Falling in Love with Fall

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece entitled, “Falling into Fall.”  The general theme was a distinct dislike for the season.  I spent a couple of pages whining about the death of everything and dreading the onset of winter.

What a difference geography makes, at least in my psyche.  I guess I’d never spent fall in the Northwest.  Although I love the scent of roasting green chills, I have to say that is about the only part of the season I can embrace in New Mexico.

This year, I’ve had the opportunity to spend several weeks of autumn in Montana.

The first thing I’ve noticed is the silence.  During the heat and bustle of summer, you become a little deaf to all the noise and activity; lawnmowers, boats, the chatter of people on the road walking their dogs.  Nature adds her notes to the cacophony, with birdsong and the ever-present hum of insects.

The first time I noticed the difference it was mid-September and Tucky and I were doing our daily lap around the island.  Suddenly I realized I could hear myself think.  The tick, tick of his claws on the pavement combined with the echoes of my own footsteps—other than that, there was nothing but silence.

The morning air had a clarity to it I can’t explain, other than to say that distant objects appeared magnified in size and brilliance.  The sweetness of filling my lungs with the chilly air was enhanced by an indescribable fresh scent.

Mother Nature had begun to pull a quilt of color over the shoulders of the mountains, and the pageantry of the trees was reflected in the mirrored surface of the lake.

As we walked along the road, reveling in the beauty of the moment, I felt an immense sense of peace and harmony that has escaped me for years.  For the first time in recent memory, I found myself actually looking forward to winter.  My connection with nature in that moment brought with it an understanding of the gifts of the season; of rest, dormancy and the gathering of resources for the promise of spring, when new life will surge forth and restart the eternal cycle of life.

Although I’ve often complained about the discomforts of winter, I have to admit I can’t imagine living in a place that doesn’t experience the four seasons.  There is something about living through those short days of low light and cold that make the advent of spring that much more exciting.  And with the chores of summer winding down, fall is a wonderful time to reflect on the lessons learned, to plan for next year’s garden, to enjoy the fruits of this year’s labors.

Yesterday morning a dusting of snow crept halfway down the mountain.  Winter is waiting in the wings.  I’m ready.

The line between Fall and Winter

 

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The Gift

The best presents in the world are the ones that are unexpected, and come from left field.

Having just gone through the “Move of the Century,” we are in major down-sizing mode.  With the approach of August which represented both our birthdays and our anniversary, I begged Grant not to get me anything.  We’ve spent the last three days unloading the latest truck and trailer from New Mexico.  Halfway through I looked at my husband and asked, sincerely, if we could just throw it all away and start over.  It is terrifying to look at the accumulation of thirty-five years of marriage, and wonder what it will look like in another thirty-five years!  Where does all this stuff come from?

Yet with the move to the farm looming on the horizon, I have to admit that there are a number of pieces of equipment we really need to make life not only bearable, but enjoyable.  Grant has his little compact tractor and a few implements we’ve used at the lake and for our various building projects, but we are a long way from being “fully equipped.”

Back at the beginning of the summer, I received a letter from my brother Duane.  He informed me that he had an antique road grader that he wanted to give us.

“It’s in good condition,” he wrote, “but it needs paint.  I wanted to ask what color you prefer.  I’m thinking red……”

I was shocked at the generosity of the offer.  He was not only giving us a road grader, but offering to paint it, as well!  I grabbed the phone and called my bro’ to let him know that we were thrilled with the idea of a road grader and that yes, red would be great.

After that things got a little nuts for us, and I forgot about the grader.  Life has a way of doing that to you.  Once the initial excitement fades, it is on with the latest squeaky wheel.

The end of August a second letter came in the mail.  The envelope contained a hand-written note and a picture of the red grader.  The note told us the grader was “road-worthy,” had a new set of tires and he wanted to know where we wanted it delivered—New Mexico, Montana or Washington.

Just the nature of that question is a testament to where we are in life right now!  Once again I picked up the phone to thank him and let him know that it was needed at the farm so, Washington, please.

Three days ago we were standing next to the well house when we heard the sound of a diesel truck coming up the road.  A few moments later, our very first official piece of farm equipment arrived on our land.  He paused at the gate in the cross-fence, and I hopped onto the platform, proudly riding it the last few feet around the corner.  I can’t imagine a Roman Chariot driver feeling more pride.

The thing is likely over a hundred years old, yet in great shape.  There is little wear on the gears and everything works smoothly, thanks I’m sure to some major tinkering on Duane’s part.  While originally designed to be pulled by horses, it has been retrofitted to hitch up to a truck or tractor.  Our bouncing baby is twenty-three feet long and weighs in at around four thousand pounds.

I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m more thrilled with this gift than if someone had given me a pair of diamond earrings.  Hard to plow the road with diamond earrings!

The red is a cheerful color and gazing at it sitting there in the tall grass, I thought how natural it looked in it’s new environment.

Duane told us before he left Colorado he had a conversation with the grader.  He said he told the grader, “I’m taking you to Washington now and that is going to be your new home.  Is that okay with you?”

