Saturday, February 18

Meet Luna


     Happy Saturday guys:) So this post might be a bit out of the blue, but I've been meaning to officially introduce our kitty to you guys for quite some time, so here is her little story:

     Most of you probably don't know that before we moved out to our farmhouse in 2015, we lived in the city in an old 1907 Queen-ann style house that we put a lot of time into fixing up. We lived there for a few years without any rodent sightings at all, but then in the Fall of 2014 we were watching TV one night when two fat little mice jumped out of an old heat grate near the floor and ran around the corner into our bedroom! I freaked out pretty badly since I grew up in a house in the woods where mice made life pretty difficult on a daily basis, so I set to work furiously pulling all furniture away from the walls and stayed up nearly all night laying about 100 mousetraps all over the house. I was NOT going to let these mice take over our house under any circumstances. haha
     At the time we'd never had any pets, so it was to my surprise the next morning Martin suggested over breakfast that we look into getting a cat to catch the mice. I thought that was a great idea, so I immediately got on craigslist to see if we could find one there instead of buying from a pet shop. I'd always loved the idea of adopting or 'rescuing' a pet who needed a good home. Sure enough within a few minutes, I came across an offer for a free kitty who already was litter-box trained,had been given her shots, and was spayed. I messaged the number and asked for a picture, and I instantly fell in love with her. The owner said that she'd rescued her from the pound only to have her other cats pick on her non-stop. I drove with the older girls to meet her, and we knew right away that we had to take her home. When she came to us she was very thin with patchy fur and some scraps and blood from fights with the bigger cats. She was also really skittish and anxious, but all it took was a couple cuddly evenings on the couch and she became my shadow around the house. She purred pretty much non-stop for the first week or so too after we adopted her, and she was so sweet and gently with all the kiddies, it was a wonderful fit. Within the first couple weeks we found two fat dead mice on the kitchen floor, and never saw another mouse on the property or in the house again:)

     It was really fun to watch her fur thicken and start to shine as time went on, and she put on some weight pretty quickly too. When Spring 2015 came and we were planning for Evie's home-birth, I introduced her to the great outdoors and she was in heaven. She would slowly sneak through the tall grass like she thought she was a jungle panther, and it was so fun watching her lounge in the sunshine and jump around catching flies. These days she still lives outside and loves hunting through the horse pasture, and since Eppy the dog prefers the indoors 99% of the time, they don't have any problems with territory. haha

     Well that's pretty much it! I hope you guys enjoyed learning about Luna, and I'd love to hear any cat stories you might have as well, or dog stories if you're a dog person. haha I really didn't know what the big deal was with 'cat people' or 'dog people' before getting our own, but she has really been such a blessing since she joined our family, and it was sweet to finally see how they really can feel like part of your family. We sure love you kitty! 

     P.S. I'll get Richard on here in the next little while to introduce you guys to Eppy, if you'd like:) 


Monday, February 13

on the open road || a mix tape

     Before I get on with tonight's post, I really have to acknowledge the incredibly touching and tender responses that have been coming in since my last post. I feel so honored you guys to have such beautiful souls with such big hearts following along here with me hereEvery one of you who have taken the time to comment, to open up, and also to give so much encouragement. If you haven't had a chance to take a look at the post, I hope you can at least read through the comments section. So many touching experiences and perspectives have been shared, and in so many different circumstances, yet all of us can relate to each other. It's really incredible. Alright moving on now:)
     It's been about a year or so I think since I've posted a playlist for you guys, which makes me even happier about sharing this current list of mellow favorites! For those of you who are fairly new, I've been sharing a playlist feature dubbed 'Mix Tapes' on here for a few years now, usually once a month. Music has always been so important to me, but honestly, my favorite music was too mentally derailing to listen to for a while. I've slowly been getting back into the type of slow stuff that I love to listen to regularly, and this group is A+.

     I've decided to use these songs for my February/Valentine's Day playlist, even though they're not all about love and not all particularly happy for that matter, but they do calm my spirit and help me feel. I'm also calling this my 'open road mix', because every time we take trips lately this is my go-to. We've been driving a lot the last couple months, and I've realized that family car rides really are the greatest! We're all within ear shot and can talk or sing songs together as a family, but no wrestling matches can break out because no one is buckled next to anyone else.haha Richard and I can hold hands and talk and catch up with each other as much as we want. We get to see new things and sometimes eat fun foods or snacks. I can read or write or work on my laptop if I want since Richard is always the driver, and we always either have a fun destination/adventure ahead, or we're headed back home after a trip which always feels awesome as well. 

     Anyways here is the playlist. As you can see it's not my typical 'mix tape' playlist with 14-16 songs like those old classic cassettes, but this is even better with 55 songs and nearly four hours of music right? haha 

     How do you feel about road trips with your people? Are there any special tricks or things that help them go smoothly for you? It was our last trip that I realized it's really my favorite time with my family. Maybe it was a combination of quiet/contented children and the peacefulness I felt at the time, or maybe it was the time of day that made it all seem perfect. The sun was setting slowly behind us as we drove smoothly with the flow of the winding road. The trees along the side of the highway were breaking up the rays of light sending slashes of shadow across the road ahead of us. I could hear Ellie reading quietly to herself in the second seat, and when I looked back I had to smile at how contented the kids were. John was turned slightly and resting his head against the window as his heavy eyes stare out the window, Sophie was blinking heavily trying to fight off sleep, and the youngest two girls were both fast asleep in their car seats. I turned back to face forward and leaned my head on Richard's shoulder. Amos Lee was on at that moment and Rich was softly singing along with him. I love the warmth in his low voice. Even having gone nearly 8 years without hearing it, there was so much familiarity when we talked again for the first time last Fall. How I love my little clan.

     Well that's all for now I guess.haha As always I'd love to hear if you found any new favorites or had fun hearing old ones, and I'd also love to know if you have any recommendations based on this list that you think I should check out. I LOVE new music. And don't forget to share your road trip tips! :)

    Thanks so much for reading friends,

Saturday, February 11

Learning to dance in the rain

      Hey there, thanks for clickin' over. I'm in bed on my laptop and the house is quiet, so I'm going to try and get this out before my eyelids pull shut and I pass out:) I know it's late, but I've had some strong thoughts on my mind for nearly a month now, and I finally told you guys today that I would share them to give myself some accountability. Every time I tried to dig deep and write them out for the blog I would end up just shutting my computer and walking away. It's really hard lately to write when I'm feeling low, let alone put myself down there on purpose to write out deep thoughts. The last couple of days though you guys have just been so especially encouraging that I feel confident to just get them out once and for all. I want to start on the 7 month anniversary of Marty's passing as we're a few days away from his 8th now.

     The 15th of January was a beautiful Sunday. I woke up extra early, and the rest of the house was silent. I walked quietly into the kitchen and was stopped by the sight of snow falling outside. I remember pulling on my boots and a jacket and went out the back door to get some more wood from the snow-covered woodpile, and then I had to pause again to take in the sight. It was easily the most beautiful snowfall I'd ever seen. Every flake was sparkling and shining in the soft light of the sunrise, and they were clinging to even the tiniest leaf and limb. The silence was so complete, and I stood there for a while to soak it in before taking a few pictures, sharing a clip of it to my insta-story for you guys, and heading back inside with an armful of wood.

     That afternoon all seven of us loaded up in the car and headed to the cemetery as we do each week. During the Winter months we've been bringing supplies with us to try and keep Martin's headstone clear of snow and ice, and the freezing wind blew around us as I watched Richard shovel and chip away to expose it the best he could. It was such a display of love and respect for Martin on his part I thought as I watched him working so hard. After returning home I checked in on my sweet mother-in-law, and we exchanged a few messages of support and love on such a hard day for both of us. I then retreated to the basement and tried hard to write out how I was feeling on the 7-month mark. I kept typing paragraphs about how hard the day was, about how much I missed Martin, about the different ways I'm doing better and worse at the same time, about the kind of man it takes to take on what Richard has, about the height and depth of love, etc, but I kept deleting them. Nothing fit well enough for that day. There weren't words to describe my feelings, but now as we're nearing his 8th month anniversary, I want to share a few thoughts and misconceptions about grief that I feel (in my humble opinion) are very important to those of us who continue to live after someone dear to them is gone.

     First of all, there is no 'other side' of grief. It's never going to pass. You don't ever 'move on' from it. You just learn to live with it. You absorb it. It becomes part of you. You simply adjust and change. You slowly but surely find how to navigate through your new normal with it. It doesn't get easier, you just get stronger. I'll say that again: It does not get easier, you just get stronger.

You stop waiting for the storm to pass, and instead, learn to dance in the rain. 

     With my story of Martin and his melanoma, we started grieving the minute we heard the words 'terminal cancer' nearly 2 years ago now. We started immediately mourning the life we used to have where that word didn't exist, where he wasn't in pain, where we didn't have fear, where our family was whole. A life that we knew we'd never have again, not completely. The doctor left the room for a bit, and we just held tightly to each other as we cried together. The baby in my tummy kicked and he wondered if he would even be able to meet her at all. We leaned our foreheads together as he started brainstorming about how we should prepare for when he was gone, for when I was alone with all five children, about how I was going to make a living, about the kind of man he hoped I would find. I cried harder and asked him to stop. I couldn't think about a life without him. We weren't going to think that as even a possibility right then.

     Nearly two years ago now. Two years of grieving, two years of mourning our simple beautiful life. And now he's gone. The 8 years we had together, and the 15 months we fought that cancer as hard as we could; no amount of months or years or decades can change what that meant to me and the impact that it had on me. I realized a long time ago that there was no 'getting over' him. There is no 'moving on' from him. There is never going to be a time that I stop missing him. No amount of carrying on with life or moving here or there with the kids or being happy or finding love again or moving forward or making new friends is going to change that.

     There is no timeline for grief, so don't you ever ever let anyone tell you there is. Loss like that is not something that you take a year, or two, or five to get through and complete, and then you're okay to move forward. There are no rules to grief. YOU make the decisions about how you handle your grief, about how and when you move forward, because you are the only one who feels the way you do, who has experienced exactly what you have, and who has to keep on living long after everyone else has forgotten. You don't base your feelings and choices about how others think you should feel or choose. You absolutely can't.

     Secondly, there is not just one anniversary every year when the day they died rolls around again. Yes, that's the formal definition of the word, but it's much more than that. As everyone who has experienced the loss of someone they love deeply can attest, it's not even the yearly events like birthdays and Christmases (which are indeed incredibly painful), it's all those other little anniversaries that happen far more often, mostly when you least expect them, and that are usually far more crippling. Brief moments of memory that can broadside you, causing you to relive the tragedy through again in your mind; memories and dreams that can cause your heart to break all over again. After losing someone you love, especially if it's someone who lived with you (and experienced every moment of your life with you for nearly a decade or more), everything in your life becomes a potential reoccurring trigger. And since these triggers are customized to you and aren't obvious to 99% of the people around you, they are often completely unaware and oblivious of just how often and for what reasons you're mourning. In my mind, not one person in my life was with me every step of the way and witnessed everything I have felt and been through and experienced the last couple years.

     So no, it's not just the 15th of June, or the 21st (the day of his funeral), or even the 15th of every months or every Wednesday morning at 10:35. I wish the reminders were so few, but that's not how grief works. It's every time the sunlight shines through the big windows like it did on his hospice bed when he took his last breath. It's every time I see the snowflakes falling and remember that night he taught me to waltz in the snow, and the night he knelt and proposed. It's every time I hear Coldplay and remember our fingers intertwining for the first time. It's the movie we watched on our first date. It's the smell of fresh grass, bread flour on my cheek, and an old baseball on my shelf. It's certain colors I see, his favorite way I wore my hair, milk spills, the mirror that fell off the wall, our favorite restaurant. Certain words, jewelry, music, baby clothes, books we bought together, mangos, headphones, Thai food, power tools, violin music. On, and on. Everyday things that have memories and stories attached that only I know about, not to mention all of our children that look just like him. Our house, our whole life that we built together. This city that he grew up in and everything we did, everywhere we went. We were together almost constantly. Everything around me is full of memories and moments that hurt. That remind me of his pain. That remind me of our loss and of that other life that's over.

