Yosemite, CA

For our anniversary (the very FIRST) we decided to take some vacation and planned our first trip to Yosemite!

For this trip I knew I needed some serious R&R and really wanted a luxury experience. I had zero desire for sleeping on the ground, bugs, bears, or anything in between. We stayed at a cozy resort recommended by a friend that offered cabins, no TVs, so the experience felt authentic, while we still had convenient access to a restaurant and general store. It was a great choice, especially for our first trip into the area, where everything is extremely remote. I could do without the country music we were tortured with through every meal, but I digress!

Although the road between our resort and the valley was closed during our stay, turning what would have been a 15 minute drive into a 3 hour drive (one way), we thoroughly enjoyed the time we found to explore country roads hidden away from any tourism, especially that which would follow us over the Memorial Day weekend. Sheesh.

While everything there is absolutely gorgeous (you can’t find ugly if you try), I think the most beautiful was the private sunset photography flight over Yosemite that my sweet hubby surprised me with for our anniversary. I haven’t shot anything in a year or two (or three – the covid dark times makes the timeline hazy), and I had never shot photography (with a real camera) from a plane before so I was pretty unsure of myself going in. I figured we’d be moving fast so I needed to shoot with a fast shutter speed, so I tried to shoot at a 1/1000s, letting ISO creep up as high as 1800 at some points, and aperture as low as ~3.5 which felt kind of counter-intuitive to shooting landscapes. It was very hazy when we flew (time of day was surely a factor), so many of the flight shots took quite a bit of processing to remove haze – which also left a lot of noise, but overall I was happy with the results and think I did the best I could have done, given the variables that were in my control. The views were phenomenal, the light was magical, and that flight is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Oh, I also got to fly the plane for about 10 minutes. Woop!

Even though I took my 14-24mm and used that for quite a bit of my feet-on-the-ground shooting, I still preferred my 18-105mm kit lens for the flight and for general shooting – I even bought a new one before the trip, since the motor on my original one died. I shot with that one on the flight, and think it was a good choice (otherwise I’d have gotten wing/tail in the shots if I had used the wider angle lens).

Before and after the flight, I was toted around in a super luxurious SUV by my very patient hubby who would stop on a dime to let me shoot anything and everything I asked to. As you can image, there were a lot of stops. I forgot how much I enjoy shooting photography – and how it gets my adrenaline pumping, watching the light change and planning out my shot.

After the trip, I took another week off and spent it re-learning Lightroom (which has changed since the last time I was in it), and sunk a lot of time into culling / selecting / processing this week. It was cathartic for sure. Out of the roughly 650 photos I shot over the 6 days we were there, I managed to select only 28 as my top shots. That process of narrowing it down to the creme de la creme is always the most difficult part (not that any of them are Nat Geo worthy). I do think I’ve gotten better about re-shooting the same thing 20 times over in the same way, though, which makes processing faster (otherwise I’d have had 5k photos).

I’m sure we’ll visit again. We didn’t quite make it to the Valley to see (from the ground) the things tourists go to Yosemite to see. We actually sat in traffic for about an hour and a half trying to get there before heading back to Fresno for our flight home, but ended up turning back because we were running out of time.

I’d definitely recommend this time of year to visit – everything is so alive right now. However (!!!) I’d avoid the Memorial Day weekend. We were glad we were on our way out as the resort and area filled up. It was a night and day experience from earlier in the week when we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

Enjoy Yosemite through my eyes (including the crazy one)!

Forever Caterpillar

Callous, mangled fingers of frigid bone prod
Like tips of ancient Aztec hunting arrows
Dipped once in gold, now seared in forlornity
And wander agonizingly down my back
Consistent in the torment of wont for pause.

A fetid smell of death by desolation
Pushes poison of anguish into my lungs,
Courses furiously throughout my body,
Withdrawal of unmasked heart the catalyst.
Through quantum entanglement, we exhale joy.

Relentless toxic wringing pressure of words
To songs that yesterday set my core on fire
And kept it ablaze as I danced in the rain
Mock me now as I lean into living through
Music that once interfaced our connection.

Lost zephyr morphed into cyclone of regret
Encircles my aura with burning chaos.
My flailing hands stumble through fiery ash;
Weary movement, the catalyst for fission
Empowering it to overshadow my world.

Obstinate quivering of my core battle
With a tensity that emulates control.
Just another moment until it passes.
I ache, Kintsugi mine. Your complacency –
Apathy – destines you to a rest in pieces.

Swirls in deep indigo ink repeat your name
Layers that trample the garden of my thoughts
And pillage the sanctuary of my dreams
Memories had, and those taken before birth
Fill every space with rotting, tormented love.

Box now closed.

Photo credit: Didier DescouensOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Holidays are hard — and that’s okay.

Holidays.

My theory is there are 2 sentiments around the holidays – there are those people that LOVE the festivities and hullabaloo that comes with it, and those that….just really, really (really) don’t.

For a lot of years I said I “hated” the holidays. Thanksgiving? Christmas? Ugh. Labor day marked the coming of the “ugh season”. The holidays filled me with an ache and an emptiness that sent me into a dark depression like clockwork. As the skies turned gray and the air got colder, my heart and head transformed in kind.

Growing up, holidays were often awkward, sometimes dramatic, and never perfect like they are on TV. (Nobody has those kinds of holidays, by the way.)

One sad Christmas since I’ve grown up and moved away from home stands out for me the most. I spent it with my best friend in our old 1900s farmhouse which was anything but warm and cozy like you imagine when you daydream about an old farmhouse with a crackling fire with snow covering everything outside the window as far as the eye could see, and you’re cuddled up on a cushy sofa with a blankey, fuzzy socks, and hot chocolate.

Nope.

The house was in total disrepair. The house had no heat, so we huddled around a propane heater (the kind you are only supposed to use outside, because space heaters just weren’t able to keep up with the drafts). The heater sat in the middle of the living room (if you could call it a living room; we certainly didn’t do much living in it). Since it was the only space we could really fit a tree, that’s where it went, in the corner. We were piss poor (as my dad would say of his childhood), but we were determined to try to make some kind of normalcy happen in our very not normal life.

It was Christmas eve — or maybe it was a week before or after Christmas, I don’t remember. Once we got Thanksgiving over with, night after night felt the same way — cold, and Christmas. Whatever night it was, we sat next to the large picture window that, in an alternate reality, probably kept the cold from coming inside. In between the heater and the tree, we sat on an air mattress (we had no furniture), and we played monopoly.  Normal families play games during the holidays, we guessed. My husband of only 3 months was far from me, back home in Serbia finishing school. We had no idea when we’d see each other again, because neither of us could afford a flight.

Everything felt so cold and dismal. I will never forget the hopeless feeling, the feeling of not having anything, or anything ‘normal’, and not knowing if or how it would ever change. It was my own personal hell. I felt like a failure, and everything was crashing around me.

This year, that year feels so far in my past, though it was literally only 10 years ago this week. Not everything worked out as perfectly as I could have ever dreamed or imagined, but I’m in a better place now – mentally, physically, and financially. When I say I’m so thankful for everything I have, I mean that in the deepest sense. While I’d be a liar if I said I’d choose to experience the yuckiness I have to be where I am now, I do think it taught me empathy, and also helped me to appreciate, and even admire, my mettle.

For those of you that love the holidays, and find joy in it, congratulations! I hope you recognize how fortunate you are for either being able to make peace with the pain that’s often stirred up around the holidays, or for not having any to begin with.

For those of you that struggle with sadness around the holidays – this is for you, and it comes from a place of love. Please read these words slowly and closely, and hear them:

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

You. Are not. Alone.

As I write this, my eyes fill with tears. Not tears of sadness but tears of fulfillment. Whether it’s because I have come to understand that I am not alone, or because I know I can be the company that means you are not alone, I’m not entirely sure.

One of the themes we often hear from the Dalai Lama is that “in being human we are all the same”. Nobody wants to suffer, and in that we can also agree we’re the same. In that same way, we all understand suffering.

Once you realize that you are not the only one who suffers in this way, while it doesn’t lessen those feelings, the understanding that you’re not carrying this burden alone, and rather sharing an experience with hundreds, thousands or maybe millions of people, helps bring a sense of peace to your pain. You won’t stop hurting, and you might still feel blue or depressed, but you’ll find a bit of comfort in the solidarity you have with so many other humans. You are not alone.

Holidays are difficult because they shine a light on what we perceive as broken. Maybe you’ve lost someone you love and miss them during the holidays, or you have to endure that one uncle that drinks too much at family gatherings, or maybe there is always some drama or something goes wrong during the holidays. We, especially Westerners, have Thomas Kinkade visions in our head, and Coca-Cola commercials of happy, warm and joyful family celebrations, and we compare our lives to those storybook scenes. That sets us up to feel like something is fundamentally wrong with our holidays, because they’re not measuring up to some artificial standard.

This is a bit of a tangent, but I’m reminded me of an innocent childhood conversation I had with my (very Catholic) mother. I had a really bad bellyache on night, and while sitting on the toilet I asked her, “Mom, why do we suffer?” Mom explained, “We suffer so that we can offer it up as penance for our sins.” I thought about it, and naturally, as a little girl I asked, “What if we haven’t sinned?” Without missing a beat, my mom replied, “Then we can offer our suffering as penance for others who have.”

While I am now a student of Buddhism, in some ways very different from my Catholic upbringing, I can apply my mother’s words of wisdom in my current practice. When I suffer, I am taught empathy towards others who suffer. Because I can identify with their experience of suffering, I have more compassion toward them, and I can turn that compassion into action that drives me to help another human being to help alleviate their suffering.

The Japanese have a practice called “Kintsugi”, where instead of discarding broken cups and bowls because they’re cracked, choose instead to fill the cracks with gold, recognizing the beauty in the broken. In the same way, we can fill the cracks of our holiday experiences with gold.

If the holidays hurt, it’s okay. Let it hurt, embrace what hurts. Welcome it to your table. Sit down with it. Lean into it. Have tea with it. Make peace with it. Your holidays aren’t perfect, they hurt. It’s okay. You got this. Wherever we go, there we are.

Move the spotlight, and stop comparing your holidays to other people’s.

This was a lesson that took me many years and many tears to learn, but I think I get it now. Growing up, my family was weird and we had our problems. My life as an adult was untraditional, I went through periods of not being sure where my next meal would come from, being isolated, being mentally unwell. My life has been anything but a Thomas Kinkade painting. Eventually, I learned to shine my own spotlight on my life, not the one defined by tradition, culture or television.

Say what? What I mean is that yes, I hurt and miss my parents dearly – so much so that I can’t write the words without feeling heaviness in my chest – but at the same time, my heart fills with gratitude because I realize I had parents who loved me so much that I miss them so deeply now. New spotlight – gratitude. My husband and I weren’t able to have children, and that gets to be pretty painful for me during the holidays, when I think of the experiences we missed and will never have – but I realize too that I have a strong and fulfilling marriage, and have had the opportunity to travel and explore the world I may not have otherwise had. New spotlight – fulfillment in different ways. It still hurts, and the positive angle doesn’t make it go away, but it helps me to hold on to a perspective that helps me from sinking into a depression because “everything just sucks!” When it makes me sad, I sit and have tea with the pain, and when we’re done having tea (as long as that might take), I’m okay, and I go on.

I wish you true peace and send you love this holiday season, and always.