Things I know for sure

I’m not a huge Oprah fan or anything, but I really like her idea of sharing things she knows for sure. We’re all on this journey together and it’s helpful to hear what other people’s experiences are sometimes…even if they conflict with our own. In that spirit, I’ve compiled a short list of things I know for sure.

So, without further adieu, here’s what I know for sure.

1. I’ve not once regretted putting on a little lipstick, blush, and concealer. And a little mascara. But there have been hundreds of times I’ve regretted not putting on a little makeup to head to the store or to pick up the kids or what have you. Every single time I’ve not made that effort, I’ve run into someone who I care what they think of how I look. Plus, I’m just more confident with some makeup on–even just a little–to brighten up my face. That confidence plays out into my interactions with other people, so I’ve found it’s best for me and for others if I’ve taken those three minutes to put my best face forward.

2. I’ve never regretted not having another drink. Whether it was a last drink at the end of an evening or the last drink I ever plan to take (almost ten months ago!) I never woke up thinking “man, I wish I would have had another.”

3. If my gut is telling me to reach out to someone, that’s the cosmos talking to me. I recently lost a dear mentor and I’d been thinking for a month prior that I really needed to call her up and take her to lunch, but in the busy holiday season, I just never did it. And now, I’ll never get another chance. Your gut or intuition or third eye or whatever you want to call it is real and you need to listen to it.

4. Everybody needs at least one hobby that’s just for them. Not having a hobby is a one way ticket to self-destructive behavior and self-destructive thoughts. Knowing I have a project to finish means that I get all of my other things done so that I can work on that project guilt-free. To be honest, I have about 4 serious hobbies and they all mean a great deal to me. I think it’s best to have a hobby that’s physical (exercise) so that you get your sweat in, a hobby that’s mental (to exercise your brain), a hobby that’s just for creative fun (to exercise that artistic element we all have, in larger or smaller quantities,) and a hobby that’s social. Since I quit drinking alcohol, I’m working on that last one, as pretty much all of my grown up friends seem to use drinking as a social hobby and I don’t have that anymore. For the meantime, I’m using my yoga class as a two-fer, as both one of my physical hobbies (the other is running) and as my social hobby.

5. I’d always rather be overdressed than underdressed.

6. There’s no such thing as being too well-read.

7. Life is easier on so many different levels if you make your health a priority. Eating well, getting enough exercise, sleeping enough, and staying hydrated should be programmed into our beings, but we seem to have forgotten a lot of this in our social dna. I definitely know this for sure–when I was in my early and mid 20s, I was overweight, I didn’t eat terribly, but I overate quite a bit, I didn’t exercise at all to speak of, I didn’t sleep enough, and I was probably dehydrated most of the time. I looked and felt not so great and it sucked. I feel so much better at 36 than I felt at 20 and I look better, too. Anyone who says that life isn’t easier when you take care of yourself is lying. I’m speaking from experience when I say that being healthy and fit makes everything better. And that saying that you choose your hard is so true–working out and watching your diet is hard, but in my experience, being out of shape and fat is even harder.

8. If you’re an adult and you’re married, frequent sex with your spouse needs to be important to you. If it’s not important to you, sex with YOUR spouse will become important for someone else. I notice that when we make sure to make it a priority, we don’t fight and whatever disagreements we have are small and easily resolved. After almost 12 years of marriage, I think that’s one aspect of marriage that people don’t pay nearly enough attention to and it’s apparent that a great many marriages suffer for it. Also–frequent sex is great for your mood and makes you want to be healthy and active. Win-win!

9. Having fewer things that are what you want and are of the highest quality is far more satisfying than having a bunch of stuff that you don’t care so much about. This is true for everything, from food to clothing to home furnishings. I’ve lived on both ends of the spectrum and love having fewer things that I love rather than lots of things that I just feel are burdens.

10. Suffering is optional. Life is life and sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s not–but when it’s not so great, it’s a choice to suffer. You also have the choice to grin and bear it and realize that life itself is a gift and you have endless options to change the bad situation.

So…what do you know for sure?

