Arabic is hard…

This is what I learned today… (well, actually, I learned a lot more than this, but these are my stand out points…)

1.  Arabic is a very difficult language, but I had kind of figured that out before I came, so I’m not going to count that as one

1.  TRUE Argon oil (very popular here) comes from the Argon tree, which is only grown in one city in the world… Agadir, Morocco, which also happens to be where our house manager is from.  Goats climb the argon trees and eat the hard shell off of the nut, which then falls to the ground and is harvested.  I’m hopeful to be able to witness this… trees filled with goats.  Mohammad said it looks a lot like a tree full of birds, only of course they are goats, not birds.  Seems like something worthwhile to seek out.  I mean seriously… a tree full of goats??

2.  Bread is considered sacred (it is a very bread-centered diet here… again, died and gone to heaven on the food here…) so all bread scraps must be put in a separate container when we clean up our plates after mealtime.  The leftover bread is then fed to animals.  All other trash is thrown out.  No recycling (or at least not here…)

3.  If you are Moroccan, and want to get a hotel room with someone of the opposite sex, you must show proof of marriage.  It is illegal for Moroccans to share a hotel room unless married.  This does not apply to other nationalities.

Pretty good stuff.  This is a very interesting country and our in country manager, Mohamed is extremely personable and very knowledgeable.  He served in the Peace Corps, has a law degree, is fluent in several languages and has an incredible sense of humor.


She’s not in Kansas anymore…

You know you are far from home when you have to go through two other translations before you finally hear English, but are discouraged that you can’t understand a word of your native tongue that’s hiding behind a very thick Arabic accent with a whole lot of French influence.  And then there’s the signage, as beautiful as it is curious.

Yep, that’s me… Laurie Sunderland, reading from right
to left.

The journey to Rabat was long… not because it was all that far (a “short” 2 plus hour flight from
Paris), but because the biggest part of the flight, Boston to Paris, felt more like a KC to Albany run
given the size of the plane…knee to knee, elbow to elbow, bad food and generous pours on cheap
wine (ok actually free wine), all added up to a not so great experience, short of a lovely French
woman sitting next to me (seriously, are we ever so intimate with strangers but on a plane???) who was interested in what I was knitting and pulled out her phone to share photos of her recent knit projects.  Sometimes words aren’t necessary.  I love that.  I think I will need to keep loving that communication with few words in the weeks to come…

The house where I’m staying is small but very charming and efficient.  It’s also incredibly clean and I would totally feel comfortable eating off of any part of the floor, where, by the way, shoes are not allowed.  Barefoot all the way!  I will be sharing this small 2 bunks room with another girl
who I haven’t yet met, as she is away this weekend.  I’ve taken cues from her neatly stacked belongings and have tried to organize my things with that in mind.  I think she’ll be pleased with her new roommate’s organizational skills.  Not even knowing who will be in the bed a short 4
feet from mine is just one more curious anticipation that I find myself faced with right now.

Tomorrow, we ( the 4 volunteers who arrived today, including myself) will have our orientation, at which time I will learn more specifically what I will be doing during my time here. It sounds like I may be the only one at my placement at the women’s center as it sounds like everyone else will be working at the orphanage, but I will learn more tomorrow.  It is this unknowing, this going to bed with new sounds, new smells, and new sensations, that reminds me of why I love this so much, which kind of surprises my orderly, Virgo side.  It takes me back to so many first nights in 3rd world countries when I teetered between waking up in the middle of the night with feelings of “what the hell???” and not being able to fall asleep because I was so anxious for it to be morning when I’d be able to get a closer look at my new temporary home.

Those of us who were around tonite (only 4 of us) had a lovely light supper of lamb, rice, fruit salad, roasted fennel, Moroccan soup, homemade bread (which I smelled all afternoon baking), dates, pomegranates, and a combination of sautéed vegetables.  Not only was it a beautiful spread, but very tasty as well.

For now, I’m tucked comfortably away in my lower bunk ready to sleep off some of this jet lag.  I’m
soaking in the smells and sounds of this new city, this new country, this new continent and it’s feeling pretty amazing.  I can smell a hint of jasmine that is coming through the billowing curtains of my open deck door. Perfection.

I feel like I need to add a bit of a editing disclaimer… I’m not used to my new iPad combined with my blog site that’s totally gone French on me ( I definitely need to learn how to say “delete” in French and quit pushing that button.) This was quite a challenge for me to get this tiny bit of typing done tonite…I’m hoping I can blame much on jet lag but that may be hopeful. So ignore the obvious, including the creative indents that insist on being present regardless of what I do.  
Salaam from Rabat!



Going to the “BEYOND” part…

In a few days, I’ll be leaving the many comforts of home and stretching my travels a bit father than my usual 677 miles east or west down I-70.  I’ll be headed to Morocco, where I’ll be living in Rabat for three weeks.  I’ll be spending my time volunteering at the Feminin Pluriel,  a women’s center that uses social, cultural and educational activities as a means to help empower women.  That being said, I really have no idea what I will be doing.  The language barrier is a bit daunting to me right now, given that I don’t speak Arabic, and they don’t speak English. Several months ago, I did go through the motions of thinking I’ll learn some basic phrases in Arabic… I bought the book, turned some pages, got discouraged.  Then of course, there’s the whole Arabic characters situation, which although quite lovely on the page,  it’s all very unfamiliar and overwhelming.   I will never complain about the subjunctive tense in Spanish again.  The book tells me that with a vocabulary of only a few hundred words, I will be able to “survive in an Arabic speaking country and even communicate some thoughts.”  I’m still working on “good morning” (sabaahal kyayr) but am not sure how far the one phrase will get me.  Especially once the sun goes down.  I think I’ll bring my knitting.  That’s one thing I can teach without words.  And photos.  Pictures tell stories without words.

