The Problem with Perfect Endings

When I was young, somewhere in my early teen years maybe, I developed a love of romantic movies mostly in the form of musicals but also those with a bend towards comedy. The neatness of it all appealed to me along with the magical feeling of getting swept up in the story and carried away by its currents. I recognized that most these stories followed a similar formula: the build up where the main romantic couple either meet and dislike each other immediately or where their lives overlap ironically or coincidentally without them meeting; the revelation where the seemingly unlikely pair starts to see or notice one another, maybe they finally meet for real or maybe it occurs to them that there is attraction lurking beneath their tense interactions; and lastly the dramatic, often epic, conclusion followed by the inevitable possibly metaphorical ride off into the sunset. Once in a while the story took a twist and didn’t end this way but mostly there was this satisfying tying up of all the loose ends into a lovely, neat bow. And I so enjoyed that process and the perfect ending.

In fact when it didn’t happen I felt a little robbed. When I read Little Women and Jo didn’t end up with Laurie I was downright angry, even more so when her calmer, kinder sister did. What the actual eff, Louisa May Alcott??

Somewhere along the lines things changed; I changed.

I very distinctly remember going to a movie with my then (but not too far from ex) husband somewhere in the late 2000’s, I was slightly past mid twenties; we saw one of those romantic comedies. It followed the formula and presented the same perfect ending after the token conflict or overcoming of circumstances. But the satisfaction in that was gone. Vanished. Instead a white hot anger flickered up inside me. I literally wanted to take off a shoe and throw it at the giant screen.

“Lies!”, I thought, “it’s nothing but lies.” Why do they sell us this bullshit? Like everything is going to magically be great some day. Almost ten years into a marriage that was fatally flawed from the start, and not romantically so but destructively so, I knew better than that and I did not enjoy the empty promises I was being sold in the form of that perfect ending.

Shortly after that, during the divorce yes, I couldn’t even watch romantic movies, especially the comedic ones, unless I was in a dark place and wallowing in the bit of self loathing I had yet to battle through. I felt angry, so so angry, and betrayed by them. It was a twisted form of punishment to sit and watch the trite, idyllic story unfold and know that the reality of relationships, the real stories, were tinted with hurt and brokenness. Pain, more often than not, inflicted by the very person standing there swearing they loved you.

Time heals all wounds, as the saying goes. Heals, yes, but it never puts things back as they were. The more help you give time, the more work you do, the better those wounds heal. But there’s still always a scar.

While I don’t thoroughly enjoy those romantic stories like I once did, I can occasionally watch and enjoy them now. These days, though, I appreciate the less than perfect endings more. I like when the film gives nod to the possibility of perfection in romance but then gently reminds us that is not the norm. So maybe the couple rides off into the proverbial sunset but then they fall off their horse which insights bickering and blame casting; suddenly yet stealthily the seeds of resentment are sown. Or, more likely, the couple doesn’t end up together but they both treasure the time they shared while going on to lead full and fufilling lives. It’s a reminder that even relationships that don’t last forever have value and are worthwhile; sometimes things end and people part ways but that’s okay. Perfection isn’t always ideal.

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Still Running

While I have been notably terrible at posting here (due to all the usual excuses: work, kids, it’s cross country season, the general craziness of life) I have still been managing to run regularly …mostly. Well, except for the better part of July when things were extra busy between retaking the DAT and throwing a graduation party open house for my son on top of everything else. But in general I’m still running.

At the beginning of 2017 my race goals were vague. I was feeling uninspired on that front so instead of setting some race related feat to work toward over the year I chose a mileage goal. Here we are well over half way through the year and I’ve only run 526 miles. Yup, barely over half of my 1,000 mile goal. (Maybe I should make it a 1,000 km goal. I’m pretty close to that.) As irony would have it I’ve done more and more types of races than previous years. I blame this guy I’m dating. He wasn’t really a runner when we met but was a good sport when I suggested signing up for a Cinco de Mayo race in Detroit. The beer theme helped I’m sure. As it turns out, he really enjoys racing. That first one the weather was cold, rainy, and slightly miserable but we had a great time and he was hooked. Since then we’ve done a muddy obstacle run, a 10k along the coast of Lake Michigan, a 15k trail run, the local 10k Melon run, and the Labor Day run across the Mackinaw bridge. That’s a total of six runs over the span of as many months. I also ran a local glow run with my kids back in late April. So much for not racing as much this year!