He said the grader replied, “I just go where I’m towed.”

This is the brother who picked on me non-stop throughout our childhood. He really made my life a living hell……The best part of this gift, besides the obvious practical nature, is the knowledge that in adulthood, he might actually like me.

Duane with our "New" grader

 

 

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Don’t Look Back

The scrub oak is dead.  Skeletal branches reach for a sky that won’t rain, that has nothing to offer but day after day of blistering heat.  It’s still early, yet a white haze is already shimmering over the landscape as I walk down my sidewalk for the last time and shove a box into the truck.

Dry-eyed, I start the engine.   Talcum powder dust boils from beneath my tires as I drive down “our” road a final time.  I see it rise in clouds in my rearview mirror, obscuring the scene I don’t want to see, “my” house disappearing from sight.

It’s funny how everything outside my window looks ugly to me now.  This is a place I’ve always loved, yet as I gaze at the parched landscape, the dead, crispy grass and the bare dirt, I can’t wait to leave here.  I’m sick to death of brown.  Brown trees, brown grass, brown dirt that fills the air with the relentless wind, turning it brown, as well.  My spirit yearns for a place of abundant life.  Where the wildlife is not scrapping over a blade of grass.  Where water bubbles out of the ground, nurturing forests teeming with life.

I feel a clutch in my gut, but no tears escape.  I’ve already learned this lesson.  Twelve years ago my parents sold my childhood home.  That day the pain in my chest brought tears of grief and sorrow.  My entire childhood lay within those walls, and I would never see them again.  Yet as we all drove away, my Mom sat stoically in the front seat, her eyes focused forward, firmly on the future.

Later I asked her if she’d not felt the intense sorrow I’d experienced.  I wanted to know how she could drive away from the home she’d shared with her husband for 38 years, a home where they’d raised their kids, laughed, cried, fought, loved and lived, yet drive away without looking back.

With wisdom I’ve come to count on from my dear mother, she told me that she’d loved that house.  That she wouldn’t have traded a single moment she’d spent there, but she’d come to the end of that chapter in her life and it was time to start the next.  She was excited to be moving, designing a new house, meeting new friends and creating new memories.

I’ve had over a year since we decided to move to contemplate those words.  I’ve also been blessed with the wisdom of people I trust to help me in the transition.  Over that time, I’ve come to realize what my Mom knew that day in June of 2001.  That house was not my home.  It may have been the vessel of my home for many years.  The familiarity made it dear, but it didn’t make it home.   Once we drove away, it reverted to what it really is, sticks and mortar, shingles and nails.

Our home resides with us in our hearts, and it will travel north with us to a place where the grass is green and the sky still rains.  A new place we can call “home.”  The spirit of our memories, the love of our friends and family, everything closest to our hearts will not be lost.  The people we hold dearest will come with us; maybe not to live, but to visit and help to support us in our new adventures.

Like my Mom so many years ago, I’m ready to look forward.  I’m excited about new.  New house, new neighbors, new friends.  Change is difficult for us humans.  We all tend to have an innate fear of the unknown.  Yet change is essential for growth.  We can never see what is over the horizon until we start placing one foot in front of the other, taking chances every day and having the faith that all will work out in due time.

Our lives are full and we only have so many minutes allotted in this lifetime.  If we spend our moments living in the past, there is no room for the future.

I hit the county road and the dust slowly clears as the tires find their way onto pavement and start rolling north.  Mom would be proud of me.  I don’t look back.

 

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The Big C

As we advance through this adventure called life, there are certain uncomfortable truths that soon become evident—like death.  From a fairly early age, we come to understand that there will most likely people we know and love who will take the path to the afterlife without us.  None of us is immune.  The Grim Reaper eventually catches up to all of us.

Grant and I have been fortunate to have our parents with us into our middle age.  There are some longevity genes in there so hopefully they’ll stick around a little longer.  Both of my parents’ mothers lived well into their nineties, and Grant had a Grandmother who made it to 102.

Funny how you form ideas in your mind, without even consciously thinking about it, regarding who you expect to live the longest. One of my grandmothers was a person I always expected to die young.  Every time we turned around, she was being rushed to the hospital, and I can’t say how many times my parents grimly informed me that we needed to go say goodbye, because Grammie wasn’t going to be with us much longer.

Yet somehow the old girl always rallied, and she ended up living well into her nineties.  She was one of those amazing individuals who were living life large all the way to the end.   Perhaps it was the constant specter of death hanging over her that gave her the zest for living.

My Mom, who was always hyper and healthy and jumping rope well into her sixties, is the one I figured would live to be 120.  I often told Grant she would probably bury us all.  Yet she has recently had some scary health issues that have caused us all to sit up and wonder if the world has turned completely upside-down.

We expect those older than us to go first, like our grandparents.  After that you face the sad fact that you will most likely outlive your parents, as well.  But somehow you think your friends are going to be right there with you to the bitter end.

One of my best friends was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  She is that person, the one who is bouncing off the walls, running, biking, sailing and the absolute picture of health.  When I first heard the news, the denial kicked in, because of all the people I might have expected to get cancer, it wasn’t her.

