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Segovia, Spain – the view from our window
El Alcazar – our first castle tour!!
Nice, France
The Trevi Fountain in Rome
Boat Tour of Lake Geneva, surprisingly included with our Eurail Pass. I like that we are holding hands. Note the ashtray on the table for indoor smoking! We did not partake.
Greg’s favorite trees in Wurzberg, Germany

Greg and I were married thirty years ago today. A long time, all things considered. We had a little celebration at our new favorite British Pub yesterday, high on deliciousness and low on fanfare, before watching a Pink Floyd movie nearly as old as we are. It was a grand day of relaxation. As the two previous days were spent spreading twenty yards of bark mulch around the front and back gardens, it was a welcome respite. The top photo is a glorious first glimpse. All the work rendered us both bone tired and me rather sleepless, too. I kept thinking about how far we have come.

The London Transport photos were the first “in-person” day of our honeymoon, after flying through Newark and overnight across the Atlantic, arriving bright and early in London. It also lets you know how short I am in comparison to Greg, as the photo booth stool was not adjustable.

The serviceberry is surrounded by a whole host of volunteers: goldenrod, penstemon, and evening primrose. Strong plants, like our mostly good habits, flourish when given proper attention.

Gardening is so much like the cultivation of a marriage. The lilac is probably as old as our house, and while it was quite large from all those years in the ground, not all of it was healthy. When we cut out the unruly bits and dead wood, it flourished. We’ve done this so many times in our relationship, with people and habits, and never been the worse for it.

On our trip, we were careful not to have too much. Everything we owned was on our bodies and backs, a repetition of the essentials. Any object that failed to meet the criteria was left behind. The same is true with our garden. We started with such a wide variety of plants! As the years pass, the number dwindles, as weather and animals (wild and domesticated canine) show us which are hale and hearty and worthy of replanting.

I was well into saving for a trip to Europe when I met Greg. After I was certain I liked him, I shared my plans and asked if he wanted to join me. He said, YES! For a time, we thought we might get married there, but in those days before the interwebs, it presented a logistical nightmare, so we made it our honeymoon.

We decided to travel for two months and saved for the nearly two years of our long distance engagement, while still in college (such young things), totaling $3000 dollars between the two of us. It was ALL in traveler’s checks that we kept secured, along with our passports, in pouches that hung around Greg’s neck and my waist. I cannot imagine such thrift nor travel without a credit card now. How we, and the times, have changed.

Then, as now, we still like to try new things, even if we decide they aren’t worth the bother. Topless bathing is one such example. How tan I was from all the walking though!

Thankfully, Greg and I learned early on, specifically when we were in Nice (France!), the value of rest. We had been go-going, walking much of every day and taking overnight trains to save on time, when it hit us. We were becoming crabby and 100% to each other.

So, in this place of great beauty and sunshine, we stayed for ten glorious days, lolling at the beach, reading and swimming, and sleeping in, too. Near the end of our stint, we even moved from a one-star hotel ($20 a night!) to basically an apartment, with a kitchenette, for $10 more a night. We could have cold and hot food and eat it at an actual table. The luxury!

I believe the greatest luxury of these past thirty years is the result of our dedication to each other. We are always striving to be and do better, in the garden, around the house, in how we treat each other. We are keen at observing the weeds and promptly taking care of them. We are better at loving, at giving each other space, at knowing when we are wrong and apologizing. We continue to blossom, and it feels like being the luckiest couple in the world.

Hi there! Legit silver lining moment up yonder – so darn pretty, too. I suppose that is precisely the point, as they are not called mustard or gross or beige!

I have a personal one, too. For my whole life, my brain has been a maniacal over-thinker. If it has the opportunity to go off on a tear about an emotionally fraught situation, it is absolutely on board. Giddy-up. 110%. Pick a moniker, overachiever style. It probably goes without saying that this is highly problematic, particularly when I desire peace and rest.

This past weekend, one of said fraught situations occurred, and of course Colleen Louise’s brain was first to board the train. So, until the wee hours of the morning, I struggled. But the good news, I was 99% peaceful (only imperfect beings in this house!) with myself about it. I did all I have learned that works for me and felt proud. Whatever it is may still gnaw at me, but I can use these techniques for more calm, less fear. Absolute silver lining, indeed.

Here they are if you need some of the same, along with their source, if I could remember it.

From Pema Chodron – Instead of focusing on the details of the situation (that sucks, she did this, he did that…), drill down on the feeling associated with it and where it occurs in the body. Given the opportunity, say the words out loud. Mine are usually anger and rage and radiate just below my heart. Maybe skip this if you’re at work or around people who don’t get you. Sometimes I say them ten times. Others, I lose count. On a very good day, I finish the exercise failing to remember what the anger and rage were all about. Then I laugh!

Yoga Nidra – There are a few versions of this out there, so I am only going to discuss the one I learned. While sitting or lying (better) in a relaxing position, and starting at the top of your body, release tension, stressful thoughts or icky feelings until you reach your toes. I often whisper: “I breathe in light, every cell is filled with light. I relax and release any stress, tension, or feeling from my chosen body part. This body part is soft and yielding: like a cloud, butter, a wet noodle.” Choose your object. Depending how wound up I am, I may go through every body part: top of head, forehead, eyes, lips, really get into it. Other times, I go section by section. Head, neck, shoulders, arms, torso, etc. Most times, I don’t make it to my feet (poor little piggies) before I am peace and off to dreamland.

From Stephanie Foo’s What My Bones Know – She got the technique from someone else, but I don’t remember her source. Sorry. Name objects, names, cities, plants, whatever strikes your fancy from A-Z or Z-A or both! The other night, I did fruits and vegetables, male and female leaning names (always open to gender fluidity!), cities (Just looked up xerophyte (edible) and Xochimilco in Mexico, for obvious reasons and to save you the trouble), and the streets of the neighborhood where I grew up (Ames, Benton, Chase, Depew…).

I don’t remember where I learned this one. Name an uncomfortable feeling or problem, then put it in an imaginary box, or if your’e really upset, a cage. Then, tell it you will attend to it at later because now is the time for rest. If your brain wanders back, and it will if it is anything like mine, do it again. With love for yourself, every last bit you can muster.

Be well…

Hello there! Happy Friday afternoon. It’s been a while since I posted many of my own words, one part absence of them, two parts business. My friend Bebe and I did a whole bunch of beading, with bookmarks, tassels, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces made. There’s one more set in a holding pattern while I decide if they are quite right.

Another bit of business has been our Taos house. I cannot tell you how many iterations of the design I have made over the past two years since buying the land. Fifteen? Twenty? Thankfully, my wonderful husband got me a design program for the computer, as all the first tries, maybe even half of them, were done with sharp pencil and ruler on graph paper. Oof. I made fine work of several erasers.

Just this week, I landed on the layout of our dreams, and it is now in the pre-fab designers hands. She will work out the finer points of passive construction, then sometime early next year it will rise from the ground in 7-10 days.

As for the design itself, I will likely keep secret until the big reveal, but I will tell you that it has everything Greg and I have ever dreamed of in 2200 square feet, including a slightly over-sized single garage: two wings separated by the main living space, a large covered patio, an office for me (with a view window for Juniper), a cozy guest room; and a multi-use space for working out, Greg’s desk, and guitar jam center. Truly, all the things!

A lot of the design was driven by the near tragedy of our dear friends’ son. He was in a horrible car crash three years ago and is mostly wheelchair bound. We realized something similar could happen to us or a beloved guest at any time, so we might as well try to future-proof by modifying and stretching every space for wheelchair access. It isn’t difficult, but it does take more thought and a little more money. I’ve got a crazy spread sheet with estimates of the highest average cost for every job and detail I could conjure in hopes of not being terribly surprised when the bids roll in. Fingers crossed!

So there you have it. Time well spent, I think. Now a little summer dreaming in the depths of cold. I can’t remember if I shared this photo before. We suspect the previous owners were quite short, and this doorway from the patio is a perfect example. In order to keep Greg from knocking his noggin, I bought these cute flags. They do a fine job and are super cheerful, too.

Enjoy your weekend…

No Excuses

I am exhausted by the ill behavior of others. And to cut anyone off at the Greg Cooper pass, definitely not his. I promise! We are better than a-okay.

Truly good, lasting relationships result from doing the work to make them so. Everyone must take full responsibility for their actions, so if someone hurts you, tell them. Set boundaries if you need to. Do not assume they know you are upset or give them the silent treatment until they guess. This is passive-aggressive immaturity in action.

If you are the one who has done the hurting, make it right. Saying someone you love died or you were young or having a bad day or under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not count. Saying you have social anxiety does not count. Saying you have children does not count. These are no excuse for bad behavior and precisely how not taking responsibility looks.

Additionally, no one should automatically know you are sorry for your actions. People are not mind readers. You need to actually apologize, genuinely, whatever the circumstance. Express exactly what you did wrong and how you intend to do better in the future. This is required even if you didn’t mean to hurt someone and maybe the most difficult to recognize. The pathway to hell is, as they say, paved with good intentions!

