Dreaming With The Cottage Fairy

YouTube’s algorithm suggested I watch a video from The Cottage Fairy a month or so ago. I’m not sure why it seemed like a good video for me. I typically watch Stephen Colbert or pet videos on YouTube, but lately I’ve been subscribing to videos with mature women who are trying to make the best out of their lives in many different ways. I don’t often watch the suggested videos, but the name “The Cottage Fairy” and the beautiful, natural setting drew me in. It looked so romantic and whimsical.

The Cottage Fairy is an artist who lives in a rural area, and her videos are these lovely video diaries of her day. They look effortless, but I know they must take a lot of work given the cinematic quality. She has a black dog who walks with her through the forests and the meadows, and she spends much of her days creating beautiful foods and artwork using natural objects. She’s budget-minded, so I pick up tips every now and again on how to do something lovely with very little money. Her voice is slow and precise with a lovely lilt, and she shares her thoughts and dreams with a focus on living and appreciating the present. The one I watched this morning was about the downsides of living alone in a rural area. She shared about the loneliness of working from home while making the most beautiful caramel apples and zucchini bread. The sun shone through gossamer curtains as her voice guided me through with a song.

I watched this one this morning…..

I honestly just thought I’d share it with you. I find these videos are a meditation for me. I am also getting some ideas on how to fill my time more creatively which is something I’ve been desiring. Yesterday I found myself googling “painting classes near me”. It’s also making me think of lovely spaces. I have some lovely spaces in my home, but where might I create a space that’s less utilitarian and more enchanting? And I’ll bet I could find some Michigan apples that would be great for caramelizing! But most of all I’d like to just sit still with some tea and dream.

Demoting My Inner Critic

I am in a virtual writer’s retreat for the next couple of weeks. I’m committing to continuing writing but I have to find a way to silence the negative voice in my head. My Inner Critic doesn’t just dampen my spirit in writing, though. Mine is male, and I really don’t like him. He’s relentless in his push to drive me off the edge. In some ways it may seem he’s trying to make me perfect but that’s not the case. Annihilation of my spirit is his goal, and it’s weird because he would cease to exist if I was gone. He’s not even helping himself.

In the exercises we’ve been doing, I’ve been exploring what I’m grateful for about myself and what strengths and gifts I have. This morning we wrote a Thank You card to ourselves for who we are. It occurred to me while I was writing that the Inner Critic’s voice is so LOUD. There are many positive qualities I believe I have, but that voice is much softer and much less persistent in getting my attention. Much like the bully at work, the Inner Critic is a lot louder than the many other supportive coworkers I have. They are there. They just don’t necessarily push their agenda in meetings or go out of their way to make their feelings known.

I could tell myself to turn down the volume and that might work. But these exercises are showing me that it’s not just the volume that’s the issue. It’s the effort to ask what these other voices think AND really listen to them. Where am I succeeding? What do you see that’s good in me? Where have I supported you? What’s my superpower? Where do I need to work to be more fully myself? In asking the questions and making the space for these less persistent voices to express themselves, the Inner Critic’s LOUDNESS fades into the background.

When I wrote my card this morning I thanked myself for having the courage to change my life’s circumstances when my voice wasn’t being heard or supported. I was most appreciative for the efforts I took to heal and strengthen my spirit during periods of brokenness. This was not easy work nor was it convenient at the time, but I did it. I am grateful that I educated myself and dedicated myself to having a thriving career so that I could be the maestro of my life. I am also grateful that I’ve spent a great deal of effort in building a community that supports and loves me even without the traditional path of marriage and parenthood. I realized that the things that I’m most appreciative of in myself are directly at odds with my Inner Critic’s goal of keeping me mired in societal norms and my failure or lack of desire to follow them.

There was a physical shift in my body when I read this thank you note back to me. Those quiet voices had the floor, and my body resonated with them. I actually feel a kick of energy much like the jolt of caffeine in a morning espresso. After time with my Inner Critic I never feel energized. My body doesn’t soften. I just feel helpless and am not sure what to do next. But this morning I feel like jumping up to do my yoga practice and even felt like posting a quick blog.

