June on a Trampoline

3 06 2018

Dappled June days

Sprinkle across my page,

As would-be trees blow past,

Dancing with thin leaves and debris.

Lazing at the intersection of two fronts,

I enjoy the warmth of the sun

With the cool of the breeze,

A pleasure that brings me to supine.

I could lay here for hours

Watching shadows dance with anonymity.

A cabaret of nature at her finest,

Sultry, twisted, and alluring.

The “swish-swish” of the leaves blowing above

While I lay suspended in mid-air.

My every movement echoes on fabric

Like waves across a taut lake.

I float as if one of those seed pods,

Breeze encircling my golden body,

Feeling rife with potentials of spring,

And truly part of the season.





Why I March

20 01 2017

dcrainAs I type this, many are weeping at the end of an era. Many others are cheering at a new chapter in American history. The clouds are crying into dark & heavy atmosphere, which feels fitting.


But, I’m done crying. I’m done being shocked. I’m done being distracted by another stupid tweet or another mindless meme. I’m done sitting on the sidelines. I’m ready to fight.


582b7d491800002c0030e402Let me be clear- I hate politics. I hate filling space in my brain with lists of people I’ve never met and the reasons why I should or should not like them. I hate wondering what a company’s values are every time I lay my plastic card down at the cash register. I’ve never marched in a protest. I’ve never spent hours making poignant and powerful signs. I hate everything to do with politics.


This is how I know that we are entering an era that is unprecedented.  People who never before felt compelled to get involved, suddenly feel like they have no choice. And I am one of them. 


10436160_891482897601002_2027435962132802493_nTo clarify, I have taken some actions before. I’ve signed countless online petitions to protect rights for my fellow citizens. I’ve worked to educate others on issues of the environment. And I did attend a few rallies to fight for marriage equality, just as we reached the crescendo, from 2013-2015. But I don’t like crowds. I don’t like to be noticed. I don’t like to be the center of attention. So I mostly just looked on quietly, while I proudly watched other people be my voice, carry that sign, shout our chants.


tsunami-2I feel like I am a relaxed tourist, sitting on a beach, ignoring reality, and enjoying the sunshine, when all of the sudden I look up to see an enormous tsunami of change preparing to crash down upon me. I can either give up, sit in my chair, and dig my feet into the sand fruitlessly. Or, I can fight. I can stand up, grab that inflatable tube, put my swim goggles on, and take a deep breath in. I’m not going down without a fight. I refuse to drown, no matter how massive the wave may be before me. I’m choosing to go in, and it’s gonna be a wild ride.


Tonight, I am getting on that bus. I’m heading to Washington D.C., to our nation’s capitol, and I am going to carry that sign, I’m gonna march in that march, I’m gonna sing every song I know the words to, and I am going to make my voice heard.


We ARE what makes this nation great.
And we want to make the next administration damn sure, that we are watching, we are listening, and we are keeping track. We will NOT let this nation get sunk beneath the tsunami. We will fight to survive! No matter how many waves crash down upon us, we will not drown! Instead, we will find more ways to float, we will bring our sisters and brothers up onto our rafts, and we will keep going!

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Parapet PhotographyThis morning, I went to Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee, to see some of my favorite people before we go to D.C. They gave me hugs, and love, and support, and gratitude. As I was sitting there, a man sitting alone at a nearby table was listening to our conversation, and said to me, “Hey, I’d like to show you something,” motioning to his laptop. I walked over and looked over his shoulder as he said, “THIS is why I march,” with tears in his eyes. On the screen was a picture of a 4 year old girl in a Rosie the Riveter shirt.

I am marching because
I cannot let one president set us back 40 years. I march because, although I have no children of my own, I worry for the future of my village’s children. I march for Dean’s daughter. I march because I believe in community, and love, and acceptance. I believe that we ALL must be invested in our shared future, which means caring about not only your neighbors, but those around you that you do not know, may not understand, may not recognize, or may not even like. No matter what, a rising tide raises ALL ships, and I refuse to sit by and watch someone else drown.


I am marching because:

Climate change IS REAL.

Love is LOVE.

Women’s rights ARE HUMAN rights.

Black Lives MATTER. 

No lives are ILLEGAL.

And Kindness is FREE. 




