being crafty: reclaimed drop earrings

Okay, I’m obviously a beginner at DIY things. I have things I’d like to make – in theory – jewelry, scarves, clothes, holiday decorations, and whatnot. To make my own jewelry is on my bucket list even. So might as well start somewhere.

My mom left me her jewelry, which meant her mom’s jewelry and her mom’s mom’s jewelry as well. I finally had the nerve to go through it last week. Before my mom passed, she and I went through it together to label important things: her mom’s nursing school ring, a ruby ring with a crack through it that my grandma apparently wore all the time and got knocked in the hand while playing field hockey. There is a lot of costume jewelry, lots of things that are broken or falling apart too.

But then I found a box of random beads. Or at least I thought they were random. Until I started pulling them out and finding their matches. All earrings. Just no hooks. So that’s where this project started.

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here’s the box they were all in, with their counterparts

I’ve never made jewelry before, but bought sterling and gold ball hooks thinking it’d be enough. Nope. Needed new posts because the old ones were corroded and didn’t look right with the new, shiny hooks. And got some tools while I was at it – curved pliers and a cutting tool instead of trying to use my fingers and nails like a cavewoman – to connect the hooks and posts. And somehow this happened:

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my favorites so far

Seriously, these suckers took a couple seconds flat to make once I figured out how to use the pliers. Just thread the ball pin through the bead, curve the other end to start making a loop, trim the extra to finish making the loop, and thread the hook. Beyond easy.

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absolute favorites – the amber colored ones were too beautiful not to make them into earrings

I am so unbelievably happy to give some new life to my grandma’s things and so excited be able to wear them now! At Michael’s, I possibly bought some sparkly things (Swarovski in dusty rose) and light pink glass pearls thinking I could add sparkly bits to my grandma’s beads. But instead, this happened:

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can’t wait to wear these

Oh, and a pair for my mother-in-law who’s a gold girl.

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i was too excited to give them too her and already blew my christmas gift. surprises and me do not mix

So that’s it for now! The time I spent at Michael’s picking out the right hooks and posts was the longest and most challenging part of this project, and even that was simple enough. The actual jewelry making portion took possibly 3 minutes per pair. So I’m definitely hooked with the whole lot of pretty things made in no time flat. Yay!

Tori

what is wednesday?

“She is delightfully chaotic; a beautiful mess. Loving her is a splendid adventure.”

I’m a little confused. At a standstill, really. Shrugging my shoulders and trying to figure this one out. We just celebrated what we’re thankful for on Throwback Thursday. I mean, Thanksgiving. Then we proved we’re not content with what we already have by honoring Black Friday. I don’t know what Saturday and Sunday were called. Black Friday’s Evil Stepsisters, perhaps. And if that isn’t enough, we buy more crap we don’t need on Cyber Monday.

Some awesome organizations out there remind us to remember those who are less fortunate on Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday campaigns make me smile that there are still some inspirational folks among those who were throwin’ elbows for the latest and last Kindle on the shelf. Whatever Kindle is most popular right now, assuming Kindle’s are still popular. Whatever the popular thing is that people duke it out over. But violence is not the answer. That’s what internet shopping is for so you can be a shopping ninja from the comfort of your own home. In the nude, even. Before leaving the topic of Giving Tuesday, wait! Here’s my plug. Please go donate to any cause you love if you haven’t already. Pick any! Support Gay Rights and Equality. Bring kitten toys to an animal shelter. Support brain tumor research with NBTS to find a cure in my mom’s memory! Anything.

But after Giving Tuesday, then what? What the heck is the day after called? The day after Tuesday? Any other Wednesday? Hump day, for most. But seriously.

We have a manic stretch of days from the day we say we’re grateful, to the four days we shop like we’re on Supermarket Sweet, to one more day of being good people, and then what? Sidebar: Supermarket Sweep was the shit. It was me and my mom’s goal to not only be on it but to dominate it. We were both sprinters with great fast-twitch muscles to beat everyone to the turkeys, other cuts of fine meat, and bacon. We’d find a bonus somewhere at the end of the refrigerated meat aisle, switch carts, get the damn baby formula and diapers fast! We had our plan down cold. I digress. No more talk about shopping.

Today is just a Wednesday. There’s no name given to it by pop culture or the newscasters that I’m aware of. Scratch that. I just Googled it. It’s been called Weeping Wednesday because of all the bills people racked up. Really? What if you spent within your means and finished your next month’s project of shopping? There’s no crying in that. I’ll probably be crying because I’m a sobbing mess lately with the holidays here and my mom not here. But that’s not the same.

The Wednesday after is just back to normal. It’s living in a messy world, where every single day has loads of responsibilities, not just one the shopping gods have delegated for us: give thanks, buy, buy, buy, buy some more, give. Wednesday doesn’t have a set agenda. It’s more carefree, a little messy, even wacky if you will. Anyone local knows Trucchi’s Supermarkets have Wacky Wednesdays. My mom was a huge fan. She’d stock up on whatever we didn’t need, but it was always prime time to get cereal, since we were only allowed to buy it if it was on sale and my mom had a coupon. Ray’s mom had the same deal with him growing up, to be fair. But still, we’re back on shopping. Enough of that.

