Friends to the End

In a partnership, you lean on each other. You teach each other things. You support each other and do things together as a team.

When Toby was a year old, he got a sweet little sister, Haley. He showed her how to make the cute sad face to get more treats, how to play a game of Tug, and which door to greet us at when we arrived home. He showed her how to live the best life a dog could live.

Eventually Haley grew up and became the annoying little sister, but Toby still looked out for her. He’d make sure she was okay after returning home from a trip to the vet. He cried at the backdoor when she was stuck outside. They worked in tandem to take down the trashcan and eat the leftover pizza inside. They searched for rodents in the shed and patrolled the yard together at night. They were partners.

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When Toby died earlier this year, Haley was lost. She had never been without him. She wandered the house, restless and lonely. She refused to eat, not having Toby there with his usual watchful encouragement. When we came home from an outing, we would come through the back door and find Haley standing anxiously at the front door. She didn’t have Toby to tell her where to stand to greet us.

But now it’s Haley’s turn to pass on her dog knowledge. She shows her new friend Sid how to squeal for attention, where the dog treats are kept, and how fun it is to run really fast. Together they chase squirrels and play Tug with their favorite toys. Haley now knows which door to greet us as when we come home. She has Sid’s help in figuring it out, and she almost always gets it right.

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In response to the Daily Post photo challenge
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A Trip: Simplicity and Nature

Every day our to-do lists hang over our heads. We have tasks to address today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and our schedules stretch out even farther beyond. We cross one thing off of our list and add two more. These daily obligations overwhelm us. In tandem with work, family, friends, and the high expectations we have of ourselves to accomplish it all, we struggle to maintain momentum, eventually losing pace, and working our way closer to burnout. When we see this breakdown looming before us, it is a sign that we are past due for a break, for a vacation.

When you are away from home, you are free from distractions and can focus on what’s in front of you. You live simply day-to-day, making it easier to live in the present moment. You can fully see and experience everything around you. You have space in your mind to ponder and contemplate.

This year the husband and I opted for a short road trip to Beaver’s Bend State Park, staying in a quaint, somewhat secluded cabin.

We took advantage of the time to enjoy the simplicities in life. We slept in, took naps, watched cartoons, snacked on Froot Loops and shandy beer. We ate lunch outside and watched the small, grey squirrels chase each other up and down the trees. We hiked through the woods, focusing only on the next step ahead and hearing only the sounds of nature around us. We sat listening to the rush of the flowing river in the afternoons and stood in awe at its tranquil stillness in the wee hours of the mornings.

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We had carefree fun, talking, reconnecting, and laughing together. We took a paddleboat down the river to go fishing, and the hubs noted that we should avoid paddling under the IMG_7518trees in case a snake fell on us. Then something dropped from a tree onto the back of his neck, causing him to nearly jump out of the boat. It was a cute, fuzzy caterpillar (with horns?).

Also, I hooked myself in the leg with a fishing lure. That was not so fun. But I did catch some fish, including feisty little perch that were a beautiful bright orange and blue. I thanked them for humoring me and set them free.

On one of our hikes, we encountered a giant stinging insect, forever deemed as “the pterodactyl.” We stood for five full minutes contemplating how best to get around him and the tree on which he was resting. I finally just closed my eyes and made a run for it! I like to live life on the edge.

The hubs and I love all creatures. We respect life and were awed on this trip by so much of nature’s beauty and strength. The hubs caught mini frogs and redirected lost turtles back to the water. A dragonfly with seemingly wings of velvet was not shy when we met in the woods. I steered clear though of the healthy 5-foot black snake.

The hubs and I weren’t the only ones on this adventure. Our dog Cora swam in the river, hiked, fished, and snacked on Froot Loops with us. She even made friends with a pack of Version 2armadillos rummaging through the woods. She sniffed them and introduced herself but still wasn’t sure what to make of these strange creatures. When they took off running, she attempted to chase them and got caught in the thorny brush, much to the husband’s dismay since he had to climb in and free her.

The state park endured massive flooding at the end of last year. The water rose and roared, washing away roads and bridges, but the rock formations that remained once the water receded were astounding. The various strata of the rock revealed colors of red, orange, gold, blue and green. Cora climbed up and down over rocks, exploring the topography of the area. Quartz glittered everywhere. It is amazing what nature can do.

All of these moments washed away my worries. Returning home, I was happy to be back, but I vowed to hold on as long as I could to the state of mind I had while away. I vowed to be more present in my day rather than worry about what is happening in the future, both near and far. I vowed to revel in the abundance of nature around me and better appreciate the simple things in life.

Vacations from our daily routines give us a solid start for better pursuit of mindfulness. We can really see the world around us without all the distractions in our head. Give yourself a break and take a trip. Even a simple one will do you some good.

The Beginning of a Love Story

You meet someone and there is a spark. You feel a connection and a magnetism that neither of you can deny nor ignore. There is mystery and intrigue and excitement. The experience imprints into your memory, and it becomes a part of you forever. Over time your relationship levels out, shifts, and changes, maybe for the good or maybe for the bad, but you always have the enchanting story of the beginning. Here is one of mine:

I stared out my windshield at the cloudy sky. “It’s definitely going to rain,” I said into my cell phone. “Maybe we should just meet up another time.” I took my foot off the break and inched closer to home in Friday rush-hour traffic. “I don’t think it’s going to rain until late,” K. countered on the other end of the line. “We can leave the dogs at home, and just you and I can meet at the park for a walk instead.” I was nervous about this plan, but his determination to keep our date despite the chance of rain convinced me to agree.

