Risk and Renewal

The waves crash up and onto the rocks, the sound of their roar a steady thrum that has become part of my heartbeat. When I write about something it is usually after the experience. I need time to fully digest a moment, an adventure, an event before I can fully realize it into words. I am not talking about journal writing that is something wholly separate. Journal writing is a conversation between God and I, where the rawness of who I am becomes my clarity.

No, today is different. I am writing while I am within this space and it feels right.

This adventure started because of a Top-Secret meeting.  A whirl of planning and thinking about the roadblocks. The roadblocks felt big, the most worrisome the wait for my test to come back. It did and I was negative. Next were my fears. The one looming over me, its shadow casting doubt on my decisions, was the idea of driving somewhere far.

“WHEN DID THAT START?” I yelled at myself.

I am shocked that I have had to grapple with this considering that I have driven great distances before. Not to mention the times that I have moved to towns far from anything I was accustomed and the fact that I knew no one. This shouldn’t have been a roadblock considering all the other things that needed considering –Money, Kids, Day Job Projects, chores. Life doesn’t make way for dreams and adventures.

I saw an Instagram story where an author was making fun of people who post inspirational quotes and title them with” THIS” (I am guilty of this and it hit home!) to which he added, …and then they do nothing to change their life.

I pulled the trigger and went for it. I want to certify within myself that I am willing to do what needs to be done to achieve my dreams. In order to do this, I must sacrifice, take chances, be silly, be willing to change, meet roadblocks with perseverance and courage, and have faith that this is God’s plan for me.

I went into high gear trying to ignore the fear. One of the first leaps of faith is that I needed to pack light. This is big for me. I usually pack for every occasion, trying to plan for it all. I didn’t do that this time. I went with my gut and hoped for the best recognizing that packing everything, including the kitchen and bathroom cabinets wasn’t going to amour me against mishap. Shit happens.

Each time the anxiety about my decision to go made my chest grow tight I reminded myself that the bills are paid and no matter my weekly syringe full of Amazon (I AM AN AMAZON ADDICT and I am on board to fight this addiction) our needs are met and I have been responsible.

As I pushed enter on the reservation, I thought of all the times that I settled for less because I had to or because I was too scared to spend more. OR because I was afraid of being disappointed and every time, I ended up with something disappointing.

SO, this time, I went for it. SOLD: Room with a view, spa tub, and breakfast delivered COVID-19 fashion to my door.

I stayed up late making sure I remembered all the important things: boots, laptop, book, chargers, manuscript, and my Adventure Journal ( soothe.com makes the best journals ever and no, I am not sponsored and paid to say that…it is the truth).

I woke before Smokey, whose ears appeared at the end of the bed peaked with astonishment at the idea that I would be awake without her persistently purring and walking all over me.

 I grabbed my down comforter, my pillows, and after the 6th trip up and down the stairs the car was loaded. I gave kisses and hugs, got in the car, and…

It.

Wouldn’t.

Start.

I sat behind the wheel, the lights of the dash giving mixed signals, looking through the windshield into the darkness. I had prayed right before hitting send on the reservation, Please God if this is not the right thing to do send me a message.

WAS THIS THE MESSAGE?

If it was, I was fucked. Too late to cancel the room, the meeting, everything.

This is just a roadblock; this is just a roadblock I repeated as I fiddled with the wires on the car battery and then attached the cables hoping it was that one wire that comes loose from the battery because of the bumpy back country roads. I had been on a lot of them this last week as I was out in the community doing my best to Car-Test our ESL students.  

After 4 tries, several prayers, and 45 minutes behind schedule the ignition turned over and the car roared to life. I was on my way.

 I met a wall of fog, impenetrable as far as the eye could see, which was about 2 feet…maybe. I drove slowly and stayed behind big trucks when I could. Thankful for their mass especially as the two-lane highway I was inching along made Head-On Collision headlines every other week.

Hope burned and brightened. I shied away from focusing on it directly. I didn’t want to jinx it into being swallowed by the dread. Rather, I let it blaze to cinders the doubts and dread, leaving a space for what was to come.

I had queued up my favorite podcast of late, #amwriting, and pressed play. Mile by mile, the landscape revealed itself. First the road, then the vehicle in front of me. The fields on either side made their appearance as the sun unfurled its gaze, making the fog translucent. By the time I reached the Wildlife Reserve just before Pacheco Pass, my faith had started to take root in the soil that had been rejuvenated by the burn-off.

I had stepped out and let go and now I was flying.

I had gotten a miraculous 9am check-in and I had a meeting set for 10:30am, so I was anxious to get into my room and unpacked. I wanted to experience the day and come back to a room fully ready to greet me.

My hands were steady on the steering wheel as I raced up the pass, down the other side, and through the country side. Fields lay splayed out ready for planting, ramshackle houses, roadside stands, old machinery passed in a blur.

The sea air sailed through the window long before the ocean came into view. The houses dotted along the dunes hinted but only their back yards could be seen, the secret views saved for their personal use.

Two lanes gave way to racing traffic along multiple lanes with exit after exit until my own curved me into the cypress and down unfamiliar roads too tight for my Tahoe. A tricky left turn brought me onto the property where I prayed that my SUV would clear the garage and I backed in…if there was a repeat performance of this morning, I wanted the ovation to be face forward for the tow truck. I prayed hard that I would be spared this humiliation.

My mask hid my smile as I know it hid hers though I am sure my excitement sparked from my eyes as I processed through check in.

I huffed and puffed my way up two sets of stairs and I took stock. Warm light flooded the room and a fountain tinkled a welcome. Faux cobblestones led to a fire place and a wall of sliding glass doors covered in sheer curtains. I stepped onto the deck and took a deep breath, slowly expelling it into the sultry sea mist.

The horizon was a dusty blue and the surf was white against the rocks and shore. I just stood there trying to accept that this was my reality. I felt like I was dreaming and that I would wake up at any moment and find myself walking downstairs to do the dishes and load the washer.

I turned back into the room and suddenly I just wanted to lay down and sleep, stretching to the four corners of the king bed. The exhaustion from the week, work, people, and most of all—from being brave in combination with the serenity of this space made me want to curl up and fall asleep to the surf.

But bravery was still required.

Excitement rode just under the surface of my fatigue. It took 3 trips to unload the car. I changed my clothes and headed out to the meeting.

Here’s what I will ask of you. Wait, breathlessly. Pray hard that I will realize my dreams and that I will get my books published. Shall we leave the mystery in place for the moment? Let the mystery roil with promise and suspense and dreams come true.

Then next thing on my agenda was to go for a hike on a beach trail and my BFF who is staying in town had made us spectacular plans rife with trees and guided by my favorite dog. We met up and I kept ignoring the warning signs of pain, easy to do as it has such a big place in my life. But today it was my leg. It had been uncomfortable during the car ride and stiff when I got out of the car. I pushed the pain to the back of mind, used to the low ebb as part of my daily existence. But the throbbing slowly and steadily got stronger.

I don’t talk about this pain yet it is a part of my daily existence. Even my closest friends do not know how debilitating it is.

It started 22 years ago, two years after my oldest was born.  The doctors tested me for rheumatoid arthritis and several other things. They put me on a steroid that I took for two weeks and weaned off of just as quickly because the side effects were scarier than the pain. 

Joints swelling, sometimes chills, nerve pain. Over the years, it has gotten worse but in such a way that I just became accustomed to it and so I learned to deal with it like everything else. I learned to battle it with weightlifting, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, minimizing sugar and processed food, and lots of water. This really helped. But over the last couple of years with my job becoming prominent in my life, the time I could dedicate to my self-care diminished. Quick meals, missed exercise, and less water. Then the pandemic hit and there was no gym, no time, and the anxiety and fear really took its toll.

I won’t go any further on this. Just to say, I have missed out on a lot of my life because of this pain. I try to move through it as best as I can. Dealing with the nights and days when it is too bad to hide and then, I go to my bed and grit my teeth until it is gone.

