Winter Dream

Winter Dream

By

Laura M Heffner

December 10, 2018

The snow and cold hushed nature,

The sun brightened her with a sparkling crown,

Trails were magical and empty,

Barely a soul to be found.

The air, sharp and sweet,

The only sound, made by my own feet,

Winter spun her magic,

In which I feel free

No worries, no troubles, no demands,

A moment in which,

It is only me…

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Adventure Hike – John Bryan State Park/Clifton Gorge Loop

Hike Length: Approximately 5 miles

Hike Difficulty: Moderate – rocks, hills, not level surface, can be muddy. Easy – For fit and seasoned hikers. Caution – There are hazardous cliffs in both parks, so be careful and watch the kiddos. People have fallen to their deaths esp in snowy/icy conditions

Facilities: Multiple pit toilets in John Bryan, nature center (check website for when open), rustic campground in John Bryan, mountain bike trails, day lodge

Note: Pets are allowed in John Bryan but not Clifton Gorge so to do this loop, you can’t take pets but there is plenty of hiking in John Bryan to enjoy with your doggo(s).

Websites: http://parks.ohiodnr.gov/johnbryan

http://naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/cliftongorge

Late November, we got some warm weather for our part of Ohio and ventured out to John Bryan State Park which is located which is east of Dayton near the eclectic town of Yellow Springs. Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve is situated as JB’s east neighbor. We did an approximately 5-mile loop starting at western parking lot at the point marked U on their trail maps. Drive into the park and pass the park office. At the fork, turn left and the very first drive on the right, take this into a wooded parking area.

In roughly the south east corner, there is a trailhead leading down to the North Rim Trail. Turn left (there is a small section that leads down to the stagecoach trail that is the actual start of the North Rim Trail but you will need to walk up or down to the trail start as there is not parking at the start, but it is a short walk. The trail winds through honeysuckle and trees. Along the way there are several wooden deck overlooks that in the winter, you can see down below. As you go along, you will notice along the cliff edges that there are metal hooks which people use for climbing and rappelling in the John Bryan section of the hike.

North Rim Trail

The trail meanders up and down the rolling land including several bridge crossings. We found some of the bridges to have some give and therefore went one person at a time just to be cautious.

Crossing a bridge on North Rim trail

Eventually, you cross into Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve with a warning regarding the hazardous cliffs. As mentioned above, watch your kids, don’t be stupid and fall to your death. Be particularly careful with snow and icy conditions. Again no pets are allowed in the Gorge though I’ve seen people ignore this rule. There are several spurs off to your right that head to the trail below but stay on this trail until you come to a wooden fence on your right that leads to a clearing with a porta-potty and the nature center.

At this point you can continue on the trail passing the wooden steps leading down all the way to trails end which is a parking area on the west side of the small town of Clifton. Clifton Mill situated in the center of town is famous for it’s holiday light display (fee charged) as well as a restaurant and gift shop all year around (https://cliftonmill.com/). But for this loop, head down the steep wooden steps to the Little Miami River. Note: the lower portion of this loop is a bit more challenging so if you need less challenging, simply turn around and return to your vehicle.

Little Miami River

When you reach the trail, you are now on the John L Rich Trail. At this point if there has been rain you will find a lot of muddy areas. The trail winds around the trees, cliffs, rocks and boulders. Again you will find wooden deck overlooks as well. In the spring, this lower trail is a wonderful place to find wildflowers. Soon you will come to a small waterfall which there is more steps leading up to several small overlook decks weaving around the boulders.

There are plenty of cliffs and even some small cave areas to explore. This is our favorite part of the loop even though it can be the most challenging. The river will run into rapids at times and you feel as if you’ve been transported into another world. This is usually cooler than the upper trail in the summer.

When you exit Clifton Gorge, there will be a bridge over the Little Miami on your right and then a trail back up on your right, this is a rocky and steep climb. You can go back up here and rejoin the North Rim Trail or keep going straight along the river. This trail is now the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati Trail and will end at the road. There is a metal gate but if you look to the right, there will be a trail scrambling back up the slope that will take you back to the parking lot and add a little more length to the loop.

Due to the muddy conditions, we went up the rocky incline at the bridge and back onto the North Rim Trail and retraced our steps back to the car.

Some considerations, the trails will be very busy in the summer and especially on the weekends. I prefer to hike during winter and early spring (not when it is icy) to avoid people. There are a lot of trail runners who use these trails so don’t be surprised if someone runs up behind you. This is always a gorgeous hike when the fall colors are at peak. John Bryan is one of my favorite state parks with plenty of picnic tables, some playground areas, excellent and well maintained mountain bike trails which are good for beginners, the campground is open year around and there is a day lodge you can rent.

A few of my favorite places around the area:

Yellow Springs: http://www.yellowspringsohio.org/

Young’s Jersey Dairy (can be very busy): https://youngsdairy.com/

Till the next hike, get out there!

Living in Joy After Abuse

Recently, I’ve realized I’ve been living my life according to some ideas I have stuck in my brain. These ideas have formed over the forty-eight years of my life for different reasons such as how I was brought up, my peers, constant media blasts, social norms, religion, so on and so forth. Truly, it’s hard to sort out what I really want in life through the many layers of ‘Shoulds”.

You need to go to college and pick a career that earns a lot of money.

Money is most important.

You need to not be outspoken or different. Follow the rules (social norms).

You’re a woman, you can’t do that.

Keep your mouth shut. Keep out of sight.

That’s a nice dream, but it won’t make enough money. You won’t be able to support yourself.

Are you crazy?

Why are you so shy? Why don’t you speak up in class? Are you stupid?

Go to church every. Sunday. Live a pious life (as the speaker does not)

Women are weaker, inferior to men.

Don’t associate with black people or people of color.

You’re a failure. Don’t do better than me. Don’t do anything that makes me uncomfortable. Don’t color outside the lines…

You get the idea. I have had so many expectations and rules (that aren’t truly rules) throw at me throughout my life, that I am just now unwinding all those messages to find my true self. All that I listed above has been said to me in some manner or another, usually out of love and misguided direction though some of what has been said to me is so that I don’t “do better” than the person giving me that message. People are threatened by you, especially when you don’t fit into a neat little box.

I’ve always been kind of the odd duck. I’m quiet and introverted; therefore, I’m either assumed to be socially awkward or shy or stuck up. I’m none of those things. I have never seen race as an indication of people’s worth or unworth. People are just people. I don’t believe one religion is ‘right’ and the rest are wrong. “God” to me, takes many forms and going to church every Sunday doesn’t make you a good person. I find “God” in nature, in people and in many places.

I don’t believe you have to be rich to be happy. I think having enough money to pay your bills and a bit extra is the sweet spot. I don’t believe you have to be what the general public deems as ‘successful’ such as being a doctor, lawyer, etc. Sometimes the people we look up to are the ones hiding the most. I don’t believe that “God” is wrathful, I believe “God” is love and therefore doesn’t give 2 shits about your sexual orientation, gender, color, if you tithe 10%, if your butt is in a church pew on Sunday, so on and so forth. I do believe “God” wants us to show each other love and kindness. I also believe that “God” wants us to find joy in our lives, not be cowering in the corner because we sinned. God wants us to feel his love not feel guilty all the time.

Over the years, I’ve tried different volunteering activities and each time, I found myself not sticking to them. I felt bad about myself, guilty. These people need my help, am I a selfish person? Then recently, I signed up to be a Lunch Buddy through Big Brothers Big Sisters for a 5th grade girl in my school district. Every other week (or more – she likes me to come weekly), I have lunch with her at her school, just listening and talking. to her while she eats her lunch. To be honest, I think I get more out of i t than she does, it brings me such joy. This made me realize that no, I wasn’t a bad or selfish person, I just hadn’t found my right opportunity. I was telling myself, everyone works with kids, I should work with the elderly or abused women, so on and so forth. For whatever reason, I was too stubborn to allow myself to do what I really wanted because I had some ideal in my head that I shouldn’t work with kids.

Where did this come from? Who knows. But that’s how I’ve treated myself throughout my life. Ignoring what brings me joy because maybe I don’t feel I deserve it or happiness. Growing up in a dysfunctional family situation, you rarely feel that you are important. The narcissistic nature of someone who is an addict or alcoholic takes over everyone’s lives and as a kid and adolescent I was lost in the shuffle. My needs were not important, I was overshadowed by my father’s issues. I’ve been essentially punishing myself all these years because of essentially what I was taught indirectly. And frankly that’s bullshit and I’m angry about it.

I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and therapy to get over my past and the fallout into my adult life. The last thing that I am struggling with is anger. I am calling bullshit on every single person who ever excused my father’s behavior because he was “sick”. Sure he tried rehab a few times but he just bullshitted his way through it and came home to do the same things usually worse. My childhood, my adolescence even though my parents divorced when I was 13 was a flat out abusive mess because of his f’ing sickness. Bullshit to each time someone excused his behavior – you were enabling him to not be responsible for himself. I understand it’s a sickness and people can’t help it but it doesn’t excuse the shitty treatment of your children. We didn’t deserve it.

