Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post 2)

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“Mommy? Where are you? Can I go outside?” I yell not knowing exactly where she is.

“Yes, Daddy is in the garage,” she yells back from my baby brother’s closet-like bedroom at the top of the stairs. “Make sure you tell him you’re out there.” I don’t stop for shoes or a coat and fly through the screen door holding Suzie by her black hair, eyes opening and closing as we go. Slam! The door’s springs stretch and contract behind me; our Doberman, Frieda with her taped up ears, is trapped inside, foiled again. She whines as she watches me run free. Outside is my favorite place. The sun makes me feel warm and safe on the inside. I skip over to my swingset I got for Christmas; I can feel the ends of my pigtails bounce on my ears to the rhythm of my steps. “You sit right here, Suzie. I’ll be right here on the swing. You watch me, okay?” Suzie sits in the grass and I sit on the swing’s white seat, hold on tight to the chains like my daddy told me, and start to pump my legs up and down, leaning back and then forward. The red and yellow striped poles blur as I go faster and higher into the puffy marshmallow clouds above me. I pump my legs straight and then bent as I lean my whole self back holding the chains as tight as I can, and then forward again. The swingset leans backward and forward with me, small mounds of dirt pop up with each sway of the swing until I’m going as high as the chains allow and then I pretend I’m flying, soaring between pink puffs of cotton candy until I’m dizzy. I hold my legs above the ground waiting for the swing to slow down to a gentle rock and I skid my feet to slow myself enough to jump off. I j-u-m-p and land in the worn grass. I grab Suzie to wander around the yard. What should we do next?

Our yard looks like a park, every shade of green and yellow in all the patches of grass, evergreen and maple trees, and the late-summer leaves, with a little white house dropped right into the middle like a cherry on top of pistachio ice cream. To my almost five-year-old self, the front of the house is a football field with a holly tree bigger than our house separating our yard from Benson Highway, where cars and trucks go by in streaks of color. Along each side of our little white house are fruit trees – apples, plums, cherries, and pears – perfect for climbing way up high or having a snack while admiring the view. I don’t know about any other kids or houses nearby because it seems to me, we live high on top of one of the white clouds I fly through when I’m on my swing.

I decide to find Daddy in the garage behind the house. I follow the rock path across the backyard to the little crumpled house overgrown with ivy and blackberries, where he works on his racing jeep and motorcycle. I walk carefully so I don’t step on a bee or a rock or a stick with my bare feet. Dandelions grow alongside the house and I stop to pick a bouquet – four bright yellow flowers and one wisp ready for my wish to come true. My nana likes to hold the sun-colored flowers under my chin and asks if I like butter. She says I do. The big door is open but I can’t see him in the sunlight flickering through the dirty window. “Daddy?”

“Yeah,” his deep voice grumbles from inside the engine of the navy blue jeep, his black, wavy hair hidden behind the propped-up hood. He likes it here. He comes to the garage when he’s not at work. I walk around and stand by his Levi’s so I can see what he’s looking at, but I can’t quite reach to see over the top.

“What are you doing?” I ask trying to get him to do something else, something with me.

“What?” he says buying some time. He flicks his cigarette and places it back between his lips, smoke drifts around him like a magical wall, translucent but I can’t bring myself to reach through it.

“What are you doing? I want to show you something,” I say again with more urgency.

“I’m busy right now, Janna,” he tells me still looking into the black hole with a tool in his hand, cigarette barely hanging on to its ashes. His hands are always dirty even though he tries to wash them. He has a scrubber but it doesn’t work very well. The jeep is his favorite, but I like it when he gives me rides on his motorcycle. He says that’s the only way I’d fall asleep when I was a baby. I really like to ride on the front, my hair whipping my face, going fast and then slowing down. My daddy can do anything, I think as I look all the way up to his shoulders.

“I have a bouquet for you,” I say handing him the buttery bouquet, but he doesn’t stop looking into the jeep.

“Go play,” he says. Suzie and I go back outside with the flowers. I hold up the wisp, make a wish, take a deep breath, and blow as hard as I can. All the seeds with their own small parachutes fly through the air to unknown destinations. I’m sure my wishes will come true.

We walk around to the front yard past the fruit trees to the holly tree. I sit next to the road and put my fingers on the pokey leaves, counting the cars going by, One…two…three…four. I remember I’m not supposed to go by the road, but I like to watch the cars and trucks go by. I’m not right next to the road like I was when I got in trouble last time. This makes me think I should do something else. I have an idea! I grab Suzie and I run as fast as I can to the sandbox my dad built for me in the shady part of the yard.

