The Diner at the End of the Pier

So fellow travelers, traveling solo there are moments when the reality of being alone washes over you.  Eating in restaurants as a single patron is one of those times, so finding a spot with a welcoming vibe is a blessing.

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Eggs on toast done right

Comforts of home with a view

Diners are a gift.

 

Nothing feels like “home” more than a good diner. To find one at the beginning of my week was a good omen. Oh and I kid you not,my waiter’s name was Jesus.

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

 

The Fan with the Switchfoot Sneakers

We play music because we love it, but we also play music because we want to see things change… within ourselves and in the world around us. These are songs of hope and new beginnings, and we’re always trying to get better at living that out.” Tim Foreman Stories Behind the Songs: Vessel Bags Interview April 14, 2016

So fellow travelers, those moments when a new acquaintance says or does something and you both feel the “click” of Inner Spirits connecting and you know you have found another member of your tribe.

Linda V. fellow Friend of the Foot taking in the ocean view

I have written about them before and I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be writing about them again. Of all the bright, fun filled experiences in Oceanside, it was the always the moments of personal connection which brought the most joy.

Not long ago, when reflecting on the changes retirement and relocation will bring, I realized how much farther I would be traveling to get to family events or periodic gatherings with my creative tribemates and how much I would miss my phenomenal support team of friends at work

37630Toasting the last day of the year (the mugs say it all)

At every event during the Switchfoot Getaway I found connections and made new friends. Whether we were surfing, sharing meals or participating in a service project, over and over again the theme of community emerged. We extended beyond fellow fans and grew into a family.

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All photos courtesy of Switchfoot Getaway2018*

At the registration photo op** with the band, when they commented on my “cool” sneakers and I mentioned I wore them because I thought they looked like “Switchfoot sneakers” to me, it was a remarkable moment to connect and tell each of them how significant their music has been while I walk this path of seeking Light.

And the week was only just getting started~

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

*Photos from various events are provided by the Switchfoot Getaway 2018 team and used with permission.

** When I first saw my band photo, I was surprised I don’t seem to be smiling.  On closer inspection I saw it actually captures the look I get when I hold my breath as I feel a wave of absolute joy washing over me. It happened several times a day on this trip.

Coasting

So fellow travelers, grab some sunscreen and a towel, we are going to the beach!

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There is something sacred embedded in that moment of catching a first glimpse of the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.  This time, that first glimpse came while riding the Coaster, a local train which runs between San Diego and Oceanside. The train is a local icon; numerous residents I met spoke of how much their kids/grandkids loved to ride it. Jon Foreman has song in his repertoire called Southbound Train, it ran as a continuous loop in my head while I took in the scenery up to Oceanside.

Those moments of sacred connection would manifest in unexpected ways through my week on the coast.

 

Blessings and grace beyond anything I could have anticipated or dared to expect.

Bookends

So fellow travelers, today marks the start of a new solar year in this grand adventure of life. Reflecting on the bookends of the first and last days

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Team Fairbanks-Rahalski at the summit of Pinnacle Peak Trail in Rainier National Park

I can see the origami of insights and growth created by the challenges weathered in-between two foundations: friends and family. As I embark fullspeed into the coming years of this sixth decade of solar returns I have my sights set on the adventures made possible by that foundation.

The road we travel

is made lighter by the Love

carried in our hearts

To all the beautiful points of Light in my community of family and friends here is a heartfelt haiku of gratitude for the love and support which has and will continue to bless my journey. You are the best gift anyone could ever receive.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

Fading West*

So fellow travelers, a friend who reads my blog posts commented on the line I used at the end of a recent entry. Their point was well taken.

“Nothing in (my) life would ever be the same” is indeed a rather sweeping claim. Being aware of the hyperbolic aura it casts, I did not use it lightly. In fact I rewrote, deleted and retyped it several times, eventually coming to the conclusion it accurately reflected the impact of the week I spent in California.

Since writing is how I process my experiences, I am sometimes bound by self-inflicted parameters. An example of this is the prolonged stretch (five weeks, the longest gap since I began the blog in August of 2013) in my posts between the Verdi Requiem weekend and my current series of posts. When I returned home from that regenerative time with friends, I walked back into a malestorm of situations at work which rapidly escalated and deteriorated. It took every ounce of energy to stay focused, professional and compassionate. At day’s end I literally had enough left in me to walk our dog, eat a decent meal and tend to a handful of chores around the house, pond or garden before collapsing into bed.

