Sunday, February 28, 2010

Every Day is a Gift

An unexpected side-trip has brought me to The Sunshine State! I am joining my sweet and gracious parents on part of their road-trip through Florida and Georgia. Normally, I only get to spend a hand-full of days every year with my family, so I feel very lucky to be able to spend this extra time with them, and in beautiful places, no less! The first leg of our journey was spent in Daytona with my grandparents, who are warm, loving, and fabulous people, excited to take us on walks on the beach, to flea markets, and to their fitness club!

Yesterday we made our way to the Gulf side. We stopped in Tampa to have lunch with a distant cousin, whom I had never met before, and her new baby. In Tampa, I also visited with a family I was a nanny for in Portland years ago. I nannied for Ella and Esme for 3 years. They became very dear to my heart, and they still inspire me with their passion, creativity, and many involvements!

Now we are in Rotunda, where we are staying with my aunt and uncle, enjoying family stories, laughter, and good conversation. After Rotunda, we will be spending some time in Atlanta with my brother and sister-in-law! Then back to Texas for me, and Pennsylvania for my parents. This side-trip is already speeding by too fast!

The following are more impressions of my time in Florida so far.

A full-moon day on the Atlantic side of Florida: pelicans, vultures, cranes, water pipers, seashell gathering, bike rides on sandy roads through jungle-like neighborhoods, long walks alongside the ocean, palm trees, cacti blossoms, Spanish moss dripping like honey from the trees, favorite “houseplants” thriving huge in their natural environment, fresh oranges and fish, the cool ocean breeze, and enjoyably relaxing time with family!

Daytona is an interesting mix of beautiful landscapes, high-rise condos, kind retired folk, bikers, touristy shops, and mansions. It was Bike Week in Daytona, so the town was swarming with literally hundreds of motorcycles! Luckily, the area we were staying in was removed from the hubbub: quiet and un-commercialized.

An interesting aspect of the restaurants we went to in this coastal town was that instead of having fresh fish as advertised, I discovered that their fish were all farm raised and thus frozen for shipping. For truly fresh catch-of-the-day fish, we found “BoonDocks,” a tiny little open air joint right on the docks of the inlet, where the fishermen hang out. The blackened basa I ate was delicious!! Similar to the fish-houses, the “Fresh Produce” stands have been slim on Florida grown produce. The local strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, and starfruit are bountiful and tasty! Am I being too critical when I question the freshness of the remaining produce picked before fully ripened and shipped hundreds of miles from Mexico and South America? (Ok, I admit, I am missing my neighborhood co-op in Portland!! Though it too carried produce from other lands, I was able to bypass those selections and instead get a fairly extensive variety of local and seasonal organic produce, even in winter.)

As I approach the one month marker of leaving Portland, I am finding my anxiety around “What am I doing with my life?!?” wanting to creep in more and more. A good friend reminded me that I need to not let myself go there yet. This experience that I am creating for myself is relatively short compared to the rest of my life, and so it is time to savor the experience of being free and adventurous rather than feeling an urgency to figure it all out. It is the perfect time to allow myself to become comfortable with all of my unanswered questions, with an unknown future. For, there will always be unanswered questions, the future will always be unknown.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot be given to you because you would not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke

I am so grateful for this time. Sitting on the sand, in the sun, on the very edge of the country, I am free to be just me, right now. I am letting the soothing sounds of the waves and the ocean breeze smooth out the rough edges of my psyche. Soften me. Sooth me. The ocean washes away that which I do not need and brings me peace. When I let go of these worries about the future, I return to the present moment. I am able to be more present with those around me, that which surrounds me. I see that this moment is what is real, and my projected thoughts of the future are imaginary. I see that the present moment is filled with delights. This day, this moment is a gift. It is filled with real things to be grateful for. Clean water to drink. Fresh vegetables and fruit. Shelter. Warmth. Family. Friends. Sunshine. Ocean. The magic and beauty of the earth and it’s plants and creatures. All around me, in this very moment, I am surrounded by gifts. With my gratitude as fuel, I intend to live in a way that benefits all of life and helps to assure that future generations may enjoy these same gifts.

What are you grateful for in this moment of your life?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Shake it up, now!

It is true: After spending 10 years living in Portland, life had become stagnant for me. For a long time, I had known that I needed a big change. But, because of the rich and amazing community and the fulfilling work that I had in Portland, I continually avoided making that change. Deep down, though, I had been craving a broader sense of fulfillment that I was no longer finding in Portland. A sense of adventure. A new source of inspiration. A re-ignition of my passion for life. Warm sunshine in winter. The challenge of living outside of my own box of comfort and predictability. Travel. The experience of being the minority somewhere. The expansion of love. The experience and insight to help me understand more and more how I am to serve Life.

When my cat passed away last fall, one door sadly closed, but another opened. Amina freed herself from her body, and in doing so, freed me a little bit more to go on a long adventure. And opportunity came knocking at my door, with beautiful serendipity. Lucas and I decided that we needed to spend more time together. Not wanting to spend another winter in Portland, I decided to spend a little time with him in Texas, and to go on an adventure with him further south.

So, through all of my meager belongings I went, purging as much as I felt ready to along the way. The 30 boxes of remaining belongings, plus a few random un-boxable things, were put into storage. My car was parked in a friend’s driveway. I planted a hellebores plant above Amina’s grave, moved out of my apartment, sadly quit my 2 awesome jobs, and said “Ta-ta for now” to my dear friends, with no plans of living in Portland again. Boarding the plane to Texas, I felt as though I was walking through a huge gateway, from one big volume of my life into the next big volume. And this new volume is a wide unpainted canvas, slowly to be filled with new colors, new experiences, and lots of mystery!

