Oh, How Time Flies

It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since I moved to my new hometown.  I just looked back at what I wrote as I was in the process of moving and settling into the new house. I was so eager to put some color on the white walls, but I haven’t done a bit of painting yet. I do have a paint swatch hanging on a wall of the living room though, so I’m getting closer.

Here’s something I wrote last year:

As I walk around the empty rooms of the house with my footsteps echoing around me, my thoughts and emotions fluctuate from excitement and anticipation back to fretting about how much work and money it will take to maintain a home by myself. I think I’ve made great progress in the past year in learning how to control my fears, and I know that no matter what happens, I can figure out how to deal with it. I am braver than I ever imagined. I am resourceful and creative, and I’m willing to ask for help when I need it.

Well, I’ve definitely had my fill of home repair stress and expense already and some days I do miss the ease of condo living, but I still love my house despite the never-ending list of things that need to be fixed.

And I absolutely love living in Toledo.  In fact, the past 12 months definitely rank in the top five happiest years of my life. I went through a brief period of loneliness right after moving, but I quickly got involved in lots of activities and now I have an extremely busy social life. My determination to build a new life here helped motivate me to step out of my comfort zone, and I was surprised how great I felt every time I forced myself to go to a meeting where I didn’t know anyone, or join a hiking group of strangers. I feel like I’ve become a more open and relaxed person, and that’s huge for someone who has always had a tendency to isolate myself from much of the general chaos in the world.

And the people of Toledo welcomed me with open arms. I’d read an article that said Toledo is a very friendly city, and it was absolutely right. I’ve been accepted and made to feel like I’ve been here for years. Today my life is full of friends and my calendar is loaded with all sorts of fun things — volunteering, art classes, group hikes, nature conferences, and so much more.  There are times I think I need to schedule a few days with nothing to do, but that’s a good problem to have and I’m not complaining.

Just as I was preparing to make the move late last winter, I came across a book called This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are. I believe Melanie Warnick changed my life by writing this book. Her suggestions for getting involved in your community can work not only for someone moving to a new city, but even for improving your outlook on a place you’ve lived for a long time.  Some of the chapters are:

Glass Paperweights by Kim
Paperweights I made at the Toledo Museum of Art. This is Glass City, after all.
  • Lace Up Your Sneakers
  • Say Hi to Your Neighbors
  • Do Something Fun
  • Commune With Nature
  • Volunteer
  • Create Something

I followed much of her advice — I got out in the neighborhood and talked with people (instead of always avoiding running into neighbors as I’d done before); I signed up for classes and hiking groups; I volunteered for my local metroparks. Each of these things contributed immensely to helping me spread my roots deeper into my new community.

I’ve come to see that Melanie is right when she says that there’s “true psychic power in a clean slate,” and “a new city presses the reset button, forcing you to at least temporarily abandon old patterns of thought and environmental triggers.”

I shared this sign last year but I want to do it again because it resonates so strongly with me:

You will do better in Toledo sign I drive past one of these signs often and it seems to work as a sort of positive affirmation for me. I know that everything isn’t perfect here, and I will have more struggles and pain in my life. But I also know that I’m surrounded by people who care for me and whatever happens, I will do better in Toledo. I’m connected to this place and its people. Life is good and I’m grateful.

And, to make things even better, it’s almost spring! Migrating birds have started to trickle northward and very soon I’ll be photographing dragonflies and butterflies and watching my new native plant garden grow.  I can’t wait to have new nature stories to tell you! Thanks for being here. 🙂

Blue-faced Meadowhawk on knotted rush - Juncus nodosus - w sig
Blue-faced Meadowhawk, one of my favorite dragonflies

The Power of One Little Flower

Black-capped Chickadee in my yard
Black-capped Chickadee

Well, I did it! I’ve been in my new house for 9 days now. I’m still trying to find places for some of my stuff in this smaller space, but overall the place feels like home now. I’ve got my artwork on the walls and most of the boxes are unpacked. I’ve cooked meals here. Each day I have fewer instances of having to open multiple cabinets to find what I’m looking for. Even half asleep in the predawn hours, I can successfully navigate the now-familiar path from the bedroom to the kitchen to feed the insistent cats.

I’ve started a new Yard List to record the birds that visit my yard. I’m up to 17 species so far, and am excited about what spring migration might bring.

something-to-look-forward-to-594x800Back in October I told you about my efforts to keep my life interesting by always having something planned that I could look forward to.  Using that as a sort of motto has kept me from becoming complacent and taking anything for granted. I’ve worked hard to keep in touch with friends and nurture the relationships that bring joy to my life. And during the past two months, my life has been consumed with the myriad details of the move, so I haven’t had to try hard to have things to look forward to.

But as I get my new house in order and life starts to settle back into a more normal routine,  I’m sensing that I need to redouble my focus on that motto. I’m in a new city where I don’t yet have any friends, and I’m feeling lonely. I know this will pass, but I have to acknowledge the little bits of anxiety about my new life. For months I’ve been telling myself, “When I get moved I’m going to get involved in lots of activities and meet people and all will be fine.” And that was a great confidence-builder as I looked forward to the move. But now I’m here and it’s time for the rubber to hit the road, so to speak. It’s time to take the difficult steps of finding things to get involved with, and reaching out to people who might become friends. I’m making progress, but it’s all a bit scary, if I’m being honest. In my darker moments, I succumb to the fear of rejection, failure, and continued loneliness. But I’m not letting those thoughts stop me from getting out there.

Squirrel in my tree (759x800)
Fox Squirrel eyeing the new human
European Starling in my yard (800x590) (2)
European Starling eyeing the Fox Squirrel

Today I had a moment that I think was cathartic. I’d been feeling a tightness in my throat all day, as if I needed to cry. I thought it was because I’d read a news report that upset me. So I kept myself busy, hoping the need-to-cry feeling would go away.

After eating dinner, I sat down in the living room to write and happened to glance out the front window. And I saw this tiny yellow flower that had just opened, and I started crying. It’s cliché, I know, but I was struck by the symbolism of a flower rising from the ground in the spring after being dormant all winter. I see my own life as a parallel to the life of that beautiful little flower, and it gives me confidence that I too am going to stand up and tilt my face to the sun. And I will make new friends and have a happy and fulfilling life here.

Miniature daffodil in my yard (697x800)
I think this must be a miniature daffodil — I’ve never seen them this small before.

Isn’t it funny how someone can get such hope from a tiny yellow flower?

I’m remembering now that this is partly why I’ve always loved growing perennials–seeing them wilt in the fall and then come back in the spring after resting in the earth through the winter. To an observer who doesn’t know what’s happening inside the plants, they appear to be dying. But they just need that period of dormancy to regenerate and prepare for the next phase of life, when they’ll show their beauty again.  So maybe I’m like a daffodil or crocus, just trying to push through the mulch so I can reach the sun again.

Yeah, I like that.

There She Goes Again…

This will come as no surprise to anyone, I suppose.

I’ve been very open about my ambivalence toward living in a small town smack in the middle of farm country. I relocated here because my new job was located in a rather remote place and I wanted to be within about a half hour’s drive of the office. It’s always been very clear to me that I’m a city person, but I tried as best I could to be open-minded, to adapt to this place and see if I could manage to feel at home here. Things got a little easier for a while, but then things changed and I kept longing for the comforts of the city.

I always feel I have to apologize for being a city person. I have friends and family who are small town people and they love that life. And many of them seem to take offense at my disdain for that lifestyle, almost as if I’m insulting them by not liking what they like. And I’m absolutely not judging their choices. I can understand why small town life would be attractive to a family raising children. But for me, at my stage of life and with my circumstances, the city makes so much more sense. There’s better access to everything in the city, whether it’s a petsitter or a doctor, a health food store or a coffee shop.

And let’s not forget the better opportunities for jobs and socializing. About six months ago while I was still working, I tried to find opportunities to meet new people. I was so immersed in the birding community and I felt the need to diversify my friendships outside of birding. Variety is the spice of life, ya know?

So I tried several things. There’s a Facebook group for my small town but it’s not very active. I looked for volunteer opportunities here and found nothing that seemed right for me. I searched Meetup.com for activities near my town, with zero results. All the activity seemed to be in Toledo, the nearest big city. I eventually resigned myself to occasionally making the hour-long drive to Toledo for events. But that seemed like such a big effort (two hour roundtrip in the evening), and I often missed out on fun activities.

This love-of-the-city-life talk may sound hypocritical from someone with a blog about nature therapy, but I think it becomes clearer when you consider my perspective. I’m 55 years old. Divorced. Temporarily unemployed. I just feel so isolated here. When I see it on the screen in black and white like that, I realize it sounds like a pretty daunting situation. (But it’s okay, I’ve got this…don’t worry.)

So although I absolutely adore my current house, and I had a fervent hope that I’d never have to move again (I’ve moved 15 times since college!), I decided that I’m done with small town living. I no longer want to try to force myself to fit into this lifestyle. So…drumroll please…I am moving back to the city!!

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker
Female Red-bellied Woodpecker

I’ve found a beautiful little ranch house in a good neighborhood of Toledo, close to amazing metroparks (aha, there’s nature!), and with a lovely yard filled with bird feeders and mature trees. When I was there looking at the house just a few days ago, the yard was alive with goldfinches and woodpeckers, and I felt at home instantly.

I’m looking forward to being able to garden again, something that I’ve not been able to do in my current neighborhood with its strict rules about what you can plant and where you can plant it. (I had to get written permission to remove a dead rose bush and replace it with a perennial.) I miss that feeling of digging my fingers into the dirt and tending to growing things.

My new backyard!
My new backyard, complete with privacy fence, gardens, and trees

I admit to a teeny weeny bit of worry that I’m out of practice and it might be a struggle to keep up with this yard. But much of my self-improvement work over the past couple of years has been focused on ridding myself of a mindset of fear, and trusting that I can handle whatever comes my way. In fact, my home search was at first limited to condo communities because I would be able to sit back and let someone else mow my lawn and shovel my snow. But you know what? I’m healthy and I can still shovel my own driveway. And let’s face it, shoveling and lawn mowing count as exercise, and that will help keep me active. If I’m still in that house when I get too old to manage it myself, well, then I’ll have to hire someone to do it. But for now, I’m fully capable of doing this.

My new bright and cheery living room
My new bright and cheery living room (but not my furniture!)

It’s easy to look back and question my decision to move to this small town two years ago. On the surface it looks like it was a majorly bad decision made out of desperation. But I realize that I learned a lot from my time here.

I’ve learned to trust myself. My intuition can only serve me well if I pay attention to it.

I learned that I’m far braver and stronger than I knew. People kept telling me that, but I didn’t believe it because only I knew how much time I spent crying and scared in my house. But now I know that that’s exactly how you know you are brave, because you can be scared but keep going anyway.

Still standing, still smiling!
Still standing, still smiling!

I learned that I’m open-minded enough to get out of my comfort zone in an effort to improve my life. I’ve learned what I will and will not tolerate from other people in my life. I’ve been knocked down by betrayal and heartbreak, yet I stood back up…eventually. And smiled.

And isn’t that what’s important? That we learn from our “mistakes” and don’t give up? In fact, as long as you learn from it, it’s not a mistake, it’s a learning experience.

I know my future holds more pain and struggles. But I also know it has the promise of more love, more happiness, and stronger connections with people. That’s another thing I’ve been focused on lately–keeping in touch with those people who mean the most to me, nurturing our relationships in person as much as possible, rather than through social media (which often gives a false sense of friendship). And it’s working. Most of my friendships feel stronger than ever now.

I’m over the moon about the next step in my journey–I cannot wait to get back to the hustle and bustle of the city! Toledo may not be a “big” city, but it’s plenty big enough for me. This move will put me closer to my Michigan friends and still keep me near my Ohio friends and family. (Fun fact: Did you know that Ohio and Michigan almost went to war over a border dispute? Yep, read about the Toledo War here.)

The Maumee River at Farnsworth Metropark
The Maumee River at Farnsworth Metropark

I’ll be close to the Toledo Museum of Art, the amazing Toledo Metroparks, great restaurants, bookstores and libraries, the Maumee River (you know I love rivers, right?), and so much more. I’m inspired and ready to fully embrace my next new hometown.

If all goes well, I should be settled in the house before spring migration ramps up. I’ll be very excited to get out and explore those metroparks–they were one of the most important reasons I chose Toledo. And I can’t wait to share my Toledo nature therapy experiences with you. Watch this space. 🙂