My Independence Day – Otherwise Known as “Unboxing Day”

This year I am celebrating July 4th a little differently than most people. I am claiming my freedom and my independence! True independence requires responsibility and accountability. Sometimes it involves hard-core (reality-based) acceptance of the things we cannot change, and a willingness to move on.

The entire time that I lived in Honeycroft Village (August 2012 through July 15, 2016) I was mysteriously unable to completely finish unpacking the last few boxes that had made the journey with Attila and me from West 2nd Avenue. These were boxes full of excess office supplies, tender memories, and broken parts of objects that I was saving until Attila was able to do the repairs.

I understand why this task went unaddressed for that first year in the house on Sweetwater Path. I spent that year watching my beloved Attila slowly die one day at a time. His transplanted kidney “Susie” was no longer able to do her job and organ failure was inevitable. Grief was not just part of the ups and downs of life – it felt like the only part of life.

When Attila died on July 13, 2013 I went into CKFM (capable-Kristin-function- mode). I took care of business. I was back on my job in a week. I tried to help others who had loved Attila too. And I am pretty sure that I was simply numb.

Attila had suffered so much for so long and I was so relieved that he was out of his misery and Home where he had longed to be. So I carried on. My beloved Mom died four months later. And I carried on. I saw no viable alternative behavior. I had financial responsibilities and pieces to hold together.

And I changed. I am still not fully sure who I changed into, but change I did. For the most part she was simply a person who did what needed to be done. She was a bit stoic, crying even less than she had cried before her husband died. I know it is a cliché, but the saying “I feared that if I started to cry I would never stop” comes to mind.

This woman was also fragile and easily hurt. Words from others were perceived as harsh even if that was not the intent. Life was all about putting one foot in front of the other. And God seemed very quiet.

By the Fall of 2015 my children were expressing concern over the changes in my personality. They vehemently asked me to see a therapist. I found this annoying on one hand, but I also believe that therapy can be very useful. It is wonderful to have access to an objective ear when you have experienced crushing life circumstances which you seem incapable of processing on your own. What I finally concluded was that I had never really, really grieved my life-altering losses.

I started seeing CC weekly in January 2016. She was very helpful. She provided the safe place that allowed my catharsis. She gave me good homework and forced me to think about things I had preferred to ignore. Within months I was feeling significantly better!

It was then that I realized that I was living in a home where I had literally watched my life-partner die. I worked fifteen feet away from that very spot, day-in-and-day-out for 8-10 hours per day. It was the emotional equivalent of trudging through six inches of mud every day as I went through my daily routine.

This probably explains why I still could not manage to unpack those final boxes. They were filled with things that needed to be sorted, pored over, and they would possibly divert me in a way I did not wish to be diverted. They would remind me of the unnecessary things that I over-loaded my life with, fragile and precious things now gone, and things that needed to be fixed, but I would surely not be able to fix now without Attila.

I needed to move out of that house. Attila still inhabited it – not literally or even spiritually, but in my mind’s eye and in my heart. My sadness had nowhere to retreat. Together we had marveled over the blessing of finding our dream house, we had decorated it together, and we delighted in it together. It was our sanctuary. We would sit holding hands on the floral couch, reminiscing. He had brought me cheese omelets in the morning while I was working in my office there. We had a huge square custom table built specifically for our family dinners that he loved to cook there. The house was truly us.

There were many reasons why I made the decision to move into my apartment. One huge reason was the $700 monthly savings that would allow me to do more traveling. Another was being able to live on one floor. Another was having no maintenance to do (or pay someone to do!). Yet another was a desire to simplify my life and “prepare to die so that I may live.” For me, moving would insure downsizing.

But the biggest reason was that I needed a new space that was just mine – a place that did not make me sad just by being in it. I needed bright sunlight and nutty decorating that felt like me and only me. I wanted total privacy while being surrounded by people – my own sanctuary in the middle of a community. And that is just what I got!

Here is the picture the day after moving in:

Francis Drive before unpacking

Here is one from today:

Francis Drive LR Wide

I fell in love with this LED Light Cherry Blossom tree when I was visiting my son and his family in San Diego, and decided to order it and work my entire living room theme around the tree. It speaks peace to me.

Francis Drive Tree

This is my new dining room. I couldn’t fit the 12 seat custom table, so I was FORCED to buy a new one! Plus new chairs. I had so much fun!

Francis Drive Dining Room

Here is the kitchen. I was able to keep my red accents. Good thing the fire extinguisher matches! And I was able to fit the Attila’s Sandwich Shop sign over the cabinets. The minute it slipped into place I knew it was my kitchen.

Francis Drive Kitchen

Note my crazy teenage-girl-bedspread! I drew the doodle that hangs over the bed when I was 14. After much internet surfing I was fortunate enough to find a duvet cover to match it. The brightness makes me happy. My Mom made me the snuggie at the foot of the bed. And my kid’s art hangs on the walls.

Francis Drive Bedroom


Hallway between bedroom and office.

Francis Drive Hall

My office is still orange (my favorite color), but I did it through accessories rather than painting walls I am not allowed to paint. The folding table is temporary – up for this day of projects. I love having a view of trees in both windows. I get to watch the seasons change – up close and personal!

Francis Drive Office

I now live in a place that feels like me – a brighter, more peaceful, more content me. I hope the brightness is beginning to show again in my personality too!

And those boxes that had still not been unpacked? I finished unpacking the very last one this morning.

Happy Independence Day to me!


Now What?

Week Two Assignment from my therapist:
“Moving forward, what do you want to do? What do you NOT want to do?”

