Thursday, August 28, 2008

Trader Joe's

Everyday grocery store shopping in Manhattan is like being in a suburban strip-mall just before Thanksgiving. No matter what time of day you choose to visit the local Trader Joe's, it is always packed with hungry consumers looking for outstanding products at outrageously low prices.

I've been a Trader Joe's faithful customer since they first arrived in Seattle about ten years ago. They call themselves a "Unique Grocery Store" and being a grocery store aficionado, I would have to agree. Where they lack in wow factor merchandising, they make up for in great prices on cheese, meats, wine, chocolate and just about every other good thing there is to eat. But those low prices justify the extra tossing of items into the cart and it takes a disciplined shopper to leave the store without spending a hundred bucks or more.

Once I've found a great store, I am a loyal, faithful shopper. When I lived in Elko, Nevada, I willingly drove five hours in one direction for a the closest TJ shopping experience. While living in North Carolina, I'd plan weekend excursions to Washington D.C. for grocery shopping and when I most recently lived in Florida, I was thrilled that TJ's finally made it south to Atlanta! On those trips I came prepared with cooler and ice packs to insure the quality of the products during my 9 hour drive home.

Now that I am living in New York, I had to go visit Trader Joe's first and only store in Manhattan. It is in Union Square, the place where artists, writers, musicians and the homeless hangout watching everybody do their own thing. It is a colorful place filled with sounds and smells. An organic market sets up in the square twice a week and business people stream out of the office buildings surrounding the two city block square. Whole Foods has a store in the same area across from the square and the park is packed with hungry people munching out of recycled cardboard boxes from noon until dusk.

As you enter the Trader Joe's one of the first things you might notice at the end of the first isle is a sign hanging from the ceiling with a big yellow arrow pointing down that reads, "12 items or less here." This is where the line starts for the registers. The line snakes through the isles and there are employees holding signs that read "end of the line".

It is a bit discouraging. My first few tries I abandoned my red basket running out of the store overwhelmed and intimidated by the weight of my basket and the length of the line. It took three visits before I mastered the art of shopping while standing in line. The trick is for you to enter the store, walk the produce isle, get what you need there and then hop in line! From there, as the check-out line snakes around the store, you jaunt off and pick up this and or that and return the items to your basket and the line. New Yorkers are pretty darned friendly and will typically hold your place for you as you do for them while dashing down the dairy isle in search of the quart of half-and-half or ever popular Greek yogurt. God forbid where we would all be in this day and age without Greek yogurt!

You know, you can make Greek yogurt for about a quarter of the cost with regular yogurt overnight. It is so simple. Just get a strainer and line it with cheese cloth or a paper towel or even coffee filters, then dump a quart of yogurt on top of it and place the strainer over a bowl to catch the dripping liquid. Let it sit overnight in the refrigerator, covered and by morning...voila! You have Greek yogurt! I keep the container it was purchased in and then put the yogurt back in it so I have an idea of the expiration date, and then away we go! I've purchased lemon yogurt and strained it for a delicious topping for desserts or fresh fruit. It is fantastic!

All Greek yogurt is strained yogurt, but people are lazy. In my case, I am living somewhere with a tiny kitchen and I get one little shelf in the refrigerator so I don't have the room to make Greek yogurt, but I think I'm going to start doing this again because Trader Joe's has the best yogurt in quarts for $1.99 that is worth waiting in line for 30 minutes. The good news is that Trader Joe's is opening a store in Brooklyn in the next couple of weeks and I am sure it will be a hit.

The best technique I've witnessed at Trader Joe's is going shopping with a friend. One of you stands in line with an empty cart, right when you enter, and the other goes off shopping returning to the cart when their arms are full. That's my current fantasy; go shopping with a cute guy...and a strong one who can carry the bags on the two train rides home from the store.

Urban life. How I love it.

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part XIV

My hair is finally clean. My skin refreshed. Being clean never felt so good. I turn my head quickly and get whiffs of grapefruit and rosewood leaving a lingering trail from my dark brown locks. Ah, such luxury in the wilderness. How refreshing.

Across the parking lot, the wounded vehicle stands alone in the distance. She is broken. A giant red tool box sits open at her tail, parts spread out ready to be handed to the tour bus driver and now, mechanic , Driver Dave. His white legs stick out from the back of the bus as Rory, a blond haired blue-eyed nineteen year old British guy squats down handing tools as requested. Cassie is pacing. She walks thirty-six feet south to the end of the bus then stops, pivots on her right foot and walks the same distance back as she talks on her cell phone.

Driver Dave has been a professional driver with the Green Tortoise for more than ten years. Next month he turns forty and has decided this will be his last season on the road. Come the fall, he will be working out of the main office for the company trouble-shooting phone calls from drivers like Cassie. This is the last summer where he will be underneath a 26,000 pound vehicle in the parking lot of the Grand Teton's National Park.

The giant silver and green bus is really leaning to one side now. The passenger side is much higher than the driver's side. Driver Dave has propped a spare tire underneath the bus near where he is working to prevent it from crushing him.

I shake my head laughing to myself as I return to the bus. God, this bus is just like the Malibu Stacey Funtime Camper; unreliable.

As one of the first passengers to return to the bus, I am assigned the task to keep everyone off the bus as they return from the showers. Cassie put the phone down for a second and tell us to start pulling luggage out of the cargo bay.

"This is not a good sign." I say to Val and she nods in agreement as we extract over-sized backpacks and duffel bags tossing them like professional airport baggage handlers to the side of the road.

A cluster of cumulonimbus clouds gathers in the west. I recognize them from white water rafting. It is the same storm we left behind in Idaho and it seems to be following us. The clouds are thick and heavy with chilling rain drops. As I lift and throw seventy-five pound bags, I ask God, out loud, why I decided to take this trip. This is a question I ask myself many times during the remaining ten days.

"There are worse places to be broken down, Linda." Donna says as she organizes the bags we toss out of the bay. She is a happy person by nature and the children mirror her cheery disposition. Although it is not enough to lift the mood to those of us who dread the thought of being broken down on the side of the road.