As a nation, we’ve been fighting wars for over two hundred years.  In recent times, it has become fashionable to fight wars against non-human entities, like the war on drugs or the war on terror.  Was it Nixon back in the seventies who first started talking about the war on cancer?

I was a teenager in the seventies, and now I’m a middle-aged grandmother.  Is it just me, or does it seems like the war on cancer has been a big frigging flop?  In fact, everything I read seems to point to the fact that cancer rates are actually going up at an alarming rate.  Seems like anyone who lives long enough eventually gets cancer.

I wonder if cave men had to deal with the beast?  Thinking about it, I was able to come up with a long list of things that killed cave men; getting eaten by a saber tooth tiger or other large predator.  Being accidently (or not) shot by a compatriot during a mammoth hunt.  Being stepped on by a mammoth during a mammoth hunt.  Being strangled by your cave-wife after coming home empty-handed from the mammoth hunt because she has been cooped up in the cave with six hungry whining cave kids for two weeks and is convinced you were just out whooping it up with the guys instead of getting down to the serious business of bringing mammoth-meat home to the family.

I’m sure bad teeth, infection, disease, the occasional bout of appendicitis and, oh yes, childbirth took out most cave people before they got old enough to think about getting cancer.

But then, cave people didn’t have Monsanto or DuPont or Exxon to deal with.  There were no genetically modified anything, no antibiotics or hormones in the mammoth meat.  Their water was clean, their air was clean, and they weren’t bombarded on a daily basis with a noxious cocktail of toxic chemicals.

They also didn’t have drug companies.  I guess these companies justify charging a sick and dying person $5,000 a month for a handful of pills (an atrocity I just heard about yesterday) because their shareholders are making money……

It is puzzling to me how what we consider a technologically advanced society who has been waging a war on a disease for forty years can’t come up with anything better than poisoning the patient, burning (radiation) or cutting.  It makes the cave people look modern by comparison.

I did hear years ago about a guy who supposedly cured himself of cancer with humor.  He just sat down in front of the TV and started watching funny movies.  Anything that would make him laugh.  He eventually licked the disease and lived long enough to write about his experience.

I’m sure the quacks are going to have their way with my friend.  She will probably have to endure the path many before her have endured.  But she is strong and has a great support system, so I expect her to breeze through it and be around twenty years from now to tell the story.

In the meantime, I’d appreciate hearing from anyone what they consider the funniest movie they’ve ever watched.  I’m starting a collection for my friend.

 

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Northbound

Spring has finally arrived and with it the need to start the process of moving north.  We’ll harness Sophie (my Yukon) to the ‘ol covered wagon and begin the long trek to Montana.

The house is still on the market.  Our new Realtor swooped in like a drill sergeant and whipped everything into shape.  Part of the process was to have it “staged.”  For the uninitiated, staging involves paying a person a sum of money to come in, hide all your stuff where you’ll never be able to find it, and bring in a bunch of replacement, non-functional stuff to clutter your space.

It takes me three times as long to get out the door these days, as everything has to be in place on the outside chance someone decides they just have to see the house today.  Tucker’s toys get stashed, the tomatoes can’t sit on the counter any more, even though that’s what’s best for tomatoes (I’ve determined that a tomato’s needs are pretty far down the pole in this process), and all the lids on the toilets must be closed.  Heaven forbid someone’s gaze falls on the apparition of an open toilet.

The leaves that have a habit of collecting on the porch by the front door during wind storms (its spring in New Mexico, do the math), need to be swept into the yard, where they’ll lay in wait for the next wind storm.  One of our friends came over last week and on entering the house proclaimed that it didn’t look like anybody lived here.  She’s pretty much right.  I don’t think you can call this existence “living.”

The only one happy about the arrangement is Tucker, who is riding the anti-dog-in-the-house wave by getting to tag along on every trip to town.  He’s finally getting the drill down with all the rushing around at the last minute, but the second we’re back in the house, he’s at the cabinet asking for his toys back.

It will be such a relief to leave the museum behind and be able to actually live in our house again.  Looks like we’ll spend next winter working on the remodeling project at Bull Lake, because there won’t be much else to do with the 3 hours of daylight in northern Montana, and piles of wet snow.

First order of business though will be to get the fruit and nut trees into the ground.  They are supposed to show up the week of April 8, and it will probably take us that whole week to get everything planted.  Over dinner with friends the other night, they commented that in the event the world comes to an end, they want to be able to find us since we’ll be the ones with food.  I told them I hoped they like fruit and nuts.  The only other sure thing right now is wild game and cattails.  I understand there are a number of tasty ways to eat cattails, and I intend to try all of them.

We’ve been getting the newspaper for the little town near our farm, and the articles are quite refreshing.  Instead of murders, rapes and meth labs, the front page features stories on large flocks of wild turkey’s eating some guy’s grain, or the fact that the annual swan migration is a little late this year.  There are weekly comments on the snow pack, the runoff, and the huckleberry crop, depending on the time of year.  What a concept.  Oz, here we come.

