it just keeps getting better…

When you don’t do something for awhile, it can seem unfamiliar and the starting point anything but obvious. So, somewhat recently on Live & Learn, when David shared three lines of a poem in the midst of one of his posts, it stopped me in my tracks. Not just because the words were just spot on truth for me. Not just because I found myself wishing that I had been the one to assemble them in the way the author had so eloquently (and seemingly so effortlessly) done. But because those three lines capture what had been elusive to me: what I needed to get this post started.

The three lines by poet John O’Donohue posted on this blog read like this…

Unknown to us, there are moments

When crevices we cannot see open
For time to come alive with beginning

and reminded me that much as we try, we can’t know what is to come.

In months that have somehow managed to have sped by, under the hood has been an ongoing process.  An examination of not my conscience, but rather my very consciousness and a riotous path of change and growth. Big things have ended, little things have cropped up and simmered right back down and all along there has been an eyes-wide-open-deer-in-the-headlights-bring-it stance on it all.  I like to think of it as beginner’s mind, which for me is any time we find ourselves in some degree of both amazement and trepidation – and often, dogged determination – in some kind of new or changing time.  But beginner’s mind cannot last forever, for eventually a beginning moves to somewhere in the middle. Yes?

There is the saying that all good things come to an end.

I think perhaps that is not always true.

And, on the contrary, it can actually get better.

However we slice it, in review, it might help for you to know that as I cast my glance in the rear view mirror, I see a marriage that ended, and necessarily so; and subsequently I see a rift in a family for a young and yet so wise and resilient young boy; I see a move to where less truly became more in ways so unexpected and a brand of co-parenting of which I am proud of for my son.   I see professional hurdles and challenges and just a whole lot of unpleasantness that are best described as hanging on tightly to a ship’s mast out on a stormy sea. I see a bank account that some days had more question marks than dollar signs.

But in the midst of all of that: endings, upsets and so many unknowns, there has also been grace and goodness, and so much understanding and without question,  many unanticipated lessons.

wrong roadI have navigated these last few years, with my kiddo and I, bolstered of course by our magical friends and family, in an intentional and optimistic way. I found a way to go at it at my own pace and in my own way.  I wanted to – I had to – go through the pain, not around the pain.  I wanted to understand, and to admit where the wrong turn(s?) have been made and why. So, the kiddo and I, we have laughed, we have logged miles, we have sat side by side on the couch checking off episodes of our favorite TV shows. We created our signature ‘funk-food-dinner-and-movie nights‘ (sometimes, mama’s in a funk and can’t find her way around the kitchen…). And, we have done our own thing – he with his friends, me with mine. Sometimes that happens all together. I dipped my toe in the dating pool. Murky waters I tell you.  But that is another story for another day. Or not.

With this in mind, almost exactly a year ago, I took a few days away to reset, and continue this re-evaluation. I went up to the mountains, a place that I consider a second home.  I spent nearly a week: I went driving around the entire lake, hiking, sitting, walking, and chasing sunsets.  And thinking. A lot.  And learning. For example, one night the power went out. All of it. Guess what I learned? That I really am a little bit afraid of the dark!  Who knew!?  

I learned something else equally important.

On my last day there, I positioned myself at a stunning location facing west and since the summer rush had subsided, the beach was nearly left just for me. And my glass of wine.

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I sat in wait and I was not disappointed.  The sunset was literally spectacular. And slow. And evolving.

Like we are.

I savored each moment as the sun performed right in front of me.

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As the sun sank lower and lower, and aware that I had parked somewhat far away, I – so reluctantly – left in time to get to my car before darkness set in fully (I’d  already completed my Intro to Darkness course, successfully, I might add). I walked along, hopping over some boulders, looking back to catch every last possible glimpse. I wanted that image printed in me as much as in my camera’s SD card.

We all see sunsets, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Right? The sun sets every day. It has to.

I thought I’d seen the last of it, but the sunset had changed once again.

It was like it had one more act, an encore perhaps?

I found myself smiling, relaxed and leaning up against a railing on the boat launch and muttering to myself, ‘it just keeps getting better’. And then, I thought to myself, huh, and nodding, and thinking, realizing…

…it’s all going to be ok. It just keeps getting better…

I was smiling.

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I’m not going to lie.

The last few years have been enlightening, maybe you could even say “exhilarating” at times. But not easy.

But, I realized what I was saying. Out loud.

As I heard myself, I smiled bigger as I realized, yes, it does. It just keeps getting better.

It’s true.  There have been moments unbeknownst to me where things were at play and I had no idea.

