Crying isn’t something I do a ton of. Teary eyed over a touching commercial or thinking about something special, yes. Full blown sob, no.
That wasn’t the case this week. I’ll be describing what I’ve experienced over the past few days as “heart openers” – moments that broke my chest open and released emotions I didn’t know were lingering just below the surface.
On the Spot
There are two things that completely traumatize me: meetings and public speaking. I try my best to manage my anxiety around these things and have made strides over time. But when I was put on the spot by a leader at work meeting, assigning me to a presentation in front of 140+ people, any coping skills I had flew out the window. Heart Opener 1: Release of pure terror about having to do something that is literally what my nightmares are made of. I somehow made it through the rest of that day in a fog, holding back the flood of tears. I became incapacitated from sobbing on the way and upon arriving home.
Joel changed his plans so he could come home and be with me. I cleaned up my face as well as I could and we headed into town for dinner. On the way to town, we happened upon a kitten lost on the side of the road. I didn’t know then, but this would be my third heart opener, which I’ll talk about shortly.
That kitten was exactly what I needed. It was the perfect distraction. It forced me to remember what is important and that I have so many places my heart can rest – like when I’m holding an affectionate, purring kitten. Divine intervention came to mind. It felt too good to be true in that devastating moment for me.
I continued on as I always do. Worked my butt off, including an event I worked on Saturday, which luckily turned out to be heart opener number two. I threw together the presentation and practiced it over and over again. Our CFO surprised me by stopping by my office, and after recognizing my fears, became an unexpected public speaking coach. He used to be in my shoes (utterly mortified), but forces himself to practice so he can speak in front of people comfortably. He gave me tips, he met with me to do a run through the morning of, he introduced me before I presented, and off I went. I think it went well (I’m a terrible judge of myself because I “black out” during presentations) and we gave each other high fives when it was over.
This heart opener has a few parts. Feeling the DEEP fear I have for public speaking burst to the surface. And surviving the presentation. Letting the fear flood out of my heart was painful and felt endless. But I lived. The pain I was feeling transitioned into pride, knowing that even though I didn’t give a Mel Robbins level speech, with shaky knees and racing thoughts, I stepped up and did it. I faced my nightmare. It’s still a nightmare, but it lost a little bit of its scariness. I was also able to connect with someone who I never expected to connect with and am better off for it.
Sense of Community
As I mentioned, I worked an event over the weekend. Weekend events are OK – but better when my buddy, Romina, is there. I expected it to be a typical event, people come by our table, take some freebies, chat a bit, leave. There was that, but it felt different.
The event was called “Take Back Our Community” and was hosted by two local men from Friends of Health the Family, Inc. who want to make our community a better place. The event’s focus was a “celebration of our neighborhoods, a renewal of our spirit of togetherness, and a reorganization of our progress in supporting our town, our neighborhoods, our homes, and our families.”
Heart Opener 2: Creating a new friendship with the organizers and feeling welcomed into a community that isn’t necessarily “mine.” Mike and Cory were attentive to our needs, thankful we were there, and their passion for our community was palpable. Attendees were receptive to our information and even if they didn’t stop by, they thanked us for being there. We were one of few vendors, so it meant a lot to them that we showed up to offer our support. I didn’t feel worthy of the gratitude we were receiving, and I forgot I was working. By being there – you were part of it. Welcomed with open arms.
We watched so many impressive performances by youth and adults from Waterloo. Proud of where they live. Wanting to live in harmony with their neighbors. Encouraging youth to find outlets that keep them off the street – away from drugs and guns and violence. This heart opener ran deep. With love for the African American community, the joy they spread, and the sense of unified community among them that is extremely unique and admirable. I felt privileged to be accepted into that community without hesitation on their part, when I easily could have been the “enemy” in today’s societal climate.
Now it’s time to get to the found kitten I named Percy (because he purred so much). Who won my heart immediately and broke it to pieces when we parted ways.
As I mentioned, I feel like it was divine intervention meeting Percy. This is Heart Opener 3 for more reasons than one: First, to break my fear thought cycle; Second, to remind me where my heart lies at the end of the day; Third, to serve as a reaffirming sign for something Joel and I had just started talking about.
