Coronavirus Diary Part 3

I’m afraid this blog is going to start getting really boring. The days seem to blend together, with very little to break up the monotony of having to stay inside. Yesterday, two (semi) exciting things happened (and the fact that they were exciting shows how bored we are.) Jeremy and I went to deposit a check at the bank and then got coffee. When we got home, we got a delivery of fresh produce from Field Goods.

Because of my diet, I really enjoy fruits and vegetables now. Fruit, especially, is my fun food. They must’ve known that I have some corned beef in the freezer because they sent me a cabbage bigger than my head, a bunch of potatoes, and big, fat carrots.

We also got a bag full of apples, lots of bananas, some pears, and some mandarin oranges. We ordered a few other things too–cashews and the cheese of the week. I avoid dairy completely except for the rare latte and some hard cheese. It doesn’t seem to bother me, but I’m avoiding dairy right now because it makes me mucus-y and I have enough to worry about without wondering if every sniffle is Coronavirus. (I’m looking at you, seasonal allergies.)

Today we took the dogs up to Saratoga Spa State Park and had a nice walk. We’re having such a nice, warm spring and it’s so nice to get out, exercise, and get some fresh air. On the way home, we stopped at got some bagels at the local bagel shop, and then stopped in at a convenience store for some eggs (for the banana bread). We feel fortunate that food stores are all open and well stocked. We’re trying to avoid going out as much as possible and minimizing our contact with others (For example, I will not set foot in a grocery store. I’ll go foraging in the woods first.) But at the same time, we feel like we should support local businesses as much as possible. Everything is take out now, and according to the CDC we’re safe to get food that way. I guess it remains to be seen if that’s enough to prevent the spread.

New York has the most cases in the US, but cases locally aren’t quite as crazy (although, admittedly, no one is really getting tested). Part of me wants to barricade myself in the house and not come out til this is over, but they say this may last months and months, so that’s not really an option.

We went on another walk around the neighborhood looking for rainbows in people’s windows. That has really exploded in the last couple of days. The group has been on the news several times now and rainbows are everywhere. It’s cheerful and makes this all a little less hard.

I have to admit, I love being home and having nowhere I need to go, but with everything going on in the world, I feel deeply troubled and on edge. I am trying hard to keep my spirits up and I’m doing that through crafting.

I’ve done some embroidery.

I also brought home some pottery from the studio and spent all day painting. Tomorrow the studio is closing until further notice. This makes me incredibly sad. It feels a little like the world is ending in tiny increments. I had to apply for unemployment on Friday. It gives me a weird, un-tethered feeling.

I need to focus my energy on something else–maybe write a new novel. Unfortunately, I can’t get out of my head to write something happy, and all the other ideas I have are very sad. I don’t much want to marinate in sadness for a prolonged period of time. It won’t be good for my mental health.

Hopefully inspiration will strike soon. I’m looking for something new to do.

As I type this, I am dehydrating cinnamon apple chips in the dehydrator. Tomorrow I’ll make some loaves of banana bread to freeze. I’m going to get fancy and add some chocolate chips. That’s what passes for excitement around here these days.

Coronavirus Diary Part 2

It hasn’t even been a week since my first Coronavirus post, and in that time, I feel like I’ve lived ten lifetimes. I am keeping this diary as a record of what is happening, and also because I scarcely believe what is happening myself. Maybe if I write it down it will start to feel real.

It wasn’t long ago that Jeremy and I were driving back from a stock up shopping run at Target. It was a beautiful day and life was so, so normal. But I had this gut feeling that this was the last good day. I remember telling Jeremy that we should enjoy this day, because, just like we all might’ve felt on September 10th, if we were clairvoyant, there was this sense that whatever normal felt like, we’d seen the last of it for a long time.

Since Friday, the schools closed, nominally, for a week. Then the governor over a succession of days, closed not only the schools, the theaters, and all large public gatherings, but all the stores, all the gyms, any place people might gather. We went from no gatherings below 250 to 100 to 50 to 10. As the week has progressed, our lives have telescoped inwards until there is very little left of it. There is a rhythm to life in our little village. Spring means Jumping Jacks opens. There are concerts at the Village Green. Collins Park is always hopping. For entertainment, there is the little one-screen movie theater, or Proctors theater in Schenectady. When the weather warms up, the drive ins open. After a long, isolating winter, people start flocking together, enjoying the warm weather. None of that can happen right now.

