A Day in the Life of a Rancher: The Branding

A day in the life of...

I got to experience my first calf branding the other day. I was unnaturally elated and felt like this was the height of cowboy culture—other than perhaps moving cows by horseback which I am also dying to do.

I am not sure why I went into it so full of pep, as the very words, calf and branding together don’t exactly speak to a lot of joviality. I knew branding would probably be intense but I still wanted to see this iconic ranching experience.

Upon arriving I noted a smell similar to that of being in a dental chair having a cavity drilled. I could see billowing white smoke coming up from the backs of where the calves fur was being singed. Then I noted small trickles of blood coming from both their ears and lower extremities, having just been castrated and dehorned as well. The testicles were then thrown into a Folgers Coffee container. My eyes kept going from Folgers container of testicles to the calves’ eyes. I watched on trying not to get shook-up when they struggled on the calf table.

Every time I could feel myself being slightly taken aback by the very rawness of ranching and that animals would indeed need to experience some pain in their lives—much like us humans—my rancher friend who was castrating, would smile reassuringly when he caught my eye, in a way that seemed like a shrug, what can ya do?

What can ya do, is right? This was the rancher’s job and all of the things taking place needed to be done. For starters, I myself, like almost everyone in America enjoys cheeseburgers; and I know that a cow doesn’t simply lie down and die in a field of daffodils on a dewy morning, only for a rancher to stumble along and go, hey, this would make a fine meal! I happily and blithely enjoy cheeseburgers with no thoughts of the dirty work involved. All that aside… Castration, I learned, prevented inbreeding, or breeding too early and allowed the bulls to focus on their feeding versus breeding. The dehorning had several purposes too, involving safety for the ranchers and the cattle’s ability to move through chutes unencumbered at meat-processing plants.

The calves were given two shots during this process. This is where I got put on in the lineup. Shot detail. I filled up the shots for each new calf about to have his first real-eye opening experience about life in the Wild West, just like I was having my own. I felt helpful in this way, though, and like I was doing something of import and healing for the calves. Every time I got to fill a new vial and see a calf hop off the table, I felt a little better.

They were corralled into a small pen that doubles as a table which flips up. Then the calf is held down with prongs while all the necessities take place. A lot of bellowing goes on and their eyes get slightly bulgy. But the interesting thing about their bellowing is it doesn’t get that loud. I thought, if that were me on the table getting branded and castrated and dehorned, they’d hear me bellowing clear over in Thailand, that’s how much I wouldn’t be having it.

Now here is the really interesting part. Once the calf is let go, he’d hop off the table and scamper away looking no worse for wear. Truly. And all of this is only a couple minute process. Either calves are great pretenders, or they really are quite resilient even if they’re hurting and they simply go back to the business of being young’uns who curiously run around the yard and play or go looking for their mama. I couldn’t believe it. About 97 of the 100 or so calves that were being branded that day all looked right as rain and like nothing at all had just happened to them.

About one looked as if it had gone through some sort of ordeal, while two others had the grandiose notion to perhaps lay in the sun and take a well-deserved nap. If I was a calf, not only would I be the single calf in the herd looking as if I’d just had an ordeal, I would also be the one napping and I would be running and bellowing to my mama about said ordeal. I probably wouldn’t shut up about it for weeks. The other calves would roll their eyes and think I was a pansy-ass. But it’s true. I now knew that one of my “bad” days was nothing in comparison to a calf’s bad day.

I was also informed that sometimes the calves get diarrhea and spew all over whoever happens to be at that end of the table, either brander or herder. My friend told me that one year her young son—who was also helping that day—was standing decently far away on herding patrol and still got diarrhea splattered all over his face. His face. I can’t even… Although her comical response to this, was that it probably boosted his immune system. Ranchers, gotta love ’em.

But all of the shock of what very real ranching and branding looked like aside, I had a whole new appreciation for my cushy life that had hardly touched on real farming, or any truly harrowing experiences. I had never been branded, thank God, but I also had never had to brand anything either.