I’m going to call that “how to communicate without fuss or fear… instantly!” false advertising…

This will be my second volunteer trip with Cross Cultural Solutions organization (my first being to Perú) and my first time to Africa, which is feeling very far away to me right now…. 4,681 miles to be exact.  While preparing for this (ie packing, unpacking, rethinking then repacking etc.) I find myself teetering between feelings of excitement and anticipation laced with a bit of what the hell am I doing?  I’ve been down this emotional path before while anticipating the pathways to new adventures,  and whether it’s on a mountain trail by myself, or getting ready to travel to a foreign country for three weeks by myself,  where I don’t speak the language and know little about the culture,  I think a bit of fear and trepidation is good.  I believe it helps keep me safe.

People will ask me when I return home, what did I do? Did I help build houses or schools or develop programs that will live on long past my stay?  And I’ll answer just as I did when I returned from Perú.  None of those things.  But what I did do was…

I listened.  I held hands.  I accepted gracious invitations into homes that were dirt floored hovels and was invited to sit on couches that scared me because of the rodents that I’m sure were sharing the cushions with me. I danced to Peruvian music that I never could find the beat to and painted the thickened and dirty nails of grateful abuelas with old sticky nail polish while I held their hand in mine and recognized the thread of vanity that connected us both.  I listened to countless stories of abuse, fear and pain told to me by some of the strongest women I’ve ever met.  I laughed with them.  I cried with them.  I held their hand and accepted their affection.  I immersed myself into a culture that I thought I knew about before going, but really had no idea.

But what did you DO???

What I did was learn that the world is far bigger than the country where I comfortably reside and that there is so much to be learned from the handful of third world countries I’ve spent time in.  First off, how much we take for granted.  Clean water comes to mind.  I saw a lot of sickness that was a result of drinking the local water without adding bleach to it first.  Seriously.  Bleach.  While we run our water through filters that we’re told will take out the impurities, these people were adding drops of the same substance we use sparingly to whiten our whites.  Fortunately, I had the luxury of bottled water at my disposal, unlike so many in the community where I lived.  One of the first things my daughter, Emery, said to me during our initial stay in Perú, was how little the people we were volunteering with had, yet how happy they were and maybe, just maybe, they had a much better understanding of what makes a person happy than we did.  What a beautiful realization about life for an 18 year-old to recognize.  To see such joy on the faces of people who live their lives in a constant struggle to simply survive, was a tremendous lesson to us both on living in the moment and finding gratitude in the simplest of things.

I have no idea what to expect during my stay in Rabat, but am guessing many of the experiences will mirror those from Perú, which is what has attracted me to volunteer again with this organization.

Years ago, during my second attempt with college, I decided to major in anthropology after sitting through the first lecture of a cultural anthropology class.  Before signing up for the class, I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t even sure what the study of anthropology even was.   After making a definitive declaration that my major was going to be cultural anthropology with a minor in Spanish,  I was asked countless times what I planned on doing with such a degree. Teach Spanish,  perhaps?  I really had no idea.  Almost 30 years later,  it’s all starting to make sense.

Although I’m feeling a bit nervous and with no idea as to what is ahead for me in the African country of Morocco, or  “al-Mamlakah al Maghribiyyah(المملكة المغربية), which translates to Kingdom of the West,  this feels exactly like what I’m supposed to be doing right now.

I look forward to writing my blog posts from Rabat, as much as both time and internet connection will allow.  So, for now…. as-salaamu alaykum – the most common Arabic greeting and one that thankfully gets shortened to “salaam”, which means peace be upon you.


Apostrophes, ships and the 3rd grader who ended up writing stories about it…

Shortly after I shared my last blog entry about revisiting my first home with my parents as guides, my Mom emailed me with this:

“All that beautiful prose from the 3rd grader who didn’t understand apostrophes.”

My first reaction was feeling very honored by her words given that I was retelling her story about my beginnings in Colorado, as I was too young to have my own story.  Secondly, I was touched that she remembered the story about the difficulties I had with grammar in the 3rd grade, specifically with the placement of apostrophies.

For whatever reason, I have more memories from 3rd grade than any other in elementary school.  I loved my teacher.  I loved her shoes. I watched those cool red fringe-toed shoes walk up and down the narrow aisle of the temporary trailer classroom, demonstrating to a captivated audience how Indians would walk without making a sound… toe heel, toe heel, toe heel.  It was crowded in that tiny trailer classroom and maybe because the situations weren’t ideal, she was just a little more patient with us than a teacher in a normal-sized classroom would be.  One of my favorite memories was when the Sacajawea book would be pulled out every afternoon after recess and Mrs. Faires would read to us. I was mesmerized. I held onto every word and for the first time, the notion that school could be fun and interesting took hold.  She made that year of being crowded into the tiny temporary classroom one of my favorites, and even though elbows were bumped as we did out lessons in our pushed together desks and I just happened to be seated next to the boy who sweated more than anyone else in the classroom, I would not have traded those squeezed together conditions for a normal classroom.  It felt special for some reason… like we were special.  All that love went out the small louvered trailer window when the lesson on apostrophes and ownership began.

It’s not that I didn’t understand the the concept of ownership and placement of the apostrophe, it’s that I did not understand my Alabama bred teacher’s accent.  When she gave the explanation of “ownership,” what I heard was “on a ship,” which made little sense to me, especially given that I lived in Kansas and could count on one hand how many times I had actually seen a ship. Were ships really that important that they got their own apostrophe when used in a sentence?

