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Build Your LEGO City: Tales from the Almost Empty Nest

the three musketeers + stella

These are my most important, most favorite, best-ever people in the whole wide world: my son Jackson and my daughter Taylor. They are 21 and 19 respectively, so I am using their real names. I’ll also use Stella’s real name. She’s our 11-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback who only has 8 teeth left and makes us laugh when her lip gets stuck on one of them. (Here’s one of our favorite YouTube videos on this pressing dog issue.) We always find the bright side. It’s our family way. 🙂

But things are changing. My first musketeer just moved out.

I recently helped my son move to Iowa City for work and university. After a few years at community college and working nearly full time, Jackson applied to and was accepted to the creative writing program at the University of Iowa. He is paying for the majority of his school, living expenses, etc. His father and I are helping financially as we can. But he is the driving force. To say that I am proud is the understatement of the year. If you know me, Jackson, us, or if you follow my blog, you may know that we have had a tough road, me and my three musketeers.

This is a huge win for our little family. A hard-fought, heartfelt win.

In seventh grade, my son’s first progress report was dismal. It was no surprise, considering he hated school, his parents had just gotten divorced, and he was struggling with an undiagnosed development disorder. But I knew this was one of those critical moments where he could go left or right – and it could all go off in a ditch fast. That night, we had a serious conversation. I did most of the talking, which I know I should not do but I can’t help myself when I am all fired up. His eyes glazed over. I was losing him. Then I remembered how much he loved LEGOS.

“Hey, remember when you showed me Darth Vader sitting on that LEGO toilet the other day?” I said.

He perked up and stopped slumping into a puddle on my kitchen counter.

“Yeah.”

“It was pretty funny, yeah?”

He chuckled, imagining Darth Vader taking a dump on his LEGO toilet. I had to chuckle, too.

“What about your LEGO Cities? You like those, too, right?”

“Oh yes,” he said quickly.

We talked for awhile about his favorite LEGO City, why it was his favorite, the time it took him to build it, etc. I listened. He relaxed.

“You know what, kiddo? Right now, with these grades, you’re working up to a LEGO toilet for your future. A really nice LEGO toilet. But it will just be a toilet. Don’t you want a LEGO City?”

My son stared at me. In that moment, I knew.

I finally found the right words to reach him.

It’s different when your child has special needs.

I don’t share much about my son’s issues because frankly, it’s not my story to tell. But at this point in his life, he deserves a huge shoutout for what’s he’s overcome, what he’s accomplished, and how hard he’s worked to build his dream LEGO City. Given all this, I can only tell this story from my perspective. He was finally properly diagnosed in his teens after years of us struggling to find answers, hope, and healing. Before then, we were told so, so many different things.

Here are some of the most stupid, unhelpful things:

  • “Just try to get him through high school. If you can.” A therapist.
  • “He is very immature, he annoys the other kids and still likes to play with action figures, he’s much too old for that.” Fifth grade teacher who would not follow my son’s 504 accommodations.
  • “Your son has accommodations that were supposed to carry over from grade school? Hmm, we can’t seem to find that.” Middle school special needs “team.”
  • “Wow, why is your kid so out of control?” There were so many variations on “you’re a shitty mom, Mom,” from so many places, this sums them all up pretty well.
  • “Mrs. Miles, this is the school. Your son won’t do x, y, z…” Various teachers and teachers’ aides in grade school calling me at work 50 miles away to complain about my child.
  • “He’s a momma’s boy.” “What a Sally.” “I’m not going to hold his vagina for him if he can’t get his homework together after school, he’s in seventh grade for Christ’s sake.” “I didn’t give him his medicine. I don’t think he needs it.” His father.

I didn’t know what he “had.” But I knew who he was.

The most amazing, wonderful, smart, creative, funny, sweet, awesome kid I’d ever known (until my daughter came 18 months later, and then I was lucky enough to have two). My son was born in 1999 and the diagnostics and awareness were not where they are now. Google was only a year old. So in addition to talking to my pediatrician, working with the school, trying different doctors and therapists, at different points medication, I did what I do best: I researched. I read. Voraciously.

I researched the impact of diet on children’s behavior – sugar, red dye 40, gluten, dairy, every single thing. I researched innovative ways to discipline and parent. I learned the importance of routine and structure. I read books like Raising Your Spirited Child. I tried the seemingly straightforward, simple things that made sense to me. For my son.

Here are some of the most helpful things:

  • “Don’t say your child is stubborn. Say your child is persistent.”
  • “Say, my child’s energy will serve him well someday in his career, whatever he chooses to be.”
  • “Marinate your kids in love.”
  • “If they need to talk at 3AM, you are there, listening, at 3AM.”
  • “Know that your child is special. Unique. You just have to find the right way to help them harness the power of it.”

I tried everything: all the medical interventions, therapists, specialists, you name it.

