Are you a good houseguest or a bad houseguest? House Guest Etiquette a la Jo.

I just had the BEST weekend with the BEST houseguests, pretty much ever and it wasn’t just because they were my cousins, it was because they were so respectful of our space. They cooked, they cleaned, they bought (and brought) groceries and they were helpful and fun.

To be honest, we’ve had a few shitty houseguests in the past couple years, so it was so nice to see that my cousins were on the same wavelength as me. I was sad to see them go and, for me, that’s not a common feeling. I’m usually elated to bid our guests adieu, but it’s usually because I’m exhausted from entertaining them, cleaning up after them, and providing everything for their stay.

My idea of what makes a good houseguest stems from a childhood with a mom who had very particular Martha Stewartesque notions when it came to being a guest in someone’s home. She drilled it into me and, when people visit and don’t seem to have any houseguest common sense, I kinda lose my shit.

Here’s what my dearly departed Mama Wendy made sure I understood if I was going to visit somewhere. (Also, I may be paraphrasing a little here):

  1. NEVER be a wanker who overstays your visit. Always ask BEFORE you go for a visit how long your host is willing to put up with you. It’s not rude to ask someone this, it’s polite. It doesn’t matter how much we love our friends and family – everybody has a saturation limit when it comes to houseguests. For example, I’m good for around three to four nights and then my eye starts to twitch and I start to feel a bit stabby. If I tell you that I’d love to have you visit for the weekend, it means I’d love to have you visit FOR THE WEEKEND. If you then decide that you are loving my place so much you want to stay longer, I’m probably going to secretly imagine myself stabbing you in the eye with a fork while I’m politely insisting that I’m okay you extending your stay. News Flash: I’m not okay with it. Nobody is. Get the fuck out and, while you’re at it, make sure you’re gone by mid-afternoon on Sunday and mop the floor before you leave, just for good measure.
  2. Food is fucking expensive, so unless you’re visiting millionaires, don’t be a freeloading asshat. If you’re by yourself and heading to visit someone for a night, it’s usually fine to allow your host to feed you. But bring a gift-dessert or something (or, in my case, bring me ALL THE WINE) just to let them know you appreciate their hospitality. HOWEVER, if you’re bringing more than just yourself OR you plan to be there more than one night, chip the fuck in on food, homie. Bring (or buy) some groceries or, even better, make a plan with your host for meals and offer to either shop with them when you arrive or bring the ingredients for a couple of those meals. This will not only make you the most-appreciated house guest ever, it will also get you sincere invitations to come back. For reals.
  3. Get off your ass and help. Help cook. Help clean up after meals. Help clean up anything that is a mess or dirty. Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave your shit laying around. Don’t treat your host’s place like it’s a hotel with a maid and room service. Again, that will just make your host stabby and nobody wants any version of Norman Bates for a host.
  4. Clean up your GD room when you leave. Strip the sheets and pillow cases and either put them in the laundry or wash them if your host prefers. Alternatively, if your host is much less anal than me and says it is unnecessary for you to strip the bed, AT LEAST make the bed then. Leave it as you found it. If you slept on the couch, use some common sense – clearly you need to clean up your bedding. Don’t be a fucking slob of a houseguest. This isn’t rocket science, people.
  5. Lastly, have some respect. If your host goes to bed early or you are a night owl, don’t blast the TV or stereo or dial up your buddies and FaceTime at midnight in a drunken stupor with your phone on full blast. Quiet the fuck down and have some GD respect.

Admittedly, when I was younger and didn’t fully appreciate the costs and tasks involved in running my own household, I was most likely NOT a good houseguest. I’m writing this in hopes that it will help the younger versions of me out there turn over a new leaf and start becoming more likeable when you’re visiting.

Peace out, stellar bitches!

Fool me once. A little introspective reflection on this fine sunny Sunday.

For the past four months, I’ve been diligently writing a book about our daughter, Cora’s, death, so I’ve been too mentally spent to blog much. However, blogging has always been my outlet, my therapy, my chance to get shit off my chest and flush it out and then keep moving forward, so before I fester much longer, I have to get this out and then move on.

Today, after A LOT of introspection and a few candid conversations with some very close friends, I finally find myself calm enough to blog about something that just about made my head explode the other day. I’m going to share it with ya’ll, but before I do, know that I have come out the other end having learned a VERY big life and business lesson and acknowledging my part in the truth of it all. I speak my truth and I don’t mind if it ruffles the odd feather.