Wacky, messy, normal, living, breathing, being Wednesday doesn’t quite have a melodic ring to it, but life is not cookie cutter. I so badly wanted it to be a perfect cookie cutter when I was little and tried my hardest to make it that way, but life is a blubbering, sloppy mess. Like our dog’s kisses. She goes all over the place in excitement. She licks up your nose back to a section of your head you didn’t think you could reach, your ear lobes, the inside of your mouth if you’re not careful. She stands on anything in reach to get to you. Your face, the area of my chest where boobs should reside if I had them, Ray’s delicate areas, your gut which always hurts. She’s just all over the place. You can’t control it or contain it. She’s entropy! I’m so far out of school I barely remember this, but something in thermodynamics states that in natural processes entropy increases. Using life as a metaphor, that’d mean everything gets messy and it’s basically supposed to be that way. It’s supposed to be all over the place with nonsense and crazy thrown in. Just like the organization of my essay right now.

Here’s my Wacky Wednesday: Call in to 7am meeting while still basically asleep and definitely still in pajama’s with bed hair (messy). Be exhausted after having insomnia and trying to treat it by pacing and getting out of bed to write this essay until 2am the night before so crawl into the shower begrudgingly. Brush my hair if I remember (messy). Drive to work when I will most likely cry about something that reminded me of my mom or a trigger that brought up my dad (ugly cry, messy). Seriously though. I had a meltdown over a water bottle the other day. Get to work with makeup smeared down my face (messy). Pull my shit together for work even if I cry there too randomly. But I also twerk behind my officemate, do jigs in front of the Keurig, and run the risk of peeing my pants every single day since the office is an icebox (that’s messy and it’s happened before). Drive home and cry (messy). Realize I have no clean clothes (messy) and must do a laundry immediately, realize the dog ate her poop again (disgustingly messy), notice the kitten is a gem (cats aren’t messy), realize it’s a night Ray works until 10pm which means I’ll be alone and sad (messy), perhaps I’ll cook the rest of the salmon (messy but delicious), try to wash my face like they do in infomercials but fail and get soap and water all over the sink and mirror (messy), hog the comforter (mean messy), and yeah. You get the drift. You, the person reading this, might not have the same exact scenarios as me, but you know you have a lot of messy in your life. Admit it. You’re a freaking disaster too. Maybe you have poop-filled diapers to tend to, soccer cleats after a game in the mud you need to clean up, hair dye covering your forehead and fingers, your basement’s abyss (ours too) that you’re afraid to even enter, your family (oh, trust me, you’re not alone) – all messy.

We’re all disasters in some regard. And that’s kind of a cool common bond. We probably have millions of intentions for every day that barely ever get done. Things we meant to do and had to do that we never do. But even focusing on a little of it is something. Taking a chip out of it is a start. Maybe there’s a mess before you. Something you know you need to tackle, even a part of yourself you deem as a mess. Know that some stains never come out; some things can never be worked out. But who the hell cares? Functioning disasters deserve a badge of honor.

How about the back to normal Wednesday be dubbed Wacky Wednesday (yay Trucchi’s!) where you can stop trying to hold all of your shit together from the past five days, holiday shopping, time crunches, and races against time. Relax and unfold. Let your disastrous self be revealed. Let all of your crazy shine through. Be messy and imperfect. And just be you. That’s your only requirement today.

Just like any other.

Tori

thanks for giving

I am currently boycotting the holidays, as it’s too tough without my mom here. But I know she’d want us to make some good no matter what. She was always able to be there for others, no matter how sick she got. So no matter how sad I may be, I’d like to make her proud.

Last weekend, Ray and I threw a Friendsgiving Dinner for the friends who have become family. Providing the food, we asked our friends to help us support the Plymouth Area Coalition for the Homeless with their Food Pantry and Holiday Fund. Here are some photos of the loot we’ll be donating tomorrow for the holidays! Pantry items for everyone and gifts suitable for teens, the population the PAC specifically asked us for help with. So excited with the outcome!

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like emeril, bam! tons of pasta, cake mixes, canned goods, and cleaning products!

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some books, games, and sports stuff. i picked out the rockin’ soccer ball!

Before my mom passed, she had bought 16 seasons tickets for the Providence Performing Arts Center, to Cirque Dreams Holidaze, a magic show, and Blue Man Group. She used to buy the tickets every season and then sell them to friends so everyone could sit together, but when the tickets arrived in the mail, I didn’t know what to do with them. I decided to mix it up. I do admit that I gave the tickets for the Cirque show to friends of my own to keep a little tradition.

However, the magic show tickets are all going to Special Olympics Massachusetts, an organization my mom and I volunteered for together for years so it holds a special place in my heart. I’m hoping some special families get to enjoy the show together!

second and third row seats!

second and third row seats!

I was hoping to give the Blue Man Group tickets to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, and after contacting them, they found an organization for me that is somehow more perfect. My mom would have loved giving these to children in need, but they’ll be going to the Tomorrow Fund to benefit children with cancer and their families. My mom would be giving a big “thumbs up” to all of the above.

My mom was the most generous and selfless person I’ve ever known, and I am so thankful I got her as my mom and role model. I honestly feel bitter without her, but I was lucky for however short a time she was on this earth. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Before I break into a panic attack thinking about her, I’ll get to the point of this post. Go do some good. Go do something for others who might not have the means to do it for themselves. Even if you’re struggling too. Give your time, give your funds if you can, and give your heart.

“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart, give yourself to it.”

Happy Thanksgiving (even if I’m boycotting it) and thanks for giving to whatever charity feels good to you!

Tori

being crafty: nautical wreath

Update! Here’s the final product on our door for the holidays!

in love with the final look and am feeling very martha stewart-y!

in love with the final look and am feeling very martha stewart-y!

