traveling notes, AZ-NM

For more than a week, my daughters and I explored parts of northern Arizona and New Mexico. We rented an RV for some days and we stayed in hotels for the rest. We saw the Grand Canyon (below is a picture of us at Oak Creek Canyon on the drive from Sedona to Flagstaff), went to Four Corners Monument, and made several other stops along the way.

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As we made our way back home to Maine, I’ve thought a lot about how to share our experiences with our friends and family. Long gone are the days when we might sit around the living room with the loud slide projector seeing “pictures from our vacation.” I’m not sure yet what the modern equivalent will be. It feels like it needs to be more than sharing pictures on Facebook or on this blog.

Traveling as the only adult turned out to be a pretty big deal. As we drove — for hours and hours at a time — I’d be gasping at the landscapes on my own. Both of my daughters have a greater capacity than a lot of children for awe and wonder at things like mountains or rock formations, but they tired of the views a lot more quickly than I did (I didn’t tire of them). Add to that the sheer exhaustion I felt from being the only grownup on duty as the parent, and there wasn’t a lot of “vacation” in my week.

That said, oh my gosh. Wow! I’m in my late 40s and while I have seen some of southern New Mexico, I got a real taste of what the southwest looks like on on this trip. I feel like I’d never really seen anything like it. I resisted the urge to take photographs at every gasp, but I did take a few and some of them effectively remind me of what I saw.

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Photographs, of course, don’t actually come close to doing it any justice. I can see why Georgia O’Keeffe was struck by the need to capture what she experienced out there. Just driving across the landscape was emotionally overwhelming. I wish we’d had a geologist and a botanist traveling with us. I didn’t do any research in advance and had no time/energy to do it as we moved along. Someday I’ll learn about how and why the land looks like it does.

That’s it for now. I’ll share more later when I figure out just how I want to do it. (Photo below is me at (I think?) the Petrified Forest.)

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groceries (no groceries) lessons as I’m learning them

Just some notes from the time I was doing the no groceries challenge. The influence of the challenge is still with me, though I wouldn’t consider myself in a challenge right now.

  • Playing this game is nothing like actually not having enough money to buy groceries. Nothing at all. Knowing if I really “had to” I could get anything I needed makes the experience a personal growth exercise unrelated to poverty. I wrote about this in my newspaper column.
  • Homemade whole wheat tortillas are *really* easy and so much better than store-bought they are worth the effort. I can keep the dough frozen if I don’t have time to cook them all up at once. I used the breadmaker to mix the dough, which made it feel even easier.
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  • Friends are supportive and generous when they know about the challenge.
  • My grocery shopping is much more cost-efficient. I recognize impulse buys for what they are, for example, and don’t succumb.
  • Ordering take out pizza or Chinese food is CHEATING and it started seeming like a reasonable option after a few weeks.
  • The creativity I force myself to tap into has helped me work on time management skills. I don’t do it as much as would be helpful, but meal planning and pre-prep work make being so tired takeout seems like a good option a relatively rare experience.
  • I’ll do one of these no groceries challenges again soon.

no groceries challenge #4

In May of 2013, I imposed a “no groceries” rule on myself to see how long I could go without going to the supermarket. I learned quite a bit more than I expected. I repeated the challenge in less stringent forms a couple more times. (To view those posts, you can visit the “no groceries” category on this site.)

With the full involvement of my daughters, we’re embarking on the challenge again. Two weeks of summer camp (paid for with scholarship money) for the last two or three years aren’t available this summer. This means decreased childcare and increased expenses. With some good luck and some good choices, I’m not currently facing the threat of negative bank balances. But, bills will come due. Without some drastic budget cutting or with some bad luck, it could be dire.

Most of my expenses are fixed (rent, phone, Internet, tuition, insurance). One area where we have some control is food. I don’t expect it will make all the difference we need as I look towards the challenges of summer, but as it was before, just the actions themselves—knowing I can do something—keeps me on the side of gratitude rather than fear.

Full disclosure: I will not have a zero-tolerance rule for this challenge. We’ll get fresh fruits and vegetables as we need them, and, after a chunk of time going without (almost) entirely, if there are one or two ingredients that will make a meal complete, I’ll get them. No “grocery shopping,” at all. No remembering “I need x or y” when I’m picking up a prescription, etc. No “I wish we had a frozen pizza, I am so bleeping tired…” purchases.

We went to Hannaford today which I only recently learned has much better prices than the Shaw’s we had been using (I assumed grubby = cheaper!) and stocked up on some staples like dried beans and kale (to parboil and freeze) as well as some perishables that will last like tofu and sweet potatoes. We’re ready.

gratitude update

It’s been just over a year since we moved into this apartment that now feels like Home.

