Family Vacations and the Headlock

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I know there are families who travel well together. They move in unison as one organism in pursuit of meaningful time together. Our family, on the other hand, slams into each other like molecules in boiling water. Our trips are often prickly, loud, and always include more headlocks than expected during a vacation.

The first headlock occurred when our oldest son, Leo, was about ten. Leo ambushed my husband, Matthew, with the classic vice grip as he walked into the living room, beginning one of our longest-lived family traditions. It starts with the surprise headlock and ends in a wrestling match. Now that the boys are older, the contest is more focused between Leo and Eli.

Matthew, the elder silverback, worries about his neck – and losing.

The headlock appears at random, but occurrences spike when we are on family vacations. There are no off-limits places for this male-bonding behavior. It can occur while waiting to be seated at a restaurant or on the beach in front of bewildered normal families. I watch, horrified, while the girls record every moment for their snap-chat stories.

I’m a planner by trade. People actually pay me to organized events. However, when I think of planning this year’s family summer vacation, I’m paralyzed by the intensity of it.

My husband is already trying to opt out. He fears that his co-dependent bulldog, Otis, will die of a broken heart if he leaves him longer than a weekend. Matthew looks to the future and our impending empty nest. His ideal vacation plan includes a small RV tricked out with a satellite connection for his work and a custom, shot-gun seat for Otis.

Given our family’s collective temperament and the headlock ritual, vacationing together is a planner’s nightmare. Our kids don’t want to be seen with us but somehow they’re always making a scene.

Traveling with teenagers is an unnatural arrangement and comes at a time in the family lifecycle when tired, middle-aged parents and antsy teens both long for their freedom and space. And yet there’s something very necessary about having to learn to get along; to sow the seeds of a common narrative, a running joke, and shared experiences that form the stories that will be recounted over the decades.

Creating that narrative has to happen in real time and there’s only one take.

The best thing I ever did for my sons’ future relationship was to bring them on a three week road trip through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Park when Eli was thirteen and Leo was nineteen. They fought and occasionally got along, but it was during those three weeks that their friendship truly took root.

So I will brave the boiling waters of our togetherness, the headlocks, the arguments and complaints, all the while reading RV catalogs and calling the kennel to check on Otis.

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PostScript:

My three guiding principles for a manageable vacation with teenagers.

1) Plan a vacation that allows room for each teenager to safely have time to themselves. Choose destinations where they can explore together and alone. Think twice about that camping trip that includes carrying a 30lb pack and sleeping in the same tent.

2) Don’t take every complaint about being bored or mad seriously. I used to waste a lot of time worrying and trying to prevent all forms of discomfort. Now I realize that it’s just the teenage mind ping-ponging from one thought to next, fueled by hormones and crushing self-consciousness. The same goes for the middle-age parent.

3) Give teens a couple of days to decompress and get used to the new schedule and surroundings. I have found that it take at least 48 hours for everyone to synch up and stop bitching about what they are missing.

Blog Posts from our National Parks Trip

https://daysinthefifities.com/2013/08/02/20-miscellaneous-things-that-i-learned-on-our-road-trip-through-grand-teton-yellowstone-and-glacier-national-parks/

https://daysinthefifities.com/2013/06/29/life-on-the-verge-road-trip/

https://daysinthefifities.com/2013/07/30/the-unexpected/

https://daysinthefifities.com/2013/07/06/absolution/

 

Alumni Magazine

Long term visioning and planning has never been my strong suit.  I’m not a plodder and tend to leap before I look.  Reading the news from the class of 1987 in my college alumni magazine is a humbling reminder of how productive the frogs are who plan for a few hops ahead.

Reading the class column becomes a blur of fabulous jobs, PhDs, throngs of uber-successful offspring, just finished books, and global volunteering stints.  How do they do this?  I admit that my focus can be a bit wonky but I have an impressive energy level.  I just don’t understand how some people squeeze so much from their 24 hours. The back pages are filled with frogs who must have an extra gene for planning their lily pad track.

As I put down the magazine and pour my umpteenth cup of coffee, I remind myself that people who report into their colleges thirty years after graduation are in a high-achieving micro-niche.  Most of us garden variety frogs don’t remember that much of college and have trouble with our next leap let alone tidying up our leaping image for people we haven’t seen for three decades.

I’m positive that no one wants to know that I’ve arrived at a stage in my life with my husband and four kids where I have found the time to shower regularly, garden a little, walk the dogs, prepare lots of meals, and herd my imperfect family through the day.

Matthew is fascinated by my alumni magazine in the way that you can become interested in a stranger’s story overheard at a restaurant.  He pulls the glossy edition from our mailbox and grins.

“Oh look, my alumni magazine has arrived.” He emphasizes the my.

We read it together and laugh, not at my classmates’ lives but at our fallible selves. Matthew and I have attention challenges at the opposite ends of the spectrum. When we operate together, we form a rather well-functioning unit.  I push him to leap and he reminds me to look.  We agree that together we might be alumni magazine worthy.

Several years ago I had an essay published in my alumni magazine where I told the story of how skydiving with my oldest son prepared me for dropping him off at college.  It was the only time I’ve made contact with my alma mater since I graduated.  Perhaps my classmates think I’m too busy skydiving to get a PhD.

https://ebreston.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/how-skydiving-prepared-me-for-my-first-college-drop-off/

Mother’s Day and the Bag of Shit: More in Common Than You Think

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Friday is our trash day so I get up early to pick up our two dogs’ business before the garbage truck arrives at our house. My daughter comes out on the patio and looks at the weighted HEB grocery bag and asks me about its contents with a hopeful look that perhaps I have brought her an extraordinary breakfast treat.

“It’s a bag of shit.”
“No really, mom, what is it?”
“Seriously.”

There’s an eye-roll and she returns to the kitchen to contemplate what to eat now that I have ruined her breakfast fantasy. I return to my task, hearing the garbage truck rumble, brakes squeaking, a few streets over.

It’s the Friday before Mother’s Day weekend. I think about my Mom in Maine, alone on her first Mother’s Day after my dad’s death, and then about my own kids.

Mother’s Day is May’s cultural emotional land mine, only to be followed by a second sucker punch, Father’s Day, in June. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to diss the annual Mother’s Day brunch if it’s a true celebration, but for many the day is conflicted, at best.

I think back to the bag of shit that I’m holding and the approaching garbage truck. And then it hits me – a thought, not the garbage truck.

Picking up the shit is the price we all pay for being able to love and care for other beings. You have to search it out because if you pretend that it’s not there, you’re going to step in it. Not only that, but you have to keep doing it until the very end of the line.

There are no perfect moms and kids, even if we all want to pretend it to be true on Mother’s Day. The reality is that what spans between unconditional love and the bag of shit is what it really means to be in a relationship of any kind.

So whether you love, like, or hate Mother’s Day remember to give yourself a break. Relationships are messy and there’s a lot of never-ending cleanup. But that’s the brilliant part of it too, because if you are alive and willing, you can pick up the shit.

Seriously.

Trumpet Vines Against Gray Sky

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Wild Love

Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness

Give me your hand.

– Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Joanna Macy

I’m not a practicing anything, but each year I design a DIY version of Lent for myself. The season arrives on the calendar just as my lofty, good-intentioned New Year’s resolutions fade.

The new year promises a quick fix while Lent is the real deal – transformation through disciplined action. It’s a forty day contract.

Prayer, fasting, and service, the traditional pillars of Lent, provide a container to hold my wandering attention span. There’s a nurturing austerity inherent in the rituals that helps me filter the distractions of everyday life.

Where I live, this penitential season is marked by the pairing of the natural expansion of spring – tender neon green leaves, noticeably longer days – and the measured restraint of deliberate choice.

I feel that true freedom, not the mindless kind that comes with passivity or the jagged edge of defiance, can only develop with discipline. It’s about finding balance through confronting the interplay between sacrifice and renewal, effort and ease, life and death.

Too often I’m like a fish jumping at every bait that dangles above the water – work, teenage drama, the internet, even happiness. We all know the feeling of twisting and flailing on the line, hook-in-the-cheek caught.

Most religions have a prescribed season to examine what catches us. A time to anchor our most spiritual questions back to the body, while simultaneously providing the discipline to tame our habits so that we can concentrate on a higher purpose.

It requires an often uncomfortable, committed, day-to-day effort that seems too big to make during the sweltering heat of summer or the reprieve of a Texas fall and winter. It’s spring where the overlap of Life and Death is the most visible.

The acceptance of duality is at the heart of being fully human and ultimately gives us room to renew, forgive, love and eventually die.  As my friend Erika says, “We are not here to struggle, nor are we here to stay the same.”

We come spinning out of nothingness,
scattering stars like dust.  – Rumi

In memory of my father 12/15/1939 – 1/14/2017

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Eat Your Pie

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During the past two weeks since I watched my father take his last breath, I have been powered by the frantic metronome beat of Live-Now-Faster. I have thrown myself back into work, political outrage, my daughters’ gymnastics and dance competitions, and tying up the loose ends of our year-long house repair project.

But when I wake at 4:30am to start my day, it’s then, in the quiet morning peace, that I think about the pie.

In the hospice where my father spent his last twelve days on earth, the kitchen is partitioned off from the vistors’ common room in a similar fashion to restaurants where diners can sit and watch food being prepared. Although sequestered in his own space, anyone can observe the cook go about his tasks of making meals for the patients who are still eating, and the homemade cookies for visitors.

He is a tall, sturdy man but has a gentle, Downeast Maine quietness and does not readily make eye contact or engage in small talk. As I make my mother’s tea, I covertly take note of how he is carefully wrapping pieces of pumpkin pie on plastic cafeteria plates.

A hospice volunteer pushes open the swinging half-door that separates the visitors’ area and the kitchen and stands next to the cook. She comments that he doesn’t usually make pumpkin pie. He tells her that room 107 wants to eat only pumpkin pie, as he wraps the last piece.

There are six pieces of pie on the table.

How many times did the man or woman in 107 say no to a piece of pie because of some unfounded fear that eclipsed their freedom to enjoy tasting the sweet, nutmeg earthiness of a favorite dessert?  How many times did some regimen for self-improvement gobble up the thrill of being alive?

As you can imagine, sitting at my father’s bedside for six days gave me an uncommonly long pause to think. I saw my father’s face soften as the emotions of a lifetime left his body. He grew oddly young, like a blank state. Our choices shape and contort the body. Every time we betray our finest impulses we deform ourselves, both inside and out.

I want to let go of the maddening monkey-mind chatter that convinces me that I must be better, that I must do more.

None of us are extraordinary. I felt that with certainty as I watched the soft animal body of my father struggle to live and then stop. All that my father accomplished vanished into the nothingness of the past on every labored exhale. In the end, our legacy is measured by how our presence makes others feel, and how freely we are able to love and let go.

Although my dad died at 8:45 in the evening, it’s the cold, steel gray day that came before that is my reference point of time and place. That morning, I had been thinking of Miami and its hustle, warm white sand, blue raspberry water, and old men in tee-shirts, sitting on stoops, holding small dogs, loving their breathing, heart-beating lives.

Eat your pie.

We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time. When we hesitate in being direct, we unknowingly slip something on, some added layer of protection that keeps us from feeling the world, and often that thin covering is the beginning of a loneliness which, if not put down, diminishes our chances of joy.It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real. Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold and the car handle feels wet and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.

― Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I took the photography from my parents’ kitchen window, at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine, on the morning of the day that my father died – January, 14, 2017.

Make Your Dog Proud

img_0970I woke up this morning and greeted the last day of 2016 as I’ve spent most of the year, exhausted. I’m physically, mentally, spiritually, parentally, and politically kaput. New Year’s Day, with its promise of a clean slate, is usually my favorite holiday but 2017 has me nervous. So I’m giving myself a low bar this year and dedicating my energy toward healthy preservation. This year I aspire to be more like our dog Opal, not to be confused with our anxiety ridden, butt-biting English Bulldog, Otis.

Be-More-Like-Opal 2017 Resolutions

Be nicer to my family
Opal does not complain, needle, or find fault. She enthusiastically appreciates her family but is more measured with strangers. It’s not that she doesn’t play well with others, she just has her love priorities straight.

Stop striving for happiness
Opal lives in the present moment and meets the day as it unfolds. She does not grasp at the past, worry about the future, nor elevate one state of being over another.

Embrace the discipline of ordinary
Opal is a minimalist and a connoisseur of simple pleasures. She never compares lives with other dogs or wonders if she needs to find her purpose. Each day she delights in her usual kibble, routine neighborhood walk, and ever-continuing skirmish with the backyard squirrels.

Accept my body, aging and all
Opal doesn’t mind her graying muzzle, her middle-aged spread, or that she can’t always make it to the couch on the first jump. At best she’s got six years left on the planet and she’s not going to waste her time thinking about whether her legs are too short or if Otis thinks she’s cute.

Own my emotional baggage
Opal came to us with a history we will never completely understand. Over the eight years that she has lived with us, she has worked through most of her issues, except for two. She continues to reactively pee on carpet and cowers when we put on her leash. Recovery and evolution are life-long. Rescue Remedy for Pets helps. There’s a formula for people too.

Rest
Opal is an excellent napper and yet always has energy for a new adventure. For my entire life, I’ve viewed sleep as the enemy. This year I vow to find my own Opalesque rest-work-play ratio.

Give more hugs
Opal experiences love tactically. I need to shrink my New Englander, WASPy comfort zone and hug more. Life is too short to have a big personal bubble.

Bark more and stand up for what I believe to be true
Opal is a world-class barker when she feels that her world is being threatened. It’s clear that barking will be required in 2017.

That’s all I’ve got – a tepid, worried, tired welcome to the New Year. Be gentle with yourself and kind to others, all others. Make your dog proud. The bar is low, your dog is already proud of you.

 

Dread Drives a Peach Colored Limousine

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Stuck in predictable afternoon traffic, I creep-and-stop my way across town. My daughter’s recap of her day mixes with my mind chatter. I look out the passenger side window and see a long peach colored limousine two lanes over. Not a bright, bold, spring peach but a barely-there, prom pastel peach. My stomach tightens and my scalp buzzes.  

“What’s wrong? Are you ok?” asks my daughter.

“Yes. Just thinking.”

The sound of locking doors, clicking in unison, triggered a chemical reaction through my body. It was a high voltage shock that electrified me with a survival instinct that I had never felt before.

Fifteen minutes prior, I had walked out onto the street, a little past midnight, in an unfamiliar neighborhood on the lower east side. It was early fall, and the warm afternoon of my arrival had turned cold and windy.

I worked for the babysitting service at Barnard College. Cab fare was mandatory for late  jobs and I could almost double my money if I took the subway home. As a broke student, I looked for jobs that were as far away from campus as possible. I never felt scared in the city, and taking the subway was no big deal.

That night was different. I was tired, the streets were unusually deserted, and I was wasn’t dressed for the cold front that had blown in while I was babysitting. I decided to take a cab.

The streets were quiet and there was not an unoccupied cab in sight. My uneasiness grew. I thought about returning to the apartment where I had babysat to ask for help. Instead, I shook it off and decided to find the uptown subway entrance.

The limousine slowed behind me and I heard the window come down. It was a glossy cream colored limousine, but it looked peach in the glow of the red traffic lights. There were no passengers, just the driver.

“Where are you going?”

“110th and Broadway”

“I’m going that way for my next pickup, jump in the front seat. You never will find a cab this late here. Come on, hop in.”

He was slender, elegantly dressed in an olive green suit. It had a sheen to it that looked like taffeta. I don’t remember his face. By the time I stared into his eyes, I knew it wasn’t going to matter to me what he looked like. I was either going to escape or die trying.

I told him that I felt uncomfortable and that I wanted to get out. I tried to open the door but it was locked. He stopped talking.  

The raw, initial surge of adrenaline leveled out but my ears were still ringing. The fear had morphed into dread and moved from my lower belly to a place under my ribcage.  

We were driving up 6th Avenue and I saw Central Park. I knew I could not let him drive me into the park. I had three city blocks to get out of the limousine. The automatic locking mechanism was in the console between the driver and passenger’s seats. He rested his arm over it. Hyper-assessing my situation, I was sure he would grab me if I reached for the button.

The traffic slowed. I don’t know why or how it happened. The moment is like his face, a blur, but I remember the action. His arm lifted and he looked away for a second. With one hand on the door handle and the other smashing down on the button, I pushed open the door and jumped out. I ran between cars to the sidewalk and watched the limousine dissolve into traffic, like nothing happened.

No screaming for help, no police reports. I waited until I couldn’t see the limousine, hailed a cab, and went home. I folded the experience into myself in the same way the limousine continued down 6th Avenue

I should have known better, I told myself.

Since the election I’ve had a sickening queasiness that has settled up under my ribs. I haven’t  been able to put words to my feelings until I saw the limousine over my daughter’s shoulder.

Dread. The same dread that I felt thirty years ago.

The misogyny that’s been exposed during the election feels so dangerous, so close, and so familiar. Those minutes in the limousine were my crash course in the dark underside of power and dominance.  As a teen and young woman, I had absorbed the subtle and overt sexist norms as background noise. An acceptance, that in my mind, if I played by the unspoken rules, would keep me safe.

Have we, as a nation, not evolved over the last three decades?  

Irrespective to individual political leanings, how could WE elect a predator, a self-proclaimed Pussy-Grabber, as the President of the United States. It sounds harsh and crude, but those are our President-Elect’s words, not mine. The election was  obviously not just about gender but how can this one fact not be a deal breaker for the most influential leader in the world.

It makes me wince. How do I explain this to my daughters and sons. How do we explain this to each other?  

I’m left feeling stunned and numb, like my twenty-one year old self standing alone on 6th Avenue. I will not understand my way past this outrageous disconnect or hide in a safe narrative of good deeds and kindness, as has been suggested ad nauseam. These are just baseline standards for being a good person, not a solution.

This time I know better. I will not be silent. I will not retreat.  

 

My Summer Lecture Series

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As new parents we all pledge never to utter a disparaging remark to the sweet child angelically sleeping in our arms, swaddled in their first baby blanket. You promise yourself that only encouraging words will flow from your lips to their ears. You will never scream, red-faced, “Because I said so!”

With less than seventy-two hours until the beginning of a new school year, I will put away my summer nagging-mom-lectures and pull out of moth balls my more academically oriented annoying-words-of-wisdom series.

Before I box up this year’s summer lectures, I’ll share my top five.

1. Do something other than sleep or look at a screen.

I first recount how when I was young, kids their age were expected to live outside in their free time and entertain themselves – and free time came after chores and a summer job. Parents gave their kids a bag of beef jerky and an apple, then pushed them out the door. If you were lucky they gave you a pack of matches. Look at what electronics have done to this generation. How will they survive the Zombie Apocalypse?

