A Custom Ring Journey: Here Be Dragons … part 1, An Idea

Note: I typically use my own photos for my blog posts. Today, I am breaking with that rule to include two photos from the Studio Metals website (www.studiometals.com). These photos are the property of Studio Metals, and all rights are reserved to Studio Metals. They are included here as inspiration and explanation. If you have any rights in these images and object to their use, please contact me. I will remove them immediately.

I have had this post kicking around my brain for a few months. I’ve thought about it and thought about it until it feels like it is on a constant loop inside my head. It has taken me a long time to figure out how to organize it, and, even after all this thinking and debating, I’m not sure my plan is the best. But I’m going to jump in with both feet, anyhow. Otherwise, I will never get this idea out of my head.

This past October, my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary. We dated for two years before we got engaged, and we were engaged for six years while we both finished graduate school. So, we have been together for 28 years, total. This is a long time, you guys! I have been with and loved this man for over half my life. Wow. Typing it out loud like that kind of boggles my mind.

Our 20th kind of snuck up on me, believe it or not. I am not a person who pays much attention to stuff like anniversaries or birthdays. I try to remember to send presents and cards to those I love. Or, at the very least, to text or message them my thoughts and love on their special days. But I am not good at keeping track of the actual passage of time. In the months leading up to our anniversary, I told my husband that, for our 20th next year, I wanted to do a special ring to celebrate it. My husband laughed at me and said, “Babe, our 20th is this year. So you better get busy designing!”

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You guys knew I had to toss in at least one wedding picture, right? I have a whole album of them, after all! My gosh, we were so young and goofy back then. Now we are older. But we’re still pretty goofy. And that’s all right. I think it helps to face life with a certain amount of goofiness.

So, gratuitous wedding picture aside, let’s get back on track: My anniversary ring. After my husband gave me the green light, I started my project where all things start. With the barest thread of an idea. I think I have mentioned before how much I love jewelry. And rings, in particular. I don’t wear a lot of pendants or necklaces. Mostly, I wear rings and earrings. So, although I have heard people talk about their “dream ring” or their “perfect ring”, I feel like I don’t really have one of those. In a way, I feel guilty about this. Like, maybe I am doing life all wrong, or something. Because it seems a lot of people feel you should wear your wedding jewelry for forever. And by “for forever”, I mean that a lot of people feel you should have one ring or one set of rings to represent your marriage. And that’s it. Over. Done. The End.

I don’t share this view. I don’t judge people who do. If someone feels they will be happy with one ring or set of rings for their entire lives, I think that is beautiful and wonderful. I just know it’s not for me. I am not the same person I was 20 years ago. Heck, I’m not the same person I was 20 days ago or even 20 minutes ago. For one thing, I am a lot older now, and I feel more confident in the things I love. I feel more confident going against the norm to create and wear something that feels perfect FOR ME. Even if it means others find it ugly or weird or annoying. My younger self would not have done this. She would have been too worried with the opinions and thoughts of those around her.

So, of course, my special anniversary ring had to start with dragons. Yep. You heard me correctly: Dragons. I love dragons. I always have. My mom always thought I would outgrow my fascination with them, particularly since they are mythical creatures. But I never have. I love the sense of strength, courage, and grace they represent. Dragons were perfect for our 20th because we had a lot of dragon imagery in our wedding. There were dragons and phoenixes woven through the material we used for the bridesmaid dresses. We had a dragon on our cake. And we had a dragon design as part of our cake topper, too. There were paper dragons as part of the centerpieces for our reception.

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As I scoured the internet for inspiration, I found an amazing, amazing jeweler: Studio Metals (www.studiometals.com). I am in love with many of their creative and unique designs. And I turned to these as inspiration for my own ring. I loved the curvy and organic quality of the above image. I still think it is one of the most beautiful dragon rings I have seen online. It is so detailed and incredibly well done. And I knew I wanted my ring to have this same type of organic and curving quality to it. I also knew I wanted it to be done in rose gold, which has become my favorite metal over the last year.

I didn’t want an exact copy of any ring already in existence. If I wanted an exact copy, I would just go to the person who created the original and see if I could purchase it. Instead, I wanted to use these images as inspiration for different elements I wanted to see in my own ring.

I hope to purchase from Studio Metals one day. But, for this ring, I knew I would go with a different jeweler: David Klass. I had worked with him on two previous projects. I felt like I had a great feeling for how his work and creative process flows. And I already knew that he and his design team “get me”. I don’t know how else to explain it, but they seem to understand just what I want, even though I have no drawing ability of my own. I can picture the finished design in my head. But I feel completely inadequate to draw it out on paper. I have to resort to sending inspiration pictures and trying to describe my vision in a LOT of words. Somehow, it seems to work out most of the time.

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This is another inspiration image I sent to David Klass. I wanted to have a solitaire design. And I knew I wanted two dragons, one on either side of the center stone. I wanted them facing the stone, with their bodies traveling organically (with lots of gorgeous curves!) down the shank of the ring. The above image served as inspiration for the solitaire style I was looking for, although I wanted my stone to be more obviously prong set, whereas this one almost looks bezeled due to the design.

