Family

getting lost and being here

When summer arrives I feel the urge to head out on the road.  To watch the center lines blur and the scenery change to wide open spaces.  I love to feel my hair whipping around my face, arms stretched out of windows.  The wind swirling between my fingers.

My sons groaned.  “Do we really have to go?  You didn’t consult us when you made these vacation plans.”

Instead of getting offended, I mentally checked my automatic Mom response and sighed.  Driving a 2,000 mile road trip with seventeen and fifteen year old teens and a hormotional pubescent twelve-year old tween didn’t sound like an enjoyable experience for two weeks.  They were completely plugged into their devices: personal computers, lap tops and phones with earbuds in.  When I shared that our cabins had no wi-fi service; they bristled.  The lodging literature promoted being outdoors versus Internet access and could only be found in specific, public locations like lobbies.

We were embarking on a road trip the hubs and I have been wanting to take for several years.  Last summer this vacation was summarily canceled when my sons’ summer camp schedules directly conflicted with our dates.   It was on our bucket list of things to do before our kids begin to leave the nest and have schedules of their own but our sons were not enthused in the least.  They weren’t buying it.

In April 2016 the hubs had to pull over on the interstate. I had unsuccessfully tried to make reservations online (via my cell phone) while traveling home from a jazz festival.  Cell reception in the northern Sierras had been sketchy and when the highway patrol officer inquired why my husband was on the side of the road; he explained.  My wife has been trying for three hours, with limited cell reception, to book this online or phone and she just finally got a person on the phone.  The officer smiled, wished us well and encouraged us to make it brief and left us alone.

Our schedules were busy up until we left.  It took me a few days to relax and stop worrying about the things that I had left behind.  So many things to do.  So little time.

Navigation with my hubs is always a stressful affair.  Accustomed to his military days; his version of navigation entails coordinates, utilizing various apps such as Waze for traffic and Gas Buddy for finding the cheapest gas en route, Yelp for food destinations, multiple views (both digital and satellite) using Google maps AND our GPS navigation device since cell reception, again, would be sketchy.  As we left home and had to choose the freeway less impacted by traffic, the fight was on.

This has always  been a particular point of contention whenever we travel.  In Texas, I almost jumped out of our moving car…so angry with my, THEN, fiance.  In Utah we had pulled over to the side of the road, sleeping under the stars, on a cross-country move to Chicago worrying that my car wouldn’t make the trip; constantly overheating.  Using TripTiks, atlas maps and Thomas Guides (remember those?)…I had to be sure we were on the right interstate (which we were).

We found ourselves on this same stretch of highway and the hubs excitedly pointed out the exact place where we had pulled over in my Toyota Tercel twenty-three years before.  Incredulous, I could only laugh.  I could never co-pilot with this man in a plane; but I’ve survived co-piloting our relationship, and family, since 1990.  In the backseat, the kids heard us recount our stories of cross-country travel; curious of our lives before the idea of them ever existed.

We drove through 120 degree high desert valleys, through mesa buttes among hoodoos and deep canyons.  My stress level was indirectly proportional to the miles we were logging in.  As the miles away from home increased, my stress level decreased.

Upon arrival at our first destination the boys had been forewarned of our early wake-up time the next morning.  Lamenting that they were on “summer vacation” and should be sleeping in…they eventually crammed into a queen bed and were rudely awakened by the alarm clock at 6 AM.  This was not their idea of a vacation.  They imagined the white sands of Hawaii and the bright neon lights of Vegas (where we had spent the night the day before).

The arches of Utah were calling.  But after being yelled at for not bringing our best camera (left in our hotel room), I was  consoled by our youngest who cried quietly in empathy.  The eldest sat in the navigation seat, arguing directions with his father.  Our vacation was having a stellar start and after a missed turn, all was silent in our vehicle.

We trekked in 100 degree heat on an incline with no shade at 8:30 AM.    With Camelbaks on our backs and the GoPro on my cap; we took one step at-a-time; the boys patiently waiting for their father to catch up.  When we finally reached our destination, all cameras and phones were out taking the scenic panorama before us.  It dawned on me then that not one single complaint was uttered the entire ninety minute hike.  The hubs was shocked that I had handed my camera to the German tourist who took our family shot beneath this arch from afar.

Thus began our epic adventure.

We had many more missed directions and navigation foibles and the hubs learned to curb his impatience.  Comprehension had finally dawned on him that his idea of navigation was vastly different from other people.  He learned to take the missed roads in stride and the rest of us learned how to navigate more efficiently.  Driving an old SUV was very different from flying a multi-million dollar military aircraft.

We all learned to compromise and exerted endless patience; a reminder that it is not the destination that matters, it’s the journey in getting there.  And the pictures came out just as well with our other cameras versus our better one because the best pictures from our trip are etched indelibly in our own minds.

We found ourselves lost in the middle of Idaho; stumbling upon a quaint town decked out in all-Americana; pre-Fourth of July glory.  We passed bucolic panoramas with hundreds of herds of cattle, snow-capped mountains and blue skies.  When I sang, “Home on the Range” my sons had never heard of the tune and the hubs and I were aghast at their ignorance.

Home, home on the range.  Where the deer and the antelope play.  Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word.  And the skies were not cloudy all day.

Our lack of Internet connectivity made us mandatorily unplug.  As a family we have never been on vacation where we were together ALL of the time.  There were no separate rooms or walls to isolate us.  We always were within one another’s view; unless we were using restrooms.

I had expected fights, and there were a few squabbles; but nothing that wasn’t easily resolved.   My stereotypical, oppositional, middle teenage son took great joy in counting the days until we returned home.  But  he was constantly taking pictures to eventually share with his friends on SnapChat.  He was actually enjoying the trip and wanted to keep it a secret from us, his family.

When it thundered and rained for two of our days in Yellowstone; we were undeterred.  We hiked in rain and traversed mountains and peaks where the temperature registered as low as thirty nine degrees. We marveled at the geothermal features of springs, mud pots, fumaroles and of course, the geysers although the boys felt that after walking through several geyser basins, once you’ve seen one geyser; you’ve seen them all.

Daylight began at 5:40 AM and ended close to 10 PM…the hours long in the northern latitude and summer days.  We sat in road jams as bison herds ambled past and were eaten alive by mosquitoes on our first day’s hike to Mystic Falls.  On the days when the boys slept in or napped, hubs included, I explored our inn and sat with my cup of coffee watching Old Faithful in all its geyser glory as the sun rose or set with few people lingering.  The scenery was all my own.

As we hiked among wildflowers and rivers, geysers or travertine terraces sighting bison, elk, a moose, bears, foxes, eagles and everything in-between, I breathed in the crisp mountain air, taking it all in.  Whenever our family hikes, I take the rear; the mother constantly keeping tabs of her sons.  The hubs used to take the lead, but the older teens now scout the trail before us; the hubs with the bear repellent spray not too far behind.

I immersed into Nature; feeling blessed for the opportunity.  Gratitude filled me.  I. am. here.

When the purple mountain majesty of the Grant Tetons loomed into our landscape, several days later,  the boys immediately knew they would like it there.   Early for check-in for our cabin, the hubs spontaneously decided to hike one of the short and easy dog-eared hikes in my travel guide.  I had directed him to the trailhead (not realizing there was an eastern and southern route) and found ourselves on a difficult ascent with spectacular views of my Grand Teton peak looming ever closer to us.

I had chosen an easy-to-moderate trail on this particular route from the southern entrance and quickly realized this was something different.  But the hubs persisted that THIS was the correct place and had commenced on the moderate-to-difficult trail I had chosen to avoid; after the hubs had difficulty with the Delicate Arch trail in Utah.  We were on the eastern trail to Inspiration point along the shores of Jenny Lake.

Five hours later from our “short” hike prompted one of the boys to finally ask, “Who chose this hike anyway?” as we returned to our vehicle and empty trailhead parking lot.