The little local feed co-op is getting in their chicks next week.  It takes every ounce of self-control I’ve got not to run in and buy one of each.  But Grant and I have a pact that no livestock will be allowed permanent residence on the farm until we are permanent residents on the farm.  Still doesn’t stop me from poring over the Craigslist ads every night and looking at every Jersey milk cow.  The thought of fresh butter melting on a slice of homemade bread is making my mouth water at this moment.

All my classes are over.  I missed the last one, which was a workshop on grafting fruit trees.  The kids kindly shared a nasty case of the stomach flu with me over the weekend, and I was too weak to get out of bed and drive the two hours to the class.  Grant looked a little like the proverbial deer in the headlights when I informed him he would have to go in my place, but he was a trooper.  When he returned home that evening, a little wind-burned, a little sun-burned and clearly tired, he had five tiny fruit trees to show for his effort, and the skill to produce many, many more.

Since the Federal Government is incapable of making a decision, Grant will most likely continue to work through the summer, with some commuting back and forth and using vacation.  He’ll be doing the bachelor thing for the most part while in New Mexico.  Guess I need to make a run to Costco to stock up on popcorn and Mountain Dew, which is Grant’s idea of sustenance when I’m not around to do the cooking.

My head is already spinning with all the doors that are opening as others are slamming shut.  I’m definitely not the person I was a year ago, nor would I want to be!  I’m meeting the most interesting and amazing people on this journey, and I can’t wait to see what the next phase will bring.

More from Montana……..

 

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Off The Map

For the first time in six years, I feel moved to write a Christmas letter. Up until 2006, it had been a yearly event, a way to keep family and friends in the loop with what was going on in our busy lives.

But in 2007 we lost our nephew Travis in August, and as the holidays approached along with the time to send out my cards, I realized I was still in a dark place, the hole in my heart was still aching, and I had nothing positive I wanted to say about the year, so I let it pass, preferring to stay mute rather than spread sadness and pain.

That year started a process which is almost indescribable. It is hard to believe it has taken this six years to come to a place of healing over that death, but also a transformation in my spirit. I think at some point when faced with these life challenges, you have to make a choice. Are you going to dwell on the death or celebrate the life that came before it? My brother and sister-in-law have been amazing role models to me during this process, as they have shown immeasurable strength and grace in their ability to continue to honor their son while slowing rebuilding their own lives.

My own path has taken me on an inward journey. There is nothing like the death of a young person to make you take stock of your own life, to examine not only your decisions, your acts and the life you have built, but especially your relationships. During hours of contemplation and some very difficult self-evaluation, there were many aspects of myself I discovered for which I was not very proud. I realized I’d drifted away from my brothers as an adult, thinking I had nothing in common with them. Yet eventually I realized we had everything in common. We share more than our DNA, we share our earliest life’s memories and experiences, the things that helped to mold us into the people we ultimately have become.

I have wasted countless years on judgment, criticism and an insatiable drive for more and bigger and better. Life has a way of holding a mirror to your face and I discovered that, if I looked closely, the things I criticized in others were the things I secretly found most lacking in myself. I also came to realize how meaningless the “stuff” had become. Compared to the knowledge you will never hold a loved one in your arms again, the latest electronic wing ding becomes more of a speed bump to self-actualization than a treasured possession.

Being a little thick, it has taken these six years to re-evaluate my life, my relationships and try to define my purpose—the proverbial “Why am I Here?” This journey has brought challenges as many of you have shaken your head and asked, “Who are you and what have you done with Anne?” The good thing about losing your mind is it gives you a clean slate on which to rebuild. With the help of our beloved family counselor, Carryn, I have tried not to waste this opportunity.

Looking back on the past six years, I see many examples of the changes in me—foundational character transformations. I let go of a large project that was near and dear to my heart when I saw that it risked a treasured friendship. I’ve made a concentrated effort to renew my relationship with my brothers. I’ve forgiven those in my life for whom I’d carried a perception that I had been wronged in some way, and striven to see the relationship through the clarity of compassion.

After years of making fun of little dogs, I found myself the owner of one. He has been both companion and comfort during some difficult times. I have spent the last two to three years literally and figuratively cleaning house—boxing up and giving away as much as I can, clearing out the clutter in my house, my life, my mind. It has been surprisingly liberating!

After the shock of watching someone I loved lose a child wore off, there was a selfish part of me that realized I had only one child, and the idea of losing her is inconceivable. We’ve had two close calls in the last year and a half, and both have brought me to a greater understanding of the importance of living and experiencing each moment of now, eschewing the temptation to obsess about the past or worry about the future.

I watched helplessly, the day of Lorelei’s birth, while my daughter traveled with her unborn child to a dangerous precipice. Infinite moments passed while they couldn’t even get a blood pressure reading during an episode that eventually caused her to deliver the baby eight weeks early. That evening I gazed for the first time on my tiny granddaughter who, at less than four pounds was literally fighting for her life, and knew once again how lucky I was to be there, to participate in a love so great it pushes the bounds of eternity. After leaving the hospital, I traveled home to my husband and grandson. Folding them into my arms made me complete and I will never forget that feeling of being connected to all things.

Recently, when my darling daughter was diagnosed with cervical cancer, the clutch in my gut, the fear monster was back. Once again we were blessed with a miracle. The beast was caught early and she is going to be okay. I am slowly finding a way to use these challenges as a vehicle for growth and a reason to embrace the healing power of gratitude.

The past is history, and the future is a great unknown.

I humbly realize I am still a newbie on this spiritual journey. Old habits, as they say, die hard, and attempting to change a lifetime of those habits is a daunting task. Some days I see the old me creeping back, the one I don’t like very much. But if I have learned one thing from all this, it is that the most difficult person for whom to have compassion and understanding is myself. Until I forgive myself, I’ll never be able to move on.

There have been rewards for the hard work. Tiny slivers of light have appeared in the cracks of my old life. Peeking into the future, I’m excited by what lays ahead. The great gears of the Universe are creaking, and I am slowly working free of the muck that has kept me rooted to that life. New and interesting people are appearing almost daily, and for the first time in many years, I feel passionate about the things I’m learning and the life Grant and I are building together.

I’ve taken a break from writing since last spring. Once we move, I intend to dive in again, documenting our adventure as it unfolds. Stay tuned for the next chapter.

 

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This Little Light of Mine

Everyone thinks I’m crazy. Not just a little on the tweaked side, but undeniably, certifiably nuts. I guess I can’t really blame them. From their perspective, it must seem like Grant and I have lost our ever loving minds. We’re selling our home of thirty-three years in the middle of one of the worst real estate markets of modern times. We’re moving thirteen hundred miles away from family and lifetime friends. At the age most people are thinking about retirement and maybe buying a motorhome and taking up golf, we’re buying an eighty-acre farm and planning to grow everything we use, including crops to produce our own alcohol fuel.

My friends have found many ways of expressing their displeasure at these ideas. Seems I can’t have a conversation with anyone any more without the subject coming up. We’re abandoning our daughter and her kids. We’re making a serious mistake from a financial standpoint. We’re too old. We have no idea what we’re getting ourselves in for. It will be a lot of work. We know nothing about farming. The list of arguments goes on and on. It never ceases to amaze me how much everyone knows the intimate details of our lives, and the compulsion they feel to point out our mistakes and shortcomings.

The problem is, we’re not dead yet. It would be very convenient if we were, because then the arguments would stop, and the idea would become moot.

There are many documented cases of people retiring healthy, and subsequently die within a year or two. It’s as if they’ve lost whatever it was that made them get up in the morning.

I believe each of us comes to Earth with a spark inside of us. This tiny light contains our life blood, our soul, the cosmic stuff that makes each of us who we are. In my mind, we all come into this incarnation with a purpose.

I’ve gotten into the trap many times over the years of believing this purpose has to be something “big” like finding a cure for cancer, writing the next great novel, or discovering new frontiers. But I’ve come to understand, over time, that each of us is contributing to “all there is” by simply being our authentic selves, whatever that looks like.

If it’s all about contributing to the collective consciousness, isn’t it more important that we be happy than rich, famous or even infamous? Fanning the little light in our soul that whispers to us during those brief moments of bliss each of us is destined to experience brings forth not only more of the same, but others of like mind, strengthening the whole.

When Lisa was in high school I remember her constantly talking about the “popular” kids. She often said, “Everyone hates the popular kids.”

So I’d naturally ask, “If everyone hates them, how can they be popular?”

Her reply? “Oh Mom, you just don’t get it.”

I didn’t get a lot of things when Lisa was a teenager. In fact, my I.Q. dropped into the double digits by the time she hit about sixteen, and didn’t go up again until she got married and started having her own kids. Funny how smart I seem to be now. But I digress.

Many of us spent our years in middle school and high school trying to be the “popular kids” that everyone else hated. What a noble pursuit. “Who are we?” was a question that never entered our adolescent brain.

Deepok Chopra tells us that, before we meditate, we should ask three questions:

Who am I?

Why am I here?

What is my Dharma?

The term “Dharma” refers to our purpose.

I’ve spent my entire life doing what everyone thinks I should do. When you’re a kid, of course, you’re essentially tied to your parents and their plans for you. Don’t get me wrong; I had great parents and I know they always had my best interests at heart.

But you leave home and there are all these expectations from your society and culture. You go to college, you get your degree, you get married, have a couple of kids, work for “The Company” for forty years, retire and move to Florida. Sound familiar?

Short of flying, I never had a job I even liked, let alone loved. Even my airline career was fraught with uncertainty. There was the thousand mile commute every week, union battles, bankruptcies, and let’s not forget 9/11. I’d personally flown both of the United airplanes involved. It was my fleet, my friends and co-workers who woke up that morning thinking it was going to be just another day at work. Had I not had the “good fortune” to be on jury duty, it might have been me.

But it wasn’t.

I’ve spent over fifty years hiding my little spark behind the proverbial bush. It’s hard to hear the tiny voice within when the roar of “shoulds” drown out the authenticity of your very soul. Most of us never recognize who we are. We follow the rules of our culture, walk the line, do our duty and die.

