No sparks fly
From whittled wands.
No burnished books open
To reveal scripted incantations.
Our nameless one walks among us –
There is no magic –
And our faith in
No sparks fly
From whittled wands.
No burnished books open
To reveal scripted incantations.
Our nameless one walks among us –
There is no magic –
And our faith in
When I was young, I dreamed of travel. I read novels with exotic settings. I had a poster of Santorini, Greece on my wall, andI was one day headed to Australia, India, and Nepal.
But life happens, and travel costs money. I married and had a family. It wasn’t just me anymore. We were Mr. and Mrs. A. We decided to be a single income family so one of us could be home to raise our four kids. We made sacrifices, and the first thing on the chopping block was international travel. Wanderlust doesn’t die easily, though. Our concession was to travel extensively throughout our region, often returning to much loved family vacation spots. Still, the desire to explore the globe never went away.
The kids have now grown and are heading out on their own adventures. Two of them are wanderers, in college in other states, eager to strap on a backpack or grab a rolling bag and head down the terminal with their passport for adventure. The other two are more content to stick close to home, and it’s a struggle to take them anywhere these days. I chalk it up to the rubberband effect of friendships. Only time will tell.
That leaves us standing in our once bustling house, looking at each other again for what seems like the first time in twenty-five years of marriage. The reverberating echoes of school and band and dance and soccer, of fighting and laughing and vying for attention slowly dissipate, leaving us able to hear each other once more.
Twenty-five years. This was a big one. We talked of celebrating our anniversary in style. I suggested Hawaii. Tropical beaches, rugged landscape, and all of that ocean were calling. There were hills to climb. Maybe we would go mountain biking or snorkeling or take up surfing. We are not loungers, content to sit on the beach soaking in the sun, sipping Mai-Tais, not that there’s anything wrong with that. We prefer exploring, hiking, seeing the wildlife and the differences in environment and culture.
My husband was okay with Hawaii. Just okay. I knew he would make the trip for me. He does a lot of things for me. I wanted this to be for us, so when he came home talking about Costa Rica, my ears perked up. The thing with not traveling, though, is that it makes you nervous to take that first step. Isn’t that true of anything? We searched the internet. We contacted tour agencies. We got an estimate. Wow! It looked like Costa Rica might be cost prohibitive. The kids might be on their way out of the house, but they had left a trail of financial needs that we were still helping with. We put it all out of our minds and celebrated in a nice resort on the coast less than two hours from our house.
Still… Costa Rica was calling, whispering our names, jiggling us, asking us to consider the possibilities. Maybe if we planned our own trip…
So although our anniversary had passed, we were again looking at hotels and things to do in Costa Rica. We came across a little B&B in a remote mountain location called Monteverde that was not anywhere near the top of my list of places to see. The B&B was cute, and got high ratings on Tripadvisor, but was only available for one night within the small time frame we were looking at. We looked at each other. Should we? Nervously, we gave that ball a push, and soon it was rolling. With one reservation taken care of, we only needed a flight, my passport, and the whole rest of our ten day trip filled in. I had always dreamed of being a travel agent, and I got to work immediately. Soon we had the whole vacation lined up with hotels and tours and transportation. Before we knew it, we were on our way.
I’ll leave the rest of the trip for some other time. Suffice it to say that Monteverde was our favorite part an amazing trip, even though we only spent one night here. It’s green, cool, peaceful, and very focused on conservation. We took a tour with a local guide, Marcos, who led us immediately to a quetzal and talked excitedly about the natural history of the cloud forest. We stayed at our cozy but upscale B&B and interacted with our lovely host, Carlos, as well as tourists from France and other parts of Europe. We came back from a night tour to a beautiful and delicious plate of plantains and ice cream and enjoyed breakfast in the morning on the open air patio. We made a connection to this place, and it was very hard to leave the next day.
There’s a whole world to explore. I hope to see so many things and places still, yet I long to get back to Monteverde. I want to wake up early and wander through the cloud forest. I want to sip delicious Costa Rican coffee on an outdoor patio while watching the birds. I want fresh pineapple with gallo pinto in the morning and passionfruit smoothies in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll even zip through the canopy.
If you’ll excuse me, I have a trip to plan.