How LOUD is your Inner Critic? What can you do to bring out those quieter voices that are supportive of you? How would that change your day?

A New Year to Explore

Filled with dreams of exploring new options and changing habits, New Year’s morning always feel hopeful. It’s a great feeling to write through. I took a minute to go back a few years and reflect on my hopes and dreams on the past few New Year’s Days and Eves. On New Year’s Eve of 2020, I celebrated the fact that I had released all of my (and others’) relentless expectations. By December 31 of 2020, I was unemployed and in the thick of the blissful experience of not being in a hurry to be employed.

Ironically in January 2020, I decided to commit to a Yoga with Adriene 30-day yoga journey called Home. laughed out loud when I saw the name of the series given that I ended up being sequestered in my home for much of the year that year due to the pandemic.

I don’t have any pressing goals to be skinnier or healthier at this point. And I don’t know yet where I’m going to land job wise so my work goals are a little more undefined. I feel pretty happy with my habits at this point. So there’s nothing pressing that says I need to get a part of my life in order. And, to be honest, if I had a need for that I’m not sure a new year is the catalyst to get me going. It’s usually some painful experience that leads me down a road to change. Other times it may be a vision of something that inspires me to change but much more often it’s the pain thing. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking maybe that’s something I should work on. Why can’t hope and inspiration – or even fun – be my guiding force for change rather than pain? That’s something to noodle this year.

The world is still out of sorts due to the pandemic and the change that it’s driving. I’ve been lucky enough to stay healthy, and I’m very grateful for that. I had a really lovely conversation with my first husband a few weeks back, and he informed me of the death of a friend of ours. Those notifications are coming more frequently, and I’m realizing that not everyone gets to be 60 or make the choice of whether or not to let their gray hair grow out. They don’t get to worry that they don’t have enough money in their 401K for retirement. It’s all a moot point. Those of us able to get up this morning and groan about our 10 extra pounds or soft belly are the luckiest people in the world. We are alive.

And since I’m alive and not sure I’ll be here tomorrow, I grabbed a poboy and gumbo yesterday!

A

So I think 2022 will be a year of exploration for me. I’m in a new decade that honestly took me a year to embrace. What do I want the next decade to look like? What are my interests? What can I contribute to an embattled society? What is fun? What makes me happy? I was talking to my friend Angel the other day, and as we were discussing our past year, I realized that I need a hobby. I have some things I enjoy doing, but nothing I would describe as a hobby that keeps my mind engaged. I’ve always been working or not working. Not working means resting and rejuvenating for working. There is a gap, and I need to fill it if I ever want to be happily retired. And since I’m not retired yet, I have time to explore this.

I’ll start my year like I have many years by committing to Yoga With Adriene’s 30-day yoga journey. This year it’s called Move (and I hope that doesn’t mean relocation). I know if I keep moving and healthy, my mental and physical states will benefit. I’ve been practicing intuitive movement lately. I do what I feel my body needs that day. Sometimes it’s yoga. A few days a week it’s running. Often it’s a hike with my dog to enjoy some nature. Other days it’s a tough strength-training circuit. The variety is working for me. So, I’ll add this 30-day commitment to ADD yoga to my other movement and see what happens. Some years I finish. Other years I don’t. Doesn’t really matter. It’s the attempt that is important.

If you are interested in joining me (it’s free), you can find info here:

I also signed up for a Writer’s Retreat for two weeks in January. I don’t really get to go anywhere because it’s virtual, but I’m really looking forward to it. My friend Marge signed up for it and mentioned it to me because I’ve been struggling with writer’s block. From the description, it sounds like it’s designed to drive some consistency in writing and tools to build back my confidence. That’s exactly what I need so I think it’s a worthy exploration.

I’ll continue to explore career opportunities and am hopeful that I will find exactly what I need. I also want to explore new ways to meet people. The pandemic has made it much more difficult, and I’m missing the old options of adding new hearts to my life. I love meeting new people and it’s hard now. But there has to be a way. I think it’s a worthy exploration.