From inside my imaginary house in the sand, I can see the last rays of sun behind the garage where my dad is still bent over his jeep, the house, where my mom is busy with Jeffrey, in a full bright spotlight of the last of the afternoon sun; I can see my swingset, and even some of the fruit trees in the front yard. My toes squish into the cool sand and I scoop up big handfuls and let it sift through my fingers. Birds flit from one tree to the next calling out to each other in glee of the abundance of the season. I get a bucket to fill with water from the hose. The sound of the water as it hits the bucket, shhhhhhhhhh, makes me feel like I jumped into Nana and Papa’s swimming pool on a hot day; my daddy always there to catch me in the splash. I put my hand under the stream of cold water and lift the hose up so I can take a drink, water spraying all over my eyelashes and shorts and feet. I step through the mud and turn off the water spigot. The bucket, filled a little too much, is too heavy to pick up so I drag it back over to the sandbox, water sloshing out, watering the parched summer grass. I’m going to make mud pies for Suzie. It’s her birthday. I look up from the slopping bucket and spy big, juicy blackberries growing along the fence line; hundreds of them hanging off of spiky vines. The smell so sweet, mixed in with pine needles, over-ripened fruit fallen to the ground, and the dryness of the only couple months of the year with no rain. Those will be perfect! I’ll make a blackberry pie like Mommy and Grandma make. I get right to work picking (and eating) and picking for my pie plate. Once I have giant mound of berries, I start mashing and squishing and crushing them with my hands until they jiggle as one solid mass. I always choose blackberry pie for my birthday. I carefully take the pie to the base of the big tree with the giant leaves, the oven, and put the pie down to bake while I go back to playing in the sandy mud.

The sun is down and it’s getting dark. I get up and try to get the sand off. Uh Oh! Blackberry juice covers the entire front of my white t-shirt and daisy-printed shorts. I’m going to be in so much trouble, I think. The lights are on in the house; the quiet sounds of nighttime fill the air. I grab Suzie and walk carefully to the back door to see if I can safely make it inside to change my clothes before anyone notices. Frieda is at the door to greet me. I sneak in as quietly as I can but the door squeaks as always. I take off my shirt and shorts, and ball them up, blackberry stains hidden for now. I stuff them as far down in the hamper by the washing machine as I can get them and run upstairs to my bedroom as fast as I can, muddy footprints trail behind. My bed is really big and almost fills up the entire room; the dresser with my shirts and pajamas and pants folded neatly in the drawers is squeezed on the side. I made it! I take out one of my nightgowns to put it on and go to the mint-colored bathroom to wash my hands and face. I take out my pigtails to brush my hair and look in the mirror to inspect. Besides a few pieces of mud stuck in my light brown hair and my permanently purple hands, I look okay. I did it! I smile to myself, feeling proud. I pass my brother playing in his crib on my way downstairs to find Mommy. I hear her in the kitchen making dinner, the spoon scraping the bottom of the pot as she stirs. “What are you making?” I ask her hiding my fists behind me.

I don’t know my parent’s marriage is about to abruptly end or even what that meant. For the record, I don’t think they knew what it meant or where these decisions would take them either…

The Love Experts

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The movie Frozen is my favorite. It just is. LOVE this movie. There are so many layers of truth in almost every scene – which is why it is the highest grossing animated film in history.

In scene after scene I saw myself as Anna from falling for the absolute wrong guy to going in after someone to my own detriment and even, struck in the heart and slowly freezing. Layers, many layers. My name is even quite close, don’t you think?

However, lately I have been thinking about the Love Experts, Christophe’s family, the rocks, the trolls. Actually, I think these are my people or at least who I aspire. Grounded and connected to this earth, to each other, this group of people do not concern themselves with the fancy people at The Castle or what they may be doing. Most would not call them “fun” or exciting, but instead honest, compassionate, and loving. They help those who, through a connection, find them where they are because they certainly don’t advertise their ability to play matchmaker or rid one of a frozen head and heart. They live simply in a quiet enclave in the forest and when strangers come, they remain rocks until they feel positive energy. These Love Experts have crystal necklaces but will never go to the Ball at The Castle; they would be excited to see you go though. They joke and laugh, are serious and loving and they probably bicker and roll over each other’s toes now and again. They are real, authentic and the masks that many at The Castle wear are nowhere to be found among the Love Experts.

