still working on what a food plan would look like, but the baby step is being more aware and deliberate about what and when I eat. The third part of that goal is to look at myself every day in the mirror and say "I am beautiful." And repeat it over and over. Not "my husband thinks I'm beautiful" or "my mom thinks I'm beautiful" but "I AM beautiful." 

And in typical Lori fashion, every project I start has to have a name, so the Love My Body Project is just one step in my Jump Into July Project which also includes working on my financial health and my mental health, which I'll dive further into in the next couple of days.

(Getting back into writing, by the way, is part of my mental health improvement. I have missed writing so, so much.)

To kickstart July (though it's technically still June), I woke up this morning and took a walk. I walked 1.8 miles while listening to an audiobook. Granted, when I got home, I was really hungry and did NOT think deliberately before heating up a slice of leftover pizza for my breakfast. Baby steps, y'all! I'll do better at lunch. 

Or maybe since it's still June, I'll finish off that last can of Spaghettios so it's not tempting me tomorrow on July 1st. 


Sunday, September 08, 2019

Take Me Back - A Letter to My Blog

Dear Blog,

I don't know how to say this without being awkward, so I'm just going to say it.

I want you back.

See, I know I left you a year and a half ago for a new blog. Me and the new blog tried to make it work, we really did, but the truth is, we just didn't have the chemistry you and I have. We didn't have the history. I couldn't be myself around it; I kept feeling like I had to perform for it and be something I'm not all the time. It wasn't the new blog's fault; it was me. It was all me. We just didn't feel right together, and the more I thought about it, the more I missed you.

You and me, we could talk about anything. It didn't have to be important or meaningful or on any specific topic. We could just talk. It was pretty special what you and me had. Some days I'd want to dig deep into my heart and share intimate, emotional thoughts, and other days I just wanted to tell you about what I had for breakfast or about a weird dream I'd had. It was fun being with you. You made me enjoy writing, and every once in a while, between the breakfast and the dreams, I'd write something kind of great. But there was no pressure with you to be great all the time. I could just be me - sometimes deep and sometimes just plain silly.

And the history we share! You've been there through everything that's happened in my life for the past sixteen years. You've seen me say some really obnoxious, pretentious stuff and also some pretty smart stuff. You've been there through all the messes - the typos, the sentence fragments, the split infinitives. You've also been there through all the triumphs and major life milestones and really good posts that made a difference to someone. You saw me get married, move to another country, have three kids, volunteer and start businesses, move back from that country, go back to work, get divorced, meet a new fella.

Is it too late to ask for you back? Do you think we could be a thing again?

Because I miss you, and I miss writing, and I think you're one of the big things I've been lacking in my life over the past year and half. I need you, and if you'll have me back, it'll be forever this time. I promise. What do you say? Will you take me back?

Check yes or no.

Top image by Bruno Gl├Ątsch from Pixabay

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Packing Up and Saying Goodbye

Dear readers,

For the past 15 years, I've been blogging in this space. In 2003, I started this blog, and that same year I started dating Scott, who became my husband in 2004. In 2017 we split up.

This blog has chronicled that entire time together, from dating long distance to getting married to having our three children together to moving back to America to deciding to get divorced.

For most of that time, this blog was titled "Scott and Lori". Even though I've changed the domain name, it still sort of feels like "our" blog. How could it not, which so much shared history right in these archives?

Which explains a lot of why I've not been able to write here much for the past year. Too much of what I once would've written about is now not appropriate for this space. My personal life used to be shared with someone who was comfortable with me sharing it online. But now my personal life is shared in a different way with that person, and sharing it publicly is now a violation of his privacy.

This decision has been a long time coming, but it feels like the right decision and the right time to pack up and close shop. I will keep the blog online. I will keep the domains active. But I won't be writing here anymore. I will likely start either an anonymous blog where I can write about things without violating the privacy of Scott or I may simply write for a couple of other blogs for a little while as a guest writer. Whatever I do, I can't stop writing. I've had writer's block for the past year due to the concern over writing about things that are no longer okay to share, and that's not okay to me. I love writing, and I need it.

If you'd like to keep following me (I do have some great long-time faithful readers), please leave me a comment, and I will link you to my new writing places once I've determined where those will be.

It's bittersweet to say goodbye to this blog, but it's time.

So long, friends, and thanks for all the fish.


2003 - 2018

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Life As I Now Know It™: A Year (or two) In the Life of a Single Working Mom

One of my New Year's Resolutions for 2018 was to write at least 36 blog posts over the course of the year. (The number 36 is not as random as it appears; I'll be 36 this year, and approximately 3 posts a month just seemed like a reasonable number.) It's now late February and I'm off to a roaring start. I've posted a GRAND TOTAL of....


