Right, so where do you start when you graduate with a degree in chemistry? I didn’t know either but first I wanted to get married. Paul and I had met while working at Whole Foods and had fallen for each other very hard. After a year and a half of dating, Paul and I co-decided we would get married. I was hellbent on having my hard-earned degree state my maiden name so the agreement was that I would marry him the very next day after I graduated. There was one other requirement that he had to meet: he’d been a bonafide rock star in a very well-known band for over a decade and hadn’t filed or paid a lick of taxes on that money. I absolutely insisted that he at least file with the IRS for all those years. We’d figure out a way to pay for it eventually but the point was I didn’t want my good name all mixed up in his bullshit-bad-decisions. Period. No way.
We eloped at the courthouse and took off to Spain a day or so later for a few glorious weeks. We had very little money so we hopped trains, stayed in hostels and took only one small backpack each. I was a pro at this lifestyle after living in Europe and essentially backpacking the whole continent just a couple of years prior. When we returned I was pregnant (whoops) and I knew I needed a “real job” with my fancy new degree. Not really knowing where to start the process, I interviewed with a scientific laboratory temp agency. After a rigorous interview process they accepted me and I was sent on my very first assignment: Frito Lay.
The Cheese Puff Lab was next to the Rold Gold Pretzel Lab and down the hall from the Cheeto Lab. I was issued a white lab coat, a security badge and with that I reported to work each day around 7am or so. The drive was horrendous with over an hour of driving and multiple stops on the old school toll road to deposit quarters. Something in me learned early on that this would not be sustainable.
Our important assignment was working with cheese puffs made with olestra. What’s olestra, you young'uns may be wondering? It was a fat free oil that was all the rage in the 90s but it was only fat free though because your body literally couldn’t absorb it so it would come out as an oily, anal discharge. Right. So there we were, working with the olestra-cooked cheese puffs. A team of British scientists were in town working downstairs in the manufacturing plant. They would tweak the dyes in the cheese puff machine ever so slightly yielding cheese puffs that were varying lengths, curvatures and thicknesses. The chemical properties of olestra made the act of manufacturing the products slightly more difficult to match the lightness of “regular” cheese puffs. With each iteration of these cheese puffs, a numerically labeled garbage bag stuffed full of puffs would come up from the manufacturing plant via a dumbwaiter into my lab.
I’d receive a bag from the chute and begin my processes. Newly manufactured puffs look and feel like packing peanuts. They haven’t been baked yet nor have they been cheesed and our data sets always came from raw puffs. First moisture readings. I’d take ten puffs out of one of the numbered garbage bags and place them one by one into a little moisture reading machine. I’d record the number of the first puff and continue on the rest of my samples. Then I’d take another sample of ten puffs out of the same bag and do curvature readings. I’d place the puff on a chart and determine what the circumference of the puff would be if it were to expand into a circle. I’d record the numbers. Then I’d do the crunch testing. I’d take a ten piece sample from the garbage bag and head down the hall to another lab. I’d place the puff onto a landing pad apparatus and punch a key on the computer attached to it and a probe would descend and crunch through the raw puff yielding a graph of how crunchy that puff was. I’d record the data and do the rest of the samples. I processed dozens and dozens of numbered garbage bags of cheese puffs in this manner.
Then we’d bake each sample, cheese them, label them and get them ready for shipping for taste testing. In Spain. These were Cheese Puffs made with olestra for the Spanish market so the cheese was a little sharper to match the European palette. Wow, right? This is food science, people.
But it wasn’t all bad. Working in the Frito Lay headquarters was actually quite cool. The corporate art collection was totally inspiring and I spent most of my free time wandering the halls looking at the paintings, photographs and mixed media pieces that lined those walls as “investments” for the company. The cafeteria was really delicious and the campus itself was very nice. The actual job though? It sucked. I did this for exactly three weeks before walking into my supervisor's office and announced I was leaving. That this job was not for me. I didn’t know what was next for me but this wasn’t it. No way. Between the drive, the boring nature of the work and my morning sickness, forget it. I turned in my badge and lab coat and never looked back.
When I returned to the temp agency, I asked if there was something else I could do. Anything, I said, just not food science. With that I was sent to interview at a breast implant manufacturing plant. Uh, ok.
I showed up to a very nondescript manufacturing plant building and waited in a little room with a fake green plant in the corner. I was ushered into the facility with a hair net and face mask. We passed through the main hallway to look through glass into the labs where the breast implants are actually made. They’re sterile spaces so the scientists were dressed in full length white suits and using their own breathing apparatus. Eyes wide with amazement, I wondered if I'd get to wear a space suit. Next we looked into the “line” where conveyor belts whizzed around with various sizes of breast implants, packaging and other related items.
Finally we entered what would be my lab. It was a quality control laboratory. My job would be to, about once per hour, go into the line and grab a random, freshly packaged breast implant. I’d do some testing on the packaging itself, ensuring that it was in fact sterile. Then I’d take the breast implant out of the package and place it in a laboratory hood. (They look kind of like a big oven with a vertical opening door in case you’re curious.) My job would be to place the breast implant on the platform inside and close the front of the hood and then press a button. A plate would descend and apply pressure to the breast implant until it exploded. I’d record the pressure number, clean up the mess and do it all again. But here was the catch. This titty-smashing job offer was for the 11pm to 7am shift! OMG, I declined on the spot and just walked out. This isn’t why I studied chemistry. Goodbye, people!
Woefully ill with morning sickness, I struggled for a few weeks to do much of anything. Paul got a call from a friend asking if he knew someone because she had a friend who was looking for a new receptionist for a hair salon. But it wasn’t just any ole hair salon. It’s where The Who’s Who of Whoville got their hair cut. Very famous, very wealthy, very influential clientele and did I want to interview? Absolutely I did and soon enough it was my new job.
I took appointments, confirmed appointments, cleaned up after the colorist, helped get people settled and of course took their money. I balanced the checkbook and did all the inventory of coloring supplies. I met so many interesting (and crazy wealthy) people while there. It was a totally old school operation and the salon didn’t even have a computer. Everything was done by hand, which was interesting. The other neat thing about it was that the owners absolutely loved my black and white prints that I’d been printing. I had a darkroom at home in my laundry room after all and would print when I had the energy. They invited me to hang several of my photographs in the salon and over time I would get quite a bit of positive feedback from these super rich people. My only downfall here was that I refused to sell them at the time. Weird, right? Something to do with self-esteem.