What can we do? We can stay in the house. Homeschool our bewildered children. Take a walk, but only with our immediate family. With the news constantly admonishing social distancing, saying we should all assume we have Coronavirus until further notice, no one says hello anymore. There’s a wariness when others approach. The dogs are confused. What is the world where the people never leave the house, and where strangers don’t stop or acknowledge them? Today we walked the dogs around the block. Neighbors were out, so I waved and said hello. The woman hid behind her glass screen door and looked spooked by my greeting. Restaurants that were once thriving and busy can only do takeout now. But so can bars. New York changed its laws to allow take out booze. Busy owners are lost. No one had any time to prepare for all these changes. They’ve swept us up and we just have to figure it out. Teachers are scrambling to put lessons together for students they have no idea when they’ll see next. And business owners have to create a new business model and pivot, for who knows how long, praying a community where few are working supports them enough to survive.

There are no words.

And this, the experts say, is just the beginning. This is the pre-emptive shit. We haven’t even seen the shitstorm on the horizon.

The news makes it sound like we’re all just ticking time bombs, and in a week or two, those of us who lost the viral lottery are suddenly going to start showing symptoms. In the meantime, what can we do? Not take ibuprofen, or elderberry, or gargle hot water, because none of it works. You’re either going to be okay or you’re not, and may the odds (and your immune system) be ever in your favor.

I am not enjoying this plot twist that has turned my life into bad YA apocalyptic fiction–that’s all take out restaurants and toilet paper shortages? Come on! Who wrote this shit?

Anyway, people are doing the best they can to bolster each other. Since our only entertainment these days is walking or driving around the neighborhood, a local elementary school PTA suggested we should have a neighborhood rainbow hunt, so parents can take their kids out for a scavenger hunt. God knows I have enough craft supplies here to keep me busy for the duration of our quarantine and then some, so I whipped this little guy up.

He’s the rainbowiest rainbow gnome that ever rainbowed.

I wish I could do more. I know so many people are just completely at the end of their tether. But somehow art makes everything better. We’re all turning to it in this time of great uncertainty. I spent the whole day embroidering today, trying to settle myself. When I’m finished, I’ll post a picture. For now it’s a work in progress.

Coronavirus Diary Part 1

I’d been quietly stressing about Coronavirus for weeks. I’d been paying attention to the news on twitter, and was reading the first-person accounts coming out of Wuhan, then Italy. I became quite alarmed 1) because I have lung damage from a double whooping cough/pneumonia infection in 2008, am prone to bad colds that turn into bad bronchitis, and I don’t want to EVER have pneumonia again and 2) nobody in this country seemed to be very worried. We don’t breathe rarified air in US. Our worlds are interconnected now and whatever is in one part of the world can be here in the blink of a international flight.

Then, because I’m a masochist, I watched this documentary series.

It scared me so badly I went into Chicken Little mode. The parallels between then and now are too similar to ignore. Much to Jeremy’s dismay, I started buying a multi-week supply of groceries and pet food. He thought I was being a little bit hysterical, but humored me. We stocked up on groceries over the weekend. Bought a chest freezer and a dehydrator. With my diet needs, I needed to be sure I had food on hand that wouldn’t make me feel bad. We tried to be prepared for whatever was going to happen.

Jeremy and I had a trip to NYC planned but were waiting to see what happened before we got a hotel room. I was feeling more and more uneasy about the trip. With so much talk in the news of patients being quarantined, etc. I was afraid we might get stuck in the city, which, while lovely most of the time, was not the place to be in a pandemic. I thought back to the video I’d watched, especially the parts about hospital overcrowding, and basically said there was no effing way I wanted to be in NYC, with a population of 8 million other possibly infected people, if I might need to be hospitalized. We talked about it, and had decided that even if things were still open, we wouldn’t travel. We also decided not to visit Jeremy’s family for Easter. It seemed irresponsible to leave an area with known cases to visit an area with no cases. So that was settled.

Wednesday night President Trump had a press conference finally acknowledging the seriousness of Coronavirus.

After that, shit got real.

