Go Red For Women

Personal Narrative, Women's Health

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 4.43.53 PMOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness month and it’s all pink all the time. Everything from your favorite football player to your favorite Yoplait can be spotted with a splash of pink.

Despite the importance of cancer awareness initiatives, it’s worth noting that heart disease is the number one killer of women. My mother is in that number. Over 10 years ago, she went to the emergency room complaining of chest pains and never made it home.

The official cause of death was a brain hemorrhage, which was an unfortunate complication of her heart attack. Although she’d been slowly working to reclaim her fitness, lower her cholesterol and free herself of nicotine, time wasn’t on her side. She died a few months before her 60th birthday.

February is best known for Valentine’s Day, but it’s also American Heart Month. February 7, 2014 is National Wear Red Day. Are you and your loved ones doing what you can to get heart healthy or stay that way?

Top posts for September

30 Day Blog Challenge

Here are the top posts from last month’s 30in30 challenge:

September is my mom’s birth month. She was on my mind, and subsequently, on my blog. Early in the month, I wrote about the Barnes and Noble she never had the chance to enjoy. Later, on her birthday, I shared a co-worker’s wisdom about mothers and grief. In short, losing a mother can leave you broken-hearted, even a decade later.

I talked about vulnerability and learning to be “intentionally transparent” with the one you love. Easy to want, but often hard to do. It boils down to being honest with yourself first. That level of honesty and clarity about myself and my needs is at the root of an emotional wellness strategy I learned in September.

Emotional wellness is important, but wellness extends to many domains. In honor of National Women’s Health & Fitness day, I wrote about prioritzing physical wellness in the face of a busy lifestyle.

Last month, Diana Nyad made history, and she endures as a testament to dreaming big, and never giving up. It is with that spirit that I welcome October. I’m revising and devising my goals and striving forward each day. I wish the same for you.

She was right.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative

“I’m so sorry.”

The chocolate brown woman shook her head as she embraced me, the two of us in the nearly empty corridor.  It was August, the beginning of the school year. It was my first time seeing Mrs. Jackson, a long-term substitute at the elementary school where I worked. My had mother died unexpectedly just before the last days of school the previous year, so coworkers who saw me still offered condolences.

“It’s been ten years since my mom died. You never get over it,” she said to my cheek. I nodded as we pulled away, not sure how to take her news.

Today is my mom’s birthday. It was ten years this May.

She was right.

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Mama’s voicemail sounded an alarm. “I’m not feeling well. Call me back.” I returned her call right away. No answer. Heart pounding, eyebrows raised, I left a message in return, chiding her for scaring me by leaving mysterious messages and then refusing to answer the phone. In my nearly 30 years of life, I’d never heard her say anything so ominous.

 

Thankful Thursday

30 Day Blog Challenge

The past several Thursdays, I’ve seen Anika tweet simple gratitudes. As I was sitting here admiring today’s gorgeous weather, I thought it might be nice to do a couple.

  • After days of clouds and rain, I’m overjoyed about the sunshine, and thankful I can enjoy it.
  • I was able to run this morning and witness the dawning of a new day. I’m thankful for my good health.
  • She’s on my mind a lot because her birthday is tomorrow…I’m thankful for my mom, RIP.
  • I’m happy for  the chance to reflect upon and learn from past choices. I’m thankful for evolution.
  • I’m thankful for friendships that endure time and space.
  • I’m thankful for vulnerability and love.

Your turn! What are you thankful for today?

Bibliophiles, bookstores and endings

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative

My mom was a school librarian for 30 years. She retired before 60 as she began working in her early 20s and never stopped. When she told me she was calling it quits, I teased her all the time. “You’re not ready to retire,” I always said. I couldn’t see this smart, vibrant woman no longer getting up and going to work every day.  My picture of retirement was limited to occasional volunteering and philanthropic work. Traveling. All great things she’d done in the past, but things I couldn’t picture her doing in lieu of being in a school library.

By her late 50s she insisted kids had changed so much and librarian duties had evolved into things outside her sphere of interest – she loved books –  it simply was no longer her dream job.

As it turns out, she had a plan. A brand new shopping center was going up nearby, and it promised a Barnes & Noble in the line up of big box stores. Every time we drove past the site, she pointed and smiled, sharing her post-retirement dream to work at the bookseller and enjoy the discounts.

She retired and became a part-time media specialist (I knew it!), filling in for those who needed to be out on leave or what have you. But she never did make it behind the counter of the Barnes & Noble. One Memorial Day weekend, she had a heart attack. Less than 24 hours later, she died. That was 2003, the same year that long-awaited store finally opened. It always saddens me to know she missed it.

It’s 2013. That Barnes & Noble recently went the way of many large box booksellers these days – kaput. In fact, July marked the end of its lease, and a wig shop is said to be on the way to take its place.

I know some feel as if the big sellers are  getting their just rewards, and if people  bought enough books from the brick and mortar stores, they’d still be around anyway. But I don’t have the nostalgia for the community bookseller. We didn’t have one aside from the used book shop in the plaza across from the park. And that plaza has been decrepit for nearly 20 years now.

