I Chose to Ski

I wrote this as a follow-up to my first post about skiing (To Ski or Not to Ski) while I was still on the trip. Travel and logistics got in the way of posting it so here it is now… 

Now that skiing and I are getting along better, I can say that I actually like it. Like the end of an after-school special, when the bully and the bullied run off hand in hand after clearing up all of their misconceptions about one another, this is me (the bullied) and skiing (the bully).

After taking a day off (bad weather = good excuse to visit the children’s museum), and with some new ski gear (ok, ok, I have to admit that part of my negativity toward the sport MAY have come from a lack of appropriate apparel. I do heart clothes, so wearing my husband’s old (circa 1995) ill-fitting ski jacket only made me feel worse about the whole thing), I have a new outlook on skiing. I have started a list of things that I appreciate and things I, um, don’t, about the sport. I am hoping skiers and non-skiers alike might appreciate the list. In Buddhism one strives to live “in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion”. Well, at this stage, here are my attachments and aversions – I have a new like for the sport, but I am still striving for equanimity.

Me No Like (this is Eliana speak):

Winter. I think anything below 60 degrees is cold, 70 and below is chilly and 85 is my sweet spot. Somewhere between ~30 degrees and 85 degrees lies my problem with skiing. I wasn’t built for cold weather. Like a beacon of distress, my body sends out a flaming red distress signal called, my nose, to let everyone know that I am too damn cold. It also incessantly drips to remind ME that I am too damn cold.

The clothes. More specifically, snow caps. I do not look good in them. I see so many cute, rosy-cheeked, braid-wearing Suzy chap-sticks that look adorable in their ski garb from their caps and goggles down to their awkward boots (more about these later). I, on the other hand, have tried on a good 1,000 ski caps and I look like a Q-tip in every one. Combined with my fire-engine red nose above, it’s just not attractive.

Ski boots, Getting them on, getting them off, walking in them, carrying them, dare I say I h-a-t-e these things. With as much as skiing technology has evolved (or so I hear), I have a hard time believing more could not be done about the boots.

Adrenaline. I don’t get “adrenaline rushes”. I only see my life pass before my eyes.

Speed. See above.

Me Like:

The lift ride. Alone. Meditation time anyone?? Floating over the tree tops in a chair all my own, one just naturally meditates. Like a wait for the rollercoaster, the lift takes much longer (at this mountain anyway) than the descent. Unlike the rollercoaster, however, for me, is that I enjoy the wait as much, if not more.

Hot chocolate. Winter’s antidotal confection, what’s not to love? Add to it enjoying a cup from a mountain chalet? Positively dreamy.

The people. These folk who are “one with the mountain” seem to understand that everyone on the mountain is one, no matter their skiing ability or how ridiculous they look in a snow cap. The people who work at the ski hills seem to be some of the nicest on the planet, as far as I can tell.

Skiing. OK, this is a big one for me. It’s the first time in my life (see part 1) that this has migrated from the ‘no likey’ to the ‘likey’ category for me. I finally feel enough control that I can a) stop in a reasonable amount of time, if needed, and b) control my speed for the most part, with some exception of course. None of it is very pretty but I am fine with pure function for now.

Apres-ski. In addition to just liking the French referenced name, after a day (or a half-day, which is enough for me), one’s body buzzing from the cold mountain air, the after-burn from the quads and a deep hunger, wherever one goes (in our case, our cozy cabin), some lounging, some snacking, some thawing, and some sharing of stories from the day – it’s a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.

The focus. This may be an advantage of being a beginner, but talk about being in the moment. If I look too far down the hill, I panic. If I let my thoughts wander, the next thing I know one ski is meandering in another direction. After getting off the lift in my meditative state, it’s nice to balance this with going into a single force concentration and the mental discipline needed not to freak out. This should definitely be part of Jedi training, if it’s not already.

My therapist-parent coach has a habit, at the end of our sessions, in reference to parenting, to say “You are doing it.” It always makes me feel good. No matter what I am struggling with at the time, and how badly I SEEM to be at it, she’s right about one thing, I am doing it. At one point on this trip my heart swelled with a little pride when my father-in-law (my skiing coach) saw me coming down the hill and he yelled to me, “You are doing it!”

