Three Years Sober and Counting

March 8th snuck up on us. Busy with the wee babe and the six-year old, we were surprised by our Sobriversary this year. Last year felt like a major accomplishment; this year felt like just another day.

Because it was. 

At three years sober, we’re wellsettled into a life without alcohol. That old life and who we used to be feels very much in the past. So much so, that at times I look at my ever-present ups and downs and wonder if I truly am better off. I still experience depression. I still have much to learn as a parent. I still have a messy house. I still have weight to lose. I still don’t accomplish everything I’d like to. Continue reading “Three Years Sober and Counting”

Precious

 

It wasn’t the first time he’d come to visit me in Seattle, but it was the most significant. Raw and wounded from his recent separation and impending divorce, my older brother and his young daughter made the three hour drive up from Portland late in the day on Thanksgiving and stayed only one night. It would have been the first holiday they’d spend alone, and I had insisted he come join my circle.

Continue reading “Precious”

A Hurricane of Support

(Published in the September 5th Warroad Pioneer)

Something beautiful happened at The Angle this past weekend, this whole past summer, in fact. Our little one-room school house was in need, and people showed up en masse to donate and volunteer.

Thanks to District 690 and construction company NW Angle Services, the building finally got a much-needed face-lift – new roof, ceiling, external siding, windows, carpet, renovated bathrooms and storage closet, wheelchair accessible front entryway, and rear steps.

When the construction was complete, the interior needed a paint job and the entire classroom had to be put back to rights in the six short days before classes were to begin. Continue reading “A Hurricane of Support”

A Prayer for Usefulness

Dear God,

Here I am. What would you have me do today? Where would you have me go? What would you have me say, and to whom?

I am here. Use me as a tool for Your love.

I give up my need to fix myself. I give up my desire to look and feel perfect before being worthy of Your use. I give up my act, God. Help me give it up again each day as I cling and crave it. Help me forgive the things I have hated about myself for so long. Help me see that it was all a conspiracy to keep me small and separate from You. Continue reading “A Prayer for Usefulness”

Lucky

Most mornings I wake up feeling pretty darn fortunate. Not all mornings, of course, but more often than not.

I’ve always had shelter, food and clothing. I’ve always been surrounded by people whom I love and who love me. I’ve faced very little adversity, loss or personal tragedy.

I’m a white woman in a democratic country. I’m college-educated. I’ve lived in metropolitan and rural areas, both by choice. I’ve traveled across oceans, tasted cuisines around the world, met people from all walks of life. I’ve danced in the desert beneath a complete lunar eclipse and rode white water that nearly killed me, just for the thrill of it. I’ve had time and resources to Create, in myriad different forms and at all different stages of my life. Continue reading “Lucky”

A Thousand Thank You’s

Henry David Thoreau once said, “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” Continue reading “A Thousand Thank You’s”

Warroad Pioneer Assignment EOY Wrap-up for 2015

Column 17.5 Published in the Decebmer 22/29 double issue of the Warroad Pioneer

When I chose the title of this column early in 2015, or rather when it revealed itself to me, I understood very little about the concept of grace. As the events of the year unfolded and as I endured the growing pains of yet another emotional upheaval on life’s journey, grace became much more than just a concept.

Slowly at first, I started noticing all of the angels waiting in the wings for us to accept their aid. They and the aid came in many different forms, a compliment, encouragement, extra work, a shoulder, a smile or hug or phone call right when it was needed, a 2-year old’s reminder that her papa loved me too even if he wasn’t around anymore.

Angels are neighbors, family members, a purring kitten, a well-timed song, the kind owner of a grocery store, extra volunteers for Angle Days, and a hundred more and varied examples. When I paused for a moment during the pell mell rush of daily life, I saw that they were around me in abundance, and the benevolence of the universe rode on their wings like a warm swath of moonlight on the darkest night of the soul.

I’ve always believed that the universe, or God if you prefer, doesn’t give you more than you can handle. And in fact, you get exactly what you need to keep chugging along productively on your chosen path. Living in grace seems to be operating with an abiding faith that life is working For you not Against you, that God is on your side, that this is indeed a friendly universe, despite all news reports to the contrary.

Grace is not the real estate of the religious. You don’t have to live in righteous piety, though it doesn’t hurt, to experience divine flow. Grace belongs to all of us when we choose to remember. Moving to The Angle and all of the pendulum swings that have come with that choice has been yet another toll of the bells awakening me from my slumber. And with each little bit of awakening, I can see more clearly how deeply asleep we all are.

Looking back over the year in review, I realized I was always working on this or that. Here are five practices that have helped me awaken bit by tiny bit during this tumultuous year.

G-Gratitude

It’s easy to practice gratitude when things are going well, but what about finding grace in the suffering, seeing goodness in the hardships, saying Thank You for the harsh words. If I find myself complaining or if I say or hear someone else say the word “hate”, my practice is to find appreciation for that which I am judging. Instead of hating chapped lips, for example, I was able to feel gratitude for the reminder to drink more water and refill the humidifier. I’m still working on feeling grateful for Fox News, that’s been a tough one for me.

