Home Again

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I am surprised that I haven’t posted in so long, although I know it to be true. I imagined that I had posted just before we left God’s Pocket in mid-March; the truth is my last post was in late February when David’s father died.

As the kids say: “OMG!”

This post will, therefore, be an “all in” update since life has been full since my last post.

We left God’s Pocket on March 12, drove down island and ferried across to Vancouver, and then headed to Whistler for a few days of Spring skiing with Richard and Jana, our good friends from Seattle. I had never been to Whistler – I know so little of mainland British Columbia – and was excited to be there. Driving from the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay to Whistler on the Sea to Sky highway was its own thrill. It is the Canadian version of California’s Highway 1: a spectacularly beautiful coastal drive.

We had a lovely time, but our friends didn’t fare as well: Jana fell and twisted her knee on the afternoon of the first day, resulting a fracture (discovered in the x-ray “after” she skied down the mountain!). Perhaps in sympathy, Richard fell a few times two days later (and our last day there) and his knees became swollen and black and blue. David and I were generally unharmed.

We drove to Seattle on Friday, and spent the weekend with our friend Elizabeth who lives in West Seattle, enjoying her company, the city and dinner one evening with David’s sister-in-law and partner. Truth: I always feel a little guilty not reaching out to my other Seattle area friends and former colleagues when we are there. I miss them (you know who you are!) and I’m not good (apparently) at balancing family and an extended group of friends.

We got back to San Francisco on March 22, delighted to see our cat, Ethel, who has become a gregarious love bug now that she is the only cat. We were also happy to sleep in our own bed after almost three months. It’s the little things that let you know you are home…

My coach training through the Martha Beck Institute is going well. As with any learning process, I’ve had a few frustrating and confused moments, but mostly the skills and guidance we are getting is wonderful and helpful. And I’m so taken with a program that honors intuition, the ‘magic of the universe’ and other slightly “woo woo” concepts while providing structured content, brain science and practical tools. Lately we’ve been concentrating on skills to help with “dissolving limiting thoughts” – and we start with ourselves and practice on each other. No shortage of material for most of us!

All this time, I’ve been working towards officially launching my coaching practice: Clear-Eyed Coaching & Consulting. That sentence was so easy to write, and oh my, have I come a long way for that to be true.  My “ideal” clients, which may evolve as I get more time in, are executives and leaders wanting to up their game at work, and individuals who just “know” it’s time for a change in their lives (maybe around work, maybe around other things). My consulting work, which includes coaching, expands the focus from the client to include his/her work environment, systems, staff, etc. I’ve also developed an interest in working with “solopreneurs” – small business owners who need and want some guidance in establishing, changing or growing their businesses.

It is at once nerve wracking and disconcerting to realize that I am my brand and my service, both inseparable. Unlike having a corporate gig, there’s no hiding behind my title or the bureaucracy if things don’t go according to plan. And that’s exactly why it is exciting and fulfilling to be on this path. I can’t wait for my website to go live, which – fingers crossed – should be in the next few weeks.  I’ve received great and supportive feedback so far, which helps fuel me when the doubts show up to play.

My niece Natalia, on the cusp of graduating from high school (and whom I’ve been helping with her college process) came out for Spring break. With her cousin Jason living in the guest room since September (while looking for his own place in San Francisco), we set her up on the Aero Bed in the dining room. Chaos all around, but fun to have the next generation hanging with us. (Natalia is my brother’s eldest daughter; Jason is my sister’s son.) We did a few ‘family of four’ things, including one spoken word with dance performance that had us all scratching our heads.

The two highlights of her visit were:

  • Shopping at the Nordstrom Rack for potential prom dresses: we found two beautiful gowns (and one ‘pretty good’ one) for a total of $164! We timed the Red Tag sale perfectly.
  • Driving down to see UC Santa Cruz again, this time through the eyes of someone who could go there if she wanted (she was pleased to have been accepted). We wandered the campus more fully than last summer, and we chatted with a few students on a beautiful day.

And then she went back to Maryland, where I’ll be over Memorial Weekend to see her graduate and enjoy an opportunity to gather with the family and celebrate.

