Saying goodbye to 2010

This is the beginning of a new day.
God has given me this day to use as I will.
I can waste it or use it for good.
What I do today is important, because
I am exchanging a day of my life for it.
When tomorrow comes,
this day will be gone forever,
leaving in its place something
that I have traded for it.
I want it to be gain, not loss;
good not evil; success not failure;
in order that I shall not regret
the price I paid for it.
–Author Unknown

I wasn’t going to write a “last post” of 2010. I haven’t felt inspired to write for a while and figured I’d just start off 2011 fresh — as fresh as I could anyway. However, as I reread past blog posts and thought about it some more, the more I felt like I should write something if only to have it to look back on later and for posterity. So here I am, writing something/anything with three burned fingertips.

I discovered this evening it’s NOT a good idea to grab a cookie sheet out of a 350 degree oven without an oven mitt. I’m 35 years old. You’d think I’d have learned that lesson by now, but that’s how my life has been lately. My brain is distracted — trying to process other things — and I’ve been making stupid mistakes like burning my fingers or thinking I’m taking a shortcut somewhere only to discover I’m going very much out of my way. It’s been weird and a little alarming.

But that’s my life — weird and a little alarming. Yet it’s also been pretty amazing too.

The past year was quite wonderful until the last quarter when all hell broke lose and life as I knew it was forever altered.

Some of the good things (though many nerve-racking in their own way) included:

  • Doing home improvements on our first home in order that we could…
  • Sell our first home.
  • Packing and moving to our new home.
  • Taking the kids hiking by myself.
  • Going to my second BlogHer conference…
  • which happened to be someplace I’d never been before — New York City!
  • Julian weaning completely on his own (a few months before he turned 4).
  • Starting home schooling with Ava.
  • Canning and preserving a lot of food.

And then tragedy hit when my little sister Carrie was killed in a car accident on Oct. 25. The day of Oct. 26 — from the time I received the news from the coroner (somewhere around 3:30 a.m.) until I went to bed many, many, many hours later that night — was the. worst. day. of. my. life.

The end of October and month of November are mostly a blur for me. I know somehow I helped orchestrate two memorial services — one here in Colorado and one in Michigan. I buried my sister. I somehow managed to get my kids and myself to appointments, classes, school, etc. I traveled to Michigan. I did a little catching up with some old friends, extended family members, and even my brother (whom I’d pretty much been estranged from for 15+ years). I’m not sure how everything came together, but with the help of amazing friends — both mine and Carrie’s — and supportive family members (and my higher power), it did.

My therapist is encouraging me to start moving more toward acceptance with regard to Carrie’s death, but it’s so very hard. I still want to deny that any of this happened. I still want to wake up from the nightmare. Yet I don’t. And I won’t.

And so I’ve started reading books about grief — about surviving the death of an adult sibling, about sudden loss. And I continue to see my therapist regularly and listen to her suggestions about how I can begin to accept this tremendous loss and soothe and support myself.

In the book I’ve been reading about a sudden loss, the author explains that anyone who receives news of the sudden loss of a loved one should treat themselves as if they are in intensive care for two weeks. While that sounds like a really good idea — I would’ve loved to have hid in bed for two weeks — with all of the details and arrangements that need to be made — as well as caring for one’s family — it’s not very realistic. That’s why my therapist wants me to do things that allow me to care for myself and really nurture myself — even though it’s been two months since Carrie died — during this time.

While billions of people around the world are celebrating the end of 2010 and welcoming in the new year and new decade tonight, it’s not something I feel compelled to do this year. Yet Jody, the kids and I still had a little celebration of sorts tonight. (I find that I have to carry on with some things like Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s — even though hiding under a rock sounds more appealing — just because I have kids. And honestly, that’s probably a good thing.) With wine in Jody’s and my glass and blackberry Izze in Ava’s and Julian’s, I gave a toast — to making happy memories in the new year — and we all clinked glasses. And then I proceeded to spill my wine, not once, but twice, and that was only after a few sips. (It’s that brain distracted thing again, I’m telling ya.) I’m happily drinking water now.

