Hurricane Irma – Part 1

Saturday –
Hurricane Parties are real things, people. Gather up the snacks, the alcohol, all the perishables, and gorge. With so many of the refrigerators and freezers almost undoubtedly a total loss, it’s better to eat and drink everything all at once then watch it go to waste.
We got up Saturday morning and began cleaning, food-prepping, and my husband even went to Lowe’s and bought wood to build more shelves in the living room. Shelves that might blow away in 36 hours. I’ve been asking him to build those shelves for months and it took a hurricane…
Our friends came over with their kids and we ate and drank and played games and ordered pizza. My husband concocted a signature cocktail for the event: The Irma.
I drank a lot of them. Enough that by about 11:30 I thought it would be smart to single-arm dumbbell snatch 25 pounds in the foyer. And you know what? I’m fine with that.
Sunday –
I woke up with an impending sense of doom.
It’s hurricane day.
Today is probably the last day we’ll have power. The last day we can order food. The last day we’re guaranteed the roof on this house.
It’s a really weird feeling to know that it’s possible your whole life is about to change and there’s nothing you can do, while at the same time also knowing that tomorrow might be the same as today.

We mostly ate and cleaned up from the party and checked and rechecked our hurricane supplies. Unfortunately, on top of a hurricane, there was also a Noreaster storm coming in from the west. It rained all day, which meant that the ground would already be saturated by the time Irma arrived. Any roots that were loose were far more likely to let go of the ground and allow whatever they were growing to fall down with gravity.
This is not a problem for Bear and me. We cut down every tree in our yard when we bought this house. Why? Because we weren’t about to lose any part of it to a tree. Most of our neighbors take very good care of their trees so there wasn’t too much concern about trees falling.
Except for one.

Those Neighbors
We live next door to questionable people. I think about 6 of them live inside this house. A beautiful street of gorgeous, well-kept homes and right next to ours are the people who keep their plastic Tupperware shelves on the front lawn. You know. Just in case they’re NOT mowing their lawn again and suddenly realize they need a shelf to put something on. They also store their old cars, new cars, bicycles, garbage cans, and extra pieces of wood on and near their front yard. Their dogs run around the neighborhood, unkempt, barking and biting at cars and humans.
Oh, and they have a big-ass oak tree in their front yard about 10 years past it’s prime, waiting to fall over in a hurricane directly onto the power lines that power our entire neighborhood.

On Sunday, they decided they would pull one of their 7 vehicles, a truck, onto their front yard. It was then that some of them opted to load a desk onto the bed of the truck as opposed to loading up all the debris and potential hurricane-missiles already on the ground. After about an hour, the desk was safely removed from the home in its entirety and escorted off the property via the one working truck.
I stood at the window live-streaming the event because I couldn’t understand why anyone would stack garbage and old chairs on the curb the day before a hurricane and yet remove a desk from INSIDE the property…

At about 6pm Sunday, we settled in with comedy shows on Netflix and tons more snacks. Somehow, during a hurricane, we feel the need to eat. A lot.
Around 7pm, the winds shifted. You could feel the rain coming from the other direction. “It’s starting,” I thought.
Around 9:30pm, we lost power. First it flickered. Then it turned off. And we forgot how dark it was outside because it was really dark inside now. We grabbed flashlights. My mom retreated to the guest room and Bear and me went to our room. We sat in the dark with our phones, watching weather models of the storm, watching destruction it already left in Miami. We sat in the dark listening to wind gust past the house and rattle our windows. Little gusts. Beginning gusts.

I’ve sat through a lot of hurricanes. None of them started at night. None of them started like this.

Hurricane Irma – Part 1

I think it was Labor Day when most of us became aware that a storm was organizing, but like most storms, no one panicked. If you don’t live in Florida it might seem a little insane not to panic about a hurricane. But the trouble with hurricanes is that we have days and days of warning for a storm that all the well-dressed meteorologists in the world can’t honestly track with any certainty. We’ve had SO many Hurricanes Who Cried Wolf that we’re cynical about Mother Nature.

We Floridians know how to follow the models. There’s the Hurricane Weather Research model, the Euro model, the UK model, The Global Forecast System, and about 12 more. Most Floridians have a favorite (mine’s the Euro) and we compare it to the other models all. day. long. We know when to listen to the newscasters and when not to. For example, when a journalist is standing in a light breeze announcing that he can BARELY stay standing as a plastic bag floats by, we know there’s not much to report yet. And we know if Storm Tracker Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel shows up in our town, it’s time to run for our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday – 7 full days before the hurricane hit.
“Are you going to evacuate?” people ask me.
“I have no idea.”
I really didn’t. Without any clear indication of how strong this storm would be, where it would be, and when it would be…we just didn’t know.

Tuesday –
“YOU NEED TO EVACUATE RIGHT NOW THERE’S A HURRICANE COMING,” shouted concerned people across the rest of the south.
We Floridians have been doing this for a really, really long time. In fact, almost every birthday party I ever had got evacuated because my birthday falls at the peak of hurricane season. We just aren’t used to the entire country having an opinion about when we stay or leave, and calling us idiots if we make a choice others don’t agree with. The last MAJOR set of hurricanes to hit Florida were in 2004 (the last El Nino). Social media was not in our hands 24-7 back then. We listened to the forecasters and the state officials and made the decisions that were best for us. All of a sudden, this year, the entire country became meteorological forecasters and told us to get out or we were fools. “IT’S JUST STUFF! GET OUT!” If one more person said that to me, I was going to change my profile picture to a naked photo of Bea Arthur and throw my phone into the Florida muck.

The trouble with evacuating was two-fold:
1. We’d potentially help clog the only 2 interstates out of Florida, which at the time the people south of us needed far more than we did. They were guaranteed a hit.
2. We’d potentially get stuck in the location we evacuated TO (maybe somewhere near Atlanta) after the storm because all of South Florida would be heading back around the same time. My husband has a local business. He couldn’t afford to be stuck in Atlanta for a week.
Bonus problem 3. We’d potentially evacuate and get stuck on an interstate with no gas and be left to weather the hurricane in a Cadillac SRX.

Of course, if we were under mandatory evacuation, we would be OUT of here. But without the city making that call, it was up to us to make the smartest decision for everyone involved.