He could not have known that that was the the perfect thing to say. I’ll add him to my “like” section too.:)

I love my kids more when I’ve had coffee

It’s true. Yesterday, with a combination of allergies and a lack of sleep this week (transitioning back from spring break/time change / some crazy flipp’n alignment of planets that has sent my family to crazydom and back), I was beyond dragging by 4:00, my usual slump time. Yesterday it was beyond ‘slump’ – it was terminally tired. I normally don’t drink coffee in the afternoon because it will keep me up at night, but with a couple more hours with the kids and a date night (even after 6 years of marriage, falling asleep on a date is just not good manners), I had to take the risk. I took the kids out for gelato and ordered myself an espresso. Oh, and gelato, of course, a nice salted caramel, but followed it up with an espresso. Gelato and espresso? It’s like an afternoon orgasm.

As the espresso raced down my throat and puddled into my tummy, a warmth came over me. No, I didn’t pea my pants, it was just the coffee…I lust over coffee. Slowly, my senses awakened, one by one. With a little wake-up call from the sugar now entering my system from the gelato, the coffee was like the back-up alarm…the snooze. The one that let’s you know there is no rolling over and going back to sleep. It is time to WAKE UP! I started joking with my kids. Their faces lit up with delight as I became, not only conscious, but silly! We collectively decided to go to a park instead of back home, so we hopped into the car for our next adventure. At the park, we opted for a hike instead of the playground, so we climbed over rocks, swung from tree branches and held silly singing talent shows on tree stump stages. In other words, we had a b-l-a-s-t. While I’ll take credit for being a fun mom for an afternoon, I have to give some credit to my partner in that lovely crime – the coffee. While it doesn’t make me love my kids more, it certainly did help me show it. Given my lusty-lovey relationship with coffee anyway, I could go on and on about how it improves my life, but I’ll keep this one short and just add ‘fun-mom generator’ to the list. Try it. You’ll like it.

To Ski or Not to Ski (sorry I couldn’t resist this title)

Here I am again. Like a bad relationship, I keep coming back, hoping it will be better. This is me and skiing.

I grew up in Wisconsin. There were no mountains in or near Wisconsin. I had parents that didn’t grow up skiing themselves and believed skiing was only for the uber-rich. We weren’t even rich, let alone uber. My only experience, which I don’t even count as skiing, was when I was in middle school and my best friend had moved to a Chicago suburb. There was a small ski hill there and, technically speaking, this was the first time I put on skis. If you know anything about Illinois geography, you might have some appreciation for how small this hill must have been. Without instruction (or none that I remember), I managed to stay on my feet down the hill, but with no way to stop, I kept gliding all the way to the fence that separated the snow hill from the parking lot. There was a 6 inch gap between the ground and the fence and I always think that if anyone was just on the other side of the fence, they are probably still telling the story of the ‘thwap’ and the skis appearing from the other side. I think it was the humiliation more than the pain, but that was the only trip down the hill I took.

When I was 20, I went skiing for what I considered the first time on a first date a guy I really liked. One should not mix so many firsts. I was so nervous the night before that I did not sleep a wink. I had all of my clothes laid out, but I was sure I didn’t have the proper attire, and for a first date, that seemed important. I kept replaying the scene in my mind – breaking one limb or another, but trying to wince in pain in a kind of attractive, flirtatious way. I think I gave up hope of falling with any grace, but just hoped I didn’t hurt him in the process. Hurting me seemed inevitable, but hurting him seemed that it would have killed any chance for relationship success. I didn’t end up hurting myself or him, but I wouldn’t say I conquered the sport. I flailed around to the point of exhaustion and then we carried on a 5 month relationship that may have been characterized in the same way. I didn’t ski again for a long, long time.

And so it went my relationship with skiing. I would show up ever 4-5 years with some hope that this time it would work. That this lesson, that this friend or boyfriend might be able to do the impossible: teach me to ski…well. But the “ski well” part, seemingly, only comes with practice and with an on-again (2-3 days at best) off-again (usually at least 2-3 years between trips) relationship, things never progressed.

