I Am on an Overnight "Camping" Trip Right Now With Four Girls. (part I)

Although we are not sleeping in a tent tonight,
I did make dinner over a camp fire.

It is the very first camp fire I built all by myself.
While the girls were busy catching crawfish and playing in a mudslide they made--I busied myself with the task of building a fire.
I worked on it for HOURS.
Not exaggerating about how long this took.
It had been raining for a few days and so all the wood was wet.
In the middle of my unsuccessful attempts at fire building, I left to go to the nearest convenience/gas station/hardware store almost 3 miles away- to try and purchase dry firewood.
But they did not have any firewood for sale.
So I decided to try using the one little package of firestarter that we had.
Firestarter is a thing that contains some sort of flammable chemical.
It is to be used only when one gives up due to incompetence or wet firewood.
Firestarter burns quickly but will only work on wet wood if one uses a ton of kindling.
So I harvested a ton of kindling.
Dead branches on the ground that have parts that are off the ground (meaning they have been hanging out to dry) and make a snapping sound when you break it off--make good kindling (A lesson on fire building that I recently learned)
When you feed the kindling in between the burning firestarter and the wet wood, it becomes a a race between the firestarter extinguishing or one piece of wood drying out and catching fire.
Once I got one piece of wood burning, the rest reluctantly followed.
With careful stoking and fanning of flames I was able to wait until that chemical agent was all burned before making grilled cheese sandwiches, hotdogs and s'mores for dinner over the hot coals.

I never knew making a fire would be this satisfying.
And as instructed in 1 Corinthians 1:31
"So then, as the scripture says, "whoever wants to boast must boast of what The Lord has done."
I prayed that God would help me build that fire.
Of course I did.


Just Got Back From Roch

The girls (and Pax) and I drove 300 miles to visit my mother over the weekend.
The last time I saw her was between Christmas and New Year's day.
I slept in my dad's office/computer room surrounded by all his stuff.
Since his death five years ago, this was my first time to really examine his library.
He was a big underliner and highlighter of phrases so it is an interesting experience to read his books.
It is like having him read over my shoulder, making sure that I do not miss salient points.
I felt even more connected to him  when I discovered that he owned a hardbound copy of one of my favorite books (that my niece Erica recommended),
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
I did not know that he had this.
But I am not surprised.

I recently read a book recommended by DZ called, Silent Voices, The Lives of the Trappists Today by photojournalist Frank Bianco.
Very fascinating, these monks are--so I wanted to visit one of their abbeys which is a 45 minute drive from my mom's house.
Last saturday my mom, my SIL Chari, K, G and I drove 45 minutes 60 minutes to visit the Genesee Abbey in Piffard, NY.
We got lost trying to find it.
As we were meandering through endless cornfields in the middle of well, cornfields-- my SIL Char teased me and predicted, "when we finally get there, the place will be closed for the summer."

It turns out, the chapel was closed for renovation.
(there's that words-become-our-prayer- thingy again.)
But all was not lost since the bread shop was open.
So we bought two loaves of delicious raisin bread.
And the day was still not wasted since I was also able to stalk my friend JB, who was also "in town"
visiting her sister who lives 5 miles away from the abbey.
JB is from a tight knit family and they are beginning to notice that we keep crashing their family events....

We did not stay long, as my eldest brother Jimmy was going to grill pork belly for dinner.
We did not get lost getting back to Roch.
After dropping my SIL off at their house,
and dropping my mom and K off at my mom's house--
G asked to go to a super large Barnes and Noble bookstore.
I dropped her off at the bookstore while I looked for "bear spray" in an outdoor sporting shop nearby.
While they did not sell bear spray, they did have bear proof canisters for sale.
Maybe they should make bear proof tents.
(they do. They are called houses.)

At my brother's house, had a huge dinner of grilled pork belly dipped in crushed garlic vinegar, grilled veggies.
And rice.
For dessert had many servings of creamy ice cream from the local dairy.

