Transition.

28 Oct

I stepped off the plane after spending 11 days in Alaska, where the fall colors made their final brilliant showing against the barren mountains, followed by a light blanket of snow that painted the Sleeping Lady’s hair white.  I watched the frost set in, dusting Bristol Bay with a light sparkle of ice that, I suspect, will remain stubbornly in place until spring.  It felt like a real privilege to witness the changing of Alaska’s seasons.  Upon returning to Seattle’s first weeks of truly fall weather, the air felt downright tropical at 56 degrees.  Thirty six hours after my plane landed, I was in the car with J and a very good friend headed to Leavenworth to celebrate at the last weekend of Oktoberfest.  We had snacks and party pants packed, ready for a wedding 10 years in the making. 

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We had great fun at the wedding.  Partly because the couple we were celebrating is comprised of two incredible people.  Partly because we stayed in a big, beautiful log cabin with some of our closest friends.  It was cozy and easy and just really lovely.  After a big, long, exhausting, on at. all. times. because you never know who might be a potential client or important business contact trip to Alaska, it was so nice to just be with people we love and who love us back.  It was pretty simple, really.  The backdrop of bursting orange, red, yellow and green only made it lovelier. 

I am embracing the opportunity to slow down a bit, wear wool socks and create a Sunday schedule that includes nothing more than relaxing in coffee shops (hot apple cider with cinnamon whipped cream!), strolling with J through a few stores, grocery shopping, and pumpkin carving.

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Aang!

19 Oct

Aang (welcome, hello, and so much more)!  Much of my trip to Alaska was spent learning about the people and culture I grew up referring to as Aleut.  During my time in Alaska, I learned that the Aleut people don’t even have a word for “Aleut” in their native languages, two of which are currently surviving.  They refer to themselves and their way of life as Unangan.  There is a clear blend of modern and traditional in the 2012 way of life for Unangan people.  The folks I met were individually humble, capable, and proud of their people and heritage.  Many of them also had incredible talent in skills that relate to a subsistence way of life.  For a point of reference, below you will see a photo of a tiny woven basket in a master weaver’s hands—that basket, much smaller than a thimble, took 2-3 hours to weave.  The baskets that are of a useful size take a master weaver 50-60 hours (!) to create. 

Throughout my 11 days in Anchorage and King Salmon, I mostly focused on sitting still with open ears and an open heart.

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Seen in Alaska.

17 Oct

Baby moose!  For the record, I was with a (new-found) friend in a convertible BMW (yes, in ANCHORAGE in OCTOBER) with the top down when we happened upon this creature.  He did not jump in our car and his mama moose did not show her face.  We sat for awhile and admired him (her?).  Did you know all moose have light legs and a dark body?  Me neither.  Also, I’m not sure if that’s true.  But that’s what my friend told me.

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Girdwood, they said.  Take a 45 minute drive to Girdwood.  You’ll be impressed.  We were.  The colors.  The water.  The nature.  The Alaska license plate proudly supporting Obama (in an H3, of course…we can only win so many battles).  Apparently there is more to Girdwood than a gas station with a few attached “restaurants.”  We missed the “more to Girdwood” when we failed to continue driving beyond the gas station, but J and I thoroughly enjoyed our 1/4 pizza pie each.  One slice for $6.  What’s the name of said pizzeria?  Hell if I know.  But I guarantee there is only one pizzeria on the way to Girdwood from Anchorage.  That pizza slice made my day (I was at the epitome of hangry—so hungry I might have started to get angry).  J and I both looooooved that pizza slice.  Maybe for different reasons.

Let me introduce you to Chugach National Forest.  I promise you she’s pretty, even if we only saw her breathtaking, raw edges.