Today I’m going to take Ashok out for a hike as I do most New Year’s Days and then come home to watch the predicted 5-10 inches of snow fall on my house. We really haven’t had much snow to speak of so I’m looking forward to a snow day. I hedged my bets this year and stocked up on Black-eyed peas and Kale. I tried to find cabbage or collard greens but the shelves were bare. We’ll have to go with kale this year. I hope it works. I need the money.

I hope you have a wonderful New Year’s Day and enjoy whatever you have in store. And let’s figure out how to change things before experiencing pain. That’s just not super pleasant.

P.S. This showed up on my doorstep with no identifying information. If you sent it, please let me know!

Nudgings About Self-Compassion

My Sister-in-Law and niece gave me a beautiful deck of Self-Care cards for Christmas. I used to think that self care was taking bubble baths, getting a pedicure or pampering myself. It can include those things, but it’s really more about an inquiry into what I need and following through on providing what I need. I have a practice now in the mornings or when I’m feeling down where I do a body scan and ask myself “What do you need?” It is rarely taking a bubble bath, getting a pedicure or pampering myself. It’s more often something like forgiving myself for a mistake, giving myself a hug and saying I love you or getting connected with friends. It is truly about caring enough about myself that I will meet my own needs.

While in therapy after my second divorce, I learned that it was more important for me to take care of myself than to find a man to take care of me. It is also infinitely more practical. Whereas I may have been angry with my ex for not being financially responsible, it was more important that I be financially responsible and set boundaries in that area. It wasn’t his fault he was spending my money and imperiling my future savings, it was mine for giving over access to an unreliable partner. I felt so powerful when I made that decision to protect myself and acted on my own behalf. I did not anticipate how that would feel. Setting boundaries and taking charge of my financial future was an act of self care.

When I was running this morning, I listened to a podcast on Hidden Brain about self-compassion. I chose it because I went to bed last night irritated with myself about eating too many sweets the last couple of days. I enjoyed them, but I have to really be careful with sugar. It can make me feel really bad physically and trigger depressive episodes. I was beating myself up for once again going down that sugary rabbit hole. If I’m honest, my run started out being a punishment run and not one based in self-care.

Beautiful Day for a Run….

The guest on the podcast was Psychologist Kristin Neff. She had an affair early in her life that ruined her first marriage. She talked about how she beat herself up for years over that mistake. She was introduced to the concept of self-compassion in a mindfulness workshop. She learned that being compassionate with herself for making a mistake and not being true to her values was more effective in helping her learn from that mistake. We think that shaming ourselves will help us do better but it honestly sets us up for failure, disconnection from others and self-harm. And for all you naysayers, there’s research to prove it. Besides, she says that if we think we are so great that we should never make mistakes, then we are believing we are better than others. Why would I be so perfect that I couldn’t overdo sugar on the holidays like most everybody else? I was just being human and enjoying the gifts of the season.

I got home from my run and pulled one of my self-care cards. My card asked me to be a friend to myself just like I would to others. What would I tell a friend of mine that overate over the holiday and didn’t feel good? I would tell them today is a new day and I, too, overate. I’d also tell them that neither one of us has to be perfect today either. When there is so much sugar around with all of the stress – and celebration – of the holidays, of course I might overdo it. And maybe there is something non-food related I could do that might make me feel more in control and make better choices today. I ran this morning. That helped. I came home and cooked a big pot of chili and made a cup of tea. I don’t feel like overeating right now, and all of that feels like self-care – no bubble bath needed. However, I’m not ruling it out for this afternoon. 🙂

What do you really need for yourself today? How could you meet that need? Would being more compassionate with yourself for your lack of perfection be helpful?

A Delightful Wednesday: Booties, Dunes and Sunshine

I had the day off today. I’m working part-time, and I have the weekends and Wednesdays off. It’s so nice to have a day in the middle of the week so I can do some job search activities and make appointments as needed. This being the week of Christmas, everything has slowed way down. I had a nice long conversation this morning with my friend Angel in Boston, had a second cup of tea and washed some clothes. The sun was peeking out of the clouds a little, so I loaded Ashok into the car and we headed up to Saugatuck for a walk and maybe a little shoe shopping.