2. I’m old, please don’t waste my time.

Do the math, I say. If I’m lucky, I may have twenty-five to thirty good years left. I ask them, with my best disappointed parent face, if they think that I really have the time to hear the 367th raging debate about whose turn it is to sit in the front seat. I have found this to be my least effective lecture. Thinking like teenagers, several decades of mom lectures isn’t something they want to stretch out. They don’t mind if they shave off a few of my last good years with their constant arguing

3. I know I’m embarrassing, that’s my job!

I have come to embrace that I’m an embarrassment and everything is my fault. I mortify my teenagers several times a day, purposely, with the things I say, do, and wear. That is when I’m not cooking dinner, driving them somewhere, handing them my credit card, or helping with a problem.

4. You’re driving me crazy with all your meaningless teenage drama.

This lecture is almost always given using my outside voice. It usually takes place in the car, so technically I’m outside. Of course, I worry about scarring the kids with my outburst, so it’s followed by an apology, which also sounds a lot like a lecture. By the end of the apology no one in the car knows what I’m mad about anymore and the bickering stops. All is quiet but it’s not a victory, because now they think I’m crazy and embarrassing.

5. Do you think I’m your maid?

This is also an ineffective lecture because yes, they do think I’m their maid. Is it really that difficult to start the dishwasher, put more toilet paper in the bathroom, or close the cabinets without the sneer and the eye-rolling? Again, how will they ever survive the Zombie Apocalypse if the washing machine confuses them.

 

I took the picture at JuiceLand, Austin, TX

Dance

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Look, I really don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive, you’ve got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. ― Mel Brooks

I was an only child for my first decade of life. It suited me well as a content introvert. I was the kid who preferred bike riding solo, stomping through the woods alone, or making forts for one in the dunes at my grandparents’ house in Maine.

Even though I was always in motion, I was not athletic, graceful, or team oriented. I ran cross-country but never pushed myself. I spent my teen years too self-conscious to truly commit to any sport and spent way too much time hating my body.

In my early thirties I became a jock, although still preferring solo sports like running, biking, and weight lifting. It was the first time since childhood that I listened to the voice that reminded me that movement is my preferred medium.

My twin daughters have always been physical. From their first tumbling class, they were both hooked and continued on to competitive gymnastics. A couple of years ago, after an injury, G switched to competitive dance.

The worlds of dance and gymnastics are often called out as breeding grounds for negative body issues. Fortunately, I’ve found the opposite at my daughters’ studio and gym where healthy body awareness is the norm.

Somehow my daughters and their teammates have managed to deflect much of the numbing photo-shopped perfectionism that screams at them from every screen, billboard, and magazine. I give a lot of the credit to their coaches who emphasize creativity, strength, and discipline over size and shape.

By my early teens, my body was an enemy to battle rather than a partner, beginning the unconscious unraveling of the natural mind-body connection. As I entered middle age, I believed that I had patched that relationship.

The co-owner of my home yoga studio has a welcoming smile, laughs easily, and wears her body effortlessly. She incorporates what she call a shaky meditation in ALL of her classes. About thirty minutes into a traditional practice, she switches gears and leads the class in enthusiastically dancing around the studio.

Yes, in the middle of practice.

The first time it happened, I thought it was a one time thing and awkwardly went along with the group. The second time, I was so annoyed that she interrupted class again – to dance – that I wanted to roll up my mat and go home.

I love her yoga instruction enough to begrudgingly tolerate the dancing. Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t mad but afraid.

Afraid of looking stupid; afraid of being too old to dance in front of strangers; afraid to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t as comfortable with my body as I had thought.

Another reminder that life is about re-working the same issues over and over. I’m still not thrilled about the shaky break in practice but I’ve made it a tool of discovery.

I’ve learned four simple truths:

1) The relationship you have with your body will be the longest, most intimate relationship of your life. Treat your body like a trusted friend, even when it’s injured or ill – especially when injured or ill.

2) The thoughts that you feed your body are EQUALLY important as the food you choose. Self-loathing and body shaming are akin to living on Twinkies and Big Red.

3) When you find yourself holding your breath, or breathing shallowly, it’s like losing the internet connection between your mind and body. Most likely you’re checking out of the present moment. Explore why, with curiosity, not judgement.

4) Remember that for most things in life, we’re all just one inhale and exhale away from a new perspective.

There are no prerequisites needed to reclaim your body except for an appreciation for being alive. You do not have to wait to be thinner, stronger, or more flexible. You do not need special clothes, take a class, or find a guru. You do not need permission.

Dance.

Road Trip Therapy

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“My therapist and I even have a joke about it: shit is truly fucked up when I start threatening to take a road trip.”  ― Chris Gethard

There’s a Monster Zero Ultra in one cup holder and a 32 oz coffee in the other. An empty, crumpled coconut Donettes package is balled up on the floor between the seats. The girls are asleep – one stretched out in the back of our rented Ford Focus, and the other is curled like a Pillbug next to me.

I’m beginning my twelfth hour of driving on our road trip through Colorado. We began in Denver and made quick stops in Steamboat Springs to see a friend and meet her young son, and then Glenwood Springs to swim in the world’s largest natural, hot springs pool. I have a little over an hour before reaching Telluride, our final destination. The Ford Focus strains to make its way up the mountain road at fifty miles an hour.

I’m in heaven

My first real, non-parent organized road trip was with my cousin, Susan, and Kirsten, the Finnish exchange student who lived with her that year. We drove from Ithaca, New York, to Washington, DC, during spring break. I was sixteen but didn’t have my license yet.  I lied to my cousin, who was not thrilled about driving, about my limited experience behind the wheel.  Susan let me drive for most of the way each leg while she and Kirsten slept.

I learned to drive on that trip.

It was the combination of getting away with something that I shouldn’t be doing, along with the self-mastery of a daring new skill that imprinted on me a life-long need to keep moving and the unwavering belief in the curative powers of a road trip.

I have never had a strong attachment to any one place and seldom return to a location I’ve already visited. The world is too big and interesting to waste travel time and money on repetition.  A road trip is the ultimate, liberating vertical leap out of routine.

Up until the time I married Matthew, almost twenty-five years ago, I was a chronic geographic Houdini. When we meet, I was months away from a move to Alaska.  Back in those days, a spontaneous change of scenery could fix just about anything.

Slip away, no goodbyes, and off to a new life.

It’s been close to three decades since I’ve disappeared to somewhere new, but that doesn’t mean the urge has left. It’s just under the surface. To this day, I think about escape plans like other people play word jumbles or crossword puzzles. I have a brain full of blueprints of lives imagined.

It’s just a habit, a mental exercise.

My husband does not share my restlessness and his hardwiring has him happy to stay put with our kids, animals and the internet. Although he respects my wanderlust, he prefers that when I travel, I take at least one of our kids as an insurance policy that I’ll return home – sort of like an alcoholic might take their sponsor to a cocktail party.

Matthew and I did not create easy children and much of our parenting time is spent refereeing or just yelling – it’s a fine line. Our four kids don’t travel well together and we have long-ago determined that the family vacation is over-rated.

I know there are plenty of families that vacation well together. But for us the combination of strong personalities, age and gender differences, varying sleep patterns, eating requirements, and interests, along with Matthew’s need to be connected to work is just too much for one little old family vacation to carry.

Instead, we divide and conquer and lately the tactic translates into a road trip for one or two of the kids at a time.  I’m my best parenting self on road trips.  I remember what it’s like to enjoy being around my teenagers and they remember that I’m not just an old, embarrassing drill sergeant.

Every family has their reset button – game night, meals, sports – and for us, it’s the road trip. It may not be cheaper than therapy but it has a far longer therapeutic half-life.

 

I took the photo as I began the drive into the mountains to Telluride.

Ten-thousand Hours and Then Some

IMG_9035There are 8,760 hours in a year. Twenty-two years of parenting translates into 192,730 hours. That number reflects only the hours logged since nurse Lonny handed me our first child, Leo, without compounding the hours from the three additional kids we added to the mix during the same time period.

My combined parenting hours accrued, thus far, for our twenty-two, sixteen, and twin fourteen-year-olds totals 578,170.

Now, I realize that I was not actively parenting each and every one of those hours, but as all parents know, once you take the job you’re never really off duty.

Herein lies the rub. Unlike most endeavors, my ten-thousand-and-then-some hours of parenting have not earned me a higher rank or a corner office. Most of my adult life has focused on raising children from birth to young adulthood and yet I do not feel like an expert or master of anything.

The teenagers currently under my care remind me that I’m actually growing exponentially more embarrassing, stupid, and irrelevant everyday.

On the other hand, my oldest son, who has flown the coop into the wide open space of adulthood, texts me often with kind words of praise. We have long since negotiated a path to a mature, mutual respect and friendship.

These, and the many conflicting data points I’ve collected during my time in the field, have led me to characterize my parenting style as that of an ill-equipped but optimistic shepherd.

The kind of shepherd who goes out to pasture on a stormy day without a raincoat because of a hopeful certainty that the sun will come out and the skies will turn blue.  

Soon realizing the disconnect between years on the job and parenting expertise, I patched together four everyday directives that form the guiding cardinal points on my shepherding compass.

  1. Listen to the Universe.
  2. Be solution-focused.
  3. If truly lost, stand still.
  4. Listen to the Universe.

It’s not a mistake. Listening to the Universe is such an critical part to finding my way that it’s both the North and South poles on my compass.

