Another Trip Around the Sun

2018 rolled into 2019 without fanfare.  I watched the time change from 11:59 to 12:00 on my wristwatch, and John and I wished each other a quiet “Happy New Year.”  That came after chores.  After tucking in for the night to watch “The West Wing” on Netflix.  After remembering that the horses needed a bale of hay that I had forgotten to give to them.  John went back outside in pajamas to take care of it.  Two hours later, we rang in the new year with sleepy eyes.

At this point in my life, I’m not much for “dramatic change” resolutions at the turning of the year.  I know myself better than to think that I will manage to give up sugar, wake up three hours earlier everyday, and hit the gym for an hour before chores.  If I set my sights on that, I will burn out, give up any strides I make due to perceived failure, and end up back where I started.

It’s not a useful cycle.

Instead, I like to take the new year as an opportunity to reflect on the ways I’ve changed over the course of the last 365 days. I like to contemplate the ways life has unexpectedly twisted or turned, what I’ve lost, what I’ve gained, and what I would like to do a little differently on this next trip around the sun.

For me, 2018 was a normalizing year.  After roughly three years of trauma and unhappiness, the events of this year provided some stability and happiness; a few years ago, normalizing was more than I could have possibly hoped for, but, last year, I found my footing again on what had been unstable ground for a very long time.

I found myself in a relationship with someone who treats me well.   (Guys, that’s totally a thing.  In some relationships, you are consistently treated really well, as though the other person really, genuinely likes you.  I had no idea…)

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I traveled.  Domestically and abroad.  Alone and with friends.

I made it to California with John.

I made it to New Jersey to spend time with one of my besties, Lauren, and attend Julie Maloney’s book launch for A Matter of Chance. (If you’re looking for a great mystery to read in 2019, you should pick up a copy; it’s a great read.)

I spent time in Greece with my darling ladies in Women Reading Aloud.  I wrote at the edge of the Aegean, swam in the salt water, and walked ancient streets in Athens.  I watched the sun set in an unfamiliar sky and hiked paths of unfamiliar dirt.

I rounded out the Fall with one of my dearests in Paris and London.  I rode horses through French forests, and we rode bicycles across the grounds of Versailles.  We drank wine and ate way too much cheese.

(I’m still not quite sure how I managed all of that in one year, except that my soul needed it, and the universe opened the door. )

Acquaintances became friends.img_0031

And my people reminded me over and over again how lucky I am to have them.

All the while, I dealt with and mostly managed depression.  I chose to get off antidepressants.  I spent more time in therapy.  I continued to recover from the trauma of my divorce.  Every single smile in these photos was genuine, and the year was good, but that doesn’t mean every moment was suddenly easy.

Five of my deeply beloved creatures passed on, and I felt their lives and the loss of them fold into me like flour folding into dough. More than ever, I am convinced that they never really leave us.  Love is never, ever wasted.

One of my dearest friends was diagnosed with cancer.  She’s undergoing chemo now; the woman is a fucking beast, and I can’t wait for all of you to read her blog once it launches.  (Seriously, stay tuned.  She’s hilarious.  I’ve seen the drafts.)

Even the good years remind us that life is brutal.  And life is beautiful.  And this year in particular taught me that no matter how impossible things seem to get, the good stuff comes back around again eventually.  (And then the hard stuff, and then the good stuff.  An object at rest may remain at rest, but our lives are never objects at rest; continually they are moved.)

In my teens and twenties, I was more prone to hard resolutions.  I liked resolutions with numbers.  Number of pounds to lose.  Number of books to read.  Number of miles to run. A number on a paycheck.

I’m more interested in the soft resolutions now.  The sort that move beyond success or failure and simply recognize progress.  The sort that allow me to see that goals are just part of journey.  Treat my body better.  Make more time for the creatures in my care.  Be kinder.  Wander in familiar and unfamiliar places whenever I am given the chance.  Write more.  Read more.  Love more.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that most of our greatest achievements are the result of playing the hand we are dealt in the best way we know how, and, God knows, you can’t pick your own cards.  Over the last four years, life has been teaching me that sometimes the only thing we can do is stay in the game.  Play through.  Let the cards change.  They always change, even when it feels like the same shitty cards are permanently glued to your hands.

2019 is picking up steam.  The semester starts again in a few weeks, and I go back to teaching.  The plans I make are being done and undone, and I’m working on the soft resolutions.  I’m working on the writing and reading and wandering.

