The Avoidance Trip

If someone had told me as a child that I would one day have a real compulsion to not only know ranchers but to potentially be one… well I probably wouldn’t have laughed it off as I have always been wildly imaginative and I might’ve seen the merit, even then, but I may not have entirely believed it.

So when an opportunity came about for me to potentially apprentice with some real Wyoming ranchers, I threw my bags in my car—having been hunkering in Colorado Springs until just such an occurrence gave me reason to leave— and put the petal to the metal.

I had a brief pit stop in Fort Collins to see my beloved lil sis Kirst who now resides there. She made me laugh until I cried and plied me with craft brews, whiskey and homemade tacos. Then bought me coffee and one extra large donut the following morning after too much whiskey and tacos, while generally confirming my suspicion that my sisters are my soul mates and always will be. There’s no love like that.

Anyhow, even though Kirst and her new beau wanted me to stay another night I was anxious to get on the road and only lingered until about 10:30 in the morn, knowing I had a 6.5 hour drive ahead of me and not wanting to travel after dark.

I had already looked at my GPS and even talked about what route I would take with Kirstie’s man, having settled on coming up through Thermopolis to my new destination. This route would take me through some areas I hadn’t seen before which was promising, however, going through Thermopolis and the Wind River Canyon had me less than thrilled. You see the ex-cowboy took me on my favorite date of all time there and I already had a pit of doom about driving through it and thinking of him and all the ways in which he used to make me laugh.

But obviously I wasn’t going to let the ex-cowboy ruin any of my plans or my love for the Wind River Canyon just because he told me inappropriate pirate jokes there and held my hand and smiled at me in a way that made me forget about what wind and rivers and canyons even were.

That was until I double-checked my GPS and saw that there was a third route that wasn’t an option before. And it shaved off half an hour. It didn’t go through Buffalo or Thermopolis. Hmmm, I thought, that’s a new way too, and no uncomfortable ex-boyfriend memories. We have a winner. I happily cruised along on the sunshiney day listening to podcasts and planning my future as a rancher.

When I got to Casper I noted that gas was $1.42 a gallon, which was good but I was at half a tank and didn’t feel like stopping yet. I left the city of Casper and passed another gas station touting gas for $1.53. I kind of regretted not getting gas at the $1.42 place but still didn’t want to worry about it at the moment, though I suspected it would only get more expensive from there.

I also had to go to the bathroom, but not terribly bad so I kept on. Now this is when my GPS had me turn down a road off of the main highway. The road was in disrepair, looked rather desolate and seemed an odd road to take, if I were going to listen to my intuition, which I did not.

If my life were a horror movie this is where the eerie music would pick up signaling the heroine was about to head into serial killer country while you the viewer clench your midsection knowing that she’s an idiot and should have never turned down that road, but you watch on anyway to see what ghastly scenario she finds herself in.

When I crested a hill and saw not a hundred sheep in the road, not five hundred, but a gaggle of sheep so thick and dense that I could only surmise thousands, I began to wonder further about this road choice of Google’s. But I chose to be charmed instead, eyeing up the sheep blocking the road as if I were in Scotland. I slowly inched my car toward the sheep and a farmer nearby on a four-wheeler. I rolled down my window and said hello.

He smiled and asked how I was doing, I said good and asked him how he was doing.

“Couldn’t be better,” he beamed, looking at his sheep. This charmed me further and so I disregarded that this was a bad road and thought, this is a Wyoming road with a lovely sheep farmer that’s welcoming me back to my state that I love so much. Where the traffic jams involve sheep and happy farmers instead of road-raging idiots and blaring horns. 

He asked if I was heading on up the road and I nodded, though I hesitated wondering if I should ask him about this particular road and if it was okay… and my now half a tank was at about 100 miles until empty. Would I make it 100 miles on this road before another gas station, I almost asked and then didn’t, but just watched mesmerized while he parted the sea of sheep like Moses parting the Red Sea.

But soon after exiting my sheep jam, the decrepit paved road turned to dirt. I again wondered about this and wondered why my GPS surmised that this was faster, but kept going, against my now better judgement which was pointing out there was a gas station back the way I came, where I could pee, and fill my tank, and also this couldn’t be right.

But now I felt sort of stubborn and adamant about where this road could be leading me, so I kept following the cues provided by Google Maps. I went deeper into what seemed pretty wild Wyoming territory, passing a historical sign about the Sand Creek Massacre. If that wasn’t some pretty intent foreboding, I don’t know what else could have been. I was also listening to a sermon at the time about not letting your negative thoughts become words and instead having faith in God’s favor.

At this point, every new road that I turned on was another dirt road, leading me further into deep canyons and gorges and further and further from civilization—or gas stations—of any kind. The sheer magnitude of my surroundings began to frighten me, because though my GPS claimed I would reach a highway of sorts before my now 88 miles til empty, the sprawling, mountainous wilderness before me looked as though there couldn’t be a gas station for some several hundred miles.

Plus the road was getting worse. It seemed the only vehicle that should be back there was an all terrain vehicle or a four-wheeler. This is when the road wound down the side of a canyon, covered in sheer ice. My fingers white-knuckled the wheel while I stayed as close to the canyon wall as possible while reminding myself not to think negative thoughts and instead have faith.

I could no longer listen to the sermon as I was too tense and now very negative-minded about what I had gotten myself into. I waited to see if the next turn was perhaps pavement or had a neon glow sign for gas and vodka, because I now needed all of the above. Instead I saw a sign for a town with an arrow. It said the town was 26 miles away. Instead of immediately turning toward the town, I listened to my GPS one more time thinking maybe just over this last hill I would be homefree.

Except just over the hill was a nightmare of a road that was all tore up, had enormous rocks everywhere and soon was completely covered in snow. At this point, I had 71 miles left til empty and so I naturally hit the panic button and called my mom as I had two bars of service—I had had no signal for almost the entirety of this “joyride.”

“Mom,” I practically screamed, “I am on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere Wyoming; It’s like a farm road or something; I am lost; I have 71 miles until I run out of gas; This is the only spot with cell reception and I passed a sign for a town a ways back and I need you to find out if Armington has a gas station!”

“What?” she said patiently, “I am only getting every other word. How do you spell Armington? A-R-M-Y?” she started spelling.

