Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dragon boating adventures: Paddling from the front bench & being a "featherbutt!"

Yesterday my coach gave me the opportunity to paddle from the front bench. How honored I felt to experience paddling the dragon boat from the front of the boat rather than the back, where I sit during races. That's me with the dark hair, glasses and black shirt, sitting in the front bench, starboard side.

On our dragon boat, we call the paddlers in the back of the boat "the powerhouse" for their sheer strength. The paddlers in the front are called "the featherbutts" because it's often the smaller, lighter paddlers sitting in the front. What a boost to be included in the "Go, featherbutts!" cheer that rang out from paddlers in the back of the boat.

Being placed in the front of the boat, even temporarily on a trail basis, must mean that my coach thinks I'm ready to move my paddling skills to the next level, to learn a new, more finessed way to paddle. A new stroke. That mirrors what I've experienced in my life off the river too.

This past week marked one year since my life took an unexpected turn when I was laid off from a job I thought I loved. At first, I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me and I couldn't catch my breath. I wondered how I'd survive.

Through the grace and generosity of others--and my own gritty determination deep down in my genes--I've not only survived, but thrived.

One dragon boating friend paid me a high compliment. "The saying 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger' isn't true for most people," he said. "But for you, it is."

A year after being delivered what I thought was a fatal blow, I'm a healthier and happier woman. I've lost 45 pounds (so far!) and have gained confidence. I ditched truckloads of material things that were cluttering my life and am living a streamlined, simpler life.

I didn't just start a new chapter. It's a whole new book.

Even at work, I'm flexing new muscles and pushing myself further. For the past seven months, I've worked as a news coordinator in the newsroom at my city's daily newspaper. Through the coaching of my editors and fellow reporters, I've become a better writer.

Recently I was promoted to education reporter. Yesterday I had a my second front-page story, and today I had an interesting feature story on the front of the Sunday "Life" section. To celebrate my year anniversary of being laid off and beginning a new life in the newsroom, I made my Mexican brownies for the newsroom staff.

I'm flexing new muscles daily, both in the newsroom and on the water.Yesterday at dragon boat practice coach Jeanie worked with me to teach me this stronger, more complex stroke to allow me to pull more water so our boat can power through the water.

This stroke feels different. It's another new thing to learn, but I'm determined to learn it. I perched on the front bench, breathing out with each stroke. Reaching further. Digging deeper. And pulling water with my teammates as we skimmed across the Willamette River on a glorious October morning.

The experience was even sweeter when Debbie shouted encouragingly: "Go, featherbutts!" I'm a featherbutt!


Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Trials and Tribulations of Online Dating

I have an embarrassing confession to make.

Recently while paddling my own canoe, I'd lost my way in the drama of online dating. Earlier today I disabled my account on a popular, free online dating site. It took conversations with my sister, a cousin and a girlfriend for me to realize how online dating was eroding my confidence and wasting my time. I spent far too much time trolling the online waters looking for prospective men when I could have been out doing something fun and experiencing life.

When I first dipped my big toe into the online dating pool, it had been 29 years since I'd been single, or as Bridget Jones would say, a "singleton" out there in the scary dating world. And how that dating world has changed in three decades!

In this all-new world of online dating, I first spent hours writing, editing and tweaking my profile. I'm a writer. That part was fun, but challenging. What words make a person appear attractive, interesting and witty--yet not desperate? Carefully choosing photos to upload to my profile ate up more time.

Then, I wasted more hours than I care to admit answering inane questions that were supposed to help find men who had shared interests and values. Most of the questions did not seem helpful in weeding out men who weren't good matches. And many questions were much too personal. I didn't answer those.

Soon men--dozens and dozens of them--began knocking on my virtual door. I'll admit that at first it was an ego booster to have so many men checking out my profile. But once I weeded out the too young, too old, bisexual, kinky and the worst category, in my opinion, "married but available," the numbers were much fewer.

Although I had specified that I was interested in men within a certain age range, my profile was visited by men spanning a much larger range, from creepy and way too young: "you're almost as young as my son," to creepy and much too old: "you're almost as old as my father!"

Distance factored into the weeding-out process as well. Even if they were as gorgeous as George Clooney (and they weren't), men hundreds of miles away, across the country or on a different continent were eliminated from the ever-shrinking pool.

Men began messaging me. Many were clearly online looking only for sex. Some were downright creepy. Late one night, I was checking who had visited my profile when a man instant messaged me and asked if I wanted company that night. Right-o. Uh-huh. I've never met this man, I don't know what his real name is, and he's hoping I'll give him my address so he can drive right over to my place late at night. Isn't there a slasher movie with that same plot? I told him "no thanks," and he excused his virtual self to go creep out some other woman.

Sometimes I'd work up the courage to email a particularly attractive prospect who had been rated a very good match for me. But many men didn't have the courtesy to reply. I felt "virtually" rejected. One guy at least had the kindness to respond, "I looked at your profile, but I'm just not interested." I appreciated his candor. It was better than being ignored, but I still felt rejected.

I met a handful of guys face to face, always in daylight in a safe, public place, like a coffee shop. I always drove my own car and never got into a car with a man until I'd met him a few times and had the opportunity to Google him and check out his background.

With my first few coffee shop meetups, there was no spark for either of us. We were too polite to say, "Look, it's been nice meeting you, but let's not waste any more time. Best of luck." The first man talked nonstop about his career and his kids, but he didn't ask anything about me. This was my first "date" in 29 years. I was tongue tied and not marketing myself as an Internet dater should. He likely was nervous too. It went the same with the next guy.

One particularly memorable meetup was with a man who was supposed to be 94 percent compatible with me. We had emailed a couple of times, and seemed to share many interests. But when I walked into the coffee shop and saw him, I'm sure my jaw dropped. The photos he had posted were probably 20 years old, and he had gained 50 or 75 pounds or more since those old photos had been taken. He hadn't been honest.

What I found more disturbing was that as we chatted, he seemed to have a negative attitude and difficult relationships with many people. But the last straw was when he pulled out his phone and showed me a photo of himself dressed as a pirate and said he'd like to see me again. (Ladies, he did NOT look like Johnny Depp!) I politely looked at his pirate photo and replied that I was taking online dating very slowly. Then I excused myself and sprinted to my car and made my escape. I wondered if he ever had a second date.

After that I learned to do more research by having phone conversations before we actually met in person. That helped to find if there was common ground. But how do you casually work into the conversation: "One last question: Do you have a pirate costume?"

I eventually did have more than one date with a few nice men. It was fun to have a man to go to a restaurant with, see a movie or a play, and visit farmers markets, museums and more. But after a time, those short-term relationships fizzled out.

Recently, my friend, Henry, and I were comparing online dating war stories.