Drove back home today after church and a big lunch.
The big lunch was probably a mistake because I got very sleepy during the first 65 miles.
You know that jarring feeling when you realize that you may have been asleep for a split second?
So I pulled into a rest stop.
Unfortunately two large tour buses got there before me and so the lines were very long to get a hot cup of coffee.
So I decided to check out the convenience store.
I found bottled iced Starbucks in the refrigerator and bought that instead.
That woke me up.
In fact I realize that it was better than hot coffee because I would not have been able to guzzle that down quickly.
The caffeine kept me alert as I drove through some powerful rain storms on the rest of the drive home.
It must have been pretty strong caffeine, as I am still awake right now, while the rest of my family sleeps.

I think I will counter the caffeine of the bottled Starbucks coffee with a shot of  iChill.
(Which works by the way, iChill, I mean--it is this berry flavored sleep aid concoction sold over-the-counter, but I am not yet sure of any side effects--more tests needed.)
And no,  I have not been paid to advertise either Starbucks or iChill.
Just sharing.


Conquering The Wilderness

We are in the process of having a house/hunting cabin built by the river. It's almost done.
It's already livable, just some features like shower doors, safety railings, window screens, bathroom lights etc are not in yet.

While my family love to stay in it,  I prefer to stay half a mile away--in a woodsy peninsula--in a tent.
I camped last week. All by myself. (okay with Pax)
It was my very first time to sleep in the wilderness with no other humans within earshot.

The next day CK and her family joined us to celebrate the 4th of July.
They too pitched a tent beside my tent.
My brother A and sister-in-law R joined us too, just for the evening--as well as another couple
Mike and Lisa.(<--more about them later)
We gathered around a camp fire roasting stuff to eat.

In the evening, I was driving our ATV from our campsite to the house, with CK in the front seat when suddenly--a bear crossed our path a few yards away.
I thought I was imagining it but when CK and I turned to each other, we clutched each other and started screaming. She saw it too.
We went on to the house where we relayed our bear encounter to Steve and his brother Tim.
I was planning to leave the ATV at the house so that they would not have to walk to join us at the camp fire but after seeing a bear, I changed my mind.
We took some kids on the ATV with us, (they were planning to walk) and on the ride back to the camp...
we saw another bear.
G spotted it sitting on the side of the trail.
She yelled: "BEAR!!!"
And this bear promptly popped up and took off.

I was aware that the property had bears, but its not like it is teeming with them.
The guys had seen one once during hunting season.
No bears were spotted near the peninsula nor building site--so us seeing two bears in a span of 20 minutes is quite remarkable.
Coincidentally, earlier in the day, while Steve and I were giving CK and her husband CB a tour of the property,
I announced to the three of them that I wanted to see a bear while we were riding the ATV.
(I had never seen one in the wild.)
But I wanted to see one while we were at the "hunting" areas of the property,  not near where I lay sleeping in a tent!!!!  I guess I should have been more specific.
(Sidebar: further proof that our words become our prayers, so we must guard our thoughts and words at all times.)

I was a unnerved by our bear encounters and was feeling unsure about sleeping in our tents that night.
But then after further discussion with CK and CB, we decided to stick to the plan to camp.

Anyhow--that night, once CK and family were in their tent, the non-campers were back at the house and I was back in my tent with Pax, my mind started up again.
I pondered the difference in the camping experience, pre-bear sighting when I was on my solo camping experience and post-bear sighting.
Pre-bear sighting-- the rippling of the river, the sound of leaves rustling, and the occasional assortment of forest noises made me feel both at peace and alive.
Post-bear sighting-- the rippling of the river was making me worried that I would not hear the sound of an approaching bear.
The forest sounds were making me feel like I was not going to be alive for very long.

I felt myself beginning to get worked up.
Then I remembered two things:
-I thought of Daniel in the den of the lions. (Book of Daniel chapter 6) and how God protected Daniel because of his great faith.
-and I remembered to pray.
Then I went to sleep.
The next morning we were so happy to have conquered the wilderness despite our bear sightings.
Or, maybe we were just ecstatic to be alive.

I am becoming a camper.
Camping is another way that I will be able to learn how to live by faith.
In the process I will also learn tips on how to coexist in the woods with bears.
Such as:
1. Don't ever feed the bears. 
So after enjoying food cooked over a fire, we made sure to send every single morsel of food/garbage/refuse back to the house with the non-campers. 
2. Make a lot of noise
Bears do not want to be around humans just as much as humans do not want to be mauled by bears. I kept a whistle on me at all times after the bear encounter. 
3. Keep a fire going at your camp site
We had tiki torches lit and our bonfire going. 
4. Make sure you are not camping near berry bushes and other bear snackables. 
(I will add to this list as I learn it.)


How I Got Reconnected With God

"I have to admit something to you," she said. "I don't pray anymore"
"That's okay," I replied. "in time, you will again."

This is a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago with a friend of mine after I openly prayed for her while she was going through a panic attack at Target.
I told her that not too long ago, that I too for many years had quit praying because
I stopped believing in God.
I even stopped pretending to believe in God.
When my daughters were 6 and 8 years old, they clamored to attend Easter Vigil, so I dropped them off at the church and picked them after.
(Yes, you read that right, they attended the long Easter Vigil mass two years in a row--by themselves--without parents.)

After a few years of denying the existence of God--my life started becoming even more intolerable.
But I disguised it by being social on the outside and then literally hiding and going underground to recharge my exhausted acting muscles.
To help me perform I started using more alcohol--and then worked double hard to keep checking the box on parenting despite chaotic internal turmoil.
It became a pattern of living.
I lived like this until I almost lost my family.
But I didn't.
And this is when God found me.

I did not have a sudden "God experience" that led to my "conversion" either.
No evangelist knocking on my door, no spiritual guru, no mommy bible study group...
It actually started when my friend CK introduced me to meditation.
Buddhist type meditation, no less.
Learning to sit quietly, just breathing--somehow cleared a pathway between me and God.

Through the support of friends and through countless other blessings that seemed to "coincidentally" appear right after I hit the very bottom of despair, I suddenly noticed God.
But the kindness of Steve is where I really felt God.
I will not go into detail, but you have to believe me when I tell you that God is real.
Trust me on this one.

It has led me to return to regular Mass attendance.
It has encouraged me to start reading my Bible.
It has compelled me to carve out a daily prayer time.
It has allowed me to experience the power of prayer.
It has opened up my heart to life.
It has made me start exercising--if you've known me for a long time, you would know that the fact that I now run--is a miracle.

The question is, am a 100% cured of what plagues me?
The actual answer is, nothing real plagues me.
Just thoughts about the past (and worry about the future), but thoughts are not real.
Right this very second, I am not experiencing anything disturbing.
Right this very second I am not experiencing anything that can cause guilt, shame or blame.
Am I cured of my unreal thoughts?
Most of the time I am,  and when my unreal thoughts bother me, it is much easier to deal with it now that I have newish faith in God (my reconnection happened in 2011, so it is fairly new) and knowledge of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
When SHTF,  I just pray.


Summer Hours!

I've been writing but have not been finishing posts because life has been getting in the way of blogging. I will publish my "back issues" as soon as I finish them.
Baby turtle and the girls.
They released it after the photo op. Not going through the trauma of another death...
G and her little kayak.
Pax's newest trick: jumping on the trampoline.
The girls floating down the river.


For Nine Months We Kept It Alive

G fished a tadpole out of a pond at the property 90 miles away.
We took it home and cared for it for nine months.
Despite the fact that I do not like frogs or toads,
I kept checking on it.

I watched it grow bigger because I was intrigued
(and worried).
Just the other day we were discussing
this tadpole and I wondered why it was taking so long
for it to metamorphose into its next stage.