R-Reality

I don’t get a vote in what is. It happens the way it happens and I can either accept it and hopefully learn to love it, or I can suffer. That doesn’t mean I’m a doormat. It means that reality rules. Reality is king. Reality is God. My practice is to simply be aware of my feelings to the extent that they tell me when I am fighting reality. My suffering comes about when I fight what is.

A-Attachment

For a time, even the most benign interaction with my ex would leave my insides writhing in angry knots. All of the rage and self-pity at the way this part of my story turned out would then unfurl itself in an impatient mudslide of words torrential.

I had gotten attached to my plan. For many years, I truly believed that he was supposed to be a certain way and our relationship was supposed to be a certain way. But we all know what happens when we tell God our plans. I imagine she smiles, pats us on the head and amusedly says, “back to sleep now, little one.” When I experience stress, I understand I’ve gotten attached to something untrue.  This practice rolls in with nicely with the previous one. Pay attention to my stress to learn where I’m attached to something that isn’t reality.

C-Certainty

The older I get, the less certain I am about everything. Not knowing is a wonderful place to be. All possibilities are open to you. Magic is everywhere. There was definitely a time in my life when I thought I knew it all, and I’m humbled that people put up with me. Now, I can see that every time I think I’m certain about something, I’m not seeing its beautiful truth. It helps having an inquisitive toddler at my side. My practice is to try to see beyond the labels that we put on everything and everyone around us. “We call it an eagle, my love, but it is more than just its name, as is everything. It is a powerful bird of prey that fishes the quiet coves of our meandering lake or cleans the carcass of a road-killed deer. Look at its snowy white head and its wide wings. Many see it as a symbol of freedom and strength.  It would eat our new kitten for breakfast given the chance.”

E-Enough

I am enough. Even in all of my shortcomings, my ridiculous flaws, my concerted efforts that amount to not much at all, through grace, I am enough. Through grace, I will always have enough.  My practice is, again, a simple awareness exercise to notice when I am feeling lack or less than. It does take practice. Negative feelings can spiral into much bigger problems, and eventually disease, if left unchecked. I have to pay attention to how I feel throughout the day. Slowing down with some deep breaths or by looking in a mirror seem to help. I’ll use it as a mantra when I walk, repeating until the words sound almost non-sensical, “I am enough. I have enough.” It helps.

***

Thanks for wandering along this winding road with me throughout 2015. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season filled with the music of love and laughter.

 

A Man’s World

Column 11 Published in the September 29 Warroad Pioneer

 

The Angle is undeniably a man’s world. It is a land of extremes governed by a hearty few who have toiled under back-breaking conditions to make it the civilized mess it is today. I have read the dry and distant history books of this place; I have visited on end with the old-timers; I have thrown myself into the community jumble as much as anyone can, and still I know nothing.

My future at the Angle is as up in the air as the wind-riding pelicans. I am still very much a newcomer, and now I may be a short-timer. There are less than a handful of single ladies at the Angle, and suddenly there’s a new demographic, one single mom, or as my weathered ex likes to say “a single mom at age 40 who still lives with her parents, has no job and no car.”

It’s all truth. I turn 40 in November, live with my parents in their large unfinished B&B, and my hand-me-down Angle vehicle barely runs; I have to air up the tire and reconnect the battery every time I want to use it. I’ve never really had a fulltime “job” here at the Angle, but I do make a sustainable income, and, unlike some, I keep track of every penny and report it on my taxes each spring. Normal jobs for women at The Angle involve slinging drinks, flipping burgers or cleaning cabins. Jobs for men are in fishing, heavy equipment and construction. There are exceptions on each side, of course, for the lucky few (or unlucky, depending on your vantage) who sit behind a desk at home or manage to be a Jill of All Trades.

Regardless, we keep busy in a man’s world. Everything and everyone is commoditized, especially women. In this world, our worth is measured first by our appearance, second by our helpfulness and third by our survivability, because yes, The Angle way of life can certainly be a test of extreme survival in a matter of moments if someone is careless or disregards intuition.

Driven by the desire to learn and honor, I’ve started to dive in to the stories of the amazing women who shaped The Angle. Earlier this summer I interviewed Joan Undahl, a gracious and lovely lady who can, but doesn’t, claim the title of The Angle’s first (and only?) woman fishing guide. She seemed completely oblivious to the power, leadership and compassion that came through in her voice. She is an islander, a more challenging life-style by far than simply living on The Angle mainland.

I assumed we were all one community, and that is how Mrs. Undahl told the story as well. But while the feminine unites, the masculine seems to divide. As I watched my recent relationship crumble, I heard again and again the words that I couldn’t get on board with how “half the Angle does things.” Apparently there are two different worlds up here: it’s not the stodgy landlubbers vs. the hard-living islanders as he might have had me believe. Rather, it’s those who want to keep themselves and The Angle growing forward in a positive direction vs. those who resist change and insist on the old ways.

