Every season deserves a break to stop and watch. Autumn happens to be my favorite. The leaves, the cooler air, the last of summer’s harvest. Up at my mom’s in Mt. Shasta, autumn is alive with color hidden beneath the unchanging pine trees.
Our friends are launching a photography business and brought their new camera, “Harrison,” along for the weekend. Man, a fantastic camera and shooting/editing skills go such a long way! I’ll be excited to share their photography site when it is up and running. Until then, a few more pictures from our trip because they make everything feel that much more magical.
I like the drama of that statement, as though everything will somehow change on Thursday.
I get that age is a state of mind, but thirty just sounds so adult.
Like it’s time to stop dreaming and start doing.
I know, it’s always time for that.
Ironically, I picked a pretty grown-up way to celebrate.
A house, close friends, dogs, and the ocean.
No dirty thirty or roaring twenties to go out with a bang.
However, it was perfectly me.
Quiet, peace, laughter and the sea.
Here’s to a new decade.
I’m suffering from a bit of a vacation hangover. Pictures freeze time when I cannot. Fortunately, there is still the anticipation of all that is left to come, and it is a lot.
What is life?
Sisters bouncing in the waves,
Rituals untouched by age,
Mosquito-ridden hikes through streams,
To waterfalls guarded beneath a canopy of trees,
Jasmine pearl ice tea,
Sunscreen layered thick,
Tiki Mai Tais hidden in a maze of stalls,
Millions of stars in the night sky,
Sprinklers then laughter,
A ghostly figure in the dark,
Manta ray arms stretched wider than my own,
Two turtles and a friendly fish,
A Buddhist temple with a bell so large,
You are promised happiness and peace.
A catamaran skips across the water,
Edging closer to the unknown,
A fish caught and punched to death in the head,
Blood diluted by the sea,
Tears of brevity,
Life impossible to hold,
As sisters howl and scream beyond the break.
When I heard we were headed to Oahu this summer, I was both thrilled and a little skeptical. In my mind, Oahu meant Honolulu—crowded beaches, throngs of tourists, a cookie cutter version of the Hawaii I love. After all, that was the only version of Oahu I had seen 13 years ago in my less than 48 hours on the island, and last summer I was spoiled with the secluded paradise of Kauai.
However, it turns out Oahu has a lot to offer—the same quiet, dense vegetation, and gorgeous seascapes as its northern neighbor, plus the metropolitan bonus of a big city. In fact, most of Oahu feels like the real Hawaii, outside of Honolulu there are fewer resorts compared to Maui or the Big Island, and there really isn’t a bad view to be found.
If you have not considered visiting Oahu, here are a few tips from my week in paradise:
It is a tradition for me to want to move after a vacation and Oahu is no exception. I have already researched teacher salaries, credential transfers and rents. Regardless of what the future holds, I will return one way or another. Oahu rocks.
In light of all the lovely blog love I have received in the past couple days, it’s hard to keep myself from checking in around here, (thanks again to my fellow Bloggers for Peace). However, I really must push myself to step away, so hopefully you won’t be seeing any more words from me until next week. Must. Resist.
Okay, now that I wrote that, I’m going to have a million irresistible blog ideas…
Have a safe and fun fourth!
Today I allowed myself an indulgence. I shop for new clothes maybe twice a year, max. Generally, my sisters and I swap items over little parties with friends, or I browse thrift shops. I try not to over-consume, although like most Americans, I still cross the line into some level of wastefulness and then feel guilty later.
Before a big vacation it is my ritual to pick up a few items, part of the anticipatory pleasure of travel. So, this morning, I headed off to Ross, my budget compromise to minimize at least the financial guilt of consumerism. After I carefully selected a couple items, including a swimsuit more characteristic of a 65 year-old woman, I headed for the dressing room.
As I squeezed into colorful Speedo spandex, I overheard a mother-daughter duo in the next stall.
“Oh my God.” Sheer horror in the daughter’s voice.
“So-and-so’s sister has cervical cancer.”
“How old is she?”
“Mid to late twenties.”
They were both silent in disbelief. I, too, stopped for a moment. We all know someone with cancer. We all know people hurting because of it. Just this morning I had a conversation with someone I care about who faces a monumental loss. Sadly, we live in a world where cancer is not rare.
As I stood suddenly aware of the trivial concerns that face all women during swimsuit shopping, I was struck by the desire to get home and tell my husband we need to take better care of ourselves, we need to enjoy each moment as much as we can. Funny how the words of strangers can be so jarring.
The truth, as we all know, is that life can end abruptly (or slowly) at any time. When we remember this, time spent with loved ones becomes much more meaningful and finding the perfect swimsuit matters a lot less. For the record, I went for the old-lady one-piece, granny chic is totally my style, big sunglasses, colorful tote, and most importantly, a whole lot of love.
I wrote this post from my laptop up at my mom’s. No Wi-Fi left time to reflect. However, when I got home, my original words were no longer enough. This time I went to Mount Shasta for five days, a record maybe. Usually I stay a couple nights, but during my visit in May I finally connected with nature, so this time I wanted to stay a little longer.
This time, my mom invited a friend of mine from work, with her kids, to join us for the last couple days. This woman is incredible. She gives everything she has to children—her three biological, two adopted through foster care, and the hundreds who attend my K-12 school. She is magic. Sometimes she stands in the back of my room to lend an extra set of eyes, other times I send her kids for one of her special talks. They always come back respectful, ready to learn.
I told my mom about my friend, how she has believed in me even when I have not believed in myself, how she dreams of starting a house for foster kids graduating from high school, how she makes backpacks for the least-fortunate children at our school, filled with tooth brushes and other life supplies. Touched, my mom invited her to bring her kids to Mount Shasta to camp.
Before I extended the invitation, I was not sure what she would say. Mount Shasta has always been my secret place, a land of family only. I was not sure if anyone else would get it, but she did, without me even having to explain anything. She has a gift for understanding people’s thoughts. I should have known she would fall in love, too.
Our worlds are different, but our hearts are the same. Some days we talk and talk after school, leaving others wondering what we are up to—the secret, we laugh and cry and keep each other going. I decided what the heck. If my mom wanted her to visit, then I wanted my friend to decide for herself if she wanted to enter a different universe.
I was not sure what it was going to be like—whether my friend and her family would feel comfortable with strangers, whether she would even say yes. But, she did and I’m so grateful for her courage. We cooked hot dogs over a fire pit, shrieked at frogs (okay that part was just me), waded in the lake, and stared at the brightest moon I have ever seen. After I left, she and her kids stayed and played at the lake, my brother rowing the canoe with her youngest child singing the entire way. When it was all over, I got two phone calls, one from my brother and one from my friend, both full of happy stories of what I had missed.
This weekend I am thankful for friends and family who encourage us to be brave and open our hearts to each other, for my newest sister and my wonderful nieces and nephew. Maybe we should let our worlds collide more often.
I know I recently wrote about myself at 66, but this week I have been thinking about myself at 34 (cough::: err, almost 35). It’s that time of year when you sit down with your boss and discuss your 2 to 5 year plan, or at least it is if you’re a teacher. Thinking about my answer, I could not help but trace back 5 years.
Five years ago today I was in Lake Tahoe with my boyfriend. It was Sunday, the day after our first set of friends got married. We had stayed at Harvey’s and ended up in an outdated two queen room so that I could see the lake instead of the parking lot in our first assignment. Looking out over the glory of Lake Tahoe, I wanted the future to be mine. I wanted Alex to propose.
In that odd state of wedding fever, we ended up with a dog. Maybe I thought a dog would make us feel more like a little family. We had visited the pet shop the day before and fallen in love with a toy poodle. He was boisterous and tiny, a baby. As soon as we left the pet shop, I was sick to my stomach. We sat in the parking lot beside the lake and I felt like I was going to throw up. I called the pet store and asked if we could return him. They told me no.
It was my first recognizable panic attack. Before I did not realize my emotions sometimes made me sick. I did not know if I could manage the decade plus responsibility I had just signed up for. I feared our noisy inward-opening apartment on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley would kick us out. We weren’t allowed to have pets. I don’t know what I was thinking. Alex sat patiently as I lost my cool, my whole body trembling with anxiety.
We drove home slowly, the dog, then named Achilles, peed on me more than once. We stopped at my parents’ house and let him play in the backyard, my brother and sisters and best friend sitting in a circle in the grass as he ran between us, stopping at each person for kisses and playful bites. I simultaneously loved and feared him.
We made it back to Berkeley at nightfall and discovered sneaking him up and down the stairwell to be a daunting feat, neighbors passing, looking quizzically, the apartment manager potentially lurking around any corner. That night, neither the dog nor I slept. He bounced around the apartment and cried, helpless. I turned in fits of nausea constantly concerned he was pooping or peeing or alerting the neighbors with his yap.
