Archives for posts with tag: adventure
Grandpa Joe, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only Grandma Gracie

Grandpa, me, my sister Shannon, and the one and only “Gram”, Florida, 1983

My grandmother, my dad’s mother, was a fierce Italian woman who hugged too tightly and never hesitated to tell you what was on her mind. She fed us too well and despite the fact that she was only 4′ 11″, her footsteps were like that of an elephant’s (she was always in heels), and I swear that they based that TV commercial on how she would call my brother in for dinner (“Annnthony!”). She passed away last October, five days before I left for Nepal. I returned to NY to celebrate her life and then boarded the plane for a journey that would change my own.

In my backpack, I carried two of her prayer cards: a laminated version with a picture of the Blessed Mother looking down with love upon three children, and a paper one with a solitary image of the Virgin Mary. Mary was my grandmother’s lodestar, her namesake, and in her final years, who she remembered her own mother to be. It is because of my grandmother that my daughter carries the same name.

Two days after my grandmother’s funeral, I found myself crouching on the banks of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu, the gateway to The Beyond for the Hindu community in Nepal. A continuous stream of funeral pyres burn here, releasing into the waters the remnants of the dead, and are then re-lit over and over again, burning at the base of the Shree Pashupatinath Temple. In my hand was the paper prayer card, Mary looking out into an unseen distance. I thanked my grandmother for her love and devotion. I promised to always remember that “blood is thicker than water”, and to keep my eyes out for a “decent” girlfriend for my single brother—and then I let the card be carried away with the ashes of so many others in the waters of the Bagmati.

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015

Bagmati River, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2015 – photo credit: Sahadev Panday

Despite the fact that I was able to perform my good-bye ceremony in one of the most sacred places on the planet, it wasn’t until I was hiking through the foothills of the Himalayas that I encountered my grandmother in the afterlife. As we marched through one tiny village after another, we came across so many lovely, yet somewhat solemn individuals. Always smiling, they kept mostly to themselves, a resultance of not speaking our language I’d assumed. But rounding the corner one warm morning, we came across an ardent, ageless crone who we heard before we saw. We met what could only be described as my Nepali grandmother.

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

My Nepali Grandmother, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 2015

Also a nonagenarian, this woman called us over to show us her broken eyeglasses. Her fingers, bent by time and arthritis, pointed at each of us with aggression, while she animatedly explained to our guide that her daughter had left to go breed a bull in another village and she needed new glasses. She was hard of hearing, but sharp as a tack and had something to say about each of us. She had the same demanding attitude, the same crooked fingers, the same “what in the Hell do you know!” gestures as she waved us away, annoyed that we didn’t have any glasses to give her. I quietly sidled up to her and held her hand as she talked, expecting her to impart some wisdom or have a spark of recognition for me—for clearly she was my grandmother in another time and a very faraway place—but there was none. She took no notice of me and barely registered that I was touching her at all. I was okay with that. I had received far more than I ever expected and was grateful for the opportunity to see that my grandmother could live on in unexpected ways.

This past week, my grandmother’s cousin and her closest friend, also passed away. It was no surprise when I received the call. Nonina, as she was known in the family, was as fierce and Italian as Grandma, and together they had so much deliciousness to offer the world, and a lot to say about it too. Where Grandma held expertise in food (though Nonina was no slouch), Nonina knew her fashion, and thanks to her, as a kid I was dressed in the very best chiffons and polyesters that the 70’s had to offer. Her children were her life, as she would tell you over and over again, and there was not an award, a performance or a Halloween costume that would pass without her inspection. Now that she is gone, the world is a little dimmer, but I can only imagine the party happening now that she is home.

After Nepal, I am excited to see how Nonina will show up again. I look forward to the unexpected moment when I hear two older ladies arguing and instantly think of Grandma and Nonina. And I’m curious to see where I’ll encounter someone who refers to me as, “Doll”. While I miss them both very much, I can’t wait until they visit me once again.

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002

Grandma and Nonina, Oct. 12, 2002 – photo credit: Joseph Schuyler

 

 

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Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu

(Two weeks have passed and I finally feel as if my brain cells are lining up again. At least, in a more American, Pacific Standard Time, conventional way. I have been feeling as if I were driving in the fast lane with everyone shooting past at 75mph, my gear shift broken off in second and I’m left maxing out at 30mph. After stumbling around wondering what day it was, and mumbling “amazing” over and over again like a mantra, I am starting to feel as if I am rising from the depths of another world, still somewhat floating and disconnected, but surfacing back into familiar territory. 

This is my attempt to put into words what there may be no words for. This is my leap at calling back a part of myself that will always remain behind.)

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

Along the Way, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

Maybe it was for the best that the trip started out in the most populated and crushingly chaotic city in Nepal. Maybe it was no accident that after a red-eye flight to NY, three non-stop swirling days of intense emotions and conversations with the ghosts of my childhood while I helped bury my grandmother, followed by a layover in a surreal landscape with red chalky dust sprinkled over sparkling silver buildings and a lashing Arabic tongue, that I am dropped onto the bustling streets of Kathmandu. I am met with a city piled high with neatly stacked textiles and copper pots, rows of marigold necklaces and strewn rotting garbage.

 

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

Roadside View, Kathmandu, Nepal

The air is thick with diesel fumes, alluring spices, burning garbage and the occasional assaulting whiff of sewage. Any residual melancholic thoughts that I have are shoved to the back of my being as car horns, the melodic caterwauling of music and police whistles jab their way in. It is the morning of our first day in Nepal and tomorrow is Dipawali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. In addition to the standard flood of tourists, shopkeepers, schoolchildren, cows, dogs, monkeys (monkeys?!?) and chickens making their way along the streets, extended family members are returning home, and everyone must stop to pick up festival supplies. Colors bleed out of the stalls and doorways. Rickshaws, scooters and mopeds ding, beep and honk as they whiz past close enough for me to feel a breeze on my skin. Kathmandu is a white water stream of demented consciousness and I am riding its mind.

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

8:00am Kathmandu Bazaar, Kathmandu, Nepal

We start at the Bazaar in the center of Kathmandu in order to get the full-frontal of what a city enmeshed in festival furor looks like. Movement in this city, whether it is the constant parade of people on the streets and in the alleys, or the transports that cough their way around town, is a study in controlled chaos. As far as I can tell there are no street signs, no traffic lights and yet everyone makes their way to their destination. It reminds me of standing on a bridge as a child and tossing sticks and leaves into the torrent of a bursting springtime creek below. Unseen currents carry the objects here and there, with some getting caught in invisible whirlpools in the center, but eventually everything makes its way downstream.

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Diwali Necklaces, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Storefront Symphony of Color, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

Bazaar Colors, Kathmandu, Nepal

We meander and pick our way past open stalls that spill out wares, as shopkeepers cautiously eye the passersby. Some sellers are engrossed in stitching together flower necklaces for the festival, while others are hawking their best deals. Saris and traditional Nepali menswear hang from intricately carved entranceways, along with fleece pants decorated in Western world cartoon characters, t-shirts that say ‘I (heart) Nepal’ and hilariously misspelled American knockoffs such as “Galvin Klein.”  I try my best to pay attention to my group so that I don’t get lost, but I can’t help but wander around gaping wide-mouthed at the spectacle before me.

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Prayers Over Incense, Kathmandu

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Pigeon Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our guide Sahadev (“Dave”) gathers us like the flock of chickens we are and directs us into a curved archway sandwiched between a mountain of copper pots and a curtain of spangly saris. We emerge through the darkened portal blinking with wonder at a spectacular hand-carved Buddhist pagoda-style temple looming above us, a handful of worshippers circling the sanctuary, and a stone-laid ground awash in the constant ebbing tide of a sea of pigeons.

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Pigeon Square, Kathmandu

Having lived in both Boston and NYC, I’ve strolled down many alleyways and through my fair share of random doorways, but this hidden celestial outpost was a shock to my urban consciousness. How can Buddha just pop up any old place? Just feet from a man prostrate before a statue of the Buddha is another hawking plastic necklaces. But isn’t that the lesson? Doesn’t The Divine exist everywhere and shouldn’t we be looking in all the old familiar places?

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddha Celebrates Dipawali, Kathmandu, Nepal

(‘What is the name of this magical temple?’ you must be wondering. And here we have the conundrum of the hosted overseas tour. I spent so much time trying to absorb and photograph, taking for granted the luxury of roaming place to place without having to research or map anything, that I barely ever took notes. Now, weeks later, I can remember the feel of the hand-carved prayer wheel beneath my fingers as I made my way in reflective circumference, but I have no name, no dates, nothing in terms of recorded knowledge that will help me share anything but the ethereal with you. And maybe that is the only way Nepal can be shared.)

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Honoring Ma Durga, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourist Break, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square Courtyard, Kathmandu, Nepal

 

From the Bazaar we move on to Durbar Square and Hanuman City, the location of the old royal palace and two large temples in tribute to Hindu deities, Durga and Hanuman. As we stop every few feet to discuss architecture, art or the reality TV-like history of the last royal family in power (disgruntled children, illicit love affairs, murderous family members… watch for it to hit cable soon), I notice well-dressed men on their knees in the square, digging out the cracked and crumbling mortar between tiles, their hands, resembling crows feet, curled around tiny sticks, work diligently, reverently to restore what was deteriorating. I try to remember when the last time was that I saw anyone using such crude tools to complete such an enormous task by hand. Or dressed so formally for such a dirty and unassuming chore. I cannot.