We decided the best thing to do would be to stay and invite my mom to come be with us since she lives in South Florida.

Wednesday –
With no real idea as to whether or not the hurricane would make it to North Florida or not, Wednesday is better-safe-than-sorry day. Stock up on water, canned goods, gas, non-perishable foods, batteries, propane, and buckets. Also grab important documents, lift important things up off the ground (in case of flooding), buy extra dog food, and prescriptions. My husband was out of town for work so I was left to do most of this prep by myself. It’s a stressful thing, trying to ensure you’ve got everything you need in case you have to run, stay in one place for days, or die.

I decided to go shopping for hurricane supplies after I dropped my son off at school that morning. When I arrived at the grocery store, I started walking up and down the aisles. I passed the same people three or four times because they, too, were sort of walking around just looking at things.
Should I get diapers? I don’t need them, but what if someone does?
Can I buy eggs right now? How long to hard-boiled eggs last unrefrigerated.
Do I buy paper towels or toilet paper? Do I need both?
Ooo chocolate Teddy Grahams, it’s been so long…
It’s a bizarre feeling knowing you’re mulling over these questions when you could potentially lose everything within a few days or be called to a mandatory evacuation and leave it all behind. So you buy everything you could potentially need and then hope you don’t need any of it but also kinda hope you do so you didn’t just spend $50 on canned goods you’d never eat on a non-hurricane day.

Thursday –
My husband came home from his work trip and brought the generator his business bought earlier in the year for a big job. We were SO lucky to have a generator that would keep our refrigerator running so we wouldn’t have to replace every single condiment.
I filled every container we own with water and put half of them in the freezer and half of them in the fridge.
I washed everything we own. There’s nothing worse than being stuck without power AND no clean underwear.
I charged everything that’s chargeable in our home. Flashlights, backup batteries, portable DVD players, iPads…there’s no telling if we’d need any of it.
I watched a LOT of weather reports. It looked like my city (Jacksonville) would take a hard hit. The other issue is that this storm was the SIZE of the entire STATE. That’s never happened before. Not even CLOSE. So no matter what, we were going to experience some kind of weather, but the reports were suggesting anything from a tropical storm to a Category 2, which on the hurricane scale of 1-5 is a nasty, nasty storm. I’ve survived 2s before, but anything higher and I evacuate.
I also bought more food. I don’t know why.
My mom arrived from South Florida.

Friday –
We moved the vehicles into the warehouse.
I filled the bathtub so we could flush the toilets and wash the dishes with the big buckets my husband bought.
I bought more food. I don’t know why.
I brought in all of our potted plants and outdoor furniture.
I let the dogs run around the neighborhood knowing they’d be stuck inside for a while once the storm was upon on.
I checked the weather reports again. There was still a good chance the storm could pass directly over us and that it could gain strength. It had already begun to devastate the small Virgin Islands and islands near the Bahamas. And I mean it flattened them. Those people had nowhere to go.
After learning that we had until at least Sunday night before the weather made it to us, we decided the best thing to do would be to invite all of our friends over for a Hurricane Party.

Tomorrow, we start with Saturday…

But did I ask…

I have a lot of really strong, legit girlfriends. They all serve different “friend” purposes in my life. I have the one who strengthens my relationship with God. I have the one who listens every time I need to cry. I have the one who calls me on my BS. I have the one who makes me feel better about eating massive amounts of carbs by eating massive amounts of carbs with me…
One day in particular I was feeling really frustrated when my husband didn’t seem appreciative of anything I was doing. And I was doing EVERYTHING. I knew that I could go to my “I need to cry” friend, but that I wasn’t actually going to solve the problem by crying. I also knew that carbs would feel good but…
I called my “no BS” friend and explained the situation to her. And she asked me something that changed my life.
“But did he ask you, though?”
“Did he ask me what?”
“Did he ask you to do all of that stuff you’re doing and not being appreciated for?”
“NO! But if I didn’t do it, no one else would have!”
“Right, but you’re the one who wanted it done. Did he want it done?”
“Well, I mean I assume he wants clean clothes.”
“But does he know how to work the washer and dryer?”
“Yes.”
“Then if you DON’T do those things, he can. He knows how. And I don’t get the sense that he would resent you if you didn’t do them. So you’re actually upset that he’s not appreciating the things that you chose and wanted to do.”

Well. Damn.

While I don’t think that conversation in any way exonerates us or our partners from showing appreciation for each other (I think that’s the foundation of any partnership and means the most to some of us), it did get me thinking about how many times I make moves based on what I think other people need.

Then it made me think about the people who make moves based on what THEY think that I need. Oh my GOD is that annoying.
Like when you tell someone about a situation you’re in and they offer advice without you ever asking. If you’re me, then you’re taking the advice thinking that you did ask for it and trying to apply it when you never actually did ask for it, nor did you want it, but still you’re new focus becomes applying someone else’s opinion.
AN OPINION THAT YOU NEVER ASKED FOR?

(Do you do this? Do you give advice even when no one asks for it?! STOP IT!)

I guess the point is to mind your own business, and that really means mind your own feelings. If you’re getting opinions you didn’t ask for, consider them to be worth what you paid for them. Also re-consider going to that part particular opinion-giving person the next time you have a problem.
If you’re feeling unappreciated, first check to see if you’re seeking appreciation for things that no one asked you to do. Then, if you are, tell the people around you that you’d like appreciation for those things so they know! It’s their choice whether or not they show you appreciation after that and, if they don’t, you get to decide if they stay or go, if you continue doing what you’re not being appreciated for, and if YOU stay or go.

If you don’t want to do those things you’re not getting appreciated for, then do what I did: teach your kids how to do their own laundry.

I’m not unlimited.

I just made a huge realization.

HUGE.

Are you ready for this?

I am not unlimited.

Now I shall explain.