I've been giving myself quite a hard time about this. Writing is my passion, second only to reading, and neither of these loves have gotten very much attention from me in the past year or two. I've recently become a fan of Audible, which is allowing me to get a lot more "reading" in, and while part of me hates spending $15 a month on something entirely digital, I have used the subscription more than I ever expected. I spend a lot of time on the road between work travel and long-distance-boyfriend travel, so thanks to audiobooks, I've been able to keep up with my book club and have enjoyed a number of books on my list that I'd otherwise have never found time to read.

Disclaimer: Though it may sound like it, this post has not been sponsored by Audible. Though I'd absolutely take their money if they offered so...

But writing still remains something I cannot do while in the car on long trips. I often think of things I'd like to write about, but between work, kids and aforementioned long-distance boyfriend, I have a very hard time carving out the time I need to put thoughts into words.

I was lamenting about this yesterday to The Boyfriend who is also a writer and somehow finds the time in his busy schedule to crank out intelligent blog posts on a pretty regular basis. He reminded me that as chaotic as his life is, mine is outrageous. We began tracing backwards what my life has been like for the last year and a half or so, and he's right. My ability to find time or even headspace to write might be affected by the following series of events. I'm going to take you back to the last point in time where I actually managed to squeeze in some writing: the month and year I published my book. (It's on Amazon. Go buy it and read it. It is an amazing source of income for me, y'all. It brought in a whopping $45.76 last year! I AM LITERALLY PAID TO WRITE, GUYS. *Insert laughing-so-hard-you're-crying emoji*.)

July 2015
I published my book that I'd been working on for a year and a half. Amidst trying to finalize the publishing process, I was applying for jobs. That same month, I began working at AFMC after having been out of the traditional work force for 7+ years.

July 2015 - Oct 2016
I'll just throw the entire year in together as one lump sum time period, since it was a major year of transition from stay-at-home-mom to working mom. I had to relearn everything, from how to work in a professional setting again to how to feed my kids when I don't get home until after 6 every day. It was quite the year. And around July 2016 I applied for another job and went through a series of 4 intense interviews before taking my new job and setting into motion the gyroscope that would become Life As I Now Know It.

Oct 2016
I began working for the American Red Cross as the regional communications director for all of Oklahoma and Arkansas on October 10th. Immediately I went from a (albeit very busy) 9-5 job to a round-the-clock on-call constantly-traveling one. I began traveling approximately 40% of the time, and this caused an excruciating strain on my marriage and brought on a number of things, which eventually brought everything to a head, leading to...

Nov 2016
Scott and I started talking about divorce.

Jan 2017
Scott moved out.

(Meanwhile, back in December, my one communications staff member, who found himself in the awkward position of having to train his boss, quit for an amazing opportunity elsewhere, leaving me with two months experience and no team.)

I was also still traveling a significant amount of time for my job, when...

Feb 2017
The executive director in my home Red Cross chapter very suddenly retired due to illness. The chapter was two months away from its annual fundraiser, and as communications director it fell on me to help pull the event together in her absence. I decided to apply for the executive director position (it would certainly require less travel), so I didn't mind the extra work, but it meant that I was still doing my full time two-state communications job as well as a chapter executive job.

April 2017
I was selected as the executive director. Then just about two weeks before the fundraiser, the previous executive director passed away suddenly. With this new development, we had to redesign a significant part of the fundraiser to address this sad, sudden change. Now, I was not only taking over from a woman who had retired after having been a pillar in this community, leading this chapter for over 22 years, I was now taking over after this woman's death. With the help of the Board of Directors and several volunteers and staff, we pulled off the fundraiser, and I officially started my new job.

But there was still no new communications director, so I had to continue dual roles for a short while. At the end of April, I went to Jonesboro to help the Northeast Arkansas chapter with their annual fundraiser. While in Jonesboro, the tornadoes, storms and floods that later became known as the 2017 Spring Storms, began sweeping across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois, and I found myself in my first ever Level 4 Disaster Relief Operation (DRO). I'd only been with the Red Cross for six months.

May 2017
I was deployed to Pocahontas, AR as the Public Affairs (PA) Lead where I spent a week covering media surrounding the massive flooding. Actually, I started out in Tulsa, OK, where we though the majority of the damage would be. After a day in Tulsa, I was sent to Pocahontas instead, where the actual major damage had occurred all the way up to St. Louis, MO.  After that week, I came back to Little Rock to work in the headquarters. I was now trying to learn my new job as ED, cover my old job as communications director, train the new communications staff member I'd just hired, and help run the PA, as well as assist as Government Liaison, for a DRO. Oh, and I was still doing the almost full-time parenting thing, minus Thursdays and every other weekend.

Oh, and I was informed at this time that I was also supposed to be well into planning for the Annual Board Meeting for June, an event I had no experience in and had just over a month to plan and execute.

June 2017
I somehow pulled off the Annual Board Meeting. I began taking over board meetings too and working with my new officers and board members.

July 2017
Scott officially got his own place, and the kids started going back and forth between houses every other week. It was quite an adjustment. (But it's been going well.) I began having more free time to myself, but also began absorbing more of the reality of my new situation.

