Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Camping at Collegiate Peaks

With twenty-eight hardy souls around the campfire, our circle grew so large that I could barely make out Rob's face, lined up with the other dads across the flames from me.  A deer ran by, looking askance at the one dog in our group, and periods of light rain fell, causing a cropping-up of umbrellas. No one moved or drifted away until the 10pm quiet time fell, and even then folks lingered to put out the fire, finish a few last stories, put the trash in the cars so bears wouldn't be tempted to join.

Our Saturday dawned bright and blue-skied, and in a remarkable feat of logistics we managed to get five cars and twenty-three people to the Harvard Lakes trailhead before 11am. Wildflowers lined our path and the pine forest carpet glowed a delightful shade of green not often found in August wanderings in Colorado. With the dirt trail soft underfoot and the conversation of the college kids lifting high in the thin air around us, we moved our caterpillar train of campers up Harvard peak to the lake, where Ozzy Dogsbourne (the pup) went swimming and the rest of us sat and recovered what oxygen we could find at 10,000 feet.

Post hike and lunch, our amoeba shifted again from the campsite to a hot springs down the road. We were informed that the artesian springs would benefit our mind and souls even more than our bodies, a loftier goal than that of the sulfur springs found in other locales. A pool in the river offered 55 degree temperatures to reduce inflammation and various other pools, ranging in temp from 98 to 105 degrees, offered relaxation and (recovery from the river). William found his happy place in the frigid river water and floated there for fifteen minutes, while I could only dip my head for mere seconds. 

Wild sunflowers waved at us while we cooked in the water and an employee walked around burning sage. Electronics were banned - even watches - and we lounged and conversed in pleasant denial of the passage of time. Only hunger pains spurred us to departure - although for Rob, the failing light also signaled a need to rush set-up for the cornhole game before players lost sight of the boards. 

We cooked sausages over the fire and shared access to camp stoves to warm hash browns while the other families assembled Mexican dishes along the picnic table bench. The youngest among us was asking for marshmallows before dinner was concluded and his needs were soon met. Though rushing clouds obscured the stars, a half-moon made its appearance over the mountains and conversations turned to communal topics like first concerts, birthplaces, favorite camp songs. With full bellies, exhausted but clean bodies and happy hearts, we even managed to sleep a while in our second night at the campground. 

As we took down camp and packed the cars on Sunday, chipmunks scurrying around us to scavenge any crumb left behind, our 16-year-old finally admitted he had fun. "I'll even come next year," he said. So I'm putting it in writing, but I think the happy memories will be enough to bring everyone back again.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Wake Up Now!

 “Life is fleeting. Don't waste a single moment of your precious life. Wake up now! And now! And now!”

― Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

Summer slithers by like a young child on a wet slip-and-slide, now catching on a rubber wrinkle, but then writhing free and rocketing out of my grasp. It's only been a week since Rob's 5-0 shindig and we just finished the last of the caterer's leftovers - the extra beer and cocktail cans are still sweating it out on the porch in their cooler - but experiences continue to pile up like the faded geranium petals in my planters.

William attempted last-minute camping with friends and ran into two persnickety Colorado problems: finding an available campsite and having an off-road-worthy vehicle. They solved both problems and finally set up the tent in pitch dark, only to shiver the night away thousands of feet in elevation higher than they had planned to sleep.

Meanwhile, Rob and I went to see Los Lobos and the Trucks + Tedeschi band at Red Rocks, a spectacular venue we hadn't visited since pre-pandemic times. Tailgating in the red dust of the parking lot with old friends, chatting about retirement dreams and menopausal challenges while drinking and looking out over the foothills and the city floating away on the plains, we thought, "here we are again, at last!"

The annual family camping trip beckons this weekend, a trip promising more normalcy than we could deliver in the last two years. In 2020 we went and tried to stay at arm's length, as no one yet even trusted the outdoors, until the cold evening drove us into a huddle around the campfire (no COVID resulted). Last year nearly every family had a college freshman planning dorm move-ins and the trip was abbreviated with many folks only tripping up for the day. This year we plotted a farther drive and a longer stay, scheming way back in February to reserve our 7 sites for this weekend and persuade our adult children to drive down with us for the full three days.

Each sunny-bleached moment of the summer seems familiar but different, as if I'd heard the melody before but it's now in a different key. I don't know if the pandemic altered our routines or the passage of years has changed the way I perceive things, but as school beckons from it's start date in three weeks, I'm startled and challenged. As Ozeki says, 'Wake up now! And now! And now!" For soon it will be gone again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

A Milestone Birthday for Rob

Our skinny black scaredy-cat, Jack, hid in the closet behind Rob's dress pants for the last four days as extended family members roamed our house. The high-pitched voices of our young nieces and nephews particularly triggered him to slink his belly down low to the carpet and crawl into his dark space, only coming out for water and the occasional bowl of kibble. For the rest of us, however, Rob's 50th birthday party / Dravenstott reunion was a festive celebration of friends and family.

As the youngsters (four little ones under the age of 7) dug out our old toys and built forts on the stair landings, the adults engaged in countless games: board games, all manner of card games, "remember when" games. Connie helped me stock up at the supermarket with barbecue fodder and lunchmeats while Rob ordered an entire shelf full of chips. Our coolers ran over, sitting on the back porch and sweating out their excess over sodas and sparkling water, not to mention a variety of beers for Rob and his brothers and some hard kombucha for me.

Rob doesn't typically like attention - or birthdays - but 50 is a milestone and valued connections with friends and family help to ease the sting of the high  number and replace any misgivings over age with appreciation for a loving and supportive community. I turned 50 in March of 2021 and my friends and family threw me a "walking party" along a nearby path, reluctant to gather critical mass either inside or out. The cards and photo album that I received filled me with gratitude and I was able to get vaccinated and fly to see my mother, sister and brother at the end of that month, for the first time in over a year. My happy memories motivated me to provide Rob with a similar feeling and sense of fulfillment. 

