It’s difficult for me to consider the swift ways of two years before my daughter graduates high school and everything in our household changes to a new normal without her. She’s a delight to have around.
I am a better person being a mother and wife. I never knew how “wanting it my own way” I was before kids. My character needed to be shaped and expanded around caring for another who was fully dependent. This wasn’t easy for me and with my second child I really started losing my mind, mostly in all things involving patience. But parenting my daughter for four years before her brother came around, I rediscovered my inner child who had gotten lost along the way to growing up, delighted in a being who thrived under such relishing, which was a joy to witness and found love in the look that said, “You’re my person.” And I wanted it to be so – ecstatic that it was. It’s been a journey, one with thankfully, little regret. (Mainly because I bought a small farm called “therapy” for ten years twice a week before I had children.)
With all the positive, it didn’t shift my need for down time and quiet reflection. I wrote this short poem(?) in reflection of some of those days as a mother of young children when they need you and I didn’t want to be needed. And oh how they need you and during these seasons there is very little space for you.
I have loved sitting on the toilet in silence better than having one more stuffie’s tea party with Raven, Siamese Kitty and my daughter who will be a day older tomorrow.
Having a teenager who now drives has oriented me to the fleeting passage of time. The ten plus hours of driving in the car together each week has been replaced by more time for myself to do what? Work, workout, or take a nap is usually slotted now. All of which I would give up to discover what music she’s now listening to because there are no more playlist take overs on our drive. And of course I could ask, but how boring compared to the experiencing. It’s like talking about a rock climbing route instead of scaling it. There also isn’t the spontaneous venting about school boredom (who actually LIKES school? Please.) or explaining the labs completed in Forensic Science. Of course we still talk. We have meals together but there is very little lingering with rowing, homework, and friendships interfering with family time.
I have loved driving you to Long Beach High School* better than the Taylor Swift concert which covered your voice.
Time is like a shooting star blazing across the sky – one moment there and the next, gone.
Be alert and watching or it will pass you by.
Happy 17th Birthday, one of my people.
(I know a few weeks late to you who this is directly written for but hey I momentarily lived in denial and thought maybe if I didn’t post about it it never happened. :-)). Here’s to me no longer living in denial.
The current wave of human shortcomings and character flaws found in the news these last couple months have left me pummeled like the time I was on Oahu at some beach innocently talking to my friend when a wave came from behind and threw me into the sand. I was scratched for days by the grit left in hard to reach places, undetected until a long hike or bike ride.
Amazon fires, binary positions about climate change, and the US military strike killing innocent farmers in Afghanistan. And then this week – Moreno Valley. Oh that smiling face. I do not know him but he could be mine. He might some day be mine. The lives of these middle school children, let me repeat – children, forever changed. One’s breath to never breathe again except through another body (organ donation) and at least two 13 year olds whose families I imagine are devastated (at least that would be the appropriate response) for the sin of their son’s fists and what these boys will live with for the rest of their lives.
The hate and greed in the world today is nothing new. In fact, one doesn’t need to look too deep into history to realize the atrocities human beings can do to one another. Think Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, King Leopold in the Congo, Hitler, Cecil Rhodes in South Africa, Cortes in modern day Mexico, Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson to name a few that come to mind. Over the last eighteen months I’ve read some the excellent books that drive home these aspects of the human condition. Non-fiction accounts: Evicted by Matthew Desmond; King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild; When A Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin; Born A Crime by Trevor Noah; Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File by John Edgar Wideman. Fiction accounts: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly; Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd and the classic by Wilma Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop, which touches on the ugly cost to Native American’s of pioneering settlements. There are obviously many more but these are the ones that have been in my hands recently.
When my heart cries out, sometimes putting pen to paper helps reorient me back to the realities of this world. The following was inspired this week by St. Teresa of Avila “bookmark” prayer.
Let human being’s decisions disturb you.
Let your heart cry out from injustices.
With people, your heart will break again and again.
God alone is unchanging, perfect.
With Him, unity and communion with the earth and all people is possible.
These last few weeks have been a mental killer as perfectionism has made it’s way into my proverbial driver’s seat more often then I’d like to experience. It got me thinking about what activities or elements I haven’t ruined with perfectionism. What I landed on interestingly enough is photography, which really has the potential to be a perfectionistic feast but for whatever reason hasn’t been engaged like that for me.
So I got to thinking – why not? As far as I can tell, it was all about perspective and expectations on myself. This more “laid back and emotional freedom” is called “Type B” mentality by some authors (see Daniel Pink’s Drive) whereas I have lived predominantly in a “Type A” mentality until my mid-30’s and it’s been difficult to completely replace, especially when I’m trying new things or exploring.
At one time I loved my perfectionism because it drove me to succeed and finish many milestones (doctorate, licensing, walking 39 miles, etc.). However, I realize that perfectionism comes with a joy robbing harsh judge and though I’m not coming from a binary perspective of believing this well-developed quality isn’t good, it’s much more complicated than naming it bad. Perfectionism can be both good and helpful as well as mentally taxing and stressful. What I’m trying to learn is how to approach life with high standards that aren’t paralyzing or joy killers but also stretch and grow me so that the standards themselves become an opportunity for me to learn something about myself. (I HAVE NOT found this balance with writing my book, which is why it hasn’t appeared yet – ugh! the perfectionism there can be paralyzing but that’s for a post on another day.).
Recently, I had the opportunity to wrestle with my perfectionism as I explored new territory and skills professionally. My autopilot categories are great and not good, which essentially as binary as winner and loser. Not the creative, exploratory mental playground I want to live in. I do not want to live in fear of underperforming and have been struck by how regularly this can happen to me. It got me thinking about areas of my life where perfectionism hasn’t shown up to spoil my exploration or invoke shame of being a beginner. What’s became clear is my journey with photography has been the most enjoyable learning and “crafting my skill” experience I’ve ever had. So I decided to invite you along this analytic and artistic journey to help me name and uncover the possible antidotes to my perfectionism around exploration and “the unfamiliar.”
Like many good things in my life, my children were a catalyst to improving pictures – after all, who wants “just okay” photos of adorable children! Interestingly enough, this desire to improve didn’t bring with it a fear of shame or self-doubt about my abilities. There was no question in my mind that I was never going to be a professional photographer so I needn’t aspire to be one. Posture number for for getting perfectionism out of the driver’s set – expertise not expected or needed. “I’m good enough” was simply that, “good enough” which gave me space to explore and play without needing a professional photograph result.
My starting point as a photographer:
Theme – ignorance is freedom for I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
The above represents how I thought every picture should look – centered. Then, I attended a short photography workshop at a mother’s group and learned about composition and thinking about the picture in thirds. I started there – vertical and horizontal thirds but kept pointing and clicking whatever struck me – I absolutely refused to judge each picture by this new framework BUT I did began getting some pictures like this –
I practiced this for many years before adding anything. Posture two for drowning out perfectionism – allow the “unfamiliar” the time and space it needs to become familiar – without rushing it.