Over the last few months I have been adding color, lots of color to our home; art (mostly kid’s), photographs, healing crystals, candles, flowers, quote cards, and even painting. I hear about parties or (certain) people doing fancy things with “ubèr-fancy” people. Anna would be so eager to go and meet as many people as possible and maybe even THE one. She might even be sad or jealous to not be on the guest list anymore. No, I am creating my enclave of love with my girls. Fancy anything doesn’t sound as good as snuggling in with my girls, our dog and cat, watching a movie, holding our new crystal rocks, with candles flickering… I trust that God will bring to me those who I should know in good time. Yep, I think I just might be a Love Expert…despite all evidence to the contrary! Ha!

Life at the Speed of Life

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This week I had two of my three girls home for Spring Break. Since they were tiny, we have always traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho to catch the end of ski season and the beginnings of spring in the Rocky Mountains. However, this year is the first year our family of five is a family of four and we are all feeling less like butterflies and more like a caterpillars ensconced in chrysalis. Staying home was a chance to do life at the speed of life.

My younger girls are what I call Pioneer Girls (my preteen is a pioneer-girl-in-training, I call her my book girl) because they like to get their hands dirty and would prefer anything that has to do with real life than the entertainment most kids would go for. We had a ball sewing blankets and pillows, baking, gardening, cleaning our house, bike rides to the park, play dates with friends, and a few movies thrown in for extra snuggling on the couch after sleeping in and hanging out in our PJs for at least half the day. It was balm to my soul. It was life at the speed of life for all of us.

This year has been one of the most difficult (okay, actually the MOST difficult) years of my life, but at the same time has been the most peaceful, filled with extraordinary ordinary moments that have changed my perspective on life forever. Instead of breakneck speed of shuttling three kids to, well, everywhere, traveling and keeping everyone in a family of five happy (not easy when one was hell bent on being unhappy), our lives have now become grounded in our tranquil home with candles, flowers, flute music, healing crystals and art, lots of art. Sometimes the activity schedule gets disregarded, school breaks are spent at home and our lives are now filled with color, kindness and love.

The vibration of life has changed dramatically. I am noticing all that is quiet and lovely. When you slow life down to quiet, your inner self can come out of your head and you notice all the people who are doing the same ordinary, beautiful things you are: taking their kids to school, going to work, the grocery store, walking their dog, planting flowers, reading the newspaper, helping their parents or grandparents, nursing a hurt knee or teaching a child how to ride a bike or fix a flat tire. You revel in small conversations with the woman at the check out counter or the veterinarian or the man helping you at Home Depot. Kind people living life at the speed of life, who go home to their families, make dinner, go through the mail, let down their shields in the only real place that any of us can; at home, our sanctuary.

We Belong Wherever We Are

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You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you. ~Frederick Buechner

My family has lived in Small Town, Idaho for one year. How do I summarize the experiences of each of us as a collective? It is impossible, even as just one part of the whole. What did I learn? What am I taking with me? What added to my spirit moving forward?

I belong. I understand this simple fact with a depth I hadn’t known before living at the base of the Rockies for one year with my husband and three girls. Like the branch of a Willow tree I have been bent in ways that cannot be straightened. I have been stretched, molded and shaped this year by the place, the seasons, the people who have come upon my path and most of all, by the four spirits who have been chosen to walk with me.  My family.

For several years, Bob and I contemplated moving to Sun Valley. I resisted because it scared me. I grew up in the vast strip-malled suburbs of an airport pass-through town and found the anonymity comforting. I could come and go without anyone noticing. I could spend days without anyone knowing where I was or even wondering for that matter. I could get in my car and drive to the water, mountains or to Seattle on a whim. What would I do in a small town where there is one road in and out, the same people at the grocery store, school, church and post office? Would they like me? What if they didn’t? That was the fear – what if the people that I saw everyday didn’t like me. What if I didn’t fit in? What if I didn’t belong?

It is hard to say what erased that fear once I put my feet in the Big Wood River, but it never materialized. Gone. I took one step at a time up the vast trails surrounding the Valley in nature, in beauty, in acceptance. The grasses, wildflowers and Aspens didn’t care how long I have lived here or whether or not I was staying. They whispered, Welcome.

As summer transformed into fall and then winter, my girls started school one mile from our house. Happy, curious children smiled and asked, “Do you want to play?” The teachers asked, “Can you help?” We became part of a wonderful church community. We asked, “How can we serve?” This is a ski town so naturally there are a lot of people that like the outdoors and having fun while they’re at it. I joined two women’s ski groups where I found many lovely ladies who asked, “Do you want to hike…ski…bike?”  Wow. All that is needed is to show up. Show up with an open heart, an open mind and a sense of adventure. You can choose to join the collective energy or not. I chose to belong.