And then I met my husband (why do so many ‘defining moments’ in my essays begin with this phrase?). He grew up skiing – family stories abound about him breaking free from his kiddie-instructor, finding the adults and pleading to be taken to the top of the mountain. He was taken, and he soared. He was on the ski team in college. He takes annual ski trips to the Canadian Rockies where he goes into the back-country in order to find the most preposterous cracks and crevices to ski down. When we discussed our relationship and that all was going so well, I finally confessed my biggest worry that would break the relationship apart like a raw egg. I didn’t ski. Well, through the years I could usually manage my way down all of the bunny hills, and had occasionally worked my way up to some easy blue runs. Compared to him, however, I really didn’t ski. He said that it was actually better – all of his prior girlfriends that had skied usually ended up frustrated and mad at him – while they might have been great skiers, they couldn’t quite keep up with him, and he didn’t always want to wait for them (hmmm, can’t imagine). Great! We were set up for relationship – and skiing – success.

Here we are, our oldest child is 5 and learned to ski last year. I want my children to grow up skiing – I want them to learn how before the falling hurts so much, before they have the visual of being transported by helicopter to the nearest emergency room. This, however, translates into frequent ski trips. Annual ski trips are already “frequent” for me, but now Mark is talking at least twice a year. But in this, I have found hope for myself. 39 is not too late! Perhaps, with some frequency, I can actually improve my skiing abilities and salvage this relationship after all. This is our second year to Utah – to Sundance. It’s a small mountain – perfect for children and adults with child-like skiing abilities. First day (yesterday), was a relative success. I worked my way up to the hill that I left off on after a week of skiing last year. After all of these years, perhaps this was the missing link in this relationship with skiing – sticking with it. I’m still most fond of après-ski, but I think I might, though it’s too early too tell, start enjoying pendant-ski*.

*note: the French word for “during” is pendant. I know, if I have to explain my “cleverness”, perhaps it’s not so clever. It’s probably even arrogant to try to use a foreign language to be clever. Très désolé (translation: very sorry)).

Bequeathed

The other night my husband came in and handed me a pretty thick, important-looking (notarized) document. It was his last will and testament. As a Buddhist, I do a LOT of contemplating about death, so the confrontation of something reminding me that my husband will die some day, and perhaps before I am “ready”, was not the bit that I am writing about. Actually, I have always thought about death a lot, even prior to being Buddhist, but now it jives with my spiritual endeavors. Anyway, we have been doing a lot of spring cleaning and related ‘get our lives in order’ activities, so I was not so surprised. He has had a will for a while, and we updated it with each of our children, but he has been working on it again and on this night, he decided I needed a signed, paper copy in my own filing system. Prior, it has always lived within our family docs.

What has been bothering me about this document was his response to me after I said, “oh, do I need to create one of these as well?”  A will is something that has been nagging at the back of my mind for at least a decade, seeming like something a responsible adult would have. At the very least I meant to have that piece of paper that says “pull the plug if….” I wonder if this blog posting could suffice for that…doubtful. Anyway, his response to my question was honest and without meaning, but wow, have I had a reaction to it. It was something like this: “No, actually, you don’t have any assets, so it is not really necessary. If you die, I take care of everything, if we both die, this document covers it all.” What I heard, however, was very different. What I heard was, “No, you are not worth anything, so you don’t need to.” As I sat with the sting from the statement that I thought I heard, he seemed to read my mind, which was grasping for some worth…I must be worth something… and before I could ask, he added “your 401-k already has beneficiaries designated.” My one little financial contribution, a tiny fraction of our total, didn’t even need any additional legal enforcement behind it. No action needed. I have nothing to leave anyone.

This is honestly something I have grappled with since I stopped “working”. I know, it’s very original of me. But even when I was working, my husband came into the marriage with an entirely flipped balance sheet. I was all debt (from business school) and a decent salary, but that was about it. He, on the other hand, had savings (despite going to the same business school), assets (houses) and has always just made more money than me. While I get this was and is a fortunate circumstance for me, and I don’t intellectually believe in putting any self-worth into money and assets, there’s something deep inside my gut that tells me I was a “bad deal.” This was reinforced when my brother asked me, after hearing the news that Mark and I were getting married, “does he know about your debt?” My bank statement was where I wore my scarlet letter. I’ve been trying to sever this link of self-worth and net-worth ever since I realized it was there, but his proclamation about the will, or lack of a need thereof, and my now thinking about it for over 24 hours tells me it’s still there. When I started working last year, and started my own marketing consulting firm (www.threedefined.com), I thought that contributing financially would be a big relief, and it has been, except I’ve really contributed next to nothing, with a new business and a part-time working model. I’m not even sure that is the fix – to focus on earning more money seems like I’m sort of feeding the beast. I honestly took up work again because I feel I need it for my own sanity, not for the money. But I can’t help but thinking that my husband married me with the expectation that I was a potential high-income earner. We did meet doing our MBA’s, after all. His expectations (or the false expectations that I have projected onto him) aside, as a feminist, I’ve always been eager to have a great deal of financial independence, of which, at the moment, I have none.

Bottom line: I want to contribute. Rather than in a desperate and needy way to salvage and validate myself in the world (always healthy), however, I want it to feel light, like, it’s just something I do, like, I bring to the relationship my sarcastic wit, beautiful long legs (my best feature) and a butt-load of cash. Wait, I’m trying to “sell” myself again. Ok, so like, I just am who I am, I do what I do, and it brings forth money. Oh boy – I’m going to wish for a money-tree next. I guess this is the point – I don’t know how this might work – a healthy relationship with money is clearly new for me – but I envision something like contributing freely rather than doing it to try to free myself from this feeling of a lack of self-worth. A psychic told me once, “you are not good with money, but you will always have it.”  That could not be more accurate, to date, and it’s not a bad omen to live into. I feel like I’ve got some space to play with this relationship with money. And as soon as I figure it, I’ll package it up and pass it onto my children. They already show signs of the sarcastic wit and the long legs – but a healthy relationship to money and a completely separate (and high) value of self-worth? Now THAT would be a beautiful thing to leave to my children.

Let’s go fly a kite

Went to the Austin Kite Festival today – one of my favorite festivals of the year. This year lacked something, though – the wind! :(

We still had a fun time, evidenced by Max’s reaction tonight when he said he wanted to go back to the festival tomorrow and I explained that it only happens once per year – he cried for a good 5 minutes. I thought it was cute for only the first minute really, but whatever, I was moved by how MUCH he seemed to love it. But then what’s not to love…kites, running (only way to make the kite fly today), rock-climbing walls and OH Cupcake. Hey – why don’t they hold this thing more often?!!

It’s a weird world, afterall

The other night I watched a documentary that has been sitting in it’s Netflix envelope on my counter for weeks. You know Netflix – the company I pay a relatively small fee to receive movies directly to my home so that I can be entertained at a moment’s notice, so that I can relax, from my “difficult” life. The irony is that even this concept – Netflix – is symbolic of the world of differences we are living in. The movie is called God Grew Tired of Us (http://www.godgrewtiredofus.com/about.html) and it is about the ‘lost boys’ who wandered around Sudan to Ethiopia and then back through Sudan to “settle” in a refugee camp in Kenya. It is a fascinating story full of deep heartache and pain. What I was left with, sitting in the silence, staring at my 52″ flat-screen television, was “what a weird world we live in.”

Even with a fair bit of travel under my belt, and an interest in all things foreign, I am still amazed by differences in cultures across the world. But more than being surprised at how different cultures can be, perhaps I should be more amazed at how much globalization has actually changed cultures to be more similar. Regardless, I am not sure it is “culture” so much that strikes me as the different circumstances that people are born into. Being born on different continents is literally like being born into different worlds. Tied together almost solely by our being human, nothing else about some of these other experiences can even be compared to my own. These boys, born into families in Sudan, were, at VERY young ages ripped apart by bloody, terrorizing civil war. These small children saw their parents murdered and set out on treks of THOUSANDS of miles in search of some sort of safety or security of any kind. The fraction that survived these journeys then endured a life of separation, isolation and some hard-core BAD memories. Suffering never leaves their side.

