Hello Old Friend

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Right after I arrived in Missoula in January, I received a facebook message from one of my gym friends. She invited me to go with her to a community meditation being held at a wellness studio just around the corner. I was so excited to see her again and looked forward to the meditation too. I enjoyed the session and really liked Laura, who facilitated the meditation. Two weeks later, I enrolled in a weekly mindfulness meditation class at her studio. At the beginning of the first class of the session, Laura told the class, “Ok, for the first five minutes, we’re going to do power introductions. Spend 30 seconds getting to know the person next to you and then move on! Go!”

I turned to a young woman next to me and asked her how she came about to taking the class. She motioned towards Laura and said “I know Laura because we both play flute in the Community Band.” I exclaimed “Omigosh, there’s a Community Band in Missoula?! When do they rehearse?”  She replied, “Yes! They rehearse on Monday evenings, and rehearsals start this month.”

Here was an opportunity to get back in music and to get to know people. And was it a coincidence – I just happened to have brought my horn with me to Missoula. The following Monday, I drove to Sentinel High School and walked into the band room. Everyone was so nice and welcoming, the music for this concert was very enjoyable, and the conductor was fun and energetic. But after the initial excitement of the first couple of rehearsals, I wasn’t enjoying myself. What in the world was going on?

I started playing horn in 4th grade. It came very naturally to me and I loved it. I had found something that I was really good at and threw myself into it 100% – my mom never had to tell me to practice! In high school I started taking private lessons and by junior year I knew I wanted to major in music. After my undergraduate degree, I went to the University of Michigan to get my master’s degree. Those were the pinnacle of my horn playing years. I was surrounded in school with some of the most talented musicians in the country, I was playing tons of gigs, and just completely loving my life.

After graduating with my master’s, I stayed in Ann Arbor and took on a large studio of private students to go along with my orchestra gigs. That Fall, the principal hornist in the Ann Arbor symphony was unavailable for the first concert of the season, so between the rest of the section we shared the principal parts. I was assigned to play principal on a little Milhaud piece. It had a easy little slurry solo, nothing technical at all and in a very easy range. When we started rehearsals and got to that piece, I thought, nothing to it – a piece of cake.  But….something was just not right. I struggled with this simple little solo. I couldn’t explain it or put my finger on it, but I just couldn’t do it. My playing just wasn’t easy and natural like it always had been. All I could think was that I wasn’t practicing enough since I was teaching lessons all day long. So I practiced more and more, thinking it would fix itself, but it didn’t get any better – in fact, it got increasingly worse. I started to become a little frantic. For the first time in my life, I started losing my nerve. Those nerves manifested in a quiver in my lips as I tried to play. Like a total loss of control. I tried with all my might to control it.  The harder I tried to control it the worse it got. I didn’t confide in anyone and tried to hide my increasing discomfort and declining performance. 

One of my gigs at that time was Assistant Principal in the Flint Symphony Orchestra.  We were performing Brahms Symphony #3 and I was offered the chance to play 3rd horn. I jumped at the opportunity to play my own part. The third horn part in that symphony is beautiful, with a multitude of solos, most of them high, soft and completely exposed.  But as the rehearsals commenced, the pressure I put on myself in the wake of my declining performance started to take its toll. I was surrounded by colleagues with whom I’d played for years at the University of Michigan, and who had known me as one of the strongest horn players in the studio. I felt like I had such a high standard to live up to, and the harder I tried to regain any semblance of my past level of playing, the worse it got. My performance and confidence deteriorated over the span of the rehearsals and not surprisingly culminated in an awful performance. My mind was racing in overdrive with fear through the entire symphony.  I was petrified of and dreading each solo as it approached. Completely overwhelmed with nerves, feeling totally naked, alone and exposed, my whole body shaking along with my lips, I obliterated each solo. It was the worst, most humiliating and embarrassing experience of my life.  I felt like I let myself down, I let the conductor down, I let the audience down, I let all my friends and colleagues in the orchestra down.  I was completely devastated. It was like a betrayal. The one thing in my life that I had always depended on to make me feel good had deserted me.