And in the meantime, David is ramping down his NASA project, leaving him wondering what’s next. He has ideas, lots of ideas: his updated personal business card says “Rocket Science… always launching something new.” And some of those ideas may call him to a new level of engagement. He is thoughtful about what is next, as am I, and we both are likely to keep working in some form or fashion for the rest of our lives. We both like the stimulation and engagement; nice to have income as well.

There are other things afoot, but it’s too early to share, or too mundane to write about. Which leads me to this blog. I have decided I want to continue to post, but not on any predictable schedule (which I’m sure you noticed already!). I would prefer not to go two months between posts, so will endeavor to be more conscientious. With luck, I still have some followers who enjoy seeing Dancing On the Way Home in their email boxes.

Love,
Susan

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Happy Valentines, Mama & Papa

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I  am writing today about my father-in-law, Efigenio Raul Mustelier, who died on February 14. I want to acknowledge his life and honor him. Writing about him and his life is perhaps the best way I know now to recognize his humanity, and provide him witness.  Sadly, in writing about his life, I realized there was so much about him I didn’t know. Papa was more than the facts of his life, as we all are, but part of respect is getting the facts right when we can. I asked David, my husband and his son, a lot of questions; there were a few he was not able to answer, or least couldn’t be sure.

Efigenio (pronounced ‘Eh-fee-heh-neo’ and more commonly called “Efi”) was born in 1922 near Manzanillo, Cuba on December 11, 1922. His parents, Miguel and Clara Mustelier, had 8 children (and a 9th, the eldest, a half-sister); Efi was the youngest boy, and elder to one sister. Miguel was a landholder, and involved in agricultural endeavors – sugar and cattle – and was reputed to be a tough father. The family worked hard but was economically comfortable.

From a young age, Efi dreamed of going to college and becoming a doctor. He met the love of his life, Angela Dionysia Ferrandiz (known as Gela, pronounced Heh-lah), a first-generation Spanish-Cuban woman, in Manzanillo the year before he left for college and medical school. Most of the 10-year relationship leading to their marriage was long distance. Efi attended medical school in Havana and in 1950 went to New Jersey for his internship, followed by Chicago for his residency in obstetrics and gynecology.

In 1952, his brother-in-law Manuel (Manolo) Remon Sr., came to visit Efi in Chicago where Efi gave Manolo his power of attorney. Manolo returned to Havana where in the office of an attorney, he completed Gela’s marriage to Efi by proxy. She left that same day to fly to New York. Efi took the train from Chicago and they stayed at the Hotel Pennsylvania across the street from the “Penn Central” train station. The picture above is of the two of them on their first night as newlyweds, celebrating with friends and family in Brooklyn.

Efi and Gela returned to Chicago by train.  Around this time, Efi was drafted into the US Army due to the Korean War (he was a Cuban citizen but also a US Resident).  Ten months later, their first son Raul was born in Chicago. Efi loved the United States and was very proud of being in the US Army, and made it his career. Their family grew as they moved from station to station during his 24 year career, and Efi and Gela evolved into Mama and Papa, which is what I knew them as, and what many people called them.

Papa’s first assignment was in Munich, Germany, where Miriam was born. They went next to Camp Leroy Johnson in New Orleans, where both David and then, two-and-a-half years later, Roy was born.  Their first tour – there would be three – at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, the headquarters for the Army Medical Service Corps, came next. They spent time at Fort Irwin (near Death Valley) before going back to Germany (Darmstadt) this time. Then came Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, followed by the second tour in San Antonio. The San Antonio tour included a year in Vietnam, obviously without family, where Papa along with his duties as a hospital commander, became popular for delivering babies for some wives of high ranking South Vietnamese army officers. Fitzsimmons Army Medical Hospital in Aurora, Colorado came next, followed by Fort Ord in Monterey, California (where Roy would meet his future wife Kristen Swanson many years later). The family then returned to San Antonio, where Papa completed his final tour with the Army and retired.

