London: Borough Market, The Shard, Ships, and Greenwich

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When London is more like Phoenix

On our first, full day in London, we were in for a sunny scorcher, two words not often associated with the city. Knowing that shaded, indoor spaces would be slammed with tourists seeking shelter from the heat, we decided to be bold and plan for an outdoors day. We chose to start with a hop-on, hop-off Thames excursion, hoping that the water would miraculously make the day more bearable. It was a nice thought, anyway.

We used our London Pass, got our tickets, and climbed aboard the first boat towards Greenwich. A river cruise is a good way to see a city from a different vantage point, so we take the opportunity when it is presented. We headed up the Thames and disembarked at the Tower Bridge with a plan to walk to Southwark. It was almost 11 by then and the heat and sun were already turning taking their toll on us, so we walked deliberately towards our first stop, the Borough Market.

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We chose the market on the advice of an English friend we met last year while in Italy. His recommendation was spot on. The Borough Market is the kind of place I wish I could shop daily. Situated under railway arches, the market offers stand after stand of fresh fruits and vegetables, bakeries, artisanal cheese, cured meets, cold juices, and ethnic food. My first stop was to claim a gluten-free cherry scone. The boys, who had only three weeks earlier returned from a trip to Asia, grabbed some chicken laksa from a Malaysian vendor to check the authenticity. We later opted for some freshly squeezed orange-mango juice to combat the heat. I’m not sure I would have put a market on our London to-do list with our teenage sons, so I am grateful to Lee for planting the idea. It was a do-not-miss destination with wonderful dining options for everyone.

From the market, we made a beeline to The Shard. The Shard was not part of the London skyline when we visited 22 years ago. Begun in 2009 and opened to the public in 2013, the tower is a relatively new London fixture. Comprised of reflective glass panels, The Shard is a striking bit of architecture, with the lovely side benefit of being able to offer 360-degree viewing platforms at 69 and 72 floors up, respectively. On a good day, the view is said to be 40 miles. To add to the experience, The Shard has bars on both those observation decks, so it’s a great place to grab a quick drink and take in the scenery. Steve and I ordered a couple Aperol Spritz and toasted to our English friends, Lee and Jo, for the sightseeing suggestions they had provided that were turning out to be gold.

Our next stop was the HMS Belfast. Our youngest son is a history buff and is especially fond of war machines and weaponry, so a visit to this retired, WWII warship was a must. I’m not entirely sure a visit to a metal ship in the midst of a heatwave was a wise choice as I melted each time I entered an enclosed area to view an exhibit, but Luke thoroughly enjoyed his time there so it was worth it. It’s a fine place for history buffs and is easy to get to from Tower Bridge.

About the time we wrapped up at the ship, the temps were nearing a 102-degree heat index so we headed back to the river to catch the boat again, headed up to Greenwich. After discovering there was no cool spot to sit on the boat (the upper deck’s metal seats got a big NO vote from me and the enclosed lower area was getting zero pleasant breeze even from the open windows), we settled on the lower deck out of the sun and sweated our way up to Greenwich.

When we disembarked, we planned to hit the Royal Observatory first to visit the Prime Meridian before heading back to tour the Cutty Sark. With our London Pass, we cruised in through the admission area at the observatory and went to wait our turn for a photo op because, let’s face it, the Prime Meridian line is nothing more than an Insta spot. We had fun standing on either side of the imaginary line separating east and west hemispheres. Joe stood on the western side with his head in the east while Luke stood in the east with his head in the west. It summed up their personalities…Joe at home wishing to be traveling east and Luke out and about dreaming of home. 

After our obligatory photos, we cruised back down the hill to the Cutty Sark. I will admit this was one of the places I had a hard time getting excited about while we were planning. Knowing, however, that a visit here would mean something to Luke, I sucked it up. It turns out that the exhibit is well done and fascinating. The Cutty Sark is the last surviving tea clipper, a sailing ship built to bring goods quickly from east to west and vice versa. A large fire in 2007 could have destroyed the ship but she was undergoing restoration at the time and most of her masts and planks had been removed during the process. As a result, 90% of the Cutty Sark, which first launched in 1859, is still original despite the fire. The exhibit allows you to walk under the ship as well as stand on her decks. The visit was a fascinating trip through history to a time when the Cutty Sark was the Amazon Prime of the day. 