The unexpected upswing in races has been a small, friendly reminder that you never really know where life will take you. You can make all the plans and set all the goals you want but things are going to happen, not all of them within your sphere of control, and you’ve got to be able to roll with it. For better or worse. Whether you like it or not. I’ve had more than a few reminders of this over the years, not all of them so gentle and kind; I like this one much better.

In the spirit of flexibility I’ve embraced the race theme of this year and signed up to run the Detroit Half marathon again. I enjoyed the race last year but wasn’t especially happy with my time. I thought I’d be less busy this fall and would have adequate time to make and follow a training plan that incorporated speed work twice a week. That really hasn’t happened. Nor has regular grocery shopping or meal planning/prep or laundry or cleaning or (quite obviously) blogging. Really I’m not sure what I have been accomplishing lately (other than working full time, managing four kids going back to school, and coaching a team of middle school cross country runners). My recent 10k, 15k, and 4.4 mile races have been counting as long(ish) runs until last week when I finally managed an 8.5 mile run. I had planned on running the 8.5 mile loop around a local metro-park then going to practice and running another easy three miles with my team but the weather had other ideas and we had to cancel practice.

Once again I made plans and the universe laughed.

So here I am 3/4 of the way through the year and a month out from my “big” race trying to balance the demands of life with setting aside time to pursue my personal goals. Tempering the sleep deprivation of working a bunch of long night shifts in a row with self care while still finding ways to get the miles in. And even if it’s not all the miles I want. I’m still running.

running fuel

My current running fuel favorites.

bridge

bridge run horses

Constantly Adapting Expectations

“New goal” I said to my boyfriend as we ran through the forest “make it through this race without falling.”

(Yeah, boyfriend. I have a boyfriend now. Not sure if I’ve mentioned that here yet. 🙂 )

We had started the race thirty minutes after the gun went off; the person who was supposed to cover the tail end of my overnight shift showed up (half an hour) late. Initially the goal was to run the 15k Viking themed trail race without walking but that ship had done sailed. Within the first three miles I was huffing and puffing like an asthmatic smoker (Thank you, night shift work.) and had to walk… so I could adjust my sagging ponytail (any excuse would do at that point). Seeing both of us had stumbled more than once on the rocks and tree roots that littered the rough terrain of the trail that wound its way up, down, and all around the Michigan woods, not falling was an appropriate goal albeit it a different sort of accomplishment than the original. It required luck, balance, and intuition instead of the grit, stamina, and determination demanded by the first.

Moments after deeming Not Falling to be our new race goal we ran down a hill lavishly coated with the loose, medium sized rocks that seemed to dominate the surface of these trails. As we hit the bottom of the hill and tilted to make a sharp left I lost my footing and hit the ground (lightly though, I’m getting pretty good at falling while running). There went that goal.

Even without meeting the initial goals this race could be considered a success. We ran 15 kilometers (that’s about 9.3 miles) over hills and crazy footing, in my case after working all night, and still managed to pass a few people. Our chip times put both my guy and me second in our age divisions. On top of that my son who was also running won the race.

That’s right, he won the whole freakin thing, my eighteen year old boy.

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I’m not sure if you can tell from the picture but he’s super proud of himself.

He reluctantly committed to the 15k instead of the five even though he hadn’t done much running since cross country season ended over nine months ago. My son’s fifth and senior year of cross country season came to a crashing and disappointing premature halt last October. At the beginning of the season I had high hopes for him. While I’ve always been proud of my son’s running, it’s long been apparent that there is untapped potential teeming just beneath the surface of this somewhat distant and detached teen. When he began conditioning for his last season it looked like some of that running potential would finally be tapped into. Until academia caught up with him.

First was the failed class from the year before. We didn’t know it made him ineligible to run until the first week of August. I found an accelerated online make-up class that still counted as summer school as long as it was done before school started. It was. Just barely. Well, sort of.