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All that glitters

We became engaged in 2002 and we were married in 2003. I knew that we were close to getting married and, being young and stupid about most things, I went to the local Zales and picked out a wedding ring set that B bought for me. No offense to anyone who loves Zales or other jewelry shops of the same genre, but for reasons I’ll parse out below, I’m just not a fan of the mass market jewelry shops these days. It is a beautiful wedding set–I honestly can’t remember how big the diamonds are or the total carat weight, but it really is beautiful, though I hadn’t really thought much about it in recent years other than putting it on. To be perfectly honest, we’d talked about trading in my set to get a couple of simple matching bands for us both, as B lost his ring in the yard last year. My rings are now way too large and I can’t have them resized, as I’ve had them resized once and was told that doing so again would damage the settings and make the diamonds loose.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out and about with the kiddos on a Sunday afternoon and bought some Christmas decorations, groceries, and the like. We got back to the house and I put all the bags on my arms (completely loaded down) and then unlocked the back door. It was only after we’d been home about an hour and after making hot cocoa, watching some teevee with the kids, and putting up our purchases that I realized my engagement ring was not where it was supposed to be–on my finger. I didn’t panic or freak out, but instead took off my wedding band, put it in the basket I keep by the sink for my jewelry so that I can take them off for cleaning and prepping food, and went to clean the bathrooms. I looked for it that day, couldn’t find it, and told Brad that maybe we could look into finding something for both of us now and trade in my band.

Then I did what all the experts tell you to do and I slept on it. Oh my goodness, what a change. I woke up a woman on a mission. While I’d never cared much about jewelry before, all of a sudden I HAD TO HAVE a replacement for the lost engagement ring. I spent a week combing the internet, looking for the rings that would reflect the inner me…all of a sudden, I finally understood the allure of jewelry. Up to this point, I’d worn earrings every day and I always wore a necklace, usually either pearls or a sterling silver chain with a pendant of some sort, my wedding set, and a troll beads bracelet. I hadn’t put a lot of thought into the jewelry–my parents often buy me earrings for birthdays and those suited me just fine. But now, with my newfound obsession, I understood how jewelry could enhance what you were wearing to make it a genuine reflection of your style.

I’d already decided I wouldn’t buy another diamond, as I believe them to be overpriced for what they are. DeBeers did a fantastic job of marketing that Zales and the like have followed through with, convincing everyone that a diamond is the only acceptable stone for an engagement ring, all the while buying these gems from warlords in Africa. I wanted no part of that. I wanted something different and somewhat unique.

So I wound up buying two different replacements, both not that expensive–a Princess Di/Kate Middleton type sapphire ring with a white sapphire halo in sterling and a white gold/white sapphire tiffany setting solitaire and matching plain band. Before these replacements actually appeared on my doorstep, I found my engagement ring in a bag of newly purchased Christmas decorations I’d stored in the basement. I shrieked when I found them, leading my drywall mudding husband to leap from his work, armed with a drywall mud trowel, ready to attack his wife’s assailant.

Since I can’t have the rings sized, but I also now understand that I have an emotional attachments to them beyond what I’d thought, I’ve kept the rings in my jewelry box and I kept the replacements I ordered. They’re beautiful and serve my purposes for the time being. Especially the solitaire. It’s simple and classic and suits me just fine. I have a whole new appreciation for jewelry and what it can do for someone’s expression of style that I didn’t have before and I have a much better understanding of my own love of jewelry that I didn’t even know that I had until I lost a favorite piece!

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This new jewelry obsession fits in quite nicely with a book I’m reading now and am planning on reviewing soon. Russian Winter, by Daphne Kalotay, is about a retired ballerina auctioning off her jewelry collection. I’m only about 100 pages in, but am loving the mysterious tale so far…and am thoroughly enjoying the descriptions of some fantastic jewels!

Progress and not Perfection

As we head into the holiday season and begin winding down 2014, I’m beginning to reflect on the goals I set at the beginning of the year to see where I’ve gotten with them. I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made and I’ve been able to note some areas where I still need some work. Something that has jumped out at me is that the goals I set led to changes that met the goals, but were not the changes I anticipated making when I set them. Some of these goals are ones that will take much longer to accomplish and I’m ok with that. Progress and not perfection is the mantra of the lifetime, I suppose.

