Disaster Preparedness

Tree damage in graveyard

Nature is boss. In case we’d forgotten, she recently blasted the Northeast with gale winds and a few tornado touch-downs. Uprooting trees and knocking out electricity and even taking off the roof of a local (unoccupied) house, she reminded us that we are kidding ourselves if we think we are in control. Heeding this kick in the ass, I am both practically and spiritually rethinking how I live.

When the whistling wind turned to a roar and our cell phones blasted a tornado warning, Molly and I descended into the dark, old-house basement with dog, water bottles and flashlights. We felt sure the house would blow down on top of us. It did not and except for a few downed branches we made it through intact. Power was out for 3 days — a minor inconvenience compared to many who are without almost 2 weeks later. We were without internet for 11 days and since I work at home these COVID days, that was tough in a first world problem way.

I have lived without electricity and water for long stretches, including in winter during the war in the Balkans. Nothing like being in the cold and dark with the rattle of machine guns and an occasional thud of mortar fire shaking the walls. But not having water is the worst. These recent days in the dark, even as I stumbled to the sink, I felt grateful as I turned on the faucet or hopped, gasping into a cold shower. Temporarily losing these conveniences I take for granted is a great exercise in gratitude. So many around the world, because of war, poverty and injustice, (thinking here about poisoned water in Flint, Michigan and Navajo Nations with no running water!) lack this basic necessity and it’s criminal.

It seems a little crazy that we are so electricity dependent and all of that can be undone in a flash. Even in my life with wood stove and clothesline, I found those few days challenging. I am, like many, addicted to the internet. My phone is never far away from me and for no particular reason. I am rarely expecting a call. But there are so many pictures to look at! News and gossip to follow! I still had phone service and while it was charged squinted at the little screen for updates on my corner-of and the rest of the currently sorry-world.

Solar light shot

Evening entertainment during electric-free days, we enjoyed light-pollution free star-gazing and reading on the front porch. Only days earlier, I’d presciently installed solar motion-sensor lights so we settled in the evening breeze with our books and took turns waving our arms every few minutes to reactivate the light. (photo above)

Have you ever read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I wasn’t reading that on the porch– in fact, it’s a book I tried and abandoned years ago because it was so bloody bleak. I mean, I appreciate dark but I can’t do apocalypse. But I’m still haunted by what I did read. Too real? Too possible? These days, I’d say yes. But I’m a practical gal and a survivor and I’ve started to plan.

What I missed the most during the 3 day blackout was my own food and cups of tea and the electric bidet toilet seat. (you mean you don’t have one?)  I’m working on preparing solutions for next time. In my Kyoto kitchen there was a hatch door in the middle of the floor that opened into a little ground storage space perfect for keeping food cool.  Isn’t that brilliant? I won’t be digging any holes outside but I might get another cooler and lots of ice. As for cooking, I don’t have a grill but am researching little hibachis and for morning caffeine fixes, a butane burner with shelf-life milk. And there are simple bidet options that don’t require electricity. Note: all bidets online are currently sold out – no surprise after COVID scramble for toilet paper.

Now that I have internet back, I’ve been able to do a lot more research on how to weather storms and in considering other possible catastrophes, what countries in the world I could escape to. Frankly, I’d rather stay here in my country in my sweet house, but I know it’s better to be prepared. 

Any suggestions on preparing for storms, elections and other possible disasters?

 

 

Ushering in Love and Light

I start my New Year here, with a mountain of pillows plumped behind me, dog Rufus snuggled against my thigh, sunlight pouring through the window and not a single commitment to the outside world. It’s rare that I catch the movement of light across my room in a day. I will make another cup of tea and return to read, write and dream as the sun shifts in glorious show through my different windows. I am in heaven. This is enough.


I prefer to usher out the old and welcome the New Year in quietly. As my like-minded friend Jennifer put it yesterday – there are the revelers and the reflectors. In the past, I would feel compelled to join my jolly and beloved reveler friends in the neighborhood. It seems expected, and especially now that I am single, these dear ones worry about me. No one likes to think of us single people by ourselves, alone at New Year. We should be celebrating! It can even be hard for me not to buy into that notion – so sometimes, I force myself to join in.

