Sunday, May 15, 2016

Her Legacy

    The last few weeks I have been helping with the final clean up of my grandparents' property getting it ready for the closing date of the sale. The cleanup began in February of last year, and I have been it since the beginning. The property was sizable: 30 forested acres on the foothills of the Coastal Range, with a large main house, the spacious Hill House, a pottery studio with a one bedroom apartment, plus multiple large outbuildings, all filled with Stuff. My grandparents' moved on to the property in 1972 and started building up a small artist commune on the fringe of society, and 5 miles from the closest town. There was so much stuff left from decades of artists coming and going, seminars, classes, tours, and just the lifestyle of the artists in residence. We filled three 30 yard dumpsters. Yeah, stuff.
    But until this last week it felt as if the place would always be a family place, part of my history that would always be there for me, with that familiar feel. As the closing date neared, the reality began to hit. This was not going to stay with the family, it was time to let someone else shoulder the responsibility. But the knowledge of what a physical and financial burden the property is, doesn't help me escape the "What if..." fantasies. Over the last year I have rolled so many ideas through my brain, unfortunately, the reality is that they all pretty much start with, "If I had a million dollars." That is the cold hard truth. Brain knows, Heart can't accept it.
    Now, the end is here. I didn't find a million dollars. I couldn't come up with A Plan. So the Art Farm now becomes part of the past, and is now the fantasy of a new family, strangers. I can't go and scavenge bricks. I can't wander the place finding random bits of sculpture and pottery to drag home and find a niche for. I can't dig plant starts from the massive perennial garden. I can't wander through the house, with the familiar sights and smells. The house is empty. The sculpture and pottery are mostly gone. The garden will bloom without us. The new family will bring their own decorating style, and it will no doubt suck compared to my Grandmother's eclectic awesomeness. It is time to let it all go. And it is depressing.

    I did not sleep well in the days leading up to the end. I had strange dreams and insomnia. I realized that, although it is a relief to pass on the burden, my heart is grieving the loss. I will get past it. I will nurture the plants that I brought home. I will put pottery and sculpture in my own gardens as a visible, daily reminder of Grandma and her awesomeness. I will pass her love of beautiful things to my children and grandchildren, as she did to her children and grandchildren. It is her legacy. Not the house, or the property, but the love of art and beauty, vivid colors, and that surrounding yourself with creativity and art makes for a beautiful life. That truly is her legacy. But I will miss the Art Farm.

Plan of Attack

    I realized yesterday that I have been focusing too much on what I can't do, instead of what I can, and how far I have come over the last 4 years. I have been down on myself because my fitness level isn't what it was 1-1/2 years ago when I did the 250k. Well, no shit. True, I have been having a lot of trouble with pain from injuries and arthritis, not to mention that nasty (and very painful) little bout with cellulitus that required 10 days of antibiotics. True, I've been having a lot of fatigue the last month or two that has made my motivation slip, I think part of this is residual from the infection and antibiotics. So this is me, pulling myself up by my boot straps, slapping myself upside the head, giving myself a good shake, and yelling, "Get over it!!"  Yeah, it's like that.
    I have been approaching a lot of my leg training as physical therapy in an attempt to be able to run again. This will continue, and get a bit more intense. I've been spending about 30 minutes after each swim (so, three days a week) doing leg work in the water. This has been great. I'm really trying to strengthen my hip abductors and pelvic girdle to give me more stability when I run and cycle. I have been cognizant of stretching in an attempt to loosen up my hips, to decrease my chances of more IT Band issues. I have to interject one thing here, cycling makes for tight hip flexors. I mean stiff, tight, old lady hip flexors. I also have a good, solid leg routine that I do 2-3 times a week of weights, strength training, body weight work, and plyometrics. I am adding to this routine with more stability work to try and better activate small muscles and kinetic chain. Because I don't workout enough, I need to add more. Really though, more dryland training is needed if I am ever going to be able to run at anything more than a hobble for 5K.
    I am back in the running shoe market. Damn shoes. I have some that I really love, but with chronic foot pain I think I need to add more padding than my beloved minimal shoes offer. Especially on pavement. No, I don't plan on running on pavement much, but it is a necessary evil. Even on trails I think that increasing the cushioning in my shoes won't be a bad thing. Honestly, I can't even begin to tell you just how much my feet hurt. Getting older sucks. Now I know why old people move so stiff and slow, it is because everything hurts.
     I am adding meditation to try and move past the aches and pains that are from a body well used, as well as continue a search for supplements, diet tweaks, and physical therapy to reduce the pain as much as I can. I need to be able to function, and a body that hurts doesn't want to train. You wouldn't believe the conversations I have with myself trying to convince me to work past the pain. No, I am not talking about injury pain, just the day to day discomfort that has increased considerably this year.
    That is the current plan of attack. Basically keep doing what I am doing, but do more of it. Remind myself of what I can do and how far I have come, not what my limitations are.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Wild Geese and Art Farm