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Balancing Work, Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Tourists trickle into the square stumbling about like foreign and confused paparazzi. They mostly stare at the workmen dangling precariously on handmade bamboo scaffolding 30 feet up in the air. One woman, standing almost dead center in the square, digs out her recent purchase: a Nepali singing bowl, an instrument designed to produce vibrations meant to soothe and heal the human spirit. With the plastic shopping bag tucked under her arm, she cradles the bowl in one hand, the striking mallet in the other. Tapping the bowl over and over again, a look of wonder comes over her face and she becomes absorbed in the vibration. Despite the fact that she is standing in a public square, surrounded by a slew of people, this seems to be the most natural and expected thing to do. I stand as close to her as I can get without invading her privacy and seeming like I am about to mug her. I close my eyes and soak up the moment… the sound, the light, the energy of the square… like a sponge. (I’m grateful there is no picture of my face in that moment.)

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

Alchemy Meets Electricity, Kathmandu, Nepal

From Durbar Square we move onwards to lunch in a restaurant and B&B tucked back off of some alleyway that I try to memorize but fear I shall never see again. At the head of the alley, a group of men of varying ages stand around a cascading tangle of electric wires, some with exposed ends, watching one individual as he picks up one and touches it to others. Rather than a property of science, electricity still seems to be a matter of alchemy in Nepal. Electric power is illusive. There is no system determining when it is available and when it is not, or even where it can be accessed regularly. In addition to a lack of consistency, there seems to be a prevailing attitude of “Why the Hell Not” as the configuration of wires about the city is reminiscent of abandoned ice picks on the side of Everest.

As we pass, a couple of the members of our traveling group, specifically a retired engineer and a retired director of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), briefly pause to watch… fascinated and horrified.

Lunch is an assortment of traditional Nepali light fare—momos (similar to Japanese shumai or Chinese potstickers, are stuffed with a ground chicken, heavy on the cilantro and a ‘momo masala spice’, served with a tomato-based sauce featuring cumin and ginger), noodles with vegetables and a sampler platter of tastes of Nepal, including a vegetable curry, rice and a mint sauce.

This is the first real exposure to a Nepali meal for my lifelong friend and now foreign traveling companion Elena and myself. The Cliff Bars and tea the night before and the 12′ resort breakfast buffet that morning (featuring everything from yak cheese to waffles) really didn’t count. Prior to that we’d had a questionable experience with lamb wraps on our Fly Dubai flight into Kathmandu (Eating lamb should have been my first warning sign for how out of my mind I was. For a woman who barely eats anything that walks, especially if she hasn’t vetted the farmer first, this was a bold move on my part. Something about the cardboard standup signs set on the seats of the first row of the plane charging $35 to ride in their “first class” section said to me, “You go right ahead and enjoy that tasty adventure!”) and were now ready to take on some authentic food. So, we did what any overzealous and excessive American would do… we order it all.

Lunch is an awkward hour of trying to consume an irrational amount of food for two people in a land where food is lacking, while simultaneously presenting ourselves to our trip-mates, none of whom grossly over-ordered as we had. Faced with the notion of wasting food in a developing country, we force ourselves to finish it all (damn those lamb wraps!) and even sample the bowls of red condiment left on our table. (We quickly realize that this was ketchup and completely irrelevant to any of the food that has been served. The only reason it is there? We’re Americans.)

The whirl of recent events, moving physically across space and time to get to the other side of the globe, the frenetic nature of my surroundings and now the unreasonable amount of food in my stomach is getting to me. I’m losing the ability to move logically from one moment to the next. Our guide gathers us again. Time to go to Patan City.

 

lifevest

(Journal Entry from October 17, 2014)

My mother-in-law once told me that when you pray for patience, you don’t actually get patience. Instead what you get are experiences that workout your “patience muscles”, helping to expand your ability to remain calm and endure.

I pray. I pray a lot. Every morning I stand at my little makeshift altar…

(Side Note: To the best of my knowledge, there is no “Altars for Dummies” book, so I just made up what sits on mine. It lives right inside our front entranceway. So if you see a candle burning next to a chocolate chip cookie please don’t assume that we pray to the Keebler elves.)

…and I say thanks for all that is in my life. Sometimes I tick off the big ticket items, sometimes I just stand there and wrap myself in a feeling of gratitude. I send blessings to those that I love, those that need assistance and generally all that exist across time and space (didn’t know that you were prayed for every day, did you?). I don’t usually ask for anything specific, mostly just a general, “Hey, thanks for keeping me from doing anything monumentally stupid lately” kind of a prayer, but there is one thing I do pray for, every morning and every night before I go to sleep. I pray that I live a higher life, one that brings me closer to enlightenment (whatever that means), where I live mindfully and in a spirit of abundant love. I pray that I become more aware or “awake” to what is truly unfolding before us, and to have the wisdom and the strength to live in a place of presence and light, so that my light might shine and reveal the way for others.

I really should rethink that prayer and start asking for a road bike or something.

