Obligatory Potty Training Post (for those of you who just tuned out, read it anyway, it's really not that dirty)

The past 3 months, I’ve woefully found myself sliding into the trenches of the ‘preschool mom’.  Don’t get me wrong, I have you all on the highest pedestal possible.  

Mothering is tough.  

Mothering young children is tougher.  

Up until Norah was born, I’d been so prideful and so extremely grateful that I didn’t have to engage in any form of potty talk with any of my children, other than warning them against the use of swear words or name calling.  When your kids come into your family at 6 and 7, they are fully capable of using the bathroom, tying their shoes, chewing and swallowing solid food, etc. etc. etc.  I was over the moon about all these things and gloated that I didn’t have to really teach my kids anything!  

Fast forward to ‘my youngest kid is already 3 years old and has zero interest in using the toilet’.  I, of course, still refused to engage in any form of potty talk, read any articles or books on toilet training, ask any friends for tips, etc. etc. etc.  “I am not a baby mom,” I tell myself.  “I am a teenager mom who also happens to have a toddler.”  Well.  Door slams in the face of said mom and at some point.  That point is now.  

I’ll spare you the details, but the extent of my potty training efforts was 1 1/2 hours of no diaper.  During the course of that 1 1/2 hours, toddler pees twice on the floor and poops once while attempting to climb on the table.  All hell broke loose for me as I attempted to catch the poop on a cardboard box I was holding while simultaneously sideways carrying said toddler to the bathroom. 

We stuck with diapers from that point forward.  Whether or not she was ready...I wasn’t.  

I know most of you have plenty of horror stories about bodily fluids from your children and, quite honestly, I don’t want to hear them.  That is why I have avoided you all for so long.  And I haven’t learned anything in this process about how to get your kid to use the toilet.  But, I have learned a lot about my kid.

Norah potty trained herself.  Just like she taught herself to crawl and taught herself to walk and taught herself to climb.  This girl is on a bit of a different time table than what is considered ‘developmentally appropriate’, and takes more time before she attempts things.  She’s a watcher.  She sits and observes without really trying anything.  She just watches things happen and when she feels like she’s ready, she just does it.  She didn’t ‘practice’ walking with 2 steps and fall, 3 steps and fall.  No.  She sat on her butt for the longest time and didn’t do anything while I was all huffy saying, ‘why doesn’t my kid want to move at all?’.  But when she stood up and walked, she took over 20 steps.  She actually walked, not stepped.  And that has been the pattern.  I kept nagging her about the fact that she needed to start using the toilet.  And she kept saying calmly, “When I get bigger I will, Mama.  When I get just a little bigger.”  

And my anxiety slapped me in the face one morning two weeks ago when she said, “Mama, I think today I’m going to use that potty.”  And she did.  And she has had zero accidents.  Zero.  We’ve had a few roadside/trailside potty stops, in the dirt on the side of the road, but who hasn’t?

So today, we celebrated the end of the diaper era by burning all our leftover diapers!!  (No, but I think maybe that will be my own devious private celebration.  Any other potty training parents who hate all this potty talk are more than welcome to join me).  For her, we celebrated by taking a road trip to the Jelly Belly Factory.  For some reason, against dentists good wishes, this girl has taken a liking to jelly beans.  And, for good measure, we used them as rewards for using the toilet.  (Please, no judgement here, you all know you did something...sticker charts do nothing for this kid). 

And, without further adieu, a few pics of the incredible workings of a candy store that spits out jelly beans faster than I can say Jelly Belly.  America, what is our fascination with anything and everything mass-marketable?!  And/or our fascination with sugar?!  

But, of course, this girl loved it so much she wanted me to take pictures of her dancing by the Jelly Belly car on the way out of the factory.  And, like any good mom does, I obliged.  

Cheers to you, baby girl, on your journey in underwear and cavities!

Reunions

Somehow, 20 years just passed me by without even knowing it.  And the fact is, even though my body may think differently, I’m still living in 1998.  I still love the music, the clothes, the trends, the slang, the whole thing.  At times, it’s honestly hard to believe that I’m an adult, let alone a mother of teenagers.  Growing up is way too overrated.  

Standing in a room full of high school classmates (who, shockingly, look identical to their high school mug), I can guarantee I’m not the only one who felt that way.  I was taken back in the best possible way, with meaningless old traditions made new among long lost good friends that are ever so slightly more mature than they were back then, but still live in the moment.  They retain a certain spark of adolescence that is magnified by us all being together and living out memories of an unforgettable developmental period of impulse driven stupidity and selfish insecurities; of laughter beyond laughter, of coming-of-age drama and fleeting teenage crushes.  Whether we all liked each other or not, the fact remains that we were brought together by force from all different areas and backgrounds during a very crucial period of development.  And for that reason alone, we are forever connected.

