Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Best Advice For My Son

Last year my son had a personal dictionary project which consisted of letter written to him from people who matter to him. It was a very profound realization that people who I don’t know well (some of his teachers) have such a deep connection with him and care so much about him. Some of the letters I read literally brought me to tears but also intimidated me, because I knew I had to write one too.
What was I going to talk about? What could I teach him? I was going back and forth and couldn’t decide until I finally realized I wanted to talk to him about failure. I wrote this letter to him but I am sure I am not the only mother who feels the same way. Share it with your son or daughter. If you have the time, I would love to read your comments too.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” - Mark Twain
"Dear son,

It was very difficult for me to choose what to write about in your personal dictionary letter. There are so many things that I would like to share with you that hopefully will help you in your journey of becoming an adult. I was jumping from idea to idea in the past couple of days and I could not decide. Everything sounded so superficial to me, so not “it”.

I looked back to my childhood, my teenage years and I was hoping to find something that I regretted not knowing at the time. I was looking for something that I wish someone took the time to teach me or show me, something that would have made a difference in my life. I asked myself the question, if there was one thing I want you to know, one thing that I want to teach you, what would that be? And I got it.

There is one thing I would like to talk to you about and that is fear, and especially the fear of failure.

The environment I was raised in thrived on fear. I spent most of my life being scared of anything and everything, sometimes with good reason, sometimes not.

I was scared to get hurt.
I was scared to be embarrassed.
I was scared to try new things.
But most of all, I was scared of failure.

In my family, failure was not an option. I grew up under the pressure of difficult economic circumstances and very high expectations. When you are as they call it “economically disadvantaged” the word “waste” does not exist in your vocabulary. The whole concept that you could be wasting anything- food, money, your time or any other resource you have available at your disposal, is simply incomprehensible. Therefore, organization, efficiency and common sense are vital for your survival in a world where the only person you can count on, is yourself.

My life was not easy, just as the life of my parents and their parents before them was not easy. Just like everyone else before me, I learned to survive, I learned to fight my fights, and later I learned to thrive. Contrary on what you would believe, fear got me there.

When I say fear, I don’t mean the “scared of the dark” type of fear. I mean the fear that grips you by the throat, freezes your limbs and you are afraid to breathe, move or make a decision, because you know in your gut that no matter you do, you are the only one responsible, you are the only one who will deal with the consequences and you have to survive. That is the same fear that makes you doubt yourself, thinking that you are not good enough, that you don’t deserve a chance or that you will never ever make it, because you…(fill in the blank)…I’ve heard you say that before and it breaks my heart. That is why I feel it’s my duty to tell you this:

Nothing, absolutely nothing in your “deal with life tool belt” is as important, as for you to learn to master your fear!

As Mark Twain said above, do not strive to eliminate fear out of your life. That is not only impossible but foolish to consider.  Fear, as weird as it might sound to you, is very useful. Fear can be a great force to move you forward. However, if you let it be your master, you are risking wasting many great opportunities that could bring you closer to who you want to be.

When I was your age, I realized I would never be free of fear. I realized that no matter how hard I try, there would always be something I am scared of. That is when I made myself a promise to always do what scares me the most. It helped me stand up for myself many times when bowing my head would have been much easier. It helped me take every opportunity that came my way to move forward, to become something new, to experience something exciting and adventurous. It helped me become more open to new people, places and experiences. It helped me be more tolerant, compassionate, understanding and to cultivate my empathy for the world around me. It helped me trust myself more. Listening to my inner voice made me much stronger and resilient than I would have been if I didn’t try to overcome my fear. Fear gave me the courage to overcome it.

That is what I want you to learn. Do not be scared of your fear! Remember that you always have a choice: hiding behind fear your whole life or embrace and conquer it. The moment you accomplish this you will realize that there is nothing in this world you can’t do. It doesn’t matter what people tell you or what they think. What matters is that you know in your heart that no matter what, you will be OK.

