Dogsledding

I had imagined bluebird skies, crisp air, and a blanket of snow.  And indeed, I got the snow part right.  Plus or minus a blizzard – with heavy wind gusts and heaping snow drifts.  But, here we were: our Oregon Trail of Dreams Sled Dog Ride Adventure.

We layered up and shuffled over to the tiny wood hutch only to hear that our trip would be delayed because of bad weather and an under-the-weather musher.  No worries, though.  We were a parking lot away from the Sunrise Lodge at Mt. Bachelor.  And a coffee bar, hallelujah.

Hot drinks in hand, we tromped back to await our sleds.  We met Rachael Scdoris, the owner/operator of the business.  Scdoris grew up helping her dad, a professional musher, when she was barely bigger than the dogs.  She laughed at how her “help” wasn’t very efficient.  The other mushers could harness ten dogs in the time it took her to harness one.  But with nature and nurture on her side, she finished her first Iditarod a decade ago.  Now, she and her husband run the huge operation.

Scdoris encouraged us to walk around and meet the dogs.  They sat still and quiet until the first sled was within eyesight.  Then, a cacophony of barks and yelps and yips filled the air as each dog begged to start running.

My dad and the kids went first, bundled up like three peas in a pod.  Then, my mom and I loaded into the sled right after.  It was surreal and surprising.  The lunge from the start.  The whoosh down the hill.  The muffled stillness of the forest.

Our musher’s race stories and encouraging “Good dogs!  Good DOGS!” covered the sound of our sled above the snow.  She chatted on and on as if we were best friends meeting for drinks – while my mom and I sat huddled in the sled, teeth chattering and noses freezing.  It was cold.  Bitter cold.  And yet, I couldn’t get over the enthusiasm of these mushers.  These professional dog lovers.

Their passion wasn’t just evident in their words and their stories.  It was obvious by their actions.  They work tirelessly.  In crazy climates.  With dozens of dogs to care for.  Why? Because they love what the do.

I think the world would be a better place if we lived more like these mushers.  Doing what we love in spite of the sacrifice it takes.  Nothing is more heartwarming.  Even in the freezing cold.

#27

#27 on the list. Done.

I had resigned myself to going alone after my kids kept finding excuses to put it off another day.  And another.

But then I was talking to a new friend and the topic came up.  One thing led to another.  Or more precisely, one idea led to a commitment.  We would go together at 5:45 AM on a Saturday.

When my alarm shook me, I sat up thinking I had dreamed the whole thing.  In the darkness, the idea didn’t seem so great.  And by the time I pulled up to my friend Meg’s house, 30-something-degrees and raining, I knew the idea wasn’t so great.

“Should we do this another morning?  One where there might actually be a sunrise that we can see?” I suggested.

“NO!  Let’s do it! It’s gonna be fun.” Meg rallied.

And with that, we were off.

We must have looked a strange sight.  Me, all touristy with ski gloves and a camera bag.  Meg, all fitnessey with her running gear and head lamp.  But, step by step as we trudged up the butte, our stories swirled about.

I used to think that road trips were the petri dish for great conversation.  Now, I’m convinced it’s hiking up tiny mountains at dawn.

By the time we reached the top, we could see the city start to stir.  Clouds were rolling in from the mountains – covering the peacock blue sky.  A grandmotherly type came after us and commented, “Well, I guess there’s no sunrise today.”  I felt my heart sink.

Meg must have seen my disappointment because as soon as the woman left, she said, “What do you call this?  The Sun Rose!  This is a sunrise.”

And she was right.  It may not have been a vibrant pink and splashy orange.  There was no Jesus-ascending-lightbeams behind big clouds.  It was subtle and simple.  Exactly like life.

We live in a culture that values the amazing, exotic, bright and beautiful.  But the majority of our time and experience is not.  I really wanted the sunrise from the top of Pilot Butte to be spectacular.  Dramatic.  And after we scrambled/slid down the trail, the wind whipping and our fingers numb, I realized the memory itself was spectacular.  Not the experience itself.  But experiencing it with someone.

Life is meant to be shared.  Bucket lists alone are, well, lonely.

Without Meg, I would have definitely hit snooze, rolled over and gone back to sleep.

Still dreaming of hiking to the top to watch the sunrise.

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Not Alone

Recently, I was having a conversation with a colleague about reading in the real world.  She asked something to the effect of “how do adults use Literature?”  As an English major and Humanities teacher, I felt myself squirm.  I tried to explain the beauty of books.  And the truth found in fiction.  And experiencing/learning through characters.  Blah, blah, blah.

It felt strange trying to defend myself.  I know why I read.  But why should others?

Then it hit me.  I was poised with my answer.  It’s a quote by C.S. Lewis and one of my all-time favorite lines:  “We read to know we are not alone.”

Why read?  Because reading is connecting.

When I first moved to Bend, my neighbor, Diane, saw me front-porch-reading and invited me to her Book Club.  Not knowing a soul, I jumped at the chance to meet others, and quickly said yes.

At first I felt intimidated by the age differences.  Most of the women were closer in age to my mom than myself.  I felt out of place and out of context.  But I was also intrigued.  I loved hearing the stories from women further down the journey.  Of broken hearts and broken-in bodies.  Of lessons learned and life’s disappointments.

Each month, we gather around the table to share Literature.  But, we also get to share Life.  These women are part of my story.  They encourage me and inspire me and make me feel like I’ve found my tribe.

Maybe for you it’s yoga.  Or bible study.  Perhaps it’s antique cars or spoon collecting.  But, we all need to belong to something.  We need others we can identify to – and resonate with.  We were made for connection.  

For me, reading isn’t just in the real world.  It is a reflection of the real world.  It’s messy, flawed and incredible.  A reminder that we are not alone.

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Contrast

Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

I’m not totally sure what he meant by this – but I love the contradiction.  So often, I’ve thought conflict was bad.  The struggle was to be avoided.  But here’s the thing: without conflict, there is no resolution.  Without pain, there is no healing.  Without brokenness, there is no repair.

We need the bad, so we can recognize the good.  And not just recognize the good, but be grateful for it.

You know when you’ve been icky/groggy/head-detached-from-your-body sick? When everything suddenly looks dreary.  Your lens on life is clouded.  Then, one morning, you wake up feeling different!  Food has flavor again.  Your legs feel lighter.  The world looks brighter.  And you are so appreciative to feel like yourself.  Something so mundane and normal is now amazingly delightful.  Without the comparison, you would never feel so grateful.  So aware.

Life is full of contrast.  We need the contrast.

Recently, we spent some time at a charmingly rustic ranch.  There, I was captivated by the fence line.  If ever there was an image to show the cliche “The grass is always greener on the other side,” this was it.  There was such stark opposition in the desert brush and the manicured lawn.  But it wasn’t the images themselves that were compelling.  It was the disparity between them.  Beauty takes wing in the contrast.

These days, I have to remind myself of the purpose of contrast.  That peace arrives out of conflict.  And rainbows appear after storms.

I’m convinced that Rumi had it right; the wound is the place where Light enters.  And, I for one, am grateful for the Light.

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The Path

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I think Hiking is Walking’s more attractive twin.  Maybe it’s just me, but the word hike sounds so much more sturdy.  And substantial.  Like you’re actually accomplishing something.  Walk reminds me of the vacant-eyed mall-walkers with their jogging pants swishing.  Sneakers squeaking.

Regardless of the name, they both involve a path. And the path itself is something I’ve been gnawing on.  There’s a reason The Path is a major symbol and motif in literature.  It’s something relatable.  Simple.  Linear.  (Thank you, Robert Frost.)

We all begin on the path with high hopes, and even higher expectations.  We swallow the belief that if we do __________, we will be ______________.  We pack our tools.  We look at our map.  And we go.

On this path, we pass lots of people.  Some are literally stopping to smell the flowers.  Others running/heaving to get ahead.  Many are alone.  Others travel in packs.  But the thing about the path, is that we each get to choose.  We choose our pace.  We choose our direction.  We choose our traveling companions.  We choose our shortcuts and scenic routes.  And when we can’t choose the weather/terrain/altitude, we at least get to choose our attitude.

There are some things I’ve learned about hiking on The Path.

1. Allow plenty of time.  You have to give yourself grace if you’re not where you hoped to be a certain time.  It’s okay.

2. Expect to get dirty.  Your shoes will get dusty.  Your hair matted.  Your shirt and socks sweaty.  Also okay.

3. You don’t have to follow the crowd.  In fact, I wouldn’t.  Peace comes quietly.  Unexpected.  It shows up in the slants of sunlight shooting through the leaves and the birds calling above the breeze.  Crowds drown it out.

4. Know when to quit.  Be aware of your limits.  There is no shame in stopping.  Or resting.  In turning around or asking for help.  Again, it’s okay.

Maybe your path, like mine, has taken you in a direction you weren’t expecting.  Or maybe, we’ll look back one day and realize that the brokenness led to a place of absolute beauty.

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Received Damaged

I went to visit my parents recently.  And maybe visit isn’t the right word.  More like, escape.

My life had taken an unexpected turn, and I didn’t know where else to go.

After a cancelled Southwest flight and extended stay in Portland, the kids and I finally made it to Kansas City.  The humidity greeted us at the gate.  It was sticky hot and oh-so-familiar.  But, as soon as I heaved my suitcase off the baggage carrousel, I noticed something.  There, plastered in the center of my suitcase, was a sticker that read, “Received Damaged.”

Really?!?  Was my suitcase that beaten up and run-down?  So the stitching may be coming undone, and the corners smashed in.  But, “damaged”?  It sounded so morbid and final and well, shameful.

 

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And yet, I decided to leave the sticker.  The meaning behind it grew some legs.

I realized that it wasn’t just my bag that was received damaged.  It was me.  I came home with all kinds of devastation.  I was a jumbled mess of tears and doubts.  And my family listened.  They heard The Story.  They surrounded me with love and understanding and encouragement.  They received me.  Damaged.

I don’t think I could have made it without them.  Because, we can’t do it alone.  We need people in our lives who will take us – damaged and all.  We need friends who will hold our hands in the darkness.  We need family who will pray us through the desert.  We need each other.  

I wish my suitcase, and life, were all put back together by the time I flew home.

The truth is, I’m still broken.

But, I also know that I’ll be okay.

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The space between

Last week, we joined my family on a cruise. We were herded through the ship terminal to a floating hotel – full of chipper employees, ornate carpets, and tiny bathrooms.

It was everything a vacation should be.

But peel back the buffet lines, flashy shows, and shimmering pools and you realize you are in the middle. of. the. ocean.  And there is nothing and no one in sight.  It’s just Blue.  All blue.

I was thinking about this, and I realized that when you’re on land, life feels stable.  Solid and sturdy.  But, spend a few days on the water and suddenly everything feels different. Unnatural.  You live at the mercy of the weather and the vessel.

Living in the space between sky and water, liquid and gas, you’re reminded how fluid life is. Everything moves.

Land only gives us the illusion of stability.  We deceive ourselves into thinking that we are in control.  But, the truth is, everything – every element – moves.  Plates shift.  The ground quakes.  The planets spin.

And maybe that’s why I love the feeling of floating in the middle of the ocean.  Take away land and you take away the illusion.  You’re only left with the swaying of the waves and the pushing of the wind.

You give up control and let the force of something bigger, much bigger, carry you.

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On Perspective

Memorial Weekend, we had no plans. While everyone and their dog was going camping/boating/paddle-boarding/hiking/having-the-time-of-their-life, we stayed in.

Which is not a bad thing.

The kids asked if we could pitch our tent outside, and I had to tell them that we hadn’t fixed the poles… soooo, No.
A full-blown, dramatic melt-down ensued, and I countered with a pathetic, “Let’s build our OWN tent!”

They didn’t buy it. Their short-lived dreams of backyard camping were just that: short lived. But, I wasn’t about to let them pout that easily. I started tossing out ideas of building the Best Tent Ever. “We could use the ladder. And drape sheets. And watch a movie. And make s’mores. C’mon guys!! It will be AMAZING!”

As I started dragging all the necessary ingredients out, they slowly joined in. Plodding at first. Then, sprinting. We brought down every musty sheet stored in the back of the closet we could find. We duct-taped every seam. We hung up lights and dropped off blankets.