Bullshit to the lack of domestic abuse laws that allowed my father to hit and beat my mother because they were married. If they had not been married back then, he would have been arrested. Again, this was overlooked and my mother was told basically that you are stuck, until she finally had enough and left. She would have left years before, saving us all a bunch of heartache if it had not been for those preaching religious shit about sanctity of marriage. Really? God wants a husband to hit his wife and kids? I don’t care if he was sick or drunk, none of us deserved it. No one deserves it today. The damage from this treatment is long reaching. I’m mid-life and still struggling to just allow myself joy. This is ridiculous.

Being addicted or having a mental illness is tough. It’s a big struggle, but please don’t forget about the persons, the loved ones in the addict’s path. Don’t let the addiction overshadow the victims. In my father’s case, he was never going to get better. I wonder though, if people had stopped enabling him, feeling sorry for him, and hadn’t expected him to take responsibility for his actions. Would the result had been different? What if he went to jail for beating my mother the first time it happened? What if she left the first time she wanted to, gotten support instead of shamed and pressured because they were married? My parents would have divorced when I was very young if she walked away when it started to happen or at least separated until he straightened up his shit. If he couldn’t straighten himself up, then none of us had to live in that hell. She could have still helped him get to rehab and such, but kept herself and us out of the firing line.

I’m not saying stop caring about the person but they have to take responsibility for themselves. They won’t get better until they decide that is truly what they want. It doesn’t matter how much begging and pleading you do with them, it really has to be up to them. But this is their responsibility especially when they are an adult. It is further complicated though by mental illness as in my father’s case. There is little resources to dealing with an adult with a debilitating mental illness. When my father was in nursing care, he was this wonderful pleasant person but outside of constant care, he reverted back to how he was. Dealing with these issues are very complex and I know it isn’t simple. But as victims of the disease, we can remove ourselves and take care of ourselves even though it’s hell watching someone you love self-destruct.

So now, I’m learning what truly brings me joy. In order for me to finish healing over my past, this is a key element. Letting go of the “shoulds” and finding joy every single day. Allowing myself to be happy because I deserve that as does everyone else. We don’t have to sacrifice our joy in life. I need to stop trying to live up to old expectations that never made sense to start with. To stand up for myself when my boundaries are crossed. Granted we all have to do things in life that we don’t enjoy to survive but outside of that, we are free to find our joys. We deserve love and good things no matter our past.

Go find your joy!

Hiking Charleston Falls Preserve – Miami County, Ohio

Miami County Park District rocks!  There are sixteen properties/trails under their jurisdiction with my favorite being Charleston Falls Preserve.  When I first started coming to this park in the late 1990’s, it did not get the visitors that it does today so I try to visit it on less popular times like weekdays.  The park is over 216 acres with close to 4 miles of trails that wind up and down through prairie and forest.  Of course there is the 37 foot waterfall but also a small cave, wildflowers, plenty of benches, a gazebo, overlook platform, a pond, wildlife and well maintained facilities.  There are also many programs held in the park as well (see Miami County Parks for information/schedules).

Location:  2535 Ross Road, Tipp City, OH 45371

Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset   Pets are allowed!  (please clean up after your pet)  Do not pick or remove natural items.  

Facilities: Flush toilet restrooms, water fountain, picnic tables, trash receptacles, well-marked trails with map kiosks along the trails, benches, mostly gravel trails with the exception of the prairie area – wide mowed trails.

Overview:  A winding paved driveway leads to the parking area(s).  There is a paved area with several handicapped spots.  To the west is a larger gravel overflow parking area.  On the summer weekends, the overflow parking can almost fill up due to the popularity of this park.  The restrooms are open all year around (heated in the winter) which is a big positive for me as I have to drive almost an hour to reach this park.  They recently put several new picnic tables near the parking area.  Another picnic area requires walking into the woods and to the south.

The waterfall is a fairly easy less than a 1/2 mile walk along a wide gravel path through the woods.  For the most part it’s flat, but there is some gentle rolls.  This makes is great for people with young kids and people with physical limitations as they can see the falls without a long strenuous hike.  This is also the most popular direction for most of the people to walk.  once you walk into the woods, take a left at the fork in the path.  There is an informational kiosk as you walk into the woods and they always post on a sawhorse/sign what time the park closes that day.  There is also a bag dispensary for pet waste if you forget to bring one that usually is stocked.  To the right, you go back to the picnic area or the prairie area with the Golden Hexagon (gazebo).

Essentially all the trails form a loop that go through places like the Thorny Badlands and Redbud Valley.  But for this blog post, I’m going to use my preferred direction.  Once I enter the woods, I take the left of the fork.  Not long, there will be a spur going off to the left that is more narrow.  There is a map kiosk there, so I take a left.  If you stay on the main trail (right of map kiosk), it takes you directly to the falls.  The preserve has several pretty steep hills and I have found going clockwise on the loop is easier on my knees than counter-clockwise.  At 0.30 miles, the trail splits after you climb a short hill (there is a bench conveniently located toward the top).  If you go to the right, the path takes you to Cedar Pond and a prairie area.  To the left, you wind through the Locust Grove until the trail meets back up.