My day of branding may have been the first day I wasn’t altogether romanced by ranching. But on the tail-end of this sobering thought was that it was okay. I didn’t always have to be romanced by ranching, because like the ranchers had been saying over and over to me, there were lots of aspects of ranching that didn’t look particularly romantic. They were gritty and filthy and tough and bellowing and covered in diarrhea and/or blood.

And if I thought I was the only one struggling to see the calves struggle I would’ve been wrong. I later talked about it with my rancher friend in charge of the castrating and he agreed, branding was a tough thing to see and an even tougher thing to do, but it was a necessity for the herd. It had to be done in order to prevent their animals—their assets—from getting lost and unrecovered or stolen and it was the best way, where other ways, like merely tagging weren’t nearly as reliable. He confessed he didn’t like it any more than I did, but that it did have to be done. And I admired him deeply for that.

He also pointed out that our culture as a whole was getting a bit too soft over the animal killing thing. He said, “Nowadays, I’m afraid if you put a couple people in a room with a gun and a rabbit until they starved, several people would choose to starve or end up shooting themselves before they killed the rabbit. And we have to get away from that.”

I thought that notion was slightly comical, but probably true. I will admit I recently ran over a rabbit on my way home from work and felt horrible about it. But, I would have no problem killing a rabbit if that was my only means of sustenance. Especially if I was starving. If you have ever seen me when I am starving you’d understand that I’d probably kill you if you got in my way of some juicy meat over the notion that it was cruel. Ask my sister Kia about this, when she dared to eat a bagel in front of me during competition on The Biggest Loser and I wasn’t allowed to touch a carbohydrate. Needless to say, Kia probably now has a complex about bagels because of how poorly I reacted.

And don’t get me wrong now either. I am an animal lover through and through. I think Sea World and zoos are incredibly cruel for animals and I don’t support that shenanigans. I don’t however think ranching, hunting or eating meat as sustenance is in any way cruelty to animals.

As the day wound down, and mama cows got reunited with their calves and everyone seemed content, I noticed my friend’s young son snatch what I thought was a calf testicle and pop it in his mouth. Now it was my turn for my eyes to bug out of my head. I thought I was mistaken and watched intently as he went to do it again, singeing it first on a still-hot branding iron, and even offering me one. I shuddered and said no thank you. He laughed and said, “I betchya I could get you to eat one by the end of the day.”

“It’s highly unlikely,” I said while leaning over a fence leaning into the warm sunshine, but smiling at his gumption anyway. I later learned they were full of nutrients and all the ranchers seemed nonplussed by his eating them, even noted that it’d probably be good if I ate one too.

I couldn’t bring myself to, even when the young lad cooked them over a handmade grill instead of a branding iron. I knew I was inching ever closer to the vicinity of my dreams of being a rancher/farmer, but yet… I still had a long ways to go. At least until I could ever dream of branding a calf or eating one of their testicles… but maybe one day. Stranger things have happened.

But for days after, I thought a lot about the branding in particular and the romance of the West. Was there a romance to be found in branding? The calves being branded was not terribly romantic perhaps… But then about a week later, I found myself sitting in a rancher’s home having been invited by my friends to a jam session. There were about ten musicians in a circle playing banjos, harmonicas, a bass and guitars while singing old Western tunes. I had just eaten the most unbelievable steak that my friends I did the branding with had brought and cooked perfectly. I sipped on cool white wine while watching the makeshift band tap their toes in time to the music and wondered how I could burn this memory to my brain? I didn’t want to forget the music in the large and open log cabin facing the Wyoming mountains with the April sun on my face.

And that’s when my brain answered back, you could brand this to your memory. And I smiled on the word brand. Alright. I will somehow brand it to my memory bank, burning it there with a hot, hot iron, singeing it into my neurons, so I could draw it up one day for the same warmth the sun and the sounds and the wine had given me. And just a few songs later, the band wanted to dedicate a song to our beloved Merle Haggard. They played Merle’s, “Branded Man.” I couldn’t help but think maybe the universe was with me on this one. Maybe the romance could still be found. Even in things branded.

I Believe It To Be Worth It

Musings

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.

Eyes on the Mountains (Part 1)

Musings

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…

Cheers to Naysayers

Musings

Let’s have a little talk about naysayers, shall we? Naysayers may seem like the bunion on the toe of life, but they are very much the opposite. At least for me anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not surround myself with naysayers, because constant naysaying or negativity would surely bring a gal down. No, no. But a well-placed naysayer is motivational gold.

