A Productive Day …

I am having a productive day today. And yesterday was a good day, too, in terms of “getting things done”. It sounds like a tiny thing, when I type it out loud. “Today is a productive day.” Or “I’m getting things done today.” It almost sounds like nothing at all. I mean, loads of people get tons of stuff done each and every day. I’m sure they’re out there: People who are organized and have all their life-shizzle together and have a checklist for their day and actually check off things from that list as the day progresses.

I am not one of them. I feel like our society (or culture or whatever you might want to call it) values those people. They are the “go-getters”. They are the entrepreneurs. They are the people we all look up to and admire. I wish I was one of them. I used to be organized and together and all of that stuff, but it wasn’t really ME. It was a way that I coped with my own anxiety and nervousness. It was a masquerade, of sorts. Everyone around me thought it was real. On some level, I even thought it was real. But, once Life and Depression caught up to me, I realized this is not me.

Basically, I am a mess. Depression has made me forgetful and disorganized. I don’t write things down or make lists like I used to. I have all the best intentions, but I don’t seem to get things done like I used to. It makes my poor, long-suffering husband crazy. He was used to overcompensating, super-organized me. I don’t think he knows quite what to make of the squidgy mess of a person I am now.

So … this is all a lot of background to lead into my productive couple of (so far!) days. When COVID roared into our lives and our state told everyone to stay at home, I thought, “Okay! This is the perfect time to get some things done!” We are nearly a year in our house here in Illinois, and we still haven’t finished hanging pictures or arranging things in all the rooms or clearing out the bits we no longer need. My office space, in particular, was a huge mess, with things tossed crazily onto shelves and nothing put away. This was mostly because I never took the time to find places for all the things.

I went into stay-at-home at the end of March feeling a little bit eager and excited about the possibility that I would get some of my “home” stuff done. And from the end of March to the end of April, I managed to accomplish … basically nothing. I did get my closet done, because the installers were considered “essential” in our state and were able to keep the appointment to install the shelving and drawers. If not for that, my closet would still be a mess. But that’s a post for another time. The closet happened at the end of April.

From the end of April to now, nearly the end of May, I have, once again, accomplished … NOTHING. Seriously!! Every night, I went to bed telling myself, “Tomorrow, I’m going to …” You can fill in the blank with whatever household task comes to mind. And every morning, I got up feeling stressed and anxious and depressed and completely unmotivated. After each day spent binging British crime shows on Amazon Britbox, I would go to bed feeling horrible and useless. Depression sucks, you guys. It gets you coming and going, and it makes you feel like an ass both ways.

But no more!! At least, not for now. Because yesterday and today, I tackled the shelves in my office. They started out much like the above, only imagine less books and more clutter and dust. It wasn’t pretty. Just looking at them made me want to cry and run off somewhere to hide. I’d been doing more than my fair share of that since we finished moving into the house, so I told myself to suck it up. Start from the beginning, I told myself. Take it one step at a time.

Because that’s the way of any task, isn’t it? No matter how overwhelming it might seem or how unpleasant, if you start at the beginning and take things one step at a time, you will eventually make progress. It feels so much easier breaking things down into smaller bits. Before you realize it, you’ve done all the bits and the entire task is accomplished.

Yesterday, I started at the top of one side of the shelves and worked my way down. I gathered up all the little decorative doo-dads I have collected over time. There are a LOT of them! I love them, but they are horrible dust catchers. I found display cases to corral all my miniatures and fiddly toys and small anime figures. These are awesome, by the way. I love having these display cases. I dusted everything. I put up racks to display my dragons. You guys know I have a thing for dragons, right? I’ve mentioned that a time or two in here. I shifted things from shelf to shelf so that they made visual sense to me.

Today, I dusted some more. I brought books from the library downstairs to store up here on the shelves. I’ve decided to put my manga in here, instead of taking up library space for them. I took out the things that don’t need to be in here any longer. I arranged all the books and looked for book ends to prop them up. I found a decorative basket to hide away my power strip. Because power strips are ugly, aren’t they? I put up my fun little stained glass signs. I untangled my wind chimes and hung them in the windows.

It’s not done. Not yet. I know I have one more box of books in the basement that need to come in here. I need to find a couple more book ends. I still have a few small pictures to hang up here and there. I know things will have to shift around to find the “best” spots. There is always a lot of fiddling and finessing to do before shelves are settled and done.

But that’s okay. I am on the way and nearly done. I had a productive day — two days in a row! And you know what? It feels pretty darn great.

