I love DC

You can take Susanne out of Virginia, but you can’t take Virginia out of Susanne.  I do love traveling, discovering different areas, but it’s nice to go home sometimes too.  Time and time again, I’ve left for various reasons and returned to the DC area for various reasons.

Grew up in northern Virginia from 1972-1986.

Lived in Roanoke and Lexington my first two years of college, 1986-1988. Lived in Virginia Beach summer 1987.  Worked for Greenpeace in DC summer and fall 1988.

Moved to Wyoming to complete Spring Semester in the Rockies (WY, CO, UT) 1989.  Click here to read about it.

Moved away to Colorado in 1989 (Boulder, Telluride, Durango).  Click here to read more about life in beautiful places.

Finished college in Prescott, Arizona 1993.

Moved back to Virginia with my oldest daughter and went through a divorce 1994.

Worked for Greenpeace in DC 1994-1996.

Got my master’s degree 1998.

Moved away to Nevada 1998-2001. Taught sixth grade.  Remarried 1999. Had another daughter 2000 and son 2004.

Moved back 2001-2004 so my husband could attend law school while I taught sixth grade gifted/talented.  Click here to read more about that.

Moved away to Texas in 2006, visited Virginia in 2008 for a high school anniversary reunion, for a short weekend wedding this summer, and again last week to help my mom through a single mastectomy.

Cancer brought me home this time.  It changes everything and puts everything into perspective.  Cancer runs in my family.  My father had kidney cancer and then liver cancer. He died from bleeding complications during surgery.  It was a surprise to all of us because we knew about the previous kidney cancer but did not know that it had spread to his liver.  Knowing my mom was facing it alone, I did what I could to help.

When I go back to visit, it feels like home. The city, the suburbs, the culture and history are all a part of who I’ve become. Landing and taking off over the monuments and seeing Washington, DC by air reminds me of so many parts of my past there. It’s where I grew up, and it’s still intertwined with my life in Texas. Back home in Texas where I am comfortable with my family and it’s another beautiful sunny day, I appreciate both places for what they offer and know that Virginia/DC will always be my home. Texas is my second home, a place where we can spread out and my kids can grow up and call home. This is where I’m growing roots after transplanting from the east coast.

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This is a picture of the house where I grew up in Northern Virginia. My mom bought it and we moved in during 1972. She is still there today. There used to be a big pine tree in front of the left side of the house. I used to climb it as a child and sit high up in the branches, sticky with sap, looking over the neighborhood at roof tops and trees. Those moments were times I would steal away, sit back, and observe life around me. I remember doing roundoff-backhandsprings all over the front and back yards and wonder today how I did it when I see how sloped the front yard was. There were birthdays, homecomings, proms, Halloweens and Christmases in this house. Years upon years of memories, both good and bad reside here. What a trip to go back as an adult and re-experience it from another perspective.

This is truly the “house that built me.”

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This is where I went to take a walk while my mom saw her lawyer to get her will in place. It’s a familiar park near my house where I used to go all the time when I lived there. It was a heavy day emotionally, writing her advanced medical directive and discussing her wishes just in case anything went wrong in surgery. I lost my dad to complications from his surgery for liver cancer and didn’t know he was having surgery or that he had liver cancer, so this experience with my mom was the exact opposite. I did get to contemplate in advance what would happen if she didn’t come out of surgery ok.

Driving into Lake Accotink Park in Virginia, the road meanders through a secluded forest in the middle of suburbia. Tall trees line the road, and the speed limit slows to a pace where it’s impossible not to appreciate the surroundings. During any season, this is a beautiful drive into a pretty piece of nature where you’d least expect it. It’s a man-made reservoir, but it is a beautiful lake with trails around it. It’s a perfect park for picnics, bike rides, runs along the trail, boating, and parties at the facilities. As a kid, I used to ride my bike all around the park and had fun rope-swinging into the muddy water with friends. I loved getting out in nature. As an adult, I ran the dirt trail around the lake and rode single track mountain bike trails off the beaten path.  One of my favorite mountain biking memories is from riding single track at Accotink in the rain.  The trail was really muddy, and I got soaking wet but it was a fantastic time!

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I took a long walk and did some yoga in a secluded flat spot by the lake. Afterwards, I laid down on a bench for a while to let the sun’s rays caress my skin while my body relaxed. Lying in the sun is one of my favorite things to do; plus vitamin d is good for us (the sun is the only natural source of vitamin d).  The fall air was crisp, and the sun was warm, warmer than I expected and warmer that day than the rest of the week. I opened my eyes, looked up and saw this beautiful view of a tree with spectacular fall colors. The striking orange against the clear blue sky reflected a calm yet vibrant spirit within. I truly loved taking in my surroundings at that moment. Pale tree trunks reflected the loveliness of the place with initials inscribed surrounded in hearts with arrows. It was obviously a place where many others sat to enjoy the moment.

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In the final moments before my flight back to Texas, this was my view outside the airplane window. It was a beautiful morning at the end of a special week. My mom survived breast cancer surgery and was in good hands with friends, family, and a home health nurse. I was able to support her through a difficult experience. We mended fences and forgave each other for the past, and I focused on a zen mindset of being calm.

Dream Board 2013

Dream Board 2013

I also got a chance to reconnect with old friends and family members I haven’t seen in years. I appreciated my time there despite the circumstances. I felt reconnected with the place I’ve left so many times.

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US Capitol Building as we began our ascent out of Reagan National Airport.

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Washington Monument, Tidal Basin, and Jefferson Memorial

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Washington Monument, National Mall, and US Capitol Building

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Lincoln Memorial

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

25 Things About Me

I’m flashing back today, looking back over some of the old notes I wrote on Facebook before I started blogging.  Found this list of 25 things about me and got a kick out of re-reading it and thought I would share with updates where necessary.

