THE LOW POINT on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail

IMG_3103

 

When I ran the shaver over my calf in the bath tub last night, I saw that my skin was recently decorated with more brown sun spots. My fingers gripping the pink shaver with my equally pink knuckles with the peeling sunburned skin reminded me of my recent past adventure…500 miles on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail, where the sun was THE ENEMY. Todd sat on the chair beside me. “I can’t believe we are back already,” I told him. “It’s like it never happened,” he replied. But it did.

 

The healed incision on the low point of my trunk where the doctor in the emergency room stabbed me, looking for pus, was another indication that something big had occurred this past month. It all began in this same sunken claw-foot tub the night before we left on our bike ride, a month ago. I had seen a tiny pink bite and immediately alerted Todd to fetch a magnifying glass and a head lamp. “See if there’s a tick in there,” but there was no black speck. I forgot about it and we loaded up the Ford pick-up with our mountain bikes and gear and set off for the Rockies.

 

The next night in Michigan, I was taking a shower at my friend’s place in Traverse City and when I washed myself, I noticed the pink speck of a spot had grown to a quarter size and was bright red. The next evening in Minneapolis, it was the size of a fifty-cent piece and was purplish red. I was feeling tired too. The next night in eastern Montana, the inflamed area stretched 3 inches wide by 3 inches high, was blazing sore looking and was hot to the touch. That night, the heat and infection spread to my entire abdomen and I was so sick, I was barely able to pick my head up. Next day in Dillion, Montana, at our friend’s the Reichle’s home, we visited the urgent care facility and they sent me directly to the hospital. There they stabbed my inflamed area to grow a culture. Dick and Linda Reichle were so generous to offer their cabin for me to convalesce in.

 

Days later, the mountain bikes had not left the back of the truck and the whole family had gathered there to ride. But I wasn’t getting better. I could not get out of bed. I could barely open my eyes. What in the heck was making me so sick? The culture came back with a staph infection and cellulitis but my body was resisting the sulfur based antibiotic. Then my friend Hop called and told me that his wife Jane, had the exact same symptoms. They treated her for the infections and took a lymes test but did not share the results, which were positive, and only focused on the cellulitis and staph.  “Get a lymes test,” Hop advised. The hospital was not too anxious to do it as they see very few cases of lymes but I insisted. When they realized I was not responding to the antibiotic, they switched me to doxycycline, which is also used to treat lymes, but only gave me two weeks supply. When I called my cousin’s wife back home who is a doctor, she said, “Are they crazy? Two weeks is not long enough. I am calling in a script for another two weeks. By the time your antibodies build up to show positive, too much time will have gone by without treatment. Take a month’s worth and do not skip a single dose.” I was happy to follow the instructions and be a good patient. I had to return to the hospital a few times to have my wound checked, which had to be packed with gauze so it healed from the inside out. Todd was a good nurse, but I did not look forward to dealing with a wound while we rode the GDMBT. It’s hard enough healthy.

 

Once I was released to ride, I was told to really take it easy. That meant, examining each 40-mile stretch of trail and deciding which direction involved the least climbing. Since the kids were along with their car, they helped us shuttle, doing day rides, while I built up my strength. I also purchased $45 worth of vitamins to boost my immune system so I could get better faster.

 

I knew doxy makes you sensitive to the sun but I had a generous supply of 70 SPF lotion and 50 for my lips. I was pretty sure I could stay on top of it. I applied new sunscreen every hour as I rode. I also had a visor under my helmet and a long sleeve white shirt to keep the sun off my arms. I was not feeling great, but at least we were covering some trail. It is a huge undertaking to pack up the truck for a long mtn biking adventure, coordinate with our kids and friends who were joining us, make arrangements back home for a house sitter and to handle your affairs. The thought of climbing back into the truck and driving the four days home sounded like depressing defeat. I plugged along.

 

Finally, we loaded up the bikes with our panniers and gear and set off leaving the truck behind. But soon my lips began to swell and burn and blister. My knuckles burned so badly that they filled with water-filled blisters. They felt as if they were burning, on fire. Todd gave me his zip off pant legs and I tucked them under my bike shorts. But when the sun hit the inch of skin between my sock and the pant leg, regardless how much sunscreen was on it, it felt as though it was flaming. When I looked down at my skin, I half expected to see flames shooting out.

 

The sun made my skin so painful. I had to sleep with my hands out of my sleeping bag as they were on fire and my lips were growing worse every day. I cut flaps from a dried fruit bag and bent it over my bottom lip like a bite wing from a dental x-ray guard, and rode with it clenched in my teeth. It made breathing heavily climbing mountains a challenge, as well as when trucks zoomed by on the road, ripping it from my mouth. Then I’d have to go back and find it on the road, dust it off and put it back in my mouth. And I was so hot. It was hot anyway as southern Montana is Big Sky country and we were in the hot sun for 12 hours at a time. About 3-4 times a day, I laid completely clothed in a stream or a river or a drainage ditch and soaked myself so I could ride up the mountains or deal with the sun. Of course, that made the sunscreen drip down in white drips and needed to be re-applied.

 

My girlfriend, Brigetta, who was along on this first mountain bike adventure of her life, said she “loved it.”