After cleaning up the spills and thinking about it a little more, I feel like the memories we create with one another are really the most precious gifts we have. It is through shared memories of my sister that she will not be forgotten. Even though my kids are only 4 and 6, they will hear so many stories over the years of the silly, courageous, funny, absent-minded, amazing, and inspiring things my sister did — not only from me and Jody and family members, but I hope also from her friends, that they will not forget her. Carrie’s spirit and memory will live on. Honestly, I don’t know how it couldn’t. When someone lives as full, amazing, determined and inspiring life as Carrie did, their spirit lives on in everyone who’s life they touched. And knowing Carrie, that’s a whole lot of people.

To live in hearts we leave behind
Is not to die.

–Thomas Campbell, Hallowed Ground

While I don’t look forward to starting a new year without my sister physically present in my life, I know she is still around. I also know she would want me to continue to follow my passions and dreams. She was very supportive of my blog and my many causes. There were often times I turned to her for help with wording in a particular post and I’ll miss her fresh perspective (and so, so many other things). But I know she would want me to continue my blog, even though there are days I wonder why I still have it.

As I say goodbye to 2010, I wish you all a new year of happy memories — of cherished moments with those you love. Take the time to mend broken fences (or broken hearts). Take the time to enjoy the little things. Take the time to say I love you. Better yet, make the time.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Photo via: David Paul Ohmer

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Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like Lead Poisoning

When you think of the holiday season, what comes to mind?

Family? Friends? Christmas trees? Decorations? Presents? Candles? Food? Mistletoe?
How about lead, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other toxins?

In Danika Carter’s post All I want for Christmas is Lead-free Decorations, she points out that most artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC (vinyl) and the many problems associated with PVC.

• It off gasses
• contains phthalates
• breaks down in heat and sun
• contains lead which becomes lead dust and spreads throughout your home
• Doesn’t biodegrade and is difficult to recycle

This is one of the reasons we are opting for a real tree this year (which we are finally going to get tomorrow – can’t wait!). :)

Danika also points out that reports have shown that “the cords on most holiday lights contain lead at higher levels that what is allowable for toys.” A Michigan-based group called The Ecology Center tested 68 light sets and found four out of five of those sets contained detectable levels of lead.

While most people don’t stick electrical cords in their mouths, they do touch them with their hands (and then touch food or their faces?) and all of the twisting and turning the cords while wrapping them around the tree or — in my house, the banister — can lead to lead dust in the air.

Lead is a potent poison that can affect individuals at any age. Children with developing bodies are especially vulnerable because their rapidly developing nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead. Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development and behavior. Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.

To avoid possible lead contamination, it is advised that people either wear gloves when handling holiday lights or wash their hands afterward. I’m not sure what you can do about the possible lead dust in the air other than avoid strands of lights that contain lead in the first place. Or just don’t decorate at all. Yeah, bah humbug and all of that. :P

Actually, Alicia from The Soft Landing had some tips for safer holiday lights. “As we discussed in a recent article, locating PVC-free and lead-free light strings proved impossible, so your best bet is to focused on tracking down RoHS compliant products. We found Environmental Lights to be an invaluable source of well-researched options and SAFbaby also confirmed that Ikea offers safer light strands as well.”

Also, word to the wise… Definitely don’t let your 6-month-old sit on the floor surrounded by lights (which she grabs with her hot little hands) so you can take some cute pictures. Uh, yeah, I totally did that when Ava was a baby. Crappy parent award right here! Holla! Ugh.

There is more information available from HealthyStuff.org about the Lead and Holiday Lights studies.

Are you concerned about lead exposure from your tree and/or lights? What changes might you try to make to avoid it?

I’m rethinking my decision to wrap our banister in lights and garland this year. Sure it looks pretty, but when my kids touch it nearly every time they come down the stairs, that ain’t cool, people. That ain’t cool. Maybe I’ll have them wear gloves in the house? Or not. :P Next year I think we will only have lights on the tree in the house. Any other lighted decorations will be outside only. At least that will minimize our exposure a bit. I’m also trying to have my kids wash their hands whenever they handle any lights and cords this year (which is so much better than throwing them into a pile of lights, don’t you think?). ;) Live and learn and then learn some more.