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On weekends, my work at the dog rescue where I volunteer became my therapy; making a difference in one arena compensated somewhat for the frustration of not being able to get responses at work.  The affection and acceptance of these dogs who had been through so much in their quest to simply find a home where they would be loved became a beacon of Light and hope in a time of tremendous frustration. The sincere gratitude of the rescue staff for every hour I could contribute was a reminder that what I was able to do mattered, whether it was answering phones, cleaning crates, folding laundry or taking a challenged dog on a long respite walk.

Every Sunday morning I would rise early and write for a few hours but due to the confidential nature of my position (I work as a special education assistant in our local high school) what I wrote could not be posted. That I wrote at all came from the advice of several of my creative tribemates.  “Write,” they said “whether you can publish it or not, write for your own sake. Eventually you will find a way to share what you need to say.” I stopped worrying about the extended gap in the published blog posts.

 

So I wrote and walked dogs and got through the weeks, day by day and I focused on what became an even bigger adventure than going to Switchfoot’s 14th Bro-AM concert at Moonlight Beach. I signed up to spend four days with the guys who created the music which had kept me going for so long so I could thank them in person.

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

*The title FADING WEST is a reference both to the direction I traveled for my great adventure and a movie/music project the band undertook during their 2012 world tour. You can watch the trailer for the film, released in 2013  at this link .

 

Listen

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout. Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks*!” King Lear Act 3 Scene 2 

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So fellow travelers, like many of my creative tribemates I write to process my experiences.  Yet, sometimes our experiences overwhelm our capacity to express what we feel.  Raging storms of emotions inundate the landmarks which guide us on our journey; chaos threatens to consume the weathervane* compass points we rely on to help us find our way.  If we cannot find ways to express what we feel, we will drown in our emotions or, worse yet, become so numb we move through life like the walking dead.

In those times, music and art can become the life lines which guide us back. This is the backstory of how I found the music which kept me afloat when swells of chaos and confusion threatened to engulf me and pull me under.

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When Favorite Oldest Daughter was a teenager, she used to make me playlists of music. This being back in the times before kids were perpetually hooked into their earbuds I could actually hear what she was listening to when she worked on the desktop computer in the family room. When there was a song she listened to often I would ask her to put it on one of the CDs she made for me. This is how I first heard the song 24 written by Jon Foreman**.

To this day the song moves me to tears; they maybe tears of loss, regret, confusion, relief, or happiness, yet most often they are tears of deep abiding gratitude.

When I listen to Jon’s music, whether it is from one of Switchfoot’s ten albums or a solo project like Wonderlands which created the 25in24 project no matter what state I am in, the emotion which inevitably rises to the surface is gratitude. Gratitude for glimmers of hope in times of doubt, for grace in times of failing, for healing in times of suffering even for humor to wake me from the hell of taking everything including myself far too seriously.

For over a decade now this music has been a Presence on my journey. At first a background harmony, then after my first Switchfoot concert experience (NYState Fair Chevy Court, August 23, 2009) a balance point during unsettled times and finally, in the past four years, a life raft carrying me through the tsunami of changes happening in and around me.

Since my first live experience in 2009 I have felt these musicans are more than a band and I have gone to as many shows as possible which came within a days driving distance. I have done meet and greet sessions with the band and Jon (who does tours of his solo projects) not because I am star struck but to have an opportunity to thank them for the gift of their songs, for being the ones who put words and rhythm and harmonies to the emotions I felt so deeply yet did not understand or could not find ways to express.

But there was one live experience I knew of, which I had not found a way to get to,

yet

so, when the chaos at work began to escalate and I needed set a Light to reach for I put a plan in place find my way to Bro-Am 2018

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(to be continued)

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

**listen to 24 by Jon Foreman on Switchfoot’s 4th album The Beautiful Letdown here

Push to the Finish Line

So fellow travelers, returning home from the Verdi road trip I received an enthusiastic greeting from my devoted trail companion Ms Delilah

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Granted I am blessed to be greeted in a similar manner when I come in from a trip to the grocery store. A greeting shorter in duration with less yapping perhaps, but just as effective at refueling my heart with the glow of unconditional love dogs radiate into our lives.