My kiddo is doing awesome. He continues to teach me and surprise me.   His resilience is not just comforting; it’s affirming. At work we have a new captain of the ship and while you cannot turn a ship on a dime, it seems the seas have calmed and we are headed in a better direction; I am excited to be starting a new academic year, energized and maybe somewhat overwhelmed, but excited.

Colleagues have said to me, “I’m so glad you hung in there…”

And, I met someone. Someone most special. In the most unexpected of places.

People keep telling me, “You look so happy, it’s good to see you smiling again…”

It just keeps getting better.

Kiddo and I mixed it up this summer and instead of hitting the road, we jetted off through the friendly skies to enjoy our annual summer trip. Let’s just say, it was monumental.

So lessons learned:  Don’t get stuck in the dark. And it can definitely get better.  Sometimes we just to have to trust the wisdom penned by John O’Donohue.

And a ps…to the ‘nudgers’, you know exactly who you are, and thank you.  You have no idea…

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Playtime Perspective

This is my busiest time of the year at work; year-end events, culminating projects, reports, graduation ceremony and most of the time my head feels it’s going to bust a nerve.  Each year this cycle repeats itself; I find myself closing my eyes and hoping that when I open them, that it’s June 1.

Last night, I decided to play a little after work; mix it up a little for myself and grabbed my camera and went out to the backyard. This time of year, there is a passion-flower vine that is blooming and I love these beautiful blooms – so unique and strange.

I snapped on to my camera a creative lens set I had purchased a few years ago and had forgotten about. I was just playing, trying to learn how to use it the way it’s intended and overall it was a frustrating experience. I just couldn’t get the images to turn out the way I thought they were supposed to. What saw in my mind didn’t happen. What I was seeing in the viewfinder isn’t what I saw in the resulting image.

I didn’t like not knowing how to capture the image I wanted to get and yet I kept snapping, taking photos of the flowers, my sprinkler head, wine corks and a piece of metal – just to see what might happen.  Testing this, trying that. Determined. But having fun.  I have a lot to learn with this creative lens thing-a-ma-jig, but what I realized – yet again – is that sometimes we just need to get out of our comfort zone, let things unfold as they will and be open to seeing things in new ways.  And that learning through play is always a good idea!

You could say I am developing a passion for getting perspective!  🙂

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Where the Cool Birds Hang Out

During what we know as the darkest days of winter, one of my close friends took me out one early December morning to see the geese.  This might seem a bit unusual but the back story is that years ago I fell in love with Canadian geese after reading James Michener’s “Chesapeake’ while living not far from the eastern region of the Chesapeake Bay.  I was mesmerized by how Michener’s geese became prominent characters in his epic generation-spanning story.

My friend is a professional photographer with a specialty in avian photography. You should see this man’s work.  He knows where all the cool birds hang out; and I doubt there is a bird he hasn’t met. He knows of my affinity for these beautiful creatures and their V-formations and for the last few years has been inviting me out to see them while they make our area their winter home. It finally worked out with our lives and schedules.

I will be honest; I was hoping, expecting really, to see them in the hundreds of thousands. I wanted that immediate, dramatic visual impact. The wow of what that would be like. The images I could capture. As it turned out, the geese had chosen a location other than the spots we picked; we weren’t invited to their morning party.  We certainly saw some geese, just not hundreds of thousands

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There they are, my geese. Beautiful in any amount.

I had my camera with me of course. We talked, I snapped. We walked, I snapped; my shutter punctuating the easy, comfortable conversation between my friend and I. We are like family to each other; he much like another older brother. I asked him a deeply personal question at one point in one of our many meandering conversations and as soon as I asked, I offered him an out, letting him know I understood the depth of what I was asking and that I understood if he didn’t want to respond. His reply to me was to proceed with answering my question.

I kept taking photos, sure that in the early morning, dreary overcast light, and no geese to speak of, that my attempts to capture anything were futile, but far be it from me to lay off the shutter when that camera is in my hand. I had to move on in my day when we got back; I put my camera away, changed and resumed my busy day. The holidays were upon us and combined with life, work, shopping, wrapping, baking and the kiddo, I totally forgot about my images from that morning.  I think too, that I somehow, at some level, assumed I would be disappointed when I went back to look at them; kind of the one eye shut with a sideways grimace, thinking to myself:  “That’s all I got? Bummer.

I just went back to my photos from that morning a few days ago, and while smiling at the memory of the time shared; seeing the images after weeks had gone by, I also remembered something important.

We can tend to set ourselves up with our expectations.

We go into a situation or moment with our minds made up of what it is supposed to be, or look like, or turn out like.  We often forget to just let ourselves see the moment for what it really is. Just because it looks different than we expected, is it less than? Is it not as good?

Perhaps it’s in some way so much better than we expected. Or maybe even better for us in ways we just simply cannot see yet? I don’t know the answers to these questions, I just know they are important questions we can ask ourselves in these moments. That disappointment can cloud our ability to see what is, when we are more focused on what is not.