Drinking and carousing seem to be written into The Angle rule book by the very men who built this place, the same ones who now complain about it following its natural evolutionary path that they helped kick start.

It was Marilyn Monroe, the most commoditized of all beauties, who said, “I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.” I came to The Angle and danced in my long pink hippie skirts. I let my hair go curly and natural. I brought a bubbly little blonde force of feminine energy into this world in my out-of-wedlock child. And we love it here.

Around the world, people are aware that life is changing. The feminine is rising into partnership with the masculine. And The Angle is no different. Human beings are undergoing a massive change and turning away from old perceptions and ideas. In 2009, at the Vancouver Peace Summit, the Dalai Lama said, “The world will be saved by the Western Woman.” Our natural gifts of intuition, healing and building community will be the foundation of that saving grace.

Some might say that airing dirty laundry in public is unbecoming. But once upon a time, we were all down by the river washing our rags on the flat rocks of love and connection.

Today, I prefer to cleanse mine through all manner of therapeutic remedies and then hang it out in the gale force wind to dry. For the most part, these beautiful, thick-skinned Angle folk would simply chuckle if the winds of change blew something unmentionable across their lawn. It might be a man’s world, but it does indeed need saving. Thankfully, some of us have the energy and inspiration to change our own lives and help make a difference outside of ourselves as well.

This Glorious Mess

Column 6 Published in the July 14, 2015 issue of the Warroad Pioneer

Life at the Angle is messy.

Or perhaps I should say that MY life at the Angle is messy. Some folks definitely seem to have it all pulled together, packaged neatly and tied up with a perfect country plaid bow. But even the fastidious ones are not immune from that telltale marking mud on the back of their pant leg that comes from climbing in and out of dirty vehicles.

Muddy roads are a benign sort of messiness, of course. It’s all of the miscellaneous messes that slowly add up until sometimes it’s a downright sloppy situation.

Like always having digital clocks that are blinking because of the far too often power outages. Or showing up to a social event and inexplicably having sawdust in my hair or wood stain on my arms. My “good” clothes never stay good for long because something always needs doing and running upstairs to change isn’t time effective. We might live in the sticks, darn it, but I still like to dress decently.

There are things I don’t remember ever doing when I lived in the big city. If a tire needs air, an engine needs oil, a toddler needs holding, or chicken poop needs to be scraped off shoes, we do it, usually right then and there when it needs to be done. Popsicle stickiness gets washed off in the rain barrel. A neighbor needs a part, so we both rummage through a dusty, greasy well-used shop to find it. If I have dirt beneath my finger nails, it just means I had twenty free minutes to pull weeds and didn’t want to waste a bit of it going to get my garden gloves. Long hair smells of campfire smoke a couple times a week, and as a result the pillowcase does too. Sometimes sheets stay out on the line through the rain until they’re dry again. That’s all right by me. Our rains are decently clean here.

Did you know that if you move a turtle across the road you might just get peed on? I escaped that mess but only just narrowly. Defense mechanisms fascinate me. So do the ingenious ways that plants spread their seeds. Anyone who’s picked a hundred little cockleburs out of clothing or pet hair certainly sees the annoying grace in a plant’s subtle parentage.

Sometimes the mess arises simply from trying to do too many things at once. Multi-taskers are us, right? All the research points to the folly of multi-tasking, which I wrote about once for a software company in Southern California while sitting at my desk in tiny little Angle Inlet, Minnesota. Moving here, I truly thought a simple life would help quell my insatiable need to be reading six books at once, for example.

Most mornings I awaken with the bird song, knock over a couple books on my nightstand and stumble to my computer to get a few more things done for Angle Days or log a couple hours on a freelance writing project. When the rooster starts crowing it’s time for a morning tea or bone broth or green smoothie or fresh eggs fried in butter with homemade sausage and a thick slice of tomato dusted with pink rock salt.

Speaking of pink, it has been the year of the lady slipper. I make the drive to town several times a week for the UPS run, and each day on that long lonely stretch of road through Canada I marvel at the literal thousands of these rare pink orchids. They’re just past their peak now, but they are a sight.

If I’m not UPS’ing, I’ve been known to pick up a shift at Jerry’s, serving breakfast or beer (only rarely at the same time) to fisherman and locals. It’s a nice way to stay connected to the ebb and flow of the Angle. We’re missing our favorite pancake-eating, Twisted Tea-drinking biker dude Jon Kleven these last few weeks. His passing wasn’t sudden but it was impactful. On our drive to and fro, we can still look lovingly at the mess that is his yard and was his Angle life. He was both a rare orchid and a cocklebur, that one. Rest in peace and ride on, Jon.

Certainly, messes don’t get cleaned up without hard work. And hard work often makes a mess. It’s a frustrating cycle, but one I wouldn’t trade. Each day life gets a touch more orderly, or perhaps I’m learning to mind the chaos a little bit less, I don’t know which one. Either way, the sun continues to rise and set on my glorious mess, and for that I am grateful.