As I walk through the doors, I smell heaven in the form of book glue and musty pages. I have just returned to Powell’s Books main store, located on the corner of 10th and Burnside in Portland, Oregon. I have always said that all I needed was a bed and I would be content spending the rest of my days here. (And oddly, though it’s not my style, I always picture that bed to be an antique wrought iron style.)
They even have coffee! I’d be set!
Powell’s City of Books indeed feels like a literary metropolis. Though they now have multiple locations, and you are guaranteed to find good books at any of them, it is the downtown flagship store that I talk about when I say I’m entering heaven. This place is quintessential Portland, before the city became hipster and trendy. It occupied the Pearl before the Pearl was a hip and happening place. It’s a place of quiet browsing for standard or oddball titles, where used books and new books commingle. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the selection of over a million new and used books, the staff has recommendations handwritten on cardstock hanging from the shelves. They even highlight local authors! I’ve been happily surprised by many new titles that I may not have ever known about thanks to these shelf tags.
Wandering around the store, you will find staggered floors reminiscent of something out of Harry Potter, color coded to subject matter. You may get dizzyingly lost, but there are color coded signs hanging from the ceilings as well
to point you in the right direction. Need a rare book? Powell’s might have it in their rare book room, an enclosed space that is open on the weekends or by appointment, but be sure to leave food and drink outside. Personally, I have never entered the rare book room, but I love that it’s there. Maybe on my next trip I will peruse its shelves.
My family hates to go to Powell’s with me. Don’t get me wrong, they like the store, but they are not all readers, and even the most avid bibliophile among them doesn’t love books the way I love books. They enter with a bit of excitement mixed with groans. They know they will find things to interest them, (Powells boasts an interesting display of gift items in addition to the books) but they know once we enter the doors, I will get lost in the shelves for hours. I usually don’t have to worry about the meter, though. Validated parking is always free because I never leave the store empty-handed (though I prefer to take my tiny Soul into the closet of a parking garage).
Powell’s ranks number one on Tripadvisor for shopping in Portland, above the Portland Farmer’s Market and Saturday Market, both of which are iconic local experiences. I guess that means I’m not alone in my love of this place. And for you authors out there looking to self-publish, head on up to the Espresso Book Machine. I might have to make use of this someday.
If you love books and are ever in Portland, check this place out. I frequent book stores, and I’ve never seen anything that comes close to Powell’s. Have you?
We sat on the edge of the canyon, blissfully enjoying the ever-narrowing slice of shade. Sunshine was by my side, understanding that a slightly overweight mom in her later years, though fit, might have a tough time scaling the Grand Canyon in the heat of the day. Maverick and Goose would soon leave us to run to the top and would be full of jeers when we finally got there. We really should have started earlier, but we were lucky to get a reservation in the park, and we wanted to enjoy the cozy, comfortable hotel just a little bit longer.
We were passing through on a mission. Sunshine was starting college next week in the Lone Star State. The boys and I were taking her there, making a road trip of it, seeing some of the desert southwest in the heat of summer, because who doesn’t want to do that? We had arrived at Grand Canyon National Park the day before, and I had set our agenda for the day. We would hike down into the canyon early, and then travel to our hotel in Flagstaff.
The cool morning beckoned us down the trail. We were loaded up with water bottles and plenty of M&Ms, but without a plan. Free for the day, we would just hike as far as we wanted before turning around and coming back up. The wide trail invited us to walk and take pictures. The rest stops along the way sheltered us and offered water. The squirrels and birds cheered our progress.
From one vantage point, we could see the three mile house. We were getting tired, but wanted a definite destination, so we set our sights on that. Here we would stop and dig into our fuel source, the M&Ms. The day was gorgeous, sunny, with a few high clouds. The tricky thing about the canyon, however, is that the closer you get to the bottom, the hotter it becomes. A day that had started out for us in the 70s was rising with every step down into the 90s, which is not terrible if you are hiking down, but we still had to make our way back up, and now it was getting close to noon. The warning signs along the way did not give me comfort.
We refilled our water bottles and shooed the squirrels away from the candy as we rested, the boys impatient to get moving. At some point, Sunshine dropped a couple of M&Ms on the ground and a flurry of squirrel warfare ensued, causing us to jump onto the ledge and earning us the ire of the more orderly hikers on the trail. After all, the brochure said definitively not to feed the wildlife. Now we knew why.