At work, I began vigorous planning for our next big event, Sound the Alarm, where nationally the Red Cross aimed to install over 100,000 smoke alarms in homes over a four week period. In my chapter, our goal was to install 1,000 alarms.

Aug 2017
At the start of August (though technically it was the very tail end of July) I began dating the lovely, gorgeous, intelligent man who would eventually become The Boyfriend. Who, of all places, just happens to live in Mississippi. Thus I became entangled in a long-distance relationship.

I also bought a car. (This becomes relevant in just a moment.)

On August 17, Hurricane Harvey made landfall. I was still reeling from the Spring Storms and the Annual Meeting and trying to get a grasp on what all my new job entailed, and now, as an ED, I was responsible for deploying my part of what we call a DFRAP ("dif-rap"), a Disaster Fundraising Action Plan. I had three TV stations request our help in running a telethon to help raise money for hurricane victims. After a 14 hour day of non-stop televised telethoning, a truck slammed into me on the Arkansas River bridge on my way home (a hit and run, no less), nearly totaling my brand new car, on the night I was supposed to go see Ben Folds perform in Little Rock. For the next 6 weeks I drove around in a rental while my new car was in full-body surgery.

Then on August 30, Hurricane Irma made landfall.

Sept 2017
I was deployed again, this time to Fort Meyers, FL, where I spent almost two weeks. While I was in Florida, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

Sound the Alarm was mercifully postponed until the spring.

Meanwhile, of course, I was still dating said Mississippi boy, who at this point had started undergoing a major crisis of his own. We joked (wryly) that I was providing disaster relief everywhere I turned.

Meanwhile, of course, I still had three children back home who are terrified that I was going to get killed in a hurricane, even though the hurricane had already come through. (Of course, Maria was heading my way while in Florida ...)

Oct 2017
The Las Vegas shooting occurred. The California wildfires raged. The trifecta of hurricanes continued to require an enormous amount of manpower. My chapter was practically empty with the number of staff and volunteers deployed all over the country providing disaster relief.

But I returned from my Florida deployment and was ready to finally get back to learning my new job as ED. At this point, we had hired a new communications director, and I was officially done helping with that role.

Then, on October 2, an announcement was made to my chapter - the Red Cross in my chapter jurisdiction would cease collecting blood as of December 31st.

The Red Cross had been collecting blood in central Arkansas for over 60 years. This was a massive change that affected everyone greatly, and as the "fearless leader" (please note the self-deprecating quotation marks) I got to be the ringleader for managing the media, the Board, and the employees concerns surrounding this astronomical change.

Nov - Dec 2017
Things quieted down, to a degree. I began intense planning for the annual fundraiser that was already looming around the corner again. Sound the Alarm was rescheduled for April. And in December, blood collection operations began coming to a close, and it was a very emotional experience. But for the most part, I got to breathe a little and enjoy a really lovely Christmas with my family.

Jan 2018
It was a good thing I got a two month breather, because with the start of the new year came a new announcement. We received the news that within the next several months Arkansas and Oklahoma would split apart as a region, and Arkansas would be joining up with Missouri. This was yet another astronomical change. Meanwhile, fundraiser planning was still in full swing and Sound the Alarm planning was supposed to be in full swing.

Oh, and things with Mississippi Boy got real over Christmas, and I introduced him to Scott and the kids in January. Major transitions at work. Major transitions at home. Transitions, transitions everywhere.

Feb 2018 - Present
With blood collections handed over to Arkansas Blood Institute (where I highly encourage central Arkansas folks to go to give blood now, though if you are in the northern part of the state or in most other parts of the country, you can still donate through Red Cross), the question of what would happen to our building loomed over us. It was decided earlier this month, that we will remain in our building but everyone's offices will be relocated to a central area of the building instead of spread out as we had been. We are in the process of packing up our offices right now and moving them to new offices before the end of the month.

That sounds like small potatoes in light of everything else, but it has been another stressful transition.

Meanwhile, the Celebration of Heroes Luncheon fundraiser is in two weeks. (Tickets still available! Email us if you want to attend and support the work and mission of the Red Cross!)

Meanwhile, I am still working with our local team to organize the newly scheduled Sound the Alarm for April 28th. (We still need volunteers, so go sign up!)

Meanwhile, we are in the thick of working out the imminent transition from the Oklahoma-Arkansas region to the Missouri-Arkansas region.

Meanwhile, I'm still getting calls constantly about what happened to blood collections.

Meanwhile, it is now the start of tornado season.

Meanwhile, I'm still dating this lovely man long-distance and parenting my three wild cherubs every other week, trying to find the perfect work-life balance that supposedly exists somewhere in the universe where full-time working single moms are still able to find time for romance and spending quality time with their children.