But honestly – I’d rather be reflecting.

Or at least quiet. I’m not a fan of the American way of celebrating the end of the year – being noisy and whooping it up in a frenzy towards midnight. I don’t judge anybody else for wanting to do that, but please don’t feel sorry for me either. Just beam me up to Kyoto every year at this time, and I’ll be happy.

New Year celebration in Japan is a saner business. It’s a time for ritual cleaning and getting rid of negativity. So I celebrated Japanese style here – cleaning my space – especially this space where I wake every morning and now revel in the light and quiet. I lit some sage and ‘smudged’ the house – briefly opening the window to fan smoking old energy out into the frigid air.

Although 2017 brought me profound sadness, there has also been incredible pleasure. This is the year my dear daughter graduated from college. We adopted Rufus – a pretty perfect dog. My daughter and I are healthy. And these last two weeks, the cloud of sadness blocking my joy, lifted. Somehow, I feel in my bones that in our vast universe – Rob is at peace. And his love – still with me.

Of course I’d rather be moving ahead in life with either one of the two beautiful  yet troubled men I committed to and once believed I’d grow old with. I miss them. But — I am not unhappy alone. I am grateful for the love and that I still sense – and them both, now at peace, freed from demons they tangled with in this life. I have that — and this beautiful girl and our pup delivering regular doses of love and light – even at night. I am lucky.

I wish love and light for you, dear readers, and a Happy New Year!

This Mother’s Journey

Kamogawa at dusk

I was 28 and living in Kyoto, Japan when the letter arrived. An ex-boyfriend wanted to let me know he had tested positive for HIV. The year was 1988 – early days of the disease when a positive diagnosis was still thought to be a death sentence. For a week I waited for results of my test and stared my mortality in the eye. Up until then, my life in Japan felt almost ideal – I could spend only a few days teaching English with plenty of free time to sculpt and paint and explore one of the most fascinating, inspiring cities in the world. I loved my life there, living primarily as an artist in a remarkable community.

That letter changed everything. I did not mourn I might never visit Morocco or make some piece of art. During that week of waiting, I walked up into the mountains  around Kyoto, biked along the river and felt lonely in that beautiful place. I discovered what I’d regret: the chance to be a mother. For the first time in my life, I not only thought about but wanted a baby.

When my test came back negative, I decided to return to the States. I’d had a Japanese boyfriend and imagined how beautiful a child would be – but I worried that for me, the differences between a man and woman were hurdle enough without adding cultural and language challenges to the mix. I returned to the USA with my new dream and hopes of finding my mate.

My years in NYC, working at the United Nations were punctuated by a few adventures but no man who was right. In 1992 I joined a UN Peacekeeping mission to the Former Yugoslavia – still determined to find a way to start a family even as I went off to a war zone. (I know, I know!) There I met Neil – the charismatic, handsome, funny and loving – but troubled Englishman I would marry. He too was keen to have a baby and we got right on it.

Premie Molly with proud parents at the beach in Ostuni, Italy.

At 36, I gave birth to Molly in Italy. (Another adventure I wrote about here.) I was right about the man-part of creating a family being a challenge – it turned out to be even more impossible than I imagined. Neil’s demons got the better of him and he ended his life a month before Molly turned 9. Being a single mom was never part of my dream and I know both of us have had flashes of feeling sorry for ourselves. Certainly there has always been the financial stress, but I have also worried about being the only one to cheer her on in life.

Except – I haven’t been and I am not. Together we learned to find love and support beyond the boundaries of home. This neighborhood has become family for us, pitching in to lend a hand on the turn of a dime, showing up — well, you can see in the photo below taken just before her high school graduation. Living in this community helped me to be a better mother. And my girl has learned what it means to create a ‘family’ of support and love.

A week ago, Molly picked up tickets for her college graduation. She was allowed 10 but needed only 1 ticket – for me. She felt embarrassed to just ask for a single ticket so took 3. As always, I fretted about how she’d feel when all her friends would have a cheering section for this momentous event.  And she would have ME. In fact, two of  her adorable friends joined me – cheering and tearing up beside me.