Most of the passengers have finished with their showers and are returning to the bus asking for information.

"Hey, what's happening?" Joe asks in his thick New York accent.

"The bus is broken, but I'm sure it isn't serious." Donna says confidently. "These buses have great mechanics in San Francisco and are well looked after." She explains to the children working to keep the spreading anxiety of the adults away from the children. She's been on six Green Tortoise trips so sshe has the experience to back-up her comments.

As Driver Dave emerges from below the bus, another tour bus, The Adventure Bus, pulls into the parking lot and slows down to a crawl as they drive by, staring at us like a side-show attraction. Driver Dave and Cassie sneer at the drivers of the Adventure Bus.

"Those guys think they're so cool." Cassie says. "Well, they're not."

Adventure Bus was started in 1997 by a group of former Green Tortoise bus drivers. Their tour bus interior is identical in design to the Green Tortoise but they are different. Unlike the Green Tortoise which pushes to have full capacity trips, the Adventure Bus limit on the number of passengers allowed on the bus, which is much lower than the Green Tortoise. The Adventure bus averages fifteen to twenty passengers per trip where as the Green Tortoise pushes for thirty-six passengers and has been known to regularly over-book trips. Carol shared a horror story about one trip she was on that had forty-four passengers!

Oh sweet Jesus! I felt crammed on this tour and our group was only twenty-seven. Forty-four people all on this one little bus? I asked where they all slept and Carol said t hey doubled up on the bunks above and were much tighter in the big bed.


To be continued...
So much love,
All the way know where...

Friday, August 22, 2008



take no photo

steal no glance

simply gaze

into my eyes

and witness

the beauty




Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kitty Kloset...

New York is filled with activities but meeting people here, like anywhere, is hard. New Yorkers are friendly and I've had many chats with strangers in the park, on the train, in cafes, but I haven't made any friends yet. Granted, I haven't been here long but I would like to meet some people who have shared interests.

I was chatting with a girlfriend about this and she suggested I do some volunteering and get involved with something. She said, "Find something that isn't repulsive to you and do it for a couple hours a week."

Good I took it.

I went to my resources for everything in New York; Craigslist. A lot of people hate Craigslist but it has been a good place for me....heck, I've been on job interviews, dates, found my writing group, found my apartment and even a new juicer (although I hate to add another to my scattered collection) all through Craigslist. Why not find my volunteering there too?

There are so many organizations where people need help and I considered several of them at The Lincoln Center, The Red Cross, Literacy Program, all sounded good but a bit daunting to me. Then I saw an ad for cat volunteers at a no-kill kitty shelter. This was sounding like something I could do, so I replied.

The non-profit organization is called Anjellicle Cats and is based out of Hell's Kitchen (which is right near the theater district.) Since this is a no-kill shelter, volunteers will go to kill shelters and rescue cats and kittens that are about to be put to death...often choosing the sick ones who aren't out in front of people and don't get adopted. Most of the sick kitties just have colds and that's how they come to us...yes, I am one of them now.

The kennel that I am volunteering at is in the back of a small pet shop on 49th street between 8th and 9th street. It takes me about 45 minutes to get there by subway...but that's how long it takes me to get just about everywhere because I'm living off a main line. The train I live near doesn't go into the city so it is always two trains just to get out of Brooklyn. I've gotten to know how the subways work pretty well for such a short period of time in New York.

This kitty shelter is more like a closet. New York is an expensive place to live and that is true for kitties as well as humans so I shouldn't have been surprised when I saw that the "shelter" was small. Not just small, but really, really tiny. It is about as big as an average bathroom. There are five cage where kitties who don't get along with others or who are sick are kept. Also the kittens are put in cages so they don't get stuck behind many of the small spaces in the tiny room.

Small is one thing, but is ridiculous. There are about fifteen to twenty cats living in this space. Those who aren't in cages are on the floor, on top of litter boxes, on top of storage bins, above the cages, underneath the cages...everywhere you look there is another cat. There are cats everywhere all craving attention and food, water, clean litter because no matter how often you change them, the kitties crave more.

When the door opens ten cats rush the door, some escaping into the pet shop which is the forbidden zone. There is a fat, healthy, happy pet shop cat and he has rule over the space which seems gigantic compared to where the kitties live. The shop owners are very stern about keeping the cats in the closet so the first task at hand is herding the cats back into the closet. Keep in mind these are not fat, suburban cats. These are New York City sleek city cats...skinny, long and limber. They are fast. But they listen too and I've found talking to them really helps them calm down and settle so I can give them what they want; clean water, fresh food and litter.

Next to the little room there is a tiny bathroom and my first shift alone, I let the cats run into the bathroom and sit on the cool tile floor while I swept out the cages and scooped dirty litter. I think they remember that, although I got busted big time by the pet shop boys. I was happy to take the heat for the kitties.

This week I kept the kitties in the closet and was dumping water dishes with small bits of kibble into the toilet before washing and refilling. As I did this, a rat swam up through the toilet pipes and out of the toilet to eat the food I was dumping. I screamed dropping the metal dishes and ran into the pet store to tell the guys and get help. When the three of us returned to the bathroom the rat was gone, hopefully back the way he came and the guys started flushing the toilets and opened the back of the tank to see if it was living there, but he was gone.

This experience showed me my ultimate NYC fear... a rat coming up through the toilet. I am lucky where I am able to manifest my fears almost immediately so to get them out of the way... at least that is how I am choosing to look at this situation. I have to look at it that way or else I'll make myself sick with worry and fear and I've got not time for that.

The pet shop guys kept asking me if I was sure I saw a rat. Oh yeah. I was sure. I've seen rats in the subways since I've moved here and I definitely know the difference between a rat and a mouse. This was no mouse. The experience left me shake and questioning if I'd picked the right volunteering opportunity for me. I mean, I didn't get any good loving time with the pussycats because there is too much to be done and the room is so tiny that I have a hard time breathing what with all the fur and fluff and dander everywhere. I was questioning if this was the right gig for me after the first time I went...the second time I had a rat encounter and I wondered again if I was doing the right thing.

