I watched the devastating footage from Kabul today. I found myself crying, afraid for those left behind. I especially have concerns for the interpreters who worked with the United States during the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and beyond. It wrecks me to think that people who risked everything to help us will be left behind to certain death. There is no easy way to exit a war that cannot be won, but what we saw today was heartbreaking, desperate people clinging to their last bit of hope as it rolled down a runway.
I spent a fair part of my day stuck on thoughts of the women of Afghanistan, women who for the past 20 years have felt something of a taste of freedom. Young women, who have never known life under Taliban rule, are watching the futures they had hoped to imagine slip away. In all the footage today, I noticed there were no women in the streets. The women were home, hiding from the horror of their future. This will sadly become their new normal.
The United States currently ranks 20th in women’s rights. I am disappointed by how far behind other nations we are in terms of equal pay, maternity leave, and personal freedoms. But when I think about the Afghan women, I am incredibly grateful for the freedoms I have known by grace of having been born a woman in the United States and not in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, or Yemen. The United States might not be the best, but we’re far from the worst.
This world can be too much for my heart. Many days I struggle to find a smidgen of internal peace despite the tumult on the planet. Today was definitely one of those days. I dig myself out of this depression by focusing on gratitude. I had nothing to do with being born here. I, quite simply, lucked out. I may whine on my blog and in my life about my minuscule struggles, but I know how fortunate I am. If you can’t be born a white woman in Scandinavia, Canada, or Switzerland, the United States is still a lucky draw. I have been given a gift I didn’t earn.
I will hold the women of Afghanistan in my heart as I go about my daily life, a life any of them would be grateful to inhabit. They deserve more, and it breaks my heart they will now have so much less.
“All good things are wild and free.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was raised to be an apologist, so forgive me if I apologize for the short but sweet post tonight. I do try to take time to write, but sometimes you have to take time to live.
All is right with the world when you get to spend time with people you love. My sister is in town from Connecticut with her family, and we took them out for a late afternoon of paddle boarding on a nearby lake. Afterward, there were some non-competitive corn hole games, followed by some long walks. Sometimes you get caught up in the busy business of life and you forget the simple pleasures. I am guilty of this too often.
I’m grateful I took time today to be present with people I love, to get out into nature and feel the cool water on my feet while I paddled across a windswept lake, and to remember what it’s like to be free, to be comfortable, to be loved just as you are. I should remember to do these things more often.
After racking up about a thousand miles driving around Colorado this weekend, we arrived home late this afternoon. We’re filthy, the camper still needs to be cleaned out and put back together, and we had to order in pizza because the fridge was empty, but we’re home. Funny how walking into your home after time away feels heavenly. Nothing has changed. It’s the same place you left not that long ago. But somehow it’s renewed. Maybe it’s just because I spent the past four days living in a tin can on wheels, but our home felt like a palace when I walked in. It seems huge. I’m feeling pretty spoiled.
The walls might start to close in on me a little tomorrow when I have to catch up on laundry, go grocery shopping, and fall back into my normal housekeeping job, but for tonight this house is the Four Seasons with a luxurious king bed and top-of-the-line bath products. Now all I need is a decent night’s rest and a long, hot shower that turns me into a Disney princess.
They say home is where you hang your hat. Tonight I am grateful that my hat rack is no longer on wheels.
“Happiness hit her like a train on a track.” ~ Florence Welch
I spent today on the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. If you haven’t been, add it to your bucket list. The trip takes you a little over 45 miles one way through the heart of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado from Durango to Silverton. This was my second trip on the train, the first time with our sons. The only way to see this stretch of Colorado is via this train. I spent my entire day feeling grateful that this is where I have spent most of my life. Colorado is stunning. It’s a privilege to live here.
A little over a month ago, I told my husband that if The Decemberists (an Indie folk rock band I’m partial to) scheduled a concert in Denver this spring or summer, I would be there. I’ve already seen them in concert. A few years ago I stood in a cramped theater surrounded by hipsters with long beards, swept up in a sea of flannel, and swore to my friend I would see them live in concert again. And then I told hubby that the scheduling of said concert could possibly preclude all sorts of previous engagements, including but not limited to graduations, anniversaries, vacations, and surgeries. I kept checking their site for a concert announcement while waiting for their latest album to drop. And drop it did. Today. Nothing makes a lousy Tuesday masquerading as a Monday better than the long-anticipated release of new music.