I just had one the other day while I was waitressing. My last day of waitressing in fact, so the timing was impeccable.

It was a couple that I liked as I had them many times before. They weren’t awful tippers, they were kind and jovial, and they were always very understanding if I got swamped and couldn’t tend to them in a timely manner. Overall, I had no beef with these people—still don’t in fact. Toward the end of their meal, however, we got to talking and I told them I was leaving Wyoming, but that I would be back one day to get me some land.

I thought it was a nice thing to say, complimenting their state and all, but this is where things veered into the naysayery.

The woman of the pair, squinted at me, and said, “Land here is very expensive,” like she was imparting some great wisdom on me, because clearly I didn’t know land in the jutting mountains of the West would cost a pretty penny.

She also looked entirely certain that my coming back to buy land was preposterous as she carried on with her wisdom-giving.

“Maybe if you go to school one day…” she said looking hopeful that I could make something of myself other than glorified food-schlepper.

“I’ve been to school,” I said matter-of-factly. “I have my Bachelors.”

“Oh?!” she beamed brightly, “what in? Nursing? Because we are always looking for nurses and that pays well enough.”

Side note: Why does everyone and their cocker spaniel think being a nurse—I commend you nurses, love what ya do, but I could never, ever be you—is a viable solution to my wayward artistic dreams? I cannot tell you how many people have suggested I become a nurse. My parents even did at one point, encouraging me to do it for the job security, probably fearing a likelihood of my living in a cardboard box near Union Station. That hasn’t happened yet, though I was vaguely homeless for a spell in NYC, but that’s a story for another day.

It doesn’t matter that the sight of blood makes me queasy and the only math I like to do is computing tips when I go out to eat (for the record folks, 20% should be your baseline and I encourage you to go up from there). I actually have no idea how much math is actually involved in nursing, but I will tell you I considered being an interior designer once and when the woman I job-shadowed told me there was math involved, I promptly closed the file on that career choice. That is how much I despise math. Math in my opinion is like dating a redhead. It should be avoided at all costs. Unless he’s Scottish. Then all bets are off.

I digress.

I informed the woman that I did not go to school for nursing, but that I was a writer. Her brow furrowed once more, clearly determining that I was a hopeless case.

“Well,” she floundered, clearly out of ideas on directing me to make enough money to afford land.

I smiled and firmly told her I wasn’t worried.

She decided to worry for me anyway, the dear. I said my goodbyes and she wished me well on getting back to Wyoming one day.

I was ecstatic. I hadn’t had a good naysayer in so long. One who really lit a fire in my insides. While this woman was in no way mean-spirited and in all respects just seemed a practical sort, I loved that she seemed none too confident that I could ever A. Purchase my own land or B. Make enough money as a writer to purchase aforementioned expensive mountain land.

I felt like the Grinch when the lightbulb goes off to steal Christmas and his smile goes up to his hairline in unadulterated glee. The last person who told me I couldn’t do something was an elderly chauvinist who spewed what a waste of money horses were on top of the fact that poor hapless husbands were the ones getting saddled with the bill for the whole lot.

“Why does my husband need to buy me a horse?” I asked him curiously.

He also looked as taken aback as the woman who thought a waitress could ever buy her own damn land.

“Who else would buy it?” he nearly spat.

“I would,” I looked him in the eye.

“You?! How?” he asked, like I’d just told him I was in fact running for president while working at a mountaintop lodge.

“With my own money…” I said, trying not to insinuate he was dense.

He harrumphed and shook his head, like it was impossible.

“How?” he insisted.

“I make my own money now,” I said patiently, though I wanted to scream, what do you mean how!? “And I will make my own money later too, when I decide to buy a horse.”

He still didn’t believe me and muttered declarations under his breath about a woman buying her own horse, now he’d heard everything.

This guy honestly annoyed me a great deal, but I of course channeled that annoyance. Filed it away for a rainy day. Now that was stacked upon this woman not believing I was capable of purchasing anything other than a candy bar.