"I should stop watching chick flicks like 'Under the Tuscan Sun,'" I told him. "I need to realize that I'm not going to move to Italy, be swept off my feet by a handsome stranger and live happily ever after in a Tuscan villa."

With his dry wit, Henry replied, "My love life has been more like the movie 'Titanic'. The last hour--when the ship is sinking!"

Since that conversation, Henry has found a wonderful woman on the same online dating site that I had tried. He's happy. He tells me not to take it so seriously, not to worry so much about it. Just let it happen.

Henry and many other friends have reminded me how hard I've worked to achieve my freedom, to change my life, to start anew. To paddle my own canoe.

Someday, maybe I'll meet a man who is a compatible paddling partner for my adventures. In the meantime, I'll keep paddling my own canoe and moving forward to my next adventure.

Meanwhile, tomorrow morning is my last dragon boat race for the season. Can't wait! Paddles up!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Letting Go of Fear & Stepping Off the Platform

Last week at my family reunion I had the opportunity to ride a zip line for the first time in my life.

Relatives of all ages, sizes and fitness levels were zipping down the hill. I was eager to try this adventure.

With my zip line harness and hard hat in place, I  climbed up a tree, hand-over-hand up the spikes  until I reached the zip line platform. A man at the top attached my harness to the zip line, offered his hand as I stepped onto the platform and told me to step off whenever I was ready.

I looked down below. And then I froze.

What the heck was I doing? Why did I think I could muster the courage to step off the platform into nothing but air? Would the line hold me? What if something went wrong?

Then I took a few deep breaths, just like Jeanie, my dragon boat coach, has taught me to do before a race.

In the seconds it took to breathe deeply, I began to think clearly. I remembered I wasn't the same fearful woman I had been two years earlier.

Now I'm all about being brave and trying new experiences. I've tried kayaking, SUP (stand up paddleboard) and snowshoeing. Three times a week I paddle a dragon boat with the Mighty Women Paddling Club. I've exercised regularly, made better food choices and have lost 45 pounds so far. In the process, I've gained confidence. But I still face fearful situations.

Earlier that morning I'd been swimming in the lake with cousins and siblings when I'd found the courage to climb up the diving board ladder and forced myself to jump off the diving board--something I had never been able to do. I jumped multiple times to convince myself I'd finally conquered my diving board fear.

Yet here I was, standing on the zip line platform and paralyzed with fear. I looked down. This was a LOT higher than the diving board. But I had a secure harness to keep me from falling. It was safe.

Taking some more deep breaths, I told myself, "You can do this."

I stepped off the platform--and began zipping through the air. Exhilarating! True, I screamed like a girl all the way down the hill, but I kept my eyes open and enjoyed the ride.

What fears are holding you back from stepping off the platform and experiencing your next adventure? Let go of your fear. Take some deep breaths. And then step off the platform. That first step is a doozy, but what a ride awaits you!

For my next adventure I'm considering windsurfing lessons.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Own Olympic Medals: Collecting Dragonboating Bling

   My cat, Anakin Skywalker, admiring my dragonboating medals.

The London Olympics are in full swing, and the world is watching.

Images of athletes standing on the victors' podium and proudly wearing their gold, silver and bronze medals around their necks fill our computer and TV screens and our newspapers. The athletes kiss their medals. They are so overcome with emotion that tears well up in their eyes. Heady stuff!

Now that I am a seasoned dragonboat paddler who has paddled in 13 races in three dragonboat festivals this summer, I can relate better to the elation of performing in an athletic event and having my coach ceremoniously drape a medal around my neck. It's a feeling of accomplishment recognized.

This summer, I have collected three medals--gold, silver and bronze--for my team's performances in dragonboat races.

One of my editors at work asked me to bring my medals to our weekly team meeting. I did. I felt like a school kid during "show and tell." No one clapped or cheered. But my fellow journalists dutifully passed around my medals and said "cool" and other affirming adjectives.

I don't have a trophy case, so at home I have draped my medals from an antique floor lamp visible as I come through my front door and enter my living room. My friend Lee has been dragonboating for a few years and has collected an impressive array of medals. He is a woodworker and has made a large cutout of a dragon boat which he has secured on his wall. From this dragonboat hangs his collection of colorful medals. It's very cool.

Why are my dragonboating medals so meaningful? They are the only athletic medals I've won. Ever.

I'm not known for my athletic prowess. The only other time in my life I've been recognized for an athletic accomplishment was during my freshman year in high school when I received a track and field trophy for "most inspirational." I did not receive this trophy for my astounding performance. It's a pity trophy.

With my friends BaLinda and Linda, I had joined the track team for our rural high school. Anyone could join the team. The coach needed bodies to fill the events and qualify for track meets. No one was turned away. No one. Not even a 95-pound nonathletic farm girl.

I did like to run. Let me clarify the difference between enjoying running and being an accomplished runner. I never won a race. But I always showed up for practice and track meets, performed to the best of my nonathletic ability and cheered on my teammates. For this, I was awarded a trophy. Yes, it's a pity trophy, but it has a figurine of a girl running and is engraved with my name. More than 30 years later, I still display it on the bookshelf in my bedroom.

Most adults will not feel the elation of competing in an event and having a medal ceremoniously placed around their necks. I suggest that adults would be happier if medals were awarded for accomplishments we perform as parents, as employees and as citizens.

Why don't we have a gold medal awarded for the hours performed carpooling kids to their soccer games and standing on the sidelines for hours--year after year--in the relentless rain?

Wouldn't it be satisfying to receive a medal for all the nail-biting hours of teaching a teenager to drive? That's certainly a medal-worthy life event. The teenager is awarded with a driver's license and freedom, but all the parent receives are an increased insurance premium and sleepless hours late at night awaiting the safe return of the kid and the car.

What medal-worthy accomplishments have you performed? Give yourself a pat on the back. Then imagine yourself standing at the victors' podium, a medal draped around your neck.

Let me tell you from my own experience. It feels amazing.

Photo: Here I am with my dragonboating team, the Mighty Women, proudly displaying our bronze medals at the Kent Cornucopia dragonboating festival.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Paddling Fearlessly toward Tomorrow's Dragon Boat Race

Here I am with the Mighty Women Paddling Club during our first race
 in Tacoma last month. I am on the starboard side, second from the back,
with the dark hair and red hat. 

Tomorrow is my second dragon boat race with the Mighty Women Paddling Club.

I hope I remember everything I've learned in the past five months of paddling three days a week with my team.

In my head I can hear coach Jeannie Zinn barking instructions:

"Sit forward!"
"Get off your bench!"
"Straighten your arms!"
"Rotate to your bench partner!"
"Look forward!"
"Use your legs!"
"Use your core!"
"Give me ten powerful strokes--now!"
"Finish it!"