And this is where it just gets weird. Even with all of the wealth that exists in this world, rather than there being any way that ALL of these boys can be helped in their now “homeland”, some of them have been brought to the U.S. – scattered in cities across the country – to build lives for themselves. I know this is supposed to be seen as charitable and a huge opportunity for them….but really? We have to take them completely away from any kind of culture or people that they know and understand and have them work 2-3 jobs to support themselves and, basically, to adopt an American way of life, and an impoverished one at that? Many of them have done “well” for themselves…worked hard. Some have been reunited with families and most have been able to send money back to families and friends back in the camp. While they are doing a lot of good for themselves and others, I wonder if suffering has actually left their side. It almost appears to be their lot in life, and there is a part of me that screams, “it’s not fair!”

I hesitate to contrast this with my own life. And I believe there are very few people, if anyone, in this entire country that can compare their experiences, despite there being immense suffering everywhere, to those of the lost boys. At the same time, who am I to judge another human’s suffering? But I was born into a middle class family in the mid-west of the United States. I had a loving family, shelter (FILLED with THINGS) and plenty of food. I was told to ‘think of the children in Africa’ when I didn’t want to eat it. Now I can’t stop thinking about them! Suffering for me, during these same years, might have been in the form of not being able to play with my best friend every day, or at it’s worst, in the 3rd grade I broke both of my wrists on the fancy PLAYGROUND at my SCHOOL, and had to go to the DOCTOR and spent 8 weeks in two casts up to my shoulders. I might argue that I grew up in a particularly privileged life, so it’s silly to compare, but this is exactly my point…the disparity, ohhhhh the disparity. I find it immensely painful.

My Buddhist background would have me explain all of this through Karma. Lifetimes worth of it. That’s how I had the privilege to be born into a “godly realm”, my African counterparts into what I am deeming a “hell realm” if there ever was one. While I intellectually can grasp this, I still find it difficult to accept the vastly different journeys that people are given in their short period on earth as human beings. I can do lots with this information – I can give money to their organizations, I could volunteer and give time. I could even fly to Africa and HELP! I could do it for this cause or that one. And I do give to this cause and that. I give less time volunteering these days, in this stage of my life. So there’s lots to sort out for myself how and what I can best give back to this world. Right now I am still sitting in the middle of this exercise of acceptance of this time that we live in – where parts of the world have nothing and others flow over with excess beyond imagination (think yachts that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, purchased by individuals). You would think that by 39, I wouldn’t struggle so much with this concept. But I believe it is just this – my being human – that does keep me struggling. I know very few people who do not feel the world’s pain on one level or another.

This is nothing new, it’s just very present for me these days. It’s always a good reminder for appreciation of one’s own life, but that doesn’t feel enough. I must do more…I will do more….or will I? Haven’t I said this before? Anyway, this world? It’s a weird one.

Healthy Reminder

Wow. Really feeling gratitude for good health today. I have been training since November for the Austin Half Marathon (was February 20th), and at one point I remember on one particular run, totally in a groove, thinking about and feeling so much gratitude for a strong, healthy body. But somehow, it seems one can not really-really appreciate a strong healthy body until the strong and healthy body is not so strong and healthy for a while.

I am coming off of a 2-3 week virus that has taken me through all kinds of journeys through fevers and night-sweats to rheumatoid arthritis and the other typical lovelies like vomiting and other unspeakables. I am finally, finally feeling like I am going to be back to my ‘ole self again in the very near future. Not 100% yet, but getting closer every day.

While there is lots of emotional ‘stuff’ to process around being sick too, including missing my half marathon (!), I have just been contemplating this physical side of things and how we seem to need the relative opposite of things to truly appreciate what we have. I think I appreciate my lifestyle and my life in general, but any huge change or certainly any tragedy would make this appreciation so much more acute. I love and appreciate my children and husband, but if I lost any of them, I am sure I would feel I didn’t appreciate them enough.

I don’t know if there is a solution to this, or if one is even needed. I don’t hope for huge unwanted change (and also I know I can’t avoid!), tragedy of any kind, or losing anyone in my life just so I can “fully” appreciate what I have. I can only go on loving and appreciating all that I have to the best of my ability right now. I am grateful for the reminder on good health, so I’ll use that to amp up my appreciation of that AND everything else in my life. I’ll call it my “healthy reminder”. More appreciation, coming your way.