Anyway, as my due date drew nearer and nearer the panic began to set in. How would I possibly continue to work after I had this baby? I’d been receiving prenatal care at the Birth Center and I’d gotten quite close to my midwife, CB. I’d shared with her some of my fears and concerns. She knew a lot about me by the time I went into labor.
Our daughter Eva was born in late February and the agreement with the salon was that I’d take six weeks off but at my 10-day postpartum visit, CB looked me in the eyes and said “I want you to leave that hair salon job and come work for me. You can bring your baby to work.” I burst into tears and said yes, yes, yes, I didn’t even care what it paid. Turns out it would be HALF of what the salon paid me but I didn’t care. I could be with my new baby all the time. And still work. Hallelujah! The year was 1999.
Moving on. Part of the tuition agreement at my university was this thing called work-study. It’s where, in exchange for 15 hours a week, a portion of your tuition is paid. Like, I didn’t get to keep the money because it went right back to the finance office. My job during my first year of college? Something called “Special Projects.” It’s one of these all-purpose jobs they give freshmen to tease out what we might be good at. Each day I reported to work and was sent out to do some random “special project”. Once it was a multi-week gig helping to edit a film. Another time it was weeks and weeks of re-painting all the light poles brown on campus. Yet another time I filed papers in the Registrar’s Office for a good long while. That type thing.
Needless to say my stash of cash from the Red-themed Lobster place ran out pretty fast and even though I was totally working on campus, I went and got another job off campus. So in addition to taking 15 hours of classes, performing work study for 15 hours, I also got a part time job at the Galleria Mall at a children’s clothing store for like 15-20 hours per week. (When did I study?) It was totally insane when I look back on it.
The children’s clothing store was a fascinating place to work if you’re into the anthropology of the extremely wealthy. It was a very high-end store and since we were at the famed Galleria mall, we had these wealthy families literally fly into the nearby private airport, take a car over and buy thousands and thousands of dollars of clothes for their children. It took a while to get used to because, if I’m honest even all these years later, it was astonishingly excessive in light of how quickly children outgrow clothing. Blessedly I got a discount working there and was encouraged to buy my work clothes from the corresponding women’s version of the chain. It was a decent gig I suppose and I made commission so wasn’t too vocal with my judgemental observations.
The summer between freshman and sophomore year I went back to West Texas, Lubbock this time, to live with my maternal grandmother. I waited tables again at the Red-themed-Lobster place. They hired me on the spot because I had already been trained in another restaurant. I made many close friends that summer and again, I built up my stockpile of cash. I was moving to Europe for the fall semester of my Sophomore year. It’s a long story that I don’t really want to get into but I was essentially on my own at this point. I had declared myself financially independent from both sets of my parents so that I would qualify for special loans and grants and so that they couldn’t “claim” me on their taxes. I was hellbent on going to live in Rome and ultimately getting my degree. I literally didn’t let anything stop me. Not even my parents!
And don’t you know, even though I was living just outside Rome, I still had to do the dang work-study thing to offset my tuition. This particular semester’s job was really cool though. I worked in the campus cappuccino bar and learned to make all the fancy coffee drinks. I got to travel all over Europe that semester and have totally amazing memories of long haul Eurail train rides, epic Alpine-Roman-Germanic-French-Greek beauty, art museums, youth hostels and so much more.
When I got home from this life-changing semester abroad, it was more work study - but this time I got to work as the school yearbook photographer. My best school friend Yvonne saw some of my photos from our European semester together and promptly recruited me. She could see that I had a good eye for framing, composition and content. I didn’t give those things much thought until she pointed them out to me and then I was like “Oh, I am a pretty good photographer, aren’t I? Wow! I had no idea.”
I shot university events, headshots, campus life and so much more. Pretty much whatever the yearbook editor told me to cover, I would shoot. And because it was a school job, I could use the fancy yearbook camera whenever I wanted for personal projects and I even got to learn to print in the campus darkroom. I loved that job and did it for my final two years of college. I totally fell in love with black and white photography, specifically processing film and darkroom printing. (My mother and step-father even gave me a full darkroom set up as my graduation gift and I’d go on to print for over a decade using that equipment in my home. I still have it but it’s all in the attic at this point. Paper and chemical scarcity have curtailed modern efforts to process and print my own work.)
The summer between my sophomore and junior year was its own special magic. I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to West Texas and living with my grandmother again so I got creative. My dear college pal Yvonne (same one I’d also backpacked Europe with) told me about opportunities at Yosemite National Park. How you could get a park concession job, rent a tent and live your summer that way earning money. So what did I do? (This is pre-internet, mind you.) I literally called 411 information for Yosemite National Park in California. When I called them, they told me I actually needed to call the concession company that the National Park Service contracts with. I did that and then they mailed me an application to my dorm. I filled it out and mailed it back. A few weeks later I was informed by mail how to claim my job, when to arrive and basically what to expect. Did I mention the whole exchange was by mail? Totally astonishing, in hindsight.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune! I was moving to Yosemite National Park for the summer instead of Lubbock! Better yet, another dear college friend Amy had also applied and been accepted and so she and I quickly began making plans. Traveling to Yosemite with a literal trunk full of things needed for a whole summer was quite the adventure. We bought plane tickets to San Francisco and then we took a cab to the train station and slept outside overnight with all the homeless people. We boarded a train early the next morning for Merced, where we picked up a Greyhound bus that would take us into the park and right to the Human Resources tent.
Our work assignments were straightforward and we were assigned a fairly large shared tent to sleep in. It had a wooden floor with a heavy canvas top. Two cots. And that was basically it. Fortunately we were near the community kitchen for staffers and the women’s bath house. We lived in one of the many strategically located staff camps in the park called “The Terrace” for the way it terraced up the mountainside looming over Curry Village. Truly a prime location in the park and perfect for our Curry Village based jobs.
Amy worked in Housekeeping and I worked in the Camp Curry Coffee shop. I’d rise each morning at 4am, roll out of bed, roll a joint and smoke it during my 5 minute commute to the coffee shop. The team had about an hour to brew coffee and set up before the hard core hikers arrived. And this place was slammed the moment we opened the doors! We made coffee drinks, served pastries and more to a wide variety of park goers. By 9am it was time for my lunch break and by noon each day I was off work for the day. I spent my afternoons napping, especially up by Vernal Falls. I’d swim in the Merced river almost daily and never really felt the need to shower. In fact, I think I only took like three showers that whole summer. I’d cook in the kitchen using groceries I bought in the Yosemite grocery store. Being a vegetarian was effortless in this environment and I learned so so so much from other park employees about how to eat well and cook vegetarian. I took time off here and there and enjoyed several challenging, multi-day hikes.
The trek to Cloud’s Rest is one that really sticks out in my memory. The photo here is my friend Liz and me on top of Cloud’s Rest right before an epic summer storm. We were facing the most gorgeous sunset I’d ever seen while a thunderstorm billowed purple and blue behind us. Just as our hair started to rise (lightning alert!), we hustled down the bald peak of Cloud’s Rest and set up our primitive camp below the treeline. That summer totally changed my life and living in California with all the cool kids living in the park really opened my eyes. I was even invited to Burning Man that summer but declined only to totally regret that decision later on. (It was the tenth year of the festival and the infamous year they had live ammo on the playa!) Anyway, it was so bittersweet to head home. But my science studies called me. And I was committed. I’m like that.
Sometime in Fall of my junior year I needed to find an outside job beyond my work-study yearbook photographer job. I was technically on my own and with gas expenses, car insurance plus money to just be a college student, I applied for a job at Whole Foods. It was the OG location in the Dallas area and I figured it would be a good support for my vegetarianism and it might help me transition from the ultimate cool summer in California. Turns out I was right.
I started out in the coffee bar (since I had experience working in one on the Rome campus and in Yosemite) and migrated at some point to the bakery before finally landing in the Herbs and Body Care department. This was the best fit for me at the time I would soon realize. My degree plan was chemistry and working with the herbs, the vitamin vendors and the wicked smart women that had worked there for years (and years!) gave me access to this really cool body of knowledge that I could understand through my scientifically trained mind. I learned so much during this period of time about alternative treatments, what herbs are good for what ailments, understanding homeopathic remedies, flower remedies and so much more. I picked up several good resources during my time there that I still rely on to this day.
These college jobs didn’t really prepare me for the big world though, as I would soon find out. The year was 1998.
I’m at the crossroads right now in terms of how I make money in the world. As much as I would just love to write, perform Clearings, host Salons and fuss in my garden, the truth is I need to make some money. I’m a very grounded mom and wife. I own a gorgeous (albeit simple and very small) house with my husband. I contribute to worthy causes and am in several courses of study that require money. I have to eat and pay basic bills. At some point I need to make real money again. Because the job I just left paid the bills, people. Paid them well. It put two kids through college. It erected a new nine foot privacy fence on our property. It paid off all our lame ass debt. The job I’ve just left also gave us a small stash of cash to live on for a short time. But that same job almost cost me my freaking sanity. The Mercury Retrograde here at the start of 2022 (mark your calendars - January 14 through February 3) is the perfect time to reflect, revisit and dare I say celebrate all the ways I’ve made money over the years.
Here goes. Technically, my first “job” was ironing my father’s work shirts. He was a Methodist minister and the ironing of his shirts was seemingly endless and my step-mother needed help! So she paid my brother and me to do it. As a result, my brother and I can starch and iron a shirt to perfection. It’s been a helpful skill to have over the years but at $.50 per shirt, it certainly doesn’t qualify as a real job, now does it?
My first “real job" was at the mall in Odessa, Texas at a certain orange and white burger place that we all know and love. I was 15 at the time and was trained to work all the positions: cashier, janitorial support, fry cook, produce prep and the grill. For some reason I was really fast at cooking. I could flip a burger, dress it according to the instructions on the paper bag and get those orders out in freakishly fast record time. When we were busy I was inevitably at the grill station.
My coworkers were lovely and I got along with all of them. My uniform was navy pants, a light blue pinstripe shirt, an apron with the logo on the front and of course a visor. (I looked and looked for a picture of me in that burger joint uniform and alas, I can’t find it. But above is a picture of my mother and me during that time period. More about her later on. The Stories are a’comin’!) I have several funny memories at this job. For example, one time this gay couple came in and I’d never seen an openly gay couple before in my life until that point. (It was a different era, the early 90s in West Texas.) I was working at the register that day and I leaned into them after they placed their order and said “May I ask you two a question?” They nodded and looked at me expectantly. “Are y’all…. you know, lovers?” They bust out laughing and said “yes of course!” I was a little embarrassed because I couldn’t bring myself to say the word “gay” for some reason. Anyway, we laughed and thusly my gaydar was activated by the two nicest gay guys in the Odessa mall.
I remember that song Achy Breaky Heart playing on the country radio station in the break room. I remember using my time to chop onions in the back as time to really get into it and cry about something, anything. I remember hauling grease out to the trap and scrubbing the disgusting public toilets. I made about $6 per hour but once I got a $.07 raise!
And, importantly, blessedly, one of the most profound pivots of my life happened at this job. I remember this one evening when I was working as the grill cook and it was at the end of a very long day. The meat patties are stored in a refrigerated drawer under the grill after they’re pulled out of the deep freeze. That way they stay nice and cold while they slowly defrost because a frozen patty doesn’t cook as well. It's something you only learn through experience but there really is a sweet spot that the meat reaches in terms of temperature for optimal cooking. (#chemistry) Anyway, this one particular evening I reached into the drawer to grab one of the last remaining patties and had to swish around in a pool of defrosted blood to find it. I threw it on the grill. I watched it cook. I watched the blood bubble and spatter on the hot surface. I looked at my hands and they were covered in blood. I wiped blood out of my fingernails onto my apron. I ruminated on what was happening in front of me in real time. I’m not sure why, but I never really thought about what meat actually was before. It was an actual animal I realized at that moment. And to eat it wasn’t something I wanted to do. But there I was with its blood on my hands... I finished cooking that patty and sent the burger out. I cleaned up for the night and by the end of my shift I vowed to never eat meat again. It was just too cruel. I became a dedicated vegetarian in the moment. Still am 31 years later! Thank you orange and white burger joint!