We scooped him up from the side of the road. He was very small and malnourished, so we took him home and fed him. I called my sister who has farm cats and asked if he could stay with them. We took him over and he seemed to fit right in. He was fearless, curious, affectionate, and loving. He ate some food and drank some water while we were there. But each day, he seemed to get more ill. When I went to pick him up three days later, we was visibly sick and couldn’t walk well.
I thought he had passed away in the car, but upon getting home, he hadn’t. He was his happy, cuddly self. He wanted to be with me. So as I bawled, I called Joel to help me determine whether to let him pass away or take him to the humane society. We decided to take him to the humane society in hopes they could help him. Before Joel got home, I wrapped Percy up in a towel and held him close, walked to the backyard and petted him. Told him he was loved. I held him all the way to the humane society. With red eyes and tears all over my face, I handed him over. They must have thought he could recover because they did not put him down, but he did pass away overnight.
It’s amazing what an impact animals can have on us. I knew him for such a short time, but all animals are sacred in my book, and he didn’t deserve to die. But that happens. It’s just the way things are sometimes.
This heart opener was needed. Amid the fear flowing out of me, I needed love and hope to combat it. I loved this little one and hoped he would get better. Even though he didn’t, he was a significant sign for me and I’ll never forget him.
Here I am on the other side of these moments. Head above water. Still breathing. Changed. These moments were so saturated with meaning, they stood out from the day to day. They challenged me and scared me and warmed me and humbled me. They happened. And for that, I am grateful. My heart is open in three new ways. That’s significant. That’s needed. For all of us.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but if you live in Iowa, you know this past winter was LONG. Painfully long. The entire state was going stir crazy. Then all of a sudden it was summer and here we are in July already!
Winter is a season I welcome because life quiets down. Our calendar opens up, allowing for a lot of staying home and settling in. Spring and summer always catch me by surprise. I like to ease into things, but our schedule becomes completely insane the moment the last bit of snow melts. The <gasp> social events start lining up back-to-back, consuming every open block of time we have.
I’m trying my best to shift my perspective toward all of the social interaction that has happened and is to come this year. When I’ve wanted to say, “No.” I’ve said, “Yes.” For the most part – boundaries still have to exist and when I’m drained, I have to crash. Three events in one day is my max. I’ve showed up when in the past I would have freaked and stayed home. No matter how scared I feel, I push myself to be present.
This decision has had both its good and bad moments. I feel very rusty socially. Like I’m flexing my social muscles for the first time in a long time. I say this because I’m trying to use them in a different way – showing up as myself for better or worse vs. just being a warm body in the room.
Even though I’m social 40+ hours a week at work, when it comes to being social in my free time, “being good” at it is hit or miss. I can do robotic, professional conversation with ease. But when it comes to unscripted, unplanned conversation that <double gasp> involves talking about myself, revealing unseen pieces of me – it’s tough. Because this, all of this:
Check, check, check…External validation, baby. My number one nemesis. I will bend backward until it hurts with a smile on my face if it means you’ll think I’m perfect.
One item that really stuck out to me, that may explain why I feel like being more social has felt rough, is: “Changing the way you present yourself to accommodate those you are with, only to realize that you no longer know who you are.” That, 100%. That has been on my mind a lot lately. In my effort to find genuine connection with those I’m spending time with – attempting to share more of who I am to do this – I find it hard to do because I have these stock responses ready that I know are acceptable, but I’m bored of saying them.
Smile. Laugh. Insert generic responses here. Trip over a word. Say something “dumb.” Stop talking because I don’t want to make a bigger fool of myself. Become consumed with how I’m being perceived. Lose track of the present because I’m in my head. Count the minutes until I can exit the situation.
All for the sake of trying to be perceived the way I suppose deep down I want to be perceived and the way I suppose deep down I believe others want to perceive me. Enough perceives for you? I promise I won’t use that word again. In this post.