The Barnes & Noble was our community space. You could scarcely go in it and not see someone you knew. Or if you were going there to work or meet a friend, you had to pray for a space to sit since everyone else was there, too. Lots of wheeling and dealing, coffee sipping, book writing, and studying for exams, story time for children, book signings, and even dates took place in that store.  And yes, people bought books, too. And in that mix, nurturing her love of books while helping other people feed theirs? That’s where momma wanted to be.

But now she and it are both gone.

B&N Closed

On ironing and grief. #NaBloPoMo #amwriting.

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative

I remember when I stopped ironing.

As a young girl, I ironed all the time. And to some degree, ironing suited me. I’d iron shirt after shirt, and soon enough I’d be in a mindless rhythm. My thoughts were free to imagine new scenes for my current short story, or remember favorite scenes from a Judy Blume in progress. Usually I’d iron in the den on weekends. Daddy stretched out in his easy chair watching sports of some sort, momma half-watching, half-devouring a novel. It was easy, ironing was.

As I grew older, I continued ironing as needed. Didn’t think much of it. Maybe I no longer ironed clothes on weekends. Maybe I simply ironed the night before, as I laid out clothes for school.

In college, ironing happened decidedly less often. Using that mini surfboard on the bed proved neither effective nor fun, and it was college. Everyone knew you just needed to get your clothes out of the dryer while they were still warm. Ironing was reserved for the really stubborn creases, and only then at the last possible minute.

I entered the workforce and ironing again became a regular occurrence. Sometimes it was the evening before, yet more often than not, I saved it for my morning routine. There wasn’t much to it, after all. It was just ironing.

I remember when I stopped ironing.

Months after momma died unexpectedly, grief became stress became a fog. Life was thick. Heavy. Clouded over. Every morning it was time to get dressed and go teach my 4th graders, yet it got harder, not easier. Where was it? Where was the outfit I could just put on? I didn’t want to think about ironing. I couldn’t bear the thought.

I was near tears one day, trying to figure out tomorrow’s outfit and the requisite ironing, when cousin big sister suggested a radical idea: dry cleaners. I had only associated dry cleaning with my dad’s work shirts. Momma and I dropped them off early mornings before school and picked them up in the afternoons.

Neatly pressed clothes sans stress? Sign me up. I sighed away 10 pounds.

And thus marked the beginning of the end of ironing. Soon enough, through geography and professional choices, I all but eliminated the need for pressed clothes from my life. For years I donned sarongs and sundresses, jeans and fitted t-shirts.

As of late, the iron is no longer content to make cameos. It seems to be pushing for a more starring role. Yesterday’s sheath dress required a tap from the hotel iron, as did today’s button-down and slacks. And it was easy enough. There isn’t much to it, after all. It’s just ironing.

But I remember when I stopped ironing.

Unasked. Unanswered. | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge

I met my aunt for dinner this evening and she surprised me with a gift: vintage photographs of my maternal grandparents and parents. I don’t have access to a scanner, or I’d show them to you.

One photo, black and white, features my grandparents, my tiny mom, and her tinier brother. We figured it was from 1944, as there was no newborn sister yet, and the siblings were born almost exactly a year apart. They sat on the grass in front of the house my grandparents built, looking as people often do in older photos – kinda smiling, kinda uncomfortable. It’s one of the few pictures I’ve ever seen of my grandfather. He passed away when I was very young. 

Another photo, color, was taken two decades or so later. Aunt, uncle, grandma, and grandpa are standing on the porch of the same house. Mom and dad are holding center court, sitting on the front steps. My mom was so skinny! She remained small most of her adult life. As an aside, her arms look very toned in this picture. My arms look like that right now…

I see old pictures like this and I am often filled with questions. When did my parents meet? Is it true they only dated 2 weeks before they decided to marry? Why did they elope and keep it a secret for a whole year? What was it like growing up with my grandparents? Five people with one bathroom? Really? Was grandpa a nice man?  What is my birth story? 

My parents are both deceased and there are countless questions I wish I had asked them. They weren’t the kind of people who would randomly sit you down and share a story without provocation. And for whatever reason, it never crossed my mind to ask them while I could.  I have relatives who are gold mines of family knowledge, and I plan to collect oral histories to preserve the family memory. But my parents’ own stories of their lives are forever gone with them.

Writing Publicly

Personal Narrative, Writer's Craft

One of my goals/determinations for 2012 is to write and publish meaningful, well-received pieces. My first one (yay!) is linked below. I had the pleasure of working with a brilliant editor, Kelly Virella, and I’m deeply appreciative of her guidance and wisdom. I hope to write many more personal essays, advocacy pieces, and other works throughout 2012. Here’s to the first one!

Mama’s voicemail sounded an alarm. “I’m not feeling well. Call me back.” I returned her call right away. No answer. Heart pounding, eyebrows raised, I left a message in return, chiding her for scaring me by leaving mysterious messages and then refusing to answer the phone. In my nearly 30 years of life, I’d never heard her say anything so ominous.

Minutes later, I headed to our rendezvous point – the emergency room. She’d enlisted a neighbor to drive her and she’d arrive shortly. “I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I told my best friend’s voicemail. “I don’t think this is going to turn out well.”

Keep reading…