Yes, You Can Die of a Broken Heart

The year 2016 has not been kind to actors and musicians. I won’t even start with the long list of those who succumbed to the curse of  2016, but in the week between Christmas and New Year’s 2016, we were all stunned when Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) died one day, and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, the next. 

Initial news reports pegged the cause of death as a stroke, but today people are gossiping and questioning and whispering about whether she in fact died of a broken heart after the grief of losing her daughter Carrie. I happen to have some personal experience with the idea of dying from a broken heart. Continue reading

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Captain and Crew of My Ship: A Story About Traveling Solo

I used to be obsessed with travelogues written by solo female travelers. I would read wide-eyed about these fearless women who thought nothing of hopping a plane to Uzbekistan or the Chilean Andes or some remote island in the South Pacific, with apparently no concern for their safety and the ability to pack light. I longed to be one of those women, yet didn’t have the gusto or the green to do so.

In my early professional years, when I was broke and scrounging for cash, I managed to travel a heck of a lot more than I do now that my paycheck is almost four times as much. A stress filled job and too much responsibility means no energy left to even plan a trip, yet alone travel. In the early years I went to Ireland, Costa Rica, drove up the PCH 1 from Big Sur to wine country, traveled to Toronto to witness Caribana, crammed into a car to drive all the way across the country to watch my beloved Badgers in the Rose Bowl, almost died during a whitewater rafting trip in Bozeman, Montana, breathlessly hiked mountains in Colorado and Zion National Park, soaked up the sun in Sedona, the Florida Keys, and zig zagged my way across Mexico.

Yet all of these trips happened with travel buddies. Save for the flight in or flight out, I was always with a gal pal or two on these adventures. Fast forward to today, where I find myself a 43 year old single, childless woman, surrounded by 43 year old married with child(s) friends, and I have almost no choice but to become a solo traveler. (No way in hell I am joining those singles trips!)

My first foray into the world of solo traveling was on the tail end of a business trip to DC. I took two nights and one full day to explore DC. In hindsight, this was probably the perfect trip to do so; with so many museums and monuments and activities, you don’t need someone with you to experience these things. Being alone meant time to read the history, spend as long as you wanted in a museum, make that stop at the Botanical Gardens that no one else would have wanted to do; stop by that fountain and soak up the sun for a bit with no one complaining it’s too hot; listen to the band a little longer. Or pop up and leave when you’ve had enough. Not being tied to another person’s wishes, desires, or to do list is liberating.  I quickly learned how to eat at the bar, where hopefully the bartender or another solo traveler is up for conversation. While I like my alone time, by the end of the day the voice in my head gets old, and I’m ripe for conversation.

I quickly learned a few key lessons about traveling solo; you have to curb your drinking when you are out (or save it for the hotel pool), you can’t tell people you are traveling alone (my friend is still back at the conference!), and you have to turn in early each night, which in and of itself is really a blessing, as it means you can be up and at ’em early each morning (while I relish this, as a night owl, I still get a little sad when I have to turn in early).

Another work trip took me a day early to Miami, but the only lesson learned on that trip was don’t drink too much by the pool after an early morning flight. Oh and that people watching in Miami is a ton of fun. After too many cocktails and too much heat, I passed out in my hotel room and never made it to dinner that night.

Then came the official solo trip in the summer of 2015. One of my “Things I Always Say I’m Going to Do But Never Do” items was to take the Lake Express Ferry across Lake Michigan and see the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. And so off I went. I hadn’t originally intended to go solo, but the aforementioned married friends did not have free time in their schedules. The trip was a little bittersweet as well, as I was entering the final days of a long-term relationship, and wasn’t sure what I would come home to. More on that later.

That trip, which I call my Summer Solstice Western Shores of Michigan trip, was one of the most fantastic and beautiful trips I’ve ever had in my life. The freedom of having no one’s schedule but my own to deal with, having my car to give me extra independence, a wallet full of cash and credit cards, and nothing but time….. I felt like I had found the perfect formula for fully experiencing a place. I understood why women (and men) take off alone to see the world. Unencumbered. No ties. No expectations. And the freedom to change course on a dime if the spirit strikes you. I climbed lighthouses, drove a Jeep in the sand dunes, clambered up and slid down the Sleeping Bear Dunes, read about the history of lighthouse keepers, sampled cherry everything, drove through sleepy beach towns, took long walks in quaint neighborhoods, visited a winery, took photos in a historic fishing village, fell asleep on beaches, and had many fantastic meals at the bar while meeting fascinating people. I watched the sunset at 10:30 at night due to the location on the western limit of the eastern time zone. But I always had a hard time returning to my lodging early. That is when the loneliness set in for me. I don’t know if that part I’ll ever shake. But I considered the first official solo trip a grand success. I decided that every year I would travel alone for the Summer Solstice.

This year, after a long string of life-altering events (I ended the fifteen-year relationship as soon as I returned on the ferry. Ten months later my mother unexpectedly passed away at age 68), I realized I had taken time off work but failed to plan anything. After frantically researching places to go and realizing there was no room at the inn, I finally asked my neighbors if I could use their cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was a little leery about it, as the location seemed extremely remote. But they obliged, and since cabin lodging is not inexpensive, and I didn’t have the gusto to go camping, off I went. On a vacation not so much to somewhere as to nowhere!

