navigation.

I have struggled to make sense of it all these past few weeks. In the last 10 days, I’ve had some very serious conversations with people around suicide, police brutality, religious beliefs and war. Weren’t we told it’s not polite to talk about politics, sex or religion in public? Well, I get the feeling that people don’t give a hoot about politeness anymore. That said, I’ve never been so clear in my understanding that talking doesn’t change people’s opinions much. So at some point during the week I gave up talking, and headed into the wilderness.

 


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Weeks before, high off of reading Wild (yes, I am that person), I decided to at least attempt an overnight backpacking trip. Of course, my first response to the exhilaration of this memoir was to want to go out and buy a new pair of hiking boots, and get on the trail immediately. I didn’t. After my euphoria quelled, I settled into my more pragmatic self, which was this: I wanted to see if I liked it and if it would be something that I would want to pursue more of (translation: buy stuff).

side note. 
A note on stuff.  In years past, I was notorious for buying gadgets that would end up in drawers or in the darkest corners of the garage. It was part of my need to “be” whatever it was that I was excited about. Runner. Artist. Fill in the blank. I had the (misguided) notion that if I had the stuff, I was the thing, or could easily become the thing. At some point, whether it was from more awareness or less disposable income, I began to understand that the “stuff” was not “me” (the ego is a trickster, right).  I stopped buying equipment unless I had a genuine use for it.  I also realized that I just need to create a space of experimentation, which meant I could borrow or rent unless I was truly invested.
back to the story.
Like most things outdoors, heck most things in general, I wanted a knowledgeable companion. I enlisted my dear friend and consummate outdoors guide, Laurel. I’ve watched successfully take her young girls out into the wilderness this summer, and am a little bit in awe of her. She’s a badass chick, knows her stuff, and is super generous.
We sat down over dinner and chose a route that was doable in 2 days, that wasn’t too far away, and that was close enough to civilization that we could hike ourselves out if something bad happened. We figured out food, Laurel had equipment for me to borrow above and beyond my sleeping bag and pad, and we set a date. And just like that, I’d (co-)planned my first backpacking trip.

Of course, by the time the trip rolled around several weeks later, I was exhausted from all the fun I’d packed into a very short summer (Oregon, 2 back to back camping trips) that I almost called it off. I coyly posed an alternative plan to Laurel (hot springs? Doesn’t that sound wonderful? My treat! ), but she wasn’t having any of that. Her text response was “If we’re set for Tahoe I say we do it!” Dammit. Ok, I guess we were going on a walkabout.

The 24 hour trip, plus maybe an hour or two, was just what I needed. Desolation Wilderness was gorgeous, and it felt pretty sweet to know that we could only get to our destination by trekking in.  The weather was perfect, the trail was rigorous but doable, and I even felt like all those gym classes were being put to use. It was even a full moon. 

It also gave me some clarity around the importance of navigation. With Laurel as my trusty guide, I wasn’t scared. With Laurel as my guide, I felt like I could do it. With Laurel by my side, I kept going. She taught me about the trail, showed me how to filter water, use a camp stove, and set up the backpacking tent. She did it in such a manner that was knowledgeable and supportive so I didn’t feel stupid or incapable. It really was a remarkable feeling. It was comparable to the “I did this!” feeling I had when I was with the scouts a few weeks ago.

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My guide also, who was quite educated about hiking on the trails (including the Pacific Crest), taught me a few things about the trail system. For example, for most of the trip I just thought it was adorable that someone had taken the time to pile rocks along the trail. Was this a thing? Well, yes, but not in the way I was thinking. They were trail markers. Duh.

Isn’t that what we all need sometimes? A trusty guide?

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connected thought. 

One time a long time ago, I met with this woman who I shared with that I was concerned about my relationship with my eldest son. She said simply, “he wants you to walk with him.” Not ahead, not behind, but shoulder to shoulder. When parenting got rough sometimes, I would remember this and try to slow down and be with him in his endeavors. This has also helped me in my work with young people at the school site – particularly with things like college and career exploration – and even when I am engaging with my co-workers with a new project that I feel more comfortable with. There are systems that some people are more educated about, and I am grateful when the navigational skills come out to assist.

