Frances

I was 21 and had just graduated from college when I met my ex-husband.  We met online, and I remember meeting him at his house, impressed that he had bought it himself when he was 19.  He was about 5 years older than me, and I remember on our first date feeling like he was the first person to see “through” me, if that makes sense.  In retrospect, on our first date I remember him asking me a lot of personal questions about things that were not perfect in my life, and making me feel like an extraordinary person who didn’t deserve this sort of imperfection, nor the people who caused it.  Before I knew it, I was revealing my deepest insecurities about myself, my childhood, my current life (and at 21 just out of college, they were a plenty).  These conversations, which felt deep and meaningful, quickly developed into more pointed questions about my sexual history, friends I currently had, and my past.

We used to joke that we were on a never-ending first date, because I ended up moving in with him that weekend. It seemed like a warm welcome, since I was currently living with roommates who were more interested in partying every weekend than abandoning college life for a professional one.  I felt like I was with someone experienced who treated me like an adult, and gave me a sense of worth that I had not experienced before.

 I remember calling individual members of my family, crying because I didn’t know what I was supposed to say – not really believing that it was necessary to cut everyone off, but trusting that a “clean slate” was what I needed.

Soon after our initial meeting and moving in, the insecurities and issues I had revealed became fuel for arguments and coercion.  Feeling like he knew more than I did about life and even myself, within the first week or two I had abandoned my friends, and most of my family, who he had convinced me were detrimental to my becoming a better person.  I remember calling individual members of my family, crying because I didn’t know what I was supposed to say – not really believing that it was necessary to cut everyone off, but trusting that a “clean slate” was what I needed.  The vehicle I was driving at the time belonged to my Dad, and I remember dropping it off with my cell phone inside.

I was participating in my second year of the Miss Delaware pageant at the time, and was making well on my way to possibly making a top spot in the competition in just a few months.  I had worked extremely hard that year developing my platform, working out, practicing my talent, and keeping my fingers crossed at the chance for a scholarship that would put a healthy dent in my student loans.  I remember his rant about pageants being for whores, and I shouldn’t be comfortable being on stage in a swimsuit.  Little did I know I wouldn’t wear a swimsuit without a dark T-Shirt overtop, let alone see a beach for the next 8 years.  Needless to say, one of my calls was to my pageant coordinators to drop out a few months before the State competition.

After the ties were cut with my friends and family, our fighting started to increase.  When I would get upset or contest something, he would blame it on my ignorance and the fact that I did not understand what was good for me.  He would continue to use fuel from our deep conversations to highlight my “problems” and said if I wanted to be a better person I would listen to him.

About 4 weeks after we met, we were driving one day having another discussion about the path my life was now on, and how wonderful it was going to be together.  As a final tie to cut, he convinced me to throw my keyring out the window, as I no longer needed keys to my dad’s house, or my old apartment.  After I ditched the keys, I remember him giving me the same look of pride and satisfaction as he did with any of these tough ties I had to sever.  It made me feel good, like I was finally doing something right.  He asked me to look in the glove box for a CD, and when I opened it, there were 2 ring boxes from Zales sitting there.  I remember my heart sinking, not understanding exactly what was going on.  He told me that anyone could give me an engagement ring, but he wanted to show me how serious he was about being with me, by giving me these wedding bands.  He had me put the ring on my finger, and ironically the only time I took it off was for our wedding day 4 years later.  He had me call his mom, who I had never met, to tell her we were engaged.  I remember feeling like I should be happy, and in a way I was, but something did not feel right.  It wasn’t at all how I dreamt my proposal would be growing up, but then again, everything I had come to believe was somehow invalid.

In addition to the ring, within the first month or two, my boss at work started noticing changes in my behavior as well.  I started my job at the bank in Philadelphia as their resident expert in Chinese culture and language, serving customers, and also working with the business banker visiting businesses in Chinatown (with my PNC Bank Chinese nametag, nonetheless).  I enjoyed what I did, but after about a month or so, a fight started in the morning would prevent me from getting to work.  I no longer had a vehicle, so I relied on him to dive me to the train station.  When he picked up early on, he would make comments about how my body looked in my work clothes, and how I needed to dress more conservatively.  To give you an idea, I shopped primarily at the Limited and Express back in those days, so my attire was typically pants or dress skirts and blouses.  I have never been a big “cotton T-shirt” wearer, so at home my wardrobe was more along the lines of Ann Taylor Loft (and still is ;)).  Before long, my clothes ended up in a bin in the basement, or thrown away, and he kindly bought me new clothes for work, which consisted on cotton T-Shrits from Aeropostale or Target, and loose fitting cargo pants.  I also had to wear camisoles under my shirts. My bras had to be non-push up but padded enough to conceal myself, and he bought me new cotton brief underwear.  Everything else I owned was thrown away.  Work obviously started noticing these changes, as well as the fact that I was no longer wearing makeup.  I remember my boss asking me about what was going on at home, after he would call my desk at work and start fights over the phone.  He would demand I not hang up, or that I continue the fight, usually to the point where I would leave early.  I ended up resigning from my job within 2 months, because the stress of getting to work and, staying at work was unbearable, and frankly I was embarrassed about my appearance.

After I left my job, our relationship seemed to improve. Compared to the few months of hell, I welcomed the new turn we were taking.  Over the next 8 years, the emotional rollercoaster waxed and waned, but always hinging on my inferiority and my quest to become the person he knew I could be.

Red Flags

I certainly felt like something was amiss right away, but he convinced me that I had no idea how relationships were supposed to work (a theme that perseverated abuse for years).  The major theme of our relationship was me trying to be the best girlfriend/fiancée/wife I could be, with the understanding that I had no real examples of this role in my life.  I think it is important to mention that over the course of our 8 year relationship, we had good times together, and memorable moments that kept me hopeful one day the abusive behavior would stop.

There were things in the beginning that in retrospect were red flags.  I remember a fight ensuing after work one day because he had gone through my “things” from my old apartment and found a hard drive with pictures on it from previous serious relationships, some very private in nature.  He had taken it upon himself to go through my things, find the hard drive, view everything on it, and berate me about its contents.  I never did live that down.  Another day while I was at work I noticed that my Gmail account was completely cleared out.  Pictures that I had from my study in China, and other pictures with friends and family were completely gone.  I asked him about it and he made up a story about accidently deleting everything when he went into my account to check on something.  I’m still not sure how he got into my account or what he claimed to be looking for, but getting upset would only prove that I cared about my past, and I was already tired of fighting.

There were considerable red flags throughout our relationship, but after the first 6 months to a year, much of it was so normalized I ended up ignoring it.  Anything I saw as a red flag was justified by me not understanding how relationships worked.  After all, his parents were still together.  Constant reminders that “[he] used to be a lot worse” and threats that that person “could come back at any time” made me feel like he was being better to me than he had been in the past, and if I just kept doing the right thing, maybe it would be amazing one day.

