When I did my Thanksgiving shopping earlier this week, I brought my grocery list as usual, but this time I also had paper coupons, and electronic coupons saved on my Hannaford app. I bought almost twice as many groceries as usual, and it took me twice as long, but hey, I saved $20.
The next morning, I poured a little almond milk in my morning coffee, as usual. The almond milk was “Silk,” a new brand that I hadn’t tried before, but I had a coupon for a free carton, and who can turn down free? I saved myself a whole $3.29.
I took a few sips from my mug. It was delicious. Silk was much sweeter and thicker than my usual Hannaford brand. I took another sip. Mmmm. I’d definitely buy it again, coupon or not.
Just before lunch, I started getting pain and discomfort in my gut. Over the past few years, I’ve developed a very delicate digestive system. In fact, about 90% of the foods on this earth bother it, and that’s on a good day. My gut is always a mess, even when I eat the things I think are “safe,” so I didn’t suspect anything unusual. And since almond milk is a “safe” food, I continued to drink it throughout the day, around two cups worth.
Suffice it to say that it was a L-O-O-O-N-G day.
It wasn’t the kind of day you want a few days before Thanksgiving.
The next morning, again I poured my almond milk into my coffee. It was just as good as the previous day.
I picked up the carton to confirm that it had no added sugar. Nope, it was unsweetened. It said so right on the label. See it there in the picture? Don’t think I don’t like sugar, as I LOVE it, but sugar doesn’t like me back.
I’m a big label reader as a result of my food sensitivities, so I turned the carton around to take another look at the ingredient list. I was curious what type of thickener was used. No guar gum listed; that was good.
As I continued to read, this caught my eye: “Allergen statement: Contains soy.” Huh? Soy? In almond milk? That’s a problem, as soy is a known trigger for my symptoms.
I turned the carton around to look at the front. Out loud, to no one in particular, I announced, “This isn’t almond milk. It’s soy milk!”
It wasn’t laughable then, but it is now.
My husband and I came to the easy-to-draw conclusion that the soy milk was the culprit for my ten-times-worse-than-usual symptoms. Then I came to the hard-to-defend conclusion that I may as well finish my coffee, as there was such a tiny amount of soy in it.
Are you as incredulous as me that I would even consider taking another microscopic sip? That I would risk my enjoyment of Thanksgiving? My priorities were clearly messed up more than a gravy stain on a lace tablecloth.
Dumping out my coffee felt like a waste—of coffee, time, money, food, resources. I hate waste. I was brought up never to waste food. Poor people are starving, after all.
But my wise husband stopped me before I made a regrettable mistake.
“Karen—throw it out,” Michael insisted. “We have more coffee.”
He was so right. I dumped the coffee and emptied the almost full carton into the sink.
The soy didn’t kill me. I’m alive and well enough to type and laugh about it. I had an unopened carton of almond milk in the fridge (don’t worry—I triple checked the label) to salvage my fresh cup of morning joe
It was more delicious than I remembered.
And here are the lessons of Thanksgiving I learned:
1. Listen to the wise people in your life. If it’s a spouse or partner, thank them effusively.
2. However you celebrate this day of thanks, and even if you don’t celebrate, focus on what really matters and don’t sweat the small stuff. I was willing to let $3.29 ruin another 24 or 36 or 48 hours for me. It wasn’t worth it.
3. Dump any toxicity from your life, (especially romaine lettuce!) and replace it with things or people that make you feel good.
4. When you don’t follow steps 2) or 3), laugh about the mistake and be thankful that you’re human.
5. What doesn’t kill you teaches you a lesson. If it’s not obvious, dig deep—it’s there.
6. If you’re reading this, you’re alive. Be thankful. If you laugh today, be doubly thankful.
7. If your hands have ever picked up something other than what your eyes saw, read labels very carefully today. Be mindful. You’ll thank me later.
8. Enjoy this day. Milk it for all its worth.
Have your hands ever picked up something other than what your eyes saw? Will you share your story here?
Today, I am 59 and 364/365ths. Tomorrow, I turn 60. Happy Birthday to me.
Other than semantics—“I am 59” vs. “I am 60”—the difference between today and tomorrow for me isn’t insignificant.
Sometimes one day does make a huge difference. Yesterday’s mid-term elections, for example. And, of course, the presidential election of 2016. That year, my birthday—November 8—fell on election day. All I asked for was that our country heal from its deep divisions.
That wish didn’t come true, but I haven’t given up.
I threw myself a birthday party a few days ago on Sunday, November 4. My husband Michael would have planned something special to mark my turn of a decade, but I had a vision of how I wanted to celebrate, so I planned it myself.
Half the excitement was planning my own birthday party.
I rented a room, selected hors d’oeuvres, and ordered a white cake with vanilla frosting and lots of chocolate roses. I downloaded music, and invited some of my closest friends.