As for the backpacking, I’m looking forward to planning another trip. This time, I will have a few more skills under my belt. Plus, along with someone more experienced, I think I’ll bring along someone who is a little less skilled so I can practice. Maybe I can be the trusty guide next time.

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your heart is a muscle.

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So, my happy go lucky trailer purchase turned into a relationship challenge, albeit a small one. I guess you can’t bring home a large purchase, kind of without asking (though it’s something we’ve talked about for years) without a little friction. I know, duh.


fight or flight.

Historically, I am a both of a fighter and a fleer. I will prove you wrong, if it’s the last thing I’ll do.  Or, I’ll walk away. Until, of course I decided that being engaged in a deep and caring relationship meant NOT engaging in warfare.

(I only got here when I saw what I had slip away. Not the path I’d recommend, just for the record.)

I have had to very consciously build a repertoire of behaviors and beliefs that support staying in the relationship even when I feel uncomfortable, being kind when I feel like being mean, and genuinely caring when I feel like saying “so what?” I would practice doing exactly OPPOSITE of what I would normally do in certain situations, and gosh darn it that’s a pain. But it’s kinda helping. I won’t bore you with the details about our argument, but other than a few tears (oh, I’m a crier too), I listened and did my best to articulate where I was coming from without blaming or shaming.  When it was all said and done, the spouse and I were back on the same page and making a plan. Of course there is more, and there will be more, but I practice and practice to build a deeper relationship.


It turns out that my “newfound”, aka necessity is the mother of invention, approach is supported by research. John Gottman has been studying marriages for a long time, and can predict with very high accuracy whether or not people will divorce. The so-called “masters” (versus “disasters”) of relationships have a “habit of mind” that filters for the positives versus the others’ mistakes and build more trust and intimacy as a result.

A couple of interesting points:

turning toward or turning away 

The article does a great way of explaining this, but I have to say this piece was an eye opener to me. In Gottman’s studies, he found that those masters responded to the bids – for affection, for time, for attention – from their partner WAY more than the disaster folks did. Essentially, when your partner, or friend, or child is trying to engage with you (“honey, check out that 1965 Mustang with the …”), you have a choice. The masters respond, turning towards – not away – from their partner. This meant a genuine show of interest, support, etc. The disasters respond minimally, and in some cases they do things like tell the other person to stop talking so they can continue reading. Ouch.

In this department, I do have to say I have been pretty good as a partner – when things are going well.  I have listened for hours on end about things that I knew the other person cared about just because I knew he cared. Where having this knowledge is helpful is when things aren’t going so hot. See “fight or flight”…

I don’t think people generally ignore their partner on purpose. I think modern living, kids, and general stress can inadvertently push people into isolated corners just so they can get some space.

Where I have not been so good, and this has really helped me on, is in the parenting arena. My kids talk to me all the time. They ask me to play games. They invite me into their forts. And a lot of times, before I read about this, I would be less than responsive because I’m in my little (invisible) isolation chamber.  Now, when my kids come to talk to me, I put down what I am doing and literally turn towards them. It’s made a huge difference.

kindness is a muscle 

I have learned this lesson very deeply in the past two years. Joy in a relationship isn’t something that you just get all the time. This requires kindness. And that is something you have to practice it, over and over again. Before, I was unhappy and thought that it was something that was static. You are, or you aren’t, happy together.  It would make me unkind towards my partner, and that kept adding to the unhappiness. Now, I know that to be categorically false. I know there are people who shouldn’t be together anymore, and no matter how much kindness you practice it won’t help. I understand that. But in my case, it was a missing piece in my relationship puzzle. Even when I’ve been upset, like the other day about the trailer. I stuck to “I” statements, and validated my husband’s feelings before rushing into my defense. This is a considerable change from a few years ago, where I would have gotten defensive and as a result probably said some things I didn’t mean.

shared joy 

I liked reading about the different types of responses that people give in relationships on a daily basis that helped build and maintain better relationships: active constructive, passive constructive, passive destructive,  and active destructive.  Active constructive is your “shared joy” response, where your partner shares in your happiness with you. It kinda goes downhill from there, really (from passive constructive on down to active destructive).  This is a good tip for me when I am not feeling so engaged but do want to show support. I have begun asking questions and offering encouragement, rather than just say “that’s nice” or “good for you!’  Kinda awkward sometimes, but I can feel it  opening my heart up a little bit more.

