I went to Portland this weekend for the wedding of a cousin. Since I have approximately 30 aunts and uncles and an exuberant amount of cousins, you can imagine this doesn’t happen much. My Dad (pictured below) is the only brother with 8 sisters. My Mom, the oldest of 4 girls with an additional 4 brothers. Anyway, let’s deter from the family line-up and just resolve that the majority of them live in Oregon so a yearly trip proves a major event. My husband, Paul, and I were married recently and I toted him along on my reunion trip this time. As you can imagine, his ears were steaming with trying to keep everyone’s names strait. It doesn’t help that my cousins now have children and it’s easy to mix up a dozen tow-headed kids that look exactly alike.
So, we decided to spend the last day of the trip in downtown Portland. My reward to Paul for subjecting him to the overwhelming enormity of my family. As many know, Portland is popular for its brewing capacity as well as hipster population. Let’s just say I didn’t get a Bachelors degree in Music Therapy due to lack of influence. On our tour of downtown we decided to start out with one of my favorite pizza places, The Blind Onion, and ended the day of tourism after stopping by Widmer, Dechutes, and Rogue brewerys. At each place you get a delightful flight of samplers that provide a combination of classic favorites and the latest recipes. The jalapeno beer was interesting. There’s just something about sharing home, pizza, and beer with your loved one that makes you nostalgic.
I arrived home from the airport around 1:30 and arose this morning at 7am in preparation for my 9am class in LA. I live in Camarillo so it’s a bit of a trek. I am a researcher/author and the research assistant for the Couples and Family Therapy program at California School of Professional Psychology where I’m a doctoral student and the teachers assistant for the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy class. That’s a mouthful… This morning would be a class of silence and meditation combined with art and I was looking forward to the peaceful time amongst my grogginess.
I’ve recently become interested in mindfulness for the increasing of overall awareness as well as compassion. A recent study produced significant findings that just 30 minutes a day of mindfulness meditation with a focus on compassion for self and others can increase the compassion emotion in those who have only been practicing daily for 2 weeks. Brain fMRI scans reveal accelerated motion in portions of the brain that is effected by this emotion. This provides significant neurological evidence that meditation effect brain development and functioning. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you are the neuroscience talk and get on with my point. As part of my teachers assistant responsibilities, I participate in class activities and report how these are with my colleagues. I want you to notice the picture self-portrait I created. The purpose of creating this art was not to show off amazing artistic ability (clearly that didn’t happen) and it was not to create a reflection of how I was feeling at the time that I created it. Rather, it was to focus on compassion for self and eventually for others. So here’s how it worked. In the first 30 minutes, I created the outline of the drawing with no colors. Only a pencil. This was all done while observing my face in a hand-held mirror. During this time, I found that I was extremely focused on getting the drawing perfect and I also found myself becoming embarrassed that others might judge my artistic ability. Nevertheless, I created the rough draft and then got into position for my loving/kindness, compassion meditation. Here is a link if you’re interested: http://www.self-compassion.org/LKM.MP3. Basically, the meditation instructs the listening to focus on various people—including themselves while imagining compassion toward those people. Following the meditation, the class was instructed to now use color and to finish their picture. The most profound part of this activity was the instant transformation that I noticed when I transitioned from the meditation to drawing/coloring. I suddenly realized that the beauty in my art was not in the creation, but in how I felt about it and myself. In fact, the neurological pathways in the emotion feeling portions of the brain develop to reflect your experience of compassion, love, and kindness received from others and also, yourself. Neuroscience set aside, it can be a powerful message when taking a few moments to generate compassion for one’s self. Also, since a brain that is developing self-compassion can also be transferable to others through behaviors this means that compassion is contagious. So, for those of you have are selfless at heart, remind yourself that compassion, love, and kindness starts with the self and moves outward to others. Just some thoughts.
My betta died this week so I just wanted to take a moment in remembrance. This is me “swimming” with him before he died. His name was cheeseburger—which is an odd name for a fish belonging to a vegetarian. But really, what does it matter? I wouldn’t eat my fish or a cheeseburger so it’s all a matter of perspective. Cheeseburger was the loving son of a mother and father fish, and adopted by a mother and father human. He was likely a sibling of many, the water bowl of Buddy the cat, and a rather quiet specimen. He lived to the ripe age of almost 3 years and is survived by his human family, Buddy the cat, and Bliss the dog.
Wednesday is a big homework day but the morning is devoted to sleeping in with my boxer, Bliss. Tuesday is a day of 8+ hours of class so by the time I get to bed its well past midnight and my brain is fried. Wednesday is one of the only days I am home so I devote much of my attention to catching up with research, writing, and homework on this day. I’m coming up on the completion of the majority of my doctoral coursework and transitioning into dissertation research territory. Translation: my life as a hermit begins soon. Wednesday is like the calm before the storm of the week begins. There is nothing too pressing to do since homework is usually due Monday’s and Tuesday’s so I have the options of either procrastinating or feeling accomplished via getting a head start on sleep and research.
I try to run a marathon every year or so. I started running about 10 years ago—mostly for weight loss as I used to be about 40 pounds heavier than my current state. Through my journey of discovering the self-satisfying rewards of healthy diet and fitness I gained a strong passion for running. While running, I love both my solidarity with nature as well as social time with running partners. Sometimes I run alone and enjoy my favorite music or more recently podcasts (the Stuff You Should Know series is my current fave). I love the trails through the Sycamore and La Jolla canyons off the Pacific Coast Highway. Sometimes I take Bliss and other times I take a friend.
My relationship with running has been a long journey. I find that it’s sort of like a college student’s relationship with their musical instrument. I don’t know if this is a helpful analogy for you but as I previously mentioned, my Bachelors degree is in Music therapy. Going to a school of music involves hours of relentless practice that often leaves you with feelings of resentment toward your instrument. Although the music was initially a source of passion with feelings of accomplishment on recital day, it suddenly turns into a burden. This can be the same with running. When I first began, I mentioned that it was for the purposes of weight loss. Then, I noticed a transition into running because I “had to”. Almost like an obsession. If I tried to take a day off, I would get anxious and feel that I should be training. This resulted in several injuries throughout a two year period which left me with no choice but to stop. Taking this time off gave me a moment for reflection. Why do I run? Because I have to? Because I want to? Following my injuries I began building a different relationship with running. One that’s more forgiving. It wasn’t until the Boston Marathon tragedy that the real reason for running hit me. It’s not because I have to or even that I want to—it’s because I can. On the morning that I heard the news about Boston, I stepped outside and ran a silent 5 miles of tribute. I ran for the victims who may never run again. I ran for all the days that I took it for granted. I ran to remind myself of the feeling of freedom it gives me. To remind myself of my healthy, fully-functioning body. I ran because I was so oblivious to my own physical privileges that it took the horrendous trauma and death of those less fortunate than myself to jolt me out of my self-loathing.
Running represents living life the best that I can. It means being responsible about what goes into my body and being responsible about the physical expectations I put upon it. Running gives me time for reflection and introspection, or a chat with a running partner, or just a plain old rock-out session to my favorite bands. Really though. Isn’t that what life is about?
On Friday’s, I work a very long day at a groom shop in Port Hueneme. I used to work there more while I was completing my masters degree and I just can’t seem to stay away. I’m the only person there who also grooms cats and apparently there aren’t many of us around here. I began grooming pets almost 10 years ago. It has put me through college. It started out as a hobby, really—when I was hired to bath dogs as a groomers assistant. However, I realized shortly after I began working and throughout the past several years that it is a skill that I feel very fortunate to have. Grooming has introduced me to life-long friends, it has opened my eyes to a world of pet styling artistry, and it has proven to be a very supportive financial means throughout my many years of formal college education. Aside from grooming at the shop, I recently created a space within my home to groom pets on my own schedule. One of the dogs I groomed today was this little white ball of cuteness. All 2 pounds of him. As you can see by the pair of scissors on the table, he is not much bigger than the average human hand. Interestingly, this is one of the most difficult grooms simply because it is hard to maneuver around something so tiny. I also groomed my cat, Buddy today. He is a persian that I got several years ago during a very difficult time in my life. It’s always the most difficult times in life when you find out who your true friends are. It turns out that pub and party pals usually aren’t the ones who are going to stick around when the party is over. So, in a very self-satisfying fashion, I used what little money I had to purchase this little kitty. He has been with me through it all. He was there for the completion of my bachelors degree, he stuck around in the states while I traveled Guatemala, he followed me to my music therapy internship in Porterville, CA where he cried each time I left the home (as indicated by my neighbors), and he came with me to Camarillo where I live now. The poor little guy even keeps up with my new boxer. This is a true friend.
I previously mentioned that grooming has supplied me with life-long friends. In fact, I met my best friend whom was recently my maid-of-honor while she was a co-worker with me. I also met another woman, Laura, whom ended up offering me a place to stay in a time of need. She was a customer of mine and during this time she recognized that I was going through tough times. I stayed in her beautiful home in Arizona in exchange for dog sitting and grooming her chow chow, Nikki, as I completed my music therapy program. That was over 7 years ago and one of the best years of my life. I have stayed in touch with my friend and was there for her and Nikki during the ending period of his life. Since Nikki’s death, Laura and I have continued to remain friends. This is just one of the examples of how pets and grooming have been a bridge to many of the important people in my life.
It was a lazy morning of sleeping in and watching crime TV on Netflix. However, I managed to squeeze in a run and made it to the farmers market to pick up my household’s week of vegetables. I’ve recently made the transition into vegetarianism and am a dabbler in veganism—but I also eat wild-caught fish so call it what you will. I grew up in a farm town of 1,700 people where crops and animals were raised and eaten in-home. To be honest, I never knew anything about mass food production until I went away to college. The transition into eating a plant-based, all natural diet has been a slow process and I finally took the leap this year. I couldn’t be happier about it. So, I’m now being one of those annoying Facebook friends who shares pictures of food on their page. You know? The one who posts of picture of a chimichanga and margarita bigger than their head? (If the friend who posted that is currently reading this, email me for the disclaimer…) This is an egg white omelet with spinach, tomatoes, avocado’s, and peppers from the farmers market. Egg white’s are the main item that have kept me from veganism. These eggs are from egg-laying hens that have been rescued from slaughter and released on a free range farm in Camarillo. Each egg is a few cents more than the price I would be paying at a major supermarket for what is labeled “free range” eggs. A small price to pay to ensure my food is coming from what I know is an animal friendly environment.
Tonight, I went to the Concert in the Park, which is a monthly concert that is in the city park. It’s conveniently located across the street from where I live so each month during the summer, my husband, some friends, and myself pack up some snacks and drinks, grab our lounge chairs, and stroll on over. I picked up some fish from the market and made some sushi with mojitos for drinks. Yummy! The concert was a band called Ambrosia which is made up of a compilation of several musicians that had once played in various famous bands. The musicianship was good. The scene of the park is interesting. Families walk from all around the neighborhood and aren’t so discrete about their food and beverages. Some even set up huge tables with cloths and spreads. Even candles, flowers, and wine bottles! Of course, that doesn’t trump the odd memory of the first time I went and saw a dude walking around with a tall can of Budlight. After that I brought cups for my margaritas rather than concealing them in a Poweraid bottle.
We have stayed in touch with our neighbor since he moved and today, he invited my husband, my friend Tracy, and myself to help him serve wine at the Taste of Camarillo festival. We were helping out Bedford Wines since they couldn’t be there. This also meant food, music, and wine tasting without the $80 charge—that’s my favorite part. When we got there, we unloaded our wine and set up the table. All the vendors show up about an hour early so we can try out each other’s food and drinks before the rest of the attendees arrive. Sampling various foods and wine was fun but come to a slow crawl quickly due to lack of stomach capacity and wooziness from tasting. So, I took turns with friends pouring wine and socializing with patrons while taking breaks to catch a song from the band or explore some more. The booth behind me had liquor flavored ice cream so I took it upon myself to make a Jack Daniel ice cream flout in a sample of porter-style beer. Good stuff! Nobody else agreed but I was happy with my creation. As the festival was ending several vendors were happy to put leftover items into my hands rather than toting them home. I ended up with a giant tub of ceviche from a Ventura market, about 20 servings of quinoa salad, and some creaser dressing. I’m not so sure about the dressing but I took care of the other items. When I got home I mixed the quinoa with some spinach and had a huge glass of fruit-infused water in an effort to make up for all the food and wine I had consumed that day. What a great way to end the week belly-up style. Back to the grind tomorrow.