Chapter End

I remember the sensation of abject terror; fluttering heart and shaking legs as I looked over the valley. Once I felt steady, I pushed the edge of fear even more, and closed my eyes. There was comfort in the familiar sound of my breath, settling my heart and bringing me to the place of knowing that I was so much more than the frail vessel poised on the edge of the cliff. If my body had fallen, my soul was prepared to fly.

A few months later I began the process of moving into my new home in Little Rock, Arkansas. Alone. It was time to learn to fly solo.

In December, as I was starting to settle in, my titanium hip implant broke while I was brushing my teeth. I had revision surgery, spent nine weeks using a walker, and started carefully rebuilding strength and flexibility. It was a time of forced grounding and nesting. My wings were healing.

Steve and I have dissolved our marriage. We do so with sadness, but also love and support for each other, I am in his home in Alabama as I write this. He stayed with me during my surgery recovery, I helped him move into his new home. We are friends.

Next week , I’ll begin the legal process to change my last name.

Michelle Ray was the name I used for so many years, the name so many know me by, the surname of my children. And the last name of my former husband. Because that is the way it works for women. Fathers name. Husbands name. I don’t like those choices

Michelle Rae is the name I choose.

Choice. Freedom. Growth. Learning. Those are the themes for this chapter as it begins.

A new blog will be coming. A new Etsy shop is in the works. So many possibilities!

Hip Revision Chronicles 2 Gratitude

Gratitude. If you read Hip Revision Chronicle 1 you might wonder why I am gong to devote a post to gratitude.

Let me tell you how grateful I am that my hip replacement device broke while I was brushing my teeth in my bathroom in my home in Little Rock.

I have lived at 7,200 elevation in a cabin on the side of a mountain in Pagosa Springs, Colorado for the last three years. We moved to Little Rock two and a half months before the incident. There is no cell service for miles around the cabin, so we used Wi-Fi calling in order to use our phones. The range of the Wi-Fi did not go much past the walls of the house. I couldn’t make calls from the deck for instance, and forget going out in the yard. The internet was spotty at best. It went out completely frequently. Not just at our place, sometimes the whole town was without cell or internet service for hours or days.

Our house perched on a steep slope. The dogs and Noodles houses were a good distance away. During the winter we dug paths in the snow so that we all could go back and forth. Those paths became very icy. We called them snow tunnels and toboggan runs. While we had a railing to help with footing there were several times when my feet went out from under me and I sat down hard. Steve was gone for hours almost every day playing pickleball. Not a good scenario. The Apple Watch and cell phone didn’t work there.

The slope of our backyard was such that I needed crampons on my boots to keep from sliding down the hill while waiting for the dogs to potty. I was out there alone during the middle of the night many times. Once I lost my shoes in the deep snow and spent several frustrating minutes on my stomach trying to reach them. I never could have crawled out of that. The temperatures were in the teens or minus zero frequently.

These are the stairs I used during the winter in order to get in and out of the house. They are made of sharp toothed metal. The driveways were impassable once it started snowing.

This is the special place that I spent many hours practicing yoga and developing my balance. I did tree pose on that leg on these rocks in the Rio Blanco over a mile from my house. The place is completely private. No cell service. What would have happened to Mick? Would my body have floated past our house down the road?

I went on hikes at high elevation with trails that were washed out on mountainsides of scree, which is treacherous loose rock and gravel. Hikes that crossed the continental divide. And of course no cell service. The drop offs were terrifying.

I rode my horse on rides that went miles into the wilderness where we spotted bear and moose. Miles from the nearest road, several hours of driving after reaching the trailhead to reach cell service. Many times it was just me and one other person. What would that have been like for me if I even survived? What trauma for the person or people with me?

I stood on that leg on a rock with a 5,000ft drop off.

My last horseback ride in Pagosa was with my friend Mary Beth. The helicopter circling as we rode the trail. A father and son had ridden out before us. The fathers horse slipped and fell on one of the switchbacks. His back broken, the father had to wait hours to be found, and then to be extricated from the area.

There are so many places and scenarios where this could have happened and I would be dead. No doubt. Or for me, worse than dead. A quadriplegic. In a coma. How many hours in what conditions waiting for help? And yes, there were many times when I rode or hiked alone. I carried a pistol for bears. I might have needed it for me.

As I lay in the hospital bed that first morning there was a beautiful sunrise. I cried, hot tears running down my face as my heart swelled with the knowledge that I was so very lucky, blessed, to be alive. I thought about what it would have been like for Steve to find me at the foot of the steep stairs in our house in Pagosa. If he had gotten up in the morning, thinking I was upstairs painting, not realizing I had frozen to death just a few yards from the house.

I loved my house in Pagosa Springs. But we also came to realize that it was not a house for us to grow old in. Shoveling snow, dealing with roof curl. Steve was outside for hours during the winter when it snowed. While incredibly fit and strong, he is 71 and it was hard. The outside stairs and icy slippery slope during the winter. And the stairs. The steep narrow stairs between the downstairs main living area and my upstairs art studio.

In February my 25 year old martial arts injury started to create havoc. Again. A torn quad after knee surgery resulted in leg and knee pain. I’d nursed it, even discontinuing long hikes, CrossFit. But the slope of our land and those stairs finally did me in. Beginning in February my leg and knee steadily got worse. I couldn’t bend it. I couldn’t straighten it. Yoga hurt. Walking hurt. I woke up during the night from the pain. X-rays showed that my knee structure was fine, the pain was muscle and tendons. I am so very grateful for that injury that told me in no uncertain terms that it was time to leave my beloved cabin in Pagosa.

Pagosa Springs is a beautiful small mountain town. It is relatively remote, Durango is the closest town of any size. We drove four hours to Albuquerque, NM to shop at the nearest Costco. Denver was five hours away. With this injury, I would have had to be airlifted to Denver for surgery. I would not have had the friends and connections I have here. No Kevin Heifner to clear the way at the hospital.

So yes. I know how lucky I am. Blessed. And the certainty grew, as I lay in that bed for ten days, that I am here for a reason. My life has a purpose.

The orthopedic doctor in Little Rock explained to me that this would be a very complicated and difficult surgery. It would be several days before he could schedule it. So I settled in to wait.

Because my leg didn’t have any bone structure holding it together anymore I had to lay in bed and move it as little as possible. It hurt, more each day. My right leg, my “bad leg” also hurt. I’d been going to physical therapy for it over the last few weeks, so as I lay in bed I did whatever movements and exercises I could to continue the progress I had been making. I was very aware that my bad leg was now going to have to be my good leg.

Getting out of the bed and going to the bathroom and using the toilet was not possible. Let me tell you about the Pickwick. It’s a blue tube with a tampon type cotton insert. It is connected to thin tubing which suctions the urine into a container on the wall. I was able to use this instead of having a catheter inserted. I am grateful for that

I mentioned in the previous blog that a nurse commented that I was in good shape. I was able to lift myself and use a bedpan without any help. I was able to lift my body when bedding or pads needed to be changed. That fact kept me from having to be rolled. I was able to maneuver around and give myself a bath. I am grateful for that.

Dr. Kevin Heifner stopped by every single day to check on me. Angels can be men too you know.

Steve was there every day, only leaving to go home and sleep and go by my house to feed Noodles.

My ex husband Charles took in Mick. His dog Pepper was a gift from us many years ago. Pepper and Mick were reunited and had a grand time together. Steve and I didn’t have to worry about Mick.

Friends and family called and texted. There were numerous messages on Facebook. I cried a lot, reading those messages and realizing that I am loved. I am so grateful for the support system I have in Little Rock.

The doctor who was originally going to do the surgery had expressed to me that it was going to be difficult and complicated. He was an orthopedic surgeon but this was not his specialty. I was concerned about that.

Monday morning, the day of surgery he came by the room very early. He said “I have an option for you. I was talking to a colleague at our Christmas party about your case, he has offered to do the surgery. He is an expert at this. Is this something that you would like to consider?”

Of course my answer was “yes”. I am forever grateful to that doctor, for caring enough about me and the outcome of the surgery to ask somebody else to do it. So very grateful for that.

Surgery was rescheduled a couple of times, I was resignedly patient and in retrospect grateful that mine was not done at the end of a long day of other surgeries for my doc. On Wednesday almost a week after the break I went into the operating room. The doctor explained that the best case scenario would be about a 45 minute long operation. I was in there for over three hours. I’m not grateful that it was the absolute worst case scenario surgery. But I am incredibly grateful that the man who did it has lots of experience, I was in the best hands possible.

And by the time I was released after ten days, lots of forced rest and inactivity , pain medicine and muscle relaxers, my “bad leg” was doing really great! I now have two good hips and two good legs.

So yeah. I am grateful. Because I had a ticking time bomb in my body for years. And I am sitting here in my warm house, alive.

First day home. Wearing Steve’s pjs because of massive swelling in my hip and leg

Hip Revision Chronicles Part 1. The Night My Titanium Hip Broke (warning graphic)

I was standing in front of the mirror, brushing my teeth. It was Thursday December 4, 2021, about 9pm.

My left leg buckled and I sat down abruptly on the tile floor of my bathroom. I said out loud “what the fuck just happened?” I sat there, alone in the house. “This is not good” I thought. I was calm. There was pain, but it was vague, not sharp at all.

I knew it wasn’t my knee. I knew that artificial hips could pop out of the socket, that had been discussed with the surgeon before he installed the titanium metal on metal device in my left leg. With that in mind, I lay on my back, held my leg by the thigh and gingerly moved it around. Closing my eyes, I tried to sense what was going on. There was a very unpleasant feeling, a scraping, grating sensation. Opening my eyes I looked at my leg as I attempted to rotate my foot. My muscles were still working but my foot was acting wonky…it kind of flopped instead of rotating. I observed that for a while. I’m really glad I stopped there and didn’t try to move my thigh.

“This is really not good”

Time slowed as I sat there and thought about what to do. I live alone now, a recent development as my husband Steve and I sort through our relationship.

I don’t have insurance. That fact was a big factor as I thought about what to do. I can hear you ask “why in the world do you not have insurance Michelle?” That was a question I heard over and over during the next few days.

I am one of the casualties of the messed up disaster that is called healthcare in America. I had coverage when Steve was working, but that changed when he retired and went on Medicare. Our combined income was too high to qualify for discounts accorded through Obamacare. Did you know that where you live and the resources available are a factor in the cost of insurance? While we were in Penrose, Colorado. I was able to have excellent medical care through a Direct Primary Care doctor in the adjoining city of Pueblo, no insurance required. When we moved that option was no longer available. I checked on the cost of a policy when we moved to the small town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado The quote was $1,200 per month with a $5,000 deductible. I am healthy, I keep my weight down and need no prescription medicine at all. . I take vitamins and glucosamine chondroitin (for joint health) and the occasional pain reliever for a headache or muscle aches . I could not justify that astronomical amount of resources that we would have to pay before insurance kicked in. I paid $400 per month for four years to a faith based medical cost sharing organization in lieu of traditional insurance. I had read about problems with the group and lost faith in them when the one medical bill I sent in for payment went into collection because they didn’t pay it. I cancelled as of 11/30/2021. Four days ago. I decided to self pay for mammograms and check ups and take the gamble. And count down the months until I qualify for Medicare at 65. So I am self insured.

With the idea that this was all going to come out of my savings, calling 911 was not something I wanted to do.

The body reacts to pain and speaks in very obvious ways. I was nauseous and then I felt my bowels start to move. While I pondered what to do I had the idea that I could drag myself to the toilet and somehow lift myself up to the seat. I work out and have great upper body strength. That didn’t help me at all when faced with nothing to hold onto on the wall with which to lift myself. And I couldn’t use my left leg at all. It was rather floppy.

Next, I thought I would be a good idea to get some clothes on. That proved to be difficult and time consuming. I drug myself into the closet in my bathroom, but I couldn’t seem to get a tank top down from the hook. I flipped the shirt and cussed a bit, it finally fell down and I put it on. I got some joggers off the shelf but decided I didn’t want to try to put the injured leg in them. That was a good decision. About fifteen to twenty minutes had gone by while I calmly scooted and dragged myself all over my bathroom. I decided I needed to call for help.

Steve has an apartment just a few miles away. Six minutes away to be exact, he has timed it. Although we were living separately, calling him was my first thought. He is calm and steady in a crisis, a by product of his career working with chemical weapons. In the last decade I’ve had two near brushes with death. Once when he landed our plane after a catastrophic engine failure. The other when I had a reaction to fentanyl that had been prescribed by the emergency room doctor after being thrown from a neighbors crazy ass horse. When Steve couldn’t wake me the next morning I got another ride in the ambulance. My friend who was also the EMT told me later that it was real close. She called the hospital when she got back to the station to see if I had made it. Steve has also nursed me through the other hip replacement and two shoulder replacements.

My phone was somewhere in the house, I had no idea where. But I bought an Apple Watch last year. It was one of the best investments I could have made. I lay on the floor and told Siri to call Steve. He didn’t answer. I called, over and over. I found out later that the phone was in the other room and he was deep in sleep.

Thursday evenings were special in my life. As I returned to my hometown of Little Rock and reconnected with friends and family I realized just how important my women friends, my “tribe” are to me. I started a weekly gathering at my house, which began with a zoom yoga class led by my friend Margaret Burkesmith in Pagosa Springs. We followed the class gathered around my table sharing a meal, laughing and crying as we talked our lives and experiences.

Jill and Cindy had driven over together, as they live just a few blocks apart. I reached Jill and told her I needed help. I knew Jill had work the next day, but Cindy is recently retired. So I requested that Cindy come.

Cindy called to tell me she was on her way. I said something like “ok, but I am gong to pass out right now” and I did. The cool white hexagon tile of my bathroom felt good against my cheek and body as I lay there, going in and out of consciousness. That cool soothing tile balanced the heat of pain that was starting to build. Waves of nausea hit me I passed out a couple of times.

Cindy arrived. Luckily I had not locked up yet, and she was able to come in. I’m sure I was a shocking sight, sitting half naked in the floor.

Cindy knelt down, and asked me what I wanted her to do. Should she call 911?

“No, I don’t have insurance. Help me to my bed, I’ll deal with this tomorrow”

I thought I could tough it out. I thought Cindy, who weighs all of one hundred pounds was going to drag me across the floor and lift me into my bed. I was calm, but obviously not thinking straight.

“ oh honey, I don’t think I can do that”

“Steve is not answering his phone”

“ ok, who else can I call?”

“Call Kevin”

Kevin Heifner is a physician and long time friend. He lives close by.

I figured Kevin could get me into the bed and I would deal with the problem tomorrow. Again, I admit I was not thinking straight. But I was calm. Eerily calm.

Cindy found my phone, and called Kevin from the bedroom. As I heard parts of the conversation, the truth of my circumstances started to hit me. I felt a deep sense of dread, a deep sense that something was really wrong.

My body started reacting more violently. About 45 minutes had passed since my leg had buckled. I was shaking. My body began to speak to me in no uncertain terms. I drug myself over to the cabinet where I keep towels. I put one under my head, and one under my hips. I lay on my side, cold tiles on my cheek and side soothing and comforting. The first thing I felt when I regained consciousness each time. I. could hear Cindy’s voice fading in and out. I started vomiting and couldn’t lift my head. Explosive diarrhea blasted out of me. Several times I thought I would not wake up again as I passed out. Each time was ok with that idea.

Cindy came back to the door, phone in hand and said “Kevin says you have to go to the hospital. I need to call 911. He wants you to go to Baptist and he will call ahead”

Kevin told me later he could hear me in the bathroom and knew that going to the emergency room was the only solution.

“Ok” I said. I had come to the realization that I was not going to tough this one out. No amount of mental strength and determination was going to keep me out of the emergency room. . Getting to my bed and dealing with it tomorrow was not going to happen.

Cindy made the call. As we waited, I asked for my phone. The iPhone has a Find My IPhone Feature that I used to use a lot when I had mislaid my phone in the house. I used that feature to send the sound to Steves phone. I kept pushing the button. After just a minute he sleepily answered the phone.

“Something bad is happened and I need you. Cindy is here and the ambulance is coming”. I hung up.

A few minutes later he was at the door to the bathroom. “What happened? What can I do?” He asked.

“ I don’t know. My leg gave out and it’s bad. Wet a washcloth and help me clean up”

I was laying on the floor, covered in vomit and feces. I was shaking uncontrollably from pain and adrenaline. Steve gently helped me clean my self as best I could, rinsing and rewetting the cloths several times. He asked what he could gather for me. I told him where my backpack was and he put in my toothbrush and other necessities.

By then the ambulance had arrived. The paramedics came in and there was a discussion as to whether or not to try to put me into a wheelchair, or if the stretcher would fit in the door.

“A wheelchair is not a good idea” I said.

They brought the stretcher up to the narrow bathroom door.

“We are going to have to lift you and carry you to the stretcher” a voice said.

“Ok. I can hold my legs.”

I rolled on my back, and wrapped my arms mid thigh around my bent legs, knees towards my chest. Trying to hold everything stable as movement caused fresh waves of pain and vomiting. They lifted and then carried me to the stretcher. That was not a pleasant experience.

Lights lit up the dark sky as they took me outside. I was loaded into the ambulance and the door closed. “Take me to Baptist please, Dr. Heifner has called ahead”

I was wheeled through the doors of the Emergency Room. A familiar place for me. Once I had driven my mom here when she thought she was having a heart attack. I had put her in a wheelchair and banged and crashed my way up the ramp. “You are going to give me another heart attack “ she said. We laughed about it later, after she was admitted to the hospital. That memory was fresh as they took me down the hall.

We passed by the room where my Dad had been, after falling and breaking his hip while trying to kick one of the dogs out of his way. We told him it served him right.

They parked me in a room, and started the process of hooking me up to monitors and machines.

“Is your blood pressure usually this high ?” A voice asked.

“What is it?”

“190/110”

“ No, it’s usually normal but I am in a bit of pain right now”

“Ok. We will keep an eye on it”

The questions started. What happened?

“I was brushing my teeth. My leg buckled. I sat down and said “what the fuck just happened”

What medications do you take.

“ nothing but Tylenol or advil. Maybe a Benadryl . I eat right, walk, ride horses and do yoga”.

“ you are in better shape than most people on this floor, including the doctors and nurses” someone told me. I share this not from ego, but because that fact became important over the next few days. At age 64 I work hard to be as healthy, strong and flexible as I can be.

The doctor came in. “Oh! Michelle Cox! I know you! Dr. Heifner said you are a friend and to take care of you! Let’s find out what is going on, I’ll order an X-ray”

By then Steve had arrived. He held my hand and told me that it was ok. That whatever it took we would pay it. He was so upset that he had not heard the phone and apologized over and over.

The X-ray machine arrived, the process quick and painless.

The doctor, nurse and Steve stood in front of the monitor. I could see their faces, I couldn’t see what they were viewing. There was a look of shock and horror on each of their faces.

“I’ve never seen anything like that. I didn’t know that was possible” said the doctor.

“Holy shit, Michelle. Let me take a picture “ said Steve and he snapped a photo of the X-ray and came to the side of the bed. He held his phone out.

My titanium hip

“We will get you admitted. It might take a while” said the doc. Reluctantly Steve left my side, but I was concerned about my little pug Mick who was alone in the house, scared and confused. Steve took him home with him that night.

The nurse came over with a syringe.

“I’m going to give you something for the pain”

“What is it?”

“Fentanyl”

“Well before you do that let me tell you a story”

After hearing about the horse wreck, fentanyl reaction and near death experience he said “ ok” and released the drug into my IV.

Over the next few hours I lay on the very uncomfortable gurney as they tried to find an available bed in the hospital. A sick feeling of fear in my stomach as I second guessed my decisions on insurance and what this was going to cost. Frustration that I was going to have to rely on Steve and others at a time when I was finally becoming independent.

And gratitude. Deep gratitude that I was here, in my hometown of Little Rock with friends and family and resources. And that I was alive.

The Mandala Year

It started with rocks.

Keely was coming to visit and I wanted to find a creative activity that we could share. I’ll never know where the idea came from, but I thought gathering rocks from the river together and then painting them would be something that we would enjoy. I found that mandala dot painting was a thing, so I bought some stencils, acrylic paint and dotting tools.

We spent hours on the deck, talking, painting, showing each other our work. There was a lot of laughter. It was one of those glowing golden days that will always be tucked into my treasured memories box.

August 2019 the day it all began

I became obsessed with mastering the technique of dot mandala. For six, eight, ten hours a day I painted dots on rocks. I took over the dining room table. I gathered rocks in town, when I traveled. There were rocks in the kitchen sink, stacked on the deck, piled in the spare bedroom.

I learned to start with a dot in the middle. I learned about the sacred geometry that is the basis of mandala. I learned which paints worked with the technique, which kind of rock surface was best.

I found the joy of creativity and art again.

My move to Pagosa Springs that year had given me the opportunity to create space for new. To throw out patterns and habits that reflected who I had been, not who I now wanted to be.

I stopped playing pickleball and immersed in yoga. I bought a drafting table, special lights, magnifying classes. The upstairs became my studio. I read about chakras and energy , and went down a path into what Steve calls “woo woo stuff”.

Kat and Keely helped me hide them in Little Rock and took a basket full of them to Louisville for distribution.

If you came to our house, you left with a mandala rock. When we went to Arkansas and Alabama we transported baskets of rocks. I gave them as gifts to friends, family, salespeople that I connected with, perfect strangers were given rocks.

One of my rocks is part of the memorial to Breonna Taylor in Louisville. I cried when I saw it.

Friends in Alabama hid some rocks along the TVA hiking trail. An old friend of Steve’s found it and they reconnected on Facebook as a result.

I ordered marble and slate tiles to paint for use as coasters. Then ceramic tiles for purely decorative display. I painted ornaments. Next came canvas.

When the pandemic hit, I was searching for ways to help. I donated tiles to a local restaurant to be sold, all proceeds going to help their staff.

Over 40 tiles were sent to Louisville as a fundraiser for The Louisville Youth Group, an organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth.

And then it happened.

This was my first canvas. I laid it on the table in my studio, which was stacked with tiles. As I was moving things around, I put one of the round tiles on top of the canvas and I did a double take. Because of the sacred geometry of the mandala, the lines and shapes worked to create a new mandala. A 3D mandala tile and canvas. My heart started beating faster and I knew I was on to something. I had come up with a completely different way to create art.

This is how the idea happened, I placed a tile on this canvas

There was a learning curve. The obsession deepened. Hours were spent “playing” with tiles. Finding which designs worked with what, how the colors blended or contrasted. How to put the pieces together securely but with the ability to interchange.

It’s hard for me to let go of these pieces. Each mandala is a glimpse into my soul. I paint with the door open to my mountain, the dogs sleeping, the horses letting me know every time I walk outside that they would like a cookie please. Noodles honks contentedly and noodles around in the pasture beside the deck. New Age music plays a background to the call of the birds and the skitter of the Abberts squirrels.

I paint my interpretation of the seasons in Pagosa Springs. I paint the flags of LGBTQ+. I paint my love of the culture of the Southwest. I paint gratitude and love and joy. I paint with a specific person in mind, hoping to infuse my art with my love for them.

I’m running out of wall space.

Gravitate Towards Joy

The air has a scent of crisp green, even in the afternoon it still smells pungent and fresh. Is there a smell to running water? Is there a special aroma of river water tumbling over rocks ? The smell of wood smoke lingers in the cool mornings, fading to a tendril of scent as the day warms.

I don’t watch for snakes. However I am on alert for the neighborhood mountain lion and the pesky bear that has been bothering the horses.

One of the little hills on my walk

Between a hip that needs to be replaced AGAIN, a torn quad that has been an issue for over fifteen years , two replaced shoulders and a knee that’s trying to go wonky on me, I have been frustrated, sad, angry and resentful. The last time I went on a hike it resulted in the painful rolling walk that those with hip pain recognize. For two weeks I struggled with sleeping, moving, walking. Couple this with birthdays that seem to be accelerating at an alarming rate, and let’s just say I have not been a happy woman.

So no more hikes. No mountain trail running. Instead I walk. I honor and listen to what the pain is telling me. I don’t ignore the sound of my body telling me it is hurt. Forty years of martial arts made me deaf to the voice of my muscles, tendons and joints telling me that “more is not better”.

One thousand pushups on New Years Day 2010.

Shoulders replaced four years later.

A few months into Covid I decided to do a little trail running course on our property, using our two steep driveways and stairs to give me several route and intensity combinations.

No surprise I overdid it and found areas of hurt and damage that I didn’t know were possible.

I’ve been a martial artist my entire adult life. I know about injuries and I know what to do. Back to basics.

Mick laughing at me

I walk. I honor and listen to the pain instead of ignoring and fighting it (and making it worse). I don’t treat my body as an opponent to be overpowered and forced into compliance.

There are enough areas with an incline to get my heart rate up. Especially if I go up and down several times in a row.

Mick has learned to lay splat on the soft ground and conserve his energy as I trudge up and down the

Hill.

Incline.

Mountain.

Mount Everest

Keep in mind that the mileage on those little legs is always at least twice that of my legs. Sometimes I walk backwards laughing as he races to catch up after following scent on the trail. Raccoon? Fox? Skunk? Squirrel? Bear? Mountain Lion?

I know the little pug sees and hears my effort and is amused.

My comical little pug , We amuse each other, Mick and I.

My yoga place

Long flat stones surrounded by deep pools and tumbling water. A canopy of trees. Blue sky, white clouds. Green in every variation of green.

On the river? In the river? What is the proper term for this magical place?

Standing in mountain pose, hands at my heart, head bowed in reverence to this place, this moment, this experience . Breathing deeply while my eyes are closed I listen to my breath and find myself. Opening my eyes I turn in a full circle. Mindful. In the moment.

The sound of the Rio Blanco as it makes its way through the valley. Birds. Insects. The feel of the sun. Air in my lungs scented with pine and fir.

As I go through the flow of my yoga practice on the rocks there is a connection to creation that is profound and magical. It is the sensation of being perfectly present and in the moment. Hearing my breath, smelling sun water and air, moving slowly through balance and strength. I am exactly where I am supposed to be at this time. There is pure joy and contentment as the sun smiles on my face.

Walk lightly. Speak and laugh lightly, as much as possible.Go lightly along your way. Let go of heaviness. Seek that which is light. Gravitate towards joy. Your soul and body will lead you, if only you would listen.

Melody Beattie , Journey to the Heart

Rio Blanco

Life Flows

It’s a lot easier to comprehend how a river twists and turns and flows if you have observed it. Even more so if you have navigated it. Can you imagine trying to describe water and a flowing river to someone who has never heard or seen it? You might be able to comprehend the idea of the flow of the river by looking at a map, but the real experience on the water for the journey gives deeper knowledge.

In my sixth decade I find myself wanting to understand my journey down this river we call life. I know how privileged I am to have the time to do this. I have the time to read, study, think, journal. And sometimes write a blog to share what I am learning.

It’s always been difficult for me to take someone’s word for how things should be. In fact, tell me that “this is the way it’s always been done” and I instinctively take that as a challenge to figure out a way to do it better. That created success, and failure in my careers. But I learned. I gained the wisdom of experience. I’ve also come to a place where I will study the wisdom of others and learn.

There are some things I wish I wasn’t wise about. I wish I didn’t know the depth of pain from losing my parents. The hurt of betrayal of friends, loved ones, family. The fear of financial hardship, literally wondering if I would have enough money for food. The way the path of my life changed when I was cheated out of the $1,600,000 that I sold my company for. The hate and anger I felt then.

But that is life. My life. The ups (and there have been so many) and the downs.

I’m thankful for them all. I learned so much about people and myself through the challenging times. I learned how to be strong. I learned how to change. I learned how to accept. And I learned to never give up, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I have learned to truly be grateful for all that.

I’ve had some dark dark times when I curled into a fetal ball and wanted to give up. Times when I felt that I had lost the connection to my soul. That no one cared. I’ve felt fear so deeply that I was frozen.

I am so thankful for those times. Because I overcame them and became stronger and wiser. I have an understanding and an empathy that I never would have had without those experiences.

I have felt joy. Sheer joy. I have loved and been loved. I’ve felt contentment and security. The excitement of adventure and the contentment of reading a good book in front of the fire with the one I love. The fear for my children and the pride of their accomplishments. The list goes on and on.

My life. My river. Over rocks and around curves it has flowed and continues to do so.

During those hectic earlier years, the days of building a business, raising children, the busy busy busy times I didn’t feel the need for introspection. I didn’t try to find and connect with my soul. The life force that is Michelle. I was too busy.

Now, I can take the time to read and study and journal.

Life flows. The rocky times have led to this smooth graceful flow. For this time. It won’t stay this way of that I am sure. Yeah there are some ripples and bumps every once in a while. But that’s life and is to be expected. Death, natural disasters, accidents and people are going to happen. It’s the way of life and it has been this way for centuries, and it will continue in this way as long as there are humans.

How much pain have I caused myself and others with my attachment to my thoughts and feelings on how things SHOULD be? By trying to control my world and the people in it. By actually thinking that my SHOULDS could really change the flow of deep water.

I profoundly recognize that we are each on our own journey. I do not own or control anyone. For me, to show love is to unconditionally accept everyone as they are, at this time. To recognize the flow of their life is different from mine, their experiences are creating who they are meant to be.

Power. Power in our society is the goal and reward. We have power through our looks, our position in society, our careers, our financial resources. And that is all an illusion.

Power. We use our looks, our youth, our sexiness and attractiveness for power. If you doubt that, look at the beauty and clothing industry and the message they send. Look at the billions in the cosmetics industry. . Someone gave me the compliment the other day of “you look so young”. Why is that a compliment? Why do we compare our looks to the young when we are not? Why is it a goal worth investing thousands of dollars and cutting into our faces and bodies to create an illusion of youth? Why do we compare ourselves to others and beat ourselves up? Why? Why is looking young the goal instead of acknowledging the natural progression of our journey around the sun? I know what I looked like when I was young and let me tell you I do not look young. This face and body carries 62 years and the effects of a 50lb weight loss. In no way does this face look young. Nor should it. But this face and body are the outer shell of who I am.and really what does it matter. The youth that I have, that I cherish, cannot be seen.

Power. Careers have status. When we ask someone what they do, or have done, for a living, we are looking for a hint about power and status. The kind of car we drive, the size of our house, who are friends are, which side of the tracks we live on, the labels on our clothes, all relate to status. And status is power.

And you know what? It’s all an illusion.

I’ve travelled first class, lived in a 10,000 sq ft house, driven BMWs and Porsche’s. I’ve been friends with judges, senators, the President of the United States. I’ve started a business and sold it for a lot of money. I’ve owned a martial arts school and obtained Fifth Dan rank. I’ve had status and power.

Outward status and power. In other people’s minds and to be honest in mine at the time. And absolutely none of those things are really important.

As I sit here today, in my studio in my cabin on the side of the mountain, pugs snoring in my lap, I recognize what real power is. I don’t have status and power here in Pagosa Springs. I have very few friends, I have not really found my tribe. In part because I’ve spent so much time finding myself this year. And in part because I am very particular about who I spend time with. I am secure that the people that should be in my life will come, just as I am content that some have left.

There is tremendous wealth is this town. Multi million dollar houses are the norm rather than the exception. Sixty percent of the houses here are vacation homes. We are not in the multimillionaire bracket by any means.

I’m anonymous. Just another 60 plus woman in the grocery store or the restaurant.

My power is not from the outside, from others views and judgements.

I am more powerful now than I ever was.

Knowledge. Wisdom. Humor. Kindness. Acceptance. Creativity. Persistence. Integrity. Contentment. Authenticity. All of these and my connection to self and my soul are much more meaningful and are the powers I seek.

Life flows like a river. And I am so very grateful.

A Love Affair One Year Later

I walk outside and I take a deep breath. There is first the deep green cedar smell, wet and dense. The smell of the woods, leaves and pine needles on the ground for that rich deep note, then the bright smell of cedarwood baking in the sun. My woods, my trees, my home on the side of a mountain. I tell people it smells like vacation to me. It smells like the trips to the Grand Canyon as a child, or the lodge at Yellowstone. Tents and campfires. It’s a different wood smell than where I grew up in Arkansas, where it was hot and humid.

I look at our house, barely visible in the trees on the side of the mountain as we drive by on our way to the mailbox. Yes, we pick our mail up from our post office box on the side of the road. If there is a package a key is left in our box. We open one of the four big metal postal boxes in the cluster to retrieve our parcels. Sometimes I have several keys for several boxes. I order a lot of stuff online.

It’s like living in a postcard.

At first I wanted to stop at every curve and twist of the road to take pictures. There was this need to share, to show this spectacular beauty to everyone I know. Photos from my iPhone can’t capture the depth and vastness of the views. The deep blue of the sky contrasting with snow capped mountains. Green forests, aspens blanketing the mountains with fiery displays of orange and yellow in the fall.

Aspens. I love aspen. I have aspen leaves tattooed on my arm. Did you know that aspens are the largest living organism in the world? Each stand of aspen share a single root system. They are a family of trees, an entwined sharing family. They quake in the wind, a very soft but distinct sound. The markings on their trunks are like petroglyphs. A secret language. I wonder what they would say to me if I could read the language of their bark. There are aspens in my yard. I touch them with reverence as I walk. Aspens. In my yard.

Yesterday morning as we left the house we talked with anticipation about the big change. The change that will turn the shades of green to a mosaic of color as our leaves turn. We felt and smelled it, autumn is in the air. Cooler air at night and during the day, heaters turned on now in the house.

Then yesterday afternoon we could see it. Leaves turning yellow. I’m like a kid with my nose pressed against the car window, filled with excitement. Look at that! Did you see those?

We haven’t spotted a bear on our property. I think Steve is disappointed.

We know they are around, the neighbors told us they saw a bear in our driveway a week before we closed on our house last year. Great measures have been taken to protect Noodles, the dogs and the horses from bears. There are multiple strands of electric fence, sturdy panels and houses for the dogs and the pig to keep predators away. We have rifles in virtually every room. Just in case.

We took down all of the hummingbird and bird feeders. We are careful not to leave food of any kind outside or in the cars. We don’t want to be on the restaurant tour for bears getting ready for hibernation. We read the articles about protecting our property from bears. Don’t have lever type handles on your outside doors, the bears can open them.

A bear was in our house in the 1970’s. A friend of a friend on Facebook contacted me after we moved. She used to live in this house. How cool is that? She sent me pictures of snow almost to the roof of the house, and a picture of a Game and Fish Van in the driveway. When we talked on the phone she told me the story of the mama bear that climbed in through the window of the sun porch. Three times. She said the claw marks should still be in the windowsill. I was so disappointed that they had been changed out when the house was renovated a few years ago.

Last week I made gazpacho. As I chopped the vegetables I had a bowl for Noodle scraps and one for scraps that Noodles won’t eat. My pig is a picky pig, with a long list of vegetables that she will not eat. I think there is something profoundly hilarious that my family and friends will eat vegetables that my pig turns her snout up at.

I thought I would throw the beautiful yellow bell pepper scraps into the tomato and cucumber concoction that was in the Noodle bowl. I took the bowl outside for Noodles, there was no way I was going to feed tomatoes to her inside. The floor would look like bad things had happened to some creature.

An hour later I looked outside. The bowl was sparkling clean. Laying next to it the bright yellow of the bell pepper. Noodles tastes haven’t changed.

I was careful to pick up the bell pepper. Bears you know.

It’s been a year since we moved. A year of changing seasons and an snowy winter. I didn’t know about roof curl and had certainly never heard of a roof rake. Snow drift and roof curl got within a few inches of each other on one side of the house.

Did you know snow blowers needed chains? We gave up on two of our driveways for the winter and parked down at the street. I had never shoveled snow, and certainly never imagined that I would do so on a pile over my head. I had never sunk down to my waist trying to brush snow off a satellite dish.

We loved it. As Steve says, we wouldn’t want to live here if he was still getting up to go to work at 4am. But since we are both retired, we still were excited about snow. Talk to me in a few years and that excitement might have waned, but I hope not.

There is an art to how to open and close windows to capture the cool of the night for the day. There is no air conditioning here. On our tree laden slope our house is cool even on the warmest days. Windows open at night we sleep under a down duvet, forest smells wafting through the room on the breeze. When we get up, we make the bed and close the windows. A routine now.

Layers are my friend. Leggings, a tank top, my ugly but oh so comfortable Ugg boots, and a flannel shirt are year round wear in the house. We wear jackets as sweaters if we are outside when the sun goes down, even in July. We hiked the last week of August on the Continental Divide and wore long pants and coats. The week before it was shorts and a t shirt.

It’s been a year. We have our favorite restaurants. We are experiencing the ebb and flow of tourists in this little gem of a mountain town. We receive our weekly newspaper and check to see what festival or event is coming up. Summers are big here, Steve finally gave up on keeping track of the cars from out of state. Texans are a big fan of Pagosa.

There is no cell service at the house. We are careful to give very good directions, because if a visitor gets lost they have to drive back to town to call. Internet and phone service are maddening terrible everywhere here. The lack of quality service is on the front page of the newspaper and a constant complaint in the Opinion Section. I drive to town to one of the coffee shops to upload my blogs. Several haven’t been posted because I gave up in frustration. The more photos or videos the longer it takes. Most mornings Steve has to reset the router to get the internet working.

We drove to town last winter to watch a movie, even though it was snowing heavily. Yes, businesses stay open here when it snows. So do the schools. We walked outside after the movie, the snow had stopped and the town was just gorgeous with Christmas decorations and lights on the snow. We walked to the Jeep, the snow squeaking under our boots. The snow plows had already cleared the road home. Restaurants were open and doing a fine business.

Pagosa Springs is less than an hour from Wolf Creek Ski. Snow is good for our town.

Something about this little town in Colorado that speaks to our soul. Not just for me, but for Steve as well. Both of us felt it as we came over Wolf Creek Pass last year. Both of us spent a lot of time alone outdoors in the woods when we were young. We are taken back to those good times here. Neither of us would ever want to live on or by the beach. We aren’t interested in Arizona or Florida. And although we love our family and friends, we would never want to live in the South again.

There is a joy to living in Pagosa Springs. The people we meet are here by choice. They have been coming for years during the summer, always with the intention of retiring here. Or, like us, visited once and knew that this was The Place. Many have homes elsewhere, but are drawn to Pagosa and live here part of the year. Our friends are classified as seasonal or full time. Younger people move to work minimum wage jobs just so they can enjoy the outdoor activities and beauty.

If it is possible for a place to have magic, Pagosa is magical for us. There is a different rhythm to our life now. We are outside more, breathing deep and filled with gratitude. Maybe that is what the difference is. We both feel gratitude not only that we live here, but that we are experiencing it with each other. When you start your day with love and gratitude you change. You change your relationships, your view of the world, and yourself. You can’t help but change if you start your day happy.

POSTSCRIPT: The lady referenced above in the story about the bear wrote this (it wouldn’t post on WordPress)

From Pat Barbee:

I can’t seem to post on the blog – I have a WordPress account but after the sign-in, the comment disappears; so I’ll try here:

As always, your posts and blog can transport me to a singular moment of time in my life. I can actually smell the air, trees, damp (or dried) pine needles, feel the chill. The flannel shirt industry had a good chunk of our business!

I hope when you meet ‘your bear’ (more when than if) the experience is safe yet exciting. I’m curious, have you had owls in the garage yet?

I’m still hoping to get up there but it’s a bittersweet desire.

I don’t know your stance on spirit (angels, ghosts, tactile memories) but I know they exist and I know it will be emotional.

My reply:

It is uniquely special to get to share memories and experiences this way. I’m glad I was able to convey what you also felt. That is a special connection.

How I would love to have owls in the garage! Maybe if we leave the door open they will come?

I can’t tell you how happy I would be to have you visit. Yes I am spiritual and believe that energy and emotions can inhabit places. I know the spirit of your family is here for sure.

Lobo Pass Continental Divide Trail

Just before you get to Wolf Creek Ski on 160 from Pagosa is the road up to Lobo Pass Overlook. We drove up to the Cell Tower and hiked from there.

You can also access the Continental Divide Trail from the parking lot on 160. That is what I did on July 21 when I hiked with Margaret and Dave. Photos show the amount of snow that was still around. The road up to the Lobo Overlook was closed at the time because of snow. Yes, in July.

Today, September 7, 2019 there was no snow. Typical for Colorado the long sleeve shirt was off and on depending on the amount of shade and wind on the trail. It wasn’t a long hike, only a couple of miles, but there was a good amount of elevation change. We took a little off shoot trail that went pretty much straight up the mountain. At the top were some spectacular views.

If you are afraid if heights this probably in not a good hike for you. Some loose rock and gravel, so a hiking pole came in very handy a couple of times.

Thunderstorms were forming, and we did not want to get caught in one of those.

A wonderful hike, we remarked many times about how fortunate we are that we can still do activities like this, and that we live in such a gorgeous corner of the most gorgeous state in the Union.

In between is life

At our moment of birth we inhale. We leave with an exhale. In between is life.

I wish I could remember where I read this, and I’m sure it’s not an exact quote. But this statement resonated with me as I sat in my little sanctuary on the hill. My “gatreebo”. The funky quirky gazebo that was on our property when we bought it. We filled it with all kinds of stuff as we were moving to Pagosa Springs last September. Little did I know what a special place it would become. It’s got some slats missing and the door leans against instead of hanging. We will get around to putting it up one of the days. For now, it’s perfect as it is.

I’ve hung a banner and suncatchers.

Little metal horse earrings that Keely gave me for Christmas are tucked into the screen, they always make me smile.

I spend a lot of time here, shaded from the sun, my yoga mat and I. Reading. Meditating. Thinking. Crying. Sometimes taking a little nap. I’ve danced and swayed to music and emotions. I’ve screamed, laughed, and been deeply silent.

Time. Space. Freedom.

Big inhales of the deep cool green woodsy smell that always makes me feel like I am on vacation, that I am visiting a special place. I am always filled with gratitude and joy and a bit of surprise that this is the place I call home. If it is really possible to own a place on this planet, I own this partial side of a mountain with the sound of the river running always in the background.

This is the smell of my life, the space between that first inhale and the last exhale.

It’s been two weeks since I left Facebook.

What have I done with the time?

Yeah, I am purposely turning into that hippy new age woo woo kind of person that I use to ridicule. Funny how that works.

I’ve filled my mind with rich nourishing life changing wisdom in the book I’ve been reading and savoring.

Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self by Anodea Judith.

Here is the link. ( I don’t make any money from this)

https://www.amazon.com/Eastern-Body-Western-Mind-Psychology/dp/1587612259/ref=sr_1_3?crid=3UCM9Z09OSUTY&keywords=eastern+body+western+mind+by+anodea+judith&qid=1564938279&s=gateway&sprefix=Eastern%2Caps%2C1145&sr=8-3

Savoring. It’s a word I’ve frequently used describing food. The mental image I have is closed eyes as I explore the taste and texture of food. That’s how it has been with this book, eyes open to read, perhaps just a sentence, sometimes a paragraph but then I feel the stab to the heart or gut that tells me to take my time. Process. Taste. Digest the truth written. Savor. Close my eyes and shut out everything but the sensation.