Over the years, there has always been noise for my girl when she has taken a bow or crossed the stage for an award. I clap until my hands sting, and hoot and whistle. But beyond my racket, there is always more of a roar from a circle that knows and loves her – though they may not share her blood. Molly has created friendships that run as deep as family. And like her two friends that sat beside me (and there was another row besides!) they show up and they make lots of noise so she will have no doubt that she is loved.

We did it!

We are a devoted duo – proud of each other. “We did it!” she captioned her graduation Facebook picture of the two of us. And it’s true. We did do it. She has graduated with pretty minimal debt and that, these days, feels big. For the last 20 plus years my primary, heartfelt focus and drive has been to nurture and launch my daughter in every way. And it is the best thing I ever did.

That glimpse of mortality delivered to a Japanese mailbox in 1988 clarified my dream and it came true. I write this on Mother’s Day – a holiday I mostly dismiss as a ‘Hallmark Holiday’ – but for the record on this day and everyday – I am indeed a happy mother!

PS  – While the HIV positive ex and I do not stay in contact, I know that thanks to remarkable advances in medicine, he is still alive and well.

Back on the Bike

my-bike

I bought these sweet wheels at a tag sale for $50 (with a basket!) in early summer and $30 for a very unflattering helmet.

I wish I could tell you that I regularly made the 5 mile roundtrip to the beach. I did not. It was so hot this summer! And to get to the bike-lane route I have to go up a hill. Such poor excuses. The fact is, I’m inclined to be a slug – what can I say? But the other day the light and temperature were perfect so I took a spin to the beach. Speeding down-hill the wind whistled in my ears and my heart lifted with a forgotten joy. On the way back, I push-push-pushed until breathless, I leapt off to walk.

dragonfly-on-bike
A hitch-hiker I picked up in Kyoto.

Biking gives me a sense of being a participant – not just moving through in the bubble of my car. My body reacts to terrain, blood pumping, breath quickening. I easily stop to watch a bird, follow a slant of light, inhale the scent of a boxwood hedge, the musk of low tide, a gyro joint. I have a sit-upright, tootling-around kind of bike – not a speed-racer that requires dressing up like a lycra-bumble-bee to ride. My bike inspires cruising. I love spinning down a hill but speed doesn’t interest me much. I’m definitely a tootler.

I used to be more of a functional biker – it was how I got places. I didn’t own a car until I was in my late 30s.

My Cincinnati studio with bike.
My Cincinnati studio with bike.

When I graduated from college and became a banquet waitress at a hotel (Yay art degree!) I lived in a dicey part of Cincinnati and rode my bike to work at all hours. Leaving at 4:30 AM for a breakfast shift, I’d speed down the middle of the empty street – a little frightened by the shadows of the odd hour.

From a bridge over the Kamogawa - Kyoto.
From a bridge over the Kamogawa – Kyoto.

When I lived in Japan I rode everywhere. I pedaled to English teaching jobs, to shop for groceries, meet up with friends. More often than I should admit, I made my way home on wobbly-wheels in the wee hours of the morning. Everyone rides bikes – multiple babies will be tucked into attached seats and the very, very old will easily balance the day’s groceries in baskets. It’s a biker’s heaven. One of the things I miss most about Japan is exploring narrow streets, popping into Temples for moments of peace, making my way home along the river running north to south through the city. I can conjure the crunch of gravel beside the Kamo river – perhaps one of my all-time favorite stretches anywhere in the world.

For a time I also had a bike in Zagreb, Croatia. I zipped through the city streets on my mountain bike, hoping the tires were fat enough they would not catch in the treacherous tram tracks. For fun I pedaled through a nearby park, riding along dirt trails and bouncing over rocks. I became pregnant with Molly there and sold my bike.

Being a mother made me into a chicken. From the moment my daughter was a whisper within me, a new sense of vulnerability took over. Navigating through the world became a little more frightening when life became no longer just about me.

In Zagreb, the only helmet I owned was UN issued kevlar for when I traveled to active war zones. I did not wear this biking. Nor did I wear – or ever see one in Kyoto. Do cyclists wear helmets there now? Now, although it hurts my vanity, I wear my dorky helmet. While the city I live in is making an effort to be more bike-friendly, too many people stare at their phones while driving. I choose not to chance my mortality to look a tad cooler.