We looked up the trail. What had been so pleasant coming down now looked daunting. I had my personal list of killer trails: Vernal Falls in Yosemite, Mount Constitution on Orcas Island, and Iron Mountain closer to home, but none came close to this one, with an elevation change of over 2,000 feet in just three miles. I steeled myself and started putting one foot in front of the other. Round a corner, rest in the shade. Round a corner, rest in the shade. Sunshine was by my side the whole way.
Which brings me to where I started this story, almost at the top and having a clear picture of which child I could count on in life. As we made our way the last few bends and turns in the trail, the temperature shed its austere cloak and became more welcoming. We found ourselves encouraging other hikers who were finding the path equally difficult. We passed people coming down in all manner of dress, but none of them looked like experienced hikers, and passed a ranger who seemed to be at a loss, questioning them and turning some back, while at the same time inquiring about the welfare of the people coming up. Not a job I would want to have. As expected, Maverick and Goose were at the top, jeering at us and begging for ice cream.
We made it. We had hiked the canyon. (Well, part of it, but I’m counting it.) We paused for a quick victory photo and headed to the car. Ravenous, we didn’t look for a picnic spot. We unloaded the cooler and sat by the road on a downed tree, scarfing down the most delicious impromptu salami and french bread sandwiches. It was quite possibly the best food I’ve ever eaten. Hunger will do that to you.
We did finally make it to the hotel in Flagstaff, and judging from the red ring around the hot tub, were not the only people to have made this trek. For months after, I would put on my socks that retained the red smudge of the trail dust and remember our road trip. The canyon itself made an indelible mark on my heart, and I can’t wait to return, hopefully not in the heat of summer, to hike it again.
Shit! I can’t believe my parents were fighting again last night. I swear I didn’t get any sleep until Dad left. I’m glad he’s gone. I’d like to stay and make sure Mom’s okay, but she’ll probably be pretty drunk by noon.
My teacher is droning on about math. Blah-blah-blah. When am I ever going to use this stuff, anyway?
The best thing about yesterday was the video the counselor showed us about people taking care of each other. Man, I wish I had people like that in my life. The teacher didn’t understand when I told her my family would just tell me to shut the fuck up. She looked shocked, but at least she listened to me.
The art project was stupid. I didn’t do it. Who wants to draw a picture of himself with a bunch of dumb stuff in his head?
I wish it wasn’t Friday.
These kids are picking on me again. Why do they always pick on me? I wish I could just hang out in the LRC. Tony keeps making comments across the room. My teacher says he’s trying to make me mad and to ignore it, but I can’t ignore it. People with Asperger’s can’t ignore.
I don’t have my assistant anymore. It’s kind of hard being without her. I used to go to the back table when I was feeling stressed and ready to blow. She would help me calm down. Sometimes she would have to take me to the LRC. I miss her, and I know she misses me because she comes to see how I’m doing, usually on her break. I begged her to come back, but she said she was needed somewhere else.
Math was good until the teacher had us play Around the World. I was out. I didn’t want to be out, and I got upset, really upset. The kids all stared at me. I hate people staring at me. So I yelled. A lot.
My other teacher in the LRC wants me to play this game where I match faces and emotions. I don’t really get it. Then she always asks me about my day. Sometimes it’s just too overwhelming and I start to cry.
Tony is stupid. I hate that kid, and when I get a chance, I’m going to beat him up. Mom told me not to take any crap from anyone. She said I could fight them. My teacher said that’s not the way to solve problems, but I think I’ll go with my mom’s idea.
He made me mad yesterday, and we almost got into it in P.E. I was sent to the office to “cool down.” My mom and dad came in after school, pissed. They were yelling at the principal and everyone. It was a little embarrassing, but nice to know they have my back. I don’t know how long I will be at this new school.
That Austin kid was yelling during math yesterday. What a retard! We were just playing Around the World and he blew his top. That was the best part of math, too. The rest of it is too hard. I just try to doodle, but the teacher usually comes around and asks me to put my drawing stuff away. She tries to help me, but it’s just too hard. I don’t get it.
The counselor made us watch this stupid movie about getting along. Whatever. People are dumb. I’m glad it’s Friday. I won’t have to see them for a couple of days.
