Seattle to Chicago – Speeding Up and Slowing Down

imageAfter struggling to survive in the fourth most expensive city in the USA (Seattle) for the past 6 years, we finally decided to pack up our meager belongings and take the 2000 mile journey back to our hometown, Chicago. Chicago, where the average salary is closer to $40,000 a year vs $100,000 for an entry level engineer at Amazon. Chicago, where plumbers, gardeners, teachers, lawyers and Walmart workers all live on the same street. Chicago, where I can hear 5 languages when I enter the Harvest Time Foods family grocery store, including Spanish on the piped-in radio station.  Chicago, where I just experienced a glorious month of August, swimming in Lake Michigan and spending every day at the beach, reading fun novels and letting the sun heal me.

I have done this journey before, always alone with my son Avante, packing up a truck full of stuff, attaching a tow dolly, driving the car onto it and hauling the entire load across mountains, deserts and lone stretches of road where “no services” signs bring up fears of breaking down on a 90 degree day far from a town. My husband Johnny always flew before us, setting up a job, a place, finding a community.

I have moved from Portland to Chicago, from Chicago to Seattle and now from Seattle back to Chicago, criss-crossing the country over a 10 year period of time, trying to find a home where all three of us (mom, dad and son) can find our way, make friends, learn, grow, prosper, and be healthy. If I could get back the expenses for gas, hotels, truck rentals, security deposits, and start up fees for utilities, we could have probably put it down on a house somewhere, set up shop,
built a home and a business and a life for ourselves…

But we didn’t. We were and are gypsies, acquirers of experience and friends and music and art and festivals and new foods and new languages. We are rich in memories and references, great at conversation and story telling, funny and vibrant and full of life. We have always done what we wanted to do and followed our bliss and up until now, this act of ‘living our right livelihood’ has made perfect sense.

Up until now. In about 30 days, I will have the honor of celebrating my 50th birthday, and this has brought up all sorts of questions about where a person is supposed to be at 50, what they should
have accomplished, what they should OWN and what this birthday means in a global/celestial sense. Lots of fun topics that used to keep me up at night before I enrolled in this 35,000 Calorie Challenge at my YMCA. I have to exercise, hard, for an hour a day, for 100 days straight. Today is day #10 and I have alternated with water aerobics and 10 mile bike rides, every other day. These days I sleep like a baby, out of exhaustion.

However, the questions still tug at me.

Who evaluates our success? Us or society? How much is enough to have earned, accomplished, experienced? Why are we satisfied with what we have at certain points, and woefully disappointed in our lot on other days? Especially when it is the same lot, the same job, the same apartment, the same family.

But it is not the same. I am new here, in my old/new city. Trying to find work and friends and sanctuary in a fast-paced world. Trying to fill my days with structure and purpose and productivity, whether it’s cooking for my family, working with a student or sculpting my body at the Y. Either way, I just want to feel at home in my skin, in my relationships, in my two-flat apartment with it’s wood floors and 1902 wainscoting trim around the ceilings. Waiting to exhale and hopefully stay put for a while – my spirit and pocketbook can’t endure much more change.


The Matriarch has Retired

As if thinking of a stranger, I remember the days of lovingly peeling potatoes, listening to world music and preparing dinner for my family of 3. Day after day, I created delicious entrees out of simple ingredients.  I loved borrowing cookbooks from the library, trying out recipes or bringing back old favorites along with the nostalgia that only food can evoke. I felt a certain humility, as if my role was to be the bringer of health – the one who thinks “what’s for dinner?” early on in the day. Maintaining the sacred, traditional custom of the family dinner, I felt confident that this act would keep our 13 year old off of drugs and out of some girl’s pants.

I prepared breakfast and lunch with the same reverence, standing on a support pad that chefs use, buying myself new dish towels and other sparky tools to keep my kitchen fresh and exciting. I would listen to NPR each morning, and my (unpaid) daily shift from 6-7am went something like this:

boil up water for rice and coffee/ make coffee to keep myself going while I do the other tasks/wash the dishes from the night before/wipe off the counters,so I can make room for breakfast/feel grateful that I’m doing this in a developed country, with electricity and running water/stare at the fridge/figure out what I can make them for lunch that will be


“Mom, I need you to sign this paper that was due 3 days ago, and pay for something” my son would say, handing me a totally wrinkled field trip permission slip, a yearbook order form or some other paperwork that would demand mental focus and the writing of a check.

“Just leave it on the counter, I’ll get to it later. Out of the kitchen.” I’d grunt, in the nicest voice I could muster.

Scramble the eggs for breakfast/put toast in the toaster/check the rice/saute up some veg/sip the coffee/think about the world/prep the breakfast plates/throw out the half-eaten lunches from yesterday. (Wasted food and energy – try not to think about it, it’s already 6:45… and they have to leave soon.)

A quote I’d heard on NPR, “Women’s work contributes to an unacknowledged, un-paid labor force, supporting the nation but somehow not integrated into the Gross National Product.” lodged itself in my mind.

“Breakfast is ready” I’d pronounce, placing the steaming plates on our 50’s style metal table with the mis-matched chairs.

“Thanks” one of them would mutter, as they walked past me with thoughts of their day ahead, in that absent-minded way one would acknowledge to a waitress or a teen at the drive-through, who I now had a new appreciation for.

Passing a mirror, I would see my frizzy hair sticking out, the mascara from yesterday smudged below my eyes, and my paisley mumu hanging off of me in what used to be a funky way. Now I just looked dowdy. I’d think about my schedule and what I needed to prepare for that day’s clients, but there was no time for that now.

Next I’d whip through preparing their lunches, all the while trying to remember to sip my (now cold) coffee and prepare my 10 daily supplements. I did this same routine every day for years.

Then I turned 49 and





I began to ride the emotional and physical waves of shifting hormones. As if in a constant state of PMS, the filter which edited my thoughts and words felt like a thing of the past. Blown about by these peri-menopausal winds of change, my brassy and intrepid alter-ego made regular appearances. Acting like a sacrificial matriarch annoyed me.  My new self was protective of her energy, free of guilt and communicating with intense clarity.

A war had begun in my body, my mind and my apartment.

I fantasized about installing a time-clock on my kitchen wall, and punching in every time I was of service.

“Hey, guys, what if I started charging you for all of the tasks that I do each day?” I quipped one day at breakfast.

“Pretty funny baby.” my husband said. “You know we appreciate your cooking, your cleaning, and all the ways you show your love for us.”

We had been down this road many times before and his praise usually kept my restless spirit at bay for a while.  Only now I realized that thousands of “thank you’s” could not make up for my daily sacrifices. Before my massive shift, watching my child at a soccer game or noticing his clean outfits from afar could give me a feeling of satisfaction. Now I was tired of being a bystander.

The passage of time had become very top of mind.  The drive to express my ideas and cultivate my vision became louder and louder. It wasn’t about the cooking.  The act of crafting meals that my family quickly consumed in front of the TV symbolized  an endless waste of time that was preventing me from unearthing my gifts.

I equated each meal with a potential:

inspirational essay

thought provoking article

transformative book on experiments in living

I had this sudden drive to invest my energy into experiences and projects that had an actual outcome. Thinking like men had thought for centuries, I craved a sense of success and acknowledgment from the outside world.  My inner child was tugging at my shirt tails, begging for attention and a voice.

My un-edited anger seeped into other parts of our lives too. I began questioning the division of labor in our living space.

“Mom, where is my black Nike t-shirt?” my teen son demanded one busy morning at 6am, “I asked you to wash it last night!”

The indignant tone in his voice surprised me.

“Why is it MY responsibility to wash, dry and keep track of your clothes?” I said, thinking this was yet another watershed moment in our mother-son journey.

Empowered to flip the script, I went and bought 3 small matching hampers. From that day forward, each family member had to wash and dry their own laundry.

Revitalized after delegating the laundry responsibilities, I began dividing up other domestic chores I had unconsciously taken care of, as the woman of the house.

Realizing that the endless nature of housework had been consuming my spirit, I craved space to reflect on, quantify and clarify my own thoughts. To put it simply, I wanted to write.  I wanted to be alone.  I wanted to give my thoughts free reign and see where they would take me.

By giving myself permission to redefine my role as a wife and mother, I stepped into my power, unearthing unlimited reserves of energy and possibility.  Allocating time and attention on my process has enabled me to cultivate my emerging self while reinventing what it means to love others.




Walking the Camino – Six Ways to Santiago


The documentary Walking the Camino – Six Ways to Santiago follows a group of tourists turned pilgrims, as they walk 500 miles across Northern Spain, in the ancient tradition of Christians who have followed this same spiritual path for hundreds of years.  Along the way there are albergues, or hostels, where those who are walking can stay for a very small fee.  You sleep in large rooms with men and women, eat communally and are basically thrown head-long into an international slumber party.

The walkers are a young woman with her preschool-aged son, a pair of senior men who are best friends, and some other young men and women who connect with each other along the way.  The mother actually has a stroller for her son, along with a huge backpack and some other bags, and they both walk (ride) the entire 500 miles!

There are many reflective moments where the pilgrims compare the Camino to the road of life we are walking down:  unpredictable, painful, exciting, humbling.  They speak of not knowing what will happen that day, where they will sleep that night, who they will meet, and how that is why they felt so ALIVE during the journey.

In one scene, the older gentlemen chat about what it is like to pack everything you own and need into one bag, and then start walking for the day.  They spoke about how the trail was their home.  Letting go of possessions enabled them to be free and live in the moment.

Watching this film, from the vantage point of my {mother-wife-teacher-owner of a car and a motorcycle-person with a schedule} perspective, I felt sad.  Living in hostels, on the edge, from day to day was my lifestyle for about 10 years and my current normal life has a repetitiveness that is mind-numbing, predictable, stifling.

I’d like to close with these questions, and I would love to hear your thoughtful responses in the comment section below:

How much do we need to sacrifice for our children/partner/success?

What is the price we pay for consistency?

Are our accomplishments truly significant, if all we are doing is training ourselves to sublimate our true nature, our inquisitive minds, or desire for connection and adventure?

How do you define success?

When do you feel the most spiritual?  The most connected to others and the Universe?

Join the conversation as we question the assumptions that are all around us, and work to re-define our own values, dreams, futures.