Have you seen the movie Up? Dan and I used to say that it was the most incredible love story we’d ever seen, captured in the first five minutes of a children’s movie. That first five minutes wrecks me EVERY time. If you haven’t seen it, please have tissue handy as it’s a tear jerker. And maybe some Oreos. And if you have Oreos please invite me. The movie picks up after that, but damn those first five minutes! Never in a million years did we dream the movie was about us.
After the brutal reminder that someday is promised to no one, I refused to end up like the Carl you meet where the movie actually starts, miserable and alone and full of regret. I’ve had a lot of amazing people come through my life in the last few months. Each of these people helped me get a step closer to making the decision that brought me to today. They helped me realize that the new me IS Carl, the Carl that lets the balloons fly and heads off into the adventure he and Ellie never got to take together. The Carl that rips his house off the foundation (Holy Moly what a metaphor) in search of happiness. Does he find it? You’ll just have to watch the movie. (Don’t forget the Oreos).
So honoring Dan’s Live Now motto, and adding a new one of my own, I’m letting my balloons fly. Today I retire from a career and a work family I love beyond measure. I’ve ripped my house off its foundation to go in search of beautiful places, interesting people, and adventure. As scary as this is for someone who has played it safe all her life, it’s far more terrifying to imagine a life of regret if I don’t take the chance. I refuse to live a half life. So this widow is going wandering. And I don’t need to search for happiness, I’ll make my own.
It’s funny how you can live somewhere and never do the things other people travel there for. I lived in San Diego for years, but never went to Comic-Con. A few years ago, during an especially funny episode of The Big Bang Theory, Dan and I decided that going to SDCC should be on our bucket list. Since we’re both kinda geeky, it sounded fun. Plus, how can you go wrong in San Diego? So my friend, an SDCC veteran, helped me get badges to the biggest geek party in town.
And it was a party. It’s a good thing I’m retiring in a few days because I’ll need a week or two of naps to recover.
The Wandering Widow
P.S. In case you’re thinking I’m a huge jerk for taking a vacation right before I retire, this bucket list trip was on the books before I made that life altering decision. Live Now.
Here are my Top 5 Comic-con Takeaways:
1. You can definitely do it as an SDCC virgin, but having someone help you learn the ropes is easier. Fortunately, there are a lot of SDCC blogs that can guide you along. Read them. Learn from them. When you are advised to bring a refillable water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, and backup batteries for your phone, do it. And be prepared to walk a lot! We averaged around 20,000 steps a day, and that was with a LOT of breaks at San Diego’s finest eateries and drinkeries. (Breakfast on the patio at Mary Jane’s gives you a lot of people watching and celeb spotting opportunities. And Whiskey Girl has my stamp of approval for any time of the day).
I’d add a small umbrella (for shade) to the list for those long outdoor lines. It was unusually humid and I didn’t reapply sunscreen frequently enough, so brought home a lovely stripey sunburn. I can’t imagine how hot it was for those in full costume and makeup. I bow down to their dedication and commitment to their characters. And the cosplay didn’t disappoint.
2. Don’t wait until AFTER you have your badges to book your hotel. Rookie mistake! We ended up paying a premium for a divey motel. I was told that most San Diego businesses close to the convention center make over 30% of their annual revenue during Comic Con. I don’t doubt it. Price gouging is the name of the game. It was still worth it, just be prepared and budget accordingly.
This was the only protest sign fit for print. It’s sad that these people can’t find something better to do with their time.
San Diego PD got into the spirit of Con too. Talk about a hard working bunch They kept the peace and smiles and seemed like they were having as much fun as we were.
3. Don’t stress if you don’t get badges for every day. Enough events are happening around the convention center that you will have plenty to do. I found that some of my favorites were offsite and didn’t require badges at all. Bladerunner 2049 was my favorite, and not just because of the Johnnie Walker whiskey bar at the end.
One of the things I loved best was that the whole town gets involved, taking it from mere convention to super festival. Hotels, trains, and trams were all wrapped and decorated appropriately. And there were lots of themed marches and displays supporting shows or movies. We participated in Nerdist’s Wonder Woman March but also got to enjoy History Channel’s Viking funeral march and Outlander’s exciting outdoor entertainment.
Outlander was well sponsored, and kilts were everywhere.
I couldn’t find kilted yoga when I was in Scotland, but found it at Comic-Con.
My favorite landmark for off=site events. Thanks Cartoon Network.
Love how the whole town gets into the spirit.
First ever Nerdist Wonder Woman March through the Gaslamp District. Loved all the interpretations, ages and that men participated too.. (Photo credit to Nerdist.)
The Bladerunner 2049 Experience (powered by Johnnie Walker) was the big winner for the off-site events.
4. Keep your patience and a sense of humor. Everyone else is just as excited to be there as you are, lines are inevitable. Make new friends. And don’t be put off by the 2-3 hour waits…the lines move faster than whatever the end-of-the-line-keeper tells you.
If it’s your first time, be prepared for sensory overload. It was worse than Vegas for me, and I couldn’t figure out what to look at with all that color, lights and noise everywhere.
5. Enjoy yourself. SDCC was amazing, but the best part was being able to spend time with friends.
I loved that everyone connected with the Con was respectful and still able to have a good time. I lost track of how many languages I heard spoken–this is truly an international event. It is also family friendly, and it warmed my heart to see so many parents bringing their kids. But folks, please leave your dogs at home as this is an anxiety ridden event for Fido.
Sometimes when you can’t see the answer, you need to change your perspective. That thought thundered through my brain this morning as I woke up at the butt crack of dawn to meet a friend to go on a hot air balloon ride. (For some reason I’m determined to get over my fear of heights and can’t seem to keep my feet on the ground).
I’d originally purchased this trip for Mom since a balloon ride was something she’d talked about wanting to do pretty much my whole life. As Dan and I rushed to check as many things off our bucket list while we could, it became important to me to help her Live Now with one of hers. As it turned out, she wasn’t able to make it, but I’m grateful that I got to. I’d have never known what I was missing.
As I get ready to set sail on world adventures, having some in my own backyard seems like a good idea. And Boise pulled out all the stops this morning. After nine months of trying to get off the ground, this morning dawned still and beautiful for our early morning trip. Our balloon was named the Phoenix, which couldn’t have been more perfect since the rising Phoenix has become the symbol of my survival and transformation. And it’s the heat of the fire that lifts the balloon to new heights, new views, and a new perspective.
If you ever get the chance, do it. Sometimes the only place left to go is up.
The Wandering Widow
We booked with Boise Hot Air Balloon Company. They’ve been easy to work with despite the multiple rescheduling. Safety is a priority, so don’t give them a hard time if you get grounded at the last minute. I thought my nine months of rescheduling was long, but there was another passenger who’d waited two years. Boise weather this last year hasn’t been kind to balloon pilots.
We met early at the Albertson’s parking lot in Eagle and were shuttled to Eagle Island Park for launch. TIP: if you are in a hurry to get back, you’ll want to schedule your own driver. We ended up having to wait for everything to be packed up before we got shuttled back, turning a 45 minute flight into a three hour excursion.
The weather in the air is about 10 degrees warmer than on the ground. Add to that the temperature inside the balloon itself can get close to 200 degrees, and you may not need a jacket. Long pants and closed toe shoes are required, and you will want to remember your sunglasses, since you’ll be staring into the sun for the better part of the ride. But what an amazing sunrise!
Over the Memorial Day weekend, we headed out to Hood River, Oregon to scatter the last of Dan’s ashes. It had been almost a year, but it was a year of horrible weather and bad fires at home, so we had to delay and adjust the plan several times. There is something to be said for getting things over with early. Having this task hanging over my head was uncomfortable, but given the trials and tribulations of the last year I wasn’t ready to let him go just yet either. The only thing Dan loved more than golf was hiking with his family, so we knew all along that we’d hike somewhere beautiful to do it. The summers he spent in Hood River with his grandparents were his happiest memories as a child, so when our favorite trail in Idaho was destroyed by fire last summer, this seemed the logical choice. With Skamp The Dog leading the way, the kids and their spouses, the SIL and the nephew and I all headed out.
The sunny weather was Dan’s kind of perfect, although too hot for me with barely a breeze. The river was so glassy that you could see the reflection of the birds flying up above. The windsurfers you usually see were replaced by boaters and stand-up paddle boarders. Exactly the weather we had last year, so we gave Dan credit for it.
A random conversation at hotel check-in sent us out to Tamanawas Falls, and it was perfect. It was also overly ambitious for someone coming off both an injury and illness who hasn’t been on a trail hike in two years. If I’d been in my prime hiking shape, it would have been no biggie, except for maybe the scary boulder scramble. Instead, the elevation changes and the heat had me cursing myself for believing when someone said it was an easy four-mile hike. When I got passed by people on the return trip, including a chemo patient, small children, and old people, I decided there’d be no more whining about over-heating, just a few more breaks to catch my breath. Did I mention how hot it was?
When we came around the bend and finally reached the falls, I couldn’t help but smile at the reward that was waiting for us. Tamanawas Falls didn’t disappoint. It was rocky, and the water was freezing, but we found a log on which to perch. After overheating on the trail, the cool mist from the falls was welcome and refreshing. We scattered Dan’s ashes and toasted him with a flask of the same bottle of Maker’s Mark we opened to toast him on his last night with us (FYI hot Makers Mark on a hot day is gross, and we should have put the flask in the river first.) I can’t speak for the rest of the group but, to me, it felt like the circle was now complete.
Despite being a crowded day at the falls, when people saw what we were doing they respectfully hung back. That was pretty cool, unexpected, and much appreciated.
For those of you that asked for more details, scroll down for trip info. We hope you love Hood River as much as we do.
The Wandering Widow ❤️
If you want to head to Tamanawas Falls, take exit 64 towards Mount Hood, and follow Highway 35 about 31 miles until you get to milepost 74 and park at the Polallie Trailhead. You’ll need to pick up a trail pass in town since you can’t purchase them onsite. We took a chance that they wouldn’t enforce the permit rule over the holiday weekend, and as we were pulling out of our parking spot the park ranger showed up. Oops.
Take your life in your hands and sprint across the highway to the trailhead to get to the falls. It’s a pretty steep ascent for those of us out of practice, at least for the first mile. There are a few slick spots along the way, so don’t be a dork and wear flip flops. A few years ago there was a massive rock slide, so now to reach the falls you have to rock scramble over a ginormous pile of Toyota sized (okay, maybe not quite that big) granite boulders. FYI, on a hot day, they are freaking HOT! This was the most nerve-wracking section for me, and coming back down was worse than going up since I could see all the ways I could die if I fell. I was grateful for the little girl crying that she couldn’t get down since she made me feel better about myself and my non-graceful crab walk back down the boulders. TIP: Stay low to get around the boulders. There is more loose gravel but an easier/faster path.
Once you’re over the boulders, the trail bends, and you are rewarded with your first view of the waterall. The base of the falls is rocky and moss covered, although there are logs and some dry rocks to sit on. If you’re brave enough to cross the painfully cold water, there is a lovely spot of ground where you can take a break. The dry cave behind the falls is relatively large, but you need to scramble up a narrow wet rock ledge to get there, and it is slippery. I opted out of this part, but everyone who did it said it was worth it to enjoy the view through the falls. TIP: If you’re not from Oregon, or are hiking with kids, be advised recreational pot use is legal and your hike will have a certain stink to it.
Overall a beautiful hike and one I’d do again. And despite my whining, a fairly easy hike.
With our big project crossed off the list, we were ready for a little fun. So the next day we set out on another easy adventure at Skamania Lodge, about 20 minutes across the river in Washington. I can’t recommend the Skamania Lodge Zipline Tour enough. This two+ hour tour includes seven zip lines (the longest being over 900 feet), three sky bridges, an auto rappel and a few short trail walks. The views were amazing. The harsh winter ice storms took down a bunch of trees, so the view of the river from the tree tops was better than usual. And don’t forget to look down. We saw red tail deer that were completely unfazed by the noisy zipline.
The guides are friendly, knowledgeable, and patient, even with a big baby like me. I’m still not sure how zip lining ended up on my bucket list since I have some issues with heights, but with my SIL and nephew cheering me on, I womaned up and checked it off the list. The first few zips were sorta terrifying, but after that it was fun. I was surprised to find I was disappointed when it was over.