When I was 7, my dad died and I felt an immense amount of pressure to be brave (mainly due to all the adults telling me I needed to be brave). My mom and family never asked me to be anything but a 7-year-old but I still felt the need to be the best, or at least way better, to account for the fact that everyone now had to live without my dad.
I grew up with the understanding that I would get good grades, go to college, and have a career. Not unlike most people.
I was an actress and so everyone told me they’d “see me on Broadway.”
I didn’t make it to Broadway so I went back to school, grad school in fact, to get a degree in something I didn’t really care about so I could say I had a masters.
I got married and everyone asked when I’d have a child. I couldn’t get pregnant without the help of fertility treatments and that made me feel like a total loser…until I shared my story on my blog and became a hero again. Hero with a graduate degree.
My marriage didn’t survive, as so many don’t, and I no longer had either of my hands or feet on the ladder to greatness. Then I was in an accident that broke my leg and everyone told me what I hero I was for not giving up or giving in. BACK TO HERO!
(This was weird to me because what was there to give up on? I had a son and people who loved me who were constantly helping me and I had stuff I liked to do. Why would I give up?
Do people often break their legs and give up?
It’s way easier to come near death than to deal with most other life-issues because when you’re injured and incapacitated, everyone shows up to help you and proclaim your greatness.)
Finally, I started amping up my work life and became a Beachbody coach and surrounded myself with what was familiar: people telling me to continue being brave, being a hero with a masters degree, being great. I quickly became a reputable source of health and wellness information and reached the higher levels of Beachbody Coachdom and everyone cheered: “Look at her go! She can do anything!”

Until, one day, it hit me.
I opened up one of my familiar podcasts (you know the ones…full of people telling you that you can be bold, that you can be fearless, that you can have the life of your DREAMS!) and within the first 15 seconds…I stopped it.
Holy shit.
“You have the potential to be UNLIMITED!”
Holy shit.
I don’t want to be unlimited.

I’ll be 36 in a month and…wow.
I don’t want to be unlimited.
I don’t want to be brave or a hero with a masters degree or geared up for greatness.
I don’t want to be scalable or tax exempt or even altogether special.
I just figured out that I want to be…Erin.

I want to work and make money. I want to be a mom and a wife. I want to garden. I want to do things that are fun, like theatre. I want to share my feelings through my blog and social networks and help people to see and love each other a little bit better.
But Lord have mercy, I am tired of trying to figure out the next way that I’m going to be GREAT. No one has ever looked at me and said, “Hey. You’re good, just being you. And you don’t have to do any of this to be good.” Not that this is a very intuitive or natural thing to say, but maybe it should be?
Maybe we all need to look at ourselves every morning and say, “What you’ve done so far today in the past 30 minutes…that’s enough. That’s enough to make you great.” You won’t believe it at first, but you might eventually begin to internalize the fact that not being the best and the greatest and the most important or the most recognized…would be ok?

The process of transformation is not about becoming something that we weren’t. It’s about unveiling what we were the whole time.
– Author William Paul Young

I’m a helper. An employee. A friend. A laugher of laughs.
I’m not unlimited. I don’t need to be.
Just me is enough.

 

On Saying No…(Yes.)

“‘No’ is a complete sentence.” – Oprah Winfrey

I tell people to say no. I remind them. “It’s ok to say no!” And isn’t it just the most tangly web when we tell other people what we ought to be doing?
The problem is I don’t even realize when I start yessing myself to death. Most of us don’t. We say yes to helping, to trying, to fixing, to going, to staying, to reading… We’re exhausted and out of time and proudly wearing the “I Do Everything” badge and we cannot for the LIFE of us figure out when we’ll be nominated for the Nobel ISayYes Prize while we’re finishing up that favor for that one woman we met at church one Sunday and simultaneously texting our girlfriend to let her know we’ll watch her kids on Christmas Eve.

Ok so maybe it’s not that bad.

But it’s bad.

So why don’t we say no?
1. We don’t want people to be mad.
If you’re like me, you feel very, very uncomfortable when anyone is anything but pleased with you. You don’t want to say, “No” to someone in case it might upset them and you don’t want to deal with someone being upset because it makes you feel like poop.

2. We want people to like us.
This is different from not wanting them to be mad. We want them to think we’re great and fun and likeable. We want them to think we’re good.

3. We feel valued when we’re busy.
Every time someone asks us to do something, it’s like a high. It’s another thing to do and having things to do makes us feel valuable. Besides. We’re not worthy when we’re napping…

I was listening to author Cheryl Strayed discuss this idea with Oprah and O said she turned into a bank when she became a celebrity. Her family no longer talked to her like a person; they talked to her like a transaction. And it was really difficult for her to explain why she wouldn’t be funding their every wish and solving their every financial problem. It hurt her to say no! And so, she didn’t have relationships with her family members for over TEN YEARS!!!

Eventually, she decided to tell each of them what she WANTED to give them, she gave them each the amount she wanted to give, and that was it. They could ask for money all they wanted but they knew from that point forward she would say no.
That made some of them mad.
Some of them didn’t like her anymore.
Oprah felt less valuable.

I get you, Oprah.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the importance of saying YES! I mean if figuring out when to say no isn’t enough…
But O went on to say, “I know what a real yes feels like now. It feels awesome. It feels exciting. It feels like a hell yes!”

Do you remember the last time you gave a hell yes? When the yes felt so right, so GOOD, that you couldn’t wait to say it??
Did you know that you’re allowed to feel that way every time you say yes?! And that if you don’t feel hell yes, you don’t actually owe anyone an explanation for your no???
Not your friends.
Not your family. (UGH)
Not your pastor.
Not your neighbor.
Not a perfect stranger.

When to say yes:
When it’s a HELL YES.
When the yes feels good.
When the person you’re saying yes to is worth the yes.

When to say no:
When it’s inconvenient.
When it doesn’t feel right or good.
When your first reaction is a no but you talk yourself into a yes.

How do you know when it’s a yes and when it’s a no for you? Have you noticed lately?
Yes?
No?

 

Stormy

My husband bought a boat.

It came as only somewhat of a surprise to me the day it went down. You see, when he met me, he turned his every thought, every focus to ME. Everything he did was for or with me. And when he “got” me, his focus began to even out.
What I’m saying is…it’s not like I didn’t go into our marriage knowing about his ability to obsess.
He’d been flipping through boat brochures non-stop for a month. He talked about boats incessantly. He asked me a hundred questions about what I wanted in a boat. He tried to purchase one in particular but the financing fell through (apparently it’s difficult to finance a boat when you own your own business?!) and, yet, the obsession was not quelled. Not even a little.
Then one day at a oyster roast downtown we came upon…you guessed it…a boat show. We walked around for a while, had some oysters, listened to music, and on our way out he bought a boat.
I’m not kidding. Just like that. That’s how it happened.