Thursday morning, I went to Walmart and found one bottle of Lysol clean up spray, which was such a miracle, I felt like I’d struck gold. I am not normally a germaphobe, and didn’t think to get Lysol or hand sanitizer in bulk. I’m still not sure it would make much difference against an airborne virus but I’ll use it if I can…

Before I left for work I stopped into Hannaford to grab a bottle of water and a gallon of dish soap. It was a madhouse in there. Everyone seemed to be stocking up on necessities. New Rochelle was already quarantined, so we all knew that was a possibility. I was waiting in line at self checkout, and since I’m short I couldn’t see over the shelving separating us from the regular check out lanes. But I saw a shopping cart go flying over and a guy my age literally vault over the waist high metal barrier.separating us from the check out line. My first thought was maybe there was a riot over toilet paper, or wow some people go to some crazy lengths to cut in line. But people went running and someone said an old man who’d been standing in the line just collapsed, and hit his head on the floor hard. There are a lot of reasons an old man might collapse, but this seemed different somehow. Now we all knew that it might be Coronavirus and all that contracting it meant (self isolation or quarantine). But no one balked about going up to him and helping him.

An ambulance was called. A lovely woman (a Hannaford employee) helped the old man as he came to. He said there was no one he wanted called. It was scary/sad/nerve-wracking. I’m worried for our older population, and anyone else with a compromised immune system. I said a little prayer of protection for them and all my older relatives. May they all survive this.

I went to the studio completely rattled, to gather up my stuff to teach my class at a local elementary school in the Shen district. When I got there, it was pandemonium. Parents were picking kids up with no notice and 6 kids were missing from my class. No one was really sure if the program would continue or not. All the teachers were in a meeting about next steps. Apparently the governor had shut down Broadway and banned gatherings of over 50 people. Sports organizations were suspending and ending seasons. Jeremy was at home and sending me a play by play. It was like brick by brick the foundation of our normal life was being dismantled. You could see everyone process this with a numb acceptance. Everyone had this battle face on. I heard a lot of people saying it has to be done. We’re all going to get this. Let’s just hope it’s only temporary.

Oh did I mention I also have a bad cold? I have NONE of the symptoms of Coronavirus–it’s definitely a cold–but I feel like crap and this whole thing is putting me on edge and making me want to hind in my house, in my bed, where it’s safe.

After the craziness at the elementary school, I went to the studio to teach a glass class to adults. There were a lot of teachers taking the class, buzzing about everything that had been shut down: all professional sports teams, Broadway, gatherings, concerts, then the school districts decided to put a halt to all after school activities. My new part time job sort of evaporated right there, as I was mostly hired to teach at the after school programs in several school districts. No one wanted to talk about anything else, and their phones were all dinging with updates. We were all in a state of shock. Frankly it was unprecedented to close everything. Banning flights from Europe. Shutting down everything even remotely entertaining in the country. The studio owner suggested we try to change the subject to happier topics, but it was just a constant conversation. Then the stock market imploded. There was so much to process. I think everyone needed to talk about it, to collectively grieve our new reality.

I had a job at a school today but cancelled it and rested all day. To be honest, I wanted to cancel all my jobs for the foreseeable future. It seemed unsafe to travel around 4 school districts where I could either contract or transmit the Coronavirus. It made me really nervous that everything was cancelling but not the schools. It seemed counterproductive. But at the same time, I knew that the schools were worried about feeding kids and making sure they were well taken care of. They wouldn’t close until it was their last resort.

The end of the school day arrived. The boys reported it was a normal school day–there was no hint of what was to come. President Trump declared a National Emergency at 3:30pm and it wasn’t an hour before the notifications came in. Every school district in the area closed one by one. There went my other job up in smoke. I can’t even say I mind. I’m ready to hunker down in my house and hopefully ride this out in safety and good health.

The boys’ school is closed all week and will re-evaluate whether it will reopen on the 20th. I told the boys to get used to being out of school for a while. I suspect they won’t be back any time soon. 96 new cases today in NY and the first case in our own county.

I had forced the boys weeks ago to watch the 1918 flu video–so they would have some understanding of what might be happening. I had shown them all the groceries and how to prepare everything in case I was too sick to make them food. They humored me, but didn’t think any of my apocalyptic predictions could happen. As they watched all the schools around us closing unexpectedly, and all my predictions coming true, I think the reality of this situation began to dawn on them. As a parent, I hate that they will have pandemic stories to tell.