Decreasing clutter was one of my primary goals. I am, by nature, a very neat person. My husband is not. When I set the goal of decreasing clutter, I was primarily focused on the clutter in our home, though I also made a note in my journal that I wanted to decrease emotional clutter as well. As it turned out, that almost offhand note about the emotional clutter is the goal that I’ve done the most work towards accomplishing this year. I have made progress towards decreasing household clutter, but to be able to do that well, I had to deal with some of the emotional clutter that had been hanging on.

I had a big, emotional, difficult blog post that I wrote but kept private quite a few months ago (seven, to be precise) about how I was quitting drinking alcohol. Talking about alcohol is a very difficult subject for me, as alcohol is a very difficult subject in my family. It’s caused a lot of heartache and it’s caused a lot of health problems, but most people in my family still drink. And that’s fine for them–but I reached a point where I realized it wasn’t fine for me. Even “social” drinking had consequences I wasn’t really comfortable with (many of them due to my vanity, I’m not ashamed to admit!) When I decided to quit drinking, it meant that I had to confront what drinking meant to me and the emotions I’d hidden or squashed down when I was still depending on that weekly Friday wine night to deal with the stress of the week. I got a sober penpal and I proceeded to really start taking care of myself–buying myself treats when I needed them, making sure I had adequate rest, exercise, and food, and making sure that I was treating myself well.

It worked. After 30 days, I felt incredible. I started doing yoga most days. I ran a lot. I bought myself treats. I cleaned up my already pretty clean diet. And then I started dealing with the emotional crap and that was hard–harder than I thought it would be. But it was also SO GOOD. I had some tough shit to go through this year–deaths of friends, family drama, work stress–but it was all so much easier to get through than it would have been when I still depended on a glass of cabernet to unwind. Being able to handle emotions and feelings in a healthy way makes me feel very grown up, which is a very good thing, as the older I get, the more I truly believe that there are no grown ups, only people in big bodies acting like we know what we’re talking about.

So how does being sober lead to being able to clear out clutter? Well, I’m dealing with the emotional stuff as it comes up and processing it, so I understand that I don’t need to hold on to clutter to deal with it later. If I don’t love something or need something, I don’t keep that something. Now, I’ll be honest–I still get upset about my husband’s clutter, but I’m finding that I’m able to motivate him now to deal with it and keep only what he loves or needs, though I’ll admit it’s definitely a work in progress. I’m happy to report that our house has far less stuff than it had a year ago, though we still have a ways to go until we’re living in my minimalist dream home.

So the ends (decreasing clutter) were certainly not met by the means I initially intended, but they were met in ways I couldn’t have dreamed up when I first expressed the desire. It’s funny how that happens.

Book Review Monday

I think that my first John Irving experience was likely watching The Cider House Rules with Tobey Maguire. I remember LOVING that movie. I didn’t read any John Irving until quite a bit later, though–I think I may have to get a copy of The Cider House Rules with as much as I remember loving the movie. At any rate, once I finally did read an Irving book, I was hooked. His writing style is not for the faint of heart–he tends to have a lot of overt sexuality and uncomfortable sexuality (i.e., things that make most people squirm,) but he tells a fantastic story.

The Hotel New Hampshire, written in 1981, wound up on my local bookstore’s bargain rack a few months ago and I picked it up, not really even checking the back cover to see the synopsis. I added it to my pile of “to read” books and promptly forgot about it. (Books are the one reason I’ll never have a super tidy and organized house–I have a REALLY hard time getting rid of books and read a lot, so we have books on shelves, books in stacks, books in cupboards, etc.) I’d recently finished a novel and saw The Hotel New Hampshire in the stack and decided to give it a whirl.

The book is about a family who lives in a small private school town in New Hampshire who wind up running a hotel in town. Their life there leads them to move to Vienna, where they run a hotel there (minus a couple of family members.) The protagonist, John, is a sweet boy who happens to love his sister. A lot. There’s also a bear…or two. One of the bears is real and one is not…but they’re both definitively bears and both bears provide a special sort of companionship–one for John and one for John’s father. Sexuality, as in pretty much every Irving novel, is a key element. While his portrayals of sexuality can definitely make a reader squirm, they’re also very REAL, in that they’re not romanticized or overly “pretty.” Sexuality is always a key piece of Irving’s novels, in that he writes a lot about how sexuality defines us in a lot of ways, but it isn’t the end all and be all of our existence…though at times it certainly feels like it is.

Overall, I’d recommend The Hotel New Hampshire, but definitely not to someone who has never read a John Irving novel before. For that, I’d probably recommend Last Night in Twisted River, which I simply adored. I understand that a movie was made from The Hotel New Hampshire and I’m curious to check it out, as I simply cannot imagine how certain parts of the book would translate into film.

So now I move on to the next in line…I have an Ursula Hegi book I’ve not read yet and I have a Barbara Kingsolver book I’ve not yet read–so the coin toss will decide which one I’ll crack open this evening…or I may start on Exit Unicorns, which I recently downloaded onto my ipad, as it was recommended for those recovering from an Outlander addiction. Choices, choices….

Book review Monday…on a Friday

So, as usual, my best laid plans fail. I so wanted to get a book review up every other Monday, but better late than never, as they say! This week’s selection is The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. As I mentioned before, I love historical fiction. I first read a Kate Morton book, The Distant Hours, to fill the void Downton Abbey left in my heart when the season ended last year. I loved her writing and have proceeded to read all of her novels. She’s a masterful storyteller and The Secret Keeper didn’t disappoint.

The Secret Keeper begins in the 1960s with a girl at a farmhouse in rural England, where she witnesses her mother kill a stranger. The book goes between the girl, her mother, and a friend of her mother’s from the time of the blitz in London during World War II. The girl grows up and her mother ages, leading the girl to attempt to figure out the mystery of the murder. She enlists her brother, who was the only other witness to the murder and just a baby at the time, to help her unravel the mystery. Morton does an excellent job with her use of character in the “detective” portion of the book, letting you fall in love with a character you want to dislike and letting you dislike a character you really want to love.

The final plot twist at the end was entirely unexpected, but tied everything up so perfectly that the novel ends well. I highly recommend this and really any of Kate Morton’s books.

As everyone knows, tea and books go hand in hand, or at least they do for me. A lovely friend of mine has an annual tea trade through her business, Zen from Within. The gist is that you sign up, she pairs you up with someone, and you each send the other a package of assorted teas and goodies. I was paired up with a sweet mama from Canada and she sent me the most lovely package of teas, soap, and a little wool Christmas ornament.

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She included a decaffeinated yoga chai tea, a wonderful green and white Buddha tea, a blooming tea, a handmade grapefruit soap, and a little ornament. It was such a fun way to try some new teas–and I hope that she enjoyed her package as much as I enjoyed mine!

I love to drink tea to soothe stress and I needed it desperately after last week. As much as I love Halloween, it’s a royal pain in the butt to get through. Thursday was our trick or treat, but the kids’ school parties were Friday. On top of the parties, I had about 1000 other things to do, too, and from the time I woke up, I kept repeating to myself “I just have to make it through this day.” I did make it through and changed into jammies as soon as I got home. And I proceeded to drink a bunch of lovely tea before crashing out for a full ten well-deserved hours of blissful sleep.

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Book Review Monday…on a Tuesday

Coming off of a three day weekend, today is most certainly one of those Tuesdays that feels like Monday. On top of the usual (too much to do and not enough time in which to do it,) I also have a bit of an ick with a headache and general blah feeling, which I hope to remedy with a good friend’s herbal elderberry tincture as soon as I get home this afternoon. In the meantime, I just scarfed down a nice lunch with lemon orzo chicken soup that made me feel warm and snuggly and am writing this with a lovely cup of mint tea…so things are looking up.

