“Sweet surrender
Is all that I have to give”–Sarah McLachlan, “Sweet Surrender”

In the popular lexicon, we think of surrender in terms of the end of war when one side gives up completely to the other. In movies, the criminals finally surrender to the police. We think of surrender as giving up, and most often in terms of defeat. Surrender, in a traditional meaning, means giving up control to someone else or something else. For me, surrender has changed its meaning and significance over time. In fact, this morning, the word and meaning changed completely for me.

For a couple of days, I had been thinking about the state of my life, in terms of an assessment. The questions came and went, and while I considered the situational circumstances, it was really more of an internal process. How am I doing in my career? How am I doing in my health? How am I doing financially, and in terms of my relationship with money? How am I doing in terms of my relationships with family? How am I doing in my spirituality? How am I doing in terms of my relationship with myself? How am I doing in terms of my friendships? How am I doing in terms of love? How am I doing in terms of loving myself? How am I doing with myself in terms of being a “good” person? I wasn’t looking for answers in terms of external “success,” but more about how I felt in terms of peace within those questions. I thought a lot about which areas of my life where I felt peaceful, and which ones where I did not.

Last night, I felt like I had reached the end of the questions, at least for the moment. It was difficult to figure out what had brought on the questions. Although for me, questioning and thinking, in terms of spirituality and my life, is a familiar exercise, sometimes deliberate, sometimes not. It wasn’t a birthday or anniversary of any particular event, but maybe it had to do with the season of fall and recent conversations with a good friend.

Last night, I made a pot of tea and sunk into the couch to watch a few episodes of a guilty pleasure TV show. I purposefully pushed the questions away and lost myself in the story of something else. Last night, the word that was on my mind before I went to sleep was “surrender,” I kid you not. This Sunday morning, I woke up early. My heart and mind were quiet and I felt calm. I opened my patio door and curled up in the turquoise Adirondack chair and felt the silence. I drank coffee and felt the steam from the cup and the cool energy of autumn. After almost an hour, I returned inside and picked up my phone. I opened up the e-mail app and clicked on one of the daily meditations that I subscribe to. I was surprised and pleased that the subject line was “The Secret of Surrender.” Once again, I found synchronicity in both meaning and timing. I lapped up the words and thought back to the word on my lips when I fell asleep last night. I read two more daily devotionals that also seemed to match up magically with the idea of surrender.

Surrender for me, just in the course of the journey between last night to this morning’s readings and reflections, means something new. For me, it is peace in the moment. For me, it is being comfortable with what is, even when it is not what I want. It is learning to realize the long path, but being in step with right now. It means letting myself go and not getting caught up in end results. It means sinking into the moment. Surrender is the ultimate measure of taking control by letting go of control. Surrender means being okay, even when things are not okay. Surrender is not wishing for something, but finding comfort in loss. I find surrender when I let go. It is not defeat, but neither is it a win. Surrender is finding grace. Surrender means letting go of people and situations and results. Surrender means not knowing. Surrender is finding love for myself. Surrender means giving up looking at everyone’s “papers” trying to find the answers, and instead looking down at my own work. Surrender means being in my own footsteps, literally and figuratively. Surrender means forgiveness. Surrender means right now.

Home Body

At the end of a long day at work, all I could think about was home. The 12-minute drive was just long enough to turn the craving into a yearning. I grabbed my bag and keys, practically sprinting to my second floor apartment, with a half-turn to beep my car doors to lock. I smiled up at my red chile ristra to the left of the front door, struggled with the sticky lock, and kicked off my black ballet flats in the entry way. There was just a hint of fall chill in the air as I quickly shut the door and changed into comfy homey attire of a t-shirt and leggings. Each step through my four rooms gave me pleasure and comfort. I was home.

What is it that makes a place home? How does it go from four walls or four rooms to the sturdy and lovely four letters of home? I have lived in many places as an adult, and in several houses in childhood, and almost every one became home.

In my New Mexico childhood, I loved the green and white house we lived in for a few years with its fortress of trees, a white picket fence, several outbuildings, and wild onions in the side yard. In high school, my mom, younger sister, and I settled into a small three bedroom with a large front porch that became my touchstone in my teen years and during college vacations. We barbecued in the backyard while our dog ran laps, barking at birds and the neighbors, and we held my high school graduation party there. While those houses no longer belong to my family, I still cherish the memories and milestones from those places.