Friends—a room full of them. Something that eluded me for good chunks of my life. And this year, I have more friends than I could invite.
The party was symbolic of the personal growth I’ve experienced in my 50s, especially in the last two years as I’ve launched my writing career. The celebration filled me with such gratitude, I was moved to tears. Repeatedly.
The day gave birth to a whirlwind of emotions.
I’ll need time unravel the tangle, and after I’ve done that, I’ll fill you in. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my down time tomorrow. When Michael gets home from work, we’ll order some takeout, have a drink, and savor the last two pieces of birthday cake left over from the party. (I claim the one with more frosting.) It will be the perfect counterweight to Sunday’s frenzy.
Finally, as my 59th year ends and my 60th begins, I am starting to truly understand who I am. I like the woman I’ve discovered more than I thought I would.
Maybe it’s time to rethink birthdays. Maybe when we’re well into adulthood, it’s not as important that a birthday commemorates the day of our birth. Instead of looking back, maybe we should look forward.
Maybe the real importance of a birthday is to see what it births–within us.
I have this thing about the universe. I try to listen to what the universe is telling me to do – to hear its sometimes hidden message. Lots of people would say my “universe” is their “God.” Others might say it’s their inner self talking, or their soul.
I don’t think it matters where the important messages come from. What matters is listening.
Right now, I don’t know what the universe is telling me. I have all these great ideas for essays to write and pitch to publications. One of these ideas may be “the one” to catch the eye of an agent, who will contact me about my memoir, and usher me to a book deal.
Of course, my memoir is not yet finished. Is the universe telling me to forget essays, just get the damn book done already? Or is it saying,
I can only open a door of opportunity for you, I can’t make you walk through it.
Then there’s my upcoming birthday party, in three days. Yup- it’s the big 6-0 for me. I rented a room and invited friends and family, and have special fun things planned to pay forward all the blessings I’ve had in my 59 and 258/365 years. Does the universe want me to focus on getting ready, so I can enjoy this time without turning into a weepy ball of stress?
And my health. (Cue rolling eyes emoji.) It’s hard to do much of anything lately, even writing, with the time-suck of my chronic health conditions. Should I just drop everything and focus on healing? What if healing is not possible? I wish the universe would give up that card it’s holding close to its vast chest.
Then there’s the shooting in Pittsburgh, my hometown. Another mass tragedy. Another tsunami of grief and outrage for our country. As a writer, is there anything I can possibly say that hasn’t already been said by those more intimately affected? I will console, I will support, I will advocate. I will vote. But is there something else I’m missing?
I’m listening, universe. I’m ready when you are.
Maybe this—these words, unpolished, without resolution—are its answer.
Two years ago, I started a blog called The Well Nested Life; this month, I’ll close that site down. I’ve moved all my blogs over to this current site, so I’ve retained my words, but I have to say goodbye to the dream.
Closing my blog feels like I’m losing an old friend.
With some brainstorming help from family members, I had arrived at the term well nested. It describes my life. Homebody. Introvert. Feeling most at home, at home. My plan was to blog about humorous and poignant and touching stories of my simple life. My hope was to gather followers—my flock—who would then someday buy my memoir, in progress.
That part of the dream—let’s call it Phase I— is intact. I’ve established my online presence as a writer, attracted loyal followers, and I’m closing in on the final chapter of my memoir.
In Phase II, my follower base would grow to scores of thousands. An editor at a “Big Five” publishing house would discover my writing and be impressed with my platform. She would pay me big bucks for the honor of publishing my book.
I’d be a best selling author!
(Please don’t think I’m delusional. Most writers share this dream.)
However, it’s Phase III where I got carried away (as I have been known to do). In this phase, I’d use my big bucks from my memoir to help others become well nested.
First, my husband and I would remodel our basement into an apartment to house immigrant families short term until they secured more permanent housing.
Then, we’d buy and renovate houses in our community, and sell them at cost to families in need. Or maybe we’d partner with Habitat for Humanity, one of my favorite charities.
Finally, I’d create a cooperative of gardeners to provide gardening and simple landscaping help to homeowners moving into and out of our community. This would help homeowners to become well nested, as well as maximize the curb appeal of their homes, increase their home values, and increase the tax base for the community.
Sigh. It was a lovely and honorable dream.
But here’s the reality: as a writer, if I really want to build my flock, if I really want to be found by an agent or editor, I need a website under my name. “The Well Nested Life” was a mouthful of a blog, and hard to remember. So now I write, and you read, at www.karendebonis.com.
I don’t have the time, energy, or money to maintain two websites, and not nearly enough of those resources to accomplish Phase III. Something had to give; The Well Nested Life blog had to go. I have no regrets; it connected me to new friends, taught me that I’m not a complete computer simpleton, and gave me joy that (mostly) outweighed the headaches. My heart is heavy, but full.
I’m glad you’re here to help me say goodbye, and to celebrate as I write the next chapter of this journey. I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m letting go of the website, but keeping the domain. Www.thewellnestedlife.com is mine for as long as I want it. You never know when I’ll get big bucks for my memoir.
You never know when another dream will hatch.
I’m open to the possibility. You in?
[Trigger warning: reflections on sexual assault.]
I wasn’t sure what to do with my feelings last week. They sat in a jumbled heap in my gut, and I couldn’t seem to sort them out.
I didn’t want to write about them; I had other priorities, like my memoir manuscript. But I couldn’t escape the heap in my gut nor the whirlwind in my head. I needed to write in order to figure this out, and move on.
Now that I’m a writer, that’s what I do. I write.
So here goes:
This is about the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, most of which I watched.
To be clear: I write from a position of privilege in that I have never been sexually assaulted. Harassed, yes. Assaulted, no.
But I have been in positions where it could easily have happened, so when women tell of their assaults and attacks, I feel their fear and pain deeply. It could have been me. By the grace of God or the luck of the draw, it wasn’t me.
I feel their fear and pain, and when their stories are dismissed, I feel their betrayal and humiliation and anger.
I want my voice of support for these women to be heard, but mine is a quiet voice, and there are more relevant voices—many of them—roaring on the internet and over the airwaves. My voice would be lost. In fact, acquaintances have asked me to allow the roars to own the stage in this chaotic time. Now is not the time for quiet voices, they said.
I claim to listen more than I talk, so I did that–I listened.
Yet my writer instincts would not allow my voice to be silenced. So I’ve turned that voice into a poem. It’s not my genre, but the words have quieted the jumble and stilled the whirlwind, for now, at least.
The roar of the lioness, the squeak of the mouse.
A bird sings.
This is my voice, a melody of peace and harmony.
An owl hoots.
This is my voice, waiting for dusk to be heard, quiet wisdom.
A mouse squeaks.
This is my voice, gentle, unobtrusive, sometimes unheard.
A lioness roars.
This is not my voice.
Her roar drowns out the hoots and songs and squeaks.
The roar commands attention; the jungle listens, it stirs in response.
A roar moves mountains.
A squeak moves nothing.
But it greases the wheels of motion.
Most people remember where they were and what they were doing when they first got the news of the 9/11 tragedies. I remember. One hundred fifty miles north of the World Trade Center, I was driving down the highway to train my successor for the job I quit a month before. I had no replacement job; my new title was Stay-at-Home-Mom. My sons were ten and fifteen.
I was starting a new life of hope and promise when so many others’ lives were shattered. That day made me realize how grateful I was to have woken up to my priorities before it was too late.
I quit my job because Matthew—my fifteen-year-old— was having a painfully slow recovery from the damage caused by his brain tumor, diagnosed four years earlier. I needed to focus on him, focus on healing our family, and focus on healing myself—physically and emotionally—from the ordeal. My career came last. Or it should have, but it didn’t always.
My position had been Student Assistance Counselor in a K-5 elementary school. I taught lessons on feelings and problem solving and decision making, and ran support groups for sad or angry or floundering students. I loved the kids, loved the job, but the job didn’t always love me back. Too many needy kids needed me too much. After nine years, it sucked me dry. My sons and my husband got the dregs of my energy and attention, whatever was left after I gave at the office.
It’s too complicated to explain here how this imbalance happened; someday, you’ll read about it in my memoir. Too many Americans have much harder stories to tell today, and I don’t want to grandstand.
Today, I hope we can remember to focus on our priorities before a crisis or tragedy strikes. And if our world crashes down, literally or figuratively, I hope we find ways to grow as we heal.
It’s a good day to remember. I will.
It’s ironic that my essay, Why I hide my truth, posted today at The Sunlight Press.
The irony is that yesterday, David and Goliath duked it out within me about that very thing–sharing my truth when I’m most vulnerable. Goliath fought to keep truth in; David fought for its freedom.
I’ve been battling chronic health problems now for over four years. Some days are better than others; yesterday was not one of them.
Most days, I’m able to offset the discouragement of my physical symptoms with the joy and purpose of writing, and simple pleasures like reading on my porch swing. Yesterday was not one of them. I was a hot mess.
I hate asking for help. I hate bothering people. I hate that I might be perceived as needy. I hate exposing my raw feelings, and yesterday, they were rawer than beef standing in a field, mooing.
But I know that this journey I’m on, to write the story of my difficult motherhood, made more difficult by my son’s brain tumor, is intended to help me to grow. The universe is challenging me to break free of my old habits. If I don’t, my pain will not have been worth it.
