I Sing The Body (Not So) Electric

I am finding it hard to write (much less think) about the new realities of my 43 year old body. Somewhere along the way, it decided to go rogue, and now I don’t feel like I have any control over it anymore. It is the honey badger of bodies.

Today is day 45 of the AIP diet for me and I’m really struggling. To tell a foodie like me that for the foreseeable future, they cannot eat any grains, any dairy, any nightshades, any sugar, any edible peas, no beans, seeds, or nuts, no alcohol, no coffee, no cocoa derivatives, and no spices derived from fruits, nuts, or seeds (including the ubiquitous black pepper), it’s a seriously depressing proposition. But you know what else is a seriously depressing proposition? Gaining weight despite a relatively healthy diet, chronic, inconvenient, and unreliable stomach issues, unexplained aches and pains, paint points in the tendons and joints, massive chiropractor bills, not being able to work out due to pain, and feeling old before my time.

I’ve written before that taking these foods out of my diet resulted in some pretty positive changes straight out of the gate. My skin tone changed within days, I’ve lost an inch or two in my waist, and my stomach is flattening. My clothes fit better. I’ve gone down a size and even they are loose. Plus, the weird aches and pains have gone away. And all this while dealing with major stomach issues despite doing everything right.

Turns out, consuming coconut oil/milk and avocado oil do not agree with my body. It’s like fire bombing my digestive tract. As soon as I cut that out and went back to using strictly olive oil, my stomach went right back to normal.

But now I have to add coconut to my list of no-no foods (whole avocados aren’t a problem for me).

I am so bored from this way of eating that I’ve started trying to add things back into my diet, with very mixed results.

Hard cider, my alcoholic beverage of choice, makes me break out in hives. Weirdly, one glass of wine sent me spiraling into an all-day depressive funk that came out of absolutely nowhere. So, looks like alcohol is out.

White Rice seems okay. I knew before this elimination diet that I was intolerant to gluten and quinoa, and corn makes my joints ache, so I’m not going to reintroduce any other grains and pseudo-grains back into my diet.

Pinto beans seem okay.

Tomatoes caused pain points to appear on my legs the next day.

Small amounts of jalapenos (in Chipotle guacamole) haven’t bothered me, and whatever spices they use on their Carne Asada are ok, but a slight sprinkle of Tabasco sauce made pain points appear on my hips. Guess that means nightshades are out. Goodbye potatoes and Buffalo chicken. We had a good run. 😦

I don’t even know where to go from here.

The AIP diet says to try to reintroduce these items first (yes, I’m a maverick and ignored the guidelines): egg yolks, legumes (with edible pods), sprouts, nut and seed oils, seed-based spices, fruit and berry based spices, ghee, occasional coffee, cocoa/chocolate.

1. I don’t like eggs and consider them unpalatable without cheese or in a baked good, neither of which I can eat at the moment.

2. Ooh peas… so exciting (not really).

3. Sprouts (gross).

4. Nut and seed oils (no thanks, apparently I’m sensitive to weirdo oils. I’ll stick to what’s working, thanks).

5. Nutmeg. Yippee. Just what I was craving (not).

6. Ghee (see #4).

7. Coffee is not a friend to my stomach, and even if my love for it overrode that reality, I’m not going to drink it black. Sugar, dairy, and coconut milk are out, I’m allergic to almonds and soy too, so I’ll just sob quietly every time I pass Starbucks.

I’d need the dairy to make cocoa palatable.

Reintroducing most of these items are contingent on mixing them with other things that I cannot eat, so…. on to Phase 2.

Phase 2 says to reintroduce nuts and seeds (tricky one, since I’m already allergic to almonds and historically nuts and seeds haven’t been well tolerated by my cranky stomach–so not something I’m used to eating anyway).

Wine (well, we saw how that turned out).

Egg whites. Butter. Coffee every day (weeps).

Where is the real food added back into my diet? I am not going to pack a stick of butter in my lunch. I am so bored with my food choices right now. Please, for the love of angry cats, is there nothing on this diet I can actually add back in?

Let’s look at Phase 3: Nightshades (eggplant, sweet peppers, paprika, peeled potatoes (I already know this won’t end well). Lentils, split peas, garbanzo beans. (Womp. Womp.) Grass fed dairy (Hallelujah! Something I actually want!). But if grass fed dairy triggers me, my heart will break. I’m afraid to know the truth, so I’m postponing reintroducing this one.

Phase 4: All the other nightshades (No). Alcohol (No). White rice (Yes). Other gluten free grains (No). Other legumes. (Womp womp again.)

Sorry, I just can’t get thrilled by beans.

