Hope has been the one constant in my life, even as a child. I may not have had a word for it, but I believed things would be better one day. I believed every hurt and fearful moment would pass, and I just needed to hang on a moment longer. So, I tightened my grip until it was safe to let go.
I’ve always had hope, it just looked and felt differently at different times in my life. As a child, hope saved me. It was the only thing I truly had. As a young adult struggling with depression, I had hope I would feel better again because hope carried me through much worse. As a young mother, I had hope my children would know how much they were loved because I had so much love to give. I had hope for their future and that they would grow into the people they were always meant to be. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had hope that no matter the outcome, I would be at peace because I was surrounded by those who loved me.
I’ve been gifted with hope. Even when I question everything in this world, my belief in hope is unwavering, not because I choose to see things differently, but because it has proven itself to be real in my life. I hope for the best, even though I know not everything will be as I hoped. I believe anyway. I have hope in the midst of despair and uncertainty, especially now. We must have hope for this world and our future. Otherwise, all is lost, and I refuse to belief that it ends this way. I refuse to live in a world without hope.
I have hope, even though our world may be different after the pandemic, we will continue to love, dream, and believe in our collective future. We were meant to be hopeful, and when we hope together, we fight for a better world. It gives us strength. It inspires us to create, persevere, believe in our abilities, and triumph.
I was packing up my 80-year-old mother-in-law’s kitchen to move her into her new home across the street from us. That’s a whole other story, my friends. I came across her copy of Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. Maybe this was new fifty-five years ago judging by the pictures and yellow pages. I’m pretty sure my mother-in-law rarely used this cookbook from the stories I’ve heard about her cooking. I couldn’t throw it in the Goodwill box. I was strangely drawn to it.
Here is what I’ve learned from this cookbook:
1. I’m a horrible mother and wife for not making my family breakfast every morning and sitting them down at an “attractive as possible” breakfast table.” Clearly, the fend- for- yourself breakfast is a no-no. “Try to serve each member of your family the foods he particularly likes.” What? Who has time for that non-sense? You get cereal! And you get cereal! “You won’t have to force your family to eat if you set out a breakfast that smells, looks, and tastes good.” Force my family to eat? Eat what I cook or go make your own damn meal.
2. If I didn’t already feel like a failure at breakfast, I might as well jump in front of a train as punishment for the dinners I prepare. “Plan each dinner with as much thought and care as a company meal.” Right. Plan. My planning involves stopping at the grocery store after work and wandering the aisles trying to figure out what I can throw together quickly because I’m tired as hell from working all day. Even worse, I don’t serve coffee and dessert after dinner. Fail.
3. “Plan meals the easy way.” I’m directed to choose items from six columns: meat, starchy food, vegetable, salad, dessert, and “nice to serve.” Six fricking columns! On a really good day, my family gets three columns worth of food. The meat column is a choice of beef in all its glorious forms (steak, ribs, loaf, and corned) and one chicken option – chicken fried steak. The starchy food column is every single way you could possibly serve a potato. Just about every thing is buttered in the vegetable section. Way to go butter! If you struggle to eat a salad, this column will not help you. I would rather eat a bowl of snot than a molded vegetable salad. Come to think of it, maybe those are the same thing. Pear and cream cheese salad? Pass. If I were to serve dessert, it would be whatever pre-made thing I grab from the bakery section of Safeway. Homemade desserts. As if. I could probably pull off the “nice to serve” column. Here’s your dill pickles and grape juice. Enjoy.
4. If you really want to torture someone and make sure they never eat again, serve something from the “meals built around a variety of meats” section. Maybe I’m wrong. Someone must be into liver loaf, scrambled brains (from what, I don’t know), and stuffed veal hearts.
5. Another reason I suck as a wife and mother. No one gets a packed lunch. “A good general rule for planning lunch-box meals is: pack something hearty, something sweet, something good to drink, and something for a surprise.” The surprise would be if I actually packed a lunch. Here’s your lunch money. Try to buy something resembling food.
6. Just in case you didn’t know, “meat is money—take care of it.”
7. I tell you what, if I’m at a party that serves hors d’oeuvres consisting of codfish balls, anchovy puffs, and liver pinwheel canapes, I’m out.
8. Here’s the intro to the casserole section: “Park dinner in the oven to look after itself while you greet guests, catch up on your mending, or just relax a little.” Mending? Who do they think I am? We have learned to live with holes in our socks.