Besides buying a digital SLR camera, in 2011, I attended a one night beginning photography class by my good friend and professional photographer, Dane Sanders. I walked away with two different concepts that would later become internalized. Regarding composition – look at the lighting. Notice different aspects of the light in terms of light and dark/ shadow as potential friend. And in terms of the camera, I moved off the auto setting to “scene” setting. I did began playing with all the individual settings (like aperture and shutter speed) but I didn’t use them enough to integrate ANY of that knowledge and felt fine about all of it -after all, I’m a hobby photographer. No need to stress – just play around with switching up the scenes and notice new lighting consideration. Posture three for getting perfectionism out of the driver’s seat – accept your limitations and enjoy your abilities.
The following pictures were taken within two months of the workshop:
As I’ve honed my craft as a photographer, it has unearthed a playfulness and curiosity about the visual world around me. I love playing with lighting, composition, angles with not one care about mistakes or getting it wrong. It’s the process that’s soul giving rather than the outcome and pride of a job well done that’s feeding my soul. Sure it feels good to nail a shot but it’s like the cherry on top – not the primary “dish.” The focus on process rather than outcome is the fourth antidote to my perfectionism.
Then last April, I took a photography workshop with National Geographic Photographer, Stephen Matera, and my learning and play factor took off. (Read about the trip here – Seizing the Moment, Part 2)
I learned about “golden hours” – catching sunrise and sunsets.
I learned about white balance adjustments which can have a significant impact around color. See below:
I learned about editing in photoshop or Lightroom. Due to the skyline, this picture shown above was much darker unedited. However, using Lightroom helped me bring a bit more perspective to this spectacular wood carving up on the top of a mountain in the Dolomites.
In terms of composition, Steve really helped me “extend” my lines because I was cutting things off or not giving them “space to breathe.
As I think as evidenced in the pictures taken post-workshop, getting instruction from Steve really changed my ability level on multiple accounts. Since we were together for several days it was so much easier to internalize the techniques and knowledge being taught because I then had to remember the next day what I’d learned from the day before. What’s exciting to me as a perfectionist is that it didn’t turn me in to an outcome driven/ best shot photographer. Instead it gave me more tools to play with, which I’ve done with none of the perfectionistic thinking I’m so used to experiencing inside of me. It gives me hope that I might be able to decrease my self-torture around other artistic and creative endeavors like in my professional work. In this spirit, I’d name the last antidote for perfectionism is getting feedback by a grace-filled expert so that grace and generous spirit around performance can be internalized.
I love following good photographers on Instagram because it helps me keep an eye out for potential shots and helps me get an idea of why certain photographs are pleasing to my eye. Also, it’s encouraged me to be ready for pictures like the examples shown below.
This set of pictures was captured by shooting a snake as it came off the water near us while we were fishing on shore. I began shooting it for fun, trying to catch a shot that was interesting – like this one with its tongue out.
Having my sights on it, set me up to capture this food grab that was buried on the lakeshore sand.
Some reflections for your own process: What keeps you from being playfully creative? Do you have a creative outlet that captures your artistic side? Does perfectionism rob you of enjoyment or even getting started with a creative hobby? How might you navigate it?
Thank you for coming on this journey with me. It’s a blessing to be able to share.
2019 marks the13th year of our group of friends camping together. We’ve been to Patrick’s Point, Big Sur, Salt Point, Morro Bay, Huntington Lake, Union Reservoir, Running Springs, Dark Canyon and a few others scattered in there. This year about 40 people joined us at Mammoth Lakes, including three new families, as every year we have a different combination of people who can join us. Our philosophy – the more people, the better conversations, the crazier the campfire stories, the more chances to be able to outrun individuals in the occasion of a bear attack while hiking, and the higher possibility of being able to enjoy a campground game. Another benefit – we love new talent. This year, magical margaritas from the closet bartender and newcomer “campee,” Aimee Churchill, were a celebrated addition.
As much fun as we have – hiking, playing games, making S’mores, and whatever creative endeavor comes up, we have significant people who are no longer camping and we miss them. We’ve had two cancer deaths in our community. This is the second year without Danielle, the fifth without Amy. Danielle loved the Sierras, a legacy passed on from her father who frequented often during D’s life. We camped here in honor of her though when it went on the camping list back in 2017, I had imagined camping with her, not in honor of her. But her body couldn’t beat back the aggressive breast cancer in her body and she lived only six days in 2018, about 14 months from her diagnosis.
Her spirit was alive to us though deeply missed by us all, robbing us all of pure enjoyment because we had the certainty that this isn’t the way it should be. D should have been there as Matteo, her son, blew out his birthday candles – 11 years old and when the rest of the family took him to Starbucks (benefits of camping close to town) for his favorite drink, a hot chocolate and he demanded a Venti rather than the usual tall size. We could all rightly declare this isn’t the way it ought to be – this unending longing for her presence that will be unfulfilled this side of heaven.
There are many things to miss about D but what was unique between her and I was the hike and event planning. She was my comrade and took full responsibility to investigate hikes and local attractions along with me. She would’ve walked with Mary and me to the Welcome Center to discuss hiking options. She would’ve been with us when we sought shelter in an empty bear box due to a downpour, hail included, dumped on us as we made our way back to camp. True confession (which feels shameful to this country girl who prides herself on having an internal GPS) our trip back to camp wasn’t exactly a direct route because we turned left instead of going straight so we ended up on the wrong camping loop – and the country girl in me was determined to “find our way” going across country rather than backtracking down the road from which we came.
The other person missed, Amy, was always a willing camper but she needed her amenities. She would’ve been the first person to have crafts and activities for the kids, a role Laura filled this year with markers, paint (which was used as make-up by the younger girls painting the older girls’ face) and white paper. Amy would’ve color coordinated our table cloths and possibly rented a RV for her family so she could sleep – an important activity to her and one not done best on her blow up mattress and sleeping bag. She might have had the latest padded camping chairs, especially the rockers found at REI. And she definitely would’ve brought cloth napkins (possibly ones she’d made) with napkin holders to set the ambiance for dinner.
Present time, an event I think Danielle spearheaded from heaven was our junior ranger program. She always found the local programs and would get us special group presentations so I swear she was in the planning of our Devil’s Postpile Monument hike because we got off the shuttle and without even knowing it, picked the stop that had the ranger station and the booklet for all the kids. I was a miserable substitute because I didn’t actively engage with the displays of stuffed animals (via taxidermy) inside the forest station. Instead, my competitive state of mind kicked in as I saw forty people in the next shuttle bus start filing off, so I grabbed my backpack and began walking down the trail, yelling behind me, “I’ll see you at Devil’s postpile.” I’m certain Danielle, in her calm and collected way, would’ve rounded up the kids to look at the objects and thought absolutely nothing about the hikers getting ahead of us while we listened to the presentations. Later, she would’ve also loved the clever answers and interpretations from our group as the kids filled out the booklet — placing dog’s paws on a page for signatures of fellow hikers or circling phones and televisions as hiking necessities while asking, “will we get a badge with these type of answers?”
My mind can picture both D and Amy with us at different junctions. I know Amy would’ve been so proud of her almost-six-year-old son, Nathan’s, completing a 3.5 miles hike with the last mile a doozy – all uphill. D would’ve meandered, enjoying the present moment of being together and in nature, and would’ve taken turns with her husband, Mynor, with their dog, Juneau.
What I’ve learned about death is it’s honoring to family members to share grief, stories, and longings to let the family know they aren’t alone in their longings and sorrow. So we talked about D and how she would’ve loved taking the kids fishing or going on walks with the dogs and eating the edible cookie dough from the Schat’s bakery in Bishop. We also wondered how Amy would’ve felt about the wind and what she’d even think about camping now that two of her kids are old enough to drive. As a community we make an effort not to hide our feelings, having learned that there is comfort and goodness in sharing our grief. For certain, it doesn’t take away the longing for the other but it somehow makes it less lonely in the ache of the hurt.
The cliff notes of what camping with this community means to me. I have learned most of what I know about doing life well from these people. A number of them I’ve known since my early twenties, more than half my life. They’ve loved me when I had more rough edges. They’ve loved me through my own devastating loss of a our middle child in 2006. They’ve loved me when I haven’t loved my husband, who they like, well. They’ve loved me so I can be brave and take risks. They’ve filled the gaps when my children needed a second mother, a ride, a safe place and I couldn’t be there due to my work. I’m grateful to know them and their children – even the ones I’m just getting to know.
At the end of the day, what I love about communing in the woods as campers, is that for five days out of the year, I live communally -sharing meals, washing dishes, listening to snores or night talkers. And it’s here in this ordinary life where I know I never want to live permanently with these people the best of life is found in the mundane and the ordinary – the conversations around the water spigot, on the hiking trail or at the brewery (because when your walking-close to the local brewery it would be sinful NOT to go).
What is reconfirmed year after year around the campfire is that one doesn’t need to travel around the world to find extraordinary beauty. It’s usually at our fingertips when we are in the company of those we enjoy and take delight in.
Bye, Mammoth! Until ski season when you just may see us again.
Fishing on a mountain lake without a single soul is always second best to fishing on a mountain lake with my family, even if that family sometimes skips rocks (a fishing kill joy), yells across the lake, or brags relentlessly. In my childhood home world, fishing with a non-family member is annoying (no one else is supposed to be here!) and fishing with several groups is unheard of where we go – unless of course we’re fishing in the North Cascade lakes or streams off highway 20 which I consider an absolute highway for hikers and fishers alike. The only time in the last couple decades I’ve been solo on those lakes is when I’ve snowshoed into them before the trails were officially open.
Turns out – when you have a father who is an avid hiker/backpacker, you can pretty much go where the crowds are thin. When you add poor weather (50 degrees and rain) to the mix it pretty much guarantees you’ll have the lake to yourself. Name of lake you’ll need to discover on your own. That’s part of the beauty of exploration and adventure – curiosity and a good map leading you into the wild Pacific Northwest is all that’s required.
Today we decided catch and release was on the menu as we weren’t so daring to cook up a meal besides Cup ‘o Noodles in the rain.
While the fishermen were discussing things like whose fish was bigger, what flies were working, who was catching any and where, Eden and I decided to fish ourselves, only with words. The conversation may or may not have included words like, “UUMMM – that’s dumb. Is that the best you can come up with? Really?” It also included promises to pay for future therapy while encouraging creativity to be less concrete than the “gray sky.” For the osprey in the tree next to us, it likely sounded more like a conversation one expects at a bar after a few drinks – plenty of laughter in between sentences like, “I can’t believe you said that. I’ll be scarred for life.” “You’ll be fine. No truth, no gain.” It may have been followed with shoves on the arm or not, like two girlfriends vying for the one barstool – only in our situation, it was the positioning on the garbage bag beneath us laid out like a picnic blanket. In spite of ourselves, the inspiration was plentiful – laced with God’s magic.
Specifics unseen in it’s shadow
Rain-soaked soil, the grave of a fawn
Colorless trees, flamed a decade ago, line up like forgotten dominos
Clouds, slate-colored, cover the sun,
dropping pieces of gray, drop by drop
I walk one foot in front of the other
down, then up, sometimes over, other times under
In the shadow, I’m hard to notice
— In collaboration : E & K
Raindrops at the tempo of 1 1/2 beats
Trees naked from the fire of 2009, stand together unashamed
Tripod -170,000 acres burned
Lines cast of the non-movie type
Two sets of trees and mountains
One real, one moves in the wind
Crackling behind us – manmade,
Mosquitos dive bomb
Fish eat, a safe distance from shore
1/2 beat tempo, slapping of hand on body parts –
Blood, usually one’s own, leftover
Boredom of the non-city type
Orchestra of the senses
— In collaboration: E & K
All ended well. No melting of bodies – Oz style, nor extreme coldness to our bones. Just a well-lived summer day, adventuring in the conditions provided for us. May you find yourself an adventure soon – preferably with good company.
My 49th birthday on February 20th at roughly 4:30 pm, officially started my jubilee year in my bedroom with hot soup, tissues and a heating pad for anywhere that would get me thinking about the goodness of warmth and not on how miserable I felt. Lucky for me, my rock star husband had asked close friends and family members to write descriptive words about me so I read these sunflower colored laminated book markers as I rocked and sucked my thumb tried to make the most of a miserable feeling day. The most surprising was my son described me as “wild” (he has no idea) and my niece, whose birthday is two days before me and born the same year as my son, described me as “zen.” Ying and yang – it seemed this might be a good year after all. Turns out, I’d recover in about two weeks and then a month later get the flu on a business trip, which may or may not have included holding my head, praying, and rocking on the airplane while trying not to moan or taste my breakfast a second time. The later happened as I waved at my daughter sitting with a friend who commented, “Hi Mom! Oh wow. You don’t look so good.” I didn’t and it would be about four days before I emerged to crawl to work and crawl home which became a routine for about three weeks. My weekends in between were filled with wild amounts of activity – sleep, sleep and a bit more sleep with a variety of chicken broth, chicken noodle soup or any soup that was given to me.
Fragile health has been something I’ve grown accustomed to in my 40s, not to say that this was “fragile” but I can’t remember a time I’ve been sick for so long. Over the past five years, I’ve walked with several friends in their cancer journey and have said good-bye, see you on the other side of the veil, to three of them locally and within the last three months – two more distantly. For family, I’m no longer making memories with my father-in-law – his death several years ago. My wellness checks have occasionally yielded “abnormal results” or “come back for more tests” and I too have fleeting concerns about the C word – get sick for six out of ten weeks when you have an exercise habit and eat a diet that’s about 90% gluten, sugar, and dairy free you’ll be wondering if there is something depressing your immune system besides the flu. Turns out, I have lead poisoning with high amounts of mercury and two airborne chemicals, likely from my living environment in LA in the vicinity of oil pumping. Not sure how long I’ve had it but for the last two months when I’m in town, I drive 30 miles for treatment once or twice a week, which includes sitting in a treatment area recliner, IV connected, for two hours with moments of nauseousness, headaches or stinging and if it’s not too uncomfortable, a good book (currently Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage though I’m trying to enjoy her writing and not think about the fact that this marriage didn’t work out for her either), my journal (as long as my right hand is free to write), and for transparency sake at least two or three other items “just in case” (I.e. The Sun magazine, another book – The Climate of Monastic Prayer by Thomas Merton, or my laptop which is difficult to use since one arm is hosting the IV). My commitment to myself during this year has been to stop “pushing through” health issues thinking they will just be resolved. It took over two years to finally discover this “metal problem” which is why my body wasn’t absorbing certain vitamins – mainly antioxidants and why my stress levels weren’t going down despite a regular practice of meditation, work adjustments, and a month worth of vacations.
Friendships have been adjusting as the reality that some of my deepest friendships have lacked regular contact. I was in a group for 16 years, The Graces, but with the death of Amy five years ago and the moving of Shannon a year later, a group that had been meeting once a month has now limped along with the three of us left in Southern California – though in June Shannon visited and we met at an early bird 6:30 am for breakfast to catch up. This year would’ve marked 20 years together. On a positive note, a group of long time friends merged what were two groups ten years ago into one so we can support one another during the parenting adolescents, widowhood, divorce, “rubber meeting the road” marriages and whatever else comes up during our once a month meetings. Also, a professional book club, which has been meeting quarterly for about six years has been incredibly supportive. As well, my own marriage during this half year has needed some composting and soil aerating. Dennis and I also had a difficult year personally. Our criticism/ defensiveness cycle reemerged after going on a hiatus for a number of years and we needed to change some things before it became chronic so we’ve been back in couple’s therapy. Thankfully, it’s been incredibly healing but a lot of emotional work.
Some highlights – Since last July, I’ve been enrolled in a year long intensive writing program in Santa Fe with Natalie Goldberg and Rob Wilder, which has been life giving on so many levels — getting me out of the LA craziness, writing, deepening my meditation practice and meeting some great people. I’m hopeful that this experience will help me reprioritize some things professionally –creating more space for writing and creative projects. As well, I’ve never had a better year professionally. It is a wonderful experience to see all the time and effort I’ve spent learning and doing has translated into a more confident place of being. It feels so refreshing to be past “am I doing what I ought to be doing” and instead, know who I am so I can more easily make decisions about what’s important professionally. My new challenge is owning my creativity and doing more in that arena like blogging (last blog seven months ago), podcasts, more on the YouTube channel and finish my darn book, which is happily in the editing phase. I also led a workshop on meditation for a women’s retreat, which fed my soul. I’ll also be facilitating a women’s retreat in Spokane, WA later this year for a group of women who have been meeting together for several years.
For those of you who have either followed this blog for a while or know me, likely remember that I celebrate my birthday with adventures or outings. See last year’s post on my canyoneering trip and photography workshop in Utah with National Geographic photographer in April. (2020-the big 50 already in the planning stages for Ireland, Scotland and London along with mystery country not yet selected). To start my year of jubilee, I decided for a “fly to” concert experience since few things bring me more joy than music. Predictably, I couldn’t decide on only one I went with two. Lauren Daigle in Albuquerque and Celine Dion in Las Vegas. Full disclosure – LA tickets for Lauren Daigle were three times the amount of Albuquerque, where I was conveniently scheduled for my writing intensive the next day so Albuquerque won over LA. I bought VIP tickets for full engagement. However, as it would happen, my flight was delayed long enough for me to possibly miss the entire concert so using LAX’s busyness to my advantage, I jumped from my flight to another which routed me to a different city before going to ABQ which looked like I could at least get in to make the latter part of the concert. While waiting at the airport, I shared my sadness, anxiety, angst with a number of friends who all rallied around and were with me in all the suckiness of missing out on my well-planned trip. My friend, Shannon, aka Graces member, maid of honor and college roommate, text to me in a group chat, “One thing I will say about you entering year 49 this way, is that you navigating difficult choices (which flight to take?), weathering disappointment, reaching out in friendship, willingness to ‘come as you are’ to the concert [I had no luggage or time to check in to hotel – all carry-ons needed to be taken to concert including TWO coats because of course I brought a “concert coat” since I can rarely wear coats in LA even in winter] has borne fruit of hope, hope-fulfilled and blessing (concert, with-ness)…and I pray THAT will be multiplied more and more all year through…” Not a bad way to start my year of jubilee – a blessing, companionship, and music! Concert made about two songs in to opener with the unfortunate experience of walking past the entire center section with my carry-on bags and two coats while the sitting audience listened but couldn’t help but see me (confirmed by not one but two women commenting in the hotel elevator after the concert about my fashionable coat that they admired while I walked past them). In my 20s, the possibility of embarrassment would have caused me to miss the opener in order to ditch my luggage at the hotel but I LOVED the opener, AHI, who I would have completely missed to avoid embarrassment. As it was, I sought assurance from the people that matter most to me that even if I was seen as the “bag lady” from the concert I’d be okay. That saying about “sticks and stones will break my bones…” ignores the reality that we all want to belong and words deeply cut us which is why we need to have “our people.”
Celine Dion was another destination concert scheduled in May. I’m no dummy so this time I drove instead of flew – taking advantage of car time to talk about visions and dreams with Dennis as well as answer some love map questions from Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” I also took advantage of being the birthday girl by requesting we stop off the freeway to take in the art installation, “Seven Magic Mountains” by Ugo Rondinone, a request which had been shot down by my family on previous visits.
Looking ahead to the next six months, I’m really hopeful that I’ll be done with all the edits for my memoir, which I’ve been giving birth to for the last eight years. It’s been a laborious process – one I hope to end and move into infancy where I can attempt to get it published. As well, my daughter, Eden, and I are starting a new mental health platform for adolescents and young adults. We’ve called it scars.together – and will be addressing the issues like anxiety, loneliness, depression, and suicide that can be overwhelming when an individual doesn’t know how to navigate it. Our vision is to be with others on social media platforms to come along side and help others deal with anxiety, anger, loneliness, self-doubt, etc. when they feel overwhelming and disorienting. Adolescents have big feelings by way of the neurological development happening in their brain, mainly their “thinking brain” isn’t fully developed until 24 or 25. The digital culture, without guidance, has the ability to wire pathways in their brain that lead to isolation rather than connection – which we know is a main “staying power” for launching into adulthood. Essentially, I’ve already “won” so there is no risk involved as we plow ahead because to develop content, I’m spending meaningful time with Eden who only has two years left at home before I kick her out.
The intention behind this year was to slow down in my busyness so in February I began taking a day off from my private practice to write and work on retreat projects. This has been rejuvenating for me. I also practice a Sabbath once a week where we change it up with church, hikes, meals with others, games, or anything else that feels rejuvenating. I take more breaks in the day by walking around my building or walking to lunch. I engage in meditation and a writing practice which slows me down from being on the production hamster wheel. I’m hoping the next six months will be more of the same.
What I’ve come to realize with age is I had no idea how much I lacked the ability to hold onto complexities in the human condition and with situations in general. For example, cancer isn’t reserved for unhealthy or stressed out people, in fact how many people do you know who lived a long life but would never be described as healthy. To think that it’s your healthy lifestyle that frees you from this potentially devastating illness is a myth and really gives you a subtle “superior” posture when trying to comfort or be with those fighting against it. To truly be a comfort to those with chronic illness or illness not yet in remission requires an individual to recognize their own physical frailty and to interact out of that place.
Bad things do indeed happen to good people and seeking the lesson to be learned from the experience robs you of allowing your healing to direct what is gained. Whether it be greater capacity to empathize with others, greater capacity to capture the present moment, an ability to receive comfort from others – these examples are not lessons – they are new ways of being. And allowing a bad thing to change your character or capacity to feel or relate is much much harder than learning a lesson.
I’m grateful to be alive and have friends and family who have woven a net of safety beneath me so that I fear not what the future might bring. I know that I will never endure a trial or tribulation alone, no matter how big or small. I feel as rich as a queen – well, maybe this is because I recently spent an evening with wonderful people who are renting a home on Balboa Island. See pics…
The Good Life
Thank you for journeying with me. May wherever you find yourself be full of life and connection – majoring in the majors and keeping those things that are minor, minor.
As those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know, I make a yearly commitment to reduce my environmental impact or advocate for social justice in some consumer way. This past year, our family replaced the use of plastic straws with stainless steel or glass ones. When I tell people what we do or when some people see our straws, a common response is, “I could never do that because…”
I’m too disorganized.
I never remember those type of things.
Who cares about straw use, it’s so small after all.
I have too many other things going on so I just can’t commit to do another habit.
Fill in your own excuse.
When I hear these responses, I want to empathize because I’ve had those same thoughts, especially in January and February when my habit isn’t established. But sometimes I have another response, especially when I visit other countries who have amazing environmental consciousness like Italy, which is, “How typically American.” In the entire planet, 20% of the people use 80% of the world’s resources. In case it isn’t clear, US citizens are in the 20%. Yet, if I can put aside judgment and offer encouragement my response is usually, “developing habits is guaranteed to change your person in unexpected ways so that you will benefit personally far more than whatever your impacting.” So selfishly, I continue to commit year after year to care for the environment or “my neighbor” across the ocean or next door. After all, what impact does eliminating one straw a day really have? An estimated 500 million straws are used in this country EVERY SINGLE DAY. So not much, but if we all start thinking about our straw use and start making a difference maybe we can cut our country’s use in half and then another half and another half until our straw use is a fraction of the 500 million.
This past year, some of you have asked about how we got started and developed our habit. So I’d like to offer some tips.
Purchase straws – Amazon offers many options. If you’re like me and try not to use Amazon, www.byolongbeach.com has great prices. You can also go to her website and check out Southern California events to get them in person, which is even better.
Store your straws in your car or purse.
Buy double the straws per people in your family of the sizes you use often. In my family of four, it is rare we are all out for a smoothie together. Instead, three of us are often out so we have six boba/ smoothie straws. We also have four regular size straws. This is for when we all go out to a restaurant. Notice it isn’t double, this is because I almost never use a straw in a restaurant nor does Dennis so only two people use straws.
Buy a special cleaner for the straws. (Many stainless steel straws come with them at purchase.)
Have a bag for the used straws, which you wash out along with the straws, and this goes in your purse as soon as everyone is done using their straw. Otherwise, the straws get left in the car. Gross.
Have a clean bag that you use to place the clean straws in. This also goes either in your purse or near your car keys so you get them back in your car (unless you store them in your purse).
If you forget to bring them in the store, but they are in your car, make yourself go get them. You’ll never remember if there isn’t an incentive such as inconvenience to help you develop this new habit.
Think about your motivations for developing this habit and it will likely increase your motivation for following through and making it a habit.
Environmental Motivation: From the Be Straw Free campaign, here are some facts. Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day. To understand just how many straws 500 million really is, this would fill over 125 school buses with straws every day. That’s 46,400 school buses every year! Americans use these disposable utensils at an average rate of 1.6 straws per person per day.
What we gained as a family. It’s hard to identify everything we learned as a family through this discipline. One parenting victory with my 10 year old was when we started discussing our new habit, he gloated when we were out and he was using a plastic straw. He loved (and loves) moving against the rest of us. Our strategy was to teach him how to respect other’s opinions and not gloat about his different decisions rather than convince him about the need to reduce plastic use. (Of course, if we were out some where and had our straws with us, he needed to use a stainless steel straw but it was when we didn’t have them that he would be delighted to use a plastic one.)
Luckily, his school weekly news summaries addressed the issues of using straws and plastics. He began discussing with us what he was learning about plastics. He and I began watching a few Ted talks that had great information about plastic reuse (one discussed India’s reuse of plastic by converting it into roads and another one showed the ocean’s “plastic island.”). Slowly, he lost his delight in plastic straws and began asking if we had the reusable straws. He also became excited to share with friends that he was reducing his straw use.
For my 16 year old daughter, she also told her friends what we were doing – informing them on the “cool” straws we use as well as developing a lovely mindfulness and intentionality around this habit. In the beginning she would be bummed to go back to the car, but as the months went by, she went less often and it wasn’t a huge deal to do so.
For me, I find it spiritually rewarding to get outside of myself and make decisions where I personally aren’t necessarily gaining from my choice. Instead, it’s likely the future generations will see the benefit of decreasing our 500 million straw a day habit. However, I do find a reward in developing habits – internally, It’s sticking with something until it works (remembering to bring our straws) and being successful is motivating and feels good. I believe it also reflects a pace of life that means I’m not so overwhelmed that I an’t fit something new on my plate. For me, it brings me great joy to be participating in a greater good – reducing plastic and being mindful of our planet’s resources.
What’s up next? We’re going to create a habit of bringing our own containers for dining out, and when possible bring our own containers to the salad bar items at our local grocery stores.
A year ago today, I was sitting around Danielle Montiel’s bed witnessing her breathe her last breath. Friends sitting, standing around the room. Alicia wiping her mouth. Her dad sitting near her head in his chair, walker on the side. Mynor holding her left hand, sitting on her left hip. Matteo, their nine year old son, in Mynor’s lap. Juliette, their daughter, sitting nearby, possibly on the closest chair. Sophia, their oldest at twelve, sitting at his feet, next to mine. I held on to her left foot. Holding it as I had done so many times that year, 2017, only then it was much much warmer than that Saturday morning. It had had life, vibrancy.
12:38 I think Mynor said it was. The time of death. The time her body passed from this world. Today, 12:38. I looked at my iPhone at exactly that time. I remember because we were looking to see how much time before we needed to get to the nearby theater, the Pantages – 22 minutes. Wicked was showing. She would’ve loved it and taken her whole family this time around. This year, Sophia has joined us for a couple events. Us, honoring her dad as a single parent who loves good things for his children and is outnumbered by two. Us, enjoying Sophia and knowing her mom and grandmother have instilled so much love of music – we love having her with us – honoring Danielle.
The most poignant moments of missing her this year feel so small compared to the huge gapping hole left in her family. Heck, holes left in the community. When you have over 800 people at your funeral there are a lot of holes in the whole. But for me, and my relationship with Danielle, I missed our weekly sessions of moving energy through her body and listening together. Few words were spoken in those times but just being together gave me a quiet I hadn’t realized I’d gained until we were absent from one another. I missed her at Easter in the park with her parents and Mynor’s extended family, including the Porters who were our ticket to an invite to this festive affair. Danielle would’ve showed up with her huge, joyous smile (she loved people getting together) and would’ve brought some amazing wine, cheese, and crackers, along with some other dish thrown together with whatever was in her frig. She likely would’ve also had some fun game that she just pulled out of the back of her car (waiting for the perfect moment to use it). She and I would’ve caught up as we didn’t always see one another regularly so we liked these family get togethers to do so.
I missed her when I heard about Sophia’s 13 year old mother/daughter trip with a group that has been meeting for years. Aunt Alicia stepped in but grief was there when it was a right of passage meant for celebration and joy.
I missed her on our community camping trip. She would’ve scouted out the nearest hikes and we would’ve gone. I could always count on her to help me plan these trips. She was my unspoken partner. My rock steady nature friend who interviewed the rangers and got the kids involved in the young ranger programs where ever we camped. I’d picked this year’s camping spot in August 2017 (one must book a year in advance) with her in mind – a perfect fishing site – hoping she would again be the master fisherwoman as she was at Rancheria Campground in 2016. I missed her at random dinners or playdates with her family. I missed her ease, her love, her gratitude for good things, and her friendship – not just mine but how she loved people I loved too. We were all so much greater with her around.
I’m left feeling so much more than sadness. Still disappointment with the limitations of medicine and God with His lack of intervention. I wanted her to be the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe and was healed. Instead, she was one of the crowd left behind as Jesus left to go with the disciples on the water – away from the land, the masses. Away from the unhealed. I’m still angry at His leaving us with premature death. Songs that Jesus has overcome the grave sit hollow inside. I’m human after all. Short-sighted in my desires for immediate relationship, I could care little for heaven when I see her family’s sorrow. How I ache for relief over the loss of one’s mother. Yet, little by little, they, we, us, are finding our way. Filling gaps. Being better people because she made us better.
What did you do in 2018 that you had never done before? For a birthday gift to myself, I went canyoneering in Utah as part of a photography workshop with National Geographic photographer Steve Matera and Get In The Wild, both experiences I’d never done before. It was an amazing adventure and fed my love of the southwest, a place I used to backpack every year before our children arrived.
2. Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I didn’t make any New Year’s Resolutions last year. Instead, I kept my focus on my goals that I create every September with my business group, Thrive. Here we focus on both habits/ daily practices and goals. I have felt really good about the progress I’ve made and I’ve found this structure is much more effective for me than New Year’s Resolutions.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Dennis’ fabulous assistant, Esther, gave birth to a baby boy and our cousin, Emily, gave birth to a lovely baby girl.
Italy!!! Oh my goodness, what a fabulous trip this summer. We visited Florence, Rome, Siena, and a small town in the Italian Alps. I fell in love with food, wine, art, festivals, the people, the beauty, and well everything. I love this country. I can’t wait to return.
6. What would you like to have in 2019 that you lacked in 2018?
I need to prioritize physical activity. I have an occupation that is primarily sedentary. As a result, lots of tight IT bands, hips, etc. I need to be more intentional about stretching in between my clients and even taking a walk in the afternoon – not for exercise sake but for movement’s sake. I’d like to do more of this so I can keep away the hip pain that appears when I’ve sat too long.
7. What dates from 2018 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Being with Danielle as she passed away on January 6th will remain etched in my memory. It’s a great privilege to be with someone and many of their loved ones as they leave this world. Shared grief feels like your whole being is surrounded by a community movement communicating one thing and one thing only – “You are not alone.”
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Fun! I created a lot of space for fun and creating memories this year. Some of it was intentional – attending concerts (U2, Fall Out Boy, Lorde, Halsey to name some), theater shows (Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, School of Rock, Beautiful), sporting events (Angels, Ducks) or events (Pageant of the Masters). Other fun was spontaneous as we practiced the Sabbath as a family and often created space for times of enjoyment with one another or friends.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Hum. I continue to struggle with creating space for my writing. I tend to fill my time with office visits, workshops and other items that are more direct service to people. I hope to better value my writing this year. I’ve taken the steps to do so by applying and now attending a writing intensive which meets every three months in Santa Fe with Natalie Goldberg and Rob Wilder. So hopefully I won’t be writing the same thing next year.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Yes – same situation caused both. My right shoulder is vulnerable to injury. I healed it last year after an 18 month struggle. However, my canyoneering trip re-injured it after our longest outing – primarily due to transitioning through slot canyons so narrow that I had to carry my backpack out in front or back of me since I couldn’t fit through with it on my back. After that trip, I somehow got bacteria that three days later started traveling up my arm. This landed me in the ER without a wait (meaning highest risk patient). Luckily some strong antibiotics knocked it out.
11. What’s the best thing you bought?
We bought a Tesla!! This is our second electric car, our third alternative fuel car. We love the auto drive in LA traffic!
12. Where did most of your money go?
Mortgage. We live in the Los Angeles area need I say anything else.
13. What did you get really excited about?
Crew! This year was our first season of competition and it was so exciting. This is such a “guts” sport. Fabulous to watch and who doesn’t like spending a day by the water.
14. What song will always remind you of 2018?
Psalm 46 (Lord of Hosts) by Shane & Shane. This song really reflects the activity of my heart with so many tragedies, political divide, inequality, death, conflict and loss at my church, I’ve needed to sit with God’s presence with us, with me in this world full of brokenness.
