Thursday, March 27, 2014

Saving For .....

Red rock country
I'm slowly reading a wonderful book, Travels with Epicurus, by Daniel Klein.  Klein is an older gentleman who has traveled to Greece and writes about one of his favorite philosophers, Epicurus, while he is living out some of this sage advise himself.  On the back of the book, where one goes to read what the book is about, is this:

Out on a walk on the island of Hydra, a vacationing Greek American comes upon an old Greek man sitting on a rock, sipping a glass of ouzo, and lazily staring at the sun setting into the sea.  The wealthy American notices there are olive trees growing on the hills behind the old Greek but that they are untended, with olives just dropping here and there onto the ground.  He asks the old Greek who owns the trees.  
"They're mine," the Greek replies.
"Don't you gather the olives?" the American asks.
"I just pick one when I want one," the old man says.
"But don't you realize that if you pruned the trees and picked the olives at their peak, you could sell them?  In America everybody is crazy about virgin olive oil, and they pay a damned good price for it."
"What would I do with the money?" the old Greek asks.
"Why, you could build yourself a big house and hire servants to do everything for you."
"And then what would I do?"
"You could do anything you want!"
"You mean, like sit outside and sip ouzo at sunset?"

I was sold on the book at this point!

I have written about this before but I am thinking on it again today.  I seem to know quite a few folks who are working hard and running in circles as they save all their hard earned dollars for their retirement.  When I ask what retirement looks like to these friends their answers all seem to be the same .. "to do anything [I] want" ... which they don't seem to feel they are doing right now.  Right now they are working so that they might really do what they want when they are old.


I recently met a man who has a five year plan which includes quitting the job - that is hated and making his life pure chaos right now - paying off debts and then being able to live the life that is most wanted.  I told this man that five years sounds too long for me, but I hope it all works out for him.

Bigelow range from Flagstaff lake
Today I am remembering my dearest friend, Patty.  If I somehow ever ended up in prison Patty would be in the cell beside me saying, "damn that was fun!"  She and I would go off on adventures together into the wilds that more often felt like something out of a Carlos Castaneda story detailing his shamanic experiences with Don Juan the Yaqui sorcerer.

Patty and I were teachers in the same school at the same time together. One year we took our April vacation week and backpacked the entire Bigelow range.  There was little snow in Portland that year, but there had been record breaking snow fall in these western mountains.  Because she and I were so determined we managed to post-hole our way across 16.3 miles of steep, rugged terrain with an elevation gain of 2,850 feet and the top elevation of West Peak summit at 4,150 feet.  With our loaded backpacks and my dog, Maya, we swore, stepped and sunk and pulled each other out of hip deep snow as we scrambled up and over all six peaks of this range.  We had said it would take us four nights and five days, and that's what we did it in.  A lesser pair might have turned back, but that was neither one of us back then.

We both quit teaching the same year.  I headed to acupuncture school and she headed west to Colorado with her Jeep and her big, sweet, German Shepherd.  I found a new career, she found a new love and got married.   I headed to Colorado one spring to go down to the Canyonlands with her to camp and mountain bike the White Rim Trail.  This was a powerful trip for both of us out in that red rock country.  On this trip my tent almost got blown off the cliff ... with me in it!... when an epic storm came roaring across the desert and slammed into our high plateau campsite.  And Patty learned how to really drive a 4-wheel vehicle while navigating a steep, boulder laden road with a drop off on one side that would surely have been the death of both of us should she make one tiny mistake.

Patty had two or three master degrees in chemistry and engineering.  She secured a job with HP where her new husband also worked.  Together they made a good income.  Patty would tell me how JW was determined to save for retirement and insisted that she do this too.  He had his eye on a certain figure that they needed to have before they could begin to "live".  She and I would joke about this saying, 'this is great, providing everybody stays healthy until you have enough money to start living!'

Within two years of this Canyonlands trip Patty was diagnosed with colon cancer and died nine months later.  She said to me,"tell everyone how hard I fought this!"  There was no one who could have been braver or fought harder, except for maybe Jim Daniels, who got his diagnosis within three years after Patty died. And then my amazing brother-in-law, Jerry Sanders, also leaving this earth due to cancer, two years after Jim died. All of these people were incredibly vibrant and healthy with a big thirst for life and a big love for seizing the day.

