Be an Artist and the New Book Selection

I hear the sound of tires rolling over gravel.  I look out the front door and see the distinctly yellow hood of a taxi.  It comes to a stop.  Doors open and shut.  Judith, pronounced “Who-deat” in Spanish, meets us at the front door.  She brings in her massage table and bags of sheets, oils, towels and other miscellaneous massage supplies.  We help her carry everything up the tile steps to the spare bedroom in casa naranja grande; our home in Barre de Navidad for two weeks . IMG_0424

Judith doesn’t speak any English.  But we all know what to do as we take turns on the massage table.  For ninety minutes Judith rubs and kneads muscles, coating our skin with coconut oil.  She works out the built up tightness we let fester in our bodies from daily life.  This small Mexican woman is an artist, molding our muscles to a happy place.  She never says a word and works on each person as if they were her only client in the world.  She is focused, engaged, present.  The unspoken talents of a true artist.

We should all strive to be an artist in what we do.  Focused. Engaged. Present. Be an artist and you’ll lose yourself in your task.  There will be no such thing as time.  Only you and your art.  If you find you are not an artist in what you are doing, do something different.  Find what makes you an artist. This is bigger than a salary, bigger than health insurance and much bigger than climbing the proverbial ladder.

But wait.

What about washing the dishes, chopping wood, doing taxes, cooking dinner or working a mundane job that you are lucky to have?  All those things you have to do.  Good question.  Being an artist in your daily task is a choice.  You could spend more time dreading the task than the task actually takes and then pump out a half assed job.  Or, you could choose to be an artist, even with the daily chores. Break down the task into baby steps then complete each baby step focused, engaged, present.  Be a wood chopping artist like my husband.  Make cooking dinner your creative outlet like my daughter.

Or; hire it done.  Go out for your meals like my father-in-law.

The book selection is “The Alice Network”  by Kate Quinn.  An excellent read.  This novel bounces through time in the life of a young female World War I spy and her life as an older, angry, whiskey drinking woman dealing with the ghosts in her closet.  A closet that is opened by a young woman looking for help to find her cousin after World War II.  This book is difficult to put down and will keep your interest for its entirety.  The characters take their jobs seriously as war spies.  They work in occupied territories, spying on German soldiers, writing down information on rice paper and rolling it up in their hair pins in order to deliver the information to the Allies.  They are artist.  Focused. Engaged. Present. And this is how they survive.

Check out Wild About Books for more great book recommendations.

The Power of Boundless Compassion

Saturday adventures with Lisa, Heidi, and Carol also known as getting the dogs out.

We pack the cross-country skis in the back of Heidi’s truck along with the Shepherd and the Basset Hound.  The three of us load into the cab with the Yellow Lab.  We leave the cold inversion of the Bitterroot Valley and climb Lost Trail Pass where the sun is shining and the temperature is warmer. We park in the parking lot of the Gibbons Pass road, a groomed multiple use road where you will find classic skiers, skate skiers, snowmobiles and dog sleds.  The sun is shining on the snow-covered mountains making the snow sparkle as if we were in a forest covered in diamonds.  It’s quiet and peaceful and a brisk eighteen degrees.

Then, Ollie, the German Sheperd decides it’s too quiet and peaceful and starts his uncharacteristic high pitched bark.  Kevin, the Basset Hound is like “oh cool, barking time” and starts his hound dog bay which doesn’t fit his long bodied short legged personality either.  Zoe, the well mannered yellow lab, disassociates herself with the entire dog species hanging close to her mom and keeping her distance from the two barking morons who are barking for no apparent reason.IMG_0233 (1).JPG

As we ski the two dogs enjoy their ability to bark at nothing.  Short legged Kevin quickly gets winded and decides to conserve his energy for the walk as triple latte Ollie keeps up the barking.

I start thinking, “SHUT UP Fuck Shit.” over and over.  I know that fuck shit is not an actual thing but sometimes my head just puts two words together that works for me and fuck shit seemed appropriate.  We ski, Ollie barks, I think fuck shit.

