Since I said goodbye to my beloved, Carmela, just over a month ago I’ve developed a lot of mental blocks. These are things that I used to be able to do, but can’t do at the moment because they feel weird without having Carm around.

Some of these mental blocks include:

  • Dancing around my apartment. Sometimes after a frustrating day at work when I had a lot of nervous energy I would crank the music and dance it out. Without Carm following me around wagging her tail, or sitting in the middle of room watching me it just wouldn’t feel right. Plus there would be no one to trip over. Where’s the fun in that?

Dog yoga

  • Doing yoga. Anytime I would whip out that yoga mat Carm would be right there next to me—pacing over the mat, stepping over (on) me, and lying down in the center of the mat forcing me to work around her. She really loved being “right there” for any physical activity especially when she got older and couldn’t do a lot of it herself.

Pasta pup

  • Cooking any kind of pasta dish. I would often make pasta for myself and inevitably would make extra for Carm. Bow-tie pasta was her favorite so that is what I usually bought. Now when I’m at the grocery store I carefully avoid the pasta aisle altogether.
  • Eating/throwing away end slices of bread. Carm loved her bread and peanut butter every morning. She especially loved it on days that I would start/finish a loaf of bread because it meant that she got an extra slice that day. I don’t mind the end pieces, but for some reason since she’s been gone I’ve been saving them. I currently have a bag of bread in my refrigerator that contains 4-5 end slices of bread.

Pizza dog

  • Eating pizza crust. Yes, a lot of my mental blocks are food-related. We would always share pizza together. She would eat the crust, and I would eat the rest. Currently the crust goes uneaten as well.

Painting with dogs

  • Painting. It has always been an on-again/off-again hobby of mine, but one that I had taken up again a few months ago. I loved going to my painting class every week, and painting at home most nights with Carm by my side. For the moment painting is still something I cannot do.

There are many more mental blocks that I’m currently fighting. Even just leaving the house and coming home throws me off. I often spend several seconds trying to figure out if I forgot something or why things feel “off.” It’s because my buddy is gone. There’s no one that I have to rush outside after work, or give 20 kisses and cuddles to before I walk out the door. My life revolved around Carm, and without her I just feel off balance.

It will get easier. Time heals all wounds. Eventually all of these mental blocks will cease to exist, but the ache in my heart for my beloved Carmela never will.

Did you develop mental blocks after your pet passed away? What helped you get through them?

Hi everyone!

I apologize for my radio silence lately. Truth be told it would’ve worked if my 6-month check-in post was my final installment for this journey I’m on: “Yep, I’ve made it 6 months. I guess I’ll be all right. So long!” but that’s not how I wanted it to end. This journey to Maine is an ever-present, ongoing thing, and just because I made it 6 months doesn’t mean that I am cured of all homesickness or second thoughts.

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The truth is not long after my last post I had to say goodbye to my best friend, Carmela. Those who have followed along on my journey this far know how much my dog meant to me. For 15+ years she was my other half, my adventure buddy, my everything. We grew up together and navigated life, in all of its stages, together. My world revolved around her, and her absence in my life has left such an agonizing ache in my heart that I didn’t think would ever heal—that I still don’t think will ever completely heal.

I could talk at length about those final days mostly because they’ve been playing in an endless loop in my head for the last 30 days, but I won’t. Those are my heart-breaking memories to bear, and that I hope will eventually fade.

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After it happened I wasn’t sure of anything anymore. I felt so lost—like a piece of me had died, and in a way it did. I went home to Chicago for a few days to be with my wonderfully supportive, loving family who would hover over me in the only way I tolerate—we’re here if you need us, but just go ahead and do your own thing. It was just what I needed.

During my time home I came up with an idea. I was wearing Carm’s collar around my wrist as a way to feel closer to her. I knew that I would have to come up with something else though because not only would my coworkers think I was mentally unstable if I was walking around with a dog’s collar around my arm, but it was also noisy as hell. I didn’t want to put her dog tag on a chain and wear it as a necklace. I wanted to wear it as a bracelet. After hours of scouring the internet I couldn’t find anything out there that incorporated a dog tag into a bracelet, so I came up with my own.

Pet tag remembrance

I picked white and red because Carmela was a white puppy with a red collar. I picked the woven design because I liked the symbolism associated with being woven together, she and I. I picked the plastic buckle because I’ve always hated those tiny clasps on bracelets. I liked that I could look down at my wrist at any time and think of her. It was perfect.

Pet ID tag remembrance

Over the next several days I got a lot of compliments on it—from friends, family, and complete strangers. They would ask me where I found it, how I came up with it, and mention that they knew several people who would be interested in something like that. So I decided to put it out there.