Mama and Papa, growing older, moved from San Antonio to Austin to be closer to Miriam (the “boys” were scattered: Raul lived in Seattle, David lived in San Francisco, and Roy in DC). They built an in-law extension on the house so Miriam could live there and help them.

Papa loved food and wine. One of David’s most formative memories is of his father taking over the kitchen on Sundays to prepare a large family meal. All of the Musteliers have an extraordinary appreciation for flavors, and fresh ingredients, and well prepared foods; they are amazing and creative cooks, and most of them also love wine.

I first met Mama & Papa in Tuscany, Italy in 2003. I had just become engaged to David, and so was included in the family trip to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. In fact, I met the whole family for the first time when David and I walked into the living room of the large refurbished farmhouse we rented. From there, the whole group took day trips to surrounding towns, and enjoyed meals outside under the trellises. We ate and drank wine, and lined the empty bottles against the terrace wall, honoring them as “soldati caduti” (fallen soldiers). Mama and Papa were welcoming and lovely to me in my first entree to the Mustelier family, perhaps in spite of being occasionally overwhelmed by the enthusiams of their adult children and their spouses.

Papa was garrulous and outgoing, and loved to tell his stories. In his later years, he charmed the Costco food sample purveyors, and chatted up anyone within earshot on his outings to the grocery store. Not surprisingly, for being a Cuban of his generation and a Colonel in the Army, Papa could be tough on his kids, especially as they came into their own adulthood and engaged their fierce intelligence. All said, Papa was extremely sentimental: he loved his family, and was very proud of his children.

Mama died in 2011, and Papa missed her terribly these last 6 years. They had been married just short of 59 years.

Papa had just turned 94 when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in late 2016, but he was otherwise extremely healthy and hale. He was expected to recover from the surgery to remove the tumor, but his digestive system never really worked again. A friend of mine said at the time: “Efi is full of surprises, and he has surprised people most of his life.” Still, after some time in the ICU and on a ventilator, and a week of trying to recover from both, Papa died on February 14.

Our thought was that Mama had come to get Papa to celebrate their love on Valentine’s Day. We think their eldest son, Raul, who died in 2008, made the reservations and ordered the wine.

David and I will leave God’s Pocket next Tuesday for a few days to join his siblings, extended family and friends for Papa’s funeral. He will be buried on March 2, with full military honors, at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Love,
Susan

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December Darkness and Light

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I have such mixed feelings about this time of year. I love the decorations and the trees and the generally festive spirit of families in reunion. I struggle with the short, dark days, and the drumbeat to review the year so I can be a better me in 2017. I feel an odd mix of sentimentality and love and foreboding, and aspirations combined with shame. This is the first year I think I’ve seen this combination of darkness and light in such a clear way; previously, having a big day job laid a thick layer of activity and distraction over this time of year.

Irony abounds as I experience clarity about my dark frame of mind. Every year I swear I won’t feel this way. I will certainly take better care of myself leading up to year’s end, and have a baseline of resilience, fitness and discipline to guide me until the days begin to get longer again. Every year, the same wish.

We’ve made the turn with the solstice a few days ago, and still I feel the path forward is hard. I arrived at my mother’s house yesterday afternoon, where my brother and his family also live, and after dinner my niece had a crying meltdown about applying for colleges. My first insight was that I am always on guard for the emotional curve ball with my family, and here it was. My second insight was that we don’t have to relive the patterns of our youth just because the opportunity presents.

I kicked in to action. I am by inclination a guide, and I also saw that she needed comfort, first and foremost. She let me sit with her as she cried on her bed (after hiding in the bathroom for a bit), and she showed me how she was worrying about today’s problem as well as the next, and the one beyond that. She was drinking an ocean of woes in huge gulps.

I felt deeply empathetic. Her worries, at their core, are about being good enough, about recovering from (and seeking forgiveness for) past mistakes, and always, oh always, wanting approval from her parents and elders in the family.

I comforted and calmed her so we could, together, narrow her list of potential colleges for the simple purposes of getting her transcript out in the morning, the last day her school was open before the application deadline for many of the schools she was interested in. We spent several hours poking over a list of about 30 schools, looking at them online and in the Fiske Guide to Colleges, which provides the ‘inside scoop.’  (I have prior experience with college admissions: I worked as a student interviewer my senior year at Wesleyan University, and then for three years after graduation, I worked as an assistant dean of admissions at Hamilton College in upstate New York. My prior experience was helpful in guiding my niece.)

My mantra with her was ‘one step at a time’ while encouraging her to express her thoughts and feelings about college, her search and how she saw herself. She will need to find her own thoughts and inclinations in this process, something that so many of us find challenging. We know what others want and think, but finding our own voice, authentically reflecting how we feel? That’s much harder.

It is harder still to put our own distilled sense of self into another context, one barely imagined. This is why bold planning for the future can be so hard, and why “vision” doesn’t always lead to change or results. It is difficult to imagine life different from the way it is now, not without more perspective, another vantage point, and a lot of help and guidance. As Meg Worden says: “We need all the help we can get. We just do.”

My niece and I got through the evening, and she went to school first thing in the morning with a list of 20 schools she wanted her transcript sent to. I’ve asked her, as her next steps, to start reviewing those schools and to try to get a feel for how she thinks/feels about them. I’ve suggested that she’ll want to narrow her actual applications to less than 10 schools (certainly) and probably more like 5-6.

I went to bed both wound-up and exhausted, happy to have helped, but realizing there was a lot at play here. This morning I realized how similar our states of mind are. Unlike my niece, I have years of experience at acting as if: everything is fine, I have it together, etc. etc. And mostly, I do. But the truth is that this time of year, and this time of my life, when I am considering launching a leadership, life and business coaching practice next year, is fraught with questions of worth, value, contribution and acceptance. For me, the key question is when I’ll start choosing to move toward the life I know I was meant to have. And then, on top of those existential questions, the days are short, leaving me, and others, to fret in the dark.

Tonight, we’ll have a casual family dinner at my mother’s house including David’s brother Roy and his wife Kris. And then we’ll traipse off to see “Christmas at Pemberley,” a light theatrical fare based on the characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Could there be more opportunity for light, for joy, and to be fully present?

The light is always here. I have a hard time seeing it sometimes. Tonight, we’ll light candles, we’ll expand the table to add more family, and we’ll remember that we love each other. And even with an old family pattern or two, I know I am grateful to be here with these special people.

My very best wishes to each of you for a wonderful holiday season, and I wish the best for all of us for 2017. I’m very grateful that you are here, following along.

Love,
Susan

The End of the Trek

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The Nepal I visited in 1989 seemed more poor and hard scrabble than the country I visited 27 years later. To be sure, our trek was much closer to Kathmandu than in 1989, which meant that more villagers might move to the city or go overseas for work and send money home. Kathmandu valley has experienced an enormous population boom in the intervening years. Trekking on the Indigenous Peoples’ Trail, it seemed to me that every house had a buffalo or two, at least several goats, and a flock of chickens, and was surrounded by crops: rice, millet, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage. While the animals and farming might be primarily for subsistence, the houses were well tended, the animals looked healthy and the crops were lush.

The people were universally welcoming. Children and young adults were eager to practice their English, and adults wanted to observe, and occasionally to chat. My mother, with her white hair, drew more than a few talkative visitors. One older woman came to visit our camp one morning, and chatted away with my mother delightedly, saying ‘ama, ama’ (mother, mother) and hugging her. We understood very little of what she said, but she was bonding, relating and sending love and admiration and joy through her eyes to my ‘ama.’ Elders are respected in the Nepali culture, and ‘amas’ especially so. Not everyone gets to be old and wise, and my mother became something of celebrity.

Our last full day on trek took us to the town of Namo Buddha, one of the more significant Buddhist temple and monasteries in Nepal. We toured the temple, surprised by the number of Nepali “tourists” there (I always expect tourists overseas to be westerners!), and awed by its architecture and mystique. We descended the hill on the north side of the temple, prayer flags old and new draped over the trees in a profusion of colors as we made our way out of town toward our next and final camp.

