Category Archives: world

as powerful and as strong…

Last week we did a fairly strenuous canoe paddle, more than 60km, in a remote northern area of British Columbia.  The paddling wasn’t so daunting (3-4 hours per day of solid work), but it was the portages from lake to lake, the lightning storms, and the persistent pelting rain that quickly dampened my sleeping bag and all of my clothing that took their toll.

Now that it’s over, however, so much of that difficulty is forgotten.  And instead what remains are the gorgeous images imprinted into my memory and onto the roll of film that we shot as we traveled.  Such as this one, taken on the home stretch to Bowron Lake:

glassy waters(Note: the horizon is slightly crooked due to the boat leaning a bit to the right side that morning)

As I was writing in my journal when the journey was completed, the first thing I put on my list of lessons learned was:

I like to do hard things

And it’s true.  The stretch of an ambitious endeavor makes me happy.  Doing the mundane, the repetitive, the easily achieved task…boring.  I thrive when presented with a challenge, which is why the trip to British Columbia was so much more appealing than a resort stay or some other leisure activity.

While on this trip, these two books, Tracks and Paddling My Own Canoe accompanied me everywhere:

two books for my travels later this month…journey narratives ftw #JSLFL #booklover

A photo posted by @janaremy on

I just finished reading Tracks today, which is a book about a woman who walked across the Australian desert with four camels in the 1970s.  At the close of the text, this quotation jumped out at me, as a better expression of my thoughts about hard things, than I expressed myself in my journal (emphasis my own):

As I look back on the trip now, as I try to sort out fact from fiction, try to remember how I felt at that particular time, or during that particular incident, try to relive those memories that have been buried so deep, and distorted so ruthlessly, there is one clear fact that emerges from the quagmire.  The trip was easy.  It was no more dangerous than crossing the street, or driving to the beach, or eating peanuts.  The two important things that I did learn were that you as powerful and as strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision. 

in de boter vallen…

A dutch-speaking friend recently told me that, based on recent happenings in my life, “met zijn gat in de boter vallen,” which translated literally would mean something like “I’ve fallen into the butter.”  The connotation of this idiom is that I’ve had an unexpected amount of good fortune.

She’s right, in so many ways. Most days bring delight and adventures that exceed anything that I would have predicted for myself a few years ago.

Perhaps the richest part of things right now is the expansion of my world to include strong ties to Europe, and a growing feeling of my second home being in Brussels, here:

BrusselsThere is much fortune that comes from being linked to places that are located on nearly-directly opposite sides of the globe–I feel an expansion of experience and possibilities that’s unlike what I felt when my world was more tightly tied to SoCal.  There’s deep satisfaction from having a suitcase always at the ready, and to feel at ease hurtling through the night and shaking off the jetlag that follows.

But some days it’s hard to have a heart that spans longitudes.  When I’m here, I long for there.  When I’m there, I miss out on so much that’s here.  Those days, like today, I stand in my closet and bury my face in clothes that still carry that damp smell of a home built of stone and plaster.  Where there is a loaf of bread from the local bakery on the kitchen counter.  The loaf is half-gone and there are crumbs scattered on the cutting board.  I take a slice and spread a thick layer of butter, then sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper.  I take a bite.  And another.  And another.

That was not funny…(a Halloween rant)

I don’t care much for Halloween.  I don’t mind the little girls in their faery costumes and the boys dressed as ninjas or the doorbell ringing all evening long.  But, I do have a lot of fears of violence and things that “go bump in the night” so I find October to be a generally tedious month where I’m flipping off the radio every time there’s an ad for a spook-tastic theme park.  I don’t like being scared and I don’t enjoy gory anything (in fact, I often find such things to be “triggers” for the very real horrors that I experience day-to-day).

So last night when I went to a local market (Wholesome Choice in Irvine) to pick up ingredients for dinner, I thought little about the creepy Halloween display in the doorway of the store.  When I first saw it a few weeks ago I remember thinking it in poor taste–it featured a life-size grim reaper character with a large scythe.  So when I entered last night it was with barely a glance at that decor while I attempted to navigate my shopping cart through the crowded entryway that included a crowd waiting in front of the bakery area for the next batch of fresh bread.  I was looking in that direction when I realized that the creature from the Halloween display was now leaning over my shoulder, with his arms upraised to scare me.  I screamed and shuddered, as I processed the fact that this was a store employee wearing the grim reaper costume (not a mannequin) and that he was standing in the doorway display to scare passersby.  I also realized that the bakery line was actually a crowd of onlookers who had gathered to see the customers entering the store being “scared.”

They were laughing, uproariously, after seeing how badly I’d been frightened by the grim reaper character.

I stopped right there and stated loudly, “That was not funny.”

This made the onlookers laugh even harder.

“That was not funny,” I stated even more emphatically.

One man started arguing with me.  “It was funny,” he explained.  “And it’s getting even funnier now.”  He was laughing so hard that it was hard for him to respond to me.

I stepped through the doorway and hovered in the produce section and watched more people enter the store.  As I did so I realized that nearly every woman who entered got the same fright treatment and the gawking laughter.

The women who were scared weren’t laughing.  Most of them immediately put their hands to their hearts or to their foreheads, as if in pain.  And then they walked through the laughing gauntlet with frowns on their faces.

As I continued pushing my cart through the store, every few seconds I would hear another scream from the front of the shop and then more laughter.  I didn’t know what to do so I started tweeting what I’d experienced.  I wanted to track down a manager.  I wanted to stand in the front of the store and warn other women entering.  I wanted to take that scythe from that grim reaper and hit him over the head with it (and also do the same to that man who kept laughing at me as I became more angry at being frightened).  But I was still shaking so hard I could barely type.  I couldn’t even remember what I’d come to the store to buy.  I pushed my cart aimlessly through the aisles wondering what to do.

Most of all, I was trying to figure out why that had been such a scary experience for me, and why I couldn’t shrug it off as a Halloween prank.  And I wanted to find a quiet place and sit down and cry.

Because, perhaps it reminded me of this experience from not too long ago:

I’d dropped my daughter off at the church’s childcare area so I could attend a talk with other women from my congregation.  The talk was by a local author who was a hero of mine (Emma Lou Thayne).  It would be the first time that I would hear her in person.  I had a book of hers in my bag in hopes that I could get her to sign it at the end of her talk.

So perhaps that’s why I ignored the feeling of discomfort at seeing the childcare being staffed by two teenage boys rather than by adults.  I didn’t recognize them as part of our congregation, but saw other women dropping off their children and figured that it was fine.

About 30 minutes into the talk, a member of the bishopric (the clergy) pulled me out of the meeting, and motioned for me to walk down the hall with him towards the childcare area.  As we walked he explained that the boys in the nursery had been nephews of a woman in our congregation and should not have been left in charge of the children.  My heart started thumping hard in my chest.

“They had your daughter in the middle of the room and were throwing things at her–small toys.  They were making her cry and then laughing at her as she got more and more upset.  They encouraged some of the other children to throw things at her, or to poke her.  Another mother dropped by to check on the children and stopped them and called in the bishopric.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

And then I remembered a scenario that plays out over and over again when I take out my outrigger canoe in Newport Harbor alone.  Invariably, if it is a weekend, that will mean that there are a handful of rental duffies in the harbor being piloted by groups who are drinking too much.  Despite the area being a “no-wake zone” where speeds are supposed to be kept to below 5mph, the renters don’t adhere to the rules when there’s an opportunity to harass a lone female paddler.

Sometimes the men (and it is always men) humor themselves by yelling rude taunts at me,

“Show me your tits!”

“Watch for sharks!”

“Paddle FASTER!”

“How well do you swim??”

This latter one is probably the scariest.  It’s usually accompanied by a gunning motor and a veer of the boat in my direction.  They are always laughing.

I swim well.  And I can often paddle my lightweight canoe faster than the duffies with their bloated load of drunken passengers.  But I also know the power of boat motors with their scythe-like propellers, and that they can be lethal for anyone in the water nearby.  With just a few feet between me and them, the danger is utterly real.

And it is not funny.

It is not funny to hire a costumed killer to stand in your store and scare women.

It is not funny to taunt someone smaller and younger than you.

It is not funny to pick on a stranger simply because she is alone or more vulnerable than you.

I scare easily because a lifetime of experience as a woman has taught me that I should be afraid of the dark, of teenage boys, of men that are taller than me, and of partiers steering rental boats.  Being scared hasn’t stopped me from paddling my canoe alone, but it did stop me from using church-sponsored childcare staffed by strangers, and it has now stopped me from shopping at my neighborhood grocery store.

I’ve tried to imagine a scenario where a store manager came up with the idea of frightening female customers as they entered the store and thought it would increase sales or customer satisfaction, and I cannot come up with any justification for spooking customers that makes business sense.  So my conclusion is that was ignorant and mean.  Moreover, I cannot conceive of a reason that I would continue to trust a store manager with such poor judgment to sell me the kind of high-quality food that I want to nourish myself and my family.



a little bit of bluegrass (for a warm fall evening)…

At the last minute our plans for yesterday evening changed, and we found ourselves wondering what to do after I got off work at 5.

So we ambled down to The Bruery for a rainbow of seasonal beverages:

And while remarking on what perfect weather it was for being outdoors, we debated various possibilities of things to do.  Live music seemed a good option, so we started searching for something nearby.  And then we found a publicity blurb for an event that hardly made sense: it was for bluegrass music by the Salty Suites in Black Star Canyon just 20 minutes away from Orange.  Ready for adventure, we set the GPS and started out…

After some confusion on back roads with no addresses (or sign markers), we started hearing some music and headed towards the sound.  And found a group of people circled around some musicians, the area lit only by a few candle-lanterns.  (Even though there was a bright moon, it took about 30 minutes for me to realize that everyone in the crowd was wearing a costume except us).

We found a spot to sit on the edge of some pavement and enjoyed the music for the next few hours.  It was lovely music in front of a large redrock formation that provided excellent acoustics even without mics.  Though every piece was outstanding, my favorite song of the evening was this one below (although Goodbye Ojai was gorgeous and Blood, Whiskey or Wine was a lot of fun)…

how to charm me…

For years I had a print of a couple kissing in a train station hanging my bedroom.  It’s not the exact one above, but was very much like it.  I got the print while I was an undergraduate in college, and was probably dreaming a bit too much about passionate kissing and not enough about my studies…

Over the years I’ve had a few good kisses.  Some that’ve even held a candle to the one in the photograph that hung on my wall for so many years.

But of late, that’s definitely escalated.  There was that one in Times Square, and the one at Griffith Observatory, and the one at Sacre Coeur at sunset.  Not to mention Montreal, Portland, Cape Cod, Avignon, San Francisco, Brussels, Florence….and one very memorable smooch while I was sitting on the beach in Santa Monica.

And then there’s that one coming up at an airport in just a few hours, where I intend to throw down my travel bags and kick up my heel just like the girl in the photo above…

Previous “How to Charm Me” posts

sunshine, on my shoulders


Two weeks ago we flew to Denver for the weekend, staying in a small writer’s cabin on the top of a hill near Estes Park. Driving there in the dark that first night we saw fields full of deer staring at us as we meandered around curving unpaved roadways. All night long we could hear the yapping of coyotes in the hills around the house.

As is typical for me, I don’t sleep in well in the mornings. I’m up with the sun and looking forward to those first quiet moments over a cup of hot coffee.  The sun cast beautiful shadows across the landscape as it rose, and we had a large deck with a view to enjoy it all.

IMG_3052My feelings about this part of the world are complicated, so much so that I feel like I’m in the middle of a vortex of memories each time I visit.  It was in Denver that I was diagnosed with bone cancer and had my leg amputated.  It was in Denver where my father wanted our family to settle (instead, we only lived there for three years).  And it was in Denver four years ago that my leg infection landed me once again in the emergency room.

That trip four years ago kept surfacing in my mind as we drove around the environs of Denver.  In particular, I remembered an afternoon in my hotel room after I’d been several days alone there and was in terrible pain from my infection.  It was a dodgy Residence Inn–cheap enough for a traveling graduate student and smelling of curry and dirty socks.  The only sunlight that entered the room was a bright beam from a high window in the bathroom.  I remember sitting in that patch of light and singing “Sunshine on my Shoulders” to myself as a distraction from my circumstances.  I felt very alone that week, but I also realized how strong I was becoming and dealing with things that were beyond my control.  I had offers from friends and family to come and rescue me from Denver, but instead I dealt with the medical issues myself knowing that it was something I needed to do alone.  And as a result I returned from that experience knowing that I was far stronger than I’d been before, which was an important lesson for where my life was headed.

So just a few weeks ago as I sat in the deck in that high dry Colorado air and enjoyed the sunshine on my shoulders once again, I felt that all the pain and trauma of that place was long gone. What remained were the lessons learned.  And the in-the-moment joy of warm breezes on bare skin, making me feel alive and strong and even a little teary-eyed at just how beautiful life can be.


I really miss the Gowalla app.  I liked “checking in” as I moved around and I learned a lot about my local environment.  One of my favorite tidbits was learning about famous sculptures at UCI that I’d walked past for 20 years but didn’t know about their origin until I’d “checked in” there. It helped, too, that many of my DH friends were early Gowalla adopters and I enjoyed following along virtually with their travels.

Instagram shares a few of the features that I enjoyed with Gowalla, but doesn’t offer the same incentives for check-ins, nor does it connect me to other users (or contacts) who are traveling the same paths as I am.

Recently I downloaded Wenzani which seems to share some of the location-based functionality that I enjoyed with Gowalla, but it’s not really caught on in my area so I’m navigating the app alone (which means it’s no fun, really).  Wenzani strikes me more as an cleaner-looking yelp app than a game.  But I don’t like that Wenzani is pushing its updates to Facebook (I’m incredibly weary of FB right now, but that’s a topic for another day).

most poignant of all

This is why I’m headed to the High Country this weekend.  It’s about time…

(From “The High Country” by Bernard DeVoto):

I wish that everyone could know the high country….[where] summer is, like all brief seasons, passionate and intense.  The crest has passed by the middle of August, and then there comes a period which I find the most poignant of all.  A new brightness comes into the air and the colors.  The underbrush is splashed with scarlet, poplar and cottonwood leaves are gold, and the aspens have reached a high, shining silver.  Mist hangs blue and lavender gauzes across the canyons and the distances almost till noon; twilights are early and long.  There is a hush, an expectancy in the air–a portent of winter, a premonition of death, but the world is resolved to reach its fulness first.  There is an illusion that no one is here but you, and you respond to it with a delight so deep, so moving, so complete that it is wrapped round with sadness.  Above all others, this is the time to visit the high country.


say yes…

Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here. Believe in kissing.
– Eve Ensler (h/t Jen Gray)

Picture above taken in a German train station, after several hours of standing-room-only-jetlagged train riding.  Exhausting.  Worth it.

there be dragons (and sharks and rattlesnakes and mice)…

Recently I visited a friend in the desert.

It was hot.  It was sandy.  But it was also full of growing things:

For a few hours I stayed at her home alone (while the others were out hiking), and while sitting on the porch I spied a robust amount of bird and insect life including some rabbits and a charming chirping family of quail.  There was nothing empty or deserted about that space, and small flowers were everywhere I looked.

Her property is adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail (a place that’s been getting a lot of press lately due to Oprah’s recent Book Club pick of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which I do hope to read soon). Here’s an image from the trail:

One way or another, as we were planning this trip it became known that I’d never slept outside without a tent.  So we decided that it was probably time to remedy that, and that the desert might be a fine place to sleep under the stars.  But there weren’t many stars out that night, there was a three-quarter moon so bright that everything was quite visible even after the lights were out.

My host provided a cozy air mattress and sleeping bag (it was COLD despite having been into the 90s during the day).  Here’s the view from where we slept, just before sunset.  See that moon?:

Though we could hear coyotes yapping not too far away and that was a bit unsettling, the night passed without an incident and we had a relaxing breakfast on that spot the next morning as the temperatures began to rise (those biscuits were still warm from the oven–yum!):

So perhaps you can understand the cold chill that went up my spine when my friend sent me this photo later.  Yes, that’s a four-foot desert rattlesnake.  And it is crawling under the foundation of her house just a couple of feet from where my pillow was two nights before:


But it’s funny…I’m just starting on the 9-man season for outrigger canoeing and am spending a lot of time bobbing around in the ocean on the weekends.  So everyone’s been telling me their scariest shark stories.  And I was in the water a few weekends ago when there was a 15-ft Great White spotted nearby in La Jolla.

But you know what?  I’m never thinking about sharks when I’m in the ocean (jellyfishes occasionally, because getting stung is a drag, but not sharks).  The ocean is so big and so fun that I can’t help but jump in and swim.  There’s very little that will dissuade me from getting wet.

And you know what else?  My desert-living friend told me yesterday that her house had a few mice in the cupboards, and that scared me far more than did her rattlesnake photo.  My whole body shook for a few seconds as I realized that I’d spent two days there.  In her house.  With the mice.  I’m glad I didn’t know that beforehand.  And I’m glad there’s a snake to take care of those mice.  And I’m glad that I have some commitments on the ocean most weekends for the next few months.  Because I think it might be awhile before I head to the desert again.   🙂