For comedic effect, here’s the entirety of the original post:

I have been having a harder time dealing with the loss of my mom than before. I’ve retreated from teaching Zumba and cleared my schedule so that my full-time job is my only obligation. I’d like to start doing things for me. Like writing again (I took a break. Thinking hurt.) or going back to ballroom or ballet (even if it takes a drive into the city). And then, there’s DIY. Yeah, like Pinterest.

Here’s my first try at something crafty, in honor of this girl’s blog entry: a DIY nautical wreath.

First up, the ingredients or materials or whatever the technical term is. Half inch thick sisal rope. I got this one on Amazon. Scratch that. I got this one, then ran out, and needed a second. So two of these. No jute was necessary in the making of the project. Glue gun. A wreath form. Hands of steel. And patience.

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ignore the jute. i was going to use it, but decided to be more plain jane. and add another package of rope. i learned..

Start hot gluing. To get a good foundation, I used dabs of glue at every point the rope hit on the inner circle. Don’t glue down where the rope hits on the outer circle since you’ll end up moving it around.

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the wreath form was covered in plastic. those little pieces are like wood chips. and manipulating them made a mess. coconut tried to eat them all…

After finishing the first time around, I realized something from grade-school math class. The circumference of the inner circle is going to be less than the circumference of the outer circle. So while you have the rope touching all along the inner circle, it will have spaces where the wreath form is exposed on the outer circle. Which is why it was great I didn’t glue it down. Try to get each rope wrap (made that up), perpendicular to the wreath form, because otherwise it starts getting unmanageable. Then to cover those bald spaces, take the rope around a second time.

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round and round… note those little wood chips. those are the suckers coconut kept trying to eat when they hit the floor

Your first pack of rope will run out if you’re anal about covering up the bald spots like me. I wanted this sucker to look substantial and heavy-duty. Of course, you could just buy 100 feet of rope, but that would be harder to manage, as you have to pull the rope through the center of the wreath with every single rope wrap. Have no fear, OCD’ers. The seam of where the two ends meet gets covered with rope.

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that would be the exact rope i bought. you will need two of the 50 foot variety

Take some hot glue to the middle of the rope at the end so it doesn’t look so frayed. But otherwise, it’s no big deal. Start your next hunk of rope right where you left off.

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the blasted end that ended up not being a problem whatsoever

I ended up going around one full time to cover as much as the base as possible, a second time to fill in the bald spots, and a random-rope-wrap-here-and-there third time to give the wreath texture and to make the loops. When you decide you’ve reached your last rope wrap, leave that one a little loose as well as the rope wrap 4-6 inches before. You’ll use these to make knots. Without even cutting the rope, make a knot at your last rope wrap. I actually looked up nautical knots and have no idea if mine was legit. But it seems sturdy. so finish the first knot, make the hanger, then repeat at the rope wrap 6 inches from the end. Have the rope exit the back so you never see it, and then chop off the rope.

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my attempt at knots

I put some hot glue into the knots in hopes they’ll hold better and let it dry for a bit. I’ll be honest, the knots took me a lot longer than they should have, and I redid them several times until deciding they were done. But here is the end result! It’ll go outside once A) I have a wreath hanger and B) it has stopped torrentially raining outside – not because I’m afraid this won’t hold up, but because I’m just cold. I’ll add a photo of it on our door when it’s up!

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voila! yes, that’s currently hanging on a kitchen cabinet. no, it’s not staying there.

Here are some pointers. Really, just things to look out for. Keep an eye on the animals.

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She liked the wire and the rope.

No, for real. These buggers were obsessed. I imagine if you have kids, they can be distracting too.

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she loved the wood chips and the rope. freaking tug-of-war

Last word of advice: protect your hands with a thick hand cream before, during, and after. It’s basically winter in New England, the air is dry, my skin is cracking as is, and the wreath form and rope were a little painful at times. But I think the end result is worth it. Ray and I love anything nautical and like the things in our house to be more modern than not, so I think this foots the bill.

Enjoy!

Tori

perspective – part deux

Ray and I are officially home from Paris and the trip was heaven. Seriously. Heaven. It only intensified my love affair with the city.

bonjour

i mean seriously, come on. bonjour, beautiful.

Everything I’ve ever seen in photos was a million times better in person. I couldn’t get enough of the Eiffel Tower, the beauty of the French language and entire freaking city, the value of fresh flowers and good food, and beautiful, interesting people. That means I lurked and took lots of photos of strangers. They tell a story better than I ever could.

artists

artists

walkers

handsome couples

lovers

lovers

and people that wanted to kill me

and people that wanted to kill me with musicians in the background

Anyway, per my last post, I hoped to find something in Paris – specifically up upon Montmartre – that I’d hoped to find my whole life. I never knew what that something was. Just that it was up there for me. Talk about pressure.

We found “my staircase” – it’s not mine, really. I think Brassaï made it most beautiful in a black and white photograph he took, but I tried to capture the same angle. So happy we found this puppy.

rue foyatier

rue foyatier

But here’s what I’m most happy about. Ecstatic really, but in a bittersweet way. The church up upon Montmartre is named Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It’s the very special thing at the top of the hill that I thought perhaps housed the thing I was always looking for. And then my mom passed and I thought that dream was a load of crap, but Ray thought we needed to go to Paris anyway.

i've loved this church for years without ever seeing it. it's so much better in person, as life always is

i’ve loved this church for years without ever seeing it. it’s so much better in person, as life always is better firsthand

When we entered the church, I wanted to light a candle for my mom. Had to. It was obligatory in an OCD kind of way, because it wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t. But I had to find the right spot to light the candle. That would mean that I had to find the right patron saint to honor. We started towards the left, and nothing felt right. My mom and I lit a candle at the very back of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, so perhaps that would be the same spot at the Basilica. Nope, didn’t feel right. So we circled back around in our counterclockwise loop from the entrance and distance was running out to find the right statue. Found the second to last statue and it still didn’t feel right. And then we walked up to the last statue. So really, the first statue in the Basilica that you’d see if you started towards the right. And it was saint Maguerite Marie. French for Margaret Mary. My mom’s name, and the patron saint she was named after.