For this 2022 pandemic celebration we were able to gather and sit together under the shade tents, avoiding light rain and the rare outburst of sun, less concerned about COVID and excited to see neighbors who have been buried by work or family obligations. While the youngsters shrieked with joy on the nearby park, cornhole sets rotated through countless teams and the thud of bags on the wood were punctuated by cheers and groans. More barbecue disappeared from the catering table and Rob made a lovely speech over two cakes - a chocolate CostCo confection and a vanilla gluten free globe (home-made). As our niece angled for two pieces of cake, Rob thanked everyone for coming and for helping us raise our kids, enjoy happy times and survive the hard ones. Towards the end of the evening, as lightning flashed in the west and thunderstorms threatened, all remaining party-goers pitched in to help clean up. All in all, a magical evening to celebrate a milestone.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

July 5 Reflections

 A few reflections on July 4th, which turned out to be a lovely day where we were fortunate to safely celebrate and reconnect with friends and neighbors. We watched the local bike parade and chatted with good friends at the pool, my two older kids lounging with us at their first real "adult swim." In the afternoon, we received terrible news via our phone notifications - information about the violence at a parade outside of Chicago. If I had a flag flying, I would have put it at half mast, but I could not even summon the energy to hang the United States flag this year, though it is my country - our country, too - and I won't give it away.  I found this quote motivational, though I couldn't act on it:

It should not be so unbearably hard for justice to prevail, and justice finally gained should never again be at risk. But this is the country we live in. The fight for freedom will never be over. And, God help me, I will not be one who gives up. This is my country, too, and I will not surrender it to a vocal minority of undemocratic tyrants.

- Margaret Renkl, New York Times, "The American Flag Belongs to Me, Too, and This Year I'm Taking It Back" July 2, 2022

I failed to fly the flag despite Renkl's empowering words, but I will return to them as a rallying cry when I abandon the distraction of pessimism and double down on my own efforts, however small they may be. But it will be a minute. When William asked me pensively what I thought was "truly American," I pled the fifth, not wanting to give him any top-of-mind answers that accrued over the last difficult weeks.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

A Loss of Freedoms on this Fourth

 "All rights that have no history stretching back to the mid-19th century are insecure."

-Dissenting justices, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization

Growing up, I never found my place on the ideological battleground between "pro-life" and "pro-choice." Raised Catholic, steeped in the lore of the virgin Mary whose portrait hung on the painted cinderblock walls of classroom where I had weekly religious education, I defined myself as someone who didn't think they would have an abortion (though how can we ever really know?) but would never enforce my opinions or religious principles on another person. 

So I was pro-choice but joined other marches (for immigrant rights, for child safety, for the environment) instead of the pro-choice rallies. I read a few articles about the potential for a conservative court to overturn Roe v. Wade, some of which suggested that women's rights would be safer in the hands of state legislatures, that using a Supreme Court decision as basis for freedoms was dangerous. I even managed to be hopeful that we could turn a prospective overturn to our advantage. I was slightly disengaged; I was optimistic.

I was wrong.

A friend told me yesterday that optimism and pessimism are on a continuum, and at either end of the spectrum they are both merely distractions from reality, which of course lies in the jumbled middle. My attempt at optimism was a flimsy shield against the reality, that women's rights have been rolled back over a half-century, and other rights around the issues of who we love, how we build our families, how we decide for ourselves, are greatly endangered now in the hands of a politicized Supreme Court majority. The conservative justices claim to be originalist, to hearken back to the founders' intentions as expressed through a document that is hundreds of years old, and which was created in a time when men owned their wives and human beings with black skin only "counted" as a fraction of a person. 

Jefferson himself said, "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind as that becomes more developed. More enlightened, as new discoveries are made. New truths discovered and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances. Institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

In my reading last week I (much too late) became convinced that Roe and the succeeding case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which established the right of women to choose to have an abortion before viability, were attempts by the court to balance the freedoms and right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of both the mother and the unborn. They were compromises, attempting to recognize the delicacy, the emotional complexity, of such an intimate decision. There have always been some restrictions on abortion, and two separate courts levied decisions that bolstered both restrictions and rights. But a half-century of tempered jurisprudence was thrown out in the Dobbs case, when no attempt was made to calculate the right to life and liberty of the mother. All of the rights go to the unborn child.

Abortion could soon be prohibited in half the states in our country. Tens of millions of women will be judged if they miscarry, will face criminal charges (against them and any friends or family who help them) if they seek an abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or dangers to their health. If they have a miscarriage they will be scrutinized, as will their doctors. That is a fact - it is already happening. 

The Supreme Court decided that it was acceptable for states to take away these options for women, to criminalize an act that was enshrined as a right ten days ago. The day before the Dobbs decision, the majority decided it was NOT acceptable for states to limit a citizen's ability to carry a gun - that right is now important enough to be embraced by the court and placed out of reach by the states, on the upper shelf of rights that somehow "made the cut."

I am heartbroken. This blog hovered in my mind and on my fingertips for much of the past week, but I couldn't bring myself to type, to put words down in black and white, admit my grief. In so many ways our country seems to go backwards, and we swim now across a dangerous current while sighting for a distant shore, not to advance the rights of women and others, but merely to grasp the sand in places we used to stand.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Going with the Flow

Long summer days leave more time for early morning walks with friends and girls' nights out on back patios. Sleep can be elusive but the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular and moments with friends who have been cocooned by work and weather throughout the winter and spring can make up for lost Zzzz's.
At several recent gatherings we have chatted about being "Mom" to teenagers and adults, how often we're the butt of their jokes or their teasing, especially since we bear the load of planning and prepping for major activities.

My family laughs at my need for plans and schedules, the lack of spontaneity that causes me to freeze when some brand-new chore or event lands like a bomb in my carefully plotted calendar. My husband joins the kids in teasing me about my need for advance warning and they all ganged up on me at a dinner in Rome. I joined the joke on myself at first, mellowed by a glass of wine, but eventually grew tired of the sting and threatened to walk home alone.

When I relayed the story to friends, they all had similar examples of being the butt of the joke. "That's just part of a Mom's job," one said.

Another chimed in with a story her next-door neighbor told. "She was at dinner with her adult kids and they teased her for her routines and her long lists. They told her to 'just go with the flow' and she got so angry she shouted 'I AM the f***ing flow!!'"