I reached out to everyone I could find, spending whatever I had, to try to help my child. Out-of-pocket, not covered by insurance to see a specialist at Northwestern Hospital? $300 for one hour? Okay, I can do one hour (gulp). Tutor? Okay, I can do once a week for awhile. (More worth it than the Northwestern “specialist” but still more than I could afford.) While I did find an excellent team at my son’s high school once he was approved for an IEP, there were so many other people who were not helpful, if not downright hurtful, like the psychiatrist who yelled at him for asking questions (as I had guided him to do, so he could start being his own advocate) when he was 16. I was grateful I was there. She was not. I was a raving Mama Bear Bitch, fired her ass, and found someone 1,000 times better.

Do not fuck with my kids.

Truth? I’ve always found it hard to stand up for myself.

But when it came to my kids, especially my son, I realized I had to get strong fast or he would be lost and it would be all my fault. I would never let that happen. I had to be their advocate. I had to fight to get them the care, accommodations, support, money, whatever it was, that they needed. No one else was going to fight for them like I would. And it also meant I had to quickly discern who was the right professional to help – and who wasn’t. Who was telling me something that made sense and who was talking bullshit.

In the beginning, I trusted the “doctors” and “experts” because I thought they knew best. After enough bad experiences and outcomes, I quickly realized that the one person who knew best for my child was me – and I had to arm myself with as much knowledge as I could so I could identify the right people, the ones I could trust, to help my son. To this day, I look at all “experts” with a healthy dose of skepticism. So do my children.

As it should be.

I tried it all. Even a fortune teller. 🙂

We were in La Jolla, California. It was our last vacation before the divorce. One night we popped into a fortune teller’s place. I had a reading, and she did one for each of the kids with me sitting beside them. She said nice things to both of them, all good stuff, and they thought it was silly and fun. As they ran out the door, the woman rushed after me, calling my name. I stopped, one arm holding the door open.

“I know you worry about his mind,” she said. “But his mind is strong. His mind is strong, Christy.”

I imagine I wore the same dumbfounded look my son did when I told him he was building a lovely LEGO toilet for himself. I knew in my heart that she was right. But no one had ever said that to me before. You know you’re on thin ice when you cling to a fortune teller’s words.

Sometimes you have to take your hope where you can get it.

But that was then. This is The Now.

When I hugged my son goodbye in his little studio apartment, I didn’t cry. I’d rehearsed that moment in my head so many times because I so badly wanted it to feel Rocky Balboa triumphant, not me doing an ugly cry. I wanted it to feel like:

We did it! We won! We beat ALL the odds!!!

And there were a lot of them. Kid with special needs. Sibling struggling with all that this implied. Divorced parents. Dad checked out. Single mom running the show. Just Google the negative outcomes of single moms running the show. I honestly don’t know how we did it. How we got here. I’m afraid to talk about it too much in case I jinx it. So many others don’t make it. So, so many. I think in my heart I will always be a little afraid of a shoe dropping. But in this moment, I know my son is in a good place. He’s ready for this. It’s what we’ve worked for all these years. It’s so fucking awesome!!!

“Bring it in, dude.”

My son gets a kick out of doing the “man hug” with me. 🙂 We grab each other’s arm, pull ourselves in, slap each other on the back two or three times (must be short and crisp, hands should not linger), then break apart. (The video does a much better job of explaining it.) I always do it a little wrong because I am a dork, short and a girly girl and I end up stepping on his feet (size 11, in my defense) but I try really, really hard. So we did the man hug and this time I did it all right. I gathered up my things, knowing I had a three-hour car ride home alone to cry it out. He followed me out to my car.

Jack: Hey Mom

Me: Yeah kiddo?

Jack: “It’s a pretty cool LEGO City, huh?”

Me: 😭

Tonight’s Creative Writing Inspiration:

My daughter sent me this song a few years ago, saying it made her think of me. It inspired me. It kept me going at times when I felt I had nothing left. I listened to it as I wrote tonight. (I think the character is a hooker but let’s overlook that dramatic element lol). I love that I share music with my children as an emotional language when words fail us. I love that my daughter felt this song in us.

Two Mama Bears and a Scholarship: Transforming Loss into Hope and Healing

When your child has special needs, especially when they look “normal” on the outside, life is different. There are fun times, happy times, but sooner or later the realities of your child’s struggles come bubbling to the surface. There is often silence when others speak about their children’s accomplishments. Not because you are jealous. Because you know your child’s accomplishments are different. Less socially accepted. Less understood. It can be lonely.

Yet there we were, sitting in the dark auditorium for Senior Night, as my son’s name was called to accept his award: the David A. Conrad scholarship for $500. As he walked back to his seat, the auditorium filled with applause. The look on his face…

<insert Mama Bear heart clench here>

I had a chance to sit down recently with Karen Conrad, who created this scholarship in her son David’s memory. I wanted to know about the young man whose legacy had given my son a such a boost of optimism and confidence. We were just two Mama Bears, fierce advocates for our boys all their lives, having breakfast and bonding over eggs, coffee, and shared stories. It’s important to share David’s story today, as it’s the anniversary of his passing, and his scholarship fund opens for donations.

David Conrad: Quintessential White Sox Fan for Mayor

David Alan Conrad loved the White Sox, politics, and history. In fact, his favorite colors were black and white for his beloved White Sox — when he was in eighth grade, he was lucky enough to see the Sox win the World Series. He loved politics so much that he used to ask his mom’s friends – “If I run for mayor of Downers Grove someday, would you vote for me?” Of course they all said yes. 😊

David was on the high school swim team and once swam so hard, for so long, he had an asthma attack. He gave it his all, in the pool and in life. He always saw the best in everyone. And even with the challenges he faced, he always said, “I’m fine.” He never wanted to worry anyone, let anyone down.

This is one of my favorite photos of David and his mom, dancing at a family wedding.

Like my son, David attended Downers Grove South (DGS) High School and was fortunate enough to be in the special education program with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The program made a huge difference in both our sons’ lives. Both our boys went on to College of DuPage with their “blue cards,” a continuation of their IEP from high school. But sometimes, all the love, support, and blue cards in the world are not enough. David passed away at the tender age of 21 in 2013.  

About the David A. Conrad Scholarship

Karen and her family started the scholarship to honor David’s memory in 2014 with their own money, after she read that starting a scholarship fund can be healing.

“David once wrote a letter to the Women’s Club, on his own initiative, for a scholarship, and he won. He was so proud! The look on his face when he won…” Karen trailed off, pressing the locket around her neck to her heart. Inside is her favorite photo of her son. She wears it always, keeping David close to her heart.

The David A. Conrad scholarship is awarded to student(s) at DGS in the special education department. Someday, Karen would like to extend it to Downers Grove North High School if she can raise enough money this year. While Karen leaves it with the faculty to determine the criteria and winners, she has said that it is typically awarded to someone like David: hard working, kind-hearted, and open to people from every walk of life.

I recognize that times are hard, and I don’t typically promote fundraisers. But this cause is near and dear to my heart, as are Karen and David. If you would like to donate to this special cause, here is the link to the scholarship Go Fund Me page.  

David in Three Words: Sweet. Innocent. Loveable.

Karen says if he were alive today, David would tell students who receive this scholarship: “Believe in yourself! Do your best! Be optimistic. Move through your challenges! Even if no one else believes you can do it, know that you can. Don’t worry if you make mistakes. You got this!”

I know David is an angel now, watching over his mother and his family. I imagine his spirit is with my son, invisible wings now on his journey as he transfers to University of Iowa this year to study writing. Karen said she thinks David brought her and I together. I know he did.

Thank you, David. 😊

Resources:

Breaking the Silence

We’re all struggling with the uncertainty of the world today. My heart aches for each and every one of us fighting our own battles. ❤️ I will tell you that as someone who has overcome generational trauma and domestic violence, and recently lost my father, the events of today are 100% triggering on many levels. I condemn all violence.

This is me about the time when I realized how my words and thoughts could get me in trouble and seriously hurt. I was 12.

Mrs. Shorb. The teacher who believed in me when no one else did. The one who talked to my mother and convinced her I was smart? That writing was a career? IDK what she said specifically. All I know is that my mother was less dismissive of writing as a career after that parent-teacher conference in seventh grade. Even then, I believed in myself. I knew that I knew better than the adults in my life. I do not begrudge them that. They did the best they could for me. I understood at an early age that people cannot give you what they do not have. You can look to God but God will say look to yourself, I have given you what you need. My takeaway: stop abdicating your power to others.

My entire life, someone has been telling me what to think or say. In middle school, my mother used to scribble “scripts” for me to say on phone calls as she sat beside me and listened in to all my conversations. To this day I hate speaking on the phone. But I taught myself how to overcome that obviously as I’m on 100 Zoom calls a day for work. But seriously…

It’s scary not knowing what the other person will say.

My mother used to read my journals. When she could find them. I was reduced to hiding them in random locations once I became old enough to think for myself and wasn’t just writing I Love Mom poems. My words were deemed dangerous once I reached a certain age (12) and began to think for myself. Then my words were deemed unacceptable. My thoughts were unacceptable. I was unacceptable. I was all wrong. My ex-husband used to read my journals, too. No matter how good I hid them, he found them. He used them against me. Again, I learned I could not say what I really felt or thought. It was not safe.

For most of my life, my survival depended on my silence. Hiding my words.

The story to the world was that I was all wrong. I wasn’t telling the “right” family story. I was crazy. I was not “right.” The last time my mother found my journal hidden above the china cabinet, she looked at me as if I was a traitor and a lost cause. “No one wants to read things that are not happy.” Then: “You’re going to write about me someday, aren’t you?” I said no.

