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.