I tried not to reach hysteria as I yelled, “no like an arm, an ARM! A-R-M-I. Armington! Mom I am going to lose you, or fall off a mountainside. These roads are really scary and I don’t have time to dawdle. I have hardly any gas left!”

“Armington is in Montana,” she informed me while I made the executive decision to precariously turn myself around on the mountaintop. “Are you in Montana?”

“I don’t see how I could be… but maybe I am really lost and Montana is now close…”

And this is when the call failed and I could not get my mom back.

I gingerly maneuvered my car back down the mountainside while trying to force my negative thoughts that were now circling about me like goons about to do some knuckle-breaking, out of my head and instead focus on my faith.

I got back to the sign and it did not say Armington-26 miles, it said Arminto-26 miles. The sign also said Kaycee- 31 miles. I felt sort of happy about that because I knew of Kaycee, however the arrow pointed back the way I had come from before and I had seen no signs for Kaycee and I was driving on that road for a long, long while.

I decided to take my chances with Arminto, though something ominous inside of me now suspected that Arminto could be anything: an old wagon post, a historical marker, a factory… who the F knew? I sure didn’t.

But I went ahead and started driving toward Arminto while nervously eyeballing my gas mileage that was dwindling with my hopes of ever seeing another life form again.

Eventually I passed cows, which seemed a good indicator. Cows meant people. People meant maybe I would have help if I did run out of gas. I passed some guest ranches but was too nervous to stop in case they were seasonal ranches and no one was there. With every bend in the road I prayed Arminto was around the corner and I would be saved, but still it was more vast open nothingness, with some red rocks and mountain ranges far, far in the distance. At this point my gas light came on and my mileage disappeared as it does when I am 30 miles until empty. I rounded a corner and saw a rather large animal skeleton stuck on a barbed wire fence.

You’re going to die out here, I thought miserably. This is where things go to die.

But I tried insisting on my faith instead of my rampant fear that this was some sort of sicko plot by Google maps to lead me to my death. As I rounded yet another bend and saw only more emptiness I wanted to bawl while considering whether to turn around and go back to one of the ranches.

But that is when I saw something faint and black and square-ish in the far distance. Could that be Arminto? Was it a truck? Or a house? Or a sweet, and beloved gas station? I decided to take my chances that it was Arminto and that I was saved.

But as I came into what was indeed Arminto, I again felt absolutely sickened. It looked like nothing more than a ghost town. As I crept through I looked around and saw a teepee in the distance and then to my right a sort of tin looking house with an old car graveyard, but also some new cars in the driveway.

I wondered if I was on a reservation. Now normally this would not have scared me as I love Native Americans. However, I was already in a wild state. And I also would like to throw a lot of blame on the ex-cowboy here for getting me in a tizzy of worry over reservations anyway with his advice of “you stay away from the reservations. You’ll get thrown in Indian jail and never get out.”

I had no choice though. I couldn’t go a moment further if there was indeed no gas station in my foreseeable future. I had to ask the residents of the tin house where in God’s name I was and if I could make it to a gas station, otherwise they were driving me. Or murdering me. Or throwing me in Indian jail. But I had to take my chances.

I parked my car in their driveway. I clutched my keys and nervously walked up to the door, when it swung open and an old man walked out and said point blank, “you must be lost.”

“Uh, yes, very,” I said relieved that he wasn’t cuffing me and dragging me to a teepee for disturbing his land. “Do you happen to know if there is a gas station within 30 miles of here?”

“Well…” he didn’t look convinced that there was. My stomach began to drop thinking about what a flaming idiot I was for choosing to take the so-called shorter route to avoid painful ex-cowboy memories, when in reality this route had added almost three hours to my trip, caused me considerable more grief than simply recounting a Wind River Canyon date, and would surely cost me ample more in gas money. “Yeah I think you can make it. There’s a gas station in Highland, about 18 miles from here. Stay on the pavement. Don’t get off it. And at the stop sign turn right.”

As if I was ever going off the pavement again, I thought as I thanked him profusely, got back into my car and gunned it to Highland. It was a dilapidated motel/gas station combo, with gas pumps so old I could hardly read the prices, which had me slightly relieved, because I didn’t want to know what this was costing me.

I got a paper map and went over the directions to Hyattville with the gas station attendant.

I had to go through the Wind River Canyon and Thermopolis anyway. And yes I thought about the date with the ex-cowboy and his silly pirate joke, and his smiling and hand holding and how much I still adore the kid though I hate that I do. But I also thought how happy I was not to be stranded somewhere in the deep wilds outside of Casper. And how my mom being the super sleuth that she is, deduced I wasn’t in Armington, Montana from that brief phone call, and that I was near Arminto—population 5, she later informed me—and that had I run out of gas back there, Mama Sturos would’ve sent a helicopter for me before letting my bones rot in a canyon.

And so my so called shorter 6 hour trip in fact took me 9.5 hours.

But guess what? This story would be the story I told to the ranchers the next morning over coffee, while they laughed and shook their heads, but seemed delighted I was there. But more on that later.

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I Believe It To Be Worth It

I do a lot of stupid stuff. Really I do.  I once bought $160 worth of vitamins per my nutritionist’s instruction and then proceeded to only ever take the vitamins when I thought I was getting sick. I recently just threw out about $155 worth of expired vitamins.

A few years back I was somehow convinced to become a Mary Kay consultant when all I wear is cheap mascara and all I wash my face with is bar soap. First I spent some $236 on the princess package of makeup and face care. Then I paid another $130 in startup kits, which then sat in my basement, for, well forever. My sisters got a lot of Mary Kay as gifts that year. I never once hosted a Mary Kay party and was therefore never gifted with a pink Cadillac.

I have cut my own bangs multiple times, and multiple times it has resulted in my looking like Ringo Starr, circa, well whenever he sort of looked like a prince boy.

I continually move to new places with anywhere from $3-$73 in my bank account and a bunch of board games, books, lanterns and ceramic whales and horses strewn about in my backseat.

And I always give my heart very freely, even if it has recently been crushed like a Valium that’s about to be snorted.

Which brings me to today. I am not bummed about my absence of a Pink Caddy, nor the look of my bangs which I just cut this morning and look A-okay, very non prince boy, and somewhat chic. I will admit I am a little bummed about the wasted vitamins as I have a slight tickle in my throat but I suppose I will survive.

But about the move and the breakup. Here is where I am at there:

Blissful.

Yeah I said it, blissful. I know, bliss, and anywhere in the vicinity of bliss were not my sentiments just a few short weeks ago. I was much like an unraveled piece of yarn being demolished by a rambunctious kitten.

But I tried this new thing I had never tried before. I threw up my hands in utter exasperation and said, “you take over, God!” I had said it a few times before, but as things seemed to continually throw me for a loop in a most disconcerting way, I figured I was still fixating on having all the control. I wanted all the control but with God being nice to me in the mix.

But it didn’t seem like it was going to work out that way. I am big on life lessons and if this was one of them, it was becoming abundantly clear to me that the lesson was one about trust. And I was battling a huge lack of it.

I finally decided to give it a whirl.

It’s not to say I hadn’t had practice trusting God before with the wild whims of my life. All I had ever done was new, bold, spontaneous things with God being my only safety net. And that is perhaps what led me to flippantly jet on back to the West with no real game plan. But when things started to go awry, I began to fret. I wondered if I had gotten too cocky with how many times God seemed to get me out of binds.

Maybe this time He was going to teach me to be a better planner and that’s why things were feeling so grim. In fact one of my favorite personal trainers during The Biggest Loser, once asked me my game plan, as the show was wrapping up and I was inching toward the wilds again. I beamed and said, “I am a vagabond gypsy…” waving my hands like that was explanation enough. He responded straight-face and deadpan, “that’s just a fancy name you gave yourself for being a poor planner.”

At the time I found it hysterical, but I began to wonder if indeed the time had come for some sort of reckoning with my gypsy soul?

Before I could decided if God actually wanted to teach me a lesson about being a better planner, I decided to let it all go. The lack of job, and money and boyfriend and wholeness of my heart, and now vitamin supply should I come down with a cold.

I prayed: hey God, I trust you. I do. So if this is a big fat failure lesson… got it. I will recover. If I don’t get a job at a dude ranch the second I want it, or am not hobnobbing with ranchers in the foreseeable future, I believe you will help get me there eventually, and you know what’s best for me. You timing is right on all things and I trust your will.”

That phrase: God’s timing is perfect, has always brought me both comfort and dismay. On one hand it has given me ample hope that He is working things out in my favor. On the other, more baby brat hand (which I have a tendency for from time to time) I get a little cheesed when things aren’t on my timetable.

But the whole God’s will thing was definitely something new to me. I had heard this phrase a ton of times before too, and always kind of took it with a grain of salt. I thought, well, I have free will, and God knows what I want so if I am going after it, He must support me, because He loves me. So we’re all good. 

I had never considered to do what I was doing in life, meaning try as I always had to manifest my goals and desires, but to also not be disappointed if those things didn’t manifest right away or in the way I expected. And I began to see that perhaps that’s where God’s will came into play.

So I gave this new experiment a whirl. I put myself out there with jobs, while maintaining hopefulness and gladness in my circumstances, attempting to let go of my worry. When a job interview that I had sort of counted on to lead to a job didn’t pan out right away, I let it go and said it wasn’t meant for me. Not God’s will. When a babysitting job landed in my lap right when I was about to run out of money, I thought, well, isn’t God’s timing perfect indeed. When I got my car tremendously stuck in a snowy ditch one day when I had an interview and began to panic as to what to do, some gent just came along, hooked my vehicle up to his truck and pulled me out. No questions asked. He saw I was in trouble and helped me. Meaning, God saw I was in trouble and sent him to help me.

And it went this way, back and forth in a beautiful ebb and flow of my trust and gladness in God and the way He was working on my life for me and not against me.

And this is when I started to see different lessons altogether.

Maybe God didn’t want to teach me a lesson about being a better planner, like some rigid school marm about to slap me in the corner with the dunce cap because I was a letdown. No, I suddenly didn’t think that was it at all. God made me! He didn’t mess up when He crafted me into a free spirit. I mean I don’t profess to know everything about God, but I suspect being the creator of the universe and all, he wouldn’t want to undo his handiwork. Unless it was about Ohio, because I mean Ohio… need I say more.

I’m teasing… Sorta.

No. I think this was a lesson on my willingness—in the midst of what felt like some serious strife—to trust that God had a handle on it.

And when I began to do that, which meant at the same time giving up my stronghold on worry, I began to feel lighter. I handled things not going my way with aplomb. And when I started to feel fretful, I asked God for Grace and He gave it to me.

And that brought me to yesterday. A day in which I felt downright jubilant with the circumstances swirling around me. Some pleasant things were happening in the way of jobs and epiphanies (and I cannot reveal too much as I am a firm believer in the jinx) and sunsets and Trader Joe’s and finding my way back.

You know what one of my favorite God quotes is: God will make a way when there seems to be no way.

And while there a lot of nice things to be said about God and His ways, sometimes words don’t cut it. Like this quote for instance which has always brought me great comfort:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Initially post breakup, this brought me no comfort. In fact it kind of irritated me. Hope and a future, my arse, I thought. I had hoped to have a future with the cowboy and that ended rather dismally.

All that aside, though, my little experiment had worked. Because what was interesting about yesterday wasn’t just circumstances aligning in my favor, a purple and orange mountain sunset and yummies from my favorite grocery store, it was the epiphany I had about the cowboy. And my future and my hope.

Suddenly I felt very sure of what God was doing in my life. I no longer suspected Him of foul play, or mucking up my life, or withholding love from me. Contrarily I felt entirely certain He knew what He was doing. And if steering me off-path from love, meant steering me back to the path that included mountains and ranching and horses and wildness and writing, then maybe He was onto something in the vicinity of love after all. Just a different kind.

I have never been secretive about how much I love and admire God. Or adventure. Or the mountains of the West. Or my writing. And yeah, I get those kind of loves can’t spoon me or kiss me real proper, but they do count. So if God redirecting my course meant some muck and resistance at first but ultimately led to my trusting Him—for real this time—and the haphazard course of my life, then I believe it to be worth it.

All of it.

