The Heart of Summer


DSC00008Summer is heat. It is sun. It is fun. It is vacation. It is escape. It is release. It is light. It is love. The heart takes itself out of the darkness. It is out for sun and summer.

This summer, for me, is also transition. I am between things. I am packing, one foot still planted here in Colorado. I am moving, one foot flying towards New Mexico. I am saying goodbye, preparing for hello, and all the while my heart is open and wild and unruly.

Here in Colorado, I have had six weeks of my in-between state. I am wrapping up projects at my old job. I am writing bits and pieces, finding it difficult to focus. I am working sporadic shifts, temporarily, at a hotel, helping an overwhelmed staff. I am visiting friends and saying goodbye. Slowly and surely, I gather my belongings and put things in boxes. All the while, I do not know what to do with my searching, fast-beating heart.

In early July, I load my phone with a couple of new apps, linked to familiar dating sites. I am not new to the phenomenon of using online sites to meet people for dating purposes. This time I do it, thinking I will use the sites when I finally get settled in Albuquerque at the end of the summer. I am impatient, though, and try out a new-to-me site with its simple six pictures, short profile, and the option to “swipe” left for no or right for yes. I swipe left and right at prospective dates as if it is a game.

My phone pings with messages from the yeses that matched their own yeses to me. A few messages are exchanged and I feel exhausted. Another message catches my eye. It is different, somehow. The picture shows a man with kind eyes. I respond. We send short messages, quick questions, fast answers. We text and send funny jokes. In an hour we make plans to meet for a drink on a Wednesday. It will be the day after my birthday.

We meet. We talk about everything and nothing. He reminds me of boys I liked in high school and college. He is enthusiastic and there is no cool demeanor. We have things in common. The drink stretches out. My heart beats with the thrill of summer. In my first message to him, I tell him I am moving and am not looking to date in my final days in Colorado. During drinks, he says he understands, but he wants to date me while he can.

We see each other again. I meet his dog. There is friendship and, dare I say it? There is summer romance. It is simple and sweet and will be short. He makes guacamole and brags of his barbecuing skills. He plays bartender; he is from Wisconsin, after all. We trade Wisconsin stories. I tell about New Mexico. We both love music. We listen to records. We hold hands. We go bowling. We play with his dog.

We are efficient with our currency of limited time and fast-moving summer days. He has friends visit from out-of-town. I have a move to coordinate. We talk on the phone. We trade more text messages. I make plans to say goodbye to family and friends. We talk about camp fires and road trips. He tells me about a canoeing adventure with his sister. He plans a new home-brew batch with his roommate. I talk about star constellations and my love of teaching. He talks of settling in at his new job and loving Colorado, just six months after his move from the midwest. During the day, while he is working and I am packing boxes, we send each other suggestions for new music to listen to, funny pictures to peruse, and links to articles to read.

We are free and light. It is a summer romance, flirty and fun. We do not evaluate each other for long-term compatibility. We are not caught up in sadness or missed opportunity. I have no expectations and I set myself free. I have no attachment. I like him, but I also like the freedom of goodbye. We connect in the here and now. We are patient and kind to each other. Somehow, it is mutual. We care for each other’s hearts, for the short time that we will share them. We talk mostly of now. We do not talk much of the past. We do not make plans for the future.

Sometimes, we are destined to help nurse someone’s heart back to the living. Sometimes, we are the practice routine for a serious romance to follow. Sometimes, we are full of summer and light. Sometimes, we are the one to meet after a long one-sided crush. Sometimes, we are there to remind each other that there are many suitable people left in the world. Sometimes, we connect because we can. Sometimes, it is about who we are and who we have been and who we help each other become. Sometimes, it is about Wisconsin stories and guacamole and a dog. Sometimes, it is about music and stars and dreams. Sometimes, it is about a short friendship and a little romance. Sometimes, it is about the heart of summer.

Hummus and a Sense of Home


wpid-wp-1438293360279.jpgOur senses can serve as time machines. Listening to the first notes of a favorite song can send us back to a poignant moment. Smelling certain whiffs can bring us to special places. Tasting favorite foods can transport us to home or to a sense of coming home to ourselves.

Today is a hot July day. I am packing up the kitchen and cleaning like a madwoman. At noon, I feel hunger pangs. I search in the nearly empty cupboard and I remember my craving for hummus a few days ago. Luckily, I have all the ingredients stocked, and I came across a recipe that is similar to my oft-used one, with promises for ease in making and spice in tasting. Still, I improvise.