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I had an idea last week that I should start doing book reviews. I love to read and read a lot…for a mama with a full time job and two kiddos. I thought it would be lovely to do a regular book review piece on Mondays (assuming I read about a book a week or a book every other week) and so I thought Mondays would be a good day to do it, as I usually read a bit more on weekends than during the week. I had grand plans of doing my first book review blog yesterday, as I had the day off WITH NO CHILDREN. Can I say that again? I had a day off with no children and the hubs was at his office. Glorious. As much as I love my family, I love being able to get things done solo every now and then, too. I did some errands in the morning, did a turbofire workout, a yoga class, cleaned house (including organizing and rearranging the living room, which had become a nightmare scene) and by then, the kids were back home and dinner needed fixed…so no blog yesterday.

I just finished Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett, which is the last in his Century trilogy. The trilogy begins pre-WWI and follows several families throughout the course of the 20th century. If you’ve not read Follett before, he’s an excellent historical fiction writer and he does a really fantastic job of creating characters–both likeable and detestable. While he excels at research and setting the scene, his ability to create depth of character provides for an immensely enjoyable read. As in “I’m not putting this down until I’m done” enjoyable.

I’d been looking forward to this book since I finished Winter of the World, the middle book of the trilogy and the book focused on WWII. As a kid (and ever since,) I’ve always been fascinated by WWII. Winter of the World did not disappoint. I’d never been particularly interested in the Cold War, but became more interested after reading Paullina Simons’ The Bronze Horseman series. Edge of Eternity provided such a good education about the Cold War and the politics of that time. I don’t know if that part of history just wasn’t taught when I was in school or just wasn’t taught well enough that I recall much of it, but I learned more about the Cold War reading Edge of Eternity than I ever learned in school.

My most profound memory of the Cold War years is of the Berlin Wall being torn down. I remember watching it on television and my mother crying. I recall Stone and Thomas (a department store no longer in business) selling chunks of concrete that were parts of the Berlin Wall in the year after it was torn down. I knew that communists were supposed to be bad, but I didn’t understand why at all. By the time I was old enough to learn about all of that in school, communism in eastern Europe was dead and what remained of communism didn’t seem scary…so I just never really thought about how intense that period of history had been. I’m ashamed to report that I really didn’t know what the Cuban Missile Crisis even was until reading this book! Well, my education has been shored up and while I’m certainly no expert, I’m also not nearly so ignorant of that important piece of history as I was a few weeks ago.

The book also highlights much of the civil rights struggle in America, starting out the book with the freedom rides and delving into the history of that era. Again–I obviously knew about Civil Rights laws and knew that it was a highly contentious issue in the 60s, but I didn’t know much about freedom rides, the Birmingham fiascos, and the like. The end of the novel is a scene describing some of the primary characters who are black watching the inauguration of Barack Obama on television. I had tears streaming down my face reading it and I’m not even an Obama fan…though I suppose I was, once upon a time. As a white girl who grew up in the 80s and 90s, I never saw much of the struggle that people of the generations before witnessed. It’s hard to believe that these things happened less than a lifetime ago.

I have a very hard time reading nonfiction unless it’s about health or food–but I love reading historical fiction. Ken Follett does an excellent job of weaving the fictional story in with factual history. Pillars of the Earth and World Without End are two of his previous novels about the construction of a cathedral, which sounds incredibly boring…but they are both excellent novels that provide the fun storytelling along with the history. Edge of Eternity stayed true to his methods and did not disappoint. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys historical fiction (even if you lived through part or all of the time period he recounts in the novel!)

Another recent historical fiction read that I LOVED was Paris by Edward Rutherfurd. If you enjoy historical fiction (and love Paris as much as I do!) you’ll love it. I’m now reading The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I’m reading her books out of order of publication and this is the last one of hers I have to read. If it’s anything like her others, I’m going to love it.

A bientôt!

Life, Simplified

Goodness, it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted, hasn’t it? Life is busy, y’all. Seriously. I’ve thought about blog posts about 100 times in the past few months, but never just got down to actually writing one. While this won’t be pretty, I’ll try to hit the high points of the past few months in one post…and then promise to post another blog soon. I hope I follow through with that promise this time.