That night, the cooks and guides put together an extraordinary farewell dinner. We ate like royalty! Chicken cutlets, coleslaw, cooked fresh vegetables, all yum!  At the end of the meal, the chef, Santosh, brought out a cake made special and decorated with “Happy Nice Trek.” DB, our guide and leader, thanked us for coming to Nepal, for creating jobs for all the crew members, and for being so appreciative of the experience.

He also apologized for the days during the trek when lunch seemed late, and explained that the earthquake had changed some of the water flows and aquifers, leading to constrained water supplies in areas where water had once been abundant. We had been careful with our water use – only two tent showers in 10 days – but it was instructive to learn about this little known effect of the 2015 earthquake. Towns were managing their water supplies by rationing and turning on the hillside taps, which acted like mini town centers, only at certain times. Of course, while we were occasionally hungry for lunch – always delicious – during the trek, we had no idea that the crew had been working overtime most days to find a spot with abundant water for cooking and washing!

Before dinner on the last night, we had given our tips to DB, and he coordinated with Santosh to determine how best to share it with the crew. They had created individual envelopes for each crew member. With the whole crew (17 people) in our dining tent, DB asked Sydney, the organizer of the trek through her “The Trek of Your Life” business, and my mother “Ama!” to help distribute the tips to all crew members. This participation by Sydney and my mother in the distribution process was a sign of respect for them, as well as the crew, and acknowledged the bonds we had created by being together for ten days on the trail. The warmth and generosity was palpable. It was a lovely moment, only surpassed by the crew singing and clapping along to us with great spirit. (Listen here!) We had shared ten days together and the appreciation seemed to be mutual; it was certainly resonant and lasting for me.

Back in Kathmandu the next day, we said our farewell to the crew. Most of us trekkers were headed to the Guest House for showers; I was headed with my mother, even before showers, to the Ciwec Clinic to have my arm checked out and re-bandaged by the renown mountain travel doctors! (They declared it very clean and well tended, but also said that without stitching shortly after injury the scar would be dramatic. And so it is.)

The crew stayed on the bus and went on to the Adventure Geo Treks office to clean all the equipment. On the trail, when we finished trekking for the day, we would relax while the crew set up tents, prepared the camp, and helped with dinner. So, once again, even off the trail at the end of the trek, we got to rest while the crew worked.

Our trekking group, minus crew, met up for a final lunch the next day. We walked a short way from the Kathmandu Guest House to the Garden of Dreams. The Garden is located behind high walls on a very busy and loud boulevard: you wouldn’t know it was there or how lovely it could be just a few feet from the honking of cars and motorcycles. A public park with a modest entrance fee, the Garden of Dreams is a tranquil oasis in the heart of Kathmandu, a neo-classical garden with three pavilions, and multiple ponds, lawns, and pergolas built in 1920. It was neglected from the mid-1960s, upon the death of its patron, Kaiser Sumsher Rana, until recently, but has been restored with the support of the Austrian government. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the restaurant there, while observing the many young Nepali couples walking, sitting on benches or on the cushions on the lawns. It is a lovely place, and a perfect place for a romantic date!

We said goodbye to four of our trekking group the next day, who headed to the US. Sydney would stay to lead a seminar for staff working with human trafficking victims, often former victims themselves, and then to lead another trek to Basa village for volunteer work. For my mother and I, it was the end of only one part of our adventure: we had added a four-day extension to our trip to visit Chitwan National Park at the southern border of Nepal (with India), home to Bengal tigers, rhinoceri, and crocodiles, among other wildlife.

As we prepared for our early departure to Chitwan in the morning, my mother and I marveled at the trekking experience. We had been part of a congenial group of hikers and an extraordinary team of Nepalis supporting us on an interesting and rarely used itinerary through villages and towns. Acknowledging the rough first few days of the trek, we also realized how much we had come to appreciate the experience, and would miss the people, the trekking, and that part of Nepal.

Next post: Chitwan, which will also be my last post on Nepal.

With love,
Susan

PS. I’ve been posting 4-6 pictures from the trip each day on Instagram throughout November with the hashtag #30DaysofNepal; I’ll be posting more from Nepal for a couple of days in December since I lost some time over Thanksgiving. You can see my pictures here!