It took almost 2 weeks to actually get said boat and when he did, it was delivered in the middle of a rain storm. The next night, our first boat date, it poured again. The third day, our boys were both home. The sun was shining. The water was flat. And we scooted on down the river to a great seafood joint on the water. Finally, perfect boating weather and his dream come true: taking our family on the boat to dinner.
The boys immediately took off to play the ring toss and find other little adventures on the dock while we ordered drinks on the deck of the restaurant. Boat-type drinks.
We all sat at the table a little while later waiting for our food when my husband started to cry.
I’m not kidding. Just like that. That’s how it happened.
No warning. No trigger. The boat was fine. I was fine. The boys were focused on other things. I said his name, completely confused, and finally he whispered across the table, “Stormy is being moved to hospice.”
Oh. 
He continued to cry for a while, right there at the dinner table; even while our food was being delivered. He cried a little bit after dinner, too. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t even sitting next to him so I couldn’t put my arm around him. Abe said that he hoped Bear felt better in between drawing an elephant and the new boat, and Cub leaned his head on him. It started to rain. Really hard.
We took a long, wet, cold boat ride back home. And that night Bear told me he wanted to go visit her.

Have I mentioned yet that I don’t know Stormy? At all?

When Bear was young, late teens, he met a girl. He liked this girl. Lots. And she liked him back. They were friends for a while until dating officially commenced. Then he met her family.
I didn’t know about his relationship with her family. (I really didn’t know much about his relationship with her because it was 20 years ago.) I’d heard him talk about her and them, how he needs to visit her family more often, but I didn’t realize how much love was there. How could I? I’ve only been in the picture for three and a half years.

I also didn’t know was how close Bear was to his the girl’s sister, Stormy, and how he played a huge role in her kids’ lives. He described himself as their “big brother” and told me stories before of how they were always climbing him and asking him to play soccer outside (and he did). I had not a clue about why this change in Stormy’s health was such a gut-punch for him or why he kept murmuring, “Those babies. My poor babies,” on the dinner deck.

Being the amazing wife that I am, I suggested we go up together to see Stormy in hospice.

I also immediately regretted this suggestion after I made it.

Bear eventually got engaged to his girlfriend and lived with her family for almost 7 years. That meant I would be walking into a room with a family of people I don’t know and an ex-fiance whose HEART he broke who undoubtedly had since healed but I mean geez and also a woman whose health is in tremendous peril who I’d never met but was visiting in hospice and then I’d just be sitting there for hours trying to remember who was who and praying to God that there was no drama for my being his wife and this being his ex-fiance’s sister…my brain became a run-on sentence.
But I know my husband’s ability to obsess. I know what it would have done to his focus if he went the rest of his life having never said goodbye to Stormy (if this was, in fact, goodbye) and how he would feel if I never met her. I hopped in the truck for the 6-hour drive up to Atlanta and said little of my concerns because, as much as it’s hard to believe, not everything is about me and OH MY GOD THIS IS SO WEIRD AND UNCOMFORTABLE FOR ME.

Here’s the thing, though: When we arrived at the hospice center, we walked into a little blue and tan room where two red-headed women (the cousins) greeted me like I was their long-lost family member. One almost-regal woman, Stormy’s mom, hugged me extra-long. Another young woman with dishwater blonde hair hugged me like it was a PLEASURE for her that I’d arrived. And Stormy. Stormy sat up in bed and called my name. She seemed to barely open her mouth and her voice was raspy, but my name was clear. “Yes!” I rushed to her bedside, feeling like I was in a small tornado of southern women, and she hugged me. I mean really, really hugged me. The tornado stopped. When she finally pulled away she grabbed my hands in hers and said, “Your writing. I love your writing. And your videos. And I just love your blog. You’re so wonderful and inspirational and I’m so glad you’re here!”

Keep in mind – this woman is in hospice hooked up to machines and fighting for her life, has never met me, and she’s telling me she loves my blog.

It was everything I had to keep it together and we’d just walked in the door.

Bear held her hands and chuckled with her when she was able to, and fed her ice chips when she asked for them, and stroked her hair. Occasionally she’d ask him a question, or she’d just stare at him and smile and he ask, “Need anything, darlin’?” And she wouldn’t answer. Just smile or go back to sleep.

I sat next to her daughter, the dishwater blonde, and listened to the other women in the room. They joked and quipped with each other in such a traditional southern style you’d have thought we were INSIDE Steel Magnolias.
“Has her skin always been that perfect?” I asked.
“ALWAYS,” her mama said. “She always had that beautiful skin. I think she wants ice chips, Bear…”
But it was the stories the women told about “Bear did this with Stormy’s kids” and “Remember when Bear took Stormy’s kids to the…” and “Remember the condo in Panama City Beach” and “Oh, that one trip we took to Disney World…” I listened for hours to these stories. It painted a whole new side of the picture of a man I thought I knew. I had no idea that little dishwater blonde depended so heavily on Bear as a male figure. I had no idea he had this whole other family who loved him so tremendously. I…I just had no idea.
Bear fed her ice chips while her mama watched. After a few moments she whispered, “Can you believe this is our Stormy?” Bear shook his head.

We sat in the room, trading chairs and stories in between long, silent moments when we all seemed to remember why we were there simultaneously.

“Erin,” Stormy whispered. I jumped to attention and grabbed her hands. This didn’t feel like a woman I’d never met. “You’re an angel. An angel from heaven. A diamond. Take care of him the way he helped me take care of my kids. I don’t know what I would have done without him. Promise me.”
I stared into her glassy eyes before I answered because I didn’t want my voice to crack.
“I promise you.”
I think she went on to say something about having no place to park her airplane. But she also told me I could wear any of the dresses in her closet. The medications she was on began to take effect and she dozed off.
When we left that night, we stopped in the parking lot to cry. Both of us. He for this woman who meant so much to him, and me for this woman who now meant so much to me.