Moving on, I knew all the people working at all the other stores in this mall because of this job. Fans of the orange and white burger place are really devoted, it turns out. One of the folks that would frequent our restaurant was the manager of the local athletic footwear store. (The green and white one, not the black and white striped one, just in case you’re a connoisseur of these things.) We chatted and at some point he asked me to come apply for a job since I’d shared that I’d become vegetarian. I guess he was serious because apply I did and promptly got the job.
I sold footwear for a while and as the only female employee and I made more commission than any of the guys. Turns out that a pretty, high school aged shoe sales gal is attractive bait at the athletic store. (I also ran track and cross country so the discount was awfully appealing.) Who knows, but it paid a little more than the burger place because of the sales commission. And for once being a female paid MORE in this environment. I roll my eyes now as I remember the guys huffing and puffing about it, LOL.
I didn’t last but six months or so at the footwear gig and I moved on to perform my first real grown-up service industry job. It was at the Red-themed Lobster place that has the delicious cheese biscuits. (Come on, you know the one.) It was here that I learned how to bank the money I’d make. Waiting tables in a midsize West Texas town at one of the nicer restaurants meant the tips were actually pretty exceptional. At least compared to minimum wage burger joints and the small-scale commission at the footwear place.
Working at this restaurant ensured my newfound vegetarianism took root very strongly. Crab legs, shrimps and even live lobsters couldn’t entice me away. In fact, I dug in deeper and completely astonished my family. Back then being a vegetarian wasn’t normal, it wasn’t easy and it was a huge pain in the ass for all of us. I’m pretty sure they all thought I would “grow out of it” but hey, I never did. I saved and saved my money and soon enough I was off to college with a nice little savings to get me going as a full time student in the big city. The year was 1994.
The first Full Moon Salon in the (new) series came and went just a couple of weeks ago. Privately writing about how it went has been an absolute blast. I won't be publishing that material here. Too soon, you know? But! To get myself more and more inspired about the looming changes coming in my life, I just today revisited several writing projects from the last five years. Let's see...
There's the original Full Moon Salon writing from the first time around, five years ago and the corresponding New Moon Ceremony narrative. It's a two year journey that follows the full moon for one year in the form of that ladies-only Salon in my living room coupled with the new moon the following year in the form of punctuative new moon "ceremonies", yielding over 200 pages of adventures, conversations, ceremonies, gatherings, travels and more. Then there's the Myanmar Journal in which I narrate how I boldly deathed and rebirthed myself just before heading to Myanmar to travel with my beloved son for several weeks for his coming-of-age trip. (A couple feet of my hair came off in the process.) Then there's what I've titled The Alchemical Season in which I chronicle a series of experiences, some of which I published on my Dispatches from the Field blog, but also includes many short stories that I did not publish because of the sacred nature of their content. Finally I've got the Tales of a Wandering Adept in France journal where I wrote about my 2018 Marian adventures in Lourdes and St. Baume. All examined, it's literally hundreds and hundreds of pages when I zoom out and have a gander! And none of this takes into account the personal journaling I do to document my rhythmic and profound, deeply personal spiritual experiences...
It's daunting but I see some of the immediate assignments I have in front of me: The (new) Full Moon Salon for sure. It's a true joy to harness the power and rhythm of the moon to guide my own deadlines for writing: to describe the journey to the Full Moon Salon in the two weeks leading up to it while processing what happened and what I learned at the Salon itself in the two weeks after full moon. It's a familiar rhythm that I am so, so grateful for. I'm my own sounding board when I write and that's really writing's purpose for me. The Salon too, actually. Except it's in the form of a a forum to ask deep questions and see what comes back in the form of who attends and what they have to say.
In that spirit, I see another sound board assignment for myself: I'm hereby going to start a blog series and I'm giving myself the upcoming Mercury Retrograde window to complete it. Since I'm quitting a job that some would argue is a pinnacle-of-one's-career-type-job to do who-the-hell-knows-what, I'm going to process and soundboard for myself all my past jobs. If you know me, you will know it's quite the journey. Quite. The. Journey. There was the time I worked in the cheese puff laboratory at Frito Lay. And the time I worked the receptionist desk at a birthing center and witnessed hundreds of births. There's also the time I was the personal assistant to an insanely wealthy couple. And more. So much more. I'm not even scratching the surface. I think it will be a fun assignment to myself: to revisit the ways I've made money over the years and share them here. For myself and anyone else interested in following along.
May it be so.
Why today? Why not today? I ask myself. If I can see the Path in front of me, all I have to do is follow it. That’s the trust and faith I put into the Universe of experiences I’ve had so far that show me this Way. It’s the Way where we follow our hearts. Where we allow what’s going to make ourselves happy and fulfilled in this lifetime, to lead. By choice. Whenever we can. Choose to let love guide the way and see what happens.
So anyway, here’s the Path: to have experiences and adventures and to write about them. Using the moon as my guide. Through a Salon. Through an event that I have to hold myself accountable to in the world. Together with my sweetheart Paul. He’s always on board for these sorts of things. And here we go again. On another adventure together. Doing something artistic and creative. Something cool we can do together that we can look forward to on a regular basis. Something that I know we’re all hungry for: something real, something genuine, something creative and enlightening that’s simply for the sake of doing it. No other reason - not for money, not for fame, not for power. Just to gather and converse. Gather and be uplifted.
Why begin writing more about the vision today? Why not today? I ask myself. (Besides it being a Moon-day?)
The vision for the Full Moon Salon is so incredibly simple. Gather with friends (and new acquaintances) on a rhythmic basis for community and conversation about things that matter. It will land on various days of the week so the human calendar is no good for planning. No, no, you must follow the moon for this assignment. Let its rhythm guide you. The moon plays a different game than all of our concerns and calendars. It's ruling a different data set, as it were.
Fortunately there are people who know how to calculate these things. The Full Moon, I mean. And I can simply look to the Farmer’s Almanac for when all the full moons for the next year will be. I trust these dates. Why? I can’t say except that they trend with an ongoing data set I already measure against my own ongoing observations. I’m an empiricist in that way, I suppose. My training as a chemist gave me that world view. And for that, I’m grateful.
In fact, I approach many things as if they are a science experiment. In this case, how do we take ourselves out of the mire of our lives just long enough to agree that we’re looking at some larger, mysterious, cosmological phenomenon together? In this example, the moon. You know, because why not? Let’s be eccentric in that way. No one’s going to laugh at us.
That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.
The new moon is December 4. That’s when the RSVP link for the upcoming Full Moon Salon will be active. That’s when, if you feel good about it, please say you’ll come. In real life. To my actual home. Where I live with Paul. And that you’ll come into my backyard, dressed for the season. Maybe you’ll even bring your own chair if you have one. (We have a few but not enough for everyone that could fit in our giant backyard. I think we could gather about 30-40 people comfortably in the spaced out fashion that we’re all accustomed these days.)
I envision a format, a proper structure, for this event. It will have a beginning, middle and end. You will leave a changed person on some level, I can almost guarantee it. And hey, you don’t have to commit to attending all of them. But if you want, that opportunity is available to you. I’m going to literally let the moon guide my social calendar for one year and see what happens. You can totally join me if that feels right to you.
I did this Full Moon Salon thing once before back in 2016. I was in a huge-big life transition for work (my livelihood!) and wasn’t sure what Path to take. The Full Moon Salon became the monkey bars I could traverse from month to month to get through how utterly uncomfortable the whole process was and to gain clarity on what was next for me. Even though I wasn’t sure back then either, for better or worse, I took one Path. And then another. Paths that, in the end, I’m glad I took. I’m so grateful in particular to my day job for the last five years. I’m so humbled to have been asked to fundraise for such a worthy mission. I truly believe in the mission of public broadcasting as one of the last bastions of real information and education. I have always said it was the most karma free money I’d ever earn. To speak up for something I believe in and get paid to do it. Fortunately, I have had the business chops to keep the operation afloat. I have no regrets. I have done a ton of good work there.
But it’s time. Time to do something else. I just don’t know what it is yet... Yikes! And so I look to the moon for guidance to get me through this transition into whatever it is that’s next. (Side bar: If you're into Human Design, I'm a Mental Projector so surely you can see why I'm working with the moon.) Therefore, quite literally, I shall follow the moon to get through this. I know I can trust its higher order. It rises and falls day in and day out above and beyond, working on some other meter than the dramas of humanity. I don’t know what’s going to happen but somehow I know I will be okay when I align with a higher order of things.
It’s so simple.
What other choice do I have? Cry myself to sleep every night and atrophy? LOL, nah, the optimist gene is way too strong in me. A way to make a living will find me. It always does.
Visit Full Moon Salon dot net on December 4 to RSVP for December’s Full Cold Moon on December 18. I'm shivering now just thinking about it!
May it be so.
The last few days of my summer wandering adventure were spent quietly enough. I stopped down near a lake in Oklahoma and toured a local monastery. I prayed a lot. I meditated. I spent time deeply communing with my inner stillness and nature itself.
On the morning I was to head home, I started feeling bad. Like, really bad. I ate the last of my granola and fruit and loaded the car. I began to make my way home. I called my family and gave them the heads up about my declining health. I was also starting to itch. Badly. All over. Oh dear. Chiggers!
Upon arrival, it was straight to the bathtub for a nice long soak. The chiggers were starting to make me feel a little crazy.
I texted with my friend Cari who went through something somewhat similar a few years ago and she generously same-day drop-shipped this magical item called "Bug Away." This bug "pen" literally burns the bug bites for three or five seconds, your choice. The heating element on the tip gets so hot that you forget completely about the itch, mostly because you're now trying not to lose your shit with the heat! I swear, some genius-knucklehead invented this thing by a campfire using a cigarette lighter. Anyway, the struggle was really real. Behold! All 68 bites! I know because I counted.
Anyway, I'm back to "normal" now (whatever that is) and back at the day job and am still completely burned out with work. I'd gone on this wandering trip to get some space and look deeply into my soul about what is calling my name. I'm still not 100% sure (I'm open minded like that) but just recently I gave my notice to the powers that be. Yikes! My last day will be in January. It was a bittersweet and somewhat difficult decision but one that I've not regretted. Each and every time I start to panic, I do the self-inquiry and the answer is always the same: it's time to do more creative personal work. I've kept a lid on it for the last several years due to the very public nature of my day job. It's time to move on.
As such, I'm revisiting a concept that got me through a similar life/career transition. The Full Moon Salon. This was a divinely inspired creative project I spearheaded from June 2016 to June 2017 with a group of fabulous women in my living room. We met for 13 moons and talked about all sorts of things: death, sex, birth, prison, pilgrimages and so much more. (I did a ton of writing during that time and revisiting that epic document is definitely on the agenda come January.) Over the course of those many moons, I quit my fancy job at the science museum, worked (briefly) with an entrepreneur and ultimately began the job that I'm now leaving. I'm complete with the work they hired me to do and the team I'm leaving behind is so competent, so stable. With all things pandemic, my living room is no longer an option so the salon is moving outdoors into my enormous backyard. It starts in December 2021 and will culminate in December 2022 for a total of 13 moons. All are welcome (including boys this time!) with a proper RSVP. My darling husband is now involved and we shall co-host this thing together.
After a delicious breakfast at my campsite of granola, almond milk and some farmer's market peaches that one of my Denver friends gifted me, I was off to Kansas, saying a fond farewell to Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
Kansas. Hm. First timer here to Kansas. I was eager to see what would unfold in one of the most famous states in America - according to turn-of-the-century children's literature anyway. And besides, I have a bit of a relationship with all things Oz.
The Hipcamp I'd booked was located in rural Kansas, just outside Hutchinson, in case you know your way around Kansas. The drive from Denver area to my campsite was excruciatingly long. Oh my goodness, the road just stretched and stretched ahead. The books and the music and all the stops at rest areas to make hot tea felt endless. Miles and miles of fields of corn, wheat and crops of all varieties. They know good and well there in Kansas that they grow a ton of food for North America. (Many billboards pointed out this fine fact.) I have deep respect for folks growing the food in Kansas.
I pulled into my Hipcamp around 5 o'clock or so and began settling in. I would be staying on an actual farm. One with cows, kitties, crops and a silo to boot!
While pitching my tent, I scraped the hell out of my left leg with rebar I use to stake my tent. Blood oozed out. I could feel what felt like future-bruising starting to develop. In the spirit of radical self-reliance, I'd packed a first aid kit for my trip and I'm glad I did. I was able to clean the wound out quite nicely but I also learned a few things about what to pack in the future in terms of gauze.... Like, bring more of it.
I'd pitched my tent facing the field with the back of the tent to the grain silo. It was during the course of this mandatory activity that I threw out my back in "the spot". (Don't we all have one?) Between my gashed left leg and my back pain, I was in an uncomfortable scenario to say the least. I managed to cook my food (instant ramen) and afterwards was barely able to do more than just sit in my camp chair. It was then that the farm owner walked over to say hello. He was an older man, so sweet, so kind, telling me rain might be in the forecast and I could move to the barn if I needed to. He asked where I was from and what I was up to. I shared honestly that I was wandering around solo for a couple of weeks and was grateful for his tidy and beautiful Hipcamp farm. Of course, I was a bit of a hot mess with a pained look on my face from my broke down back and that half ass bandaged left leg. I admit: I did wonder what he thought about this tatted up girl who'd shown up to his farm.
No bother. I somehow managed to get my tent in order, do my dishes and zip up the tent well before sundown. I did some light yoga moves to try to work out the pain my back. I prayed the rosary over the phone with my friend A who was back home in D-town. I slept all night long to the sounds of insects, the breeze rustling the grasses in the field and the roar of distant thunder clouds. It never did rain, praise the lord.
The next morning I awoke to the cows being milked in the barn near my tent. The machines clicking and churning with the cows themselves moo'ing in ecstasy. I ate my breakfast, my back still totally in pain and my leg starting to sting a little bit under the bandages. The cows looked curiously at me as they left the barn and their morning milking.
After cleaning up my breakfast, I headed over to the barn for a shower. Sure enough, there was a tidy little farm store to match the tidy little farm. Fresh eggs, milk, meat filled several refrigerated cases. And lo and behold, there was indeed a hot shower in the back of the farm store. I washed my bloody leg and scrubbed my filthy hair. It was my second shower of the trip so far. The first having been at the hot springs back in Colorado days earlier.
Onwards. The adventure continues.... May it be so.
The last morning at my Crestone Hipcamp was simple enough. I ate some breakfast, drank some coffee and began the process of packing up. The cookware and tubs had to be accounted for. The air mattress and the bedding. The clothes and toiletries. Finally the tent itself and the tarp underneath. Camping and "roughing it" are fairly effortless to me after so many Burning Mans. And while I no longer actively desire to attend a Burning Man, I remain so grateful for its lifelong lessons of taking the suffering that can sometimes go along with camping in stride.
I headed out fairly early because I'd booked a 9am massage at a local hot springs. I got there at 8:15 or so and after a much-needed shower (I hadn't had one in three days after all!), I put on my swimsuit and soaked in the Joyful Journey Hot Springs until my massage therapist called for me.
The 90-minute massage was 'meh, okay' at best but who was I to complain. In the moment, I was glad to finally have the putrid mix of sweat and mosquito repellent washed off and someone massaging my sore muscles after that ten mile hike a couple days before. After the massage I soaked a little more in the springs and then headed back to my car for the cooler and bag of food. I made a picnic lunch, which I ate solo in the courtyard of the hot springs compound. Soon enough, I was off to my next destination: Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
The drive North through Colorado was gorgeous. Totally beautiful, with easy-to-drive highways and drivers who seemed a lot nicer than where I come from. My destination was Golden Gate Canyon State Park. I'd found it simply by searching places near Denver to camp. I didn't want to spend much time in the city, preferring instead to maximize the camping and hiking time during my vacation.
I arrived to the park late afternoon and after stopping at the Visitor's Center to grab a map and get oriented, I headed on to my campsite: Aspen Meadows. It's a walk-in camping area, meaning you have to park and haul your stuff to your site. On the way is a lookout for viewing the Continental Divide:
When I arrived at Aspen Meadows, I observed that luckily my campsite was somewhat near the parking lot. But still, it took about five loads to haul everything by foot to the tent pad I'd reserved. I set up my tent amongst the tall trees of the forest. I had a few neighbors and while I could hear them, they weren't really near me. I made some hot tea and settled in to rest. I read some of my Tara book I'd purchased in Santa Fe. At some point I ate dinner. It would be yet another evening when I would go to bed super early.
The next morning I was up before all my neighbors. It had been so, so, so cold in the overnight that I could barely sleep. I'd tucked my head under the covers and kept myself warm with my breath. I was in every layer I had and still I was freezing cold. In the end, it was nothing coffee and hot oatmeal couldn't fix. Soon enough I was off on a hike. A gorgeous hike.
After several miles of trail and about four hours of hiking, I was back at my campsite just as some folks were setting off! I ate some ramen and made some tea and decided what to do next. I'd looked at the forecast and saw rain was coming so I carefully packed my tent and its contents to accommodate a rain shower or two while I was away. Better safe than sorry! It's the worst to come back to a soaked sleeping bag. After lunch and packing it was onwards to Denver for the afternoon. I had set up a coffee date with an old Burning Man friend at 3 o'clock.
And man oh man was it good to see Delay! (His Burner name.) We grabbed turmeric lattes and headed to a big, glorious park that's walking distance from his house. We sat on a bench and talked and talked and caught up about all the things. The two of us were thick as thieves at the Burns we shared. He's quite a bit younger than me and I could tell that he's really grown up in the few years since my last Burn (2015). He does fancy coding stuff for graphs for Bitcoin investors. Or something. He tried to explain it to me but my inner-85-year-old-woman just couldn't process what the hell he was trying to tell me. Whatever, he's happy doing it and if he's happy, I'm happy for him. Truly.