A bit part of me feels like I am working off a karmic debt to Sing and Little Man, both of my cats who have run away. Naturally, I feel responsible for their actions. They were my responsibility and I was their owner. I made an agreement to care for these animals and I didn't do a very good job of it. It seems fair that I take care of these unwanted cats, scoop their poop, clean up their fur balls, wash out their water dishes, sweep the stray litter....

But is this what God has in store for me? Am I to be the kitties keepers? Perhaps I had a karmic agreement with Sing and Little Man and part of this arrangement was that they were to leave me. I don't know. What I do know is that if you are ever in need of using a bathroom and you are in Hell's Kitchen on 49th street between 8th and 9th, don't ask to use the toilet at Spoiled Brats Pet Shop. They would probably let you use it but you'll have to share the camode with some big city rats.

I wonder if volunteers are still needed at Lincoln Center?

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part XIII

Sitting in the egg shaped crimson compartment, the Tilt-a-Whirl went round and round and round until the world spinning by was a blur of colors perfectly smeared on a sky-blue background. Green leafy trees, white iron benches, yellow Chinese lanterns, summer clad tourists all blending together in perfect harmony. The old clammering diesel engine sputters black puffs into the sky and I am dizzy spinning round and round and round. Children's screams float through the air like brightly colored balloons. Flimsy metal bars sit loosely on their laps, bringing some sense of security. My skin feels sickly sweet from the cotton candy, waffle cones, funnel cakes saturating the air and I am transported in time and space, not thinking, just spinning, spinning, spinning until I am dizzy.

In the distance I hear words faintly saying, "Shit! Shit! Shit!"

The spinning continues round and round. "Shit! God Damned! Shit!" I hear louder. My eyes flutter open and I am in a foggy state, that place between dream time and human reality not knowing where I am. It is the wee hours of the morning. Stars brightly fill the big Montana skies as trucks whiz by our bus make up for lost time during daylight hours. We're stopped, parked on the side of the road.

"Urgh!" Cassie, overnight driver and professional babysitter, growled.

"SHIT!" she says in frustrated irritation. Hearing this brings me fully back to consciousness and I realize I am still on the Green Tortoise, sleeping snuggly between strangers. I lie still for a moment sad that the dream is over. The bus idles as another eighteen wheeler races passed us. Cassie checks her mirrors, takes a deep breath and turns the bus around again, spinning us back around to where we were just moments ago. She drives for a few quick miles, stops the bus again and switches on a light this time to read the handwritten directions again. Turns are highlighted in pink, roads are in yellow.

"I fuckin' did that!" she says with exasperation. "That’s it. I'm calling him."

"No! Don't wake him up!" the partiers say sitting together on the big bed behind the driver’s seat. Only a few were still awake at this hour, the others passed out in drunken slumber from strong cocktails served in blue plastic cups.

"No, screw you guys. I'm calling him." Cassie defiantly says.

I lean forward straining my ears to hear over the idling engine as Cassie tells the partiers to shut up as she picked up the walkie-talkie to ring Driver Dave who was sound asleep in the driver’s chambers in the back of the bus. No answer. She rang again.

Her tone changes from angry and frustrated to friendly and apologetic as Driver Dave finally wakes from his deep sleep. I readjust myself and Cassie lowers her voice so I cannot hear her at all.

“It’s okay. What’s up?” Dave says.

“Uh huh. Where were you?” He waits for an answer.

“Okay. Then what did you do?” He listens for a long time.

“Ummm, really? Weird. So then what?” He was as patient as she spoke for a while.

“Okay, okay. That’s okay. Then what did you do?” he probes.

“Alright. Did you add anything?” he asks. Add anything? What the hell? I thought we were just lost. What were they talking about? I leaned closer to the driver bunk to eavesdrop with more clarity. Maybe I didn’t hear him right.

“Did you add oil?” he asks. “Did it change anything?” he silently listens to the reply.

“Okay, but then you pulled immediately over, right?” he asks. “Why not!”

“I’m coming up.” He says and nearly as fast as he said the words, the curtain fly open from the sleeping cupboard and he swings his legs out hopping down gingerly stepping over sleeping passengers as he makes his way to the front of the bus where they hold conference in soft voices. Cassie turns the engine off and the big door swings open and they leave the bus.

A few minutes pass before they return inside the bus. Dave says, “It should be okay until morning.” and he steps over the slumbering passengers as he returns to his warm bed. Cassie fires up the engine confident of where we are headed and the miles fly back as we return to the road, full speed ahead. I fall fast asleep longing for carnival dreams on popcorn highways as the miles roll on under our big wheels.

In the morning, I wake up in the Grand Teton’s National park parking lot. Rumors are flying between the passengers when I returned from the out-house. Conversations clusters form around the prep tables as we make breakfast. What's going on? Were we lost last night? Yeah? I heard that we were but that the bus broke down, didn’t you hear that? Was the transmission out? Did you see anything leaking? What did you hear? When will the parities get up so we can get more details?

Esther groggily emerges from the bus rubbing her eyes. I asked her how she slept. It was the first night she chose to sleep in one of the top bunks which are suspended over the big beds.

“Terrible.” She said. “Is the water boiled yet? Is there tea?” she asks me. i know where everything is in the parking lot kitchen.

“Yeah it’s ready.” I say pointing to the hot water pitcher and open boxes of tea. “Why did you sleep so badly?” I ask as she dropped the tea bag in the orange plastic mug and poured the hot water for her brew.

“I kept falling out of the bunk. Like the bus was tilted.” she said. As she spoke I looked over at the bus and sure enough it was tilting hard to one side at a steep incline. Poor Esther kept rolling towards the floor of the bus and she had to hold on to the side to keep her from falling onto the sleeping passengers below.