After hearing Mrs. Faires’ explanation on apostrophes and possession, my conclusions were to use an apostrophe when whomever or whatever were “on a ship,” or “showed on a ship” as my teacher explained it.  I wasn’t sure what “showed on a ship” was, short of the visual of people on a ship, which was simple enough… or was it?  This all makes a whole lot more sense when I’m able to voice the words out loud and show that “ownership” sounds like “on a ship” when spoken with a heavy southern drawl.  I usually did pretty well with understanding new assignments in school, especially when they weren’t of the math variety, but my 8 year-old, wanting to please self, was beginning to get discouraged when worksheet after worksheet were handed back to me with an embarrassing amount of red ink on them.  Even the boy who sweated so much, was getting good marks and happy faces on his returned papers.  And then there was the amount of time it took me to complete the worksheets.  While the other kids seemed to breeze right through the sentences, without having to look up in thought or confusion, I would read each sentence over and over again while trying desperately to find the ship, the boat or out of desperation, simply the water in the sentence so that I’d have clearance to add my apostrophe.  It seemed to me to be a futile exercise as few, if any sentences, made reference to a ship or for that matter, any maritime reference at all, but none of the other students were questioning the absurdity, so in trying to fit in with my peers, I kept quiet and kept searching… for the ship in the sentence.

More than once Mrs. Faires brought me up to her desk and would explain the “on a ship” concept to which I would share my frustrations of not understanding what “on a ship” had to do with most of the sentences.  Of course in this now comedy of errors, she heard my words speak Southern to her and would explain, yet again,  that “on a ship” requires an apostrophe, hoping that eventually it would all make sense to me.  After failing exercise after exercise, some how, some way, someone who did not speak with a heavy southern drawl, put it together that what I was hearing was different than what my teacher was actually saying.  My Mom eventually shared the story with my teacher, Mrs. Faires, and I’m sure it gave her pause every year when teaching the concept of “ownership” to a new group of 3rd graders.

The one in the middle sporting the Bob Dylan look and the attitude smirk,  wasn’t about to admit to anyone that she didn’t understand why ships garnered so much importance that they got their own apostrophe… especially in Kansas for Pete’s sake!

I’ve got to wonder how long this would have gone on had someone not stumbled onto the problem, given that I was too embarrassed and too insecure to admit that I didn’t have a clue as to what the teacher was trying to teach me.  This insecurity would resurface again with my 7th grade Algebra teacher, who was from Brazil,  and spoke with a heavy accent.  The difference this time though, was that the rest of the class was hearing Mr. La Torre the same way I did, so would throw their hands up in question before I had to.  I ended up struggling with Algebra through college and have to wonder if I had had a teacher who I could understand and felt comfortable simply asking for help, would seeing the x’s and y’s still throw me into panic mode today?  Or am I simply more of a words person than a numbers person?  I’m grateful that my stumble with the apostrophes in the 3rd grade didn’t ruin me for the act of writing, the way x’s and y’s did for me in math,  as it’s been something I’ve loved and enjoyed for as long as I can remember.

Thank you, Mrs. Faires, for giving me pause and a smile every time I place an apostrophe, whether there’s a ship in the sentence or not.  And thank you, Mom, for not forgetting the story and continually encouraging my putting pen to paper.


Returning to my roots with the keepers of the stories at my side…

A few weeks ago, my sister, Robin, and I were given the tremendous gift of getting to step back in time for a few days and with our parents as our guides, revisited the place where we spent our earliest days – Evergreen, Colorado.

Although our time there was relatively short,  one would assume that we had lived there for decades given the many stories Mom and Dad have shared with us throughout our lives.  Because of the many stories and the joy with which they have been shared,  I grew up knowing  how very important this little mountain town was in my parents lives.

They were young, very young, 20 and 25, with a baby on the way (Robin) and were actually on their way to Oregon, simply on a “Why not?  It sounds like a nice place to live…” when they stopped in Denver to see my Mom’s parents.  While there, Dad found out that to teach high school music in Oregon, he needed a master’s degree (something that would come later and in Missouri), so they decided to simply stay in Denver.  Besides, with a baby on the way, it would be nice to have family nearby.  I love thinking about those carefree 20 somethings with a baby on the way pointing their car and trailered belongings west, without really having much of a plan.  Somehow it gives the many wing and a prayer plans I’ve had a bit more weight.

There were no teaching jobs in Denver, but while interviewing, a call came through from the principal in Evergreen with the news that the high school music teacher had not renewed his contract and through the perfect timing of a synchronistic moment, my Dad had a job and their plans to continue their journey west to Oregon were shortened to the short 30 minute drive west from Denver to the scenic mountain town of Evergreen.

Robin and I have both heard the stories, countless times, of our time in Evergreen, but to get to hear them again, with the soil underfoot, was truly a gift.  Hearing about Dad coasting down the mountain from Evergreen to St. Anthony’s hospital in Denver, my Mom in labor with me, made a lot more sense as we recently made our way down from Evergreen to Denver  – an easy coast of a drive that was a necessary choice on that day, almost 60 years go to the date, as the gas tank was near empty (he made it with fumes to spare, I’m told…).

