Valentine to My Parents and Single Chicas

I think my Valentine this year, truly, is my parents.

November 2, we moved from Illinois to Kansas. They were retiring here and I have been wanting to come home to Wichita at least five years, since all our family is still here.

I took a huge risk. I left 30 years of stability — and 3.5 years with a job– to start over.

I just wanted to be where all the love is. I miss my Illinois friends, sure.

But some four months in, I don’t regret any of that decision. I’m slowly building a life in Kansas. I haven’t found a job yet, I’m still searching.

And I tend to be an anxious woman, imagining the worst case of every scenario.  But in the past month I’m settling into a burgeoning sense of optimism. I believe that I will continue to propel myself forward.  That only good things are coming my way. I believe in my own judgement and ability to discern the right time when making choices.

And my parents are the ones who gave that to me. They are both conservative people raised in large, close families. Both deeply rooted in Catholicism, Stoicism, and work.

One of my biggest doubts when deciding to move here was about whether I should give up all my independence and live with them again. I’ve been out of the home since 18 except for summers in college and a few months until I got my first job after graduation.

I’m used to living alone. Taking a bath at 4 a.m. if I want. Coming in whatever time I want. Having all the living space to spread out. To make and receive calls randomly.

It’s been an adjustment, three adults sharing living space with vastly different habits.

It’s also been a tremendous gift. I will get my own place and move out, but this time right now is something I’ll remember. Proximity forces you to notice each other in new ways.

My parents have also made Valentine’s Day a special day for us as a family by exchanging gifts with each other and me each year. My Dad brought chocolate for us both and a generous bouquet of red roses. I got some dark chocolate truffles for Diane and deviled eggs for my Dad, and a card for them both. Diane does so much for us every day. Little practical things like getting the coffee ready to go.

One of the best moments today was putting make-up on with Diane. I’m going out with some new chicas tonight to see “Isn’t it Romantic?” starring the brilliant Rebel Wilson. We bought our tickets ahead online. I’m smuggling in some candy to save cash– cherry Blow Pops. I suggested wearing red lipstick and they were game!

Diane complimented my make-up and I showed her what products I used. She then showed me some of her reds and let me try a few on. I had said that my original one made my lips look a little thin. She thought I looked better with a slightly darker tone.

I don’t remember doing this with her as a young girl. But I’m glad we did tonight. Just having her share her make-up with me and look at me to give me advice felt special.

She is going out tonight to dinner with my Dad and another couple. They’re helping each other find pieces of their ensembles, fixing collars. It’s sweet to watch.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that with my own husband. I can hope, right?

So this year, I claim Valentine’s Day for celebrating family love and new female friendships. All my female friends back home were either married or in serious relationships or had moved away, so I could never make “Galentine’s Day” plans like this with them. Now here in Wichita, I have new single friends and I love it!

2019 is off to a great start!

 

 

 

 

Sharing My Short Story: A Reader’s Reaction

Tonight I read aloud a short story I wrote some years ago. It was two pages.

I loved watching the face of my audience: so intent. Afterward, she asked if she could read it over herself. There were several points she wanted to talk about– things that jumped out at her as symbolic of me. Connections she made about my personality that were illustrated in my characters. Questions she wanted to ask.

I was happy to indulge her, to be interviewed.

Watching someone else hold my work in their hands and study it was amazing.

Suddenly my short story felt elevated to literature.

I stopped writing creatively years ago. I barely blog these days. I didn’t consider myself intelligent, creative or brave enough. I also didn’t want to take on the vulnerability of being published, analyzed.

I had other reasons as well. The last time I wrote something creative and personal, in a “free” writing work shop, it was stolen and published without my permission. The betrayal caused me to shut down and stop writing.

But this experience made me feel validated. More confident. Safe.

This reader found my story inspiring. She was impressed with my creativity.

It made me feel smart, important. Powerful.

I want to share that story with others. Maybe even try and publish it.

And maybe let my pen run free once again.

Several Little Prayers, Hands Held, and Myriad Kisses: Leslie and Joe’s Wedding

Tonight, my best friend said “I do!” to the man for whom she prayed to meet.

In fact, they both pray. That’s what makes it so amazing.

The glue of their relationship is good, old-fashioned faith. It was so refreshing to behold.

I wanted to speak up at the reception, but was too shy. So this is my belated well-wishing speech.

The best moment of their wedding, for me, was just before the vows.

They had begun standing facing each other, holding both hands. I noticed he caressed her hands with his thumbs. They were both so calm. And mostly, they made eye contact the entire time.

The intimacy was astounding, just witnessing it.

As the officiant prayed over their impending marriage, Leslie and Joe stepped in together. So naturally– like magnets. Their arms and hands were relaxed. Toe-to-toe, their foreheads touched gently. With closed eyes and flickering smiles, they leaned on each other and listened.

Together, they prayed over their future as husband and wife. Just watching them, I had a deep feeling of peace.

The reason Leslie is my best friend is likely the same reason she captured Joe’s heart: she’s a woman of indefatigable faith. Knowing her has inspired me and helped me grow in my own faith. And although she’s a Non-Denominational Christian and I’m Catholic, we always find the middle ground: a love for God and Jesus. She knows her Bible. She has deep convictions, to which she adheres. But she truly loves and accepts people with unconditional love and friendship. She’s the one I call when upset– I know she’ll listen quietly, with attention. She doesn’t gossip. Your secret is always safe with her. And she always remembers.

She makes sure to “like” or comment on every post I write– because she knows how much it means to me.

She’s been my rock– always reminding me who I am, to never settle. To rely on God’s timing. To remember that what I want– a sober, Catholic man– IS possible. And that I deserve it. She makes me laugh. She enjoys doing the same corny things I do. She moved to Texas not long ago because she felt God calling her to go and I miss her dearly. She indulged my propensity to take silly pictures every time we got together. As single gals, we spent a few Christmas Eve’s together. They were our Christmas sleep-overs. We’d watch a movie, cuddle up with her American Bulldog, Hodgins, and then in the morning, wake up and listen to Bing Crosby on vinyl and make pancakes. We bowled together on NYE, both sober. We went to see a hair metal tribute band at several venues. One time I got horrendously lost, and it took me seriously a full HOUR and a half to arrive. Rather than do the easy thing and venture inside to watch the show, Leslie sat at a table near the door, keeping a vigil until I arrived. Because that’s the kind of friends she is– she cared more that I got there safe. She wanted to be available to text or answer if I called, to help direct me. Talk about a wonderful selfless gesture. And when I arrived, she didn’t glare at me or lecture me about making her wait, like many would have. She merely ran at me in a full-force hug, squealing with glee that I was THERE! It was a St. Patrick’s Day show. We ran in together and danced front row and took pictures as always.

She is the Elinor to my Marianne. She and I watched “Willow” together– my first time ever! She loves Madea.

Leslie is a prayer warrior. How many times we’ve cried over the phone to each other, prayed it out. Or when I was dejected or feeling frustrated, she’d text Bible verses to me. She gives her full attention. She’s always excited to pray. When she does pray for me and with me, her words sometimes surprise me, because she always sees the best in me– things I don’t always notice in myself, but desperately needed to know. Affirmations that fit right into my heart.

Before she moved, she bought me a little red pin button that says “You are Loved,” in red and white, so that I wouldn’t feel alone without her.

You see the light of Christ in her, if you’re lucky enough to know her. She’s the kind of woman who shines a light for God without trying. It’s in her generosity, her patience, her empathy.

Her beauty radiates. She is a woman comfortable with herself, secure in the love of God. She knows that she is the Daughter of a King.

She was the first person ever to call me her “Sister-in-Christ.”

My dear Leslie, I wish all the joy and blessings that the hearts of you and your Joseph can hold.

I love you, I miss you, I look up to you.

Although I was flying solo yet again tonight– I usually am at weddings– tonight I felt hopeful.

And although I’ve questioned myself for ending relationships because of religion, tonight I was reminded that I’m on the right path.

Because you showed me that I deserve and want a man who will also pray WITH me, and FOR me.

You showed me, and all of us, that it’s POSSIBLE. Thank you.

I leave you with *my* favorite Bible verse, which I feel you embody:

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

And I’m delighted that I caught the bouquet!!

That’s gotta be good foreshadowing.

The Blog You Didn’t Write

Forgive yourself.

In the moment you were inspired– but you waited.

You doubted.

You asked permission.

Your LIFE is permission! The material is yours.

Lead characters don’t defer to extras.

Remember, you’re the heroine. You’re the hero.

Anyone should be flattered to be part of your story. To be noticed.

Believe!

Your ideas, your perceptions, your feelings– MATTER.

Stop repressing those little urges to record your life, because others are in it.

You’re not vain. You’re creative. You’re lucky.

Stop suppressing your ideas, and let them unfold.

As long as you like it, it stands alone.

Dear Forever Valentine, Thank You

Because you (I!) deserve a love letter today. Self, you are always by my side!

First, I am proud of you.

I see a woman who has nothing to prove this year. She is wearing overalls because they are what she feels comfortable wearing, and she’s STOKED at the ’90s are back in that style! With it, a pink and white baseball shirt because it’s a little feminine but also practical. Today she is wearing no make-up. Her hair is shorn in a pixie, which makes her feel free– she loves the feeling of the icy wind on her neck. She often goes without a hat, but zips her coat up to the hilt instead.

This year has been about realigning with what you need, and putting that into action. And you are making great strides every day! Even when you think I don’t notice the progress, I do. Even when no one else does, I see.

I believe in and admire you, Amee. I adore that name– your mother chose it with care. It’s not something to be found on pencils, which you used to resent. It’s singular and a little bit exotic–French. There is nothing typical about you. You forge your own way in every aspect of your life– you don’t do things like everyone else.

You are unafraid to sacrifice in the present for something you know will be better in the future. You are committed to what you need even when it’s not fun or popular. You are learning to value your own voice most. You can weather questions and the assumptions of others with increasing grace.

Like all humans, you have walls to protect yourself. Your heart is not impulsive as it once was, although sometimes I know you long for those days. Those were beautiful times of innocence, important to teach you lessons. Of loss, of how to lose yourself in giving. Of appreciating someone even when they don’t understand why you love them. You seek to understand others and comfort them.

You know how to love with abandon, commitment and safety.

You accept that not everyone deserves what you want to give– you are more patient. You demand that people prove to you that they are sincere. Never admonish yourself for that– it’s been learned with fire.

You always rise. You may slow down, you may hold yourself back with caution.

But conserving your energy and valuing what you possess to give others is something wonderful and smart.

Keep doing that.

Everything that you need is on its way to you. It is happening at exactly the right time and speed– just continue to trust in your judgement.

You are more real than many who put up a better facade. When you’re not happy, you don’t pretend. You’re polite and professional when needed, but never insincere. That is something glorious– the ability to know how you’re feeling and not be ashamed of it. That takes tremendous courage– it’s a skill not everyone has yet learned.

That writer heart of yours beats steady. I can always depend on you. We are always together.

Whatever comes your way, you will handle it with aplomb.

I am grateful that you preserve that delightful spark of silly, that propensity for wackiness. I am glad that you see beauty in the most ordinary circumstances.

You are loyal, affectionate, serious.

Thank you for not changing for anyone.

You are my favorite. I love you! You are beautiful and strong.

You are making peace with uncertainty and deciding to be your own hero.

And that is the best Valentine’s gift I could ever give you.

Always,

All the Love You Possess

Amanda Palmer’s Eyebrows

I’m quite late to the party.

But I found her book, “The Art of Asking,” and am submerging myself.

This book is setting me free.

I’ve always had an eyebrow obsession. In high school and college, I joked it was my fetish.

My friends would tease me when I blathered about crushes: “But how are his eyebrows?”

Palmer has the kind of eyebrows I would normally hate.

On men, the thicker the better. As a woman, I envy women with a villainous arch. Like Maleficent. I used to strive for that shape myself, I was so vainglorious about it!!

Unfortunately, my own brows are curly and bushy like a hedge, and grow as fast. I’ve mostly surrendered to accepting them in their wild state because the maintenance is just too expensive and I also get burned easily. Threading is terrifying and only wax yields the results I like. I do trim them and get them shaped when I feel like it– but it’s not a big thing for me.

Amanda’s eyebrows are deliberately unpretty. Even offensive or ugly, to most people. Desperate.

They have become their own entity, separate from her personality. They have a tumblr!

They are not tattoos, as they first appear. No. She makes them with liquid liner. Talk about a commitment.

Those black points and swirls command. Immediately they communicate that she is not ordinary.

She has no intention of blending in.

Her eyebrows are stark black.

They are vulnerable, they are aggressive. Yet, whimsical.

I would not enjoy this look on myself, but I’m glad Amanda Palmer is doing it.

I’m glad she is unapologetic about declaring herself by their design.

Her confidence, the brash artistry of them– we need more of that in the world.

On Trying Harder and Being Your Own Mirror: Womanity

I used to get away with it.

The most delicious crime– never wearing make-up. Largely neglecting my hair save for a ponytail. I washed it of course, but I never cared much about styling it. Rather, I let it be. It was full and shiny, always growing.

Save a bit of acne, my skin was always mostly clear. I used spot concealer for those areas. As I’m not naturally girly, spending too much time on my appearance is exasperating. I have patience for many things– but a beauty routine is not one of them. My arm tires holding a curling/flat iron. I can’t deal with those pesky round brushes that give you the perfect blow-out mane.

I stay away from women’s magazines– I’m at least that smart!

And I did the most natural thing– I chopped my hair into a pixie. What a relief!

I’m pretty secure about my looks most of the time.

But I do miss the comments I used to get about being pretty. I heard it often as a child, teen, young woman. All my life, really. People complimented my hair, soft like a cumulous cloud with a wave that rose vertical. I had natural highlights and a deep brunette base. My aunt, a nun everyone called “Sister,” always praised my wiry, curly eyebrows and told me they were like Brooke Shield’s (they weren’t!) and discouraged me from waxing/plucking them.