Cassie typically sleeps in after we hit our parking lot destination but this morning she was up with us. She was going to go hiking through the Grand Tetons in a couple of hours and decided to sleep later since we were camping out tonight.

“What happened last night Cassie? Did you get lost?” Ryan laughs as he asks her. He is a buff Australian buck and he has a serious crush on Cassie. She pretends not to notice. All the young men have crushes on her.

“Yeah, but just for a little while.” Cassie said laughing at her mistakes from the night before. She is a junior driver with three years experience under her belt. This is her first time driving the Northern Crossing route and Dave is showing her all the tricks of the trip. Cassie is a pretty brown haired woman in her late twenties who graduated from college with an English degree and decided to become a teacher. She taught high school for a couple of years in the San Francisco Bay area. During her third year of teaching, she took the Green Tortoise down to Baja California and it changed her life forever. She fell in love with the bus, the lifestyle and culture. Then and there she decided what she wanted to do. She quit her teaching job and called the bus company owner convincing him to give her a job as a driver. He did. He hires a lot of people based on passion and not on driving skills. Those can be learned. He sent her to truck driving school to get her Class C license and she started accruing hours on the open road as an assistant driver. Cassie’s a tough girl from Montana, unafraid of the open road or the professional drivers who inhabit them. When she’s not on the open road she is a babysitter.

I think when she is on the road she is babysitting too.

Part of the attraction to taking a Green Tortoise trip is that they don’t drive just on the major highways. They plan trips taking the scenic route, even during the nighttime. Cassie missed a couple critical turns during the night. Anyone could have missed them since they weren't clearly marked. We only circled for an hour or so before getting the back on track. She won't make that mistake again.

Driver Dave gathers us around as we finish eating to tell us the day’s itinerary. After we clean-up we are headed to Jenny Lake for several hours of hiking. We can take a boat ride across the lake if we want or walk around the lake; it’s about four miles around. Turns out it's seven miles, but who's counting?

“What’s wrong with the bus?” someone asks.

“As soon as we know, we’ll let you know but for now we are going to Jenny Lake and then we’ll be headed to our campsite in the Grand Teton’s and on the way we’ll be making our first shower stop.” Dave says with a smile.

“Will there be hot water?” I ask still craving hot waters from the icy Salmon River the day before.

“Yes and you can get a clean towel for an extra dollar. The showers cost three or four dollars and the towels are extra.” He says. “But first we’re going to hike around Jenny Lake, okay?”

We cheer as we rush to clean-up the breakfast mess. Many of us are more excited about the shower than the hike and there is an enthusiastic chattering as we hurry cleaning up the breakfast tables and pack it all away.

Jenny Lake is beautiful. The mountains are full of late spring snow, the air is crisp and wild flowers are in bloom. Hundreds of tourists flock the lake and wander on the paths scaling mountain cliffs as white water crashes down from melting glaciers above. It is a beautiful place despite the crowds, all eager to have photos taken on big rocks and in front of natural waterfalls. I feel suffocated as there is chatter everywhere and I cannot hear the trees and rocks speak as I hike. I decide to take the boat ride across the lake hoping there will be less people there and am disappointed.

Having had the luxury of owning a VW Bus and the freedom to travel when I wanted, I avoided places with big crowds. My way of communing with nature is through silence and meditation. I absorb my surroundings grateful for the privilege of being allowed to witness the intimacy of the wilderness. But there is no silence in these woods. The trees creak as the wind causes them to sway. Birds chat back and forth with feathered friends about berries and beetle snacks. Squirrels cry out warnings to others to keep away from their secret stash. Blooming plants assault the senses causing emotional reactions from wild bergamot and clary sage. In the wild I am humbled to witness the raw beauty of nature and I am offended by the tourists who ignore the rangers’ requests to stay on paths, preserve the land.

I finish my hike and find a quiet place to eat lunch only to be disturbed by a fighting family from New Jersey. They fight like most families do, loudly. The teenagers want freedom from their middle-aged parents, the pre-teens want to run and play, the parents want everyone to get along and they express it all through yelling not listening to each other. How sad that they are oblivious to the beauty that surrounds them at that moment. Road trips are not for everyone.

I abandon my desire for peace, pack-up and head back to the information area where I people watch and have my first cup of good coffee in several days. Our group reassembles and we head out to our campsite, an hour drive away where hot showers await our arrival. I'm ready for this moment having prepared my day pack with all the essential supplies: exfoliating gloves, deep conditioning shampoo and conditioner, my favorite Aveda body lotion, Jojoba oil for my hair and skin, anti-frizz serum and styling gel, clean clothes complete with fresh socks. I splurge and pay for the fresh towel which is thick and absorbent. It is mid-afternoon and there is only a short wait for one of the ten stalls to open.

Oh Glorious God! Thank you for this most excellent of showers and may my skin be refreshed from the deep cleaning. Scrub all the dirt from my pores and keep the showers coming, Lord. Please forgive me for ever taking hot water and soap for granted and may I grow from this stench that now I release down the drain. Amen.

I pray unaware that my next shower wouldn’t be for another six days.

To be continued…

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I've always said...

I've always said I don't believe in writer's block, but that's what I've had lately. It hasn't been an actual block, it has been a road-block...where I write something and then an inner critic says that it is crap and before I can stop the fingers, the post has been deleted leaving me feeling empty and defeated. I know it is just a passing fancy and after what I saw tonight, I'll be sure to be able to write again soon.

Here's a teaser....I went to the new writing group that's been meeting on Monday night's at Think Coffee in the East Village. It is a hip spot and although there are only four of us who have met to share our writing, I have a feeling that this is a good place for me to be sharing work and getting support from other writers. Tonight there was a drop-in guest from London, Dave, who shared part of a screen-play he'd written for Radio-4 in London. Pretty cool stuff. After our two hour meeting he suggested we go to the poetry cafe a half a block away to see what the open mike was like, so we go.

How sad it is when stand-up comics take over for poets. Each person gets six minutes, which we all know in a lifetime. Or as in this case, an eternity.