I will say though, that even though it has been uncomfortable for me to put myself out there and try to be a more present person for those around me, I am proud of myself. It’s been really frightening. It’s forced me push through challenging moments that I normally ruminate on, because I’m off to the next event and need to be there, not inside my head. It’s giving me a bigger glimpse into who I am while I simultaneously try to find some pride and confidence in what that looks like.
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom. True relationships are starting to take shape. A better one with myself. A better one with others, old and new. Although my old habits haunt me, I’m trying to stay the course. With each social encounter, attempting to shed some of the impossible standards I have for myself in order to "fit in," allowing my true “tribe” to stick around and others to fall away.
I know I’m not alone in this struggle. Tell me how you navigate being authentically YOU!
Good golly, we’ve done SO MUCH since February of this year, which I recapped quickly in the beginning of my last post.
We took an awesome family vacation with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and niece to Arizona in February, right when it was terribly cold and snowy here in Iowa. It was good to be removed from it enough to laugh at everyone who was stuck with it while we soaked in the sun! But, you better believe we were paid back upon arriving home.
Every day was a new adventure. We went to so many fun places! Here are a few pictures. If you are interested in anything you see us doing, let me know and I can give you more specific details.
One of the things we really enjoyed was riding horses out in the desert! It was so beautiful. Just Joel and I went, and it was a great time. He’s officially a true cowboy in my eyes because his horse tripped on the way up a rocky hill and Joel just somersaulted right off him like a PRO! He popped up, totally OK. It was scary/amazing/funny, all at the same time. Here we are (as you can tell, Joel's horse was crazy to begin with):
While we were away in Arizona, it got even better. We got a call from our realtor that after being on the market for less than a week, our first home (turned rental property after we moved to the acreage) had an offer! We were thrilled, especially because we went over 12 months the first time around with not one single offer.
From there it was full steam ahead getting the house fixed up and cleaned out for the next owner! The new owner was so excited to get into the house and we couldn’t be happier that someone who truly loves the home is making it their own. We are also very relieved we don’t have this expense hanging over our heads anymore.
It was emotional to let go. I had a pretty tough time, trying to spend as much time there before closing as I could. Appreciating every corner, finish, and flaw for everything it had given us in over 10 years of living there and owning it. First homes are special for so many different reasons, but that house was especially good to us.
Two weeks to the day after closing on the house, I was on a plane to Washington, D.C. for the second time in my role at the nonprofit clinic I work for. We go every year to advocate for community health centers because we depend on federal funding to keep our doors open. There is a “Day on the Hill” portion where we meet with legislators followed by a day or two of conference sessions.
In between the work, we do get to sight see a tiny bit. This year I got to go to Arlington National Cemetery, ride the Metro for the first time, eat lunch in the art museum, and visit the zoo. Arlington was especially moving. You have to see it in person to believe it. It’s an overwhelming experience to physically see the true cost of war. Lives. So many lives. I felt privileged and humbled to be there, wishing I could personally thank each and every one of the people buried there for their commitment and service to our country.
March rolled into April which brought some nasty storms and damage to our acreage. We lost a good chunk of shingles on our roof and a large tree uprooted, falling on the corner of our shed. Definitely could have been worse, but I’m glad it wasn’t. Very thankful for my husband and brother-in-law for busting out some hard tasks to get everything patched and cleaned up. Stuff like this can be fun if you’re in good company, which I was.
In April I also flew a kite with my amazing cousins, did some DIY projects, got our yard set-up for a summer of fires, and had our garden tilled. Although I don’t have any pictures to share yet, we became an aunt and uncle again as well. Welcome, baby Will!
The best highlight for me from April was Joel’s solo show in Des Moines. My heart just burst from pride seeing him shine so bright. He is so, SO talented. A gifted songwriter, guitarist, singer, and more. The attention was all on him. The kind words people shared with me afterwards were beyond complimentary. I felt happy to be surrounded by people who saw his musical talents in the same light I get to see them every day in our living room. I never take for granted the front row seat I have to his musical genius.
We kicked off May in the best way – at the cabin in Lansing! Was so nice to spend a short but sweet weekend there with Joel and the dogs. We’re hoping to get up there as much as possible this summer. It is truly our happy place outside of the acreage.