Sometimes I will go on a journey, drifting back to my childhood, looking at the strings of my life, pulling them in and opening the boxes.

You know those boxes don’t you? The boxes where you pack away your hurt? Your agonizing pain. Betrayal. Shame. Resentment. Jealousy. Lies.

I pull the string and open the box, I’ve forgotten exactly what is in it. But the tense feeling in my body and the unease in the pit of the stomach tells me that my body knows and remembers very well what is in that box.

What is packed away in those boxes is real and not real. My interpretation of events of my childhood is that of a child. I practice stepping back and looking at the incident from my view then, then that of the others in the memory. Usually my parents are the other characters in the playbook.

Instead of reliving my hurt and anger, I piece together the facts of what was going on in my parents lives to understand. To understand my dads anger, my mothers fear. I realize now I have repeated those emotions in my life and the things I did to my kids. To others. The mirror is true, reflecting generations of behavior. I blamed my dad, trumpeting my innocence and victimhood, all the while “forgetting” that I behaved in many of the same ways.

By opening the box I am able to forgive. Not only what happened to me, but to also forgive myself.

I take the hurtangershamefear and I face it. I look at it, turn it over, exam it closely. I cry. Deep agonizing sobs and sometimes screams. I face it, that which I fear. 5e bully that I have allowed. The bully that I created.

Once I do, I can let it go. There is no more power. There is acceptance and peace.

Now don’t get the idea that this has been all rainbows and unicorn farts. This process has brought new wounds, frustration between my goals and commitments and realty.

I’ve found it easy to commit to a new way of thinking and reacting in the sanctuary. I plan my words and plan my reactions. It never. Ever. Goes as planned.

Which is what life really is, isn’t it? An unplanned twisting and turning process of discovering the outside, and if we have the courage, the inside. To learn and if we care to, to gain wisdom. The surface that can be seen, and the inside which needs a special kind of vision. A vision that we are taught not to use.

Our emotions are a way that we communicate with ourselves. Yet we deny them. We lie about them. We put a label on them and we lock them away and we feel good about it. Yet we are creating our own blindfold so that we blindly stumble and bumble into the same hurtful patterns over and over. We blame anyone or anything but ourselves, because we choose to be blind.

In the martial arts I emphasized breathing. Breath and focus. Being relaxed makes you faster. Tight muscles move slower. Relax or you will wear yourself out. Your brain needs oxygen. All of the focus on the body. The opponent. The outward.

In yoga, I close my eyes and connect with my breath. I go inward, small, dark, close, intimate. Sometimes my movements and adjustments are minuscule, tiny and invisible from the outside. Aware and focused inward is a new way for me.

I find that sacred place between the inhale and the out. The space that is my life.

Trees and Solitude

Post Facebook Day One. This is harder than I thought it would be. I had weighed the pros and cons, but I don’t think I put enough emotional weight on the side of the true friendships that have grown over Facebook. Those names with the profile pic beside them that I have conversed with now for ten years. Or some that I have become very close to in the last year or so.

First day, I am in tears reading some of the comments and responses to my decision to leave Facebook. Really. It’s 3am, and that is what I am doing. I’m giving it a couple of days to acknowledge those friendships, and then that is it. I break the connection.

But the fact that one of the first things that popped into my mind was to check Facebook tells me I have made the right decision.

The thing is, I’ve been thinking of Facebook as some kind of entity in its own, as the enemy. The time and emotional vampire. But much of Facebook is made up of friends chatter about their lives. I’m really going to miss that connection. It’s not just news and memes and arguments and rants.

My world will be smaller now in many ways.

Which is why I am doing this I guess.

Turning inward. Striving for silence in my head. Silence to think and grow.

There is a part of me that yearns to be a hermit.

This need I have for aloneness and silence goes back to my childhood and teenage years. I’d get up in the dark, quietly leave the house, saddle up my horse and leave for the day. I would ride trails into the woods with no idea where I would end up. Just me and my horse. I’d eat a peanut butter sandwich under a tree while my horse grazed, looking up at the sun through the lace of the tree leaves.

I thought about all the things that teenagers are obsessed with. Boys. Parents. School.

I found God during those times. I remember being so angry with organized religion. With being told what to do, how to think. This was during the 70’s and there certainly is a little of the free spirit hippy in me. Probably a lot more than I knew then. The seeds of my outside the box thinking were planted during those lazy summer days when I had the gift of boredom.

My parents struggled financially. There were many material things that I wanted and didn’t get. There were times when we had to wait a few days to get groceries. We never went hungry but the cupboards were pretty empty at times. That is probably one of the reasons I’m concerned about kids not having enough to eat, and the homeless. I know how close we were when we were kids. I know how close I came a few times as an adult.

But I had a horse. My parents couldn’t buy a horse trailer, or take me to shows. I didn’t even have a saddle for years. But my parents gave me the incredible gift of freedom, responsibility and trust by allowing me to take off on my own for hours at a time.

Of course it had to end. I sold my horse to buy a car so I could work. I got wheels and the freedom that comes with a car. My life became one of work and school and friends. Not a lot of thinking and soul searching. No laying in the woods under a blue sky. Humid, hot as hell with a lot of bugs, but worth every minute of discomfort.

Now I walk out my door, up the hill of my backyard, and take a seat on my porch swing. And there I am. Different woods and trees, aspen and fir rather than oak and pine, but the sun is filtered through the trees and I can breath deeply in a way that isn’t possible in a city. It’s not humid, the mountain slope and trees supply a cooling breeze and shade and the bugs are minimal. I’ve found the place that feeds my soul. Again.

I do yoga in my quirky little gazebo. I sit for hours on a mat, thinking. Meditating. Writing.

It’s the senior citizen version of the teenage Michelle. Both of us are trying to figure things out. The younger Michelle, so idealistic, rebellious, passionate about so many things. I had so much to learn.

Now it’s time to sit quietly and think. To look at my life and experiences and take the time to learn and understand, instead of just doing, and reacting, scurrying from one point in life to the other.

I can walk out my door, put a bridle on Bali, and ride into the woods. I think I will be finding some areas to lay on my back and look at the sky. And think. And to be grateful for this gift of place and time.