1.  Like my friend Eve who tagged me in this note, I have a genius IQ, but I knew it when I was a kid and resented the pressure to be an overachiever.
2.  I like beans….and I make a yummy bean salad.  Whatever I cook if I can throw in some beans I will. (Update-I no longer eat beans!  I’ve been following a mostly paleo diet since August (no grains, no dairy, no beans/legumes, no refined salt, sugars, or oils). 
3. I like to cook, and I am obsessed with eating healthy food like lean meats, lots of fruits and veggies, and whole grains. (Update-no more whole grains!  Was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity (click here to read the entry I wrote about it) in May and have been off most grains (except a little rice since August).
4.  I always wanted to be a wife and mother and never really knew what career to pursue when I was growing up.  Click here to read why.
5.  Because of #4, I went to three colleges, took two years off (one to work for GP and do a NOLS semester (click here to read about it) and the other to work as a cook and live in Telluride, CO), and changed my major twice (#1 French #2 Philosphy/Religion #3 Environmental Studies)….didn’t graduate until I was 25.

Telluride, CO from a gondola.

Telluride, CO from a gondola. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6.  My first ‘career’ was an environmental activist for Greenpeace in Washington DC.

Washington DC

Washington DC (Photo credit: eGuide Travel)

7.  I got my master’s degree in Education and became a teacher after my GP job got moved to Amsterdam;  I was a single mom so I didn’t want to go.
8.  When I was a teacher, I discovered a passion for math, and now that I am a stay home mom I love tutoring math because I can help students learn to love math.  Click here to read about my love affair with math.

Dansk: Dedikeret til matematik

Dansk: Dedikeret til matematik (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9.  I love to sleep and will sleep until noon if nobody wakes me up.  I also love being pampered like getting massages.
10.  I met my husband, Joe, at the gym when he was working there and going to school and I was his 12:30 appointment for personal training.  We started running together and the rest is history.  Even though he is a lawyer now, we still go to the gym every weekend and love exercising together.

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11.  I am lactose intolerant (like most Asian Americans).
12.  I am an extrovert and love to get together with friends, pot-luck style, with good food, drinks and conversation.
13. When I go out, my drink of choice is gin and tonic (Bombay Sapphire) and my favorite shots are Jaegermeister and Tequila. (Update-no more gin or jaegermeister due to food allergies.  The only liquor I drink is Patron silver tequila).
14.  I drink wine (chardonnay) when I’m cooking and with dinner.
15. I am kind of a control freak and always am trying to avert danger and/or accidents, especially with my kids. Like we don’t let them play outside in the front yard without an adult and don’t even get me started on how hard it is to have a 15 yr. old who is about to date and drive etc. (Update-since I wrote this post, I wrote nineteen episodes of fiction. I realized this theme came up in my fiction writing. Click here to read my fiction episodes).
16.  I like heights and exposure, hence my affinity for climbing trees as a kid, my love for rock climbing and high mountains where the earth meets the sky.  When I stand on a cliff or overlook I get the urge to fly like a bird, but of course I don’t have wings so maybe I should take up hang gliding or something?

climbing

Split Rock, WY 1989

17.  On the flip side, I am claustrophobic and I would really hate to go scuba diving or caving or anything like that.
18.  I am a big flirt, always have been, in fact I won ‘biggest flirt’ in 8th grade with Bill Schraa who ironically was also voted ‘best couple’ with his girlfriend.
19.  When I go shopping I am all about the sales and hardly ever will pay retail price.
20.  I manage all the money in our household and am good about paying our bills on time or early.
21. I correct people when they use bad grammar (I know that is annoying, but I can’t help it).
22.  When I am going through a hard time, I make music mixes full of songs that reflect whatever it is that’s going on.  Before CD‘s I made mixed tapes.
23.  I always try to complement people and tell them what I like about them (something I learned as a teacher when conferencing with parents).  There is always something nice you can say, no matter who it is.
24.  I spend alot of time on the computer.
25.  I give my kids ‘mommy homework’ if they don’t have any from school and make them do reading, writing, and math all summer (for about an hour a day, it’s not so bad) to keep them challenged.  Click here to read about summer learning.

Pets

I’m a dog person because I am terribly allergic to cats and have been an animal lover for as long as I can remember. I had several pets as a child and have owned at least one dog since 1990. Pets bring life, love, and companionship into life. While some people consider their pets part of their family or as ‘furbabies’ the reality is that they are animals, not humans, and usually want to get away from us. That’s why we have to have cages and fences and tags and collars and leashes. Given the opportunity, they run away and sometimes find new families. I can’t help but wonder what goes through their minds. They truly do become a part of the family and defend their owners and children, sensing emotions, danger, and ill will. Yet, from day-to-day, it’s as if we are keeping them prisoner. Anytime the door is left open, or the gate is accidentally not closed, or if there is any gap in the fence, they will disappear. Nice people may return the pets, but there also is no rule they have to. They can capture the animal and begin keeping it prisoner until it makes its next escape.

One of my two dogs has been missing since Sunday 9/15/13, and it’s been a rough week looking for him and adjusting to life with one dog again. We got sibling Boston Terriers in the spring of 2008. Marley (the female) and Tom Brady (the male) had not been separated since birth…until now.

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Marley (left) and Tom Brady (right) in Coppell, TX 2013

The female was picked up on a busy street near construction by the owners of a local grooming salon. They took good care of her, including giving her a bath, hung up signs and kept her until I picked her up. They said there was no sign of her brother.

Thanks to a weak spot in our fence, they both got out, and they were both not wearing collars because my daughter likes to take them off to pet them etc. Also, Tom Brady had a little rash on his neck from his collar. They got out in April, and I thought of getting them microchipped then, but they were both found in the neighborhood and returned the same day. I got new collars and tags and thought that would be enough. Now that Tom Brady has been missing for so long, I think I will take Marley in to be microchipped!

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I planted two new hydrangea bushes in an open spot under some trees in our backyard garden.  Disturbing the soil and watering it must have caused the fence to break. 

See the crack?

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Here is a closer view from the other side. I had no idea they would push it open enough to get out!