You know what would thrill me right now? A giant, breaded, Buffalo chicken sandwich covered in blue cheese crumbles, on perfect toasty bread, with an ice cream float made from chocolate espresso ice cream and a Starbucks iced mocha, slathered in whipped cream and chocolate sauce, for dessert.

Instead, breakfast this morning was a banana, some bacon, some applesauce, instant pot meatballs and rice.

I need to eat more vegetables. That’s the goal for the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I will try not to think of all the foods I’m missing that I’ll likely never be able to eat again. 😦

What Love Looks Like

As far as love stories go, mine and Jeremy’s isn’t so unusual. We met online, like lots of people do. On paper, we were ridiculously similar but had enough differences to keep things interesting. My children adored him from the moment they met him. I loved his family as soon as I met them. Even our cats blended together without much fuss. It would be the perfect story to tell, except for the part in the story where I met him for the first time and felt, well, meh.

As a writer, it kind of spoils the narrative, don’t you think?

In romance, you always hear the love at first sight stories, the unrequited stories, even the enemies to lovers stories. What you never hear about are the people who meet, think “meh”, and go on to fall in love later stories.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know I was looking at the love of my life on that fateful July 1st afternoon when Jeremy appeared at my door. We were supposed to go to dinner, and maybe a movie. It was pouring down rain. So we sat on my couch talking for a few hours waiting for the storm to let up (spoiler alert: it didn’t). We talked and talked and talked and I remember feeling tired, and disinterested, and a little bored by our conversation.

In retrospect, I think I was burned out from dating in general. Even if Matthew Macfadyen, dressed as Mr. Darcy, had strode through a dew-covered field and professed hiss undying love to me in sonnet form, I doubt it would’ve impressed me. I’d been on far too many first dates, and had heard so many first date biographies, that getting to know new people had totally lost its appeal–especially considering how infrequently I ever heard from these first dates again. I was over the whole get-to-know-you thing. It seemed like a colossal waste of my time.

This is not to say I didn’t like Jeremy. I thought he was a perfectly nice human being and I was fine hanging out with him again. I just didn’t think he was “the one”. I expected bells to ring. Maybe a sign from God. Celestial choirs or something. I got nada.

Jeremy and I are together now because 1) the singles group we belonged to had a 4th of July party, which I invited him to. And 2) while at aforementioned party, he charmed my children. And not in that smarmy, fake-acting I’m-interested-in-you-to-impress-your-mom kind of way, but like he legitimately liked them and wanted to talk to them. And when they bitched about being bored at the party and he learned that they’d rather go see a movie, he invited the three of us on a movie date.

From that moment, my kids were 100% on board. So much in fact, that Sam told me on the way home from the party that I needed to marry Jeremy because he wanted him to be his stepfather. Whether I was on board with the plan seemed immaterial.

So the 4th of July party that wasn’t supposed to be a date, became a date. And whether I wanted to or not, I was signed up for date #3 because my children wanted to hang out with this guy I wasn’t especially interested in…

Life is funny sometimes.

Date #3 went better. By the end of Date #4, I realized that this was going to be an Important Relationship. I still didn’t know that Jeremy was going to be my future husband, but the idea didn’t seem all that farfetched anymore. Fast forward only a few months later and I knew that I would walk across molten lava and glass shards to marry Jeremy–that I loved him in a way that probably changed my DNA, I was so altered by it.

So what changed?

I realized I was looking in the wrong places for love. In fact, looking for it was the problem.

I half expected love to wave at me from across a crowded room and say “here I am!” But I’ve learned that love is quieter than that.

Good love is actually a lot like good writing. The tenet that is hammered into every writer’s head is “show don’t tell.” Love should be shown and not told, too. Older wiser Brittany has learned that if you have to wait to be told that someone loves you, it’s not real love. Real love is shown every day, all the time.

It’s loving someone enough to trust them, to encourage their madcap pursuits, to be be endlessly supportive as they fall down and get back up again, and never become frustrated by their growth.

It’s also taking care of them, emotionally and physically, as life knocks them around. It’s being a safe haven from all the crap in the world. A shoulder to lean on. A hand to hold.

It’s also seeing the potential in your partner, and endlessly cheerleading until they see it too.

Maybe you can’t actually see love, but you can certainly see its effects. I am so much more confident now–unafraid to live my best life–and I’m sure I radiate contentment and satisfaction now, because I truly feel like my life is perfect. My marriage is happy and my husband is totally unbothered by me going off in a hundred different directions. Because of his support, I’m working two jobs I love, that are the perfect mix of my interests. I don’t feel like I have to choose one thing over another anymore. I can have it all.

So what does love look like? It looks happy.