We chuckled as we strode along the greenbelt, sounding out those words in our head, on our tongues. The rightness struck me at that moment, how my schedules and signups, my plans shaped the daily lives of the kids until now, when they plan their own work and social events. I was the flow, and easy for them to say 'take a break' or 'let it go' when I've been paddling the boat for almost 20 years. Now they will start to understand why it can be difficult to drop plans or miss events, lurch from the plan to the unknown. It will still be easier for them to do as they're each only planning for themselves, but maybe someday they'll understand the plan and love it - as I do - when the plan comes together. They can be their own flow, and I can lay back on the lifeboat and take a rest.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Giving Care

I forgot how Daniel reacts to anesthesia.

Silly me, for planning any work or activities on the same day that he got his wisdom teeth out. I was rapidly disabused of my faulty logic when the nurse came out of the procedure (finally) to say, "he's very emotional - I need your help!"

"Now you need me," I thought but didn't say as I picked up all my belongings from the waiting room where I'd spent the last two and a half hours, "You should have let me go back with him for the IV and pre-op stuff so he wouldn't be so anxious."  

Daniel was moaning and weeping and incoherently asking one question repeatedly as I took his hand and tried to get him to slow his breathing. The machine monitoring his heart rate beeped like crazy as he muttered "air ar air ods" over and over.  After ten minutes of this I finally understood him saying "where are my air pods?"

"You brought your airpods to the surgery?" I asked in disbelief. "Where did you put them and why?" Daniel gestured wildly to his pocket; I looked in both and under him but no airpods to be found. I dismissed this as A. Ridiculous and B. More than I could handle at the moment.  The nurse and I helped a weepy, staggering Daniel out to my car, where he limply lifted a hand for the seat belt and began crying again about  - you guessed it - airpods.

The emotional outburst slowly diminished over the next forty minutes as I sorted piles of drugs on the counter where William's meds had just abdicated space. From ACL surgery to wisdom tooth removal, over the last two weeks I've remembered the every-minute crisis care and nursing skill that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with mothering children. This type of hands-on, sacrificial, round-the-clock care is not so common with children in their late teens and early twenties, and boy, do I NOT miss it.

Difficult to maintain a calm, caring presence when Daniel's meds wore off and gave way to anger, frustration and stomach issues. Similar scenes floated to my consciousness of his early surgeries: tonsils and adenoids removed when he was two, ear tubes put in when he was four. I guess I can be forgiven for forgetting or blocking out those difficult days, after all the twelve years intervening have been full of other adventures.

Caregiving is HARD, and so many of my friends and family are in unexpectedly difficult times of caring for others. Teachers are overwhelmed by serious needs of students, pastors are similarly drowning in the needs of their flocks, and we all know how stressed medical professionals have been over the course of the pandemic. Friends have aging and ill parents to care for, spouses have their husband or wife, parents have ill children and children have parents who are sick. At least, I reason with myself, we are so fortunate that both the boys' surgical procedures achieved good results and the recovery time is fairly quick. Having lived with chronic pain myself for the past ten years, I am appreciative of solutions that promise relief.

I wish our society appreciated caregiving, because it demands so much from human beings and makes other parts of our lives difficult: other jobs (that actually pay), time to restore ourselves, time to sleep, even. I'm grateful for the friends and family who take care of me and firmly resolve to be a much better patient in future, whenever the opportunity arises.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Two Million Envelopes

While checking out at Trader Joe's this morning, I opened my Alexa app to make sure I got all the necessary and asked-for items. One line on my list was unexpected - "two million envelopes." I texted the family chat to see if anyone really needed envelopes, and shook my head at Alexa's spendthrift ways and lack of concern for the environment.

Which of course brings me back to our Italian vacation. European countries have much less space and fewer resources than we have in the US, so they use both more economically and in environmentally friendly ways. In Florence we couldn't find paper products anywhere, and we had to look after spilling red wine on the kitchen table in the VRBO (repeatedly). No napkins, towels, or other wasteful items - only sponges and dishcloths that had permanently changed colors by the time of our departure.

Also a source of amazement - ages-old fountains in certain city squares and taps that perpetually run, offering clean water to anyone stopping by with chapped lips or a reusable water bottle. We filled up at taps all over Venice and even Rome, receiving clean, free water in the middle of the city at sources that were established hundreds (or more) years ago.

Cars are small, streets are small, apartments - you guessed it - small. When Tiziano told us that our VRBO in Venice was his childhood home, we walked around and marveled at how the space could hold an entire family and their (for lack of a better word) household junk. Then we realized that there was no space for household junk - no storage for Christmas decor, baby objects, high school letter jackets, ancient photo albums, and the like. They must have just got rid of all the stuff we accumulate, because there are no public storage spaces for rent in Italy, none that we saw, anyway.

We usually travel abroad with one small roller bag and one backpack per person, so we each got used to traveling with less, wearing the same clothes repeatedly, and eating the food from each apartment before we left it. Because each household in Italy has a maximum amount of electricity they can use per day, we were warned to turn off lights and air conditioning whenever we left the apartment, and not to run too many appliances at the same time. One of our GF restaurants in Rome ran afowl of this provision and we sat through a blackout one night when a few too many watts were demanded of the system.

The Italians we saw live perfectly well with a little less, a sense of limits. In fact, they live better in some ways; they eat better food, have better public transportation, put less stress on the earth and have better fashion sense. Not too many European women walking around in athleisure gear; I had to up my game just to be a tourist!  I came back with a strong desire to get rid of as much as possible, to live bigger while making my footstep a little smaller.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Italy Trip, Part 2

Today I'm typing from the surgery center waiting room while William goes through pre-op for his ACL repair. The surgery has been on our calendar for over a month - we postponed it so that William could go on the Italy trip - but it still feels like a big, unpleasant surprise. Our minds have been occupied by train times, COVID tests and itineraries as opposed to pre op therapies. I hastily read through a number of articles last night and was alarmed to see that patients should forgo alcohol and caffeine for a week or two before surgery - two things William definitely consumed in large quantities via espresso and red wine.  But only one article mentioned that, and his diet was certainly healthy and varied, his legs in good shape from all the walking.