The Sittin’ Santa

In honor of looming Valentine’s Day I wanted to do a little throwback to one of my worst dating experiences. Ya know, for funsies. The trouble is I’ve had so many bad dating experiences, that it was hard to select just one for today, the Eve of V Day. But among all the contenders for the worst, this one happens to be my best friend’s favorite. Every time I see her she makes me retell the Santa Claus story.

In fact I spent time with her recently and naturally we got on topic of my sordid dating history. She asked for the Santa story. I rolled my eyes, but delivered anyway, because quite frankly it flatters me to no end how much she adores my stories. The fact that she has me tell the same ones to her repeatedly and still doubles over is either a sign she really is my best friend or maybe I can spin a tale. I’ll give more credit to the friendship, and her love for me, but I digress.

This most recent time she was laughing so hard at the retelling (I don’t think anyone will ever find this story as funny as she does) that she peed her pants. To be fair she is seven months pregnant, but still. I considered it a winner in my book if it was pissed-pants worthy. And so Santa is the winner for my Valentine’s Day divulge.

For the record, everyone who is getting super excited right now, I didn’t actually date Santa Claus. Though I probably would. He’s really freaking cool and his beard is legit. He is good with kids and owns a lucrative (I think… He has his own secret digs in the North Pole) business and a lot of top-notch reindeer. I’ve had worse.

No, no, this particular fella just resembled Santa in the rotund, reddish, jolly sort of way and somehow over time it was just easier to refer to him as Santa. Also I wouldn’t want him to feel bad by using his real name; I’m not a monster. Oh and lastly, to be fair to Santa—this Santa, not Claus—he really wasn’t the worst. He doesn’t get the award for worst, he just gets the award for being my bestie’s favorite amongst the worsts and a somewhat telling tale about myself more so than him.

So, Santa. I actually had known him for a while because he was a college friend’s roommate and I had met him before at her house parties. Of which I attended about two, as my version of a good time in college was to bake enough food to host a football team and then invite all my friends over to play Catch Phrase while I buzzed about the house in my polka-dotted apron, asking if anyone needed anything.

At any rate, I knew of Santa. And I never gave much thought to him. For starters he was a redhead and everyone and their cocker spaniels know how I feel about redheads. Pass. A big ol’ pass. Also, I just didn’t think of him in that way. I didn’t think of him period. Until one Saint Patrick’s Day. I was out at a bar with my roommate and I ran into him. I had straightened my hair, was bedazzled in greenery, and was wearing my vintage, Have you hugged an Irishman today? T-shirt. This may have been one of the only times I have celebrated St. Patty’s Day as I find the holiday loathsome.

He started talking to me and because I was uninterested in impressing him, I was fully myself (I didn’t really have the savvy confidence I have these days where I am just myself from the get-go). I cracked jokes, I teased him in an easy fun-loving way, I sipped my gigantic mug of green beer without thought of what it was doing to my waistline.

So color me stunned when the next day he messaged me on Facebook asking me on a date. I immediately ran to tell my friend. “But I was myself!”

She thought this was evidence enough that I should be myself more often and maybe I’d get more dates. I wouldn’t take that advice for probably another five years or so.

I wasn’t entirely certain about saying yes as I wasn’t really attracted to him, but then I have never been one to say no to a date; I like to give everyone a fair shake. Furthermore, I am of the firm belief that maybe someone isn’t attractive right away, maybe they are a redhead, but they can always redeem themselves with insatiable wit, or mad kissing skills. And then who the frack cares?

Besides I was comfortable enough with him to be fully myself so maybe that was a good sign. He picked me up for dinner the following weekend and took me out. Which is better than when I went on a date with a guy from my fencing club and he only had a bicycle and I had to pick him up; and then he didn’t even have the decency to pay for my movie ticket. Or shower. So. Perhaps he wins for the worst.

Anyhow, our first date was fine. Comfortable. Easy-going. There was still no za-za-zu to borrow a Sex and the City term. I didn’t really feel it, but I thought maybe I would, eventually… He continued to ask me out, but after the initial dinner date things sort of dwindled, where he would simply invite me to his house to watch TV and we’d sort of stare at each other awkwardly. I thought I’d give him the chance to make a move and kiss me and maybe then there’d be fireworks.

The most he would do though, was tickle my feet when walking past to settle into whatever couch was opposite me. I began to lose interest. But still he wanted to spend time together. I had gleaned that he liked to fish and had a motorcycle. Both those things excited me. We could maybe go riding or fishing, or do anything in the outdoors at all. Which is what I suggested to him on numerous occasions. He’d respond with a vague maybe… and then we’d still end up at his house staring at the television. I began to make excuses I would never make to a guy I was sincerely interested in. He would call, and I would say, “I’d love to come over, but uh, I have to shave my legs and it’s a whole production… I just don’t know if I’m up for it.”

“Just come over anyway,” he’d say.

Huh. Well, damn. Alright.

Still no kissing had occurred. But could be because of the unshaved legs. But then why did he want me over so bad?

The next time he asked, it was dark and a little rainy and I said I would come over if we went fishing. He pointed out that it was dark. I said, there was a song about fishing in the dark! How romantic. Besides, he bloody liked fishing, supposedly… why couldn’t I entice him to go fishing or do anything that didn’t involve a couch cushion?

Still I went because we had been doing this tango for a couple months and while I no longer wanted in, I felt somewhat invested and like I had to see what happened at this point.

I went to his house. He motioned for me to have a seat. I knew it would be another TV night and I just didn’t know if I had another TV date in me. At this point he ambled over to the couch and sat down. But here is where it went south. The way in which he sat down, is what made me see the light.

He heaved himself into the couch cushions, a protuberance of happy air leaving his mouth, his ruddy cheeks alight with reddened satisfaction at the delights awaiting him on the television, his heft and girth settling into the couch cushion like it was the last life raft on the Titanic and hallelujah he was saved!

I suddenly was aghast staring at him enveloped in the cushions like that. I could not go on. Not even for the hope of a kiss when after months of “dating” I had gotten one chicken wrap, a foot tickle, and a lot of no’s on any other activity involving the light of day or uh… activity. I politely made up an excuse to go, thinking I was doing us both a favor. He clearly needed a girl who more so enjoyed the foot tickle and the squishiness of the couch on Saturday evenings. I needed fresh air and less sitting.