We drove back to the hospice center the next morning to spend a better part of the day before driving home. Stormy was sleeping, her daughter perched in the seat next to her, the women in their chairs where they were the night before. Stormy opened one eye whenever she heard Ryan’s voice.
People I didn’t know filed in and out to see Stormy. I could tell the people who were there to offer their energy and love to her and those who were just visiting to say they did – simply by the way Stormy reacted. Obviously, her reactions weren’t grandiose in any occasion, but she seemed warm and tried to smile when she noticed people visiting because they were lifting her spirits with love. The ones who weren’t didn’t seem quite worth waking up for, let alone conjuring up a memory to share before the visitor walked away 15 minutes later (and they all left after 15 minutes).

Stormy’s dad came in that day, too. He was short, grey, wrinkly, and full of spunk, I could tell. He played a major male role in Bear’s life, too. He got him a job, fished with him, did projects around the house with him…he smiled a very genuine smile when he saw Bear and gave him a long, hard hug. He gave me a hearty squeeze as well. I was really getting a sense, at this point, of where Bear learned so much of what he knows by seeing all these puzzle pieces come together.

Her doctor paid a visit just before lunch. She couldn’t have been more than 40 years old, but looked 20 on account of her porcelain skin and long, light brown hair. Her huge, southern blue eyes dropped when she saw Stormy. She walked to her bedside and told Stormy she had to get better so she could come back to the office and have some more “appointment parties.” Stormy smiled and held her hands. When the doctor stood up and thanked the family for letting her visit, Stormy attempted to give the doctor a hug. She leaned back down to oblige…and she couldn’t hold it together anymore. She wept the kind of tears the look like they hurt coming out. She got down into Stormy’s face. “Stormy. You’re going to be ok, honey, ok? You’re going to keep fighting. I love you Stormy. You can do this.” I think we all cried watching this doctor give what felt like a pep talk.

It was after lunch when Bear suggested it was probably time to head back. I began hugging the people in the room, one by one, and when I got to Stormy, Bear stood next to her bed with his head on her pillow. She wasn’t awake and I told him to wake her, that he’d regret not waking her.
“Stormy, honey. It’s me. I’m leavin’ now.”
She opened her eyes and sat up immediately. She hugged him so tightly and told him how much she loved him. When she noticed me on the other side of the bed, she hugged me. I hugged her as long as she’d let me, and I didn’t let go first. I tried not to cry because it felt wrong to cry when it wasn’t me in the bed. I gently laid her back down when she pulled away, and I kissed her cheeks again and again. She held my hands to her chest and wouldn’t let go, not even when she began to fall asleep. Bear stood arm in arm with Stormy’s daddy, tears streaming down his face.
“It just don’t make no sense, do it?” Stormy’s dad asked.
“No. No it doesn’t,” Bear sniffled.
We hugged everyone else a few more times before we made the 6-hour drive back home. We hadn’t even been in Atlanta a full 24 hours and we were leaving. We drove home and both went back to work.

I’m not kidding.
Just like that.
That’s how it happened.

 

Epilogue
Stormy is still in hospice. I’m reluctant to share more than that as I wouldn’t want to share details her family prefers remain private, but it’s been a harrowing six months for Stormy. I’m just praying everyday that she keeps fighting to be here with us. I haven’t gotten enough time with her yet. She is fun and smart and bossy and amazing. I really, really love her.
If you’re the praying-type or the good thoughts-type, please send all of those to her and her family. They deserve nothing less than a miracle and I’m fervently devoted to that miracle. I believe it can happen. Like Stormy’s mom said, “I don’t need to know how. I don’t need the doctors to know how. I just need her to get up and come home.”

 

 

 

 

 

Lent

When I was about 2 years old, maybe 3, my dad was pulling the basket out of our swimming pool filter. It was dusk and we were leaving for dinner in a few minutes. I was wearing a cute little jumper and my dad had on a nice collared shirt (which never stopped him from tinkering with high-risk shirt-ruining activities). He leaned down and, as he did, I leaned over to watch him grab for the basket. I remember leaning just far enough to hear him say the beginning of the word, “Oh!” Then I heard a big swish. My eyes were open and I remember a feeling of spinning. Before I could really figure out that I was under water, my dad’s huge arm plunged into the water behind me. His hand wrapped almost twice around my little arm and yanked me to the surface. He stood me up and my mom was screaming.
Keep in mind, I’d been swimming since I was about 6 months old. I regularly swam all summer long in Ohio, so there was no real chance of me drowning.
My mom immediately wrapped me in a towel she apparently always had within arm’s reach and my dad kept semi-shaking me asking, “You ok? Y’alright?” I think I nodded I was fine, but either way they knew I was ok.
Most importantly, I knew I was ok. I knew from the second I fell from the edge into the pool, while I spun down into the water, when I opened my eyes and saw the white wall…I knew that within seconds my Dad’s hand would wrap itself twice around my little arm and I would be back at the surface. I didn’t worry or panic, not even for a second.

Growing up, I usually gave up a food for Lent – one that I liked. Sometimes I gave up something I didn’t like because I didn’t feel like giving up anything I actually liked, but most of the time it was frozen Snickers bars or cookie dough. As an adult I didn’t observe Lent. In fact, I haven’t observed it for about 15 years. So this year, while standing in church on the first day of 40, I prayed hard. This is going to have to be a good one, I thought to myself. I prayed and I listened and I didn’t get the answer until the car ride home.
What do I give up for Lent in exchange for bigger faith in God?
Worry. You give up worrying.
How in the hell am I supposed to give up WORRYING?!
There weren’t any answers after that…
Having a dad for 7 years who was my protector, was my savior, was my personal God (yes, we went to church but he was still sort of God-like to me), it never even occurred to me to worry. About anything! I didn’t worry when it thundered, I didn’t worry in the dark, I didn’t worry when he was late coming home, and I didn’t worry if a bully on the school bus picked on me because I knew my dad would size the 9-year-old up in an ice cream shop and tell him, “Never go near my daughter again.”
My dad’s favorite song was, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He used to call my mom on the house phone when it came on the radio in his office and put the phone up to the speaker, shouting, “This is that song! This is it!”
The night he died was the very first night that I ever experienced worry.
I have probably experienced worry every single day since.
The idea of not worrying for 40 days was completely impossible, but I felt really driven to at least figure a way to try. I decided that when I began to worry about something, I would actively pray for God to take it from me. Take my money, my self-esteem, my career… I’m turning it over to You. Take it from me.
In other words, “You figure it out.” 
I probably prayed that prayer 1,000 times in the first two days. I tried to rationalize away fear, I tried to write about it, I tried to sit with it and let it take over my body (I would not reccomend this if you don’t know what you’re doing…I don’t know what I’m doing). The ONLY way I could stop worrying was to turn around and walk away from it. If I was balancing our budget and I started feeling panicked, I would set it down and walk away. I’d come back to it later and if I felt the same way, I’d walk away again. I just kept doing that until the fear subsided enough that I could get something done. Sometimes it took hours, sometimes it took days. But eventually I walked away praying my prayer enough times that I could come back and face whatever was worrying me.
I was successful at this about 70% of the time.
There were still days I completely lost my mind. There were still days I crawled into bed and stayed there. But a 70% improvement is damn good coming from where I was coming from.