I can’t say this trip was anywhere near as fun-filled, educational, or fulfilling as last year’s trip, but the lessons were just as valuable. I spent three long days doing a whole lot of nothing. The weather could not have been any more perfect for up north lake living; I spent my days slowly paddling around the three lakes in a kayak, fishing and catching nothing, floating in the middle of the lake on my pink lounger, reading books, and of course spending lonely nights in the cabin. This location was different; there was literally nothing to do here, which is why most people come here to relax. It was quiet, remote, and off the tourist path. There were no restaurants or coffee shops to walk to, no ice cream parlors, no road-side attractions to speak of, no shopping.  But it taught me about my travel style, and what’s important when traveling solo. It taught me that going from being in fifth gear 99% of the time to Park makes a girl restless. It taught me that when I’m flying solo, I need to be flying, not stalled. I need to engage my mind and my spirit and keep flying. Explorers did not discover the world by hanging out in one spot for too long.

I’m learning. I’m getting better at this travel solo thing. I’m practicing for a potential year off. I think I have more to learn before I take the leap, but maybe someday I’ll be writing a travelogue that some young girl will be reading with wide eyes.

The Year of Doing All The Things…a Recap

Happy New Year (Volume 2016)!

I love holidays. I love to have an excuse to dress up in ridiculous outfits. I love to dress up and go to themed parties. And NYE used to be one of my all time favorites. I would spend hours looking for the perfect silver, white, and gold (or all three of the above) outfit and deciding which party would be the perfect one to attend, or making certain I hit all four parties I was invited to because I didn’t want to miss a damn thing. From white parties, to bar parties, to house parties, to hotel parties, to live bands, living room dance parties, NYE day drinking, fireworks, you name it, I’d tried it all.

This year, well this year was a little different. Partially because I’m still reeling from being newly single. But also because I was living in crisis mode due  to being a caretaker over the holidays for a family member. I still went out, and I still drank too much, despite my best intentions. I had plans for a productive and healthy NYE and NY Day that included knocking something off my bucket list, and possibly taking the Polar Bear Plunge again (whereby one goes to the beach on a 20 degree or less Fahrenheit day and takes a nice swim, which supposedly cleanses you free of all of your old habits and bullshit. Or gives you cardiac arrest, whichever comes first).

So NY Day was spent lost in my old habits and bullshit, with a massive hangover. Jennifer Lawrence summed it up perfectly here when she said:

“I’ve never had a good one. Everyone’s chasing a good time and it’s always a disappointment. I plan on doing nothing and then if something lands in my lap…” she continued. “But I always end up drunk and disappointed.”

Amen sister.

But enough about that. I started this blog declaring 2015 the year of doing all of those things I always say I’m going to do but never do, and I think that theme will have to continue into 2015 (because many of those things I’m still saying I’m going to do…..and haven’t yet). But I will add a new theme; one of which I am leaning towards is titled “Find your fucking-self already, damn it”. I’m a huge proponent of setting goals and resolutions. Not as successful at actually achieving them, but it’s the thought that counts.

I used to buy a new journal every year, and make the first entry of the year my resolutions. Now it takes me at least a few weeks into the new year before I sit down to write them. I’ve gotten smart though, and learned to just cut, copy and paste from last year’s resolutions because let’s face it, not too many fall off the list. Though in reality, many of them should stay on the list year after year, such as exercise, eat right, save money, make out with Robert Downey Jr., find yourself……

I am a huge work in process though, especially after freeing myself in 2015 from aforementioned relationship. I am learning, and growing, and stumbling and failing. I realize there is a lot to let go of, and continue to let go of, before I can really start fully moving forward in life again. I think Jen Sincero’s post “Happy Heave-Ho“, about letting go before you create that list, is a great way to start.

But before I do any of that, I want to brag about my 2015 successes. They didn’t occur every month like I had wanted to them, but they occurred, on their own time, in their own way, which is a more important feat for control freak planners like me. In no certain order:

  • Took the Polar Plunge on NY Day after saying I would for at least 19 years and never doing it (I did this alone).
  • Competing in the American Birkebeiner Ski Race, and beating my goal time of 3 hours. I had NEVER ever competed in any sort of organized athletic event (well since high school anyway).  (Also did this alone).
  • Taking a real Spring Break with my sister’s family
  • Learning how to mountain bike. For real. In Sedona. (Thanks to my college roommate who tried to kill us during the lesson).
  • Bought a new tent.And camped in it!
  • Finally taking that trip across Lake Michigan on the ferry, and taking a real solo extended vacation (alone. Solo means alone.)
  • Ending that relationship that just wasn’t working (this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I somberly add this to the list. It’s hard to believe I have not blogged about it. Yet.)
  • Buying a real pair of Old Gringo ass-kicking cowgirl boots. In Austin. From a hot sales cowboy(man).
  • Finally making it back to Devil’s Lake to hike to the top (alone, because my nephew bagged out on me the morning of our hike).
  • Learning how to use a miter saw and air nail gun
  • Finally hanging up my Xmas lights I bought in Mexico
  • Renovating my upper duplex kitchen
  • Many other things I’m sure I forgot about

Did you recognize the pattern of how many things I did alone? I’ve never been one to shy away too much from doing things on my own. In fact, I quite like the solitude. But learning to be alone in those difficult times, well that’s going to have to be a resolution for 2016 for certain. As well as “write more blog posts”.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016!

 

 

 

 

 

Resting in the Arms of Wisconsin

I don’t know exactly when in our lifetimes we develop a sense of place. Maybe some people are born with it; others live their lives battling a wanderlust that can never be satisfied, always looking for the next “new” place, never finding “their place”.

I grew up in three very unique parts of Wisconsin.  My childhood was spent in a small town just north of the state capitol, Madison. We grew up surrounded by the lush rolling farmlands of south central Wisconsin; our house was on a dead end street surrounded by tobacco and corn fields, with large islands of oak forest rising up among the crops.  We spent a lot of time near Lake Wisconsin, Baraboo, Sauk City, Devil’s Lake.  We were outside more than we were inside. I grew up with the sound of crickets, the sight of ever changing seasons, and the sensory variety of crisp winter air that made your snot freeze, and warm summer days that made you relish naps. We were only a fifteen minute drive from a metropolitan city center, and a funky and fun one at that, with Madison being a very liberal college town.  The city of Madison was surrounded by the waters of Lakes Monona and Mendota; born a water baby, this would become a constant in my life, the need to be near water.

For reasons I still am unclear of, one year my parents just up and moved us four hour’s north of our home – to a tiny town an hour south of Lake Superior. As a pre-teen, I initially hated my parents for removing me from my hometown, the only place I had never known, and replanting us in such a different environment. It was a a shock to our senses. The nearest city, and a conservative one at that, was an hour’s drive away.  There were no rolling hills, no farmland, no seas of green crops.  (Not to mention, no movie theaters, shopping malls, or Taco Bells). My new place came with towering red pines, curving skies, and a thousand puddles of freshwater lakes. There were more stars here than anywhere else in the world it seemed, and the eternal scent of fresh pine and cool winds brought down from Canada.

I had to leave this place before I could fully appreciate it.  I went back to college in Madison, and for many years when I would head up north for weekends, I couldn’t wait to get back to the city after a weekend in the boondocks.  Yet one year, the tables turned; and I would get a sense of a dread overcoming me as I began to pack my car for the return trip to the city.  I had grown roots; I didn’t want to leave; this had become my place.

Post-college, some questionable choices made out of love led me to move to another large metropolis in Wisconsin, where I’ve now been for almost 18 years.  I was on my way to Denver after college, and let myself latch my destiny to that of a man-child.  That destiny of course ended not long after I moved to my new home, but other factors intervened, such as family relocating near me, and before you know it, eighteen years pass, and you wonder how you came to be rooted in this place. Oftentimes our roots grow due to marriages, children, a good job, good schools.  Or we become rooted out of complacency, laziness, fear, money, job security, a 401k.

I daydream a lot about leaving my current place.  The fact that I’ve been in the same city for 18 years, the same job just as long, the same house for 12, and the same relationship for 15 years, well…. it’s an assault on my Sagittarian values. For many years I kept the notion of moving to Denver in my head, and even went on many extended fact-finding trips to the Denver area to contemplate my move and get a sense of place in the West.  I love the West, I truly do, but more specifically the Southwest.  Mountains make me feel claustrophobic; my sense of place growing up meant that I had grown acclimated to those rolling green hills of South Central and South West Wisconsin, the lakes and rivers of Northern Wisconsin, and the culture and activity of the southeast region.  There are just as many, if not more, natural resources and variety in Wisconsin, and so I learned to ignore the pull of the West and keep myself rooted.

About eight years ago my father passed away.  My father was the Chicago-born Illinois native who fled his state (like so many others) to find solitude in the middle of the farm fields of Wisconsin.  And when he felt encroached upon, he fled further to the forests of the great Northwoods.  I still travel there often, and in fact am looking to buy a vacation home in that area.

As I travel through highways of central Wisconsin, watching the landscape change by the hour, I feel an immense sense of calm; this state is part of me, as if my blood was a mixture of its life giving soil and clear, cool waters.  I drive through miles and miles of patchwork farm fields and gaze upon the white farmhouses nestled up against groves of twisted old oak trees, with lush green hills rising beyond the scene.  I often daydream about pulling my car over, and walking up to one of these houses;  I knock on the door, and enter into a new sense of place, a new life.  I want to lay down in the lush green arms of Wisconsin, and forget about my past mistakes, my questionable choices that have led me to a life of juxtaposition and clashing values; I want to fall asleep on a porch swing with a warm summer breeze lulling me to sleep, and wake up in a new life, and a new sense of place.

This is my new pull.  This my new “West”.

Elsworth, WI.  Photo rights:  gaybumgarner.com

Elsworth, WI. Photo rights: gaybumgarner.com