Suffice it to say, 20 year high school reunions have a certain stigma about them,   superficiality being the top bidder.  As I talked about the event with a classmate who couldn’t attend, I realized I felt none of that.  There were no obvious comparisons, no ‘you look great, you look terrible’.  No shameful feelings about having a suboptimal job or getting a divorce or gaining 50lbs.  Seriously, nobody cared about that.  We just needed to be together again.  There was absolutely no flash to our event, whatsoever, no emcee, no video, no program to move the event along.  We simply spent 5 hours talking to each other and were all in agreement that 5 hours was far too short.  Yes, we drank more than enough alcohol and spent time on the dance floor when we couldn’t figure out any other way to interact, but that all characterizes our class and was perfectly inline with who we are.  And I loved that. 

And quite honestly, I had a huge hangover the next day and it wasn’t from drinking.  It’s the type of hangover that lingers in your heart for a few days.  A feeling of let down; of wishing I had said more to more people, of missing a ‘hi‘ to people I care about because I completely didn’t even see them, or because they didn’t attend in the first place; of feeling like I wanted to connect more and further and realizing that I have missed out on 20 years of good people’s lives because time has a way of separating us.  And, that made me sad.  Our graduating class is made up of good people.  People who are generous and gracious and successful and kind and mature and creative and hardworking and damn smart.  Of people who are willing to grab your hand and dance with you like they are your best friend or shake the hand of a marginalized classmate or tell you how amazing you look even though you know they are lying; or look you in the eye and say they are totally struggling being a stay at home mom.  Of friends who will put a drink in your hand and tell you they are sorry for throwing rocks at you when you were young or offer heartfelt condolence over the recent passing of a loved one.  We are good people, ’98.  Believe that.  Live that.  

There is no shortage of ways to redeem ourselves, to make something out of nothing, to pocket an inner feeling of angst and give into our far reaching feelings of nostalgia.  To make good on a promise sealed by a pinky swear or a kiss or a blue ball point pen.  To actually follow through with all those ‘KIT‘ yearbook signings.  ‘You are so sweet’, and, ‘We’ll have to keep in touch this summer’, and, ‘Call me if you want to hang out’.  Because life is far too short to let these things pass you by, to let circumstances get in the way of people who could mean the world to you, who at one time did mean the world to you.

Thanks, ’98 for some good memories, past, present and future.

Train Tunnel

The Donner Pass Train Tunnel is unique, to say the least.  A marvel of vision and manpower coming together to connect the East and the West via railway and construct something that is often touted as ‘one of the best advancements of all time’, ‘a miraculous partnership between vision and labor’, ‘a dangerous but honorable task that highlights the best of America’.   And as all stories go, there is always two sides to the coin.  

Truth be told, as amazing as this job was, blowing tons of granite out of the side of the mountain and building all sorts of walls and supports and everything to keep the whole thing from caving in on itself, the roadside placards displayed sharing the history of the tunnel do a massive disservice to the laborers involved.  And as much as I love taking friends here, I can’t help but mention the darker side of the story.  One of the history markers sites the visionary response to using the Chinese to construct it.  It says that originally he was hesitant because of the small stature of the Chinese, but realized, “Hey, they built the great wall didn’t they?!”  And the stereotypes and prejudice and blatant effort for ‘cheap labor’ scream out from all these snapshots of history.   

In the 1860‘s, 12,000 Chinese workers were brought to Donner Pass to construct the tunnel.  They were underpaid.  Working conditions were incredibly dangerous and the weather was terrible.  Their camps and food were nothing like their white counterparts and the number of Chinese that died during construction wasn’t even documented.  When the tunnel was completed in August of 1867, all credit was given to the chief engineer of the Central Pacific Railroad, Theodore Judah, for his enduring determination to take the risk of going through the mountain and constructing the final leg to make a railway to the pacific ocean possible, discounting the countless lives that were unwillingly sacrificed.

The last train passed through this tunnel in 1993, when railway service was rerouted through a new tunnel just south of this one, ironically through a mountain that bears the visionaries name, Mt. Judah.  

In my mind, every time I visit the train tunnel, I see it as more of a memorial.  A slice of history with a nod to the true dedication of the people working in these dark, damp corridors.

Family Camping Trip

A week of boating and sunshine and dirt and gooey, sticky things roasted over an open fire?  A week of tan lines and cousin snuggles and sunset paddles and full moons?  A whole week of chocolate and whiffle ball and big, cushiony, springy-seat bike rides?  Of scooters and hats and sunglasses and milkshakes?

Yes, yes please.  And also, no, no thank you.

I’ve come to grips with a part of myself that has been aching to be known, to shake hands with, to look me in the eye.  Two things, actually.

 I recharge by being active.

 I recharge by being alone.

Those two things can be very dangerous on an extended family camping trip when the goal is to sit around in a beach chair, drink, and talk to your family. 

