life

There But For The Grace Of Rum Punch

This week I have been on a cruise in the eastern Caribbean with my mom and sisters to commemorate my mom’s 75th birthday. Earlier in the week, the four of us did a rum and salsa dancing tour in Puerto Rico together. The next day my sister Kathy and I snorkeled in St Thomas. For the last excursion, I did something out of my comfort zone. I chose a catamaran trip to St Kitts and Nevis alone. When I booked the excursion, it never occurred to me that I would have to interact with people. Other people whom I don’t already know. As I pondered this the night before we arrived in St Kitts, I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake

When I got to the meeting space, I noticed everyone was part of a pair, accompanied either by a significant other, family member, or friend. I was the only solo traveler, the one who made our number an awkward odd rather than a neat even. It was all good, I told myself. As a reticent introvert, I have many coping strategies for being alone while part of a crowd. I occupied myself with photo taking, listening to headphones, and staring out at sea to avoid eye contact lest someone should view my gaze as an invitation to chit-chat. I spent most of the tour, including the snorkeling time, successfully isolated. I had no direct contact with anyone save for one of the catamaran crew members who kept checking to make sure I was all right. I rode out to the snorkel spot without conversation, swam by myself, finished lunch alone, and quietly sat on one of a pair of beach chairs under an umbrella while my bag occupied the companion seat. I focused on solitude and relished it.

On the way back, I determined I wanted to ride on the net of the catamaran. I had never done that before, and it seemed like something I should experience. So when the boat came back to pick us up at the beach, I made sure to be one of the first to board so I could secure a coveted spot. I had visions of stretching out up there with the water rushing by beneath me, eyes closed, sun on my face, relaxed and at peace. I live in a rainbow world. 

I had been in place maybe one minute before a group of people whom I had earlier pegged as the party crowd descended like locusts on a harvest. Suddenly I was surrounded on all sides by peers who were 1) loud, 2) not concerned about observing my requisite two-arms-length personal space boundary, and 3) more than a few rum punches ahead of me. I was trapped at the front of the net, and the only way out would require gathering up all my belongings, stepping over people, and beating a hasty retreat to the covered part of the boat to sit with the retirees. I sat for a minute doing a cost analysis. My options — run like a coward or make the best of it. I decided these people might make for an interesting blog post, so I stayed to see what might transpire. 

My rowdy compatriots shouted for more rum punch while I tried to figure out how they could get any more drunk. Once we all had a plastic cup, one of them raised his punch aloft and called for a group toast. There was no turning back. I was one of them now. A hearty salud later and we were off to the races. A tantric yoga instructor from Mexico City started a get-acquainted drinking game.  When it was your turn, you had to look at the group, chose someone, and from their appearance suggest something that might be true for them in real life. If you guessed correctly, they had to drink. If not, the drink went to you. I started to deeply regret my decision to stay up front. I watched quietly at first, hoping they would overlook me all together and the game would die out without my participation. No such luck. The ex-military guy next to me guessed I was a teacher. Nope. I looked around and saw a woman wearing a baseball cap with hibiscus flowers on it and guessed she had been to Hawaii. She took a drink. The game went on for a while, rum punch sloshing its way into our rapidly emptying cups over and over. One person guessed I was 42 and said I was too fit to be almost 50. I knew then I was among good people. Somewhere along the way, we stopped honoring the game play and talked amongst ourselves in small groups that ebbed and flowed as we each overheard and then pursued new topics with different people. And rum punch, being what it is, transformed us into quick friends. 

Life on the net


By the time we got off the catamaran, we were all intoxicated. A few folks showed the early signs of what would become painful sunburns. We swayed our way onto the pier, arm in arm, holding each other up, before getting our bearings and stumbling our separate ways. I walked off as alone as I had arrived, imagining I looked lucid but knowing I probably did not. I doubted many of my fellow tour buddies would remember much about the trip because, while rum punch makes friends, it also blurs memories and they were drunk when the game began. For my own experience, though, I was sober enough that I will never forget that excursion. It was the day I learned sometimes it’s good to let loose and see what happens. Yes. The people I met were what I said. They were loud and borderline obnoxious. But they were also full of interesting stories and a shit ton of fun. I watched as other members of the tour alternately gave our net full of crazies a disapproving once over. I thought about how I could have chosen to sit with them and judge rather than join. Indeed, I have lived most of my life that way. On that trip back from Nevis, though, I realized that sometimes judges really miss out and I am finished missing out. 

When Times Get Tough, Pull a Thoreau

“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” ~Henry David Thoreau

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The seasons have changed again without my expressed consent. Fall, with its kaleidoscope of colors and blazer temperatures and soup recipes, does have its allure. But it’s not summer anymore, dammit, and fall is the harbinger of the upcoming cold, grey suck of winter. It has been dark and rainy here for the better part of a week and a half, and my dog and I are tired of dampness and soaked feet. In Denver, fall traditionally arrives with blue skies punctuated by rippled cirrocumulus clouds, a landscape bathed in yellow rabbitbrush, and ideal hiking weather. Pumpkins come out, indian corn goes up, hay bales and scarecrows adorn yards swathed in fallen leaves. I often slip into fall with only a twinge of sadness at the loss of summer. This year with the rain landing me unexpectedly in the middle of seasonal affective disorder months earlier than usual, however, it’s felt like a 55-mile-per-hour rollercoaster descent into disappointment. Combined with relentless barrage of heartbreaking news over the past five weeks, from Harvey to Irma to Maria to Las Vegas, I have been living in a why-even-get-out-of-bed state in my head.

This morning the sun reappeared, not in a cloudless sky but more obviously than she has shown her face recently. I jumped at the opportunity to walk the dog in dry conditions before delivering our sons to school. As Ruby and I padded along, scores of butterflies scattered before us. Hundreds of them, migrating through on their way to the warmer climes of New Mexico and Arizona, flitted across our path making it impossible not to stop and stare. For the first time in weeks, the clouds in my head lifted, borne upwards on the wings of painted ladies.

When I need it the most, this planet slaps me with its marvels. The intricacies of our connections to the earth and its flora and fauna are miracles too immeasurable to overlook. It’s common to check out of the moment and to check into problems that are either too big for adequate and timely solutions or too meager to stress and belabor. In times like these, I always benefit by pulling a Henry David Thoreau and taking a walk to remember what beauty is and where peace lies. Turn off the television when the news is too much. Go find yourself again where you didn’t know you lived. The only certainty we have is this moment. Don’t waste it.

“There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.” ~Henry David Thoreau

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Painted lady pause

Life Is Short…Don’t Be Your Own Wet Blanket

Wet everywhere

Wet everywhere

How many times have you talked yourself out of something because the situation didn’t seem quite right? I have done it thousands of times. I am the Queen of Justification. I can talk myself out of anything. This also means, though, that I have the ability to talk myself into anything. It seems easier to avoid than attack, though, which is why I have let so many opportunities in my life slide because it seemed like they might be too much work. Today I decided to challenge myself to go forward rather than retreat.

Three weeks ago, my friend Brooke and I planned to hike on May 4th. So, this morning I woke up ready to hike…until I looked out the window. From my bedroom window at 7 a.m., I saw low hanging clouds, wet ground, and not one patch of blue sky. I texted Brooke to see what the weather was like in Boulder. Light drizzle, she said. I have traditionally been a fair-weather hiker. I try to avoid hiking in the rain when possible because I am not a big fan of being cold or wet or muddy or especially all three things at once. So many reasons not to hike today and only one reason in favor. The forecast for the rest of the week in Denver is rain, one to four inches of it. I decided light drizzle might just be the nicest weather all week. I grabbed my rain jacket and my waterproof hikers and headed to meet Brooke.

On the drive, I tried to convince myself that it was as good of a day as any to hike. I pulled out all my zen and told myself the only moment I have is this one. I can spend it whining about the weather or I can pretend that I’m above it all. By the time I got to the trailhead parking lot, I was convinced this was a good idea. I parked in a giant puddle, zipped up my rain jacket, stuffed my iPhone into one of my waterproof pockets, and embraced our adventure.

Mud is the equivalent of ankle weights, right?

Mud is the equivalent of ankle weights, right?

True to what Brooke had said, there was a light drizzle. I couldn’t actually tell if it was drizzle or just mist from low hanging clouds. Either way, there were no drops of rain. We started up the trail, planning to do a 4 mile hike I’ve done many times with my family. As we turned to head uphill, the path beneath our feet became increasingly muddy where rain had rushed down, following gravity’s lead all night long. For about three-quarters of a mile, we hiked uphill through heavy mud, trying to walk on rocks when we could, scraping our hiking shoes off when we’d gained an extra pound per foot. My mind wandered back to how these shoes had hiked the entire Inca Trail without getting wet. They’d survived four days in the Andes with hardly anything to show for it. I was making up for it now. I blocked out the notion that it would take me an hour to clean them when I got home. I kept on trudging.

I realized about two miles in that we were not on the path I had intended to take. Oops. No worries. We’d figure it out. We kept heading uphill, towards the trees, hoping that once we got into them we would find a trail that had been protected from the moisture. Around the point that we hit four miles, it was clear we had wandered further off course than we’d planned. I pulled out my phone to view a trail map so we could get our bearings. We were two hours into the hike. We’d passed two people. Although the views weren’t much because of the fog, the rainy weather had afforded us a hike in solitude. The only sounds were a gurgling creek running full with rain from higher up the foothill, some frogs chirping, and songbirds flying in and out of the bushes around us as we passed. Being a fair-weather hiker, I’m used to sharing the trail, to catching silence in between polite greetings with groups of fellow hikers. Today there was none of that. There was just peace.

An abandoned house in the fog

An abandoned house in the fog

We figured out which trail to hit and began our descent. We stopped to take photos and enjoy the less muddy section of trail. We paused to appreciate the scenery, limited though it was, and revel in the isolation. Eventually we passed one more set of hikers before we reached the parking lot. By then, the stats on my Fitbit app were impressive. We had logged seven miles in 158 minutes and climbed the equivalent of 116 floors under less than ideal conditions with mud-packs as ankle weights. And to think I had nearly given this up morning workout for an almond-milk latte indoors. Craziness.

I’m going to make a concerted effort more often to go with the flow, even if that flow is from rain. Despite all the mental excuses I could come up with today to skip our hike, nothing bad that I had imagined actually came to fruition. The rain held off, I stayed dry, and most of the mud fell away from my shoes on its own. Even when we realized we were off our intended path, we found our way back to where we needed to be. Everything worked out because everything always works out one way or another. I spend too much time imagining the worst, meanwhile missing out on what might have been the best.

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ~Vivian Greene

May You Live All The Days Of Your Life

The beast enjoying the fresh snow

The beast enjoying the fresh snow

“May you live all the days of your life.” ~Jonathan Swift

I love this quote. It’s so simple yet eloquent and profound. I mean, every day that you’re alive, you could argue that you’re living. But are you truly living? What does it mean to live versus to be alive? There have been plenty of days in my life when I’ve gone through the motions. I existed. And I was alive in only the most basic sense. I wasn’t living fully, deliberately, or honestly. Living honestly lies in experiencing the senses, feeling your emotions, promoting your consciousness. It lies in the awareness of the present moment and in appreciation for it. It lies in a daily choice to be open, enthusiastic, and mindful.

A few weeks ago, we were buried under February snow. It was cold. I spent most of the month of February this year as I do every year…holed up in my bed under blankets, sipping tea, binge watching shows on Netflix, scarcely moving from my spot, trying to convince myself I was not depressed. February is my annual, 28-day hibernation. One day, though, we had a lovely respite from overcast skies. The snow had stopped, the clouds had cleared the way for swaths of blue, and something called to me to live.

It was 10 degrees when I left my house, bundled in my ski gear, wearing snowshoes, and hauling additional gear. I had no problem coaxing the dog who had been housebound with me out onto the open space for an expedition. Her enthusiasm and joy kept me moving on each time I stopped to catch my breath, enjoy the view, and question my sanity. I was alone and, with no one to challenge me, this walk that would normally take me 15 minutes on a summer day took me close to 25. I was in no hurry. I had no plans other than this one.

Just a girl, her dog, and a sled

Just a girl, her dog, and a sled

When I reached the first hill, I kicked off my Crescent Moon snowshoes and began climbing. Against all logic and better judgment, I’d hauled my son’s bright yellow Zipfy sled out there with me, fully intent on some perpetrating some childlike behavior. You see, the day before school had been cancelled due to snow, and I had watched longingly from my kitchen window as some neighborhood children climbed that normally silent hill and put their mark upon the pristine landscape. My sons sled a lot in our neighborhood during snow season, nearly every afternoon when the weather allows it, but I have never joined them. I’m the mom. I have responsibilities. They would think it was too weird. And I am getting on in years and might break some bones, right?

Upon reaching the top of the hill, I threw the sled down and climbed on. My dog was poised in front of me. She’s a border collie. She loves to herd things. She planned on herding me all the way down the hill. When I finally summoned the nerve, I inched forward with my feet and began sliding down that very steep hill. If it felt steep on the climb up, it felt steeper on the ride down. The dog bounded in and out of my path as I careened down the slope picking up speed. Before I realized it, I had neared the bottom of the hill and noticed what I had not seen before. Those little stinkers had built a ramp. I hit it at full velocity, whooshed into the air, and dropped some obscenities as the sled and I collided with the ground with enough force that I wondered if my neighbor felt the tremor in her home. My face was covered in snow. I felt snow down my shirt. I surrendered into the earth and laughed at the absurdity of a nearly 47-year-old woman collapsed by herself on a deserted sledding hill at noon on a Friday. What kind of crazy woman does that?

I stayed on that hill for about a half an hour longer, hiking up repeatedly so I could retrace the path the children had carved out for me as well as fashion a few lanes of my own. The dog challenged my efforts, lunging at me sporadically while I lurched and swayed my way down the hill in an attempt to avoid running her over. Each time I wiped out. Each run found me increasingly covered in snow. When I’d had enough, I sat and began petting the dog, noticing the chunks of snow in my soaking wet hair, breathing steadily and consciously, feeling gratitude for the time, energy, health, and means to spend an hour of my day outdoors, frivolously free from the mundane.

Seeing that quote today reminded me of my sledding adventure. We adults don’t indulge in living often enough. Swallowed by routine and obligation, we stagnate. We place responsibility over fun, whimsy, and novelty. To make this earthly journey worthwhile, though, we need to remember to let go on occasion. Joy is not just for children and border collies. We need to have our own sledding days, to bear witness to the beauty of nature, to smell the moisture in the air, to feel the sun on our face and the snow down our shirt, to taste the blood from our lip when we bite it on a hard landing, and to laugh out loud at ourselves. That is living.

Relax…Nothing Is In Control

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

A typical Colorado ski morning sunrise

“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” ~Eckhart Tolle

I got to take the boys to their ski lessons today. For me this meant a 5:30 a.m. wake up call, followed by a quick trip to Starbucks for a latte to help wash down my Lara Bar breakfast on the ski-traffic-heavy drive to Winter Park. As the sun was coming up, I sipped my daily dose of caffeine and listened to my sons discussing Pokemon…again. I looked up occasionally from the road to witness the sun tinting the snowy peaks the palest shade of baby-pig pink. Colorado is awesome. And, as much as I gripe when the alarm goes off at 5:30 on a weekend morning meant for sleeping in, and as mind-numbing as hours crawling along in round-trip ski traffic can be, I’ve accepted that ski lesson Saturdays are a miracle. They just are. They fill me with inexplicable gratitude.

I skied a few runs with the boys and their ski instructors this morning before taking off to do a few runs on my own. As I was waiting in the singles line for a quad lift at the base of the resort, I made a mental note that it wasn’t going anywhere fast. I looked to the loading area and determined that they had stopped the lift. If you ski, you know lifts get stopped all the time to help load or unload passengers who need extra time. Not a big deal. I looked away to take in the ski racers cruising down the run to the right of me. When I looked back, I noticed that the lines were getting longer and the lift was still not moving. Clearly, this might be something bigger than a stop for a person who had difficulty getting off the lift up top. I was confident it would start again soon, though, so I stayed in line.

While I was waiting, the guy behind me in line got a phone call. I got to enjoy every word of his not-so-private, personal conversation. It went something like this.

“Hey. Yeah, babe. I don’t think I’m going to make it up there in time for the next competition. I know! Well, don’t be mad at me. I want to be up there. The lift is STOPPED. I can’t go anywhere. No. Seriously. It’s stopped. They just brought over a maintenance dude so I don’t think they’re going to get it moving anytime soon. (He began to get more agitated.) What do you want me to do? I can’t fix the lift. I can’t believe I’m going to miss the competition. I’m so pissed. Yeah. This is bullshit. I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t miss another competition! (Here he got really sarcastic and caustic.) Hey. I get it. You’re mad. I’ll get there when I get there. No. Seriously. What am I supposed to do? Yeah. Whatever.”

At this point, he disconnected the call, muttered under his breath a five-letter word for the woman he’d just spoken to, and started complaining to another person in line about the lift situation. He was animated, irate, and nearly ready to start a bar-level brawl with anyone who might be in charge of the lift. The lift was still not operational, and I could hear him huffing and puffing in disgust behind me. He could have been a toddler.

While he was doing this, I looked around. There we were. Healthy, fit, and privileged enough to be able to afford the not-entirely-inexpensive sport of snow skiing. It was a gorgeous, sunny, 40-degree day standing there in the unmoving line at the Zephyr lift at 9,000 feet. Everywhere I looked, there were people who were taking a day with family or friends to enjoy a fun activity in the beauty and majesty of the wintry Colorado Rockies on a nearly cloudless morning. It was a perfect day, even if the yahoo behind me couldn’t see it through the cloud of his righteous fury and the fog he had generated with his Big Bad Wolf heavy breathing.

Realizing that it was silly to wait when there was another lift 50 yards away, I backed out of line and skied toward the Arrow lift, kind of happy to be leaving Mr. Grumpypants behind. The Zephyr lift did get started again, shortly before I boarded my nearby chair. On my ride up, I thought a lot about the guy behind me in that other line. It seemed like such a waste to get bent over something utterly out of his control. He was so wrapped up in his world, in his disappointment, in his annoyance, that he couldn’t even take a deep breath and enjoy the situation for what it was…a nice muscle break in between ski runs. End of story. The competition went on without him. And I’m pretty sure everyone’s world continued to spin without him there. Even his.

I recently saw this quote I’ve been repeating as a mantra lately. Relax…nothing is in control. Seems to me one of our biggest flaws as human beings (and yes, I’m sure there is some perfectly rational psychological mumbo-jumbo to explain why it’s imperative to our survival) is our inability to accept that the vast majority of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. You can choose the perfect outfit to wear to the meeting, but not be able to help spilling coffee on it when the light rail lurches to an unexpected stop. You can choose your college major, but not the fact that ten years after you graduate with said degree it may be obsolete. You can choose your lovely suburban home, but not the criminal who decides its contents would look better as cash in his wallet. Relax…nothing is in control is the same as the old, tried-and-true shit happens. It does. And no amount of indignation, profanity, or foot-stomping is going to change that.

Take a look around you. How much of your time do you waste railing against things beyond your control? Where has that gotten you? Take a deep breath and take comfort in the fact that nothing is in control. When the unexpected happens, look for the gift there. You can usually find one. And if you can’t now, hopefully you will be able to someday.

And Just Like That All Was Right In The Universe

Squeeeeeeee!

Squeeeeeeee!

Sometimes you just know things are meant to be.

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.

Circumstance Is A Weak Choice

Scenic view or septic tank? Your choice.

Scenic view or septic tank? Your choice.

“I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Here is my blanket statement of the day. There are two kinds of people in this world…people who embrace choice and people who don’t. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this differentiation. I know many people who live their lives through the filter of circumstance. Things happen to them. They are firmly locked into the victim mindset, unable to let go of what is now in the past. Life has been unfair to them, and life has made them unhappy. But life is unfair to everyone in one way or another, and this is where choice comes in. When something unwelcome happens to you, you unexpectedly lose your job or your child or your home, for example, that is circumstance. How you deal with circumstance is choice, and that choice is the difference between lifelong happiness or lifelong disappointment.

I’ve cycled through both the victim and the champion role in my life, gratefully remaining more on the champion side as a rule. Sometimes I would sit in suck-i-tude for a while before putting on my big girl panties and making changes. And it’s true that sometimes you need to let yourself be where you are in your disappointment, sadness, and regret. It’s part of the human condition. But I’ve realized that remaining stuck there is a waste of time. Life is too short to hang out too long where grief and sadness reside. I am in charge of writing my story. The people I have most admired have taken what life has handed them and worked it in their favor. It might not have happened overnight, but it happened. It’s a process.

Now that I am better at not relegating my life to well-gee-it-is-what-it-is, I find myself struggling with the appropriate way to act when others are marooned in the quagmire of circumstance. Some people only feel better when they are getting attention and sympathy from others, and the best way for them to do that is to remain lodged and helpless in their unfortunate circumstances. When you are involved with people who rely on you to make their life better, interactions with them are exhausting. How do you show empathy while maintaining self-preservation? It’s a tough line to walk. I’m working on being compassionate while remaining cautiously distant so I don’t get sucked into their vortex of pity-poor-me. That attitude is like the flu and, if your choice mindset is underdeveloped or suffering a setback, you can catch that victim bug more than once. And I have.

I don’t want to feel trapped by anyone’s circumstances, including my own. I want to be creative and find ways to negotiate obstacles as they arise by determining what choices I have in the situation. I know I don’t have to own or be responsible for any choices others make to remain trapped in their situations. Intellectually, I understand that, but I invariably wrestle to free myself of others’ negativity and focus on my own reactions instead. I’m striving to be braver and to recognize the bad for what it is…a chance to grow and adapt. I’m getting there. And, someday I will successfully be able to navigate the landmines that life’s victims leave for me. For now, all I can do is worry about myself and tread lightly in the direction of positivity.