After that I had dinner with a former co-worker in his beautiful Denver home. (An internet shy former co-worker so I won't post pics here.) It was so lovely to catch up and soon enough I was heading back to my campsite at the state park.
Sure enough, it had rained while I was gone for the afternoon. Quite a bit by the looks of things. Fortunately, I'd packed my gear neatly and everything was dry as a bone. Phew! It wasn't as cold this time and sleep was a bit more restful.
So, why Crestone? Well, a friend of mine had told me this amazing tale of land being given for free back in the eighties to spiritual groups who wanted to settle in Crestone. Amazingly, a very large number of organizations had taken up this opportunity and set up spiritual communities there. In some cases making Crestone, Colorado their North American headquarters. The whole idea simply captivated me. In fact, just the idea of an intentional spiritual community turns me on even as I watch how incredibly skeptical I am of such things. And I mean, Crestone’s got the crazy - remember the Love Has Won people?
Anyway, I was more interested in the larger and more established organizations that had settled in Crestone, not the fringe weirdness.
To get oriented, the Manitou Foundation website has a good overview of what happened in Crestone. Basically, this wealthy couple had bought tons of land in and around Crestone for a retirement community but a series of profound encounters shifted their relationship with the land. Instead, the vision became to invite as many of the world’s spiritual lineages as possible to come and make a home there.
And they did! In droves. The resultant community is fairly extraordinary. And I was excited to check it out.
I’d emailed a few places to just see how they encounter walk ups. Are they even open? Are they in a retreat session? The various websites available are mostly up to date but with all things small-town and Covid I couldn’t take any chances. Although there were certainly enough outdoor things to see if I couldn’t get into any of the places.
I woke up nice and early on Monday and had my breakfast: granola, fruit and almond milk. French press coffee. After dishes, teeth brushing and mosquito dodging, I loaded myself into the car with lots of water and my meditation cushions.
First up, Vajra Vidya. I’d emailed them and the info I got back was that it was ok to swing by and meditate. I rolled up around 8am and parked. Beautiful campus! I grabbed my meditation cushions and headed into the big double doors. Shoes off. Into another set of double doors into their main shrine room and community space. It was totally empty and the space was arranged and ready for meditation and chanting. Not really sure about the protocol about these things, I set up my personal meditation seat in the back behind everything already going on in this room. I sat down and looked around. Hundreds of buddhas, Taras and beautiful objects filled the space. I closed my eyes to absorb the vibe.
I opened my eyes about an hour later and someone had slipped in and taken a seat on one of the pre-existing cushions. I slowly and quietly, like a cat, folded up my items and took a quick picture before exiting the shrine room.
I put on my shoes and walked out front. The morning was cool and clear. I noticed a lovely Kuan Yin under a tree nearby and walked over to have a closer look. Soon enough I was in my car searching for the next place to visit.
If there was a mama stupa, a papa stupa and a baby stupa in Crestone, I visited the baby stupa first. It wasn’t far, maybe a 15 minute drive from Vajra Vidya. I found it easy enough and it’s actually on someone’s property. Like in their front yard. It was a little strange to follow the trail up to their yard and walk around the stupa. But I did.
And what’s a stupa, you might be asking? Well, it’s like a buddha placeholder. That’s how I like to think of them. They’re filled with artifacts and objects of enlightened teachers and beings. (Side note: when I travelled in both Myanmar and India I visited several stupas that have actual Buddha toe nails and hairs and things!) Stupas become places where the teachings and vibration of Buddhism can really come to life. Especially if they’re cared for and visited often. This one certainly was.
Then I was off to visit the ziggurat. I had to look that up. What on earth is a ziggurat? And why is there one in Crestone?
A ziggurat is essentially a spiral staircase to heaven. Where, at the top, one (ideally a priest) can receive the divine instruction from God because God might actually live up there. Some say the Tower of Babel was a ziggurat. Anyway, Crestone has one, don’t you know!
The origins of this ziggurat come from a commission from an American Syrian man back in the late seventies. It’s neat and I’m glad I visited it. And besides, the view is amazing from the top. It’s a desolate experience to climb the spiral. Wonderfully desolate except for the millions of winged ants that lined the walls and the floors on the ascent to God. And did I find God up there? Uh, sure.
Next it was off to the papa stupa. The biggest stupa in the area. The one in all the pictures and websites one might peruse when looking up what to do in Crestone. The drive is long. Miles and miles down a dirt road along the side of the mountains. I crept into a parking spot and walked slowly down the path to the big stupa. Three people were already there, meditating in silence.
What a sight! Gorgeous views of the Crestone area. This large, inspiring stupa placed perfectly along the mountain side wall. Prayer flags billowing in the wind. I sat for a while in the shade just absorbing the profundity of the labor it must have taken to create this amazing place. The dedication to keep it pristine. The joy of being allowed to visit this very cool place.
Back in the car, I followed the long and winding gravel road back to the “main drag” of spiritual centers. The Maha Lakshmi center - Covid closed. The Crestone Zen Center - closed because they were in retreat session. The Chamma Ling center - Covid closed. The list goes on, there are so many places on this “main drag” through the foothills.
I passed a place called the Shumei Institute. They had a hand painted sign out front saying if you wanted to visit, to call the number. So I did. They couldn’t see me right then but I could come back in the afternoon and see what they were all about. Cool!
I headed into Crestone proper to see about finding some lunch. There aren’t many places to eat and I settled on a place called the Mystic Rose for a sandwich and chips. I poked around some gift shops. I visited the Crestone Artist Collective where I got to eavesdrop on the shopkeeper and another shopper talking about Crestone. How people come to this town for one reason: to study with their teachers. I suppose in general that’s true but that wasn’t exactly the case for me. I’m just intrigued by the concept of the place and wanted to check it out. I'm not out looking for a path, I'm on a Path and it's one driven by curiosity and wonder.