 

We miss our boy and really hope to get him back, but after six days I think somebody must have picked him up and is keeping him because they like him. If they were going to turn him into a shelter, they have had all week to do it. Today, we are on our way out-of-town to visit our college daughter, and I have a sad feeling inside as we get farther and farther away from home knowing he is missing. It rained last night and is still raining today, and the ink on the flyers I put up this week is running and faded now.

He was such a sweet boy, very shy and absolutely LOVED attention. He would tuck his ears back and hold completely still for us while we held him like a little baby. He learned how to sit and would simply refuse to lie down upon command. Despite being a male, he let his sister dominate him. She learned commands faster and listened better than he did. She wouldn’t let him eat or drink when she was around, so I would separate them to make sure he was getting enough. The two dogs used to follow me around the house and lie down right next to each other in whatever room I stopped in. If was playing guitar, they would lie down and listen at my feet. If I worked on the computer, they would lie down next to me, sometimes curled together heads to paws like a little yin yang. They shared a crate, and I used to find them cuddled up together every morning. I’m thankful now that I spent some time videoing them playing and roughhousing in the back yard. I thought at the time it was kind of silly to videotape dogs playing, but I didn’t realize he would run away and we would never see him again. He loved rolling on his back and curving left and right as he massaged his little spine on the carpet beneath him. He snored when he slept and when being held. I’m slightly allergic to dogs and get a rash on my arms and hands if I pet them, so I used to wrap him up like a little burrito in a towel and hold him on my lap. He would cock his head back with his ears back and snore in my arms.

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Tom Brady, our Boston Terrier who has been missing since 9/15/13

 

 

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Marley chilling next to me on the carpet in our house 2013

My first inclination was to get another dog, but I have done that before and it turned out to be a bad idea. After discussing it with my husband, I think I will focus on Marley as the ‘only’ dog and give her even more attention. She has been acting differently without her brother this week. I took her out and got her a new bed and have been spending more time one on one with her this week.

Since none of the shelters have Tom Brady, I am assuming someone has him and wants to keep him. All I can do is hope he loves his new family and they love him too. I hope he will get more one on one attention in a new home, if that is how it has to be. We do have coyotes and bobcats in our area, so it’s also possible he met his demise, but I prefer to think someone has him. I will keep looking until I have a reason to stop.

I got my first dog when I was in college in Arizona in 1989. Kelsey was half Rottweiler, half wolf. She looked like a Rottweiler but had slightly longer hair and a longer snout. I spent the summer in Colorado with my boyfriend, and she had a litter of puppies with a Siberian Husky the next fall. We gave most of them to our friends but kept two females (Jordan and Freya) and a male (Orion). I took the following year off school and lived in Colorado with Kelsey and her three pups.

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Kelsey as a puppy in Prescott, AZ  1990

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Kelsey as a puppy in Prescott, AZ 1990

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Kelsey and my ex-boyfriend in Telluride, CO 1991

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Jordan at my first wedding in Prescott, AZ 1994

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Jordan in Lake Tahoe, NV 1998

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Jordan swimming in a lake to fetch a stick NV 1998

On my twenty-third birthday in 1991, my boyfriend accidentally ran over Freya, and she died in my arms. Heartbroken over the loss, we rushed out and got two more wolf-hybrid puppies (this time they were 96%) We went for one new puppy and loved two of them, so we got them both. Lupus was a golden tan color with yellow eyes. She was beautiful and wild. Grey Cloud was a black wolf, with kind of grey coloring and yellow eyes. She was timid and gentle, a real sweetheart. They were both very smart and loved our lifestyle, living outdoors and taking daily hikes through the mountains. With our five dogs, it felt like we were one big family, a pack. While I’m still not sure exactly what drove me to get and keep five dogs, but at the time it meant the world to me. I liked the lifestyle too and preferred it over one in a house with no pets. I lived outdoors like many other young people there did for about a year and a half, sometimes in my VW camper bus, sometimes in a tent, sometimes in a shack in the woods, and in a teepee for the second summer I was there. It was a completely different lifestyle, one where I felt wild and free too, like I was one with nature.

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Jordan in Telluride, CO 1991

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Jordan (left) and Freya (right) in Telluride, CO 1990

This is the only picture of Freya I have, and it’s also the only picture of me when I grew dreadlocks.

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Jordan and her sister, Suki in Telluride, CO 1991

My boyfriend and I broke up, and I took Kelsey, and Jordan. He took Lupus, Grey Cloud, and Orion.
Grey Cloud ended up running away, never to be seen again, and sadly Lupus died from accidental hanging at an animal shelter when they put her in a cage with her leash on. Orion went on to live a long, healthy life in Colorado with my ex boyfriend. I think he said Orion was sixteen when he died.

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Jordan (left) playing with her littermates Suki (middle) and (Orion) in Telluride, CO 1991

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Grey Cloud as a puppy in Telluride, CO 1991

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Grey Cloud in Prescott, AZ 1992

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Lupus as a puppy in Telluride, CO 1991

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Lupus in Prescott, AZ 1992

I had to get Kelsey put to sleep when she was about three years old because she bit a few people. It was heartbreaking because she was very sweet and gentle with me, but she would jump and bite people for no reason with no warning. After it happened a few times, I didn’t really have a choice. It was awful having to do that. She is buried in Vermont in the yard of my ex-husband’s parents’ house. She is in a beautiful forest in a beautiful place, and I will always remember her.

Then it was me and Jordan for a while. She was the perfect dog, smart, well behaved, friendly, loyal. She loved taking walks off the leash and would alternate lagging behind me and running ahead of me on the trails. I never worried about losing her because I felt a mental connection with her like I just knew she would catch up or wait for me. And she always did. When catching up, she would run full speed, pass me and continue bounding down the path with her curly tail bobbing in delight. She loved water and never missed a chance to take a dip. She got along with other dogs, and she loved to play in the snow. She used to pounce like a cat when I would throw a snowball for her to catch. She’d bury her nose into the snow looking for it and then pop her head up with a funny expression, snowflakes on her nose. She loved chasing us as we went sledding down hills in Nevada and Virginia. She lived until almost fourteen years of age. I was pregnant with my youngest son (who is now 8) on her last day. She had been very sick and weak and slept outside on our back patio area because she kept having to go to the bathroom or throw up. When I went out there that morning, she looked lifeless in the garden, lying flat on top of the day lilies. I took her to the vet knowing it would be the last trip. The kids said goodbye to her before we left, and sure enough, I came home with her collar and leash but not with her. Again, I had to make that terrible decision to put her to sleep. She was getting so old, and there would be extensive testings and surgeries with unknown outcomes. We had a few moments together to say goodbye. I thanked her for all her love over the years and told her what an awesome dog she was. I told her how much I loved her and didn’t want to see her in pain. It was seriously like saying goodbye to my best friend. Then she was gone, just like that (June 2004). I keep her ashes in a special sealed wooden box from the vet and her collar next to my bed still.

