God, Good Hair Days & Gravy

All things I am thankful for.

Corny title, I know. Hope it had you rolling. Okay, I butter stop.

That was terrible, I’m sorry. Please (pretty please, with sugar on top) keep reading…

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I read somewhere that a way to turn our attitudes around and find happiness is to focus on having a heart full of gratitude- thinking about all the things that we have, instead of what we don’t.

I know (in light of this holiday) you’ve probably seen enough of this on your social media outlets today, but it’s important for me to write this list, and it serves as a reminder for me to look at when I’m feeling crappy.

So, in no particular order, here are 30 things I am thankful for:

1. To be alive. In light of recent events in the world, I’ve seen how quick life can be taken away, and it is unfortunately what many of us take for granted the most. Remember, life only sucks some of the time.

2. My parents. I was blessed with two hardworking, supporting parents who have always put me first and sacrificed so much just so I could have the things they didn’t. They have always believed in me. I will always be indebted to them, and will always love them more than anything.

3. Friendships, whether past or present. The past couple years I have focused so much on the friendships that have dissolved or people that have shown their true selves, but it caused me to 1. Forget that those people came into my life and left for a reason, and 2. neglect the friends that had been there all along. To have one true friend is better than ten fake ones. Whether they are cities, states, or countries away, they have helped shape me into who I am today. (Thank you all, and I know I need to call more often!)

4. The incredible man that I am lucky to call mine. JJ embodies unconditional love in every sense of the word. He takes care of me, protects me, sees and loves every flaw yet only announces it as perfection. He keeps me sane, and keeps me smiling.

5. My health. This past year I’ve had two surgeries that made me rethink how fortunate I am to have the ability to do simple things like eating or walking without pain or discomfort. Your health is really everything.

6. Running. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are. But it has been the driving force behind becoming the stronger version of myself this past year. I have pushed past the limits I set on myself, and came to understand I have none.

7. This blog. It has forced me to be vulnerable and transparent with my life, my feelings, and my words, and held me accountable for actively writing and relaying experiences of my life. I know it has been a big step in the right direction for me.

8. Discovering a community of writers in the Madwomen in the Attic classes.

9. My niece. Because she is so sweet and chubby and the only baby I’ve ever really liked. Because she is a new family member to love. And of course, my brother and sister-in-law are in this category as well ūüôā

10. My job. I work at a  wonderful university where I am surrounded by brilliant individuals, and it also gives me a paycheck and benefits. Really can’t complain.

11. My apartment. Sure, it blows coughing up that much $$$ every month, but I have a roof over my head (though it sometimes leaks) and a little corner of the universe to decorate and be as pantsless as I like.

12. Traveling. This is no secret. ‘Nuff said.

13. My education. I will admit that 75% of the stuff I studied for I have already forgotten, but at least I had the opportunity to sit in a classroom and learn.

14. My hometown. Everyone has some sort of love/hate relationship with where they grew up, but for me, it gave me the comfort of community and the peace from driving down back roads.

15. Public transportation (weird, I know) for letting me not demonstrate to the world what a terrible driver I am- especially when it is winter, and when it is not. I don’t worry about getting myself to & from work safely, or parking, or, paying for parking, etc.

16. Wearing my heart on my sleeve. Because it means I am like my mother, and she is warm but can rage with fire, and I love that- regardless if I am labeled emotional or too sensitive because of it.

17. Chocolate, because without it I would be a miserable bitch.

18. Technology, so I can Skype or call my friends/relatives whenever I am not near them.

19. JJ’s entire family, for taking me in as their own, and always making sure I am well fed…(as if I’d pass up on any food, ever.)

20. My grandparents, because they’re so cute and have shown me what true love is. (Or just that it is possible to put up with someone 60+ years of your life.)

21. Music, for getting me through my teenage years. Literally.

22. Books, for letting me lose myself in their pages and revealing my love for reading and writing.

23. CHAPSTICK. I own over 300 tubes of lip gloss, probably. No, really, someone should count them all.

24. My teachers, other adults (friends, coaches, employers, coworkers, etc.) in my life who have significantly shaped and guided me through whatever rough waters I was facing. Often, we don’t realize it until we’ve moved on.

25. My setbacks. I’ve felt heartbreak, but it lead me to someone better. I faced rejection letters from literary magazines, but it fueled my desire to try harder. Everything- friendships that fell apart, prayers that weren’t answered, “WHY ME??” moments in my life- were all preparing me for something greater.

26. Carbohydrates. Do I really need to elaborate?

27. Humor, without it life would be so dull.

28. Blankets, fuzzy socks, oversize sweaters- things that are cozy and soft.

29. Warm weather, because then I can be barefoot and sun kissed and in a better mood.

30. Sheetz, because it was love at first bite and it’s always welcoming me no matter what the hour.

 

P.S. I really tried to refrain from listing all foods. It was much harder than I thought.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

o-THANKSGIVING-TRADITIONS-facebook

 

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Lesson of the Weak

These past couple weeks,¬†I am struggling with self-love. I am learning to set boundaries, and what I can and cannot accept. Learning that it is all part of the struggle…

 

Struggling to feel beautiful, when a surgery on my mouth has left my face swollen and bruised.