I am currently sitting on an Emirates flight to Dubai, where in another four hours I will get on a flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. Yesterday, I was back in NY with my family, burying my grandmother, the matriarch of our family. The past two months of my life have read like the script to a Malick film. I have been consciously breathing through weeks of watching The Universe lay before me life event after life event, one more breathtaking after another, some filled with joy, others with heartbreak, and all filled with grace. I am utterly exhausted and shell shocked, as these events are the kinds that grab you by the collar, shake you back and forth and shout in your face, “Wake the fuck up!”. And now I’m on my way to one of the most sacred and spiritual places on the planet, without my husband or children, but a friend of twenty years, one that has known me through two decades of relationships, bad decisions, and realized dreams. She is on her own quest, which is crazy and inspiring since 15 years ago (almost to the day) she and I were simultaneously in the biggest upheavals of our then just forming adult lives. And here we are again feeling vulnerable and raw and trying hard to stop our knees from knocking as we stand here ready to take whatever comes next.

This is going to be one hell of a trip.

 

fiercetrilove

As my daughter and I got ready for the swim around the pier, the final test prior to graduation from the Junior Lifeguard program, she confessed to me that she was terrified. “Please Mom, don’t leave me,” she begged as we walked with 50 others into the shore break. I promised that I would not, that I would never.

As we crossed the surf and started kicking through our first 100 yards, she started shouting encouragement.

“Come on, Mom! You can do this! Just imagine we’re dolphins and this is where we live.”

I’ve never smiled through a swim workout, but I did that day.

Afterwards, I thanked her for her inspiration and told her it was the best part of the entire experience. I then asked her why she decided to cheer me on for the entire swim.

“Did it help you feel less afraid if you concentrated on cheering me on?”

“No, I just wanted to help you make it through to the end.”

“But I was fine. I wasn’t in trouble, that’s just how I swim”

“Sorry Mom, but you swim like you’re in trouble.”

Three weeks later, and a week after the triathlon, I was in the emergency room waiting for the results from the first of two chest xrays. Seems eating garlic, breathing in the equivalent of an entire eucalyptus tree and imbibing in every other natural remedy under the sun will never prevent what is meant to be. The day of the tri, I had a full blown chest cold where I sounded like someone unwrapping candy from a cellophane wrapper every time I breathed in. But I had come too far and tried too hard. I was fine, it was all fine, I could do this.

My daughter came to me the night before the race, and declared herself able and ready to participate. Despite the fact that I was fully prepared to race solo, she felt compelled to be by my side, to not let me go it alone. She wanted to take care of me. I was so proud.

The only reason that I finished is because my daughter helped me to do so. During the swim, the fluid in my chest overcame me and it was all I could do to take a single breath. My confident and incredibly brave 10 year old talked me through all 500 yards, shouting encouragement and guiding me when I was swimming off course, since I had to resort to swimming on my back. Her spirit buoyed me physically as well as mentally.

The rest of the race was a celebration of us. We sang as we biked up hills, high-fived the traffic cops and shouted, “We’re doing a triathlon!” as we zipped past racing down the other side. We talked about life as we walked the final two miles, even though I kept secretly trying to get us into a jog, because yes, I’m just that insane. And we sprinted across the finish line, crossing it together.

I have learned so much from this experience of pushing myself beyond my boundaries and trying to take my child along on my journey with me. I learned that I should always examine my motives and then let it all go and just do what is right for me… maybe others will follow suit, maybe they won’t, but in the end if I do it for myself then I will never be disappointed. I learned that maybe we just look like we’re struggling, but really that is how we get ourselves to the next point, and rather than needing someone to swoop in and save us, all we need is a little encouragement.

I was sick with a respiratory infection for four weeks after the triathlon that kept me from taking even as much as a long walk. The first day I was able to exercise I tried to take a little jog, just one mile. I couldn’t even make a half mile, gasping for breath with aching legs, it was as if the four months of training never existed. I was back to square one. I was overcome with disappointment but I kept at it, and over the next several weeks I was back to running two miles again, shopping for a real road bike and researching upcoming sprint triathlons. You know that indelible spirit of my daughter’s? I think I know where she gets it.

Recently, a friend asked me, “Why do YOU want to do this challenge?”. Initially, I agreed to participate in this triathlon in order to prepare myself for an epic journey that I will be taking in the fall. This adventure is going to challenge me both physically as well as mentally, so jumping in and accepting this challenge seemed like the promise at gunpoint I needed to make myself actually get off of my ass and do something. Not one to ever feel comfortable wasting money, once I paid my $100+ registration fee, that was it; the deed had been done.

In thinking about her question, I realize that there is so more…

1. I am becoming addicted to being uncomfortable. Sounds totally odd, I know, but I had this realization while pushing out 15 miles on the bike the other day. Moving to California turned our worlds upside down. Plucked from our cozy little farm life in upstate NY, and a lifetime spent on the east coast, we flung ourselves across the country from everyone we knew, and plopped ourselves into a time zone, culture and surroundings that we had very little knowledge or experience with. After the shock and adjustment period was over, we looked around and felt like superheroes. We had done it! We took on Goliath and kicked his ass. We steamrolled over our fears and are now doing the Rocky dance on city hall’s steps. If you have ever attempted rising above a seemingly insurmountable obstacle and find yourself the victor, then you know the feeling of euphoria and immortality that just such an experience casts off. That feeling is addictive, and I wanted more. I wanted another adventure that scared the crap out of me, one that made me feel alive (like I was DOING something) and would push me to see the world differently, awaken me to new perspectives, conquer more of my inner darkness. (A part of that darkness is the ego boost that comes with telling people, “I’m doing [insert exciting adventure here] ,” or bitching about something that makes me seem big and important, and the illumination of how addictive that boost can be. Still working on that one.) I have learned so much more about myself when I was uncomfortable, freaked out and just plain terrified, and from those places I have found more strength, discovered more abilities, and enjoyed more inner peace. Let’s just say that I like pushing out of the cocoon only to learn that I can fly.