This afternoon, I got a concert alert stating that yes, in fact, The Decemberists will be bringing their North American tour to Denver this spring. I’m not going to lie. I did squee a bit when I saw the message title. When I opened the actual message and examined it a little more closely, however, I honestly released a sound that was somewhere between a girly squeal and a coyote yip. I didn’t even know I could make a noise like that. Not only are The Decemberists coming to town, but they are coming to my favorite venue, the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater. On my birthday. And Spoon is opening up for them; tickets for their last show here sold out before I got one and now they are coming back as if to make it up to me. Are you kidding? Did I mention this is all going to happen on my birthday? On. My. Birthday.
I know I am an infinitesimal speck of dust in an unfathomable universe. I know that by comparison this one event is meaningless and smaller than the smallest particle comprising a grain of sand when you compare it to something like this photo of the Andromeda Galaxy. But, when things like this happen…when everything seems divined by some higher, magnificent power…I take note. I stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and wallow in perfection because I know that this the-world-is-amazing-and-I-am-so-fortunate-to-be-alive feeling of utter joy will pass soon enough, probably when I have to deal with Joe’s science fair experiment again. Luckily, that too has only the importance of the tiniest particle on a microscopic particle comprising a grain of sand, so it’s all good. The universe is awesome.
Simple things can be extraordinary to the bunny who chooses to see them.
As part of our training for the Inca Trail, we took a family hike today in advance of the changing weather tomorrow. I wasn’t all that excited about going, but I knew I wasn’t getting out of it. When hubby sets his mind to a plan for exercise, there’s no stopping him. I tried stalling by nursing my latte and spending most of my morning tucked in bed playing on my laptop. But when he came back upstairs at 10:30, fully dressed, and carrying his backpack, I knew I was doomed. I sucked it up, pulled on shorts, a t-shirt, and the hiking boots I need to break in, and made peace with the situation.
We planned a 6.5 mile hike at a nearby state park but had to regroup when we got there and were turned away because it was “full.” On a gorgeous, spring day in Colorado, this wasn’t surprising but it was disappointing. We fell to our back up and headed toward another hike approximately three miles due west of our home. We told our boys we’d do the 3-mile hike we usually do at this spot, but when we got there I decided on a trail we hadn’t taken before that would take us a bit farther.
Along the way on our new sojourn, we enjoyed colorful wildflowers, numerous birds, and the gurgling of spring run-off filling what is usually an empty creek bed. Small spiders scurried across the path underfoot. Squirrels barked their warnings at us from the trees. In one particularly breezy spot, I watched a fuzzy caterpillar alternate between creeping along under his own power and tumbling along windswept. I hoped the wind was carrying him in the direction he was trying to go. A small insect landed on Joe’s shirt. It was something akin to a box elder bug. It had a simple and perfectly symmetrical criss-cross pattern on its back in red and black. I examined it for a minute, sharing its magic with the boys before it flew away. For such a seemingly insignificant creature, he was impeccably adorned. The diversity of creatures on this planet and the spectacular ways they are put together are nothing short of miraculous.
I so often rush through life without looking around and noticing the simple things. A hike is an ideal opportunity to acknowledge the intricacies of our planet and to appreciate the wonder around us. Even when I am forced to drag my reluctant and sorry butt out of bed on a sunny, Saturday morning, I inevitably find awe in and gratitude for what I have seen outside. Being in nature reminds me that I am part of a much larger picture, no greater or lesser than any other creature, just a part of the grand scheme. I like that thought. It puts my life and my struggles into perspective. I mean, it’s a little humbling when a small, flying insect has a cooler outfit than I do.
Looking out our eyes day and in and day out, it can be an epic challenge to remember that we are not the center of the universe. When we are open to things outside ourselves, however, we can discover through the countless natural miracles around us that the things that vex us are unimportant. The only way to take ourselves less seriously is to realize how many smaller things are truly great. To get the best view, sometimes you have to take the focus off the immediate and look around you at the bigger picture.
Our oldest has had something of a rough re-entry into landlocked life since we returned from our Hawaiian vacation almost a month ago. I’m afraid that on our trip Joe realized that he, in fact, is not a mountain kid but is an ocean kid living in a city over a thousand miles away from an ocean. Since returning home, he’s immersed himself in ocean research, continually forcing us to watch episodes of The Blue Planet all about the seas. He’s been on Google Earth checking out locations for snorkeling vacations. (He’s currently leaning toward the Maldives. We’ll head there right after we win the lottery.) He’s also been driving me crazy by insisting that the incredibly crappy, gravel beach at the small reservoir a mile from our house has to be a regular destination for us this summer. I’ve tried explaining to him that I don’t see myself spending my summer on a bed of gravel next to a big pond that is occasionally closed to swimming because E coli bacteria is proliferating there. He seems not to hear my negatives, simply reminding me that this is the closest he can ever be to a beach and that he’s an ocean kid and not a mountain kid. Don’t we realize we’re torturing him by making him live in Colorado so far away from the ocean? Yes. He’s a bit of a drama queen. And he keeps asking us to move.
Today was the first nice day we’ve had thus far this year. The temps soared into the low 70s and everyone was out in shorts. After nothing but snowfall this spring, today felt like our deliverance. The hope of summer was so close we could almost smell the campfires and see the columbine. We imagined finally putting away our snow gear and justifiably pulling out our flip flops. Although we’re not quite out of the woods yet (looks like we might see snow again next week), we allowed ourselves today the opportunity to imagine the sound of nails being driven into the coffin of a long, cold winter. Joe was beside himself with glee, dreaming perhaps of our warmer days in Hawaii.
Late this afternoon, he asked us if we could go to the beach across the street. All I could think was that it’s starting already…the battle I will face this summer. We told him no. We’d just gotten back from a 30 mile bike ride and we wanted to hang out at home. But Joe persisted. Finally I decided to check the web site for the state park where I discovered that the swim beach was closed until Memorial Day. When I told him the bad news, the poor kid cried. He actually cried. Unable to bear his frustration, we told him we would drive over to check out the situation.
When we pulled into the lot at the beach, we found several families picnicking and having cookouts. The boys were thrilled. There was no going back. We got out of the car and headed onto the beach. Steve and I threw the beach blanket down and settled in for the half an hour of beach time we’d promised. Although they seemed to be a bit shocked by the 45 degree water temperature (not surprising to us given that the lake had ice on it until a month ag0), the boys got their feet wet and walked along the shore. They threw sticks into the water and were giddy every time a noisy speedboat kicked up diminutive, rippling waves. Steve and I watched with wonder as our sons seemed to have nearly as much fun on this beach as they’d had in Hanalei where the strong ocean tides had prohibited them from swimming from that beach. They didn’t care that the lake is so small you can see across it in every single direction. They didn’t care that the water was achingly cold and the beach was not comprised of fine, powdery sand. They enjoyed their moment anyway. After all, they were at the beach.
I am reminded sometimes that my older, wiser, more cynical view of life gets in the way of my appreciating the smaller things. I didn’t want to go to the reservoir. I could not see the point of sitting on a rough, gravel beach with no true waves and freezing cold water. I could not see it until I was there with my boys and I witnessed the incalculable joy this weak substitution offered them. Only then was I reminded that just because a situation isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it can’t be perfectly grand in its own way. Chatfield Reservoir isn’t exactly Poipu Beach on Kauai, but it’s something. Life’s what you make it.
Monday night was Christmas Eve. I wanted to write that night, but I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotional. If I were F. Scott Fitzgerald, I probably would have had a bottle of gin and used my inner angst to compose a brilliant and yet widely under-appreciated (at least in its time) novel. Alas, F. Scott I am not. So instead, I helped unload the car, removing a plethora of freshly-unwrapped Christmas gifts, and finally collapsed around midnight. During the course of this week, though, I’ve not been able to shake the image I wanted to write about on Christmas Eve. After having taken most of the month of December off from writing this blog, I at last have something I want to write.
We spent Christmas Eve at my in-law’s home this year. For five months each year, they live in a loft in LoDo (lower downtown, for the uninitiated), a few blocks from everything amazing that Denver has to offer. Their place is the quintessential loft space, open, airy, filled with great light and exposed concrete. They have managed to make it feel cozy with warm wood furniture, textiles, and art. There’s nothing cold or industrial about their home. We love celebrating the holidays there, standing out on the deck with its 6th floor views and taking in the downtown atmosphere at Christmas. Monday night was especially festive because it was snowing. Denver has a white Christmas approximately 11% of the time (yes…I checked), so to be wrapped in the magic of a Christmas snow Monday night was fantastic. We had everything. A yummy dinner of Swiss raclette, the comfort of a loving family, good conversation and wine, every single gift any of us had asked for, and snow.
When we’d finished unwrapping and were preparing to make room in our cheese-filled bellies for dessert, Steve and I decided it might be a good idea to make a preemptive trip to our car with some of our newly acquired treasures. When the boys were young and the sheer number of toys they received seemed immeasurable, we would take several trips to load up our loot. Old habits die hard, I guess, because even as the boys’ gifts have dwindled in number while increasing in cost, we still feel the need to take down a load. That is what we were doing this snowy Christmas Eve when we were confronted with yet another reason for gratitude.
As Steve, Luke, and I walked out onto a snowy 15th Street, heavily laden with a giant duffel bag stuffed with clothes and several bags filled with large Lego sets, we noticed that between us and our car there was a homeless gentleman sitting on a bench. The snow was coming down hard now, and he was hunkered under a Colorado Rockies umbrella. Next to him on the bench in a clear plastic trash bag were his belongings, the sum total of his life’s possessions. I’m certain he wasn’t enjoying the Christmas snow the same way I was. My eyes welled up. I tried to keep it together. Steve and I exchanged a look. I could tell he felt the same way I did…heartbroken and somewhat guilty. We hastily loaded our things into the car and headed back into the dry building feeling unfairly fortunate.
On the way up in the elevator, I knew Steve and I were thinking the same thing. On the way out, in possession of our wallets, this time when we saw the man we would gift him the way we had been gifted. After all, we had everything already. We could certainly spare some of our Christmas cash for someone who not only had no one to celebrate with but who was spending his holiday in soaking clothes on a metal bench on a cold, wet night.
Twenty minutes later when we left the loft full of homemade apple crisp, we found he had moved on. He was no longer on the bench just ten feet from our car. We looked around for him, thinking we might have missed him by only a minute or two, but he was gone, hopefully to a dryer, more sheltered spot somewhere. The City of Denver, after all, has its “unauthorized camping” ban to enforce and there are no exceptions…even on Christmas, even if you’re not camping so much as living outside involuntarily.
I spent a lot of time this week thinking about that man under the Colorado Rockies umbrella. For the first couple days, I felt sad that he hadn’t been there when we emerged. I wondered if receiving a $100 bill on Christmas Eve would have felt like a small Christmas miracle to him. I was certain that it would have made me feel better to give it to him. Because he wasn’t there, though, I’ve come to consider that perhaps he gave me a gift with his disappearance — the opportunity to be uncomfortable with my status as a Have and not a Have Not. Seeing him on the bench downtown in the snow reminded me how arbitrarily, unreasonably lucky we are in this house. It gave Steve and I an excuse to talk with our kids about the homeless and about gratitude. As a result, I’ve been looking at things a bit differently after Christmas for the first time in years. Instead of noting what I didn’t receive, instead of thinking about what I can buy with my gift cards, I’ve been focused on how much more I have than what I need. That’s one hell of a gift.
I’ve read blog post after blog post filled with gratitude over the past few days, and these posts made me want to supply my own list of things to be thankful for. Truth is, though, that my list is far too long because I am an unbelievably lucky woman. It’s nauseating how truly fortunate I am. If I weren’t me, I’m not sure I could like me because of how my life has worked out. I’ve made some good choices, worked hard occasionally, and had an obscene amount of good fortune. My life, therefore, is idyllic in the grand scheme of things in this world. I’m positive there are many people who would happily trade lives with me. I don’t blame them. I’m blessed.
Tonight, instead of writing an encyclopedia about all the things that I am grateful for, I’m just going to say that after a perfect day in which the food turned out well, the meal company was exemplary, and our sons were well-behaved, the thing I am most grateful for today is the quiet time I spent with my three boys after everyone had left. We sat on the couch together watching Christmas Vacation, as per our holiday tradition. While sitting there this evening, I felt more at peace than I have in a long time.
Months ago Joe began watching My Little Pony, a fact which vexed me more than I care to admit. I simply do not get it. He watches it enough that I now regularly find the theme song in my head and I have begun calling him Princess Rainbow Dash just for giggles. Tonight, while we sat less than three feet from each other on our sectional sofa, I began randomly texting him photos of the ponies from My Little Pony. He was in awe. He could not figure out how I was doing it. I got such a kick out of his shock at my awesomeness. Seriously? How does one get confused by something so rudimentary? When I finally explained how I was doing it, Joe looked at me like I had given him the Holy Grail. And, tonight, despite the fact that I could carry on ad nauseam about the things I count among my blessings, I am grateful above all for the fact that sometimes I can tell that my son still believes I can create magic because I’m smart, capable, and clever. There’s no better feeling in the world.
For the past two nights, I’ve barely won a battle with myself regarding my attendance at yoga class. Both nights, I wanted to stay home and curl up in bed and just forget it. Both nights, my husband and kids told me I should go. I’m not sure if their wanting me to go relates directly to the apparently witchy behavior Facebook keeps accusing me of or if they’re simply acknowledging my stress level and hoping I will find some peace. If I had to guess, though, I’d say it’s probably 90/10 in favor of the first option. When I’m overwhelmed, I’m not the easiest person to be around.
I love yoga. I don’t love it enough to want to become an instructor or anything, but I do love that for an entire hour I can turn off the incessant monkey chatter that goes on inside my skull and focus on just one thing…tying myself into a pretzel. I try to practice during the day when my boys are at school because I like to spend the evenings with them, but this week has been crazy busy and I haven’t been able to get there. Getting to class at night is difficult for me, but I’ve made it and I’m grateful to myself for doing the hard work to get there.
Yoga is not simply about exercise for me. It’s a transformational event. It’s about giving myself the space to be exactly who I am in this moment rather than who I want to be or, worse, who I think I should be. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. While I try to schedule numerous appointments for my boys with psychologists for testing and evaluation and while I continue to receive and fill out packet after packet of information, I’ve been feeling myself slip away. Sometimes it seems there aren’t enough hours in the day to carve out time to be the person I am rather than the person I need to be for someone else. Yoga offers me that space.
Last night, our beautiful instructor, Sybil, asked us to reflect on how often we think too much about the future or reflect too long on the past. Indeed, I am guilty of such sins. Then, she gently reminded us that the only thing that matters is now. What can I fix about this moment became the mantra for class. I’ve been turning that thought over and over in my head since last night. Yes. I have a lot to do to figure out how to help out our boys. I have stacks of paperwork to fill out, bunches of phone calls to make, and a 400-page book on dyslexia that I need to read judging me from its spot on my nightstand. I may get through it all. I may not. I don’t know. But, if I take my head out of what might happen for us in the future (how will the testing go, will we need to put the boys in a special school, will we need to move, what is the best place for them), the present seems a lot less complicated.
I do it to myself, I know. I think too much about things I cannot control, things I might not even be given the chance to live through. All I have is this moment and all I can do is my best right now. So, I’m going to relax a bit, set a list of priorities, and knock them down one at a time in the moment until the decision about what is right for our boys and our family becomes apparent.
Tonight I’m grateful for the reminder that the only thing I need to concern myself with is this moment. I can take care of all the other stuff when the next moment arrives. No need to rush from the now. The future will be the present soon enough.