My struggles continued over the next several years as I desperately tried everything I could think of to turn things around. I took lessons from several teachers around the area, hoping that someone might be able to help, to find out what was wrong and why my lips were quivering. I took several months off, hoping that when I picked my horn back up that the problem had gone away. Finally I decided to go back to school for my doctorate, hoping that I might right the ship. I went to the University of Iowa, and once I was back in school, I was able to manage my nerves and the discomfort. I started to gain back confidence in myself. After receiving my doctorate, I was hired at the University of Louisville as the Assistant Professor of Horn. But the pressure I continued to put on myself to perform to a certain standard – now in a full-time professional job situation – brought about a decline in confidence and along with that, a rapid decline in my performance.  After my short two-year stint at U of L, I was not rehired. I gradually stopped applying for other teaching jobs, and soon gave up playing my horn for a career.  I played and taught less and less as each year passed. Finally, three years ago I gave up teaching and playing altogether as it just became way more struggle than fun. I gave away my huge library of music, put my horn in the closet and closed that chapter in my life.

Back in Missoula, I wondered why I was struggling when this should be FUN? There was nothing on the line. There was certainly no pressure in this community band.  I sat in a quiet meditation one morning searching for clarity, and I realized that the discomfort I was feeling in rehearsals was because I was worried that people would hear my lips quiver. That they would judge me for that. That I would let everyone down again. But – no one was expecting anything from me.  The expectation was coming from myself. From still not accepting myself and that my lips quiver and I don’t play like I used to.

I wasn’t ready to give up again. Even though it was uncomfortable for me to hear myself, I started to play every day, just a little bit. I set the timer on my phone for 15 minutes, and gradually increased until I was practicing 30-45 minutes a day, just to get my muscles used to playing again. Because of that, I had a bit more endurance during rehearsals and it helped me relax and by the dress rehearsal, I felt more comfortable and confident than I had in a long time.

The night of the concert arrived. As the concert started, the nerves reappeared in full force and my lips started quivering almost uncontrollably. I sat there and thought to myself, there is no threat here. I am under no external pressure whatsoever. I was hoping that realization would allow me to relax, but years of conditioning cannot be overcome with one thought. All I could do was to accept how I was playing at that moment and do the best I could. I came home after the concert with mixed emotions, but I looked in the mirror and told myself “Good for you Alise. Good for you for getting out of that closet and putting yourself and your fear out there.” I realized that I couldn’t expect DECADES of my expectation for perfection to disappear after just my first playing experience in years.

The pressure that musicians put upon themselves to be perfect can be overwhelming. We judge ourselves and judge others on missed notes or other imperfections. Gigs and jobs are based on competitive auditions in which missed notes are the difference between employment or unemployment.  I was easily able to handle that pressure up until a certain point in my career, but once I had playing challenges, I completely crumbled under that pressure. And allowed it to take away a real source of happiness and fulfillment in my life. Years ago I remember talking to an old colleague from the University of Michigan. She had also given up playing and said she felt overwhelming relief. She said that the pressure to play at a certain level felt like an albatross around her neck. A ball and chain that she carried around on a daily basis. I instantly related to that. What a shame that the joy that we originally had from playing our instrument turned into such pain.

I have said for the past three years that I will no longer let my fears rule my life. And playing my horn has been one of my biggest fears. But I’m keeping my horn out of the closet. I’m going to play in the Summer Band here in Missoula and continue to play in the Community Band. This is a great opportunity for me – can I love and accept myself  despite having what I’ve believed to be a huge flaw? It’s been part of me for over 30 years and I’ve been fearing and fighting it. I’ve been rejecting myself that whole time. Can I let go of the belief, created over decades, that something is wrong with me? If I’m trying to love myself unconditionally, I must accept that it is just part of me and part of my journey, and it’s ok. What if I embrace it and make friends with it instead? I just might allow myself to recapture the old joy – I know it’s right there waiting for me to come back.

DCCF

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The year was 2009. I belonged to JCC and participated in several group fitness classes, including spin and bootcamp. My favorite instructor was Susan, a no-nonsense trainer who led very challenging classes. Her Sunday morning spin class was my favorite. Through time we became friends and soon she started a Meetup group that she named FitChicks. She set up outings in which we’d share fitness and nutrition goals over a healthy meal, and coordinated group outings to various fitness programs around town including hot yoga, zumba, bodypump and jazzercise. One day in December she informed us she had set up a visit to a local crossfit gym. I was intrigued and couldn’t wait for that day to arrive.

