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.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advent Thoughts: Part-Time Christmas

For the past I don't know how many years - pause - actually thanks to my blog I can track it back to 2009...

So for the past eight years, I have celebrated Christmas with an Advent Activity Calendar for my kids. Each day leading up to Christmas, instead of chocolate, they pull out a note "from the elves" with an activity for the day. In early years, we did all kind of arts and crafts together to prepare for the holiday, though in recent years the activity lists have gotten a little - I hate to call it lazy but - perhaps less time-consuming? 

(I also used to blog about it. I named the blog project DeBloAdMo, riffing off of NaBloPoMo. However, just as I was always bad about daily blogging during November's National Blog Post Month, I was equally bad at daily blogging my December Blog Advent Month.)

Last Christmas, for the eighth year in a row, we put out the Advent Activity Calendar, but it was an awful month for me and Scott. We chose really easy, low-maintenance activities, and even still we ended up not doing half of them. Part of that was the busyness and excessive travel of the early days of my new job; much was due to the struggles he and I were facing as our marriage crumbled. I didn't even blog about it once, apparently. 

Some people eschew anything that brings back difficult memories. It would've been easier to leave my tree ornaments in the box and buy new ones. It would be easier to do away with old traditions and start new ones that don't remind me of the past. But the pains - and pleasures - of the past make us who we are. They are a part of our tapestry. I don't want to forget any part of my life, not like I could if I wanted to, regardless of where I am now. As I journey on through life, I want to learn from my mistakes, bask in the moments that filled me with joy and respect the obstacles I've faced that have led me to where I am now.

So in keeping with a tradition I have loved, the Advent Activity Calendar went out again this year. It was different this time, and a little weird. I only have the kids every other week, meaning the Advent calendar is only half-filled. It made planning activities easier, but it also feels like it's only Christmas part-time. The tiny empty pockets are kind of sad. (I've been trying not to look at them and see myself missing half my children's lives in those empty little pockets.) 

The feelings of being a part-time parent are difficult to describe. There are pluses and minuses. I would be totally lying if I didn't say I really enjoy having some time to myself. I like having a quiet house, and I love being able to clean a room and it stay clean for a whole week. I enjoy having some free time again to do whatever I want. The freedom is pretty awesome, but I recognize this isn't how it's meant to be. I hate feeling like I'm missing out on time with my children. I hate that they are making memories every other week without me, and making memories without their dad on my weeks. The house gets too quiet sometimes, and I find myself wandering around at a loss for what to do and missing the delight of seeing life through those three pairs of child-sized eyes. It's an indescribable feeling, enjoying being alone and hating being alone.  If I think about it too hard, well, I just get upset over the whole thing.

But ever the optimist, I look at the bright side. When the kids come back to my house after a week away, I am excited to see them again. My patience tank is full. My appreciation for their little quirks is in full swing. My tolerance for their messes is higher, knowing that I'll just clean everything up in a week, and it'll be okay. I am energized and rested and ready to be their mummy full time and to the best of my ability. That's got to be a good thing! And when the week is up, and I'm starting to feel the strain and stress and frustration of being a single mum, they go to a rested, patient, excited-to-see-them daddy. So despite only getting half the month of December with them leading up to Christmas, I've been able to have a lot more fun with them this year, especially with our activity calendar.

Here's what the elves had lined up for this 2017 Advent season:
5 – Drive through Sherwood Forest to look at Christmas lights.
6 – Check email message from Santa. 
7 – Eat dinner by candlelight. 
8 – Drink hot chocolate with marshmallows. 
9 – Cut out snowflakes and hang them around the house.
10 – Choose toys to donate and go see a Christmas movie at the cinema.
11 – Have a sleepover after school with Mimi and Poppi.

19 – Make reindeer food.
20 – Eat Christmas pancakes in pajamas for dinner.
21 – Film a Christmas video for family and friends in Scotland.
22 – Wrap presents to put under the tree.
23 – Make gingerbread men for the Christmas tree.
24 – Go to a carol service, then put out snacks and reindeer food for Santa’s sleigh team!!

Our first week was a lot of fun. The kids were bouncing in their seats and singing "All I Want For Christmas" at the top of their lungs as we drove through the Christmas lights display at Sherwood Forest. Jaguar still believed his email message was actually from Santa (even though Santa pronounced his name wrong) and had the most magical sparkle in his eye as Santa talked directly to him. We enjoyed hot chocolate with gigantic marshmallows for breakfast. (Bad idea, folks, bad idea right before school - they were so hyper!) We went to see Coco together - not a Christmas movie, but one we all LOVED. And last night they spent the night with their grandparents (a total cop-out since I had to travel for work that day, but still looked on as a mid-school-week adventure). 

Confession: We forgot to light the candles for dinner on the 7th. And we have yet to cut out the paper snowflakes. Both of these oversights will be remedied. And as for the toy donation, my youngest refused to part with ANYTHING, so one of the benefits of part-time parenting is I have all week to sort through their toys for them, and they will never notice anything has left the building.

Yes, it feels sad to have those empty pockets, representing little days and precious memories I'm missing out on. In an ideal world, sure, all the pockets would be full. But we make of the world what we choose to make it, and we're making it the best we can for ourselves and for our children. I'm thankful my kids get their daddy as much as they do. I'm happy I get them as much as I do. I'm glad that he and I get along well enough that the kids still get both of us together fairly regularly. The twenty-four days leading up to Christmas this year may be split in half, but Christmas day will be whole, as all five of us open presents together, first at my house then at their dad's, in our new different-kind-of-family way. We know that our new different-kind-of-family will likely morph and grow over the years, that new traditions will develop and some old traditions will fade away. One day all of those pockets will be empty, come to think of it, as the kids grow up and abandon their childhood games. So I'm grateful for the time I have with our kids, grateful for the time they have with their dad, and I'm grateful for the time I get to recharge my own batteries every other week.

It feels like in closing I should say something about when life gives you lemons, but instead, since it's Christmas, let me just say that when life gives you broken eggs, you gotta look on the bright side and make eggnog. 

Though it doesn't hurt to double the rum.