In typical avoidant teenager fashion, my son thought he could pass the class with the required 80% without doing the “speaking assignments” (it was a Spanish class). Technically he had enough points to pass but the fine print dictated that every assignment be completed. At any rate, he missed the first meet of the season.

By the second and third meets he was eligible to compete but his race times didn’t reflect the stats he was achieving in practice. When he was running the first two miles of a race in under twelve minutes but finishing close to twenty we realized this might be a nutritional issue. Unlike previous seasons, there was no significant increase in appetite when his running mileage increased. Instead a general malaise took its place. I was concerned about depression.

As October approached my son has posted a couple PR’s (personal record race times) but nothing close to his early season projections. My boy was struggling and not just physically.

The last two meets of the season are big ones: the “small school” regional meet (not sanctioned by the state’s high school athletics association) and the actual regional meet that would hopefully qualify my son and a few other kids on the team for the state championship meet. It being my son’s last year of high school running made them that much more important…and the disappointment when he found himself on the academic ineligibility list that much more intense.

That’s right, academia reared its ugly head again.

At this point one might think that my son is a little dull or that he was taking a very difficult course load his senior year. Neither is true. However, that malaise that was apparent in his appetite was also showing its effects on his schoolwork. He did rally and attempt to bring his grades up to passing before the regional meet but by that time the hole had been dug too deep. Both my son and his good friend were academically ineligible for what should have been the crowning event of their senior seasons. Instead of racing at the regional meet we watched his team falter without their leaders.

As is often the case, running is a metaphor for life. Well, in this case it was foreshadowing.

The rest of my son’s last year of school continued in the same fashion. He failed the college math class he was taking because he didn’t believe me, his teachers, and everyone else who told him homework is important. At one point he was suspended for being at the store before the school day started. (Yes, it was as stupid as it sounds. Basically he was penalized for being a teenager in public.) In the spring we had multiple meetings with the principal of the school about whether or not my kid would pull it together and finish his senior presentation, a graduation requirement at the school, in time. And then there was another independent study make-up class. Clearly his senior year was not the commemorative occasion it should have been.

Still I encouraged my brilliant but troubled boy to apply for colleges; to aim high and to be optimistic about his future.

Not only did I encourage, I cajoled, pestered, begged and pleaded.

All to no avail. My son refused to even follow through with a college application. The closest I got was an “I would go there if I was going to go to a university.” after an especially cool campus visit (a six hour drive from home). The farthest was when he asked me to consent to him moving out before turning 18. (Umm, hell to the no, kid!)

So what is my point here???  Well, that (once again) running mimics life.

Much like the 15k trail race, I had hopes and goals at the beginning. As it progressed it became clear those goals were just not realistic right now (maybe someday though). Towards the end I was happy to accomplish what I did. Sometimes just getting through a thing is a success and sometimes you need to circle back around and try again under better circumstances. Such is the case for 15k trail runs and for my hopes of my son going to college (or choosing a path that will enable him to “make something of himself” …which to me means finding an engaging and sustainable way to spend his time and efforts).

viking trail 15k viking run duo

 

Confessions of a less than enthusiastic horse show Mom

Confession: I never wanted to be a horse show Mom. Don’t tell my daughter.

I showed horses in 4-H for close to ten years. It was never something I loved but I didn’t hate it either (most the time). 4-H, specifically horses, was just what you did in my family, every summer from the age of nine through eighteen or until you got bored with it.

And it wasn’t bad. Sure show days were long (so so long!), often stressful and always exhausting, horses are hard work, but showing through 4-H taught me a lot about myself and about life. I gained skills and made friendships that are still going strong twenty years later. I built relationships with amazing adults who volunteered their time to keep our county’s 4-H program running. Some of them didn’t even have kids in 4-H. I had the opportunity to learn about work ethic, responsibility, and community in a hands on, concrete way.

Showing horses and being in 4-H was a big and influential part of my childhood. But when my daughter was turning nine and my sister, who never got out of horses and 4-H, asked if my daughter was interested in showing I hesitated. I wanted to say no. I remembered the time and the stress and the cost, the way showing took over our lives from May through August. I thought about the danger, the inherent risk of riding and managing a large beast.

And yet here I am. Five years later sitting in a camper after the first full day of fair. Thirteen straight hours of showing in the heat and the dust and the sun surrounded by cranky younger siblings who have been drug along for ride and a gaggle of stressed and exhausted parents and club leaders. What happened?

I remembered my daughter’s innate love of horses.

I thought about the value of responsibility and community: two things inherent in any 4-H animal project that seem to be disappearing in this crazy, chaotic world where anything goes as long as it makes you “happy”.

I wondered how many other opportunities my daughter would have to set goals and work towards achieving them in a safe, supportive environment.

And I said yes to 4-H and showing horses (okay maybe I said a skeptical “I guess” to 4-H).

I’d be lying if I said I’ve enjoyed every moment of the past five years as a 4-H horse show parent. Of course there have been fun, exciting, and rewarding times. There has also been tension and stress, long days at horse shows when I have five other things I’d rather be doing, and more emotional ups and downs than a TV reality show. In end I consider it an investment and hope that 4-H will help shape my girl, my young woman really, into a responsible, kind and hard working individual.

So when you happen to catch barrel racing on ESPN 15 or whatever or you see Olympic three day eventing or come across a social media post with a video of a high level dressage performance set to music and they all make it look easy, know it’s not. That athlete working with their amazing four-legged partner probably started out as a tiny 4-H kid. Their parent stood ringside and watched with their hearts in their throat as that kid rode a bucking pony across the ring or took on a jump at a seemingly reckless pace. And know that for every elite rider there are a hundred, maybe a thousand, kids who spent their summers at the fairgrounds in show rings and went on to use what they learned there to become a successful adult. So even though I didn’t want to be a horse show Mom, I never planned to come back to this, I’m here. Investing in my kids through 4-H.

Rally the Troops

Sometimes a seemingly random occurrence is actually preparing us for something further down the road. Maybe much further.

This dawned on  me tonight as a large bat was swooping around my workplace. Said workplace is a house but, still, bats = Not Cool! Not cool at all. But luckily I was prepared because I’ve dealt with bats in the house before (my own house that time and it really was not fun). While my coworker was legitimately freaking out I knew exactly what to do. (Open one door, turn off all the lights except by that door, and try to gently direct the bat out if it isn’t finding the exit on its own. In case you were wondering.) And, although it was a terrifying ten to fifteen minutes, we had the bat out in ten to fifteen minutes. Had I not had previous bat encounters this night could have been a lot worse. I’m not sure I could handle a lot worse right now; just being at work is bad enough.

giant bat

The giant bat: An interaction with him is NOT my ideal night at work.

This week is one of those off the charts crazy weeks. Really it’s been the last two weeks. Last Wednesday, after furiously studying for way less time than I should have, I took the DAT to complete my dental school application. It went decently well and I was extremely relieved to have that out of the way but I had to hit the ground running with graduation open house planning as soon as the test was over.

My oldest son graduated from high school this spring (on my birthday). At the time he was adamant that he did not want an open house. I told him too bad; the open house isn’t for him, it’s for his family and all the people who have supported and encouraged him over the years to celebrate our  his achievements. He reluctantly conceded to a party. I think he realized that I wasn’t backing down on this and he really didn’t have much choice. After being invited to a few of his friends’ & classmates’ open houses he warmed to the idea…especially after he heard how much his one buddy got at his open house. (Apparently he didn’t believe me when I told him people give you money at these things.)

Because of the aforementioned test and my daughter’s horse shows there weren’t any feasible open house dates in June but my son’s 18th birthday fell on a Friday AND it was not one leading up to a work weekend for me. I pitched the idea of a graduation open house/18th birthday celebration to my son and he actually seemed to like it. Well, that weekend is this weekend. The open house is Saturday (technically tomorrow as it’s 3 a.m. right now) and my son’s birthday is…well, now. Unfortunately this not being a work weekend means I’ve worked the seven, maybe eight, days leading up to the weekend (including tonight, obvs). Not short shifts either, ten to twelve hour night shifts. This schedule is really not conducive to preparing for an open house.

Way back at the launch of the open house planning process I emailed my ex husband asking if we could collaborate on this. Not only would that make it more affordable but we could divide and conquer the work. Plus planning an open house together provided an opportunity for a much needed exercise in cooperation for us. Even though we’ve been divorced for three and a half years and separated for over five, there is only bare minimum communication between us and even that is tense and unpleasant. At some point we’ve got to get past that. Our kids can’t have two of everything. I mean, are they going to have two weddings: once for their dad’s family, once for mine??? NO! Sadly though my ex  did not see things the same way and declared that I could do what I wanted and he’d “Celebrate separately”. This, of course, left me running the graduation party show all on my own.

And once again lessons learned in prior life experiences came back around in a real and useful way.

Implementing a graduation party at my house (which is not typically visitor ready) in ten days or less seemed like No Big Deal…until I was staring down the barrel of those ten days. I got a little overwhelmed, paralyzed by how much work there was to get done in a short week that was already full with work. Holy, holy crap!

Just as I was on the brink of sheer panic my instincts kicked in and I did what I do more and more when I need help. I called my mom.

To be fair, a couple people had already asked what I needed help with but I wasn’t even ready to think about that until the DAT was out of the way. But now, roughly a week before Open House day, I needed the help! I’m insanely lucky (blessed?) to have a large, supportive family. Throughout the stressful, somewhat traumatic process of the dissolution of my almost twelve year marriage and the subsequent divorce and custody hearings I learned just how helpful and supportive my family is. We aren’t touchy-feely people, my family; we don’t verbally express our love and appreciation for each other. Not very often and when it does happen it’s a sign of deep concern. But that doesn’t mean those feelings (or whatever you want to call them…talking about feelings so much is starting to make me a little uncomfortable) don’t exist. It’s just that we’re Do-ers, not say-ers. The things we don’t say we show by doing, by being there when needed.

My mom offered to pick up meat and taco seasoning from me and cook all the taco meat (I’m having a taco bar at the party); my youngest sister spent a day and a half cleaning up my house and hacking away at brush in my yard; one of my brothers-in-law is coming over tomorrow to help set up the yard stuff; other people offered to bring something, to contribute. And suddenly I was not alone in this crazy endeavor.

And that is a thing worth remembering. Sometimes all you have to do is reach out and accept the help you need.

graduation selfie

Awkward graduation selfie because, much like the open house, my son was not entirely on board with this.

 

 

How do I tell my story in 4500 characters or less?

That is the question I’m struggling with this week. How do I take all that I am, all that I am capable of and all that I’ve struggled with to get where I am, and sum it up professionally and concisely? How do I stand out and make them want me in their program? I know I’m pretty damn awesome and I’m almost certain that they would too if they just talked with me for a few moments. That’s not how it works though. Those aren’t the hoops and the choice is jump or don’t. Don’t isn’t an option; that’s already been determined. And so the pressure is on as I attempt to put pen to paper (figuratively of course as no one actually writes anymore) and tell my own version of the hero’s journey in 4500 characters, including spaces, or less.

As a side note, on top of the usual craziness of my rock n’roll  single parent lifestyle I’ve been trying to get my dental school application around (including retaking the super stressful and intimidating DAT) to reapply. It’s all coming to a head over the next two weeks. Regular blogging will commence after this ginormous task at hand is complete. (Okay, semi-regular at best.)

A Quick & Dirty Kilt

A few months ago my son, a high school senior, was debating trying out for his school’s production of Macbeth. He wasn’t actually in Shakespeare class but he had an independent​ study block that hour so it would work. I encouraged​ him in this venture as it would be something new and different for him; an experience. And for once he actually listened to me. He did it and got the part he tried out for; I’m still not even sure which. It’s a small one with just a couple lines, something just big enough to say he did it, that he was there, and just big enough to require a costumes. A kilt preferably, my almost man-child informed me over a month ago. Low and behold this week it was time to make the aforementioned kilt. Past time, really, since dress rehearsal/tech week had snuck up on us. It wasn’t just a case of my normal procrastinating ways that pushed the kilt making to the very last minute, this spring has been remarkably busy with multiple graduations in our family (mine, this kid’s, and my daughter’s 8th grade) and my return to working full time mixed in with the usual end of school year chaos and spring activities.

