Perfectionary in Isla Scotland

Perfectionary And Other Made-Up Words

Perfectionary in Isla ScotlandOne of my favorite bookmarks that I picked up at a chocolate shop (Vegan no less) has the word perfectionary in bright colors across one side. Well, actually it doesn’t. It says confectionary but I somehow always read it as perfectionary and it has turned into one of my favorite words. I love made up words. I don’t create them deliberately; they just come out of my mouth here and there. Perfectionary evokes such a sweet and wonderful image to me, particularly as it relates to people I know and love. And undeniably everyone is perfectionary in my opinion. Life is perfectionary.

New words are created all the time for companies and brands. The pharmaceutical industry employs people who spend their days creating names for their drugs that go to market. They want them to roll off the tongue better then the chemical drug names. So yes, new words appear all the time. But the word creation I speak of is spontaneous.

Erik and Rachel By Vivian CrozierMaking up words as they speak is something that I know many people do. I started creating words when I was fairly young. Kids do that all the time. Word play and word creation indeed runs in my family. My brother Erik created my company name Wondrance and named our grandma Coco and one of our cats Rugashey (I have no idea of the spelling). Those words stuck. My dad had lists of words that he created over the years. A number of them show up in his poems, including Ballahoodleness and Poetographics. Another of his poems comes from my word creation.

GRANDMA RAYS*Hani Mama

It is as if
Grandma
Exists at
An infinitely remote
Star
Beyond galaxies,
Ancient in time,
Allpowerful anodyne,
Beaming concern
At us grandchildren;
Powerful and sweet
Her childlike eyes
Touching us
Everlastingly,
Her delicate love
Penetrating us,
Altering our genes
With her ubiquitous
Grandma rays.

*One morning we left Grandma, Hani Mama, who is about 92, waving at us, smiling her love, standing in her white flowing nightgown, childlike. Rachel said, “Look at her, beaming her Grandma Rays at us!”

© Robert E. Mueller 8/9/77
Property of the estate of Robert E. Mueller

Mueller Family 1962 with Coco

Making up words I suppose is just a mind’s way of expressing something that no other word seems to fully capture. And it feels natural and yet magical at the same time. But I haven’t done a good job of keeping track of them. Sometimes they stick, but mostly they come and go as easily as the days and nights pass by.

xoxo Rachel

 

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Anubis and Horus in our NYC apartment

Animals In My Life

Anubis and Horus in our NYC apartmentIt is a bitter cold, yet beautiful sunny day today. The trees are glistening because many of their branches are still encased in ice. As I sit here in my warm and sunny office writing I noticed there is a family of deer grazing on the southeastern facing hillside across from our property. There are several inches of snow on the ground but they seem to be finding vegetation here and there. I wonder to myself, “where do they live—where do they sleep at night?” And my thought in reply was “I hope they have a cave to cuddle up in.” Of course I then did a little Internet research and not surprisingly deer don’t sleep much at night, tending to be cautious of predators. When they do get some shut-eye in winter, they might find some low branches of conifers to hide under. Mostly they stay warm by staying in motion and consuming whatever they can find.

Dad with our goatI am so grateful that I live on a quiet property where the wild animals roam. We have deer, an occasional red fox, skunk, squirrels, raccoons, wild turkey and chipmunks and we’ve even been visited by a black bear. And though I was very frustrated that the deer ate so many of my beautiful flowers when I first started our garden twenty some odd years ago, at this point I seem to have found a balance of plants they don’t care about and a few that I spray with stinky stuff to keep them away.

MinuI deeply love animals. Growing up we always had pets. There were goats, swans, gerbils, guinea pigs, and we always had a cat. When I was very young we had a cat that I don’t really remember much at all though my brother who is older does. Most of my memories are of our dark calico cat named Minu who at some point gave birth to a litter on my lime green painted cast iron bed. Minu was just always a part of my life from grammar school through high school. It wasn’t until much later that Andy and I adopted two kittens from a local shelter, Anubis our grey short-hair tabby and his brother Horus our orange long-hair tabby.