Sweet Lucy

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I agreed to adopt Lucy and her litter sister Ethel in May 2002, a month after they had been left with their other litter mates in front of my vet hospital. I couldn’t bring them home until July because of my travel for work, so for two months they had the run of the back rooms of the hospital, running around the room where animal patients were recovering from or awaiting procedures. Both black in color, Lucy had short hair while Ethel was a fluff ball of long hair, and they were a hit with the staff.

My sister-in-law said at the time: “you’re going to be one of those cat ladies,” referring both to the fact that I would then have three cats, and that I was single at the time. I adopted them anyway, and met my future husband a few months later. A cat lover himself, David withstood inspection (trial, really) from my male cat Moses, who really was not at all happy this fellow was hanging around. Moses brought mice home several times during that period to show me he could provide for me… And then one day he got over it, and the two of them were inseparable. The kittens took to him too: my three cats became our three cats.

Lucy has always been the more extroverted of the two cats, loving to be with people and happy to hang out, while Ethel is shy and secretly ferocious. Lucy took over the role of alpha cat when Moses died, and began emulating his behavior: she’d sleep in ‘his’ chair in David’s office, began petitioning for lap time while David worked at the computer – providing Cat5 support – which was something Moses had always done, and took her place in the narrow space between us as we slept that we call ‘the valley of love.’ Sometimes, when she’d be on David’s lap on the couch, she’d lean her head back and look at him with such adoration. I’m certain she loved us both, but she and David have had a special bond.

She has been willful and entitled, arguing back with a sheep-like bleat when told not to do something, clearly understanding both the tone and intent of our words. She has ruined several lovely pieces of upholstered furniture with her scratching even though she has had plenty of cardboard scratching posts available. She has been jealous of Ethel, and chased her off the bed.  And yet she has mostly been loving and sweet to us and to strangers, and always been a chow meow: looking for more food or another treat, especially Gouda cheese.  She has deeply appreciated many pleasures: human attention, sitting in the sun on the deck, naps, pats and scratches, food – lots of food — and a good lap.

We met our former neighbor and now dear friend Russell (and occasional house sitter/cat care provider) because she wandered over from our back yard to his (several yards down) and befriended him. One day, he approached me on the street saying “you’re Lucy’s mom!” Last Friday we shared our fondness for “the paw”: as Lucy’s appetite burgeoned over the last six months and she wanted an early morning feeding, she would gingerly walk up to your sleeping face and reach out with her paw to ‘ever so gently’ touch it. Once awake, she’d jump off the bed and assume you were following her down to the kitchen to feed her. If you closed your eyes again, she’d repeat “the paw”, and show you, again, the way down to the kitchen.

Over the past year, Lucy has lost her sway belly and extra weight, developed severe arthritis in her hip and back legs, and is now a skinny, tiny slip of a cat with a bony back. The vet diagnosed kidney disease earlier this year, but couldn’t explain her dramatic weight loss (12lbs to a mere 7+lbs). When we returned from our most recent Canadian adventure, she looked tired and pained. I have always thought of her as a young cat, even at over 14 years old, but now she seems old.

She walked onto my chest in the middle of the night late last week, and sat down for a bit. I’m pretty sure she asked me if she could go; I know she told me she loved me, and that she was tired, so very tired.  We have second-guessed ourselves any number of times about what to do, especially as her arthritis and pain meds have masked her discomfort. But she has spent most parts of most days under the bed, which cats do when they are hurt or in pain.  Either way, I am sad, so very sad.

We humans know – if we are lucky with our own mortality – that our lives will be much longer than those of any pets we invite into our lives. Yet we still do it, knowing we’ll have to say goodbye and grieve the loss. We do it because these creatures are so special in their animal ways, and they bring so much joy, love and companionship into our lives. They bridge us to our own animal parts and wildness while inviting us to be more humane. They remind us that being human means creating bonds, and deepening them even if we know they won’t last in this physical world.

We say goodbye to sweet Lucy today, wishing her peace, and with luck, a loving, fun reunion with Moses. I’m grateful that we found each other and that she has shared our lives these past 14 years.

