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Matt and I were together for 10 wonderful years - met in 1998, married in 2002, until his untimely death on November 15, 2008. We have two beautiful, healthy children - Jacob (born 5/04) and Sydney (born 5/07)... the most precious gifts he could have ever given me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Going Home.

So much has happened in the month since I last posted!

The weekend of August 12th, I attended the third annual Camp Widow in San Diego and again, had a fabulous time. It was held at the beautiful Marriott Marquis and Marina, and I was reunited with some of the wonderful friends I made from the first one in 2009, and made even more. I decided not to volunteer this time, and use that weekend for a true vacation. My sister-in-law and her new husband who also live in San Diego kept Jacob and Sydney for the weekend (thank you so much, Brandi and Scott!!). They hung out with their awesome cousins Heather and Trevor, visited with Uncle Greg, got buried in the sand at the beach, climbed on real trains, experienced canoeing for the first time, went for ice cream, attended a festival where they played tug-of-war and other fun games, got body paint, jumped in bounce houses, and in their down time, Sydney played dress up and Jacob's very loose top front tooth came out!

Not long after we returned from San Diego, we went to Buffalo for the second time since our move to California. Getting there was an adventure in itself... We flew from LA to JFK, and were supposed to take a connecting flight from JFK to Buffalo. All flights into Buffalo, Rochester, and the surrounding areas were cancelled due to storms, and there were no flights available until the next day. I ended up driving from JFK to Buffalo. That's the WAY abbreviated version, but someone please remind me to write the full one - it's a cool story!

This trip was much different than the last... Last year when I went back, I didn't really even want to be there. I was scared to death of going back, and while I was there, I wasn't really "there." This time, I could not wait to go back. 

When I moved to California, I couldn't get away fast enough. I needed to be far away from everything- the house, the town, the people, the places we went to.... everything. I couldn't continue living the life that Matt and I had together without him there. Since my life had changed so drastically with losing Matt, EVERYTHING needed to change. It might not work for everyone, but it was the best thing I could have done for myself. I didn't escape the pain of his loss, and it didn't make me miss him less, but it made going about the daily motions more bearable, and allowed the kids and I to have new experiences that we never would have had otherwise being on the opposite coast. The sunshine and warmth was healing, I made wonderful new friends, and was closer in proximity to my brother and Matt's immediate family. Up until maybe six months ago, I didn't even have the capacity yet to miss anyone but Matt, so it was easy to leave.

About a month or so before I went to Buffalo for this most recent trip, I got the crazy idea that I wanted to move back. I don't even know where it came from, but it hit me like a brick and has been an overwhelming pull that I haven't been able to ignore. When it first hit me, I really wondered why I was torturing myself with the thought. I found myself agonizing over the decision. I obsessed over the pros and cons and drove myself completely nuts. At first it was pretty 50/50, but the more I thought about it and was as objective as I could be, it became very clear.

Friday, August 5, 2011

NEWS FLASH!

I'm gonna break my own rules and be a little political here... (By the way, I LOATHE politics, and I'm not knowledgeable about the stock market, or anything else financial for that matter.)

However, in light of what I've seen the past few years, I've come to a pretty confident conclusion...

CORPORATE AMERICA rules the country - not the government. 


A bit of evidence:
http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/breakout/fear-street-inside-stock-sell-off-204130841.html

PS- I have even more evidence, but I'm keeping my mouth shut - for now. 

Daddy's Bike

The past few days, I've been on a cleaning binge. Everything has been looking filthy to me, and lately I've had the energy to do something about it. Yesterday, I finally washed the van (inside and out), and decided while we were at it to wash all of our bikes.

Matt's BMX bike hasn't been washed since he last rode it in 2008. Sounds crazy, but I just wasn't ready to wash the dirt off of it that he put on it. Dirt that came from where we used to live together. It was the bike he rode around the yard and driveway with Jacob. He had sold his mountain bike (much to my surprise) not too long before his accident because he knew with his new job he wouldn't have the time to ride like he used to, plus when he did have the time, the local trails were usually too sloppy from rain to ride on. His road bike went to his dad who has put it to good use.

I decided to finally wash his bike - he never would have let it stay that dirty. It's been ridden by my brother and me, and I'd like to keep it in the condition that Matt would have - especially since Jacob will enjoy riding it someday.

When I started washing his bike, Sydney came over and asked if she could help wash Daddy's bike, and also so I wasn't doing it alone. My barely four year old, sensitive, insightful, sweet daughter came up with that on her own. Jacob joined us, and the three of us lovingly washed Matt's bike together.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer Fun 2011

Wow - I can't believe it's been over a month since I last posted! We've been pretty busy...

I got to be a grown-up and go see fireworks with a few friends for the Fourth of July (actually on the 1st), then the kids and I traveled to San Diego to be with the Rows for that week which is always such a great time! At the end of our visit, we all drove up to Six Flags Magic Mountain for another day of fun before heading home.

Matt's birthday was on July 11, and the kids and I celebrated his life in our usual way by getting an ice cream cake (his favorite), and the kids also wanted to get him flowers.

Jacob, Sydney and I headed out on July 16 for our first real road trip... I had decided the month before we were going to travel up to Northern California to visit friends and explore our new state, but I'd been so busy right up until the last minute that I didn't have much time to make very detailed plans, so we kind of winged it and it evolved as it went along. It probably ended up better that way than if I had planned out every little detail!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An update, and then some...

Well, the good news is, since Jacob has played that CD about 563 more times since my last post, I'm beginning to become desensitized to it, and starting to form new associations to the music - for instance, both kids singing along together. Bittersweet...

I love my sister so much. I texted her a few days ago to ask her if she still has her old phone since Verizon is charging us for not returning it, and fortunately she does. I called her today to share my victories in organizing my house with her, and she said that one of the first thoughts she had when she got my text about the phone was that I'm making progress because I'm actually looking at my bills!!! Hahaha!! She knows me better than anyone in this world.

For some reason, when someone is going through a difficult emotional time (I learned recently that this isn't just associated with a loss, but with a major funk of any kind), the bills seem to be the first thing that suffers. I don't know why, but it seems like any incoming mail (good or bad) ends up in piles and pushed aside. Bills or not, there the piles sit... It takes almost everything you've got to build up the gumption to sit down and open up the envelopes and deal with their contents. It's only very recently that I've started (mostly) keeping up with the mail that comes in. For some reason, the same applies to outgoing mail - that's even harder for some reason. I know I owe a million people thank-you's for a million different things, birthday cards, etc..... My apologies to everyone. I've thought about it LOTS, so if it's truly the thought that counts, then I might be in the clear.

My sister recognized the fact that I not only must have opened the Verizon bill, but actually LOOKED at it and am even questioning it! For her to "get" that was so amazing to me. It even opened up my eyes to see that I'm making more progress than I even thought! Thank you, Michelle!!!!

I've been living in California now for almost two years - it's only been two and a half since Matt's death - and it seems I might  FINALLY be getting settled. Even though I may have made it "look" like I had it together shortly after we arrived, it's taken me this long.

And I'll let you in on a little secret.... There are probably lots of books, articles, etc. out there with tips and tricks for getting organized, but I had a simple revelation recently that put it all into perspective (and you're getting it here for free - he he):

Monday, June 27, 2011

Train music.

Jacob has this "All Aboard" CD from John Denver... Back when I worked at Gow, before Matt died, one of the parents and I got talking about our kids (among many other things) and she recommended this CD to me for Jacob because of his love of trains. It's full of train songs, and we used to play it all the time. It's upbeat, happy music that Jacob got a thrill out of listening to. Right after Matt died, when my house was full of people, Jacob really wanted to play the CD again. I couldn't deny him. So, had Matt just died, I have a silent houseful of people, and this happy music that used to bring so much joy to our home was playing - it was all a very strange irony.

Fast forward to this home, two and a half years later. Jacob found the John Denver CD that we used to play all the time. That played that day. He was SO excited to find it, and I was excited for him! Until he played it. As I listened to the music, my heart sank and took me right back to the last day I heard that music. It's been playing over and over again for the last 3 hours. Thank god it's bedtime (well, a bit past now) or I think I'd have to jump off a nearby cliff.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Getting caught up...

It's been a while since I've posted a true update with what's going on in our lives, so here goes!

I made a difficult decision to stop volunteering with Soaring Spirits in order to focus more time and energy on my kids and my home (and myself). I also decided to go forward with starting up my college consulting business for students with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences. I'm planning to be full swing by the fall, and start bringing in some money to the household.

Sydney's full-day preschool program has been discontinued, and that spurred the mad search for preschools for next school year since she still has a year to go before Kindergarten. That led to me finding a school for both her and Jacob, since I want to keep them together. Not only do they get so excited when they see each other in the hallway, on the playground or in the cafeteria, but it's comforting for them, and for me for them to be together. Plus, it's easier for drop off and pick up.

I found a school that has both a preschool and elementary school on the same campus, and they will offer the kids a wonderful well-rounded education. Right now, the public school system here pretty much only offers reading and math - no science, PE, art, music.... Anything extra has to be outsourced. When I grew up, public schools offered all of that. Unfortunately, if parents want to give those same opportunities to their children out here, they have to send them to private school. It's gonna be expensive, but I'm pretty sure we qualify for at least some financial aid. I'm taking the same approach to this as I did when I moved out here. I knew it was the best thing for us, and I'll figure out how to make it work as I go along.

During this time in between, I'm getting caught up around the house (it has been woefully let go) - getting organized, clean, and at a place where I can maintain it easily. I do have some big projects planned, like staining the play structure that Matt built, staining the table and chairs outside for the kids, and the gate, painting the bathroom and laundry room, and painting the outside of the house. Those are things that have been on hold since we moved here, and I would really like to get them finished before the fall, too.

The kittens we got a few weeks ago from the SPCA bring a lot of life and fun energy to the house. They're over their upper respiratory infections and doing great! I can't believe how quickly they started using the litter boxes... SO much easier than a dog!

I finally planned our trip to Buffalo in August for the Run for Row. It's scheduled for August 21 this year, so if anyone who is reading this plans to be in the area, please register - it'll be great to see everyone! You really don't even need to run. You can walk, or just socialize and be there to offer support. It's the 3rd annual 5K - I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I'm not sure how it can be the 3rd one already when it'll just be three years this November since Matt's accident... I'm not willing to think that hard about it to figure it out on my own. I'm actually excited about this trip to Buffalo, though - I think the last time I was there, I faced my fears about going back, and now I feel freed from them. Mostly...

Things with Carlos are going great - we're just taking our time and enjoying each other's company. He's patient, sweet, and always makes me laugh. In April, Matt's parents took the kids for me for a few days and gave me a nice, much-needed break. During that time, Carlos and I took a day trip to Santa Barbara, which was so beautiful and relaxing!

Had a big birthday bash for the kids in May to celebrate both of their birthdays, and it was a hit! I hired a couple who have a traveling science class, complete with reptiles, a kikachu and even a wallaby! It was Aunt Michelle's gift to the kids, and everyone had a great time. Ginny and Roy came out for the weekend and were a HUGE help.

That's about it for now... Forgive the choppiness of this post, but I'm just getting over a migrane and am still having a problem sounding coherent! Well, back to chipping away at my To Do list... =)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rewind...

Yesterday I found out one of my high school girlfriends lost her husband a couple of weeks ago. I saw it on Facebook, and when I found her status update, I identified instantly with what she's feeling right now. My heart sank to my feet, I felt sick, and all the feelings I felt initially when Matt died came flooding back in an instant. The feeling of wanting to somehow rush back in time to change something that could alter the course of events, the helplessness, despair, agony, shock, anger... If only we didn't live on the opposite ends of the country, I'd rush to her.

Even though I've "been there," I still can't help like I would really like to. I can't bring him back. I can't make it better for her because there is nothing in this world that can. I just hope she's getting a lot of love and support, and that someone is making sure she gets out of bed in the morning and eats. Fortunately, I pretty much had shifts of people taking turns shoving food down my throat when I honestly had no will to eat. Or live, for that matter. If it hadn't been for my kids, I wouldn't have gotten out of bed at all.

I've had some moments the past few months that made me feel like I haven't gotten too far in the two and a half years since Matt died, but when the thoughts and emotions that consumed me in the beginning of my journey flashed back to me after learning of Becky's news, it was then that I realized just how far I've come. That gives me (and hopefully anyone else who is just starting out) some comfort that although the healing is slow, it is actually happening.

I'm having a hard time thinking about much else right now. Becky's heart, her life, her expectations for her future have all been shattered.

Jacob's Father's Day gift...

As I was cleaning the kitchen table from the kids' craft projects, I found a pink paper heart with Jacob's handwriting that said (with exact spelling),

"From: Jacob, Sydney and Andrea
To: dad.
We miss you and love you so so so much and wean we die we hope we will see you. The hole family misses you. So do I, Sydney and Andrea. happy fathers day.
Love: Jacob"

(with three frowning stick figures holding hands at the bottom)

He told me he wants to send it up to heaven with a balloon on Father's Day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Jacob's Birthday and Mother's Day...

So, this marathon of a funk is finally coming to an end and I'm feeling like I'm seeing the light of day again. Phew! This one has lasted quite a bit longer than normal. I'm not sure why... I'm not gonna analyze right now. I'm just going to revel in the relief.

Jacob's birthday (May 3) was harder than I expected for some reason. I got through most of the day pretty well. Uncle Bryan and Carlos came over and had some ice cream cake with us, and Jacob was SO excited that he turned seven years old. So excited, that he had a hard time falling asleep the night before in anticipation, and was bouncing off the walls all day long on his big day.

Towards the end of the day, a wave hit me hard. I tried my best to keep my composure in front of the kids, but I just couldn't control the sobbing. I'd leave the room, sob, come back and continue our game of checkers (or whatever we were doing at the moment). Lather, rinse, repeat.

My next door neighbor Michele came to my rescue and let me blubber all over her - poor thing. She gave Jacob a dream catcher that her uncle made to help him with his bad dreams. So sweet, and I'm so lucky that even though my other next door neighbors moved (who are awesome and I'm still close to), another wonderful family moved in. We've become great friends quickly like we've known each other for years.

Mother's Day was actually good! The day before, I got a beautiful bouquet of flowers delivered to me from Jacob and Sydney (I still don't know who the mysterious helper is!). Then, my next door neighbor told me to send the kids to her for a few minutes that night (and NOT to ask any questions) and when they came back, they told me not to look while they hid my gift. The next morning, the kids could not WAIT to wake up and give me my gift! (SO sweet, but I didn't have the heart to tell them that a great gift would have been to let me sleep in...) They gave me a very sweet card with a beautiful candle in a gift bag - SO sweet! It brought them a lot of joy to have something to hand me. All those incredibly thoughtful gestures, along with all the love I got from my friends/family through Facebook and my "Gumdrop" sisters (who always come through for me when things get rough) made me feel so loved, which is exactly what I needed.

Mother's Day, the kids and I went to the SPCA again to talk about the kittens we're getting (YAY!!!) and then from there we went to Kidspace which was so much fun for the kids and it got them good and worn out. It was a good day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The difference between men and women....

(As we're eating dinner tonight)

Sydney to Jacob: "Do you know why I was angry?"

Jacob: "Why?"

Sydney: "Because I was hungry!"

Jacob: "Do you know why I was hungry?"

Sydney: "Why?"

Jacob: "Because I was HUNGRY!"

Me, trying to recall word for word what was said during this conversation while typing it out here: "Jacob, what did you say about being hungry?"

Jacob: "I don't remember... I didn't say anything about being hungry."

Sydney: "YES YOU DID!"

HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Growing pains.

I feel a bit better after getting all that out. I've forgotten how therapeudic writing is... Lately, though, when I sit down to write an emotional post, I feel like I've already written it, and in some cases I have. Same old thing - blah blah blah. It's old. I think this is a big part of what's been wrong with me lately... I'm having growing pains. I don't fit into my skin anymore, and now I have to figure out where I do fit in or grow some new skin.

I actually did write something similar to this post, too... I found it, re-read it, and it reminded me of some important things. Lessons four, five and seven, in particular...

Right now, I'm off to practice Lesson number six. Good night, and Happy Easter!

Eureka!

I'm such an idiot. This is the third year in a row that I have procrastinated birthday plans for my kids, and the reason is that I'm always in a funk during the month before. Any coincidence? A big part of this funk is their birthday.

I don't want my poor kids to have a cloud over their mommy because their birthdays are coming up. I know how to change it- change my thought process. Try to train myself to think more of the positives this time of year rather than dwell on the negatives. Easier said that done. Can it be done?

Ugh.

Sydney has "magic powers" that allow her to see Daddy.

She role plays with Jacob and tells him, "Let's play mommy, daddy and baby! You be the daddy..."

Just yesterday, she called me "Mutha." Matt used to call his mom "Mutha." Could not believe my ears - she said it just the way he used to. Reminded me of when she called her pigtails "happy head." Matt used to call our friend Cy's hair "happy hair" when he'd let it grow longer because it seems to grow up and out rather than down and long. One of the first times I put Sydney's hair in pigtails, she looked in the mirror and called it "happy head."

It's really amazing the ways Matt comes out in his kids. If someone would have told me these things, I don't think I would have believed them unless I experienced them for myself.

Jacob lovingly prunes the Sycamore tree we planted in the front yard in Matt's honor by picking the dead leaves off of it, and putting flowers on it from the bush that conceals our front window. He and Sydney call it "flowers for daddy."

Yesterday, Jacob was holding a jelly bean between his fingers and squeezed it. He showed me and said, "Is this how daddy's heart broke? Like this?" I explained to him that the heart is a muscle and there are tubes called arteries that are connected to it that help the blood pump from the heart into the rest of the body. The accident made one of his arteries break off of his heart, but that's only one of the boo boos he got. Technically, Matt's entire torso was compressed, so he actually could be right.

Sydney was talking over the fence to our neighbor and proceeded to explain something about her daddy. Normally I would intervene and help cushion the awkwardness for the recipient of this uncomfortable information, but I didn't. Instead, I turned and walked into the house. I was cooking dinner and just didn't want to deal with it.

I was making pancakes for the kids this morning, and as I stood by the stove, I could vividly picture Matt holding the frying pan with one hand and flipping his eggs in one smooth motion. I thought to myself, "I need a distraction" and then the song "Arms of the Angel" pops into my head because of that one line, "I need some distraction..." which causes me to further spiral into grief. UGH!

As I type, Sydney is drawing a picture for daddy.

This is the kind of thing that goes on daily. It's comforting on some level, but at the same time, hurts. Right now, I'm not in a place emotionally where I can handle it. I'm just raw.

I'm trying to figure out what the hell is going on with me that I'm such a wreck lately. One factor could be the approach of Easter. Matt never got to spend an Easter with his daughter. He had to work (at his new job) on Easter Sunday - Sydney's first Easter, and couldn't be there when they woke up to find their baskets. The feelings I had that morning are similar to the ones I have now.

I'm finding myself wallowing in all of it, and I'm wondering at what point is it healthy to let myself feel it versus making myself crazy? I can see that I'm pushing everyone and everything away right now, and I'm trying to correct that. I'm tired of analyzing this shit, too. I'm just tired, and on top of it, I have bronchitis that my doctors don't think requires antibiotics. How sick do I need to be before they think it's appropriate to start meds? Don't they realize I need to function well enough to care for two little kids and a house?

There's a part of me that also thinks that on some level, I have a sense of entitlement just because I'm widowed and a single parent. Like, no one should be hurtful to me or challenge me to cause me pain or stress, or do the same to my kids. Like, life should make some sort of exception for us considering all we're already enduring. HA! I know life doesn't work that way. Especially since there are people out there who still have living spouses and parents, and have it worse. Also, being the control freak I am, I'm feeling particularly insane right now because there is nothing that seems to be within my control - including my own emotions.

I'll write about something positive soon, I promise (like the wonderful break I had a couple of weeks ago that I should be reveling in!).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My cup is empty.

I've been in a deep, dark funk for a while. Haven't been quite like this in some time. It's not that things are necessarily going badly in my life, I'm just going through some sort of stage, and I'm not really even sure what it's about yet. Maybe growth of some sort. All I know is it's painful, exhausting, and I'm looking forward to this heavy fog lifting.

In the meantime, to my friends, family, readers, please be patient with me while I try to get filled up again. I have nothing to give right now.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Little miracles...

I have been completely overwhelmed with pretty much everything to the point where I haven't been able to function enough to get anything accomplished - personally, professionally, or otherwise (as you can tell from this recent post). After some serious soul searching, I came to some realizations that either I didn't want to see or just couldn't see because I was too close to it. That's a topic for another post, but while doing this soul searching, I decided I would plant the garden I've always wanted to plant.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not have a green thumb - in fact, I usually call it the 'black thumb of death' since I usually end up killing anything in my yard or house (thank God the kids and bunny aren't plants). I decided that despite this, I would attempt to plant my own vegetables, some fruits and even some flowers. I've got this pretty little house with a cute little yard, why not give it a shot!

My typical M.O. is to get a grand idea and then not follow through, but I actually did it! Although I've neglected most of my other responsibilities in order to get it done, it's actually worked to my benefit to do that. By having the garden my main focus, it gave me time to clear my head of all the other clutter that's been drowning me. I've been focused on paying attention to how much direct sunlight certain areas of my yard get, planning out where the best place for a garden would be, what I could plant, strategizing how the kids can help with the least amount of destruction, and all the other details of planting a successful garden.

The kids have been a big part of this process when they're home, but while they're at school, it's been just me and the dirt and seeds. Back to basics.

We're planting broccoli, carrots, onions, okra, corn, tomatoes, green beans, spinach, zucchini, pumpkins, cantaloupe, watermelon, black-eyed susans, sunflowers, and cosmos (yeah, perhaps I'm being a little overly ambitious). I even got a little grape vine and a raspberry bush (which just look like one little stick each right now). But one of the most exciting things I've planted are some seeds that I brought with me from Buffalo.

Matt was the one with the green thumb. He knew the names of just about everything that came out of the ground, and how to care for it properly. His mom taught him a whole lot about gardening, and she would grow most of her flowers from seed.

The summer before he died was no different - he planted a whole crop of impatiens in front of our house, and in August when the seed pods were ready to burst, I went along and collected as many as I could. I had so much fun with that part of it, and so did Jacob. Even Sydney started getting in on it. Some of the pods were so full that you barely had to touch them and they'd burst their little seeds all over the ground. I managed to fill up one of Sydney's empty baby food jars with the seeds we were able to harvest. That was August of 2008. Matt died that November.

That baby food jar had been tucked away in our home in Buffalo, moved with us to California, and tucked away again until recently. The seeds are now almost three years old, but now that I've got the ambition to plant something, I got really excited about seeing if there's any life left in them.

Part of me has been very hopeful that something will sprout, but there's a part of me that's been trying to prepare myself for the possibility that I've simply waited too long to plant them and that they're too old to produce.

We did a lot of the planting last week, and a bunch more this week. Yesterday, I noticed that there is life springing up from the pots with the seeds from the impatiens - the seeds that came from the flowers that Matt planted in our front yard with his very own hands. I could not be more thrilled!!!! And now they're here, in our new yard of our new home. Planted by my hands and the hands of his children.

Inside each of those seeds is an embryo. Life. Little miracles. I have tons of little miracles popping up all over the place, and I am so thankful.

Now that the majority of that work is done (for now), I can shift some focus back onto the responsibilities I've neglected, while I enjoy watching all this new life growing around me.

Would I be overzealous if I decided to house some chickens in the back yard to use as fertilizer, egg producers and compost makers?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lapses in Memory...

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with my oldest nephew Michael who said he's thinking of coming to California to visit this summer. I was so excited and started thinking of all the things I can share with him from my new life on this coast.

I said, "You'll get to see my house!"

Michael: "Did you move?"

Me: "No - I haven't moved since I moved to L.A....?"

Michael: "Then I already saw it when I was out last year."

Me: "Oh my god."

How is it possible that I could I have forgotten about my nephew's visit?!

Then, I was talking with my cousin Lorinda who recently got engaged and is planning her wedding. Lorinda and her fiance Dan live in Texas, and will be getting married there. I'll be standing up in her wedding (YAY!!) and when we were talking about it the other day, I told her how excited I am that I'll finally get to meet her fiance! She said I already met him once - when they were in Buffalo the summer after Matt died, right before I moved.