Anubis finds a great spot!Anubis and Horus were the loves of my life for 15 and 11 years respectively. I noticed yesterday that I no longer imagine hearing them padding around the house like I did for over a year after each had passed away. But then of course having thought about them during the day, last night I dreamed that I saw a new kitten in the house who looked just like Anubis but one eye appeared to be greyed over like it wasn’t functional. Horus being playfulWhen I woke up I began to faintly recollect many dreams over the years I have had about Horus and Anubis. One recurring strange dream was that there were more than one Anubis and Horus roaming about the house and appearing out of the nooks and crannies of our basement. I would get very upset because I couldn’t detect whether the cat in front of me was the real Anubis or Horus or the fake stand-in. I would remain worried until I woke up and determined that the genuine Anubis or Horus was safely snuggled with us.

Mom, Dad, Anubis and HorusAndy and I have been giving ourselves some grieving space since we lost Anubis in 2017. I think that my dreams are alerting me of my growing yearning for adopting another two fur babies. Just the thought of holding them closely, petting them and hearing their purring gets me calm and happy. And yet while I think of how joyful it will be to have new kittens, I realize that I will always miss and grieve Anubis and Horus. Grief doesn’t go away, it just shifts and changes. It’s just two years since my Dad died and it will be two years in June since Anubis died, so grief is present, but not as raw. Sometimes I have images of my Dad sitting on a couch with Anubis and Horus snuggled up to him. It’s a nice thought. And I look forward to snuggling up with some purring critters soon. Until then, I will continue to enjoy viewing the wild animals from my window and I send my love and kindness to all creatures great and small.

xoxo Rachel

Above Aspens in Santa Fe

Finding Peace In Nature

Above Aspens in Santa FeThe concept of communing with nature was something that I didn’t fully comprehend when I was a child. I mean I certainly recognized the beauty of nature, I just never knew how important it was to me until I became an adult. It is in hindsight that I realize how integral nature was to my experience as a child growing up in the beautiful small town of Roosevelt, New Jersey. Most of my favorite activities took place outside.

Rachel Peace GirlAs a young child I loved walking on paths from house to house through the woods. And I had special hiding place nestled among moss where I put a box of knickknacks that I had collected. The objects were important to me, but what was even more important was the magical location of the beautiful soft and fuzzy emerald green moss tucked under a downed tree trunk. Playing in the enclosure (a grassy area surrounded by bushes and trees) at the school was another favorite pastime of my friends and mine. And as a teenager, I spent nearly every evening hanging out at the bench near the store. Yes, that time was for social reasons, but it was also wonderful for me because it was outside in nature.

Fast-forward to my college years in Berkeley, California (where I met Andy) and Santa Cruz, California (where I did graduate work) and the great outdoors continued to be important to my livelihood. Most of my most poignant memories are with Andy in nature. Although Berkeley is a small city, the campus and surrounds are spectacular and filled with regal and fragrant eucalyptus trees. The campus is in the Berkeley hills so there are wondrous vistas everywhere. The rose garden and nearby parks gave me plenty of opportunities to be one with nature (though I have to admit that I was quite busy as a serious student so much of my time was spent in class and libraries.) I lived in a cooperative house with Andy and one of the key moments getting to know Andy took place on a house trip to Angel Island. As we hiked around, we talked and talked while taking in the beautiful sights. I started to fall in love with Andy among the trees and along the water edge of the San Francisco Bay area.

Rach and Andy in Santa CruzIn Santa Cruz I lived in several places, but all where within a short distance to the beach. I could easily enjoy the soothing sound of the waves crashing at times and lapping at other times along the shoreline. Unfortunately, again I was often so immersed in my schoolwork that I didn’t look up enough to take in all the splendor of nature. But I felt it nonetheless. UC, Santa Cruz is nestled among redwoods and the majesty of the trees is palpable. Simply walking from building to building and you can’t miss the energy around you. But even still I hadn’t yet fully embodied how nature impacted me.

Maui labyrinth for introspectionWhen Andy and I were traveling cross-country while I took a break from graduate school, we met a National Park Service ranger who led a session among the trees and rocks. When she asked the group, “Have you ever had an experience with a rock?” We chuckled and loved her seriousness and wonder about the rocks. We tucked that moment away and over the years have come to realize that we both have had numerous experiences with rocks and trees and nature in general. I even spent time literally tree-hugging in Sebastopol, California. Again the stately redwood trees served as a backdrop to my experience with nature. I was in an immersive leadership program that was held at a retreat center in the forest. Besides any number of amazing self-reflective and personal growth exercises, we spent a fair amount of time with the trees and up in them. We did high ropes courses where I climbed up redwood trees and did various leaps and tight rope walks while harnessed in a belay. I had many talks with the trees and I think they listened. I know I gave them regular hugs. Yes, I am that kind of crazy girl.

Labyrinth of our woodsNow that I live in Cold Spring, Andy and I are lucky to be in a house on a dirt road living among trees and streams and tons of rocks. And though we still do enjoy cities, having lived in New York City for many years, and still enjoy visiting cities when we travel, more and more we are finding that we are at our most serene state when we are communing with nature, having plenty of experiences with rocks.

xoxo Rachel

The Powerful Impact of a Master of Words

Books!I go through phases when I can’t get enough to read. I am in that circumstance right now. I drift in and out of novels and essays and works about philosophy and religion and travel and more with a kind of endless appetite. It is voracious and seems to come about this time of year and it is, I imagine, prompted by something. Though I don’t know what. I can’t stop. And then a book hits me with such a profound reaction of emotion that I am stopped. Sadness, or something I can’t quite put my finger on arises. Wanting—that’s it. I want to know everything about the author, the master of words. I want to be the author. I want to inhabit her talent. I want to inhabit her book. I want to be her friend. I want to know and love her, even though I know nothing of her other than her amazing talent as a writer.

I am relieved to realize that at least I am drawn to write after reading her book. I could be very inhibited to write. And at a certain level I am after witnessing her awesome skill. Is there some truth to my concern that I might be expecting to somehow magically be able to write like she does if I put pen to paper just having read her book. Not that I really thought that I would want to write after putting her book down. I was not expecting a piece of exquisite writing—though one can always hope for that. It’s not that at all. I just want to pour out my reactions and I must do that through writing. Not because I want to create something, but because to write is for me to process the experience and to understand, perhaps, what I am feeling.

I have swirls of emotion and a sense of a new beginning. Perhaps a new exploration of writing? What am I to do in this moment but to write? I cannot stop crying and I most certainly am feeling overwhelmed, perhaps embarrassed. But why should I feel weird about the tears? Whatever one encounters, to truly experience it is to be fully taken away with emotions. Often life experiences of all sorts can be so profound. Reading, it should not be a surprise, has such power over me. Isn’t it a wonder of literature that it can be so haunting? Just as music is very often compelling. Is that what makes her so gifted a writer? That she recognizes that to observe and to feel emotion is the essence of a life fully lived? Or is it that she has no other option than to write down her experience and it creates a masterful and intelligent story?

I imagine that she has a process of her own and she might in fact have an outline for her books. But as I read her book, it feels more like it is unraveling before my eyes, liker a river of life just being lived and felt. That is her gift. That is the startling nature of beautiful writing, beautiful music, beautiful art. I am humbled. I am grateful.  Oh, the book by the way is Outline by Rachel Cusk.

xoxo Rachel

Nest at my altar

Celebrating Vernal Equinox

Nest at my altarHappy spring! Even though it is lightly snowing outside at the moment, last night marked the vernal equinox—the time when light and dark are equal lengths—signifying the start of spring. I attended a celebration and ceremony to honor the day. The beautiful experience with a small group of loving women reminded me of some very important components to living a joyful life. The details vary from person to person, but some of the elements of a fulfilling life are the same for everyone.

Community
Finding a group of people with whom you truly connect is important for most of us. Some people have the need to connect with many others, others are happy with passing connections here and there. I have the need for deep connection with just a few people. When I can get together with like minded folks, I am very joyful. Finding the group or groups that serve your needs isn’t easy. It is not unlike dating when you have to meet lots of people before you find the right one. But it is worth it when you find a community where you feel welcome, at ease and can be yourself. Last night was the perfect community for me.

Play and Crafting Is Needed
As part of the festivities last night, we did a craft project. We got sticky with glue and pieces of yarn and raffia and this and that and made little nests to welcome the nurturing rebirth of spring. What I observed among our small group was how each woman was deeply engaged in creating a unique object. There was a beautiful child-like silliness reflected in everyone’s face. And there was joy and playfulness abounding. Yet engaging in arts and crafts can bring up so many different emotions and past experiences. Perfectionism, messiness, skill, competition, happiness, and sadness might emerge to name a few. I have to say that I was a bit disconnected during the crafting and was overwhelmed with a jumble of emotions. After the fact, I think I know why.

Being With Others While Taking Care of Yourself
I am very disrupted by evening events in general. I have yet to learn how to manage being with others in the evening in a way that takes care of myself at the same time. I almost consider myself a nighttime hermit. So how do I reconcile my night hermit tendencies with the want and desire to connect deeply with people I care about? My inclination is to say, “Skip the evening events.” And I do try to find ways to nurture deep connections during the day. But that isn’t always possible so I go to evening things here and there. If it is the right community for me (as it was last night), the benefits outweigh the downsides. Nonetheless, finding a balance between being with others and taking care of myself is my area for exploration and growth.

I am easily thrown by hunger or cold. Last night I was hungry and cold while we were crafting—though at the time I doubt I would have been able to articulate that was the issue. I hadn’t eaten for more hours than I usually go. I had under-dressed. Had I had enough self-awareness last night to notice my feelings, I would have had a snack and put on more layers. Perhaps I needed to center myself with some quiet time in another room to calm the mishmash of emotions. Whatever the method, taking care of your own needs while you are with others is important. For me it doesn’t stop with the event.

After any evening event, I continue to have to work to take care of myself. Unwinding is a huge deal for me. I have difficulty stopping my mind after an evening of stuff. Whether it is good stuff or bad stuff doesn’t matter. I tend to have difficulty silencing my thoughts after an evening out. I have always preferred to go to bed early and to be in a calm state before I sleep. As a kid, I hated sleepovers and didn’t like staying up late, as everyone else seemed to enjoy. These days I usually read just before bed, but if the material is too engaging even that can impede my sleep. Disengaging with thoughts is a huge part of mindfulness meditation and I skill that I am always practicing. Having been with others last night, I had a particularly difficult time unwinding. Yet it was worth it to be with such a compassionate group.

Compassion For Others
A few weeks ago in one of my meditation groups (another one of my communities) we discussed Wise Intention also known as Right Intention as part of our exploration of The Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism. The eight areas are Wise (or Right) View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration. What struck me in our study was how consistent this philosophy is with other canons of religion across time. Although there are certainly differences in how one is to think about these concepts (in the Buddhist approach it is not something to take as blind faith but instead is a guideline for self-exploration and discovery), they speak to some of the same underlying principles. Broadly speaking the overall way of The Noble Eightfold Path is through compassion for others and for ourselves. Have the intent to be kind, and think and act in accord with that intention. Not only is that the right/wise/ethical thing to do, but you will also encourage peace with the world, yourself and others.

My realization that there is a connective thread of compassion across religions makes me feel more confident that we beings understand deeply in our core, no matter who we are or when we lived, that how we treat others and ourselves creates our experience of life. Being with other people and sharing loving kindness creates a rich and loving life for yourself and others. So simple and yet so profound.

Last night was a real application of Wise everything! Well most everything. I will continue to explore how to balance my discomfort around evening energy with wanting to be with other magnificent people. Six amazing women gathered to honor the cycle of life, enjoy a delicious plant-based meal and play together was a joyful expression of compassion. How lucky I am!

xoxo Rachel

My Life Journey Is To Question Everything

Rachel in Hawaii 1981We are all on a journey through our own experience of life. Lately I have been experiencing a great sense that an important part of my developmental path is to reveal how much I connect with questions of mind, body and soul. Call it spiritual, call it whatever you like, I am outing myself as someone who is woo-woo (if you haven’t already figured that out from my other blogs ☺).

Growing up I never felt comfortable with religious inquiries because I was never educated in it so it felt foreign and made up to me. From my limited exposure I though religion only meant that you believed in some humanoid male figure in the sky called god. As I understood, it was not grounded in human experience. That made no sense to me and so I never explored religion in any shape or form. However, as an adult I drifted towards awe and wonder of the natural world. And my academic interest included intuition and heart-focused thought. There is no doubt I was drawn to my career as a psychologist because of my interest in how and why we perceive and interact with the world the way we do. I always questioned. I have always been spiritual even if I didn’t identify it as such. It’s not religion. It’s my huge need to keep learning and exploring what it means to be human, what it means to think, feel and experience our conscious life.

My beloved tarot cardsAs part of my reflection and exploration of my spiritual life journey, I am seeking clues in my past. And there are many connections throughout the years. Early ones are fainter in my memory but it should not be a surprise that I wanted Tarot cards which my mom gave when I was about eight. I adored those cards and kept them safe all these years. I wish I still had my Ouija board. In terms of practices and beliefs it is clear that peace and equality were important to me from an early age. Children’s liberation, recycling, woman’s equality and peace marches are anchors in my childhood memories.

Marrying Susan and KevinMan’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl was an important book to me when I started college. And though I probably could articulate in my twenties that my personal search for meaning was through my academic and scientific psychology work, at its core, my search has always been deeply philosophical and spiritual. In my thirties I was so focused on my career that I have few memories of seeking spiritual knowledge. I did, however, have numerous moments of questioning the purpose of it all. I felt great dissatisfaction with work even though there was much to enjoy. I had existential crises often. That led me to life coaching—a way to connect my longing for personal life meaning with work to help others. As part of my training as a life coach I was exposed to Native American and Buddhist philosophies. My training as a celebrant more recently brought ceremony and ritual into focus for me and stretched me in new directions. All wonderful additions to my quest for more discoveries about my humanity.

Anubis and HorusThis past year my journey into veganism has reconnected me to my great love of animals. And I feel closer to all of nature through nourishing my body with plant foods of the earth. It is all connected and feels so grounded and on target for what I am looking for. Woo-woo implies a more frivolous and airy image and that is not it at all for me. Yes, I do love to go up into the clouds to get the big-picture view of things. I love to ponder and hypothesize and wander and explore in my head and my heart. And yet it is very grounded in the earth and in the natural world. I certainly did not choose Love Beauty Peace as my mantra without reason. Those three images are very clear aspects of how my spiritual view of the world manifests. Love connects me with everything including other beings and myself. Beauty is my awe as I energetically connect, often through gaze, at the wonders of the world. And peace is both my immense desire to see peace among all people as well as that inner calm that I feel when I experience gratitude for my life. Those concepts have not just been with me as an adult. They guided me every step of my life through my formal and personal education.

Rachel Peace GirlAs I see it now, I have always had a deep need to find personal meaning and that is in itself so very fulfilling to me. Even as I grasp that I may never fully understand and will always be looking, it is in that practice of my own growth that I am so deeply rewarded. There is absolutely no end goal in my mind. I don’t really care as much about the absolute truth as I do about the relative truth for me. The truth as I can make sense of it. The truth as it reveals itself to me. Even if I try to articulate what I believe, it doesn’t really matter whether others understand my perspective. Even if I could articulate it well enough for others to understand, it is my view alone, just as your view is yours alone. Sure it is possible that you were taught a particular worldview. We all were. But even if you followed a strict canon, it still is your interpretation and that brings in your own personal slant. I am getting greater comfort with the concept that it doesn’t really matter what it is that I believe specifically, but rather how I comport myself in this world, how I am, how I treat others, including animals and the natural world. Love, beauty, peace fits me well and I am realizing that I came out of my mom’s womb with those words scribed into my body, heart and soul.

xoxo Rachel

Robert Mueller "Fronds"

The Splendor of Colors

Colorful spools of thread from Cotton and SteelThis past week while I was in Denver tagging along on my husband’s business trip, I visited my friend Sarah who is a fabulous knitter. She needed to pick up some buttons and yarn so I joined her on a yarn trek. The first store we went into was sweet but very small. Then we went to a yarn and other craft store mecca called Fancy Tiger Crafts.  All I can say is wow!

The main thing that captured my eye was the abundance of color and texture in every direction. There were shelves of yarns in colors of all the rainbow. The bolts of fabric that lined several walls had small prints, large prints, in rich colors and in pastels. The ribbons and trims were like strips of candy that I wanted to devour. One of my favorite racks was of every-color-imaginable spools of thread produced by Cotton + Steel. But what made them even more spectacular was the fact that each spool was a contrasted color to the thread.  Just delectable!

I found that I had a huge smile plastered on my face the entire visit to the store. And everyone there seemed happy too. I attribute it to the color (and of course all the lovely woman working there and shopping there who were into crafts of all sorts). I know that color is important to me but what I forget is how color impacts me viscerally. I feel color melt over me and bathe me in bliss.

Yarn ColorEvery October for the past several years since I gave knitting a try, I have been going to the NY State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck. It turns out that knitting wasn’t the craft for me—perhaps one day I’ll try again—but I am grateful that I learned about this fair because of having taken knitting lessons with a sweet young woman who knitted herself a different sweater each year to wear to the event. The fair is a delightful combination of crafters and furry animals and of course color! Set in the fall against the backdrop of trees turning magnificent hues, the rows upon rows of yarn skeins in every color and weight imaginable are indeed eye candy.

Goat loveTaking in everything visually is a way to boost my happiness. Because how can you not smile when you get to pet an angora bunny that is a giant white fluff ball? And how can you not giggle at the variety of unusual looking goats and sheep with their coats that range from curly locks to soft long fleece. And don’t forget the sometimes silly and yet beautiful llamas. And the range of natural colors: browns and creams and golden hues and blacks and warm shades of all sorts. The lovely animal’s downy or coarse fur is the starting point for the beautiful and colorful yarns. Whether the wool that gets spun into yarn remains natural or gets dyed in every color imaginable, the result is a kaleidoscope of joy.

Robert Mueller "Fronds"I get lost in color. I revel in it. One of my favorite activities is staring at one of my Dad’s large acrylic abstract paintings. Sometimes I dive into the middle of the painting. Other times I start at an edge and follow a color as it shifts into different shades and meanders across the canvas. Although he painted with oil for years and the colors are deep and rich in those pieces, when he shifted to acrylics the colors exploded for me. I live to float through the world with my eyes open while I absorb all the magnificent colors.

xoxo Rachel

Viewing the solar eclipse

Watching The Sky and Astrological Events

Monday, as pretty much everyone knows, was a solar eclipse. In our house, astrological events are fairly important and this one was no exception. Andy rigged a great viewing apparatus based on recommendations from the Nasa website. Basically he projected the sun and moon through binoculars on to an angled cardboard. My mom came over and together we asked the clouds to be kind to us so that we could view the eclipse. Mostly the clouds listened. And so with delight we watched the path of the moon eclipse the sun.Viewing the solar eclipse 2017

I have always enjoyed looking up into the sky. As a girl growing up in Roosevelt, New Jersey, we were far away enough from any major light sources from larger towns or cities that our night sky was very visible. I am not certain how old I was—probably seven or eight—when one of my friend’s parents started an astronomy club. I loved going to the weekly club meetings for a number of reasons.

For one, we met at his house in “The Estates” which was a new-ish 1960s sub-division. The Estate’s houses were so modern and so different from the rest of the Roosevelt houses. At least they were to me and in comparison to the rest of town. Most of Roosevelt was designed by Louis Kahn and built in the 1930s. Secondly, we met on a school night so it felt somehow exciting to be doing something fun and unusual when we’d otherwise be at home. And third, I remember that they served yummy snacks that, whatever they were, were different from what we ate at home. I can’t say that I remember all that much about our stargazing but I know that I absolutely loved learning about the various constellations.

Another important astrological viewing that stands out in my mind took place on August 11th, 1980. “How can I remember that actual date?” you might ask. Well, the Persied meteor shower peaks about August 10th-13th each year and I know that I was one year out of college so it had to be 1980. As for the specific date—believe it or not—I have my diary from that year that adds a unique twist to this tale. Anyway, my friend Nathalie and I went to Cape Hatteras National Park all by ourselves to get away for a few days. It was a big deal that we drove all the way to North Carolina on our own. We pitched a tent and camped out right near the dunes!Nathalie at our campground 1980

Several events mark that trip. We went out for dinner to a local spot and ate these yummy things called hushpuppies that I had never had before. I have never since had such excellent fritters in my life—or at least my memory claims that. The second and fairly disturbing event happened when I was about to write in my diary. In fact, I just pulled out that diary from my bookshelf to confirm all this. Apparently sometime while at home, my ex-boyfriend had read some of my diary and left me a chilling response. Fortunately, Nathalie was there to help me through that emotional upheaval.Rachel at Cape Hatteras 1980

As if that wasn’t enough, as nighttime unfolded, we thought the sky was literally falling! The sky wasn’t actually falling, but being out on a cape in the complete dark gave us a spectacular location from which to view the Perseid meteor shower. I didn’t actually know that was what it was until decades later. I just assumed that we got to see lots of shooting stars. Many years later, Andy and I started to watch the Persieds each summer from our hammock in Cold Spring. And as it turns out, when the Persieds pass closest to Jupiter, there are more meteors and they appear brighter. That occurred in 1921, 1945, 1968, 1980, 2004 and 2016. I just happened to be in the perfect viewing location on one of the perfect dates!

I have a mixed feeling about gazing at the stars. Mostly I love to watch these various happenings in the sky. I find it magical, delightful and spectacular. However,  if I think too deeply about how I fit into the universe and what human existence is when I am watching something unusual in the sky, I can spiral into existential panic. It is hard to explain if you are unfamiliar with the experience but it manifests itself as a physical whirling in my body. When I have an existential attack—and I have had them since I was in my twenties I would guess—it is as if my mind gets so involved in the thoughts that I get dizzy and overwhelmed. Historically I haven’t allowed myself to sit with the sensations for very long and try to change my thoughts so that it goes away in a minute or so. But I think that the next time an existential crisis happens, I might allow myself to practice a mindful approach and see what more I can learn from that experience. What I do know for sure is that looking up has particular significance to me. Whether watching the clouds (see Cloud Hopping) or the night sky, the heavens above have a great impact on my life on the ground.

xoxo Rachel

Kitties Commuting

Horus in a shoeboxI have such wonderful memories of bringing up our two cats, Horus and Anubis with my husband Andy. They completed our family of four. Our cat Anubis, who is nearing sweet sixteen, is getting very close to the end of his life. We had to say goodbye to his brother Horus five years ago and we still miss him and all the silly noises and stunts he did. Horus loved to squeeze into the smallest box possible. And he would throw his body on the ground and make the sweetest sound as he rolled over to expose his tummy. Anubis’s main stunt—until his senior years—was jumping for his scrunchy ball. We called it his Pelé move. I have a movie of him somewhere that I can’t seem to find.

AnubisWe adopted the two of them from Little Orphan Animals in Peekskill, NY though at the time we were living in New York City and only stayed in Cold Spring, NY on the weekends. I first met our kittens at their foster home in Putnam Valley, NY where they were staying with their five siblings after being rescued from the side of the road. The foster home was fairly large and had many different rooms filled with cats and dogs of different ages and types. They even had a separate room upstairs with a screened-in porch for several cats with feline leukemia. That room was well isolated from the others to prevent spreading of the disease.

Horus sleeping on my workThe newest addition to the foster home was a litter of mewing kittens. They were only about a week old so they were little itsy bitsy things and easily fit into the palm of my hands. I got to pick out our two kittens and I selected Horus for his beautiful orange coat and Anubis for his loud purr. Anubis is still our purr-bucket. Horus was named after the Egyptian god of the sun and Anubis after the god of the underworld.  Egyptians idolized their cats as I obviously do.

Andy and Anubis readingOnce the kittens were a couple of weeks older, the foster parents brought them to us in Cold Spring and did a home visit to make certain we would be good parents and had a safe home in which to care for them. I love that they took animal adoptions so seriously—we certainly did. Initially we kept Horus and Anubis in our guest room in Cold Spring so that they didn’t have too big of a place to contend with. But we had to get back to the city for work so thus began kitty commutation.

Mom and Dad and their grandkitties Anubis and HorusAnubis and Horus were small enough that they easily fit into a single cat carrier. And that was a good thing because come Monday morning we grabbed our bags and our kittens and took the train to the city. Our city apartment was small enough that they could go anywhere though we tried at first to keep them out of our bedroom at night. That didn’t last long. Little scratching paws at our door was enough for us to cave. Our cats slept with us from then on. Have you seen Simon’s Cat video?  Well, that just about captures our life with our kittens in the morning though they never hit us with a bat.

Anubis and MeKitty commutation continued each week: to Cold Spring by train on Fridays after work and to the city on Monday mornings. The kittens seemed to take it in stride. They were wee things and the cat carrier was still a palace to them—for a while anyway. In a few months we graduated to two cat carriers, which made things a lot more difficult. At the time Andy was working really long hours so sometimes I was carrying two cat carriers by myself on an earlier train.

Baby Horus and Anubis snugglingNot that I am complaining—but then Horus and Anubis did. They decided that they really didn’t like the train. The sounds that emerged from their carriers caused quite a stir among the Metro-North passengers. It was time for Andy and me to graduate to car commuting.

Our Toyota TercelIn 1995 we had bought a used 1989 Toyota Tercel in Freehold, NJ while we were visiting my parents. That was just before we bought our Cold Spring house and well before we adopted the kittens. Until the kitty train commuting got out of hand, we simply kept the Tercel at the Cold Spring train station parking lot during the week—for free! We talked to the village police who said that it was no problem leaving the car there because they regularly checked the station. They wrote down our license plate and phone number just in case. Can you imagine that happening now? That certainly is worlds ago. Now the station is all paid parking and the MTA police definitely do not have our phone number.

Anubis can jump high!Anubis and Horus continued to grow and we continued to travel back and forth and back and forth between Cold Spring and New York by car for about ten years. In 2001 we bought a new Toyota Rav4 so Anubis and Horus had pretty nice digs during a few years of their commuting. Horus was always pretty laid back about cruising in the car. Anubis—not so much. Anubis never found anything good about car travel. But fortunately we have been living full-time in Cold Spring for some time now and kitty commuting—and work commuting in general—is a thing of our past.

Babies in a basketI am so grateful that I had a couple of years full-time with Horus by my side—sometimes in my lap—while I was working from home. And I love that I can be with Anubis all day now. I will miss him so much. Anubis and Horus will forever be my little boys.

xoxo Rachel

Andy & Rach at VLA

The Expansive Sky of New Mexico

Andy & Rach in Santa FeAfter way too long of not getting away, Andy and I finally went on a vacation this month. We went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a location that we first visited when we took a month-long road trip together when we were dating—32 years ago (see The summer of love—cross-country ramblin’ with my man in 1985.)

Andy in the Santa Fe mountainsWe have been back to Santa Fe several times since then and I always have the same reaction. I absolutely love to visit but cannot imagine living there. I am most definitely an east coast girl and tend to prefer the flora and fauna of the northeast. However, there is nothing quite like the expansive sky of New Mexico.

Ceramic balls at JackalopeWhen we visit Santa Fe, we spend as much time in the greater surrounding areas as we do in the actual town of Santa Fe (though I certainly do love everything in town including museums, southwestern food, jewelry shopping in the plaza and perusing the store called Jackalope).  This trip was no different. We drove north of Santa Fe into the mountains for the spectacular views of aspens and panoramic views of New Mexico. We drove south of town to visit the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

Rach & Andy at Tent RocksThe hike in this National park is one of our favorite destinations when we go to Santa Fe. The last time we tried to visit in 2010, the dirt road out to the park—which runs through a reservation—was being paved, so it was closed. We were certainly happy that it was open on this trip seven years later. Presumably they finished the paving many years ago 🙂

Rachel Andy Jane PaulBig sky, small world. Andy and I were just at the start of the trail up to the top of the park when we stopped to take pictures of where we were headed. I turned around as two people approached and then exclaimed, “Jane!” One of my best friends from high school, who I haven’t seen in about seven years, was hiking with her husband Paul on this same trail! Sure there are only two trails in this particular park, but there aren’t that many people at the park at any given time. And what is the likelihood of meeting someone you know on vacation who lives in a different state? It is indeed a small world.

Tent RocksWhat a treat it was to catch up as we were standing there in the desert. We let them go ahead of us because I knew we would take our sweet time climbing the trail (I experience altitude sickness). Then we met up with them again at the top of the monument and continued to talk and take pics. Even though we were in an unusual location, our conversation was as if we had just seen each other two days ago. What I love about Jane and Paul is that Andy and I can easily take up our conversation anytime. The serendipity of that meeting was certainly a highlight of the trip, helped by the dramatic backdrop of the expansive New Mexico sky.

The VLAAnd though most of the expansive views we witnessed on this trip were of natural formations, there was one man-made view that was equally spectacular. We drove three hours south of Santa Fe to visit the Very Large Array.  The VLA is made up of 28 telescopes that each have an 82-foot wide dish with 8 receivers tucked inside. The telescopes continuously collect cosmic radio waves for research purposes like finding black holes and discovering ice on Mercury and all those kind of fun things—well fun to me! Astronomy is most definitely an area I have always loved.

Andy & Rach at VLAThe telescopes are arranged in one of four configurations that range from a bit over a half of a mile to over twenty miles apart. They are moved into their locations on specially made rail-tracks. Luckily when we visited they were in a tight formation so we could easily see all of them. When they move, they move slowly and smoothly in tandem. Andy commented that they look as if they are dancing. Quite an amazing sight to behold! I feel so grateful that Andy and I both appreciate the beauty of natural and man-made structures and share in these amazing experiences. The thrilling expansive sky of New Mexico will always be a favorite spot of ours in the world.

xoxo Rachel