Monday, July 8, 2019

Healing in Hawaii

Last night we were sitting on a lanai with more than a dozen other people who were singing and playing guitars, a bass, keyboards, harmonica, percussion, a banjo and the humble ukulele (me). It was a gentle, rainy Hawaii evening. Dave and I gave each other that look--you know, the one that says "wow, this is a great moment."

This moment is pretty special, too. I'm writing in the living room. Dave is reading a book, and the dog, Snickers, is snoozing. Out the window I see bright green lawn, trees shimmying in the breeze, and a gray-blue sea rimmed by a line of white foam.

View from our home for 4 months.
Each moment matters. I'm especially feeling that these days, having come out of a dark place in my mind. When I was told I don't have cancer--after having been told I did--I was ecstatic, of course. But dealing with the after-effects of thyroid surgery was rough. For weeks, it felt like someone was strangling me and rocks were lodged in my throat. I couldn't project my voice or sing. Strange numb and tingly sensations erupted in my feet and thighs.

I didn't know if my body was merely healing and adjusting to synthetic hormone replacement or if something was going wrong. My mind kept weaving stories: Your voice will never return. You might have to have another surgery if your scar is affixing. Your throat will never feel normal again.

I was also struggling with the idea that I'd have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life. But soon I realized it was my ego that was pissed off. It didn't want to identify as a person reliant on a pharmaceutical. My identity as independent and free and not a pawn to Big Pharma was threatened.

I had to laugh. Okay, universe, another lesson about not freaking out about change, I get it. And that lesson was hammered home when we arrived in Hawaii for our four-month houessit. The homeowner, the woman who picked us up at the airport (and along with her husband, draped fragrant leis around our necks) had the telltale throat scar. So small she had to point it out. Her cancerous thyroid had been removed years ago. She is one among several people I know who've taken this tiny pill for decades.

The thyroid is shaped like a butterfly...
a friend gave me this gorgeous scarf before my surgery.
Also, I was able to connect with a number of women who've undergone this surgery and learned that my physical sensations were pretty normal. These conversations helped put things in perspective. I was lucky to avoid cancer treatments that sometimes resulted in an array of troubling side-effects.

My ego had let go of the pill thing but was now clinging to the idea that I was supposed to be a fast healer. When I really listened to my body, it was telling me to take long baths and naps, massage the scar lightly, breathe deeply, stretch a little, take gentle walks, read good books, and watch funny videos. And now two months out from surgery, my throat is slowly improving.

Our bodies teach us a lot.

In the past year or two, my body has been telling me--shouting at me--to nourish it well. I wasn't listening. After finding a golf-ball sized mass on my thyroid, my doctor told me to stop eating dairy. I have always loved all things milky and cheesy--but the minute he said it, something clicked in me. My intuition told me he was right. When I got home, I pulled the half-and-half and cheese from the fridge and gave it to a neighbor.

Three months later, I have done a lot of research (like this book and this book and this book and this film and this film and this website).

It's fun to cook again! 
There is ample evidence that eating primarily plant-based whole food bolsters immunity--and helps us avoid (and sometimes cure) many chronic illnesses. And damn, it sure makes me feel great! In just a few months of eating this way (fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, no oil, few processed foods) Dave and I have noticed some incredible things going on with our bodies:

* More cardiovascular endurance
* Weight loss
* Waking up feeling alert and well-rested
* Bowel regularity (and then some!)
* Significant reduction in heartburn/acid reflux 
* Fewer aches and pains/less joint stiffness
* Clearer skin
* Less plaque build-up on our teeth and better breath
* More evenness/emotional balance--less likely to be "hangry"
* Fewer food cravings
* Sharper sense of smell and taste
* Dave's sinuses are clearer, and his persistent toe fungus is healing

