The long awaited travel post!

Monday, February 15, 2016

I've been meaning to post more photos of my amazing European adventure, so here they are! It makes me happy and a little nostalgic as I think back to the interesting people I met. I feel like I gained something by traveling alone in a foreign land where I don't know the language. I had to set aside my fiercely independent nature at times and rely on the goodness of strangers. A few months in 11 cities isn't enough time to fully enjoy every town, village and city, but let's just call it a prelude.

(I took all of these photos with my iphone6, which is better for traveling. I applied instragram filters to some, but no other editing was done.)

Ok, so I have to start with an Arizona sunset. There's no place like home.

This was close to the Arizona/Utah border at a protected wilderness area called Coyote Butte. It's an amazing place to hike and I highly recommend it. 

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona.

I had to get at least one shot of the Grand Canyon. I am an Arizona girl!

And on to Europe. This needs no introduction.....

In the catacombs below Paris, over 6 million people are buried.

On a lighter note, Amsterdam!

Cinque Terre, Italy is a treasure. There are 5 fishing villages right on the edge of the Mediterranean. They are so close together that you can hike between all five in a day. I loved this hike and feeling the sunshine on my skin as I followed the wandering path in and out of the coastal woods. This was one of my favorite places.

The Garnier Paris Opera House. I saw Ballet here and loved it. If I weren't already totally in love with Ballet and theater, this would have done it!

Nice, France. The waters of the Mediterranean are other-wordly.

There are so many wonderful cathedrals to see in Paris, but don't miss this special one. Sainte Chapelle. J'adore.

A Series of Unfortunate Events and A Drug-Induced Rage Post

Sunday, December 27, 2015

To wrap up this year, my back decided to explode. Happy New Year! I have a herniated disk and it’s bad. And when I say bad, I mean it’s 6am Christmas morning and I’ve been up for 3 hours already (my lack of sleep is not due to the holiday excitement), my left leg is numb, and it feels like there’s fire in my veins.  I’m not sure how that works, but apparently, you can be numb and feel unquenchable burning at the same time.

It all started a few weeks ago just before Thanksgiving. I had moved apartments and had tweaked my back in the process. I was also sleeping on an old mattress with a bad box spring and then tried to drive 12 hours to visit my sister for Thanksgiving. Half way there, I stopped for the night in Crescent City. I stayed at a small motel on the coast with a view of the ocean. That night, there was a major storm and the wind and rain pelted the small room. I thought I was in a hurricane with the rain and wind battering the walls, roof and window. It kept me up, restless. I know that area is especially prone to tsunamis, so I had anxious nightmares about a gigantic wave smashing me to pieces. The next morning, I could barely stand, walk, sit, or drive.

In the morning, I did manage to make it 5 painful minutes down the road to get breakfast. Once at the restaurant, I started having serious problems. The pain was overwhelming me. I got hot, sweaty, dizzy and almost fainted. I tried standing, sitting, walking. Nothing helped. I finally walked outside and laid down on a bench. That relieved enough of the pressure that I didn’t pass out. The kind waitress brought my food out in a doggy bag as I just laid there.

I spent the rest of the day in the motel. I was still thinking I would feel better the next day and could continue my drive. How optimistic and stupid! By the next morning, I was at urgent care getting pain killers so I would last a few more days until seeing my doctor. Long story short, turns out I have a herniated disk (the lowest disk in my back) that is putting pressure on the left sciatic nerve root (which runs down my leg). Basically, my disk exploded and is choking the nerve root. Nerves don’t like that.

I guess now I’m an old person with a ‘bad back’. It sucks. It also makes me angry when people give unsolicited advice. And it doesn’t help that my doctor gave me an oral steroid to reduce swelling, but it just makes me agitated, irritable, and angry. So here goes the drug-induced rage part of the post….

One thing that happens when people hear what I’m going through is to give me advice. Have I tried yoga? Do you know yoga is great for posture and core strength?
And I recognize this comes from a good place in people. They want to share with me something that has helped them, but don’t realize that my situation might be totally different. Or that I already do yoga! And ballet and hike and walk and stay active and have good posture and am not overweight and don’t drink or smoke… all the things to avoid injury in the first place. Seriously, I feel like I’m bleeding from a gapping wound in my neck and people are giving me a child-size bandaid printed with cartoon characters and saying this will make it all better!
It’s irritating.

After the urgent care visit, I took the pain meds and tried to continue on my way to my sister's house. At this point, I was high on medicine so probably wasn’t thinking too clearly. I only made it a few minutes down the road and had to pull over from the pain. I saw a man who had just checked out of the hotel (suitcase in hand) who was walking down the road. He saw me and stopped to ask if I knew where the greyhound bus station was located. We got to talking and he was headed to Portland so I offered him a ride. Actually, I offered him a ride and then made him drive as I laid down in my drug-induced state and sang Christmas carols. His name was Miguel or Manuel or something like that. He said it was a bible name, but I don’t remember a Manuel in the bible. Maybe short for Emmanuel? Anyway, I was pretty drugged up so don’t recall all the details. Probably not my wisest moment.

But, I survived the drive, Manuel survived my endless singing, and we both made it to Portland alive! And eventually, I made it home safely (a friend flew out and drove me back to San Francisco). Now I just have to work out my back issue while dealing with a high deductible health insurance plan (which basically means I pay for everything myself) and being temporarily homeless. I usually don’t write such bitchy posts, but I blame the drugs on this one :) That, and the constant, searing pain in my back/leg for the past 5 weeks.

Merry Christmas!

PS. Encouraging comments welcome (no advice)! Also, I do want to thank all my friends for putting up with me the past few weeks while I've been a grumpy gus. Thank you!

European Adventures

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tomorrow, I head back to San Francisco. After 7 weeks of traveling across Europe, I'm going home. I've loved taking this break to renew my soul. I've done some scary things and had some amazing adventures. Here's a few:

Rode a Vespa through the vineyards of Tuscany
Met a hotel concierge named Peter Pan
Ate gelato 4 times in one day (ok- maybe 5 times)
Almost got run over by a bus in Rome
Kissed an Italian man in the back of a laundromat
Sailed and swam in the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean
Saw a ballet in the Paris Opera House
Visited countless museums and ruins
Walked, walked, walked
Hiked through small towns and fishing villages, on high peaks and valley troughs
Watched an Italian opera in Florence
Saw inspiring art and sculpture
Ate the best food- pizza, gelato, pasta, pasta, pasta!
And my favorite- I met some wonderful and interesting people.

I'll miss Europe, but I'm looking forward to spending the holidays with family. I'll be writing a lot more about my travels as there are great stories to tell and more adventures to come!

On a Vespa in Tuscany....

Island of Capri and swimming in the Mediterranean

Doing Scary, traveling alone, and bikini waxes

Friday, October 2, 2015

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face." -Eleanor Roosevelt

As part of my 6 month wanderings, I've decided to do a few things that scare me.  Get my motorcycle license, travel alone across Europe, rent a car and figure out how to pay a toll while driving a manual transmission in crazy French traffic, and get a Brazilian bikini wax (the scariest of all!). Fear is a strange thing. We're afraid as we anticipate the worst possible outcome of a dreaded event. And then in reality, it usually isn't that bad. Unless it is. And then that sucks.

But I'm working to conquer my fear of motorcycles, being alone, and bikini waxes. So here goes.....

Step number one: Get my motorcyle license. 
Oh wait, step number one: learn how to ride a motorcycle.

As I sat on the idling motorcycle, waiting for my turn to go through the obstacle course for the driving test, I was so nervous. I'm talking butterflies-in-my-stomach-I-might-barf nervous. I can't even remember the last time I felt like that. But I just thought- focus on the basics. Eyes up, look where you want to go, easy on the throttle.

I recently attended a talk given by world famous climber, Ron Kauk. This is a man that has 30+ years of climbing experience. He's one of the best in the world. He's climbed El Capitan in Yosemite (2000+ foot sheer granite face) over half a dozen times. When a friend recently asked him what advanced, difficult, detailed climbing technique he was working on, he replied, 'Breathing'. 

The most basic, primitive, usually involuntary skill. It's something all of us do every single moment without thought. But that was what Ron was working on after 30+ years climbing. Breathing. I love the simplicity of that. Keep it simple and focus on the basics. Another title for this post could have been, 'Three steps to overcoming fear', but that sounded too boring. But if I were writing an inspirational essay on overcoming fear, my three steps would be breathe, be teachable, and show up!

When I signed up for a motorcycle safety course, I was nervous about going to the first riding class. Would I fall and hurt myself? Hurt someone else? Crash the bike? Then I just thought, the first step is to just show up. You can do that. You can show up.

And remember the voice of that coach, teacher, or someone knowledgable and on your side. A good teacher will give you something positive to focus on. I decided to listen to everything the motorcycle instructors said, even if it didn't seem right or natural (like counter steering). Counter steering is pushing in the direction you want to go. It means your front wheel turns left as you go right. Maybe I'm the only one here but that sounds counterintuitive. Once I learned the reason behind it (it all has to do with the curvature of the wheel), then it made intellectual sense but I was still afraid to do it in practice. You have to be going fairly fast to make it work, which adds to the scariness of it. Once I decided to trust the teacher and do it anyway, it worked! Now I can feel the bike lean (and turn) more when I countersteer.

I read a book recently called 'Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway'. It wasn't that great of a book, but you can learn all you need to know from the title. Everyone feels fear. Don't fight it. Let it come and acknowledge it. Then keep trying, keep showing up, keep making an effort. Don't let the fear paralyze you.  

I grew up playing flute. I was very intense about this passion, practicing for hours each day after school and on weekends. A fun day was getting together with one of my best friends and playing flute duets. Yes, we were big time nerds and I loved it. I did a bunch of competitions and got nervous for every single one. But just before going on stage or into the audition room, I'd take a big breath and slowly move my fingers on the keys. The most basic thing I could do and it would help me focus. 

So I passed the motorcycle test and have my license- yay! Not everyone passed the class and I felt anxious as we waited in line to get our scores. Turns out I got the 2nd highest grade in the class. Yes, I'm a teacher's pet. I guess it never leaves you.

So now as I'm traveling around Europe alone, trying new things and not knowing what each new city will bring, I just remind myself, show up, be teachable, and most importantly- breathe.

Going Home: The American Southwest

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I grew up in Arizona and love the desert, but this hasn't always been the case. When I was a teenager, I hated the irrepressible heat of the Arizona summer. I thought cactus was an annoyance, the desert was too barren, and that southwest architecture and stucco houses were ugly. To make it worse, my family had cars with NO AIR CONDITIONING! What were we thinking?! To save money, my dad bought a cargo van instead of a passenger van so it had no windows, no air conditioning, no seats, no seat belts, no nothing except the absolute basics. Basics here means motor, wheels, steering wheel, front windshield. My dad used a hacksaw to cut out squares from the sides of the van for windows and covered them with plastic sheeting. These windows did not roll down. Did you catch that? The windows DID NOT ROLL DOWN! I only now realize the insanity of it all- driving in the desert summer heat with no air conditioning and windows that don't roll down!? Insane. And they were sealed around the edges and bolted on so that the van looked like a heavy duty, industrial army vehicle. My dad installed seats that he found at the local dump. For a nicer touch, he added floor-to-ceiling industrial carpet. Such was our family van. During the summer months as the outside temperatures reached 115+ Fahrenheit, it was like a sweltering oven. Add 6 kids and you have the recipe for a Watkins Family road trip!

It's funny how things you hated when you were younger, you can end up loving. Or at least looking back with fond memories. I've grown to appreciate the barren beauty of the desert and the family road trips. The cactus forests, the tough desert critters (geckos, roadrunners, scorpions), and the late summer monsoons. The dark grey, thundering clouds filling the expansive sky in the afternoons as the wind picks up and you watch the lightning-filled thunderclouds move closer. It was exciting in a way and provided some relief from the blazing hot day.

So for part of my 6 month wanderings, I've come back to Arizona. I took a week for a solo road trip down Hwy 1 in California, through Big Sur, across Las Vegas, into northern Arizona, Navajo country, Grand Canyon, and eventually Mesa, where my parents live. I did some hiking along the way, visited Antelope Canyon, Coyote Butte, and camped at Lake Powell. There's nothing like the vast, expansive desert landscape to bring me home.

So here's my homage to the great American Southwest and the beauty of desolate places.

Antelope Canyon- you have to get a guide to see this place since it's on the Navajo reservation. The canyon is small and they have lots of visitors, so I felt very rushed going through. Not quite the peaceful meandering that I would've liked, but I managed to get a few great shots. This place is a golden treasure.

The Wave at Coyote Butte- After a 3 mile hike in mostly uncharted territory, you arrive at The Wave (if you were able to follow the directions carefully). Bring a compass- it's a little tricky, but worth it. Layers of sandstone have compressed over millennia and then been carved out by wind, rain, and flash floods.

I have so many great photos of this trip, that I'll have to spread my photos across a couple posts.....more to come.

Josh Duggar, Yoga Pants, and Modesty

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ok- I just have to get this out. (Caution- some mild swearing follows. What can I say? I curse when I'm passionate about something).

The Josh Duggar news is very disturbing to me. One aspect of this story that I find troubling is the rhetoric he and his family use in explaining some of his actions. It reminds me of very similar rhetoric I heard growing up Mormon around modesty, sex, and temptations that men face.

I wonder if some of the modesty rhetoric in conservative Christian groups contributes to boys thinking they aren't in control or that they are victims. Messages that emphasize female modesty and under-emphasize a man's choices on how he acts and what he thinks. "It's not your fault (women are temptresses)". For example, Josh's sisters warning him if an immodestly dressed woman walks by so he can avert his gaze. If you can't even look at a woman in a swimsuit and not want to force yourself on her, then something is wrong.

I think this is such a hot topic for me because I know people who think like this. I'm single and have been in the Mormon dating scene for over 20 years. (which kind of sucks, but a topic for another post). The whole time, I've been very active- going to church every week, dressing modestly, temple recommend, etc.

I'm reminded of a guy I dated (in my 30's) who broke up with me because I was too attractive and physically tempting. He said this meant I was a bad influence on him. Wait- what? I thought he was joking at first like he just wanted to soften the blow of breaking up with me by saying something sort of complimentary (like I'm attractive). But no, he was completely serious. He really thought it was my fault that he couldn't control his thoughts around me. He took no accountability for his own thoughts and actions, but instead placed all this blame and burden on me.

But, now that I think about it- I did wear yoga pants around him once (heaven forbid). We went on a hike and I wore yoga pants and a T-shirt. That must've been my fatal mistake- those tight fitting, lusty yoga pants- damn you! I don't know how he resisted my expert seductive skills. Poor, unfortunate soul.

Seriously, I'm still disturbed by this. For one, because I actually felt some guilt when he told me his reason for breaking up with me. I thought- oh no! What could I have done differently? Am I a bad influence? No one wants to think they don't bring out the best in someone they care about.

But then I realized he's an idoit. I also realized he is not alone and that the culture we grew up with has contributed to his current viewpoint. I always heard in church - don't tempt the boys by dressing immodestly. The underlying tone was that I am responsible for their virtue. I needed to be the strong one because they couldn't be trusted to have the control to not push boundaries. That's a heavy and unfair burden to put on a young woman. And if I ever have boys I will teach them why this is bullshit.

So let me be clear on what I think about this topic: It's each person's responsibility to control their own thoughts and actions. Do not blame external forces for your weakness. Get help if you need to and then man up and take control of yourself. You are the only one that can.

Digital Detox

Monday, August 10, 2015

This past week (the first week of being without a job), I've been purging all unnecessary items from my life. I've cleaned and organized everything I own- letting go of anything that doesn't bring me joy or that I never use anymore. It's crazy how much lighter I feel already. I'm not weighed down by all this crap that I've been carrying around for years. I had 4 huge boxes of heavy music that I've had since high school (not playing more than a few of the pieces anymore) and I've lugged that stuff around for the past 20 years! Not anymore.

And now that that's done, I'm moving on to phase 2: digital detox.

I'm addicted to my phone. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Email and Texting. These are the worst offenders for me. I love social media for so many reasons (and it can be such a great way to keep in touch with people I've known through the years), but it is addictive. I have to see what my friends have posted on Instagram! What's the latest engagement or baby announcement on Facebook? It makes me feel connected to the people I care about (which is not a bad thing), but I also get sucked into having to check it all the time. I think it'll be good to have a break and be able to focus more on being present.

I'm headed to Yosemite today for a week of camping and hiking. The reception there is minimal anyway, so I'll be unplugged while I'm there. A week isn't a long time, but knowing me- I'll feel the separation from my beloved devices. But the trees, mountains, streams, and hills (hopefully not bears) will be my companions.

"The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness." -John Muir

The Great Purge

Friday, July 31, 2015

My last day at work is today and it feels strange. I vacillate from feeling excited for my new adventures and being anxious that I don't have a job or schedule! I'm usually a planner- an organized machine. Going rogue and wandering aimless for a few months is a little scary for me. But, I'm trying to embrace the experience.

One thing I'm doing my first week of vacation is to organize everything I own. I call this 'The Great Purge'. I have too much junk that I've collected over the years and it's time to downsize. I need to sublease my city apartment anyway (San Francisco rent is insane and I can't waste the money on a place I won't be living in for a few months). So, I'm starting my vacation with cleaning and organizing everything! What fun!

I've been inspired by this book I read a few weeks ago called, "The life-changing magic of tidying up". It sounds like a paradise for anyone with OCD and it is! This book is crazy, genius, bizarre, and wonderful. The author includes tidbits of wisdom like........

"In essence, tidying ought to be the act of restoring balance among people, their possessions, and the house they live in."

"One theme underlying my method of tidying is transforming the home into a sacred space, a power spot filled with pure energy."

"Put your house in order and discover what you really want to do."

She basically says that if you have to buy storage and organization bins, then you're doing it wrong. Once you put something in storage, you'll never use it again. Get rid of anything that doesn't bring you joy. That's the ultimate test. Joy.

I started with one of the most difficult categories for boxes of music. I have heavy boxes of sheet music that I've carried around with me for years. Since I studied music performance (twice) in college, I'm very attached to my music! I have memories of playing the Mozart G Major Flute Concerto at a competition. I still see the indecipherable scribblings of my favorite flute teacher in the margin. A symbol that looks like a skiwampus crescendo....a bunch of circles in the shape of a bullseye.....1,2,3 go!

This music has crazy emotional connections for me, but I haven't played a majority of it in years. And I will probably never play the Chant de Linos flute concerto by Andre Jolivet. Or the piccolo concerto by Lowell Liebermann. Or learn circular breathing from a book by Robert Dick. They have youtube videos for that now.

Time to say goodbye to my once-beloved music (or anything else in my life) that no longer brings me joy. I'll keep my favorite pieces, of course, but that'll be limited to a small box. Goodbye, my dear, tattered, well-loved music. Time to move on.

The Blog is Back! (and I quit my job)

Friday, July 10, 2015

I quit my job.

My last day at work will be end of this month. I didn't get another job yet. I'm taking 6 months off to camp, travel, read (a lot), write, and visit my family. I guess you could call this my midlife crisis or my version of 'Eat, Pray, Love'. But this version will be more like 'Camp, Travel, Read'. I just need to push the reset button on my life. It's not that anything is horribly wrong. I have a significant amount of money saved, a good and mostly satisfying career, friends, family, and good health. But I've also been through some traumatic experiences that have slowly broken me down. Lost loves, work drama, crushed expectations, watching my biggest dream for my life slowly and painfully die. You know, the usual.

I made a short hiking/camping trip to Yosemite a few weeks ago and have been feeling the pull of it ever since. There is something peaceful and calming about walking amongst the trees, streams, and mountains. It's comforting to feel a connection to something that has been here a lot longer than I have and that will last far beyond when I am gone. I definitely loose sight of that in my everyday city life.

'When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.'
-John Muir

So far, my plan for my 6 month wanderings will be to camp for a few weeks, then spend some time with my parents in Arizona, and then travel in Europe for a month (Southern France, Italy, Amsterdam, Greece). But first, Yosemite.....

'The mountains are calling and I must go.'
-John Muir

The 'F' Word

Sunday, April 6, 2014

I have something to confess.....

I'm a feminist.

For some reason I don't understand, feminism has gotten a bad rap (especially in the Mormon church). But when I say feminism, I just mean I believe in gender equality. Simple. Not controversial- right?


I'm continually surprised that this is a controversial topic. That people seem intent on focusing on ways in which we are different, rather than on how we can treat all people with equal respect, value, and consideration for their opinions.

If there's anyone reading this post that doesn't know me, there's a little bit of background that you'll need at this point. I'm a very religious person and am a life-long member of the Mormon church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). I go to church every Sunday and for the most part, live my religion. If I refer to 'the church' in this post, I'm referring to the Mormon church. I'm also single, 30-something, never been married.

There are growing feminist movements in the church, one of which is Ordain Women. I have mixed thoughts/feelings about this movement, but I think it's worth examining something that makes me a bit uncomfortable. In this post, I'll also be referring to this article, which details the response of the church to the Ordain Women request to attend the priesthood session of general conference.

First of all, I am uncomfortable with an aspect of the Ordain Women movement.... Maybe because I’m culturally conditioned to feel that priesthood is just for men. Or, maybe because I do think it’s a matter of revelation- we can ask for the priesthood but ultimately, it’s up to God. It’s His priesthood. Also, in some ways, I feel that women already have godly power. We get a glimmer of that in the temple and I think in heaven, women will more fully be able to exercise that power. (This is a topic for another post).


There's another aspect of this movement (and other Mormon feminist movements) that resonates with me. I do want to see more gender equality in the church. I would like to see women leaders speak in conference more often, women seen and respected for being gospel scholars, and women valued for their opinions and insight.

Now on to the response from the church's PR department to the Ordain Women request to attend conference: there is something about this response that bothers me greatly. The PR person seems to indicate that one of the reasons this issue isn’t being considered is because the vast majority of women don’t want it. But if the vast majority of women in the church did want the priesthood, does that mean it would be considered more seriously? It just really bothers me when members of the church say declarative statements like, ‘women aren’t meant to have the priesthood and never will’…. For one, no one can say women will never have the priesthood. No one. If it really is up to God, He can make a declaration at any time and give women the priesthood.

Also, as far as the bigger issue here- I really see this movement as women who want to be treated as equals in this church. I get that. That message resonates with me. As a single woman, I feel especially vulnerable to being treated as a second-class citizen. I don’t have a spouse to back me up if needed. It’s just me- a single woman. The lowest-valued member of the church. I know single men get a lot of condemnation for not being married, but they (for the most part) are still considered highly datable and desirable. For me, what is my value in the church if I'm not a mother or a wife? I’m someone that needs charity- a burden on the society of the church. That’s all bullshit of course, but it’s how I feel.

Now- I'm still Mormon and intend to stay that way. No religion is perfect because people aren't perfect. It doesn't make me question my faith when I see people being judgmental or lacking compassion. I think that's an aspect of human nature. I still love my religion and find great beauty and hope in the gospel of Christ.

Ok- back to priesthood. I have a wish: I wish people would listen to these women's concerns with a compassionate ear. I wish these women would be invited to SLC to help figure out ways we can help women feel equally valued in the church. I wish people would show compassion and help silence the angry backlash that these women’s movements are getting. An open, compassionate dialogue. That’s what I wish.

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