Things About Going Places: The Colombian Edition (episode I)

Wherever you go, there you are.

I am here in Colombia - the country, not the outlet store - and the most striking thing about the place is me. That no matter how exotic and fabulous a place might be, if I am there experiencing it, I am also there bringing the experience of me to it.

It seems like most problems should be curable with a lot of sunshine, cheap beer and a solid tan line, but the reality is that those things only make certain issues more uncomfortable. Like being overweight for instance. I wonder how much less I would sweat if I was a healthy weight? Truth be told if I were thinner it would be harder to achieve the fitness goals that my Apple Watch seems to set and change for me randomly. While I am soft and pasty it seems to cut me some slack and congratulate me for riding a long escalator uphill.

But seriously. I am no cooler in Colombia than I was in Colville. In fact, probably less so. Apparently "white-trash noir" isn't a thing here in Medellin, and I would fit in better with some grandma print shirts and pleather pants, which I am actively in the market for. So maybe "white-trash noir" is THE thing here, but less white. Either way, I am definitely doing it wrong. I was SO PROUD of packing so lightly and with such versatility, reading no less than 8 blogs on "how to pack for a month in changing climates" since Cartagena is on the ocean and Bogota is in the mountains and our adventure was definitely not planned out for wardrobe efficiency. But for all my cock-sure packing, it turns out that one pair of yoga pants, one pair of jeans, and some frumpy shorts are not all it takes to walk the streets of Medellin. (And by walk the streets, I don't mean in the professional sense, although I do know where to go if I need to make a few extra bucks.)

So far, in the six days that I have been in this country, I have learned how to successfully communicate through sign language that I don't speak Spanish (did you know that it's the same as the universal sign for choking? Or at least it seems to work every time) and how to tell a taxi the wrong place to go. In fact I am probably the best at that EVER. Of ALL TIME.

I've also gotten a bit of a sunburn on my left shoulder, won all sorts of badges on my apple watch and been groped by someone on a metro that was more crowded than my parents' stairs on Christmas Eve.

this is my future. 
Shout out to the dude over at Desk to Dirtbag for his tips on visiting Medellin. He's been spot on so far. Some of the best things I have seen since I got to Medellin include a guy walking 17 dogs at once, the cleanest metro cars EVER, ALL OF THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Fernando Botero sculptures which made me feel oddly comfortable and at home with their gross disproportion in Plaza Botero, the fact that at least 45% of cars have reindeer antlers on them, and on Saturdays and Sundays, how the city closes one direction of their four-lane north/south thoroughfare until 1300 so people can walk their dogs and kids all up and down it for fitness. Or maybe just to show off those amazing Colombian butts. Either way it's cool.

We took a Real City Tour with a guide named Pablo of the city center that was totally rad. He explained that the metro cars remain pristine even with people crammed into them like sardines because the metro is a source of civic pride. The construction of the metro in the late 80s symbolized the emergence of Medellin from the clutches of a violent era of cartel wars and murder in the streets. It represents hope to the people of a cleaner, better future. Pablo shared his earliest memories of mass murders in his neighborhood in the 1980s when Pablo Escobar's reign of terror was at its height, and the evil that plagued their city at the time.

We spent some time in Botero Plaza, around all of these fat, funny looking statues, and later, as I read about the sculptor, Fernando Botero, a Medellin native, his perspective of beauty and reality was an odd-shaped breath of fresh air. The artist said once "Art should be an oasis: a place or refuge from the hardness of life," and for many reasons, his sculptures are that for Medellin, and that place was for me, as well. The most poignant of his statues is a fat bird that sits in San Antonio Plaza, a large open square with an amphitheater on one end that is used for large public gatherings. In 1995, an unknown terrorist placed 22 lbs of dynamite at the base of the bird statue during a crowded event. 30 people were killed and more than 200 were injured. The artist, upon hearing that the mayor wanted to move the fractured statue from the square and erase all evidence of the violence, called and demanded it be left as a reminder. He then crafted an identical bird which stands, whole and unscathed, next to the demolished one, as a tribute to hope and peace. This is Medellin. And I kind of love it.

The Birds of Peace by Fernando Botero (also kind of reminds me of a Madi bird)

They also have this alcohol here that is sort of like bourbon to Kentucky, or Fireball to Northport, called Aguardiente, which literally means "fire water." I did some professional research before getting involved and learned that most of the locals drink it "sin azucar" to avoid a hangover the next day. It tastes just like Good n' Plenty candy, but with less sweet. So basically, black licorice, but not in a Jaegermeister way. It's actually really good, especially with some good ol' fashioned American Country Music at the end of a long, weird day in a hostel room that you can't figure out how to use the air conditioner in. (Don't worry, we figured it out by day 3). Also Aguardiente, or "guaro" as the locals call it, seems to be a pretty sound remedy for a belly that has some reservations about the empanadas you bought from that one place on the corner that Pablo said was good.

Definitely do try this at home. (warning: might lead to bed-jumping-on Sammy Kershaw sing-a-longs)

Speaking of food, they have these things here called "buneulos." I feel bad telling you about them because you can't find them wherever it is you are, unless you are Colombian, and other than Pablo, I only know one of you (hi LUNA!), But HOLY COW. It's sort of like a savory donutty thing that is deep fried cornbread with cheese mixed in and quite possibly one of the four best things I have ever eaten, right behind steak, pizza and chicken chow mien. I've only allowed myself one buneulo so far, because (referring to paragraph one) I already have enough extra pounds to sweat off, but jiminy christmas they are yum. 

a BUNEULO! (P.S. that church behind me [in addition to being the oldest church in Medellin] is also where the professional streetwalkers hang out.)(P.S. II - that's another Botero statue behind me as well. She and I have some curves in common.)

Anyway, for now, I am going to go back to being me, here, and here with me, because it turns out I can't escape it, even if I have more tasty buneulos to brag about than beautiful Colombian butt (but I hear surgery is cheap here...). I know you all have a million questions, mostly about coffee and cocaine, so I will touch on those in my next blog. Ciao! 

Things About Avoidance

It's been a battle for me to write lately. I've been in a place of self-censorship and insecurity that makes me feel like my words are useless and have no meaning. I seem to be able to pull together 250 words about Maren Morris' new album, and other things that pay the bills, but when it comes to getting real and getting personal, I have had this hardcore block for awhile. It's straight fear based, and I hate it. I don't know what I am so afraid of, because like Morris says in her interview, there will be critics everywhere whether we act or speak or think or whether we do none of those things.

I guess I've had to work in jobs that required intense self-regulation and thought suppression, and it's hard to recover from that. I have also faced some conflict in recent months that has made me question the validity of my own thoughts. It's made me re-examine how I view things and my own worthiness to have, much less offer, an opinion. I've also had to work in jobs that required intense self-regulation and thought suppression, and it's hard to recover from that.

Don't get me wrong, humility is a beautiful thing, it really is, but unworthiness is an ugly monster that paralyzes. I hate being paralyzed. It's so inefficient. Hate it. There's such a fine line between the humility of knowing that your ideas and perspectives are never more than half-baked in this crazy world, and the harsh judgement of external (and internal) voices telling you that you're an idiot, or that you've been more wrong than right. Usually I stay sane by remembering that I never have all the answers, or the whole story, but lately, I have felt like I don't have any answers and I haven't even gotten into the first chapter of the story.

So I've been on silent mode. All the buzzing ideas and thoughts are muted and I push them down and away to avoid letting anybody know they're there, much less subject them for review. The worst part about this mode of operating is that I feel dumber every single day. If we aren't throwing our ideas and thoughts around and having them pitched back to us with tweaks and new understanding, our brains are just lying fallow, absorbing whatever tripe is funneled into them. That's where I've been. Absorbing tripe. Not sharpening, not reflecting, just becoming saturated with unfiltered blather that is shoveled at me. I'm so over it. I am so ready to be "woke." To start risking my own thoughts again. And to wrestle with the fear and pain of conflict if that's what they create.

I still have things to say. I've just been hitting the silent button for so long that I feel like I've forgotten how to use my words. I've lost my voice.

I'm setting out today on a month long adventure to new places, doing awesome things, and it's time to find my voice again. It's time to see the world and process it through my own flawed perspective and see what new things I can add to it. It's time to talk about it and hear all of the things I have missed. It's time to be sharpened again. It's time take my soul off silent mode and be grateful that I have one, trusting that the voice I have been given was so that someone could hear it. Silence is ok for a season of rest, but it's not ok for a season of avoidance.

Bear with me as I awkwardly blunder my way back into thinking, and stumble around the words that have become so foreign to me.

I missed NaNoWriMo, but I plan to write December into an epoch, one sentence at a time, and I think I will do it from exciting, exotic places. Because why not?

Things About Division

"If there is a country in the world where concord, according to common calculation, would be least expected, it is America. Made up as it is of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits of government, speaking different languages, and more different in their modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people was impracticable; but by the simple operation of constructing government on the principles of society and the rights of man, every difficulty retires, and all the parts are brought into cordial unison." - Thomas Paine, Rights of Man

I’ve been sitting here, (mostly) quietly, watching. 

Watching, listening. Waiting to see. For two years, since the Man Who Would Be our 45th president was elected, I have watched, somewhat in shock and awe along with the rest of America, wondering what would happen. 

As our nation has slowly become more and more polarized left to right, more and more divided, I’ve watched the hate grow on both sides. I’ve seen extremes grow and become exacerbated.  Political and social swings become more and more violent and the space between grows ever larger.

I’ve been watching, mostly, trying to not pick sides, waiting to let the fruit of our actions as a nation to deliver the verdict. But here we are, at another election and there’s something I wanna say.

We have battles to fight right now. I’m a firm believer that “evil will triumph when good men do nothing” (not Edmund Burke) and I’m a firm believer in moral courage - standing up for what you believe in, and doing the right thing. 

I believe that these battles we face today need to be fought correctly. I believe bringing guns into a fight that should to be won in legislation is wrong. I believe that taking innocent lives in the name of "moral courage" is wrong. I believe that violence against law enforcement and other federal employees is wrong, whether it is radicalized offshoots of the Black Lives Matter movement or ranchers in eastern Oregon that are initiating the attacks.

That’s why I have to say this: I came of age in a “Christian community." I have been out of it for some time now. The belief system in that place dictates that those followers take dominion over the earth for the kingdom of God, beginning in the local community. One of the best ways to do this is by becoming politically involved in local government. That being said, I have a high level of respect for people from the community to which I formerly belonged who have chosen to run for office. I do not agree with their religious platform, but I support their right to believe in it and campaign boldly. 

In the last few weeks I have had to wrestle the demons of my own personal experience to find and understand this for myself. I've had to overcome anger at injustice that I have both witnessed and experienced, and separate my pain from the truth that there is strength in embracing our very different world views.

I won’t vote for them. Heck, I’ll probably lobby against them. But they’re doing it the right way and I will give the ones that do credit for it. Rick Johnson is running for assessor. I won’t vote for Rick, but I support the fact that he is managing his campaign with dignity and I respect him for what he’s trying to do. He's not storming the county courthouse with his guns drawn and I dig that.

This country works because we have different beliefs. If we all believed the same thing, we'd wipe ourselves out in pretty short order (see Idiocracy). We need diversity to move ahead and we need conflict to affect change, but conflict needs to be resolved the right way. Not by killing police officers. Not by pulling guns on federal employees or occupying federal property - but by changing legislation. By voting, by campaigning, by being active in our communities and swaying the vote in a direction that we believe in strongly with powerful words and intelligent actions, while at the same time respecting those across the fence from us.

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.” - Oscar Wilde

What we’ve lost in the last few years isn’t a moral compass, it isn’t good intentions - what we have lost is respect for each other. We have lost self-control. We have lost patience and understanding with each other. We have taken our own personal hurts and turned them into the reasons that we condemn and judge people who are different than we are. I am as guilty as anyone of this. We lose a loved one to senseless murder by gunfire and all gun owners become our enemy. We lose a loved one to an officer-involved shooting and all cops are bad. Our personal liberties are threatened, new taxes and laws imposed and our frustration becomes personal. 

We have lost sight of the differences that make us powerful. Our founding fathers understood this and set into place guiding standards for our governing systems. 

“... for where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.” -James Madison, Federalist #10.

The pendulum swing of our political climate has become emotionally driven by hyper-excited media and showboating politicians on both sides. We have forgotten that our neighbors are good people, (unless you live next door to a serial killer) and they want what's best for all of us too. 

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” - Thomas Paine

Vote your hearts out, friends. Vote conservative or liberal, democrat or republican, or howeverthehell you want, and share your beliefs passionately, but find some love in your heart for the ones who challenge your thoughts, because in the end, they can either sharpen your mind and build your compassion or they can make you dull and obnoxious and earn you a hefty filtering on social media. 

Stand up for what you believe in. Do it the right way. Love your neighbor. Be a better human. 

Be a better human, or if possible, a pirate. 

“Think as you please, and so let others, and you will have no disputes.”- Thomas Jefferson

Things About Bright Spots

I can't say that this summer was the best of summers.

It certainly wasn't the worst. But it was far from the best. 

In spite of a mediocre and almost disheartening summer, I learned a lot. And a lot of good things happened. And I think that all of those little bright spots are really the best. Because a bright spot can make the worst day better. 

Sometimes life is hard. Like when you have to wear something other than sweatpants. Or you run out of cream for your coffee. But sometimes, when life seems like it's the hardest ever, somebody shows up with the Little Ray of Sunshine that you just needed. And the jeans don't choke you quite as much, and the black coffee almost tastes good. I learned this summer that people do change. Maybe it isn't the people that you were hoping would change, but somebody did. I think I have changed a lot this summer. In some ways I have gotten stronger. In other ways I have come to terms with my weaknesses. And in both ways it's good. 

Things About This Week

The Important Things. 

The first week of October used to be a good one. 15 years ago on October 3rd, I gave birth to my fourth and final kid, and for once, I was in a hospital with a real doctor. I even had drugs. Granted, I was afraid of being paralyzed by an epidural (nobody messes with my CSF!), so I opted for something else that I had never tried. The doc gave me Stadol when I got to The Best Part of Labor (clearly sarcastic), and while the painkiller never seemed to touch the pain, I was transported to this alternate reality wherein I was some ultra-hot and feisty Latina Gangster, bossing my minions around the birthing room in my flippant New-York-Hispanic accent.

Luckily my delusion didn't transfer over since the nurse later said I was just glaring at her really meanly the whole time, but I remember having very fancy fingernails while Montgomery Gentry's "Hell Yeah" blared from the little alarm clock radio, followed by Faith Hill's "Breathe," which I remember thinking was ironically appropriate, even though I could not express that to the people in my room because I was far too busy telling off my putas (don't look that up, mom) and making drug deals in my head.

But that was 15 years ago.

And then 8 years ago, the first week of October became something else. My sister and her (then) three kids were in a terrible accident, and we were about THISCLOSE to losing most of them. She was almost full term with her fourth child and her first daughter. The baby didn't survive the wreck.

I got a call from an EMT friend with a scanner who knew it was my family. I'll never forget that call. I lived in Bend at the time, and I remember rounding up my kids from their various and assorted schools and leaving town in a big hurry. Kizzie still had her Volleyball knee pads on when we left town. We drove like hell to get there, because the only thing I knew was that it was bad. We weren't even sure we'd get to say goodbye. My sister and one of my nephews had been flown by fixed-wing air to Spokane and the other two boys were in the hospital in Colville in various stages of being transported south for treatment of multi-system injuries.

I'm an EMT, right? I've been on some bad wrecks, I've dealt with the blood, the guts, the limbs postured in unnatural ways, even the dead bodies that I've had to work on, to try - just try, for families. But nothing could have prepared me for the sight of my own sister, an unnatural shade of greenish white, bruises all over her body only hours after the wreck, in that hospital bed. Before I could even say hi, I had to step back out of the room and put my head down by my knees. The whole hospital hallway was spinning out of control. It took me a couple minutes to be able to stay upright long enough to hold her hand and weep with her.

In the days and weeks and years leading up to that event, my large, very close and very opinionated family had seen turmoil. Division and hurt and events that give even the most loving families pause in their close-knit relationships. That moment erased all the petty differences that had created wedges between us. The reality of life's brevity and the tiny instant that can change everything suddenly make nothing as important as loving others and knowing you are loved by them. No points to prove, no issues to discuss, not even being right is important in a moment like that. We are all stripped to a level of equality that is based entirely on the humble experience of the fragility of life. None of us has got shit to defend. Period. There is nothing so important that it should break love - death does that soon enough.

A couple years later, a close friend was badly injured in a fall during the first week of October. The sole provider for his family, it sent all of us close to him back to the trenches, pulling together to get them through some of the scariest moments of that we've had to endure. These moments, when our human frailty is paramount to our goals and plans and dreams, are the moments when the truth of who we are as humans prevails.

Since then, the first week of October has brought us mass shootings in Roseburg, Oregon in 2016 at a community college, and last year the murder of 58 people in Las Vegas at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. If a random slaughter isn't enough to make you stop and think, then you're doing it wrong. For many people, the first week of October changed forever 25 years ago today, when one of the most intense 15-hour battles in U.S. military history took place in Mogadishu, Somalia. One hundred American Soldiers held a force ten times their size off in an attempt to rescue the crews of two downed Black Hawk helicopters. 17 Americans were killed, and the bodies of slain soldiers were dragged through the streets. The violence was captured on film and changed the landscape of our recent military memory forever. A new generation of heroes was born when those images infiltrated living rooms across America.

The first week of October has become, for me, a moment to remember what's really important. And maybe I am overly dramatic, but even that thought process triggers an avalanche of conflicted emotions for me. I'm about 36 hours home from 80 days on fire assignments this summer, a record for me, but even as the paycheck posts to my account I reflect on the summer and I wonder if I am doing it right. Should I be here more? What am I missing out on? How would I pay the bills otherwise?

I listened to Warren Buffet's 5/25 principle, the idea that if you don't focus all of your energy on the five most important things to you, all of your efforts and investments get watered down and diluted to the point of ineffectiveness. I sat kind of dumbly after listening.

What five things are the most important to me? Making sure my last kid gets turned loose into adulthood with a reasonable hope of success? Traveling? Not being in debt? I feel like the truest answers to the Five Important Things question are maybe the irresponsible ones. What if the most important thing to me is saving all the dogs? Can I put my kid up for adoption to facilitate that? Or what if my Number 1 priority is not being alone? Then I'd have people lined up to counsel me about the Joy of Loving Myself and offering to pay for therapy. I realize I am off on a total rabbit trail here, but it's been a Very Long Time since I wrote anything for myself, and there's a lot of words bound up in this head.

Anyway, today is my first and maybe only "day off" in awhile. Obligation free, other than some cupcakes that need making, a few articles I want to write, and a doctors appointment to see if they make a drug that helps one discern the Five Important Things. Is that Adderall? If it is, I want it.

But for today my five things include: Loving My People, Taking the Steps, Making the Birthday, Fixing the Broken and a lot of quality couch time with my one Tiny and Insecure Dog. What are your Five Things Today? I hope at least one of them includes some cuddling.

Things About Broken Hearts

Let's be honest: none of us get out this unscathed. We've all had our hearts broken. From the first time that our mothers swatted our hands away from a hot stove and we didn't understand how the nurturer became the bearer of violence against us, we've experienced the pain of betrayal.

We've had our hearts broken as small children when your friends don't let you join them at the potato stamp table in kindergarten (this is me sharing my most vulnerable moments with you), and again as middle schoolers when your BFF tells the cute boy about that one time you picked your nose and ruins you FOREVER.

Your heart is broken again and again in high school when your One True Love turns out not to be and dumps you for the girl who snuck out of the house in the ultraminiskirt. Every disappointment grows in importance as you sense an ever closer approach to Destiny...

And then your heart break again when the Forever that was supposed to be Destiny end in abysmal disaster. Or even if you find some version of Happily Ever After, there are always the ups and downs and mini heart breaks, and the major ones. The days when some hurts feel like they are unbearable.

The more people you love, the greater your odds are, statistically speaking, to face more heartache in your life. Even the happiest of families have their dark moments. We unintentionally inflict pain on the ones we love the most because it's in those spaces that we are the most real, and the most insensitive sometimes. There is no love without hurt. It's the hurting that love causes that gives us art and music and poetry and philosophy.

Even Tim and Faith, with their decades of shining perfection in marriage, have broken each other’s hearts, I guarantee it. With an unkind word, a poor karaoke choice, or that mid 90s turtleneck trend. Even the perfect ones among us inflict a little heartache on each other now and then.

If you're not a sociopath, the question isn't IF you'll get a broken heart, the question is when, and your investment into the lives around you will be rewarded in equal amounts of heartache when those lives inevitably face hardship. 

I've wrestled a lot lately with the whole idea of parenthood as something that is anything more than perpetual heartache. Since my kids were babies it feels like it's been a non-stop freight train speeding, out of control, of things that can (and often do) go wrong. It picks up speed and momentum the older they get. The momentary glimpses of triumph and joy get overshadowed by the hard things. By rejections and  breakups and failures and dashed hopes. Happiness and success come at the high cost of hard work and stress and heartache. 

I watch other parents and I wonder ,when they proclaim the joy of parenting, what it is I am doing wrong as I lie awake night after night and worry whether one kid's firefighting career will be ended by a knee injury and whether there is any earthly way to pay for another kid's college tuition, and just exactly how many sporting events have to be attended and how many phone bills have to be paid to ensure that I am doing my parently duty. As they become adults and make adults decisions, there is little comfort in the knowledge that I am not legally responsible for the grown-up choices they make, because it doesn't exempt me from feeling the pain of the consequences they bear. Raising kids is just an ongoing evolution of breaking hearts. 

But it's worth it. Just like falling in love, knowing the life expectancy of any relationship these days is pretty pathetic, is still worth it. And you step up to bat again and again because those momentary highs are worth it, and even more, the people that you love, that you believe in, are worth it, even when they hurt you. Sure, there are limits. There's a time to pull the plug and walk away. There's even a time to disconnect the phone line and draw boundaries, but in this era of disposable everything, there are still people worth taking the hits for. There are bigger stories than the trauma of a moment. 

What parenting, and love, and being related to other human beings has taught me, is that heartbreak is survivable. It can be endured again and again and again. The real tell of a human being is whether they will get back up and love again after each break. The character of a person lives in their willingness to walk headfirst into the next round of heartbreaks for the people that they love. 

Even in the last few months I have felt the weight of heartache that I didn't think I could bear, and while I struggled to walk the steps of each day in the darkest moments, I knew it would not be my last time in that valley. I knew that I would run back into the fray, I would open up my barely healed heart and I would do it again, because there is no life without love. 

I know each time that I feel like I can't carry another burden for one of my loved ones, somehow there's a second wind and we pick up the pieces and move on. History has taught me that I am resilient, and hopefully that resilience is something that the people I love can learn with me, as we break each others hearts again and again with the mistakes we make. 

The only thing I can promise them is that I will never, ever, EVER, be caught up in a turtleneck craze, and they're always welcome at my potato stamp table. 

Things That ACTUALLY Help During Fire Season

Noisy Creek Fire, Washington State, 2017

It's officially fire season. If you want to know how you can ACTUALLY help out during a wildfire in your area, here are some ideas: 

If you want to do something to help out firefighters working on the lines, here are some tips to help keep the mayhem in fire camp at a minimum: 
- Firefighters are required as part of their job to come FULLY equipped for a two week assignment, with all of their personal gear, toiletries, socks, toothpaste etc. Everybody likes free stuff, but nobody in fire camp should be here unprepared.
- Most camps will turn away donations because they don't have the manpower to deal with distributing them and stuff will just get shuffled off to local food banks, shelters, etc. at the end of the incident. If you INSIST on donating stuff the most useful, most asked things are preventatives like Emergen-C, vitamins, or coffee (see below). 
- Firefighters are provided with over the counter medicines like Tylenol and DayQuil, Gold Bond Powder, foot care items, chapstick, sunscreen and insect repellent through the medical unit. 
- Homemade/baked goods can open Incident Management teams to health liabilities and will usually be turned away as well. They also violate the contract with food caterers in fire camp who provide everything necessary to meet the firefighter's 6000 calorie a day requirement, including snacks. This is for firefighter health and safety.
- Gatorade, water and ice are all provided. Don't buy this stuff for us.
- Contribute to local volunteer departments who have limited funding and face the toughest job during the first hours of initial attack. The volunteers often have to buy their own boots and supplies without any reimbursement, and they don't get paid like professional wildland firefighters who are on the clock, paid, for 14-16 hours a day.
- Fire camp coffee is brutal. If there is a fire camp near town, pay a few coffees forward at a local coffee stand for the firefighters that will be coming through. Or again, if you insist on bringing something to camp, instant coffee packets (like Starbucks Via) are like gold out here.
- Donate to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation ( They will be there for the firefighter when they, or their families, truly need it the most.


P.S. - I know that everybody is an expert, so if you're wondering, I am speaking from 15 year of fire experience in both volunteer and paid positions as a Fireline EMT and a Public Information Officer. I have worked all over the U.S. (even Alaska) for every level of Incident Management Team, including running the medical unit for Type 3 firefighting organizations. 

Things About Appropriate Footwear

even breakfast laces don't make these more fun to wear
Here's the thing. I hate being told what to wear. It probably has something to do with denim jumpers and verses in Leviticus, but for whatever reason, biblical or otherwise, it's a trigger point for me. Stand to reason of course, that my life would be made up of a series of questionable wardrobe choices and violating societal mores that result in being told, more often than not, to go change what I am wearing. I even got sent home from school one year when I was teaching because a visiting parent didn't like a fire hoodie I was wearing.

When fire season rolls around, I have to brace myself for the inevitable wearing of the required uniform. The anti-airflow Nomex pants (there is a reason Gold Bond is so popular out here) and frumpy, scratchy shirts (unless you score an old school yellow off an aging DIVS who has outgrown his), and as a Public Information Officer, the dreaded POLO SHIRT.

Someday I will write a blog about polo shirts and how they fall into the same category as capri pants and visors. But footwear. Footwear is the greatest struggle for me. I prefer to live wild and free with as little confinement on my feet as possible, like flip flops. Fire boots do not fit this lifestyle preference. Nor do many other fire camp shoes I have tried.

Traveling doesn't count, Jim. 
I have discovered, through more than one helpful talking-to from people in logistics, safety, or occasionally the IC himself, that flip flops are not acceptable footwear in fire camp, even if I call them tactical (this designation helps the moccasin, however, see below). So, being the careful rule-follower that I am (ahem), I gave up trying to get away with wearing flip-flops in fire camp years ago (even though some of my direct supervisors may say otherwise [JIM]), but I will confess pushing the boundaries in my choice of fire-camp footwear in lieu of my go-to standard.

Coming off the line after 12 hours of sitting in my truck (ok, sometimes I hike too) in stuffy fire boots that stifle my creativity and inhibit my cross-legged sitting habit, I am eager to get into something more comfortable as soon as safely allowable, or sooner, if nobody in overhead notices. These are some of the fire-camp footwear frontrunners that I have either experienced or seen.

The Crocs

Lightweight, easy, ridiculous. Sure you can, but why? That's all I will say here.

The Outdoorsy Keen

I have several friends who can or will only wear Keen shoes. I get it, they are versatile, and they scream "I am an avid outdoorsperson who also values comfort and durability." What's not to love, right? Keens are OK, but I have tried over 20 pairs and haven't found a single style that fits my foot correctly, so these aren't a great option for me. 

The Running Shoe

This is the fire camp standard. This is anyone with an O number that wants to convey the message: "I am fire qualified (hence the nomex) but have advanced in years and/or experience to the level of daily comfort footwear. But I am also ready to run."

I have worn various iterations of running shoes which invariable make me feel like a poser (since I don't run unless it's to save my life) and although they're lighter than boots, they still require tying and all of the difficulty of putting on that every laced shoe demands. The payoff is in comfort and good pedal support for long days on concrete, wood chips or a folding chair.

The Chucks

I guess you could pretty much call me SOF
Over the years, I have worn baldies (Chuck Taylor's, for the uniformed), which are ok until late season wet fire camp grass or soggy sawdust penetrates the canvas and they never dry out. This year I bit the cost bullet and got a pair of Altama Low Tide Raid Shoes from Grunt Style because they looked really rad. Like baldies on steriods. Like I am actually a badass, and not just a wannabe. These are pricey (I can get you 20% off if you're interested), but they are water resistant (kept my feet dry in a torrential downpour) and if they do get wet, which they're designed to do, it drains out these cool little spots that double as breathable vents (making them cooler than your run-of-the-mill Gortex footwear), and they dry STAT, which I think means really fast in emergency-room-tv-show lingo. Also they are worn by actual badasses, so there is that.

The Tactical Moccasin

This is my absolute favorite, when I can get away with it. Depending on the fire assignment, the management team, and how many effs I give, these will pass muster. For about the last four years, I have been wearing Minnetonka Cally Moccasins. The first couple of years, I wore one pair into tattered little pieces of unrecognizable leather. Now I bite the bullet and get a new pair at the beginning of every season because they get trashed around camp all summer, and because when they're brand new they're SO SOFT AND SQUISHY inside that it's like wrapping your feet in baby bunnies. If I have to explain why this is a good thing then there isn't much point in continuing this conversation with you. In the medical unit, these have been a lifesaver. Or a footsaver, at least. I have been asked to refrain from wearing them in some camps, but I will keep trying until Tactical Moccasins are universally accepted as camp-appropriate footwear. Maybe I can work in a diversity argument and my Native American roots... except I haven't got any.

So there it is. Everything you never wanted to know about what to put on your feet in fire camp, or any camp for that matter. And lots of pictures of my feet, which are fairly important feet as far as feet go. The have a lot of traveling to do.

Things About Wannabes

We're all wannabes. 

I was told a long time ago that I was a wannabe. I was told again and again by insecure men and women. The ones who were wannabes themselves. Wannabe religious icons. Wannabe conduits of the Holy Spirit. Wannabe idols. Wannabe controllers. They told me how I was a wannabe wife. A wannabe mother. A wannabe Christian and firefighter and EMT and everything else I’d ever imagine being. They kept me in submission with the constant reminder that I’d never quite arrive. 

It took me years to realize that none of us ever will. 

You show me somebody who’s the shining star of confidence in his chosen field and I’ll show you somebody who’s lying awake at night wondering if anybody else noticed the glaring flaws that are keeping him up all night. Dollars to donuts even Donald Trump returned from Helsinki wondering if the whole world was actually right, and how he can convince them otherwise, even if he secretly agrees that he fucked up. 

It’s the over-confident ones that are the most wannabe of all. The ones who really have something to prove. The blow-hard name droppers who can’t let their actions speak for themselves. The ones who claim to have God’s own corner on truth. Those are the real wannabes. 

Either that or they’re just straight narcissists. But that’s a whole different blog post. 

It’s the perfect wife and mother who struggles the most with her inadequacy. It’s the most successful businessman who can never make the ultimate power play. It’s the most pious priest who hides the most depravity. 

We’re all wannabes. From Donald Trump to Mother Theresa. We all know there’s a next level that we haven’t hit. But the ones with the most power are the ones with the humility to own it. To wear it proudly like a key to adventure slung heavily around our necks. When there’s always something to learn, there’s always somewhere to go, and life is movement. Life is nothing without growth and exploration to see whats around the corners we haven’t turned yet. 

Hell yeah, I’m a wannabe. And it’s wanting to be that has led me through a thousand new doorways into places I never would’ve imagined. I’m happy to have arrived on the neverending path of curiosity and unfinished business. 
I have definitely arrived when it comes to beer. Beer level = EXPERT. 

Things About Manifesting (And Me Being Always Right)

I recently had an argument with a friend about the whole idea of manifesting goodness in your life. You know, that hinky, feel-good contrivance about imagining how you want things to be in your life and making them magically unfold through boundless optimism and faith? Like what that silly book The Secret was pushing.

Anyway, my friend was insistent that it was working for him, because he had some good things fall into place once he decided that they were going to happen. The argument basically went down like two one-sided discussions where I told him he was wrong because what REALLY made things happen was his hard work and focus, and he ignored me and continued heralding the praises of manifesting things out of thin air through nothing more than optimistic thinking. Whatever. If it works, it works, I guess, although I still maintain that he passed an important test because he actually studied and worked hard, and not because the Cosmic Powers decided he was joyful enough to grant him an Advance to Go card.

I don't think manifesting is the thing. I think what really helps is the DECIDING part, where you completely settle on what it is you want, and then start moving forward to make it happen. It's the waffling indecision that holds us back from plunging head and heart first into the Really Important Things. I mean, you don't get a job by sitting on the couch and imagining how great it's going to be. You get a job by convincing an interview board that you're the BOMB, because you've decided that you want. that. job. But you still have to go through the hellish interview process and iron a suit or decide which eye shadow is the least whoreish.

You don't build a strong relationship by hoping things work out and waiting to see. It takes risk and hard work and pain and digging in your heels.

Just like you don't pass a test by believing that the answers will mystically emerge from your noggin, you pass a test by studying hard and removing distractions that block you from accessing the information that you've put in there. Or by taking Ritalin. Either way, you've decided it's important, and you make it happen but going there and doing the thing and feeling the stress and overcoming.

no easy button
Last year I read some self-help book that I can't remember now that changed my way of thinking about how I went after things that I want. I've always been trapped in this learned helplessness of predestination and The Will of The Lord for my life that is completely ensconced in happily-ever-after fairy tales and meant-to-be bullshit. It's only in the fortieth year of my existence that I am really coming to terms with the ownership of my own "destiny" and the importance of my decisions and choices - not necessarily on what happens in my life, although as much as possible I am learning to exercise control where I can, but more on how I respond to the things that happen around me.

I'm slowly evolving from the intimidated position of choking down the sludge that I am dished out in belief that it's what I deserve based on what I have been told by the outside world, to knowing and believing that I am the one who gets to decide what I deserve and can digest the consequences of my actions accordingly, along with the rewards of the fearless taking of what is mine without remorse. Crappy things happen in life. Sometimes we don't deserve them. Thinking I can avoid them by imagining good things is just a setup for major disappointment.

But good things happen too. Not because I imagine them, but because I have decided to move forward one (sometimes painful) step at a time in the direction that I know is right and that opens doors. Sometimes, occasionally, or, if I am honest, often, The direction that "I knew" was right ends up being slightly off course, but I have learned from experience that there is something down every path for me, even if it's the wrong one. Because no wrong turns. Because sometimes the wrong way ends up being the adventure you didn't expect that changes your life. Sometimes it seems like a lucky break, but most of the times I've been lucky it's because a step that I took somewhere along the way put me in the position to run into an opportunity. Seneca says that "Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity," and I want to be prepared for the opportunities, not just wishing for them.

If manifesting works for my friend (who is still wrong), then that's great, but I see the hard work that he's doing, the steps he's taking, to "manifest" the good things and open doors in his life. If he wants to give credit to some higher mystical powers for his wins, that's his choice, but I plan on taking credit for the shit that I have to slog through to get where I want to be.

I believe in good things alright, I can see them in my mind's eye, but imagining and hoping isn't the thing. It's the getting back up and dusting off your ass when life kicks you square in the gut and tells you to stay down - that's what wins the day. It's the courage to ask for what you know you deserve, and not apologize, which I am still learning. It's the balls to keep going, step by step, down a path that sometimes seems bleak and endless and lonely, knowing that right around one of those corners all the trudging will pay off for a little while. But it's the trudging, not the dreaming, that gets you around the corner.

So what he calls manifesting I call manual labor, or hard work, and we can agree to disagree. (But I am still right.)

Things About Chasing Tail(s)

I've figured out that life is a never ending game of tail chasing. Either you're chasing someone else's tail or you're chasing your own tail of self-identity. If you're lucky, the game of chasing tail that does not belong to you will be short lived and the victory will remain for ages. Or, if you're like me, it's an endless game of both. Many of us find ourselves in the confusing world of perpetual self-tail chasing along with the constantly frustrating and disillusioning chase of tail that isn't our own.

I've got no advice to offer on the subject of chasing the tails of others since I have little success from which to draw, but I am gradually learning a thing or two about chasing my own tail. 

Lately (loosely translated: all the time in my whole life), I find myself in the midst of an identity crisis. When I was 19.5 years old it was the teenager fresh from the bunkbeds of a shared room with a little sister to the bumperpad-to-bumperbad cribs of two small infants in a studio apartment with a husband I barely knew. When I was 26 it was the almost-certified wildland firefighter banished from the practice controlled burn because it was "unsafe" for me at 6 months pregnant with child number four. At 32 it was the untapped teenage angst in the body of a single mom with four kids, three jobs and a full credit load of online college classes and a penchant for microbrews. I've always been seeking "myself," but it isn't until I got to be 41 that I realized that my "self" might be just as enigmatic to me as it was when I was three years old and climbing to the top of my Dad's Oak etageres to see if I could fly. But my "self" is also as familiar to me as the pillow I keep tucked between my arms every night. I know who I am. Sometimes, I just can't see the forest for the trees. 

Mark Manson talks about the diversification of identity, and I guess that's what I've always struggled with. I know how many things I am, and I know that a lot of those things don't fit the prescribed mold, or at least, not in the moment. Three year olds don't generally fly, even from a six-foot etagere. 19 year olds aren't the best mothers, unless they're a saint, like my younger sister might have been, or maybe even my Second Daughter given the chance (but thank you for waiting). Pregnant ladies aren't the best suited for wildland firefighters and 32 year olds should just stay away from microbrews, I've learned. 

But through it all I keep pushing, keep seeking"myself." And now I am 41. I am older and wiser and doing 41-year-old things. Going to my kid's ball games and graduation ceremonies. Paying my bills and having a savings account and learning the correct pronunciation for Roth IRA, etc. I wear jeans without holes (occasionally)(unwillingly) and craft lofty and condescending justifications for my tattoos. Deep inside though, I am still chasing my own tail. Trying to figure out just who I am, and the difference between what I WANT and what I NEED and who I AM. Those lines get blurry. But the definitive moment is always just barely out of reach. Like my tail.  

I always imagined that grown ups had no question about who they "are." They are just THEM. Doctors, teachers, mothers, transportation planners, rocket scientists. It seemed so simple. I thought maybe if I decided What to Be, that I would suddenly find this serenity and zen about self-identity that would once-and-for-all end my need to climb etageres. (By the way, if you haven't Googled etagere yet, you can click on the link.) But I've decided at least 23 times what to be when I grow up and I am still not completely sure that I can't fly. Because what IF?

So the tail-chase has continued. Sometimes I thought that if I caught the tail of someone else that I was chasing, I would suddenly KNOW. The epiphany of why I exist would descend upon me in an opaque and irrefutable destiny and all of my seeking would come to an end in the person that I belonged to. I'll admit, it seems to work for a year or two, maybe even close to a decade, especially if you bury your soul in the fabric of another person and/or community who Clearly Know What's Best For You and Don't Mind Telling You. But at the end of the day, or the decade, it's really up to you, or, in this case, up to me, to know who and what I am, and what's best for me, and if I know ANYTHING, it's that nobody can tell me What's Best for Me but my very own self. (I have at least 6 for-real psychologists who will back me up on this in their less-than-helpful-self-help-techniques. For a fee. )

But anyway, here I am, 41 and still chasing tail. Still slightly insecure about what I know about myself, but knowing, deep-down and just-the-same that I KNOW who I am. I am Liv. Not Liv the mom, Liv the firefighter, Liv the Writer, Liv the EMT, Liv the girlfriend, Liv the NOT girlfriend, Liv the former wife, Liv the messy, Liv the teacher, Liv the Cashier's Assistant, Liv the student, Liv the Avett Fanatic, Liv the emotionally unstable, Liv the self-aware (The psychologists told me that. For a fee.), Liv the beer girl, Liv the wannabe... I mean, yes, I AM all of those things... but I am not just one, I am every one, all of the time. And if Liv the writer is feeling angsty at Liv the mom's basketball game, then Liv the self-aware can take the steps to do what she needs to do and get the words out. And if Liv the former wife (please review my stern disapproval of "ex" terminology") is making a mess of Liv the girlfriend, or even Liv the NOT girlfriend, then Liv the self-reliant can make the adjustments she needs to make because ALL of those things in me have given me the tools to adapt. 

Chasing tail makes the world go 'round, as it happens, both biologically and psychologically. It's the ones of us that keep seeking and keep asking questions, like "Why am I cooking french fries at 41 years old?" that make life bigger than a single wide mobile home and a 1992 Ford Escort. Not that there's any shame in starting there, Daughter with said vehicle. 

Mark Manson, whom I clearly revere and tend to overcite, says that the idea of seeking your passion is bunk, because we're already putting our time into the things we're passionate about. For some of us, that's a 9-5 job that gets us where we need to be financially, a legitimate passion to pursue. For some of us, that's hours of journaling hopeless love letters that will be burned, unread at a later date. I know people in both camps - some more intimately than others, and I believe it's true that we put our money (read:time/energy) where our real passion lies. For me, when I get writer's cramp from journaling, it seems to be at the local brewery. I am not ashamed. I am me. And I've got some fine tail to keep chasing. Plus I MIGHT be able to fly. Who knows? 

Did I mention Liv the Whisky Drinker?

Things About Beer, and Words

Today, it happened. Today, as I sat cozied up to the bar at my favorite brewery, some guy came up next to me and started talking beer. It wasn't ten minutes into the conversation that he asked me if I was the "one who writes the stories in the paper." I answered in the affirmative and he said he recognized me from the headshot with my beer column. This means I am famous. This makes me a celebrity. I have arrived. I will be selling autographs later.

It's not really that I am famous. It's really just that beer is the great equalizer. It brings people together and levels the playing field across generations, fashion sensibilities, mood swings... Beer is love. Beer makes every conversation bearable, every task (almost) enjoyable, and any company endurable. Beer is the best.

Lately I've been having a hard time writing. I mean, I can do the stuff I have to for work, but I have certainly been feeling less than inspired to spew original ideas that have any real merit. Running into somebody who reads, and actually digests, and maybe even enjoys, the words that I write, helps me feel like I am not always screaming my words into an echoless void, which might be a writer's worst nightmare - it's definitely mine.

When I left my post as the writer at the Silverado, it was more of a release of the THING that offered me a pathway into the community than it was quitting a job.  Much like beer lubricates a conversation, or a relationship, or a bad decision, writing for a local paper gave me an in. I let it go because I knew my heart was headed in a different direction, which it always it, the direction with less commitment and more insecurity, because I like adventures. And suffering. And I like having an "in," but I've found that I also like to sit back and observe in anonymous ambiguity, watching and waiting for inspiration.

I love writing about things I love. Like beer. Or history. Or psychoanalytical bullshit that I make up randomly. I don't love writing about things that I don't care about and then having to have conversations about those things with people who read my stories and expect me to be interested and/or have expertise, when in reality, I did what I was told. And doing what I am told has never been my favorite.

So back to the beer I go. For drinking and writing and making friends. And back to the writing, for thinking and understanding and being famous. Or not. Either way, as long as there's beer.

Things About Feathers and Angels and Heroes

In 2015, my life was forever changed during a very short visit to the shores of the Normandy region of Northern France. My fascination with the history of the World War II battles that transpired there had made it one of the most compelling places in the world for me to visit, and I finally got to, with my mom and Dad (who is also a war history buff) and sister. What I experienced in the brief time I spent there in the surf, on the once blood-soaked sands where the fate of the world changed forever on that June day so long ago, in the villages that still wore the battle scars from days and weeks and months of onslaught, and in the American Cemetery at Normandy - what I felt, I don’t know that I’ll ever have words for.

We stayed the night in an old bed and breakfast overlooking the town square of Sainte-Mère-Église. my bedroom window looked directly out on the bell tower of the old churchyard where American paratroopers had dropped, miles off course from their intended target, and many had met a quick end, falling into German guns like gifts from above. I stood in the moonlight by my window that warm June night in 2015, some 71 years later, and could see it all happening.

But the most surprising revelation on my trip to Normandy wasn’t on the beaches where the boats landed, or the cliffs that the Rangers scaled, or the cobblestones where thousands of American boots marched, although those places left a deep mark on me.

 The most peculiar and unexpected awakening happened for me at a castle. The most ironic part was that I wasn’t very happy to leave the battlefields and war museums to visit a castle, but my family was keen on it, so I went along grudgingly. The castle had once functioned monastery, and a prison, and many other things throughout the centuries.

The dramatic spires of the place jut up out of the ocean from the giant rock perch where Mont St Michel sits against the backdrop of the English Channel. The ancient church is an island when the tide comes in, and somewhat inconvenient to reach even when the tide is out. Surrounded by sea water or bog-like sand, the old monastery and it’s supporting village were built in and ever climbing spiral upward, as the rock allowed no more outward growth.

Toward the top of the man-made mountain is a Great Hall, where perhaps once Kings and nobles dined. Where once monks chanted in echoing reverence and solemn glory.  The ceiling of the great hall, arching nearly 30 feet overhead, was filled with floating white feathers. Suspended magically in the air by some invisible force.

I asked several people what the feathers meant. I went home and googled it, and found no cohesive answer.

While I was there, I sat in a courtyard and wrestled with my own soul over some of the never-ending personal battles I was facing. I was staring up at a golden statue of St. Michael, the patron saint of soldiers, law enforcement, fire fighters and EMTs. The monastery was dedicated to him, and emblems and depictions of the arch angel were everywhere.

I sat there, while my family milled about the passageways and halls of the ages old stone buildings, and I had a talk with St. Mike. I made him some promises, about keeping my faith for as long as he would keep my brothers and sisters safe. The cops I love and the soldiers. My firefighter daughter and all of my friends on the line. I promised I would hold fast to believing in the protection he offered and the reasons that so many people run bravely into the fray for the freedom and safety of others.

St. Mike answered me, in a way, with the feathers, which, three years later, I learned were part of an artists display for an evening event. But for me, they were the floating remnants of a battle between good and evil. Pieces of an angel's wings left suspended throughout the ages as he wrestled the dragon. I saw the fight between right and wrong, between freedom and tyranny, between danger and security being waged in a timeless space that continues every day that brave men and women engage in the battle.

Francesco Maffei, The Archangel Michael overthrowing Lucifer, ca. 1656

Shortly afterward, I had the feather of a Red Tailed Hawk tattooed on my arm, because those are the feathers of my homeland (now you know why!), and because I wanted a constant reminder of the war being waged and the pledge between me and St. Mike for my loved ones. Most days I wear his medal too, right next to my heart, where I hold the faith that good will always triumph, as it did on that fateful June day so long ago in Normandy, when thousands of heroes ran up against the dragon of evil and remain buried on that shore.

Normandy will always hold a very special place in my heart, and I can't wait to go back and have another chat with St. Mike about our deal and all the ones we are proud of.

Things About Crying in the Sink

I used to joke that all of my exes*, rather than being from Texas, were from Wisconsin. Back then I took some pride in the fact that other than the mere fact that I had more than one "ex*" to claim, there wasn't much else about my life that resembled a country song. The fact that they were from (as I think it should be called) the Middle East of the U.S.A., just meant that there was less deep-south heartbreak to correlate with my breakups, plus, my dogs were still alive and my kids were all smart and attractive, and nobody in my family had been thrown in jail in a couple of generations.

Lately, my bragging rights to a relatively melodrama free life have been circling the drain. Both my big dogs died, leaving me bereft and without a hound dog to ride shotgun in my pickup. My employment situation wavers perilously on the brink of the down-and-out blues, and my love life went tits up, relegating me to a life that is the smack dab epitome of a cry-in-the-sink country song.

Most of these things, with the exception of two dead dogs, I can boil down to matters of choice. My career path has been, to say the least, a meandering one, for which I make no apologies and generally thrive in the flexibility and enjoyment that I usually get out of it, however much stability is lacking. That's a choice I've made and I own it.

 In love, I can only blame my choices for the broken hearts I have borne. Either I chose the wrong guy, or I chose the wrong behavior. And maybe sometimes, like my recent past, I chose both.

I'd like to say that my choosing has gotten better over the years. Albeit much too gradual for my impatient taste - but I know that I have been choosing better and better in the men department and I know that as far as behavior goes, well, I wouldn't hardly recognize the girl I was ten years ago if I bumped into her today. I am getting better, no matter what they say.

But still, no matter how real those increments of improvement might be, they haven't arrived me at blissful perfection yet, and while the number and geographic diversity of my "exes*" have grown a little, so has my ability to be the kind of person that someday, when I choose the perfect guy, will make me nigh unto perfect myself, and I'll be singing the B side of that heartbreak album about heaven and having everything I ever wanted. Someday.

*Authors note: I am strongly adverse to the terminology of "exes" - I tell my girls that once a relationship ends, you aren't their anything, and they aren't yours. I don't like the ownership idea that it conveys. I have former husbands and past boyfriends (don't really like that word either...)... but they aren't "MY exes."

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