The next day I went to work a mess and sat in my cube searching for an answer instead of performing my duties as an economic analyst. Animal rights activists pulled down my posts on Craig’s List and PetFinder instantaneously. The Bay Area is good for shaming people into keeping their ill-acquired pets. By some stroke of luck, one of my best friends and her mom had been looking for a toy poodle. That evening, Achilles became Preston as I passed him into my friend’s loving arms somewhere off the road between Sacramento and Berkeley, tears in my eyes, guilt in my irresponsibility.
Everything turned out okay. The shame disappeared, Preston became the prized dog of a family with an actual dog door and backyard. I came to grips with the fact that I had an anxiety problem. I read books and saw doctors. I refused medication, but tried countless natural remedies. It has been three years since my last anxiety attack, the day I quit my job with less than two days notice to begin my teacher residency program. Since then, I have been fine.
Five years changes a lot. I went from a cube to a classroom, dating to married, a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley to a house in Sacramento, anxious to often complimented for my calm. I don’t know what changed exactly. Maybe it was making the conscious decision to stop being scared and live more in line with who I was meant to be. Maybe it was the decision to take one day at a time, instead of freaking out over next week, next month, next year. Perhaps it was all the reading, or the change in diet, or the exercise, or the yoga. I really don’t know. It wasn’t an instant process and it’s still not complete.
So, when I am asked where I see myself in five years, I have no idea. Mother or childless, teacher or writer, or still both. Low-income school or private where I can be myself more often. Teaching yoga to high-risk youth, or part of some organization that fights the fight I want to champion. Living in Sacramento or on acreage in the foothills or on the other side of the world. I have no idea. All I know is that the last five years have taught me to follow my heart and keep working hard toward what matters. The results may not be perfect, but they will be better than I could ever imagine.
Which leaves me with my usual question, what about you?
We each have a formula of things that bring us happiness. For me, it is purpose in my work, expressing myself through writing, yoga, my dogs, travel, and most importantly, the people I love. This month has been a lesson in the reality that more money is not on that list. I can have all those things without ever being materially rich. Abundance exists in how we live, not what we have.
Everyone knows people who choose to live minimally but have incredibly rich life experiences. The vagabond, the bohemian yogi, the teacher who lives on little during the year to spend his summer backpacking. For most of us reading this blog, our dreams are achievable within the means of what we already have. I’m not saying poverty is not real, but rather our dreams are closer than we think.
Rick Steves says it well. He argues that driving an older car, living in a more modest home, eating out a bit less during the year can open up a world of travel we never thought possible. I have read incredible stories of people who live in tiny studios and then put their stuff in storage to allow themselves the freedom to travel. It all comes down to priorities. Maybe travel isn’t your thing, but something is, and whatever that thing may be, you have to find a way to give it space in your life, even if this means rearranging your priorities.
Likewise, we must give space to the people in our lives to do the same thing– our partners must create their own list of happiness ingredients and we must work together to honor how our priorities can coexist within the same home. After all, peace at home is not just about ourselves. It is a give and take, an acceptance of others for their true nature, not our selfishly-imposed vision of how the other should be.
Happiness is complicated. We expect this space of bliss to exist where all the hard parts melt away. This recent article on Offbeat Families says it well:
New love is beautiful, but it isn’t the point of life. Honoring it and allowing it to be, to flare and flourish and light up the sky and then to fade in its own time, like everything does… and staying with it, consuming it, taking it into ourselves, letting it become us, to become as vital to us as our lungs and heart and tongue, might be the point of life. Finding the deeper meaning and beauty beyond the flashier, temporary kind that comes with newness, might be the point.
I am coming to realize that happiness is layered in challenge and perseverance. It is not easy and it is not constant, but when you are living a life aligned with that list of ingredients that rings true for you, it is there, just beneath the surface, helping you find peace in the chaos, giving your life meaning beyond any sort of obsession with needing more. We are already whole, we just need to figure out what this means and how to honor it.
Peace, too, is a state of mind. Some people are able to find peace in chaos, while others create chaos in peace. I am working to be the person who finds peace without hiding from the world or avoiding conflict. My work as a teacher helps me practice this every day, but it is still work and I am still learning.
It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.
As I sat over a greasy spoon breakfast of eggs and country potatoes with my dad early yesterday morning, I was reminded that we do not face this journey alone. We are part of a network of people who can hold us up closer to our dreams, if only we figure out what they are and let go of our stubborn desire to do everything on our own. We are more powerful together, both at home with our partners and in our larger communities of families, friends, and neighbors. A bohemian sort of abundance already surrounds us, we just have to figure out how to embrace it.
Join me in the Bloggers for Peace June challenge, what brings you peace at home and in your relationships?