Not that I was looking forward to it.
I worried that I would wake up with a large toad sitting on my face.
Such a, what's the word...to want something yet dread it at the same time?
I am deathly afraid of frogs or toads.

I guess I had nothing to fear as G's tadpole died yesterday.
I was very sad that G's tadpole died.
Which was weird since I am deathly afraid of frogs and toads.
K and I had a little burial ceremony for it.
G could not attend because she left for a few days of volleyball camp.

Thesaurus says the word is: Incongruous, Paradoxical. Perplexing, Confusing.


The Odds

What are the odds that I would be looking for an old tooth brush to scrub the stubborn dirt in the grout of my bathroom?
What are the odds of my finding anything in our haystack of a bathroom closet? (it is too awful that I can't even post a picture)

Yet I stumbled upon a lost wedding ring while trying to find a tool to help me with a task that I don't normally do.

The odd thing is, I found this ring today after a slightly ugly exchange I had with Steve last night.
We had a bit of a dispute regarding "policies and procedures."

I told him that my one wish for my family was that we would become closer to each other and become God-centered.
(okay that was two.)
And then not two minutes later I told him to "eff off."

What on earth!!??
Clearly I had misplaced the Holy Spirit.
It happens.
Just like his misplaced wedding ring.

When he thought he lost it a few weeks ago at the property, I handed him his original wedding ring from 20 years ago. (nice try)
I told him that since I loved those rings we bought at an arts festival, that I would pray that it will turn up. 
Again, as always--he doubted we would see it again.

We made up before sleeping last night but when I woke up,  I felt lousy as I was replaying that exchange.
So lousy that I kinda cried about it to my friend SL, before I decided to keep praying and scrubbing my bathroom.
You can only imagine my pleasant surprise when I accidentally stumbled upon the ring that Steve was convinced was lost in the woods 90 miles away.

Not only was this ring under a heap of rags, cleaning supplies, plastic bags, a vomit bucket, a mop, a toilet plunger and other odds and ends but it was also sitting IN an empty soap dish!
(meaning it did not roll in, or get kicked in accidentally after slipping off his finger)

What are the odds that I would find a symbol of unity after last night?
As Steve likes to say: "one in three."


The Eagles

All our bicycles tires were flat and had not been tested out for 2014.
So I got Steve a bicycle pump for Father's day.
On Sunday, after Steve made use of his "present," he suggested a family bike ride.
The destination: to see The Eagles.
Not the band but the eagles that have made their home near a bike trail 6+ miles away.
The girls grumbled about going for a bike ride.
We assured them that it would be a neat thing.
G whined about having viewed the eagle web cam every. single. day. during the school year because her homeroom teacher was obsessed with them.

We all wore helmets, they grumbled some more about having to wear helmets.
We biked amidst the grumbling.
3 miles into the trip G's bike seat started twisting and turning until it sank as low as it could get.
We did not have the tools to tighten it back up to its correct position.
This would not have been a problem except she had grown about three inches since the last time she biked.
So her unadjustable seat made her bike now fit for a 10 year old.

Do you know how hard it is to climb hills in a bike too small for you?
I don't.
But K does because she switched bikes with G.
We biked 3 more miles until we saw the eagles.
While Steve and I admired the soaring sight, the girls grumbled a little bit more, not about biking but about having to view eagles they were not remotely interested in.

In total K ended up biking 9.5 miles in the small bike with a wiggly seat just so G would not have a hard time.
Do you know how ridiculously funny a 5'7 tall, 15 year old girl looks biking in a tiny bike?
(I will post a picture if she will let me.)
Yet she did it anyway without being asked to, nor complaining.

I often write about the challenges and anguish I endure while raising teenagers, yet today
I write this post in praise of my 15 year old daughter, K.
While biking 12.5 miles as a family to see some eagles was a fulfilling activity (for us parents, not for our daughters) seeing K in a selfless act towards her sister G was downright heartwarming.
I will remember this the next time I feel like strangling her.