We were so fortunate on our trip to only have one day - really just one evening - of rain. The surgeon specifically warned us to be careful on rain-slick cobblestones as slipping or tweaking the knee could cause further damage, so on our last night in Venice as we ran through a downpour to the train station, I hovered by William's elbow yelling, "hold the railing" on every slippery bridge and city square. We don't think he did any further damage, but won't know for sure until the surgery in a few hours.

Rob and the kids teased me unmercifully throughout the trip, for my panic in the rain, my proclivity for (very) long walks, my occasional misunderstanding of where to wait in line for a tour. They really got a kick out of the evening I left my purse in a Florentine restaurant after a meal full of the local specialty - beef - and a full glass of red wine. The young waiter came running out in to the street holding my purse extended in his hand, yelling "Madam, madam!" Fortunately our VRBO was across the street and we were lingering in front of the door as Rob manipulated his key in the faulty lock.

My eyes flew wide open as I felt the purse missing at my side and realizing the full force of my mistake. I nearly bowed to the waiter in relief, saying "Thank you! Grazie! Thank you so much!" The kids laughed at my expression, claiming that I liked the young Italian men and just left my purse on purpose so one would chase after me. They reminded me of how much I liked the proprietor of our Venezian VRBO, a young man named Tiziano who had grown up in the small home. I protested that he just reminded me of them - my kids - but they chuckled each time he used "What's APP?" to send me recommendations or make sure that we were OK.

I was alone in Venice due to the one major mishap on our trip. Rob's flight from Newark to Venice was delayed a day due to mechanical difficulties with the plane. After sitting on the runway for hours, his plane was taken back and he was moved to the same flight 24 hours later. That second flight was also delayed, and Rob landed in Venice with just enough time to take a cab to the train station so he could join us on our trip to Florence. We cheered as he ran through the plaza to meet us on the station steps, sleep-deprived and jet-lagged but finally able to catch up.

Today Aden starts her new job and Rob dives back into his. I plan to wait on William all day and make sure that we have what's needed to recovery: crutches, an ice machine (still unclear about this one but friend told me to ask for it), pain medication and whatever food he can stomach. And so our next journey begins, closer to home but still to parts unknown.

Monday, May 30, 2022

A Visit to Italy, Part One

It seems impossible now to remember the hesitation we felt in booking tickets to Italy. After the trip of a lifetime, difficult to grasp my concerns for booking museum passes I felt we might never use, making an itinerary for cities that felt - post-pandemic - as far away as Mars. But everything worked: we were undeterred by strikes of cabbies and railway workers, COVID test requirements, William's bum knee/torn ACL, Rob's board meetings on Zoom from our Roman apartment - nothing got in the way of a magical ten days.

It helped that all of Venice, Florence and Rome seemed to share our YOLO sensibilities, mobbing San Marco Square, the Duomo and Trevi Fountain respectively and filling the air with a babble of foreign phrases. One language spoken by all: adherence to spotty requirements for surgical masks, which were omnipresent, attached by elastics at elbow or wrist. Italy had just lifted most mask requirements except for on public trains and in confined spaces (like the Vatican Museum or the Catacombs of San Callisto), so we didn't often need to wear the mask, but like all other tourists we had them at the ready.

A genial British woman living on the military base in Naples filled us in on life in Europe during the pandemic. As we waited in a winding line for the Duomo, she said "It was terrible here. We couldn't leave the house for almost three weeks when my husband tested positive, even though I was consistently negative. Nor leave our town to travel anywhere in Italy for two years."

Apparently, Italy's travel restrictions for in-country travel had lifted in March, when she came round to Venice and Florence with visitors. "No lines at all then," she said, waving a hand at the jam-packed square around us. "We waltzed into every attraction without a wait." When I asked what had happened between late March and mid-May, she said "The UK and Germany and many other countries lifted all restrictions for travel on May 1st in anticipation of the summer season. Everyone in Europe is on the move, and it will be even worse when schools are out in the States and UK."

While I briefly pined for empty squares and non-existent lines, I felt buoyed by the commonality I could see and feel in my fellow travelers, a joie de vivre, an excitement that spread to each member of our family. We were on a private journey, focused on new sights and sounds and only vaguely aware of current events as they popped into our phone notifications or in Italian squares marked with the blue and yellow colors of the Ukraine flag. (Sentiment ran strongly in support of Ukraine and several tour guides asked us to pray for those affected by war as we passed through ancient churches and tombs.) But mostly we could escape the news....except for the morning we learned of the massacre in Uvalde. That was a difficult day, and I cried while praying those affected in the majesty of St. Peter's Basilica.

We had plenty of opportunities to light candles and pray, with a church in every square -  practically on every corner - marked by wealth of the Catholic church, strong faith and appreciation of beauty. Ancient, magnificent works of art lay hidden inside modest exteriors of old basilicas, sudden marvels like the tomb of Galileo or the stole of St. Francis stashed in small chapels of places we just wandered into by accident. 

Other surface impressions: walking everywhere from the cool of the morning through the heat of the day, adding up to record numbers of steps by the time we returned to the apartments after a late dinner. Glorious food and wine in every shop and restaurant, some of the best meals of my life - all gluten free and luxurious with fresh protein and vegetables, olive oil and careful seasoning. Wine that I could actually drink without ill effect, sharing carafes of house red with Aden and William (legal there) and getting silly for the stumbling walk back to the VRBOs over ancient cobblestones. 

I can't drink wine in the US - something in it makes me sick here, either sugar or preservatives we guess but don't know. I also can't have gelato or cheese in the US at all unless I want to be writhing on the floor for hours after, but in Italy I had gelato at least every other day and occasionally ate fresh mozzarella without pain. I probably shouldn't have done so, since the casein protein is unchanged between the US and Europe, but we threw culinary caution to the winds and enjoyed every minute of the superior food and wine in Italy.