I bought some really nice hiking boots when I was working at Wanderlust this summer, and I really like them. But for little walks in the woods with Ashok they are a little high tech. Almost every fall, I’ve gone to Landsharks in Saugatuck and bought some winter shoes or boots. They carry a selection that’s a little less technical than the ones at Wanderlust and they are really cute. I’ve bought Sorel boots, Jambu slip-ons and Bogs pull-on insulated snow boots in past years in their little shop. Up here you have to get functional boots in the winter because it’s a literal slog through ice, slush and snow for months. Everybody has several pairs of boots for every type of weather and more coats than you can imagine. You would think 12 people lived in my house by looking at my front coat room.

So today I wanted to take Ashok for a little hike in Saugatuck Dunes State Park, and I needed to get some kind of waterproof light hiker that I can wear like tennis shoes in the winter. I tried on some Keen’s that worked perfectly, and then I laid my eyes on some Asportuguesa brand boiled wool booties that I’ve been eyeing for the last few years. They are so cute and seem so warm. I tried them on along with another style that was equally cute. Ashok was wandering around the store visiting with customers while I was trying on shoes, and the shoe salesman wisely told me how warm they would be when I have to walk the dog. He said they weren’t waterproof but they were water resistant. I have had such a love affair with wool since I came up here that it didn’t take much to get me across the finish line this time. I wore the hikers out of the store and took those little booties with me.

It is usually cloudy in this area in the winter. When I was thinking of moving to the St. Joseph area back in 2000, I wanted to compare it with the weather in Seattle where I was living. Of course it was much colder here, but I was shocked to see that we have about the same number of cloudy days on average as Seattle. And Seattle has a lot of cloudy days! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven over to Chicago where it’s sunny and nice, and as soon as I get to exit 23 in St. Joe the cloud cover begins. We are just in a cloudy spot and today was one of those days.

The trail in Saugatuck State Park starts in a wetland and meanders through the woods and dunes before opening up to the lake. I can always tell when I am getting close to the lake because the wind starts picking up ramping up the cold temps. I could hear the surf long before we got to the beach. The sun was peeking out of the clouds with its rays touching down into the waves. It was lovely, and I decided to walk on the beach awhile even though it was pretty cold. The sand was frozen from the dampness and the 20ish degree temperature, so the surface was hard and easy to walk on. We had the beach all to ourselves.

We climbed over a few dunes to get back to the trails. I found a lovely ridge trail that was new to me. Little pines dotted the dune landscape, and I hit my stair goal a couple of times with the ups and downs. It was so nice to be in the woods and breathe the fresh air. It does my heart good to see Ashok doing so well, and I spent a lot of the day reminiscing about the hiking we did the first couple of years that we were here. I thought our hiking days were over when she started getting arthritis, but she’s gotten her mojo back, and it makes me really happy to know we can still do that together. We just love being together in the woods.

Ashok is snoring now beside me, and I just enjoyed a nice hot chocolate with a homemade marshmallow. Kenny G is playing We Three Kings on Pandora, and my beautiful Christmas tree lights are illuminating the room. It was a nice day for a Wednesday. I promised Ashok we’d get out and hike over the holiday, or did I promise myself? Maybe it’s a gift for us both. Speaking of gifts, I’m going to wear those cute little wool booties to work tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Just Another Monday

I didn’t work out tonight. I planned on doing a TRX workout but I didn’t sleep well last night. I know my bakery splurge this weekend was the culprit as white flour does a number on my blood sugar and my reactive hypoglycemia. All of that up and down action due to sugar and white flour ignites my anxiety. And then I can’t sleep or I don’t sleep through the night. At least I know it’s going to happen, and I can make a choice about whether or not I indulge. Today I am going to behave myself because I want to sleep. That being said, I just don’t have the “get up and go” to workout tonight. I took a walk in the cold with Ashok but it wasn’t long enough to be a workout.

