Things About My Heart

I have so much to be grateful for. I've been given so much, and I've been forgiven for so much. I've had so many opportunities - for growth, for knowledge, for joy... I have no right to ask the universe for anything more, but if I could...

I'd ask for the wisdom to love without owning. To care without controlling. To give without needing. I'd ask for the depth to fight without violence and to challenge without harm. I'd ask for the strength to stand in the storm and be the shield that instead, I seek in others. I'd ask for the clarity to know when a path has ended and see where a new one begins. I'd ask for the faith to believe in a story that is bigger than me. 

I have so far to go in the building of this heart of mine. So much more that I could give if I can cast off the fear that holds me back and the self protection that shuts me down. 

I am thankful for the path that has brought me here, every mistake and every heartache and every scar in the surface of my soul that makes it what it is now. And I am thankful for the rest of the process. And what my heart can be if I keep it open. 

Things About Hosteling

In all fairness, staying in hostels was probably my favorite part of the trip to Brazil. For all of my grown-up complaining and fit-pitching, I can't help but smile when I think of the people and the things that I got to experience in hostels.

New Year's Eve on Copacabana!
Our first Hostel was in Rio de Janeiro. In case you don't know, Rio is a city of 6 million people, which is about 5,999,627 more people than I am really comfortable sharing a zip code with at one time. Our Hostel was located in the Santa Teresa neighborhood, known for it's colorful and artsy culture and the perpetual party atmosphere, which is obviously why I desperately needed to stay there. Because parties. Until at least 9 PM. We shared an 8 bunk room for 5 nights with 6 boys that rotated in and out like migrant shift workers from various continents. There was finally one other girl from London there, a bronze-skinned bohemian beauty who flitted in and out like she owned the place, which, if you consulted any of the 20-something international romeos in our dorm, would be the general consensus.

January 1st 2017. The aftermath. (the shirtless dude on the beanbags in the corner is the hostel owner
I was without question the oldest person in the hostel, which I would estimate houses anywhere from 20-75 people on any given night. I was also the only mom. Being a mom has it's definite advantages, as a few of the kids will respect your age and sleep needs by tiptoeing quietly around the darkened door room after 9 PM when I usually holed up in my bunk for the duration of the night. Halle was able to take full advantage of the perpetual party atmosphere and hit up some of the street parties and famous Cachaça bars and Samba joints.

One night, a friend of the hostel owner who was a Syrian refugee cooked dinner for the entire hostel - some amazing rice and beef dish with peanuts and I don't even know what. But it was really good. That night I stayed downstairs with all of the kids and drank caipirinhas and Antarctica beer like it was going out of style. In case you were wondering, a caipirinha is a traditional Brazilian cocktail made with limes, simple syrup and Cachaça, which is a spirit distilled from sugar cane. And it's delicious. I might have had a dozen or two during my stay.

The best part about staying in hostels is, hands down, the super cool and friendly people from all over the world that you get to meet and subsequently, hang out with. In every hostel (we stayed in three) we got the best tourist tips, sometimes tag along local guides and help getting everywhere we wanted to.

The second hostel that we stayed in was in the middle of the Mata Atlantica Rainforest, in a little hippie beach town called Trindade, and couldn't have been more different from our urban hostel in Rio. We spent the one day that we had in Trindade hiking to beaches that were squirreled along rustic coastal trails, slip-sliding in our Havianas in the mud from torrential downpours that happen at least once a day. While we were there, we sat out one of the awesome storms in a great little restaurant with good local beer and an American classic rock cover band. In the meantime, back at our hostel, the wood slat bridge that spanned the small creek between the main hostel lodge and the bunkhouse where we were sleeping collapsed when one end of the bridge support sloughed off in a miniature land slide. The minor catastrophe also cut off the water supply to the the entire hostel which meant that we were relegated to drinking the cheap beer on hand at the hostel. It was a super fun night, like camping with cousins when the power goes out. We played UNO with some kids from the Netherlands and I am pretty sure I didn't win.

I would tell you that the last hostel we stayed in was my favorite except that I really like all of them for different reasons. Green Haven Hostel in Ubatuba (yes, it's a real place) was located directly across from a big beach where giant, lifted tractors drive out into the surf with trailers to pick up boats that come into the bay. Ubatuba is the surf capital of Brazil, and while it took a little doing to find the "best surf beach", we finally did, and Halle got a lesson while I soaked up the last full beach day that we had in Brazil. It was exactly everything that I imagined Brazil would be. Turquoise water, crashing waves, and beautiful bronzed bodies of all shapes and sizes. And then we went back to the hostel, where they hosted a killer Brazilian barbeque and partied all. night. long.

Hostel living certainly isn't for everyone. In fact, I am not sure it's even for me, but it was a memorable experience, every sleepless night of it. Halle was insistent that the night that we spent at a hotel robbed us of the cultural experience that a hostel provides, and while I enjoyed the "private" bedroom and a bathroom and shower all to myself, I have to admit that I missed the adventure and intrigue of sharing a house with 50 strangers from all over the world. Even if I was the only mom.

Things About Getting Cocky

I get that I've been bragging a lot. I mean, the tropical wonderland of Brazil, all this blather about contentedness... I've kind of been rubbing it in your face, right? Well pride goeth before every good fall, doesn't it?

It's just that the minute you start feeling good about yourself, something is bound to go wrong. At least in my life that seems to prove true over and over again. Not that wrong is always bad. In fact usually it's pretty hilarious. Later on. But I have been getting way too cocky and it's catching up with me. Like when you finally get a few minutes of success on your toe edge when you're out snowboarding and suddenly you think you're cool enough to rock acid washed jeggings. And then the $500 latch that you had replaced on your stupid car breaks AGAIN, only this time in the UNLATCHED position, and the back door flops open every time you hit a bump, flashing the dome lights in your rig all the way home like a mobile rave.

Or like when you think you're tough enough to do hard core yoga two days in a row AND go snowboarding and slam your less-than petite frame on the ice several hundred times and then you wake up feeling like something chained down to a steel table in Dr. Frankensteins laboratory. Except you're not chained down and you have to actually get up and do stuff. Like work. And sitting on really uncomfortable bleachers for a lot of hours.

I really need to quit bragging, and getting all comfortable with myself. Because it doesn't change the fact that things break, technology freezes and catastrophes prevail as soon as I walk into the room and there will always be a trail of disaster following me for all of us to laugh at. And if we don't all laugh at the trail of disaster following me then I will surely need to be committed to an insane asylum where I can quit disastering and just cuddle with a padded wall all day long.

The minute I start to think that I actually have my shit together somebody is gonna faithfully remind me that my writing is schmaltzy, I still make minimum wage in most of my jobs and my driving habits may or may not be legal. But while we're laughing about the bungee cords holding the rear door of my ridiculously overpriced luxury SUV closed, can we also take a moment to remember all the cool stuff that I've done? Like Brazil, and getting on my toe edge. And TOTALLY rocking jeggings. ( <---- ok so really I slinked from shadow to shadow to avoid being caught in public, but I did wear them out of the house.)

Things About Being Content

Maybe it's not being thousands of miles away from All The Things That Matter To Me. Maybe it's watching Aspen do basketball moves I don't know the name of because I was homeschooled. Maybe it's the hot sleepytime tea I can sip while I watch Frank chew up my favorite Eos Mint Lip Balm on the living room floor. I'm not sure what's doing it, but I can't seem to shake this feeling of CONTENT.

It's a big deal, this contentedness thing, at least in my life. The life of going and chasing and wishing and hoping and trying and just Too Much. Contentedness means not caring if I can't chisel the dying Christmas Decorations out of the 4 inches of solid ice on my front porch until May. It means not freaking out that I might have frozen my washing machine to death when the dogs broke the dog door and invited the Whole Winter into the house. It means feeling, to the core of your being, the value of being warm curled up on a couch under a blanket with someone that gets you. It means knowing how very good the glass of $50 wine that your daughter accidentally opened on a day that didn't matter will taste. It means not being offended while you're mopping the dirtiest floor you've ever seen. It means knowing that you are EXACTLY where you were intended to be in this moment.

The root of contentedness is gratitude. And when you figure out how good you've got it, because you finally got to flush toilet paper down the toilet for the first time in two weeks, or because you can have as much butter on your english muffin as you want, you can't help but feel gratitude, and subsequently, contentedness.

I should be ashamed that it took a trip halfway around the world to remind me how good I've got it, but I am not ashamed. And honestly, taking the trip is half the reason that I have got it so good - because I CAN. And then I can come home to this beautiful, crazy place called Real Life where I am loved and I am safe and my people are.

quite possibly the luckiest girl alive...

Things About Cultural Experiences

He says the tap water is fine to drink. He says, “never mind the silt when it rains like this. It should be fine. It IS fine.” His self correction was so quick that I almost believe him. And after all, since Halle and I didn’t bring enough cash to pay for our two nights at his hostel where we had only booked ONE bed, who can question the integrity of the owner? Especially when he is a Brit named David, or George, or James, or one of those really super British names, and gives one the sneaking suspicion that his frequent emergent rendezvous in the dark and rainy alleyway have more to do with a booming drug business than a hostel with silty tap water. But who am I to question? It's all about the “cultural experience”. (Turns out that George, the hostel owner, actually owned the Pousada (hotel) across the street as well and was running back and forth in the torrential rain storm to deal with guests over there. So no drugs. I think [almost disappointing].)

it will hold me, right?
According to my 20 year old daughter, it was this rich cultural experience that I deprived her from when I insisted on paying for a hotel room after 5 nights in a hostel in Rio De Janiero: possibly the biggest, hottest, dirtiest city I have ever visited. It must have been the cultural deprivation that drove her to a 45 minute shower in the hotel room, uninterrupted by visitors of all sorts and unenhanced by the multicultural diarrhea nearby in a toilet that wouldn't flush. (#hostellifeforever!) I do feel like Halle should save passing her judgements on me for when she is thirty nine and a half and has given birth without medical aid in a dirt floor structure of questionable design and no flushing toilet. I will take “luxury”, with or without culture, whenever I can afford it. But luxury comes in many forms.

Like for instance, tonight, in my warm shower (all of the water here is solar heated, along with EVERYthing else), I was joined by a lightning bug. Now there is luxury you can't even buy. And the lighting storm on Ilha Grande last night, like a giant rave in the sky, thunder and rain screaming for attention like an emo support group - the kind of awesome drama that Hollywood can never recreate.

Feijoada FTW. I love this stuff. Just don't tell me what's in it. 
I like Brazil. Things that I like about Brazil include: The music. The food (at least the stuff I can identify). The very nice people who tolerate idiot Americans who don't bother to learn Portuguese before they visit (thank God Halle learned muito pequeno [I made those words up completely]). The fact that I have lost weight. The fact that losing weight precludes me from falling through the REALLY springy and far too flexible one by whatever wood slats on any of a hundred little bridges spanning murky water that looks like hot chocolate and smells like diarrhea. I like the turquoise water of the ocean, and the miles and miles of foamy beach, these rainbow people in all shades and colors and from every background. I like imagining a life on this side of the equator as normal, and not the foreign, sticky, sweaty, amazingly weird world it is to me.

I can honestly say that my comfort zone hasn't been breached to this level since I visited Uganda. Except that one time I had to go to church on Easter Sunday. But it's good. And I still keep pinching myself to make sure I am really experiencing it. Or maybe that was the biting ants that swarmed my feet at the waterfall. Who knows?
so much adventure.

Things About Dating, and disaster, and hope

By now I should be well aware of the consequences. What good can possibly come from it? Why, after so many failures, would I even consider trying again? But this pestilence called hope eats at me like a parasite, whispering lies in my ear about possibility, fueled by a million songs, a thousand books, a hundred memories... I can't stop believing. It's out there, I know it. My patchwork heart can't pretend that it's not real anymore than it can deny the existence of a Power greater than the tides of self that try to rule my life.

So I go. Once more into the fray. Once more unto the breech. Believing, hoping, singing, clinging desperately to an idea that Happily Ever After is, after all, a thing.

But of all the bad dating ideas, a blind date? Friends setting up friends for failure and awkward apologetic conversations about misconceptions and disappointed expectations. What could be more archaic and terrible - other than an arranged marriage, which I have come pretty close to already. Why not try the next worse thing? Bravely go...

And what if by some miracle the reality was better than expectation and the misconceptions really weren't? What if the yellow brick road of trust and trying One More Time led you back to the Kansas that you knew was out there the whole time? Or maybe Kansas doesn't look anything like you remember, or maybe Oz becomes your new Kansas, or maybe you decide that clicking your heels won't get you anywhere but a dirty pig pen and it's worth a chance to ride the Horse of A Different Color and give Oz a shot. Or maybe I am stretching this analogy out waaaayyy too far.

Either way, in spite of the distinct possibility of broken dreams and shattered hearts all over again, and the most certain trail of disasters that will threaten any hint of smooth sailing and Anything Good, because, after all, this is still MY life. And because of course it would. The minute something starts to look up, a disaster of ridiculous proportions has too swoop in to save me from eternal happiness.

If I get a couple hundred dollars in savings, some unheard of part on my car will break,  or an appliance will die an agonizing death, or some other unprotected and super expensive event will take place. If I meet a kind man who treats me with respect and that I actually like, some horrific thing must inevitably happen to ensure that I will never, ever be happily ever after. I mean, if he isn't hopelessly flawed, then fate will see to it that he is undeniably convinced of my lack of worth. Or maybe not. Maybe He'll be better than all of the Scary Things that are my life.

In spite of it all, I can't help but feel like it's so worth it. Because of the perpetual smile. Because of the butterflies. Because of feeling like a million bucks even when you're just a very muddy penny. And maybe I'll put all my wrong feet forward and do everything backwards and maybe, just maybe, if something is meant to be it won't matter anyway.

Things About Brazil

I decided to go to Brazil with my 20 year old daughter. I have no idea why. The opportunity presented itself, and, since South America is one of the very few remaining continents I have to visit (just antarctica and Australia left now!), it seemed foolish to say no. I was also moderately uncomfortable with my oldest daughter doing this new-fangled thing called couch-surfing (back when I was a kid we called it being a hobo) all over Brazil by herself, staying with random strangers that were probably human traffickers posing as nice South American families with comfortable couches. So, by going to Brazil myself, I could obviously prevent All the Worst Things from happening to Halle, being the formidable and intimidating character that I am.

I didn't go to Brazil because it has been a lifelong dream of mine to go there, even though it is a country in the world and I plan to see them all before I die. I didn't go to Brazil because I had some opportunity to serve the global community and make the world a better place by throwing around my white privilege and lack of cultural understanding. I certainly didn't go to Brazil because I could afford it, or because I deserved it, or because taking the time off of work and ditching my other kids and pets and responsibilities just made sense. I guess I went because I could, and because I was curious. And also because it was negative a thousand degrees in Stevens County this month and I never had time to get a tan last summer.

It seemed like a good idea at first, which is often how ideas start out. And then it started to seem like a questionable idea, but I had committed to Halle. And then it seemed like a terrible, scary and irresponsible idea and I am much too old and broke and nervous to be traipsing around South America like a 20 year old with no bills or dependent creatures, but I had already bought the ticket. So Brazil was happening, and I pretended to put my worries aside to go enjoy the burning hot equatorial sunshine and 97% RH.

I spent two weeks in the 5th largest country in the world. Brazil occupies almost half of the continent of South America. It is the largest Portuguese speaking nation in the world, and the only one in South America, having been claimed as a Portuguese territory in 1500. The fascinating thing about world travel is that no part remains untouched by the cultures of other places. Before I went to Brazil I spent a few days in Washington DC with my family for Christmas, and was able to visit the recently opened National Museum of African American History. Wandering through those halls, and then revisiting the replicated history of enslaved people in South America (Brazil was one of the last large countries to abolish slavery), made me wonder what our worlds would look like if the slave ships had never reached our shores. Everything would be different. But that's a tar baby I won't tackle here. Brazil is rich with the combined culture of the native Amerindian, enslaved African transplants and European occupational influence.

But most importantly, in January, Brazil is hot. SO HOT. Hot as Hades in the Devil's summertime. The average daily temperatures while we were in Rio were in the high nineties, with relative humidities to match. It took me two weeks to acclimatize, so I was just about comfortable in time to come home to -18 degree mornings at home. One thing for sure, this trip wasn't about being comfortable.

The thing about traveling with your 20 year old daughter is that she's 20, and you're not. And she's your daughter, and you're the mom. So there is a little bit of a weirdness there. Mostly it worked out great because if I was up for partying (see exhibit A: New Years Eve on Copacabana [maybe in the next post]), I could party her into the ground, and if I wasn't, then I would just go to bed and worry about her getting partied into the ground by someone else's mom, or more accurately, getting mugged at a street party in Rio without me there to protect her.

We packed our two week schedule tight, and even so we only scratched the surface of Brazil's southeastern coastal area, with the exception of a two day excursion to Iguacu Falls, the largest waterfall system in the world, wherein I made friends with a pack of very naughty Coatis and accidentally didn't book a hotel room for our first night. Luckily things worked out somehow, in spite of our total inability to communicate with the poor hotel clerk who was working at 2 AM when we showed up, sans reservations.

But Iguacu Falls, or Iguazu Falls, as it's called on the Argentinian side where we also visited (passport stamps, yo!), was my first taste of the wild and dramatic summer storms of South America. It was amazing and beautiful. Before we even got to Rio Halle introduced me to what would become a survival staple, Pao de Quiejo, which I still have great difficulty pronouncing and just decided to call Bow-chicka-Bow-wows. Bow Chickas are like little cheese-bread balls made of manioc flour and parmesan. What's not to love?

There is no way to encapsulate the entire trip in one blog post, so I will be back with more, after I sleep off some jet lag.

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