Even on the most strenuous trek, the boys did not complain.  Not once.  They patiently waited as their dad caught his breath and I followed behind in the rear.  The eldest had control of the “best” camera, the youngest composed panoramic shots with our waterproof camera and the middle son’s phone was constantly snapping pictures.  They threw snowballs at one another when we finally reached the “saddle” portion of the mountain and we soon found ourselves at our destination, inspired by the 360 view.

In the remaining days we rafted down the Snake River, hiked trails and the hubs and tween, in sixty degree rainy weather, leapt off a 23 foot rock into the 48 degree deep alpine lake below; while the eldest carried a baby snake.  We constantly were on the lookout for wildlife; encountering a few along our hikes and drives.  Wildflowers sprouted along road ways, trails and riverbanks; infusing their vibrant colors and fragrant aromas in the verdant green alpine forests.  I was tempted to read Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Life’s misdirection took us on paths we’d never thought to take.  At one point, in the car, we didn’t know if we were in Montana or Wyoming.

In getting lost we found each other.

In the two weeks I had let all expectations go; trying hard to NOT create an itinerary for the hubs.  I listened to all of my family members’ thoughts and input to consider what to do.  The middle son enjoyed the hike he chose best; taking the lead.  The youngest felt the accomplishment of doing what he said he’d do by leaping off the 23 foot rock on the trail he chose.  And the eldest had matured, assisting with the long drives and navigation.

The take-aways were things I would have never predicted.  Our road trip had finally brought us back full circle to home.  To here.

My eldest developed a love for manual digital photography and outdoors; expressing the desire to return outdoors before summer ends. The middle son loved hiking and physical activity; wanting to take control and having a choice.   The youngest had vision and loved to compose shots with artistic flair.   We all have a greater appreciation for jazz; the music paired with my bluetooth stereo as we embarked on our endless drives.

Most importantly, we had a greater appreciation for one another; forced to interact and compromise.

Upon our return, the hubs decided he wanted to keep our physical daily activity going, finally getting on the treadmill, swimming and eating well towards better health and well being.   He doesn’t want his family to have to wait or hike without him.  It is one thing for me, or our sons, to want him to be on the path to wellness.  It’s another thing to want to be well and healthy, for himself.

The son who walked away from competitive swim has been swimming in our lap pool.  The middle son chooses to wake early to accompany me on my morning jog.  And the youngest enjoys cooking meals versus always eating out while on the road.  He likes having more choices with his ingredients.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Appreciate life and live in the now.  Be here.  Get a little lost in the great outdoors.  Life takes us in directions unknown but navigate your inner compass and find your true north.  You will always land where you are meant to be.

Advertisements
Family, friendships, Marriage, Work

Note to self…go for broke

2005

Our bookclub recently read the book, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.  It is about a thirty-nine year old woman who suffers memory loss, after a fall, and has forgotten the last decade of her life.  During our discussion, amongst the ten of us, we pondered how our lives were ten years ago and how we’ve changed to whom we are now.  Have we changed for better or for worse?  What will we be like ten years into the future and what would you write to your future self?

2006

Ten years ago I’d hear this phrase repeated often.  Enjoy it now because it goes by in a blink.  At the time I lacked sleep and chased three sons under the age of five.  But you know what?   It is so true.  Time is flying.

2007

As  I had looked around the circle, at bookclub,  I realized that I had known this month’s host for over ten years.  Our eldest children were in kindergarten and I had a three month old son (hers was still in utero) when we met in September 2005.  From 2004-2007 the hubs had lived on an aircraft carrier and so our three sons and I lived one hundred miles away where both sides of our family lived.

2008

When his three year sea duty ended and he transferred to shore duty; our young family relocated from our “forever home” to live together for the next three years.  This girlfriend and her family came to visit us when we moved away and three years later, in 2009, we returned.  Soon after she and I formed our current bookclub, which officially began in January 2010.   We’ve both gone through many transitions in these ten years and I found my eyes refocusing on her, to arrive back into the present.

2009crop

We should do it.  Write letters to ourselves ten years from now.  We had all looked at one another expectantly.  One of the girls had written letters to her daughters when she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and revised it, recently, when undergoing another health scare.  But what would you write to your future self?  It was an intriguing thought.

2010

Throughout the nine hours it took to obliterate Christmas from our household, I contemplated this.  I wrapped my photo ornaments with care, my prized possessions.  Each year I buy three of them; placing each of my sons’ current school portraits until each one graduates from high school.  I told the hubs that one day I would give each of our sons their ornaments (from birth to age 17) for their own Christmas trees.  He had scoffed.  Who was I kidding?  I probably will keep them for myself.   I found the Christmas card photos from the past ten years.  I remember each and every photo as if it was taken yesterday.

2011

Here it goes, my note to self.

************************************

Dear Ten Years Older Self,

I’d like to imagine that you’ve become wiser, aged gracefully and currently live an active and fulfilling life.

I pray that you are still happily married to the man you met, at age eighteen, in calculus lab and have weathered through any “itches” and mid-life crises “storms” successfully.  My hope is that the hubs and I better communicate our needs with each other; that we’ve mastered the art of compromise.  My ego has, hopefully, lessened with the desire to always be right and I’ve learned grace and forgiveness. Time is the greatest equalizer and after almost thirty years of marriage I trust that we’d have figured all of that out.   The date nights without kids, over the last ten years, were supposed to prepare us for when we became empty-nesters.  Did they work?  If they did, then we have other things to share instead of always talking about work or the kids.

I hope that we’ve grown the business where we’re financially secure, that our home is almost paid off and upgraded with our wish list we had ten years ago.    I expect that we have hobbies and travel with our newfound freedom.  That we’ve  dropped any excess weight from our fourth decade, and continue to aspire for better health and fitness goals.  We are supposed to hike the great outdoors and continue on our quest to hit as many National Parks and “ancient world wonders” as we possibly can.  The hubs better still be alive to do all these things with me!  I dream of growing old together in matching rocking chairs; the hubs with the DVR remote; myself with a book and blanket rocking alongside.

Please tell me that you enjoyed the time with the boys while they still lived under the same roof!  That you stopped and made time to hear them and found your balance, instead of busily doing acts of service for others.  Did they become what you imagined them to be?  Now the boys are in their twenties and, hopefully, the youngest is almost out of college.   I’m optimistic that the older boys have found careers where they do what they love and love what they do.   My wish is that they’ve met true friends, maybe found true love.  I’m not sure if I’d want the boys to have kids just yet; they have their whole lives ahead of them. 

I also hope they’ve made healthy choices and continued in their faith journey.  I desire a strong, close relationship with each of our boys and if, upon reading this, I do not; then it is time to make things right.  Unlike my mother, I won’t require my sons to come at my beck and call.  I want them to explore new opportunities, travel and discover who they are.  I want them to visit or talk to me, not because they have to but because they want to.

I’m hoping the bookclub girls are still reading alongside and that at this point in our lives; we’re attending one another’s children’s weddings and, quite possibly, becoming grandparents. Maybe we now have found the time to take our “field trips” to various places we kept talking about visiting and are doing our own version of the book, Annie’s Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish.  I hope that we navigated through life’s milestones, the good, the bad and the ugly, together and built each other up versus tore one another down.

Am I still volunteering time to the organizations that have impacted my life and family?  The Alzheimer’s Association?  The music programs my kids were involved with?  I’ve been blessed to have worked with phenomenal individuals and expect to continue to advocate for these programs so that others may have this same experience.  If I’ve given this up, then now is the time to start; to pay it forward. 

I know that the friends who’ve remained with me, this long, are keepers; our relationships deepening and aging like a fine wine with an aromatic bouquet.  We have so many memories together and I hope for many more to come. But I will always leave room to meet new people and to continue to diversify.  May I have remained open-minded and hospitable.

I’m realizing my letter to myself is getting a bit long; that I have many expectations of what I want to have accomplished.  So ten years from now I wish to have the love and friendship of those who can grow with me and accept the changes and transitions that life is always going to bring.

Love from your former self

**************************************

2012

Surprisingly, it took me over two days to actually type the above letter.  The hubs and I walked down grocery aisles as I asked him what he wanted for us in ten years’ time.  We began to think back over the last ten years.  Was it what we had expected? 

