Steering Out of the Doldrums

For the last two weeks, I’ve struggled with the late winter doldrums. I’m ready for spring, but Winter. Just. Won’t. Go. In sailing usage, “doldrums” refer to a low-pressure area around the equator where the winds disappear and sailing vessels could be trapped for days or weeks. That sums up my feeling: I’m becalmed, waiting for spring’s energy to blow my life back on course.

I’ve been listless and had trouble mustering enthusiasm for new projects. Consequently, I’ve elevated my knack for wasting time to new heights (that should probably be “new lows”)—

  • Sleeping longer than normal (my body resists getting up in the dark again)
  • Reading mysteries (my go-to escapist read) instead of more challenging literature
  • Researching facial moisturizers (Seriously?!? That might deserve half an hour of my time, not the two hours I actually gave it.)

This is familiar territory, so I go easy on myself when I recognize the pattern. In fact, that’s part of the cure—recognizing and accepting that I’m in the doldrums.

Dissatisfaction and restlessness prod me to analyze where my time actually goes (this is pretty geeky, but it works for me). At first, I neutrally list how I’ve spent my time recently.

That brings to mind a few things I ought to do (wash the kitchen floor, clean the bathrooms). I cross out those—they’re definitely not mood-lifters!

Soon, my mind shifts from chores to daydreaming about what would be fun to do. A fresh little breeze of possibilities stirs. I begin a new list.

For years, I’ve recalibrated my priorities by regularly asking myself: Am I living the life I want to lead? How can I tinker with my free time or refocus my efforts to be sure my work and family commitments are satisfying?

I’m taking a new tack and moving forward again.

Traveling with Hispanics

Guatemala City, Guatemala. Heading home with Juan Jose’.

It started when Juan was eight months old. I was sure that at any moment, gun wielding policemen would climb aboard the airplane and snatch our baby from Jody’s arms. We were on the flight home from Guatemala. Everyone on the plane could tell Juan wasn’t our baby. We were white and he was brown. I was in terror that Juan could be taken away from us, even though he was legally ours.

This fear has continued, though it hasn’t stopped our family from traveling. Internationally, we have traveled four times to Guatemala and once to Mexico. In a week, we will be boarding a plane for our third trip to Florida.

Peten, Guatemala Juan Jose’ age 7

The fear starts about the time we book our flights, whether international or domestic. I start thinking of all the documents to bring: passports, adoption paperwork, name change documents, birth certificates, citizenship papers, and photos of us as a family. All the paperwork that will prove that Juan and Crystel are our children.

We have not been questioned or stopped at airport security. That hasn’t ended my heart from beating furiously as our passports are studied, then we’re looked over, and finally the returned gaze back to our passports.

Cozumel, Mexico Crystel age 10

Even Juan and Crystel have questioned their citizenship. The first time they asked, I was driving them home from grade school. “Are we citizens?” Crystel asked casually. She is usually the one who brings these types of things up. Juan just sits quietly next to her, listening intently all the same. Once we were home, I opened our lock box. Showed them their Certificate of Citizenship documents and the welcome letter from President Bush. I described to them how I had laid out a train of documents on the floor, ten in all, sent them in, to make sure that they would receive their citizenship.

Even though we’ve been on 7 flights, I’m still afraid. My latest fear is that Juan and Crystel could be separated from us and questioned. That would be traumatic for them. For all of us. And, isn’t it our job as parents to raise our kids with the least trauma possible?

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala Crystel Age 11

I was thinking about this with our upcoming flight to Florida. It came to me that there are two additional things that I could do. I could apply for TSA precheck and Global entry. That would be proof to security that Juan and Crystel have already been vetted and have proved their citizenship. I immediately applied online, received our appointments, and took them out of school to meet with the agency. As of this writing, I’ve been approved. Juan and Crystel have not yet even though we applied at the same time and were at the same appointment. Jody has been approved even though she filed several days after us.

Florida, Age 3

When the renewal comes up in 5 years, I hope that we can simply complete a renewal form and pay a fee.

I finished applying for Global entry for us this morning.

