Upstate but feeling low

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Lately I’ve been realizing how in statis I’ve been. Like an animal keeping its metabolism slow so that it can conserve calories. It’s tiring in it’s own way.

I wrote a bit about this on Instagram and here’s part of it.

“I feel untethered, but it’s hard to tether yourself to anything when you’re in a state of preparing, however slowly, to leave. I want to be making big loud friendships with complicated amazing people, and I want to be social and look outside my box, but it’s hard not to feel duplicitous building relationships that likely won’t last or gain the beautiful layers of depth that many do only after lots of time. I guess moving every two years like clockwork is catching up to me a bit.”

Tonight after expressing these feelings, I came home and made a risotto with chanterelle mushrooms, had a glass of wine, and currently have a face mask on. Laundry is in the dryer, dishes are done, work is over, and life is moving along in the clunky but regular way it is right now. I get to look back on beautiful photos like the ones above that show quiet, sunny days in Upstate New York of spiderwebs, marble topped dressers a hundred years old, and oil-based skincare that I talked about in my previous post.

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A little routine.

There is already snow in large parts of Montana and it’s awful. I am trying to get ready for the cold, the dry air, the static-y hair and all the things that go along with winter. In the meantime, the brief Montana autumn is in full swing.

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This summer has been about things that feel luxurious, work well, and are affordable. As one of those lucky wenches who only gets acne around the end of my cycle, I really only needed to find products that hydrated and brightened my skin, and being on a budget, I searched for a while before I decided on some things, and after several months these four things have made their way and stayed in my routine.

I don’t have the money to experiment a whole lot, mostly just with masks, and these are pretty well-known, respected products, and they did what they were supposed to. My personal favorite is the Mizon ampoule, which feels luxurious, has no smell, and comes in a lovely little glass bottle that feels much fancier than the price tag. This has lasted me three months and I need to buy another! The Ordinary products are all the rage and some of them work and others don’t. These two products feel good and definitely have brightened my skin, and they’re going to last me a long time- I apply them and switch them out about every other night before my final moisturizer and I’ve barely made a dent and it’s been almost three months since I’ve had them. Last but not least is the notorious Pixi Glow Tonic which does exactly what it’s known for. It gives my skin the perfect canvas to apply serums, ampoules, etc. and it makes my skin happy.

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I feel a bit pretentious talking about my skin but as somebody on a budget, it feels neat to find things that have done what I’ve wanted and haven’t disappeared too quickly despite regular use. I love that they’re mostly in glass and it feels really lovely to be a little luxurious before bed and when I wake up and treat my skin right. Do you have any routines, products, or habits that make you feel a bit elevated?

I’m going to Brazil in a few months and I’m trying to figure out what to bring there, where the humidity and unrelenting heat will be very different for my skin than the dry, cold air that has settled in Montana. We shall see.

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Missoula in early autumn is something else.

The park begins to get tinged in yellow and the lightest shades of orange. The students are back and the bars become busy and crowded. But mornings remain quiet, private, and beautiful. Sometimes I get up even earlier than normal so I can go have a cup of coffee and watch the sun touch the world.

6300 miles/10,100 kilometers

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Taking Logan to the airport to say goodbye for six months was surreal. The drive from Missoula to Spokane is unbelievably beautiful, with cloud-covered mountain passes and little mining towns nestled by the highway, and we both discussed everything but his impending flight to go thousands and thousands of miles away. After we said goodbye at the gate, I drove home in a daze. I knew I couldn’t be emotional because a 3 hour drive on the highway is not the place to be a compromised person, and I compartmentalized everything and drove home without really remembering it. I came home and slept like a corpse, absolutely exhausted and horribly sad and hollow feeling. Our house echoed and felt devoid of the soul it had when we moved in.