I am not seeking to unravel and predict the mystery of the future, but to live it as it unfolds in the present. I seek to feel alive in the moment, more and more, and thus access passion for life, more and more. I have ideas of what I want to create for myself, what I would like to paint on my canvas. But what I am realizing to be true for myself is that I am a co-creator of my experience of life. The future isn’t predictable. My present actions are not guaranteed to bring about certain outcomes because the rest of life is happening around me, life is continually acting upon me. So, doing what it takes to create what I would like for myself must be accompanied by a certain level of unattachment to what the final outcomes will look like. I am learning to be open to what life puts on my path. I am learning to be grateful for every experience life brings me and to see the opportunity for growth in these experiences. I am learning to accept that life will bring me challenges in the future. I am learning to find meaning in the journey itself rather than put all of the weight on whatever final destination I think I need. I am learning to let go of resistance to change, to let go of fear, to celebrate and respect the mystery that is the future, to be as present as possible in order to experience the beauty that life brings in the now, and to hear my inner voice and truth in order to see the way before me more clearly. And, I am learning that it is up to me, no one else, to create a meaningful and fulfilling life for myself.

On the way to Texas, I had a layover in Denver. There, I sought out a quiet corner to rest and write. At the end of the terminal, I found a wonderful surprise. Four young and very talented women were sharing with a slowly growing crowd their beautiful music, live. The bandmates of Shel were on their way to Nashville for a performance. Fiddle, guitar, percussion, and vocals….the music that rang out in that terminal was sweet, fun, upbeat, inspired, playful, and full of sunshine and warmth. It filled me with a joy that felt like a very welcome beginning to a new phase of life.

And Texas has certainly warmed me up inside too, with that sweet southern hospitality and bountiful sun. Lucas lives with his gramma, who he caretakes, in Kerrville, a small town in the hill-country west of Austin and San Antonio. It is a quiet, peaceful countryside of rolling hills, wide delicious rivers, juniper and oak trees, cacti, deer, colorful birds, and a big blue sky filled with warm sunshine. My days here have been relaxing, yet full and rich. These 3 weeks have felt like an extended retreat, a much needed time to press the reset button. With several weeks of life open-ended before me, I intend to maintain the positive inner changes that a quick return to a busy life can often impede. Being the first time in years that I have had more than a couple of weeks off of work at a time, I imagine that I am experiencing some of what my parents are in their new life-phase of retirement. Like them, I am incredibly grateful to have the time and space to spend my days doing everything I want to when I want. I must say, retirement suits me pretty nicely :)

And like retirement, there are adjustments that are inherent in my new circumstances. All of a sudden, I am not living alone in a studio apartment in an ultra-liberal city anymore. I am an indefinite guest in my boyfriend’s gramma’s house in the countryside of conservative Texas. I don’t have my own means of transportation. And I am not working with nor interacting with children at all. Lucas and I are adapting well to all of a sudden spending so much time together in the same space. We are both independent enough to happily do our own thing, giving ourselves and each other the space we need. The time we share together has been sweet, fun, and inspiring! What the future holds, I certainly do not know! I celebrate what I am experiencing now, and am excited to see where this new path leads me!

And, here is a list of other highlights from my 3 weeks in Kerrville, TX:

A delicious soup party at Lucas’ mom’s house. Several awesome soups to sample (my favorite being a roasted red pepper potato soup), as well as bountiful wine, appetizers, and deserts.

Learning to cook with a solar cooker and a heat retention cooker. I cooked a great bean-vegetable soup with the latter…the soup cooked for 15 minutes on the stove and then was put in a laundry basket packed and insulated with blankets for 2 hours. Voila, awesome soup that didn’t use a lot of energy and didn’t need to be babysat!

A dog bite from a neighborhood pit-bull that punctured my skin. I ended up getting a tetanus shot, filed a report with animal control, and healed nicely.

So much delicious tex-mex food and award winning margaritas!

A fantastic concert in historic Fredericksburg: The Band of Heathens. Here I experienced and appreciated how awesome Texan music can bring so many different kinds of people together, while other music can so easily divide people.

A sweet and moving play about Helen Keller.

Sun, sun, sun! Why I have I spent so many years living where the sun is barely seen in winter?? Never again!

Oh, yes, and I had my first experience helping to brew beer! Coconut porter! Yum!

Friday, February 12, 2010

You Know You're In Texas When....

Public art at the gates of a huge shopping center consist of towering two-story tall cowboyboot sculptures.

Landscaping involves lots of pale rocks and cacti.

Chinese food is served with tortilla chips.

Every single driver who passes you by while you are on a walk gives you a courteous wave.

The only hippy you see for weeks is in the mirror (ok, and the man you are visiting:).

People say, "Nice to know you!" instead of, "Nice to meet you!"

People say, "I put the guacamole up," instead of, "I put the guacamole away."

Mail is delivered in a jeep totally devoid of USPS insignia.

You receive a slight sunburn in February.

Street signs are often either inaccurate or totally missing.

Dogs who have recently been quarantined by Animal Control for biting humans are allowed by owners to roam their neighborhood.

One can buy a leather bag to carry one's cowboyboots in. This bag is in the shape of cowboyboots. For reals.

Wearing a cowboy hat is a fashion statement, and is not done just for the function of shading the face from the sun..