I wished for insight in my year-end reflection. Especially since today is my birthday. I should now have the wisdom of an official 52-year-old. Upon pondering, however, I could only take so much of 2021. In some ways, it was the best of times. A completed graduate degree, a new job I love, a trip across the border to the beach. In other ways, it was the worst of times. Nothing I care to rehash. In fact, there’s no better time than a new year or a birthday to let bygones be bygones and let it go. A gift to myself. Peace. I Believe our struggles strengthen us. I suppose that’s my 2021 takeaway. Strength. Perseverance. I made it. You did, too. As for 2022, I choose Hope. Maybe we’ll all be surprised.
Did you know that today, March 8, is International Women’s Day? A friend of mine recently inspired me with how she will be celebrating—by giving thanks to the amazing women in her life and by celebrating herself. How appropriate and what a great idea! Despite your gender, if you celebrate women internationally, THANK YOU!
My friend asked the question, “If you could tell your younger self anything, what would you say?” And so here goes:
Dear Little Crystal,
Be true to yourself and live your God-given purpose. Be honest and courageous, proud, confident, and unapologetic. Keep your body, mind, and spirit strong. Love wholly and forgive fully. Don’t let anyone shut you up or down. Maintain boundaries for bullshit and remember you can do hard things.
Your Bigger, Wiser Self
And as a follow-up, “If you could encourage yourself in any way today, what would you say?”
Be kind to yourself, progress is progress, and don’t ever forget your own best advice. I love you!
P. S. Today I’m celebrating women’s achievement, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality. For more information go to InternationalWomensDay.org.
I love new beginnings—the opportunity to start over—to get my mind right. May March bring you joy, fulfillment, perspective, and hope.
A few weeks ago when I stayed with my daughter in Dallas, my bestie Denise let me do some of Lauren’s laundry at her house, which was awesome. Even better, what comes next. Our conversation started like this. “Blah, blah, blah…I’m angry,” I said.
She sat in her chair beside me, listened to my woes, and said, “Do you know where your thoughts are when you’re angry?”
I thought for a moment and said, “The past?”
And she nodded her beautiful face up and down and launched into some sound advice.
I said, “Wait, could I video this?”
Denise coaches golf. And for me, life. She should have her own YouTube channel. Our backstory goes like this—I crashed her birthday party when she turned five. I went uninvited with another friend. That’s how we met. The year was 1975. Later, we shared homerooms—first, second, and third grade. I was always happy to see Denise’s name on the list for my class. Flash forward through twelve years of school, and then I didn’t see her for almost twenty years. We became besties closer to age 40 when we realized we lived within twenty minutes of each other. There’s something about having friends who know exactly where you are from, and I’m just lucky to have a few of those.
Last weekend Kody and I masked up for an event at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston called The Marzio Years. Peter C. Marzio was the museum’s longest-serving director from 1982-2010, and the exhibition celebrates his thirty years of acquisitions.
At the museum entrance, an attendant took our temperature from an eight-foot distance with a device that looked like a camera. I’m not sure how that worked, but I didn’t ask questions. We were deemed good to go. Kody and I spent some time with Munch and O’Keefe, Pollock and Picasso, Rembrandt and Rothko. We saw Warhol, too.
Marzio helped found the MFAH International Center for the Arts of the Americas. He expanded African-American, Texan, and Latino art collections. When I visit the art museum, my goal is to really see one piece. Of course, I’ll see more, but I wait for the one that sees me. The one piece that will see me and speak. And da dum, da duh—this is she:
According to the museum plaque, Ramona Lives Her Life is one of the most iconic prints of the Ramona series. Argentinean Antonio Berni’s “xylo-collage” technique earned him the acclaim of international critics. Berni glued and collaged elements from Ramona’s everyday life—lace, machine parts, discarded gears and other industrial refuse—onto the woodblock print. This method gives his work an elaborate texture and relief.
