Speaking Up and Speaking Out

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Image courtesy of: WritersCafe.org

Thanksgiving. A favorite holiday and this year a welcome respite from the cruel vagaries of the world. I had many conversations yesterday, of course. Two stand out because they are the inspiration for this latest post. In an exchange with my oldest son, he asked me if I had been writing lately. When I told him that I have been too overwhelmed by current events, he encouraged me to express myself. Later, after dinner, I was talking with one of our guests and sharing my fears. Wisely, she reminded me that those worries would be released into the universe. Instead, I would need to remain hopeful.  I hope this latest musing is a positive beginning!

When I woke up this morning, I made my usual cup of coffee and then took it back to bed with me. Instead of reading the news like I have done every morning for years, I read a few chapters of a Louise Penney mystery (http://www.louisepenny.com/). Lately, I have straddled the line between the need to stay informed and the increasing anxiety, the nerve racking fear and the crushing depression of national shifts that I cannot stomach. I have been wanting to write posts for weeks now, but I have been afraid that I may slip into overwrought opinions about the presidential campaign, the resulting election, and now its early aftermath. These days, taking any public stand is risky business and an invitation for uncivil discourse and cruel judgement. But this is something I cannot avoid; I feel as if I might burst from lack of self-expression! Admittedly, I want my opinions to be thoughtful. Perhaps this is why I have kept quiet in my posts lately. I feared being less than meditative. Plus, I refuse to be categorized, stereotyped, or labeled as a particular ” kind of woman” when I openly state my feelings or express ideas that may be considered “non-traditional”. But I also refuse to bow to the obscene practice of the monolithic grouping of people. This idea has been publicly played out in order to stoke fear and to provide a false sense of renewed power to those who have felt marginalized and silenced for decades. I believe the cause of this splintering is based in the unrelenting greed of those whose silver spoons are still in their mouths. The ancient practice of Divide and Rule has cultivated a sense of distrust and hostility between and among our citizens in order to lay blame on -take your pick- feminists, black and brown people, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ, etc.

Hate, condemnation, suspicion, and negativity are easy paths to follow. They hold the deceitful promises of a return to the “good old days” (to which my stepdaughter once queried: “What do they mean, segregation?”). It is hard for me to fathom a return to a time when laws suppressing the rights of others in any and all forms will become the new normal. I have seen it being chipped away in seemingly harmless ways (i.e. new voting rights laws, women’s health care), and it is up to us to remain vigilant in the face of further future repression.

I believe that our purpose here on earth is to make it a better place to live. To not only raise up and help others, but to also take care of our precious resources in order for future generations to enjoy its unique beauty. We cannot dismiss other people as less worthy because of where they’re from, how they  choose to worship, or whom they choose to love, or because they don’t look like us. It is simply wrong.

They are many people that I have met and know in my life who do not share the same viewpoints as I do. We agree to disagree and can also thoughtfully engage in discussions that help further an understanding of each others’ perspectives.  We may hope to change another’s mind but no one is interested in changing laws that would suppress another citizen’s constitutional rights. Everyone has a story or two to tell that has helped bring them to their own set of beliefs.  These personal tales of tragedy and triumph are essential to listen to and understand if we are to grow together and make the world better and more free for everyone.

I’ll close this piece with the grace I shared at the Thanksgiving table. Many thanks to Mary Luti, UCC Pastor and seminary educator (http://www.ucc.org/devotionals_by_mary_luti) for this gift to my email ‘s inbox yesterday:

for it’s an immeasurable gift to say grace with one eye on your neighbor, to give thanks with joy complicated by concern, to count your blessings while repenting your sins, to know yourself in a muddle, trying to be good. It means you’re awake and not sleeping, alive and not dead. It means God is poking away at you, and you’ve let God in.

The Gift of Time

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Image Courtesy of: www.pinterest.com

How many of us awaken unconscious and unaware, deluged by the usual daily dread of work, caring for ourselves or loved ones or besieged by other obligations that pull at our energies before our feet have yet to hit the floor? I imagine many of you feel this way constantly, or at least from time to time-because really, who hasn’t?

We are only reminded of how fragile time is when a sudden illness or death or when Mother Nature’s fury unleashes herself on us, halting our daily routine in its tracks and-at its worst- upending our life for a long period of time.

I have often written about staying present, mostly when I am aware of being on the verge of a major life transition. During this juncture, I want to capture every moment, knowing that it will soon become just a memory. Then, when my life becomes more ordered and wrapped in routine, I quickly forget to take things in and savor what’s right in front of me, even if it’s not particularly exciting or positive-like being stuck in traffic at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

Of course, I am not advocating that you should rejoice when you’re in gridlock; I remember being aware of how much time was wasting away during the 65 minutes it took me to get to my destination on Tuesday and how angry it was making me!

Then Hermine began to whisper in our ear Wednesday, staying well into Friday afternoon. Schools were closed; thus giving me an unplanned five-day weekend. I had much to do; the start of any school year is always overwhelming. The days fly by and there is truly never enough time in a work day to keep organized and plan ahead.  Much is left to be done after hours.

I recall waking up Thursday in a state of agitation. My thoughts were scattered. Speed work had been cancelled the previous morning due to thunderstorms. But early Thursday arrived with what was to be a brief respite. I knew a good workout would begin to clear my head. Sure enough, it was exactly what I needed! Not long into the run, I looked up and saw a great blue heron, my steady animal sign that reminds me to be patient. I saw still another wading at the edge of a verdant pool in someone’s front yard. I sent out a prayer of gratefulness to the universe; this is exactly what I needed to be doing!  My restless night and worries sloughed away.

While it is important to keep the boundaries of home and work separate, I felt as if Thursday and Friday were unexpected presents-not only to relax- but to gather myself a bit, work wise. I slowly began to check off the tasks that had been stuck in my head overnight. The sense of urgency disappeared; my mind was clear and a weight was lifting.

I write this not as a reminder to be constantly productive but as mental cairn to be open to moments that point us in the right direction. The signs are always revealing themselves; we just need to pause, take a breath and look around.

(This image was taken by me a month ago. However, the post and the image were also inspired by Emily.  She was out on a local hike up north yesterday and she texted me this message: “Just saw 2 blue herons flying at Weir Hill. Cool breezes, warm sun, blue sky. It’s my church today. Peace, sister.”)

 

Moving Out of Comfort Zones

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For nine years I have been living outside my comfort zone. Previously, I had a steady vision as to how my life would proceed. But now I realize I was wearing rose-colored glasses most of the time! In August of 2007, my life’s plan was wildly disrupted and I was thrown into the turbulence of divorce. It was as if the earth had opened up and I was being swallowed whole into circumstances that were beyond my control. I spent the next five years in various states of unease and hardship as I navigated my way into an independent life. Along the way, however, I enjoyed moments of great peace, joy, grace, and a growing sense of inner strength that surprised me time and again.

As much as the independent life I had created brought contentment, it was unsustainable. In fact, it was becoming uncomfortable as the responsibilities of single home-ownership were beginning to become more taxing and overwhelming. Additionally, my boys needed to move forward into their own lives. The adventure was finished. I had done my job.

I am now literally in a whole new zone. I’ve said it before, I know! The climate makes me sweat profusely, and at times I think there are way too many sunny days. There’s a whole lot more traffic and this place seems so BIG to me.

Yet within this seemingly vast concrete jungle, there are delicious bits of paradise. (The paradise that brought people down here in the first place, the paradise that is at risk of getting lost for so many reasons). I have the comfort and contentment and continuity of a healthy partnership. A partnership that doesn’t pass judgement and is consistently patient and supportive, undemanding and full of humor! And, for the past year, I have spent many of my days way outside my educational comfort zone- teaching in positions that grew my brain cells and tested my creativity as an educator. It has been exhausting and exhilarating! But most of all, it’s been a gift. I found my community once again. A place which accepts and embraces me in all the ways I hoped.

In the nine years that my life turned in an unexpected and vastly different direction, I have learned a lot about myself and about who I really am. I have met and continue to meet some truly outstanding and amazing people. People whom I never would have crossed paths with if not for that dastardly day in August all those years ago.

Moving forward is a path that is rarely straight. But if you’re willing to allow the way to unfold before you, the detours may bring you unforeseen adventures!
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Image courtesy of: Quotesgram.com

 

 

 

 

Mountain Oasis

 

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View of Mt. Lafayette from the deck of the house

We’ve just come off a 12 day trip to New England, most of which was spent in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. I had been looking forward to the trip ever since we planned it in back in February. Not only were we to take up the challenge of a half-marathon in the heart of the Green Mountains, we were also reconnecting with our tribe-our children, sister, niece and closest friends.

Emily and I at the summit of Artist’s Bluff

I love the new life I am building with my husband. He makes me laugh every day; we are true partners in our relationship. I am grateful that I am in a situation where I don’t I have to prove myself with every breath I take. Also, I have really enjoyed exploring some parts of this new landscape in addition to re-establishing myself as an educator in a supportive and positive school community. But hiking and being in the mountains is one of the things I miss the most about living up north.

If you are neither a hiker nor a runner, it may be hard to understand the joy found in the challenge of a long hard run or a long hard climb. Or even the purpose of arising early in the morning to begin the trek! Although my half-marathon time was slow and the hills nearly impossible to run, the landscape raised me up and the weather cooperated by staying cool. I was so happy to be there! Rolling hills, farm houses, red barns, fields of green and friendly folk enveloped by misty mountains had a medicinal effect even during the hardest parts of the race.

One of the best cures for post-race muscle fatigue (besides yoga) is a good, solid, short hike. My husband and I chose the Sterling Pond Trail at the top of Smuggler’s Notch. At 3000′, it is Vermont’s highest trout pond. With a 1000′ elevation gain, it proved to be the perfect antidote to the previous day’s rolling roads. Slippery, wet rocks and muddy paths were rewarded by the view at the summit.

Sterling Pond, Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

I knew this was only the beginning of finding my joy and, despite my aches and pains, I was ready for what the White Mountains had to offer us for the rest of the week.

Upon our arrival at the house in Franconia, we were greeted  by this view:

Mt. Lafayette on a sunny afternoon

My eyes welled up. I felt as if I was coming home. And indeed, home came to us in human form as well. My friends rented a place five minutes down the road and we shared many a meal and hiking paths together that week. My sons and stepdaughter arrived a few days later along with my sister-in-law and niece. We had girlfriends, boyfriends and other young adults added to the mix. At times, it felt like herding cats for hikes, but in a good way. Emily and my youngest  and his girlfriend (along with my sister-in-law) were always up and ready to go. And truly, everyone else was a good sport about heading out and attempting (and completing) the climbs.

We talked a lot about finding the joy in the challenge. For me, it isn’t only about reaching the summit, but in touching the earth along the way.

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Wildflowers across from Cannon Mountain

Being in the mountains makes it possible to be embraced by nature in ways that living here does not. The silence, the evergreen scents and sounds and the refreshing tingle of cool air are a reminder of how blessed we are to live on this planet and the need to preserve it.

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Arethusa Falls, Crawford Notch

 

Discernment in the Din

Image courtesy of: theconversation.com

The Secret of Change Is to Focus All of Your Energy, Not on Fighting the Old, But on Building the New~ Socrates

When I lived up North I never took the landscape for granted. In times of trouble, the view from my kitchen window or my upstairs bedroom created a soothing escape. Long expanses of green,wide open white, bold colors, or the gong of spring peepers-it didn’t really matter- each season offered a sight for my sore eyes, music for my ears, fresh air for my lungs and a slower beating for my heart. Now I have to work harder to find a quiet spot in the most densely populated area in the state.

I will admit that adjusting to my new physical surroundings has been one of the biggest challenges to living here. Strip mall landscapes replace the trees and swamps -ugly monstrosities offering plenty of nothing. Car dealerships, fast food joints, car washes, big box drug stores, coffee shops and fast food joints all competing with one another for your attention and hard-earned cash. And the signs! Oh the signs! I’ve told my husband that this area must be the only place where both strip clubs and churches use the same flashing neon advertisements. They’re completing distracting, flashy, and in no way enticing in their invitations to “Join us”.

I am unused to this cluttered busyness and heavy traffic stopping and starting along six lane boulevards. Of course, I would be giving a false impression in stating that the New England area lacks crowded highways and clogged main streets during peak travel times. But given where I worked and lived, those areas could easily be avoided and shortcuts were always available. Moreover, a trip to a more urban area or strip mall sprawl was an occasional occurrence.

I fear I will never adjust to the noise and traffic density beyond the walls of my house and its verdant park view. At times, I identify with the Grinch in the scene where he’s holding his ears as he thinks about the “Noise! Noise! Noise! from Whoville on Christmas Day. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsMlsDgMXJM)

Changing my mindset is the key to changing my attitude. Some of what I am currently experiencing is part of a universal adjustment to a very major life change. For now, I cannot change where I live. So I’ve tweaked my routine. I bookend my daily commute with quality music delivered by a hip local radio station.  My current occupation is located on a bucolic campus where the only sounds I hear are birds and the youthful loquaciousness of students. I get outside whenever possible. I have set goals to explore the local quiet spots and venture beyond my own environs to seek them out.  My husband and recently kayaked through some lush mangroves which offered comforting green tunnels,tranquil waters and a kind of hush that I haven’t experience since I moved here. Simply lovely!

Building a new life takes time. I will continue to miss key parts of living up North-my boys and closest friends, my faith community and the mountains. And when the need has arisen, I make a plan and get on a plane. I’m learning to trust the process and allow my new life to unfold and reveal itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Meantime….

Do you ever notice your shadow when you’re outside on a sunny day? I’ve never paid much attention to it; perhaps because cloudless days are fewer in New England or perhaps because I no longer have that childish wonder at the sight of it. On a run last week, I noticed the full and extra long length of mine and it got me thinking about my current life’s path.

I still remain surprised that I live in a place of palm trees and low lying land. I drive to work as the sun makes it debut (it rises just a bit later on this side of the Gulf) and wonder, “How did I get here?” (A line from the Talking Heads “Once in  a Lifetime” comes to mind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98AJUj-qxHI.)

Then I start to think about the  2016 Lenten theme of my faith community up North. “Walk with Me” is the one for this season. Admittedly, I missed the deadline for getting it published in the booklet so I decided this post would be an alternative means to share some thoughts.

I am old enough to know and accept and embrace that life’s path is never straight.  Even if you operate under the illusion of the straight and narrow, sooner or later you wake up to the fact that you actually may be going nowhere. (Again, cue another Talking Heads classic “Road to Nowhere”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWtCittJyr0.)

It occurs to me that the precursors to the seismic changes in my life came about on walks with friends or other loved ones. I distinctly recall a question posed by a friend back in 2005: “Are you spiritually hungry?” Realizing that I was in fact in great need of fulfillment, I entered a community that opened my heart, mind and spirit and, in turn, helped my sons gain some safe ground in a time of severe turbulence.

Then I think of the long walks I took with my husband before we were even dating. First, a morning  hike in the woods and later, a longer walk on the beach (the very same one we were to be married on years later!). Intense, open and honest conversations took place that day in late 2008. Our lives were never the same after that time together; we began a journey that overcame distance and trying times in our independent lives.

A steadfast and true walking companion will always be Emily. My heart warms at the memories of Sunday afternoon ambles in the bird sanctuary with her dog Blaze. These trips were never wholly planned; usually a text or call to drop whatever and go. Things were shifting both in small and large ways during those times. Mother Nature allowed for openings in the clouded spaces of our thoughts and worries.

Surely, I would be remiss if I did not speak of those wondrous mountain hikes with my youngest son (joined on occasion by Emily and older brother). I have written about all of them in previous posts but in looking back, I believe they were symbolic of a relationship that had come full circle. The rough patches were behind us; we could manage the toughest and steepest paths knowing the reward was waiting for us at the summit.

Still, there was something larger at play, I think. A force or spirit or a higher power that reminded us to stay present because it was present. The moments became richer and sweeter as a result.

So here in this new place and space, I bring my full self. Each day is different; I feel as if I am in a tremendous labyrinth with many paths I can follow. So I do. I remain open to new possibilities along the way, knowing my journey and my destination are one and the same.

Gatherings, Gratitude, Guidance and Gumption

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Photo courtesy of D. Jacavanco (jacavancostudios.com/blog)

I’m writing this piece looking out at my new back forty; a verdant park is now my backyard instead of the long expanse of grass and thick woodlands. The journey to my new life is at once complete and just beginning. We were married in late June on the beach with the roar of the Atlantic and soft tunes of a love song in a circle of friends and family.

 The day was picture perfect-the bluest of skies, the warmest of suns and greenest of grasses. The party was held outside in the backyard, a culminating celebration and the best way to say goodbye to my house and land that survived loss and was revived by love.

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The boys had moved to a beautiful apartment on the other side of town earlier that month. We had time to adjust to being apart before my own big move a thousand miles away. Although I had been in the house alone before, it was never so empty. I had trouble sleeping, not out of fear but in the sense of knowing it was permanent. It was difficult to work with all the emotional upheaval that comes with making five life changes at once. I was saying good-bye to everything.

I went for one last big hike in the mountains with my youngest during that time- a necessary reprieve from the planning of the wedding and packing whatever I needed to bring.

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I said good-bye to my therapist- a woman who provided me with strength and courage  for a decade and helped me get back myself.

So, two days after the wedding, we hit the road with everything I had- and all that I needed- packed in the car. Books, clothes, photos, paintings and two cases of wine arrived safely  three and a half days later.

And, two weeks after the wedding, my house was sold. My husband and I are  at last making our own home together. At times, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. The climate is different-and I am not just talking about the humidity! I will leave the details of my observations for future posts; they are stories unto themselves.

Until then, stay tuned!

An Unexpected Find

Credit: oldfriends.gettalk.net

I found a picture from long ago

A black and white snapshot

Halcyon days, golden school days

Half a dozen young men on the campus wall

Teetering towards the real world

in the days before we were scattered apart

and away from one another

The memories come back in snippets

My college brothers

The ones who stood by me through my first big heartache

Winter break nights sleeping on your couch

in a room with cold heat

We worked all day and broke bread at night

I made you keep the toilet seat down and the bathroom clean

We were unapologetic about being young

Wild and willing to touch the edge of our limits

Living in the moment

Creating our own world and sharpening our minds

 Kamikaze nights and pitchers of beer

Thursday nights at the Stein

Random times singing

“Run Around Sue” and Bruce’s “Hungry Heart” with the jukebox

Knowing these were our own glory days

Years that were foolish and  fleeting but oh so much fun! 

We moved on and forward

We grew up and maybe a little old

But those bold and beautiful days are still in my heart

Day 27. You come to realize how much of a life you’ve lived when digging through old items. Yesterday I opened a trunk and found some photos from my college days. A black and white one from 1982 struck me and brought back many happy times with the guys who were a big part of my experience.

Small Matters

Hi Folks! This is a post that I wrote when my blog was in its infancy stage- 4 months in. Per request, my soul sister, Emily asked that I re-post it. That’s the necklace she made in the photo! She is a talented metal worker and silver smith AND she is making the bands for my wedding in June! So fabulous to see how life has changed for the better. Enjoy the story!

Building A Life Of Hope

Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end. ~ Scott Adams

Last week’s severe storm in my region had me thinking about the importance of small things in our daily lives. I was lucky to have been spared the worst of the disaster having lost power for just three days and not sustaining any property damage short of fallen branches.  I missed my morning coffee that I brew in the pre-dawn hours and sip while getting ready for my day. Luckily, I live close enough to a Starbucks which opens at 5 am. What a treat! I drove there in the early morning darkness in my jammies and hoodie and savored each sip. I missed drying my hair but I was getting my haircut on day two anyway. My hairdresser does such a great job that my hair…

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Roots and Routes

Credit: www.penandbell.com

Roads, paths, byways and highways

Places I have seen

People I have met

Those whom I have loved

They are beginning to exist in my memory

Dwelling in a happy space of a life well-lived

The long flat road of childhood

Pathways of the campus

The bustling avenue of a young woman

The winding lane of a small town

and the rolling hills that I have run upon

Streets pushing the strollers that carried my babies

The muddy country road in the mountains

and the long highway to John’s Island

Road trips, day trips, field trips and side trips

Mystery trips to the notches and beaches

I see them in my dreams

I have not yet reached the mountain top

and gladly so

Now I hold hands with my beloved

We stand at the gateway

Our eyes fixed on a new direction

Our hearts following their own path

 

Day 9. A dream scape poem that needed to be written.