Imposter Syndrome

The writing community talks a lot about imposter syndrome – or a feeling of inadequacy, despite one’s seeming success. Writers feel it during the writing process: Am I doing this right? During the querying process: Am I any good compared to everyone else? And even after they’re published: I know I published a book, but I’m no ___insert bestselling author of your choice__. I hear it’s a pretty universal phenomenon.

I haven’t been published yet but my burgeoning imposter syndrome is certainly on track so far. The whole time I was writing Good Medicine I had a daily fit of despair, excruciating over every decision, every detail, reading and re-reading, writing and re-writing compulsively, trying to make it “good enough” to see the light of day. Now that I’m querying, I have a daily panic attack that my book is boring the life out of some extremely well-read New York City sophisticate, who is sitting in their (I imagine) hip New York City office, staring down at the vibrant street scene below, and not connecting at all with my characters and their fried squirrel and coon hunts. Every day I berate myself for not writing something more exciting, with incredibly diverse, dynamic characters, and I start preparing myself for a tsunami of rejection (that mercifully hasn’t arrived yet).

I’m a writer, so imposter syndrome is just how I roll. Why are writers frequently introverted hermits? We know nobody wants to have anything to do with our constant inner hysterics.

But this weekend, for the first time, I was really surprised to find myself feeling imposter syndrome about crafting.

Crafting is usually my happy place. It’s where I go to create, and play, and shut up the critical voices in my head.

And I’ll readily admit, I’ve made some really cool things. So cool, people tell me frequently to open my own Etsy store. And I’ve been considering it for a while. I’ve hesitated thought because I’m always left with the thought I know I’m good, but am I really Etsy good?

So I’ve been putting it off. But recently, I’ve made it a goal to make some comic book page boutonnieres and corsages and open my Etsy store at last.

Mind you, I have never made a corsage in my life (comic book page or otherwise). I have made boutonnieres (for my weddings) but nobody was going to give me a one star review and say they looked like they were made by a Kindergartner (because I was the bride).

So I’ve been watching YouTube tutorials and trying to figure it out. And my angst level has gone through the roof. I found myself feeling more and more insecure and unwilling to get started as the week went on. I’ve never felt that way about making anything before. Ever. But I had a lot riding on these things. I didn’t want to become a Pinterest “nailed it” meme.

Yesterday I got up early and made a bunch of roses (never done that before) and then this morning, I took a deep breath and dove in, and hoped I’d end up with something halfway decent looking after no less than six separate visits to three craft stores.

And then I made these:

I am relieved that they seem to not suck. Not unlike my writing, I am happy with the way they turned out because I was able to translate the vision in my head to an actual object without too many tears (or glue gun burns). I think they’re ready to go out into the world now.

I’m going to create an Etsy store now and hope for the best. Maybe they will all find good homes.

Figuring It Out

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression from the title–I have, most definitely, NOT figured anything out. But every day I’m getting a little closer.

On Sunday I was hired to work as an instructor at a local paint your own pottery shop and I’m looking forward to getting started. It’s exactly the sort of place a person like me should work, full of creativity, and color, and whimsy. And as I said in my interview, the world is getting more serious and prescriptive by the day. Places like that are a haven for the out of the box thinkers and creative types.

One of the saddest things I’ve seen so far as a substitute teacher was in a kindergarten class. There was a poster on the classroom wall, showing the students how to color. The rules were simple. 1. Stay inside the lines. 2. Leave no white space. 3. Make sure the colors are realistic. In another classroom, once again, not only were the students asked to color a picture realistically, they were told what colors they were supposed to color everything.

My inner artist was having an internal Donald Duck tantrum at how demoralizing and limiting that would feel. Maybe it’s for the best that I’m not an “official” teacher, because that poster would never see the light of day in my classroom, and I would be all about encouraging my students to experiment with their coloring, realism be damned.

In any case, at the art studio, there are no rules about such things and it will be great to witness people express themselves with wild abandon, flaunting all the rules they were given when they were 5.

It’s been a good few days. I got that job and then I got another full manuscript request, so I figured to heck with my diet, I’d go to Applebees and get crazy. I had vegetables cooked in butter (not allowed), green beans (not allowed) seasoned with pepper (not allowed), and a hard cider (also not allowed). And it was awesome. Until I came home and immediately broke out in hives.

My stomach issues have resolved since taking coconut out of my diet, and clearly something I ate last night (my money is on the alcohol) was problematic. So I’m considering starting the diet all over again, removing the rice I’ve been eating, omitting all coconut, not cheating with green beans and butter, and give my body a chance to really heal, as intended.

I don’t want to do this. But my face is still itchy this morning.