I want to:

I want to continue to be financially independent.
I want to continue to be independent – period.
I want to do what I say I am going to do.
I want to serve God in whatever way He leads me to. I want to hear His voice!
I want to spend time with the people I love.
I want to write my book “Attila My Hon – More Than a Conqueror.”
I want to write a book with Leigha.
I want to encourage others.
I want to feel loved by the people I love most.
I want to keep my sense of humor.
I want to sing!
I want to remain debt-free.
I want to accumulate experiences, not things: hot-air balloon ride, helicopter ride, kayak through the sea caves in La Jolla (scheduled for next Friday when I am in San Diego!), a group painting outing, see “The Nutcracker,” and so much more!
I want to be unerringly kind.
I want to think before opening my mouth, and truly take care regarding what I say to others.
I want to travel – New Zealand, African Safari, China, every US state (I have 17 to go) and any other place I can fit in before I die!
I want to get more Vitamin D the old-fashioned way – sun!
I want to always be sensitive and compassionate to others.
I want to read books, and then some more books, and after that… some more books!
I want to be strong enough in myself again, to be able to offer counsel to others again.
I want to maintain an attitude of gratitude EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.
I want to remain as healthy as possible – eating right, exercising regularly, getting enough rest, engaging and developing my mind, laughing often.
I want to exercise self-control.
I want to prepare to die so that I may live. This includes getting my will updated, preparing instructions for my kids for when I die, downsizing my belongings, and consolidating photo albums, videotapes, memory boxes, etc. so that they don’t require an extra wing on the  house to store them.
I want to figure out who the heck to vote for in the upcoming election!

I do not want to:

I do not want to be a burden to anyone.
I do not want to be a full-time caregiver.
I do not want to feel sorry for myself.
I do not want to watch too much television.
I do not want to cook.
I do not want to have a boring life.
I do not want my allergies to inhibit my lifestyle.
I do not want to hurt other people’s feelings.
I do not want to forget any of my blessings.

I do not  want to forget the sunscreen.

I’m Back. I Have No Other Choice.

Dearest Attila,

I have not spoken to you in so, so long. I miss you so much sweetheart. The silence is deafening! You spoke volumes to me then – with your presence, a look in those bluest-of-blue eyes of yours, a goofy grin, or a gentle stroking of my face.

The kids told me I had to see a therapist. I used to have the best one in the world – you! You listened to me with such patience and love. The act of sharing my thoughts with someone who was willing to protect my soul at any cost, was therapy to me. I required nothing more.

So… I met my new therapist Christine. I like her. You would like her too. I think she is smart and compassionate. I don’t think she will let me get away with anything. She asked me what brought me to counseling and I told her the kid’s insisted on it. She pressed, “What do YOU want to get out of it?” I told her I want to figure out who I am without you. It is as though my heart made its way out of my body though my mouth, finally admitting the truth I have known for a while now – I have never properly grieved the overwhelming (and oh so final) loss of you.

Yes I grieved. I grieved for 12 years as we walked through strokes, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, prostate cancer, a failed kidney transplant, dialysis, the alien symbiote in your arm that made the dialysis possible, the successful kidney transplant, the viral pneumonia that nearly took your life and gave you your first helicopter ride (albeit unconscious), the loss of your hearing, the breaking of seventeen bones in your foot, the pain, the fatigue, the drugs to keep you alive, the insulin shots, and the depression.

That last year was nearly unbearable – for both of us. You lost interest in food, lost tons of weight, slept 16 hours per day, and suffered debilitating feelings of uselessness and depression. My heart broke EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. I had to work, but was so grateful that I worked from home, while you slept just a few feet away in your man-closet.

You were in and out of the hospital in those last few months. We were beyond processing the news that “Susie” was dying and you would be forced to return to dialysis – or choose hospice and just naturally allow your body to shut down to the point of death. We lived hour by hour and day by day and took step by step. We stopped talking about the future because we knew there wasn’t much of one left.

You told me that you did not want to leave me. You felt guilty at the idea of leaving me alone. I insisted that you had my permission to go -because you appeared to need permission. Then you started asking me over and over again, “Why won’t God just let me come Home? I am ready to go Home!”

July 13, 2013 felt like a normal day. It was sunny and lovely out. You had been coughing through the night, but that was not unusual. It was a symptom of the congestive heart failure you were battling.

You were using your computer in your man-closet and I was working on paperwork at my desk – normal Saturday stuff. All of a sudden I heard a weird gurgling noise and rushed to the closet door. You lay in your LazyBoy recliner with your computer in your lap. Your eyes were rolled back in your head and you appeared to be struggling to catch your breath. You never saw me. It was unbearable to watch. I immediately dialed 911.

I knew it would happen. I had been preparing for 12 years. You just never really believe it is going to happen until it does. It is mostly just surreal. You had survived EVERYTHING. That is just what you did! It was your MO.

I was sobbing on the phone trying to tell the 911 operator what was happening. It was so fast, less than a minute I think, and then you just stopped breathing and your eyes closed naturally. I told the operator “He’s gone. He’s gone.” I did not yell. I did not whisper. I spoke in a normal tone. And I kept crying. But I also felt this well of relief. You were free! God answered your prayer and took you Home while at home, with me – not in a hospital stuck with needles and surrounded by beeping machines.

I pictured your joyful reunion with your parents and with Daddy – pain-free and face to face with our Lord. I felt happy for you, but kept sobbing, because I was sad for me and all of us who would miss you so very terribly.

EMTs arrived pretty quickly. As they reached the top of the steps they asked which way to go and I directed them “To the bedroom on the right – in the closet on the right.” They probably thought I was insane at first. I pictured them thinking that I murdered you and stuffed you in the closet! Even as it was happening I knew it was funny. I knew it was weird.