For dinner I’m roasting brussels sprouts and baking a baked potato. I’ll top that with a little goat cheese and some sautéed tempeh crumbles. A tablespoon of seeds might be a nice addition to add a little healthy oil, too. It smells really good, and the brussels sprouts are getting all crunchy toasty in my convection oven. I’m really looking forward to digging in on that potato. It should also help me get sleepy.

I’ve been meditating quite a bit. I am still subscribed to the 10% Happier app, but I got an offer on Black Friday for a lifetime subscription to the Calm app. I took advantage of that because the content on these apps are getting better and better. The Calm app has a great selection of sleep aids such as sleep stories, meditations, music and classes on how to sleep better. I am really enjoying them. They also have some inspirational talks and wisdom sessions that help with everyday problems. It always helps me to have something inspirational to listen to as I sometimes forget everything I know.

Today was a fun day at work. I am currently working as a receptionist at the St. Joe Today Welcome Center. I wanted to do something that lifted my spirits during the winter months and that would help fill the gap while I’m looking for a full-time job. It’s such a pleasant place to be, and people are really happy when they come in. Many have just moved here from somewhere else, others are here on vacation and the majority are locals that just like to pop in and say hi. Today, the wife of one of my former coworkers came in. It was nice to chat with her for a bit. I spent my day telling people about my favorite things to do in St. Joe, writing up gift certificates and calling people to tell them they won prizes in our December promotion. One day I will miss this easy peasy happy job. I’m way underemployed, but it makes me happy.

I’ve started running again. I’m not putting any pressure on myself to be consistent since it’s winter and I don’t always like to run in the cold. But it’s been feeling good to run the last couple of weeks. It’ll be in the low 30s tomorrow when I get up. I think I’ll make a commitment to get out and run since today I was a slacker. I just hope I get plenty of sleep tonight.

My potato and Brussels sprouts are almost done. I need to sauté my crumbled tempeh and then eat. I’m reading a great book about four young men called “A Little Life”. It’s really long, but it’s really interesting. After dinner I think I’ll curl up on my sofa and read until I get sleepy. With any luck, I’ll fall asleep and be done running before you even wake up tomorrow. If not, well there’s always Wednesday.

Christmas #2 – Pandemic-Style

2021 is almost over. I’d like to say I thought things would be back to normal by now, but I always thought this pandemic would be longer and more troublesome than our little results-oriented minds could fathom. I remember doubting that the initial estimates of death would ever reach as high as they originally predicted. I thought that was a little alarmist. But we’ve more than doubled that number now. And that doesn’t even include the suicides and overdose deaths that are surely related to all we’ve been through. While I didn’t believe the death toll would ever get that hight – or at least hoped they were wrong – I wondered how we’d ever gather again and if normalcy might never be in reach. It just seemed like a big damn deal.

Ashok in her Saints’ sweater!

My house has gotten very small. My kitchen is being used much more than it ever has been in the past. I just bought a new dishwasher to replace the relatively new one. I’m sick of my sofa but I don’t dare try to buy a new one until the prices go down. I’d love to remodel my kitchen, but that’s another thing I should probably wait to do until either I have a full-time job or the supply chain gets back to normal. I even thought about selling my house, but there are literally no houses on the market in my price range, and everything is priced so much higher than it was two years ago. It’s lucrative as a seller but I’ll have to go somewhere. My gut is just telling me to chill until all of this shakes itself out or until something presents itself that means I need to make some changes.

Yesterday morning I woke up too early, and I was so antsy to get out of the house. The weather was rotten and threatening icy rain. So, I didn’t want to go outdoors. But I wanted to get out for a drive and do something. I thought about going to Chicago and visiting my favorite bakery, but I thought that was a little silly. I ran a few more options through my head and none of them seemed any sillier than going to Chicago and stocking up on Eggplant Parmesan, cannoli and Christmas Stollen. So, I packed up Ashok in the dark and we headed west to the big city.

The top of the skyline disappeared into the cloudy sky. Traffic was light that early, and I arrived just as D’amato’s Bakery was opening its doors. I told the salesperson that I drove from Michigan, and they got a big kick out of that. I got some Eggplant Parmesan for freezing, Artichoke Focaccia, Christmas cookies, marinara sauce, cannoli and my favorite Peppers and Egg sandwich on their wonderful French Bread. I ate it right there at the counter and decided I’d head over to Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston for Christmas Stollen. I mean if I’m there, I should stock up for the holiday.