We lit a candle for my mom at her patron saint’s statue, the first statue upon entering the Basilica of the Sacred Heart up upon Montmartre. Like my mom is right there, at the top of the hill in Paris. Boom, bonjour.

marguerite marie otherwise known as margaret mary

marguerite marie otherwise known as margaret mary

While that didn’t bring me perspective, it brought me peace. And that’s the thing I probably always needed to find these years I’ve been dreaming of Paris. It didn’t bring me closure, because I’m not okay that she’s not here anymore. But it did bring me a profound sense of peace knowing she’s there.

Paris can be my heaven. Maybe it’s hers. She would have loved it. She’d have loved the chocolate eclairs and croissants. She would have loved the picnics in the Tuileries garden. She would have conversed with Parisians beautifully with her perfect French accent like the locals. She would have loved power-walking up the hills and stairs in Montmartre to that final, profound resting place.

Bonsoir, Mom. Sleep tight.

Tori

perspective

About four years ago, I talked with a random pharmacy grad at the Midyear conference in California who I was interviewing with about my dream about going to Paris. How I’d wanted to go my whole life. How I had a photo of the Eiffel Tower on my wall with Audrey Hepburn’s quote, “Paris is always a good idea.” How I had heard the John Denver song, “A Country Girl in Paris,” growing up and felt it resonate so deeply within me.

Up upon Montmartre when she stops to rest awhile,
all the artists look at her and they long to paint her smile.
For even in her sorrow there’s something in her eyes…

I had Montmartre on the top of my bucket list before I knew what bucket lists were, because I was so confident it would lift my sadness somehow. I pushed myself so hard in school to the detriment of my happiness. And then worse in high school. And then worse in college. So I held this deep belief through all of those years that there was something waiting for me up upon Montmartre that would be so profoundly uplifting, none of it would matter anymore.

Back to the point. The girl at Midyear. She said she shared that dream but felt like a trip to Paris needed to be with someone you’re in love with. It’s too romantic not to. She was right, and I kind of hated her for being right. But Paris would be put on hold. Finishing school and finding a job were more important then to make all the hard work worth it. I was at Midyear to find a future for myself. Besides, there was nobody on the horizon.

And then a couple days later, it was time to go home from California to Massachusetts and I met Ray at the airport. And then I was seated next to him on the airplane. And that was the start of us. Indeed, Midyear made me find my future. All of a sudden, I not only had someone on the horizon, I had the love of my life and my husband.

i can't believe this was a year ago

i can’t believe this was a year ago! look how handsome he is. good god, that smile.

We were going to go to Paris for our honeymoon, but given the fact that our wedding was planned in a whirlwind, we wanted something relaxing. Ray had the perfect idea of going to somewhere with a nice beach for our honeymoon, and Paris for our first anniversary. That first anniversary will be here in three days.

We waited on actually booking the trip. We obviously knew what date and week it would be, but my mom’s health was declining. Quickly. Drastically. And yet she was still holding on. What would happen if she passed while we were gone? But she kept urging us so many times, like her final wishes for me and Ray were to be happy and to travel. “You have to go to Paris.”

I should be way more excited than this. I should be ecstatic and happy like she wanted. We’re going to Paris! And yet somehow, it doesn’t feel right. I’ve had that city on a pedestal for so many years, but I’ve never felt so sad in my life with my mom gone. I’ve mentioned canceling the trip to Ray too many times to count, but he and every other person I’ve talked to said we need the getaway. You need time offYou ought to get away from here. You can always go back. I know, but I just want to feel happy there. I just want my mom here, really.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot the thing I’d always held to feel to be true.

Up upon Montmartre when she stops to rest awhile,
all the artists look at her and they long to paint her smile.
For even in her sorrow there’s something in her eyes…

Perhaps Paris will lift all the sorrow from my mom’s passing. So that the light that has come from my first year of marriage to the most amazing man by my side. There is nobody I would rather share that happiness with by my side, and he is the only person that could hold me together through all the sadness that’s come through my mom’s sickness and passing. Through sickness and in health. In good times and in bad. Whatever the traditional vows are. I vow all of it still. Ray is impeccable and I’m lucky as hell to have him in my life, let alone to be married to him.

I’m going to the City of Light with the source of so much light and happiness in my life, that it’s got to outshine the sorrow of my mom’s passing. Or as dear friend encouraged, instead of mourning my mom’s death, we’ll go in honor of her. We’ll celebrate the fastest year of marriage filled with the highest highs – got married, went to Tahiti and Bora Bora, bought a house, made it our own, became puppy parents, brought my mom to the Grand Canyon, planted her a garden – and lowest low I can ever imagine. And if we made it through that, we can make it through hell, because we’ve already been there and survived it together.

this guy. this guy is the guy i get to kiss for the rest of my life. even when my hair does insane things.

this guy. this guy is the guy i get to kiss for the rest of my life. even when my hair does insane things.