I told them you were already gone. They wanted to do CPR and I panicked. That would have been the last thing you would have wanted. You were terminal. You may have been brought back to life only to go through dying again! I said, “No, no, no!” He has a living will – no extraordinary measures!” I scrambled to get the paperwork from the fire-safe under my desk, while several of the guys pulled you from your  chair in the closet and laid you on the floor of my office.

One of the female EMTs gently took me aside and asked “are you the daughter?” I was sobbing at the time, but stopped cold and laughed. “No, I am the wife! But thank you!” I later realized that it was not because I look particularly young that she thought I was your daughter. It was because you have an extra thirteen years on me, plus the illness, so you looked significantly older than me at that point.

The coroner had to be called. I told the emergency personnel that you had donated your body to science, and proceeded to dig out the paperwork for that as well. Despite the continual crying I was extremely functional and able to handle these details. I was also numb and in shock. But honey, it was just a body lying there at that point. It was not my love. It was not my soulmate. You were already gone, and you were free at last.

I think I called Mom and Dad first. They live the closest and I wanted my mommy.

I couldn’t bear to call the children but I started doing it. I went in birth order – like I do with everything related to the kids. Lyryn was in Target. I just said, “Daddy’s gone.” She later told me that she nearly fainted right there in the store. I called Brent, but he didn’t pick up and so I left a message. I called Declan and he didn’t pick up so I left a message. Johnna was in Phoenix visiting her birth father. I left a message to call me. I had to leave a message for Ashley as well.

Mom and Dad arrived first. Mom surprised me with how calm she was. She knew you were finally where you wanted to be and she felt joy for you. Dad looked like he was socked in the gut and teared up. You were his friend honey, and he loved you more than you ever knew.

Sweet neighbors Sandy and Marlyn arrived. Lyryn was the first child to arrive. Brent called and I had to tell him while he was driving. Declan called me back and he was driving too – with Katie, Emeline and Lucy in the car. He had to pull off to the side of the road because he said he thought he was going to throw up. All three of them wanted to see you before you were taken to the morgue at Chester County Hospital.

I am glad you did not witness their pain. I have never seen any of them as devastated as this. They loved you so, so much Attila! I think they believed you were invincible. You always seemed to be on the verge of death, but always came through and got better. This was final.

Declan was so angry. He leaned down to kiss your forehead and then he punched the filing cabinet next to you and cursed. And you know he doesn’t curse! I have never seen him like that before or since.

They were all crushed to the core. They had their goodbyes and then had to watch you be taken out the front door on a gurney in a black body bag. Sometimes life just sucks.

Ashley was located and joined us at the house. I had to talk to Johnna over the phone and it was awful. She just couldn’t believe it. Calling Hugi was the worst. She sounded like a howling wounded animal when she heard the news. I know I did not make it any easier for her. I was functioning in raw emotion mode. Katie’s parents offered frequent flyer miles to get Hugi up here from Florida as soon as possible.

That first week was blur of tears, planning for your service, people bringing food and flowers, and the family hanging together a great deal. We needed to be together. We needed to talk about you. We needed to remember your undeniable greatness – to express our shared grief over our overwhelming loss.

Attila, you never understood how special you were. This is what I wrote for your Life Celebration Service:

He told me he would love me through sickness, health, rich and poor.
He was right.
He told me he would never be able to read my mind.
He was wrong.
He told me he would always do his best to take care of me.
He was right.
He told me he wasn’t especially funny.
He was wrong.
He told me there would be no yelling in our marriage.
He was right.
In recent years he told me that he could no longer take care of me.
He was wrong.
He told me I would not write my book “Attila My Hon – More Than A Conqueror” until after he died.
He was right.
He told me he was no “super-hero saint.”
He was so, so wrong.

Oh my love, I was so blessed to have you as my husband, best friend, lover, co-parent partner-in-crime. You had flaws, sure. But they were so minor in the scheme of things. You really were the kindest, sweetest man I have ever known. You knew me so well. You were really the better half of us. And you continue to be so very missed! My only consolation is that I know where you are and I WILL see you again.

So now I have to figure out who I am without you. Who do I want to be? You would want me to be anything and everything my heart desires. Now I just have to figure out what that is.

Always and forever,

My Virginal LAF Experience

So… last month I joined LAF (LA Fitness) and innocently headed over there for my “Fitness Assessment.” As I approached the exquisitely buff Mr. T, I noted that he was blatantly eying me up and down, rapidly concluding that I must be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He thought he had me pegged as a fat, middle-aged soccer mom, and he assumed that I was wasting his time. (I just know these things).

Mr. T acted like he didn’t know why he had an appointment with me. And at first, I wasn’t sure why I did either! Originally I had taken the term “Fitness Assessment” at face value. It didn’t take long to figure out that it is actually a not-so-secret code phrase for “sell everyone personal trainer services!”

I sat down at his desk. I smiled beatifically at him. He yawned widely, making no attempt to hide his disinterest. Big mistake Mr. T. Kristin is now going to win you over even if it kills her in the process!

I filled out a form (I am especially good at that – probably even better than Mr. T). He asked me to stand up and hold at arms-length this little Sci-Fi device that would tell me – in no uncertain terms – my body fat index. Like that is something I really, really wanted to know! I am surprised that screeching alarms did not go off for all to hear. Public Mortification Therapy. He read the number aloud, stating the obvious, “48.8% BMI is not ideal.” I looked him straight in the eye, smiled coyly, and asked, “Ya think?”