From the age of 18 and onward, I discovered that I could make a home pretty easily. Just about every place I have lived in, I have loved, each for different reasons. College, with life far away from my family for the first time, felt particularly poignant in my efforts to make a home. In the hallway of the second floor of my dorm in my first year of college, I built community and great friendship with many of the women who lived there, some of whom are still among my closest friends across the miles. In the dorm room of my sophomore year, my dear friend Lisa and I hung our laundry from the picture rail near the ceiling and stayed up late into the night sharing stories and secrets while drinking hot tea, or on the weekends when we were feeling clandestine we sipped Kahlua with milk. I moved to a house just at the edge of campus, for part of my junior year, that had a wood-burning stove, both for cooking and heating. To get through the cold Wisconsin winter, I chopped wood in the backyard and savored the smell of wood smoke in all of my clothes. In my last year of college, I moved off campus, and lived in a huge apartment with beautiful wood floors and a hall long enough to rival a bowling alley. It was cheap and quiet and I still remember giggling maniacally while I chased my roommate Susanna down the hall, as we enjoyed the delayed childhood delight of sliding on the floors in our wool socks.

I moved to Albuquerque right after college, and stayed for just a couple of months in a rent-by-the-night-or-week-or-month small studio apartment, spending my first night unpacking and relishing my first place on my own without a roommate. Quickly thereafter, I lived in the Twin Cities for several years, treasuring an apartment for its underground parking space and another for the time that I got to spend and share with two good college friends, Cathy and Myla. We struggled through first jobs and sharing chores and finding our way in the unruly times of our early twenties. In Saint Paul, I fell in love with John who lived two floors above me in a small 11-unit apartment building. We got to know each other while doing laundry and checking our mail, slowly developing into a courtship of shared dinners and beers on the back stoop. He bought a place and we moved into his adorable grey and blue house, my first foray into domestic living with a boyfriend. We stayed together in that house for more than two years, transitioning from a romantic couple to roommates, still delighting in each other’s company. We played bluegrass loudly on his stereo and made pesto and he showed me the joys of grilling in subzero weather and grinding one’s own coffee beans before breakfast. I think of that home fondly and of the kind and goofy and generous man who cried when we said goodbye, as I drove the U-Haul from his driveway to Colorado and new adventures.

In Colorado, after a long and mostly solo time, I lived for several years with my younger sister when she moved back to the United States after a sojourn in Germany. We shared an apartment out of convenience and thrift, as rents went up just as the economy tanked. We possessed the easy comfort and familiarity of sisters, sharing movie nights and long talks, but struggled at times with the frustration of sharing close quarters. When my sister made the plunge from renter to owner, I moved into her spacious two-bedroom condo and found solace in a big room and huge walk-in closet. While she established her home, I made a space for writing and dreaming, knowing that I would be moving on soon. I moved out a year ago, and I love getting her texts as she buys furniture, paints, and makes home improvements.

I moved to Albuquerque just about a year ago and into this apartment 10 months ago, after staying in a couple of temporary places. I look around, hearing the hum of my laptop and the hiss of the tea kettle in the background. I stretch and yawn. I just renewed the lease, and look forward to at least 14 more months in this spot. I know, though, that home is as much a place you love, as it is the setting for your life. Memories, momentos, mornings. They all dwell here. I take a sip of tea. Home, indeed.


A quote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Photo by Kary Schumpert.

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams–this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness–and maddest of all:  to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”–Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, from Don Quixote

Olympics Fever

By Original author: Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) (Manual reconstruction by Denelson83) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Original author: Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) (Manual reconstruction by Denelson83) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
I have Olympics Fever, but it has been years since I was infected. Growing up, we watched the Olympics as a family. My mom lifted the limits on how much TV we could take in. We found the countries in the atlas, memorized the flags, and watched in rapt attention at the athletic prowess of the competitors. The fever was contagious and particular in the novelty of only every four years for the Summer Games. The Winter Games, while beautiful with snow and ice, don’t really fill me with symptoms.

After eight years of missing them, I tune into the Rio Games. I am house-sitting and that house has a TV with reception, so I have been able to partake of the games in all their summer spectacle. I uploaded an Olympics app on my phone, so I get the notices of who has won the various medals of each event. I receive the daily e-mail newsletter from the New York Times sports reporters and editors. They send weird snippets, as much about the cultures and the background, as the competition itself. I subscribed to get texts from another New York Times reporter, who sends pictures and comments on the inane, like why the water at the pools was green and that badminton is the only Olympic sport requiring its competitors to play with their right hands. This adds to the fever.