Meanwhile, the official divorce date for me and Scott is coming up in the very near future. (Scott, by the way, is the best ex a girl could ask for. He is a really great man, folks. But even in a divorce as amicable and agreeable as ours, divorce takes a lot of planning and it's stressful AF.)

Meanwhile, amid planning the Heroes Lunch and Sound the Alarm, I also have my Annual Board Meeting looming in the not too distant future, and several week-long training sessions out of state, and then hurricane season is looming after that, and then next year's fundraiser is after that and then tornado season again after that and then ...


I guess what I'm trying to say is, if I don't get 36 posts cranked out this year, I should probably give myself a break about it.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Ten Things That Royally Suck About Being a Single Parent

Back in the day, anytime the husband was out of town for a couple of days, I would lament dramatically about how hard being a "single parent" was. I would heap praise upon single mothers for their heroic efforts, as I swooned on the couch like a damsel in distress, hair in a messy bun, yesterday's makeup smeared across my eyes.

Then I became a single mother in real life, not just for a weekend, but for, like, forever indefinitely, and I realized there are way more things that suck about being a single parent than just feeling and looking tired all the time.

As my days go by, I discover more and more things that just suck. Some of these are specific to single parents; most can be shared by single folks regardless of parental status. But the following ten things are what I have found to be the suckiest parts of single motherhood. (I could also offer a money-back guarantee that Scott feels the exact same way about being a single dad, but there's been no money exchanged here, so just take my word for it.)

Ten Things That Royally Suck About Being A Single Parent (or single whatever):

1. Having to carry all your own groceries into the house. SERIOUSLY. It's like twice as many trips to the car, and then you have to put it all away yourself too. There is, of course, the cutting-off-circulation-to your-wrists method by slipping 6 bags onto each arm and clutching the gallons of milk in your fists, but you then risk scratching the paint on your car by trying to close the trunk with arms full of swinging cans of mixed vegetables. Yes, you can recruit the kids to help, but suddenly they all find a bag of bread sooooo heavy, Mom and you just want to give up right then on the driveway in front of your neighbors and God and the city alderman who lives two doors down. (She throws great summer barbecues.)

I use the cut-off-circulation method every time.

2. Not having someone to make a quick run to the store whilst you're cooking when you realize you're missing an ingredient. You know, you think you have everything you need, so you start stirring the pot on the stove and shoving food in the oven when you realize, "Aw crap, I'm out of ketchup!" But there's a half-ready dinner cooking, and with no one to run to the nearest supermarket to grab a bottle of ketchup for you, your dinner is ruined and the kids refuse to eat it.

I always run out of eggs.

3. Having no one to call to when you're in the bathroom and out of toilet paper. Y'all know what I'm talking about - you've had a satisfying few moments of silence, until you realize you're out of TP. So you do the awkward shake off then commence the pants-around-your-ankles waddle to the toilet paper closet and back. (Does everyone else have a toilet paper closet?)  Anyway, I've called on the kids once or twice when they were within earshot, but I'm trying to train them to leave me alone in the bathroom, not join me there. Inviting them in to hand me a roll of toilet paper is as counterproductive as inviting them to sit across from me on a stool and tell me again all about their favorite YouTuber.

Ah crap.

4. Similarly, having no one to call to when you're in the shower and forget to get a towel. I hate the feel of sopping foot prints on my bathmat, but when you forget the towel, you've got to drip drip drip all the way to the towel closet (surely you all have one of those) and all the way back. Then the bottoms of your feet get all covered in fluff and hair and tiny bits of paper that didn't exist until that very moment, and you will need another shower again to rinse off all the filth. And then you'll have to vacuum your carpets right after that because you had no idea they were so disgusting.

Is there anybody out there?

5. The sole responsibility is on you to remember to drip the faucets when it's cold outside. Okay, this one's personal. But I came home from work yesterday to burst water pipes, and it was all my fault for forgetting to drip the taps just that once. The adulting is too much.

Actual footage of my basement ceiling.

6. Flying solo when the kids are absolutely doing your head in. Let's get to the real parental brass tacks here. When there are two sane adults in the house, one of you is allowed to sometimes succumb to the overwhelming insanity and retreat, while the less perturbed one rallies the troops. But when you're the only adult around, there's no one to pass the buck to. You just have to keep on truckin', and try not to Hulk smash anything.

And it's only 8am, honey.

7. Having no one to pick up the slack when you're sick.
I remember last Valentine's Day being surrounded by puking children and feeling pukey myself. While I was lying bed in the middle of the night, trying not to move a single muscle to keep my stomach still, I heard a kid hurl all over the bedroom carpet. I had to soothe a crying child, mop up puke, and suppress my own heaves. It was god-awful. Then there's the times I get a migraine, and even the slightest noise or light makes me crazy. It's those times when the kids decide a mangled Pokemon card is worth fighting to the death over. And don't get me started on what it's like the week before I start my period.

I just can't even.