Locust Grove gets less foot traffic as the Cedar Pond is a popular spot.  There are steps down to the pond as well as a partial boardwalk.  You can walk all the way around the small pond but the earthen trail can be muddy after rains.   There are several benches situated above the pond which are nice to sit.  The pond is fill of fish, cat tails and water spiders.  In the summer, tiny yellow flowers bloom in the water by the boardwalk area.  I like to take Locust Grove trail in the heat of the summer as it’s heavily shaded.

Both of these trails converge together into one trail again as you go downhill and back into the woods.  The trail is more steep here as it runs down to the creek.  A wooden bridge goes over the stream but if you go to the left of the bridge, you can wander down to the water.  There are several rocks or concrete steps to allow you to cross the water if the stream isn’t high.  This is one of the most picturesque areas of the park in my opinion.  Once you cross the stream, the trail goes off to the right winding along the stream.

In another almost third of a mile, there is a another fork with a map kiosk.  If you go straight, this takes you through the Thorny Badlands (up a hill) to the Observation Tower.  Don’t expect some great view from the tower as it’s mostly grown up across the tower.  To the right, through the Redbud Valley, if you have hit at the right time in the spring, the many redbuds will color the valley in pink.  There are bits of boardwalk here that leads up to a steep hill that will eventually come up to the area above the falls.  I usually do the Thorny Badlands.  As you come up the first hill from the map kiosk/trail split, you can see the observation tower but also another trail that goes off to the left.  To the left is a 0.25 mile spur that runs through the woods and back up to the trail behind the tower.  I like this trail because of the large trees and the tendency for less traffic.

Soon after the trails rejoin east of the tower, the trail winds through a pine forest that smells wonderful.  The trail goes down across the stream and a wooden bridge and up a steep hill.  At the top of the hill is another thoughtfully placed bench.  You can go either left or right here.  I normally go right and wind along the edge of the cliff above the waterfall.  You get glimpses of the waterfall after a bit.  This trail also joins the trail that goes below the falls and past the small limestone cave.  I normally skip that part and keep along the ridge until you cross the creek that feeds the waterfall on a wooden bridge.  As the trail winds around toward the south, a wooden fenced area marks the upper overlook to Charleston Falls.

In the summer, wild red columbine blooms at the edge of the cliff on the other side of the fence.  An old, stately American Sycamore tree stands sentry at the bottom of the falls.  As you look below, you will see a boardwalk and observation deck at the bottom of the falls.  This can be accessed shortly after you walk on from the falls by following the wooden steps down.  Note:  Spring is usually the best time to see the falls running especially after the snow melt.  In the summer/fall unless there is a lot of rain, the falls can just be a trickle of water though still pretty.  In the winter, sometimes the falls freezes into huge icicle like formations.  This is a wonderful park for winter hiking as well.

At this point if you go to the south or to the left when you turn around from viewing the waterfall, the trail leads out into the prairie area to the Golden Hexagon.  There is a trail that goes completely around the area in a square and another trail that runs right through the middle to the gazebo.  The park thoughtfully put in a ramp as well as steps to the gazebo so it’s more easily accessed.  The trail throughout this prairie area is mostly just mowed grass.  The prairie area is full of wildflowers throughout the blooming season.  To the left, you follow the gravel trail through the woods and back to the parking area.

In conclusion, if you don’t like crowds try to go on a weekday morning.  There are many wildflowers and birds within the park as well as small critters like squirrels and chipmunks.  The Falls is a popular dog walking spot as well.  Many trail runners like the park as well as there is a wide variety of terrain in just under four miles.  Every season has something to offer.  When it’s snowy and icy, you do need to be careful in certain areas.  They offer many programs for kids and adults alike.  I’ve taken an inexpensive Nature Journaling/Sketching class there which sparked my love of sketching with charcoals.  This is one of my favorite parks in Ohio and I visit it often.  The parks department does a stellar job of keeping it maintained and clean.   They deserve our thanks.

If you haven’t visited this park yet, put it on your list as you won’t be disappointed.  Though I’ve been here hundreds of times over the years, I mix up my experience by hiking in different directions or different trails.  I never fail to see something new and beautiful.  Until next hike…

Free, Less, & Me

I was writing in my journal noting that it hadn’t even been a month since my youngest moved out. As I reflected on how I was feeling, I noted several words came to mind.

“Free”. “Less”. “Me”.

