Coping With COVID, Murder Hornets, and Closed Wineries

Coronavirus, murder hornets, economic instability — oh my! What an odd time in which we are living. 2020 has not been the start to a new decade that anyone expected. In the United States, the majority of the country has entered into some sort of “quarantine mode” with many businesses closing their doors/offices and forcing employees to work remotely. Restaurants have shut down, stores have limited access, and (gulp) all the wineries have closed in an effort to force the population to stay home and stay safe.

In my state of Michigan, quarantine has been implemented since March 16th. There is unrest among Michiganders as the weeks move forward with no change in circumstances; restaurants are struggling as delivery and curb-side are their only options to continue service, lay-offs and furloughs are being carried out by numerous corporations, and unemployment numbers nearing those of the Great Depression. Many of G’s and my favorite local stops may not be reopening as the economic stability of our home state teeters on the edge.

Though I fully understand the government’s urge to keep residents safe, my heart hurts for those who will be effected by this pandemic for years to come. Everyone’s safety is important — health-wise, financially, emotionally, and mentally. As every week passes, it is amazing to me how divided my state grows… and how desperate people seem to be becoming. You could not pay me enough to be in our governor’s shoes right now.

Continue reading “Coping With COVID, Murder Hornets, and Closed Wineries”

2019 In Reflection

As usual, Life is passing by at an alarming speed, but I could not miss my annual tradition of sitting down at the keyboard to reflect on this past year… and decade as a whole. Since 2014 I have looked back at each year and shared some of the highlights in my life. So here I am, at it again:

2019 began in a whirlwind. I headed into the new year with two big “milestones” under my belt from 2018: being a newlywed and purchasing our first home. I entered this year without resolutions or goals, but rather the objective to focus my year on a single, all-encompassing word: intention. (Read more about this decision here!) For the most part, I believe I lived according to my plan.

I made it my intention to say “No” to more questions this past year. If I was asked to assist with a project, go out for a social event, or spend my time doing something outside my comfort, I weighed my answer heavily. There were more times than not when I replied, “No.” without apology and without explanation. In the past, my life was ruled by external situations and other people. In 2019, my focus became more internal, with all consideration on myself, my husband, and those most dear to us. By spending the majority of my time focused in this way, I discovered my passion for baking, found time to enjoy evening walks with Copper, and enthusiastically won countless games of Exploding Kittens against G. I may not have been increasing my networks in the community past my professional necessities, but I proudly took on the label “homebody” and transitioned our house into a home.

I also intentionally said goodbye to some relationships in 2019. I became more aware of the two sides friendships should expect. Friendship is not one always giving and one always taking; there should be a balance. I would reach out to those people I valued, but if the interactions were not reciprocated, I allowed the relationships to quiet and/or completely deplete. Not in a malicious way, but in an understanding that Life happens, directions change, and people can move forward wishing another the best while not remaining in their lives. This thinking also allowed me to focus on networks that fit my current situation in life and to enter into new tribes. Those relations who took the initiative to welcome me, I intentionally aimed to strengthen. So in 2019 and the future, my goal is to grow wiser with my relationships by actively pursuing meaningful connections while also understanding not all friendships are meant to last a lifetime.

2019 brought a bout of new challenges to my life as well. We welcomed Copper, an energetic ball of fluff, into our new home in January. The growing pains of raising a puppy have been a great insight for children in the future. Setting the chewed boots, destroyed rugs, and numerous backyard holes aside, there really is no describing the love we have for our little dude. Copper brings so much joy into our home, even on his naughtiest of days. He has become my daily walking companion and evening cuddle-bug.

In February I had a procedure to remove three sections of cancer cells. This was my first stint of any negativity in my health, and the aftermath led to a lot of changes in me physically. I was told getting pregnant would be difficult. I was not able to exercise like I once had enjoyed. I was in pain and felt fatigued daily. All of which ultimately led to gaining weight and putting a strain on my mental and emotion states. It took several tests, but we also discovered one major contributor to my health issues was an intolerance to gluten. As the year moved on, learning what harms my body has been a challenge in itself, but with each new day, I’ve begun to feel more and more like my old self and am no longer in daily pain due to the foods I eat.