I travel all over the inter webs and collect different dragon images. I pulled my favorites of these to send to David Klass as part of my inspiration folder for this project. I don’t want to post any of them in here, because they are original artworks. And most of them are not watermarked with the artist’s information. I decided to use the Studio Metal images in my post because they are clearly marked. And because I could include a link to their online store.

Once I had all my inspiration together, I sat down to draft an email that included my ideas. I wasn’t even sure David Klass would take this project. I know he has a busy shop, and I didn’t know if he would be willing to work on something as weird and crazy as my idea. It took me a day or two to draft and edit the email, to make sure my ideas were as clear as I could make them. I sent it off, and I waited.

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It sounds really simple, when I type it out like this. But the waiting was anything but simple. I was excited about my project. And hopeful the jeweler would accept it. And worried it would be too expensive. And nervous about everything in general. I was basically an anxious, nervous, excited mess! And I did not wait patiently. I checked my email like crazy. It seemed like I checked it every ten minutes. Even though I knew I was being a nut, I couldn’t stop myself.

Finally, after a couple of days, I heard back that David Klass wanted to take on my project. He gave me a quote for the work, and he said he would draw up some ideas. My 20th anniversary ring was one step closer to being a reality. And I was off and running on the excitement and fun of putting together a custom ring design.

It was a long process, you guys! But it was also so much fun. I’m going to try and break the whole process down into a few different posts, and I think I will talk about choosing my center stone next. Hopefully, this won’t be too boring, and you guys will tune in for the next post, too.

 

 

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The Springing

I swore to myself I was NOT going to write another “Spring” post right on the heels of the last one. And yet, here I am. With another “Spring” post. You will have to take my word for it that I tried very hard not to do this. I don’t want to be boring or “same old” or … whatever. I mean, I am all of those things in my real life. I’m a simple person. I like simple things. But I try hard to be more interesting for blogging purposes. It’s a thin facade, you guys! I’m sure you’ve already figured this out.

Anyhow, all of this is to say that, yes, I am back with another post dealing with the changing of the seasons and the coming of Spring. Whew! That was a LOT of background. But we’re moving along now.

The cherry tree in my front yard is blooming. I don’t know why, but it takes me by surprise every year. It’s not officially “Spring” until this happens. One day, there are sticks and bare, brown branches. And then … BOOM!! It seems like I turn around twice and blink, and there are blooms and blossoms everywhere. There are many things I hate about living in NoVA. But springtime here lifts my spirits and makes my heart sing like nobody’s business.

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So. My cherry tree. For the last 15 years, it has taken my breath away with its simple beauty. It has bunches and bunches of small pink blossoms with darker pink centers. They look like clouds of softly pink fluff against the brilliant blue of a perfect, cloudless Spring sky. I love to stand underneath it and look up and up and up. If I close my eyes I think I can fly away into the never-ending blue, floating on the breeze with the petals.

Yesterday, I was outside doing some yard work with my honey. We are still in the midst of doing “stuff” for the move and to get our house ready to sell. It seems there is more stuff to be done every time I turn around. But I had this idea that I wanted to get pictures of the front of our house when the cherry tree is in bloom. By the time we are able to list the house, all the blooms will be gone. We were outside weeding and tossing out all the dregs that have been in our flower beds for way too long, like those “oh-so-cute” lights that no longer work and the beautiful stained glass stick thing that no longer has any stained glass in it. Which makes it just a stick. Tomorrow, we plan on getting new mulch into the beds and putting in new borders.

As we were working, I looked up and saw my beautiful tree and her pale blossom clouds against the blue sky. And it suddenly hit me: This is the last time I will see this. This is the last year I will stand under this tree in my front yard and daydream about floating away on the wind. It is the last year I will look out  my office window and feel my breath catch in surprise and delight as the sunlight hits the petals just right.

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I don’t know how I feel about it. I am looking forward to this move. I really am, even amid all the crazy planning and the uncertainty and feeling like there is too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. I want this change for my family. And, maybe it’s completely selfish of me, but I want this change for myself. And yet, there are times when it all becomes so really, really, really REAL. Like yesterday, when I realized this is my last Spring with my beloved cherry tree.

Maybe I do know how I feel about it, after all. I feel a little … bittersweet. And maybe even a little sad.

Springing Forward

I am fashionably late with my post about Springing Forward. There is some smidgeon of irony in there, somewhere. I just know it. But this post isn’t really about our recent time change. Much as I hate both forwarding in the Spring and backwarding in the Fall, I don’t feel like talking about it right now. I’m sure this is nothing more than grumpiness brought about by my interrupted sleep schedule. I have also been hitting the caffeine a little too hard a little too late at night. This is not a good look for me. I used to be able to drink caffeinated drinks, literally, all day and all night with no ill effects. But I have to admit I’m not as young as I used to be. Age comes to us all.

I was out yesterday and the day before for an evening walk. Thanks to the time change, I can now head out around 5 or 5:30 PM and get in a 40 – 50 minute walk without fear of being caught outside alone when full dark descends upon us. Or, let’s get real: descends upon me. Because this is all about self preservation. I think this is the one thing I truly love about the Spring time change. It’s refreshing and exhilarating to be able to take a nice, long walk in the evening. There’s something oddly comforting about walking through a neighborhood when people are heading home for work. Children were playing in front and back yards all along the street. I could hear their screams of delight as I walked by. The yard were full of robins, busily bustling about their business. Here and there, the smell of dinner wafted on the breeze. It was all so sweet and lovely. I’m not sure how to explain it. It makes me feel nostalgic for things I lost and for things I never had.