I don’t ever think that it will be easy for Juan and Crystel to travel our world for the simple reason that they are Hispanic. As their parent, I’ll do what I can for as long as I can to make it not traumatic. That’s my job.

The Secret Life of Jewelry

Every morning, I indulge in a small ritual—choosing what jewelry to wear. What I reach for depends on my mood and what clothes I’m wearing. It’s an expression of my taste. But I’m also choosing talismans. The pieces I wear don’t offer magical protection, exactly, but they do offer a tiny bit of power—to keep people close to me.

Many of the earrings, rings, and necklaces I have were gifts. Slipping them on reminds me that I’m loved. Or if I wear something that belonged to my mother, grandmothers or aunts, I am drawing on memories of them to give me strength.

I’m not alone in assigning secret meanings to my jewelry.

When I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Jewelry exhibit in London last fall, I learned that since ancient times, whether jewelry was made from bones and shells or wrought from gold and precious gems, it has had meanings that go beyond adornment and self-expression.

Seringapatam Jewels at the Victoria and Albert Museum in England.

Often the additional meanings are obvious—to show status and wealth (crown jewels), to express love and affection (wedding bands), as a sign of faith (the cross for Christians and the Star of David for Jews). Jewelry is also worn for protection or in remembrance.

The ancients thought certain stones and gems protected the wearer from illness and evil spirits. For example, rubies are supposed to confer health, strength and fearlessness. I didn’t know that when I chose a wedding band with rubies in it. I just liked rubies—I wasn’t hoping to feel more powerful.

Wearing jewelry as keepsakes is the meaning I most relate to.

After my mother died, I began to wear her wedding band on a chain as a way to keep her close. Not every day, but more intentionally, when I specifically want to think of her.

The opal ring my husband gave me, when I was depressed about turning 60, reminds me of his enduring love and how well he understands me.

An inexpensive craft fair ring with chips of peridot and garnet in it reminds me of my father and a sunny day when I visited Dad and Mom in Florida. Their health was still good and we were carefree.

The oval garnet ring my sister gave me when I became a mother brings to mind our strong bond.

garnet

So many of the pieces I love and wear often—the bracelet my sister-in-law made for me, the necklaces a friend has sent me over the years, and the earrings my sons have given me—remind me of some of the special people in my life. Wearing these gifts is a secret source of joy.

3 gifts

 

Spending Time with Teens

Juan and Crystel

Juan and Crystel

I’ll tell you right up front that this is a feel-good blog about teens. Stop reading right now if you think that all teens are sneaky, up to no good, and downright horrible. That’s not been my experience.

A teenager dog-sat and house-sat for us this past President’s weekend. The same teen we handed our house keys over to last year when we left for a ten day stay in Guatemala. It was the summer before his senior year in high school. We came home to a note on the counter and the house as clean as we left it. Our dogs were walked and run. Our cats fed.

Jody and I spent President’s weekend with 4 teens. We promised our daughter a cross country skiing weekend for her birthday. Juan, Crystel and two of her friends came. I thought this might be a long weekend, one that you just try to get through. It was a long weekend and I genuinely enjoyed being with them. Lights were out at 11 pm and the teens were up at 8 am to start the day. Of course, we used some of the same techniques that Jody and I used when Juan and Crystel were little. Such as, “We’ll see you at breakfast.” Knowing that if the teens wanted to eat, that we would see them at breakfast and that if they didn’t want to eat we wouldn’t. Juan missed one morning.

Photo taken by Jody

photo by Jody

The skiing conditions in Tofte, MN were satisfactory. As soon as the teens had their skis on they disappeared so quickly that I wasn’t sure which direction they went. Jody and I didn’t meet up with them until we had finished skiing several hours later.

We spent a lot of time in the car. A trip on Saturday and Sunday to Tofte to ski. An extended trip to Grand Marais. A stop at Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls. Being trapped in the car with teens could have been a nightmare but wasn’t. We took turns sitting in the cramped third seat of the van. Crystel and I had a competition to see who could have a straw stuck to their lip longest. I lost. I pretended that I was at the movies with her and tried sneaking my arm around her shoulders, to no avail. When Juan wasn’t sleeping he was beating me at electronic pool.

The most memorable and fun time with the teens was at restaurants. The rule at the table was no phones.

photo taken by Crystel

photo by Crystel

There was no bickering. No poking fun at each other. Which isn’t really ever fun if you think about it. There were times I laughed until my stomach hurt.

Of course, it wasn’t all rosy. It wouldn’t be real, then. After Juan mentioned for the third time that he wanted to go home, I told him that he needed to stop. That I had heard him but that we weren’t going home until Monday. He slept a lot. The same thing I did as a teen.

The following week was a middle school dance. Neither, Juan and Crystel wanted to go. Instead, they asked to have friends over. Jody and I would be working the dance as Police Reserve Officers while they would be at home. At one point when Juan, Crystel, and their five friends were gathered together, I said that if any of them smoked marijuana they were not to do it in or outside of our house. They all looked at me like I had lost my mind.

photo by Crystel

photo by Crystel

They were gathered in the front yard when Jody and I got into our car to leave. We were in our police uniforms and would be going right to the middle school. One of them asked me why I had said that. I looked at the seven of them and told them that I was fourteen once. Juan mentioned my book, House of Fire. He knew why I knew.

I pointed two fingers at my eyes and then I waved it in a circle at all of them.

“I’m watching you,” I said. “I’m watching all of you.”

Jody and I then left to watch someone else’s kids at the middle school dance.

It occurred to me as we drove away that I was making good at my spoken and unspoken promise to my children – That growing up, they would have a different life than mine. Both of them are 14. Their life is so very very different. I’m proud of that.

Gaining Ground

“Feel the Earth beneath you. Draw on the Earth’s energy,” my Yin Yoga instructor often says during the opening meditation. I rarely think about the Earth this way. The Earth is something we walk on, build houses on, and drive cars over. Usually it feels inert. However, my perception of the Earth changed after I visited the big island of Hawai’i.

On the Hilo side of the Big Island, rain forts have overtaken the lava fields.

On the Hilo side of the Big Island, rainforests have overtaken the lava fields.

On the eastern and southern sides of the island, vast lava fields stretch to the horizon. The lava is crumbly, dark brown, and in some places, swaths of it intersperse grassy plains. To my Midwesterner’s eye, it resembled freshly plowed fields—as if some farmer had run amok turning over the soil. Up close, the lava looks like cindery gravel and boulders.

Lava filed on the Kona side of Hawaii.

Lava field on the Kona side of Hawai’i

I am fascinated by this enduring, unyielding evidence of Earth’s energy and power. The Earth erupted dozens, hundreds, or thousands of years ago, depending what part of the plain you’re viewing. Lava flowed down the side of the mountain to the sea. Where it flowed quickly, tumbling over itself, it looks crumbly like crunched up Oreos (a’a lava). Where it flowed more slowly, the lava lapped into thick swirls that resembles the crust of unfrosted brownies (pahoehoe lava).

On the Kona side, a’a lava (like crunched up Oreos) overlaps pahoehoe lava (resemble the crust of unfrosted brownies).

On the Kona side, a’a lava (like crunched up Oreos) overlaps pahoehoe lava (resembling the crust of unfrosted brownies).

Though it’s easy for me to forget it or ignore it, the Earth is still volatile. Today, lava is erupting from the summit of the Kīlauea Volcano in the center of the island and flowing south from the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent to the ocean. As the lava cools and hardens, it makes new rock, essentially forming brand new ground. Because of the Earth’s incredible energy and force, the island is expanding, gaining ground—hardly inert.

Lava spouting from a crater in Volcano National park

Lava spouting from a crater in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

But it’s not the explosive force of molten magma I think of in yoga class. Sitting squarely on my mat in the Midwest, thousands of miles from the Hawaiian volcanoes, I now picture Earth’s energy humming beneath me. The energy that both destroys and creates. I visualize sending my irritations and fears down into the Earth to be burned away. Or drawing on the Earth’s creative force to energize me. I have gained a new connection to the Earth.