We had thought that getting weaker and gaining a few pounds was an inevitable part of growing older, and while that may be true to some degree, clearly nutrition is significant. We both breathe more easily while exercising--and on our recent walks we have been jogging a bit. I used to love running but assumed I just couldn't do it anymore in my fifties. I am already dreaming about doing 5Ks and 10Ks again. Even though I am still recovering from surgery, I feel stronger than I have in years.

blueberry torte: no oil, flour, processed sugar...pure delish
Another benefit is that I am enjoying cooking! At times it used to feel like a chore. I was stuck in a food rut, bored with my eating habits. Now we are enjoying more tasty variety. When I'm cooking I feel I'm channeling my inner curandera who heals through food, herbs, and spices. Food is supposed to make you feel good. And it's nice when the process of making it does, too.

Bananas galore
Just as we are focusing on eating primarily whole fresh fruits and vegetables, we are plopped into this housesit on a property where we can pick papayas, mangoes, pineapples and bananas and pull veggies from a thriving garden.

salad days
We are also exploring. While we've spent time on the big island of Hawaii in the past, we'd not seen much of this southern area. It's beautiful, peaceful, and isolated.

Volcano National Park

At the southernmost tip of the U.S. with Snickers, our roomie.

King Kamehameha festivities in Hilo

green sea turtle at the black sand beach
We are just one month into this four-month houessit. It's sweet to settle into the domestic rhythms of cooking, gardening and animal care--and to enjoy the musical neighbors. I'm grateful to have the time to focus on healing and writing. To soak in each moment I am given. Life has given me a lot of material. It's time to weave a book.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Holiday Living

Playa de San Pedrito, my favorite walking spot

We have landed back at our casita in Baja California Sur, Mexico after six months away. Friends here ask, "How was your vacation?" They see us as having come back home. It feels more and more that way to me, too.

Yet "vacation" is such an odd word. We don't vacation, we live a traveling life. Life-as-vacation has a nice ring to it. If life is short, why not make it a holiday? The word "holiday" comes from "holy day." So perhaps living with a vacation mindset--alive, fresh, and new--makes every day holy.

I started thinking about life in this way years ago, when I was still teaching. My New Year's resolution seven years ago was to do something new every day. New route, new conversation, new food, new book, new teaching approach...anything big or small, didn't matter. When you travel, everything is new. So living that way in my own town made me feel like I was on vacation. I now see that experiment as a seed planted that blossomed into this very life Dave and I live today.

Not to say it's all-paradise-all-the-time. No matter how you live life, there are bumps in the road. But when you're living how you really want to, the bumps can be easier to navigate. We had both been struggling a bit our last few weeks in Australia--getting over colds and dealing with bizarre weather like hot wind that set my skin on edge--that landing in California felt extra sweet.

Each time we come through California we face an ever-dwindling but persistent pile of things at our friend Mark's house. Dave decided it was finally the moment to divest himself of all of his Silicon Valley work clothes. He donated them to a men's shelter, which will use them when they send men out on job interviews. One man's ending, another's beginning. 

And then there were our beloved bikes that we'd ridden many miles along the ocean cliffs in Santa Cruz, and taken on a ski lift in Big Bear to ride down the fire roads, and ridden up a mountain in Zion National Park to watch the sunrise, and cruised around Portland. These were not the right bikes for what to do with them? That thought was on our mind when we went to visit our friends Debbianne and Tony, who happened to mention they wanted to buy bikes for the great trails of their new hometown. Dave and I looked at each other and blurted out, "We have bikes for you!" I love knowing our lives are entwined through those bikes.

Hanging out with Debbie and Tony in Monterey
This was part of a flow of giving and receiving: When a friend discovered we were renting a car, she loaned us her extra one. We gave our snow tires to a stranger. An old friend gave us free passes to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I gave a friend feedback on his poems. And another invited me to a concert because she had an extra ticket. This movement feels like breathing, like waves. It seems related to all the strangers who let us stay in their beautiful homes in exchange for caring for their pets. In fact, we did a housesit in the Bay Area, in Walnut Creek where we enjoyed a darling golden retriever (and I got a lot of editing work done).