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Me, my oldest daughter, and Jordan in Northern California 1998

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Jordan and another doggie friend running in the snow Lake Tahoe, NV 1998

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Jordan and her buddy, Sunbear AZ 1992

We didn’t get another dog until we moved to Texas in August 2006. With a newborn son in the family, there was a lot to keep me busy, and my heart also needed some time to heal from losing Jordan. My husband liked boxers, so I went out and got a boxer puppy. We named her Honey. We learned the hard way that boxers are called boxers because they stand up on their hind feet and ‘box.’ She was strong and fast and kept knocking over my two young kids. We realized we made a mistake and should have done some research on the breed first. We found a family in Austin looking to adopt a boxer and gave her away. They knew what they were in for, and they spent a lot of time outdoors hunting and camping. They had a large lot where she could run too. Honey was happy, and we started over with the Boston Terriers in 2008.

Five years later, we are back to one dog, and now I also have two fish tanks. Thank goodness I don’t have to worry about them running away. I set up a ten gallon tropical fish tank in the kitchen, and we also have a thirty gallon tank in our master bathroom with two goldfish (for good luck/feng shui). They live their entire lives in the tank and eat and secrete waste into their aqueous environment. Nature is amazing that way, that the chemistry works out to support life in a mini-ecosystem like a fish tank!

Between dogs and fish and children, I find that I spend much of my time caring for others who depend on me. It’s always been part of my nature to care for others. And I’m learning slowly to enjoy the time we do have together and learn to accept it when the time comes to an end. Much like human relationships, having animals is a lesson in living, loving, and letting go. 

Thanks for reading this entry. Peace out!

 

 

 

 

Intuition: Listening to my body

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Sometimes in life, we have to stop listening to what other people say and listen to ourselves. In most cases, our intuition leads us in the right direction. But sometimes, society or even our own sense of adventure tells us otherwise, leading to internal conflicts.

I’ve noticed messages from my body in two main ways lately and am trying to take heed of their warnings: pain and food allergies/intolerance (digestive issues leading to eczema, hives, and other physical issues).

This is not the first time I’ve written about chronic pain. I never experienced daily pain until my NOLS Semester in the Rockies (1989), and I’ve never gone a day without pain ssince then. Perhaps I strained muscles and other soft tissues on my 95 day exploration and adventures in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. CT scans show some arthritis and bulging discs in the neck and low back, a hemangioma on T5, and signs of old compression fractures on T8 and T9, but they say nothing that should cause daily pain. In 1997, I had an osteochondroma removed from underneath my right scapula, and the doctors thought that would relieve most if not all of my thorascic pain. After five abdominal surgeries (two ovarian cysts and a dermoid tumor, appendix, and two umbilical hernia repairs) and seven surgeries on my right leg (five on the knee for torn meniscus, and two on the ankle for torn ATFL and tendons on both sides in the back) my body is not quite what it used to be. I’ve become accustomed to feeling stiff, sore, and achy and have changed my exercise regimen to include more physical therapy, yoga, biking, swimming, and other low-impact activities. Yet, I still have pain day to day. I seek the fine line between strengthening and conditioning and injury.

Yet, my spirit longs for more, so occasionally I get tempted to push my limits and challenge myself. The most recent example of this is back in May when I decided to join in the #handstand365 challenge. While I knew I couldn’t do a handstand every single day for a year, I thought I’d try doing them when I felt I could and still try to get to 365 of them. I made it to 29 so far. And now my neck hurts more than it used to, so I’ve been taking a break from it for a couple of weeks. I remember doctors and physical therapists telling me that becaues I have three bulging discs in my neck (C3/4, 4/5, and 5/6) that I should avoid lifting weights over my head. In fact, my physical therapist also told me to stop doing shoulder shrugs with weights and to start pulling resistance bands DOWN toward the floor to encourage those muscles (the levator scapulae?) to lengthen. I thought doing handstands would be ok since they are considered “yoga” moves and ignored earlier warnings not to do inversion exercises like headstands, handstands, and shoulder stands because of neck issues.

I learned how to do handstands as a child when I was a gymnast. I didn’t realize that doing them “yoga” style was different, but I finally figured that out when one of the #handstand365 teacher posted a video of her handstand instead of just a still picture. I noticed she went into it from downward-facing dog. I was going into them from a standing position. I noticed the yoga handstand was more fluid, slow, and easy on the body. When I tried to do them that way, it was much harder for me. I wasn’t even doing them right, duh! And I wasn’t always doing them as part of a yoga practice. handstands here and there in cool places and sometimes after having drinks with friends (not very yoga-like). I started noticing from the pictures that in almost every one, my body leaned to the left (my left leg is shorter than my right, maybe that’s why? I don’t know but check out the pictures). And what the pictures don’t show is that I land on my right leg every time (and that’s the one that’s had seven surgeries). My leg is getting more sore, and my neck is hurting more these days, so I hate to say it but I must listen to what my body is telling me and put my #handstand365 challenge on the back burner for a while. Maybe one day I will get stronger and be able to do them better, but I’m worried that putting my body weight on my hands like that is just as bad if not worse than lifting weights over my head. After so many surgeries in my past, I know that the consequences of getting hurt again are serious!

