Shama Sanctuary has been anything but a peaceful safe haven for woodland creatures this summer.

When Eric and I returned home in early July after a few weeks of travel, we were excited to meet this year’s fawns. Lily gave birth on May 29th and Pearl and Sparkle likely did soon thereafter. Although initially as newborns fawns are kept hidden, we knew that by now they would be tagging along with their moms out into the open. Except, when we got back, Lily and Pearl didn’t have fawns with them, and Sparkle was nowhere to be found.

Then we noticed that the groundhogs were also missing. Studio Sam (who lived under the deck to the recording studio in the house) and her pesky friends from other places in the woods had just disappeared without a trace.

We were puzzled.

A few days later it occurred to us that all the feral cats had also disappeared, as well as the chipmunks, bunnies, raccoons, squirrels, and turkeys. And where were the birds? Each morning we have our coffee on the back deck and listen to them sing. But now, the woods were eerily quiet.

We soon realized we had new residents at Shama Sanctuary who happen to be at the top of the food chain.

One day I was alone in our very long driveway picking wineberries, when Eric came running out of the house saying “Did you see that? It was huge!” What he saw was a very big coywolf cross the driveway ahead of me. It even stopped in the middle of the driveway and scratched itself, while I was right there picking berries. A coywolf is a hybrid between a wolf and a coyote, so it is bigger (and scarier looking) than your standard coyote. They also like to snack on small mammals, including fawns.

Other new residents are a pair of hawks: Harold and Henrietta. These two broad winged hawks had been screeching pretty much nonstop most of the summer. My sister even saw one of them swoop down and grab a bird off a branch. We also saw bear scat; meaning Elmo the black bear has been hanging around. If that wasn’t enough, a bobcat has also been spotted in our neighborhood.

It appears all our new residents have been hungry.

While this summer slaughter at Shama Sanctuary has been going on, I’ve been thinking of the parallels happening in the world around me. The list is so long that I can’t possibly list everything that causes angst. But here are a few things that come to mind:

  • Friends in my life are dealing with infidelity, divorce, leukemia, breast cancer, death of family members (both human and furry), and one friend’s girlfriend was even horrifically just deported (and she was here on a LEGAL VISA!).
  • One of the most magical and important places I’ve ever been — the Amazon rainforest (which produces 20% of the world’s oxygen) — has been in flames.
  • Our world leaders are breeding contempt and division, through hateful and even criminal actions.
  • Hurricane Dorian has obliterated the Bahamas, and let’s not forget about Puerto Rico.
  • Friends are still rebuilding after their homes burned to the ground in last year’s California wildfires, and this year’s fire season is just starting.
  • School shootings. Need I say more?

I think we are all walking around in a haze of grief from the state of the world, and that’s impacting our relationships, our decisions, our sleep, our moods, our health, and literally our very lives. People I love and care about are literally blowing up their lives with anger and finger pointing, creating conflict where there should be none.

It’s a savage world.

But, if I may, it’s also a beautiful one. Shama (inner peace) can be found everywhere if you remove the negative filter with which you are looking at things. Last week Lily was gazing into my eyes. When she does this, with her gentle, trusting, big, beautiful liquid eyes with impossibly long lashes, my body and mind tingle and it feels like my sense of self begins to dissolve. This may sound bizarre, but when I look into the eyes of a deer, I see God. Lily’s gaze is so intense, and the feeling it gives me of utter detachment to this world is so foreign and unsettling, that I always look away first. I wonder what would follow if I just surrendered to what was happening without getting scared?

But you don’t need to befriend a deer to find shama. Inner peace is found in little moments, the spaces in between the beats of everyday life. Like in the smile of a close friend (such as Beth from The World Needs More Pie, whom I visited at her Iowa farm last week); in the laugh of a baby; in the intricate wings of a bumblebee feeding on a coneflower; in the colors of a sunset sky; in the feeling of your feet walking barefoot in the grass; or in the moment of intimacy that is felt after having a tough, vulnerable and honest conversation with a loved one.

Things have started to look up at Shama Sanctuary. Sparkle returned and brought with her a sweet fawn named Wren. A couple feral cats have been spotted. We’ve seen a bunny, as well as a raccoon and a couple squirrels. We watched three juvenile hawks fledge, and since then, we haven’t seen them or Harold and Henrietta. We have been collecting birdhouses to hang so that the remaining birds have a safe place to seek cover from predators and weather.

We still haven’t seen any groundhogs, chipmunks, or turkeys. But this is the cycle of life. It’s savage, but it’s also lovely and ever changing.

One day things will shift and not only will the outside world be a better place, but our woodland creatures will be back. Until then, I’ll continue to seek shama in the deep ocean of Lily’s eyes.

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It’s been 11 months since The Pomerianian Incident left me with a tibial plateau fracture and a broken femur. Although I’m not happy I had this accident, there have been times when the gratitude I feel for the experience of this long, complicated, and on-going recovery has brought me to my knees (uh, figuratively, obviously).

But I wouldn’t be so thankful for the things I’ve learned if my ego hadn’t taken a huge beating this past year. Huge. Because ultimately it’s the surrender of ego that allows us to see through the fallacy of our lives in order to let go of the stories we tell ourselves so that we may blossom and grow into whom we are meant to be.

My recovery has been a series of contradictions and humble pie:

  • I can leg press 200 pounds…but I still can’t run.
  • I can confidently climb stairs carrying things in both arms…but I still keep a death grip on the railing when I take my first steps walking down them.
  • I work out for 1 ½ to 2 hours every day…but until recently, I needed to hold on to someone if I was walking down a ramp or down a slope of any kind.
  • For months after I no longer needed crutches I endured dirty looks when I went into the accessible bathroom stall (I looked able bodied, but I needed those bars because my tiny little noodle leg did not have the strength for me to sit or stand on my own).
  • Because I look fit, people have expected me to move out of the way on a sidewalk when they are walking past…yet until recently, pivoting and doing anything but walking straight ahead was cause for an elevated heart rate.
  • After I returned my disabled parking placard, for the longest time parking lots were sheer terror for me because I wasn’t able to walk fast or jump out of the way of a moving car.
  • I endured looks of pity when I was in the wheelchair… that is if people noticed me at all.
  • When I first started PT, I wept in front of my new physical therapist out of sheer terror of getting into the water therapy pool. Being a strong swimmer all my life, the fear I felt about getting into the pool was completely foreign to me.
  • Until recently, airports sucked. People zipping around me while I slowly walked as I concentrated on lifting my knee cap and activating my quad, engaging my calf and then moving my leg forward to take a step while putting my hamstring and buttock muscle on red alert that I need them to participate for the backward movement of the step (all while terrified someone would bump me and make me fall), made me choke back tears of shame because I used to be the speedy airport walker.
  • Today I can walk fast, squat, kneel, jump, and I can even walk downhill without holding onto someone…yet there are still times when out of the blue I feel like my leg is about to give out.

Oh I could go on and on and on with other ways that my ego was stomped on this past year, but I think I’m making my point.

I remember last July when my orthopedist told me that after the long non-weight-bearing period of being locked in a metal-hinged DonJoy brace, I would walk in three months. At the time I presumed that meant that’s when life would be back to normal. He was right in the sense that my first steps were at the three-month mark. But what I didn’t grasp was that these would be wobbly toddler-like steps, and it would be over a year before I would be back to normal.

The past 11 months have involved physical therapy, massage, cupping, CBD oil, chiropractors, KT Tape, Aleve, ice (So. Much. Ice.), doctors, a CT Scan, an MRI, cortisone shots and more x-rays than I can count. Despite it all, my body has hurt every single day. It’s a complicated recovery because after being non-weight bearing for months, basically everything in my body atrophied. When I started physical therapy, some of my muscles were almost non-existent. I have needed to rebuild, and then teach to move properly, everything from my ankles up to glutes and lower back. It’s been an absolutely frustrating, yet completely fascinating process.

This recovery has been a series of firsts: first standing shower, first time I put a shoe on my foot, first steps, first time driving, first time kneeling-jumping-squatting-skipping. I’ve always been a Type A overachiever, so it’s been a big mental shift to learn to celebrate that little things are actually the huge milestones for me.

Check out the photo at the top of this blog post of me sitting cross-legged. I’ve always been pretty bendy and this is my favorite way to sit; yet I wasn’t physically able to do it until about two months ago. Only in the past few weeks have I been able to hold that position for longer than a few minutes.

I finally graduated from PT on Friday. I went 3x a week for the first six months, and have been going 2x a week since March. At the beginning my “exercises” were things like squeezing a ball between knees, or even simply staring at my quad and willing it to engage. Now I’ve progressed to a level of strength training and cardio that leaves me drenched in sweat after my workouts. Having always been a fit, strong, ambitious woman, I was determined to get back to normal life in record time, and so I have pushed myself harder than I ever knew I had in me. Unfortunately this aggressive approach to recovery has led to many set backs, including one that landed me back on crutches for a couple weeks over the holidays.

But nowadays I feel strong, and at times even confident. I’m still working on my knee’s stamina, and oh my gosh I want to run soooo badly. I know I will get there. This past year has been the most physically and emotionally challenging of my life, yet it has also taught me patience, and that I need to be gentle with myself and the demands I make on my body.

The cool thing about being on this end of recovery is I can look back with awe and pride that I found it in me to power through the continuous ego-blows and physical setbacks to get to where I am today. I mean really, if I taught myself to walk again, that should serve as proof that if I fully commit myself, there really is nothing I can’t accomplish.

This is where the gratitude comes in. I’ve learned so much about my mind-body-spirit, about other people, about what really brings about shama (see my post about Broken Bones and Inner Peace). I have so much more patience, compassion and understanding for the differently abled and for people navigating hurdles of any kind in life.

This past year will forever be a reminder to take pause when I’m tempted to quickly pass judgment, because on the surface, you never know what kind of internal emotional or physical battles someone is fighting.

So to finish where I began this post, I think you can understand how even though I’m not happy I broke my knee, I’m eternally grateful that it happened.

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For years now I’ve lived life as an exercise of “How can I find shama in this situation?” Well I have one personality trait that has posed a humongous hurdle to finding inner-peace—my fierce need to be liked. That’s right, I want people to like me, and in the past when they didn’t, I found it had the potential to eat away at me, threatened to plunge me into despair, and left me questioning whether or not I was a good person.

Before I go further, I want the punch line of this post up front and center: There is not one person on planet earth who is liked by everyone. It’s absolutely impossible, and striving to make that happen will bring internal conflict, instead of shama, into one’s life.

Recently I experienced a hiccup of a misunderstanding that reminded me of something that happened over a decade ago. All these years later, the sting still exists. I was at an event and was attempting to round up a large group of people, when my friend (let’s call her Lucy) came up and asked me a question. I don’t remember what the question was, but I do remember being epically distracted because of everything else going on. I answered without really thinking through the question, and the answer and my delivery apparently made no sense to Lucy and pissed her off (I don’t blame her, I was trying to do too many things at once, which is always a recipe for communication disaster). On her way out of the event, Lucy corned me and proceeded to yell at me for the way I handled her question. And then it was like a damn burst: she continued with an angry litany of my flaws as a friend.

Here’s the thing about me: I get flustered when people yell, especially if I’m not expecting that anger. So, with panic-induced tunnel vision, I desperately tried to calm Lucy down. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what I said or if it helped or hurt the situation, but it was likely the latter. I do remember asking her if we could push a reset button.