As my gift to humanity, I have decided to not share with you the ten acts I sat through...or as I will hence forward call it...the longest hour in my life. I won't tell you about the 400 pound hairy man fondly called Angry Bob. I won't torture you with the tales from the 6'8" Rastafarian's tale about his run-in with the cops for getting high in Central Park. I won't torment you with the gruesome details about the gap-dressed investment bankers talking about banging their 22 year old girl friends.

Ten acts I sat through before giving up and dashing into a cab to return me to my Brooklyn home. But something good did happen this evening. I realized that if these bozo's are able to get up on a stage and humiliate themselves for six minutes, then I certainly can keep on writing, no matter how loud my inner critic is yelling.

So my blog may not be genius writing, but I am back. I promise to work through these pesky insecurities. Let's blame it on the Lunar eclipse...too much darkness in the creative zones.

Thank you for keeping an eye on my blog and being patient with me. I do appreciate it.

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Artist Collective

The Craigslist ad said, "Female artist forming female artist collective in the East Village. The vision is to support each other in a large space to create and host events to promote our art. All types of artists encouraged to reply. Target move in date September 1st."

I moved to New York last week and found a place to live in a couple of days thanks to Craigslist. It’s been a good resource for me. I thought I'd try and see if I could find someplace where there are more artists. I get inspired when others are working on their craft, so this ad really caught my eye. I love the idea of living in the East Village but it is really expensive. What better way to do it?

I replied and an email dialogue started between several women. We agreed to meet at Whole Foods in the Bowery to see how we all would get along and start the process of finding our space. I was excited to meeting new artists and creating community. In my minds eye I envisioned a table surrounded with women with different colored hair, vintage tee shirts, paint stained jeans, dirty finger nails and wild head scarves. I pictured an eclectic group of women committed to living the creative life. Just like me.

When I arrived, I expected to find the table quickly. I looked for a group with colorful unnatural hair color. I saw nothing like that but I did see a group of five young women. They were leaning in discussing something over a piece of paper so I approached them and asked, "Is this the group for the artist collective?"

"Yes!" Karen replied. She coordinated the effort and it was her vision.

"Great!" I said. "I'm Linda" and I seated myself at the large table.

I must say I was a little thrown by how young they were. The oldest was probably twenty-six. I realize that I've been a little hyper-sensitive about my age since my last birthday but that is passing. I am the kind of person who looks back on her life and is proud that I've taken risks and done things that most people wouldn't even consider...but as I sat down I immediately began to feel like a sorority house mother.

The women introduced themselves and I repeated their names, Bonnie, Vicki, Connie, Kelly, and Karen. They were in discussion about house rules and so rather than interrupt them, I asked them to just fill me in a little later and I'd listen and ask questions as we continued. They agreed and went back to the discussion.

"What about cleanliness?" Bonnie asked. Good point, I thought to myself. The last thing I wanted to do was move into a place with ten other people who didn't clean-up after themselves.

"Yeah, we should be clean" said Connie.

"Yeah!" said Kelly.

"Well, since there will be so many of us, if we each kicked in ten bucks a week in our utilities I am sure we could afford a housekeeper who would keep the common areas, bathrooms and kitchen clean. Then we just take care of our own rooms." I say.

They all look at me blankly.

Karen gave me a cold hard stare and then said, "Well, I guess we could do it that way." I thought to myself, oh no. This is not going to be a good situation. Somehow I’d stepped on her toes and didn't know how I'd done so. Maybe she hated housekeepers. Maybe she had issues with another person coming into the space. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut a bit longer to see what the vibe was like among the women before sharing.

It was then that I pulled my enthusiasm back at the idea of living in an artist collective and really looked at the women who were gathered around the table. Physically they all looked like they came out of the same J. Crew catalog. Straight, long black hair, fashion forward outfits be they baby-doll tops, shear layers over designer dress shorts, impeccable make-up, a stylish hat here, a thin belt there. I began to feel underdressed for the occasion in my black shorts and turquoise coffee stained tee shirt.

Karen changed topics and said, "What about overnight guests?" And all the ladies started nodding their heads cooing, oh yes! Overnight guests!

Bonnie says, "Well if we pay the thousand dollars or more and have our own rooms, it shouldn't be an issue."

"Yeah, if I'm paying that I should be allowed my guests" says Connie.

A thousand dollars? I couldn't afford that, so that meant I'd be sharing a room with one of these girls. Looking at their dress, listening to how they spoke I started doubting that there was a painter or sculptor in the whole bunch. I waited as I listened to them yammer on about how often they go out and what kind of guys they like to bring home and how easy it was dating in New York. Sitting in the energy of what it might be like to live with these girls, my stomach didn't feel so good.

Finally I asked the group, "So, what kind of artists is everyone?"

"I'm an actress and part-time model." said Karen.

"Actress" said Bonnie.

"Actress" said Kelly.

"Actress" said Connie.

"I'm a part-time actress too, but mostly I'm a Balloon Artist." said Vicki sheepishly.

Finally! An artist!

I nodded and smiled at Vicki. There was hope for this artist collective after all!

"I'm a writer and musician," I said. Ooh's and aah's came from the women. How exotic.

I asked Karen if any other painters or musicians or writers replied to her ad and she said she didn't know.

Bonnie noticed Connie's shoes and started asking what size she wore and where she got the shoes and would she be willing to share them sometime and that she had a lot of shoes that'd she'd be willing to share and then Karen and Vickie started talking about wearing dresses and how much they each liked their outfits and was she a size zero too? No? A size two? Yeah, sometimes that fit her too and wasn't it terrible when she was bloated and couldn't fit into her favorite skirt?

I sat in the chattering noise laughing to myself that art comes in all forms and it was unlikely that these women would be having avant-garde performance pieces in the space ala Yoko Ono. I asked my gut what I should do next. It yelled: GET OUT!

And that's what I did.

I stood up and said that I wasn't a good fit for their artist collective. I thanked the women for their time and wished them the best of luck with their aspirations and walked away. That bullet didn’t even graze me.

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part XII

Tuesday July 1st, 2008
Grand Tetons
Jackson Hole, MT

Back in my corporate days, I used to ask unusual questions when interviewing potential new hires. At first I started out with the tame 1980's new-age typed query, like "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" While I was working for Whole Foods, I changed that question to relate to the different department I was interviewing for, so if you wanted to work in the Specialty department I would ask, "If you were a piece of cheese, what kind of cheese would you be and why?" Or the meat department, "If you were a cut of meat, what kind of meat would you be and why?" The answers showed creativity and product knowledge.

I became bored of those questions so I started asking more abstract like "If you could be an action hero, who would you be and why?" Those who wanted to be Superman burned out too fast. those who wanted to be Spiderman were good at finding solutions. Don't hire Batman because he lives in some crazy fantasy world where he has an unlimited budget to spend and can't will order everything he sees in the Office Depot catalog!

I used to do a lot of interviewing and I became bored with that question too until one day. A stroke of genius happened while conducting interviews and this became my favorite question to date, "If you had to eliminate on of the fifty states, which one would it be and why?"

I found it surprising at how many people hate Rhode Island. California, I expected but not little Rhode Island! It was also interesting to watch how many people didn't know half of the fifty states and watching them make a decision was part of the interview...were they able to make a decisive decision and feel firm by it? Did they waver between two states? Could they even make a choice having so many to choose from? And why did they settle on their choice?

If someone asked me right now, today, what state I would I choose it would be an easy decision.


I fucking hate Wyoming! I wish it would just be split into parts and absorbed by all the states surrounding it...or better yet, let's give it away to Canada! Or how about we lease the space to another country in need of some beautiful land unlike its natural habitat where the locals could get away....maybe Belize or Cambodia for example. Didn't we do a number on the Cambodian people in the 1970's? Don't we owe the country something? Wouldn't it be a great idea if we gave the land away?

Or what if we gave the land to Saudi Arabia and in return we could have unlimited oil for all vehicles that ran on green fuels for a dollar a gallon?

I mean, we're a creative country. Can't we just get rid of Wyoming and do something else with the space? We could sell it off for advertising space to Starbucks or Coca Cola and Budweiser to get rid of the mounting debt that we've accrued in the last eight years! I don't want to discuss politics but I mean, really? Don't we have a lot of debt right now? Can't we do something about it? I really believe we can get rid of this god forsaken state and do something better with it.


Why Wyoming?

It all began many years ago while traveling around the country in the Malibu Stacey Funtime Camper with my incredible cat, Sing. He wasn't happy living in the bus but got used to it after many days. He perched himself on the top of the counter that covered the stove, directly behind the driver's seat and he'd sit with his paw on my shoulder watching were we were going as I drove through the mountains, high deserts, low plains.

One night I was fatigued and decided to stop and sleep in a truck stop. It was a warm July night outside of Cheyenne. I had the windows unrolled less than half-way to let the breeze in since I decided not to pop the top causing attention to myself. Somehow Sing crawled out of the camper and dashed away into the night. I was devastated. He never returned. Did he hear something that caught his attention? Did he smell something tasty? What called him away from the cozy spot next to my head on my pillow?

Only one thing could do that...the sultry call of the devil state, Wyoming.

Oh sure, Wyoming has its good points like being the first state to grant women the right to vote back in 1870....a good thirty years before anyone else. I don't want to talk about all the good its done. I'm still too angry at it for all its done to me.

I knew too, when I boarded the Green Tortoise that I would have to go through Wyoming and I thought to myself maybe it was time that I changed my attitude about this gigantic state. Maybe it was time I grew up, practiced some forgiveness and moved on with my life.

And maybe it was too soon.

To be continued...

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Today is my birthday.

It has been quite the year so least leading up to today. I had no idea on my birthday last year that my life would change so dramatically, so quickly from where it was...I thought I had everything that I wanted or needed last year this time, albeit there were a lot of issues happening.

The good news is that the drama is gone. My new life in New York is unfolding before my eyes. I am working at creating stability and a daily routine...but what I have found most important is that I cannot think ahead into the future...I mean, I can make plans for meeting a group of women tonight who want to start an artist collective and sharing loft/living space in Greenwich Village. That I can do. But think ahead about what I am actually doing here, why I am here, what am I going to do with all this time and who the hell am I anymore and my head starts to explode.

Byron Katie says something about that. She says (and I am paraphrasing) that she likes to witness the stories her mind tells her about herself and then not believe them. That includes the big ego part and in my case, the little ego that doesn't believe she can do anything.

It is funny to me at how both egos have so much power over us. I've seen both cases and neither one is good. I've witnessed the over-inflated ego that is so self-centered and self-involved that it believes no one around him can do as good a job. I've lived the tiny ego that believes she is worthless and cannot contribute, has no skills and is generally unworthy. Both are equally deadly.

The Little Me, as Echart Tolle calls it, and the stories it tells itself are quite compelling and rather believable. The Little Me is in hungry for any sort of ego-fuel be it over consumption or under-nourishment. My lesson is to keep it properly fed and in check, not allowing either parts to take control over my thought process or abilities.

I have felt unable to write for a variety of excuses but the reality is that I've felt the Little Me feeling meek in this big city. But I have felt that same feeling everywhere I've lived from Delray Beach Florida to Elko Nevada...Seattle, New is all the same. No matter where I go, there I am.

My personal birthday wish for myself today (and feel free to use this yourself) is to stay present. Pay attention to when my mind captures its thoughts and drifts into low self-esteem land and bring it right back to this moment.

For this is all we have. Right here. Right now. Everything else has already happened or will happen later.

Thank you for sharing my birthday with me.

Now I am off to find a cupcake.

So much love,
All the way from over here....

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part XI

There is a lot of energy and excitement in the boats. I am one of the few people who's never rafted before so I pay strict attention during our emergency training as we sit in the still waters on the shore.

"This here," Justin, our guide says, "is the Chicken Line." He pulls on the long red rope that runs down the length of the center of the boat. "If you feel like you're gonna fall in the water, hang on to this line and fall into the boat, not out of it." He looks at us seriously. "You don't know what kind of rocks there will be when we're crossing class four rapids and the last thing you wanna do is bash your head on some rock."

Bash our heads in? Oh no. I look for the Chicken Line and become best friends with the life-saving twine.

"Remember, if your gonna fall, fall into the boat." He looks at us for eye confirmation. I think to myself...fall towards the boat, fall towards the boat, fall in the boat.

"If you do fall in, depending on where you are, you may end up drifting down river aways until we can catch-up with you." His voice is stern. My breath quickens thinking about this possibility. "Don't panic. I will get you. I haven't lost anyone yet!" He gives a big Idaho smile. "Of course, this is only my third time leading a group." He laughs as he says this and I look horrified to my raft companions.

"Just kidding, just kidding...don't worry. I been using that line for the last six years and before that I was riding with my Dad over there since I was this big." He measures an imaginary height at his knee with his left hand. At that moment, his father looks up at him and they wave to each other, laughing and shaking their heads. Part of the initiation process for white water rafting is checking to make sure your heart works. Mine was pumping just fine.

"Seriously though, if you do fall in, here's what you do when we fish you out. Keep your arms straight at your sides and one of us will grab you from the bottom sides of your life-vest. Stay straight, okay?" We nod.

"Everybody ready?" He asks.

"Yeah! Let's Go!" We say.

"Okay!" Justin says just as excited as if it's his first trip too.

"Now to splash another boat, you gotta hold your paddle down at an angle and keep it straight pushing the paddle out with the back of the ore." He gives us a demonstration splashing his father with the back of his paddle. His father retaliates fast and saturates his son with water. The boat his dad is in has the partiers and they are ready for a splash fight. My boat is not interested. We want to see the sites and hit the rapids and as if we were of one mind, we start to paddle together in unison. Our boat has only six people compared to the others that have eight and we are fast since we are lighter. We outrun the splashing waters and head down river.

"Wow!" Justin says. "You guys are fast!"

"That's right." Carol says. "Let's show those punk kids we've got speed!" We all and cheer.

"Ya know, the Green Tortoise has been a good customer for us, so we made the trip about ten miles longer than usual this time. The rapids are really awesome this year." Justin says. "In fact, we haven't had class four rapids around here in a long time, so it's gonna be an exciting ride!"

The waters were calm and the current of the river was strong, pulling us down-stream. The two other boats had splash fights between them and we paddled enjoying the scenery. I spied a bald eagle's nest with its two golden eagle babies.

It is a beautiful sunny, warm day and the icy river feels refreshing. I drag my hands in the water as we coast. Zeke, a 26 year old socially awkward, unemployed college graduate, puts his feet in the waters. We drift past a the Boy Scouts of America camp and our companions in the other boats jump out and go for a swim. They drift downstream for a mile or two before we start to hit our first series of rapids.

Quickly, the other boats gather up their passengers and prepare for the first set of class three rapids. "Paddle hard!" Justin yells at us as we approach the white waters and we do as we're told. Waters splash up over the front of the boat as we hit a dip in the river and water crashes inside the boat. I stop paddling and hold onto the chicken line with both hands praying I don't fall in the crashing waters. Water is everywhere, splashing all around us and in an instant our boat is half-full of Salmon river water. The waters calm down and I ask our guide, "Should we be worried that our boat is filling up with water?"

"Nah, it's a self-bailing boat!" Justin smiles and says, "Look!" And as fast as he had spoke, our boat was nearly empty of all the water that rushed in.

"Cool!" I say. "That was fun!"

"That was nothing! Wait until after we pass the gold mine!" Justin says always smiling. He loves it job and it shows. We paddle down the river and pass through another series of rapids and I never let go of the chicken line. Sometimes I hold on with two hands although after three or four series, I begin to feel confident and enjoy the turbulent waters.

About an hour into our ride and I spot our Green Tortoise bus. I ask our guide if we are nearly finished, disappointed thinking the ride was nearly over.

"Oh no. That's the gold mine." Justin says. "We're gonna stop and take a tour!" The other boats are near us and hear our guide tell us where we're going and Joe calls out like the old prospector, "GOLD!?!" as he had been for the past day or so and we all start laughing. Our guides shake their heads not getting the inside joke.

We get out of the boats and take a short walk to the mine entrance. Our guides are also our tour guides through the gold mining process. The mine had been closed since the 1960's but there was talk about it reopening what with gold trading at nearly a thousand dollars an ounce nowadays. There were make-shift displays on blasting techniques with old photos of when the mine first began operating in the early 1900's. Photos on the walls showed black-faced miners with candle headlamps, filthy clothes. The men looked old and haggered.

We are guided to a large troff set-up with river rock, sand, stones and are given a demonstration on how to pan for gold. Every time one of the men says 'gold' Joe gives his reply. Each time it is funny.

The guides pass around plates of homemade chunky brownies and bottled water and we enjoy our snack in the hot sun. Some of us step into the mine entrance where it is cold to cool off. Our companions who didn't sign-up for the rafting trip ask us how it is going so far and we tell them about the fun we've been having. Esther, who really wanted to come but couldn't afford it, looked devastated upon hearing this news. I saddle up next to her and whisper into her ear, "It's not so great." She smiles instantly and says, "Thanks Linda."

Time is up and we load back into our boats for the second half of the trip. Many of us give our cameras to the non-rafting members of the Green Tortoise and they promise to take pictures of us crossing over the class four falls up ahead. We watch the bus load and race ahead on the narrow Idaho canyon road.

Almost immediately returning to the boat we are upon the class three and four rapids which will remain persistent until the end of the ride which will not be for another three hours.

Justin encourages one of us to take the front of the boat, straddle it like riding a mechanical bull, and keep one hand in the air, one foot in the water. This is the most exciting way to ride the rapids. Zeke is the only one who takes the suggestion and passes his ore to the back of the boat as he straddles the nose.

We approach the class four rapids and it is an intense, exhilarating feeling. I hold on to the chicken line with both hands, abandoning my ore which hits my boat mate in the head as the waters crash over the boat. I start falling and hear Justing yelling at me, "Fall in! Fall in!" and holding onto the line, I fall towards the inside of the boat being hit hard in the head with a wall of water. Zeke is laughing and holding on with one hand like a crazed cowboy laughing his ass off.

All my fears are gone, having survived this last round of rapids. "This is fun!" I yell to Carol and she nods in agreement.

Ahead in the canyon, storm clouds form. The air changes rapidly. Temperatures drop. One moment cold air is gusting across our bodies, the next hot air comes as relief. That can't be good, I think to myself. The mixture of hot and cold air can only mean one thing. Hail.

"Do you think we'll hit that storm ahead?" Carol asks Justin. "Well, let's hope not." Our attention changes back to the river as we approach another series of rapids. "Paddle Hard!" we hear and obey. During this round of rapids I feel rain drops hit my already soaked body. The thunderstorm comes in fast and the rain pounds hard into the boat.

Justin guides us out of the rapids and turns the boat so the rain isn't hitting us hard in the face. It is raining sideways, the winds are icy and immediately I am freezing cold. I have on only my bathing suit and tank top and thin shorts. I stick my hand back in the water and it feels warm compared with the outside temperature. As we drift down a smooth patch of river, some of the other boaters jump into the waters, this time to get warm.

The storm kicks in harder with thunder and lightening. I watch a flash of lightening and count to myself, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Missi... before hearing the thunder. The storm is about three and a half miles away. We're headed right for it.

"What do you do in thunderstorms?" I ask Justin.

"Ride it out...what else can you do?" Justin says shrugging his shoulders.

"How far away are we from the end?" Carol asks.

"'s a ways." Justin says.

I'll say. It was not just a ways, it was far, far a ways.

The fun stops as we're instructed to paddle hard through the next few series of rapids. In the icy rain, huge hail balls start pelting our skin. Zeke is still holding on with one hand. I am freezing, clinging to the chicken line and praying it would all end soon.

About an hour later, in a calm patch of water, I look at my boat companions all wet, cold, hungry. They are miserable. So am I. My fingertips are blue. I am cold, tired and cranky.

Carol says, "Wouldn't a nice hot cup of tea and a bath be nice right about now?"

"Oh Carol." I say with an attitude of disgust, "We're on the Green Tortoise! This is our bath! The first one in days!" Our first scheduled shower is still a few days away. I look down and notice pink flesh underneath my blue fingernails, the first time in three days! All the dirt is gone! I try to take a positive approach to watery situation. My feet are clean. I try to enjoy the feeling.

"I know what I'd like." Katherine, a silent, pretty woman from France speaks for the first time since we boarded the bus. "A hot chocolate." Murmurs of "yes" and "oh yeah!" are uttered in agreement.

"How much further?" Carol asks Justin again.

"Oh, it's still a ways." Justin says still smiling but with a guilty look, like he feels bad for us.

I look back at our sister boats and in one of them, all the passengers were waving their hands and wiggling their fingers in a "jazz hands" style. The did this for a while and then started laughing afterwards. A little while later, their boat begins to pass us and I yell to them, "What are you guys doing with your hands?"

Donna yells back, "Kundalini Yoga to stay warm!"

"What do we do?" I yell back.

"Shake your hands and fingers for sixty seconds!" She says enthusiastically. I drop my ore and raise my hands in the air and start shaking my hands and fingers. My boat companions join me and together we start counting to sixty out loud. Donna's boat joins us and it is hard not to laugh at the site of all of us, soaking wet, drifting through this beautiful mountain canyon, in this monstrous thunderstorm with our fingers waving hello to all of nature, everywhere. The third boat doesn't join us but laughs at us as it paddles past us.

I can almost feel my fingertips as we nearly finish counting. Then another series of rapids fast approaches and Justin yells at us to paddle hard. We do as we're told and then begin shaking our fingers again to warm ourselves.

Zeke looks over his shoulder at me and asks if I want to take the boat by the nose. What the hell, I think to myself. I can't get any colder and it is unlikely I'll have another chance to do so, so we switch positions. He takes my ore and I drop a foot into the water. It is warm.

Justin steers the boat backwards as we switch positions and then asks, "Ready?" I look back at him and nod, taking hold of the chicken line with both hands. I opt to not ride the nose like a bull, but straddle the boat.

"Paddle Hard!" Justin yells.

I tighten my grip, lift my left leg that is drifting in the waters as we bounce around the class four waters. "Whoo Hoo!" I yell laughing. "Lift your leg!" I hear from Zeke who was keeping an eye on me riding the nose of the boat. Then we hit an unexpected black pocket and nearly capsize. Water completely fills our boat. Justin looks rattled but keeps smiling as he steers us out of the dangerous rocky waters. He turns the boat around and has us paddle back towards the rapids we just went through. Behind us are the other two boats and Justin stands and gives hand signals to the other guides. They nod and steer their boats around the black rocks that we just rode through.

Ahead, in the distance, I spot the Green Tortoise parked under some trees.

"BUS!" I yell. And everyone in all three boats start cheering.

We all paddle hard through the last series of rapids and race towards our home on wheels. In my mind I began to inventory the contents of my day pack and realized that I did not pack any dry shorts or pants. I would have to sit in wet clothes until the next big-bag stop that was a few hours away.

We make it though the last round of rapids unimpressed, like old pros and all jump into the waters to warm up before getting into the bus in the pounding rain. We grab our bags and dry off best we can before we pass the hat to gather cash for tips for our guides.

Everyone looked exhausted, cold, and hungry when we got back on the bus.

"See was good you missed this ride. Next time you come to the states, it will be better."

She smiled and gave me a hug.

To be continued...

So much love,
All the way from over here....