Maybe it’s because my daughter is 21 and capable and launching off on her own adventures, I’m getting my courage back. I’m ready to risk getting toppled for the pleasure of the wind whistling in my ears. And I need the exercise.

Carving a Life

wood 1

The other day I was visiting a friend with enviable wood piles stacked around her house. One stack in particular caught my eye. I took a few photos of the wood and asked my artist friends to help identify it. Sure looks like cherry (most agreed) although the bark is birch-like. See how it curls away like paper? For the first time in forever I had an impulse to get my chisels out and start carving again.

wood 2

I used to identify as a sculptor. To pay the bills, I waitressed and in Japan, taught English, working as little as possible so I might have time to hack at some piece of wood or stone. Mostly wood. After I left Japan, I moved to NYC and by necessity, worked in less noisy mediums like painting and collage. Then I went on mission with the United Nations, got married, had a baby, worked like a dog to hang onto my house and clothe and feed my daughter as (virtually) a single parent. I still count my pennies to hang onto our beloved home but Molly is a Senior in college now and starting to feed and cloth herself. We’re both at the cusp of something. And that beautiful wood stacked for burning, called to me.

seed

I still have my incredible tools given to me 30 years ago by a remarkable Sensei in Kyoto – that’s another post entirely – a beautiful story. I have space in the basement and nobody would be disturbed by the repetitive thwonk-thwonk-thwonk of my mallet hitting my chisel into the wood. Even if I just get a piece and set it up and sharpen my tools and then — sit… just sit. That’s a lot of what carving entails for me: sitting and staring at the wood or stone. It can take days, weeks, before I want to touch it, before something comes over me, like a spirit – a weird force and I go at. The thing is to wait for that moment. It’s magical.  At least that’s what I remember.

me carving
Behind my house in Kyoto – with bad hair and worse shoes.

I have this feeling of being on the brink. Of what, I don’t know how but it feels exciting and mysterious. Maybe this is just what I need now — to go back to that mystical contemplation until I recognize something and can excavate – that’s the experience I remember from carving. And the sheer physical, emotional joy of that spirit moving me.

I thought I wouldn’t sculpt anymore – I have enough big wooden things collecting dust around my house (shipped all the way from Japan – oy!) and I discovered how much I love writing and that when it’s going well, I also can reach a kind of ‘zone’. And honestly, I don’t want more stuff and that’s what you end up with. But that wood caught my eye – like a chance at love and I don’t ever want to say no to love.

I’d Like to Walk (More)

tet

In this car-dependent community where I live, walking is something I do with intention. I walk my dog Tetley before and after work. More ambitiously I walk with my friend Chris. We walk fast and far and sometimes with weights – for the fresh air and exercise. Where I live, like most American communities, walking is not a viable way to take care of daily business. I miss that.

I did not own a car until I moved to Connecticut in my 30s. I lived in Kyoto, Japan; New York City; Zagreb, Croatia; even Cincinnati, Ohio (I lived in the city) and never owned a car because I didn’t need one. Stores, markets to buy food – were in every neighborhood. And public transportation was accessible and good. Or, I rode a bicycle with a basket big enough to fill with groceries. I knew the fastest, scenic, safest routes to work.  I became familiar with the patterns of light, cracks on sidewalks, faces and sometimes the names of shopkeepers, my neighbors. All of my senses were attuned to my place in the world. In Kyoto, the sound of ancient weaving machines heaving away down the narrow streets of my neighborhood, were my cues I was nearing the old wooden house where I lived, as did the splashing of water from the tofu shop on the corner. When I moved farther north in the city, I smelled the fermenting kimchee from the Korean community on the next street, the scent of the pine forests up the hill and felt the wind, the first snow.

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In Zagreb, I befriended neighbors and shopkeepers passed daily on my walk to catch the tram to work. After Molly was born, I walked with her pram to the market where I piled fresh produce and maybe something from the butcher in the rack beneath her.  In Cincinnati I lived at the edge of a ghetto surrounded by empty buildings, accepted by the few residents in that mostly abandoned neighborhood, as one of the weird artists that lived in the building that used to be a school. I only felt nervous when I had to leave at 4:30 in the morning to pick up a waitress shift at the hotel downtown – I’d throw my ten speed onto my shoulder, dash down the broken church steps and pedal furiously through the empty streets – the dark morning terrifying and thrilling me.