There have been plenty of times as a parent that I have not walked the talk but I’m always steady in my preaching of these cardinal points. I regularly quiz the kids, call and response gospel-style, on the four most important lessons that I’ve taught them.

As Leo gets older, he plays along and replies in half-hearted agreement. Eli, our most analytical child, thinks it’s all bullshit and is certain that we do not exist in a talking Universe and questions my mental health. The girls roll their eyes in disgust and beg me to never mention the Universe in public or in front of their friends.

That being said, there are moments when I see the glimmer of indoctrination.

Last week I picked up my daughter from school to drive her to dance practice. In my ever-increasing ineptitude, I brought her the wrong, apparently see-through, leggings. It was too late to go back home and get her to the studio on time. It was a trivial problem but the situation soon veered off into a moment of teenage drama.

I was about to launched into the #4 combo on my standard parenting lecture menu, Get a Reality Check with a side of shame. Instead, I listened to the Universe and stopped myself.

The car was quiet. My daughter huffed, sighed and scrounged around at the bottom of her dance bag and pulled out a dark colored pair of tights.

By this time, we’d arrived at the studio. Without looking at me, she announced that she would wear the tights underneath the see-through leggings and got out of the car.

She took a few steps and then turned and walked back toward me, but this time with a sly smile on her face. I rolled down the car window as my daughter uttered just two words, solution-focused, and then gracefully spun around and walked away.

Can I hear an Amen!

I took the picture at Milton Reimer’s Ranch Park, Dripping Springs, TX.

 

Too Old for the Egg Hunt, Too Young for the Minibar Piñata

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Our family has gone to the same Easter party for twenty years. It’s the one constant in our seat-of-our-pants holiday celebration style. Matthew is special-occasion challenged and I’m not a fan of repetition or ritual. The Easter party has given our kids their one glimpse of a normal, predictable holiday, but with an unconventional old-Austin style.

Our mushrooming, morphing city still loves its tired out, over commercialized tagline of “Keep Austin Weird.”  The Easter party was started when the slogan really meant something and continues to be a time capsule of the alternative, artsy, hippie culture that was dominant in Austin when I arrived thirty years ago.

The invitation came from Jan, one of the party’s co-founders, when it was just Matthew, Leo, and me. Jan had been Matthew’s professor and mentor when he attended  the University of Texas.

Leo was three and we had just moved back to Austin from Minneapolis.  Although we made a few life-long friends and tried our hardest to fall in love with the Twin Cities, our three-year stay ended as an unrequited affair. The culture was too buttoned up for us so we high-tailed it back to Austin as soon as there was an opportunity.

It was our first Easter after the move and the joyful, colorfully chaotic, loosely organized, pot lucking, egg hunting, bubble blowing, piñata bashing, cascarones smashing party punctuated our decision to move back to Austin with a giant exclamation point.

Fast forward twenty years, three more kids, and nineteen more Easter parties. We never missed one year.

The core group of steadfast, every-year party goers are a decade or more older than Matthew and me. We have watched their kids grow up and return with their children. Over the years people appear and disappear as life’s circumstances dictate, but there are always new faces and families with young children. The party is a welcoming, evolving organism.

We may periodically bump into our Easter friends during the year but our primary interactions are at the party, making the event an affirming celebration of renewal and catching up.  It’s a refreshing pace of communication to actual hear the telling of a year lived rather than to gawk at sanitized snippets on a Facebook page.

About Valentine’s Day, one of my kids will ask about the Easter party. They invite friends and help fill eggs for the hunt and come with me to buy big bags of spring-colored cascarones. Finally the day arrives.

The party begins with a pot luck and Jan at the head of the serving table making her famous french toast. When it’s time to hide the eggs all the hunters have to go inside while the adults scatter candy eggs and cascarones throughout the yard.

The kids are let out of the house in waves, by age group, but within minutes it’s mayhem. The three glitter covered, extra-hidden, money eggs are the big prize and on every kids’ mind.

The egg hunt is followed by two piñatas – one filled with candy and surprises for the kids and another filled with what can best be described as the contents of a minibar for the early twenty-somethings.

Over the years I’ve noted that the thirteen and fourteen year olds begin to opt out of the egg hunt. Instead, they congeal to form a sulky, bored-looking mass at the side of the lawn, nervously looking at their phones or wandering off into the neighborhood.  Once this occurs, this age group does not return the next year and will not step foot on Easter party grounds again until they are old enough for the minibar piñata or have a child of their own.

I watched Leo peel off and then Eli.  Last year when the twins were thirteen they still stormed out of the door with big smiles on their faces to look for eggs. Things were different this year. Although they arrived with enthusiasm, I later found Georgia, Lila, and their friend sitting on the curb as the kids bolted out of the house. They sheepishly ask me if I would take them home.

Sigh. Too old for the egg hunt, too young for the minibar piñata. Easter as I have known it for twenty years is now over.

However, the circle of life continues. Leo, now in his twenties and minibar piñata approved, texted me from Oregon on his spring break, the night before Easter, to ask if we were going to THE party.

Like a salmon going upstream, the Easter egg will eventually roll back to the basket.

Gerald and His Army of Clones

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When we moved to our current home, nine months ago, it was clear that the grounds were possessed. Not by a gentle spirit or malevolent ghost but with a stalker-alpha squirrel with a distinctive tail. The squirrel became so familiar to us during the first few weeks of unpacking that the girls figured they should name him.

Gerald.

Like many super-natural beings, Gerald is omnipresent. We’re sure each squirrel sighting is Gerald because of his unusually shaped cat-like tail. Not following normal squirrel seasonal patterns, he never stops digging up his stashes or burying new treasures in every square inch of our yard, including potted plants. The ground around our house is dimpled with Gerald’s handiwork making it look like the hood of a car after a hailstorm.

He only stops to taunt our slow-witted, hyper-protective English bulldog, Otis. Although he never succeeds, Otis attempts to climb Gerald’s tree which ends with Otis on his back flailing his short legs and wiggling his odd pig-like body for the embarrassing eternity it takes to flip himself over.  The squirrel watches the struggle and then he’s gone.

Gerald lacks all fear of humans, too. We have a sliding glass door with large windows in our dining area that looks out on the pecan trees that form the boundary with our neighbor’s yard. Gerald lies outstretched on his stomach on a branch that is center stage to our view, creating a platform for him to have visual access inside our home whenever he wants. Rarely does a meal go by without Gerald joining us at some point.

Recently he has upped his surveillance and we’re sure that he has created clones to help him with his mission. The clones look and act like him except for the distinctive tail.  Gerald is their leader.

He has become more brazen in his tactics. Gerald, flanked by several of his minions, stands in what looks like a runner’s start on the wall that follows our entrance way and watches me walk to the front door. The wall puts the squirrels at eye level and only a foot or so away from my head.

The girls think he wants to be our friend. I know differently since I have met his gaze. Gerald has a look that warns me that it’s not out of the question that he and his clones may take me down.  Just last week I found Gerald standing on his haunches in the potted plant next to our front door, pecan in mouth, giving me the stink eye.

I don’t have a tidy ending for this blog post. The story will have to be left open but with one request. If I go missing, check the grounds around our house – surely that’s where Gerald and his clones will bury me.

All Partings

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When my friend let me know that she was moving to Virginia, I looked away from her email, and remember feeling like a cloud of confetti spinning earth bound, flood lights accentuating the sparkle and separation between each piece.  

I’m not talking about the small paper-punch-cut-out confetti in cascarones but the big rectangular pieces that are used at political conventions or for a hero’s homecoming parade.  The kind of confetti that dances slowly and effortlessly to the ground, and for a minute or two makes the air come alive with movement, temporarily giving shape to what was once invisible.

In my thirties and forties I spent most of my time and effort collecting rectangles of identity to create a tightly pixelated sense of self. Those were the decades that screamed at me to try harder to keep it together and find a center of gravity within that could  hold all the pieces in orbit.

As I move through my fifties, I feel the accumulation of each beginning and end, the arrivals and departures, and all that happens in-between, blow past my edges, making room for more space, like confetti being shot from a cannon.  There is no center of gravity, no solid core to grasp.

I need more space to question and be reverent, to forgive and be forgiven, and try to fall in love with the world again, and again, and again, despite the fact that we will, as the Buddhists remind us, lose everything and everybody in our lives, including ourselves.

In my mind’s eye I see my Virginia-bound friend in my paper and mylar cloud. I breathe in her remarkable capacity to help others and sense of justice. She taught me to care more. Her note ended with the hope that our paths cross again. We all say that to the people who have mattered when we say goodbye, but it often doesn’t happen.

I was listening to a man who studied with Tibetan monks and he told me that his teacher described his life’s practice as the loving preparation for all partings.

The loving preparation for all partings.

Inherent in the statement is loss, but it’s loss turned upside down with the offering of a solution to the sorrow surrounding the impermanence of our time here on earth. If we are mindfully preparing each day to let go of the people and things that we love, then we will, by the nature of the task, be living in the present moment and attending to our lives with kindness and love.

It’s a mantra I use a thousand times a day to quiet my mind’s chatter in order to return to the breath.  Too often I choose to run recklessly, hand in hand, with my petty grievances and feel the constriction of my dense, pinched ego who wants to preserve itself at all costs.  

But there are other moments, also, when I am like a confetti cloud and can simultaneously be the empty space and the twirling rectangles,  feeling the stillness of floating back to earth for a brief and eternal moment.

