Three years ago today I was with my family and Paul, surrounding my mother at Northwestern Hospital hospice in MD. She would die that night of Stage IV lung cancer. Some of you may know that each year on April 22nd since she has died I’ve written a note on Facebook that serves as an outlet for me to express my sadness, grief, happiness, and hope. It’s been my therapy for the past 3 years and this year since I have the blog I thought I’d share my thoughts on here.
November 2008 Lunch for my 25th birthday
I came across this article on slate.com that resonated with me more than other other thing I’ve read about grieving. I often tell people my grief for my mother comes in waves– if you imagine the ocean water coming in and out from the shore, that’s how grief feels for me; it comes and goes, each time leaving a little mark of its presence. Most days for the past 3 years I have been OK, more than OK. If you looked at me you wouldn’t know that I had lost not only my mother, but someone I considered my best friend. I have gotten married, traveled, attended some of my best friends’ weddings, moved, and celebrated Paul’s PhD attainment among other happy occasions. Life is good, and I try not to take that for granted. But, the grief is always there. In the article the author is a 29-year-old man who lost his mother when he was 10. He poignantly acknowledges that grief may change over time, that its intensity may dwindle, but it’s always there….and that’s a good thing. I couldn’t agree with him more. Grief, while mostly associated with sadness and despair, can also bring good with it as well. My grief keeps me grounded, pushes me to really live in the present, and always always holds me accountable for my actions and words. The death of my mother changed me, but not just for the worse. It has pushed me to be a better person, to affect change in whatever way I can, and to to live an honest life full of opportunities and joy. I know my mother would have wanted that for me and that motivates my every action.
The line in the article that resonated with me the most was this, “I think about what she might say to me as a grown man at times when I could use motherly advice. In other words, I’ve come to realize that she is still parenting me, even in death. And as I reach certain pivot points in my life (changing a job, buying my first place, having serious relationships) that the grief of her loss makes a contribution to the decisions I make and that will continue to be the case as I go through each major transition in my life.” When I read this I felt like the guy was reading my mind. My mother, in her death, certainly still parents me. I constantly wonder what she would think of this action or this move. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe, but maybe the only way to explain it is to say that I still care what she thinks; I want to make her proud. That part of my grief is what pushes me to be a better person- it’s almost like my moral compass. I know I won’t be able to call my mom and tell her about something I did and hear her approval, but it doesn’t mean I don’t do or say things with the thought that that is still possible. I know the kind of women she’d want me to be, even if I can’t hear her say it.
Paul, me, and Mom Christmas 2008 when Paul proposed
They say grief comes in stages. I’m not sure what all of them are, but I do know that grief is different for everyone and that I’m probably still in the beginning stages. Loosing a parent is the natural order of life, but yet, loosing one when you still have growing up to do and milestones to reach feels very unnatural. I still feel upset sometimes when I think about neither my mother nor father being at my wedding, and I get sad when I imagine my future children not ever meeting them. My mother would have been an amazing grandmother- she looked forward to it so much, always talking about how much clothes she’d buy them and how much she’d spoil them. I know when Paul and I are lucky enough to have children I’ll enter a new stage of grief; grief for them not ever knowing how much they were loved by my mother before they were even born.
me, Sis, Mom and Eric at Christmas 2008
I’m sure to hit many more stages of grief– every milestone will bring back painful feelings of not being able to share momentous events with the one person I considered to be the most important in my life for 25 years: my mother. But, I also know those events will bring joy; they will enter me into new stages of LIFE that will help the pain from the grief fade away….but, as the article states, never completely, and that’s OK. There are days when the grief is harder; it’s pretty easy to guess which days I’ll be a little sadder or reflective- holidays, her birthday, etc. Or, I’ll be watching a movie with a storyline similar to my own life and I’ll be caught off guard by my grief (I can’t even go near Stepmom- it was my mother’s favorite movie and sadly hits way too close to home for me). But, I have to say there are more days when I feel so much happiness and gratefulness for all that I have in my life. Today is a hard day, but it’s also a day that reminds me how many people have helped me the past 3 years. You know who you are, and to you, I am forever grateful. I have the best family and friends- you all deserve an award for how much you have helped me.
my mom and friends circa 1967
Like all things in life, grief is a journey. There isn’t a final destination that we reach when we can say “OK, I’m done grieving”. For anyone who has lost someone close to them, I know this is true for you. Grief is a constant shadow that lurks in the background, but for me, it’s a shadow that isn’t meant to always cast darkness over me. It brings happy memories with it as well, memories of a woman who I feel so lucky to have had for a mother. Today is a sad day, and yes, I am still grieving, but that’s OK….today is also a day when I get to remember all the wonderful things my mother did and all the happy memories we have. And, I can share it with all of you….