Ray, here is to you, to us, the life we’re building, the adventure we’re making, and every happiness the world can provide. Thank you for your love and support during the worst days of my life. Thank you for the promises you made to me on our wedding day, for the promises you made to my mom, and for keeping them. I love you and hope we find whatever it is we’ve been looking for up upon Montmartre. Even if it’s a new perspective.

Mom, in one day we’re going to make you so proud. You’ll be with us in spirit.

Tori

on love

Something has occurred to me. Something groundbreaking, earth-moving, sky-tumbling, heart-trembling (now I’m singing Carole King), and almost breathtaking. And it is so simple that I feel ridiculous for even stating it, but it’s something I’ve never really thought about before.

Saying “I love you” is the same exact thing as saying “thank you for being.”

mom, we love you the "mostest" and miss you even more

mom, we love you the “mostest” and miss you even more

People don’t say “I love you” enough. Out of fear that the sentiment might not be reciprocated. Out of fear that it might mean a relationship is important and real. Out of pain from the past. Something. But people don’t say those words enough. And people really need to hear them.

My husband and I met in a state that neither of us lived and dated long distance for well over the first year of our relationship. We talked a lot on the phone, via text, and on Skype and saw each other on the weekends as much as possible, given that we were both finishing up school at the time. He’d been to Boston to see me; I’d been to New York to see him. I loved him and was in love with him and I wanted to tell him that in person. But we were many miles away.

One night, we were planning on talking on Skype before bed, so I – he doesn’t know this – showered, did my makeup, did my hair, put on stylishly casual clothes (“Oh this? I was just sitting around the house in it.”  That’s a lie. I wear pajamas and definitely no bra when I’m at home), and we started to talk. We talked as usual. I don’t remember about what. And that was that. We said, “Good night,” and I probably looked like a giddy school girl in a push-up bra underneath a brand-new, just-cut-off-the-tags Pink sweatshirt and a healthy dose of mascara waving goodbye. Regardless, we ended the conversation.

I loved him and I wanted to tell him, but I really wanted to tell him in person. The first “I love you” and “I’m in love with you” are big deals. But I can’t keep a secret for the life of me. Especially not if it’s something I’m excited about. Which means, something overcame me, I called him back immediately on Skype, and blurted out those three little words. I said it. And he smiled. I was so mad at myself for not having the patience to tell him in person so that it’d be romantic and personal and perfect. But I needed him to know. And you know what? I’m really glad I told him, because he needed to hear it.

He said it back, and it felt so good to the core to know that the person I was thankful I had in my life, the person that had been a stranger only months before, was also thankful that I was in his. That’s all it means. It’s simple and it’s huge at the same time. I later told him that I was also in love with him, because it feels more passionate. Like, loving is to compassion as being in love is to passion. Anyway, they both apply to Ray. Sidenote: Ray, have I embarrassed you yet?

i love this man and am in deep and utter love with him. and good god, you're handsome.

i love this man and am in deep and utter love with him. and good god, he’s handsome.

I’m not saying we should all be “in love” with everyone. That’s different. I am in love with my husband and only my husband, but I love a lot of good people, funny people, and selfless people. I love open-minded and tolerant people. I remember telling one of my best friends from college who happens to be male, “I love you” and someone walking by asked me if he was my husband. It seemed oddly presumptuous to me at the time, but I get that those words seem to be reserved for significant others for most. My friend Mark drove two and a half hours to see my mom at her fundraiser, to drive two and a half hours home the same day. I appreciate his support and am so thankful he is the person he is. So “I love you” is very fitting.

my mom with her "boyfriend" mark

my mom with her “boyfriend” mark

More people need to know they’re appreciated. Any single day at any second in time, something bad can happen. A tragedy can come without warning. Your loved one might not wake up. This blog article could be the last thing on earth you ever read. So stop waiting to share how you feel before it’s too late. Tell the people you are grateful you have in your life that you love them. Tell them often. And don’t forget to tell the person who looks back at you in the mirror.

Thank you all for being. I love you. Same thing.

Tori

the fault is not in ourselves

I read The Fault in Our Stars before it became a movie and fell in love with Hazel Grace, Augustus Waters, their relationship, their wisdom, and their story. I read it despite the fact that my mom was losing her battle with cancer and that it would undoubtedly be a huge trigger for me. I suspected one of the two would pass away before the end. And yet I couldn’t put it down. I was so deeply affected by Hazel and Augustus that I recommended the book to anyone who would listen.

That includes my mom. I encouraged my – I’m going to say it – dying mother to read a very real and raw novel about dying. To show her that she could still live her life, to let her know that life goes on, and to show her how some infinities are just shorter than others.

We went grocery shopping together one afternoon. While pushing her in a wheelchair and somehow hanging a basket on my wrist, I saw it on an endcap display and impulsively added it to our pile for her. It didn’t occur to me until after checkout that it could have been a mistake.

What if it makes her cry? What if it breaks her?

But it was already too late. She started reading it when we got home and got hooked on it off the bat. She was quickly turning the pages and grasping what she read, which was a relief, because her dexterity, vision, and level of understanding were already shoddy. The book makes a very difficult topic seem simple and bearable. And my mom seemed to love Hazel and she wanted to know what happened in the end.

My mom continued to read the novel on our front porch while my husband and I worked in the garden in front of her. We had a picnic on the porch which is one of the few times she actually put the book down. She was able to feed herself yogurt at that point. I think I had a granola bar while sitting on the porch floorboards next to her. It still counts as a picnic.

During the break, she said she didn’t really understand the title, so I tried to explain to her what I thought about it. How I’d read that it was a nod to a Julius Caesar quote. Shakespeare wrote, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

I told her I think that the author is eloquently calling bullshit. I said, “It means it’s not your fault at all, Mom. Nobody chooses to have cancer. You did nothing to cause or deserve this.” She gave a slight smile and continued reading.

I decided it was a good answer. Looking back, of everything I ever did for my mom, making sure she knew that is something I will rest and grieve peacefully with. My mom had confided in me several times already that a family member yelled at her when she knocked things over, spilled her drinks, choked on food, had trouble hearing, and did other things that were a direct result of the tumors in her brain. It was never her fault and I tried to make sure she knew that. I told her she could throw food at the wall if she wanted and that nobody should care if food gets on the floor. The dog would actually welcome that, so have at it.

Anyway, when the summer sun was too warm for my mom’s very reactive skin (a side effect of chemo), she read her novel on the couch and fell asleep with it on her lap often. She was sleeping more often. She took naps frequently. Even while she came in and out of her slumber, I loved being next to her. But when she was reading, I noticed she started missing pages because they were too thin to separate for her fingers and she was rereading chapters towards the end over and over again. Maybe it’s because she didn’t understand them. Maybe it’s because she forgot where she was. Probably a combination of the two. At some point she did claim she finished it though. And she said she loved Hazel. Hazel has the same tenacity as my mom did, so I don’t blame her.

That was the last thing she ever read independently.

What’s my point? One evening just before or just after my mom had finished the novel, the family member who blamed her for things out of her control started putting her down for who she was as a person and decisions she had made long ago. The person said how she wasn’t careful enough around breakables again. I spoke up. I said how she had told me the put-downs had been happening, how she had asked me not to speak up, but how I wasn’t going to let it happen anymore. It’s like she was asking me for help but trying not to get the person in trouble both at the same time.

Anyway, as much as I would have defended her, I didn’t need to. My mom fired back at the bullying family member, “It’s not my fault at all. That’s what it says in the book. Nobody chooses to have cancer. I didn’t do anything to cause or deserve this.”

And for a second, the bully shut up. The comments ultimately resumed and my mom’s new self-assured stance was ultimately worn down again by said comments, but for that one moment, she stood up for herself. I owe The Fault in Our Stars for that. And I’m really proud of her.

This topic might seem somewhat random for anyone reading this, but the novel is fresh in my mind after watching the movie adaptation last night. The movie changed some parts of the book, deleted some characters I’d hoped would be brought to life, and left out some smaller details that were really important to me, but it still made me sob just the same.

It was an ugly cry too. For approximately half of the movie. The kind where the snot is pouring out of your nose, you don’t have a tissue, and there’s so much junk leaking from your face you have no choice but to wipe it on your sleeve. Not that I wiped it on my sleeve. Okay, I wiped it on my sleeve. And then my husband offered me his sleeve and just held me.

I’m really glad I didn’t bring my mom to the movie. I was going to. But by the time it came out in theaters, she wouldn’t have been able to hear it, read any closed captioning, or stay awake through the whole thing. I’m also glad I didn’t see it in the theater, because it would have been one hell of an ugly cry in public. But I’m really happy I saw it last night. Even if it was painful. “That’s the thing about pain. […] It demands to be felt.”

That’s kind of the point of this entire blog too, honestly. The quote “you know it meant something” came from from Peter and the Starcatcher. Which plays off of the First Noble Truth of Buddhism that says, “Life is suffering.” If something is worthwhile and meaningful, it’s going to hurt when it’s gone. Losing my mom has been devastating to a lot of people, so you know her life meant something grander. So I guess that means it’s an honor to be hurt by her loss. It’s supposed to hurt. Because it means I knew her. I was created by an astonishing woman.

My mom treated underdogs and alpha dogs the same. I think that quality was one of her most inspiring. She was nonjudgmental, respectful, and supportive to everyone. She loved everyone equally. But somehow she didn’t think she deserved the same respect. The evening that I witnessed her stand up for herself the first time in my vivid memory was life-changing. And somehow I’d forgotten all about it until last night.

I owe The Fault in Our Stars for a wonderful memory amidst a devastating time in my life. For helping both a victim of cancer and the daughter she left behind.

I guess that’s my review. Two thumbs up. Go read the book right now. And watch the movie. Cry all you need to. Be moved by them both. And no matter what, keep your chin up.

Tori

things that no one told me

On Valentine’s Day in 2009, I lost my grandpa. My mom and I each held one of his hands as he passed, with almost all of his surviving family members surrounding him too. I lived through the death of my father figure, slipped into a deep depression, withdrew from my passion (I gave up ballroom), and somehow continued going through the motions to survive college. I started seeing birds everywhere, especially when I really needed him. A hawk circling above me when I was walking around a desolate part of campus and I was all by myself. A hawk outside a hospital window. A chickadee that hopped up to my car window when I was lost somewhere in Connecticut and pulled over to find my way. It felt like he was around. And I still had my mom. I still had her so it wasn’t as hard as losing her too.

Losing him was like a dress rehearsal. He had Alzheimer’s and was in his mid-eighties, so it was bound to happen soon-ish. My mom was diagnosed with her highly aggressive brain tumor at the age of 60. I didn’t see it coming. None of us did. Not even by a long shot. If she lived her life expectancy, it meant I had 12 months to prepare for her passing. She lasted 21 months, so I should have been prepared.

