Stonehenge, Atlantis, my Bucket List and the Monster at the End of this Blog

Yikes!  (And you know how much I hate to say “yikes”…)  But there are only 69 days left until 12/21/12.

And you know what that means.

No, I’m not talking about THAT 69 … but the monster at the end of this blog will soon reveal himself.  (And I hope he’ll be a cute little rascal like Grover .. oh wait, I forgot, if Big Bird is getting the axe, Grover probably will too.)

Seriously, the time left until 12/21/12 is speeding by, and it’s probably time to reveal where I’ll be spending the End-of-the-World/My-45th-Birthday in December.

Are you ready?

No, it’s not Belize.  In fact, after much deliberation and far too many travel quotes, it’s not even Mayan.

But before I reveal all, I have to explain just how much the first 111 days of this blog’s journey have surprised me.

When I first started this blog, it was sort of a tongue-in-cheek joke because my 45th birthday happens to coincide with what millions of doomsday freaks predict will be our last day on planet Earth.  (On the other hand, millions of New Age freaks believe 12/21/12 will usher in a new era of unprecedented peace and human evolution.)  Either way, it begged the question: if there really were only 180 days left, how should I spend them?

I didn’t know. 

But what I did know was that I was open to anything, and that we would be spending the summer solstice in Barcelona.  From there on, I was clueless.  And I couldn’t help but think of 2007’s The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman:

The Bucket List

As you likely recall, the two main characters in the movie were both dying of cancer and abandoned their families to jet set around the world, squeezing in every exotic fantasy they possibly could in their last days.  An unrealistic premise for sure, but the film was a hit worldwide because let’s face it — we all have a Bucket List.

But what was truly on mine?  More travel?  Even though I adore journeys of just about every kind, I knew from the start of this blog that simply taking a few more expensive vacations this year was unlikely to be transformative.

Unless I did things differently.

So with the exception of our starting trip in Spain (which was still a lovely way to reconnect with Hubby), each of my journeys this year has served a deeper purpose beyond simply taking another vacation: Santa Fe and Taos taught me about Zen meditation and how to apply this to writing, the Wisconsin trip helped me connect on a much deeper level with my family, traveling with our dog Tasha in the wine country reminded me of how much I have to be thankful for close to home, and the horses in Tucson taught me how to stand more confidently in my own truth.

So what’s happening in the next 69 days?

Next Tuesday we’ll be touring Stonehenge; on Wednesday I’m meeting with a travel editor in London to discuss how to develop a travel writing career.  From there Hubby and I are revisiting a quaint hotel on the Left Bank in Paris where we first traveled during our dating days — surely something will be rekindled there? 

November will be devoted to everything I love in California, with trips to San Francisco, Half-Moon Bay, Rancho Mirage and the Desert, Santa Barbara and Carmel.  I’ll also be continuing important journeys at home too, including advanced screenwriting classes with Corey Mandell in LA, and a wonderful forum with other women working on increasing our visibility and creating our “ecstatic brand” with Christina Morassi.  (Definitely more on that one to come!  So far, she’s proving much of my skepticism about gurus … um, well … wrong.)

Enough already … So what’s the big finale in December?

Here’s a clue:

Happy Dolphins

Given all I learned from the horses, I’ve decided to go swim with wild dolphins.

Remember how I wanted to end this blog with a “B” name? (“From Barcelona to B_________”)  I’ve now got three:

Bimini, Bahamas, and Bermuda Triangle. 

If the world really is going to end, I may as well go out with a bang, right?  On December 21, I’ll be on a boat somewhere over the Atlantis Energy Vortex in the Bermuda Triangle, where we’ll be  “sending out beams of 5th dimensional consciousness to the planet from this sacred site through a guided meditation.”

Did I mention I’m afraid of boats?

Plus, my least favorite movie of all times is Open Water (can I say “yikes” again?)  But the good part is we’ll be spending hours every day swimming with the wild dolphins, which should be really cool.  The only other catch?

No coffee, and no wine.

In addition to lots of meditation and yoga, the week will include a strict vegan raw food detox diet.  We’ll also be certified in Reiki I and II before the week is up.  New Agey?  For sure. Scary? You bet.

Hubby will NOT be joining me.

And I can’t say that I blame him. 

—–

Will YOU?  I’d love to have some company … Just leave a comment if you’d like more information.

I AM ENOUGH (Or, How Riding a Bionic Horse Can Make Your Inner Critic Shut the F*!# Up)

“I am enough.”

“What do you mean?” Hubby asks in puzzlement.  “You’re enough WHAT?” He is on the verge of laughter until he sees how close to tears I am.  That’s the trouble with breakthroughs; no matter how  life changing and adrenaline pumped they may feel in the moment, they are often nearly impossible to describe to other people, especially those closest to us.

If you read my last post, you know I recently returned from an Equine Therapy retreat in Arizona.  Thanks to the skill and heart of both the facilitators and horses, the week was mind altering, heart expanding, truth deepening, paradigm shattering, and spirit affirming.  And yet, the inconvenient truth is:

I’m still struggling to integrate what I learned there into my “real” life.

“Come on, tell me what you mean; tell me about the horses,” Hubby pleads.

“You had to be there, I guess.”  

