Monday, February 28, 2011

From the beaches of the streets of Mardi Gras!

We’re spending a little time in the city that gave rise to the first American Mardi Gras. Mobile, Alabama. Yes, New Orleans has the edge on this market, but it all began in Mobile. While New Orleans promises celebratory drinking feasting and other temptations, Mobile has kept the celebration high energy, but family friendly. We only saw one person show skin for beads—and HE was not that impressive. Here's a picture with all the loot we scored in one parade. Pirate booty. I have no idea who started the tradition of throwing moon pies, but they do. Torben got knocked upside the head with a flying banana moon pie. That doesn't happen everyday. And I am not sure why the bead phenomenon is such a universal hit, but it is. I had to wrestle my prizes away from a some elbow-throwing grannies. Meanwhile Torben is so tall he just stuck his hand in the air and laso-ed in several strands. Good times.
Mobile is a city that is laden with history. It showcases architecture from its prior French occupancy next to modern day skyscrapers and art museums. I was impressed with the quaintness that I felt while walking downtown in such a large port city. It’s a little softer than New Orleans, but still filled with splendid French influence. And wrapped in Southern tradition, much like Savannah.
The sea, despite bringing the goods which sustain commerce, has not been kind to Mobile. Over the years there has been devastated by hurricane after hurricane…with deathly plagues of yellow fever in between. Somehow, the city seems to come back, but only barely, and the sea splashing across roadside barriers and hallow remnants of houses, hotels and restaurants serve as a constant reminder that the darker side of Mother Nature is always lurking close by. We toured the City museum and learned about the six million slaves that were brought over from Africa to the port of Mobile. Six million. One wonders how so many people could have been displaced against their will. I learned that Africans – often rival tribes – coerced their fellow Africans and sold their own people to slavery. Once captured people spent up to seven months aboard ships, in the most horrific conditions. Imagine being chained to a dirty wooden floor for nearly a year, you slept, ate (if there was any food) and defecated in an area smaller than a telephone booth. Sunshine? Forget about it. The museum had a recreation of a slave ship and it gave all of us a depressing and eerie feeling to walk through it.
These are feet lined up, men packed like sardines. I am always sadly astonished when I am reminded that humans can create mortal hell. My grief for the horror those African slaves endured is deeper than I can find words to express. May their souls find comfort in the afterlife, for they certainly suffered enough here on earth.
On a much brighter note, we spent several days camped out at what is undoubtedly one of the most serene beaches in all of the good-ol U. S. of A. Fort Pickens, off the coast of Pensacola. A kind camper we met at a previous park suggested it and I am sooooo glad we listened. Imagine: soft powder white sands, so bright reflecting the sun that it almost blinds you, small sand drifts, seagulls, pelicans, oh and gorgeous aqua waves lapping the shore. Mmmmm, sounds like heaven right? Did I mention – no condos to obstruct the view? It is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and it belongs to you as much as it belongs to me.
Our national park system is amazing. The only thing left out on this pristine stretch of beach is the remains of old Fort Pickens. I love exploring the remains of old buildings. I love history with a little mystery. This place did not disappoint. The actual park is closed at dusk, but people camping on the peninsula can access the site whenever. So, the crazy noMadsons decided to venture into the fort (complete with moat and the belches of gators hiding in the marshes) at night, on a full moon. Remember, I said I like a little mystery, I apparently forgot to stress the “little” part to my husband. Not willing to be labeled a pansy, I tiptoed through the remains of the brick walls inside the fortress walls and stone halls, on the edge of crying and peeing my pants the entire time. All I could do was imagine the ghost of some ticked-off prisoner (by the way, Geronimo was held here) haunting the corridors. It was creepy. Here is a picture of it during the daytime…now imagine this hall with the only light streaming through being the glow of the moon. The spook factor was off the charts!
Thankfully, to calm my poor panicked heart we walked back along the shore. Watching the moon light flicker like diamonds on the top of the waves as they crested was visual euphoria. The rushing sound as they washed the shore transported me and tranquility soon returned (thankfully!) Torben was eager to explore the Naval Air Museum on the military base in Pensacola. It was filled with military history, old stuff and it was free, the trifecta of cool for Torben.
He was endlessly entertained while wondering wide eyed and mouth agape from one plane to the next, amazed by the technology and the engineering as it has changed over time. I followed, smiled, nodded and learned a few things, but one air museum looks like all the other air museums, and I’ve lost count on how many we’ve been seen. I mean no disrespect the good men and women who have defended this country, so for their, and my husband’s sakes, I will continue to feign interest when our bus rolls by another one, but deep down I will likely be thinking: There goes two hours of my life I won’t ever get back.
Ooooh-weeee! I just love being in the right place at the right time, don’t you? Kinda makes me want to dance a silly jig. We were blessed to help celebrate an old friend’s birthday. I use the word old with double meaning. Yes, he is 50, so clearly that qualifies (ha!) but Jack Onkka has been one of Torben’s treasured friends for four decades! We helped shock Jack with a surprise party at a funky new blues club in town and were able to steal him away for a more intimate birthday dinner and catch-up session on his actual birthday. How awesome. Jack is an honorable man, the kind that restores your faith in humanity. He has been serving the Santa Rosa County Sherriff’s Department for over 20 years and when he plans to retire he hopes to be ordained. Seriously, 20 years of seeing the worst man-kind can dish out and STILL believing in the inherent good in people, not to mention a willingness to continue to give back, WOW! Torben has always spoken so highly of his childhood friend, after spending a little time with Jack and his beautiful wife Amy, I am in total agreement; the world is a better place with him in it.
The kids want me to report that Pensacola has the mother of all dog parks. We’ve seen some good ones, some cleared fields, some mudded fenced in lots, some with wading pools. But the coolness factor for this one is hardly rivaled. Bayview Park has not one, not two, but three parks for dogs, along with traditional playgrounds, tennis courts and fishing piers for the two legged kind. The dog beach, yea, that’s right, DOG BEACH, was like heaven for our kids.
They ran in circles in the sand, chased their new friends, and swam like guppies out in the water. Lily was spastic, she jumped in the water, got soaking wet, then bounced out onto the sand and flopped down like a fish out of water to “dry” herself on the sand. It is a silly little trick she used to do all the time when we lived on the lake in Belle Isle. She hasn’t had a good wet flop since and it was heartwarming to see her enthusiasm return. Actually, there were several dogs there who perfected the splash-and-roll technique. It was pretty adorable. Dog parks are a hoot. I love getting to play with tiny puppies like the four month old beagle who chewed on my face or the sweet giant Newfoundland who flounced happily and blissfully unaware of the delicate flowers she trampled beneath her enormous paws. Blaze has taken to be the “greeter” at any park we stop. He is the official “welcome to the park, let me offer you a complimentary butt sniff” character that looms at the entry gate. He makes friends quickly with other dogs; even adopting their tag along human companions as new family. Rodeo is a perimeter sniffer. She hangs out down the fence line, nose to the ground, sniffing. I think sniffing for a dog is a past time like knitting. You can accomplish a lot without having to exert yourself. It’s the quiet dog’s sport. And she’s breaking records.
Bela could care less about the other dogs, she’s way more interested in squirrels. Obsessively interested, I might add. When she spots one she barks incessantly and gives the rest of us a headache. She probably would have loved to have been adopted by a family that loves to hunt as much as she does. Unfortunately for her the only things she can hunt in this family is food from the from the kitchen counter. Yesterday she caught a box of cookies.
We went to a Renaissance faire! Have you ever been? It’s a place where ordinary men and women are transformed into Lords and Ladies. Where the words hello and goodbye are articulated with such royal emphasis one feels as if they have stepped off the page into a fantasy kingdom. We saw knights jousting from atop horses, both adorned with metal of armor. There were Arabian women belly dancing with fire in slow tantalizing movements. I swear Attila the Hun appeared in one sword fighting expose. All around were the sounds “Here Ye-Here Ye” and the merchants displayed their wares undersigns reading “Ye Olde….(blacksmith/clothier/bar). We tried on hats and capes of period costumes.
I succumbed to temptation and adorned myself with a braided metal headpiece (I love it so much I am still wearing it!) Children rode camels and we each took a shot at throwing axes. My strength wasn’t so impressive, but Torben and Jack landed a few. And to top off a perfectly splendid afternoon- I finally made it to the top of a rock wall. (I try to climb these things at every carnival and usually make it only half way due to my forearm cramping.) Alas, my goal was accomplished.
It was a great escape and another miracle day spent with good friends.
Speaking of miracles, thank you to everyone who responded to my last blog. The fact that someone beyond my immediate family is reading them is a miracle. Just kidding. As one friend put it – every day miracles are like God winks. Coincidence is really just God winking down at us and reminding us that we matter. I love it! (Thanks Sally!) I found it interesting to learn that several friends are also exploring their spiritual selves and it seems to me that we are all on the cusp of discovering something wonderful, about ourselves and our greater role in this magnificent universe we occupy. May your lives be touched by an abundance of love and God winks. Namaste everyone.