Since May, I’ve removed gluten from my diet again. A couple weeks ago, I also started eating a paleo diet. That means no grains, dairy, refined sugars and oils, and legumes (including peanut). I wrote another entry about getting diagnosed with gluten sensitivity. My dietician told me to go ahead and experiment with gluten-free products that include corn, hoping to open up more options for me. Based on past results, corn and sugar (they are in the same family) do not agree with me. I react and get sick every time I have them. I tried to tell her that, but she urged me to try it and see. So I did. And I got really sick; I call it ‘corn poisoning’ because that’s how it feels. After following up with my chiropractor at a natural wellness center, I took his advice to completely eliminate grains from my diet for a month and also try the paleo diet to give my digestive system a break. Apparently, my small intestine was spasming, and my stomach was irritated. For weeks, I’ve had a bad stomach and back ache, so I can tell something is very wrong. Having a diagnosis helps me keep a strict gluten-free diet, and hearing that my guts are as bad as they feel is enough to give me the self-discipline it takes to eat a paleo diet. I need to listen to my gut, literally, and eat the foods that make me feel healthy not sick. Apparently, the proteins in grains are difficult to digest, and dairy products are also inflammatory. Although it’s very difficult to eat paleo, after a month I will reassess and hopefully be able to introduce some brown rice and cheese at the very minimum. I really miss those two things! I’m definitely not going to reintroduce corn again. This is the second time I’ve eliminated it from my diet, and the cause/effect relationship is clear, so I am going to trust my instinct and away from it altogether. I don’t really feel the need to get a corn allergy test because I definitely react when I eat it.

Over the next months and years, I look forward to feeling healthier with less pain, and will focus on taking one day at a time.

Guns

http://cnsnews.com/blog/ron-meyer/auroras-strict-gun-laws-didnt-prevent-shooting-if-one-law-abiding-person-theater-had

Yesterday’s shooting is bringing up the issue of gun control. This article says we shouldn’t let this massacre deter us from having guns to defend ourselves. The shooter was dressed in protective gear head to foot, so I’m not sure that he could’ve been stopped if someone in the theater had a legally concealed weapon. It’s an interesting idea, but is that really the answer-arming more and more people in public places? Accidents happen all the time with guns. Kids accidentally get shot or shoot other people. My little brother in law told me last night he is strapped in public places but not when he is drinking. How can we trust that people packing guns for self defense will use the same judgement? It seems like a recipe for more disaster to me to put more guns in more people’s hands, especially in public places. Take the movie theater shooting specifically, with tear gas in the air and mass hysteria all around, wouldn’t it have been tough for people to tell who was the bad guy? I can just picture my little brother in there shooting at the bad guy trying to protect himself but accidentally hitting someone trying to run to safety. The more people you have shooting bullets, the higher the chances of innocent people getting hit. It’s math.

What is the answer? First let me say outright that I don’t have the definitive answer. If you asked me, I would say everybody should just love everybody and then we wouldn’t have a need for guns, but I get it; that’s naive and idealistic. But it’s true.

The second amendment gave us the right to bear arms (for self defense, hunting etc.), but should it give us the right to buy automatic and semi-automatic weapons whose sole purpose is to kill many people in a small amount of time? Guns are already regulated somewhat. We can’t go to 7-11 and pick up a rocket launcher or a bushel of grenades. But the question is where is the line drawn? How is it that people like this Colorado shooter and other like him can arm themselves with an arsenal and set out to attack innocent people? I get it that he planned it and pulled the trigger, but he probably would’ve been less effective without that AR-15. He could’ve still killed people with the shotgun and the handgun, but why was he able to secure so many firearms and ammunition legally and without raising any suspicion? Was he planning a major hunting trip where he needed to fire at a herd of hippos or something? Did he need to stockpile all those weapons and ammunition to defend himself against a home invader? Nobody thought twice about why he was buying the goods. He was able to secure all those deadly tools, and look at what happened.

Every time there is a tragedy like this, we tighten up security in hindsight. Airport security has been shaped by the 9/11 attacks as well as the underwear and shoe bomber. What’s next? Do we increase gun control? Do we have metal detectors at movie theaters, grocery stores, schools, and every other public place?

http://m.nydailynews.com/1.1119173

This article says he is acting irrationally in jail and thinks he is acting in a movie. The underlying problem in my opinion is mental illness. What are we as a society going to do about the mentally ill? And how can we keep mentally deranged people from getting guns and other deadly weapons? How do we curb the desire to kill?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2176911/Dark-Knight-Rises-Colorado-Shooting-A-hero-died-saving-girlfriend-man-birthday-party–tragic-stories-victims-killed-Dark-Knight-massacre.html

These are the people whose lives were cut short. Each person has a story and a family. Each person walked into that theater for fun not knowing what violence would ensue. We don’t think that way when we go out to movies or the mall. We trust that other people will act right and abide by the rules.

We can’t go back and fix it. The shooter also cut short his own life by taking these actions. He will either be killed in jail, put to death, or live the rest of his life in a mental hospital. It’s too bad he didn’t get to a mental hospital sooner. I wonder what went so wrong in his life.

Regardless of where you stand on the gun control debate, I think it’s easy to agree that guns shouldn’t be used for acts of pure evil. I respect your right to have a gun, but do I have the right to be safe?

If Today Was Your Last Day

Life is so short. We don’t know when we will die. We come into the world alone, and we leave the world alone. Our births and deaths happen when they will. We don’t remember what it was like before we were born, and we don’t know what will happen after we die, but we do contemplate our deaths. If today was your last day, what would you do?

“My best friend gave me the best advice
He said each day’s a gift and not a given right
Leave no stone unturned, leave your fears behind
And try to take the path less traveled by
That first step you take is the longest stride
If today was your last day and tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last
Leave old pictures in the past?
Donate every dime you had, if today was your last day?
What if, what if, if today was your last day?” Nickelback
     We should all live our lives like today is our last day because it might be. Sometimes it takes tragedies like today’s massacre in Colorado or the deaths of friends and loved ones to make us stop long enough to think about it.  I was especially moved by the story of Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sports journalist who lost her life in the shooting. She had an intuitive feeling to leave a food court in a mall just a few minutes before a gunman open fired there. That was just a few weeks ago, and she wrote an article about the shooting and the effects it had on her. It made her realize the fragility of life and the truth that we never really know when we might take our last breaths. Seeing her pictures and hearing her stories, I got goosebumps. It made me think of those Final Destination movies (where there may be forewarning of an impending unavoidable death). It makes me wonder if our ‘time’ is predestined or if it is all a matter of coincidence or free will.  All we really have is this moment, today.  Tomorrow is never promised.  We have big ideas like bucket lists of wonderful trips to take before we die, but do we take the time to mend minor fences and to love people unconditionally each and every day? If today was your last day, would you be ready to venture into the great beyond? Would you feel at peace with your life? Would you have any unfinished business?
President Obama said today is a day for prayer and reflection. This is my reflection:
Why do people kill people?
Why do bad things happen to innocent people?
Am I living today like it’s my last day?
What unfinished business do I have?
And this is my prayer:
Dear universe,
Thank you for another day of life on this precious earth with my family.  Please bring peace and strength to all the people suffering today and every day because of the loss of their loved ones. Be with the souls of the victims and bring healing to the world.
Amen
Imagine all the people living life in peace.”  John Lennon

Life in Beautiful Places

     I fell in love with the ocean when I was a child. We took trips to Virginia Beach and Ocean City (Maryland) in the summers, and I was the kid you couldn’t get out of the water.  I swam like a fish in the pool in the summers and was on the dive team briefly at my neighborhood pool.  I’ve always felt at home in the water, and as I grew older, I gravitated to the beach.  My friends and I rented beach houses for vacation in high school, and the summer after my freshman year in college (1987) I lived at Virginia Beach and made a living waiting tables and being a ‘beach wench’ who rented chairs and umbrellas on the oceanfront.  It was a fun lifestyle, but it didn’t seem sustainable or the way I wanted to live as an adult, so in the fall I returned to my sophomore year of college back in southwestern Virginia.  It was during those first two years of college that I started rock climbing (in Virginia and W. Virginia) and became close with two friends who completed NOLS semesters.  I wasn’t satisfied with the path I was taking in school, so I took my junior year off to explore new horizons.  I started working with Greenpeace in DC and then went to Wyoming to start my NOLS course

Virginia Beach at sunset

     Before the course, I had never even camped outdoors.    The next 95 days, we skiied and snowcamped in Wyoming, backpacked and hiked in remote canyons in Canyondlands National Park, Utah, whitewater rafted and kayaked in Colorado, rock-climbed and horsepacked in Wyoming.  After the course, I couldn’t stand being back in a city (DC), so I packed up my car and moved to Boulder, CO for the summer and worked for Greenpeace there.  I left in the fall and pursued a college education at an alternative school in Arizona with experiential learning.  Prescott College’s motto was “The Southwest is our Classroom.”  My education took me to many remote places.  All new students go through a ‘wilderness orientation’ hiking and backpacking for a few weeks in the Arizona forests and canyons.  I spent block classes skiing in Yellowstone National Park, kayaking around Isla Espiritu Santo (in Baja), and backpacking in the alpine tundra of Colorado.  During other block classes, I conducted a Mexican Spotted Owl Habitat Survey and a Bald Eagle Watch for the National Forest Service.  Situated in the high desert of Arizona, there was ample opportunity for day hikes, mountain bike rides, and day climbing trips.  It was incredible.  In college, I fell in love with mountains.  I also fell in love with wolves and wilderness.  I had dreams of pursuing a career in ecosystem management or wildlife rehabilitation. 

Granite Mountain, Prescott, AZ

Granite Dells, Prescott, AZ

     I was offically a student at Prescott College from 1989-1993, but I also took a year off in the middle (1990-1991) to live in Telluride, Colorado.  It was an experience like nothing I’ve had before and probably will never have again.  Telluride is a small town located at almost 9000 feet elevation nestled in the majestic San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.  The town is surrounded on three sides by almost 14,000 foot peaks, covered by snow for most of the year.  I worked at a bakery as a breakfast and lunch cook, and I lived outdoors like many other young people there at the time.  I was single with no kids, so it worked out fine.  I had a VW bus with a mini-kitchen inside and the top popped up for sleeping (when it was warm enough). Otherwise, I slept on the bed in the back of the bus and when I awoke in the wee hours of the morning being cold, I’d head into the bakery and quickly warmed up with hot tea and baked goods.  I worked through lunch time then had the rest of the day to hike, bike, and enjoy the scenery.  I spent my second summer there living in a tipi with my boyfriend and our five, yes five, dogs (wolf hybrids) up on a gorgeous mesa in the midst of aspen groves.  It was during my time there that I started wondering how in the world people could afford to live in such beautiful places.  There was a culture of people living outdoors there (called ‘woodsies’).  Working in a tourist town like that, the locals like me didn’t make enough money to afford to pay rent much less buy a house there.  The only people I knew who had houses had them because of family money.  They were kind enough to host pot-luck dinners and to let friends use their showers etc.  Otherwise, I showered at the town park at the public showers or at the gym where I was a member.  For that one school year, it was ok.  I loved being in such a beautiful place and was inspired daily by the beauty and magnificence of the mountains.  Words can’t describe being above treeline in Colorado.  However, I got bored and wanted to finish my education.  I also didn’t want to live outdoors for another winter, so I returned to Prescott College and graduated in 1993. I missed having a house, a hot shower, a real kitchen and bed.  From that point on, I made it my goal to work toward having the stability and comforts of home, but since that time I’ve also felt conflicted because it seems to make enough money to have a stable life and a nice home, it doesn’t always work out with living in a beautiful place.

