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: