Powers and Passions

Well, this was unexpected. In the span of 48 hours, I applied for, interviewed, and was offered a job. And even though I went into the interview thinking the job wouldn’t be for me, I was severely torn when I got the offer.

The process had been a whirlwind and they expressed such excitement over my application that the situation immediately escalated in my mind. I began to imagine my future with the company – full of pencil skirts, hand shakes and promotions in the heart of downtown. Truly, the opposite of my current path – full of muddy boots, low paychecks, and uncertainties. Wallowing on the floor of our living room, trying to decide between the two jobs, I watched my life divide into two possibilities in front of me.

After hours of conversations, pro-con lists, and even tears, I finally circled back around to the basics – the job that I was currently being offered was not what I wanted. Imagination and potential aside, the reality of the situation lent itself to a very easy decision. So when I got the call with an updated offer, I felt prepared. What I had not prepared for was a conference call with the position’s supervisor and the Executive Director of the organization selling me on the imagination and potential in this job. These two, successful, leading women called me to very earnestly persuade me to join them in a path filled with opportunity (and pencil skirts and promotions).

And I lost it.

Which direction should I choose? Where should I be steering my career? What if an opportunity like this never comes again? I circled through the exact same conversations, the same “what ifs” and the same wallowing. And then my mind exploded. I’ve spent my career educating and inspiring youth to become future environmental leaders. Was it time for me to realize that maybe I was one of them? Maybe this was my chance to kick “saving the world” up a notch and lead an organization into the next generation of environmental battlefields. But, instead of using my passion for education and direct interaction, I would be using my personality powers and morphing into a professional event organizer, fundraiser, and shmoozer. And holy hell would I be good at it. Almost everyone I talked to mentioned how perfectly suited I would be for that role – how naturally those things come to me. There was no question that I would excel at it, so was I just afraid to take the plunge?

I’m certainly no stranger to fear, and I have no problem calling it by name. I was very much afraid – of change, of failure, of making the wrong decision. But what I feared more than anything else on the list was turning away from my passion.

An amazing friend, who was also the first person to hire me out of college and catapulted me into the world of environmental education, talked through every step with me. We analyzed the nuances, the possibilities, the feelings and then we discovered it. It was the difference between my powers and my passions.

I possess certain personality traits – my boss qualities if you will – that make me really good at things this job was asking for. But those powers are innate and while I’ve chosen to own them, I didn’t really ask for them. What I have asked for, and what I strive every day for, is to make the world a better place by igniting a love of nature in others. My passions drive me to ignore salary ranges and promotion potential for the promise of watching a person realize for the first time that they are part of something so much bigger than themselves. My passions have caused me to chase ducks and hug trees and work weekends and suffer from farmer’s tans. They’re the entire reason that I work at all (I mean, aside from bills and stuff, but you get the idea). The path I’ve chosen is the only reason I have any faith left in humanity – if I can make them feel why it’s worth saving, maybe they’ll help me save it.

Chasing Ducks

So, while I’m still young, while I have Mr. Rathroy to support me (in my decisions and our finances), and while I succumb to tears when I consider diverting from this path I’ve chosen, I’m going to push forward. I can always fall back on my personality powers, but not pursuing my passions for as long as possible is a choice I would forever regret. Maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to combine them both and save the world single handedly. Until then, I’ll be out chasing ducks and hugging trees and watching other people light up when they do it too.

Loving Trees

Life Among the Trees

In the 4th grade, we did a huge rainforest project. Each student selected one flower, one animal, one fungus, and one bug that lived in the rainforest and researched it extensively (as extensively as a 4th grader could research before the internet was invented). Our finished product was a life size rainforest display in our school cafeteria for open house. Complete with a rainforest sound track, water misters, and 3D artistic renditions of each researched critter, this project was the peak of my elementary school career. It was the reason that I traveled alone to the jungles of Costa Rica and one of many motivations for my two trips to Africa. It’s the reason that Madagascar is still on my bucket list and why I appreciate decomposers like the dung beetle.  But it’s not the only experience that pushed me to be a professional in the environmental field.

From being told to go play outside when I was bored to camping trips with my family, I was repeatedly exposed to the outdoor world and how much bigger it was than me. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I started thinking the world revolved around me (my parents might contest that based on some of my teen years). As a kid, I understood that I was a small part of something really big. Something worth having around. Something that made me feel magical and calm and happy.

Tree Planting

After a stint working with ducks that taught me how to do tick checks and made me face my fear of fish (seriously), good timing and a solid reference got me a job with trees. I knew that I was passionate enough about broad environmental issues that I could peddle trees no problem, even if I didn’t have specific arboricultural experience. It was expected to be a 6 month, grant funded position so I tried not to get too attached. Two years later, I’m still peddling trees and it’s given me similar feelings of magic, calm and happiness that I felt when I was a kid. It’s been obtuse and difficult to pinpoint, so I just enjoy the dirt under my nails and the smile in my heart.

Tree planting hands

I talk about trees all day, every day. I notice trees no matter where I am. I judge entire cities based on their trees. Mr. Rathroy is sick to death of trees. Because it’s my job. But, while I couldn’t articulate the driving force behind it for a long time, I really REALLY care about trees above and beyond my job duties. And yesterday, I finally learned why.