The day finally arrived – Thursday, February 18 at 6:30pm at Derby City Crossfit on Market street. When I walked in my senses were overwhelmed – loud music, big metal rigs with heavy metal weights clanking loudly,  big men with weightlifting belts, people swinging kettlebells and lifting barbells. Slowly our group of Fitchicks gathered and was greeted by a tall, good looking bearded man who gruffly introduced himself as Ben, the owner of DCCF. With him was his girlfriend, a slender and gregarious girl who introduced herself as Kat. Ben explained what the evening was going to hold for us – we’d be given a brief description of what crossfit was all about, followed by some stretching and mobility, skill work, and then a “WOD” which stood for Workout of the Day. The skill work involved pullups and although most of us fitchicks couldn’t perform an unassisted pullup, we worked on scaled versions using resistence bands. I felt like I was entering some new secret and wonderful world of fitness. So many varied exercises! Once we were done with the skill, we had a little routine with some incomprehensible name of  “AMRAP.” All I remember was that it was comprised of assisted pullups, pushups, and airsquats.  When the routine was over, I told Kat that I was relieved to get through the WOD. To my chagrin Kat laughed and said, no that was just a little warmup! The actual WOD that we were going to perform that night was comprised of dumbbell snatches and burpees. I was excited and scared at the same time, I had no idea what a dumbbell snatch was but I loved burpees!  Ben and Kat went through the movements with us – showing us the proper technique of the single armed snatch, first with no weight and then using dumbbells. Finally the WOD began and I absolutely loved it! I even remember the Motley Crue song blaring in the background, Girls Girls Girls. I was instantly hooked, and Susan, another girl and I signed up for memberships on the spot.

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 After that, my days at JCC were over as I threw myself wholeheartedly into Derby City Crossfit. Every weekday, I’d eagerly wake in the wee hours of the morning to attend the 5:30am class, thrilled with all the different challenges that crossfit presented and the camaraderie cultivated among my classmates. Crossfit wasn’t for everyone, it seemed, and new members came and went. One day, as Kat took a group of beginners through a workout, I noticed a tall, dark haired girl throwing herself into the workout with an incredible amount of enthusiasm. I remarked to Kat “She really gets it!”

That girl was Erin, who ended being one of my best friends and the best workout buddy I could ever ask for. Throughout the next several years, Erin became one of my biggest sources of support, inspiration, and motivation, always cheering me on to do more than I could on my own. She had an unfailing faith in the abilities of everyone at the gym, a determination and drive to improve her own life and the lives of everyone with whom she surrounded herself, and an energy and optimism that was without comparison. We worked out together in the 5am class, lifted together in Darkside Ladies (a powerlifting program), cooked together, trying out new recipes to fuel our bodies (she is an amazing cook!), and generally just encouraged and supported each other in everything we did, in and out of the gym.

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Another dear friend who joined the gym later, coached classes, and also worked out alongside us was Lauren. An on-off but beloved member of DCCF was Erin’s best friend Jess. I firmly believe one of the biggest elements to succeed in achieving your goals in the gym is to have motivating workout partners. I enjoyed many fun-filled workouts in the gym and raucous antics outside of the gym with my girls.

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Erin was an inspiration not only to me, but to our 5am class and the entire DCCF community as well. She took the initiative at any opportunity to have fun. Not a holiday went by without Erin coordinating appropriately themed costumes. If you dared to show up without one, invariably she’d pull a spare or two out of her duffle bag and hand it over. Our 5am crew became a tight-knit group, in the gym and outside the gym as well. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of folks with whom to work out.

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Erin loved any excuse for a party with our class members. She coordinated paleo meal nights, a memorable NON PALEO cereal eating contest (in which she demolished everyone, including some pretty strong men), and a cherished summer weekend trip to her lakehouse with several gym girlfriends.