My haul from D’amato’s Bakery…

Bennison’s wasn’t very crowded either. When I arrive mid-morning, there is a line out the door. Their donuts are a big draw, but I’m not a huge fan of donuts. I love their beautifully wrapped Stollen. That was a must have for Christmas morning. A digital ad above the counter sung the praises of their hot chocolate so I decided to get one of those for the ride home. It was delicious and was made special by the addition of their house-made marshmallows. I literally licked the cup when I was done.

I thought I might go to LL Bean, but they weren’t opening for another hour and a half, and I knew I could be home by then. A nap was starting to sound good after all those carbs and hot chocolate. So, we headed back in the drizzle with a trunk full of baked goods and treats for the holiday week.

It’s odd to think that two years ago we had absolutely no idea what was about to happen. We were just beginning to hear about an outbreak in Wuhan that was bad, but I’m not sure anybody knew what that might mean. I bought a new car the week after Christmas, and my friend Autumn and I loaded up our dogs and went to the Hotel Monaco in Chicago for our holiday celebration. I had no way of knowing that I’d end up without a job the next year or that a visit to the Hotel Monaco would not the be same for many years. I just saw on Twitter that Ashok’s favorite bellman is now a filmmaker in Los Angeles. He won’t be coming back. The world will be different on the other side. I’ll be different on the other side.

I’m not making any assumptions that next Christmas will be different. I hope that we can come out of this in 2022. But if you look back at other infectious diseases and pandemics, they didn’t go on and off like a switch either. This kind of thing takes time and takes a lot of other stuff down with it. “Normal” seems like a lifetime ago. I remember the first time I heard the term social distancing. We joked around about it and about washing our hands. “Don’t touch your face!” was the sign-off of every text exchange. It was funny then. We thought we’d be back to work in six weeks. One of my direct reports made us all masks, and we delivered toilet paper and supplies to each other’s front doors. I binge-watched Schitt’s Creek and sat in meetings where the Tiger King was the most-discussed agenda item. That all seems so long ago. It’s not as funny anymore.

I hope that you have a good Christmas and holiday season no matter how you choose to spend it. Make the best of it by enjoying some good food and your favorite holiday traditions – pre and post-pandemic style. The one thing I know for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure. Life is short, and not everybody gets to stick around to see what happens next. Burn the candles. Drive to town. Eat dessert. Walk the dog. Say what you need to say. It’s all important. Be happy that you woke up on this side of heaven this morning. We aren’t promised tomorrow.

Change Is In The Air: Cassettes, Hair, and What’s Next

A couple of weekends ago, Liz and I stopped at RAD DAD’s Tacos & Tequila for some tacos. I stopped there a couple of times during the pandemic because they had really expansive outdoor seating and a couple of really good options for veggie tacos. I forgot that it was connected to a an ice rink, and last week there was a hockey game while we ate. It was fun to eat tacos while we watched the game and listened to all the associated noise. I just love ice rinks. It so different than my experience in southern Louisiana, and it’s just so normal here. I took ice skating lessons when I first moved here, and I really enjoyed it. But my ice skates sit upstairs in a closet waiting for a resurgence of desire to break my ass on the ice.

In front of our table was a wall that was completely wallpapered by cassettes. It brought back so many memories of my first Walkman, recording cassette playlists and all of the musicians whose cassettes I had purchased. I remembered that NPR’s Radiolab just launched a series of podcasts on the history and the impact of the cassette on the world. So I’m working my way through it. So far I’ve listened to episodes on how the cassette changed China, it’s role in the war in Vietnam and how Bing Crosby discovered and changed the radio with recorded shows. Since cassettes came out during my teenage years, I’m not sure I ever thought of how they changed the world. They just seemed like part of the world I grew up in. But, apparently, being able to move about while listening to music or self help or speakers had an impact way beyond my teenage escapades. It’s fascinating.