Eloise squealed, “This is the Most. Epic. Tent. EVER!!” She couldn’t wait to show her friends and neighbors. The most mundane thing was magical.

We ate dinner around the invisible campfire in the alleyway, burned marshmallows over the stovetop, and watched a Disney channel flick before falling asleep to the sound of the dishwasher.

Marcel Proust said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

You don’t have to have a picturesque place to make picture-perfect memories.
You just need to have the right perspective.

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What they don’t say

This past weekend, we celebrated our anniversary. Sixteen years in, and I realized something.

When you’re first married, they tell you things like:
…Congratulations!
….Wishing you a lifetime of love!
…You guys are perfect for each other!

But, there’s a lot they don’t say.

They don’t tell you:
…that the fights you had while you were dating are only 1.3 on the Richter scale compared to the ones you have years and roadblocks later.

…that one insignificant morning, you’ll look over and realize that you’re married to a complete stranger.

…that the habits you once thought of as quirky are, in fact, annoying.

…that all the songs are about falling in love or breaking with love. But few are about the expansive middle of staying.

…that when you argue over thermostats and dishes and disciplining, you’re actually arguing over big things like expectations and values.

…that romance isn’t like Hollywood portrays it. And sometimes it is much, much better.

…that one night there will be in an elephant in the room and ignoring it will only make it grow bigger. Until it’s impossible to pretend-you-don’t-notice and you say something. Or suffocate.

…that you will watch friends and family step on the land mines of betrayal. You’ll be hit with the shrapnel and forever carry the scars.

…that you will find your role and your rhythm. It may take years to perfect, but once you do, the wheel will run smooth. The groove deep.

…that you’ll take turns being crazy, frantic, and worried. Like a seesaw, rarely will you both be perfectly balanced. And the momentum keeps you going.

…that you’ll have to talk through it. Even when you’re so, so tired. And the To Do list is too long. And the alarm clock rings too early. You have to talk.

…that marriage is a lot like cars. The sparkle and newness wears out right about the time it needs major maintenance. And while it’s tempting to trade it in, don’t. Because in a few more decades it becomes more valuable that before. It’s deemed classic. Vintage. And rare.

…that you will create a History. One that no one but the two of you will ever share. You’ll hold each other’s secrets and wishes.  Shame and desires.

…that you will fail. You’ll mess up. You’ll hurt each other with your thoughts and words and actions. And if you’re lucky, you’ll both stick around.

…that it’s worth it. Even when it’s less like Happily Ever After, and more like Compromising Ever After. The give-and-take is a delicate dance. But one that is captivating.

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Fathering

The best dad I know is fatherless.  Not by choice, but by circumstance.  His first one exited at age 3, the second one walked out when he was 27.

Chris doesn’t have a dad to talk to on the back porch.  Or join for a “quick” game of golf.  He doesn’t get lectured or advised.  Or even called on his birthday.

He’s leading us. 
Without a guide.

And yet, despite his messed-up models, I can’t think of a better example.

Chris makes the kids’ breakfasts, packs their lunches, and prepares our dinners.
He goes on field trips.  And volunteers for forest days.
He takes out splinters and cleans up spills.
He teaches our kids to wear helmets, jump curbs, to say sorry, to season everything, to use their words, and to notice others.
He listens to their bed-time ramblings and turns up the volume when they start to dance.
He buys them new shoes when his own are beyond worn-out.
He gives.  And gives some more.

When our six-year-old begged for a haircut and our schedule kept conflicting with the barbershop’s, Chris offered to cut it himself.

Mind you, he had never cut hair.  He had never been taught the skills or been given the tools.  He only knew what a good haircut looked like.

After 45 minutes and one major meltdown of “It’s-too-long… I-look-like-a-girl ”Chris went back to the drawing board, er bathroom, and tried again.

Duke loved it.
And I loved him.

Not having a good example does’t mean we’re doomed to the same pattern.  It just means that we have to create our own.

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So, to all the dads who are trying to figure it out,
We Need You.
To the dads who know spending time with the kids is as valuable as spending time at the office,
We Love You.

Keep Fathering.