I thought about Ramona…and me…and you…We are textured people. With interwoven fibers and elements. With distinctive qualities. Ramona in all of her texture reminded me to live my life. In these days of COVID, life looks different for us based on our qualities. As an introvert, I’m okay living my life at home. School is my life for now. I read books, and I’m writing one, too. I enjoy this time. School is online. Distanced. I walk outside most days. Distanced. I notice the squirrels fattening up. Do squirrels always size up in the fall? I’ve never noticed. The sun sparkles in the leaves at the tops of the trees. I take pleasure in these observations. I try to stay connected with my friends and family by text and phone. From a distance. Our conversations weave us together. These interwoven fibers make us stronger.
Sometimes I find myself surrounded by drama. That happens in families. I usually find myself able to distance from drama, except when it comes to my kids. With mental illness in the family, I’m not at liberty to give ultimatums. I mean, of course, I could. But I don’t want to be the mother who gives up. In my experience, there is no reasoning with brain disorders. Sometimes I feel like I’ve hit my drama quotient, like I just can’t share any more ridiculous stories, even with my closest friends. My introverted self keeps the drama concealed until I feel I might be breaking. How many times have I glued my own pieces back together? Then suddenly, I run into a piece of art called Ramona Lives Her Life. Ramona whispers directly to my heart, “Girl, go live your life.” I rub my hands together and feel their texture. Age. Experience. Ramona says, “You’ve made sacrifices your whole life. Take care of yourself, and speak your truth.” I allow these ideas to sink in. There is silence. I think of my own lace. My own machine parts. Ramona speaks again, “Your fibers are strong. You can handle whatever comes your way, and you inspire others to do the same. Be courageous, and do you.”
That crazy thing I thought might happen did not, and that’s okay. For 2020, I have enough. Who needs extra cray cray? But the possibility taught me, in the way possibilities do, that you never know until you try. And so on to the next— as opportunities arise. Champions adjust— my new mantra, when things don’t go my way. And so I adjust— my thoughts and plans, my words and days.
How do you want to be remembered?
Thanks so much for reading this post in my first ever A-Z blogging challenge! As I hover at home this April, I’ll be seeking the good in every day. Join me anytime and click below for past A-Z posts.
Some sweet things have happened these last few weeks, and I wanted to shout out a few blogger friends who have inspired me. Cue Julie Andrews. These are a few of my favorite things (from the last couple of weeks):
Thanks to Barb at letitgocoach.com, I have a bathroom that sparkles down to the shower liner. Who knew that you could throw a plastic liner into the washing machine? The biggest part of the triumph—this is Drew’s bathroom, which I normally avoid. I just happen to have some extra time on my hands. Click on this link for Barb’s post on Showers That Shine.
Another blogger friend who goes by the pen name Terrified Amateur posted a recipe for Baltimore-Style Crab Cakes, and I’m a sucker for crab cakes, one of my favorite appetizers when we dine out. Of course, we’re not dining out at the moment, so I thought these would be a treat. And treat—well, that’s an understatement!! They were divine!! Like straight out of heaven. One pound of crab made eight cakes, so we had them two days in a row. On the second day, they were even more amazing (my pan was hotter—medium high). I thought I had peanut oil, but I didn’t, so I used canola. I thought I had Dijon, but I didn’t, so I used spicy brown. And you know what? I braved the grocery store one more time (for alcohol) and round two of lump crab.
Then there is Eliza over at Journey to Life, who has been posting a daily Gratitude Challenge. I’m a big believer in gratitude, but even so, there are times when I lose focus. As I reflected on my blessings, feeling thankful for things like the roof over my head and my sweet dog and my family and friends and extra time to read and write and the gorgeous Spring weather and my walks and music in my ears, I remembered a note to self that I typed into my phone on Sunday, August 19, 2019. Now seems a right time to post it.
This Sunday morning I’m thankful for my eyes that opened to another gorgeous day and the sunlight at play, silver gold reflections in the emerald treetops. I’m thankful for strength of body and mind that carry me to my oasis of calm through my own backdoor. For a delicious breeze and the songs of birds in the trees backed by the choir of cicadas. For two little black dogs with waggity tails smiling faces and so much love in those deep brown eyes. For all of this. This moment in time when all is right in the world.
