Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Can you suggest...in NYC?

Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry
New York City is my favorite city in the world. Nothing will give you more culture, more inspiration, or more personality than this city. It’s smelly, crowded, dirty, and everything goes at 110mph almost all the time, but it’s where my heart is. I love it.

Because my friends know how much I love it and how frequently I've visited, they often come to me for advice on what to do, where to go, how to get around, where to stay, etc. Each time, I write up a message with a handful of suggestions, but inevitably I forget something and have to send them more messages as I remember. I am hoping this post will alleviate those messages.

Here are my suggestions for visiting NYC, based on my OWN experiences. Keep in mind, my experiences aren't yours or even a precursor to what yours will be. It's just what I've learned on my travels there.

Sights to see

Empire State Building, Top of the Rock/Rockefeller Plaza, Statue of Liberty, High Line, Stonewall Inn, Coney Island, Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Times Square, Grand Central Station, World Trade Center/Ground Zero, Battery Park...and so many others!

Empire State Building

Rockefeller Center/Top of the Rock
You have two options for Empire State Building. One is to visit the building itself, OR...you can view it from Top of the Rock. Both buildings cost about the same for the tour, but I personally enjoyed the Rock better than ESB because I could actually see the ESB when I was at the Rock. Got great pictures there, too. The key to both is to visit at times that aren't busy. I've visited both of them around 10pm or later. I'm pretty sure they both have options to do a double-trip - one in the morning, one at night so you can see daytime and nighttime views, but check the websites to find out for sure. It’s SUPER windy at the top, so make sure you hang onto scarves and loose clothing. Top of the Rock is right on top of Rockefeller Plaza – shops, restaurants and people watching. There are also tours of Radio City Music Hall nearby, NBC studios (incl Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Fallon, etc.).

Bethesda Fountain, Central Park
Central Park is a given sight to see, but be cautious. Most of it is safe, but there are parts that aren't as you get a little further north in the park. I've kept close to the south end of the park and I've also visited Strawberry Fields, which is on the west end by 72nd, which isn’t far from the Dakota (John & Yoko Lennon’s residence). It’s also near legendary Tavern on the Green I personally prefer 72nd and then walk east and south from there to see the carousel, the pond, the lake, Bethesda Fountain, Bow Bridge, and some of the other familiar sights you’ve seen in TV and movies. Belvedere Castle is further north (up near 79th). I haven’t been there, but it’s a popular spot, too. You can also get a good view of the nearby skylines from the lake/Bow Bridge. Near the SE corner of the park is the Plaza Hotel. It’s between 58th & 59th just off 5th Ave. and You won't be far from Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Bergdorf’s and a few other choice shopping areas. 5th Avenue Shopping has its attraction, but if you really want something authentically New York, boutique shops are the best option. There are independent designers and shop owners who find unique, inventive things and there’s literally a shop for anything you could possibly want. Google is your friend. Oh, one last thing about Central Park: I think they still give horse & carriage rides (SE corner of the park across from the Plaza). It can be pricey, though, as are the pedicabs. And Central Park is absolutely ENORMOUS, so unless you spend the whole trip just at the park, you probably won't get to see more than a small portion of it. Personally, I enjoy a walk through the park, but it's my least favorite part of the city. I'd rather be on the streets or at a cafe or something.

Times Square (TSQ) is also beautiful, but INSANELY crowded most of the time. Lots of street peddlers there, too - either they're trying to give you comedy show tickets, their demo cd, selling pictures with Muppets or super heroes or some other shit. I can't stand any of it, but until you really experience TSQ, it's hard to stay away. This is where you'll find trusty chain restaurants like Olive Garden, TGIFridays, Sbarro, etc. My advice is to go later in the evening after the shows start. The streets are less crowded after 8 or 9. There can be some really cool street art vendors if you're into that sort of thing. And there are a lot of cops around, so it tends to be pretty safe, but I'd still recommend keeping your stuff in a crossover bag under a jacket, tucked close to you.

The view of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Esplanade
I have been to NYC 7 times and still haven't been ON the Brooklyn Bridge or visited the Statue of Liberty, but the best way to see both from a distance is by taking the Staten Island Ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan over to SI and back. The ferry is free and I'm 99% sure it runs 24/7, but double check if you're planning on going late at night. You can see the bridge and the statue both from a distance, which was enough for me. I'll eventually visit both at some point, but the ferry is a nice way to get both seen in a short time. You can also get a really nice view of the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn itself. We take the 2/3 subway to Brooklyn Heights (Clark St. station), then walk the three or four blocks west to the Esplanade. You can see the whole downtown Skyline from the esplanade, as well as the Bridge, Governor's Island and a smaller glimpse of the S of Liberty. Great way to knock several sights off your list without a great deal of time or expense.

Grand Central Station, Main Concourse

Grand Central Station is an experience all in itself. There are shops, restaurants, coffee shops, all kinds of beautiful art, etc. at GCS. It can be confusing, though. If you take a subway into Grand Central, sometimes (depending on which subway line you take) can be 3 to 4 stories below ground. Lots of steps. There are elevators, of course, but they’re pretty nasty. Honestly, I'd rather walk or take a cab there and stay above ground, BUT, if you do want to keep it cheaper, there's an express train that goes back and forth from Grand Central to Times Square. It's the 7 train and only runs for five stops. Three of them are in Times Square, one is near the NYC Public Libary (Also a great sight to see, next to Bryant Park), and the final stop at GCS. The Chrysler Building is just a couple blocks east of GCS, and the United Nations is just a few more blocks east from there if that interests you.

Battery Park (South edge of Manhattan) is a beautiful area and offers some great views of Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. It's also a very brief walk from Ground Zero/World Trade Center.

The North fountain in Memorial Park, World Trade Center

The 9-11 Museum and the surrounding areas are incredible. The museum itself can be pretty overwhelming emotionally, though. Nate and I visited it 3 years ago, but I don't care to go again. It was too much for me. The memorial fountains are gorgeous, as are nearby landmarks like Trinity Church. Be advised, there are a lot of vendors here, too, selling books and memorabilia for and about 9-11.

Some folks will tell you to visit Penn Station/Port Authority. Those folks have never f*cking been to Penn Station. It is a NIGHTMARE. If you've ever witnessed the frenzy of a koi pond when you throw food into the water and the fish literally eat at each other to get to it, then you've witnessed almost everything that Penn Station can show you. It's a main hub for commuters and 3 of the major subways in NYC. It's also right next to Madison Square Garden, which makes it a pretty popular travel destination for NYers, too. I despise it. It's a major stop for the 1, 2 and 3 trains along the west side of Manhattan. If you have to go anywhere around that area, I would honestly get off at the 1-train stop just south of there and walk back to wherever you need to go. Or, you can avoid it altogether and take the A, C or E train that runs just one block west of there. Sorry for sounding dismal, but Penn is truly the worst thing that NYC has to offer the world, in my opinion. The musicians photographed above are the only exception.