Naturally my first course of action was to Google “How to make a kilt”. As it turns out kilt making is a very specific age-old art. I did not have the time (or the funds for nine yards of plaid) to make an authentic kilt. And thus the Quick & Dirty kilt was hatched.

My Google research lead me to a wikiHow site which had comprehensive instructions on measuring, calculating yardage, and making proper pleats that I skimmed over and proceeded to follow only loosely. For example, instead of measuring my son’s waist and hips and calculating the pleat width to determine how much fabric I’d need to buy I went off my sons pants waist size, asked to see what two yards of the potential kilt fabric looked like and deemed that Good Enough. In retrospect two and a half yards would have been closer to ideal.

In keeping with the theme of in-authenticity I selected a lime green and navy purple-ish shirting flannel. It’s soft but not baby blanket soft. The main criteria was color (not traditional green or dark blue) and price. I didn’t want to break the bank on a one-time quick costume.

The fabric was about the right length straight off the bolt which made my life easier. I kept it folded over at the top (which became the waist) to give it a little more heft and thickness. After cutting a five inch strip off one end of the fabric I set to work making pleats. The instructions recommended a 16-20 inch flat front panel followed by pleats and some excess fabric to wrap under the front.

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I started with 17 inches for the flat front (but ended up pulling one more pleat over) and pinched about an inch of fabric to bring towards the front in a pleat. I think making the plaid look right on the pleats is more important than having a specific measurement for each pleat. For this particular plaid the pleats ended up covering the navy lines in the plaid.

Once the pleats are all folded and securely pinned ironing is a must. Spray starch would have been helpful here too but, alas, I didn’t have any on hand.

With the pleats all pressed in place I straight stitched across the top of the pleats and then down each one ending with a short diagonal that covered the width of each pleat. My original plan was to sew a line across the top parallel to the waist and then another about six inches down and call it good but after running the top line I didn’t think that was going to secure each pleat well enough. I was going for quick & dirty here not super crappy and likely to fall apart.

Now that all the pleats were all sewn down and in place it was time for the waist band. Remember the five inch wide strip I cut from the end of the fabric way back at the beginning? That was to become the waist band.

Basically I laid it out on the emergent kilt to match it’s width and make sure the plaids weren’t totally off before trimming it up to get semi straight lines. Then I employed the fold-press fold-press waist band construction method. What, you haven’t heard of that? Yeah, probably because I just made it up. It’s exactly as it sounds: Fold the band in half (wrong sides together) and press it good and hard. Then fold whatever seam allowance you’re going to use up on one long edge and press that. Repeat with the other long edge and tuck the raw ends of the short edges under. Press those too while you’re at it. And, voila!, a waist band.

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To attach the waistband pin it right side down along the top edge of the skirt part. Sew that down then flip it over, press everything flat, and fold the band over the other side of the top edge of the skirt part. This is wear all that pressing pays off. It should lay nicely with the midline press of the band at top and the pressed under edge over the part you just sewed. Pin it all down, press it (for good measure) and run your stitch across it.

Now all that’s left is the finishing touches. After making a button hole on the edge of the waist band and attaching a couple buckles I had my son try it on to see where the closures needed to be. It turns out the bottom edge of this kilt is a little sparse but he’s planning to wear shorts under. Again, we’re not aiming for authenticity here. Between that and a bit of velcro I think we’ll avoid unintentional flashings.

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kilt finished back

Check out those pleats!

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The Quick & Dirty kilt.

From start to finish this took about two hours to make. As you can see I did not hem the bottom edge. If it’s getting out of control I’ll go back and do that later…or maybe I’ll take the pinking shears to it. We’ll see.

kilt on side 1

It even matches his socks.

kilt on side 2

Apparently the flat front could be more narrow but overall not too shabby!

kilt on back