A few weeks later he texted to ask what I was up to. I was on a walk downtown by the harbor and told him as much. While I was entirely over the notion that he and I could be anything other than platonic movie buddies, I was about to give it one last go, and ask him to join me on my walk, when he replied with, “you’re always on walks,” as if the very notion of walking disgusted him as much as his constant sitting had disgusted me.

It was then I felt compelled to tell him, I didn’t really see it going anywhere with us. I thought that much seemed obvious by then. He didn’t really cotton to that and made a snarky remark that he was already over it. K, I thought, oddly, me too. I was over it when I started noticing your uncanny similarities to Santa. At least physically. The real Santa actually has a stellar work ethic and I doubt if he ever sits to watch that much TV.

At any rate, Santa and I were no more, and that was that. My brief dalliance with the Sittin’ Santa had come to an end.

And well, now I have tales that make my smug married friends piss their pants. Which makes it a little bit worthwhile.

Happy almost Valentine’s kids.

Eyes on the Mountains (Part 2)

The first time I visited Wyoming was… Honestly I am at a loss for words. Really good love stories do that to you. Encountering Wyoming was one of those real top-notch tales of romance, like the movies. I may not have always had that kind of storybook romance with my men, but damn if I didn’t have it upon meeting Wyo.

But I fear I am getting a wee bit ahead of myself. I left off in my last post still living in Virginia. And before Virginia, New York City. I felt shaken up and beaten down from my time in NYC. It jarred me having to come to the realization that maybe big city life didn’t do it for me. I craved solace in the mountains. That seemed the logical antithesis to my post city blues.

Ray Lamontagne has this song called, New York City’s Killing Me. And while I have always been a big fan of him, prior to living in NYC I thought Mr. Lamontagne had it all wrong. Until I left NYC did I really appreciate that maybe Ray and I had something in common.

I get so tired of all this concrete
I get so tired of all this noise
Gotta get back up in the country
Have a couple drinks with the good ol’ boys

I just got to get me somewhere
Somewhere that I can feel free
Get me out of New York City, son
New York City’s killin’ me

At any rate, the mountains of Virginia were a proper salve to some of my problems. But that aforementioned deep discontent inside of me wasn’t about Virginia lacking something, it was more so about a wrongness in my relationship there.

Let’s just fast forward to when I left the relationship, the apartment with the mountain views, the man who once cared and who no longer did, Virginia, and my beloved mountains. I had to get away again. I took a brief respite in Michigan feeling displaced and wondering what the plan could possibly be now that New York and Virginia were both busts.

I had no ideas other than my gypsy soul telling me the natural solution was to wander until a new place to love came along. That’s when I started to hear the West calling me; it was a faint murmur, but I could hear it. I hadn’t ever given much thought or consideration to the West before. But when some of my friends and sister planned a road trip out West, it seemed as good a time as any to see what the fuss was all about.

We first landed in Denver, staying with our friend there. She took us out on the town. We ate dinner at a snazzy restaurant that used to be a morgue and didn’t have cheeseburgers on the menu. It drizzled rain, and we went thrifting. I thought Denver seemed neat enough, and the mountains were grand to be sure, but I didn’t feel it yet… Then we saw Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National.

I was inching nearer to properly boggled, especially when I saw the night sky in Rocky Mountain National, and yet…

The next day we were headed to the Tetons and I remember being drowsy as we left Colorado. My friend was driving, so I dozed in the warmth of the sun rays in the front seat. When I lazily woke, to still more sunshine, I could feel something was different. In my core, something was thrumming. I looked around me out the windows. The landscape was open and vast, hilly and dry looking.

There wasn’t anything of note, yet I felt different.

“Where are we,” I asked.

“Wyoming,” my friend beamed, as she pulled off an exit to get gas.

All the openness for miles was already seducing me in such a way that were Wyoming a man, I would’ve open-mouthed kissed him.

I got out of the car and ambled into the gas station. And this is when I knew, what I already knew from waking up in Wyoming and having my body lean into this place like a long lost sailor leaning over the rails upon seeing shore.

The man behind the counter wore a cowboy hat and had a handlebar moustache. He nodded his head at me, and said, “howdy, ma’am.”

I wanted to squeal. I wanted to ask if he was a real cowboy. I wanted to persuade him to marry me immediately.

And with the simpleness of a cowboy and waking up in a wide open space that felt like it had been untouched since the settlers first started moseying West, I was in love. Sometimes love at first sight doesn’t work out, sometimes, it’s initial vanity and there’s no real substance there.

This was not one of those cases.

The further I delved into Wyoming, the further I fell. By the time, I had seen more cowboys, men in chaps, beards aplenty, horses by the dozen, ranches, hills, canyons, elk, bison, and oh the mountains, sweet God-built pieces of jagged splendor, I was done for.

On my way out of Wyoming several days later, I was driving, winding my way up through the Bighorns. My heart was hammering in my chest with each mile spent ascending up into the clouds.

I knew I would soon be back in the Midwest and I was trying to brand every image of Wyoming in my mind and on my heart. I joked with my sister to leave me on the side of the road and keep going, even though we were in my car. I saw a sheep-herder riding his horse with his trusty dog trotting along behind him and I wanted to weep, it was all so perfect and all so meant for me.

At the time, this song called Red Canoe was playing on my sister’s iPod, and I remember playing it over and over again, so that whenever I heard the song in the future, I would see Wyoming, the Bighorns, the sheep herder, the cowboys and invite it all back to me.

That song and that sentiment created a fervor in me to come back. Leaving was heartbreak, but I knew it was only temporary. I, of course, did come back, nearly a year later, to the exact lodge I had passed in the Bighorns on my trek back to Michigan. And the fact that I left Wyoming a second time, is slightly unfathomable to me still.

I had found myself staring at the cowboys in line at Starbucks and Walmart, with their bandanas wrapped around their necks, cowboy hats and cowboy boots donned, trying once more to brand these people and this place into my memory bank. As, I certainly never saw a man with a cowboy hat and a bandana around his neck at Starbucks in New York City.

And what happened that cowboys and ranchers and cattle and sheep-herders and fly fishermen and rodeo stars suddenly had imprinted themselves on my being? I can recall loving nature from a young age. And horses. And the outdoors and even outdoorsmen. But this seemed excessive coming from a girl who used to dream about brownstones on cobbled streets in NYC boroughs.