And quite possibly this should be an apology letter for how misbehaved I was.  How much I removed myself from all the potential conversations and relational opportunities and found something to busy myself with.  Or, quite possibly, maybe I should just stop apologizing and take it for what it’s worth.  And the takeaways are important.  

Family, no matter how put together we are, we are also so broken, but that doesn’t make it unbearable. 

Watching kids play together is completely fulfilling, especially when it comes with fun noodles, blow up things and things with wheels.

The courage to try something new, overcoming a previous fear and succeeding, makes my heart bounce out of my chest and my smile overtake my entire face.

A Hike A Day Keeps The ______ Away

Our mantra this week: a hike a day keeps the _________ away.  And our fill in the blanks bordered on pysochotic episodes and hinted at our biggest struggles; boredom, crazy, anger, tantrums, fun (you may have guessed who this one belonged to), lethargy, mental blocks, sugar bugs (again, you may have a guess as to who added that one), bad attitudes, and on and on and on. 

I was at our cabin near Donner Lake with just my girls this week (hubbs and son still in San Diego for football practice).  My experiment with “a hike a day” came with no other motive than to get outside as much as possible and explore the mountains.  However, knowing full well that my oldest daughter is prone to lots of eye rolling and exasperated sighs and full on verbal assaults when asked to do anything involving outside activity, (in particular, hiking), I also thought it might be a chance for her to actually experience the benefits herself rather than me just forcing them on her.  I actually thought (silly me) that on day 7 she might be wanting to go a few more days, asking where we were going to go next with a bit of enthusiasm.  Maybe, just maybe, after 7 days of nature walks, pretty wildflowers, beautiful views, sunshine, and swimming in cool mountain lakes she might have a change of heart; she might realize that doing all that is actually a good thing and does relieve a bit of inner angst.  

I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  Only 2 out of the 3 of us made it to day 7.  And all that ‘hike a day’ bologne looked me in the face with squinted eyes and a sly and sarcastic smile and said, “how are you going to make me do anything”.  And parenting fails commenced and they have taken their toll on all of us.  And I would like to say that it all worked itself out, but it hasn't yet.  And we're still face down in the weeds.  And this week looked much different than I wanted it to.  But I have to say, that even in the midst of all that failure, and dust in the face, there was a bit of success.  Maybe small ones, baby steps...or should I say, toddler trips on rocks and tree roots.  My littlest one actually came off the week with a dirty face, bloody knees, bruised up shins and small bits of gravel in her palms.  And I call that a good week.  This girl has been so cautious these first 3 years, taking her time to try new things and never doing anything that might involve falling.  Well, I can say with new confidence after a week of hiking, that we may be building up a bit of adventurousness and bravery and, dare I say, a little tiny bit of toughness in the young one.  She was all gusto and no holding back, swimming naked in icy lakes, climbing every bit of granite she could find and running on almost every packed part of trail.  And every once in a while, completely at random, “Mama, isn’t it so amazing out here?” and “Mama, thank you for taking me to so many places.”

And a fail with one might also be a success with another.  As much as I want everything to be a win-win, I’ve got to roll with the punches and do my best to come out better on the other side.  

[photo disclaimer: these were all taken on my very, very, very crappy phone camera, so I apologize for the poor quality.  However, I don’t apologize for the fact that I left my ‘real’ camera at home intentionally this week.  Sometimes, my passion for photos takes over everything I do and I have trouble living in the moment.  I wanted to be present as much as possible and not fidget with and focus on making the best picture instead of playing with my girls.  There will be more times for great pictures.  This week, the time was for all of us to just be together...so phone snaps will have to do!]

DAY ONE: Summit Lake Trail

DAY TWO: Lollipop Tree via JP's

DAY THREE: Lake Azalea via a portion of the PCT

DAY FOUR: PCT to Lookout Point

DAY FIVE: Brockway Summit Trail

DAY SIX: Long Lake

DAY SEVEN: Donner Memorial State Park and Campground

Summer Gold Rush + The Truman Show

I re-watched the Truman Show recently, a movie made in which the main character, Truman, is raised inside a simulated television show watched by the world around him 24 hrs a day.  Only problem is, he doesn’t know it.  I wouldn’t say it’s one of my favorite movies, but it always gets me thinking; thinking about reality, about humanity.  And my take away this time was deeper than other times.  Christof, the director, of the Truman Show (in the movie) makes the comment, “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.”  And I couldn’t help but couple that with my already hot-headed opinion about social media and the ‘reality’ we see and participate in every day.  And the collision of those two things really messed me up this time.

Three years ago my littlest child was born.  That event was the sole catalyst of what I’m now calling, “My Great Undoing” (which will be the title of a series of blogs sometime in the distant future where things work themselves out on paper and in my spirit better than they do now).  But, I mention it here, because in the process of that, I have been forced to dig into myself; an inner mining season (if you will) rivaling the best California had to offer during the famous Gold Rush; cart loads and cart loads of rock and debris before actually finding something of merit, something worth more than the time, energy and money it took to find it deep down there in the first place.  But in the meantime, it’s hot and musty and dark.  I sweat a lot.