Stay tuned next'll never guess where we are headed back to! (Do I hear a banjo playing?)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

There's a new holiday on the calendar...

Saturday was Elvis Day, Ericka proclaimed it so. She is always the peacemaker in the family, especially if one of us gets carried away being ornery or jokingly picking on another member of the family. She devises a logical reason why we need to stop razzing someone and be nicer to them. It usually sounds something like this: “Guys, come on it is Christmas, let’s be nice.” No argument there. But sometimes it morphs into something a little more comical. We had our motor home parked in Inglis, Florida (which is pretty awesome) and my mother- and sister-in-laws were riding around with us as we explored the area. Torben was eager to show the family where Elvis Presley had filmed the movie Follow That Dream, and incidentally where our trip first began. Not surprisingly, Torben was feeling playful and I said something or another that gave him good fodder for a few jokes. Ericka couldn’t take it and laughingly jumped in and proclaimed, “Guys, be nice, it’s Elvis Day.” We laughed so hard tears rolled down our cheeks. What a way to keep things in perspective. I envy the ease with which she logically senses that if we have something to celebrate there is no reason to be less than enthusiastically grateful….all day long.
We had so much fun hanging out with Doris and Ericka. As part of our weekend we toured Homosassa Springs State Park which included a chilly, yet majestic pontoon ride down the spring fed river, under the canopy of palms, pines and moss and into the entrance of the park. Kind of like Disney, but without the lights, lines and price of admission. When Torben was a little boy he used to go there with his beloved grandfather who had a cabin on the river. Torben described the area as being an amazing jungle, loaded with wildlife, undeveloped and free of Yankees. He even told the story of how his grandmother had a heart attack at the park and was saved by his father. How’s that for family history?
The state park is a respite for disabled wildlife. It houses animals with little chance of survival elsewhere. Some of the animals there were actually rescued by the Central Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which Torben used to volunteer with. (If any of you made donations at our wedding, this is your heartfelt gift at work!) I fell in love with the cutest one-eyed owl. There were also bobcats and panthers. Even though they are behind some serious barbed wire, their eyes followed us like predators tracking their prey. I have a healthy respect for big cats. I have a ten pound domestic cat that has nearly clawed my arm off on multiple occasions. I can only imagine the damage her colossal cousins could bring. There were several manatees and every variation of bird you can imagine. One island sparkled with glittering pink flamingos and intensely stunning wood ducks swam everywhere with ease.
We also heard a heart breaking story of the separation of a whopping crane pair. These rare beautiful birds mate for life. Unfortunately the mating ritual requires not only a swanky dance of fluttering wings and tail feathers, but also a song to swoon the female. Ladies, you get it, we all need a little sweet talking. Rusty, the original male had no problems with the dance, but he had no voice. The years passed and he and his female friend never made little whopping crane babies. So another whopping crane male flew into the park and the staff now has the new male sharing space with the female in hopes to increase the whopping crane population. Poor Rusty is in the next area over and keeps craning his neck through the fencing to catch a glimpse of his beloved being swooned by a crane with a voice. Poor Rusty, it was truly heartbreaking to see. Ericka said a little prayer for him as we passed. The whole situation struck me as profoundly sad. On one hand, it is scientifically responsible to help a near extinct species procreate to sustain its existence on this earth. On the other hand, Rusty was clearly suffering. I wonder if all that suffering caused to one sensate being is worth the possible creation of another? Not sure I have the answer, just a place in my heart that melted for Rusty.
Torben and I have thoroughly been enjoying this coast of natural wonders.
Here the ocean seems to seep into the land like a slow winding river that narrows into a creek, then trickles through the underbrush. The trees grow out of the water leaving their vast root system exposed. And the ginormous nuclear power plant keeps the waters warm, attracting a plethora of mammals and reptiles. The manatee population is impressive here. Torben and I took a scenic kayak ride to the Three Sisters Springs, which was out of this world. Lots of boating tours descend on this area to offer a view of manatees, but unfortunately this usually leads to increased water traffic and danger to the manatees by swiftly rotating props. There was a special area, blocked off to motor boats, that was a safe haven for the manatees. We were permitted to gently kayak into the springs and even swim in the clear turquoise water (though it was a little chilly). There were several professional photographers with their special underwater cameras (which actually looked more like bizarre alien equipment than cameras). Everyone was vying for an up close picture of a manatee and no one seemed to be getting the perfect shot.
I am forever amazed by the gift my husband has for communicating with animals. Manatees were swimming to avoid all the photographers and in fact we even heard a fish and wildlife ranger tell some of the photographers to cool it because they were threatening the blubbery mammals. Torben, the only guy not in a wet suit, just hangs out in his corner and begins mimicking the body language of the manatees. Soon, one came over to him and curiously nudged him nose to nose. They rocked back and forth, twisted upside-down and bobbed at the surface together. They continued in this dance for at least twenty minutes, each mirroring the other. It was magnificent. I watched in silent awe from the kayak, reluctant to move for fear of disrupting this delicate interaction. It was beautiful.
Aside from that day being so incredibly moving there was also a typical Sarah shining moment. Before we left for the trip we stopped into the kayak shop to get our supplies. I was immediately taken with a new waterproof box that not only keeps you stuff dry, but floats. We have had a few “waterproof” bags that didn’t really seal out the moisture so I was eager to try this nifty little box out. I convinced my husband that $15 was a good investment instead of replacing the cost of a phone. Well, the box works great…but when you take something out of the box, say your phone to take a picture, it now renders the waterproof part, useless. Just as I took the picture I felt is slipping from my cold wet fingers into the spring below. Son of a…. Good thing Verizon has an insurance plan. By the way, Droid rocks, all my data was backed up on Google and when I signed on with my new phone…everything was there – including the picture I had taken just before I lost my grip! Technology is amazing. Not as amazing as watching Torben with the manatees, or my uncanny ability to drop, spill, or break things, but still pretty amazing.
We continued our journey up the “Forgotten Coast” of Florida and found a beautiful state park where we took the kids on a 5 mile hike through St. George Island State Park. Walking two and a half miles anywhere is pretty tough for some of our kids so we loaded up Rodeo in her stroller/chariot while everyone else got to walk two and a half miles in the sand to get to the beach. We opted for the “easier” route on the way home. Although dodging trucks on the road while trying to direct four unruly dogs is hardly “easy”. Rodeo posed in her Cleopatra chariot and barked encouragement at everyone else. Either that or she was warning off any bears or gators (these looked like trucks and motorcycles to the rest of us), not sure, but in either case – it worked.
We’ve since continued along the “Emerald Coast,” which is nothing less than spectacular. Yes, it is a bit more populated and there are towering condos on the beach, but the water is green, really really green, and the sand is as white as sugar. Not a bad place to chill for a while. Torben picked up on a small sign on the side of the road leading to a Florida State RV Resort (meaning Full hook-ups!). The only one of its kind I believe. Jackpot again!! The sites are wide and spacious and there is a tad of manicured “natural” landscape between each site that helps create the feeling of peaceful seclusion. We can take a private sandy trail one mile through pine and palms and end up on a (rare) undeveloped beach. This place is amazing. If you’re in need of a vacation from the cold grey skies pack your bags and head here. A pina colada and a sun umberlla is calling your name.
Several months ago I met the most amazing woman. Her name is Carrie and she is an energy worker. She cleansed my chakras. Yup, that’s right. I was open to the “chakra cleansing”, if nothing else, for the experience, one more thing on my list of “I did that’s”. But as it turned out, the experience was much more. On the outside, same me, but on the inside I felt as if I had been washed by a tidal wave. This woman was incredibly intuitive and having only spent a few minutes talking with me she laid me on a table and I closed my eyes while she did her thing and directed my energy channels. I felt a wave of release, like colors flooding my consciousness, swirling at first, then falling into a gentle rhythm and flowing together as if they have always been flowing that way. A few minutes later she was done and all I had to show for it was a little dizziness. Then we discussed our experiences. She said my energy reminded her of a bohemian gypsy and a pioneer, and that although I was an “old soul” some of my energy points were small and I tended to view things through neophyte eyes. I was shocked silent.
I have all my life searched for a way to describe how I saw myself, coming up short in 34 (almost) years and yet here was this woman, barely an acquaintance, telling me who I was with words that fit as good as my own skin. Speechless I tell you, speechless. I previously used words like hippy-chic and earthy to describe myself, which I don’t think are too off balance, but certainly not as colorful and exciting as a bohemian and pioneer. I have spent some time feeling my way around in this new self description. I like it. I'm keeping it.
My husband and I took this sabbatical from our careers to explore our creative, intuitive and spiritual sides. Until recently I have felt this was best done privately.
Now I’m not so sure. My chakra experience has me believing that to truly learn anything I have to open myself up and share this small part of myself with others. Apparently I could do it flat on my back on a stranger’s table, so why not with y’all? You guys have been with me flying over Sedona, running from bears in California and jumping over tarantulas in the Rio Grande. Though somehow sharing this part seems like a much bigger mountain to climb.
I’m working with the most wonderful life coach. She is helping me to see that my uncertainty about this greater spiritual side is not a deficit in my understanding, but rather a blessing of my own curiosity. In order to explain where I want to go, I think it best if I fill you in on where I have been before you were reading along with me. As a psychologist I was granted a special pass to the inner world of people’s thoughts and emotions and I felt so honored to be escorted through such a private garden of hope. But often I felt restricted by mandates of the profession. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly support the ethical guidelines that preserve our practice. But sometime, well, most of the time, we don’t have all the answers and we are limited to using methods that have been empirically validated (more on that later).
I cannot explain why cognitive restructuring is an insurance approved treatment for depression but giving someone a hug and praying with them isn’t. But truthfully, they both work. There have been so many times sitting in my therapist’s chair that I longed to cross the room and openly embrace a client as he/she struggled with an issue, to hug them lovingly or stroking their hair (the way my Mom used to do to us girls). But there is an invisible boundary we must not cross. I respect the boundary, but I question it. Empirically validated treatment means a manner of reducing symptoms with a technique that has been tested to be effective. The goal of this is to keep people from using quacky treatments (like rolling people up in a rug to symbolize rebirthment - seriously, it was done). So I am in complete agreement with the use of standardization, but I guess my own perspective tends to question who/what decides the scale of measurement on healing a heart? What is a valid indicator for someone may not be for another. This tension between loving what I did and examining the line that measures it was a constant force in my work.
Discussing this with my life coach got me thinking of other invisible boundaries. They definitely exist, though I cannot pin point them as easily. But there is something beyond those boundaries that brings color to life. I cannot, with all my academic degrees and postdoctoral certifications, explain what happens when someone prays…I only know that it works. And I do believe in energy fields; when we focus our attention with intention something shifts, grows, expands. Why? Got me. The beauty of science helps us to better understand the mysterious phenomenon of life…how cells multiply and divide…but it cannot offer us an explanation of why.
This is a big issue for me. Even as a small child I would annoy my parents with this one word question: “Why?” and to their horror I learned to use it in a sentence, “Why does the earth rotate? Why does the heart beat? Why do people get mad? Why? Why? Why? My parents did the best they could to placate the curiosity of this insatiable child, but their answers always prompted more questions. So it came to be that I chose a professional path that encouraged me to question…everything. But happiness, as in my profession, and the essence of what brings color to our lives, seems to defy explanation. Have you ever been in the right place at the right time and felt as if the universe lined up this moment just for you? That’s how I met my husband. Who can explain how Angels walk among us? I know an Angel has been by my side at several times in my life, I have seen her (she was beautiful, by the way). Conversely I have felt the chill of a sinister presence, it was eerie and unmistakable. My best friend has an aura, it precedes her, when she wants to communicate with me she just sends out a universal wish and I feel it. In all our 15 years we have never read it wrong. I don’t know how these things happen, but they seem to, at least for me. On this trip I have experienced foretelling visions, some good, some bad, but all have come true. Déjà vu and outer body experiences fit in this arena, but what else? I have seen at least three things fly across the night sky in a pattern and speed that defy explanation, or at least any explanation I can offer.
The more I begin to open myself up to these things, the more I feel like the science that supports my profession would question my own judgment or the validity of my experiences. So I am faced with a dilemma…do I admit to these unexplainable mind-blowing phenomenon and risk being ostracized by the academic and medical community? Or do I share my experiences with transparency, knowing they could render some criticism, yet hoping that someone (one of you perhaps?) can help answer some of my questions? Against all scientific logic I am choosing to be transparent because I believe I am not the only one. Who else has experienced these phenomena? While you may not be able to offer a sound explanation as to why these things happen (although I am not giving up hope), perhaps it is only your validation that I seek. If you too have wondered if there is more to life than what we can see with the naked eye and touch with our sturdy hands let me know. Let us collaborate our experiences. Maybe by compiling our curiosities we can make sense of the bigger picture, the one I know exists but cannot yet see. What is really going on in this universe of ours?
By the way, did you hear that an entirely NEW solar system has been discovered? Some scientists believe a few of the planets have prime conditions to house LIFE on them. What do you make of that? It excites me! I feel like we are destined to connect with something so much greater than we can wrap our arms or even our conscious little minds around. Our immense ability to love and create was meant for something….I wonder what.
Please email me your thoughts on this. I am eager to learn more. So for now, this is your nomadic bohemian gypsy wishing you celestial peace. Oh, and Happy Elvis Day.