2013

For the hubs, he has reaped the rewards of being home with his family.  When he exited the military he had already spent nine years away from our eldest, seven from the middle and three years from our youngest.  He had been gone more than he had been home.  It has been a privilege to see our progeny grow into the men they will become and the financial hit we took was worth the opportunity.  But he had not expected the finances to be so lean, for the recession in the economy to impact the small family business that has existed in his family for over twenty five years.

2014

Life is always give and take.   Already in this new year the tidings have not been good.  The girlfriend who had returned home from the hospital is, once again, back in it.  The dear family friend, whom we just visited over the holidays and diagnosed with lupus, is now on a kidney transplant list.  And the news arrived that the great grandfather to our sons passed away yesterday and, though it was expected, still brings sadness to our entire family.  Life is so precarious and we never know where it will take us.  As we walked to our car, discussing these things, we decided that this is the year we will go for broke.

IMG_7790-smooth

We must always give our best in everything because why live life if we don’t? 

What we give to our life is what our life gives us in return.  Go for broke.

Family, friendships

the blind side

IMG_6459

Words are important to me.

My husband has to hear them, day-in and day-out, as I download my thoughts and he acts as the sounding board.  As a young girl I would write them in my diaries; the ones I burned when I sold my childhood home in 2003.  My sons can attest that I am always insisting that they say their words.  I tell them to advocate for themselves because, one day, Mom is not going to be here to speak for them.  I continue to type them, daily, in emails, comments, texts and blogs.  I am a communicator.

There comes a point, though, when the consonants and vowels, strung in sentences, are ineffectual.   Words.  They are powerful.  But they can be misconstrued, misinterpreted and used against you.  They can bring hurt and devastation in their wake.   They blind side.

IMG_6411

blind side: transitive verb. 1:  to hit unexpectedly from or as if from the blind side <blindside the quarterback>  2:  to surprise unpleasantly.   (n.d.). In Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved October 21, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blindside.

I heard the words of my girlfriend, mobile phone in hand, as she processed the words in the text; blind sided.   I had dropped off one child and was en route to pick up the next; my Tuesday evenings the busiest in our week.  It was all I could do to hug her before I shuttled off for another child and my heart hurt; knowing she was angry and trying to make sense of it all.  I had no words to help her heal as she considered options on how to help her tween daughter navigate through queen bees and wanna bes.  I do not envy the middle school years, distinctly remembering the hormones and cliques.

But I recently realized that it is not only our children who experience these social dynamics of adolescence.  Adults experience these things too.  Exactly a week before, as I picked up the same son at the same location, the phone call came from another girlfriend; also blind sided.  It is painful for me to observe adults navigate in the same way as the adolescent tweens.  I find myself speaking the words no one chooses to say; the others choosing to be politically correct versus morally correct.  It’s the harder path to follow; it’s easier to feign ignorance.

IMG_6434

Respect is not a word I use lightly and when a person earns it; I will humbly serve and fight for what is fair; knowing that I most likely will be burned.  But at the end of the day, I have to know that I do the right thing; for myself but most importantly, for my sons.   I can’t tell them how to do the right thing.  They have to see it with their own eyes.  Actions speak louder than words.

I value integrity above all else.

I am a work in progress and have to restrain myself to sit still, to keep quiet, and to hear what others have to say.  To not throw words at people as I verbally spar.   To not shoot off the email that sits in my drafts folder.  To not interrupt when I want to correct or push for my point of view.  In my marriage I am the extrovert and it is my introvert husband who balances my tendencies.  He is a man of few words; but he is also one of action.  It frustrates him to have to hear my issues without the ability to fix them and as I share, he counters with the following quip to our sons and I.  Nobody loves a whiner.

For every problem bring me several solutions.

I try hard to re-teach myself to think this way.  To stop with the words and to seek resolution; even if the process is ugly and arduous.

Exhausted as we were, last Sunday, after working all day at an event; we made the effort to trudge through the local tourist attraction away from the distractions at home.  It takes effort to step away from the daily demands and schedules to make time to spend with others, just because.  When our dear friends offered free tickets, we knew it would be tight.  But the hubs and I constantly say we want to spend unstructured time with our boys before they leave our nest.  Our time grows short.  Fortified with coffee on four hours of sleep, we made the trek into the city to tour back lots and explore movie magic.  The hubs, a native, had never actually been here.

IMG_6372

As the sole female in my household, none of my sons speak in paragraphs; merely short, monosyllable sentences or grunts.  Each day, upon returning home from work, I ask each one, individually, how their day went.  I use multiple tactics to make them share, to leave my questions open-ended, to turn down the volume and stand directly in front of them.

Mom, the day goes just like any other day.  We go to school.  We do homework.  We hang with the same friends.  Why do you ask so many questions? 

I have been tempted to stalk them on Facebook, Steam,  Instagram or texts (I have the ability to do all of these things and they know this) but have come to realize that they will tell me in their own good time; most often when it is least convenient for myself.  No longer am I their sole confidante that can fix all things.  It was this a-ha moment that made me realize that this is how my husband feels about me.

And so I just do.  We walked the various attractions, stood in long lines amongst foreign tourists in hopes of meeting my girlfriend and her family in the park.  We never found one another; both the hubs and I’s phones ran out of charge as the park came to a close.  When the exhaustion hit, in the sixty-five minute Transformers line, I leaned into my husband and watched my boys observe everything around them; everything new.  I was grateful for this time; away from the sibling squabbles, school and work demands or daily chores.  My house remains a mess but the time spent was worth it.

I think of the shared post from the girlfriend above, a photographer.  To focus the lens on what’s important.  To develop (from) the negatives.  And to take the next shot.  We create our own portraits of who we are; the words unseen and unheard.

I want the portfolio of my life to be filled with shots and compositions of the people who choose to be transparent, authentic and do the right thing.  Those who will walk on my blind side and point me in the right direction with love, respect and integrity.

IMG_6227

I know the tween has her work cut out for her, to learn to walk away and to feel confident in her own skin.  That her worth is not defined by the quantity of friends but by the quality and that actions speak louder than words.  That her mom does not enter the drama and can advocate and mediate respectfully for what is right.   It was in high school that I learned to finally stand up for what was fair; mediating amidst a songleading squad full of prima donnas and alpha females.  I find myself in this role, once again, amidst adults; hoping someone will follow-through, that the words are not spoken in vain and that action will be taken in the right direction.

I seek resolution (both in action and high def pixelation).

Family, Marriage

walk your talk

IMG_6299

I was not in the frame of mind to be festive.   My jaw had been clenched as I made the commute to the house where my extended family has always celebrated birthdays and holidays; since its purchase in 1981 by my late cousin.   I sat in heavy traffic, for two consecutive days, to attend events leading up to a wedding this past weekend.

I tried to push the negativity out of my mind as various commitments pulled me in opposite directions.  I mulled over bits and pieces of information; sorting and filtering through my observations to the truths that lay somewhere in-between.  What I was discovering was not what I had wanted to find.  For once I was grateful for the stopped traffic; buying time to think my thoughts in the privacy of my vehicle alone.   The F words come to mind.

I think of those who govern by Favors versus Fairness.  When Fear of being Found-out drives others to Follow.  It always comes with bitter disappointment when you discover someone is a Fraud versus a Friend.   This has been happening to me a lot lately and it is Frustrating.

When you choose to walk-your-talk and do what you say, and say what you mean; you realize how many others do not live by those same rules.

I can say what I mean but others don’t want to hear the words.  I can do the things I say I will do; but can’t make others do what they say they’ll do.  When you choose what is right; not what is easy, you find that it gets a bit lonely.   I begin to lose Faith in my fellow human beings.  It gets really lonely finding my way alone.

Whenever I question what I do and the reasons why I serve, I repeat the following.  Serve the program, not the people.  Program, not people.  I find myself repeating this phrase often as I watch politics and power positioning occur in various organizations in which I serve.  I must find my way to navigate through these waters; to remember my own moral compass and to know my boundaries.  I am a people person and naturally want everyone to communicate their thoughts and to receive others’ feedback. But this doesn’t really happen.  I keep waiting to be inspired, for someone to lead.

I sat at the empty reception table for seven; four of the members headed towards a field competition almost two hours away, two others in line at the bar, and myself.  I didn’t mind the solitude; my dear cousin and her new husband only a few feet away.  I caught her glance at the empty table in the midst of the festivities and I gave her a reassuring smile.  I am most comfortable being by myself; the only child.  I was surrounded by my extended family as I gazed up at the lanterns and various lights strewn across my cousin’s backyard; an idyllic setting for a garden wedding.  In the 34 years this home has been in our family, celebrating a wedding was a first.   It shouldn’t have caught me off-guard as my younger male cousins began their toasts to the bride; each sharing their sentiments of the significance of the location and how we all claim this as our family home.

IMG_6288

My mind brought me back to the first time my older cousin had excitedly shown my parents and I his purchase.  He was newly married and, as a young girl, I only remembered tall weeds obscuring the dilapidated barn and the creaky Victorian style home.  He claimed it had good “bones” and soon he and his wife moved in and started their young family.  There were countless birthday parties and holidays for my cousins and I, and as the bride’s brother shared his toast I saw the tears in the bride’s eyes; the same tears forming in my own.  We had all grown up here.

Every Christmas day I have had Christmas dinner here; save for the year of 1998 when the hubs and I traveled from Virginia Beach in a military cross-country move to return to our home state.  We had not arrived in time for Christmas.  It has been the only time I’ve missed.  The last time our entire family came together at this location was at this cousin’s unexpected funeral in 2010.   He loved to throw parties and his hospitality is the legacy he has passed down through the rest of us.  He was Mr. Hospitality.

It was laughable that my cousin’s widow and I were the hostesses for the bride’s garden wedding.   What does one do as a wedding hostess?  I haven’t felt hospitable in a long time so I don’t exactly make a good poster child for Mrs. Hospitality.

We found ourselves moving tables, hiding linens, arranging floral arrangements, giving directions on cell phones and answering questions the wedding event planner had about the location.  We grinned at guests in 103 degree heat, with no air conditioning.  The luxurious port-a-potties had air conditioning that the Victorian home did not.  When the cousin, closest in age to me, shared his Facebook post of a selfie in the port-a-pottie to enjoy fifteen minutes of air conditioning I had to laugh.   The bride paid attention to details and as the toasts were said, I contemplated the touches most people would take for granted such as the two luxurious air conditioned portable bathrooms.  The bride’s creativity is always Pinterest board worthy and those touches were found everywhere.

Sitting alone under the twinkling lights, surrounded by family and wedding guests, reminded me that I don’t need to perform acts of service to find worth or prove that I belong here.  The love between the bride and groom was obvious.  I was happy the groom was officially a part of our family.  Finally.  There are no sides.  We all belong here.  On Facebook various family and guests took picture upon picture.  I am in none of them and that is okay.  I don’t need to be seen and I’m working on the part about not having to be heard.  I need to just do, for the sake of doing; not for acknowledgment, favors or friends.  I only need to serve the one not of this world.

IMG_6205

I serve for the F’s that matter to me.  Fairness.  Freedom.  Family.  Friends. 

I push foward through the dramas, botched communications and misunderstood intentions.   It is hard to stand up and buck the tide, to call-out what is wrong and what is right.  To live by example and forge my own way.  Waiting for someone else to motivate, inspire or lead is a cop-out and an excuse.  My vision is focusing and my thoughts are centering; words forming.  I know where I am from and what I stand for.  With my hair flying behind me I stride forward,  leaving others in my wake.  I hope they all figure it out and sort through the mess and drama.   I’m walking my walk and not looking back.

Family

check-in-the box (Part II)

IMG_5646

The hubs sits across from me in the office.  He feels bad that we drag our three sons to work with us during the week.  What kind of a summer vacation is that?

I remind him of the observations I have made over the years.  Our sons could easily be in our home plugged into PCs, phones and iPods over the entire summer break.  I could be shuttling them to planned activities, camps, theaters or theme parks to entertain them.  But would I be spending quality time with them?

Down time from the constant to and fro of the school year is welcome.  There are no summer bridge books this year.  Two of my sons choose to read, on their own, because they want to.  The growing teens sleep for ten hours; sprawled across couches and chairs in our conference room and offices.  When needed all of the boys assist with sorting parts in the shop.   In another week our lazy, summer days will be over as the shuttling begins in earnest and the back-to-school month of August begins.

Each month, this summer break, we have had an unplugged activity.  I hadn’t realized I was doing this until the boys brought it to my attention on our trek home from the in-laws’ mining site up north.  Over spring break we had traveled across four state lines and within our own state’s boundaries; we accrued more mileage than the four states combined in one week.   What seemed like a simple excursion to break up our drive unknowingly became an adventure all of its own.

The hubs and I are native Californians but we never truly appreciated our golden state until he was stationed in various places throughout the country and traveled overseas. Ironically, last weekend, we returned to the central coast; the area I am from.  But growing up in this region is a vastly different experience when you are an adult.  As a teenager I drove my girlfriends to local beaches but never ventured further afield; aside from field trips to museums or Hearst Castle.  Four years ago I had attempted to take this route north but the highway had been closed to rockslides.

IMG_5547

After camping with the in-laws at their gold mining claim we had left late; moving boulders from dirt roads so that when my in-laws left their site in a week’s time their trailer will avoid the bumps in their path.  Their trailer tire had been flattened and we hope the patched rubber will allow them to ascend to the main road to a tire repair shop thirty miles away.   When we finally obtained cell reception the GPS chirped that we would not arrive at our half-way point  until nighttime; defeating the main purpose.  I longed to see the steep cliffs along the Pacific Ocean in daylight.  I sighed.  At least I would finally have facilities and running water; namely a shower.  After four days and copious layers of Repel mosquito repellent; I pined for soap suds and shampoo.  I called our lodging destination to let them know we would be a late arrival at 10 PM.  We enjoyed our dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, surprisingly another first, and after a brief gas stop, we were making good time; merrily on our way.

In the dark, as we traversed rolling hills, the hubs commented that my SUV was acting funny.  And within five minutes our engine cut-off and we found ourselves coasting to the side of the road near the intersection of two highways; in the middle of nowhere.  This section between the two major north-south thoroughfares of our vast state is sparsely populated; at the San Andreas fault line.  There are no lights and as trucks blazed by I saw the worried lines on my middle son’s forehead.  The youngest blissfully unaware, chattered about various topics.  The eldest and hubs went under the hood; in hopes of a quick fix.  It was 10:30 PM.

IMG_5481

An hour and a half later the hubs diagnosed fuel pump failure and the Triple AAA tow truck was on its way.  The last time we called for towing it had been for my cousin; stuck at the entrance of Kings Canyon National Park two years ago as we waited alongside.  It had taken over five hours, of northern and southern regions arguing which was responsible; for her vehicle to finally get towed.  Thankfully, by ten miles we had crossed into the southern region.  In the pitch black of the night the affable driver fit our family of five.  The planets had aligned.  Unable to reach our original lodging destination to let them know we would not be arriving, a hotel cancellation near the repair shop allowed us a room at a 45% discounted rate; dog included.  In the midst of full occupancy  rooms and the Mid-state Fair in full swing; we had been extremely fortunate.   It was 1:30 AM.  The hubs grinned.  Our trip was full of spontaneity.

By 2 PM the next day we were road trippin’ out.  We passed the various wineries of the region; knowing one day I would return here again to explore them.  But for now we headed north on the route closed four years earlier; the route I’ve only been on once before at age sixteen on another family vacation with my late cousin.  My own childhood home lies on this road, further south.

IMG_5491

And as the miles were logged and the windows rolled down, I could finally, once again, breathe.   One of my favorite songs came to mind; one that always makes me think of home.  I stuck my arm out the window in-flight and saw the son directly behind me do the same.

Get your motor running
California Interstate 1
Pacific Coast Party
If you’ve got to work today
Get yourself a new vocation
Pacific Coast Party
You don’t have to mind Father Time, Mother Nature
Get yourself in line take your time
And watch it slip away ~ Smash Mouth (2001) Interscope Records

Time moved in slow motion.  Upon missing the parking lot for Piedras Blancas we made the next left and found ourselves away from the crowds.  We hiked to the elephant seals to enjoy them in solitude.

IMG_5503

We made many stops along the way; unhurried.  When the hubs asked where I wanted to pull over for a picnic, he had already moved off the road to a grassy, flat area.  I rejected this idea and as he huffed about my lack of spontaneity, pulling back on PCH, I spotted the rock jutting out from the shoreline.

Over there is perfect!

IMG_5543

He asked me again if I was sure, dubious on how we would hike there.  But, always the trailblazer, he found a worn, overgrown trail that went over a mud bog and a fence.  And finally, we were climbing the rock; overlooking the depths below as waves crashed at the base.  The sounds of the Pacific Ocean filled our senses; various shades of blue seen for miles in panoramic.

IMG_5585

We noted several cars temporarily parked next to our own; the occupants hoping to find their way towards us.  But the mud bog and fence were a deterrent and we were able to monopolize this particular vista; all to ourselves.  When we decided to finally leave, two hours had passed us by.

IMG_5545

Our gas station stops were scenic and interesting.  At Ragged Point I went in search of expresso and became distracted with the amazing view.  Hours later in Carmel I finally obtained the expresso and as we crossed through Monterey and the scenic coastal valley where a large portion of our agricultural crops are grown, we headed south.

Didn’t we start here?  the middle son asked.

We crossed over the mountains and fault line we had been stuck at the night before.  Yes.  We had just been here twenty four hours before; traveling 143 miles on PCH and 116 miles on the 101.  We still had the long trek home (this was our halfway point from our camping destination up north).   The windows remained down, the radio turned off.  We had a day’s worth of uninterrupted family time; stuck within the confines of my SUV.  Our spontaneous detour was quite memorable.

I will always associate road trips with quality time; learning about the other four inhabitants of my family, our furry canine and even myself.  I was thankful my fuel pump had gone out; extending our family vacation an extra day.

There is a new road, or mishap, that awaits us around every bend.  It’s always our choice to decide how to handle it; as a detour or as an adventure.

I continue to learn spontaneity and I put the check-in-the box for Big Sur.  I choose adventure.  Someday I hope my sons will too.

IMG_5608

Family

check-in-the box (Part I)

IMG_5282

I had a hard time wrapping my head around it.  Camping without running water or facilities?  In a remote location in the mountains without other people for miles?  I am no Cheryl Strayed; who chose to walk the Pacific Crest Trail solo for long stretches of time.

Mandatory camping.

I dragged my feet hoping it would go away.  Normally I enjoy travel and sightseeing; especially long road trips.  As Memorial Day nears, each year,  I itch to see the center lines blur on worn highways; headed to places near and far.  I am thankful my family of five endure my excursions, my need to explore.  Most people assume our trips are my husband’s idea.  But it is usually I that chooses the location and works out the logistics.  July 2016 is already booked.

This time it was out-of-my hands.

My father-in-law (FIL) has always had the prospector mentality within, since his early twenties.  When my husband and his sister were young, their family of four went on month long vacations into the wilderness with a trailer purchased in 1974 to pan for gold.  The years flew by as work and life took precedence.  But it has always been my FIL’s desire to live “off grid” and mine for gold.  In retirement he chose to demolish and upgrade their trailer from years past.  Late last fall he arrived at our family business with a deed in-hand.  He was the official owner of a mining claim.

We knew it was coming, the hubs and his sister, as winter turned to spring.  It was my FIL’s desire to camp in the wilderness for a family vacation.  It is back-breaking work and manual labor; to mine for gold. Our nephew took his turn in aiding his grandparents in late spring.   This time it was ours.  We met at our rendezvous point ten hours away from our homes.  And then we followed the trailer as it slowly ascended into the mountains.  The rear tire of the trailer was punctured as the FIL navigated his way down towards the creek.  The guys pushed boulders out of the dirt road’s path and used chainsaws to clear tree branches.  How are they going to get out of here?

IMG_5327

Upon arrival the hubs carried away the portable toilet.  My in-laws graciously allowed me access to their trailer bathroom but the boys enjoyed being in the great outdoors; particularly the hubs.  It was a beautiful setting and very remote.   What better place to commune with our natural environment?  I shuddered as I snapped the shot.  The Repel spray with 40% DEET was a prized commodity and the parfum of choice to ward away the mosquitoes.

The idea was to get away.  To unplug.  To do.  N.O.T.H.I.N.G.

IMG_5402

It all sounds good, the idea of disappearing into the wilderness and letting nature have its way.   Our sons tried not to look bored and I quickly realized that most of our camping excursions are in national or state parks with many scenic hiking trails and famous landmarks.  Our site consisted of a small creek with lots of trees.  It took five minutes, each way, for our sons to explore the creek banks.   They truly had nothing to do.  The teenagers disappeared into tents, instead; to sleep in the middle of the day.   The FIL and hubs worked  on repairing the punctured tire.  They chopped wood for our fire with chainsaws and axes.  They carried equipment down to the creek bed: winches, chains, shovels, buckets, the Keene dredge, sluice box, motor and various filters.   When Grandma suggested the boys explore the culvert (large drainage pipe) I sent them off with my camera.  They quickly returned and told me to come with them.  With hand-held CBs, off we went to explore the larger pool beyond.

P1010357

It was as I stood on a rock in the pond beyond the culvert, with a shivering dog, that my mind finally accepted where I was.  The teens explored along the banks and I gazed at the trees overhead.  I could continue to be an observer of my surroundings or I could consciously choose to be a participant in the untamed natural beauty around me.  I watched the clear water turn cloudy with ochre dust; the sounds of mining from upstream mixing gravel and silt.  I needed to embrace it.

P1010419

My mind cleared as the water clouded; just as it did when I recently participated in a mud run.  I laughed out loud and the boys looked at me questioningly.  Has Mom finally lost her mind?  My bodily-kinesthetic/ADD tendencies make it hard for me to do nothing.  Shivering in the cold water I knew what I was going to do.

P1010438

I, too, would learn to mine for gold and burn calories during the process.

P1010458

Eventually all the boys joined their Dad and Grandfather over the next few days.  They shoveled, they dumped and sorted rocks.  They carried buckets and placed shovels full of gravel and sand into the dredge.  It was a lot of physical work and, surprisingly, we weren’t bothered by it.  At the end of our four days I was sad to leave my in-laws; who remain for another week.  We departed from their gold mining site on their 49th wedding anniversary.  The punctured tire was fixed and on the trailer with enough patches to get them back to a town, thirty miles away.

The manual labor in the cold water actually brought warmth to my core.  But most importantly, it brought warmth to a more vital place: the heart.  It was a gift, for the only child with deceased parents, to see the ties that bind continue to strengthen amongst three generations of males.  Would any of my boys or hubs choose to do this on their own?  No. Probably not.

It was a labor of love; the most important lesson of life.  More priceless than the elusive gold.

IMG_5335

I place a check-in-the-box.

Family

nine lives

wpid-img_20150615_152148.jpg

I sometimes feel like I’ve lived various lives; ones that are incongruous with the life I currently live.

Maybe this is why cats are my preferred pets.  They are fairly independent and quieter companions.  I like their curiosity and ability to have nine lives.  They always land on their feet.

wpid-img_20150511_175445.jpg

I had the thought above as I leapt from a wall into a mud pool.  Sometimes it’s easier for me to not see the bottom; to not know what lies ahead.  As I’ve grown older my curiosity and willingness to take risks has greatly reduced.  Some people call it wisdom.  Part of me thinks it came with motherhood and the ability to put someone else before myself.  And a lot of it is just fear of the unknown.  I have a mental block.

When my girlfriend first pitched the idea to do a mud run I laughed out loud.  She can’t be serious, I thought to myself.  Do I look like I could do a mud run?  But my mind quickly squashed that thought.  Why not?  I work on de-cluttering my life of excuses and things that hold me back.  I can’t do this,  I can’t do that…   When the third girlfriend begrudgingly acquiesced to this challenge we plowed ahead and registered.  And then we promptly chose to forget about it; to think about it on another day.

My father-in-law has a saying that he often shares with our boys and I.

CAN’T never did anything.  You CAN.

I had stood in the throng of participants waiting for the horn to signal the beginning of our run.  Online I gave a percursory glance at our course map and tried not to think of what lay ahead.  I blocked out the fear I have; one that I hoped I wouldn’t have to encounter on the obstacle course.

I have a fear of heights.

wpid-img_20150615_152100.jpg

I told myself I had the option to bypass any of the stations that were out of my comfort zone and stood in line at the climbing station that resembled the ropes and netting found on kids’ playgrounds.  With my girlfriends I climbed behind them; not looking down.  When the mud pit wall presented itself they questioningly looked to see if I would opt to skip it.  I knew I had found my second wind when I heard myself yell back to them.  Let’s do it!  And without a second thought I used the marine’s offer to push me up and looked to the murky pool on the other side; straddling the high wall.  Off I leapt.  As I swam through mud I knew;  I would be okay.  My competitive spirit took over and off we went to our next obstacle. Who knew mud would be the reagent to cleanse my mind?

Because in the murky, mucky waters of life you can choose to struggle in it, avoid/opt out of it,  or swim on top of it.  I choose to swim.

As a nine year old I had not been a strong swimmer.  But over the course of my life I have observed and watched others in community pools; knowing I would have to learn.  I was afraid of the deep end but worked hard to conquer my fears as I struggled to stay afloat and dog-paddled.  I watched my friends leap from rocks and diving boards; my fear of heights and depths taking hold of me.  When my firstborn was two months old I joined a YMCA Mommy and Me class.  I told myself it was to teach my son to not be afraid of the water.  But really, it was for me to conquer my own fears.  And years later this same son would save his father’s life at the bottom of my husband’s childhood pool; pushing him up to the surface.

IMG_7421

When my boys took swim classes, and eventually joined a competitive swim team, I actively listened to the instructor’s words.  It was my sons, and husband, who taught me the proper way to swim.  The two strokes hardest for me to learn were the butterfly and, particularly, the breast stroke.   I am still challenged by the butterfly but I have conquered the breast stroke and it is my favorite.  I bobbed alongside the marine in the mud; breast-stroking and chatting about his choice of a spa exfoliation treatment as he back-crawled to my pace.  The race wasn’t really about testing my fitness mettle.  I chose to physically go outside of my boundaries, my multiple intelligences modality being bodily-kinesthetic, to work through my mental ones.

I’ve been mentally stuck for the past few years; not being able to see the forest for the trees.  But my perspective continues to focus on the things that are important and in this season of my life; they move within my space with me.  I always looked elsewhere, never appreciating what lay within my four walls.  I took them for granted.

I stared out at the airfield, as the shuttle returned us to our vehicles, after the race.  The deja vu feeling washed over me; one I had just experienced two weekends before at my parents’ graves in the small coastal town I grew up in.  For sixteen years airfields and military installations had been our home.  The tears welled in my eyes; the deployments and lonely days with young boys remembered and  I smiled at the memory of the homecomings.  I hadn’t known I needed closure of that time in my life and it arrived on an old school bus as we rattled into our parking area.  Caught off-guard I mentally filed this part of my nine lives, letting it go.

Much later when I arrived home the cat had been at the door to greet me as our canine’s squeals announced my arrival.  The other four occupants of my home were in other places and so I quickly changed and headed outside; sitting alone in a warming jacuzzi.  One-by-one they left what they were doing, without any prompting, and sat with me.  Heat and spa jets on I sat quietly, absorbing it all, hoping my mind captured it to memory.  These past few years I’ve been fighting the currents of where I wanted my life to take me.  No longer do I tread water or feel pulled under.  I live this life, my mind clearing, with the four lives that matter.

wpid-img_20150501_204102.jpg

Family

playlists

I’m building playlists.

Natasha Bedingfield’s Unwritten, Suzanne Vega’s Left of Center, and my beloved Bolero by Maurice Ravel are just a few of the permanent songs on my playlist.  The menu of songs grows larger and more varied; but these are my mainstays.

IMG_4555

Part of where I’m going, is knowing where I’m coming from

I don’t want to be
Anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately
All I have to do
Is think of me and I have peace of mind
I’m tired of looking ’round rooms
Wondering what I’ve got to do
Or who I’m supposed to be
I don’t want to be anything other than me ~ Gavin DeGraw

My mother-in-law (MIL) recently told me her father’s cancer (my children’s maternal great grandfather) had aggressively returned.  He shared the results of his MRI with his daughter (my MIL) and told her he would not be with us, at this time, next year.  His doctor had said these words three years ago, and we had braced ourselves as he underwent surgery.  At the dinner table, two nights ago, I shared this with my husband and our kids.

My MIL sat across the desk from me with tears in her eyes.  We talked of burial plots and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders.  It is rare to get her to speak of these things and over the course of the twenty-two years I have known her; I have on many occasions tried to have this conversation.  Advance directives.  Hospice.  Death and Dying.

In the years when I was a gerontologist I spoke to older patients about these issues.  None of them took me seriously; the fresh out-of-college student walking the halls of our large county hospital.  The physician who mentored me had warned that I would not get very far with this topic during my internship.  She had been right.  My youth did not give me any perspective.  Most people choose not to acknowledge mortality.  My mother-in-law is one of these people.

I shared with her my girlfriend’s recent experience when her father-in-law passed away.  We had both read Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters In the End and her husband’s father’s health rapidly declined.  He chose to say his goodbyes to his family on his terms; lucid, dignified and with positive memories for the loved ones left behind to remember him by.  He directed his own terms of death.

We can try to alter death’s trajectory.  We exercise and make healthy choices but when that day comes these things don’t matter.  There are college savings plans, 401Ks and investment retirement accounts to plan for the future.  But who invests in death?  I look across the desk at her and she looks away.  She asks where her son and I will be buried.  I proceed to tell her the location in the hills that bear my name.

IMG_4483

This Memorial Day weekend we had camping reservations at El Capitan State Beach but due to an oil spill off the coast, all reservations were cancelled.  The weather was cool and overcast for this time of year.  There will be no pool parties to kick off the “unofficial” beginning of summer.   Instead I find myself dreaming of flowers outside my childhood bedroom window in the small town I grew up in.  I have no remaining family there; my closest childhood friends dispersed throughout our state.  It has been almost two years since I have made the two hundred mile trek.

I head home; to know where I come from.

IMG_4484

Because just like in DeGraw’s lyrics I get tired of looking around rooms trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do.  Who I am now is exactly who I’m supposed to be.  Me.  It used to be hard to define “me” and after the death of my mom it no longer entailed the word daughter.  I was redefined as a mother, a solitary military spouse raising two young boys.  Ironically this song had come out the same year of her death, 2003.

Memorial Day always reminds me of the sacrifice of serving and many years I chose to commemorate this day floating with a drink, in hand, in a swimming pool.  It’s easy to deny and forget the true meaning of this day; away from cemeteries and military installations.

IMG_4546

It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable in my own skin.  To not be something I’m not.  I have weathered many transitions but it was only after I sat alone with my husband, processing the words from his mother, that I realized I had survived the wrenches life has thrown my way.   In 2003, although married, I was still very much alone. It wasn’t until 2009, when my husband exited the military to assume his family’s business, that we became a family once again.

Being an only child had prepared me for walking alone on my life’s journey. 

We drove by our campsite; denied entry as workers in white hard hats convened and tug boats ferried booms to collect the oil.  Traffic was at a standstill as cars gawked at the machinery.  We continued north into the rolling hills of the central coast; counting the bells I began to notice dotting the freeway every few miles.  The hubs began to keep track of each bell with the odometer and it was only when we read the sign that we realized we were on the historic El Camino Real; the same paths the missionaries of our golden state traversed hundreds of years before.  Fresh off of chaperoning a fourth grade trip at a mission, our state’s history remained in my mind and I was dumbfounded.  Every mile a bell appeared and soon our entire vehicle began to look for them amidst the shrubbery alongside the freeway.

IMG_4463IMG_4491

Our trek north had been a spontaneous decision after camping was cancelled.  Our days have been frenzied with meetings, open houses, concerts and end-of-school activities; as the month of May ends and the open three day weekend allowed us breathing room.  But the dream of my childhood home lingered and when I pitched my idea, to the hubs, for a day trip he was surprised.  The master of spontaneity he, without fanfare, rallied our sons the night before to prepare for our day trip.  Hours of electronic bliss were slipping through their fingers and with a collective groan they asked, WHY?!  To their credit, when the hubs shared we were visiting my parents’ graves, they immediately grew pensive.

I’ve realized why I like road trips.  It is extended mandatory family time in the small confines of our SUV.   I’ve finally stopped wondering how long until we reach our destination and prolong the drive to get there.  Our entire weekend could’ve been spent at home staring at our computer screens, ear buds in.  Instead came the random threads of conversations that would never find time in the normal every day, with all five people actively listening and participating.

I now enjoy the journey.

IMG_4540

We read dates on very old headstones and talked about World Wars.  My sons placed flowers in cement vases and we prayed for departed souls to rest in peace.  We talked of death and dying and the circles of life.   Are we hurting them by sitting on top of them? asked our youngest son; careful to walk upon the grass.  Ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust.  The wind whipped the cemetery adorned with flags.  Amongst the rolling hills and strong sea breezes I am grounded by the place where I am from.   Home.  I remember.

IMG_4609IMG_4604IMG_4606

We find the beach strewn with dead man ‘o war jellyfish; the oil slick visible upon the waves washing ashore.  The environmental impact of the oil leak is taking its toll.  I am reminded that all is not pure in this world and that we must roll with the tide; to try to ride it as best as we can.  Death eventually takes us all.  The DeGraw songs runs on repeat in my mind as I dig my heels into the sand.

On Memorial Day we watched American Sniper; a fitting reminder of the sacrifices our service members choose to protect our freedoms.  They face mortality daily; death and dying part of the job description.  Countries fight for “peace;” the various sects and political ideals wanting their ways.  But peace must come from within.  One person can affect change; small outcomes do make a difference.  If I can model this for my sons, and they model it within their peers…it can grow exponentially; paying it forward.  I invest my time in these relationships.

IMG_4613

I add songs to the music playing  in my mind and heart; repeating them over and over.  They help me find my rhythm and inner peace as I walk to the varying cadences and tempos in this life.   The playlists build as I continue to hear them.  I continue my walk.

Family

tea parties

wpid-img_20150316_145555.jpg

The signs of new growth and spring reveal themselves all around me.  The verdant green hills with dew as I walk in the morning, the warming of the air in the afternoon and the chirps of bird chatter heard through my window at dusk.  I find myself emerging from my self-imposed exile into one of the busiest party months of our calendar year.  Each weekend is full and, although no one within our household has a birthday this month, our extended circle of family and friends most certainly do.  The boys couldn’t believe their grand aunt Linda was a youthful ninety-two.

wpid-img_20150315_154412.jpg

Five of our dear (not acquaintances) friends share a birthday on the 21st alone!  Spring definitely brings in new life LOL!!!

wpid-img_20150317_094307.jpgI often ponder the things that propel me forward; items that motivate me such as music.   I play the instrumental version of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky;” the Nile Rodgers’ guitar riffs establishing my daily groove.  But recently I discovered an inner source of inspiration from something unexpected; the text from my girlfriend’s daughter’s birthday table setting reminded me.

wpid-img_20150315_154000.jpgParties.  Or parTEAS.

Just yesterday I walked through the department store where we had registered for the above items almost two decades before.  While the hubs had lingered by the knives and practical pots and pans, I gazed longingly at the china set above; particularly the tea cups.  Listed upon the paperwork was the check box for china and I hadn’t imagined any of our guests purchasing these items for us.  The soon-to-be hubs had impatiently called to me; waiting to use the scanner on his beloved pots.  I hastily scanned the impractical items; knowing this was a luxury we couldn’t well afford.  It was because of the tea cup.

And over the years, in the various far away places the hubs traveled; he brought home tea sets.  From Japan, India, Korea.  I was happy to lend my set for a teen tea party of Cinderellas.  The sets within my hutch are used primarily for holidays and special occasions.  My mother-in-law watched as we loaded these items in my girlfriend’s car.  Are you giving away your china? she asked, aghast.

Last year I had found myself explaining why we owned these dishes and sets to my sons.  A girlfriend had begun to declutter her life and inquired if I’d give her tea cups and saucers a home.  They were beautiful, unique sets of ornate Victorian flowers and gilded rims and so I offered my hutch for safe-keeping; in the event that she would change her mind about giving them away.   To my hubs’ chagrin, I used them for the first month almost every day; my sons secretly enjoying the fancy cups and sticking their pinkies out.  What’s the big deal with the tea cups, Mom?

No immediate answer had come to mind.  Over the months I slowly put the tea cups away and dusted my china hutch; much like I did with my own mother’s cabinet as a child.  My weekly chore was to keep the glass doors to my mother’s china cabinet clean.  She’d happily gaze at her china; the stuff she rarely ever used.  Upon her death there were very few things I took from my childhood home as I went about the motions of putting it up for sale.  It was only the china set inside her cabinet, that was her most prized possession.  As a young girl I had longed to use her tea cups.  I’d never gotten to use them.

It is one of my boys’ favorite table settings; their Lola’s gold- rimmed china.  My extended family remember it well and, at Christmastime when I host, the memories come flooding back of my mother’s obsession with the china she never used.  Unlike my mother I choose to use the items in my china cabinet whenever I can.  For bookclub.  For dinners with friends.  For birthday parties.  They are well-used.  As our extended family grows larger I no longer have enough dishes to accommodate everyone.  The hubby proclaimed a moratorium on any new item of china entering our home.  We live in earthquake country.  They will be the first to go.

wpid-img_20150315_154105.jpg

For Lent I chose to give up eating out.

After Sunday services our weekly ritual is to have Sunday brunch.  I abstained while my sons grabbed doughnuts and returned home with an idea in mind. Let’s have a tea party! I exclaimed to the hubs.  I am grateful my husband is tolerant of my random ideas to “play house” with me.  I cheerfully set my green table with our every day stoneware; chosen at the same time as our china set, and asked the boys if they would like to be invited.  Accustomed to my bursts of craziness the boys only acquiesced upon smelling the aromas of the chocolate chip scones the hubs made for our tea party.  Soon our family of five, dressed in our church clothes, sat down for our Irish breakfast tea with scones.  They opted for coffee.

My choice to not eat out is more than the simple words imply.  My lack of discipline and self-motivation is its weakest when having to deal with food.  After reading Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan the hubs and I began to delve deeper into where our food originates from.  We struggled with the ideals of organic and sustainable farm practices versus affordable and diverse food choices.  Each evening after work I am uninspired by the contents, within my fridge, to create chef worthy dinners for our family of five.  It is cheaper and faster to conveniently purchase fast food or pre-made dinners.  Two weekends ago when we chose to celebrate our youngest’s accomplishment of completing his 26.2 mile progressive marathon at Dodger’s Stadium; we asked him where he would like to celebrate.  He had first declined going out to eat; knowing my Lenten resolution to not eat out.  But for his special day I cheated and he surprised all of us with the place he most absolutely, was dying to try.

Taco Bell.

