Kindness in Action

FB_IMG_1508278055322I spent a lot of time this week thinking about kindness. During brunch, last weekend with a group of Americans and Canadians living in Mexico, we talked about how much we appreciate the small acts of kindness we experience here. A child passing by on the street makes eye contact and says “Buenas tardes.” A teenager offers their seat on the bus or even helps an elder down the stairs! We shared our experiences of being warmly welcomed as immigrants! We also talked about the hatred spewing constantly from the Whitehouse and we talked about the need for more compassion and kindness in the world. I shared how my beloved Seattle had changed, and how little compassion for others I felt or saw there anymore. In a city now bursting with money, it feels angrier. Despite the mindboggling amount of wealth, King County has the third largest homeless population in the US! Shockingly, most people seem to believe this is just “the way things are” or even worse the way they are supposed to be. The majority walk past the people who are homeless but refuse to see them. However, some people choose kindness. These are the stories that need to be shared.

Please digest the powerful words of Shelli Kountz – written in tribute and describing kindness in action. I hope these words are a call to action. We need a kindness revolution.

yellow rose

Today a man died at the store where I serve coffee and snax.

His name was Tomas and he was homeless.

I first saw him a year or so ago perched on a well visited ‘get high’ wall behind a gas station. He didn’t seem to be too invested in the local traffic of users and other broken types, just posted up drinking beer all day. The regulars seem to let him have it. I said “Hi” a few times before he authentically responded and his eyes were very warm despite having the desperate gloss of broken vision. He would wave or nod once he realized I was always going to be passing him because I too called this little intersection home. I asked him to hold the free parking spots that were so coveted and he would always gesture assuredly … even though he only actually got up once to hold the spot.

He had powers I suppose; I always managed to get the spot even when my car was around the corner.

This summer it got so hot in Seattle, much higher than the norm and one day he was just sitting there, full sun, sweating terribly.  I asked him if he had any water (he did not) and chided him to stay hydrated. I told him he could fill up at the Co-op, also part of our little intersection, for 50 cents if he had a container. He didn’t ­– so I grabbed one of mine and told him I would bring him some later. I did. I told him I would fill it up for him anytime because I had to get some as well. That became our pattern for a few weeks and one day he asked me to show him. We walked down to the co-op and went to the back where the purifier stood for all to access. I showed him the machine and said just come fill up anytime and I’ll pay for it. I told my friend/coworkers from the Co-op what I would be doing and they said “cool”.  As the weather shifted, I tried to convince him to come into my store and get some coffee but he always just nodded politely until one day he joined me crossing the street. I brought him in, took him to the coffee service, handed him some snax, told him to chill – “just help yourself”. I made it clear that he could come in anytime and do the same; he started to show up and enjoy the hospitality. He was always kind about it and even got to try some demos I was testing. He liked the demos and the cheeses… I always offered him the special cheeses we would open for the crew.

He was a mutterer but he would raise his eyebrows and pop his glossy eyes when the cheese was really good. He knew food!

Soon he was picking up an occasional banana, grabbing some coffee, and routinely enjoying the welcoming space. This had been our pattern for many moons but today he suffered an attack and literally perished on the bench at our front door. The EMTs tried but to no avail. As I arrived at work a co-worker happened to catch me before I entered and told me the news. He knew I cared for Tomas because he saw me do it and knew I would be upset. I was deeply saddened and cried from the shock. But I pulled it together and went in and there he lay in front of our time clock, all covered up in white, with about 5 syringes next to him – the adrenaline did not help, I suppose.

I was the only one who knew his name was Tomas

I told the EMTs the little I knew about his health. Gout for sure possibly diabetic… Then I asked if I could be with him for a moment but the EMT paused so I said, “Please, I’m probably one of the only people that can be…” I didn’t know I would say that but each word ran as truth thru me and I knelt down and placed a hand on his still warm heart. I patted his pot belly a little and told him he was a very nice man. I touched his head and blessed his freedom, his opportunity to rest. Long story, but please remember that we are each others keepers and I am so glad he felt welcome enough to be there when his Spirit left. He could’ve just been one of many who dies on the streets but he wasn’t today. He was someplace where he was welcome and cared for on a nice bench, not some neglected wall behind a gas station.