The biggest news of the past few months is that, after years of Weight Watchers and psychotic point counting (which worked exceptionally well for me the first time I lost a bunch of weight, but which wasn’t working with me since Charlotte’s birth,) I’ve managed to get back down to my pre-Charlotte weight. I’d like to lose about another 10 pounds or so, but I’m in a comfy size 6 again and am able to wear my Nanette Lepore suits again, so I’m a happy camper. How did I manage it? Let me tell ya–Trim Healthy Mama. It’s a wonderful eating plan and it’s what kicked my metabolism back into gear after 8 years of continuous pregnancy and nursing. The basic premise is that you separate your fats from your carbs by meal, so you either eat a low fat, high carb meal or a high fat, low carb meal. And you just need to separate your fuels by 3 hours, so you can eat oatmeal for breakfast and a steak salad for lunch with lots of yummy dressing. It cuts out sugar and replaces it with stevia, for the most part. I’ll be honest…if you’re not a pretty healthy eater to begin with, you’ll have a pretty steep learning curve. But if you’re a generally healthy eater, the learning curve isn’t very steep at all, which was the case for us. Brad’s not even following the plan (but eats what I cook, thank you very much) and has lost about 8-10 pounds, though he didn’t really need to. I also exercise a lot, compared to most. Hot power yoga 4-5 times a week and run a 5k or do turbofire workouts 2-3 days a week. Honestly, I think the exercise has slowed total weight loss, but I’ve built a lot of muscle since I ramped up my workouts back in the spring. All in all, between THM and yoga, my body has been rebuilt and I’m thankful for it.

I’ve made quite a few other changes, health-wise in the past few months, some of which started awhile back, including using essential oils. Right now, the lemon, lavender, and peppermint combination is saving me and Rowan from the throes of seasonal allergies. I make each of us a cup of tea each evening before bed with a drop of each and we wake up allergy-free. I forgot to make mine a few nights ago and woke up to itchy eyes. As soon as I got a cup of tea with the magical trio, I was “fixed.” The oils are amazing–I was able to fight a virus for Charlotte and for myself–she got it with a high fever and fatigue, started onGuard with her that evening and kept her home the next day, rubbing onGuard on her feet every couple hours and she was cured by noon. I started feeling icky that evening, put onGuard on my feet, used it the next day, and never really got sick!) If you’re interested in giving essential oils a try, check out my website. You won’t regret it. I have cut out all toxic cleaning products from our house (except for bleach for my white towels!) and we are now only using basic things (vinegar, baking soda, liquid dishwashing soap) along with essential oils to clean the whole house.

Between the nutritional changes, exercise changes, and use of essential oils, I feel like I’m about 10 years younger than I was back when I started this journey this year. I can’t believe the change that a year can make. Since January, I’ve cut out alcohol (which has been the biggest blessing–6 months without alcohol of any kind on October 13!,) I’ve lost the baby weight I couldn’t get rid of for the longest time, I’ve been able to reduce my need for anxiety meds drastically, and I’ve strengthened my marriage and my parenting relationship. I feel like most of those changes were able to be made because I was finally ready to accept the idea of simplification of my life. And the most basic simplification I could do was to get myself healthy and well, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I started out the year in a really rocky place–I didn’t feel good about myself and I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I knew I needed to make some changes to get myself to a better place. It’s taken some trial and error, but I’ve done it, though we’re all always a work in progress, right?

So now we’re in the midst of a gorgeous autumn and I’m so enjoying it. It’s a beautiful season and I love the readying for winter and the season of rest. I’m looking forward to more cozy evenings and colorful days. And desserts…my, how I love the desserts of autumn.

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Those photos are of a chocolate zucchini cake with a cream cheese/whipped cream topping and a pumpkin roll–both THM friendly. Did I mention I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on a thing since implementing the THM way of eating into my already pretty healthy eating? Detoxing from sugar was the hardest part, but when desserts like this are on the menu, what’s there to miss?

Early West Virginia Day Post

I absolutely love my state.  I’m a born and bred West Virginian and consider myself lucky to have been chosen by God to spend my life here.  Mine is a state that has been raped and ravaged by industry, lampooned as having a backwards and uneducated population, and generally ignored unless someone here does something stupid.  Or when the collective voters make a statement that they aren’t fond of the current President of the United States.