15. Compared to this time last year, are you: —happier or sadder?
better at holding both – sadness and happiness.
— thinner or fatter?
the same but I’ve made some wonderful discoveries with my health – eating gluten and dairy free has helped clear out the “brain fog” I often experienced every day. I thought it was due to my thyroid, which hasn’t properly worked since 2003 but once I cut out gluten it left.
— richer or poorer?
Richer. Business was good and we have a good savings plan, especially since I was paying off my student loan for decades and couldn’t save much.
16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Hiking and camping. We didn’t do much hiking but did manage to get in our yearly camping trip even though it was poorly attended by other families. This year we had a wonderful campsite at Union Valley Reservoir. Magical. We had the entire area to ourselves likely due to the fires in Northern California but our air quality was great.
17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Dealing with paper – I hate opening mail unless it’s a letter or magazine. :-). And our family has a lot of moving parts, which makes coordinating, paper shuffling, etc. challenging for this busy business owner and mother.
18. How did you spend Christmas?
We had a great time with Dennis’ family playing games, eating amazing food (the gravy was incredible), decorating cookies, and then we drove up to one of our family’s favorite spots, Sedona, where we spent several days and even got snow!
19. What was your favorite TV program?
Netflix’s show Patriot Act by Hasan Minhaj. I’m in love with his person. If you don’t like swearing, don’t watch. However, if you aren’t offended Hasan won’t disappoint. He discusses important and relevant issues for our country using his comedic style to inform his audience. I confess, I just love observing his mind.
20. What were your favorite books of the year?
It’s so tough to pick my favorite books as there are so many I fall in love with. However, here are my picks for this year, the first two being older books I didn’t read until this year. Favorite Non-Fiction was the 2017 award winning book, Evicted, by Matthew Desmond. See his website for information – http://evictedbook.com. Favorite Fiction was 2016 book, Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly. This book is set around World War II and weaves the lives of three different women together. It’s riveting. My favorite spiritual book was Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright. I love how this author weaves in humor with his academic knowledge of the life of Paul. Definitely has influenced my understanding of Paul’s epistles. My favorite personal growth book was Why Won’t You Apologize by Harriet Lerner. I enjoy her ability to make simple – deeper psychological concepts as well as her vulnerability in her writing. I wonder what would happen if every high school student had to read this – would we be a kinder and more connected country?
21. What was your favorite music from this year?
I really wish I could like cool, layered music but I’m really just not that hip and probably to a musician like “unsophisticated junk.” However, here it goes with my mainstream taste.
I couldn’t get enough of James Arthur’s music even though his album is two years old. I loved his new singles and am waiting impatiently for him to drop another album and tour. I think with his voice he could sing me the phone book and I’d be mesmerized. Another album favorite was Fall Out Boy’s Mania. However, I found their concert in Anaheim dissatisfying. As a concert lover, they seemed awkward on stage and at times it appeared as if they were going through the motions. Disappointing. I loved Thirty Seconds to Mars new album and hope I can finally see them in concert in 2019.
Best concert this year was predictable -U2. It’s a spiritual experience to be with this band. I’ve seen them four times and leave a better human being each time. Taylor Swift’s Reputation tour though was probably the most entertaining. She knows how to bring it and with guest performances from Troy Sivan and Selena Gomez – over the top.
22. What was your favorite film of the year?
Avengers: Infinity Wars was my favorite film of the year. The ending. Gutsy. I loved it. Again, I idealize those who watch independent films but I simply don’t create space to go to the movies that often. When I do, it’s usually for the special effects that only come from the big screen. Films I really wanted to see but didn’t – “Wont you be my neighbor,” “Free Solo” and “Mission Impossible: Fallout.” One of my favorites from year’s past was Hidden Figures. I might be able to watch that every year and not get enough of it.
23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I worked on my birthday and Dennis made me a great dinner. I also got a fabulous massage from Laura, my favorite. I really celebrated in April when I took my birthday adventure trip to Utah for canyoneering and photography. I was and am 48 years old.
24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having cancer wiped off the face of the earth. My friend Danielle died on January 6th. My friend, Gina is fighting Stage 4 colon cancer as is my childhood friend, Liz, fighting her own version with a recurrence of breast cancer. They are blessings to this earth. It makes me so mad that they are suffering with these diseases.
25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2018?
Comfortable, yet colorful with sometimes the unexpected (think leopard print with stripes). I love jewelry so usually accessorize with a local artist’s piece (you will find no commercial jewelry on me – vintage or local artists is what I wear). I usually will choose comfort over fashion unless I know I’m going to be sitting and hence not maneuvering with uncomfortable clothing or shoes (the later being more of the issue with my narrow feet).
26. What kept you sane?
My sanity may be debatable but if we are assuming I’m sane then it’s likely due to practicing the Sabbath. Committing to take a day off a week is paradoxically energizing and makes me more productive and present for the rest of the week. My kids love it, especially because they don’t need to do dishes. Even though I will move on to another spiritual practice, we will continue to integrate the Sabbath into our lives. I think my family would protest if I took away our weekly practice as they’ve all come to look forward to it.
27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2018.
The present moment is the greatest gift. Too often I think, “I can do that later” but the reality is that I don’t really know I can do it later. So each time I workout, I see someone, or have time to connect -I try to take advantage and remember that I simply don’t know if I’ll ever be recreate the moment again. As well, I learned that my mindset can really impact my experience of the present moment. So, I’m trying to recognize how I’m thinking in order to either change it or cultivate it depending on my emotional state. In other words, “what mood is my mental life creating and if I don’t like it, what is needed to shift it?”
28. What new habit did you develop to decrease your environmental footprint?
We purchased stainless steel straws and decreased our use of plastic straws. I stored them in my car, which made them handy while eating out or grabbing a smoothie. We are still trying to remember to say, “No straws” when we eat out because it’s inconsistent as to whether you automatically get a glass with a straw, which of course is disappointing to those of us who are eliminating the one time use of plastic items.
Eden’s response for considering next year’s habit -“don’t we do everything there is to do?” As parents, either we’re doing lots of things right or we’re missing the boat on this one.
Happy New Year, Everyone. May I be around next year to reflect once again on my year.
I began writing this blog post long before the fires in California erupted and took lives, some of them families, property, and animals -so much devastation in both parts of the state. I’m struggling with, “what’s the point,” but what I remember in my own life about devastating losses is that sometimes it was helpful to jump into someone else’s world in order to remind me that devastation wasn’t all there was in the world. So I post this with what I hope is a humble posture regarding saying good-bye and reminiscing about a fire loss but recognizing the loss here it is nothing compared to the devastation that continues to rock the state and my past experience of my hometown area having tremendous fire losses that took property and lives too young to be taken from us.