9. Anyone in the mood for a baked prune whip?
10. Table settings? “Have a sufficient variety of everyday dinnerware, too, so your family won’t tire of the same setting meal after meal, day in and day out.” Listen, I’m not moving the table into the living room. We’re just fine eating off our mix-matched, chipped, dinnerware in front of the T.V. And by the way, the kids wouldn’t notice our dinnerware if it was on fire.
I haven’t used an actual cookbook in quite a while. I have a smart phone and Pinterest. Maybe that’s why I love these old books.
Who hasn’t hummed or sang My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music? I guess not everyone was held captive by their grandma and forced to watch musicals as a kid. It’s a catchy tune even if the list of favorite things is bananas. My list doesn’t include bright copper kettles or woolen mittens, but to each her own. I’m fascinated by the thought that everyone’s lists are different—it’s what makes everyone so unique.
What if instead of asking people what they do for a living the first time you meet, you ask about their favorite things? You would get to know them on a whole new level. Have I done this? Not before this morning when I asked my sister. Everyone is going to say the people they love, but how many people love fat puppy bellies? My sweet sister does and so do I. Just the thought of it makes me smile.
There are the big categories of favorite things like kids, family, animals, jobs, hobbies, etc. I’m more interested in the specifics. To me, kids are little balls of chaos, but one of my favorite things is watching them draw or paint. They are totally free—no worries about perfection or criticism. I don’t want to hold a baby, but I do love those open mouth kisses that gobble your cheek and the smell of their hair freshly washed with baby shampoo.
I love my bratty weenie dog, but my favorite thing is when he burrows under the blankets and all I can see is his sweet face and big brown eyes framed by his old man eyebrows. I love my cats, but my favorite thing is when they visit me while I take a bubble bath to keep my company. Of course, I love my kids but my favorite thing is hearing them laugh at something completely absurd I’ve said. I love writing, but my favorite thing is when I string together a few words that end up being perfect together. I mostly like my job, but my favorite thing is having that first cup of coffee (with the perfect amount of creamer) with my friend who is more like a sister. It goes without saying that I love my husband, but one of my favorite things is, when I’m spinning out of control, he kisses me and everything is instantly better.
Some of my favorite things are just for me to know, but here are a few in no particular order:
A full golden moon.
Sunsets that light up the clouds with fuchsia and gold.
Birds chirping all around me while I read outside.
Internet videos of unlikely animal friendships.
My husband wrapping me in a blanket right out of the dryer.
Finding the perfect gift for someone and being so excited I can’t wait to give it.
Having lunch with my girls before they run errands with me.
Making people laugh because I’m too sassy for my own good.
Bubble baths with lavender oil.
Listening to my oldest daughter break into song in the middle of Target.
Going to a Blue October concert with my favorite concert buddy.
My youngest daughter saying something so unexpectedly funny that I can’t stop laughing.
Eating all the chocolate covered caramels from a box of chocolates before anyone else has a chance to grab them.
Looking through people’s photo albums.
Watching my mother-in-law laugh so hard it looks like her face is going to crack in half.
My oldest sister’s reaction to shirtless pictures of Chris Hemsworth.
My youngest sister exchanging move lines from Stepbrothers with my husband.
Seeing a folded towel in the morning left for me on the edge of the bathtub by my husband.
Holding hands with my honey while we lay in bed watching television.
The way my brother hugs me like he is keeping me from floating away.
When my sister says turds and wieners to make me laugh.
Sleeping Beauty and sassy Tinker Bell.
Seeing a picture of my husband with my youngest daughter at a Blazer game.
Snuggling up in my favorite blanket while watching movies with my husband.
Reading a line from a book that makes me wish I had written it.
An unexpected bouquet of roses.
When I’m having a hard day, “I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.”
I think we can all agree Veruca Salt was an asshole—a spoiled, impatient brat who got what she deserved. She was a bad egg who took a quick trip down Willy Wonka’s garbage chute. Was it really her fault she was such a turd? Her parents were enablers—the Oompa Loompas nailed it. In her parents’ defense, raising kids is super frickin’ hard and all you want is for them to be happy. So, maybe I’m being too hard on Veruca.
I’m an impatient brat, too. My impatience borders on assholery. I hate waiting for anything. I whine about it, become indignant, and pout. Don’t care how, I want it now! It doesn’t matter what it is. I need instant gratification. The say patience is a virtue. Well, that’s one of many virtues I don’t have. When I instant message, I want an instant response. I want all green lights. I want you to like my latest Facebook nonsense now. I want. I want. I want.