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Our weather has been lovely for the past couple of days. Tomorrow is supposed to be more of the same. There has been sun. There has been light and breezy air. It has been chilly, but not too much so. The smell of fresh earth and newly laid mulch is in the air. Flowers are beginning to pop up: shoots of the newest green against the dark brown earth. My rose bushes and cherry tree both have buds. My mums, which die back to sticks every winter, are starting to burst out with green leaves again.

I don’t usually love the coming of Spring. In the past, Spring has meant a season of allergy suffering behind closed doors and windows. Pollen of any kind is not my friend. In the past, I would not have been able to walk around outside for any length of time without ending up suffering for it. I think my allergy shots, as much as I hate them, have helped in this respect. I still have to take meds, but at least I can go outside.

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As I walked along on Monday evening, enjoying the sounds and smells of the neighborhood around me and thinking my thoughts, it occurred to me that I felt … happy. It was such a strange feeling that I almost stopped in my tracks as it hit me. I didn’t stop, because my husband gave me an Apple Watch for Christmas. And the Apple Watch is a harsh taskmaster. Those rings MUST BE CLOSED!!!

But it surprised me, this sudden feeling of lightness in my heart and in my soul. I wanted to giggle out loud. It’s been a long time since I felt like this. For most of the last two years, I have been mired in regret and worry and uncertainty. I have felt tired and old and used up by life. I have reminded myself that I just have to keep my head down so I can continue moving forward, one painful step at a time. I guess this is my version of “Just keep swimming.” I’ve been living. But I haven’t been LIVING. Do you know what I mean?

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For the first time in a long time, I realized I was looking forward to something. I was looking forward to warmer temperatures and watching the birds and nice weather. I was looking forward to more hours of daylight and listening to children playing outside and smelling those “home” smells, like a fresh cooked meal. I was looking forward to sunshine on my face and gentle breezes and new, fresh shoots of green. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t stuck in one place. I wasn’t frozen with fear, regret, and indecision.

Are things completely certain in my life? No, not by a long shot. There is a lot of uncertainty. There is some fear, too. But my family has a direction and a purpose now. We know where we are going. Change is coming, and it will be hard. But I think it will also be good. The world around us is getting a do-over and starting fresh, and I feel like my family is doing the same thing. With all the stress and upheaval it will bring, my heart and soul need this change.

For the first time in a long time, I am looking FORWARD.

Still Packing

The shizzle is getting really, really rizzle at my house.

I am continuing through my books here in the office. I spend 99.9% of my time in this room. I realize this sounds sad and pathetic. And yet, I also don’t care because I love my space in here. The point is that I already knew the office was going to be one of the hardest rooms to clean and clear in preparation for our upcoming move. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been going through my books. I have been pretty merciless with clearing out anything I don’t think I will read. If I look at the back of the book and feel even slightly “meh” about the synopsis, it goes onto the finding-new-homes pile. If I recall starting a book and not being able to get into it or finish it for any reason at all, out it goes. And so on.

The result is that there are piles of books on the second floor. They are starting to overtake one of our recliners. And they are spilling over onto most of the sofa. I have surprised myself. I am letting go of things I never thought I would. There are manga and books in here that I spent years collecting and hunting down. And  yet, when I look at the books I have set aside for donation, I don’t feel sad. I don’t feel any sort of loss at all. Did they bring me pleasure in the past? Yes, of course they did! But I honestly don’t feel they bring me pleasure any longer. We’ve lived in this house for almost sixteen years, and there are books in here that I have not looked at or held in my hands since the day I first put them on shelves.

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It’s weird to think that my life has changed. I have changed. I think I fall into the trap of thinking of myself and my life as a static thing. But it isn’t. I’m not. My life is a moving target, and I am always rolling along with it. I am constantly changing and (hopefully!) improving. The things I loved last year or even yesterday may not be the things I love for the rest of my life. And that’s okay. It’s a little surprising, but not in a bad way. So far, although I have only hit the tip of the iceberg, it has been interesting and fun to rediscover myself through this cleaning spree. I feel as if I am meeting myself, all over again. Or, maybe I am meeting my new self for the first time. Or … something.

So. I went into this project knowing I was going to let go of a lot of books. I knew I needed to do it. And I knew I would be okay with it. In the beginning, I was only taking out the books I didn’t want to keep. The ones that were staying with me ended up back on their shelves, albeit taking up a lot less space.

It didn’t take long for me to realize this was not a good plan. I am not the most diligent housekeeper. And I am not the most diligent cleaner. I readily admit this. But I would work for several hours, only to feel like I had made no progress at all. Each day, I would peck away at this distasteful clearing task. I would end the day feeling pretty good about what I accomplished, only to return the next morning to see my room in more of a shambles than when I had started. I think I had reached that point in cleaning when your space starts to look more awful. I’ve always believed this point happens slightly before things begin to turn around for the better. But I wasn’t seeing any of the “better”.