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Crossfit and everything that went along with it became such an important aspect of my life that throughout the next several years, I became Level 1 certified and also achieved crossfit certifications in powerlifting, mobility, and Olympic lifting. For a few months in 2012 and 2013, I focused on powerlifting and participated in Laura Phelps-Sweatt’s women’s meets in Cincinnati, surrounded by some of the strongest and most talented female powerlifters in the country.  Later in 2013, inspired by Erin’s lead, I went totally outside of my comfort zone and prepared for and participated in a figure competition, and in June of 2014 participated in my first crossfit competition, Four Barrel Crossfit’s Beginners Competition.

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The evolution of Derby City Crossfit itself has undergone much change since those early days on Market Street. In the spring of 2011, the gym moved to its present location in St. Matthews. Just a few months after that, Ben and Kat parted ways and ventured out on their own, leaving the gym under the leadership of a quintet of men. One afternoon in the Fall of 2011, I received a text from Sean, one of the founding owners. Some folks had gathered drinks at Drakes and he asked me to stop by for a drink. A loud and most likely tipsy group including the other owners, Slater, Shark, Sean and his soon to be wife Kellie, and Ryan sat around the table. To my astonishment, they asked me to coach some classes at the gym. Humbled and honored beyond words, I accepted, and was lucky enough over the next three years to coach some of the most dedicated, talented and strong athletes I’ve ever known. I was so thankful for the opportunity to bring to light my passion to inspire and motivate others to do more than they think they can.

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When I started back up at the gym after returning from Montana this past June, much had changed. Shark and Slater were the only remaining owners and ran the gym full-time. A new rig and shiny new equipment was in place.  Most of the “old guard” in the 5am class had moved on. Erin had taken a position at another gym after working as a loved and respected coach at DCCF and I felt a bit out of place. But 5am is always a special group, and for the past 6 months I was blessed with other wonderful workout buddies (love you Tyler and Nathan) and two very special coaches, Kara and Robbie. I will always remember their kindness, encouragement, and love.

I am so grateful to everyone at DCCF – every single coach I’ve ever had, every single classmate with whom I’ve worked alongside, and every single member I’ve had the honor to coach. To be a part of such a unique (yes, you Clinton and Leslie), loving, and inspirational gym community is something I will cherish forever. I love you all and miss you!

No Turning Back

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My drive to Missoula last week was not as easy as it was last year when I made the same journey. Although I’d scouted the weather reports for two weeks and determined that my desired window of travel looked like clear sailing, Mother Nature is often unpredictable and she threw me a bit of a curve ball. I left my mom’s house and almost immediately drove into some light snow flurries. As I headed north into Wisconsin the snow increased in intensity until I crossed the Mississippi into Minnesota. Adding to my anxiety was the fact that for the first time ever I had my bike mounted to a rack on the back of my car. After 8+ hours of driving, I arrived in Sioux Falls, SD quite tired but certain that the snow was behind me.

I was wrong. The next day, as I drove across the interminable expanse of South Dakota, snow squalls interspersed with very short breaks followed me almost all the way into Wyoming. With nothing in that area of the state to break the howling gusts of wind, the snow blew and drifted and froze across the interstate, leaving only one lane moderately clear and limiting visibility considerably. Numerous cars slid off into the median as I crawled along, determined to make it to Sheridan and my waiting hotel room no matter how long it took. 10 1/2 hours later I arrived as the skies finally cleared and the sun shone brightly before setting around 4:30 behind the mountains. I celebrated New Year’s Eve with a bourbon toast over the phone with good friends while watching Louisville in their Bowl game. Exhausted by the long stressful drive, I fell sleep around 9.

I woke early on the final day of my trip, eager to arrive in Missoula and be done with driving. I checked the road reports and the weather, both predicted to be fairly clear. After grabbing some coffee in the hotel lobby, I departed at 5:15. The stretch of I-90 between Sheridan and Montana was eerily void of any other traffic in the wee hours of New Years Day, and I felt increasingly alone as I drove along the dark and icy interstate. I felt pangs of longing to be back home with my mom, or back in Louisville with Kat and among my friends. I took the opportunity to ask myself why I was feeling the loneliness so intensely. The answer came quickly that I was looking for comfort and reassurance from others rather than from within myself.

As the sun rose that morning, it lit up the most amazing and sparkling hoarfrost coating the outside every tree along the way. I arrived in Missoula around 1pm and began settling into the same little condo where I’d been so happy last winter. As I unpacked my car and brought my belongings upstairs, I took the tv remote to turn on some New Years Day football, only to find out that the cable wasn’t functioning. Mildly disappointed, I continued unpacking. Throughout the rest of the weekend, as I continued to organize my little condo, the full impact of my decision to move and the resulting consequences hit me full on. I had moved away, not temporarily this time, from all that was comfortable and safe to me. The city in which I’ve lived for 18 years. My best friends. My gym and my buddies there. VOICES, the most supportive part of my life in Louisville. I felt the most loss from the breakup with Kat and the separation from her and the kids, as I realized how much my life centered around them. I even felt the absence of the comfort of the TV in the background in my condo, and it hit me again just how much I searched for external means to love, comfort, and validate me.

This is my real lesson, to be able to be for myself what I’ve always tried to get from others. This was exactly what I had asked for and intended to do – to take away all my safety nets so that I could not fall back on them, to force me to learn to rely on myself for love and approval. It’s easy to say – but I didn’t realize until right now how difficult it really is.

I’m a huge fan of Mike Dooley and his book The Top Ten Things Dead People Want To Tell You. He describes setting the intention of your life just like you program a destination into the GPS system of your car. You put in the address, and you put your car in gear. You know without a doubt that the GPS is going to take you to your destination. You don’t question it when the route looks unfamiliar, you don’t stop and turn around, thinking that it has failed to do what it’s programmed to do. The Universe works the same with your life dream, Dooley writes. You set your intention with the Universe, you put your car in gear by taking inspired action, and you sit back, enjoy the trip and trust that the Universe will take you to your destination. It makes perfect sense to me.

I’ve thought of that analogy over the past several days since arriving here in Missoula. This journey that I am on now is so unfamiliar, so scary and unknown, that I want to turn the car of my life around and return back to my starting point. To run back to the comfort and familiarity of the life I had in Louisville. But that is unfortunately in the wrong direction and will not help me get stronger.  I’m so scared and have felt so lonesome since I’ve arrived, second guessing and desperately doubting my decision and my inner strength. But at one point over the weekend I looked out my window, at the expanse of mountains surrounding this city, and a calmness washed over me. I thought to myself, “I will let life lead me.” I remember my own inner GPS destination and the intent that I have set with the Universe, and I trust that I am on the route which will take me there, no matter how scary it looks along the way. Having faith that everything is going to work out is the best comfort I can give myself.

Jumping into the deep end

 

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When I returned to Louisville after being in Montana last winter, I thought I had things all figured out.  I returned to Kat and the kids and felt like I was better equipped to be with them. I continued the life coaching program I started in May. I intended to finish the book I’d started in Montana. I re-joined VOICES and looked forward to singing under our fantastic AD and going to the GALA festival in Denver this summer. I felt spiritually renewed and strong and inspired. As the months passed though, I began to struggle. I was focusing all my attention and energy outside of myself. I wasn’t meditating consistently so I lost my peaceful center. I wasn’t journaling, writing or blogging at all. I realized how unhappy I’d become by getting further away from what made me spiritually healthy. In November Kat and I came to the decision that we made better friends than partners and mutually agreed to separate. After being so certain about our relationship and my life back in the Spring, I was lost and didn’t know what to do next. Fortunately I’m in the middle of a life coaching program and have a wealth of tools from which to choose to help me in difficult life situations. I thought of one of the questions I routinely ask my coaching clients almost every session. “When have you been the happiest in your life?”

When I pondered that question, I reflected back upon my years playing my horn and teaching.  I had so much confidence in myself. I had something of value to offer and could make a career doing what I loved to do. When I lost the ability to play my horn, my whole world crumbled into a million pieces. I was completely lost.  In the years since then I have struggled to find my purpose and what to do with my life.

When I examined what has made me truly happy since then, the answer is undeniably clear.  The summer I traveled around the country writing about my adventures followed by the winter I spent in Montana have been the happiest in my life. I felt so free, so full of gratitude, so full of life.

I look at everything I do that gives me joy, whether it’s teaching kids to play the horn, working with the singers in VOICES, coaching group fitness, life coaching sessions, or writing about my own life experiences. It’s crystal clear to me that I love to teach, motivate, and inspire others. When I returned from my first adventure around the country, my friend Mark Simpson told me “Find what you love to do and find a way to make a living doing it.” Everything I’ve been studying this past year teaches that if you follow your heart and your passion, and take action, the Universe will support you in fulfilling that dream.

I recognize that I have many false, limiting beliefs about my ability to create my own success. I have doubts about my ability to make a living by traveling and writing. Although I’ve heard the stories of others who had nothing but pennies in their pocket but created their own success, I’ve always thought that those people were special – they have some innate quality or ability that I don’t possess. But that’s not true. Every single one of us has that power to create our own success. I can’t help others believe this if I don’t believe it and live it myself. In doing so, I can inspire others and give them the hope to do the same. They can follow their dream and trust the Universe to help it come true.

In the past couple of years, I’ve done some brave things. I quit my job and traveled around the country for three months.  I spent four and a half months out West in a city where I didn’t know a single person.  I’ve felt like I’ve dipped my toes into the deep end yet not really jumped all the way in. Because each time, I returned to the safety net of my familiar and comfortable friends, routine and relationship. But that safety net has prevented me from taking full responsibility for my life. Now I’m facing that responsibility straight on and taking another leap of faith. I’m moving back to Missoula, where I have been the happiest in my entire life. It feels like I’m going home.  I’m going to do what makes my heart sing and trust that if I do, the Universe will support me and opportunities will arise to help me achieve my dream. I want to travel and write and inspire others to look within and realize their true potential as I realize mine.

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is by Richard Bach. I love it and it encourages me to move forward: “You are never given a  dream without also being given the power to make it come true.”

My Backpack

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A couple of weeks ago, Patti Hall mentioned to me that she really missed reading my blog posts. Truth is, I’ve really missed writing them.

When I was in alone in Missoula this past winter, I started a daily meditation practice each morning as the sun rose over the mountains. My mind, free and clear from most external stress, drama, and conflict, was free to make some incredible self discoveries. Each day after my meditations, I would journal about the amazing insights I was having about my life, and my beliefs and paradigms. As I made these discoveries, I felt lighter and lighter, as if I was easily coasting along a new and clear path of my life.

When I returned to Louisville, my daily routine changed. Instead of living alone, I’m now with Kat and the kids. Although much better equipped to handle the relationship with all of them the second time around, I still have many old, ineffective habits and self-limiting beliefs that get in the way of my relationships with everyone. As I’ve tried so hard to juggle or “manage” the household, its daily tasks, and the demands of my life coaching program, I’ve slowly left behind my daily meditation practice. Occasionally I’d allow myself some time to get quiet, but when I did, it always felt to me as if  I had a huge backpack full of heavy rocks which I’d have to empty out before I could find some relief and achieve that centered relaxed state of meditation in order to make any personal spiritual progress. Every day, I’d empty the same backpack full of the same rocks that I collected, because they seemed to be in my way as I made my way along my path. If I was not meditating and emptying this backpack, I’d keep adding to it and it would get heavier and heavier, weighing me down and keeping me from moving forward at all. I’ve felt so angry that those rocks are on MY PATH, so I pick them up and put them in my bag to get them out of the way. THEY ARE SO DAMN HEAVY. I’d empty my backpack but the next day they’d be there all over again!

In the past two or three weeks, I have re-dedicated myself to the practices that brought me so much relief, comfort, and progress last winter. This morning as I meditated, I realized that I don’t have to keep picking up those rocks. I can walk around them, I can step over them, casually, relaxed and without any resentment or anger that they are there. There is no reason at all to pick them up.  No one is telling me “You have to do that, Alise.” I can just leave them as I walk along my life’s path. And I realize that if I just walk past them, they won’t keep appearing over and over again.

And I can even ditch the backpack…..

Two Girls and a Truck!

Last year, my younger sister Renée was offered an opportunity to transfer to San Diego, CA to a new satellite office of her company after working there on a project the previous year. Eager for a new adventure, she jumped at the chance. At Christmas, she expressed some trepidation at the prospect of driving across the country and wondered if I might like to keep her and her kitty company on the drive. After my cross country travels the previous summer, I told her yes! As the July move loomed closer, she brought up the subject again and I reassured her I was game. How could I pass up an opportunity to see more of the country as well as a city I hadn’t yet visited?

At the beginning of June,  movers packed up her house and she and her kitty Rigger moved in temporarily with my mom until the July move-in date. Her plan was to fly me to Chicago, pack up a small truck with her remaining personal items, work stuff, and Rigger, drive to SD and then fly me back to Louisville. I was excited for another adventure, as well as the chance to spend some time with my sister. I eagerly plotted the 4-day trip, making our hotel reservations in advance. It was a fairly straight shot that would take us through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, a smidge of Arizona, Nevada, and California.

On July 1st I took the short flight into Chicago. The next morning, we picked up the 12 foot box truck and packed all her remaining belongings in the back. Rigger was given a dose of a kitty knock-out drug and she was stowed in a nice roomy wire cage that fit absolutely perfectly between the two seats in the cab.

Rigger in her truck home

Rigger in her truck home

After a tearful goodbye with Mama, we headed west on I-88 at about 10:30am. Rigger meowled but as the drug took effect, the white of her third eyelid closed over her eye and she settled down. This route was familiar to me; I’d traveled the state of Iowa many times while I lived in Iowa City and Ames. Soon we passed into the flat state of Nebraska. Dark skies and thunderclouds loomed ahead in the west, but luckily we’d left late enough that we dodged them all. As we approached Grand Island, NE, our first stop, the skies cleared and the sun shined brightly into our eyes. We celebrated our first complete day with a couple of Blue Moons at the small bar and grill at the hotel.

Blue Moon!

Blue Moon!

The next morning we rose early, drugged the kitty cat, and set off. I dreaded the remainder of Nebraska, remembering it to be flat and ugly. However, it was much prettier than I recalled from years past – lush and green from all the recent flooding rains. Eventually we crossed into Colorado, and as we drove through Denver the snow capped Rocky Mountains appeared before us in the hazy sun. As we passed Empire, my WAZE app directed us off of I-70 due to some construction. The detour was just as gridlocked, but took us through Clear Creek Canyon, a spectacular canyon with a stunningly picturesque creek where kayakers and rafts rode the rapids. We were grateful to crawl along the detour, viewing the magnificent beauty around us.

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IMG_6610After getting back onto I-70, the landscape was even more breathtaking as we drove past Central City and Vail. We stopped for the night along the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. After a nice outdoor dinner at a local Mexican place with a couple of well-earned margaritas, we wandered around until we spotted a sky lift upside a local mountain. We snagged a couple of tickets up the lift to the top of the mountain, where Renée posed in front of some adorable wooden bears and moose characters.

Renee and her friends

Renee and her friends

Saturday we left the beautiful little resort city behind, along with the Colorado River, and headed into Utah. Rigger was having an especially difficult morning, meowling louder and longer than usual. Afraid that she might not have gotten that ½ pill down earlier, Renée pulled over at a scenic view to re-dose her. While we were there we took in the beauty of our Utah surroundings.

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IMG_6650Rigger slept soundly as we continued across the hot state of Utah. As we passed the exit for Moab, I looked longingly to the south towards Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, both of which I have yet to visit. Finally we merged onto I-15 South, past Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. After a short 20 miles or so across Arizona, we crossed into the state of Nevada into the blistering hot small town of Mesquite. Our hotel for the night was nice and new, but very isolated. We walked around the blast furnace heat looking for a place to eat with no luck. We got back into the truck and drove to the edge of town until we found a Peggy Sue’s Diner and had a light bite.

The hotel was perched high on the edge of town, and we had a good vantage point for the 4th of July fireworks taking place at the casino that night. After a spectacular sunset, we found a spot on the edge of the parking lot and watched the fireworks display.

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DSC04030At last it was Sunday, our final day of driving. We packed Rigger one more time into her cage and departed early. We had the road to ourselves until passing through Las Vegas around 10am. After that, the throngs of holiday gamblers headed back to California. Traffic was heavy all the rest of the way. And unfortunately, the scenery between Las Vegas and San Diego is nothing to write home about!

IMG_6675We passed the final hours of the drive listening to some great podcasts, most notably Marc Maron’s WTF show. We heard some wonderful interviews of Barak Obama, Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, and comedienne Andrea Martin. Renée also shared her excellent taste in music, and introduced me to a fantastic group, the California Guitar Trio. We listened to their amazing renditions of Beethoven’s 9th Ode to Joy, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and the jazz classic Caravan. Extraordinary musicians!