The reset never happened. I made a couple big friendship gestures after this, but Lucy had already created a narrative about me that she was convinced was true. In fact, the harder I tried, likely the more pathetic and disingenuous I seemed to her. I’ve never thought ill about Lucy (I still don’t) and my intentions towards her were never negative, but I’ll never convince her of that. No one can change a personal narrative except the individual who created it.

And let’s face it, as perverse as this is, sometimes it just feels good to be mad and to direct our rage towards someone. But feeling good doesn’t make it right.

It takes a lot of practice to take a step back, breathe through the anger, and find the necessary stillness to view a situation with clarity. I’ve learned that when I do this, I often realize I’m looking at a person or situation through a lens that is clouded by my mood, hormones, insecurities, or personal regrets.

More often than not I realize I’m taking something personally that isn’t at all about me. When it comes down to it, I believe that most people have good intentions, but who the hell knows what is happening in their lives to mask those intentions as something else?

Had Lucy and I sat down and calmly spoken with open hearts, my guess is that she would have understood that I’ve always liked and admired her and that she misread the intent behind my words and actions. But that didn’t happen.

And so it is that Lucy doesn’t like me.

But that’s okay. It’s taken me many years to realize that I actually don’t need everyone to like me. There’s a lovely freedom in that mindset. So, when presented with a situation like this in the future, I know there are three questions to ask myself: (1) Have I worked to find the divine in this person?; (2) Have I acted with good intentions, and apologized when I have not?; and (3) Is it better to walk away rather than to engage?

The only thing I can control is myself and the way I see the world. So, it’s OK if you don’t like me. I know what’s in my heart, I like myself, and that’s enough for me.

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Song for Yoda

by Kee Kee on February 28, 2019

in Grief,Inspiration,Yoda

Today marks two years since our furry shama warrior transitioned to the light. The night we set him free — during a ceremony we had to celebrate his life — I read a thank you letter to Yoda, and my husband Eric Troyer (ELO Pt. 2 and The Orchestra Starring ELO Former Members) sang through tears an original song he wrote for him as he played it on the grand piano.

It’s taken us a full 24 months to share the song, partially due to emotions, and partially due to busy schedules. Eric recorded “Song for Yoda,” and I created a montage of memories to go along with it. And yes, those barks you hear in the recording are indeed Yoda’s play barks. ❤️🐾

In retrospect, Song for Yoda is really a song for all pets as they lay down their heads one final time.

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Dear 2019,

I have a confession. I wince when I look at the American flag.

It horrifies me to admit this. I think somewhere down deep, I’ve buried the thought that the flag of my country has been hijacked by a sector of the population that doesn’t represent anything that I was raised to believe in. For the past two years these people, and the 45th administration of the United States, have proudly flown Old Glory as a representation of their “great” America, while they simultaneously project racism, white privilege, mass shootings, misogyny, climate change denial, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and just about every other phobia out there.

When 2018 was coming to an end, I started to wonder why I’ve been letting such a small (but vocal) percentage of the population erode the pride I’ve always felt for being an American.

When Yoda and I spent five months driving around the country in 2010-2011, we dove deep into the heartbeat of America. It was, and still is, beating strong. We visited states all over the country—red states, blue states, north states, south states. No matter what the state, we always encountered kind, interesting, hard working, and delightfully unique people and places whose stories touched me to the core.

My husband and I own a production company and have spent the past couple of years producing a TV show called Finding Real America (this is the show we were filming when the Pomeranian Incident occurred and radically changed our lives in the blink of an eye). Over the past two years, as the world became louder, angrier and more divided, my passion for our show has exploded. What started out as a whimsical series about road trips has turned into a celebration of people and places that make our country great (I started to look for a different adjective, but dammit 45, I will not let you take the word great out of my vocabulary). There is so much to love about the United States of America.

In 2017, I wanted to move to another country.