When the top-rated Indian food restaurant we were hoping to dine at had too long of a line for our hot, exhausted, cranky selves to tolerate, we chose a small, Naples-inspired pizza place called Rossopomodoro in Covent Garden. The food and wine were good (a decent gluten-free pizza can be hard to come by), and we were long overdue for some rest and sustenance. At dinner, we reflected on our day. I joked that I couldn’t wait to tell people I’d gotten my tan in London.

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Crashed out 

We arrived home having logged over nine miles and 22k steps. Despite the hot evening in our basement flat sans air conditioning, we crashed out early, dreaming of London’s typically cooler temperatures and cloudy skies.

 

The Subtle Art Of Raising A Keeper

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Ready to be a suitable suitor at 2

My oldest had his wisdom teeth out a couple days ago. He’s been fortunate, and it’s been mostly not a big deal for him. He’s had no bruising, very minimal swelling, and pain that is manageable with over-the-counter relief. Last night, however, he didn’t sleep well. So he awoke at 5:30 a.m. to take some more Advil and when they kicked in he fell back asleep. Great, right? Wrong. He had a coffee date planned for 9:30 this morning. I didn’t know this, but somehow wandered down to his room at that time to check on how he was feeling.

He was pretty out of it as he awoke. He looked at the clock on his phone for a long five or six seconds while it registered in his brain.

“Shit!” he exclaimed as he moved the blanket back and slowly sat up. “I was supposed to meet Ella.”

“When?” I inquired.

“Right about now,” he said.

He’s never been late to pick up his girlfriend. Since he started dating last spring, I’ve learned a great deal about my son and how he conducts himself in matters of the heart. He is considerate, continually thinking of what she might like and dreaming up creative ways to show he cares. He is flexible, willing to rework plans to make the most of their time together. And, he is timely. Usually.

“Text her and tell her you overslept because of your mouth. Tell her you’ll be there in a half an hour. Grab a quick shower. You’ve got this,” I told him.

I knew he was worried. He doesn’t like to be late. Once when he was three, in an absent-minded parental state of exhaustion, I got on the highway to take him to school. Problem was the highway was in the opposite direction of school. He noticed immediately and told me I was going the wrong way. He began to panic, fearful that he would be late, that his teacher would be upset with him, that he had ruined his perfect attendance record. I spent the fifteen minutes rerouting to get him to school apologizing, explaining there are dozens of different ways to arrive at the same location and assuring him it would be fine. When we walked into school, he ran to his classroom. I heard him loudly tell the teacher, “I’m late because my mom went the wrong way. ” Subtle. 

At 9:45 I heard the door to the garage open, so I went to say goodbye. He was showered and ready to go, but I noticed his thick hair was uncombed and unruly.

“You didn’t fix your hair,” I noted.

“No time,”  he said.

“Nuh uh,” I replied. “You have twenty seconds to fix yourself. Stay right there.”

I dashed off to get the hair cream and reappeared in seconds to help him tame his mop. At the time, it occurred to me maybe I was overstepping my bounds, being too motherly to someone who is no longer a kid but an eighteen year old with a car and a girlfriend. Then I shoved that thought right aside because sometimes it’s good to have someone around to help you out in a rush. Everyone benefits from a little help sometimes, and it’s good to understand that. The devil is in the details. That is the kind of thing I want him to remember as he crosses this bridge from youth into adulthood.

“If you’re going to make a girl wait for you, it’s good to make sure you’re worth waiting for,” I told him as he got into the car.

Many times as a much younger woman I sat waiting for a guy who was late. Many times said guy showed up just as he was, not the least bit concerned about his disheveled appearance or apologetic about his tardiness. The boys who weren’t like that are the ones who stand out to me now. The ones who took a minute to throw on an attractive sweater rather than the crappy, acid-wash denim jacket they wore to school. The ones who bothered to put on a cologne they knew I loved. The ones who showed up with a flower they’d grabbed at a gas station convenience store. Those guys were the ones who made me feel special, the ones who were worth waiting for. I like to think my son will be one of those someday, even if he needs some guidance to get there.

 

 

 

When “You Did It” Isn’t Enough

Today marks my sister’s last treatment. It’s been almost a full year since the day she called and told me she’d found a tumor. I’m an internally positive, intuitive person, so when my sister called that day I had no sense of impending doom. I told her that she would not have to face this alone. I told her I would help in any way I could. And I told her I knew I would see her healthy on the other side of all the shit she was about to endure. I believed it with all my heart.

Less than three weeks later, I was with her in Connecticut as she started her chemotherapy. I was there as she shopped for a wig. I witnessed the beginning of her hair loss. I scheduled the appointment to have her head shaved, and I stood there as her beautiful hair fell. I sat with her when the side effects were piling up, creating new problems in an immune system already under attack, and I did what I could to bring her a measure of peace in the midst of her physical and emotional misery. I never felt it was enough. But I also never had a doubt that, like her high-school-varsity-cheerleading self, she would jump high enough and kick hard enough to send cancer to outer space. I left her five weeks later in the caring hands of our middle sister and returned to my family.

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Sisters

When the six chemo rounds were finished, the tumor in her lymph node was shrunken enough to operate. The post-chemo scans were flawless. I flew again to Connecticut to be there as she underwent a five-plus hour, life-changing surgery. Being the strong-willed Aries she is, she emerged from it like a boss, bouncing back more quickly than most. I stayed another month with her while she was stuck at home, recuperating, unable to work or drive, waiting to get the all clear to resume her life. One cold winter afternoon, while we were in the midst of another binge-watch marathon, the call came in. The removed tissue had been examined with a fine tooth comb. They found nothing. Not a trace. The cancer was gone.

Still, my sister is not one to do things halfway. She continued with the prescribed course of treatment, which meant 25 radiation sessions followed by months of additional immunotherapy treatments. She did this all while dealing with daily shots of blood thinners to combat a clot she developed from her chemo port. She did this all while working full-time at an impressive new job, moving into a new home in a different town, keeping up with her two dogs, and continuing her workouts. She blew my mind, the literal embodiment of how much a human can endure.

Today before she began her last treatment, I sent her the only appropriate thing I could think of. I sent her this song because she didn’t just do it, she fucking did it. As Jason Mraz points out at the beginning of the video clip, you can tell someone you did it and they might not hear that. But if you tell someone you fucking did it, they will probably hear that shit. There are times when swearing is more than just appropriate. It’s imperative.

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Yeah, you did

So, I send this post out today to all of you who have been killing it. To all those of you who have slayed. To those of you who have faced something that seemed insurmountable that you still, perhaps to your surprise, overcame. I send it also to those of you who are starting to think you can’t do it, believing you might not persevere, suspecting it’s all too much for you. Don’t believe a word of the negativity you’re feeding yourself. Keep fighting. March forward. One foot in front of the other. One damn day at a time. And, soon enough, you’ll too be celebrating that you fucking did it.

 

Editor’s note: This is not the first time I have written about this song because I love it that much and sometimes it’s just that appropriate. Those earlier posts can be found here and here.

 

Be Dory In An Ocean Filled With Marlins

What we focus on expands

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Currently focusing on these organic, biodynamic wines in the hope they will expand

I was flipping through my phone yesterday morning when a news story caught my eye. I know you saw it too. The random backfiring of a motorcycle in New York City caused a panic and sent hundreds of people running for cover, fearing they were being fired upon. Last weekend’s mass shootings, added to the unacceptably long list of mass shootings already logged, have us all on edge. We’ve become like soldiers suffering from PTSD, and most of us are suffering from it without having experienced a real-time mass shooting situation. We’re suffering from empathetic PTSD, expecting we are the next victim. We’re on high alert constantly. Everything we see and everything we hear is cause for panic.

We feel unsafe. Understandably so. There have been shootings at schools, churches, malls, restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, and concerts. There is not a location in our nation where you can consider yourself safe from gun violence. Through constant connection to news via our devices and social media, we have been conditioned to anticipate catastrophe.

Like most, I’ve struggled to keep my head on straight despite the barrage of negative news. I’ve worked hard to teach our sons by example that a life lived through fear is no life at all. Our oldest hasn’t been comfortable in a movie theater since the July 2008 shooting in Aurora, Colorado, but we still take him to movies. We have to. Life is filled with risk. How will he learn to live with his discomfort if we give it a foothold? Where do we end up when we allow the possibility of gun violence to stop us from taking full advantage of the freedom our country allows? 

I found this chart to help my sons put things in perspective. The possibility of something bad happening is omnipresent. The probability, however, is not what we think it is.

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Taken from Skye/Gould Business Insider

 

Yes. You could become the victim of gun violence, but that potential is far less than the potential of falling victim to an accident or a prevalent disease. So, do you hole up in your home, hoping to stay “safe” (whatever that means) or do you live your life? I’m not implying these statistics aren’t alarming. They are. We just need to shift our focus away from catastrophe and onto reality. Heart disease is the most likely scenario for most Americans, but it probably doesn’t stop us from eating foods we shouldn’t or sitting on the couch when we could be getting some exercise. We weigh the overall odds and make a choice. We decide the pleasure of eating the cheese fries is worth the risk of artery damage. We tell ourselves, you gotta live, right? And we are right.

Shit happens. No amount of wishing shit didn’t happen is going to change the fact that it does. Can we do something about gun violence in the United States? I’d like to think so, but while we struggle to climb this Everest-level problem we can make small changes that will positively impact our lives now. We need to stop smothering ourselves in every detail of every depressing news story and turn our minds to what matters, what we can control, and what positivity we can foster. Delete the news apps (or at least silence the constant notification barrage) and withdraw intentionally from the things that make us anxious. It won’t change the reality, but the distance we create might make us sleep a little easier. It’s not about burying our heads in the sand. It’s about choosing to place our energy on positivity in the present rather than borrowing trouble from a future we cannot control.

Finding Nemo was released in 2003, when we had a 2 year old and a newborn. It was the first Pixar DVD we purchased for our sons. I couldn’t tell you precisely how many times I’ve seen it, but it’s a lot. As our sons have grown and started spreading their wings, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on that movie, the constant soundtrack to my sons’ young lives, thinking of poor, anxiety-ridden Marlin who in his fervor to avoid losing his son causes that exact thing. It’s easy to let negative past experiences ruin current positive ones.

I understand why the folks in Times Square started running when they heard the backfire. I probably would have joined them. It was a knee-jerk reaction fomented by 24/7 coverage of our mass shooting nightmares. We’re conditioned to expect the worst. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could consciously choose to return to a time when a motorcycle backfire might cause us to startle, maybe quicken our pulse rate a bit because of the unexpected loud noise, but that is where it would end? Perhaps as a collective we could decide to be less like fearful, negative Marlin and more like glass-is-half-full Dory by engaging in some short-term memory loss. It’s time we stop terrorizing ourselves by focusing on worst case scenarios. If we’re going to focus on something, let’s focus on good and watch it expand.

What A Whole Lot Of Crazy Will Get You – Family Travel

Some are born crazy. Some achieve craziness. Some have craziness thrust upon them. These three lines are all applicable to me. I was born crazy. As I grew, I became adept at increasing my inherent craziness. Then I got married and birthed sons, which left me surrounded by additional craziness. Given the relative level of insanity I have been able to conjure from thin air, it’s no surprise that in January, whilst overcome by oh-my-god-I-hate-winter-and-want-to-run-away syndrome, I began planning a family summer trip to Europe. I live my life from trip to trip. As soon as I finish one, I begin planning the next. In my dream world, I leave Denver at least once every three months. Not because I don’t love it here, but because the world is calling me.

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Hey, Europe…you all ready for this?

I planned a three-leg, western European capital-city tour beginning in London. We’d spent weeks narrowing down our packing choices to fit into carry-on luggage. I’d rented us apartments in London, Amsterdam, and Paris. I’d purchased train tickets. I’d booked sightseeing tours and printed out Tube and Metro maps. I’d taught the boys a few useful French phrases. But, for all my planning, I was apprehensive. We’d always traveled on tours where someone else was responsible, with full knowledge that if something went sideways it would be their job to resolve it. This trip was all on me. Still, I reasoned, the four of us are capable and seasoned world travelers who should be able to overcome any obstacles thrown in our path, provided we don’t end up choking each other out of exhaustion, hunger, or frustration first.

 

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Some of us can sleep anywhere

We flew Air Canada to Montreal and then on to London. The airline, god bless their little hearts, ended up changing our itinerary from a two-hour layover in Montreal to a six-hour one, because why not? About fifteen minutes after we landed, I realized my wedding band was missing. A quick mind combing brought me to the conclusion that when I took my ring off to put on hand lotion during the flight I became distracted by something else and forgot about the ring. It must have fallen from my lap onto the floor or into a crack in the seat and, being exhausted, I had forgotten I had taken it off in the first place. Damn. To kill the six hours in Montreal, we tried some poutine, bought a deck of cards, and played endless rounds of Crazy 8s. Eventually I stopped flagellating myself over my lost ring. We’d bought it in Maui, so I now had reason to plan our next trip.

When we finally landed at Heathrow, it was not quite 11 am and a heat wave already had us at 85 degrees. Operating on almost no sleep, we found our way onto the Underground and landed at Victoria station. From there, we wandered around awhile, melting in the sun under our backpacks, waiting for our Vrbo check in time. We found a Pret a Manger (a quick food/coffee shop that became my London go-to because it has gluten-free and healthy items), grabbed some sandwiches and a protein box, and set off in search of a picnic spot. We googled a nearby park and arrived only to discover it was a private and gated park from which we were banned like mangy, stray dogs. So, we gave up, sat down in some shade outside said private park, and ate on the sidewalk. We are flexible and know when to cut our losses. 

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Cambridge Street – our home in the borough of Westminster

After checking into our rented flat, a basement apartment on a residential street in the Westminster borough, we headed out to show the boys some sights we were looking forward to seeing again. Steve and I had traveled to London in 1997 with his folks. We arrived on August 30th. Princess Diana would die in a car crash in Paris in the early morning hours of August 31st. We were there in the week leading up to her funeral and witnessed the mourners and piles of flowers and endless lines to sign condolence books. While we enjoyed our visit then, we hoped this trip would find the city lighter in spirit.

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Westminster Abbey

We began our whirlwind tour by hauling it over to Westminster Abbey, a 20-minute walk from our flat. The line was short and we went right in. Much to my surprise, our teenage sons were fascinated by the abbey. They were struck by its size and architecture, as well as by the history contained within. They stared for a while at the markers for Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, and Nelson Mandela. I stood in Poet’s Corner, paying my respects to Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Bronte sisters, greedily wishing they were given greater due but grateful they had been recognized at all.

After leaving the abbey, we walked the short distance to Big Ben. Apparently I had fallen down on my research because we found the clock tower shrouded in scaffolding as repairs to the facade are being undertaken. The clock face was still exposed, but we were not going to get an Insta-worthy photo of the tower on this trip.

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Churchill War Rooms display

Undaunted, we pulled out our London Pass again and walked to the Churchill War Rooms. Although it hadn’t been by intentional planning on my part, our trip coincided with the 75th anniversary of D-Day Invasion. Our sons are both world history buffs, so I knew they would be fascinated by the War Rooms as I had been back in 1997. As it was my second time through and I was tired and growing hungry, their comprehensive exploration of the museum was less charming than it might have otherwise been.

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Washed out photo of a weary and sweaty London explorer

From there we wandered to Buckingham Palace where we witnessed the motorcade for newly elected Boris Johnson disappear behind the gates on the palace grounds for his first official visit with the queen. The boys, being boys, aren’t much for palaces, so we ended our long, hot day with fish and chips at The Laughing Halibut before heading back to put our feet up. We opened all the screen-less windows, put on some local television to settle into British life, and drifted off excited for what London would share with us next.

The Best Cure For Middle Age Is Teenage

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I saw the above passage in my Facebook feed yesterday and promptly copied and saved it because I love it when other people write my feelings succinctly and turn it into an inspirational post so I don’t have to.

Before having children, I heard myriad dark tales of the harrowing experience of raising teenagers. Having eons ago been a teenager myself, I recalled the endless battles with parents, the scramble to balance friends and boyfriends and homework and extracurriculars and part-time work and social activities, and the confusion surrounding figuring out who I was and what I was supposed to do in life. I remember that time as exhausting and exhilarating, a period of self-development precariously balanced with self-loathing.

When my sons, now 18 and 16, were toddlers, I could not wait for them to get older. I longed for a time when I could understand what they wanted and discover who they were. And, through the infinite magic of time that speeds up as we age, I arrived here more quickly than I ever imagined.

While my parents struggled with their teenagers, I’ve found mine to be 10% terror-inducing and 90% delightful. Letting my son drive off at 6 am with his brand-spanking new driver’s license to head to the mountains for a hike, well…that’s terror-inducing. But waking up the next day, pulling up Google Translate on my iPhone to start brushing up on my French for an upcoming trip and finding my sons have been doing the same, well…that’s delightful.

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My sons have brought out both the best and the worst in me over the years since they arrived and made us a family. Fortunately, as I have aged, I have relaxed a bit, which has made experiencing my sons’ teenage years more filled with laughter than fraught with frustration. If you get out of your kids what you put into them, I must have given my all.

 

My Life Is An Open Book

“You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.” ~Georgia O’Keefe

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I recently had a novel idea. Not an idea for a potential novel, but the notion that I had more or less already written one. I began blogging in 2009 when our sons were 6 and 8 and I could cobble together enough minutes in a day to return to writing. I kept handwritten journals for decades, but when we had the boys that fell to the wayside along with exercise and sleep. For years, a nagging voice in the back of my head has told me I should write a book. My frontal lobe, however, had predetermined I had neither the time nor the talent to undertake the endeavor.

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in bed with Steve at the end of another long day, doing a verbal dump about a writing group I was joining. I was, as usual, doubting myself. What made me think I had anything to contribute in a writing group? So many people call themselves writers. The title seems meaningless and arbitrary. I haven’t been paid to write in almost 18 years. I had the sense I would be out of my league in any writing group, and I said as much to Steve.

“It feels weird to call myself a writer. It sounds pretentious. Seriously. What have I written?” I whined.

“What about your blog posts?” Steve asked.

“What about them? That’s a hobby,” I dismissed.

“How long have you been writing your blog?” 

I had to think about that for a minute. I’ve had several blog sites. My first posts were on a blog I called Suburban Sirens, both referring to the sirens beckoning me back to writing a the time and the sirens I fully expected to hear in our suburb as the mental hospital ambulance arrived to take me away.

“Looks like I started in late summer of 2009,” I said, perusing the posts on that original blog.

“How many posts do you think you have written since you started?” he continued.

Another good question. I visited all four sites where I kept posts and checked for post counts. I did the math.

“It looks like it’s a little under 700,” I answered.

I let that sink in for a minute. Had I really written 700 short essays? Holy crap. A bold idea crept into my head, so I threw it out into the world.

“I should print them out so I have them somewhere other than online,” I said mostly to myself. “It would be fun to go through them and see where I’ve been and where I am now.”

“You should do it,” came the response from my ever-supportive spouse.

The negative thoughts snuck in.

“That would be a lot of money in paper, notebooks, and printer ink. And what would I even do with them? It’s not like anyone is going to sit around and read them. They will just sit on a shelf. What’s the point?” 

I’m back in therapy. One of the things I am working on is believing I am worth the effort. I am worth showing up for. I am worth asking for what I want, and I am worth not accepting less than what matters to me. I am worth taking a risk on. Wouldn’t printing out my blogs be a step in that direction? How bad is it if I think my own writing efforts aren’t worth the expenditure of time or money? Am I really worth so little? Perhaps growing my self-esteem begins with the simple act of cherishing my own thoughts enough to decide they are worth the money. No further justification necessary.

So, I bought a ream of paper, a few three-ring binders, and some page protectors, and I began the mundane task of copying, pasting, formatting, and printing each of my posts. It’s been an eye-opening endeavor. It’s allowed me to relive my experiences as the mother of young sons. I’ve been able to recollect some events I had long forgotten, and it’s been fun sharing these with my husband and my sons. It’s also afforded me the opportunity to witness my own growth. Like going back and reading my journals from junior high and high school, I’m seeing who I was and how far I have progressed. It’s been good for me on many levels, mostly in validating the hard work I’ve done both in parenting sons and writing reflections about my life. Some posts made me utter, “Wow…that was pretty good.” Those moments caught me off guard. I wouldn’t have owned that two years ago. Progress!

I’ve done a little more math since and determined I have written roughly 519,750 words about my life since 2009. An average book chapter is around 4,000 words. This means I have created what equates to approximately 130 book chapters. I guess it’s time to stop believing I don’t have the energy or time to write a book. I’ll also have to stop believing I have nothing to contribute.

By turning my life into an open book, I may have inadvertently written one or two.

Decades Deconstructed

As a child, sitting on a wooden bench in a stained-glass Catholic church, perusing bible stories in miniature cardboard books while a priest spoke, feet unable to reach the floor, a good girl in a handmade dress, told to be seen but not heard

As a teenager, walking the locker-lined hallways in torn jeans and strange hair, avoiding eye contact to sidestep conversation, feeling unsure, awkward, and unknowable, safe in anonymity despite the enormous hoop earrings that suggested a bolder soul underneath

As a young adult, still sleeping in my childhood bed, writing graduate papers nightly and disappearing into a padded cubicle by day, flying just under the radar, laboring as if work provides life’s meaning, another spinning cog in capitalist machinery, lost in the system

As a new mother, negotiating a role I wasn’t equipped for, giving baths, wiping behinds, washing laundry, an introvert quietly sitting at playgroup, an imposter among women with better small-people skills, playing house, unpaid, unsure, selfless and without self

As a midlife puppet, enduring hormonal shifts and parent/teacher conferences, encouraging my little people, becoming braver as they do, beginning self-excavation through adventure, a glimmer of light suggests the unabashed me might yet exist underneath the rubble of other’s expectations

As a member of the over-the-hill gang, black balloons behind me, forward looking only, relishing every minute and rolling in each emotion, denying those who would bury me again, living fully knowing others have already gone, working at not accepting less for myself, acknowledging my inherent self-worth at last, a phoenix

 

Maybe I’ll Come Back As A Tree

IMG_6482This week has been another lesson in the first Buddhist Noble Truth…life is suffering. Last Saturday we learned that we lost a friend unexpectedly and far too young. I was barely at acceptance of that heartbreaking reality check when the shooting at the STEM school happened, directly affecting several friends with children who attend that school. Of course, this came less than a month since the day that all Denver-area students were forced to stay home when a woman flew to Colorado and purchased a pump-action shotgun with the intention of carrying out a Columbine-style mass shooting as our community was preparing for the 20th anniversary of that tragedy, which also directly affected people I know. And then yesterday I spent part of my day at a memorial service and reception for a family member. The precariousness of life, and our need to live in the now (and hopefully zen) moment, pervaded my every thought this week.

This week also precipitated meaningful conversations between my husband and I. We’ve discussed additional life insurance, funeral plans, urns, wills, and making the most of our time on this rotating sphere. He and I are on the same page about most things in life, and this holds true with our thoughts about death. We don’t want to be buried or have our ashes stored in a box or decorative vase in someone’s home. We don’t want a traditional funeral.

Yesterday we were in the car on our way to the interment when we started discussing urns.

“I think I will get a crazy, fun urn for my ashes, like Carrie Fisher did.”

In case you weren’t aware, Carrie Fisher had her ashes placed in a large, Prozac-pill-shaped urn. Cheeky and appropriate for her, I admired her bold choice.

“Maybe I will make a box for my ashes? It will give me a reason to learn tongue-in-groove joints,” Steve mused.

“Yeah,” I said. “Like the guys at the woodworking awards on the Parks and Rec episode who were pictured in memoriam with the caskets they built for themselves.”

“Exaaaaactly,” Steve replied.

“I just don’t want you guys spending money on an urn I wouldn’t be caught dead in. I need to find something that suits me that you can carry me around in until you dump me wherever you decide to unload me. If you keep me around the house, I will come back and haunt you, I swear.”

Later, a friend told us he plans to be put in a Cafe du Monde chickory coffee can. Seems perfectly reasonable and cost effective to me.

This morning, morbid as it sounds, I did a search for funeral urns. Actually, the Google search entry was “crazy fun funeral urns,” and it turns out I wasn’t the first person to search those terms, which gives me hope that I am not the only weirdo out there.

One of the results from the search was for this biodegradable urn by Bios. This urn has a place to hold ashes and then a separate area with a tree seed and the medium to grow said seed. While not particularly crazy or fun, this urn does something more important than hold ashes. This urn gives back. It creates something from nothing, life from death. And it leaves no waste. That’s a win/win in my book. Reflecting on my personality, wishes, and thoughts about death and the circle of life, this might be the most suitable urn for me.

Oddly enough, this search for urns has brought me a measure of peace in an otherwise emotionally difficult week. I told Steve he is not to hold a funeral or memorial service for me, but if he and the boys would like to host a party in my honor that would be marvelous. Hopefully it would involve friends, family, flowers (no lilies, please), food (none of it gluten free), and include a toast to my memory carried out with a Polish vodka shot for all. Now that I’ve shared this here, you’re all honor bound to ensure he carries out my wishes.

Life is suffering. There is physical and emotional pain, aging, and death. Yes. This week has been rough, but that’s what life is, a struggle to grow and persevere despite the inevitable, to leave a mark no matter how ephemeral. I think I will buy one of these urns. There’s something about going to seed that germinates hope where sadness once took root. Maybe someday I’ll come back as a tree, reaching for the sun, stubbornly continuing my growth.

Last Full Day in Tanzania

IMG_6886 2On our last morning in Tanzania, we were greeted with another beautiful day, blue sky dotted with light clouds. We cleared out of our luxury tents and once again met Ammy at the Land Cruiser. It’s safe to say that we were not looking forward to the upcoming twenty-four hours of travel. We were all struggling with the notion that this awe-inspiring trip was over. And we were not ready to say goodbye to Ammy or the creatures we’d become accustomed to seeing over the previous week. I was emotional as we began our drive away from Lake Masek and tried to focus on seeing as much as I could before I could see it no longer.