I could also try a low histamine diet. It sucks for someone who loves food as much as I do to have to eliminate so much from my diet. But I want to be healthy and I’m determined to figure it all out.

Successes and Setbacks

I had a very productive last few couple of days, full of successes and setbacks.

Success: I spent Saturday evening researching literary agents to query and Sunday morning sent out a new batch.

Setback: There aren’t a lot of agents looking for southern historical fiction in the first place, and most of them want dark and gothic. Which my book is definitely not. I’ve only found a handful of agents that seem like a good fit for my book, and it’s disheartening when I get a no back immediately and they say it’s not a fit for their list. But someone might say yes to it someday, so I continue to query and hope for the best.

Success: I’ve started a new novel and it’s coming along nicely. It’s at 17,000 words now, which is about 1/4 the length it needs to be.

Setback: I had set a (probably unrealistic) word count goal for the weekend–hoping to get to 26,000 words and fell short of it substantially, but I did write about 3,000 words to add to my total word count and that’s not shabby. I was also derailed by crafting, but is that really a setback?

Success: I love gnomes and a couple of weeks ago I posted a picture of Valentine’s and Easter sock gnomes. My friend Kira suggested we get together and try to make a few. Sunday we spent a couple of hours hard at work. I plan to take the gnomes to the middle school and teach them at makers space. I think the kids will enjoy making them.

This is how they turned out.

Setback: Well, first we ran out of socks. And there’s a distinct lack of cute socks at the local big box stores right now. Also, I’m really struggling to make the beards symmetrical. I’m having the same problems with it that I once had trimming my bangs. Maybe eventually I’ll figure it out.

Success: I have been doing the AIP diet now for a little over three weeks, and at first I thought I was imagining it, but there is a definite difference in my skin. It would appear that the mucin/inflammation is subsiding and it is soft and pinchable again. Prior to the diet, my skin had no give to it, and it was impossible to pinch the skin off the fat layer. When I went to the chiropractor yesterday, he was amazed at the changes he noted, too. He doesn’t know much about the AIP diet, but said to keep doing whatever it was, because it’s working. I feel like I’m on the right path, except for eating rice for my stomach. It’s not allowed on the AIP diet, and there’s a huge disagreement in the Paleo community if people should eat it. I feel like it helps me feel better. But I also tend to stick to fruit and starchy vegetables, given my druthers, because they are so much easier to digest, and really the diet discourages this in favor of healthier, greener vegetables.

Also, Instant Pots were on a GOOD sale at Target and Jeremy convinced me (I didn’t need much convincing) that we should get one. Mostly, it was just a matter of getting over my shock that my husband wanted to buy a fancy kitchen gadget. (I grew up in a family where men didn’t help cook, and didn’t express an opinion about kitchen-y things, so my mind was blown for a minute.) So anyway, we got the Instant Pot and our Sunday project was figuring out how it worked and testing it on an AIP Swedish Meatballs recipe I found. It turned out to be delicious! So last night we made Mango Chicken. I initially wanted to make rice, but Jeremy nudged me to steam some cauliflower rice. The meal was awesome. Light and filling.

Setback: I woke up at 2am feeling like an alien covered in battery acid was gnawing its way through my digestive tract. At 3am I took a hot shower trying to relax my muscles. And I didn’t fall back asleep until 5am. I had to cancel a sub assignment for today, which I hate to do. But I couldn’t very well teach doubled over in pain, sleep deprived, with gastrointestinal carnage possibly imminent. My body isn’t one to hold things in for long. I spent the very early morning snuggled up to a heating pad and trying to figure out what, if anything, set this off. It may just be my stomach trying to heal and get whatever crap is in my body out. Or I might have issues with foods that are hard to digest – ie. cauliflower. Or I might have issues with FODMAPS ie. cauliflower and/or mango. Who knows? I’m taking notes in case a pattern emerges. And in the meantime, I wait for this to pass.

It’s so frustrating that I can’t just feel good, and eat normal food without all the drama. I’ll admit I’m disappointed that I’m still having stomach issues when I’ve eliminated so many foods already. I’m also disappointed that I’m one of those people whose health prevents them from doing everything they want to be doing. I keep hoping I’ll eventually figure this all out.

Changing Direction

Yesterday I wrote about my ongoing frustrations with… well… everything.

Which is understandable considering that my life is taking a sharp left turn. Change can be painful. But the final destination will be worth it.

For the last few years, on New Year’s Eve, I’ve written my intentions and goals for the year on a glass votive, and burned a white candle inside as one year passes into the next. I like the white color because white candles represent cleansing, healing, protection, and joy. The first year I did this, I wrote very specifically about the type of man I was looking for and the sort of relationship I wanted. Lo and behold, six months later I met Jeremy. You all know how that turned out :-). The next year, I stated my intention to finish my novel and get my health back. I did finish my novel, and as the year ended, my health was certainly improving, but not where I wanted it to be. This year, my intentions were really simple. 1) Find a literary agent. 2) Lose weight and get in shape. 3) Finish the other two novels I have kicking around in my brain.