Then it occurs to me that I was on day nine of my thirty-one day well-wishing challenge and that this very morning I had just read a delightful article describing the benefits of sending well wishes, The What and Why of Loving Kindness Meditation.

I look at Ollie and think, “May you be happy. May you have peace.”  Over and over.  He stops barking.  OK, maybe he was going to stop barking anyway, but you can look at this in two ways.

One, I had removed the negative “fuck shit” thoughts out of my head and replaced them with a more compassionate “may you be happy”.  This already changed my mood.  Dogs are sensitive to that (people are too, they just don’t acknowledge it).  Two, the dog knew.  The dog knew, just like children know, that I had changed my mindset.  When I was calling the dog “fuck shit” in my head, he was that.  When I wished him happiness he became that as well.

I always tell a story about the lunch ladies in my kid’s school.  When the lunch ladies saw the junior high students coming down the hall, heading towards the lunchroom, the lunch ladies would say “here come the little shits”, as the lunch ladies didn’t like the junior high aged students. And you know what?  The junior high kids gave those lunch ladies exactly what they expected to get.  If the lunch ladies had had a little empathy for the painful transition from childhood to adulthood that all junior high students face, if they had made those students a special cookie or changed their mantra from “here come the little shits” to “may these students transition peacefully into adulthood as we have all been there before and understand what it’s like”,  I truly believe that the students would have behaved better in the lunchroom.  Being yelled at and treated without respect is a ticket to poorly behaved humans no matter how old they are.

Which brings us to our book selection.  “Tattoos on the Heart, The Power of Boundless Compassion” by Gregory Boyle. 

This is not your typical Wild About Books book.  The author, a Jesuit Priest, (I had to look that one up, but I still don’t get it, just like I don’t get “evangelical Christian”) in the poorest Catholic church in the county, located in L.A., surrounded by gangs.  This priest doesn’t just bring love and compassion to the gang members, he creates businesses and gives them jobs and job training.  A gateway from jail to living productive lives.  He doesn’t label them as hopelessly lost souls with no way out of their vicious poverty cycle.  He gives them hope and a door to a future without crime and drugs.  This book has way more God and Jesus in it than I like.  I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in Greg Boyle.  He doesn’t just talk the talk.  He’s a doer.  He believes in human beings.  He treats them all with respect and dignity.  He gives them all well wishes.  He’s a beautiful man.  If you don’t get a chance to read the book you should check out his TED talk on compassion and kinship.  It’s a condensed version of his book.

As we skied back towards the parking lot we were passed by two snowmobiles.  We could have been angry at sharing the road with loud, stinky snowmobiles, but we are not.  We smile and wave enthusiastically as they pass us.  Happy that there are other people out enjoying this beautiful, sunshiny, December day.

So, while you are out on your proverbial multiple use road of life, smile, and wave enthusiastically as you pass others, as it is this bonding kinship that is the positive trajectory we all need to happily survive together.

May you be happy.

Check out the Wild About Books website for more great book ideas and other outdoor adventures.




Sexual Misconduct and a New Book Selection

I randomly picked out a book at Chapter One, my local bookstore.  It was on the recommended shelf right across from the cash register.  I’d picked this book up before and found it odd that there was a sticky note on the back.  “Warning! Spoiler & Misleadings!  Please just read the first couple pages….”  What is that supposed to mean?  I put the book back and looked at other sections of the store.  When I came back in another day that book was still on the recommended shelf.  I picked it up again.  And again the sticky note was on the back.  I picked up another copy, same sticky note IMG_0204message.   The sticky note message was on all the copies on the shelf.  I lifted the note to read the description and immediately realized this was where the spoilers and misleadings were.  I stopped reading the back before finishing the first sentence and erased what I had read from my mind, as much as one can.

“The Clay Girl” by Heather Tucker is not for everyone.  It has that “Glass Castles” kind of theme.  A family trying to survive in unfathomable situations.

Two things make this book an incredible read.  The protagonist is surviving with the help of her positive adult role models and the author’s style of writing is an artistic masterpiece.  As you read each sentence you think that you have missed something and should start over.  But that is not the case.  Keep putting the sentences into your head.  When you get to the end of each short chapter your brain will weave all of the information together and then your brain will think “good God, what are these poor people living through”.  It’s truly magical.  This author does not tell a story, she shows a story.   I’m glad I found this book before the Thanksgiving break as I can not put it down.

The sexual misconduct in this story is rampant and although this is a novel, it is a novel that shows how society seems to not be able to correct or address this subject.  Sweep it under the rug.  Buck up.  Move on.  Slut. He’s a Republican, that’s all I care about.  It’s just locker room talk.  He’s the star quarterback just having a little fun.

I tried reading the book “Missoula”, which I do recommend, but could not finish.  It’s not a tour guide.  “Missoula” is a non-fiction book about star college football players raping female friends at parties and how the perpetrators downplay the conduct or worse get away with it.  This doesn’t just happen at the University of Montana.  This just happened to be the University that Jon Krakauer chose for his research.  A small college town in which most of the population are Griz fans whether they went to college or not.

She was asking for it.  She was drunk.  She wore that outfit for a reason.  Why would she ever subject herself to publicly telling this story of one bad night?

I couldn’t have written “The Clay Girl”.  I have no stories or experiences of this nature.  Which is, even more, a reason for me to read it.  To have empathy, to have the compassion to try and understand.  Probably it fuels my fire for the stories coming out in the news lately.  How many women have been subjected to sexual misconduct?  To get a promotion, feed their kids, get ahead, pass a class.

You’ll love the heroes in “The Clay Girl”, especially the men.  Hooray for the men who img_0199.jpglove and respect the women in their lives.    You are the majority and we love you back. Hooray for the men who roast us brussel sprouts, let us cry tears of frustration with them, wash the dishes, wait patiently as we browse in a store, fill up our freezers with game meat and share the experiences of the natural world in speechless appreciation.

I highly recommend (although not for everyone) the novel “The Clay Girl”. ( But don’t read the back cover.)

You can find more great book recommendations at Wild About Books Website.

Social Stratification and a New Book Selection

I board the plane at 5:00 am in Missoula, Montana on my way to New York City with my daughter to visit my son and his fiance.  Hannah and I are in zone three.  We are always in zone three.  The butt of the plane.  Always.

We walk through the first class people.  The zone threes stare at them waiting for the line to progress as zone threes take a while to put their one and only free bag in the overhead compartment.  The first class are settling into their big comfortable seats with pillows and blankets and drinks, laptops are out.  We slowly move past the first class as the corridor to the rest of the plane narrows.  IMG_0085

Recently there has been another class distinction in traveling by plane.  You can get a cheaper ticket if you don’t want to get a seat assignment until you arrive at the airport.  Which of course Hannah and I did.  This means that you will be separated and in the dreaded middle seat of the six seats per row (three seats per side).   The people seated next to us paid extra money to now be the pass people.  “Will you pass this plastic spoon over to my mom?”  “Could you pass my phone charger to my daughter?”

One leg of our flight we did sit together.  In the very last row.  The seats that don’t recline.  Next to the bathrooms.  And supposedly next to the engine as it is very loud back in the last row.  Now the bathroom line people stare at us in our upright ridged position with the seat in front of us reclined in our face.  The last to get a drink and peanuts.  The last to get off the plane.

New York City was wonderful.  Central Park was packed with families, strollers, dogs.  People enjoying the sunshine, sitting on benches reading or talking to one another.  Bikers and joggers and entertainers.  It was a plethora of humanity at it’s finest in the middle of Manhattan.  I would look people in the eye and smile and they would smile back.  People would ask us directions to places. It was all very warm and friendly, as I believe that most of the world is.

The subways were a transportation miracle.  Thousands of people descending into the underground of New York as thousands of people ascended from the underground.  Weaving their way through the coming and going of millions of people, getting on trains getting off trains, constant movement.  Above ground, the traffic was bumper to bumper with taxis and cars and big black Suburbans.  Horns honking.  Fire trucks and ambulances slowly squeezing through with their sirens on.  And just when you think there couldn’t be any more people left, you see the sidewalks are full of pedestrians.  Walking to school to work to the store to the subway.  So much movement.  And it all works.  And people smile and say they are sorry when they bump you.