2. I want my girls to know that they can conquer anything, and the only way to teach that principle is to live it. I want my girls to grow up saying, “I’ll try”, rather than, “I can’t”. And so, for them, I’m going to push myself to do things I’ve been scared of my entire life and I’m going to be honest about it with them. Essentially, I’m tri’ing.

3. When I was enjoying a recent lament over the training (with a heaping dose of sarcasm, ego and some humor) another friend reminded me that it isn’t that I “have to” do this, it is that I “GET to” do this, and she is right. When I’m out there sucking wind, what an awesome reminder it is that I am blessed enough with the health, the means and the opportunity to challenge myself in this very friendly, easy way. I now carry that gratitude with me and send it back out into the world as best as I can.

4. I’m ready. It is hilarious and pungently ironic for me to type this as the race is 4 days away and I’m ingesting every cold remedy known to man in order to prevent the inevitable race day wake up with blown out sinuses, but I am, I’m ready. I feel that I have finally arrived at a point in my life, where I have acquired the confidence, insight and tools that help me to conquer just about anything tossed my way, and the realization that I can do it with a smile. Doesn’t mean I’m going to LIKE whatever it is that I’m up against, but I highly doubt that it would break me, as it could have or even possibly has in the past. I decide what it means to be in this triathlon, and I’m not only going to rock it, but I’ll be the one sporting Sharpie marker tattoos and glitter from her kids, singing and smiling all the way.

The other day, while on a training ride, I ended up biking amidst runners completing a marathon. At first, I didn’t say anything, and just rode past, handing out the occasional smile but not wanting to intrude on their concentration. Yet it seemed just too serendipitous that I was put in the midst of all of these people pushing themselves to live better lives and not help them along, so I started cheering them on, shouting out, “You go, Ladies!” or “Keep going! You’ve got this!” as I pedaled. Not annoyance, but gratitude is what I got in return, time and time again. After I left them, I continued to shout greetings to the workers in the fields, who all happily replied in turn.

And in that moment, I knew what I would say as I cross the finish line this weekend, and yelled it above the traffic on the highway as I peddled,

 

YAWP!

 

trainingcruise

Let’s get one thing clear about me training for a triathlon: you are witnessing a cosmic anomaly. Think of the Northern Lights or Hale Bop…you aren’t going to see this every day. I have run in exactly two 5k’s in my life and one of those was because I was just trying to keep my marathon-running boyfriend from breaking up with me. Aside from that, the grandest bit of public competition I have ever participated in was the Filene’s Basement Bridal Sale… and even that was 15 years ago.

Let’s also clear up another misconstrued notion: this is not a real triathlon. This is what the athletes call a “super sprint”: 500 yard swim, 6 mile bike ride, 2 mile run. I’m guessing the ‘sprint’ in the title is because there will be people going all out to finish this as fast as possible. Those people. The reason I was able to sign up for this without doing a shot of tequila first was because there is actually a parent child category, and I figured that if I was unable to get myself through the water, I could always use a passing child as flotation device.

Training Day 23: 

Waking up at 7am on a Saturday wasn’t that difficult, it was getting out of the bed that was sucking the happy out of my soul. Visions of me getting passed by 7 and 8 year olds as I puffed and wheezed my way through the running portion of the triathlon pushed me out of bed and got me dressed. I was going to kick some elementary school ass if it was the last thing that I did.

When I opened the garage door, I growled. My bike was in the shop after spokes began to spontaneously burst off of the rim. (I’d like to say it was because of the comet like speed that I had been generating, but upon my first “long” ride, I nailed a curb and possibly a parked car… I was too busy licking the ground to pay attention.) The bike that I was riding in the tri was a 24 speed hybrid, not the optimal bike for that type of race, but since this is only a 6 mile ride (and possibly one with a child tagging along) I felt that it would be fine. However, now with it in the shop, and time marching ever closer to race day, I had to take my beach cruiser.

If you do not live near the sea, as was once my case, then you might not be familiar with the common mode of transportation known as “the beach cruiser”. Beach cruisers come with names like ‘Low Rider’ and ‘Lil’ Betty’, wide handle bars and cup holders made out of coconut shells. Mine came from a school auction that we accidentally won after too many Moscow mules. There were no flame jobs, but a sassy bell and banana seat. And now here I was, trying to crank out a speedy six only to jump off and then run two miles… the “brick workout”. I wished that I had one of those cyclist outfits on to make this expedition truly complete.