These are not things I expect to magically happen for me. I may be lighting candles and setting intentions and acting all New Age-y about things, but I get it. My intentions will live or die based on the work I put in to making them happen.

So about those intentions, and the growing pains as a result:

INTENTION #1: Find a literary agent.

My search for a literary agent is going well. I’m getting requests. There are some agents out there who have requested more pages of Good Medicine, so I’m bolstered knowing it doesn’t suck. The first query batch was a testing ground to see if my query was working. It is and I’m planning to send out a new batch of queries just as soon as I’m done researching agents and their current wish lists.

It feels good to do what I need to do, even while it’s distressing to put myself out there and face a potential tsunami of rejection. If I get a literary agent out of this, it will have been absolutely worth all the grief.

But it’s the kind of thing that would cause a person to stress eat. Which brings me to intention #2.

INTENTION #2: Lose weight and get in shape.

Something weird has been going on with my body for about 11 years. After John was born, I had this all over doughiness to my body and even though I lost weight initially, I never looked thin again. Then, the weight started creeping back up. I would diet, lose the weight, and gain it right back. I don’t eat much, and certainly no junk food, but my body didn’t get the memo. I also started feeling like I had adrenal fatigue or hypothyroidism. None of which ever showed up on a blood test. Plus I also had chronic stomach problems, a hold over from a sub cutaneous strep infection I had when I was 17. Then I started getting a yearly episode of bronchitis, and became intolerant to over the counter cold and allergy medicine (stomach issues). I went to the doctor over and over again for all of this. So many tests. They found nothing. So I’ve had to go out on my own and muddle through figuring out these issues on my own.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, I developed osteoarthritis in my lumbar spine, and developed such excruciating IT band and knee pain that there were points when I couldn’t walk up a handicap ramp without having to stop and take a break. This while I was alternating between two chiropractors who failed to find the source of my pain.

I finally found a good chiropractic neurologist who brought me 90% relief. I still have some pain because that osteoarthritis isn’t going anywhere, but I can deal with that. I can shovel snow and rake leaves and travel and walk again. I trust my chiropractor completely now. He’s helped me tremendously in getting my health back on track.

For starters, he turned me on to fenugreek for colds. It thins mucus naturally and my stomach doesn’t mind it. Between that and an inhaler from my doctor, I’ve been spared bronchitis for a while now.

Taking large doses of vitamin D has been hugely helpful for my energy levels.

Spanish black radish has calmed my stomach. As have probiotics.

I tried the Keto diet last year and lose some weight, but not the body puffiness, and after a while I stalled on Keto, too. I complained to my chiropractor who told me the puffiness was accumulating mucin in response to inflammation all over my body. I’d never heard of mucin before, and good luck googling it. It’s nearly impossible to find any mention of it, so I’m guessing it’s not something the medical community at large agrees with. Since I don’t completely agree with those tests saying I was fine, we’ll just agree to disagree on that point. It made sense to me that mucin was causing the puffiness, and that meant I had some kind of whole body inflammatory response to something I was eating. Since it hadn’t calmed down with the limitations of Keto–and Keto is very dairy and nightshade heavy–I figured I needed to go further to get to the bottom of things.

I started researching inflammatory foods and came across the Autoimmune Protocol Diet. It’s an extreme elimination diet of any and all potential causes of inflammation: grains, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades, certain spices, etc.

I figured, why not? Eating only meat, fruit, and vegetables wasn’t going to harm me. So I started the diet on January 6th. It’s been a challenge to figure out what I can eat, and surprise, surprise, my stomach that is never happy with anything, hasn’t been happy again. I’ve been Spanish black radishing and probiotic-ing my stomach. I also added in some white rice (technically not allowed, but I found it soothing), and things have gotten better as I adjust to this new way of eating.

Pro tip: a burger with coconut aminos, avocado, and slices of pineapple is AMAZING.

I’m managing, and I’m starting to see some results. I feel good on the diet and the puffiness seems to be minimizing. I know I need to give it more time. I’m hopeful that if I address the inflammation and the weight gain, I’ll feel good enough to start exercising regularly again. First, it feels right to allow my body to rest and recover.

And in the meantime, I’m working on intention #3.

Intention #3: Finish two more novels.