I now have an Etsy store set up: Knot Forgotten Pets or www.etsy.com/shop/knotforgottenpets

Pet ID tag remembrance

At my store I have several bracelet and keychain options. Between the color combinations, pet tag types, and inscriptions the possibilities are virtually endless.

Pet ID tag remembrance

Pet ID tag remembrance

For me it’s not about making money. What I really want to do is provide a little comfort to those who have gone through what I’ve been going through. I know it’s a small thing, but I know how much comfort I’ve gotten from having my bracelet. If I can offer that to someone else then my mission is complete.

Also a portion of the proceeds will go to The Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland—a wonderful animal shelter that I’ve been volunteering at for the last few months. It’s something that I think can do a lot of good, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

All in all it’s been an eventful few weeks. I’m still trying to find my footing—my place in the world without my faithful dog by my side, but I’m getting there.

Six months ago I did something truly terrifying. I picked up the well-curated life I had established in Chicago, packed up my car, and took off for Maine. I didn’t know anyone here, I barely had a job lined up, and I had no idea where I was going to live. Now that I’ve been here for six months things have calmed down, and I’ve settled into a new routine. I have a job, an apartment (thank god), and an ever-growing Maine bucket list. There have been many highs and lows so far, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself, and what it takes to successfully move far away from home.

Back Cove

Here are 6 things I learned in my first 6 months of living away:

  • Homesickness is an ever-present thing. It never really goes away. Some days are better than others, but the feeling is always there. Whether it’s a day that you feel like the universe is against you, or just wish a loved one was there to share an experience with you – you’re always going to miss your people back home.

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  • I can still be the old me while embracing the new me. When I first moved to Maine I did everything I could to put myself out there. I joined Meetup groups I would never join otherwise—happy hour beer club, really? But I did all that to avoid becoming the hermit I naturally am. Eventually I did find a balance which leads me to my next point…
  • Get involved in things you’re actually interested in. It’s important to put yourself out there and try new things, but if you actually like the class/event/activity then your odds of sticking with it are much higher. After my fatal attempt at being a person who does “happy hour beer clubs,” I signed up for better things like volunteering at the animal shelter and taking an oil painting class.

Portland, ME

  • Making friends can be as easy or as hard as you make it out to be. If you overthink it, it won’t work. If you’re at an event you hate, it won’t work either. The best way to make friends in a new city is to engage in activities you actually like. If you like the activity you’ll be more comfortable—more you, and that will attract other people who are doing the same thing. However also realize that it’s not going to happen overnight…
  • Be comfortable with being alone. No matter how many Meetup events, friend dates, town functions there are you’re still going to have solo nights. This may not have bothered you back home. In fact a night in (no matter how many) may have given you a sigh of relief. Thank god I don’t have to go out tonight! But it’s a totally different thing when you move away and don’t even have the option of having to go to a family function, or a friend’s party. Once you move to a new city you’re going to be alone a lot, and the sooner you accept that and learn to embrace it the better.

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  • Embrace whatever you’re feeling. My first couple of months in Maine I told myself that I couldn’t have a sad/homesickness day because, after all, I chose this. Somehow I believed that having a sad day meant that I had admitted defeat when really it’s all just part of the process. I learned that moving to a new city is hard! You’re going to have those moments where you look around and say to yourself, “What have I done?” Embrace it. The sooner you deal with your emotions the sooner you can get out and explore your new city. After all, wasn’t that the point of moving anyway?

 

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Depending on where you live you may have noticed that fall has begun. Here in Maine it’s in full swing. Sure the leaves haven’t totally changed color yet, but it’s been cold enough most days to fall into the category of autumn. I am so excited to experience my first fall in New England!

Fall and dogs

Like a lot of people I love fall. For me it’s always been a time of reflection. I love taking long walks in the crisp, autumn air with a coffee in hand ready to take on the day. Fall is always the time of year that I start thinking about where I was a year ago, and where I see myself in the future. I think about all the things that led me to this very spot: walking along the Western Promenade in Portland, ME while I wait for my laundry to finish at the laundromat, and deciding what to make for dinner.

A year ago I was living in downtown Chicago jonesing for some fall foliage and just wanting to be in Maine already! Now that I’m here I feel like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.

Fall trees

Unlike last year when I started thinking about where I want to be this time next year my mind went blank. I have a few different options all of which would take me to different parts of the country including my family’s preference of going back to Chicago, but is that really what I want?

I know a lot of things can happen between now and then, but somehow I feel like my time in Maine isn’t done yet and won’t be finished by this time next year either. I’ve gotten a lot of things out of Maine so far, but I know I haven’t gotten everything out of it yet that I need to.