This time it wasn't quite as shocking, but it still surprised me that I could have such sizable chunks of my life escape my memory like that from that first year and a half after Matt's death. Why can't those memories be the ones I really would prefer not to remember, like the morning of, and just about every single detail and emotion for the next few days after that?

I wonder what else I don't remember...

Camp Widow

Camp Widow has it's very own website now! Check it out, and then register to attend this August! You'll be SO glad you did. =)

I need reminded.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A great message...

One of my godmother's daughters sent me a note with a photocopied article. She said in the note, "Mom carried this in her wallet and we read it at her service."


COMES THE DAWN

After a while you learn the subtle
difference
Between holding a hand and
chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn't
mean security,
And you begin to learn that
kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes
open,
With the grace of a woman, not
the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your
roads
On today because tomorrow's ground
Is too uncertain. And futures have
A way of falling down in mid-
flight,
After a while you learn that even
sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul, instead
of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really
can endure . . .
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth
And you learn and learn
With every goodbye you learn.

-Veronica A. Shoftstall

Thank you so much, Lynn. All of my love to your family.....

Monday, March 21, 2011

Losing ground...

WARNING: Lots of whining and complaining contained in this post.

A decent portion of the time, I feel like I'm handling my responsibilities relatively well. It was only maybe a week and a half ago I was feeling like I was caught up with everything and maybe staying a little ahead of the game. About three days after that rare and wonderful feeling, it unravelled. Rapidly. I'm failing at everything.

My house is filthy, the dirty laundry is out of hand, dishes are piled up, I'm behind on my project for Soaring Spirits, my mail for the past month is in three messy piles on my dining room table (I can't remember the last time I saw the entire surface of that table), and I still haven't taken any steps to get my taxes done. Yet, I have managed to make an appointment to get new internet service, and I'm writing this post from my new Mac. At least I don't have the frustration of working with a computer that, even after getting the viruses cleared out, still would freeze up and worked at a snail's pace when it did decide to work.

I'm behind with everything, and I keep saying that when I'm caught up, that's when I'll sit down and update my blog. However, I have a strong feeling that if I waited for that to happen, I'd never write another post, so here I am.

It's pretty bad when your six year old son even asks when you're gonna clean the tub, or when I'm gonna do the laundry so he has some clean pajamas, or when I'm gonna do this or do that... What was my response to my sweet little boy? I told him I didn't need another husband, thankyouverymuch. Especially when my husband didn't even grill me like that (not that he had to - I kept up well with all that stuff when he was around, and what I didn't do, he did without batting an eye. I was lucky).

I actually don't mind doing everything myself. I'm kind of a control freak anyway, so it fits well with my personality I suppose. It's just that there's not enough time in a day, and not enough energy in my body. On top of that, I suspect I've started peri-menopause, which given all the symptoms I've been having, is a logical answer. Fatigue, crazy emotions, foggy-brained, hot flashes, and migraine headaches that I've been getting recently. When I looked into the headaches, the description I found for the particular migraine I've been getting fit me to a T, and the description also happened to mention that they are somewhat rare, but are more common in women going through peri-menopause. Of course, I would get even the obscure symptoms of this lovely stage of life. And, this stage can last anywhere from two to ten years before hitting full-blown menopause. My sister is on year eight - she was about my age when hers started.

It seems like I'm not the only one feeling unravelled lately... Everyone who I've talked to who I'm close to has been feeling the same way. Is it the moon? Apparently it's the first time in about 18-20 years that the combination of a full moon plus it's close proximity to the Earth has occurred. The earthquakes, tsunamis... something big is happening. Is that responsible for all the uneasy, disconnected, stressed-out, manic feelings? And WHY can't the U.S. just keep their noses out of everyone else's business and focus on taking care of the people in their OWN country?? Our system needs some major overhauling, but we're so focused on everyone else's problems that we're not taking care of our own right here.

All I know is I have to get my ass in gear and get through this pile of mail, laundry, dishes, clean out the bunny cage, call AT&T and see if they're going to install a wireless router when they come here Wednesday, call Charter to let them know I'm dumping them, call my allergist to let him know I'm not going forward with the allergy shots (after going through years and years of this in Buffalo, I just can't bring myself to start this again), make emergency earthquake kits for the kids and I, get a Microsoft Office program installed on my computer, and answer emails... This doesn't even count all the emotional shit I deal with on a daily basis (which I'd like to think I usually have a good handle on, too). Everything feels overwhelming and I can't keep up. I just want to sleep.

Oh - does anyone want a computer armoire? It's still sitting in the back of my van. It was nearly impossible to get it in there in the first place for the (cancelled) yard sale for the school, and I can't bring myself to get it back out, only to have to put it back in there again. Maybe I'll just try selling it on Craigslist again. Another thing to add to my To Do list.

I'm just overwhelmed by EVERYTHING...................................................


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Widow Card.

I try not to use Matt's death as an excuse for too much (although I pretty much blame everything bad that happens on it). I will use it as an excuse for my own shortcomings, like being late getting the kids to school, or being late with a bill, or wasting a whole raw chicken because it sat in the fridge too long before I got around to cooking it, or any of the other countless things I screw up, although I never blame those things on his death out loud - usually only in my head.

I did get out of a speeding ticket with The Widow Card (which, in my defense, I used inadvertently), but this time, I premeditated its use.

From the beginning of Sydney's preschool year, there has been a ton of turnover with the teachers. There is usually one main teacher for the morning and early afternoon shift and one for the mid to late afternoon shift, and each of those teachers have a teacher's aide. The first main teacher that started the school year was there for one day and left. Since then, there had been about six total changes in personnel. Fortunately, Sydney is pretty easy to adjust and has done well despite the constant changes in the classroom. I'm pretty easy-going as well, and it wasn't until this latest change that was the last straw for me. The "permanent" teacher that just started in Sydney's class a few weeks ago has a very experienced teacher (Mrs. S.) helping to train her and acting as her aide. Mrs. S. is respected and adored by all of her current and former students, as well as their parents. Naturally, Sydney and I have fallen in love with her, too. So when I heard that last Thursday was supposed to be her last day in that classroom, I had enough.

