Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cat as Cat Can

I'll take a break from TED - inspired musings to catch you up on Rex, the cat, who lies curled up beside me just now in one of his many cozy beds, this one primed to catch the mid-day sun. So far this week he has trapped himself in the pantry and in the narrow space between our front screen and wooden doors (really only wide enough to fit a large wreath). Both times his piteous meows and scratching claws alerted us to his plight within minutes. We removed his bell due to sleep deprivation but never have to look far to find him as he gallops to the door when we return after an absence and never plays or rests out of sight.  He's adopted us as his family and like a small child will come to my feet and meow when he wants to be held.

I've read that holding a cat or dog can lower blood pressure and I'll attest that holding a sleepy, purring cat can restore my faith in the world, or at least in a family gone crazy with back-to-school scheduling. The children vie over who gets to hold or play with him, so their blood pressure tends to go up - at least until Rex picks a lap to fall asleep on and then the lucky lap-ee soaks up the love like a movie star in Cannes.

Rex strips the leaves off my house-plants and finger-paints with the water from his bowl. He disrupts the kids at 4:00am with a desire to play and tracks litter through the office. Do we regret adopting this little snow-leopard kitty? Not at all. He does need to stop climbing the sliding screen door and wandering around the kitchen table, but aside from that he's a keeper. I finally understand what the cat video sensation is about - but I promise to spare you ours.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Temporary Nature of Things

Remember Phil Hansen's portrait in frozen wine, which melts slowly and inexorably, blurring and then erasing the outlines of a woman's face? (Look here: ). Hansen spent time on temporary projects, art that either burned, melted, dissolved or rotted after he finished it. He says, "I spent a whole year making art and have nothing physical to show for it." How hard would it be to erase the product of your many hours of hard work? Granted, our gadget culture enables video and digital records of everything that was created, but the work itself? Our chance for fame and fortune? Gone.

Letting go is tough. We all want to leave claw marks on the scratching post of life. I don't understand why human beings are created with a drive to stamp their name, face, and genes on this world that's too overcrowded, too ancient, to care. Our lives don't even register against the geologic time scale. I'm reminded of this every time I open the refrigerator door, on which I have a sticky note quote from some self-help book saying "remember the temporary nature of things." This reassures me in times of crisis and scares the hell out of me the rest of the time.  

But I can see how Hansen freed his mind by letting go of the need to stamp his name and his art on the world. Releasing the need to make an impact, to score, to win frees my hands and my mind to focus on smaller things right in front of me, or blur in creative bliss. When I'm not afraid of impermanence, I can 'be in the flow' and trust my senses and mind to recall what's real and necessary. No need to throw it up on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter in a desperate attempt to make my mark or freeze a moment in time. The moments, messages, photos and tweets keep coming and the flood will eventually drown us out - not even to be found in a Google search - but if we can be free of the fear, who knows what we can create with the time we are given?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Embracing Limitations

Aden called to me from the office last night. "Come look at this, mom," she urged. "My art teacher showed it to us." It was after 7pm, I had a dishtowel in one hand and a greasy pork chop pan in the other, and I frankly did not want to look at anything other than my novel. But Aden can be a source of inspiration, and the TED talk she showed me was worth not just one viewing, but two. I've been thinking ever since about the surprising art and worldview of Phil Hansen, as explained in this talk

A quick summary for those of you too busy to watch the ten-minute video right now; Hansen developed nerve damage in his hands after too many hours of working on pointilism, his favored art technique. His shaky hands soon made it impossible to do the type of art he loved, or any familiar style of art, so he quit art school and had a dark night of the soul - for three years. When Hansen finally decide to return to art he first saw a neurologist to see if his shaky hands could be fixed. The neurologist told him no, that the damage was permanent, and advised him to "embrace the shake."

The rest of the talk unfolds quickly as Hansen features many of his amazing new works, drawn, painted, blowtorched or etched on various mediums. He talks about how embracing our limitations can enhance our creativity, and how in a world where we are frequently paralyzed by a multitude of choices, getting "back in the box" can help us create freely. Hansen's words reminded me forcibly of a therapy session I had over the phone perhaps 18 months ago, when I was starting to heal but still wildly unsure of what I had left to contribute to the world. The bracing voice on the phone aked me: "what do you love to do?" and I said "write. . . . but I can't sit still for long and I can't even look at a computer screen for too long because it makes my head worse, so I don't see how I can be a writer."  She took me to task, and insisted that my preference for writing in short bursts could work to my advantage. "Write poetry," she said, "or pursue your blog entries and compile them into a book one day. No one said you have to sit down for eight hours a day to be a writer."