How could this happen today? WHY? No amount of brain screaming is going to make this different nor will I be able to lie to her, for if I do, my friend will think there is something else afoot. Yet, I know with certainty that this is going to be one of the bad times and that I can’t go further.

I went to face her and told her the barest of facts. I stood there feeling a thousand pounds overweight, a thousand years old, a thousand times at fault for what was happening to my body.  

I mumbled and tried to keep the weight from my leg, each minute needed to be off my feet. Each second knowing that I needed to get some pain reliever in me. That I needed to get warm.

Saying this truth out loud, however the bare minimum was so damn hard. This took so much more courage than you may realize. Here I was on an adventure. And I felt like I was opting out as I so often did when this happened to me. Inside me I pointed the finger at my inadequacy and that voice derided me. My body felt so burdensome and ugly.

I hobbled to my car after my insufficient apologies, barely able to get into the car seat.  I mentally slapped myself once, twice tears welling. I wiped them roughly away, there was no time for a pity fest. With a heavy sigh, I started the car and drove back to my amazing room.

Moving took all that I had and as with all the other times, I smudged my way through time and distance, my resolve the only thing keeping me going. I was almost to the bed when I remembered the complimentary Kimono and the SPA TUB with JETS. One of the ways to get the pain to go away quicker is to take a really really hot bath. I know, weird. But, if it works, it works.

I turned on the water and thanked God that I had brought my vanity into the bathroom. I had packed lotions, face treatments, oils because I had wanted to bask in the luxury as if I was at a spa resort. I pulled out the bare minimum and grabbed the dark wash cloth labeled Make-Up.  All the while my lips pulled, my jaw locked, my teeth gritting I lifted my leg into the steaming water.

Jets on, I whispered my prayers of thanks with each sigh. I stretched my leg out in the water letting the heat work into my core.

 I got out and took stock, I was at an 11 down from a 20. Defiantly I pulled on the  kimono, determined to keep the experience going.  The big windows overlooked the bed and I just lay there for a long while continuing to breath in and out, hoping to expel this bad fortune. My eye lids dropped, my body relaxed into the bed, and I slept.


I woke and the pain felt like an 8 and I was famished. I would order dinner delivered to my door. YES> I> WOULD. I wouldn’t worry about the cost.

Spinach, a lovely Sole in lemon, and a chocolate cake. MmmmHmmm I would conjure my way back into the magic of my adventure.

I went out on the balcony to await my dinner. The glory as the sun slowly set, the colors changing the shore line’s clarity to an artist’s charcoal thumb stroke. The trees and buildings, silhouettes against the ocean’s slate of blues and greys, its surface as smooth and taut as fresh linen.

The decent into the horizon felt like a movie premier. The sky put on a show that made me weep. The burnished hues of an oil painting mixed with lavenders from Monet’s own box. The clouds moving like a sonata into the vastness of sky, melding with the azure until all was one. I sat there in my kimono thanking God for every single breath. Each minute a miracle leading to the next. This was magic but not mine. This was a power beyond mine, beyond comprehension and I felt the magnitude fill me with the light of healing and renewal.

A discreet knock, and abracadabra, there sat my dinner. I pulled out the Burrata, the Fish Special, and the cake.

“It is very good tonight. “, he had said over the phone.

 “Yes, that. Please” was my quick reply.

Each mouthful felt like my first, a luscious experience of living. My tongue sparking as the capers melded with the lemon and the white fish cooked to perfection. Seasoned, exactly right. The spinach left to its glory was a perfect companion bite.

Oh, I scraped those boxes. The Burrata and the tapenade silky on the crusty, oiled bread.

A dreaminess came over me and satiation took a large bite out of the pain and the disappointment.

I pushed the cake aside, pretending I could wait. Nevertheless, I took it to the bedside table to wait while I lay reading. Yet, interspersed between paragraphs the siren song of the cake drifted its seduction song.  I rolled over, propped my leg, and took the first glossy spoonful.