The Brief but Powerful Role of Keystone Underground: How Kelly Met Bethany

6 02 2016

It had been a bitterly cold week, especially for so early in December, and filled with frustration at the office. The guy in charge was exercising his newfound power by declaring their startup nonprofit of five “NOT a democracy.” By Wednesday Kelly was already thinking about the weekend, and she texted Lisa to see if she wanted to go out dancing Friday or Saturday night. It’s good to help blow off steam, and prevent herself from becoming a complete hermit crab, Kelly decided. Lisa is pretty much always interested in dancing, and surprisingly available last minute, which made her Kelly’s favorite dancing buddy.

Me: We could try Elks Lodge Friday night

Lisa: Well, I’m actually supposed to go on a sort of date Friday night, which might be fine, because we’re meeting at 6:30, but I probably shouldn’t plan on being done early.

Me: Oh, nice! Well have a good time on your maybe date. What about Saturday?

Lisa: Saturday’s wide open, I think. And I’m pretty sure that is the night my friend was telling me about something going on in Ypsilanti at some new place that opened up there.

Me: Oh? I’ve never really been to Ypsilanti, except to buy art supplies once.

Lisa: Yeah, I’m trying to remember what the place is called… I’ll have to look it up. But she did say that it’s a completely smoke free venue, which was why I want to try it!

Me: That sounds great. Sure, let’s try it! I’ll meet you at your house at 9 so we can carpool?

Lisa: Sounds like a plan.


Saturday evening Kelly put on some comfortable jeans, knee-high striped socks that she could push down if she got too hot, and a tan v-neck t-shirt with a thin brown sweater over the top. Layers are critical when you go out dancing in Michigan winters! She bundled up her long brown hair into four loose quadrants, then secured them to the crown of her head with elastic bands, so that she could dance freely without a care. Just before she left home, she opened the drawer to the right of the sink, pulled out a clear glass vial an inch in diameter, closed her eyes, and sprinkled glitter over the top of her head. It fell softly onto her shoulders, across her collarbone, and caught in her eyelashes, ever so slightly. There’s never a chance to wear glitter that gets missed by this grrrl!

Lisa greeted her at the door looking like she had just gotten home from work. “I can’t decide if I want to dress up a little, in case there are some eligible women there tonight, or just be comfortable,” Lisa explained. Kelly shrugged her shoulders, “Do both.” Lisa spent a few more minutes debating what to change into, and forgot to run a comb through her hair before putting on her eyeglasses and slipping on some comfortable shoes. Jeans and a long sleeve shirt it was then.

Kelly offered to drive, and Lisa navigated the car to downtown Ypsilanti. This town kind of has a reputation that precedes it. Although it is the next door neighbor to the affluent and highly educated Ann Arbor, it gets a bad rap as an area of poverty and high crime. Kelly had heard that there was actually a pretty up-and-coming art scene here, but somehow never made it there to check it out. Most of her friends live in or around Ann Arbor, and it’s the only place that anyone ever suggests for places to go.  Lisa’s house is in this no-man’s-land between the two towns, filled with strip malls of cell phone dealers, mattress stores, and a hidden pocket of co-op housing, built from former military barracks. It wasn’t rural, like Kelly’s home, but it wasn’t urban or suburban either. It just felt like you were lost in a grey area between two points on the map, with no tranquility and nothing to walk to, but conveniently located close to US-23, I-94, and two centers of employment.

water towerAs they drove down Washtenaw, the scenery changed from strip malls and fast food joints to a quaint and historic little downtown. They passed by the edge of Eastern Michigan’s campus, a surprisingly large university that gets dwarfed by U of M’s presence in Washtenaw county. Just across from the corner of campus, a ridiculously phallic-shaped water tower emerged with a wooden-shingled dome, dividing the 4-lane street into two boulevarded one ways. As their eastbound lanes curved right, it made room for a block of large historic homes that were now turned into student apartments.

Downtown was just a couple more blocks from campus, and looked much nicer than Kelly had imagined. There were three blocks decorated with matching acorn lampposts, like you would see in a Norman Rockwell painting, with intricate storefronts topped with apartments above. Each retail space was filled with some store or restaurant that you’ve never seen anywhere else. It held a very local charm, without a Starbucks in sight.Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti. Steve Pepple | AnnArbor.com

They found a free parking spot right out front on the main drag, and Kelly backed into the spot, waiting a minute for traffic to clear so she could open her door. She scurried to the sidewalk to wait for Lisa, turning herself around to take in all of her surroundings. She admired the diversity of the architecture, some modern, some ornate, with incredibly detailed stonework, and some simply old. “It’s really cute here,” she muttered aloud.

“I know, right? I was surprised the first time I came to Ypsi, too,” shared Lisa, “and Depot Town is equally nice. That’s where my office is, and it’s just a few more blocks that way,” she pointed in the direction of a bridge down the hill.

J_Neil's-thumb-590x384-72360“And THIS,” Lisa turned to face the crosswalk, “is where we are going!” Across the street was a large glass storefront with a corner vestibule. It looked like a restaurant, and an empty one at that. Kelly was a little bit disappointed, but followed her friend out of the cold. “So, I think this place is actually downstairs,” she posited, scanning the abundance of signage and literature that filled the entryway, looking for confirmation of this mystical venue.

logo“Ah! There it is- Keystone Underground-  Martini Bar!” Inside the restaurant, where a hostess stand should have been, a sandwich board sign stood waist-high, directing them down an open stairwell into a much darker space. As they reached the last steps, a truly unique space emerged. It was a long, narrow room, divided in half by a brick wall punctuated by arched openings. It felt a lot like an eastern European wine cellar, cozy and warm, ancient yet secretive. The underground bar had a modern flare, the bar lit dimly with neon signs that reflected off the bright orange bartop. To the left, as they walked through one of the archways, more seating appeared, and a DJ booth was set up against the back wall, not quite ready for the dance floor.

10400912_26605094757_3588_nLisa spotted her friend, and walked over to greet her with a hug. She was a short, curvaceous woman, with spiky hair. One long sweep of bangs curled in front of her left ear and framed a gigantic, beaming smile. In an instant, Kelly could tell that she’s the kind of person who can warm an entire room with her smile, which squished her wide blue eyes into dark slivers as her big, rosy cheeks reached for the moon. They walked back over to Kelly, who stood frozen in the mostly empty void, unsure of what to do. “Kelly, this is my friend, Bethany. She’s the one who is organizing the Electronic Saturdays here tonight!” “Hey there! How’s it going?” Lisa’s chipper friend asked as she greeted Kelly, then excused herself to go hug another stranger. She must be a little bit older than herself, Kelly thought, but her energy was through the roof, as she watched this pint-sized tattooed figure bouncing through the room, checking in with the DJ on equipment setup, greeting other people who were starting to trickle in the door. There weren’t many other people at this bar, but Bethany seemed to know every single one of them.

barThe bar was relatively new, and it appeared that most people didn’t know it existed yet. Kelly decided to have a drink, since there wasn’t a big enough crowd to feel comfortable dancing in yet. She asked her friend for suggestions, and had no idea what actually got ordered. A golden martini arrived in front of her, and it was tasty, but not cheap. Certainly, one $10 drink would be enough for the night. “And this is why I don’t like to go out and drink,” she reminded herself. The two chatted about work stuff, and at some point Lisa’s friend came back by to visit more. She was trying to persuade them to get out on the dance floor, where a total of zero people were dancing. “Hmmm… maybe in a little bit,” Kelly politely responded, with a suspicious feeling that there would be no dancing tonight. It was already getting late, and she was stifling yawns instead of shaking her groove thing, which meant that she wouldn’t last too much longer.


The people watching was pretty good, although the place never really did pick up much. Eventually, since the sole purpose of coming out was to dance, Lisa did convince Kelly to get up for a couple of songs. Bethany joined them, and was a welcome added distraction, not that there was anyone there watching them. Not surprising, she was a very outgoing, extroverted dancer, smiling and laughing and cracking jokes with the two. It was enough to help Kelly to relax and have some fun. “Awwww, yeah! That’s my jam!” she hollered, kicking up her heels and throwing her elbows back with excitement. Both Lisa and Kelly laughed out loud, the only two introverts to be found, both equally astonished and entertained by Bethany’s exuberance.