Finally, sometimes the hurt person may decide the relationship is no longer worth it, too much water under the bridge. This is entirely their right. No one else gets to decide, and anything along these lines is an attempt at control. The same applies if years have gone by and the hurt person still does not wish to reconcile. Don’t try to shame someone because you want your family or friend group back. Succumbing to your desires does not make them a “better” person. It makes them abandon their security and principles for your comfort. As challenging as this is, give your heartbreak over to grief and make every attempt at healing the loss.

Saying all of this in such a matter of fact fashion does not belie the fact that this shit is hard. How lousy is it to be the one left behind (personal experience!), to wish we behaved better. By that same token, it is far easier to wallow in our sorrows, failings, and anxieties than address them directly, maturely. Admitting fault is scary! The beauty is, with every breath, we have another opportunity. The choice is ours.

Way back in 2008, I wrote about the concoctions I made in the drinking and body care categories. One of them was kombucha, which I have made off and on in the fourteen years since. We’re in an off period now, but never say never about the future!

I also tried various deodorants and shampoos, which in their former formulations I abandoned. The deodorant paste contained baking soda and made my armpits break out in a rash after a couple months, while the shampoo eventually made my hair look greasy all the time. Live and learn.

Today I present you with what I have learned. I still make soap (and very much enjoy it!), for hand and body washing, shampoo, and pictured at top, laundry. This is made from 100% coconut oil (and lye, of course) which cleans clothes exceptionally well and will make your skin drier than dead leaves if you wash with it on the regular. Greg and I grate it with a microplane, using about two tablespoons per load. A batch of eight bars lasts well over a year, mostly because we only wash a load or two a week.

In case you wondering why, since we’re such a small family, it takes a while to achieve a full load, usually every two to three weeks for darks and once a month for lights. I considered the minimalist clothing idea at one time, only having a few items in each category, but realized with so few garments, the necessity of washing a small load of laundry all the damn time, and who wants that? No one under this red roof, I assure you. I went for a minimalist color scheme instead – black, white, grey, oatmeal, harvest yellow, forest green, turquoise, and rust for the majority of my tops and sweaters. Jeans in every fade, a single black pair of corduroys, ochre, rust, and green pants, skirts, and shorts. Most every garment is a good match for the others. I also wear everything but the undies for as long as they aren’t visibly soiled or smelly.

It’s also a boon for all of our water reducing measures in preparation for moving to Taos. We’ll have a well and collect rainwater for all of our usage, no endless city taps! It is best to be prepared well in advance.

Getting back to it, I also make hand and lip balms, with beeswax, avocado, and olive oil, sometimes with herbal infusions, like creosote bush and calendula, and the remains of lip balms I’ve gotten as gifts. The lip stuff I use several times daily and the hand balm every night at bed time. I should also mention the hand balm benefits from the addition of zinc, which is a pretty amazing all-around for skin.

In the liquid category, the pink spritz (a great re-use of a rosewater bottle) has a mixture of zinc, magnesium flakes, sulfur, and filtered water. Greg has super sensitive skin, and this is the absolute best mixture for keeping it clear, soft, and itch-free. He sprays it all over, scalp included. It is not hyperbole to say the change has been astounding. Surprisingly enough, he doesn’t smell like matches, either.

The old rye bottle is a mixture of apple cider vinegar and rice water, which I use as a face and hair rinse. The blue spritz is our deodorant – a combination of essential oils (tea tree and white thyme for antimicrobial properties, sweet orange for scent), water, magnesium flakes, and a touch of alcohol. The amber bottle is my moisturizing hair oil. I use castor, olive, and jojoba oil, with rosemary and mint essential oils, which are supposed to stimulate hair growth. That is not definitive, but really smells nice. It helps keep my dry ends in check, at least!

Are you still there? The camera continues to please, dear peeps, in spades!! Our first frost brought a whole host of photographic delights.

Weekend morning ritual: get up without an alarm, though shockingly close to said usual hour, enjoy a latte or three and a ginger biscuit or three, with Juniper cuddles on the sofa. Right when her pants are full to brimming with ants, we walk!

Oatmeal Raisin with flake salt, crispy-sweet, salty good.

Creamy chicken stew, made with cauliflower and cream cheese instead of actual cream, pureed to smoothness. Add ground chicken, green chiles, corn, onion, garlic, and powdered New Mexico chile galore. Eat super duper fast.

Happy Halloween!!

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