Friday, February 19, 2016

A Beautiful Mess

Three years ago, almost to the date, I wrote a blog post that started our homeschool journey.  At the time I did not realize this was the case.  However, after three years I have a few thoughts on where I was at the time and where I am now.

Here is a link to the original post: The Blog That Started It All

In the last three years we have been on a journey that I never could have seen at the time I wrote the post. Within a week I was berated and bullied by the school's principal.  The teacher who wrote me the email about my Zoebug and her bullies retraced the statement.  In fact, she said she never even wrote those words, which was insane since I had the original email.  I was told to take the blog down and to do a formal apology to all those involved.  I removed the blog post, but only because I was not prepared to fight.  I never once apologized for my reaction, nor did I feel it was necessary.  I was confused and I was ashamed that I let my situation get out of control like that.  I probably shouldn't have been so honest, at least not until my family left the school.

The moment I brought my girls home for Easter break and sent my resignation email to the principal was such a freeing moment.  One I will never forget.  I made the blog post live again, and felt a huge weight off my shoulders.  Of course minutes after I sent the resignation I was inundated with annoying emails.  However, the emails only reassured my decision. I was, not so politely, told that I would have a ruined reputation if I left the school.  That I would lose my ability to teach in my neighborhood, due to the tainted reputation.  Three years later, and I am still a successful educator with more private students than I had when we left.  So much for that tainted reputation.

I reread the blog post moments ago, and was transported back to the entire situation.  Hindsight, they say, is 20/20.  I can tell you that my entire tenure at this school was a cluster of fucks.  Between working hours that I didn't agree upon, to feeling like an outsider at teacher is amazing that I didn't uncover the lies and deceit beforehand.

One thing I have noticed is that each day brings its own mess.  We are constantly making adjustments and learning from our mistakes. Lives are messy, but I wouldn't trade our lives for any other.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

My 2015 Favorites

As the year ends, and I can honestly say it has been an odd one, I am reminded to focus on the positive.  So, here are 15 of my favorite things:

1. Dr Bronner's Peppermint Soap

I have very dry skin, and it itches a lot.  This line of soaps are, by far, the best I have ever used.  I love the way it makes my skin feel so clean, and it doesn't leave me feeling dry or itchy.  

2. OGX Teatree Mint Shampoo/Conditioner

Okay, I realize this is technically two products, but they go together.  I have always loved thin mint cookies from the Girl Scouts, and when I use these I am transported to childhood.  They also don't give me an itchy scalp, which is also a super good thing.

3. Aveda Beautifying Composition

This is the best combination oil, as it can be used on hair and on body/face.  I just love the way it can be mixed with other essential oils to create an even stronger elixir for wellness.

4. doTERRA Frankincense Essential Oil

This oil has completely changed how I clean wounds.  I no longer use peroxide, due to the fact that as it bubbles it kills healthy skin cells as well as the bacteria.  In case you are curious the article is: HERE.  Frankincense is my goto for zits, or scrapes, or ingrown hairs.  It is amazing.

5. Waterpik flosser

I actually wrote about this amazing tool earlier this year: First 40 @ 40 I still love this flosser and cannot imagine returning to the regular flossing of my past.

6. Tinkle Hair Remover

I know what you are thinking...pee.  But this little razor has completely changed the way I remove hair from my face.  And I am a klutz, so if I can get it to work than it must be amazing.

7. Nose Piercing

On my 40th Birthday I got my nose pierced.  It was a bit like getting poked by a large needle...oh, was exactly that.  But I still love the way it looks.  And I have been able to replace the jewelry and that is super fun.

8. Nordictrack Elliptical 

I am so glad to have been given the elliptical from my parents.  It has helped me exercise, despite the issues with my left knee and back.

9. Burt's Bees Pink Grapefruit Face Wipes

I am not a girl who can handle a multi-step facial cleansing routine.  I love being able to quickly wipe the day away.  I just love the way these smell, and they don't burn my skin nor leave it dry.  They have also replaced witch hazel, which is a much stronger astringent.

10. Hi*ball Energy Drinks

I love water...okay, I tolerate water.  But having an organic, flavored water is really awesome.  Plus it gives me energy and does make me jittery.  It is a bit pricey, but completely awesome for during and after using the elliptical.

11. The Girl on the Train

I read quite a few books this year.  However, this one has stuck with me.  A quick read, and I even suggested Jim would enjoy it (he did).

12. The Staves

I very rarely hear new music and think - yes, that is for me.  I know that comes with age.  However, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed listening to many of the songs from The Staves.  They are my favorite music find this year.

13. Miley Cyrus

I suppose we all have a guilty pleasure, and I know this counts as mine.  However, ever since I saw her performance on Saturday Night Live, I have been a fan of Miley's music.  She might make strange choices in her life, but no one can deny her amazing voice, execution and interpretation of music.

14. Jessica Jones

I am NOT a super hero person.  And even though I had a huge crush on Superman as a kid, movies and TV shows about superheroes is not my thing.  However, I was so thrilled at how well the Netflix series of Jessica Jones was produced, acted, and directed.  I was left wanting more, and that happens rarely in a series.  I'm sure the fact David Tennant was the Purple Man had a lot to do with my love for the show.

15. The Man in the High Castle

Jim and I binge watched quite a few shows this season on Netflix: Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Grace & Frankie, An Honorable Woman, Dr. Who, and Portlandia just to name a few.  However, combine alternate history with a creepy theme song and I'm hooked.  It seemed some didn't think the characters were well developed, but I don't think that is what made the show so addicting. It was the discovery of the "man" (no spoilers) who we realize controlled the players, like puppets in his twisted reality.  Puppets are not developed.  And the scenery alone is worth the watch.

Well, that is a list of my top 15 favorite things of 2015.  What are yours?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

This Ain't No Frank the Fish Finds a Friend

When I was in third grade, I finished my daily school work like I was in the Olympics. This allowed for time to draw and create artwork for my grandparents, who picked me up for lunch everyday. My teacher realized this time could be used a bit more effective, so she suggested writing a story for the Young Author's Conference. I would be creating a picture book and attending a special field trip?  Count me in!

At some point my friend, Dana, decided we should write a book together. We could BOTH go on the field trip. It was initially a pretty great idea. I made the illustrations, and Dana wrote the words on the pages. We would discuss the story and artwork and then each take care of that part of the story. So we were creating the story together. The name we decided on was Frank the Fish Finds a Friend. I loved alliteration, so the title basically wrote itself. As the name suggests, a fish named Frank is lonely while swimming in the big ocean. He dreams of having a friend to spend time with, and finally finds a girl fish. At this point, Dana and I had completed a lot of the book.  However, our teacher came to us and gave us the grave news: only one could write the story and take it to the conference. The other "author" had to have a separate work. She had made a mistake when reading the conference rules. I was so upset; I cried. Dana made a proclamation that since she "wrote" the story and I only "drew" the pictures, it was her book. At first I was devastated, but I had an idea: I would write a better story. And I already knew I drew better, so it HAD to be an overall better story.

What happened next was inevitable: a whole lot of unhealthy competition. I wish I could say it was healthy, but it was fueled by anger and jealousy on my part. I am pretty certain Dana was also acting on anger and hurt as well. I chose a new story idea: Puddems Adventures. A story about a mouse who finds another mouse and goes on adventures. Sound familiar? Yeah, because it was. It was my version of Frank the Fish. Each day we compared what we wrote at home the night before. When we compared, we would incorporate the different ideas. My mice got married, Dana's fish got married. Dana wrote tongue in cheek locations for her fish to explore, I also wrote tongue in cheek locations for my mice to explore: Mount Cheesemore, Cheesy Honeymoon Suite, etc. I became completely obsessed with creating this book. I didn't want the story to end and eventually asked my family for ideas on places Puddems could adventure. Finally I had to end the story, because it was supposed to only be a specific amount of pages. So I had Puddems get pregnant, have twins (a boy and a girl), and live happily ever after. I also ended with a statement that another Puddems Adventures would be coming soon. Ah, the simple naivety of an eight year old.

I'd like to say that after the initial competition, Dana and I were even better friends. Alas, unfortunately this became known as the Frank the Fish situation. We did eventually heal our friendship, and used this argument as a learning experience. If we were arguing in the future, we would always say that we didn't want it to become a Frank the Fish situation. That stupid confusion on our teacher's part tore our friendship as quickly as, well, as a page from a book. So, you can see my complete bewilderment earlier this month when Dana told me she needed to have three months apart from me and our friendship. I believed this was not a Frank the Fish situation. Apparently I was wrong, and it seems just as serious if not worse. I have been scolded and told to simply sit idle until she's ready to talk. However, this isn't third grade, and this isn't Frank the Fish Finds a Friend. We are 40.

I still have the Puddems Adventures book, and have fond memories writing it. Maybe not having expectations of friendship would have been better on my part. However, I am not sure if I can forget what this latest situation uncovered. But, like a good picture book, I will continue to move forward by turning pages and opening myself to new adventures.

Stay tuned - a new Michelle adventure is coming soon!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Number Twelve - 40 @ 40

For the better part of three months, I have been reluctant to blog.  Why?  Because the one person I thought would always be my friend, has decided to eliminate herself from my life.  People grow apart, and people change.  However, it is almost inconceivable what happened on our trip to Wales. At first I was concerned for her feelings, but as the time has gone by it has come very clear that it doesn't matter what I feel. The following is an email response I sent to Dana after she waited five weeks to respond to multiple texts, emails, and Facebook messages.  It pretty much summarizes my frustrations after reading a few sentence Facebook message.  Her response was short, strangely worded and quite accusatory.  Please note, for privacy reasons, I have left out full names.

Wales Trip
I have been anticipating hearing from you, concerned that our conversation at the hotel would be our last.  You spoke as if our friendship was over, which left me completely confused and hurt.  It was as if we were breaking up, and I was on the clueless side.  I realize that it was hard to relax when O was messing around on the bed the entire time we were trying to have a conversation over tea, but I knew as long as I was there he wouldn’t go to sleep.  I chose to leave and let you both get to sleep because you had a long journey ahead.  I have reached out to you numerous times, and wish you hadn’t distanced yourself because I have spent these last weeks wondering what I (and/or my family) did wrong.

When we initially made plans to travel to Wales as a family, we were to spend a few days with you and your family as a larger European vacation.  However, as time got closer and our financial situation became evident, it seemed that less destinations on our schedule would be better for the girls (especially Zoe) and for our pocketbook.  I also felt that P’s declining health meant time together was more important than visiting different countries.  It was about that time you suggested getting a place to stay together. I suppose it was naive on my part to not take a larger role in the planning.  I didn’t realize how far away Bluestone was from Cardiff and your home.  I thought you chose to have us all stay at another location because you felt your home wasn’t accommodating enough for the entire visit.  Therefore, I had anticipated doing day trips to castles, rather than being a part of a vacation resort and the activities there.  Like I said, I was naive.  Maybe it was also that you sent those colorful brochures with my birthday present - so many wonderful places to visit.

When you told me that we didn’t need to concern ourselves with financial obligations once we got to Wales, I was taken aback but didn’t want to offend your generosity.  You were so kind to open your home to my family, and you wanted us to simply relax.  Relaxation is something with which I am not accustomed, but was willing to give a try.  Unfortunately after the first day I felt anxious due to what I later perceived as your stress about getting everyone safely to Bluestone.  You seemed to be so worried that we were comfortable, and I don’t think you ever relaxed.  I thought P was to take Jim to a pub while we were staying at your home, but that never happened.  Thus a heart-to-heart with you was impossible with the men there.  However, how ungrateful would we have been to mention this during our visit.  After all, you did not just open your home but were financing all activities.

I felt that everything - every activity and every meal - was already planned.  I did not feel we were given choices, nor did I feel there were other choices in many cases.  Again, I did not want to seem ungrateful.  I knew how much you wanted to show us a good time there.  However, it felt as if we were visitors on your family vacation in Bluestone.  The pizza and cucumber lunch I bought and prepared with Jim was the first time I felt like I had made a decision on the entire trip.  And I felt we had offended you and your heart when I left you and O to deal with Eva and Jim to deal with Zoe.

I know you wanted to connect on a deeper level during our spa visit.  I just wanted to be with you.  You asked about what was next.  I answered with school starting and my new job.  Not far into the future like I feel you expected.  I don’t think far into the future anymore, because so many facets of my life have changed in the last 10 years.  I am not in the place I had projected many years ago, but I am happier now than I imagine if life was how I had originally planned.  Having children has changed how I look at life, and I no longer wish to plan for the future when the future is not promised.  The present is, and I was doing my best to enjoy the present with you.

What was really peculiar was how you seemed to walk on eggshells with P.  You catered to his every whim, even before he had one.  Even our spa visit felt rushed because you told him we’d be back at a certain time and we were 10 minutes late.  The arguing, talking, or whatever was happening our first night in Bluestone definitely made Jim and I feel uncomfortable.  We already felt like we were infringing on your vacation, but once that happened we really felt uncomfortable.  Then P wasn’t even there to say goodbye.  It was as if he was angry with us.  But, again, it didn’t feel like our vacation the entire visit.

I also feel sorry for Jim.  The flights and hotel were all planned by him and paid for by his job, not mine.  He only wanted a few experiences while there.  He wasn’t included in a spa option, which we would have paid for, but never given the opportunity.  Nor did he get the traditional English breakfast he had hoped.  The one at Bluestone was like getting breakfast at Denny’s.  I already mentioned the pub trip that was nonexistent.  He went along with the activities, as I did, not wanting to seem ungrateful.  Fish and chips is a famous cuisine, but I think he had hoped to see unique food options.  However, he never once complained.  Never.  He made every attempt at making it the best trip for our family, and especially for you and I.

Yes, I was very down about the deaths of two friends, one of which was a very close friend.  When Shelly took her life, my world was shattered in a million pieces.  I am still dealing with putting the pieces back in some sense of normalcy.  My depression isn’t something I can control all the time, nor is my anxiety.  Sure I am on medication, but I admit that I was homesick while in Bluestone.  I was confused by your behavior and how I perceived the time we spent together.  One minute we were laughing hysterically about driving the golf cart, and the next you seemed to be withdrawn.  However, I did my best to not let that influence my behavior.  I guess I didn’t do as good of a job as I thought.

I am so sorry that you were not able to talk to me up until now.  For I, too, want to be honest and candid with my words.  I do not regret seeing you, but I do wish our time together wasn’t so strained.  Maybe it was a case of having expectations that were never met for either of us.  I do know I love you and appreciate everything you and Phil did for my family while we were there.  I hope we can continue to talk openly and honestly with each other.

Please know my heart and prayers are with you as your Grandma ends her journey here.  I knew something was wrong, because you posted a picture of O and her the other day.  I’m so sorry, but I know she loves you.  Her age does not mean her passing is any easier.  Quite the contrary.  Having someone there your entire life and then no longer is hard to fathom.

All my love,

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Numbers Ten and Eleven - 40 @ 40

New Journeys
One of the most humbling things has happened this summer to me - getting hit upside the head by the proverbial hand regarding my Earthly calling.  I have been a struggling writer for many years now. Desperately applying for writing gigs, pretending each rejection is a step forward in the journey.  All the while having a friend beg for my help with his business, and another friend struggling with her non-profit.  Two perfect fits for me. Yet my ego continued to struggle through the thick bracken with a butter knife. So maybe rather than tying to push through a path not intended, I need to embrace the ones clearly laid for me.

iSACRA Board Member
I have very few lifelong friends.  In fact, besides my very best friend, Dana, who has been on my life journey for almost 40 years, I only have one other that has been at my side half as long.  Jahna and I met in freshman year in high school. She was sunshine in a mostly mundane day. For high school wasn't nearly as bad as elementary school had been for me, but school was never the best place for me in general. It was mostly a necessary evil. Anyway, I spent the entire time of high school knowing Jahna used a wheelchair, but I never defined her as the "wheelchair" girl. I even had the pleasure and honor of helping her get her diploma, due to the grass in which she had to wheel across. She and I continued years of friendship, through her many journeys and my own. However, a couple years ago Jahna and a group of other dedicated individuals set up a non-profit called iSACRA. It is an organization that focuses on providing information and support for those with Sacral Agenesis and/or Caudal Regression Syndrome. Jahna happens to have both. They were in need of a board member, and even though she never said I was the perfect person for the board, I knew I was.  One night I said, I want to do this.  I think she was shocked, but in all honesty it is a GREAT fit for me and my skills and gifts. If you are curious exactly what the non-profit is all about take a look - iSACRA

Dearborn School of Music
Two years ago, on the way back from Target, Evie begged me to stop at Dearborn School of Music so she could get violin lessons. We entered, with both girls barefoot...or maybe it was just Zoe. But I signed Evie up and had a great conversation with Dave, the owner. I was so excited to finally be inside the studio that all my students were talking about (well their parents). Parents were asking if I was upset regarding the new studio in town, but I never considered it a competition. I had teaching burnout, and I began sending all new students to Dearborn School of Music. I talked them up, and even invited families to come see the concerts. The studio has needed a piano teacher for a very long time, and finally Dave wore me down. And I'm super excited to start this journey after Labor Day. If you would like to check them out, goto: Dearborn School of Music (new website launches September 1st).

Realizing the Reality
I cannot pretend that I didn't write successful curricula, nor can I stop blogging, writing short stories and writing music. So it's not that I'm going to STOP writing, but just feed what is begging to grow. I shall focus on the areas that need me and my heart, and share that journey with you, my readers. Cheers!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Number Nine - 40 @ 40

Dealing with Death
Little did I know when I wrote my last blog post that I would be at a dear friend's wake on Friday. However, that is exactly what happened.  And even though this blog series is intended to be positive firsts, I believe I was able to find just that.

Shelly and I met through my piano lessons flier she found at Ford Credit.  At the time, she was not my only adult student.  However, she was my last lesson on Saturday afternoons and many times she would stay and visit afterwards.  Soon after taking lessons, she met Doug, and was immediately smitten. Jim and I had such fun going to see Doug's band and my relationship with Shelly became more of a friendship than a teacher/student one.

One of the highlights of our friendship was when Shelly asked if I would sing/play at her wedding. The morning of her wedding I found out we were expecting our second daughter, Eva. I was so sick at the wedding, but I know the music I performed was loved and appreciated. I couldn't drink at the reception, and we had to leave early because Zoe was not enjoying being put to bed by her grandparents. However, the love Shelly and Doug had for each other was reflected to beautifully on that day.

More recently Shelly and I hung out with my girls.  We most always went to Olga's for lunch and then came back to our home to watch crazy Sesame Street videos on YouTube. We had a blast listening to the different skits from our childhood, and our favorite by far was the Pinball Song.

Saying goodbye was very difficult, but it did lead to a first - recording a YouTube video of myself. I have uploaded videos of my girls playing instruments, or other family things. However, I never felt comfortable to record one of myself. I follow quite a few YouTubers who seem to be so confident when recording their videos. And I have no problem performing in public, what was so scary about YouTube? Most likely it was because I put myself out there for criticism. I hate people who are so rude and overtly unkind online. But I did it. Here are the finished results:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Number Eight - 40 @ 40

Accepting My Self

When I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder almost 8 years ago, I had already struggled for many years with panic attacks and depression.  However, when Zoe began suffering from asthma, I started getting anxious when I was doing normal every day activities, especially if I was trying to relax. I tried to put logic to my emotional state, but logic was not going to help me in this situation. I even put off getting medicine and help, because I saw it as a weakness, one that I needed to fix myself. I am self reliant.  I was raised to do things on my own, and to not ask for help.  So admitting I could not do this alone was a huge step for me.  However, I was embarrassed that I needed medicine to keep myself afloat.  I mean, what did I expect would happen with both sides of my family having either anxieties, depression or both?

It was really remarkable how much my behavior changed, for the positive, after only a few days.  I felt like a person, rather than a shell of one with outbursts and chest pains.  I couldn't believe how long I put off feeling better, and I did feel better.  Of course after a month my meds were increased, and I once again felt like a failure.  Albeit, not as much of a failure as the initial diagnosis.

However, I have recently fallen into another bout of depression these last few weeks.  I thought it was illogical, but after deep thought this weekend I can pretty much state that the depression became obvious since a neighbor passed away suddenly.  She was the mother of a little girl my two Ladybugs played with almost on a daily basis.  And I was shocked, saddened and confused.  We were not close. I spoke to her on the phone often, checking in on her daughter and asking if I could watch her longer. I didn't go to the funeral, because I physically could not convince myself to go.  It was a crazy feeling.  A feeling of being paralyzed by fear.

My brain never truly stops thinking.  I over analyze EVERYTHING, to a fault.  Logically I can state that I just had a physical, including my first mammogram, and I'm healthy - physically.  I still need blood pressure meds, but that is genetic anyway, so I guess that's going to have to stay. I'm down 40 pounds since Christmas, and I am exercising almost everyday and eating healthier than I have in a long time. But shit happens, and that is where I cannot control my thoughts and feelings.

Unless one reads my blog posts, I have a good feeling they would not know of my illnesses. There...I wrote it.  I HAVE MENTAL ILLNESSES.  People probably would have no clue. I don't have anything that physically looks abnormal. Yes, I have gained weight from the depression during Ray's illness and passing, but I'm not grossly obese or morbidly disfigured (i.e. third breast, extra leg, etc.). I have always put on a good front. Played a part - the part I'm supposed to be. Because I quickly learned in elementary school that my authentic self was not good enough. I was not good enough for people to be my friend. So I became really good at pretending. So good, in fact, I believed it for a long LONG time.

I was born a giver, and one who could feel and relieve someone of their pain and hurt. I find great joy, but also great exhaustion from this gift.  I can successfully let conversation occur without revealing my pain and hurt and emotions.  I find myself living in a protective shell, and helping others with their problems as not to deal with my own.  I have known my friend, Jahna, for 24 years now. She admits to just recently realizing I suffer from these illnesses.  Can you believe it!?  24 freaking years I have been able to love her, and give to her, and be there for her.

But this year I'm done - this year I am 40 and I'm not going to feel sorry if I can't bring myself to attend family events, or have to cancel plans because I cannot bring myself to leave the house. I may not ever be able to eliminate my body from the meds I take for depression and anxiety, but that okay. This is me - take it or leave it.

My name is Michelle, and I have depression and anxiety.