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The whole thing was making me feel more and more unhappy and stressed. In turn, I started shirking my clean-out more and more. Instead of working on the shelves, I would watch a “quick” video. Or I would do my manicure. Or I would blog. It was amazing the number of things I found to occupy my time, just so I wouldn’t have to face the crumbling mess I had made in the office. Even laundry was preferable!

I finally told my husband that I thought I needed to pack away the books I wanted to keep. I felt like I needed to see tangible evidence of my progress in the form of cleared and dusted shelves. He wasn’t crazy about the idea, mostly because we will have movers when it comes time for my daughter and I to vacate our house at the end of the school year. The movers are supposed to pack and move everything for us, and my husband wanted to get the most value possible from that.

I understand how he feels. Truly, I do. And yet … there was All That Mess.

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In the end, I think my husband saw the “crazy” in my eyes. Mercifully, he agreed that packing up the books and things in the office was a good idea. And it is a good idea! We need to clear wall space and get our house ready to sell. So yesterday and today, I have been putting books into boxes. I have packed one fairly large (and heavy! yikes!) box. I have another box of the same size that is a little less than half full. I have a smaller box that is quickly filling with hardback books.

And I am left with, so far, one entire small bookcase and two large shelves that are gloriously empty. Or, close to empty. Trust me, it is a huge improvement! I feel I am making progress. But I also feel like our move is becoming more and more REAL. The sight of empty boxes in the hallway and the sight of empty shelves in the office have hit home for all of us.

Last night, my husband stood just inside the doorway and looked over my progress. “Wow. I know it’s all real when you start packing away your books,” he said. And it’s true. The future is coming for us all. And my books and I shall be ready for it!

Of Books …

Now that my husband has found a new job … and now that we no longer have to live fully in the “limbo” of not knowing if we are coming or going … and now that we know we will be moving in the very near future, it has become time to start clearing house and packing things away. It sounds so simple, when you write it out like that. You go through things and get rid of some and keep others. Whatever you keep, you pack away for later, hopefully for when you come home to your new house.

In reality, it is not that simple at all. At least, not for me. I have no trouble at all with visualizing what needs to be done or with listing what needs to be done. I have trouble with the actual DOING part of it. I start in on a clearing-things-out task with the greatest of intentions. And then, a day or so into the project, I start to feel completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of what has to be done. And I start procrastinating. I start avoiding. I wander around the house, looking at shelves and furniture, and sigh a lot.

Oh. Okay. That’s not true. I’m not that dramatic. I don’t sigh. But I do wander aimlessly from room to room while trying to figure out what I can do in order to avoid all the work ahead of me.

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Like any fool, I started my clear-out adventure where everything begins and ends for me: with my office-cave, and, specifically, with my books. I spend 90% of my time here in the office. This room started out as our “home office space”, which was meant to be shared. But it quickly turned into my space. Apparently, I am not good at sharing. I spend so much time in here that, upon awaking in the morning, my Boy Dog doesn’t run upstairs to search me out in the bedroom. Or the bathroom. Or the hall. Nope. He runs directly to the office. And, if I am not in there, he stands around in the hall for a moment, looking confused, before heading in the direction of my voice.

This room is filled to the brim — and I mean that quite literally! — with all the things I love best. I have my anime prints on the wall. I have my anime screensaver on my computer. I have my dragon statues and my wind chimes. I have a little wooden flying horse. I have my anime action figures arranged on a high shelf that circles the top of the walls, just below the ceiling. I have my nail polish. So, so, so much nail polish.

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And, of course, there are the books. I have nice shelves from the Container Store in here. They line almost one whole wall of the room, but there is a little space left over at the very end. I found a shelf that doesn’t match at all but fills the space nicely. The Container Store shelves are wide and sturdy. There is a set of shelves in the space behind the door. These are rather “built-in”, in the sense that my dad built them for me to specifically fit that space. But they are nothing fancy, particularly considering that my dad has the skill and talent to do fine woodworking and build beautiful cabinetry.

Nearly every shelf in this room is filled with books. I have a set of DVD storage cabinets on the “extra” shelf at the end of the wall. There are 5 cabinets, total, and those house my anime DVD collection. And I have a few DVDs (non-anime) on the shelves behind the door. Other than that, it’s books. And more books.

On the Container Store shelves, I have stacked books three deep. And on top of each other. I mentioned these shelves are nicely wide, right? Well, they are. I have so many books in here that I really don’t even know what I have any longer. And that’s not all! I also have books stored downstairs in an armoire. I have a lot of books. I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say this.

So, I told myself this move would be a good thing. It would give me the chance to go through ALL those books and weed out the ones I don’t think I will read. In theory, this is a great idea. In theory, I love this idea.

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In practice, it is hard to let go of books. Each unread book represents an adventure not taken or a chance left by the wayside. Even if I look at a book and know, deep in my heart, I will not read it, there is still a part of me that wants to hang onto it. You know … “just in case”. I don’t have this problem with clothes. Or most knickknacks. Or, really, anything except for books. And maybe nail polish.

I am making progress. I have started a stack of books that need to find new homes. I go through a shelf and make myself be brutally honest about whether or not I will read each and every book. Sometimes, the answer is no, and I have been making myself accept that. My little stack is growing, slowly but surely.