I shared with Tim that I had expected for him to be happy for me – for us- and I was disappointed that he wasn’t into it. But I know him, too, and I validated his logical mind that sees a project that may be overwhelming when we already have so much going on in our lives. I assured him that I wouldn’t just let it rot in the driveway, and that I had done some research before bringing this 1500 pound shack home. After some discussion, he felt better, I felt better, and we were back in business.


I am happy to report that this will be a shared project. I am doing the leg work on finding out what work needs to be done, and Tim will help me do it. Willingly.  I know that in the long run this thing will help bring some great moments to not just me, but for all of us.  And that makes me feel…happy.

 

trust easy.

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I was reminded very loudly this week to trust easy, even when it’s so hard to have faith that things will work out the right way.

Now, I’ve wanted a trailer for a long time. I believe I was a nomad in another life. Yurts, tipis, tents, I love all of it. I think stuff is cool but I have a deep yearning to simplify and just have what I need all in a small (but cute!) package.

However, I had a bifurcated vision of what the trailer was about. On one hand,  I envisioned it sitting in my back yard, cacti planted all around, and a giant lock on it that only I had the key to. This would require a nice looking but not necessarily fully functional trailer.

I also thought  it would be great to tow to go camping for our family.  In that fantasy, I was making dinners in the little trailer kitchen while my husband and the boys made a nice fire, and we would sit around and enjoy the outdoors in a more “civilized” fashion.

One fantasy? Hipster trailer chick. The other? Nomadic cool hipster chic.  They were kinda connected, but neither felt totally right. They weren’t one integrated vision.


 

Every time I would sit down to look at them on Craigslist or on vintage trailer sites, I would get bummed.  They were either super nice and super expensive, not super nice and still super expensive, or needed so much work that it would be overwhelming to take on. I started to believe I was being unrealistic, like I was nostalgic for the good ol’ days when you could get a functional but still pretty nice (needing a little work was ok) for an affordable price.

Frankly, my dream started to waiver. Until… earlier this week, when I went with my family on an overnight to the Oregon coast. We showed up for tent camping, and were pretty much surrounded by trailers. Airstreams. Big ol’ RV’s (not my thing but cool to somebody). Cute little blue numbers like this one.

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In the midst of all these people, I noticed something really obvious that made me think about why this thing wasn’t coming to me. I looked around and saw people truly committed to leisure and adventure. Me? I have a hard time relaxing. Maybe I wasn’t really looking at this trailer in the right way. I wasn’t really connected with the “why” of this thing. If it was just to have a place to work, that seemed counter productive for such a wonderful thing. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place to hang out AND go out and see the world? In comfort? And style? The thought made me feel happy and light. I wanted a trailer. Now. To work in and to travel in.


Oregon is the land of camping, so I started to consider that there might be a trailer there for me. When we returned from the coast, I got on Craigslist and almost immediately found a Shasta trailer for $1000. Awesome. Except it was a two hour drive! Ugh. But I texted the guy and we worked out a time to see it the next day. I was elated, but nervous, and spent the next couple of hours trying to re-work my plans with my kids and cousin so that I could make it to Eastern Oregon the next evening. It wasn’t going that well, but I was going to make it work. A thousand dollars! A 1960s Shasta trailer! I would make it work!!

Then I went to send the post to my husband, and it was already deleted. Uh oh. So I texted the guy again, and he said indeed he had sold it. Bummer. I was super disappointed, and went to the party my cousin was hosting. There, I struck up a conversation with a family friend, and he was encouraging. We started talking about what I really wanted, and he said there had to be a trailer in Oregon for me. I got back on Craigslist, and found another trailer for the exact same price, and a lot closer in Portland. AND, it was filed under “camper” so they hadn’t gotten a zillion calls yet.

Within minutes of emailing the owner, he responded. I called, we set up a time, and I felt a lot better. Full of possibility. Then I told my cousin, and she said she’d get up with me early so we could get there when the first appointment (8 am) was scheduled. Just in case.