I have two books in mind that I’d like to write. One is middle grades historical fiction that takes place in 1690. I have some research to do on that one, and although it’s an exciting project, I needed a break after writing Good Medicine. This story will be even more intense to write, and I’m not quite in the headspace for it.

So I’m writing a fun contemporary romance. Although I’m struggling to find a groove writing something modern, I’ve still written 13,000 words so far. Since I have a long weekend (yay for school holidays), I’ve set a goal to double my word count by Tuesday. That seems doable if I focus.

All of this is a lot. But I keep telling myself that the end result will be worth it.

January Thoughts

I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe it’s winter. I’m still a southern girl at heart, and New York winters always put me in a funk. I’m always cold. I rarely go outside. Lack of vitamin D makes me feel grumpy and brittle and out of sorts. I don’t see much of my friends, or anyone else for that matter. Then the existential crisis creeps in.

Or maybe I’m just exhausted by the world we live in. It seems to me that whatever we’ve got going on in 21st century America is the pits. I see people work really hard and never get ahead. The solution, people say, is to work even harder, be persistent, chase those dreams. But once you achieve your dreams, you don’t get the kind of peace you wanted. You just enter a different kind of rat race.

I want to be published. I want to be a teacher.

The more I learn about publishing, the sadder I feel. My girlhood fantasies of writing a bestselling novel and being a full time writer just aren’t realistic anymore. It sucks when your fantasies are pulled up short and given a stern talking to. The best I can hope for at this point is bestselling author. I will always have to work. Even if I get published. Which, from my perspective at the moment, feels like a long shot.

And I (finally) love what I do. Substitute teaching has brought me back into the classroom and reminded me how much I love education. I would have become an English teacher years ago if my mother, a teacher, hadn’t threatened to cut me off financially the day I signed up for my first education class. Her career suggestions (waste management, police dog handler, and CEO of a fortune 500 company) were laughable. I got the MA in English, and then worked a series of soul sucking, personally unfulfilling office jobs, with a brief stint as private school teacher sandwiched in between. I’ve always wanted to teach again.

Now, with my boys half raised, and time on my hands, I could do it. I have heard from other teachers that there is some rumored way I, with a masters degree, could get certified quickly, by only taking a few courses, but literally nobody knows any details about this mythical certification pathway. So I googled it, and yes, such a program exists… however, in order to initiate said program, and become accepted into one of the two overseeing programs in the state, a school district would have to agree to employee you provisionally for three years…

I have watched my friends, who graduated from acclaimed teaching colleges in NY, with fancy. shiny, perfectly-acquired certifications struggle to find a job in local schools. What do you think the odds are that I, with no certification whatsoever, am going to convince those same schools to hire me for three years?

But let’s say they do? Then hello stress. Right now, I waltz into school in the morning and waltz right back out at the end of the day, happy as a lark. And free to go do my life. I don’t have to grade any papers, go to any meetings, call any parents, think about the curriculum, plan any lessons. Nothing.

It’s all of the fun, and none of the stress.

I just can’t stop the nagging feeling I get that I haven’t achieved anything… And being a substitute is a mere half life for those who like teaching. It’s all the teaching without the relationships with the students, the sense of accomplishment and pride, the sense of community in your school, the friends on staff.

I am an all or nothing type of person, so not going whole hog into something feels all wrong to me.

I usually can transfer that can do attitude into a craft project–make something pretty and feel that welcome sense of thorwing myself completely into a project. But even that has fallen short lately. We have a tradition in my family where everyone has a stocking made for them–it’s made of felt and sequins from a kit. In my zeal to leave everything intact for the boys after the divorce, I mistakenly left the boys’ stockings at their dad’s. So a few years back, when I got my wits together again, I endeavored to make new ones for them, for my house. A train one for Sam, because for many years he was train-obsessed. An airplane one for John, because he still is plane-obsessed.

I lost them for a while and rediscovered them recently. I have made several of these, so it’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing. And forgive me if I sound like a crabby old lady at this point, talking about the good old days, but either I’m losing it, or these stocking kits were made by a clueless someone with poor design skills and zero appreciation for the materials. NOTHING is going right with Sam’s stocking. The knots are unraveling and the sequins are pulling out, and it probably has something to do with the thread being made of some weird material that isn’t cotton. I’ve spent approximately 92 billion hours of my life sewing. I don’t think I’ve suddenly forgotten how to make a knot. The appliqued pieces don’t fit the pattern. The pattern is visible where the pieces don’t fit together. Plus, the beading needle provided has a twisted hole that is nearly impossible to thread. My sewing skills are thwarted at every turn. You can’t fix stupid and you also can’t fix a poorly-designed stocking kit with shit materials. I’m so frustrated I might just throw the whole thing in the trash.