Although we committed to one year, tough decisions needed to be made. In my youth the choices were 1) the hard road but opportunity for big pay off; or 2) the easy path with the promise of the status quo. Of course, I always chose the hard road or the hard road was chosen for me, not sure which one. It is in my DNA, the pioneer spirit. I think I have finally grown up because the answer did not speak to me. Both options are good but the criteria for choosing did not line up. After a childhood of not belonging—perception is everything—I finally felt connected to this Earth, to humanity here in Sun Valley, Idaho. This connectedness did not have anything to do with friends, acquaintances or groups that accepted me, but instead a deep understanding that I am a part of the collective consciousness. I am a part of my family and they are a part of me. We are connected like Aspen Groves growing along the rivers and streams that stem from the tops of mountains and the rain clouds overhead.

The call to return to our roots is stronger than I thought possible. We need to return to where we were planted among our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and ancestors. The mountains, the Aspens whispered to me this year. The strength and fortitude of nature showed me my purpose. I have been realigned to the sun and upon leaving will never be the same. Never again will I wish or search to belong. I have learned that I can just show up with an open heart and an open mind. God will do the rest. He told me on the hiking trails in the summer time and while soaring up the ski lift in the winter. Welcome.

Can a Place Change Us?

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It is all so clear to me, as I look at these three different places. Can you feel the energy of the cold, arid mountain range of Idaho, the fiery precision of Times Square in New York City or the sultry warmth of the Hawaiian Islands where the water hangs over the Pacific Ocean, not a rain cloud in sight? The energy of a place infiltrates all 75 trillion cells in our body. The energy of a place has the power to alter what we accomplish, how we sense the world, how we feel about ourselves, understand others; it has the power to change who we are.

My family has been living in Ketchum, Idaho at 5,853 feet above sea level for almost a year. The annual rain/snow fall of 18 inches compared to our hometown, Seattle, which has an average of 65 inches of rain, has had a bigger impact on our family of five than the daily vitamin D surge. The sun shines seventy percent of the time, but most months of the year it is either cold or icy cold without a droplet of water to spare – the pouring rain will bring the humidity to seventy-five percent on a relatively warm day. The winter months are dry and frigid, the air thin and constantly moving. The punishing climate causes people, plants and animals to draw inward to their core. We huddle together in our home with the fire radiating the warmth we crave, but it is never enough. Even writing is letting go of too much. Maybe that is why Ernest Hemingway fled to the Florida Keys when the temperatures and moisture in the air plummeted.

When I think of New York, my home for four years, it is the sultry, hot summers and the fire in those that thrive there that I envision. The people of the Northeast are not drawn into themselves; instead they seize the opportunity life presents with sharp focused achievement. There is no time for contemplation or second guesses.  Relationships are strong and loyal but there is an identified reason for the attachment – family, work, customer, neighbor, friend – and all others are suspect. The fire within you generates the warmth you feel. Of course, the danger is in the excess. The bright, strong, action-oriented leader thriving in NYC can step over the line into aggressive, critical, inflamed, and angry. The village they lead might get scorched. In balance, the energy of New York City is invigorating.

Kauai is the oldest of the Islands. Life moves slower and the warm air surrounds you like a whisper. Nothing is too important. You are surrounded by the waves lapping the smooth sand and the breeze lulls you with utter contentment. Mt. Waialeale in the center of the Kauai rainforest is the “wettest spot on Earth” with 450 inches of rainfall per year. My family explored Kauai for Spring Break this year. As we drove around the Island we passed one of the most beautiful beaches we had seen. Across the street was a dilapidated hotel with trees and weeds growing through the windows, the roof weathered and caved, and in complete disrepair to which a bulldozer is the only option. My husband remembered going to that hotel as a kid on vacation. It is the Coco Palms Resort, where Elvis Presley filmed the movie, Blue Hawaii and famous stars from Rita Hayworth and Frank Sinatra to the von Trapp Family Singers vacationed.

On September 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki ravaged the beautiful hotel and it was closed with no plans to rebuild. This happened twenty-one years ago, on one of the most famous beaches in the State and everyone said, “Oh, well,” and walked away. There it sits, home to plants and critters, as well as a tour company that will walk you through the jungle that has grown inside this famous hotel. The picturesque cove, on one of the most beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean, is as pristine as if it were deserted. Although, there is the possibility of an Elvis sighting on the tour.