For Marcia

“You have to remember one life, one death–this one! To enter fully the day, the hour, the moment whether it appears as life or death, whether we catch it on the in-breath or out-breath, requires only a moment, this moment. And along with it all the mindfulness we can muster, and each stage of our ongoing birth, and the confident joy of our inherent luminosity.”  Stephen Levine, A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last

 

Contract with the Universe

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This past weekend I felt too old to be raising three teenagers.  I have fifty-two year old nerve endings that are frayed from twenty-three years of parenting.  I’m vulnerable to the unpredictable, but frequent, teenage emotional eruptions that occur around me. They make me skittish.

My oldest son has moved from being a man/teen to the twenty-something stage of life.  He has come full circle and is pleasant company, sincerely asks for our advice, voluntarily does the dishes, and can be home for a month without one tense moment.

I thumbed my nose at my advanced maternal age designation when I had Eli at thirty-five and the twins at thirty-seven. Like everyone in their thirties, I was still a little delusional about the inevitability of getting older. I had no vision of what the fifties would feel like or how raising teenagers accelerates the aging process.

The girls are fourteen so there is double the drama and constant confirmation that I’m embarrassing, irrelevant, and mean.  For self-preservation’s sake, I am resurrecting a coping mechanism from my repertoire that had been previously reserved for our disturbed second Rottweiler Oscar.

Oscar came to live with us after our beloved first Rottweiler, Toby, died. If I were to diagnose Oscar using the DSM-V, the standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders, he would be labeled as anti-social.

We were warned. When Oscar was just a cute fluff-ball of a puppy, he would growl and fight our vet when he rolled him on to his back.  The vet said it was not a good sign and we should think about putting him down. Of course we were horrified at the suggestion.

Instead we “managed” his personality disorder for the next eight years. He had medical problems too. In the first year, Oscar had double hip replacement for his dysphasia and abdominal surgery to remove his undescended testicles. A few years later he grazed the arm of a child who hit him with a stick and was then quarantined for rabies.

Oscar had a few good qualities, the most important being that he was a noble friend to our German Shepherd, Maude, who was heartbroken when Toby died.

By the time the girls came along, Oscar was a grouchy old dog with painful hips and a disdain for creatures that were smaller than him, including my twin daughters.  At this point we thought about finding him another home – putting him down was not an option for Matthew. Ultimately, neither of us felt like we could, with a clear conscience, pass Oscar off to someone else.

Oscar liked Matthew and Leo and tolerated Eli. He respected me as the alpha bitch of the house. He knew I would take him out if he hurt my girls. I was definitely not his favorite although most of the “managing” of Oscar was my job.

Since I have known Matthew he has held a non-negotiable belief that we make a pact with the universe every time we take on a pet that promises we will care and nurture each animal for its entire life.

In an effort to uphold our contract with the universe, we spent a fortune on a house-calling dog psychologist to help us with our crazy Rottweiler. She had a plan to de-alphatize Oscar and it actually worked fairly well. We trained him to walk away from the girls and he was allowed only supervised contact with them.  When the girls came near him, he would grudgingly move to another place all the while growling and baring his teeth.

Oscar did not transformed into a fun-loving family dog but he never bit or hurt anyone. We fulfilled our contract with the universe to love and guide Oscar for his entire life. When he had to be put to sleep after his lung cancer became too much for him, our entire family gathered around him on the vet’s floor to see him to the other side.

It goes without saying that I cherish my teenagers to the core and am honored and blessed to have these extraordinary children in my life.

But … there are moments while raising our teenagers when I have to remember that we made a contract with the universe.  It outlines the promise that we made to love and shepherd our obstinate, unpredictable, delightfully funny, smart and foolish, vicious and kind, wise and irrational teenagers into young adulthood and beyond. I will recognize them again when they come full circle and be in awe of the people they become.

It’s a great deal in the end.

The Bird Mask in the Back Seat

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It was my carpool night when I remembered that the bird mask was resting on the back seat where the girls from my daughter’s gymnastic team would soon sit. When I turned to check if it was still there, the fluorescent glow of the gym’s parking lot lights hit its eerily long white beak and hollowed out eyes in a manner that made me feel like a freak-mom for carting it around in my minivan for the last two months.

I’m embarrassed to say it’s just the latest move in my dance with the Medico della Peste, the plague doctor mask. Earlier that day I failed again to hand it over to the perplexed-looking person at Goodwill.

My son Leo brought the mask back from Venice when he went to Italy the summer after fifth grade. My friend Ilaria is from Milan. We met as founding members of the self-proclaimed Neurotic Mothers Group that spontaneously formed on our sons’ first day of kindergarten seventeen years ago. It was an oddball group of capable but anxious women, mostly first time mothers, that hovered at the end of the hall to compare worries.

Ilaria’s son and Leo became fast friends. By third grade Ilaria promised that if the boys were still good buddies at the end of elementary school she would take Leo on their family’s summer visit to Italy. I still have a clear memory of Leo’s only phone message from his Italian adventure bellowing out from an old school answering machine – “It’s Leo. Happy Father’s Day from Venice!”

Although the Medico della Peste is considered one of the typical masks of the Venice Carnival, its true origin dates from the 17th century and credits Charles de Lorme, chief physician to Louis XIII, as the likely inventor. He designed the mask and costume for doctors during the Bubonic plague that ravaged Europe, killing nearly two-thirds of the population. Plague doctors wore the protective dress when they visited their patients. Below is Charles de Lorme’s description of the full gear.

The nose [is] half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the [herbs] enclosed further along in the beak. Under the coat we wear boots made in Moroccan leather (goat leather) from the front of the breeches in smooth skin that are attached to said boots, and a short sleeved blouse in smooth skin, the bottom of which is tucked into the breeches. The hat and gloves are also made of the same skin…with spectacles over the eyes.

In 1630, Venice was devastated by the plague, losing 46,000 of its 140,000 inhabitants which likely contributed to the downfall of the Venetian Republic. Over the centuries the mask’s association with death has lessened and it has evolved to become one of the most popular costumes worn during Carnival.

When Leo returned, he placed his newly acquired mask on his bookshelf. A few years later it made its way to the back of his closet. I knew it was in his room but it was not until four years ago, when we moved, that I became aware of mask’s influence.

Anyone who knows me will confirm that I have a getting-rid-of-stuff super power. It protects me from being swayed by sentimentality or emotion on my mission to unburden myself and others of the clutter that holds them prisoner. My rule for stuff is simple; if the item is neither useful nor beautiful then it needs to find a new home or purpose.

The bird mask is my kryptonite. Since our move I have tried to give it away a gazillion times, sell it at garage sales, and send it back to college with Leo. The mystery for me becomes evident at the moment when I should close the transaction – I can’t.  It’s like the mask has me under a low-grade possession that doesn’t cause me any harm except for the fact that I cannot rid myself of the thing.

I’ve researched the Venice Carnival and the mask’s history in search of answers and scoured my motives to find the key to my release. I can’t point to a single rational reason why I cannot let go of the mask.

I know this sounds crazy but each time I’m at the edge of giving it away, I get this gnawing feeling that the mask is like a thread, that if released, will unravel my entire life. Maybe this is how hoarders feel about every item in their house.

So I’m stuck with the mask. It’s still in the back of my minivan. I’ve stopped explaining myself to the man at Goodwill because there really isn’t an explanation.  He just rolls his eyes and asks if I would like a receipt for the other items.

Estate Sales and Stuff Management

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Estate sales make me think of the Rapture. I imagine that each Thursday evening a deserving group is plucked from their everyday lives for good behavior, while the rest of us buy their stuff for cheap on Friday mornings.

I go to estate sales for the same reason I read obituaries. I want to believe that hidden in each narrative or among the contents of a household I will find subtle, zen-like clues about how to live well.

For those who have never been to an estate sale let me set the scene. The doors officially open on Friday morning at ten and the sale continues over the weekend. There is always a handful of professional buyers, those who resell online or at groovy vintage stores, who arrive early. These are the gamblers and wildcatters of the estate sale circle.

The dealers are usually older and look like they have been up all night. They don’t know many details about the house and its contents except for the bare facts. From behind a card table, one of the dealers lets the first group in the house at ten; others are allowed only as people leave through the checkout station.

The anticipation and underlying competition among the people in the entry line is buzzy.

There are two main reasons for estate sales – death or downsizing due to impending death. An estate sale is like a 3-D, high definition obituary. Much of the contents in the house are in the exact place where the owner had left them with the exception of jewelry, small valuables, and pocket knives, which are usually in a glass case near the entrance.

Silverware and dishes are still in the drawers and cabinets, and kitchen gadgets on the counters.  Available pictures and painting are hung on the walls.  Furniture that is for sale sits where it has always been. Collections of all sorts are put together and books are on the shelves. Most of the family photographs have been put away, but not always.

It looks like you might be visiting if it wasn’t for the fact that everything has a price tag.

Each sale has the personality of the owner. In just a few minutes I can get a sense of the broad strokes of an entire life. Evidence of travel, hobbies, marriage, family, and careers is all there if you look. I love the tiny details that support my initial impressions; the hand-written recipe cards, trinkets from trips, the art, and books.

I don’t buy big items and usually don’t arrive with any expectations. I am drawn to old domestic stuff. I like hand embroidered runners and vintage fabric, salt glaze pottery, heavy metal figurines that feel good in my hand, and old postcards with sweet notes on the back.

After all my estate sale-ing and obituary reading I have yet to find the meaning of life. I have come to know that people’s actions, not their things or even their words, reveal more of life’s instructions.

However, after every estate sale I inevitably think about my own house and what its contents say about me. I have never been good at accumulating. I’m not a shopper.  I don’t have the attention span to collect anything.

At fifty-one, I’m already at the unloading stage. I didn’t expect the urge to downsize would come so soon.  I still go to estate sales but the mountains of stuff I see makes me determined to give away more and to repurpose when I can.

My life-long anthropological curiosity with other people’s things has morphed into my 5 Step Manifesto of Stuff Management.

1.  I relentlessly purge the stuff from our house on an ongoing basis. Unless they have a latent hoarding gene that I don’t know about, my kids will not want to go through my junk after I’m dead. They will not want every art project they ever made from the time they could hold a crayon or my jeans from 1993.  If it hasn’t been worn or used in the past year then it’s on the way out the door to someone who needs it.

2.  I use my good stuff.  At estate sales I have seen tablecloths, china, unworn leather gloves, never-sprayed perfume and beautiful scarves in their original boxes. There are too many items waiting for a special time. The special time is now. If stuff breaks or I lose it, then so be it. Living is risky.

3.  If I need a storage unit for more than a month then I have too much stuff and it’s time for a garage sale, not to be confused with an estate sale.

4.  I will pass along meaningful stuff to my kids while I’m alive so I can see them enjoy it.

5.  I believe in pictures. I will keep every damn one of them. Photographs are proof that experiences are better than stuff.

Stuff is just stuff.

So You Want To Plan a Summer Trip to Iceland

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Although Iceland is the IT destination these days, visiting the country had been at the top of my bucket list since I was ten, long before I even knew what a bucket list was. It took me another forty-one years to set foot on the land that had captured my imagination while looking at National Geographic pictures as a child. Last summer, my daughter, Georgia, and I arrived in Iceland and embarked on a fourteen-day road trip following the famed Route 1 that rings the country. After the twelfth person asked me to help plan their 2016 summer trip, I decided to organize my travel notes and pictures to create a blog post. I hope you find it helpful and let me know if you have any questions.

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Days 1 – 2 (July 22-23):
We landed at the Reykjavík International Airport after what seemed like days of travel with little sleep and only two hours of darkness. The time warp enhanced the other-worldliness of Iceland. The airport was desolate and grey. I had imagined more green.

IMG_7379We arranged to have an agent from Route 1 Car Rental meet us at the airport. We set off immediately on the 90 minutes drive, southeast, to the ferry that brought us, and our car, to Vestmannaeyer Island. Across from the ferry stop is the famed Seljalandsfoss Falls which was our introduction to the waterfalls in Iceland.

We easily found the Aska Hostel.  It took my daughter a bit of time to digest the communal situation which for me was enchanting in the most Icelandic-mother-earth-kind of way. We had the best meal I had in Iceland at the Gott Restaurant which is in the same building.  The Aska is in walking distance to the pool, Eldfell Volcano, restaurants, and grocery stores.IMG_7316IMG_7321

We began our second day with hiking to the world’s largest puffin colony and then climbed Eldfell Volcano. It erupted in 1973 and created a 200-meter-high mountain where a meadow had been, and caused the island’s 5,000 inhabitants to be temporarily evacuated to the mainland. Remarkably no one was killed. There is a place at the top of Eldfell that is still too hot to touch.

Vestmannaeyer is host to the largest multi-day music festival in Iceland. It was established in 1874 to celebrate the 1.000 year anniversary of Icelandic settlement and today boasts 16,000 attendees. It is always held during the last week of July or the first week of August, so make sure you plan accordingly if you want to join or skip the party. We missed the festival by a couple of days.

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IMG_7386IMG_7400We then took the ferry back to the mainland and continued southeast, first to walk the black beaches at Vik and then northeast to Jokulsarlon and the Glacier Lagoon. Stops along the way included Skógafoss waterfall, hikes through bizarre desolate lumpy flatlands, and playing with cows.

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Tips for driving:  Iceland is an extremely safe country for women to travel alone. Everyone speaks English, Danish, and Icelandic and are very willing to help tourists with questions and suggestions. Before you leave the city, purchase gas cards. In some of the more isolated regions, gas stations do not have attendants and you are unable to use credit cards. Mind your gas gauge, as stations can be hard to find along Route 1. Food is expensive so stock up at grocery stores and bring picnic items along with you. Most guest houses provide a free breakfast and it should be a consideration when you make reservations. Take advantage of the 24 hours of daylight. I drove at all hours and always felt safe. Be careful of sheep, they are everywhere and have the right of way.  Be mindful that many of the rural bridges are one lane and drivers take turns crossing.

Links:

https://www.route1carrental.is

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seljalandsfoss

The Ferry from Landeyjahofn to Vestmannaeyjar http://eimskip.is/en/Pages/default.aspx;http://askahostel.is/aska/

http://www.visitvestmannaeyjar.is/en/product/swimming-pool

https://www.fest300.com/festivals/westman-islands-festival

http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/Iceland/commerce_day.php

http://www.visitwestmanislands.com/en/tour/puffin-and-volcano-tour

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skógafoss

Day 3 (July 24):

We stayed at the Hali Country Hotel so we could be out with the first boat at Glacier Lagoon, in IMG_1121Jokulsarlon, about 250 miles (400 km) from Reykjavík.  The Hali had a good restaurant with accomodating hours for meals and the best black-out curtains in the rooms. It was freeezing and after suiting up in protective gear our group lauched at 8am, before the crowds, in two small boats of eight people. When I say small boat, I mean an inflatable row boat with an engine and no seats. We sat on the sides and held on to a rope.  A person can only survive in the water for 30 seconds, so hold on tightly. We toured the bay for about an hour, going all the way up to the glacier. The entire time Georgia baited me with pretending to fall back overboard.  The light in Iceland is very flat and that morning it was also thickly gray which made the blue ice more pronounced. Complete silence except for the sounds of the glacier moving and the river flowing below.  Spectacular!

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We then drove to Hoffell. A local told us about a remote hot spring, a little off road, but in our general direction northeast.  The hot springs were such a highlight and they are everywhere in IMG_7459Iceland.  Invest the time to research and ask the locals where to go – add stops if possible.

After the hot springs, we began our longest driving day through the remote terrain that runs along the coast and across the gorge to Egilsstaðir. There is a short cut over the gorge that an Icelander convinced me to take and the decision finished off my adrenals. It was like driving on a balance beam on the edge of a plummeting-to-certain-death gorge. I’m terrified of heights and for much of the hour that it took to cross we were driving in the clouds, with a bus barreling down on me, and I could not see further than a few feet.

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On the other side we were greeted by the first trees I have seen in Iceland as we drove into Egilsstaðir, a town in east Iceland on the banks of the Lagarfljót River. After the Viking settlers cut the trees down throughout Iceland, the wind and harsh winter conditions have made regrowth impossible. Much like Loch Ness,  Egilsstaðir is famous for its lake monster sightings. We spent the night in Egilsstaðir at the Lyngas Hostel. Staying in hostels and guesthouses is an enjoyable way to meet other travelers and locals. If you have the time, visit the Egilsstadir swimming pool.

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Links:

http://icelagoon.is

http://hali.is

http://www.south.is/en/moya/toy/index/place/skogafoss-waterfall

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%ADk_%C3%AD_Mýrdal

http://frugalfrolicker.com/hot-pools-iceland/

http://www.lyngas.is/en/myndir/moppur

http://www.east.is/en/what-to-see-and-do/services/egilsstadir-swimming-pool

Day 4 (July 25):

We left Lyngas Guesthouse in Egilsstaðir and headed west, toward Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, Dettifoss and Selfoss, bringing us across the lunar-like expanses of the IMG_1143eastern highlands. In 1965 and 1967 a group of Astronauts from NASA came to the area to prepared for the first moon landing. Iceland has so many waterfalls that I stopped photographing them. It’s like the entire country has sprung a leak.

I was not sure that I wanted to go off road to visit Dettifoss and Selfoss. In the end we turned off Route 1 and once again Iceland upped the wow factor. We took the 5 mile hike to the floor of the canyon below the falls.  I highly recommend this stop but add the hike to get your legs moving after quite a bit of driving.

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From the falls we continued northwest to see the bubbling hot mud pools of Hverir and hiked to the top of Mt. Namafjall.  IMG_7528The view of Lake Myvatn is fantastic.  From there we visited the Myvatn Natural Baths which are located just 65 miles from the arctic circle. They are manmade pools made from runoff water from the nearby Bjarnarflag geothermal borehole – which also runs a power station. Because of an algae that lives in the water, the pools are the color of a blue raspberry popsicle.IMG_7538

After a couple hours soaking in the pools, we headed further west to our final destination of the day, Akureyri, referred to as the second capitol of Iceland. More like a large town than a city, it has a bohemian feel with many hipsters, lots of man buns, and adventure travelers.

IMG_7550We stayed in a sweet guest house, The Hrafnin, in the center of town near pools and restaurants.  Make time to see the bonanical gardens and the Akureyrarkirkja Church which is the symbol of Akureyri. It is a Lutheran church and was designed by architect Gudjon Samuelsson and consecrated in 1940.