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I did decide to make a change though—one that you may have noticed already—and that is updating the design of this blog. I wanted something simple and elegant, and I think this new design captures that. If it doesn’t please don’t tell me because I spent a lot of time obsessing over it.

In addition to the design change I decided that I want to focus more on my writing. Something I don’t even think I’ve admitted fully on this blog is that I really want writing to be my full-time career. I would love to be writing articles, essays, how-tos, advice, and/or any other kind of freelance writing you can think of. This is not a shameless plug to get someone to hire me. I’ll save that for the desperate emails I plan on sending to my favorite publications later. This is more of a “putting it out into the universe” kind of thing. I’ve worked hard to get myself to Maine. Now I want to see what happens when I set my mind to making writing my career.

Do you get contemplative during the fall season? What changes are you thinking about making in your life?

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Ah, the Masterpiece Mentality. We’ve all experienced it. Whether we’ve picked up a pen, a paintbrush, or even just thought about it we want our work to be the best. And if it’s not we don’t even want to bother with it. How sad is that? How many beautiful stories could have been told, or how many extraordinary paintings could have been shared if we didn’t give up because it wasn’t a “masterpiece?”

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The dictionary defines a masterpiece as a person’s greatest piece of work, but isn’t that extremely subjective? Who’s to say what someone’s greatest piece of work is?

I recently started taking a painting class, and from the very first class the instructor (a pretty big artist herself) said that the Masterpiece Mentality has no place here or anywhere near the canvas. I love this alternative mentality because I have suffered from the Masterpiece Mentality for a long time. One of the reasons I haven’t picked up a brush in years is because I didn’t think I was that good at it so why even bother with it?

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I was in a room full of other people who suffered from the same affliction. They were there because they wanted to learn, but they were determined to end the class with a masterpiece. Throughout the class I heard things from my classmates like,

“What colors did you use to get that exact color? How much red? How much yellow?”

“This isn’t any good. I should just throw this out and forget all about art.”

“Why can’t I get mine to look like yours?”

I decided then and there that I was going to throw away the Masterpiece Mentality once and for all and just have fun. I’m never going to be a famous painter, but who cares? It’s a fun thing to do, and it unleashes my creativity. Why wouldn’t I stick with something that brings me that much joy?

Masterpiece

We live in a society that believes that if we’re going to attempt anything worthwhile it better be the best. Not to say that we should strive to be run-of-the-mill average, but how can anyone realistically hope to be the absolute best at anything? They say that there are only 7 basic plots in literature, but browse any library or bookstore and you’ll find several thousand books many of which are in the same genre.

Go to any art gallery and you’ll see different variations of portraits, outdoor scenes, or bowls of fruit. Nothing is original anymore. All the stories have been told, and all the paintings have been painted. The only thing that makes any piece of art different is the artist. The artist adds their own voice and interpretation to the piece, and thereby makes it something totally unique.

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The Masterpiece Mentality is flawed. It has no place on the canvas, in the notebook, behind the camera lens, or anywhere else where art can be created. So the next time you find yourself paralyzed with fear that your art has already “been done,” think again. There’s only one you, and your voice hasn’t been spoken yet. So speak.

Are you thinking about getting a dog, but don’t know what to expect? Maybe your friends tell you that you’d be a great dog mom/dad. Maybe you like the idea of coming home to someone every night. Perhaps you want to have someone to go on adventures with. It all sounds so wonderful! And it is! But there are some not so wonderful things you should take into consideration, too.

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  • Being accountable. This is the most important aspect of owning a dog. You are responsible for everything they do and it’s important to stick to a schedule whenever possible. This includes feeding times, walking times, and scheduled/regimented time away from home. Basically you have to work your life around their schedule.
  • Keeping food and other intriguing items out of their reach. The floor, your bed, the kitchen counter—no surface is safe when you have a dog.
  • Your things become their things. Oh, you thought that the queen bed and Egyptian cotton sheets were for you? Silly, human. Those things belong to your furry friend now. If you’re lucky they might share with you.

Dog bed

  • Fur everywhere. All the time. You could always get a breed that doesn’t shed, but if you don’t count on them shedding A LOT. You can vacuum your apartment twice a week, brush the dog once a week, and you’ll still walk into work with fur all over your clothes. There’s just no way around it.
  • Dog hair in your food. You think the fur just sticks to your clothes and the floor? Think again. At one time or another you WILL find their hair in your food. If you can’t handle picking the occasional dog hair out of your food then you probably shouldn’t even have a dog–at least not one that sheds.

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  • Car and living quarters always smelling like a dog. Again no matter how good you are about proper hygiene, your dog will have a smell. You’ll think it’s fine, but odds are that will be the first thing someone notices when they enter your car or house.

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  • Getting old and all of the extra care it entails. Older dogs are a lot of work. If you’re lucky it’s usually a slow progression, but it still sucks. All of sudden one day they can’t jump up on the couch anymore, or hear you when you call them, or make it a full day without having an accident in the house. They require a lot more TLC and patience, but you do it because at the end of the day he/she is your best friend. And who wouldn’t do everything they could for their best friend?

Do you have a dog? What were some things you learned the hard way when you got him/her?

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I’ve always thought of myself as a right-brained person as in creative, intuitive, and imaginative. Ever since I was a kid I’ve enjoyed creative hobbies like drawing, painting, and writing. I always feel most alive when I’m creating something whether it’s a blog post, a painting, or even just doodling in a sketchbook. It’s the only time my mind finally quiets and lets me focus on the task at hand.

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So imagine my surprise earlier this week when someone characterized me as a left-brained person. My jaw dropped.

“You take that back!” I wanted to say.

But I didn’t. This person didn’t know me. She only knew me as a random woman who walked into an art store for the first time in ages wanting to know more about paint. My hair was tucked back in a low, neat bun, and I was wearing a heavy cardigan thanks to my office’s Arctic-like temperatures on an 80-degree day. She only knew what she saw. Her comment did make me think though.

“Am I really a left-brained person?”

Don’t get me wrong; left-brained people are great. They’re logical, objective, and intelligent. In fact most of the people I hold near and dear are left-brained people. I just don’t think of myself as one of them.

Right-brained

I have ideas—lots of ideas. The whole picture is what interests me—not just at the sequence of events. I’m often daydreaming, looking at things from different angles, and letting my feelings guide my decisions. I’m even left-handed! I feel like I am the definition of a right-brained person.

However my last few day jobs have been very left-brain jobs, and though these jobs aren’t really me I worried that it was starting to define me—changing who I am and what I want to be. My bosses have always told me how happy they are with my work and that I do a good job. Could it be because I’m really a closeted left-brained person after all?

Just like with everything else in my life I had to find the balance. Maybe I have a little bit of both left and right brain in me. I can be logical and analytical when I need to be, and creative and imaginative when I want to be. It’s actually pretty cool that I can be both, and I think that’s how most of us are anyway.

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How boring would it be if we were pigeon-holed and made to believe that we could only be characterized in one simple, single-dimensional sort of way? What makes people interesting are their contradictions—their exceptions to the rule—their oddities.

When I’m around artists I’m seen as quiet, rational, and analytical. When I’m around my co-workers I’m seen as random, creative, and a tad “out there.” That’s fine. I’m alright with not totally fitting in with either group because it means I’m being true to myself.

Do you consider yourself left-brained or right-brained? Do you have characteristics of both?

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The last few weeks I’ve really made a concerted effort to be more of a joiner. I’ve joined a book club, decided to start volunteering at the animal shelter, and I’m taking a painting class. These are all things that were carefully chosen since I have a genuine interest in them.

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It’s important to join things, to get together with like-minded people, and learn something new. However it’s also okay to say “no” to things you have no interest in. For me this was fantasy football.

I have absolutely zero interest in regular football let alone a fantasy version of it. It’s just not my thing. So when my department at work put together a fantasy football draft I politely declined. A lot of people tried to include me, gave me repeated offers to join, and said that they would help put together my “team” if I needed it. I appreciated the effort, but again it’s not my thing.

As much as I want to try new things I also don’t want to be the kind of person who does something just because everyone else is doing it. It didn’t work in 7th grade when all the cool kids were sniffing markers in math class, and it’s not going to work now. Not to say that sniffing markers and joining fantasy football leagues are the same thing, but you get my point.

Doubling Point

I’m past the age of giving a crap what anybody thinks. I’ve learned through experience that if I do join these kinds of things I end up resenting it, flaking out on activities, and going deeper into my own shell which is the exact opposite of what I want to be doing!

Instead I think I’ll stick with things I actually have an interest in, and save my seat at the draft table for someone who actually wants it.

Do you consider yourself a joiner? Is it hard for you to say “no” to something you have no interest in?

Since I’ve been living in Maine for 5 months now it’s time to start saving money again. I was spending money like crazy the month before I moved and the few months after I moved to Maine. Between getting my car checked out before I left Chicago to all the expenses that came once I got here like the Airbnb I stayed at for 3 weeks, all the upfront expenses of signing a new lease on an apartment, a new bed, and a myriad of other things I had spent quite a bit of money.

Brunch

Then of course there were all the things I wanted to do once I settled in like checking out new restaurants, going to concerts, and meeting up with new people at social events—all of which costs money.

Now that the initial thrill has worn off, it’s time to go back to my practical and frugal ways. Part of living in a new city is balancing wanting to do things while still trying to save money which can be difficult.

Here are a few ways that I’m cutting costs so I still go out and do things, but also save money, too:

  • Walking as much as possible. Since I work 1.3 miles from where I live it’s very easy for me to walk to work. Also driving to work only saves me about 8-10 minutes and wastes gas money anyway. So whenever possible I save the gas and walk.
  • Borrowing books instead of buying them. I love books, and I miss buying books by the bagful, but borrowing books from the library is way more cost-effective. It also saves me from being stuck with a book that is just ‘okay.’

Book money

  • Not getting my hair done as often. There are some women who get their hair done every 6 weeks like clockwork. Luckily for my wallet I’ve never been like that. Typically I would get my hair cut and colored every 4-5 months! Now though I opt for only doing one of those things every 4-5 months which saves me at least $100 every visit.
  • Only buying good quality clothes that I need. This came about with my Minimalism effort earlier this year. My closet is super small and I tend to move a lot so I only invest in a few, quality items that are going to last me a while. Lately most of my things have been coming from L.L. Bean. With their lifetime satisfaction guarantee, and the fact that their headquarters is only 20 minutes away this is a no-brainer for me.

L.L Bean

  • Limiting my going-out-to-eat money. Portland, ME is very much a foodie town so it’s very easy to get caught up in wanting to try all the delicious restaurants I hear about. However to be wallet-conscious I only allow myself to go out to eat once a week. This also builds up the anticipation. I find that I tend to enjoy the experience more if I’ve been looking forward to it for a week or two.
  • Limiting my overall spending money. I have an ever-growing Maine to-do list. Some of these only cost me gas money, but some of them cost much more than that. So I’ve budgeted $100 every month for fun things.

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Living on a budget in your new city IS possible. You can still enjoy all the things your city has to offer, AND save money, too. You just have to be practical, set a budget for yourself, and stick to it.

Is it hard for you to stick to a budget when you move to a new city? How do you balance spending and saving money?

One thing I’m trying to do away with as part of my Maine experience is feeling guilty. Maybe it’s partly because I went to a Catholic school for 12 years, but I’m usually feeling guilty about something. I feel guilty for being so far away from my friends and family, for having a good job I’m not passionate about, and for not being able to adopt all the puppies at the animal shelter. On any given day I’m usually racked with guilt for at least a handful of things, but one thing I won’t feel guilty about is having a lazy day.

Guilty

When I was living in Chicago most of my weekend days were Lazy Days. Sure I would write, read, and maybe work out but for the most part I was cooped up in my apartment doing my own thing. I wouldn’t stay in there all day, of course. I still had to take the dog out from time to time. But for the most part that’s how my weekends were spent.

Since this past weekend was Labor Day weekend I had extra time. Extra time to write, read, hike, or check out a new lighthouse— whatever my heart desired. I was determined to make the most of it. On Saturday I woke up early and headed to the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. There I hiked the Welch and Dickey Mountains—the views were just incredible. Since it was cooler out I was able to push myself harder, and did a lot of running UP the trail—something I never really had the strength for before. Afterwards my legs were burning and shaking, but I didn’t care. I did it!

Welch and Dickey Mountains

Later that night I went to the last concert of the season at L.L. Bean. They put on a free, outdoor concert almost every weekend for the duration of the summer. Since it was Labor Day weekend this was going to be the last one, so obviously I had to go. Ben Rector was playing that night, and the place was packed.

L.L. Bean summer concert

When I got home later that night I was thoroughly exhausted. By Sunday morning my muscles were sore, and I was still so tired. I planned to go up to see a lighthouse or go on a photography walk, but I pushed myself too hard the day before. What I needed was a lazy day. So that’s what I had.

At first I felt guilty for not leaving my apartment all day (other than to take the dog out, of course). After all I hadn’t spent a whole day in my apartment since I moved to Maine. Was I reverting back to my old habits?

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Then I remembered all that I did the day before—the mountains, the concert, and all that driving. It was a lot for one day! So I decided to revel in it. I read, did a little yoga, and watched some Netflix. It was glorious. I didn’t feel guilty because that’s what my body needed.

It’s all about the balance. If I spend a whole day running around then I’m entitled to a day of relaxation as long as that doesn’t become the norm. After all I have to make the most out of this Maine experience.

Do you feel guilty for having a lazy day? What do you do to combat the feelings of guilt?

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