The Shark

I guess I was not completely okay.
Because if I was, I would have been happy for Steve when he got his Father's day letters from the girls.
The trigger was envy.
I got super envious of K's letter to him.
It was weep-worthy.

I repeat, I should have been happy.
But I wasn't.
So I bought a vacuum cleaner.
This was not an impulse buy, btw.
My vacuum cleaner had stopped working efficiently, many weeks  months ago.
So I quit vacuuming.

Although I was tempted,  I did not buy a Dyson vacuum cleaner.
After consulting with JB, she suggested I get the Shark Navigator from Target, and put the hundreds of dollars saved towards a really nice Stand-Up Paddle board that I have been wanting to get.
I am glad I did not fall for the British accent advertising an appliance that I will seldom use, as The Shark works really really well.

The amount of dust, dirt, dog and bunny fur, human hair, dead skin, etc that I sucked up was incredible.
I couldn't stop myself.
It is bag-less and despite the assault on my sinuses, I absolutely loved emptying the full container of life's mess into one garbage bag, over and over again.
(picture to follow)

I woke up at 4:30 this morning, tempted to vacuum some more but I didn't want to wake the house up.
Instead, I went downstairs and picked up a book that DZ lent me about the Holy Spirit.
The book is called Forgotten God by Francis Chan.
Chan's main point in the book is to remind people that Jesus promised that after his death, that all that believe in Him will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit will comfort and lead us, always, if we want the Holy Spirit to do so.
The thing is, I have heard this message ever since I was young but I never took it literally.
So I decided to really search the Bible and re-read the accounts of the arrival of the Holy Spirit. (It is in the New Testament)

So as I understand it, after Jesus spent his three years teaching and living by example among humans--
he followed Divine schedule by dying on the cross.
However, before he did that he assured his followers that there would be a substitute that would be sent to replace him.
This "sub" would not just walk among his followers, but would instead live inside each follower.
Jesus said, this is even better!

Okay, let me stop there.

I decided to think about that for a second.
I reflected on my recent bout of depression and the residual stuff I was still in the process of vacuuming away and thought about the idea of the Holy Spirit living in me...

The Holy Spirit that lives in me is not depressed.
My human spirit is.
Suddenly, something switched in my brain.
I had been pedaling uphill with my human nature when I could be stepping on the
"Holy Spirit accelerator" to move forward.

And that is how my mental state recovered in the wee hours of the morning in June.
Vacuuming moved my mental clouds,
but the reminder of the indwelling Holy Spirit that Comforts, Guides and Helps completely lifted the stubborn and heavy dirt.
The Holy Spirit is like the Shark Navigator of my heart and soul.
100% Guaranteed. Or Your Money back.


"Tor Eckman" The Cranio-Sacral Therapy Guy

The therapist came highly recommended.
CK had been suggesting that Steve go see "Tor" to cure his various ailments and  occasional back pains. But Steve would have none of it.
Since my neck (and brain) had been bothering me lately,
I decided to go and check him out myself, all for the sake of science--albeit the alternative kind.

If I had not been prepared by CK for the setting, I would have bolted.
No sane part of me drives 20+ miles to receive unfamiliar "treatment,"  let alone treatment that is administered behind an unmarked office door located across the hallway from a closed storage rental office.

I arrived 10 minutes early for my appointment.
The parking lot was empty.
The building was open so I went in and up a flight of steps.
I found 2C to be locked.
I felt a bit odd, and had to shake the "Clarice Starling in Silence of The Lambs" feeling off me.

After 10 minutes (my actual appointment time) I called the phone number I had, but I could hear the phone ringing through the locked door.
I thought that perhaps I had the wrong date.
I was not sure how long to wait but I was not about to give up that easily--after all, I drove waaaay out of my radius.
So I waited 10 more minutes.

