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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What happens when you follow your dream and live your passion?

Spending even five minutes reading world “news” these days can be soul crushing and make you feel like goodness in the world is gone. But then you meet people that move through the world in a way that gives you hope. One of the best parts of traveling is chance encounters with people you’d never have met if you stayed in your own city, country, and comfort zone. Since we began staying near Lake Chapala in Mexico, we have fallen in love with the most delicious chipotle goat cheese we have ever tasted! The flavor is undeniably impeccable; so much so that when I ran out of crackers I had to find something else to put it on. I tried it on tortilla chips. Amazing! When I ran out of them, I may have just licked it off the knife. Each week, I look forward to going to the market and renewing our supply. As I relayed my love of their product to the vendor, she mentioned that they gave tours of their farm. I knew I wanted to go. I have always adored goats. Back in my punk rock, volunteering on a reservation days, I even had a goat named Darby Crash! I wasn’t sure if my family would be as enthusiastic as I was, especially at the prospect of doing some milking! However, I am fortunate that my family is generally game to take any adventure with me that I can come up with. The next time we saw the vendors, Juan Diego and Laura, we told them we were in and that we couldn’t wait to visit their farm.

Goat
Juan Diego had told us that the tour of the farm also included treats! As it turned out, the best treat was getting to know them. We met Juan Diego and Laura in Ajijic and followed them out to the ranch. The drive from Ajijic to Mezcala is excitingly beautiful and bumpy. Mexico is notorious for its unmarked speed bumps, topes, and although we encountered some along the way, we mostly encountered what I called inverted topes, essentially huge potholes. It was impressive watching the cars in front of us navigate the potholes effortlessly by weaving from one side of the road to the other. The scenery along the roadside is unlike any I have seen, to the right the mountain has flowering trees all the way to the top, to the left a stunning view of Lake Chapala and the historic Mezcala Island. Much sooner than expected, we arrived at the ranch. Along with a few other tourists visiting the ranch that day, we were welcomed with fresh fruit, goat yogurt, and granola. After enjoying our delicious snack, Juan Diego instructed us to wash our hands before feeding the goats to protect them from our human germs. The goats’ favorite snacks were the leaves of the plum trees growing all around the ranch. They gently ate from our hands and some were super affectionate and loved being petted… others not so much.
Laura_and_goatsAfter feeding, Laura freed the goats from the pens to wander among us as we climbed up the hillside. At the top, Juan Diego introduced us to their “office” ­– large rocks for sitting, a small fire pit, and a magnificent view. Juan Diego started sharing the story of how the Galo de Allende farm came to be. He found the property while hiking and knew it was the perfect place to raise goats. He was already a cheese maker and for many reasons the next logical step was to raise their own goats, which would offer them a fresh supply of milk. What struck me the most during the conversation was how intentional Juan Diego and Laura are about their place in the community and the natural environment. Buying land is generally not an option in Mezcala if you are an outsider. Juan Diego, along with his mother, had to meet with the village elders and convince them their intentions were good, they would not harm the land, and they would contribute in a positive way to the community. These are the very values that permeated endless conversations I had in the US Pacific Northwest in the 90s. Many of us had a shared vision of how things could be. But instead of sustainable community development, I watched corporate greed completely destroy the areas I loved.

Allende_officeWhen I went to the Galo de Allende ranch, I hadn’t expected to see a successful business model that was actively focused on giving the best care available to the animals, protecting the land, and providing jobs for a community that has an extremely high rate of poverty. As if that isn’t all amazing enough, it was also incredibly inspiring to meet people that had forsaken the traditional modern lifestyle to go back to small batch cheese making and ranching. A huge part of my work over the past fifteen plus years is coaching youth and young adults to find and follow their dreams. To the depths of my heart and soul, I believe that quality of life is more important than making a bunch of money, fitting into the status quo, or doing what is expected by the current measures of many societies. As Laura and Juan Diego talk about their plans for the future and how they got to where they are; their eyes sparkle and their smiles widen. Their gentleness, intentionality, happiness, and generosity are contagious. I wonder how much more peaceful the world would be if more people followed their dreams and lived their passion? I am not sure if they realize it yet, but Juan Diego and Laura are an inspiration to others. I am honored they shared their dream, ranch, and delicious food with my family! If you happen to find yourself near Lake Chapala, look them up (https://www.facebook.com/galodeallende) … you will be glad you did.

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…

Letting go of all the “good stuff”

Move number 46.  When I purchased my house almost three years ago, I swore up and down, “I will NEVER move again!” After forty five moves, I was finally ready to settle into my career and patiently grow deep roots at my new home. I sowed young plants confidently believing I would watch them mature. I could see myself years older sitting in the yard fully enscounsed in the privacy they would provide. I could picture a water feature that I’d add in the next couple of years. I felt so grounded. My family (and our stuff) at last had our forever home.

Ironically, Stan moved the majority of my stuff into this house while we were “just friends.” Life can be so extraordinarily unpredictable. The next summer Stan moved in with us…as we combined our lives, his stuff was added to ours. Although, Stan had already started taking a more minimalist approach what he had left were treasured items.

Decisions. Fast forward to the present. If we want to leave the US, “What do we do with all our stuff?” Much of what filled our house was special and held within it memories of  family, old friends, my kids’ early childhoods, and our artistic endevours. I was filled with doubts

How could I leave “all my stuff” behind? What do we actually “need”?
What if I regret giving my “favorite” things away? What if the house doesn’t sell and we have to live here with it empty? What if we change our minds? What if the person that gave me that “special” item finds out I gave it away?

What if by giving everything away we become more free?

Since we don’t know where we will ultimately land, we decided to store what we would be willing to pay to ship across the ocean. Then, we decided we were only willing to pay for the smallest shipping container possible.

Sorting. What would we really want to see again after a year or more in storage? What did we absolutely have to have for our first few months of travel? What is worth money? What brings us joy? What is holding us back?

Purging. We sold high dollar items on eBay and craigslist. For sentimental items it felt best to give them away to our dearest friends. We kept watch to see what our neighbors needed on the BuyNothing group; we passed along anything we could. Next, we held a festive yard sale where we played “Let’s make a deal” and most offers were accepted. We also had a huge free pile. At the conclusion of the sale we posted to craigslist and our neighborhood Facebook group that all leftovers were free. The remains were of course donated.

Outcome. There were moments where I saw my memories in the hands of another. It was hard to let go. Then, I saw joy in people’s eyes when they found a treasure! People shared  how our stuff was going to make their new house feel like home, how their best friend would love a picture, book, or sweater, and our friends grabbed items that would remind them of us. I shared with my daughter that when I was her age, I had a rule that everything I owned would fit in my car and I could carry it myself. That rule had been broken long ago, but it is rather unbelievable how much stuff I had moved around over the past 2 decades and how many states it had been in. I do feel lighter today, less encumbered, and yet it is bittersweet.

Base jumping into uncertainty

What did you notice about the photo above? Did you see the beauty of the winding road leading to the rainbow meeting the sea? Or did you notice the blurriness of the falling snow or critique the composition as less than perfect ?

Over the past few years, I learned to notice the beauty first. However, it is often difficult to hold that space and life frequently kicks you in the ass (which is sometimes what you need to help you remember you are alive)! Then for a period of time, you become jaded and sealed up. Doing exactly what you needed to do to survive! Finally beauty restores itself. Life cycles continuously between the beauty and the suffering, but sometimes there is balance between the two and you wisely ride that wave as long as you can…

No, the photo isn’t perfect but waiting for “perfection” is what often holds us back from moving forward. Instead of waiting, notice the beauty right in front of you and believe in possibility.

We are doing just that and this blog is about taking that giant leap without knowing where we will land. Moving towards what we want even if the path is ambiguous. It is about all that has been and is to be learned along the way. Instead of the academic pieces I carefully polished until they are smooth and shiny, the writing here will be raw with the cracks and flaws exposed like a piece of turquoise that hasn’t yet met with the tumbler.

You are welcome to join us as we base jump into uncertainty!