Bright and early, we got in the car and headed to Portland. We arrived at 8:01 and there were no other folks looking – the guy had flaked!  I stepped inside the trailer while we waited for the owner to come to the door.

Is it possible to fall in love with a thing? Because I am pretty sure I did the moment I saw it. Hearts. Spray painted all over it. Seriously. And the cutest turquoise and yellow interior that was still in pretty good shape. Everything worked, and it seemed that only some minor cosmetic work and cleanup needed to be done. The best of both visions. Perfect. By the time the guy came to the door, I was already picking out new curtains in my mind. Oh, and my cousin had cash to lend me for the moment since I was out of state and couldn’t get to a bank. Sweet.

The cherry on top of the sale was the people I bought it from.  Harry and his wife Angie turned out to be two of the nicest people on the planet. The couple came to Portland by way of Florida around ten years ago after their son was diagnosed with leukemia. They searched all over the country for the best place to go, and ended up pretty much right where I met them. Thankfully, their son has been clear of cancer for many years now.  From the sounds of it, their goal was to live their lives to the fullest with their kids, and this trailer was part of it.

But now the boys were getting older. They needed a new rig. And wanted it to go to a good home. Me! Pick me! Actually, I think the trailer picked me. I knew it when the 8:30 appointment texted Harry and told him she’d be late. Too late. I and myself a trailer.

We chatted for awhile about shared interests, and Angie showed me the bones she and her boys collected. I learned the story of how they got the trailer (their neighbor, the original owner) and we swapped good places to visit (you can go from Bellingham, WA to Alaska on a ferry?! Wow!).  My cousin even invited the couple to visit the winery.

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Within the hour, my cousin and I were on the road, towing the trailer back to the winery.

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It really does help to be surrounded by such loving and capable people. My cousin’s husband John helped me with the hitch and ball (and gave Kirby a lesson, as well), and made sure I was safe getting on the road.  My cousin Jody was by far the best partner in crime ever. I haven’t felt that loved by folks other than my kids and husband in a long time. It makes it all the more special.

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With their support and guidance, my family and I got home in one piece, with the Heart Cart (or whatever I will end up calling it), this evening.  It’s hard not to go out in hang out in it right now, even  though it’s close to midnight. After cruising along at 60 for 12 hours to get home, I thought I would feel a little over it. No way. Tomorrow? Clean up! The next day? The world! In the easiest manner possible, because that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

ondinnonk.

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My cousin Jody kissed her future husband John for the first time on the land that would become their winery. This place doesn’t need an “ah shucks” story to be magical, but I do get a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that these two people’s hearts have been sealed at this spot.

Neither was looking for love at the time. They were both divorced, living in two states, and only met each other at the insistence of a mutual connection (I think it was John’s sister).  Jody came from Arizona, John came from Colorado, and they spent the weekend looking at property together.  That was a little shy of eight years ago.

I talked to my cousin last night about how they met yesterday as we drove out to the coast.  Although they weren’t  outwardly seeking new partners, from the sounds of it they were yearning for this connection, dreaming of it, because it has turned out quite fantastically, in my humble opinion.

I went looking for a better word than yearn, and I think I may have found it on Better than English:

ondinnonk: n. an Iroquois word “referring to the soul’s innermost desires and its angelic nature. To follow one’s ondinnonk is thought to often lead to positive and kindly acts.”

If it’s really the word I want, ondinnonk is everywhere on this property. You can see it in the rows and rows of wine grapes, you can feel it in the beautiful tasting room that they built mostly by hand, and you can taste it in the wine they make.  You sense it in the wonderful parties and weddings they host. The people around them that clearly love them and feel nourished by them.

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They love their work. And their work isn’t their life – their life is their work. 24/7. It’s pretty amazing. I believe it’s their love and sense of joy that called me in like a beacon to finally have the first semblance of true family, other than the one I created with my spouse, in my whole life.

And in the short time since I’ve reconnected with this side of my family, I have already been moved to sink more deeply into my dreams, my odinnonk, and let good things come into my life like I see coming to them – not from wishing, but taking leaps of faith each and every day.  I can’t wait to get home and see what happens next.