I’m trying my best, but it’s hard to salvage anything that was designed to fail.

So I decided to take a break and picked up a book (or six) instead. Because nothing is as calming and transportive as a book.

So I’ve been reading a lot lately– fun, fluffy chic lit from the library. Lots of against all odds love stories with fun characters. I’ve read some wonderful books and have gotten so much inspiration for my work in progress, hopefully another fun, fluffy against all odds romance.

But then, this too, reminds me of my publishing woes… and the cycle starts all over.

I need a new hobby. Maybe I need to go to the gym. I don’t know what I need to do. All I know is I’m so out of sorts.

A Unicorn-Themed Birthday Party (Of Two)

My birthday is on Christmas Eve and historically, it sucks having a Christmas Eve birthday. I joke that the hospital sent me home in a stocking (true story) and it’s all been downhill ever since, but that’s not entirely accurate. Somehow, I escaped being given a Christmas-y name like Holly or Noelle (despite the fact that my mother really put some thought into which French Province I should be–Brittany or Saxony). And my family realized the suckage that was a Christmas Eve birthday and always made an effort to make the holidays fun for this only child/only grandchild and threw me a half birthday with friends at the end of June.

But when you have a Christmas Eve birthday, you learn very quickly that it will never be a normal (birth)day. I’ve learned that the odds of me getting together with friends is about nil while the odds of my presents being buried under the tree by an avalanche of Christmas presents (thus necessitating I wait a day to open them) is at about 90%. I will never know what it’s like for my birthday to be the BIG EVENT of the day, to have endless options when it comes to places to celebrate it, or to get a birthday card without some mention of Christmas on it.

It is what it is, and after 40+ birthdays, I know the deal.

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to find a friend that still makes time to hang out with me and, for the last several birthdays, Tahsia has been that friend.

In years past, we’ve gone out for burritos and a margarita as big as my head. But this year I wasn’t feeling it. Without the boys around to celebrate, and constant reminders of all the recent family deaths near the holidays, my Holly Jolly is broken. And loud restaurants and hangovers aren’t helpful in combating holiday fatigue. Also, I knew that after a weekend in NYC, this introvert was going to need days to recover. So when Tahsia asked me what we should do to celebrate my birthday this year, I took a few days to think about it, and suggested a day of crafting.

We were initially going to make a sock unicorn. After a test run (which you can read about here ), I scrapped that idea in favor of something a little less labor-intensive. We decided to try unicorn ornaments instead, and used this youtube tutorial.

I decided to stick to the theme, and got a unicorn ice cream cake, a unicorn candle, unicorn plates and napkins, and a unicorn tablecloth.

Then when I was poking around Michaels for ornament-making supplies, I found these festive unicorn headbands and got them too. Because obviously we needed them.

Unicorn head wear is wasted on the young.

So we drank eggnog and wine, ate from a beautiful charcuterie board, gorged ourselves on ice cream cake ( I made a birthday wish for a literary agent in 2020 on my fancy unicorn birthday candle! I’m counting on you birthday wish-granting universe!), and we made these.

It was lots of fun! And for me, it was a perfect day. I really love nothing more than hanging out one on one with my friends, eating, and working together on a project. It’s seriously the kind of day I live for and the best possible start to my 43rd year. I’m so grateful to Tahsia for making the time to join me.

It’s taken me a long time, but I really feel like I’m finally coming into my own. Maybe that’s a being-in-your-40s thing. I feel like I know myself and trust myself, and really know what I want out of life now and what works for me and doesn’t work for me.

For example, this party. I am never ever going to want to go out with a huge group of people, be the center of attention, have all eyes and attention on me, and endure god-knows-what groups of people do to fete birthdays. Group birthday song singalongs, toasting, singing waiters, flaming desserts, shots, inflatable bull riding, sash and tiara wearing, clubbing, what have you… I’m internally shuddering at the thought. Some people love that sort of thing, and I finally know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am definitely not among them in my love of hoopla.

I like quieter celebrations, and time to reflect on what I want my next year of life to look like. So in that spirit, here is my list of 10 intentions for the coming year.

  1. I want to get back in shape. My chiropractor has resolved the worst of my osteoarthritis pain, and I’m feeling good again. It’s time to work on reducing inflammatory foods in my diet and getting back to the gym.
  2. I hope this time next year that I have found a literary agent, and that I have finished one of the two books I’m just starting to work on.
  3. I need to give myself permission to read more.
  4. Along those same lines, I need to reclaim quiet time for myself. I do not have to be accomplishing something every second of the day.
  5. I want to deepen my connection and friendships with fellow writers and creatives.
  6. I want to travel to places I’ve never been and see old favorites with new eyes.
  7. I think my role in this house is to encourage and facilitate everybody’s creativity–not just my own. I think I’ve fallen into that naturally, but I want to be more intentional about it this year.
  8. I want to come back this time next year and be able to make a list of authors and artists that inspire me, which means I need to seek out inspiration from the world.
  9. I want to be more of myself and quit limiting and censoring my self expression.
  10. This will be a year of explosive creation.

My Love Affair With Aviator Cat

I’m not the only creative person living at the House of Bristol. My son John is equally artistic. He is absurdly mechanically inclined, though, and is interested in pursuing robotics as a career, so I doubt seriously he’ll ever be a starving artist.

In any case, back when he was in 4th grade, he came up with Aviator Cat.

I think Aviator Cat is the coolest thing ever. And I have begged and begged John to write a book about his adventures, because, let’s face it, that whole The First Journey tagline is tantalizing as hell. But he will not do it. Not for love or money (I know, because I’ve tried to bribe him).

John loves airplanes, especially WW2 aircraft, so he’s given Aviator Cat some nice wings.

I wish I could invent cool little characters out of the (literal) air.

I’ve been saving these drawings, not really sure what to do with them. But today I was struck with inspiration.

I reminded John that my birthday is next Wednesday, and said what I wanted from him, more than anything, was a new close up picture of Aviator Cat, suitable for printing on a cotton shopping bag. I adore Aviator Cat for his whimsy (and also because it’s a snapshot in time, if I’m honest) and I want to have him around for a long, long time.

So John obliged.

I made a grocery bag, but then the wheels started turning. The other pictures are so cute. I would die if I lost them, or they faded, etc. So I got the genius idea to turn the images into metal Christmas ornaments. They are going to be adorable and last a really long time.

The internet is also forever, so I’m sharing his images here, too.


Keeping Busy

The prevailing wisdom says that when you are querying your novel with literary agents, you should do something else while you are waiting on their response.

I am currently working on two other novels simultaneously. One is a complete re-write of my first (trunked) novel, that was such a godawful mess it’s almost a tragi-comedy. I always liked the idea of that novel, and maybe I’m just stubborn, but I hate the thought that something I wrote is sitting out there, in literary urgent care, and I haven’t done my darnedest to fix it. With some new characters, more maturity, a whole different perspective, and a completely new plot, I think I can turn that initial idea into something someone might want to read.

The second novel is more historical fiction, set in 1690. I’m still researching this one. It’s such a minor event from history that there aren’t many primary sources who’ve written about it and I’ve reached a point where I can’t find any information about the part of the story I want to tell. I can probably piece it together from what I do know, but even that takes time.

Plus, I haven’t been in much of a writing mood either. It’s the end of year with all its craziness, and I’ve been sick, and I’m tired, and it’s cold outside, and I just need a break. But since I have all this nervous energy to burn, and always feel like I have to keep my hands occupied, I’ve been doing a lot of crafting.

Last week I made dolls for two of my characters. You can read about that here.

This week I helped out at Makerspace at the boys’ middle school, and those who wanted to craft made these cute yarn birds.

Sam and the yarn bird he made.

Then my friend Tashia messaged me and said we needed to start thinking about what to do for my birthday.

My birthday is Christmas Eve, and ever since I’ve known her, Tahsia and I have hung out on my birthday. Usually we go to a restaurant in Schenectady where we split my free birthday margarita. I usually spend the rest of the day passed out in a tequila coma, and fun is had by all. But I wasn’t feeling it this year. I suggested we make a craft instead.

We decided to do a cute sock unicorn craft we saw on youtube. I had most everything we needed for it, and it didn’t look too hard to make.

But I have gotten much smarter in my old age. Once upon a time, I would have pulled out everything the day of and we’d just have to figure it out as we go along. Tahsia likes to craft, but readily admits that she isn’t naturally crafty. I am naturally crafty but spatially unaware and entirely logic impaired. I was going to have to lead this crafting activity, but I could see how a lot could go wrong.

So smart Brittany decided to make a prototype here and see what we were dealing with.

Smart move. This sweet-looking little unicorn was hell on four hooves to make. So. Much. Sewing. So. Much. Measuring. So. Much. Hot. Glue. It takes hours and hours to make.

In high school, my friend Michael summed me up in a sentence. He told me that if the ends don’t justify the means, I don’t waste my time. You want to know everything you need to know about me? Well, there you go.

This unicorn is cute. But the cute to pain in the butt ratio does not skew in its favor. I am highly unlikely to make another one of these. In a fit of pique–mid hand-stitched hair (gah!), I started googling other sock unicorn patterns and found one substantially easier looking and just as cute.

I’ll keep you posted on our progress.