Telluride, CO

Main Street in Telluride, CO  I worked at the end of this street on the left at Gregor’s Bakery and Cafe

     My first child, Sierra, was born just one week before I graduated in 1993.  Her dad still had another year of school to finish, so we stayed in Prescott until he graduated and moved to Durango, CO to start our lives as a family.  He had a job as a river guide, but it didn’t last.  I hit rock bottom and was forced to take any job I could get to make some money.  I worked at a movie theater and then as a waitress.  There were no professional jobs in my field (environmental studies) and since I had developed a case of chronic back pain, being an outdoor educator was no longer in the cards for me.  Our marriage quickly dissolved, and I moved back to my mom’s house in Virginia and spent the next four years living in her basement, working for Greenpeace again in DC and then getting my master’s degree in education.  Still feeling claustrophobic living in the suburbs and working in the city, I moved again, this time to Reno, Nevada to chase a boy and be near the Sierra Nevada mounatins and Lake Tahoe.  Chasing a boy is never a good idea, as was evidenced by our quickly dissolving relationship, but I did meet my husband there  at a gym in Reno.  I worked as a teacher and made just enough money to support me and Sierra and live in an apartment.  We left Nevada in 2001 so Joe could go to law school in DC. 
     I spent my 20s adventuring and exploring, and when I got back to Virginia and got back in touch with some of my high school friends and went to the ten year reunion in 1996, I will admit I didn’t like the story I had to tell, and I felt jealous of my friends who had spent their 20s in school and working and had nice houses to show for it.  They might have felt jealous that I had all those amazing experiences, but at the end of the day, they had nice houses and comfortable lives, and I was still struggling in that department.  So, my priorities shifted somewhat then.  I wanted nothing more than to get married again, have more kids, and to secure a stable life in a nice home. 

Reno, NV

     Joe provided all that for me.  He excelled in law school and got a big firm job when he graduated.  I was finally able to be a stay home mom with our son Thomas when he was born in 2004.  We had a townhouse in the DC suburbs but were bursting at the seams with five people living in 1800 square feet.  That when we decided to move to Texas so we could afford a big, single family home.  His law firm was a Texas based firm, so he was able to transfer and since then he’s moved to a smaller, medium sized Texas based firm.  We were able to buy twice the house (3500 square feet) for less than what we sold the townhouse for.  I stayed home with Thomas for six years, and I finally feel stable and secure.  But, like the saying goes, money doesn’t buy happiness.  I still feel like something is missing, and when I go on vacation I feel like a whole different person.  I think what is missing is the feeling I get from being in a beautiful place.  Dallas, Texas is not really known for being a beautiful place.  It’s flat, and there is no ocean anywhere nearby.  There are lakes, but I don’t like swimming with snakes and other grody critters that live in muddy brown water.  The closest thing I get to communing with nature is seeing the beautiful sunsets and appreciating the pretty (man made) pond down the street from our house and riding my bike on the (paved) path that follows the creek across our town.  In those moments, I feel some of the same emotions I’ve had in the past with the wind going through my hair and the hot sun on my skin.  The trees are pretty, and the skies are pretty.  The schools are good and our house is nice.  Joe’s job is good.  However, it shows me that as far as my experience goes, it’s awfully tough to have both-a good job/nice house, and the opportunity to live in a beautiful place. 

typical view of a neighborhood pond in Texas

     Because of all my aches and pains and (16) surgeries, I’m not longer a hiker, climber, skiier, horsepacker, whitewater anything-er, or mountain biker.  All those things were checked off the list of things I can do because of physical reasons as well as economic reasons.  Living in a beautiful town usually means living in a tourist town.  Jobs are mostly service related and they are seasonal.  I have a family now and have worked hard to provide basics like food, shelter, clothing, health insurance, cars, car insurance, and of course all the extras that kids want/need in their lives.  I can still swim, though, and so our visits to the ocean are the highlight of my year.  I swim in the pool at the gym year round, but there is an entirely different feeling that comes with being near the ocean.  After a 13 hour drive to get here (Destin, FL), I’m amazed at the transformation that takes place inside my head as soon as I step foot on the beach.  The colors are amazing (white sands, clear turqoise waters, and powder blue sky).  The breeze blowing off the beach takes me to another place.  It’s salty and sandy, and being in the ocean and looking at the horizon where the sea meets the sky humbles me and reminds me how small I am and how big the earth is.  It reminds me of my place in space, and my spirit feels renewed.  But it only lasts seven days…hence this blog post. 

Perspective:  Use it or Lose it!

     People live here. There are houses and schools and stores. People do get to live in beautiful places.  I just don’t understand how to make both things possible in my life.  It seems like I’ve had to choose one or the other-living in a beautiful place or having a nice home for my kids.  I chose the latter and continue to choose the latter, but that wild woman inside me sure misses feeling close to nature and the passion and exhilaration it stirs inside.  I am thankful that at least I am able to reconnect with this beautiful place even though it’s just once a year.  Maybe I will be lucky enough to retire near the ocean and be that salty old lady who lives to be 100 and still goes to the beach.  It seems like the best way to live-having provided a nice life for your kids yet staying inspired, at peace, and in awe of the natural world.

It is what it is…

It’s that time of year again. Tomorrow is the last day of 2010, and people are supposed to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for the upcoming year. I usually participate in this socially imposed obligation, and I guess you could say that I’m participating again this year, but in fact when I reflect about myself and areas that need improvement for next year, I find myself making a non-resolution of sorts. I resolve to accept myself exactly the way I am and not try to find ways to be better. I think one of my faults is being too critical of myself and caring a little too much what other people think about me, so this year I resolve not to change a single thing.

After all, isn’t the passing of time an arbitrary concept? Have you ever stopped to think about how we mark time? I have because I’ve taught it to my children and students before. When you think about it, it’s actually just a system to measure our existence. 60 seconds make a minute. 60 minutes make an hour. 24 hours make a day. 7 days make a week. 52 weeks make a year (or 365 days). 10 years make a decade. 100 years make a century and so on. Isn’t the passing of one day into the next a concept that is continually happening no matter what number we assign it? In this view, January 1st is really no different than December 31st except that we have decided to mark it as a ‘new year.’ But to me, this doesn’t mean the days are different at all or that there is anything significant happening that should make me want to change, or that resolving to do something differently means that somehow I will be aided by the fact that it is now 2011 instead of 2010. Shouldn’t we all try to be our best every day, no matter what?

People usually like to make resolutions to meet some ideal picture of what humanity should be like. We try not to eat too much, or drink/smoke too much. We try to be nicer or more organized. We vow to spend more quality time with our kids or to do something good for the world. We promise we will exercise more. We look at the negative aspects of our lives, habits, and personalities and try to wish them away with false promises to ourselves only to find ourselves at the next December 31st saying the same things all over again. My point is that maybe we would be better off if we treated each and every day as a new year and accept the good with the bad, striving to be the best we can but also being ok with ourselves for being imperfect. Without negatives, there are no positives, and we are imperfect beings, so maybe we would all be happier and better off if we just accepted ourselves the way we are.

It is fun to look back a year at a time and see the growth or lack thereof that has occured. In my case, a year ago, I had just had my second ankle surgery and fourth knee surgery. I was laid up in bed not able to move around at all. Today, my ankle is still sore and weak, but I am walking and able to do low impact activities. Yes, my life has changed significantly as a result, but that’s ok. As I drove to my mom-in-law’s house today in Reno, NV, I gazed up in awe of the beautiful Mt. Rose with a fresh blanket of snow, remembering the day in the late 90s when I hiked to its summit at 10,776 feet. I remember the days when I used to hike and bike in the 14,000 ft. mountains in Colorado and all the other amazing adventures life has afforded me. I realize I will probably never experience that kind of joy and exhileration again, but I’m ok with that. I’m now learning to enjoy kinder, gentler ways of staying active and fit, and I am thankful I was able to make those memories while I was younger and stronger. I am thankful I can walk again, because a year ago that seemed very far in my future.

A year ago, we had recently found Joe’s son, Brent, and were starting to make contact with him. Today, we have enjoyed two wonderful visits with him and have been in contact pretty much every day thanks to text messaging. I can’t begin to explain how thankful I am, and all I can hope for the future is that we continue to get closer and that we can continue to have visits as frequently as possible. It’s very rare that the universe brings a person into your life when you are not expecting it, and his presence in our family’s life has been a real gift. He is an amazing young man! I could go on and on about the reasons I am proud of him as well as my three children.

A year ago, I was a stay home mom and part time math tutor, and now I am a full time math teacher. It’s a challenge to juggle family life with work life, but as always I appreciate the challenge and am doing my best in all aspects of both lives. I know I am not perfect at either job, but to me the most important thing is that I’m trying my best. That’s all I can expect of myself. I’ve made some great new friends, and I enjoy being back in a professional atmosphere.

It’s impossible to peek into my world without understanding the difficult things I deal with as well. Primarily, I have a hard time with loss of loved ones, since unfortunately it has happened too many times in my young life. Starting with my childhood babysitter who died with her brand new husband in car accident on their wedding night, continuing into high school and college with many friends losing their lives to accidents, murder/rape, and suicide. Then as an adult with the loss of my father and grandmother and several other friends, including children of some friends who were taken way too soon. I’ve struggled with loss repeatedly, and the only one I really feel at peace about is my grandmother who was 93 years old and died of natural causes. She was the only one I got to say goodbye to. Somehow in that case, it seemed ok since she had lived a long and full life and we got to anticipate her departure to the great beyond. However, when people die unexpectedly, it leaves me feeling so unresolved inside, and I can’t help but look backwards and relive old memories even though it makes me sad. It’s hard to write about and to share this with the world, but if you know me at all, you know that is part of what I carry around day to day. I question a world that takes life away in such tragic ways, and I realize my own mortality and wonder when and how it will be my turn. As I reflect on the past and look to the future, all I want is to find peace and acceptance that ‘it is what it is’ as my husband always reminds me, and that there is nothing I can do about it, so the best thing to do is take one day at a time and accept the pain of death with the joy of life and realize that without one there isn’t the other. We are born alone, and we die alone, and in between we are blessed with this incredible journey called life. And just like taking a vacation, even though you know that one day the journey will end, there is no point worrying about it while you are still on the journey. It’s better to accept the fact that everything comes to an end and enjoy each day of the journey while you can. It’s funny to be writing about this today, because in fact, today is the last day of my vacation, and I know it’s coming to an end but trying to enjoy every last moment of it while it is still today.

So, to summarize my thoughts, I am including lyrics from one of Jewel’s new songs which says what I’m trying to say much more poetically than I ever could. It’s called, “You Are What You Are” and it’s about being ok with yourself because everything is already the way it should be. Without dark, there is no light, without goodbye there is no hello, the opposing forces of the universe make everything the way it is.

I’m driving around town
Kinda bored with the windows rolled down

See a girl on the bus stop bench

Dressed to draw attention

Hoping everyone will stare
If she don’t stand out she thinks she’ll disappear
Wish I could hold her, tell her, show her
What she wants is already there



A star is a star

It doesn’t have to try to shine

Water will fall

A bird just knows how to fly



You don’t have to tell a flower how to bloom

Or light how to fill up a room

You already are what you are

And what you are is beautiful



Heard a story the other day

Took place at the local VA

A father talking to his dying son

This was his conversation



“It’s not supposed to be like this

You can’t go first I can’t handle it”

The boy said “Dad now don’t you cry,

Remember when I was a child what you used to tell me when I’d ask why?”



(You’d say) Gravity is gravity

It doesn’t try to pull you down

Stone is stone

It can’t help but hold its ground

The wind just blows, though you can’t see

It’s everywhere like I’ll always be

You already are what you are

And what you are is strong enough



Look in the mirror

Now that’s another story to tell

I give love to others

But I give myself hell



I’d have to tell myself

“In every scene there’s a perfect plan”

Everything I hoped to be

I already am



A flower is a flower

It doesn’t have to try to bloom

And light is light

Just knows how to fill a room



And dark is dark

So the stars have a place to shine

The tide goes out

So it can come back another time

Goodbye makes a love so sweet

And love is love so it can teach us

We already are what we are

And what we are is beautiful

And strong enough

And good enough

And bright enough

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJmwb3uHt5Q

 

left side
Mt Rose

 

right side