I think if you grew up for any period of time, be it 18 or 7 years, with parents who made you feel safe and protected, worry isn’t as ingrown in your DNA as it is in mine. You have natural worries. But you don’t worry constantly that no one will pull you to the surface if you slip into the water; you assume eventually you’ll float to the surface and breathe again. I don’t have the innate ability to trust I’ll breathe again. In fact, most days I just assume it will be the last day I could truly breath.

So what happened after 40 days?

I now have longer stretches of breathing. I still panic or remind myself that I haven’t worried in over 27 minutes sometimes. I get myself back into the routine of waking up and beginning a list of things I have to worry about before I set the list down and try to wake up again with a different list, or just a prayer. I am still turning and physically walking in another direction when the all-too-familiar gut punch threatens to reverberate for an entire day. I’m practicing replacing worries with best-case-scenarios, and writing my ideal day out in my notebook at least 4 times a week to focus my energy on something I do want instead of something I don’t. I’ve even caught myself letting loose as if there’s NOTHING to worry three or four times!

But the best part is, in 40 days, I never once drowned. Even when I fell in, I just bobbed up to the surface like an invisible hand was lifting me back to safety. I’m still here, and still breathing.

Why You’re Still Fat and I’m Still Broke

Did you ever watch the TV show The Biggest Loser? For those of you that live in yurts: these were people who were severely overweight (we’re talking major health afflictions related to their obesity) that got hooked up with personal trainers and nutritionists and doctors for a few months, and video cameras recorded it all. As expected, this reality show made losing weight a competition and the winners walked away 30, 40, even 50% lighter than they were when they started. HUGE health improvements. HUGE emotional breakthroughs. HUGE wardrobe overhaul (I’d imagine).

But what happened to a majority of those people once the show was over?

Of course. They gained (at least some of) the weight back.

There are a billion reasons “experts” could give for this phenomenon, but I’ll add mine to the mix because I am also an expert. Not at gaining and losing and gaining weight, but…well, let me explain.

Thoughts are just beliefs that you keep thinking. If you think your neighbor is a jerk for long enough, you’ll be right. If you think you’re fat for long enough, you’ll be right. If you think you’re broke for long enough…guess what?

I’ve been broke my entire life. I grew up wearing nice clothes and going to good schools. I got a car when I turned 17 and my mom sent me on a trip to Paris with the French club, too. I went to an amazing private college. I lived in Los Angeles, flew to New York on a whim a few times to see Broadway shows… I’ve bought two houses as an adult and am the proud owner of a (real) Louis Vuitton purse (thank you, Bear). My last luxury car was paid off before I bought my new luxury car. I never have enough money for anything and at least one night a week, sometimes two, we eat out.

See how broke I am?

I’ll bet you thought this post was going to be about carbs…

Here’s the thing: when I was 7 years old, my dad died. He was the bread winner. Like, all the bread. He won a SHIT LOAD of bread. After he went to heaven, my mom sat one night at her dressing table with a calculator and a check book register. I remember looking at her furrowed brow and stiff hand. I watched her push the buttons on the calculator and then write numbers down. I finally got close enough to her for her concentration to break and I asked her, “Do we have enough money?”
“Oh. Yes, honey. We’ll be fine.”
That was all it took. My dad, the protector, the leader, the winner of the bread was gone. And my mom was worried. I could tell. Just that one interaction (along with my interpretation of about 1,000 more interactions) became a belief: we don’t have enough money.
I don’t have enough money.
That belief has never left me. It is a thought I keep thinking. Despite never having starved or living in anything less than a beautiful home and never missing a vacation (we just took our kids on a cruise), I’m broke. Always have been. And always will be, unless the belief changes.

So every single one of those contestants on The Biggest Loser who gained the weight back didn’t do it for lack of willpower or because they’re lazy or because they weren’t educated: they did it because they never changed the BELIEF that they were fat. They just removed the fat. So eventually, the beliefs made things “right” again. They ended up putting on some or all of the weight they’d lost.

To truly change anything in life, you have to change the thing while slowly changing the beliefs. You can’t go from broke to rich in one thought – it’s too big of a jump. You can’t go from overweight to perfect healthy weight in one thought either. You won’t believe yourself. You won’t believe your own thoughts and so you’ll continue thinking the same thoughts you’ve always had, and the patterns will repeat. But if I can convince you to change your THOUGHTS, I can help you change a belief. Then.
Then you can change your body, your bank statement, and whatever else you can use to fill in the blank – “I have always been ______”.

My thoughts are different today than they were even a month ago. I truly believe I’m covered. I still wake up scared every now again because damnit if that isn’t the deep groove I thought myself into over a lifetime, but I’m able to gently lift myself out and start reminding myself of what’s true: “I have enough, there is enough, and my income continues to increase everyday.”
What new thought can you replace your fill-in-the-blank statement with? Need help coming up with a new thought? Just let me know in the comments or an email.