8. Trying to juggle school nights all on your own. Homework, dinner, cleaning up, bath time, bedtime, kill-me-now. I may pretend to be supermom, but after a full day of work and getting home at 5:30 - 6pm, trying to assist three children to varying degrees with homework, whilst cooking dinner and running a load of dishes and throwing in a load of laundry all before bath and bedtime - after all of that, I feel like the worst mum ever. Plus, my fifth grader's math homework makes me feel like an idiot.

You and me both, kid.

9. Having no one to unwind and be an adult with at the end of the day. After all the hard work is over and the kids are tucked peacefully into their beds, you look around and it's just you. There's no other adult to plop on the couch next to and share a glass of wine with. No one to just look at and laugh off the ridiculousness of your evening with. No adult to vent to about the walls your toddler Sharpied today or that woman at work who drives you crazy. No one to cuddle with while you unwind to an episode of Walking Dead (or The Bachelor, whatever floats your boat). No, it's just you. Some days that's perfect. On other days, it sucks.

Guess I'll just eat this whole cake myself.

10. Feeling overwhelmed when the kids are there and feeling lonely when they're not. Though having the kids 24/7 is overwhelming and at times maddening, when they are at their dad's house, everything feels so empty. My house is just too quiet. I enjoy it the first night, don't get me wrong. I then get a little restless the second night. After a few nights, I start thinking about all their sweet qualities: their hugs and kisses, their funny sayings, their bright eyes, their peaceful faces while sleeping. And I start to miss them, like, in the tenderest part of my heart. I miss them so much, it hurts. It really sucks. Royally.

I even miss their incessant, unintelligible chatter.

Image Sources: Unsplash / Pixabay / Adobe Stock

Sunday, December 31, 2017

40 Questions - Year 13 (and 12)

Image source: Adobe Stock

2016 was the kind of a year I did not want to talk about. While I'd been answering these 40 questions for eleven years straight, last year I couldn't bring myself to do this. I started, but didn't get very far, and ended up leaving it in draft form for the entire year. I just wasn't ready at this point last year to talk about my pending divorce or all the crappiness that surrounded 2016.

This year though has been such a transformative year that I really want to go ahead and give this another bash. I don't know how many more years I'll want to answer these same questions, but it's been a really fun way to document each year of the past decade or so, so here we go. The year 2017 - the year everything changed.

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?
This summer I went backpacking for the first time. I never thought I was the outdoorsy type, aside from enjoying a good camping weekend. But I fell in love with the idea of backpacking, and after that first trip, I became hooked. It was an amazing experience, and now I look for every opportunity to get out with my backpack as much as possible.

Backpacking with David (and sort of Allen)

Running for the photographers.

I joined the Rotary Club.

I got my first COLOR tattoo.

My "unicone" tattoo for Lolly.

But quite possibly the most AMAZING thing I did in 2017 that I'd never done before was see Tripping Daisy live in concert! Tripping Daisy was my favorite band in high school, and I never got to see them live before they broke up. Until May. It was out of this world. I got lost in just living.

Blown away.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions and will you make more for next year?
My New Year's resolution last year was simply to survive. And I did. So there.

This year, rather than a resolution per se I've been compiling a Bucket List/To Do list. On this list I'd like to accomplish or do the following fifteen things in 2018:

1. Save [undisclosed amount of money].
2. Get more involved in the community by joining a board.
3. Read 12 books (a book a month).
4. Visit a new city.
5. Visit the beach.
6. Finally put Meatloaf & a Rosary (my book of poetry) into print.
7. Send 36 letters/cards/parcels to various friends and relatives. (I'll be 36 this year.)
8. Publish at least 36 blog posts.
9. Take kids on a trip or vacation.
10. Lose 15-20 pounds. (Starting keto on Jan 2!)
11. [Unspoken Bucket List Item] - like an Unspoken Prayer Request only cheekier.
12. Spend the night in a haunted hotel.
13. Practice a couple "no spend" months.
14. Run another race (maybe a 10k instead of half marathon this time).
15. Volunteer my time for a new organization.

Some of these aren't traditional "bucket list" items, in that they may not be things I've never done before, but they're things I'd like to do next year. Generic resolution-wise though, I just want to spend less money, lose some weight, and make the most of this new year.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My friend Kate from book club had a baby, but I'm such a bad friend, I can't remember if it was 2017 or 2016. He's still pretty little though so I'm going to guess 2017. My sis-in-law Rebekkah is due a baby in January 2018, though, and I'm super excited to meet the next mini McFarlane!

It occurred to me last year while trying to answer these questions that I'm starting to get to an age where this isn't going to be so prevalent anymore. Most of my friends are nearing the end of our childbearing years. Oh my god that means I'm getting old.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Last year (in my attempt to answer these questions): Oh, you mean besides every icon of childhood imaginable? No.

Ha! Yeah, 2016 was brutal. This year, the only funeral I attended was for our Red Cross chapter's previous executive director (my predecessor) Candy Carey. She passed away in April quite unexpectedly, and that was hard for everyone. She'd been the ED in this area for 20-something years.