     Coming to the realization on that first day even that I could walk around in public with nobody knowing what was happening in my life, has helped me see that most everyone we come in contact with every day could be in a similar situation, experiencing triggers that I know nothing about. That they could be dealing with their own internal pain. Fighting silent battles maybe with forced smiles on their faces, jut trying their best to see the silver lining in every day. Trying their best to keep on going, to survive. I guess that's my main thought I want to share in this post. Yes, I want to answer a lot of questions I've received and to clear the air a bit too, and yes I want to give strength and confidence to all the grievers that have reached out to me, but mostly because I want to let those of you fighting your own silent battles to know that we are in this together. That you/we are not alone in your often constant little anniversaries of grief.

     A couple months ago I had the pleasure of talking about handling grief publically with my sweet friend Jenna Kutcher on episode 011 of The Goal Digger Podcast. I would love for you to listen if you have time, especially if you're relatively new to my blog and my story. During the interview, Jenna also shares some very personal thoughts on her miscarriage, and I love how even though our grief is based on very different circumstances, that we're still able to relate and connect and empathize with each other. That's another big thought that I want to pass on tonight. That even if we're not going through pain of our own, that we can still try our best to have empathy for others, and not judgment. If you find yourself or another ever judging and critiquing the grief process and choices of another harshly, it simply means that they are nowhere near understanding their pain and position, and if that's the case then lucky them I suppose, right?

Bill Bullard said that "Opinion is really the lowest form of knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and to live in anothers' world." It really is a gift to step into the shoes of another person, striving to understand their feelings and perspectives, to be in it with them. To not try and save them or fix them, but to simply meet them where they are, to feel with them, and let them know that they're not alone.
So many of you just glow with empathy. With the desire to take pain from the world by choosing to love tenderly as you would want others to love you, and do your best to understand others and not judge by your own perspective. I feel so incredibly blessed to be in a position of interacting with so many of you kind-hearted souls, as it just shows the world that there is still so much goodness. Thank you:)

     Well now that's all for tonight I guess, thank yous so much for reading this far. If you have any thoughts on your own struggles or grief or maybe someone close that you're trying to help, etc. I'd love for you to share with us, but no pressure as always.

Happy new week ahead my friends,

Tuesday, February 7

On raising up strong girls

     Being blessed with four daughters has definitely been such a wonderful combination of joy and terror. Right now they're 6, 5, 3, and 1 1/2 (these pictures were taken by Justin Hackworth in 2014), and having them at such different stages certainly brings many different adventures and challenges. There are days already when I can load Ellie and Soph into the car and make a Target run to go pick out nail polish, and then I walk past the training bras or the feminine products and my heart just drops into my stomach.haha Thinking about the chaos and drama in my house growing up and even reaching adulthood as the youngest of 6 girls, I'm dreading the teenage years quite a bit, especially in the world we live in now.

     After Marty passed away, I put everything I had into focusing solely on my children, especially on my older two girls, as they needed the most attention and help with the transition into a life without their father. Partly it was to avoid falling too deep into the darkness that was pulling at me, but also because I felt that my only purpose left was to be the best mother that I could, that because so much of me had died with my sweetheart, that I needed to lose the rest of myself in making up for the lost time with the children. For those 15 months of babysitters and weeks away from them, microwave meals and endless TV while I spent every minute I could with Marty, traveling for treatments, researching, doctors visits, trying to memorize his face and his voice, making the most of what time we had left of our life together, taking the best care of him that I could.

     Since Richard has joined the family, there's even more focus on that transition for our family and for the girls than there ever could be before he came along. I could finally start letting myself feel deeply and not worry too much about the consequences, or about who was going to feed the kids or take them to school if I became too lost in my own grief. Since the two older girls are the only ones likely to have any memories at all of their dad(and even now they don't remember a time when he wasn't sick and hurting), it became (and has continued to be) a beautiful part of each day when we can share those sweet memories together, when I can tell them stories they've never heard about their dad and our life together, when they can show Richard mementos and things that make them think of Martin, when I can hold them and we can cry together. I could finally look through old pictures with them and listen to Martin's favorite songs with them without completely falling apart, because I had back-up:) We've been able to keep up regular visits and meals/holidays with Marty's sweet parents and siblings as well, and spending more quality time with them has been great. And because the kids see so much of their dad around the house and always will, they can know that he'll always be a special part of our lives forever. I never try to turn off their tears or shut them down. We cry and we laugh, we miss him fiercly, and then we remember how much he was hurting for so so long, and we feel better about him being in heaven. We've continued to visit the cemetery each week together, and since his headstone was put in last Fall the kids all love finding their names and placing their flower on their spot.

     There's a beautiful book that my sister Jordan gave to us before Marty passed away called The Invisible String, and I actually just bought all the kids a copy and wrote them a note inside. We read it every night during his last days, and it's still a favorite. Basically, it talks about how when we love someone dearly, that no matter how far away they get that we're always connected to them by an invisible string of love. That no matter if they're across the world or deep in the ocean, or flying high in the sky with the angels, that they can never be separated from us. I ball every time I read it, and it's not just geared towards death so I highly encourage y'all to get a copy for your family. I added their books to a memory box that I bought for each child. Each box is a small trunk with a latch, and inside they each have albums of photos, the newspaper with his obituary, copies of his funeral recording and the program that I made, beautiful photos from the funeral, little things of Martin's that meant something special to them, a copy of his novel, the music he wrote, his poems, an article of clothing or scarf etc, the letters I typed out for each of them as Marty weakly told me what to say, the little things they made for him for father's day, a dried rose from his casket spray, etc. I have the boxes on a shelf for when they get a little older, and whenever it think of something else I add to them. I expect that sometime soon I may have to get them bigger trunks:)

     Just as I feel I'm at my weakest while simultaneously being at my strongest, I think the same thing is true for the girls, because while losing their dad at such a young age has been hard for them to understand and go through, they'll always have this time to remember that if they can go through that and keep their sweetness, that they can go through anything. I want my girls to know that, and little John too:) 

    I want to teach my daughters what it means to be a strong woman, especially with the recent women's' march and everything it meant to people. I want to teach them that they don't have to follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing, but that they must also never give up love and respect for others that make choices differently than we do. There are so many dark forces at work in the world to tear our little ones down and tell them they're not good enough, and it's our job and privilege to tell them that they are so much more than good enough.

     I want my daughters to know that I believe in them. That when no one else thinks they can do it, that I know they can. That I support them and want them to succeed, and that ultimately everything I try to do as a mother is to keep them safe and healthy and happy. I want to expect more from my girls, so they expect more from themselves. I want to let them fail so they will learn vital lessons about working for what you want and not giving up. I want to encourage their quirks and unique character traits, so they know that it's not only okay to be different, but that it's their differences that make them beautiful. I want to work on my own confidence and to always remember that my daughters are watching, that they're learning every day from the way I treat myself and what I say to the woman in the mirror. I want my daughters to know that when it may seem like everyone in their lives is telling them what they're doing wrong, that I will try to always be the one to tell them everything they're doing right. I want my daughters to see that when all else fails, kindness always wins out.

     I'm so proud of my little ones. I'm so proud of their strength and their tender hearts. I hope someday to help them see how much they've taught me, and how they gave me purpose to keep going when I didn't think I had anything left to live for. To fight for. I hope that they'll always remember that they are braver than they believe, stronger than they feel, smarter than they think, and loved more than they ould ever know.

Alright that's the end:)