Outer Banks 2020

Well, peeps, I’m only 2 months late, but here it is — my recap of our vacation to the Outer Banks, 2020 edition.

Better late than never, I guess, and I figured most of us could use a dose of the beach considering winter is rearing its frigid head in most parts of the world right now. Plus, I know it’s been hard for a lot of people to travel what with the pandemic and all, so if you haven’t been able to leave your zip code in the last eight months, I hope this post helps you live vicariously through the Internet for a few minutes.

This trip was originally supposed to take place in May, but got postponed because of COVID, so our vacation looked nothing like we initially anticipated. Virus aside, we planned this excursion with every intention of taking our dog Comet, of course having no idea that he’d end up passing away in April. We ended up taking our new fur kid, Kitty, and as an added surprise our latest (and a bit unexpected) addition Ghost came along too. Considering virus precautions and having two new dogs in tow, my anxiety was pretty high in the weeks leading up to our departure.

We did have a few hiccups along the way — somehow missing the exit for our first traditional rest stop and driving an hour out of our way & Kitty nearly jumping out of the car unleashed — but the journey went relatively smoothly, all things considered. Finding food and bathrooms during the six hundred mile trek required a little more planning with COVID shutdowns, and we had to be hyper vigilant and cognizant of hand washing and sanitizing and pay attention to the differing restrictions in each state. Once we reached out destination, we found that North Carolina’s restrictions were very similar to those in PA. We had to wear masks everywhere we went, capacity limits at tourist attractions were small, and restaurants only offered take out or sparse outdoor seating. Still, I felt safe all week and following these extra safety steps were in a beach town didn’t take away the relaxing and freeing feeling of being on the coast.

The only major disappointment was our beach house. After two decades of visiting the Outer Banks and staying in everything from mansions to modest cottages, this place was probably bottom of the barrel. The house was old and in dire need of dozens of repairs, and I was not impressed by the cleaning staff, COVID aside. Still, we made it work as best we could, and the drawbacks at the house did not detract from the stunning views and quiet, peaceful location in the southern town of Frisco. We spent hours wading, discovering seashells, watching pelicans and dolphins, and marveling at the stunning sunrises and sunsets. We took the nearby ferry across the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke Island twice, where we made sure to patronize local shops and restaurants effected by Hurricane Dorian and the virus, and walked the haunting trail at Springer’s Point, where Blackbeard’s body is said to have been thrown after his last battle off the coast. Our dogs particularly enjoyed the sugary soft sand, where they dug holes and chased birds.

Back in Frisco and Buxton, I explored a beautiful church, Our Lady of the Seas, to get inspiration for a pivotal scene in my WIP, Ocracoke’s Daughter. I browsed a cool little bookstore called Buxton Books, housed in a pre-civil war building with each tiny room dedicated to a different subject. We made plans to attend a ghost walk on October 30th, but it ended up getting cancelled due to high winds and power outages from a storm off the coast (2020 strikes again). We visited the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, where I did some additional research on Blackbeard, again for my WIP, and as usual spent my last night walking solo on the beach, feeling the rush of salt water run over my ankles and wiping my tears as I said a temporary goodbye to the sea once again.

This vacation was definitely different from any other I’ve had in the Outer Banks, being in a much more remote location on the southern beaches as opposed to the more populated, touristy spots further north. Still, the whimsy of the island did its job in healing my world weary body, mind, and soul . . . and I already miss it.

Les Sigh.

Guess I’ll have to live vicariously through my WIP until I can return.

We Have a Ghost

No, not that kind of Ghost.

Remember a few posts ago I mentioned that Kitty was getting a little brother?

Well, he’s here, and after much debate, J (and I) named him Ghost.

Ghost is about 10 months old and came from the same rescue in Texas as Kitty. We don’t know much about his story, but believe he was saved from a kill shelter. He’s part Jack Russell and possibly part Schnauzer, and only weighs about 25 lbs. And every pound of him is pure energy.

The first and only time I had a puppy was when my family adopted my first ever dog, Maggie, back when I was eleven, and I have to admit that I forgot just how energetic puppies are. Ghost is in instant play mode as soon as he opens his eyes in the morning. He’s always running, jumping, grabbing toys, and prodding at poor Miss Kitty 24/7. The two have learned to get along pretty well for the most part, but I’d be lying if I said the first few weeks weren’t tough — there was even an incident caused by a piece of rogue chicken that resulted in lots of yelping and Kitty ripping some of Ghost’s fur out — something that sent my anxiety into overdrive and had me practically hysterical. But after many conversations with doggy foster moms, friends, and our vet, I eventually realized that this wasn’t quite the horrible sign I thought.

We only had Ghost for 2 weeks before going on vacation, and that was a challenge in and of itself (more about that next time). Even though we’ve been home for nearly a month now, he still has a lot to learn. Though his potty accidents are now few and far between (knock on wood), he is most definitely getting enrolled in puppy classes as soon as one comes around that works with our schedule.

Ghost has learned to sit and give paw (adorable!) and we’re working on “come,” but he’s completely oblivious to “down” and “stay.” We also can’t seem to get him to stop jumping (and nipping) when we come home, and he is SO destructive with his toys — even ones that look indestructible for bigger dogs. J and I have tried everything we can think of — and everything fellow dog owners and the Internet recommends — but he does not respond to yelling, clapping, “AH! AH” or even bops on the nose. We’re trying to be patient and know that he’s still in his transition period, but we definitely want to correct these behaviors soon before he begins to think it’s okay to jump (and walk) all over people and completely ignore the rules.

Like most dogs (and people), Ghost is a work in progress, and the fact that he learned “give paw” in only a matter of a week or so gives us hope. Besides, he’s pretty damn cute and a big cuddle bug. The fact that he wants to cuddle up beside us all the time creates some competition and jealousy between him and Kitty, so J and I are also working to make sure that the two of them know that they are both loved equally and that no one is being ousted. In fact, we bought a king sized bed so that all 4 of us can sleep together more comfortably (hey we needed a new bed anyway). And even though he can be quite a pest towards his sister, I’m glad they have each other, especially during the day while we’re at work.

Drama aside, I’m falling more in love with this little turd every day, and it melts my heart when him and Kitty play together, run in the yard, and curl up next to each other to sleep. I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted on their progress in the coming months.

And without further ado, a barrage of pictures —

Do Not Open til November 2020

Four years ago, in 2016, I wrote this letter to myself and sealed it in an envelope. I stuck it inside my nightstand drawer and didn’t think about it much until the last couple of weeks. I fully intended to open it this month, but I wondered when it would be appropriate to do so. Election day? Once the results were announced? After the news, whatever it may be, settled in?

Last night J & I had two friends over to celebrate the Biden/Harris win and the inevitable end to trump’s four years of an embarrassing parade of hate and misinformation. It was the first time the four of us had been together since COVID, and it felt good to be in the company of good friends again. It felt good to catch up, eat pizza and wings, drink beer and toast with champagne. It felt amazing to watch Kamala Harris and Joe Biden take the stage and celebrate with crowds of (masked) citizens who had taken to the streets to celebrate the end of a reign of racism and lies.

And this morning when I woke up, it felt appropriate to open that stuffed drawer of my night stand, sift through four years of greeting cards, newspaper and magazine articles, phone chargers, and coupons to recover the letter I’d written four years ago in the wake of an unprecedented election.

I’ll share it with you now —

Hey, you,

Four years ago, you made history by voting for a woman for President of the United States. She didn’t win, and it was heartbreaking and terrifying. (I don’t think you need to be reminded of who did win).

You spent hours crying your eyes out. You got into all sorts of political arguments. You felt angry, hopeless, embarrassed, and sad. But then you felt empowered. You realized you had a job to do and a cause to fight for and people to help. When you read this in 2020, I don’t know where you’ll be in life or where we’ll be as a country or humankind. But I guess the point of doing this is to remind you four years from now of how low and hopeless so many people felt and how somehow we banded together, and hopefully not only made it through but prospered and made some big changes.

So maybe by 2020 we’ll have a new president. Maybe it’ll be a newcomer we haven’t heard of yet or someone like Michelle Obama. Maybe you’ll be a mom, maybe you’ll live in a bigger house, maybe you’ll be really successful with your writing. Or maybe you’ll still live in the same house and work at C and write in your spare time.

But where ever you are in 2020, and whoever is on the ballot this time around, just take a moment to reflect on this simultaneously dark and bright moment of 2016 — and what is hopefully an even brighter moment in 2020.

Friends, I cannot tell you how good it feels knowing that trump will be a one term president. Like most of the world, J & and spent the last four days watching the endless election coverage and riding the emotional roller coaster that came along with it. There were moments of of hope and disbelief — that Biden/Harris had flipped several red states and counties blue, that the margins were so close, and that even after the disaster that has been the last four years, that so many people still support this mockery of office.

I was standing in line at the deli counter at the grocery store when my husband texted me to let me know that Biden won. I quickly logged onto CNN.com to verify the news, and my knees almost gave out. The relief spread quickly through my body, lifting a weight that had been burdening me and so many other Americans for four long years. As the girl behind the counter sliced my Dietz and Watson, I looked around for someone, anyone I could share the news with. The other shoppers all seemed oblivious still, and I knew it was inappropriate to broach the subject with strangers. I accepted my meat and cheese with shaking hands, then rounded the corner with my cart and texted my sister and my friend with tears in my eyes. As I struggled to get a hold of myself next to the baked goods, I was amazed at how suddenly it was so much easier to breathe.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt proud to be an American and hopeful for this country and its people — all of its people. I know that we still have so much work to do and there are so many more things that need to change, but I truly believe that we took the right first step this past week in electing two people that not only represent the diversity and beauty of this nation, but have its best interests at heart.

Updates Available

Hello, all. I just wanted to pop in and share some updates with the blogosphere. My last post focused mostly on all the writing projects I’ve been working on recently, and I’m really proud of myself for getting so much accomplished in this dismal summer/year as far as my craft goes. I realize that my blogging hasn’t been as consistent as it once was, but of course the entire world is a dumpster fire right now so what IS ‘normal’ in 2020?

Certainly not the last few weeks of my life.

After giving the rundown of my writing projects in my last post, I felt really motivated and was looking forward to getting back on track at blogging weekly or bi-weekly. And then the universe laughed.

My mom had a mild heart attack on September 22nd. The doctors said that this kind of heart attack is very common in kidney transplant patients, and she was only in the hospital for a few days for observation and to have a stent put in before she was back home recuperating. Aside from a nasty reaction to one of her new medications, she’s doing pretty well. With her medical history, this mostly just seemed like a bump in the road, albeit a scary one, but it definitely knocked me for a loop.

J and I have also spent the last month or so becoming more annoyed and frustrated with our disrespectful neighbors and our neighborhood — so much so that we met with a family member who is a real estate agent and discussed the first few steps of selling and buying a house. While we’re more optimistic about our options, we have A LOT to do before these plans can be put into motion, so we have to bide our time for at least another 6 months. Unless we hit the lottery of course.

The BS at work exploded with MAJOR changes two weeks ago, and it’s wreaked havoc on my mental health and confidence. I won’t go into too many details, but I will say that I still have a job, although nearly every single thing about the position looks differently than it had for the past six and a half years. Some days I feel really optimistic about where I’m headed at my 9-5, and other days I feel like my brain is going to leak out of my ear. I have no idea where this is going.

Our dog, Kitty, is going to be a big sister.
I temporarily lost my mind a few weeks ago and agreed to get a second dog. J and I had talked about it after Comet passed, and before we adopted Kitty, but I kept saying I wasn’t ready. But then one day J sent me a picture of an adorable pup from the same rescue organization that Kitty came from, and I started crying as soon as I saw his face. So. We’re getting a second dog. I’m excited for Kitty to have a companion, but I’ve never lived with 2 dogs before and it’s definitely going to be a big adjustment for all of us. Plus, he’s coming 2 weeks before we go on vacation . . . so we’ll have 2 dogs in the car with us on a 10+ hour drive to the beach. I’m sure there will be plenty of blog posts about this to come.

So, yeah, in the midst of all of this, I’m trying to get ready for vacation . . . without really getting ready. This trip was initially planned for May, but COVID ruined that, so we postponed until now. With the way 2020 has been going, I’ve done pretty much NOTHING to prepare for the trip, which goes against everything my type A personality believes in. Normally I’m making color-coded lists and tossing items into suitcases a month beforehand, but this time I’m trying to fly by the seat of my pants. Because again, who knows what is or isn’t going to happen at this point.
Except, you know, there’s 2 dogs going with us.

Any positive/happy vibes you could send would be appreciated.

(Still) Confused About Freelance

question mark

This is going to be a “whiny, poor me, I don’t get it” post. A more honest, raw version of this one from a while back.

Because since 2016, when I decided to devote every minute of my spare time to my writing, I still have yet to understand a lick of how to make money doing so.

I signed up for yet another newsletter that supposed to help with this kind of stuff. And just like every other website/newsletter/club/class, I find myself asking the same questions and thinking the same confused thoughts . . .

Step One is to acknowledge your uncomfortable feelings. Yes,  I know that it’s normal to be nervous and intimidated. Yes,  I want to be my own boss, make supplemental income, and be proud of something. Yes, I want to help people by providing a service I’m good at.

Step Two is to find my niche. What is my niche? I don’t have a college degree. I’m not an expert on anything except maybe Tudor History and Harry Potter. Sure, I’ve worked some form of admin or customer service work over the last fifteen years, but who hasn’t? How can I possibly use that to help me find writing jobs?

I’d like to think that after six years in the salvage auto/insurance industry that I’ve picked up on some decent information. But I’m hardly a “qualified” expert. I have no licenses or certifications. And offering to proofread or re-write one of our clients’ or vendors’ websites is probably a conflict of interest. I can’t sacrifice my 9-5 job.

The only other thing I know a lot about is mental health and therapy. But again I have no qualifications, no degrees. Just because someone knows a lot about a disease doesn’t mean they’re qualified to write about it. So I can’t even make money writing about things I have intimate knowledge of. How is this supposed to be helpful?!

messy notebook

Clips. Okay, here’s something I finally have. I’ve published six pieces over the last few years and I have my own blog. Yay! But . . . I’ve never been paid for those pieces. And most of the writing samples are deeply personal or fictional. How am I supposed to use personal essays or fun flash fiction to sell myself to businesses looking for content or technical writers?

Portfolio & Online Presence. I kind of have these too. Score! But again, my portfolio is full of un-business related credits. And while I do have social media accounts for my writer-self, those are mostly to interact with other writers and readers. LinkedIn apparently is a must. But I already tried searching for freelance jobs on there and only one came up. What the heck am I doing wrong? How do people find me on there? What could I possibly post on LinkedIn that isn’t on my Facebook, Twitter, or blog? And for the third time — HOW ARE MY PUBLISHED PIECES ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH, FIRST LOVE, AND THE OUTER BANKS GOING TO GET ME FREELANCE CLIENTS?!?!?!?!

Rates? Screw rates. This is probably the aspect of freelancing I’m least concerned with. At this point I’ll let a college kid pay me $20 just to proofread his mediocre term paper. Throw me a bone here, please.

Prospects and Marketing. 
I’m starting to feel like a broken record here but . . . how can I have any prospects when I don’t have a niche? How can I have prospects when I don’t have any relevant business experience or credentials?
And how am I supposed to market myself without any of the above? Not to mention the fact that I’m still the most technologically inept millennial on the planet. In the four years since I’ve been back in the writing world, my eyes still glaze over anytime I read anything about marketing, SEO, widgets, or site traffic.

I just . . . I can’t . . .  I don’t understand.


It’s like math class all over again. I feel like I’m doomed to fail because I’m not business minded.

Any help anyone has ever offered has only made me more confused.

Is it possible I’m just entirely too stupid or just not good enough to make money writing? I’m not even asking to be one of those people who can quit my FT job. I just want to make, like, an extra $100 – $200 a month.

Is that too much to ask?

PS:  The writer who runs the latest newsletter I’ve subscribed to considered herself a failure for “only making” $500 a month freelancing when she first started out. Sigh.


Anxiety & Masks


holding breath

I’ll be honest — the first time I put a mask on I wanted to claw it off immediately.

It was back in March, before things got really bad here in the States, and a few weeks before Pennsylvania’s governor mandated that masks be worn in all public places.

My husband, who works in a hospital, encouraged me to wear a disposable surgical mask to the grocery store, and I admit that I ripped it off after about ten minutes. It was itchy and awkward, and I experiencing claustrophobia for one of the first times in my life. The only other time I’d felt like I was suffocating or that the walls were closing in on me was when we’d gotten lost in The Underground on our trip to London.

Needless to say, when it became mandatory to wear a mask and I realized that I was going to have to wear one all day in the office, I had a full-on panic attack.

While I 100% support the mask mandate, I realize that there are some people with invisible conditions — like anxiety or claustrophobia — that may have a hard time adhering to this rule, so I wanted to share some ideas that helped me and might help others adjust to this new normal.

  1. Material & Type:
    The first disposal mask I tried was a high-grade surgical one. I didn’t like the way it tied around the back of my head and the thicker material was too much for someone who’d never worn a face covering. I felt the same way when I tried to use a mask that a coworker had made from an old pillow case. It was entirely too thick, which made me hot and it to me it felt like an actual pillow was being held over my face.
    After trying a few different things, I found that a different type of disposable surgical mask worked better for me, as did masks made out of thinner fabric like these ones from Target.
    You can also play around with different features or types of masks — some people like ones that loop over the ears, while others prefer ones that tie behind their heads. Some people are more comfortable wearing a scarf of bandanna. In most cases, as long as you’re not performing surgery or caring for someone with COVID-19, any of these are acceptable options.
  2. Size:
    This is something I didn’t give much thought to when I first started wearing a mask; I assumed they were ‘one size fits all.’ But now that it’s become a staple in life and something that’s probably not going away anytime soon, I’ve realized how important it is to have a mask that fits properly. And for those of us with anxieties, the fit may help alleviate some of those uncomfortable feelings.
    I have a tiny head, and subsequently a tiny face. Sunglasses, headbands, and ball caps are typically too big for me, and the same goes for masks. The fact that the first few I tried were entirely too big for my face probably contributed to the feeling of being suffocated or overwhelmed. The last few I’ve purchased have actually been kid sized, but they work well for my apparently small dome.
    If you’re struggling, try a smaller size or a different brand. As long as it covers your mouth and nose, you’re good!


3. Practice at Home:
Like with almost everything else, practice makes perfect. In order to get used to masks, I wore one around the house for a few minutes at a time before I felt comfortable doing so for extended periods. When it came time to wear one out in public, I first ran out to pick up a prescription, knowing that the trip would be short and I could take it off in probably less than ten minutes. Once I tackled short errands, I was finally able to wear one for a long trip to the grocery store and during work.
Concentrating on taking slow, even breaths also helped, as did using mantras like “I am safe” and “I’m getting plenty of oxygen.”

4. Use Essential Oils:
I’ve become a fan of diffusers and essential oils over the last couple of years, and occasionally use them on my mask. If I’m having a rough day at work or feel a panic attack coming on randomly while wearing one, I sprinkle the fabric with a few drops of lavender or this CBD oil.. Having the calming scents right against my nose helps me breathe better and stay calm.

5. If You Wear Glasses:
One of the chief complaints about masks is that they make your glasses fog up. While I usually wear contacts, there have been a few occasions where I’ve had to suffer through wearing my spectacles in conjunction with a mask, and it is a pain in the ass.
For those of you who wear glasses daily, may I suggest a mask with a nose wire? My husband, who wears his glasses all the time, works on the dock at a hospital, and explained that if the wire is pinched flush against your nose, it will greatly reduce fogging.
If you’re the crafty type, you can even make this a DIY project using materials like pipe cleaners, paperclips, or even twist ties.


6. Have Fun!
Look, we’re all kind of grasping at straws for ways to maintain sanity at this point. If we have to wear masks, we might as well have fun with it. If you’re the artsy type, have a (small, social distance-enforced) party and make masks with friends and family. Use old t-shirts, pillowcases, socks, and even bras to make yourself a one-of-a-kind face covering.
Flaunt your interests with sports team logos or these fabulous literary masks.  One of the coolest masks I’ve seen is this one,  for Harry Potter fans, which is an impressively authentic version of the Marauder’s Map.
You can also use this opportunity to support a good cause with the purchase of one of these masks that give back.

Well. There’s a post I never anticipated writing.

Hope this helps someone and hope you’re all staying safe and healthy.



The Only Way Out is Through, Part 3

continued from Parts 1 & 2 

2011 – 2014

Towards the end of January 2011, my friend invited me to her house for “a small dinner party” to celebrate my twenty-sixth birthday. In reality, this was a ruse to get me to a surprise party where J got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife, surrounded by family and friends.

We basked in the glow of our engagement for a few months, but before long the two of us grew frustrated – with our situation and with each other. J was once again unhappy at a job that he thought had long-term potential, and I was wrestling with the fact that I’d have to leave my comfortable job for a place that paid more than slightly above minimum wage.

While J unintentionally bounced from one job to another, I finally secured a new position working in an office for a team of mental health providers. My salary would increase, my commute time would decrease, and I was excited to work in an environment that catered to people who, like me, struggled with anxiety and depression. Or so I thought.


My new job gave me absolutely no training, and the office manager who hired me had next to no patience. I was made to feel inept and useless, and to make matters worse I soon realized that both the office manager and another employee passed the time by reading through patient files and making fun of peoples’ symptoms. As if that weren’t enough to chase me away, I also discovered that the head psychiatrist was sleeping with the office manager – and both of them were married to other people. I was so completely disgusted that I quit within a matter of weeks, and was lucky enough to secure a new job the very next day.

My new venture was being a dispatcher at a plumbing and heating company. Again, my salary increased and my commute time decreased, and I finally felt good about my job and planning our wedding. J had also found a job he liked, but I was growing frustrated with the fact that we had been engaged for nearly eight months and still hadn’t set a date. While I knew that our engagement would be long, I had no idea that we’d have such trouble when it came to jobs or finances. After a couple of arguments, J and I finally got back on the same page when it came to our future, and we set a date for September of 2013.

After about a year as dispatcher, I grew weary of trying to handle 30-40 service calls a day with only five techs. I quietly began sending out resumes, promising myself that I’d only change jobs if the pay was significantly higher and the company did work I truly believed in. I was, after all, planning a wedding and buying a house. This was no time to make unnecessary changes.

to do

In the summer of 2012, I applied for a job downtown as a receptionist for a nonprofit organization that was an affiliate of an elite university in Pittsburgh. It was a long shot, so I was shocked when I secured an interview. And I nearly shit myself when I snagged the job.

I was intimidated, but excited. The organization was doing educational work in third world countries and their office was a brand new, gleaming, high-tech environment that made me feel as though I’d finally made it. Even though my commute and parking situation was now horrendous, I was making more money than I ever thought possible doing menial tasks like ordering office supplies and transferring phone calls. I even got the chance to assist some of the departments with research and small write-ups, which I was repeatedly praised for.

Three months later it all went to shit. My immediate supervisor went out suddenly for weeks because of surgery, and her boss, the demanding CEO, dumped all of her work on me. Caught off guard and completely unprepared and overwhelmed, I did everything in my power to keep up with his impossible demands and condescending attitude. I worked ten hour days, begged vendors to cater to his every whim, and spent parts of every day sobbing in the ladies room. I knew I had to keep this job but I didn’t have the experience to be the executive assistant that he was used to. When I found out that the CEO and the director of HR were sleeping together (again, both married to other people), I lost all respect for the entire organization.

Before I could find a new place of employment, the arrogant, womanizing CEO fired me the day after he used me as a gopher during an important event. While I was relieved to be out of such a toxic environment, I was twelve months away from my wedding and J and I had just begun looking at houses. What on earth was I going to do?


Losing that job, filing for unemployment and looking for a new position absolutely devastated me. I felt like I had completely and utterly failed and I saw no way that J and I could ever go through with the wedding or home buying process. At one point while talking to a woman at the unemployment office, I became so emotionally overwhelmed that I ended up sobbing into the phone on the floor of my parents’ basement. “I’m supposed to be planning my wedding!” I shouted to this poor stranger. “But instead I’m doing this!”

Slowly, with the help of a therapist and an employment agency, things began to improve. I started feeling slightly better, and was making decent money again when I started a new office position at an appraisal management company. While I was glad to be making a regular salary again, I knew within a matter of weeks that the position simply wasn’t for me. The work itself was confusing and the environment was super flaky. Several of the managers were condescending and disrespectful, and the pressure was incredibly high due to the fact that each employee underwent a scrupulous review every single month.

Still, I knew I couldn’t quit because the wedding was inching closer. J and I were nine months away from being husband and wife, so I figured I’d muddle through as best I could for the time being.

Somehow, amid all the chaos in our professional lives, J and I found and purchased our first home and got married five months later. Despite all the turmoil of the last several years, these important events (mostly) went off without a hitch, and we had an absolute blast the day we said “I do.” Someday I’ll tell you all about it in detail.

wedding pic
photographed by Lavender Leigh Photography, Pittsburgh


But our woes with employment weren’t over yet. Right around the time I started looking for a new job to escape the pretentious environment of the mortgage company, I lost that job too. My panic was ironically short-lived, considering we now had a mortgage, but I was able to secure a job six weeks later in March of 2014, and I am still working there to this day.

Seeing all of it laid out like this definitely makes me realize how much shit J and I have been through over the years. It makes me realize how strong we are as a couple and as individuals, and solidifies the knowledge that we can make it through anything together.

But more importantly – and perhaps most relevant right now – is the fact that tough times always come and go. When you’re in the thick of it, it’s absolutely horrible. You can’t see the forest for the trees and some days you just want to give up. I know I’ve definitely had similar thoughts during the shit storm of a year that has been 2020, and I know most other people out there have too.

Even though none of us know when we’ll see sunny skies again, we can’t lose sight of the fact that someday things will get better. Whether you’re struggling with the effects of the pandemic or dealing with a personal crisis, there will come a day when a present problem is a thing of the past.

With any luck, we’ll learn something from it and be stronger in the future.

Stay strong. Stay healthy.

black heart

The Only Way Out is Through, Part 2

continued from Part 1


At the height of the recession, J and I were thankful to have jobs. Neither one of us were making great money, but plenty of people were stuck on unemployment and having trouble finding work. As we prepared ourselves for the first holidays since his dad’s passing, we looked forward to 2010 as the year that we’d be able to move in together.

In November of 2009, I was covering for the receptionist at work when J’s cell number lit up the call screen. I answered eagerly, still relishing the fact that I had a boyfriend who called me at work from time to time.

But when he told me that he’d been fired, I went into instant panic mode. I remember crying in my office, feeling angry and confused. We had just gotten back to our new normal; how could this be happening? My anger and frustration only grew when I learned the details of his termination – it was due to a miscommunication that had been blown out of proportion, and he spent the next several months fighting for unemployment benefits. As 2009 came to a close, we had to face the harsh reality that our dreams of moving in together would once again be delayed.


Over the next couple of months, J spent hours every day desperately trying to find a job in a crumbling economy. To make matters worse, he had a health scare in March that sent him to the hospital for several days while he was uninsured. Though we were both grateful that he was eventually okay, he was now several thousand dollars in debt due to medical bills, with no job prospects to soften the blow.

It took J six months to find a job, and another six months to find one that he didn’t hate or didn’t put his well being in danger. By the fall of 2010, he was finally making steady money again. Little did we know that our problems weren’t over yet.


On October 16, 2010, I woke up to find a note on the kitchen table in my mom’s neat handwriting. Dad had taken her to the hospital for antibiotics, it read. See you in a day or two.

Mom had been doing at-home kidney dialysis for years, and occasionally she contracted  peritonitis from it. This was a common problem for dialysis patients, but luckily one that was treated quickly and easily with IV antibiotics. She’d had it a few times in the past, and after spending 24-48 hours in the hospital, she’d return home perfectly fine. This was not one of those times.


The infection Mom had contracted raged out of control for days, which turned into weeks, which turned into months. She was admitted and released to and from the hospital three separate times and underwent several procedures and surgeries. Nothing the doctors were giving her seemed able to fight the infection that had consumed her entire peritoneal cavity. To make matters worse, the strong drugs they were giving her diminished her appetite and made her unable to keep down anything she did eat, so she wasn’t getting enough nutrition. She grew weaker and sicker before our eyes, and was in the ICU by Thanksgiving. As the rest of the world readied itself for Christmas, I was faced with the possibility that I might lose my mom.

The idea wasn’t new to me, considering that she’d been fighting an autoimmune disease and subsequent kidney disease since I was five, but this time things really seemed bleak. I remember spending every spare moment at the hospital, jumping every time the phone rang, and being so sick with worry and fear that I could barely eat. I lost ten pounds in a month, and was desperately trying to keep the house, laundry, and meals together in her absence. All the while, my work suffered, as did my relationship with J. I was so exhausted of having bad things happen to us, and I had no idea how to convey my grief to anyone. The icing on the proverbial cake was the group of friends I lost in those months – people I’d known since middle school who accused me of being a drama queen and a cry baby and were actually angry that I skipped a Halloween party to be with my hospitalized mother.

By some miracle, Mom began to recover just before Christmas. We spent the holiday in a rehabilitation center, and a few weeks into the New Year she was finally home for good.

After living through what ended up being some of the most trying months of my life, I was definitely ready for a bit of a reprieve . . .


The Only Way Out is Through, Part 1

Like most of the world, I’ve spent the last several months of quarantine asking myself a series of scary questions – How long will this last? When will I feel safe or normal again? When will things get better? What if things get worse? How on earth are we going to make it through this?

Though nearly everyone is asking similar questions and wrestling with some major life changes (or standstills), and we keep repeatedly (albeit virtually) reminding one another that we’re in this together, we are, for the most part, still alone. No one has any concrete answers to any of the scary questions we’re all asking, and that’s probably the most frightening part of all.


I’ve had moments where I’ve used the circumstances of the pandemic for good – writing and submitting like crazy, cleaning, taking walks, and having plenty of ‘me’ time. But there are also times that I’ve felt like I was going to absolutely insane if I couldn’t leave my zip code or couldn’t fathom the next time I’d get to travel. I’ve cried over not being able to hug my friend when she offered comfort over the death of my dog, and I’ve cried after leaving my parents’ house and not being able to hug my immune-compromised mom. One day at the grocery store I couldn’t reach an item on the top shelf and I couldn’t get close enough to anyone to ask for help, and on came the waterworks. I’ve stormed away from my desk at work after yelling at a customer for the four hundredth time that day to read the signs on the door regarding masks and the ‘one person in the office at a time’ rule. In those moments of overwhelming emotion, the biggest question on my mind is how on earth am I going to get through this?

During moments of clarity I’ve had to remind myself that although the world population is muddling through uncharted territory, we’ve been through worse – or at least similar — situations. As have I.

Though things are absolute and total shit right now, personally I am in a better place in my life in a lot of ways than, say, a decade ago. During the first four years of mine and J’s relationship, we experienced one devastating blow after another. It seemed like as soon as we cleared one hurdle, another one would be waiting around the corner to knock us down once again. There was a long stretch where we couldn’t see how the two of us would ever be able to get better jobs, a house of our own, go on vacation, or get married.


Today, with the world going to hell in a hand basket in more ways than one, I look back on those times and think about how strong we must have been as a couple and as individuals to keep going until we reached our goals. I’ve been wanting to write about those tumultuous years for a while now, and figured that now is as good a time as any. I’ve got extra time on my hands to write, readers have more time to read, and we could all use a little inspiration and reflection about getting through tough times.

So without further ado, let me get into part 1 . . .


J and I met on a blind date coordinated by mutual friends. The four of us had dinner, then headed to a bar for drinks, where aforementioned friends finagled a plan to have J take me home that night. There, in the front seat of his Chevy Equinox, I kissed him for the first time. When I went to bed less than an hour later, I realized that I’d just met the person I was going to marry.

About a month into our budding relationship, J and I began to discuss moving in together. I was still living with my parents after plans to get an apartment with a friend fell apart, and he was back at home as well after leaving a toxic relationship. I’d always promised myself that I’d never live with anyone until we’d dated for a year, but I already knew J was the one, so I went along with it full force. We discussed budgets, desired neighborhoods, and furniture before realizing we were talking crazy. Though we were both serious about our relationship, we figured it was a good idea to wait awhile before jumping into that water head first. It was April 2008, so we decided that if we were still together come January 2009, we’d continue with plans to move in together. Unfortunately, fate had other ideas.

Our relationship blossomed quickly over the next six months. We said mutual ‘I love yous,’ went on weekend adventures, and I introduced him to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which he promptly fell in love with. I told him about my anxiety, he shared his less-than-perfect past, and we celebrated his birthday and our first Christmas together as the year drew to a close. But it was Christmas night that our lives and our relationship were changed.


After the holiday festivities died down, J’s dad went to bed early so he could be up for his 4am shift the next day. Shortly after, the two of us retreated to J’s room to snuggle up and watch a movie. As the credits rolled, we heard a God-awful thump from across the hall. The next several hours were some of the scariest of my life. I remember J dialing 911, shouting that his dad was turning blue. I remember his mom racing up the stairs to see what was wrong. I remember dashing next door, hoping that J’s cop neighbor was home to help. I remember sitting in the brightly-lit ER in the middle of the night listening to a doctor say the words “his condition is very serious.”

J’s dad suffered a massive heart attack, the kind they call ‘the widow maker.’ His brain had gone so long without oxygen that he was placed on a ventilator and we had to wait several days to see if the swelling would go down so the doctors could determine if he’d ever regain consciousness again. Less than two weeks later came the devastating news that he was brain dead, and the family made the painful decision to take him off life support. Three days into 2009, J lost his father.

Looking back, I have no idea how I made it through those weeks. J and I had only been dating for a little over eight months. His parents hadn’t even met mine yet. I’d never been close to anyone who had lost a parent at our young age, and didn’t have the first clue about navigating the situation. Whenever I was with J and his mom, I felt like I was intruding on their grief, but as soon as I left I’d feel guilty. I never knew what to say or do to make either one of them feel better, and I worried about whether or not our relationship could survive this. I remember crying in my car out of fear and anxiety anytime I headed over to their house, then forcing myself to stop and act as normal as possible during my visit. As soon as I left, I’d drive down the street to park and cry some more as the family’s pain and the feeling of helplessness washed over me.


It took a long time for us to adapt to our new normal. J and I celebrated our one year anniversary that spring and we spent some time at our friend’s trailer that summer. Eventually we ended up taking a vacation that October. J’s parents had planned a cruise well before his dad’s heart attack, and instead of his mom cancelling or going alone, the three of us went together. It was my first experience on a cruise ship, and touring the islands of St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk gave us the break we all needed.

When we got home, J and I started talking about moving in together again, and set our new goal for January of 2010. We finally felt like we were getting back on our feet again after a long, hard 10 months.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t have been more wrong . . .


A Dog Named Kitty

Bloggers I have big news — back on May 29th, after weeks of emails and waiting, J and I finally met our new fur baby!

Introducing . . .

Our 2 year old bulldog/lab mix — Miss Kitty from Texas!

Kitty 1

Now I know what you’re thinking — who would name a DOG KITTY?!?!?!

J and I thought the same thing at first. But then we discovered that this fur baby was found emaciated and lactating on Kitty Hawk Road near San Antonio, Texas. The name felt more suitable after we heard her story, and we decided to take it as a sign that this pup was meant to be ours since we’ve frequently vacationed in Kitty Hawk, NC.

I’ll spare you the heartbreaking photos of what Kitty looked like the day her foster mom found her darting in and out of traffic. But every bone of her spine was clearly visible and several of her boobies were the size of water balloons. While Kitty was safe after her foster mom scooped her up, her puppies or an owner were never found (although an owner who would dump a pregnant/nursing dog doesn’t deserve to have her back).

Fast forward several months when J and I decided to start the search for a new fur baby after Comet’s passing. Since neither one of us had adopted a pet in over thirteen years, we didn’t realize that searching even local pet shelters cross-referenced you with the massive online database across the entire country. Thanks to some error in search parameters, Miss Kitty kept popping up on our screen, and neither one of us could resist her adorable face or her story that tugged at our heartstrings.

Kitty 4

When we realized she was over 1500 miles away, my anxiety definitely perked up. How would she get to us? What if we didn’t “click?” Would she be traumatized after a journey that far? What if something happened to her on the way to Pittsburgh?

The first time we talked to Kitty’s foster mom calmed most of my fears. I learned that transporting adoptable dogs is a fairly common practice these days, and that the rescue organization that Kitty was being adopted through transported pets all over the country on a regular basis. Once Kitty’s foster mom gave us the thumbs up for adoption, we signed some electronic forms, paid her adoption fee, and the wait began!

The process took several weeks, which was delayed for two additional weeks thanks to the travel restrictions due to COVID. When the day finally came, I was experiencing all sorts of emotions — I was still worried about something happening to her convoy as they sped towards Pittsburgh; I was afraid she’d be scared of us or hate us; I worried they’d bring us the wrong dog or not show up at all. At one point I became convinced that the entire thing was a scam and that we were going to get kidnapped and sold as sex slaves.
And as dumb as it sounds, when we piled into our SUV to go pick her up, the realization that Comet was really, truly gone forever crashed down around me.

When the transporters with God’s Dogs Rescue finally arrived, Kitty had to be carried out of the van. She was trembling uncontrollably and absolutely terrified. J and I immediately gathered her in our arms, whispering calming words of love, and I promptly burst into tears. I was so happy she was finally ours but I was heartbroken that she was so terrified.

Kitty 3

As soon as we got her home, though, Kitty was immediately affectionate and incredibly gentle. She even found the courage to play and had a healthy appetite right off the bat. Her separation anxiety was apparent from the get go, as she trembled anytime someone left a room for the first 24-48 hours. She was also scared of our steep staircase and our dishwasher, but all things considered, our first weekend together went pretty well.

While J had taken a couple of days off of work to help get Kitty acclimated, I had to go back to work the following Monday, and I was a bundle of nerves. Those nerves became raging anxiety when J returned to work, and I was absolutely beside myself those days that she was completely alone for hours at a time. Since I work 15 minutes from home, I came back for lunch,  but my mind was constantly going a million miles a minute. Even though we had puppy-proofed our home, I was afraid she’d find something to eat or destroy. I kept picturing puddles of pee and piles of poop scattered throughout the house. My worst fear was that she was going to be so traumatized from the separation that it was going to negatively effect her health.

At the end of her first week, we had a rough couple of days. Kitty accidentally head-butted me in my cheek when I bent over to grab her ball, causing me to stumble backwards and hurting me badly enough that I was sore for a couple of days. I can’t believe she didn’t leave a bruise. She had three accidents three days in a row — all while we were home with her! And then on Friday, my neighbor texted me around 11am telling me that Kitty had been barking nonstop for hours.

I think the rescue people call this the “testing the boundaries” phase.

Now I’m well-aware that most of these things are to be expected when adopting a new dog and they’re learning your routine and adjusting to a new place. I expected the accidents, some chewing, and even the anxiety. But I hadn’t dealt with these things in decades, and certainly never in the middle of a global pandemic, when my anxiety was the highest it’s been in ages. Add job-related BS and drama to the mix and you have yourself the perfect recipe for an all-out meltdown panic attack.

When I got the text from my neighbor, I had the worst panic attack I’d experienced in months. I started shaking uncontrollably, my thoughts were spiraling at a million miles a minute, and I couldn’t concentrate on the simplest task. I started crying and hyperventilating and had to lock myself in the bathroom. All I could think was that I was a horrible dog mom and didn’t deserve this sweet pup. I kept thinking of all the possible mistakes I’d made and to make matters worse, I conjured up dozens of worst-case scenarios, from Kitty getting hurt to our neighbors forcing us to get rid of her.

Thankfully, that weekend was much, much better. Kitty continued showing an overflowing amount of affection, took several walks, and even confronted the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower. And even though I’m still ridiculously nervous whenever we leave for work, we’ve laid out a few plans to help her deal with her anxieties (and mine!) and potential problems, and I’m hopeful that with time, the three of us will develop a plan that works.

Kitty 5

Part of me still can’t quite believe she’s here and that she’s all ours. It’s almost like I’m dog sitting. There’s this little stranger in our house and I’m not quite sure what her next surprise is going to be — good or bad.
I feel even more pressure to care for her now, in the beginning, than I did once Comet became a staple in our lives. I want her foster mom to know that she made the right choice in letting us adopt her. I want Kitty to know that she’s safe and that she can trust us and that she won’t ever be abandoned again. I want her to know that we’ll always come home to her.

Most of all, I hope the three of us have many happy years together, just like we did with our sweet Comet.

Kitty 2