Ever have some weeks where you just feel like you keep saying “when it rains, it pours”?. For me, those weeks have just passed and while overall we’re doing just fine here, a light-hearted, feel good story felt needed for my blog post this week.
My lovely co-worker, Cristin, directed me to this story that is a week old, so some of you may have already seen it up on Facebook or in the news, but for those that haven’t, I promise you it will bring a smile to your face.
This is a story about 9-year old Caine Monroy from East LA who spent his summer building a cardboard arcade in his father’s used auto parts shop while many of his other peers were off at summer camps or programs at YMCAs. He created a magically creative arcade, perfecting his designs each day, making displays for the prizes, and offering any customers of his father a chance to play his games for either $1 (4 turns) or $2 (a Fun Pass for 500 turns). The auto parts store doesn’t get much foot traffic having moved their business to primarily online sales, but Caine’s dedication to his arcade did not diminish because of lack of customers. Instead he used all his free time perfecting the games, creating new ones, setting up prizes, and trying to convince anyone who walked by to step in and play.
That someone would be a guy named Nirvan Mullick who came to the store one day to buy a used door handle for his old car. He spotted the arcade, was impressed by all the detail and craftsmanship, and bought a Fun Pass. What followed were frequent visits by Nirvan and a very willing and happy Caine to finally have a customer. Nirvan, a filmmaker, asked Caine’s dad if it would be OK to make a short film about Caine and his arcade and he agreed not knowing how far his son’s story would reach. Soon after, Nirvan, with the help of his friends in LA, set up Facebook pages and planned a surprise flash mob at his arcade one day. Caine finally had more than one customer and people all over LA and even across the world (there are posts on the Facebook page for the surprise flash mob from people in London who said they wished they could be there) were touched by a boy’s imagination.
The surprise flash mob was a huge success and Caine states it was the best day of his life (you have to watch the video below, you won’t be disappointed), but the aftermath of all this has been amazing. A scholarship fund was quickly set up for Caine to help with his education in the future with a goal of $25,000. As of last reports it has reached a total of over $170,000 and The Goldhirsh Foundation will match every dollar up to $250,000. Talk about amazing…all because of some cardboard and one boy’s creativity and hard work.
If you’re interested in reading more about Caine’s Arcade definitely visit his site: http://cainesarcade.com/
And, many news outlets have been captivated by the story- some of my favorites are here, here, and here.
In the past few years I’ve seen the iPhone or iPad become the new “babysitter” for children. In restaurants, parks, on buses, etc. it frequently comes out into the hands of toddlers who need to be entertained for a bit without fuss. I acknowledge this type of technology is a huge benefit, more than a harm, and I can understand a parent’s need to keep their child happy during a dinner or long car ride. And, let’s face it, Caine’s story never would have become as popular as it has had it not been for modern technology and social media. But, I hope this story reminds us all to take a step back once in awhile and remember how life was before all our gadgets. Sometimes, we just need to drop it all and use our hands and mind. I loved this quote in one story I read about Caine: “But then I realized the beauty of this video is that it celebrates something simple, something low-tech, handmade, and thoughtful. And in this crazy, fast-paced world, we’re all just wishing that we could put down our iPads and play some games at a cardboard arcade.” (article from SFgate.com).
So, I leave you today with not a picture, but a VIDEO. It’s been viewed over 5 million times on Vimeo and YouTube combined…trust me, you want to take 11 minutes out of your day to watch this. It won’t disappoint
This next DIY project I’m going to share is a big leap from the $2 coasters I started with, but one I think turned out pretty well!
When I moved to San Francisco 4 years ago I came with bags and bags of clothes and that was pretty much it. It was great that in the first apartment I moved into the guy who I was replacing was willing to sell me all his furniture. It was the standard Ikea black stuff and I got a bed, dresser, desk, and shelving unit for ridiculously cheap (thank you, Trung!). I figured down the line I would upgrade and eventually replace the stuff with things that were more my style. Well, it’s been 4 years….I have gotten rid of the desk, upgraded to a Cal King bed, but added a coffee table.
