Friday, October 19, 2012

"Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting." - Judith Minty

Yesterday as Dave and I took a walk on the beach, luxuriating in the glistening beauty of October in Santa Cruz, we marveled at how much we appreciate our lives.  And this marveling was made even more striking when our conversation wandered into the territory of the dark times of our lives.

I took this picture of Santa Cruz magical opalesence
During my darkest time, it crossed my mind whether continuing to live was worth it.  Fortunately, I learned from a great therapist that those passing thoughts were my mind's logical way of striving to relieve some of the intense pain.  I learned that there were other ways to reach for relief:  hanging out in my sister's living room, communing with trees and loving friends, watching the sky, going on road trips, dancing to live music, trying new foods, and breathing through a bad minute knowing that the next one or the next one or the next one might ease up a tiny bit.  Oh, and wine.  Wine helped a lot.  Little moments of relief gave me hope that with time, I'd heal.

And indeed I did.  But more than that happened.  I came to realize that I am the creator of my life.  I had a choice:  I could become bitter about the past, or see it as a chance to grow.  Bitterness, to me, felt like facing in the wrong direction.  Bitterness is an anchor to the past that keeps you from moving forward.  I wanted to hoist my sail and cruise into all the possibilities of my future.

And now, all these years later, so many incredible things have come to pass.  Dave and I talked about how our three years together have felt like fifty.  That's not because time is dragging!  It's because, filled with the joy of creating together, we dove into a fast-moving energy stream where so much happens in such a short time.  It's not a frantic feeling.  It's a feeling of abundance and fun and celebration.

Celebration of love, aloha style!

In fact, when I think of all we've experienced in the past years, I realize this:  For the most part, we have been going with the flow.  "Going with the flow" used to conjure up images in my mind of kicking back--like perpetually hanging out in a hammock.  But now I see that going with the flow might mean hanging out in a hammock--but it can mean so much more.  It doesn't have to mean standing still.  It means fostering a disposition of chillin' so that you can relax even in a fast-moving stream! 

Even when I'm doing all the things I do in my life of loving and teaching and travel and writing and family and mentoring--for the most part, I don't feel overwhelmed.  For the most part, it feels like time has stretched out.  Like I'm learning the knack for living not only in every second but in the spaces between seconds.  In fact, it amazes me that so much has happened--and that in spite of all the activity, I have a lot of "down time."  I guess that's because I don't worry about being "productive."  Going with the flow allows me to enjoy the moment no matter what I'm doing--or not doing.

And if overwhelment does creep up, I tell myself that nothing is an emergency.  That I don't have to fix anything.  That everything is fine just the way it is.  That worry and fear and anxiety are just thoughts. That I can have any thoughts I want!  That there's no one right way to do this life.

So here's the thing:  I see now that those dark, dark times created the light.  Everything is productive--even, or perhaps especially, life's dramatic events.  Having lived through an extremely dark time, it's so clear to me how much I've grown.  And how I can see possibilities emerging in the midst of difficulty.

I'm not saying I need to go out of my way to find trouble in order to grow.  Since change is constant, life is filled with opportunities to expand my awareness, my compassion, my potential.  Every small moment in life is a chance to once again hoist the anchor and sail with the wind.  The horizons are vast and ever-expanding.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What to Know About Travel

What I’ve Learned Lately About Travel:

1.  Mexico City is awesome–not horrifically dirty or unsafe as rumor might have you believe.  Do you love walkable cities, art, great food, cafe culture, music, and dance?  Then you’ll probably love Mexico City.
Check out my Mexico City visual diary here.
Check out what I have to say about one truly wonderful Mexico City neighborhood.
And who knew Mexico City has Venice-like canals?
And of course there’s a fabulous history of art that’s kept alive in many ways.

2.  Saying YES to life puts me in a traveling mindset no matter where I am.

3.  No matter your circumstances, if you want to travel there are ways to afford it.

4.  Destination weddings rock!  We had one in Hawaii, and we went to one on Catalina.  And I hope we’ll be going to more!  Here are three reasons why I love them:
- Destination weddings provide people with an “excuse” to travel somewhere.  Even though we are California natives, we’d never before been to Catalina.  It reminded me of a sweet Mediterranean village.
- The wedding becomes about more than spending a day with family and friends.  We spent days before and after our wedding hanging out with our loved ones on the beach, eating meals together, and doing all kinds of fun activities (such as ziplining, swimming with dolphins, and snorkeling).  The wedding, then, is an opportunity to spend some living time together outside of the usual demands of everyday life.
- A destination wedding can be fun to plan.  It doesn’t have to be stressful.  When you relax into it, all kinds of serendipity abounds.  I recommend deciding where you want it to be and when without worrying in advance who will or won’t be able to come.  People’s schedules and lives are always in flux.  If they are meant to be there, it’ll happen.  We thought we’d have only 4 or 5 people attending, and we ended up with 40!  Also:  network and explore.  Contact people to let them know what you are doing.  Next thing you know, all kinds of possibilities will float your way.  We had one friend living in Hawaii who ended up helping us find a brand-new venue that didn’t even open until a few weeks before we got married.  We found our officiant online–and she has ended up becoming a good friend. There were many other amazing aspects of ourfree-floating planning that you can read about here.

Five Things I Believe About Travel

1.  “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” — Martin Buber
2.  Travel teaches us to see life and ourselves anew.
3.  Travel teaches us flexibility of mind, body and spirit.
4.  Wander nearly rhymes with wonder.
5.  The traveling mindset can be cultivated anywhere.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How Do You Afford Travel?

Dear Dr. Kate:
How do you afford all this travel? Do you have secrets? Connections? Do tell. Inquiring minds are stumped.
Inquiring Mind
Dear Inquiring Mind:
You ask a good question, especially given that I’m a teacher.  Most teachers don’t make anything close to the big bucks of a lawyer, doctor, or CEO–and I’m no exception.
However, there are plenty of CEO’s and doctors and lawyers who never travel.  It all starts with desire.
Of course I have two big things in my favor:  No kids.  And a lot of time off.  That said, there are people with kids and people with more traditional jobs who travel a lot. So again:  It starts with desire.
Since you asked, here’s a list of my “secrets”:
1.  Dream and play.  I started collecting travel magazines and cutting out pictures of things I liked.  I pasted images and key words into a notebook.  Each page became a montage of images:  downhill skiing, hanging out on a boat, snorkeling in azure water, swimming with dolphins, hiking in dazzling mountains, groups of friends enjoying food and drink and laughter.  I chose things that didn’t have specific associations for me—just things that made me feel good.  I cut and pasted like a little kid, without an agenda. Just because it was fun.  Eventually I drifted away from that project and onto other things.  But two years later, I found the notebook and thumbed through—stunned to see that every single thing in it had come true.
2.  Explore the web.  There are copious travel blogs out there by people who live a traveling life. I love to Google “travel blogs” and read about people’s adventures and tips.  Many of them share their budgets and talk about choices they made that have allowed them freedom to travel—such as becoming internet-based entrepreneurs.  They demystify traveling because they do it so many different ways.  The possibilities are endless.  Two other good sites to explore are Mind My House and Couchsurfing.  Both provide ways to stay for free in others’ homes.  I  poke around on these sites a lot but haven’t yet used their services, although I’ve had friends who have, and they recommend them highly.  You can also use the web to find resources to trade your house with another family, or to rent out your house when you travel.
3.  Enjoy cheap abundance.  Many people (especially women) spend a lot of money on clothes.  I buy my clothes at Target, Ross, Goodwill and yard sales.  I also buy sparkly fun things and boas at costume stores so I have a bounty of bargain bling! Overall, though, instead of buying a lot of clothes and jewelry, I focus on wearing things I own in brand new combinations.  I also try to spend more time outwardly enjoying life than worrying about how I look.  My little luxuries (which I relish) are an $18 pedicure and a $2 light roast coffee with cream that I take on a morning beach walk.  Also, we live in a small house, which discourages us from collecting a bunch of stuff we don’t need.  And we are able to live happily with one car, which cuts back on expenses such as insurance, registration, and car maintenance.  Whatever you enjoy that doesn’t cost much, relish it!
4.  Take pleasure in free stuff.  My favorite freebies are hiking in the redwoods, walking into town, sex, beach Frisbee, reading books and blogs, street fairs and festivals, and the TV shows “Chopped,” “The Voice,” and “No Reservations.”  Instead of paying for expensive yoga classes, I do my own improvised yoga routines or do one guided by Sarah Ivanhoe on DVD.  Taking pleasure in cheap abundance and free stuff is a different mindset from “cutting back.”  It’s about thriving not depriving!
5.  Relax and compare.  Dave and I enjoy poking around for deals on flights, hotels and rental cars on travel sites such as Kayak.  I sign up for “price alerts” so I can keep track of when prices drop.  I find that if I’m enjoying reveling in the fun of travel (as opposed to being worried about it), magical things happen.  For instance, Dave and I had checked for flights to Hawaii several times over the course of a few months and then just stopped because they were quite expensive.  Then, one day, he just decided to look again—and they were half the price.  We booked on the spot, giggling at the fun of it all.
6.  Enjoy your friends.  How often have you had people invite you to come visit them “any time”?  Well, Dave and I take them up on it.  Two summers ago we spent two months traveling.  We stayed in the homes of ten different sets of friends on our journey.  The summer before that, I planned a trip to Italy and Spain based on the fact I had a friend living in Tuscany and another in Madrid.  Of course staying with friends is free—but better yet, there is no better way to really get to know the people in your life than drinking coffee together in the mornings with sleep-encrusted eyes, or tootling throughout their neighborhood on bikes, or going to their favorite restaurants and theaters and places of worship, or hiking on their favorite trails, or visiting their child’s classroom, or helping set up a party and raging together.  New experiences together add a new layer of richness to relationships.
Another way to enjoy friends is to share travel expenses (and therefore, experiences).  One winter we leased a ski house with another couple.  That turned out to be much cheaper than staying in hotels during ski season, and cooking in the house was more fun and less expensive than going to restaurants.  Finally, post on social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, where you want to travel.  When I’ve done that, I’ve often had friends (people I’ve met and those I know only online) invite me to their towns and homes, as well as give me great suggestions for places to see and ways to travel for less.
7.  Charge it!  We charge almost everything (gas, groceries, etc.) to our credit card that gives us frequent flier miles.  Of course, this only works well if you pay off the credit card each month.  We’ve used these miles for flights and rental cars.  Our card company loves us so much they gave us a bonus 5,000 miles when we got married.  Who gets a wedding present from a credit card company?  (Okay, maybe everyone; but I like to pretend we are special.)
8.  Focus.  What I hear in your question is a desire to travel.  So, as I said in #1, milk that desire.  Play around in it.  So perhaps you don’t yet have the money.  Or the time.  Accept that for what it is:  a temporary concern.  Everything is temporary because everything changes.  So instead of focusing on what you don’thave, focus on what you do have–and on where you want to go.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fun with No Qualifications!

Exciting day--my new website is up!

Click here to get to the site.
This wonderful logo and the website design are the creation of my friend, the fabulous Ellen Young.  

Over the years, people have often emailed me questions.  I suppose that's because I'm a teacher, a published writer, a traveler, and a person who has undergone various life transformations.  So that's why I started a feature on the blog called "Ask Dr. Kate."

The first question I respond to is "How do you afford all this travel?"

And now I'm working on the answer to this:  "How do you get a book published?"

If you have any questions for me about life, adventure, happiness, writing, "middle age," publishing, books, travel or anything else juicy, you can submit them here. I'm not a "real" doctor nor do I play one on TV. I'm just a nerdy, literature-and-adventure-lovin' Ph.D who adores life and crazy little endeavors such as writing an advice column with absolutely no qualifications.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dolphin Poem

Dolphins we swam with on the Big Island (credit)

My friend Anne Jennings Paris has been challenging some of us to write the poems that she's been assigning to her students.  Recently, she asked us to write a poem in the style of Emily Dickinson.  This poem was inspired by meditations I've been doing lately that focus on my breath.  During a meditation, I envisioned a dolphin.  I felt like she was there as a kind of spirit guide.
I Felt a Dolphin Come to Me

I felt a dolphin come to me
before I saw her there.
She clicked and cawed beneath the sea
aglide with breath to spare.

She looked me sideways in the eye
her heft a soft gray stone—
she told me I can summon her
the times I feel alone.

The cobalt depths were limitless,
the water a yielding skin.
I felt my breath reach endlessness,
my spirit spread within.

She rose through blue to blue above,
crowning sky and sea—
her perfect breath invited love
to breathe inside of me.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Drink Like It's Illegal

 Have you ever dreamed of transporting yourself back to the era of flappers and speakeasies?

Or are you like my friend Cathy who feels she may have danced the Charleston in rolled-down stockings in an earlier incarnation?