But old habits die slower than a hosta in poor soil. Yesterday, I scrolled through the contacts in my phone, and saw many friends I could call. How blessed I am. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reach out. So I put my phone down and cried even harder. Then I felt worse, because I knew what I needed, and it was so simple, but I was too afraid.
I knew The Sunlight Press essay would post today, and I thought, Have I learned nothing from this process? I understand better why I hide my truth, and writing is a wonderful outlet, but sometimes, Goliath must fall at that very moment, not weeks or months later. Sometimes, David has just one shot, and it’s now or never.
I believe our greatest fears are our greatest opportunities for growth.
So, with a deep breath and a prayer, I did it. I texted some friends, who called me right back. I cried, they listened, and I felt better. I even laughed. The physical pain remained, but the emotional pain went poof, like a cloud of dust in Golliath’s fallen wake.
New habits take practice, and sadly, I’ll have many more opportunities to learn. I expect each time I reach out, it will be a little easier. And each time, I’ll have good fodder for my writing.
Thirty-two years ago today, when I became a mother at 7:32 PM, on Wednesday, August 13, 1986, I had no idea of the difficult road ahead. No parent-to-be knows for sure what to expect in their new role, of course, but there’s a continuum of “typical” and there’s off-the-child-development-charts “unpredictable.”
If you’ve followed my story, you know where my motherhood experience fell.
I thought I was ready to be a mom. I had loving role models in my parents, I was an attentive big sister, and I babysat as a teen. I had a supportive husband, a fulfilling career, a cozy house with a crib, and a changing table stocked with onesies, cloth diapers, and blankies. I took my prenatal vitamins and shunned alcohol and attended LaMaze and breastfeeding classes, and read every page of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
I was prepared for a typical child. And I expected to be a perfect mom. Matthew and I were neither.
But we’re resilient. Matthew’s recovery from his brain tumor, diagnosed when he was 11, is profound–unpredictable in a good way. Every time I see him, I think he’s smarter than the last time, and the last time, he was reading The Communist Manifesto.
He’s one remarkable human being. I am so blessed that he is here today so I can wish him:
Happy Birthday, Matt.
Telling the story about my son’s brain tumor is the easy part of writing my memoir.
I first wrote most of the dramatic scenes over fifteen years ago, within a few years of his diagnosis at age 11. Had I not written them, I would still remember. The trauma created new neural pathways in my brain, and the memories travel them frequently.
I’ve shed so many tears over the years as I scribbled and typed away, there are fewer left now. It helps that Matthew is about to turn 32, and he manages his minor deficits so well, you’d never know anything had ever been wrong.
A mother knows. But that’s what mothers do–they know, when others do not.
During the three years that Matthew’s slow deterioration remained a medical mystery, I knew, deep inside, that something was wrong. But I didn’t listen to my gut. I didn’t stand up for what I believed to be true.
The hard part of this memoir is to tell that story: that motherhood exposed my flaws, and those flaws jeopardized my child.
At this point in my writing, I’m struggling to understand who I was as a mother, as a woman, as a person. I’m struggling with forgiveness.
Today, as I stepped out of the shower, an insight hit me like a blast of cold water, and I ran around in my towel, dripping on the floor, trying to find paper and a pencil. I scribbled my thoughts down; here’s what I’ve written:
I was a flawed mother, but I didn’t give up and I didn’t fail. I pulled my family through our ordeal, and we survived, not unscathed, but stronger and wiser. And by grappling now to understand who I was then, when my children were little, I’m coming to peace with my flaws, and realizing my strengths. What better example can a mother set for her children, even though they are now grown?
I looked in the mirror, and for years, all I noticed was the jagged crack running through the middle. Shards of glass occasionally splintered off, drawing tears and blood. Now, I have sealed the crack. It left a scar. There are some chips in the beveled edges, and the antique glass is wavy. Black splotches show through where the quicksilver backing has worn away. I see character. As an antique, the mirror is more valuable with its flaws intact. The cheap frame, however is moldy, and needs to go. I put a new one on, and it changes my reflection. I love what I see now, flaws and all.
If you are on a quest of forgiveness, for yourself or others, can you reframe what you see?
My memoir, when it’s done, will be a tough read, until the very end. There’s a lot of pain in it, and I imagine some readers will wonder if they can make it through. When I was living the pain, I sometimes wondered if I would make it through, too.
Note to future readers: The story has a happy ending, and you’ll be so glad you stuck it out.
.I wrote about the happy ending in a 100 word essay, published in Drabblez Magazine this week. I was surprised at how much I could tell in so few words.
The title is When muddies waters clear.
And it starts like this:
His fifth day at Rent Central was his last, after he dropped a couch in the mud. My son.
You can read the rest of it here. (Unfortunately, there’s no direct link to my essay, but you can scroll down to #18.)
It’s another writing feather in my cap. And I’m now working on manuscript revisions in the section leading up to the happy ending. I’ll be glad when I get there!