Button and Jasper
Turned out, around this time our first great-niece was being christened, so we were able to meet her and hang out with Dave's family. 

Dave, brother Milt, Milt's son James (holding Madeline), sister Sue
And then, at the housesit, we found a book about the history of the area. We opened it up to a page that featured Dave's great-grandfather! 

For years Dave had told me that his ancestors co-founded a Bay Area town, which by toss of a coin was named Clayton rather than Rhinesville. So we drove over there and walked into the museum. The place was filled with people chatting, holding tea cups, and snacking on cookies. Turned out an event was going on called the Camelia Tea. When Dave revealed his last name, people went crazy like he was a celebrity. The beautiful old home is filled with pictures and artifacts of his ancestors. It's mind-blowing to think how his family coming from Germany (among the first Jewish settlers in the area) led to a moment where we held his great-niece in our arms.

We also spent time with my family and were able to celebrate my niece Hailey's 18th birthday at a restaurant in Pleasanton. After our meal, she hopped onto a red-eye to NYC, where she hung out with friends she'd met last summer in Bali (where she'd traveled and done community service). Yes, my niece has a desire to see the world, too, and I couldn't be prouder of what a wonderful human being she is.
Evan (20), sister Crystal, Hailey (18), auntie Kate, Jenna  (16)
And lucky us, we got to care for a furry family member, my sister's dog Coco, for a week. I mean, really, she's as adorable as they get. 

Coco came with me to visit my friend Candice and her dog Darcy.
And then there are friends that feel like family...many of whom we were blessed to see.

Tung, Luc & Daisy. 

Mark, Jackie & Todd

Paul, in town for work, came by.

I also got some power-women time, including a hike, concert, dancing, meals, and attending my friend Laurie's spiritual center to listen to her sing in the choir.

In Santa Cruz with Stacey & Laurie & Junebug
That's another thing about this lifestyle: We don't stay in one place so we can't take for granted our time there. Our connections with people, our explorations, are all imbued with a sense of the reality of passing time. The holiday of life.

Yes, these are holy days.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Life in Australia (and Nusa Lembongan)

It’s supposed to be summer here in Oz but today it’s rainy and cold, as it has been a lot since we arrived three weeks ago. Our first few days we spent in Melbourne with our friend Romi (whom we met in Thailand at the writing retreat). What a great city—lively street cafĂ© culture, beautiful waterfront, incredible food—but I had a hard time enjoying it because of a bad cold. 
Now I am enjoying feeling well at our housesit in Ballarat, a small town two hours northwest of Melbourne. We took a train to get here, watching vast open spaces speed by, meadows and hills with oak trees reminiscent of Northern California.
For Australians, this cold weather is unseasonal. They associate Christmas with blue skies and barbecue. I kind of like December to be snuggly, so it’s fine with me. 
downtown Ballarat

We’ve been reading a lot. While I was laughing and getting teary over Michelle Obama’s memoir, Dave was doing the same with 84 Charing Cross Road. We’ve now switched books and are talking about them as we go. We’ve been logging three or four books a week, pulled from the house shelves, downloaded from the Kindle, or bought at one of the many “Op Shops,” second-hand stores that provide “opportunities” for people who need jobs.

Lake Wendouree
We have gone to the movies and also spent a day driving up into the foothills to a place famous for mineral baths. We spent two hours in the Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa, soaking in the various pools and steam rooms. And every day, rain or shine, we walk the dog—most often to Lake Wendouree, the jewel of this town, four miles in circumference and inhabited by thousands of birds: black swans and their downy cygnets, sacred ibises, kookaburras, all kinds of coots and ducks, and little songbirds. Dave has taken lots of great pictures, and we read about the birds in Liz’s (the homeowner’s) Reader’s Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds.
Gem is the dog in our care, and she is perfection, a papillon mix who barely makes a peep, follows me everywhere, loves to cuddle and play with her toys—and basically is pure love. We agree she is among our favorite pups we’ve cared for in our years of housesitting. 
Gem: a perfect name for her.
We did some tallying and discovered that in this time we’ve cared for 22 dogs:

·       6 golden retrievers

·       1 pug

·       1 bulldog

·       2 chihuahuas

·       2 pit bulls

·       1 cocker spaniel

·       3 poodle mixes

·       The rest Heinz 57
We’ve also cared for 7 cats and numerous birds, fowl, and rabbits. This has been the result of 21 housesits, 10 of which came through websites (mostly Trusted Housesitters) and the rest through friends or referrals.

In the 5 ½ years since we dropped jobs and home for this nomadic adventure, we have basically lived the equivalent of:

·       1 year in China

·       1 year with friends

·       1 ½ years of housesitting

·       1 year in our house in Mexico (spread out over the course of 3 visits)

·       1 year in Airbnbs, hotels, etc.
Our most recent hotel stay was between our housesit in Malaysia and Australia: a few weeks in Nusa Lembongan, an island off Bali. For about $25/day we stayed in a small resort with a pool right on the beach. Nothing fancy, but very easy. A dive shop was on the premises, which Dave took advantage of, diving with manta rays and other beautiful creatures. He was heartened to see so much healthy coral.

I took a lot of yoga classes, and we explored the island on a motor scooter, including taking a bridge to nearby Nusa Ceningan, which has stunning views of the transparently clear waters. Yes, the whole experience is as laid-back-heavenly as it sounds. Our friends Susanna and Doug, whom we’d met in Mexico, came to hang out with us for a few days; we snorkeled, got 7-dollar massages, and enjoyed sunset and dinner each night.
snorkel boat

amazing every night
As I write this, I’m stunned that Lembongan was just a month ago. There is so much change and movement in our lives that time kind of loses its meaning. “What day is today?” one of us will ask the other. Often. 
This housesit ends January 2. Usually with just a couple of weeks to go, we know we were are headed. But right now, we don’t. We have a few irons in the fire but nothing has been confirmed so we are in limbo. I have been obsessively checking my email for news. 
But then I remind myself that “waiting” equates with thinking some other time is better than now. Now is pretty damn good. We are healthy; as I am writing, Dave squeezes fresh orange juice in the kitchen, and Gem snuggles against my foot. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Paradise Has Bugs

We are living in a penthouse in Penang, Malaysia, overlooking the sea. The living room's sliding glass wall opens up to the sky. 

living room view
We can see birds floating by below us.

Oh, and it's possible to get attacked by an acid-spewing insect called a rove beetle that scorches human skin. 

"I got burned on my testicles," casually said Ralph, the homeowner, from the paradise of his balcony. We were spending a day together getting oriented before he and his wife Junnie left on vacation. 

"And my armpit," he continued. "The burn transferred to my inner arm. Lasted for weeks. So painful. If one lands on you, don't swat it. Blow on it so it will float away."
I hope this glimpse from Google is the only siting I'll have.
Okay, that wasn't in the Trusted Housesitters description. Junnie taught Dave how to spray the balcony plants to discourage the pests. And we were instructed to keep the windows closed at night, since these menaces are drawn to light.

A week later we have yet to see one. We hope to keep it that way. This morning, Oscie the dog woke us up by barfing next to the bed.
Who me?
Such is the glamour of housesitting. 

Then there's the fact that this condo is on the 28th floor. Thus the view. And the elevator. Not my favorite mode of transportation. Funny how I can travel the world virtually fear-free but I step into an elevator and it's hard to breathe.

I used to have paralyzing claustrophobia. And it seemed to be getting worse. Hypnotherapy helped a lot. So did a variety of other visualization practices. I learned that escaping uncomfortable situations makes it worse. So I've continually put myself in the backs of cars, crowded vans, middle airplane seats and the like, acclimating and calming myself with various techniques--to the point that I rarely feel claustrophobia's clench anymore. 