So, embracing my limitations became a source of my creativity. I'm still writing this blog and you're still reading it. Perhaps one day it will be a part of something larger . . . or perhaps not. The rest of Hansen's talk covers "letting go,"  but I'll leave that for next time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


My husband is out of town so I attempted a one-night stand with a new man. His name is Rex, the cat, and I use the word "attempted" because there was no sleeping with a cat draped over my neck and face, purring like a miniature Harley. Granted, Rex tried to be amorous, nibbling on my ear and fake biting at my silver stud earring, but I've always preferred a little space when I sleep and the cat just did not get my memo. After a half-hour of failed relocation attempts I got up and walked him down the hall to Daniel's room, where he presumably slept the night away.

Rex fits our family like a golden glove; he loves playing with toys, sleeping in our laps, and stalking the guinea pig. Also, he's sick. We brought him home from the Dumb Friends League with a virus and he's already been to the vet to get medicine, an Rx for baby food, and instructions to steam every day in a hot bathroom. Nothing like a sick cat to blow the water bill.

Between Rob's handoff of the stomach flu to me, Aden's diagnosis of walking pneumonia, William's sniffles and the cat sneezing snot everywhere, our home is a veritable treasure trove of germs. We've never had a first week of school kick off with quite so many illnesses floating around the house and I can only hope it gets better from here. At least we have a loving little kitty to help us survive.

Post script - We are so thrilled to welcome our new nephew, Thomas Julius Clavadetscher! Congratulations to Mike and Pam, Mac and Joey on their new addition. We can't wait to meet him . . .

Friday, August 15, 2014

Advice on a Thirteenth Birthday

Aden returned from Los Angeles late Wednesday evening. She traveled solo via Southwest and came into view at baggage claim to Rob's shout of recognition and my teary hug. I couldn't let her go for several long minutes and we both cried - for my relief that she was safe and for her relief to have managed the trip by herself, combined with sorrow at leaving her aunt and cousin. Aunt Karen showed Julia and Aden a marvelous time, visiting Medieval Times, the Long Beach Aquarium, and the beach for a picnic and boogie boarding. Aden celebrated her 13th birthday there with a cake and special dinner, while I worked desperately at finishing her birthday scrapbook of wishes and notes from many friends and relatives.

The outpouring of love, support and advice from Aden's aunts, uncles and grandparents made me cry repeatedly, as I cut and pasted their words and pictures in her bright pink book. Aden could only take in a few pages on her first night home, and has read the rest a few at a time over the next few days. All of the letters are special, but as we prepare to go back to school I wanted to share this excellent advice from Aden's great-aunt Kathy, who taught high school for over thirty years. I intend to follow these tenets myself:

·      -  The teens that have the most fun are those willing to look the most foolish.  They are not characterized as foolish by their peers, but rather as brave and wholeheartedly participating.

·       - Teens think that everyone else is watching them.  It’s not only false; it’s impossible.

·        -Those who ask questions at school will not “look stupid” (unless the teacher answered the very same question five seconds ago).  Rather, their classmates will be silently grateful that their question was answered.

·        -The key to being a good conversationalist is to be a good listener.  What you learn from others will give clues for questions to ask, reactive comments, and other topics of discussion.

·        -The sweetest sound to a person is their name, so use it often when talking to them.

·        -People like to associate with those who are happy with their lives and show it on their faces.

·        -Just because everyone else does something, doesn’t mean you also need to do it.  First, everyone may NOT be doing it.  Second, be an independent thinker; stay true to your beliefs; treat yourself well and expect the same treatment from others, because you deserve it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

One of These Things

I dragged myself out of bed this morning to walk with friends, a task that grows more difficult with each minute of daylight lost. The pre-dawn air was cool and the critters were up and scurrying about with leaves, nuts, or other critters in their mouths. We walked briskly with the soundtrack of robin's chirrups and hawk screes playing in the background, a few yellow leaves punctuating the smooth grass of the greenbelt.

