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!

 

 

 

 

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Best Confession Ever: I Laughed, I Cried, I High-Fived!

Friday night to Saturday afternoon I attended my first Catholic retreat since moving to Kansas, and my first TRUE retreat since college. It was groundbreaking for me.

I chose to go because it was based on the Blessed Mother, and I have a devotion to her. And also because I thought it would be a wonderful way to meet some new Catholic friends, as it was hosted a local group for Catholic singles in the their 20’s and 30’s.  I already had some friends in it, who invited me and encouraged me to attend. It was meticulously and lovingly planned with a good balance of themed talks, group worship times such as Adoration and Mass, and also opportunities to break into small group discussions and prayers. Overnight accommodations and meals were included.

But Friday night was the most pivotal time for me. During Adoration, we could sign up for Confession if we chose. Three priests were available. It was also our choice between the traditional screen or face-to-face. I chose face-to-face and didn’t need to wait long. Maybe 20 minutes.

I was surprised to find a young, hip priest. Probably younger than me. He wore his red hair cut short and a long beard, along with a black hoodie with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. He had on black sneakers to match his uniform, but no visible tattoos. He looked like someone I might be friends with if I met him somewhere else. He was in no hurry. He allowed me to talk a bit and then asked some questions, such as which sins I wanted forgiven. There was no judgement in his eyes or voice. He then asked WHO I wanted to forgive and I surprised myself when I named someone I had been struggling with a lot of resentment towards. I had no idea that apparently deep down, this anger at that person bothers me and I wanted to let it go. He then asked again and I was even more shocked to name… myself.

But it was clear he had expected this answer, and maybe had been gently leading me toward it. I’ve always been someone who enjoys the Sacrament and ritual of Confession. But this year if I’m honest, I’ve been disappointed because I missed out on it when I traditionally go, during December near Christmas. I moved from Illinois back home to Kansas with my parents in early November and at first we stayed with a cousin. Then about five weeks later, we moved into the new home they closed on, in the same city. So December was about unloading and unpacking, and my parents needed a lot of my help. I had abandoned my plans for Confession when they asked for my help and I never made it up at a different parish.

But now here was the opportunity to do that.

This priest listened with the patience and focus of someone much older. But especially, the  way he heard my confession belied how much he cherishes his job and his personal connection with Jesus. I’m used to a few questions, maybe a few “Mmm-hmmms,” and ultimately a “Go in peace, my child,” with the spiritual prescription of how many prayers will restore my soul. A lot of times I’ve left feeling that I wanted something more, wishing the priest had talked to me. But I always reminded myself that I had no idea how many people they were listening to and that my expectations were too high.

This priest also spoke softly and sparingly.  But like Silent Bob, the words he did choose were profound. Somehow I found myself laughing, most likely at my own astonishment that I was enjoying this so much much. Then I cried, after I forgave the person I named and myself. The relief was instant and total.

It was the first time that I felt a deeper meaning during Confession. I realized that through this priest, I felt the grace and love and holy presence of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

At the end he priest raised both hands above his head to bless me. And I first I raised mine too. Then he spoke, and I lowered my head and hands and surrendered all the feelings I had been carrying. Doubt, anxiety, depression, shame, envy, resentment.

He verbally released the “spirit” of several of these feelings. And I felt lighter.

Then I looked up and admitted with a joke,

“I thought at first you were going to high-five me!”

Of course then *he laughed, and we DID actually high-five overhead with both hands. Like we were teammates who had just played a great game together and were sharing the victory. Which, I suppose, we kind of did. Confession is a team effort.

I was lucky to have a priest who allowed me to feel safe in vulnerability and who cared enough to respond in detail to several things I shared. That is special. So of course, I asked which parish he serves and what his name was. I have been visiting several area parishes trying to find my *home, but there are so many! I will now make a point to attend a Mass there and seek him out next time I need to confess.

It was like having coffee with a friend who knows you well. Who has compassion for you but also gently calls you out and points you toward self-awareness.

I felt healed, full of hope. It was like the best runner’s high ever, only in my heart.

I’ve always felt more comfortable with Mary, but held Jesus at somewhat of a distance. Now, I feel open to the possibility of knowing Him more. What if I could replicate that feeling I had in Confession– directly with Jesus? It would take some work and time.

But oh, would it be worth it.

And quickly, I also had a wonderful moment of connection Friday night before that.

