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

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

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

“You Name It” Area Backroads

When Andy and I lived together in Santa Cruz, California in 1986-1988, one of our favorite TV shows was the Bay Area Backroads. Jerry Graham was the host of KRON-TV’s Bay Area Backroads from 1985 – 1993. (It turns out that the show continued non-stop until 2008 with Doug McConnell as the host after Jerry Graham retired.) Jerry would head out to some area in the greater Bay Area near San Francisco to explore locals and unique individuals along the way.

Our First Car In Cold SpringBecause of the program, Andy and my shorthand for going on a drive on smaller roads just to see the sights became the You Name It Area Backroads. In Ohio it was the Oberlin Area Backroads, In Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz Area Backroads.  And of course these days there’s the Cold Spring Area Backroads. There’s even the Roosevelt Area Backroads—though we didn’t call it that back then—that I got very familiar with when I was a young girl on drives with my mom and dad on what we called “Sunday Outings”. They were memorable meanderings around on all the small country roads near Roosevelt, with no goal in mind and no destination picked out.

The Theme song for Bay Area Backroads was Ry Cooder’s Available Space and anytime I hear Ry Cooder I feel like getting into the car and going for a drive. Although Andy and I only watched it for a few years, we are big fans of that program and even bigger fans of the You Name It Area Backroads. Just earlier this week, I took my mom to the Newburgh Area Backroads. I needed to pick something up at a store in Newburgh and my mom had never been. So we hopped into my car and, after taking care of the shopping need, cruised the neighboring backroads. We hit the waterfront and visited the historic and truly broad, Broadway. We drove under the Beacon-Newburgh Bridge to the north town area that has wonderful historic mansions all the way up to the edge of the Hudson River.

We continued our backroads tour heading north to the Walkway on the Hudson, though we hadn’t intended to go that far. We were on the lookout for The Buttermilk Falls Inn which we finally found after we had turned back from the Mid Hudson Bridge. Llamas and goats and duck and geese were roaming around the lovely grounds of the spa and inn. We never got out of the car—that’s part of the plan with one of our You Name It Area Backroads drive. You can get out of the car if you want, but you needn’t. The drive itself is the destination, watching the world go by and stumbling on various sights and stores and food places and whatever.  And of course the company you keep is the biggest plus.  Driving with my mom was a perfect outing.

The You Name It Area Backroads phrase can apply to any area you are visiting. So even if you are just visiting, if you have a car rental and want to explore, go right ahead and check out that area backroads. You can really get a great sense of the area when you stray from the well-known spots. Yet I am most fond of intimately getting to know where you live through this method. Just head out in any direction from your home and take turns here and there as you follow your nose in whatever direction seems promising for some reason.

Sometimes when we are out driving I will remember a place that I have wanted to check out for some time—such was the case with the Buttermilk Falls Spa and Inn. Other times we will note places that we want to come back to actually visit—not having the desire or energy to get out of the car at that time. Most of the time it doesn’t really matter. Andy and I might be singing along or listening to music, though more often we are pointing out sights to each other and chatting away. However it occurs, You Name It Area Backroads is a wonderful way to spend time with people you love while enjoying the unique surrounds and places that you will inevitably find on your jaunt.

xoxo Rachel

Beach Trips With My Mom

Mother and Daughter Turks and CaicosOver the years my Mom and I have spent time together at the beach more times than I can count. As young kids, my Mom would take my brother and me to the Jersey Shore with other moms who also had small children. Although I have one photo that proves that my Dad went to the beach with us at least once, I suspect that was one of the few times he joined us.  When I got a bit older, my brother also remained at home more often—though there was a memorable trip to Atlantic City with him. Thus began many years of my mom and me going to the beach together.

Muellers at Jersey ShoreMostly our mother-daughter trips were on weekends to nearby Manasquan, NJ while I was still living at home. Later, after I had left home for college, we went to the beach together for daytrips whenever I stayed with my parents on visits in the summer. And a few times we went a bit farther and stayed overnight in Cape May, NJ.

