Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A THREE HOUR TOUR….A THREE HOUR TOUR….

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, 
A tale of a fateful trip 
That started from this tropic port 
Aboard this tiny ship."  
Gilligan's Island Theme Song



Over time, I've ridiculed people who take vacations on cruise ships.  It's only fair that I am about to eat my words -- we leave Friday on a cruise.

I have been worn down by the slow and persistent trickle of cajoling from friends and family who tell me I'll love it.  I am struggling mightily to believe them.  Philosophically I'm not thrilled with the luxurious excesses most cruise ships tout as "amenities".  I'm not thrilled with non-stop people, activities, and entertainments.  I'm not thrilled with "formal nights", but I understand we can opt out.  Yet, even standard cruise ship-suggested attire for dining is expected to be "smart casual".  I'm not sure my casual is smart enough.  I'm especially not thrilled with the possibility of seasickness.  (Oh, believe me, I've read all the online first-person narratives about this!)

I am thrilled with sharing this adventure with Hub and our travel companions, two good friends and enthusiastic cruisers, who are among those who assure me I'll be fine and it will be fun.

So far, I've actually paid very little attention to the pre-cruise planning.   (I've sort of taken to comparing it to a colonoscopy prep -- rather unpleasant and messy -- but tolerable if you don't give it too much thought.)  Hub has spent hours (many, many hours!) navigating the "shore excursion" options, shopping and comparing trips and fees, making reservations, etc.  I believe he has this all worked out and I believe I said "yes" to what has been decided.  I rejected any open water boat trips (the whales will have to breach without me) and small helicopter glacial landings (puh-leeze!)  I think we will be on sightseeing buses and trains and trams and hiking trails and if the weather permits, a kayak trip on some bay or other.  (In spite of my fear of big water, I do love a protected bay and an afternoon of kayaking).

I'm very much looking forward to seeing Alaska; never been there.  People say it's quite wonderful -- as in truly "full of wonder".   After seven days of cruising and various ports of call, which will include those shore excursion tours, we get off the ship in Seward and hop on a motor coach for a trip to a lodge in Denali for 2 nights, then a train to Anchorage where we spend a night, then a flight back home.  Whew!

To most this sounds like a perfect trip.  To me, well.  It sounds like a lot of "going and doing" and not enough "being".  I like a lot of down time; quiet time; non-scheduled time; at home time, actually.  But I am open to being surprised and delighted by the whole thing.  I want to have a fabulous experience.  And attitude is so important in these matters….most matters, actually.

Besides, I have enough seasickness remedies in my carry-on to keep me in a twilight state of barely conscious alertness throughout the trip.  Yep, just like a colonoscopy.

At least, that's the view from here… ©

Sunday, July 27, 2014

NOT GONNA DO IT NO MORE

Anne Lamott is one of my very favorite writers.  She posted another great essay to Facebook today.  As usual, she was both funny and wise and I love that about her.  The part that I thought about the most is the part where she muses what she would do if the world was coming to an end.  I identified with throwing dietary caution to the wind, for sure!  And I agreed that there have been times when I, too, would have taken up smoking again and knocked back a few glasses of wine if humanity was on its way out.  And I agree with her now I wouldn't do either of those things either, no matter that the holocaust was about to befall us.

I "quit smoking" (regularly, habitually) in 1982 after 12 years of thinking smoking made me look cool and expressed some external solidarity with feminism, since I only smoked Virginia Slims.  (Pawn to advertisers, I.)  I grew up with smokers -- everyone except my mom, who never smoked but inhaled enough second-hand smoke over her 87 year lifetime that her neurologist said her brain looked like that of a smoker -- as her gray matter shrunk and dementia settled in.  But even that didn't get my attention; I continued to buy a pack about once or twice a year and over a few days time would sit on my view deck with a glass or two of wine and a cigarette for old time's sake.

Then in 2010 my brother was diagnosed with bladder cancer and now lives without a bladder.  (Tricky, but possible -- modern medicine is a miracle!).  His smoking likely contributed to this reality….all those decades of carcinogens being flushed away through the bladder.  I was stunned (cancer doesn't really run in our family, so it was shocking to me to hear he had it) and I swore, "never again" and I haven't.  I'm through with even the occasional "naughty girl" drag on a Slim.  It's been 4-1/2 years and my only regret is that I can't say it's been 32 years, given my "official" quit date in 1982.  I guess I have to use the "this time I really mean it" date.

And the drinking thing…on July 31st it'll be 3 years since a drop of alcohol has passed through my lips.  I can't tell you how happy this makes me.  Surprisingly happy, actually.  Because of course I was not an alcoholic.  No, of course not.  I quit cold turkey (due to a health issue that could be made worse by using alcohol even a little bit) and I have rarely had a moment of regret or temptation.  But looking back…. I may not have had a physical addiction, but certainly I had maybe a teeny, tiny little problem with alcohol.  

Yet, I told myself I was fine.  I didn't drink every day.  I mostly only drank at night -- night being 5:00 on the dot.  Unless I was out to lunch with a friend (noon or after) or we went to Happy Hour (3:00).  And I only drank Chardonnay.  Classy wine, not cheap stuff.  Rarely hard alcohol, except a Gin and Tonic now and then.  No beer (yuk!)  I did get frustrated with restaurant pours -- 4-6 ounces is NOT a glass of wine.  Why, at home I filled those glasses up -- 8-10 ounces is a glass of wine!  C'mon!

It always amused me to hear people say they would have only one glass.  Really?  The first glass was just a thirst quencher!  Downed like a shot.  The second glass was sipped more slowly and the little fuzzy, buzzy feeling was so sweet and welcome all I could do was smile.  The third glass brought on that gauzy, I-love-the-world-and-everyone-in-it euphoria, until near the bottom of that glass or into the 4th, when a maudlin, self-pitying, tearful, wreck of a person showed up to throw a damper on the whole party.  Time to go to sleep.

There were times when I knew I'd overindulged:  sick to my stomach (rare, but still…); falling down (only a couple of times, but still….); passing out (hmmm…wasn't I just sleepy?  Of course I ignored the warning not to drink while taking anti-depressants…That's advice made to be ignored!)

On several occasions I took the "Do you have a problem with alcohol?" tests and found I had to check off some of the items.  Like drinking more than I intended to; trying to stop and not being able to (only on weekends…starting Thursday, unless there is a special occasion on Tuesday, or there is still wine in the bottle to finish from Sunday.); occasionally not totally remembering everything about the night before.   

But I didn't have to check off the very worst ones:  I never missed work or neglected my family or spent money we didn't have or drive while completely drunk (note the "completely" qualifier…which absolutely terrifies me today).  

But I was concerned enough one sunny afternoon to stop into a local AA bookstore/meeting place to have a look around.  I bought the Big Book and talked to the clerk, who of course asked me to come to a meeting and I said I would, with no intention in the world of actually doing it.  I ran to my car and sat sobbing for a good 20 minutes before I drove home and had a glass of wine.

I don't know what my friends and family thought of me back then.  My guess is that I looked just like every other social drinker who occasionally went one drink over the line.  Not much in my "public" life would have looked off to anyone.  I was super high functioning and responsible.  Still….inside me there was a void, a shame, a sad and lonely woman trying to muddle though with a little assist from a bit 'o the grape.

I've written briefly about this in a post a couple of years ago, but I've never actually written this detailed account before.   I'm a little hesitant to hit "publish" on this one.   But honesty is part of my promise with this blog and my hope is always that my experiences will resonate with you and be helpful in some way.

So, today I feel blessed by the sudden, unexplained episodes of syncope that landed me in the hospital a few times and made me decide that I wouldn't drink anymore.  I feel a sense of freedom, a sense of strength, a sense of confidence that was never there when I drank.  I feel proud and healthy and whole.  And grateful.  Most of all I am grateful that drinking is not part of my life.  And I've acknowledged that should I decide to "cheat",  I'd be back to the Chardonnay Charade in a heartbeat.  And while I don't work the steps, have not gone to any meetings, only skimmed the Big Book, I still know….

 My name is Donna and I have a problem with alcohol.

At least, that's the view from here… ©

Saturday, July 26, 2014

AGE -- A STATE OF MIND

This month has been crazy busy.  First there was sleep-over camp (well documented in my previous post), then we continued the deep dive into a huge building renovation project at our UU Fellowship (it's an old building needing constant attention to much deferred maintenance and rather lax tidiness standards -- a group of us are seeking to rectify this), and now we are prepping for an 11-day vacation, to commence next week.

In the midst of all of this, we celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary -- or as Hub said, "42, with a year off for 'bad behavior'".  Yes, I guess we qualify the total number of years of married bliss by mentioning in passing that year of living apart back in 1978, but it was so long ago….

Anyway, "the kids" were all here for weekly Family Dinner the night before our anniversary and I commenced to announcing that it seems impossible for me to fathom that we've been married for as long as one middle-aged lifetime when the reality is that Hub and I look and act so incredibly youthful!  Why, one would guess our ages to be a mere 42 years old!

I said that we are now almost the age my parents were when our sons were young.  I asked if they thought of my mom as being "old" when she was a really only 65.  The two sat there in silence.  I prompted again…"She was so young!  She didn't seem old, did she?"  Again, silence.  Then a mumbled, "Um, yeah."

"Really???" I said.  "But 65 isn't really that old!"  Son-Two looked at me and said, "But Mom, we thought you and Dad were old too -- and Grandma was really old!"

Hmmm….I understand.  They were just children with no idea about the trick of internal perspective being at complete odds with external appearance.  In their 20's now, they likely still don't get it.  But they will.

I remember my mom saying to me, in her late70's or so, that she wondered who that old lady was looking back at her in the mirror.  She said she didn't feel old at all.  At 63, I'm having the same experience.  I'm shocked at times by the sags, the wrinkles, the crepe-y skin, the bumps and age spots that are starting to emerge.  My body is in full rebellion from my mind.  Candlelight is my friend, as are long sleeves, a sturdy bra, and "tan in a bottle" lotions.

One day recently when 4-1/2 year old Angel was here for a sleepover, she asked me where my mother lived.  I told her my mother had died and I miss her very much.  She said, "Why did she die?" so I explained that she got pretty old and got sick and her body was tired and needed to rest forever.  (I really don't know how to explain death to a 4 year old without it sounding super scary.)  Angel said, "I hope you don't die soon."  I was taken aback.  "Why, Angel honey, I'm not going to die soon…why would you think that?"  She looked at me very seriously and said, "Well, you are getting pretty old too."  I was somewhat surprised to hear her say this -- I'd just crawled all over the floor with her, waited on her almost constantly for snacks and toys, played hide and seek in the yard for a good long time…me, old???  "Hmmm..what makes you think that?" I asked.  "Well……you've got those lines all over your face."  Busted!

To my beautiful granddaughter, so new to this world, so perfect in every way, I am "getting pretty old".  She can tell by looking….which actually makes me a little happy.  Aging is natural and normal and important.  It is the signal that life is moving along as it should.  Of course I seem "really old" to her.  Of course her parents are old too (at 28).  It's the Circle of Life, right?

There is no point in trying to trick ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, or the neighbors.  I don't love my 'lines' or my graying hair, or the sags and imperfections, because they remind me this body won't last forever.  But I do love my mind and my heart and my soul -- all of which are ageless and all of which are really who we are -- not this skin we walk around in.  If I keep exercising those inner traits, keep challenging, keep learning, keep growing, I'll be forever young to the end, no matter what this crazy body decides to do with itself.

At least, that's the view from here…. ©

Sunday, July 13, 2014

DANCING QUEEN

Oh dear….where to start?  First, I keep hearing my mother's admonishment: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."   Oh well, I have usually been successful at ignoring that kind of advice and besides, I can say a few nice things.  So here goes….

Hub and I went to Dance Camp last week.  (Pause for laughter and/or puzzlement to subside).  And I am going to put this on him -- it was his idea to go and he mostly enjoyed it.  I wasn't so keen on it, but it was being held in a beautiful place and I decided it would be fine.  The location was a fairly "rustic" retreat center (part of a State Park) on the waterfront of a small island about 2 hours from us.  We took the truck camper and parked under the trees, thinking the week would be part dance, part nature, and all vacation in one of our favorite areas of the state.

On Day 1 we walked into the registration building at the camp and my eyes first went to the couple seated at the registration table -- he pushing past 60 and she on the upside of 40 on his lap, arms intertwined, nuzzling.  They didn't appear to be registering for anything, or talking to anyone, or doing anything in particular -- just hanging out.  When they saw us waiting for a seat, they got up and retired to a mat in the corner, covered with an animal print fabric, and lay down, again entwining arms and legs in repose, as if clinging to each other and napping in public was the main activity of the afternoon.  Hmmm….

We sat across from a guy named Cougar, dressed in purple velvet, who was friendly, if a bit confused, but we managed to sort out the bumps along the registration path and got our work assignments (shared community means pitching in).  We were to work in the kitchen for the first 4 meals of the week.  We liked thinking our duty would be done early with only dancing and beach-walking to worry about for the rest of our time there.

So, let's start with the kitchen:  The Dance Camp folks rented it, so it was an all-volunteer staff.  A very friendly woman greeted us; her husband was the main cook and he was nice enough too.  A surly monosyllabic man in a chef cap was also on hand to sort of berate the volunteer staff with a large cleaver in his hand.  Not friendly.  Another woman who spelled her name Anna had her panties in a knot over something or other of an organizational nature and had verbal fisticuffs with the nice woman.  Also Anna was completely disgusted with eye-rolling frustration when I mispronounced her name, as I bet you would too:  Anna is ANN'-ah, typical pronunciation, right?  Nope.  "It's AH'-nah!" she informed me and turned quickly away so as not to look upon me again, ignorant scullery maid that I was.

We were totally confused, there was little direction as to our tasks, and even less idea of how those in charge were to supervise volunteers.  Lots of roaming around, bumping into each other, and guessing what we were to do ensued.  We got enough direction to finally complete a few tasks, then the hoards (about 100 participants) arrived for their supper of watery soup, a mostly greens salad, a scoop of some nondescript veggie mixture and a biscuit.  Everything was vegetarian and gluten-free, which is actually just fine with me.  But there were also dizzying other options: soy/ no soy; diary/no dairy; rice flour or corn flour; no onions (?)…on and on.  Little signs printed with all the ingredients stood in front of the serving pans where we stood behind at the ready with our serving spoons to offer a dollop of food ("Not too much..we might run out; no seconds until everyone is served").

Everyone had to read the signs to be sure they weren't ingesting some poisonous concoction of eggs and flours and then came the demands:  "Can I have just the top of the casserole; I don't eat carrots (the under layer)."  Or "just from the bottom, please, no cheese topping."  Or "Could I have a larger scoop?…Oh! Not that much!"  Or "Just a little, please.  Well…more than that!"  People and their food issues!  And rude issues!  I wasn't having fun yet -- and never did with the kitchen experience, which went on like that for all 4 of our work-commitment meals, except that we did eventually find things more easily and developed a sense of humor about the whole craziness.  By dinner the next day (our last meal to serve) Hub and I were tempted to dump every lasagna option together in a big pan, mix it up, divvy it out again with a variety of random ingredient signs and see if anyone noticed or cared since it all looked exactly alike anyway!  But we didn't.  That would just be mean….like AH'nah.