We both knew I was lying.

I paid a steep price for my silence. I still bear the scars.

But I kept writing. Hiding my journals. My words. My thoughts. Sometimes I still do. The point is, I am used to censorship. I have dealt with it my entire life. I know precisely the damage it does. I know exactly how it damages you, chokes you from speaking up, stops you from not speaking your truth. In alcoholic families, the party line is often some variation of, “What happens at home, behind closed doors, stays at home.” It is not okay to talk about the bad things that happen behind closed doors.

I know censorship. We are seeing it now. We must stop it now.

I know the price I paid for keeping silent throughout my childhood and my abusive marriage. I will not be silenced anymore. If you have never been silenced in your life, you will never understand the deep, passionate, commitment that many of us wonderful, strong, beautiful, humans feel about free speech. When you silence one of us – you silence all of us. This is unacceptable. Twitter is not my mother. Or yours. So why are we okay with them making decisions about what voices can be heard – or not? Are you seriously comfortable handing over “control” to someone else for what you hear, read, see?

You know who I worry most about today? Our kids.

The ones who have not yet been force fed a constant drip of “facts” that may or may not align with what you believe. Those kids – they are lost. I am talking about the kids we still have a chance of saving.

Your kids. Our kids. You know. The ones you are handing over to schools to tell them what and how to think.

Especially if you are not talking to them at home. Are you talking to your kids about what’s going on? If not, why? We must. I am telling you now we must. How do we help them make sense of it all? How do we reassure them when they are anxious and scared? How do we guide them when we ourselves are in such unchartered territory? What do we say to our kids who have special needs and struggle differently than others to get through this? How do single parents tackle this, especially when the other parent is MIA?

It’s tough no matter how you look at it.

But my child tonight, my child came to me. My young adult child came to me tonight in despair over the state of this world. My daughter has come to me looking for guidance, too. I realized I must do more. I must do more to be strong for my kids. To talk with them, guide them through these turbulent times. Our kids need guidance now more than ever. That means I have to get my political shit together – I have to make sense of the reality TV drama that has become “Congressional” business.

Business and drama we – me, you, our kids who work – pay for. Literally. Look at your paycheck. Look at the allocations. Keep checking over the next few months and years. We’ll talk again.

We know in our hearts what we believe. We know our values. The majority of us are willing to listen, try to hear and understand. We do not all feel the need to share our opinions on social media. There was a time when this was not even a thing. But the world seems so upside down and inside out. For soooooo long now.

It rattles you. To say the least. If not you, for sure me. There are so many in the last year…

voices, opinions, lockdowns, mandates, protests, riots (peaceful despite the damage and death), masks aren’t needed/masks are required, condemnations, vilifications, media spins, offenses, narratives, perspectives, videos, memes, witty Twitter comebacks, Congressional letters and fiery speeches on the floor we pay for (that go nowhere), shitty female interactions on The View (why is this ugly, mean show still a thing?) resignations, special updates, cancellations, woke gestures, woke posturing, virtue signaling, apologies, micro-aggressions, fears, new amendments (hello 25), racist and systemic racism allegations, defund the police mandates, murders skyrocketing, unemployment exploding, economy turbulence, video angles, redistribution of wealth, political goals and agendas, financial motivations, calls for stimulus checks, unity, impeachment, claims of insurrection, taxes without representation, rules for thee, but not for me! Vaccine warp speed!! Vaccine passports! Election fraud! China! Russia! Fraud! Socialism! Fascism! COVID!!! COVID!!! COVID!!!! Death! Fear! Selfish if you even think about walking to the mailbox without a mask on you SELFISH ASSHOLE YOU ARE KILLING GRANDMA!!!!!! Follow the science!!! Flatten the curve! It’s just for two weeks!! Two months!! Four more months!! One year!! No Thanksgiving! No Christmas! You can go to Walmart or the liquor store or the marijuana dispensary but not church or a restaurant or Grandma’s house.

Hmm…no wonder why we are all eating more, drinking more, smoking more, doing more drugs, more depressed, anxious, sad, pissed off, sick, and divided. We’re fat and sedated because the people “running the world” are driving us into submission and despair.

If you dare to disagree – dare to say the “wrong” thing, think the “wrong” thing, do the “wrong” thing – “YOU” are the wrong thing.

Are we really okay with this?

My father, a Korean veteran, spent his last days alone in a nursing home. My sister and I made heroic efforts to keep him home with us for as long as we could; in the COVID world, medical professionals made it clear that once he “went in,” we were “out.”

My father died alone and afraid. I could go to Walmart and get bacon at any time of day. But I could not go to the hospital and hold my father’s hand as he lay dying.

I am not okay with this. I will never, ever be okay with this.

*

We are better than this.

I am sad and ashamed at how nasty, mean, ugly, and eager to gloat, shame, condemn, and cancel each other we have become. This is not who we are. This is not who we are as Americans. I appreciate those who are trying to stay positive. Love you and you know who you are. I am asking us to take one step more: those of us with the light, courage, and brilliance must shine our lights more, longer, everywhere.

But when your kids are scared and your father dies alone and America starts feeling like Communist China and your young adult kids come to you and say, I am afraid. I don’t understand. I don’t feel like I can say what I really think, what do I do? What do I say?

What do you tell your kids? The ones who are old enough to think about these things? If you’re not talking to them, you should be. Because if you don’t talk to them, if you don’t provide them with guidance and direction – Twitter and Lady Gaga and the Kardashians and random politicians will.

You do not want that.

My kids are 19 and 21, living at home while working and going to community college full time to avoid student loan debt while they figure out their plan. They look to me to provide answers, perspective, assurance. This is what I tell them:

We are strong. We do not let ANYONE tell us what or how to think. We focus on what we can control. We focus on being the best humans we can be. We love. We know who we are, what we believe, and what we value. We are open to other perspectives and listen to hear, see, and understand.

Our family values are – and always will be – kindness and respect. At the end of the day, we will always stay true to who we are, what we believe, and what we value. ❤️

Want to make a real difference?

Stop posting vapid political memes and adding to the negative discourse. Get off your woke pedestal. You are adding fuel to the imaginary political fire while people are dying, businesses are dying, and our nation is more divided than ever before. You are now part of the problem. the snappy slogan “Silence is Violence.” Who gets to decide which silence is violence – and which is not? Who gets to decide who and what gets silenced? Who gets to drive you to hide your thoughts and ideas in journals hidden around the house in fear of being…heard?

Are you really willing to hand over this fundamental right to someone else? To a company?

It’s about people. Not politics.

Make a real difference. Get off social media. Get out in your community and do something that actually helps others. No selfie “look what I did” required. Buy local and support your small businesses. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or a nursing home, Habitat for Humanity, something, anything, that will actually change something, someone for the better. Talk to your kids. Have real conversations about what is happening, ask what they think. Listen. But for the love of God, please…

Stop Polluting. Be the light in the darkness. We need that now more than ever.

Love and peace to all.
We are all in this together. ❤️

Update: I called a family dinner for tonight (when your kids are young adults juggling work, school, and friends, it’s a lot harder to book time with them!). It’s an open forum to talk about the state of things, the world, how they’re feeling, how they’re dealing. I have no idea what I am going to say. I plan on listening more than talking, which is hard for me to do but necessary. It’s going to be a standing family dinner (or breakfast or lunch or whatever meal time they will give me) event going forward. One small change I can make in my little corner of the world. I will let you know how it goes. 🙂

Is Acupuncture Right for You?

When I bring up acupuncture to people who’ve never tried it, I get one of three reactions:

  1. OMG no!
  2. OMG hell no!!
  3. What’s it like? I’ve always wanted to try it!

This post is for you #3 people and anyone who is curious about what acupuncture is and why someone would do it.

I’ve been curious about acupuncture since the first time I read about it years ago in a runner’s forum where runners swore by its ability to help heal running injuries. Beyond that, I have health issues that have challenged me to look beyond traditional Western medicine for approaches that complemented my treatment plans. This includes lifelong asthma, insomnia, and an autoimmune thyroid disorder. I’m also a stroke survivor (thankfully). Everything I am sharing with you here is based solely on my personal experience, and it goes without saying that you should work with your doctor or treatment team for a plan that is designed specifically for you.

So is acupuncture right for you? Here’s my journey, which may help you decide:

Step 1: Know Why You’re Going

While I was battling running injuries the first time I went in 2015, I was also battling “I just went through a divorce, a layoff, a major health crisis with my child, and life is kicking my ass” fatigue. While I showed up thinking I was going for my plantar fasciitis flare-up, I also knew that I was battle-weary, and the stress of it all – plus the nagging feeling that Western medicine was missing something – was driving me to research a doctor and book that first appointment.

Some will say acupuncture heals everything under the sun. I don’t know about that. But I do know that it has worked for me to manage stress and anxiety, as well as help with pain management and healing of running injuries, including chronic bouts of plantar fasciitis that always surface when I am going through a particularly stressful time. But acupuncture is just one tool in my arsenal, which includes other more “conventional” treatments and medicine.

I have come to look at acupuncture as a way to hit the reset button for my body, particularly after a stressful time in my life. I’m a firm believer in the concept that our issues are in our tissues.

Step 2: Get a Recommendation

I went for my first treatment about a year after my divorce. Since running is my go-to for managing stress and anxiety, I was desperate for something, anything, that would help me continue to run. So after reading yet another rave review about the benefits of acupuncture in a running group forum, I decided to go for it. All other Western medicine approaches seemed to be failing me. What did I have to lose?

The most important thing for me was to get a recommendation from someone I knew. A sports massage therapist I trusted recommended a Chinese doctor who I worked with for several years before switching last year to Dr. Chen, also a Chinese doctor, also based on a personal recommendation, and someone I have come to trust immensely.

Trust me when I say that it takes a lot for me to trust someone. 🙂

Step 3: Trust the Process

If you trust the acupuncturist, you can relax on the table and trust the process. The doctor will ask why you are there or how you are doing; they may ask you to fill out forms (my biggest pet peeve anywhere I go, honestly); they may ask you to stick out your tongue for an assessment.

My biggest piece of advice: be honest. If you just lost your job or a loved one, say so. If your back hurts, say so. If you’re sad, say that, too. You don’t have to tell them all the details. But you should be honest about what hurts, whether it’s your foot, your neck…or maybe just your heart.

Based on this consultation, the doctor will insert acupuncture needles in select locations on your body. I always stay fully dressed. Sometimes, they move a heat lamp over your tummy in the winter (I love that and always think of Winnie the Pooh for some reason lol). There is usually soothing music playing, and once the needles are inserted, they dim or turn off the lights as they leave and close the door.

And then – it’s all you. You get to relax. In a way you have never probably relaxed in your entire life. For an entire 25-45 minutes. It is absolutely delicious, I tell you.

Step 4: Enjoy the Stillness

For me, the first few minutes of acupuncture are like when I wake up at 3AM and can’t sleep. My brain is frantically going over every detail of my life, my day, my to-do list, my many failures and fuck-ups, the pizza I ate (again), how many glasses of wine I had with dinner, the stupid thing I said at the absolute wrong moment, the brilliant thing I should have said at the exact right moment…you get the idea. It’s like 27 hamsters in wheels in my brain at any given time. But I’ve come to learn that in a few minutes on the table, the wheels slowly stop turning. The hamsters get off their wheels to go drink beer and eat pizza.

My heart rate goes down.

I relax.

I see colors behind my closed eyes. Blue, purple, green, white, gold, orange, and only once, red. The colors come and go like pulses of energy. Electrical current. It appears in different patterns like bursts of fireworks. Often it’s concentrated behind my left eye. If you are interested in what the colors represent, read this.

During my first acupuncture session a few weeks after my stroke, all I saw behind my closed eyes was a black blob moving up and down, struggling to move around sluggish dark green and brown colors. Eventually the black blob was absorbed into the colors and disappeared. In the next session, the black blob appeared but was absorbed more quickly into the other colors, which were less muddy and more clear. By the third and final session, there was no black blob; the colors I saw were bright and clear, and I felt stronger and more at peace. I felt like my true energy was back.

Hello, me! 🙂

During my session after the divorce (once a week for six weeks), I had what I can only call lucid dreams. In one, I was walking down a tree-lined path. I could see one of my children to my right, and the other to the left. We were all on our own paths, going our separate ways, but we could see each other through the trees. It made me sad but at the same time, I knew that this was what letting go looked like. It was coming and I had to be prepared, both emotionally and spiritually. I left that session feeling ready to accept what the future held for all three of us.

If you’re thinking – “This is too out there for me,” that’s cool! Not everyone sees colors or has lucid dreams. I’m a writer and have always been more on the creative/sensitive side, so it would figure that I would have a more “creative” reaction to acupuncture. If it happens for you, lean into it. See where it takes you. But don’t let my experience deter you from trying it, especially if it can help with your pain or anxiety.

Step 5: Take care of you afterwards.

Don’t plan anything the day you have acupuncture, at least for the first time, anyway. I do it on the weekends so that I have time to rest and recharge. You might feel extra tired for 1-3 days. You might feel energized. I have the BEST sleep of my life for a week or so after a session and I don’t run the day of or the day after. I usually leave feeling peaceful and a little out of it (until I get on the road, and then my road rage tendency sneaks back out. Note to self: Uber to and from acupuncture next time.)

Other tips: drink lots of water. Take a nap if you need to. Make homemade chicken soup and watch your favorite movies. Unless you’re energized, in which case you should follow that energy wherever it takes you. Clean your house, go for a run, write a book, broker world peace — if you’re feeling it, go for it!

I will say this – sometimes, I have emotional releases after acupuncture, usually within 24 hours. The very first session I had, as soon as the needles were inserted and before the doctor even left the room, silent tears streamed down my face. It surprised me and I was embarrassed, even though no one was in the room. (Emotions? Yuck!)

It was the first time I felt like I could release the sadness in my heart from the grief that I had been suppressing after my divorce and the ensuing life events so that I could get from one day to the next. After my father’s recent death, I had a session after many months of not going and the day after, I felt a release of pent-up emotions buried so deep, for so long, I didn’t even know they were there. After a good cry, I felt…free. I felt like I had more energy. I felt relieved.

I felt at peace.

Thinking About Giving Acupuncture a Go?

Although acupuncture is not for everyone, I have found it be to a wonderful addition to my “Feel My Best” tool box. What you’ll also find in there: journaling, reading, music, dancing, running, lifting, biking, yoga, snuggling my dog, and spending time in nature. I’m always adding new things that I discover as I go. I don’t do it all, all the time – I mean, I have to work and cook and do laundry and get my oil changed like everyone else. 🙂 But I do commit time every day to one or two of these things, even it’s three minutes of breathing on the porch in the fresh air with my steaming cup of coffee and a two-minute snuggle with my dog.

Even if you’re not ready to book an acupuncture appointment today, why not think about the things that help you hit the mental “reset’ button? Make a list and prioritize the things that make you the happiest. Then book time for those things in your day, every day. Look at your calendar right now. Work in time for you and the things that make you feel your best, your happiest, and most connected to you – the real, authentic, wonderful you.

“But I don’t have time!” you say.

“Bullshit!” I say.

See what you can give up doing to make room, i.e., mindless TV, scrolling on social media. Even if it’s five minutes. Trust me. You’re worth it. 🙂

I’ll leave you with you with that because my homemade chicken soup is ready, I have laundry to fold, and I’m going to build a fire and watch cheesy romance movies with my dog. Happy Sunday everyone!!

Make Your Creative Space Now

Everyone should have a creative space. It could be a nook under the stairs. A corner of a quiet, unused room or the basement. A covered porch. A quiet kitchen table when your people are away or asleep. Even a corner in a closet will do.

I would know. I’ve carved out my creative space in many places over the years, in dorms, apartments, houses, even hotels when I travel for work. I’ve made do with what I had and worked around running a mid-size business from home with two kids, two dogs, play dates, neighborhood kids descending on the yard, our union employees, babysitters, everyone coming and going at any given time. It was chaotic, but creativity thrives in chaos. You just need a space to process, harness and translate it.

Wherever this space may be, it should be sacred.

Your people should not be traipsing around in there, looking over your shoulder, asking what you are doing, poking around in your creative business. When you close the door or the drape or disappear into your space, you should feel safe to create. Think. Write. Paint. Dream. Read. With no interruption. Without fear of criticism. With no instruction or redirection. Just – you. For 5 minutes, if that’s what you can spare. Longer when you can. Even 5 minutes a day is enough to satisfy the soul. More is better, but some days you just have to make do with what you can.

As I have always told my kids, especially after the divorce, home is wherever your people and your dogs are. (And lizards and snakes in our case – no offense to cats, we’re allergic.) But your creative space – the place where you go to recharge, refresh, do creative work and thinking – this requires a different approach.

This is my space today:

My “food for the family” office. Need to figure out how to fix that drawer from opening. Book on my reading table is “”How to Win Friends & Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. Re-reading for the third time. An oldie but a goodie if you want to understand people and how to be a better human.

I’m lucky now. I have a dedicated room with a door for my office/creative space. I work from home when not traveling, so it’s essential if I have any hope of actually getting things done and conducting 4 million Zoom calls in a week. While my office stays here, my creative space moves around the house, depending on my mood, what’s going on in my life, and the season. My kids are used to it, they are on the cusp of moving out and have never known any different than a mother who moves artwork, furniture, and work/fun spaces on a regular basis to keep things fresh. They think it’s normal. They do the same. Yay?

My ex-husband used to joke/complain that he would come home late at night and trip over a couch that was in a different place than it was when he left that morning. Amuses me even more now. 🙂

Where to start: Define your creative goals.

Listen, if you want to carve out your own creative space, first you have to understand your own process and what you’re trying to do. You have to know what environment works best for you. Some people like to work in libraries or coffee shops or bars. They need noise, people, activity. Hey, go for it! (Unless it’s COVID-19 times and things are shut down, like now as I’m writing this.) But if you’re like me, someone who needs quiet, private space at home, here are five ideas to help you get started. Disclaimer, I am a writer – not a photographer, an interior designer, or any kind of artsy person other than with words, so, it is what it is, from my heart to yours.

Lighting. I have horrible vision. I had one of the very first corrective eye surgeries back in the 90’s and while I had perfect vision for 20 years, ever since I turned 40, it all turned sideways. (Lesson learned, don’t be the “first” to get anything and for God’s sake don’t let anyone mess with your eyes!) It’s complicated but all you need to know is – good lighting is super essential forever, for everything. Evaluate your space and how you’ll be using it. Will you be reading? Painting? Playing music? Writing? Where? Where are the windows? What is the quality of light? At what time of day?

Try out different lighting to see what works best, at different times of day, given the light in the room at any given time. I rely on Target for task lighting because it’s inexpensive and 5 minutes from my house (I’m lazy and hate to drive and certain things I can’t shop for online, I have to see it in person and touch it). All the task lighting in my office – two near my computer and two on my writing desk, plus one on my glass table near my writing chair, have three-way LED lighting, so I can go super bright on dark Chicago winter mornings or nights when I’m reading or writing.

The Tiffany-style lamp on my office desk is a treasure found at TJ Maxx, one of my favorite places EVER. It’s like a garage sale on steroids!! When I was my most broke, garage sales and places like Once Upon a Child were my saving grace. While my kids are grown now, TJ Maxx will always hold a special place in my heart. I love this lamp for the gorgeous colors, the lovely design, and the fact that I paid less for it than I would have anywhere else. I turn it on after I’m done working, a symbol that it’s time to switch from “work” to “home” mode.

2. Seating. Right now, I have two desks in my office. One is my work desk (the first pic above). It’s all about function: task lighting, post-it’s for jotting down quick notes, a good camera for Zoom meetings, speakers, all the “functional” stuff. You know, fuel for what feeds the family.

My other desk is that which feeds my soul. It’s where I journal at 5AM or write early story drafts by hand (earlier if insomnia strikes – I’ve come to look at as “found time,” a term I saw referenced in an article that I can’t find now. I bet it was Tiny Buddha!) All I know for sure is that it resonated and I’ve made it my own.

I have a chair from Pier One next to my desk that is small enough to work in a tiny house and perfect for reading on cold mornings. Add a throw pillow and blanket – priceless and comfy! My favorite is when my kids, over 18 and almost ready to fly but still in the nest, come sit and tell me about their day, ask questions, or just hang out with me. <insert big heart here> I positioned it that way intentionally and bonus – I can look up from reading and see the windows, the light, the trees, and whatever weather Chicago is throwing at us that day.

I am super picky about my pens. That’s a whole other post. But the mug they are in is handmade pottery from a studio in Hayward, Wisconsin. The hearts say “believe” and “create” and came from an independent bookstore in my town. The book is “The 12 Secrets of Creative Women,” which greatly influenced and inspired me. I’m re-reading it now. I’m also working through the 12 Secrets Journal, which inspired this post.

3. Objects. Objects have special meaning in stories and in real life. They should in your life, too. Sprinkle them into your sacred space where you can. Move them around from time to time. We tend to stop “seeing” things when they are in the same place 365 days a year. Here are a few of mine to get you going:

My candle, my journal, inspirational books, great lighting, and stone artwork purchased at a farmers market a few years ago. The colors spoke to me. I often stop writing to look up at this piece of art and appreciate the detail and the colors.
I can never find my glasses. But apparently my son listened when I shared the touted philosophy that everything has a place and there is a place for everything, as he gifted me with this giraffe for holding glasses. It always makes me smile no matter how crazy my day becomes.
This is a ceramic bird from Chile that a friend brought back for me more than 20 years ago. It is for good luck, from what I was told. When I see him, I think of my friends Becky and Barney, who brought it back for me. How lucky am I to have this love and positive energy in my writing studio. #grateful

4. Scents. One word: candles. It goes without saying that your creative space should not smell like a dirty sock that was buried in the backyard with the dog’s bone and leftover fish dinner from 20 years ago. Make it smell yummy, like you want to lick the air and actually want to be in there, doing important creative work. And make no mistake: any work that you do in there is important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s published or shown, sold, shared – it can be just for you, to make you happy. I prefer Yankee Candle. I’m not getting paid to say that, I have allergies and their candles are the only ones that don’t trigger asthma attacks that take me down for days.

5. Privacy. Shortly after I moved in, my elderly, retired next-door neighbor, who is very bored with a front door that faces my office (it’s unincorporated where I live, so some pretty goofy house setups and property divides around here), told me he saw me sitting at my desk typing, and added some exaggerated typing motions to reinforce his story. Apparently I type like Patrick from Spongebob SquarePants on crack?

So I invested in Wallpaper for Windows. You can see it in my first photo. I found it at Lowe’s and Home Depot. There are a lot of different patterns and types, all very pretty, and it’s easy for people like me with no mechanical ability to apply.

As mentioned early on, a door, a drape, boundaries (“When the door is closed, stay the hell out!!”), incense, whatever you can add to your space to keep it quiet and private, is essential. Unless you like to be interrupted nineteen times with questions like, “Is there milk in the fridge? Where are my pants? How do I set up my retirement fund?” or worse, big stuff like, “The (100-pound dog) is puking everywhere in the house again!”

Establish a rule: when the door or drape is closed, when you are in your creative space, unless there is blood or bones protruding from skin – it can wait. Even (gasp!) for the dog.

Get your creative space together now or refresh the one you have

Whether you’ve been eyeing up your living space to find a dedicated spot for your creativity and solitude or just need a creative reboot for the space you do have, it’s so worth it to commit the time and thought to building a spot that work for you, your process and your creative work. Have fun with it and kick your creative mojo into high gear!

So there are five things you can use to build your creative space – so get on it! 🙂