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Looking Out For the Littlest Happy Things

3 Aug

For the month of July, I made a concerted effort to live in the present and enjoy each moment. I stopped putting pressure on myself to have it all because I realized that it WILL come. When we cling only to what we know and let overwhelming fear in, it’s because we are trying to hold on too tight to control. I realized I had to stop chasing this controlled ending or I will lose precious time. No one knows what path their journey will take. Some of us want to try to guide it, but only the universe truly knows where it will go.

I did several things to help myself along: I withdrew my profile from the dating site I was on. I practiced gratitude often. I made an effort to unplug more consistently. I ate whole foods. I expressed myself honestly and confidently instead of holding back because I wanted to sugar-coat a statement. I spent productive time alone. I took myself out on dates.

Happy face on a hike

Happy face on a hike

I also decided to be more assertive in the pursuit of my passions. I want to see opportunities more easily when they are offered to me. We tend to have tunnel vision and close ourselves off to creativity when we are in a rut. These are a few ways I can lead myself away from that tendency.

  • I will write more consistently (and publish more often). Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember, and I tend to run away from it when I feel anxiety about the future. I should be doing the opposite! Some of us have natural talent, but practicing our craft is what make us great.
  • I will open my eyes to the creativity that the world gives freely, and use it. We don’t always take advantage of the gifts that are bestowed upon us every single day. We shouldn’t be wasting them.

The first thing I did to kick off the month was take myself out to a movie. ALONE. It was great!

In the first week of July, I gave myself a gift. I bought my plane ticket to New York. I had been hemming and hawing, not wanting to pull the trigger because I hadn’t yet planned everything out perfectly. No longer! The trip will fall into place in the next few months, and I am comfortable with that.

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Over the next few weeks, I did many things for myself. I chose new podcasts to listen to. I attended an overnight event with 100+ people I have never met (and a few that I know very well). I cherished quality friend and family time. I tried new activities, including an amazing class that combined belly dance, yoga, and aromatherapy. It turned out to be quite transformative. I attended a meetup without a wing man to provide comfort, forcing me to talk to strangers on my own merits. As much as I am a people person most of the time, there are moments when I am shy. Walking into a place knowing absolutely no one is one of those. Everyone was friendly of course, and I even left with some future salsa partners. I went camping for five days in Olympic National Park with two friends. Talk about adventure! There were challenging hikes, beautiful sights, and giggles galore over games of Canasta and Yahtzee. I tried new beers at Brewfest on the Portland waterfront. I treated myself to a massage and acupuncture, and it was totally worth it. I allowed myself to emotionally heal over some issues I’d been hiding from. It felt fantastic.

The best things, though, were the small things. I walked around the farmers market and enjoyed fresh fruits right out of the pint. I let the tinkle of a child’s laughter float over me and fill me with joy. I found heart shapes in nature and took pictures. I read books, listened to bands playing in the park, and took a day off work midweek just because I wanted to. What a fabulous month. In August, I intend to take the spirit of the last 31 days and keep the energy going. I have some great ideas but welcome more! Book or podcast suggestions, activity invitations and restaurant recommendations especially appreciated. I hope you are enjoying the summer as much as I am! Drop me a note here and tell me what special treats you are giving yourself during the sunny months.

 

Beautiful Lake Crescent

Beautiful Lake Crescent

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Heart-shaped rock

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Hearts in nature

Time Flies When You’re a Busy Bee

6 Jun

I’m sorry I haven’t written. I have a million excuses; you don’t need to hear them. But perhaps you want to SEE what I’ve been doing! A post in pictures…

Sahara Sunday at Marino’s. Three of us performed our choreography created by Claudia at a small cafe on Southeast Division:

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Promise Walk for Preeclampsia. I walked for my friend Alice, who almost lost her baby to complications in her pregnancy related to preeclampsia:

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Camping in Central Oregon. We stayed at Cove Palisades State Park on the Deschutes River. I LOVE CENTRAL OREGON:

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Hope for Andrew benefit. A salsa buddy asked me to perform at a fundraiser for a little boy with cancer. It was a beautiful event:

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Oh, and I’m cooking dinner for 40 people tonight. Stay tuned for my next 5 minute window and maybe I’ll actually be able to write a whole post! I hope you are enjoying the beginning of summer.

New Book Review

13 Sep

For my birthday I received the new book “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” from my boss. I had been looking forward to reading it after hearing an interview with the author on the local NPR station, Portland’s KBOO 90.7. I finished it in 96 hours–pretty fast for me these days, since I’ve barely had time to read with my crazy schedule.

A review of “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

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After her mother died at an early age, permanently scarring her and leaving her without any sort of home base or support system, Cheryl Strayed went on a head-clearing hike from the Mojave Desert in California to the Bridge of the Gods in Washington State, following the Pacific Crest Trail. While preparing as best she knew how, she was completely flummoxed by her lack of “street-smarts” on the trail and made multiple errors in judgement, creating an entertaining yet sympathetic retrospect for her audience.

It was a fast read, but an interesting one. I flipped through the pages, chomping at the bit to see what idiotic newbie mistake Cheryl was going to make next on the trail (and in her flashbacks)—hey, we all like to watch disasters…that’s why America loves reality TV. She didn’t disappoint me. I hope she realizes how lucky she is. She definitely had a guardian angel on her shoulder, because no matter how many mistakes she made, and how many times a weird situation could have gone terribly wrong, something always saved her. She didn’t get off scot-free, but things could have been a lot worse.

At the end, it seemed there was a slightly mad scramble to tie up the ending in a neat little bow with her final “summit” and letting go of her mother once and for all. I wasn’t entirely convinced that Cheryl experienced a great epiphany about herself and her mom during her hike, but I liked reading about the journey. Honestly I would have enjoyed it without all the inspirational nuggets, but that is because I’m a hiker myself and I like reading about adventures on the trail.

I wasn’t bodily moved like I was with the travel memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” but I’m glad I read it, and I’m glad Cheryl wrote it. It obviously meant a lot to her. Maybe her guardian angel was her mother’s spirit all along…but it turns out I feel pretty indifferent about that.

I would recommend it to hikers and locals.

Circle of Friends

23 Sep

Warning, this post is going to be extremely raw and honest and might be about YOU. I will not be adding names to this post, though many of the people cited have been highlighted in this blog before. If I have mentioned you, please know I am telling this particular story because it has helped me work out some of my own issues. It is not to hurt or expose anyone.

I’ve noticed that many of my friendship statuses have been fluctuating this year. What I mean is that throughout the year I have noticed that my previously ever-steady close circle of friends has expanded and shrunk, and gone through a metamorphosis. It’s a very good thing…and of course it all happens for a reason.

My mother always said it’s better to have 75 good friends than only a few best friends. I have always disagreed with her. I feel if I have those 75 “outer circle” friends and I can’t count on one of them to check in with me every day, make sure I get my morning coffee, or know to ask for the full name and phone number of my blind date, then I may wind up with many acquaintances, but no one to make sure I came back from that blind date in one piece. I have a small circle of friends that I talk to every day or near enough, and they always take priority. I have a larger set of friends who I acknowledge at least once a week, even if it’s just on Facebook. The outer ring of the circle are the friends who I can go weeks or months without talking to, and I know that once the link is reconnected, it will be like no time has passed.

I like these definitions. The three rings of friendship give me security. And like a good (and single) Virgo, they give me comfort that someone will notice if I dip below the radar in less than 24 hours. Please see Sex and the City Season 2 where Miranda chokes on her food and has to save herself by heaving her upper body over a chair. Right afterwards she calls Carrie in a panic that no one will know she is dead for days, except her cats, who have, in the meantime, eaten her eyeballs. Have I had these fears? Oh yes. I don’t know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that Miranda is a Virgo.