Or maybe, like me, you like trying new things.  Or perhaps you just like to drink.

There is something about Cathy that reminds me of the young Barbara Stanwyck.
All of the above led three women professors (Cathy, Kelly and me) to enjoy some nuevo imbibing at singlebarrel in downtown San Jose.  This place bills itself as a speakeasy, which means:

* there is no sign out front (just a barrel hanging over the door),
* the employees wear newsboy caps and suspenders,
* and you can't just order whatever you want.

That last feature sounds like it sucks, no?  But the expertise and creativity of the bartenders is featured here.  So after you walk down the dark steps into the dark, windowless, surprisingly large room (featuring a bar, warm woods, and plenty of tables and chairs)--you cozy up to your own personal bartender.

Our guy was Patrick.  Because of his name and thick accent and job in a bar, I assumed he was Irish.  But we discovered he's French, which provided Kelly a great opportunity to throw around a few nasally phrases.

This might or might not be Patrick.  (credit)
He asked each one of us what we like to drink.  When Cathy and Kelly launched into descriptions of the kinds of cocktails they usually drink, he asked a few clarifying questions such as:

"So do you like sweet or salty better?"
"Do you like fruitiness?"
"Do you mind tasting the alcohol in the drink?"

And then he pulled out a zillion bottles and went to town, creating unique concoctions.

Cathy enjoyed her Original Norman Rockwell (fruity, with a slightly refreshing tang), a creation of one of the bar's owners.  Kelly savored her Red Lion (slightly sweet  and citrusy, with a zing of strong alcohol), which Patrick informed us won won a 1933 cocktail competition.

The iPhone, even with a flash, didn't work so well in the dark --but this picture does capture the fuzzy giddiness of the moment.
When it was my turn, I panicked a little.  Was I in the wrong place?  I'm not a fan of hard liquor.  Only beer and wine.  But he asked me what kind of beer I like.  (Bitter.)  Light or dark?  (Light.)

So he poured me Pliney the Elder.  That used to be my go-to beer.  It had been years since I drank it.  Bitter and hoppy are an understatement .  It tastes like it could be cut with a knife.  I loved it.  But I made a mistake in having two.  I hadn't had dinner, and this place doesn't serve food.  And, oh yeah, Pliney has 8% alcohol content.  Needless to say, it was a good thing I was taking the bus instead of driving.

Perhaps as a way to sustain the illusion that we're hanging out in an illegal Prohibition-era club, all patrons are asked to keep their voices low.  As we three women drank and talked about the things we tend to (books, writing, sex, and work), several times we erupted into laughter and were hushed by a cap-and-suspenders-wearing boy.  Okay, probably technically a "man," but barely.

Being hushed felt strange--not fun, like play-acting should.  (Or maybe the problem is I like to be loud in bars!)  Also, at $9-10 each, the drinks are rather expensive. However, if you like specialty drinks, and you like unique experiences, you get what you pay for here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Alice in Wonderland Effect

Hanging out with 1,800 year old redwood trees is pretty amazing.  The world of Henry Cowell State Park feels both ancient and timeless.
Eagle Creek crossing
Before our hike, we had a pleasant conversation with a smiley ranger.  My guess is he loves his job.  Following his suggestion, we walked to the back of the main redwood grove and entered a trail at the General Fremont tree.  (That sucker is 277 feet tall!)  From there we hiked the River Trail and Big Rock Hole Trail.

Don't forget to stop and look up.
As we walked, I could feel us moving away from civilization and into the world of the Zayante Indians, the area's residents for thousands of years.  There is something fresh and honey-ish about redwood-infused air.

For a while I was invigorated.  Then I got a little drowsy, sort of like I was under some kind of cosmic spell.  I released to the floating, dreamy sensation.  Perhaps being dwarfed in stature and time created an Alice in Wonderland effect.

I'm glad that Henry Cowell's son gave away $14 million to enhance the "public good."  As a member of the public, I agree:  It's good.

If you go to Henry Cowell, you can enter through the main entrance, where parking is $10.  There you have easy access to the main redwood grove, the Roaring Camp train, and the visitor's center and gift shop where you can get a free map.  This map is much better than anything you can find online.

There are free entrances at several well-marked trail heads off Highway 9.  To explore another area of the park called Fall Creek Unit you can enter off Empire Road.  Hikes range from easy to challenging.  Trails are numerous and well-tended.