“I don’t,” I said, “I like it, but I don’t love it.” But of course, I was dealing with extra issues besides just powering my loaded bike down the trail.

“But it’s very hard,” she said. “It is very hard,” I agreed, even without the sun sensitivity issue. It was very hot, unusually hot for Montana.

“I did tell you it was hard, didn’t I” I asked her.

“You did,” she replied. “But I didn’t think it would be THIS hard. It is very hard.”

That it is.

 

I would periodically stab my open sores covering my lips with my toothbrush bristles and shriek out. Twice a night, the pain woke me up and I had to take pain pills for my blistered oozing lips. They were not getting better, they were getting worse. The blisters were traveling around my lips now and on top. It was very fatiguing to deal with the burned skin and ride. Being happy was more than I could ask of myself.

 

I did manage to enjoy the downhills and the cool morning rides through the forests and the evening light as we crossed over the beautiful sub-alpine Union Pass. It was worth it and we were covering hundreds of miles. Last year was challenging too and someone asked us. “Why go back if it was so hard?” and Todd and I both answered, “It’s too late. We already started the trail. Now we have to finish.” We used to tell the kids when they were small and traveling the Continental Divide Trail with our llamas. “It isn’t always fun but it is always worthwhile.” This year’s ride was proving to be even more challenging and difficult than last years.

 

One day I was struggling a lot. Todd was riding up front that hot afternoon and I found myself alone in the back sometime. That was ok but just as he was taking off after a short break, I asked him if he would mind staying with me in the rear and he said, “Sure,” but then I began crying, sobbing. He said, “Oh honey, we don’t have to do this if it’s too hard. We can stop,” and he came to me and put his arm around me. And I said no, I was ok, I was just having a moment. The crying jag surprised me, but not really. Emotions flow out of you sometime out there like sweat, unable to stop them. Todd was so sweet and I could not keep myself from holding his hand, hugging him, telling him how much I loved him, the rest of the day and evening. I was so grateful to him for taking more of my weight so I could keep going. I did not feel 100% and   often felt tired, especially when climbing in the sun.

 

One of the reasons we wanted to ride the GDMBT was to be together as a couple after our kids had grown up, learn how to have fun together, usher in a new era as empty-nesters, rediscover the adventurous life together. Even if it meant dealing with illness on the road, changing your plans, altering your schedule, accepting that you were not going to accomplish the lofty goal you had in mind when you left home.

 

We were cruising towards Pinedale, Wyoming and our friends, Pat & Jill Maier’s horse ranch, when I began to rethink our ride. Pinedale had been our goal for last year’s ride but we feel short when Todd had his heart scare issue, which only ended up being dehydration and low electrolytes but sent him into the hospital. What was coming up next was the Great Divide Basin. This low point was the unique area of the Continental Divide where the highest land splits and forms the rim of a giant bowl 100 miles across. All the water that runs into the bowl, dries up as it is the highest land. It’s considered to be the most desolate land in America. Empty, void of mankind. The sun and the wind are relentless there. I was worried. I did not know how to protect myself. There would not even be a sagebrush to rest in and attempt to cool off. I thought perhaps that I should see a doctor in Pinedale and get some advice on my terribly sore mouth. I purchased white cotton gloves to cover my burned hands but my lips were incredibly painful.

 

As soon as I walked into the pharmacy, the pharmacist said, “Your lips look infected.” Oh man. I received messages on FB warning me of potential melanoma risk. How could we get across the Basin in one piece? Todd made the decision. “We’re not continuing. It’s not worth it. That’s enough. You won’t ever be able to get out of the sun and the wind and the wind is just as bad for your lips. It can wait until next year.”

 

And so we stopped, short again. Only 500 miles completed out of our hopeful 1200 but 500 is better than none and that week I was laid up in Dillon, MT and visiting the hospital multiple times, it did not look like we would climb into the saddle at all this year.

 

So, we found ourselves suddenly back in PA, the truck unloaded, our ride over for the year taking a bath and looking down at my healed incision on my lower truck, and my scarred knuckles and thought, really, it is all good material for a book. Back, 35 years ago, when I wrote A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail, there was only a handful of narratives published about the trail. Now there seem to be 100. There is presently only one narrative about the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail and the world could use another account. Why not ours. And so if it takes us 5 years to complete the entire trail, that is 5 years of adventures to write about. Having a fun, nice, easy ride would be a boring book. We are gathering material. Learning as we go, still at 60 years old. And, we are learning about relationship and commitment and what makes a good marriage and dealing with whatever life throws at you, even if you didn’t plan for it.  You sometimes have to come out to the arena of a place like the GDMBT to rediscover each other, and how to do life, hitting the low points and all.

 

 

 

 

 

TWICE ROBBED

TWICE ROBBED…..

We had to pass through my Uncle Joe Borzellino’s barber shop on Schuylkill Avenue in Reading, in order to visit my Grandmother’s home. The barber shop was located in the first room of their row home where my Grandmom lived with her second of three sons and his wife. I don’t remember much about the barber shop because I was always anxious to get into her home, the kitchen and dining room to be exact, because that is where the good smells were coming from. The rooms connected to one other in her narrow home and you had to walk through each one to get to the next. We hit the dining room first, where we saw our dessert- the delicious freshly baked apple pies, cooling on the table that was covered in an Italian lace tablecloth. Then on to the kitchen to eat Sunday dinner, which was something delicious like Ricotta pie with ham and hard salami and multiple Italian cheeses baked into the savory pie, or hand rolled meatballs made with veal and pork. I couldn’t wait to tear into them all.