Somewhere, in the line of carts being hauled out, is a cart full of vices, of idiosyncrasies, of shameful motives and dark jealousies.  And as much as I’m grateful to be hauling them out, sometimes I’m not sure what to do with them, or where to dump them or how to not fill up the hole they came out of with more of the same thing, covering back up what I was looking for in the first place. 

And how any of that has to do with the Truman Show may be a stretch for some, but it all made sense for me.  Social media, Instagram, Facebook, the like, tempts me to fill back up with the things I’m trying to get rid of.  The ‘reality‘ of the world with which I am ‘presented’ becomes a far more perfect and better place than the reality of the world I really live in.  And I hate that.  I hate that I want to look at, participate in and spend countless time thinking about ways I can ‘present’ myself to ‘the world’, rather than focus on sincere and authentic time with the world I exist in.  I know, I know.  It is actually a very useful and fun way to keep up with distant friends and family, and I completely agree with that and totally participate in it, too (and probably will in the near future).  But currently, it’s detrimental for me.  And I have to be honest about that.  And I don’t think I’m alone.  As happy as I am that people are choosing to document their lives through photos, I’m just as unhappy about how that has shaped us; about how we experience people and places; about how we’ve created an entirely new vocabulary for our social world.  We, like Truman, have become an actor in our own life story without even knowing it.  No, not all of us.  There are plenty of responsible and completely authentic Instagram-ers who don’t struggle with it at all.  But for the rest of us, keep reading.  

Spoiler alert: I’m about to tell you what happens at the end of the movie if you haven’t seen it already (which you should have considering it was made 20 years ago).  After a giant storm at sea in which he is almost killed, Truman recovers and sails his boat in what seems to be the middle of the ocean, blue skies, sunshine, the whole deal.  Until surprisingly he runs into the wall of the set, poking a whole in the sheet rock making up the sky of what was the world he has lived in his whole life.  And the emotions that play out after that make me cry every time.  Best scene in a movie (from 1998, of course).  

All he wants at that point is to get out.  To experience life, real life, and life to the full; to know real friends and real love. 

And I want that, too.  

So, with that long winded explanation of my summer social media hiatus, I can help but exit the same way Truman did, “...in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.” 

And, of course, a little extra disclaimer: I will still be blogging and I hope you will still be reading.  I’m posting new blog posts in my story on Instagram because I haven’t taken the time to figure out a blog subscription from my website.  But, please don’t be a stranger.  Even more than that, in fact, be a friend.  We have an incredible cabin up near a pretty mountain lake in the Sierras.  I’d love to share it with you.  For real.

 

Unicorn Piñatas and Other Birthday Chaos

With the amount of streamers, balloons, banners, confetti, ribbon, sprinkles, frosting, melted candles, glitter, piñata parts and silly string I am still picking off my cabinets, pulling out of my garbage disposal and sweeping up under my couch, I have realized there has been an utter lack of revelry in my life lately.  It takes 3 birthdays (4 if you count my nephew) in 10 days to help me realize this.  And it was a lesson that needed to be learned, regardless of the mess.  

We need to party.  We need to feel the freedom to celebrate and be celebrated; to say important things to people we love; to eat a lot of sugar; to spend money on things we normally wouldn't; to take a day off of school or work; to go big or go home. 

I've always loved birthdays.  Not necessarily birthday parties, but birthdays.  A birthday is different than any other occasion as it is in direct correlation with the person having it, not something they've accomplished or a role that they play or a goal they have reached, but a unique and specific celebration of that fact that they exist; that the act of their birth (however uninvolved they were with it) is enough to spark an entire celebration and something to look forward to for the other 364 days out of the year.  A birthday is a perfect excuse to dish out every ounce of love you can on one person, because you value having them around. 

This year was no different, except for the fact that we actually had parties, too.  It was a big birthday year for our family.  16, 13 and 3 all seem to be milestone birthdays and we didn't want to miss the chance to make a ginormous mess in our house for the cause.  We had a joint birthday party with our cousin, who turned 17 the day after Perez, and his family.  We have spent many, many birthdays with them and it is so fun to have kids that were born in the same month.  Combining a 17 year old birthday with a 3 year old birthday was something to be noted.  Indoor skydiving for the bigs (Norah backed out 30 minutes before flying but wanted to wear the suit anyway) and blue hair and a unicorn piñata filled with Pez for the little (although I think the bigs may have had more fun with that)!  Sleep over, pool party, water balloon fight and cake decorating for the now 'teenager' and morning rounds of jumping on the bed coupled with a beach day and cupcakes for The Nugget.  

All in all, it was a weeks worth (or more) of parties and a kick in the pants reminder that parties need to be planned...for birthdays or 'just because'.  

And I think I just might be leaving those entryway streamers up to indulge in a little revelry all year until those birthdays roll around again next year. 