All the store employees are nice.  We go to the vegan gluten-free bakery and buy dessert laughing and joking with the employee.  We go to the corner market for beer and toilet paper and tell the cashier we have a wild night planned as I nod to the items we are purchasing.  She laughs and says don’t get too carried away.

I tell my kids that I really expected there to be a lot more black people in New York City.  Zach says there are in Queens and the Bronx.  Zach and Taylor live in the upper east side not too far from Madonna.  They live in an old apartment building that’s possibly on the list to be torn down and rebuilt soon.  One bedroom, the smallest kitchen I’ve ever seen and was a steal at $2700 per month.  Living in Manhatten for them means not having to own a car and they can walk to work.  It’s a good trade-off as opposed to a cheaper apartment somewhere else with long expensive commutes.

Each neighborhood in Manhattan had its own social stratification.  Like walking down the aisle of an airplane you walked through Manhattan, a rich borough, and see the distinct classes.

The United States prides itself on hard work lifting you up to another socioeconomic rung.  Climbing the ladder.  But that distinction also means that if you are not climbing that ladder it’s your own choice.  But some people’s ladders start below ground level and other’s start more than halfway up their ladder the day they are born.  Or maybe climbing a class ladder is not your intention.  You like the adventure of finding a small affordable apartment in Manhattan that you will remember forever and laugh about or sitting the in middle seat of the plane.  Is it a choice?  If I suddenly had a lot of money would I buy a first-class plane ticket?

I think the thing that baffles me most about class distinction is that we associate ourselves with similar classes.  Do we segregate consciously?  If I suddenly had a lot of money would I have a new set of friends?  Do you have to have money and social hierarchy to be a politician?  My kids have never voted for a white male for president.  Would they have if they had been born with lots of money?  Who knows? IMG_0053 (1)

I just finished reading “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende.  The book takes place over three generations in Chile.  Lots of social stratification, political corruption, suppression of women, male dominance and an uncanny parallel of our current and ever-widening gap of socioeconomic class distinctions.  But the underlying theme of the book is that the indomitable spirit of these suppressed groups trumps the corruption.  Stay strong.  Stay true to yourself.  Smile at strangers.  Ask for directions.  Most people in all classes are nice and helpful.  Don’t be afraid to mingle.

I highly recommend “The House of Spirits”.  This and other great book selections can be found on the Wild About Books website.



Secret Acts of Virtue and New Book Selection

In my last “Wake up your Life” Webinar (a free webinar lead by a certified wellness coach) our focus for the two weeks was ‘secret acts of virtue’.  The mission of this focus was to do good things for people anonymously.  Fun.  I love the active activities; something you can sink your teeth into.  I pictured myself wearing an invisible cape doing good deeds on the sly.wake-up

The project did not start out as expected.

“Hey,  thanks for the organic dark chocolate peanut butter cup Lisa.” or “Did you put that bag of fresh picked huckleberries on my desk, Lisa?”

Everyone knew it was me.

I needed my secret acts of virtue to be with strangers or leave doughnuts, which is against my foodie religion.

I couldn’t think of a planned secret virtue.  And even if I did, like leaving a five dollar bill under the windshield wiper of a car in a handicap spot, the act still seemed to be a sort of fuel for my own ego.  I was in a conundrum.

As I was driving to Hamilton on a Saturday with my list, a car ran into a truck right in front of me.  If I had been not paying attention or had been driving too close I would have been right there in the wreck as well.  I pulled over to the side of the road right behind the wreck, a car was smashed and a pickup truck had some minor damage.  My first thought was that I should call 911 as I was the first person to see this accident and I was right here next to it.  But my fingers wouldn’t work. When they did work, I couldn’t work my phone.  As I was fumbling to do my good deed, I watched as a man got out of the truck with his phone to his ear and was walking to the smashed car to check on the passengers.  I realized everything was taken care of as I carefully moved into the line of cars driving around the wreck and my focus returned to my day and my list.

I pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store and saw that my ‘pulling over behind the wreck’ must have been a good slam to the brakes as the cooler had moved from the back of the Subaru to the front, tipped over, come open and the frozen milk carton of water had ejected itself from the cooler.  I put everything back together as the ambulance drove by with its siren on.

