another trip around the sun.

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I take birthdays very seriously.

I’m feeling more reflective these days (well OK, let’s face it, that's not anything new… Winking). Birthdays tend to evoke this with the very public recognition of the aging process, time marching on. “Time flies whether we are having fun or not!” the saying goes. They can be markers that call us to reflect on the year past, the year ahead, the meaning of it all. So with that, I share a little pulse check.

What other day besides your birthday do you feel most like yourself? It is after all the day you were born! Something about the spirit of that makes me excited for my birthday, and thinking about the things that make up our essence and core as we traverse our respective journeys. What we radiate to the world.

I have been immersed in transition, relocating to a new home the past few weeks, and notice how moving never fails to illuminate things. Something about all of our stuff being shifted around physically that can trigger emotional seismic shifts. While being one of the top five most stressful experiences in life, moving can provide some real gifts once we get past the utter chaos.

With each move, distance is created between the last place, and with that comes the opportunity for fresh insights to bubble up.

My new place feels like my old place in Greensboro, NC, but different. There is an awareness of different levels of self. I wonder if that’s what the term “leveling up” means...

I can feel a little breakthrough happening in the air. It feels Sliding Doors-esque, thinking about the many different Choose Your Own Adventure decisions we activate in our lives. We make choice after choice, each one getting us to a different ending, or perhaps the same ending, with a different arrival.

Living your truth is strange. You don’t realize how long you’ve been buried. It happens slowly in stages, unfolding before us in such a way that we may not realize what is happening because we are too busy being wrapped up in the folds.

I’ve always lived my life in intense bursts with hibernation retreats in between due to various circumstances. I have a feeling I’m not at all alone in this- we do this in our own ways as we juggle all the things that happen in our busy lives. I’ve always loved life, but haven’t always
lived it, not fully at least.

My friend recently said that she is sorry that I’m not a cookie cutter person because it's hard. Well, she's not really sorry, but she's sorry for the struggle that comes with it. She's right - I’m not a cookie cutter person, “cut out” (ha, sorry) to live a cookie cutter life. Blazing new trails where there are no tracks to follow can be really lonely and confusing at times.

She said that I’m facing up to the reality of what I’m embarking on and doing and there would be something wrong if I DIDN’T feel somewhat insane right now! Feeling the feelings means I am facing it, which is important. It's also important to have grace with myself. I’m going through so much, and it's not a pretty time. Self care, self care, self care I chant.

The guiding principle of
being what you want to see in the world gives me some basic direction and focus. Even though the path is still being forged, I can look to my North stars and values that I want to embody and surround me as I walk. My doctor turned philosophy guru says: “Be it until you see it.”

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke


There are times in our lives when everyone else knows “it” but you. We always have the biggest blind spots when it comes to our own lives. I think of the old sticking our heads in the sand notion, trying to be inconspicuous. I always use the analogy of being a kid trying to sleep at our desks in class in school, head down and arms over our face. We can’t see, so we think we are hiding. For some reason we don’t realize that others can see us.
We see things as WE are, not as they are…

The hiding is dumb, to put it bluntly, and we are ultimately most definitely going to be found out. It is like me hiding around town and work wearing what is now famously called my Dumpy Khakis. I wasn’t fooling anyone! My inner peacock had given me away and I had no idea.

It’s cliche, but no one else can live our stories for us. We have to do it. Hiding will only get us so far. We will keep meeting our same selves in the mirror facing the same things until we shift, make a move, make a change, be brave and take a step to move ahead.

I’m currently living the life I was “supposed” to live at 20, at 40. It’s a bit surreal. I wore a bikini last week for the first time since age 25, and felt way more comfortable in it now than I did back then.

Yeah sure, the old crusty junk that haunts us is gonna creep up. Rilke speaks to me today with his wisdom:

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke


Just keep going, keep walking.

I have seriously kick ass community. Those who know me know I only swear when I’m extra passionate. Happy We root for each other. I love that the most. They remind me who I am when I forget. I made a quick list of the people I feel most like myself around- took 15 seconds and jotted down a couple names. I encourage you to do this. Cherish those people.

Most important, perhaps, is that
I got me. I have my own back. I can meet my own needs and take really good care of myself.

Say it with me: I am a person of this world. A proud inhabit of this beautiful planet. I deserve to take up space (thanks Cat).

You are beautiful just the way you are. Be You. Tousle your hair every once in a while. Embrace the messy. Hike barefoot like my cousin Sean. Feel the earth beneath your feet.

Here’s what I’m currently learning and working on:

  • Love is additive. There’s more room in our hearts for an abundance of love than we ever could imagine.