Although Robin and I had tried to find the house we lived in when we were in Colorado  last summer,  our interpretation of Mom and Dad’s directions had us on the wrong end of the town, but with their keen memories and navigational skills a few weeks ago, we drove right to the house.  Both of our initial reactions upon seeing the nice house that sat off the road on 5 acres was… “wait… I thought we were poor” ….  Yes, they reassured us… we were poor.  They said it looked like the house had been added on to and that while it looked nice on the outside, the inside had needed work… work that Dad chipped away at when he had the gift of both time and money.   The furnishings were sparse and although Mom had a wringer washing machine, she didn’t have a dryer, so after washing the clothes, diapers in particular with two under the age of two, she’d hang them out on the line, where they would freeze dry in the arid air.  She’d then bring them in and lay them throughout the house to thaw.  For some reason, I’ve always connected with pioneer women and have sworn that I must have lived during that period of time in a past life.  This explains it.  I did.

As we sat in the drive and looked directly at our past, hearing the stories from the ones that created them, that piece of my past, that I don’t remember, became real and I understood where my love for mountains was born.  Dad told us that when Mom was pregnant with me she told him that she was not going to come home from the hospital until we had a flushing toilet IN the house.  Yes, these adventure seeking parents of mine were using an outhouse, not to mention transporting their water in  50 gallon drums.  Dad worked tirelessly at digging the leeching well near the house in preparation for my arrival, using a pick axe, a shovel and his favorite tool, dynamite.  And lo and behold, Mom had the flush toilet she had requested upon her arrival home from the hospital with me.  Simple times, but not all that simple of a request.  Still, every mom just home from the hospital with a new born and a one year-old to greet her, deserves the luxury of indoor toilet… and one that flushes no less.  It sure beat any “congratulations on your new baby” flower arrangement Dad could have gotten her.

My Evergreen, Colorado roots

Out of the many stories I’ve heard over the years, and my hands down favorite, I heard for the first time last year.  Because we were surrounded by evergreen trees, Dad would simply go to the woods behind the house to select the Christmas tree, then would drag it down to the house.  I believe it was my first Christmas (and if it wasn’t, I’m taking artistic license here) that Mom questioned the tree he brought home, wondering if he could have found a tree that was just a little bit prettier.  So, on his way home from work the following day, the perfect tree came into view with the lights of his car.  He cut it down, put it in the car and as he was pulling away, his car lights gave him a better view of exactly where the tree he had just cut down had come from… the landscaping in the front yard of one of the summer vacation homes in the area.  When I asked him what he did when he discovered what he did,  he told me that he couldn’t exactly put it back, so simply covered the stump with snow and drove home.  Given that it was a summer vacation home,  he had several months before the missing tree would be noticed.  No doubt some of that guilt waned with Mom’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to the beautiful specimen of a tree that would grace our small living room that Christmas.

“Now THAT’s what I had in mind!  It’s the PERFECT tree!”

Dad had set the Christmas decor bar high on this one…

I’m not sure how long it was before he came clean on exactly where the tree had come from and am betting that the following Christmas, it was back to the scrappy juniper Christmas trees.  All of our Christmas trees in those early Colorado days were decorated with pine cones that Mom had spray painted gold.  It was only in later years that I understood the significance of Mom insisting on adding what we thought at the time were “the tacky gold spray-painted pine cones” to our then more lavishly decorated trees.  It was a nudge to the memory of where they began as a family, and although times were very tough, they were also very good.

I love hearing their  humble roots stories – two kids with two babies eeking out a living in the mountains of Evergreen, Colorado.  Funds were so tight that when a job offer in northern Missouri came in for far more money and an unlimited high school band budget, Dad had to say yes.  He has told me several times that when they drove out of town for the last time on their way to Missouri, he had hoped for a rainy, cloudy day or at least weather that was over cast enough so that he wouldn’t have to see the mountains in his rearview mirror.  It was sunny that day.   To this day, I think both Mom and Dad would agree that it felt like the mountains were waving goodbye to them as they left them in the rear view mirror.

What a gift it was to return to those Evergreen mountains just as they had left them so many years ago and better yet, to get to return with the keepers of the stories.  Although I was always a part of the stories,  I feel a real sense of their connection to me now.

something I still enjoy.. playing in the dirt…


Mom and Dad… who still have a bit of that Colorado spirit in them….


Back in my boots…

As of yesterday afternoon, I’m back in the saddle…. or hiking boots, more specifically.  Feeling ready and anxious after almost two months of babying my injured shoulder, I ventured out on a real hike with boots, poles and a full camelback.  I hiked  Mt. Royal and although it’s not a long hike (only a mile and a half to the top), it’s not easy as during that short mile and a half, 1,500 feet of altitude are gained, translating to pretty much straight up with no switch backs.  This was a hike that I did several times over the course of my stay here last summer as it was literally right behind where I was staying so there was ease and no excuses in getting to the trail head.  It also became my measure of how much I was improving, which speaks to the Virgo in me.  My first time up was a miserable journey that took over two hours to get to the top and the last time I journeyed up last summer,  I had bettered my time to just over an hour – an accomplishment that I’m quite proud of.  While making my way down that last time and feeling quite smug with my improved time and generally efficiency, I passed my neighbor, jogging up the rocky trail and with still enough breath that he stopped to chat.  So much for my thinking I was “all that…”  I’ve learned while living part-time in this very physically active state that the safest person to compare yourself to IS yourself, otherwise you’re likely to be disappointed.

