Outerwear

No matter what the groundhog says, we are only halfway through winter. It is still 7 weeks to the vernal equinox and the astronomical start of spring. I have heard it said that there is no bad weather, only bad gear. These people have clearly never dealt with -55°F windchill.

Like most Minnesotans, I have multiples of all my winter outerwear: parkas, boots, hats, and gloves. I even have a sense of the temperature rating of my socks. You do not wear the same ones in 20°F as you do in -20°F. All cold climate residents will tell you, layering is the key to staying warm.

Back in April 2013, I had an apartment fire that consumed almost all my possessions. My entire wardrobe and all my winter gear did not survive. In the following months, each season of the year, I had to assess what I was missing. What were the most urgent items to buy and what had to wait for next year or the year after that. When you have nothing, you start with a hairbrush and go up from there. It was a constant state of flux in budget and stress. What can I afford? What can I do without?

It is hard to express how humble an experience like that can make you.

Friends and strangers stepped up and gave me their extra clothing and other household items. The thrift store is also a great way to immediately replace large sections of a wardrobe for not a lot of money.  This got me through the spring, summer, and fall months in clothes that didn’t fit quite right and were not my style, but I was so grateful to have. They were clean, gently used, and good enough for my job.

2013 stands as the hardest year of my life. By the end of it, I was worn down by grief, stress, and anguish. Somehow, I managed to forget that January in Minnesota was coming. I had to scramble to find a good parka that fit me on the post-Christmas clearance rack. What I found in my price range that fit and was sturdy was a men’s Jack Spade army green down jacket and some grey snow pants.

FYI- There is nothing sexy about snow pants.

Cheap women’s coats may be cute, but they are often poorly made. At 5’9”, I have a long frame and the sleeves on women’s clothing is often too short or cut too tight around the shoulders. If I want cute that fits, I have to spend money. So, I just bought my man-coat and wore my man-coat and dealt with people thinking I was a man in a coat.

In the basement of my apartment, there was a lighter men’s Columbia yellow polyfill jacket that hung to dry for over two years. The person who owned it obviously did not live in the building anymore and I was sick of looking at it. I intended to donate it to the thrift store but tried it on and it fit perfectly. Now, I had two man-coats. This one had a logo on it- “Winter X Games”. I know about the X games but don’t care about the X games. I didn’t notice the logo until someone decided it was cool and asked me about it. I still need to come up with a better story than “I found it in the basement”.

When you are a man in a coat no one questions your choice in outerwear.

One of the great mysteries of life is why some men have chosen to monitor whether women have overdressed for the weather. It is not clear to me if they are sick of their girlfriend complaining she is cold or if they are personally dissatisfied in your lack of sexiness or if they experience discomfort with ambiguous gender identification or what. I do not understand people who think nothing of verbally accosting strangers about their choice in outerwear. They have absolutely no clue how useless cute, cheap, shitty women’s coats are.

I will almost always choose quality and value over style. It is why my army green man-coat has lasted me these five years. But I’m tired of wearing men’s clothes. The general consensus that big women don’t need cute and that there are not enough big women to produce stylish mass market clothing gets old. I want to be pretty too. And even though my man-coat is still good and saw me through some raw years, I decided for the sake of my self-esteem, I needed to up my game. And as it turns out, if you spend some money and take some time, you can find coats that are stylish, warm, and actually fit.

Here’s proof:

IMG_20190125_184835

Happy mid-winter festival, everyone. Stay warm no matter what you choose to wear!

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2019

The Great Wide Open

More than one person has said to me- take time. Be with your mom before the cancer makes her really sick. Plan a family vacation somewhere and make some quality memories together, one last time. We’ve been talking about what that might look like in practical terms of time, money, stamina, and risk of viral infection.

I love to travel. I am willing to travel just about anywhere in the world, for almost any length of time, for almost any reason. I am an adventurer at heart, an international explorer. One of the greatest gifts my father gave to me was his love for travel. It made me understand that there were other places, with a lot of other people who did not look or act like me.

Nothing held more interest for my dad then just getting out and seeing the USA. His career gave us the ability to take two big vacations a year. These trips were what I would describe as ‘The Bill Mounts Family Vacation’. They were characterized by an extreme urgency to see everything you could possibly see in the short time allotted. Two weeks was just not enough time to sit and relax. We had to go, go, go and went, went, went we did.

By the ripe old age of twelve, I had traveled to no less than forty states. I had been to innumerable national parks- Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Petrified Forest, Red Wood Forest, Rocky Mountains, etc. I had been in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and Pacific. I had been to countless museums, forts, State Capitols, wayside historical markers, tourist traps, national monuments, scenic overlooks, zoos, amusements parks, etc.  Once dad died in 1985, our annual family vacations stopped for the most part.

Mom did take me to Hawaii…

So, where do I take mom for that one last ride? From my perspective, the most obvious choice is Florida. Dad was in love with Pensacola. He was stationed there during his time in the Navy and my parents planned to retire there. It feels like we visited every year while he was still alive. We camped on Santa Rosa Island, played on the beach, visited Fort Pickens, Trader Jon’s, the National Naval Aviation Museum, and wherever else dad wanted to feel nostalgic.

That was all before the island was built up with hotels. You could still collect sand dollars, starfish, and seashells. We even picked up a couple conch shells once. No one was combing the beach at the break of dawn collecting them all to sell. I have very clear memories of the smell of orange blossoms and the feel of the white sand beaches. I count them among the happiest memories of my life.

But that was Pensacola of the 1970’s & 80’s. It begs the question: could a trip to Florida today ever live up to those memories? And does mom want to go where dad would have chosen? Or does she have one last great adventure in her, one last uncharted destination, one unfulfilled wish?

It remains to be seen. And it may come to more than one trip this year with the various members of my family. We may not all be able to get the same time off. Quality time with more intimate groups of people might be a better way to go. And if we end up hanging around the mid-west… well, at least we won’t get lost.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

Party of One

It is customary to mark anniversaries. This is a powerful week for me because it marks ten years of being single. My first long-term relationship ended twenty years ago. My second long-term relationship ended ten years ago. These dark cold days of January must really get to me. I will not get into all the reasons each relationship ended. I will only say that we disagreed.

In the ten years since the last break-up, I’ve had to recreate my life at least four times. I had to figure out who I was again, figure out how to manage my life of one- cooking, housing, living, and trying to have some fun. I had great hopes to meet someone, fall in love, get married, and have a home and a child together. I was only 36. I thought I still had time. None of that happened for me.

Life kicked me right in the head. I seem to be on some kind of three-year trauma cycle: 2010 (life threatening depression), 2013 (worst year of my life), 2016 (major medical crisis), and 2019 has the potential to be a real whopper (mom is terminal). It takes two years to recover from one bad one, then it starts all over again. The in-between years are spent losing weight (cycling) or gaining weight (eating) to try to cope with all the emotional consequences.

I have tried to date on and off with very little success. In general, the advice I was given about how to be single was to “stay busy”. Later, I was questioned whether I had time for a relationship… Other great advice from well-meaning people was to “just pick someone”. FYI- whoever you pick is going to be scrutinized to the max by friends and family.

I’ve been told all the reasons I am still single: too serious, too tall, too fat, too independent, too mysterious, too aggressive, too angry, too loud, too stressed, too smart, too confident, too busy, too much a career woman, and (my favorite) because I am not dating women. I’ve been asked, “Do you think your laughter drives men away?”

I once had a girl’s dream of what love was supposed to be… waiting on my one true ‘soulmate’, waiting on that one person who would see me clearly and erase all the pain and fix all the wrong and live up to my impossible standards… And of course, no one could.

I do not have a girl’s dream of what love is anymore. I understand that while love can bring happiness, they are not inextricably linked. In fact, love is most often expressed in patience, in silence, in forgiveness, in acceptance.

It is expressed when you allow another to collapse under depression on the couch by just being there and letting them be. It is expressed by sitting in an ICU for a month, watching someone cling to life, hold their hand and talk to them though they cannot respond.

