Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Because Sometimes You Just Have To Stand Up

Me at Marikopa Beach in New Zealand
Since returning home, not even a month ago, I have been spinning...or maybe more like swimming/sinking, grasping, clutching for shore. The freedom I felt on the road, the complete abandonment of all things routine and normal, the sheer wonderment and joy in the everyday does not translate here. Here, reality. It doesn't help that we were in Los Angeles for three weeks and now New York and New Jersey. We are one foot here and one foot there with nothing in between (except for some awesome friends in Colorado!) And its not to say I'm unhappy. It has been overwhelmingly awesome to spend time with family and reconnect with friends. I have literally seen all of my favorite people in the last month including our Kiwi friends in New Zealand. I am a very lucky girl and goddamn, I love my life. And life indeed keeps on lifing.

In New Zealand, Mike and I made a deal that we were definitely headed back to New York where I would return to my beloved job in a community I truly adore and Mike would be headed into a new venture which he was starting to get excited about. And then it all changed. It's true what they say about making plans. We had a plan, a good plan. It was the first solid, inflexible plan we had made in months. But after a week in Los Angeles, with nothing but the wide open future ahead of us, our minds did the darnedest thing- they changed.

For me, being in a small pub with most of my family for my brother's engagement party was a very powerful and obviously influential experience. It's been so long since I've been around all of them together and I was struck by how much I missed them and also how much I missed being a part of them. And while family is family, blood is blood, and I am always a part, it was nice to laugh and joke with people that have known me my whole life. I felt like a cliché. I felt like Santiago in The Alchemist.   And I also felt complete terror. There has never been an opening for moving back to the West Coast and suddenly here it was - vulnerability, unwanted.

I boarded a plane for New York with great anticipation and anxiety. I was scared of my feelings. What if my mind changed again? What if I disappointed people on the east coast? What if I started down a path and wanted to jump the tracks again? I was afraid to commit to saying we were moving to Los Angeles and I still am because it feels so permanent. And my experience for the past nine months has been one of just the opposite of that - impermanency - and boy, did I love it!

But the more I let go, the more I find it easier to release my decisions from the death sentence I place on them. A wise friend once told me that the only thing permanent in life was children. I have stopped looking at this transition as "leaving New York" and more like "Los Angeles is where things are headed right now." Because, I always reserve the right to change my mind. And with the husband I have, I know my impulses will always be honored. (They may not be acted on, but they will be honored.) So, I've let go of what was set up before me. I've let go of the sure bet - the job, the health insurance plan, the 403B. I've let go of the panic that I am putting off "starting a family" and instead replaced that with gratitude that I still am at a place in my life where I can hop the tracks. And the more I let go, the more I sink into the unknown, the more opportunities are coming my way. The more I allow myself to be vulnerable, the better I get at being still and letting it all in.

Just before traveling to New York, another wise friend said to me, "You know it's kind of like the kid whose trying to swim. Panicked. Grasping at the water! When all they need to do is stand up."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ode to the Peep

I can't help it, but every year around this time, the candy I most look forward to is the sugary, sparkly, marshmallowy PEEP. And without fail, when I see them, I squeal, "Peep!"

While most people around me reach for the Cadbury Egg, chocolate bunnies or jelly beans, I will be the first person at the Easter basket to rip open the Peep carton and sample what to me is Easter candy at its finest. It was only recently that I learned that my brother felt the same way about Peeps and we instantly knew exactly why: the 99 cents store.

In the middle of 5th grade, my family moved from the steamy suburbs of Reseda to North Hollywood before it was the "NOHO Arts District." We went from a super Christian private school to a much more diverse public school that had echoes of the racial tensions bubbling in greater Los Angeles just before the 1992 riots playing out on the playground. Six months later our lives were turned upside down by the sudden split of our parents and a year after that we were sent to another school, a Catholic school, where we walked to and from school every day. The early nineties were a tough time for my family and coming home to an empty, tiny apartment with an absent parent every day was often times a somber experience. But my brother and I, along with the Nicklas kids down the street and/or our cousins who were more like saviors than kids, started a tradition on these extended walks home to give us a little boost. Every day, we stopped in the newly opened 99 Cents Store on the corner of our block where they had an entire aisle of candy - all for 99 cents and many times 2 for 99 cents. Red Vines, Reeses, Skittles, anything you wanted! In hindsight I now know that this was all very old and discounted candy that had made its way to the 99 Cents store probably after sitting on another aisle for many months. But at the time, we just thought we were the greatest candy bandits that ever lived. Peeps, with their bright yellow pinks and yellows, were always the first thing we saw and usually made it in to our loot. No matter what month, there were always Peeps, and no matter what kind of feelings came up when we walked into the door of our recently upturned lives, there was a little chick that made this whole time just a little bit easier to swallow. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Finding the Meaning of Life in the Waitomo Caves of New Zealand:

Me on The Black Abyss Tour with The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co
 In our 8 months of adventure trotting around the entire globe, it is hard to decide what would make our top ten experiences. But without a doubt, caving in Waitomo, New Zealand is in the top three. New Zealand was a perfectly climactic end to our travels that was everything we loved about travel rolled into one tiny country. From meeting warm and friendly people to delicious food to naturally beautiful landscapes comprised of black sand beaches and acres of farmland to adventure that reminded us just how small we really are in the scope of things to awe and inspiration at how precious life is, we left our hearts in New Zealand.

This was my second trip to New Zealand and Mike and I decided to stick strictly to the North Island. Many people choose the adventureland of the South Island, but what I love about the North Island is all of the secret gems it has to offer and the more laid back atmosphere. I can't lie, we also have some amazing friends in the North Island with three gorgeous children that made it impossible for us to stray too far. But compared with my first trip to New Zealand, I can now say that I prefer the North Island.

We based ourselves with our friends in Te Awamutu and took trips to Rotorua for the Polynesian Spa, Raglan Beach where we watched a surf heat and then enjoyed a black sand beach all to ourselves, Marikopa Beach where we also had an entire black sand beach to ourselves, Mt. Maugnanui where we hiked up to a breathtaking view, Hot Water Beach where we dug a thermal pool in the sand, visited the geysers and hot springs of Hell's Gate, drove the Coromandel Peninsula where we saw Hobbiton and found one of the most romantic spots in the world - Cathedral Cove. But in between the beaches and spas and volcanic activity, Mike and I descended into the depths of the earth with three caving trips, a Kiwi pastime.

We went with The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co. and all three trip were amazing experiences. The guides are experts in their fields, very professional and extremely patient, not to mention entertaining and all of them had that irresistible Kiwi charm. We kicked it off with The Black Labyrinth Tour, one of their classics- a 3 hour tubing, climbing and breathtaking tour through Ruakuri Cave. We suited up in wet suits and helmets and lept into the dark river running through the cave. We floated along the cave lit by glowworms dotting the belly of the cave and crawled through holes and jumped off waterfalls and took in the awe and silence that an experience like this inspires. We learned about the cycle of life of a glowworm and it struck me just how quickly it all goes. The glowworm actually only gets about 1-3 days of life as a gnat once it cocoons. I have been filled with gratitude many times on this trip but never as much as I was while cruising down a river on my back looking into a few lights above me in the darkness of a cave. It's a beautiful world and damn, I love it.

We enjoyed Ruakuri Cave so much we decided to also do a dry walking tour to learn more about the stalagmites and stalagtites and of course, to see more glowworms. The crazy thing about these huge stalagtites and stalagmites is that one centimeter takes 100 years to grow. Talk about humbling, we saw fossilized seashells in this cave because 35 million years ago, New Zealand was once beneath the sea. To stare at something so incredibly old was more than mindblowing. It inspired a sense of urgency in me - the urgency to not waste one single second of my life. I suddenly did not want to hold onto anything I didn't need including negative energy, past grudges, the stories of my past, the stories we all hold onto and tell ourselves over and over again. I am only 32 years old and my life will one day come to an end, and the sea will keep on being the sea and the sky will keep being blue and glowworms will keep glowing. There is no "but" in there, only "and." I am a part of this thing, this living breathing world until I'm not. For a moment I felt the complete absence of fear which for someone who can worry quite a lot, was a liberation unlike any other.

But to top it all off was the Black Abyss Tour - a five hour tour including repelling, tubing, a zip line, climbing up waterfalls, jumping off waterfalls, and a silent cruise through the cave lit up by millions of glowworms. The Black Abyss Tour was my favorite because there was a flirty dangerous element to it. To descend 35 meters into darkness and to zip line through complete darkness gets your heart pumping in all the right ways. I felt both like a bad ass and completely alive and present. The glowworm cruise inspired the same feelings it did on the first two tours - the feeling of absolute gratitude for my life and this world.

Mike, who grew up a huge Goonies fan, is an experienced explorer and a lover of life also said to me that caving in the Waitomo Caves was by far one of his favorite experiences on the trip.

To the guides who helped make these trips so memorable - Nicole (Black Labyrinth), Chris (Walking Tour of Ruakuri Cave) and Matt and the ever charming and reassuring Scuba (Black Abyss) - a giant THANK YOU!! I can't stress enough how much we loved these experiences and how they helped conclude an amazing adventure for us in the most positive and inspiring way.

In short, when you go to New Zealand, which you should, go to The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co, the OG of New Zealand caving expeditions, and let yourself go.