When Paul and I moved to our new apartment I still didn’t feel the need to replace all our Ikea furniture with “real” furniture. My plan is when we actually buy our first home we’ll do some upgrades. And, hopefully we’ll have some more space for me to re-do some Craigslist or flea market finds. A 680-sq foot apartment is no place for DIY projects, FYI. But, I was determined to at least make the black laminate disappear. My home design preference runs along the neutral tones with pops of bright color spectrum so the black laminate is probably the polar opposite of my style. I decided I’d start with the Lack coffee table we had and revamp it to something brighter. I went through many different design ideas, but finally settled on a neutral base color with a blue stencil as a border to match the blue rug I had gotten.
So, this is what we started with:
Yuck right? It just screams “help me, brighten me up!”. If you’re not familiar with this Ikea Hack website and you have a lot of Ikea furniture, I strongly suggest checking it out. It’s got some great ideas for changing that plain old laminate stuff to something spectacular.
So, after doing lots of research I settled on Gripper primer, and Behr latext paint. Since laminate is super “slippery” I needed a primer that would cling to it well so that the paint would actually stay on and not chip off easily. Home depot and the web both confirmed that Gripper was the way to go (another favorite of people is Zinsser 1,2,3).
So, the first coat of primer went on and it looked like this:
By the way, I did all of this on our patio which is no bigger than a large handicap bathroom stall. Can we buy a house already?!
I did 3 more coats of primer and in between each coat I sanded it with sanding sponges. I used 100 and 180 grit and they worked great!
In an attempt to not get streaks I painted the primer in W patterns and used a good quality foam roller. After all the coats (about 1 hour of dry time in between each coat), the table and the shelf that sits under it looked like this:
The next day it was time to start painting! I picked a neutral sand color for the base and color matched the blue from the rug I had gotten for the living room for the shelf part. The rug can be seen and purchased here. I used the same painting methods as with the primer and did 4 coats of each. I followed dry times in between coats (2 hours about) and then left the pieces out to dry for a few days.
Next part, stenciling! This was by far the most labor intensive part of the project, and I was completely unprepared for my aching back and cramped fingers. Paul warned me that I was in for a loooong process, but I brushed off his warnings as him just teasing me and cued Destiny Child’s “Independent Women.” I had settled on this stencil pattern from the Martha Stewart collection at Michael’s (the top pattern on the first stencil sheet). I chose the quatrefoil-esque one since it was the easiest to line up after some practicing with the other options. I STRONGLY suggest that if you are going to stencil something you practice, practice, and then practice some more first. I did practice rounds on cardboard for a whole evening first just to make sure I had it down. And, then I did this frame as a practice run.
This pattern by far left the most room for error. Other ones in the packet you really had to line up well or else things would be completely off center or uneven and would be noticeable. With this pattern you couldn’t tell too much if things were off a bit.
So, on to the table! I only wanted to do a border on the top of the table so I cut out a rectangle from pieces of paper (measuring/lining up like crazy to make sure lines were straight) to place down in the center of the table, using painter’s tape. I used this adhesive spray and these foam pouncers I got from Michael’s and they were definitely better than just using regular foam brushes. Trust me, I tried to not give in to these silly things, but when I tried using my regular foam brush the paint seeped under the stencil and just didn’t work. Good thing Michael’s always has coupons (found here!- you just need to change the location to your area). Anyways, this has been a lot of text so far so I leave you now with pictures to show my progress:
And finally, the finished product!
Note: I let the whole table “cure” for about a week or 2. Then I topped it with polyurethane sealer, brushing it on. I gave it 4 coats of that stuff in hopes that will make it last longer. I decided the under shelf needed something else so I bought some cheap baskets from Michael’s that were on sale, gave them a good coat of white spray and there you have it!!
Just so you don’t have to scroll up again, here’s the before and after:
I’m pretty happy with this first big project I did. It turned out exactly how I wanted and is soooo much better than that horrible black laminate. It did prove to me though that DIY projects are seriously intense. Like, no joke. There really is a reason that many of the home and DIY blogs I read are by people who do it as their full time job. After 8 hours at work and time at the gym each night it really only left weekends to get this project done. I’m not going to lie- it has scarred me a bit to do the other 2 pieces in our living room (shelving unit and entertainment system that I want to also paint) and I still have a dining room table to refinish. Too bad we didn’t win that Mega Millions….
But, it was also really fun and rewarding to get an end product that is much more “me”. Next up: a new headboard! Over or under that I finish it within 6 months? Any gamblers out there?