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  • We all come from such different backgrounds and life experiences. It can be hard to really try to put ourselves in others’ shoes- I know I struggle with it. Again, we see things as we are, not as they are… relationships of all shapes and sizes are a gift that is letting me practice this. Life is short- love each other! And let the little things that are not important go. With practice we start to see what the little things are. I’ve found I have more flexibility that I thought on this as I’ve matured. I used to want things a certain way. And while I still have some preferences, some more important than others, I have been surprised to see what I don’t need to hang on to. It has freed me up to be more open to receiving the gifts that do come my way.
   “We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Translations from the Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

In terms of current priorities and goals, here’s what I’m focused on making happen:

  • Writing. I wrote 3,619 words participating in National Novel Writing Month in November. I definitely wasn’t going for a high count but rather consistency in showing up a few days a week in a room with other women and getting some words down on the page, and in that regard I was a success! We’re continuing the momentum through mid-December. I’ve been taking personal essay and memoir workshops in Berkeley this year at a fabulous place called Left Margin Lit (I am in their midst as I write this) and have dived into writing in a way that has been calling to me for a really long time. It feels good!
  • Hitting Fuzzy Yellow Balls. Tennis is another one of my hobbies that fell by the wayside. Whenever I pick up a racquet (which has sadly been only occasionally over the years) I think, I need to get back into this again, for real. I’ve been playing the past few months with some wonderful ladies, and just joined a friendly club in my new neighborhood that will guarantee I get in some more regular tennis action.
  • Creative Pursuits. Music, crafty things, design, color, style, photos, telling stories. I strive to fit these in more and make the time to create- it's good for the soul!
  • Inspiring Work and Building Community. I keep close to the flow on this and am learning to stick to the things that I am drawn to.
  • Exploration in whatever forms this takes. I live in the effing Bay Area! My new environment provides plenty to keep me busy in this department on a daily basis.
Until next year… I hope you make some magic happen on your birthday, and the 364 other Unbirthdays in between.

Enjoy one of my favorite
Birthday songs!

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Smurftastic birthday with the annual classic birthday candle!

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6th Birthday Happy

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When Grandma came to live with us in NC, Dec. 3rd, 2012

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heart wide open.

This is interesting to get my mind around, or at least try to articulate. After years of work and babysteps (my favorite thing ever), I’m getting very close to “returning to myself”. What does this mean?

For me, it means being able to be my authentic self in 99% of situations, including work, family, etc. I like myself and who I am, no apologies. I spent years running and hiding from the true me, even if subtly at times. Years tamping down my brilliance, sparkle, radiance, energy, light, boldness, vibrancy, joy, fun. Censoring what I really think, fighting against my core values, being with people who sapped my energy instead of lifting me up.
 
It has been a slow crawl of a process of releasing perfectionism, not waiting until things are perfect to show my face, learning how to show my face when it is imperfect, flawed, messy, loud, “too much” at times. I created a new hashtag recently that I love and have been weaving through my life: #growoutloud

The simple secret is that life is really really fucking short. Too short. Heartbreakingly short.
 
I want to dance! Laugh. Smile. Feel light. Be with the ones I love. Why do we let all these other “shoulds” and stressors cloud our way to joy? Life. It takes what it takes. Youth is wasted on the young, as
Greenberg says. Haha… bittersweetly true. As skin start to sag, wrinkle, get bumpy and sunspotty, inner radiance, wisdom, and beauty grows stronger, more stable and confident- so ironic. Happy
 
It has happened in the smallest of ways, unfolding a day, week, month, year, years at a time, peeling back the onion layers, slowly lightening the heavy load we choose to carry, think we are supposed to carry. After a few years of quiet, I can hear my heartbeat, and my song humming. The music has returned, my zeal and thirst for learning is piqued, and I’m hungry for the stuff of being present and available. I’m here, and it feels good.  
 
My friends can see it way better than I can. It is invaluable to have witnesses to go through life with, who can tell you how you are doing when you don’t know and can’t see… they have seen this growth and change and transformation and help me know I’m heading in the right direction. They don’t judge me for taking so long. I’ve learned to gently stand up for what I believe in, to be firm and still kind, to hold people and love them for exactly who they are at any given moment (always continually working on that one Happy).
 
I’m finally doing work I really care about and connect to deeply, and that is so important to me. Since doing it, all kinds of other good things have flowed from this.
 
People can see light in us that we often can’t see.
 
If I have 38 years of being half asleep, and 5 years of being awake, I’ll take that any day over 100 years half asleep. I’m really looking forward to what’s next for me.
 
Here is the deal- the world actually WANTS you to be your truest self! It seems incredible, I know. We are our own worst enemies.
 
It’s all love. Here and now, and forever more. Embrace who you are. Others are so eager to also. Let it happen and open your heart. Watch out- blazing suns ahead! Happy

 

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five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes...