I use the word “date” but truthfully, I wasn’t sure what this was. K. and I had met through a mutual friend and had chatted casually at a few social events. We learned that we lived only a few miles from each other and that we both had dogs, so after a particularly festive night out with friends, K. sent me a Facebook message suggesting we go for a run sometime. He included his phone number, so I texted him, and thus began our five-day text conversation. We asked each other personal questions, shared stories, and began flirting. The format of texting made it easier for us to open up. Plus, he was quite witty and intriguing. Then came his invitation to meet at the park and take our dogs for a walk together.

Only 5 months earlier I had surfaced from a long and disastrous relationship and had decided to focus on work and school and plan my move back to L.A. I was not interested in any type of pointed dating situation. But this wasn’t necessarily a date, right? This was just a casual meet-up of two people with shared interests.

I stood nervously on the park path waiting for K. to arrive. The setting sun was a faint glow just below the horizon and the air was thick with humidity. When I saw K., we greeted each other and fell into a natural step, walking side by side down the path.

The path was a 1-mile loop around a large scenic pond. We lost ourselves in endless words, awkwardness, and laughter, ignoring the light rainfall and finally pausing after 5 loops around the pond (yes, that’s 5 miles!) to realize we were hungry. We got some fajitas and margaritas at the Mexican food place across the street and then returned to the park for 2 more loops.

Throughout all of this, I knew I was giving mixed signals. One moment I was flirting and giggling, and the next moment I was trying to create a some distance. I did not know what I wanted from this blossoming friendship, but I knew I liked this guy. It grew late, and it was time to call it a night. K. walked me to my car and there it was – the inevitable final moment. He asked if he could kiss me, and I said yes.

One word: Fireworks! It is not a cliché. It is not an urban legend. It’s a real phenomenon. When K. kissed me for the first time, I closed my eyes and saw fireworks.

Two years later at the same park, once again taking a stroll in the rain, K. asked me another question, to which I also said yes.

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This month we are celebrating our 1-year wedding anniversary. Every day I feel lucky to have K. in my life. He is accepting, open, and has a big heart. He gives me space when I need it, crowds me when I don’t, and pushes me to be better. He makes me think and teaches me not to take life so seriously. He is my best friend. Reflecting on the beginning of our journey and our time together so far reminds me not to just appreciate him but to show it freely and often.

It is so easy to take our loved ones for granted, to grow used to their presence in our lives. Daily distractions get in the way of what is important. We forget to say thank you. We forget to express our gratitude and our love. Sometimes we even forget why we came together in the first place.

Think about the beginning of a meaningful relationship in your life, maybe with your best friend, or life partner, or someone with whom you have reconnected.  Remind yourself of the things you love so much about that person, and openly show them your appreciation and love. Remembering our beginnings and how we came together reminds us to cherish what we have. After all, our time together is limited.

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Backyard Zen

Sometimes we lose our focus and motivation. It evades us, and we have to do something to recapture it and talk it into sticking around for a while. The answer for me this time started and ended with a little Zen.

Much of this past month, I felt restless. By the time I got home from work or the weekend rolled around, my ability to focus was diminished. Rather than tackling tasks with purpose, I felt indifferent. I sat down to write a few times, but despite all of the ideas floating around in my mind, none of them shined brighter than the rest. Everything seemed lackluster.

In an earlier part of my life, I spent a year working for my dad doing manual labor in a warehouse without heat or air conditioning. It was hard work, especially for a girl who is much more comfortable in an office, but I learned some things. One particular grueling day, my dad asked me to clear out a big pile of dirt on the back driveway. The temperature hovered around 100 degrees, and I had been working 6 hours already. I was exhausted, but I gathered my energy, grabbed the shovel, and went outside.

Scoop, toss. Scoop, toss. Scoop, toss. The only sounds I heard were those of the shovel and the movement of the dirt. Scoop, toss. Scoop, toss. A warm breeze swept through and eased the run of sweat dripping down my face. Scoop, toss. Scoop, toss. I began to feel a sense of peace in the repetition. I no longer had to think about what I was doing but simply did it. My arms and back ached but my mind was clear and calm. It was the first time I experienced a sense of Zen.

Version 2Last week, tired of my restlessness, I decided to pick up my shovel and headed outside to start clearing garden space. Our vast yard was neglected by the previous owners, and though we have made some progress in improving it, there is still an immense amount of work to do. I sank the shovel into the dirt to loosen it and began pulling weeds and roots from their resting places. The longer I did this, the more focused I became. It was tiring, but the repetition and simplicity of the task put my mind at ease. I felt calm and balanced and felt a building sense of accomplishment, so I saw the task through to the end.

The timing was perfect when my mother-in-law suggested we work on the garden the following weekend. The hardest part of clearing the space was already done, so we spent the morning and early afternoon doing the fun part of shopping for plants and adding them to the new garden area.

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My focus had returned after clearing the garden space, and it fueled my motivation. I’ve been spending more time outside lately wandering the yard with the dogs, and I realized that I needed a better personal space in the backyard. The same weekend that I cleared a section of the garden, I also revamped our outside seating area with a little spray paint and decor.

I created a space where I can spend more time in the elements doing some of my favorite things like reading, hanging out with the dogs, daydreaming, and of course, writing. It is a space that has already sparked inspiration. The day I finished the sitting area, I sat down with a cold beer and a dog in my lap and churned out two blog posts. And then for a while I just sat, thinking and feeling happy.

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A beautiful garden and a comfy seating area by the pool – for me this is backyard Zen.

We have to create a shift to get our focus and motivation back. We have to try something new, create something different, or make a change to our environment. Sometimes all it takes is a simple task to shift our mindset, and then we can get back on track.

How can you create more Zen in your realm?