West Virginians are traditionally wary of outsiders, largely owing to our Scots-Irish ancestry and our remoteness.  Our state is completely within the confines of the Appalachian region.  The region was settled largely by Scots-Irish immigrants, wary of authority and wanting their autonomy to live their own way.  Many of us still embody that mindset.  The Scots-Irish traditions continue–at our state’s celebration of West Virginia culture, the Vandalia Gathering, the sounds of bluegrass fill the air on the capitol grounds, while dancers of all ages compete in traditional Scottish and Irish dancing in the Cultural Center.  It’s an amazing weekend to get a feel for the incredibly deep traditions that many keep alive today.  We try to go most years and were able to this Memorial Day weekend–it was amazing to watch 6 year olds play bluegrass alongside the old-timers.

While our people are unique and complex, our terrain is even more so.  We took a daytrip to do some hiking a few weeks ago.  A couple miles off of a forest service road, this view was our reward for our trek through forest and swampland.

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I mentioned that our state has been raped and ravaged by industry.  I should note that our people have been, too.  My great grandfather went into the coal mines at the age of 7 years.  Not to visit, not to take his dad lunch, but to work.  Every damn day but Sunday he worked alongside other children and grown men.  He never learned to read or write and he was sick by the time my dad was a boy.  But like most Appalachians, he was a hard worker–my dad tells the story of going to visit his grandparents and his grandfather couldn’t sling a hoe, but he worked his garden soil with a spoon rather than not work.  Now that is work ethic.  And my parents have it.  And I have it.  And most West Virginians have it, though it’s being tamped down by the ravages of prescription medication and opiate addiction currently holding the region in its fierce grasp.  In my line of work, I get to see the effects of that scourge up close and personal, though the southern coalfields of our state suffer from the effects of that plague far more than any other region of the state.

West Virginia Day is June 20, the day we became a state.  We broke away from the state of Virginia during the Civil War to establish a free state.  Every person you speak with has a different story of why that happened (though I prefer to stick with the explanation that the Scots who settled the region after being transported here from imprisonment in Scotland for supporting the Jacobite crown found slavery repulsive.)  State and county employees get a day off of work on June 20, which strikes newcomers as very strange.  They have trouble understanding why we  so fervently celebrate our state and its heritage, given that our state is plagued with poverty, addiction, and is largely controlled by extractive industries (coal, oil, and gas.)  But they don’t get it and they won’t get it.  While I lament that our state suffers from the effects of generational poverty and oppression, I celebrate our state’s natural beauty and the strength of its people.  Being a West Virginian means much more than identifying as a resident of the state.  It means more than being a Mountaineer (or Thundering Herd) fan.  It means more than being able to identify as a descendant of the Hatfields or the McCoys (which I do, though it’s by marriage!)  Identifying as a West Virginian means identifying with a cultural minority of mountainfolk and the traditions of living in the mountains and working HARD.  And having great faith that the hard work will have rewards.  And knowing that the worst day in the mountains is better than the best day pretty much anywhere else.  (Except Paris.  Because, well–Paris.)

As a teenager and young adult, I thought I’d move from the region.  I figured I’d move to North Carolina, along with great numbers of others of my generation who sought fame and fortune (or just some stability) outside our borders.  But then I fell in love with a boy who, though born in Atlanta and raised in southern middle Tennessee, had fallen in love with West Virginia.  We talked about leaving.  When we decided to go to law school, we looked far and wide and considered going elsewhere.  But then life intervened and things happened and didn’t happen and we returned to our undergraduate alma mater to go to law school.  Then we graduated and got jobs and bought a house and had our children, who I’m proud to say are born and bred West Virginians.  Both of us now work, in different ways, to protect and preserve our state’s resources–B with the natural resources that are in the ground and the air and me with our state’s most precious resource, children.

One of my biggest pet peeves over the past five years or so has been those of my generation who left for greener pastures writing articles and blog posts about how much they love West Virginia, but that they owed it to themselves to seek a better life outside her borders.  I’ve gnashed my teeth and spoken ill of those who left, especially some of the best and brightest who fled.  Luckily for us, many of them are returning to bring their skills and their dreams back to the state that nurtured them.  I’m hopeful for the future of West Virginia–I see a great number of smart and dedicated people who work every day to try to maintain the beauty and simplicity of life here and others who work to protect our people and resources.