The difference in place is striking – Idaho, New York, Hawaii. We feel different in each of these places; the people have a different collective energy. In our transient society we often find ourselves in places that are worlds apart from our origins. When on vacation we marvel at the differences and it feels good to balance out our own natural energies, but what happens when a person from Kauai moves to New York; a New Yorker moves to the Rockies?

I have experienced my own energy shift when I moved from Seattle to New York and back again. My Northeast life was fast and focused. I worked sixty-hour weeks, went to business school at night, traveled for work and pleasure and planned our wedding. When we moved back to the rain, it was with a baby and without a job.  That fire within, which kept life humming along in New York, began to smolder and build like a bonfire on a Northwest beach. The outlets that kept me balanced disappeared into the gray clouds and fog. It took awhile, but slowly I came back to steady, balanced contentment that I experienced growing up in the soggy Northwest.

Living in Idaho has caused another shift that seems more light and breezy. I don’t feel as rigid or stuck in situations that in Seattle felt like quicksand. Here, moods move with the wind, routines are not as important, and ideas – not actions – are fast and furious. The future is more interesting than analyzing the past or sticking to the schedule of the present. I hike in these gorgeous mountains and I am alive with energy.

Too much of the energy from this arid, mountainous region, however, causes some to have sleepless nights, get dehydrated and anxious about the future. They don’t thrive because the energy of place filters through our cells like the water fish swim. When we stay in one place we can no longer see that energy and might assume that our very happiness or unhappiness is either ‘just how we are’ or, worse that there is something wrong with the people in this particular place – depending on our own mixture of elements.

Only through living in three distinct places have the differences revealed the impact on myself, on my family. My oldest daughter and I share similar energies and have loved the dry climate of the Rockies. In Kauai, we felt like a ship stuck on the beach as the tide recedes, but my husband and middle daughter could not have been happier surrounded by the warm, thick air where the moisture hangs like a hummingbird lapping sugar water. In New York, I would get wrapped up in dramas, wore them like a cloak. The details and schedule seemed ever so important. The question was, “What am I doing right now?” In Seattle, damp like Kauai, the question was, “What happened in the past that causes me to feel like I do today?” And finally, in Sun Valley, Idaho, I ask, “What is my purpose in this life, how can I help?”

These questions are my questions, which have been revealed by immersion into a place. They also come because of my unique makeup of natural energies – comprised of ether, wind, fire, water and earth – and how that place stirs us in it’s own energy.

The Power of Nature. The Power of Us

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The absolute power of the ocean waves takes me by surprise as soon as I reach the end of the trail. The waves crashed on the hard surface of the lava rock at the same time as the soft, malleable sand beneath my feet. Every breath of the salty air, heavy with moisture grounds me a little more. The sound of the waves so loud that I have to get closer to hear the voices of my children. You can feel the sheer power of nature standing on an island beach in the Pacific Ocean. The waves collide with the earth, while the aftermath trickles in covering and taking anything left behind.

In the Rocky Mountains of the West, there is another example of nature that appears more delicately but equally powerful. Springtime brings new life into the hills, only a few weeks ago covered in snow and ice. On a recent hike I was struck by the familiar scents of summertime. Sage plants have new growth to which I pluck a small piece and rub between my hands to release the vibrant, invigorating smell that I have come to love so much. At the top of the mountain, smooth silken grass has muscled its way through the dense, rocky earth to bask in the rays of the afternoon sunshine just as I am. This power is slow and steady. A person cannot witness the formidableness of these tiny plants coming to life from a meer seed but instead we can imagine the potential of what is to come. A seed was planted and had to wait in the frozen, rocky ground through the unrelenting winter months until the temperatures rose and moisture was able to penetrate the earth. Only now can we witness it’s sheer potency.

I have recently been learning about Ayurvedic Medicine and went to a conference led by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Andrew Weil. “Ayurveda is the most ancient natural healing system of India . The word Ayurveda means the science of life. It is to do with healing through herbs and natural means. This system is a part of Vedic science and goes back to more than 4000 years B.C.” (http://www.ishwarcenter.org/) We, as in all of us on earth, are a part of the natural ecosystem, we are powerful in our own right. Although sometimes (or quite often) our inner voice gets drowned by past scripts playing through our minds, marketing campaigns aimed at convincing you that you need something to be who you already are, and even our friends and acquaintances at the ready to recommend what worked for them. We have forgotten that we already have all that we need, that our grandmother’s wisdom and remedies are our most important methods of healing, that we are whole. But we have to pay attention because rarely is our power as obvious as the crashing ocean waves but instead it is the potentiality that exists within us and that requires patience, strength and fortitude, just as the mountain grasses coming to life in the springtime.

To be continued…