Fuego and San Miguel Deuñas

[Blog post from Guatemala written March 20th, 2013]:

"Spent the day documenting the daily activities of a family that lives in a very poor area of a town called San Miguel Dueñas.  Single mom of five kids, the 14 year old boy works construction all day to make money for the family and goes to school all night.  She sells tortilla's to make a little extra money, at most $2 a day.  Only two of the five kids go to school.  She can't pay for the third school aged boy.  I have about a 25 frame picture story of the day spent with them.  Still working on it.  I feel like in order to really document this family, it would take repeated visits over the course of a few weeks or possibly months.  So for this project, it is just a day in the life of  a family in need.

(note to photographer friends: these are very raw and un-edited...sleep deprivation has overtaken me)."

 

On Monday, Volcan Fuego or 'Fire Volcano' erupted in Guatemala with one of the most violent volcanic eruption in more than 100 years, spewing ash, mud, gas and lava into surrounding communities.  San Miguel Dueñas was one of the towns hit the hardest.  I spent a few days there in 2013 along with another photographer friend, documenting the lives of 2 families living there.  Living in the ring of fire, volcanic eruptions are no new thing for many Guatemalans.  Fuego erupts repeatedly, puffing gas and smoke every 15 to 20 minutes.  But this.  This was no puff of smoke.  This was a massive eruption followed only hours later by a rocking 5.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the coastlines of Central America.  Many of you are reading headlines, watching news, and trying to get a grip on the damage and what can be done.  And to some of you, it's old news, considering all the other hot off the press events right now in the world.  But for the past few days I've been searching for photos, scanning maps, and seeing if there is anything I can do to find out if the families and children I spent time with in 2013 and again in 2015 are alive.  This has hit home in my heart and it's so hard to be distant from it and to hear news from afar.   Guatemala is hurting and quite possibly, so are the families and kids in these pictures.  Quite possibly their homes are buried, crops destroyed, family members dead, children dead.  I don't know.  And that's what makes it hard, to be heartbroken, but essentially helpless.  

To all of you in Guatemala that I have called my friends, eaten with, had drinks with, told stories to, cried with, ridden in the backs of flatbed trucks with, dug through trash with, played soccer in the street with, ate dulces and pan together and allowed me to dig into your lives with my camera: may the Lord give you peace in the midst of this chaos.  When the smoke clears, may you find a way to continue on.  May you find a way to honor and remember those you have lost and may you be helped and strengthened by the good of others.

 

[Gallery from 2013.  San Miguel Dueñas, Guatemala]

Zion

So much happened over the course of the last 60 hours that it’s really hard for me to make sense of it all.  And I’m not talking about what we actually did, I’m talking about what actually happened.  Logistically, we hit 4 states and 5 destinations.  Including California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.  Visiting Calico Ghost Town, Seven Magic Mountains, The Hoover Dam, Zion National Park and Kanarra Falls.  As far as how many actual miles on the road or literal vertical feet climbed, I don’t have a clue, but metaphorically, we moved mountains.

I didn’t do this trip for my kids.  I did it for me.  But I think it’s fair to say that there were takeaways for all of us.  And most of that is internal.  I wouldn’t say this was the most fun we’ve ever had together or  the coolest thing we’ve ever done.  But, I will say that even trying to figure out how to write about this makes me get a bit choked up. 

The full rundown of the trip is totally worth a conversation and I’d be more than happy to share a table and a few drinks with anyone who wants to listen.  Let’s just say I lost my kids in Zion.  Or they lost me.  Or we lost each other.  It’s not everyday that I make the decision to leave my kids on a 1,488 foot gash of sandstone jutting out of a desert valley.  But when I do, I make the most of it by hanging out at the bottom for 3 hours while they hang out at the top, just for added emphasis.  

In all fairness, I suppose it wasn’t an actual decision as much as it was a miscommunication.  There is a fine line, or should I say, an awkward foot-stepping-on-toes dance while my teens and I figure out the nuances of necessary independence and off leash activity.  I realize, in hindsight, the top of a mountain 5,790 feet above sea level isn’t the best place to try this out.  Needless to say, Mom and Toddler in backpack are determined to hike to the very tippy top edge of Angel’s Landing, managing a somewhat sketchy chained section; regardless of the number of people up there on a spring Saturday that make the passing slightly more dangerous; regardless of the number of people turning around telling you to turn back because it is too crowded and is taking triple the time it should take to reach the top; regardless of the number of people telling Mom and Toddler they shouldn’t go because it is bad mothering to do that with a baby on your back; regardless of Son insisting that they turn back; regardless of Daughter who has already turned back.  

Something happened to me up there.  All those voices have been there my entire life.  And I have listened to them for the sake of keeping the peace; for the sake of not being the cause of an ‘inconvenience‘ for anyone and for the sake of putting others before myself.