Stonewall Inn is in the heart of Greenwich Village and is a national landmark. It's the site of the birth of the Pride movement for the LGBT community. It's surrounded by wonderful shops, bars and cafes, but the community itself is what I love most about the area. Catch a drag or burlesque show, get a drink and take in the culture.

I've never been to Coney Island, but from what I understand, the area can be a little rough, so just be alert. Cab or car service will probably be your easiest option to get there, but they're expensive, probably $50+ each way. The subway is DEFINITELY cheaper, but can be a little tricky with transfers and schedules. Worst case scenario, if you get turned around, you can always go to ground level and hail a cab. Here's a link if you want to try it. http://traveltips.usatoday.com/coney-island-subway-11833.html

I’ve also never been to any of the museums, but obviously, they’re remarkable. For me, I just don’t want to spend 3-4 hours at a museum when there’s still so many other incredible things to do in NYC. I love art & science, but it’s unlikely I’d go unless I had light plans for the trip and could spend my time perusing. If this is your thing, though, there are often discount/free/pay what you wish days or times to visit. https://www.nyc-arts.org/collections/35/free-museum-days-or-pay-what-you-wish

Another thing I've missed so far is the High Line trail. The High Line, running along the western edge of Chelsea, was once a train line, but has since been turned into a park walkway above the sidewalk hustle and bustle. There are tours you can take, or just stroll it yourself. Beautiful boardwalks with natural plant life is a wonderful reprieve from the steel and concrete that covers so much of Manhattan.


My biggest trip for traveling in NYC is to skip the cabs and utilize the trains as much as possible. For the areas you want to travel, they're safe, even later at night, but obviously, stay alert and aware of where you are. I have a laminated map of streets & train lines that I bought for my first trip and I have packed it for every trip since then. You'll want the most updated version of the map as sometimes stations close or relocate and when you're underground, it's tough sometimes to navigate directions. It's called "Streetwise Manhattan" and you should be able to buy one at streetwisemaps.com for a few bucks. Make sure it's the laminated one, though. It folds up easily and tucks inside a purse or bag easily. It has the train stops as well as a majority of street names. It helps you keep your station stops straight if you take a train from one end of town to the other.

When it comes to the major stops on the North/South routes, uptown trains will be on the east side of the street, downtown trains will be on the west. And pay attention to the train you need. The 1/2/3 line all ride on the same track, but the 1 is the ONLY train that stops at every stop. The 2 and 3 usually just stop at the major stations. This will be more clear once you get the map I mentioned. It can be tricky, but totally manageable even for a first timer. You can pay per trip, but I would suggest getting a 7-day Metro Card. This covers all subways, transfers, and buses throughout the city and the boroughs. 7-day tickets are $32 each, whereas each ride if you buy individually is $2.75 each way. Then, I kinda pay karma forward when I'm done with my trip and give the card to someone on the train when I'm ready to leave town. I let them know I've got X number of days left on the card and they can use it. You don't have to, obviously, but I try to give as much back to New Yorkers as I can when I'm there. It's not an easy city to live in and every free train ride means a lot to them.

If I can't take a train, I call a car service for longer trips (say from the airport into the city.). They tend to be cheaper than cabs - they'll take your CC over the phone, then all you have to do is cash tip. This makes up for time spent stuck in traffic whereas a cab meter is running that whole time. They'll meet you at the airport baggage claim with your name on a little sign, they'll grab your bags off the belt, and carry them for you, as well. After a long flight, this is a welcome service. I've typically stayed in Harlem and there's a service that does a lot of business that either starts or stops in that area. http://www.newharlemcarservice.com/ Since most tourists don’t make Harlem a destination, I'd recommend the "Dial 7" service. https://www.dial7.com/ You can get quotes ahead of time. Car services are almost always ready within minutes to pick you up, so make sure when you order the car, you're ready to go. Busier times can be delayed, of course, but you'll want to be ready before you call. I *think* you can ask for a car service to pick you up at a specific time, too, but it's been a while since I've used them so I can't remember. Obviously Uber and Lyft are options here, too, but I’ve never used those services and don’t know what they cost in NY.

If you want to take taxi cabs, keep in mind, they can be expensive, especially in busy traffic. To save money, you can keep a few tricks in mind. You will want to pay attention to the direction of the one-way streets (and they're almost all one way). If you want to go uptown (north), get on a north-bound street. If you’re going downtown (south), get on a south-bound street. Walking the extra block can save you a few bucks and with several rides, that adds up. Cabs tend to try and rack up fares by taking the busier routes and that one block walk can turn into a four-block turnaround in a cab which equals higher fares. Also, if you take a cab, DO NOT PAY by Credit/Debit card. Thousands of people use cabs every day without issue, but I've had my cards hacked EVERY single time I've been in NYC and this is the only thing consistent with every trip I take. One ride I took cost me over $100 because the swipe strip "didn't work" on the credit card machine and came back with errors twice, so the cabbie took me to an ATM (like six blocks away, AND then back to my destination -- meter running the whole time, of course) to get cash. Well, the ride started out about $20, but by the time the swipes (that were actually working the whole time) went through, the extra time to go to the ATM and the cash I paid (as well as the fee I incurred at the ATM), it was a fortune. The MTA did reimburse me for the swipes, but it took me almost two weeks to straighten it out. Also, make sure you get a receipt for every trip, just in case. Even if you pay cash and the ride was fine, you may forget something in the cab and you'll want to make sure you've got the information to try and track it down later. You can get an estimate of a cab ride here: https://www.taxifarefinder.com/main.php?city=NY . Keep in mind if you cross a bridge or go through a tunnel, there are toll costs. Same goes for most of the interstates. They're not super high (maybe $4-5?), but they can add up.

Also, refer to your map before you flag down a cab so you know exactly where you're going. If you sound like a New Yorker, they'll treat you like one. If you sound like a tourist, they'll treat you like one of those. One of those is about $10-20 cheaper than the other. lol For instance, don't give a specific address for a location. Most things in NY can be referred to by their cross streets and you can walk the half-block to a block to where they are. Let's say you want to visit Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. The address is 234 W 42nd Street. The cross streets for this address would be on 42nd between 7th & 8th. Give the cabbie the cross streets and you’ll be let off at the corner and walk the half-block to the museum. I know this probably sounds confusing and if you don't want to dick with the hassle of knowing which side of which block to get to, then just tell them the approximate address. Most cabbies know where things are. Don't forget to tip them.

When you fly into NY (LaGuardia is my airport of choice - it's closer to Manhattan and is a cheaper cab/car ride and it's MUCH less hectic than JFK or Newark, in my opinion), ALWAYS always ALWAYS take a registered cab from a cab stand. They're the only "legal" cabs and your fares are regulated by the NYC MTA. Gypsy cabs (the random dudes hanging around by baggage claim asking if you need a ride) can charge whatever they want and they're not regulated by anyone. Danger, Will Robinson! (These are different from the car services who will usually be waiting at baggage claim holding a sign with a name on it. lol The cab stands are easy to find. Just look for ground transportation signs and look for the cab porters. Can't miss the giant lines. Give yourself at least 45 mins to get out of the airport because the lines move quickly, but they're always long.

I love NYC, but my biggest issue with the city is how much time it takes to get places. Cabs are the absolute fastest way, but they're also the most expensive - by a LONG shot. Also, the number of people at these landmarks can be overwhelming so lines are usually long. If you have anxiety, keep that in mind when you visit. I've typically skipped any guided tours, but that's your choice. Obviously, it'll take longer to do things that way, but I'm sure there are numerous things you'd learn about the sights by doing the tours. If you want a more personalized experience, residents of NYC give free, private tour experiences. It’s called Big Apple Greeters and it’s done entirely by resident volunteers: https://bigapplegreeter.org/ I haven’t used the service, but I think it would’ve been incredibly helpful for me the first time or two I went.

Must-have websites:

https://www.nycgo.com/ - this is THE best NYC travel site. They've got hordes of tips, sights, suggestions, etc.

http://www.mta.info/ - subway, train, taxi, and bus info

https://www.taxifarefinder.com/main.php?city=NY – estimating cab fare from anywhere to anywhere


One thing to remember is most refills aren't free in NYC, also? EVERYTHING is expensive, even McDonald's.

Sticky Wings at Dallas BBQ

Dallas BBQ - several locations. Times Square is where we usually go. Plenty of seating, almost never a wait, good food, decent staff, clean bathrooms, and great (huge!) drinks. We always get the sticky wings and cole slaw, but then again, I love buffalo wings more than most people, hence the reason this is a must-stop for me. People watching here is the best you’ll ever find. We witnessed a domestic assault one time! Crazy stuff.

3 Decker - Yorkville (91st and 2nd) Some of THE best food I've ever eaten anywhere, much less NYC. It's got a lot of Greek fare, but serves just about everything you can imagine. They have specials each day, as well as soups of the day. We went on a day where stroganoff was the special and chicken noodle was the soup. Both were fantastic. If you're looking for comfort food, this is the place to go. They're an UES landmark.

Churchwarden Pipes on display at Keens
Keen's Steakhouse – Herald Square. One of the oldest steak houses in NYC. The food here is absolutely exquisite. Lamb chops are divine. Prime rib is enormous. Ambiance is incomparable to anything else you'll find in NYC. keens.com for more history, but suffice it to say, you'll never have a better dining experience in NYC. I strongly recommend the raw oysters. This place is also at the TOP end of most folks’ budgets, or not even in the budget at all. Be prepared for the sticker shock.

Ellen's Stardust Diner (TSQ) - food is overpriced and pretty lousy, but the experience is a must-do in my book. It's always crowded, especially at "normal" meal times, but the wait staff sings and performs throughout the meal. Most of them perform in theatrical productions and work here to pay the bills, so you're getting pretty awesome talent even if the food isn't so great.

Cafe Lalo - UWS W 83rd & Amsterdam - This is the cafe from the "Pride and Prejudice" scene in "You've Got Mail". They've got a good brunch, bright atmosphere (although quite crowded, as most things in NYC are), and great pastries, drinks & coffees. From what I understand, they also have live music pretty often.

Ropa Vieja at Havana Central

Havana Central (midtown)- fantastic Cuban food and one of Nate's must-go's. Great atmosphere and sometimes they have live music, too.

Arriba Arriba - several locations, I prefer 9th & W 51st. - FANTASTIC Mexican food! I usually order something with shrimp - al ajillo? parrilla? I can't remember exactly, but it's a creamy shrimp thing in a tortilla and smothered in creamy sauce or cheese or both. Ask the server. It's fantastic. Their chips and salsa are great, too. I don't do tequila, but friends of mine say the margaritas are to die for and well worth the price.

Cupcake and obligatory glass of milk at Magnolia's

Magnolia Bakery - several locations, I prefer 69th & Columbus on the UWS. Best bakery anywhere I've found. Cupcakes are huge and worth the money. The place is always busy, but they're super friendly. Nothing beats a cupcake and a cold glass of milk when you just want to sit and relax for a few.

John's Pizzeria - several locations. We do TSQ. Fantastic pizza (some of the best in the city), great pasta and really good cocktails. It is usually incredibly busy, though, probably due to location.

Last, but not least, Playwright Tavern. Also in TSQ. Always busy. Always crowded. But FREAKING DELICIOUS! Pricey, of course, as most of NYC is, but really, really good food and a pretty cool atmosphere.

Other recommendations: Carmine's (Italian family style, TSQ), Buceo 95 (tapas, UWS), Pies n' Thighs (soul food, Brooklyn), Galaxy Diner (killer fried chicken & diner food, 9th & 46th), @Nine (Thai, 9th btwn W42nd & 43rd), and New Ivoire (African, Spanish Harlem). I haven't been, but I've heard fantastic things about Alice's Tea Room (there are a few locations). I'm not a big deli person, but word has it from locals that nothing beats Katz' Delicatessen (of When Harry Met Sally fame). Don't be afraid to give food trucks & carts a chance. You can't beat a pretzel in Central Park, or a hot dog or knish from a cart in TSQ. They are quick, relatively cheap (in comparison to everything else) and like with most things NYC: an experience to behold. :)

Where to stay

I have been fortunate enough to stay with friends most of the time, but if you don't have that option, my next choice would be AirBNB https://www.airbnb.com or Vacation Rental by owners: https://www.vrbo.com. Technically, these services are illegal in New York, but that doesn't stop residents from renting out rooms or their entire apartment. I've had incredible experiences with AirBNB and while I know that's often the exception, it's still worth checking out. Make sure to read reviews before booking, though. If there are a lack of reviews, that can be a tip that they're either getting poor reviews that get deleted or they're new to the home rental game and they haven't had many guests. I like this option because it automatically introduces you to a real NY resident who knows the ins and outs of the area regarding good food, safety, and transportation. They won't lead you astray. I've met some great people through this option.

If you must stay in a hotel, stay somewhere close and central to where you'll be spending most of your time. https://www.hotels.com/ can give you accurate reviews as well as candid photos by people who have stayed there, so you'll get a real picture of what the place is like. That's important. Look for Groupon deals or online booking codes to save some money. Hotels can be a little pricey.

Other random tips:

If you want to try and find where celebs are filming TV and movies:
https://www.onlocationvacations.com/ Locations are updated daily. Who knows, maybe you can play a walk-on part!

Always check the hotel beds for bed bugs. It’s more prominent in NYC than any other place. I’ve been fortunate not to have issues, but friends haven’t been as lucky.

Wash your hands CONSTANTLY and/or carry hand sanitizer. Had we done this, Nate wouldn't have had an ER visit with an ebola scare in 2014. No kidding. Haz mat suits and everything. Even then, you'll still probably get sick. NYC is a dirty city, especially where transportation is concerned: vehicles, trains, railings, etc. Baby wipes in the purse couldn't hurt when it comes to wiping down a seat somewhere.

Almost nowhere has a public bathroom, so be prepared to use bathrooms where you eat or shop. Don't ever use a subway bathroom. No matter how bad you have to pee, nothing is worth suffering those. SOooooo gross. NYC streets smell like trash, urine and exhaust (especially in the summer) to begin with, the last thing you want is tangible proof of where those smells come from. lol

You will not have cell phone service if you're in the subways. Steel and concrete are non-penetrable when it comes to cell towers, so you'll want to pay attention to the stops on the train. If you realize that you're going in the wrong direction, get off at the next stop, go above ground and get your surroundings, then ask someone who looks like they know where they're going. Despite rumors, most NYers are happy to help lost tourists. It may be beneficial to get a portable phone charger (or two). Just like there are no public bathrooms, there are no public electrical outlets either and if you're on the go all day, you'll wear through a battery pretty quickly. Charge everything completely every night so you're fully juiced. Nothing is worse than not having GPS in NYC.

And while we’re talking about steel and concrete, let me tell you, that shit gets HOT in the summer. Make sure you’re staying hydrated. Your best bet is to carry a bottle of water with you, but regardless, make sure you’re getting fluids. Between flying, walking, and all the rich food, your ankles will puff up like elephants. I speak from experience.

DO NOT JAYWALK! YOU WILL BE TICKETED!! You can cross at an intersection against a red light (although it's at your own risk. NYers are crazy drivers), but don't cross a street mid-way unless there's a crosswalk (sometimes they'll have them in busy areas).

You will most likely encounter homeless beggars. Don't even make eye contact. They're relentless. Just ignore and keep walking. Let them harass somebody else. I've been in some rough parts of NYC but I've never been scared for my safety. I just mind my own business and keep walking.

No matter what they tell you, nothing you buy on the street is authentic brand name, but they can be pretty convincing knock-offs. The exception is Canal street, although the safety in that area (Chinatown & Little Italy) can be tricky. Personally, it's not worth it to my safety to get a cheap knockoff for me to visit those areas. But, there are some fantastic restaurants in that area, so use your best judgment.

And really, that's the case no matter what you're doing. If it feels off, don't go there. Just be sensible, alert, and aware of your surroundings. Again, I’ve never NOT felt safe in NYC, but I’m also very cautious of my surroundings.

You can haggle prices at souvenir shops sometimes. I bought a suitcase about $20 less than its marked price, but would have never known to ask if I hadn't heard somebody else do it before me. (Also? LEAVE ROOM FOR SOUVENIRS so you don't have to spend money on more luggage at a tourist trap. lol)

You can sometimes get half-price tickets to Broadway shows at the TKTS booth behind the big red steps in TSQ. https://www.tdf.org/nyc/7/TKTS-Overview for more info about the hours, etc.

Waiting in line for the NKOTB Summer Concert Series
(the night before)
Good Morning America and the Today Show are both fun ways to get on TV if you want that experience. You can also check the talk shows and see if there are available tickets. The Today Show also has a summer concert series every Friday, all summer long. If it's a popular artist you really want to see, go early (like 10pm the night before, for instance) to get in line. Again, I speak from experience.

You can see a lot of great celeb comics, along with amateurs, of course, at places like Gotham Club. Many famous comics will do comedy shows during the week to try out new material or promote a show. Sometimes there’s no cover charge but a minimum drink order. I probably have connections for comedy shows, too.

The Love sculpture at 55th & 6th
Take lots of pictures – of important things and of non-important things. Subway signs, the front of a train, the side of a bus, the roof of a taxi, and the random neon everywhere can really give you memorable thoughts of the city when you get home and you’ve forgotten half of what you see. Take pictures of the restaurants you visit and the food you eat, or at the least, write down where you go so you can go there again next time. Be an artist and an explorer, but try to take in everything you’re doing. It goes so quickly. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to take your picture. Contrary to what you see in movies, not everyone will run off with your camera.

Don’t let New York City run you ragged. Everyone in that city is racing to get where they’re going. They can seem rude, but the fact is, they just don’t have time to talk. I always say please and thank you and I always tip well. They may not say anything about it, but I know it’s appreciated. If you are taking your time, though, make sure you stay out of the main part of the sidewalks or walkways.

Enjoy the city, its eclectic people, and incredible architecture. It’s a city like no other. Appreciate New York for being New York. It will love you back.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"Lent" me your ear, and I'll sing you a song*

The 2018 Lenten season begins tomorrow for those in many Christian faiths. It's a time of fasting, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and mourning: forty-six days spent reflecting on the past year's actions, sins and losses. Although I was raised in a non-denominational Christian home, we do have numerous Lutherans and Methodists in our family, as well as Catholics. I have often given up things for Lent, but until I became a Pagan, I never really knew why.

My path into Paganism has been one of true enlightening. I've learned more about all faiths as a natural progression from Christianity to Paganism. It was a very conscientious journey for me, and I wanted to make sure that it was what was best for my spirit. Obviously, it isn't for everyone and I respect that. And I thoroughly appreciate those of other faiths who have not pulled me toward what works for them. Thank you!!

Anyway, in learning about the many practices of Paganism, I also wanted to learn about what other religions and faiths practiced. I ventured into Buddism and Hinduism, as well as researching more about the Christian and Catholic faiths. I realized that my beliefs most-closely aligned with Paganism. I found that with all of the organized religions I looked at, I still had many questions that were left unanswered by their holy books and scripture, and when I asked followers of those particular faiths that the generalized response was "pray for answers and they will come". They never did. I needed more, I wanted to learn more. I wanted to know that what I practiced wasn't just an obedient following, but somewhere I could grow and make a difference with my spirituality. Paganism has been that for me.

I don't judge anyone for the God(s) (or Goddesses) they follow, but for me, I have been more at peace than I ever have anywhere else in my life. I feel in control of my life, that I have the ability to influence my fate and the fate of those around me by my actions and mental focus (some may call this prayer), and I feel more connected to my spirit than with anything else I've ever done. I loved being part of our various church families, don't get me wrong. I enjoyed my time spent in Sunday School and on praise team, but I still felt very...isolated...like in some way (or many ways), I wasn't measuring up as a "good Christian". I always felt like I was falling short. I don't feel that now.

As Lent begins for so many of you tomorrow, I will be focusing more on my own faith and my Craft. With me being Pagan, there isn't a weekly service I attend or specific bible I study that strengthens my beliefs or my practices. There are no radio stations dedicated to my appreciation of the earth or stars. And I don't have a priest or pastor to confess my shortcomings to. It's on me to learn more, pray more, think more, and do more with my spirituality. So, while you won't see me with an ash cross on my forehead tomorrow, I do hope you'll send kind thoughts and prayers as I, like many of you, head into a time of renewal and rejuvenation.

Happy Lenten season to those who practice, and for the rest of you, enjoy your Wednesday!

*I apologize for the lame, tongue-in-cheek title. It was the best I could come up with after a long, busy day.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Intentions

I saw something the other day that really resonated with me. It said that making New Year's resolutions is focusing in the past - changing things that didn't go right or weren't the best outcome. Instead of that, it said you should make New Year's Intentions. That's kind of a brilliant way to head into the new year with a positive attitude. So I've been rolling things over in my head and have come up with a small list as I head into the new year.

1. To be more present in my interactions. For example, more comments and fewer "likes". I have a tendency to respond with a LIKE or a click on the ♥ button. But seriously, how much extra work is it to say "That's great! Congratulations" instead of clicking a thumbs up? I want to become less passive and more passionate. It begins now.

2. More hands-on and less of what's on the screen. Electronics are necessary and I enjoy using them for fun, as well. But as I learned last month, doing crafty things are a lot of fun and I miss doing them. Scrapbooking, ceramics, painting, crocheting, gardening, maybe even learn to play piano. Who knows what I can do if I put my phone down long enough.

3. Volunteer work. The last few years, Nate has been really involved with volunteering for local charities and organizations. Now, I'm not foolish enough to think I'm suddenly going to start coordinating some big town function. That's not my style, nor do I have the energy for something like that. But I can take on smaller tasks. I'm not sure what I will become involved with, but it's definitely on my list for this year.

4. Writing. Every day. An author friend of mine wrote twenty-four books last year. My mind is blown. I haven't published a new book since 2016. I have a thousand ideas in my head, but I can't get them outlined on paper. I don't know if it's a true writer's block or if I'm just too much in my head sometimes, but for whatever reason, I haven't been writing. That will be changing. It may be a blog. It could be a book. It might be a love letter to my husband. But I will be writing more in 2018.

5. Spending more time with the people who matter and less with those who don't. I began doing this last year - cutting out ulcers from my life and focusing on the healthy people in my life. Crashing a car hurts like hell, but lingering in the wreckage is even worse. Getting away from flammable relationships is vital to survival. I will continue this in 2018.

Five intentions is probably a good number to start with, for now. As I adjust to the changes, I may add more or change things around a little, but for now, it's time to focus on these.

I encourage you to think about your intentions for 2018. What qualities and behaviors do you want to adopt this year? 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Saying Adieu to 2017

Every New Year's Eve, we have a tendency to dwell on the crappy stuff that happened that year and want to forget about it all as we head into the new year. I'm guilty of it, too.

In 2017, I lost my friend Heidi, who succumbed to the numerous illnesses that plagued her life for many years, as well as my Aunt Nette whom cancer took in June and my Uncle Leo who passed away in January. Our friend Doug also died unexpectedly this year, which has taken a toll on all of us. I eliminated some negative relationships, that while in the long run will be beneficial were still painful to me at the time. I continue to struggle with those losses. We bought three cars in 2017 due to accidents and mechanical malfunctions and, as we close out NYE, we're car-less again as the exhaust system fell apart just a few days ago. I was diagnosed with diabetes in September, which has forced me to make some pretty drastic dietary changes. Of course, we've all felt the political and social climate changes as we worked through the first year of a new presidency. It's so easy to focus on this stuff because loss always seems to have such a long-lasting effect as we work through emotions. But, I can't dwell very long. There were far too many good things that happened.

January brought me a surprise care package from my friend Amber in Alabama. We were chatting one day and she discovered that I'd never heard of some of the treats she was talking about. So, she packed up a box of goodies and sent them my way. A couple bags of chips, Grapico and a can of Buffalo Rock ginger ale made it to my house a couple days later. How much fun it was to try out new things from a different place. Thanks for a taste of the South, Amber! January also brought a visit from Shay's friend T-Dawg, who enlisted in the Navy last year. There were a couple dinners with family and a few dates with my hubby, too. The greatest part of January, however, was nailing my audition for "This is My Brave," a show designed to help eliminate the stigma of mental illness. It was the beginning step in a very powerful journey for me.

In February, my youngest bird left the nest. At the time, I really thought it was the end of all the goodness and purpose I had in my life. But within a day or two, I turned his bedroom into my library/office and all was right with the world again. A new great-nephew came into the world in the middle of the month. Thanks to a nice weather warm-up, I was able to take part in a photography project with my friend Amy. Nate and I celebrated our 17th anniversary. And I got to see Dirty Dancing in the theaters again!

March was filled with work, work, and more work. And yes, this is a good thing. I still enjoy my job, so being that busy makes me feel useful and like I'm contributing something to the community. When I wasn't working, I was rehearsing for the show. It's phenomenal to me that the show was completely sold out. We even opened our dress rehearsal to friends and family and those seats also flew out of our hands at the speed of light. The actual show went off without a hitch and all our hard work was worth it. Aside from our own, lives were touched that night. Nothing has made me prouder than to be a part of such a wonderful organization.

April showers seemed to keep us pretty quiet, but they did bring Sean home to visit - which, of course, included his favorite meals and board games galore. My bestie also visited and we pulled a most-of-the-nighter watching chick flicks and eating junk food. I can handle many more months like April. Any time I get to spend time with those I love are times worth repeating.

May rounded out spring with seven funeral calls in a row, which meant an extremely busy time at work, but a nice lead-in to the summer months. I stayed busy and kept my nose to the grindstone. Nate and I did blow a little bit of money on new ink, though. This made for tattoo number 13 for me. Dillon Deville at Destination Tattoos is the man!! Hours in the chair for touch-ups, but it was so worth it. Everything looked fantastic when he finished. Nate and I also started spending some time with friends in town. After twelve years in this little town and we're finally becoming townies! I also somehow found time to take a road trip to Missouri with Shay. We took the scenic route and enjoyed discovering some out-of-the-way sights to see. I'm always a sucker for a good road trip. The highlight of the month, though, was finally getting some much needed yard work done. Thanks to help from Teri and Joe, our yucky yard was presentable again!

June is the start of FUN SEASON! Brandi and I went to see Ed Sheeran at Wells Fargo Arena. It was her fifth show and my first. With the way that ginger strums, it won't be my last. He's remarkable and I still can't get ÷ out of my head. Even now, six months later, it's on repeat constantly. Ed was quickly followed by New Kids on the Block. I only went to one show this tour, but I got to go with Ann Marie and our friend Cathy (whom I hadn't seen in FAR too long). AM came here to visit her kiddos and I rode back to Indianapolis with her. Ironically, I've seen New Kids twice in Indy now even though it's not a typical travel destination of mine. The show was, of course, fantastic, and we had a blast. AM got some Donnie love and I got Steak n' Shake, so I'd say we both won!  Later in the month, I took part in a mini-show for This is My Brave for south-central Iowa NAMI. It was a casual gathering of folks, but just as impactful as March's show and an honor to be a part of. Work was quiet most of the month, but there was so much fun everywhere else! I was incredibly thankful for these fun times since June was kind of rough emotionally.

It's July! You know what that means: Family Freedom Fest in Atlanta! This marked the third year Shay and I spent the 4th of July (and my birthday) in Georgia. There were fireworks and sparklers and burgers, oh my! I checked "Visiting a Southern Plantation" off my bucket list, as well as driving through part of Alabama. We even stopped at one of those historical markers on the way home. July is my favorite month of the year because it means spending time with friends who have become family over the years. We're always welcomed with open arms, even if my little brother Mije does shoot me in the face with a Nerf dart. (Vengeance will be mine!) July also brought us a new kitty! Months earlier, a friend of ours was fostering 1-week old kittens, one of whom was named Chaos by the Animal Rescue League. Having just lost our Chaos in December last year, I knew it was meant to be that we would adopt this Chaos, too. As the runt of the litter and having lost her mom to an accident, the odds weren't in her favor. She was bottle fed for a few weeks, then was placed with an adoptive nursing mama cat at the shelter, which helped her thrive. When the little moppet was barely two pounds, we brought her home at last. Since there could only be one Chaos and we felt it was fate that brought us together, we decided on the name Kismet. Her roly poly butt has made up for lost time and now tops the scales at nearly twelve pounds. (Time for a diet, Kizzy!) She is a true joy to have around, though (even if she has walked off with every pen and pencil I own). July also brought me progressive lenses. I was dreading the whole bifocal thing coming into it, but now that I've gotten used to them, I'm really digging the whole thing. It helps that my frames are cute.

August. Iowa State Fair. 'Nuff said. (And apparently that's all that really happened in August. I even double-checked my Facebook timeline to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything. Nope! Just a quiet month.)

September started off with our town's annual Labor Day Celebration. Since Nate's on the committee, I helped out a little, too. Judging cute babies and pets in fun costumes is just up my alley! I was also contacted by a teacher at a high school about an hour away and asked to speak about writing as a career. As a kid, I always wanted to be a teacher, so this was a brief chance to fulfill my dream. Talking to the kids at Clarke County Community High School was the highlight of my autumn! Having this opportunity sparked some ideas for me and I began researching for my newest book idea. As a bonus, my Time After Time series was put in our local library this month, as well. I love the idea that people in my community are reading my creations. We rounded out September with a road trip to Minnesota for my nephew's wedding. It was 50's theme (which, if you know me, you know this is totally my thing), so our family went all out with petticoats, fedoras, and pompadours. We haven't had this much fun as a family in a long, LONG time. Add in shopping on the square in the cutest little Minnesota town, a detour through rural Wisconsin on the way home, and discovering a new (phenomenal!) place for hot wings called DSpot and I'd say September was a success!

October is my second favorite month of the year. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday because I love a good costume and candy rocks my socks! I also dig the cooler weather, the fall colors and the crunch of leaves under my feet. Since the heat subsided a little, I found myself taking a few walks. I lost about ten pounds this month, so between that, eating better and my medication, I was able to get my diabetes under control pretty quickly. My biggest fear is becoming insulin dependent, so keeping that at bay is at the top of my priorities. Another This is My Brave mini-show brought me back together with the cast (which I use loosely because these people are my people. They get me - and that's really tough to do). In an attempt to get my mental health back on track, I tried to pull away from social media a little bit, too, which meant more reading (one of my favorite activities) and writing (what I should be doing every day). Heading into November (which is National Novel Writing Month), I wanted to have a good grasp on the beginning of a story, so I spent much of the last part of October doing just that. Also? Samhain! Halloween is awesome, but it all began centuries ago as the Pagan Celtic celebration of Samhain. I became Pagan a few years ago around the time of Samhain, so it's my personal anniversary of a very freeing time in my life. As usual, I set up my annual altar with candles, fall-time decorations (like leaves and pumpkins), and photos & memorabilia of my ancestors. I've always been a big photo person, but this time of year allows me time to really connect with those who paved the path for me and our family. Me being a witch has scared a lot of my Christian family members because of their faith in Jesus, but I promise, nothing I do is dark, evil or Satanic. I just have a deeper appreciation for nature - the planet, flora and flauna, as well as the sun, moon, and stars. (Okay, mostly I just burn candles, treat ailments with homemade cures, and hoard pretty rocks. lol) Our ancestors all used to live and die by the force of the moon and seasons (think about crop sowing and reaping, livestock breeding, preserving seeds and food, etc.), so bringing that back to the present helps me feel more in touch with who I am and where I come from. Sorry for derailing a little bit from the point of the blog, but I know I have some new readers who may not understand being Pagan, so I wanted to give a brief description of what it means to me.

November hit me square in the face. Okay, maybe not November, but definitely NaNoWriMo. But then again, it always does. The point behind NaNo is to write 50k words (essentially a novel) in 30 days. There are thousands every year who do it. I, however, am not one of them. I have big intentions and start out solid, but I fizzle about 10-15,000 words in. This year was no different in that respect. It was different, though, in that I was actually able to write anything. I've struggle so hard with it in recent years because of the Lyme, that I happily claim this year's NaNo as a win in my book. I didn't win by standard qualifications, but any words I can get down at all are better than I've done in a long time. I blame the rest of November for getting me off track from NaNo. There were two more This is My Brave mini-shows and I made the decision to edit my speech a little. This was a tough task, so making it through the rewrite felt really good. (And it also offset a couple thousand words for NaNo, so there's that.) Throw in Thanksgiving travel to see Nate's family, him tossing his hat in the politics ring for a local election, and a large event I planned for work, and it's no wonder NaNo took a header. Fortunately, everything went well (except my weight loss path, that is) and overall, November was a good month. (Did I mention I'm growing out my hair?)

Here we are, the last month of 2017. There's work, of course, as well as family stuff. While Shay left the nest in the spring, he moved back in this month. Adulting is tough for all of us, but kiddo needed a soft place to land after a car accident, so here we are. He also made the official decision to join the US Marine Corps. He passed his ASVAB and physical, and is legally the property of the government as of April 2nd when he ships to boot camp. I, of course, am scared to death - that's my baby, after all. But he is psyched and excited, so that's what matters. In order to take my mind off of my fears, I decided to take up some hobbies that don't include screens. Crocheting is my first venture and I have to say, it's going well. As with everything I do, I've obsessed about it on Pinterest and pinned at least a thousand patterns for blankets, scarves and clothing I'll never make. Go figure. I just bought my first Tarot deck a couple weeks ago, and I'm hoping to take up ceramics or something else creative soon, too. Until then, the crocheting makes me happy. So do road trips, so Nate and I took one - to Texas to see Sean for Christmas. When we planned the trip, we were envisioning warm and sunny weather and an all-over reprieve from the cold bucket of suck that Iowa can be in December. Texas had other ideas. Regardless, though, the change in scenery was appreciated and nothing beats spending time with my kids. We had a really, really great time just slacking off for a few days and enjoying the no-stress environment for the holidays. An added bonus of our trip was getting to meet my sister, Linda for the first time. As many of you know, I learned in 1995 that I had two half-sisters I'd never met before. It took me far too long to find them and too long to get down to see them, but meeting Lindi and her son Michael was a dream come true. We arrived home on Christmas day to a mailbox overflowing with holiday greetings - one of which being the announcement that my nephew and his wife are expecting baby #4 in June. We rounded out the year with a holiday potluck with my extended family. Despite a snow storm, we all gathered at my cousin's house for dinner and conversation. My family may be a little nuts, but I love 'em. Merry Christmas, indeed!

In 2017 we've strengthened bonds with friends we already had and also brought numerous new friends into our lives - Michelle, Torianno, and all my Brave folks for starters. It gave us new babies (Congratulations, Crystal & Sydney!), new family members (welcome to the family, Stephanie and Lydia!), and new ventures. Sure this year has had its share of problems, but none that can't be fixed with all the good stuff that happened. As I head into 2018, I look forward to a year of intention and purpose - emotionally, spiritually, physically, and professionally. I hope to have you all along for the ride (although if my car breaks down, you may have to do the driving)!

Happy New Year!

Monday, March 20, 2017

So, I did a thing

...an awesome, incredible, great, horribly painful, terribly sad, emotionally-disastrous thing.

I addressed my demons.

I opened the closet door, dragged out my mental health skeletons and purposely shoved them into the spotlight. Had this been at the behest of a therapist, I'd have kicked and manipulated things so that door was never opened again. Honestly, I'd been getting along really well and felt that I was managing my mental health pretty well. My medication was working, I had very few crying fits that hadn't been brought on by an episode of This is Us, and overall, I felt good. So why dredge up the past and exhume the decaying corpse of depression, you ask? To save a life. Possibly, to save many. 

A couple months ago, I auditioned for a non-profit event called "This is My Brave." It's an organization that was created by a couple of women who felt that sharing their stories of mental illness could benefit others - that storytelling saves lives. I saw the post about auditions on Facebook and thought very carefully before doing anything, but my inner superhero had a pocketful of Kryptonite for my sense of self-preservation and I threw caution to the wind. Initially, I didn't even think of how I would be affected by what I had to share; I just thought, "maybe someone can relate to what I've been throughand they won't feel alone." 

Holy. Shit. Y'all.

People warn you not to practice channeling the evil on Ouija boards, don't open paint cans in an enclosed space, and don't drive drunk. But they don't warn you about digging up old ghosts of mental illness without a therapist on stand-by. It caught me off guard, knocked the wind out of me, and I have been flailing like a turtle on its back ever since. I thought I'd dealt with this stuff and tucked the remnants in convenient, little spaces in my brain. The organized apothecary of memories has since been obliterated. There are slivers of wood and shards of glass everywhere - which is kind of ironic considering I don't really even trust myself around sharp objects at this point. (Kidding. Sort of.)

I feel like the Red Cross should be here in a tent set up outside my house with the aftermath this thing has left. Don't get me wrong - I am incredibly proud to be part of the show and I hope that my story reaches someone -- many of someones, if possible. This experience has been nothing short of amazing and I expect the compilation of all our stories will be a powerful catalyst for those who suffer from mental illness. For that, I am so grateful and I am humbled to be a part of it. I'd do it again and again if it means touching just one more person. That being said, if I'm distant and quiet, or possibly quick-tempered and edgy - this is why. I am still trying to pick up the shreds. I'm searching for stronger bottles, thicker cabinet doors, and a less combustible space to store these emotions of mine.

I will be okay. Not today. Not tomorrow. Probably not even next week, but at some point, the dust will settle, the smoke will clear and the light will sparkle in my eyes again. Until then, don't walk around here barefoot; the Red Cross hasn't returned my call yet, so you're on your own for first aid.

*Author's note: I am not suicidal. I am not a danger to myself or others. I have felt very much like not being alive, but I don't want to kill myself. Please don't freak out and call the authorities for a welfare check.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Women are done...

Bear with me...long, but well worth the read. Also, this may seem like a political post, but it's really about much more than that.

People have been blowing up my timeline with propaganda regarding all the women who have come forward to make claims about Donald Trump sexually harassing them. "Why'd they wait so long?" "That happened ages ago, who cares?" "A month before the election and they're just NOW coming forward? Agenda much?"

Here's the thing: I don't know if he did or did not harass, belittle, assault, offend, fondle, grope, or rape the women who have come forward (or those who haven't). But what I DO know is that women don't come forward because no one takes us seriously when we do.

Sexual assault/harassment has always been (and will always be) an incredibly difficult thing to prove and sadly, without proof, no one believes the victim. If there aren't scratches and bruises, bodily harm or other signs of physical battery, the victim is dismissed. They're ignored. They're laughed at. They're made a spectacle of. They're belittled. They're mocked. They're called liars, gold diggers, attention whores and manipulators.

But I want you to imagine for just a minute....

And please be honest with yourself...

You're a woman in the presence of someone famous who has more money than God, and he touches you inappropriately or makes offensive comments about your body. Now, you don't know that he's done it to other women or not. You only know that he's done it to you. Maybe you work for him. Maybe you're networking with him. Perhaps he's just someone at the same event you're at. All you know is that he's rich, powerful, and has a team of lawyers who would rip you to shreds in court if you even THOUGHT of filing a charge against him. They would dredge up every boyfriend you ever dated, show every compromising photo of you they can find, and ask you when you lost your virginity. They would question how you dress, whether you've ever had plastic surgery, and most importantly, if you told that man that you didn't appreciate his comment/behavior.

Women don't come forward because this happens every day. Every. Single. Day. And nobody gives a damn. Not the police, not the courts, and certainly not this man who just tried to hug you, grab your ass, kiss you, or paw at you like some possession he just bought at Sotheby's.

Until we stop giving our power to men like this, no one will ever take us seriously. Until we stop giving them our blind eyes, our averted glances, and our uncomfortable, but tolerating demeanor, we will always be questioned about what WE did to encourage THEIR bad behavior.

Take it back, ladies. Don't let your self-doubt determine your voice. And men? Imagine your daughter, sister, mother or wife in that situation. How would you protect her? Would you protect her at all?

I don't care who you vote for in this election - that's between you and your ballot, but if you truly believe that Donald Trump (and men like him) is doing nothing wrong and that somehow all these women who have come forward are liars, you need to step back, sit down and listen up: women are done taking your shit.

Our mothers gave us life, our ancestors gave us a foundation, suffragettes gave us our voice, and I am giving you permission. No one else can decide how you are treated. Speak out. Stand proud. Be bold. Don't quit.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years

It's been 15 years, but I am certain you know exactly where you were and what you were doing. I know I can.

It's hard for me to think about that day. My kids were still so young and, as far as real life goes, I was still fairly naive. Living in the Midwest tends to create a safety net that makes us a little disconnected with things that happen elsewhere in the world. We still wave at cars as we pass them on gravel roads. We know our neighbors - if not by name, at least by face. We still tend to leave doors unlocked sometimes and we trust that our kids know where they need to be when the streetlights come on at dusk. That day changed all that for everyone.

I can't tell you what it was like for people in Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., or New York City that day and I thank God that I can't. But for me, and I'm sure many others, it took away my sense of security. I locked doors again. I looked at people in public with scrutiny instead of recognition. I was more protective with my kids and where I allowed them to be - all the time, not just when it started getting dark. And I worried. Day. Night. While I slept. I worried. I still worry. As my youngest child is just weeks away from signing a contract with the U.S. Marines, I worry. With my oldest child living 700 miles away, I worry. I worry for my grandchildren who haven't even been conceived yet. I worry for friends living in big cities where this could potentially happen again. I worry. I worry. I worry.

In October 2014, my husband and I visited the 9/11 museum in New York. I'd been to Ground Zero at least twice before that, seeing it at varying stages of rebuilding and was profoundly affected each time. But to see, touch, hear, and even smell (yes, some scents never go away for those of us with empathic abilities) the relics and memorabilia from that fateful day was more than I could handle. I sat outside for quite a while after visiting the memorial and just cried. Grief? Sorrow? Pain? Survivors' guilt? A combination of it all? I can't go back there again, I do know that much. But I encourage everyone to visit it at least once in their life. 9/11 changed us all, but that museum will change you all over again in a completely different way.

As always, I honor those who lost their lives that day, as well as those who survived. I share your pain and my strength with you all.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

My Lyme Road

For those close to me, you probably know the transition my health has taken over the last several years. But for those who are new to my life or those who may just be on the outskirts or might not understand how my Lyme disease has affected me, I want to summarize it. It also helps me to put things down on paper so I can see the progress I've made on days when it feels like all I do is move backward.

I want to state blatantly, though, this post isn't for sympathy or for someone to tell me how strong I am. I'm not. I'm a survivor. That doesn't make me strong. Please lend your understanding, but keep the sympathy for someone who deserves it.

Lyme disease is caused by spirochete bacteria (they look like little corkscrews) called borrelia bergdorferi. They are typically vomited into the body by a tick after it bites and feeds on your blood. Sometimes there's a rash and flu-like symptoms. In my case, there were not and I don't remember the bite. So, I could have had it from just a few months before testing positive, or I could've had it since I was a kid...or anywhere in between. Symptom wise, I believe I was infected somewhere between 2004 and 2007. For those who are immediately diagnosed, treatment is quick, usually simple and while the antibodies are always there, generally speaking, it's "cured" by most definitions. Testing is incredibly difficult because accurate testing has not been developed. It's a hit-or-miss kind of thing, so the fact that my tests came back positive is miraculous enough. Most Lyme patients don't get solid proof that they have it.

For those of us who are bitten and don't realize it, it turns from acute Lyme disease to chronic Lyme disease. It's also incredibly difficult to treat because the CDC does not recognize chronic Lyme disease as an actual disease. They (along with most medical doctors) believe that once a round or two of antibiotics is administered that the disease is cured. Any symptoms beyond that treatment is considered "post-treatment Lyme disease treatment" and "in rare occasions lasts more  than six months". Considering the hundreds of thousands of people with ongoing Lyme disease, this is not the case. It's not "rare" that it lasts longer than six months. Almost everyone who has been treated for Lyme disease beyond the immediate period following an infected tick bite goes on to suffer from months and years of ongoing symptoms, if not a lifetime of fighting relapses and risks of reinfection. It's important to know that while the CDC is one of the most knowledgeable sources on most diseases, for years they refused to recognize the sheer volume of patients diagnosed with Lyme disease. They hid the truth from the public, and they've hidden treatments, tests and other truths about the disease itself from those who suffer from it. I caution anyone with Lyme or if you think you may have Lyme to research as much as you can, but seek treatment from a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor. These doctors have been specially trained and certified for the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease and its co-infections.

Anyway, back to my truths...

Those corkscrew bacteria are Satan in a molecule. They are like teenage boys: they screw EVERYTHING. Cells, organs, blood, tissue, muscles, brain, eyes, ears....you name it and it's going to penetrate it. In the late-stage chronic lyme sufferers (like myself), when it penetrates the brain, it literally drills into the gray matter in your skull and permanently damages everything in its path, microscopically speaking. For me, it started in my thyroid and moved up my spine, through my cerebellum and into my temporal lobe. It has affected memory, hearing, speech, body temperature balance, ability to think of correct words and phrases, moods, and caused me increased sensitivity to noise, temperature and smell. I have muscle fatigue, pain in most of my joints, exhaustion in general as well as everything I mentioned above. Sometimes, I have good days. Most of the time, I'm average. But my bad days are bad. Those are when I stay in bed, limit my interaction and sleep - not just for recovery, but for the sake of saving relationships because my moods are volatile and I can't control them well. Anxiety attacks can come out of nowhere, last for hours and take days to recover from. So can bouts of rage and anger. These mood swings zap energy from me and it takes me a long time to get over them, much less the repercussions of the people who are in the path of my tornadic destruction.

It also affects my balance, my equilibrium, my organ function, my immune system, my breathing/cardio abilities, and my energy levels. You'll sometimes hear me refer to having -or not having- spoons. That's based on the Spoon Theory, which describes what many chronic illness sufferers deal with: http://www.butyoudontlooksick. com/articles/written-by- christine/the-spoon-theory/

Again...the symptoms aren't all the time...and not all symptoms at once (usually)...but my bad days can cover quite a few symptoms in varying degrees of strength.

As far as the timing of my diagnosis, I can only go off of what my symptoms were and when they developed. While depression and anxiety have been lifelong issues for me, the majority of the other symptoms began in the mid-2000s. My mother-in-law remembered me talking about being bitten by a tick in 2004 after we'd taken in some baby bunnies who'd been abandoned by their mother, and I remember picking numerous ticks off of them when we first brought them inside. I don't remember the bite, but my MIL did. By January 2008, I had dealt with several episodes of Bells Palsy (where it looks like somebody's had a stroke and half their face is sliding off their skull), which is usually a symptom of late stage Lyme. I had major health issues in 2012 when my reproductive organs began failing. I lost my right ovary in Feb 2012 to a dermoid teratoma tumor, then lost the uterus and cervix in May that year. Six months later, I went back under the knife a third time so the doctors could repair what didn't heal correctly. Menopause began shortly after that and I've dealt with numerous hormonal changes. This was also when the major mental and emotional issues began. They never seemed to get better. I blamed all the anesthesia, but as it turns out, most likely, it was Lyme related. I was finally diagnosed in 2014 at the urging of several friends, and it has pretty much consumed my life since then.

I have taken a plethora of antibiotics, both oral and intravenously. I have changed dietary habits, added numerous vitamins and supplements, hormone replacements, anxiety and depressive medications as well as hordes of natural and homeopathic regimens to help ward off the symptoms I deal with.

I have, during the course of my treatment, felt suicidal and hopeless more often than I care to admit. I also push people away who either aren't strong enough to deal with the ugliness of this disease or lack the strength of dealing with me while I fight this disease. I am incredibly difficult to love right now. I tend to keep to myself as often as possible.

Again, I don't want sympathy or pity. But I will happily take your acceptance. I'll take your attempt at understanding. I'll take your commitment to learn more about it. I'll take your proactive approach to preventing it in your own lives and the lives of your pets and children. I'm not strong. I'm not a hero. And I don't deserve your admiration for persevering through this hideous disease. But I will gladly help you learn more so you don't wind up like me.