Eat, drink, (garden, knit, quilt, think, fix, read) & be merry

2012 in partial review.


Blueberry picking in July.  Life doesn’t get much better.


I shook hands with Bill Ny*e!


I gave up growing carrots because of root knot nematodes (which result in carrots like those above)


But then I accidentally grew these.  Aren’t they gorgeous?


We went to Red*wood National Park.  This fulfilled a childhood dream.  Amazing.


It was the Year of the Fruit in my garden.  70+ lbs of strawberries, rivers of raspberries, and even some blueberries (but those ones at the top were picked at a PYO farm)


Diablo cosmos stole the garden show this year.  The bees loved them, as did I.


A childhood friend got married and had a potluck reception.  I adore potluck receptions.  YUMMY.  I made this lovely fruit salad with heart-shaped watermelon slices and edible flowers from my garden.


I finally graduated from college!


I did this at a county fair.  No regrets.


I learned how to make bath bombs.  And bath salts (not the scary kind).  And body butter.  It’s been a good year in the homemade cosmetics department.


My soybeans nodulated beautifully.  Lots o’ nitrogen fixing going on in those bumps (a non-nitrogen fixing plant shown for comparison above).


The garden.


Sorry for the crummy photo.  It’s dark.  Anyway, I’ve been experimenting with various terrariums.  They’re much more aesthetically appealing in real life.  Promise.


I ruthlessly battled japanese beetles.  They loved my roses, and demolished the flowers before the buds even opened.  Sigh.


Ellie and I did a lot of knitting.  And she developed some very expensive health problems (entirely unrelated to the knitting).  Fortunately, they seem to be under control and the medication itself is very affordable.


We did a great deal of cooking, baking, and eating.  These cuties are homemade ice cream sandwiches made to commemorate P’s 31st birthday.  One is chocolate basil and the other is coffee chocolate.  SO GOOD.

Raptor Release

Raptor Release

We attended a raptor release this fall.  Several hawks, two bald eagles, a peregrine falcon and other rehabilitated birds were released to the skies.  A very moving event.

We also remodeled our bathroom, I started grad school, and we traveled to Mexico and the Redwoods.  But this is a start.  Cheers, friends!  I hope to be back several more times before school resumes in early January.


Thinking aloud

The grad program is off to a galloping start.  It’s a fascinating and frantic whirlwind of ideas, history, hope and tragedy.  It’s also an emotional roller-coaster.  For example, yesterday we discussed communication disorders and I learned that the vast majority of kids with speech disorders do not have them as adults because they are helped by therapists while in school.  However, I will struggle with stuttering to the day I die because I didn’t get that help.  In fact, that help was intentionally withheld from me by deliberately cruel parenting.  It’s small jabs like this, several times a day, that leave me exhausted and tearful.  As does the constant demand that we disclose our own scholastic histories, examine our own biases and backgrounds, and delve into the depths of our own assumptions about education.  Of course, this should all be a part of teacher training, but it’s painful when large swathes of my academic story are dark and unforgiving.

Next week I’m expected to write my story as a K-12 student and then critique it, all in 3 double-spaced pages.  This must be designed for students with cohesive histories.  How do I explain, in just a couple of pages, how I’ve attended a multitude of schools?  Some I attended for as little as two weeks, others I attended for several years.  I’ve been in the wealthiest suburban schools with wall-mounted TVs and multiple pools.  I’ve been rural schools where the grounds are being swallowed by forest.  I’ve been in urban schools with drug-sniffing dogs and new principals every year.  I’ve been “home-schooled” in ways that deserve their own paper explaining the cruelties and injustices.  I’ve been in schools where I look like the majority of students and I’ve been in schools where I’ve clearly been in the minority.  I’ve been at home in poverty-stricken schools and dwarfed by the the obvious wealth of schools where students drive Porches.  I’ve been welcomed and ridiculed, bullied and ignored.   I attended 9th grade geometry classes as an 11 year old with a second grade education.  I ended up in AP US history without knowing the story of the American Revolution.  And then, somehow, I went on to actually graduate with a 4.0 and a fistful of scholarships and awards.  I’m a freak, an anomaly and I resent that it’s being rubbed in my face as a way to get the rich, white kids from the suburbs to see their own “isms.” And I resent the implication that my story will somehow fit, with critique, on three measly pages.

It’s good for me to process all this.  I know it is and I know I need to do it before stepping into a classroom.  But that doesn’t mean I like it.  It also makes me mad that the curriculum is designed to support rich, white teacher-candidates see and wrestle with their biases and there isn’t much room to support people like me who have different stories to process.  I have to pay for therapy to wrestle with mine.  Their support is included in the tuition and classroom.

Intuitively I know I’m not the only one struggling with these issues.  But my realizations and stories are not as socially acceptable to talk about, so it’s harder to find support.  The girl that can just say, “I had NO IDEA that kids in inner cities schools had teachers that were being paid $3000 less, no pool, few college-prep classes, etc… No wonder some of those poor kids are stuck in poverty!” can find support and sympathy for her realizations.

I know this designed to tug on our heart strings and make us examine our motives and assumptions.  But it’s just hard.  And it sends me back into the mourning place.  At least The Sadness is friendly and familiar now.  But I still don’t like it.

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Hi friends!  Classes are over and finals start on Monday.  Blogging is such a great way to avoid studying.  ha!

The garden is going gangbusters after a very early spring.  So it’s time for the annual spring-has-sprung update, complete with loads of photos.  This is the first year I’ve had a perennial garden that has “leaped” and it’s so fun to watch.

Lupine.  The flowers on this are pretty, but I really love the palmate leaves.  They look so exotic and tropical in my midwestern garden.

I’ve been trying to establish low-growing Dutch clover in our lawn to help smother annual weeds like crabgrass and to provide a nitrogen-fixing service.  It’s finally coming in thick in several places.  I know some people consider clover a weed, but I don’t.  It’s pretty, soft to walk on, and it means I don’t need to fertilize my lawn as much! 

Our shittake logs have been fruiting like crazy with all the rain.  We harvested 1+ pounds already and they’re ready to pop again.  SO YUMMY!

Forget-me-nots.  These are one of my favorite spring ephemerals.  I let them go to seed every year and they always pop up for a bright splash of spring color.

Japanese Painted Ferns.  These have been oh-so-slow to establish but they’re finally looking robust and beautiful.  Love these plants so much.

I know they can be overplayed and boring, but I do love hostas, especially the varieties with hints of blue-green.

A very early spring brings with it the near certain promise of late frost damage.  Here’s a strawberry flower (with black center) that suffered from a spring frost.  Fortunately, most of my strawberries are blooming now, so I hope we’re in the clear.  

My violas came back!  How I love these sweet, edible flowers.

I’ve always had terrible luck with spinach.  This year I bought new seed, put down some pelleted compost, and have been occasionally foliar feeding with fish emulsion.  Look at those lush leaves!  The rabbits have been sharing in the harvest, but at least I am, too!

Speaking of rabbits, Here’s the set-up to protect the peas and brassicas from rabbits and cut-worms.  So far, so good.


Braising Mix.  YUM!

Look at that pergola!  P built it last year and this year I get to plant it.  A few divides have already gone in, but I’ve got a nice list for purchases from plant sale fundraisers to fill this out.  Corkscrew willow, russian sage, scented geraniums are on the list.  P put in some hops along the back that will be trellised up to the top.  It’s going to make a lovely space for summer dining.

And I can’t post without some knitting, can I?  Of course not!  This alpaca, woodland shawl is hot-off-the-needles and will be my graduation shawl.  I thought the leaves were fitting for a horticulture major.  😉

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The Other Side

Well, folks, it sure has been awhile.  In August I wasn’t sure if I’d ever made it to this point – the point where all that remains of my 18 credits is one test and the remnants of a paper.  Where only one semester of my undergraduate career remains.  The point where my large, unwieldy  directed study is done.  The point where no farm work remains, although the same can’t be said of farm meetings.  The point where I happily turned 30.  The point where I have occasional meetings with M to check-in and continue honing my new skills, but those meetings aren’t the only thread holding my sanity together.  The point where the sadness is more of a faint, background note than a clanging gong.  But I did, I made it, and it feels so good.