I dreaded her moving out, cried for days before and after she moved out. It truly was the end to an era of my life. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been struggling with this whole empty nest idea for about eight years. What will I do? How will I feel? How will I fill the time? How will I feel useful? Needed? I’m not great with the unknown. I want to control everything after growing up in a dysfunctional family. But you can’t control this event nor do you want to. It’s our jobs as parents to raise the baby birds into full fledged adults allowing them to leave the nest and forage on their own. Looking back, I couldn’t wait to move out of my mom’s house. Freedom! Adulting! Doing what I want! Yay! Of course, we all know that it’s never as great as we think because there is always: Bills! Employment! Taxes! Car Issues! Health Insurance!

My life has never really been my own. Maybe a few years late in my teens as I moved from 18 to 19. Then I met my daughters’ father and I allowed my life to get hijacked. So on and so forth, this is all covered in previous posts. But I recovered and made a good life for my daughters and myself. I’ve achieved the majority of my goals that I had from years ago that seem relevant today. Being a famous rock star died out once i had the first baby.

“Free”. I have 4 things I’m responsible for: Myself, Pets, Home and Job. Suddenly I find I can spend a lot more time doing things I enjoy. It’s been going this way for a long time but now it feels more permanent. Outside of my responsibilities, I can chose how I spend my time. If I want to hang out with my kids I can. If I want to spend the day hiking in the woods, I can. If the hubby and I want to spend the day out driving in the Corvette we can (at least until the first salt hits the road). Holy shit! Freedom, or as much as a grown mid-life adult can have.

“Less”. Less cleaning, less cooking, less toilet paper, less grocery shopping, less picking up, less drama, less expectations, less responsibilities, less shit in general. I’m in the process of streamlining household chores, grocery shopping and so on to spend less time on these activities. Less = more freedom, more money, more fun. Essentially less becomes more. More of my own life to life.

“Me”. I’ve spent my life care taking people due to my crazy upbringing and then jumping into young motherhood. Now I can focus on me for the first time in my life. There are no grandparents or parents around pushing their expectations on me. Sad they are gone but it’s simply the truth. These people can really influence your life choices and in my case, I didn’t follow what I truly wanted. I hope I haven’t pushed too much onto my daughters though I know I have in the past. I try to just be supportive now. Me – Doing things I enjoy. Me – Spending quiet time alone which is an introvert’s paradise.

Though I will admit, it has taken me some time to adjust to this time and not try to force myself to be more extroverted because of some odd expectation I had set in my mind. I have the rest of my life; however long that is, to focus on myself for the most part. Which this may just be simple things like doing what I enjoy or pursuing a goal that I find I desire or taking naps. Aren’t naps amazing?

My biggest issue with this change of seasons in my life has been my fear of the unknown and the fear that I would no longer be relevant or useful. I’m not a helicopter mom, nor did I get so involved in my kids’ lives that I forgot my own but the change was significant for me. At times, I miss having kids in the house but mostly, I don’t. They all seem pretty happy on their own and I work at remembering that. I gave them a better shot than I had. I gave them a better childhood than I had. I did my best and honestly, I failed a bunch. I would never get “Perfect Parent of the Year” award but I would get “If You Fuck With My Kids, I Will Kill You” award. They never had to doubt I had their back. They still don’t. I would go all psycho mom on anyone who hurt my kids, grown or not. It’s my job. If they need me, I’m there. No questions asked. Okay, about 100 questions asked, but still there. Some things don’t change.

Bottom line is that you will live through this change. Yes, it can be very sad and you can feel very lost at times. Being a parent is the toughest and most rewarding job I ever had so it’s hard to replace that in my life. I’m really trying to look at it as I was successful at it, as much as anyone can be and now is time for new adventures. Now is the time to get back into my own life, take care of myself, buy myself fun things now and again, relax and enjoy. My life is in a rare quiet moment (knock on wood) so I need to enjoy it. Instead of worrying about what do I need to do now. Who cares? If I look back on my life at the end, will I think I should have started another business, went back to school, filled up my free time pronto? Probably not.

I did though sign up to be a Lunch Buddy for Big Brothers Big Sisters for a young girl who attends middle school. I’m excited (and nervous) about our first meeting next week. This is a volunteer activity that I can have face to face contact with one person with little commitment. I meet her for lunch for 30 minutes every other week (or more often if the Little wants). I chose older children because everyone wants the little kids because they seem less daunting and more cute. My hardest time wasn’t in elementary school but middle school. Nothing more awkward than my 5th grade self. I desperately needed a Big Sister in 5th, and 6th, and 7th, etc. (Shout out to my friends, hubby and boss who gave me a glowing reference – love you guys). I didn’t want to jump full in to a volunteer thing so this seems perfect. Wish me luck! I hope my Little likes me! I love that I have some time to give back to others.