Now I had some serious ammunition. A man telling me I could never afford a horse. Check. A woman telling me I could never afford land. Check. Now all I needed was someone insinuating I couldn’t make it as a writer and I will be fully locked and loaded. That’s gun terminology right? I don’t really know. But I do know I also want a pistol when I go back West.

My favorite naysayer example was this “friend” I had from high school who told me she’d always prayed I would never lose the weight because I had such a pretty face and she didn’t want the competition in the man department. She said this to me after I had grown progressively chubbier in college and we were on a walk where I was bemoaning said weight. Her response was to happily confess her feelings on my weight loss. She said it with a giggle too, like it was all so amusing, but wasn’t it nice that I was pretty? I had that at least and shouldn’t fret over being fat, especially when it would coincide with her dating life.

I used that wonderful naysayer to help me land a pretty sweet gig on The Biggest Loser. And while I am currently no Kate Moss, I have never loved myself more, cellulite or otherwise. So thanks, girl. I appreciate your hideous confession, without you I fear I may not have gotten all the gumption for the life change I needed.

My point with all this is that having good friends and family be your cheerleaders and have your back is vital. I couldn’t accomplish any of the things I have accomplished without all of their well-wishes, pick-me-ups and unwavering support. But I tell ya what, just a couple solid naysayers sprinkled in the mix with their doubt and snark are just as vital to my making it. Because you know what’s happening here? I am charging forth on a path with fiery determination to prove myself right—I can afford a freaking horse and land! Okay not in this exact moment per se, but mark my words, I can and I will. Also should I procure a husband before I have purchased land, or a horse, I will firmly insist on buying them myself anyway. On principle.

So. Here’s to you, naysayers. I raise my mug—of hazelnut coffee—to you and your doubts and criticisms and sexist assumptions. Thank you kindly for believing a woman to be incapable, or helpless without a man, or feeble or a downright idiot. I look forward to the road ahead. And I especially look forward to proving you wrong. Cheers, mates.

I Resolve Not to Turn Thirty

Musings

I love New Years Resolutions lists. I pretty much do them every year. And every year there is always some version of get my body right on my list.

My first resolve is not to give two solid fucks about my weight this year. And maybe for the rest of my life, but we’ll see how that pans out. I initially thought maybe I wouldn’t weigh myself in 2016. But that already proved too difficult and I had to weigh myself to see what the post-Christmas damage was and how depressed I ought to be for the whole of January.

In all actuality it wasn’t as grim as I anticipated and I was blue about the scale number for maybe a day. Then I put on a dress and a cowboy hat and felt as hot as one can feel with slightly thinning hair and cellulite aplenty and strutted my stuff about the West anyway.

But moreover when it comes to weight and my body my main resolve is just to be kind to myself. That’s all. Be real kind. And being kind to my body definitely means not filling it with chicken fingers and sugar only to then lie around and watch an HGTV marathon. It means maybe running a marathon (okay, obviously I need to work my way back up to that one) and reacquainting myself with vegetables.

This quote sums things up rather nicely:

You don’t have to be young. You don’t have to be thin. You don’t have to be “hot” in a way that some dumbfuckedly narrow mind-set has construed that word. You don’t have to have taut flesh or a tight ass or an eternally upright set of tits. You have to find a way to inhabit your body while enacting your deepest desires. You have to be brave enough to build the intimacy you deserve. You have to take off all your clothes and say, I’m right here.
-Cheryl Strayed

I don’t want to be perpetually obsessed with being thin, especially when I like myself a lot, even with copious amounts of cellulite. But it’s really rather unfair to base anything on cellulite. I can still run and hike and take photos and cook and write and kiss just fine with cellulite. All my favorite things are still possible. So, what’s the prob, man? No problem actually. There is no absolutely no freakin’ problem. If my biggest problem is having cellulite then I really have a rather grandiose life.

Moving on.

I also resolve to shut up about writing my novel and just write the son of a bitch. Maybe I should also resolve to wash my mouth out with soap, but uh, I’m feelin a wee bit feisty in the new year.