In my last stretch past the tennis courts I looked up to see three raggedy crows perched on the high link fence. They bobbed and weaved awkwardly and I chuckled as I looked down the line - until my gaze fell upon a hawk at the far end, serene and vaguely threatening as he looked down his hooked beak at his neighbors. I did a double-take; though we hear hawks frequently in our neighborhood we don't see them so close. The raptor didn't fit in with his ungainly, feather-dropping neighbors and I was reminded of the old Sesame Street skit "one of these things is not like the other." I've been feeling like the "other thing" this week, though more like a crow than a  hawk.

Granted, we were all exhausted from camping and preoccupied with back-to-school shopping and preparation, but that's still no excuse for a missed doctor's appointment (still had to pay the full charge), my double-booking of activities throughout elementary school registration, and my countless cooking mistakes this week. I set the barbecue on fire, pulled the brownie pan out with my bare hand (not successfully), and tossed the salad vigorously right onto the floor. I feel out of place with my organized neighbors who have their registration forms signed and ready, with their calendar reflecting the appropriate check-in time. I hope that my brain and organization skills return when the children head off to school next week but there are no guarantees.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Weaving Threads

We've just returned from another amazing weekend of camping with friends, this time near Salida at the O'Haver Lake campground. The moon approached "super moon" status and the skies were largely clear as six families converged on the lakefront tent pads and set up shop. The sixth grade boys had their own home base in the "tent mahal" -- a larger-than-life tent complete with porch and dog run. The kids fished or hiked or set up a fort near the forested stream and the adults sat and talked, played on Rob's corn hole set or hiked up the fire road for amazing views.

The nights were broken up by colicky babies in other tents or snorers in our own, and last night's sleep was interrupted by a conversation of feisty owls. In the early morning chill today I reflected on the strands of community and belonging that we have worked to create for ourselves and our children over the last six years of group camping. Through the years we have lightened the load and brought progressively less food, less equipment, and fewer entertainment options, realizing perhaps that the amazing landscape and energizing relationships provide enough fuel, enough sustenance for the weekend.

All parents try to weave a tapestry that will hold their family, that will support the children as they grow and take steps toward independence. The relationships that we all build are pulled by the busy pace of life and other commitments that try to separate the threads of our fabric. It's so important to take time to repair the rents in our weavings with old friends and make new designs with new friends and relationships; we are so blessed to have the time and opportunity to do this in the amazing Colorado landscape.

Post Script - Our amazing Aden turns 13 today and we missed her over the weekend. We all wish her the happiest possible birthday and year to come - we love you so much, sweetheart!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Old Friends and IronMen

Three of my old friends from the Rolling Hills High School swim team drove into Boulder last week for the Ironman competition. They have all parlayed their swimming and water polo background into other athletic accomplishments over the past two decades, though work and family make training for an Ironman a rare and costly occurrence. I watched their results on the "Athlete Tracker" all day on Sunday - and I do mean all day since the race took them between 11 and 14 hours - with my heart in my throat for their safety and well-being. A 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run over hills in summer heat would be death-defying if I were to attempt such a thing. But they survived to tell the tale and were even showered, dressed, and mobile yesterday when I met two of them for lunch in Boulder with the kids in tow.

What a blessing to re-connect with people who supported you through the intense emotions and stressful growing-up times of high school and college. When Mark teased Kevin, his responding "easy now" took me right back to game night twenty-plus years ago. Apparently Dave's memorable "under- promise and over-deliver" mentality was also still intact. Their interest in sports, history and politics remains the same and I was also grateful that we could still talk about those issues without getting into arguments- either with each other or with the surrounding Boulderites.

That bond formed of sports long ago made me think hard about Aden, William and Daniel's involvement in athletics. They are not yet focused in on one or two specific endeavors, but they will be soon. Aden is looking at swimming and water polo and William and Daniel are still young enough to do five or six activities throughout the year, but we'll have to narrow down soon, if only for my sanity. And when they do, it doesn't really matter how good they are, how high they rise, how much they win. Kevin, Mark and I were not state champion swimmers or Olympic water polo players, but the bond of practice and competition created friendships strong enough to last nearly three decades, and the love of fitness sank deep enough to push us towards Ironman races, hiking Pikes Peak, and the desire to teach our kids to swim, run, play and get strong. What a gift to remember this and to show my kids that at the heart of athletics what matters is not success but health, and healthy relationships.