I don’t think it is a matter of placing value on the outcome: good, better, or worse.  I am thinking that it is more about somehow finding a way of allowing ourselves to see things as they are. 

In reviewing my images, I noticed a few things I didn’t expect, didn’t think was there…

…I could see that the dreary, cold, overcast morning lent itself to a beautiful palette – a dramatic monochromatic background.

…I remembered that in the fallow season of winter, when all signs of life feel dormant; there is something to behold in the stark contrasts of the landscape. That something is happening even when we don’t see the obvious signs. Life is preparing for, well, life.

…I could see that the absence of geese in large amounts, reminds me that sometimes there is beauty in flying solo. 

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Flying solo

I realized, with a new perspective, that if we are open to the possibilities, that sometimes we learn that what we didn’t expect to find – can be just as beautiful as what we had in mind – in just a very different kind of way.

In looking back at this morning, seeing through my images from a day that finally came to fruition, spending time with my good friend, safe in his trusted presence, I understand in a new way how sometimes we need to not only be open to what is right in front of us, but also be willing to step away for a time, and then come back to look at things with new eyes.

It’s more than possible that when we find what we didn’t expect, it can be just as beautiful as what we had in mind. That what is beyond our mind is limitless.

C’mon, take a walk with me…click on the images below to hang out with all the cool birds….

What might this day reveal to each of us?

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

What do the beginner’s mind, an organized desk, a new year,
and a bird about to take flight all have in common?

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Hope for a new beginning.
A sense of possibility.
Anticipation of something new.

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Nothing Good Gets Away

I have worked with college age adults since, I was, well, just barely no longer a college age adult myself.  And while not chronologically that many  years ahead of them; I’d had life experiences that set me apart in ways that felt like light years. Some days, I would hear little pangs within myself; little pangs of envy at what seemed so simple, so fresh, so ready for possibility. I was putting things back together for me, so to speak, and at the same time helping them find their way.  I realized years later how we truly helped each other.

Along with programs and events, my work entailed just spending time, talking, listening. Hearing their worries. It ranged from homesickness, to college majors, which fork in the spiritual path to follow; quiet conversations about where families went wrong and the years of wondering how to cope.  Some made progress; for some the struggle continued. With each student, I would listen; we’d laugh. I knew a lot of stories.

The most consistent lament that stood at the threshold of my office was that of love; it hadn’t arrived, it had gone wrong already, it had shown up and then went away.  It was unrequited; I knew one young man who so painstakingly tried to pursue each of three beautiful young women, sisters,  who one by one all came to attend this same university. As each one arrived in her freshman year, I saw his heart expand with a little bit more hope each time, only to be dashed. I also often witnessed the exquisite joy when two sets of eyes met and never looked away and the great weddings in subsequent years.

I remember a few young women in particular who were just heartsick that the completion of their ‘Mrs. Degree’ was not going according to their much anticipated plans. Having been bounced around a bit, in the love department; I wanted them to realize that there is no rush. That they had so much good in their lives and to not come at this with fears of never and what-ifs.  I ended up coming up with a phrase I ultimately used over and over; if you gotta hurry, you gotta worry. What’s the rush I would ask them. Why the need to fast track this?

I think all of us want to know what’s coming next.

The other day, a friend of mine updated her Facebook status to say:  “Why is waiting so hard?”  I don’t have any idea if she was waiting for medical results, a pizza delivery or the departure day for a special trip.  But her question caught my attention.

I think we all push the envelope in terms of wanting some kind of security in our lives; and for many of us, the security is in the knowing.

We are rewarded these days, by being in a hurry all of the time, and rushing on to the next big thing, rarely allowing ourselves to even fully realize, much less enjoy or savor that which we finished.   TV and media of all kinds reinforce this quick pace and so when things move slowly, or perhaps seemingly not at all; I think it’s safe to say that we all struggle somewhat with not knowing what’s around the next corner; or what things mean, exactly.

We often want it all spelled out for us.

Another way of saying, perhaps, how difficult it is sometimes to just wait. No matter the reason for waiting – news, good or bad, a special day, a blossoming romance to blossom, wondering if we got the job – I love both the knowing and the wisdom found in the words that John Steinbeck wrote to his son more than 50 years ago, with sage advice in the form of an eloquent and intimate letter between father and son, about the importance of not being in a hurry…

New York November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.

Love,

Fa

Source:  Letters of Note & Brain Pickings

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Quiet Is Not So Quiet

A quiet Sunday stretches out before me; a day full of nothing, but well, nothing. Plans have not been made. The to-do lists of what needs to be done have agreed to be patient with me on this day. Always busy, and on the go, mostly by choice, I heartily welcome this day as does one who is just about to enjoy a perfectly created favorite meal set before them; anxious to dig in and yet desiring to savor every last bit, not wanting it to end.