A few years ago when I first moved to the Okanagan, before I built a house, I moved into a small walk-in basement suite that was actually an amazing little shooting space. Since it was a new space and a new area for me, I wanted to test it all out before I shot any paying clients there. I could have just hired a model. In hindsight, that would have been the smartest thing to do, but I was chatting with one of my friends about Boudoir and she said it would be fun to try, so I asked if she would be my model for some boudoir images.

The deal was that I would do a shoot with her and, in exchange, she would give me permission to use her photos for promotional material. With paying clients, I never post their pics unless I get their permission and many of them don’t want their photos posted, so I respect their wishes. These particular pics were meant to be my Go-To pics because they were free game.

She agreed without hesitation and we ended up doing two shoots so I could also try out some new techniques I’d been studying. I paid for the hair and makeup for both shoots (a total of $300) and we shot two sessions that are in around the $1500 price range for paying clients (or approximately $3000 for the two sessions). I also gave her twice the number of photos I would normally give to a client who had paid for an equivalent session. We both put a lot of effort, time and fun into the sessions and the pics turned out even better than I thought they would. I ended up with a huge variety of photos, ranging from light and fun to dark and sensual. We were both fairly jacked about the efforts and the results and, after I delivered her pics, she gave me rave reviews and told all her friends about me.

It was, all around, an amazing experience and I was really happy it had worked out for both of us.

Fast forward to approximately a year ago when I got a message from her asking me to remove one of the pics I had posted of her. It was a pic with no face in it, just a sensual black and white shot of her from behind at an angle. It was tasteful and hot and completely anonymous. She said that she didn’t want any of her hubby’s friends to recognize her, so I took it down. Even though she had agreed to give me free license to use the pics, I was understanding and took the pic down. I was a bit irked, but I STILL took the pic down because I love this lady and I didn’t want to upset her.

Six months after that, I posted another shot of her sitting naked in a lake, facing away from the camera, but her face is turned sideways so you can see her profile. Again, she messaged me and asked if I could remove that pic and use another one I’d taken that didn’t show her face. Again, I was totally understanding and, even though I was actually pissed off about it, I STILL removed the pic.

Each time this happened, I received an “I’m really sorry, Jo.” However, there was literally no acknowledgment of the value of our trade OR the fact that I had completely upheld my end of the bargain and she wasn’t reciprocating.

Fast forward to present day.

I have a Boudoir Ad running on FB right now and I have been using a pic of her in the Ad. She’s clothed, but if you look REALLY closely, you can see a bit of her nipple beneath her shirt. 

This week, she sent me another message asking if I could edit the photo so that her nipple wasn’t so visible because she was worried some of her coworkers would see it and wouldn’t be cool with it. She also added in the fact that she was “really sorry, but…”.

I sat there, reading the message a few times and feeling my anger build up steadily. I even tried to take a few deep breaths and drop down into my heart center to calm myself and take the request in stride.

It didn’t work. I was PISSED OFF.

Not only had I given her thousands of dollars worth of my time and work (including paying for the Hair & Makeup artists both times out of my pocket) AND given her extra photos, but I had also spent hours looking through thousands of my boudoir pics to find one that would be accepted by the FB Ad algorithm. Before I had even submitted a pic of her, I had tried 12 or 13 others and that were all rejected by algorithms for being “too suggestive”. When I had finally submitted her pic and it had been accepted, I had actually jumped up and done a happy dance in my office and air high-fived myself. I hadn’t dared touch the Ad since then because I was worried that it wouldn’t be approved a second time if I made any changes (besides retargeting) to it.

So, when I read her message, logical thought eluded me and my head damn near exploded off my shoulders. 

Normally, when a photographer and non-paying client do a trade collaboration, there is a clause in the contract that states that should the “model” require the photographer to remove photos from social media at any time, the model will be required to compensate the photographer for the full amount of the session. I didn’t add that clause to the model release I had her sign because we are friends and I trusted her. That was clearly a gigantic mistake on my part and it just pissed me off more because I was angry with myself for being so trusting and letting that shit slide.

I was sitting there, seething – angry with her and at myself – and I couldn’t calm myself down.

I wanted to say NO. I wanted to remind her of the value of the photos I had given her and how much they would have cost had she paid me to do the shoots. I wanted to tell her that she was being a complete shithead for thinking it was totally okay to continue to shit on our agreement.

But I didn’t.

I took the photo down and reworked the ad (going through the disheartening and frustrating submission process for the second time) because, again, I didn’t want to upset her.

The entire time, I felt frustrated and angry and completely pissed off at myself for being so stupid. So many thoughts were racing through my mind:

  • How can someone who is supposed to be my friend think it’s okay to agree to something and then back out of her end of the agreement after I’ve fully upheld mine?
  • Why can’t I just tell her to stuff it and let her know that I’ll be using the pics as per our agreement and, if she doesn’t like it, she shouldn’t have agreed to do the shoots in the first place?
  • Maybe I should just tell her that I’ll be more than happy to remove all the pics of her I have ever used if she pays me the $3000 for both shoots.
  • How can I have made such a rookie mistake by leaving the most important clause out of the Model Release?
  • Why do I keep allowing this kind of shit to happen?

And then my anger popped in a bubble of “OH SNAP!”

And there it was…Why do I keep allowing this kind of shit to happen?

Guess what, kids? This is not the first time this has happened. Years ago when I was still in Kamloops, I did the exact same thing with another friend and ended up with the exact same result. [She was going through a divorce and we were spending a lot of time together and I could see that she badly needed a pick-me-up, so I offered to shoot her for free if I could use the pics for promotional purposes. She also wholeheartedly agreed and we did a killer shoot in a natural waterfall and the photos were amazing. Then, a year later, she got a new job and was suddenly worried about her reputation and asked me to take the photos off social media, and I did. And again, I got an “I’m really sorry to ask this but…” and nothing else.]

That first experience left me feeling completely hurt, totally used, undervalued, and disrespected. It made me question my friendship with her (and, honestly, it was never the same for me after that and I have never trusted her since) and question why I would offer someone something so valuable when it was so easy for her to just renege on her end of the deal without a second’s thought for how it would affect me or my business.

Imagine my chagrin when I realized that this was the second time I’d allowed this experience to unfold in my life. It immediately brought me to the “fool me once” saying.

This time, though, the anger went POOF the second I realized I basically set myself up to re-live the experience. I immediately let the anger go to focus on the lesson. This time, the motivation to NEVER repeat this mistake again has sparked change in me AND in the way I will be approaching my business from now on.

Not kidding, it was actually a fucking blessing in disguise and it brought to light other instances (too many to count, actually) where I have offered to shoot for free and then been ridiculously disappointed when the people I shoot don’t share my work, thank me, or even leave a simple review on my FB page or Google.

This has made me realize, quite clearly, that I can’t shoot for free and have expectations for reciprocation UNLESS I outline those expectations clearly, in writing, and have people agree to them, in writing. Or, more importantly, shooting for free never seems to end well for me, so I won’t be putting myself in that position anymore.

I may be thick, but I get there eventually.

I’ve learned that it is much safer for my peace of mind and my business if I just hire a professional model when I want to try something new. I’ve learned that I am too generous in certain areas of my life and that, even though I still want to be generous, I need to focus that generosity in ways other than donating my time and energy to shooting friends and family for free. And, most of all, I have learned that I am still allowing myself to react to the shit that others do rather than reminding myself to breathe, take a step back, and put myself in their shoes for a few minutes before reacting.

That last one means more to me than the other two because I want to live my happiest, most-fulfilled life and I can’t do that if I’m allowing anger to cloud my thoughts and clutter up my heart, giving free reign to my ego to point my finger at others and forget to point inward.

Lastly, I love how life brings me these challenges that strip me down to the heart of the matter and show me when I’m a big part of the problem. There’s nothing more motivating and humbling that having my self-awareness smack me across the face.

Joy Should Never Have Guilt Attached To It.

NOTE: Originally posted in January 2017

ritchie-valens-43343I’ve been mostly MIA on my blog for nearly two years, but up until a week ago, I really didn’t know how to explain my absence to anyone. I wasn’t ready…until now.

Let me backtrack a bit:

On June 3, 2010, our beloved newborn, Cora Jane, died after picking up nosocomial pneumonia in the hospital and my life was turned upside down and sideways. The road of grief was long and winding and lasted years for both my husband and me. It fundamentally changed both of us but we eventually found solace on different paths – me in roller derby, he in motorcycle adventures. We lost each other somewhere in the meleeand I never quite found my way back.