Mr. T asked me what my ultimate goal was in joining LAF. I told him that I want to feel better, have less pain (from my Fibromyalgia), sleep better, and have an outlet for stress relief. He looked at me for longer than he had at any point since we began our meeting. In silence, our eyes held for a moment longer than would be comfortable for some people. Something must have clicked inside him because the next thing he did was stand up and invite me to test out some of the exercise equipment.

He proceeded to walk me in a complete circle around a group of intimidating torture devices. I suggested that if we picked up the pace a bit, this walking in circles might qualify as part of my exercise quota for the day. I managed to get a smile out of him.

Mr T seemed to warm to my willingness to try anything, and my sense of humor in doing so. He told me about his father who had died unnecessarily young because he refused to incorporate healthy eating and exercise habits into his life. He had suffered from diabetes, heart disease, etc. Mr. T’s mother had died too young as well and for similar reasons. There was a great deal of anger in this guy – directed at people who do not take their own health seriously. Bad choices had robbed him of both his parents before he even turned 40.

Mr. T admitted that he had been working 8 days straight and did not have a day off scheduled for yet another week. He was also long overdue his lunch. While banter was clearly not his thing, he became more receptive to mine.

When my equipment introduction was complete, I actually thought to myself that a personal trainer might be very useful for me someday when I can afford one. I told Mr. T this, and he did not press me at all but suggested that when I am ready we can probably work out something that is affordable.

I told Mr. T that I would be blogging about this experience and asked him to take a picture with me, which he did without hesitation. His co-worker took a shot of us with my iPhone.

I announced to both guys that this just might become my official “before” picture. My true goal is to become the “Jared” of Skinny Cow. The blank expressions on both guy’s faces indicated that neither one had ever been introduced to the sheer joy of a Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich.

After a long, stressful day, that small 140 calorie treat of chocolatey goodness maintains my will to live. If I am capable of losing 70 pounds (emphasis on “if”), while still indulging in my nightly Skinny Cow extravagance, I believe I would make the perfect Skinny Cow spokesmodel.

I walked away with a smile in my heart and a grin contorting my drab, pale, chubby face into something more palatable. Mr. T stood beside his colleague watching me as I went, a big grin on his face as well. The co-worker still had the look of a deer caught in headlights, but I figured that Mr. T would bring him up to speed once I left.

If by chance, at some point in the future I have the funds, perhaps I will choose Mr. T as my personal trainer. He just might need me as much as I need him.

Baby Steps

I have positive news to report! I took my final paragraph in my previous post to heart (yes, I read my own blog) and …

  • On the way to work  I reminded myself that “this too shall pass” and decided to consciously relish the beauty of the world around me and praise God for it. I soaked in the truth that God is in control. Because? Well, because HE is! And I am good with that.
  • I left work at only 5:30pm!
  • I stopped by the brand-new LA Fitness Center just off 30 Bypass in Downingtown. Surrounded by gorgeous, ridiculously young, nubile creatures, I gently embraced my personal reality and recognized that I can at least improve my health. I have the power! I have the freedom! On the tour of the facility, Dana excitedly pointed out the sauna room. I told her, “I have my own personal sauna room. It’s called menopause.” But I love the pool and the hot tub and might even enjoy a “Latin Heat” class or a Pilates group. I negotiated my fees and signed up before leaving the premises two hours later. I even scheduled my free one-hour assessment with a personal trainer for this coming Saturday.
  • When I arrived home my hubby padded upstairs behind me, knowing that I wanted to spend time with him but HAD to remove constrictive clothing and get horizontal first. We chatted for an hour. As he lay his head on my legs (forming a “T” on our bed) I felt safe, heard, understood and loved beyond measure. This man knows the very depths of my soul. And I decided to simply appreciate it.
  • I put NOTHING in my mouth that didn’t belong there!
  • I liked Kristin just a little bit more than I did the day before.

And God’s people said, “Amen!”

As Jack Nicholson once said, “You Can’t Handle the Truth!”

I was supposed to spend half of this holiday weekend at the Jersey shore soaking up sun and catching up with a dear, dear, old, old (okay, not so old really – just long-term) friend. Alas, I am not at the beach and my white (oh-so-not-pretty-white) skin retains the ability to reflect objects at twenty feet.

Even though it would have given me great joy to spend quality time with my friend, my body is so immobilized by grief, pain, exhaustion, guilt, frustration, resentment, depression, anger, etc. that I do not even have the strength to transport it to a place where I know my spirit would be renewed. I am so sorry Steph!

Today is Independence Day and I don’t feel free at all. For the fourth day in a row I am battling a pretty unpleasant headache. The only thing I want to do is write, because deep in my soul I believe that will free me. It has freed me in the past.

But some of you will read this and be shocked and disappointed that I have so willingly word-vomited my darkest failures upon this page. SO…. if there is a single judgmental bone in your body STOP READING, or, read on and smile to yourself and say “I’m so glad I’m not like her!” Your call. But I must write this for myself and it really won’t matter if you read it or not. It is not the result, but “the process” that frees…

Here it is in a nutshell. Once upon a time I liked Kristin. I liked her a lot actually. She was flawed of course, but she was authentic and meant well. She found beauty in the ashes and tried to encourage others in everything she did. She wasn’t beautiful, but her radiant spirit could almost convince you that she just might be if  you were lucky enough to catch the light on her face in a moment of unabashed joy. She was smart and funny and compassionate to a fault. She was a people-person, a loving mama-bear, a good wife, physically healthy, non-judgmental, enthusiastic and optimistic. And she could find the humor in anything. Anything at all.

But I am not that Kristin anymore. I am broken in all my best places and only God can heal those places now.