I also happen to be turning thirty this year as I am sure none of you have heard, because I never bring it up. I kid. I haven’t shut up about it for the whole of being twenty-nine. And it is actually so tired to freak out about turning thirty. Everyone has a dozen conniptions about the number thirty. And I really have resolved not to be one of them and yet I have been. Which is so unlike me because I have never been the kind of gal who freaks over her age, or lies about it, or bemoans wanting back my fleeting youth. Nah. I know I am getting better with age. Are ya kidding me?! Twenty-three year old me was such a ninny. So insecure and unsure; and while that time needed to be, I am glad that time has passed.

But this is what I do resolve for impending thirty.
A. To not piss and moan about turning thirty.
B. Not to say thirty is the new twenty. No it’s not. It’s just thirty and what’s so wrong with thirty anyway? Some gal once said I want to be thirty, flirty and thriving, though I am not going to say that either… okay I might say that, because that does sound rather nice actually.
And lastly.
C. To embrace this number as a benchmark for achieving the goals I have set for myself. I am already very goal-oriented as is, and since this number has felt like a big to-do in my mind, I may as well use it in much the same way I used The Biggest Loser. As a humungo wake-up call to my life and my yearnings. It pushed me in a way that nothing else had pushed me before. And I feel that way about turning thirty. I feel it pushing me to be better and greater and make something of myself that aligns somewhere in the vicinity of what I know I am meant to be. Something that doesn’t involve asking someone what side they want with their hamburger: fries, sweet potato fries, chips, coleslaw or potato salad?

And while I am talking french fries, I also resolve to never be a waitress again. But I still have five days in 2016 to live that out before I can really bid adieu to bad tips and fingers caked with syrup and/or dried out from sanitizer water. But goodbye, friend, I wish I could say it’s been fun, but as Kia and I were kidding about putting laxative drops in our problem customers drinks the other day, I think it is time I hung up my apron as I am dangerously near breaking down in the towns of Bitter and Burned Out.

And lastly on my list of resolutions, I have resolved to be better with budgeting the money I do make and maybe make this the year that I do not overdraw my checking account. I did that this year already, but technically I am not counting it as I still have five months before I turn thirty and then I really can’t do it anymore. That would be so un-adult and uncouth of me and I will have nipped it in the bud by then. Besides, Bank of America is probably delighting way too much in the lofty amounts of money they get from me in overdraft fees, and they definitely don’t need all those $35’s as much as I do. Sorry Bank of America, you’ll have to get my money in some other sneaky fat cat way from here on out that doesn’t prey on my wild incompetency to budget my money properly.

So anyhow. Yeah. That’s about it. Maybe it’s not all that exciting if I am not touting lists of resolutions that include workouts worthy of Michelle Obama’s arms, but um, I actually think her arms are a little intense and mannish, so I will stick with my solid and simple list of five ways to be tops.

Happy 2016 kiddos!

The Execution

Musings

You know what writers used to do? They used to ride the rails to investigate hobos and no one cared. If I jumped a train now, surely I would get arrested and it’d be this big bureaucratic incident that would go on my permanent record and no one would appreciate that I was just trying to see if aimless vagabonds still rode the rails in search of new life and adventure. Or I would find a hobo and he’d be desperate for food, not adventure and he’d probably shank me thinking the fur on my coat was real and it’d be a whole bloody ordeal.

Or hopeful writers used to just brazenly walk into a newspaper to pitch a story and some editor appreciated their pluck and suddenly they had assignments.

Or maybe that’s just the romantic version in my brain, and maybe it was no easier then than it is now, but I feel like now, you have to sign a waiver in blood to the devil himself promising him your first born. And still all the magazines and publishers would cackle and sneer at you, throwing crumpled up McDonalds wrappers in your face and telling you not to quit your day job—and you’ll have given up your first born and half your blood supply for nothing.

Okay maybe I am getting carried away. And I hate to be cynical as I love my craft. I have loved writing for as far back as I can recall. It brings me the same kind of euphoric high that completing a run gives me, but without all the sweat. Although, truthfully I have been known to get rather excitable whilst in the throes of my writing and perhaps get a glossy glow.  Or pit stains… but uh, one of the kids I used to babysit for informed me not to mention my sweating problem in those terms as it was unladylike. So I will stick with glossy glow.