I toured the same three cities thirty years ago with friends on a whirlwind backpacking trip of Europe. With far less money and time, I had less ability to relish the art, absorb the atmosphere, eat the food. The second time around I had more of every resource and it was profoundly different. Rob and I watched our children's faces as they took in the magnificent sites that will hopefully stick with them for a lifetime: coming around the corner of the Accademia to see the David under lights, seeing the glowing dome of St Peter's from a night walk across the Tiber river, encountering the Duomo in Florence for the first time. A sense of awe, of mystery and joy - these emotions usually hard to unearth but perpetually near the surface on this fortunate journey. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Embracing Uncertainty

 "When someone tells me, "I'm not sure how I feel. I'm sad, but weirdly I'm also relieved," -- my first thought isn't Yikes. They have no idea how they feel! Or Hmmm, they don't have a lot of self-awareness. My first thought is normally Oh man. I get that, and I get how those feelings can coexist. That makes sense. The uncertainty feels like self-awareness to me."   

- Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience

What a relief to read that paragraph, as I try to decipher my many emotions. Happy that William was home and Aden safe and living her best life in Italy on a college-related trip. Sad that I couldn't fit more hours of coaching into my schedule, guilty for letting down the head triathlon coach. Exhausted from going back to long workouts in record-breaking hot weather (read: climate change), relieved that my CPR recertification class was one hour instead of three.

To survive headlines and bad news I have limited myself to thinking about one day at a time, or at most a week ahead, and trying to be grateful for all the small mercies and occasional joys that crop up. A walk with my son, a phone call with my mom, a blooming jasmine. And I try to take challenges in stride, like crazy allergies, unexpected hot winds and fire danger, William's need for knee surgery. 

That plan has served as a sturdy life raft through some turbulent times, but what it's NOT is a steady, long-term path pointing toward a certain horizon. So many days I feel directionless, ready for anything but not holding on to anything. It's like riding the commuter train and trying not to touch any of the dirty surfaces: I can stand for a while but any sudden movement and I'm stumbling toward the back of the car.  

Of course some things are steady - my family, friends, home / yard / work. I plunged into a spring cleaning frenzy this week, hiring professional window washers for the first time ever and getting the carpets deep-cleaned. Allergies are killer with early heat, endless wind and evergreens spreading clouds of yellow through the back yard. Desperate to eliminate dust and allergens from the house, I'm also replacing rugs and scraping fur off the cat's favorite chairs, much to his chagrin.

Reflecting back on the school year, I survived the first year of two kids in college by taking on a lot of extra work and not thinking too deeply. Unfortunately, reading and writing habits drifted away like rubber duckies escaped on ocean currents. My faith has suffered in relentless activity as I've not taken the time to sit with questions, meditate or even do yoga. "Move, move, move!" is the mantra I reach for when uncomfortable with grief, sorrow, loneliness or loss.

Brown's comforting words about humanity's inner conflicts metaphorically sat me in a deep armchair with instructions to think and feel more deeply. I may not know where the ship is going, but I can be much more in tune with how I think and feel as we journey. I'm sure there will always be inner turmoil- as sure as I am that the cat will always throw up on the white carpet the day after it's cleaned - but I will try to slow down and sit with my feelings before I clean up the mess.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Reunions and Relays in San Antonio

Just returned from US Masters Spring Nationals in San Antonio, reeling from the effects of travel, racing and reconnecting with friends and family. Swimming signifies so much more than fitness, than times, than athletic ability. Meets do show off the athletic ability - mostly in other people, former D1 stars, even Olympic athletes - but the majority of swimmers go to challenge themselves, to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. I know that's what brings me the most joy as I get older and wrestle with my body to get a few short bouts of speed in the pool.

My 50-yard races and relay stints were the most fun, while the 100s felt like long-distance slogs with a piano on my back. The relays were the best, as our teams were composed of men and women from all parts of Colorado, some of whom I had met and some I hadn't. On my 200 free relay we had an Olympic triathlete from Athens, a wonderfully kind and unassuming athlete of tremendous talent, and that foursome won the National Champion title for our age group (45+, but who's counting?) 

If the relays were the athletic highlight then reunions brought the most joy. I ran into my roommate from my freshman year at Harvard - Kirsten - sitting behind the blocks on a hot Friday afternoon. I heard, "Oh my God, no way!" and turned to see my old friend, instantly recognizable in her swim cap. We were swim teammates as well as roommates, so recognized each other just as well in swim paraphernalia as we would in street clothes, if not better. To top it off, we were wearing the exact same tech suit! Still sale-shoppers cut from the same cloth.

I had known that Kirsten would be in San Antonio, as she lives in the area, and Facebook (both bless it and curse it) had at least kept us minimally in touch over the past 32 years. I messaged her to ask if we could try to connect, and we managed to find time over the three days to talk about families, work, parents, and - of course - swimming. I was brought to tears several times and was grateful to have the chance to tell her that I wished we had been roommates at a different time, when I wasn't miserably homesick, overwhelmed, and generally depressed. She of course, had had no idea, because I didn't let on to anyone that I was unhappy, just cried in the shower, skipped meals and kept myself to myself. The blessing of it is that we don't need "ifs" anymore; we have another chance. I'm so grateful and somewhat awed that our paths crossed again at this point in our lives and can't wait for the next reunion, swim-related or otherwise.

I also got to see a drove of Dravenstotts in the stands and at Ron and Kelley's lovely home in San Antonio. Bill and Connie came via minivan, John, Rob and Daniel via plane. I had spectators each day and was able to eat delicious barbeque and baked potatoes en famille before rejoining swimmers at the hotel. So while my body struggled and I skipped my last 100 in deference to last-day soreness and overall dazedness, I couldn't be happier with the trip and more grateful for the community given to me by my sport.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Tragic Optimism

The BBC posted a link that I followed earlier in the week explaining "tragic optimism," a phrase first coined by Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. It means "there is space to experience both the good and the bad, and that we can grow from each." Embracing tragic optimism, we can acknowledge the pain and suffering in the world and in our own lives but move forward regardless with a firm grip on hope.

The writer positioned tragic optimism in opposition to what she termed "toxic positivity," an attitude that suppresses negative emotions or - worse - labels them as weaknesses. After two years of significant societal change and personal hardships, suppressing feelings of anger or sorrow seems like a short road to emotional turmoil.