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Then I went to the furthest point I’ve ever been in western America.  Let me introduce you to my new favorite salty SOB (that’s Grandpa speak and it fits perfectly here) villages, King Salmon and Naknek.  It’s where some of our nation’s fisheries are situated, where fisherman roam and work hard/play hard (but apparently not in mid-October) and where the sporty types go to hunt their game and reel in their fish.  I’m neither a hunter nor a fisher, but I gained invaluable insight into a culture that is new-to-me.  I nearly pulled it off with my hunter orange Eddie Bauer flannel and grey fleece purchased 12 hours before my 30-person flight to the edge of the world.  But it turns out that my white pashmina scarf gave me away.  Out in these parts, white is a color reserved for the snow.  People don’t wear white.  It’s 100% impractical.  Lesson learned.  The game/fish guides still hanging around after the season ended, with their scruffy beards and smoky smells and Carharts and non-ironic trucker hats and stories bigger than life, knew I didn’t belong.  But they seemed willing enough to chat.

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The coast is more barren than I anticipated.  Maybe made more so with the fresh snow.  It’s flat in Bristol Bay.  Hardly any rolling hills, definitely no mountains.  There are shrubs and there are rivers.  One called Eskimo Creek!  There was blue sky, mixed with a healthy dose of grey clouds.  There were a lot of collected (read: abandoned) cars, trucks, and buses dotting yards/acres/lots of land surrounding homes/shacks/converted trailers (so it seemed to the potentially undiscerning city folk among us).  There were colorful buildings painted every color of the rainbow, which I sort of adored.  There was a restaurant on the second floor of the Naknek hotel called the D&D.  It was not for the faint of heart with its smoke-filled entryway and menu filled with fried goodness intended to stick to the guts of fisheries folks working long days in shit conditions in their Xtratufs.

Also.  There appeared to be dried blood surrounding the D&D door handle.  Can you tell the difference between human blood and fish or game blood?  Me neither.  I left it to my colleague to open the door and hoped for the best for him.  He seemed unscathed by the experience.

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And then there is this:

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The sunsets last forever here in King Salmon, I was told.  The sun angles down, making the colors linger in the twilight sky.  Likewise, my first trip to Alaska will linger for a long while.

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Find the irony

14 Oct

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It’s sure cold here.

13 Oct

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S went to Alaska for a two week business trip, so we decided that business trips could only be made better if I came for a visit. For me personally, it started off a bit stressful. I’ve been in the midst of negotiating a case for the past two weeks. Trials are a lot like a game of chicken – both sides act tough until one person gives in, realizing they don’t want to risk losing it all. For a variety of reasons that I can’t discuss, I learned that this current case would be continued, which meant that I would not have to think about it for the weekend.

Here are some things I learned over the past few days while staying in Anchorage:

1. It’s cold. We had an oddly long summer in Seattle, and switching from 70 degrees to 40 degrees in a few hours shocked my system.

2. I love my Patagonia Down Sweater. See #1.

3. Despite it being 10am on a Friday, some coffee shops aren’t open. In fact, each time I found myself walking around the streets, I felt like the city was abandoned.

4. The architecture is a bit bleh. I love tall buildings. I love buildings that are more than rectangles. Anchorage has a lot of short rectangular buildings.

5. Screw the architecture, look at those mountains! The city is surrounded my mountains. Some are still snow-capped while others are barren. The coolest part is watching the sun set over the mountains, causing the peaks to change color.

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Flapping my wings, flapping my wings.

6 Oct

I went to lunch with a partner at my firm to hear advice on how to best market myself and the firm on an upcoming business trip.  He had a lot to say, but most of it was rooted in one of his oft-used idioms: everything you need to know is what you learned in kindergarten.  Be nice.  Be genuine.  Be polite.  Be smart.  Listen.  Use good judgment.  The rest will take care of itself.

He said I am at the stage in my career where I have been working very hard to get some air under my wings and I need to keep flapping until I’m flying high.  Then, it’s maintenance.  Continue to be ethical.  Follow up.  Take care of the details.  We ended our quick lunch and he reminded me to keep flapping my wings.

What he couldn’t possibly have know, and what I didn’t realize until 5am this morning when I was tossing and turning in bed despite the fact that I desperately wanted to be asleep and catch up on my lack of rest from the exhausting week before, is just how poignant and meaningful his advice is during this chapter in my life.

J and I have been through a lot this year.  I’m not quite “there” yet in terms of processing everything good and bad and in between, but I know this much: we’ve worked as a team, we’ve relied on each other (sometimes rather heavily) and we continue to turn to each other for support every. single. day. 

During our trip to New York in the spring, we experienced a lot of sadness.  But we tried to make the most of it  and enjoy our time together in a city that we both love.  During one of the lighter moments, we strolled through Central Park, stopping to lay in the grass and watch the few puffs of clouds in the big blue sky.  It was exactly the release that we needed from grieving and high stress levels.  That Central Park moment was one of my favorites all year.  I’m certain it was one of J’s too, even though he’s never expressly said as much.  There was a small butterfly that kept flittering around us, leaving for only a few seconds before it inevitably returned to hang out.  Ever since that moment, when we spontaneously made up the butterfly song (“I’m just a butterfly, flapping my wings, flapping my wings”), we sing the silly verse to each other in tense situations to lighten the mood.  Sometimes arm-flapping is involved, which is simultaneously embarrassing and awesome.  I think it’s an important reminder to each other that even in dark times, there is lightness and love to be found if you look close enough.

Our butterfly song often pops into my head when I feel stress.  It’s ridiculous, that song, but it’s helped me remember to take a deep breath and move forward many, many times over the past several months. 

Work has been very, very good.  Spectacular, the managing partner told me as I helped him prepare for trial.  It’s also been very, very stressful.  I suppose the spectacular and the stressful go hand-in-hand when things are good in the legal profession.  Luckily, that combination suits me. 

Personally and professionally, my plan is simple.  I’m going to keep flapping my wings, flapping my wings.

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Granite Mountain

22 Sep

Sweaty forehead, sweaty back, sweaty feet, sweaty chest.  Dirty calves.  Aching legs, aching back, aching hips.  Dirty hands.  Dirty everything.  Sweat and dirt build a layer like clay.

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Drive from Seattle toward Snoqualmie Pass.  Sixty minutes, or far less, if your friend is speedy.  Pack your picnic and snacks for along the way.  Prepare properly for the hard (but you don’t have any idea how hard) work that’s to come.  Set out merrily with anticipation on a pretty, friendly trail.  Note the avalanche mess ahead, gingerly climb over, under and around the felled trees.  Stare in awe at the massive power of nature.  Wonder where exactly that mess started and very briefly ponder if that’s where you’re headed.  One foot in front of the other, over and over and over and over again.  Steeper, harder, steeper, harder through the woods.  And then.  You stop for a moment to catch your breath and you turn around to look out at the vista and you lose your breath entirely, but not because you’re tired (even though you are very, very tired) but your breath disappeared from your body because of the awesomeness before you.  The view is awesome and awe-inspiring and you might have goosebumps.  Your expert hiking friend tells you there is lots more where that came from.  Onward.

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The trees clear, you’re above them.  The meadows start and you are treated with wildflowers you’ve never seen in colors you truly adore.  Purple, orange, pink and coral dot the landscape that is green for miles and miles.  But the blue is what gets you.  Washington and her massive, perfect blue skies.  She saves it for special occasions like this hike, you think.  It’s been several hours and you try to keep a good attitude despite your aching bones because you are the luckiest person in the world to be experiencing this mountain on this sunny July day.  But it hurts.  And you just learned that the plan will require you to propel your body all the way to the tippy-top of the mountain where the lookout building perches.  Up, up and more up.  The crusty leftover snow appears and you know you’ve come a long way up this mountain.  But the rocks ahead remain to be scrambled.  Intimidating.  Heart-racing.  You get close and see the crevices are deep.  The boulders not all stable.  Some much larger than you.

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We scrambled, using hands and feet and hops and jumps.  We scrambled all the way to the top.  And then we found a cozy perch to spread out our picnic.  We toasted our hard work with a glass of wine.  A chipmunk joined us, clearly hopeful to partake in our baguette and brie and salami.  9 hours it took us to get up and down.  I ran for the last few hundred feet.

The past several months have felt much like our hike did: hard, sweaty work with huge payoff.  I like that.  In fact, I thrive on it.

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Release.

6 Sep

There are so many lessons in death. As in life, to be sure, but lessons stemming from death are filled with the weight of finality and somehow that makes it feel all the more significant.

One of my personality quirks that has both benefitted me greatly and proven to be one of my biggest challenges is my desire to tightly control my environment.  Control is one of the tools I used to reach higher education with little help from others.  I believe it’s the tool that assisted me most in succeeding during my entrée into the initially foreign and, at one time, seemingly gilded legal profession.  Perhaps surprisingly, control has also benefitted my relationship with J. We are very similar in that we both feel the need to maintain control and we thoroughly enjoy order.  Most of the time, our teamwork is enhanced by our mutual desire to fully prepare for every scenario.

One downside to this personality “quirk” is obvious and usually manifests in relationships with others.  Friends, colleagues, family—how strange that they may want to experience life other than in a manner I suggest at the time I think appropriate via the means I deem most suitable?  Ha! [I’m working on it, I swear.]

My brother’s life and death have been a lesson in control and learning to release my desire to control.  I never had control over him in life, as hard as I tried to encourage him to make different (read: better) choices.  I certainly lacked control over his death.  It turns out that 10 months later, I have yet to release myself from wanting to control his after-death. 

My parents and I attended grief counseling recently.  The entire hour was helpful.  Necessary.  But the most valuable lesson took only a handful of words: it’s time for you to release your brother—he can’t control you anymore. 

What a novel concept, I thought.  For over 15 years, I’ve tried to control him and his choices and his life and, in doing that, I had actually allowed his choices and his life to control me.  He never asked to control my life, he never wanted that.  Indeed, as hard as I worked to convince him to do better and work harder, he worked to convince me to take a breath and enjoy this short life.  Unfortunately, he took the concept of enjoying life to a level that ultimately led him to a dark, joyless place.  For that, I will always grieve.  But I also have to learn to let go.  To release him.  To allow him and lessons from his short life to roll in and roll out, fluidly, naturally, gently changing and transforming the landscape of my life and my journey. 

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Perspective.

1 Sep

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I’ve felt a gentle pull toward writing for some time now.  It turns out that this space allows me and, sometimes, forces me, to consider details of this life that I may otherwise miss.  Reflections of the surrounding world in a giant store window.  The pattern of swirls in a chocolate confection.  A carefully sourced vignette of found objects collected in a corner of the neighborhood coffee shop.  Law professors, especially, like to call this detail-oriented, piece-meal approach to organizing thoughts and perspective as being in the trees.  Being in the trees, where you can really dig in and appreciate each branch and insect and footprint and wildflower, is sometimes the best.

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But, other times, it can be overwhelming and cause you to—wait for it—not see the forest.  I suppose part of my absence from here had to do with a desire to change my perspective and see the big picture.  As seasons change, the means to fulfillment ebbs and flows.  I feel (almost) recharged and ready to once again record the small happy moments in this space.  Coffee shop + writing + sunny day in September.  It feels good to be back.

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An Unexpected New York Trip

22 May

Within days of finding out that my grandmother would need to be moved to hospice, she passed away. Although her quality of life had gradually declined over the past couple of years, her death was unexpected and sudden.

After I moved to Seattle, I managed to stay in pretty good contact with my grandmother. She was the sole reason I ever kept stamps – she loved to write and receive letters in the mail. And even when she stopped writing letters, we talked on the phone.

Her sudden death meant that S and I suddenly needed to travel back to New York to celebrate her life and support my family, specifically my father and uncle.

While the trip back to New York was for a sad reason, I realized that there were many beautiful, positive aspects of the trip. S and I got to spend a few days with my cousins, joking, and reminising about our grandparents. We shared stories about her, such as how the grandchildren couldn’t eat ice cream on her couch, even though it was wrapped in plastic; how she taught me to make meatballs; and how each time we visited, she marked our heights on the wall.

As I think about her life, I realize that she lived a beautiful life. She married her one true love, and they celebrated over 50 years of marriage together. In fact, due to my grandfather’s deployment schedule in WWII, they were married in a civil ceremony and later celebrated their “official” wedding. She raised two sons and got to spend time with four grandchildren. She was your stereotypical grandmother, always ready to prepare you a meal, babysit, play board games, and tell stories.

She’ll be missed.

 

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