She has been a very good cat.

Love,
Susan

I usually post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes later…  Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

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Under Observation

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We arrived on Sunday at God’s Pocket for our week of scuba diving. After a glorious week of sun and fishing at the Cluxewe near Port Hardy on Vancouver Island North, we arrived to learn of a very low water supply on the island.  Surrounded by water and not a drop to drink! The universe has since provided: it has rained every day this week, sometimes torrentially.

The diving goes on in all weather, gale force winds or 3 meter seas excepted. I chose not to dive this week, but planned to go out on most of the trips.  Humpback whales have been common sightings, and I yearned to see more otter, seals, and especially, wolves, all possible from the boat.

On Monday, as the divers suited up on the deck, I felt myself tense in empathy: diving is an equipment intensive sport, and diving in cold water require layers of clothing – thick neoprene wetsuit or, more likely up here, sealed canvas or crushed neoprene dry suit with fleece body suit underneath – which is then layered with a hood, buoyancy vest, mask, etc. Getting ready to “get wet” can take up to 15 minutes, and by the time one is ready, the boat may not be. It gets hot and claustrophobic waiting for the signal to jump in the water. And then I relaxed with the realization of how relieved I was not to be on deck, suiting up.

I am an observer this week, not least in the context of diving, and I’ve mostly been fine with that.

David surfaced on the first dive of the week, the check-out dive, with air leaks in his buoyancy vest. Then his computer malfunctioned too. In assessing potential solutions for his diving, we both realized that he could use my vest and my computer. The universe provided: we had one vest and one computer between the two of us, only a good scenario if one of us wasn’t diving.

I have come to God’s Pocket for scuba diving six times over the last 12 years, and I remember the experience of many of the dive sites in this unique environment. As the divers surfaced, I could again empathize, this time with their descriptions of their experiences, their joy in an interesting, good dive. I have had brief moments of envy, of wishing I had chosen to dive this week, remembering the fun of being under the surface, reveling in the remarkable experience of breathing underwater.

This week has also been more people intensive: our charter consists of 12 vacationing people, many of them with large personalities.  The owners and crew add five people, so meals are talkative and loud, and the clubhouse is frequently full of people chatting, trying to be heard over each other. I have enjoyed skimming the surface of these gatherings, and escaping to the quiet of my room with a book.

My yearning for peace and quiet, so strong that I wrote about this vacation as a “misery” a month or so ago, is still palpable. I so want to be home, with the cats, not worrying about restoration and workers and dust, returning to a bit of routine, exercising with my bootcamp peeps, eating clean and eschewing the daily cocktails and wine, and, well, just being home. I have enjoyed our two weeks in British Columbia, but also know this week, with all these people in close quarters, has again pushed against my introversion and need for quiet and calm.

Today is the first of September, not technically fall, but still the path to shorter and colder days is well established as the rain on the roof now affirms.  My gap year is nearly three-quarters done… mostly not at all what I planned, and certainly not what I had envisioned. Still, I have an abundance of observations and insights to guide me and to inform these next four months.

Love,
Susan

I usually post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes later…  Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

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Violence, Paralysis, and Hope

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It has been two weeks since I last posted, and I have struggled to identify what to write. My guiding principle is always to write what is on my mind, that way I can always be authentic and try to find a way to put words to even my most confusing times.  Here is what has been on my mind, and what I have wanted to write about… but haven’t.