As I regained my health, I also was given the clear to do more high-intensity workouts by my physician. So in September I joined a local CrossFit Box and fell in love with not only the exercises, but also my new fitness tribe. Unfortunately, the Box closed on November 30th, so my time with these new friends was short. The experience reminded me that I can put myself outside my comfort zone though, and that I have the drive to work hard for my health. I’m utilizing the lessons learned at CrossFit to move into 2020 with motivation to continue working to better my fitness, strengthen my mind, body and soul, and fit back into the totes of clothes in our basement. (Meh.)

One huge blessing in 2019 was the continued growth in my marriage. As with all married couples, G and I have several differences in our personalities, upbringing, and views on the world. Yet there is not another man I’d rather do Life with, or argue over what Netflix comedy special we’ll rewatch on a Wednesday evening. We were fortunate to explore new places this year: Indianapolis, Storm Lake, Geneva, Belfast. And with each new adventure, we spent quiet moments together, talking about our pasts, present, and futures. It may be cliche to say, but I fall deeper in love with G every single day.

As with any new year, moving out of 2019 has left some unanswered and open questions to what 2020 might bring. First off, the executive director at my agency resigned the week before holiday break. He had held his position for over 20 years, so his departure leaves our agency curious as to what changes may occur. Who will take his seat? Will there be internal changes? How will such changes affect our clients and community? I am one who strives on change, so the prospects of what is to come is exhilarating. Then there is the opportunity for G to complete his schooling by the year’s end. His graduation may mean changes for our little family as well. Finally, questions on my health are still taking place. I have an appointment in January to run a new test to see if children may be an easy possibility for us in the future. I am trying not to worry, but my heart yearns for an answer either way — just so we can decide the best method of becoming parents in the coming years. Thankfully, I have 100% faith in my physician. All in all, I know God will direct us on the best path for His glory in all manners of answering any questions that may arise in 2020 or any future year.

As 2019 and the 2010’s decade comes to a close, I can sit behind this computer screen in contentment. I have plenty of people, places, and things of which to be grateful. I saw a lot of loss in the 2010’s, but I also gained so much — the highs of the past ten years far outweigh the lows. As with any new year, 2020 has the promise to be something special. To change people. To change the world.

For me and my little corner of this grand space, I am looking forward to another year of positive growth, unlimited grace, and deep, deep gratitude.

Happy New Years, my friends,

FALLing Back Into The Swing Of Things

Summer is officially over, ya’ll. Autumn is here, and with that means all things I love: pumpkin spice, Hocus Pocus, apple picking, hayrides, bonfires, flannel shirts, crisper temperatures, dry reds, and coloring leaves. Autumn also means Life should be slowing down… ha! As if! But even though Life still steams ahead at a ridiculously fast pace, I am back on the keyboard punching a word here or there for you, my little winos. So to those I haven’t spoken to in awhile: hello again, friends. And to those wandering across this blog for the first time: hello and welcome.

Since my last post, many changes have occurred in my world and as I move forward with the remainder of 2019 and start thinking of 2020, I would like to touch upon some of those “new things” in my life:

Since mid-Fall 2018, my gluten intolerance was wrecking havoc on my body and mind — and my self-esteem. Every day I found myself nauseous, uncomfortably bloated, tired, achy, and irritable. I was gaining weight because I couldn’t find motivation to work out. So to make up for the lack of exercise, I tried to diet and eat whole foods — whole grains, salads, fruit, lean proteins. Unknowingly, the base of many of my meals was made from foods toxic to me. It became an endless cycle of eating, sudden nausea, uncontrollable fatigue, and slipping into a hole of eating whatever I could get my hands on simply to ease my stomach and perpetual hunger. This vicious cycle led to my clothes growing tighter and my self esteem growing dimmer. By the end of every day, I was so disappointed in myself at what I perceived as a case of laziness I just couldn’t overcome. Cue another type of cycle then — cruel, self-criticism. My fatigue grew worse as I failed to sleep through the nights. I was so burnt out, physically, mentally, emotionally…

Then the cancer scares happened in February and March, and with those scares came answers. Following blood work and various doctors’ appointments, I discovered that my inner battles were being waged by intolerance to what I was eating. What I presumed as healthy was in fact not. For me at least. And so came a lot of changes and transitions and learning curves.

In the past six months, I’ve discovered what foods my body can handle and what it cannot. I have eaten 90% gluten-free for the entire month of September and it is AMAZING the differences I feel and see in my body. My energy has returned. My body is no longer bloated. I’m able to wear my wedding rings for the first time since February! Now the goal is to go 100% gluten-free in October and 50% dairy free. It is a process, but I’m continuously moving forward in the correct direction.