42nd

And New York – well, everyone knows New York – half the fun of being there is just walking, walking, walking. Most days I happily joined the river of pedestrians rushing down Broadway, dodging around the slowpokes, when I remembered to have change handy in my pocket, giving to the usual gauntlet of panhandlers. Sometimes I’d choose West End Avenue – a wider, emptier expanse of only apartment buildings with no shops – a short reprieve from the masses before cutting over to join the flow at 96th Street where we descended to the subway.

But here, an hour outside of New York City, I’ve never even boarded the bus. The grocery store is at least a mile away so not practical to walk to unless I’m just buying milk. Work is 5 miles and my job requires a car for visits to schools and companies.

Except for the hurried morning Tetley walks  – so short they hardly qualify – me following him at a snails pace as he sniffs and pees, sniffs and pees, barks at long-gone creatures from the night before. I have to get to work so we barely make it down the street before I have to tug him to hurry along and take care of business. Still, I get a glimpse of the day, a sense of the seasons.

body vibe

Recently, I walked a different route to pick up my car. Not a pretty street, but one I drive down often. And in walking it, I noticed new things. This company’s name intrigued me – its a wholesale distributor of body jewelry – so if you’re in the market for nipple rings, check them out.

American communities do not encourage pedestrian life. In fact, walking can be deadly. Sidewalks are intermittent — even along busy thoroughfares like the Boston Post Road. I’ve seen families pushing baby carriages along a busy stretch between strip malls, hugging the curb while traffic barrels past. Throw in the frozen snow banks of winter and a texting teen…

According to the CDC: “In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, and another 76,000 pedestrians were injured. This averages to one crash-related pedestrian death every 2 hours, and a pedestrian injury every 7 minutes. Pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to be killed in a car crash on each trip.”

This doesn’t exactly make you want to break out your walking shoes, now does it?

I miss the easy exercise of being a functional walker but even more, I miss the intimate connections to the world around me only possible beyond the boundaries of my home, my car. I devour the blogs of madcap adventurers biking around the world, shlogging through all weather, up mountains, through cities, camping by rivers, part of it all – meeting up with hospitable citizens who share their food and drink because who doesn’t love a traveler – someone pedaling, walking, wanting to know about your place in the world? And in doing so, in getting out of a car, slowing down and being in a place, we make it a little bit, our own.

Don’t get me wrong – I love to drive around in the warmth or the cool of my car, my music playing. But so much of life is missed when you travel 30+ miles an hour.

What about where you live?

Cold Nights in Old Houses

As I was falling asleep last night, the patched-up cast-iron furnace in our 1930s Cape, kicked on with a burp and a heave. We crank the thermostat right down when we go to bed, preferring the cold for sleeping. Besides, oil’s expensive and we try to be energy conservative. But temperatures dropped so low last night, even the radiators in our bedrooms got hot. I was reminded of frigid winters at Machamux.

Tom on a wintry walk with two 'roomers'.
Tom on a wintry walk with two ‘roomers’.

Machamux was Tom’s rambling, leaking, old house across from a rocky little beach on the Long Island Sound. I landed there in early summer of 1987. Back in the States after almost 4 years of living in Kyoto, I had no idea where to go or what to do next with my life. My friend Laurie told me that Tom, her Dad, a 70-something but ageless and charming man, rented rooms and might just have one available for me.  Tom, Machamux and everyone in that ramshackle house, were just what I needed for my American re-entry. Settled in my  room, I felt home.

Now there’s a fat book’s worth of Machamux stories to tell, almost all remarkably joyful and hilarious ones, but this is just a memory of the warmest-cold house I ever lived in. The house was drafty as a wrecked ship so mostly we hung around in the living room and kitchen area where the wood stove was always stoked as were our glasses at cocktail hour, beginning promptly at 5. Tom drank martinis with pimento olives. As ‘roomers’ and visitors wandered in, newspapers were shoved aside on the saggy couch to make space. Laughter and good cheer warmed the room and we took turns standing near the wood stove, letting our backs heat up rather than turn away from the usually lively banter. We took our time going up to bed, knowing our rooms, would likely be cold enough for our breath to be visible. But when it got really, really cold, like it did here last night, the baseboards running along the perimeter of our rooms hissed and gurgled, emitting rare heat with cozy old-house smells. That felt luxurious.

I met R at Machamux back in 1987 – his room was at the top of the house. That’s one of the stories I have to tell another time — about a love that got lost — then found again. And together now, so many years later, we savor our shared history of two old drafty houses made warm by love, fire and sometimes reluctantly, very old furnaces.

Customer Service (Or: Just Be Nice)

Traveling across China in the early 1980s when Communism prevailed, I learned that “customer service” is really more of a Capitalist expectation.  The response to a request for just about anything was usually one word that sounded to me like “Mei-o” – a purposely ambiguous answer that essentially meant something like, “Go away, we don’t have any, just f-off”. This was a stark contrast to my life in Kyoto where customers in the teeniest corner shop are treated like celebrities,  with deep bowing and an abundance of “Domo Arigato”s sweetly offered for even the smallest purchase.

I have worked in the same bookstore now for more than 15 years. I like it. I appreciate the unexpectedness of every day, my encounters with different characters. I love what we sell and meeting new people, seeing the regulars, many who have become my friends. I love talking books on a daily basis.

Some days can be tough though, especially during this busy holiday season. Customers can be harried, impatient when we’re short handed or frustrated by someone who is new and not up to speed yet. Yes, even book people can be rude and sometimes downright mean. I try and swallow it.

This morning, I went shopping in my local grocery store. I ventured out early hoping to beat the hordes but even at 7:00 AM the place was hopping. Besides being less than 5 minutes from my house, this store stocks locally sourced produce and prides itself on great customer service, and in the long time I’ve been shopping there, they’ve always delivered it. Except this morning.

I just wanted to know where the lobster tails were. After all, there was a huge sign indicating they were on sale – but only crab legs and shrimp packed the freezer – nary a lobster tail.

“Excuse me,” I stopped a man nearby who looked managerial in his white coat. He gave me an annoyed look as I asked him, “Where are the lobster tails?” then swooped his arm dramatically towards the sign with a look that said, “Duh?!”

My usually low blood pressure soared but I calmly responded, “There are none there.”

This past week I spent more than 50 hours on my feet, helping customers. Now maybe he has too, and maybe he’s pissed off about the over-fishing of the world’s oceans? Hey, I feel great solidarity with my comrades working in stores – especially at this time of year – but I really had just asked the question, no attitude.

He flipped behind a few frozen shrimp bags before calling to one of his minions to get the lobster tails.

“I guess I’m not so stupid after all, eh?” I said as I walked away from him. I just couldn’t resist throwing a barb at him. Why couldn’t I just leave it? Why am I even writing about it now? It was momentary and he was flip. I certainly have been guilty of that. But I’ll be even more careful now because it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end, no matter what side of the proverbial counter you are on.

I won’t say I’ve never been snarky at work – but over the years in the business I’ve gotten better at controlling the impulse of a snotty retort. Because who knows what’s up with them? And maybe I can make things better by instead being kind and apologetic if things aren’t going right for them, in our store or in their life. I really believe that and try to be nice. Period.

That’s why, after my own long week of holiday retail madness, this guy’s rudeness stung.  Those lobster tails better be good.

Vicarious Travel Pleasure Through Blogs

I’ve become a real armchair traveler and there are plenty of journeys to enjoy through  the blogosphere.

This adorable and adventurous Dutchwoman rides her bicycle around the world, pedaling  up and down mountaintops, camping on a whim in empty pagodas. She spent months in Japan and is now in Korea – eventually, she’s heading to China. When she feels like it. Lucky us, we get to sit at home and look at her incredible photos and read her quirky stories from the warmth and comfort of home. And to feel envious and maybe think, “I’d like to do that”. Although, I suspect I’d be lonely. I usually was when I traveled alone – secretly pining for some dreamboat traveling companion or a posse of girlfriends like when Paula, Jane and I drove across country from Kentucky to California. (That was a great trip.) The thoughtful attentiveness of solitude can be rich but that lonely ache that comes with it, well, it’s not my favorite anymore.

I love expat blogs – like this one by a funny woman in Italy who discovers all the crazy quirks of that great city and transforms her sometimes frustration into hilarious joy. She loves her Rome and we get to enjoy it with her without coughing up any airfare.

An American woman about my age, beautifully writes about upping and moving to France with her husband and teenage boys. Alice posts daily about their search to find a walk-able, live-able village for her family to settle in. This post made me think yesterday – her last line, “Birds fly because they have nothing to carry with them” sums it up beautifully. I looked around the house at all the stuff we cram into our tiny house.  Later that morning, after paying the mortgage we hit a few tag sales and my favorite church thrift shop. At a tag sale I found a beautiful cover for the sofa and an impossibly soft throw both for $24. At the thrift shop I bought the softest cashmere sweaters – one in orange the other, a red v-neck. $18.  Do I need these things? Well, it’s getting cold around here. But – no. I don’t. But they are lovely and what a bargain…

Tag Sale Finds
Tag Sale Finds

I do miss travel – the possibilities, the glimpses into other lives, the thought of creating a new one every day – out of a suitcase. It’s the first treat I imagine when we eventually win the lottery — planning the long trips. But, but, but… what about my garden? What will the groundhog eat if I don’t plant some Edamame next spring for him to gobble up? And our beloved dog, Tetley? We couldn’t possibly leave him behind.

Tetley!

Okay, maybe for a week. I guess, for now, with 3.5 years left of college tuition to pay, that’s about as free-spirited as I can get anyway. So meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the amazing exotic trips France captures in her astounding photos, and this blog by a couple who were lucky enough to discover each other and their shared dream-life early on and remarkably, they are still going strong – and to wonderful places. That sounds perfect to me – I hate eating alone. Where to next and what should I make for dinner?

Why Meditate?

Available Silence Here
Available Silence Here

My learning style is to figure things out by doing rather than follow instructions. As a result, I don’t quite know how to make the most of my GPS nor how to smoothly switch between watching the television and DVDs. So it’s strange that I have felt the desire for instruction in meditation. The other morning during our “Creativity Session” with Fran, I asked him for more direction regarding the ‘sitting’ part of his session. Fran is a regular at a Zen Monastery in Mount Tremper, NY and has been seriously meditating for years now. He said that in Zen, there is very little instruction beyond establishing a comfortable, stable sitting posture and following the breath. As in the Japanese Koan, the answer, the way is found within ourselves.

While living in Kyoto, I was drawn to Buddhist temples, fascinated by the robed monks who sometimes floated by or collected my Yen at the gate. But I never ventured into to any of the many Zazen sessions available to foreigners. Perhaps it was remnants of Catholic-rebellion that prevented me from wanting to adopt any semblance of rote ritual. Besides, the language and ideas felt too oblique for me. I prefer my Buddhism interpreted by the likes of Pema Chodron or  – through her anecdotes and straight talk.

Why this inability to trust myself when it comes to meditating? This irrational sense of not doing it right? Is it feeling that I’m not smart enough to really get it? That I’m missing something? Like what – the point? See? Intellectually, I know that I’m being silly. But still.

When our group discusses our late teacher, Mike Skop‘s soup of philosophy on perception, on being, etc.,  – I recall furiously scribbling notes because I barely made heads or tails of what he was talking about. But inevitably. a sound bite of something he said would resonate, and as I began to work the clay or hammer my chunk of wood or stone, I would understand, it would become part of me.

It’s in this almost physical way that insights would come to me. This is how I learn best – viscerally, through my work, previously artwork and now, writing. But it must come from a silence beyond the day-to-day, a quiet not immediately accessible by simply turning on the computer or taking out a blank pad.

Thanks to daily life and the crazy distractions found with an internet connection, is often hard for me to get to this place these days. This is why I hope to establish a discipline of ‘sitting’. Meditating, sitting with my legs crossed on the floor, feeling the earth beneath, the space above, counting breaths as my inner chatter fades, brings me closer to the zone, delivering me to the door of the intangible where magic can be found.