"Ruins" by Natasia Champion - 24x18 acrylic on canvas

We all have our own problems, skeletons in our closets, insecurities, etc. No problem is bigger or smaller than another, they are just unique to us. In other words, what seems trivial to me may be monumental to you.

 I am not an outwardly emotional person. I do not usually act on my feelings or embrace the heat of the moment. Every thing in my life is carefully considered before action is taken. One might think this is good, but I have found it to be a dreadful flaw in many cases. I have mentioned before how I worry by nature. Well, I also hold things inside and build walls. I show people a calm exterior, even a smile, but on the inside I can be ready to explode. The worst part about this is not the dishonesty to everyone around me, but the dishonesty to myself. I actually convince myself that I am ok, that I am not bothered by something or someone offensive. I push it so far back in hopes of it working itself out that I tend to bob over the waves completely unaware that a tsunami is hurtling toward the shore of  Undetermined Future.

 I struggle on a daily basis with relationships in general. I have been hurt so many times in the past with love and friendship and even family relationships. I have been through so many cycles of building, breaking down, and re-building walls that I often feel like I’m standing in the middle of a sea of rubble and don’t have a clue what to do next. I have gotten to the place where I wonder what the point of even trying is. In fact, I have stopped trying, for the most part. I have one or two friends who understand me and stand with me through thick and thin, but everyone else must come to me and make the first move or I just don’t interact. It’s not that I dislike you, I just don’t initiate relationships. If you come to me I will be as friendly and polite as I can be, we may even get closer and I will open up, but I don’t make the first move.

 I’m not saying this is right, I’m quite frustrated with myself actually. I am stating facts and pondering how to work through this without going too far the other way. I often see other friends and family interacting on a daily basis and wonder why nobody seems to chat me up or just say hello every once in a while. I then realize that I have not initiated a casual conversation or just said hello in quite some time either. You would think this realization would prompt me to take that step and be a little more inviting, but no. I am just not willing to open myself up to the potential pain of that conversation blossoming into a closer relationship and then dying as most of them have in my life due to one cause or another. I guess deep down I reason that if I start it and it fails, it is my fault. If the other person starts it and it fails, it was never really my idea to begin with. This reasoning is kind of stupid because either way, it hurts. As a human being, I can’t live without interaction with my fellow human beings, yet I seem to be doing a great job of  trying.

 The relationships I do have are so vital and important to me because they are rare and hard to come by. I am fiercely loyal. That is not to say I don’t have differences in opinions, tiffs, etc. In fact, I often find myself in conflicts with my closest friends. However, we always seem to pull through and it makes us stronger. I respect the people who can put up with my personality and still love me.

 I go through periods every so often when I am completely reclusive. I don’t see or talk to people for days at a time, other than my husband and baby. I disable the chat on Facebook so nobody can talk to me, I sign in as away on the MSN Messenger, I don’t call anybody and often ignore calls that come in. This has happened more recently in the last two years due to hard circumstances in my life and deep depression probably brought on by pregnancy hormones rampaging my body for two years. Only my very closest, immediate family and one dear friend have stood with me completely through these times, everyone else has understandably gotten discouraged, distant, out of touch, or just plain aggravated at me.

 I am saying this to convey to you that I don’t blame anyone and I get frustrated too. Yes, I have a chip on my shoulder almost all the time, but I struggle with it and wish it were different. My way of dealing with pain is to shut it out and I often shut out the good with the bad.

 I hope this will bring some enlightenment to certain of my readers who have probably had to deal with this part of me. To you, I ask for forgiveness but I can’t make promises I’m not sure I can keep. I can’t promise this will never happen again, but I can offer you a little window of understanding. If I mean anything to you, please bear with me.

 There are also people in my life who I have been close with, tried to work through our differences, and it ended despite much effort on my part. Just because I don’t initiate things now doesn’t mean that I never have, or that once there I haven’t tried. These ruins of heartfelt love and companionship are intermingled in the before mentioned sea of rubble from the protective walls. Often times these ruins are created by uncontrollable circumstances. They are nobody’s fault, they are just the product of Life. They are a person’s reaction to Life, whether mine or their’s. They are the very reason I am who I am and why I deal with things the way I do.

 All this being said, I am still working every day to overcome my faults. I continue to assess my problems and try to honestly find my part in the negative aspects, to trace myself to the root and fix it. Many times I do find myself there, at the root. I’m not perfect. However, I have enough faults of my own without borrowing the guilt of others. I can’t apologize for someone else’s faults. I can do everything possible to correct my own, but sometimes (even if it’s rarely) it just isn’t my fault. I am not trying to be arrogant or superior, I feel like those who know me well would describe me as just an honest soul trying to make sence of it all.

 So there it is, what I consider to be one of my biggest flaws laid out before you. I think we all need some accountability in our lives and here is my attempt at being honest and accountable. Somebody recently said I was a big source of inspiration to them and it made me stop and think. I hope nobody is inspired by me because of a false impression of martyrdom or perfection. I am human. I am flawed. Yes, I’ve been through a lot in my short life, I’ve been to Hell and back in the last two years alone. If you can see me at my worst and still be inspired then, by all means, carry on. Please don’t judge me on my best. What most people see is my best, my pristine outer shell that masks the roiling conflicts within me. Only my truest and closest friends see me at my worst and I love them for that. This is me trying to show a piece of that to everyone else.

"Joy Comes in the Morning" by Natasia Champion - 20x16 acrylic on canvas

A Glass Half Full

 I look at photos of myself and often wonder why I don’t have gray hair. I have always felt and acted older than my age, but especially in recent years. Stressful events in my life, and even down right tragedy, have made me feel much older than I am. I’m not talking about wisdom, though I have strived to attain that, I’m talking about physical aches and pains and fatigue. I feel every day what a forty-five year old person describes. I won’t list my ailments in detail lest I seem like I’m trying to complain and that’s not my intent.

 From the age of twelve and onward I have always done very strenuous chores and physically taxed my growing body. Helping pull huge logs out of the woods by hand, only the steep incline and gravity to help, was a summer’s worth of experience and bodily punishment that, strangely enough, I would not trade away for anything. That was the summer we built our cabin at 11,000 ft. in the mountains of Colorado. It is a landmark in my memory and not many people can say they have done that.

 At the age of fourteen we moved to Kentucky and lived on a farm where I did mass amounts of gardening, canning, and rock hauling. You cannot imagine how much water it takes to supply a large, fully functioning farm. Several gardens (vegetable field is probably a better term) about three acres each, needed water from planting to harvest, water to wash and cook and can all those vegetables, and water for about one hundred fifty head of assorted livestock – everyday. If you can imagine that, now take into consideration that we had no running water and it all had to be hauled and done by hand via 5 gallon buckets. We hauled rocks from the cow fields to fill in the ruts on the long dirt drive into the farm from the main road. This also was done by hand via 5 gallon bucket. Sometimes we had a pickup truck to use, but often it was too muddy to take the little truck out onto the hills because it didn’t have four-wheel drive.

 Once again, I would not trade these experiences (and all the hard work) in for anything as I learned all of the most valuable lessons of my life during that time. My list of physical stresses merges with mental and emotional stress as my life meandered down the path of: becoming a server, marriage, pregnancy, opening/ running/ losing our restaurant, numerous moves, loss of our first child, second pregnancy, and birth of our daughter Faith. However, for every bad or negative memory, there is a continual lack of regret. I would not trade any of it for something else.

 Perhaps I am that person who always sees life as a glass half full, but I know one thing: If I can’t find something good in the bad and ugly, then what am I doing here and why bother living? I refuse to let bitterness set in, or self-pity for that matter. What’s done is done and nothing will change that. I might as well realize that and move on.

"The Fullness of Life" by Natasia Champion - 24 x 18 acrylic on canvas

 So, back to feeling old. I do feel old, but I am just going to embrace it. If I get gray hair early I will know I earned it. If I see wrinkles I will know I never stopped smiling through it all. If my back hurts I will know I have always done my share and pulled my own weight. If people think I’m several years older than I am I will consider it a compliment and be thankful that they don’t see me as an inexperienced young person still trying to find themselves. My glass will always be half full, but many times it has been overflowing.

Reaping Where I Have Not Sown

 We have all heard the saying, “You reap what you sow”. I have found this to be painfully true all through my life. We all have done things of which we must suffer the consequences. Some are big, some are very tiny, some have to repeat their lesson many times, and some take only once to sink in.

 However, some times we reap where we have not sown.

 Many times our actions do not affect just ourselves. Almost always our actions, whether good or bad, affect some other person or thing. Sometimes we realize it and other times we remain clueless, or we learn about it way down the road, long after it has happened.

 I came home today after a visit of several days at my mom’s where I was helping with various projects. (Art lessons for my sisters, getting the goat settled into a milking routine, tearing down an old broken down shed to build a new shelter and corral, other little Spring cleaning projects, etc.) As I looked out my back door to see how my tulips and daffodils were coming along, I noticed a tiny smudge of golden-orange in an otherwise bare and bleak yard with patchy green and brown. Upon closer inspection I found it was a tiny, single crocus whose foliage had been camouflaged in the grass and had gone undetected. It’s delicate bloom was open wide to the finicky Spring sunshine that kept peeking in and out of the rain clouds.

 The daffodils are still a couple weeks from blooming and the tulips are only just beginning to poke through the softened earth, so this tiny soldier standing at attention evoked several emotions from me in that instant. I was cheered by its color. I felt surprise that it was there. Mostly, I felt gratitude. Yes, gratitude, because there it stood, lonely and cold and so small and insignificant, yet it touched me to my very soul. I had not planted it and being as it is in the yard itself and not in the “garden”, it seems that it was not intended to be planted at all but was dropped by someone and had taken root in spite of  all the odds being against it.

 I looked at it for a few minutes, enjoying its loveliness, then I went about my day. However, my mind kept wandering back to it all through out my daily tasks and I found that the more I thought about it, the more inspired I became and I had to smile every time.

 I want to be like the crocus. I want to fight the odds and stand out. I want to be standing and touching peoples’ lives when nobody else is willing and when the circumstances are not conducive. I want to bring joy and happiness to others in spite of my loneliness or pain. I want to make people smile. I want to be the first to step up to the plate and get the job done. I don’t want to get discouraged because I feel so small and insignificant, because somewhere out there is one person who will see me and get inspired, and that one person makes it all worth it.

 Today I have reaped where someone else has sown, and what a sweet crop it is! That tiny crocus is no taller than my first finger but it has given me many important things to ponder and has inspired me with its faithfulness and courage.

Life In The Slow Lane

 I have been staying at my mom’s for the past few days on an extended visit, at least, more extended than my visits have been for somewhere around a year. The baby is growing bigger every day and with the warming weather, I thought it was a good time to introduce her to a more country setting. We have been going outside to look at the chickens and gather the eggs, to pet and feed the baby goats, and just enjoy life in the slow lane. I’m finding there are many little forgotten pleasures that I miss out here in the “boon docks”.

 Spring peepers are a wonderful sound. There is nothing quite like pausing from the hustle and bustle that comes with a warm day in very early spring, as everything comes alive after Winter’s dormancy, and realizing there is a subtle noise in the background. It is a soft chirping, a chorus of little wild voices, much like a cricket but more song like. A veritable symphony plays down by the water’s edge of the pond across the road, a whole army of tiny, unseen creatures, calling out, singing, “Spring, spring, spring” all at once but not quite in unison. All the little voices call out in their own timing and you must listen very closely, but it is possible to pick out a few individuals from the crowd.

 They do this all day long and all night; at least, they are still singing when I finally drift off to sleep and they are the first thing I hear in the quiet stillness of the misty morning. As I open my eyes to a rarely quiet house and percolating coffee, their song floats up to greet me and I smile. It’s almost as if I was unbelieving that Spring had finally arrived and their cheerful chirping reassures me that it has indeed come to stay.

 The smell of fresh coffee and the peepers reminds me of another cherished ritual. It is a bit cold yet, but very soon it will be warm enough to sit on the front porch and watch the golden sunshine climb over the hill to our left and a little behind us. (The house faces south-west.) Sometimes we wrap up in a blanket because we just can’t wait, a steaming cup of that beloved black fluid in our hands, cream and sugar to taste. We will do this every morning all the way through the fall, until the very coldest days force us to admit defeat and retreat for the winter once more. I say we, but as I am only on a visit I will not have the daily pleasure of this ritual. However, my visits are always more frequent in the Spring and Summer, so I’m sure I will partake enough to satisfy.

 I’m looking forward to the smell of fresh-cut grass. Kentucky is known for its Bluegrass. For all those unfamiliar with our common wealth, this is actually a grass, not just a style of music. We have rolling hay fields that can be cut three times a year if the summer doesn’t dry up too badly and if a farmer is ambitious. There is nothing like the smell of hay drying in the field under the blazing sun.

 As my drive to Washington County takes me up I65 and down the Bluegrass Parkway, I am waiting for that moment that I veer off onto exit 42 and the EZ Stop greets me from up on the hill, an older building wishing every day that it were a proper truck stop, but resigned to its fate as a country catch-all for farmers, tractors, and good-old-boys that sit out front and chew the fat. Here is where the roads become two lane and winding and every time you pass a vehicle going the opposite direction, you raise a couple fingers off the steering wheel and they do the same. You don’t know them personally and they don’t know you, but you exchange this little greeting because you are in the country and that’s what you do. It is a gesture of friendliness, a courtesy, and you can always tell when somebody is from out-of-town or state, they don’t know the little code and look at you with vague discomfort, as if trying to figure out if they know you from some where.

 Ah, rural Kentucky. I guess this is what I miss the most. It is not so bad since we have moved from Louisville to Bowling Green. Our new town has more of the Southern Hospitality feel than the bigger city to the North, but it still has two Super Wal-marts.It is a far cry from downtown Willisburg with its only stop sign and corner gas station/market/cafe. You just can’t beat country living.

 Everybody knows you, where you come from, where you’ve been, who you’ve dated, what car you drive, and so many other little details that would be considered on the personal side. While this can be very annoying and have it’s down side, it comes in handy when you’re stuck on the side of the road twenty miles away or in some other dire need and somebody you’ve met maybe once stops and gives you a hand. There is an almost family like camaraderie out in the country. I miss that.

 I’m not a native to Willisburg, Washington County, or even Kentucky. My family moved from Florida to Colorado and from Colorado to Kentucky. They got here in 1999 and it took at least until 2006 for the locals to really accept us as neighbors and not just outsiders. These rural communities are a bit difficult to settle into, but once they have accepted you, they are fiercely loyal and you will always be one of their own. It has been eleven years this July that my family has called Kentucky home and looking back on it all I can’t think of a better place to live and watch my daughter grow. She’s as native to rural Kentucky as Bourbon, her daddy has been born and raised here, and after living here myself and leaving several times, I have always returned and am proud to call this my home state. I have a little piece of myself buried here too. There is a tiny grave in the little town of Salem in Western Kentucky that gives me the ultimate right to call this place home, to embrace the people and be embraced by them.

 There is light on the horizon as I type and this big old farm-house will soon be fit to bursting with noise and cheerful voices of children and a new day. So I will close with this. I am glad for life in the slow lane. It is where the very best of my memories are made, where my legacy will be nurtured, where my family can be found, where my friends are. There is nothing like it in the whole world.