As I happily peddled along, I imagined myself in the triathlon, smiling and waving to the people walking with their morning coffee. Bling bling! I bet they’re all looking at me and thinking, “Wow, is she training for a triathlon?” I spy an older gentleman with a crooked baseball cap riding up ahead of me, a bag of McDonald’s breakfast in his basket, so I nominate him as my official pace setter. I roll up behind him and think about how ridiculous this entire endeavor is, how if I had to plan a triathlon, we’d all go for a lovely 500 yard swim/float, get out and shower, have a nice breakfast, then a quick 6 mile bike to a vineyard where there would be a wine tasting waiting for us. Finally we’d walk through a magical set of Italian gardens 2 miles long only to be greeted with a fantastic lunch. That’s a triathlon, right?

I found myself getting bored as I rode, so I made a game out of swerving to miss tiny dogs, but not the ones with sparkly collars. I thought about all of the people that were rooting me on; my friend in NY that despite not having run in a year, went out for a 3 mile jog with me and pasted an ironman number leftover from the previous weekend’s race to my shirt; my sister-in-law who would sit and listen intently to all that I had (or more accurately had not) done to train, with tips, clothing and bike at the ready to hand over to me; my sister who sent me a package containing an article about an ironman competition that I would not only never attempt, but secretly loathe as I was accidentally present to it on my 40th birthday and might have something to do with me forcing this upon myself now. And my husband, and my children, and more and more and more. I realized that I wasn’t the only one swimming/biking/running this race. Apparently trying to kill yourself also takes a village.

As I pulled back into the driveway, I leapt from my bike, trying to obtain the most accurate re-creation of the transition that happens in the race. Of course, my ear buds were stuck in my helmet, then I accidentally shut off my music, and my husband had locked the garage so I couldn’t put the bike away… and 10 minutes later I was off and running. Well, less like running and more like a zombie rising from the grave and trying to flee after their decayed feet have fallen off. Oh, I get it—brick workout. My mind immediately calls roll on every reason why this is a bad idea, and my anxieties are jumping up and down with their hands raised and shouting, “Present!” I slow down to a discernible crawl, but keep moving. I chastise myself for not being able to run. I realize I’m not very kind to myself, remember that I’m not sprinting I’m just finishing, and still keep going, and when I can, I run some more. I feel tired but stronger, sore but proud. Just get to the corner. Just make it through this song. Walk three steps, run four. And breathe… and breathe… and breathe. At least I’m moving forward.

In the weeks that followed my brick workout, I have increased my bike speed by 10 minutes, can run two miles non-stop, and can swim twice the distance required. I feel stronger physically, as well as mentally. I have learned that having to slow down to a float/coast/crawl just means experiencing the world on my terms. I have learned that coffee and wine are like drinking sand when it comes to hydration. I have learned that my mind is the Fox News of my physical capabilities, and I just have to change the channel to Discovery.  I have learned that all of those words of encouragement that I tell my daughters every day, phrases such as “believe in yourself” and “you are strong” and “you can do anything” aren’t just cookies that you hand out to satisfy a craving, they are the meat and potatoes of our soul, sustaining us, growing us, guiding us.

I know now that I can do this, and because of that, I can do anything.

SkycoasterThat is the crazy thing about letting go of the side of the pool. You become enamored by, even addicted to, the freedom. (Wow! Look at me! I can swim on my back! I can float while looking at the sky! I can somersault in the water! I can… cough, hack, choke… get water up my nose.) There is a feeling of empowerment that comes with an almost unrealistic edge of invincibility. Almost.

When my now ten year old was seven, we took her to a Six Flags amusement park. Tall for her age, she was able to ride all of the adult rides, but I never thought that she actually would. To be honest, I never even gave it much thought since I was terrified (and could still be classified as ‘deeply concerned’) when it came to anything higher or faster than a tea cup. So when she decided that she needed to ride The Skycoaster, I wasn’t too happy about it.

The Skycoaster is a new and interesting way to test your ability to not wet your pants in public. Up to three people are strapped together into a harness and hooked to extreme bungee cords, then they are slowly pulleyed to the top of a 175 foot steel arch (15 stories into the air). Once at the top, they dangle precariously until given the go ahead via bullhorn, at which time one of the individuals releases the securing line and the three bodies, like eggs knocked off of the refrigerator shelf, drop straight downward at 60 mph until the line catches, somewhere around 150 feet, and the remaining guide lines swing the cascading bodies (possibly in cardiac arrest at this point) up between the arches into the sky. Free falling. And flying. At a seasonal amusement park. With my seven year old baby. And we pay extra.

My daughter was instantly hooked the moment she saw people whizzing above our heads. “Come on!” my husband pleaded. “You go with her and your brother because you’re all about the same size! It was fun! She’ll love it!” I had never suspected that my husband had taken out an insurance policy on me, but now…

As my brother, myself and my daughter were slowly being pulled to the top of the arch, I could taste the nacho and snow cone flavored panic rising up into my throat. What if she loses her mind? What if we need to stop and get down? What if I throw up on those heads in the bumper cars? What if this all goes very, very wrong?