Sometimes waiting is exciting—welcoming beautiful daughters into the world. But even my body didn’t like to wait. My uterus kicked those kids out early. I busted out of my mom’s uterus almost three months early (seriously, I do not like to wait).
Sometimes waiting is foolish—expecting someone to be who you always needed them to be, knowing in your heart you will never come first.
Sometimes waiting is heartbreaking—holding my grandma’s hand after all the machines tethering her to this world were turned off.
Sometimes waiting is unexpected—a letter inviting me back for a diagnostic mammogram.
The hardest part of having breast cancer was waiting. Every minute waiting for appointments, procedures, biopsy results, surgery, and a treatment plan felt like an eternity. Everything moved so quickly, but felt like it was in slow motion. From the time of my screening mammogram to when the lump was removed, one month passed. I felt every single second in that month and so did my husband. The week it took to get the biopsy results back was the hardest—do I have cancer? Maybe I don’t. Maybe it’s a bit of harmless boob garbage. Maybe I’ll die. Maybe I won’t. Don’t worry. Maybe I should worry more. Nothing will change. Everything will change. That week made me dizzy.
I got the call Friday afternoon going into a holiday weekend—invasive ductal carcinoma. After the lumpectomy, there was more waiting—is the cancer in my lymph nodes? It wasn’t. Do I need chemo? I didn’t. Is it in my genes? It’s not. Radiation and medication. Two years later, I wait for mammogram results in the mail just like everyone else. Although my risk of reoccurrence is low, I will always wonder if the cancer will become an unwanted visitor again. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
You would think that experience taught me patience. Nope. I’m still as impatient as ever. It did teach me that waiting can be a gift. A wait is full of moments—another day with my family, a second chance, a celebration of dreams realized, apologies and forgiveness, and love to the moon and back.
The one thing I have perfected as a writer is the beginning of a story—no middle or end; no inciting incident; no idea where it’s going or what it wants to be. I then squirrel it away for years, sometimes twenty. I was a completely different person twenty years ago and it is painfully obvious when I re-read the words of a twenty-something aspiring writer who never cracked open a thesaurus. It does make me appreciate how far I’ve come and am excited to say I’ve had several of my short stories published. It wouldn’t hurt to dust off The Chicago Manual of Style. Who am I kidding? I bought the laminated tri-fold. Its quality is described on Amazon—water resistant, lightweight, compact, and durable. My writing has two of those same qualities. I’ll let you be the judge.
For your reading pleasure, here are the gems I dug out of my squirrel nest. Be prepared to be underwhelmed:
“Mitch’s enthusiasm could be seen by the blind and heard by the deaf.” Let me first apologize to the blind and deaf communities. That one is painful.
“He would have noticed two damp towels laying on the cold bathroom floor.” Ugh, seriously? Does anyone care the bathroom floor was cold and the towels damp? Lazy.
“Her limp, mousy hair falls straight… hanging lifeless over her shoulders.” An ellipsis has no business in this sentence. These words have no business in this sentence. What the fuck is mousy hair? So embarrassing.
“She would rather pluck out her own eyes than let anyone see her hurt.” Uhm, that’s not how vision works. People can still see you even if you pluck out your own eyes. I want to pluck out my eyes so I can’t see this horrible writing.
“Although she loves Chris and has allowed him to explore every curve of her body, she has not let him inside her soul. He has tried to scale them, but he always loses his footing and falls to the hard ground below. So, he stands outside of those walls and licks his wounds.” First off, I just threw up in my mouth. “Let him inside her soul?” That’s not a thing. The thought of him licking his wounds just made me throw up again.
“Janie worked six nights a week at Heartstone Nursing Center, changing Attends and cleaning up vomit off the cold linoleum floor.” What is up with these cold floors? Heartstone? What a marketing nightmare. Do you really want your mom staying at a stone-hearted facility?
“Even when you don’t know where you’re going, you end up somewhere, usually at a place called Regret.” I think I was trying to be deep. Did you see what I did there? Regret is the name of the town. So, so bad.
“I went to wash my hands as to not spread germs.” That’s just the right thing to do, people! Good hygiene is everyone’s business.
“Maggie, her legs crossed” – that’s it, folks. Not even a period or point. I didn’t even finish the sentence. The story just stops.