But with leaving Wyoming a second time, it seemed that this life was all I wanted, perhaps all I had ever wanted, and leaving it was all wrong.

Hence why I only lasted about two weeks back in the Midwest.

And what’s remarkable to me, is how I haven’t actually changed at all. If I had really been paying attention I would’ve seen the signs all along. I picked the college I attended based on its proximity to forests, rivers, and lakes. I spent my time as a child reading about high adventure and then trying to recreate it in my backyard. I bartered for riding lessons as a sixth grader with my neighbors who had horses. Every birthday and Christmas I either tried asking for a horse and when I wisened up that Santa wouldn’t bring one to store in my shed, I started asking for riding lessons instead. I even almost bought my own horse once in college and thought better of it, because uhhh… I had nowhere to put it.

So I guess it shouldn’t amuse and delight me so much now when I find myself picking up Western Horseman magazines or stalking— that’s a harsh word, let’s say perusing—every cowboy, farmer, and rancher I can find on Instagram, lapping up their horse posts, fresh egg posts, cattle-roping and wilderness packing posts.

I, of course have been singularly applying to work as a ranch-hand though I have no ranch experience. I understand that, but I fervently tell the ranchers that I want to learn to mend fences and tend cattle and maybe lasso—please don’t laugh I want to lasso so bad—and that I’ll prove to them how much of a Western gal I really am at heart.

I used to want to sashay into a top magazine office in Manhattan in a sharp suit, riding up the elevator to my posh job that required heels—or if not required, then strongly implied. Now I find myself aching to get up at dawn and feed animals and work on things with my hands, and get filthy, and ride a horse somewhere far, far off, and wear myself thin. Seriously I really wouldn’t mind wearing myself thin, I have a slight penchant for chocolate croissants. You’d be doing me a favor, guys.

And who knew?

Well. Me, I suppose. I guess I knew all along this is where I belong. So hey, uh ranchers, if you’re reading this, c’mon, give me a go. I won’t let you down. I mean if you’re not convinced by this love letter then I am not sure what will convince you. Hmm… maybe my ax wielding skills. They are on point. Ish. But in the hearty ranchess sort of way. Not in The Shining madness sort of way. Aaaaand, I think that’s my cue to wrap up.

Eyes on the Mountains (Part 1)

I used to fancy myself a city girl. I sat in my humble house in the country, located in a small farm town in Lower Michigan and dreamed of getting out. I envisioned bigger and better. To me bigger and better was New York City. I watched When Harry Met Sally as a teen, and seeing Sally aimlessly walk through Central Park with Harry, or drag her Christmas tree down twinkly streets was so picturesque and vastly different from Fowlerville, Michigan that I latched onto that place and vowed to get there.

All my thoughts orbited around New York City. How to get there, how to make it there, how to have what Sally had. So easy and simple. She moved there as a hopeful writer and voila, she was a writer. She had this friend that kept coming back to her and he fell in love with her. She watched Casablanca and had lunches at the Boathouse with her girlfriends, while bemoaning men.

I moved to New York City, fresh with my newly minted writing degree, down ninety-two pounds from working my arse off on The Biggest Loser and ready to take on the city streets, writing and love with all my know-how from When Harry Met Sally. Imagine my surprise and dismay when the only jobs I could find were waitressing and Starbucks. The only men looking my way were gay (fabulous, but not interested in any sort of lip-locks) and the city streets, while magical in their own right, were also fraught with a lot of trash and noise, making me realize that maybe making it there wasn’t like the movies at all.

I am sure a lot of people could’ve told me that. And there’s a reason Frank Sinatra croons, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!” This is true. NYC is not for the faint of heart. I don’t believe myself to be faint of heart, but I think I gave a lot of credence to my city love (based on a movie and a couple class trips to Chicago as a youngster) and zero credence to my country love.

I was having the worst anxiety of my life while living in New York City. While she was a dreamy place full of fantastic culture, art, cupcakes, architecture and wonder, I felt closed in and manic. I never slept while I lived there. This isn’t one of my dramatic exaggerations. I really didn’t sleep; at least not at night. I had insomnia that wouldn’t go away and I utilized this the best I could by training for my first marathon in the middle of the night, instead of tossing and turning in bed, fitful with worry and damp with sweat.

I lived in Brooklyn Heights and I would leave my apartment in the middle of the night and start running: across the Brooklyn Bridge, weaving through Manhattan’s skyscrapers, past policemen milling about, fishermen fishing off the pier, kids skateboarding, and the homeless sleeping against fence-enclosed graveyards. And then I would run back and sit on a bench looking at the sun coming up across the Manhattan skyline while rats scurried beneath my feet. I would amble home, shower and lay in bed in utter exhaustion until eventually I dozed somewhere around five, or sometimes as late as seven.

I remember talking to my friend once as I walked to work in the Village, telling her that maybe I overestimated how much of a city girl I was and underestimated how much of a country girl I was. This troubled me, because I wondered how I could be so wrong about a place I had planned on loving for over a decade.

A need for nature kept hounding me, a need to escape to somewhere quiet where I could gather my thoughts, which were as rampant and erratic as the New York City rats. I would look at the skyline and wish it were mountains. I wanted all the hustle and bustle to be forest-still silence. I wanted the murky concrete puddles to be cloud reflected lakes.

My mom blamed all of this on a love who had recently broken my heart and then up and moved to Alaska while I headed for the big city. She thought the reason I saw mountains instead of skyscrapers was because of him. And that the whole heartbreak thing was ill-timing, ruining my NYC experience. And maybe to a certain extent it was. But I think it was more than that.

I think the mountains were in me long before that love came along and broke my heart, long before I saw When Harry Met Sally, and perhaps long before I even knew which way to go.

When things began to promptly fall apart in NYC, around the time I was due to fly back to the Midwest for my marathon, I didn’t much feel like going back. I was in between apartments and without a place to live. I was sleeping in a hostel in the fetal position and sniveling, wondering how in God’s name Madonna had done it, and starting to unravel in a most disheartening way. I would wander into churches and cry alone in a back pew. Or find parks to sit and do yoga-style breathing techniques and then get mad when I heard an ambulance blare on by.