“I realize I only have a broken truck and a dog, but I don’t have all of my affairs in order,” my brother whispered, not really joking. My daughter looked up at me with question in her eyes. In that moment I realized, we were the adults. It was our reaction that would set the precedent as to whether this was going to be a thrilling adventure, or an event that would cost my daughter years in adult therapy.

“Fairies,” I blurted out, as we climbed high enough that the peaks of Vermont looked like hilltops we could run down not far in the distance. “We could turn into fairies. I bet, if we think hard enough, wish for it with all our might, once that cable lets go, we can really fly. Come on, say it with me, ‘Fly. Fly. Fly’.”

Our arms linked together, for the last remaining feet of climb, the three of us — me, my brave seven year old daughter and my terrified 34 year old brother chanted, “Fly. Fly. Fly,” as we were pulled to the top of the world. We were given the signal, my brother pulled the pin, and we dropped, head first, towards the ground. As the cables caught us and we swung past the arches, I was still chanting in my head as we let go of each other, spread our arms and flew.

This week, I have let go of the side of the pool again. I realize now that leaving my life in NY and moving to California was a huge step, but still the first of many others. In August, I will compete in my first triathlon — a mini — and I will have the bravest person in my life, my daughter, by my side. Together we will conquer our hatred of running, overcome our fear of ocean swimming and learn what it is to be a team. And in October, I am leaving my brave girl and our family to take a spiritual trek into the Himalayas, an incredible experience that will change me and return me to those that I love who have also changed in my absence. Like falling out of the sky, I know that I lead the way in terms of expectations and reactions, so I take these new adventures not only as challenges that will elevate me as a person, but also as a mother, my highest honor. I am excited, nervous, happy, terrified and blessed.

Time to start swimming.

rockclimbing

Do you remember a time in your life when fear just never entered into the picture? The summer I turned five years old, we visited a friend’s pond; a murky hole in the ground that was teeming with soupy rich greenness. Being upstate NY in July, it was beastly hot and humid, so submersing in more moisture was surely the best answer for finding relief. We were told that the only way we could enter the water was on a float, because it was home to several snapping turtles. (Yeah, looking back upon that concept really colors my childhood in a whole new questionable hue.) Not really understanding what a snapping turtle was, or how that possibly could be a bad thing, I eagerly accepted a ride sitting upon my teenage friend’s back, on the float. (I’m not talking the sturdy water crafts of today that are tied off to docks and boats across upstate NY. This was 1977. Half deflated and covered with Pabst Blue Ribbon emblems, this raft was less floatation device and more flagship for a drunkard’s folly.)

We paddled out towards the middle, leaving behind the oppressive climate of the shore, and the casual concern of our parents.

About 10 feet offshore, the raft tipped over. Looking back upon it now, I’m not sure what is more surprising, the fact that no one anticipated this or that I was in the middle of a snapping turtle infested swamp, practicing Cirque du Soleil-like feats and did not know how to swim.

(Seriously, I need to take a minute here. This is the first real good think I’ve donated towards this memory. Where in the Hell were my parents? I know it is the 70’s and all, and surely I don’t expect a helmet or safety harness, but my God!  Would it have killed them to strap one of those inadequate styrofoam eggs to my back at least?)

As I sank to the bottom, I remember feeling only one thing. The sounds around me went silent and as I looked up towards the green dappled surface, and felt the sweet coolness of the water around me, I felt completely at peace. I wanted to stay there below the surface, bubbled in this womb of nature, but before I knew what was happening, I was being yanked to the surface where heat, blindingly bright light, and shrieks of terror reclaimed me.

As children, our innocence prevents us from being swallowed by our fears. Often times we aren’t afraid because we don’t know any better. Then as we walk through the world, we encounter obstacles that tend to come with the stories, anxieties and failures of others, which then become fears of our own. If only we can remain in that innocence, and simply view each experience, each obstacle, as new and separate from every other moment, fear wouldn’t stand a chance.

Yesterday, I brought the nine year old and the six year old to an indoor rock climbing gym for the first time. Imagine a warehouse sized space with multiple two and a half story high walls built out in various gravity taunting formations, dotted with a series of shaped holds that appear to be made from Play Doh. In the middle of the gym was a structure meant to resemble a boulder, standing 15 feet tall.

As we entered the space, the palms of my hands instantaneously began to perspire. Despite having spent time in the quarries of Massachusetts and the rock formations of New Hampshire climbing in my youth, I could feel my pulse quicken and my breathing shorten.

My daughters, who had never seen such a spectacle, were mesmerized. To them, I couldn’t sign the documents declaring them able to throw themselves to the wolves of gravity fast enough.

Within minutes of donning the equipment, the nine year old had bouldered her way (read: climbing guide rope free and thereby giving her mother another reason to drink on a Thursday afternoon) to the top of the 15 foot structure. The six year old was complaining that she wanted to remove her safety guide line (the belay) because the tension of the automated rope was competing with her tiny sparrow-like frame, and preventing her from being able to get close to the wall.