So, if you didn't understand this about me before, perhaps you see now, when someone tells me of a five year plan for when they can be happy it feels too long for me.   Or why I have such an aversion to needing some future stash of money to be big enough before I can enjoy today.

I have been touched far too many times with losses that have been huge for me.  But here's the thing, with each one of these deaths has come the gift of life.

If I can afford that glass of ouzo now I won't wait until I can buy the whole bottle.  I want to be that gal who raises her glass at sunset and says, "damn, that was fun!"  I want to
know I rode it hard for however long I may still be in this rodeo.

Loving you all back,

Thursday, March 6, 2014


The dictionary has many definitions for this one little word: you can have a stress fracture (broken bone), you can stress, or emphasize, a point in a discussion, it can be a force applied to a body that can deform it or it can be a mentally or emotionally upsetting condition in response to some external
influences or perceived danger.

Hmmm. Which one did you immediately think of when you saw this blog subject?  Me too.

And the mental or emotional response triggers a host of reactions in our physical body.  Biologically it puts us into the "flight or fight" mode;  releasing the "stress" hormones adrenaline and cortisol that triggers us to run faster and jump higher.  A fabulous response when facing down a mountain lion or escaping a burning building.  But over time, if these hormones remain surging through our system they become harmful to our health and begin to actually break down internal organs.  We become moody, depressed, anxious with loss of memory and other bad stuff!

Lovely, aye?  And who isn't "stressed" these days?  I was diagnosed with hives just before Jims' tumor took over our life.  I was told it's stress.  I was told I could get rid of it by reducing my stress.  Sounds so easy!  But four years later I still have the hives even though I thought the stress causing them had been taken away from me. 

Recently I was diagnosed with Rosacea, a skin condition that they don't really know what causes it or how to heal it.  They do know there are "triggers" that flare it up; red wine, chocolate, spicy foods ... all of my favorite things!  And they don't know how to cure it.  I was prescribed a cream that costs a billion dollars (OK, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but honestly, it's so expensive it feels like a billion dollars to me!).  Even though at this price it feels like it should last my entire life it won't.  It does seem to help with this condition though.  My older sister said to me, "Mary, it's your FACE!", as in, do whatever is necessary to deal with it.  So I buy the cream and use it sparingly.

I can't help but wonder if one trigger for this condition may also be stress.  But what the heck is this stress anyway? What is the imaginary danger that we are needing to flee from?  Why is it so difficult to remove all these mountain lions from our lives?  Don't we have all this technology to make our lives easier, to do things faster and to allow us more free time?  And as one of the wealthiest countries in the world we must have lots of free time since we all make a lot of money and thus we don't have work 24/7 like many other people in poorer countries.  Right?  And free time will reduce our stress.  Right?

Why is all this so wrong?

As an acupuncturist I have a lot of people who come to me with anxiety, depression and .... stress.  For one hour out of their week I give them permission to lie down, to simply stop all the busy-ness and to let these little needles work some kind of magic for them to relax and rejuvenate their biological systems ... until they go back out into their world.

As I put this billion dollar cream on my face I sometimes remember the blog I wrote about Looking Up (March 2010).  I remember sitting out on the deck in the warming sun with my sick husband, who was napping.  We were wrapped up in blankets against the chill and leaning against the gentle giant of an oak that towered over our house in Falmouth.  During those months of caring for Jim there were these occasional moments that I could just stop and just sit out in the sunshine.  The blog talks about all the small things I noticed while sitting still.  All the life around me that could easily go unseen in my usual fast paced life. 

Why is it so difficult to just stop sometimes?  To just sit outside for no reason at all.  To look up and see that cardinal or nut hatch or swelling spring bud?  To turn the computer, television, radio, cell phone off and just exist in our world in it's purest form? 

Our response to stress is a biological reaction.  This natural world that we've disassociated ourselves from is our biology, our essence, our nature.  To turn towards it and become part of it is the very stuff we are truly made of.

This March, as the sap begins to flow through the Sugar Maples, as the song birds become more active in response to the higher sun, and the world around me begins to know that warmer days are coming even though I don't feel it in my bones yet, I vow to myself to just stop at times.  To look up and see my world and take some time to be a part of this life that is all around me. 

I vow to stop my response of fighting some unseen danger and to take flight from a world made crazy by being so out of touch with what is truly real.

Loving you all back,