5. What places did you visit?
I feel like I'm trying to cover two years here. In 2016, I went to Tacoma, New Orleans, Denver and several places in Oklahoma. In 2017, I went to Dallas to see Tripping Daisy, Washington DC for Red Cross training, Ft Myers, FL, to respond to Hurricane Irma, and I've spent a significant amount of time in Mississippi (more on that later).

A crappy shot of Bourbon Street.
Tripping Daisy in Dallas

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?
Well, in 2015, I said I wanted balance. Moving into 2017, I needed that in so many more ways than I realized then. I needed work/life balance, me/others balance, and mental/emotional balance.  And I think I achieved that for the most part in 2017.

What I lacked in 2017 though was a forward plan. My goal this year was just to survive as a newly single woman and single mom. What I need next year is to figure out my next steps. I don't need to just survive in 2018 - I need to thrive.

7. What date from 2016/2017 will remain etched upon your memory?
I give in- I'm answering for two years from now on.

Oct 10, 2016 is when I started my new job as Communications Director for the Red Cross. That was life changing (in more ways than one). However, April 24, 2017 is the day I became the Executive Director for my Red Cross chapter. So that was a big deal, also life changing.

But January 28, 2017 will forever be remembered as one of the hardest of my life. It's the day Scott officially moved out. That brings tears to my eyes even right now as I write it.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
2016: New job.
2017: New job.

9. What was your biggest failure?
2016: (And I quote the draft from last year that I never published:) Everything. (Aw, Last Year Me, that's not true!)

2017: Let's be honest - what I was referring to previously was the failure to keep my marriage together. And I guess in practical terms, that's probably the most obvious answer to this question. But is moving on and making a decision that is ultimately better for both of us a failure, or has it been a success that we have remained such good friends and such good co-parents to our wee ones? I think it's all in how you look at it. Getting divorced is one of the ultimate "failures" in our society. But maybe that's the wrong way of looking at it. Maybe we've succeeded in adulting.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I don't recall any visits to the ER, so I'm going to say no. I was in a car accident in August '17, but the injuries were minor.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I bought a new car (which has been hit now twice, so it might actually be cursed) and most recently I bought a self-cleaning cat litter box. Which I'm thinking might have been the best thing I've bought my whole entire life.

New car/ old car

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
2016: I wrote, "I thought Bernie Sanders did pretty well this year."

2017: My kids. They have been stars throughout this whole huge life transition. Their lives have been utterly turned upside down, yet they have been the most awesome, resilient and optimistic humans I know. I am so grateful to Scott for joining me in creating a united front and an environment for them that has allowed them to work through this mess in their own way. They are the real superstars this year.

13. What regrets do you have about the past year?
Well... I mean, yes, I regret that my marriage did not last. But positive things have come of it. So beyond that, I'd say it's been a year of learning, healing, growing and reflecting. I could focus on regrets, but I just don't want to. Regrets get us nowhere.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Books. Clothes. Petrol. (Petrol because I drove to Mississippi a lot this year. And that's because...)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
I started dating someone this summer that has pretty much stolen my heart. He lives in Mississippi though, which really, really, really sucks, but from the very earliest days we both couldn't help but feel the distance was (and still is) worth it. And I'm really, really, really excited about this new person in my life. This relationship was unexpected and unsoughtafter but has been a very joyful and meaningful turn of events for me. I'm immensely happy.

The Boyfriend
16. What song/album will always remind you of 2016/2017?
2016: Hamilton the Broadway musical and The Hamilton Mixtape.
2017: Band of Horses Why Are You Ok album.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
2016 (and I quote:)
happier or sadder? Sadder. I am hating these questions this year.
thinner or fatter? The tiniest bit thinner.
richer or poorer? Richer, which is nice.

happier or sadder? Sadder at the start of the year. Happier at the end.
thinner or fatter? So much fatter. *weeps*
richer or poorer? Poorer, way poorer after dropping down to a single income. Ouch. But doing fine regardless.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Writing and reading, both years. Backpacking/camping (two of my trips got cancelled this year, meaning I didn't get to do nearly as much as I wanted). Nor did I exercise as much as I wanted to (and needed to). But that's life!

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
This year has been so busy that I have no idea what I could've actually cut out. There was really no time for doing anything that I wish I'd done less of!

20. How did you spend Christmas?
In 2016, I spent Christmas with my family as always. It was an emotional Christmas for me and Scott especially, but we spent it together.

Christmas 2016

We decided early on that for the time being, we would continue to spend holidays together as a nuclear family, so in 2017, I spent Christmas with my family same as before. Only this year, Scott came over to my house early on Christmas morning for kids to open the presents I got them. Then we went to his house to open his presents. That afternoon we all went to my dad's to celebrate with them. This past Saturday before Christmas, we also all spent the day with my mom for an early Christmas celebration. Scott and I are still a family. Just a different kind of family.