The older I get the more I forget. But I do remember, with striking clarity, a time when I thought I was “all that.” I am embarrassed to admit this, but I was pretty impressed with myself! I was healthy, thin (although I didn’t believe it at the time), curvaceous, vivacious, finishing my Master’s Degree at 22, happily planning my wedding, and had TWO married men each confess (to my astonishment) that they were “in love” with me. I was oh-so-naive at that time, honestly believing that I was engaged in mere friendships. I was not aware of having done anything to imply any other kind of relationship. I withdrew immediately, but all of this made me feel, for a brief moment in time, that I must be something special.

I don’t feel so special anymore. For one thing, I am fat. Not just ten pounds overweight, but more like just-this-side-of-gastric-bypass fat! The double chin on a grandchild is adorable, the double chin on MumMum? Not so much. Maybe they should start referring to me as YumYum rather than MumMum. In my defense, I don’t drink alcohol or smoke (cigarettes or weed), or gamble or shop or watch porn. Everyone gets to have at least one vice, right? No…. not when it affects your health in a negative way.

I need to exercise. As a child I was an athlete. I co-captained our high school gymnastics team and was extremely active with biking, swimming, diving, etc. I became ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in my early thirties and have never been fully well since. It has morphed into Fibromyalgia over the years (Fiberglass Algae, as my son Jesse likes to call it). Just to fill the crock-pot, I have added atrial-fibrillation, four umbilical hernia repairs (plus a new one the size of a golf ball), and an almost-killed-me staph infection on my spinal cord. Every morning when I wake up I truly wish that I was waking up in Heaven. I firmly believe in Heaven, so why on earth would I want to stay here in this aching body? I guess it is because God isn’t finished with me yet.

I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and am pretty much allergic to everything, which makes me feel unbelievably sad if I allow it to.  Spring and summer literally hurt because I am allergic to grass, weeds, pollen, trees, and flowers (all of them). I love cats (and was raised with seven of them) but have become allergic to everything with fur. I can’t use any product with fragrance and suffer more than anyone knows when I am exposed to people wearing perfume or fragrant personal hygiene products. I am allergic to dust, mold, household chemicals, fresh paint, etc.

But the cruelest cut of all? I am allergic to most fruits. Apples, watermelon and cantaloupe have been spared, but my beloved strawberries, blueberries, oranges, pineapple and bananas all cause my tongue to tingle and my head to hurt.

What I really hate is when people tell me I can’t possibly be allergic to something – like my grand-doggy Buttercup. My kids have insisted that I can’t be allergic to her because she is a hypoallergenic Teacup Yorkie.  Fine. I guess the bones in my face are hurting because I thought a negative thought and NOT because there is a freaking dog in my house!

My job is a huge source of frustration, exhaustion and resentment, although I do love the actual work (and many of the people). I work my tail off and give 110% as Controller and HR Manager for the North American division of a global, recently merged company. We have 11 US locations and 2 Canadian locations. But my twenty-four-year-old son earns nearly as much as I do, and this is after fighting for a raise for two years!

Is this because I am female? Or do I just suck? And if I suck, why to they let me manage and move hundreds of thousands of dollars on any given day (with no one’s authorization but my own), help write policy, train and manage my staff, do all the underlying tax work papers for three separate and distinct companies, etc.? Was I asleep during the face-painting session at the carnival when they drew a huge “L” on my forehead?

Any Pollyanna naiveté I had left has been erased by working at my current job.  It has been my experience in this company that bad behavior is rewarded and good behavior is at best ignored, and at worst, punished. I do not know how much longer I can survive this inequity. I do not believe that women are taken seriously and yes, I am looking for another job. God has not shown me an alternative yet, so I put one foot in front of the other and keep marching forward, still giving 110%. Because it is the right thing to do.

This former “good wife” is avoiding her beloved husband because I know that all too soon I will be without my best friend, and I can’t bear to think about that. Attila, my sweetest, most fragile baklava bear suffers from chronic renal failure. We all know this and we all like to pretend it isn’t true. He sleeps about eighteen hours per day. It is difficult for him to walk, as his ankle has never fully recovered from the fall two years ago that broke 17 bones and changed his life forever. His hearing continues to deteriorate. He can only hear when someone is speaking loudly and is one-on-one with him. Large gatherings are an exercise in frustration because he can’t pull apart and process the words when there are multiple conversations going on in the same room.

On Friday, when I was supposed to be heading to the beach, I broke down and confessed all. I told Attila that I feel that I am avoiding him to some degree, out of my own fear and selfishness. I admitted that it was ridiculous and would stop immediately. He told me that he didn’t feel neglected since I am off to work from 8am until 7pm most weekdays anyway (including the commute and extra hours) and we are both very independent people. But it doesn’t change the truth. And unlike “A Few Good Men” I CAN handle the truth. I have no choice.

To the outside world, this former “loving mama-bear” is probably looking more like an evil stepmother these days. Our almost nineteen-year-old daughter Ashley has Borderline Personality disorder. Her skewed thinking can only manage black and white. All the “grays” of life elude her. Sadly, her frustrations are manifested in violent rage, which in the past has been mostly focused on me. She spent a year at Devereux and about 8 months in a therapeutic foster home, before coming home to our house for her senior year of high school, and graduating last month.

Unfortunately, on May 12th Ashley decided to steal Attila’s disability check and open her own bank account. We changed the locks and she hasn’t lived with us since then. She was accepted into Job Corps where she would have 100% paid room and board and complete training to be a nurse’s aide. She has expressed a desire to work with the elderly so we all felt this was an incredibly perfect opportunity for Ashley to gain the skills to be independent.