Even as I recognize blessings of good health and resilient children, food and shelter and comfort of friends and family, I've struggled this week to support William moving toward an ACL surgery and finals, to read the headlines in the morning, to help buoy Daniel over the results of some poor choices. I'm exhausted and certainly not feeling particularly lucky, so I'm also a tiny bit gloomy over getting a crown at the dentist today (see previous post).

On this sunny spring day, when we need rain but will embrace the sunlight anyway, I plan to wrap my arms around some tragic optimism, finding meaning in  life's setbacks and sorrows and maintaining a firm grip on that slippery eel called hope.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Snakes and Crowns

 I went to the dentist for the first time in over six months and sat in the chair with some trepidation. Of course the technician wanted x-rays, and I took a long hard think before allowing her to go ahead, even explaining the moment of silence as "trying to think of a reason why not, but I couldn't."

After that propitious beginning, I stared ahead at the world map in front of me, the now-familiar cities of Ukraine directly before my face. I made another ill-considered stab at conversing by mentioning how much I now know about that country. The hygienist raised an eyebrow over her mask and said she didn't watch the news, then lowered the chair back so I could stare up at the TV mounted to the ceiling. 

The dentist's TV was playing Natural Geographic-style videos of animals in far lands. While being poked, prodded and scraped for tartar removal, the screen above me showed a desert vista, where a knot of snakes pursued an ungainly lizard across the sand. Lizards aren't normally sympathetic-looking creatures, but I cheered for that lizard to evade the horrid group of snakes and had to turn my head away when the poor guy lost his battle and got squeezed to death. (The hygienist quickly turned my head back to where she wanted it.)

Adding insult to injury, the dentist came in at the end to inform me that I have a crack in a molar, surrounding the old filling and pushing through to the outside. He asked me if I was feeling lucky, then said I could make it a long while without needing a fix or my tooth could crack tomorrow, in which case a crown might not save it. I wasn't feeling lucky, so put off making a decision about the crown.

I did encounter my good friend at the dentist, and later celebrated her fiftieth birthday with other friends at a celebratory dinner. It was lovely to be out, even as a new wave of COVID creeps into Colorado, even as my own daughter sent me a picture of her positive test result. Today I head to Boulder to take her some groceries and to take our son to the orthopedic doctor who will hopefully tell us how to repair the torn ACL. Still not feeling lucky - guess I will postpone the crown decision for yet another day.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Beautiful Mistakes

 "Life is more like a spiral than we realize" said a wise friend, when I complained about making the same mistakes over and over again. Big mistakes, not forgetting to take out trash from our upstairs bathroom but running myself ragged until my body falls apart. I wanted to ask if life always spiraled down, but backed away from the grimness of that question and decided to assume upward movement. Over time, perspective is gained even if our application of lessons learned is imperfect.

In this state of mind I welcome an email from another wise friend, whose reflection on mistakes borrowed the following from author Ellen Grace O'Brian:

"Think of an oak tree. If a tree had no obstacles or mistakes in its growth path, it would grow completely straight and tall. Everywhere we look, trees would be straight as an arrow, with every branch uniform. But instead, when we look at the oaks on the hillside, their beauty comes from their curved branches, their response to every obstacle they encountered. Every place they turned was a 'mistake' from their original growth path, but every turn ultimately became their beauty."

The comparison to an oak tree serves me better than almost anything else. I called myself a "big dumb animal" last week in a disservice to much smarter animals everywhere, but I prefer the tree analogy. It's fascinating how each individual tree grows according to specific stimuli that affect it, but still manages to be part of a forest community where each organism helps to nurture another, or others. It's a model that human communities might aspire to follow.

My good friend ended her email with this lovely poem that I share below from Antonio Machado.

Beautiful Mistakes

...and the golden bees

were making white combs

and sweet honey

from my old failures...

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Birthdays and Biomes

Today is my birthday, and when I typed the header for my 6am competitive lesson this morning, I accidentally typed "3.30.71" for the date. I caught my error before the swimmer arrived, laughing at her imagined reaction: she probably thinks 1971 was the darkest of ages. It certainly recedes ever-farther down the list of dates to scroll when entering my birthdate online, but still within two screens of 2022 (not that I'm counting). Despite the increased scrolling I feel lucky to be here, especially on a glorious spring day when messages from friends and family keep me smiling.

For an introvert, I feel fantastically fortunate in friends and family, but I can be overwhelmed at times, by attention and to-dos. My dear friend reminded me this morning that we need to occasionally "fast" from people (and work), to rest and enjoy solitude and lack of busy-ness. She quoted to me from my own book, which was a happy surprise as only 15 or so people on the planet have read it. Though rest and fasting are lessons I learned long ago, I have been in the process of forgetting them since the pandemic ended and the excitement of being "out" again took over. I was also afraid of submerging in sorrow after William went to college, and double- or triple-booked myself to avoid my feelings.

Because I felt my energy levels running low and my body was traitorously weak at the Masters swim meet this past weekend, I went to see my bio-meridian practitioner on my birthday afternoon. From stress, overwork and over-exercise I have again put my body in the hole. My gut biome has flipped from healthy to unhealthy, which affects everything from hormones to energy to sleep. I've been running ragged for months and ignoring early warning signs, but hopefully I caught myself before plunging off the same cliff I've plunged off before. Time to go to the calendar and cancel whatever may be canceled, double-down on the probiotics, eliminate excess sugar, and rest.

So I promise to recharge and give back to the wonderful people who make my life joyful. I feel profoundly stupid for making the same mistakes again, but I will just enact the same cure I've used in the past and hopefully emerge just a smidge wiser. I'll eat half of my gluten - free, dairy - free cupcake tonight with a goal to celebrate the coming year in good health with people I love.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

A Climate Cafe

 My friend, Susan, and I hosted our first official Climate Cafe over Zoom last night. We "gathered" via laptop screen to facilitate a sharing about attendees' emotions around climate change. The sharing was honest, moving, enlightening and powerful. There was often a deep silence after one attendee finished, as people processed and sat with the difficult feelings that arose, but sometimes one person's story would inspire another and the thoughts tumbled out furiously, as individuals wrestled with grief, despair, hope or a combination of multiple emotions.