The days are getting longer.   They always do.

 

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Winter, Christmas Trees, and a Little Bit of Unexpected Magic

There needs to be a setting on my Fitbit for “walking through the snow in coveralls.” Regular steps seem wholly inadequate for the trudge that takes me between the house and the barns each morning and evening. Something between walking and swimming would do nicely I think…

The ranch has been blanketed with snow for the better part of a week.  Everything takes a little extra effort.  Waterers require heaters.  Three of my llamas are wearing coats.  One is being supplemented with grain.  The chickens are being fed black oil sunflower seeds for extra calories in addition to their regular food.  Stalls are getting messier, faster.  And, of course, there’s the two pair of socks and coverall wearing trudge.

This is the time of year that always makes farmers, ranchers, critter enthusiastic hobbyists, and almost farmgirls question our own sanity.

It’s too cold for humans,  we proclaim, tucked safely under our covers, dreading the moment that our feet hit the floor and our day begins in earnest.

It’s too cold for critters, we decide, putting a coat on an animal who, in the wild, definitely wouldn’t be wearing a coat.

It’s too cold for water, we somewhat insanely argue, as we pull a puck-like chunk of ice off the waterer whose heater isn’t keeping up.

Why do I do this?  The question rattles around in the empty spaces created by all of the cold.

Things break. Animals shiver.  Our faces get chapped by the frigid air, and our toes go just a little numb in our boots when we forget to put on two pairs of socks.

The ancients used to bring evergreens into their homes in the winter as an act of sympathetic magic.  (It’s where we get our Christmas trees, actually.)  It was a reminder that spring and summer would come again.    The greenery provided comfort against their stark, harsh world of cold and dark and white.   It was reminder of the renewal that was waiting for them just under the surface of the snow.

I get it.

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I decorated my tree.  We chose a little beauty from my hay supplier’s tree lot.  It is on the smaller side, a cute little Fraser fir, but it is full, and well-branched, and lovely.  Everything I look for in a Christmas tree.   My hay guy gave it to me for free, insisting that I paid enough for hay throughout the year to merit a free Christmas tree, and it is standing in my sunroom smelling a little bit like heaven.

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John strung the lights, and I pulled out my collection of ornaments while we waited on the most recent blizzard.   He built a fire in the fireplace.  We opened a bottle of wine, and I took my yearly walk down memory lane, choosing ornaments from my collection that seemed especially meaningful.  I added a few this year.  I put a few in a donation box whose meaning no longer felt dear to me (several of them commemorating milestones with my ex husband).

We sipped wine and cuddled up with the cats for the rest of the evening, enjoying our little bit of magic with it’s glittering ornaments and fairy lights.  I ventured out in my pajamas and coveralls with a flashlight in hand as the sleet turned to snow to bring the horses in from the field.

As the ice stung my face, I briefly wondered why I feel so pulled to this place and this work.  Then the horses made their way into the barn, bits of snow clinging to their long eyelashes and against their manes and tails.  The ponies nickered from their stall, wondering if perhaps it wasn’t time for second dinner.  The llamas hummed softly from across the aisle, munching hay from the nets I had refilled earlier that day.

I made my way back to the house, back to my boyfriend, back to the dogs and cats I share my home with, back to the warm fire, and the tree that awaited me with it’s sympathetic magic, and I realized that the barn was full of magic of its own. The creatures there reminding me, in their own way, that we are all in this together.  That we are connected to one another and to the seasons as they come and go.  That the snow and the cold and the chill are both temporary and beautiful.

I settled into the couch next to John and sipped my glass of red wine.

It was quiet.  The lights on the tree glittered through and shone against the ornaments.  The fire crackled.  Renewal waits on the other side of this season, on the other side of the snow, and the cold will pass.  For now though, I will steel myself against the cold, enjoy the quiet moments, and try to pay attention to the magic.

Eating the Frog, Christmas Music, and My Three Depression Lists

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This advice is popularly attributed to Mark Twain, the folksy sage of American literature.  Essentially, it’s an argument for getting the most unpleasant part of your day out of the way first thing.  Client you don’t want to talk to?  Eat the frog.  Chore you don’t want to do?  Eat the frog.  Student papers you aren’t excited to grade?  Put the ones you know will be subpar on top.

I laid in bed yesterday thinking about eating the frog.

“Eat the Frog, Cherity.  Just eat the freaking frog.”

Yesterday, though, my first frog was just getting out of bed.  When that happens, it’s a pretty good indicator that my depression is creeping back in. Continue reading “Eating the Frog, Christmas Music, and My Three Depression Lists”

Angel cake

A piece I wrote for shelovesmagazine.

Schmida was an immigrant. Jewish. German. A Holocaust survivor. She spoke Yiddish and fed the neighborhood children alongside her own (the way mothers everywhere do.) When one of those children asked her to teach him, she willingly and enthusiastically handed down a recipe that he would later use to win the baking competition at the county fair. A recipe he would later hand down to me. —Cherity Cook

As Cherity makes a special birthday cake for her dad, she can’t help but remember how much immigration has been mixed into our stories.

http://shelovesmagazine.com/2018/angel-cake/

Take Me Home Country Roads

My commute to the office usually takes about twenty-five minutes.  It’s two-lane, country driving the entire way along one of the Illinois’ River Roads.  My landmarks as I drive are a railroad crossing, a bald eagle nest, and a couple of roadside picnic benches.  There usually isn’t much traffic, but you do have to watch for deer.  Especially during the rut.

This time of year, I watch for turtles.  So far, I’ve stopped and given a crossing assist to five of them, parking along the roadside with my hazards flashing.  (Only one peed on me…but that’s a different story.) Continue reading “Take Me Home Country Roads”

On Shearing and Doing Hard Things

This is me.

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This is me on an almost 90 degree day, after shearing nine of my llamas over the course of about two hours.

This is me sweaty and exhausted.  Covered in tiny bits of wool.  Thoroughly uncomfortable

And thrilled that my animals were cool again. Continue reading “On Shearing and Doing Hard Things”

Letting “Good Enough” be Good Enough: The stalls won’t always be clean…and that’s ok

I’ve started this blog post three times.  Each time, Amelia, one of my three dogs, shoves her nose under my elbow and nudges my arm, asking for attention.  Each time, my fingers lose their space on the keyboard; I backspace and start over.  One of those times, my puppy, Rose, joins in, but in her poor “puppy” form, she makes the mistake of grabbing my hand in her mouth (albeit gently), resulting in a reprimand.

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They give up, bored, and curl up on their beds across the room.  I’m granted a moment to myself, and I keep typing. Continue reading “Letting “Good Enough” be Good Enough: The stalls won’t always be clean…and that’s ok”

Living the Dream

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I forgot to step tall over the hot wire.

I felt my rubber muck boot catch the bottom wire of the horse fence.  My ankle caught the strand that I had strung there this summer.  My knees hit the snow.  The five gallon bucket I had been filling at the spigot fell forward out of my hands and spilled into the stark, white snow, soaking my hands through my gloves, emptying in a mockery of the small task I was trying to accomplish.

I was wearing too many layers to injure myself in the fall: my legs were insulated against their snowy landing spot by two pairs of pants and a pair of heavy duty coveralls.  Rather, the -15 degree windchill made the possibility of frostbite through my wet gloves my most pressing concern.  I stood up slowly–the only possible way to stand in coveralls–and, swearing at the wind or the weather or my own clumsiness, began to refill the bucket.  Ponies need water.  It is my job to make sure they have it, whether the process for getting it is pleasant or not. Continue reading “Living the Dream”

On Dating.

Swipe Right.

“So, what are you looking for?”

It’s a straightforward enough question really, and one that comes up a lot when you foray into the world of online dating, but it’s one that I sometimes have a hard time answering.

What am I looking for…?

The truth is, it’s hard to know what you’re looking for in a place that you’ve found yourself by accident. Continue reading “On Dating.”

Sitting in the Sacred

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

It’s still warm enough for crickets to chirp their song at the end of the day, but only just.  Our fall colors are still flirting with the green of summer.  Fall happens slowly here.  You almost miss it, sandwiched between our Midwestern summers and winters which compete every year to be fiercer than the other.  Fall is quiet.  Unlike the famous colors out east, our colors don’t come all at once.   We entertain shades of gold and green and red in the same moment.  Oranges like pumpkins.  Scarlet like the lips of emboldened women.  Yellow leaves reminiscent of gold jewelry worn to be noticed and envied.  All of this beside the slow trees that cling to their chlorophyll, still green into November.  Even lovelier for their slow and steady, almost cautious, pace.

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Continue reading “Sitting in the Sacred”