This is going to be mine..

Dublin – A Memory

Sometimes you don’t realize how important an event or time period is going to be in your life until you’re well beyond it, and can look back at it with older, wiser eyes.

I’ve never really written about my trip to Dublin in 2017, and I think I should. Winter makes me nostalgic. With time on its hands, my mind starts dredging up old memories, and it’s my nature to analyze them all. I’m also feeling so very middle-aged, and am wanting to take stock of my life so far and get a clearer idea of where I want to go next.

This introspection started ramping up around my 40th birthday, back in December of 2016. I felt like I had made such a mess of my life, and had lost touch with who I was, and who I wanted to be. As a teenager, I had found myself in Europe, and it called me back, promising to do it again.

I hadn’t been to Europe in 15 years, mostly because September 11th happened right at the cusp of my independent adulthood and it seemed scary to fly abroad for a while, and then I had small children, and flying to Europe and jaunting around the Old Country with toddlers just seemed like masochistic.

But in 2016, I was determined to return. I had waited too long. I was single. Adrift. Had had a series of awful, short-lived, absolutely-nowhere relationships. I hated my job. I hated where I was in life. I was going through all the motions, and yet hadn’t made any big steps. Going to Europe seemed like a bold step in the right direction.

London will always be my favorite place on Earth. The very air sings to my DNA and I feel more at home there than I’ve ever felt anywhere in the world. Initially, I was going to go there. But then I happened to catch P.S. I Love You on TV, and the thought of going to Ireland started to appeal to me. When I looked up flights to Dublin, it was substantially cheaper to fly there. It seemed like the universe was giving me a nudge.

It was so absolutely random that I decided to go there. It would have made much more sense to go to London, where I’d always been planning to go.

I don’t always make sense though–not even to myself.

Anyway, I went with my gut and booked the trip.

I knew so little about Ireland that I went in search of some insider information, in the form of an Irish pen pal. That is how I found myself on Irish Craigslist one day, reading ads from Irish folks looking for pen pals around the world. No one inspired me to write until I came across an add that seemed more thoughtful than most. He was 48, separated, feeling a bit gut-kicked in life, and looking for a friend. I knew immediately that I was that friend. I sent him a message. He replied. And so began an avalanche of correspondence that went on for almost a year.

His name was Colm and he hit me like a bolt out of the blue. I can’t really put into words what it was like to get to know him. Only that for the first time in my life, I really felt seen, and understood. We were at similar points in our lives, having chucked a marriage to the wayside, and were figuring out where to go from there. Both of us were struggling with what we’d been told we should do versus what felt right to us. Neither of us gave a whit about what people thought of us, and I think we both needed to know that there was someone else, on the other side of the world, feeling the same feelings and wanting the same things from life.

If you’re wondering if this is the start of a love story, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but no, it’s not. Colm was more like an older, wiser brother to me. Someone who’d been around the block a few more times, had a been-there-done-that mentality, and tried his hardest to keep me out of trouble (without being the slightest bit parental).

Our friendship was intense and life-altering. Even now, I struggle to describe what it felt like. As I said before, I felt immediately seen and known. It was as if he’d been my lifelong friend, who’d been called away for a time, and suddenly reappeared. Finding me not quite as happy and shiny as he’d left me, he immediately set to work setting me back to rights.

I don’t normally have intense relationships like that, and it was so intense and unexpected and mid-blowing that I searched for some kind of an explanation for it. The best I can figure was that Colm was my twin soul–or someone you are intensely bonded to, who you work with to tackle cosmic life lessons and achieve inner peace. Sorry to get all metaphysical on you, but I think I fell off the path at some point in my life, so the universe sent Colm to Craigslist in order to leave me a breadcrumb trail.

So I went to Ireland. Alone. Colm picked me up at the airport and took me on a tour of the Irish countryside. We went to Drogheda to see the martyr Oliver Plunkett’s sainted head, preserved in a jar inside a cathedral there (a strange first experience in Ireland to be sure, but whatever). Then he took me to Newgrange.

Newgrange

It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but it pre-dates the Egpytian pyramids and should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s a mystical, magical place. The sort of place that is few and far between in this world, because it makes you think about the people who came before, and what they created, and why they created it. Newgrange is thought to be a burial mound, and the swirls carved on the walls signify the cyclical nature of life. Colm thought I needed to see it.