17474_1340610997960_7137416_nThe night turned out surprisingly well! They may not have spent hours dancing like Kelly had hoped for, but it felt really good to finally give in and get out there, even if they were the only ones dancing. Just before midnight, Corey thanked her new friend for helping them to break in the dance floor, and walked back upstairs to the street to turn into a pumpkin. “Perhaps she will be our new dancing buddy!” Kelly thought after dropping off Lisa and heading home. Cold car tires crunched over the gravel driveway. In the conifer-cloaked darkness, she quietly tiptoed through the front door, greeted by a cat along the way. She pulled her sweater over her head, sniffed it, and realized, “and I don’t smell like smoke!” When you factored in that sweet smell of success, Ypsilanti started to look like a great new option for dancing. And besides, Santa made an appearance at Keystone, and even swung around a steel column like a stripper, so, there’s always that to look forward to next time.


Update: The $10 martinis proved a bit too rich for Ypsi blood, at least circa 2009, so the venue no longer exists as Keystone Underground. Michigan passed a smoking ban that opened up all sorts of new smoke-free destinations soon after. But, that fateful night, during the brief period that Keystone Underground was in existence, Kelly met her soulmate. Kelly and Bethany rent the space they met at for their very own wedding reception when they got married two years later.

Introverted in Indy

11 08 2014

One year ago this month, I kissed my wife goodbye, packed up my car, and drove to a strange city to start a new job in sustainability. The introvert in me cringed at the thought of having to leave behind my rich tapestry of friends back in Michigan. I had found a community that, for the first time in my life, really felt like “home.” Ypsilanti was so good to me, that I was terrified to leave.


Unfortunately, I had no choice. My job was miserable. I was miserable. I came home each day exhausted from the toxic environment and the anxiety-inducing daily commute to Detroit and back on I-94. I knew that I could not stay at that job without becoming a withered shell of myself, no matter how much of a sanctuary my home and community created for me. Work is such a huge part of our lives, that I knew enough to prioritize finding a better fit. I just did not expect to find that fit in Indiana.


After being selected as a finalist for several great jobs located closer to home, but not getting the position, I expanded my search. I was very strict about what type of job I would take. If it meant relocating, I would only consider it for a dream job that I would be passionate about. Life is too short for a bad fit. Then I was approached for this sustainability position with Purdue.


10492426_677134702369157_7868290351175616890_nBefore I even agreed to come down for my final interview, I did my homework. I checked the stats on Indianapolis, searched for quality of life indicators that are important to me, and, well, I was impressed. In fact, on a number of aspects, Indy compared well to Austin, another favorite city of mine. The only thing I did not expect, was that when I drove down to interview and spend the weekend experiencing the city, it felt way further south than Indiana.


As Bethany & I walked the streets of downtown Indy, I heard southern twangs- some subtle, some strong- reminiscent of my childhood in Durant, Oklahoma. People here carried themselves with that same southern hospitality. Perfect strangers were polite! They held doors, smiled as we passed, and struck up casual conversations. When they learned we were from Michigan, folks leaped at the chance to tell us all the great things about their city, and why we should move here. In fact, one of our dear friends, Cindy, met us that very first Friday night as we were sampling wine in a cellar below a liquor store just three blocks from her town home. Most importantly, we walked holding hands, being ourselves, and were encountered with nothing but love from this city. So, I took the job.


Those first 3 months of living here alone were hard. I spent a lot of time driving back to Michigan on weekends. I was overwhelmed learning a new state, new job, house hunting, and trying to make new friends. I pushed myself- hard- to get out and meet people. I stretched my limits beyond what 23-year-old-introvert-me could have ever imagined.


10390266_797115186967272_2213055492363398838_nI became engaged in the fight for equal marriage in Indiana. I joined every relevant sustainability group I could find. I joined Meetup, and forced myself to go out by myself to strike up conversations with strangers who shared interests. I walked the streets of Fountain Square every night after work, observing my new community, and stopping to introduce myself to neighbors. People were really nice once I explained that I was new and just moved here!


1013708_589810657768229_313667675_nHere’s a perfect example of what it’s like as a natural introvert. One day, there was a big rally after work to celebrate a marriage equality victory and grow support. It was cold, and dark, and I wanted to just go home, but I didn’t. I made myself go downtown. I stood in a large crowd, filled with groups of friends and happy couples, but I was painfully alone. I had no one to share with, and could not find anyone to talk to easily. I wanted to hide in the corner. After the rally, people were supposedly gathering at the local gay bar, Metro. I texted Bethany and debated going. She urged me to celebrate on my own. I wished she was there with me. After sitting in my car for 10 minutes, I finally worked up the courage to go to a bar alone. It was practically empty. Instead of turning around and leaving, I walked up to the bar, and fumbled for an excuse to say something to the happy couple next to me. The victory was sweet, but my fear was bitter. Not only did I survive, but I actually had a very nice conversation with the folks next to me. It’s just overcoming that first hurdle and the lump in my throat that never goes away as an introvert.