Then we went to the first dance, which was sort of fun/interesting/weird/OK/familiar/unfamiliar.  We've been facilitators of a small Ecstatic Dance group at our UU Fellowship loosely based on Gabrielle Roth's 5-Rhythms Dance.  It's a cool, internal, meditative practice.   A clip below will give you an idea, but bear in mind, we don't look like these groovy dancers:  We are mostly over 40, or 50, or 60, or 70; wearing regular clothes, and not so intensely tranced or comfortable in their skin as these accomplished dancers.  We're "just folks", dancing in meditative movement, not making eye contact, sometimes hiding in the back -- just learning to love our own internal rhythms, our bodies, and ourselves in spite of our years, weight, and arthritis.  But anyway, here's Gabrielle Roth and her crew:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cYYzcTzm6Y

So we get to the dance and find something very different.  Many are wearing colorful, flowing pants and skirts, tiny tops, dreadlocks.  Many are doing Contact Improv dance.  Now, I knew going in what this was and I warned Hub that there might be a lot of this going on.  There was.  We decided we would not participate.  We didn't.  Still….this was what we saw (Check out the couples at about the 3-5 minute mark for the full-on effect, but at Dance Camp there were often 3-4 dancers together):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?  v=kQDZT6vfEyQ

Still, even that wasn't the problem with the Dance Camp.  But let me say the nice things first:  I loved just doing our own thing at the dances, although I felt like a voyeur with all the "contact" threesomes going on around us;  I loved the women-only circle and learning about/doing Sacred Tantra Dance (not sexual at all -- very beautiful and soulful); I loved the Kirtan (sacred chant); I loved the voice classes with instantaneous harmonies; I (mostly) enjoyed a couple of sessions of "small group time", with six of us meeting for a "sharing circle".  Hub liked the Breath Work class (I thought it was weird and refused to participate -- bad attitude?) and we tried the Massage and Bodywork class, but it didn't meet our expectations, mostly due to the instructor's style.

No, the real problem with Dance Camp was the campers.  Most were parts of large dance communities in the Northwest and California.  Most perhaps knew each other, or of each other, before arriving.  Most were into the Contact Improv or Zipper Dance (similar), and many struck me as an unfriendly, unwelcoming, insular clique who were so focused on "creating meaningful connection through community" that their style of dress, speech, near constant eye-gazing and stroking each other ended up feeling like such an orgy of sensuous exhibitionism that any sense of true community was virtually impossible.

So I basically dropped out after Day 2 (of 6).   Hub went to a few more sessions than I, but we also both escaped to a small town we love in the area, walked on the beach, watched sunsets, ate in restaurants that served food actually seasoned with interesting flavors, visited with a friend, explored.  Dance Camp became a place that more creeped me out than  delighted me and I plan never to return.  And I feel sort of badly about that.  I think there were a number well-meaning people there, people who I might have liked but who were so caught up in the group "dance" of Ego and even some neuroses, that the whole scene felt like a place to flee from rather than embrace.

That said, I'm sure their closing circle (which we skipped) was one of prolonged hugs, misty eye-gazing, promises to meet again, and declarations of "best ever" experiences.  So, maybe it was just me.

Had we stayed up late for the "Sultry Cafe" from 10 p.m. - 1 a.m., I might have come home with a new attitude. When we asked what that was, we were told:  "Oh it's the best!  It's where you can really strut your stuff!  Wear something sexy!!!"

Or, I might have come to the same conclusion about Dance Camp after all.

At least, that's the view from here….

P.S.  There were two serious sprains and one broken foot at the camp; Hub and I both came home with a gastrointestinal "bug" that may or may not be related to the well-intentioned, but lax kitchen cleanliness standards.  Just sayin'. ©