The Nor’Easter

According to our forecasters, there is a Nor’Easter rolling through my hood today. I know just when it arrived, because I heard it come knocking at 4 AM. One moment, I was lying in bed, peacefully asleep — or as peacefully asleep as I could be with a massive allergy attack stuffing up my nose and making it hard for me to breathe. The next moment, almost before I realized what was happening, I was wide awake and wondering who had let a metro train into my bedroom. I’ve lived here for about 15 years, and I’ve lived through this type of wind a few times. Even though I know what to expect, I’ve come to realize you really can’t know exactly what to expect.

We are lucky this time. I think it’s important to say that, because so many places have been hit with much worse. We have wind and more wind and then some wind. We don’t have snow. We don’t have high tides or flooding.  Trees are falling, and our power is flickering on and off. School is canceled for the day. Shingles are spinning and tumbling through the air, as are branches and a lot of trash. It’s terrible and an inconvenience and even a little bit scary. But our lives aren’t in danger. We aren’t likely to lose our home or have to evacuate. So we are lucky.

The Nor’Easter isn’t like any other kind of wind I’ve experienced. It arrives in a howling, mad rush. But once it’s here, it settles in for a visit, like an old and rather stinky uncle you feel compelled to host, all the while wondering when, exactly, he is going to decide to leave. It brings a lot of baggage, too: old shingles, recycling bins and trash cans, coats and scarves, and all kinds of things from far away. All of them pushed along on the power of this wind. The Nor’Easter gusts and blusters. It seems to stop, luring you out as you watch all the trees still and the dead leaves flutter to the ground. As soon as you step foot outside, that wind is after you, almost like it was biding its time and waiting for you to stick your head outside your door. It teases and tugs at your hair. It pulls at your sweater and jeans. It pushes you along for a while and then stops you in your tracks. It runs away with your umbrella.

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There is a part of me — a small, wild, slightly crazy child who lives deep inside of me — that likes this wind. I like to hear it prowl around my house, rattling the windows and pushing at the door, searching out the cracks and nooks and crannies where it might be able to push its way into my home. Once inside, I’m sure it would eat all my snacks, tease my dogs, and leave the whole place in a mess. It has purpose, and this wind can’t be contained or stopped. I try to appreciate it for the amazing force it is, even as I wince and hope the shingles flying about on my lawn didn’t come from my roof. I am safe and warm inside my house, so I have the freedom to do this. I don’t have to worry about my home or my life, which means I am able to sit with a cup of tea and ponder over how small I am in the face of the world around me.

This morning, I got up at 4 AM. I went downstairs and found two anxious dogs. I let them outside, where they stood for the longest time, sniffing — just sniffing — at all the things riding on this wind. And then, we went inside and curled up on the sofa together. A little pack of three, listening to the wolves howl outside.

Hard Lessons

We had a bit of a hard lesson at our house over the weekend. I don’t like the hard lessons in life. Those are the ones I can’t shelter my daughter from — the ones she has to learn and suffer through on her own. The hard lessons make me feel like a failure as a parent, as if I am adrift and floundering aimlessly. I try to be an anchor for my daughter, something solid in the midst of the world’s uncertainty and storms, something she can cling to, if she chooses. Floundering doesn’t feel so great in the face of knowing this is what I want to be for my daughter.

My daughter is in eighth grade this year, and it was her first time trying out for Middle School District Band. She practiced for months. She worked hard for this. But her audition didn’t go well. There were a lot of reasons for this: she was having problems with her flute the night before the audition, so we had to switch instruments; she had to go into the warm-up area alone, and she kind of freaked out at all the people playing around her; she was sick with a virus, and not feeling her best; she got nervous and scared; she was competing against over 50 other flute players, so competition for her instrument is high and difficult. Lots of reasons for a bad audition. Considering everything, she placed well in the flute rankings, but not high enough to make the band.

It was disappointing. I know my daughter was disappointed and sad. I felt disappointed and sad. It was a difficult day, all around.

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But here’s where the “hard lesson” happens. Sometimes, life doesn’t go the way we want. I can point to so many times in my life when things didn’t go the way I wanted or hoped. Thousands and thousands of times. A whole pile of instances in which I felt like a failure … in which I felt like the biggest loser in the history of ever. Even in this instance, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t make all of this right for my daughter. I couldn’t take away her hurt. I tried. I hugged her close and told her how much I loved her. I told her how proud of her I was.

I hope, when she looks back on that day, she will remember those things, instead of the feeling that she failed at something she so wanted to do. Not succeeding isn’t the same thing as failing. Not succeeding means you went in there; you faced down your demons and your fears; you were brave; you tried your best; and, for whatever reason, things didn’t work out this time. If you don’t try at all … To me, that is failure. As long as you try, you have already succeeded.

I know this was cold comfort to my daughter in that moment. But I hope she will take these thoughts away with her, that she will file them away somewhere in her memory so she can turn them over in her mind and think on them later. I hope she will keep on trying and trying and trying, for all the things in her life that she wants. I hope she won’t let the fear of “failing” stop her. Because my daughter is amazing. And brave. And fierce. I hope she will continue being all of those things.