LOOK. I am no stranger to chocolate. In fact, I am super picky. So, I rarely order it from restaurants. But the man from the restaurant who took my order responded with such certitude

“Should I have the lemon tart or the chocolate cake?”

Without pause, “No, I like my chocolate cake”. His confidence was persuasive.

 “Okay. Give it to me.” Without preamble, without question.

I have NEVER TASTED CAKE THAT GOOD. I mean this. Succulent mousse, some sort of subtle crunch, and a chocolate glaze. Most restaurants use such vile syrup that I always avoid so I wasn’t expecting much. Yet here I was swiping each bite and swirling it onto the cake, a tender swirl on my tongue.  UUUUMMMHMMM.

 Yes. That good.

I read after dinner, classical music blending with the sounds of the surf. My book, Snow by John Banville, a lovely surprise.

Banville unfurls his prose with a mundane beauty that belies its power unless you look closely. And you will feel compelled to look closer. It is a mystery set in the harsh winter of Ireland. Death, intrigue, secrets. A really good way to avoid thinking about pain.

I fell asleep reading. Is there any other way?

I awoke thinking I was late for work. I sat up and the present moment patted me on the shoulder, its okay. AND as with the way this thing I have works, the pain was gone. My body felt ravished but rested and I gingerly rose from them bed, each movement questioning. Is it really gone? Each step a blessing, the steadiness of my stance a gift.

I washed my face with warm water, my face a mask of the night’s travails, sweat gleaming from the exertion of finding peace.

I went out on the balcony after getting the coffee going. Excitement welling within me. Carmel Valley Roasters is one of my favorites when I visit and I had bought cream to prepare. I dragged my comforter out on the balcony, the dark alive with the sound of the waves rushing at the shore.

I heard the swiftness of seagull wings as their calls ebbed and flowed with the waves. They circled a tree as the dawn of a new day expanded, putting the stars to rest. Dawn unfurled her robe of lilac and denim blue. She stretched and opened her arms revealing the orange and yellow of the sun. I felt as if my mother’s hands were laid upon me. Her fingers combing through my hair, stroking my brow. She held me softly as the sun filled my eyes and my heart.

The sunrise cradled me for a long while and I lay in her embrace watching the seagulls go from shadow to clearly defined. Their feathers brisk against the pale blue sky. Wings outstretched, soaring over and under the newly birthed skyline. Alighting slowly, they would sit in the trees or the roof tops to watch and plan.

I let myself fill up with the wonder of this life. I will hold it close and try not to spill any as the demands of the day come about. I will drink in the pleasure slowly. A sip here, gulp there—when I can’t help myself.

I will try my best to seek the places that renew me and remind me that every time I rise, I breath, I walk, or I cry is a gift.

I am grateful for today.

I am grateful for my courage.

For the risk,

the folly,

and the Wonder.

Time to Wonder

“Can I schedule a time to wonder?” I wondered this morning as I finally sat down to write.

I had a hard time falling asleep last night.

I was excited about getting 5 WHOLE DAYS OFF.

In my head I can see time stretching before me. No deadlines or emails. The garage was cleaned last weekend. The laundry is almost caught up. Just the thought of me doing me got my heart racing.

I lay in bed trying to sleep but it was NOT HAPPENING.  I wanted so badly to wake bright eyed and ready to have an amazing and unfettered and creatively wondrous day. Instead of sleeping I watched datelines until my eyelids drooped heavy and the last thing, I remember hearing was about some ex-hockey player getting life for killing his wife.  

As a result of my bad decisions in the face of my insomnia I woke sluggish. My eyes opened reluctantly at the time they do every morning which is somewhere between 4:30 and 5. Smokey Magic started walking all over me, her purring getting louder and louder the longer I stayed under the covers.  

The smell of coffee walked me downstairs and the anticipation of drinking a hot cup of coffee without the drums of work in the distance, woke me.