One thing I did promise myself (outside of the BBBS gig) was that I am going to just take a deep breath and not make any major decisions or changes until after the new year. This is to allow me to continue to acclimate to my new reality and to really take time to think about what I want to do, if anything. I tend to knee jerk when I am feeling lost and uncomfortable. I should start a soap making business! I should sign up to volunteer for something I deep down don’t want to do but think I should do! Anything to fill the silence and uncomfortable moments. But those are the moments that I need to truly find my purpose, calling or what makes me happy.

Thats been my folly all my life. Not taking the time to sit in the uncomfortable silence for as long as it takes to find my next path or listen to my heart. I avoid the uncomfortable unknown like the plague and this has never served me well. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off does not lead to smart decisions. Nor did listening to everyone else close to me in my life. Sometimes their advice was right but when I ignored what I really wanted, I did myself a huge disservice. Not trusting my instincts/gut – another disservice. Huge one in fact. Since I can’t fix the past, I can be more cognizant of my future. This time, I am forcing myself to stay still. To listen. To just be for a bit. A few months will not kill me. Learning that I don’t have to be productive 24/7 or have some big goal at every moment, is a good lesson for me.

Be kind to yourself through this entire transition. No one can tell you how to feel (though they will try) or minimize your feelings (also will try – ‘well you knew they were going to grow up’ – no shit – thanks, so helpful). It’s okay to be sad, just don’t get stuck. Your feelings will be up and down or maybe you’ll be elated. Everyone is different. I never can figure out why people expect you to look, act, think and feel just like them. If you don’t, then there is something wrong with you. Stupid.

If you are going through this and need someone to talk to, shoot me a message. I’m here for you. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful support system and realize not everyone has this. Try to remember to be a little excited. This is the next phase or season of your life! Make it what you want! Hugs!

No More “Empty Nest”!

To clarify, my nest is technically ’empty’ now since my youngest daughter just recently moved out and I have no more offspring living in my home. But my nest isn’t “empty”. No I don’t have any babies at home but I do have my husband, myself and my fur babies. ‘Empty’ is such a harsh word for this part of my life. Let’s look at the definition of the word:

1 containing nothing; having none of the usual or appropriate contents: an empty bottle.

2 vacant; unoccupied: an empty house.

My home and life are not vacant, containing nothing, unoccupied. My nest has changed, it had one less occupant but it is far from empty.

I’ll admit it, I suck at change. Growing up in an abusive alcoholic home where from day to day, minute to minute, you never knew what crazy shit was going to happen, change becomes the enemy. Even decades away from my childhood and adolescence, I struggle with change but mostly I struggle with any kind of a major change whether it is good or bad. Ask my husband, getting me to move out of a house I lived for fifteen years was no small feat even though I love my new house. I sat outside with my three daughters and two of their significant others last night around a big fire looking up at the million stars. It was the perfect summer like night that I would not have enjoyed living in town. We talked, laughed and made s’mores. It was awesome. I haven’t lost my kids, I thought as I stared up at the sky. They are right here. We can still get together and do the things we enjoy, it just takes some scheduling around our lives.

Since 2011 when my oldest moved away to college, I’ve been preparing for the ’empty nest’. Except I couldn’t really prepare for it. Because I didn’t know what it would be like. I could only guess at it. I started making lists of what I could do with all my new found time I would have since I wasn’t taking care of kids. I fretted and worried over this new ‘season’. I read books on empty nests, blogs, articles and so on but nothing clicked. The advice they give you is pretty lame but I think that’s because none of it resounded with me. Frankly, for me at least, it’s not that huge of life change when I think about it. My kids don’t disappear and I never see them again. Plus, I’m not cooking every day which is a bonus!

Logically, I wasn’t taking care of my 22-year old college graduate. She took care of herself. We spent a lot more time together after her two sisters moved out. But now she has moved in with her boyfriend and is starting her own new ‘season’. In a way, as a parent, you feel a little left behind watching your chicks fly the nest and starting up their own lives. It makes you think of when you left the nest, all full of goals, hopes, ideas and excitement. Maybe in a way, I was envious of them because my life never turned out how it was planned. But then when you think about it, so few people ever have everything turn out exactly as they planned anyway. Life isn’t like that. We get crap in our heads that we are a failure because we didn’t exactly reach this goal pristinely. But maybe we achieved it in another way. Which is pretty much how my life went. I achieved most of my goals, just not exactly as I saw it when I came up with the goal or imagined my future. We need to be flexible when we plan our goals and realize, they may happen differently. Flexibility is not a strong suit of mine in this area. I’m going to work on it though.

I’ve spent months dreading my youngest moving out. Who would I go for walks with? Who would I make ice cream runs with? So on and so forth. She was moving almost an hour a way. Her sisters both work second shift which is opposite of mine but they live ten minutes from me. My husband works a swing shift so 7 out of 28 nights, he works. OMG what was I going to do with myself with so much time alone? I was going to be this big loser that sits around her house feeling sorry for herself because her kids were all gone and her husband was working nights that day. As I type this, I realize I really can work things up in my mind, can’t I? I go to the worst case scenario and work my way out. It’s how I am wired. Then whatever it is that I’m afraid of happens, I recover after a few days or weeks, then I’m fine. I think it is more the fear of the unknown.

So I’m alone more often. Big deal. I’m also freer, with less responsibility and a lot less mess in my house. I’m spending less time cooking and cleaning now. Grocery trips and expense have significantly reduced. More time and more money to do fun things or buy myself something frivolous if I chose. I’m mainly an introvert though I hover close to extroversion on the tests. No, I’m not socially awkward or painfully shy or afraid to talk to people. That isn’t necessarily introversion. Introversion just means that people and noise, etc. drain me where extroverts are recharged by these interactions. Hence, I need a lot of quiet alone time compared to an extroverted person. I’ve just recently accepted this is who I am and stop beating myself up because I’m not a fan of group activities, loud parties, a lot of social interaction (social media is a blessing for me), and so on. I’m not a loser because I prefer to take a journal to a coffee shop and write rather than gather up a bunch of friends and go out to dinner. Bottom line: More alone time – good for me.

In preparation for my empty nest, I had joined some social media groups for Empty Nest. Which was depressing. It was either people trying to convince these heartbroken (mostly moms) parents to buy into whatever business they were selling to ‘fill the void’. That pissed me off. Nothing like preying on people who are hurting. Yes, I grieved a bit the passing of that part of my life but on the flip side, it’s wonderful in it’s own right. I’m not saying there won’t be times where I miss my girls or that I feel wistful for the past but that’s normal.

When I miss them, I just open my messenger app and shoot them a group message. One or all three will respond. Thank you messenger app. It’s not like twenty some years ago where you might get a call once a week. We can be in touch all the time if we want. But I’m also lucky in the fact that the fours of us are extremely close. I read posts in the empty nest groups and so many people don’t have this kind of relationship with their kids so I am fortunate.

So no “Empty Nest”. I’m not an “empty nester’. That’s not a label I want to put on myself or my life. I’ve allowed myself to grieve that passing phase of my life. It is a big change after 28 years to not have kids in the house. But I did my job, they are out there in the world being responsible, contributing adults who are for the most part happy. It wasn’t easy, it was pretty damned tough at times. And I’m sure the future won’t be all roses and kittens but for now, it’s all good. My life has changed not ended. It is all part of living, seasons come and go. I need to learn to embrace change better.

Make your own path in this life. Decide what you are willing to accept and not accept. I’m not accepting that my life is empty because it is actually full. I accept that I am fortune and blessed. I chose not to put any label on this part of my life either. I just am, life just is. The end.

Introversion – Not a Disease – No Cure Necessary

What is an introvert? Per the dictionary – shy, reticent person. Eh. A definition of introversion – the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life. Again, eh. I don’t find either of these definitions to be really accurate. It’s like they can’t really figure out how to describe or define a person who in many ways, prefers solitude some of the time, may or may not be shy, may be outgoing at times and other times quiet or reserved. I’m more of an ambivert which is the middle of the road version of introversion vs. extroversion. Is one side better than the other? No, I don’t think so. I prefer to look at it as how you were made, end of story. If you would rather spend Friday night home with a book and Chinese takeout, have at it. If your ideal Friday night is a big rave type party with 100’s of your friends, more power to you. It’s just a difference in how we are made. There is no right or wrong way to be.  Why must we force our “way” on others?  Can’t we just all get along?  Just accept there are differences and go with it.

Why do we all have to be the same?  Could you imagine a world of nothing but white, Christian Republicans (I’m registered Republican but would register with the Common Sense party if I could) who dress, eat, look and behave the same way?  UGH.  How boring!!!!  There would be no ethnic food, no different religions, no different cultures, no nothing…  I can disagree without feeling that the other person is ‘wrong’ and I’m ‘right’.  Someone might believe that the man is the head of the household based on religion or culture where I believe that men and women should have equal footing.  Does that make me right and them wrong?  No.  It means we have different ways of thinking and living.  As long as the person(s) in that situation are happy and that’s how they believe, Namaste.  It’s not hurting me even if I believe a woman shouldn’t be subservient.  But seriously, I’m not asking a man if I can cut my hair.