And I listened this time, too.  I said ok and started back down.  And three steps later I stopped dead in my tracks.  And as if no one else was on that mountain but my son, my toddler and me.  I turned back around to him and said, “I didn’t come all this way to do something I’ve been dreaming of doing to make it ‘almost‘ all the way.  I will be kicking myself in the shins for the rest of my life if I don’t do this right now.”  And thus was the catalyst of the miscommunication.

“Fine.  But I’m waiting here until you get back,” Son says.  Other Daughter shows up surprisingly out of nowhere and says, “Mom, you’re going out there?!  No, you’re not.  Ok, you are, but there’s no way I’m going out there.  I’m going back down.”  “No, you’re not,” Son says to Daughter.  “Mom, I’m keeping Norah.  You go by yourself,” Son says to Mom.  “No, you’re not,” Mom says to Son.  Mom is walking up the mountain with Toddler on back and shouting over her shoulder, “You guys figure it out.  If you decide to walk back down, don’t get on the shuttle.”  And out of earshot Mom went.

Nearly 5 hours later, a lot of ‘mobile service unavailable’ messages and waiting on a park bench at the base of the hike while Toddler sleeps sweaty and fussy in my lap and shuttling back to the car in hopes that Son and Daughter are there and back to the park bench and waiting and talking with people who are completely unhelpful and cussing at the fact that there is no better security in a place like this and cussing at the fact that you made yet another stupid mom decision and being pissed at the lady sitting next to you telling you that a 13 year old died last week falling off of that ledge and deciding whether to hike back up or wait at the bottom or go back to the car again or finally break down because you have no clue where your kids are and it’s all your fault and...with some help from the US Park Rangers, we are all reunited at the base of the hike. 

I played it cool the whole time and I knew they were going to blame me and be pissed that we wasted all that time just sitting in two different places waiting for each other.  But what happened is nothing I could have contrived on my own in any other situation but what went down.  In their fury, thinking I was just hanging out at the top enjoying the view, they both hiked the sketchy section looking for me.  They bonded as brother and sister, they problem solved, they (most importantly, Maggie) did something she didn’t want to do and never thought she could do.  And, regardless of all the voices telling me otherwise, I’m so glad we were all lost.  

There is so much more to be learned from this trip.  And it wasn’t all fun.  In fact, I’m not really even sure anyone, but me, actually had fun.  And maybe that’s completely beside the point.  We didn’t really eat a full meal, we slept in our car, we went higher than we wanted to and farther than we wanted to.  We went without naps and food and breaks and froze our feet off in the river to the point where you feel like you are stepping on needles when they thaw out; always to the point of wanting to turn back and always to the point of being urged to go just a little farther.  

I could do this everyday.  But for my kids, it’s a new experience, and one I wouldn’t trade for the world.  There is something so valuable about reaching a breaking point and learning how to glue yourself back together enough to get yourself out; to finish what you started.  

Life doesn’t magically lift us out of the narrows when it gets too hard and too cold and we are too deep and we are ‘oh, so, done with this’.  But, something does.  And I can only hope to leave a trace of whatever you want to call that, with them. 

While in Vegas

It was a ‘kid in a candy store’ type of day yesterday...rock hopping, loud music on the open road, trespassing in abandoned waterparks in the desert.  Nothing global and exotic, but enough of a rush to keep the smile on my face driving home through Southern California 5 ‘o’ clock traffic.  Just because, I’m also tacking on a few frames from the previous days desert-art-installation-bucket-list adventure.  I wish the people weren’t there, but at least they give you an idea of the scale of those randomly stacked rocks.  

(And in case someone and that someone’s children and another photographer friend want to journey back to that magical and creepy waterpark...possibly in the dark with some high powered lights...I have a super fun series to put together complete with hot dogs, cotton candy, swimsuits, zinc, blow up inner tubes and plenty of water-free fun for the whole family!) 

Reluctant Road-tripping

I’d forgotten, somehow.  Knowing it to be true for me, but disregarding it for the sullen and slothful demeanor of my teenagers.  I’d forgotten the power of nature; the inexplicable ability for the landscape to overlook the sour and lethargic and unexcitable attitudes of my children and beckon them into something mesmerizing and unexplainable and beautiful.  To inspire them to play again; to laugh; to stand mouths dropped and eyes wide with awe at something so vast and fascinating.  Desolate and barren and harsh and unwelcoming and somehow all those things lead us into the decision that Death Valley, for those who are willing to lose themselves in it and appreciate the magnitude it embodies, is anything and everything opposite of it’s first name.

Reluctant road-tripping, we’ll call it, at best.  At worst... well, let’s just leave it at best.  I smudged the line a thousand times trying to figure out where to draw it.  Do I say they have to go?  Do I let them opt out?  Do I engage them in the process of picking where to go and what to see?  Every place I drew the line was met with equal and unavoidable obstacles from my ever-so-willing-to-verbally-challenge-their-mom teenagers.  To the point where I threw up my hands and said, “Get in the car, packed or not.”