Anyhow. I was admittedly having a rough go of it at work yesterday. Meaning, I really, really loathed waitressing. People were hardly tipping, if at all. I have had an inordinate amount of stiffers lately (as in people flat out just paying their bill, sans tip, disregarding the fact that I basically make slave wages).  And I berated myself over and over that I wasn’t making a difference in the world at all. How was serving people pancakes and up-selling pies making one iota of a difference when I knew the difference I was supposed to make?

My panic levels crept up steadily and were exacerbated when I threw silverware into the soak bucket and all the gunky, putrid water splashed back and hit me directly in the face and mouth. I tried not to jump to my usual action plan when I am deeply disturbed by my life and that is running away and joining the circus. The Swiss circus was what I decided. I told this to one of my coworkers and he asked, why Swiss? I said it sounded nice. I bet the Swiss have a great Circus. Actually, they seem like the types who might frown upon all that lycra and animal cruelty.

I joked with my boyfriend that I was going to jump on the beer delivery guy’s dolly and have him whisk me out of there. He told me not to leave him for a beer guy. I pointed out I wasn’t leaving him for anyone, not even someone who was a chocolate maker with his own railroad, but that I needed to escape before I had a full blown panic attack.

I have this journal where I jot down highlights of my day or at least the notables. I felt very sullen and so I doodled a noose and joked in my journal how worth it it would be to swallow some poison. Then one of the cook/drywallers (don’t even ask) came up and asked if I wanted to see his paint job. This isn’t a euphemism for his penis; he is gay. And he really likes to show off the walls he has recently patched or painted and go over every detail with great pride. I am not exactly sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with loneliness and/or needing some sort of attention or validation.

So poison it is, I thought. Get some dishwashing detergent and swallow half the bottle before you have to go check out another freshly painted wall and get a tutorial on it.

I didn’t poison myself, obviously. I went and politely inspected the freshly painted basement room while my coworker pointed out how much better it looked, didn’t it? I nodded. It sure did. I knew this, because it was his old room and he had brought me down there before to show me his dog. Also not a euphemism. He really does like Show and Tell.

I went home and rationalized that it was no use to get worked up and expect instant gratification, as even if I did have my novel done, (which I don’t) it wouldn’t get published or sell or probably even make money by uhh… tomorrow which is what I wanted so that I could throw my apron on the counter and storm out, vowing never to scrape another sticky pancake plate and get silverware splash in my face again. Unless it is my husband or kids. I will scrape their pancake plates. That’s all right. And so I may as well keep plugging at it with baby steps and not freak the heck out and doodle nooses (or is that like gooses and it’s not a word?)

Except I was still on edge and very much wanted instant gratification anyway. So I ate a whole bunch of peanut butter kiss cookies and felt sufficiently bad about myself, huffing into my bedroom and crying for all of two minutes until I became annoyed with my antics. And then I really did make an action plan. That didn’t involve a noose, poison, running away with the circus or a beer delivery man and mostly involved putting on a sports bra, tying my hair back and brutalizing myself in the room we loosely call a “gym”—a storage room with a few weights, a couple broken cardio machines and an aqua massager—at my place of employ. I reached some semblance of an endorphin high, regaining my clear rationale.

I would find a way. Even if I had to shove my writing down people’s throats, as was suggested to me by one of my Biggest Loser trainers. I hoped it didn’t come to that, but instead of being a big Debbie Downer, I would employ Biggest Loser tactics and get angry and get goin’. Because what else could I do? Boo-hooing into murky silverware water wasn’t going to make me an accomplished writer. I was. So I may as well shut the hell up about writing and get to it. Words to paper, man.

Or something. So here is my execution. Not of myself. Because how very macabre. No, of getting the writing going. And hobnobbing with other folks who write and generally just being a writer and not bemoaning that I am not a writer. Fourth grade me knew I was a writer and didn’t need a paycheck or validation to put pen to paper anyway. So maybe I should channel fourth grade me. Though really un-savvy and prone to wearing oversize Winnie the Pooh shirts, that girl had gumption.

Cheers to fourth grade me then. And not running away or offing myself when things seem bleak. And the written word. Always the written word.

 

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