“Maggie lay supine on the hospital bed with her eyes closed.” That’s a little clinical and redundant.
“Tim kissed Maggie’s parched lips ever so gently, yet passionately enough to remind her that she was still alive. It was like an unexpected rainstorm over the desert in which the dry earth drew long awaited water to its depths.” What a sloppy, disgusting kiss! So gross, Tim! Keep your saliva to yourself.
“As he left, the majestic pink petals of the single rose fell to the floor.” That’s ineffectually dramatic and ridiculous. What the hell are majestic petals? Get it together, Jenny.
“His voice was small and fragile, as if the words he struggled to speak would slip from his tongue on to the cold, grey pavement.” It’s not just bathroom floors that are cold, my friends.
I leave you with this gem. “The house was a hideous gold-brown color that reminded me of baby poop.” Yep, I actually wrote that. Jealous much?
That’s what comes to mind when I think about my mental health.
“You got your soul-sucking depression on my heart-pounding anxiety!”
“You got your exhausting anxiety in my endless depression!
Except they aren’t great and even worse together. I care about nothing and everything. My mind is either stuck in the past or a hundred years in the future. My mind races and my body slugs behind. I’m numb and hyper-sensitive. I’m unmotivated and over-achieve. My sassiness borders on cruelty, but maybe that’s all in my head. I’m steady on the inside while a tornado rips me apart from the inside. I’m better than I used to be.
I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, even before I knew their names. Twenty-six years ago, I made the decision to get help. It’s been years of different medications—trial and error, combinations of this and that, periods of success, and times my mood bottoms out and I feel like I’m free-falling. There are times I’m afraid to let people know I’m broken, but I’ve come to realize we are all broken. Hiding it, denying it, or running from it robs us of the chance to heal, connect with others, and celebrate joyful moments.
I wish I could say I meditate, do yoga, chant affirmations, and exercise but I don’t. I would like to say my body is a temple and I only fill it with things that are good for me, but it isn’t. I would like to say I pray every day, but my faith waxes and wanes, or disappears altogether. I really want to say I’ve forgiven all those who have hurt me, but that’s a work in progress. The hardest person to forgive is myself. There are a lot of things I could do to manage my mental health, but I do what works the best for me. My hope is that something I do may work for you, too.
I try. Every. Single. Day. When things don’t go my way, I remind myself I can try again tomorrow.
I accept that depression and anxiety are my life-long roommates. They make a mess of the house but they also help me appreciate every day my house is in order.
I accept that pain and joy are temporary. I know this too shall pass when things are painful and I appreciate the joyful moments when they come around.
I get out of bed every day even when I don’t want to.
I take my medication like a good girl.
I confide in my therapist and take her suggestions to heart.
I write to purge hurtful words from dark places.
I write to remind myself it’s ok to laugh and make others laugh.
I write to make sense of my past so it can’t hurt me anymore.
I write for my future.
No matter how I feel, I care about others and am there to offer supportive words and a hug, even when I need them, too.
I pour my heart and soul into my family and know when I take care of myself, I take better care of my family.
I’m strong when I need to be.
I fall apart when I need to, throw a pity party for one, and then pull it together because I have shit to do.
I believe in love and romance and celebrate my thirty-year love affair with my best friend.
I ask for and accept help, and I help others.
I have hope during hopeless times. It’s helped me get through the most painful times of my life and it makes me excited for the future.
I’m sassy and stubborn and know that I am bigger than depression and anxiety. They can kiss my ass, not kick it.
I read and re-read self-help books.
I do the best I can and accept that my best isn’t always great, but it’s good enough.
I nap when I’m tired, cry when I’m sad, and laugh when I’m so moved.
When my mind spins out of control, I find something to focus on in the moment.
I say “Stop!” when my negative self-talk and demons tell me lies.
I say no to things I don’t want and speak up for things I do want. It took me a long time to give myself permission to do so.
I remind myself I’m a human being, that being perfect is overrated, and being flawed makes me more interesting.
I remind myself it’s not all about me.
I know I’m not alone, ever. All I have to do is reach out.
I appreciate the little things—the first sip of coffee in the morning, a full moon, a setting sun, snugs with my cat, holding my husband’s hand while we watch TV in bed, running errands with my girls, finding the perfect gift for someone I love, texting with my sister.
I remind myself I’m safe when anxiety tells me I’m not.
When anxiety makes up fiction, I ask it for the facts.