But Ashley has decided that she does not want to go to Job Corps. Instead, she is living with a friend and the friend’s mother (who is being treated for cancer). Ashley’s friendships tend to have a short life-span so when the friend’s mom is tired of paying Ashley’s expenses and kicks her out, Ashley will call us and want to come home and we will have to say no. Why? Because when Ashley lived with us Attila was telling everyone in the family that he was ready to die and asking why God didn’t just let him go home. Now that Ashley is not living under our roof, Attila no longer feels that way. Sad. So horribly, achingly, I-can’t-fix-this sad.

And then there is our never-became-legal fifteen-year-old daughter Leigha. At the urging of our family, last March (2010) we made the excruciating decision to not adopt Leigha. We found ourselves unable to keep her safe. She would leave our home at 11pm at night when I was asleep on the third floor and Attila was watching TV in his man-cave on the second floor (or snoozing). Attila would get in the car and go looking for her, mad as a hen. Leigha would visit her birth mom and two birth brothers, who had moved only blocks away from us. She was not supposed to have contact of any kind with them.

Leigha has been in a residential treatment facility since then. We talk on the phone and I write to her weekly. We visit about once every six weeks. She still calls us Mommy and Daddy and we are the only people who have permission to have contact with her. While part of me knows that we did the right thing for Leigha, it still feels wrong that she is not with us. She is our daughter after all – if only in our hearts. We are the people who take in kids – not the people who shut them out!

This former “non-judgmental” person has become judgmental of late. I won’t tolerate it! I will do whatever it takes to eradicate it. I know that it is born of pain and feelings of being misunderstood. I judge lest I be judged? But of course, I am judged. I simply used to have the internal strength to handle it without caring what people thought and without being judgmental in return. Now I am a bunch of open nerve-endings anticipating imminent pain. It makes me ugly and mean – and judgmental.

My inherent quirkiness and natural joy in the small things, is now muffled and constrained by the weight of work stress and life stress. My natural optimism is at war with my natural depression, and the depression is winning at the moment. There has been too much loss. And I haven’t even mentioned my son-in-love’s affair (and joyful redemption of that marriage – please read about it on Lyryn’s blog at, or my daughter Johnna’s gifting of her son for adoption, or my Mom’s near-death experience last summer.

As a child I was considered the drama queen. At the ripe old age of 53, life has essentially beaten that out of me. I have now accumulated so many this-is-the-end-of-the-world experiences that nothing has the power to actually induce the end of my world, only create the beginning of a “new normal.”

Tomorrow I will stop by LA Fitness on the way home from work and check out the pool schedule so I can start exercising again. I will come home and sit with Attila and swap stories about our day. I will not put anything in my mouth that does not belong there (including my thumb). I will remember that God is in control and I do trust Him above all else. I will whisper “this too shall pass” and I will choose to believe it. And perhaps, I will begin to like Kristin again.

Outer Banks Meets Outer Limits!

When I was growing up, vacations (like my father) were somewhat bi-polar.  There were years when we didn’t take one at all and there were years when we traveled to visit relatives in Georgia, Virginia, or the rustic family owned cabin that sat on a cliff overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.

When I was 14,  there was one mania-induced-mother-of-all-vacations that took Dad, Mom, Bryn, Kathi, Rhys and I on a whirlwind trip to Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela, Columbia, Antigua and Puerto Rico. We departed the USA on one week’s notice. We still have the repulsive oily-hair-mug-shot passport photos to prove it! I am now getting to an age where I forget a great deal of my childhood, but the details of that ten-day odyssey remain etched permanently in my mind. Good times – good times.

Since neither Attila or I grew up with a “vacation tradition” we did not feel compelled to provide one for our children. There were years when we did nothing at all and I used my vacation time to move to a new home (and yes, I had to take the rest of the family with me) or have surgery. Once we went to Knoebel’s Grove. And one time we drove to Charleston, SC because my brother offered us a free beach house. Brent went to the ER twice on that trip due to a herniated intestine.

Six years ago we decided to take a family vacation in Folly Beach, SC (for an entire week!) and visit my brother Rhys and his family while we were there. We rented a house close to the beach. After living with us for two years, our daughter Leigha had only just returned home to her birthmother. I was grieving the loss of my child and was mired in deep depression. The rest of the kids (in their late teens and early twenties) had a grand old time, but I never set foot on the beach.

Four years ago we decided to find a beach house slightly closer to home and ended up in Kure, NC. This time it was Johnna who was missing. She had made the decision to live with her birth cousins and had moved out of our home about a month earlier. Being the momma bear that I am, this turn of events saddened me deeply. I  made it to the beach only once that week. Over and over again I threw myself against the waves, sobbing and railing at God. It was exhausting.

When I was working on my Certificate of Financial Management one professor used the saying, “Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, but three times is a trend.” Two years ago we decided to turn our biennial beach excursion trend into a full-blown Balla Family tradition. That year we headed to Kill Devil Hills, NC (our first foray to the Outer Banks).

Attila had broken 17 bones in his right foot less than two months before our scheduled trip. He was only recently out of rehab. I was almost exactly two months into my new (current) job and was overwhelmed and exhausted. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I was definitely unmotivated. Once again, I never set foot on the actual beach. I did however swim in the our pool and attempt to get a tatoo.

In late 2010 we put a deposit on our Avon, NC (also Outer Banks) house. Fast forward to May 2011. My children informed me that I better not be depressed while on vacation this time! This is not something you can promise someone, but I certainly planned to give it my best shot.

I worked until 11pm on Friday, May 13th. I was going to work on Saturday as well, but loving friends and family threatened to harm me if I even considered such a thing. I left much work unfinished. The April books (for three companies) were not closed. I felt like I was walking out of a public restroom with toilet paper on my shoe. But I obeyed my family and friends!

Attila and I got a late start, beginning our drive to Avon at 4:30pm on Saturday. I did not go to work but since I had put in a 56-hour work week, I had not yet done our laundry, packed, etc. I also received a call regarding a job interview and spent time on that as well.

For at least the first hour of the drive Attila and I talked non-stop. He began to feel his blood sugar dropping into the danger zone and calmly informed me that he needed to get food into his system – STAT! You don’t have to tell me that one twice. We stopped and refueled – both ourselves and the car.

A while later I got pulled over by a cop. Yes, I was speeding. I thought the speed limit was 65 (which it is for much of the drive down here) but the officer informed me that it had been 55 for quite some time and I was going 71. I was calm and friendly and was not trying to get out of the ticket at all. Really. He asked where we were heading in such a hurry. I told him that our children and grandchildren were awaiting our arrival in the Outer Banks. He told me to drive safely and let us go without a ticket. I was blessed.  A speeding ticket was just not part of our vacation budget.

Somewhere along the line I took a wrong turn and we ended up in Newport News, VA. We stopped and asked a group of people for directions. They were sweet and helpful. Their final words were, “Better lock your doors!” Ummmm….okay. I guess we weren’t in the safest neighborhood.

We finished an audio book that I have been listening to for the last few weeks. After that I found a radio station that played songs from the sixties and seventies. Attila and I knew all the words! Funny how we can remember song lyrics from decades ago, but struggle to recall the names of our own children. I grew up with seven cats and three siblings so my mom really had it rough with the name recall issue.

Driving south on Route 12 in the Outer Banks can feel like an eternity, especially at night. But if the moon is high, the sky roof is open, and you are blasting music and singing along? Not so much. Giggling also helps. We had it all!

We arrived in Avon around 2am and unpacked the car. There was a two-inch roach on the headboard of our bed. I squealed (a little) and made Attila grab it with tissues and toss it out the front door. We managed to get ourselves settled and in bed by 3am.

Sunday morning I got up by 10am. No depression in site! In fact, the kids accused me of being manic. I was chattering away about our adventures on the drive down. I told them about finding the roach and Johnna confessed that it was plastic and she had put it there on purpose. She went outside and found it in the grass and after Attila woke up she put it on his pillow so he would find it again when he took his nap. Later on Attila did find it and simply grabbed it up with a tissue and tossed it out the front door again! In this family we are easily amused.

Our original house did not have the cable or internet turned on. We learned that the house is in foreclosure, which explained a lot. Many of the houses down here are bank-owned and vacant. We had ants and several of the beds did not have clean sheets (Johnna found a used tissue in hers).

Monday morning Brent, Jesse and I headed over to the realty company. Internet was a pretty big deal since both Brent and I need to be able to do some work while down here. The realty company was awesome and agreed to get everything fixed pronto and heat our pool for free.

We headed back to the house, happy to be getting the pool heated. It was way too cold for the babies! The manager called us back and with great embarrassment informed us that the pool did not have a heater (although it was advertised as having one). They offered to move us to another house and we figured that we may as well look at it.

Oh my word! The second house is fabulous!  It has a much better home theater room (with actual raised movie theater seats), better (heated) pool, cable, internet, a den, a poker table, incredible decks, etc. We made the entire move in just under three hours (ten adults, two babies, one toddler and all of our stuff including food). We like this house so much that we are talking about renting it next year for this same week (which is so much cheaper than during the season).

It has been a really wonderful vacation so far. Attila and I walked up 12 stories so that we could stand at the top of the lighthouse and breathe in the beauty of this island.  Last night we drove on the beach with Brent, Tara, Johnna and Henry and managed to get ourselves stuck and then unstuck  just as the tide was coming in. We have spent time in the pool, hot tub and movie room. Attila even played a little poker with the boys last night.

Here are some pictures of all the fun!

Lyryn & Jesse – Love Redeeming Journey

For those of you who don’t already know, my daughter Lyryn has her own blog – like mother like daughter! For the next month she and her husband Jesse will be sharing the journey that led them from the brokenness of infidelity to the miraculous blessing of redeeming love.

If you want to follow along, click the link below.

Senior Moment Saturday

Last (last) Saturday I woke up to sunshine and the delight of knowing three wonderful friends were coming over for brunch. I had a stress-free morning ahead. I keep my house very neat and it was clean enough for friends who don’t look past your heart to ogle and judge your dust.

I had exactly two tasks to complete between 8am and the gathering at 11am. One task was to make my impossibly easy Cheese Danish (thank you Nancy Goss!), so that it would be warm from the oven at just the right time. The other task was to make a pot of coffee.

I am providing the Cheese Danish recipe because it is the easiest, most delicious brunch item I have ever come across.

2 pkg Crescent Rolls (8 rolls per pkg)
roll out one full package into 9×13 greased pan (glass is best)
2 8 oz. packages of cream cheese softened
1 egg separated (save white)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Mix together in a blender or mixer until fully blended. Smooth over bottom layer of crescent rolls.
Roll out 2nd pack of crescent rolls and place over cream cheese mixture. Brush top with beaten egg white.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes

I enjoyed the wonderful sound of thwop thwop as I banged the crescent roll package against the edge of the counter – and smiled at the extremely satisfying pop! as the dough was freed from its straight jacket.

I pulled the rolls apart and pressed them into the base of the greased dish. About that time I noticed the faint smell of garlic or onion. I wasn’t sure, but I thought it must have been because Lyryn had heated her calzones for Family Dinner in our oven on Wednesday night.