Struggling to keep healthy, when the pain killers are causing waves of nausea that leave me doubled over on the bathroom floor.

Struggling to deal with ghosts, people and things that I cannot continue to keep in the past.

Struggling with homesickness, knowing that when I go home, it isn’t the same as it once was.

Struggling with distance, and the many spaces it puts between my family.

Struggling with money, knowing that it is the cause of so many problems, and how it shouldn’t be.

Struggling with time, wishing it away for the next big thing, and in the same breath, wanting it to slow down.

Struggling with standing up for myself, when I¬†can’t do so without apologizing or explaining.

Struggling with friendships, to let go of those that have dissolved or no longer serve me.

Struggling with the definition of womanhood, with the looks I receive when I say I do not desire children.

Struggling with balance, of always being present but planning for the future.

Struggling with work, of paving the way to my dreams, or letting them pass me by.

Struggling with saying no, because it would mean admitting defeat and weakness.

Struggling with saying yes, because it could bring the unknown.

Struggling with death, what to take from it when it takes so much from us.

Struggling with change, how to channel the energy into the things I can control.

Struggling with worry, that robs my days and nights of happiness.

Struggling with peace, and how we will have to create it out of nothing if we cannot find it in this world.

Struggling with my mind, to put anxiety to sleep when it is the culprit of my lack thereof.

Struggling with acceptance, realizing that not everyone will see your heart the way you do.

 

These struggles, among others, will continue to be there the next 25 years of my life and more, in a larger capacity, with deeper cuts, and in more complex ways.

I believe that the most difficult struggle is not these things against me, but myself. For me to convince myself these small battles mean nothing on the war I’m waging. That to believe feeling everything so deeply does not mean I am weak, or insecure. That I do not have to apologize for my thoughts, or anchor my heart where it is not meant to be. And to stay true to who I am, when I am sometimes¬†not sure who that even is. None of us have

 

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On a Connecting Flight from Philadelphia to Frankfurt

I make my home for the next eight hours in seat 22C, separated by an aisle from two French girls with honey woven hair, their words bubbling over the soft cries of a child behind me.
To my right- a blonde, straight-faced younger man. He copies my dinner order on our overnight flight, and I exchange names for time to kill.
Ryan from Indiana, graduate from Nashville, selling engineering equipment on a business trip.
I tell him I am Kara, almost 23, a bird fleeing from the suffocating nest of corporate worlds
And how I will travel.

He said I inspired him to do something spontaneous
But he is not yet ready to canyon jump in Interlaken
Or abandon ship from the security of a 9-5 office,
That 35,000 feet in the air is more than enough risk.
I laugh as we talk of past education, and our families back home
He is 27. No kids or wife, he says.
Conversation is a coffee-carrying flight attendant still meandering
As we touch down in Frankfurt, our throats scratched from conversation.
He jokes that he better be in my book when it is published
And my eyes smile as if to say, ‚ÄúYou will.‚ÄĚ

Air-plane

Weeks later, I will remember this journal entry and look up Ryan from Indiana
To find two blonde toddlers and a wife plastered in his pictures
And will need to steady myself from the turbulence.
Why did you have to invent a story to a woman you just met, leaving out the woman you wrote it with?
And stash oxygen masks from your children as you suffocate them with your silence?
Why lie at all?
Maybe you needed to feel the desire of fresh attraction,
Or try on a shade of single to cover up what you left behind.
But hiding your wedding ring, in a foreign country, telling your wife you love her when you’re flying white lies fast out of Germany…you make me wish I could think up a plane crash for men like you.

P.S. Here you go, Ryan. I wrote about you.

 

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Something to Sacrifice

My brother, Ryan, never made it to my high school or college graduation. He’s missed several birthdays, countless holidays, and important moments in my life where I needed him most, or just wanted him to be¬†there.

Now in their sixties, my¬†parents¬†have had an empty room upstairs in their home¬†for nearly the past ten¬†years. There are not really any Mother’s Day or Father’s Day celebrations, let alone birthdays, or Christmas mornings with the four of us gathered together by the tree. In fact, I have felt like a family of three for quite some time now.

Now that my parents are grandparents, they can count the number of times they have seen their granddaughter on one hand since she has been born. And, as a first time aunt, I am realizing how much distance robs me of the simple things: discovering what gross things she may try to put in her mouth, learning to crawl, what color her ever-curious eyes are, and the way her laughter sounds. I only know by the videos that are sent to me.

Sure, a lot of this can be chalked up to “growing up.” Things change- I get it. People get older, move away, get married, and start their own families. There is no denying that it is simply a part of life, and sometimes it sucks.

However, our lives are different for another reason: the military. My brother joined the Air Force right out of high school. He became engaged to the love of his life, Alesha, at age 19, and they were married at just 21. Since then, they have lived in England and Italy, and traveled all over the world. My brother has slept in countries I probably couldn’t even find on a map. Despite the deployments and distance, Alesha has remained a pillar of strength for my brother and supported all of his endeavors, even if it means a rough road ahead for her. She has endured the difficult adjustments of living in foreign countries and being separated from her family back in the States. I can only imagine the many nights she has slept alone, struggling to keep the house in order, while working full time, just keeping her mind busy¬†until my brother’s safe return. Ryan and Alesha¬†have shown me what it means not only to sacrifice, but to love, honor, trust, and support your spouse unconditionally. They have fully put their faith in one another, and I admire that more than I have ever told them. ¬†In June, after 5 years of marriage, they welcomed their first child, Cora Rae. Now, they are thankfully back in the States, but still a 10 hour drive away.

It is hard for me to admit that Ryan and I did not have the best relationship growing up. I was (as he would say) the annoying little sister, grappling at every chance to spend with him. In the end, all it did was smother him and push him further away. Yet, during my years in college, and his overseas, our relationship stabilized significantly. Though the calls were few and far between, we grew closer. I finally visited him in England in the winter of 2010. It was there that my desire to travel ignited, and could not be ignored. In a sense, he is the reason behind what I have been able to accomplish, whether he knows it or not.

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But in the typical fashion of life’s many surprises, my military ties didn’t end with my brother. In April of 2013, I went on a date with a friend from college, J.J. ¬†And- wait for it-¬†he was in the Air Force as well.

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(Ryan, left. J.J., right)

We have been dating ever since, and though I have been lucky to have him stationed out of the 911th Airlift Wing right here in Pittsburgh, he has still faced his fair share of obstacles to overcome. I have seen firsthand how dedicated he is to serving our country, and how hard he works to be a better son, brother, boyfriend, and Airman. In past conversations, he has emphasized the way that the military changed him, both for better or for worse.

Friends have asked me, “Well, what if he gets deployed? Are you going to stay with him?” Part of me is always shocked when I hear that. The answer is yes. I chose¬†him, and though I didn’t necessarily choose the military, it comes as a package deal, and I am aware of that.¬†I support my brother and¬†J.J. 100% with everything they do, and despite distances or the strain on our relationships that this lifestyle may cause, I am forever proud of them.

Every year during this time, similar to Memorial Day, 4th of July, etc., I see countless posts on social media about thanking our armed forces for the sacrifices they make. But I also see those people at barbecues with their families, and significant others. I see them photographed with their siblings on family vacations. I see them partying with friends, at fancy Valentines Day dinners with their spouse, or together around the table for Easter dinner.

I am not denying anyone’s right to celebrate, or comparing sacrifices, or condemning those people. I cannot (and do not intend or wish to) sit here, innocent, because I too have taken far too much for granted, and we all have lost or sacrificed something- there is no need to measure the size of those scars.

But I would be lying to you all if I didn’t sometimes get upset over how I do not have the luxury of having annual¬†family vacations, or weekly dinners, or even Thanksgiving with my brother. I know that the time together we have missed is something I can never get back, and will always be looking forward to- especially now that my brother and sister-in-law have a family of their own.

I would also be lying to you if I didn’t admit how frustrated I can get sometimes with J.J.’s¬†unreliable schedule with ever-changing shifts, or the¬†months he is gone for¬†training. Having him not be there for certain things, or be unable to plan trips together (you all know I LOVE to travel) can still be upsetting, even though I understand fully and respect why they can’t happen, and feel selfish in¬†confessing these feelings.

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Because I certainly cannot complain.

For all of these things, I am lucky.

I may not have a brother (and consequently, a sister-in-law & niece) who are close by to visit. But I have a brother.

I may not be able to pick up when I’d like and travel with my man, or spend important days with him. But I have a man I love, and who loves me.

Some people don’t get their loved ones back. Some women¬†lose husbands DAYS before they are supposed to return from deployment. Daughters and sons lose fathers, just like they do mothers, while they are serving¬†our country- sometimes before they even get to meet them. Parents have had to bury their children without ever even saying goodbye.

I cannot imagine surviving the unthinkable. I do not even know the half of it, nor will I pretend to. I do not know what private wars still rage on in their minds when they return home, or the horror of the sights they have seen. I don’t know what they eat, or where they sleep, or the extent of everything they sacrifice, and from my brother’s silence, sometimes I don’t think I want to.

So yes, I am very lucky. And I am thankful. And all I know is that they deserve to hear this more than just on today.

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