But no matter what anyone tells you, no matter how well you think you’re ready, you’re not. Even if you’ve made it through all five stages of grief and come to acceptance beforehand, you’re not going to be ready. You never will be ready to lose them.

There are some things I wish I had known, though. Things that I had to find out by myself through the experience. That I wish I hadn’t had to learn by myself. Like I could have prepared better had I been told.

You will look for things.

Like with my grandpa, I looked for meaning with my mom’s passing. After my grandpa passed, I saw birds. After my mom passed, I saw feathers. Tons of them. After never noticing them before. And a dead lilac bush that my mom picked out that all of a sudden had blooms right after she passed. Some people find pennies, dimes, butterflies, rainbows, orbs of light in photographs, phantom smells of cigars, or visitations from their loved one in dreams. Hope. That’s what they all are. Hope. You will look for hope.

You will also look for and try to hold onto things that meant something to your loved one. A favorite necklace. The newsboy cap he always wore. A very specific photograph. The missing pedal to the damn sewing machine that’s somewhere in the things left behind. Somewhere in their stuff. You’re going to try to hold onto whatever meant something to them, because by extension, it means a great deal to you.

You will not be able to say the words “die” or “death.”

My big sister at work who lost her brother a year before I lost my mom pointed this out after realizing I cannot utter these words. Apparently, she was unable to say those words about her brother too. I use euphemisms alone. “When my mom passed,” “since she’s left us,” “now that she’s gone,” I cannot say “she died” even though she did.

It sounds too final. It means the same, but it’s not. The euphemisms make it sound like she went somewhere. Somewhere better or safer perhaps. I cannot and will not make it sound like her life just stopped. Because it’s got to go on somehow. You have to too.

Driving by yourself will be the worst.

I thought I was alone in this one, but after speaking to several others who have recently lost loved ones, this is a truth across the board. Driving to and from work will be excruciating. Your mind will wander and you’ll have no one there to distract you. For me, I called my mom every single day on my way to work. Every single day. Even when she started losing her hearing and speech, I still called her. At some point I had to stop because her hearing and speech were so bad, so I used that period to try to get used to the fact that soon, I wouldn’t be able to call her. And it didn’t matter. It didn’t prepare me.

Driving is excruciating. It makes me hate going to work and even hate coming home, because it means that I have to spend 30 minutes behind the wheel to think. About her. And it sucks.

You’ll find other weird, unexpected triggers that really aren’t weird at all. Like a certain song, his cell phone, or the smell of her favorite flower. Something inconspicuous will open the floodgates. At unfortunate times too. Like at your desk. Or in the middle of a meeting. Or at Hallmark. Or behind the damn wheel of your car.

People will surprise you.

Some people will disappear on you. Some may even become downright nasty for some reason you will never know. They’ll cast stones for their own amusement with no regard to how you’re already breaking inside. Whatever you do, do not let them hurt you. Just walk away and protect yourself from their negativity. No matter who they are. Because nobody deserves to be treated like dirt when they’re already going through hell.

On the plus side, you’ll find out a hell of a lot of people care about you and your wellbeing. People you barely know. People you’ve never met. People will come out of the woodwork. You may even make new friends like people who share similar experiences and are grieving too. Let them in. Know you are not alone. Even when it feels like you are.

Your coping skills will be put to the test.

Have you had trouble with insomnia before? You probably won’t sleep after she passes. I can’t tell you the last good night’s sleep I’ve had. Dabbled with unhealthy solutions to mask stress before? You will find yourself relying on your drug of choice or at least thinking about it. Like caffeine. You know, to counteract the exhaustion from your insomnia. Have depression? Be prepared for possibly hitting rock bottom. I’ve never felt this sad. Or alone. Even though I’m not. But it still feels like it.

You might have healthy coping mechanisms. Meditating, talking to friends, admitting you need help. Just know it’s okay to take an antidepressant or see a counselor if you need one. It’s okay to ask for help. However well or not well you’re coping, it’s okay. You’re not weak or undeserving. You’re just going through a rough time. And it will get easier one day. I promise.

You will need bereavement days. Ones dedicated to the services and ones dedicated to you.

I took five days off immediately following my mom’s passing. A full workweek, and I thought it would be enough. I had also hoarded PTO prior to her passing in case I needed more than whatever time my company would give me but was too stubborn to use it.

My mom’s wake was on a Thursday evening and her funeral was a Friday morning. Every day before the wake, I prepared for it. I put together her slideshow and photos. We met with the funeral director and the priest. I didn’t really get off the couch. But still. I was preparing for the services.

However, they were really traumatic in themselves. The wake made me paralyzed. Everyone was in beautiful, vibrant colors as my mom wanted. She looked beautiful and somehow a little alive. But it took me almost four hours to be able to look at her. The funeral and the weird reception thing after were exhausting. I was so tired. Mentally and physically. After the services were over, I needed more time to heal and not think about anything far, far away from work. I wish I took more time just for me. It’s okay to need time. Please take a little (or a lot of) time just for you.

You must take care of yourself. Okay, everyone told me this, but I didn’t really listen.

Let that one sink in for a minute. I’ll say it again. You must take care of yourself. Try to eat well, get out in nature, go for a walk, take a fun class, explore your artistic side, get to bed at a decent time, and do whatever it is that makes you happy. Please try to be good to yourself. You will be under an enormous amount of stress and hardship. You must take care of yourself.

Remember that your loved one would never want you to suffer. My mom wanted two things for me: to be happy and to travel. I try to remember that when I’m sobbing hysterically.