In 2018, I wanted to bury my head in the sand to protect myself from the constant onslaught of horrific political news.

But now, in 2019, I want to, once again, fall in love with the USA.

Isn’t it the most damaged who most desperately need to be loved, warts and all? Love lets the light in so that healing can happen. Instead of turning my back on the American flag, perhaps the most powerful way to encourage change is to love and celebrate those parts of the U.S. that best represent who we are as a people.

This is where my annual promise to the New Year comes into play: My New Year’s resolution is to love my country.

I have spent the past two years wondering where the country I’ve grown up in has disappeared to. Well now I’m pretty sure it’s been here all along, but I just needed to open my eyes to see it. This is something I plan on reminding myself each time I see the Red, White, and Blue.

In closing, Year 2019, I think I love you already.

Sincerely,

Kee Kee

P.S. The theme song for our show was written and recorded by my awesome husband, Eric Troyer.

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It’s now been 15 weeks since “The Pomeranian Incident.” At times it was tempting to feel sorry for myself with the feeling that the world was passing me by. This bone break is a beast, and the long recovery period from a tibial plateau fracture (TPF) is something that can’t be avoided or rushed. It just is. Let me repeat: the long recovery period just is. Armed with that knowledge, I had no option but to surrender to my situation and see if I could learn from it. It turns out, I have learned a lot.

Because I was locked in a brace and couldn’t put any weight on my TPF leg, I spent the summer dependent on Eric for everything from meal prep to house cleaning to sponge baths. I eventually got some of my independence back with the help of a wheelchair, a chair lift and some creativity when I was on crutches (like stuffing my bra and pants with things in order to carry them across the room).

A month ago I was finally cleared to begin my rigorous PT schedule, which will continue for four or five more months. You see, when you have a TPF and are non-weight bearing for a couple months, your leg quickly atrophies; leaving you with a toothpick leg that has next to no muscle. So the initial PT sessions were focused on teaching my quad to activate. And now for the past few weeks I’ve been learning to walk again. When I took my first unassisted steps two weeks ago, I about wept with pride for my tiny little spaghetti leg for not buckling. I’m unable to walk very fast and at times I have a pretty big zombie limp. I still can’t kneel, squat, run, jump, or comfortably walk down stairs one foot after another . . . BUT I CAN WALK, and that in and of itself is humongous progress.

This injury has taught me a lot about so many things. I’ve learned patience, because nothing about this recovery is fast. I’ve learned I will never take for granted the miracle of walking. I’ve learned I have some real diamonds in my life: one good friend gifted me her cleaning lady for the summer, another lent me medical gear to help with every day life, others brought meals over or just called to say they were thinking of me, out of town friends and family sent me gifts to either make me laugh or keep me busy (if you are the friend who sent a watercolor painting kit, please let me know so I can thank you!). My hairdresser even came over and gave me a color and cut while I sat in my wheelchair in the kitchen. When Eric played a festival with his band in England and was gone for four days, I had to learn to ask other people for help, something my ego is not at all comfortable with doing. It turns out that when friends learned what I needed from them, they were there for me. All I had to do was ask.

I’ve also learned to look at the world from the vantage point of the differently abled. When I was in my wheelchair I was mostly invisible, but when I was standing upright on crutches people engaged with me. I’ve also learned that the differently abled have to always assess a location to see if they are able to access it (Is there an elevator? Are there grab bars in the bathrooms? Is there a handicapped-accessible parking spot available? Is it too crowded and is there a risk of someone bumping into me when I’m on crutches?). Forevermore when I talk to people in a wheelchair, I will crouch to their level. My neck is still giving me problems from all that looking up.

But my most valuable take away of all is what I have learned about shama.

Because of the pain, during the first few weeks I couldn’t concentrate on reading or even watching TV, so I just stared out the windows. This gave me plenty of time to notice how very much is going on in nature.