And in doing that, something moved.  Not immediately, but a slow leak.  In me.  In them.    I shut up and they followed suit and we rode in silence for a long while. And what happened after that is nothing short of a miracle.  I’d forgotten the magic of the ‘road trip’.  The feeling of freedom on the open road.  The undeniable draw of windows rolled down and loud music and eating too much candy.  The way that being too close together for too many hours draws out every form of obnoxiousness in everyone to the point where you scream as loud as possible out the window for everyone to shut-up and then everything boils down into one chaotic mess of laughter and singing and shouting and making up the same stupid games I played as a kid as if it were the first time they’ve ever been played.  And at that point, the kids are debating whether it would be better to die at the hand of the scorching sun left alone on the side of the highway in the desert or by the hand of your own mother who is literally about the strangle you if you repeat that same line of that movie one more time.  

I hope you know what I mean.  Because it is something horrific and beautiful at the same time.  And what happened can all be summed up in this:

After driving for hours and being in and out of the car visiting the sand dunes and the salt flats and a bunch of other ‘points of interest’.  I’m reading the informative plaque about the formations of salt on the ‘Devil’s Golf Course’ and it’s fascinating and incredible and I can’t get enough of it.  My toddler is walking toward me crying because she took one step out there and gashed her shin on the ‘pokey stuff’.  My son, already way out, is breaking off the ‘pokey stuff’ and hucking it at his older sister, my middle daughter, who is running toward me disgusted shouting, “Mom!  Mom!  Norah has poop coming out of her shorts and...make Perez stop.  He’s regurgitating his food and spitting it up all over me and trying to take me out with that pokey stuff.”  

I smiled at the lady next to me who was also reading the sign.  “I’m sorry you had to hear that.  Road tripping with toddlers and teenagers.  Can’t get much better than this!”  And, I actually meant that.  For the first time, in a long time, I actually meant it.

The Desert

I’m more than slightly irritated that the desert has become so mainstream.  You see it in home decor, fashion, art and pretty much every other form of marketable, well, anything.  Every mainstream store is carrying the modern version of some desert-wildflower-boho gypsy you name it type of thing and everyone wants it because it somehow sparks their hippie love child wanderlust inner self and in buying, wearing, decorating with it you are somehow living free and wild and happy.

Don’t get me wrong.

The desert is fascinating.

The people who choose to live in the desert, just as fascinating.  But, for the record, none of those people moved to the desert so that they could be mainstream and hung on someone’s wall.  The desert is meant to be odd and harsh and intolerable.  And while you drive through it you absolutely should be thinking who the hell lives out here and how the hell do I get out?  Life in the desert is not about wearing gauzy skirts that blow in the wind just perfectly or smooth bronzed skin that glistens in the sunset.  No.  No way in hell.

The desert is about heat and drought and leathery skin and pokey plants snagging your clothes as you trail by.  It’s wandering and loneliness and death and suffering.  

It’s downfall is, ironically, it’s draw.  Without the desert, we may never know the deep loneliness of wandering.  And without wandering, we may never know the raw strength of being found.  And in being found, we recapture the wonder and awe of God and our place in his story.

The desert was created for that.  The desert was created for wandering.

SIDE NOTE #1: My recent attempt at a 2 day desert wandering pilgrimage turned into a one day overnight at a desert campground with my toddler, which then turned into a 1/2 day  6 hour car ride with her to see some dilapidated desert art (which is so incredible...a must see -- Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum) and eat at a Panda Express in a modern, bustling desert town just to drive back home and watch Dolphin Tail on Netflix.  

Seriously.

And it was so worth it.

SIDE NOTE #2: Anticipating a photography weekend making images of vast starry skies and textured details of yucca plants, what I actually shot leaves a lot to be wanted.  A lot.  I guess I will have to have a go at that another time.  But we had fun imitating Joshua Trees, posing for shots in some large scale art and running around in the dirt.  Sometimes you just have to take the picture for the sake of documenting it..."Remember going to that quirky art museum of trashed dwellings and toilets and random people's junk?  No?  Well, here's proof you were there"...that kind of documenting.  For what it's worth.  It has it's place.

I hope you dance

For me, the soul feels its worth in the woods (or the ocean, or a mountaintop, or anywhere in nature for that matter).  And I have so many more words to put to this, but they are so jumbled and covered in heaps of dirty laundry and unpaid bills and galleries of photos waiting to be edited.  None of it's getting done and I'm bored and overwhelmed at the same time, so much so that I've been craving times of solitude; time to give my brain and task list a rest and explore the depths of the spirit underneath all that, so that I can hopefully come back fuller and more alive and ready to take on the world.  Thankfully, I have a family that is willing to let me do that. 