Everyone told me this. Everyone told me to take care of myself. And they were right, so I’m telling you. Be patient with yourself. Try your best to get by. Ask for help if you need it. Find things that matter to you. Try to keep living. Breathe in, breathe out. Talk. Listen to the birds first thing in the morning when you can’t sleep. Call a friend. Call me. I’d like to be there for anyone grieving. Just know you’re not alone.

Tori

truth and the bright side

There was a story in the news about a woman in California who battled cancer and passed away at the young age of 61 like my mom. She passed away just three days after her son’s wedding. After dancing with her son at her son’s wedding when she barely had the strength for anything else. She got out of her wheelchair to dance. To the same Hawaiian version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that my family danced to at my wedding.

That hits a little too close to home for me. It’s way too familiar.

I’ve been told by several people that I do not share much about myself upon first meeting others. I pick and choose the safe things to share. I wait until I really trust you. And then I spill. And you’re sworn to secrecy.

So here’s some truth. I loved Ray before we even went on our first official date. I think I actually fell in love with him on the airplane when we first met. I’ve never felt so giddy and calm, nervous and confident, scared and hopeful at the same time. I’m not talking about lust, although Ray is beyond handsome. I’m not talking about puppy love, although we were both kind of still kids at the time. We kind of still are. Regardless. I’m talking about real, down-to-the-core, feel-it-in-your-gut, crossing-your-fingers-and-toes-it-will-last, honest, and pure love. The first time we met we talked about the future, we learned we want the same exact things in life. And I’m talking very specific things like getting married, having a family, living on the water. Important stuff. And scary stuff. Within hours of meeting. The stuff you don’t typically spill upon first meeting someone. Looking back, I have never trusted someone so immediately and fully as I trusted Ray with my truths and secrets.

Anyway. Fast-forward about two years of dating, moving closer to each other, then basically living with each other. Sure, we talked about the future. I think we talked about getting married around our third date. Someday, we’d get married. But at the beginning of November 2012, we weren’t actively discussing marriage; it was just a truth for us.

And then my mom got diagnosed with her brain tumor. She got diagnosed November 6, 2012. Ray couldn’t have been more *there* for me. For my family. He brought refreshments. He tried to calm my mom down and explain things to her in a not-so-scary way. He had to work while she went in for surgery, but he got there just in time for the surgeon to deliver the news. That she couldn’t get all of the tumor, that some of it was touching a blood vessel, that it looked “diffuse” which was a term I remembered from school that actually meant “not well defined” which meant “very bad” as far as tumors go. He just held me as I had a visceral reaction of retching and puking into a trash can in a library holding-cell where they keep families. He couldn’t have been more there for me.

A very wise friend once told me that tragedy makes us more of who we really are. At the time of my family’s tragedy, my boyfriend became my knight in shining armor. He became more him: more comforting, more assuring, more positive. When my mom had finally come home that month and I was sleeping at Ray’s apartment, I remember sobbing that one of my biggest fears was that I would never get to have my mom at my wedding someday. That I never really dreamed of my wedding as a little girl, but that the one thing I was certain of was that I needed my mom to walk me down the aisle. That I had one year left with her per statistics, and none of it would happen.

I don’t think Ray intended on making marriage a reality at that point in time. Okay, that statement is a weak version of the truth. Ray did not intend on making marriage a reality at that point in time. And I know that times are modern and I know that I could have proposed too, but I wanted to hear it from him. That night at the apartment, we talked, I felt like I was pressuring him into proposing, I felt like a pathetic and whining little girl, but my unprecedented and compassionate boyfriend said we would get married by the next fall. It was already the end of November. Spring would be too soon to plan a wedding, summer might be too, fall could work, winter would be too cold, and the following spring might be too late. We’d get married in fall of 2013. And that was that.

We picked out the engagement ring in December. Ray sat on it for a couple months to “surprise” me. And we got married in October, just under a year from the time of my mom’s diagnosis. We got married, as planned. With a full-on dream wedding as planned. Just sooner than planned. And my mom was there. She walked me down the aisle and we even danced together. And we never told her that we planned the wedding as quickly as possible so that she would be there. She asked why we were planning it so quickly, and we said we just really wanted to tie the knot as soon as possible. For no other reason than that.

The wedding day was perfect. Everything I ever could have asked for and more. I think Ray feels the same. But it was also incredibly bittersweet. Celebrating one of the happiest days of your life with the worst day of your life looming in the near future. A race against time, to be sure.

my mom was my something blue

my mom was my something blue

That was almost a year ago. My mom has passed since, as we kind of knew she would. Ray was even more supportive during her passing. He held her hand on car rides, helped with her activities of daily living, permanently invited her over our house for a vacation to the beach, and spent every single weekend with her with me. He even promised her that he’d take care of me before she left us. And Ray and I are approaching our first full year of being married. I’m married to the unprecedented, compassionate, comforting, assuring, positive, handsome, and wonderful man I met on the plane. I could not be more happy with him. My secrets and my truths are safe with him. Being able to marry him with my mom present was more than I ever could have hoped for, but especially when her diagnosis was a constant reminder of time ticking away. Ray fast-forwarded his life plan to help my dreams become reality. And I am forever grateful for him and his love.

If tragedy makes us more of who we really are, it just means I am more in love with my husband. And I’m talking about real, down-to-the-core, feel-it-in-every-fiber-of-your-being, uncrossing-your-fingers-and-toes-because-you-know-it-will-last, honest, and pure love.

Tori