There are several accounts that I will share that back up this theory of friend fluctuation. This year through life’s trials and tribulations, one of my closest friends and I became almost completely estranged. She moved a half-hour away and was in a bad situation with an extremely controlling partner. This was someone who I used to speak with every day, who I could count on to be there for me whenever I needed her. Then the friendship I had known for seven years just stopped cold turkey. When she dropped off the radar, I felt feelings of panic well up. This was my go-to for all the crazy ideas I had that no one else would take part in. I knew I’d always have a date with her any time I had the urge for salsa dancing. In addition, and most importantly, she had two children who I considered family. I was having withdrawal symptoms for them most of all.

Another situation was with my former roommate. We lived together for three years, and then separated, citing a potential friend break-up and the desire to live on opposite sides of town as solid reasons to get out while the going was good. Almost immediately after moving, she met her soon-to-be fiancée…and dropped off the face of the earth. When I did see her it was almost always as a duo. I felt like our interests and commonalities were drifting at a rather alarming rate. After what seemed like no time at all, she and her boyfriend became engaged. My mind was absolutely boggled when she asked me to be a bridesmaid. I was at this point feeling pretty distant from her, and in addition I had just spent a lot of money on another friend’s wedding and was starting to feel resentful and frustrated about all my friends with their stupid weddings. I began having feelings of incredible unhappiness about this long-time friend and former roommate, when I should have been nothing but elated for her. I knew I would eventually have to tell her I couldn’t be in the wedding for financial reasons, but I was terrified she would hate me. So I did what any normal person would do:  I avoided her and the situation completely.

My last story is about my trusty hiking friend. We had been hiking together for two years and were always close, no matter if one of us had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Then, he met Her. Suddenly he was always too busy to hike with me. They had plans to go away for the weekend, or they had a function with Her parents. He fell off the map! The three of us hiked a few times but it was pretty clear that she was now the priority and I would have to work around their schedule. I admit it, I was jealous. Not only did he have a great partner, he found someone who liked to hike. I wanted someone who liked to hike!! The worst part of all? I actually enjoyed this girl. The night I met Her, he brought Her to my birthday party. He was clear he wanted me to meet Her and he wanted to know exactly what I thought. I really wanted to not like Her, because that meant he would be free to hang with me any time. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. As I have grown to know Her more, I hate to say it, but she is awesome. Grrrr…

Because of these estrangements, I had an awful lot of time on my hands. My brain understood that all of this extra time I now had was partially the cause and effect of people growing up, getting married, moving across town, etc. Though I may be single and childless, I can comprehend the need to focus on one’s family, but from my standpoint it can really stink when everyone else has different priorities and I am stuck alone, partnerless, and without family in the immediate area. While I love being an independent woman who chose to move away from her hometown eight years ago, sometimes I feel a little sad, knowing that most of my friends have a partner to run to or a kiddo to cuddle when they feel this way. This is exactly why I chose to have the close circle of friends. But when they aren’t making me a priority, who is left? I wasn’t sure what to do. I hadn’t been faced with this situation before.

Instead of crying (much), I opened my up my contact list. I went through the list, noting people who I hadn’t talked to in ages but who I still very much wanted a connection with. One in particular stood out. We hadn’t seen each other in the flesh for over 4 years, but somehow we always stayed kindred spirits. We linked up on social media websites, talking about how we should get together, but we never actually did. So when I saw an opportunity one day, I took it. I knew she loved belly dance; she took classes from me when I was teaching a few years ago. There was a show coming up that I knew she would love, so I invited her, and she said yes! On a whim, I also invited my estranged salsa-dancing partner-in-crime as well, hoping she would bite, and I was so pleased when she decided to go! My evening was filled with catching up with the old and creating bonds with the new.