    I dreamed of wild geese. Canadian Geese, to be precise. A pair, in a partially flooded field. I have no idea what it might mean. In Tai Chi there is a movement called flying wild goose, or it can be flying redtailed hawk, depending on which animal you resonate with. I had always thought it would be the hawk. These days though, I realize that maybe it is the wild goose. The goose is family oriented, very loyal, and a creature of habit. They are protective of their young and their territory.
    These days I am much more family focused than I have been. Family time is more important to me than anything. I spend what time I can with my grandchildren. I have been able to spend a lot of time this past year with my mother and aunt as we have worked to get my grandparents' property cleaned up and sold.
    Speaking of which, today was the last day that the family place is still the family's. By this time tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, the property will change hands. I have spent three days this last week making trips out there to help with final cleaning. Today was the last time I will walk the property and soak up the vibe of my history. It is a sad day for me. I am grieving quietly for the loss of a place that was more than mere property. It is the end of an era. The Art Farm is now just a part of my past, my history, memories of childhood.
    Maybe this is why I dreamed of wild geese? Family, yet transitory. The place does not make the family, since we all migrate from place to place throughout our lives. Family is not a place, it is a place in our soul. No matter where we go, as long as we have a soul, we have our family. But I will still miss the Art Farm.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Reconnection

    There is no doubt that I am at my most creative when I am at my darkest. I know this is true for most creative people. Pain, anguish, mania, and anger feed creative energy. The birthing process is painful, bloody, and exhausting. The closer I get to finding mental and spiritual clarity, the more difficult it is to find those brilliant bursts of mania fueled scribbles. Those moments when the words flow at lightening speed, when my fingers can barely keep pace. I look back on my writing from several years ago an am frankly amazed at the gush of witticism that spewed forth from my brain. I would not go back to that mindset if you paid me though. I had plunged into an abyss, writing was very often my lifeline to the light.
     My Grandmother was a brilliant and prolific painter. After her death we were preparing for a sale and showing of her work. I mentioned to my Mom that the volume of work was staggering. My Mom replied, "Because there was a lot of anger there." We hate to think of our beloved, benevolent, serene elders in such a light. But you can see it in her paintings if you look; the bold brush work, deep dark colors, red predominant. Later in life she did a series of fantastic abstract women. For my Grandmother maybe was a lifetime of feeling caged by her generation, and shackled to aspects of life that were too banal. Or that she got her start later in life. But that is sheer speculation on my part. I do not say any of this to disparage her, or anyone else. It is just a fact, and a common truth among artists. Creativity so often comes from suffering.
    Now, my dilemma is to find a way to create from a place of peace and calm, instead of turbulence and anxiety. A year ago I came to the realization that I needed to work towards harmony and a spiritual reconnection within myself. I wrote a list of list of Needs. Top on the list were: Self Reliance; Independence; Solitude; Spiritual Reconnect; Harmony; Health; To Write. A simple list, but not so simple an achievement. But I move closer with the passing of time. I keep these thoughts at the forefront of my actions. I think on what I am doing, where I am, where I am going, and if it is moving me towards my Needs. With this comes the need to pay the Piper, the loss of my Mania and Melancholy that has been such a source of energy for me. I have to find a way to tap into alternate, healthy energy sources so I can feed my fire without burning myself into an empty hull.
    The price of creation can be high. But I know there is a way to let that payment feed back into my spirit. I just have to find it and tap into it. That is my path. That is the way I must follow. I will follow the light, and let it feed my spirit.

Safe Haven

    I avoid writing about being alone. I think about it quite a bit, but steer clear of putting the words in print. Don't get me wrong, I am rarely ever lonely. Once in a while, for maybe an evening I will regret not having someone in the house with me, in my bed, there for breakfast. But the feeling is fleeting.
    When I think of being alone, it is in a pragmatic way. The thought that I might be alone the rest of my days, while a tad unnerving, isn't depressing. Instead it is more about planning for my future and how I will manage when I am older. I think that is a driving force behind people wanting to be in relationships as they get older; they do not want to grow old alone. Many people are afraid of being alone. I watch my mother, who is 75 and single for almost half her life, go about her independent life, and I sometimes wish she had a partner to help her at least with the heavy lifting. But she is happy, and loves her life. So who am I to wish otherwise for her? I watch her and see myself in 20 years: independent, happy, strong, assured. Then I look at the ten years after that and know that at some point she will come to live with me.
    Where does this train of thought lead? That I need to be working towards turning my little corner of the world into something more akin to a commune. I used to joke about it, and some friends will remember the term "Women's Country." I have espoused the notion of a piece of land, large enough to support multiple small cabins, with one large community building, a community garden, shared responsibilities among a small, tight knit group of friends (most likely single women). This has been a fantasy of mine for most of my life. It has evolved from an idea of an artist commune to something more practical. Now, I look at my little piece of land and know just how much more I could do with it.
    The building of The Fort was the first step. My 200 square foot studio space that I created from a shabby storage shed. It lit a fire under me to build a second space, a cabin or guest house. I loathe to say the over-used term "Tiny House" but that is what it would be. I have loved small, single room spaces for my entire life. Three decades ago I clipped an article from Country Living magazine that had a photo spread on several turn of the century single room cabins. Glorious little homes, with wood stoves, porches, ship-lap siding, and the architectural stylings of an 1890's farmhouse. I craved one with every fiber of my being. But the idea of raising a family in something so small dimmed the fire for the time being. I never stopped looking at small structures. From A-frame ski retreats to tiny log cabins to Victorian wash houses and maid's quarters, they are all fascinating to me.
    Okay, I am rambling. Back to the gist of today's pondering. Now, having scaled my idea of a commune back a notch or two, with the knowledge that I will not likely ever own a large tract of land, I look at my own property. True, it is just under half an acre. But a hell of a lot can be done on half an acre. The spot I have chosen for the new micro house is by the apple trees. It is a clear, level stretch of ground that is not really in use for anything but shady lawn and a place to hang my hammock in the summer. It is the same area I will build my brick bread and pizza oven this summer. A guest house, or my own retreat. I have thought it could be my own home while I let someone else rent my house, or a place for a kindred spirit to share a Fried Green Tomatoes friendship.
     With a bit more living space, a bit less clutter, and a lot more specific use of land for planting, I am slowly progressing towards my own commune. Start small and build. Add more grape vines, fruit trees, berries, a small wind turbine, a greenhouse, and potting shed.
    I may remain single the rest of my days, if I so choose. But I will make my home my safe haven.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Annual Birthday Assessment

    This is intended as my birthday post, I'm a wee bit late, as I seem to be time warping this month, and am amazed that February is more than half over already. About a decade ago, I've lost track of exactly when, I made a vow to myself that every year on my birthday I would be healthier than I was the previous year. The more years that pass, the more difficult this becomes. Not because I am losing the desire, or slacking, or throwing in the towel. To the contrary, it is because I am damned healthy, and the fitter I get, the smaller the gains are. I keep tweaking my life and lifestyle, dialing it in, seeking perfection, always aiming high.
    I will start with the physical aspects. This year one of the easiest, most visible gains has been in the swimming pool. I know, it just goes to show what a jock I am. I have been increasing my swim fitness to a level higher than it was at my peak for the 5k swim of my long triathlon. I'm easily swimming 2+ miles every time I am at the pool, which is at least 3 times a week. On my birthday I cut it short, aiming for 1-1/2 miles so I could get to dinner with my boys and their families. I swam that 1-1/2 at a goodly pace, Olympic distance Tri pace, and it felt good. As I climbed out of the pool I realized that 1-1/2 miles = 54 laps, on my 54th birthday. Accidental though it was it seemed appropriate. Today I hit the pool and went for steady rate distance, getting in 100 laps in 1 hour 40 minutes. Not too shabby. One goal this year is to swim the Portland Bridge Swim: 11 miles down the Willamette River. I have a lot of training to do. One benefit is that swimming hard lets me eat damned near as much as I want.
    I am being consistent with my triathlon training, despite not being able to run for a while due to injuries, and what seems to be the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in several joints in my feet (those bastards hurt like hell, by the way). But, I am religiously keeping up with strength training and plyometrics, in conjunction with cycling workouts at least 5 times a week. My current weight is hovering around 162, which has been my happy weight now for almost 2 years. Oddly, I am at the same weight I was in highschool. at 5'10" this gives me a BMI of 23, which is considered "normal." One of the few times I like being called normal.
    I will say, this last year my arthritis has reared its ugly head more and more. Hands, elbows, ankles, and feet being the most noticeable targets. I still avoid pain meds for the most part, just popping the rare Nsaid if something is really hurting. I notice that there is a weird ache that lives in the long bones of my arms, especially along the full length of the ulna. The same weird ache lives along both collar bones and likes to remind me of it when I swim. I do look at other people and wonder what it would be like to live relatively pain-free. But it is a reminder of a life well lived, I think. And as long as I can manage it with nutrition and exercise I plan on doing what I do until I'm 100 or so.
    One key in much of what I have been yammering about has been the continual tweaking of my diet. Honestly, I hate the word "diet" as it always conjures up images of proscribed foods and gimmicky fads. I have been vegetarian now for about 2 years. In the few years before that I was rarely eating meat. I am mostly dairy free, cheese being the only exception. I rarely eat wheat, avoid all processed foods, and consider high fructose corn syrup to be the devil incarnate. My original reasons for giving up wheat and meat was quite simply to attempt to get my joint inflammation under control. It seems to help, and it has rid me of the chronic heartburn I had for 20 years.
   The one thing that has me most pleased this year is that I am free of all prescription meds. I had kicked the anti-depressants to the curb over a year ago, but was still reliant on a sleep aid. Honestly, I think this is the best sign of continued great health that I could have. Yes, being fit, strong, slender, and might I say, sexy, is all good an well, but feeling of sound mind is far better. It is a gift to feel stable, relaxed, and confident. Of course there are days when I let the lunatic out into the sunlight, but now she is more of a Muse, a companion, and half of the balance of light and dark, Yin and Yang.
    This last year I have built some cool shit, had some fun, damn near wrecked myself on a trail run, gimped through the summer, enjoyed my life as it is, made plans to keep increasing the pleasure of my life, added to the value of my home, set goals both small and large. I have built a solid foundation of health and wellness in all aspects of my life, and I aim to keep building, bit by bit. I can only imagine where I will be this time next year.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Successful?

"The Planet does not need more successful people. The Planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, story tellers, and lovers of all kinds." ~Dalai Lama~

    I have come to the realization that "successful" is a relative term. I have known it for a long time, but only recently been able to come to terms with it within my own life. College? Career? Wealth? The big house, fancy car, designer wardrobe? In our material world of conspicuous consumption, where degrees, career, and wealth are worn like a badge of honor, and the key to the hanging with the popular kids, I shy from these as if they were a venomous snake.
    It hasn't always been the case. There have been many times that I felt the tug of envy and desire. Thinking how much easier life would be if money was never an issue. Not feeling a twinge of embarrassment at my beat-up, third hand car when parked next to the latest and greatest shiny new thing. Seeing the big house, with tidy yard, and knowing that the residents never have to crawl under their own home to try and fix a leaky pipe. They just hire a plumber, and money is no object.
    A few years back, at a cocktail party of all things, I was asked several times, "So, what is your degree in?" And had to fight the desire to punch them in the face and say, "Hard knocks." I left feeling angry, bitter, resentful, and ashamed that it seemed so important to this room full of people, all with degrees and "successful" careers by the way, what university I did or did not attend, and what I had decided to be when I grew up. At that moment it made me feel as if I was seen as trying to move into a social sphere in which I did not belong. Or as I put it at the time, "A blue collar girl in a white collar world... the girl from the wrong side of the tracks." In retrospect, I choose to think that my obvious intelligence and wit made them assume that I had a high level of what they would consider a proper education. Ha ha. Fooled them. I am just naturally wicked smart and hilariously funny. Now I can see it. Now I don't care that I don't have a degree, or what would be considered a proper career. Now I appreciate my vast and weird knowledge, my intuition, and natural gifts.
    I won't lie, I still feel the pressure of lack of funds, frequently. But instead of envy when I see that shiny, big car I feel the smug satisfaction of my fuel efficient, hippie chick, old Honda Civic with the half-Ironman sticker and uber-geeky bumper sticker. When I see the big house I think "big mortgage," and feel pride in my handyman skills and low monthly payment. I see the wealth in the stacks of reclaimed and salvaged building materials in my yard.
    I am content with my life, as atypical and anti-establishment as it is. I am not defined by what so many see as "success." I am not a career, wealth, college degree. I create with my mind, build with my hands, heal with my heart. I am a Dreamer, Artist, Writer, Empath, Healer, Peacemaker. Mother, Grandmother, Treehugging Hippiechick Hedgewitch. We need more people in the world that understand the true meaning of Success.