Except on elevators. Over the years, my avoidance method has been to take the stairs. However, 28 floors is a bit much. So being here for a month is giving me the opportunity to dust off any lingering particles of enclosure anxiety. 

This must be the wisdom of no escape these Buddhists keep talking about. 

Before Malaysia, we spent a month in Thailand, by way of a one-day stop-over in Singapore.

A bit of the Singapore we saw.
Returning to S.E. Asia hadn't been in our thoughts until we were invited to our friend Mark's 60th birthday party on Koh Phangan, an island in Thailand. We love Mark and we love that island, so we put a pin in it and other plans unfolded. 

Our first stop was Koh Samui, a Thai island a short ferry ride from Koh Phangan. We stayed on south Lamai Beach, far enough away from the throngs for privacy but close enough for easy access to cool stuff. Most days I walked down the beach then up hilly streets--past a golden temple where people prayed and a muay thai studio where people beat the shit out of each other--to an open-air yoga class. 

Lamai Beach
After yoga, I'd eat a delectable smoothie bowl, write in my journal, and read. Then I'd walk back, dipping in the ocean along the way.

Dave spent much of his time doing his advanced diving certification. He did well choosing Koh Samui. It's not a big diving destination, which meant his dives were uncrowded.

Renting a motorbike and getting around was easy. We fell in love with green coconut curry and Thai massage, especially the massage on the beach near our bungalow, overlooking Grandmother and Grandfather rocks.
Pooch near Grandmother/Grandfather rocks.
Something we saw on a bike ride.
We had guessed that after leaving Mexico, packing up in California, and flying internationally it would be a good move to rest up before Mark's party. How right we were. Mark's event had morphed into a week-long Burning Man, a 24/7 extravaganza of art, workshops, ecstatic dance, yoga, live music jam camp, thump-thump-thump electronica, and people from all over the world. 

It was the kind of you place you let your hair down and did things like posing nude with a panda head on. Four of Dave's fraternity buddies were there, so it was also a reunion of sorts.
Mark, Craig, Wade, Bill, Dave
I was lucky to be able to teach yoga in the mornings--amazed that people who danced and partied all night showed up.

It was epic. And exhausting. I ended up with an ear infection. Over-the-counter antibiotics (that cost $15) quickly fixed me up.

flying to Phuket
Next we hopped over to Phuket, on the other side of Thailand, with Dave's college buddy Craig. We'd been there before and spent a few days showing our favorite things to Craig: a sweet resort with an herbal steam room and killer breakfast, the Big Buddha, Nai Harn and Karon beaches, temples...and this view reached on motorbikes.

Kata Noi in the background
Another draw of the area was that a family we'd met in Mexico had recently moved to Phuket. So after Craig left, we headed north and spent a few days at Nadia and Rob's home. Rob, who does international peace-relations work, was on assignment in Kenya. But Nadia (who trains humanitarian workers) welcomed us with open arms, even though we'd met her only once before. 

We also got to spend time with their daugthers: a 14-year-old who just returned from teaching art therapy to children and HIV+ women in prison in Africa, and a 17-year old who recently developed and implemented a school project to build roads for a poor community in northern Thailand. I just had to put that out there because, yes, they are incredible people.  

Nadia took us shopping at the local market:

...took us to a gibbon rehab center and on a waterfall hike:
With Nadia and her friend Peggy
...and introduced us to amazing Thai food.

Dave and I also bicycled through the National Park along Nai Yang beach.

All of this was great--but the best part was talking with Nadia. We conversed intimately about our pasts, our travels, our inner explorations. We all inspired each other.

And now after that month in Thailand, we are in Malaysia, rooted 28 floors up. Our days are filled with everything from editing books (me), to photography (Dave). And we do yoga, swim, walk the dog, read--cook, clean, shop, you know, the usual stuff. This improvisational life is not quite vacation and not quite your conventional existence. We are creating it as we go, bugs and all.