In these moments, quiet as can be, I hear so much. No television, no music.  But yet, so much.

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I can hear the season finally starting to change from summer to fall; the gentle shift in the air makes an exquisite sound.

The leaves high in the trees tell me there is an easy breeze to this day.

The shadows, dancing across the grass, are the back up singers to this song; I can almost hear the way the getting-more-golden-by-the-day light of this early autumn day bounces.

My own thoughts in my head, make a variety of sounds; bumping, groaning and popping.  Normally much noisier in there than it is today.

Memories sliding, shifting, and in some cases, readjusting. Settling. Resting.

The thundering of a jet high above, transporting people to places far and wide; I conjure the noise of an airport terminal in my mind and appreciate even more the stillness of this moment.

Birds squawking and chirping; carrying on fascinating and important conversations with one another.

Voices of neighbors in nearby homes, all living their own interesting lives, so different and yet so near, to my own.

The hum of cars passing by my urban dwelling, each carrying someone thinking their own thoughts on their way to somewhere.  Do they ever have these kinds of quiet days, I wonder?

The clink of of collars and tags jingling as our four-legged friends are taken for a walk down my street.

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Yes, it is a quiet Sunday, stretching out before me. And somehow, time seems suspended, and instead of fearing the nothingness, I sit in awe of the everythingness.

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Seal the Deal

On the last leg of the road trip, I took the long way home, the one with the prettiest of views…

We decided to drive up the coast of California and it was a stunningly beautiful coastal day; a mix of just the right amount of fog to punctuate the otherwise hardly detectable difference between the ocean blue and blue skies.  For awhile, we cruised behind a zippy red sports car and we tried to keep up, imagining that we were them!  But, before too long, we lost them, as  we made the first of many stops along the way to take in the view.  What we found at this stop was the perfect beginning to the ending of a wonderful vacation.

It truly ‘sealed’ the deal for us.

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Elephant Seals

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This guy is 5,000 pounds, and 16 feet long!

Along California’s central coast is a population of Elephant Seals. Turns out, we passed by during the quiet time of the year; hundreds of the seals were lounging about on the beach, but come January through May?  The ‘rookery’ as it is called, will be home to thousands of these guys and gals.

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Plenty of space!

Elephant Seals spend eight to ten months a year in the open ocean, diving 1000 to 5000 feet deep for periods of fifteen minutes to two hours, surfacing for maybe 3-5 minutes before plunging to the depths again.  They migrate thousands of miles, twice a year, to their land based rookery for birthing, breeding, molting and rest.  The rookery we saw is along Highway  1,  seven miles north of San Simeon and is home to about 17,000 animals.

When you think of hanging out on the beach, wouldn’t you think of snacks, roasting hot dogs, enjoying a beer?  Right?  Well, not the 5,000 lb elephant seals. They go on a diet while on land, and when on the beach, they do not eat.

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They fling sand on their backs to keep cool.

The adult animals come on to the beach in the winter for the birthing and breeding season with adult males arriving in late November or early December when they contest for a dominant position on the beach. Winners in that contest are referred to as alpha males or beach masters.  Funny, some things are so similar across different species…

Another interesting similarity? The peak of mating is around Valentine’s Day.  And then, the females leave.

The Elephant seals form harems, in which the dominant, or alpha, male is surrounded by a group of females.  Mother Nature’s Bachelor show? On the periphery of the harem, the beta bulls wait in hopes of an opportunity to mate.  They assist the alpha bull in keeping away the less dominant males. Fights between males can be bloody affairs in which the combatants rear up and slam their bodies against each other, slashing with their large canine teeth.  However, not all confrontations end in battle.  Rearing up on their hindquarters, throwing back their heads, showing off the size of their noses and bellowing threats is enough to intimidate most challengers.

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So, which one is the alpha male?  Will he get the girl?

The rookery is a very noisy place during the breeding season as males bellow threat vocalizations, pups squawk to be fed, and females squabble with each other over prime location and pups.  Kind of just like families, right?  Gargles, grunts, snorts, belches, bleats, whimpers, squeaks, squeals, and the male trumpeting combine to create the elephant seal symphony of sound.

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One of the young pups. Oh, so much to learn….

Siblings

Siblings

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Solitary?

What is an elephant seal? A deep-sea diver, a long distance traveler, an animal that fasts for long periods of time, elephant seals are extraordinary. They come together on land to give birth, mate, and molt but at sea they are solitary. Tremendous demands are placed on their bodies.

Yep, sealed the deal for us!

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