TIP: Read the website regarding appropriate attire before going. My poor nephew and all the kids in our group were scarred for life by the woman who wore a skirt for this excursion. Geez Louise lady!
After last year’s Air BNB disappointment, we decided to hotel it. This year we stayed at the Westcliff Lodge for the first time. An older hotel just on the outskirts of town, the rooms are clean and spacious, and you can’t beat the view. If you decide to stay there, be sure to request a third-floor river view room with a balcony. The view is worth it! There are no elevators, so if accessibility is an issue stick to the second floor, where the views are still pretty good and the walkway goes straight to the parking lot. We wrapped up our weekend at the Lodge fire pit with s’mores, stories about Dan, and new happy memories. We’d definitely stay here again.
I continue to offload my worldly possessions to go in search of adventure, and last night I watched my Christmas heirlooms get divvied up and walk out the door. Out of everything that has been sold or given away, this is the one that got under my skin. I hadn’t even wanted to be in the room, but couldn’t bring myself to leave.
Old Lisa was a Christmas Elf. Every one of life’s milestones or memories was translated into a special ornament that ended up on a giant Christmas tree that needed an extension ladder to decorate. Watching my sisters unwrap each one was an instant flashback to that memory, just like it was each Christmas, only now those memories hurt. Putting the Christmas stocking I handmade for Dan into the kidlet’s pile was painful. And it made me cranky! I could hear a harsh edge creep into my voice as I explained the stories behind each ornament. Not exactly the way I wanted two of the people I love most in the world to remember the evening.
After sleeping on it, I realized that it was all okay and they are just things. (Isn’t it amazing how much power we give to inanimate objects?) Many of those memories are shared by my family, and as those ornaments are unwrapped and hung on their trees, they will continue to be kept alive. And more importantly, they will go back to being happy memories to be enjoyed during our family’s favorite holiday. I guess in a way it means I’ll still be with them this Christmas, even as I’m out making new Christmas memories on the other side of the world.
I recently had a conversation with someone (an acquaintance whom I hadn’t heard from in over a year) who was freaking out over something full of drama at work. She was spooled up, and I don’t want to diminish her concerns, but if you call me for advice you need to understand that my benchmark for crisis isn’t what it used to be and you may not like what I have to say. I’m happy to listen and empathize, but if you ask my opinion and I tell you it’s small potatoes, just remember how I got here. If you just want to vent, preface your bitch session with that so I understand my role in the conversation. Or, better yet, call someone else so I can focus on positive healing energy.
Old Lisa used to freak out about a lot of stuff. Recovering Control Freak, remember? New Lisa is a lot more chill. My new yardstick is pretty simple. Is <<fill in the blank with the potential problem>> worse than watching the person you love most in the world die a gruesome death right in front of you? If yes, freak out immediately ’cause that $hit is really bad. If no, breathe through your nose and mellow out. Whatever it is can be fixed or isn’t worth your time and energy.
Insensitive? Yes. What the hell were you thinking calling me, the grieving widow, about this? Oh, you mean me? Perhaps. And Old Lisa would have worried about that too. New Lisa says small potatoes. Life is full of disappointments. It’s also full of beauty and magic and wonder. Go outside and admire the sun or the moon or the stars. Look around you at all the blessings you have in your life. Go for a run. Do whatever you need to do to find perspective. Let yourself have a pity party if you must, but don’t stay there long. And maybe take a look at your phone tree and take a few moments to think before you call someone grieving to vent about your problems. We still want to be a part of your lives, but come on.
The Wandering Widow
P.S. Calling me to complain about your husband, who is still alive, will probably invite Hulk Smash Lisa to the party. Do us both a favor and don’t go there.
A Wondering Widow Post
It’s surreal. How did I get here? How can it possibly have been a whole year? How can it have been 365 days since that horrible morning when I watched Dan die? How have I survived 8760 hours of being broken wide open? Shattered? How can 525,600 minutes have passed without him in a single one? It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t seem right.
And yet here we are, at his one-year deathiversary. I know some people hate that word. No judgment here if you are one of those who prefers angelversary. While I do like to look for the positive in every situation, I also refuse to sugar coat a turd. To-may-to, to-mah-to, we all cope in our own way. But I digress.