At the end of the day, it’s not the money you make, the novels you write or the frontiers you challenge. Its figuring out who you are and living that in each eternal moment. People think we have to have these extraordinary experiences to validate our lives.

I have had many extraordinary experiences. I’ve stood on a 15,000 foot pass on the Inca trail and seen things few modern humans have seen. I’ve scuba-dived reefs with fifty-foot tall coral heads and commanded a six hundred thousand pound jet at thirty-nine thousand feet.

Yet when I look back on my life, the most extraordinary memory is the sight of my newborn grandson as he blinked at the world for the first time. The miracle of my own daughter when they placed her in my arms, or my tiny granddaughter who entered this world just under four pounds.

Its the lines on my parents face etched with years of struggle and wisdom, the sight of the American flag which brings tears to my eyes when I think about the struggles, challenges and sacrifices thousands of our fellow Americans made for our freedom.

It is the arms of a child around my neck, the first flower of spring and the way it smells after a rain.  In the end, it really is the things that are free, the miracles we take for granted every day that sing to our soul, connect us all and speak to who we really are.

I can’t wait to get my hands in the soil. I can’t wait to sit on the porch at the end of a day of manual labor, reveling in the fatigue of a good honest day’s work as I watch the ducks and geese come in for a landing on the pond. I can’t wait to hear the frogs at night and show my grandson where to dig the worms for fishing and taste the tang of an apple whose tree I fostered for years.

Am I crazy? Probably. Am I happy? Blissfully. I wish this for everyone, that we all find the tiny light inside and fan it into the flame of potential. We really do only live once; or so they say. I’m not banking on reincarnation. I’ve got a few years left. Gonna make them count.

 

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Happy Birthday, Mom

Today’s my Mom’s birthday.  It’s caused me to pause and reflect both on what it means to be a mom, and what me and my brothers put my poor mom through over the years.

We moved to the mountains when I was five years old.  I remember Mom telling a friend one of the main reasons they decided to make the move was so the “noise,” (aka us kids) would not bother the neighbors.

She gave up a lot as far as support system and convenience to give us the opportunity to yell and holler and be kids.  Then there was the issue of my brother roaring up and down our road in his Formula One style go-cart singing opera at the tops of his lungs.  The noise-making didn’t stop there.  We had all manner of motorized contraptions, from Vespas to dirt bikes.

There was always a gaggle of kids at our house, and I’m sure the din was deafening.  Mom’s cooking was legendary, and she always had a plate of cookies or a pan of fudge ready.  One of my brothers once sold the piece of cherry nut cake she’d sent in his lunch box for a whopping fifty cents, which in the mid-sixties was a fortune to a kid.

The frogs came and laid their eggs in a nearby stock pond each summer, and we’d catch the tadpoles and “raise” them in my brother’s wagon, which we’d turned into a makeshift pond on the patio.  Before long, she’d have little frogs hopping around her house.  In the winter, Dad sprayed the patio with water and turned it into a skating rink.  We’d take the dinette chairs from the kitchen and use them for balance, pushing them around our little skating rink while learning to stand.

I am an animal-lover and would catch the little field mice who got trapped in the grain barrel, and bring them inside, where they’d virtually always escape.  We’d hear the little critters scurrying through the walls in the evenings.  I’m sure that put a little silver in her hair.

We were always dragging poor Mom into some fiasco, like the time we decided to go skating at Seven Springs, and convinced her she needed to teach us to skate backwards.  New Mexico has rocks in the ice, unlike her native Maine, and hitting one going backwards on skates at twenty-miles per hours tends to have consequences.

She was never a horse person, but always had a carrot or a sugar cube for my horse when she stuck her head through the dining room door at the end of a ride.

One day, as a teenager, I was sassing her in the kitchen while she was trying to chop carrots.  She got to upset and distracted by the argument she chopped the end of her finger off instead, and not knowing what else to do, I picked up the end of her finger, loaded her in the car and drove like a maniac all the way to the local veterinarian’s office.  She never complained.

Or the time I ran a stop sign right in front of a cop, and when he pulled me over, I burst into tears and declared that “Dad is going to kill me.”  Mom and the cop both assured me that Dad would never have to know as long as I promised never again to run a stop sign.

She’s the neatest, cleanest, and most particular person I’ve ever met when it comes to her house, so all the projects we dragged into her den must have set her teeth on edge.  We cut up parachutes, cleaned saddles and assembled motorcycles in that room.  She never complained.

When we were little, money was tight, and Dad often worked two or three jobs to put groceries on the table.  Mom could stretch a turkey leg to three meals, and you’d feel like you were eating like a king.  I know there were times she did without so we wouldn’t have to.  It wasn’t until I was a mom myself that I realized how broke we were in those early years.

She always made our favorite cake on our birthday, and we got to lick the bowl.  Then we’d get to pick what to have for supper and who to invite.  There was always a stack of presents, and they were always exactly what we wanted.