July 5 – the killing by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge Louisiana
July 7 – the killing by police of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota
July 7 – the killing of policemen Lorne Aherns, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa by a sniper in Dallas, Texas
July 13 – the sight of a pod of 10 orca swimming north through Christie Pass, in front of God’s Pocket, completing sightings of the “big seven” over the month (bald eagle, humpback whale, otter, seal, sea lion, wolf and orca). Later that morning, on our way to check the crab pots, we saw a gray whale swim right near our skiff, passing with a different pace and breath than humpbacks do
July 14 – leaving God’s Pocket after a month for our return to the US, and a few days with our friend Elizabeth in West Seattle
July 14 – the killing of 84 people in Nice, France on Bastille Day by a terrorist in a truck  July 15 – news that the 30 inch hole in the concrete slab in our condo had finally been filled with fresh concrete, after 3 ¼ months
July 17 – the long drive from Seattle to San Francisco: we made it in 12 hours 59 minutes  July 18 – the ambush of police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, resulting in three dead: Montrell Jackman, Matthew Gerald, Brad Garafola
July 18-21 – the Republican National Convention, and Trump’s official nomination for the presidency
July 18-22 – the chaos of getting home, our condo still a construction zone, and the intensity of city life on the senses after the quiet and peace of God’s Pocket
July 20 – inconclusive blood test results for our cat Lucy who has lost yet another 1.5 lbs since May, and is down to 7.2 lbs. We had hoped for hyperthyroidism, since there’s treatment for that
July 21 – Lucy gets an ultra sound and has an enlarged spleen. She may have mast cell growth or maybe lymphoma. If the former, there are treatments, including a spleen-ectomy; if the latter, we will love her until she dies
July 22 – Opening 25 boxes of ‘refugee stuff’ from our condo from before the 2nd floor restoration (May 23rd with the expectation that we’d have it back out of storage within 3 weeks) looking for a printer cable from David’s office and the charger for my camera batteries. Needle in a haystack but we found them, and were able to move a lot of 2nd floor things back to the condo. My instinct is to put everything in the dumpster.
July 22 – the killing of 9 people in Munich, Germany by a (terrorist) gunman

I list the names of the dead in the police incidents because I want them to be real for me, to know that all were someone’s child, all loved and were loved by others. I want to honor their lives in this small way, knowing that their deaths would be felt acutely by many.

What has been on my mind is a mix of the quotidian and the basics of my life, and the bigger issues that demand my attention, demand our response as citizens. What to think about the violence that has taken over our national and international experience and narrative? More importantly, what to do?

I found these two recent blog posts, by writers I follow, to be useful to me, so I share them in that spirit:

For my part, I have felt a bit paralyzed, and not just about what to post. I have been deeply troubled by the national and international news, and I keep hoping for a few days of quiet and peace on that front. Personally, I’ve felt stuck: I’ve hardly exercised – except for moving heavy boxes – and have slept poorly. I know that self-care matters even it if doesn’t change the world.  I’ve also had flashes of joy – like Lucy stretched out with her arms over her head between me and David at night in bed in “the valley of love” – and been in awe of nature.  I have experienced quiet moments of peace, and recognize the grace in that; not everyone can say that.

None of those good things came from the Republican Convention. Although I have generally felt it would be wise to stay away from politics in my blog, I find I can’t.  I find Trump appalling, even as I understand the anger and disruption in the lives of some people who have become his supporters. I just don’t believe the narrative and the tone is helpful to progress, or to national unity, or frankly, to a just and civil society.

I was reminded the other day of a moment years ago, stunning in the shame response it created in me, when I expressed my disdain for the reality show “Survivor.” I commented that I thought the show brought out the worst in people, both on the show and in viewers. The husband of a friend of mine, someone I didn’t know well but had respected for his position in academia, said “oh, poor baby – you can’t handle it!” As if “handling it” was better than wishing human nature – human behavior, in any event – weren’t so bald or crude. I chose to hope that we can all be better than our baser instincts.

I’m off to the Russian River tomorrow for a long weekend with my women’s group: stand-up paddle boarding, walks and wine, and generally hanging out and being together. I’m looking forward to it, even it means being away from home (again!). I know we’ll talk about how we each want to navigate our lives internally and in the world in this moment. And we’ll share laughter, wisdom and hope.

Love,
Susan

I post about once a week, usually on Wednesday or Thursday, but sometimes, like today, on Fridays… Get regular updates via email from DancingOnTheWayHome by clicking the “follow” button (on your tablet or pc screen – the mobile screens somehow don’t show it!). And thanks for reading!

Follow me on Instagram (dancingonthewayhome), where I post whatever catches my eye. Leave a comment or send me an email at DancingOnTheWayHome AT gmail dot com; I’d love to hear from you.