As for my former roommate, I finally got up the nerve to tell her I couldn’t be in the wedding. It was only fair; I couldn’t leave her in a lurch without a bridesmaid at the very last minute. I cornered her (figuratively speaking—it was over email) and got her to agree on a solo dinner. I hemmed and hawed during the entire dinner, only able to speak about my situation after we had paid and walked out the door. I don’t know what I was expecting: a slap in the face, tears? No, my friend was cooler than a cucumber and, as I should have known, hit the nail right on the head. She told me she wanted me to enjoy the wedding, not be pressured by it in any way. She said she didn’t want me to resent the financial burden that being a bridesmaid can bring upon someone. I was so relieved. I was also thrilled when she told me I would still be completely involved in any part of the wedding I wanted. The weight that lifted off of me was palpable. It also opened me up to wanting to spend time with her again. We have since completely renewed our friendship and are closer than ever. The grace of honesty in a relationship is something that can never be overemphasized. Even though we still live across town and have different marital statuses, we can be as close in spirit as we want.

Because I was left high and dry without a hiking partner, I was grumpy. I am used to getting dozens of hikes on the books each year, and I was at a loss. The Universe must have been working overtime because I gained two brand-new hiking buddies this year, completely by coincidence! One of them, as I have previously mentioned, took it upon himself to invite himself on one of my already-planned hikes. The other I had known for a while, and it just seemed natural that once we established our mutual love for hiking, we would do it together. What makes me really happy is that I have gotten all my hiking buddies, new and old, on the same hike. Thanks for listening, Universe!

Does this mean my mother was right? I don’t want to say she was 100% correct. I still want to be confident that my cats won’t be eating my eyeballs because no one checked in on me, but it’s nice to branch out and let some of the outer circle in a little closer.

When one door closes, another one opens. I swear I have read or heard this mantra hundreds of times in my life. No matter what, it always ends up being true. Life can really be painful, but I have found that once I get past the clouds, I can see the sun shining through. It really is a beautiful thing.

 

 

The Beautiful Hike

11 Sep

Again, I am compelled to write. I am so moved and so very grateful for this time in my life, especially the last few days. I can feel my place on earth shifting. I’m not sure how to put this into words, exactly. It just feels like I am moving into the place I am supposed to be at this time in my life, surrounded by the people who are supposed to be in it. It is a good and strong feeling; it is comfortable.

Yesterday was a typical weekend day for me—hiking with friends. It was also atypical, and magical. There were four of us. In the beginning I expected about eight people, but some people cancelled for various reasons. It is always so. I wasn’t offended, but I was a little sad they would miss out on the experience. As it turned out, it was meant to be.

Coincidentally, none of the people who came to hike with me yesterday knew each other. There was Chris, a guy I met through salsa dancing, but who quickly became a staple hiking buddy. I never actually invited him to go hiking, but he took a chance when he saw my post on Facebook one day and decided spontaneously to ask to join my friends and me. We instantly clicked and we have been hiking together ever since!

I’ve known Chrissy for a long time. In fact, she was one of the first friends I made in Oregon. We worked together for a short time, stayed friends, lived together for three years, and after eight years we know each other through and through. She doesn’t usually hike with me, although she has a strong love for the outdoors. I was so pleased she decided to come because we hadn’t spent much time together since moving out of our apartment a year ago.

I met Kim a few years back when, in a panic about an ill-fitting bellydance costume, my cousin Yemaya came to the rescue and hooked me up with her. Kim is a bellydance designer and seamstress, and she fixed my costume, amazingly, in the 36 hours before I had to leave for the Oregon Country Fair, where I would be performing for the first time ever! (For more on that experience, please read the blog post entitled “The Art of the Dance.” http://wp.me/p1AwLQ-I) Some years into our business relationship we decided we genuinely liked eachother and decided to hang out outside of bellydance events. It was a successful venture, and we continue to hang out!

Since there were so few of us, we were able to drive down to Silver Falls State Park in one car. The drive was over an hour long and we didn’t stop gabbing once. The conversation flowed easily and it seemed everyone felt completely comfortable with everyone, as if they’d known eachother for a long time. The vibe continued when we got to the falls. The conversations were full of giggles, exclamations, intensity, and were all very interesting.

As it happened it was the day before the anniversary of September 11th, 2001. I am not prone to going on about this event. I will not post about it on Facebook or Twitter. I mostly keep my feelings about it to myself. Interestingly enough, though, all of us shared our “I was at…” experiences about that day ten years ago. It didn’t seem awkward like I expected it to. I felt like it bonded us. We didn’t mull over it, but our sharing created a feeling of love inside me, as did all of our topics of conversation.

At the end of the hike I felt a ball of light rising from my stomach into my heart. I couldn’t hold it in, I had to share it! I knew that this day would have a special place in my heart for a long time. Now I will be able to come back to this post and relive that day whenever I want.

When I Get That Feeling, I Want Nature to Heal Me

9 Sep

The lick of wind on my ear whispers to me, keeps me mesmerized, and I can’t go inside just yet. I need these trees, the moss, and the giant clovers of the shady forest hiking trails. I need to scramble over rocky hillsides, sometimes in the snow. This woman yearns to taste the outside as long as she can stand it, because it is magical. So I wait another few minutes in order to keep the feeling from leaving too quickly.

I am so grateful to live in the Pacific Northwest. I moved here eight years ago not particularly caring about the wilderness. I didn’t want to harm it, but I didn’t want to be out in it, either. I didn’t like walking through spider webs (To be fair, I am still terrified of spiders!), was not a fan of mud-encrusted shoes, and never had the urge to hug a tree. I liked all sorts of other things about Portland, but the outdoors was not of much importance. I was not really aware of the big “green” movement and what it meant to the environment the way I am now, although I do remember being stunned at the amount of trees below the plane when I flew in to visit before my big move. That completed my impression of Oregon’s wilderness until about three years ago. My love of the outdoors started because my friend and I wanted to do something that didn’t cost much money. I wanted to go to a Lumberjax game. He was in grad school at the time, and was low on cash. I asked him, “Well then, Ben, what do people do around here on the cheap?” He asked me if I liked to hike. I wanted to impress my new friend so I told him I did. In truth, I had never done anything other than Multnomah Falls, an easy and short but steep hike in the Columbia River Gorge. It is the most popular hike for tourists, it is never quiet, and would not be considered wilderness under any circumstances, although it is extremely beautiful. We ended up doing a five-mile loop that involved crossing a couple small creeks, walking over more than a few patches of snow, and viewing two gorgeous waterfalls. I fell in love. At the end we felt amazing. Only later did I tell him that I hadn’t ever really hiked before and that after that hike I saw myself as a total bad ass. Since then we’ve upped our mileage and elevation. Last time I checked we are still total bad asses.

For me, there is no hiking season; there are only more layers of synthetic clothing. My weekend uniform is generally cargo hiking pants, a sweat-wicking shirt, SmartWool socks, and a bandana. I don’t care if I look pretty or not. I just want to be at a comfortable temperature and be able to move easily. I now love spring hiking in the Gorge with the wildflowers and the mucky muddy hikes. I can’t wait until the deepest snow finally melts so I can get to the Mt. Hood hikes. Summer hikes are sweaty but fun.

One of my favorite things about hiking is that it’s a time to let go of any unnecessary emotion. I feel awe at the enormity of the trees and the sky; I almost always feel uncertain when the trail splits and I don’t know which way to go. These feelings are part of the experience. The emotions I want to let go of are the ones that make me feel less than whole:  guilt, fear, anger. Emotions like these have a tendency to creep into the day and overshadow the positive. They shouldn’t, but they do. These emotions disappear when I am out there; it’s an amazing salve for any pain I have in my life. They literally flow out of me like the rivers I so adore for their propensity to make waterfalls, which are my absolute favorite thing about hiking. Rivers can be turbulent and dangerous things, but out of them come remarkable beauty. On the trail I can just Be, shedding the societal baggage of ego and all that comes with it.

I wasn’t going to write a post this week. I was going to let this week slide, let myself recover from a long holiday weekend and the remnants of my birthday celebration. Instead I felt compelled to write this particular post, just in time for my last birthday hurrah—a nine mile hike tomorrow at a new trail. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate me.