She went back to school when I hit Junior High, and got her degree in teaching.  There is a whole generation of Cedar Crest kids who had her in the second grade still writing to her from far-off places, visiting her in Montana, and bragging that “Mrs. Netz” was the best teacher they ever had.  It was always more than teaching to her, and we often had extra kids at the dinner table she’d dragged home because they were hungry, or their dad was in jail, or some other calamity had befallen them.

When me and my brothers had our own kids, she slid right into the role of “Grammie,” and the next generation of our family got to fall in love with her.  She always reminded me of a mother hen with chicks, with all the grandkids clamoring around her for attention, and her clucking at them, and feeding them goodies.  She’s always made her own bread, and somehow always managed to time it so that the bread was just coming out of the oven when the kids showed up.  She had miniature loaf pans so the kids could have their own little loaves.  We’d all sit around the table breathing in the yeasty warmth and licking the butter off our fingers while exclaiming that “Grammie bread is the best.”

In her forties, my brother set her up with a cast off computer and she taught herself to type, then wrote and published a cook book.  She never ceases to amaze me.

If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never come close to the person my Mom is.  She is more than a Mom.  She’s a mentor, an icon, and I’m proud to call her my best friend.  She’s my moral compass and my confidant.  We definitely won the Mom lottery when God gave us this assignment.

I could go on for days with stories, but what I really wanted to do was just tell her how much I love her, appreciate and treasure her.

Happy Birthday Mom!

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Spinning Out of Control

I’ve always thought I was pretty strong. Years ago, as a teenager, I remember hay season with my Dad. Back at our barn, he’d stand on the trailer and, with a hay hook, toss those eighty-pound bales up to me, in the loft. We’d get a rhythm going with me hooking the bale just as he cut it loose. Once he didn’t get the hook out in time, and I dragged him up into the loft, along with the bale.

Fast forward to about six years ago, when my friend Bobbie and I took on the challenge of weight-lifting using “Static Contraction Training.” This involved loading up a weight machine with a ridiculous number of plates, think 800 lbs. for a leg press, and after moving the load a few inches, the goal was to hold it for twenty seconds. We rarely made it through an entire workout without some helpful gym rat asking us if we knew how much weight we had on that machine.

So when another friend heard me squeaking about having spent a winter on my duff and wanting to get back into shape, she suggested I take a “spin class” with her. For the uninitiated, “spinning” involves a group of people on stationary bikes doing an imaginary “ride” which is led by an instructor at the head of the class. How difficult can that be, right?

Digressing to another time I was roped into something like this. Joanie had been wanting to take up Yoga, and asked if I would attend classes with her at a couple different studios around town. The first two or three were about what I expected—skinny “salad people” in tights turning themselves into pretzels. I’m not a pretzel kind of gal; in fact I’m so inflexible, I can’t even touch my toes. But Joanie was having a good time, so I hung in there with her.

Until we landed at the “Bikram Yoga” place. This type of Yoga is done in a room kept at 108 degrees and about 95% humidity. Guess the heat is supposed to warm up your muscles and joints or something—I don’t know. When we checked in for our ninety minute introductory session, the guy at the counter gave us a briefing. He said, “This first time, your goal is to stay in the room. Just stay in the room.”

I remember snorting to myself at such a ridiculously feeble goal. Stay in the room? What kind of foolishness was that?

Joanie and I staked out the place at the back of the class where all the newbies generally congregate at these things. The Yoga master arrived and all the skinny salad-people started doing their pretzel-thing. Fifteen minutes in, slick with sweat, I started noticing the smell. It was a blend of body odor, stinky feet, and mold. I looked at the carpet with suspicion, wondering how many gallons of Yoga-induced body fluids it had absorbed over the years. Suddenly the room felt claustrophobic.

I looked up just in time to see a giant bead of sweat roll down the the Speedo-hugging scrotum of the guy in front of me, and splash onto his mat. I threw up a little bit in my throat. By now the smell was overwhelming, every breath bringing in who knew what killer strain of mold. How many kinds of bacteria and fungus were silently replicating on every nasty, scummy surface? I suddenly remembered that the nasty kind of bugs literally explode their populations in a warm, humid environment.

Was it just me, or was it really hot and hard to breathe? Hopefully, I looked at the clock on the wall behind the instructor. We were now exactly twenty-one minutes into the ninety minute session. I experienced an epiphany about the guy’s recommendation to “just stay in the room.”

I snuck a look at Joanie. She was doing a pretty good “Downward Dog,” considering the problem of traction with sweaty hands on a slippery mat.

Sixty-nine miserable minutes later I staggered out of that room, weak, shaky and dehydrated. In a chirpy voice, Joanie asked me if I wanted to go again the next day. At that moment I wondered, for the first time in a forty-year friendship, if she’d truly lost her mind. It took three days to get the stink out of my sinuses. Years later when I think about it, the memory of that smell comes right back.

Back to the spin class. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the experience, it’s to never accept an invitation to go to a class at a gym with someone who is thin, wiry, and in peak condition. I was sucked in by the fact that this particular friend had been through foot surgery a couple of months back. Believe me, that didn’t slow her down.

Twenty minutes in, my quads were burning, my butt was asleep and I was chugging like a locomotive topping a pass. My friend was up on the pedals pumping out a hill, and had enough extra breath to let out a war hoop. The instructor, sweat pouring off her brow, was imploring the participants to go faster, stronger, harder. The thought running through my mind was, just stay in the room.

I pulled the resistance on the bike back to downhill, and tried to give the illusion that I was still pedaling, although my legs had gone from prickly to completely numb. By the time we climbed off the bikes, I could barely stand. Somehow I got through the post-workout stretch and staggered after my spritely companion into the locker room, where I collapsed on the bench.

Getting old is a bitch. In the immortal words of my great aunt Irma, if I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself!

 

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Confessions of a Foodie

Having grown up in a family for whom food was not just something, but the thing, its not surprising that, as an adult, I’ve evolved into someone known as a “Foodie.”

I think it started with the sugar substitute “Aspartame.” I’d heard all the rants about the potential dangers of the stuff. But the FDA had declared it safe and, like all government agencies, they have our best interests at heart, right?

I loved Diet Coke and loved even more the fact that I could go to Circle K on a daily basis for a Big Gulp without ever having to worry about one single stinking calorie. What a deal! Until one day at work when we were descending through eighteen thousand feet and my left ear refused to clear.

Five years and tens of thousands of dollars of medical tests later it took a Chinese Acupuncturist to solve the mystery—I was being poisoned.

Since at that time I was worth more to my loving hubby alive than dead, I quickly dropped him as a suspect, and turned to my diet to ferret out the source of ill effects. It didn’t take long to figure out the culprit. My Diet Coke habit had rendered me half-deaf and ultimately ended my career as an airline pilot.

Nothing like being lied to by a government agency, and having life-altering consequences to put you on the war path. My problem wasn’t just that I’d given up the evil Aspartame, and wanted everybody in the world to know the truth—I took it as a personal insult each time I saw someone imbibing the stuff. Even though I’d gulped it for years, oblivious to the wreckage it wreaks on everything from your brain to your reproductive system, I realized that once you know something you can never not-know it again. But that doesn’t mean everyone else knows it.

From Aspartame I moved on to the evils of trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup, explored the heartbreak of gluten and dairy intolerance and have landed firmly in “Non-GMO Land.”

Now a good fifteen years down the road, we are selling our family home of thirty-two years and moving to the far side of the country in search of clean water, and clean land on which to grow clean food.

I devour (no pun intended) anything related to food and health and after reading about all the delightful benefits of raw milk, was appalled to discover the sale of it is outlawed in our county. There is a hardy group in Albuquerque who pool resources and make a driving foray to Durango, Colorado every week for the pleasure of spending twelve dollars a gallon for raw milk. If you add the price of the round trip, it’s probably more like twenty.

Yet these people are desperate for real food and willing to do almost anything to get it.

The other day my niece gave me some eggs from her chickens. When I cracked one into a frying pan, I didn’t even recognize it as what I have come to know as an egg. The yolk was bright yellow and standing proudly at attention; the white was clear and firm. And the taste was divine. I’m sure there were also unseen health benefits from a food derived from birds allowed to express their birdness and who are given clean and species-appropriate food.

Watching documentaries like Food, Inc., would make even the strongest among us gag with disgust seeing the way chickens, eggs and beef are produced on a “production” scale. Heck, even the farmers are appalled. It would all make you want to be a vegetarian, until they go onto the second half of the program, where you are briefed on the development of “FrankenFoods” whose birthplace is the lab, and final resting place our plate at the dinner table. Cross-species breeding of plants and things like viruses and bacteria to make the plant able to withstand being hosed down by herbicides.

Even if you ignore the fact that our depleted soils have a small fraction of the minerals our ancestors enjoyed in the last century, this new “version” of “food” is, by processing, literally void of nutrients. Tomatoes are now bred not for nutritional value or even taste, but for their ability to survive a fifteen-hundred mile ride across the country in the back of the truck and still look like a tomato after sitting on the shelf at the local grocery store for a week.

How is it that our generation of Americans has more food than any society in the history of the planet, yet is plagued by not only the rising incidence of chronic illness to epidemic proportions, but the introduction of scary new diseases.

Trillions of dollars are plowed into medical research annually, and new drugs come on the market almost daily, but for most, the side effects are worse than the cure.

Lisa pointed out recently that my husband’s parents have been closet Foodies for years. While I was still chugging my Diet Cokes, they were quietly buying organic food, avoiding wheat and soy, and mostly eating simple meals at home. They’re both in their eighties now, and enjoy an incredible level of health. They’re slim, energetic, and as far as I can tell don’t have a single ache or pain. My father-in-law walks his three miles every day, rain or shine, and will probably outlast us all.

That’s where I want to be at eighty. If getting up every morning at 5:00 am to milk the cow doesn’t kill me, I hope to coast into my eighties drinking my raw milk, watching my happy chickens scratching around the yard and eating my home-grown veggies. At least I’ll know where they came from!

 

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