When you are growing up, make mistakes, take chances, explore your limits and don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong or you don’t know something. All of this is part of growing up and shaping you in the adult person you will become. Of course, part of growing up is realizing the difference between doing something reckless and something that will raise you up, and that is experience you have to (unfortunately) live through on your own. No matter how much I try to protect you and guide you, at the end of the day you make your own choices. With these choices come responsibilities and you have to learn to accept them. No matter what I tell you or ask you to do, I cannot live though your experience for you but if I have done my job right as a parent, I won’t need to.

There is no way to be universally liked, universally accepted and universally loved. There will always be people who will dislike you or what you do for one reason or another. Don’t become a slave to the opinion of others. Use your brain, good judgment and strong heart to make decisions that make you feel at peace with yourself but most of all…don’t be afraid to fail. If you never know failure, if you never experience loss, you will not live life to the fullest, and I don’t wish this to my worst enemy.

I don’t want to burden you with my wishes or expectations of who or what you should become. I don’t want the fear of disappointing me to impede your progress in becoming your own person.  I am sure that when the time comes, you will not make the right decisions every time but I know in my heart you will damn well try to do so, and that is what matters.

Live! Dream! Work hard! Fail! Work even harder! Be YOU!
I love you,
Mom "

Friday, August 7, 2015

In Memoriam Sirius Krum Hunter

Sirius Krum Hunter ( Krum)

It is hard for me to even write this. The words are not coming out ...and when something finally gets on the paper it's not the right thing to say. There is nothing...no word, no song, no tear that can explain how it feels when you lose a part of your family. My heart is broken in a million pieces and it feels hard to breathe. With every breath I take I am aware that it's one more that Krum is not going to share with me. Yet the Earth still spins...people laugh...dogs live...just not you, Krum.

Death is never easy to deal with. It is especially hard when it's sudden and completely, completely unfair. Is death ever fair?

Tonight we found our perfectly healthy( at least on the outside), happy and energetic almost 7 year old puppy asleep for the last time. He looked so peaceful, so quiet that at first we thought he was sleeping. But even when he is asleep, he always rushed towards us ready for kisses and hugs, ready to please and enjoy our attention ...not today. The devastating moment when I realized that he is in fact not breathing literally stopped  my breath away. I could feel my heart breaking and my soul screaming with the unfairness of the loss.

Why him?
Why now?

We rushed to the emergency room...hoping that by some miracle that it's not true...that they will do something, that they will bring him back...and then I saw it. The form.
" Reason for visit: ..................."
I couldn't look at it. I couldn't write it. I couldn't breathe.
Two kids crying, two parents broken down by the loss and their kids tears. It was one of the most devastating moments in my life. Losing Krum was hard enough. Watching my children ...my innocent children untouched by death lose their lifelong friend was twice as hard.

Even as I am writing this it is hard to breathe. He is in a large cardboard box next to me. A small candle flickers near his head. I see him there. I am making plans how we will bury him, yet I cannot accept it. It's not true. It's not! It can't be!!! I am screaming inside of my head and it hurts...
It hurts like my whole body is being ripped apart by the pain and then put back together so I can feel the agony over and over and over again....

We were supposed to pick up our new German shepherd puppy ( Vera) tomorrow morning. She was supposed to be his companion, his friend...his daughter. We were going to go to classes together, go places...do things...love. He couldn't last until the morning. He left us literally hours before we had to pick her up. Is it a coincidence?  I don't know...And I want to know! I demand to know! I want to know why he died...and the doctors didn't know. All we know is he went peacefully.
I should probably take comfort knowing he didn't suffer but there is no comfort for me.
The room is small...the house is small...the world is small...I can't breathe...

He wasn't a pet. He wasn't a thing that we owned. He was a part of our family and I mourn him as the best human of all humans that I know. He loved unconditionally, he enjoyed life and was the most happy and friendly dog I have ever seen.
I wish I could spend a second...a millisecond more with him...just to tell him I love him, to pet him one more time, to kiss his furry forehead and to tell him he will be missed.
But I can't...
And it hurts....