We went to my Grandmom’s house almost every Sunday. Her long grey hair was always back in a bun at the nape of her neck and she didn’t bother hoisting up her breasts, which were ample and hung low under her cotton, flowered apron with a bib. I don’t recall her ever having the apron off but then again, Sicilian grandmothers did a lot of cooking and baking. And I remember her ring on her finger- a delicate, platinum basket design with a modest diamond in the middle. My grandpop, Serafino, died when my mom was seventeen and we never knew him. My mother said he was very kind and loving and wrote beautiful poetry. Perhaps I take after him as a writer.

When I kissed my Grandmom Borzellino good bye on the outside steps every Sunday, I always said, “See you later,” and she commented, “If I live.”

“Oh Grandmom,” I bemoaned. As a young girl, I thought that silly. Of course, in my mind, she would live for a very long time. Who thought of death? Not a youngster. This was our ritual at every separation.

But she did die, when she was 71 and I was 16. I remember my mother being very, very sad. We kids didn’t know it then but her brother Joe would not let her have her mother’s ring and she was supposed to have it. Actually, we did not learn this fact until ten years later. To an extent, we had been unconscious to our mother and as kids, we dissolved into our own lives- college, boyfriends and the like. It was many years until we realized that we had not seen our relatives on our Italian side for a very long time.
“What’s up with that?” all four of us kids asked. When Mom said that she was hurt by her brother and had not spoken to him all these years, we understood her pain over missing her mother and the robbed ring just compounded her loss, but we all thought enough was enough. We had not seen our cousins for many years and we had been close at one time. One cousin in particular, Bobby, was only three months apart in age from me and although he was the son of another of my mother’s brothers, Mom had drifted away from them all.

“You call up Uncle Joe and make up with him,” we four kids instructed her and remarkably, she listened. She got her relationship back with her siblings, even got her mother’s diamond ring back to boot. For us cousins, however, it was too late. We lost many years of an important family relationship and all us cousins had gone our separate ways. We too had been robbed.

It has been over thirty years since my mother has gone. Too many years to ask her questions about my Grandmom Borzellino. I know very little. My family and I went back to Sicily a half a dozen years ago and I learned more about my relatives across the ocean than my own grandmother. And then, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from my cousin Bobby. We were 60 now and had both lived a good chunk of our lives. But surprisingly, he loved to hike and loved mountains and nature, painted pictures and played music and built guitars and did woodworking and I couldn’t believe how much we had in common. He was my blood.

He came up to our home to visit the other week and Bobby, my sister, JoAnn, and Todd and I went for a hike on the Blue Mountain. JoAnn was wise enough to know the great gift of Bobby’s return and she would not miss the hike for the world.

We had so much to catch up on. I had no idea if he had kids, how old they were, what kind of job he did, or anything. Forty-five years of life is an overwhelming amount of years to catch up on. I knew, like me, he was happy just to be walking in the forest and so we were just together, not trying to learn everything that first hour.

Bobby walked behind me and when I heard his voice speak to me, in my mind, I saw him as a sixteen-year-old. He sounded the same. I would turn around to speak and was continually shocked to see a balding head, big muscles, tatooes and not a sixteen-year-old, dark, curly-haired kid. We did not talk about what we remembered about Grandmom. Next visit. One conversation we did have was very weird. We were talking about driving late at night and I shared how I love to lick Tootsie pops to stay awake once it is too late in the day to drink coffee. He then showed me a bulge in his raincoat which was tied around his waist. Two tootsie pops. What a weird coincidence. He loved them too. Two grown 60-year-old cousins who love Tootsie pops.

I hugged Bobby hard when I said good bye, my grandmother’s diamond ring on my finger. I won’t let him get away this time. We have too much in common. Our grandmother. Tootsie pops. Our childhood memories which I can’t wait to share. And all those trails we have yet to hike together, making up for lost time. Just because you are robbed of something in life, does not mean you can’t ever get it back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mama I’ve Wanted to Become

IMG_6654

On the eve before Mother’s Day, I laid awake most of the night, thinking. About motherhood of course, and about my life. I have been reading every single book by Elizabeth Strout lately, as I just went to hear her speak at the Philadelphia Free Library. Her words are the reason I have lost much sleep over the past few weeks. Last night’s culprit was Amy & Isabelle. It is a story about motherhood. Amy’s mother, Isabelle, was not the best. She would not have given me what I personally needed growing up had I been her child. A friend of mine’s daughter told me many years ago that she needed someone like me to be her mother, not her own, who was not very warm and cuddly but staunch and strict and cool. Amy & Isabelle made me think of my own mothering techniques and how I fared in comparison.

I laid there and searched my life for signs. I thought of how I used to pick my children up from elementary school and before even going home to change clothing, we went to a favorite hidden gorge in the Pa state game lands and slid down a steep, forested, fern-covered slope to the wild Pine Creek below. In my day pack were thermoses with fresh peach milkshakes in them. We were headed for a favorite moss-covered log where we spooned the refreshing ice cream into our mouths, looked for wild trout in the stream and up at the towering old growth populars overhead. Bryce had pale beige khaki pants on and when he slid down the dirt, it was ground in permanently. I didn’t care. We were celebrating school being over for the day.

This may sound like excellent mothering but the truth was, my children never wanted to go to school. They asked me every day to let them homeschool. I was afraid I would lose my life, not be able to write, as I just received two book contracts in one year and so I put them in public school, for the first time at 6 & 8 year old. When Bryce learned that he would have to go to school, he was helping me change the sheets and he said, “Oh Mama, I would rather help you make beds all day long then go to school.”

Marianne Williamson said, “And how ungrateful and irreverent to listen so little when angels themselves have moved into the house. I have never seen such honest demonstrations of enlightenment as in happy children. They laugh a lot, yet they are every serious. They understand everything without letting on that they understand much. They are old and young, innocent and loving. What are we doing pretending to know more than they do? And why are we putting the things of this world before their well-being?”

It took me seven years to get up the courage to do it and they spent the last 4 & 6 years teaching themselves with me as their facilitator. Home or world schooling was the second most powerfully positive thing I have done in my life as a mother, next to deciding to bring them into the world. After all these years of raising and educating them, my book, The World as Our Classroom- How One Family Used Nature & Travel to Shape an Extraordinary Education, will finally be coming out next May 2018 and I am so excited to share what we learned with my readers.

Neither of my children will be here to celebrate with me this year. One is in Colorado, the other in South Dakota. I am not feeling sorry for myself but I am reviewing my relationship with them, twenty five years of mothering, as I lay awake in bed.

How do you know if you did a good job? When my little son would get off the bus, I would walk down to the mailbox to receive them, and he would run towards me with his arms open wide for many yards, anticipating the embrace. I remember feeling tight inside, like his arms were wrapped around my heart and my eyes stung with tears. I knew that moment was incredibly fleeting. Other times he would take my face in his little hands, squeeze my cheeks and look into my eyes very closely and say, “I love this Mama.” He filled up this mother’s heart.

When my teenage daughter took my arm and linked hers and walked with me, on a woods trail, in public with people all around, never minding that the world saw her being affectionate with her mother, my heart swelled. When she let me climb into bed with her every night and rub her back and be there for her to talk about her day, that meant the world to me. When she came down to our bed on weekends and climbed in and wrapped the blankets around her and my arm draped over her, then I knew for sure.

No matter where my adult daughter travels to now-a-days and many of her destinations are far flung and for long periods of time, she never hesitates to call or SKYPE, and sometimes even twice day, when she gets up and gets ready to turn in for the night. When my adult son finished with his teaching job every day at Tyler School of Art, he called me and reported on his class, as he walked back to his apartment. The night before he had class, he called and reviewed with his father and I, the upcoming day’s lesson, looking for feedback and ideas. He valued his parents’ opinion.

This Mother’s Day, their father will celebrate with me. He rose early and went to the farmer’s market for homemade sticky buns, popped them into the oven to warm them up. We planted the rest of our garden this morning while the sun broke through last night’s rain clouds and the birds sang unusually loud and cheery. I brought my cell phone out with me as I didn’t want to miss my children’s calls. Even Bryce’s girlfriend Calan, called and wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. Every day feels like Mother’s Day to me because I talk to my kids every day, not just on this special May day.

I have read in metaphysical books that, as souls, we pick our family that we are born into. We make a compact on the other side and choose our parents, those who will help our souls evolve the best for the path we are individually on. I guess they do not always look the most ideal down here but perhaps we learn the biggest lessons after a lifetime with them. For me, I feel like I really scored. My children taught me all about love, perpetuated by my mother, who was a great lover too. May the circle continue.

Marianne Williamson continued, “A key to mothering is to visualize our children as the adults we would love them to become: strong, happy, serious and loving.Now imagine what kind of mother they must have had to grow into such fabulous grown-ups. And whatever that is, becoming it is the task that lies before us all.”

“Never Give up your Dream”

As an author, you sign a book, write a greeting, if the buyer tells you a bit about themselves, you try to make it personal. When my first book was published, A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail, I spoke at many different venues, as I did for all of my books. A Woman’s Journey is hand written in calligraphy and illustrated with 125 ink and charcoal drawings. Thirty-five years ago, I spoke at Millersville University in PA. Many students purchased a book and of course, you forget who you spoke with, let alone know whose life you may have touched. One sale was to a young student who said she’s like to hike the entire AT someday. I wrote, “Never give up your dream.” That was 35 years ago. Of course, I forgot all about her.

This past weekend, I was honored at Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County Reading Council, an affiliate of the International Literacy Association, to receive the “Celebrate Literacy” Award, on behalf of my work as a writer and published author. I spoke about being a Triple Crown Hiker and Author and on my upcoming book due out next May with Skyhorse Publishing, NYC…The World is Our Classroom: How One Family Used Nature and Travel to Shape an Extraordinary Education.

When I was at the table signing my Triple Crown books, Marian Tichy came up to my table with a first edition of a Woman’s Journey. She opened to the first page where I autographed it with the inscribed words, “Never Give up your Dream. She wanted me to know that she never forgot me, nor her dream all these years, and 2016 finally saw her on the AT. She successfully finished her thru-hike 34 years later. She never did give up.

I was pretty floored. Thinking about her life- waiting patiently all those years for the time to be right to do her thru-hike. She had to be in her mid-50’s now, if she met me in her early 20’s. It just made me feel good, doing my job as a communicator, hoping to touch someone’s life, helping their dreams come true. Sometime, you’re lucky enough to get a sign that you’re on the right track in life. Thank you for that, Marian.

A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail has been in consecuative print for 35 years. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is the current publisher. It is available through the organization’s Ultimate Trail Store. http://atctrailstore.org/a-womans-journey/

For the rest of my books head to Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/cindy-ross-Books

Pockets Full of Peanuts and Dad’s company

My father used to shell peanuts on his drive up to Potter County, God’s Country, where our family hunting camp was. He was adept. Driving a big station wagon loaded with four active kids, and a comatose wife, drugged up with Dramamine to prevent car sickness, who was good for little but handing back peaches to us kids and then wet wash rags to clean our sticky fingers afterwards. Just don’t ask her to move her head and never turn around to settle the boys down. My oldest sister sat up front between the parents, the place of honor, as she was the parent’s favorite. I was stuck between my two younger brothers in the back, who attempted to swat each other across my body.

I don’t remember if Dad threw his shells out the window. They would have just came back and hit us in the back seat as we certainly didn’t have air conditioning and must have had the windows rolled down. We were headed to camp for our family vacation. Riding dirt bikes, hiking, campfires, swimming in the Lyman Run State Park lake, picking berries that my mom made into pies. No fancy vacation for our family, except for the drive to hell to Florida one AUGUST which was the absolutely the wrong time to go. I’ll take Potter County in the summer over Florida any time. It took me almost twenty-five years to want to return to that southern state, so scarred were we from that car ride.

Dad must have just created a landfill on the car floor with his empty peanut shells. I admire him for that, as he was a bit of a neat nick at home. But he loved his roasted peanuts and only got to enjoy them when we drove from our home in Pennside, outside Reading, up north, through the Port Clinton gap and past the Peanut Shop. I don’t remember eating them myself, or any of the kids. I imagine he offered but maybe not.

When my husband Todd held his chainsaw carving open house the other week, we kept a campfire going all day long for our guests, as the 80 carvings were situated in the woods around our log home and pond. Peanuts would be a good snack for our guests, I thought. Shelling them provides something to do with your hands while you chatted and, they take a long time to eat. You can throw the combustible shells into the fire or even on the ground in the woods. And they are so tasty- fresh, flavorful, and fun.

I stopped at The Port Clinton Peanut Shop and purchased a 5 pound bag. We had left overs after the home show and I have taken up a new little habit on my daily walks. I fill my pockets with peanuts. I shell them as I walk and pop the tasty nuggets into my mouth. I’ve been working hard getting my manuscript to where it needs to be by its May 1 deadline and I don’t always bother to make a decent lunch. Consequently, soon after I begin to hike, I realize that I have used up all my reserves and I am hungry and not enjoying my walk as much. But now I always take peanuts in my pockets and now I always feel like I am taking my dad along too.

My father has been dead for thirty five years maybe. A long time. I don’t think of him all that much and don’t usually talk to him. Until the peanuts came to be in my pockets. Now we chat on my walks and I tell him what has been going on. I feel him with me, in the woods, along my side as I break open the crunchy nuts. Eating roasted peanuts was a great joy in my father’s life and I have decided that they will be a part of my life now too. Eating them on my walks in the woods is a simple lovely pleasure. I have not felt, lately, that there has been an overabundance of joy in my life. There is no sadness in my life, however, and I am certainly not depressed and never have been. But we are still dealing with the empty nest bullshit, although it has gotten better. I have been very focused and hard at work on a manuscript, which is unusual for me to deprive myself of regular fun. It is almost over. Then we will up the fun factor. Full moon walks, dinner picnics by the river, attending the theatre, hopping on the river for an evening run. I see light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, I have my pockets full of peanuts and my dad’s company to help me through.

Missing Out at Easter (or so it seemed)

in honor of tomorrow- in case you didn’t get to read this post two years ago…

cindyrosstraveler

Sound travels as if there were no walls or ceilings in our log home. Todd and I were in the bathroom taking a bath Thursday before Easter and I was whining, for I had recently learned that my son would not be home for the Easter weekend. And the daughter is in Boulder. Todd said, “You only have a few more days to prepare for Easter.”
“Bryce won’t be here Easter morning so he isn’t getting a basket. You’re not getting an Easter basket either. There won’t be an egg hunt if Bryce is not here Easter morning. No one has time for an egg coloring party, and what for? I’m not making homemade coconut cream nor peanut butter eggs. No one wants the calories. Easter is not what it used to be,” I said sadly.

A few minutes later Bryce came into the bathroom and told me I was…

View original post 1,343 more words

People Who Care- Angels & Money Dropping out of the Sky

I don’t go out and solicit for money for my non-profit, River House PA. I’d rather be putting what little time and extra energy I have left over from being a writer into just being with the Veterans. I quietly go about doing my important work at helping them get better and every now and then, angels drop out of the sky to help.

That would be “Women Who Care,” a women’s organization in my local town of Orwigsburg, organized to do, you guessed it, be of help wherever they are needed because they care. How wonderful. A member of the group, Deb Cooper, my dear friend, invited me to speak at their monthly dinner meeting. I told them about River House and shared stories of the Veterans getting better, of one Vet hiking 4 miles on crutches with one leg, up and down the Blue Mountain, crossing a rocky stream and descending down a steep game lands road hill that makes us wipe out every time on our cross country skis. Wayne was a rockstar and gave every Vet a reason and a purpose to fight the good fight, to get better and heal and make better choices in life.

I told the Women Who Care about my upcoming programs and how the Vets LOVE to inner tube as it makes them feel like kids again and takes them back to their happy childhood. I told them we only have a handful and I have to get them to share and what I really want to do is let them go down the Little Schuylkill River like Huck Finn and forget life and their nightmares. One of the Women Who Care looked at me across the table and said, “You want inner-tubes? We’ll get you inner-tubes.” OK!

The women said they enjoyed doing hands on work and so I mentioned that they could sponsor an event and bring the food for dinner. Fifteen covered dishes! Women who care, I bet you cook up some pretty sweet casseroles and pot luck recipes. How lucky the Vets who sign up for that event.

I left that evening with 15 new comrades in my work to help these Veterans get better.

The very next day, I was invited to speak at luncheon benefit for International Women’s Day. It was being held at a huge engineering firm outside Reading, Worley Parsons. The young women in charge, Kristine Wessner is the niece of my wonderful friend, Dale Derr, Director of Berks County’s Veteran’s Center. Kristina gave me a short list of River House PA topics she suggested I cover in my talk over lunch, and then asked me what kind of sandwich I would like to eat for lunch- Italian, ham on roll, or turkey sub? I was surprised to hear that but also happy to hear it would not be a formal lunch and I didn’t have to get too dressed up. My husband said, “They probably want you to come in to entertain them over their lunch break.” Whatever.

The fifteen or so engineers that shared their lunch with me, as they unwrapped their hoagies and opened their crackling potato chip bags, seemed very interested and asked good questions. Dale Derr was there and he spoke first about his program and then I spoke second. They were very nice people, especially Kristine.

As I’m gathering my belongings and heading over to say good bye to Kristine to thank her for the opportunity to share my non profit with them, she was occupied counting a boat load of money with her colleague. A ton of ones, many fives, tens and twenties, they gathered the wad of bills together and handed it over to me. “This is for you, for your Vet programs,” they said.

What’s this ?” I asked incredulously.

They told me that they held a fund raiser, the first of its kind, where they pre-ordered sandwiches from a local grocery store and sold them to the employees along with homemade cookies, chips, and drinks. ALL THE PROFIT went to River House PA, as in $374. I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea. They girls also generously gave me a large plastic tub of leftover homemade chocolate chip cookies and a large cardboard box half full of individual chip bags, as I was holding a RH event in the next few days and always need a ton of food to feed the guys.

I packed up my car with a swelled heart. First the Women Who Care and now Kristine Wessner and the engineers at Worley Parsons who also care very much. It sure is nice that there are so many out there wanting to help, doing their part anyway they can, so I can do my important work. Such healing work for us all, helping and taking care of each other. America should could use more of this right now and I feel very blessed to be the recipient. Passing it forward!

Sticking Together- A Cat Does Yoga

 

The kitties in our family have to be as independent as they can. They don’t come into the house as a rule, not because we don’t like their company but because they need to be able to take care of themselves, as in growing substantial fur to be able to live out in the south-facing sunroom through the winter. We go away a lot and they need to be able to sleep out there. There is a swinging cat door in our sunroom that enables them to go in and out at will, and they prefer digging in the flower garden or leaf debris to have a bowel movement. One time, a fat raccoon stuffed himself through their cat door and somehow knew there was a loaf baking pan of dry cat food to gorge himself on. Of course, our kitties high tailed it out of there and left the coon to his own meal. Our neighbor kids feed the kitties (as well as the goats) when we go away for a long time but for a few days, they are more than fine.

Our cats are pretty independent. They don’t feign affection and will visit you if you’re weeding in the garden, walking through the onion row right where you are working and they will come out to greet you on the driveway, roll over to get their belly rubbed, but if you try to pick them up and maul them, they will run away. They are in charge. They embraced this independence we pushed on them pretty seriously.

My husband does not normally go away for very long but this past week he was up at Ridgway, PA at a huge international chainsaw carving event. He normally goes for only a few days, not a full week. And me, I am not normally home alone without him and not normally attached to my computer and desk as if I had shackles on. Right now, I am on deadline to complete my manuscript about alternatively raising and educating our kids- A Big Life. May 1 the completed manuscript must be handed in as polished and perfect as possible. I am not used to such focused, fevered dedication. I do little else but eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, and write. One hour’s walk is all that I am allowed. I have the phone, my e-mail and Facebook to connect.

