“Have you seen the movie,
Two women near me were comparing movies and this one caught my attention because I had, indeed, seen it. (The rest all sounded like Woody Allen movie titles.) It was a brilliant movie with all of the things I love best, a sense of place, interesting food, amazing dialogue and Martin Sheen. The overhear prompted me to go back and look at the website for it where I was struck by the tagline at the top:You don’t choose a life, you live one.
This idea of being driven by mission both intrigues and scares me. There is a loss of control inherent in the very idea of not having a choice… and attempting to be at peace with this has frequently eluded me.
Not so for others I know though. Some of the best artists, for example were practically, or actually, driven mad by their passion, whatever their medium- writing, canvas, stage. Passion, I believe, is the other side of mission. It is the living out of mission. The question is, how do we tap into our passion and do we have the courage to embrace it when we find it.
There are many different forms of mission, but one of the most obvious to recognize is the proselytizer. What I am coming to see, though, is that all missions are born of the same inner desire to be who we were born to be… in other words, to live our life rather than attempt to choose it.
One of my barista friends at Starbucks is a wonderful example of this. Raised in a family of missionaries, Justin is now leading his own missions to Prague. Justin, in fact, was born in Germany while his parents were on mission there with Cadence International (which provides Christian ministry for U.S. soldiers and their families stationed around the world).
Why Prague? For many years the Czech Republic was under communist rule where all organized religions, including Christianity, were persecuted. Now many missions go to rebuild the churches there. Setting up a missionary trip is
not an easy task for anyone, even assuming the support of a local church. But in this case it is even more daunting as Justin is in his early twenties and is drawing on his previous church in Colorado to help him. He has gone on missions with Bethany Evangelical Free Church before, but this will be the first one he has actually organized himself.
Still, 15 of his friends have agreed to go on this mission with him from July 8th to the 24th this year. As I write about this I am struck by the idea that 16 young adults have enough passion to spend part of their summer on a mission. I can’t imagine I would have had the courage to do this at that age.
Passion truly comes in many different forms. I feel grateful that over time I have found my calling, my mission if you will, in my writing. Through this I am no as scared as I used to be when I hear someone talk of their own personal mission. I understand it so much better now than I ever have before.I wish Justin a ton of success with his own mission. I know it won’t be easy, not the least of which is because each individual on the team must fundraise to earn $2,400 in order to participate. Then again… it may not be the summer they choose, but the summer they live.
(Note: If you would like to donate to their cause or learn more about it you can contact Justin Schroeder at
“Can someone please help me?”
In the distance a call rang out, someone had not attacked the zipline and were paying the price by hanging in the middle, waiting for a guide to come pull them to the platform. Ha! Silly person. All you had to do was make sure to give a good push and anyone could make it to the other side.
Less than two minutes later I sat, 10 feet away from the platform, waiting for my own guide to come help me. As they say, pride goweth before a fall, but fortunately it was only my ego that was damaged. The treetop course was more challenging than I had assumed, and over the next two hours I would have plenty more opportunities to look silly, struggle to reach my goal, and find new depths of humility. I would also laugh more than I had in a long time, help my friends and allow myself to be helped, watch our kids tackle amazing heights and be surrounded by the beauty that is Tahoe.
The very best overhear of all, after we had finished our time and were getting ready to leave, was when the littlest kid in our group turned to her mom and said, “What are we doing tomorrow? Can we come back and do it again.”
I am pretty sure we all felt the same way.
“It’s like you're trekking.”
With one of the chair lifts out of commission, and many of the runs closed, you would think our day of skiing would not have been much to talk about. Instead, though, the sun was out, the views were great, and I got to experience the concept of back country skiing as a guide led us across a run where at times we had to take off our skis and hike over patches of dirt.
The best experiences in my life, especially when I am travelling, always seem to occur when something unexpected changes my plan. Getting lost in Italy, finding myself without a hotel room in San Francisco, a car malfunction in England... these situation have led to my stepping outside my comfort zone and relying on the generosity / help of others. And, when I get that chance to interact with locals, be they foreign or domestic, I usually get a much better understanding of the place I am visiting.
I suppose this is why solitary beach vacations don’t do a lot for me. It is not so much that I need to be active as that I like to be involved. In fact, I am currently intrigued by the idea of a working vacation…though I know these aren’t always as useful as they are promoted to be (see this article from Conde Nast Traveler
My husband doesn’t feel this need like I do, and so vacation planning is always a negotiation for us. Even when I go someplace like Hawaii, I tend to spend quite a bit of time chatting with my fellow- travelers; or better yet, with locals in restaurants or shops. How do they like living where they do? What do they
do for fun? Have they ever visited where I am from? And if so, what did they think of it? I imagine it is like what a photojournalist must feel when they
travel… a moment that is shared even if it is not fully understood. (Link here
to one of my new favorite t.v. shows Word Travels, about being a travel journalist.)
Hiking across those dry patches was just a moment of my day…and for the others simply a means to get to a lift that was otherwise inaccessible. But for me, it was the highlight of my ski trip.
“Oh yeah! If I were single I wouldn’t be here. When my daughter’s in college I’m on a sailboat all over.”
Do you remember the song by Christopher Cross, Sailing
? When I was in middle school it was my theme song. At the time I’m not sure I even really paid much attention to the words. But the idea of escape must have registered in my pubescent brain like an anchor in a storm.
Since then the thought of sailing anywhere has been sadly replaced by the reality that I get easily seasick. It didn’t used to be that way. Pre having a child I could go through the murkiest water and keep my sailors feet. During one momentous trip across the Channel in England it seemed like the entire boat, other than my husband and me, were throwing up all over the place. Somehow, though, we made the two+ hour (usually it would only be about 1 1/2 hours) crossing without losing our lunch as well.
Fast forward six years and it would be me in misery as I suffered through a multi-hour whale watching tour/party in Mexico. I was near hysteria at the point where the crowd with us began dancing the Macarena and encouraging the
boat to stay out a little longer. I was told by the captain that if I swam for a moment I would feel better. Probably he was simply sick of my whining. Unfortunately, he didn’t warn me of the jellyfish. I was back in the boat within
minutes, jellyfish stings across my back.
Since that memorable trip I have been understandably hesitant to get back on a boat. I am wary of even short social trips by speedboat on our local lake. Still… the idea of a sailboat, skimming across the water, sails stiff in the wind, holds a unique place in my imagination. Through the power of dreams I do not feel the nausea, but only that glorious sense of escape.(Photo above courtesy of; www.Sailingforyou.ca
“Perfect. I was looking for the right person for this extra hot cocoa.”
We were visiting the Ritz Carlton for a behind the scenes tour of their kitchens but ended up with a once in a lifetime experience of service; and we weren’t even guests of the hotel.
Let me step back and explain how we arrived there. Spending Thanksgiving week in Tahoe we were looking for fun things to do around the area when we stumbled across this, free, kitchen tour. No questions asked the Ritz put us down for the visit at 3:00.
Located on the hillside above the Northstar Resort, the only parking optionwas through the valet at $20. Yikes… did we have a choice? Not really, but after expressing our concern, the valet offered to park our car, with our dog inside, in the heated garage at a much reduced parking rate.
Having arrived early we wandered around the lobby and were ultimately drawn by the huge windows which looked out over a massive fire pit, and in the distance, the ski slopes. I ordered a warm drink and while my husband and daughter had a quick snowball fight, sat at the fire pit enjoying the warmth and the view.
When it was time for our kitchen tour we went to their Flagship restaurant, Manzanita, created by famed chef, Tracy des Jardins. “Do not touch anything,” I warned my daughter, who immediately reached out to see if the huge, wooden bowl sitting at the bar was real. No problem… as I scolded her, the bartender, Tamaniqua, came over and told us that there was a ton of wood all over the hotel and everyone loved touching it. What did my daughter think of how it felt?
Moments later, Anthony, the Executive Sous Chef came over and began our tour, which covered much more than I had imagined. Vats of soup and homemade stock simmering in the catering kitchen, two huge walk in fridges,
thousands of square feet of prepping area, introductions to many of the chefs preparing for meals coming out of two restaurants and the catering area; the tour took 45 minutes and had us all entranced. At one point my daughter noticed a big bin of pre-wrapped s’more bundles. Anthony told us that every day at 4:00 the marshmallogists showed people how to create the perfect s’more out at the fire pit. Then he handed my daughter her own bundle so she could be prepared.
It wasn’t only Anthony who gave us his full attention. Along the way, any staff who ran into us greeted us warmly and asked what we thought, as though we were professional food critics. It was one of these staff members who
handed over this extra hot chocolate referred to in the overhear. My daughter was dazed, it was like magic to her. And at the end of the tour, after being shown the perfect cut from a huge halibut and the crackling duck fat in the open Manzanita kitchen, we met the managers of the restaurant who greeted my husband by name and reiterated the invitation to the marshmallogy.
Later, after we had roasted our marshmallows and picked up our car with our nice warm dog inside, we talked about our experience with each other. I explained that there are many hotels out there that will treat you well if you are dressed in designer clothes or have the last name Kardashian, but only a truly great hotel knows how to make every single guest, even the smallest among them, feel like a star.
This had hit home for me while we were roasting marshmallows. The marshmallogist had asked the kids there what they liked best about the hotel. There were the normal answers of the skiing, the pool, the game-room, but when a seven year old answered the bed, and another child said the food, I knew this was a hotel I would save my pennies to return to… as a guest.
Impressing adults is one thing but impressing a child is practically holy.
The click of the basin top shutting.
Sadly I wasn’t actually on
the luxury train. I was watching a PBS special
where David Suchet, the actor who plays Agatha Christie’s Poirot, rides the train to experience it before acting in the movie as the detective. Apparently Agatha Christie rode the train a number of times prior to writing MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
. The little details she adds, such as the clicking sound made by the basin lid being shut, are so real and true all readers can relate to them; whether they have ridden the train or not.
This is the talent of a truly great author. Mystery, of any genre, requires precise pacing in order to draw the reader into the story. The dilemma… adding details such as the above will often slow things down. So how does she do it? Let’s take an example……Now, weary of lying wakeful in the hot stuffiness of her overheated compartment, she got up and peered out.
This line, which takes place in the very first chapter of the novel, tells us much in the space of 19 words. She could have gone into detail about why the room was hot and stuffy, but the fact that she included the word 'compartment’ shows us instead…. This is a small space; a closed in space.
I now understand what it means to say lazy
writing. The act of pulling together precise words and stripping out the
unnecessary is difficult work. It takes time and thought, hard thought, to come up with the right words. A large vocabulary helps, but is not the key. Rather, I think, it is about thoughtfulness and care… playing with words until we are satisfied we have found the right one that conveys many meanings, rather than only one. It uses metaphor and glyphs to represent feeling and ideas; so that a child can be either a mouse or a puppy…
... and a sink can be a basin or a pool.
“Crikey, that dog looks just like Sirius Black.”
The huge black dog lugged itself out of the little stream while we and our visiting friends from England quickly scampered out of its way. It looked entirely gentle (unlike Padfoot), but none of us wanted to be in its line
of fire when it began to shake.
Having our British friends visiting is like living in an episode of Harry Potter. The reference for all things, especially to the 7 year old, is either the book, the film or the studio tour
they recently went on in Leavesden, England.
Our daughter’s request for rainbow sherbet leads to a question of its similarity to Dumbledore’s favorite candy, lemon sherbet. A ride in the car on the road up the mountain involves a comparison of the Weasley’s flying Ford
Anglia. This is a family you would never want to play the Harry Potter trivial pursuit game with!
The good news is that I am a fan…. both of Harry Potter and of my wonderful British friends. The even better news is that every little tidbit they drop goes into my running inventory of British expressions for use in my next novel. Something which is almost as good as being able to apparate over to England… and certainly much more useful than being able to transform into a humongous, hairy, black dog.
The animal actor and the
“I’ve got a feeling…that tonight’s gonna be a good night….”
We lay in bed rocking out to the music that floated through our open window. From outside the celebratory sounds of a wedding party crashed the night.
It was one year ago today that I was honored and lucky enough to attend the most fantastic wedding in my life. No, not my own, but a friend’s wedding in Italy. Every detail, from the ceremony in an ancient church, to the fireworks that lit the sky over the medieval castle where the reception was held, was perfect.
But not all weddings go so smoothly. Some are unlucky, some were badly planned, and some were never meant to be. We’ve probably all attended at least one wedding where something major went wrong. And even my friend’s wedding in Italy had a couple of stumbles; the bus that couldn’t squeeze down the narrow, country road to the castle…. Or the train on the wedding dress that tripped the bride and groom as they did their first dance. But little issues like these are what make what would otherwise be too choreographed become real; human.
I am thrilled that in November Soul Mate Publishing will be releasing the digital version of my story, UNTANGLING THE KNOT (check here for a little more info about it
). I loved writing this story because it takes place around a wedding; one with its own share of problems. And what could be more fun than that… Well, other than possibly attending the rocking wedding party I heard this weekend!!!
My Friends, Steven and Melissa - outside
Fiesole Cathedral; July 30, 2011
“We don’t say I can’t here; only I don’t want to.”
It’s really not that high…. And the trapeze isn’t as far away as it looks, but when you are standing on the top of a 5 inch round log, with nothing to hold onto and only air surrounding you it seems like the most impossible obstacle in the world.
Obstacles are funny that way; I suppose if they didn’t seem impossible they would just be called play-structures. The ropes course at Squaw Valley
challenges you to face the thoughts that tell you something is impossible (although it doesn’t really do anything about the inner voice shouting‘this is crazy’
Writers face plenty of these obstacles as they go through their journey. Some of them are entirely internal (you’ll never be able to finish it)
, and others are voiced openly and with such confidence you assume they must be true (do you know how impossible it is to get an agent
And the funny thing is, I have found it doesn’t really help when eventually you do get published (because, believe me, if you stick to it, you will). Then the inner voice says something like, (no one will like your work
) and the external ones talk all about the impossibility of making a living at writing.
Listening to these voices it is easy to forget that the reason I started writing was because I loved it. Rather than the sheer joy of writing, the obstacles begin to look like the purpose for my work.
At the top of a 100 foot tall pine tree I was so intent on ringing the bell that proved I had reached the top that I completely forgot to look at the beautiful scenery surrounding me. And ultimately that is the biggest problem with using the word can’t
; I become so focused on overcoming the obstacle that I forget I am actually there because I want
“If the parmesan cheese suffered in the earthquake it must have also effected the Parma ham.”
Oh no! I hadn’t even considered that. It was enough when I heard up to 10% of the cheese had been harmed. Now I had to worry also that there would be a less ham. And in fact, according to an article in the UK newspapaer,
The Gaurdian, one farmer lost 100 pigs when a building housing them collapsed. (Read more here.
Italy has had its share of troubles this year to be sure. Between the floods on the Cinque Terre coast, the monetary/budgeting issues and now the earthquake I am sure the people there feel like they can’t catch a break… or perhaps are being picked on.
On Saturday I received an email from a friend I met there last summer. She told me that she and her family live in that area and have been dealing with all of the debris and ongoing aftershocks. I know how scary this can be. In 1989 I was living in the bay area during the Loma Prieta earthquake. In fact, I was actually at the World Series game when it struck. That was scary enough… but it was the ongoing fear of aftershocks which put the biggest strain
on my emotions.
We convince ourselves that we are in control of our lives…but natural disasters like these fly in the face of that assumption. They show us that things can change in an instant.
Fortunately, my friend and her family are fine…. shaken (metaphorically and literally) but fine. Life will go one, as it did after the floods…. As it did after the earthquake I lived through. Even the parmesan production will continue and will eventually resume normal levels. The question is what we do with the emotions which arise from challenges like these. When I have stood at the precipice of this truth, where I am reminded that very little of my life is actually under my control, I have had to decide if I would live in fear, building walls and protection around myself or live each moment as fully as possible.
Ironically, in my third novel, Molto Mayhem
, it is only when my main character, Lucia, arrives in Italy and is
thrown out of the protective cocoon that she has built for herself that she begins to find the peace that comes from letting go and experiencing each minute of her life.
And to me, this makes perfect sense…. Because there is no place like Italy to experience the true pleasures of life; the beautiful sound of language, the attentiveness of a good friend and the true wonder of a hunk of 24 month old aged Parmesan cheese.
Picture courtesy of Martin Argles for the Guardian