Paddling a dragon boat is much harder than it looks. There is so much to remember. The most important thing is to paddle in unison with the rest of the team.

When I first started paddling in early February, my biggest worries were that I would fall out, capsize the boat or drop my paddle in the water. Thankfully, none of those missteps have happened.

Six months ago, I was obese and incredibly out of shape. The only exercise I got was waddling to the fridge to get more ice cream. For two decades I had taken care of my family, a house and the needs of my job. But along the way to midlife, I'd forgotten how to take care of me.

As my crumbling marriage and demanding work life became more stressful and I became more unhappy, I packed on the pounds. I am only five foot two, so any extra weight is noticeable.

I felt so uncomfortable with how I looked that I didn't want my picture taken.

I didn't like to be out in public because I imagined other women looking at me--the fat woman--and thinking: "Thank God I don't look like her!"

In October I was laid off from my job. It was sobering to begin a job search as an obese, middle-aged, unhappy divorced woman with low self-esteem. I have an impressive resume, but once I got a face-to-face interview, who would hire me? I certainly wouldn't.

So I started moving my body. I joined our community gym and started doing 30 minutes of cardio a day, and soon ramped it up to an hour a day. My workout buddy, Henry Sessions, urged me forward.

I bought exercise clothes and a yoga mat. On January 1, with great difficulty, I managed to do 20 crunches. It was excruciating. I added five crunches a day until I was doing 200 crunches each morning. Yesterday, the song on my ipod was particularly long, and I did 250 crunches with relative ease.

I dusted off my weighted hula hoop, a piece of exercise equipment I had used a couple of times and then had promptly stuck in a closet. I started hula hooping 15 minutes every morning while listening to my ipod. I had a blast! Since January 1, I have spent 12 to 15 minutes a day hula hooping. What a fun way to change my body, my outlook and my life!

In February, after losing 25 pounds and gaining some courage, I showed up on the dock for my first dragon boating practice. After that first paddle, I was hooked. I love being on the water and the camraderie of my team. I even love Coach Jeannie barking orders at me.

In the past six months, through mindful eating, dragon boating, doing cardio, crunches and working out daily with a weighted hula hoop, I have achieved the following:

  • I have lost 40 pounds.
  • I have trimmed 3 inches from my waist.
  • I have trimmed 7 inches at my naval.
  • I have trimmed 4 inches at my hips.
  • I have trimmed 2.5 inches from my upper arms.
  • I have trimmed 2 inches around my knees.
  • I have trimmed 1 inch around my calves.
  • I am wearing clothing that is four sizes smaller.
  • I no longer wear "extra large."
  • I have firm biceps--and no upper arm wiggle!
  • I have a trim, strong core!
I look and feel better than I have in 15 years. I feel strong, healthy, confidant. Even sexy! In short, I found myself again.

In only six months, I've changed my life.
Tomorrow is my second dragon boat race, and I can't wait!

I'm no longer afraid of capsizing the boat or dropping my oars. I'm not afraid of anything anymore.

The best news is that if I can do it, so can you!

Paddle on!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Gratitude in my Garden

My strawberry pot wintered well, thanks to the
good care from dear friend Holly Chamberlain.

Have you ever become so overcome with gratitude that you had to sit down and take a moment to reflect on your good fortune? In our fast-paced lives, I don't think we do that enough.

Sometimes I'm so busy working with my head bent to a task--writing an article under deadline, running errands or pulling stubborn weeds--that I forget to look up and take account of all the good that has come to me.

Before I realize it, I've spent the whole day working on tasks instead of enjoying the moment. Do you do that too?

A few minutes ago I was pulling weeds and picking strawberries in my little garden when I popped a fresh berry into my mouth. When I bit into that berry, I was so overcome with gratitude that I had to grab my laptop and sit down to write.

I have so much to be grateful for that I must share it before I burst. Or worse, before I forget that I am grateful, and instead just continue with my day.

You see, not that many months ago, I didn't think I'd ever have a garden or a place to grow strawberries again. That little berry was enough to nearly bring me to tears.

Not even six months ago, I was unemployed, had to sell my house, downsize, move into a tiny apartment a week before Christmas--and I gave away probably a third of my possessions.

But it was even harder to give up my yard and garden including my fragrant lavender hedge and herbs. I was moving into an apartment with no lawn or even any private space outside where I could sit or garden. But it was cheap, and if I carefully managed my money, I could afford the rent.

I'm a country girl, and even though I've lived in a the city a long time, I still take great comfort in spending time outdoors, even if it's just a few minutes in my garden, getting my hands dirty, pulling weeds and tasting juicy strawberries.

Slowly, after the big upheaval at the end of the year, I've been getting a life back. It's not my old life. It's a completely new life, and that's okay.

For the first three months, I lived in a tiny apartment in a busy commercial district. It overlooked a back alley with garbage and recycling bins visited day and night by people down on their luck. I didn't often open my blinds because I lacked privacy and didn't always feel safe. Sleep was fitful.

I was lugging my laundry outside, around the building and down a dark flight of stairs into a dark basement laundry room. Sometimes the outside door wasn't locked and I feared for my safety.

Fast forward five months from the horrific move and I am happily employed at a great job, writing for our local daily newspaper. Who knew I would love working in the newsroom so much? I am grateful that I have such a cool job and I get to work with great people.

Now I've settled into an incredible vintage duplex with natural light. First thing each morning, I open my curtains and greet the new day. I am grateful for being able to open my curtains. I am grateful for feeling safe and that I'm sleeping at night.

My duplex even has my very own private basement laundry room, so I bought a used washer and dryer. No more schlepping my laundry outside in the rain or the dark. Gratitude!

Out my back door I find solace in my own petite yard, patio and garden. Friends have shared plants from their own gardens. I have planted herbs, strawberries, sunflowers and lavender.

 I'm grateful for my garden. I'm even grateful for my strawberries, which are bearing delicious fruit right now.

This new life is beginning to feel like home.

Strawberries from my garden garnishing my French toast
made with Dave's Killer Blues Bread--dusted lightly with
powdered sugar--and served on my English Spode.
Gratitude can be delicious! Try it!       

Friday, May 25, 2012

A tattered life held together with duct tape and Gorilla Glue

My driver's side mirror secured to my Subaru with duct tape and Gorilla Glue.

For the past five months, my driver's side mirror has been secured to my Subaru with duct tape and Gorilla Glue. Clinging to what remained of its structure, that broken mirror was a metaphor for the sorry state of my life: laid off, forced to sell my house before it went to the bank, downsizing in a hurry and trying to figure out how to function in this new "normal."

On Christmas Eve I knocked the mirror loose when I had a too-close encounter with a support post in my storage unit's parking garage. I was retrieving the most basic Christmas trimmings--the Christmas stockings of my two young adult children and a small collection of Nativity sets, including those made by the kids when they were wee ones.