As I mentioned, we had good months and bad months, good years sometimes and bad ones, but because I had absolutely nothing else against which to compare my experience, the rules of our relationship became normal.  In the year or two before my leaving, I actually gave entire presentations to the international community on the campus where I worked about relationships safety and expectations in the US.  My personal experience did not even phase me.  I remember watching certain TV couples, wishing our relationship could be like theirs, but always blaming myself for being an inferior wife, or determining that this was just for TV.  Fights were normal, walking on eggshells was typical, and I just tried to follow the rules to the best of my ability.

I never talked to anyone about my home life, as it was no one’s business, he would say.  I reconnected with my family around the time of our wedding, but I still wasn’t allowed to go out without explicit permission, and would get grief for talking to anyone on my side on the phone.  I remember my question every day when I got home was “who did you talk to today?”.  I would have to recount everyone I had interaction with, getting grief and usually fighting if I saw a co-worker for lunch, talked to my mom, or another family member.  Because I was so private about everything, there was not an opportunity for anyone to interject.  I do not think anyone even really knew what was going on.  On the outside, it probably seemed like I was disinterested in seeing family, or scared of flying, since I seldom travelled for work when given the opportunity.  These were my decisions, because I chose to be passive and avoid confrontation. I had enough confrontation when I did things right, I certainly did not want to do anything to ask for it.

Realization

I landed what I consider my dream job about 6 months before I left, and I was required to be gone for 8 weeks for intense training and to get to know my co-workers, who would be working across the US in the same capacity.  Even though I came home every weekend to be with him, I am sure that my being gone must have sent his blood boiling.  The abuse cycles escalated during that period, and we had one fight that resulted in my finally realizing that my relationship was without a doubt abusive.

I was out taking photos of the DC monuments at night during the week, and while out, started receiving texts from him demanding to know who certain phone numbers belonged to.  As I tried to identify the numbers (lugging thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment around the cold city at night, mind you) my responses were not fast enough, and the fight via text escalated.  He was going through the phone bill quizzing me on numbers I had recently communicated with.  My phone ended up dying, and I completed my photo project, upset and cold, went back to my room and went to bed.  When I woke up the next morning, we fought until I had to go to work, and then again when I got back to my room.  I had called him out on the ridiculousness of what he had done, and how it made me feel.  As the fight continued, he started crying, which completely took me out of my logical headspace.  He said that our dog was sick and he didn’t want to go home because he couldn’t deal with it if she is dead when he gets there.  He said I was the one he relied on to take care of those things, and that’s why he was so upset the night prior.  I wasn’t there to take care of her and he didn’t know what to do.  The guilt overcame me and fear, frankly.  He said he couldn’t possibly go home until he felt like the fight was resolved and he could emotionally handle what he was walking into at home.  I felt like the dog’s life was in my hands, and was both upset and frustrated that I was hours away with no sensible way to take care of this.  I was a bit frustrated finding out he had not contacted a vet, so I called our neighbor who was a vet tech to make sure our pup was ok.  He called me immediately after she called over to him, and he was outraged that I had brought someone else into our personal business.  At this point, the fight continued, (me still not knowing whether the dog was ok).  I started writing down some of the things he said during our fight so I could look at them later with a clear mind

“You need to be a fucking asshole and you feel the need to have all these piece of shit people in your fucking life.”

 “I’ve put 8 years of my life into you to make you into this great fucking person.”

 “What have you done for me?  We can’t even have a fucking kid.”

“What’s in it for me?  Other than losing hair and high blood pressure, and a heart attack probably, and grey hair”

“I’m super passionate because I care”

“I could easily treat you like every other dirtbag in my entire life.”

“You think you’ve got me by the balls”

 “You do things like a single person would”

We fought that weekend, and the violence started to escalate as well.  The difference with these fights is that I did start realizing that the behavior was abusive and dangerous.  I had contacted a few of my contacts from the University who specialize in domestic violence (who I had ironically worked with on several presentations before) and relayed my story.  I started reading blogs and articles from The Hotline, as well as reading abuse charts like the ones I have posted on this website.  I was astounded that I was finding myself checking every box.  My situation was not as unique as I thought it was, and I immediately felt deceived, guilty for the decisions I had made, guilty for the way I felt, and scared.

My situation was not as unique as I thought it was, and I immediately felt deceived, guilty for the decisions I had made, guilty for the way I felt, and scared.

Coming out of the fog

Once I realized the situation was abusive, I felt a bit empowered, but started planning a safe escape plan, should I need to use it.  I was still caught up with the fact that this was likely not a relationship I could fix on my own, and did try to breech the topic with him on several occasions. I began telling him I was unhappy, that the behavior wasn’t right, and started trying to use more assertive statements to declare my boundaries.  I remember getting into a fight because I took a shower on my own one day (we showered together every day for 8 years, diverging only when he decided to wash up on his own.)  The fight was centered around the fact that I must be cheating and needed to wash the [sex] off my body.  When I told him that is abusive, he claimed I didn’t want to be close to him and this was an intimate part of our day.  Another fight I would have normally ignored involved the panties I was wearing, which were more lacy than usual.  I told him I have a right to wear what I want, and the fight resulted in him screaming in my face so I couldn’t go to sleep, and eventually me conceding, giving him what he wanted, just so I could go to sleep.  When I asked if we could go to counseling, he claimed he didn’t need it, and that I wasn’t going to go anywhere were I could “talk shit about [him]”.  When the violence continued to escalate (keeping me from leaving rooms, threatening violence, and eventually body slamming me onto the bed in a neck lock, I decided it was time to leave.

I can definitely attest to the fact that violence and abuse escalates as you plan to leave, not because the abuser knows you are leaving, but because your behavior will (and should) change.  When you start asserting yourself, it throws off the status quo.  For many of us, we need to try and make it work by being the empowered person we want to be, but unfortunately the higher you try to rise, the more violent the suppression becomes.

Words of Wisdom

  1. Your worth does not come from friends, a partner, or even family. It comes from you and the power to be the best YOU is only limited by the inability to assert your own boundaries for what you will and will not tolerate.  There is some sacrifice in a relationship, but the sacrifice should be things like what to have for dinner or what movie to see together.  Perhaps even what to do with the backyard, or where to live.  Sacrifice should never include sacrificing your own boundaries or beliefs, or your own dreams and goals.
  2. Check your relationship regularly. Mine started out abusive, and was conveniently justified, and I fell for it.  Knowing the red flags ahead of time, knowing your boundaries, and honoring them is the key to testing the status of your relationship.  We get checkups and dental exams, why don’t we check up on our relationships?  Having healthy conversations about boundaries are important, and if you can’t have those discussions, get out.
  3. Don’t seek out love, seek to love yourself. Make sure you know and love yourself as your are before you pursue a serious relationship.  Knowing your boundaries and feeling comfortable alone will allow you to set boundaries that keep your valueable, beautiful self safe. My current partner is my best friend, and he knows my past, my boundaries, and treats me as an equal. We didn’t find each other on an online quest for love, or because either of us needed someone, but rather because we enjoy doing things together, have similar values, and have a similar taste for goal setting and attainment.  I feel relaxed when we are together, and never feel scared to say something “wrong”.  We are also both capable of being happy independently of each other, which is not to say we wouldn’t rather be doing things together, but we can also be happy seeing family independently, or going out with friends on occasion without jealousy, lack of trust, or constant need to “check-in”.  If I’m busy, he takes take of dinner and dishes, and he is always up for anything I want to do.  Basically, it is nice being able to check every box on this “healthy” continuum, rather than the abusive or unhealthy ones.  The difference is night and day: http://www.thehotline.org/healthy-relationships/relationship-spectrum

