Monday, April 28, 2014

I think I'll move to Australia

Did you ever read that children's book, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst?

It's about a little boy who has one of those days that really blows. By the end of  his horrible day, when he's forced to wear his railroad train pajamas because his favorite jammies are in the wash, Alexander loses it and wants to move to Australia.

I'm ready for Australia too.

Lately, I've had a string of Alexander days. It's really an accumulation of challenges--from small ripples to crushing tsunami waves--threatening to overturn my canoe and to steal my joy. I'm paddling through these challenging waves, but it's hard to keep paddling when your arms ache.

Yesterday I felt exhausted from paddling so hard without making any progress. I wondered when I'd reach a calmer spot in the river so I can catch my breath.

I was lamenting the trials and tribulations buffeting my boat when I popped into a grocery store and had a reality check. In an "aha" moment, my eyes were averted from my own boat and problems.

I am only five-foot-two and often have to climb up grocery store shelves to reach my cereal or other out-of-reach item. Or sometimes I seek out a tall person to retrieve my cereal from the top shelf. Never in my life have I been someone else's tall person.

As I reached for something high above my head, a voice below me asked, "Would you grab one for me?"

I turned to see a tiny woman with many, many more challenges than I have. Her legs had not fully developed. She was sitting on a motorized platform scooter.

"Sure," I said, grabbing another. "Why do they put things up here so we short women can't reach them?"

"Beats me," she laughed.

At that moment, I realized that although my challenges are daunting, they aren't as enormous as I had imagined.

I'll paddle through them, one stroke at a time.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The passing of Val Ogden, a woman who paddled her own canoe

Yesterday afternoon, our community lost Val Ogden, a selfless leader, an advocate for children, women, the homeless, blind students, people coping with mental health issues. Serving six terms in the House of Representatives, she rolled up her sleeves and went to work for all of us. She made a difference right to the end, at age 90.

For me, Val was the epitome of a woman paddling her own canoe. She inspired me to be strong through difficult, life-changing challenges. But I never told her how she inspired me. And now it's too late to tell her.

Along Vancouver's Columbia River waterfront trail is the Val and Dan Ogden bench, donated by the Ogdens. It's fitting that the bench looks over the bronze sculpture of Ilchee, the Chinook woman known for paddling her own canoe.

I didn't want Val to think I was some nutty stalker. But here's what I wanted to tell Val:

Thanks to you and Dan for providing that bench near Ilchee. I've spent hours there, thinking, searching for strength and answers, scribbling in my journal, looking for ways to reach my potential. Thank you for inspiring me to be strong to get through the hard times, to dig deep, to make a difference, to find joy.

Yesterday I called friends Holly Chamberlain and Charlie Mitchell, told them the news of Val's passing and asked if they'd walk along the Columbia River with me to visit Val and Dan's bench. Holly cut yellow and red tulips from her garden and set them at the plaque below the Ogden's bench.

We talked about the difference Val made. Then we stood in front of Ilchee and watched a glorious sunset.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Conquering old fears: Leaving the bunny hill behind

Last weekend, I experienced the exhilaration of conquering a three-decade fear
when I left the bunny hill behind, rode the chair lift and skied down a big hill.
Yes, I fell. Multiple times. But I got up again and kept going.

Has a terrifying experience while trying something new paralyzed you from getting "back on the horse?"

At age 19, I had a frightening first experience on a ski slope that kept me from alpine skiing for 34 years. Apparently, I'm not the first woman who has been dragged up a ski lift by a well-meaning boyfriend without first having a lesson on the basics. I didn't know how to turn, slow down or stop.

However, I did know how to scream at a decibel level that registered in the next county. After nearly tumbling off the ski lift, I fell all the way down the mountain, screaming in terror. My sister, Judy, was working outside in the ski resort's restaurant that day and recognized my scream echoing from the top of the mountain all the way down to the lodge.

That horrific experience kept me from the slopes for 34 years.

Last winter, Kirby, a certified ski instructor and my significant other, taught me to snowplow, turn, stop, control my speed. On the itty-bitty hill, he skied backward in front of me, coaxing me down the hill. On the way back up, I rode the magic carpet lift with the other beginners, all younger than me by decades.

Next, I rode up the handle tow and snowplowed slowly down the bunny hill. Again, Kirby skied backward in front of me, encouraging me all the way down. After several runs, he asked if I was ready for the chair lift, but I wasn't. That fear of falling still gripped me. I skied the bunny hill all weekend.

This ski season, I was determined to conquer my fear. Kirby told me people don't fall off the chair lift. But I'm accomplished at falling. If anyone could fall off the chair lift, it would be me.

After I made two successful runs down the bunny hill, Kirby asked if I was ready for the chair lift. I gulped, but nodded. I knew I had to face my fear. As we skied toward the chair lift, I boosted my confidence with positive self-talk: "You are a Mighty Woman dragon boat paddler. You've done zip lining, stand up paddle board and belly dancing. You can do this."

Kirby coached me on how to hold my poles in one hand, grab the chair lift with the other hand and sit down. I had a klutzy nanosecond and accidentally dropped one of my poles. But the snowboarder behind us picked up my pole and took it to the top of the lift for me.

As we approached the point to get off the chair lift, Kirby calmly coached me again: "Stand up, go into a snowplow and ski to the right."

Although my heart was beating wildly, I did it--and I didn't fall!

Kirby took me down the easiest run, coaching me down the mountain. For the most part, I did OK, snowplowing extremely slowly in a wide zig-zag. But when skiers and snowboarders began zipping around me, I panicked, lost my nerve and fell. Multiple times. I became an expert at getting up.

But then I reminded myself: "You've got this! You're the girl with the dragon tattoo! You can do this."

That positive self-talk--and knowing how to control my skis--made all the difference. So did Kirby's calm encouragement. On the second day, I even did some parallel turns.

Then my legs got tired and I started falling again. On my last run of the weekend, we went down a hill that ended with a fast, straight stretch all the way down to the lodge.

In reality, I wasn't skiing that fast, but to me, it seemed I was zooming down the mountain. The best part was that I felt in complete control--and I didn't scream or fall. But I'm sure I smiled.

Next year, I'm going to parallel ski all the way down the mountain.