Although it’s been a whirlwind, I feel super grateful for all of the good and bad things that have happened so far this year. I’m trying harder and harder to be present for it all. Closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and opening them to the sights and sounds of the people and places I love.
I hope you are doing the same. Sending lots of love to you.
Phew! What a whirlwind the past few months have been. We vacationed, we sold a house, we took work trips, we celebrated milestones with family, all while working our butts off at both work and home. The signs of Spring have us feeling relieved that Winter is finally (knock on wood) OVER. We keep saying that “next week” things will get back to normal, but we have a feeling that it’s full speed ahead until Winter returns.
Although we made it to the other side alive, navigating the hustle and bustle of the past few months has not gone without its challenges. I started going back to a counselor at the start of the year due to returning panic attacks. Maybe my body was sensing what was to come in February and March? My anxiety and depression levels were also out of whack, to the point where I knew I needed professional help. Having candid conversations with my counselor was very valuable. We dove deep and tried to identify the root of my feelings. I love her and the new tools she has given me.
In addition to counseling, I started thinking about taking medication again. If you’ve read past posts of mine regarding my mental health, you know I’ve tried medication but did not like 1) depending on medication to function, I like to handle my mental health naturally through meditation, yoga, etc. and 2) how it made me feel. But in conversations with my husband who, bless his heart, knows the deepest darkest part of this illness, brought up a good point. He asked if I’d rather continue riding this rollercoaster of anxiety/depression/panic attack ups and downs, or start medicine, maybe experiencing some side effects I don’t enjoy, but overall being able to better cope with life.
I sat with this thought for weeks and came to the conclusion that yes, I wanted to try incorporating medication into my holistic mental health efforts. So I talked with my counselor and scheduled an appointment with my primary care provider. When we got to the point of talking about why I was there, I confidently told him that I’m ready to start medication and stick with it. No more quitting when I “feel better.” That’s not how it works. I won’t “get better” or “be cured.” This is a lifelong deal. My doctor confirmed this in the most powerful way and I could have hugged him for it.
Here is what he said to me, “Augusta, I have been seeing you since 2007. Back in 2007, you came to me with these same concerns and we put you on medication. (Which I quit.) When we discovered you had issues with your thyroid (I have hypothyroidism) you never questioned having to take medication for the rest of your life because I could show you on paper that you need it. I can’t show you on paper that you need medication for your mental health, maybe for the rest of your life, but I think you are a person that does. Some people just need more of what only medication can provide.”
He has supported me over the years and is not a “pill pusher” – it’s always, “exercise, diet, spirituality – if something’s causing you pain – get rid of it, quit it, etc.” So this coming from him meant a lot and solidified my decision. He was so right. I am very science/data driven. I need proof. And proof is something he is never going to be able to give me.
So here I am, enough weeks in to start feeling the effects of the daily medication. And I’m feeling better. It doesn’t erase everything, but it eases it. I also have a medication that will help with panic attacks when I feel them coming on. Simply knowing that I have these makes me feel more at ease because I don’t have to suffer.
I was already taking daily medication for my thyroid and my vitamin D levels, so I decided to buy one of those Sunday – Saturday pill organizers so I’m religious about taking my medications every day. Because I truly need them to be the best version of myself. Whether I have “proof” for all of it or not, I know my body, I know my mind, and I know there is NO SHAME in taking medication to help them both function normally.
If you have had the same struggles over the years, going back and forth about whether or not to start taking medication for your mental health, I’d be happy to talk with you about it. It took me so many years to finally feel it in my bones that I needed to start it and stick with it. You have to be ready to commit. You can’t let others’ opinions be a factor. You can’t quit when you “feel better.” You have to do what’s best for you. You don’t have to let yourself get to a place you don’t think you can get out of. There is so much out there to help.
Wishing you all the best and sending hugs!
Man, it has felt really heavy around here.
Our home has not felt like the sacred, safe space we have strived to create for ourselves. We have allowed a lot of negative energy into our hearts and our home. And it hasn't felt good. It has felt deep. It has felt painful. It has felt unsettling. As I mentioned before, it has felt heavy. So heavy.
I was really starting to feel hopeless. Because instead of choosing to lift ourselves out of it, we both kept spiraling deeper into it. Layering each negative feeling and experience on top of each other to the point where I didn't recognize who we were as individuals and as a team.
I finally got to a point where my body, mind, and heart literally could not take any more. Complete negativity overload. It started to fester, and I became angry. Anger is my least favorite emotion to experience. Because that is not who I want to be.
It all stops TODAY. For both Joel and I. The most wonderful part of our marriage is the open communication we have with each other. We knew the negativity we were experiencing and releasing into our home and onto each others' shoulders was primarily based on struggles we were having with other relationships and current situations in our lives. Instead of continuing to feed into the negativity, we agreed to cancel it out with positivity and rise above it.
He agreed to take part in a little ritual I created to help cleanse ourselves and our home of the loads we've been carrying. Below is what we did, and I have to say, we both felt lighter immediately. I truly hope we can carry this lightness into our week and beyond.
The Sires' Negativity Cleanse Ritual:
If you are going through something similar, you don't need to do everything or anything we did to feel better. I believe simply acknowledging any heaviness you might be feeling and releasing it with loving intention can also help get rid of icky energy. The key is acknowledgement and choosing to move forward. Don't allow yourself to drown if you can help it. Change your perspective on or remove the person/people or situation causing you to suffer on any level. And even better - don't let the person/people or situation get to you in the first place!
Here is an affirmation for you that is really helping me through this moment:
May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be free from suffering.
May they be happy. May they be peaceful. May they be free from suffering.
May all be happy. May all be peaceful. May all be free from suffering.
Remember who you are, what your heart beats for, and don't let anyone or anything from the outside get in the way of that!
I hope your new year got off to a great start!
I thought I’d pop on to give an update on how I’m feeling after committing myself to the free 30-day Dedicate Yoga Journey and 35-day Mindset Reset programs. I talk about both of these programs over on my Wren Picks page if you want full details.
I’m a little over halfway through both programs and am loving them both equally! It has been wonderful to be intentional about taking time to focus on my mind and body every single day. It’s amazing what can happen in just a couple of weeks.
What I’m noticing from daily yoga:
I can definitely tell a difference when I do yoga in the morning vs. at night. My entire day is different in the best ways. So you’d think I’d want to do it that way every day, right? Not necessarily...If I don’t “have to” do yoga in the morning, I save it for the evening because it's a good way for me to wind down. When I say “have to” do yoga – I’m not saying it in a bad way – I’m just torn right now because I’m reading a really good book so I’m pumped for “off mornings” when I have time to spare before work!
It’s truly amazing how fast our bodies can snap back when you return them to past routines. I like to think when our bodies respond positively to what we’re doing, we’re on the lifestyle path we’re supposed to be on. I try to do yoga as often as I can, but weeks can go by in between practices sometimes, so it’s been nice to make it a priority again. I can already feel my strength coming back. My posture getting better. A little tone (even if it’s miniscule) showing in my arms. Aches and pains getting worked out.
And of course the little world in my head feels better, too. I am more calm, focused, and present. I can normally get lost in the movements, which provides such nice relief to my over productive brain.
What I’m noticing from daily reflection:
This journey has been a little more difficult. I am learning SO MUCH from the program, but the work and self-reflection it requires has brought some painful truths to light. But they are truths I had to see in order to move forward. It’s all about the root cause. What happened to me or what did I observe that causes the actions and reactions I express today? Pretty powerful stuff. Not always pretty. But powerful.
Another big key point is recognizing the default thought patterns we’ve come to believe as truths and replacing them with deliberate thoughts. Most of the default thoughts running through our head are coming from past experiences (many, but not all, from childhood) where we were trying to fit in, be accepted, stay part of the pack, not make waves, etc. But as ADULTS, we don’t have listen to those thoughts anymore. We can CHOOSE to think differently. We can think “this,” not “that.” We don’t have to be defined by the big triggers we brand ourselves with – “I’m not enough.” “I’m not lovable.” “I’m a bad person.” When we believe these things, we truly become these things. And that’s not OK! Instead, we can say – “I am doing my best.” “I am loved.” “I always come from a place of good intention.” It’s up to us to flip the switch.