 

My life today

My life is all over this blog!  While I’m still carefully re-learning what a healthy relationship looks like, I am dedicated to making sure the things I do bring me joy, and helping others understanding how boundaries work, and empowering others to be as happy as I am now.  I love my job, I feel like I can do what I want when I want, and I am now excited as I used to be to travel and meet new people.  I feel amazing being able to decide for myself the people and activities that are helpful or harmful in my life, and not being stuck to a defined role in my relationship.  I know it doesn’t sound super romantic, but I am happy with the life I lead independent of my partner.  It is not what you want to think about, but if we were to decide one day that the relationship was no longer satisfying, I feel comfortable that I would still have my life and my stability to continue onward.  This was not the case in my previous relationship, especially not early on.  Without him, I had no one, and I was not happy with who I was.  I felt like less of a person in that relationship, and ironically I am, now, all the wonderful things he told me I could never or should never strive to become.  What I love about my life now is that I laugh every day.

Contact Frances

As a reminder, questions posted here will be answered on the blog. If your question relates to a specific story, like this one, it will be directed to the associated Hero to respond.  If your question is more general, it will be directed to all the Heroes and we will compile a response for you.  Questions may be posted on an FAQ or on this Hero’s page, but no identifying information will ever be revealed.  If you do not include an email, your question and response will be posted in the FAQ and/or Hero’s page, so check back for responses if you cannot or wish not to receive email.

Operation Flower Farm is a Go!

I have been longing for a nice cutting garden for years.  Anyone who knows me knows I am into vegetable gardening, and have a pretty good grasp on herbs and roses.  Truth be told, I have never been wonderful growing flowers.  I remember grabbing colorful seed packets when I was a kid and attempting to grow bright zinnias that claimed to grow 3 feet high, and launching wildflower seed spread into the yard before “seed bombs” were a thing, and nothing ever grew.  In recent years, my MO has been to buy pretty annuals from the Amish markets around May, stick them all over the place, water indiscriminately, and pray…a lot.

Last winter and spring marked my first gardening season in an apartment, and the death of a few purchased plants poised on my shady apartment balcony only added to the frustration of not having an appropriate garden, or even access to a garden hose.  Compounded with all the emotions that went along with temporary living, I leveled with the fact that I would soon have the ability to garden again, and it was time to start dreaming.

When I found my old farmhouse in May, and went under contract over the summer, naturally the first thing I did was start spending way too much time on Pinterest dreaming of the kinds of gardens I would have.  Vegetable gardens are wonderful, and in no time I had a plan to use some of the old storm windows to make a dreamy greenhouse.  I have always wanted lavender fields, and I missed my mint garden like nobody’s business.  I wanted a different kind of challenge though, and after seeing some inspirational flower fields and flower farms (did anyone know that was a thing?) I was hooked.  I had planned on planting in the fall, but since I didn’t settle until November, it was not until recently that I really started thinking about what I wanted to do.  A few flower beds turned into a tiny micro-sized farm, and I am learning now all the reasons why my past flower-tending was futile.  At the risk of making a cheesy sales pitch, I never thought I could grow flowers, and now I can…and you can, too!

I will do my best to document the cutting garden progress.  If you are interested in planting along with me, PLEASE DO!  This year, I will be focusing on my experience and likely linking to the resources I found helpful.  I am by absolutely no means an expert, but I have been learning a ton about the process of growing your own cut flowers from seed, tuber, bulb and corm!

Getting up to speed

So far, I have (with the help of a ton of research and pinspiration) mapped out my flower beds, ordered seeds, and started germinating.  If you are looking to start this year, NOW is the time.  In fact, you might already be behind depending on where you are, but it is better late than never!  Here is what you will need to do to catch up:

#1 Dream BIG!

This part is fun.  Hey, if you read my New Year’s post and are looking for something to work toward this year, this would be a fun start and truly embodies the process of setting out to do something you didn’t think you could.  So, start by dreaming.  I love Pinterest for this, and magazines, garden shows, whatever gets you feeling joyful.  For me, a huge source of inspiration was finding flower farms already in existence across the country.  Floret is a HUGE help.  Erin’s fields are gorgeous, and her photos make you want to reach inside the screen breathe deeply.  This is an extremely important step, because when you screw up a packet of seeds, or overwater by accident and drown seedlings, you will want to give up if you don’t have a big dream to keep you motivated.

#2 Consider what you can plant

We are lucky here in zone 7 because we can grow pretty much everything.  Our bulbs can typically stay in the ground, are properly overwintered, and pop up every spring, and our summers don’t come on too hot too fast.  You should absolutely check your hardiness zone, because even here in the tri-state area, our zones change from zip code to zip code.  I am technically in zone 7b, but an hour away you may find yourself in 6b, which is about 10 degrees cooler.  Check your zone with the USDA here, and consider the plants you already have growing to determine what might be best for your area.  So much of this will be trial and error as well, so you will get to know your garden, your plants, and your area over the course of a few years.  Again, I believe you will be able to plant most anything, though your climate will determine what amendments you need to make, when to start planting, etc.

#3 Pick your flowers and plan your gardens

It is OK to start with a small patch of garden.  Whether you are turning over an existing bed, or creating a new one, make sure it is in a location that will receive the kind of sun the flowers you plan to plant need.  This is why I do not break these steps apart.  You will constantly being getting inspiration, finding new plants, re-thinking your design and needs, and growing your space into a micro-farm…ok maybe that last bit is just me.  Honestly though, if you go overboard, you might get frustrated and overwhelmed fast, so do not bite off more than you can handle.  You might find you plan out your dream garden, then think about what part of it you want to work on this year.  I remind myself constantly that it is better to work in small chunks with a big end goal in mind, rather than trying to do it all at once.  I’m pretty stubborn, but when I heed this guidance it typically works out better, and I have more fun.  If it helps, keep a list of things you want to consider growing next year (an A-list and a B-list if you will).

Once you have your flowers picked (pun intended 😉 ) map out your final garden plan.  For me in the past, I have done everything from sketching rectangles on a post-it note, to drawing it up in Photoshop.  It really depends on my mood. This year I have been really into SketchUp, so I planned them out there.  I probably would not recommend it if you do not already know SketchUp, and honestly if my sketchpad and colored pencils were not still packed, I would have probably just used that.  Here is what I came up with though, for this year:

You will want to denote the size of the gardens, to determine how many plants you can squeeze in there.  This will also tell you how many seeds or tubers to order.  To give you an idea, the large rectangles are mostly 4’x16′.  I find that 4′ is a good size to be able to reach into the garden without having to step into it. I use 4′ beds for my veggies, so for me it works.  Each 4′ section will fit between 3-5 rows of flowers, depending on the size of the flower.  I will go more in depth  when I plant everything, but I would recommend Floret’s website again and also any book on lean farming.  Many farmers not use a close plant spacing technique which maximizes garden space.  For example, if a seed packet says a plant needs 12″ spacing, really you could probably get away with 9″, and by staggering your rows of plants, you end up with more plants per square yard.