I met a new friend with electric blue hair and we talked non-stop! I noticed a beautiful navy prayer veil with her things, since she was sitting next to me at a table. I asked about it, having read about them online and how prayer veils were making a comeback with many modern women. She was happy with the compliment and asked if I wanted to try an extra one she had brought with her? It was in her room and she offered to get it and let me wear it to Adoration.

It was a white infinity style veil and she even had a little metal comb to fasten it to my hair. Walking to Adoration and then Confession wearing it, I felt something extra. I loved that my first opportunity to pray with one was an offer of friendship. I had wondered about buying one for myself and this showed me that it is absolutely something I want to do. I felt even more connected to the Blessed Mother, adorned in her beautiful veil.

What gifts I received this weekend!

It’s Never Too Late to Mend: The Old Joliet Prison Break-In! What a Night!

I’m home and glowing with affection for Joliet, my hometown of the last 30 years. People here really are decent, friendly and hard-working folks.

I knew this would be the event of the summer and so I had to score myself a ticket soon after hearing about it. And my, did it deliver! It was bigger than the Taste of Joliet, with a 21 and only crowd and fantastic music all night. There were 3,000 tickets available and I’d say they probably sold out from the looks of it!

I arrived about 6:15 and already the designated parking lots were full except for the last one. I didn’t have plans to meet anyone specific, so just meandered around and looked for anyone I might know and checked in on fb. A few people commented and I found one of them! At first I felt kind of lame because everyone had brought lawn chairs and that had never occurred to me. But it ended up being a good thing because it forced me to do a lot of walking. I saw down to eat my pizza and once more to rest a bit. But mostly I just people watched and surveyed all that was going on.

So many people were dressed to theme, some in full-on convict black and white stripe costumes, complete with hats! Others were in suits, fedoras and sunglasses a la The Blues Brothers- another J-town legacy incorporated into the evening. As most know, the first scene features Elwood picking up Joliet Jake from this very prison, in an old police car he got for a deal.

A lot of people had on black t-shirts with Blue Brothers faces and quotes or they were wearing something black and white striped, or just the black fedoras and glasses. They were being sold as a $5 combo at a merch tent, along with event t-shirts, sewing kits, etc. I’m glad I got the hat and glasses! Later they came in handy.

There were food trucks and tons of props serving as photo ops: an old J-town cop car and a white board painted with black stripes and height markers for patrons to take “mug shots.” In the right corner, there was another cop car– this one a prop for the headlining and closing act, The Blooze Brothers. A kind woman I talked to took a shot of me leaning against it and in exchange I got one of her and her boyfriend over by it.

I saw my friend Hallie in line for a tour and she invited me to cut in with her friends and tag along, so I did! The tiny, broken down cells were very sobering. But probably my favorite part of the evening was visiting the tent for the Old Joliet Prison Burnt District Artists. I’ve been seeing posts from them on facebook as they helped clean up and also found raw materials they could incorporate into their artwork. A lot of cool things are happening in Joliet right now, a lot of new business and breweries are opening up. There’s some intense Joliet pride and I’m proud to see it manifested artistically. That’s where I found the young and hip people. I really liked a piece by Ruben Calderon of Art of Breath Galleria (facebook) — it featured a male prisoner in what seems to be prayer, with a guardian angel visible behind him. The cell bars are in the background, along with a phrase, “It’s Never Too Late To Mend,” written on the cell wall to his right. If I had the cash I would have made an offer.

I met some really nice people just ambling around. One woman offered me a chair at her table to eat, and another told me how much she and her boyfriend love live music and had the best anecdote ever. Her boyfriend had actually BEEN a prisoner here at The Joliet Prison more than 20 years ago, and came back tonight a free man to this event. She said he had told her he’d grown as a person and learned a lot while doing his time. He was glad to come back and reflect on it because it was no longer a painful memory to him.

Then when The Blooze Brothers took the stage, I ran up and spied a friend front and center! We just kinda jammed out together, he was more quiet; bopping his head but clearly really in the moment. I was more wild, dancing around and joking with the woman on my right. We were both being totally silly.

I got one of three free CD’s they passed out because I put on my fedora and black sunglasses and was dancing like crazy– it pays off to be festive! Can’t wait to re-live tonight and play the whole CD when I’m driving around next.

I thought it was beautiful that the band did a tribute to Aretha Franklin’s recent passing. The lead female singer was Shelia Pepple, as far as I can tell from the liner notes from their CD. She sang “Respect,” “Natural Woman,” and a few others I didn’t know with some impressive pipes!

And as for Elwood (Chuck Little) and Joliet Jake (Jeff Sismelich)– they KILLED IT!! They really had the dancing cold, and Elwood wailed on his harmonica. They did “Soul Man,” “Rawhide,” and “Jailhouse Rock!” I left before the end of the set, but didn’t see “Sweet Home Chicago,” it was probably the last song.

I danced my tail off, re-connected with old friends, took some fun pictures and left feeling very glad to be a Jolietian.

In this historic prison, I was freed.

A Baptism for Liam, an Epiphany for Me

I’ve been to Baptisms before, but today’s was special because it showed me something important about myself as well as celebrating the new faith of my friends’ first child.

It showed me that I do want a family life and I do want a Catholic marriage.

My friends Jenni and Ryan celebrated their first child, Liam. He was born on Ash Wednesday into an Irish Catholic family! They have been close friends of mine since high school, when all three of us went to youth group together. They’ve never missed a birthday of mine! They are both responsible but are silly enough to keep each other laughing, too.

Being there with our other mutual friends– also from youth group– was wonderful. They all have families now, and their kids were playing together in the back yard. I’ve seen them all be pregnant. I’ve been to their weddings and showers. I just felt so grounded and comfortable today with all of them.

A statue of the Blessed Mother was in the left corner of the yard and I found her presence very comforting. I found out it was passed down from someone in their family. My own Godmother has a similar one in her front yard. I’ve always hoped that one day when I hopefully own a home I will have one as well.

I spent the afternoon just catching up with our friends, getting to know both their families better, taking pictures and eating great food! It was wonderful to see them together as parents as well, knowing they prayed and planned for this blessing in their lives. They both have this wonderful, relaxed glow about them. And a big reason for that is their marriage is grounded in a strong friendship and shared Catholic faith.

If I’ve had doubts about whether religion is truly a deal-breaker for me in a relationship, today they were dissolved. Jenni has always been my voice of reason, reminding me that it’s not an unreasonable expectation and showing me that it’s possible in her own marriage. I’ve dated enough Atheists and people who profess no faith. They were all good men but there was definitely something elemental missing. I am unabashedly a woman of faith.

And the highlight of the day? Of course, it was holding Liam. He was so calm and cuddly. He felt comfortable with me and I got to take a few pictures with him. And for me, holding a baby is so natural and it just makes my day. To know this little being trusts you enough to relax and let you hold them is such a good feeling.

I will know when I’m in the right relationship and I’m genuinely happy single for the time being.

I’ve almost renounced my faith in the past because I wanted so much to be compatible with a man who was not religious. I am more confident now and will not compromise my religion again for the sake of being in a relationship. Now I recognize my faith is not only fundamental to my my identity, but my happiness.

Sliding Down the Banister of Life: Lessons from Shamrock Shuffle 2018

Today was the the most arduous race of my life thus far but the most fun.

Because of friends I’ve made in my run club in the past year. I asked to get a ride with someone I’ve been wanting to get to know and she was excited to include me with her gang. We met at 6 a.m. at a local park and ride area and were together until circa 2:30 p.m., if I’m calculating right. I was one of six she happily transported in “Black Beauty,” her SUV.

And I learned that I have more — genuine– friends in this group than I realized. As I shared anxiety about being too slow to qualify for a “finisher’s medal” and having the course shut down before I crossed the line, two people in the club took that to heart. They both offered support and to help me in different ways.,one even offering to give me his medal if I didn’t make it in time. I appreciated the offers but declined, wanting to make it without any help. I took a chance.

And I still did it on my own. I was very slow. I had major shin splints after the first two miles, out of an 8k (4.97 miles) race. Why? Because I hadn’t run over a 5k since late October, at the 2017 Hot Chocolate Run 15k. I had managed to run once each month from November to March, due to the exceptional chill this winter. Honestly, I did a LOT of walking today.

I’ve also avoided running because I can be a perfectionist. If it wasn’t at least a 5k, why bother? If I knew I would be slow, better to wait until I had more energy. Until the weather was better. But several warmer days passed, and I didn’t run. I didn’t want to deal with those awkward miles, the transition.

“Junk miles,” you might call them. Thing is, you can’t avoid them.

Junk miles happen in every aspect of our lives. Those days you just don’t WANNA but have to anyway. That’s the whole concept of “adulting”– soldiering on. If you wait for ideal conditions, you’ll never finish anything important.