With the increase in my energy and positivity of mindset, I joined a CrossFit Box at the beginning of the month. As most people who participate in CrossFit can attest, I fell in love quickly with the exercises and daily differences in workouts. Not only do I sweat, but I never get bored. I’ve also increased my running regime, growing stronger in my intervals and preparing to run my first 5k in over two years on Thanksgiving Day. My next  personal goal is to complete Beachbody’s 100 Morning Meltdown workouts before December 31, 2019 beginning the 100 workouts on October 1st.

Aside from fitness, I’ve started a second job at a local winery. I enjoy my day-to-day employment at the Agency, but upon returning from the Finger Lakes, I realized how much I missed talking wine. Wine is my passion! Luckily, G and I have become regulars at a winery down the road from us and the owner offered me a position on the weekends to make a little side cash. It was easy to get back into the swing of pouring and chumming it up with patrons, and I could not be more excited to spend my Fall investing a bit more time in the wine industry.

Speaking of our vacation — WOW! G and I needed the time away from the house and our jobs to reset and refresh. The trip was one for the books, and I will be writing plenty of posts in the future on our experiences. Let me suffice it to say that it was absolutely perfect in every respect.

Life is crazy now that we’re back home though. G is taking three classes this semester on top of working seven days a week. We are (fingers crossed) within a month’s time of G getting his full rights back in terms of his license. It has been chaos attempting to get all the paperwork together with his hectic schedule, but can I just take a moment to say how much I adore my husband? This process has hit every last nerve, and he continues to push through the mess and become a better, stronger man every day. I could not be prouder of him and his perseverance. He is an inspiration to me every single day.

Once we are over these last few hurdles of court and schooling, we have a good outlook on our futures. I’ve been toying with the idea of returning to school for my masters, G would like to get a business degree, there’s been talk of moving to the mountains, and also talk of children. Life is exciting. Life is good. And we are ready to take a step forward into whatever God has planned for us.

Even if children are not in our future, we are so incredibly blessed with little ones in our lives already. Copper — our furbaby — will be celebrating his one year birthday in November and we could not be happier with our pup. He is such a joy to come home to every day. My brother and sister-in-law also surprised us with news that they are expecting our second nephew/niece in April and we could not be more excited! Our nephew is going to be the best big brother. Plus two of my best girls are pregnant and both expecting girls before the end of 2019 — I could not be a more joyful auntie.

I think that covers all the big items that are allowing this Autumn to be extra special. As I continue to grow stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally, my outlook on Life has grown brighter as well. I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.

I’ll be in touch soon with vacation information and some delicious (gluten-free) Fall treats. I hope all is well with you as well — is there any exciting news in your lives that makes this new season better? I would love to hear of your Summer successes, personal goals, fun activity plans, or anything else! Please feel free to share in the comments below.

To a fresh season, my friends!

Revisit: The Vows

Today marks our first anniversary. One year ago we said “I do.” To say the past year has been one of wonder would be an understatement. I never knew the kind of love I could share with another person until I spent a year as G’s wife. We’ve had both ups and downs, but overall this past year has been a dream. We have wrestled through job changes and school schedules. We bought our first home and invested in a number of house projects. We’ve welcomed a nephew into the family and a puppy into our home. We’ve found ourselves stranded on the roadside, lost in unknown cities, and scratching our heads at the mysterious substance slowly continuing to crawl down our walls. And through all the trials and troubles and momentous memories, I could not be prouder of the man God has placed into my life to witness it all by my side. They say the first year is always difficult, but if the rest of our years roll the way this past one did, I will be completely content.

So, in honor of our one year, I’m throwing a flashback to our wedding vows and the promises we made on June 16, 2018 and continue to make every single day to one another…

G and I both wrote our own wedding vows. It took me several weeks to come up with the exact phrasing I wanted to vow to my husband while at the altar. And since I wanted to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually present when I wrote them, I waited until the night before our rehearsal to finalize them completely.  For once, I was intentionally last minute!

As we stood before the Lord and our family and friends to exchange our vows for the first time, we met one another’s eyes and shook our heads in acceptance and agreeance of the promises being made.  It was the moment that I looked forward to the most on our wedding day: becoming one before God and the people we love. As beautifully surreal as this moment was, I was so caught up in emotion during the moment that it was difficult to focus on the words we were vowing to one another. I remember the sincerity of G’s voice though and the genuineness of his words.