Just a week earlier, with the help of many friends and family, I had moved from my three-story house to a Lilliputian one-bedroom apartment. I was settled in enough that I was cooking Christmas dinner for my children and we were opening gifts together on Christmas afternoon. Despite all the turmoil, I was determined to create some new Christmas memories with my kids.

With Christmas boxes in hand, I climbed into my car and waved at the storage facility attendant who was waiting for me to leave so he could close up shop and go home to celebrate with his own family. He already had shut one of the gates and was getting ready to close the last gate. I put my car in reverse and WHAM!

My poor mirror was broken but it wasn't shattered. In fact, on a cursory glance it didn't look damaged at all. But it could no longer function in the way it always had. It could no longer move to give me a clear view of what was coming up behind me. Again, a sad metaphor for my life.

I think I said the "eff" word--which is not usually part of my vocabulary. Then I drove to my new apartment and prepared for Christmas with my children.

Getting the mirror repaired wasn't an immediate option. My car insurance deductible is $500. I was unemployed and didn't want to claim the boo-boo on my insurance anyway.

I took my car to an auto body shop and explained my circumstances. The kind man didn't have the heart to tell me how much it would cost to repair it, but he did say that my best option was to wait until I was employed again and then to find a used mirror at a junk yard. He instructed me to gently take the mirror off, put drops of Gorilla Glue on the touchpoints and then secure it with duct tape. So I did.

Two months later, I got a job, but still didn't have the funds for a junk yard mirror. So the duct tape remained. Thankfully, an acquaintance asked me to write a freelance article for a trade publication. I had checked with my trusted mechanic, and the cost to buy a junk yard mirror and install it was roughly the amount I was being paid for the article.

Yesterday, Hoesley Eco Auto replaced the broken mirror with a lovely junk yard mirror that looks exactly like the old one. With the touch of a button from the driver's door, I can move the mirror and get a clear view of what's coming up behind me.

Since my Christmas Eve boo-boo, my life has improved considerably. I have a great job where I am using my writing skills, and I am valued and respected. I recently moved from the tiny one-bedroom apartment to a World War II-era duplex with charm, space and natural light. It feels like home.  Through mindful eating and paddling a dragon boat three times a week, I have lost almost 40 pounds.

 I am keeping the duct tape and Gorilla Glue because who knows when my life might need a minor repair? But for now, the view ahead and behind is promising.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My first dragon boat race: two days away!

My first dragon boat race is Saturday--only two days away. I'm tingling with anticipation at the opportunity to test the skills I've been honing all these months.

In January, when I emailed the Portland Dragonsports organization I said something like: I am a writer, and for several years have wanted to paddle on a dragon boat team. I think I'd like to write about it in my blog, Paddling Her Own Canoe.

How thankful I am that coach Jeanie Zinn of the Mighty Women team was the recipient of my email! She responded simply, "Why don't you come try it out and see if you like it?"

I did like it. In fact, I loved it. I'm in my element around water. I've paddled kayaks, canoes, rafts, innertubes, but never a dragon boat. I'd never even seen a dragon boat race.

Paddling a dragon boat makes me smile. One night during practice, Jeanie laughed and called out, "Susan, you're smiling too much! You must not be paddling hard enough."

"I can't help it. I'm having so much fun!" I called back up toward the front of the boat.

Dragon boating has enriched my life in so many ways. I now have this whole team of 20 other women who like to paddle and have adventures. I haven't been on a sports team since high school, when I really sucked at both track and basketball. I like hanging with women who aren't afraid of pushing themselves physically. Being a Mighty Woman has opened doors to new friendships with some amazing women. I plan to tell many of their stories in this blog in the coming months.

Dragon boating has changed my physique. Through mindful eating and paddling a dragon boat two to three times a week since January, I have lost 36 pounds--and many inches. I still have some weight to lose, but I am so close to my goal that I know I will reach it. I am determined.

I am more confident than ever. My biceps are something to behold. I can wear sleeveless shirts--and none of that embarrassing lower arm wiggle occurs. I am in the best shape I've been in for decades, probably since I was a 21-year-old college student who regularly ran, played tennis and handball.

Dragon boating has improved my balance, my breathing, my focus. My life!

Our first race is Saturday. I can't wait!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lena Sessions: Reaching for High Adventures on the Pacific Crest Trail

Let me introduce you to Lena Sessions, an adventurous young woman who definitely is paddling her own canoe. Lena, 24, radiates enthusiasm and embraces challenges. She has traveled to more than 20 countries in Europe, South America and Asia.

Lena has just embarked on the biggest challenge of her life. On April 26, she and her friend Adriana began their journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches 2,663 miles from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. They expect to spend five months hiking the trail.

She is capturing her thoughts in her blog, Honey Bear Hikes. She also is raising money for

In her blog, Lena writes: "Every mile I hike is one dollar donated to SheJumps, a non-profit organization that provides community and support for more women (like me) to experience the outdoors. Please consider a donation and help me reach my goal of hiking 2,663 miles and raising $2,663 for SheJumps."

I had the opportunity to meet Lena at my church, Camas Friends, when she was visiting her dad, Henry Sessions, shortly after she returned from her backpacking trip in Nepal. I peppered her with questions about Nepal, and she shared some of her adventures with me. Before Nepal, she had spent the summer working in Alaska, shuttling tourists around and backpacking when she could.

Lena was only seven when her dad took her on her first backpacking adventure. "I had my own little backpack," she said. "We hiked one mile in and camped."

She has been camping and communing with nature ever since.

"Being out in the woods answered so many questions for me," Lena said. "I love the trail culture, meeting interesting people and seeing beautiful scenery along the way." 

She first began considering backpacking the arduous Pacific Crest Trail after her college graduation when she and some friends backpacked along the Colorado Trail.

Here is Lena's advice to girls or young women who are considering trying something new or scary: "If you have an idea in your mind--something you're really excited about--whatever idea you have is probably something that will bring you a lot of joy. Just starting it is the scariest part. Hiking is just putting one foot in front of the other."

But planning a 2,600-mile backpacking trip was a new challenge for her. Deciding how much clothing and gear to carry on the trip took much consideration and research. She blogged about her decisions here.

"The more weight you carry in your backpack, the more pressure on your joints, so you want to make your load as light as possible," Lena said by phone just a few days before embarking on her journey.

When Lena researched the PCT she found that from every two to seven days, they will be near a town with a post office or a little store to purchase supplies. So she mailed herself a new pair of hiking shoes every 400 miles along the trail.

"When you start backpacking, there's a sense of simplicity. You discover you really don't need much to be happy. Backpacking is a good reminder of that," she said.