That is the true work of love, where the rubber meets the road in loving another. It is not high romance or happy memories or exciting and fun. It is the highest form love takes: I am here. I am here. And I love you even now when it is so hard.

I have been asked if I get lonely. Of course I do. But I also know that I’d rather be alone than in bad company. I’d rather be alone than BE the bad company. I was no saint in my relationships. We each brought our good and bad. We each made our mistakes.

I love both of them- that’s a permanent condition and I will not fight my heart on that matter. But I can’t be with them. If we spend too much time together, the stress increases, we start to argue, and who needs that? Not them and not me.

When relationships end, you have to grieve the loss of the life that can never be. You have to grieve the loss of your hopes and dreams: the house never bought, the children never born, the shared memories through time that will sustain you in old age that simply do not exist.

I can not tell you how to deal with it, only that you will cry a lot and maybe for the rest of your life. You will cry at odd times. When you least expect it, a memory will return of what was once so good and is now long gone and there is nothing that can bring it back. You cry and you move on. I read once that in the end we are all faced with a choice: be bitter or not.

Love has yet to return to me but I do believe it is possible. I have many friends to see me through the hard times, past and future. To be honest, sometimes walking through trauma alone is better simply because you only have yourself to worry about. I am not dragging another person down with me. I can be sad or angry or lay in bed all day and no one cares.

I suppose you want me to write about how exciting single life can be and it’s true. I get to travel a lot, even internationally. I can be footloose and fancy free. Meeting new people is exciting. So is getting dressed for a night out with the girls and collecting all those glances the men steal. Feeling good, looking good, concerts, dancing, socializing, bars- it’s not all bad. And I get to hog my queen size bed. The mess in my apartment is mine alone. The orange juice will still be in the fridge where I left it as well as the dishes and laundry. But it’s my dirty underwear and coffee cup. So yes, being single is great in many, many ways.

But I miss the kisses… I miss being held. And most of all, more than anything else, I miss coming home to someone who asks me, “How was your day sweetheart?” and they really, truly want to know.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

Resolution

It’s the new year. Like most people, I overdid Christmas. I celebrated with reckless abandon knowing that the last two weeks of the year are to feast, imbibe, and be rowdy. Let’s face it: I travel for Christmas, I’m not exercising in the hotel gym even if you paid me, and I am not cooking at home. So, letting go of my fitness goals is just reality and I embrace it.

But then New Year’s Day shows up with its fresh calendar and same old life, same old body. There seem to be two types of people- those who make New Year’s resolutions and those that don’t. For those that don’t, I get it. The turning of the year does not change your life. New Year’s Day is just January 1st.

But I fall in with those that make resolutions. Or I at least reaffirm my commitment to the goals I already have and work toward every other day of the year. I meditate on where I was at this time last year. What in my life has changed? What did I learn? What am I grateful for and what was hard and painful? And I readjust my course.

I have three major goals guiding my life at all times: Health, Wealth, and Purpose.

Health is paramount. Everything else is built on this single goal because without it, you cannot do anything else. Ask people with chronic illness and they will tell you this truth. Health  goals for me include physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The big ones of course are diet, exercise, and managing my depression. But it also includes meditation and prayer, seeking companionship with those who love me, and recreation.

Wealth at its simplest definition is money but I mean more than that here. Paying off debt and saving for the coming rainy days. Focusing on my career and what I want to do before I retire. Planning for major purchases like a home. Managing my current possessions and budgeting for my current bills. At the end of the day, money is green paper but life without it is so mean we dedicate a third of our lives in its pursuit. But I understand that it is simply a tool that I must use in order to function in our society, not the purpose for living.

Which brings me to my last goal- Purpose. What is my life’s purpose? I have enough work, projects, and writing to shut myself off from the world for the rest of my life. I could isolate and focus only on my plans, accomplishing them one by one, and maybe stop to appreciate how far I’ve come but that’s unlikely. There are always more plans to be made, more goals to achieve, no time for satisfaction… But that is not what life is for. That is not what brings life meaning.

My life’s purpose is simply this:

  1. Learn how to love others. Learn how to allow others to love me. Both require the hardest of all: Learn how to love myself
  2. Write my truth and share it with the world
  3. Live well according to my Higher Power’s guidance

It’s not about resolutions. It’s about refinement and recommitment. It’s about gracefully accepting the lessons of time and allowing all those big, big plans of youth to fall away to focus on what really matters. Time passes so much faster than we realize. It is the most precious commodity we have.

And what I would say to you for the New Year is simply this: figure out what you really want and resolve to do that in whatever capacity you still can. What else is this time for?

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

P.S. 2018

I love winter. I must since I chose to move north to Minnesota 15 years ago. It’s not the cold, it’s the 3 solid months of writing and reading with very little distraction. Cycling does not lure me out onto the forested trails and social invitations slow down to a crawl. No one wants to leave their home either and that’s fine.  I have plenty of paper and ink to spare.

Last winter, I committed to waking up at 5am and working on my novel before work. I had a smoke damaged, sooty copy of a 2nd draft I wrote 10 years before. It was somewhere to start. So, I scanned the 263-page document using optical character recognition software and imported that into Scrivener. After 1.5 months of work, it was formatted and cut up into sections, chapters, and scenes.

For the next 1.5 months, I wrote roughly 22,000 words of new content; total word count is sitting around 143,000 words. Now, I realize that if you participate in NANOWRIMO that 22K in 1.5 months is a puny amount… but what can I say? Slow but sure… It feels like I am writing a different book. 10 years will do that. Characters and the basic story are roughly the same, but I am not. I’ve had some practice. My writing voice is much more confident and authentic.

But 2018 was a tough year. By April, I was absorbed in implementing software at work and in May my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I did not have the energy or emotional resources to continue work on the book. I did continue to write poetry and post on my blog. I attended many poetry open mics and had my first show as a featured poet in March 2018. And I rode an emotional roller coaster for the rest of the year, often overwhelmed and feeling like a deer in headlights.

In November, I had a revelation: I was still hiding. I wrote for literally decades and shared very little of my work with anyone. I set-up my blog in 2014 and did not start posting on it until 2017 after I sent ‘Popcorn from the Void’ off to my editor. But I was mostly posting poems. I could still fool myself into thinking I was being vulnerable- and I was- but not in a way that people could see a clear picture of me. I could still hide behind the form.

‘Popcorn from the Void’ is a book based off personal essay blog posts that Todd Park used to manage his cancer- both in providing information to family and friends and in processing his experience. Was I not about to walk through my mother’s cancer and death? And could my personal essays about this journey help others?

My 2018 blog stats are very modest but solid: 43 posts, 1,147 visitors, 1,733 views, 107 total followers. That means I averaged 40 views per post and 10 visits per follower. There aren’t a lot of you, but you are loyal! I had two shows in which I was one of the featured readers. And I submitted ‘Popcorn from the Void’ to the 2018 Writers Digest Self-Published Book Awards. And while it did not win, it received a rave review from its judge and scored 30/30 points on its assessment. Not bad for an amateur.

So dear readers, 2019 promises to be an even tougher year personally but it is also the year that I intend to try to be published for real, for the first time. And it will be a year of personal essays where I will feel very, very naked. And it will be the year of my first finished novel.

It has to be… if I want to be sure mom can read it…

Blessed New Year!

Christine

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

Toys for Tots

My father was a poor kid. Born in the 30’s, he grew up in the rough part of town and lived through the Great Depression and WWII. My grandmother was a single mom with four children for much of my father’s childhood, a time when there was a lot of shame, condemnation, and little support for that circumstance.

The local newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star, ran a toy drive during the Christmas season during those years. It was a charity of gently used toys collected then given new homes, distributed to disadvantage children. My father was a recipient of those toys.

Later in life he was a college educated professional, a mechanical engineer by trade, but he never forgot where he came from. My mother likes to tell the story of coming down the basement stairs to discover dad and my brother Billy sorting through the toy box. My father encouraged my brother to pick out some toys to give to the poorer kids for Christmas.

The largest modern iteration of this type of program is the United States Marine Corps mission, Toys for Tots. The deadline for donating to their 2018 campaign is fast approaching, ending December 16. Toys for Tots collects new unwrapped toys for children ages 0-15, often with a shortage of toys for infants or teenagers. Toys for Tots has been running since 1947 and has distributed some 548 million toys to 251 million children

For years, I delighted in buying toys for my nieces and nephews, but they are all grown up now. I choose to place Toys for Tots on my Christmas list every year. I am paying forward the life that my father provided me. I was the youngest child born at the height of his career. I never had a lack of toys to choose from. Unfortunately, he died when I was 12 years old, but I will never forget what he taught me.

What I understand is this: it’s not just about the joy that is offered- but the dignity.

It is hard for some to imagine that after paying for rent, food, bills, etc. that there really is no money left. Maybe you’ve got $20 in the bank for the next two weeks. Early on in my adult years, I lived that reality too. There were no gifts, no real celebration. I could not afford the gasoline to go home for Christmas or if I did, my presence was the present. But I had no children. I only had to look out for my own ego, my own feelings.

Christmas is a luxury. I cannot imagine what it is like for children who do not have a toy to open on Christmas morning. If the bounty of my professional career can provide someone with some small measure of community, belonging, dignity, and joy- what sweeter fruits of my labor are there? Is that not exactly what Christmas is all about?

 

Please donate to your local Toys for Tots. For more information, please visit their website: https://www.toysfortots.org/

 

Copyright C.M. Mounts, December 2018

Christmas Cards

I celebrate Christmas and annually travel to Illinois to spend the holiday with my family. In the weeks leading up to it, I don’t do much besides shop for gifts to take home with me. As a single professional, what is the point of decorating a Christmas tree besides to serve as an extra-large cat toy? I hang a wreath instead.

I don’t go to Christmas shows or events because I do not have anyone to go with. I have attended events alone for years, so that’s not the problem. It just gets old. And lonely. And if you attend family events alone, people look at you with suspicion like you are there to snatch their husband or baby or purse. It’s a terrible world we live in.

Christmas cards are one of the few holiday activities I participate in.

I have collected many friends and acquaintances over the years. As much as social media might want us to believe it has brought us closer together, I mostly see disconnection. I sometimes find myself searching through the newsfeed for help and come back with emptiness. If I have learned one thing living in a highly commercialized society, it is that you will not find real connection in marketing- whether it’s for an actual product or by an ordinary person presenting an image, trying to brand themselves.

I don’t see everyone, every year. Some I haven’t seen in decades. And I may not see some people ever again. My former boss Margaret comes to mind. When I first started out in my career 20 years ago, she taught me what it meant to be a smart, hard-working, professional woman. She set an example for me that I carried through my work to this day. We remained friends after I left the job and I delighted in terrorizing her around Halloween about just how many days were left until Christmas. I sent her a Christmas card every year until now. Cancer took her September 13, 2018. I have to cross her name off my list…

All I ever get in the mail these days are bills, advertisements, or junk. The art of the hand-written letter is all but dead. Do you remember what that was like? How exciting it was to get an envelope addressed to you in a familiar hand. That was replaced with the excitement of getting an email in the mid-90’s. Now email seems to just suck the life out of you. Letters haven’t returned. So, I mail Christmas cards that are funny or beautiful. I hand write messages of good will in each to simply let people know I am thinking about them.

I know some people think cards are stupid and don’t bother. I know others who play a yuletide version of ‘chicken’ in which they watch the mailbox for Christmas cards, then only send out cards in response to those they’ve received. I have also watched people open my card looking for money and when they only found my message, toss it aside in disappointment. Here is the truth folks: Love is spelled T.I.M.E. not M.O.N.E.Y.

I still have Christmas cards sent to me from my grandmothers who have both been dead for over 20 years. As I age, I have come to recognize that the time people spent writing out cards and letters was the love they were sending me. Christmas cards return me to a simpler time. They remind me of the days of anticipation for Christmas day. When I fill out my cards, I walk down memory lane, think about the people and the time we have spent together. I suppose I do it as much for me as for them.

“Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you”
– Jim Croce

 

Copyright C.M. Mounts, December 2018