I drain the can of chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, if you prefer that term, but they are the same thing) and I flashback to my first year of college. I turned 18, declared myself a vegetarian, stopped shaving my legs, and enrolled in a school where the admissions advertising campaign included pictures of brightly colored canoes and artistic shots of Lake Superior. This New Mexico girl, raised in a home with a kitchen where pinto beans were a constant staple and on the grasslands where cattle raised for beef dotted the landscape, had never heard of chickpeas. I figured life as a vegetarian would be relegated to salads and vegetable side dishes. In 2015, hummus is quite popular in the US and mass-prepared versions are available in small town grocery stores, but not so in the early 90s. My first taste of hummus was on a canoe trip as part of my first-year student orientation. People smeared it on bagels and dipped their carrots sticks in it. Back on campus, in the cafeteria with a celebrated vegetarian cook, hummus had its place of honor in the well-stocked salad bar. It was kind of like Frito-Lay bean dip, but not. It was salty and contained a spicy mix of herbs. Part sandwich spread, part dip, I dug right into its creamy texture and clung to its trap on my taste buds.

In my hippified years of college, I volunteered for and shopped in the small and local natural foods co-op. I stocked chickpeas on the shelves and brought them home in wonder. People brought hummus as a snack to Friday night potlucks and I delighted in the special joys of a pita stuffed with hummus and spinach. I made batches by the tubful, but never quite seemed to replicate others’ tasty concoctions. I added lemon, but missed the subtleties of spice mixtures. I ate the college chef’s garbanzo masterpiece, dipped my fingers, carrots, and even tortilla chips. Finally, I perfected my own version.

If I had a food map of my life, hummus would mostly represent my college time. Few foods bring me back to those crazy and idealistic and optimistic years, the way that hummus does. It was cheap and easy to prepare with a spoon and a bowl. I hauled it on hikes, I made it when I was down to my last three dollars, I ate it at a party while a shaggy boy and I talked of music and poetry. I soaked a bowl of chickpeas when I had no furniture and five feet stacks of books on the floor. I mixed up a batch the night I broke up with a dear love. I mashed garbanzos in an angry furor in a spiritual breakdown.

I graduated from college, but I took the garbanzos with me. Today, I shave my legs and am just  a part-time vegetarian. Now, my shopping lists include both chickpeas and pintos, canned when I am in a rush and full of impatience, and dried when I have grace and make time. Today, I rip open a sleeve of crackers, cut up chunky carrot sticks, and slice a cucumber. I take bites of the veggies and crackers dipped in my warm summer batch. I lick fingers stained with newspaper print as I sneak in a lunch while packing.

I am at once 18 on my first canoe trip, I am 25 in my apartment in Saint Paul, I am 32 hiking with a boyfriend in Colorado, I am 40 and on the cusp of new adventures. I can imagine my grey-white hair at 73 as I mix up a batch for an old college friend coming to visit and reminisce. I am ageless, I am every age. I am me. I am hungry and excited. It is hummus and I am home.

A quote from Walt Whitman, about compost


Behold this compost! behold it well! . . .
Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,
It distills such exquisite windows of such infused fetor,

It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last
.” —Walt Whitman, “This Compost”, Leaves of Grass

A Loosey-Goosey List for Summer


Rabbit Mtn 12“Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that makes you smile. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”–Mark Twain

It has been a little more than a week since the Summer Solstice. It is 85 days until the Autumnal Equinox. Summer is upon us.

Summer is the season of light and sun. It brings us the feeling of vacation, and even if we do not travel or take time off, we luxuriate in a relaxed pace. We plan hikes and brew sun tea. We gather friends and family for picnics and barbecues. In the heat, we move slower and soak up the sun. We find patches of shade and sit still, even for just a bit. We relax and breathe. We even adopt that attitude in our lives, at least for the summer. A loosey-goosey feeling pervades the season, along with the smells of burning charcoal, freshly-mowed grass, and the pierce of the mixture of sunscreen and swimming pool chemicals.

For most of the last decade, I have enjoyed summers off in my work as an environmental educator. What that really meant was unemployment and the need to find a summer job. I always appreciated the chance to do something different for the summer. This summer I am taking loosey-goosey to a new level in my life. I am not returning to my job in the fall, I am moving, I am starting school. Some things are set up, but I am taking a relaxed approach to these plans and ideas. Loosey-goosey is now running through my veins and I am taking the advice of one friend when I confessed that this lack of a clear and definite path feels exciting, yet unnerving. The advice, “Enjoy!”

That simple advice and this new approach is good for me. I still want to strive, but relax into it. I want to be in the moment and realize I am the maker of my journey. As much as we think we have control and know the next steps, they really are illusions anyway. Things can change in an instant. In a move that seems counterintuitive to the approach described above, I made a list of things I want to work on and do this summer, to accomplish before the Autumnal Equinox. The difference is doing so with a more relaxed, loosey-goosey approach. I know what I want to do, but may not necessarily have the particulars figured out yet. I have some idea of structure, but don’t want to get too fixated on how I think my life should be. Instead I want to find and create what will be.

I do not mean waiting for things to fall out of the sky, but putting my resources together so that I can respond quickly to opportunity. I want to be more responsive, more authentic, more flexible, more spontaneous, more relaxed, more loosey-goosey. I want to match up my passions and talents with new directions and outlets.

There is a quote from some movie that is floating in my head that seems to fit this moment, right now. “Loosey-goosey, baby, loosey-goosey!”

Here is my loosey-goosey list, baby!

1. A weighty issue!
I have written before about my goal for losing weight. I have lost a substantial amount in the last year, and I have just a bit more to lose to reach my goal. This is for me, for health, and yes, even a bit for looks. I am really happy with my body and health right now. I bring that comfort with me. My goal is to lose a certain amount of weight by the Autumnal Equinox, but to continue with this, “I do not hate my body and I refuse to do so.” I look forward to some new workouts, new strength challenges, and new routines for weight loss, strength, health, and happiness. I am on the cusp of the goal and look forward to the journey, as much as the arrival, and will enjoy every stop along the way.

2. Bookin’ it!
I took part of last summer off to work on writing a book of short stories. I spent part of this spring focusing on writing more of those short stories. This summer, I want to finish the book. It means more writing, more imagining, more editing. It means getting brave and getting out of my way. I have a few more short stories to write, quite a few to edit and rewrite, and quite a few to send out for edits and suggestions. The goal, by the Autumnal Equinox, is to have 26 short stories written and edited. And, if possible, I want to schedule a writer’s retreat in South Dakota, which I have delayed for a year for various reasons, for August or September to work on the stories and manuscript. Whether or not this book gets published is another issue and will become a separate question and a separate goal for a later time.

3.  Training to be a Personal Trainer!
In the past year or so, I have run a marathon, lost some weight, and have pondered future career changes. After doing quite a bit of research, and then contacting a dear friend from my high school days, I landed on personal training as a possible side career. I would love to take my own personal momentum and be able to help others on their paths to fitness, weight loss, and health. I would love to help take the intimidation out of going to the gym or entering a triathlon or running a marathon. I would love to be that encouraging voice and the accountability for someone just getting off the couch. Over the winter and spring, in informational interviews, I asked two personal trainers about their career paths, their thoughts on certification, and being a personal trainer. All of this research has convinced me that this path is a good one for me, even if it is part-time and on the side of some other things. The goal is to study for and pass the Certified Personal Trainer Exam to become a Certified Personal Trainer by fall.

4. Swimming to Lifeguard!
Last summer, I fell in love with swimming. Years before that, though, I fell in love with the idea of being a lifeguard. It started when I was little and I had a bit of little sister syndrome, as my older sister was a lifeguard and everything she did seemed cool to me in elementary school. And then in high school it seemed like an awesome summer job. Now that I am approaching 40, it seems like an embarrassing aspiration, but I am caring less about what others think. Now it’s about testing myself and doing something different. Now it’s about my comfort and endurance in the water. Now it’s about going for new swimming goals, longer distances, and races. I will take a lifeguard class and pass the lifeguard test, much like the way I entered a triathlon last fall, to prove that I am up to the challenge physically. I am swimming laps and treading water and getting ready for a class in late summer. Lifeguard certification goes quite well with personal training and I would love to be able to help people with beginning to swim and trying triathlons.

5. Moving, moving, moving!
For almost my entire adult working life, I have talked about my desire to return to live and work in New Mexico. As the years have passed, the craving has only increased. After spending half of last summer in New Mexico, I knew I needed to figure out a plan. Several long weekend jaunts during the school year only cemented the idea in my head and heart. The two weeks in early June when I stayed in Albuquerque was the push-turned-to-shove to make it happen. After a few more days in Colorado packing and wrapping up some things, I will be an intinerant visitor. I will spend some time in northern New Mexico with my mother and possibly do a bit of traveling. By the end of the summer, though, I will have an apartment and mailing address in Albuquerque.

6. New work, new life!
Most of my life, I have cultivated my sense of identity from my work. I have worked for nonprofit environmental and conservation groups. I found my dreams matched up with my skills and I found my passions became my avocation. I always patted myself on the back that I didn’t just have a job, but a cause. I am not giving up that idea, but I want to stretch my wings and try some new things. I will find a job to meet my needs. I am quite sure that I will return to teaching, possibly getting my teaching licensure, but not yet. For now, I am sending resumes out, calling people in my small network, and beginning. I realize that starting a job is the first step, while creating an avocation is a longer process, but that’s okay. It is exciting and scary and oh, so very good!

