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(c) 2013 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2013 Sherman Lambert

Full disclosure: I worked at a tourist gift shop for four summers, albeit a shop that had moved away from historical sites to follow automobile travelers when the interstate system opened. Though we did our best to treat customers well despite their sometimes obnoxious behaviors, we also really enjoyed our annual Tacky Tourist employee parties. Most of our shopping tourists were just on the way from here to there, but a tourist is a tourist.

And try as I might not to be “that” clichéd tourist—at least I treat the people serving me well, right?—I am only so successful. A tourist is someone from “away” who doesn’t necessarily know the customs and practices in an area. The trick is not to be too presumptive or too ignorant—and especially, not too rude. So no, I was not the woman who pronounced very loudly in front of the artisan at the Taos Pueblo that his shop smelled like marijuana (hello, that was a sage smudge—the more shops I entered the more I discovered just how offended my nose and lungs were from exposure to sage!) and, no, I wasn’t the woman name-dropping all the famous stars who lived in her neighborhood back home.

Me? I was the woman who bought moccasins—something I never bought once when I worked in that tourist shop. It seems that almost all tourist and gift shops in certain parts of the U.S. sell Minnetonka moccasins—I probably could have bought mine in a tourist shop in downtown Denver, but I didn’t. In fact my moccasins aren’t made in Minnesota or anywhere in the U.S, though they do come from Central America. Still, there was just something about the way the sky in Taos made me think of blue in all its shades and those moccasins came in “Peacock Blue” which is teal blue to me—a color that is almost a neutral in my wardrobe. Would I really wear them, though? I wasn’t sure.

But guess what? I have been wearing them almost daily ever since I bought them over three weeks ago. They felt slightly tight on the drive home, but, as a person who fit moccasins on tourists’ feet all those years ago, I knew that since the shoes stretch, it’s better to start with them snug.

Stretch they did—it’s like being barefoot only better. I keep telling myself this is the perfect anecdote to wearing stiff shoes with arch supports when I exercise. Back when I was selling moccasins thirty years ago, I avoided them because my podiatrist didn’t think I should wear any shoes that didn’t work with orthotics. Times have changed since then. Though my current PT says I personally should never practice my running or other aerobic workouts barefoot, he’s much more a believer in having even unbalanced feet such as mine do some of the work for themselves from time to time. So far my feet are really happy—maybe I’m becoming a believer, too.

So, yes, just like the tourist I was, I traveled to New Mexico and bought Minnesota-branded and Dominican-Republic-made moccasins. I fell for my moccasins as a tourist, but now they’re part of me in my own home in my own town. Sometimes you have to leave home to find out what you wanted in the first place—which, for me, is apparently some blue(ish) suede shoes.

P.S. Check out the Minnetonka Story below!

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

While casually flipping through Time, I was drawn to an excerpt from Temple Grandin’s The Autistic Brain. The article discussed approaches of thinking that differed from those of typical people. Wait, those were unusual ways of thinking? Because I was pretty sure the words I’d read had just described how everyone in my family thinks. All of a sudden I was in full-blown Princess Mia phase, as in when Mia of Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series started doing a school assignment on Asperger’s Syndrome and was soon convinced she had the condition.

Now I understood my son’s self-knowledge crisis a month or so ago when he watched a video on Asperger’s Syndrome in class. While I don’t think any of us qualifies as autistic or even very far “on the spectrum” (one way of describing people with autistic traits), I could see that we might have much more in common with autistic people than with those so-called neurotypical folks.

And, possessing that obsessive mind condition of having to know right now while living in a world where I could start to know right now—thanks to my library’s participation with the OneClick system—I downloaded the full book on my iPhone and started to listen.

Let’s just say that everyone who has spoken with me in the last week or so is getting really tired of hearing me say, “Temple says . . .” I’m pretty sure I could be earning that same cruel nickname Temple had while in school: Tape Recorder. (Only now I guess younger people might call me Digital Recorded Book or something like that.)

Other than our obsessive tendencies, what my family members and I most share in common with people on the autism spectrum is our sensitivities to a variety of sensory experiences. Grandin does such a good job of describing not only the sensations from these overwhelming stimuli, but also some of the brain science behind overreactions and possible ways for dealing with the difficulties.

When I took psychology classes in the early 1980s, I remember how my eyes used to glaze over every time I read about the brain’s workings. Maybe I didn’t need to know so much about the brain as I do now, but I also think our brain knowledge was too superficial for me to understand. What we have learned about the brain since when I first read about it is much more concrete. And then since Grandin herself is such a concrete thinker, her very specific examples as well as her metaphors really help me to make better sense of the brain.

Of course, she is lucky enough to have all sorts of people wanting to scan her very famous brain—and she is such a scientist that she is willing to undergo scan after scan in the name of scientific self-knowledge for both herself and for others.

There was a time when I didn’t seem very curious at all. I was just taking in all my learning and not questioning it much—this is another obvious difference between Grandin and me because she has always questioned—she could not do otherwise. Somewhere along the way, my brain developed so that I learned to question—and now I can’t seem to stop. I think about how in my finance job, my liberal arts background seemed to compel me to ask important questions that my coworkers with more typical backgrounds missed. The endless What ifs crowd my mind, but more as a journalist or a purveyor of information than as a scientist though when I read about research, I do think about the implications of outliers and factors that get in the way of finding results with higher confidence levels. I drive people crazy with my questions—just last night my husband asked me why I couldn’t just wait to find out the answer.

Well, in a way, by asking questions I am finding out the answer—or at least maybe ruling out what isn’t the answer and honing in on where else to look for that answer—not that there is necessarily one answer—another thing I’ve learned in this life.

We live in such exciting times now that those who do ask questions in a scientific manner are finally able to see into the brain while looking for those answers. For people locked in a variety of atypical neurological conditions, really specific knowledge might bring about targeted treatments, allowing them healing and/or the ability to focus more on the areas where their brains excel and less on their areas of deficit.

As for me, I am well along this path of life and, like so many others, have figured out an assortment of methods for dealing with those parts of my brain that don’t operate in the same way as other people’s brains do. I know that noise-canceling headphones would have helped me function better yesterday when a nearby 12 car/semi-truck accident caused the news helicopter to hover over my neighborhood for several hours—which seemed like days to me. But thanks to whatever quirk that has allowed me to develop my questioning side later in life, I really want to know, just how did my brain look and act when it thought it was being assaulted by those rotating blades?

Now, is that a neurotypical question or did I just once again place myself firmly in the outlier category?

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

The night was definitely not sultry—in fact, it felt rather cool for late August. Though we had hoped to travel and arrive in daylight, we had not made it onto the unfamiliar road until much later than planned. Along the way we encountered drenching rains as we snaked up and down mountains though the skies cleared before nightfall. Soon after, we descended into what we assumed was a plain, so obscured by fog that it could have been on the moon for all we could see. Our headlights lost so much of their effectiveness that we turned our attention to watching for wildlife appearing on the road.

In the midst of that eerie solitude, I received a call from the person watching our dogs back home. As I focused on my call, my husband Sherman asked, “Wait—what did that sign say? This is a really long bridge—you don’t suppose it’s over the Rio Grande River, do you?” I turned my gaze, but saw nothing but sheets of mist surrounding our car.

Usually we prepare better for a vacation and know more about the place we are visiting. But we were at an once-in-a-lifetime crossroads and thus had little time to plan for our short weekend stop—which fell in the After category. Before we had packed up our only children—twins—and their associated “stuff” in two cars and left them, all that stuff, and one car at college together. The three hours of sleep prior to the initial more than six-hour road trip (thanks to road construction!) and the following two days packed with orientation sessions as well as obligatory trips to Wal-Mart and such were enough to disorient even forward-thinking people, let alone people such as us.

The most we’d prepared for the After phase was by making a motel reservation in a location not too far off from the return path to our home. Life as we knew it was over and we were clueless to envision how it might look in the days ahead, let alone in the months ahead.

We barely made it to the resort town in time to grab dinner. But after we did and before we fell into near catatonic sleep, we pulled out the local guidebook. Imagine traveling to Taos, New Mexico and not knowing about the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge—so that was what we’d crossed over. We felt as if we were neither here nor there, especially since we had seen little more than the yellow line running through the middle of the highway.

That night when we had returned to our very large motel after eating, cars had spilled from nearly every motel parking space. The next morning, when we awoke a little after 9:00 or so, I looked out and saw that but five or so cars—including ours—remained. I turned to Sherman and announced, “I think the Rapture has happened and we’ve been left behind.” Well, contrary to my view from the motel window, there were still some tourists around town, though many more seemed to have raced back to wherever they came from in order to clock in at work on Monday morning.

We had a little more time before returning to our new reality. Instead we headed out to see that infamous bridge in the sunshine and heat of day. Wow, just wow. The statistics read 1,273’ across and 564’ down to the water flowing below at the bottom of the gorge. I mistakenly thought this view was the true picture of our new future—one where we could see where we had been and where we were going and stay safely on track.

Turns out that was the view/road/bridge not taken. The initial peaceful four or five months of After lulled us into thinking we knew our road map.

But the twelve-month period that followed showed us the real view was more like the one we encountered on that foggy night. The road that appeared so straight was not. It would have been more than enough to have encountered the murky path of losing my mother, uncle, and our two dogs before another year had passed. It would have been more than enough to experience injury and pain so life-altering as to change the patterns of my days and ways. And, it would have been more than enough for one of our children to leave that initial college within that year and the other at the next semester’s end.

By now, we are three years into After. Though our loved ones are still gone, time has mellowed our losses. Treatment and hard work—and that ever-present time—have healed my body. Each of our kids is finding a new path, our daughter studying away in a new closer location and our son living in our home while working and continuing his studies.

(c) 2013 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2013 Sherman Lambert

When we were looking for an affordable and enjoyable location for celebrating twenty-five years of marriage, we were drawn back to Taos. Before I returned, I didn’t really understand that part of the unfinished business I felt had less to do with sights unseen in Taos and more to do with returning to cross that bridge.

As we rushed out to watch the sun set from the bridge, nothing obscured the view. The light was so flat as to be underwhelming. Yet, the sky and land stretched out ahead of us in all directions and darkness had not quite descended to the bottom of that deep gorge. This time I walked with purpose, unlike during my first foot-crossing—I knew that lots of scary things lay below, but I was done with letting them scare me. Though it was long past time for a do-over, I felt compelled to ritualize this crossing.

So I did. I made that walk across and back into a prayer. With the wind whipping through my hair, I said goodbye to the bad and what couldn’t be changed, then stepped off to start again.

Attraversiamo—ancora.

(c) 2010 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2010 Sherman Lambert

(Read 2010 Attraversiamo post.)

Sherman & Trina, 25th Anniversary, Taos, NM

Sherman & Trina, 25th Anniversary, Taos, NM

A quarter of a century ago my new husband Sherman and I were finishing celebrating the first week of our marriage— and a day away from returning to our real life journey together. The couple-focused honeymoon time bridges the other-centric preparations and togetherness of a wedding and a couple’s beginning of their now joined lives. The trick is retaining something of that honeymoon spirit within all the challenges and/or the everydayness of a long-time relationship.

Life works hard at stripping away our fairy tale illusions. Some gains and losses are just part of the cyclical nature of Life. And while some dreams turn into realities, others die—whether with a whimper of disappointment or a howl of life-changing anguish or even with indifference. Yet with the right person at our side, we have a helpmate who can help us to find gain or acceptance or even what’s next in our losses. We are not so alone in facing the inevitable difficulties that will come our way.

But if marriage were just a way to get through the tough times, it would not be enough. Though love itself is a verb—as in I choose to act because I love—without the spontaneous feelings of unexplained warmth for someone, love as a verb would be reduced to a cheerless act of obligation.

In the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Roger was the goofy guy married to the cartoon siren Jessica. When Jessica was asked why a babe such as she would love a guy like him, she answered, “He makes me laugh.” Jessica had her priorities right. My husband still makes me laugh—in good times, bad times, and often at very inappropriate times!

We didn’t honeymoon in a very typical location for 20-somethings, but spent our first days in foggy northern California. We’re not about flash, but about quiet times together—we had plenty of noisy fun with family and friends leading up to and during our ceremony. When I wasn’t feeling carsick from all the smurvy-curvy (a “Shermanism”) twists on Highway 1, we had great times discussing anything ranging from seriously DEEP THOUGHTS to how well cow tipping might work 200 feet above the crashing surf. (Disclaimer: no cows were hurt in this little discussion—this was merely a cartoonish imagining.)

In the same way, we opted for driving to Taos, New Mexico to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Though we bring our iPod these days, we rarely turn it on—after all, we still like to hear what the other person has to say. Road trips through wide open spaces with big skies fuel our always lively conversations, even if we didn’t talk about cow tipping this time and even if we couldn’t resolve the current debacle in Washington.

Of course, sunny, blue-skied Taos was the opposite of foggy Mendocino, CA, but the sense of quiet was similar. We watched the sun set from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, hiked along the rim of the gorge, drank red wine, stared at stars from a hot tub, visited the Taos Pueblo, enjoyed tasty meals, and walked through shops and studios.

After the Honeymoon, Duncan, Trina & Sherman

After the Honeymoon, Duncan, Trina & Sherman

But we weren’t always quiet. No, that’s because we are still laughing together all these years later. I couldn’t have picked a better helpmate for getting through this crazy thing called Life, but I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t keep walking this journey side by side if he didn’t still make me laugh—in good times and bad times—and during those occasional inappropriate times.

May I never forget that love is a verb—and that laughing is one of the best ways to show that love to my love. Jessica Rabbit had it right—part of keeping that honeymoon spirit is remembering to laugh together, so here’s to laughing through the next twenty-five years with my grinning groom!

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

My thermostat is off—and no, this isn’t some funny way to talk in euphemisms about something physical. The hot and cold sensations I’m experiencing these days are all about how I am reading social situations—I feel like that 13-year-old girl I was who could only say too much or too little, but never the right amount.

I’ve never been good at this sort of thing, but deep down I’m a friendly sort who wants to connect with people. I talk to random strangers in the grocery line and chat with customer service people helping me. Quite frankly, in general I think random strangers do like me.

The problem is that—especially when I’m living under personal strain as I have for too long now—I can become too much in the moment for the people who know me. I spend so much time alone in my own head that I want to be able to relax when I am with others—but I don’t always seem to know when enough is enough. I promise it isn’t because I think I am that much more important than you, but because I am just excited to get away from the burdens of my life. And sadly, because I’ve come to trust and like you, I think maybe you’ll be willing to put up with me even when I’m being too much. However, sometimes I’m just wrong about that.

Thank goodness for my English Springer Spaniel Furgus—there’s someone who knows about being too much—and he likes it. He comes to love me when I’m happy or playing with him just as he does when I’m sleepy or grumpy. But he especially knows to come to love me when I’m feeling sad. When I have either been too much or had too much from either the outside world or from those within my world, he comes to me whether or not I am noisy, quiet, or both at the same time.

It’s good to know that when I am too much for many, we two are much together. In fact, Goldilocks would say that together we are neither too hot nor too cold, but just right.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Thank goodness for Pope Francis or I might just stop reading the news at all.

How weary I have grown of all the negative news. Can’t anyone get along? Or at least try to make the world a better place for more than just this team or that side?

We live in such divisive times that it seems we’re somehow supposed to enjoy all the gridlock around us—I’ve seen enough of newscasters smirking as they read bad news, as if it’s great for us all to go down the tubes because they’d rather prove the sky is falling than see any resolution or hope. “They” want this so of course “we” will do everything in our power to stop whatever “they” are doing, even if it might be in everyone’s best interest to move forward.

Sure, the Pope is in a unique position where he really does have the power to do things his way in his organization—you know, as in “it’s good to be king” and all that? And yet I really believe he is doing things His way—that is in God’s way.

The Pope is selected by men through a mysterious process, but I believe God is behind that process. He knew what He was doing when He selected a man who broke with tradition right from the start. When Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose his papal name to emulate not a previous pope, but a revered saint who was also a bit of an oddball, he gave us a big hint about how he felt called to lead the Catholic Church—away from the trappings and back to the people.

Though I’m not Catholic, I do know of and admire the way St. Francis of Assisi fulfilled God’s work on this earth. Each time I read a new article about Pope Francis, I see how very much he emulates the ways of Francis. Yet because he is not just one of the leaders of the church but the Head of the (Catholic) Church as Pope, he has the authority to make incredible reforms from within, starting right from the top.

By the very numbers of people on this globe who are Catholic, every pope is in a very unique position to speak for Christians—even for Christians whose beliefs and practices may differ very strongly from those of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis, through his statements and actions, is doing a really good job of reminding all Christians that we really are on the same team.

Even if he and I still differ on some very major principles, I am in awe that he keeps bringing his faith statements back to love and how we treat those in need. While his proposed reforms and statements have angered many of the more rule-oriented people within his church, he moves forward with the changes because—I am convinced—he feels they come from God. Since he didn’t expect to become the Pope and yet did, he acts with the conviction that God called him at this time because of what the church needs.

But even if he were solely a world leader, not a faith leader, he’d still make me smile. He isn’t some removed decision-maker making choices for his group in some far off hallowed place—whatever pronouncements he declares or negotiations he presides over in formal group, he seems to be doing for real people with real needs. No, much to his guards’ dismay, he is full-body throwing himself out amongst the people and loving them in those moments. He seems to like people, really he does, and shows so, whether he is shaking their hands or visiting them in times of need or through using the power of his position to care for them.

In these times when so few positive leaders make the news, I am so glad for the example provided by Pope Francis. Thank you for lifting my faith, Pope Francis. Keep smiling and leading in love.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert