{Divorce} Is a Launching Pad not a Failure

Ten years ago I woke up and made a decision. A decision that was months in the making and one that needed to be made for my own sanity. I chose to leave. To walk away from a marriage that wasn’t worth saving and said goodbye to a child that I will love until my last breath.

Only a handful of people knew about my situation. Most thought I had the perfect storybook marriage. I had the big house in an affluent community, money, travel, and a husband that adored me. In reality my husband only adored me in public, my big house became my prison and the money only flowed one way, his wallet. Day in and day out I was told that I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, or pretty enough to be loved. Those words cut into my soul and my mind believed them as truth. After awhile I no longer recognized the woman in the mirror and my laugh disappeared. Smiles rarely showed and my light hearted manner slipped away. He broke me in more ways than I could ever explain.

I never correlated what I experienced with abuse. Until I started therapy. My therapist looked at me point blank and said “Hun, that’s not normal. You went through mental and emotional abuse.” All I could say back to her was “Umm what?” She explained that he used manipulation and gas lighting to break me down. To make me feel like I was less than and that if I ever left him I wouldn’t survive on my own.

His last words to me were “you will never make it on your own.” Those very words have been my fuel. I’ve been fighting to do better and be better because I couldn’t let his last words win. It took awhile but I slowly found myself again. At first tears were plentiful. I felt like a failure and having to start over at 27 was scary. I got my first apartment, learned how to pay bills (no side eyes, the ex had done this for me), and I adopted a muppet like dog. And I never looked back. I was determined to make it on my own.

My adorable apartment in Uptown + the muppet like dog

And when I was ready I dipped my toe into the dating pool. It took awhile for me to realize that his words were false and that I was indeed beautiful. To this day I can remember the first time after my divorce a stranger told me that I was beautiful. It was in the uptown Green Mill parking lot and I cried. I cried because it was the first time in over a year that someone uttered that word in my direction. I left that parking lot with a new found confidence and my grove was back.

Dating as a young divorcee is hard. I kept my guard up and my hope close to my heart. I just wasn’t going to settle for anyone that slid into my DMs. I was picky and there were times where I didn’t even show up to the date. Yes, I AJ ghosted people and that’s ok. Sometimes you just don’t feel like it or maybe you got lost and you didn’t want to be super late. Anyways dating is hard, like real hard.

I didn’t spend a lot of time in the pool, Charlie came in and threw me a life ring. Charlie was able to peel back the layers and heal the years of hurt. In his eyes I was everything and nothing would ever change that. Sure he was 13 years my senior, yet the difference didn’t matter. He’d tell me often “AJ do you know why we work?” I’d tell him no. “You understand the work. You understand that an Attorney doesn’t always work a 9 to 5. You understand that sometimes a case comes before family. You understand that sometimes I have to be away for weeks at a time and because you understand, you are ok with it.” He was right as a paralegal I understood the work and all of the late nights and long weekends that go into a case. I never complained or batted an eye when he stayed in the office till 1AM. He was right, because I understood the work we just fit.

That fit was short lived. And my heart to this day still hurts. Charlie died on February 16, 2012 from injuries sustained in an auto accident on Valentine’s Day. His life was taken by a drunk driver. A driver that I have forgiven. He made a mistake and like me he has to live with the consequences of his mistake for the rest of his life. Charlie was a once in a lifetime love. His soul was vibrant and his personality could fill a room. He knew how to make you smile in the worst moments and roar with laughter. To calm me Charlie would tell me stories in Mohican and with each word whispered I’d forget what I was fretting over. Charlie looked out for everyone and lived life to the fullest. A piece of my heart lies in a little cemetery in Montawk and because of that I strive to live the life Charlie had imagined for me.

After Charlie I took time to let my heart heal and when I was ready I dipped a toe back into the pool. Dates were plentifully, but only a few had long term eligibility. After awhile I just gave up and decided that the single life was the life for me. I had a good job, a cute apartment and a muppet like dog. Life was good and I was happy. But fate, she’s a funny lady, Fate had other plans for me. On Veterans Day 2014 a marine slipped into my DMs and I’ve never looked back.

It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had our trials and our triumphs. We’ve gone through more than most couples do and we’ve come out on the other side stronger than before. He gets me and I get him back. Jay believes in my crazy dream of motherhood. Jay doesn’t like the limelight, he prefers to be in my corner where he can cheer me on from the cheap seats. He answers to every whim of my wanderlust heart. Jay gets my Tasty Taco addiction and my need for adventure. If it’s out there and if it won’t kill me, I want to do it. But mostly Jay is what my heart always needed, he can make me laugh until I can’t breathe, he can calm me when I’m out of sorts, he knows that the simplest things make me happy, and he always makes sure the bed is made. (Having a made bed is everything to me) He is a good egg and I am never letting go. Well that is unless he declares that he hates dinosaurs and fluffy white dogs, then I’ll let his ass go. I can’t have that negativity in my life 🙃.

Looking back now I realize that my divorce wasn’t a failure, it was my launching pad. I’ve done a lot of amazing shit in the past ten years and none of it would have happened if I stayed in that marriage. I wouldn’t have worked as a contract paralegal hopping from case to case. That job eventually led me to my niche, I’m a Risk Consultant and it perfectly fits me. It’s a mix of law/regulation review and procedure/policy analysis, which is my jam. I never would have done the best thing ever…….. duh adopted a muppet like dog! Cullen has been my side kick for almost ten years, he is my joy in four legged form. In the end I am the one who got rescued on adoption day. Nor would I have a shit ton of travel stories to share. My life would have been boring and sad. And ya all know me, I may be a lot of things but boring and sad isn’t one of them. This life I’ve built and rebuilt and rebuilt again, is fucking amazing and I wouldn’t change any of it. Life is a beautiful disaster and this disaster is all mine.

What a difference 10 years makes!

From time to time people ask me for advice. Like relationship advice, yes you read that right, relationship advice. And when I respond I think back to what Charlie said “you need to find someone that understands the work.” He was right, at the end of the day you need to find someone who understands the work and understands you as a person (<—- last part is my two cents). Otherwise your relationship isn’t going to work. Things will happen in your relationship that neither of you signed up for, it’s what you do with those things that matter. If those things break you apart and that break is not repairable, it’s ok to walk away. You did your best, you gave it everything you had and now it’s time to call it. A wise attorney once told me “there are no winners or losers in a breakup or divorce, someone has to call it. That’s the hardest part, making the judgment call.” <—- I heard this advice on a Friday and walked out of my marriage that Sunday and then never looked back. Best advice I was ever given. So if you are where I was ten years ago, just call it and never look back. Your launching pad is waiting for you.

{Whipstaff Ranch & Rescue} Cullen’s Story

cullenIn June 2010 I walked away from my marriage with a little English Pointer named Freckles by my side. Freckles is a shy energetic rambunctious little soul and she was never meant for apartment life. She needed a yard, a place to run, and a 5-year-old boy to chase her around. I knew what Freckles needed, it wasn’t me, so with a heavy heart I brought her back to my ex husband and Nylan.

For the first time in 6 years I was truly alone. I didn’t have a child to look after or three dogs to take for a walk. My apartment was all to quiet and something was missing. I needed a partner with a wet nose, caring eyes, and a wagging tail. Most rescues turned me away telling me “an apartment is not a place for a dog.” I cried myself to sleep most nights and one day it hit me “Contact Whipstaff tell Carrie was happened and maybe, just maybe she will let me adopt another dog.”

With that thought I fired an email off at 4am asking if I could bring another little dog into my life. I anxiously waited for a reply, hours past and before night fall I had an answer. Carrie said “I have the perfect little dog for you, he is just like Freckles, shy, a little broken with a good heart.” She emailed a photo and I instantly fell in love with his big gray nose. I couldn’t wait to bring him home, home to his forever home.

The next day I set out on a 12 hour round trip journey to pick up my new-found friend. I followed Carrie’s directions, she really means it when she says “A GPS will not guide you to the ranch” trust me it won’t. I got to see the ranch first hand, the moment you pull into the driveway you can feel the love that they have for the animals in their care. They take in the unwanted, the un-trainable, the broken, and the lost. They take the cast offs and love them until they are whole again, only to turn around to place them in forever homes.

With a hug and a tearful thank you I headed back to Minneapolis with Cullen. I’ve had Cullen for over three years now and he will turn 4 on September 30th. A good part of his first year on earth was spent in a puppy mill and he was withdrawn and scared of the world around him. Carrie and her Mama rescued Cullen, feed him, loved him, and showed him how life could be for a dog. Because of their love a dog got rescued and that rescue became my best friend. In truth I needed Cullen more than he needed me. I was broken and hurt, when I looked into my dogs eyes the loneliness slipped away and I knew I was going to be ok.

Cullen has been by my side through thick and thin. He faithfully laid next to me on the couch during my bed rest, licked away my tears and has provided me with absurd amounts of laughter. Cullen loved Charlie as much as I did and together we mourned the death of our best friend. He watched over baby Sophia and now he sits by her side as she gives him hundreds of hugs. Cullen is no longer an introvert, he along with me has come out of his shell. He found his bark and his eyes light up like fire each morning.

I can never repay the ladies of Whipstaff for the gift they’ve given me. There are not enough words in the English language to describe how greatful I am that they saw it in their hearts to take in a matted under feed dog that became my best friend. In a recent Facebook post Carrie stated that they were in need of help with the food bill, an that several animal were in need of neutering and spaying. I wanted to help and it hit me “I can share their story on my blog and tell the world about the incredible work they do.” So that is what I did.

I hope that everyone who reads this will find it in their hearts to donate $5.00 to Whipstaff Ranch and Rescue. $5 may not seem like much, however a little adds up and can go along way. To find out more about this awesome nonprofit rescue and to make a donation please visit: http://whipstaff-ranch.com/rescue.html

{Love Thy Farmer} Auntie Annie’s Fields

So why did the chicken cross the road? I know that’s an age-old question, however I do believe I know the answer. Gone are the days of the small family farm. Farming has been modernized. We as Americans have found a way to grow our chickens quicker, bigger, and apparently better. The average size of a factory farm chicken is between 20 and 35 pounds. The chickens actually grow so big that their little legs snap under their body weight. Grocery store shelves are lines with chicken breasts the size of your head. Factory farm chickens graze on feed that is injected with growth hormones and antibiotics. We then turn around and eat that chicken. One has to question “How do the growth hormones and antibiotics affect the human body?” I dared to ask that question.

The further away we get from the farmer the less healthy our bodies become. Our health is connected to the food we eat. What we eat depends on the health of the land. I wanted healthy chickens that I could be happy about eating. Thanks to Google I came upon Auntie Annie’s fields. Auntie Annie’s Fields raise natural free range chickens on a small farm in Dundas Minnesota. The lucky chickens end up at Elizabeth and Ian’s farm. Here the chickens get to spend their days wondering the fields eating bugs, clover, and doing the things chickens do. They are not confined to a dark barn like on a factory farm, instead there coop is on wheels and is moved from field to field. Auntie Annie’s chickens get a lot of fresh air and room to roam. Keeping the flock small allows them to maintain the health of their birds and they do not need to use antibiotics like conventional producers.

I had the pleasure of Meeting Elizabeth and her adorable children when I picked up my chickens at the Northfield Farmers Market. Instantly I knew my chickens were going to be good. Why, because you can instantly tell when someone puts a lot of love and passion into their product. To Elizabeth these are not just chickens, she is raising good quality food that will nourish the soul. Elizabeth and Ian have mastered the art of growing food and that is something a factory farm will never do. Auntie Annie’s focuses on quality, not quantity. Unlike the factory farms that care more about profit than quality.

Not only do Elizabeth and Ian grow healthy chickens, they also dedicate a part of their land to be used by the Main street Project, which is making land and infrastructure available to aspiring Latino chicken farmers. Auntie Annie’s Fields gives Latino farmers access to land and creates economic opportunities for rural Latino families. Now that’s a farm I can stand behind.

Do you want some incredible chickens? I know you do! You can head on out to the farmers market in Northfield and say “Hi” to Elizabeth and her cute kids on the dates below:

The Riverwalk Market Fair is open 9 a.m.-2 p.m., and is right on the Cannon River in downtown Northfield. We’ll be there every other Saturday: 6/16, 6/23, 7/7, 7/21, 8/4, 8/18, 9/1, 9/15, 9/29, 10/13, 10/20, 10/27.

Don’t want to make a trip to Northfield? Lucky for you they travel to Minneapolis:

Minneapolis: every 3rd Sunday, June through October (6/17, 7/15, 8/19, 9/16, and 10/21). We’ll be in the Longfellow neighborhood, about a mile south of Lake Street, and about a mile west of the Mississippi River.

Want to know more about Auntie Annie’s Fields? Well then visit them on the web:

http://www.auntieanniesfields.com

So why did the chicken cross the road? It got tired of the factory farm and went to join the happy chickens at Auntie Annie’s Fields.

{Buy Local} Love Thy Farmer, Not Thy Brand

A couple of months ago I made a conscious decision to no longer buy dairy and meat products from my local grocery store. I grew up in a farm to table family. My parents always bought meat from our local butcher and fresh produce from a farm co-op in Wisconsin. My mom purchased very little at our grocery store, can goods were the anti christ in our house. If we didn’t make it from scratch, then well we didn’t eat it. One could say that we were organic before organic was cool.

Lately I have been doing a lot of research on factory farming, feed lots, and so on. My thought process changed the moment I watched a clip of chickens that were so large their legs broke when they tried to walk. A chicken is not meant to be 40 plus pounds. A chicken breast should not be as big as your head. We do not have solid research on the effects genetically engineered food has on our bodies. Hell its been found that most processing plants spray the meat with a solution to kill bacteria, then we turn around and eat that. I’m sorry but I do not want any chemicals with my meat, I just want plain old meat.

Truth, I am an agriculture geek and I was even president of the Red Wing FFA. Farmers are amazing people and their connection to the land they til runs deep. I have a soft spot for organic farmers and their families. I want to know the family that is raising my food and not the label the store sells. Each farm, each family has a story to tell, and they are the reason we all have food on our tables.

My table has wonderful organic free range pork and chicken on it. I get giddy when I place my order and then the farmer calls me to confirm. If something is out of stock they don’t go to the back of the store to get more, instead they say “AJ it’s going to be a while, we are currently raising ______ for your consumption in the fall.” I love it when they tell me that!

We have the power as consumers to fight back against the factory and to put the profits back into the pockets of the families that tend the soil. Many farmers are losing ground and are handing over their deeds to corporations. Many are going into debt in an attempt to stay alive. If they do not change or do what the Corporation says, their contract is pulled, and they are left with a mountain of bills.

You and I can end this, end this once and for all, you just need to join me and buy local. Buying local is a small part, yet its the wake up call Washington needs. The FDA and USDA are riddled with former Monsanto, Tyson, USA BEEF, and Cargill executives. They are the ones making the decisions regarding our food, our health, and for what to create a profit. That is what our country has come to “Profit over People.” Our small farmers are barely holding on and they are praying for a record yield that will quiet the banker. They are praying for someone like you to see the light and to fight against the feed lot down the road. They are fighting to put food on the table for their family, while trying to grow food for yours.

My table will be a symbol of one almost 30 something’s dream to end the factory farm and to bring the farmer to my home. Food always taste better when its grown with a smidge of love, strength, and hope for a better day. After all farming is what made America the great nation it is, that and the rail road. The rails brought the grain to port, the port brought it to the river, and the mighty Mississippi brought the grain belt of the midwest to the world.

Captain’s Walk Winery ~Green Bay WI

The folks at Captain’s Walk Winery claim that they take the snobbery out of wine tasting. It’s true they do. As soon as you walk in the door you are greeted with a warm hello and a smile. You are quickly whisked into the tasting room, they explain the history of the winery and go over a list of current wines that are in stock.

Captain’s Walk offers tasting daily of up to seven 1-ounce samples per person for a charge of $3.00. You are allowed to select your wines from what they currently have in stock. If you don’t know where to start just ask the friendly staff and they will happily guide you along.

The winery is located in a pre-civil war era home that has been updated and restored to reflect the beauty of the period. In the tasting room you will notice that there is a window in the floor. Below you will see the barrel room where some of the wines are aged.

I have fallen in love with the wines at Captains walk. So much so that I put in an order every couple of months and have a case shipped to Minneapolis. I have to giggle when the UPS man cards me, but hey its worth it. Their wines range from classic table to the full-bodied. My favorites are the Disappearing Treasure, Captain’s Mistress, 7Seas, Riesling, and The Maiden Voyage. The Maiden Voyage comes in a bottle that is shaped like a clipper ship, it truly is an amazing wine.

Green Bay is just a short day trip away from Minneapolis. So if you ever find yourself in Green Bay make sure you stop in and see the lovely folks at Captains Walk. They will be happy to see you and assist you with all of your wine needs.

Local Thursdays!

Yum! The best ice cream on earth!!

Its back. Local Thursdays will feature some of my favorite businesses with in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Since the weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer. I thought it would be best to start the summer off with my favorite Ice Cream Shop.

Izzy’s Ice Cream
2034 Marshall Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104
651.603.1458

Who doesn’t love ice cream? Nothing says summer like a bowl of fresh home-made ice cream. I first fell in love with Izzy’s at the Minnesota state fair. One of there popular flavours is Ruby Red. Ruby Red is like drinking a glass of red wine, but in an ice cream cone. The ice cream is creamy, thick, and made right there on site. So you know that you are getting the freshest product possible. The flavours are endless. Stretching from your traditional vanilla and chocolate, to the wild side of Blue Mountain Spice and Banana Macadamia nut.

If some tells you “oh I went to Izzy’s and didn’t see a flavour I would like.” You know they never stepped foot in the shop. There is something for everyone. In the summer heat the line stretches out the door. Little kids stand with ice cream covered chins, parents revisit their childhood, and me, I’m lucky if I don’t drop my cone. Even the muppet like dog loves Izzy’s his favorite flavour is also Ruby Red.

Please give these hard-working Minnesotans a try, a shout, or jump for joy as their creamy ice cream touches your tongue.