What sixteen year old would ever admit, “My tractor grew me.” Yet, looking back, it may have. It gave me chunks of quiet several hours long during my summer breaks when all other parts of my life were loud and chaotic. I visited my tractor, two years ago this November. It was a different type of quiet this time around. Me. Alone. The rest of my family a half mile away at my childhood home. I’d come back to pay homage – to the place I spent five years of my life – five to ten years old, within binocular viewing distance of my childhood home. Those years grew me in significant ways and it wasn’t easy but there was something special about being among the early homestead houses, chicken coops, sheds and cellars that were lost once we moved to our new house. There were hours of adventuring – exploring the half packed homestead, discarded goods in the sheds, and packaged treasures like Indian pennies, furs, and my first encounter with “naughty” – a marble statue of David, the Michelangelo replica. Here, in this place, my first childhood adventure grounds my tractor was laid to rest. So I came. To acknowledge our sacred time together. To reflect on my Western upbringing that hasn’t escaped my bones even in my Los Angeles area home, which hosts deer horns, coyote skins, and hides. I’ll leave it at that. What I eventually left with on this cold, scarf needed evening, was finding a piece of me that I hadn’t known I’d left – my nature stance – quiet, centered and observant.
I was about 12 when the Ford and I met. For even though I’d seen my dad and grandpa driving around the golf course cutting the fairways hundreds of times, it was ordinary in the eyes of a young person. Yet, when it became mine to use, we bonded like a teenager with their favorite pair of sneakers – unremarkable, yet so personal. The tractor became a ticket to freedom, to money, to something all my own since I was the oldest and no other sibling got to drive before me. On that first day, I showed up, Sears catalog in hand – extra height to see over the steering wheel. My grandpa had the green velvet pillow to go on top – a pseudo-pad. I swear that day I grew my spine closer to the clouds just so I could do the job – cut the grass on the 4th and 9th fairways.
As I looked around, taking in the setting sun, and encountering the pieces of my tractor long put to pasture and trying to find that first vehicle love again – my eyes filled with tears of a yesterday that was long gone. There would be no driving around the course, smelling cut grass. Heck – the tractor no longer looked like mine with the added cage surrounding it now. So much has changed since those days of driving around in circles, when some of the largest problems were steering clear of flying golf balls, testing my visual-spatial skills by experimenting with the exactness of “hitting the line” or driving around the small trees without turning mower into chainsaw. Life hasn’t turned out to be an experiment. Some decisions and situations haven’t allowed for freedoms, instead they have required nose to the grind and blinders of some sort. When I was here, two years ago, I’d just found out my friend, Danielle, had a lump in her breast and was starting treatment. We didn’t know she would only have one more fall in her bones.
What I didn’t realize during the hours of circling without music or headphones since they didn’t work with the ear muffs – was that this simple practice would stick with me only through the form of meditation and contemplation. A decade plus I mowed – around and around every summer. And it’s interesting because though sometimes boredom entered into my circles, it wasn’t the primary experience. My mind found what it needed to find in order to observe and be engaged. I’d set about doing certain tasks – timing my passes correctly as to impede the least amount of golfers. This sometimes meant slowing down slightly even though I’d be a half circle away. Or I’d watch the magpies and robins along with the occasional deer. I imagined my life ahead of me. What I’d do – possibly be a teacher. Who I’d become – a wife, a mother, a professional, qualities and character traits unknown. What I never imagined was living in Los Angeles for almost 30 years. Going through a relational desert with my husband for 10 years before finding abundant life again. Burying friends from cancer. Burying friend’s children, my own. In my adolescent mind, I didn’t imagine my life without my grandmother but I’d made room for my missing grandfather, since he’d died suddenly from a heart attack in 1989 – I’d been 19. I hadn’t imagined that either. I prayed on my knees every morning that fall after he died – simply to acknowledge his memory and my huge loss of his human body not sitting on a bleacher in the gymnasium while I played basketball. It may have given me permission to leave the Puget Sound area and make my way to Southern California where I wouldn’t be trapped in overcast for 90 days straight (the clouds set a record my sophomore year – most consecutive days covering the sun).
What I didn’t know while growing up, seated on my tractor was how much I’d miss the quiet, mundane and simply way of life. There is nothing simple about Los Angeles except the sunrises, sunsets, and the waves at the nearby beach – but not my hometown beach because it doesn’t have waves due the breaking wall built during WWII. Around and around I drove that tractor. The sun, the wind, and grass. Lots and lots of grass. My path lay before me. Simple. A clear beginning and end. No distractions from billboards, traffic and neighbors close enough to smell their nightly dinner and hear their occasional fights.
As I enjoyed the sunset here now in Washington, I took in more of my surroundings, hoping for lighting goodness through my camera. The cellar – where I found teapots and cups from China, my great grandmothers ring, and Indian head pennies. The stone area had been off limits because it was a storage place for dynamite.
Tanks. The days of my parent’s guppy breeding experiment. Also, temporary housing for a pet mouse or a frog. We never kept them long. That’d be cruel. Taking care of my pony and horse meant building fences – with my dad. Official title – moral support and beverage carrier.A season of homemade root beer. The house only smelled better on the once a month homemade glazed doughnut days.
Evidence of another lifetime – outhouse and “concealer” for friend hide and seek. After all, what kid feels comfortable hiding in an outhouse except the kids who’ve spent hours playing games with their siblings in them.
I learned how to spot deer here.
All that’s left of my barn…
Standing on the place where the barn once were, I swear I could smell the ash even though it was at least fifteen years gone. So many fond memories – hours of “Pageant of the Masters” – creeping up to the ground hog hold trying to catch them with a box or bucket; petting my horse, reading in the loft, catching mice, swinging on the questionably safe rope, and getting away from younger siblings to do nothing. It too communicated – much has changed. For forever.
As I returned on foot before the sky turned black to my childhood home, I realized that though much has changed, I’m still in there. Somewhere that girl who drove a tractor, rode horses, spotted deer, and sat – in quiet, she’s still there. And though I live in the huge urban sprawl, I can make my own quiet, my own mundane. It’s harder. The pace of this city I live in is fast. Yet, I don’t have to be fast. I can let people merge in front of me when I drive. I can learn the names of the farmers and their sellers at the market. I can meditate on my balcony, which does look at neighbors’ homes and a condominium but also has some vegetation. I can make a way to sit, observe and be. But let’s be real. It will never be as cool as driving a 1956 Ford tractor the color of fall sunsets. And the piece of me that was lost there, here, can be carried with me in memories that remind me to keep on the lookout for my next pseudo-tractor, the next flying golf ball that needs to be avoided – even if it requires leaving the city often or sitting on the balcony with pine scented candles.
I’m finding that girl again. Slowly but faithfully, she’s bringing me back to the goodness of driving in circles. Often.