In fact, this may very well be the happiest I’ve been in my entire life.  There have certainly been more exciting times in life – India?  Thailand? Iceland?  – but this is, by far, the most consistently peaceful and content I’ve ever felt.  I type and erase, type and erase, trying to find the words to explain what happened, what it feels like but I can’t nudge the right words into the right places.  It just feels good and it’s (mostly) felt that way for several months now.  I feel loved, safe, secure.  And there’s no better way to head into the holidays.   Xoxo

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A poem for a hard Monday

The sadness returned last night.  I have three finals in the next 48 hours and I haven’t studied.  I’m not feeling like myself.  I keep wondering if this is worth it, if I can keep moving forward.  But somehow I keep going, even if the steps are tiny.


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

~Emily Dickinson

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If you’re a plant nerd, you might appreciate this.  It’s a poem I wrote for an assignment in a environmental physiology class after a lesson on stomata.

An Ode to the Constant Motion of Stomata

Opening and closing

is that all that you do?

Just the regulation of gasses

and water vapor, too?

On paper it doesn’t

seem so important a chore

just opening and closing and reopening

that door.

But we’d all be in trouble

if your operation flopped

if the doors just stayed open

as if they’d been propped.

Or if those guard cells

just snoozed, never bothering to

pay attention to the signals

that let the water run through.

Yes if those stomata just lazed

on sunny afternoons

the photosynthesizing would stop

and so would our food

and so would the flowers

and the grass on barefeet

we’d all be in trouble

and life wouldn’t be so sweet.

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On Opportunity and Horses, or “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

I was a capricious child when it came to career aspirations.  “What do you want to be when you grow up?” well-meaning adults would ask.  “A veterinarian”, “a radio host”, or “the president” were my most common answers.  And now, approaching the age of thirty, I still can’t decide.  I’ve meandered my way through a number of mini-careers including a bike mechanic; a farmer; a coffee roaster; a peon in the airport magazine industry; an unqualified, illegal english teacher.  And now when kind, well-meaning teachers, friends, counselors ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I simply shrug.  I have no idea.

At least that is what I tell myself.  But I’m becoming less convinced that’s actually true.  I think I know more than I let myself realize.  I’ve been working with an exceptional therapist for several months now and I am beginning to recognize unhelpful holdover patterns from my childhood.  I have, somewhat mercifully, dropped from my daily consciousness many of my early traumas.  The details of the maddening unpredictability, the constant criticism, the incessant undermining, the beatings, the molestations, and the deafening isolation are all a bit hazy.  Although the experiences themselves are now nebulous, the viscous residue of those experiences still coat my thoughts, my interactions, even the biochemical reactions in my brain.  They even leave slimy trails on my visions for the future.

As I emerged through childhood and realized I was from a “disadvantaged” background and it was unlikely I’d ever hold a “good job”, I resisted mightily.  I propped open my mind and took in all the information I could hold.  I would be whatever I wanted to be, damn it.  I would take whatever path pleased me, thank-you-very-much.  And as I skipped from mini-career to mini-career, from country-to-country, from major-to-major, I refused to specialize, refused to narrow my interests.  I would enjoy business accounting if it killed me.  I would find joy in my chemistry homework.  I’d voluntarily read books on economics.  In my limited but influential experiences, those who specialized lost later opportunities.  If they were too good at their part-time construction job in high school they didn’t go on to college because they couldn’t go without the money or lose out on the promotional opportunities.  Even if they knew those choices would break their bodies by mid-life.

So I passed on multiple promotional opportunities, I refused to move up any chain, I resisted differentiation.   I clung to the belief I was holding open the door for real opportunity, when it decided to come a-knocking.

Well, in a way, that strategy worked.  I’m approaching the end of my second decade and  I’m relatively footloose.  I have few responsibilities, I’m not tied to a dead-end career, and I’m free to dedicate myself to school, counseling, fiddle lessons, knitting…  I am a full-time student living a life of academic leisure unbound from the need to fully support myself.  And here’s the catch.  I think real opportunity has finally come calling.  I’ve done well in my undergrad program.  I seem to have  a real shot at graduate school.  I have other career opportunities that I could happily pursue.  I’m surrounded by a multitude of chances for “good jobs.”    I may very well be on the cusp of actually stepping back from the precipice of poverty and cycles of abuse and into the middle class (and not simply by virtue of whom I married).