Links:

http://www.lyngas.is/en

http://www.zigzagonearth.com/dettifoss-selfoss-iceland/

http://www.myvatnnaturebaths.is

http://www.visitmyvatn.is/en

http://www.hrafninn.is

http://www.visitakureyri.is/en

Days 5-7 (July 26 -28):

On our first full day in Akureyri, I let Georgia sleep in and we spent the early afternoon eatingIMG_7553 donuts (lots of donuts) and drinking terrible coffee in the town square. Iceland has the best donuts I have ever tasted – now the coffee is another story. Icelanders probably do not need coffee because I have found that they’re naturally cheery and industrious – a spike in caffeine may throw off their even-keeled temperaments. The red stop lights in Akureyri are shaped like hearts – these are not people who need coffee.

From Akureyri, we headed to Husavik for a day trip, a tiny town of 3,000 IMG_7569established in 870 AD, which is touted as the whale watching capital of the world. The drive from Akureyri was about 40 minutes and was our most northern stop of this trip. We went out at 6pm with an unusually small group. They gave us astronaut-like thermal suits to keep warm but it was still so cold. The reality of the cold sea made me wonder about what possessed the Vikings to get into a their wooden boats. It takes an hour to sail to the where most sightings occur.

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I have never been on a whale watch so when I was looking out at the vast grey sea, it felt like seeing a whale was going to be a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack. Then out of no where a Hump Back whale followed our boat closely for almost an hour. At times he was 50 yards from our boat and you could see his eye. It was remarkable. I didn’t take many pictures because I didn’t want to miss the experience. A whale is much quieter than I had imagined and very graceful. I thought about one of my favorite books, She’s Come Undone, and how the novel ends with Delores seeing the whale and finding peace. One last thing – the sea does not smell fishy or salty but rather like sweet rain. IMG_7580Can’t speak more highly of North Sailing for whale watching!  I also recommend eating at Naustid next to the pier.  We drove back to our guesthouse at midnight.

The following day we were back to our usual pace. Top on Georgia’s list of things to do in Iceland was to ride the Icelandic horses. There are 320,000 people living in Iceland along with more than 80,000 horses. Brought to Iceland by the Vikings between 860 and 935 AD, the horses are short, stocky, hardy creatures and are the ONLY breed allowed in country. Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported and exported animals are not allowed to return. While other horse breeds walk, trot, canter and gallop, the Icelandic horse can tölt, which is an ambling gait known as the 5th gear. We rode for about 4 hours along the coast outside of Akureyri with a German family with two teenagers.  I highly recommend Eldhestar Stables.

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I’m drawn to the volcanic terrain around Lake Myvatn. The remote landscape is like nowhere else in Iceland so we decided  take the hour-long drive to backtrack and return to the area after our morning ride for our last day in Akureyri.
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We hiked the trails at Dimmuborgir, a large area of unusually shaped lava fields and IMG_1325hobbitesque rock formations. In Icelandic lore the place is home to the Yule Lads, 13 mischievous trolls who have morphed over the centuries from children eaters to modern day prankster Santas. We then hiked up the Leirhnjukur crater and walked around the Kraft Lava Fields. Georgia has a hard time with the intense sulfur smell that is ever present. Leirhnjukur was one of the smelliest hikes that we had taken so it was more of a sprint than a hike.

We ate dinner at the CowShed, or Vogafjos, Restaurant where the cows raised on the farmIMG_1403 produced all the milk for the dairy products. We had the most unbelievable ice creams – one was made with a local flower that tasted like clover and the other was made with pieces of the local dark, sticky, brown bread and it tasted likeIMG_1381 grape nut ice cream.We finished dinner at 10pm but the Myvatn Natural Blue Baths were calling to us and are open until midnight in the summer. The near full moon, midnight sunset, and the steam rising from the ever-lowering air temperature made the pools look like another planet. It was about 11:30pm when we headed back to Akureyri.

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We passed Lake Myvatn which had become transformed by the unique light at midnight. The skies become pink and blue like the color of the bags of cotton candy that are sold at amusement parks. It makes the water and all reflective surfaces pink and blue which then over-saturates the Irish-hillside green of the mini volcanic peaks erupting from the lake. That’s when the intense fog appeared and the scene became like a mythical city in the clouds.IMG_7633 It was magical and lovely until the sun went down further and the fog closed us in so we could not see further than 20 feet to any side. Icelandic roads are two lanes with just barely enough room for two cars, no guard rails, sheep everywhere, and 90% of all bridges allow for only one car to pass at a time. We did make it back, very slowly, but it’s not the end of the story… so when we finally get to our guesthouse, exhausted, we see a car pull up to meet another car at the end of the parking lot. We don’t think anything of it. I have never been worried about traveling as woman, alone with Georgia, in Iceland – even in the most remote areas. It honestly feels like the safest place on earth … until one of the men in the back of the second car jumped out wearing a Scream mask.  Georgia and I ran to our guesthouse, and of course fumbled for our keys like all characters in a scary movie. We made it inside and they drove off. It was probably nothing,  it’s Iceland – just another twist in a dream-like day.

Links:

http://www.northsailing.is/home/

http://beiceland.is/naustid

http://eldhestar.is

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dimmuborgir

http://www.vogafjos.is

Day 8 (July 29):

There are two kinds of people, drivers and co-pilots. I am a driver. I have five simple rules for co-pilot certification. 1) All co-pilots need to know how to read a map very quickly. Even with it’s mighty directional brain, GPS can often NOT find the remote, off the grid, place that only a true hold-in-your-hands-map can find. 2) The co-pilot needs to know your go-to beverage and snack choices and have them stocked and readily available.IMG_7483 3) They need to have trained their bladder prior to the road trip because no one wants a bathroom needy co-pilot. 4) The job includes music maintenance, first-aid, and and gas station reconnaissance. 5) Co-pilots need to be cheery when on duty and can only sleep with permission from the driver. It sounds like a easy list to master but it takes a bit of practice for driver and co-pilot to fully synch. Georgia earned her co-pilot certification as we left Akureyri. When I got in the car I immediately noticed that she had placed 2 pieces of my new favorite Icelandic Eucalyptus gum in the compartment above the stick shift, the map was on the dashboard AND folded correctly, the GPS was programed and the radio was playing a hipster Icelandic song. The synching of driver and co-pilot – now that is the meaning of a road trip.

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The day was taken up by the long drive from Akureyri to Reykjavík with a side trip to the public pool in the tiny northern village of Hofsos – it’s on THE list of must visit thermal pools. Iceland has a vibrant public pool culture. Almost every town, no matter how small, has a thermal public pool: it usually consists of two hot tubs (hot and hotter), a swimming pool, a steam room and public showers. You have to be comfortable with same-gender nudity in the locker rooms –as you are given instructions to take an Icelandic shower (translation: naked) that includes a color coded anatomical chart of essential body parts to be washed. The pool lived up to the hype. It was designed by the same architect responsible for the Blue Lagoon and built into the hillside above the sea. The pool looks out on Drang Isles that tower majestically in the midst of Skagafjörður fjord. The island is the remnant of a 700,000 year old volcano. The tiny town also is home to the Icelandic Emigration Centre, founded in 1996, and dedicated to commemorate Icelandic emigrants to Canada and the United States.

We finally made it made to Reykjavík in the evening after passing through the impressive 3.5 mile Hvalfjörður Tunnel under the Hvalfjörður fjord. Of course, Iceland even has IMG_7648spectacular tunnels. It was getting late and it took us a while to find our little apartment at Room With A View hidden in the center of town. The place was recommended to us by a friend who recently visited Iceland and it was perfect. I left Georgia to rest and walked to the grocery store to buy food for the next couple of days. After we ate, I walked around the city a bit to get a sense of the place. By then it was close to midnight and everything was quiet. I was first struck by the San Francisco-color-palette monopoly shaped houses, quirkily arranged. The city pulsated with a creative energy that felt a bit rascally in a very understated Danish way. I know that sounds like a messy scramble of images but it was my first impression.

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Links:

http://www.northwest.is/1hofsos.asp

http://roomwithaview.is

Days 9 – 14 (July 30 – August 5):

We began our 5 days in Reykjavik. If I were traveling alone, I would have continued into the Western Fjords, the most northwest peninsula of Iceland that looks like an out-stretched paw in the Sea of Denmark. The region, with the worst, most precarious roads in Iceland, is visited by only 3%of tourists and is usually skipped in most people’s Route 1 itineraries. This remote, inaccessible region deserves at least 4-5 days to appreciate its stark abandoned landscape. Instead I made the decision to rent an efficiency apartment in the center of Reykjavik. As I grow older I crave time in wild places in order to strip off the layers accumulated from 51 years of living. But this trip was for two and I wanted to respect the instinctive teenage curiosity that pushes them to seek out new stimulation so they can build and shape their budding identities. It has been my experience, over the last nine years of raising teenagers, that they need to join rather than escape.

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Reykjavik is a gentle city to discover and join. It’s the perfect reflection of its people:
Egalitarian, industrious, outdoorsy, reflective, quiet yet celebratory, balanced but quirky, traditional and yet so forward thinking, and simultaneously Viking-esque, bohemian, and  11865272_10204694233143435_27942853201276577_osophisticated. The Icelandic creativity is everywhere – in most window sills, back yards and front stoops, in the graffiti (both sanctioned and not), in each flower pot, in the communal caring of the city’s cats, in the abundant public art, in the plentiful kind helpfulness.