In the end, I will wonder if this has all been worth it. Yes, I will get rid of a lot of books. But I will still possess a lot of books, when all is said and done. But then, I think about how the books that, maybe, weren’t right for me can make their way into the world. They will find their way into eager hands, and their words will reach hungry minds. Each one will hold an adventure in store for the person who is willing and ready to come along for the ride.

And I realize that the answer is Yes. It is worth it.

Changes …

I’m not sure what to title this post. I have been wanting to sit down and write it for a few days now, but I kept putting it off. I’m not sure why. Maybe I needed additional time to process everything. Really, I don’t think it even matters. This is just me, nattering away in my own mind. Bleh.

So remember how I posted, in January, about how I thought this year was going to be a year of change for my family? And how I felt surprisingly positive about everything? Well … you guessed it! Change is coming! And it is coming soon.

My husband found a new job. It is with a great company. I think he will love the work he will be doing, and it will give him a chance to expand his experience and career. I think there will be some terrific opportunities for him with this company. He is able to go in-house, after working at the hamster-wheel slog known as “law firm life” for most of his career. His new supervisor is great, and they have a terrific rapport. His new colleagues seem like they are all fantastic, too. Everyone seems excited for him to come into his new position. Is it perfect? No. Of course not. I am pretty convinced that “perfect” doesn’t exist in the world of jobs and job offers. There are negatives. But the positives outweigh them. I think it’s a great opportunity, and I feel relieved and positive about him taking it.

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So, of course, this means a lot of changes for my family. We are moving. My husband will start his new job at the end of April, and my daughter and I will move after her school year is done, which will be around the middle of June. It’s crazy how you can feel, for months on end, that you are marking time in a limbo period of your life and, then, in the span of just a few months, everything changes. It feels like our universe has been toppled right over onto its head or something! Not that this is a bad thing. But, after all that time spent wondering and hoping and guessing and believing, now we are in “hurry up and get all the things done!” mode.

Sadly, we won’t be moving home to our beloved Texas. I feel I have made my peace about this. My heart feels okay with it because I truly believe that, at this time, it isn’t the right place for me or for my family. I believe everything works out for a reason, even if I don’t know what that reason might be. And I also believe that, if a move to Texas had been right for us, it would have worked out. There were chances for it to happen, and it just didn’t.

Instead, we will be heading to Illinois. (Hence all the snow pictures in this post!) I have never lived in Illinois. I have never been to Illinois, other than the airport in Chicago on a lay-over. We are not moving to Chicago, but to a smaller town. And I think there is going to be a lot of winter weather and snow in our future. I went to the LL Bean winter clearance sale this past weekend and purchased a good pair of snow boots. I am now wondering if that one action on my part will be enough to change the entire weather pattern for the midwest. Because that is how my life often seems to go —  ha, ha!

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I have ALL the emotions, and they are all running on a continuous loop in my head. I am excited for my husband and for his new opportunity. I am relieved that he not only found a job, but that he was able to land what looks to be a fantastic job. I am hopeful that he will feel valued and respected in his new position. I am excited for the move. It will be a new adventure for all of us. I am looking forward to a new house. I am one of those “crazy/weird” people who loves looking at houses. And I am looking forward to life at a slower pace in a smaller town. Once we move, I should be able to go back to work, too. I am excited about this possibility.

On the flip side, I am nervous about moving our daughter. She will be a junior in high school next year, and she LOVES her current school. She is active in band and has a great group of supportive friends. I am nervous about how she will take to a new school. And I feel terrible for forcing her into the position of having to start over and make new friends. She is an amazing person, though. So far, she hasn’t been thrilled about the move. I wouldn’t expect her to be, and I understand her feelings. At the same time, she is keeping an open mind about it. I feel grateful to her and proud of her for making the effort. I know the change will be hard for her, but I am hopeful she will be able to adapt. Still … the doubts creep in.

The thought of putting myself out there for job interviews and into a work situation also terrifies me to a certain extent. I’ve been out of the job market for 15 years! I mean … yikes! Need I say more? I am scared I will hate working because I’ve become really spoiled over the years. Also, I am very introverted, which makes hanging out alone in my house the most ideal occupation for me — ever. I don’t think anyone is going to pay me to do that, though. Which is too bad.

And I feel alternately overwhelmed and terrified of the moving tasks ahead of us. We are starting in on a massive clean-out of our house. We are donating things. We are packing things away. And so on. It is long overdue, so I am glad we are doing it. But the “long overdue” part makes it feel like a gargantuan task hanging over our heads.

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But you know, even with all these nagging doubts and fears, I am still excited. Is that crazy of me? I don’t know. Maybe. But change is coming, whether I like it or not. I may as well buckle in to enjoy the ride!

The YouTube Rabbit Hole … and Tattoos

So I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole a couple of days ago. You guys know what that is, right? It’s when you happen upon some random video and click it. And then, you click on a similar one after that. And another and another and another and … Well, you get the idea, right?

There is some scary, yucky, and downright disturbing stuff on YouTube. For the most part, I do a good job of avoiding all of these things. You can also find some unexpectedly interesting stuff on there, and that’s how I usually end up falling down one YouTube rabbit hole or another. One time, I ended up watching about a dozen videos by a person who is an artisan costumer and jewelry designer. She makes these amazingly elaborate wire wrapped designs and jewelry pieces. I still watch her videos from time to time, because I find her work incredible and fascinating.

Most recently, I stumbled upon the “Inked” channel. So, of course, it was all about tattoos: tattoo artists talking about their careers, their “crazy” customers, their art, their experiences, and so on. It was fascinating to me. I fell down that rabbit hole hard, to the point that I was sitting in front of my computer around 1 AM, telling myself, “Okay, Self. Just one more. And then we are DEFINITELY going to bed!”

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I love tattoos. I think they are beautiful, and I’ve always wanted one. I’m not creative or original. If I were to get a tattoo, I would probably get some type of dragon. I know it’s terribly unoriginal, but I love dragons! I would want one that looked fierce and a little scary, but also graceful. I think I would have to research different artists and look at a lot of portfolios before finding the artist who was “just right” for me. Unless, maybe, all tattoo artists are totally “over” dragons and consider them too boring now. Hmmm. I tend to be out of step with the world around me, so that could be the case. Who knows?

But let’s face it … I’m almost 50 years old. And I’m kind of a wimp. So no matter how much I want one, the likelihood is that I will never get a tattoo. I’m nervous about and a little afraid of the whole experience. And listening to some of the stories in these videos didn’t make me feel any more courageous or confident. I told myself these are extreme stories; otherwise, they wouldn’t be in the videos. But still, the kernel of doubt is there, now, swirling around and mixing with all of my previous doubts.

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And, of course, this rabbit hole of tattoo wisdom and thought made me think about the scariest tattoo I ever saw. This was several years ago, when my daughter was small. I think she might have been around 4 or 5 years old, so this was around 10 or 11 years ago. And I can still picture this tattoo clearly in my mind. That is how much impact it had.

We were visiting family in Austin (TX), and we had decided to eat at an old favorite haunt from our college days. If you’ve never been to Austin … Well, you should go! It’s a great city. It’s a place where, for the most part, anything goes. You can see all forms of dress and undress, all types of hair style and coloring, any kind of piercing you can imagine (and, probably, some you can’t!), and any type of tattoo. Beautiful ink is on display at every turn. I think it’s great. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve told someone how much I admire his/her tattoo, leading to an incredible and interesting conversation about artists and different styles.

On this particular day, there was a server in the restaurant who had a full face tattoo. He was a very light skinned person with very light-colored eyes. He was bald, either naturally or intentionally. And the tattoo was a puzzle done in bright, almost electric, blue ink. It was all over his face and his entire head, except for one eye, where the design had a piece missing for his eye to “peek” through. It was striking and beautiful. I couldn’t help but admire the dedication this person must have had to his artistic vision and the determination he must have had to sit for such a large piece. It must have taken a long time, and I imagine it must have been incredibly painful, too.

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I feel horrible for saying this, but … It was also Scary as Hell. I first saw him from across the room, and his back was to us. Even with only seeing the back of his head, the tattoo took me by surprise. But then, he turned around so that I got the full impact of it, and I felt a little thrill of fear slide down my spine. It was an involuntary reaction, and I hid it, reminding myself I was sitting in a full restaurant under bright lights and that this server was a normal, ordinary person who, I was sure, was perfectly nice.

At the same time, I was sitting there with a small child. Small children aren’t good at hiding their reactions to unexpected things. And my daughter hadn’t seen him … yet. I kept thinking, “Please don’t let him be our waiter. Please don’t let him be our waiter.” This had nothing to do with HIM. It had everything to do with me being afraid of how my daughter would react in the moment. In hindsight, I realize I should have pointed him out to my daughter right away and quietly explained that a person having a puzzle tattooed on his or her face is no big deal. Because that’s exactly what it is: No Big Deal. But, in that moment, I had a “deer in the headlights” experience. I was frozen in place.

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So, of course, he was our waiter. He made his way to our table. I watched him the whole way. My daughter was busy coloring, and she didn’t notice his approach. For a moment, I thought we would be lucky. Perhaps she wouldn’t look up at all until after we had ordered. She had already told us what she wanted, after all.

Nope. My daughter looked up just as he stopped next to our table. As he was trying to tell us, “Hi. My name is ___. I’ll be  your server tonight,” my daughter looked up at him and screamed. She screamed like her life depended on it, and the sound cut through all of the background noise in the restaurant. For a few moments, silence descended around us, and it seemed that EVERYONE was looking at our table. I’m sure most people really didn’t notice or care at all, but I was mortified.

As the background hum of rattling dishes and conversation started up again, I apologized. I was so embarrassed that I stumbled over my words and sounded like a complete doofus. Our server was, as expected, a nice person, and he was great about the whole thing. He shrugged and took it completely in stride.

“It happens,” he said. “I have a puzzle on my face.”

I laughed a little, trying to overcome my own embarrassment. But, to this day, I wish I had told him, “Yes, you do, Kind Sir. And it is pretty freaking magnificent.”

A Story of Mornings

I am not a morning person. I never have been. I am more of a night owl. No matter how tired I am, you will seldom find me in bed before midnight. On those rare occasions when I manage to crawl into bed at a decent hour (like 10PM), I usually end up reading for another hour or two before finally going to sleep. It’s like a switch flips inside of me after a certain time of night. I am “up” and ready to go!

Except … it’s night. And I’m an “old” married lady. And a mom. With responsibilities that have to happen during the daytime. It’s not like I can get dressed and head out for a fun night on the town when I’m feeling awake and ready to get my day started at 11PM or midnight.

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So, I have never been a person who hops out of bed before the alarm, rested, excited, and ready for the day. I’ve always kind of wished I was like that. Being a morning person, somehow, seems much more productive than being a night person. Perhaps it’s because life happens in the early morning and the daytime. It should happen equally as much at night. After all, a day is 24 hours, 12 of which are near dark or after dark — right? But I suppose Morning and Day had a better PR campaign. And Night was left with Vampires. And me.

Over the past several months, my usual patterns have changed. It is subtle — more like a different nuance than an outright change. Where I have always been slow to wake up, now I catch myself thinking about how I don’t WANT to get up in the morning. In those moments between being fully asleep and fully awake, Depression slithers in and whispers all kinds of things at me.

I feel good about the new year. I feel optimistic and hopeful, for the first time in a couple of years. Even though I can’t yet see exactly HOW things are going to work out for us, I feel, in my heart, that they truly are going to work out for the better. But in those moments when I am first awake and faced with the prospect of a brand-new day, my Depression natters and picks away at that confidence and hope. “You are foolish,” it whispers. “You are a failure. Look at the situation you are in right now. It’s all your fault, and you can’t fix any of it. You will never do anything right. Ever.” And, the worst one of all: “None of this is going to work out. Nothing will change.”

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None of this is true. I know that. I KNOW it. And yet, Depression is so horribly, terribly persuasive. It seeps in around the edges and finds little chinks in the emotional armor. And I find myself lying there in bed, snuggled under my weighted blanket and thinking about how it will take more energy than it is worth for me to get up and face the day. It’s better to stay here, where it is warm and nothing has gone wrong yet. Depression always agrees with that.

And yet … the day is out there. Life is out there. It is a precious gift, and it needs to be lived through the good and the bad. So I gather up my strength and my courage, and I put my feet on the floor. Ready to fight another day. Maybe, if I do this enough times, Depression will learn to be quiet, for once.

If I Had My Choice …

“If I had my choice …” or “If I could choose any one thing, I would …”

How many times have I heard these phrases? Or read them? It’s likely that we hear them so many times a day we begin to overlook them or ignore them. They become so much white noise added to the background of our lives. I find myself thinking these phrases often. Just this morning, I was thinking about how certain things in my life are not the way I would prefer them to be. And I thought about how it didn’t feel as if I had come to this place in my life, physically or emotionally, by choice. To a large extent, I feel like most of my life has been a case of making the best of whatever was handed to me, whether by the people around me or by the universe at large or whatever. And I found myself thinking it …

If I had my choice, I would …

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Presumably, the end to that sentence is that I would choose a different path. Or I would pick something better for myself. Or more fun. Or more … whatever. The ending to the sentence isn’t what really matters. What really matters is the thought that immediately popped into my head, which was this: “But would I? Would I really?”

I do believe Life has, more or less, happened to me. To a large extent, I did not participate in the choices I made that led me to where I am. I followed along with the plans others had for me. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or, later, my husband. And so, I went with the flow, more or less. I never thought about what I wanted. I never thought about what my own dreams were. I never thought about … well, anything. I never planned anything. Or, if I did have the shadow of a plan in my mind, I let it go all too readily and easily in the face of what others wanted.

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In some ways, it’s liberating, isn’t it? I mean, to feel like you can look back at your life … or that you can look at the unhappy/unpleasant/untenable situation you are in … and realize you are there because you simply flowed along in the river of life, absolves you of all responsibility. Right? It’s not like you are unhappy because of choices you made. Or that you feel stuck and ineffective because of things you actively did. Someone else put you in that spot. And, if you had had your own choices or your own way, things would have been better.

But, seriously. This isn’t true at all, is it? Because I did choose. I chose every single thing that got me to where I am today. I chose those things by NOT choosing anything. I chose those things by following along with what others wanted and by making the best of whatever was tossed my way. I chose through inaction.

It kind of hurts, when I think about it this way. When I sit and think about it and am honest with myself, it hurts a lot. It makes me a little sick to my stomach. And that’s how I know it is at least partially the truth. That sick-to-my-stomach feeling almost never leads me astray. It is almost always right. Maybe not totally right, but for the most part.

So that brings me back to my original thought today: If I had my choice … Would I be capable of choosing? I honestly don’t know the answer to this question.

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The truth is that I never had choices growing up. In my formative childhood and young adult years, I didn’t have the freedom to make my own choices or to dream my crazy dreams. I didn’t have the freedom to dream any dreams. My parents, and, in particular, my mother, had very specific plans and expectations for me and for my future. I was supposed to be a certain kind of person. I was supposed to approach the world in a certain kind of way. I was supposed to do certain things with my life.

I wrote. And my writing, in a way, was my dream and my escape. I used it to let myself wander free from the expectations and the plans that were laid before me. But the truth is that I was never strong enough to break away from those expectations. I kept my writing secret, because it was a source of mockery and ridicule in my family. My brother’s creative talent for drawing was celebrated. My talent for writing was not. My parents were not interested in it in the least. It was never taken seriously. Not even by me, even though I kept on doing it in secret, hiding my scribbles here and there in my room.

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When I went to college, I continued to toe the line with regard to my parents’ expectations. I was supposed to get good grades. I did that. I was supposed to major in a certain thing. I did that. I was supposed to go to law school. I did that, too. At one point, right before I moved for law school, I realized I did not want to do this. I wanted to take a step back and think about what I wanted for my own future. But my parents were adamant that I not delay. “If you don’t go now, you will never do it,” they said. And I didn’t believe in myself enough to voice the logical reply that rang through my mind: “And so what if I don’t?” I didn’t believe in myself enough. I wasn’t strong enough. And so, I went. I moved to a town I hated. I suffered through 3 years of school that I hated. I worked in a profession I hated.

And so, here I am. I am almost 50 years old. And I still have no idea who I am. I still have no idea what I want. I don’t know what my dreams are. Or if I even still have dreams. I mean … is it too late for that? I’m a mom. Does that mean my time is over? Does that mean my daughter is the one to have dreams now, and I am only here to make her dreams a reality? Do I only exist to make others happy?

But this can’t be right, either. Can it? Because thinking about this … thinking about how I have never been a “real” person to anyone around me … It feels wrong. Like, maybe it’s the truth, but I don’t want it to be the truth. It’s not MY truth. I want to have dreams. I want to figure out who I am and what I want. I want to work at making my own dreams come true.

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But, if I have never let myself dream or plan or hope or want, do you think it has now become impossible for me to do so? If I have been trained, from the earliest age, to be a person who wants nothing and only makes the best of whatever is handed to her, do you think it is possible to change this? If I make a conscious, concerted effort to sit down and think about what I want from my own life, do you think it is possible to undo a whole lifetime of “this is how you are”?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t. But I feel that part of being kind to myself in 2019 has to be sitting down to think through all of these things. I have to start taking a step back from what others want. I have to start actively thinking to myself, “Self, what do YOU want? Is it the same as what others want from you? Or is it different?” I have to start thinking about the person I am and the person I want to be. I have to start figuring out how to believe in myself. Even a little bit.

Will I be any good at this? Honestly, I don’t think I will — at first. But I think, with practice, maybe I can get better at it. Maybe I will always stumble and get tangled up in the expectations of others. But, if I realize I am doing this, that is an improvement. And learning how to untangle myself will be like taking giant leaps and bounds forward, instead of the marching in place I have been doing for most of my life.

So, let’s do this, 2019. Let’s figure out how to dream our big dreams — at last.

The Coffee Shop (a fictional character study)

There is an old man. I see him from the window of my favorite coffee shop every day. He is a creature of habit, I think. He wears the same clothes each day: blue shirt, dark blue pants, and sturdy shoes with a blue cap on his head. If the weather is cold, he adds a jacket, also blue. I wonder if blue is his favorite color, or, maybe, it’s just easy. Maybe he is used to wearing a blue uniform, from his younger days. Or, maybe, he feels picking out clothing is the least of his worries on any given day.

I see him with a paper every morning. He carries it carefully, unfolded and flat, his fingers almost reverent against the slippery ink on the page. He carries it as if he feels the weight of every word contained inside it. Resigned. As if he doesn’t want to read it. He doesn’t want to learn one more bad thing. And yet, it is his duty to read it and learn of the hate and anger in the world. I think, probably, he is not a person who shirks duty. He stands straight and proud, his posture unbent and unbeaten by time and the world he inhabits. I think he is someone who faces life head-on. Maybe he is afraid. After all, he is old, and the world is not kind to us as we age. And we are all afraid these days. But he doesn’t let it show. He holds his head up high and gets on with life.

I watch, every day, as he waits at the corner outside my window, which is at the corner of the coffee shop, which sits at the corner of the street the old man wants to cross. Sometimes, I feel like I inhabit all the corners in my life, as if I am too scared to come out into the open. As if I am too scared to make myself vulnerable in order to LIVE. And I wonder if the old man feels this way, too. Probably not, I think. Because he pauses at the corner only long enough to find a break in the traffic. And then he moves forward, in a straight line. Not slowly, but also not in a hurry.

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I wonder if he is alone. Maybe he lives a solitary life on the third floor of a building that houses a deli and a bakery. Maybe he raised three kids there and made love to his wife and laughed and cried inside those rooms — walls and ceilings and floors that were an entire universe at the time. Maybe his wife is gone now. But he still has her memory, and it is enough, along with visits from his children and grandchildren.

Or, maybe, his wife waits for him. maybe she is in their kitchen now, lit by the morning sun and humming under her breath as she makes breakfast and waits for him to return home so they can split the paper between them. Maybe they live in a huge house with a dog. And a cat.

I will never know any of these things. And yet, somehow, the old man and I are the same. I watch him living in the few moments he stands outside my window. And I think, maybe, I can live in my moments, too.

“Have courage,” he seems to say to me. Have courage.