This past week, it grew crazy cold for early spring and we got hit by a historic snowstorm. I decided to let the kitties in and hang together through it all. One cat severely hesitates at the door, walks around for a few seconds inside when I grab him and drag him in, but makes a quick run for the door in a very short amount of time. I think it is too hot for him. The other little shrimp of a cat, has found that he loves being indoors in the winter, however. He is at the front door in the morning as soon as his treat of wet cat food is devoured.

One of the reasons we made it a house rule of no indoor kitties was because a cat prior to these did not know enough to go to the door when she needed to pee and deposited it on our living room rug or other inappropriate places. These kitties however, have a voice and a brain and let us know when they need to go out.

This little cat who spent this past week with me, I’ve discovered has some amazing skills and quite a cat brain. One evening, I stretched out on the library floor up here in the loft on my yoga mat and put on a Rodney Yee tape to work out with. The cat got off the futon and came down onto the carpet alongside me. OK. Not weird. BUT, he proceeded to roll onto his back just like me and proceeded to stretch his limbs while I was. I had a Yoga for Abdomens tape on so I spent all of my time on the mat, mostly on my back. When I did “the cat” position, I looked over at him and would have been downright scared had the kittie moved into that one. He did not. But when Rodney instructed me to spread out my arms, the cat took his and stretched them out and touched his paw to my torso. It was the weirdest thing because this went on for the whole 20 minutes that I was on the mat, him mimicking me. I have NEVER seen this behavior before.

I guess my kitty knew we had to stick together, and he was there for me through this hard week of being alone, working very hard on my book, and I was there for him during this cold and snowy weather. How wonderfully strange.

The Power of Music & Art

IMG_7249

The first time I had the Veterans from the Lebanon VA Hospital inside my home for an event, I wasn’t concerned about my privacy or property. Even though every event brings new faces, they always feel like family after sharing a few hours of an experience with them. I was concerned where I would put them for the very cool event we had planned that involved music and art.

IMG_7253

We first planned a walk, of course, right here on Red Mountain, on the ridge with the silly goats, to get the Vets outdoors in nature and moving. And then the real fun began. Some time ago, I was put in touch with a professional cellist, a friend of a friend, who wanted to offer a classical music program to my Vets in the re-hab program. Our handmade log home was a beautiful setting for a solo performance.

Maire-Aline Cadieux has been teaching music for almost 30 years as a professor at Kutztown University, and playing for 45. She recently discovered that she enjoys less formal performances because they allow her to have more of a connection with the people who are listening. She found that they really feel a part of the whole event, more than at a more traditional concert. When she heard about what we are doing for the vets at River House, she thought it seemed like a good place for this kind of music-making.

Before her performance, she came early enough to join in on the hike and get to know the Vets. As did my friend, Wilfreda Axsmith, a silk painter and fabric artist. Wilfreda discovered a wonderful meditative art of drawing designs called Zentangle that she would share with the Vets before Marie began to play. This was after dinner of course, brought to us by the generosity of sponsor, Carolyn Schwartz in Colorado. Thanks Carolyn & Bill. She and her husband Bill cycled the 50 mile Camino de Santiago with our family across Spain some years back and she wanted to contribute to the cause and sponsor a meal. The Vets signed a thank you card to her and Bill and I propped a photo of them up by the card so they could connect a face with their gratitude.

IMG_7277

After dinner, Wilfreda set up a large tablet on her portable easel and gave the Vets tips on how to start and do a Zentangle. “Zentangles are miniature pieces of unplanned, abstract, black and white art created through simple, structured patterns called tangles. Zentangles are not only exquisitely beautiful, they are fun and relaxing to create.The process of creating a Zentangle is a form of “artistic meditation” as one becomes completely engrossed in making each pattern, deliberately focusing on “one stroke at a time.” The creativity options and pattern combinations are boundless.

IMG_7291

IMG_7303 (1)

Wilfreda printed off examples that she passed around to help them come up with design options. Some Vets went upstairs to our balcony and watched Wilfreda’s demo over the railing. Everyone got cozy on their chair or sofa or stool and turned all ears on Marie and her cello.

Kahlil Gibran said, “Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” We saw it happening in our home right before our very eyes. Hearing Marie’s bow slide along the strings of her cello and have that beautiful instrument speak to all of us, in our warm log home, was mesmerizing. The Vets sat back and peacefully drew, as their minds emptied and their hands worked. Probably no one in the room had ever been so close to a musical instrument like a cello before, nor heard its sweet voice so intimately. It was a huge treat. Maria von Trapp said, “Music acts like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed heart opens.” I looked around and I didn’t see anything closed in the room.

IMG_7319

Marie played music by Bach: the Prelude from Suite No. 1 in G major, and the Bourreés from Suite No. 3 in C major. She told the Vets to imagine ball rooms and people in very elaborate (and heavy!) dresses dancing together, with most of the motion being subtle, from the arms and feet.

Next she played two dances by Squire: Danse Rustique and Tarantella. She told them to imagine a barn dance, and a flirtation between a young man and woman and then a frantic dance meant to cure a toxic spider bite!

They quietly and meditatively drew and drew. I thought about what Gustav Klimt said, “Art is a line around your thoughts.” Marie was so happy to share her gift. She said, “Music making brings me such joy. I want to involve people who might find some healing and peace from that joy.”

I never know when I schedule these programs if the Vets are going to think them lame or feel intimidated because they never did anything like it before. Last year, we only scheduled events once the weather warmed up and we could be outdoors the entire time, eating and connecting around the campfire. But I didn’t want to waste so many of the winter months if there was a way to offer some winter programs. Staging our last two event with St. John’s UCC Church in Orwigsburg as we used their space to get together, and then at our home, enabled us to help the Vets year round.

You never know what kind of therapy will resonate with each Vet. It is an individual thing. I believe nature is the great healer but there are so many other ways to seek and bring peace back into your life. I see my role as Director of River House PA to introduce as many tools in their tool box as I can. Music or art might do it, yoga, meditation, who knows until you try it out.

IMG_7337

I am indebted to folks like Marie & Wilfreda who give up their time and expertise to help my Vets. The ability to change someone’s life for the better lies in these bi-monthly events. You just don’t know whose heart these chords will resonate with.

Marie finished up with the “Tango for solo cello” by Carter Brey while the Vets put their finishing touches on their art work. Of course, they all wanted to take their little gems home, a reminder of their great day with RiverHouse PA as it added one more rung on the ladder of health, as they learn ways to rise above the sadness and a life of damaging habits. As Pablo Piccaso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of every day life.” I would say it was a very successful evening here at River House PA!

IMG_7264

Veterans Stretch Themselves in More Ways Than One

img_0631

Amy Cook the recreational therapist from the Lebanon VA Hospital was skeptical about getting the Veterans in the re-hab program to do something unusual (for them) as Yoga. These guys were toughies, she told me, and would be hard to convince to try something weird like doing Yoga.

Yoga isn’t weird, Amy,” I told her. There’s been lots of studies showing how healing it is for everyone, but especially for people suffering with post traumatic stress disorder.

We had not had a scheduled River House PA event for a few months as I was traveling in Asia with my family over the holidays.

I know Yoga isn’t weird but these guys don’t know you. They are a new group, I’m afraid they won’t come.”

Version 2

And so we decided to hold a Owl Pellet Dissecting Class (that sounds weirder than Yoga to me!) and an Night Owl Walk as our first event for the new year. That was hugely successful and everyone learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Everyone left hugging. I said to everyone as I embraced them, “Make sure you come next time,”

Oh, I’ll be there for sure.”

img_0634

But the group of Veterans piling out of the vans in the parking lot of St John’s UCC Church in Orwigsburg, were mostly new guys. Many of the Vets form two weeks ago had already cycled out and graduated from the program. Alright, I thought, they are stretching themselves already, just by trusting enough to come here.

Yoga instructor, Ed Folk, offered to put on the special class for free in the beautifully carpeted peaceful gathering space at the church. He regularly teaches a Tuesday evening class that my friend, RH friend Susan McCartney joins in on and also helps coordinate between our organization and the church.

My friend Bonnie Boyer, who has the Second Floor Yoga studio in Orwigsburg, PA, lent us her mats. The vets filed in, grabbed a mat and rolled them out on the floor.

img_0654

Ed began slow, doing some head rolls, shoulder shrugs, some of the guys even had a hard time sitting on the floor with their legs crossed. Some of them got the message that they should wear comfortable loose clothing, other swore tight constricting jeans, but they made the best of it.

Ed was the most unassuming instructor for the Vets. Many poses he would say, now you can take your arms over your head , or lift up your leg behind you, but only my more advanced people can do that, I can’t. That made all of the vets feel OK about their performance which is paramount when you are trying to win them over to a new activity like Yoga. Even my board member, Mike Schnurr, Vietnam war vet who tells me has bad knees and a bad back and who knows what else bad, said he wasn’t going to do it at first (just come for the camaraderie and food afterwards) and I said , “Oh yes you are,” and he did, in the rear, but I opened my eyes and peaked, cause I joined in just for the fun, and he was looking real good. One time, I peeked and saw everyone with their eyes closed and a blissed out calm and peaceful look on their faces and I felt so proud of them. Maybe this will resonant enough with one or two to use it in their tool box of aids and helps to get better and choose a healthier lifestyle.

img_0669

That’s what these River House events are for, to give them tools and give them hope that we at RH believe in them and are here for them as they work to navigate a new life.

Afterwards, Nancy and Tom List, certified teachers of Transcendental meditation, gave a little info session on the fabulous results many Vets are getting from practicing TM. This form of meditation helps reduce and in some cases eliminates symptoms of ptsd as it takes practitioners from a state of noisy thinking to a state of inner quietness.

img_0664

Then, we ate- homemade chili and corn bread and cake and fruit. The evening’s event was sponsored by Fran Pepoon from California, who is originally from the Reading area and believes in our misison. The Vets signed a thank-you card to her while they went up for seconds. Everyone helped with the clean- up some of the guys dove into the sudsy dish water, and left as always, with a full belly, a full heart and more tools in their tool box for getting better. We have so much fun at RH events, learn so much and enjoy each other’s company so much, who needs drugs and alcohol. We’re learning a better way, stretching oursleves to embrace new things and people. Life is good.

PS -Once again, if anyone wants to sponser ($200) or co-sponsor ($100) and just contribute to making these events happen, message me. If you live nearby, you can join in the fun on that event and meet all the Veterans so they can thank you in person.

 

Version 2