970541_538055309610431_930777581_nThis does not come easy or natural to me. I work very hard to make friends and acquaintances. I come home from work and all I want to do is work in my garden, or curl up with the pets and work on my art or writing while listening to music. Instead, I push myself to go out to numerous events, and later return exhausted and drained. This is the definition of an introvert, in my book. Being around lots of people is EXHAUSTING for me, but for Bethany it is ENTHRALLING! It was a relief, when Bethany would come to visit me. We would go out at restaurants and she couldn’t resist telling someone she liked their necklace, and then asked if they lived nearby, and then explained that we are new to the area. She leaves with a few new friends every single time we go out! She makes it looks SO easy. That’s part of why I love her so much, and why we balance each other out.


I’ve worked hard over the past 10 years to learn how to make small talk without seeming awkward. I remember being annoyed at the meaningless drivel that is ‘small talk.’ “Get to the point!” I would think. I didn’t want to invest my time and energy in a conversation that did not result in something. As I began working, I realized that this was impacting my professional networking. All the successful people around me were loquacious, charming, and funny. And thus began my mission to become extrovert-esque.


It’s interesting to realize, now that I’ve been here one year, that most of my new Indiana friends think I’m an extrovert. They never knew me before, and all they really see of me is when I am ‘on.’  If I am an introvert, why am I so outgoing, and cheerful, and why do I pull other introverts out on the dance floor? That’s easy for me to answer… despite the hard work, it pays off! I have FUN when I pretend I’m an extrovert.

I live more.

I smile more.

I laugh more.

I dance more!1554378_695642937185000_99580933321624744_n

I’m more youthful, and active.

I no longer worry about what other people will think of me, because, I learned this amazing secret: If you live life with a smile, your joy shines through, and nothing else matters.


I used to be terrified of dancing in public. I was horrified that others would be looking at me, and judging me. In grad school, I was blessed to meet my dear friend, Raina. She danced without a care, flailing about with impossibly silly gestures, and having a blast! Only then, one the dance floor in Austin with her, did I finally feel safe enough to get out there and dance, knowing that, surely, SHE was the one people would be distracted by, and I could dance under the radar. Now, I make myself the center of attention to make other people feel more comfortable. That is a gift that others gave to me in my introverted 20s, and now I want to share that gift with others.


I have a perfect extroverted role model who now lives with me again in this new city we call home. Bethany impresses me constantly with her lack of hesitation to reach out and be vulnerable. I, too, have learned to take social risks, and I am rich in social dividends.

291833_388583231224307_1058986565_nSo, yes, I am an introvert. If you give me a choice between going out to a party or inviting a couple of friends over for a glass of wine and a game of Carcassonne, I’ll pick my home 9 times out of 10. Just because I get exhausted when I’m too social, doesn’t mean I don’t also love it. It just means that I need to have more balance and moderation than an extrovert. Right now, in this new place, I’m really enjoying the balance.

Have yourself a very Krampus Christmas!

22 12 2013

Last night we celebrated several lesser-known seasonal delights, and had the joy of sharing these with someone new. They were: Winter Solstice, and Krampus.

We have another international guest, Joel, from the Netherlands, who is staying with us forst nickolas boot 3 months. He arrived here just days before his own version of Christmas. In that part of the world, they celebrate St. Nicholas night in early December, instead of on December 25th. On this night, everyone places their boot outside the back door in hopes that they will be filled with candy and goodies as a reward for being good. We didn’t want him to feel homesick, so Bethany immediately started planning something to welcome our new friend. She couldn’t find Joel’s boot (since he was wearing them), so she filled a sock with little toys and candy from The Rocket and hung it on the back porch for him to find. It’s just our way of showing how much we love embracing all the different celebrations that we have.