She added, "In my life I have been blessed with many inspiring friends and mentors who have made it possible for me to undertake the Pacific Crest Trail. As a way to express my gratitude for these wonderful people, I am raising funds to benefit SheJumps, a nonprofit organization that provides young women with opportunities to test themselves in the outdoors. Finishing this trail with the knowledge that my efforts have provided support for other women to reach their potential will make this experience worth it for me."

If you'd like to donate to SheJumps on Lena's behalf, click here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Finding Direction with a Life Coach

Almost three weeks ago, I moved to what I have come to call the Duplex of my Dreams. Although many boxes still wait to be unpacked, I have tidied my new home so that it's welcoming,

Gratitude washes over me as I sit cross-legged on my sofa and look about my new living room. Built in the 1940s, my duplex has ample natural light via corner windows, gleaming hardwood floors, picture molding and a charming wall of built-in bookcases. It's the perfect backdrop for my ecclectic collection of antiques and finds from estate sales and thrift shops. It's cozy and comfortable.

My new life feels comfortable too.

Having settled into my new job in the newsroom of our daily newspaper, I'm learning to be a faster, better writer due to the constant deadlines and excellent editors. I am better understanding what makes a good story. Today I pitched a feature story idea to my editor, and he not only said yes, but also asked me to write it for the Sunday paper. Hooray!

This opportunity wouldn't have happened if I hadn't found the courage to ask if I could write the story. Summoning that courage is a direct result of my recent life coaching sessions with Amy Earle from the other Vancouver, the one in Canada.

Over our ten weekly sessions via Skype, Amy helped me to find direction, to set goals and to make a plan to achieve them. She kept me on track and helped me to forge a path through some dense underbrush that was obscuring my vision.

I'd never considered a life coach, but last fall, when I had been laid off and needed to find another job, sell my house and find a new place to live, I needed direction. Through a listserve I subscribe to, I discovered an amazing deal on 10 life coaching sessions that were being offered to a small number of people. I quickly emailed my story to the life coaching coordinators, and I was selected to get this super-duper deal.

In January shortly after settling into my dinky one-bedroom apartment, I started my life coaching sessions. I had my last life coach session here in my new home exactly a week ago.

Because of Amy's guidance, I have a clearer idea of who I am and where I am heading. She helped me create a map to ensure that I keep moving forward, taking one small step at a time toward my next great adventure.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Seeking Sweet Sanctuary


I  was awakened at 4 a.m. by the Dumpster lid being thrown open. Again.

Sometimes this occurs several times a night when people who are down on their luck rummage through my apartment building's enormous recycling and garbage bins searching for bottles and cans to redeem for cash. Perhaps they're even looking for food. That's sobering. Even heartbreaking.

But the bins are located immediately below my living room window, so mostly it's a nuisance.

When the crash woke me the first night in my apartment, my first thought was that someone had broken down my apartment door. Now that I've endured these nightly interruptions for three months, I just roll over and try to go back to sleep.

If I can't go back to sleep, I grab my laptop and write.

This morning I couldn't find sleep again. If I weren't so exhausted, I would be giddy. Today I am moving from this noisy apartment to my new home, which I refer to as the Duplex of my Dreams. Never did I believe a 1,000-square-foot duplex could be sanctuary to me.

Five months ago, I was a homeowner with a good job that paid a living wage. When I was laid off, I had to sell my house immediately before it became a short sale. A week before Christmas, I moved into this diminuitive one-bedroom apartment.

At the time, it was a sanctuary. I needed to move quickly, and of all the apartments I looked at, this one was clearly the best in my price range.

But I hadn't lived in an apartment for more than two decades, and the transition from quiet nights in a house to interrupted slumber in this apartment has taken its toll. Even with ideal sleep conditions, I am an insomniac. Most people likely could sleep through the noises that have robbed my sleep and frayed my edges. But I am a light sleeper.

After three months of o'dark thirty Dumpster action outside my front door and my oblivious, noisy neighbor whose television blares all night through our common bedroom walls, the sleeplessness has worn me out.

Now that I am working again, sleep is essential. So even though I will lose my hefty deposit, I am moving today to a quiet duplex in my old residential neighborhood sans Dumpster and noisy neighbors. The tenant on the other side of my duplex is an older single woman who owns a cat.

This apartment has its charms. Built in 1928, it has hardwood floors, French doors and a cozy gas fireplace. It's in the heart of a trendy commercial district with coffee shops, ethnic restaurants, antique stores and a tattoo parlor just across the alley from my living room windows.

If I were 25, this would be the ideal place to live. It has a great vibe and so much to do. The tattoo parlor is so close that I could get a tattoo practically by just sticking my arm out my window. Alas, I am not 25, and I don't want a tattoo. I just want to sleep soundly.

My new home also has charm. Built in the 1940s, it has hardwood floors, built-ins, windows for glorious natural light, a humongous kitchen, oodles of storage space and even a private, tiny backyard with a patio and garden space. My new sanctuary.

For the past three months, my cat, Anakin Skywalker, has been forced to be an indoor kitty. Now he can find his own santctuary by escaping the confines of the house to lie in the sun.

My new place is also within easy walking distance of this trendy neighborhood so I can have the best of both worlds: divine sleep, essential garden therapy and still being walking distance to my favorite coffee shop.

Last Saturday night, knowing it was the last weekend in my apartment, I took a farewell stroll through my trendy neighborhood to Ice Cream Renaissance, where I ordered my favorite: one scoop of Bittersweet Chocolate Love Affair ice cream on a sugar cone. It was the first ice cream I'd had in three months.

As I walked back to my apartment, I savored the flavor of the ice cream and my neighborhood. Because it was St. Patrick's Day, bagpipers wearing kilts were performing at Pop Culture. People had spilled onto the sidewalk to chat. I spied the owner of the Moroccan restaurant across the street listening to the bagpipes too.

Midway through my ice cream, I realized how amazing it has been to be a part of this neighborhood when I needed the sanctuary it offered. And how blessed I am to be able to move forward into my new sanctuary offering peaceful slumber and a garden to boot.

I took another lick of Bittersweet Chocolate Love Affair and walked home, dreaming of planting tomatoes, sunflowers and lavender.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Involuntary Simplicity: Living with Less

If you had four weeks to pare down your possessions by more than a third, what would you keep and what would you let go? What are your essential possessions? What can you do without? What should you have released years ago?

Three months ago, I had to unburden myself of a third of what I owned when I was laid off from my job and was forced to immediately sell my house before it became a short sale.

My friend Wess Daniels, a released Quaker minister, referred to my circumstances as "involuntary simplicity." This is the polar opposite of the intentional simplicity practiced by devout Quakers. He was spot on in describing my circumstances.

Thankfully, I sold my house and was able to pay off the mortgage. A week before Christmas, I moved from a four-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot house to a one-bedroom, 650-square-foot apartment. It has one closet.

We had lived in the house for a decade. The basement, garage and three enormous attics were crammed with "stuff and junk," to borrow a term from Lydia, my Swedish grandma.

The task of downsizing was daunting. It also was enormously freeing. What didn't fit in the new apartment would be packed into a storage unit.

Did I really want to pay to store boxes of my son's favorite toys? Over the course of birthdays and Christmases he had amassed a collection of very large toys with piles of accessories: a pirate ship, a castle, a cowboy Western town, a Robin Hood set and enough Star Wars action figures to populate a toy store.

If my son were still a little boy, I would have kept all of his toys. But he is nineteen, and said he didn't need to keep any of his old toys. I kept one of the large playsets and most of the Star Wars action figures. My mom helped me box up the rest and I drove it to the homeless shelter. It was mid-December, and some kids at the shelter would be delighted on Christmas morning.

These kinds of decisions had to be made hundreds of times. Why was I keeping my cross-stitching patterns and supplies when my eyes hadn't been able to focus on the detail work for years?

Why was an entire shelf in my kitchen storing a gaudy set of 1960s china that had been passed down from two previous generations? I had never used it, and my daughter didn't want it either. Donate!

As dozens and dozens of boxes and bags were carried out of the house to be donated, I began to feel unburdened. Lighter. Able to think clearer.

Three months after downsizing, I still keep a donation box by the front door. As I continue to sift through belongings, I fill a box with what I no longer need and drop it off  at the American Cancer Society thrift shop, where the ladies know me and my story by now.

I vow to never let "stuff and junk" take over my life again. Before I bring anything new into my apartment, I get rid of something I already own.

A few years ago, before these big changes in my life, I dreamed that my family was forced to evacuate our house and could take only what we could carry. My arms were piled with useless stuff, including my humungous "Betty" doll from childhood. I am embarrassed to say that at that point, I was still holding onto Betty, who was stored in a box in the basement.

What a struggle it was for me to take just a few steps with all this stuff in my arms! I kept dropping stuff and was in despair about trying to determine what was important enough to tote around with me.

I no longer have that dream.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

When Good Things Fall Apart so Better Things Can Fall Together

I'm sitting in my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, La Bella Cafe in Uptown Village, where the barista greets me by name and knows my drink of choice: skinny Big Train Chai. It's a lazy Saturday afternoon and I've come here to relax and write. It's special time I anticipate each week.

However, today the regular barista who knows me by name is not working and the shop has run out of my favorite chai. I am not a coffee drinker, which is a rarity here in the rainy Pacific Northwest, home of Starbucks and Seattle's Best. So I ordered a nonfat Mexican hot chocolate instead. And I was pleasantly surprised at how spicy and delicious it was.

On the oversized chalkboard near where I sit, someone has written this apropos quote:

"Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together."

It's certainly true in my life, even down to the most minute circumstances. If the coffee shop hadn't run out of my favorite chai, I wouldn't have tasted the delicious Mexican hot chocolate. I would have missed that experience of trying something new. And I am all about trying new experiences.

If I were to step back and look at the bigger picture, this quote is very appropriate for many areas of my life. I'll bet it is for yours too.

Good thing that fell apart: Being laid off from a job that I had poured my heart and soul into for four-and-a-half years.

Resulting good thing that fell together: Starting a new job at the Columbian newspaper that uses my writing skills, but that only requires 40 hours a week. It's so refreshing to be able to leave work and know that I did my job and now have the evening or even an entire weekend for my own pursuits. How refreshing!

Good thing that fell apart: When I lost my job, I had to sell my charming 90-year-old house before it became a short sale.

Resulting good thing that fell together: Becoming a renter for the first time in a long time freed up my time, money and energy that I was expending to maintain a large, vintage house and a yard.

Good thing that fell apart: When I sold my house, I had to downsize very quickly from a three-story house to a one-bedroom apartment.

Resulting good thing that fell together: Before I moved, I had to examine countless boxes of stuff that we had hidden away in the attic--and I got rid of about half of what I owned. That was extremely freeing.

Good thing that fell apart: When I had to downsize and move quickly, even though I was under tremendous stress, I was too busy to stress eat and I was moving my body double time to clear out the house.

Resulting good thing that fell together: My health! As I was going through boxes, I found my workbook about mindful eating and I started examining at my relationship with food with new eyes. Without even trying, I lost 10 pounds in December. That was such an encouragement to me that I joined our community gym and started working out regularly. I have lost a total of 22 pounds and several inches so far. I'm more than a third of the way to my goal in just three months!

I even joined a dragon boat team, the Mighty Women, and I'm anticipating my first dragon boat race this spring. With all the paddling and other exercising, I am changing my body to a much stronger, healthier and smaller body. That's definitely a better thing!

Many good things fell apart in the last two years of my life, but they have been replaced by better things. I'm happier than I have been in a long time. I am living. I am having adventures. I am paddling my own canoe--and having the time of my life.

The next time something good falls apart in your own life, don't despair. Be on the lookout for a better thing to fall together.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Finding your Mojo Even on an Off Day

You know those bad days when everything that can go wrong does? We all suffer through one from time to time. Yesterday I had one of those days. Throughout my entire day at work I felt "off."

I got a late start driving to Portland for my evening dragon boat practice, and when I reached the marina, I wasted time searching for cheaper street parking. Realizing I was very late, I parked in a more expensive parking garage, grabbed my paddle and gear bag and started running along the marina promenade.

In the distance I spied my teammates, who already had finished their warm-up exercises and were walking down the gangway to the dock. I kept running, but realized I likely would miss the boat. That would be the perfect ending to a hard day.

But I ran faster and caught up with my team down on the dock. Most of them already were in the boat.

"You're late!" coach Jeanie said.

 I strapped on a life vest, hurriedly climbed into the boat, and while I was attempting to sit, I fell over backward and flopped around like a fish. My teammates burst out laughing.

My first thought was, "Maybe I should have just stayed home. Why did I think I could paddle today?"

But I pulled myself up, got into position, closed my eyes, and took some deep breaths.

"You can do this," I reassured myself.

Then the most amazing thing happened: I found my mojo!

Somehow, my brain and my body finally understood everything I've been learning on my previous four paddling practices. The position of my body, the powerful stroke, the following through and keeping in rhythm with my fellow paddlers all came together in this zen experience.

I dug into the water with confidence, and with each stroke, I exhaled a gutteral "whoo" that seemed to boost my power and my awareness of how I was one with my teammates as we pulled together to glide across the Willamette River on a starlit night.

 I forgot all about my bad day and was aware only of my stroke, and the next stroke, and the next. Nothing else mattered.

We paddled under two bridges. Then coach Jeanie mercifully called: "Let it run." That's the signal for us to stop paddling, pull our blades from the water and let the boat coast while we take a short break. We reached for our water bottles..

My seatmate commented, "You're really paddling tonight."

I smiled and took a deep drink of water.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Go Fearlessly into Turbulent Water

After only two weeks of paddling on the Mighty Women dragon boat team, I bore my first visible injury. I say "visible" because I already had experienced painfully sore shoulder and back muscles.

But last week an enormous purple-greenish goose egg sprang forth on the back of my right hand. I do not even recall how it happened, but I must have whacked my hand on the side of the boat while I was paddling.

I readily admit that I am a klutz. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I lose my balance, fall down or whack an appendage on a hard surface. My bruises have bruises. But my klutziness does not prevent me from forging ahead into turbulent water, even though I may capsize and be injured. What would be the fun in just sitting on the shore watching everyone else having amazing experiences?

Recently more than one friend has described me with adjectives that are new for me: courageous, adventurous, brave and even fearless. I laughed off these declarations. Believe me, I'm no super woman. My bruises bear witness to my vulnerability.

True, in the past two years, I've faced a series of tough obstacles that at one point seemed insurmountable. Eventually, I did clear the obstacles, but I won't pretend it was easy.

The lesson I learned and would like to pass on is this: life is filled with obstacles. If you haven't yet faced turbulent waters, hold on. You will. At one time or another, we all will be plunged into a raging river with dangerous undertows and hidden debris waiting to smack us alongside the head.

The trick is to develop coping skills so that when we face a challenging course ahead, we have the tools and experience--and yes--courage--to paddle through the difficult challenges without losing our cool, overturning the boat or worse, giving up and wading to the shore.

Proudly display your bruises. They bear witness that you have plunged fearlessly through turbulent waters and have arrived safely to a calm pool, where you can catch your breath and savor life before the next rapid.

Paddle on!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Accepting Kindness along the Journey

Tomorrow, my three-and-a-half-month period of unemployment comes to an end. I am excited to start a fantastic job in the newsroom at the Columbian, our local daily paper.

In this dismal economy, I count myself blessed that I was able to find a really good job with benefits so quickly. Although recent statistics point to an improved job market, the unemployed souls hunkering down in the job-searching trenches may not agree that jobs are more plentiful now.

Since I have just climbed out of that deep unemployment trench, I know how scary it is down there. The light is dim, so it's hard to see. And the air is thin, so it's hard to breathe.

After learning what my unemployment benefits would be, I knew I couldn't afford to make my house payment so I listed my house with a realtor. Then I cancelled my cable TV and any other unnecessary expenses. I hunkered down, ate only what was in the cupboard, sold what I could, gave away loads of stuff I no longer needed, and with the help of friends and family, packed the essentials I would need in my next chapter.

Thankfully, my house sold quickly and I downsized to a one-bedroom apartment. I began practicing simplicity and learned to be content with much less. I kept applying for jobs, but to no avail.

When my car needed its 75,000-mile service, I took it to my trustworthy garage, Hoesly's Eco Auto in the neighborhood. The service estimate was $750, but I instructed the mechanic to just do the oil change and lube for now and whenever I got a job, I would bring the car in for the 75,000-mile service.

Don Orange, the kind owner of Hosely's, called me and said that he and his mechanics discussed my situation and they wanted my car to be in good working order as I hunted for work. They offered to do the service at no charge to me.

I was overwhelmed. Grateful. I said yes. Then I baked the mechanics brownies and delivered them with a thank-you note. My car is in perfect working order, thanks to the generosity of Don and his crew.

Today, when I learned I had a job, I baked chocolate chip cookies and delivered them to the guys at the garage along with the good news of my new job.

As I get back on my feet financially, I plan to "pay forward" this kindness to someone in need.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dragon Boat Paddling: What Not to Wear

This morning was my third paddling practice with the Mighty Women dragon boat team. I stayed up much too late reading a mystery, but was so excited about paddling that I awoke at 5 a.m. and couldn't find sleep again.

Invigorated by the sunrise and the promise of another amazing paddle, I drove over the Columbia River via the I-5 Bridge and then headed toward the Willamette River in downtown Portland. It seemed we'd have another dry paddle. Yay.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have many words to describe rain. I consider myself an outdoorsy woman, and I am fine with being outdoors in sprinkles, mist, drizzle or even light showers, but being soaked in a downpour is not my idea of a good time.

This week a friend told me bluntly: "If you're going to do this, you're going to be paddling in the rain--more than once." Thankfully, we've had only a few sprinkles so far, and none today.

In this colder weather, it's challenging dressing warm enough without overheating. During my first two practices, I dressed much too warmly and immediately regretted it. When you're paddling, you can't start flinging off your outer layers of clothing, even though it would provide instant relief.

So this time I left off all the wool: Army pants, sweater and hat. But I was still too warm. Next time, I also will leave my polarfleece sweatshirt and even my baseball cap at home.

Rain pants and coat are essential outer layers because we paddle hard and we get wet. And waterproof gloves are a must to help us grip the oars and to protect our hands that sometimes scrape against the boat. Some women wear nifty waterproof paddling booties, but for now, I just wear an old pair of sneakers.

I look forward to warmer weather when we can wear our rafting sandals and just one layer of breathable clothing under our life vests. How utterly free it will feel to dig in and to paddle hard without considering peeling off clothing and flinging it willy-nilly into the Willamette River.

At the end of today's rigorous paddle, Coach Jeanie welcomed me officially to the Wild Women dragon boat team by presenting me with a paddle. Many exciting adventures are just around the river's bend.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Seeking inspiration from Ilchee, who paddled her own canoe

A vivid blue sky flecked with clouds calls me yet again to the north bank of the Columbia River to the sculpture of Ilchee. Friends and family know that on a sunny day, they may find me sitting on a bench near Ilchee, dreaming great dreams, planning  great plans, and scribbling in my journal.

Who is Ilchee and why does she inspire me in my new journey of adventure and joy?

At the base of the Ilchee sculpture are these words:

"In recognition of the People who have inhabited this region for thousands of years
--Ilchee, Moon Girl--

"History says she was born along the Columbia River about 1800, daughter of Chinook Chief Comcomly, and later wife of Chief Casino, leader in the Vancouver area.

"Lore tells us she had the power of a shaman and that she paddled her own canoe, the sign of a chief. By both accounts, she was remarkable."

Remarkable, indeed! More than 200 years ago, Ilchee was born at the mouth of the Columbia River, the eldest daughter of the great Chinook Chief Comcomly. She would have been a little girl when the Lewis and Clark expedition wintered at the mouth of the great river. I like to think that she met Lewis and Clark and even Sacagawea.