The last year has been a journey that often left me feeling like a refugee from my own life. I have at times been appalled at things people have said or done. I have also been overwhelmed with gratitude at the kindness of strangers. And I have fallen more deeply in love with my friends and family for whom I am incredibly blessed. Not only did they walk this path beside me, I’ve lost count of how many times they picked me up and carried me. And, truthfully, sometimes those brave souls had to drag me along kicking and screaming.
The old me died that day when Dan took his last breath. That was also the day I was reborn, like the phoenix rising from the ashes. In the last year, I’ve had to figure out who I am in this new reality. Here are a few things I’ve learned about the new Lisa. And you know what? I kinda like her.
The new me has ninja level survivor bada$$ery. I’m stronger than I ever dreamed possible. My proof? Laughter. I can still laugh, even through the tears. Admittedly, sometimes it’s a Lt. Dan crazy kinda laughter, but laughter nonetheless. Even after nights like last night where I was a f@#$%&g bawling train wreck.
The new me is brave. Mostly. I kept breathing when I didn’t want to. When I was too afraid to think about the future, I kept putting one foot in front of the other anyway. I may not have always looked up from my feet but persisted in the direction of the unknown. I now recognize that asking for help and being vulnerable are where real courage lies. If you knew the old Lisa, you’d know how significant this is.
The new me pursues happiness and joy with abandon and without apology.
Life is too short to put up with bull$hit. The new me has learned to walk away, purge, move on, forgive, and not look back.
I’m keeping it real. The new me is a card carrying member of the reckless truth teller club. Authentic has become one of those business buzzwords, but that doesn’t take the power out of our truths. To wrap my brain around my own grief, I share and hopefully help others in the process. No more carefully curated social media presence, no more worrying about what other people think. This girl DGAF about pretense. Like it? Great. Don’t like it? Reference previous “life is too short to put up with bull$shit” and move along. (Dan, inventor of DGAF, would be both proud and horrified).
The new me is obsessively grateful. I recognize that every second we are on this earth is a gift. No more sweatin’ the small stuff. No more 60 hour work weeks. No more waiting. No more I’ll call them later. It’s all about living now, loving now, laughing now and making sure those we love know how valued they are.
To those of you who pop in to read my story, thank you. Thanks for showing up to bear witness to all the ugly and beautiful bits of my grief journey.
Of all the things I tried for The Grief Recovery Project, meditation was the hardest. I tried a bunch of different things…Buddhify and Calm (both apps), YouTube videos, pretty much anything that wasn’t a class. I quickly learned meditation worked really great at one thing…making me fall asleep. Meditation became synonymous with napping. Clearly, I was doing something wrong.
Ben, my hypnotherapist, told me about a study that showed how meditation helped those with PTSD and depression. In this study brain scans were done on the participants at the start and end of an eight-week meditation challenge. The scans revealed that the hippocampus was undersized at the start of the eight weeks. After eight weeks of daily meditation, scans were done again which revealed a normal sized hippocampus. Cool. You know me and science, so of course, I wanted some pretty pictures of my hippocampus. Since you can’t just walk into a lab and get some taken, I had to go on faith and my meditation journal.
Since I kept falling asleep, Ben encouraged me to be sitting up during meditation. That made my back hurt and I couldn’t find my zen. A friend gave me a tip about sitting upright on a cushion with my tailbone against the wall to cut down on the back pain. That helped a lot, but I was still easily distracted…breathe in, breathe out, grocery list, bills to pay, what flowers to plant, shiny thing, shiny thing, shiny thing. I took a tip from Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart and would recognize that I was distracted and let whatever that thought was float away with the exhale. Everything was about focusing on the breath, being mindful of my breathing.
So did it work? Om, yeah it did. I still get the fidgets. I still get distracted by random thoughts. But after eight weeks of daily meditation, I found it is easier to step out of emotionally charged moments and just breathe. If I skip a day I feel it. The days I meditate I fall asleep faster and sleep better. I also deal with the grief related social anxiety better, which is the whole reason I went to see my hypnotherapist in the first place.
Oh, and if you know where I can get a hippocampus scan let me know.