In keeping with the open and honest approach I’ve decided to take with this blog, I’ve got to back up a bit and do some re-wording.  I hiked Mt. Royal, but I did not make it to the top and I must say, it’s one of the prouder non-accomplishments I’ve had this summer.  It’s real hard for me to not barrel ahead when I can all but see the end, ignoring any physical or emotional signs that are telling me, “enough already!”  Well, yesterday probably within 10 minutes of the top, I experienced one of those “enough” signs.  Up to that point, I had been hiking like a 95 year-old woman in stilettos on ice with a tail wind… being very mindful of foot placement and with an eye on constant patrol for mud, or exposed roots or loose rocks, as I know too well that a quick slip can and does happen.  That’s the part that kind of sucks.  I rather liked that barreling ahead with an eye on the prize and full confidence that I’d summit without a scrape, take some time to revel in the beautiful views and with a proud pat on my own back, would make it down again.  No problem.  But knowing that accidents do happen has changed the way I hike – or at least I was changed for the inaugural hike.  I feel more apprehensive, more cautious and certainly more timid, yet still with the confidence that I can do it as I’ve done it before.  But I also want to do it in a manner that doesn’t require a trip to the ER.

I had to stop several times to catch my breath, totally normal, but by the time I was almost within shouting distance to the top, I started to feel a bit dizzy.  My town of Frisco sits at 9,097 feet, an altitude that can easily have an effect on even the fittest if not acclimated and that’s what I’m going to blame it on.  Having only been back in town for a little over a week, I called myself acclimated, but more than likely was not.  So when that feeling of apprehension, laced with a bit of dizziness came over me, I was very thoughtful of the messages and opted to abort the nearby summit and head back down.  As disappointing as it felt, at the same time I felt very grown up for having listened, very carefully, and followed through with what my body was telling me, which was go home… you already did most of it.  It’s OK.

By the time I got home, I had come to an easy place of peace with my decision and knew that honoring that slight twinge of a feeling was the right thing to do.  And so, in keeping with my hiking tradition of eat what sounds good post hike because I’ve earned it, I sat down to a plate full of spaghetti and several heaping forkfuls of sauerkraut because that’s exactly what my body was asking for… oh yea, and a cold beer…I mean two cold beers, to round it off.  And good it was.  I never falter on post hike refueling.   It’s truly one of my favorite luxuries of the sport.

Views of Frisco and Lake Dillon while on my way up…


The only non-climbing part of the hike… really…
Views for days…


The very majestic Mt. Royal (also the mountain I have a view of from most of the windows in my house).

Today, rather than revisit my not quite accomplished hike from yesterday, (which will happen and soon), I opted for big views, low physical expenditure.  And it worked… satisfyingly well.  The Lower Cataract Lake in the Eagles Nest Wilderness area never ceases to amaze me.  It’s not a hard hike as there’s little to no altitude gain, but it’s enough of a workout that I still get to savor the post hike accolades of feeling strong, committed and a little bit more in tune with nature than I was while driving to the trail head.  I’m not sure I can’t think of a better way to spend a sunny Sunday morning.

Accomplishments come in all sorts of packages and it isn’t necessarily the straight up journey to the top that has given me the most pride.  Yesterday it was NOT making it to the top that made me the proudest.  Next time…

Views around every corner…


Nature’s painting…



Wildflowers in full bloom…

Give it to Mom… she’ll carry it.

Moms are carriers.  Plain and simple.  I suppose it was my restricted carrying the past month due to a shoulder injury that has me thinking along these lines.  For nine months, we carry in our expanding belly an expectation of something we can’t possible begin to understand until we’re able to hold it in our arms for the first time and then we don’t want to let go.  We carry babies until they’re toddlers and when they discover their independence and no longer want to be carried, we carry their things.  We carry toys that should have been left at home in the first place and mutter  “I told you sos” under our breath, while more unwanted “had to bring it” things are piled onto our already full arms.  When my middle child, Grant, was born, he spent the first 4 months of his life unhappy unless he was being carried.  The words, “Can you carry Grant?” were heard so often during those first 4 months that Grant’s other name became “Cary” Grant, quite by default.  Anyone slightly younger than me had no idea why we  found his name to be so clever.  And carry him, I/we did…. in a front pack, on a hip, over a shoulder or in the crook of an arm.  That same baby, many years later, while playing competitive baseball in middle school, had a coach who would tell the team as they were gathering up the equipment post game,

“Catchers don’t carry.”

I loved that sliver of recognition that the catcher would get for having spent the past few hours in a squatted position looking through a hot mask.  He should get a pass.  In fact, more than once I felt like the team should not only carry the equipment, but the catcher as well.  A few times, when I’ve been in a situation with Grant when I didn’t feel like I should have to carry something,  we’ve locked glances and he’ll take the words right out of my mouth before I even have a chance to utter them.

“Catchers don’t carry.”

He gets it.  My child who wanted to be carried for a solid 4 months can appreciate that sometimes the person who’s expected to shoulder the heavy load, simply needs a break.

I’ve often wondered what would happen if just once a rule of “Moms don’t carry” would be thrown out there?  (and not just on Mother’s Day…)  Would there be piles of half eaten bags of popcorn, still sealed water bottles, souvenir caps and worthless trinkets piled up at the exit of every amusement park because there wouldn’t be a mom to schlep them to the car?  Would stuffed animals, shoes that fell off of tiny feet and were easier to carry rather than put back on again, and the stray jacket be left behind on empty chairs in restaurants?   Or more likely, would the moms swoop in in exasperation and like any good pack animal,  load up the gear with a sigh and a “never mind” and continue on?  Maybe we do it because it’s important to us.  Maybe we know that a handful of stale popcorn will save the day 20 minutes into a ride home with grumpy and tired kids.  Maybe we know that we’ll be the ones that will suffer the consequences if all of our options are left behind in piles when exiting.

When my 3rd child, Emery, was born, the kids outnumbered  the arms, which I hadn’t really considered until my maiden voyage outside of the house with all three in tow.  My sister, Robin, said it reminded her of the guy that was on the Ed Sullivan show who would balance 3 plates in the air with two long sticks.  With the plates outnumbering the sticks holding them up, there was always a vulnerable one that had you holding your breath.  I think that same guy showed up every week on the show, and still, we watched with bated breath (entertainment was simple, times were different…).  I would think about that man on the Ed Sullivan stage a lot while I juggled 3 kids and their stuff – maintaining the balance of keeping all 3 “plates” in the air at once, always with an eye out for the vulnerable one.   I know I speak for other moms when I say that there was a little bit of “bring it on… I’ve got this” going on, maybe because there was an odd desire to see how much I actually could do or carry or manage before the delicately stacked tower would tumble.  It was always far more than I had predicted, by the way…

When kids had big enough arms to hold their own stuff, the rule was always “If you want to bring it, you carry it.”  The unwritten rule that seemed to go along with that, or at least as far as the kids were concerned, was, “Bring it.  Mom will end up carrying it.”  And sadly, she did.  Rules regarding carrying seemed to be regarded as mere suggestions, and I take total blame for that one.

All of the carrying becomes normal and any mother of young children will tell you that when their arms aren’t overflowing with babies, car seats, strollers or stuffed lovies, something feels wrong… almost like you have forgotten to put your second shoe on.  I marvel now at the strength and balance I had when I was able to remove and open a heavy double stroller from the back of the car with one hand,  while holding a crying baby and trying to keep a physical touch on his rambunctious older brother with any part of my body that was available.  Never again will I have the strong, chiseled arms I had then that sadly went unnoticed, simply because they were a side effect, not a goal, and something that I had no time to give importance to.  Even lifting weights 3 times a week with a personal trainer not that long ago couldn’t bring them back to their glory days. Funny how things work.

As much as I juggled, schlepped and complained, the day came when I realized that my arms were swinging back and forth as I walked…back and forth and strangely empty.  It felt surprisingly freeing, yet not quite normal and with that lingering sense of having forgotten something. Holding my kids and their belongings gave me a sense of control and security and comfort as all I had to do was look down and it would all be right there – right there in my tired, but contently filled arms.  When the babies, the toddlers, the crying children and the armloads of stuff no longer needed to be carried was when the real heavy lifting began.  This was the part that no one told me about.  This was the part that even the well-toned and strong arms wouldn’t be able to help me with.  This was the part when my arms set down the physical loads and my heart stepped in to carry the load.

In our ever-expanding hearts, we hold the hopes, the tears, the joys, the fears, the desires and every memory, both the good ones and the not so good ones.  Unlike our limited arms, our hearts are limitless and seem to expand with ease in order to make room for more memories, more touching moments, more feelings that you want to hold close.  I’ve come to realize, after so many times of saying goodbye to my children, to honor, respect and hold tight to what I no longer can carry in my  arms, but now hold in my heart and although it’s not a load that can be felt physically, its presence is as present as my breath, my pulse, my being.

I’ve been reminded twice in the past month, while carrying the boxed belongings of 2 of my kids and their spouses, that the carrying doesn’t ever truly end, it just changes.   Although most of the load carried since my children reached adulthood, has not been carried in cardboard boxes, but rather,  in my heart, there are still times that I get to re-flex my carrying muscles and honestly, it feels nostalgically wonderful.  But kids,  6 times in 3 years is enough!  Any more than that, and I’ll have to enforce my “catchers don’t carry” rule (which you’ll wisely read as “don’t worry, she’ll still help us move our stuff”…).  You know me well.  Of course I will.

Carrying all of them… in my heart…




Dust, noise, a swimming pool sized trench in my yard and PATIENCE.

My front yard has become a construction zone and I should really wear a hard hat when going to my car, which as of yesterday, and until further notice, is parked several houses down the street from my house.  My driveway is no longer accessible and with that, I lost my garage.  Mail delivery is iffy and my overly full recycle bin was finally returned to my garage in the same position that I hauled it out in as I got tired of waiting for it to be emptied.  I can hardly blame either the mail truck or the recycle truck for not making their way down my street.  It takes a brave soul.  This is what happens to homeowners when their old neighborhood gets a below the surface facelift and it’s out with the old pipes and in with the new.  That alone, is helping me stay positive about the whole mess of a situation, but when trying to get to my house yesterday and having to quickly change from drive to reverse because a fire truck was backing down the street just feet in front of me, my  positivity started to wane.

I asked the fireman, who was headed to my car, what was going on and was everyone OK and am I really going to have to back down the street to the busy road I just turned off of?

“A major gas line was broken a block from here… down there on the corner… sure does take patience to live on this street these days, huh?  And no, we’ll move the truck so you can get by.”

Thank you, fireman.  Yes, it does and I sure did appreciate the acknowledgement of that.

As I was making my way through the tight squeeze around the fire truck,  I realized that “a block from here and down there on the corner” was, of course, my house.  Sometimes all you can do is shake your head, be grateful that the firetruck was called and leave candle lighting on my porch for another time.  I’m still scared (although they said it was fixed and I couldn’t smell gas).  The whole gas line breakage has resulted in a hole the size of a swimming pool in the front corner of my yard.  I’m not even sure it could still be called a hole.  A trench, perhaps?  Whatever it is, there’s a deep end that could certainly support a high dive as it was a few feet deeper than any of the men working in it – my estimates from my kitchen window said 10 feet and once all the workers had left and the coast was clear, I stood on the edge of the pit and without scaling my way down, 10 feet deep seemed about right.

It’s just not as inviting as say a wreath or a potted plant would be…(that would be my front yard…)


THIS is the corner of my yard…


No worries… there’s a plastic net fence around it for safety.  This would be a pretty ugly fall in the dark of night…

Patience.  I’m trying to find it, keep it, put it into action.

The initial work involved replacing the 75 year old gas lines to my house, which meant there was a pretty steady stream of workmen traipsing through my house and into my basement to do the work, have their work checked, and light my hot water heater, followed by a few rounds of shutting the gas off and relighting the heater.  They were in my house often enough that I felt like I should at least offer them a cup of coffee or maybe a piece of toast.   Only thoughts.  The good news is that the work has totally moved away from the inside of my house so the workers are no longer in and out,  but the bad news is that my yard seems to be the headquarters and where all of the really big machinery seems to be hanging out.

I know having to back up those big huge machines to the nearest side street so that anyone who lives in this chaos zone can make their way to their houses has got to be frustrating for the workers and has me being a whole lot more thoughtful about how many times I leave my house, knowing that I’ll have to weave my way through the mess to get home.  Three weeks ago I was making eye contact, followed by a quick nod and a smile.  I figured it was the least I could do to offer my encouragement for no doubt a difficult job.  I quit that last Monday when at 7 a.m. my house was shaking so hard from the concrete smashing that was going on in front of my house,  that I was sure photos were going to start falling off the walls.  That, along with the noise and the dust that has enveloped my house and has left all horizontal surfaces in my house coated so thick that you could write your name on it,  has my smile waning a bit.  Just as well to keep eye contact out of it.  I don’t want to be “that” person who is in continual complaining mode but given what my front yard looks like, I truly feel like I’m taking one for the team here and feel totally justified.  Still, best to just keep on moving and keep my facial expressions out of it.

Most people have friend’s cars parked in front of their house… not me!  I’ve got KOMAT’SU parked in front of my house!


The pipes have to be stored somewhere while digging the trenches where they’ll eventually be… my side yard seemed to be the best choice…


Just random stuff in my yard…

Throughout this whole process, I do have to think of how much worse it could be.  My neighbor has a 9 month-old baby, who probably hasn’t had a decent daytime nap for 3 weeks (the noise is a constant).  Then there’s the danger element… if ANY of my kids were of “that” age, it would sure be hard to keep them out of that enticing canyon that seems to be growing in my front yard, let alone any curious pets.  For that, I’m grateful, as the flimsy plastic fence hardly acts as a barrier.

Every time I see this, I want to steal it.  I’m not sure why.

I suppose the clincher to all of this should be that a short 3 months ago, I had  my old and very crumbling driveway replaced with a brand sparkling new one, something that I’ve put off since I moved to this house 4 years ago because driveways are not cheap, nor a fun way to spend your money.  It was removed to the first joint this morning, as was everyone else’s on my side of the street.  I couldn’t watch.  I’ve been assured multiple times (because that’s how often I’ve asked) that the section will be replaced with a driveway of the same or better quality.  For now, I’m believing them until I see otherwise.  It’s keeping me sane and a whole lot calmer than I could be given the situation.

Patience.  Inhale.  Exhale. (being mindful on the inhale as I live in a cloud of dust right now…).  This will end up good and I truly believe that.  Besides, who gets to actually see what lives 8 or 9 feet under their street?  There’s a whole other world under there!  That’s a start…


Road blocks, rerouting and discovering the silver lining…

As much as I love a spontaneous change of plans, a slip in the mud and a bum shoulder to follow felt too much like a road trip getting canceled while literally sitting in your packed car, backed into the driveway and ready to go.  My first thought while trying to maneuver my way out of the mud, and the thought that seemed to predispose all others for the next several days, was what was my summer was NOW going to look like now that I had injured myself; an injury that would likely result in handing over some of my independence in the months ahead. THIS was certainly not what I had planned.  This was my first summer of owning a mountain place and I had visions of staying there most of the summer, with a few trips back to Kansas for some scheduled commitments and a whole lot of garden watering. What I didn’t count on was a few helpless weeks of mainlining “Breaking Bad,” (which by they way I finished and am still having dreams about drug lords and blue ice…), wearing the same shirt day after day after day and asking anyone close by to please put my hair up in a pony tail.  Life happens and plans change and it’s not all bad…. it can even be a good thing.

One of my friends and blog follower, LaMont Eanes,  commented on one of my original “Oh poor me, I fell in the mud and broke my shoulder” posts and said,

“All experiences are good, although they may not feel like it at the time.”

Thank you for that, LaMont.  With those words in mind, I suppose you could say I’ve been searching high and low for the silver lining that I was just sure was hiding somewhere under my now fading bruises.  I’ve discovered, yet again,  if I just let go, of both the search and the expectation, that the little gem of a silver lining will somehow find you but it helps if you’re keeping an eye out for it.  Watchful eye or not, I’m simply not a very patient patient.

Yesterday, while on an urban walk with Thomas and Brooke, that silver lining was so big that I had to exercise caution not trip over it (I’m much more thoughtful with my gait these days…).  I was spending the day with Thomas and Brooke,  which was a gift in itself and something I’ve only enjoyed on my visits to Portland the past 3 years or for the brief and scheduled moments over Christmas.  A few months ago, they made the decision to move back to Kansas after Thomas’ law school graduation in Portland.  A little over a week ago, the two weary travelers and their travel tired kitties landed on my door step in the middle of the night after 37 hours of traveling.  They are staying with me until they find their own space in the city, which sadly and selfishly for me has already happened and moving day is right around the corner.  Emery and Miles had made their move out of Kansas a short 2 weeks ago and still feeling their absence, I was thrilled with the idea of refilling of my now conspicuously large nest.