Because she isn’t a failure, even when she doesn’t succeed. And neither am I. I guess we both need to keep learning those hard lessons.

The Saga of the Hair

Quite some time ago, I decided to dye my hair black. “Don’t dye your hair black,” people said to me. Or, “Black? What? Are you SURE you want to do that?” Sometimes, they would stare at me in horror — you know, with that expression folks reserve for extremely nutty people they think might be teetering on the very edge of sanity. But, I paid them no mind. I was sure. I’m a natural blonde — platinum in my little kid years, and then getting increasingly darker until I entered my second twenties as a sort of dark, ashy blonde liberally mixed with gray. I always wanted black hair. Always. I never would have admitted this to my mom when I was a child. I never would have dared to speak my secret desire out loud as a teenager. It’s a long story, but such things just weren’t done. Besides, no one would have taken me seriously. They would have told me I was wrong, and that I didn’t really want to do that. I’m not sure why, but people are always telling me stuff like this. So I have learned over the years to guard my dreams closely. Even the small ones.

Anyhow, when I hit my second twenties and felt increasingly unhappy with my drab hair color (not to mention those grays!), I decided I would just take the plunge. I would go black with my hair. I was nervous, so I started going with darker and darker browns. I did this over the course of a year or so. It was never good enough, so I finally worked up my courage and told my stylist that I wanted to dye my hair black. Like, black with blue undertones … the blackest black. Luckily, my stylist was totally on board with this. She said, “Sure. You still have great skin. You can totally pull it off.” I love her. She never fails to make me feel better about myself.

And so, I ended up with super-duper-blackest-of-the-black hair. And I LOVED it. I had no regrets whatsoever. I still have no regrets over it. I loved having black hair. I have incredibly pale skin — like, so pale that I’m almost invisible. I loved the contrast of my dark hair against my pale skin. It made me feel so good about myself, and it truly was a dream come true.

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Like most dreams, it faded a little once it became reality. I can’t say I will never go back to black hair, because I really did adore it. After almost a year, I decided I wanted to try another of my “hair dreams”: blue hair. I started out small, with some bright blue streaks underneath my hair, so that it only showed when I pulled my hair back. I loved it and found myself constantly pulling my hair back so the world could see my blues. Emboldened, I moved forward to doing streaks of blue highlights in my black. I loved this as well, and, eventually, I told my stylist I was ready to go full-on blue with my hair.

It was a long process. Black dye doesn’t really fade or wash out, so we had to bleach my hair down as light as we could without damaging it. I didn’t much care what color of blue, although I wanted to stay a bit dark. My stylist picked out a gorgeous, bright, bold, electric blue. It. Was. Glorious. I’ve worn this color for a while. I am pretty good about taking care of my hair color, so it doesn’t fade out very quickly. My stylist redid this electric blue a couple of times. The last time, I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled with the result. For some reason, my beautiful electric blue came out so dark that it looked purple. It eventually faded out to a more blue color, but it was darker than I liked. And it had lost that “electric” brightness, which was my favorite thing about this color.

This got me to thinking. I started looking around at different shades of blue. I looked at images online. I looked at the beauty supply store each time I went to browse nail polish. Not that I would ever try dying my hair at home. I am sure that would be a disaster. So many women are able to do a beautiful job dying their hair at home, but I am not one of them. I would probably end up making all my hair fall out or something.  But I wanted to see the different colors and tones of blues. I knew I wasn’t in love with my super dark blue any longer, but I wasn’t ready to give up on my blue-haired dream.

Eventually, I decided I wanted to go with a  lighter blue — something between a gray-blue and a light, almost baby blue. There was a cyan blue that I loved, but my stylist told me it would look super neon. So that color was out. I don’t want neon hair. I’m not sure of many things, but I am certain of this. I have to admit I’m a little bit nervous about going lighter. My hair is fine, which means it never looks thick. I worry that the lighter color will make it look like I’m going bald or something. Going bald, like, for real, is a fear of mine — thanks so much for that, PCOS. In reality, my hair is in good shape. I have decent growth, and it looks decently full on my head. Still, the fear is there. My stylist feels like the lighter color will be a great idea, though. And I trust her.

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Here’s the problem: My dark blue hasn’t faded. At all. I have plenty of growth at my roots, so that color is light enough to take the lighter blue. But the bulk of my hair is still a deep, dark, electric blue that looks purple in some lights and black in others. This is the curse of taking really good care of my dye job. Yes, it lasts for a long time. But, if you get tired of it and want something new … Well, it lasts for a long time.