At the exact second I decided to leave, I got up from sitting on the floor of the deserted hallway, but then suddenly got a call from an unknown cell number. .
It was from "Tor."  He said that he was on his way. (!!!?!)
So I waited an additional 10 more minutes.
I heard the office building open and heard him meticulously wiping his shoes on the door mat at the bottom of the steps.
Like an extra 45 seconds of wiping!
(as if he had just come from burying his previous client)
But, I pushed that thought and my mild irritation at his tardiness out of my mind and made the choice to stay completely neutral. 

"Tor" (a nondescript man that seemed to be about my age) did not mention that he was late.
He merely apologized for not taping a note to the door to inform me that he would be back.
He said this while he was filing his fingernails. (I felt like I was being punked)
Then he washed his hands and then shook my hand.

N E U T R A L,  I remained.

He asked me what was ailing me.
I asked him what the LMT after his name stood for.
After a few more questions, the therapy began.
He asked me to remove my running shoes.
My long sleeved t-shirt, loose linen shorts and my socks stayed on.

The session was mostly Cranio-Sacral therapy,  (CST)
with a mixture of Acupressure, Physical Therapy and a peppering of voodoo.
He started with my feet and legs and worked his way up.
It was not a "typical massage" as CST is defined as a gentle form of manual therapy using light touch to release tensions throughout the body.

At first I was a bit freaked out.
Actually, it never fully went away--
While CK had warned me that a treatment took as long as FOUR hours,
she did not warn me that some moves in this type of therapy would involve areas that seemed dangerously close to my tailbone and groin.
The only thing that kept me on the table was the knowledge that CK trusted this guy, not only for herself, but also for her own mother and her son!

But I digress.
Because I was uncomfortable to begin with, I kept my eyes shut while praying, the entire time.
Then I started breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth in order to relax myself.
I wanted CST to work, and I did not want any negative vibes to get in the way.


About an hour into it,
just when I was getting into my meditative "Our Father" zone, my nose suddenly quit working.
My sinuses started swelling for no apparent reason.
I didn't say anything. I just started breathing in and out through my mouth.
After a half hour of mouth breathing, he asked about my sinuses.
I said that I didn't know what happened but that I seemed to be having an allergic reaction to something.
He said that as he was "releasing tension" in my lower body, my head was getting tighter.
(like squeezing a tube of toothpaste from the bottom up but with the cap still on.)
He assured me that once he released the rest of me, my sinuses would open up again.
I sat up and asked for tissues and blew my nose violently.
I tried to open it up myself but got nothing.
So I settled back down to experience the rest of my "releasing."

Breathing through my mouth, I prayed.
I prayed when he pressed near my bladder.
I prayed when he tapped the top of my head (Steve said, "Hello? Anybody home? Think McFly!")
I prayed when he had his hand covering part of my face and in my eye socket.
I prayed when he had his finger IN MY EAR. (not just one time but twice as he did my other ear too.)
I prayed, actually no, I surrendered when he had his hand on my throat.
The entire time, I kept my eyes closed.

I prayed until the next two and a half hours later, my sinuses where open again--and I was apparently all released.


Even if CST can supposedly also help with depression, I never told "Tor" that I had just recovered from a bout of it.
I figured that if it was going to be effective for my neck pain, that it would also work on my mental health.
(Like spraying for mosquitos ends up killing fleas as well.)
I was on the recovery swing by the time I went in for my neck but somehow I have a feeling that "Tor" may have squeezed the last of my depression out of me and stored it in the Storage Facility 20+ miles away.

Would I ever recommend that Steve try CST? Absolutely not.

Was I glad that I went?
Yes, because I think that anytime you step out of your comfort zone--you train your heart to remain open to life.

Would I go for treatment again?
I would, because I think as with anything in life--knowing exactly what to expect next time around would eliminate the Hannibal Lecter quality to the session and promote healing.
Besides, my neck is still sore.