I spoke with one of the parents that has been very actively involved with everything happening in that room from the beginning of the school year about the issue. As Adrian and I talked, she kept saying, "THAT's what you should say to the principal!" She had already spoken with the principal herself, but the decision still stood. So in support of this parent and speaking on behalf of the others and the children (we certainly aren't the only ones who feel that Mrs. S. should stay at least until the end of the school year), I decided to speak with the principal as well, and tell her the same things I said to Adrian.

When I first brought up the subject to the principal, she kind of cut me off to tell me she already talked to the other parent and there are simply no more funds in which to pay Mrs. S. to stay. I continued, anyway: When I dropped Sydney off the first day of school, she was so excited to be there that she never looked back at me while I was walking away ("Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Ma!"). She's not clingy, and enjoys school very much. However, lately, she's been clutching my leg and crying when I have to leave which is not like her. I blame the constant changes in the classroom for this. I didn't even know Miss Claudia left (one of the aides) until I asked Sydney where she was, and Sydney's reply to me was, "She's never coming back." When I heard her say this, lots of thoughts crossed my mind - how we (parents) had no notification of this, how utterly ridiculous the turnover has gotten, and just what is Sydney's understanding of "never coming back?" Does she think Miss Claudia died, or does she understand that she is just not working there anymore? I not only had no idea of the change, but I had no idea what, if anything, had been explained to the kids. With all this in mind, I wanted to make sure that Sydney understood that Miss Claudia didn't die (since my kids have way more personal experience with death than a lot of other kids their age), so I explained to Sydney that Miss Claudia is alive, she just isn't coming back to her job at this school.

At this point, the principal is near tears, which wasn't my intention, but at least she was listening.

I continued: Now that we have the permanent teacher and Mrs. S. in the classroom, Sydney hasn't been clinging to me as much, but I know that if there's another change - especially if Mrs. S. leaves- it's going to have another adverse effect on Sydney and I'll have to start from scratch prying her off my leg again, and I know she won't be the only one that will be affected. I understand there are budget issues, but even if Mrs. S. stays a couple of days a week, it's better than taking her away from the kids all together. At least until the end of the school year. The kids need some consistency and stability.

With all that, the principal said she would try re-working the numbers over the weekend, and lo and behold, they were able to come up with enough funds to keep Mrs. S. on three days a week!!

I only use my powers for good.

For more entertaining and inspirational posts about The Widow Card and the powers associated with it, check out this great source: Widow's Voice Blog

The Ides of March.

Again, so many thoughts... swirling around my head, multiplying... This time, they're not keeping me awake; I'm too exhausted to have anything keep me awake these days, but they do stop me in my tracks during the day and cause me to forget what I'm doing for the moment, and it takes me forever to accomplish one thing from start to finish. Well, I've had that challenge for about two and a half years...

When I was growing up, my mom always dreaded the month of March. She told me nothing good ever happens that month. It started with her grandmother's death in March, then her mother, then her mother's sister (years apart, of course).

Fortunately, I never paid much attention to that, and March wasn't tainted for me. It's only recently that I've started to realize that March does seem to have a dark cloud over it. My good friend's wife died in late March, and soon as March 1st hit, I think of him, her, and the baby she left behind, and how difficult this month is for him. Our mutual friend's husband died that very same day, leaving her behind with two young children. March 4 was the 2nd anniversary of my friend Jeff's death, and he left behind a wife and three kids.

Last week, on March 6, at the age of 72, my godmother passed away. She was my mom's best friend for 43 years, and our families grew up together. She had seven children who all now have children of their own, and even some of those kids have kids. I so wanted to go back to Buffalo for them and for my mom, but the airfare and car rental for the kids and I would have totaled $3K (and that was the best deal I could find). My heart has been on that side of the country for the past week and a half. My godmother suffered - much more than she ever lead on, I'm sure. I don't like it that she's not here anymore, but I'm glad she's not suffering anymore, either. She's reunited with her husband, and probably having a beer with mine. My mom called me from the funeral brunch, which was taking place at the same location where Matt and I had our wedding reception. For that reason alone, I'm relieved that we didn't go - I could not have handled that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Update...

Well, we didn't win the grant, but the reviews were so beautiful, and will certainly help others who read them to understand just how much of a positive impact this organization has.

Seeing as how I'm a week late with updating everyone on the status of the contest, your best bet for timely Soaring Spirits updates is to sign up to receive the monthly newsletter, Hope Matters, via email. Here is a brief excerpt from the most recent newsletter which was emailed March 3:

Thank YOU for your support!

Special thanks to the many friends of SSLF for your amazing support of Soaring Spirits effort to win a $5000 grant in a contest hosted by the Great Non-profits website. We are humbled by your reviews, and honored by the opportunity to be a part of your grief recovery journey.

We received over 200 reviews! Though we didn't win the grant, we did appreciate each and every effort made to help us along the way. You can read some of those reviews HERE to get a sense of how SSLF is impacting the lives of people all over the world. Thank you again for your help in our efforts!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Thank you!

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone who took the time to write a review for Soaring Spirits. As I read the reviews that poured in today, my heart overflowed and tears streamed down my face. I loved reading all the beautiful things that my family and friends wrote on my behalf and on the behalf of the organization I believe in wholeheartedly. I will let you know if we won as soon as I find out!

Even though the contest for the grant is over (as of midnight PST, I'm guessing!), if anyone is still compelled to write a review, please feel free - it's so nice to hear how the organization helps to shine a light during some of the darkest times.

=)

One more time...

Remember when you wondered what you could do to help after Matt died? Here's a perfect opportunity to do something else for me that doesn't cost a thing and will only take five minutes.

Michele Neff Hernandez and I have been working our tails off to get the word out about the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation so that it's less likely that someone going through the devastating loss of losing their spouse will feel alone in their journey. One of the things we're doing is calling every Hospice office in the country - yes - every single one (956 to be exact) - to verify names and addresses so we can send them brochures about SSLF and Camp Widow. The mailing alone is going to be expensive. Our long term goal is to be able to sponsor anyone who needs to go to Camp Widow who can't afford it. That's way trickier, but either way, there is a LOT we can do with the $5,000 grant we're hoping to win from Great*Nonprofits.