So here’s the thing—life is bittersweet. I’m heartbroken by two deaths this past week. One of my best friends lost her Dad, and I lost my dear friend Desi who was my lunch buddy all through junior high and high school. Cancer is a bitch, and so is Covid-19. And as I scroll through Facebook (because I can’t see anyone in real time), I see so many others facing losses and illness and pain. Obviously, not all is right in the world, but there is something good in every day. I went to church this past Sunday (in my living room online), and later a friend asked me what I heard that was meaningful. Here are a few words that resonated with me from the sermon and the good book:
Philippians 4:4-13 New International Version (NIV)
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
I find peace and strength in these words in a time when I need peace and strength, and I’m finding contentment in circumstance. I pray the same for you. I try to keep my thoughts on the true and noble, right and pure, lovely and admirable things, and I try to thank God for the excellent and praiseworthy—like good people and clean showers and crab cakes and reasons to live.
One day this past summer I found myself alone with my thoughts in Galveston. From my beach chair near the shore, I soaked in the sun to the crashing cadence of the surf until I couldn’t take the heat. I stood up and walked into the waist-deep waves and said, “Take me down, Motherfuckers! You can’t fucking do it.” And I laughed out loud in the face of wave upon wave and walked in a little deeper.
Galveston saved me, and this week I return. This week’s writing retreat begins my new MFA program at a beach house nearby. Each morning through the sliding glass door of my condo bedroom—the golden orb rests for a moment on a blanket of orange and yellow and then rises into the blue. The waves advance on a new day and a new life. Each new dawn reaffirms my decision to be here. Each new chance to begin again—a gift.
I have a story to tell, and I have to tell it. For so many years, I thought the story was about my son Drew and his severe mental illness. I realize now it’s a story about me. It’s about my reactions and my coming to terms and what I’ve learned and how. It’s about my reality and my hope. It’s about sharing to help others and letting people know they are not alone.
So now I face the waves that crash into me. I stand my ground and let them hit, and I laugh out loud because I’m still standing tall with a smile on my face and a “fuck you” for anything that tries to take me down.
It was Friday, September 29, 1989. I remember the twang of the B-52’s on the radio that morning: “If you see a faded sign at the side of the road that says ‘15 miles to the Love Shack.’ Love Shack, yeah, yeah….” Except I wasn’t headed down the Atlanta highway or headed for a love getaway. Nope. Not this day. On this day, I got in my Honda. I was big as a whale. Nine months earlier, I had spent my time at the Love Shack. On this particular day, I headed down Highway 51, having contractions along the way to the hospital in Stillwater.
Twelve hours later…
It was 11:56 PM. The doctor said, “Do you want to have this baby on September 29th or the 30th?” 9/29/89 had a ring to it, so I plucked up strength enough and gave another push.
And with this little baby Andrew Riley, 8 lbs. 8 oz., came a love and joy and pride I never knew.
Looking back over thirty years, I remember so many moments of greatness, and I realize how often you have to keep plucking up strength enough and giving yet another push.
And today Happy 30th Birthday to my love and joy and pride, my courageous and strong son Andrew!
When I stepped into the blue rubber raft from the safety of the river bank, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival.* I said a little prayer with faith and gratitude for peace and hope. Before the bus ride to our launching site, I had skimmed the release of liability and waiver of legal rights and acknowledged that whitewater rafting can be HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY/DEATH. Then I signed on the line and proceeded to pick up my wetsuit, spray jacket, helmet, and life-preserver.
Colorado’s abundant snowfall last winter through May translates to deeper, faster water and what may have been the best white water rafting season in decades.
Shout out to my brother Scott and his beautiful, adventurous wife Gerri for having a 30th wedding anniversary and a reason to celebrate with friends and family, to Rapid Image Photography for the complimentary photos, and to Zach, Ivan, and Kerrie of Clear Creek Rafting Company for the safety debrief and an adrenaline-fueled float through the Rocky Mountains. No one fell off of the raft. No one died. And the river of life keeps flowing, sometimes with faster, deeper waters and cold splashes in the face, sometimes with the possibility of tipping, relying on your life vest, and swimming to safety.
When I stepped back into my ordinary life from the perfection of vacation, I had only two things on my mind: Carpe Diem and survival. I said a little prayer with faith and gratitude for peace and hope.*
Happy Independence Day to my American friends! And Happy 4th of July wherever you are!
*Inspired by S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, “When I stepped into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”