I was already hyperaware of myself and the world around me, but now I’m hyperaware in a different way. For example, now that I know anxiety is the physical manifestation of worry in our bodies, I pay close attention to what my body is doing at any point in time. Am I tense, tingly, tight? Where? Why? And what can I do to ease out of it? I’m hoping if I keep catching myself, my body will naturally start reacting in a cooler, calmer way to my triggers.
There are SO MANY other gems to learn from this program. I feel like I’ll be processing what I’m learning for the next few months as I continue to practice the tips that are offered. My favorite part is that this program is scientifically based. As a science nerd, I love so much of the information being shared. Neuroscience? Studies? Proven to be effective? Yep – that’s my type of advice.
Patience is a virtue here. Overcoming items we are challenged with is not an event, it’s a process.
The best thing I’ve learned so far:
Creating a morning routine is a GAME CHANGER.
I hate mornings. I hate hearing my alarm. I used to hit snooze 3-4 times a day. I most intensely hate leaving my bed. It’s my favorite place on Earth, so peeling myself out is no easy task. I love it so much that the other night I literally thanked it for existing. My love for my bed runs deep.
Anyway – I’ve learned that getting out of bed at the right time – when my mind is most ready – will serve me all throughout the day. The snooze button is not allowed. This is the most important and valuable trick I will follow faithfully.
Here’s what is recommended for a morning routine:
I could cry thinking about how much I appreciate this space I have created for myself. It is sacred. I look forward to it. I revel in it. I carry the peace and positive energy with me into the day.
This post turned out to be not so quick…but I hope it encourages you to explore options for improving your physical and mental health. Our bodies and minds are something we take for granted daily, so take a few minutes a day to connect and understand what they are trying to say to you!
As I was soaking in bath number three of the week (increased stress = more baths) and having a pity party of one as the flame of a candle illuminated my mason jar glass of pink wine on the edge of the tub, a single word broke through the madness, humbling me almost instantly. Home.
How lucky am I to have a home? To have a retreat. A bath tub I can drown my sorrows in after a bad day. A water heater to warm the water. Epsom salts to ease my aching body. Essential oils to ease my aching mind. A dog sitting dutifully just outside the bathroom door, on guard to protect me from anything that could put me in danger. A loving husband singing in the kitchen as he makes us dinner. Cooking food we are fortunate enough to have cupboards full of. Shielded from the elements by a house that is ours. That is warm. And dry. And safe.
I was grounded more and more as I thought about each piece of our life. From minute to major. We don’t have a lot by some peoples’ standards, but goodness, I feel like we have it all a lot of the time. Especially when I break everything down. To have our basic needs met is a blessing on its own. To have experiences and things we want is just the cherry on top.
There are a lot of people locally, even if you choose not to see or believe it, that don’t have a home and everything a home can bring. Or if they do, it might not feel like a refuge. Or be warm, or dry, or safe. Going to sleep with no blankets, empty stomachs, and little hope for tomorrow.
My challenge to you this holiday season (and throughout the upcoming new year) has two parts:
Even if you don't have a lot to give, the smallest gestures of kindness can make a huge impact. You don't have to offer money or physical items. Look for ways to make people feel seen. Drop the word “stranger” from your vocabulary. We’re all in this together. Contribute to the comfort of those around you. Let the light from your heart make someone feel at home, feel at ease, just by being with you, even if it's a brief encounter. That moment matters. Especially to someone who needed someone like you in that moment.
If you are looking to support an organization that tirelessly helps others, we highly encourage The Salvation Army. I tell you why we love this organization in this post. This year marks the fifth year we have rang bells for the Red Kettle Campaign and we are looking for ways to do even more with this wonderful charity to support the people in our community who need to be lifted up.
Truly, home is wherever I’m with this guy. I wish you all the same kind of love and companionship in your lives.
The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season has become a time of year I dread. This year I am having an especially hard time. I literally feel like the Grinch – which is so unlike me! Unfortunately, my mental illnesses have a grip on me this time around that no amount of meditation, yoga, baths, water, or wine has been able to remedy.
With so many commitments, the days fly by. Personally, this makes the time we spend with others feel less authentic and more like we’re just going through the motions in a valiant attempt to make everyone happy. Always watching the clock for the next place we need to be. Small talk. Eat. Small talk. Games. Next event. Repeat. Sound familiar? Not necessarily my style. Certainly not a series of events that is good for my mental health when I’m running on empty.
Some years I have the strength for this routine with a genuine smile on my face and in my heart. But to be candidly honest, this year is not one of them. My Advent Calendar is counting down the days until all of this is OVER, versus a countdown in anticipation of the magic of Christmas. With so many large group interactions on the calendar (my worst nightmare) paired with an already depressed outlook over the next few weeks I can feel my brain joyously preparing to overanalyze and vilify each moment, making me the bad guy in every situation. If this doesn’t happen to you, trust me, it’s the absolute worst and is only amplified by the weight of the holidays.
For me, getting through this period will require taking one day, one event, at a time. Attempting to be kind to myself following interactions that I have major anxiety about and reminding myself to be realistic about them along the way. I’m holding on to the hope that if I continue to come from a place of kindness with no intentional malice (it’s none of my business if someone reads it that way), no matter what I say or do should be OK. I’ll just have to show up as I can and give what I can. Which doesn’t feel like a lot at this point!
I wanted to share my experience with you before the holidays because I hope that it encourages a sense of empathy within you towards those in your life who have a known mental illness or are simply acting a little “off” this holiday season. We all carry a certain level of stress during this season, but for someone with a mental illness, that stress can trigger feelings that send them spiraling into a blinding black hole. <Slowly raises hand.>
Sometimes you can seemingly “have everything to be thankful for,” but when you are dealing with mental illness, gratitude for what you have can be hard to feel and express. Being surrounded by lots of family can be suffocating. Simple interactions can feel too heavy. A lot going on, in general and in the moment, can completely drain someone.
Here are a few things I’d love for you to keep in mind this holiday season as you spend time with family and friends who may have a mental illness:
Although my view of the holidays may be through tainted lenses right now, believe me when I say I do truly hope you all have a wonderful holiday season that fills your heart with happiness and joy!
One of the best things I've done for myself in this stage of my life is sign-up for the Master Gardener course through the Iowa State University Extension & Outreach Office in Black Hawk County.
Plug the word "garden" into the search bar of my blog and you will find that gardening has become a huge passion of mine. It has always been an interest, but until I had the space of our acreage, I didn't have a chance to explore it fully.
I wanted to start the Master Gardener journey now versus later (most members are 50+) because I thought having a formal education about gardening would benefit me tremendously as I continue to expand our little farm. Having "book knowledge" to combine with my practical knowledge and apply to my future experiences will be wonderful.
When signing up, I did not know what I was getting myself into. After taking the required pre-assessment before classes started, I REALLY didn't know what I was getting myself into. Essentially, the pre-assessment taught me that I knew NOTHING about gardening. I was a complete rookie. Which was humbling, motivating me even more to do well in this course.
Our classes were primarily in the classroom, watching educational video presentations by experts from Iowa State University. Sprinkled in were a few live classes ranging from private gardens of Master Gardeners to established greenhouses. Those classes were my favorite because hands-on experiences are the what my brain absorbs best. These trips were also the most inspiring to me, seeing how others were applying their knowledge about gardening in so many different ways.
Our trainings all led up to a hands-on class on the Iowa State University campus. Over 300 Master Gardener trainees from across the state came together to learn and share their knowledge. It was amazing! I got to know the people in the Black Hawk County group better (funny how we never talked in class but when put into a new situation we were inseparable!) which was very nice.
I loved every minute of the on-campus training. The dots started to connect for me when we were able to apply what we learned in a variety of different labs.
My favorite labs were Botany:
And surprisingly, Entomology:
I also really enjoyed Plant Pathology, identifying diseases in plants. I didn't snap a photo of that because we had to circulate through 10 stations really fast!
Overall, the experience was even better than I expected. It was nice to be with like-minded people who daydreamed about their gardens as much as I do.
