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As I drove across Garland Prairie last week, the light of a full moon illumined the snow and the pines, casting deep shadows across the frozen ground. It was a beautiful and a bittersweet sight. The song of a great horned owl greeted me as I got out of my car and crunched through the snow to the door.

My plan was to continue packing my belongings, but most of the time ended up being spent running around Flagstaff dealing with the buyer, title agent, insurance agent…and getting some heat tape to keep my pipes from freezing again. Temperatures have been very cold, dipping below zero several nights in a row.

In a few days I won’t be a property owner in the high country anymore. My focus will be back on building my business, filling in with other work as needed, meeting new people, and making new friends. That is as it should be, but I will miss the high country, the pines, the wildlife, and being close by to family and old friends. I can’t help but feel a little pang.

Still, new horizons beckon and I’ve been having some unexpected fun in my life. I’ve met some very nice guys down here in the Valley and have had a couple of dates recently. As I write this post, it’s raining outside, as it has been all day. I know that soon the desert will be in bloom, alive with colorful wildflowers. And, there are friendships blossoming in my life right now, even the possibility of romance. Who knows what may follow the high country snow melt and the desert rains?

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Fun, friends, hikes up side canyons to hot springs, wildlife–it was soooo good to get out on the river! The weather was absolutely perfect–low eighties air temp, low fifties water temp. The sky was clear and we had a full moon. It was a real stroke of luck for it to be so pleasant so late in the season.

In the past, I’ve rafted the upper Grand Canyon, from Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch (hiked out the South Kaibab), and I’ve done the San Juan, a tributary, but paddling Black Canyon just below Hoover Dam was my first excursion on a lower section of the Colorado River. The magnificent desert canyon scenery compensated for the flat water. We hiked in a slot canyon, played in numerous hot springs and seeps, and saw cormorants, herons, ducks, and even a mama bighorn with her youngster hopping up a canyon wall.

I learned something on the trip, too. For the last few months, I’ve been trying to “push the river,” to make things happen in my life. The first day on the river, I was still doing the same thing. Pushing the boat, seeing what it could do, what I could do with it. I was a little frustrated that we didn’t go further that day.

The second day, I began to flow with the river. I started dancing with the water, the boat, the breeze. Not fighting the current, but finding my way within it, getting the rhythm of each section, shifting as the river moved through wide and narrow stretches, slower and faster water.

We did have to push some for the last couple of hours to make our takeout, but even that was fun. I found the speed and rhythm that I could maintain over time, not unlike grubbing a line around a wildland fire, keeping the pace with a paddle instead of a pulaski. The strong, steady pulling felt good to my back and arms and the tiredness at the end was a welcome reminder of all we had seen and done.

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It’s been over a week since I last posted, so I thought I’d do a brief update at least…

I spent most of last week in Phoenix job-hunting and apartment-scouting. I’ve got a line on a guitar teaching position at a music store, which I will know more on at the end of this week, and I’ve narrowed the search area considerably for housing. Good progress and the weather was gorgeous. And, as always, it was a joy to see my friends.

Despite my dismal practice record of late, I got a Tangos and a Sevillanas vocal at my guitar lesson. I nearly made myself hoarse practicing the vocals on the way back to Flagstaff and I’ve gotten them memorized already because of that. Best of all, the lesson seemed to turn around the musical block I’ve had going for weeks and I’ve been practicing every day since. Funny. Practice really does seem to make a difference…

I’ve been back home for a couple of days now and have gotten the “Music by Ariel” site up and running with Drupal. Flamencophile now has blogs, a calendar, and a forum operational. It’s still in development and behind schedule, but it’s progressing. I’m roughly on track with my novel edit, too, only about two days behind my schedule, and I’m hoping I can get caught back up by the end of the week.

My exercise program has been wavering a bit, but is not forgotten. Lifting boxes and the amount of driving I did last week has been a little hard on my legs, so I’m still at the earlier level and taking it all very easy. I expect that to continue until I actually get settled in Phoenix. I have lost two more pounds in the last month, however, so my old rate of weight loss seems to have returned, which makes me quite happy. I’ve still got some more to go, but at this rate I’m within a month of having lost 40 pounds. Yeeha!

While I was gone, the temps took another dive into the 20’s. My maple tree turned red and dropped most of its leaves while I was in Phoenix. The aspens up on the San Francisco Peaks are turning golden and I hope to take a drive up that way in the next few days before it’s back down to the Valley for another round…

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There are a lot of things on the upside of this latest development. For one thing, the last time I lived in Phoenix, I moved down there just ahead of the summer season and left at the end of a long, hot summer. Not very good timing. This time, I’m at least in better tune with the seasons! I know more people, I have good friends who have already blazed the trail, and I have the hope and expectation that this is at least somewhat seasonal, if not temporary.

With a little luck and a lot of hard work, I do think it is possible to keep my place in the mountains as a sanctuary and retreat from the worst of the heat and congestion. If not, at least I will have already taken some of the actions that would have been necessary anyway.

I’ve learned a lot since I left the Valley 16 years ago and, while some of my skills may be rusty, I’ve made huge strides on the software development front lately. My earning capacity has increased a great deal in the last few months in that area.

This is also pushing me towards a much more realistic assessment of my time and energy capabilities, and I’ve made some hard-edged decisions about focus. I am cutting out harp for anything but my own enjoyment and, depending on how things develop over the next year or so, I may even sell it. It is not my first instrument and it’s taking time away from developing my guitar. So is playing old repertoire. I’ve canceled the Sept. 19th Coffee Bean gig. I’m not going to be doing that music anymore and I don’t want to waste any more time on maintaining portions of that repertoire.

