Out Of The Rubble, Into The Reconstruction

My happy place

A few months ago, my sister sent me a journal so I can practice some narrative therapy. Narrative therapy helps an individual become an expert in their own life through telling the stories they have carried around. Putting the stories of your life into writing gives meaning to your experiences and influences how you see yourself and the world around you. When my sons were younger, I used my blog as a form of narrative therapy to help me rearrange my negative perceptions about their struggles and create a better path forward for all of us. More recently, I’ve used blogging to tell stories from my childhood as a way to validate those experiences and increase my own voice and messaging around those pivotal events that shaped who I am. Through these exercises, I’ve begun to understand myself more fully. I am more aware of why I am the way I am and more capable of making adjustments in areas where I’m not fond of the trajectory I’ve taken. The process is helping me have greater self-compassion because I understand that my fears, coping mechanisms, and judgments didn’t originate in a vacuum. These behaviors arose to protect me. Now that I understand why they existed in the first place, I can begin to jettison habits that once protected me but no longer serve me .

One thing my sister and I have challenged each other to do is start some reconstruction. We are creating lists that outline what we like so we can recreate ourselves fully as the people we actually are and not the people we were told we were. We are rewriting our stories. That may sound odd or even disingenuous but, when you have spent your life in a pattern of reaction borne out of the fallacy that you are not an expert on your own self, you need to start with the basics to reclaim your identity.

Today my sister threw a gauntlet down. She sent me a photograph of a page where she has started listing things she knows she likes. To keep things equitable, I too started a list. My criteria? Things that make me happy or give me a sense of hope and possibility. Here’s what I have so far:

  • sunrises
  • dogs
  • a sunny day in the mountains
  • medium roast espresso
  • attending concerts
  • puzzles and word games
  • all types of travel, including long road trips
  • writing
  • cheese
  • smelling lily of the valley and lilacs
  • long, hot showers
  • deep conversations about faith, life, death, philosophy, space, current events, politics, or anything that avoids the pointless drivel of small talk
  • skiing, camping, hiking, cycling, kayaking, snorkeling, being active out in nature and not in a gym
  • documentaries and foreign films
  • anything with the flavor of passion fruit
  • the color of a green apple
  • lectures presented by experts in their field
  • Coca Cola and Bugles
  • the Buffalo Bills
  • hammocks
  • Wes Anderson films
  • wool socks
  • satellite radio
  • flip flops
  • down comforters

I will keep adding to this list in my journal as items come to mind. In the meantime, I know that being bold enough to enumerate here these items is the first step reclaiming my story. I know who I am. I know what I like. No one knows me better than I do. And I’m finished letting others dictate to me who I am.

You’re Never Too Old For A Snow Day

It was an unexpected, although welcome, snow day for our high school senior and his carpool-weary mom today. We knew there would be a late start this morning because of the snow, ice, and subzero windchill this morning, but when I woke up and started getting dressed to go out and shovel the driveway so I could drive Luke to school, hubby casually said, “You know it’s a snow day, right?”

It was the kind of unanticipated gift that can make life better after a slow and difficult re-entry to real life after a beautiful holiday in Hawaii. I determined it would be a catch up day. I felt overwhelmed when we returned home on Monday afternoon and had to turn around and start back into reality at 6 am Tuesday. So I l planned to use this gifted day to catch up on laundry and take down all the holiday decorations that had grown tiresome. The best part was that I now had a full day to do it and two sons at home to help.

After we had returned our home to its pre-holiday state and Joe had worn out the dogs with playtime in the yard, he approached Luke and said he had an idea. Joe has ideas a lot. When he has them, he involves Luke. Luke tries to get out of what ever Joe is scheming, but more often than not he ends up giving in because he knows Joe can be relentless. He will not stop hounding you until you give in. I usually cringe for Luke in these situations because I know, as an introvert, what Luke wants most is to stick with what he is doing and not get dragged into Joe’s plans. Today, though, Joe whispered his idea into Luke’s ear, and I was surprised how easily Luke acquiesced. They found their snow gear, grabbed sleds they’ve had for ten years, and headed out to the open space. When they returned home, I heard Joe remark to Luke how much lighter and easier to handle these sleds are now. It made me smile.

Today our adult children seized the day and took advantage of their snow day as they might have when they were 8 and 10. It made me happy. We tend to give Joe a little grief when he says he has an idea, but the truth is that a lot of the really amazing things we’ve done started with one of Joe’s ideas. Luke is amazing at accomplishing things, but I thank heaven every day for Joe who is amazing at reminding Luke (and the rest of us) to let go and have fun once in a while. Every family should have a Joe to dream up plans and interminably pester everyone until they come to fruition. Don’t we all deserve to have that one person who reminds us not just to live but to practice being alive?

Luke (18) and Joe (20) and their childhood Zipfy sleds

Hawaii: Big Island – December 30, 2021

Today was the most mellow day we have had yet on this vacation. Honestly, aside from taking some time to swim and snorkel in the keiki pond near our rental, photograph flowers, hunt for shells, and watch the sea for dolphins and whales, the most energetic thing we did happened at 10:20 pm when we got in the ocean to watch manta rays feed. That will require a separate post, which I will get to as soon as we manage to downloaded the photos from the GoPro we rented for the experience. Still, it was an amazing day for wildlife and nature viewing and photography.

It has been overcast here for days, but luckily we have managed to escape most of the rain we feared would literally dampen our trip. While we may not come back tan, we are definitely warm, rested, and unwound, which makes this entire trip worth every second of missed clear, sunny skies.

Next up: Manta Rays!

Hawaii: The Big Island – December 27, 2021

Even in paradise on vacation, there are days when you have to face reality and do the things. This was that sort of day.

I started the day with a leisurely morning jaunt outside to relish the sunrise and the uninhabited beach. Most people will tell you they prefer sunset. I’m a sunrise gal, myself. Maybe it’s the quiet morning. Maybe it’s the effort it takes to be present for a sunrise. Maybe it’s the promise that lies ahead in a fresh day. Or maybe it’s just that I like to be contrary to popular opinion. Anyway, it’s the sunrise that captures my attention.

After sunrise, it was time to attend to chores. I washed and folded clothes and towels, cleaned up the kitchen, made our bed, and fed the feral kitties that have chosen this as their home.

hey kitteh kitteh

After that, Steve and I had shopping to do since it was our turn to prepare dinner. We picked up some opah (moonfish) at the seafood market, and then hit the store for groceries before making our way home. I thought I would sit in the sun for a bit and as I was about to make my way to the beach, I was slapped in the face with a harsh reminder that there really is no escaping reality, not even in paradise. I’m not sure what makes people visiting a beach decide they need to bring the American flag and a f*** Joe Biden message along to make a statement, but I could have done without it. Not because I begrudge anyone their First Amendment right to express themselves freely, but because I was hoping that I could escape partisan political bullshit while on vacation. Luckily, there is a reminder off the front lanai to find inner peace. So I decided to go there instead.

A little while later we were treated to an entire pod of dolphins swimming ahead of a boat. I didn’t have my phone on me, so I missed the photo moment. But a little while later they headed back and I was able to capture (from a considerable distance) this tiny bit of dolphin proof.

For dinner, we prepared fish tacos. I made a fresh pineapple salsa while Steve grilled the fish. We served the tacos alongside some white rice, black beans, and a green salad with sundried tomato dressing. After dinner, I sat in the spa while Steve and the boys alternated between swimming in the pool and warming up in the spa. Their antics made my heart happy.

It was a chill day at the house, but one we needed to get caught up and ready for the last days of our visit. Our next days will be more active with trips to other parts of the island, a helicopter tour, some long overdue professional family photos, and a swim with the manta rays. Stay tuned.

Hawaii: The Big Island – December 26, 2021

Mornings here are getting into a rhythm. Steve and I wake early, take some photos when the area behind the house on the makai (towards the sea) side is calm and mostly people free. I like to wander down to the tidal ponds to see any fish that might be stirring. This morning, as I meandered towards the water, I noticed this flower that someone in our family had placed along the lava rock wall surrounding the pool. There aren’t as many flowers blooming here now as there would be at other times of the year, but that makes the ones I am seeing more of a treasure.

The big excitement of the morning came when Luke was the first of us to spot humpback whales in the ocean behind the house. We’d been wondering if we would see some. We know they usually visit between December and April, but we’d been told it might be a little too early to see many of them. In fact, while verifying the time of year when they travel through these waters, I found that other Google searchers had similar questions. The funniest question I saw in my search was, “What time of day is the best for spotting whales?” I laughed. We Americans are so used to having the world at our fingertips that there are those among us who think the whales actually have a schedule they follow to make it easier for us to see them. The pure, simple, and beautiful answer about when you see whales is whenever they need to come up for air. They aren’t an attraction at Disneyworld that runs on a tight schedule. They are actual creatures living their lives. We just happen to be fortunate enough to bear witness to that on occasion. Throughout the rest of the day, though, the whales decided to inhale in front of me four additional times when my eyes just happened to be trained on the sea. Here’s hoping that the trend continues.

The rest of our day was spent snorkeling and hanging at the pool. I love snorkeling. While I am not well practiced given my status as a landlocked, mountain girl, I do revel in the view underwater. I saw a banded coral shrimp, which I had never seen before. The boys (aged 20 and 18) acted like boys (aged 6 and 4) in the pool, beating each other with foam noodles and using snorkel masks to dive. While they were doing that, I made another little green friend on the lanai where I was busy composing yesterday’s blog post.

The highlight of the day was a dinner cruise down to Kealakekua Bay, the site where Captain James Cook was killed. This cruise, conducted by Body Glove Ocean Adventures, was surprisingly informative, well run, and fun. I typically view these trips as tourist traps. I still book them, but I am prepared for them to be hokey and subpar, worth only the opportunity to get out on the sea. The cruise was recommended to us by the concierge service at the property management company that oversees the rental home we’re occupying, so I am grateful to them for that. The dinner was delicious: a locally grown green salad, Hawaiian-style barbecue ribs, a coconut milk, green curry vegetable side with white rice, and a coconut roll. I was impressed they were able to pull this off so well given that the boat we took unloaded passengers just 10 minutes before we were able to board. During the trip, we were gifted with whale sightings and the opportunity to see both spinner and bottlenose dolphins. By the end of the cruise, with copious tropical drinks on board, most of the passengers were singing and dancing along to YMCA by the Village People. I am usually a cynic and find this type of behavior beneath me, but I may be growing because I found the entire spectacle charming and actually participated. There was a lovely Indian family (about 15 of them) who were celebrating some family milestones, and they formed a large circle near the singer/dj and led the crowd in the revelry. After so long being sequestered and not being in the company of strangers, it was heavenly, even for this introvert.

When I can get myself to back off my cynicism and check my opinionated mind at the door, I rediscover the simple pleasure of witnessing connections between people and remembering that these moments give this ephemeral life its breath.

Mele Kalikimaka Meditation

My morning meditation spot

I christened my day with a meditation. Sitting on a lava boulder, facing the indomitable Pacific, with the actual ocean as my ambient noise and guide. When I meditate, I prefer to do so through mantras. That seems to be the only way my writer’s mind can focus, through words. I start my mediation with an intention, something on which I wish to focus, and I pick a phrase. From there, I let that phrase morph until I land on an organic one that sticks. Then I let that one settle in and carry my intention with it.

Today’s intention was to focus on being curious rather than judgmental, ala Ted Lasso’s advice. I settled upon a Hawaiian image. I imagined myself as a lava rock, washed by the sea, but not changed by it, an immovable object not reacting to the forces before me but simply noticing them. It seemed the ideal way to practice observing other people’s comments and reactions with curiosity without allowing them to affect my calmness and stability.

After a few breaths, my mantra settled in. As I inhaled, my mind asserted “I am a rock,” and as I exhaled, it reminded me “Nothing can disturb my peace.” I focused on that for ten minutes, mentally acknowledging only the sea breeze, the sounds of breaking surf and birds, the hardness of the rock beneath me. (Perhaps next time I will bring a blanket for my rock meditation?)

Any skill comes through practice, which is why meditation is a practice. It’s not something you perfect. Not unlike the ocean tides, it has ebbs and flows. One day, your focus is legendary. The next it is complete horse shit. And the good news is that is exactly as it should be. Sometimes your mind is calm, quiet, and peaceful. Other times, it is rough, cloudy, and choppy. It is what it is to be human. For a long time, I, like many others, thought meditation was a place you arrive at, a destination which only few are allowed to inhabit. Not so. Meditation is a commitment to quieting your mind. That is all. It’s the practice through which you can begin to control your thoughts rather than be controlled by them. It’s available to everyone who endeavors to take the journey. It costs nothing, but yields great things.

So, my Christmas wish for all of you is the strength and perseverance to find inner calm in the chaos of this holiday. I hope you take a moment to be a rock, to pause to observe what is happening around you without allowing it to move you, to be present in the presence of presents. Let the insanity of your crazy uncle’s comments wash over you rather than shake you from the peace that this day represents. You are a rock. Nothing need disturb your inner peace.

With that thought in mind and with any luck, perhaps you won’t have to swill spiked eggnog to enjoy your day with your natural or chosen family. Be strong. Be curious. Inhabit stillness in the midst of noise and wrapping paper and requests and obligations.

Mele Kalikimaka from Hawaii, my fellow travelers through this life!

Hawaii: The Big Island – Day One

We were up early, no surprise when you are in a time zone three hours behind your own. So, after flopping around in bed from 4:00 a.m. until 5:00 a.m., we decided to call it good and start moving. We had arrived after dark, so we had no idea where we had gone to sleep, although we knew we were near the ocean. We woke up in our rental condo (only one night here before moving to our house for the next 10 days), and this was our view. Damn, Hawaii. You know how to bring it.

Not too shabby for a morning view

First order of the day was copious amounts of caffeine at Kona Coffee and Tea, where this little fellow decided to try to peddle insurance to us while we sipped our beverages. He was too cute to ignore, so we listened to his pitch but ultimately told him we weren’t ready to switch to Geico and he politely went on his way and left us to our day.

Did you know….

After finishing coffee, we thought it might be fun to see if we could get a view of the home we would be staying in for the remainder of the trip. We knew the house was near a public access beach, so we parked the rental van, traipsed down the sandy public access path, and found Keiki Beach relatively empty at 8:30 a.m.

We wandered around, staring into tide pools as we made our way towards the rental house. I knew exactly where to find it (thank you, Google Maps) and there it was, exactly as pictured on VRBO. We were drying to get in, but check in wasn’t until 4 so we settled for a view for the time being, feeling relatively confident we would be just fine with our chosen lodging. I mean, how could we not be?

Looks good to me

Since we had hours to kill before the 4 p.m. check in time, we decided to drive up to Waikoloa to right a wrong. A few years ago on a flight to Montreal, I lost the koa wood band we had purchased in Maui five years ago. Steve and I had first seen these wedding bands in Kauai in 2013 and thought someday we would get them. Then we did. Then I lost mine. Today we replaced it. Third island is the charm? While in Waikoloa we did some souvenir shopping and stopped to have lunch at the Lava Lava Beach Club, which had great food and drinks, and an even better view.

The rest of the family was landing in Hawaii around 4, so after lunch we hightailed it into town for some grocery shopping and check in time at our rental house. After one slight hiccup with a security alarm that was not supposed to have been set but was, we finally got to tour our vacation abode. We were not disappointed in the home, which features this in the entryway. Seems like someone knows the recipe for serenity.

Rules of the house?

While the boys and I got settled, Steve made the fifteen minute drive to the airport to retrieve the rest of our family. When they arrived, we got caught up on the trip out, the hoops we jumped through just to make it to Hawaii, and our relative levels of exhaustion. Then we ordered some take out, consumed Thai food and cocktails on the deck overlooking the sea, and finally called it a night.

What struck me the most about the Big Island on my first full day were the textures. With a conscious decision made to spend less time on apps and more time on mindful presence, It seemed everywhere I looked there was depth and detail: from the evergreen branches climbing towards the sky to the shell of a minuscule snail to the veins in a hibiscus flower to the rough lava rock at the tide pools to the soft clouds above pointy leaves. The island was begging me to pay attention to it. I acquiesced. How could I not?

There is a reason why we love Hawaii so much and keep returning. She never disappoints.

Peace Lives At 32k Feet

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ~Leonardo da Vinci

Is there anything better than the view from above 30k feet? There is something about witnessing the clouds through an aircraft window, rather than from Earth, that brings me a peace I can’t find any other way. It’s a reminder of how small and insignificant I am. A momentary note about how far we have come, an acknowledgment of our stretching our wings to be more, to see more, to achieve more. It’s a humbling view of the globe in a way that illuminates her possibility. It is freedom. Plain and simple. And I am grateful to be able to venture, to afford the luxury of seeing the world as so many, sadly, never will.

And when the sun sinks, setting the cotton-puff clouds on fire, and the stars begin to appear in the darkest sky imaginable, dozens at a time, there too do I find solace and peace in the heavens, closer than I have ever been to them.

Some people like to feel important, want to leave a legacy, and that is where they live. I feel most alive when I grasp my insignificance in the grand scheme of the planet, the solar system, the universe. That is where I can take my deepest breaths, feel part of something infinitely larger and more consequential than I am. Be detached from the world and in touch with the essence of the universe to which I belong, no greater or lesser than any life that came before or will exist after. I have no fear above the clouds. Only gratitude.

Travel is where I find oxygen. Travel is what unites me with all the other living, breathing entities on this floating ball. Some say there is nothing like coming home. I say there is nothing like leaving home because that is where I find myself,

Can The Grinch Be Tamed By Mele Kalikimaka?

Picturing myself here

The worst part about vacation is the getting ready. The worst part about taking a vacation during the holiday season is that you have to do all the work for the holidays that you normally do, but you have to do it in less time, and you have to add all the vacation prep to your already tightened schedule. I’ve been a stressed out nightmare the past couple weeks. My days packed, my list of things to do seemingly insurmountable, trying only to get from one event to the next, never being able to get ahead. I’ve been testy and tired, anxious and annoyed. I’ve not been my best self. Some days, I wasn’t sure who I was. Today, it hit me that I have been the Grinch.

My goal for vacation is to toss off my grinch mindset and embrace the present with peace in my head. That will be achieved through some meditation, some fresh, salty air, and some sand under my feet. And maybe a piña colada or mai tai or two. Maybe without all the traditional trappings of the holidays, without the obligations and the busy work, the peace that is meant to consume this season will consume me and allow my grinch heart to grow three sizes.

Can the Grinch be tamed by a Mele Kalikimaka? I will let you know if Hawaii is able to work her magic. Stay tuned.

To Corgi Or Not To Corgi

That face, though

We have an almost five month old Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy named Loki. Years ago, our youngest became obsessed with Corgis and passed his love of them on to us. It wasn’t a hard sell because Corgis are cute. But there are things to know about these sweet, funny puppers before you add one to your family.

They are herding dogs, which means they are definitely not for everyone. Because we’d already owned a herding dog, when we began looking for a second dog, we were well aware of what to expect from one. By nature, herders are incredibly intelligent and energetic. Perhaps the most difficult part of owning a herding dog is understanding that they know what they want, and it can be very difficult to convince them to do something they are not interested in doing. When our border collie was a pup, I took her to training. She would do the requested behavior three to four times and then decided she knew what I was asking for and had enough of doing my bidding. She would then stubbornly sit down and refuse to play any longer. We have discovered some of this same stubbornness in our Corgi, but this is softened because he is highly food motivated and will do almost anything for a snack. Herding dogs are good at amusing themselves, which can be a positive if they do so by playing with a squeaky toy or a negative if they do so by chewing on your carpeting. Overall, we found herding dogs to be our favorite group because of their intelligence and independence, but they can be handful until they are trained and settled in with your family.

Corgis have become quite popular in the last thirty years. Depending on the list, they rank somewhere between 11th and 20th in breed popularity. They draw a crowd wherever they go. We can’t take him anywhere without people stopping to ask if they can pet him. He is eager to meet everyone too. He loves all dogs and all people. I’ve heard them described as the clowns of the herding group, and that is absolutely correct. They can be doofuses. They are endlessly entertaining, tearing around the house with their unlimited energy doing their zoomies, sliding under furniture with their stubby legs (Corgi translates to “dwarf dog” in Welsh), and dramatically flopping themselves down into a Corgi sploot when they are tired or annoyed. They often sleep on their backs, which is adorable. Their appeal is undeniable.

Although Loki is only 19 weeks, he is almost fully housebroken and already knows several commands. He has most of the basic commands (sit, come, watch me, touch, and leave it) and is learning to walk on a loose leash. I’ve also been able to teach him some tricks. He will spin in a circle on command, stick his nose through a donut toy (I call this command “boop”), and use an “inside voice” (quiet bark).

Boop

But it hasn’t been a non-stop honeymoon. There were a few times over a few weeks when I wondered if we had made a mistake. He is super high energy. On days when we don’t give him enough exercise or mental stimulation, he can be a giant pain in the ass, barking a lot and chewing on every single thing he can find (including our flesh). Since we discovered that our lack of attention and lack of puppy exercise leads him to boredom, which ends in angst, life with our Loki has been infinitely better. We have created a routine that keeps us on track with him. He eats, goes outside, get training time and then play time or a walk, and then gets a nap. With that cycle more or less in place (minus eating more than twice a day), Loki is a charming and sweet little fellow.

During those moments when I thought perhaps we had chosen a demon, I took solace in the fact that in corgi groups on Facebook, many people had multiple corgi dogs. Certainly people wouldn’t purposely subject themselves to several demon dogs if they didn’t at some point become amazing family pets. And, indeed, like many dog breeds, when you understand them and what makes them special, you can curb the less than ideal traits and harness the good ones. Although we were around Loki all the time, on some days we weren’t giving him the mental stimulation he needed. As soon as we changed how we interacted with him, everything turned around. It’s all about understanding the creature in your house.

So, would I get another corgi and join the legions with multiple, short-legged corgi floofs? I would, but I definitely do not think these dogs are for everyone. I knew enough about the breed to realize that naming our puppy after the Norse trickster god of mischief was a good idea. If you aren’t prepared for situations like this, you might want to skip over corgis and get yourself an affectionate lap dog:

This sums up corgi ownership…mischief saved only by cuteness