The thing is, as much as I adore animals, it just sounds rather pathetic to admit that a horse taught me about self-esteem.  After all, I’m a pretty self-absorbed, narcissistic, achievement driven, pedigreed-by-multiple-expensive-degrees person.  And yet, I still spend an inordinate amount of time ruminating about how my life could be more meaningful/more successful/bigger/brighter/happier/fill-in-the-blank with whatever today’s self-improvement goal is.  (Or, as British writer Ruth Whippman argues, I’m just like every other neurotic American obsessed with the pursuit of happiness?)

So I decide to just tell Hubby what the horses actually did on the retreat and let him draw his own conclusions.  I’ll do my best to do the same here.

First, the environment in Tucson was somewhat challenging.  At least for me.  Not only were temperatures lingering in the neighborhood of 100 the entire week, but the days were heavily scheduled from 7:00 in the morning to 10:30 or later at night.  In my normal life I’m pretty much toast any time the temperature is over 75.  And while I’ve chosen to mostly not write about MS on this site, it’s relevant context information here because what usually happens when I get overheated is that my legs go numb, I (literally) can’t see straight, sometimes can’t walk, and generally need a looong nap just to get through the day.  Even without excessive heat, I pretty much gave up trying to do anything prior to 10:00 a.m. years ago; fatigue continues to be an almost daily challenge.

So by mid-afternoon of the second day, it wasn’t surprising I was so exhausted I nearly collapsed on the floor of our conference room.  We hadn’t really worked with the horses much yet, but things changed when we were given our first “challenge.”  I was to work with a spotted horse named Jorge:

Jorge, a horse with a lesson to impart

He was by no means the prettiest horse on the ranch, nor even the most friendly.  (Admittedly, this may have something to do with the fact that he was NOT among the horses I attempted to bribe with sugar cubes the previous day.)

Our task was to lead our horses through a series of physical obstacles that represented challenges from our real lives.  The stations got progressively more difficult: the first just a set of rails the horse needed to step over, the second comprising several traffic cones the horse was to weave through, and the final a gate the horse was to be led through before you closed the “door” behind him (in reality, this was just a rope).

For my real life obstacles, I chose health (and everything MS-related) as my first, my writing discipline (or rather, my lack of it) as the second, and my ambivalence over my past legal career (and inability to let go of it) as the third.  As we led our horses through each station, we were to concentrate on our correlating real life challenges.

Simple enough.

But like any decent reality show competition, there was a twist.

Two people would accompany each of us through the gauntlet with the horses: one would represent our inner “advocate” and would cheer us on with encouragement.  The other — you guessed it — would be our inner “critic.”  That person would SCREAM every imaginable mean thing at us to try to make us lose our concentration and control of the horse.  Given that I have almost no experience working with horses, I was not overly confident.

But Jorge was brilliant. 

He stepped right over all of my “health” obstacles without faltering, paying no heed whatsoever to my “critic” who was screaming all my worst MS-related fears at me the entire time.  The horse was even more impressive with the “writing” barriers, weaving perfectly through the cones and tuning out all distractions, as if to say: “See, piece of cake if you just stay focused.”

But when we reached the “law” barrier, there was trouble:

Trouble - Jorge stops to eat the shrubs

Jorge stopped in his tracks right before crossing the final “gate.”  He insisted on nibbling the one small patch of shrubbery I hadn’t even noticed was there.

He wouldn’t budge.

Earlier in the workshop, we had worked to set our intentions for the week.  I had two: I sought “healing without injury” and “clarity regarding my career.”  Of the two, the latter seemed to be the more pressing in my daily life.  I truly wanted to either “close the door” on my legal career for good and fully commit to writing, or admit defeat and just go back to law.  Or try to.  (That pesky energy/MS stuff seems to hinder that line of thinking too — see intention number one).

But Jorge just took his sweet time, nibbling away at all those delicious aspects of the “law” I’d almost forgotten I miss: logic and the ability to argue a case, a deep understanding of how multifaceted the truth can be, and the privilege of serving as another person’s best advocateOn the other hand, I don’t miss the constant stress of working in an adversarial system:

Playing the “critic” for others in this exercise felt like pure torture.

Ironically, out of our small group of just nine, three people chose me to play the part of their critic (and NONE their advocate!).  Even given my adversarial background, I was surprised by how emotionally exhausting it was to shout stupid mean things to people who were just trying to do their best.

It also made me realize how stupid I am whenever I listen to my own abusive inner voice.

Bottom line, I guess I still have a love/hate relationship with the law.  Nevertheless, when Jorge finally decided to pass through the final gate:

I decided to leave the door open.

Leading Jorge with my Inner Advocate and Critic

Because animals live in the present, they are not tormented with our anxiety to set our future path.  I am trying to live this way too.  I have no idea whether I’ll ever practice law again, but the door is still open thanks to one clever horse.

As for the MS stuff, I’m not sure exactly how working with horses was healing or whether the effects will last.  But as First Lady hopeful Ann Romney observed about her own struggle with MS: “Riding exhilarated me; it gave me a joy and a purpose. When I was so fatigued that I couldn’t move, the excitement of going to the barn and getting my foot in the stirrup would make me crawl out of bed.”  As a result, she said, “My desire to ride was, and is, so strong that I kept getting healthier and healthier.”