I’m also ready to grow my hair back out. I cut it short to transition to gray, and I am really regretting the decision to cut it. The silver is fine even though I may end up tempering it some lowlights eventually, but I don’t like it short anymore. I used to love my hair short. I fell in love with my curls the last few years. I also like the way they frame my face. I’ve been going back and forth on it because my friends seem to like it short. But this week I decided that, in the case of my hair, my opinion is more important than anyone else’s. I canceled my next haircut appointment and scheduled one for the end of January. I’m just going to let it grow as long as I can.

But that’s not the only ongoing transition. I ended up leaving my job at the outdoor outfitters after a long and grueling summer in retail. I’m glad I tried it, but I’m trying to figure out what’s next for me. The job market is interesting right now. There is lots of activity, but it feels chaotic. I don’t want to make a huge life-altering decision until the dust settles from the pandemic. But I also need to get something more permanent and more suitable to my skillset. So I’m trying things on for size and networking with the many friends I have that have been doing the same thing for the past 18 months. I am certainly not alone and that’s helpful. And thank you to Whirlpool for providing health insurance so I can take my time. I feel very grateful that I’m not having to just take something because I can’t be without health insurance. Why doesn’t this country have decent health insurance options? It’s absurd to put it all on your job when job security is non-existent.

My Neighborhood

In between all of that transitioning activity, I’m enjoying the holiday season. I have a little part-time job at the local visitor’s center which is a lot of fun. Everyone is happy when they come in, and I get to tell them about all of my favorite things to do. We have our big holiday kickoff event this weekend, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it. Ashok and I are walking more and enjoying my part-time schedule. The perk of being part-time is I have adequate time to exercise and do the things I enjoy during the week. It’s nice. I’m not going to waste my time wishing I could do it forever because I can’t, but I am going to enjoy it without needing to make it my forever plan. Life as I know it now will change and probably change again. Just look at the cassette. While it was an amazing invention, we’ve moved on many times since then. What once changed the world is now a novelty on a wall in a taco shop.

My Little House at Christmas…..

Let the Christmas Season Begin!

I have a couple of friends – one from Germany and one who just likes to travel to Germany – who keep telling me about the wonderful Christmas Markets they have there. The ChristkindlMarket is in downtown Chicago, and I’ve visited a couple of times over the years. It’s just so crowded that I never end up enjoying it or getting to see as much as I’d like. So my friend Liz – the one who likes to travel to Germany – has been on me to visit Frankenmuth with her. I’ve been waffling because it seems to be a big Christmas shopping mecca with restaurants specializing in huge meals of fried chicken. With me eating vegetarian and being basically unemployed at the moment, shopping and eating chicken are not at the top of my list.

So we compromised yesterday and visited the Kerstmarket in Holland MI. This market is decidedly smaller, and Holland is only an hour drive for me as opposed to the three hours for Frankenmuth. Plus I knew the Dutch restaurant in town serves lots of yummy vegetable-heavy dishes that would be a treat. Although Kerstmarket is Dutch, the market was inspired by the German markets and designed after them. We met for brunch at DeBoer’s bakery and restaurant where I enjoyed a Veggie Skillet with some wonderful Muesli Bread and a yummy cup of Beer Barrel Bourbon coffee. The coffee beans were actually soaked in bourbon and then roasted giving them a really unique and delicious flavor profile. It was the first caffeine I’ve had in a long time, but it was truly worth the headache I have today.

It was really cold out, and it’s the first day that it’s been cold like that all day since last winter. I dressed in layers so I’d be comfortable outside. There were about 20 cute little booths lined up outside the Convention Center, and we leisurely visited each one. The people who manned the booths were super friendly, and they each talked to us about who made their hand-crafted products and how they got started. I was particularly interested in one booth where they had all kinds of grains and beans and the most wonderful woolen hats. I’ve been in a bit of a hair crisis lately, so I bought one of those super warm and cozy hats and put it on right away. My ears won’t get cold walking Ashok in this one!