I never experienced more sudden and unexpected loss as Krum's. I always thought how much better it will be to not know when it's time to go because it will make it easier. It's worse...there is no closure, there is no end to the pain that will live with me until the rest of my days.
I carry Troy in my heart and for 10 years I mourned his loss. I know I am not getting over Krum's death anytime soon.

Rest in peace, lovely, happy boy! We love you more than we were ever able to tell you...yet I hope you knew how much we loved you and how much you meant to us.

We love you Krum...till we meet again...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Washington DC In Pictures

Every time I say we will go on vacation, I end up working or sick. This time for the first time it was absolutely perfect! Maybe part of the reason why everything was so perfect is the fact that I didn't plan anything myself. Usually the stress of planning a vacation totally ruins it for me.
This time, I was lucky!
We didn't have any time to plan anything, because we decided we were going to DC literally 5 days before we had to leave. In the 10 minutes between deciding that we were going on vacation and realizing I actually didn't need to plan it, I was in full panic mode. I was imagining myself browsing through thousands of websites to find a hotel, planing where we are going to go, what we are going to see, finding gluten free restaurants AND not going broke in the mean time.

And then I remembered that I actually had someone to help me! Being a Bulgarian, I've always taken charge...of everything. I had never ever used traveling agency's services and to me, that was completely foreign concept. I had to plan everything by myself in order for everything to be perfect. Well, turns out I didn't have to. A friend of mine is a travel agent and although we've know each other for years, the thought of asking her for help never crossed my mind, until I started breathing in a paper bag, pacing in the living room and counting the hours before we have to leave.

Calling Barb ( my wonderful, awesome friend and forever travel agent from Destination Memories Travel) was an act of desperation in the moment but it turned out to be the best thing I've ever done for my family. Everyone was extremely happy that I was not a nervous wreck from worry and I appreciated the fact that for once, I didn't have to deal with anything but show up for vacation.

Barb found us an amazing hotel, researched places to eat ( which for me being gluten free was extremely important) and places to see, provided a huge amount of information on how to get around and things to consider, and most importantly, kept in touch with me the whole time when she was planning. Reassuring me that everything is not only done, but done well, is exactly what I needed.

The vacation started amazing! From the warm cookies the hotel provided us with ( which my kids got totally hooked on the whole time we were there) to the amazing beds and the short walk to the metro.
Now, if a total technical disaster didn't fall upon us, it would have been better but we figured it out in the end anyway. My phone died, my camera died, the tablet couldn't charge, we were completely unplugged...and I loved it!
The list of things to see was long: Natural History Museum, Air and Space Museum, The National Art Gallery, The National Archives, The Library of Congress, Lincoln Memorial, The Capitol, The Indian Museum, The White House and more, but we managed to see it all!
I couldn't care less that some of our best moments were not captured on camera, because WE WERE THERE. We enjoyed our crappy selfies in the rain...because it was FUN!

 The weather was so much nicer than the freezing temperatures we left at home that we didn't mind or grumble that it was raining on the first day. It wasn't so much raining, as it was sprinkling, but the sun was just playing hide and seek.

 We even had the opportunity to take a couple of pictures when it was bright and sunny with crisp Spring colors. Secretly, we wished that next picture will be in front of the big pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris, but this one was nice too!

The kids took the opportunity to shake the hand of any statue they found during our stay. Museums, on the street, in the hotel...if it was a statue, it was definitely on the list. Actual proof bellow :-)

Then again, Ellie didn't have a problem striking a pose in Thomas Jefferson's library collection, as a true master of the written word. I will talk about the Library of Congress in a bit, but by far this was our favorite place. 
Ellie's flower umbrella was a nice touch without which this picture (left bellow) would simply not be the same. 

Kalin was simply mesmerized by the architecture and his favorite thing was playing a geo-cashing game with all the landmarks. (right below)

As true tourists, we had to take a picture with one of the two blooming magnolias in front of the Capitol. We even put our martenizci on it. From snow to this beauty...we just didn't want to leave!

 We found a blooming tree, we found what fun it is to use the metro, to eat Native American food ( Gosh, these salads and soups were amazing and there were plenty of gluten free options too!). Then we found that we love being in a big city where you do walk a lot. Alex and I grew up in a big city but the kids have never actually experienced what it is not to rely on a car the whole time. It was very liberating and it made the whole adventure even more exciting.

We loved Washington DC but we can't say the same about NYC. We've been in NYC so many times and never loved it even a bit. In DC everyone was so much nicer, friendlier and more welcoming. Even the museum staff was friendly (not even close to the NYC Metropolitan museum's grumps)
On a brighter note, we found Nemo! He was hiding somewhere between Dory and the flat guy. LoL

I am also glad that my phone actually worked for this picture(left), so I have proof for years to come that they do love each other...sometimes. :-)

 We were in DC only three days but the huge amount of fun just couldn't measure up even to an elephant bone! ( right)
As Dr. Seuss would say.." Oh, the places we went..." and the wonders we've seen, I would add. We even got to knock on the BIG DOOR. :-) No, the door is not Photoshopped, not even that natural sculpture on the right is.

We saw things move, we saw things being still, we saw things dead, we saw things alive...but nothing compared to the bugs!
I was surprised at how interested I was in the bugs and how little interest showed the kids. Well, I kept my distance and enjoyed the bugs from afar, but still it was quite fascinating.
The picture on the left shows a guy holding the doppelganger of a praying mantis. This unique bug by the way is vegetarian.

Between the bugs, the ducks, the flies and the mummies, everyone got tired. This was the first hotel that we actually enjoyed the beds in.  Usually the mattresses' covers make you sweat horribly. These were nice and comfy. Ellie and Kalin can attest to that. (left bellow). As you can tell, a little stuffed animal was a stowaway in our luggage but Ellie "saved" it and snuggled it for the whole trip. Her brother preferred to snuggle with his tablet instead.

In the mean time, I just enjoyed the small step for humanity but gigantic step for me- my first visit of the Library of Congress. Before we left New York State, I said: "I can miss anything else, but LOC I am definitely going to see!" And I did.

We got in at the very last minute with the very last tour and I was afraid that we would have to be escorted by security, because I didn't want to leave. The picture on the left is me, digging heels in the Library of Congress' second floor and not wanting to leave.

By the way, this shot was taken across from the exact spot where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution used to be until they were moved.

We did see both ( the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) by the way and it was totally worth the long wait. I highly recommend it if you ever decide to visit DC. There you can also see two of the biggest canvases in the US. The murals are actually paintings, which I didn't know until we got there.  As far as Library of Congress goes, it was not only everything I expected but even better.

The way I felt so small in the Library of Congress, the same way Ellie felt overwhelmed in the Air and Space museum, until we ate the space ice cream that is. Let me tell you... the space ice cream wasn't a huge hit and I am pretty much convinced that none of my kids would ever consider an astronaut career simply because of the food. Well, maybe because of the living space too. We saw the "sleeping area" and "bathing area" that astronauts use...and it wasn't pretty. 

Ellie also accomplished one of her goals for the trip- a picture with Rexy! Not as exciting to me, but it meant the world to her, so we were all happy when we found Rexy and he fit us in his busy schedule for a shot.
As with every  awesome vacation we had to find the quirkiness of the city in the most (un)usual places, like the White House for example. Bellow you can see a marijuana supporter that was very eager to pose for us and everyone else who thought being at the While House on Easter Sunday is the best place to express your views on anything, from nuclear apocalypse to the price of pot. (below)

 After the Native American Museum, we were all about totem poles and we decided to make one (bellow) with whatever we had- our shadows. Pretty neat, right?

We saw so much for these three days and yet so much was left unseen. It was so bittersweet leaving on Easter Sunday, but we promised each other that we would be back. 