#4 Buying seeds, tubers, corms, oh my!

Real flower farmers might be screaming at my through their monitors right now, but it is not too late to buy seeds, tubers, corms, and even bulbs.  Typically, especially here in zone 7, fall is for planting.  Many of these perennial flowers (the ones that come back every year) need a winter cold to go dormant.  They set roots while snow is falling, and pop up in the late winter, flowering in early spring.  While your spring-planted flower crops will be less prolific, you can still have beautiful harvests planting in the spring.  The most important thing to remember, though, is to PAY ATTENTION to the best planting time for each type of flower.  If you will, be the flower and think about what it needs.  This will help take the mystery and anxiety out of growing flowers.

I will get to planting momentarily, but for now, the buying.  Consider how many plants you need, remembering that growing from seed is so much more economical than buying flowers in pots from the greenhouse.  I would recommend purchasing seeds and tubers from reputable vendors online, not necessarily from the hardware and grocery stores.  While these could bloom, you will have more fun buying flower types and varieties that are more rare, and often the distributors take great care to sell seeds with high germination rates, and tubers from plants at their own farms from mother plants that have been selected for excellent production.  This year, I purchased from the following:

Assorted seeds including Sweet Peas – Floret Flowers Excellent seeds, beautiful packaging, and a great resource for how to plant and grow

Dahlia Tubers – Swan Island Dahlias (the #1 source for Dahlias…they have everything, and their website is dahlias.com…come on.)

Ranunculus Tubers, Anemone corms, and some bare root plants – Bulbsdirect.com Straight from Holland!

Assorted Seeds – Swallowtail Seeds I purchased backup seeds because they sell poppies in packs of 2,500.  They have a pretty large selection of other varieties as well

#5 Planting Schedule

While you are waiting for seeds to arrive, and truly during your research process, write down what kind of flowers you are growing, and what germination conditions they require.  Some varieties has special needs, for example, wildflowers (like Poppies, Snapdragons, Foxglove, etc.) produce tiny seeds and scatter them all over in the fall after blooming.  These seeds sit on the surface of your garden and soak up sunlight to start the germination process.  Keeping this in mind, you do NOT want to push them into the soil.  Make a note of this!  By contrast, some seeds must be completely covered.  Some need warmth, some require cold to sprout.  Some can be translated, and others resent root disturbance.  Many can be planted right in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked.  A spreadsheet is a good stay to stay organized.  Here is mine:

I will continue to add to this should I need to, and it is also handy to add notes as I learn more about this area and what my plant babies need to grow.

#6 Prep and Plant!

This is where the fun really starts!  I have started several of my seeds indoors, per my chart.  I have soaked and and pre-sprouting my tubers and corms, and am ready to prep my garden site.  When you make it here, you will be all caught up and we can start gardening together!  The most important piece here is to monitor your plants and pay attention to what they need.  TEST YOUR SOIL and if you need to make any amendments, do so.  I purchased a soil tester from the hardware store, which you stick in the ground and read the soil acidity.  Be sure to test all over your garden site, as a few feet can make a difference.  Proper preparation will make a difference (I know this from veggie gardening as well).  Do not slack on prep or anything relating to germination.  Soil prep may also include loosening the soil, hydrating it, or ensuring proper drainage.  Again, seeds may need cool temperatures or warm ones. Sweet peas, for example, germinate well at about 70 degrees so I have them on a heat mat, but once they sprout, they will go out into the garden where they can get lots of light and benefit from cooler temperatures.

 

I will continue to post about this exciting adventure, so feel free to follow along in your own garden!  If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below.  I will be back soon with more as I continue to prep and plant outside!

 

Cultivating Empowerment: Challenge

January is typically the season for renewal, or at least, intended renewal.  We make promises to ourselves and others about how we are going to change, what we are going to accomplish, and for all intents and purposes, these promises are well-intended.  The issue arises though, as January drags on, we are swept into the hustle and bustle of our day to day lives – a series of schedules and habits which seem oblivious to our newfound plans.  As the promises we made to ourselves to eat healthier, workout more, or say no more often drift away, we are left with residual guilt, justified by the fact that life is just to crazy right now.  By February, we feel worse about our current situation than we did in December!  I don’t suffer from this affliction, fortunately, and this year I plan to help you escape it for good, too.

This blog is dedicated to things that bring me joy, and helping others procure it.  This year, I challenge you to follow me through this short series, getting down and dirty with your innermost hopes and dreams, and learning how to get what you want any time of the year.  I do not know what you might find at the end of your journey, but my hope is that you continue to find, and choose, happiness.

What is this series about?

I’m going to cut to the chase…if something about your life seems “off”, your body, mind and spirit is telling you something is amiss.  You deserve better than to feel off.  Much of this blog is dedicated to simple but critical strategies we often forget when setting things right, and being able to effectively be happy with yourself and the life you create is vital to your empowerment, your independence, and ultimately your happiness in outside relationships.

These are skills and mindsets that I carry with me constantly, and I recommend that you read through and think about what each challenge means to you.  Get lost in how it makes you feel, and try to figure out why it makes you feel that way.  Remember that we choose to take from situations what we choose to take.  You leave a situation or finish an article feeling a certain way, and what you choose to carry with you is a matter of perspective.  With that, I challenge you to find something positive or challenging in each post or mindset that speaks to you and carry it with you.

Your Challenge

We are typically so good at determining what others in our life are in need of.  Whether its a boss at work, our spouse or partner, or our kiddos, we are constantly monitoring their needs and tending to them.  Those of us who are particularly good at this tend to wind up in relationships that are extremely co-dependent, where our worth and identity is dependent on the degree to which we satisfy needs that aren’t ours.  This is a problem.  The problem doesn’t lie in our helping others, but in the fact that too often we let that assisting role define us, and instead of taking care of ourselves, we are seeking validation from others.  Not good.

This challenge is dedicated to looking inward and determining what you need. What goals you have, and what life you want.

Right now, or when you have a minute, close you eyes or otherwise get lost in the following question.  Try to do it without interruption, and if you need to make space for yourself, make it a priority (this is a skill you must master).  If the thought of having 5 or 10 minutes to yourself stresses you out, here are some suggestions, (but don’t get too comfortable…we WILL be addressing this issue later!)…

  • In the car
  • Before bed
  • While stirring pasta
  • Surfing Pinterest (my personal favorite)
  • etc. (you get the idea)

This is not a one-and-done exercise.  In fact, I recommend taking these moments throughout your week to reflect on just this series of questions:

Describe your ideal lifestyle.  What does it look like, what does it feel like?

Get in the habit of dreaming, something we sadly stop doing at some point.

In fact, if you have kids and they won’t leave you alone, make it a family affair.  We actually pose these kinds of “dream it” questions to our kiddos all the time.  Have them draw a picture or write a story.  Chances are they will have more fun with it, so take a lesson from them and dream big!  If you do have time to yourself, and you happen to be a Pintrester like me, you might find creating a secret board will help you review the kinds of things that seem to bring you joy.  Maybe you find you pin a lot of blue, a ton of farmscapes, family portraits, or funny memes.  Whatever the commonalities are, it will help bring realization to the things that bring your heart happiness.  Don’t focus too much on that now, though.  Just pin.

Now, do not think that this series is going to be me telling you how to obtain these wild dreams.  Just because you dream of Tuscany does not mean you need to uproot your family to Italy to be happy.  This exercise is about self reflection and honing in on what kinds of things make you feel joy, and it is extremely important in establishing real goals, knowing what makes you happy, and learning the difference between feeling real joy and simply settling.

One warning I will make is not to simply jump to conclusions about what you think should make you happy.  This exercise is not about what you think the world thinks should make you happy.  This is about YOU.  If your mental escapes fail to depict family vacations and bright green salads, that is OK.  Everyone loves their family and everyone wants to be healthier; the purpose is to focus on those deep-seeded gems that bring joy to YOU, a unique person.

That is it for today.  This is a simple, but important task.  I will leave you with an affirmation –

You are worth the biggest dreams you have for yourself, and all the strength and ability you need to achieve them is already within you.

The House Research Struggle is Real

As most people know, I am a relentless research buff.  I love to get caught up in the story of things, so it was no surprise that this old farmhouse had me curious from the first time I saw it.  When I find antiques, the first thing I usually do is research it, so I can share its story and value it even more, and this place is by far my biggest antique purchase to date.  I should have expected that with such a great find, it would also give me the biggest research challenge I have ever encountered!  When I started, I naively thought that researching a structure would be easier than researching a family.  I do a ton of family history work, and follow ancestors around using documents, photos, and stories as they traverse through time.  A structure, I figured, should be less of a hunt.  Boy, was I wrong.

As it turns out, researching a structure has less to do with its construction date (which is also, by the way, difficult to pin down), and more to do with everything moving around and through it.  Deeds go missing, land is transferred and divided without paperwork, and just as soon as I think I have an owner or inhabitant, I find out I am in a house down the street.  By contrast, I have come across several townsfolk who seemed trivial at the time, but ended up being extremely relevant.  I still have quite a bit to do, but I wanted to share some of the difficulties in researching my property that I was not expecting, and how researching property is vastly different from the research I’m used to.

 

Paperwork Goes Missing

This photo depicts John Hazelton (middle back), the son of Stacy Hazelton. The porch behind them looks a lot like mine – the glass above the front door is identical, as is the section jutting out from the left. While they lived in the home, there is no way to be sure this is mine.

This, in all actuality, is not uncommon when researching people; however, with ancestors, you can typically pick them back up at some point and fill in the gaps by telling the story.  When decades go by though, on a property, it is dangerous to just assume what transpired during that period.  In my deed search, I was able to go back to about 1950 before I hit the bottom, which is not all that far.  I used Gloucester County’s online deed books to trace purchased back to the 60s, and from there was able to read through the actual deeds to determine past ownership.  If you are lucky, your deed will actually give a bit of history.  For example, after the land description, the deeds in my county will say something to the effect of, “Being the same lands conveyed to XXXXX by XXXXX in 1959”.  The deed prior to the one you are looking at should have previous information as well.  The problem arises when this “recent” history comes to a stop.  In my case, recent history ended with the sale of my property from Freeman and Anna Loveland to the more recent owners in 1950.  In a small town like Harrisonville, I learned quickly that the transfer of property was typically among family, or was done without much paperwork.  Land was transferred commonly through wills (which I will get to), or sold at public sale with little documentation.  Only in recent history are well drafted deeds on the books.  My sale, for example, was online within days of closing!

Mixed Uses are Misleading

Because my property has also operated as the town’s General Store since the beginning of my research (dating back to 1846 so far), census records can be very misleading.  The census was typically recorded during the day, and the census records on those homes that also operated for commercial use contained a lot of folks outside of the family.  Did the clerk live in the building?  What about the owner?  Did the owner of the store rent from the homeowner?  Did the homeowner even occupy the property?  In my case, after researching the folks on the census for my house, the answer was yes, no, and perhaps…?  Often I am finding individuals appearing on multiple census records, sometimes in multiple enumeration districts.  In one case, a man, Stacy Hazelton, who inherited the store/home from his father-in-law in 1883, continued to operate the farm during the day, while his wife and mother lived in the next town in another home he owned.  He appears on both records, since they were taken on different days.  What does this mean in terms of ownership and inhabitants, and what does this really tell me about the home itself?  At the same time, the merchant/shop keeper living in a small family home down the street could very well be the person I am most interested in.  But what shop does he keep?

Marion Bartholomew (right) served as postmaster general from 1926-1931 and a clerk in the store during this time, but it isn’t clear whether she lived in the house.

One route I am trying to take advantage of is the oral history of this particular store also operating as the town’s post office, until recent history (about 1950).  The town has an extensive list of postmasters, but did they all live in the home?  Did the keep shop there?  Or did they simply manage the mail?  There were also a few general stores in the small town, so it is also unclear which store these folks could have managed.  The post office was typically housed within a store itself, but it is hard to tell exactly which store would have housed it at any given time.

 

Photos are Deceiving

Upstairs in the attic, you can see where an addition was added and the original roof is still in place beneath. As contractors open walls, beams are present indicating the original home was much smaller.

If you saw the photos of the interior of the home, you probably saw the “scary attic” where the original roof is visible from the inside. The house has clearly changed over time, in drastic ways.  Aluminum siding replaced old clapboard, additions changed the home’s original Greek Revival silhouette, trees have been planted and removed, and even roads have been commissioned in the past 150 years.  Remember when looking at old photos and sketches, that the home you are searching for may not look like the home you see today!

This is the home of the Dunn family, from the 1876 atlas. Joseph Steward, who lived next door in 1870, took over as postmaster general around 1900. Is it possible that this could be my house? If not, where does a home with this silhouette exist in our town? There is so much evidence of farming on the property it is possible the landowner used it as a farm, while the store was operated by someone else at the same location.

My consultant, inspector, and contractor all agree that the home was once smaller, and additions were added over time.  The original home would have consisted only of the front room, shop area, and bathroom on the first floor, and bedrooms on the second floor and attic.  The mudroom, kitchen, dining room, and porch were all additions, as well as the front porch.  The side door, facing the side yard, was probably the front door of the house, giving it a traditional Greek Revival shape, which would have been standard in the 1840s.

The Dunn farm, zoomed in, and my house from the same direction.

Photos are Scarce

Laura Loveland (standing) lived in an owned the home for some time, and served as postmaster for years, being proceeded by her son, Freeman (the baby in the photo). That porch in the background is entirely too high to be mine, but has the same kind of Swedish cutouts below, and Victorian style posts. This actually looks a lot like a home down the street.