I completed my list in an efficient and timely manner.  I headed for home passing by the wreck site.

My daughter Hannah had been in a wreck several months before this.  T-boned while driving through an intersection totaling her car.   Immediately after her wreck, a female pedestrian walked up to Hannah’s car at a busy cross road and asked what she could do to help.  Hannah asked for help to get out of the car.  Hannah managed to shimmy her way from the crushed driver’s side, disentangle herself from the deflated air bag as the woman helped her out the passenger side window.  The woman sat with Hannah on the curb as they waited for the police, ambulance and Hannah’s friend to show up. The woman literally supported Hannah as Hannah leaned against her at the crash site. When Hannah’s friend showed up the woman disappeared from the scene as quickly as she had appeared.  She left without Hannah asking her name or being able to thank her.

I was so grateful for this woman who helped Hannah.  Hannah’s “wreck mom” I called the woman.  I told Hannah I was going to pay it forward and next time I saw an accident I would be someone’s “wreck mom”.

But I didn’t.

I didn’t think about it.

I had my list.

It’s not a secret act of virtue I want to accomplish, it’s an unconscious act of virtue I want to strive for.   Automatic.  Innate.  Help.

But that is what the Wake up Your Life Webinar is all about.  Consciously doing an anonymous act of virtue will lead to automatic acts of virtue.  Focusing on the moment at hand, not on your list or self-imposed timed schedule.  In other words “wake up your life”.  Hannah told me that I am now one step closer to being a “wreck mom” for someone else, the time will be right and I will step in without thinking about it.

The book selection for this blog post is “Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly  Lilac Girls

“Lilac Girls” is a historical novel based on a true story and, yes, it’s a World War II novel.  It’s so good.  Great story, engaging characters.  Characters whose lives are woken up by horrific events.  Characters who unconsciously help strangers, their fellow man, in unthinkable situations.  A very well written book. I highly recommend “Lilac Girls”.

For more great book selections check out Wild About Books.  If you’re interested in the Wake up Your Life Webinar’s with Meg Poe check out her website, click here.



Hillbilly Elegy

Just finished Hillbilly Elegy.  It’s been on my radar for quite some time but I could not bring myself to pay the new book price for it.  Then, as luck would have it, my “book bub” post that I subscribe to had it listed as a bargain book.  I was able to download it on my Kindle for $4.99.  It was meant to be read at this time.

It’s a memoir. Hillbilly

While I was reading, I kept feeling as if I were reading about the deep south in the sixties and seventies.  But no, the author of this book was born in 1983 and grew up in Ohio.

I also realized while reading about this author, that many of the stories he was telling are happening every day in the lives of many of the students that attend the school where I work.  This is a book about poverty.  A vicious cycle with few positive role models, few options and mostly a life course in daily survival.

For several years I had a student at the school that I was paired up with to mentor.  She came to visit me in my office.  Sometimes she brought friends, sometimes it was just her.  She was in fifth grade when we started meeting.  She had a younger brother and sister and was responsible for getting them up and walking them to school.  She managed to get them all to school before the late bell, but they rarely got there in time for breakfast.  All three of them would start their day on an empty stomach.

I asked her once what they had had for dinner the night before.  She said her mom wasn’t home and so she made Top Raman for her and her siblings.  I was impressed and asked her if she was comfortable turning on the stove and boiling water.  She looked at me funny and said, “you cook Top Ramen?”

The school has since implemented a breakfast after the bell program and is free to all students.

My mentee student dropped out of school and had a baby at fifteen, just like her mother and her mother’s mother. Generational poverty.  Almost impossible to overcome.  This student just turned her grandmother into a great grandmother while still in her late forties.  Last time I saw this student she was grudgingly carrying her son and living with her estranged baby’s father at his step father’s house.  This story is right on par with Hillbilly Elegy.

This past spring I was coaching Junior High tennis.  I had a sixth grader who was new to the sport.  He picked it up very well, had good hand eye coordination, understood that when a bouncing ball was coming towards you to back up and not run forwards as most Junior High tennis players do, over and over as the ball bounces over their heads every time.