I continued on with the beating of the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla into a beautiful white swirl of deliciousness. I managed to refrain from licking the beaters. Okay – okay! So maybe I did happen to lick the spatula. But not the beaters! I am making progress…

I put the completed dish into the oven and proceeded to prepare the coffee, using twelve servings of water and coffee grounds. Then I went upstairs to change clothes.

When I returned to the kitchen it looked to me like the coffee maker had exploded. Sizzling water and coffee grounds covered the counter. I had no clue what had happened and assumed the coffee maker was broken.

I pulled the Danish from the oven and again caught a strong whiff of garlic, but pushed the thought aside as my friends began to arrive. Janice came first. She doesn’t drink coffee so the lack of it was no concern to her.

Margie arrived next. When I informed her that there had been a coffee calamity, her expression resembled a deer caught in the headlights. What should we do, what should we do??? MUST HAVE COFFEE!!!!

Margie decided to investigate, approaching my coffee maker with caution. She opened it, only to discover that there was no filter in sight. “Kris, did you put a filter in here?” Well… umm… obviously not.

In my defense, the coffee maker had come with a built-in filter. Unfortunately, one time the coffee grounds had been forgotten and sat so long that the filter became moldy beyond repair. So whenever I need to use the coffee maker I use a paper filter. But not this time!

We laughed and laughed about my senior moment and the ensuing mess it created. Margie took charge of the coffee maker, rinsing it out, doing a trial run through the filter (sans coffee grounds). She is serious about her morning coffee and was going to get it one way or another.

The cheese Danish was cooling on the stove by now, and Margie popped her cream-cheese-filled French toast into the already-warm oven. Kim arrived and we all sat down at the dining room table with our full plates of delicious looking food. But there was still a weird scent of garlic in the air. The others began to notice it as well.

Our first bites of cheese Danish produced a collective look of perplexity. It tasted like garlic! Margie asked if there was salt in the recipe. She suggested that I might have used garlic salt by accident. I insisted that there is no salt in the recipe! She looked doubtful.

Attila had gone out to do errands and when he arrived back he caught us mid-mystery-garlic-discussion. “Uh…. it is probably in the crescent rolls.” I ran to the trash and pulled out the cover of the package – Garlic Butter Crescent rolls! Who knew they even existed?

As most of you know, I do not cook. And I do food shopping under duress, using a very specific list that I NEVER stray from. I had come home the night before (from a twelve-hour day at work) at 9:30pm, and was too exhausted to function. I still needed the cream cheese and crescent rolls, so Attila volunteered to do a Wal-mart run. He is the night owl. He purchased the rolls without even reading the label since he was not aware they made garlic butter-flavored rolls either!

The moral to the story is this: Only let your husband do the food shopping if 1) he reads labels or 2) you want to live a life that always contains the element of surprise.

I will take the element of surprise over accuracy any day. It is so much more amusing.

Burgers With Brent

Nearly a year ago it was Brent’s turn for his dinner out alone with his parental units. As he approached our booth at Chili’s I remember thinking that this was an adult man joining us. He was no longer the little boy who spent his childhood entertaining us with his quirky goofball personality.

I also remember thinking that in spite of his paint-and-spackle-covered work clothes, his blond hair, striking blue eyes, and confident stride made one forget his humble attire.

When Brent was a little boy he worked summers helping Attila with his handyman jobs. That first summer (when Brent was eleven) his “wages” consisted of lunch from Wawa – a big thrill indeed. He was perfectly happy with the arrangement!

Summer after summer, Brent continued to apprentice with Attila. Eventually he did get paid in actual US dollars. He also developed his father’s knack for fixing things and creating something out of nothing.

We used to video each child about once a year, repeating the same questions every time. This resulted in a wide array of answers depending on the age and mood of the child. One year, when Brent was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he soberly told the camera that he wanted to be “a carpenter, a comedian, or a bus boy.”  Now he makes his living as the owner of Balla Custom Services, so he clearly “nailed” the carpenter part.

While Brent’s comedic silliness has been somewhat subdued by the realities of adulthood, he assures us that he still lets loose with extreme wackiness when at home with his beautiful wife. Lucky Tara! And his dream of becoming a bus boy? Well, we will just have to ask Tara how often he clears the dinner table.

Brent was never a big reader. He was more of a do-er. He attacks all activities with explosive enthusiasm. Some of his pursuits have included high school drama, singing, work camps, making music videos and short films, building a waterfall and pond in our back yard, organizing huge yard sales that brought in a surprising amount of cash, house renovations, college (he is three credits short of an Associate Degree) and building his own business. His passions are eclectic and tend to be very creative.

Brent is one of those people who is not afraid to make a fool of himself.

And sometimes, he can be a real superhero.

He knows how to get in and out of tight spaces!

As Brent became a young adult he was convicted that in order to press  into the heart of God, he had to commit daily to delving into His word. At 5am you will find Brent reading his Bible and doing devotions.

Brent will turn 27 this April. I am so proud of the man he has become. In our last Christmas letter (2008!) he joked that he was homeless at the time. In a fairly short period of time he had gone from living in a rented house, to living in his grandmother’s basement, to living in his sister’s attic – all before getting married in December of that year. Sounds  more like home-more than home-less to me!

In the winter of 2009-2010, Brent’s company managed to remain quite busy despite the stunted economy. He was able to offer employment to more than ten people (including four family members) who had no other job at the time. His company is currently booked through June 2011.

Brent’s faith, persistence, committment, and willingness to grow in the Lord, are an encouragement to others. Tara walks by his side – loving wife, best friend, and partner in silliness. Oh how we love them both!