Sweet Home Chicago

If you can only see one possible turning point in your life, slow down and take a second to reassess your past. Every day holds many potential turning points. What if you got a coffee at the gas station instead of a Coke, and then accidentally dropped that coffee in your lap in traffic, then swerved into another car as a result? Would the coffee have been your turning point, or was it actually a result of choosing that gas station? Or maybe it all harkened back to oversleeping that morning. Who can predict the future, and who wants to?

But for me, a very easy turning point to pick out of the billions in my lifetime was Hurricane Katrina. When Katrina hit, I had just moved into a brand new 1 bedroom shotgun apartment, where the bedroom and closets were huge, I had my own washer and dryer, a front porch with a stray kitty who came by nightly for kibble, and a kitchen that was about to be painted Dragon’s Hide Green. Yes, that’s actually a shade – I picked it off of a paint chip. I was singing with a band, and we’d just had our third or fourth live show. I was working at K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter, but was getting ready to reduce my hours because I’d just been accepted to grad school at Tulane. In short, it was a REALLY good time to be me. I even had these super-soft cream and brown paisley sheets that were the nicest sheets I’ve ever owned, and I’d got them on sale at Steinmart, so they were cheap, too. I’ve been looking to replace those sheets for the last 8 years *sigh*.

The bed in my new apartment, just before Katrina. The bunny on the bed is Frank the velveteen rabbit. My grandfather gave him to me the Christmas before he died, and my landlord threw him out after Katrina. I was devastated, as he was the ONLY thing I had asked her to save.

The bed in my new apartment, just before Katrina. The bunny on the bed is Frank the velveteen rabbit. My grandfather gave him to me the Christmas before he died, and my landlord threw him out after Katrina. I was devastated, as he was the ONLY thing I had asked her to save.

So Katrina hit, and long story short, even though I’d planned to stay in New Orleans, and could have done so quite safely since my area of town didn’t flood, I evacuated with my band. I really didn’t have any say in the matter, since the bass player and his girlfriend, the other singer in the band, showed up on the morning of the storm, pounded on my door, and watched as I packed up my things and left the house. They were good people. We picked up the guitarist and headed out of town in the bass player’s car – a United Cab. We kept the meter running all the way to Arkansas, and after some time there, once it became apparent that there was no New Orleans to return to, we made plans to go our separate ways.

United Cab is the most well-known taxi company in New Orleans. The first number you memorize here as a Tulane freshman is the United Cabs number (522-9771) and the next is the number of Tulane’s lawyer. During Mardi Gras we used to Sharpie the lawyer’s number on our hands, just in case. Photo by Eliot Kamenitz, from The Times-Picayune archive

I evacuated with $30 to my name. My paycheck was due that week (and to K-Paul’s credit, they did send me that check after they got the office back up and running in Baton Rouge). I spent a lot of time on the phone with my parents, and while I was going through a particularly difficult time, so were they. My dad was OK, but my mom was worried sick about me. She was so worried that she basically shut down on me and got angry at me for not coming home immediately. My grandparents called and said that if I came back to NC, they’d pay for me to get an apartment in the Raleigh area near my aunt, and would help me find a job, etc. Every phone call with the family got more and more tense, until things eventually went awry.

Because here’s the thing…I really don’t like living in North Carolina. I disliked it when I was a kid, I wasn’t fond of visiting later when I was in college, and I still consider it a horrible waste of vacation days today. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, and I get a sense of nostalgia when I think about certain parts of home, like the BBQ, and nature, and the way the sunset looks on an Ocracoke beach. But I’m not from the beach. I’m from the middle of fucking nowhere. There are no jobs, and lots of rednecks, bigots and religious zealots. The folks who don’t fit into those categories are often rich, snotty jerks. There’s a small subset of educated, normal folks, but their kids end up moving away. Big surprise.

If I were to move back to NC, the only way I’d do it is to move to Ocracoke Island. It’s the most beautiful place on earth, and one of my favorite places to spend time. Click through to see vacation rentals at Ocracoke Island Realty.


And even when you live in the city in NC, you’re still living in the middle of nowhere, just with big buildings and an inflated sense of pride. There are a lot of Northern transplants in NC cities, which explains some of the normalcy and more liberal attitudes that happen there, but why would I bother living in a tiny enclave of OK when I can just live in a bigger enclave of GREAT in another state? In my opinion, the only things worthwhile in NC are the mountains, the beach, and the trees, and none of those things involve civilization. I’d never move back there of my own accord, and my worst nightmare is having to move back to take care of a parent one day. Sorry if any dedicated NC folks are reading this and getting pissed off. I know there have to be lots of you good folks somewhere – I just don’t have that experience, and don’t want to keep hanging out there in the hopes of someday changing my mind.

Sooo…

When the family asked that I come back to NC in 2005, I thought hard. I had no money at all, and was stuck in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Would I rather let my family pay for me to come back to NC, knowing that without any money the odds were very high that I’d never be able to escape the state again? Or would I rather wing it, hope that some of my friends might be able to take it on faith that I’d pay them back for helping me out in my time of need? You can probably guess that I choose Option B. And it was a major issue. My mother, the nicest woman I’ve ever met, seriously won’t even squish an ant, disowned me for a few weeks. Refused to talk to me. My grandparents were mad for awhile, but eventually sent money. My father, who was not supposed to be talking to me, called me in secret and wired me a little cash to get me through. I am, always have been, and always will be, Daddy’s girl.

Forever Flood's First Concert

Forever Flood’s first concert at The Red Eye, with Evan on guitar, me on vocals and tambourine, Helen on bass, Matt on sax, and Travis on drums. Helen, Danny (not pictured), Evan and I evacuated a few months later.

From Arkansas, the band all went our separate ways. The lead guitarist went home to Staten Island. The bass player and other singer went on a road trip to explore the American West. I got a ride to stay in Memphis with one of my best friends from college, and she put me up for a week. She also helped me buy some work clothes, fed me, and took me to the gym to work off some steam, because she’s awesome like that. During that week, a little money came through and I spent it all to rent a car. Another old friend from college had agreed to let me sleep on his couch – in Chicago. So I packed up my things (and my cat, Matthew – did I mention that I was lucky enough to evacuate with my cat?), and we drove to Chicago. It was terrifying. I wasn’t a very confident driver, and the highways around Chicago are just nerve-wracking.

The marquee at The Underground Lounge - our beloved home away from home.

The marquee at The Underground Lounge – our beloved home away from home.

I checked into my Chicago friend’s house, then we pretty much immediately left to get a beer at the local bar, The Underground Lounge. Just down the street, The Underground became my center of existence for the next five months. In fact, it changed my life. When Al (the friend) and I walked in, my homeless, travel-weary self glanced around for a moment. I could use a beer, but I didn’t have the cash for it. I didn’t know anything about Chicago. I’d never been there before, and until the last week, had never even aspired to visit. So here I was in this dark little basement bar, with a friend I hadn’t seen since college, about to try to pick up the pieces of my life, no idea what to do next. I was scared.

But that didn’t matter. Friend after friend walked up to say hi. For some reason, I didn’t know that a bunch of people I had partied with in college (mostly friends and classmates of my two best friends/roommates Trin & KT) had all moved to Chicago and remained friends after school. Besides Al, my friend Colleen was there, and Nate, and John, and AJ, and Al’s friend Zach and his girlfriend Stacy, and their friend Kristy (who would soon introduce us to Aaron and his roommate Paul), and everyone wanted to 1) offer me hugs and encouragement and 2) offer me a beer. The bartender Dave soon grew to be one of my favorite people, and it turned out that the whole crew met here every Wednesday night.

At US Cellular Field, watching one of the playoff games leading up to the White Sox winning the World Series!!! This was before I was into baseball, so I didn't know how lucky I was to be at this game. Left to right: John, Nate, AJ, me, Zach & Stacy.

At US Cellular Field, watching one of the playoff games leading up to the White Sox winning the World Series!!! This was before I was into baseball, so I didn’t know how lucky I was to be at this game. Left to right: John, Nate, AJ, me, Zach & Stacy.

My surprise birthday party at a hookah lounge! From left to right: Al, Neal, Nate, Me, Colleen, Stacy & Zach

My surprise birthday party at a hookah lounge! From left to right: Al, Neal, Nate, Me, Colleen, Stacy & Zach

Stacy, me and Colleen at the Kristkindlemarkt, just before Christmas 2005.

Stacy, me and Colleen at the Kristkindlemarkt, just before Christmas 2005.

My going away party - everyone's singing "Don't Stop Believing." That year during the White Sox winning hubbub it became the traditional birthday song for our group, but this is the first time I can remember them singing it for me. Aaron's the one with his arm raised - he rules this song at karaoke night.

My going away party – everyone’s singing “Don’t Stop Believing.” That year during the White Sox winning hubbub it became the traditional birthday song for our group, but this is the first time I can remember them singing it for me. Aaron’s the one with his arm raised – he rules this song at karaoke night. From left to right: Al, Jason, Aaron, Zach

Colleen & Anna making a Dave sandwich with the best bartender in the world!

Anna & Colleen making a Dave sandwich with the best bartender in the world! This was my last night at The Underground before heading back to New Orleans.


Pretty much everyone from the group in 2005.

Pretty much everyone from the group in 2005, plus a few mysterious faces and minus a few essential ones. New Year’s Eve at The Underground Lounge.

I lived in Chicago from September of 2005 until January of 2006, when I moved back to New Orleans to finally go to grad school at Tulane. It was one of the best times of my life. I reconnected for good with old friends and met a bunch of new ones. These people are still my very favorite friends. The group (plus significant others and associated friends, like Jess, one of my best friends, whom I absolutely adore, who eventually dated Paul and now dates him again, and occasionally stalks my blog though we’re the worst ever at calling, texting, emailing and letter writing) ended up becoming a huge part of my world, and my growth. When I decided to move back to Chicago from New Orleans in 2008, it was because I had missed the city and my people for the entire time I’d been gone. It was really hard leaving that community of awesomeness when we moved back here. I’d love to go back again, but jobs are hard to come by, especially for The Man, who has a painfully specific job.

Anyway, this post is one long ramble, but the basic point is this – if Katrina hadn’t have happened, I’d never have found the personal strength to just go with the flow. If I hadn’t made that leap of faith to explore what the world had to offer, I wouldn’t have showed up in Chicago. If I hadn’t moved to Chicago, I’d be about 15 friends lighter today. That’s an incredibly sad type of weight loss. Also, I wouldn’t have experienced what it’s like to live in a city that functions with some sort of efficiency, and offers an incredible array of opportunities and personalities. Not to mention, if I’d gone to North Carolina instead of Chicago, instead of broadening my horizons after New Orleans, I would have lessened them. I would have once again been surrounded by small minded bigots and churchmen, and though I’d probably have become more outdoorsy in an attempt to escape the people, my health would not have been half as fun as drinking with friends in Chicago and eating late night cheese fries at Clark Street Dog.

If I’d moved back to North Carolina, I wouldn’t have had enough money or the family support to get back to New Orleans in 2006 to start grad school. If I hadn’t started grad school, I would have saved $30k, but I would have missed out on one of the best things that’s ever happened to me (or the most irritating, depending on what day you’re talking to me) – meeting The Man. We would never have had class together, or worked together to measure the roof of an old plantation, or had that first date and conversation about the future over sushi. So where would I be now? Probably waiting tables in coastal NC, or maybe working as a secretary. I’d have less debt, and my own car, but I’d be considerably less cultured. I wouldn’t have tried so many new things or gone to Europe as many times. I wouldn’t have a host of funny & awesome friends. I probably wouldn’t have heard of Gogol Bordello. Hopefully I would have moved to the beach, but I’m not sure that I’d be that kind of person, really. I think I started becoming more of a beach person after I met The Man and hung out with his “island life” parents. Oh man, I’d never have The Man’s family, who have become so much my own in the past seven years. That’s just awful and not at all worth considering.

I’m sure I could think of more ways that life would be different, but thank goodness it’s not. I’m me, and you can’t strip the Chicago out of me. Now, if you’d like to give me a way to put it back in my current life, I’m definitely willing to listen. I’d love to go ahead and find the turning point for my next adventure…

Vacation Retrospective – Day #3: Meeting Zachary

If you’ve read my last post, Vacation Archives – Day #4: Venice, you’ll know that the night before travelling to Venice, I went out with the Bride’s younger twin cousins (amongst other members of the bridal party), and had a great time. It would be remiss of me to avoid mentioning how important this night was to my vacation, overall.

Up until going out with this oddly matched group of Croatians, an Armenian, and two fellow North Carolinians, I was feeling pretty down. One best friend had just gotten hitched, while the other was preggers. They’re both forceful presences in my life, and not only was I feeling overwhelmed by the changes they were going through, I was also feeling overwhelmed to once again be in their presence. They’re both captivating, powerful women, with lots to say and no fear of saying it. When we’re together, it’s difficult to get a word in edgewise. By nature I’m pretty introverted. I don’t speak unless I’ve been thinking about what it is I’m going to say for a while. I detest arguing unless it’s a big ticket thing I’m fighting for. In a similar vein, I avoid confrontation unless it’s meaningful and warranted, and I have a lot of trouble expressing my emotions. Basically it means that I either don’t get to talk at all, or else that they have to stop and be thoughtful and give me room to express myself (both of which make me feel like a loser who can’t get with the program).

Now, imagine me, jet-lagged and lonely, trying to come to terms with my friends’ new lives, mulling my own over and not getting anywhere. Now imagine that no matter how much I want to be heard and seen, I’m just emotionally incapable of putting myself before my friends for even a second, of fighting to have a good time just for me. I’m under an enormous weight, feeling this incredible pull to just sit down, shut up, and let everything just happen to me, instead of with me, or for me, or by me. The thing is, as I realized much later in the vacation, this is how I’ve often felt in the company of my best friends. Marginalized, through no fault of their own. The third wheel. The one to be pitied or goaded or petted. The pet. The little sister. And that’s something that’s been happening since way before I ever knew them. Somehow, I project some kind of weakness that makes me the lesser quotient of any group.

But this is not a pity party, actually. This is a celebration, because if it wasn’t for one of the twins, Zachary, I wouldn’t have ever realized this piece of the puzzle. I realized at the reception, then the next night at the party, that Ian got all the attention, while Zachary, much like me, was palpably part of the periphery. It was probably too bold of me, but I struck up conversation by asking him what it was like to be in the shadow of his outgoing, super-fun brother. Not that Zachary wasn’t super-fun, as well…he’s just cool in a different, understated way. We got to talking about what it means to be linked to other people, and the struggle to have a voice while also genuinely loving the attention our friends/family/coworkers/competition are receiving. It’s a weird spot to be in, and he got it so well.

I don’t know if you’ve ever read Anne of Green Gables, but the parts where Anne waxes poetic about meeting a kindred spirit have always stuck with me. I’ve only met a few genuine kindred spirits in my lifetime, along with a great number of genuinely awesome (but not quite spiritually compatible) folks. It was obvious to me that Zachary was a kindred spirit, and in his own way he helped me figure out something about myself, about what it’s going to take to believe in myself more, to speak up for myself daily instead of monthly or yearly, to stand up to the people I least want to offend with my need to breathe freely.

It’s funny, because before going on vacation I thought that maybe The Man was one of those people, that maybe I should be more forceful with giving him a piece of my mind. Over my trip, I came to realize that yes, I could stand to talk more often, but he’s one of the only people in the world that I constantly speak only the truth to, and loudly, and weirdly, and me-ly. My problem there is not knowing what I want – not that he isn’t giving me what I’m asking for. That’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms, for a different blog post all together.

Anyway, Zachary, if you end up reading this – thank you. You rock more than you’ll ever know.

One Week To Go…

A week from now I will be in the air somewhere over the Atlantic, on my way to party with some of my favorite people in the entire world, in a place that I’ve been assured is one of the most beautiful locations in the entire world. I am one lucky dame. I’ll be hanging out with:

Bestie & Me

Bestie & me last month at a wedding – I have no idea what she’s telling me, but it’s obviously disturbing. Let’s hope we take some more attractive pictures next week!

The Bestie: We’re yin and yang. She sees a tree and climbs to the top just to be there; I get nervous just crossing the street at the crosswalk. She walks into a party and chats happily with everyone, even people she’s never met before. I get overwhelmed half way through the party, and hide in the back room, nursing my beer and reading a book. She taught me how to ride a bike (at 19), gave me all the best reasons to go dancing instead of studying, instinctively knew when to prod me into action and when to leave me alone. I don’t know if I’ve been as good of a friend, being the crabby little weirdo that I am, but we’ve shared enough laughter to last a lifetime, and we’re only just beginning. I’m very excited to see her again, even though we just met up at another wedding last month.

Bride & Anna

The Bride & me a few years ago at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. We’ve seen each other since then, but I can’t find any photos. Definitely got to fix that!

The Bride: Seriously one of the most beautiful and intriguing women I’ve ever met. The Bestie and I lived together for two years (sharing first a dorm room, then another room in a house, with no arguments – a rare feat for freshman year roommates from VERY different backgrounds, connected by a computer matching system). We decided it was time to move into our own apartment, with separate rooms, but needed a third person. Bestie introduced me to Bride, and magic happened pretty much immediately. She made, and makes, everything work perfectly for the three of us. She’s both a wild woman and an analyst. A night of drinking can turn into a conversation about string theory, fate, the touch of faerie in the everyday realm, or some controversial new street artist that would never have gotten a second look from me. We’ve shared some great adventures, the three of us, the two of us, the two of them, and somehow no one ends up being the third wheel. The Bride has lived in Europe since she and Bestie graduated architecture school in 2004. It’s been amazing to get to visit her, and this time will be no different, despite change of locale. It’s funny that though time and distance separate us, our relationship has stayed strong. It’s different now, but I’m hoping we’ll all get to be bitchy old ladies together, drinking wine on a topless beach somewhere, scaring young men with our saggy old tits. Except for Bestie. She’s going to have great tits forever, the bitch.

The Bride’s Bestie: I’m so happy she’ll be able to come to the wedding! At first, it seemed as though a pretty intense health scare might keep her in the US, but everything’s looking up and she’s going to make it to hang out with us, after all. I’ve only seen BB a few times, but we keep up through Facebook, and she’s amazing. It’s not often that you meet someone who is devastatingly gorgeous AND devastatingly kind, but BB is that lady. She’s had a pretty crazy life, from modeling in her youth, to being on TV, to selling celebrity real estate, and now she’s finishing up her college degree and doing all kinds of amazing student government work. She and her husband promote the arts in her hometown, and regularly raise funds for the underprivileged in our country and across the world, fighting malaria and for women’s rights. It sounds out of this world, but that’s just BB – amazing. Also, she’s one hell of a party girl, so this wedding just got kicked up another notch!

Partner & Anna

Partner & me, again at Jazz Fest a few years ago.

The Partner: The Bride’s business partner from her old firm in Austria, Partner is a riot. She’s a native German speaker, but speaks English well. Even so, she’s been quiet, even terse, the handful of times I’ve gotten to hang out with her. She’s definitely not a big talker (at least not in English), but when she does, it’s with wit and skill. She says what she thinks, a trait I love in others (this also means that I try not to piss her off!). She’s very sporty, a long, lithe woman with sun-kissed skin, sparkling eyes, and a slightly weathered demeanor that belies her life as an outdoors-person. Not sure if her girlfriend will be coming to the wedding, as well, but I’ve been curious to meet Partner’s other half.

The Mom: I love, love, love The Bride’s mom. She’s amazing in so many ways, and though I adore my own mother, if I had been able to build a perfect mom, this Mom wouldn’t be too far off from the characteristics I’d choose. Like me, she’s crazy about medieval history, and is actually a retired professor of Germanic history with a focus on medieval bits. She recently walked the Camino de Compostela, something I’ve wanted to do for years, and will do one day in the not too distant future. She also writes, and we’ve been buddies for NaNoWriMo for a couple of years now. Plus, she’s also very laid back, digs a glass of red wine, and is a fascinating conversationalist. I’m psyched to be in her presence for a few days.

The Sister: Likewise, I’m happy about hanging out with The Bride’s sister. She’s intimidating, some might say scary in her intense forwardness, but I admire her and look forward to getting to know her better. She’s all grown up with two kids, a husband, and a PhD, but she’s still the girl I’d choose if I was looking for a partner in crime and couldn’t find Bestie or Bride in time. Hell, I might choose her over those two – I think she might have less scruples of hurting someone than they would. I’m picturing us in some kind of Mad Max scenario, running down bad guys on some dusty road in the outback. Luckily, this vacation is all about beaches and gelato, so most likely no crime in my immediate future. It’s going to be great to down some wine and talk trash with Sister.

Bestie, Hubby & Anna

Bestie, Hubby & me at another friend’s wedding last month. This was a field day, held the day before the wedding, 50 degrees, cold and rainy. We were fighting the chill in the best possible way, with shots of Jameson and good conversation.

Bestie’s Hubby: I didn’t dig Hubby when we first met (Bestie and I were once again living together, three years after graduating from undergrad), but he’s grown on me. He’s so very different from the kind of guys I was used to meeting, acting silly in sobering situations, saying the first thing that comes to mind always, generally annoying the shit out of me for much of the first couple of years I knew him. But then they got married, and I had to like him or else. And though at first I was dismayed at trying to find a way to make this happen, all of a sudden it turned out that he was really fun to hang out with when I stopped being so uptight. To be fair, I think Bestie has rubbed off on him, and he’s grown up a bit since they got together. The last couple of times we’ve hung out, we’ve had some nice conversations, and it’s been a pleasure to be around him. He makes Bestie laugh, and now he makes me laugh too. That’s pretty cool in my book.

Of course, there will be many more people. The Bride’s fiance, whom I’ve only met once but liked very much. His entire family, all from this small Croatian town that we’ll be visiting. The rest of The Bride’s family, and more friends from all over the world that I haven’t met yet, but can’t wait to get to know. This is going to be an absolute blast!

25 Days

Today’s Weight: 157.4 lbs.

Plateau’d again. It’s the least I could have expected. I’m a little scared about today, since I’m supposed to go to a happy hour going-away thing this afternoon for a friend of mine, and I really don’t want to screw up today. I have too much work to do this afternoon to take time to go to the sauna or go running, so kind of thinking that I should take today as my off day, and jump back in full force tomorrow. I’ve got Zumba in the morning, anyway, so if I take it easy and don’t eat or drink too much today, then run a few miles after Zumba tomorrow, I should be relatively on track. We’ll see how I’m feeling at 5. Maybe I can fit in at least a sauna trip before heading to see my friend.

 

Raising the Bar

Today I read an update posted by a dear friend on Facebook. She declared herself to be in a very low place, feeling unlike herself. Being no stranger to highs and lows, I immediately wrote back with a few suggestions for crawling out of the rut, but if she is anything like me, I know she took my suggestions more as meddling than helpful hints.

In my own life, periods of the blues have been frequent and often quite deep. As I aged, I mellowed. Part of this change was no doubt due to pesky hormones, part to a change in lifestyle, and a large part in a change in how I nourish myself spiritually, mentally & physically. We’ve probably all been through this in some way or another. One of the best things about being human is the capacity for growth and change, the journey ever upward (with occasional sidesteps and roadblocks).

I wish that I could help my friend see life in a different light, but we live so far apart, and all I can do is be there in spirit. It’s disappointing, and frustrating, especially when I know my words sound empty to someone in such a different place. All I can do is offer her hope that life gets better, and it doesn’t have to be boring, or sad, or lonely.

You just have to reach out, and someone, somewhere will be there to enrich your experience. It might take awhile. It might not be immediate. It might be the smallest return, like someone commenting on your FB status, or letting you ahead of them in line at the grocery store (talk about small miracles, right?) The Universe is looking after you, whether or not you believe it or choose to acknowledge it. If a beautiful flower can grow out of a crack in the sidewalk, it is possible to make a good life grow out of a series of not so great days. You’ve just got to be open to the opportunities, looking for the tiny happy moments and being conscious of how they all link together. Once you can do that, you’ve got a good thing going. Sometimes I forget this, the same as everyone else. This is as much an affirmation as it is admonishment to myself to be more grateful of the love that surrounds me.

My little advice to my friend: collect one pretty image a day that makes you smile or laugh (online or elsewhere) – that way you’ll always be able to go somewhere for a smile or laugh when life is getting you down. Come to visit, so I can make you laugh. I don’t care how old we are, I will always love to see your beautiful smile.

My own personal plan: look for moments that teach me something, whether or not I like what I’ve been taught. Try to be mindful of these lessons, and carry them with me. Take time to be active every day, and don’t do active things that seem boring or like a chore (I go to Zumba, go dancing, and run, run, run). Get pampered often, even if it’s something as little as taking time to give myself a scalp massage while I’m washing my hair. Tell my friends I love them every time I talk to them. Think about what it means to love. Envision good, wholesome energy flooding from me to my friends & relatives whenever I share my love with them. Share nice thoughts with people I meet – if I see a stranger wearing a beautiful dress, I work up the courage to tell her how nice she looks. All of these things come back to us. Try to imagine what other people are thinking and feeling, and will think and feel about whatever action I’m taking. If I can see a negative outcome, determine if that outcome is what I really want before taking the action. Sometimes I miscalculate, and I end up having to apologize. Either explain why I meant what I said, or just suck it up and apologize – it’s good for everyone involved. Embarrassment is inevitable at some points in life; try to be graceful about it, or at least wear smudge-free mascara. Breathe, breathe, breathe – deeply and often. Eat real food, not processed crap. Hydrate – it makes your brain happy! And I sing and write whenever the hell I feel like it, as a matter of principle.

What do you do to make your life a better place to be? I know that one person who reads my blog travels the world to bring medical care to those who need it. Another takes time out to care for special needs cats at her local shelter. Still another writes enough great content to fuel a small magazine; I wonder if she ever sleeps! Then there’s a very special cat who is training to be a model yet somehow finds time to keep a great blog. I’m so inspired by reading all of your blogs and seeing what inspires you – I’d love to hear your own personal recipes for happiness. Comment away!