When researching as far back as 100 years, or even 50 for that matter, it is important to remember that technology was not as prevalent.  Were the farmers and shopkeepers who inhabited my home wealthy enough to own a camera?  Artistic enough to sketch a photo?  Chances are, probably not…because I haven’t been able to locate a single photo before 1950.  I have been lucky to find many photos of the inhabitants of the town, which would make me thrilled if I were conducting my genealogical research.  This is just the point, though.  If someone were to take a photo, they would spend the film on the people, not necessarily the surroundings.  I find myself constantly squinting at the background of photos at roofs and halves of porches of homes, wondering if they are mine, or one of the other 10 Greek Revival/Victorians on the street.

Research Plans Change

At this point, I have scoured ancestry.com for everything I can, and I am planning to do some more work at the local historical societies to see what I can find.  At this point, I have my list of potential homeowners and shop keepers, and if nothing else, I know a ton about the town’s history.  This will give me an educated idea of what questions to ask, and what to look out for.  I started developing a timeline of hard evidence, as well as filling in the gaps with hypotheses.  Like I do with family, telling the story in narrative based on the facts I have helps.  In the end, I am learning about the lifestyle of the folks who created my town, and whether they lived in my house or not, they are all an important piece of its history.

 

I Bought a Farmhouse!

I am SO excited to reveal a huge project that I am finally ready to begin.  Over the summer I saw, visited, and fell in love with an old farmhouse.  There is nothing I love more than bringing new life to old things, and this place was no exception.  Seeing as my lease is up in early Spring, I moved quickly to see if there was any logic to my purchasing this piece of Mullica Hill history, and turning it into my dream home.

I connected with the most amazing real estate agent in Mullica Hill, NJ, and (in my humble opinion, the country) to engage on this endeavor. After having a consultant come through the home to assess the extent of required and desired repairs and renovations, I decided to use a 203k loan to finance my purchase and the repairs.  I will go into more detail about the process of financing the purchase and planning repairs, renovations, and restorations in later posts.  For now, we will get on to the good stuff…details!

The Farmhouse Stats:

Location – Harrisonville, NJ (A small town consisting of a few streets, and about 150 people, within the township of South Harrison, just outside the city limits of Mullica Hill, NJ)

Style – My best guess based on the structure, layout, and details is Folk Victorian.  More on this later.  At first I considered it to be a Greek Revival, which is also possible, but as updates were made it really takes on more of the Folk Victorian charm of the late 19th century and plenty of Swedish influence.

Size – About 4400 sf of living space, including 2 floors and a full-sized attic with multiple rooms.  The downstairs contains a large room that housed the town’s General Store from about 1840 over generations until the mid-late 1900s.  The house sits on just over .5 acres of land, likely partitioned from larger areas of farmland years ago.

Goal of Restoration – I want to bring the home up to code with modern efficiencies and comforts, while maintaining, restoring, or replacing as much period-specific charm and character in the aesthetics.   I plan to have my contractor do a lot of the code work, such as plumbing, electric, roofing, etc.  I will handle more of the aesthetic projects.  EVERYTHING will be documented 🙂

Here is an extensive gallery of “before”, annotated with what I plan to do in each space.

  • This is the exterior. The front of the home faces the street and features a front porch, which was probably half-covered (on the left) at some point to make room for the commercial area/storefront. The home has gone through a few style transformations that seem to collide, so my plan is to take it back to a Swedish folk Victorian, which is most likely its original style, and extremely relevant to the area.

Additional Work to be Completed

In addition to the remodel, my contractor will also be tackling the roof, installing an HVAC system, painting the aluminum siding, and installing new windows where updates have not already been made.  A sunroom “porch” off the back (which I did not show) will be turned into a true sunroom.  A well has already been drilled on the property.  The current well is shared with the home next door, likely a legacy improvement since the homes were owned by close families previously on the same acreage.

Permits have been acquired and work will begin this week.  As the process moves forward, I will be posting more in depth information about what we find and how the renovation is coming along.  Strap in, it’s going to be an exciting ride!

 

My 2016 Christmas Card: A Hero Arts Ombre Z-fold Tutorial!

Call me old fashioned, but I make my own Christmas cards every year.  In an age where even a text message can be too burdensome, there is something about receiving a card that is really special, and making them is so much fun!  I do not typically post my card-making process, but I figured I would start this year.

Without further ado, here is a my super speedy, 5 minute card tutorial.  I used Hero Arts Ombre stamp pads and stamps, as well as colored cardstock.  The cutouts I made using my Cricut Air machine, and for the windows I used one of my favorite cardstocks – Gmund Savanna in the color Bubinga.  I love this cardstock because it has a real wood grain, and feels amazing. Enjoy!

 

“It Could be Worse”

If I heard this one more time during my relationship, I might have become apt to levitate.  At the same time, it is one of the many methods abusers use to keep their victims at ease about the relationship they are experiencing, and effectually keep victims from raising standards or building healthy boundaries.

“You think you have it so bad…”

“I could be worse, a lot worse.  Do you want me to go back to the way I used to be?”

“I could be more like [insert name of known abusive family member or friend]… Would you like that?  I could do that.”

“I think you want to piss me off. Keep pushing…”

“You act like I beat you, do you want me to start?”

All of these, which so many victims hear regularly, serve to normalize the behavior of the abuser.  I used to find myself thinking, “Well, I guess it could be worse.”  My mind slipped and teetered immediately back and forth into all of the ways it could be worse, and all the good times we did have.  In conclusion, and in fear, I accepted what I had as reasonable enough.  After all, it could be worse.  A lot worse.

This is no excuse though.  As we explore domestic violence, even the word violence seems to indicate that there must be some physical component.  We forget how malicious emotional abuse is, and how it serves (among other things) to push the line where physical abuse starts.  There have been many cases of women and men who are berated, coerced, stricken, and terribly injured, who do not accept that they are being abused, because it could always be worse.  This might be a good place to review indicators of abuse.  The following behaviors are not acceptable, and even if your relationship does not hit every point, as I just discussed, there is no meter to determine how “bad” an abusive situation is, and you deserve better.

The following information is directly from The Hotline, a fantastic resource for men and women exploring abuse, safety, and recovery: http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/.  Remember that the abuser may employ a combination of tactics, and it is not uncommon for him or her to be relatively “well behaved” in one aspect, in order to remind you that it could be worse.  I will be going into these more throughout the blog, in detail, but for now, please read and remember: the point here is that abuse is abuse.  Respect should be mutual, and given willingly, not coerced.

Abuse Indicators

You may be experiencing physical abuse if your partner has done or repeatedly does any of the following tactics of abuse:
  • Pulling your hair, punching, slapping, kicking, biting or choking you
  • Forbidding you from eating or sleeping
  • Hurting you with weapons
  • Preventing you from calling the police or seeking medical attention
  • Harming your children
  • Abandoning you in unfamiliar places
  • Driving recklessly or dangerously when you are in the car with them
  • Forcing you to use drugs or alcohol (especially if you’ve had a substance abuse problem in the past)
You may be in an emotionally abusive relationship if you partner exerts control through:
  • Calling you names, insulting you or continually criticizing you
  • Refusing to trust you and acting jealous or possessive
  • Trying to isolate you from family or friends
  • Monitoring where you go, who you call and who you spend time with
  • Demanding to know where you are every minute
  • Trapping you in your home or preventing you from leaving
  • Using weapons to threaten to hurt you
  • Punishing you by withholding affection
  • Threatening to hurt you, the children, your family or your pets
  • Damaging your property when they’re angry (throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, etc.)
  • Humiliating you in any way
  • Blaming you for the abuse
  • Gaslighting
  • Accusing you of cheating and being often jealous of your outside relationships
  • Serially cheating on you and then blaming you for his or her behavior
  • Cheating on you intentionally to hurt you and then threatening to cheat again
  • Cheating to prove that they are more desired, worthy, etc. than you are
  • Attempting to control your appearance: what you wear, how much/little makeup you wear, etc.
  • Telling you that you will never find anyone better, or that you are lucky to be with a person like them
Sexually abusive methods of retaining power and control include an abusive partner:
  • Forcing you to dress in a sexual way
  • Insulting you in sexual ways or calls you sexual names
  • Forcing or manipulating you into to having sex or performing sexual acts
  • Holding you down during sex
  • Demanding sex when you’re sick, tired or after hurting you
  • Hurting you with weapons or objects during sex
  • Involving other people in sexual activities with you against your will
  • Ignoring your feelings regarding sex
  • Forcing you to watch pornography
  • Purposefully trying to pass on a sexually transmitted disease to you
Sexual coercion Sexual coercion lies on the ‘continuum’ of sexually aggressive behavior. It can vary from being egged on and persuaded, to being forced to have contact. It can be verbal and emotional, in the form of statements that make you feel pressure, guilt, or shame. You can also be made to feel forced through more subtle actions. For example, an abusive partner:
  • Making you feel like you owe them — ex. Because you’re in a relationship, because you’ve had sex before, because they spent money on you or bought you a gift
  • Giving you drugs and alcohol to “loosen up” your inhibitions
  • Playing on the fact that you’re in a relationship, saying things such as: “Sex is the way to prove your love for me,” “If - I don’t get sex from you I’ll get it somewhere else”
  • Reacting negatively with sadness, anger or resentment if you say no or don’t immediately agree to something
  • Continuing to pressure you after you say no
  • Making you feel threatened or afraid of what might happen if you say no
  • Trying to normalize their sexual expectations: ex. “I need it, I’m a man”
Even if your partner isn’t forcing you to do sexual acts against your will, being made to feel obligated is coercion in itself. Dating someone, being in a relationship, or being married never means that you owe your partner intimacy of any kind.
Reproductive coercion is a form of power and control where one partner strips the other of the ability to control their own reproductive system. It is sometimes difficult to identify this coercion because other forms of abuse are often occurring simultaneously. Reproductive coercion can be exerted in many ways:
  • Refusing to use a condom or other type of birth control
  • Breaking or removing a condom during intercourse
  • Lying about their methods of birth control (ex. lying about having a vasectomy, lying about being on the pill)
  • Refusing to “pull out” if that is the agreed upon method of birth control
  • Forcing you to not use any birth control (ex. the pill, condom, shot, ring, etc.)
  • Removing birth control methods (ex. rings, IUDs, contraceptive patches)
  • Sabotaging birth control methods (ex. poking holes in condoms, tampering with pills or flushing them down the toilet)
  • Withholding finances needed to purchase birth control
  • Monitoring your menstrual cycles
  • Forcing pregnancy and not supporting your decision about when or if you want to have a child
  • Forcing you to get an abortion, or preventing you from getting one
  • Threatening you or acting violent if you don’t comply with their wishes to either end or continue a pregnancy
  • Continually keeping you pregnant (getting you pregnant again shortly after you give birth)
Reproductive coercion can also come in the form of pressure, guilt and shame from an abusive partner. Some examples are if your abusive partner is constantly talking about having children or making you feel guilty for not having or wanting children with them — especially if you already have kids with someone else.
Economic or financial abuse is when an abusive partner extends their power and control into the area of finances. This abuse can take different forms, including an abusive partner:
  • Giving an allowance and closely watching how you spend it or demanding receipts for purchases
  • Placing your paycheck in their bank account and denying you access to it
  • Preventing you from viewing or having access to bank accounts
  • Forbidding you to work or limiting the hours that you can work
  • Maxing out credit cards in your name without permission or not paying the bills on credit cards, which could ruin your credit score
  • Stealing money from you or your family and friends
  • Using funds from children’s savings accounts without your permission
  • Living in your home but refusing to work or contribute to the household
  • Making you give them your tax returns or confiscating joint tax returns
  • Refusing to give you money to pay for necessities/shared expenses like food, clothing, transportation, or medical care and medicine
Digital abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. Often this behavior is a form of verbal or emotional abuse perpetrated online. You may be experiencing digital abuse if your partner:
  • Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites.
  • Sends you negative, insulting or even threatening emails, -- Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online.
  • Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you.
  • Puts you down in their status updates.
  • Sends you unwanted, explicit pictures and demands you send some in return.
  • Pressures you to send explicit video.
  • Steals or insists to be given your passwords.
  • Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished.
  • Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls.
  • Tags you unkindly in pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
You never deserve to be mistreated, online or off. Remember:
  • Your partner should respect your relationship boundaries.
  • It is ok to turn off your phone. You have the right to be alone and spend time with friends and family without your partner getting angry.
  • You do not have to text any pictures or statements that you are uncomfortable sending, especially nude or partially nude photos, known as “sexting.”
  • You lose control of any electronic message once your partner receives it. They may forward it, so don’t send anything you fear could be seen by others.
  • You do not have to share your passwords with anyone.
  • Know your privacy settings. Social networks such as Facebook allow the user to control how their information is shared and who has access to it. These are often customizable and are found in the privacy section of the site. Remember, registering for some applications (apps) require you to change your privacy settings.
  • Be mindful when using check-ins like Facebook Places and foursquare. Letting an abusive partner know where you are could be dangerous. Also, always ask your friends if it’s ok for you to check them in. You never know if they are trying to keep their location secret.
You have the right to feel comfortable and safe in your relationship, even online.

 

The Challenge of Reaching Out

When I made the commitment to start blogging about domestic abuse and my experience, my main goal was to reach out to victims and families.  As I began coming up with a communication plan, I realized communicating with families and other loved ones surrounding the abused is easy.  Finding survivors would be reasonably challenging, but getting content in front of those who really need it would prove most challenging of all.  Why is this?

Abusers are masters at controlling the environment of their partners.  So much so, in fact, that the victim often is unaware that the environment is so closed off, and effectively the person closing the world off is the victim him or herself, as a result of coercion or determent.  Victims may be allowed to work, but only under certain circumstances.  They may appear to have one or two close friends (common, as we get into our twenties and thirties), but the reality is that even these relationships are controlled.  Looking back on my experience, I had a two people who I could talk to without hearing much grief…my sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law.  I had a few friends who were wives of my husband’s friends that I would see on occasion as well, when permitted, but primarily it was my in-laws who were my support.  I enjoyed the time I had with both of these women, but looking back, these relationships were contrived as well.  These were women who, in my husband’s eyes, lived the model of womanhood I was expected to uphold.  When he would make remarks around them about me that were in retrospect, extremely mean and abusive, they would brush it off as him being in a bad mood.  I remember clearly one time my mother-in-law asking me, “What would you do if your mom ever heard him talk to you like that?”.  I told her he never would.  He knew better.  But then again, how frequently did we see my mom…?

I was allowed to have Facebook, but no other type of social media.  I got in trouble several times for having “What’s App” on my phone, which he declared as an app to sneak off and talk to people so the conversations can’t be logged.  While that would have been a good idea, I suppose, I hadn’t thought of it.  I had downloaded it to talk to another (girl) friend of mine from work, who would travel frequently for recruitment, where wireless signals do not work.  He insisted that I was having lesbian relationships with any girl I happened to know.  Men were not an issue, because I wouldn’t dare try to befriend anyone of the opposite sex, but the few times I did add an old colleague or friend on Facebook, a fight ensued; I was accused of being unfaithful, and ultimately ended up removing them from my friends list.  He questioned every new person on my Facebook or in my phone, and any male co-workers I brought up in conversation, and insisted that I explain the details of our relationship, no matter how long it had been since we last spoke (friends from middle school perhaps).  It got to the point where I stopped accepting requests altogether, to save myself the stress this whole ordeal caused every time.

The people I did have in my life, (his sister-in-law and mother included) were often subject to demeaning ridicule behind our closed doors.  If I didn’t agree with him, a fight ensued and I would be named disloyal.  “Why do you give a sh-t about all these f-ing people”, he would say.  “What are they ever going to do for you?”  Ironically, in the interest of wanting to prove my loyalty and fidelity (and to save myself the aggravation associated with even showing interest in anything else), I found myself sometimes not even asking to do certain things that were outside of the allowed circle.  I missed baby showers, graduations, birthdays.  Days I can never get back with some people, unfortunately, I will never see again.  I’ll write more on this at a later time.

When the fights surrounding these types of things were over, life continued.  We would have a lovely day antiquing with his mom, or going apple picking.  We would play games and watch movies and eat munchies, all in the false comfort of home.  During this time, if I was spotted on my iPad or phone, I tended to get grief as well, so I tried to devote this time to being together.  After all, that is what a good wife does, right?

All of this to say, it is extremely hard to infiltrate the iron clad environment in which abusers contain victims.  That said, I knew that any support I opened up would need to be viewable, with the understanding that these people may not ever be able to comment, call, or interact.  If you have not been in a relationship like this before, pretend the victim is looking through a window from the confines of a locked house.  You have no way in, and the victim has no way out.  What do you do to convince this person that the world is actually warm and safe, that people are friendly and they will survive?  How do you further convince them they can thrive? How do you convey to him or her that some of the people he or she sees as happy outside, were actually once inside a locked house as well?  I view what I do in this abstract way.  What I hope to do is to be the person standing out there with a obtrusive, giant sign, that simply reads, “I was there, and now I’m happy…really happy.  You are strong, and you deserve all this happiness, too.”

In an effort to reach out, I have developed the Heroes Program.  Through this program, I hope to develop a library of survivor stories to serve as the light for those still searching for their way.  If you have a story to share, I cannot explain how much your anonymous sharing will do for those still stuck.

 

Sweet Dragon Chicken Recipe

I am all about a rice bowl, and I do not tend to do much ordering out.  I made this the other day for the first time and it was extremely delicious!  A thousand times better than ordering take out, and just as easy…and bonus points for being prepared fresh in my own kitchen!  This is my own variation on honey chicken, and I hope you enjoy!

What to Expect: A hearty rice bowl, sweet and a bit spicy

Prep Time: 20-30 mins

Serves: About 4 servings.  It will feed two with leftovers for lunch 😉

 What you Need

For the Chicken

  • 2 Large Skinless Boneless Chicken Breasts, chopped into cubes
  • Equal parts all-purpose flour and panko bread crumbs (to yield about 2 cups)
  • 3 TBSP Garlic Salt

For the Sauce

  • 1 TBSP Cornstarch
  • 1/2 Cup of Honey
  • 2 TBSP Soy Sauce
  • 1 TBSP Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (or more, to taste)
  • A few shakes of MAGGI (optional, but delicious.  You can get this at most Asian grocery stores.  Be aware that MAGGI is pretty much a pure gluten product.  If you are sensitive to gluten, you may want to omit this, and if you use it, only a shake or two is necessary.)
  1. Mix all ingredients, except the cornstarch, together in a small sauce pot.
  2. Heat a small amount of oil over medium-high heat (vegetable or otherwise, your choice.  I used olive oil.)
  3. Mix the Panko crumbs, flour, and garlic salt in a large bowl
  4. Toss the chicken in the breadcrumb mixture, and place gently into the pre-heated pan.  Add about a tablespoon of water and cover.  Cook through.
  5. While chicken is cooking, heat the saucepan to a boil, then remove from heat.
  6. When chicken is cooked through and the breading is somewhat crunchy, add the cornstarch to the saucepan, stir, and pour over the chicken in the skillet.  Cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes (I usually prepare the rice into bowls and set the table while this is finishing up).  Do not cook it too long, or the sugar will burn!
  7. Serve over rice immediately (Jasmine is my preference)  Note – If you use a rice cooker, you can prepare the rice and cook the meal while the rice rooks (prep for this meal only takes about 20 minutes!)

That is it!  Enjoy!

On Victimization and Semantics

I am a linguist, so words mean a lot to me.  When we use the word victim, we imply that there is, somewhere, a direct object doing the victimizing.  Typically, we refer to the abuser as this object.  My issue with this, however, is that subscribing to this notion only further solidifies the control an abuser has over a victim.

So, while I will use the words abuser and victim, I never mean to imply that the two are inherently objective and subjective, respectively.

We are victims of our own demise as much as we are in control of our own future.  The first step to healing and to empowerment rests on the ability to self-identify as a victim of one’s own behaviors and decisions.  Only then can you begin to make the changes necessary to not only escape, but to ensure that you remain in control of yourself going forward (including in future relationships).  (See On Happiness)  As a survivor myself, I know that escaping is not as easy as simply choosing to leave.  In my situation, I physically could not leave my house most of the time, and the notion of actually considering leaving would trigger a series of fights and rage, and the consequence would mean even further control over my ability to leave for short periods of time in the future.  There is a lot to consider, and safety is paramount.  However, identifying and believing that you are capable of changing your environment is critical.  Try as my might, we cannot change others.  Many of the topics on this blog will explain how to identify controllable aspects of our environment, and I will go over methods and precautions to taking control back, even in small ways.

I will talk about this concept a lot on this blog, because realizing that there is always a way out is a critical part of regaining control.  Understanding what is really keeping you gripped tightly in the hands of an abuser (be it fear, love, or lack of confidence) is what needs to first be addressed before finding the path out.

 

I am not a licensed therapist or psychologist, but I am always available to help.  Consider me an automatic friend.  Please feel free to contact me (anonymously if you wish) for support and guidance.  Having been through this, I have a wealth of resources and scope that I have been sharing with others and want to share with you.  Frances Meres  fbrulee@gmail.com