Newgrange holds a secret. During the Winter Solstice, a beam of light pierces the roof box, which causes sunlight to stream into the dark tomb, illuminating it completely. It is amazing to me that long-ago humans worked out how to do this, and built a monument that so quietly, but perfectly, sums up so many different ideas and theologies about the relationship between light and darkness.

I think it is so ironic that of all the places he could’ve taken me in Ireland, Colm felt I needed to 1. See the man with his head in a jar–a metaphor for the life I no longer wanted to live, if there ever was one. And 2. Newgrange, a perfect metaphor for my future. It was a profound experience to be there with him because, in many ways, he was that shaft of light that had pierced my inner core, letting light back in.

After Newgrange, Colm drove me back to Dublin, dropped me off at my hotel, and I resumed the rest of my trip alone. In light of the story I was building up to, you would have thought we would have spent more time together, wouldn’t you? He lived 20 minutes away. He could have popped back to Dublin any number of times. But so it goes. The universe sends us what we need. Colm fulfilled his mandated Twin Soul mission. The rest of the work, I needed to do myself.

I walked around and explored a lot. I took a bus tour through every loop in the city. I learned a lot about Dublin’s history and culture. It was not all churches and leprechauns and pubs. But there was certainly a lot of that, too.

I went to the Dublin Writer’s Museum for inspiration. I went to the Viking Museum. The Leprechaun Museum. Ate fish and chips. Gorged myself on fresh brown bread and butter with steaming bowls of soup. I took naps in the afternoon. I people watched and people listened. I met my blogger friend for drinks. We bitched about our marriages and our frustrations with dating and writing. She had just been published and her book was everywhere. It felt like meeting a celebrity. And she was so inspiring. Living the sort of life I wanted for myself. I felt the light coming in. The love of art. The love of travel. Poking around museums. Being alone. The love of writing. The desire to create again.

And then I got a tattoo.

It reads “Her heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high.”

I have vasovagal syncope and wasn’t even sure I’d be able to make it through a tattoo without passing out cold on the floor. I once passed out because I scraped my heel on a brick, so it was a legitimate worry. Instead of a little test tattoo to make sure I could tolerate it, I went for a six hour one with color for maximum pain and endurance testing. And I didn’t pass out. So, go me.

I have a new appreciation for tattoos now and the reasons why people get them. While I was under the needle, it was almost like some kind of vision quest. Forcing me to confront all the little hurts I kept bottled up. Giving my emotional pain a physical manifestation that I could identify and deal with.

I put that emotional pain on my skin–the feeling that I’m different from most people–and wanting to keep myself closed off for fear that the wild, unruliness of my soul is more bother than beauty. In some ways,getting tattooed was a form of visible self-acceptance, and it felt good to get the words that described me permanently etched into my skin. The quote is from the Princess Bride – “Her heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high.” The garden is only slightly visible through the keyhole, but the light from it beckons and it hints at a very warm, magical place, if only you can get in.

I’ve never loved anything more in my life.

I came back home different. In a completely new headspace. I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted my life to look like and who I wanted in it. Colm and I still talked nearly every day. He still dispensed great advice. I figured we’d be friends forever.

But one day, soon after Jeremy and I started dating, Colm fell off the face of the Earth. I sent him a message. Two messages. No reply. Just as quickly as he appeared in my life, he disappeared.

The universe knew I didn’t need a pen pal anymore. What I needed was Jeremy.

The Right Direction

Late February into March is always terrible in New York. Spring is just over the horizon, but you wouldn’t know it, because the landscape is bleak and dark, the ground is snow and ice covered, and the air is painful. The spirit just deflates around so much winter.

New Yorkers are a tough breed. We send our kids outside to play in 18 degrees and the general attitude is “Get used to it.”

I have lived in New York for almost 10 years now, so I am used to it. I am used to the cyclical nature of things, the lightning fast, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-spring, that morphs overnight into two oppressive months of sticky, sun-soaked summer, followed by a short wonderland of fall. Then snow upon snow upon snow. I’m already thinking about all the things that must be done when spring is here. But since I can’t do anything about it yet, it has put me in a contemplative headspace (which is a dangerous gear for my brain to get stuck in). I am thinking a lot about all the things I want to do. All the things I need to do. Planning trips for when the weather is better. Thinking about what I want this year to look like.