On March 14, 2014, nearly four years after losing Cora, the stress of grief and life got to me and became really sick. I died a little bit and had one hell of a wickedly, wickedly, wickedly, awesome Near Death Experience (NDE) where I hung out with my dearly departed mom for an entire day and we chatted about the meaning of life and soul contracts. I learned more about myself in that brief blip in time than I had learned in nearly 40 years.

During that experience, mama told me something that I inherently knew but didn’t want to admit to myself: I was not in love with my husband any longer and our relationship was no longer viable. When she said it, I knew it as truth.

However, when I awoke in the hospital and my husband welcomed me back with a floodgate of tears and love, I just couldn’t bring myself to accept my mom’s revelation.

I was full to the brim with love and peace. My experience had opened up my soul so completely that I couldn’t fathom not loving my husband (and everyone else in my life), so I put those thoughts to the very back of my mind and got to work on loving everything. I spent the following six or seven months living life in a bubble of pure bliss, loving everyone and everything and understanding everything about the world. I was in a state of euphoria and it was the most magical feeling, aside from being dead, that I have ever known.

Then, one day in October 2014, it all crashed down around me when I opened the front door and was blasted by a shock wave of negativity that left me sitting on the floor, panting and panicked. It was the first time in my life I had what would later be described to me as a major anxiety attack, and so began the boomerang of the NDE survivor spectrum, extreme empathy. I began sucking up all the energy around me, especially the negativity.

For months, negativity plagued me. I would feel it everywhere I went and it would just keep building up inside. Anger would “jump ship” from someone else to me as I passed them on the street. Frustration would creep up on me if someone in the vicinity was frustrated about something. Despair, antagonism, fear, worry, stress, anxiety…you name it, I absorbed it. I was a Sham Wow for any kind of crappy feeling or emotion and just kept pulling it all in with no means of wringing it out until I was nearly bursting. It was debilitating. I started staying in the house for long periods of time (sometimes up to two weeks), shutting out the world and completely at a loss as to how to stop it.

I stopped working. I stopped hanging out with my friends. I basically stopped living. I was stressed out and afraid all the time. I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or two each night and I was so moody that I would erupt like a volcano over nothing on a regular basis.

I actually thought I might be going crazy and I thought I needed meds to bring me back to sanity.

Through all of it, my husband was really understanding and took care of me —working all day and then stopping for groceries, cleaning the house, making excuses for our friends and family for my constantly skipping functions —and the entire time, I felt resentful of him. I resented him for being so nice and kind to me. I resented him for loving me so much. I resented him for being so nice when I was being such a stone cold bitch and didn’t really appreciate any effort he was putting into our relationship. Nothing he did was good enough or, well…enough, period. I couldn’t understand why he was such a huge source of my anger when he was doing everything he could to make me happy. The guilt of it was all-consuming.

I was more despondent than I have ever been in my entire life, even after Cora died, and everything became a downward spiral. I started losing friends because I couldn’t keep up relationships. I lost business because I couldn’t find the energy to shoot anymore. I alienated my husband and kept him at arm’s length at all times. I just shut down.

At the time, I didn’t understand anything that was happening to me and I didn’t know how to clear the energy out of me or block it from getting in, so I just retreated into myself and grew more miserable every day. I was stuck in a dead end and I felt like I was constantly beating my head against a wall.

One night while my husband was on a motorcycle trip to Mexico, I was laying in bed asking my soul guides for help and my mom’s voice came through loud and clear. “Jo, remember what I said? It’s time to stop pretending and get moving.”

And just like that, something clicked. During my NDE, my mom had also told me that those moments in life when we feel like we are at a dead end and are beating our head against a wall are moments when our soul guides are trying to steer our feet onto a new path and we are resisting. She said that when this happens and we continue to resist, life gets harder and harder until our vibration gets so low, nothing but pain and misery get in. Sometimes we find our way back—if we realize what we’re doing and trust our guides to help us out of it—and sometimes we don’t. Laying there, in that moment, I realized that everything I was feeling and experiencing was coming from my own resistance to the truth —I was no longer in love with my husband. I loved him, yes, but only as a friend. I had been forcing my heart, in vain, to find its way back to something that no longer existed. I had denied the truth in my heart and it had finally caught up with me and kicked my ass. My own resistance had backed me into a corner and forced me to face up to my fears or stay lost forever.