It’s been a month now and life hasn’t become “normal” again. I want to sleep a lot still. I keep my space neat, much neater than it was when we lived together, and joined a gym. Cooking hasn’t happened- lots of raw veggies, sandwiches, yogurt and cold dishes. It’s hilarious how sad my diet has become since his departure. I would always know Logan was cooking when I’d smell garlic, basil, cilantro, olive oil in the pan, and other familiar smells. The sounds of the house have changed and so have the smells. No more of his cologne or our clothes hung together in the closet, even if only for a little while. Much of my grad school habits have returned: long walks alone, people watching,  having a quiet drink alone, writing in my diary, devouring books, finding quiet spaces, and letting my mind unravel and go all sorts of places. It is peaceful, familiar, and a tiny bit sad, but not entirely empty of happiness.

These were from one of our last walks in the park here in town, taken with my ancient SLR camera, which we didn’t position correctly, to my odd delight.

Sensitive skin + eczema: Treatment, support, and questions.

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“You been in some fights lately?” a stranger joked as they saw my hands one summer. They were raw, cracked, bleeding, and red. It was summer, too hot for long sleeves, and I weakly joked that yes, I had been brawling.

This was not entirely false- my body and I were indeed at odds with one another. Eczema, which had affected me as a child, went away until I became a stressed-out college student. It mostly stayed on my arms, though, and I accepted its presence as a bother, nothing more.

However, around 2015, my hands were a mess and I struggled with embarrassment and confusion. This was a new, awful form of eczema, replete with tiny clusters of blisters, insanely itchy skin, cracked and bleeding parts, and overall, extreme physical discomfort. I couldn’t do dishes, handle any acidic foods, or do much that would exacerbate my skin.  I found out that I had gotten one lovely variety of eczema that affects solely hands and feet- JOY.

It’s 2018, and I have, for the most part, found peace and (mostly) respite from my eczema. It’s been on my face, made me nervous for dates, kept me sleepless from itching, offered me up to public humiliation, and made me feel ugly and undesirable. I made this post to show affordable products that help me immensely, answer some basic questions, and offer some links I’ve found both helpful and supportive.

The low down: 

Eczema is basically your body’s inability to produce it’s own protective layer over your skin. This results in vulnerable, rashy, often raw skin. Sometimes it’s mild and just a small patch of dry, red skin and sometimes it can take over your body- everybody is different. It affects 30 million Americans, and there are multiple kinds. I have atopic dermatitis and dyshidrotic eczema.

Eczema is a mysterious bastard, and people don’t know exactly why we get it. It’s been theorized it’s an immune reaction or an allergic reaction, but why and how we get it is unsure. People in polluted areas and cities get it more, and people who have other immune issues like asthma also have eczema, and it could also be genetic! So basically…it could be anything, everything, or nothing at all. Trust me, I know this isn’t helpful.

First and foremost if you suspect you might have eczema go to a dermatologist. A good one! They might take photos of your eczema to track any changes, and they can help you find medicine that will work with your lifestyle and the severity of your eczema. If your derm isn’t taking you seriously, tries to put you on steroid creams or steroids over and over again, find somebody who makes you feel heard.

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Products/things I use and love that help: 

-Vitamin D, Vitamin C, fish oil, and Vitamin E supplements. There is some evidence that taking vitamins that help build your skin’s resilience can help with eczema. Your skin is always trying to heal and repair itself and these vitamins may help your body do that. I figure it can’t hurt.

-AQUAPHOR!!! Aquaphor is my favorite thing. Lotion can hurt raw skin, and one thing that eczema needs is protection. I apply Aquaphor to all my patches- on my face, my hands, my arms, where ever. I may apply bandages over the Aquaphor so it can work better. It isn’t a lotion- it’s a cheap but amazing ointment that you can find at any drugstore for around $5. (It also makes an amazing lip balm!) It’s also super safe around your eyes if you’ve got anything there! This is my number one thing in my life, and I don’t know what I would do without it.

-BandAids for protecting my hands. Cheap, easy, and effective. They can help any especially raw parts heal. I do not use antibiotic creams at all, and only use Aquaphor  to protect my skin.

-ProTopic prescription ointment. This is a non-steroid cream that I use only in extreme cases because it burns a lot. I do not use steroid cream because long term use of steroid creams can make your skin thin, sometimes permanently. Since I have had eczema for years and it hasn’t gone away, I got my derm to prescribe me this. There is also a children’s version that has less of the working ingredients to be sensitive to their bodies.

-Aveeno lotion. Aveeno, I find, makes great sensitive-skin lotions. I also adore their baby lotions and bath products, because the ingredients are so gentle. I use this on my hands as soon as I wake up and before I go to bed, and keep a little tube in my work desk and in my car.

-Scent-free and dye-free laundry detergent. If you have ultra-sensitive skin, your sheets and bedding and pillow cases can also aggravate whatever is going on. Using a sensitive-skin friendly laundry detergent is huge! I use some from my natural food bulk store, but Arm & Hammer also makes a detergent I really like.

Aveeno Baby oatmeal bath packets. These are affordable and amazing. Oatmeal helps calm the itch and a warm (not hot!) bath is amazing for relaxing. Oatmeal baths helped me as a child, too, when I couldn’t sleep.

-Lukewarm/cool showers.  Hot water strips your skin of protection and will exacerbate your eczema a lot! If you can’t help but take hot showers, make them short. Get out quickly.

-Gloves for doing dishes and yardwork. These will help protect your hands, which can be areas prone to eczema and irritation. They have saved me, as hot water doing dishes a lot made my hands not only painful but also made my eczema never seem to go away.

As you can see, I use mostly affordable products that after years of experimentation work for me. Everybody is different. It can take time, so be patient and gentle with yourself.

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What about diet? 

There are some theories that eczema, and some other immune issues, may be caused by gut bacteria abscence or imbalance. I don’t know if I buy these 100% (you can find out more online) but I did find that when I consistently ate probiotic foods, avoided sugar, and ate healthier, my eczema was more manageable. That being said, is that real? Or was it placebo effect? I can’t say. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but it did help.

What about (insert other treatment here-wet wrapping, pine tar, bleach baths, etc.) 

I don’t know about anything else, but there is a super helpful sub-Reddit for eczema sufferers where you can ask questions, get feedback, and swap stories. It has not only been an immense source of support, but I’ve also answered lots of questions with my own experiences. If you’re new to everything, also look for answers here at the National Eczema Association. The Internet is one of the most helpful and supportive places I’ve ever found, and lots of people who may feel shy sharing their stories in person are more than happy to help you figure out things like how to help your children if they’ve got eczema, what if your girlfriend/boyfriend/person has eczema, how different meds have helped different people, etc.

What if my girlfriend/boyfriend/child gets diagnosed? 

If you’re asking this question at all that’s a great sign. Do your own research and quietly help your person make changes if they’re an adult. Maybe buy some products on your own as a quiet “I see you” gift- Aquaphor, lotions, oatmeal bath packets, sensitive-skin friendly laundry detergent, etc. and check in with your person if they’re seeing doctors. If you’ve got a child, oatmeal baths and doctors visits may become the norm. There are lots of resources for parents online. I know my parents had a tough time, but ProTopic helped me a lot when I was little.

Secondly, eczema can make your person feel very unsexy. Be gentle, kind, and especially loving. Our body is pretty much betraying us and giving us ugly lizard skin, and it sucks. Let us know we’re still cute, okay?

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That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll probably update this as time goes on, but please don’t hesitate to leave questions or comments. I’ve had eczema for years, and it’s impacted my life, but it’s something that can be managed and accepted and you’re definitely not alone.

Black and white reflections

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Odds and ends of a strange month. I got my Canadian work visa from the kindest border agent and then had the most awful experience coming back to my home country. I stayed out late and saw people I rarely see, found a dead bird behind the auto repair shop on my way to work, ate at a diner outside Spokane in eastern Washington, spent some time by the sea with my mom in Bellingham the night before getting my visa, and photographed flowers sprouting everywhere here in Missoula. It’s 90 degrees outside and I miss those weird spring days where you still might see snow on the mountains and have frost on some bits of the yard.

Stony Creek Cabin

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Late spring at a Forest Service cabin nestled in the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest. A moose had been bedding in the front lawn of the hundred year old cabin, a creek rushed loudly and busily across the road, farmers drove by in trucks kicking up dust clouds, and we made a fire that we sat by, quietly chatting, for hours.

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3 am and we could see stars and planets and satellites. I felt alive and happy, connected to new friends and old ones by the fire and the woods and the sounds of outside. The cabin was one hundred years old, and as I slept a little resident mouse ran back and forth along a beam near my head.

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In the morning I found moose tracks, wild strawberry plants, shooting star wildflowers, and lots of other evidence of living fauna. We had to drive over a water-logged road because Rock Creek was overflowing with runoff, muddy and fast. We were tired and happy together, breathing clean air.

 

First Yellowstone trip of the year!

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April in Yellowstone is kind of a crapshoot. You never know if you’re going to have a blizzard roll in, a bunch of hail, or a perfectly clear, beautiful evening. You could literally encounter anything- elk in your campsite, bears, unruly humans- and you have to be prepared for all those options.

We drove through Paradise Valley, past the fast-moving, brown Yellowstone River, admiring the cloud-covered peaks of the Absaroka range. We got to the Mammoth Hot Springs campground. A park ranger let us know we got the last campsite in the area (yes!!!) and we proceeded to pitch our tent on the raised platform. This was the first time we would be sleeping in our new-ish tent that we had gotten for a ridiculous steal at an REI garage sale.

After pitching our tent we drove to the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, and walked on the creaky boardwalks all over. The smell of sulfur belched from the ground, and there were dozens of cow elk scattered nearby, many of them pregnant. I wondered when they would be surrounded by their small, awkward calves and hoped I’d get to see some soon!

I ran into an old classmate from my Swiss college on the boardwalk as we were coming down. I hadn’t seen Heather in over seven years, and here she was! We hugged, and I shook my head in bewilderment. After attending Franklin College in Lugano, I feel so lucky to have my world be so small that I get to have experiences like that.

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Logan and I bemoaned the stupidity we already saw visitors exhibiting. We saw women try and pet the pregnant cow elk, and behind my gritted teeth I let out a vile hope that the elk would charge or kick somebody who dared to disrespect their personal space. Red dogs, or baby bison, cavorted outside our campground, and people got way…too…close…to photograph and marvel at the tiny little devils, who were dwarfed by their much larger, scarier mothers and fathers.

Yellowstone is best before Memorial Day weekend and after Labor Day, but it was still so awful to see so many people stressing out wildlife and putting themselves in danger. I usually refuse to visit after June starts because it just gets to be too much- I tend to become enraged so often seeing the ridiculous amounts of idiocy being exhibited by humans, so I just stay away.

Regardless, it was a beautiful, sunny day. Logan and I tried to go to the Boiling River, but the river was moving so swiftly, full of run off, and there were so many people crowded in the hot spots that we decided to try again tomorrow morning before too many people were awake. This plan was ultimately foiled.

We went back to our campsite and started a fire with dry grass, newspapers, and matches. We made some hot water for tea and cooked kielbasa, and then a hard wind came down, accompanied by fat, unapologetic drops of rain. We got into the car (the tent was being blown almost vertically by the rain) and waited it out. Soon, hail pelted the car. We looked at each other and wondered if we would need to get a cheap motel in Gardiner, because if the weather kept up this way there would be no way we could sleep in our tent, even with the rain fly on and it being sturdily staked in the ground. The wind was just too much!

Luckily after about 40 minutes it all subsided, leaving us with a beautiful full moon and some fluffy, nonthreatening clouds. We spent the evening eating and sitting by the fire, having a beer or two and just chatting in the way that a fire encourages people to talk. Eventually it was time to retire, and we crept into our little green tent and nestled into our sleeping bags. I slept like a rock, not waking until about 5 am, when the birds began to serenade us and the sun began to slowly make itself known. Logan stirred, and I rolled over, wanting to sleep in but also wanting to get up and get to the Boiling River.

Finally around 7 am we got up, put on bathing suits, and headed down the road. It looked like there were no cars in the lot! Yes! Upon driving closer, we saw why: the park rangers had locked the gate, which was a sure sign that the Gardner River had been deemed too fast and dangerous to stay open for visitors. We barely missed it!
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We went back to our campsite and made coffee and cooked the rest of our kielbasa for breakfast. We then decided to drive through the whole park to see what it looked like. Once we got outside Mammoth the temperature dropped rapidly, and we saw layers of snow that had been plowed off the road piled high. Mated pairs of sandhill cranes stalked in shallow streams, and we saw bison partially hidden behind curtains of billowing steam from the volcanically-heated waterways and geysers. There weren’t many people out and about, and we marveled at the sun glinting from mountain tops and how green everything was already.

On our way home, we stopped at Norris Hot Springs to soak for a bit, because we were at the bare minimum going to get to soak in at least one hot spot! Red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds and mountain bluebirds trilled and called from the marshland around the hot spring, and we let ourselves relax. We shouldn’t have- as I drove over the mountain pass that lies before Butte, a freak snowstorm swept over us. Massive amounts of snow were falling, and the road was quickly getting full of slow-moving, careful cars. The heat in our car gave out, and I had to ask Logan to wipe the inside windshield so that it wouldn’t freeze up and block my vision. It was late April, and we were in the middle of a fucking blizzard?! I cursed my way over the pass, knowing that as long as we went slowly and carefully we could make it to the other side.

Eventually we did! It was quite a journey. We got home after 10 hours in the car in one day and collapsed in our beds. It’s always an adventure going to Yellowstone, no matter what you expect will happen.

The Oregon Coast

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It’s pouring rain outside and the lights flickered a little bit. I thought, “thank goodness for a full computer battery and the weird little LED lantern we bought for camping”, if the power did indeed go out.

I finally these pictures scanned, and they make me feel things. We stayed in Seaside, Oregon for one night, thinking it would be the sort of resort town that idealizes life, and instead it brought out all the ugly things one pushes to the edge. We stayed at a B&B that was beautiful, but it was so windy that going outside was nearly impossible. Tried to find a good place for a martini or something strong and nice, but instead found only dive bars and tourist-y places that had the veneer coming off of them far too quickly. We did our best and found sushi, seafood, and bad mixed drinks. We saw people who go on dates to gamble, each taking a twenty dollar bill, and one bar had a garish plastic rat stuck in the wall. It was a strange town, vaguely sinister, and we were quite happy to pack up and leave. Perhaps in the summer it’s a slightly better place to be? People seem to think so!

Driving the Oregon coast was strange and beautiful. Lots of little towns strung together by a highway, some barely held together by the bookends of a church and a bar, others flourishing with multi-story buildings. Woods, rolling hills, the sea and tributaries flowing into the sea, which we followed as we drove. We got out periodically to eat, take pictures, breathe in the salty air, and relish the warmth of the already-present spring. I want to go back, very badly, but with one exception: I think Seaside, for whatever charm has made it a destination, will remain a place in my past.

A brief interlude in Portland.

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After 13 hours on a train, we got out at Union Station and took an Uber to the house we’d rented. The driver bemoaned the uptick in rent, the crazy amount of people moving into the city every day, but eagerly told us about the cherry blossoms, spring, and the local music scene.

Portland was a lot of what I had assumed- full of young people with eclectic ideas of fashion, lots of niche coffee shops (one catered entirely to basketballers and sneakerheads), and so many restaurants I wondered what the failure rate of eateries in Portland was.

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It was also a city full of theater, art, parks, and beautiful buildings tucked away in quiet places. It bridges the beautiful, deep Columbia River, and we walked over one of the bridges that link the city together, and looked at the large ships anchored on the edges of the river. We tucked ourselves away out of the expected rain in a pub dedicated to British soccer that was wonderfully grimy and character-filled. We tried to get tickets to see the Portland Trailblazers play, to no avail. I ate a lot, walked a lot, and the humidity did things to my hair. I admired Childe Hassam paintings and saw Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs and made fun of statues with historically questionable quotations attached. It was a much needed, humid, warm (er) respite from the unyielding grip of Montana winter. 27745408978_43926b02b6_c40903606394_2ea45b0872_c40903610514_a88c989bce_c

Cape Kiwanda

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It was windy, blustery, loud, and sandy, and yet so beautiful I wanted to sit down and watch the waves for hours. We walked through the dunes and emerged onto the beach, unprotected and being bombarded by wind and waves. The wind threw pieces of sea foam across the beach, and I jumped down on them as they flew in my direction. We let the wind not so much caress as assault our faces and senses, because the view was spectacular. It was unkind to people, and so we had the beach to ourselves. Everything was different, less saturated browns, greys, and greens- even the water looked dull and matte in color. Birds were whisked away by the wind and we watched them move quickly above our heads. It was too cold to stay for long, and too windy to be truly savored in the way we would have liked, but it was still epic and it made my think about the meaning of my life, how small and somewhat silly my existence is, and yet how marvelous it was for me to see this beautiful expanse of sand and sea that was so indifferent to me.

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Ruby’s Cafe

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I love hole-in-the-wall diners. The coffee is generally weak, the food semi-average, but the decor, the patrons, the chats, and the traditions that diners invite beckon me.

Logan and I tried to go to Paul’s Pancake Parlor, which apparently is amazing, but it was packed beyond belief. We drove a block and found Ruby’s Cafe, which hasn’t altered its interior decor since the 1970s, or so it seemed.

I love places that don’t budge. The Uptown Diner in downtown Missoula recently closed, and that was a big blow to the budget diner scene here. I love going places where a good chunk of the patrons are regulars, where the goal  isn’t to be hip or new. Diners are a part of Americana that don’t respond quickly to changes, and there is comfort in that. You walk in, sit in a booth, and know that the menu will have the usual options (pancakes, sausages, hashbrowns), and that the coffee, as mediocre as it may be, will be hot and full of caffeine.

It’s been over three months… so here are some updates in film.

Hello likely non-existent readers! I am not dead, nor in cryogenic suspension, nor in a coma, nor anything un-conscious.

In the last three months, I cut my hair off, which turned my wavy long hair into a short, bouncy, loose bob with full curls, and I couldn’t be happier!

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In March I turned twenty-seven, and this year I want to give fewer fucks about things I cannot control. I want to control who I give my energy to more, and where I put it. My anxiety and fears often threaten to spill over to contaminate parts of my life I don’t want them to.

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I’ve been trying to shoot medium format film that my aunt gave me for Christmas, and so far it’s been more failures than anything else but it’s been so fun giving it a try!

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Sharing space with all the critters around here, and finding that several walk the same paths that I do.

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This spring I’ve been feeling a lot of things and have been trying to go to rallies, marches, talks, and forums to help cope with and change what is happening around me. Spending time with my family and loved ones helps as well.

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It’s April and winter is not giving up quite yet. I put away my snow boots, and as I type a snow storm is raging outside our kitchen windows. The back door blew open from the gusts! It’s been miserable being teased by the seasons like this. However, we do have some beautiful buds on our trees and the beginnings of our iris flowers are poking up through the beds of leaves that covered them all winter. I cannot wait to hear more birds (we already hear northern flickers, robins, chickadees, and meadowlarks!) and see more flowers bloom. Crocuses are popping up everywhere too!

Sorry for my absence. Time never seems to make enough space to let you do everything you want to. I’ve been writing, researching, working, trying to go on runs, eat healthier, and do the self-care things I need to. That being said, I’ve got lots of thoughts and blog ideas swirling around, so I hope you’ll see more of me!