Erik-Rachel-Atlantic-CityCape May was particularly familiar to my Mom at the time, because she had a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Reorganization case involving beach properties there. In fact, we had a lovely dinner at one of her client’s properties while we visited one time. We enjoyed the downtown shops and food, but most of the time we spent on the beach.

While at the beach we sat under an umbrella with lots of magazines and books that we barely looked at. Instead, we talked and talked and talked. My Mom and I never lack for conversation topics. Whether light and bantering or deep and big-picture reflective, our talking style is rather fast-paced and engaging. The beach is a perfect place for spending hours doing nothing but talking. What could be better?

Erik-Mom-RachelIn my 30s, I went to Florida for work nearly twice a month because I had a remote team based in Dunedin, near Tampa and Clearwater. Thus began another phase of beach trips with my Mom were she accompanied me to Florida. While I was at work during the day, she hung out at the beach or pool in Clearwater and I joined her at the end of the day. I’ll never forget the sweet feeling of being sent off to work for the day by my Mom. It was almost like she was seeing me off for grammar or high school. And then when I returned to the hotel room, what a treat to have my Mom greet me instead of being alone on a business trip. We always stayed over the weekend so that I could also have some time with her on the beach.

Rachel-at-the-beachI no longer travel to Florida regularly for work so now Mom and I just find excuses to take trips together to the beach. My Mom left New Jersey and lives near me now in New York, so going for a day-trip to the Jersey Shore isn’t as easy—but that hasn’t stopped us from making the two-hour trek occasionally. And last week we traveled even further and went to Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean to get our beach fix together during the winter.

Mom in Turks & CaicosThe trip was perfect. Blue skies, azure water, occasional fluffy clouds, a sprinkle one day for a few minutes, and a storm with downpour one evening gave us the right mix of weather to enjoy. The turf varied from day to day from fairly large waves to so calm it was almost like a lake. The sea was most inviting when there were some waves, but ones that were not too lively. I encouraged Mom to join me in the water—not something that she does often. We went hand in had into the water beyond where the waves were breaking. Together we floated over each small wave as it started its way towards the shore. With smiles and giggles, we enjoyed the undulations of the water while the bright sun beamed down on us.

Mom under the umbrella in Turks & CaicosSpending time in the room together each evening was also fun. We watched DVDs and ate food that we picked up at the local grocery store—including plenty of junk food☺. But most of all I loved spending time on the beach with my Mom. With a magazine or book in hand—again left unread—just sitting next to my Mom under the umbrella for hours of gazing out into the beautiful clear blue water in between conversations about love and life was one long magical moment.  P.S. Happy Birthday Mom!  I love you.

xoxo Rachel

The Serenity of Symmetry

The Zen of SymmetryThis morning as I entered into the already quite serene space of the Meditation Hall at The Garrison Institute I was taken aback by the arrangement of the meditation cushions. The zubuton and zafu pairs were arranged perfectly symmetrically throughout the vast space making me feel at once both breathless and calm. I couldn’t stop looking at the space and smiling at its awesomeness. We usually meditate in a small room, the annex to this large space. But surprisingly the larger space on this cold winter morning was warmer than the little annex room. So our small group of five meditators gathered in one corner of the large hall and rearranged the few cushions and chairs we needed into a small circle. I couldn’t help feeling the entire 45-minute meditation that we were somehow out of whack with the rest of the space and that we were not respecting the symmetry. And yet the calmness of the surrounding area held us beautifully.

As I meditated and focused on my breath, my periodic thoughts—among the usual monkey mind flicking around—would come back to the symmetry of the space. I live very spatially (see The Contours Of Time In My Mind Map for some more on that note), so I was quite aware that my body was at a 45° angle to the symmetrical layout. I wasn’t parallel or perpendicular—no I was exactly 45°. Had I been sitting at a different angle like 10° or 20° it wouldn’t have been a problem; it just wouldn’t have been as soothing.

Deconstructionists love to play with unpredictability, randomness and non-symmetry for good reason. Because we humans love symmetry, when things aren’t symmetrical it causes us to be jostled a bit and re-think what we are looking at. It causes us to question the laws of the universe because although there certainly is plenty of randomness in nature, there is a remarkable amount of symmetry too.

Fractal and bilateral symmetry

There are different forms of symmetry though bilateral symmetry is what we commonly recognize as symmetrical. There is something so reassuring about the bilateral symmetrical form of humans and animals and many plants. When we decorate rooms we often rely on bilateral symmetry, like having matching bedside tables and lamps to create a calm sleeping oasis. There are many different forms of symmetry in nature and fractals are one of my favorites. They are also called expanding or evolving symmetry because they are iterative and appear infinite. Crystals, mountain ranges, plants, shells, snowflakes, cloud formations and even shorelines exhibit fractal form. With so much symmetry in nature, is it not surprising how universally quieting we find symmetrical forms.Romanesco Broccoli Fractal

At the end of our morning meditation I couldn’t help but exclaim how lovely the space was set up. The leader of our group explained that their wonderful keeper of the space arranged it for a Zen group that stays at The Garrison Institute every year between Christmas and New Year’s. “But of course it is for a Zen group,” I thought to myself. Zen is calm, Zen is soothing, Zen is exactly what this symmetrical space embodied. I am so grateful to have had such a glimpse of symmetrical perfection on this day of Winter Solstice.

xoxo Rachel

Small Town Living: Idyllic Or Just A Fantasy?

Family in RooseveltI have been reading a ton of books this past month. Small books, big books, light fare and heavy stuff. Much of the lighter books are romance novels and I seem to be drawn to ones that take place in idyllic small towns. I don’t always like the tone of many of these books that rely on getting married and having lots of kids and always a dog (not that that is a bad thing, but to presume that marriage and kids and dogs is required for happiness is a bit narrow for me. Cats get no respect ☺). However, I love that they are set in fantasy small towns where even if everyone gets in each other’s business, they do it out of caring and love for each other and the community. They all have picture-perfect downtowns with a coffee shop and bookstore and cute shops and hold plenty of small-town events.Roosevelt Childhood Home

I grew up in a small town, the wonderful town of Roosevelt, New Jersey. I do feel like my childhood was idyllic, even if we didn’t have a bookstore and coffee shop. In the 60s and 70s, the town was a generous community to grow up in with deep and important connections fostered between the kids and the families. Of course I can wax nostalgic about my childhood because it is easy to gloss over any of the bad stuff when reminiscing. Nonetheless, I loved my childhood, family, friends and community. And I know that there is a lot to be said for small towns and the community and connection that they provide.

Our House And Garden In Cold SpringOnce again I live in a small town: Cold Spring, NY on the Hudson River. My experience now is quite different from my childhood for a number of reasons. Being an adult certainly changes the perspective. Yet there is most definitely a community aspect here that feels good and comforting and welcoming just like my childhood life in Roosevelt. The big difference is that not having grown up here and gone to school, I don’t know all the families like I did in Roosevelt. I just don’t have a long-term history here even though we have had this house for twenty-one years—much of that only for weekends. When you move to a town and don’t have roots there, it can take time to get to know folks. Because we don’t have any kids, we were not introduced to all the families like we would have had we had kids at the public schools. Community is essential and automatic through your kids (that is true in any size community).

So although I don’t have connections through kids, I am building my community in different ways. I am so grateful that I have a group of people who meditate and discuss readings about mindfulness and living fully present lives every week. I am fortunate that there is a lovely small library in my town and also the town next door with darling librarians who bring us together for various events. I love that I know everyone when I go to The Foundry on Saturday mornings for breakfast. I love sharing “oohs and aahs” with friends while watching fireworks at the town Fourth of July event (Roosevelt’s Fourth Of July celebration, however, wins the prize for best small town event ever!)  I am putting down roots both literally in our garden and figuratively through our connections.

My Family in Roosevelt in the 70sLest you think I am only a small town advocate, I should say that I absolutely loved living in New York City and I did indeed create a community there during the twenty years I lived in Manhattan. It is true that community can be built in large towns and cities. It just has a different quality. I did run into people I knew while I lived in the city yet in a small town the likelihood that you will bump into someone you know is much greater. This is in part because the choices for what to do are more limited and confined to a smaller area. And there are fewer people.

I think a big part of why I love living where I live is the outdoors. I lived just a block from the Hudson River in the city and could escape the city sounds and energy to go to the water’s edge from time to time. Now I have ongoing quiet and peace of the woods that gives me such inspiration and comfort and calm everyday. I guess it is not too surprising given that romance novels are often idealized fantasies, that when I read about those picture perfect small towns I fantasize about what it would be like if I lived in one of those towns. Then I have to pinch myself and remind myself that I do live there! Of course real life is not as idealized as in the books I read, but it is pretty darn close.

Home In Roosevelt until age 5What is very funny to me is that I could not wait to get out of Roosevelt while growing up. Of course that is in part because I needed to leap independently into a life of my own creation and staying at home was not the place to do that. But a big part was that I did not want to be in a small town. So I went to Boston and then to Berkeley for college. When I looked for jobs as a professor, most of the positions were in schools in small towns. So I ended up in a small town of Oberlin. Pretty quickly I found that work in a city was drawing me and not academia. When I think back I do remember that there were a lot of great things about the small town of Oberlin—I was creating a nice community. But it was not the right time for me. I was ambitious for fast paced and multitasking in work and life. I wanted the big city and all the energy that went along with it. So Andy and I went to New York for a large part of our adulthood, excelled in our careers and created a great life. And yet we needed a place to go to get away from the city here and there. So we got our place in Cold Spring for weekends.

Mandevilla Flower In My Cold Spring GardenMy friend Nathalie reminded me a few weeks ago when she was visiting from the city that I had told her some years back that I could never imagine leaving the city for Cold Spring full-time. And I do remember feeling that way. We came up to Cold Spring only for weekends and holidays for about fifteen years. And then something shifted. Part of the shift was due to a conscious choice of changing our work lifestyle. Much of it was that the small town life is more appealing now that I am in my fifties and frankly less ambitious. And I think most of all the shift was towards greater inner peace and calm, greater introspection and stillness that I can find more easily in a small town. I am now happily settled in a small town and loving the peaceful energy of this life.

Main Street Cold SpringWe do have a main street dotted with quaint shops. We used to have a bookstore but unfortunately that closed several years ago (it is hard for small bookstores to compete with the chains). There are a few nice coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and ice cream stands and of course those wonderful libraries. I have that idyllic small town life now even if I don’t have kids or know all the families yet and I have a cat not a dog. I continue to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city every now and again. In a little over an hour train ride into Grand Central, I can re-engage with the energy of the city that I still respect and love. But for now at least, small town living is idyllic to me and not a fantasy.

XOXO Rachel

The Thrill Of Doing A Back-Handspring And Other Physical Feats

Generally speaking, I am not what you would call a thrill seeker. However, there have been several times in my life when I have experienced such an adrenalin rush when I did something physically outside of my comfort zone. They stand out as moments when I felt so in my body, so filled with happy energy, and so glad to be fully awake and alive to life.

My old laundry bag from campAs a girl, I wasn’t adventurous though I liked change and was usually game to try new things. I went away for summer to YMCA Camp Ralph S. Mason camp in Northern New Jersey and did two amazing activities that pushed the envelope of what I would normally do. The first was rather modest—yet important. That summer I really found my water-legs and learned how to swim like a fish. In fact, the names of our levels were names of fish. Minnows, flying fish are two levels that I recall. I had always been fairly comfortable in water, but that summer I learned the real strokes—crawl, breast, back and butterfly. When I became one with the water, I felt so thrilled and calm at the same time. The calm came from feeling comfortable and completely safe even though I was in deep water and using new strokes. And because I passed a certain level of swimming skill, I was automatically entered into a drawing for an activity that only a handful of campers would participate in towards the end of the camp session.

Wouldn’t you know it, my name got pulled out of the hat to go for a day-trip rubber rafting on rapid waters. Just thinking about it now makes the hairs on my arms stand up. It was a good thing that I didn’t have to put my name in the hat on my own or I might not have gone on that important trip.

I was really scared. I was with a group of kids I didn’t yet know—none of my friends from my cabin or other camp activities were on the trip. And I couldn’t quite imagine what rubber rafting was. And then when we arrived at the rapids at a section of the Delaware River, I couldn’t imagine getting into those waters. We learned that we were to straddle the side of the raft. “What,” I thought, “we aren’t even safe inside the boat?” The day was long and I got a little less scared as I got more acquainted with the raft and the paddle. Mostly I was feeling the adrenaline rush of fear and less of the calm exuberance of excitement, but even so I had moments of feeling happily thrilled beyond my imagination.

Dreaming of floating in the cloudsSeveral years later when in High School, I took gymnastic classes at Alts in Princeton Junction, NJ. Although I had been taking gymnastics for a number of years on and off starting at the Y with Peri during the Olga Korbut Gymnastics craze (see Streaming Memories—Flea Markets), at this point I had a young adult body and a young adult mind with a little less fear. I remember vividly the moment I finally was able to do a back-handspring without spotters. Any activity that requires you leap backwards requires a huge amount of blind belief. Your mindset must be comfortable believing that when you leap backwards your hands will land on the floor because your legs are already in the air and you really are blind to the ground. There is that moment of letting go and knowing that your body will indeed catch yourself. That is the awesome moment of calming, thrilling, amazing liveliness!

I can count on one hand the number of times since that day at the gym that I have felt that rush that is less fear and more exuberance. I hadn’t been able to express what I felt when I did that back-handspring. I was proud of myself and I showed my parents what I learned to do, but I couldn’t articulate what I was feeling. I am certain that I was glowing after that class when I finally did the back-handspring and I am sure everyone around me saw my glow. A more recent adult experience helped me to clarify where the juice of these experiences comes from and why I loved the thrill.

Up on ropesAs part of a yearlong intensive personal and leadership development training, I went on retreats to Northern California that included a number of high-flying tasks. We did rope courses of all sorts that required we climb up tall redwood trees. Sometimes we walked across tight ropes and sometimes we jumped. We leaped to grasp other ropes, we jumped to get down with the help of belays, we did trust falls where you fall blind backwards and we jumped off while connected to a swing (see Free falling and improv up on high). I was very nervous at first but I learned that the fear was all about my mindset. Once I experienced being able to accomplish something, I could relax and let go into the bodily sensations on the next turn. I couldn’t get enough of the activities when I finally found my air-legs. Just as when I got my water-legs in summer camp, a certain amount of physical and mental mastery was all I needed to enjoy and even crave the adventure. I understood from that moment why skydivers and trapeze artists and other thrill seekers in the sky are junkies for their death defying highs. The instant of aliveness has never been so intense as it has been for me when I am in the air—suspended for a moment in my body and mind, present to life.

I just looked up Camp Mason and it still exists. In the 70s camp was to a certain extent about personal development and conquering fears, but there is so much more available these days. The camp now has a whole category of activities under the umbrella Adventure: Teambuilding, high ropes (zipline, giant swing and more), climbing wall, survival, nature hikes, aerial silks, outdoor cooking, day trips into the surrounding area. Would I have taken up skydiving as an adult if I had the opportunity to do all those high-flying feats as a kid? Perhaps…

XOXO Rachel