When I told my mom after my marathon that I couldn’t go back, I just couldn’t, she seemed distressed, thinking I was giving up on my dream and that I had to just stick it out—the anxiety and insomnia and noise. My mom wasn’t being pushy, she was being supportive of how bad I had wanted this one dream.

I couldn’t do it though. I loved New York City and truly always will, but I knew what I needed and it wasn’t skyscrapers and bustling streets. In fact a guy I had started dating around this time took me out one day when I was visiting a friend in Maryland. I was still living in New York and was wildly shaken up. He asked if I wanted to go see Washington D.C. and I all but screamed, no! I didn’t want to be in the city. I didn’t want to hear traffic or see people. I wanted him to take me into the country. “Where?” he asked. I told him where the pumpkins and apples grow.

It may have come as a shock to everyone who knew me and knew how badly I wanted the city-girl life when I abandoned ship and ended up moving to Virginia. Granted I was living outside of Washington D.C. in an urban metropolis about as busy as NYC, but I told my boyfriend at the time that I didn’t care where we lived as long as I had a view of the mountains and easy access to them. Suddenly the mountains became my new focal point.

They were my obsession and I wanted my eyes on them at all times. On my way to work they were on my left; on my way home, on my right. I wanted to talk about them constantly and found myself in a continuing state of awe over their grandeur. I must admit not many people in Virginia seemed to share my amazement. I got a lot of people giving the Blue Ridge Mountains the ol’ brush off and saying, well have you seen the ones out West? I had not, but I thought it was a little disrespectful to discount mountains right in front of us, for even bigger ones far, far away. Clearly these people weren’t mountain lovers.

And with my eyes on the mountains I started rerouting my belief system. About what I really wanted and questioning where I really belonged. I considered that maybe I belonged in Virginia because I had fallen in love with her and the man that lived there. And yet… there was still a displaced restlessness deep down that haunted me. It didn’t keep me up quite as badly as it had in New York, but it was there lurking in the shadows all the time.

To be continued…

Hello, Fear

“Hello, fear. Thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.”
-Cheryl Strayed

A lot of things frighten me: car wrecks, losing people I love, my hair thinning out to the point where I need a comb over, never getting married, being mediocre, not really succeeding as a writer, old houses—while I am very charmed by old houses, I always assume they are haunted with either soldier ghosts or miner ghosts—, being lost in the woods at night, going to prison for a crime I didn’t commit…

Obviously, I included some highly irrational fears in there just to show that I don’t always use my rational brain while in the midst of being fearful. In fact a couple weeks back I spent some time at two of my best friends houses. Both women have perfectly lovely homes in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and there is nothing remotely sinister about either locale.

However, both houses are very old and so I was scared at both places. The first house—my friend Emily’s—I had been to many times before and had gotten used to sleeping in her spare room, though almost every time I had spent the night prior I would wake up in the night and squint my eyes, surveying the room for ghosts. I hadn’t encountered anything to date. But this most recent time, I went to place my things in the spare bedroom, just as she stopped to inform me that was now the new nursery and the spare bedroom had been moved upstairs.

I left my things in the nursery anyway, informing Em that I would be sleeping on her couch. I simply had no interest in sleeping upstairs away from all the adults, should a ghost try to smother me in my sleep or something. No, no, the couch was much safer. My sister even spent the night with me one night and instead of sleeping on the Lazy-Boy, she—who is an even bigger scaredy baby than I am—insisted on sleeping sandwiched next to me on the couch. It was wildly uncomfortable with her pressed against me, but nonetheless I was wildly comforted with her there.

At my other friend’s house, I was to sleep on the pull-out sleeper sofa downstairs as her and her children’s rooms were all upstairs.

“I am sleeping down here by myself?!” I squeaked nervously as she and her husband inched away from me toward the stairs, having gifted me with blankets, a pillow and the remote to the TV.

“Yes,” Ashley laughed.

“But what about ghosts…” I ventured, skittishly looking around at all the objects in her living room that could potentially look like a ghost in the night.

“We don’t have any ghosts!” Ashley exclaimed.

“I may need to come sleep between the two of you in the night…” I warned.

Ashley told me I would have to fight for space with her son Boone, who already crawled into her bed in the middle of the night. “You can sleep in Boone’s bed,” she offered.

“I don’t want to sleep in Boone’s bed,” I grumbled mostly to myself, “I want to sleep with you guys…” Once as a teenager I had slept over at my aunt and uncle’s for the weekend and they had me sleep downstairs on the couch. I, of course became out of my mind with fear and had to crawl into their room in the night, embarrassingly informing them I was uneasy downstairs. They got an air mattress for me, placing it at the foot of their bed.

But naturally I got over it at Ashley’s. I slept with The Office playing on Netflix, a light on, and one eye repeatedly open for paranormal phenomena. By the second night I was convinced—by my diligent ghost watch—that her house was indeed unhaunted.

This is all to say, facing your fears aren’t always comfortable folks. Being nervous that a ghost could get me or that I could be unjustly incarcerated are fairly irrelevant fears, especially the latter. Dealing with the more real fears of making it, pushing myself outside my comfort zone, landing interviews with cowboys, or even landing a cowboy period, are well… heady to say the least and enough to cause me to sleep uneasily. Perhaps even more so than when I am on ghost patrol.

But here is the thing about all this fear: sleeping with lights on and with one eye open, even though you’re scared and nervous instead of crawling into bed with your best friend and her husband, means at least you’re there in the scared nervousness facing it head on—Annie Oakley style, staring down the barrel of a gun—instead of awkwardly ruining any chance at your married friends having sex that night—although from what I understand marrieds have infrequent sex anyway… so…  I kid, I kid! I just have to tease you smug marrieds, because I am single and having no sex—I digress, but that is my favorite thing to do. Go on wild off-roading tangents. Especially about Annie Oakley and sex; why wouldn’t I? Both of those topics are wondrous to no end.

But do you see where I am going here? I hope you do. Because while I mostly write to myself and for myself, because it helps bring clarity to a life that is often rife with wild turns and doubts, I happily offer up my life circumstances that they may help shed any light or hope onto yours. And the hope in this instance is being better than the fear. I can overcome it, regardless of the spooks in the night or the dastardly notion that I am incompetent when I know deep down I am not.

Incompetence would’ve never landed me where I am today, which is in a world of wonder and new opportunity at every turn: like the world is holding its breath with me waiting to see what will come of all this newness.

And I don’t have any logical clues what will come of all this newness, this untethered, mountain filled life. But I know that I cannot lie down with my fear. It is simply nonsensical and not me. Well it is a little bit me, because I am currently fearful over how sweaty I have gotten while writing this post—honestly I don’t know why I sweat so bad—and if the fetching hipsters all around will judge me when I raise my coffee cup, showcasing all the sweat stains under my arms. But alas, these are the consequences of writing ever so feverishly.

Anyhow, the always uplifting and wise Cheryl Strayed said a couple wonderful things about fear. Like so many brave writers before her have done, they’ve bared forth their pain, their strife and their struggle through their words, open in their fear anyway. And with this they’ve made it possible for writers like me to feel emboldened in my struggle, in my fear and in my uncertainty, allowing me to believe there is quite possibly still a way through it all, fearful or not.

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. That nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”

So maybe first acknowledge your fears (at least the ones that urge you to be better) in that they do have some power in directing you. And then from there, tell the fear to go fuck itself and go forth being madly in love with your life—including the wild turns, because those offer better scenery anyway—and your life purpose. At least that’s what I am going to do.

A Jungle-Haired, Mountain Conquering, Non-Beggar

I had two major motives with moving back West: I needed to be enveloped in the vastness of the mountains and Mother Nature, as nothing soothes me better than those two things—mmm, other than the sea, but that counts as Mother Nature—and I needed to focus on my writing.

I strongly felt when I left Wyoming the first time that I had unfinished business. Mostly with the cowboys and the ranchers, but also with myself. Coming back, I did want to focus on some sincere hobnobbing with the aforementioned folk, but also on not having a job that wore me right down so as not to write when I got home.

I happily joked with my best friend that a job cashiering/bagging at a grocery store would offer me the perfect amount of mindlessness to then go home and work on my novel and my Wild West research. So imagine my surprise and dismay when I applied to King Soopers, (an affiliate of Kroger) only to have them email me back the next day saying this:

“After reviewing your submission and application, we have decided to pursue other applicants who more closely match the needs of this position.”

To borrow terminology I like from the Brits: color me gobsmacked. I wanted to be outraged, and admittedly I was for a bit, wondering how on earth I wasn’t qualified to ring up people’s pears and toilet paper? But after some brief thought, I decided cashiering at King Soopers sounded loathsome. What kind of name is King Soopers anyway?

My favorite responses to my indignation over being rejected by King Sooper were from a gal I had only just met last night who I naturally felt compelled to tell the story to. She said, “they don’t deserve you!” mirroring my own outrage.

And then from my sister, who said: “They probably only hire teens. What a bunch of pervs.” 

And then I was over it.

Immediately following this blow, however, I saw a comment on one of my blog posts from a stranger asking me: Do you beg, like the healthy people I see in New Orleans who display jokes on their cardboard signs? Kind of funny. Kind of annoying. Kind of desperate. Are you desperate? I again was gobsmacked. Do I beg? Where had this stranger gotten the notion that I beg for anything?! I have never in my life stood anywhere with a sign asking for so much as a nickel. Okay, actually, once I held a sign at Coney Island offering free hugs—read that story here—because I was sad, but if that’s begging well then I am not sorry!

I tried not to be rattled by the King Soopers rejection and a stranger coming to the conclusion that because I sometimes hint at being a starving artist that I have resorted to begging.

And so what I did do was make a gratitude list to cheer myself and I found that while King Sooper may find me an unworthy candidate for their conglomerate and a stranger may think I am a nitwit, I had a lot going for me in this exact moment.

Like this:

– I have a really exceptional mountain view out of my bedroom window.

– My hair has been looking particularly jungle-esque and dare I say full. Errr, full-ish. Okay, I am pretending it looks full.

– My dear friend Diana has been giving me forehead kisses, which if you know anything, are basically the greatest thing in the world.

– I started working out again and am deliciously sore.

– I lost one pound. Who knows if I can attribute it to the working out or the anxiousness that paralyzes my ability to eat. But either way I will take it.

– The gracious men at the Hyundai dealership not only fixed my car but were ever so nice to me in the process. And it was a long process; after one day spent sitting in the Hyundai customer lounge, they still hadn’t determined the problem and asked to keep my car overnight. Of course I was okay with this. But I was beautifully surprised when they arranged a ride home for me when I couldn’t get ahold of my friend. Now that’s what I call service.

– I had a job interview today. Granted it could have gone better. Maybe I got overly cocky in the fact that job interviews no longer intimidate me and so karma was dealing me a blow. I got there an hour and a half early (because I am neurotic to a fault) however, getting there that early was slightly stupid, because I then saw the interviewer interviewing someone else before me, and that admittedly threw me off my game a bit and my cheeks insisted on flaming up because really, why not? And so I did the whole interview looking like I’d recently exited a sauna. Also I started sweating rather profusely. I am not kidding, I could feel it running down my arm. Super charming. But still. I had a job interview. So. Progress.

– Did I mention how happy and grateful I am that my baby brat car is fixed?

– I had two alcoholic beverages last night and felt sensational while playing euchre and baking grandmama’s secret chocolate chip cookie recipe: the new gal I had met asked for the secret ingredient. I told her I couldn’t tell her, unless I married her. She said she’d buy me a ring tomorrow. But admittedly the smallish intoxication made me want to text my ex. I did not, though. I went and gave my phone to my friend and said, “I am contemplating doing bad things. Take this away from me.” She replied with, “You did the right thing.” Then asked me if I wanted her phone to peruse Facebook. I declined but noted what a good friend she is, and happily went to bed, pleased with my self-control and dizzy wine fizz.

So yes. King Soopers thinks I am not a good fit. And one reader thinks I am a beggar. But I think I am a jungle-haired, mountain conquering, non-begging lil lass, who may be sometimes red-faced and sweaty, but has this thing called sisu. That’s a Finnish term for having guts and grit. And according to one Ted Talker, people with grit are the people who make it. So ha ha! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, K. Sooper. Cue a song about making it.