Susan approached me about co-facilitating this meeting several months ago, when I was deep into high school swimming and couldn't afford to add another activity, but when I went to a training and digested the idea that people around the world are struggling with eco-anxiety, I couldn't turn down the opportunity to offer a climate cafe here in the Denver area. 

The climate cafe concept came out of Scotland in 2015 and is based on death cafes, where people gather to talk about another taboo subject. Climate cafes have taken off in the UK and were offered in person before the pandemic, though now are largely relegated to online. Working with mental health professionals in the UK, the North America Climate Psychology Alliance is now working to popularize the cafes in this country and to train facilitators to meet what they perceive to be a deep need.

Both facilitating and participating in a meeting about feelings are difficult to me, a person who prefers action to thought, to - do lists and righteous angers to the heavy weight of grief and occasional despair. I fought within myself to allow the long silences, to hear the words of people struggling and not rush in to console or counter with my own story. The ultimate take-away from last night, as I found with my training, is a sense of relief that other people feel the way that I do, that I am not alone in my eco-anxiety and that together, we can help each other to express lament as well as hope, and help increase our resiliency in difficult times.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

My Gig Economy

After the girls' State championship meet it took me a week to recover - both physically and emotionally. Rob, Daniel, and I went to Sonoma, sneaking in long walks through vineyards and cow pastures between visits to my brother and his family. We did a wine tasting at Roche and took some family hot tubs as we looked out over the early spring grapes. 

I caught up on some sleep, but returning to real life was a challenge. I was far behind in work for my four other part-time jobs after I gladly gave coaching all of my free time and energy. To help get back on track, I traveled up north to Montana and visited my mom, using some of the down time up on Flathead Lake to get work done - at least until my computer died and my back went out. 

At home, Rob started his new job and went back to working 12-hour days. Our older children got sick and needed health guidance (and antibiotics) and Daniel's baseball season got under way with a new practice schedule and uniform requirements up the wazoo.

I am the luckiest person in the world to do what I love, but my personal gig economy keeps me hopping. While enjoying the flexibility and the diverse range of activities, I'm stressed about keeping up with multiple efforts as well as friendships and family responsibilities. At this juncture I thought I would be resting, but our schedules are tighter than ever. I think I need to start saying 'no' more often.

For me, personal freedom trumps a few dollars an hour, but that can't be true for everyone. I'm lucky in my choices and in my partnership with Rob, whose job carries the health care benefits and (truly) all the real salary.  I can opt out of a gig if I need to, but not everyone has that luxury. I know employers in our area are all desperate for shift workers, but it doesn't seem like that equates with workers having the upper hand.

I recently read Nomadland for another of my jobs - a writing gig that I love - and learned about America's new migrant group, containing millions of people. Formerly middle-class families and would-be retirees living a life on wheels - vans, RV's and trailers - take seasonal jobs and move around the West seeking warmth and a steady hourly wage. The book was thought-provoking and provided a fresh look at today's economy and lack of safety net for workers. If nothing else, Nomadland helped me ask good questions about the difficult choices facing Americans today and how the gig economy either helps or hinders workers, depending on your vantage point.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

State Champions and the Joy of Victory

Our girls won the 5A (large school) State Championship swim and dive meet in record-breaking fashion, scoring 502 points in the first 500+ team effort ever. They also set a state record in the 200 free relay, racing jaw-dropping splits that left us coaches speechless. I hit the watch on our last swimmer and could only turn to the other coaches to show them, mouth agape. Our late-night (until 2 am) coaching strategy meeting and the emotional outpouring we saw from our swimmers and divers kept us teetering from calm and purposeful (in front of the team) to hyped-up, stressed out, and tearful in our small huddle on the side of the pool. 

Impossible to watch the uplifted faces of our athletes when they realized their victory and not get choked up -- the girls were leaping into the air, embracing, taking photos, and weeping by turns. I hugged three normally stoic swimmers as they staggered around the deck, crying into their chlorinated, wrinkly hands. Teenagers have been through hell the past two years, and I can only imagine the release they felt at swimming a full State meet for the first time since the pandemic started, able to see friends, teammates and family and share their joy with one other. 

I mean, the pandemic's been hell on everyone, but the young people have had to shoulder heavy loads that are disproportionate to their short experience and limited perspectives. Now, only ten days after our glorious win, the teenagers have to face alarming headlines about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Putin's mad fallacy that going to DEFCON status will advance anything positive.

For two glorious days we could exist in a bubble of sport, a "good" bubble that we chose, and watch the girls work hard and play hard in the most uplifting way. True, I came down to earth and back to my other four jobs with a jolt, wading through pages of emails and creating multi-page to-do lists of tasks that were forgotten in the weeks leading up to State, but it was absolutely worth it. Even though I'm now obsessively busy with my "replacement" work, I can't help but wonder what our journey will look like next year.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Unstoppable Girls, Swimming State This Week

 "I'm unstoppable / I'm a Porsche with no brakes / I'm invincible / Yeah, I win every single game / I'm so powerful / I don't need batteries to play / I'm so confident / Yeah, I'm unstoppable today."

- "Unstoppable," song by Sia, lyrics by Braide Christopher Kenneth, Furler Sia Kate Isolbelle

Class 5 A (large school) state championships for girls' swimming and diving are Tuesday and Wednesday of the coming week, red-letter days that have been on the calendar since I started my assistant coaching job in October. We have thirty-one athletes qualified for State, and as defending champions, we are ranked in the top three teams.  Taper, or rest, has been the focus of practice for the last little while, and the girls have more energy, alternatively bouncing off the walls or coming to us with concerns about their upcoming races. 

I remember the knife's edge of taper from my teen years: Am I rested enough? Am I too rested? Why do I feel sluggish? Will I feel good on meet day? Those questions chased each other around in my head like the cats bounding after each other down the hallway. These days I don't swim enough to really need a taper for my rare meet days, I might stop biking and lifting weights for a week or two but I don't need the rest our girls need after heavy training this season. We blow sunshine at their questions, tell them to stop overthinking and trust their training, but we know it's difficult to do.

The state championship swim meet is the most exciting meet I've ever been to - both the girls' and boys' editions. Last June, when William's boys' team won State and he broke a state record with his relay team, was perhaps the best sporting day of my life. I'm excited for the girls to swim, hopeful that they will all achieve goal times, and full of desire to be helpful, supportive, bracing, or sympathetic by turns.