While we’re on the subject of the holidays and learning, don’t forget that you can give your Facebook friends The Gift of Green this holiday season by checking out the One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application. The app allows you to pledge to complete an act of green and posts a cute e-card to your Facebook friend’s wall, perhaps inspiring them to complete an Act of Green too! No worries about lead with One Million Acts of Green. Just good clean, green fun. :)

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean MomGreen Your Décor and Condo Blues.

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Giving kids the gift of experiences, not just stuff

Something I’ve been hearing more and more about over the past few years is that people — specifically parents — are asking friends and relatives to refrain from buying things for their children for the holidays or birthdays, but instead they are asking for experiences. This can mean something like passes to the local zoo, museum, or aquarium; dance, karate or gymnastic classes; piano or art lessons; a family pass to the recreation center; tickets to a play, concert or movie: or pretty much anything else you can dream up. The point is to give the children experiences rather than just stuff.

I like this idea a lot, especially because my children already have a lot of “stuff.” Experiences can be so much more valuable, yet setting aside the money for classes, lessons, etc. is often overlooked in the family budget. Not only are the experiences fun for your kids, but they are usually just as enjoyable for you as parents too. Just look at the expression on the little boy’s face in the picture above! I love watching my kids experiencing something new, magical or just plain fun. The amazement on their faces is priceless. In fact, we are going to see The Nutcracker this weekend and, although Ava has already been a few times, this will be Julian’s first time and I know both of their faces are just going to light up during the show. :)

I’m not saying that “stuff” can’t be memorable too. I’m sure we can all recall a particular toy from our childhood that we wanted more than anything and once we got it, we were the happiest kid on the planet. ;) I’m just saying if you are feeling overwhelmed by the clutter and amount of stuff your kids already have, asking for the gift of an experience might be something to consider and something you won’t likely regret.

While we’re on the subject of clutter-free gifts, you can give your friends The Gift of Green this holiday season by checking out the One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application. The app allows you to pledge to complete an act of green like Planting a Tree (you could even plant your own Christmas tree like Lisa from Condo Blues is going to do!) and posts a cute e-card to your Facebook friend’s wall, perhaps inspiring them to complete an Act of Green too!

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean MomGreen Your Décor and Condo Blues.

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Preparing (or not) for the holiday season

I’m having a hard time believing that tomorrow is December 1st. After my sister’s passing at the end of October, November was literally a blur for me and it’s amazing my husband and I were able to get it together enough to get Julian something for his fourth birthday which we celebrated in Michigan last week. Now we have to focus on Christmas — getting a tree (or not), making our own ornaments (or not), decorating the front of the house (or not), buying presents (or not).

After much discussion online last year (was it on my blog or on Facebook?) about the merits of a real Christmas tree versus an artificial tree (lots of good information on the subject here), we’ve decided to ditch the pre-lit artificial tree we acquired on Craigslist a few years ago, and buy our first real tree. I’ve toyed with the idea of buying a tree with a rootball so we can plant it afterwards, but I’m not there yet — maybe if we lived on a few acres.

I have no idea what I’m going to do for presents for the kids this year. I want to keep it simple.

I didn’t partake in Black Friday or Cyber Monday and just don’t feel motivated to do any shopping until I know what I am looking for. Otherwise I feel like I’ll just wander aimlessly around the stores, which really might not be such a bad thing after all.

Tell me what you are buying for your kids this year. Did you score any good deals online or in the stores? I want Christmas this year to be simple, yet I also want it to be magical (I don’t ask for much, do I? *wink*). Do you have any ideas for simple, magical gifts for a 4 and 6 year old? What about a 30-something year old man? ;)

Speaking of gifts, I’m still hoping you all will do me a favor and give the Earth a gift by checking out One Million Acts of Green. We are nowhere reaching the goal of a million acts of green completed in the United States yet. You can Give The Gift of Green by checking out the One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application, which allows you to pledge to complete an act of green like Turning Off Your Computer When Not In Use or Run Your Dishwasher Only When It’s Full or Turn Off Your Lights When Not In Use and posts a cute, humorous e-card to your Facebook friend’s wall.

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean Mom, Green Your Décor and Condo Blues.