I appreciate I’m in good company—16 million people live with depression every day and another 60 million live with anxiety.
I choose life.
If you are struggling, please reach out for help. You’re worth it, and I would never lie to you. When things are really dark and you feel you can’t take it another minute, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Once upon a time, I had a perfectly, imperfect father who loved me like a daughter, not just a girl his son brought home one day. He didn’t have to love me—he was under no obligation whatsoever. He didn’t even have to like me, but he did. We were fast friends. We understood each other because we chose better lives for ourselves when we could have easily repeated what we saw as children. We were both sassy, strong, and stubborn. Above all, we both loved his son beyond belief.
I don’t even remember calling him Pete. He was always Dad. He showed me what unconditional love looked like; what it felt like to be the center of one’s world; and the value of love, loyalty, generosity of spirit, and tradition. No one would have blamed him for being a cold-hearted cynic, having lived a life no child should. But he wasn’t. He lived his life with an open heart. He was compassionate and incredibly generous, sometimes anonymously, expecting nothing in return. He was quick and clever and made me laugh.
Dad wasn’t perfect, but he held his broken pieces together as long as he could—long enough to raise children anyone would be proud of; love and spoil granddaughters in the best of ways; celebrate a Super Bowl win with his biggest fan; read every book he could get his hands on; create traditions celebrating family; and change me in ways I didn’t think were possible. His body broke and we lost him way too soon. It was the only time he hurt me and I feel the pain to this day.
I see him in my loving, hilarious husband, my sweet sister, my sassy and generous daughters, and his fiercely independent granddaughters. I see him in the best part of myself.
We lost him almost fifteen years ago, but sometimes it feels like yesterday. Today would have been his 81st birthday, but I celebrate him every day.
Every year, my family watches Planes, Trains, and
Automobiles the night before Thanksgiving. We spend the rest of the year
cramming movie quotes into our normal conversations. We know every scene so
well we start laughing before the hijinks even happen. We quote lines a
split-second before Steve Martin and John Candy deliver them with perfect,
comedic timing. We all have our favorite scenes.
The movie is hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time, just like life, sans musical score. The freeze frame of John Candy at the end while “Every time You Go Away” plays in the background brings me to tears. Every. Single. Time. John Candy left us way too soon. This year, I know the song will rip out my heart because my youngest daughter is unable to join this year’s viewing and the Thanksgiving feast the next day. Thankfully, she took the tradition with her and will be watching three thousand miles away.
I can’t remember exactly how and when this tradition started,
but I can’t imagine my life without it. We’ve added loved ones to the viewing
party and tearfully said goodbye to others; we’ve watched during years of celebration
and good fortune and years that tested our mettle; we’ve watched during
different stages of our lives that allowed us to relate to the movie in
different ways. It’s so much more than a movie—it’s family, treasured moments, laughter
during difficult times, and our steadfast friend.
I don’t know what the next year will bring for my family, but
I know without a doubt, we will gather to watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
and laugh for 92 glorious minutes. “Gobble.
I’m sure when you woke up this morning, you took a deep breath, swung your legs out of bed, and started your day. All on you own, without thinking about it, without worry. We take our breath for granted. We trust that our bodies will do everything we need it to do to keep us alive. That’s not true for everyone. Imagine you are 16 years old, no worries in the world, loving life, hanging out with friends, and being adventurous. Imagine going fast – skiing, riding your motorcycle, driving. Now, imagine your 16 year old body dropping to the ground unable to move or breath on its own. In an instant, Mark King’s life changed forever. An accident left him with C-1 quadriplegia and dependency on a ventilator because his body doesn’t do what it needs to do on its own to keep him alive. At the age of 16, he was given one hour to live in 1980. That was almost 40 years ago.
He is Superman, if Superman needed a ventilator to breath. His super powers are defeating the odds, inspiring others, helping people understand how to talk with people with disabilities, and advocating for those with disabilities. He has helped shape the services and supports available to those living with disabilities, has testified in front of the Oregon State Legislature, has served as a Commissioner with the Oregon Home Care Commission, and now serves on the Oregon Disabilities Commission. He lives his life with compassion, generosity, and humor. He chooses to live. What’s your excuse?
Mark tells his story in his newly published book, From Snow Skis to Wheelchair, available now on Amazon. Unless you are a robot, you will cry (or try not to), laugh out loud, celebrate his victories, be inspired, and never take your breath for granted again. And that 16 year old boy, he was a little troublemaker.