There should be beautiful words and detailed insight about this most recent 3 day trip.  But there isn't.  My brain is going dark.  So, all you get is some very roughly edited pictures (hey, blogs can handle a rough edit, right?!) and the words of someone else that spurred me on and filled me up during this trip.  Thanks, LeeAnn Womack.

"I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance....I hope you dance.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances but they're worth takin',
Lovin' might be a mistake but it's worth makin',
Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to sellin' out reconsider,
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance....I hope you dance.
I hope you dance....I hope you dance."

Birthdays

Birthdays always seem to lend themselves to something deeper than the average, run of the mill thought processes.  As does the month of November, considering we focus so much on giving thanks.  Being that I was born in the month of November means that I have no escape from the inevitable birthday gratitude blog.  Go figure.  

Here’s to a new year. To thoughts and wisdom from the corners of my heart this past year and from a recent jaunt into the wild.  May it inform the year I am embarking on today.  I am grateful:

For the wisdom and audacity of friends to tell it like they see it; to reach into my life and look past the things that can’t be passed up and call forth something new.  

For still feeling small when I stand beside the ocean.

For the emptiness of the early morning in a midweek forrest of trees bigger than my pain.

For sky and air and things that listen when you talk out loud to nobody and everybody who isn’t actually there.

For pen and paper and a tangled wet laundry heap of dirty words hung out to dry.

For being only 5’ 3” and fitting comfortably, fully stretched out in the back of a Dodge Durango.

For rain and rain and more rain to remind me that colors are far more vibrant in a storm.

For whiskey and swedish fish to keep me going and put me to sleep all at the same time.

For God’s breath in my lungs, small and shallow, long and deep, quickened or calm.

For the chance to do it all again.

Solo

I'm trying to find time in the midst of this busy season to process a recent solo trip into the Point Reyes backcountry (and front country, I guess, considering I drove all over the desolate bluffs from one end to the other as well as hiked into the woods).  I came to the realization that if I don’t write and post pictures, well, now, it will never happen.  I also came to the realization that this trip is just the beginning of many more like this, I hope.  Time to be in nature, journal my heart out, question everything and answer nothing, write, hike, climb trees and jaggy seashore rock outcroppings, make pictures, cry, smile, be silent, scream at the top of my lungs, rat my hair in a windows-rolled-down-all-the-way euphoria, drink a lot of whiskey, drench myself in solitude and serenity and thick seashore fog and of course attract a few bug bites and a little stinging nettle.  And, for the record, stinging nettle really does sting. 

It was a weekend full of ‘soul-ness’; of searching inner depths and choosing not to make excuses for anything; of solitude bordering on solitary; aloneness dancing with loneliness.  Which of course makes total sense that my entire 48hrs was riddled with dense fog and no light.  Because Light. Changes. Everything.  Fog leaves things flat and dull and without tangible shape or form. It makes sense that what I needed was to dance with that.  To feel heavy and wet and not be able to focus on anything while at the same time feel completely peaceful and motivated and inspired and so far out of the box that no one would even bother looking for me there anymore.  A journey of trying not to die on the crumbling edge of a seaside cliff while at the exact same moment feeling ridiculously alive.  This was it.  This was all of it.  

And it knocked the wind out of me.  

And put it under my wings so I could fly.

 

Addendum:

I wish I could say this was a photographic gem of a trip for me, but sadly, no.  It appears that I’m slightly out of practice with this camera thing and that my psyche was craving balance and symmetry and teetering on loneliness, because that’s what this lens saw.  And unfortunately on this trip, my photo making skills were reduced to simplistic landscapes.  The stuff of calendars.  So, if boring, muted, slightly creepy renditions of landscape calendars are your jam, keep scrolling.

A Back Alley Summer

A Back Alley Summer

And it feels so good to lean into that.  And I smile a lot more and sweat a lot more and realize that when you have a beautiful person, some rockin’ vintage clothes and a weed-infested-cracked-concrete back alley in the middle of the unrelenting sun, what could possibly go wrong?!

 

 

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Woman

If you're driving on Keystone Ave. in Reno and you're stopped at the corner of 2nd and Keystone, you might see this in the window of a little gem of a store called The Nest.  Yes, this is me, but no, it's not just me.  This is every woman who has ever breathed.  Every girl who has jumped rope, cuddled a teddy bear, gotten a C on a spelling test, started her period too early; every woman who has held her newborn child, hugged her friends, cried her eyes out in the shower over a heartbreak, listened to countless accolades and criticisms and titles about her roles and her womanhood and tried on every hat anyone has ever handed her.  

This is me and her and us.  And she’s so strong and resilient and giving and gorgeous.  And she bears the weight of her world, your world, the world on shoulders too narrow for the load.  And she may slump a bit and stammer and fall to her knees.  But it’s almost a given that she will stand again, maybe not alone, but she will stand again.  She will rise and straighten and plod forward in and out of weeks and through decades.  And her feet will ache and her face will leather and wrinkle. 

But her smile.  Oh, her smile.