It’s the same with the introverts vs. extroverts.  Why is extroversion pushed?  Can’t we just accept people as they are and look at their strengths rather than say oh, they don’t speak up in meetings all the time like Joe Blowhard so they must be stupid.  Introverts normally don’t speak unless they have something useful to say and we are quietly observing while formulating solutions to problems, etc.  Each camp has its weaknesses and strengths.  Introverts actually make excellent employees because they are quietly dedicated to work.  They are there to work not to sit around the water cooler or schmooze with the boss.  Give us a task and it will get done most of the time, probably better than you expected.

Forcing people to be social at work is ridiculous.  Open offices are a nightmare for the introvert who needs quiet to focus and concentrate, to survive.  Constant noise overloads our sensitive systems.  My husband paid over $300 for Bose noise canceling headphones for me because my area was constantly abuzz with noise and drama that I would come home in tears from being overstimulated.  My system is naturally über sensitive.  I can’t help it.  I was making stupid mistakes at work because I couldn’t focus and then getting criticized for it.  This was incredibly frustrating for me as I take my job seriously and want to do the best job I can.  When someone is pacing behind your cube like a caged animal all the time, you notice it and feel uncomfortable.  Another person was causing incessant drama for no reason other than they enjoyed it.  Your ability to focus on your detail-oriented project is compromised by all the chaos.  I started working at home more especially on sensitive projects so I didn’t mess them up.  Luckily my boss is understanding of this and supports me.

The stereotype of introverts are that we are painfully shy and socially awkward, that we spend all our time like a hermit but that isn’t true either.  Yes, some really struggle with social interaction and some are shy.  Just like some extroverts are shy as well.  The biggest difference is that introverts are drained with most social interaction outside of their close circle.  We can do it for an hour or two but then we want to retreat for the quiet, the solitude to recharge.  Extroverts are charged by social interaction, it feeds their energy and soul.  Again, is one right and one wrong?  Fuck no.  It’s a difference that’s all.  If I’m invited to a party that I feel important to go to, I will arrive for a while, make my excuses and leave.  It’s really not personal at all.

As an introvert, I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life.  That I was weird because I just wasn’t as into things as my friends.  I hated group sleep overs but I went so I could be ‘normal’.  I preferred to go over to one friend’s house and sleepover.  I’d rather sit on a blanket in my backyard and read a book than go to the pool with a bunch of friends.  Recently, I’ve been faced with a ‘crises’ of the empty nest as my youngest graduated college and is preparing to move out an hour away.  My husband works swing shifts, my older two daughters work second shift so I was suddenly faced with having a lot more time alone for the first time in my life.  Not to mention since I’ve been young, I’ve been caring for people all my life.  Now my list of things I must do is small:

  1. Work and pay bills/taxes
  2. Feed and care for myself
  3. Feed and care for 2 pets
  4. Keep up house/yard- Groceries/Cook

Suddenly, I felt panicked because I had no idea what to do with all my time.  My youngest and I hang out and do things together a lot.  Now she will be an hour away living her own life.  Not that we would never see each other, but it was a change.  I felt as if I needed to fill that time.  Should I join group stuff?  Make a bunch of new friends?  Start a side business?  Volunteer?  Save the world?  Become famous?  What??????  I didn’t want to be a weird loser who sits at home and reads, isolated.

Then I picked up the book The Secret Lives of Introverts by Jenn Granneman and read it.  The more I got into the book, the more I realized that I was not accepting myself and was trying to force myself into a more extroverted existence.  I realized my tendencies to want to be alone and do things alone wasn’t ‘weird’, it’s just how I am made.  When I stepped back out of my panic cloud and looked at my life, I realized I was being silly and worrying about nothing.  I really recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand introverts and how we operate.

Recently, I’ve had a few nights at home alone all night and here’s what I did:  Picked up Taco Bell for dinner and read a new book all night, took a bubble bath (fought my cat who likes to attack me in the tub), had a glass of wine, listening to the Ella Fitzgerald channel on Pandora.  OMG, not that.  Not all that enjoyment and decadence.  The next night was a big more the same, except I started a new book, had leftovers at the dining room table, and curled up on the couch with more wine.  Last night I took the dog for a 3 mile walk and got some great pics of the country landscape as the sun prepared to set.  My daughters messaged me off and on during the evening, a few of my friends did too.  My husband texted me in between work crises.  My loyal pets were at my feet at all times keeping me company as well.  I didn’t even need to save the world.  I could relax.  Enjoy myself.  Recharge.  I’ve been struggling with thyroid issues lately that make me exhausted anyway, so resting probably is a very good thing.  I don’t have to push myself every waking hour.

After forty-odd years of feeling like I have to be different, more extroverted even though I’m not shy or socially inept or fearful, is over. It’s time I accept myself as ‘normal’ as ‘normal’ can encompass many different qualities.  And who cares about being normal anyway?  We don’t have to cure introverts, just accept them as they are.  You want us to accept you right?