Last year at this time, our home was filled with people sharing their holiday traditions. Our high school exchange son, Bank (from Thailand), was experiencing his first ever snowfalls, while we explained the traditions of Christmas. We also had two young men from Germany staying with us for 3 months, Sven and Torben, who shared their own European traditions. Lastly, we had Craig, the retiree who lived with us for a year and a half, who shared his life stories with us, when he wasn’t be a curmudgeonly recluse.

loy_krathong_yi_peng_san_saiThere we were, one big, makeshift family, covering the globe with our religious, cultural, and generational experiences. We gathered around the fireplace and shared with each of them the tiny tokens of our friendship that they pulled out of the six stockings hung by the mantle. Bank talked about how they have started to celebrate Christmas in Thailand, even though most people are Buddhist. It’s a secular celebration of lights, and lanterns, and gift giving. Sven and Torben talked about how their concept of Santa Claus differs slightly from the American version. Craig talked about when he was a little boy, and the memories he has of his family back then, and the joys of celebrating now with his grandkids.

solsticeSo back to this year. Our dear friends invited us to their Solstice party. It was a dreary, freezing rain kind of December night, but we invited Joel to join us anyway as we walked through the rain, about 20 minutes across town. Bethany splashed her winter boots in puddles along the way like a gleeful child, while Joel avoided drenching his sneakers, and shared my umbrella with me. When we got to the house, it was brimming with celebration. Packed with people, since it was too wet for an outdoor fire, it felt like we were salmon swimming upstream. And that’s not a bad analogy for a night where we celebrate the shortest day of the year, and the swing back towards more daylight and the springtime to come.

We had a wonderful time visiting with old friends, and meeting new ones alike. As the evening waned on, Diana dimmed the lights and directed everybody on how to write down a thought or a wish that they would like to say goodbye to from the past year, or welcome into their lives in the new year. Then, one by one, we each reached out our hands with our tiny folded piece of flash paper, held it over the candle, and watched it disappear in a quick eruption of flames. Farewell, 2013! It felt more like Bank’s Thai tradition of Loi Krathong than New Year’s Eve, though all three of these share that reflective, introspective characteristic.

krampus-black-beat1After we left the Solstice party, Bethany and I explained that we were going to take Joel to another, far more obscure, celebration. It was the Krampus Ball. I found it ironic that we would be educating someone from Europe about a tradition that originated there. Leave it to American hipsters to resurrect the oddities of another culture and start practicing them here with full fervor, as if they’ve always been celebrated.krampus

We walked into the Corner Brewery to find it filled with music and people in costumes. They weren’t quite as authentic this year as they have been in years past, but still, it was eclectic. I explained that Krampus was the horned, hairy creature who was kind of like the devil version of Santa. He would come around and whip children who had been bad, instead of giving them candy. If they were really bad, he would stuff them in his sack and take them away! Krampus was a mythical creature that was used to scare kids into being good, and men from the village would dress up like him to make it more real. The creepy character was abandoned in the early 1900s, particularly after the war, when the Austrian government said, no more! They must have thought people had enough nightmare material already, and shoved this centuries-old tradition under the Alpine rug. The much more jolly red suit grew in popularity, but Krampus could not be contained, and was recently resurrected here and in Europe, prompting events such as this Krampus Ball.

There are hundreds of weird ways to celebrate this time of the year, and I always like to share that there’s more than just Christmas to December. Whatever you celebrate, I hope you rejoice in love, kindness, and acceptance of others. Don’t be a Krampus or a Grinch.krampus2 krampus couple

Commute Like You Give a Damn

1 06 2013

A lot of people talk about transportation, and how different it is in, say, Europe compared to the U.S. They have punctual trains that can take you anywhere and everywhere. We have miles of 6 lane concrete ‘free’ways that become a personal prison during rush hour. Your symbol of American freedom- THE CAR- is your cell.rush hour traffic

Commute time is a source of stress, and something we all want to minimize. There is no opportunity for chatting with a stranger, accidental networking, or even a pleasant smile from someone who lives in your community. Instead, I find myself bracing every time I step into my hybrid. When I get home from my hour long commute, I am drained.

I’m the mouse on the road, and hyper-sensitive to the potentially dangerous maneuvers of my fellow drivers. When the semi-truck in front of me starts drifting into another lane, my brain immediately starts calculating alternate escape routes. When traffic gets backed up, I’m glued to my rear-view mirror to anticipate whether or not the idiot speeding towards me has noticed yet that we are all stopping. I leave twice as much following distance to allow for the errors of others, and gracefully accept those who want to take advantage of my cushion of safety to dart across all three lanes of traffic to make a last second exit ramp departure in thirty feet.

INTERSTATE PILEUPSometimes I feel like I am the only person who appreciates how inherently dangerous and serious to concept of driving is in America. Don’t get me wrong, I actually LOVE to drive! It’s the high ratio of idiots to drivers during peak travel times that causes me anxiety. My sensitivity is not based on the size of my vehicle, rather, personal experiences.

When you’ve been in a rollover accident where the truck you’re in twists and crunches the cab, pivoting upside down around the place where your head should be, you appreciate the inherent risks of driving a wee bit more. And that was only going 25 mph. But this is not where I learned my lesson.

One Saturday morning in mid-July, I was awoken early by my mom. She told me there had been an accident.

My two brothers had been driving separately home from a late night at a friend’s. No drinking was involved. They were simply having fun on a long stretch of empty, rural road. Kurtis went to pass Brian’s truck on the left. He swerved out into the oncoming lane, his tire bit the gravel shoulder, and his Camaro immediately spun out and flung into a tree at 60mph.

For seventeen years I have watched as my mother takes care of Kurtis in her home, with the help of 24 hour care. He will never again use his 6’-4” height to run in the Junior Olympics. He cannot walk. He cannot move his limbs, except for his left foot and his thumb. We worked for years in physical therapy and hyperbaric oxygen chambers to get him to this point. Kurt can’t talk, but communicates (irregularly) through eye blinks. One is yes, two is no, three is I don’t know, or his eyes are just tired and dry. I never really know if he’s answering my question or not.kurt mom kurt dr

I miss my brother terribly. I know that he is gone, to some degree, but his body remains. I was only 16 when I lost him. Even after this much time has gone by, as I type this, I am mourning the loss, tears streaming down my cheeks. That’s the really tough thing about this car accident- the wound can never truly heal.

As you can imagine, that simple miscalculation on the road changed my life forever. My family fractured. I clung tightly to a young but solid relationship for solace. And you’d better believe that not a day goes by when I get behind the wheel that don’t think about Kurtis and the risks that I am taking when I drive. If everyone drove like me, I’d be perfectly happy and comfortable. But, they don’t. So I am left to make up for their carelessness by being overly cautious and anticipating the next dumb thing to happen around me.

I meant to write this blog post about transportation and sustainability. About how people in other countries actually get to enrich their lives through social interactions while riding the bus, or bicycling past street vendors, or walking through a crowded piazza. I meant to talk about how isolating and terrible our system of single person auto commuting is by comparison, and how 90% of the auto trips in the U.S. involve only one passenger.

I really miss working close enough that I could ride the bus, or spend a relaxing 38 minutes on my bicycle to commute to the neighboring downtown. Even biking can be dangerous when on the road with absent minded drivers, so I have a little mirror that sticks to my helmet so that I can anticipate those moves as well.

One of the most striking things about transportation in our recent trip to Asia was how different the interactions are between cars and… everyone else.

tuktuk bethany tuktuk kelly tuktuk cambodia moped dogs  There, the ratio of cars to bikes or mopeds or tuk-tuks is far different than in the U.S. Therefore, cars do not rule the road, and their drivers are cognizant of this fact. They always look before changing lanes, fully aware that there could be a family of 4 on a moped just beside them. It looks like utter chaos- a cacophony of traffic endlessly weaving in and out and around one another- but when you stop to really observe, you see that it is like a sort of ballet. They move seamlessly, in a balanced, well-planned orchestration. Nobody gets mad! Honking is just a polite courtesy to let someone know you are going by, and everyone understands what it’s like to be that person biking or trying to cross the street with no traffic signals.

When we were in Veng Vieng, Laos, a small town of 30,000, we had free cruisers available to borrow from our guest house. We took those bicycles farther than any basket-toting, single speed bike has ever gone! We cruised up the main road, where cars actually slow down and swing wide to pass you. There are no bike lanes, no shoulders, just an unmarked swath of asphalt, replete with crumbling potholes and an occasional herd of cattle in the middle of the street. We had no helmets, which normally would terrify me, but I had zero fear of being run off the road by traffic here.bike laos bike luang prabang

We biked 50 km that day. We stopped to ask for directions in our broken Lao language, using maps and apps to try to translate. The roadside stand was staffed by a couple, who spoke no English, but they smiled big and tried their best to help us find the cave we were looking to go hike. We veered off down back roads, totally off the map, but we didn’t care. There was a mountain in front of us, and that would always be west, so we couldn’t really get lost. We biked down cow paths between rice paddies and the irrigation river, and waved back at excited children. We had an amazing time on those bikes, and all of that would have been missed had we simply hired a driver or rented a car.