7. Starting anew at massage therapy school!
A couple of years ago, I started massage therapy school here in Colorado. The introduction was amazing and I knew that I had found one of the things that I wanted to do in my life. I loved the focus on healing and relaxation and therapy. I loved that I could focus on sports therapy. Juggling school and work, with a long commute and other duties became too much. I could not do it all, so I put school and those dreams on hold for a while. I found a great school in Albuquerque that seems to mesh quite well for me. The schedule and timeline and flexibility are perfect for combining with full or part-time work. The focus and approach of the school is exactly what I want. This is the beginning of something. I will begin massage therapy classes at the end of summer. I am rounding up friends upon whom I can practice what I learn. I begin anew.

Sometimes shaking things up is what is needed. Sometimes it takes a season to get things in order. Sometimes it helps to realize you were moving in the direction all along. Sometimes it takes the encouragement of friends and listening to the inner voice. Sometimes it means looking deep and going against the grain. Sometimes it means taking a new loosey-goosey approach.


Photos: Home, Home on the Grange


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Liberty Hall Grange

A grange, according to my weathered dictionary, is “one of the lodges of a national fraternal association originally made up of farmers” and “the association itself.”

Here in Boulder County, Colorado, there are several old grange buildings, dotted along the rural fields of hay and corn, threatened to be eaten up by the expanding neighborhoods and commercial strip malls. I have found them fascinating, for their long survival, for the beauty of the buildings, for the reminder of a different time. These buildings remain. The grange organizations remain. These are community centers, and while the communities have changed, the center is there.

A few months ago, I spent an afternoon driving around and taking pictures of these lovely buildings. I finally sorted through the pictures and wanted to share a few.

I am getting ready to move from this county after 11 years. Perhaps it is nostalgia for the time I have lived here, or anticipation of the upcoming changes in my own life, but looking through these pictures makes me think of the beautiful intersection of the past and future, the present. Things change, but the center and roots remain.

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Altona Grange
Altona Grange

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Acts of Optimism


Acts of optimism

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume there is no hope, you guarantee there will be no hope.”–Noam Chomsky

We take little actions all the time. We take steps. We pause. We fall. We start again. Sometimes optimism leads to actions. Sometimes actions lead to optimism. Where is your optimism? What are your acts? Sometimes they are small, sometimes they are superficial. However, sometimes the small and superficial lead to big and deep, real and substantial.

Here are a few of my recent acts of optimism:

Declaring my entry for a second marathon.

Buying a new swimsuit for swimming more laps.

Going on a first and second date.

Being okay that there will not be a third date.

Painting my toenails red.

Asking a friend to edit a short story of mine.

Realizing that focusing on my outward appearance is not vain, but an act of joy after years of ignoring it.

Taking advice that was difficult to swallow, and hard to accept.

Kissing someone.

Being comfortable with what is.

Changing plans and getting to work.

Packing to move to a different city.

Applying for a new job.

Sending an editor some of my writing for possible publication.

Realizing a friendship changes, ebbs, and flows.

Finding peace in disagreement and discord.

Not caring what others, except the ones I love, think.

Knowing the difference between ego and self-love.

Looking deeply at my finances, instead of ignoring them.

Giving away the last of my coins, when that was all I had.

Taking a pen and turning to a fresh page.

Beginning with yoga.

Saying a prayer.

Not knowing and saying so.

Offering to help and then following through to do so.

Crying in public, and then laughing in public.

Taking a deep breath and moving on.

Signing up for school.

Changing my mind and admitting it.

Being naked (and I don’t necessarily mean without clothes) and in the moment.

Ignoring and eventually losing the doubting voice in my head.

Admitting I was wrong.

Making a genuine, heartfelt apology.

Truly listening to my sister and not saying a word.

Writing down some dreams and goals and listing the many, many steps needed to achieve them.

Diving into the swimming pool after months away.

Keeping a secret.

Signing up to volunteer.

Trying on the black dress from the back of the closet that I have been wanting to wear for quite some time.

Setting up my profile on an online dating site.

Asking a friend to make plans.

Continuing in a new direction, even though there have been some bumps along the way.

Making new friends.

Moving beyond the self.

Telling someone I loved them.

Putting on the black dress, deciding that I look awesome, and wearing it to an event this afternoon.

Realizing that an end is a beginning.