With two weeks of marriage behind us, I decided to reread his vows to me and WOW.  His words have an impact on my heart, but a thousand-fold more than on our wedding day. I do not believe I can ever read his promises too many times. My heart is so full.

Exchanging vows beyond your wedding day is a powerful thing. For years to come, G and I will have these written promises to one another to revisit. In hard times, during fights, when that honeymoon phase finally diminishes — our crumpled paper vows will be waiting to remind us of the plans we have as a couple and the reason why we made those plans.

His Vows

My Ashley, I could never have imagined the magnitude of God’s love before He brought us together. I will never forget the first time I looked across the room of our Bible study group and our eyes met. I knew at that moment I would never be the same. Now, here we are standing before each other and our loved ones in the presence of God. I’m extremely humbled and at the same time ecstatic to step into eternity with you as my best friend, lover, accomplice in mischief, teacher, and comforter. With God as our source of strength, we can accomplish anything, weather any storm, and love more than could be imagined. You are the most beautiful woman, in every aspect, that I have ever laid eyes on. You were put into my life to fill what was missing and to compliment what was already there. You make me want to be the best that I can be and the man you deserve. You encourage me through struggles and rejoice with me through triumphs. There is so much I expect out of myself to be your husband. If I fail at everything else but am the husband God has called me to be for you, then I will be content and consider that a success.

Sweetheart, I promise to honor you at all times. I promise to love you with all that I am. I promise to forgive you when I am offended. I promise to always be your rock and source of strength when you are weak. I promise to cherish you until my last breath. I promise to set a godly example as the leader of our family. I promise to always pursue you and never stop growing together. I promise to give you all that I am.

Ashley, I will love you forever and always.

Her Vows

Grant, today I take you to be my husband.

I am making a commitment to you, and with God’s help I promise to you these things:

I promise to give you the best of myself.

I promise to honor you and trust you and respect you for the person you are. I promise to treat your needs, interests and goals as I do my own.

I promise to grow and change alongside you, to become the people we are meant to be together for the remainder of our lives.

I promise to share your joy, to bring my joys to you first, and to choose joy in our relationship each and every day.

I promise to let you win every now and then on game nights. I promise to equally split our Netflix watching between the Office and everything else available. I promise to try and choose a restaurant by at least the third time you ask. I promise to continue to pretend knowing what you’re talking about when you discuss TIG welders and all other machining lingo. And I promise to hold you accountable to early morning workouts and evening sunset walks.

I promise to not only be your partner in life, but your best friend.

And most of all, I promise to love you with my whole heart forever and always.

To G: just as our first dance’s song lamented, “We’ve come so far since that day, and I thought I loved you then…” I’m excited to walk into this second year of marriage with you, and for all the blessings and challenges God has waiting for us. Thank you for not only being my best friend, but the answer to my prayers, my partner-in-crime, and both my biggest fan and biggest opponent. You keep me humble. You keep me steady. You’re my everything, babe.

All my love, friends, 

House Hunting Adventures v. 1

Lesson Learned v. 1: Look In The Basement First

I know I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but here it is officially: G and I are house hunting. Our current apartment lease is up in August, but we have the option to renew for another year if we would like. Though it looks like this is the most likely route we will take, we are casually working with a realtor and viewing potential houses. It has been a fun experience so far because we are able to see what we like and dislike, what we’re willing to compromise and not, and not feeling rushed as we look.

The Michigan housing market where we live is absolutely crazy. There are double the buyers than there are sellers, and that leads to many houses only being on the market for hours before they’re under contract. Though we do not feel rushed to purchase a home, if we ever do come across one we love and can picture as our own home, then we have to be prepared to JUMP. Luckily we haven’t felt that urge yet, but we sure have come across some very unique adventures in the houses we have viewed…

House #1 was a beautiful farm house built in 1900. I came across this house on Zillow and decided to drive by it one evening with G. We walked around the exterior and peeked in the windows after it became quite apparent the house was vacant. From the outside, we loved the look of this place. From looking in, though, we were a bit worried. It seemed as if the entire place had been gutted! The kitchen was bare save for a few hanging cabinets and the living room boasted a raw floor. Still, we were curious to see more as the price was ideal and the property fit our wants.

When we met with the owner and took a tour inside, our fears were confirmed. The house was completely gutted. The main floor bathroom had plumbing exposed and a wall missing. The upstairs bathroom was bare bones. Plus, the floors were uncovered, the stairs were shaky, and the windows on the South side of the house were missing.

Now, G and I are looking for a home in need of a remodel. We both are quite handy and love the idea of using our own elbow grease to make a house into our dream home. But House #1 would require way more manpower than feasible for first-time home buyers. We had no doubt we could make this place an amazing home, but it would take months to finish to even be livable. Deciding against the pains of attempting to receive home improvement loans or opting to live with either of our parents again as newlyweds, we said goodbye to House #1 and began looking through housing websites again.

House #2 was another farm house that looked great from the pictures online. (For anyone else house hunting, how many times have the pictures fooled you? We’ve gotten tricked a couple of times!) When we arrived, we took a quick walk around the property and I was really feeling it. Large backyard, out in the country, mature trees, pretty landscaping, and enough room to build G’s must-have pole barn someday. The house’s shingles would need to be covered as soon as possible, but changing the outside appearance didn’t seem too worrisome either. Overall, I was impressed.

Then we went inside. The interior wasn’t too bad either. The social gathering rooms were large and the kitchen had a lot of room for being very functional given a change here or there. The bedrooms were rather small but the house was built in 1900 and that comes with the territory.

Next came the basement, though, and that’s where things turned odd. For anyone who does not have the pleasure of knowing what a “Michigan basement” is, let me tell you: a Michigan basement is the term used throughout the state for a crawlspace that was later excavated to the depth of a basement. They are cold, dingy places that usually have dirt floors and cement walls. Basically they’re a space for storage and utilities, and nothing more.

Most farm houses in Michigan sport these kinds of basements if they are not crawlspaces. We were expecting this sort of space when we walked down the stairs. But what we found was so much more…

The basement in House #2 had a wall at the far end. Looking from the entrance, you could see rocks had fallen from the man-made hole used to install a new HVAC system. Next to these rocks was a door. Carefully we opened it to find a muddy room stacked with piles upon piles of dirt-filled bags. At least 200 filled bags lay against the foundation walls of this house, and we began to fear their necessity. Were the walls about to cave in? Was the basement flooding and this was the owner’s makeshift solution? We didn’t know, and we didn’t care to stay around to find out.

Leaving the crumbling house, we departed with our realtor to House #3. House #3 was a nice little ranch overlooking the local river. After severe flooding in our area a few months ago, we weren’t sure what “river front property” might mean with this house but decided to try our luck. In this case, the river lay 30 feet below the house’s rear and provided a beautiful overlook. The property had a lot of foliage, which G and I loved right from the start, and the house itself looked to be in good shape from the front. I remember pulling into the driveway and G saying, “Now this one. This one I like already.”

I definitely agreed by the time we took the tour of the main floor. The rooms would need updating but I could picture hosting family holidays in the living room and watching Disney movies with my future children in the family room. The master bedroom boasted an entire wall of windows which reminded me of our honeymoon cabin, and the kitchen was big enough to make me giddy. Plus the house had a three car garage attached that tickled both G’s and my fancies! For him, the garage meant space for his welding tools and future car projects. For me, it meant enough room for me to squeeze my car in during the winter months even with all his toys. It would be a win-win situation.

However, when we ventured into the basement for House #3, we began to feel a bit nervous. (There is something about basements; I think for the future I’ll just not go downstairs anymore.)

House #3’s basement was really nice. It had a finished section for entertaining complete with a word-burning stove and a door that exited the rear of the house to bring you within five feet of the descent to the river. The basement could be a beautiful space for game nights, and G and I envisioned building a deck out the backdoor looking over the river.

As I was perusing the space I found something incredibly troubling and all my future vision bubbles started to pop. The closest corner to the river’s embankment seemed to have been repaired. The entire corner was sunk nearly an inch lower than the rest of the flooring which made us worried about the foundation. Fearing the worst, we stepped out the basement door and took a look at the exterior of House #3.

And our fears were confirmed.

A half inch wide crack sprawled the house’s read wall. From the basement to the main floor, the crack traveled nearly ten feet and looking like one little push would make it web even further. For a house we were falling for, we were quickly realizing it was also falling… quite literally.

With an unhappy sigh and shrug of our shoulders, G and I decided to move forward with our house hunting and will be continuing to look with our agent for our first home.

We’re curious where our adventures will take us in the future…

Until next time, friends,