After spending a little time in the town of Crestone I headed back out to the main drag of retreat centers. I visited the mama stupa. Yet another gorgeous and meticulously maintained place of prayer and meditation. A little path led the way to a small shrine room to the protector of this particular stupa and its pilgrims: Dorje Yudronma.
Onwards to the Shumei Institute for the afternoon appointment I'd set up before lunch. I parked and went inside. Full Covid protocols in place, I was content to let them let me see and experience as much as they were comfortable. A very nice British person gave me an overview of all things Shumei and I watched a little video on the Shumei Institute and learned about the mothership in Japan. They’re all about nature, art and beauty. And while the lineage hails from Japan but there are spiritual aspirants all over the world.
I got to experience first hand Jyorei, a healing modality they perform and channel. My guide was so amazing and even took me up to their sanctuary and shrine space. The main shrine was closed but I got to experience the extremely tidy and clean place where Shumei aspirants pray and meditate together. One of the most amazing things was the floral display up on the altar. My British guide told me they change it with some frequency and each iteration is somehow more beautiful than the next.
We exited the meditation space and my guide asked me if I wanted to see one more really cool thing. “Of course!” I exclaimed.
There, right there, very near the meditation hall was the entrance to an actual gold mine! Freezing cold wind blew forth from inside the mountain. Apparently the trail into the mountain goes for a good long while before it opens into a massive cavern that’s larger than a football field! They don’t open the mine entrance but every ten years or so. I would totally go in there if I could… Maybe next time the stars will align. Crestone is definitely the kind of place I would visit again.
But dang the town of Crestone is remote. That’s the thing. You really have to want to visit Crestone. Either for the spiritual centers (and your teacher, according to the shopkeeper) or for the radically amazing hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Both of these attractions could easily bring me back for another adventure some day.
Back at my camp, I fixed dinner. Made some tea. I gawked at the new campers at my Dreamweavers Hipcamp. I could go on about them, but I’ll refrain. They were my personal entertainment for the evening. Like a TV comedy show I could just watch from the mosquito-free zone of my tent window.
I read for a little while, meditated and went to bed (again) before dark. That was one of the most blessed things about my travel time. No alarms and no schedule. I woke up when it felt right and went to bed when I was tired. That’s the nature of having time off from the normalcy of life and the rhythms that come with work and living in the Default World.
May it be so.
The next morning I woke up on my own around 5:30. It’s daytime much earlier than I’m used to in Mountain Time Zone! Undeterred, I rolled over and went back to sleep for a little while. The air mattress and sleeping bag combo is actually quite comfortable. Around 7am I woke up again (for real this time) and made myself some coffee in a French press, cooked a little oatmeal with raisins and packed a picnic lunch for myself: a sandwich, some chips, some pretzels and an apple.
I’d done some research back home in advance of the type of hike I wanted to do. Not too long. But not too short. Not too hard. But not too easy. I wanted a hike that would take me all day but not overnight. In the end, after searching on All Trails website, I settled on the Willow Lake Trail. 10 miles of difficult hiking that would lead me to an alpine lake of snow melt. Perfect!
By 9am I was at the trailhead and parked. The lot was packed and I literally got the very last parking spot in the whole lot. I grabbed my backpack (with my lunch and a gallon of water inside), my water bottle and my jean jacket. With that, I headed up the trail and began an epic day-long hike.
A snowmelt creek greeted me around the very first corner. Wild flowers. Small waterfalls. Switchback after switchback. I hummed hymns. Scott had gifted me some bear mace but I’d also heard that humans singing as are much a bear deterrent as anything. So I kept on singing.
By 10:30 I was starving so I paused to sit and eat my completely mushed up peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I realized fairly early that I probably didn’t have enough water for the day but I managed to keep on. The elevation climbed and climbed and I could feel my lungs starting to ache. Crestone itself is at 8,000 feet and I knew the pinnacle of my hike would be 11,700+ feet. I kept breathing, singing and just kept going.
I’m not a fast hiker. There’s no race here. I lived in Yosemite National Park in the glorious summer of 1996 and worked in the Camp Curry Coffee shop. I know hiking. I know the lifestyle. I know the hikers that seem like they’re in some sort of race. (With themselves?) I’m not that. I sit when I want. I drink when I want. I eat when I want. But I don’t stop, that’s for darn sure.
I encountered a number of really nice people along the way. Distanced but friendly. About a third of the way up I encountered a breathtaking view of a ginormous green meadow below. More waterfalls. Little bridges made of fallen logs and stones that would require my full attention. Slipping and falling into freezing cold water was not on my agenda!
Somewhere along the way I ate my chips. And then the pretzels. In addition to not quite enough water, I also didn’t bring enough calories! I kept going. The sun bore down even as the temperature seemed to drop slightly the higher I went. I was grateful for my dorky sun hat.
Finally, around 2pm, I reached the hike's summit and the ice cold lake. And wow was it worth it! Big horn sheep grazed calmly nearby. A few people here and there sunning on the rocks. I found a place and took a mosquito-free nap. They don’t seem to be able to make it at this altitude. I was glad for my jean jacket at this altitude.
I ate my apple in silence, meditated a while and then decided I should probably get back down the mountain. I looked and looked for the trail. I couldn’t find it! Oh no…. I could barely remember what the boulder-strewn trail looked like there at the top and after taking the wrong path about four times and turning around, I finally found it. I saw how I worked with the panic and moved through it.
The trip down only took about three hours but somehow I’m still not certain if it’s easier to go up or down. Heading down works different muscles even though it’s much faster.
I was at the base by about 5:30 or 6:00 and gratefully sank into my car for a water refill. I’d drunk over a gallon during my hike!
Sore from head to toe, I slowly drove back to my Hipcamp at Dreamweavers. Somehow I cooked dinner. Somehow I made hot tea and did my dishes. Somehow I brushed my teeth. I was in that tent and completely passed out asleep by 7:30pm. But not before a ridiculously contented selfie in my bed. I'm so tired but so happy to have spent the whole entire day hiking. (Also - that blazing forehead birthmark is why I return again and again to the bangs.)
I had a big day ahead of me the next day after all - a visit to all the religious centers in the Crestone area. Or as many as I could possibly visit in one day.
May it be so.
Periodic updates from Aurah in the Field.