I almost didn’t even register for this race. I knew I hadn’t trained and that my time would be terrible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run the whole race, like I did last year. I wanted to preserve that glory. Last year, I CRUSHED my goal, ran the entire way, and didn’t even need a bathroom break the whole five miles. I had a runner’s high so invincible that I legit FORGOT about work the next morning until a co-worker texted me to check in.

But I’ll admit it, I wanted the swag for 2018. A black racing t-shirt, the medal. Even the socks, though I could tell they were kind of cheap. More than those, I wanted to come back and spend time with friends from the two running clubs I joined last year. I loved that they all gather at Palmer House before the race. I had so much fun hanging out after the race, too.

And those running friends were encouraging me all the way. Even though I felt like I didn’t really “belong” since some of them are elite runners who race every weekend, regularly place and medal, and have run Boston multiple times. But they all told me to just go for it, that they hoped to see me there.

So today, I’m proud of myself. I did this knowing full that it would be arduous. That it would be cold and windy. It was harder than I anticipated.

But when I crossed that finish line and was given my medal, I really felt I’d earned it. I heard them call my name out and smiled like a fool! And then I claimed my stuff from gear check and met up with them at Miller’s Pub.

When I walked in, they all cheered! And it was genuine.

I realized how hard I’ve been on myself. None of my running friends are judging my time or ability. They like seeing me at races, they’re happy for every little bit of progress I make, even if it’s quite humble.

When I got home today, I took a long hot bath. After I publish this, I’m going to sleep. And then back to the grind at work tomorrow!

But I cried a few tears at home today, overwhelmed by it all.

I may be inconsistent and awkward as a runner, but I’m still in it.

And the weather was BRUTAL today! A cruel chill that felt much lower than the 35 degrees I saw displayed on the route. At least we had some sunlight. I had on two pairs of running tights, two pair of gloves, a base layer, the race t, AND a windbreaker coat for running. My Shamrock Shuffle 2017 hat, plus a warm scarf bundled around my neck and mouth. I was dressed warm and it worked!

And the best example of how wonderful today turned out is a moment I had with my friend at Palmer House, where everyone congregated before the race. We were in different waves and corrals, but we all met up and got ready together. It was exciting to be part of a tradition in such a classy place, no less.

Last year, she and I played on the stairs, taking silly pictures. She was sliding down the banister and I took a picture. I think that’s how we met! And I suggested over a chat recently that this year we should try to re-create that moment this year. Last time I hadn’t been brave enough to try taking the same picture. The brass banister was taller than my hip and I just couldn’t let go and slide. But today, I did it! Just like this race, it was a bit awkward getting up there at first. But I maneuvered on and stop caring how I looked or if I would fall off. I raised my arms and went to the top and slid down that banister! My mouth was wide open in a laugh and I went for it. I have great pictures, too!

I LET GO. For that moment, and of my expectations for today.

One race and one awkward moment at a time, I’m becoming more confident.

I’m having more fun. And I’m surrounded my some amazing friends, too.

 

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.

Adventures in Bacon: Joan of Arc Style

This morning I got up early and made myself a hearty breakfast.

Well, for me anyway: three scrambled eggs and three slices of bacon.

It was my first time cooking bacon on a stove in probably over a decade. I usually microwave that job and it’s perfect!

But today I added a new element: I used a griddle I’d gotten. The flat, square kind with a handle ideal for pancakes. Since I hate even an ounce of fat, I fried it BLACK!

As in barely retained any properties of bacon– that black. Beyond charred!

But also, it’s bacon. I love it so much I can’t waste it. So I ate it anyway.

At least the eggs were perfect; fluffy. A little bit of sea salt, ground pepper, basil and shredded mozz cheese. I sprinkled a little cinnamon but only on the top. Next time, I’ll try it in the mix and see if I can actually still taste it.

I posted on facebook and asked for some tips to not ruin my next bacon effort!

My friends did not disappoint.

I got a suggestion to bake in the oven.

One friend said my burnt bacon was just perfect as is, she would love it!

Yet another friend called my efforts “Joan of Arc Style” and had me cackling. A little bit of blasphemy made my end product hilarious and not just humiliating. She wasn’t wrong! My poor bacon: martyred in the name of kitchen exploration.

She then followed up with an offer to try a friend’s advice, cook it herself, and report back soon with the results of her own efforts.

So for my friends who are still prone to culinary catastrophes, relax.

It’s still funny. Exploit your failures for levity.

Most amazing? It took less than 15 minutes! Maybe even 13?

I need to do this on a workday for myself. Just in the microwave first.