Before that, we lived in “high density housing” (American for “poor people’s apartments”) where we were as happy as we could be. It wasn’t because my daughters walked in on a couple guys smoking not-tobacco and not-marijuana in the stairwell, or because of the dealer who camped out on the back stoop, or because of the unsupervised children so desperate for adult guidance their behavior was not always safe, or because the man who lived downstairs disturbed me so much that I told him if he spoke to my daughter again I would call the police—this is the same man who invites those same unsupervised and hungry children to his apartment for snacks after school. None of these are the reasons we moved. We moved because we could. My parents have money and they paid for our move. That move put our lives back on course and the course is good.

The last 4+ years have been difficult. Rocky. Challenging. Full of lessons. Any way I say it, it sounds white-washed. There were times I wasn’t sure I would make it. If you know me well, you’ll know that means it was really bad. Normally, no matter how bad things get, I’m like Pippi calling up to her mother in Heaven, “Don’t you worry about me. I’ll always come out on top!”

Just over four years ago, I was pregnant and our marriage was ending. Then, we had a second child, the very new baby, and our marriage ended. We declared bankruptcy. We moved (me to Brookfield/”high density housing” and him to Orono, a decision I supported). We began sharing custody of our children over the hurdles of physical distance. We readjusted from married-forever to being loving friends who co-parent. Add to all of this many other events, happenings, choices, and significant difficulties that all brought me to the content for my newspaper column, being “newly poor.” All of that also brings me to now.

I’m writing this because today I had a really good day. I’ve had a lot more of them lately. There are many reasons for that, but there’s a distinction for me between having a good day and having a day where the light at the end of the tunnel is so close I’m almost in it (and, I’m now sure it’s not a train).

This wonderful home, some outstanding help in my business (life-changing for me, though she won’t let me give her so much credit), high quality preschool for my nearly-four-year-old and an excellent public school for my nine and a half year old, a spiritual community we love, and heaven on earth (my parents’ summer place near Bethel) to visit in the summers. There are other outward expressions of how much better things are, but I want to keep this relatively brief.

So, I’m tired. I’m very, very tired. Despite my ex-husband’s incredible co-parenting and generous support, I’m still a single mother. Being a single mother is a job I could only understand after living it. I love it, but it’s not easy. At the same time, as I said, work is going well. The column is the job I’ve dreamed of since the 90s when I was writing, “It’s all about me! (the column)” on my website every week. I’ve made several new paintings (not shown on my website) and will be showing them at Bard in time for First Friday in April (they’ll still be there for First Friday in May, too!). My daughters are extraordinary. More and more often, my gratitude nearly overwhelms me. Life is good.

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be still.

We sit. Quiet. Breathing. How loud loud loud my mind. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast thoughts. So full of fast fast fast fast fast thoughts. So full and busy and I can’t hear anything because so much is going on in my mind.

People sneeze, cough, shift in their seats. What is it like, at meeting for worship?

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Portland Friends Meeting

Settling in to a comfortable position. Aware of my posture, my legs, my arms and hands. More aware of my body as the chaos of my mind’s voices chatter away in the background. Noticing new aches and pains, behind my left eye, throughout my jaw, my spine, my lower back. How my jaw clenches tightly over to the side. Becoming aware. Gently reposition my lower jaw so my teeth rest not quite touching, but in line. How awkward the rest of my face feels. How I notice my spine more now. I lift my head lightly as if a string comes from my spine up through the top of my head. Lifting.

New people enter the room, finding seats. Some have loud shoes on the wood floor. So much shuffling and adjusting. The room’s sounds flow in waves. More than the clicks and hums of human sounds, my anxiety comes from thinking of people who might be bothered by those sounds. I notice that about myself. I breathe. I return to my body. Someone’s stomach gurgles. Someone may be snoring. As the sounds mingle I notice. I notice I can find quiet even in the middle of the clutter careful accidental necessary noises of these friends. My mind is slowing. As each of my to-do items flashes in I welcome it and say, not now, and say, goodbye. As a new column or blog post begins forming, I enjoy playing with the words for a while, then notice my distraction away from the moment. Each moment of distraction, when I am not mindfully resting and seeking the space and light I know I will find in the silence, I don’t fight. I don’t fight the distractions, I only notice them.

Inside me, like the quiet sounds of the other humans around me, there are waves of noise and quiet. Again, a flowing.

As more space opens in me I notice I’m feeling sleepy. Oh, how tired I am. I begin worrying this will be one of those meetings where the struggle to fight sleep is so miserable, I consider leaving (I did leave once). Instead, I adjust my legs and my arms. I bend my head to one side and then the other. I imagine my blood flowing from my heart through my body, especially along my spine, and back into my heart. I catch myself in a deep and possibly loud exhale. It’s okay. We are all here to find the light. The space. The peace.

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