My head itches again. I don’t think the treatment worked. I just want it to go away. It’s embarrassing to be sent home from school. They try to be sly about it, but all the kids know why someone disappears after we all go have head checks. The teacher is watching me. I wonder if she noticed me scratching my head.
The boys in this class drive me nuts. They are always causing problems. We can’t just walk down the hall without them provoking each other. Seriously, it’s like being around my grandma’s roosters, chests all puffed up, strutting toward each other, itching for a fight. I wish they would just shut up so we could get through this math.
Austin blew yesterday. It was scary, but not as scary as the time he started throwing chairs. I don’t know what he is capable of. We were just playing a game and it didn’t go his way. What a baby!
My teacher this year is the best. She gives us time for reading. We can go anywhere in the room, as long as we are quiet. I usually go under the computer table on the beanbag, but Tony and Dylan end up close to me, and they don’t read. It’s pretty distracting. They just roll around the floor and bother everyone until the teacher notices and sends them back to their seats. I just want to read my book. I love this book!
Math is hard this year. We’re supposed to learn fractions and we’re using this tape diagram. It’s different. I wish I could pay attention, but Tony usually ends up throwing little things like pieces of eraser across the room. He should be listening to the teacher, but he doesn’t. He thinks it’s funny. It’s annoying.
Austin was really frustrated yesterday. I feel bad for him. Everything is so hard for him. I wish I could help.
The movie we saw about getting along was really inspiring. I felt so good after watching it, and I really wanted my class to act like the people in the movie. After the movie, Kayla, Jessica and I got to draw at the back table. This was the best part of the day!
I’m so excited! This weekend we are going to Eagle Crest. That means swimming!
They just brought my food backpack. I’m so glad we will have something to eat this weekend. I used to get really mad, but after they started giving me this backpack, I feel much calmer. It’s still hard. I don’t think the other kids understand. They probably all have food at their house, but we don’t. We don’t really even have a house. It’s more like a really old trailer, but at least we’re not homeless anymore. That was scary.
The other kids used to make fun of me, but the teacher had us all talk about being kind and being part of a community. They stopped, mostly. Tony and Dylan still say things, but I try to ignore them.
We did art yesterday. We never do art anymore, but the counselor wanted us to draw a picture of ourselves and the things that matter to us. We’re supposed to hang them in the room. I was just glad to not feel pressured to read or write or do math for a while. It gets pretty stressful. I drew my mom and my dad, even though he’s not around anymore. I drew my dog really big. She’s the best! She’s always there when I’m sad. I think Mom worries that we will have to move again and won’t be able to take her. I don’t know what I’ll do then. My teacher saw my picture and said it was really good. I just saw her tuck a notebook and a new package of colored pencils in my food backpack. My happiness level just went up about five notches.
I hope the baby isn’t getting sick. He seemed a little groggier than usual when I dropped him off at the babysitter. I’m hoping I don’t get a call. It would be tough to have to leave this class in the middle of the day.
Camille is scratching her head again. She’s already missed a lot of school due to lice, but I think I’m going to have to send her to the office to get checked. She seems to take it all in stride. I wish her mom could get a handle on the problem. I hate to see her miss so much school. We don’t really have a way to get her caught up.
The boys are starting to needle each other again. I don’t know what to do. Yesterday the counselor came and showed the class a movie about empathy. They all talked about it and most of them seemed to understand. The one who surprised me was Tony. He had the most insightful comment, and his words afterward just raked across my heart. I wish I could save these kids sometimes. The drawing project seemed to have such a calming effect on most of the class. Tony didn’t like it, but I know now that he’s just a scared little boy putting up a intimidating front.
Jackson’s parents were at the school yesterday. I honestly don’t know how to help socialize a child who’s advice from home is to solve problems with his fists. Even if I could send him out of the classroom, he would be missing a lot of instruction, and he’s already pretty far behind. This is his third school. These problems are going to follow him wherever he goes.
My group of overachieving girls was thrilled to have art time. They chatted quietly at the back table as they worked on their projects. I wish I could give them more of time for this, but the test prep has become more and more important, while at the same time behaviors are becoming more and more difficult to deal with. Some days it’s hard to get things done.
Caleb shocked me with his art. This quiet kid who usually needs a lot of prodding to work drew the most amazing self portrait. Here’s another one I would save if I could. I just stuck a notebook and some colored pencils in his food bag. I hope he enjoys drawing this weekend.
Austin is doing so much better than at the beginning of the year. I was a little nervous about losing his aide, but he seems to be managing his emotions a little better. I will have to find a different way to play Around the World that won’t set him off. I know the kids don’t understand him, but they don’t really understand each other too well, either. That’s just something we’ll have to work on this year.
I do hope the baby is okay. I really need to come to school this weekend and prep for math. The kids don’t seem to get it, and state testing is coming up. It looks like I’ll be here most of Saturday… again. I’m still waiting for this job to get easier.
Forrest Gump’s mom had it all wrong. Life isn’t like a box of chocolates, although it’s true that you never know what you’re going to get. Chocolate is sweet, so even if you don’t like that coconut creme, your senses have not been assaulted by vinegar or spice. Life is not all sugar. There’s plenty of sour and bitter to go around. And chocolates just sit there, provided by someone else for your enjoyment. Forrest’s mom was an optimist, which is a good thing in a mom. Personally, I’d rather go searching for life.
For me, life is more like a hike to the top of a mountain. From the bottom, you can’t possibly know what lies at the top. It could be shrouded in fog or could even be snowing. It may be obscured by those trees you can’t see the forest for. You may have a field guide for the wildflowers that lie ahead, but until you see their color against the backdrop of a clear mountain sky, take in their aroma, and see the life that surrounds them, they are only pictures on a page.
At the bottom of the mountain are many paths. You are led along one for a while until you are adept enough to choose your own. You climb. Once you reach a certain point on the path, you have a vantage point from which to look back and see where you’ve been. You may have veered off the trail and come back. You may have taken a different trail entirely. You may have even scaled a sheer cliff! But all roads lead to the top. From the vantage point you can look back and see where the trail led, though you couldn’t see it at the time. You might second guess your choice. Should I have taken the longer, looping trail? In my rush to get up the mountain, have I opted for the steep switchbacks over the longer, softer, more scenic route? Who have I lost along the way?
Toward the top of the mountain the views back become wider and more expansive. The old path becomes less clear, but also less important. The air is thinner up here. You get tired. Elevation is slowing you down, but boy, what a view! And those flowers you enjoy in the guidebook are so vivid in person. Now it’s time to sit and look back at the journey in awe.
Here are some tips to help you on your way. Pack your bag, grab the binoculars, and enjoy the journey.
What would you put on your list?
Regret is an evil beast with a life of its own. Its one desire is to hijack an otherwise healthy, happy life, spoiling it like a finely growing web of mold on a once delicious slice of bread.
I used to say that I had no regrets, that even wrong decisions had merit and had brought me to a certain stage in life. Maybe it’s easier to wrestle with regret when you are the only one in the picture. Now I have a family, and while I still embrace the difficulties and mistakes in life as they relate to me, I have a harder time doing so with the people I love.
What if we had moved to a different town? Would my kids have access to a better education?
What if I hadn’t influenced my husband’s career choice? Would he own his own business now?
What if I had not tied the dog up that fateful night?
The truth is that having choices involves dealing with regrets. There is a quote that goes around the internet and makes a pass every now and again to remind me that “in the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.” I don’t know how true it is. Thankfully, I’m not yet at the end. It does kind of gel with my other newly adopted mantra, one that is meant to spur me to action. “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
It gets harder with age, but I’m still resisting big ticket regret. There’s too much of life left to live to let it start to spoil now.
Smaller things however? Well, I regret that second cookie. And I should have gone to bed much earlier last night.
Oh well. Live and learn, right?
I write because it quiets the voices in my head, the city of unruly citizens clamoring to be heard. (Did that just sound as crazy to you as it did to me?)
I write because my anxiety causes me to stammer and lose my focus. Writing allows me the time to carefully gather my thoughts, time to sort and filter.
I write because sometimes things make me angry or upset or amazed. Writing drives the subject home like a post pounded into the soil or a root pushing its way into the earth. It make me feel stable. Grounded.
I write because I’m afraid I’ll forget… the things I felt at each stage of life, what was important to me, the small, funny, tender moments with my kids that get upended by doctor bills and grocery shopping and car repairs.
I write because it calms my demons.
Though this never used to be true, I write to be read.
Why do you write?
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