And just like that, I knew I couldn’t pretend anymore. When he called me the following day, even though I knew I was going to hurt him so much, I told him that I was leaving him.

Not only was it an awful feeling, but it was also, remarkably, a great feeling too. The moment I got the words out, I felt the weight of all of that negativity shift and begin to dissipate and I knew that I was doing what I needed to do to save my own sanity. The entire situation sucked moldy ass crackers, but for the first time in a few years, being honest with myself, and him, felt so liberating.

And, suddenly, the world came back to life for me. My vibrations started to rise and I started surfacing from the mire.

Fast forward 20 months to where I’ve gone through some hugely significant changes, all good for me.

I have moved to another city and slowly begun to establish myself here. I have learned how to control the way I take in or block other people’s energy and I no longer get bogged down with it. I also pay close attention to thoughts and feelings that come up within me and I honor and acknowledge all of them.

But up until last week, I wasn’t ready to let go of the guilt I’ve been carrying around for so long.

I couldn’t shake the guilt of not being able to love my ex the way he wanted me to and of disrupting both of our lives to follow my heart. I knew we were both better off because it is so unfair to pretend you feel something for someone that you don’t, but it was still eating me up inside.

Last week, Greg (my new guy) and I had a conversation about how I seem to keep my life with him on the down low. He also said he thought it was because I was trying really hard to be sensitive to my ex’s feelings. Even though I didn’t actually realize that I was doing that, as soon as he said it, I knew it for truth and I acknowledged and sat with it for a couple days.

I, indeed, stopped blogging about most things in my life because they have involved Greg and I was being sensitive to my ex’s feelings and didn’t want him to think I was throwing my happy moments in his face. It had been 20 months since we officially separated and I was still trying to censor my life to avoid hurting his feelings. I was, in essence, subconsciously suppressing myself because I was unsure if my ex was happy and I didn’t want to hurt him more by admitting to my own happiness.

My ex is a good man and I want him to be happy too, but his happiness isn’t my or anyone else’s responsibility. His happiness depends solely on his outlook. I have been burdening myself with too much guilt for following my heart, something that has brought me great joy and anything that causes a person joy should never have guilt attached to it.

So 
I have only just chosen to forgive myself and embrace my new life and all that it is.

I feel like I am home, in all ways, since I moved to the Okanagan. Back in a small town, living with the guy I fell in love with the moment I laid eyes on him when I was 17 (true story), and happily struggling through the ups and downs of the day-to-day.

Chugging forward with an open heart full of gratitude and newly lightened shoulders, I can’t wait to see what amazing things this year will bring for me, my life, and my relationship with my new guy.

I wish you all dragonflies and let the blogging begin again!

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Letting Go of Toxic People

adult-beach-bikini-999537

I lost my shit yesterday, on one of my long-time friends, over something that was absolutely none of my business and, when I finally came up for air, I realized that I felt a huge sense of relief and no remorse.

It took me all night to process why I didn’t feel awful for saying some really awful shit to someone I love. I tossed and turned all night while I mulled it over. It’s not like me to say hateful things without extreme regret and a profuse apology. It’s not like me to deliberately hurt someone’s feelings and then walk away feeling relieved.

I mean, what kind of friend does that?

This morning, I do feel fairly shitty that I couldn’t just keep my big mouth shut and give her the sympathy and support she was seeking, but I also still feel a huge sense of relief. It was not the right time to say what I said, but when is the right time to ever tell someone any awful truth that we see about them?

Toxic people are like a bottle of poison we ingest slowly

Firstly, I turned quite toxic for awhile after my kid died and I lost quite a few friends because of it. When some of those friends told me I was toxic, I hated hearing it and I resented them for saying it, but I listened to them. Once the initial anger dissipated, I knew that they were speaking the truth and, as much as it hurt, I knew I had to do something about it.  When I’d had enough of feeling shitty, I took their words and used them to make all the changes I needed to climb back up out of the abyss of pain and anger I was wallowing in. Understandably, I hated being told that I was toxic because nobody ever wants to hear that about ourselves-especially while grieving the loss of a child or other loved one- but the stuff that hurts us the most is the undesirable truth and that is the part we need to take in, meditate on, and process. That is the part we need to focus on fixing, for our own well-being.

But some people, no matter what we say or how we say it (nicely or not), just don’t want to hear any of it and they don’t want to learn and grow from it. This is my friend.

She is an energy vampire and a martyr.

funny cartoon about energy vampires

For the past five or so years, she has been sucking the life out of me on a regular basis without even realizing it. I find myself avoiding visits with her when she invites me to visit or she comes to BC because I’m completely drained after only a couple hours with her. When my phone beeps with her text tone, I immediately dread reading the text because I know that, 9 times out of 10, she is going to be complaining, whining, seeking enablement (which she thinks of as support, but just isn’t so. I can have sympathy and support someone, even if I don’t agree with them. What she wants is for people to agree with her, take her side, and tell her that all of her feelings are justified. That’s not supporting, that’s enabling.). In general, every conversation we have is her telling me how difficult her life is and how extremely unhappy she is with it. And, no matter how much positivity and light I try to throw at her, no matter how much I try to be loving and supportive or suggest helpful ways for her to improve her life situation, she balks. She argues with me that she can’t get out of the situation she’s in (when she can). She makes excuses for everything to justify feeling shitty (even though she is creating her own shitty reactions to her situation). She comes up with every reason under the sun why she just can’t fix her unhappiness and it’s never about her. It’s always because someone or something else is preventing her from finding the happiness she longs for.

I figured out last year that she is physically addicted to drama, although she swears she isn’t.

saying goodbye to the Drama Llama
Two words: Drama Llama

Drama causes the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to secrete endorphins (pain-suppressing and pleasure-inducing compounds that ease anxiety and stress). She thrives on drama because the endorphins it creates make her feel good, but when the drama passes, she starts to feel shitty again so she either creates or finds more drama to pick herself back up. It’s an exhaustive, body and soul-depleting cycle, but she has NO idea she is behaving like this and she won’t listen to me or others who have tried to help her.

And so yesterday, when she texted me with a simple, “Broken heart today”, I immediately knew I’d had enough and didn’t really care why she was broken hearted. I was simply exhausted with her perpetual cycle of whining and bullshit and I couldn’t stop myself from telling her what I felt about all of it. In hindsight, I should have just left her text alone, but I always wonder if she is, in fact, in dire straits and if I can do anything to help. Obviously, I’m a bit obtuse sometimes and have been helping to keep the cycle going.

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And so, I lost my shit and told her that I couldn’t deal with her anymore. It was definitely the wrong time and place, as she was genuinely distressed, but I couldn’t bring myself to have sympathy for that situation either. I was just done with all of it.

A sleepless night later and I have asked myself some really soul-searching questions. What is it that makes us hang on to the toxic people in our lives so long, and through so much shit, before we are so depleted that we have to bail to save our own sanity and souls? Why is it I couldn’t find a way to get through to her a long time ago and maybe stop her train of self-pity and soul-destruction in its tracks? What will it take to get her to realize she is constantly creating stress, drama, sadness, and despair for herself and that she’s draining the people around her?

And my conclusion: I have no idea.

Maybe she will never be happy. Maybe she will always be addicted to drama. Maybe this is her path to walk and there is nothing I, nor anyone else can say or do to help her take a different path.

What I do know is that I allow her to bring out the absolute worst in me and I’ve been allowing it for years (as many of my friends and family can attest to). I can be in a fantastic mood and we will have a conversation and it will end with me feeling like a bag of old, unhappy shit. She brings out my tell-it-like-it-is, self-righteous, Judgey McJudgerson side (something I put a lot of effort into ignoring), and I allow her to create feelings of hopelessness and helplessness when we interact. Sometimes I just cry for 20 minutes in frustration that she can’t see how much she wants to remain unhappy. For whatever reason (probably because I love her kids so much), I just can’t seem to let go of her and keep perpetuating the effect she has on me. Who knows, maybe I’ve become addicted to her drama. Whatever the reason, I cannot allow myself to go down that rabbit hole anymore, regardless of how much I actually love her and her family.

I read a quote yesterday that made me finally come to my senses: “At some point, we have to realize that some people can still stay in our hearts, even when they can no longer remain in our lives.”

This is where I am at. I love her and wish her happiness, but I can no longer participate in her toxic cycle and I have to accept that and be okay with it for love of my own sanity.

Lastly, being such an asshole yesterday was a good reason to go within and do a little housecleaning in my “Don’t be a judgmental douchebag” closet and remember that anger and self-righteous bullshit are never the answer – even when we feel totally justified in our beliefs. Although I won’t say that it won’t happen again, it has definitely brought some of my own undesirable behaviors into the forefront of my mind and I will, once again, be a lot more aware of how I’m treating others.

And, like everything challenging that life sends our way, all we can do is choose to learn from it and grow.

Cora’s Would Be 7th Birthday.

NOTE: Repost of a post I wrote on Cora’s 3rd Birthday and then again last year. I just couldn’t write about her this year – something about it hurt a little too much.

Life, like childbirth, can be simultaneously painfully messy and beautifully rewarding.

We walk the paths we are meant to walk, even when they cause astronomical amounts of pain, because those paths lead to growth and new awareness. All we have to do is trust the journey and it will always take us where we are meant to be.

Losing our newborn (only one day after she was born) was definitely not how I imagined I would begin my latest journey of colossal transformation. It’s also not something I would wish on anyone, but the rub of it is I also know how good it can be for people to go through something so devastating. I am always grateful for every lesson I have learned from the experience of losing Cora, finding my way through the epic journey of grief, the mind-blowing number of people she touched and continues to touch, and the incredible people I’ve come into contact with as a result of her death. I’m grateful for the growth of my soul, especially the connection I’ve developed with my dearly departeds (who are always with me) and my soul guides (who are always whispering in my ear).

I honestly wouldn’t change any of it, even if I could, because it shaped me and opened me up to the bigger picture. I always say that her death awakened my soul and it’s absolutely true.

This is a repost from Cora’s 3rd birthday, but it’s still 100% relevant.

I remember everything about you. Your big hands and adorable “Johnson” feet. Your beautiful, huge, squishy lips. I remember how your fingers felt wrapped around my finger and how you felt in my arms. I remember the feel of your soft skin and your silky hair – so much of it and so curly, like your dad’s. I remember the beautiful sound of your tiny, soft cries when you first graced us with your presence and how your little face screwed up in anger when the NICU team was assessing you.

I remember how hot your head and feet were when I would cup them in my hands and sing to you, trying to get your vitals to stabilize. And I remember the one and only time that you opened your eyes and looked up at me while you squeezed my finger. You seemed so strong that I thought nothing would ever take you from us.

I also remember how your eyes became blank and empty a few hours before you left us and how your daddy had to look away until the nurse closed your eyes because he couldn’t bear the thought of you already being gone. I remember looking down at your beautiful, but extremely swollen face as you were dying in my arms and I remember thinking that no person should have to lose two babies in one lifetime. I remember knowing, instinctively, that this time was different and that it was going to change me completely and that my life would never be close to the same again.

I remember absolutely everything about you and our brief time together – all of the pain, beauty, joy, heartbreak, and grief. I remember it all so vividly, but what I remember the most is love. A love so full that it radiated through me – all-encompassing.

If I forget everything else about our experience with you – your hands, your feet, those lips, the feel of your soft skin and cheek against my lips; the pain and all the other emotions of bearing and then losing a miracle child – I’m going to cling to the love forever. That love was the greatest gift I have ever received.

Happy 6th Birthday, baby girl. My gift to you is to love all that I am while I continue to carry all that you are inside my heart.

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Rescuing Animals is Heartbreaking Work.

NOTE: Repost from 2016

Buddhist’s say that the path to all suffering is paved with attachments. The more you attach yourself to something, the more likely you are to suffer if you lose it. So, to avoid suffering, you simply avoid attachments.

What, the fuck, ever.

I love animals more than I’ll ever love people.

I’m abrasive, outspoken, stubborn and opinionated. I see through other people’s bullshit in 2.6 seconds and I call them on it when I see it. It doesn’t make me the most popular gal on the block and it doesn’t win me a lot of friends. My circle of bosom friends is small and tight—limited to those who totally get me and love me for me anyway, as well as call me out on my bullshit when it’s needed.

As a result, my relationships with animals have always been more intimate and intricate than most I have with people. I speak animal. I understand their body language, learn to interpret their sounds and have a mad respect for the fact that they are animals, not people, and will never judge me.

A week ago, when my new guy, Greg, and I were faced with rescuing two abandoned ducklings or leaving them to die in the elements. It was a no-brainer for both of us. We captured them (well, they ran into Greg’s hands), warmed them up, got some food into them and never looked back. I anticipated that I would be giving them round-the-clock care for a few months until I could find a place to send them where they would be cared for by humans who already had ducks. Or, if no place could be found, we would build them an enclosure and I would keep them, free to come and go, but always having a safe place to return, until they died at a happy old age. There was never a moment that I wasn’t committed to the well-being of those tiny, fuzzy, adorable babies.

The weakest one would barely eat and died within a day of being rescued. She was just too weak to eat enough and even body warmth and the heating pad and heat lamp couldn’t keep her warm enough. I was sad, but the other little one was thriving, so I thought that at least I could still focus on raising her sister and giving her everything she needed.

We named her Radish and we kept moving forward, without hesitation. Her care was constant. I had surgery two days after her sister died and Radish’s care still took precedence. We worked her routines into our own, working together to make sure she was always cared for and content.

Raising Radish was a non-stop gig and, although I joked with people about how they could borrow her so I could have a break from her constant peeping, I loved every second-Every. Single. Second- of it, even when she was crapping down my shirt…a few times a day.

Last night, after she’d been doing really well in it during the day, I decided that she was ready to sleep in her cage, under the heat lamp, instead of in her little night box with the heating pad underneath it.

I was wrong.

Despite doing well each time we checked on her, around 3 a.m. I found her cold and wigging out, in shock, after wandering away from her heat lamp, probably in search of a drink of water or us. We tried to warm her up and bring her back, but instead watched her slowly die. For 15 minutes Greg held onto her, while we talked to her and petted her. I even asked my soul guides to help her and willed her to pull through with everything I had. Eventually, though, her pupils became pinpoints before completely dilating as she went limp in Greg’s hands and we lost her…and I lost it.

I made the call; It was totally the wrong one and she paid the price for my ignorance—something I’m sure I’ll eventually come to terms with.

Right now, all I feel is overwhelming sadness that she didn’t make it. Even though, statistically, only 2 out of 10 wild ducklings make it past the first two weeks of life, it’s still killing me that we couldn’t save either Radish or her wee sister.

Funny how attached a person can become to an animal in only a week. I am crushed. Devastated. She was my constant shadow for the past week and she had such a funny little personality—from the way she attacked her food and burrowed her bill into my neck, to the way she jumped at every dandelion in the yard and tried to eat it, no matter how large it was. Just a duck? Not a chance. She was already a member of my animal family and I loved her as much as I love my cats and dog.

It’s been a hell of a rough day. My eyes are puffy from crying every few minutes. My chest feels heavy with her absence. My ears miss the sound of her little peeps and the clickity click of her claws on the floor as she followed me around. Perhaps the fact that it’s three days away from the 6th anniversary of my daughter’s death has me a tad more emotional than usual. Perhaps it’s the way that Radish looked to me for all her worldly needs, something I never had the opportunity to provide for Cora. Whatever the reason, it sucks and it hurts.

However, as with anything in this life, there are lessons here that have been slowly revealing themselves all day.

One: Humans, no matter how virtuous our intentions, are seldom a suitable substitute for nature. There’s a reason the circle of life exists and often that circle will complete itself, regardless of how much we try to interfere. We tried and we failed, but I learned A LOT about how hard it is to rescue a wild animal, how much time and energy it takes, and how hard it is to avoid forming an attachment while doing it. I have a hugely newfound respect for those superheroes out there who rescue animals on a regular basis. I can’t even fathom how they continually handle the loss of the creatures they try so hard to care for and rehabilitate.

Two: My heart is strong enough to always find its way back to being whole. After my first baby, Kieran, died (when I was only 23 and 6.5 months along), I thought my heart would stay in pieces forever, but time stitched it back together. When my mom died suddenly only six months later and it was ripped apart again, I was surprised to find it didn’t stay that way. Those losses were followed by other losses and more heartbreak until, finally, the biggest heart-shattering event ever when we lost our beautiful baby girl after only 30 brief hours with her. After that happened, I thought I was done. I thought that my heart could only be shredded so many times before it would refuse to pull itself back together and just give out completely. Yet somehow, time healed it again. And now, here I am, feeling the now familiar weight of grief pressing down on my shoulders and my heart splitting apart once more, but this time, a new awareness is shining through all the heartache. Each time something has broken my heart and it has repaired itself, it has grown a little stronger, until I’ve reached the point that my heart has an infinite capacity to be broken and repaired.  

It sucks, and it hurts like hell, but I have to say that all of the pooping, peeping, snuggles, laughs, stress, worrying, and sleepless nights we put into that tiny duckling only to have it end in tragedy…well, it was all worth it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

RIP Radish.

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