And there are all of the usual benefits of life in a big city – more cultural activities, more things to do, more stimulation in general. I’m looking forward to being part of a much expanded and more vibrant music scene. It will challenge me and help me grow. F1 and I are already making plans to take flamenco dance lessons from Yumi la Rosa again and to practice our Spanish together.

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It’s getting close to the last hurrah for the wild sunflowers that dot my yard and line Arizona’s roadways in the late summer. They are definitely getting close to “bloomed out.” These two pictures were taken about a week ago in my front yard. The ones I saw today, on my return trip from Phoenix, have lost a lot of the their blossoms.

Wild Sunflower Another Wild Sunflower Picture

It was a good trip down to Phoenix and a joy to visit with my friends, as always. The drive to and from Phoenix is also a time for reflection for me. I’ve clarified some of my options and made some plans for the next few months. I also took a few days off exercising and the nerve problem in my leg has diminished, so the change of pace was healthy in more ways than one.

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It’s been almost thirty years now and I’m living proof that trauma can be transcended. It is possible not only to survive, but to thrive. What follows is some rather unconventional advice. It’s just what has worked for me.

Forgiveness and Forgetting
Forgive? You will be advised to forgive – usually immediately – by well-meaning people who are discomfited by whatever your experience represents to them. Don’t do it, at least not until you’re damned good and ready. Definitely do not force it to please someone else. (Even God!) You will forgive naturally when you are truly ready.

Until then, stay angry. Anger can be a great source of energy and power when you want to just lay down in your tracks and die. Anger can prevent you from giving up. Find ways to keep it focussed outward (so it doesn’t turn into depression) and still keep it contained enough that no one gets hurt. A good therapist can be a great help here. So can the Dixie Chicks. (Not Ready To Make Nice.)

Don’t expect to forget. Use your memory – it is the foundation of wisdom.

Four Step Formula
Here’s my personal four-step trauma recovery formula. As an old firefighter, I love acronyms. They can be lifesavers when you are under duress. With the creative addition of a couple of vowels, it is also a mantra of great power. :-)

Friends – Gotta have ’em. Support is vital. With the advent of the Internet, it’s even easier to broaden your network.

Courage – You do have it, obviously, because you’ve survived this far. Use that. Acknowledge it. Some days just getting out of bed is a tremendous act of courage.

Keep at it – Little steps every day. That’s how your support network will grow; that’s how your courage will increase. It is also how you will, over time, go from merely surviving to thriving.

Meaning – I wasted a lot of time trying to “find” meaning. Everything turned around when I decided to make it for myself. Somewhere in the mess of your life right now there is a dull, rough, unimpressive looking stone. Dig it up. Cut, grind and polish it. It is a precious jewel that only you can identify and design out of whatever misfortune has befallen you. Do this, and your tragedy becomes your transcendence.

The Most Important Thing of All
One last thing, and this is the most important thing of all. Inside you is a spark of Spirit that is indestructible. Bodies can be harmed, psyches can be maimed, but nothing can destroy your essential nature. Even when life looks its bleakest, even when you can’t feel it and don’t believe it, that spark is there, deep inside your heart.

Breathe gently on its flickering flame. It will burn brighter and hotter for all that you have been through and turn you into a light for others. Express it. That is your gift to the world.

Heart Flame

May you burn bright and strong, fellow Sisters and Brothers of the Purple Heart.

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Stepping on the scale this morning told the tale. I’ve lost 34 pounds the last year, four of those since my first weight loss post. This means my rate of loss has slowed from about four pounds per month down to two pounds per month.

That’s alright, since I am well over half way to where I want to be and I’ve purposely lost the weight slowly, having learned from experience on past efforts that I cannot maintain fast losses or extreme diets over the long haul. This time I am in it for the rest of my life. But, a couple of thoughts hit me as I stood there, realizing that I can see my feet a whole lot easier than I could a year ago.

One, along with the thirty-four pounds of useless, ugly fat, I’d also lost 160 pounds of ex in the past year. That meant, if I lost just six more pounds I could say that I “lost 200 pounds” during my forty-eighth year. I liked the sound of that. Only catch is, I’ve avoided setting specific loss goals in favor of the gradual modification of habits approach. That’s worked pretty well so far. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke might be wise counsel at this juncture. But, damn, I want to be able to have my birthday lunch with Margie in another four weeks and say, “Wow! Who’d have thought I’d lose 200 pounds in the last year?” Giggle.

Two, my health habits are not yet where I want them to be long-term. They’ve improved considerably, but there are still some changes to my diet that I want to make, and I’ve already set next year to be the year that I get in the best shape of my life. To remedy points one and two will take some doing.

I decided to make it a challenge. Can I lose six pounds over the next four weeks? And how can I motivate myself to do that? Easy. For one thing, make the threat of public embarrassment loom in the background. I can use my blog to announce my intentions and post my progress.

Also, I can begin to implement the exercise program I’ve been devising for this coming year today, instead of waiting until I have it just so. And I can use some of my other old diet hacks – imagery and self-hypnosis for two things. I’m cringing at going even further and posting photos or my actual weight, measurements and estimated body fat percent, and tracking that. That’s just too embarrassing for right now. We’ll see just how brave I get on this quest…and how quickly the easier actions start to show results.

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