In my own case, after that one afternoon of exhaustion I noticed that even though we were almost constantly in the heat my body did NOT go numb, and I felt like I had as much (or at times even more) energy than my peers.   One afternoon I even went on the “fast” trail ride.  It was uncomfortable, bumpy, and HOT, but for some reason I didn’t get as sore as some of the other novice riders, and didn’t need a nap.

It was only afterwards I learned that my horse, “Cutaway,” was previously owned by Lindsay Wagner:

Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers, The Bionic Woman

Maybe Cutaway was bionic too?  I certainly felt much stronger than usual after riding her. 

But getting back to my original goals for the retreat of healing and clarity, I do feel healed (at least a little) and Jorge reminded me that perhaps clarity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Life is CHANGE.  All I have to do is be present, and appreciate the beauty of it all.  I am enough, whether I ever become a published/produced writer, practice law, or do nothing other than sit at home and “let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.”  I AM ENOUGH because I exist.  Life is a gift.

And for once, this is more than enough.

What to Do When Your Guru Wants You to Scratch Her Butt (or, What Living YOUR TRUTH Might Look Like?)

Despite all the sarcasm I’ve been guilty of on this blog, it appears I’ve finally met a Guru I have complete faith in …

Vista - my guru is a horse!

The only problem?  She wants me to scratch her butt:

Horse butt

I’ve been away from blogging this week because I’ve been too busy attending an Equine Therapy retreat with my Mother at a dude ranch in Tucson, Arizona.

Kate with Horses at Tucson's White Stallion Ranch

The trip was titled Reconnecting to Truth Through Horse Wisdom.  Before attending, I had little idea of what this meant, as I’ve never owned a horse and have ridden only a handful of times in my life.  I came into the week with few expectations, but the brochure promised to “compel [me] to reconnect with the truth of who [I am] through the mirror of the horse” and that the horse would “[provide] instant, non-judgmental feedback, reflecting back to [me my] inner-landscape and how [I move] through the world.”

In other words, the horse would definitely see through all my BS and give it to me straight.

Shit.

So I came prepared, armed with pockets full of sugar cubes and big bags of organic carrots and apples.  (Surely horses are amenable to bribery too?)  

I should have known better.

Even getting to the ranch should have alerted me to the fact that my usual way of being in the world was not going to work here.  As usual, I got a little lost trying to find the White Stallion Ranch.  I had driven six hours to be here, and somehow managed to make at least three wrong turns in the last ten minutes of the drive.  We were going to be late, and I was just a tad frustrated.

Fortunately, a friendly Arizona guy on a motorcycle offered to help. 

In exchange for giving me directions, he invited me to either: 1) donate $206 to the Grand Canyon State coffers, or 2) attend traffic school (a bargain at $185).  He claimed I was driving 47 in a 35 zone.  (But can’t you see I’m lost?  I didn’t see the sign.  Everyone else is going the same speed …)  But for the first time since I was twenty-two,

There was no way to sweet talk my way out.

But what does getting a speeding ticket have to do with horses?  There is a saying that the way a person does one thing is the way she does everything.  Perhaps if I could use this week to improve my communication with the horses, my communication with people would improve as well?

Kate & Pallomino - we blondes have to stick together!

We blondes need to stick together …

The first horse I gave a sugar cube to nearly knocked me over later begging for more, and the second spit it out in disgust at my feet.

So much for bribes. 

And the horses didn’t appear to like excuses or prolonged explanations either.  They just wanted us to be real.  Without giving away too much of what happened at the retreat or breaking any confidences, I can say it was a week full of physical, spiritual, and emotional breakthroughs for all nine of us who came together from across the country.  Here are just a few of the healings I witnessed:

We saw a horse come running to a woman who feared she would be less lovable by setting healthy boundaries, a horse roll in the dirt in pure ecstasy at the feet of a woman who expressed her desire to live in the moment, a horse walk away to test the faith of a man who strongly wanted to believe he is a child of God, a horse comfort a grieving woman by nuzzling her heart and head, a horse stand between another woman and her observers to block their opinions from harming her, several horses neigh in unity to confirm a man’s desire to collaborate more with others, a horse show another woman how to gracefully accept acknowledgement and applause, a horse help a woman express who she is by only coming close when she stated her real truth.

And my horse?  She made clear she wanted me to scratch her butt right after I confided to her my aspirations to become a writer.  It would be SO easy to just laugh this off (my normal way of being in the world), but as another participant pointed out:

If you’ve got an itch, scratch it.

In fact, the horse seemed perplexed when I asked her for permission to write about her.  It was as if she were saying, “Why do you need to ask?  If you want to write about me, go ahead.”  It seems to me that we spend an awful lot of agony asking the world for permission to pursue the desires we keep safely hidden away in our hearts.

A horse would never do this.

Here are a few more things I learned from the horses:

  • If your mind, heart, and spirit are not aligned, a horse knows it.
  • A horse isn’t interested in excuses.
  • Horses live in the present moment.
  • Horses are incapable of lying.
  • A horse won’t pay any heed to your inner critic.
  • A horse knows you can do a lot more than you think you can.
  • Horses do not understand why we ever do anything that isn’t living our truth.

And there’s plenty more.  (To be continued, soon …)

—-

Question:  What lessons have you learned from the animals in your life?  How much do you think animals understand?  Do they know things we do not?

Samsara, Silence, and School (or, How to be Simultaneously Pissed Off and Incredibly Grateful)

Samsara goddess

Look me in the eyes to see if I am telling the truth.

Samsara eyes

Look me in the eyes to understand me.

Samsara monks

Look me in the eyes to understand yourself.

The above images are from the extraordinary film, Samsara.  I saw it earlier this week now have to ask myself:

Is it possible to be both incredibly pissed off and extremely grateful at the same time?

Grateful because this film makes me realize once again how incredibly blessed I am to live here in my oh-so-comfortable little Newport Beach life.

Pissed off because 98% of the world (I’m guessing at this number, but 1.4 billion people are confirmed to live on less than $1.25 per day) do NOT enjoy my hedonistic lifestyle, and the film forces me to look these people in the eye. 

In high resolution.

I’m also back at screenwriting school this week, which used to be inspiring.  But now I’m a little lost because the two best movies I’ve seen in recent years have no dialogue.  (The Artist is the other one.)  How can my weak little pen compete with all these brilliant 1000+ word pictures?

And after seeing the epic cinematography in Samsara, I’ve changed my mind about travel too.  Who really needs to leave home when you can see the entire world in a ninety-nine minute film?  I’m not kidding … you have to see this movie to believe it.  Shot in twenty-five countries over five years, it’s nothing less than the story of what it means to live on this incredible planet during this extraordinary time.

In the context of Buddhism and other Eastern religions, the term Samsāra refers to the repeating cycle of  birth, life, death, and rebirth (reincanation).  But in the film, I believe Samsara is used more broadly to describe what it means to be a human being living on this overcrowded planet right now.  It does so by showing us the vast array of worldly activities which occupy us, our myriad sufferings and joys thereof, as well as the universally unsettled and agitated human mind through which we perceive reality.

It’s both beautiful and disturbing.

And it makes me completely underwhelmed with myself and this crazy dream of trying to create anything of artistic value with mere words.

Wimpy little words.

You really need to SEE this film to understand.

I hope you do.

In the meantime, I’m off to an Equine Therapy retreat in Tucson this week.  (Because this is the type of self-indulgent activity I choose to pursue in my frivolous little life at the moment.) 

Equine therapy

Nevertheless, I’m hoping to learn something valuable from the horses.   At least I’ll be doing my best to work with these creatures consciously and gratefully.  Does mere awareness count as a start?

—–

Have you seen Samsara?  What did you think?  And how does it make you feel about your life?

Travels with Tasha (our Dog-cation in the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country)

Tasha in Santa Barbara

I’d say hello, but as you can see, my mouth is full … My name is Natasha (“Tasha”) and I’m Kate’s first guest blogger.

I’m also her dog. 

We just arrived at my favorite canine-friendly beach in Santa Barbara, right in front of my preferred hotel, the Biltmore (Four Seasons).  Unfortunately, we’re not staying here this time and the surf is so high today there’s no beach:

surfer dog

surfer dog

It’s a good thing I know how to swim.

By now you’ve heard an awful lot about my mom’s birthday (December 21).  I don’t get what the big deal is … Sure, it’s the purported End-of-the-World as well as Jane Fonda’s birthday, but my own birthday (January 27) is just as special — I share it with Mozart, Baryshnikov, and Bridget Fonda.

Why does Kate want to take another trip on 12/21 anyway? Frankly, I don’t understand why my parents ever insist on going anyplace without me … I’m an EXCELLENT travel companion.

Like on this trip.  As you can see, I am extremely useful as a navigator:

Tasha is a front seat dog

I don’t know why Kate keeps strapping me into the back seat with that harness, as I’m obviously a much better co-pilot than she is.  Besides, sitting in the back deprives me of the view:

Santa Ynez wine country

My parents don’t fully appreciate my talents as a tour guide.  I swear if I didn’t alert them with my LOUDEST BARK every time I see a cow, horse, or motorcycle, they wouldn’t notice anything.

In case you can’t tell from the picture, we’re driving through the Santa Ynez Valley wine country.  Right now we’re passing through the town where my parents adopted me in 2009:

Buellton - famous for split pea soup and mini-Australian shepherds

Buellton – famous for split pea soup and mini-Australian shepherds

Dad keeps joking about dropping me off at the breeder’s, but I don’t find this funny at all.  We finally reach our destination – a little Danish town called Solvang.  Mom calls it “kitschy” but I love it because most of the restaurants and hotels welcome dogs.

Solvang - California' town of Danish kitsch

Mom still tries to feed me dog food every morning though … can you imagine?  Of course I refuse to touch it, and hold out for omelettes, sausage, and those wine country cheese plates.

Our hotel, the Royal Copenhagen Inn, is not quite the Four Seasons.  They don’t have dog beds or toys here, and they don’t serve filet mignon for breakfast either.  But I guess not many dogs have the discriminating taste I do.  (I do live in Newport Beach, after all ...) I think it’s funny this place has a “Secret Garden” for dogs to run around in:

Tasha in the "Secret Garden" at the Royal Copenhagen Inn, Solvang

The garden isn’t bad, but they don’t let dogs in the pool.  So much for “dog friendly” — I wonder where I can file a complaint for false advertising?  They also won’t let me into the breakfast room where all those Danish pastries are.  So when Mom isn’t looking, I let myself in and run eight laps around the diners before she can catch me.

Overall I’m having fun, but I still don’t understand why they call it “wine tasting.”  Even though they let me into a couple of tasting rooms, no one offers me any wine.

Babcock Winery with Tasha

When do I get to taste the wine?

But even so, it’s been a pretty okay weekend.  More importantly, I think I can solve Kate’s problem of where to celebrate 12/21/12:  With ME, of course.

At the Biltmore Four Seasons in Santa Barbara. 

Where they know how to treat a dog well.  Plus, I’ll be sticking with this blog’s “B” theme … from Barcelona to the Biltmore?

——

What do YOU think?  Please tell Kate she really should be with her dog for the end-of-the-world.  (I would NEVER abandon HER on such an important date!)

Berlin, Beijing, Bali, Burkina Faso, Brisbane, Berkeley, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Bora Bora, and Buellton (or, the Travel Moments that Transform Us)

From Barcelona to B_____________?

When I launched this blog on 2012’s summer solstice in Barcelona, I was searching for a great place to wrap things up for the winter solstice on 12/21/12, the infamous “End-of-the-World” (or start of a new era?).  Belize seemed the perfect choice – not only for its Mayan heritage, but for the alliteration:  “Barcelona to Belize” just has a nice ring to it.

But I still haven’t decided where to spend my last day on this planet.

This morning I started thinking about some of the other “B” places I’ve been, and what these trips have meant. The places listed in the title of this post span a travel period of 25 years; each journey has been transformative in a different way.      

Here’s what can happen if you travel to “B” places:

You may get frustrated because you can’t speak the language.  You may learn humility for the same reason.  You may diversify your palate.  You may find a second family.  You may discover Wanderlust is part of who you are.

You may witness a revolution.  You may be followed by mobs of people like a movie star. You may be disgusted by local habits (or you may join in and learn to spit).  You may spend time in a hospital without modern hygiene.  You may learn to live with cockroaches in your room. You may be given snake venom, tiger balm, and foul spelling mystery brews as medicine.  You may be surprised when this works. You may ride a bicycle everywhere and decide to paint it in bright colors after your third one is stolen.  You may learn to bribe low level officials in order to get even the simplest things done.  You may have your identity card and your allowance stolen.  You may spend endless hours on trains. You may get shoved around a lot.  You may get used to your mail being read and your room bugged.  You may wish you could afford a $12 Mai Tai in the city’s only Western hotel. 

You may find yourself breathless gazing at the beauty of a tropical ocean.  You may vow to yourself never to let corporate life stop you from seeking beauty.  You may have an affair with a much older man. 

You may have to sleep on the  ground and not be able to shower for ten days at a time.  You may get dysentery so bad you feel you might die. You may learn to attract butterflies with your mind.  You may learn to truly appreciate clean sheets for the rest of your life. You may hallucinate in the desert.  You may use your travel time to read all the classics.  You may fall in love and get married. 

You may move to the other side of the planet and start a completely new career as a “witch doctor” (naturopath).  You may learn this choice is not compatible with your decision to marry a “real” doctor.  You may learn that no matter how large an American spider is, it’s not really BIG.  You may miss ants that do not bite. May may miss central heating (and air conditioning even more). You may regret not getting that law degree.  You may miss home.  You may get divorced even though you still love the man. 

You may feel broke and broken.  You may go back to law school.  You may become roommates with a crazy French lady who talks like a poodle. 

You may miss a catastrophic tsunami by mere hours on your honeymoon with your next husband.  You may feel blessed.  You may become a lawyer. 

You may learn to tango.  You may learn to appreciate the amenities of five star resorts. 

Your vision may go spotty as you gaze upon the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen.  You may have the best sex of your life.  You may be be inspired to cut back your hours in what you’ve decided is the world’s worst profession.  You may lose your job. 

You may buy a puppy.

You may decide to write about it all.

With Hubby in Bora Bora, 2009

With Hubby in Bora Bora, 2009

The bottom line?  No journey is wasted. 

In case you didn’t recognize “Buellton” in the title of this post, it’s a small town in Santa Barbara County, right in the middle of the wine country where Sideways was filmed.  It’s where we bought our dog, Natasha, three years ago and near where we’ll be wine tasting this weekend.  Tasha adores road trips and will be coming too.  (She may even be my first guest blogger next time?)

Cheers, until then …

Hubby and our puppy at the Hitching Post in Buellton

Hubby and our puppy at the Hitching Post in Buellton

Question:  When was the last time you took a quick inventory of lessons learned in YOUR past journeys?  Do you find such exercises useful?  And if you have any ideas on where I should end this journey, I’d LOVE to hear them!

Grasshoppers, Ants, and a Blue Moon (or, the Art of Practical Alchemy: Transforming Gold into Gold?)

Have you ever wanted something so badly it keeps you up at night? 

Although I’ve admittedly gained a more materialistic side as a byproduct of living in Orange County, I’ve generally always valued experiences (i.e., travel) over possessions and spent my money accordingly.*

* OK, Hubby is probably suffocating in sarcasm right now.  According to him, I’m clearly a champion “Spender” who is quite accomplished at throwing large sums of money at both travel and frivolous things.  (My retort: Someone has to save the economy?)

But I still contend that it’s rare for me to obsess over an object for months on end like I have been since even before this blog was born.

Maybe it’s the moon?

In case you missed it, this is what Friday’s Blue Moon looked like from our driveway:

Blue Moon on August 31, 2012

Assuming that 12/21/12 isn’t really the End-of-the-World, there won’t be another Blue Moon until July 31, 2015.**  (Of course if 12/21/12 really is THE END, then I really hope you saw that moon!)

** This is using the common definition of Blue Moon, meaning the second full moon in any month, rather than the Farmer’s Almanac definition referring to the third full moon in any season with an unusual four full moons — we’ll see another one of those moons on August 21 next year.

But back to my object of desire.

Remember Aesop’s Fables?  Lately I’ve been pondering the story of The Grasshopper and the Ant.  (Maybe this has something to do with Mitt Romney’s “pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps/create-your-own-success-in-life” rhetoric we can’t seem to get away from on TV these days.)

In any case, here’s a quick recap of Aesop’s version of the tale:

All spring and summer through the time of planting and reaping, an industrious Ant toils all day while a lazy (but artistic) Grasshopper kicks back and relaxes, not caring to plan for the future. Winter comes and the Grasshopper finds himself in dire need. He begs the now prosperous Ant for help, but is turned away.

The Grasshopper and the Ant - Aesop's Fables

The lazy Grasshopper quickly freezes and/or starves to death.

But somehow, the childhood version of the story I recall must have been Disney-fied, because I distinctly remember the ant in that tale did NOT let the grasshopper freeze and starve, but invited him into his home to share his hard earned wealth.

I am a Grasshopper.

Poor Hubby is the Ant.

Apparently men have known this about women for a very long time.  Just look at this painting by Jules-Joseph Lefebvre called “La Cigale” (the Grasshopper), first displayed in 1872:

La Cigale (the grasshopper) - by Jules-Joseph Lefebvre, 1872

Will she starve when winter comes?

I don’t think my grasshopper tendencies are my fault.  With all these online Goddesses and Queens (especially those purportedly blogging from exotic locales around the world) enticing us to “become more feminine” and simply “get better at receiving” in order to allow our “true prosperity” to arrive as result of our “higher vibration,”  who’s to blame us women for wanting to take a few grasshopper shortcuts?

But I digress, yet again.  What I’m trying to get at here is my mindset leading up to my big splurge last Friday on the night of the Blue Moon.  So just what is this object that has been keeping me awake all week?  A piece called “Gold” by magical realism artist Michael Parkes:

"Gold" by Michael Parkes

The unusual thing is not that I invested in a piece of art, but that I did so not as an impulse buy, and not by adding to my (often alarmingly growing) credit card balance. Like Scarlett O’Hara transforming her silk drapery into a gown, I plan to trade in some of my much worn gold for this “gold.”

I call it practical alchemy.

You see, last week I took this gold necklace and bracelet into Tiffany’s for repairs:

Tiffany & Co. 18K Gold Multiwire Necklace and Bracelet

Hubby gave these to me back in 2005 for our first anniversary.  Sentimental?  For sure.  Reparable?  Sadly, no.  I wore both pieces nearly every day of my litigation career, and I’m pretty sure the stress of that profession translated into the kinks and frayed, unraveling gold that make the jewelry almost unwearable today.

Don’t get my wrong: I truly love gold jewelry and always will.  But I love the “Gold” picture more.  I first came across Parkes’ work eleven years ago in 2001, when I moved to California from Australia in the midst of a failed marriage, right before 9/11.  The work that captured my imagination at that time was Parkes’ The Last Lion — a very sad piece that fit my mood perfectly at the time.  (You can read a previous blog about that artwork here.)

Yawn.  Yes, okay, I know people trade in jewelry for stuff every day.  But for me this is a breakthrough: letting go of something valuable to me in the past to make room for something valuable to me now It almost seems as if the Universe was conspiring to make sure I acquired this art: the gallery where I bought it was closing on the night of the Blue Moon (thus offering a hefty discount) and the price of recycled gold was where it needed to be.

The melt price of the gold is substantially more than the “Gold” artwork cost.

But it’s more than that.  The “Gold” picture represents my journey from the broken, scared girl I was in 2001 (as in “The Last Lion”), to the abundant, loving, and (more or less) healed woman I am now.

And like my litigation career, my stressed out, frayed, overworn and abused jewelry has been retired.

Hopefully to serve a higher purpose.

At the risk of sounding, guru-esque, I believe we need to combine the traits of both grasshopper and ant to live well.  True prosperity is something we create within, but in the best of circumstances also shows on the outside in the objects we care most about.  The things we find beauty in.  The things that keep us up at night.

—–

What about you?  Are there objects in your life that symbolize something greater than mere materialism?  Things that demonstrate your love of beauty or another value you hold dear?  Would buy the same item again at double the price?

Politics and Family in the Land of Beer, Brats and Cheese …

Barack Obama consults his campaign itinerary and looks at my little brother.

“How the heck do you pronounce the name of this place?”

My brother pauses for a moment, and decides to answer with candor:

“Well, white people pronounce it “Ruh-SEEN.  Black people say “RAY-seen.”

