Making the Transition

When I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, I teamed up with an organization called The Girls Gone Green to document my struggles and achievements in being newly vegetarian. I wrote a few blog posts for their website and quickly earned the support of other local vegetarians. And then I failed. I failed big. I might have lasted less than a week, but I think that was mostly because of my poor planning and, as I am wont to do, my eagerness to just dive right in. The last thing I wrote to The Girls Gone Green was an apology letter. Clearly, I just wasn’t ready to be a vegetarian. This was seven years ago.

In fact, I’m still not ready to be a vegetarian. And this is something I’ve been thinking about quite often in the last few months. Do I enjoy bacon? Of course. How about chicken? Sure! And my recent introduction to haddock and fried clams assures me even more that I’m not ready to make the transition to vegetarianism just yet.

However, I have found other ways to compensate for my inability to change my diet. (I say compensate because I do feel a little bit of guilt over my conscious decision not to make the change. I live with a sometimes debilitating health condition that causes me to avoid changing my diet too much. Also, laziness.) I actively seek out the kind of meats that are raised and cared for by local farmers. But I also seek out cruelty-free (CF) and vegan products that I use everyday.

I’m talking hand soap, makeup, hair care products, etc. At the start of the new year, I brought nearly all of my Bath and Body Works lotions and body sprays to my new job and gave them away. I quickly replaced them with CF and vegan products. Not one to wear a lot of makeup, I wasn’t terribly inconvenienced by the lack of options in most stores. And the sticker shock I was anticipating never even occurred. Sure, your Suave shampoo might only cost three bucks less than my fancy, vegan shampoo, but MY GAWWWD – have you ever felt hair that has been washed and conditioned with plant-based nutrients? That alone is worth the extra three bucks. BELIEVE ME.

A few friends have asked about the products I’ve switched over to, where to find them, and how well they actually work. Disclaimer: I am so spankin’ new at this, so don’t hold anything I say against me. I could be totally wrong about some things. For example, a lot of products will claim “this product was not tested on animals,” leading one to believe the item is cruelty-free. It’s not. It just means the final product wasn’t tested on animals; a whole ton of its ingredients were tested on animals. I am aware of this now, so I tend to do more research. Another claim to be wary of: when a company claims that its products are cruelty-free or vegan, that could just mean the brand or product line is CF or vegan. Yet you’ll notice it was distributed by Unilever or Proctor & Gamble, two larger companies that just took your money because they appealed to your ethical conscience. I’ve been suckered by this a few times myself.

So, here is a list of products I actively use after much research and a whole lot of asking questions:

Lotion – This was kind of the product that started it all. During my first spring in Cleveland, my daughter and I attended VegFest. It’s a huge expo that promotes vegetarian/vegan food systems, cruelty-free/vegan body products, animal welfare groups, and sustainable, ethically-made clothing, among so many other things. I happened upon a vendor booth for Perfectly Posh and ended up buying a body butter that smelled like sugared violets for $22. It took me days to come to terms with the fact that I’d just spent $22 on lotion that I could easily buy at CVS for $4. But could I really? No, I couldn’t. I loved how it made me feel on the inside (cheesy, I know), and I worked really hard not to waste it. It also made me start thinking about how easily I could move away from chemical-based, yet less inexpensive items and put my money into a company with products I could trust. Perfectly Posh provides CF and vegan products, like lotions, lip balms, body sprays and perfumes. Pacifica is another company that does the same.

Shampoo/Conditioner – I have used two different brands, Renpure and Love Beauty and Planet. Both leave my hair feeling really good and smelling even better. I do have to admit that I have a preference for Love Beauty and Planet, though. During the last few months we lived in Cleveland, my well water was consistently failing inspection so we removed the water softening agent. My hair still felt incredible. Renpure has a delicious scent, too, but if I had easy store access to Love Beauty and Planet products, I’d buy those first. Anyone reading this from Ohio? Giant Eagle grocery stores have a fairly good selection of LBC products.

Lip Balm – I will admit, I am kind of in love with Bath and Body Works lip glosses. They’re long-lasting, taste great, and aren’t terribly sticky. But they do test their ingredients on animals. So I had to chuck those, which hurt. I mean, when you find something you love, it’s hard to let go. Except I did find some great replacements. In fact, one of them was discovered today! As I mentioned earlier, Perfectly Posh has a great lineup of lip care items. However, this afternoon I was at a local arts and crafts festival and came upon a small home-based company called Vermont Simple Beauty. Their product label only says “This product not tested on animals,” but I don’t know what the regulations are for small companies and cruelty-free labeling. So I asked. Being able to talk face-to-face with the makers of these products helped so much, since they were open to sharing with me the ethical sourcing of all their ingredients. This doesn’t have a mention on their website, unfortunately. Which, I guess, means when in doubt, ask! And because I did, I came home with an 8-oz container of grapefruit-and-lily-scented face moisturizer (called Ambrosia on their website) and a maple-flavored lip balm. Only in New England would I ever find maple-flavored lip balm.

Deodorant/Anti-Perspirant – This is a tough one. I have tried SO MANY BRANDS, it’s ridiculous. Tom’s of Maine is the most accessible in a grocery store, but it doesn’t work on me. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else, so play with it. See if you like it. If you don’t, however, there’s always Crystal. It is a deodorant, not an anti-perspirant. I still feel a little…uh, sticky (?), but I don’t stink. And that’s a win!

Sunscreen – Only recently did I realize this would come up. I use sunscreen a lot these days because my new house has a pool. Also, New Hampshire is indescribably beautiful and it makes me want to be outside ALL THE TIME. About 20 years ago, I started taking a birth control pill that affected my skin in the weirdest way. I wore baseball caps in the ocean and slathered on 80 SPF to curb the raccoon mask that developed on my face every damn year. Even when wearing sunscreen, my face would become so discolored from sun exposure that I eventually stopped going to the beach. Then I switched pills. It may have been the prescription that did it to me, but every hormone pill can lead to that facial discoloration, also known as Pregnancy Mask. Yet how many people think about CF or vegan sunscreen? Or even know where to find it? Thankfully, I did! Sun Bum sunscreen has a line of face lotions, body lotions, and lip care all with SPF. I found a 50 SPF sunscreen created for my face and a face stick in 30 SPF. I still use Banana Boat sunscreen spray for the rest of me (see, it’s a process), but I’m still coming to terms with paying $16 for a 6 oz spray can. Gimme another year or so.

Makeup – The only makeup I really wear is lip balm (see above) and face powder. I currently use Cover Girl loose powder, but that’s because I’m too lazy to shop for actual makeup. When I do make that transition, though, I will more than likely head to Beauty Without Cruelty. While I’m not big on face makeup, I do have a lot of nail polish. That is a bigger purge session than I want to even think about right now. But again, in time…

There are a few other things that I’m still in the process of discovering and learning about, like shaving cream and toothpaste. I am a dental freak of nature. Any changes in my toothbrushing regimen might just make the stability of my entire mouth collapse into a yearlong pain-fest. So that is one product I refuse to budge on. Shaving cream, though, could be substituted with my hair conditioner – something I’m not too classy to admit I’m willing to do.

By the end of the year, I will begin working on planning fewer meat-filled meals and, well, planning meals in general. My lack of a plan was what led to my emotional breakdown the first time I tried to go vegetarian. I know better now.

So, help me out, readers. (All four of you. Ha!) Any suggestions? Any bits of information I’ve gotten wrong? I’m eager to learn about vegetarianism, CF and vegan products, anything!

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Major Savage & Old Tom, Part Two

(Part One can be found here)

George Savage and his trusty horse, Old Tom, returned to Alton, New Hampshire, shortly after they were both wounded in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Old Tom had become a part of George’s family and, in turn, became a part of Alton’s small-town character. Both were Civil War heroes. In fact, George credited Old Tom with saving his life in battle.

So it was with this loyalty to Old Tom that George asked the citizens of Alton to allow his horse to be buried in the town cemetery. The unusual request got a few folks riled up. Residents of Alton were split. On the one hand, Old Tom had performed admirably in battle. On the other hand, however, Old Tom was, to some, just a horse. If this was allowed, who’s to say more people wouldn’t request to save a plot next to theirs for their most beloved pets, no matter the size? The cemetery trustees mulled it over and Alton’s citizens became embroiled in a short-lived controversy. In the end, the trustees just wouldn’t allow it.

Major George Savage died in 1883, but not before a compromise had been reached with town officials: Old Tom could not be buried on the grounds in the cemetery, but the trustees would allow for Old Tom to be buried just outside the cemetery walls. George, according to record, believed this to be a reasonable arrangement.

 

 

When Old Tom died in 1885, town officials honored their agreement with George. Old Tom was buried outside the cemetery, but as near to George as the boundary walls would allow.

 

 

Except, over time, a certain kind of irony has directed the course of Old Tom’s popularity and the endearing story of George Savage’s love for his horse. Alton is a small town, but thousands of people have continued to live here and die here over the 133 years since the death of Old Tom. The town cemetery eventually expanded in ways it probably never planned for back in the 19th century. In fact, driving around the town of Alton, I found two separate entrances into the cemetery, each from a major corridor leading commuters in and out of the region.

The walls have most definitely been moved. Which means Old Tom is now within the walls of the cemetery. But not only is Old Tom inside the cemetery, he is directly in the center. ON A SMALL HILL, no less.

And doesn’t that just make you feel good?

Major George Savage would, undoubtedly, be quite pleased. Although his initial wishes were quashed by local officials and neighbors who felt completely uncomfortable with the idea of sharing burial grounds with a horse, it all worked out over time. George’s family plot and Old Tom’s burial site are both flanked by small, white picket fences. And they are facing each other, open to pedestrian visitors who can easily walk from one site to the other.

Did someone design it that way? I don’t know. And that’s not the only question I find myself without an answer to. I’m also curious to know who stepped up to care for Old Tom when George died. Because that person, whoever it was, probably deserves a little credit. Don’t you imagine he or she saw to it that the agreement between George and the trustees regarding Old Tom was honored? That Old Tom received the burial he was promised?

From George to Old Tom, from the trustees to the mystery caretakers, and, nowadays, from the cemetery groundskeepers to the history-seeking public, there is a whole lot of loyalty to be discovered in this story. One can only wish to have this kind of dedication bestowed upon them upon their death. Yet this here’s a tale about a man and his horse…

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Major Savage & Old Tom, Part One

Recently, while perusing through some books on the region’s history, I came across a brief story about a Civil War officer and his horse. The officer was Major George Savage. His horse was Old Tom. Theirs was a relationship based on loyalty and respect that lasted decades after the war had ended. Both had suffered greatly during battle and returned home to Alton, New Hampshire (my new hometown) to live out the rest of their lives. It was their deaths, however, that caused a local controversy that seemed to be resolved only by more and more deaths.

I must first explain my difficulty in finding much about the region’s local history. Most accounts – whether through books, magazine articles, or newspaper clippings – tend to focus mostly on the southern part of the state. Exeter, near Portsmouth, calls itself New Hampshire’s Revolutionary War capital (something I hope to learn more about this weekend), while Concord’s history goes back to the chartering of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. Here, north of the coast, there is only a general showcasing of historical events. Most of it is based on archaeological finds or the natural history of the White Mountains and Lake Winnipesaukee. What I’m missing are the personal stories, historical accounts, and the visual markers, here in the Lakes Region, that would normally lead me to seek out the past, right here and right now. Except the only thing I’ve come across so far is a horse whose death nearly divided an entire town.

George Savage (who was actually a Lieutenant Colonel during the war, but everyone called him Major) enlisted in the 12th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment on August 13, 1862. His brother, Moses, followed suit the very next day. The brothers were part of a volunteer regiment that began taking enlistees on August 12th and accepted soldiers’ final papers on the 16th. A formation that took all of four days, and it has been suggested that this formation period was a Union army record. George and Old Tom were part of Company F and Moses was part of Company A, each of whom, along with all of the New Hampshire regiments, saw battle in Fredericksburg. Few men were lost to battle, but Company F was lost completely. As in left behind. Nobody passed on the orders to retreat, so they held their positions.

This seems to be a theme with these three – George, Moses, and Tom. This being left behind business. But there is a happy ending. I promise.

Recovered shortly after the snafu in Fredericksburg, the 12th New Hampshire moved on to smaller battles. In May, they eventually found themselves involved in one of the Confederate Army’s greatest successes: the Battle of Chancellorsville. It was here where Lt. General Stonewall Jackson was injured (which, ultimately, led to his death about a week later) and where General Robert E. Lee claimed his biggest victory.

It was also here, in Chancellorsville, where George took a direct bullet shot to the face. There are reports that Old Tom sustained an injury, as well. Old Tom, it is said, saved George’s life. I can only assume it was during the fighting when the injured Old Tom rushed his injured friend George off the battlefield. Historical accounts say that the 12th New Hampshire was easily overtaken, and a third of the troops had been wounded or killed within the first half-hour of fighting. Sadly, Moses was one of those who had been killed.

Company F was left behind, yet again. The order to retreat had not been made clear, and for those in other companies who had heeded the order, there was little opportunity to find a way out. Lee had broken up his smaller, but better organized Confederate armies. Companies F and G were eventually rescued, but the order to retreat, had it been received, would have meant certain death. The 12th New Hampshire had likely been surrounded by Confederates the entire time.

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I have become quite fond of Major Savage and Old Tom in just a few days time. However, I have to end this here. Mostly because their story continues elsewhere, off the battlefield. Or, perhaps, it’s sufficient to say it continued on another battlefield. The battlefield of public opinion. The battlefield of local government bureaucracy. And I will write about that later…hopefully within a few days.

Throughout my studies of American history, I actively avoided war history. Only once did I take a course that focused on war tactics, political chess moves, battle strategies – that being the American Revolution – and only because I wanted a foundation from which I could study how women lived in those times. I am, and have always been, much more interested in the personal stories, never the strategies that launched an individual or a ideology into the realms of political success. Because somewhere, in all that personal greatness or personal awfulness (I’m looking at you, Andrew Jackson) is a human, that we, as people of the future, can only hope to understand. Whatever threads I can find to connect us to them is so vital. At least, I believe it is.

A man and his horse. We can all relate to this, right? Stay tuned…

Trucker Ted Rides Again

In August of 2016, we packed up all of our belongings and moved from Oklahoma City to the east suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Teddy, the only one of our four dogs who was truly enthusiastic about the whole endeavor, got to ride shotgun with Dad in the Penske. The other three – Chimay, Abbey, and Ari – were crammed into whatever space was left available in the Subaru Outback.  They were absolutely miserable. That’s probably why I have only this photograph of Teddy, smiling his big dopey grin while hanging out at a truck stop in Greenup, Illinois, marveling at what his life had become as Trucker Ted.

His new name is Trucker Ted. 🚛 🐶 #roadtrip #ohiobound #teddy #teddarcheese

A little over a week ago, we did it again. We packed up all of our belongings and moved from the east suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Teddy, the only one of our now-three dogs who was truly enthusiastic about the whole endeavor, got to ride shotgun with Dad in the U-Haul. (We learned our lesson with Penske.) The other two – Abbey and Ari – were crammed into whatever space was left available in the Subaru Outback.  They weren’t as miserable this time around, but miserable enough. That’s probably why, again, I have only this photograph of Teddy, smiling his big dopey grin while hanging out in our Northeast Ohio driveway, waiting to hit the road to New England and relive his days as Trucker Ted.

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We have been in our new home for about eight days. The house sits on a mountain on the south end of Lake Winnipesaukee in Alton Bay. The bay at the end of our road serves as a public beach, a boat ramp, and a pick-up/drop-off site for visitors touring the lake on the Mount Washington. The nearest gas station and grocery store are in the next village over, which is not terribly far away at all. A few miles, maybe. But our small town has at least three ice cream shops, a seemingly unlimited supply of fried clams and haddock, a paddleboard and kayak store, and a ton of summer rentals.

Oh, and we also have this:

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At the risk of proclaiming this too prematurely, I must say we all seem to be quite happy here. We love our house. We love our property, on which we acquired a pool and an established perennial garden. We love our little town. We love that my brother lives an hour away. We love that the ocean is nearby, as well. We do not, however, love moving. Not anymore, anyway. And so, it seems, Trucker Ted’s days have come to an end and Teddy is plain ol’ Teddy once again.

(But how ’bout the coyote? Ooof.)

Finding Providence in New Hampshire

We are mostly packed and ready to go. There is a new house to move into, a new town to navigate, a new school with which to become familiar. There are jobs, library cards, and state-issued driver’s licenses to obtain. Change of address forms. A running list of banks. The veterinarians, cable service providers, former employers, medical providers, etc., that we need to contact before we leave town. You know how it goes.

But, then again, maybe you don’t.

This is nothing new for us. The places are new, as are the jobs and the schools and the roads and the neighbors and the culture. But this – moving – is not new. In fact, my cousin in Wisconsin recently unearthed a photograph of my parents preparing for their move from San Antonio, Texas, to Oscoda, Michigan. My parents, in their mid-twenties and new to the military, had just been given their first assignment in what would be a career of moving across the country, around the world, and back again. My brother was three, and this was already his second move. I was only a few months old, having been born into this life when I was delivered in a military hospital while my father was in basic training. It seems it’s all we’ve ever known.

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Even my husband comes from a military family. Between the two of us we have lived in three countries, eleven states (some of which we have both called home), and countless houses that we grew up in as children, always knowing the situation was temporary. At any moment, our parents could receive word that they, that we, were being transferred to another part of the country, or another part of the world. The transient lives we led were never boring, always changing. New neighbors were expected, whether we were the new neighbors or someone else was. Yet this was exactly what made us have to keep moving, what made me have to keep moving. I know this now. (I think it’s why I love hotel work so much – everything, and everyone, is so very temporary.)

Over the years, especially since I left Florida, I have tried to reconcile my feelings of rootlessness with an almost frenzied need to be a part of a community. If you’ve been a long-term reader of this blog, or even know me personally, you know that I’ve been quite vocal about this part of my life that I have yet to find a word to define. Hiraeth is the closest I have come, yet American culture does not recognize this concept of homesickness. Our country, populated and governed by the descendants of immigrants and refugees, does not even have a word for it in the English language.

We all are here, yet we are all from somewhere else. Pamela Petro wrote, “To be American, I sometimes feel, is to be blank, without a nationality or a language. Is this because America is such a polyglot culture that it contains pieces of everywhere else, or because American culture … is so monolithic and transcending that it is everywhere else?” How do we fit in even with ourselves? The last few years have taught me that some are just born lucky, in the sense that they are born in the place they will love, into a culture that is celebrated, always, and it will never go away, even if they do. Their culture is rooted, somewhere or with someone, within a group, transient or not. Most importantly, it is accessible. That is not the case for some of us.

Back in New Hampshire, on Day Two of our house hunt, we met a realtor who assured us that nearly everyone here is from somewhere else. Our new home is in a town that sits on the south end of Lake Winnepesaukee, thick with tourists and temporary lodgers.  It’s a town where the population swells with visitors, but only briefly, and then returns to normalcy after the leaves fall off the trees. Sometimes those visitors become residents. Hearing this put me immediately at ease. It is difficult to explain, as are most of my feelings on geographical homelessness, but it was encouraging. To know we are not the only ones. To know we won’t be the last ones. That, perhaps, is my culture. One in which change is the only constant.

Moving is an exhausting task. We are all, admittedly, tired, physically and emotionally. Over the last month I have jokingly tossed around the statement I am never moving again, but is that really true? You might be surprised to learn that I hope it is. For some reason, being in New Hampshire brought out the part of me that wants to stay put. As it turns out, my own ancestors traveled around New England looking for a place to settle, to dig in and put down roots. They arrived in 1632 with Roger Williams on the ship Lyon. Before moving westward to Ohio and Oklahoma, they built the First Baptist Church in Massachusetts, and established the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, while their shipmates founded the city of Portsmouth, originally part of the Providence Plantation.

We are not searching for the spiritual guidance of God, nor are we asking the stars to speak to us, but perhaps I am simply retracing my ancestors’ steps in a sort of backward migration, grabbing hold of the opportunity to find my own family’s version of Providence. It has been years since we have felt settled. To end up where my family’s story in America began seems to lend a kismet-esque quality to my own feelings about home and belonging. So, like them, we keep moving in the hopes that we will find home and home will find us.

On being adventurous…

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Sometimes an opportunity just falls into your lap. And sometimes it involves the perfect place, the perfect people, and, if you’re really lucky, perfect timing. This actually happened to us recently. All of this is subjective, of course, because anyone who has ever made a long-distance move knows that once the hard stuff is over, once the greatest challenges of them all have been dealt with – the long-haul drive, the home buying process, establishing a new routine -, it becomes easier to look back and say Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

We’re moving again. This makes the second move in as many years. It’s not so bad. Really.

It was our first date night in months, our only plans were to try a new restaurant and watch a ballgame. My husband got the call right after we got into downtown. An offer to work in one of his favorite parts of the country. I high-fived him in the parking lot. The wait was over.

We had been discussing it for a few weeks, about how surreal it would be if this actually happened, and, in all honestly, if we were doing the right thing. Careful not to get too optimistic, and careful not to mention it to anyone at all. Because what if it didn’t happen? No sense in getting our hopes up.

But there we were, minutes after learning the news, celebrating at Mabel’s BBQ, making plans to make more plans, and calling everyone who had been in on it with us since the beginning. I called my mom and dad, and he called his. We called our daughter. He called his best friend, who lives there. I called my younger brother, who also lives there.

There? New Hampshire.

Within an hour we were at a Cleveland Indians game. No, we had no idea that we’d be celebrating our big news with tens of thousands of Tribe fans, but all week I’d been hoping we would. And Andrew Miller, a closing pitcher I affectionately nicknamed Legs during the 2016 World Series, made a brief appearance on the field. We went home happy, looking forward to the summer. Cleveland is an incredible city. I’m confident we embraced Cleveland as much as Cleveland embraced us.

By the way, our house sold in five days. Forward momentum. Timing. No time to worry about this half of the story. Keep moving on to the other half. It’s there. In time it will all come together. The to-do list is wrapping up quite nicely.

Throughout my life I have never considered myself much of an adventurer. However, I’m reconsidering. This is what my childhood has prepared me for. The packing. The moving. The unknown. The newness. The leaving. The going. The arriving. The ability to do this. This thing I seem to always be doing. The adventure. My initial thought being Why not? when asked Should we move there? In most cases, it doesn’t matter where there actually is.

Next week, Matt and I will make the drive to Concord, drop a truckload of boxes into storage, and find a house. It will be my first time to New England.

The Business of Owning Your Own Business

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I finally started working full-time.

Late last summer my husband and I toured a local business located in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland. The current owner, after many years of waffling between selling it and keeping it, had finally decided to sell it – to the right people. We hoped this could be the right business and that we could be considered the right people, so it was like a two-way interview. This business was an established one, and the new owner would inherit not only the employees and the stellar reputation of the place, but also the client list and the recipes.

The recipes were imperative to the continued success of the business. The owner had spent years playing around with her own equipment in the off-hours, creating new flavors and techniques, discovering what worked and what didn’t. There would be no start-up fees and fewer risks of failing. Everything was already in place. All the hard work had been done. It just needed to be passed into a trustworthy pair of new hands. It was everyone’s hope that the transition in ownership would go so smoothly that nobody, especially the customers, some who had been involved with this business for decades, would even notice.

So what was the business? Cheesecakes. More specifically, making the cheesecakes that are served in over fifty restaurants in and around the Greater Cleveland area and beyond.

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There was a lot of money involved upfront, but all of that would likely be returned within a few years of successful upkeep. The business was so lucrative, in fact, that the owner had financed her home and the building that housed her business…plus another rental unit above the bakery for additional income. And even though her husband was a lawyer (and, sadly in failing health), it was very clear that her own European vacations to her Greek homeland and two sons’ college expenses could very easily have been financed solely by cheesecake profits.

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We passed.

It was determined that because of the amount of money we would be putting into the business upfront, my husband would still have to work at his full-time job. That left me as the sole watchman – the manager, the owner, the accountant, human resources, delivery driver, oven repairman, egg-beater mechanic, etc. I’m not a business person; I’m a people person (and still very much a cheesecake person). The full-time attention to the equipment and finances regarding a business in which I had no experience was completely overwhelming to me. In just a few months I would be finished with my master’s degree, and I didn’t want to feel financially tethered to a job, a city, or a line of work that I might not be very good at. So we passed.

Instead I accepted a full-time job at a historic inn, doing something I’m very good at. Stories from the No-Tell Motel coming soon…