And all it took was a little water offered on a hot day.

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Positively spinning in 2017!

I woke up, on a working farm in Borgarnes, Iceland, to the sound of an incoming text. My daughter was back in the states so I reached for my phone immediately. “He won!” I replied, “What?” Surely, she was joking! I woke up Stan. He also thought it was a joke and frantically grabbed his phone. We were in a state of shock. What did this mean? What was in store for the U.S. in 2017? How bad would it be? We sat in stillness as it sunk in; then we determinedly resolved it would not impact the rest of our time in Iceland. We walked in silence over to get breakfast at the café where we were staying. There was a stillness there as well. Over the rest of the trip, many Icelanders expressed sadness and worry for us. Luckily, they instinctively knew we were not ok with the outcome of the election. On the fight back to the US, we tried very hard to not ask “what if”.

New Year’s Eve has always been one of my favorite holidays. It is cathartic – a celebration of letting go and a time to embrace possibility. However, I felt trepidation about 2017. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I suspected it wasn’t going to be good. After the inauguration, like most Americans I know, as soon as my eyes opened in the morning I reached for my phone. I had to know what 45 had done while I slept. Within a matter of weeks, we were all exhausted. The onslaught of bad news, absurdity, lies, and spewing of hatred wreaked havoc on our spirits. I spent a lot of time consoling others, but freaking out when no one was looking. Then I said, “Enough.” I had to find a way to navigate this hostile administration while still moving forward and finding some enjoyment in life.

With that in mind and after countless conversations as a family, we decided to make radical changes in our lives hoping they would provide the opportunity to experience joy within the uncertainty. The year was still hard and as we watch the US backslide towards a country that cares even less for those that need it most – my heart continued to break. I hope I live to see the day that people unite and truly take care of each other. Until then, we must also find a way to take care of ourselves and our families so we can remember there is still beauty in the world. In 2017, I embarked on a mission to make time to find and embrace beauty. Amazing that since I set that intention – we did indeed find tremendous beauty. Here are few of the highlights!

1) Walking in a Winter Wonderland
I received a small grant to present my research at the University of Iceland! This allowed us to return to Iceland and further explore the country we love so much. Being snow lovers, a day spent wandering snowy fields was perfect. Followed up by an amazing meal at one of our favorite restaurants in the whole world – Tryggvaskáli

Iceland Clouds

Southwest Iceland    February 2017

2) Taking a Break from City Life ­
One of the best parts of living in Seattle is the closeness of the mountains, alpine lakes, and waterfalls. Teneriffe Falls is one of my favorite day hikes. The sound of the water pounding down the mountain helps relieve the stress of city life. The hike is moderate and you can push yourself to the top (13.8 miles round trip) or just find a good spot along the way to picnic and relax.

Teneriffe Falls, Washington

Teneriffe Falls, Washington, USA      April 2017

3) Scouting out Scandinavia
Again, I was honored to present my research abroad. This time at the University of Örebro. Since we were in the area, it was the perfect opportunity to explore a little of Scandinavia. I absolutely fell in love with Stockholm (especially the Chokladbollar). We will certainly be going back.

Stockholm Sweden Gamla Stan

Stockholm, Sweden    May 2017

4) Viewing the Vast Vigeland Sculpture Garden
Oslo welcomed us with a rare heat wave. We were completely unprepared for the heat and returned to Seattle with a tan! Not sure anyone at our jobs believed we actually went to Scandinavia on the trip. So, here’s a great picture to prove it!

Gustav Vigeland Monolith

Vigeland Sculpture Garden, Oslo, Norway  May 2017

5) Wedding Day ­
Marrying your best friend under the cherry tree in your backyard is highly recommended. Our dear friend (and amazing musician), Simon Henneman officiated our “Shredding Wedding” through song ­– Pink Floyd Narrow Way Pt III. We were surrounded by our closest friends and Ava (our GSD) even stood by our sides during the ceremony!