Barack gets that slightly puzzled look we’ve all seen so often now on TV.

“Ok, thanks.  That’s … helpful.”

The town President Obama and my brother were referring to is Racine, WI.  It’s about 65 miles from Janesville (the ostensible home of Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan) and roughly 40 miles from where I’m sitting right now.  (Little Bro is not currently in politics, but was the former WI governor’s press secretary during Obama’s 2008 campaign.)

Hubby and I have been spending this week at a lakefront McMansion in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

I had nearly forgotten how peaceful Midwestern summers can be.

Powers Lake - view from house (Lake Geneva, WI)

view from the McMansion

The only catch? (besides the mosquitos)

We’re sharing the house with my entire family — all 15 of us (including five flaxen haired little monsters children).  If this were a reality TV show, it would be some strange combination of The Simpsons, Family Feud, Survivor, and Yo Gabba Gabba.

The adventure starts with our drive from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the Flatlander-Cheesehead (Illinois/Wisconsin) border at about 10pm Tuesday night.  Hubby is famished, but I am morally opposed to (and physically disgusted by) fast food.  We see few other options.

Right after we pass another vetoed McDonald’s, Hubby spots his mecca:

The Brat Stop in Kenosha, WI

He slams on the brakes and does a U-turn.  I whine a little as we swerve into the parking lot, but what can I really do?  We’re in Wisconsin, and avoiding bratwurst and cheese here is like going to Italy and trying to stick to a carb free diet.

If you’re not from the area, you may not realize that “brat” is not the term used for high maintenance housewives and spoiled children; in Wisconsin it’s pronounced BRAHT and is shorthand for “bratwurst.”

We enter the Brat Stop and I’m immediately transported back to my high school days.  Every appetizer on the menu is deep fried (how many ways can you fry cheese?), the beer choice is seemingly unlimited, and house wine (the only available option) costs just $4.50 a glass.

The bar is humongous with at least a dozen large screen TVs blasting the day’s sporting news.  Most of the guys sport baseball caps and tattoos; all drink beer.  The woman next to me must weigh about 300 pounds, which would stand out pretty much anywhere — except for here.  In the restroom, a poster of one of the place’s most loyal patrons (think Norm from Cheers) pleads for donations to help cure his liver and bowel cancer.

And yet … the place is packed.  Late on a Tuesday night.  People keep eating their brats and deep fried cheese.

Hubby enjoys his brat.  I steal a few potato chips and stick to my house Chardonnay.  I’m actually quite enjoying myself (I feel so thin here!), and am tempted when Hubby offers to buy me a souvenir t-shirt.

But somehow, even though I’m rapidly approaching Cougar-dom, I can’t quite bring myself to wear a shirt promoting myself as a “Brat Stop.”  (And I can’t help but wonder if Senate candidate Todd Akins would link the wearer of such shirt to an “illegitimate rape” should a guy take advantage?)

The next day, back at the McMansion, the plumbing goes out.  Nothing brings a family together more quickly than having to work out an emergency toilet plan.  Brother-in-law does the only sensible thing and hightails it back to Chicago, leaving my sister and their baby to fend for themselves.  My two brothers and their families quickly disappear too, leaving poor Mom to nurture Sister through her crisis-of-the-day.  No one knows where Homer Simpson Dad went.

Hubby and I do the only thing we can think of to help: we buy a bunch of wine and host a tasting for the family. By the time the plumbers finally arrive to pump the family sludge out of the basement, we are all buzzed and happy again.

I don’t know if our actions were correct, and I really doubt that blogging about my relatives will endear me to them.  But what I do know is this: families are complicated, complex, and messy.  Even for those of us with “happy childhoods” and “fully functional” adult relationships.  (Tolstoy was wrong?)  Our families force us to face again and again all those issues we convince ourselves we’ve left in the past.

But for those of us who are lucky, our families are the people who know us the best in the world and hold up the clearest mirrors.  In most cases, our families didn’t choose us and we didn’t choose them — and for me, that makes the love I feel for my relatives the most remarkable gift of all.  They know I don’t eat “brats” and that I’ve been a “brat” in one way or another most of my life.

Somehow we manage to love each other, warts, scars, and all.

But I haven’t finished the Obama story.  “So which pronunciation of Racine did Obama choose? The black or the white? ” I ask my brother.

My brother didn’t remember (or wouldn’t tell me).

——-

Question:  Which pronunciation of “Racine” would you have chosen in Obama’s situation?  Do you feel that getting along with your family is similar to politics?  Have you ever gone on vacation with your family as an adult?  Tell me all about it …

Like, Literally, I’m Just Saying, Like, Seriously, Yikes! (and I’m NOT dying, OK?)

The older I get, the more annoyed I feel about the way people speak.  Especially young people.

And that’s a sure sign I’m getting old.

It just seems the rules I grew up with have all but disappeared.  When did every third word become “like?”   And why does everyone now add “just saying” (jus’ sayin’) and/or “seriously” every time they have a point to make?

Please don’t get me started on the overuse of “yikes!”

Even teachers no longer know the difference between “lie” and “lay.”  (My dog, on the other hand, knows to disobey whenever a trainer tells her to “lay down.”)

It's LIE down, Stupid.

And what’s up with the ubiquitous misuse of the word “literally?”  The next time someone tells me she “literally shit a brick” I’m going to ask her if she’s ever considered moving to a third world country.  (Such talent might come in handy in places where they LITERALLY build houses out of cow dung?)

But why am I ranting about English on a travel blog?

I’ve heard rumors some people are taking this site a tad too literally.

So, to clarify, once and for all:

I DO NOT believe the world is going to end on December 21, 2012.

I’m not planning to off myself or do anything (too) self-destructive on that date either.

But 12/21/12 will be significant in my little world because I will be turning 45 — which  isn’t really that old, for a cougar, but does increase one’s Botox budget significantly.  (And yes, I do like Botox jokes.  I can’t help it, living in The OC for as long as I have has that effect.  Please try not to take my humor too literally.)

On a more serious note, getting older has definitely made me more aware of time.  And just realizing that one day this party will have to end makes me appreciate what a gift life is.

So maybe the whole 12/21/12 thing on this site is a gimmick.

If this offends you, I apologize.

But if thinking about the “End-of-the-World”* makes me more aware of the literal fact that our lives are finite, I don’t see the harm.

* A slightly sarcastic note for the literally minded: Quotation marks as in “End-of-the-World” are sometimes used to convey the thought, “Do not take this literally.”  But don’t worry, I, like, “seriously” have no intention of teaching remedial English or punctuation on this blog in the future … jus’ sayin’.

When I launched this site eight weeks ago, I wasn’t sure about the whole travel blog idea, as I had no concrete travel plans for the second half of 2012.  But it’s interesting what opportunities present themselves once you open the door.  I hadn’t planned to go to Europe this year, but started out celebrating June’s Summer Solstice in Barcelona and will be at Stonehenge for October’s New Moon.  I hadn’t intended to meditate for a week in Taos (last month), nor practice telepathy with horses in Tucson (next month) but feel confident both these trips are important steps in my journey.

But I still haven’t decided where to celebrate 12/21/12.

And there are only 127 days left.

This leaves me with just one thing I can possibly say:

Yikes.

——

QUESTION:  Do you have any strong opinions about how others should speak and/or write?  Do you have any stories of others taking your remarks literally when you meant them figuratively?  Tell me all about it …

Further Proof I’m a Goddess, the Meaning of Life, plus a Rather Disturbing Discovery …

As if being born on the shortest day of the year and turning 45 at the putative end-of-the-world in 2012 weren’t enough, I do have further evidence of my possibly divine status/birthright to guru-dom.

Namely, my immaculate conception.

Even having been born in the late 60’s and being a child of the 70’s, I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box when it came to sex.  When it finally dawned on me one day as a tween sitting in the kitchen staring at the date on my parents’ rosemaling embellished anniversary plate, it took me a couple of hours to get up the nerve to ask: “Mom, how many months does a pregnancy last?”

Because even counting three times, I was quite certain there were only six months between my parents’ wedding date and my own birth.

My parents were high school sweethearts and I was born during Dad’s final year of college.  Hardly scandalous material even back then. And I certainly don’t mean to disparage my parents in any way, as their generation shows far more loyalty, resilience, and just plain decency than my own.  My parents lived through Dad’s service in the Vietnam War and went on to have three more kids after me.  They have been married forever now, and from what I can gather, Dad still thinks Mom is groovier than Marcia Brady and foxier than any Bond girl of any decade.

Raquel Welch & Ursula Andress

how I imagine Dad must view Mom …

Which is why I still have just a wee bit of trouble believing Mom’s story:

“We just must have been hyper fertile.  I swear we didn’t even have sex.  Your father just got a little too close one night … of course we waited until after we were married to try it again.”

Did I mention my parents were born the same year Bill Clinton was? (Maybe their generation has a slightly more narrow view of what constitutes sex?  And if two decades make that much difference, I wonder how the meaning of “virgin” might have evolved over 2000+ years?)

But on second thought, I do believe Mom.

It wasn’t my parents’ fault.

I simply wanted to be born too badly.   I was in a hurry.

And now that I have just 135 days left until the End-of-the-World, I feel more panicked than ever to squeeze everything I possibly can into life.

Which reminds me that I promised to reveal nothing less than the Meaning of Life in this post.  Being the immaculately conceived Guru-Goddess that I am, I am unabashed by this challenge and will simply do what all the other gurus do. 

I will borrow someone else’s thoughts on this.  Here goes …

The purpose of life is:

“To be the eyes and ears and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool.”

— Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions.

I don’t remember much about Vonnegut’s novel (apart from loving everything the man has ever written), but find his theory amazingly comforting.  The longer I go without working a “real” job, the more material I need to rationalize my hope that writing (“being the eyes and ears of the universe”) may, in fact, be all that is required of us.

But if simply observing the world is what we’re here for, I just realized I will never meet a guru who possesses more wisdom than my cat:

Boris the Buddha

Boris the Buddha …

I don’t know about you, but I find this slightly disturbing … my cat charges less than $2 per day (two cans of Fancy Feast plus all the premium kibble he can eat).  How will I ever make a living as a Goddess?

————-

What about you?  What are your experiences with Gurus?  Spill everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly … maybe I can even convince Boris to impart some of his wisdom in a reply if you have Pounce treats.