I attended a 9 hour workshop about trees yesterday. Yeah, we talked about trees for 9 hours. I met people doing research on the economics of wildfire (an issue near and dear to my drought-ridden Californian heart), people that have received national awards for their work in climate change, people that cared even more about trees than me. I learned about research that links faster rates of recovery from stress to a view of trees. I learned that life expectancy can be predicted based on the amount of available green space and tree canopy in your zip code. I learned that trees can improve your focus, prevent asthma, reduce crime, and benefit your psychological and physical well-being. I saw numbers and graphs and references and scientific proof of how important trees are to our communities.

Staking a young tree

And after the 9 hour science based workshop, I went to a 3 hour dinner with speakers, board members, and executive committees to debrief on the day. After we settled around the table with wine and ravioli, we were asked to individually share our “tree story.” Having worked in the tree world for a couple years, of course I knew my tree story – a peach tree that my parents planted where I sat for many afternoons reading aloud and sharing stories with its leaves. But as we went around the table, I was amazed at the breadth and depth of others’ stories – trees connected people at this table to their marriages, their parents that passed away, their childhood home, their favorite memories. And after all of the science and all of the logic behind the importance of trees, the most important fact of the day was that trees make you feel. Whether it’s magic or calm or happy or any other emotion, trees are deeply rooted in our hearts.

Not everyone is interested in the facts and figures, but everyone has a tree story. Maybe it’s a tree from your youth. Maybe it’s a tree that you have yet to meet. Whatever it is, honor the memory and the emotion that it brings you. Plant a tree. Hug a tree. Read aloud to a tree. I bet that if you reconnect with trees, you’ll feel that magic all over again.

What’s your tree story?

California redwoods

For extra inspiration, check out this video from one of the tree organizations that I work for. I even have a cameo in it!

Friends in High Places

Mr. Rathroy runs with a serious crowd. And by serious, I mean seriously successful. I’ve married into a social circle with people that get paid to do things like drive brand new cars, open new Disney resorts, and produce reality TV. Serious.

Our quick trips down to Southern California are probably more frequent than our bank account would like, but they’re always full of laughter, good food, lots of friends, and usually big life events. This past weekend was no exception as we attended a beautiful wedding (and paid for it dearly with hangovers) in Santa Monica. And even though the outline of our trip was similar to all the rest of them – same friends, same restaurants, same sunshine – by the time we got home, it felt like I had visited another world. A world where owning a home and having a decent job seemed somehow subpar. A world that ran on 75 degree weather and name recognition.

Grunion Gazette

Small things popped up throughout the weekend. Things that weren’t even pieces of new information but, piled together, created a fourth dimension that I never considered myself privy to. While perusing the local newspaper, almost every byline included a familiar name. Over a casual lunch, I learned about financing large-scale commercial real estate by a professional in the field. Even at the wedding, a Los Angeles County Supervisor was in attendance. I started examining the professional lives of our friends and became immediately insecure. Mr. Rathroy’s friends are famous. Whether they are locally known or voted onto the Forbes 30 Under 30 (true story), they are building legacies in the fields of journalism, business, politics, entertainment and more. And all of these people came to my wedding.

I make weekly meal plans and clean our baseboards and all of our extra money goes into our next home improvement project. I have anxiety over our dog and haven’t been to the gym consistently in 4 months. I own a house. I’m a wife. And I plant trees. That’s it. Not fit to be featured on the silver screen or to be fraternizing with such an elite southern California crowd.

As we headed back home, I felt the mediocrity caving in around me. How could my real life compare to the high level success stories that we basked in for the last 3 days? And I’ll tell you what didn’t help – that once we got home, we had to caulk our shower and do laundry like a couple of chumps.

But, while I tried to grumble about the boring chores and yearn for glamor, I noticed that all I really felt was happy. I tried to scold myself for a lame career or a small savings account, but I couldn’t. I was home. I was a wife. And I was happy. I’ll even admit that we were in bed reading our books by about 8:30 last night. And it was AWESOME.

I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such successful, vibrant people (no matter which city we’re in). It reminds me to set goals, to chase what I want in life, and to thank my lucky stars for the life that I have. Because even if my name is never on a byline or up in lights, I succeed every day as long as I choose to. And that’s a powerful choice.

Plus, I’m pretty much famous by association with friends like that, right?

In addition to all of the personal revelations and life choices, this weekend was incredibly fun. Sadly, most of the pictures I took were on my phone either at night or when I was 3 cocktails deep (or both), so they didn’t turn out great, but I had to at least share some highlights!

Claire Dinner

Veis Wedding 1

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Veis Wedding 3

Veis Wedding 2

We were so excited to celebrate such a happy day with our friends. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by such inspiration and dedicated people!

Over the Mountains and Through the Woods to Sarah J’s Farm We Go

It’s already been a week since our winter weekend getaway! After packing all of our cold weather gear last weekend, we headed northeast for 3 hours to get over the mountains to Sarah J’s house.