I haven’t watched every day, but I have watched a lot. I scour the track events for runners whose names I know and read track commentary on the Runner’s World website. I cheer for all, regardless of their nationality. An Iranian woman won a bronze in taekwondo, the first female of her country to medal, with history and sport coming together in that moment. I cried and yelled in excitement for the Refugee team as they entered the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremonies. I try to ignore the soap opera of the U.S. swimmers and the story that went from “we were robbed” to something else indeed. The fever continues.

The Olympics fever, though, is not just about the chirps from my phone with updates on medal counts. It is not just about the national anthems being played during the medal ceremonies. It’s about the “sickness” while I move through my own routines. I point my toes in the morning when I stretch and get out of bed, mimicking the divers and gymnasts. As I run two or three miles, I imagine I’m an Olympic marathoner. In a speed session at the track, I am sure that I could take on the 800 meter runners. I hop on my new road bike, and all of a sudden I know that I am Kristin Armstrong (not the writer I love with the same name), winning her third Olympic gold. In the pool, when my goggles go on, I have the competition beaten, worthy of Michael Phelps or any of the other gold medalists. A hike in nearby open space turns into the awkward and yet admirable gait of the speedwalkers. Just before dinner, when I pull out my knife to dice onions, for just a moment I fence in the open air of my kitchen light shadow. I gallop like a little kid to the mailbox and immediately I transform into an Olympic equestrian.

The closing ceremonies are tomorrow night, but I expect this fever to last at least a few more days. I am sure I can twirl some ribbon, find a trampoline to bounce on, use a water gun as an Olympic shooter (now that should be an Olympic sport), and find some sand, friends, and a volleyball.

The Olympics are here and I am infected. I will enjoy the sports and dedication and training. I will ignore the commercials and the politics. I will witness elation and heartbreak. I will take the inspiration and speed up and find new fortitude in my own athletic and workout routines. As the fever dies, I will be left with solitude and silence and my own gasping breath as I swim and run and bike and compete with myself.


A Week


It was the first week in August. It was a big week. It was my first week back to work after taking the summer off. It was full and fun and exciting and stressful and disappointing and wonderful. It was a week.

A promotion
Over the summer, I applied for a new position and was excited to get the job, a promotion. I still work with the same environmental education program, but now I have a raise and am in charge of the program. The best part, though, is that I get to do as much teaching as before, which is my favorite part of the job. The first week back wasn’t without its bumps. I had to fill out paperwork, as is to be expected, but there was a delay, so my first day back was Tuesday, instead of Monday. I got an extra day of summer break, and a little time to take care of last minute errands. I got to reconnect with co-workers and volunteers and started to get to know a new staffer. It’s a new school year and it feels full of promise, like a bundle of new unsharpened pencils.

A lot of fur love
At the end of July, I started a two-month house-sitting stint. It includes two dogs, which is my real reason for saying yes. I love dogs and want a dog, but a small apartment and a full calendar (full-time work and a return to full-time evening classes) don’t quite welcome a furry-four-legged friend. Now, I visit two sweet dogs a couple of times a day for feeding, playing, and loving. Sometimes I spend the night, but also have the flexibility to go back and forth and stay in my own place. This week, a dear friend also asked me to dog-sit for his two fur balls for an evening. I spent the night at the friend’s empty house, and stayed with these old dogs, and it was like a good visit with familiar friends. Getting to visit with four dogs in two separate houses was fun and frenzied and my clothes show the remnants of all the fur love. Completely worth it, dogs stepping on me, rubbing against my leg, and sitting right next to me. Sweet, unadulterated, unapologetic in their affection, the dogs were the perfect accompaniment to the week.

A publication
At the beginning of the summer, I wrote a personal essay. I submitted it to an online magazine and quickly received a rejection e-mail from the editor, saying it wasn’t right without a rewrite. I decided to save it and use it for something else. A couple of days later, I received an e-mail from another editor who was looking for new writers for a website revamp. I sent them the same piece, and a month later they told me they wanted to publish it. This week it appeared. I shared it with a few friends and relished seeing my byline, even if the topic was a bit painful. If you care to read it, follow this link. It was interesting to read the essay and to see how things have changed, even within a couple of months. I write, hoping to connect with others, but sometimes I connect with myself all over again.

A messy mistake
Relationships with people ebb and flow. Some relationships stay close, some people fade away. I have been overly attached to one friend, and perhaps, as a result there have been some stumbling blocks. In the last week or two, it seemed we had made some progress, after an incident in May. We communicated fairly frequently over the last week, and it felt much like old times, funny and friendly. Then Thursday, well, I made a messy mistake, completely accidental. Remorseful and embarrassed, I piled on the apologies. Our friendship feels as though it is on fragile ground again. Two other friends, with whom I shared the embarrassing incident, advised me to remember the Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr.

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have taken a few deep breaths and said the wise words to myself. I will see what happens after the stumble and hope that things are okay with the friend. No matter what, though, I am learning the lessons of intention and apology. Yet again, I am learning the peace that comes through the Serenity Prayer. I am also learning to find the beauty in the mess and the power that comes in forgiving myself. I also realized that the two friends I turned to in the aftermath were very new to me. That I felt comfortable to share and that they provided wisdom, comfort, and space for me to be raw was a welcome discovery and another reason for gratitude.

A need for speed
I signed up for a speed dating event for Thursday night. I have been interested in trying this for a few years, but never committed to going. There happens to be regularly scheduled speed dating outings in Albuquerque. I signed up with one of my new friends and we met early. Originally, our plan was to be early to get comfortable and to get ready for speed dating. Instead, I cried in the parking lot, relaying my messy mistake story while she provided tissues and a friendly ear. We ran back to her car, while I got myself together (it was too late and too hot to try makeup) and I consoled myself with the fact that at least I wasn’t wearing the crying raccoon eyes from mascara tears. Then we entered the restaurant, our new friendship cemented into something more.

We each grabbed a glass of sangria filled with enough strawberries for a fruit salad and waited to enter the banquet room reserved for speed dating. Eight tables were set with cheesy valentines and LED votive candles and we each wore a nametag with our first name and a number. There were eight men and eight women and the event felt like a cross between a very organized happy hour and mini job interviews.

At the end of the night, my new loyal friend and I then peeled out of the parking lot in her car, searching for dinner and time to decompress and debrief. We tucked into a booth and ate cheesy garlic bread while we compared notes and waited for our dinner. We both thought it was a good way to meet people, especially if you don’t do it all the time. It felt like a safe and time efficient way to meet potential dates. After years of using online dating sites, and mostly enjoying the process, I am excited to try a different mode.

A spin
I joined a gym a few months ago, and already it’s my favorite gym ever. There is a good mix of ages and abilities, always with a happy roar of weights clanking, music coming from the exercise classrooms, and enough people to feel busy, but not crowded. I use the pool and some of the weights to supplement my outside runs, but have been wanting to take a spin class. As with anything new to me, I always feel a bit of hesitation and intimidation. Luckily, on the first Friday morning of each month, they offer a beginning class. I made plans to attend and got to the gym in just enough time to sign in and feel the pull of the spandex of my cycling shorts. The class had about 20 people and the instructor led us through the basics on how to adjust the bikes for our height and comfort and how to add the clips or pedal cages. Once we were mounted, with bright yellow towels on our spin bikes, he led us through an abbreviated spin workout, explaining numbers of effort, heart rate, and the gears on the gym bikes. A runner and biker in his 50s, he had a calm and cheerful demeanor while pushing us through the burn of our first spin. I loved what he said at the end. “Go to a few different spin classes in the next couple of weeks. Check out different instructors and different styles. You will love it or you will hate it, but you will be glad that you tried it.”

The weekend
After working half a Saturday for a meeting, I plugged into my weekend of downtime. I met a friend for coffee. I took a nap with furry dogs snoring nearby. I made a simple dinner of fish and pasta and sat on the patio and drank a glass of wine. I watched some volleyball and swimming of the Olympics, celebrating that my two-month house-sitting gig comes with a TV that gets reception and all the channels, while my TV at home only works with a DVD player plugged into it. On Sunday, I went for a run and a swim, did some housekeeping chores, and caught up with a college friend on the phone.

It was a week. While time may be a human construct, we can feel it. A week is seven days. It is a clear grid on my dry erase board hung in the hall. It is the song of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. It was full. It was eventful. It was ordinary. It was just part of the life I am living, the good, the bad, and all that in between. It was about friendships, fur, and new experiences. It was the beginning of a new work year. It was a week.