right speech

I never took any religion or philosophy classes in school and I grew up in a small Midwestern town in Wisconsin where Christianity prevails, so my exposure to other faiths and philosophies has been very limited. In my house we were taught The Golden Rule, which is a great general approach for human interaction, but fails to put forth a very detailed prescription for living an honorable life. For a number of years I have been drawn to Buddhist philosophies, mainly because they are deeply rooted in peace, non-violence and compassion, but for most of that time my knowledge was confined to a modest familiarity with the Dalai Lama and those happy, laughing Buddha figurines. It wasn’t until moving to Hippieville, USA and a literary love affair with “Eat Pray Love,” albeit Hindu-inspired, that I’ve gained greater access to a Buddhist education. I didn’t want to continue on in ignorance, so I recently signed up for an 8-week workshop that focuses on The Noble Eight-Fold Path, one of the main teachings of the Buddha and the one which, in my opinion, offers the “prescription” that is missing from The Golden Rule. Each week in class we focus on one of the unique “folds” or elements of the path – this week’s focus is on “Right Speech.” If you want to read more about this teaching and the other elements, I suggest a quick Wikipedia search:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path

The point of this post isn’t to push anything on anyone, but rather to offer a little background on what I am about to express my frustrations over and also to clue you in as to how I’m spending my Thursday nights for the next seven weeks.

So, right speech.

There are several interpretations of right speech, but the most easily understood and applicable translation for me is “words that do no harm.” Hmmmmm…so if I want to live an ideal Buddhist life, I can’t use words that do harm? Ever? But words are my gateway to emotional freedom! I mean, sure I would rather use words for positive reinforcement, thank you notes, “I love yous,” and sales growth activities, but…BUT. There are just times in my life (or every day) when the only way I feel liberated from the abuse of other clearly less dignified people (also known as “morons” or “assholes”) is by using words that do harm. It’s not me, it’s them, I swear!! How else can I stand up for myself, or in a case like this morning, for all womankind, if I don’t use some choice words to respond to this Facebook exchange with a man from our neighborhood. After introducing myself and the fact that I have two young children, he makes the following thoughtful suggestions:

“There are other families with very young kids and you should get to know them. Hopefully you are a stay at home mom or at least part time stay at home. There are several groups that you may be interested in. If your husband is a hiker you can have him contact me for hikes.”

Yep. That happened. I promise I’m not paraphrasing. This is one of those situations where at first I’m left speechless. Speechless because people don’t really still say things like that in this day and age, do they? It’s like when I was pregnant and other moms warned me about the “stranger touching belly” phenomenon. No, I thought, that doesn’t really happen, you are clearly exaggerating the fact that your huge belly just brushes against people all the time because you forgot that you have a HUGE BELLY now. But yes, folks, it does happen. Some of the more polite grocery store patrons will at least ask you before swooping in with their greasy paws, but there are also those few who just don’t give a damn and put their prego belly fetish way above appropriate social conduct. Such is the WTF reaction I initially had to this morning’s exchange with Old Man River. Do they count as harmful words if you don’t express them directly to the offender? Yes? Grrr. I have to double-check this with my teacher, but I don’t think they count if you just think them. There is an element we will discuss in coming weeks called Right Thinking, but I can only begin at the beginning. Right now I am merely trying to refrain from using my words, because the only words I have for this man are harmful. Words like, “Actually, I am both a full-time breadwinner and the primary hiking enthusiast in this household, you #$@%.” Sean had a great little nugget about how I’m working full time to pay his social security benefits. A coworker thought I should say I would love to stay home with my kids except for the fact that I’m too busy shipping $15M in product. Great idea except that the first part would be a total lie and apparently lying isn’t considered right speech either.

Part of my homework is to jot down situations in which I wanted to use harmful words, but stopped myself short. Since last Thursday I’ve been able to come up with a handful of such circumstances, but this one has really tested not only my ability to hold back, but also my humility. We are only products of our individual experiences and I am trying to remember that he is an old man and that soon (not soon enough, if you ask me, since clearly I thought we were done with shit like this) such ridiculous prejudice will be virtually eradicated in this country. For now I have restrained my words, but not my sense of self-worth as a working and hiking mother. Nor have I restrained my immaturity through an emphatic Facebook de-friend from Old Man River.

do unto others as if they had cancer

Wow, shocking title, right? But think about it for a minute – what if everyone you knew had been diagnosed with terminal cancer? How would that change the way you treated them, how you looked at them, the words you spoke to them? For those of you who’ve sadly known someone who’s battled this awful disease, you might know the answers to these questions all too well. But maybe it’s time we all take stock of how we treat the people around us by considering an alternative context. Simple things like saying “I love you” are obvious, but how about the larger issues we deal with? Is it really a worthwhile endeavor to hold back one’s forgiveness until only brief moments of that person’s life remain? Or to refrain from encouraging our loved ones’ dreams until they are too weak and broken to achieve them? It seems like every self-help book on the market these days is all about staying present and living in the moment, ideals that Eastern philosophies have been ascribing to for thousands of years. But for whatever reason Americans continue to fail miserably when faced with this opportunity. We persist in putting our focus on anything but the present moment – we constantly focus on past grievances, injustices, and failures and, because of that, we do everything to get out of the present (where we are thinking about our horrible pasts) and into our assuredly happier future.

But what if we all had cancer?

At that point your life as you know it would stop and that ideal of drifting slowly off to sleep in your 90’s would be gone forever. No doubt it would change your mindset and give you the proof you needed that each day really could be your last. But how would it change the people who know and love you? I’m just guessing, but I bet they’d be nicer to you. I bet they would think twice before saying or doing hurtful things. I bet they would leave the past in the past and try to make your last days on this planet more enjoyable. But I’m just guessing.

Try it out. Tomorrow when you wake up, imagine that every person you encounter all day has cancer and see if it alters your behavior in some way. After all, the experience they have with you may be one of their last.

guest blog – “fml”

In an effort to increase my readership and get to my book contract and Manhattan apartment that much faster, starting today I will be introducing “guest blogs” to my Rocky Mountain Ruminations page. Don’t be surprised if I reach out to you and ask you to write something about something. Really anything you could file under the heading “the human condition” works for me. My goal is to have 1-2 guest bloggers per month from different age groups, ethnic groups, backgrounds and genders. Definitely from different genders – I can’t  exclusively put the woes of wifedom and motherhood out there and expect to grow my reader base, now can I? But since the person I first approached with this idea also happens to lead a parallel life to my own, I’m afraid you’re going to get a little more of all that for the moment. Sharing this story also proves that I’m not alone in my insanity. Thank you to this kindred spirit for being my guinea pig. And thank you to all of my readers for, well, reading, but also for the encouragement you’ve shared both through your comments, emails and phone calls. If you are one of my loyal readers, please consider posting more comments so I know you’re reading; it would be great if you could also post said comments within my blog versus through Facebook posts. While I may not ever get that book contract, this will at the very least be a legacy for my children to read one day and I think they would enjoy reading your thoughts as well. It will also acknowledge my guest bloggers (and who doesn’t like to be acknowledged?) and allow them to see the commentary whether they are on Facebook or not. And so, my first guest blog…written just after the recent 4th of July holiday.

title: fml

author: anonymous

age: 36

sex: female (or, yes please, but only if you promise i won’t get pregnant)

So Marissa has asked me to guest blog for her and to keep it PG-13. I questioned her sanity at this request given what she knows of me, but okay…

Let’s recap today…
Holidays with kids are always an adventure. Mostly because during the summer ones, you’re forced outside to do “fun” activities that you might not otherwise do. Like hold a picnic in a park. A real picnic…eating on a blanket and stuff.

a) Hubby and I hate other people, so we tend to avoid parks
b) We also hate eating outside…he’s worse than a woman when it comes to bugs
c) Our kids are maniacs that run in different directions

So hey! Let’s have a picnic!
Hubby and I run through McDonald’s to feed everyone because we all know that I don’t have a picnic basket, nor the desire to put anything cute together that might involve real food-shaped products. So off we go to the park to meet a group of friends.

Now the group that we’re meeting is just starting to have kids. Every kiddo with them is 1yr old or under, so you can be sure that the majority of conversation is focused around feeding schedules, naps, and developmental milestones.
I’m. So. Over. It.

My kids are 5 and 3. We’re well past all of that crap. We’re done with diapers. We’re mostly done with naps. We don’t tote bags of junk with us everywhere anymore. We really don’t even take strollers. So now we’re combining a picnic (which we hate) with a group of parents that find sheer joy in their kids sitting up. Mind you, none of them found joy when MY kids were sitting up for the first time. None of them HAD kids at that point.

And so I do what any other totally anti-social asshole would do. I wander off and ignore them until we can leave.

Once back at the ranch, hubby decides that he’s going to have a few beers for the afternoon. Which leaves me and the kids.

More than anything, I want quiet. For like 10 minutes. And so I force the 3 yr old into a nap. Which is great, because she hasn’t yet figured out that she totally doesn’t have to listen to me at all if she doesn’t want to. I’m extremely lazy and weak-willed. But hey, hooray for her gullibility!

I then tell the 5 yr old that it’s time for “quiet time”. That used to be a thing we did. When he gave up napping, we’d hang on the couch and just be quiet to get him to rest a bit. Over the years, that has evolved to “whatever he wants to do, so long as he leaves me alone.” I’ll take my mother of the year award now.

So as I type this, he’s playing old school Nintendo games on the Wii. And he has been for 45 minutes. And he will be until I can’t convince him that it’s fun anymore. You know why? Because he’s QUIET!

Which is all any mother of 2 little kids wants.
And anyone that tells you something else is lying.

…and oh look. The little one is crying. Because I gave her a cup of milk.
Why not? My 10 minutes of daily joy have now expired. Back to the regularly scheduled programming.

don’t judge a song by its meaning

Or do, because lyrics and song meanings are great. I’ve certainly obsessed over numerous otherwise talentless songs based on their lyrics alone, that’s for sure. And then there are others whose lyrics I’ve altered to suit my current needs, like when I was pregnant with Kellan and “Party In The USA” became the more profane “Party In My Uterus.” Good luck ever hearing that song the same way again.

In any case, I recently stumbled across a band called The Vespers who were quite impersonally referred to me by Apple via their clever iTunes Genius Recommendations. I’ve been a devoted listener of these mournful, banjo-playing sisters for months now. Only just this week when I went Googling for lyrics to my favorite tune, “Better Now,” did I realize that they are unmistakably a Christian band. Since I have a policy against discussing religion or politics with anyone who doesn’t love me unconditionally, I won’t go there now. But suffice it to say that how this band snuck its way into my music library is downright religulous!

As I continued to read about how “He saved my soul” (how did I miss this the first twenty times I heard it??), I couldn’t ignore how, despite the disconnect I was now feeling from the words, the music lifted me up. The singer in me loved the soulful puppy-like howling sound of the chorus, and the Nashville girl in me loved the banjo plucking. Bottom line: I’m embracing the sound if not the message.

Maybe you can dig it too, but if nothing else take my experience as a reminder to free your mind every chance you get, especially this Independence Day.

http://youtu.be/l9eGqY4uCjE

love ya like a sis (lylas)

Today something unlike anything I’ve experienced since 2009 happened. I took a nap. A  really long nap. Like three hours long, long. Even more unbelievable is the fact that my children were sleeping one un-sound-proofed floor beneath me and didn’t make a peep. Not for three blissful REM-filled hours.

Did I mention I napped for three hours???

As I was coming out of my afternoon coma, I had a rare opportunity to ponder the last whirlwind week of work-related travel. Since I work from home full-time now, I don’t often get to see anyone on my sales team anymore, especially my manager. Nicci and I have worked at CDWG for more than 10 years together and were friends long before she was ever my boss. A little surprising is the fact that we understand the boundaries of our current relationship without having to compromise our friendship bond. While at times my tenure with the company gets the best of my ego, it doesn’t take much of a reprimand from Nicci to put me back in my place. The truth is, I respect her and I want to see her succeed. Since my performance and overall professional behavior is a reflection on her, I am not resentful of falling in line for her, even when I know there are more than a few instances when she wishes she didn’t have to ask me to in the first place. Unfortunately, our friendship has had to take a backseat due to the miles that separate us and the fact that we both lead very busy lives as mothers and wives, in addition to our full-time work schedules. This past week gave us a chance to reignite the friendship connection while fighting Houston traffic from one customer meeting to another. There may have been a few margaritas involved as well. One topic that came up in conversation was the inevitable change that occurs between a woman and her social circle once she starts having children. Motherhood may cause a woman to withdraw completely from her girlfriends and focus exclusively on her family, gravitate toward old or new friends that also have children or, in some cases, move toward closer friendships with childless women if for no other reason than they remind you of a time that once was. But there is something else to consider.

I think we just get older, and as we age the problems we face tend to get bigger and have bigger consequences. Whether we want to or not, we also become more accountable. Losing a job now isn’t quite the same as when I was fired from Mountain Jack’s in college because I added gratuity to a table of two who came in as we were closing because, a. I was pissed, and b. I had a sneaking suspicion they weren’t going to tip me anyway (I’ll save my restaurant customer profiling for another blog). If we lose our jobs now, we’re screwed, with a capital F.  Some of us choose to have children and pets who rely on us for every bit of their existence on this planet. Things happen. Our kids in particular have been sick on and off for a month and one of our dogs recently had surgery on her paw. That’s a lot of pressure, a lot of time and money spent and an awful lot of thanklessness. On top of these things that seem to take up all of our time, we also sometimes start losing loved ones – grandparents, aunts & uncles, even parents – people who helped define who we are as people. Like I said, life becomes magnified as we get older. This is how parents of teenagers can so confidently assure their children that life isn’t nearly as bad as they perceive it to be. And don’t believe what the ads say – there is no reversing stretch marks.

So considering all of this, how then do we find the time or even the head space for our girlfriends? We oftentimes don’t, even though we probably need them more than ever. But (and this is a big but), what we don’t need are girlfriends who can’t simply cut the shit. Know what I mean when I say that? I used to be one of those people who said I didn’t want to meet anymore people because I already had so many friends and I just didn’t have the time to foster new relationships. That was foolish of me. I actually do have time for women who get it. Women who get that life is hard, that appearances are not always what they seem and who don’t feel a constant need to pass judgment on their fellow hard-working, circumstance-enduring “girlfriends.” I also have time for women who don’t always tell me what I want to hear, but who genuinely want me to live a happy and fulfilling life. As luck would have it, I’ve met my fair share of these lovely ladies, some as recently as a year ago. Turns out, one was right under my nose for years in Chicago and I only discovered her true awesomeness once I’d moved to Colorado. I’ve also met a few women who I once believed had my best interests at heart, only to be left heart-broken time and time again. I assure you, this is not my version of a Taylor Swift album. But I also can’t wrap up a post about friendship without talking about the one.

In my case, I met the one when I boarded the school bus on the first day of sixth grade. Our respective elementary schools were merging and I was nervous about seeing all the new faces. I took a seat next to Katie, we talked about our mutual love of horses, and history was made. At least a hundred high-risk horseback rides and 23 years later, she is still the one. The one I went to Cancun with at 16 and kept tally of how many strawberry daiquiries we drank and how many boys we made out with. The one who still can’t believe she is friends with me despite my outright Mean Girls behavior all through highschool. The one I conspired with to put on the biggest house party Milton, Wisconsin has ever seen. The one who knows my “type” so well that she actually pointed out my next boyfriend in freshman Chem at UW-Madison. We dated for a year. The one I called (and still call) every time I had a pet emergency or worse, lost one. The one, though unnamed, who knowingly stood next to me as my maid of honor on my wedding day. The one I’ve called crying more times than I could even try to count, not least of which were the last days of my mother’s life when I would call her wailing from inside my car in the parking garage each morning before going to work. The one who loves my children like they are her own. The one whose pain is my pain, whose happiness is my happiness. The one who cuts the shit, always.

To have a friend like her is to truly be blessed. Love you, girl.

kvan & marissa

a year already

The O’Malley family has just crossed over the 1-year mark of living in glorious Colorado and despite the numerous ups and downs of the past year, one thing is for certain – I am just as smitten with this state as I was the day I planted my roots here. I’ve now been witness to all four seasons and can honestly say that I will be happy living here for the rest of my days. Maybe we’ll move around over the years…perhaps a stint in Breckenridge, maybe another stint in Estes Park when our children have moved out for good (more on that later), who knows? The possibilities here are endless, but here in Manitou Springs we have a workable combination of natural beauty and accessibility, not to mention an impressively open-minded artistic community. The local businesses are charming, though swarming with tourists in the summer months, and the school district offers a wonderfully creative environment for its students; Manitou Springs was one of the first adopters of a 1:1 Ipad initiative in the entire state, giving Ipads to every child in 4th grade and above. As a technology professional, the nerd in me was excited to see that they are the only “Apple Distinguished” school district not just in Colorado, but in the Western United States.

In not so great Colorado news, yet another majorly destructive wildfire broke out in the Springs area last week. Fortunately for us, we were completely out of harm’s way this time and no evacuation was necessary. Nevertheless, the Black Forest fire topped the destruction caused by last summer’s Waldo Canyon fire by nearly 200 homes (600 compared to 400, give or take). In just one short year we’ve experienced the two most destructive fires in the state’s history. A part of me (a very teensy-tiny part) is starting to wonder if we are just like those stubborn people in Oklahoma who continue to live smack in the middle of “Tornado Alley” despite the seemingly obvious possibility of losing their homes, if not their lives. While we aren’t seriously considering relocating, news like this does motivate Sean to practice what he calls “fire mitigation” and what I call “an excuse to use his chainsaw” like nothing else. I think if I could just come up with a line of power tools for doing things like laundry, dusting and vacuuming, I’d be a very wealthy (and popular) woman. This would also allow retailers like Home Depot to expand their market to the untapped female demographic, although as I give this concept more thought I think Costco may be a better option since then we can purchase these sweet housework power tools for our husbands and a 2-gallon jug of margarita mix for ourselves at the same place. We ladies are all about efficiency, after all.

And now I suppose an update on the kids is appropriate. In short, Kellan is our favorite. Now, before you get all judgmental of the fact that we are playing favorites, it’s important to note that this is a very clear shift from six months ago when Kathryn, from the day she was born, was “the good one.” Those of you who know our kids would have to agree that despite having her “serious face” nearly all of the time, Kathryn was the easy one, the content one, the pleasant one. As long as she had food, she was happy. She never complained about anything – not about what we were trying to get her to eat, not about when it was time to go to sleep or when it was time to get in the car, nothing. Now there is nothing she doesn’t complain about. And when I say complain, what I really mean is shriek at the top of her lungs. I look back on a time when the daughter of friends of ours seemed to be just screaming all of the time for no apparent reason and thinking to myself, “How can they just let her do that??? Why are they not dealing with this? Make her shut up already!” Talk about eating crow…now we are the ones dealing with The Exorcist child. She is also choosing not to use her verbal skills in any productive sort of way; every day she exhibits a clear understanding of the English language, but getting her to actually use it to communicate has been futile. The one word she uses profusely is “bar” which refers to the granola bar she better have in her hands at all times lest an unimaginable scene of terror and destruction unfold. From the moment she wakes up each morning, we have approximately 3 minutes to get that damned “bar” in her hands before she goes completely apeshit crazy. Depending on her mood that particular morning, a second bar for the other hand may very well be demanded also. To further illuminate the extreme sort of Terrible Two situation we are dealing with out here, an attempt was made at camping this past weekend in Estes Park. I thought it would be a nice gesture for Father’s Day weekend to do something that while I don’t particularly enjoy, Sean enjoys immensely. So I went out and purchased a tent large enough to sleep eight people comfortably with the thought that if we had enough space to fit two queen-sized air mattresses, then there was a good chance I could survive two nights with my children at a campsite. After all, there would be plenty of activities at the Jellystone Campground to keep them busy during the day and, more importantly, exhausted at night. Cue the universe: “Not so, you silly, silly woman. Not so.” Our darling daughter cried (or yelled, or screamed) during the entire 3-hour drive; we then rushed to set up the campsite since it was already an hour or so past their bedtime, but bedtime just wasn’t going to be in the cards for Kathryn. Despite having eaten at least five granola bars on the car ride in between shrieks, there was no satisfying her. No blankie, no rocking, no reading her favorite book…no sleeping. Only screaming. Eventually at around 1AM I became so embarrassed (these campsites were especially close to one another) that I put her in the car and we drove around so she could fall asleep, but every time I stopped the car so I could get some shut-eye myself, the screaming started all over again. I finally had to check us into a motel at 3AM so I could lock her into a large enough area where she couldn’t hurt herself, but where I could lay down and sleep anyway. She finally passed out at around 4 and we slept a few hours before getting up and driving back to the campsite. We enjoyed the day at the campground for the most part, but by the time evening drew near again, Sean and I were both so exhausted that we didn’t want to risk another sleepless night…so we left. We packed up our shit and we left. The best part about our 24-hour camping adventure (besides arriving back home, that is?): the part where we were able to pull over on the way home and get Kellan’s car door open before he booted all over the inside of the car. That was the highlight. On a positive note, though, we all slept in and had a lovely Father’s Day with the comforts of home. It was a rare drizzly day in the mountains, but it was nice to just lay around, build a fire, and use our latest toy – the new Vitamix blender the kids and I got Sean for Father’s Day. I think we used it at least four times yesterday – we made smoothies, crushed ice, soup (it actually comes out of the blender hot!), banana ice cream and homemade chocolate sauce. It’s the coolest appliance on the planet.

And Kellan is the coolest kid on the planet. Every day, every single day that little boy melts my heart. He’s still naughty sometimes as any 3-year old should be, but even when he’s naughty, he says the cutest things like “I be naughty boy right now. I not be nice to mommy right now.” But mostly he is helpful, sweet, and mindful. He is curious and charming and I just love him to pieces. He is loving preschool and we are loving watching him grow and learn. He loves his teacher Miss Yvonne, but he most definitely “do not like Zander.” I’m not really sure what major offense this Zander committed, but it must have been something pretty darn serious, like monopolizing the train set. I also think part of this shift in him has to do with the stunned feeling we all share in the presence of his little devil of a sister. She has outdone his ability to throw a tantrum with such ferocity that he has surely admitted defeat at this point. He must figure if he can’t compete in that arena, he may as well earn his parents’ favor with good behavior, which he has for now. For now (and we know it’s only temporary), he wins. Eventually the winds will change again and our little Kat will be in good graces again while Kellan will spend his days in timeout. For now I am grateful that they are sparing us double destruction, as I’m sure that phase is right around the corner as well.

In other O’Malley news, Sean took a new job in IT Support at Pike’s Peak Hospice (one of his old CDW customers) and broke his ankle trail running. He loves the new job and the fact that he only has to be in a boot for six weeks (three weeks down!) instead of a hard cast. We are looking forward to a couples getaway in one of our favorite places to visit, NYC, at the end of July. We have some great memories from traveling there a few times together pre-baby and I am really looking forward to a trip to Zabar’s followed by a picnic in Central Park, taking the subway all over the city and grabbing dinner on Mulberry Street.

‘Til next time…

 

the day my heart broke

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve been glued to CNN the last two days watching coverage of the devastation caused by the massive EF5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, and, like any mother, I can’t help but focus on the loss of 9 innocent children as well as the images and interviews of parents who were lucky enough to be reunited with their children. It seems like just yesterday my heart was breaking over the little boy who lost his life at the Boston Marathon terrorist attack. And not long before that, over the unbearable loss of even more children in the Connecticut school shooting. While it certainly seems that as a nation we’ve had an excessive number of child deaths recently, it’s also a fact that becoming a mother changes your perception of the world forever. And it’s that fact that makes me realize my heart broke forever the day Kellan was born. I didn’t just become a mother to him that day; in some small way I became a mother to all children. Let it be known that both Kellan and his equally naughty sister, Kathryn, spend the majority of their waking hours terrorizing their father and me in every conceivable way – in just the two hours between being picked up from daycare and going to bed tonight I have endured an obscene tantrum, followed by an unsuccessful timeout, followed by an extended “break” in the offender’s room, followed by a surprisingly successful mealtime, shortly followed by the pouring of my leftover coffee onto the kitchen floor, followed by a refusal to poop in anything other than a new diaper, followed by the unraveling and dragging of said (now dirty) diaper across the living room floor, followed by inexplicable whining and pointing by my stubborn, nonverbal 18-month old for a full 30 minutes. And yet…

And yet, they retire to their beds, I turn CNN back on, and I sob. Those kids are my kids. As a mother, you automatically insert your child into every devastating outcome that you see, read or hear about on the news, in books (fiction and non-fiction alike), on Facebook, and even on shows like Law & Order SVU and CSI. And all of that pales in comparison to the horrific scenarios you create for them inside your own twisted mind. The heartbreak is truly inescapable. I often wonder if it will ever get easier. As they grow older and become more accountable (one would hope), will they no longer seem so helpless? Or is the hope of ever watching a good crime drama again out of the question forever?

It’s really no wonder they say marriages take a nose dive during the first few years of child-rearing. If you and your spouse don’t have ALL your shit together and stabilized before the kids (and let’s be honest, who really has all their shit together until it’s too late?), you are in T.R.O.U.B.L.E. Kids in and of themselves are about as far from stable as North Korea. They move themselves and you from one emotional extreme to the next with no real resting period. Utter heartbreak. But I’d be lying if I said I regretted them for a moment. To quote a favorite song of mine by the Lumineers, “the opposite of pain is indifference,” and I’d rather take the pain.

Thoughts and prayers for the parents who lost their own sweet heartbreakers this week in Oklahoma…may their babies rest in peace.

home sweet clutter

Well, I made it. Four flights, a 12-hour layover in Malaysia, and severe food poisoning on the second leg from Malaysia to Tokyo – so severe in fact that, desperate as I was to get home to my family, I gave serious thought to checking myself into the nearest Japanese hotel just so I could get my, well, shit together in privacy. So I could moan through the labor-like stomach cramps out loud, not stifle my pain through yet another 9-hour flight. Fortunately I hit the peak of agony during the layover in Malaysia so that I was able to board the flight and fall into a broken down, comatose sleep for the entire flight. The entire flight. I didn’t speak more than three words to any of the 7 various flight attendants that were trying to attend to me in business class. Some might say, “oh, what a waste of business class.” I say, if it weren’t for business class and I’d been stuck in COACH for this nightmare, I surely would have had a mental and a physical breakdown. Anyway, combine that with a delay that forced me to lie, cheat and steal my way through Customs, Immigration, a terminal change and another security check in 45 minutes at LAX, it should come as no real surprise that I started crying once I was safely on that final leg to Colorado Springs and the tears really didn’t stop until I was in bed that night. At the point of finding myself in that last, blissful seat, I had all but given up on seeing my family anytime in the foreseeable future; the feeling of knowing I actually would in just a few short hours was overwhelming. In case you’re wondering if the trip was worth the last day of suffering, that is a definite affirmative. It was also worth every mosquito bite and close encounter with all species of reptile in Southeast Asia. But it certainly gave me that extra bit of perspective upon returning home to familiar surroundings. Home really is where the heart is, even with all its imperfections, not least of which is clutter. Like the random bath toys all over the master bathroom, or the 2 weeks worth of mail that needs sorting, or the fridge that needs purging or post-its all over my desk. Note: this is in no way a criticism of household management when mom’s away. I came home to an impressively clean house and a sparkling vehicle. These things are in my face every day of the year, but they make home home. And I realize now more than ever how much I enjoy the harmless clutter – it reminds me that I’ve built a life here and a crazy, messy family that I absolutely adore. Without them my home wouldn’t just vaguely resemble a Pottery Barn catalog (minus the toy kitchen in the middle of the living room and the white dog hair on every surface), it would probably BE the Pottery Barn catalog. And what fun would that be? Sure, I would enjoy it for awhile, but we live in the mountains at 9,000 feet so it’s not like anyone actually ever comes over anyway. And furthermore, I think it’s time I admitted that I actually enjoy cleaning. It gives me a sense of control when I feel impotent in every other arena of my life. When the annual Real Simple Cleaning issue shows up in my mailbox and it’s the highlight of my week, it’s probably a good time to admit my cleaning habits have reached hobby status. So there you have it – I’m home, I’m grateful and I’m very, very content. The slew of Balinese massages didn’t hurt – I counted, there were 7 total.

ubud

Ubud is where I’ve made my final home in Bali and it’s also the heart of the island’s cultural and artistic community. It’s the type of place you’ll leave feeling like you didn’t have nearly enough time to explore either, so I’ve had to balance my attempts at taking life as it comes with a few actual decisions here and there. Without realizing it I booked my stay here in one of the many villages surrounding Ubud – I’m in the charming village of Nyuhkuning, just south of Central Ubud, with its quiet streets and friendly neighbors, but conveniently just a short bike ride through the Sacred Monkey Forest to the hopping part of town. There are about 600 monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest, held “captive” merely by the truckloads of sweet potatoes and bananas bestowed upon them by the local government. It’s a unique tourist attraction in its proximity to such a bustling area, but its density (in both forest and monkeys) makes you feel worlds away. There is a river running through it as well as the multitude of mossy stone temples and statues I’ve come to expect everywhere in Bali. I’ve made a stroll through the forest a part of nearly every day, with frequent breaks to watch the monkeys go about their monkey business. They are fascinating creatures to observe, especially uncaged and in a nearly authentic habitat.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time shopping in Ubud. With so many villagers coming to the city to sell their wares – batik (special hand-dyed fabric), wood and bone carvings, paintings, handmade jewelry and a slew of other crafts – it’s hard not to indulge, especially when you know you’re supporting the local artist community. Furthermore, it seems much easier in Ubud than in places like Mexico and the Caribbean to separate the crap from the genuine articles. But there’s also an element to traveling in Bali that makes everything seem more genuine – the hired driver. They are literally everywhere and for around $30 per day you not only have access to first-hand local information, but through the long, winding drives you become witness to the source of everything – workers harvesting native crops like rice and peanuts, plus village after village where you can actually see the wood carvers, the batik painters and other craftsmen at work. While you might find what appear to be the same souvenirs in shop after shop, you can be sure that no two bamboo wind chimes are exactly the same because you saw a man with your own two eyes making them three villages away.

Today was an interesting blend of experiences for me. I effectively ate my way through Ubud and its surrounding villages with a stop in the middle to have what I feel has been the most spiritual moment of my trip. First, the eating. I dedicate this section to my beloved best friend, whose spirit has guided me through all of my meals over the last two weeks. It started innocently enough – I set out early with my driver to get to Gunung Kawi, one of Bali’s most ancient historic sites, in order to miss the tour bus frenzy that starts up as early as 9AM. Because of this I missed breakfast at my hotel and asked my driver to stop at what I now believe is the only Starbucks in Bali. I’d happened upon it the day before, after I’d set out to bike around the infamous rice terraces, only to have the chain come off a mile or so in. With no triathlete husband in sight, I was forced to walk the bike all the way back. And that’s when I noticed the familiar green mermaid I’ve come to know and love. I decided then and there that would be my plan for breakfast this morning. Ah, but to no avail. My old friend is on Balinese time it seems, with doors opening at 9AM, by which time every other person on the planet has already had their grande nonfat lattes. Wow, I digress. Saber, my driver, suggests the nearby Cafe Luna and her delicious sister, Honeymoon Bakery, and this, my friends, is where the madness begins. You would think a caffe latte and a chocolate croissant are nothing special until you realize that you are drinking the caffe latte and eating the chocolate croissant. I tell you, it’s like I was in Bali, Italy and France, all at the same time. Maybe it’s just that I’ve had my fill of the local fare, but as I inhaled the last flaky, salty, gooey, chocolatey bite of my croissant, I decided that today would be a day focused on Western cuisine. I only felt guilty about this long enough to recall the rave review in my guidebook about a pizzeria near my hotel as well as the fried chicken stand I noticed on the way home from dinner last night. But since I’m an equal opportunity eater, I still had Saber stop at the Warung Teges, noted by Lonely Planet as being the locals’ favorite lunch spot. Nor am I going to refrain from housing a delicious bowl of my hotel’s rice noodle soup in the next 5 minutes. I will go to bed one very happy babi guling (suckling pig) for sure.

To close on this post I will now share one of the most special experiences I’ve had here. After trekking up and down the many steps of the Gunung Kawi site, Saber suggested a stop at the holy spring waters just a few minutes away. Now at this point I’m convinced I’ve seen every spiritual act there is in Balinese Hindu culture – the offerings, the prayers, the ceremonies, the rinsing, the repeating. But this was something new. I sat on the edge of a crystal clear (holy) spring water pool and watched for the better part of an hour as Balinese people of all ages ritually cleansed themselves in a series of fountains. Others were making the traditional offerings to the Gods – the carved stone fountains were stacked with them, incense billowing everywhere. But amidst all of this religious activity, there were wrinkled smiles and children’s laughter, teenage flirtations and polite affection between husbands and wives. This was…happiness. It was overpowering for a moment as I was brought to tears of joy. This, for me, is Bali – a culture rich with a genuine faith, a devotion not only to God, but to family, and to the earth, and to each other. I will hold onto this vision forever and be reminded of the overwhelming kindness these people have shown me. Some may say that Bali is just as corrupt as any place in the modern world, but I say you don’t have to look very hard to see into the true heart of the Balinese spirit. They wear it right there on that big, beautiful Balinese smile.

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gratuitous gratuity

Tonight I’m having dinner alone at one of Ubud’s most upscale restaurants, Cafe des Artistes. According to my clever husband, it’s also Liz Gilbert’s (author of Eat Pray Love) and her husband’s favorite restaurant in Bali, so of course I must go. Go ahead and be jealous, ladies – a man who pays attention to detail. He also takes pause to inform me, EPL’s biggest fan, that she goes by Liz, not Elizabeth. Just so I know. Since this is really the first proper restaurant I’ve dined at in Bali – all meals thus far have either been within the confines of my lodging or at a nearby warung (think roadside grub) – I figured it might be time to research tipping etiquette in Bali. Yes, one day before I go home. Up til now I’ve just been tipping “waiters,” drivers and other staff somewhere in the neighborhood of 10%, which is pretty much my international standard for tips. Upon Googling the level of accuracy of this behavior, it seems I have been overtipping by approximately 10%. The main people you would think to tip here by American standards are your various drivers and your waitstaff. Well, with the drivers here you negotiate a fare before you leave so they already have their profit worked in. And restaurants tend to add on 5-10% as a service charge for the staff (this is true for most places, but not all). So this is where the American in me can’t let go of my culture. Not only am I an American, which according to the TripAdvisor forums means I recklessly overtip by nature, but I also waited tables for a freakin’ eternity. Surely word has spread by now that Marissa O’Malley is in Bali – all of their daily prayers and offerings are paying off, quite literally. It’s like getting a 10-top of gay men in the States! I can’t even imagine the ceremonies that would ensue if that same 10-top (that means a table of 10; side note: if you didn’t already know that you should quit your job and go wait tables for a year so you learn how to tip) arrived in Bali. Nevertheless, I’m perfectly at peace with my reckless spending over the past couple of weeks since it probably means I’ve “wasted” ten whole dollars. Everything is cheap here as long as you’re not getting your hotel and restaurant recommendations from Prince Shortell. I’m about to pay $50 for easily a $150 meal in the US of A and remember, I’m splurging. Bon apetit!