This year, I’ll be on vacation on West Virginia Day, but I’m sure we’ll celebrate somehow–I wonder if we can find some ramps to fry up with some shrimp at the beach house?

 

Chickens!

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I am so very pleased to announce the arrival of three new members of our family!  Hazel, Coco (Chanel), and Polly arrived on Saturday and have been bucket loads of fun since.  They’re beautiful golden sex link hens we bought from a local farm from whom we regularly buy our meat (and previously, our eggs.)  We considered getting chicks, but I’m an impatient woman and couldn’t wait 5 months to start getting eggs.

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The kids absolutely love them, as do I.  They’re so very docile they’ll let Rowan pick them up and will tolerate being petted by both kids.

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My dad was kind enough (and crafty enough) to build me a backyard coop, complete with two nesting boxes and a roost.  He did a fantastic job and he and Mom gave me some chicken raising pointers–my Mom raised chickens while I was little, though she always had a full flock (maybe 30 birds or so?  Hard to tell, as I was little.  All I know is that it seemed like a ton of them!)  Needless to say, they’re experts to my novice in the chicken raising business, so I take in all that they’ll give me for advice.

Our girls made themselves right at home from the get-go and started laying right away, which surprised the heck out of me!  We were told that it would take them a few days for them to get back to laying after their fantastic voyage from farm to urban farmstead, but they surprised us with an egg within just hours of arriving at the house!

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By Sunday morning, we had enough eggs for Brad and the kids to make me my Mother’s Day breakfast:  our own farm fresh eggs, scrambled with sautéed asparagus from our backyard and spinach from the farmer’s market, along with some chicken sausage and my own sourdough baguette from the freezer.  Hopefully, we’ll have our own spinach for eggs soon, too–I just seeded our spinach and salad greens, along with nasturtiums and radishes, this past weekend.  Better late than never, right?!?  We all have Tuesday off for election day and the plan is to make that a garden day to get the rest of the garden in (or at least what all needs to go in now.)  I’m looking forward to fresh salads from the potager soon!

 

 

Losing an arm…and gaining about an hour a day

So…you know how people will occasionally make a dramatic facebook post about how they’re sick and tired of the bullshit and drama, so they’re closing their account, but then never actually do it?  Well, I didn’t do that.  But I did go and deactivate my account last week after a whole bunch of soul searching about what I get out of facebook versus the emotional energy I put into it and realized that I was putting way too much energy into checking it, maintaining it, and thinking about it.  I didn’t post a dramatic “last post,” and I honestly don’t know if anyone other than my parents has noticed my absence.

I love facebook, I really do.  But maybe I love it a little too much–I have no idea how many times a day I was checking it, but it was way too many, I know that.  I was beginning to think in status updates and I cared way too much about how many people were “liking” the things I posted.  I’m in a phase where I’m trying to rid myself of anything that sucks more energy than it gives back and facebook, at least for now, was definitely doing that.

In deactivating my account, I have two warnings:  1–if your spotify is connected through facebook, you’re going to have a hell of a time changing that set up, but in the end it’s worth it, as every time I logged into spotify, it was reactivating my facebook account, so I had to cancel spotify, create a new account, and then had a tech rep give my new account my other account’s playlist.  Sounds easy, but was not.  2–your favorite restaurants, stores, etc. likely don’t update their websites anymore with specials, etc–they likely just post a facebook update.  For the second reason (and because I’m sure I’ll cave wanting to “visit” with friends I never see in person,) I’m sure I’ll reactivate the account at some point.  For now, though, I’m enjoying the extra hour, give or take, that I have each day to spend reading, cooking, playing, and generally doing anything other than checking facebook.  It’s a glorious break, though I’ll admit it felt a little like I’d cut my arm off for about the first five days or so.  Anytime I was bored at work, I had an automatic reflex to check facebook–after a week, I’m *mostly* past that, thankfully.