Finally we arrived in Vista, about 20 miles north of San Diego, and pulled up to her cute townhouse. Rigger was released from her 4-day prison into her new home as we unpacked several boxes into the house. After relaxing for a bit, we drove a short distance to Renée’s office, met her super nice French coworker Francois, and unpacked the remaining items from the truck.

Monday morning I bid farewell to my wonderful little sis, hopped a shuttle to the San Diego airport and headed home to Louisville. Although she lives hours and hours away from the rest of the family now and we will miss her terribly, I’m so proud of her for taking a leap of faith and moving to a new city across the country. I was grateful to have the chance to spend some time with her, and experience some beautiful country at the same time. The amazing adventures continue!

Goodbye, Montana sky…

IMG_6490My time in Montana has come to an end. For now. I was here for only 4 ½ months, but it felt like much longer. This beautiful city of Missoula became another home to me, and I will take part of it with me while leaving part of my spirit behind.

I will miss SO much. I will miss watching the sun rise each morning, casting its first rays high atop snow covered Squaw Peak, making it glow bright white before gradually casting its glow down the dark green, pine covered mountains throughout the valley.

I will miss the sunset behind those mountains each evening, watching as the spectacular colors in the huge expanse of the sky change from yellow to orange to pink and then purple.

I will miss looking out my window and seeing my dear friend, the Clark Fork River. I’ll miss walking right out my building to the banks of the river to watch all the surfers, kayaks, and rafts on Brennan’s Wave. I’ll miss my walks on the Riverfront path, watching the fly fishers as they rhythmically cast their lines out over the waves. I’ll miss falling asleep each night and waking each morning to the soothing sound of the rushing river through my open window.

I will miss my hikes up Mount Sentinel to The M, from which I never tired of the most spectacular view of the city, nestled in this beautiful valley surrounded by snow capped mountains.

I will miss my gym, Missoula Underground Strength Training. I’ll miss how everyone who works there treats every single person who walks into the gym with incredible respect and care, regardless of their age, weight, or physical abilities. I’ll miss the Saturday community-wide bootcamps. I will miss everyone I befriended there, several of whom share the same spiritual path as I.

Being here gave me a wonderful opportunity for self discovery. I was entirely too distracted by my “life” for the past several years. Work, the gym, VOICES, friends, my relationship. I was so busy being distracted that I was sleepwalking through my life… numb, unhappy and unable to connect with my inner self enough to find my purpose. But for the past several months, all those distractions were gone.  I was alone in my apartment, with a figurative mirror in front of me every direction I turned. I couldn’t avoid it, and I had to look at myself. It’s one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. But there was nothing else to think about….my life  and what it’s been, where it’s led me, and where I want to go. And most of all – what has kept me from going where I want to go.

I have confronted all sorts of false beliefs that have ruled my life: I must be perfect or no one will love me. I need approval from others. I’m not smart enough or good enough. Nothing I do is of any value. Recognizing those false beliefs is the first step; dispelling them is something I’ve worked on this entire time, and something that I will continue to work on. Luckily I have found a wealth of spiritual resources with which to guide me. I have found my life’s purpose and set myself on a course to fulfill that. For the first time ever in my life, I am confident that I am headed in the right direction.

I named my journey last summer Alise’s Amazing Adventure. I realize now that my whole LIFE has been an amazing adventure. And I am overwhelmingly grateful for every single thing that has happened along the way. The happiness, the joy, the victories, the hardships, the heartbreaks, the defeats. I’m grateful to the Universe for teaching me all of those lessons. I look forward to more adventures ahead, and I can honestly say that I look forward to and welcome the challenges. Because without them, we can never continue to learn and grow.

It was almost this exact time last year that I left Louisville, my friends and family, and embarked on my summer of adventure. Now, as I leave Missoula, I’m re-posting the same image that I did last year. I will keep this in mind for the rest of my life. We must accept and embrace change, we must leave our comfort zone and step out into the unknown, or we will never learn the lessons that life is teaching us. I’m so looking forward to what this next chapter in my life holds!

goodbye coehlo2