If you're not around teenagers in this pandemic era, you may not realize how traumatized some are by social isolation, social anxiety, loss of life milestones, loss of learning. As coaches, we want swimming to be fun, an escape from the headlines and homework, girl drama and family pressure. But we also want to do our job well, to push girls past perceived limits in the pool. to encourage resilience and dreams and hard work. I have ten playlists for the girls' practices, some hype, some calming, some intense, and our favorite this year is our "Girl Power" playlist, which has the song by Sia on it. I hope the girls are unstoppable on Tuesday and Wednesday, I hope they are fierce, that they have fun swimming fast.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Family Laughter

 I have my family tree behind the computer monitor and can see the top portion with all my siblings, their spouses, nieces and nephews behind the Google tabs on the screen. Rob and Aden designed and ordered the tree, which has handy birthdates (with year!) in the bubbles with the names of said nieces and nephews. We have eleven on the Clavadetscher side, and when birthdays come fast and furious I need to refer to the birth years to correctly calculate the number of dollar bills that should go in each card. 

Fortunate to have many supportive branches on that tree, I reached out to siblings and spouses yesterday with an ask to please read my blog. I was trying to achieve a PR of 2,000 page views for the month of January, forgetting that my last entry leaned heavily on menopause and menarche (or lack thereof). So when my brother, Mike, responded that he had obediently checked and read the blog, he texted, "just read about my sister's cycle being way off. Winning all around." 

This made me laugh - noteworthy on a weird day when the Tri-County Board of Health voted to end mask mandates this weekend (including in schools) a mere three weeks after they benched our swimmers for ten days after a positive COVID tests because "they can't wear masks in the pool." The rapid changes in societal rules literally give me whiplash.

Another funny incident from this week: Rob kindly did the dishes for me after I cooked pasta on Sunday night. He left two pans to dry near the sink, and when I strolled by on my way to a cup of tea, I pointed out that soap still ran down the outside of the pasta pot. "It doesn't matter," said Rob, "it's on the outside. No one cares."

I dropped my mug in disbelief. "Anyone who has ever washed dishes would care! You have to get soap off both sides - that's the point of rinsing."

We exchanged dish-related barbs for a few moments and I don't know if I convinced Rob, but I'm still in a bit of soap-related shock. When sharing this anecdote with a friend, she commented that she had recently read an article on the subject, so apparently there is an open question in the kitchen world on the harms of soap suds drying on the outside of a dish. I know which side I'm on - I may not care which way the toilet paper unrolls but I care about clean dishes; it was my chore growing up and I'm fairly intense about that (and a clean sink, right Mom?).

Anyway, my friend and I got a good laugh out of the story and that makes everything worthwhile. Keep laughing, friends, we made it through January and can all hope that the situation improves from  here. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Velvet Paisley Masks and Menopause

Our masters swim coach optimistically arranged for a special Pilates class for swimmers beginning the first week of January and ending mid-February. Despite the omicron variant's blaze through Colorado (and our classmates), we've managed to hold two classes thus far. On the way to class last Wednesday, I reached into the glove box of my car, where I keep my special, grippy Pilates socks. As I pulled them out, a lone velvet face mask tumbled out with them. Made from heavy fabric, its purple paisley print cheered me at the time I bought it, when masks were a novelty and we were determined to make fashion statements of them. Everyone's mom and aunt were making masks, and a determinedly positive cottage industry was born.

Now we know that cloth masks don't work against omicron, and are tired of wearing them even as a fashion statement.  I replaced my 2020 relic in the glove compartment and reached for my decidedly unsexy but medically superior dull gray KN 95 instead. I wore it throughout Pilates, determined both to exercise and to stay healthy through the end of swim season - now only four weeks away. Many of our swimmers have tested positive and had to miss ten days of training as we approach the championship meets, and all the coaches and athletes are heartily sick of being sick.

What a journey we've been on as a society, and as a world, since spring of 2020. We know both more and less about the virus, we've seen rules change 700 times (unscientific estimate based on a rule change once per day for the past two years). I wake up every day wondering if my dry throat and scratchy voice signify more than cheering for swimmers in the Colorado winter climate, paranoid about both getting and giving something virulent. It doesn't help that I also seem to be going through the early stages of menopause, waking up in a sweat and experiencing feverish moments throughout the day. Plus, my monthly cycle is way off, and when one of my friends asked if pregnancy was possible, I almost threw myself off the nearest bridge.

Rob suggested that I get more rest, and as I peered out of the black holes around my eyes, I told him, "I'm paranoid that I'm sick, menopausal, or pregnant nearly every minute of the day. It's not a good recipe for calm or for helpful suggestions." 

But the sun came out today, both of our college kids went back to school and in-person classes, and virus indicators are going down here in Colorado. A new normal may be hiding just around the corner of springtime and until then I'll just keep moving forward one hot flash at a time.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Edward Osborne Wilson

E. O. Wilson was a naturalist, a biologist, a "modern-day Darwin" who died late in 2021 at the age of 92. He was also my biology professor during my freshman year at Harvard. I knew enough about his curriculum vitae to be awed by him, but not enough to truly appreciate his life-long study of the natural world and his campaign to educate the rest of us on the talents and abilities of other species. Though I was mostly taught by my TAs and only saw Wilson at lectures, I have followed his work over the years and been amazed by his prolific writing.

I noticed the quote below on the Facebook page of Parents for the Planet. It's enlightening and alarming and apt for the current moment. Though this wave of the pandemic has rendered Wilson's words even more appropriate (I can never remember the precise place or hour) I'm trying to focus on the knowledge that we will ultimately get through COVID, but we can not "get through" more years of willful ignorance regarding the consequences of our actions.

"Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life." (E.O. Wilson)

We lost many wonderful individuals in 2021, not least of which was this eloquent, studious man who did his best to wake us all up to an awareness of the natural world and the dangers of our "thrashing about". Perhaps we can all wake up to the beauties and challenges in our reality and appreciate "the mere fact of our existence" on this beautiful planet.