A Love Letter… to Zingerman’s

Love Letters

It’s no secret that I am mad over Zingerman’s Delicatessen. I have been for some time now and with good reason. Zingerman’s does it right. All of it. The meats. The cheeses. The bread. Even their employees are full of good will and don’t make me feel bad for wanting to try 17 different cheeses before I inevitably just go buy a sandwich and put myself in a meat coma.

Then I take deep breaths and will myself to go over to the bakery side and treat myself to a small dark roast and macaroon.

No Zingerman’s isn’t paying me to write this. I just am so enamored with Zingerman’s that every time I go there and sink my teeth into my favorite food: the heartily stacked sammy, I make a note to myself to write a love letter to my favorite food establishment in all the land. Hey Zingerman’s, side note—I definitely want you at my wedding. Um, obviously, this is a love letter to you; you’re going to need to be there. Oh, yeah I am actually not getting married. Or engaged. Nor do I have a boyfriend. Or any real prospects per se. But when I have a wedding one day, God willing, I would like you to be a part of the festivities so everyone can nod their understanding that this is what true love is all about. Meat and cheese expertly placed on two pieces of perfect bread, obviously.

With Ann Arbor on the brain today, I thought, hmmm, do I go to Zingerman’s tonight? I have been there kind of a lot lately and am trying to conserve on fundage for my big move. But I feel it’s a disservice to go to Ann Arbor and not see what’s happening between two flaky pieces of sourdough.

With that overly verbose introduction, however, I have a few more words if I may:

Dear Zingerman’s,

I like you. No, it’s more serious than that. I think you know it too. Something has developed between us that is more than mere fondness. I hesitate to say it’s love and speak on your behalf but I feel sure of my feelings and they are in that arena. Every time I visit you, I feel so welcomed. So satisfied. I am surprised by new tastes and surges of pleasure through my entire being. The people that I feel most embody the way I want to live: the French, duh—the connoisseurs of pleasure—would certainly agree with my sentiments regarding you. You have a real panache in all you do and I for one am smitten. Even though every new meal I try simply tops the last, I never let myself get the same thing twice. I force myself to try something new at every turn because I know you’ve never let me down before and why would you start now? Hence why I am loathe to say I even have a favorite sandwich of yours. I can’t even recall which one could be the best. I can only recall feelings of satiated glee with every visit. So naturally I would be very remiss if I didn’t tell you of these feelings. I am not the type of girl that keeps my lips zipped when I am in love. So with a grand and deep well of gratitude I tip my hat to you, Zingerman’s. For your attention to detail in selecting the finest ingredients. For being the best deli around. For being from my wonderful home state of Michigan. For being so tirelessly delicious. And for making my top list of things that make me infinitely joyful.

Yours in utter adoration,

Cassandra Lee Sturos

I’m Not a Country Song

Musings

I have often wondered why my parents weren’t lighthouse keepers in Maine. Not because either of my parents have expressed an interest in being or becoming a lighthouse keeper. The fixation on lighthouses and Maine are in fact both preferences I lean to. But it’s simply that my family is an unusual and creative bunch who all seem to have other worldly inclinations. Almost all my siblings mirror my love of travel and adventure and hopeful possibility.

So it seems to me of all the places my parents could have settled, the logical fit would’ve been somewhere epic and worthy of an epic backdrop to accompany our family’s grandiose dreams. But my parents chose Fowlerville, MI: a flat, farming community with a population of less than 3,000. And I won’t bemoan Fowlerville here as that’s not my job and I wouldn’t want to for anyone who truly enjoys Fowlerville. However, I will say I have never related to this place much. Furthermore it has never really felt like my home. Or at least the home of my heart.

Yes, my physical home resides here and these four walls bring me joy because within them are every memory from my youth and my family. But if ever I felt I was coming home, that place has always been and always will be Marquette, MI, or really as soon as I cross the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula. Sure it isn’t the place that raised me, but it is the place that I can feel in my veins when I’m away from it and when I am there I always feel I’m where I belong. I was explaining this to my friend Meg yesterday as I feel badly that I don’t have more of an attachment to the place I was raised.

“I don’t know why I can’t relate to this place. I think I am missing something in my DNA that makes me fond of the place that raised me. And it upsets me, because I want to. I just can’t. I mean all the country songs are always going on about the place that raised them and how proud they are. And I don’t have that.”

“Because you’re not a country song,” Meg pointed out matter-of-factly.

My eyes lit up like that explained everything. I am not a country song! Of course I’m not. That’s it. I thought it was beautiful and succinct. And it relieved me to have an explanation of sorts to help me understand my compulsion to leave this place once and for all and never look back. The thing is lately I have felt like a displaced person and it has been unsettling to a certain extent. I had been staying with my parents for awhile and then I was staying at my cousins for a spell. And then with the constant travel I do whether it be to Chicago, the Yoop, Florida, wherever I fancy or get invited to, my car became a sort of collect all for the in-between.

And that isn’t the part that bothers me at all. In fact it is specifically why I bought this SUV, for it’s roomy interior and ability to easily be converted into a sleeping space. It is that nowhere in particular feels like my home right now. I am growing up (begrudgingly I will admit) and finding a place of my own feels very important to me. I just am not sure where exactly that place is, yet I want to find it. I am simply very afraid.

My whole life, despite being a fanciful dreamer of the first order, I have had a plan. I planned to go to college. I planned on being a writer. I planned on moving to New York City. Check, check, check. Then the plan got a little topsy-turvy. I left New York and for the first time in my life felt adrift with the what next. Lucky for me my boyfriend at the time made it very easy for me by taking the problem out of my hands and asking me to move in with him. He lived on the East Coast and better yet he said he wanted to marry me.

That settled that. I was living in view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a half hour (if we didn’t hit traffic, which of course was rare) drive into Washington D.C. I loved my new home, I loved my boyfriend and I loved the idea of what our life could be. Me, pursuing my writing, and then settling in closer to the mountains with my sir and starting a family. Except that plan didn’t work either. And the only plan I had after that was to keep my head above water. And in doing so, I found I had a whole lot left in me even if all my plans had crumbled like day-old coffee cake.

My favorite personal trainer, EJ, had asked me while I was still in training for The Biggest Loser, what my plan was then. And I responded that my plan was to be footloose and fancy-free. And his response was, “That’s just your fancy way of saying you’re a poor planner.” I have always found this very hysterical, because by my own admission, yeah I can be a pretty poor planner. But in other ways, I make the things I want to happen, happen. If I want something bad enough, I plan and I make it a reality. Seriously. How do you think I got on national television?

The Biggest Loser producers didn’t knock on my door and say, “Hey Cassandra, we heard you were chubby and lookin’ for a change. Would you like to join our ranks?” Nope. I showed up in Detroit at 5 a.m. for the casting call and fuckin dazzled them. And then I continued to put in the work for months until I made the show and then worked tirelessly for seven more months while on the show to lose 92 pounds. And then I worked my much smaller arse off to get to New York City.

The problem here and now is, sure I am going out West and sure that’s as natural a choice for me as my choosing to drink strong black coffee every morning. It’s that I don’t know what the plan is after that… Because I still want the things I have always wanted. To be a smash writing sensation and ya know eventually locate a man who thinks I’m a humorous delight and then wants to really lock it down and impregnate me five times and then once more for good measure.

And truly my real problem isn’t a lack of a plan or not knowing what the next move is after mountains meeting the sea. The problem always has been my incessant worry. Every single friend I have points this out to me. Meditate more. Quit stressing. Stop worrying. Why do you need to have a plan? These were all things that were said to me only yesterday by varying friends. All nice friends who care about my happiness and well-being.

I just can’t actually comprehend being a person who doesn’t fret over the future like an overprotective hen clucking over her chicks. What, just go West and hope for the best? Really what else can I do though? I am as prone to hope as I am to worry. So I may as well choose hope and try and strangle the worry, though she is an elusive and bothersome little gnat.

In this case, my main man God really says it best and I should just shut up and listen to him.

“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

Life Begins Over Again

Musings

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I have had a fucking wonderful summer. Excuse my language, truly I try to be a lady but all things considered (my heart breaking into smithereens and having yet to locate all the pieces or put it back together properly) I have stuck to my mission of becoming who I am becoming. Not only that but I had some incredible adventures.

Now truth be told today started out rocky. I woke up and something about today… the date, September 1st speaking of change including a new season upon us and a new job for me, the dreary rain, the fact that my sister’s boyfriend Kurt was packing up to go back home after being here all summer and delighting me daily with his adventuresome spirit, all of this and more soaked the day in melancholy. As I gave Kurt a hug goodbye I joked that I felt very sad he was leaving and he wasn’t even my boyfriend.

Then I hiked in the woods in the rain for a long while. And got some writing done at Starbuck’s while enjoying my beloved extra extra hot pumpkin latte. But upon hearing this song (which I listened to incessantly while Out West) it made me yearn for Wyoming with a wild desperation. All of a sudden I had to get out of Starbuck’s because all the melancholy suddenly felt like too much. I just knew I had to cry.

As soon as I got in the car I burst into tears. It felt so ridiculous the onslaught of hysteria that I had to question myself. What were all the tears for? And so I answered myself to maybe calm myself.

They were for Kurt leaving and me feeling a little sad because he felt like a little brother now, but mostly for my sister Kirstie, because even if it’s just a move and not a break-up, leaving is always hard.

They were for the start of a new season which suddenly I didn’t know if I was ready for; I had just gotten used to summer. Why was summer over? Didn’t it just begin?

They were for Wyoming. Silly, maybe, but suddenly I ached for Wyoming and felt trapped here and unsure where I belonged at all and I longed for the open West and freedom.

They were a little for DC, who I thought by this time I should be good and over and I am good, but certainly not all the way over. I’d say I have one leg over.

They were for my sister Kia who would be leaving as well to move back downstate in a matter of days and would no longer be my partner in crime every day when I needed her. And it just seemed wrong that I should ever have to be without even one of my sisters.

They were for a friend who I recently found lost his grandfather that I knew he loved so dearly and it just seemed so heartbreaking his loss and there being nothing to be done over it and so I cried for that too for good measure. Well I mean once I was already crying.

And then I decided to pull myself together. And the way to do that would be by sharing my top three summer memories to cheer myself. So here goes:

My birthday. Okay, so that seems obvious, as all who know me and some who don’t know I love my birthday disgusting amounts, but this birthday was quite frankly not one of my favorite because of its painfully close proximity to my break-up, however, this doesn’t mean it was not memorable. My dear best friend booked a night in a teepee for me as she knows me well. Normally this would’ve gone over like chocolate being delivered and spoon fed to me by a bearded man, that is to say, amazingly. Except before we got to the teepee which I would be spending the night in with three of my sisters and bestie, Em mentioned that the area we would be staying in was purported to be quite haunted by Native Americans. And she didn’t leave it at that. She then told stories of the hauntings. Okay fine, I am not that big of a baby that I can’t handle a haunted tale (actually yes I am) but then once we set up our fire, Em and my sister joked about the Native American ghosts who might be in the woods and I very gravely told them they could NOT joke about Native Americans. On their Land. Near their teepee. Seriously I had watched a special in which a man who was warned not to go hiking on cursed Native American land did anyway and he disappeared and then later his remains were found and no one knew how he died. I do. It was obviously the Native American Curse. He was warned people! So naturally I had to be the first to fall asleep so as to feel safe that night, and I was. Because of the exceptionally cold night, we had all doubled up in our bunks except Em. I got my sister Alexa and Sav and Kirst were spooned together while Em was across from us. All was well until I woke up at a time I was unsure of but suspected was the bewitching hour. All I could hear from the teepee were sounds of snoozing from all the girls. Instantly I became frantic that the Natives might be mad that the girls had made jokes and when they came in to strangle someone to death that someone might be me, because what if they got confused and didn’t know it was my birthday, or wasn’t sure where Kirst was, or just decided to strangle all of us to make a statement. Honestly if it was going to happen I knew we had brought it upon ourselves. In a matter of mere minutes I was so wracked with terror and so convinced I was about to be maimed by a dead Native American chief that I shook Alexa up. “What.” she whispered. “I’m terrified,” I said. She insisted she was awake now and it was okay, but I retaliated with the fact we needed to skidaddle. Because we were sleeping in a teepee on haunted Native American land with Native American ghosts who probably rightly wanted to kill us and I didn’t blame them. But I wanted to live because it was my birthday and I like cake. Alexa who knows how much I like teepees and Native Americans but who also knows how much I value my sleep, my life and the power of Native American Curses screamed at everyone to get up because I was scared and we were getting out of there. My other sisters promptly whipped out of bed and sprung into action gathering blankets and asking if I was alright with grave concern while I insisted I was not and we were going to die and needed to leave. Em, the only rational one asked why we couldn’t just stay because now everyone was up and my sisters exchanged glances understanding that was of course never an option. Blankets and phones and marshmallows were thrown into my SUV haphazardly and we drove to a hotel two miles down the road where I happily and safely slept in between Alexa and Kirstie.

 

The Meteor Shower. So there was this incredible meteor shower up here that I was dying to see a few weeks back. I think this was also during the Super Moon, but the moon might’ve just been full and large, but it definitely lit up the whole sky, almost taking away some of the stars glory. My sister, her friend and I made our way down to one of our favorite beaches around midnight to catch the show. We had my sleeping bag and a bottle of pink champagne for the occasion. The night was a cool sixty degrees and it seemed cloud cover was moving in over the stars but we were hopeful. As we sipped champagne from our plastic flutes, suddenly my sis jumped up and insisted she needed to skinny dip. She wasted no time in de-robing and running into Superior. Now I am all about Superior all summer long, though most sane individuals are not. But on this cold night, taking a dip in Superior’s frigid depths, much less naked, seemed a dicey choice. But when my sis came back out seemingly exuberant and slammed the last of her champagne and asked if we were coming in too, it seemed I couldn’t rightly back out. She was younger than me and being this bold, I could hardly be the unadventurous one. So I undressed too and ran in. We all did. And our teeth chattered in the water under the moon and soon-to-be shooting stars. After getting back out, getting dressed and cuddling close the girls saw multiple shooting stars while I only spotted one, but one was all I needed to feel truly and wholly mesmerized and to make a solid wish, which of course I can’t share or it won’t come true.

Wyoming. Sweet Wyoming, there are so many words I have for you (you deserve a whole blog post and will probably get one) that I don’t rightly know where to begin. But I’ll begin with the cowboys. And the horses. Oh mercy me, these two things alone made my summer visit here one of the greatest in recollection. I joked with a friend that the state was so filled with cowboys and horses that I was certain if I moved there I would be given both a cowboy and a horse as a welcome. Wyoming filled my soul with such grandeur, such drunken adoration over the ever changing landscape: wide and winding rivers, fly fishermen, mountains that were green and blue and red and grey, valleys and rolling open land, that most times I was just speechless while others I wanted to throw a tantrum over how desperately I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stomp and fling myself into a moustached cowboy’s arms and beg, don’t let them take me. I am yours now. I belong to you! Honestly, I didn’t want to leave so badly that I applied for a job there in hopes of staying. Hence why I wept over Wyoming today. That place really got ahold of me.

While I obviously had so many more incredible summer memories with sisters and friends and family alike, I said top three and I have already been wildly verbose, so I will leave it at that. But, see there, I’m reminded that if summer was this sweet, I certainly no longer feel like crying and instead feel warm and magical over what this new season has in store for me.

O Captain!

The Adventurers Life

Coaster IIIt’s no secret that the sea transfixes me. When I decided to incorporate a new segment into my blog where I interview people with jobs that embody adventure, I knew landing an interview with a ship captain* named Niko Economides naturally had to be my first post. *(Niko insisted he shouldn’t be called a ship captain, just a captain, as those who were captains of ships were equivalent to surgeons in their training, but as far as I could tell, he was as much of a ship captain as I’d ever seen).

The Ship Captain

Niko invited me out onto his fine vessel for the interview. I am not even going to pretend I was cool and collected about it. I was basically salivating as I sat on a ledge in the harbor waiting for Niko to get back from a sail and once he did and spotted me, he hollered for me to climb aboard. I scrambled to get on his ship that looked like it deserved a role in a real-life Peter Pan movie.

Niko was still busy talking to those who just went out on the sail with him, as his boat is used for that exact reason: ventures near and far into Superior. Niko paused to tell me to have a look around the boat. Immediately I pulled out my camera and began investigating every knot, rope and clasp in breathless awe. I don’t know where this complete adherence to all things that touch the sea came from, but it’s been with me as long as I can recall. I cannot help but quip that I must’ve been a mermaid in another life for I yearn for the sea as if it were mine to begin with. As if I’ve merely been plucked from it so am therefore always working my way back somehow. Back to the sea, back from whence I came.

After touring the boat while my heart thrummed with its devotion to being on this ship—the Coaster II—I sat down near the wooden steering wheel and compass, to wait for Niko. When he made his way over, he summoned the two young chaps that were his crew to come have a look at my ship tattoo. This must’ve convinced everyone aboard that perhaps I belonged there. Then Niko told me we were going to go on a quick sail to do a pump out. I had no idea what this entailed, but the mere mention of moving out into open waters had me so twitterpated that I forgot to ask what exactly a pump out was.

I held my legs down to stop them from jumping and running around in unrestrained delight. My ship tattoo may have convinced these men that I was legit, but running around squealing over the prospect of setting sail would have been most uncouth.

When we set sail, Niko looked over and said I could start asking questions. I pulled out my notebook and began. Niko told me about how he’d been sailing for a long, long time; about how he did wilderness guiding, backpacking trips and built boats for a living before his sons (one of which was among us on the crew—21-year old Thanos who looked like he’d been born at sea) had expressed interest in a family business involving a large boat such as the one we were on. So Niko and his family began to look into purchasing such a ship.

Niko maintained that they needed a fixer upper and after finding the Coaster II, he and his son sailed it back from Maine where the Economides family then spent two years restoring the ship.

While Niko sailed and spoke, I noted that he, like his son, looked as if he were born at sea too. His full beard, sheath at his hip and natural ease while steering the ship bespoke of someone with the confident air of a true sailor.

When I asked Niko about different trips people could take aboard his ship, he rattled off a list of islands in Lake Superior and various day trips ranging from 2-8 hour sails. When he mentioned Granite Island and I asked where that was, he responded,

“About 14 miles due North.”

I asked what exactly due North meant, but loved hearing it intensely as it was clearly sea speak.

“Like to Canada,” he responded.

Once on the subject of direction, Niko began talk of navigation and ancient sea kings telling me that riddles were used for sailors to remember where the stars would rise if they were at different places in the world at different times.

“The sun’s important,” he noted, “but the stars will tell you more.”

He asked me my astrological sign and I told him Gemini. Niko informed me that Gemini was the sign of the navigator and I sat rapt, thinking, it all makes sense now. I am a navigator. It’s in the stars. Then he told me it really is in the stars, telling me about the twins, which represent Gemini.

According to mythencyclopedia.com in Greek and Roman Mythology Castor and Pollux were twin brothers. When Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair were regarded as the patrons of sailors and were also associated with horsemanship (fancy that—horses—only my other favorite thing in life). Earthsky.org said that “in China they were associated with Yin and Yang, the contrasts and complements of life.”

Niko told me that Marquette was built upon its shipping history: schooners, sailing vessels, birchbark canoes.

“There was more happening here before there were any roads,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of roads.”

When I asked Thanos who moved gracefully and fluidly about the ship to tell me about his greatest adventure to date involving the ship, he spoke reverently about his time sailing back from Maine where the ship was purchased: traveling 26 hours down from Portland, sailing down the East Coast, cruising up the East River, then the Hudson, followed by the Eerie Canal. Once in Detroit, the rest of the Economides clan joined the boys and they sailed the Great Lakes home.

Thanos

He told me that his family buying this boat was life changing.

“I was either going to be a rock star or a cook,” he told me before settling in at 14 years old that a life aboard a ship would be much more meaningful.

“Right after we left New York I awakened and became more alive… [I] embraced this future,” Thanos said.

As we sailed back into the harbor, I noted that the air smelled exactly like the sea, fishy and crisp. And while the day had been bordering on scorching until now, suddenly I felt the wind change, cooling off my cheeks that were warm from excitement.

All my life I had been yearning to sail, especially on a boat such as this, one that bespoke of history and resilience, magnitude and adventure. And alas, the stars had aligned in my favor when Niko walked into my work one day (who I was then introduced to by a coworker who I’d confided in that I was looking to interview men of the sea).

But hey, I am not the only one who could experience such a thing. The Coaster II is available for sails nearly every day of the week. And Captain Niko surely will not disappoint as even going on a brief stint around the harbor while he regaled me with his knowledge both of boats and seafarers alike was a trip worth taking.

If you’re anything like me, you will take to the sea and understand there’s something worth fulfilling in your soul out there.

“The sea pronounces something, over and over in a hoarse whisper; I cannot make it out. But God knows I’ve tried.”
-Annie Dillard

I Get By With a Little Help…

Adventures in Nature

Today was perfect. I got up for work at seven. Okay. Correction. My sister woke me up at seven because I am without a phone, therefore without an alarm clock and at the mercy of others (because I keep neglecting to just travel back to 1999 and buy an alarm clock) and waking up at seven was less than perfection but no matter. I laid in bed not fully letting myself fall back asleep but instead fantasizing about the sleep that I could no longer partake in for fifteen minutes. Then I proceeded to the couch where I sat for another fifteen minutes not accepting that I had to go to work. Then I remembered that there is really fresh and delicious coffee where I work and I perked up, got cute and hopped on my bicycle.

Where I got coffee and got to work.

I left around two and immediately was called to nature. I got ahold of my hiking buddy, Dana who I can always, always count on to do just about anything outdoors and active with me. I put on my bathing suit under my hiking clothes as I had been broiling since my bike ride into work this morning. We went out to my favorite secluded beach and started weaving down the trails that ran parallel to my beloved Superior. Today the lake was glassy, with green undertones in the shallow waters and royal blue reflections out deep, with some fog dolloped on top for added mystique.

As we walked through the forest I couldn’t help but continue to inhale deeply. I’ve come to realize the smell of the forest, like the smell of the sea brings me more joy than I can hardly stand. I became so intoxicated with it, that I pointed out to my friend that they should bottle up the smell of the forest—the pine needles on cushy ground, the dense growth, the timber—and make all men wear it. But then I’d be in for a world of trouble, because it’s bad enough the flannel wearing, beard sporting men in this town, if they all smelled of the forest too, I don’t rightly know that I’d have a hold on myself. All bets would surely be off and I might become a wild thing.

As we walked along, though worries wanted to nag at me—I have a whole list of worries I can pick from on any given day: how will I pay all my bills, when can I see the whole wide world, why did my relationship end, how much weight do I need to lose, etc.—but today I forcibly reminded myself to be present. There was no use re-hashing what had been or wondering about what would be. All of that nonsense would detract from my walk with my friend, my walk with my forest, my walk with God.

After the hour-long hike, both uphill and down I was of course sweating where my body produces sweat, which is everywhere. I de-robed and slowly waded out into Superior, feeling her out, wondering if I would lose all feeling in my ankles and calves before forcing myself to submerge fully like I always do. No matter how frigid Lake Superior may be, if I go in past my ankles, I must dunk. It may be a Finnish thing, or perhaps it’s a crazy thing. Either way I stand by it.

I waded out to my chest. It was cold, sure. Numbing in a way, but not its usual electric shock of frigidity. The numbing chill felt welcome and therapeutic, like ice on achy muscles. I took a breath, plugged my nose and tipped back. I popped back up, smiled and dunked once more and just like that I was used to it.

I yelled to Dana that it felt amazing. She stuck a toe in and told me I was crazy and that it was freezing. So I frolicked around in it a bit and then met her at shore where I searched out unique rocks and eventually sat down on one in the lake, my toes still submerged to chat while I let the air dry me.

I found what looked to be a floating piece of newspaper and I plucked it out of the water inspecting it. Amused, Dana asked if I’d found a love letter while I read it over hoping that’s exactly what I’d found. It was just movie times that seemed burned around the edges, left over from a fire. I put it on the sand and told her I still held fast to hope that one day I’d find a love letter at sea. Or by my coffee maker. Or in my mailbox. I never lost hope it seemed. Though I knew at 28 the chances of finding anything other than bills or an Ulta catalog in my mailbox were slim to none, I always checked the mail with hopefulness that one day, one day maybe someone would have something soul-stirring to say to me.

We left the beach to go make our dinner which we agreed would be hearty steak and a slew of vegetables. Something about being out in nature pumping my legs just makes me want to eat like a man. And now that I knew how to cook a steak, I wasn’t holding back anymore. The entirety of my relationship with DC I would mention my cravings for steak (it’s been my favorite food since about five) and anytime I wanted him to make it for me for dinner, he would say we needed a grill and it was no good on the stove. I would acquiesce, disappointed and hold on until summer or he took me out for steak. But never would I simply attempt to just cook the damn steak on my own; I thought it was a mans job.

Malarky. It is now my job to cook a mean steak if I want to eat like a man, which admittedly sometimes I do. Back at Dana’s I cut up onions in thick chunks, sliced wedges of carrots and drizzled asparagus with olive oil topped with parmesan cheese. I sauteed mushrooms with fresh garlic. And I grilled up two steaks, seasoned to perfection and rare enough to moo (at least mine that is). As I put bites of steak topped with mushroom and onion in my mouth, then quickly scrambled for a bite of carrot and asparagus, only to wash it down with a pomegranate beer, I realized that food had never tasted so fine.

And I’d made it myself. After hiking the forest. After swimming in Superior. After getting up at seven to make ends meet. On my own. By myself. As God intended. For me to understand that I can and should be reliant on myself—with a whole lot of help in the way of forests and trees and steaks and girl friends thrown in from the Big Guy—but other than that, just me, learning how to forge ahead making my own way and my own steak.

Independence Day, Literally

Musings

I have had a blissful two or was it three DC-free days—well that’s not entirely true as he was whispering at my subconscious the whole time, but not enough to take me down—but when I woke up today I could see the short reprieve was ending. Whether it was because my willpower had withered, or a day I was dreading was finally here, or the fact that I had just been experiencing high adventure with my mom and sisters was coming to an end and my adventure hangover was starting—as DC dubbed the bleak feeling that would come over me when one of my adventures was through—it was clear I hadn’t bested the post-break-up sadness like I had hoped I had.

All of a sudden I found myself missing DC as a whole and missing all his individual parts. A torrent of memories came down on me this morning, one after another and feeling semi-secure surrounded by my sisters in a hotel room, I let it all wash over me. I lay there in the dark room with ships on the walls and a white down comforter while I missed DC.

First I missed his arms. Then I missed being in them. Then I missed his chuckle. I missed his beard, of course. And his long eyelashes that I always envied. His forehead where I would kiss, especially if he wasn’t feeling so well. I missed his smell and I missed his voice. Which reminded me of the phrases I missed. They had been popping into my head for days, weeks, just random phrases in his voice.

DC loved to quote the TV show The Office as it was his favorite and for some reason this quote from the show that DC often re-quoted kept popping into my head.

“What you really want is more of a Savannah accent, which is more like molasses just sort of spilling out of your mouth.”

Except in DC’s voice, imitating Andy’s voice from The Office.

Molasses.
Molasses.
Molasses.

My mind would repeat in his voice until my heart begged me to stop. And then I would try and forget that I ever knew the word molasses. Molasses be gone.

The other day it was the phrase, “my Finnish princess.” This one wasn’t from The Office. This one was for me. I’d all but forgotten it had ever been uttered, but my traitorous brain dislodged it from my memory bank and kept re-playing it back to me. Every time he’d said this to me which had only been a handful, my body was flooded with giddy rushes of pleasure and for a few days after he’d said it I’d have to get it out of him once more, for the joy it brought me. So I would kindly remind him that I was his Finnish princess and he’d matter-of-factly nod and re-state it, “You are my Finnish princess.”

Finnish princess.
Finnish princess.
Finnish princess.

Again, the agony. The desire to stop the phrases from finding me. To forget those words. But how could I ever forget that I was once someone’s Finnish princess? Or even if I separated the words, I knew I could never forget Finnish because that is who I am, having been born with a love of my Scandinavian roots. I could sooner forget my name than I could forget my heritage.

With phrases and longing filling my brain I wore myself out and fell back asleep only to dream of DC. First I was with him and his family and then I was only with his sister, while she discussed with me that he was dating someone new. The dream ended with me and the someone knew in a gun-fight over DC.

I woke up feeling worse than before, but dismissed it. It was supposed to be one of my favorite holidays, so I tried to focus on that instead.

Red.
White.
Blue.

America.
America.
America.

It got me back to Marquette and then I found that all the red, white and blue, all the joy I had for being an American, for fireworks, couldn’t possibly wipe out the pain of missing someone I loved and shared a life with. I was trying to hold my chin up. I have been trying every moment of every day to do just that and mostly I am a smashing success. But today I felt the mixture of adventure hangover blues, a holiday minus DC, and heartbreak weren’t the best recipe for me.

And so I came home and cried for him. For his arms and his smell and his beard and his chuckle and his eyelashes and his kissable forehead and the way he said molasses and called me his Finnish princess. And a whole bunch of other things in between. And because I needed to know that this pain wouldn’t somehow destroy me. Wouldn’t destroy the Fourth of July. Wouldn’t destroy my ability to love again, I typed into Google: how to survive the sadness of a break-up and found this:

Incredible letter which made me feel comforted in the sincerest way you can find comfort from a complete stranger.

And then when I felt bad that I wasn’t writing about my adventure at Dark Sky Park, or learning to sail from a ship captain (yet) it was because writing to me is healing and sometimes it is all I can do to bear this visceral of all losses: to write my way back to myself.

Ernest Hemingway gets it. He said to “write hard and clear about what hurts.”

So I am writing hard and clear about what hurts. At least until it doesn’t hurt anymore.

What Could be Better?

Musings

Lately I have been having a lot of what could be betters? It’s funny, because I am in the throes of the biggest what could be worse—heartbreak that is—but, despite the agony of a disintegrating heart, I can’t help finding that things have been more than alright.

Like the smell of pine trees and pine needles dusting a forest floor. Oh mercy. What could be better? Besides the fact that the forest might be filled with some of the most intoxicating scents to ever fill my senses, it always reminds me of our family camp which happens to be my favorite place in all the land.

Then there are my freckles. Have I spoke before now about how fondly I gaze at my freckles? If I haven’t, I’ve been remiss. My freckles bring me no small measure of delight. I like them at all times of year, but in the summer when they crop up by the dozens on my face and arms and I can make constellations with them, well, what could be better?

What about Cat Power’s song, I Found a Reason. Gosh, I forgot about that song. It came on shuffle on my sister’s ipod one morning while I was cooking a particularly Gordon Ramsay-esque breakfast and I was stopped immediately. I had to find the time to sway. What could be better? To let my stinkin’ faulty smoke detector go off if it had to, but I had to get lost in that song, in that moment. I am not one to forget in the power of music, but sometimes, something deliciously unexpected catches me off guard, like this song, and why oh why do anything but honor it?

Or how ’bout the Northern sky? Have you ever seen anything like it? It fills the whole world I am living in with its vastness: its blues, its pinks and purples, whites and greys. And that’s not even speaking of the clouds. Oh the clouds—they touch every part of the horizon, seeming to touch land and sea and everywhere in between. I was on the beach today, sitting out on a rock island a small distance out from shore, having waded through Superior’s icy waters to get there, and for so many moments I couldn’t do anything else but gaze at the sky in wonder. I felt like I was on vacation at some fancy resort, but no, this was my backyard. What could ever be better than a Northern Sky?

Lake Superior perhaps? My favorite sea. Truly she is. I was informed today that Lake Superior is considered too large to even be considered a lake, so in fact, she is an inland sea. The Ojibwe called the lake gichigami, meaning “a great sea.” With my sea-loving heart, what could be better than 3-quadrillion gallons of water at my beck and call? In the morning as I pedal into work I see her. Or in the evening on my nightly walk, waves a-blowing to shore. What could be wrong in life with Superior out my window? Even her name has bragging rights.

What could be better than having four of my six sisters living in the same town as me? Two of which live in the same apartment as me, one who spends the night most nights anyway, while the other bikes over after work. How agog am I over having my sisters near me? Well, they fill my soul with equal parts joy, comfort, hilarity and fulfillment that it can’t help but heave happy sighs of contentment.

And then, then. There is my main man. My one and only. God. What could ever be better? He is the biggest what could be better and the best of course, hence why I saved Him for last. I wouldn’t have any of my what could be betters without Him. I wouldn’t have Cat Power or extra tall pines or waves or pink skies or freckles or six sisters. So with gratitude for things of beauty and delight saturating my heart that needs it, I again say, what could be better than God? From whom all blessings flow.

So, sure, the breakup is the worst what could be worse (at least as far as my heart can tell). But if I didn’t have God, I wouldn’t be having all these what could be betters to get me through. And for that I am a very lucky girl. Very lucky indeed.

High Time to Get to Sea

Adventures in Nature

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“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”
-Moby Dick

I always knew I loved the first few sentences of Moby Dick, but I had never gotten much past that for some reason or other. With my love of the sea tis shocking  that I have not yet read this book. I found it at a thrift shop the other day and paused to read past, “Call me Ishmael.” The paragraph as quoted above not only grounded me with its stunning poetic verse, but it felt quite similar to a situation I find myself in as of late, feeling a bit grim about the mouth, wanting to knock people’s hats off and most definitely jonesing the sea. Or in my case open waters. Superior.

Here I am.

Sometimes, words fail me. Hence why I borrowed Herman Melville’s for this post, because he said it better than I ever could. And also, I thought I would let some photos I have snapped since re-locating back to the great North do the talking for me. So I feel ya, Ishmael, sometimes the only thing to do is get to the water.

 

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What the Au Train Taught Me

Musings

Friday was my sister Alexa’s 20th Birthday. As much as I love and rejoice in my birthday is exactly as much as Alexa dislikes and avoids her own birthday fanfare. It’s completely puzzling to me as it’s a birthday—your one day in 365 that celebrates your entrance into this fine world. So color me perplexed as to people who don’t bask in this gift. 

While my birthday this year was surely magical and full of fanfare in its own right, like fireworks going off in the distance right around 10:30 p.m.—which is the time I was actually born, well 10:13-ish specifically—it was as if the very universe was reveling with me in turning another year older, celebrating my existence and impact on this world. How else could I explain fireworks going off in my line of vision on my birthday? Coincidence?

There are no coincidences.

As usual, I digress, this is about Alexa’s birthday, but more specifically, what happened on her birthday which might have affected me most of all—a surprise three hour canoe trip down the Au Train River in Northern Michigan’s pristine forests. It would be my sisters Savannah and Alexa in one canoe, and my sister Kirstie and I in the other canoe.

Kirst and I had a bit of a rough start as she was in the back, doing the steering and right from the get-go we were zigging and zagging to and fro in no way going straight or steady as we kept hitting the river bank. My anxiety promptly startled to prickle as I tried yelling directives back to Kirstie about where to put her paddle and when, but still our boat drunkenly lunged this way and that in a haphazard fashion. After running over a log in the river and nearly capsizing while mosquitoes buzzed rapid fire near my head, I lost all patience with Kirst who was giggling in the back while I screeched like a deranged captain. We made our way to a shallow river bank so we could switch positions: Kirstie bow, myself manning the stern.

Immediately we were on course, as I navigated from the back, calling out orders for when Kirst could lift her paddle out of the water and let me steer us or when we could power the canoe together. My anxiety frissons started to melt away as I took in the surrounding landscape while paddling. Sandy ridges dipped down into the clear water. After initially passing a few cottages on the river we were immersed in what seemed to be deep forest. I scrutinized the tree line trying to spot a bear or more specifically a moose. Deep lines of trees, pines and otherwise lined both river banks, immersing us in their powerful scents. After the switch a group of kayakers had overtaken us and we were now right on their tails, so we decided to pull off to the river bank and enjoy one of our celebratory brews that we put in a cooler.

We linked our legs over the sides of the canoes to hold tight to both canoes, having paddled our way over to an area of mostly fallen down and floating logs. We bobbed on the placid river smiling and sipping. My post break-up sadness that had been nearly taking me down for days was far from my mind as I stared at each one of my radiant and incredibly different sisters in the canoes. Kirst had her platinum blonde hair in pin-up girl curls, wearing her “fancy” sandals, mini overalls and a white tank-top, while Alexa wore a pink polka dot skirt and Savannah had on leggings and a long black floral shirt. Every one of us had sunglasses donned.

After a few minutes of sipping and sitting we decided to press on, letting go of the other canoe. I was already seated but Kirst had shifted to the middle of the canoe and stood up to make her way back to the front. As she started walking, I realized she absolutely didn’t have her sea legs yet as she marched down the middle of the canoe as if she were on dry land, with no sense of balance or idea that we were floating precariously in a small vessel. As I felt the boat begin to lurch I opened my mouth to yell for her to balance herself and before I could form a single word I was flying overboard and sinking into dark cool river water.

As I burst back up to the surface still too shocked that I was no longer dry in a canoe, but drenched in the Au Train, I grasped the side of the canoe realizing I still had my beer in hand. I felt frantic, but when I saw that the canoe was indeed still upright and all our possessions including my car keys weren’t lost at the bottom of the river but were still intact in the boat, my mind eased for a moment until I looked at my surroundings. The river had been rather shallow but where I was at currently, I could not feel the bottom, but was kicking my legs to stay afloat in dark brown water and could see lots of algae covered logs nearby. Instantly I started to flail and flip out, for as adventuresome as I may be, murky water that may or may not be filled with leeches and God knows what had my body convulsing in fear. Savannah and Alexa who I hadn’t spotted yet were around the bend a little ways and were laughing and yelling for me to swim to them where it was sandy.

Kirstie who was as dry as chapped lips was looking at me as if I’d inconvenienced her and like she couldn’t understand why I was in the water. I gave her a murderous glower as I dropped the can of beer into the bottom of the canoe which now had a thin later of water floating on the bottom and quickly kicked my legs and pumped my arms across the river to where my other sisters were. I stood up on the sandy shore and once I knew I was safe and my sisters were done snapping photos of me, I began to laugh.

Okay. I was safe. No leeches had gotten me. I hadn’t been sucked under by a mysterious undertow. And best of all no seaweed had touched or even been close to touching me as that would’ve been the worst case scenario when unexpectedly flying out of a canoe.

Savannah and Alexa went ahead while I realized my paddle was caught in a floating bunch of logs that Kirstie was wildly unsuccessful at obtaining, so I mustered up my courage and swam back up river to fetch it, then back down to the sandy bank to wait for Kirst to pick me up in the canoe. We made it around the bend to see a snarl of trees blocking a lot of the river and heard Savannah and Alexa making quite a ruckus on the other side.

It seemed that Savannah had tipped in as well, trying to make it across the tangle of tree branches and shallow bottom. Kirst and I decided it wasn’t worth trying to paddle through ourselves, so we got out to pull our canoe through the mess as it was only ankle deep. Once we had transferred almost all our sopping things from one canoe to the other in order to dump out the excess water in both canoes, we were back on our way.

At this point I realized my favorite pair of large round D&G sunglasses that DC had bought for me had been on my head when I went overboard. Instantly I was sick over the loss. Losing a pair of sunglasses would mean not all that much to me normally, losing a favorite pair would probably rattle me, but because they were from DC it felt symbolically sad that the sunglasses were now at the bottom of a deep and murky part of the Au Train. I tried not to let it bother me as we paddled on, but my heart hurt for awhile feeling the loss as more than just fashionable plastic shades for my eyes, it felt like over-ness, real over-ness and I hated it. Oh how I wanted those glasses back, if only to hold onto something that could no longer be held, which in essence was DC.

The river swept this way and that and the beauty kept striking me despite my melancholy. When we came around another bend I spotted a rope swing with knots hanging high from a tall and skinny pine. My heart leapt away from the sadness of the sunken sunglasses and landed on the rope. I had always, always wanted to swing off of a rope into water and had yet to do it. I felt a little tug of nerves again as the river in this part obviously was dark and deep for there to be a swing into it and I wasn’t sure if I could find the bravery on my own to hurl into the river again. Doing it once without my knowing was one thing, but on purpose? I felt like quite the chicken.

But when the birthday girl, Alexa Belle saw the swing she yelled to Savannah to pull the canoe over so she could jump. Her confidence impressed me. We all pulled the canoes to the bank near the rope swing and Alexa climbed out, climbed up and swung out into the river in a brilliant splash. She just did it.

She did it once more for good measure. This prompted Savannah to try. Savannah went twice as well and then my courage found me.

I stepped out into the water, scrambled up the steep and rocky bank where the rope hung and grasped it. It suddenly seemed so far down and so daunting. I hung out for awhile trying to do countdowns and then go and not being able to. But finally I hurtled myself forward and let go.

I went again and this time, climbed higher and sat on one of the knots of the rope which was even more exhilarating when dropping into the brisk and refreshing river.

Kirstie didn’t want to get wet, though we tried to convince her it’d be worth it. She shook her bouncy blonde curls, no. Savvy, Alexa and I clambered back into the canoes and were off once again, another unpredicted adventure under our belts. Having let go whilst hanging from the rope swing, I decided to let go of the sunglasses too. I had no need to hold onto that anchor of sadness on this glorious river that was teaching me to be fearless and what rewards my soul reaped from my small brave acts.

I thought falling in the river and surviving a would-be leech or seaweed attack, letting go of the D&G’s which also felt like letting go of DC and flying into the air off a rope swing were ample lessons from the Au Train that day, but still the river would teach me more.

After paddling for over two hours, Kirstie and I had hit our stride and now were navigating each fallen tree branch, narrow bend in the river and rock outcropping with Lewis and Clark-like expertise, until we came upon an enormous pine tree the size of a two-story house that was lying down in the river straight ahead. The pine looked as if it had simply given up and snapped right off the side of the cliff it was living on and fell dramatically across the river, like a tired woman on a fainting chair. Its long branches snarled this way and that with mounds of green needles still stuck on.

Savvy and Alexa were ahead and canoed up to where the trunk still stuck to the edge of the tall river bank. I supposed we could just canoe right under the trunk but the girls looked back at us shaking their heads. When we came closer, I too saw that going under the trunk would not happen as there were numerous scratchy branches in every direction blocking any entrance to the other side of the river. Kirst and I backed our canoe up while Savvy and Alexa untangled themselves from some of the pine branches as they had gotten too close and Alexa had been ensnared while their canoe rocked from the jolt.

“How are we going to get around this?” I asked Kirst, not feeling frightened so much as stumped that the river was still surprising me with its obstacles.

The other side looked just as hopeless with tree branches reaching wide into shallow seaweed filled water. The seaweed alone gave me pause. I could not fall in again there. Seaweed was definitely my achilles heel. But there seemed no other way. This route, though it looked too shallow and narrow had less branches. Kirst and I slowly paddled around the fallen pine and through the thick green seaweed.

Coming out on the other side, it seemed so simple. Oh, that was all it took? It seemed another glaringly obvious metaphor for life. When there is a tree 100 times the size of me laying languidly across the river I am on, blocking what seems to be the only way to the end, what is there to be done? Stop and set up camp on the river bank admitting defeat? Turn and go back two hours upstream? Of course not. Find another way. Get around it somehow and keep going.

Huh? Interesting. Very, very interesting. I hear ya God and I am listening.

The Au Train though hardly a rapids, or even what I would deem a level 5 on a scale of 1 to 10, still was not effortless. It required much attention, navigation and fluidity from all of us. There were still times we had to push our paddles down hard into the water to slow down our speed so we wouldn’t careen into a fallen log, times when we had to tread slowly and surely through passages full of branches and rocks and more times still that the river split and we simply had to go with our intuition on which split felt like the right one to lead us home.

And through all of this my mind awakened with not only the healing powers of nature, but what a river could stand to teach me about being fearless in the face of adversity, not just in the present moments but in what surely might be troubling times ahead.

I cannot know how many downed tree branches are ahead in my river—my story. I can’t know if they are enormous—seemingly blocking my entire path. Or if they are easily bypassed. Or how much stamina I may need to get around them. Or if I will get wet or lose things, even a part of myself in the process. But I do know that God created rivers so that only so much is visible at any one time. If I knew everything that lay ahead for me on the Au Train, I may not have even gotten in the canoe, but because I saw each winding bend—obstacles and all—a moment at a time, everything felt manageable.

And I get it. I get it all. I fell in the water and I didn’t drown. I lost something and that something really was someone that wasn’t just important to me, but was a part of me, still I press on. I flew and I didn’t get hurt. I saw no way around. But yet…

Three hours from where we started we pulled our canoes out of the Au Train where my car was parked, which was really only a few miles away. We had a package of soaked cookies, cans of beer that were mostly filled with river water, were missing two pairs of sunglasses that now rested at various sandy bottoms of the Au Train, we smelled like Off bug spray and sun-tan lotion and river and we were all still mostly wet with patches of dry (aside from Kirstie).

And just like that we made it to the other side.