While I’m sitting here gnashing at the bit to do all these things, I’ve been holed up in my little house, killing time reading. One of the things I’ve been reading is a blog I like, and this week the topic has been the slow decline and death from cancer of a friend of the blogger. This person left a life half-lived, and died regretting that they hadn’t gotten in shape, traveled the world, and generally done more with the time they had.

And this of course triggered a whole avalanche of memories about my aunt, who died in 2017 of a brain tumor. She, too, died before she had a chance to live the life she dreamed of. And I think about her every day. I miss her. But my love for her is complicated by the fact that she is also my cautionary tale. The person I most look to and say I do not want to grow up and have lived life like you did. I do not want to die at age 65 never having achieved any of the things I always talked about achieving. I’m also angry at her for acting like she had endless days to turn her ship around.

We do not get endless days.

I hope wherever she is she’s not offended (because I would be deeply offended if I was someone’s poster child of a misspent life.)

Sometimes it feels like she is hovering just over my shoulder, cheering me on for having the bravery to go after the things she did not. Because the life I’m living now is because, for the last 4 years, I’ve continually asked myself What didn’t Aunt Rhonda do?

She didn’t leave her crappy marriage to my abusive uncle, who treated her like garbage and cheated on her repeatedly. In fact, every time they divorced, she ended up right back with him. Once she told me that she felt like God himself had gifted my Uncle to her. That, and her purpose in life was to love him in spite of their difficulties.

I still believe that is the biggest steaming pile of bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life. That she had it the wrong way around. She was the gift to my Uncle, her and her love for him, a love that he chose not to accept, not to treasure, and not to nourish.

My personal philosophy is that when someone doesn’t want the gift you’re offering them, you take it back to the store, return it for a refund, and use that refund for something for yourself. Or non-metaphorically, you just divorce the bastard. And stay that way.

I kept all of this in mind as I navigated my own divorce. Don’t be like Aunt Rhonda was my mantra every time it got hard. I looked at my aunt’s relationship with my selfish, dismissive uncle and kept telling myself, “She deserved to be loved back. She deserved a man who appreciated her. She deserved to be treated with respect. And I do, too.

Aunt Rhonda was also the supporting actress in her own life. She always put others’ needs ahead of her own, and never demanded her due. If she had, she wouldn’t have died with so much left unfinished and not experienced. I think about that often as I go about my life. She deserved to selfishly follow her dreams. She should have taken those trips, alone if need be, and seen what she could have of the world.

I am determined to go to the nursing exhausted from a life well-lived. If I’m breathing, I will always strive to do more. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is that I control my own life story. My life story shouldn’t control me. So I try to write new chapters as often as I can.

That’s why I went by myself on a 40th birthday trip to Dublin. I wasn’t going to let money, or a lack of traveling companion, or fear, or whatever, hold me back. It was something I wanted to do for myself, needed to do for myself. I could see with my own eyes the cost of not following my dreams.

That trip, incidentally, changed the course of my life. I came back from it super glued back together, my spirit restored.

Aunt Rhonda also struggled mightily with her weight, while always saying she was dieting, but not dieting really. As my weight began to creep up, I would look in the mirror and see my body carrying weight like hers had. I saw all her struggles, saw all the ways her weight gain held her back, caused her pain, and made her life harder. Toward the end of her life, she seemed resigned to it all.

I’m not going to let what happened to her happen to me. As I’ve written before, I’m determined to figure out what I’m doing wrong, and get back to a healthy weight, even if it means I can’t eat the foods I love.

My elimination diet has revealed that I have some food intolerances that I wasn’t expecting and there are foods I have to cut out of my diet permanently. I’m sad about it. But I want to feel good more than I want to eat ice cream. I’ve been at it for almost 2 months now and have already lost a clothing size. I have a much better idea of what is safe for me to eat and knowing my body better makes me feel so much stronger and more in control of my health.

Because so little available in stores is safe for me, Jeremy and I bought a food dehydrator and a chest freezer so I can start stockpiling foods that are healthy for me. I spent the weekend making banana and strawberry chips. It’s good to feel like I’m making healthy decisions and moving in the right direction.

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.