I still carry that– I’m proud to say my brows are still full. Though I do maintain them, like hedges.

She told me I was beautiful just the way I was, that I didn’t need to conform to beauty standards. And I believed her. It was the best lesson she could have given me– she never made me feel that my looks defined me. She taught me that God created us as we are– beautiful by design. She never made me feel as if I need to do anything to attract boys– she wanted me to just have fun with my friends, do my homework, and be an active girl. I was. Because her existence didn’t revolve around men’s approval or attraction, neither did mine.

I never felt that I needed a boyfriend to be complete. I spent all my time with my girlfriends back then. And we all celebrated each other and told each other that we love each other’s outfits, hair, our varying features. Sure, we were competitive as well. But it was mostly solidarity.

Maybe Sister’s influence is part of the reason I’m not married. She set a great example for me in that way.

But one of the hardest things about being single is that over time, you lose your friends. They’re still in your life– but if you don’t get married and have kids too, you don’t have that in common. They get progressively busy with their families and start hanging out with other couples and families. Your single friends get engaged and get into wedding planning mode. And once they’re married, it’s never quite the same.

You still keep in touch. But I miss the daily communication I enjoyed growing up– the notes, e-mails, cards, constant phone calls for hours, musing about every little detail. All the time we spent together in person, at each other’s homes and the way we became a part of each other’s families. The way we knew each other’s schedules and banal details. As women, that time evaporates when people get married and have kids, with increasing demands at work. Now we subsist on quick texts, Facebook is the middle-ground, scheduled phone calls for short allotments. We make actual plans when possible– though it may take weeks or longer to coordinate.

In college and most of my Twenties, I had a plethora of friends of both sexes. Socially I was in-demand.

Now I wrestle with the void left as those cherished long-time friends settle down, move away, or we grow apart. I am in a constant state of having to meet new people. It’s exhausting!

As a single woman, I no longer have constant positive reflections to rely on to feed my self-worth. I think unless you’re a model or a woman extremely skilled with beauty products with a lot of patience, the compliments decline rapidly as you grow older.

And “older” has already begun in my Thirties. I’m not ready! I thought they would last longer.

I have to supply my own validation.

I need to be my own mirror. Part of me wants to throw a fit and stamp my feet and just pout. Why?!

I have to consciously try harder now to feel beautiful.

And when I put effort in with my make-up and hair, I get compliments more often. They seem to take me more seriously when I put my “face” on. I seem to have more power.

And that makes me angry! Why should my appearance determine so much??

I crave that liberation many women say they acquire in their 50’s, where they just stop coloring their hair, embrace the gray, and stop caring about fashion.

But I’m too immature for that just yet. And yes, still vain. I’m trying to care less.

But I suppose I was spoiled growing up, because I never had to try. I was showered with praise for my beauty. That’s the quintessential tragedy for every woman as she ages.

That loss is a something visceral. I am on my guard so that I don’t become one of those women obsessed with beauty products and make-up and plastic surgery to feel young.

I see and accept the smiles lines, the brow wrinkles, the crows’ feet. I will not erase them.

But it does make me a little bit sad, I admit.

I work hard to remind myself that my worth is rooted in my integrity, my character, my intelligence. I work harder to be stylish, to compensate.

I delight in random compliments, especially from men.

Hey, I’m human.

I used to LOVE having my picture taken and posing in goofy ways with friends! Now it’s tapering off.

Now I’m always looking for the best angle. How can I avoid shadows? Which filter will smooth out those lines? Am I having a good skin day? I’m never wearing THAT shirt again! Maybe the person taking the picture should back up a bit, to provide a friendlier distance.

Now I find myself going, “No way!” and deleting more pictures than I’d like to admit. Posting strategically.

I must remain vigilant– if I become trapped now, I’ll be scrambling for the rest of my life in that game. I refuse to let Patriarchal standards win. I’m aware of that threat. But I do feel its glare.

I will not be the Bonsai tree, pruned with care to remain small and dainty.

But trying desperately to deny I care makes me feel more ridiculous. So, I’m admitting it.

I’m just a regular woman who, while still attractive, is noticing the maintenance needed, and resents it. I accept reality, but I don’t have to like it.

It’s all part of just growing up as a woman, grappling with the role of make-up and a beauty routine.

And the money it costs. That’s the worst! Not just the time, but the money.

I’m figuring it out, a bit at a time. I really wish I could laugh at this!

One thing, FORGET powder! Now it just makes me feel like Miss Havisham.

How are YOU dealing?? I’d love to know. Got any advice for me?