I turned on the Christmas tree lights their seductive wink masking the chaos. As I heated Smokey’s breakfast. Yes. You read that correctly. I pop her wet food into the micro for 7 seconds so it is like eating a fresh kill, or so I imagine. She rubbed all over my legs in anticipation. Smokey contentedly ate her “fresh killed” chicken and I stalked down my favorite mug and created the perfect concoction of raw sugar and cream mixed until the coffee was a dark caramel.

Steam swirled around as I bent over to unlatch Smokey’s door and I sipped perfection as I took the stairs back to my snow-white comforter.

One of my favorite things to do is to watch a movie very early in the morning, before anyone else is up, sipping coffee, snuggled into my blankets.

I started to unwind despite the guilt and unease and I let myself get enfolded into Midnight Sky on Netflix. I just finished the book and have been eagerly awaiting its premier. It did not disappoint. I found myself crying with so many questions running through my head…

What kind of American am I? Was one of the questions that popped into my head as I watched the credits roll. What kind of woman? Are Humans essentially good? What will happen to us? Can we save the planet? Just as I was getting up to write what I was thinking the sound of the kids calling out to one another from their beds wafted down the hallway.

Outside my window it was still densely gray but here and there the outline of a branch peeked around the fraying edges of a fog still reluctant to make way for sunrise.

With a sigh, I reversed course and headed back downstairs to prep the Prime Rib for tomorrow. Just a little bit longer, I promised myself.

Prime Rib scored and salted and dry aging in the fridge I headed back upstairs. You’d think with all this stair climbing I would be as lithe as a gazelle. I wish.

The kids were still in bed ,half asleep. I knew I had to hurry if I wanted to have some private time for prayer and writing. But just as soon as I was done praying, the kids were up, and it was time for breakfast. Resentment kept time with my heartbeat.

I wanted to fight the resentment off and keep the calm that had filled me after praying so I grabbed Mary Oliver’s Devotions. I let the kids choose and they chose While I Am Standing Here and I read it out loud as the they ate. The words rose and fell in a steady motion matching the gentle sway of her thoughts. Mary takes ordinary actions and turns them into a melody.

That poem asks what prayer is and invites you to answer—privately. She conjures images of stillness and I could see it resonate with the kids.

After reading I realized that my pleasure at sharing poetry over breakfast was partially derived from my idea of what it looked like to others. The picture I had created was for some invisible audience that would approve. GOOD MOM. I could hear them say.

I sat there with this other audience observing the dining table disarray.  It was missing its special Christmas cloth as one of the kids had spilled milk all over it the night before. Two chairs do not match the other two chairs. Pencils, tape, scissors, wrapping paper share space with the butter dish and jar of jam. The tally of what was wrong with me and this moment rolled through my thoughts like a ticker tape at the bottom of a newscast.

Maybe there won’t be presents next year….

You won’t get all your projects done for your job and your boss will be disappointed…

The kids are fucked up and it’s your fault…

The house is crumbling around your ears…

I wish I could make a magic potion that I could drink and then presto…I would be free.

I pulled myself together thinking of the peace of my meditation before my prayers.  Of the sounds of birds chirping as they fluttered through the tree. The sparkle of dew on the plant I had watered. The dried orchid blossom inside the hand carved wooden box on my writing desk. The soft feel of the polished stones of my rosary. The silence as I plugged into the universe and felt its vibrancy and light.

I mopped up the yolk of my eggs and savored the last bite of my bacon and with my mouth half full suggested that the kids open one of their presents.

They smiled and joked as they unwrapped their gift from Smokey. Smokey is bad at gift wrapping, I explained to the audience.

And then the ticker tape started back up. So much to clean…I haven’t written yet…I am wasting my free time…my room is dirty

I marched myself to my office and pushed myself into my writing chair. Sit down. Shut up. Just write.

There is never going to be a day that everything is done at the office. There will always be cobwebs on the Haunted Nativity that was set up 11 years ago and hasn’t been dusted since. Someone will most likely spill milk on the special Christmas Table Cloth again.  There is always going to be chaos and a long list of chores.

The wonders in my life can be found in the choices I make with the time I am given.