I know that I cannot recreate the charm of a rural Laotian town, but I can still seek out those kind of local, quality interactions. We are social beings, and the automobile separates us from one another. I want nothing more on my commute than to have a chance to say hello to you. To ask how you are enjoying the beautiful spring weather. To buy a piece of fruit or admire your loyal dog who rests by your side. Is that too much to ask?

Though there is little that I can do about my current one hour commute, I can prioritize this. I can change jobs. I can demand that I be able to get to work by more than one mode of transportation. I can go out of my way, once I do park a car, to walk past places where random social encounters are more likely to occur.

bike kids in streetI will live my life like it could end tomorrow. Kurtis taught me that. Life is too short to not go out of my way to find simple joys in daily living. Sometimes I just need to give myself a little pep talk to remind me of these important lessons.

Swapping Countries- Leaving our Thai son for Thailand.

24 05 2013

It was bittersweet when we met Lori and Elizabeth for dinner. This was the night that they would take our son. Though he had only been living with us for 3 months, he was as much a part of our family as our beloved animals, whom we were also worrying about leaving behind. Veerephat (Bank), was willing to go live with these two new moms, because we were preparing to embark on a journey back to his homeland, Thailand.

We had been planning this trip for some time now, almost longer than the actual wedding, and he was the final piece to the puzzle. Having Bank come into our lives allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of Thai culture. Seeing his reactions in broken English, gave us clues as to how real or serious certain lapses were.

Like the time he was seated and I walked by, giving him a familial tousle of his hair without even thinking about it. He immediately flinched like a battered child, as though the innocent touch was a sad reminder that he wasn’t good enough. To our knowledge, this was not the case, but in Thai culture it is incredibly disrespectful to touch anyone on their head- even a child. Once I realized what I had done, I apologized deeply, and explained the meaning behind it in US culture, but have been sure to never make that mistake again.laos kids

We needed time to pack and mentally prepare for our journey, without worrying about homework and school lunches, so Bank left our home a week early. This also gave us time to answer any questions and help with the transition, though it went smoothly despite our availability. I think Bank was a little bit sad that we were going to his home country, though he was to stay here in the U.S. Although he loves living here, in America, he does miss home a bit, occasionally.

As for us, we were not even going to make it to his part of the country. We never saw a beach the entire time we were in Asia. We were bound for Northern Thailand, Laos, and Siem Reap in Cambodia. The rest would have to wait for another time.

laos pak bang shorelaos pak bangThe entire time we were gone- over three weeks total- we were reminded of Bank. He taught us so much about not only Thai culture, but things that translated to Laotian and Cambodian as well. We felt like we adapted seamlessly into southeast Asia, and there was no culture shock at all. I resisted the desire to use chopsticks unless I found some off pocket where locals were using them (often transplants from Vietnam). We removed our shoes before entering a restaurant in the small village of Pak Bang in Laos. We never raised our voices, even if we were angry or suspected we were being scammed. We learned to tell locals that their woven fabrics are “beautiful” in Laos’ native tongue.

When our trip was coming to an end, I wasn’t sure if our son would even be interested in coming back to live with us. After all, we sent him to live with another couple in a household that has a warm wood-burning stove, and where they cook meat in their house. Surely, he would beg us to stay rather than reluctantly coming back to our cold, vegetarian household. The other ladies even lived closer to school so he could walk or bike less in the snow.

One day, as we were relishing in our final week in Asia, I got a message from Bank while connected to the internet. He asked, “When you come home? Do you think I can come back stay with you again? Will you still want me? I miss you.” Bethany and I looked at each other and I actually felt my eyes swell with tears. We love our boy, and we felt honestly surprised that he missed us, and thrilled that he was as excited to see us as we were to share all of our stories with him. We counted the days to our return, in between treats like freshly scraped coconut ice cream and chilled glasses of red wine.laos chilled red wine

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