We thought he was joking.  He had heard the hubs and I regale tales to our high schooler about driving off-campus for lunch.  At aged sixteen my girlfriends would jump into my Toyota Tercel and we would drive, off-campus,  for 69 cent tacos at this establishment.  The hubs has similar memories but as adults, we have never taken our family of five here.  Eventually we were able to talk our son out of this choice; to head to a sit-down establishment.  But of all places to choose in a metropolitan city with diverse restaurant options; this was his first choice.  Our boys have not been brought up with the food groups of: McDonalds, Jack-in-the-Box, Burger King or Taco Bell.  Occasionally the youngest and I grab a chocolate frosty from Carl’s Jr. as we head back to work after pick-up on his early minimum day.

wpid-img_20150317_094156.jpg

By choosing to not eat out I am forced to create slow, home-cooked meals.  I tend to be an organizer, the coordinator of our schedules, events and tasks but I choose a laissez faire attitude with regards to meals.  It takes organization to create dinners on a tight schedule as I drive sons to and fro to various activities most weeknights.  I know that in order to get optimal health results the real choice to be made is in monitoring what you eat.  Portion control.  Planned meals.  The things where I lack self-discipline and hunger gets the best of me. Every.  Single.  Time.

It is difficult to not sample everything when I am in attendance at various celebrations.  Both sides of our families host large gatherings with a plethora of food.  When times got lean the hubs clamped down on my tendencies to host get-togethers and parties.  Like my family hosts before me: my mother, my cousin, my in-laws, I enjoyed bringing out my best things to share.  But hosting created a lot of work and stress.  The cleaning, the decorating, the purchasing, the hostessing and then the cleaning and putting away.  Was it worth it?    Although we valued the time with others it became work when it became expected that we were to host.  For holidays.  For parties.  For everything.

wpid-img_20150315_154317.jpg

But the inner party planner is being awakened once again.  The hubs knows that my tea sets are coming out; enjoying time with others and letting go of the notion of expecting the same in return.  The hubs now sees the value in the giving; his own mother creating elaborate dinners unselfishly, for the love and joy of sharing it.  It was in sharing my tea cups that brought me the realization that the people gathered before us did not care about the dust bunnies in the corner, the cracked tile or the elaborate china.

It is in connecting with others that we find meaning; whether it be good or bad.  It is how we grow and renew.

I steep the Irish breakfast tea and contemplate this idea in my mind.  It is our family tradition, this celebrating of events within our short life spans.  I want my children to remember the tea cups, the parties, the friends and family who grace the stoop of our imperfect home and our messy lives.  Those who remain through the years are the keepers; for better and for worse.

I’ll drink to that.  Happy Birthday to all my beloved friends and family members. You know who you are.

Family

messy T & A

wpid-img_20150203_205746.jpg

I told the hubs that my goal, this month, is to work on my T & A.  He grinned broadly and guffawed.   Female anatomy parts came to his male mind and amidst his lewd laughter I gave him a shove.

Transparency & Authenticity.

But for the month of January T & A really should be Taxes & Accounting. My waking moments were consumed in Excel & QuickBooks; deciphering numbers and tables.  I rifled through files,  ledgers, registers and countless IRS.gov websites.   I did this amidst a computer upgrade.  The things that were available at the click of a mouse were now moved to various locations on who knows where and in what hard drive.  I was astounded when the end of January arrived.  Where had all my time gone?

wpid-img_20150203_210106.jpg

Months prior I had reserved a cabin in our local mountains.   For a few years my sons have requested to return here; the place where they discovered snow.    My mind envisioned the icicles on the eaves and the mounds of over five feet of snow, shoveled to the side.  Our older sons recalled the wayward sled that narrowly missed the tree with our, then three year old; in it.  We cringed at the memory when the middle son’s head banged into the back of his older brother’s; the trail of crimson drops from the bloody nose in stark contrast to the bright, fresh snow.    We all were excited to return.   I had two requirements.  Snow and no electronics.

IMG_3181ski week 102

There was no snow.

Our comrades in the northeast were socked in it; the midwest blizzards closed airports at O’Hare and Midway.  But the western coast continues to experience drought and unseasonably high temps in the midst of winter.   Though the temps were in the thirties it is not cold enough for the flurries to accumulate on the ground.  The snowboards sat in our SUV with our sled.  We could pay premium prices for lift tickets at the crowded ski resort; our car queued with others who wished to be spectators at the junior olympics qualifying event being held there.  I even convinced the non-compliant hubs to take us to a tubing play area for the boys to sled in man-made snow; where I stood in line to give my boys the experience we all saw in our minds.  It was at the ticket window that I balked.  I walked away as I glanced at the long lines of people behind me.  This was not what I had had in mind.

I used to be the person that envisioned the pictures I would upload to Facebook of all the great things I’d done; my picture perfect ideal in my mind for all to see.   I heard my sons grumbling behind me.  Why are we still in this line?  And I heard my eldest’s response; the trigger that brought me back.  Mom wants to take this picture.

Did I mention it was a full moon?   The hubs had hinted that the weather would not be cooperative.   He was happy to remain in the cabin all weekend; doing nothing.  His only requirement was for some rest and relaxation.

I realized the reason why I do not, usually, purchase passes or enjoy returning to the same places over and over again; year-after-year.  The first time I visit a place is usually the best.  I have no idea what to expect and my mind is open to the new experiences; even if they are bad.  It is when I return with high expectations that I am disappointed and disillusioned.  I had wanted to experience the snow with my sons at these ages they now reside.  To watch them wobble on snowboards or skis and gleefully maneuver sleds.   Opportunities I never had.  The pictures are my proof that I could provide these missed opportunities to my offspring.  And that I would remember them.  That these things would mark me as a good parent.

Instead I was a grumpy one.

IMG_3285

To appease me the boys acquiesced to an hour hike.  What I hadn’t realized was the steep 500 foot elevation gain for the first half-mile.   After scrambling up rocks all gripes were forgotten.  The views at 7,000 feet were spectacular.   Earlier in the day we had found an uncrowded spot; enjoying the fresh snow on a small embankment.    I did get my picture unknowingly; the snowboards not brought in vain.

wpid-img_20150203_165128.jpg

The sled came out and snowballs whizzed by.   When we got too cold we made the short drive back to the comforts of our rustic cabin.

IMG_3281ski week 160

As I loaded snowboards into my girlfriend’s car, this morning, I thanked her and told her of the lack of snow.  She stopped me mid-sentence; sharing the words my eldest son had told her the day before.   She had asked him about his weekend and was sorry they had not been able to snowboard.  She had been surprised by his reply.

Because he still had a good time, he casually told her.  They experienced snow.  But he actually enjoyed being unplugged, without electronics, and spending time with his family; playing board games.

Board games?  I stared at my girlfriend in disbelief.  This from the teen who is always plugged in; headphones on and fingers flying over the keys of his PC or cell phone?  The phone had remained in his backpack with the book he had packed to read.

IMG_3187ski week 128

The youngest had wiped us all out in our Monopoly round; the real estate tycoon with multiple homes and hotels.  The middle one beat us at Scrabble; which threatened to be R-rated with a lack of words to create on the board.  And the eldest had accrued $500 Monopoly bills; always trying to talk himself out of jail or paying rent.  It had been a boisterous round; kids yelling with the hubs’ comical commentary.  I had been the quiet banker; lamenting the lack of snow while exchanging money or properties.  Both times the boys also beat us at the game of Sequence.  We were as loud as when we watched the Super Bowl late Sunday evening; Seahawks on the one yard line with two downs to go and an interception thrown.

wpid-img_20150203_205912.jpg

My sons had understood what was important.  They didn’t care if we had the idyllic picture-perfect ski resort experience.   Instead they valued the rare uninterrupted family time over a piece of cardboard.  Together we ate three square meals and read by the fire.  These aren’t the most exciting things to do when you getaway to the snow.  But our time in the mountains was distraction free.  I had been fully present; allowing myself to feel the disappointment.  But by truly being authentic my sons were able to point my compass in the right direction; to remind me WHY I was there in the first place.

To spend time with them.

IMG_3305ski week 230

I continue to kindle the fire, adding logs.  The warmth of it fills my spirit as I find my balance.  I feed my center to remind me what is important.