One year ago today I received a letter in the mail that would change my life forever. Sounds like a good opening line for a book right? Winking First of all, to receive a Real and Important letter in the mail blew my mind! It was from a Vermont adoption agency, telling me that they had some information they thought I would like to have and asking me to please contact them about it. It was the Friday before Memorial weekend after 5pm, so I had to wait 3 verrryyyyyyy long days before I could find out what it was. Yes, my crew and I analyzed every word in this letter up, down and sideways! I found out the following week that my biological mother had sent some medical history information to the agency for me on that side of my family and shared her contact info. as well.

Several weeks after that, I received the info. and her name (and I released mine)… and immediately called my Godsister Hannah in Burlington, VT to help me research, ahem, aka stalk my entire birth family tree on that side for the next two hours! Lots of gasps and goosebumps and tingles and surrealness. It was an exhilarating time to say the least, seeing names and photos and faces … after all these years of wondering. The adoption coordinator encouraged us to write letters, so I checked my mailbox for the next couple months, and did not reach out to the family I had found online because I wasn’t sure if it was OK to do so. Just knowing they were out there was honestly enough for the time being, and we took those months as a family to catch up a bit and process some of this news.

I realized that it was my turn to send something in return for the initial outreach, so I finally got a first letter in the mail. I procrastinated (a lot) because I felt like it had to be the ‘perfect-kitchen-sink-letter’ and, what do you say in the first letter ever?? Thankfully I have dear friends who helped bring me down to earth about it, and this whole time period in general, and keep me accountable on just getting a starting point down on paper, so I wrote a short intro hello note with the help of my Grandma one Sunday afternoon at the end of July last summer, and sent it off on its way to Vermont. I had all these doubts about the Mail all of a sudden, and how crazy it is to rely on sending something off like that, almost on faith, it felt like to me at the time. About six days later, 2 of my birth aunts contacted me on social media… and of course I freaked out in a good way… I connected with my newfound and dear cousin Nicole, and then a letter came from Cheryl in the mail. Then it was a flurry of first connections with more new cousins (13 in all, not counting their children and partners!), and I spent the next few months in a hazy pink cloud, a thrill of excitement coursing through my veins with the ding of a new message (thank you Facebook, for being awesome and very handy for this purpose!).

My cousin Brian reached out with: "Hi, are you cousin? I’m a McDonough, if you are who I think you are then your mother and my mother were sisters…” I had already been told about Brian, and from everything I saw from stalking him and his photos Laugh, I could tell we would be fast friends. We are both oldests in our family, nostalgic, and love family history, etc. Next thing you know we are Skyping (then e-mailing, texting, calling, ha!) and he and his lovely fiancé, now wife, Becca’s bright faces were staring at me through the computer screen! Between the 3 of us the permagrins were in full effect, and next thing I know they are inviting me to their wedding in October and not taking no for an answer. !!

So, off I go on an adventure to meet all but one of the immediate birth fam clan to Connecticut and Vermont in the fall. I spent an incredible six days with mostly all new people, and thankfully my Godfamily interspersed in there for some much needed grounding support Happy. I got to meet my cousin Sean on his birthday (pretty cool present I was able to give him if you ask me ;D). I was welcomed with a party, wined, dined, and chauffeured, and filled in on family 101 cliff notes, and they all made real efforts to see me (and the wedding was pretty helpful!).

I am at a perfect time in my life for all of this to unfold, but I certainly still had my moments of overwhelm and feeling a bit unmoored. There have been ups and downs and a roller coaster of emotions for everyone, and bittersweetness throughout it all. “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness. ~ Shauna Niequist

This was SUCH a big and important thing for me in my life journey and path that I had compartmentalized it off so that I could live my life. When the letter came and the floodgates opened, it was honestly beyond my wildest dreams because I hadn’t entertained many thoughts about it or asked the what ifs, other than a fleeting innate curiosity here or there. I didn’t have any expectations, so not only was I not disappointed, but I was gifted and overwhelmed, frankly, with a new and extraordinary family that I am still coming to know. On the last night of my trip I met another cousin and his family for the first time, Pat McD, who I hadn’t connected with previously because he is not on Facebook. It was the perfect ending to a wonderfully full and rich week, and he, also the oldest in his family, gave me some much needed kindness and words of support that helped coalesce everything I had been experiencing to that point. He invited me back to do the Penguin Plunge in February, a cause that the entire family gets in on and is near and dear to their hearts, and I realized after settling back in at home that I didn’t want to waste another minute not having them in my life, and I went back (and plunged, into freezing Lake Champlain! Happy). Happily I got to meet my cousin Amanda this visit to complete my dance card! There is still so much more to learn, and this is just the beginning.

Most days now it is life as usual, and I guess in some ways this just isn’t that big of a deal, and happens every day for people, all the time. I also am aware that it does NOT happen this way for so many, and I know with every fiber in my being how lucky and blessed I am. Then there are some days where it hits me in beautiful waves and I smile, when I have a connection with some of my new family, recount the story to someone, or just think about all of these amazing new additions to my life. I didn’t need them, but I want them, in ways I didn’t know was possible to feel. Even though we didn’t grow up together (and I wish I could take a magic carpet back and see what that was like), the bonds were immediate and strong. I’m still exploring and learning like everyone else on this planet. Families are living and breathing things and they grow and change and shift. When I stop and think about it and zoom way out, I am still totally incredulous that we are here, and that I have my chosen/given family of origin, and now even more with my nature family. I also think it’s hard to explain, because it’s mostly feelings. 

I acknowledge and thank my family, my sister Kathryn, who is my rock and has my back, my parents, who I ended up with on purpose, my one and only Grandma who has always made me feel so special and so supremely loved, my aunts, uncles and cousins, my dear Godparents Bernie and Michael Schwartz, and my friends who are like family to me- I truly have a village (and need one- LOL!), and that has made doing all this so much easier. 

We were so excited to have cousin Megan visit us in January this year, and cousins Brian, Becca, Liam, and Finn with us this spring, and for them to meet my family! My family has opened their arms and hearts in the most generous of spirits throughout all of this, and I am in awe of the way they love. 

And if you’re still reading, thanks for allowing me to share… it's been a pretty big year.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hj7LRuusFqo

From Seasons of Love, Rent (one of my all time favorites, ever).

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love? How about love? How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love


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it's like falling in love.

Meeting new blood relatives is a bit like falling in love, or certainly the infatuation phase (except that it isn't temporary!).

I LIKE them so much! Makes me smile when a relationship with one of them deepens and grows. This post was started in August, but the fall became a wonderful whirlwind spent writing and getting to know this family, via letters, Skype, text, email, Facebook, and a first face to face visit in October, and I am just beginning write about it (I've had quite a year!). Hearing the ding of a new message online is so exciting! And with 13 cousins, 2 aunts, 1 uncle, and one birth mom (not to mention spouses, kids of cousins, extended family etc.), I've had a bit more to keep up with than them Laugh

It is the strangest thing to do, meeting your blood relations for the first time, having missed so many years of each other's lives. There is no guidebook for this, trust me, I looked! All I can describe is my experience, and it has been amazing. Its kind of a giddy feeling- endlessly fascinated with learning about them for one thing (because you know virtually nothing!) and with checking them out, from every inch of what they look like to their personality and how they interact with people, and what they spend their time doing. Its all so incredibly interesting! Happy The thing that makes its different is that you are meeting people who are instantly family. The trust isn't there, but yet it sort of is, in an immediate and unconditional way. These guys would do just about anything for me and extended such a warm welcome to me when I went to visit and meet them all in Vermont and Connecticut in October. I feel the same way about them and I've only met them once!

It is a warm feeling. It dies down for a while, then when new correspondence takes place, and next visits are planned to see one another, I get excited all over again!

Also I'm not sure if it is rose-colored glasses or not, but I pretty much only see the good things and characteristics about them! I had such a great time that I am going back in a few weeks to see them again Happy I wasn't sure I could make it work, and then I thought about it and realized how much time we had already missed in each other's lives and decided I don't want to miss another day. It's funny how things become important so very quickly. I can't wait to go back and for them to visit me and meet my family too! Warm fuzzies all around Happy.

Photos of me meeting my cousins, birth aunts, uncle, and birth mother for the first time

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birthday girl.

Today is a great day to be born! I love my birthday. My family has always been big on celebrations and holidays, starting with my Grandma in her home when her girls were young, and filtering on down throughout our lives. My family made us feel very special on our birthdays, Valentine's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, with lots of gifts and positive attention, and of course delicious and made from scratch favorite foods.

After the health struggles I've faced for most of my years, I love my birthday even more because I'm on the up and up for once, and I couldn't be more grateful to be alive, truly, and to get a second chance to make this life count. I feel extremely fortunate to have been adopted by two incredible people on December 8th, and to have been so loved and well cared for. Birthdays are important ways for me to celebrate life, and all the special people that are in it.

I'm giving myself two gifts this year- sharing this website with the world and letting others in, after many, many years in the making, and a rainbow tattoo, which has also been percolating for a very long time. Stay tuned for updates on that process in the coming weeks!

My favorite birthday photo- I remember it sitting on my Dad's desk- Apalachin, NY, circa 1981?
VS bday

Austin, TX, December 2002, last ditch effort to save my health before surgery- eating a homemade
special diet "cake," weighing 90 pounds- my most fragile birthday.
val bday 2002

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After my group birthday dinner tonight, my mom said to me: "You can tell a person's character by the company they keep, and you have a great posse." Well, I couldn't agree more about my amazing posse! And I KNOW that they help improve upon my character. Grateful!

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