There is a fierce beauty that accompanies the ferocity of a powerful thunderstorm sweeping through. Raindrops landing in the pool form little wavy circles that start small and grow larger, yet no two raindrops seem to make the exact same pattern. The morning sun hitting the dew on leaves makes them sparkle like brilliant little flickering fairies. I spent hours studying the smooth underbellies of grasshoppers and moths that landed on the window next to my chair, utterly fascinated that they were able to grip the glass without sliding down. Once I even saw our resident hawk swoop past the window with prey in its talons, and another day I watched a spider weave an entire web. I’m convinced it is one of the greatest works of art ever created.

Our family of deer got so used to me sitting on the front porch in my wheelchair that they now just lay near me and groom themselves or even nap. My sweet Magic, who a couple years ago was a spunky one-antler fawn, is now a majestic 7 point buck with a neck that seems to have quadrupled in size from last fall. Despite his massive growth, I still feel so spiritually connected to him. The Gobble Gang (13 turkeys, 11 of which were born in the spring) discovered corn and started visiting regularly when I was on the porch. I think they had been watching me from the safety of the woods while I sat with the deer, and one day they collectively decided I was not a threat.

I became so lost in the world of Shama Sanctuary (what I call our property) that the days would speed by. Often the tiny miracles I observed in nature left me thinking that in that moment there was nowhere else in the world I would rather be.

Beyond nature, the highlight of each day was lunch and dinner. Because I wasn’t able to comfortably sit at our kitchen table and needed to elevate my leg, I would eat my meals in a recliner in the living room. So, at mealtime, Eric would join me by sitting on the sofa with his plate carefully balanced on his lap. I couldn’t really tell you what we talked about, but nonetheless these conversations were my favorite part of the non-weight bearing period of my recovery. The intimacy of sitting with my best friend having conversations about nothing in particular filled me with a sense of pure contentment and inner-peace.

This injury teaches you to celebrate the little milestones – like the fact that I can now carry a glass of water across the room, and I can put socks on while standing up. In fact, every Sunday night (the accident happened on a Sunday), Eric and I have a “celebration” where we name every little bit of progress that has been made that week. During the first couple of weeks we simply celebrated that we were one week closer to me walking again. But eventually we started adding little things, like when I finally got a shoe on my foot, or like me helping make dinner while hopping around the kitchen on one leg.

Although I’m certainly not happy this happened to me, I am grateful for the experience. It’s become abundantly clear that it’s the little things that bring shama to one’s life. When you are fully present, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Contrary to my initial worries, the world is not passing me by, because the world is with me all the time. The truth is that I haven’t missed anything, but I have gained a lot.

p.s., I have the best husband in the world.

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Broken Bones and Marriage Vows: Tibial Plateau Fracture Part I

August 20, 2018

I’ve struggled to write this post about my recent injury. I usually blog when I glean some personal insight into finding shama/inner-peace. But the story I’m about to tell will continue for quite some time, and I have no idea when the ending will play out (months, years?). Eric and I quietly and privately got […]

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Disaster Buddies & The Bomb Cyclone

March 7, 2018

We are living at the Holiday Inn. I felt like I lived out of hotels when Yoda and I drove around the country. And sometimes I feel like I live out of hotels with all the traveling Eric and I do. But this time is different. This isn’t by choice and doesn’t have anything to […]

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An Open Letter to the New Year – 2018

February 5, 2018

Dear 2018, You finally arrived. Nonetheless, it’s taken me a month to center myself enough to write my eighth annual letter to the New Year. Last year, 2017, will forever be remembered as my year of grief. The year was filled with loss—loss of sanity, kindness and reason not only in the White House but […]

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What My Dog Taught Me By Dying

August 29, 2017

It’s been six months. In the love letter I read to Yoda minutes before he transitioned to formlessness, I promised him I would find shama amidst the grief of losing him. A promise made on a deathbed is a promise one must keep. Yet I had absolutely no idea how to find inner peace while […]

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