For them, there was no hesitation, only excitement. For me, there was a litany of emergency room menu items scrolling through my head. I tried my best to keep my anxieties to myself, and gently guide as opposed to aggressively scream. I did see my six year old pause once, as I reminded her when she had bouldered her way three feet above my head, that there was no guide rope and I couldn’t come get her down. She retreated down the wall, only to chalk up her hands, immediately remount and make her way the full five feet above my head so that she could loudly declare me wrong from her perch.

Recently, The Universe was kind enough to call me out on my nightly prayer of wanting to be shown my path. Apparently there is this notion that I should be writing a book. To further back up this cosmic plan, a famous and well documented journalist has been placed in my circle, near enough for me to reach out to, ask for assistance, and firmly solidify this next evolution of Mikko Cook.

My palms are sweating, my pulse is racing and I’m finding it difficult to breathe.

Thanks to the lesson of living in oblivion from my children and my own youth, instead of hitting ‘ignore’ when I see The Universe pop up on my caller id, I’m going to set aside all of my ‘what ifs’ and my ‘remember THATs’ and take the call. I’m going to take this new experience for what it is… new and to be experienced. Sure there is so much that can go horribly wrong (don’t think I haven’t been calculating it all out since I took that initial call), but now what if I pretend that I don’t know otherwise, that humiliation and rejection are like snapping turtles to a 5 year old… something that exists, nothing more.

Guess it is time to dig out my chalk bag and begin my ascent.

blackdogmug

My coffee mug has a picture of a black dog on it.  Not just any black dog, but the iconic image from The Black Dog bakery and cafe in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  I drink coffee, tea and even the occasional red wine in this mug.  I love that it is old school, diner shaped, porcelain and that it is heavy enough to feel like I’m drinking something substantial.

A friend gave me this mug over a decade ago when she was embarking on her own west coast adventure.  It was of no use to her any longer.  She wanted to untie the bow lines and this mug was left behind.  She has since returned to the east, but has most likely forgotten about the cup.

Looking at the worn but famous type, I remember a visit to the bakery. I was on my way off of the island, hoping to never return as I had just experienced jail as well as my first in person hurricane, all at the tender age of 20.  The memory makes me smile.

This image on the mug is the same image that I once drew on the side of a canoe, the second major expenditure that my then boyfriend, now husband, made.  It represented our love of the island, the ocean and our adoration of our first major expenditure, our chocolate lab puppy, Graham.

That dog has since passed, but the mug remains.  Friendship, mischief, love… how can a simple coffee mug hold all of these things?

Because we attach our emotions, our energy, our stories to our stuff.

It was amazing to me, as we began the process of moving ourselves to California and determining what to get rid of, how heavy my stuff became with the memories and emotions that they were a part of.

At our wedding reception, my husband and I sat in two unique, red chairs – one velvet, one faux leather – like a king and a queen.  The chairs were a last minute addition to a very eclectic, self designed backdrop.

On the day that we walked about our house, deciding what to throw away, my husband immediately offered up the chairs – one broken so badly only the cat was able to still use it, the other forgotten all but as a depository for unused blankets.

“You can’t get rid of our wedding chairs! That one was my wedding gift to you!”

(I had found the red faux leather one on the side of the road, cleaned it, repainted it, and offered it up as a token of my undying love (and limited financial budget) to my betrothed.)

“Yeah, that chair is horrible to sit in, but we can keep it of you love it.  You only get to keep one.”

And there it was.  Those chairs were my wedding day, my love for my husband, my need to feel unique and artistic.  To me, they weren’t chairs, they were a part of my identity, a contrived one, but still a part of me.  To him, they were just chairs, mostly useless and uncomfortable.  To him, they were furniture.

Over the months before our departure, I learned a lot about my relationship to my stuff, and how I create my identity through my things.  We all do it, even my husband.  (Right now, he’s wandering back and forth in the living room debating exactly what is the right positioning for our artwork… all symbols of our artistic sense and creativity.)  I did fight for one chair, and it wasn’t the one I refinished.  It would have been easy to throw some sort of tantrum around my gift to him vs. his love for me… but in realizing that it was just furniture, not a love token, I was able to let that go.  What was even better was that the chair went to our newly married friends who had attended our wedding and held the memory of that day for us. There were thrilled to add this chair to the budding interior of their own home.  In some way, we were passing on the love of our marriage to theirs.

I am learning that I am not my things.  By attaching myself to my material possessions, I am only weighing myself down with the past and a contrived version of who I really am.  If my arms of full of my stuff, I have nothing left to reach out with and grab my dreams.

Yes, in addition to a handful of things, I still have this mug and I still have that one chair.  I negotiated a full reupholstery of the chair, complete with brand new peacock blue tufted velvet.  I sit in it now and marvel at how regal it feels, even in a simple living room.

The mug still holds hot coffee and a few memories.  If it broke tomorrow, I’d be frustrated, but not heartbroken.  My friend, my mischief and my dog will always be a part of me no matter who I choose to be.

Ready To Fly?

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain