Nagoonberry

This world. This place. This life.


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How was the road trip?

We’ve been home for two and a half weeks, and we’re still settling back in.

A few days after we got back to Girdwood, Liesl came down with the flu, which changed the math around here. Instead of two adults taking care of a baby and a dog, it was one adult taking care of a sick person, a baby and a dog. Now that she’s mostly on the mend, we’re making progress on the daunting, never-ending task of bringing order to our 1100-square-foot condo.

So, how was the road trip?

It’s a hard question to answer, because we didn’t have a clear goal when we set out.

At some point on the trip I posted on Facebook that “there, and back again,” might be the measure of this trip’s success. And we’ve done that.

It was quite an accomplishment to take the ferry from Whittier to Bellingham, and then put more than 5000 miles on the truck getting back to Alaska via the AlCan. Particularly with a baby (and a dog, for part of the trip).

But what was it for? Why did we go?

As I wrote before we went, we were stuck, and we needed to yank ourselves away from here so that we could imagine a new future for ourselves.

We did that, too.

Liesl began to see the giant boulder of grief she’s been carrying around about leaving her job, and possibly leaving Alaska. Now that she knows the boulder’s there, she can set it down once in a while.

I found space to take a chance on a new life, daydream about entrepreneurial ministry, and expand the work I’m already doing.

The trip propelled us into a liminal place. Not into a new, rooted place. A liminal place.

And we’re still there.

It’s uncomfortable.

We’d like a new house, and new careers, without all the constant questioning and considering and good god all the waiting.

We’d like a home with more room for Willa to play, with plenty of space for Brady to run around outside, with a place for Liesl and I to shut the door and remember who we are, apart from our parental roles.

We’d like for both of us to have daily work that feels meaningful, purposeful, satisfying.

We’d like to expend our energy in the present, not in planning for, imagining, and trying to get to the future.

It’s uncomfortable.

We’re restless.

We get cranky with each other. And with the dog.

But then we watch an episode of HBO’s Vice, about Sudan.

And we remember how privileged—and small—our struggle is.

We remember to be grateful for our happy baby, who has enough to eat, and a place to sleep.

It puts our search for meaning and purpose in a larger perspective.

We’re looking, not just for work that makes us feel valued, but work that actually is valuable, work that helps to make a dent, however tiny, in the terrible, terrible things that happen every day around the world, and right here in Girdwood, and wherever you are.

So that’s how our trip was.

We may be sleeping in the same place every night now, but we’re still on the road. We’ll let you know when we arrive.

If we ever do.

 

 


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U-Haul moment: anger and anxiety

In our family, we talk about U-Haul moments—dating back to the time when Liesl suddenly figured out that U-Haul meant, well, “you haul.”

Yesterday I had a U-Haul moment.

For the past few weeks I’ve felt an unusual amount of anger. Rage, actually. It flares up quickly, rising up like a whirlwind from my gut, and it takes all I’ve got not to lash out.

Fortunately, Willa doesn’t trigger it. Usually it’s our dog Brady, whose in-your-face, high-strung energy gets on my last nerve. (He gets a lot of time-outs, when sometimes it’s me who needs one.)

Yesterday I figured out that the anger was anxiety, boiling up and spilling over.

Huh. Go figure.

I’m not very good at anger. Not good at acknowledging it, not good at feeling it, not good at expressing it (appropriately or otherwise).

At most, I get snippy. When I describe an incident where “I was really mad,” my friends laugh at me.

So this anger, and this anxiety, they’re opportunities. Opportunities to learn to live in my heart.

Almost twenty years ago, a career assessment counselor wrote about me, “Heather is a feeler who thinks through her emotions.”

That annoyed me—and stuck with me.

And yesterday, for the first time, I really understood what he meant. I always knew what he meant about keeping my emotions at arm’s length, about projecting them on the wall of my mind rather than living in that messy feeling space.

But yesterday I caught a glimpse, just a tiny one, of what it might be like to live in the messy space.

And have that be OK.


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Noticing service dog fraud

On this trip, Liesl and I have seen evidence that service dog fraud is on the rise.

Example one. On the Alaska Marine Highway, all pets have to stay in their owners’ vehicles on the car deck. Throughout the day (and night) the purser announces car deck calls when pet owners can go down and visit their animals. It’s hard on the animals, and not easy for the owners, either.

The only animals allowed in the passenger areas are service animals.

One woman on the ferry regularly had her dog with her, with no vest identifying it as a service dog, and its behavior with other dogs on the car deck (where the dogs relieve themselves) was certainly not that of a trained service dog.

Uh huh. Fraud, we figured.

Example two. At the Holiday Inn Express in Corvallis, Oregon, I overheard a conversation in the lobby.

A man checking in asked, “Do you charge for dogs?”

When the answer was “Yes,” he said, “What if they’re service dogs?”

The front desk clerk asked if he had verification that they were service dogs.

And the man said, “Well, I’m a veterinarian. Does that count?”

I have no idea if he had to pay for them, but later I saw him with the two dogs and his wife, sitting outside on the back deck, enjoying breakfast. Neither of the two border collies wore anything identifying them as service dogs.

The service dog legislation was written with flexibility in mind, so that people with disabilities wouldn’t have to constantly fight for their right to be accompanied by service dogs. But unscrupulous people take advantage of that flexibility, and it’s just not right.


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How I use Twitter

I’ve been wrestling with Twitter questions lately. What is it? How am I supposed to use it? Am I using it right? How do I read it all?

And then John Scalzi liberated me. There isn’t a right way to use Twitter. There’s simply what works for me—and for you. And those don’t have to be the same.

So here’s how I use Twitter.

  • It’s a condiment here on Nagoonberry. Thoughts and experiences, sprinkled on the right side of the page.
  • It’s a way to track experiences, to encourage myself to pay attention, to focus on small moments.
  • I check in with a few people through Twitter—some I know in real life, some I know only online, and some are one-sided relationships (I follow them, they have no idea who I am)
  • When I get tired of being stuck in Facebook Land, I head over to Twitter to see what’s happening there.

And that’s it. Very much a work in progress. How about you? How do you use Twitter?

 


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How I curate UU content

Sometimes we develop our most useful skills without conscious intention.

I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve always been that friend who says, “Hey, I found this thing you should read.”

I never thought that would turn into something I felt called to do—much less that it has a name.

Almost three years ago, UU World magazine invited me to edit The Interdependent Web. My editor gave me freedom, support, and the opportunity to practice curation, week after week.

Here’s a window into my process.

  • Curation begins with love. This is demanding work, and passion sustains it. I care deeply about helping Unitarian Universalist voices find larger audiences. If you’re thinking about becoming a curator, choose something you love, because you’ll spend more hours doing it than you can hope to be paid for—if you’re lucky enough to find a curating gig that pays money; many people are giving away this kind of work.
  • Immersion is essential. A curator cannot expect to occasionally dip her toe into the waters of her subject. I spend hours, not just reading UU blogs, but also participating in UU forums on Facebook. As Unitarian Universalist content becomes more diverse, my daunting task is to follow it wherever it goes. Blogging is the area of UU content where I’m most comfortable; I’m hoping that some of you may begin curating other types of content—video, design, music, etc.
  • Gathering sources never ends. When I began reading UU blogs, Philocrites’ Guide to Unitarian Universalist Blogs was a great resource. Soon I learned about UUpdates, and taught myself how to use Google Reader. Once I began editing The Interdependent Web, my Reader was no longer just a few favorite UU blogs; instead I collected an exhaustive list of every single UU blogger I found. When Google retired Reader, I switched over to Feedly, where my “All UU Bloggers” folder has 391 blogs at last count. And I’m always looking for more. Are you a UU blogger? Do you suspect I don’t know about you? Introduce yourself . . .
  • Scanning and saving are the first steps each week. At this moment, there are seventeen new posts in my “All UU Bloggers” folder. I won’t read all of them. I’m looking for headlines that grab my attention. What grabs my attention? Specificity. Responses to other bloggers’ posts. Humor (including snark). Something that grabs my heart. A clear connection to Unitarian Universalism. Good writing (yes, that matters, even in your post titles). A great track record as a blogger. Anything that catches my attention earns a little green Feedly bookmark, which puts posts into a “Saved for Later” folder.
  • Reading and reducing is where the work gets hard. Eventually, I have to read all those “Saved for Later” posts. Beginning each Wednesday, I review what I’ve saved, and compile the best posts. My goal is around fifteen pieces of content, sometimes more, sometimes less. That means a lot of culling. Some weeks I wish I could send out apology notes to some of the bloggers whose excellent posts just don’t make the cut.
  • Arranging and distilling are the last steps. I could just list the best fifteen posts, images, videos, etc. But good curation is more than that. I look for intentional and coincidental conversations between posts, images and videos. I look for natural categories. Sometimes things get shoehorned together, and other times there are beautiful juxtapositions.  The format of The Interdependent Web—at least for blog posts—is “introduction, pull quote.” I usually arrange, then find the quotes, then write the intros, but not always in that order. It’s a great format, but it’s very blog-centric, as is most of my process. That’s the growing edge for me—tweaking this process so I remember to look for and include images, videos, tweets, Facebook conversations, Pinterest posts, etc.

Since August of last year, when I returned to The Interdependent Web from maternity leave, I have done this work while also adjusting to life as a new parent. Liesl comes home early on Thursday night to watch Willa while I put the finishing touches on the column, but for the most part, curating fits well into the daily schedule of a stay-at-home mom.

Did I answer your questions—or create more?

I’d love to hear from you about how you’re coping with the deluge of content that social media generates. Do you opt out? Are you grateful for your friends who help you choose what to read? Or are you, like me, the friend who says, “Hey, I found this article you should read”?


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Don’t imagine me drowning

So much of what I read about parenting young children focuses on how overwhelming it is. And it is.

But I’m grateful for every blog post that helps me remember the love and joy Willa brings to my life.

Because the truth is, even though I’m flailing around in the water, I’m not drowning. I’m learning to swim.

So I want to ask you—please, don’t imagine me drowning.

No matter how exhausted I may feel, I parent from a place of privilege. We can afford to have me care for Willa full-time, and I have outlets for the not-mama parts of my brain. For lunch today, Willa will eat ground lamb, butternut squash, zucchini, homemade yogurt, organic rice cereal, and quinoa; it takes a privileged amount of bandwidth to pull that off. Do I need support? You bet. But let’s save the lifeguards’ attention for those who really are drowning.

cubes

I have never done work which demanded so much of my creativity. All day long, every day, one problem-solving opportunity after another comes my way. Every solution lasts only until Willa’s next growth spurt. She keeps me on my toes, and I’ve never felt so alive. Who knew that “helping” with the laundry could begin at eight months? Or that it would be so much fun?

laundry

When you imagine me drowning, I imagine myself drowning, and I lose faith in myself. I focus on what’s hard, rather than imagining what’s possible. Liesl and I spent long months agonizing about taking a road trip with Willa, because we were afraid of how hard it might be. Will it be hard? Yes. No doubt about it. But I want to raise a daughter who faces challenges with courage and determination, with a sparkle of anticipation in her eyes. And if I want to do that, I have to model courage, not fear.


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Choose your kiln

I suck at self-directed change.

I’ve fallen off more bandwagons than I care to count.

I’ve broken so many New Year’s resolutions that I just don’t make them anymore.

When I see a blog post that promises me change in six easy steps, I roll my eyes and move on.

But by any measure, the trajectory of my life includes dramatic changes. I’m a Jersey girl living in Alaska. I was a fundamentalist kid, and now I’m a non-theistic Unitarian Universalist.

How did these changes happen?

I chose life experiences that changed me.

kilnPick any metaphor you’d like—a kiln, a crucible, a glacier, a forest fire—there are forces that will apply pressure to us from the outside, changing us in lasting ways.

For me, it has been: attending college and seminary; working as a minister; choosing a relationship with Liesl; moving to Alaska; adopting our dog, Brady; writing the Interdependent Web; and becoming Willa’s mother.

Next month we’re headed off on an open-ended adventure. It’s daunting—and it will change us.

I’m counting on that. Liesl and I need something to change us, because we’re really stuck—and we’re tired of it.

We’re putting ourselves in a kiln for a few months. Then we’ll open the door, and see how we’ve changed.

Are you tired of being stuck?

Choose your kiln—or your crucible, glacier, or forest fire.

Make it something big.

Make it something that will change you from the outside, in.

 

Photo by bptakoma, used under a Creative Commons attribution license.

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