I don’t feel good about bleaching out my already dyed hair. Luckily, my stylist said the same thing, even before I could voice my concerns. I love that about her. She never hesitates to tell me she won’t do something that will damage my hair. So … She sent me home from my appointment yesterday with instructions to try and fade my super dark blue.

I went to Safeway and purchased Suave shampoo. Basically, any shampoo loaded with sulfates is a no-no on colored hair. And I washed my hair with Suave and hot water. Over and over and over and over and over. And then, I washed it some more. I’m not kidding when I say I washed my hair all afternoon yesterday. I probably washed it 35 or 40 times. I washed it until I was completely sick of washing it, and the water coming off of it was running, more or less, clear. I figured that was enough for one day, particularly since my scalp felt all itchy and dry. Plus, I had to go to my daughter’s band concert.

Today, I got up and took a good look at my hair in the daylight. It’s faded out quite a bit, but it still is darker than I would like. So I mixed up some Head & Shoulders, Dawn dish soap, and lemon juice (for the vitamin C). I put this on my hair and let it sit for 45 minutes. I rinsed it out in hot water, watching yet more blue dye spin down the shower drain. And I mean SCADS of blue dye. I can’t believe there was this much dye in my hair. It was a river of blue. I had enough of my concoction left over to do one more application. And, again, I ended up with a river of blue dye down the drain.

My new appointment is tomorrow. I’m still not sure if my hair is light enough for the new dye. But … I’m done. I just don’t want to wash my hair any more. I slathered it and my scalp in coconut oil — both for the conditioning my poor scalp needs and because coconut oil apparently also fades hair color. And I’m letting it sit for a while. Oh … how I have suffered for beauty. And now, when someone says to me that they have to stay in and wash their hair, I know exactly what they mean!

The Downhill Week

Monday brought a whole host of little annoyances into my life. Too much traffic, a crummy sense of direction, running horribly late for an appointment. A bout of clumsiness that led to several dropped objects throughout the day. Oh, and a clogged toilet. Still, I made it through the day with my sanity mostly intact. It’s just one day, I told myself. Tomorrow will be better.

Tuesday brought dog barf on the floor first thing in the morning. Most of a day wasted waiting around for a repair man. A still-clogged toilet, in spite of my best efforts to make it otherwise. And a needless trip across town to a flute lesson that had, unbeknownst to me, been cancelled that afternoon. I’ve had better days, I told myself. Even so, it’s just one more day. Granted, I felt like I was on a bit of a losing streak for the week. But I reminded myself that it was a very small losing streak. Surely … surely Wednesday would be better. If nothing else, we would be halfway through the week. That’s a good thing, right?

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I had high hopes for Wednesday. Hump day. Halfway through the week. If nothing else, I figured I would be on the downhill slide and one day closer to putting this hellish week behind me. I woke up that morning feeling rather positive. My husband managed to unclog the toilet Tuesday evening after he came home from work. I had big plans to scrub that downstairs bathroom from top to bottom. It felt good, just knowing that room would be nice and clean after all the toilet drama.

All of this positivity lasted until around noon, when I discovered we had no water. No. Water. None. Zippo. Zilch. Not even a little, itty-bitty trickle out of the faucets. Of course, I had started both the dishwasher and the washing machine. We had water when I started them. About five minutes later — just enough time for both appliances to get into their first cycles — the water was gone.  Okay, I thought. So Wednesday isn’t going to be my day, either. There’s nothing for it but to put my head down and just get through it. Because, Thursday was just around the bend. Surely, my  little losing streak would end by then.

Today was Thursday. Against my better judgment, I got out of bed and ready for the day. I went to a favorite place for breakfast and browsed in a few stores. I went to Sally’s Beauty Supply and used my coupon. It was nice. I hazard to say I was in a pretty good mood when I pointed my car toward home.

As soon as I arrived home, both of my dogs greeted me at the front door. They were all toothy smiles and wagging tails. This isn’t unusual. They always greet me at the door, and they are always happy to see me. Today, they had something special to show me. They both ran to a spot in the living room, halfway between the recliner and Fae’s crate. And there, I found a half-full jar of peanut butter. This had been a completely full jar of peanut butter just this morning. The label was chewed off. The lid was gone. Obviously, at least one of my dogs (Boy Dog, I suspect) had a really great time while I was away from home today.

I think he regrets his choices. I know it must have seemed like a great idea at the time, but half a jar of peanut butter has a way of coming back to haunt a pup, no matter how cute and fuzzy he might be. Two Gas-X, one Pepcid, and four rounds of barf later, he seems to be feeling quite a bit better. And the vet said I didn’t even need to bring him in. This is good. It’s all good.

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As for me … Tomorrow is Friday. I think I’m just going to stay in bed, hidden safely away under my covers.

Weekly Nail Wrap-Up

I’m so happy it’s Friday at last. This has felt like the longest week ever. I spent most of yesterday in bed, feeling weak and crummy and sick. I even went to the urgent care clinic near my house, which is a huge deal for me. I have a really bad case of “white coat phobia”, so it takes a lot to get me to go to the doctor. But I just felt so, so horrible. I was dizzy, couldn’t keep food down, had horrible muscle spasms in my legs and feet, hadn’t slept well for several days (and not at all the night before), and felt too weak even to stand or sit up for any length of time. It turns out I was really dehydrated, according to my crazy blood pressure readings, but the doctor couldn’t find any real cause for it. I’ve been taking Prednisone for the last six days or so, due to a massive allergy attack I had in mid-October. Now, I’m wondering if the Prednisone could have caused my issues. It’s the only thing that’s really different in my life at the moment. Very weird. And unpleasant. For now, I’m taking it easy and hydrating, hydrating, hydrating.

I’m continuing on with my push to get all my “new” (to me)  polishes worn and stored away, which means there are going to be a few weeks where I’m trying to wear seven or eight polishes in a week. I don’t expect I will continue this madness for forever, as life tends to get busy. But I do love doing my nails. It brings me a feeling of peace and happiness. Lately, that has been something I really need in my life.

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This is Fingerpaints, “Surreal Sunset”. It now lives in my not-gonna-keep-it pile, sadly. I loved the idea of this polish. I loved the way it looked in the bottle. I wanted to love it on my nails. It’s a really pretty, warm sort of color. But I hated it on me. Hated it. This makes me a sad panda, but what can you do? Needless to say, I wore this color for about a hot minute before I had to get it off of my nails.

 

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Next, I moved on to Zoya, “Binx”. This is a polish from the 2014 Bubbly Collection. I love the finishes on these polishes. I wasn’t really into Zoya until a year or so ago, so I wouldn’t have been one to purposefully purchase this entire collection. I seldom purchase whole collections, no matter the brand. But, by purchasing a polish here and there, I think I might have managed to gather up almost all the Bubbly polishes. I just love, love, love them. Given that it was a Summer collection, this wouldn’t seem to be a great choice to wear in the Fall. Not that I cared. I wanted to wear it, no matter what. Once I had it on my nails, I realized the purple is muted and a bit dusty. It actually felt like a Fall color to me, which was a nice surprise.

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This is OPI, “Yoga-ta Get This Blue!”. Um … yes. Yes, you do. This is another older OPI that I ran across while visiting my parents’ small Texas town. I love this polish so, so much. It is inky and gorgeous and moody. But there is a beautiful blue shimmer way down inside. I could not get enough of this one on my nails, and I probably would have left it on for several days if I hadn’t been in “wear everything!” mode.

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This is China Glaze, “Flying Dragon” as the base color, OPI, “I Cannoli Wear OPI” for the flowers, and Essie, “Getting Groovy” for the centers. I’m still really new to the whole nail art thing, but I decided to give some fun little dot flowers a try. Overall, I was happy with how these turned out. It’s a cute and playful design, and it was fun to wear for a day or so.

“Flying Dragon” is not a new-to-me polish. It’s one of the oldest polishes in my collection, but it’s making an appearance in here because I was making swatches for a post about my favorite China Glaze polishes. I decided to swatch this one last and leave it on my nails. I love “Flying Dragon”. It’s such an amazingly gorgeous polish. But it chips quickly on me. I usually can only get about a day of wear out of it. Even so, the color is worth it.

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I decided to try something totally different and new for my next manicure. This is my first gradient. I used OPI, “Black Cherry Chutney” (the dark color) with Essie “Getting Groovy”. For my first try, I’m pretty happy with how this turned out. I think I need to blend the colors out a bit more, so I will try that the next time. Initially, I wanted to do this manicure with a green and gold, but those colors didn’t work out as well.  I think this color combination would be fun for the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays.

“Black Cherry Chutney” is a gorgeous, gorgeous polish. It’s another older OPI that I found while visiting my parents in Texas. I love how deep and rich the color is. And I love how it straddles the line between red and purple. It’s got a beautiful shimmer deep inside, which makes the polish look satiny and soft.

“Getting Groovy” is from the most recent Essie Winter Collection. I love gold polishes, in general, so I was immediately intrigued by this one when I saw the collection reviews and swatches online. Essie is not my favorite brand, but this polish is fantastic. It goes on so smoothly with two easy coats. And I love the soft finish of it.

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This is Zoya, “Jesy”. This is another from the Bubbly Collection. I saw it sitting in my to-be-worn stack and thought, “Hey, that’ll work. I love the finish, and it’s orange. That’s a good Fall color.” And, it is a good Fall color. Unfortunately, I did a crummy job of applying this. I got impatient and tried to make my coats too thick, so it never dried. I wore this for about two hours before I got tired of the dents on my nails and had to take it off. Still, it’s a gorgeous polish. I’m thinking it might be too sheer to wear on its own. Next time, I may try putting it over another orange, if I can find one to match the color tone.

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Next, I wore China Glaze, “Heroine Chic”. This is from the Fall 2016 Rebel Collection. I really liked that collection a lot, and this was one of the polishes that I wanted the most. It’s a mid to deep gunmetal gray with red glitter/sparkle. I thought this was such an unusual and beautiful combination of colors.

Sadly, I felt pretty disappointed when I wore this one. It felt thick, gritty, and bumpy on my nails. And I felt like the red glitters didn’t show up much at all in the polish. I wasn’t feeling my best when I did this manicure, so I’m hoping it was me and not the polish. I’ll definitely try wearing this one again because I really want to love it.

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Finally, there is China Glaze, “Blue Sparrow”. This is another fairly old China Glaze polish, but I only just got around to purchasing it. I had “Heroine Chic” on my nails for about half a day when the package containing this polish arrived in my mail box. The moment I saw this one, I was like, “Hello! You need to be on my nails. NOW!!” So, yeah … It went on my nails right away.

I love this polish. LOOOOVE it. It’s very similar in finish to “Flying Dragon”. It goes onto the nail a tad bit gritty, dries nearly immediately, and is matte and dark. But then, you hit it with a top coat and BOOM!! Gorgeous, brilliant, bright, blue sparkliness! It’s sorcery, I tell you. Sorcery!

 

Learning to be Kind

Yesterday, I took my daughter to her flute lesson. It’s a once-a-week pilgrimage which we make (now that we’ve “fallen back”) in the pitch darkness of an early evening that feels like the dead of night. She takes lessons at a local music store. It’s a large store — one of the best in the area — and the teachers are wonderful. Her teacher, in particular, is lovely, extremely experienced, and supportive. But the building housing this store is old and a bit run-down. It has terrible parking. It has a minuscule waiting area consisting of three uncomfortable chairs and a hard wooden bench. Typically, all of the available seating is covered in parental bums, so you have to kind of squeeze in wherever you can. This is often not easy.

Last night, the waiting area was mostly full when a woman and her child came for their lesson. The child went back to her practice room, and the mom squeezed into the one teeny, available chair left in the waiting room. She was trying to work on something. She had a binder and was attempting to take notes, but it was pretty rough going for her. She barely had room to sit, much less open a binder and do actual, meaningful work. There was nothing to do about it, as the space was full at the time she sat down. But, as the minutes ticked by, lessons ended. Children and parents left. Finally, it was just the two of us left in the waiting area. I was sitting on the more spacious but terribly uncomfortable bench, and this other mom was still squished into her tiny chair, struggling to balance all of her work on one knee. I’m ashamed to admit it took me a few minutes to notice her predicament, as I had my nose firmly buried in my Kindle. I’m an introvert, and this is how we typically deal with stressful public situations: by pretending we are somewhere (anywhere!) else.

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Once I realized the waiting area had become completely silent, I looked up and saw this woman across the way. “Excuse me,” I said, “Would you like to switch places with me? You might have more room to do your work.”

It was weird. She looked at me as if I had suddenly grown two heads. But it wasn’t a mean expression or a bad expression. It was just that she was surprised. “Would that be all right with you?” she asked.

I smiled and moved over to her side of the space so that she could take my place on the bench. “Of course,” I told her. “It’s all right. No reason for you to struggle when there is more than enough room over here. We’re all in this life together. We should help each other out whenever we can.”

This also seemed to surprise her, and she commented that she wished more people felt that way. Her daughter finished before mine, and, as they left, she smiled at me — a beautiful, genuine smile — and told me she hoped I had a lovely evening.

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Here’s the thing. It was such a small encounter. It was almost nothing at all. It took little effort for me to move my seat. But it made me so happy that I could help out another person, even in a tiny way. And that got me to thinking …

When I was younger, I thought that, maybe, I wanted to be rich. Or famous. I thought I wanted to be “somebody”. I wanted to be special. I wanted to be successful and talented and just … Well, All The Things. Now, though, I realize all I want to do is to learn how to move through my life with kindness in my heart and love for my fellow man. We are all in this life together. I want to try my hardest to have compassion and understanding, to see what others see or feel what they feel. In many instances, it is impossible for me to truly, truly understand these things. But isn’t trying worth the effort? Isn’t trying to meet someone halfway the important part? I don’t know the answers to these questions, not for certain, but my heart tells me this is the right path for me. It sounds simple and easy to say it. And yet, it’s a hard thing to do. I’m not sitting here trying to say that I’m a great (or even a good) person just because I switched seats with a stranger. There are a lot of days when I feel angry. I feel hurt. I feel misunderstood. I want to strike back at the people who judge me and make me feel hated. I have rage inside of me, and I have to struggle with those bad parts of myself. I have to tell myself, every day, that I am going to be kind. Most days, I fail. Miserably.

In the end of it all, I know I won’t be famous. Or special. Or … Well, Any Of The Things. But, if someone thinks of me and says to themselves, “She was kind”, I think that will be enough. I think that will mean I have lived my life well.

We Came for the Candy

So, it’s Halloween once again. This means the streets and sidewalks in my corner of the universe are filled with little ghosts, witches, goblins, superheroes, princesses … and, well, a bunch of stuff I didn’t recognize. It’s a strange holiday, really, if you think about it. As parents, I think many of us spend a lot of time trying to keep our kiddos away from the sweets and treats. Except for this one day of the year, when we send them begging door-to-door, after which they will eat themselves into a sugar coma of sorts. Truthfully, I’m probably not the best mama on the block because I let my child eat sweets on a pretty regular basis. I also let her eat carbs. I have a feeling the child police are waiting just around the corner to swoop in and haul me off to parent jail. Or something.

I kind of don’t get Halloween. Often, this makes me feel like an alien from another planet. I see people all around me making jack-o-lanterns and decorating and dressing up in costumes. And they all seem to have so much fun doing it. I feel really separated from all of that. Halloween was never a “thing” for me during my growing-up years. I spent most of my childhood living in the middle of nowhere. Our nearest neighbor was about three miles away … down a dirt road … in the dark. I’m sure, though, that I must have gone trick-or-treating as a little kid (like, pre-4th grade), because we lived in a city then. Living in a town or city makes trick-or-treating so much easier. Or, well, even possible. No one wants to go trotting down a dark dirt road in costume.

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My kiddo LOVES Halloween. She looks forward to it all year long. She usually starts off in August, thinking about what she might want to be for Halloween. It takes a lot of figuring. And then, of course, we have to go off in search of the costume. Or, if we’re super lucky, we have to find items we can use to make the costume. Sometimes, making the costume is cheaper. Sometimes, it is not. But, you know … You take what you can get. I think a lot of life is like that.

I totally get why my kiddo loves this holiday so much. For her, it’s a fun time. We have some close friends who live in the most adorable neighborhood in the world, and we usually head over to their house for Halloween. They love hosting, and we love being hosted … so it works out really well. Lucky for me! Tonight, she got to go out trick-or-treating with a big group of kids. They went all around the neighborhood and came back, laughing and joking about what they had seen and done. After, they sat around our friends’ big dining room table and swapped candy. It was noisy and unruly and beyond perfect. I loved hearing all of them and seeing the smile on my daughter’s face. I loved knowing she was having a great time, and that she will carry memories of nights like this with her for the rest of her life. For me, that’s what it’s all about. I don’t necessarily need to “get” Halloween. I don’t necessarily need to have the burning desire to dress up or act crazy or whatever. If I can see her have a great time and make memories and laugh … Well, that’s more than enough.

Plus, there is the “parent tax”. All that chocolate isn’t going to eat itself, you know!

Coming Back

Coming back — from anything — is hard. This seems to be one of the universal truths in my own life. I know it’s true. I feel it, all the time. And yet, I absolutely don’t understand it. I don’t get it at all.

If I’m in a routine that makes me happy, doing things that make me happy, you would think I would do anything to stay in that routine. To remain in that sweet spot where everything seems perfect, the sun is shining, and the birds are singing chirpy songs all day long. You would think I would be so single-minded that I would stay on that path. Because it makes me happy. Because I managed to figure out what makes me feel fulfilled. I mean, it’s logical, right? Instinctively, somewhere deep inside on a gut level, it feels logical to me.

And yet, the other universal truth in my life seems to be this: It is so freaking easy to run right off the rails. Before I even know it, I’m out of my happy routine and into an unhealthy rut so deep I wonder if I’ll ever dig my way out again. The thing is, the rut isn’t necessarily a terrible place. Maybe, at first, it’s a little bit fun because it’s new and different. I mean, my previous routine made me happy, but it was still a routine. Same old, same old, every day. Boring. The rut quickly becomes comfortable or comforting, in a way. I don’t have to worry about trying things and failing, because, really, I’ve already fallen into the hole. I’ve already failed, in a way, so the worst has happened. I find myself procrastinating more and more, until, finally, I realize I’m just plain stuck.  It’s insidious. It sneaks up on me, a little at a time. By the time  I manage to look around and see what’s going on, I find myself in what feels like a hopeless position.

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At one point, which seems like a million-gazillion years ago, I was hell-on-wheels with my writing. I wrote like a mad woman. I wrote in every spare moment that I could get. On the weekends, I would sometimes stay up all night writing because I was so involved with and excited about whatever project happened to be front and center at the time. This was after what had been a years-long dry spell in which I hadn’t written anything at all. It was exciting to rediscover my love for writing. It felt right and perfect, like I had managed to wade through a life that felt like wearing a pair of too-small shoes and find the thing I was supposed to be doing. I thought, surely, I would never let my writing get away from me again.

And yet, here I sit … years down the road after having my writing derailed by depression and anxiety … stuck in my rut. Very much wanting to crawl out and recapture the thrill and exhilaration and excitement I felt in those earlier days. Every day of every week, I tell myself, “Self, we are going to DO this thing! We are going to sit at the computer and write words. We are going to do it until it feels easy and fun once again. And then, we are going to be happy.”

Instead, I end up binge-watching a show on Netflix or doing laundry or puttering around with any number of other mundane tasks. It’s all procrastination. I know it is. It’s me, cozying up down in my rut. It’s my rut, growing deeper and steeper by the day. Is it even possible to climb back out again? I have to think this is true, but it feels heavy and hopeless at times.

Well, tomorrow is another day, right? It’s one more day when I can tell myself that we are going to sit in front of the computer and write words. One of these days, it’s going to be true. One of these days, I’m coming back.

 

Is That Me?

I think being self aware is a good thing. Well, mostly. It’s good to be aware of our own thoughts and actions and how those affect the people around us. It’s good to be aware enough that we try to step out of ourselves or our own little worlds in order to be someone better or stronger or just … “more”. I think it’s good to push boundaries, even though it’s also really hard.

But, sometimes, being self-aware is just so freaking painful. There are moments when the most biting, purest form of self-awareness sneaks up on you and just bites you in the ass. You know, like when you happen to catch sight of yourself in a mirror, unexpectedly, and you feel startled — as if you’re staring at a stranger. And then, you think, “My gosh. Is that me? Is that what I really look like? Is that really the person I am?”

Because, in our minds, we picture ourselves a certain way. We don’t necessarily think of ourselves as the sum of our outward appearance. We picture all the parts of ourselves that make us unique — the important, inside parts, like creativity and kindness and compassion and love and fear and dreams and secret thoughts. All of the beautiful and scary and fun and crummy things that make us … well, “us”. And so, it’s easy to forget that, maybe we have lots of gray hair. Or, perhaps, we are a carrying around a bit more chub than we would like. Or, whatever. The point is that the outside reality doesn’t always match up with the inside reality. At least, that’s the way it is for me. Maybe I’m just weird or something.

Last week, I had a sudden and unexpected moment of self-awareness. It was a startlingly painful moment of clarity. I went out to meet a friend at a local place for lunch. It’s one of those places with limited seating and a long line, and I ended up getting there a bit after her and standing in line for a bit while she grabbed a table. I was in line behind a group of four people: two men and two women. They were all obviously on their lunch breaks. They were dressed for work and all on their phones the whole time. The women were so elegant and perfect. Their hair was perfectly done and all sleek and shiny. They were thin, and their shoes coordinated with their outfits. They had on beautiful makeup, and their outfits were stylish and flattering.

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And I stood there in line behind them and thought about how so many women are a complete mystery to me. It’s like I’m a different species from them. I don’t understand the hair thing or the make-up thing. I don’t know what stuff like foundation primer is or what you do with it. I don’t know how to go through a whole day without getting my clothes all wrinkled. I always wear comfortable shoes. I’m usually covered in dog hair. I suddenly pictured myself standing next to these gorgeous, elegant, perfect women, and I had to struggle to keep from laughing. Me, in my old t-shirt and frumpy sweatpants and running shoes. Me, doing my best “sweaty beast” impersonation because I just finished working out. Me, with my hair all up in a messy pony tail, with bits and pieces flapping all around my face and standing out straight from my head. Me, with my gray roots showing and my smile lines and no make-up at all. Me, a frumpy-dumpy, overweight, frazzled, middle aged woman who, let’s face it, basically never managed to reach “elegant” in her whole life. Suddenly, I felt ridiculous, but also as if I had been completely laid bare for all the world to see. It was a humbling experience. It shook me. My first reaction was to laugh out loud at how silly I was. After that, it was all I could do to keep myself in that line. I had the almost overwhelming urge to push my way back through the crowd, out onto the sidewalk, and just keep on running until I found a dark corner in which to hide my less-than-perfect self.

It wasn’t easy. But I made myself stay there. I made myself wait in that line, a stark contrast to the feminine perfection just in front of me. So, I’m not a perfectly elegant woman. So, I never will be. My nails always look nice, though. I do have that going for me. It’s a small thing, but perhaps it’s a start. And, of course, I was on my phone the whole time, too. But I was playing Pokemon Go.