The Icelandic people live surrounded by the most majestic examples that nature can serve 11823138_10204694252503919_2945984601495843618_oup and yet their biggest city is created on a modest, comforting human scale – no detail or invention is too small to add to the cityscape. Like the tiny purple and yellow flowers that thrive in the cracks of the black volcanic rocks of the country’s dramatic terrain, the people of Iceland have found a way to masterfully adapt to their environment. I made a hybrid plan of day trips out into the country from our home base in Reykjavik but the focus was to live among the Icelanders. We grocery shopped, cooked meals, found favorite cafes for coffee and soup, talked about politics and favorite hot springs with locals and tourists from all over the world, did laundry and washed dishes, laughed a lot, swam in the public pools, listened to music, played and relaxed in the parks, visited art museums, and rode horses at Laxnes Stables. We walked everywhere. We were Icelandic.

We took a day to take in the Golden Circle which included the underwhelming Strokkur Geyser which shoots a column of water up to 30 meters (98 ft.) into the air every 4-8 minutes; Gullfoss waterfall, created by the Hvítá River, which tumbles and plunges into a crevice some 32 m (105 ft.) deep; and the IMG_7729historical and geological wonder that is Thingvellir National Park, where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year.  IMG_7724This is where most tourists visit when in Iceland.  Having just completed our journey around the country, Georgia and I felt the Golden Circle was a bit like the Cliff Notes’ version of Iceland.  We enjoyed Thingvellir National Park the most. In addition to the natural beauty, it is the historical site of Althing – the oldest legislature in the world still existing. It was founded in 930 at Thingvellir and continued until 1798 as an open-air assembly representing the whole of Iceland. We topped off the day with an evening at the famous Blue Lagoon. It did not disappoint, even though it was very touristy.

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Over the past 500 years, Iceland’s volcanoes have erupted a third of the total global lava output. Iceland has 130 volcanic mountains, 30 of which are considered active.

IMG_8002On our final day in Iceland, we took an early morning bus, about 45 minutes outside the city, and hiked to Thrihnukagigur. Inside the Volcano is the only place in the world that you are able to be lowered down into a volcano’s magma chamber – usually volcanic chambers are plugged or sealed shut during the eruption. In 1974 the chamber was discovered by young skier who was lowered, with a rope around his waist, 440 feet to the bottom. In 2011 National Geographic did a documentary on the chamber and IMG_7973devised an elaborate method to lower people into the volcano using an open elevator, similar to that used by window washers. The elevator holds only 5-6 people at a time and it takes seven minutes to ride to the bottom. Thick cable wires move the elevator up and down. The volcano was opened up to visitors in 2012. I’m very scared of heights and a bit claustrophobic so I looked at a lot of footage and pictures of the chamber prior to our decision to go for it. I was expecting the colors but not the enormous, cathedral-like size of the chamber. The guide explained the colors as being like glaze on pottery. I read an account that described the colors as looking like spilled oil on water. Each group has about 40 minutes at the bottom. Again, it’s a place to experience and not to take a lot of pictures. I have found that Iceland just shakes it’s head at my puny attempts to capture the true power of it’s landscapes.

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We were back in the city at about 1pm and decided to go to several museums that had been closed the prior two days because of the Icelandic Labor Day weekend. That sounds daunting, but museumsIMG_7743 in Reykjavik are organized much more sanely than in the states. There are many small museums throughout the city linked under an umbrella organization. I love it because it serves up art in easily consumable portions with no underlying panic that you will run out of time or attention span – even a teenager’s attention span. Each exhibit is also muti-sensory. As you can image, the landscape is central to the country’s art. We were pleasantly surprised to find how well women artists are represented at every museum.IMG_8038
At the National Gallery of Iceland, 63% of the artists are men and 37% are women. Compare that to 5% women artists at the MoMA and 3% women artists New York’s Metropolitan Museum.11231759_10204694250863878_81848738332158420_o Our favorites: Júlíana Sveinsdóttir (1889-1966 ), Ruth Smith (1913-1958), Kathy Clark (1967-), Hulda Hakon (1956 -). Of course we loved the the most famous Icelandic painter, Kjarval (1885 – 1972). He is beloved for his fanciful style and his love affair with Iceland and its people. We first saw a sculpture of Einar Jonsson (1874-1954) on the Westman Island and were grateful to find that he donated his home and all of his work to create Iceland’s first museum, located next to the Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik.

We finished our day with a swim at Sundhollin, the oldest public pool (1937) in Reykjavik, about aIMG_8061 15 minute walk from our apartment. We swam, soaked, steamed, and Georgia did flips off the old-school diving board. We stayed until 10pm and headed back to pack.  We look the bus to the airport which was easy and much cheaper than a cab.

When we left we felt like we had just skimmed the surface of this spectacular country. We will be back!  Thank you Iceland!

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Links:

I took all of the photos that appear in this blog.

http://www.iheartreykjavik.net The best website about Reykjavik and Iceland. They have an hour long walking tour of Reykjavik which is terrific and sets you in motion for your stay.

http://www.visitreykjavik.is/hallgrimskirkja-church  There are several inexpensive concerts at the church each week so you can hear the famed organ play

http://matarkistan.is  Our favorite restaurant in Reykjavik

http://www.trip-to-iceland.com/what-to-do-and-see/reykjavik-area/sundhollin-oldest-swimming-pool-reykjavik/

https://insidethevolcano.com

http://www.laxnes.is  Loved Laxnes Stables!  They provided pickup/drop-off from Reykjavik.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Intention

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Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”

I very deliberately made homemade whipped cream to top the fresh berries I bought for our New Year’s Day dinner.  Austere food restrictions had no place at our table as we welcomed 2016.  If anything, I want to add more sweetness to the next twelve months – nothing sickeningly so, but as with perfect whipped cream, a touch of sugar goes a long way.

This year I’m making an intention rather than a resolution. In yoga, an intention is the act of bringing awareness to a quality that you wish to cultivate in your life, both on and off the mat.  It is the determination to act in a certain way.

For many, the new year brings harsh inventories of mental and physical defects that spawn Spartan-like regimens.  A resolution identifies a problem and promises an answer.  It’s an if-then statement.  If I do this then I will be fixed.

But we are humans, not math problems, and few things in life are linear or easily deconstructed. Most of us will find our ourselves looking at the same inventory list next January.

So this year I’m trying another approach. I’m visualizing 2016 as one long yoga practice.  On January first I set my intention to be willing to come from a place of kindness, more often than not.

As I climb up the decades, I’ve developed a mighty respect for kindness. I have watched it trump just about any vice or virtue as it ripples outward like rings from a pebble dropped into a smooth lake.  It brings us to the sweet spot between effort and ease, strength and weakness.

If I am kind with my thoughts I will be brave and more curious.

If I am kind to my body I will more likely choose to eat better, sleep well, and exercise. I will also unapologetically enjoy a splurge.

If I am kind to my family I will honor myself and them by holding steady and not falling prey to fear and anger.

If I am kind to my friends we will be become pillars in each other’s lives.

If I am kind to strangers I will be more open to people and new experiences.

If I am kind to my community I will lose myself in something bigger and lasting.

Contrary to New Year’s lore, none of us can completely erase our real and perceived less-delightful traits, but we can make an honest effort to befriend ourselves which will go a long way toward relief.

An intention is not inherently solution focused, it’s more of a gentle reminder of how we want to live and a guide post to get us back on the path when we forget. It’s in the failing, and the trying again and again, where the progress is made.

It’s as simple as coming back to the breath and a single thought. You can always start anew. That is why they call it a practice.

 

“I love my life, I regret my life. The lines eventually blur and it’s just my life.” ~ Tobi (Patrick Stewart) in the film Match

I took the photograph at the park next to the Palmer Event Center, Austin, TX.

The opening quote is from Dan Gilbert.

 

To Love January

Our Christmas tree slumped next to the trash can, waiting to be mulched, feels like a little victory. That used up evergreen screams, “It’s done, I made it!”

I’m a believer that when Christmas is over, it’s over. I want everything pulled down, put away and dragged to the curb by December 28th.  Any later and I get panicky and claustrophobic in the same way I feel when stuck in a too small shirt, arms trapped over head, in the dressing room at Nordstrom Rack.

My family’s holiday season is a three months long event gauntlet that includes six birthdays, Halloween, our anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

I promised myself I would be more celebratory this year. I lightheartedly blew through the three October birthdays, one including a team sleepover and another a weekend trip to Miami. I even sailed through hosting Thanksgiving for twenty-seven.

But as the girls opened the first day on their advent calendars, the bah humbugs took hold. I do not have a history of tortured childhood Christmases. My mom had Christmas down. The beauty she created for us was nurturing and serene.

When the kids arrived, Christmas became the vehicle for the mean girl in my head. She speaks in oughts and shoulds, through a perfectly lip-glossed mouth. Her cheerfully condescending tone swirls doubt around my resolve for a simple celebration.

I stayed the course with my holiday convictions, but it wasn’t comfortable nor relaxing. The 26th felt like one long, lovely, liberating exhale. With the tree to the street and the mean girl silenced, I can finally plan for my favorite day of the year, January 1st.

To Love January  by Davi Walders

I clasp January to me giddy
with hope for its newborn
cry that clears away the worn
out year like so much tinsel

carted off to storage. I love
January’s uncluttered room, its
freshly laundered calendar innocent
and white beneath a pure blue sky

grazed by bone-clean trees. To love
January is an acquired taste,
like learning to let the tongue
curl around the slow, sweet burn

Of Tuaca’s golden fire.
I do not want to wait for April
to fall in love, July to run with
a salty sea, October to be crowned

in color. I want to drink it all
in now when everything is possible
and I and the world are infants again
babbling, listening for birdsong.