Erin.salem@gmail.com

Take this Car and Shove It

Steven’s been calling and texting me for days. He wants to know when I’m coming back to trade in my car and buy a new car from him. Trouble is, I don’t yet have a car to trade it. Remember? It’s broken…
I spent Monday and part of Tuesday scrambling to get my car fixed. My mechanic (Sam) sent it to the dealership because the part Sam needed to replace was warrantied and he didn’t want to charge me for it. While my car was at the dealership, the dealership manager was unceremoniously fired. This meant there was no one in charge at the dealership anymore. Hence, I became the manager for two days. And it took me one of those two days to get someone to answer the damn telephone.
When I got someone on the phone I immediately announced, “PLEASE DO NOT PUT ME ON HOLD AND PLEASE DO NOT HANG UP. I NEED TO KNOW WHERE MY CAR IS AND WHEN IT WILL BE FINISHED. PLEASE DO NOT HANG UP.”
The gentleman explained that my car needed a new fuel pump (covered under warranty) and a new fuel pump hose (not covered). “Why does it need a hose?” I asked.
“Because the last people to replace it broke it and it could cause a fire.”
“You were the last people to replace it.”
“Oh. Oh, well…no. No the other guy, uhh…Sam…probably removed it when he was trying to diagnose the problem last week. He used the wrong tool. So it’s broken. Fire hazard.”
“Then why wouldn’t Sam replace it? Why would I pay you to replace it?”
“I don’t even know if you can drive it back to Sam’s like this after I replace the fuel pump. Could catch on fire.”
“Yeah, no, I’ll take my chances. Replace the warrantied part and call me when it’s done.”
I called Sam. By this point it was late Monday afternoon and I had until Tuesday to buy my car, as Tuesday was the last day of the month and I was guarenteed the best deal.
“They said the fuel pump hose was busted?!” Sam asked me.
“Yeah. That you broke it.”
“Ok. I’ll go pick it up in the morning and take a look, but I’m guessing the dealership needed to make a little money off your warranty work.”
Sure enough, Sam picked up my car Tuesday morning and brought it into his shop Tuesday at lunch to ensure the hose was safe.
“Safe,” he called me and said.
“No fires?”
“No fires,” he assured me.
So I called the babysitter, picked up Abe, and came home in my fixed up car to make dinner and clean my kitchen because I would NOT let Abe’s babysitter see the way we actually live…
On our way to the dealership, Bear and I talked about our approach. We want a white car. But they only have a gray car. We’ll settle for a gray car but only under the terms we set. And we won’t be swayed into something else. We are firmly planted in our decision.
We walked into the dealership like we owned the place, expecting Steven to be THRILLED to see us. After all, I’d texted him a few hours before to let him know when we’d be in. He texted back he was “excited to have us back.” But when we saw Steven, he seemed surprised. And not excited. Nervous. Shorter than he was before.
“Oh, hey guys,” he said. His eyes were darting around.
“Hey man,” Bear said and shook his hand.
“Hey, um, Alan is going to take care of you today, ok?”

Okaaaaaay.

Alan is also a car salesman. Alan is 18 feet tall and has been smoking since he was born. (Or he just shouted really loudly throughout the entirety of his 20s and 30s.) He started asking us questions; questions we’ve already answered a lot of times. Finally, I said, “Did you get a white car in?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Alan said.
“Then we want to see the gray one.”
Alan started telling me how these cars sell so fast and they’re the most popular trim package and this and that and I was like whatever Alan. I don’t even know you. I know Steven. And Steven wanted to make me a deal and you want to tell me how I’m trying to buy the most popular car hence I can’t be choosy or pay what I want to pay. You’re an asshole, Alan. I can tell.
Alan walked us all the way upstairs to the roof where we’d first been introduced to the car I intended to buy. And guess what?
It was gone. Sold.
“Well I told you this is the most popular trim package on these cars…”
See, Alan? You’re an asshole.
He walked us back downstairs where I explained to him that I never would have gotten a babysitter if I’d known the car we wanted wasn’t even here. First Alan said that Steven doesn’t really know the inventory that well because he “doesn’t go upstairs a lot” so that’s probably why he didn’t mention it when he told me he was “excited to have us back.” Then he said Steven needs to learn to “listen better.” Then he told us he had several of the exact car I want “in freight”, which means someday they’ll have more of them. What day? Oh. Some day. Maybe a few days or a week or late March.
We both nodded and left and got margaritas.

Steven called Bear today and told him that it wasn’t his fault because no one told him the gray one sold. He also said we never told him we wanted to buy the gray one. He also said it wasn’t his fault again.

So I have the same car. I have no idea when I’ll be replacing it. But I do know that I’m probably not going to invite Steven and Alan to my birthday party.

 

 

Speaking in Car

My car died last Tuesday. I also broke four nails and spent 3 days in bed crying, so it’s a toss up as to the actual WORST part of last week, but it was a bad one.
It’s been nearly a 6 days since my car has been passed from shop to shop getting “diagnosed” because it’s “foreign” and no one in this country “speaks its language.” I’m sorry but if a kid in my middle school figured out Mandarin Chinese and Latin, you’d think SOMEONE employable in the city of Jacksonville could figure out a dialect “Mini Cooper.”
The whole thing felt like a pull from God to get a new car. Mostly because the guy at the first foreign car fixit shop I brought it to looked straight at me and said, “Time to get a new car.”
I told my husband I wanted to go car shopping and he immediately replied, “YAAAAAAAS” and started doing a weird little joy-dance. He’s not a big dancer, but he loves buying things like cars.
I decided I want something bigger than a Mini Cooper. Bear helped me narrow the field and we decided to go check out a few cars on a Sunday with the kids in tow. This way we’d have a good excuse to leave when Abe started licking things that people at the dealership would be uncomfortable with him licking.

“Whoops! No more licking Audi R8s, sweetie! Time to go!”

The first dealership had 6 guys standing out front and one of them sauntered over to us with a styrofoam to-go cup in his hand, like, “Eh. I’m just finishing lunch but I’ll help ’em out.”