Wedding Day

Seattle, Washington, USA  July 2017

6) Sunset Strolls Along the Beach
Grayland was one of my stomping grounds in the early 90s, I hadn’t been back since. It was a bittersweet reunion and farewell. The sunsets, kite flying, and seafood on this part of the Washington coast are remarkable. The dogs loved beach time for sure!

Washington Coast Sunset

Grayland, Washington, USA   August 2017

7) Farm Livin’ is the Life for Me
Nothing quite prepares you for the moment that your child is ready to fly solo. You spend years preparing them so they can succeed and then one day it is time for them to go. I don’t think we could have found a better place for our last weekend together before we left for Mexico and my daughter literally flew off on her own (to the UK). We spent her baby years on a remote ranch in the mountains; it seemed oddly fitting to launch her into adulthood from the middle of nowhere!

Family Portrait 2017

Onalaska, Washington, USA   August 2017

8) Wowed at White Pocket
We were tipped off about White Pocket by our waitress our first night in Kanab, Utah. Her face beamed and her enthusiasm was contagious as she described hiking there. It is truly one of our highlights of the year. I think I used the word stunning more on that hike than I have in my entire life (Love it so much I also wrote about it here ).

White Pocket walk

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona, US   September 2017

9) Zealously Ziplining
When you are traveling the world with two adventure seekers you get talked into things! It took them days to convince me that I would miss out if I didn’t go along with them. I’ll be honest, I almost chickened out. Finally, I committed. It was a blast. I’d do it again!

Zip Line Kanab

Kanab, Utah, USA    September 2017

10) Honored by Big Horn Sheep
After several days of being in crowded National Parks, we almost skipped Zion. Our journey was about natural beauty, not crowds of people. However, we were so close and didn’t know if we’d ever visit the area again so we decided to go for just a few hours. It was worth battling the traffic and crowds. Standing a few feet away from Big Horn Sheep is an awesome and humbling experience!

Big Horn Sheep

Zion National Park, Utah, USA    September 2017

11) Dazzled by Dia De Los Muertos
The relationship to death in Mexico is refreshing compared to what we experience in the US. Instead of ignoring or hiding it, death is represented in art everywhere. Skulls and skeletons are found in high-end galleries and murals that line the streets. Dia de Los Muertos is a magical celebration of life that brings families together to beautifully honor their ancestors. Experiencing the music, art, dancing, and alters was a privilege we will never forget.

Catrina

Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico   October 2017

12) Thanksgiving with Mom
If you had told me at the beginning of 2017, that I’d eat Thanksgiving dinner with my mom on the shores of Lake Chapala I would have laughed – impossible! I could not be more thankful for the opportunity to spend this time with my mom. Through my work with teens and young adults, I have repeatedly seen how they suffer because their moms don’t support them in who they are. My mom may not have understood my crazy punk rock antics or life choices, but she always accepted them and let me be me. I am truly thankful for that – so thanksgiving with her was perfect!

Thanksgiving Dinner with Mom

Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico    November 2017

So that’s a wrap! This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we experienced in 2017, but reviewing the beauty we found along the way makes heading into 2018 feel a little more doable. The current administration, in the US, has already assaulted almost every community my family and friends belong to (or the communities of those I served for decades). I fear what this administration is capable of in 2018. I also know I will never be able to remain silent in the face of injustice. I will continue to advocate and fight for what is right. I recommit each day to do as little harm as possible, but I also need to replenish my reserves so compassion fatigue doesn’t leave me incapable of being of service. Therefore, I also re-commit to finding beauty in 2018! I will choose love over hate and continue to grab opportunities!

Thanks for going on this journey with us. May 2018 be the year that we unite like never before!

Peace, Health, and Happiness to all!

 

The sountrack to life is loud!