But here’s the rub.  I can’t choose. I can’t decide what graduate program I want to pursue.  I can’t even decide if I want to continue with the biological sciences or transition back into the social sciences.  I can’t decide if I want aim for a university tenure-track position or chance my luck in the broader market.  I can’t decide if I want to pursue food studies or if I want to become a high school science teacher.  I feel like throwing up my hands most days, absolutely and throughly overwhelmed.  I just don’t know what to do.

However, it occurred to me the other day – I spent my entire life thus far resisting specialization.  I fought long and hard to keep myself available for elusive arms of opportunity.  I currently have these choices because, thus far, I’ve refused to choose any one thing in particular.  To make a choice, to move in a single direction, to specialize, is antithetical to everything I’ve worked  to achieve.

But, as my therapist might say, just because it worked then doesn’t mean that it’s working now.  I’m learning to let go of behaviors that once served a purpose, but are now only hindering.   Resisting choice worked… for a while.  But it’s not working anymore.

I am oft reminded these days of the story/parable of the horse is standing equidistant from two equally luscious and tempting bales of hay.  Because no one bale has an advantage over the other, the horse starves to death because he cannot choose.

I am that horse.  And, believe it or not, standing in the shadows of so many tempting opportunities is comforting in and of itself.  Choosing means closing some doors and, as someone who has poured sweat and tears into opening doors, turning away from any opportunity is breathtakingly scary.  It feels easier to starve in the shadow of many  opportunities than risk failing at any particular one.

But I must remember that although I may not actually starve by refusing to choose, the doors themselves will eventually close, the straw will decompose, and then I’ll be left with nothing.  Perhaps it’s better to choose, and risk failure, than to stand in the pasture and watch those hard-won opportunities disintegrate into the soil.

It’s so hard, though, to unlearn years of resistance, to let go of strategies that worked.  It’s frightening to trust that, if I at first fail, more chances will come.  It’s so scary to choose and I think that’s why I keep saying, “I don’t know.”  But I suspect I know more than I let myself believe.   I must tune into that small voice, the quiet whisperings that have been drowned out in a relentless need to stay open.

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Risk and Resolve

So, I’m a little late to the New Year’s resolution discussions.  I may have missed the boat entirely as it seems many resolutions don’t even make it this far into the new year.  But I typically run a little late, so I’m going to write about it anyway.

See, I’m not a big new year’s resolutions person.  No, no, I don’t wait until the beginning of the year to launch a grand scheme to lose ten pounds, save more money, or be kinder to my relatives.  I’m very slow to make new decisions, but when I make them – watch out!  I’m a woman on a mission and waiting any length of time does not suit me.  So I make my changes through the year, as the situation warrants and lifestyle permits.

Don’t get me wrong – like most people I wouldn’t mind losing ten pounds, buffering up the bank account, or make more of an effort with my relatives, it’s just I know myself and I know I won’t keep a resolution unless I’m ready.  The likelihood I’m ready on the first of the year is almost certainly zero.  Call me a pragmatist.

You can also call me a liar.  After that rant I must confess I make two resolutions each new year – chew my food more and sit up straighter.  I’ve made the same two resolutions each year for I-don’t-know-how-long.  No matter how much I work on these, there is always more work to do.  I’m slouching right now.  And I ate my delicious dinner in record time.  (I cooked!  Can you believe it?  I made shirred eggs and I highly recommend you do the same.  You won’t be disappointed.)

Anyway, I’m rethinking my policy on New Year’s resolutions.  See, 2011 promises to be an important year for me.  Not only will I turn 30, almost finish my bachelor’s degree, hold my first full-time managerial position, and buy my first car; I will also take the GRE, apply for grad school, and play my fiddle in public for the first time.  People, this (grad school, not the public fiddling) signals something very important.  It means I’m finally starting to figure some stuff out. It means my life compass, which has been spinning wildly since I was a child, is finally finding north and settling down.  It means there exists the very real possibility that I might get a good job and have a stable life.  It means I’m even less likely to repeat history and end up in poverty again.  This is huge. I have never seriously considered that I would actually find a good job that I enjoyed.  My quiet, unspoken reality was always that I’d bounce from semi-crummy job to downright crappy job for the rest of my life.

But now I think I have a plan:  I’ll try my damnest to get into a good PhD program.  If I fail, or don’t get funded, well, then, plan B.  I’ll become an elementary or high school science teacher.  And if all else fails, I’ll become a naturalist.  I have three options I could happily live with.  I’ll work freakishly hard for option A because, honestly, it’s the coolest.  I never ever ever in a million years of my wildest dreams thought I’d be PhD material.  But it seems I have a shot, so why the hell not?  I have, at various points, thought being a professor would be great, but such a dream seemed impossibly lofty.  The whole process is overwhelming and a bit frightening.  When reading through the requirements for application I get the same gut feeling as when I peer over the edge of a cliff – is it exhilaration or pure terror?  I, at times, want to run from this very idea and return to a more manageable life.  But it’s too late.  If I don’t give it a shot, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.  I’ll always wonder, “What would have happened had I succeeded?”

All this circuitous rambling has brought me to this:  risk.  See, a few weeks ago I read about a woman who took a little different approach to the New Year’s resolution.  She chose one little word as a focal point for the next year.  As 2011 is going to be an important year in my otherwise uneventful little life, I need a point of focus and a resolve to wrestle with big issues and fight hard against the tempting inertia to stay put and dream small.  So I chose one little word for 2011, one word to remind me to think big, even when it’s terrifying.  One word to challenge me to reach higher.  One word that can shore me up when I’m feeling low.  One little word I can blame if things don’t go well (kidding, kidding).  As I plunge full-speed ahead into this decade changing year I need a word like risk to pull me from my comfort zone and remind me life is meant to be lived and not simply survived.  Truth is, I’m more reserved and cautious than the younger me.  I know more intimately what it means to fail, how much it hurts to fall.  But this year I’m going to embrace a little risk.  Why not?  Life doesn’t wait.  The impossible can only become possible through a little bit of risk.  Afterall, what’s the worst that can happen?

A few specific risks for 2011:

– Take the GRE and apply for grad school

-Go to a fiddle jam.  With my fiddle.  And play.

-Continue wholeheartedly with counseling

-Reach out more and be more vulnerable in friendships and relationships.

I think that’s enough for tonight.  Although only four items long, that it likely enough to keep me busy for 2011.  And beyond.



From the tops of the buildings to the streets below

From the Wall Street banks to the empty homes

Between the lines of the people standing all in a row

There’s a crack in the gutter where a flower grows

Reminding me that everything is possible

Yeah reminding me that nothing is impossible…

…Hey, hey, hey no matter how life is today

There’s just one thing that I’ve got to say

I won’t let another moment slip away…

…Don’t let nobody ever tell you that it couldn’t be done…

…Don’t let nobody ever tell you that it shouldn’t be sung

Don’t let nobody ever tell you you’re the only one….

-From Michael Franti and Spearhead, “Hey, Hey, Hey” (emphasis mine)

A few weeks ago I felt like I was on the dark side of the moon.  Fortunately, the world keeps turning.  Life is brightening considerably.  The song quoted above has been playing often on our stereo.  I need the reminder to push myself and strive for a great life.  It’s too easy to fall into complacency.

I did go to meet that counselor and, surprise surprise, she’s wonderful.  After a lifetime of poor counselors and a jaded attitude, it’s a huge relief to find someone who may actually be able to help sift through the compounded layers of sadness, anger, confusion, and uncertainty.

I’ve started studying for the GRE in preparation for the possibility of grad school.  I’m trying not to let the 5-8% acceptance rates and lengthy applications intimidate me.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people have been supportive.  There have been a few naysayers, but most people have said, “Of course you can do this.”

Having an encouraging professor has been pivotal.  It’s reassuring that my family believes in me, but it’s something else entirely to have someone who has a PhD to believe in my abilities.

I’m still taking fiddle lessons.  There has been progress over the past year, but it has not been quick or easy.  At least I now have a number of unfinished songs in my repertoire.  Fiddle music brings me much joy so I continue on, even if progress is slow and laborious.

Our little vacation to the southwest gave P and I a break and a chance to reconnect.  We needed that after a semester that was difficult for both of us.

I’ve spent a great deal of time during break working on this puzzle.   It’s been comforting to slowly put the pieces together one at a time, moving forward one small step at a time.   It’s given me a lot of quiet time to think about the past, the present, and the future.  I hope and strive for a life that paints a lovely picture as the pieces fall into place.

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Sunday Scribblings – Guidance

Prompts for Sunday Scribblings can be found here.

It’s be a long, long time since I’ve done SS.  Truth be told, I had completely forgotten about it.  Then, browsing through blog categories, I stumbled back upon it.  Eureka! I though.  Just what I need.  I’ve got a lot on my mind and I love these community oriented prompts as a way of sorting through the muck.

**Long, navel-gazing, semi-depressing post ahead.**  Feel free to skip this post and go to the next one (a new knitting project!)

Guidance. Yes, yes, this has been on my mind lately.  Do you feel, as I do sometimes, that your life moves in orbit?  I can go through months of feeling competent, happy, connected, loved.  Or, if it’s on the darker side, months of feeling inadequate, perhaps even broken.  I wouldn’t call it depression.  I can still continue my days, still laugh at jokes, find pleasure in knitting or cooking a good meal.  I just feel less capable.  I’ve come to view those darker months as growing pains.  As I strive for new knowledge or skills I feel, temporarily, less satisfied with my current abilities.  I feel awkward, ungainly, unable to competently stand on my own.  Usually I muddle through it, reading books, journaling, thinking.  But this time it feels different.  This time I need help, guidance.

I’m on the darker side of the orbit right now.  I’ve reached the half-way point between returning to school and finishing (!!) a degree.  But this achievement has brought with it a laundry-list of doubts and worries.  What do I do when it’s all over?  Have my prospects measurably improved?  Or will I still be relegated to working mediocre, dead-end, marginally satisfying jobs?  P has, because of my good grades, been encouraging me to pursue an advanced degree.  I just want to get back to work and contribute to the household.  But then again, we’re doing just fine.  Should I just keep going?  What are the benefits of continuing on?  Is it worth it?  I feel like I’m about to set sail into uncharted territory, on to ground I do not understand.  Do I have the wherewithal to finish an advanced degree?  Am I smart enough?  Hardworking enough?  Do I love school enough?  What if we have kids?  Will I be wasting my education? Although none of those questions have straight forward answers, there are plenty of lingering questions that do.  How does grad school work?  Some of my friends are paid to go to grad school – is that normal?  How do my options improve if I do this?  Will I have to move?  How do I even find a program and apply? The fact that I don’t know the answers to these easy questions makes me wonder if I have the right to even consider this.

And then there’s the even uglier side of things.  I started counseling today.  Not for any one thing in particular, but simply because my past still clouds my present.  I want to close the door and move on.  I know the door will always be there, and I know I will occasionally peek in, but I want to be at peace with what’s behind that door.  I don’t want to keep a proverbial chair perched under the proverbial doorknob barely keeping the very real anger, resentment, and disappointment at bay.  As I debated how to present my needs in the counseling session, the best analogy I had was this:  I know the world doesn’t owe me anything, I know that comparatively I’ve had a pretty okay life, I know it sounds childish to wish for a better past.  I understand, and accept, all this on an intellectual level.  But I’m still angry, sad, and resentful (some days more than others).  While I’ve worked through some of the intellectual issues, I still struggle with the emotional ones.  I need someone to help me wrangle the emotions and  put those demons to rest.

Yes, these days I’m in need of a lot of guidance.  And I’m not very good as asking for help.  I’m feeling like I’m on the dark side of the orbit, clumsily working my way through growing pains, striving for a better future.  Fortunately, there are resources available to me, and part of this growing process is learning how to use them, learning how to reach out, ask for help, be vulnerable.  None of this comes easy, but then again, most good things never do.