As a teenager, Ilchee was married to Duncan McDougall, the  chief factor (head honcho) of the fur trading post established in 1811 at the mouth of the river in present-day Astoria, Oregon. Her marriage to McDougall was a wise political move for her chief father and increased both Comcomly's and Ilchee's stature among the European Astorians.

However, when McDougall and his company abandoned the fur trading post to the Americans, he left Ilchee behind with her people.

Later, a marriage was arranged between Ilchee and Chief Casino, the Chinook chief upriver in present-day Vancouver, Washington. Ilchee left her people and started a new life with Casino. They had a son. When their son became ill and died. Casino blamed Ilchee for his death and planned to have her killed.

Fleeing from her husband's village, Ilchee sought refuge at Fort Vancouver, a British fur trading post on the north bank of the Columbia River. She stayed at the fort until her people could be summoned from downriver to come bring Ilchee home.

Very little has been recorded about Ilchee. After all, she was not only a woman, but a native woman. But the lore that has been passed down is that Ilchee was a woman of strength and fortitude. She paddled her own canoe, the sign of a chief.

Recently, with historian Donna Sinclair, I had the opportunity to meet Cliff Snyder, a direct descendent of Ilchee. He, too, spoke of Ilchee's strength.

I have sought both refuge and inspiration at this spot on the banks of the river near Ilchee's statue. Perhaps in this very place where I now stand she gazed at the river and dreamed great dreams as I do now.

It is here that I first summoned the courage to imagine that I could choose a happier, joyous life brimming with adventure and discovery. Here I first believed I could be strong enough to paddle my own canoe. And thanks to the inspiration of Ilchee, I am doing just that.

Paddle on!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Paddling a Dragon Boat with the Mighty Women!

As you paddle your own canoe, are you seeking opportunities to explore new experiences to stretch yourself beyond your comfortable boundaries and to help you continue to grow?

Today I did just that and experienced the exhilaration of paddling with a dragon boat team.

Being a crew member of a dragon boat has been on my bucket list for several years. Living near Portland, Oregon, home to the Rose Festival and its dragon boat races, I'd seen videos of the crews racing, reaching forward with their oars and digging deep, paddling in unison with what appeared to be seamless grace and relative ease.

This morning, with an oar in my hands, I learned that paddling a dragon boat is neither seamless nor easy. But it is incredibly fun!

Earlier this week, I read an online article about Portland's dragon boat teams, saw an email link for Jeanie Zinn, the coach of the Mighty Women team, and shot her an email that basically said: "Dragon boat racing is something I've long wanted to try. May I?" Jeanie invited me to join her team for a practice to see if we were a good fit for one another.

Twelve hours later, I am still smiling from my adventure this morning on the Willamette River with a hearty, fun group of women paddlers who call themselves Mighty Women. They are mighty. When they are paddling in unison, their backs bent to a common task, the boat glided through the river. Perhaps people watching from the riverbank observed that our boat glided seamlessly and with ease.

Tomorrow I may not be able to move my arms.

But years from now, I will remember the exhilaration I experienced when I first paddled a dragon boat with the Mighty Women.

I was invited to return for another practice. And when I can move my arms again, I will!

Here's the link for the Mighty Women Paddling Club:

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cow Sitting: Remind yourself who you are and how far you've come

Every so often we should take a moment to remember who we are, where we've come from and how far we've traveled. Not only is it a good practice in being mindful of continuing to move forward, but seeing how far we've come also can provide a boost of courage to take the first step toward a new adventure.

Recently I rediscovered a childhood photo taken during a Girl Scout outing at a dairy farm in rural northeastern Washington State where I grew up. My hair in pigtails, a 10-year-old me is sitting astride a dairy cow. Debby Noonan, my BFF and partner in many adventures, is sitting right behind me, grinning. She always had my back.

For those of you who did not grow up on a farm, let me explain that sitting on a dairy cow is not a normal rural activity. We didn't say, "We've mucked out the chicken house and led the sheep to the upper pasture. Now it's time to do some cow sitting!"

Yet here is proof that I did. It's a snapshot of who I was at age 10: happily sitting on a dairy cow with my best friend--enjoying the moment and anticipating life's next adventure.

What a great way to approach life! What is preventing you from enjoying the moment? What is your next great adventure--and what steps are you taking to make that adventure a reality? Paddle on!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A New Year: Paddling into Unchartered Waters & Joy

Family. Friends. Faith. Experience.

These four simple words have helped make me who I am at this spot in the river, this place where I am paddling my own canoe.

Although a strong current threatens to steer me off course and perhaps to capsize me, I am not afraid. How can I fear what lies ahead when I glance behind me and see the long, hard miles I already have paddled?

Throughout my journey, I often have bolstered my spirits with a favorite Louisa May Alcott quote:"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship." Let me paraphrase Louisa: I am learning how to paddle my own canoe.

The unwavering support of my extended family and my circle of friends has given me the courage and strength to continue paddling, even when I couldn't see around the bend in the river and the obstacles ahead.

In hindsight, how grateful I am that I couldn't see the obstacles. Had I known I would lose my job and my home within a two-month period, would I have found the sheer determination to safely paddle through these tumultuous rapids in order to reach the calmer water just beyond the bend in the river?

If I could foresee that one week before Christmas, with the help of so many dear family and friends, I would have to downsize from a three-story house to a one-bedroom apartment and to give away a large portion of my worldly possessions, could I have kept on the course without wavering?

The last 18 months of my life's journey have been fraught with difficult obstacles: Divorce. Being laid off from my job. Then, in the midst of a depressed real estate market, having to sell my house quickly before it went into a short sale and damaged my credit. And in a short span of time, both of my young adult children moved out and left me an empty-nester with only a fussy cat to keep me company.

In December, I faced the roughest rapids, and somehow, I made it through to calmer waters.

Now it's January. I have let go of my old life and am settling into this new one. I have mourned the loss of my marriage, my job, my house, and my children's childhoods. The latter passed much, much too quickly.

In this new chapter, I am learning to embrace simplicity, but I do not pretend to be gallant about it. This is not prayerfully chosen voluntary simplicity as practiced by Quakers. On the contrary. I am a woman who collects antiques, vintage hats and ephemera and goes weak in the knees at estate sales. Mine was completely involuntary simplicity. It wasn't painless or pious, but it was for the best.

The surprising result of having to let go of so much so quickly is that now I have room in my heart to find joy in simple pleasures: a cup of tea with a friend, an inspiring walk along the Columbia River, a song that lifts my spirits, finding a healthy recipe as I begin my journey of mindful eating and deliberate exercise.

Another welcome surprise has been the resurgence of my faith after a long, dry spell. Although I lost a good deal, I gained much more.

Here I am, on the other side of the rapids, still paddling my canoe. I can't wait to see what adventures lie just around the bend in the river.