We were on the bus to an away match.  I knew that this boy didn’t live with his mother or father.  That he lived with a friend of the family.

I asked him, “Where does your mom live?”

He replied, “Rehab”.

“Oh,” I said.  “How’s that going for her?”

“Pretty good.”

I don’t know much of this kid’s story.  But he and the other student I mentored began their lives far behind the starting line, with little chance of catching up and more likely to continue a cycle of poverty, crime, substance abuse, partner abuse and living on public assistance.

We have advertised several positions at our school.  Cook, classroom aide and a janitor with very few applicants.  We’ve found that people have better benefits without a job than with it.

Hillbilly Elegy asks what is the answer?  How do we break out of this cycle? Having giving trees, coat drives, free/reduced lunches are not helping, they seem to be enabling.  They are expected.  We have such a high percentage of students on the food stamp program, that the state allows us to just go ahead and feed all the kids in elementary for free.

The book says there needs to be a supportive adult role model in a child’s life.  But how do you guarantee that?  How can you have a mother reading every night to her children when she can’t read?  How do you have a father reading out spelling words before spelling test day when he’s out of the picture and fathering and abandoning more children?

Hillbilly Elegy doesn’t give answers but it does open your eyes and hopefully, opens the conversation for a solution or to maybe get off of our high horse as a nation and look to some countries who have figured this out.   I highly recommend this book.



Last Call for the Groover

It’s a cool beautiful morning as the sun rises over the canyon wall of the Salmon River.  The North American River Rats are fully rested and fed and are packing up their boats for another day of whitewater adventures on The River of No Return.  Just as the warmth of the sun turns into the sweltering heat of the sun you can hear the sing-song sound of the River Rat.

“Last call for the groover.” img_0442.jpg

The males look up from the multitude of NRS straps crisscrossing their boats, for it is the male that always takes advantage of that last chance on the shitter.

Casually, they will walk away from their boats, not wanting to draw attention to the fact that they are on their way to take a dump and at the same time, allowing each male ample time to take his turn.

Careful now.  Occasionally, to the unsuspecting male, a female will have missed her morning ritual and will make a run for the groover, passing the male in an all out sprint through the sandy beach.  The female possesses an innate knowledge that, unlike the male, she has the ability to be quick and efficient at excrement relief and will be closing the cap to the hand sanitizer before the male reaches the imaginary waiting zone.

The female does have difficulties in the one river rule that no one can pee in the pooper. Every species knows that the pee or liquid will make the poop expand and no one wants the groover to be full to the top before the end of the trip.

Rare and grainy footage has documented the female in the pee/poop conundrum.  In squat postion, they are able to move quickly several meters to one side and empty the bladder, then while still squatting, side shuffles back to the groover to finish the job.  Although the female bladder never seems to fully empty, resulting in some pee in the pooper.

Once the morning migration to the groover ceases, the groover seat is removed and stored and the lid sealed on tightly as the whole contraption is carried by two river rats to the shit boat for transport to the next camp, giving new meaning to pack it in, pack it out.

Approximately ten thousand River Rats float the Salmon River each summer.  Hauling out your poop is imperative.  And, except for the female pee/poop conundrum, everyone is instructed to pee in the river.

Once again, the males have the advantage of discreetly peeing in the river where there is little to no privacy.  The male peeing stance is commonly recognized, yet still privately executed.  The females, on the other hand, are meant to leave modesty behind and instead bare their behinds.  Bare female asses can be seen along the river’s edge more often than not.  All shapes and sizes and styles of peeing can be observed.  The traditional full on squat is the most common, but variations of this are also used.  The impressive half squat is also seen quite often.  Some females are comfortable with the wide leg, upright stance that works with the dress or skirt while going commando, a popular camp outfit.

The North American River Rat is truly an unusual species.  Having to poop in a bucket with all of the other River Rats for a week is not always acceptable in other migrating groups, but the River Rat has adapted to this behavior and continues to float rivers together.

More adventure stories and a kick ass resource for book lovers can be found at Wild About Books.