(I didn't think to get a picture of all three kids together this year - I barely took any pictures at all - but because my kids are hella cute:)



21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
Hmm, it's a toss up. On the weeks when the kids are at Scott's house, I talk to the kids on the phone every night at 7pm. (And he talks to them every night that I have them.) But those are short conversations where they are mostly distracted with whatever toy they are currently playing or fighting over, so as far as hours accrued, I probably spent the most time on the phone with The Mississippi Boyfriend.

Another contender for most time on the phone is one of my colleagues whom I tend to call while on long drives for travel. And earlier in the year I spent a lot of time on the phone with Heather from Scotland. It's hard to say who I've spent the most time on the phone with! But it's probably The Boyfriend (who does have a name by the way).

22. What's your best memory from 2016/2017?
I'm having a hard time thinking about this one. Lots of good little moments but one "best" memory from either year is alluding me. Definitely my backpacking trips and the moment I ran across the finish line of the half marathon were big. Deploying to Florida for Hurricane Irma relief was big. There was the night I took the three kids to the KARK TV station to finish the telethon that raised money for flooding in Pocahontas, AR, and they got to meet the governor and first lady of Arkansas. But surely the biggest one was seeing Tripping Daisy live. That was almost two decades in waiting. (Have I mentioned yet how awesome that was?)

Red Cross deployment to Florida with my APAT partner Colin.
The Honorable Asa Hutchinson, First Lady Susan Hutchinson
and the Magnificent Fifi, Lolly and Jaguar. With Mediocre Mum.

Tim Delaughter! Bryan Wakeland! Mark Pirro!

23. How have you seen yourself grow as a person this year?
I'm glad I kept the draft from last year, because this is meaningful and as true in 2015 as in 2016 as in 2017: I think I should copy some of what I put last year, because it's still true, and I'm still growing this way:  "I've learned that in order for anything to ever get better, we are going to have to actually do something about it. I can't sit back and hope someone else does something, but I myself must take action... I think we all have our part to play in the big stuff, but even in the small things - keeping a friend's kids so they can get out, donating money or time to tornado relief, bringing someone groceries when they are sick, writing a little note to encourage someone.  All the little things that take so little of me but give so much to someone else."

Working for the Red Cross has given me a way to do that every single day, but it's also given me the means to do it in other smaller ways.  Like Dr. Seuss said, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

In 2017 in particular, I've seen myself grow as a self-sufficient person. Someone who doesn't need another person to "complete" her. I've always been independent, but not having a partner in life anymore to help me accomplish all the day-in-day-out tasks or helping me make large decisions has forced me to grow even more independent. Decisions I make now are mine solely, and I'm solely responsible for them. I've grown in self-confidence, and most importantly, I've come to accept that who I am is enough for me. I don't need another person to get me through life. Other people are a wonderful support but are not my foundation. I build and stand on my own foundation.

24. What was your favorite TV program(s)?
2016: Stranger ThingsHouse of Cards. (What we didn't know then. Sigh.)
2017: Who has time for TV?

26. What was the best book(s) you read? What books would you like to read in the next year?
Hands down, The Poisonwood Bible was the best book I read in 2017. It's up there with Silence as far as books that have had a huge impact on me. As for next year, I have a stack of books a mountain high. Where do I start?? As I write this, I'm being recommended The Book of Strange New Things which sounds like The Poisonwood Bible in outer space. (Thanks, Brian!)

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
It's easy for 2016 - Hamilton. There was also the What's Inside: Songs from Waitress soundtrack. But this past year, I don't know that anything new was really discovered. 

28. What did you want and get?
2016: I really wanted the Red Cross job, and I got it. :)
2017: The other Red Cross job.

Red Cross shelter in Ft Myers, FL
29. What did you want and not get?
A vacation with my kids. Maybe next year.

30. What were your favorite films of this year?
Of the movies I saw in the cinema, would it be ridiculous to admit I loved Annabelle: Creation? Because it was immensely fun to watch. And honestly Coco was remarkable. Perhaps my favorite of all though - and mock all you want - was Bad Moms because I relate so hard. I cried and yes, it's a comedy.

Speaking of crying, it's not a film, but I also went to see Gift of the Magi at the Arkansas Repertory Theater, and I cried like a baby through that too.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
2016: I don't think I did anything for my birthday this year. Sad.

2017: I went to dinner with a group of my girlfriends at Star of India. I had wanted to karaoke for my birthday, but that time of year was just too dismal for me. Celebrating was kind of the last thing I wanted to do.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
You know what? In spite of what a tough year this has been, I can't think of anything that would have made this year more satisfying. It was a year for healing, and it accomplished just that, and then some. I'm immensely satisfied with my life and how this year progressed. It was hard, y'all - the hardest year of my life. But it was, to be corny as hell, like entering a cocoon, getting liquefied and utterly mangled, and emerging with new wings.

("That's poetic! That's pathetic." Whatevs. It's true.)

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016/2017?
2016: Pantsuits. (At work.)
2017: Sweatpants. (Not at work.)

Suit up!
34. What kept you sane?
My job. In fact, credit for this goes to my dear friend Nigel in Colorado. Last December, I went to Denver for a Divisional meeting where I met Nigel and a number of other Red Cross communications directors in our Division (nine states). I confided in Nigel what was happening with my marriage. She gave me the best advice, and this advice got me through the first half of 2017. She said the only way to survive in my new job with this happening was to leave my baggage at the front door of the office before I walked in everyday and pick it back up when I walk out. Easier said than done, I know, but I took that image with me every day. I would often cry the entire drive into work, but when I parked my car, I wiped my eyes, applied a bit of fresh makeup, and walked into the office, leaving my personal life in the car. I would focus and concentrate hard all day on my work, refusing myself a free second to think about what was going on outside my job. When the day was done, I got back in my car and cried the whole way home. I did this for the first several months after Scott moved out. My job gave me a needed distraction and a focus and a purpose. It kept me going, even on my darkest, most sinister days. I even remember driving back from Fayetteville one day in a Red Cross car, thinking how easy it would be to end it all by driving off the edge of the road into the ravine - except I was in a Red Cross car and didn't want to destroy something that was there to help people in time of need. (I was severely depressed and illogical. Don't blame me for having odd priorities during that dark time.)

Raising money for flooding relief via KARK telethon.
That's me with Aaron Nolan and Arkansas AG Lesley Rutledge.

35. Which holiday or special occasion meant the most to you?
I have two. And they are weird.

The first was Valentine's Day, my first Valentine's Day as a single woman. Scott brought me flowers in spite of our separation. I knew then that we were going to get through this civilly and as friends.

The second was Christmas this year. I spent the weekend before Christmas on a mini vacation with The Boyfriend, and it was magical. No matter what happens with us in the future, we both agree that's a weekend we never want to forget. Our relationship may last or it may not, but after an extremely hard year for both of us, I feel like this Christmas gave us both hope that our lives are going to be okay.

(The Boyfriend's name, by the way, is Neil.)

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
2016: All of them. And now that we are approaching a President Trump, I can no longer stomach politics. I used to listen to NPR all the time - it was my alarm in the morning, what I listened to on the way to and from work and during lunch breaks. Now I just cannae.

2017: All of them. Still. I just can't even.

37. Who did you miss?
2016: My Scottish friends, especially Heather. I could've used having her nearby this year.
2017: Same.

38. Who was the best new person (people) you met?
2016: I like my new coworkers. They are the only new people I met that I can think of, but I've only known them for a few months. (Katrina, Brian, Dave, Stephanie - the list could go on and on and on so to avoid missing anyone I'll stop there.)

2017: I made some great new friends this year. Taylor and Jeremy - especially Jeremy and his lovely and hilarious daughter Pengwen (not her real name), and of course The Boyfriend, along with the guys who come along with him, Brian and Marvin (their real names). I also continue to meet incredible people through work, such as all the members of my Board of Directors (I could name you all but I'll settle with naming a few - Eric, Adrienne, Joe, Jeff, Monica) and new coworkers like Steve and Llahoma. I've met some really wonderful people this year.

My buddy Jeremy.

My Kehlers.
39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016/2017.
Let's just stick with 2017 here.

Conflict does not have be synonymous with war. Scott and I had two options for handling our conflict this year - allow it to result in devastation or growth. I imagine a nuclear wasteland where most failed marriages end up. Everything's black and burnt and destroyed, there is hate and death and agony. But there's also a winter garden where we determined we'd plant our failed marriage. The grass was brown and withered, but there was potential for new life. A spring could come where new flowers blossomed, and where hope and healing could push through the soil out of the struggle. There were a few frosts early on that threatened to choke out the new life we hoped to grow, but as summer approached, we began to see the fruits of the labor we put into keeping our conflict mutually constructive. Like that cheesy butterfly analogy earlier: conflict can also result in beauty and transformation. It doesn't have to result in mass destruction.

To those of you who don't know what to make of the relationship Scott and I now have, think on this a little. We've got three amazing children who need two parents who love each other. We may not want to be married anymore, but we shared twelve years together and share the responsibility of raising three kids in the most fertile soil we can. So yes, we will always care for each other and love each other, even if we aren't married to each other and end up falling in love with other people. Conflict doesn't have to be synonymous with war.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?
"Everything Changes" - Sara Bareilles, What's Inside: Songs from Waitress

Everything changes.
My heart's at the wheel now
nd all my mistakes, they make sense
when I turn them around.
Everything changes ...

I didn't know,
but now I see s
ometimes what is, is meant to be ...
My blurry lines, my messy life come into focus
and in time maybe I can heal and I can breathe
'cause I can feel myself believe
that everything changes.