Goodbye, DC! Welcome Spring!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Watermelon Birthday Party

I cannot believe it's been a whole month since my little pumpkin's birthday! Time just flies when you are having fun, right? So, better late than never, here is my little girl's 8th birthday party.

Ellie 8th Birthday (20 of 129)

As always, she had a very creative idea for a party- a watermelon theme! 
Ellie 8th Birthday pre (2 of 7)

Everything had to be with watermelon. Even the invites. 
Ellie 8th Birthday pre (3 of 7)

Check out that watermelon gum! :-)
Ellie 8th Birthday pre (4 of 7)

Yes, that is watermelon flavored Honest kids juice.
Ellie 8th Birthday pre (5 of 7)
The stickers and bags were also very cute. 
Ellie 8th Birthday pre (6 of 7)

But of course the most amazing centerpiece was the cake! It was watermelon flavored cake with chocolate chips ( to look like seeds) with cream cheese frosting. Coccadotts just outdid themselves! Awesome flavor and awesome decoration!
Ellie 8th Birthday (25 of 129)

I found these great watermelon plates on Amazon. Real deal! The cups are regular pink color and we drew seeds with a black Sharpie marker.
Ellie 8th Birthday (24 of 129)

We did the same Sharpie trick with the balloons too: 
Ellie 8th Birthday (13 of 129)
What is a watermelon themed birthday party without real watermelon, right?
Ellie 8th Birthday (27 of 129)

It was ALL GIRL party this time and my birthday girl chose a nail salon as the activity to do. It was really great idea!
Ellie 8th Birthday (34 of 129)
Happy birthday girl! 
Ellie 8th Birthday (35 of 129)

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Will Never Forget By Elaine Pereira

When Elaine Pereira first approached me, about 6 months ago, she requested that I write a review of her book " I will never forget". Elaine read a review I wrote awhile ago( I reviewed a different book) and she felt I would like her book, so she decided to send it to me.
Elaine was wrong.
I didn't like her book.
What her book made me feel is way beyond the shallow term "like". But let me go back a bit...

Elaine's book came at an extremely difficult time for me personally. Without breaching the confidentiality of my parents' health issues, I would just say...I had a really tough time reading the book. I started...and then I couldn't read anymore. I would begin again...and halfway through I would be in tears and not able to continue. And yet, I always, always returned. I wanted to hear Elaine's soothing voice, I wanted to laugh with her and cry with her, I wanted her by my side. I wanted to know that when the time comes, it will be OK...

 While I don't know Elaine personally, it felt like I have known her for years. During the time I was reading the book I was constantly asking myself--how would I react to this? In my personal circumstances, I caught myself asking "What would Elaine do?" This is when I knew that Elaine's book was not just good but great. Not only she made me laugh and cry, but she prompted me to act on situations, people and circumstances that otherwise I might have missed or dismissed.

Her book is not about dementia, love and loss. Her book is about parenthood and she portrays it beautifully.When I say parenthood, I am not addressing only Elaine's relationship with her mom. This book is about the different generations and the parental dynamics that form through out the years-- parents and the care for their children, children that become parents, grandparents with their grandchildren and finally, children who take on the responsibility for their parents, eventually taking over the role of the parent in the relationship.

The way Elaine represented the complex situations with her mother's dementia, the impossible circumstances and the great consideration, care and love for her parents, made me rethink the way I communicate with my parents. It also made me rethink my relationship with my own children and helped me improve on my reaction to situations, people and opportunities.

Elaine's book is not easy to read, no doubt. Despite her excellent penmanship and love for detail, this book will be one of the toughest  books I've ever read, and yet...it is one of the loveliest, honest and graceful tributes of a child towards the parent that I have ever seen.

 I highly recommend the book and I would love it if you post your own impressions if you decide to read Elaine's book, in the comments section. I am just thankful to Elaine for finding me and allowing me to be a part of her world, her love, her loss and her growth. It has been an honor, a privilege and a pleasure, Mrs. Pereira!
You were right, I will never forget and I thank you for that!

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