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Fast food of the savanna

One of the most commonly sighted animals in the savanna is the impala. We had seen so many of them on our trip in large herds grazing among the bushes and trees, and on this morning they showed up for us again. On our first day on safari, Ammy pointed out that on their hindquarters there is a dark “M” shape. He told us that the impala are the McDonald’s meal for the leopards, literal fast food. We never did see a leopard on our trip, which means we will have to return and try again.

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Dik-dik seeing us off

As we drove slowly one last time through the area, we had our eyes peeled for dik-diks. They were the one creature we decided we had to see one last time. They must have realized this because they showed up for us. I think we saw six to eight of them before we hit the small airstrip nearby where we would catch our bush plane headed to Arusha.

The Ndutu air strip is what you imagine it would be…a long stretch of gravel where bush planes come and go every hour. When we packed for Africa, the one guideline we were given was to pack light because the bush planes have a strict weight limit. When we saw the planes, it made sense.

i-zKNk6Br-XLEventually it was time to say goodbye to Ammy. I struggled to hold the tears back. There are no words to describe what a wonderful guide and person Ammy is. He was so patient with our non-stop questions. His expertise, warmth, and kindness made our trip. One thing that happened repeatedly on the trip is that we would ask a question that we more or less were guessing at an answer for. If we were guessing right, Ammy would respond in his lovely Tanzanian accent, “Exaaaaactly.”  Five months later, Steve and I are still walking around our house now saying that word as if we are Ammy. His big heart and smile made a deep indentation in our hearts.

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Best. Guide. Ever.

I think all but two of us were a bit concerned about the bush plane flight. Our oldest had flown on a similar plane in Sri Lanka six months earlier, so he was trying to make us all feel okay about it. I’d never flown on an aircraft this small before, and I’d never taken off from a dirt runway. I captured this photo of my sister-in-law quite by accident, but it pretty much summarizes how we were all feeling as we were preparing to take off.

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Are we really doing this? 

Of course, airlines around the world operate small flights like this one daily without incident and everything was fine. It was something else, though, being in such a small plane and flying over the expanse of Tanzania. We flew over the crater on our way to Arusha, and it was humbling to see it from the air.

IMG_6926Once we were safely back in Arusha, our Deeper Africa driver took us to the Cultural Heritage Center before taking us back to Onsea House for an opportunity to have lunch, shower, and nap before our long trip back home. The Cultural Heritage Center was filled with creations by local artists, most of it for sale. There were some amazing treasures.

Exhausted and overwhelmed after such an incredible trip, we had our lunch on the terrace and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing before our trip to Kilimanjaro Airport. Joe took a dip in the pool. The rest of us showered after our dusty morning and repacked the best we could. Luke took the opportunity to be in the moment.

IMG_6960When our ride to the airport arrived, we sucked it up and headed for the van with all our belongings and the treasures we’d collected along our journey. While Luke was ready to return home and get back to his own room, Joe, our world traveler, did not want to leave. I had to agree. In the end, we were able to pry Joe from the railing on the condition that we agreed to return. Joe and I mused on the way to the airport that perhaps our next trip back would be to climb Kilimanjaro, as has always been my dream and is now his.

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Dragged kicking and screaming from Africa

When we had arrived in Tanzania, it was dark. We hadn’t been able to see Kilimanjaro. It was not visible when we headed towards our safari either. Sunset was approaching and we told the driver we hoped we would see Kilimanjaro. He told us it is often not visible because of clouds and air quality. Someone was looking out for me, though. As we got closer, the driver told us we were in luck. Off to the left side of the van, the mountain was visible. We all craned our heads to see it. I teared up yet again. The silly mountain took my breath away. Damn, Africa. You’re killing me.

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Barely enough clarity or light for this photo, but still here it is

The driver stopped for us so we could take blurry and barely adequate photos in the waning light. Joe posed in front of it, an action he told me cemented his intention to return and summit it someday. It’s hard to describe how the sight of that mountain touched me. Sitting here with my laptop, I am overcome with the memory of my first glance at that peak. If I am never afforded the opportunity to follow my dream to climb it, I am forever grateful for the chance I had to see it rise above the clouds.

We arrived at the airport, filled out all the necessary forms, and made our way back onto a sizable aircraft that would fly us to Amsterdam for our return flights across the Atlantic and finally home to Denver. With full hearts, we said so long to Tanzania. Until next time….

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