I knew of these relocation plans before I took my shoulder dip into the mud and had made my own plans around them.  I’d return from CO after getting Emery and Miles settled in, get Thomas and Brooke settled into my house, and would high tail it back to CO as soon as it felt right, where I’d await their visit to see me in the mountains.  That was the plan and from where I was sitting at the time, it sounded pretty good.  But life happens and plans change and I’m learning, albeit slowly, that it’s a whole lot easier to roll with it and see what it has to offer rather than wasting time bemoaning the fact that the plans got changed in the first place.  One would think I would have mastered this lesson by now given my many aborted plans that have magically given way to decisions that have given me some of my greatest joys in life  Case in point, my purchasing a mountain home when last summer’s mountain plans fell apart.

For the past week or so, I’ve gotten to simply hang with my son and his wife, without the rush that holiday visits always bring.  I’ve been able to sit on my porch every morning in my jammies and drink coffee with Brooke and talk or not talk, but always appreciative of the company.   I’m blessed.  I’ve also been able to, by necessity, let Brooke cook for me, clean for me and remind me to take it easy, go lay down and can I get you anything?  If that isn’t a little piece of heaven, I’m not sure what is.  Again, I’m blessed beyond words at the nurturing she’s given me… an ongoing hug with a spoonful of love. What an unplanned joy having them both in my house has brought me and with a duration that’s long enough that we’ve got the time to do all sorts of things or do nothing at all… both good choices.

My broken shoulder has kept me in Kansas as I’m not able to grip a steering wheel with two hands yet, and those I-70 winds around Russell, KS are near impossible to maneuver one-handed.  I’m beginning to see the terrible timing of all of this as the universe’s impeccable and perfect timing  and a gift to me that presented itself in the nontraditional wrappings of a navy blue cloth sling that currently supports my arm.  You are so right, Lamont, it is all good, although it didn’t necessarily feel like it at the time.  I’m also convinced that good cooking, a lot of nurturing and a very full heart are integral to the healing of a broken shoulder, or a broken anything for that matter.

Screened in porch time…


Kansas City urban walk about with these two…


These two in my kitchen… it just feels right.


Homemade tortilla soup… good for the soul… and the shoulder…

Wallowing in the mud, binging on Breaking Bad and finally… the shirt is changed.

I fell in the mud two weeks ago and have been wallowing in it ever since. Sometimes you have to step back a few feet to gain perspective and then again, sometimes it’s simply just best not to look.  This would be one of those times.  I got a glance,  and it wasn’t pretty.

When your day starts with 2 hours of binging on Breaking Bad before the coffee pot’s even emptied… well it’s a pretty good indicator as to the direction the rest of the day is going to go.  I think I need about 4 hours of a PBS or maybe a Brady Bunch cleanse to counteract the effects of Breaking Bad. The show truly makes me feel like I need sunshine, some fresh fruit and maybe a long bath.

And then there’s the whole shirt thing.  Today is day 12 wearing the same shirt that I was wearing when I went shoulder first into the mud.  I’m teetering between being totally disgusted with the rate at which my personal standards have gone south and how easily I’ve adapted to the whole decline. Something about it makes me sad… or is it proud?  I may not be physically up to the challenge of a multi-day backpacking trip… yet…but I feel I’ve made a lot of headway in other areas that will come in handy on multiple days on the trail.  I’m over the hygiene hump.  I crested it about last Friday.

That was my morning, but it got better, even with my wallowing in the mud in an overly worn shirt and with too much Breaking Bad in my system for that early in the day… but I digress…

I spent a big chunk of my day in the KU orthopedic lobby (thanks, Robin) waiting to hear if all of the not moving my shoulder by leaving both my shoulder AND my shirt in tact, fearing still, that one false move and I’m back to square one, has been a fruitful commitment. I’m very happy to say that the doctor told me that things looked very good, no surgery necessary,  and I could downgrade to a simple sling and,

“You can change your shirt…”
(it may have come up in the conversation that the shirt had been worn for a “few” days, or more accurately, longer than the length of most yoghurt’s sell by dates.

He (he being the Dr.) did ask me quickly in between his transcribing two nurses who stood behind rolling computers, how I had broken my shoulder.  I was SO glad to be able to tell him something that in my opinion is legit….

I fell in the mud while hiking.


Colorado…Frisco, to be exact.

Oh. nice… at least you had a nice view.

I’m so glad I didn’t have to tell him I fell off of a small ladder perched on top of a leather ottoman so I would have the height I needed to hang some art work.  Sadly, I know this from experience, but it was in Frisco, so I did have a nice window view.  I swear by a smelly black shirt that’s heaped in the corner of my closet, that those days are over.  Really. wallowing in the mud time is over and I’ve climbed out of my hole, have put on a clean shirt and am on my way to happier days.  I’m not quite ready to find my gratitude or the silver lining in all of this as my shoulder still hurts too much to find my resolve there, but soon, I’m sure.  In the meantime,  I have found a new appreciation for shoulders that work in full range and are far more awed by seeing a shoulder in motion these days than I am by lean runner legs, chiseled abs or cut arms as a working shoulder is a far more useful goal for me right now.  Oh to do a down dog again….

But for now, just one more Breaking Bad…it’s an open bag of chips and I can’t seem to keep my hand out of the bag… then I’ll do some PBS or Brady Bunch counteracting.

New shirt, new sling, new attitude… the hair still needs some work though…

Oh yea and the truth on where I ended up on the black shirt lies somewhere between Emery’s worries of our separation anxiety and Robin thinking I should burn it.  It will be washed, twice, then hung in the back of my closet for posterity, or something like that…