Delilah has been a placeholder for love and acceptance through the recent challenges of my journey. Whether I  arrived home and immediately grabbed a leash to head for a mind clearing walk or collapsed on the couch under the weight of incomprehensible stress, Delilah followed the cues. She even learned to gently nudge me awake so those naps did not stretch out to interfere with deeper sleep I would need later.

Because of the confidential nature of my work with special ed. students at our local high school it is not possible for me (at least not at this time) to detail the specifics of what our team was dealing with.  Suffice to say, there were connected situations which had been evolving for two years which had reached a point of tremendous concern for the team I was on.  What was most disconcerting was the struggle we faced trying to have those concerns heard by people in a position to address the issues. In my nineteen years working with students of diverse needs and abilities from elementary through high school I had never experienced anything like what we were being asked to tolerate as acceptable for our students as well as our teaching team and support staff.

20180626_131101Mural in Artists Alley Oceanside CA

I found myself asking  how long does one remain in a setting where it no longer seems possible to make a difference?

When you follow every protocol and send clear, well documented reports that help is needed and the response is dismissive, when you hear the policy statements about the importance of mental health but see nothing done when a crisis point is reached repeatedly, when you hear and are told to teach the message “if you see something, say something,” and you do say something, day after day, but it results in no actions, how long beyond these tipping points do you stay?

Reaching the end of the year, feeling discouraged and depleted I knew leaving my position now (which I could easily do by retiring a year ahead of schedule with minimal financial impact) would feel more like quitting than “retiring early.” I am many things, but I am not a quitter. I was mindful too of the impact leaving would have on my co-workers, many of whom I am grateful to also call my friends.

Through all of these challenges, there has been a soundtrack playing which kept me going even when I was sure I could not face another day of chaos. It is a soundtrack filled with songs of the restless quest for meaning, of reaching for hope in the face of doubt and a search for light when plunged into darkness. So two days after dragging myself across the finish line of unresolved dilemmas, I headed West to spend some time with the band who writes those songs.

Nothing in my life would ever be the same.

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Make a Joyful Noise

So fellow travelers, navigating major highways in heavy rain requires a kind of intense focus which you don’t realize is exhausting until you arrive at your destination.

It’s an apt metaphor for the level of focus and energy my job has required for several weeks now. Often at the end of the day I arrive home so thoroughly spent, a nap is required to take Delilah out for our afternoon walk. Bless her sweet soul, she has learned to be patient, curling up on the couch with me. She even developed the habit of gently nudging me awake after about half an hour which is about the longest I allow myself to rest so I won’t be up too late that night. When I wake, no matter how tired I still feel, we leash up and head out, whether on a brief patrol of the neighboring streets or a longer hike of a nearby trail to scout for birds (me) and woodland critters (Delilah) these walks help me hit the reset button. A sudden scattering of light through newly leafed trees, the bright call of a warbler, a sight of an osprey gliding high overhead on a lakeside trail, auditory and visual moments of joy and wonder. They serve as reminders that the failings of the educational system are not the be all and end all of my purpose.

As I drove through the rain I let a whirlwind of thoughts rattle around in my brain like raw stones in a tumbler, hoping some gems of wisdom or at least chips of sparkling insight might emerge.

They didn’t.

The drive took a bit longer than anticipated; I had just enough time to check in at my Air B&B, change for the concert and head to the venue where I found two of my friends had graciously saved me a seat. My mind was still a swirl of contradictory lines of thought so it was just as well we did not have much time to chat before the first somber measures of Verdi’s masterpiece drifted over us.

Choral music is rarely my first choice for musical repose, even when I am inclined to listen to classical music, which I do fairly often. Yet I have thoroughly enjoyed every concert I have had the good fortune to hear our friends perform in. This performance was a rare opportunity to see all three friends singing together. One sporano, one tenor and one alto tucked among over two hundred members of four diverse community choral groups, accompanied by talented student and long term musicians of the Putney Orchestra under the superb direction of Maestro Cailin Marcel Manson.  (rehearsal photo courtesy of The Keene Chorale.)

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Seated just a few rows back on the ground level of Bennington College Greenwall Auditorium, we had a close-up view of all four star soloists. Cailin’s emotive movements did not “conduct” so much a conjure a vortex seeming to suspend the reality of space and time. Transfixed, we who listened were drawn into the swells of despair and hope as the music poured into every fiber of our presence. We felt the wrenching sorrow of Verdi’s grief, terror of final judgement and healing angelic blessing of grace as the words and music wound through the text of the Catholic Funeral Mass on which he based this tribute to his friend, Alessandro Manzoni, a much loved and publically revered writer of the time.

How significant to realize friendships had brought me to this moment even as friendship had driven a creative force so powerful and moving it was impossible to experience without feeling the Divine Presence behind Creation itself. I know I felt Grace and Healing completely enfold not only my own weary spirit but the entire performing space and every soul within it. Music affects me deeply, but rarely as profoundly as this performance. One week later I sense I am still absorbing the impact. My dreams have been intense and vivid, my sleep deeper and more restful than it has been in months and the fallout from continued chaos at work has rolled off my consciousness like wax dripping down the side of candles on an altar.

To remain under the grace of this experience for whatever time I am granted I remain profundly grateful for Verdi’s gift born from profund loss. I wish him Lux Eterna.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Distant Light

So fellow travelers, much of what has come when writing has been a litany of complaints.

Cold, wet weather. Heavy grey skies. A dismal monotony of ongoing stress. Nothing to post because doing so would validate the dreadful waste of precious time my days at work have become.

Being required to attend yet do nothing while madness takes hold is proving to be almost beyond my capacity to maintain balance. We thought we had seen the pinnacle of senselessness last year; little did we know the demands yet to come.

 

There is light in the distance

So you just keep pushing towards it

One step at a time

I found this photo I took on New Years Day. It feels as if we have endured years rather than months since that moment.

Then, today for the first time in months, I ate dinner sitting by my pond as the setting sun tinted the sky with warm shades of rose gold.

A few fat bumblebees danced between clusters of just bloomed dandelions and violets.

Returning migrants sang from budding trees.

Joy, like Spring, too long delayed rose with their chatter.

An early evening star appeared, offering a promise to hold a born of sincere gratitude.

Grace to see this journey through to the end.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Art Class

So fellow travelers, making space in my days for creative time has become an essential element in my practice of stress management.

There are other aspects in my plan including trail walks (weather permitting, which it has not for far too long into what should be Spring), yoga, meditation, and periodic end of the week debriefings (aka happy hour) with friends and colleagues. Never under estimate the therapeutic effect of venting and laughter over a good glass of wine.

Up to a point these have kept the impact of stress at a manageable level. I certainly am in a better state than I was this time last year. It’s in my overall lack of energy where the impact is most noticeable. With the school year three quarters done, I’m feeling like a marathon runner who’s hit the wall * at the 19th mile. I am banking on spring break next week to help me refuel and hit the reset button so I can cross the finish line mentally and physically intact. “Nine weeks to go, we can do this,” my teammates and I coach ourselves through the cycle of repetitive issues each day.

To push myself out of the motivational doldrums of this seemingly endless winter (indeed it is snowing again as I write this on April 19th) I signed up for an art class at our local Adult Education Center. It was listed as a multi-media painting class, but has turned out to be exclusively focused on watercolors. The error was I believe a bit of Divine Intervention intended to nudge me out of my creative funk because had I known it was a watercolor class I doubt I would have signed up for it; watercolors are a medium I struggle with and I have resisted taking on their elusive techniques for years. The instructor is a witty woman with a sharp eye and charming Germanic accent. My brain tried to tell me more frustration is the last thing I need right now, yet the focused, humorous directives delivered in the soothing rhythms of her gentle voice have drawn me into this challenge.  Besides, it is warm and dry in the classroom where we meet. Absent the opportunity to be inspired by chance moments on the trails I would usually be hiking this time of year I’m grateful to find joy in the small triumphs of mastering simple tasks with a challenging medium.

Art class

Feeling color
Hearing space
Tasting light
Smelling paint which
Touches my soul

 

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

 

*the term hitting the wall refers to a point when runners deplete their bodys supply of glycogen, a carb stored in muscles and the liver, resulting in fatigue. The brain kicks into self preservation mode and wants to shut down. It requires tremendous mental resilience to push past this point and continue on to the finish line.

Nine weeks to go.