“Looking for something?”
Of course I wanted to respond, “Yeah, I dropped my pen earlier…”
But Bear responded, “Probably a used 4Runner. You have any in white?”
“Yes. Over to the other end.” This guy was about 6 foot 2, grey hair, with a Russian accent. It literally sounded like everything he was saying to us was a set-up for heist that we may or may not now be involved in.
The walk to the pre-owned side of the lot was longer than the green mile, and Hubs was NOT speaking. Abe was speaking. A lot. “Gonna buy that car, mom?”
“No.”
“That one?”
“No.”
That one?”
“No.”
Russian guy said nothing.
Finally, we got to the 4Runners.
“I guess we don’t have any in white,” Russian guy said as he peered out over the sea of cars.
Now, to me, it seems like if you work at a car dealership you should have SOME way of knowing what inventory is on the lot. Like a list. A list of cars. That tells you what you have and what you don’t have. So when you’re walking a family of four to what feels like their imminent death by Russian mafia, you can assure them you have the color 4Runner they want.
“Ok. Can we test drive a gray one instead?” Hubs asked.
They guy literally handed us the keys and a loose license plate and told us to “bring it back.” I guess he felt like he’d made it clear Black Widow was waiting in the lounge if we didn’t act right, so he wasn’t concerned about the safety of the 4Runner. We drove it, brought it back, and left before anyone could offer us a shot of vodka.

“Let’s check out the Jeep dealership,” Bear said. I didn’t want a Jeep, but I was willing to try anything. By this point, Abe was holding up really well and Cub was silent and miserable, which was better than Abe’s normal loud and miserable. We walked onto the property and soon discovered you had no choice but to walk through the showroom to get to any of the cars.

*Immediately assaulted by sales associates.*

“Hey I’m Steven.”
Steven is maaaaybe 5 feet tall. He has piercing blue eyes and looks like he wants to climb my entire family while rattling off every feature and spec of all the cars on the entire lot. He also appears to be 12 years old.
I. Hate. Steven.
“What are you looking for?” he asked Bear.
“A car for her,” Bear pointed to me.
“What are you looking for?” he asked me.
“I’m not too sure.”
“You’re not sure?! Well, what have you driven so far today?”
Bear could sense my dislike of the man walking half a step behind me. “We just want to check out a Grand Cherokee,” Bear said.
“Oh yeah! Sure! I’ve got a black one over here!” Steven practically skipped to the car.
“I’m looking for something in white,” I said.
“Oh really? White? Ok. Cool. Why white?”
“Because it’s the color I want.”
“Ok cool. What color car do you have now?” he asked and I squeezed my hands into fists.
“A black one.”
“OOh! Ha. Yeah,” he said as he simultaneously looked at my husband and WINKED at him, as if to say, “Oh women. They think cars are like nail polish, don’t they?”
It took EVERY FIBER OF MY BEING not to say mean things in front of my children on purpose to teach them how not to treat a women and then lead my family out the front door.
He proceeded to rattle off a TON of colors and features to me like “heated seats” and “push this little button to close the hatch.” Then he proceeded to say, out loud, “Oh, your husband will think this is cool. Come here, man, while I pop the hood…”

Look. I get it. I’m a girl. I want a car that works good and looks nice. I don’t care if it’s a 2.9 or has 50 horses inside or how many of the wheels drive at once in the mud. I want to go from where I am now to where I want to go next without having to worry about a tow truck driver named Possum telling me about how he tore both shoulders and both knees pushing a tractor out of a ditch while he drags my beloved car to get fixed and I wait on an Uber. But. If you would INCLUDE me in conversations about the purchase of my OWN vehicle, I’m far more likely to purchase it from you.

Steven proceeded to corner, shift, refocus, and reframe the conversation one million times until he had enough information from us to try and make us a sweet deal. “Look. I’m not supposed to talk numbers with you (he was whispering in the middle of a rooftop parking lot wherein we were the only 5 people anywhere to be seen, so I can only assume he was wearing a wire), but I’ve got to move 45 cars in the next 3 days. I can get you some really good deals. But I’ve got to have some numbers to work with for my manger. Let’s go inside and talk about how we can make this happen today.”
“Oh, this isn’t happening today,” Bear corrected him.
It seems that when you tell Steve something, like you want a white car or you aren’t buying a car today, Steve hears, “I’ll take any color car and I’ll buy it today.” In the amount of time it would take me to dissect and write out this man’s technique for somehow roping us back around to the same conclusion of, “We’re not buying a car today,” you could order a pizza, have it delivered, and eat half of it before I was finished.

After two hours of this, Steven said it again. He said it. Again. After hundreds of offers for another bottle of water, one more look at “that gray one”, even offering to paint the gray one white (yes he did!), he asked me, “So what’s it going to take to get you in this car today?”

I paused. I breathed. And I looked him dead in his bright, blue eyes.
“Steven. Look at me in my eyes…”
“Ok ok ok…” he started.
“No. No seriously, Steven. Look at my eyes.”
He did. And he was terrified. I think Bear was smirking like, “Oh this is gonna be fun.”
“I’m. not. buying. a car. today. Got it?”
“Got it,” he nodded, still locked on my eyes.
“Now, if you still have this car tomorrow, or the next day, and it’s for sale for the same price, and I have slept on it and decided I want to purchase it, I will come back here and I will buy this car from you. Only you. No one else. No other dealership. I will walk in, ask for Steven, and ask you to bring me the keys to my new car. But I will not, under any circumstance, buy this car today.”
Steven didn’t ask me to buy the car after that.

I want to buy the car. I really like it. The gray one. (I know, I know, cars are like nail polish to me.) But, for once in my life I want to make a decision on my own time, in my own way. I don’t want to look at the people around me and ask their opinion. I don’t want to die of decision-paralysis and never get the car I want. I just want to say what I want and then walk away if what I want isn’t being offered. That simple. Bear said to the guy at the dealership, “This car is for her. She chooses what she wants.” I feel like that’s why he was put into my life; to remind me it’s mine and I get to choose what I want.

Also did you know the “energy between eclipses” is a thing?! It’s when everything goes bat shit insane between any two types of eclipse experiences. (We had one on the 10th and one this past weekend.) I *just* found out about this phenomenon from a woman who eats kale and talks to crystals. I asked my acupunturist about it and she was like, “You didn’t know that’s a thing?!” So if anything you’ve said or done in the past 7 days has been dramatic, we can blame it on the “energy between eclipses” and then take our shoes off and dance with Mother Earth or whatever.

 

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