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Ups and downs and random thoughts

I was recently in Michigan for another memorial service for my sister Carrie. Michigan is where we were born and raised and I have a lot of family back there. I hadn’t been in MI for more than two years and November wouldn’t have been my first choice weather-wise when to fly back, but there really was no other option. So the skies were gloomy for most of our trip, but we caught some glimpses of sunshine here and there (kind of like life recently).

I’m trying hard to look at the positives that have occurred lately, but I struggle with that. I try to be grateful for the good things that have come from Carrie’s passing, but I just want things back the way they used to be. I want my sister to be here talking to me about politics, laughing with me about silly things, complaining about the injustices in the world, hugging my kids, hugging me.

As fate would have it, the hotel we roomed at for about half of our stay was located right next to one of Carrie’s favorite stores — Walmart. When I say favorite I really mean LEAST favorite. I’m not a big fan of Wallyworld either, but I have been known to stop in there once in a while. Since we stayed there for Thanksgiving and Black Friday, I had the opportunity(?) to observe some of the Black Friday Walmart madness. I am happy to report I didn’t witness any trampling, but I did see a steady stream of people heading to and fro to snatch up the deals.

I find it hard to take fault with anyone who’s trying to save some money, especially considering the current state of Michigan’s economy. I talked with a few friends and relatives while there about the pay cuts, the job loss, etc., and it sounds pretty bleak.

Where am I going with this post? I don’t know. I guess what I’m thinking is we (I) have no right to judge anyone because we have no idea what is truly going on in their life. I can’t judge the people bargain-shopping at Walmart any more than the person at the bank can judge me because my hair is a mess and I haven’t showered today. I don’t know what the Walmart shopper’s financial situation is like and the bank clerk doesn’t know that I just spent time out in the cold and wind at the cemetery talking to my dead sister.

I started writing a haiku about Carrie on the airplane back to Colorado. It’s not finished yet, but I will share it when it is. Writing, even haiku, is therapeutic. I also was inspired to write haiku because my mom had come across a haiku that Carrie wrote while on a plane to MI a few years ago. She wrote the whole thing 7-5-7 until at the end she realized it’s supposed to be 5-7-5 and she swore upon making this realization. That makes me smile.

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The grief roller coaster

I’ve been wanting to write a post about toys and consumerism — especially in light of the ads that keep appearing in our mailbox and the upcoming holidays –but I can’t organize my thoughts very well just yet. That post will come in time.

Today was a bit of a roller coaster for me. I had to stop by the funeral home — a place I’ve come to loathe just for the nature of what it represents — to pick up some things (including a laminated copy which included a picture of this beautiful tribute a friend of Carrie’s wrote in the local paper).

After that I stopped at the cemetery to visit Carrie. I think she and I are going to have a standing Monday morning date. It’s the only day both kids are in school and I like visiting her alone, talking to her, crying. It’s been very therapeutic. The past several days I haven’t done much crying at all, but when I go to the cemetery and and see her name on the temporary headstone, it feels real. Her death hits me right in the gut and that’s when the tears fall as I talk to her. It’s kind of weird how it feels natural to talk to her there, but I like that. I like that I still feel like I can talk to her and I feel like she is listening too.

Later today, as I was driving around, I was stopped at a light when two firetrucks and an ambulance with their lights and sirens blaring turned in front of me heading to an accident I could see in the distance down the street. And, again, I lost it. I just started bawling in my car thinking about how someone else could have lost their life, but even moreso about how someone else could have lost someone they loved. My mind wandered to the emergency crew who responded to Carrie’s accident. How they must have driven through the mountains with their lights and sirens on to reach her, but there was nothing they could do for her. She was gone the moment the accident happened.

It was a sobering day.

I’ve been reading a book about grief — the funeral home gave it to my parents and me. It’s weird to think people would need a book to handle something natural like death, but I’m finding it helpful. I’ve never been through this with someone close to me before and it helps to know if what I’m experiencing is normal or not. I’ve also really appreciated the emails I’ve received from others who have lost an adult sibling. It sucks that we have to go through this, but it helps a little bit to know I’m not alone.

One of Carrie’s favorite books was The Little Prince. She had actually given my daughter Ava the book (which she had written an inscription in) a year or two ago. I think that will be the next book that I read. :)

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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