Da Vinci’s Paintbrush

I think everyone reaches a point in their life where they ask themselves, “What the hell am I doing?” That midlife crisis seems to sneak up on us when we least expect it. For me, that age was 38. The age my mother was when she lost her battle with Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. The age I could never see beyond for she was my mile marker. She had put a huge roadblock on my path without even realizing it and I hated her for it. Hate is such a strong word. I hurt for her. I hurt for what she lost and would never see. I hurt for the conversations we were missing out on and I was hurting for her scent, her hugs, her anger, her pain, her happiness, her own life changes. At the beginning of the year, I decided I wasn’t going to let my 38th year get the best of me and I was going to make changes that were going to alter my mind and soul for the better. I didn’t know quite how I was going to accomplish this, but it was going to happen regardless.

As the day approached, I realized I needed to get the hell away. To become accustomed with the girl I had kept in the dark for so long. This girl was a bit annoying. She has a bad habit of starting things and not finishing them. She has low self esteem issues and battles with self doubt. This is quite the opposite of what most people think of her. I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to get to know her and yet the necessity of it was there. I had once told my Dad the biggest fear I had in life was the fear of “ending up”. I didn’t want to look back on life and say, “What the fuck have I done?” Being a mommy was never meant to be my only job. It has however, brought me to the path I find myself on now and it’s so different than I thought it would be. This is not a bad thing, it’s just different. I’ve made so many mistakes. Being a first child myself, I knew I was going to mess up and use my boy as a guinea pig in the land of parenthood. What I got from this experiment of human error, is a loving, sensitive young man who although pisses me off on a fairly regular basis, amazes me at every turn. I have a daughter who makes me happy with the creative brightness that shines off of her entire being. She is emotional and kind and has a sense of wonder with her world. I have an outstanding, loving husband who supports me and understands my kind of crazy; and yet I knew I still needed to get away from all of them.

I made plans to follow back roads up and over the Mackinac Bridge and get myself up to Tahquamenon Falls. I had never seen Lake Superior or driven across the bridge on my own, On Monday July 28th, I dropped the daughter off to camp and loaded up the Honda Pilot with camping gear and food with the intention of spending each night in a different State Campground. I have never been on a trip by myself. Although I enjoy my quiet time, I enjoy conversation and this was a huge step for me. I was scared, nervous, and so very excited.

Ready to hit the road.

Ready to hit the road.

My son kissed me on my forehead while saying, “Have fun Mama” and waved as I pulled out of the driveway. Day one, I planned on being in Leelanau State Park. I headed towards the lake shore to catch the scenic route going north from Muskegon. I was able to grab some soda’s at Snug Harbor Outfitters, the shop owned by my fabulous sister and brother in-law before silencing myself until I had a local or forest ranger to talk to.

The first rule of travel is, get off of the interstate. Get yourself onto the two lane highways and see this gorgeous land we live in. The scent of the water, sweet grass, and the heat of the sun radiating off the pavement is reason enough. You can roll your windows down and stick your arm out the window. Left arm farmer tans are sexy and proof that you’re road warrior. Be proud of it.

The scenic route going north.

The scenic route going north.

I completely ignored my GPS most of the time. If I didn’t, I would never have found the gem that was my first stop. In the little town of Manistee, Michigan, there is a gorgeous beach with a sign saying the land ends before you find yourself tumbling down a small dune to Lake Michigan.

The Land Ends NOW!

The Land Ends NOW!

I kicked off my flip flops and walked down to the water. There really is nothing that compares to the feel of sand between the toes. I took a deep breath and looked up to see; vultures. Yes dear people you read that right. Vultures. I was so excited to see such large birds swarming overhead, thinking I was watching hawks. Nope. These things are huge. Turkey vultures wingspan average around 5 ½ feet. Although not as majestic as the hawk, still pretty impressive. I took pictures, closed my eyes, and smiled only to realize I had no idea what the habits of these birds were and really had no desire to start my trip off having to clean bird poop off of me for they flew low and right above me. Content with the amount of wind, waves, and sunshine in my system, I head back to the Pilot, popped in some Jackson Browne and continued on my way.

Me, Myself, and I

Me, Myself, and I

I rolled into Northport around 8pm, after taking my sweet time going down random roads just to see where they went, grabbed a bottle of wine from the corner gas station meets convenience store and continued onto the state park. I had my pick of sites that night and took the recommendation from the ranger at the gate. My site was across the road from the beach and once I had my tent set up I walked out to the water to watch my first sunset.

First Sunset

First Sunset

I was at the top of the pinky of Michigan. I could get no further north than where I was at without driving into the water. I sprayed myself with bug spray, made a fire and a humble meal of a roasted veggie brat, and filled my water bottle with wine. My cheeks hurt from having a constant smile on my face. I went to bed early that night but woke up when my bladder was about to burst. The wine I had consumed was not going to let me wait until morning before letting me know of it’s existence. As I made my way down the road to the outhouse I looked up to the sky with a deep breath and almost stumbled in shock at the night sky. I had never seen so many stars. I raced to the toilet in order to take my time getting back to my tent. Once I was done doing the potty dance, I was able to enjoy the sky. I took slow steps and kept my flashlight off in order to take it all in. When you’re that far away from any city lights, there is no end to the stars. I had a difficult time finding where the dark part of the sky was, for the stars looked as if Da Vinci had come by with his brush to shake the paint from its bristles onto black canvas, with the intention of covering it completely. It was amazing and I was standing there crying with the sheer joy of it. Before climbing back into my tent, I went out to the beach again. I stood there like a kid seeing a shooting star for the first time. I felt so small at that moment. I realized then, that some questions in life just couldn’t be answered. Some of them were meant to stay a mystery and it was okay. I fell back to sleep with the sound of the waves hitting the shore.

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Paths and Forks in the Road

292338_4548100420520_1147882596_nI deal with a seasonal depression right around the 4th of July, every year. I’ve never been able to figure out what causes this. I often feel an uncontrollable sadness and rage at the world. The thought of navigating through crowds to see the fireworks has often left me with an anxiety so strong I have thought about skipping out all together. This year however, I felt a lightness I haven’t felt in years. The entire day was enjoyable and spent with family and good friends. This July also marks the year I turn 38. I have been dreading this year in the same way others dread turning 30 or 40. It has nothing to do with getting older and everything to do with realizing just how young my Mom was when she passed away. I have tackled the idea of 38 like a mouse being detained for testing. It frightened the hell out of me. I had somehow gotten it into my head that this was going to be the year things ended. What is beyond 38? Dumb, I know, but real for me none the less. I thought, if I can just get passed 38, all will be well. I think this may have played into the seasonal depression, but was not the only source. I spent many years without direction, without a goal. This crippled me. Spending so much time on trying to figure things out rather than doing something to change the predicament I found myself in, made for a very angry woman.

I don’t think anyone understands just how young 38 is until they get there. We spend so much time when we’re kids thinking our parents are so old. They never mention that life seems to begin in your 30’s. The teen years are usually selfish and full of angst. Your twenties are filled with frivolity and flying by the seat of your pants, not knowing when to slow down or stop. Your thirties however, seem to be the turning point. That time when you start asking yourself, “When will I feel like a grownup?” I actually asked this of my Dad just a few years ago and he looked at me, smiled and said, “I’m still waiting”. Not only did this put the whole age is just a number thing into perspective, it made me realize I wasn’t alone in my concerns. It’s also taken me several more years to lighten up and move on. I still struggle with the moving on thing, but I’m getting there.

Tonight, I spent an evening with some amazing people. Not just the people you enjoy having a beer with from time to time, but the people who have made such an impact, you really have no comprehension of how you would make it through life without them. It is humbling to know that these people love me with all of my flaws and scars. How did I ever think I could navigate life without them? My friend Jenn and I had a very weird spat several years ago when we realized our political opinions differed from each other. We lost four years of friendship because of this and we’ve been making up ever since. I can not imagine my life without her in it and I’m happy to say that politics is no longer a part of our conversations. Do not do this dear people! Do not let the difference of opinion separate you from someone who truly understands you as a person.

Now, as you can hopefully see based upon my writing and the dates, I have now progressed into late July. The 4th is now in my recent past and the evening of spending time with fabulous people is now set a few weeks ago from the present. This does not in any way change my topic.

This Saturday is my 38th. I will be spending the day at our neighborhood block party and then proceed to head out to the great land of Muskegon to drink beer and sing karaoke with my fabulous sister and hopefully a few friends and family members. Come on out if you’re so enlightened. We’ll be at Hennessy’s Pub at 8pm until they kick us out for debauchery and excessive drunk flirtatiousness. This is my life and I thank you to smile at it.

On Monday the 29th, I will embark on a spirit journey/quest to find the woman I have left in the dust for so many years. I will be heading north without a husband or children to camp out every night in some unknown campground for four nights and five days. Some of you may be thinking, “who the hell cares”, while others will understand that a woman who became a mommy at the age of 18 and a wife for the second time at the age of 28, this is kind of a big deal. I have no friends or family to visit, I am just going. I need to be by myself. I need to find the girl inside that seems to always be screaming in my ear. I need to know her before jumping into the next adventure of life. She’s kind of a bitch and sometimes high maintenance. She is a Leo after all. For this, I’m going full on hippie. No makeup, no hair product. I know this is a scary thought for some of you. Steph without makeup?! Steph without cute hair?! Yikes! However, I believe that if I can not be comfortable with myself, I will never be comfortable with others. I put on a very good mask of ease when I’m around people. I seem confident and full of extroverted goodness. Inside, is a person that really just wants to hide away in a cave from time to time. I know, right? Have I confused any of you yet? This is my midlife crisis and I’m trying to grab it by the balls or vagina, whatever metaphor works for you, I’m good with.

Life is a journey and so many of us, including myself, never give it the opportunity to shape itself into what it should be. We’re so concentrated on what others think, that we forget to look at ourselves and what WE truly think and believe. I am doing something that is so generic, yet so rare. I may not post everything I do next, but look forward to the journey, for I plan to share it.

Wanderlust

Is it so wrong to have the desire to quit one’s job in order to hit the road Kerouac style?  The human want of finding oneself is not a new thing.  I believe it’s one of the processes we all go through in order to identify with others, to understand our own longings, and to explore that which may never be explained.  Time and time again, I get a restless ache to get away. To roll down the windows, step on the gas, and yell out Towanda!!!  I quite often find myself wanting to simply see a sunset on water while pressing my feet into sand.  There is something so delicious about the feel of warm sand between my toes.  I love the smell of mossy earth and old vibrant trees.  Walking through the woods while listening to the sounds of woodpeckers and tree frogs is magical.  I love the rolling hills of the Leelanau Peninsula as she pushes her way north into the lake and curves around Grand Traverse Bay.

I love walking into coffee shops and sitting down to people watch and there is a comfort in knowing there are small businesses that are third and fourth generation owned along the backroads of our Heartland.  One of these days I’m hopping on Route 66 and taking her all the way from Chicago to Cali. I want it to be slow and full of weird and eccentric people.  I want to meet a woman named Flo who smacks her gum and calls me “Sugar”.  Maybe there will be a man named Herm in a small five and dime who stands behind the counter and grumbles as kids come into the store, but will make sure each of them walks out with a piece of Bazooka that he keeps behind the counter just for such occasions.  The little girl in me wants to see the Disneyland that my Mother was fond of in her youth and to swim with the mermaids in a Peter Pan adventure.  The woman in me longs to see the orange groves and vineyards and the Golden Gate Bridge, then to follow the coast north into the land of the giant redwoods.

I would love to think that travel is a hereditary trait.  My Father has the same wandering spirit.  Last Summer, we spent a weekend in Traverse City with my immediate family. My husband and children left earlier than I wanted to, so my Dad and I decided to take our time getting back to Grand Rapids. We headed north on M22 along the west side of Grand Traverse Bay and stopped at Black Star Farms Vineyard.  We then cut across the peninsula over to Leland to walk around for a bit and get pictures of the old fish shanties.  Next was south to Glen Arbor.  I had never been to the original Cherry Republic shop. If you have never had the delights of cherry salsa, mustard, and chutney, I highly recommend it. It’s the kind of shop that allows you to graze like a kid in a candy shop.  On the other side of the main stretch, the small roads head straight to Lake Michigan, which is where we went next.  We parked the truck, Dad grabbed his camera and I immediately took off my flip flops.  I pressed my feet into the sand, lifted my head towards the sun, and closed my eyes. The breeze coming off the water seemed to wash away all of my worries. All of my stresses. It felt as if I was being baptised and the world was new again.  We continued to head south and stopped at Sleeping Bear National Park, entered the scenic drive and took pictures of our gorgeous coastline.  I believe I developed a permagrin while soaking up the views.  By the time we stopped for a bite to eat, we were starving.  Our mutual stubbornness about not wanting to eat at a chain restaurant, left us with few options on a Sunday night. We found a small local pizza and sub joint just north of Muskegon. The sub buns were made right there, the toppings were thick and the atmosphere was perfect. Dad didn’t drop me off at home until 1:00 in the morning.  Our 2½ hour trip home had turned into a full day trip.  It is one of my favorite memories and the smell of the concrete after a day in the sun, the wind blowing through the open windows of the truck, the warm sand between my toes, the heat of the cherry salsa on my tongue, and the yeasty goodness of fresh made bread from the pizza joint will forever make me smile and long to be on the road again. It helped that my Dad is a fantastic travel companion. However, wanderlust can never be cured. I think I’ll be an old woman, curled under the blanket with a good book in hand longing to be in a vehicle with the windows rolled down and the smell of freedom stretching its fingers to tickle my sinuses and cleanse my soul again.

Rise Up

So, this is the memoir piece that I had to do for my EN100 class last Summer. I’ve been a little paranoid about putting my stuff  “out there” and thought that it was time for me to suck it up and just do it.  This was my final draft that I turned in and received an “A” on. I haven’t edited it with the suggestions that my Prof gave me, but thought that you’d be able to get the gist of my style anyway. So, here it goes. Enjoy.

It was the beginning of August and Traverse City was humming with the excitement of what has become their annual film festival.  I along with my husband and kids had decided to make a long weekend of it and traveled there to visit family who live just a few short blocks away from the entertainment.   I had been feeling anxious, depressed, and weary and the desire to get away from Grand Rapids and the job that had been sucking my soul away was so acute I could already feel the sand between my toes and smell the musky sweet scent of the bay.

 Traverse City is small town with a big personality and everything is within walking or biking distance.  There is a local beach where few tourists can be found.  With the temperature in the low 80’s and the sun shining, the small beach was the perfect location for our Saturday afternoon outing. The bay lapped at the hot sand as I watched my family enjoy the coolness of the water.  I tilted my head back, took a deep cleansing breath and allowed my face to be sunkissed.  We had a light lunch that consisted of  fresh strawberries, grapes and watermelon purchased at the farmers market that morning. Paired with crackers, cheese and ice tea, it made for a setting straight out of an Elizabeth Wells novel; all I was missing was a bloody mary to complete the picture.  As the day progressed into late afternoon, I still couldn’t seem to calm my erratic mind and decided that a drive up the coast of West Grand Traverse Bay would be a wonderful way to destress my worrisome heart.  I needed to be free to think and do a little bit of soul searching.  So, with the sand still on my feet and legs, I put a towel down on the seat, said my goodbyes with a promise to bring back some wine for dinner and hopped into my Honda Pilot.

 I had purchased some amber perfume oil from a small shop called Higher Self that morning and made sure to put it on.  I had read in a travel magazine years before that a new scent is a must have when going on a trip.  The article had said  to make sure the scent was one not usually worn. When at home, the scent will be a reminder of that particular trip.  I was consciously creating a memory that day.  Little did I know that I would come back to it again and again.

 With all of the windows down, I cruised down past the marina and headed north on M22 toward Suttons Bay.  I had the bay to the right of me and despite the noise of the traffic, I could still hear the sound of the waves coming in and the seagulls overhead.  The wind coming in through the windows was a reprieve from the hot sun that had turned my pale skin pink and I relished the freedom of not having shoes on my feet as I pushed down the gas pedal.  I had just recently watched the movie Into the Wild and had fallen in love with the soundtrack which was composed by Eddie Vedder.  The song Rise struck a chord with me as I continued towards my destination.  Eddie’s beautiful melancholy voice began to haunt me.

“Such is the way of the world

You can never know

Just where to put all your faith

And how will it grow

 

Gonna rise up

Burning black holes in dark memories

Gonna rise up

Turning mistakes into gold”

 

I began to tear up and then pushed the button that would start the song over again.

 

“Such is the passage of time

Too fast to fold

And suddenly swallowed by signs

Low and behold

 

Gonna rise up

Find my direction magnetically

Gonna rise up

Throw down my ace in the hole”

 

I must have played the song a dozen times before I even reached Suttons Bay.  I realized that I needed to “rise up”.  I had a job that I was coming to loathe, no sense of what I wanted to do with my life other than having the desire to go back to school, and it was at that point that I realized that although I wasn’t old,  I wasn’t getting any younger.  I was on the fast track to doing what I promised myself I would never do.  I was “ending up”.  I had told my father several years before that “ending up” was one of my greatest fears.  I didn’t want to look back and say, “What the hell did I do with my life?”.  I never had any intention of being at my job as long as I had.  I wasn’t supposed to be in my early 30’s, stuck in a job that “just paid the bills”.  I was meant to make a difference.  I had grand ideas of what I could be doing, but I had no idea how to get there.

 With dark thoughts in my head, I arrived in Suttons Bay.  I parked the Honda, got out, and began to walk.   With its love of the arts and gorgeous views of the water, Suttons Bay is a quaint tourist town.  I passed by the families getting ice cream at the local shop and locals sitting on their porches watching the tourists enjoy themselves.  I wandered aimlessly through the shops and throng of people and finally decided that I needed to be by the water.  I passed the small hotel by the marina and continued down to the park.  I found a bench that looked out over the bay, sat down, closed my eyes and just breathed in the fresh air.  With uncontrolled tears silently streaming down my face, I felt like I was having a bit of a break down.  I didn’t know where to go from here.  I was a lost child in a sea of unfulfilled dreams.  How had I become this woman?  Who was she and why was I allowing her to control me?  I brought my anxious mind to a calm level and repeated “everything will be alright”.  It became a mantra.  Then, I replaced it with “Gonna rise up, find my direction magnetically”.  This time, instead of Eddie’s voice, I heard my own.  The breeze lifted my bangs out of my face and cooled my neck. Although I sat beneath a tree, I could still feel the warmth of the sun as it reflected off of the concrete walkway.  The seagulls screeched above me and the water gently crashed into the short pier.  The fishy smell of the bay mingled with my amber perfume and the lingering scent of the sunblock I had put on earlier.  At that moment, it was the most intoxicating thing I had ever smelled.  I don’t remember how long I stayed there.  I waited for my anxieties to come back, but it seemed they were going to stay away for the moment.  The sadness still lingered, but the pain wasn’t as sharp.  I wiped my damp cheeks with the pads of my fingers, applied some lipgloss and began to walk back to the Honda.  Once I was behind the wheel, I put the key into the ignition, kicked off my flip flops and rolled down the windows.  I popped in what was to become my new theme song and drove south to get back into Traverse CIty.  This time when I played the song, I felt a renewed sense of myself.  I could breathe deep again and this time instead of crying, I smiled as I sang along to the lyrics.

 As I came into the downtown area, I stopped at a little market named Jacks.  With its dark rustic wood, it looks like a large fish shack.  Once inside, a person is treated to a great selection of microbrew beers and local wines from both the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas.  The employees are friendly, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable.  I purchased a bottle of chardonnay that came highly recommended and made my way back to my aunt and uncle’s house.  My aunt is the consummate hostess and had already set out what was left of the fresh fruit and cheeses from lunch in preparation for the bottle of wine I promised to bring back.  I can’t tell you what we had for dinner that night and I can’t tell you what I did for the rest of the weekend, but that short little trip rejuvenated me in a way that only travel can.  That weekend was my turning point.  Shortly after the trip I started looking at schools and their programs.  I began asking friends for advice on what I could do.  I sent away for brochures from trade schools and sent out emails to several local colleges in the hopes that one would just click.  It took me two years to finally decide that going to GRCC was my best option.  It took me another half year to finally register for a class.  The process has been slow, but some things can’t be rushed.  The moment has to be savoured and nurtured until it’s ripe for the picking.  My hand is finally reaching for that juicy apple on the tree and I’m ready to take the first bite.  As the lyrics go, “I’m burning black holes in dark memories, gonna rise up, and throw down my ace in the hole.”  I still have moments when I feel that my emotions and anxieties are out of control, but on such days, all it takes is a bit of my amber perfume and that drive up the coast comes back to me and somehow I remember to breathe.