Please help Soaring Spirits win this grant by taking five minutes to write a brief review (
http://www.greatnonprofits.org/reviews/profile2/soaring-spirits-loss-foundation-inc) about how you have witnessed how much the organization has helped me (and still is) since Matt's death, and how they've helped anyone else you know, or how they may have helped you.

Today is the actual deadline, so please don't hesitate. Thank you so much for doing this, and for all the support you give and have given (seen/unseen, heard/unheard). Every bit of it helps! Really!!

Love,
Andrea

PS - If you already did this, THANK YOU!!! =)

Another widower friend...

Meet James Pinnick and please welcome him into our unfortunate but fortunate community...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Revelations...

I am inspired and intimidated....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Things my kids say...

Newest to oldest............
_____

Jacob: "Momma, I hope you're still alive when I'm a grown up."

Me: "I'm gonna do my very best, sweetie."
_____

Jacob: "Mommy, when I grow up and build my house and have all my furniture in it and babies, I wanna go here (pointing to Mekong River, Thailand on the map in his Animal Planet magazine) and see the giant stingrays."
_____
Sydney
: "Jacob claused it."

Me: "You mean 'paused'?"

Sydney: "No - it's not 'paused,' it's 'CLAUSED!'" (When talking about the movie that Jacob PAUSED to go potty.)
_____

Sydney: "I had my tonsils out, and I can't breathe through my nose STILL!" (She's got a runny nose that she refuses to blow.)
_____

Sydney: "I wish I could have my daddy back." Her wish when blowing on a dandelion.
_____

Sydney: Helicopter is "Helidoctor"
_____

Sydney to Jacob: "You need dad and I need mom."
_____

When I was giving Sydney her bath today, I noticed she's got dark hairs growing out of the birthmark on the back of her leg... She asked me what I was looking at and I told her, and she grabbed her leg to look and said, "What da HECK?"
_____

Jacob: "I don't want you to die." "Mommy, as soon as you die is as soon as I wanna die."

Me: "We're all going to die someday - some just die sooner than others. If I die before you, I would want you to live. You have a lot of important things you need to do in your life. I think I'll be alive for a long time, though, so you don't need to worry, sweetie!" Such a heavy thing for a six year old to ponder.
_____

Sydney: "When can we have a baby?"

Me: =0 (she's asked this several times - I keep telling her not to hold her breath. She wants a little sister in a bad way.)
_____

Jacob: "I love you more than trains..."
_____

Jacob: "Momma, I have a question for you." - this is his opening line every time he asks me something.
_____

Jacob to Sydney: "I miss you when we're not together."
_____

Sydney: "Mommy, zero is not good."Me: "Why?"Sydney: "Because it's not a winning number."
_____

Jacob to Sydney: "Sydney, you know how to say 'What the heck' in Spanish? 'What the heckA'!"
_____

Jacob: "Hey Mom! When I wake up in the morning, you know what's gonna be on my face?" Me: "What?" Jacob: "A smile."
- This is what he said after I tucked him in the night I set up the plywood on his train table so his Hogwarts Express train could fit on it...
_____

"Santa's not a baby, he's a big boy!" - What Sydney said after hearing the Santa Baby song...

_____

Sydney calls Marmaduke "Marmadude"

_____

Sydney's taking a bath w/a barbie. She's pretending the doll is a mermaid with a tail and "ribbons." She proceeds to go into a long schpeel, including telling me the doll has ribbons like I do, and that I can ask Santa for more ribbons. I'm stumped because the doll is naked. "Sydney, where are her ribbons?" Sydney proceeds to point to the doll's boobies.

_____

Gotta remember this stuff............

Friday, February 18, 2011

Need your help...

To my dear blog readers,

Please help the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation win a $5,000 grant from Great*Nonprofits by taking five minutes to write a brief review about how you have witnessed how much SSLF has helped me since Matt's death, and how they've helped anyone else you know, or how they've helped you.

They need only need 135 more reviews to win this
-what an opportunity!! Thank you so much for your help with this, and for all the support you give and have given (seen/unseen, heard/unheard). Every bit of it helps!

Love,
Andrea

PS - Almost forgot - the deadline for this is February 22!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

February 16

This day was probably even worse than the day before...

It was dreary - cloudy, cold and raining (I've become quite spoiled with the beautiful Southern California weather), and after dropping the kids off at school, I had to go to a doctor's appointment. Californians make such a huge freaking deal out of the rain. It took an hour to go ten miles on the freeway because everyone was crawling. Sitting in the van gave me too much time to think, and all I could think about was Matt, Jacob's grief, my grief, how for the first time I'm actually thankful that Sydney doesn't remember him just so she doesn't have to mourn his loss, and on and on. The van is a good place to cry with no witnesses. When I finally got to the appointment, all I heard in the waiting room were the news reports all about the rain. Well, I suppose there's nothing else to report on for the weather out here....

I parked across the street from Kaiser in a parking lot for a plaza. There were signs that indicated that Kaiser patients are not to park there, but you could park there if you are a customer of the plaza. Since I planned on becoming a customer as soon as I was done with my appointment, I left the van there.

Had my allergy testing done, discovered I'm allergic to grasses, some trees and dust, and headed back to the parking lot. Van was still there, and I headed into Payless to look at some shoes for the kids, but the awful Mexican music forced me out sooner - couldn't find anything, anyway. I was going to head to lunch at Fat Burger, also within the plaza, when I discovered that in the five minutes I was in Payless, my van had been towed. Apparently, "they" saw me walk across the street to Kaiser, but didn't see me walk into Payless??? I think the part that made me the angriest about that whole ordeal is that the fact that they took away my ability to get to my kids.

Rather than relive the ridiculous sequence of events immediately following, I'll skip to the part where I called Carlos who came to my rescue and picked me up. His friend Chris, at that very same time, was finishing up fixing my computer, so after we picked up the van (which cost $200), we headed to Chris's house. Chris probably saved me that amount of money that I might have paid to take it to a computer store to have fixed, so I really shouldn't complain. I would have rather given it to him than a stupid towing company, though.

The three of us went to lunch, where I was able to get some food and relax for a bit before getting the kiddos from school. Good friends and good food saved the day. I was also relieved to have my babies in my arms after all that.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February 15

Tuesday morning, Jacob and Sydney were both very emotional and clingy, and I had a hard time getting them to let go of me to go to school. Several reasons for this I'm sure - first, they were totally loaded with sugar the day before from all the candy they got at school and brought home. Second, I was in a rotten mood because my computer had a virus and all my pictures on my hard drive were threatened. Of course, I hadn't backed them up yet - that was something I had intended to get to but didn't make the time to figure it out. Plus, just being without internet access (other than through my phone) was making me twitchy, and I couldn't get the work done that I needed to for SSLF. Oh, and it was the aftermath of Valentine's Day.

That afternoon, I went to pick up Jacob from his after school program and a few of his friends were hanging out with him. He got more goodies for Valentines day, and I don't remember what brought up the topic, but one of his friends asked something like, "Is your dad coming? Why can't your dad come?" Jacob ignored the question and threw himself more into his goody bag, so I answered for him and told his friend that his dad can't come because he's not alive anymore. His friend said, "Oh, that's so sad."

That evening, it was bed time and I had tucked the kids in. I went to bed early, too, to put as fast of an end to that miserable day as I could, and a little while later I heard Jacob whimpering in his room. I went in there, and he was crying hard, but trying to be quiet about it. My poor little love. I asked him what's wrong, and he said, "I miss Daddy so much!" This is only the second or third time (that I know of) that he full-out cried about missing Matt.

There's nothing I can do to fix this for him. There's nothing anyone can do to fix this. So I held him tight and we cried ourselves to sleep.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A good start to the new year!

So much has happened the past few months - I've been busy "doing" and haven't taken the time to write about any of it.

The preschool situation is resolved for the remainder of the school year, Social Security is up to date, and all of my ducks are finally lining up. Even all the toys have been washed and de-germed, and I moved the kids into their own separate bedrooms. Since Jacob is in the smaller bedroom, I got him a bunk bed - he sleeps on the top bunk, and uses the lower bunk as a train table. He is in his glory! It took Sydney a little more time to adjust to not sharing the room with her big brother, but now she's cool with it. I ended up rearranging every room in the house, and organized the garage by assembling two large shelves that now hold ALL the storage bins, and even hung the bikes from the rafters. I'm even getting to the little things I'd been putting off like fixing broken toys and hanging hooks and pictures.

The kids had their tonsils and adenoids removed a couple of weeks ago (five days apart). There's already a remarkable difference in them!

Sydney had sleep apnea and snored like an old man, was a mouth breather even during the day (to the point that she had to chew with her mouth open so she could breathe while eating), choked on her food all the time because of that and the fact that her tonsils were so big that they were touching each other. Her poor little lips were always chapped and bleeding because they got dried out even worse at night, then she'd wake up crying and screaming because she stopped breathing (she could never get into a good, deep sleep), and her lips would split and bleed. She also had a chronic sore throat. The doctor that did her surgery said that her tonsils and adenoids were abnormally large and filled with puss. My poor baby girl was being poisoned by her own body.

Sydney now sleeps through the night peacefully (and quietly!), and wakes up happy and rested. She's in a better mood throughout the day (she was miserable and cranky so much before), and has way more energy. She's even eating better and speaking more clearly! I never would have thought that her speech could be affected so much from her ailments, but it was. She even looks better - her cheeks appear to have filled out a little, and her dark circles aren't as noticeable.

Sydney had her surgery first, and in the short five day span between her surgery and Jacob's, she was sleeping more quietly. It made Jacob's nighttime breathing much more noticeable. He was starting to have a slight bit of apnea, and snored louder than I thought. In his case, his tonsils and adenoids weren't as large as Sydney's, but his airway is more narrow. His tonsils and adenoids weren't filled with puss like Sydney's, either. I think Sydney may have been the carrier, and Jacob was getting sick from her most of the time (Sydney wasn't sick as often as Jacob somehow). He says he feels better now than he did before his surgery, too.

As a result, I'm also sleeping better! My house has never been this quiet at night, and I didn't realize how much my sleep was being affected by theirs.

I am so, so happy and relieved that this is behind us. The closer the scheduled dates got, the more nervous I was getting at the thought of my kids going under the knife. Now, maybe, we can be among the living again - getting together with friends, going places and doing more fun things, and enjoying better health!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

...And if I really want to be true to myself and write this blog uncensored, then I can say,

Fuck Valentines' Day.

Ahhh... that felt good.

Another dream.

Matt's dad and I were sitting next to each other in a restaurant booth with a whole bunch of other people - it was really crowded, mostly with people we knew. There was a bar in the middle of the restaurant, which was also next to the booth we were sitting in.

Matt was at the bar with his back facing us. I could hear him talking to the bartender - something about grapes. It was so noisy in there that I couldn't really make out exactly what the conversation was about, but I could distinctly hear his voice.

I turned to Roy and said, "It's so nice to hear his voice again!" and he said, "What?" As I began to repeat myself, it occurred to me that he might not be able to hear Matt talking, and if I finished what I was saying, he'd probably think I was nuts. I carefully finished what I was saying since I was already halfway through saying it as all this was going through my head, and then Roy noticed Matt at the bar next to us. Roy and I looked at each other, and I could tell from the look on his face that he could see him, too! He was wearing his camo shorts and ratty Corporate Challenge tank. A sight for sore eyes!

After a few minutes, Roy got up and walked across the restaurant to where Ginny was sitting, sat down next to her and told her what was going on. The four of us walked out of the restaurant into a narrow hallway, and I just watched and listened as Matt talked, walked, moved, smiled...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Oh Brother!

This book, written by my friend Cliff Fazzolari about his brother (my friend and co-worker of six years) Jeff, is a MUST read. Jeff was wise, hilarious, and the #1 prankster, and passed away unexpectedly only four months after Matt at the age of 38. The only thing better than reading about Jeff in this book was experiencing him in real life, and Cliff does a phenomenal job of bringing him back to life with his words.

For months, I have had intentions of posting about this on my blog, but have had a hell of a time finding the words. I wanted them to be perfect and to do this book and the Fazzolari family justice. In agonizing over just the right words, I didn't write any... SO, I'll let Jeff's little sister Carrie say it for me through her beautiful description on Cliff's blog.

To purchase the book, click here, and help Jeff's legacy of love and laughter live on.

PS - Check out this GREAT article, too!!