After our toes froze, we stopped in the Warming Shed and took advantage of the wood stove. My ears were warm and cozy, but it took a bit for my icicle toes to get back to normal. After we were warm we strolled through the rest of the market where I bought a cat toy for my kitties and made a list of vendors for jams and bakeries for future visits. We took a walk downtown, bought each other some cute little Christmas tree ornaments and discovered a really fun art supply store. I had never noticed it before, but I really want to go back.

It all got me in the mood to give Christkindlmarket another try. If I liked the small selection of booths in the Holland Kerstmarket, I bet I’ll find all kinds of things I like in the Chicago market. I was hoping I could grab some Stollen yesterday, but none was to be found. I picked up some today from the Bit of Swiss and had a slice this afternoon. It was delicious. Thanksgiving has come and gone, my Stollen is in the kitchen, my tree is up and lit, and I have a lovely little St. Joseph Lighthouse Christmas ornament I’ll hang on my tree tonight. This weekend, the City of St. Joseph will light up the bluff with holiday lights, and the Reindog Parade is Saturday. The holiday season has begun. I know it will be gone in a flash, but I’m looking forward to a low key and lovely few weeks.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!

My Ongoing War With Words

I remember the days when I couldn’t wait to write a blog post. It used to be so much fun to come up with a funny or interesting idea and see where it might lead me. Friends would respond on Facebook and we’d have great conversations and laughs over whatever silly idea I had highlighted. I wonder what happened to those times of lightheartedness when people allowed you to be who you were and didn’t call you names and harass you for your beliefs. It disappeared, and our friendly world changed overnight. I wonder what happened to me. Why does it now feel so hard to put my thoughts out there? When did the fear of the criticism and insults take over and kill my desire? I wonder if we will ever love each other again.

I still go on adventures. I still take pictures of this beautiful place called Michigan. And I still even think of story ideas. I turn them over in my brain while I’m driving and chuckle at some of my thoughts. But I never write them down. A hate-filled person who delights in killing my spirit prodded me, “Who do you think you are that anybody would want to read all that shit?” I tried not to take it to heart. I tried not to listen. But I have to admit it has stuck in my brain and pops out when I’m trying to write. Who do I think I am? Does anyone want to read this? That has been almost five years ago. Those words are still as loud and as hurtful as they were in that moment. I was having fun. And then I was not.

I finally got off Facebook because of the venom and hatefulness. I used to love Facebook. I’d post a call for blog ideas and people would rally to give me ideas on what to write about. It was a great practice for improvisational writing, and it was connected. We had fun hanging out together, and I felt like I was in a community. Now I’m afraid of what snarky comment someone will post or, even worse, what people say behind my back. When did the world get so hateful? What happened to community and having fun with people who may even be a little different.

Now I spend an inordinate amount of time watching YouTube videos on how to make my brows look fuller. What the hell? I spent my 20s and 30s trying to tame those babies and now that they have acquiesced the world has set a new expectation. I hope that I’m alive when the fashion changes again and they are going to have to bushwhack those things back into submission. By then I won’t have any, so it won’t bother me, but it’ll be worth seeing just the same.

I just finished watching “Maid” on Netflix. It is about the reality and the pain of escaping emotional and verbal abuse. As Alex grappled with how to get help when he never HIT her, I was reminded of the power of those hateful words. But the journey out of that hellhole of abuse is not easy. It sounds depressing and maybe it would be for someone who had not experienced it, but to me it was hopeful. Not unexpectedly she is a writer. When words are the evil force that wrecks your days and holds you hostage, is it odd that we would want to harness them and become their master?

I’ve been in a couple of emotionally abusive relationships. I didn’t recognize it as such because it’s so hard to pinpoint. People excuse it as them having a bad day. They didn’t mean it. They tell you not to let it get under your skin. The abuser will say they were trying to be funny. “Don’t be so sensitive,” they add. They turn it on you and all of a sudden your hurt and pain become your own fault. At some point, you become your own abuser hurling those words back at you late at night or when you are at your most vulnerable. It eats away at you. I’ve had to protect myself again from the barrage of words that fly like my bullets at my heart. The walls go up. My words stop coming. I want to write again. I want my power back. I want my life back.

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