Mema

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Time has a funny way of sneaking up on you. Sometimes I feel like I’m so busy that I can’t remember important dates. Some always stick out though–like July 11. Six years ago today, my grandmother, Betty Jo Nance (“Mema” to me and her other grandchildren) died after a very sudden downturn in health. I suppose she had suffered enough heartbreaks, and her body and mind decided they had enough.

Mema was strong, stubborn, intelligent, and above all, a protector. She was determined to make sure her family stayed safe and that they had all of the help they needed to make it in this world. Having the self-inflicted stress of being the “protector” meant that she was not always the happiest person, but she was oh so proud–of all of her family.

Growing up, Mema had just the right balance of kindness and toughness that a child needed, and as you got older, the toughness increased. She expected a lot out of you, but she made it known when you did well (and also when you did not so well). She loved her children, grandchildren, and one great-grandchild very deeply, and seeing their success and sharing in their lives is what kept her going, what really made her tick.

When she left us, it truly did feel like losing a matriarch. She seemed to be the “head” of the family. I often wonder what she would think about me and my life now–I’m sure she would think I was crazy for moving to a large city with a gun violence problem (love you, Chicago!), but at the same time, I think she would appreciate the boldness. Without her in my life, I don’t know how much of that boldness I would have had.

Thank you, Mema, for being just the right balance of what this girl needed in a grandmother.

Under the El Tracks

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When life gets stressful, which it has a lot lately, I find it hard to look around and notice beauty. The ability my anxiety has to take away the small joys is not something I am proud of, but I know and recognize when it is happening. 

Some days, I can’t get over the fact that we have a racist, sexist, uncaring man sitting in this nation’s highest office. (And some days, I can’t get over the fact that I know some of my family members voted for him.)

Some days, I get sad thinking about my dogs over the years and how some of them are no longer with me. (And also how I know my dog Missy misses their presence.)

Some days, I get mad thinking about the refugee crisis and how some people just don’t want to help anyone, no matter how desperate that other person’s situation may be.

Some days, I get bogged down with the minutia of work and how I feel like I will never be able to get everything done.

Some days, I feel like I do not contribute enough to this world and my community. It can seem like I just take up space.

Some days, I feel guilty for worrying about all of these things simultaneously and not giving enough attention to the ones I love.

When these feelings overtake me and the thoughts race through my head, it can be hard to see anything else. Then other days…something will catch my eye and help me refocus. 

Other days, I see a little hang out spot full of beads, flags, random yard decorations, and seats for plenty. I see this under the El tracks in Lakeview.

Other days, I remember that I know many more people who oppose our 45th president than support him. I remember that resistance is built one step at a time against people like him.

Other days, I smile when I think about my dogs who have passed on and think of how lucky we were to know and love them.

Other days, I donate to a refugee organization and to a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of those who died in genocide. Their legacies will continue to change the world.

Other days, I see someone at work smile because I helped them with a problem or helped them learn something new.

Other days, I recognize that I am just one person who is trying to do her best. I am human, and my fears are not just my own.

Other days, I remember that I declared that this year, 2017, would be the year of inspiration, and sometimes being inspired means I think about too much at once. It is then that I refocus on my partner, who is patient without end and more understanding than he should be.

Some days, I am overcome with stress and anxiety by all that surrounds me. Other days, I am inspired by what I see under the El tracks.

 

 

 

Shoes

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Before I moved to Chicago, I never really knew what it meant to “wear out” a pair of shoes. Sure, I have had shoes that I thought were too impractical, that I completely ruined through accidents (i.e., dropping an entire can of wood stain on them), or that I grew to dislike the style of, and I eventually parted ways with them. That is not the case anymore.

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Two of my favorite pairs of tennis shoes. (If you notice, I do have a favorite brand. I promise this isn’t product placement for New Balance.)

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The soles of the shoes are worn flat and have completely disintegrated in some places!

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They have holes, so if there is any moisture on the ground, my feet know it.

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The holes aren’t confined to just the outside of the shoes either–multiple hurried trips out of the door mean bent heels.

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All of my shoes like to have holes in the same places apparently.

 

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The destruction doesn’t stop at tennis shoes–my Sperry’s used to be a go-to as well.

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I guess you can say I “walk hard.”

As you can see, I seem to go through a lot of shoes. However, I had the three pairs of shoes shown above for anywhere from 4 to 7 years before moving to Chicago in 2014, and they were in pretty much pristine condition when I first arrived in the city one year and nine months ago.

Since moving to Chicago, Sam and I have sold our car. We use public transportation, our own two feet, and occasionally a taxi if it’s really needed to get around the city. Of course, this makes for a lot more wear and tear on our shoes since we generally walk to get anywhere and everywhere. I treasure this privilege, and I am so happy to be able to explore Chicago in such an intimate way: walking around is so much more personal and connecting than driving.

Also since moving to Chicago, I began working for a dog walking company, Windy City Paws. Working there has always been about walking (obviously), and as my role has changed over the year and a half that I have been there, it still is! As Field Supervisor, I shadow all of the company’s walkers on their routes and get to meet all of their dogs, which is really the best job ever. Since I’m out shadowing someone at least three to four days a week (or more), I am on my feet a lot!

My after-work hobbies and activities require lots of walking as well. I spend a few hours per week learning to be a dog trainer through a wonderful partnership that Windy City Paws has with a training facility called Collins Canine. Sam and I also make a point to walk on the Lakefront Trail and downtown river walk as often as possible as well as visit museums, go to the movies, and spend time outdoors with our pup Missy (in ALL weather).

All of this activity is such a drastic change from the way I used to live life: walk 10 feet to the car, drive to work or school, sit down for a few hours, walk 10 feet back to the car, drive home, take out the dogs for about 5 minutes or so. Repeat. It’s no wonder my shoes never really experienced any true wear.

I tend to develop unusual attachments to inanimate objects, locking them in my mind with certain memories and meanings, so these shoes actually represent much more to me than footwear. (One of those pair of shoes–the blue and pink checkered sneakers–I wore on my very first trip to Chicago in 2007, in fact, so that is of course why I can never get rid of them no matter how ratty they may become. I’ll stop wearing them, but they’ll be there.) What these shoes represent to me now is a total change of lifestyle and direction. Whereas I used to be, for the most part, sedentary and also seemingly “stuck” in a certain way of life, now I’m active and mobile. Wearing out those shoes meant that I had moved on from something that I didn’t want to be a part of anymore.

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New (New Balance, of course) shoes at Lake Michigan.

So now I have a new pair of shoes. I spent more money on them than I usually do (and that I like to do), but I see it as an investment in my lifestyle and my work. And after having this new pair of shoes for a grand total of three days, they have already walked a couple dozen miles and have had their laces chewed on by two different dogs. That’s the existence they’ll have to endure belonging to Lauren, though. 😉 I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A New Year to Reflect

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Happy New Year, folks! I hope 2016 will bring you all hope, love, and well-being for you and all of your loved ones.

For several years now, I have given each “new year” a word that I think will be the guiding theme of the next 365 days (366 this year!). 2015 was the year of “discovery,” and it truly was a year when I discovered so much–about myself, about my city, about life. There were heartbreaks: my beloved dog Cosmo died suddenly in June, and Sam’s grandmother died in November. There were triumphs: I got a job that I really love and enjoy that lets me spend time with my family and work with animals on a daily basis. I made amazing friends who enrich my life and make living in Chicago more fun than I ever thought it could be! Several family and friends visited Sam and I and got to experience first-hand why we love Chicago so much.

I will admit that at the beginning of 2015, I was scared. Sam and I had just moved to Chicago three months prior, and the future seemed very uncertain. This year, I am excited and hopeful for the future. I owe this feeling mostly to two key factors: 1.) Rambling Readers Book Club and 2.) Windy City Paws.

Our book club made us feel welcome from the very first time we attended in December 2014, and as someone who has never really felt like I have fit in anywhere, I can honestly say that my fellow Rambling Readers make me feel more accepted than I ever have. To my book club: I love you all and am so grateful for each and every one of you. Thank you for being you!

My work at Windy City Paws has also made my life so much fuller this past year, and I can honestly say that I am so fulfilled and challenged with the work that I do. My supportive colleagues make me want to do more and learn more every day, and I am so thankful for their guidance and their friendship.

I guess you could say that things really “clicked” in 2015. So many things I was worried about this time last year fell into place and created a wonderful new life for Sam and I here in Chicago. Not everything was happy this year, but it really was a year of “discovery” in many ways–most of which were amazing.

Sam and I have determined that 2016 will be the year of “reflection.” We’ve been in a cycle of massive change for the past several years, and we are now at a point where we feel we can take a moment to enjoy our lives the way they are.

I am excited about spending the upcoming 366 days with Sam, Missy, and our new kitty Mister, reflecting on how very fortunate we all are as well as embracing the next adventures the future will bring. Welcome, 2016–I look forward to experiencing all that you have to offer.

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Cosmo Baud: The Dog, the Friend, the Legend

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For the second time in less than a year, the Baud Squad has had to say goodbye to a key member. Cosmo Kramer Baud (yes, named after Kramer on Seinfeld) left this world at about 8:10pm on June 21, 2015. Another huge hunk of my heart has been ripped out, and once again, our family won’t ever be quite the same.

For the past week, Cosmo had been acting uncomfortable, drinking more, urinating more, and not eating food like usual. On Sunday, he didn’t want to go on his evening walk, so we knew something was very wrong at that point. Off he went to the emergency vet, where we found out that Cosmo had a cancerous mass in his stomach that had caused a rupture and thus, internal bleeding. With surgery, his prognosis was three months to live (if he survived said surgery). This came as such a shock to both Sam and I. Cosmo has always been our healthiest dog. He’s never been overweight, he’s hardly ever been injured, and he always got the “healthy and strong” diagnosis from the veterinarian every year. In fact, he went to the vet less than nine months ago and received a clean bill of health. This really came out of nowhere, and it was and still is a huge smack in the face. After weighing all of our options, we knew that we didn’t want to put Cosmo through a dangerous and painful surgery just for him to only be with us for a few more months. We had to let him go, and it was so, so hard.

Ever since I first laid eyes on Cosmo in the Maury County Animal Control facility in Tennessee on a late February day in 2008, I knew he had to be a part of my family. We brought him home, and he fit right in with our crew. Over the years, he has proven to be loyal, kind, understanding, patient, goofy, curious, and full of love–so much more love than pretty much any other dog I have ever met. He went from being a stray to being a beloved family member. He was the perfect example of what it means to be a shelter dog success story. He died too soon, and I’ll always have a part of me missing because of that. However, he died after living the life of a spoiled house dog who was loved unconditionally, not life in a cage or worse.

The life of a pet parent is full of heartache, but more so, it is full of love and smiles. Dogs will always leave us too soon, no matter how long they live. I’m heartbroken, but I would do it all over again. Every day with Cosmo was that much better just because he was there. And no matter how much Missy may claim he got on her nerves, she’s going to miss her big little brother so much.

Rest easy, and I’ll see you again, my little Cosmo boy, 2005(?)-2015.

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Six Months in the City

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As of April 1, 2015, the members of the Baud Squad have been residents of Chicago for six months!

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It has been a life-changing, fun-filled, and eye-opening six months in the Windy City. Sam and I planned and planned and planned our move for so long, but we never knew what it would actually be like once we made it here. What it’s like is unbelievable–quite frankly, life has never been better. While not every part of this change has been nice or easy, it has been worth it. From the wonderful friends we’ve made to the amazing sights we’ve seen, it has been an incredible experience.

Here’s to many more “six month” celebrations to come in our new home!

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From Transition to Discovery

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At the beginning of each new year, I try to think of a word to describe the year ahead. The word is based on plans and hopes that I have for the next 365 (or 366) days to come. I try to keep it simple and broad, and so far, I’ve been fairly accurate in my predictions.

2013 was the year of “travel”–a year when I went to Europe twice (for fun), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania once (for work), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma once (for academic/work reasons), and New York City once (for Christmas fun)!

2014 was the year of “transition”–the first year of my life since I was four years old that I was not a student in some form or fashion (what a HUGE transition that was). It was a year in which I switched jobs, picked up side jobs, and seriously questioned what I really want in a career. It was the year that I finally moved away from Tennessee, where I was born, to one of my favorite cities–Chicago. It was the year that we went from a three-dog family to a two-dog family due to unforeseen health problems. Not all of the transitions have been happy, easy, or welcome, but many of them were. It’s been a difficult year for several reasons, but I am so glad that this year happened. It has completely changed the trajectory of my life, and 98% of my being is grateful for it. (The other 2% will forever curse the universe for taking my dog Ruby away–there are some things I just cannot abide, much like The Dude when his rug was stolen.)

Now that 2014 is ending, I feel like the major transitions in my life are beginning to equalize and create a balance. Things don’t seem quite so chaotic anymore, for the first time in many years, actually. This has made me seriously ponder what the word for 2015 should be.

After much deliberation and consultation with my other half (Sam), I have determined that 2015 shall be the year of “discovery.” Discovery of our new city, discovery of what I really want out of life (personally, professionally, spiritually), discovery of new cities through travel (hopefully), discovery of new friends and family, and discovery of all the simple, small pleasures of life that I often overlook.

That now leads to my New Year’s resolution. I have just one–to be more present. I want to fully enjoy the moment, every moment, and not be so preoccupied with past events and future worries. This is going to be really difficult for me because I am a worrier by nature, and my anxiety can get the best of me. I find inspiration for being “in the moment” all over Chicago now though. I find it in the serenity and the power of the lake, the bustle of the streets, the looming buildings and beautiful architecture, and in the art (sometimes unconventional) that fills the city.

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Whenever I find myself drifting away from my resolution, I’ll keep this graffiti that I saw in an underpass on the way to Lincoln Park in mind. That’s all my anxiety is, anyway–being afraid to be happy. I’m going to take a cue from my dogs and try to enjoy every little thing life has to offer while still remembering that life is silly and absurd and not to be taken too seriously.

So, here’s to making 2015 the best that it can be, and to making the move from transition to discovery with Sam, Missy, and Cosmo by my side. Happy New Year, everyone!