Fond memories were born while sitting under our cherry tree in Seattle, sipping a little whiskey, telling stories, eating, and laughing. Beneath our tree, we planned trips, cried tears of sadness and joy, and even married each other! I cannot even guess at the number of hours we spent in the shadows of that magnificent tree. Oddly during most of those hours, we were the only people in our neighborhood out in the yard. I would get so excited on the rare occasions I heard someone else entertaining outside, laughing, or practicing an instrument. Why were people inside their houses even when the weather was perfect? The young guy that lived behind us had a grill on his back porch and a large backyard. When grilling, he’d open the door quickly, peek at his meat, and go back inside (presumably to watch his enormous TV, which we could see plainly through our upstairs window). When his meat was ready, he’d hurriedly grab it and return to his house. I never once saw him so much as enjoy a cup of coffee sitting on his back deck or playing ball with his dog in the yard. Even when he had friends over, during the awesome summers in Seattle, they’d all stay inside. This behavior seemed commonplace throughout our neighborhood. I found it incredibly bizarre. During our long evenings under our tree, sirens were the most frequent sound heard outside of our yard. City life!

cherry tree

In stark contrast, every night seems to be a celebration in San Juan Cosala! Sitting on the porch I can hear live bands, roosters crowing, the braying of burros, announcements on loud speakers, the whinnying of horses, an endless chorus of dogs barking, church bells, and mucho cohetes! Occasionally, I can even hear a cow. I love it! These are the sounds of living. I hear freedom and families. Freedom to express yourself. You like music? Then by all means… play it and play it LOUD! Invite your neighbors over. Sit, share stories, laugh. Why should the sound of laughter or music be bothersome? Why is it actually banned after 10 pm in so many places in the US? “It is 10 pm; everyone must go to bed. No more fun, laughter, or music for you.” I love that here as I crawl into bed accordions, trumpets, and drums soothe me to sleep. I admit that the drummer in me cannot resist the music’s allure and sometimes I have head back outside to get a better listen. I soak in the power of the music and on an especially lucky night catch a shooting star or lightning off in the distance. At first, I thought that all the noise might keep me awake but since it is almost constant it has become a beautiful soundtrack to our lives.

Last weekend we had the honor of experiencing Dia de los Muertos festivals in Ajijic and Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos. The festivals went into the night and the music blared. Beyond the stunning costumes and incredible dancing, I was struck by all the families gathered together – from wee ones just born to teetering elders. Seeing the multi-generational families together reminded me of my childhood when my family lived closer together and we gathered on a regular basis. For many of us in the US, this sense of community no longer exists. Families, like my own, are spread all over the globe. In our cities, we often don’t know our neighbors. Educators are taught that one of the primary goals to teach youth is “independent living.” People look down upon young adults that choose to live with their parents, grandparents, or with groups of friends. We are conditioned to think living alone (or with a partner), not knowing your neighbors, staying inside, and living quietly is “normal” and healthy. Not only does it not seem normal, it seems oppressive and isolating. So many of the youth I have worked with experience anxiety, depression, and addiction. They are desperately seeking connection!!!! Yet, our culture looks down on the things that connect people. We can resist this!

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I propose we encourage people to build community again and to make some damn noise. Don’t be dissuaded from living with your parents, grandparents, or friends. As my grandfather always said, it makes way more sense to pull our resources together and thrive than for each one of us to be struggling on our own. There is integrity in helping each other out, not turning our backs on the young, struggling, or elderly. For most of human history, we have lived in multigenerational housing – it is a farce to think that the current system is better. All we have to do is look at the number of people that experience social isolation and/or the skyrocketing numbers of people that are homeless. Build community: Go outside, tell your neighbor a story, play an instrument or your favorite music, look at the sky, invite friends over, and laugh.

Isolation is quiet, living is loud!

You know what they say? If it’s too loud you’re too old!

So, since it seems everyone wants to stay young,

you might as well turn up the volume!

 

Photo credits: Stan Reed Photography

Why are you doing this?

When I started telling people that we were selling our house and moving out of the US, the first question was “Why”. Why would you leave Seattle, a city that you have moved back to three times? Why would you choose another country over the US? Why now? And why would you take your son out of school? Sometimes, I engaged in a lengthy conversation and explained how we had made our decision. Other times, I responded with “I promise to explain in on the blog”. So this post is for those of you that have not received an answer or new people we have met that are curious about why this came to be.

Let me start by saying, I love Seattle. Seattle has been good to me over the years and will always hold a piece of my heart. Seattle is home. I first moved to Seattle in 1989 with about 100 dollars to my name. Friends talked me into moving there because jobs were plentiful and paid well and housing was cheap. Back then, living in Seattle was easy. The city was bursting at the seams with creativity, passion, and originality. I found a job within a few days and for the first time in my adult life, I had money to burn after paying for my necessities. Now the cost of living is prohibitive and artists and other creative types are leaving the city in droves. For many of us, we need multiple jobs to just squeak by. And the traffic, the city just wasn’t ready for the influx of techies and planning decisions thus far have not eased the growing pains. As the cost of homes continued to reach ridiculous levels, it seemed for once it was time to be an opportunist and cash out. My city no longer afforded the quality of life it previously promised and leaving had the potential of giving me more time with my son, time to travel, and time to pursue other passions. Staying, meant working 60-80 hours a week at multiple jobs and not being able to be fully present as my son soars through the teen years. After weighing the options, the right path became clear. And since my current research project was ending and I didn’t receive funding to start a new one, I decided instead of feeling like all was lost… I would embrace it as an opportunity to try something radically different!

Leaving the US made sense for so many reasons. Quality of life is at the top of the list. My mother has lived in Mexico on and off for quite a few years and has been encouraging me to head south of the border as well. She started sending pictures of houses for rent close to where she was living. For less than the cost of a studio apartment in many areas of Seattle, I have a gorgeous home, lake view, maid service and a gardener! I feel privileged beyond my wildest dreams. (The thought of having hired help goes against my working class & DIY roots but I’ll save that for another post). In contrast, my salary as an academic living in Seattle barely paid the bills and I lived very modestly! It was not sustainable. Leaving the US has already provided a higher quality of life and best of all TIME! I can focus on my health, my son’s education, writing, and playing music. It has been years since I had time! I have often said that music and art are what makes us truly human, but I had to stuff my own creativity into the back of the closet so I could pursue the money necessary to merely get by. Our short time on earth was not meant to be spent making money and paying bills. About 20 years ago, my boss at the time told me “no one ever dies, wishing they had spent more time at the office.” He was absolutely right! And since life also offers no guarantees, it doesn’t seem wise to wait for retirement to live the life you want. Time and time again, I have witnessed that life can be cut short and I don’t want to take the chance of kicking off before I get to really live.

As for my taking my son out of public school, all the reasons will unveil themselves over time within the posts on this blog. As an educator that focuses on preparing youth for the transition to adulthood, I endlessly study adolescent development, best educational practices, and interventions that are the most effective. I studied at one of the best schools in the US for this field. I have trained teachers, school counselors & psychologists, chemical dependency counselors and social workers. I have observed in well over 100 schools. We know how kids learn best. We know how to keep kids engaged in learning. We know how to help improve kids quality of life, self-esteem, and social/emotional health. As a nation, we do not do it! Educators often tell me how trapped they feel within the system. Many have their students’ best interests at heart, but the system they work within doesn’t allow them the flexibility to meet kids where they are. I saw my son become increasingly disengaged from school. We know middle school is a pivot point, that can have a dramatic impact on the rest of the child’s educational experience. As an educator (and first-generation college student) the last thing I want is for my son to be turned off from learning. But even worse, I saw his schooling was taken a toll on his self-esteem. I have worked with far too many youths and young adults that suffered from the narratives others created about them. I could not let that be my son’s experience. So now, I put myself to task and will utilize all I have been taught so that my son’s education is personally meaningful and culturally relevant. Volumes of research support this approach and although I cannot immediately change the entire US school system, I can change my son’s educational experience.

So there you have it, in a nutshell. The answer to why we left our home, city, and community we love. Like so many immigrants before us, we are searching for a better quality of life.

Photo credit: My incredibly talented daughter, Nox, took this shot!

Big Day. Big Feelings.

As if selling off and giving away the majority of our belongings wasn’t surreal enough, the remains of our worldly possessions were loaded into a freight truck as the moon totally eclipsed the sun. We stood on the back porch and watched the shadows morph as our house was emptied. Our German Shepherd, Ava, raced around the yard excitedly barking as if she had something very important to say or perhaps trying to tell us something very unusual was happening. By the time the sky was fully bright again, it was time to pay the movers and watch our stuff leave for indefinite storage.

The next day we visited the house for the last time. As I opened the door, the lack of dogs greeting me was momentarily more unsettling than seeing it completely empty. But as I walked from room to room, I sensed the house was already losing the essence of us. It seemed still, cold, lifeless. Although, I could bring to mind all the great times we had there, as well as memories of sickness and tears, the stillness was palpable. I was stunned when tears started streaming down my face. Not only had we sold our “forever home”, my daughter would not be coming with us on the next phase of the adventure. She is now a grown woman following her own path.

I needed to spend a few more minutes under the cherry tree where we had spent innumerable nights talking, laughing, and drinking a whiskey (or two). The same cherry tree that Stan and I were married under a month ago. We walked the yard looking for treasures the dogs had buried (and the droppings that the new owners would not treasure). We hugged and looked through the leaves of the tree into the sky as we had so many times before. I made one more lap through the house, tears coming intermittently. Then, I pulled myself away. It was time to let go.

Immediately following the good-bye we set off to trade in my car. “Lady Bug,” I joked was my mid-life crisis car. Although I always suspected I hadn’t done it quite right, since she is a Chevy Cruze and was purchased because of her superior safety ratings. However, she was red, with a sunroof, and great stereo system. And yes, I blew the speakers listening to Motörhead. I couldn’t believe I was once again shopping for the oh so practical mini-van. The dealership had several “used” low mile 2017 minivans in stock, so we did a side-by-side comparison and went with the one that had roof rails installed. We only had a few more days before getting on the road and would need to add a roof cargo rack asap. Like any used car experience, we had to navigate the smooth talking and the pushiness of the sales team. For the first time, we also encountered the challenge of not having a permanent address. I was amazed that they were less concerned about me producing “proof” of employment than of an address. For some reason, in their minds, having a permanent address equated to my ability to pay. I wonder how many times this will be a problem for us?  I also feel deep compassion for people who are homeless and are discriminated against and denied access to things/services just because they have no permanent address. It is totally unreasonable and unwarranted, My example is trite in comparison but it shed light on difficulties others must face.

The whole process of trading the car took many hours. Adding to the heaviness, the TV in the waiting room blared images of 45’s rally in Phoenix. I had time to sit with all that had happened in the last few weeks and the fact that our “forever home” was no longer ours. Everything was sinking in. By the time I saw my car again, to double check I had gotten everything out, it had a dealership sticker on it. I momentarily panicked. What the hell had I done, maybe the naysayers are right? Maybe I am crazy for doing this? Then I remembered, that my job was not secure, Seattle is too expensive and is not the same city I fell in love with over 25 years ago. Everything aligned to give us the opportunity to travel and to have some space in our lives. It is terrifying, exciting, sad, and joyous.

That evening when I finally sat down at the AirBnb where we were staying, I had a chance to peruse Facebook. For many, it was the first day of school. A dear friend posted an article reminding how difficult that day is for kids, the title was Big Day, Big Feelings. Those four words summarized my day perfectly, all the feelings I could have had…I had. It was the Big Day and the point of no return. I had to roll with the waves of emotion,trust, and continue to let go. It is too late to turn back now. We can only go forward…