I passed my post-assessment (WOO-HOO!):
So what this means is that I am now an official Master Gardener Intern. I'll complete 40 hours of volunteering and 10 hours of continuing education in 2019. In January of 2020 I'll officially be a Master Gardener. It will definitely be worth the work and the wait.
I will be honored to hold the title and share what I learn with others. I can already tell this is the beginning of a fulfilling journey! My heart feels full. Like I'm doing something I'm meant to do. And that's nice.
Hit me with your plant questions, I'd love to help you (probably learning a thing or two myself while I'm at it)!
Joel and I recently celebrated our NINTH wedding anniversary! We’ve been together almost thirteen years total. I have repeated this fact to myself over and over again the past few days. It seems surreal. Especially since I never thought I’d get married in the first place! But goodness, am I glad I did.
We always take time around our anniversary to stop and reflect. Escaping for a few days to explore, our favorite thing to do together.
This year was one of the best anniversary trips we’ve taken! We traveled around Iowa and Wisconsin over five days, our primary home base being my family’s cabin in Lansing, Iowa.
Before I dive into what we did, I want to tell you how the morning of our vacation started before we left because I think it’s important that some real life gets thrown into this shiny, happy post! We got water in our basement. A LOT of water. The dogs lost their minds at the vet, Madison had to get muzzled. I had a nail in my tire that needed to be fixed before we left. The dogs lost their minds again at home and pushed a glass platter down the stairs, breaking it. Something come up at work that they needed to contact me about. All before noon. After some big breaths and an undying will to continue on as planned, we made it out of the house!
We started out in Madison, Wisconsin. We both love Madison. Great city. College town. Pretty hip. Lots to do. We didn’t have much time to wander around this time because we were in town to see Jeff Tweedy from Wilco perform at an art museum. I had been to a Wilco show before and Joel is constantly listening to them so I had a good idea of what we were getting into. But wow. What a show. I was in tears several times. Jeff is a king lyricist. And for as serious as his lyrics are, he’s actually a pretty funny guy. Time flew and neither of us wanted it to end!
We had to venture home after staying the night in Madison because Twins had a show in Des Moines. So on our way back we hit up Chris Farley’s childhood home in Madison and then the Field of Dreams in Dyersville! I had never been to either, so it was pretty neat.
The following day we traveled to La Crosse, Wisconsin – our favorite Wisconsin city hands down. We hit up our regular haunts, napped in the park (beyond relaxing), and then ended the day taking a walk with “Mark Twain” as he told us about the Mississippi River. This one man, outdoor play was wonderful. I never realized that Mark Twain was a humorist. For a humorist, he was quite an insightful man. Some of the lines spoken were extremely moving and very relevant in our current political state.
We finished the trek where three different rivers intersect at the end of the La Crosse river walk. Mark Twain said this is a sign of a sacred space according to Native Americans. We were in a hidden garden. The sun was setting over the water. Ducks were peacefully swimming nearby. I was with Joel. Mark Twain was standing in front of us. A sacred space indeed.
On our last day before packing up to go home, we went south into Wisconsin. We checked out some spots just outside of and in Prairie du Chien. We stopped by an apple orchard/pumpkin patch, walking away without any fresh fruit, but with a bag of fresh bakery items instead! Then we ventured into an area that we hadn’t been before, off the beaten path. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but essentially we found a large equipment graveyard. I may have broken a couple of rules and committed a minor crime while we were there, but I made it out without being arrested!
We were also excited to find an antique shop we hadn’t seen before. If you are in that area and like reasonably priced antiques, check out Checkers Antiques! Nice people, amazing selection, open for 50 years – so they know what’s up.
Overall, it was a very relaxing trip. In between adventures we made sure to reaffirm our commitment to one another, celebrate victories, learn from challenges (like the five in a row we experienced before leaving!), and look into the future.
I’m lucky for this man and all he brings to my life. We seem to feel happier each year we are together, which I am immensely grateful for. Being by his side is my favorite part of living. We’ve built a simple yet incredible life together that only keeps getting better. Here’s to staying aligned and in love for many more years, J! Glad you’re on my team.