Sarah J's house!

Sarah J’s house!

Before the wedding we spent a weekend helping with farm chores at family farm where she’s beginning her own organic vegetable production! It’s pretty rare these days when we get to spend time with Sarah, and it’s also pretty rare when we get out of civilization, so we figured we’d double up and head on out of town!

It took us about 2 hours into the drive to realize that we’d forgotten almost everything we planned to bring – camera, whiskey, pajamas, etc. And the temperature gauge on my dashboard that read 15 degrees didn’t instill much confidence in our decision.

The very frozen road to Sarah's house.

The very frozen road to Sarah’s house.

But as soon as we arrived, it was nothing but good food, long conversations, farmhouse tours, and snow hikes.

Playing in the snow with the farm dogs.

Playing in the snow with the farm dogs.

Frozen grasses along our hike up the hill.

Frozen grasses along our hike up the hill.

Young trees have it pretty tough up there!

Young trees have it pretty tough up there!

Sarah's favorite tree drops tiny snowflakes in the breeze and it looks like the sky is full of glitter.

Sarah’s favorite tree drops tiny snowflakes in the breeze and it looks like the sky is full of glitter.

As fun as it has been to settle into our marriage and our house now that the wedding craze is over, it’s easy for us to forget how much we both love a little adventure. Even if it’s just 24 hours on a frozen farm, it helps remind us what we’re working toward. We came home with more love in our hearts for our friends, for the amazing and beautiful pieces of California, and for each other.

A Forested Future

I am really bad at coming home from vacation. I know that no one is stoked when it’s over, but I think I have a particularly strong aversion to it. As a kid, after returning home from a Grand Canyon adventure with my grandma, I was so upset to be home that I started crying at the restaurant table. In an effort to hide my disappointment from my family I chewed on my chicken fingers, guzzled water, and ended up literally choking on my tears – causing me to throw up all over my dinner plate…

I think it took a couple of years for me to fess up that I hadn’t contracted the 24 hour travel flu, but that I was crying because my adventure was over. Even as a 10 year old kid I knew that the daily grind wasn’t gonna do it for me but that my life’s passions were fueled by whatever it was I had just experienced in the great outdoors.

So, it was only natural that after an amazing weekend camping trip with Mr. Rathoy and our dogchild, I would end our evening back home sobbing about how much I already missed the forest.

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What I had known inherently as a child has since been buried by life-long “shoulding” and keeps trying to make itself known through salty sobs. My persistent plunge into the mundane (straight A’s, college in 4 years, full time jobs, retirement accounts, etc) has checked off every social “should” in the world, and still left me teary-eyed for unknown experiences. Something in my soul shakes loose when I get a glimpse of the world outside of my daily perceptions. And once those blinders come off, it’s nearly impossible to convince me that they should go back on.

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I was raised in the outdoors. Exploration and imagination were my summertime companions and I’ve been subconsciously mourning their deaths as an adult in my cubicle every day. And even though it was a busy campsite and we only hiked a few miles, we hunkered down between some trees and my heart felt free.

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One of our short hikes ended with an up close visit to one of the park’s oldest trees. The “Old Tree Trail” was named not only for the beautiful old growth forest that surrounds you during you walk, but by this master of roots and shoots.

My attempt at a panoramic picture with the iPhone...

My attempt at a panoramic picture with the iPhone…

Silent, scarred, and still growing. The tree was over 1,200 years old and 54 feet in diameter. Staring at this tree, squinting to see where it ended in the sky, all of a sudden the pressure was off. There was nothing that I could or should do that would be as awesome or important as this forest, as this one tree. And that perspective gives me the freedom to truly live, to chase my dreams and to contribute something positive and happy to the world rather than office gossip.

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I think the reason I become so melancholy upon my return home is not because I’m ungrateful or disappointed by my current life – I am truly blessed – but it’s a reaction to the absence of my greater purpose. How can we exist in a world where someone’s day can be ruined by an e-mail and a 1,200 year old tree continues to grow at the same time? It feels like a science fiction book and I lose the ability to justify my long list of accomplished “shoulds.” There must be something more for me to do than check off someone else’s To Do’s.

And for me, this restlessness begs the question – when is it enough? When do you just allow yourself to be happy with where you are?

I think it’s when you no longer have to ask yourself that question. It’ll be enough when I no longer yearn for more. I’ll allow myself to be content when I’ve reached my life’s happiness. When I’ve accomplished whatever it is that makes my heart feel free every day. A restricted tree would never grow to the heights it was meant for, so how can we expect a stifled heart to do the same?

*Russ took some amazing photos for our adventures this weekend. Despite my emotional ramblings, it was such a fun and beautiful trip! Check out the photos at Russell Conroy Photography!*

Stress Spiral

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Team Rathroy. After a debacle of a discussion with our not-so-friendly neighbors, the rotting fence covered in years of ivy came down in all of its decayed glory.

There is a fence under there somewhere.

There is a fence under there somewhere.

Still holding on...

Still holding on…

Unfortunately, once a fence comes down, you have to put one back up. And unless you’re a bagillionaire, the cost of paying someone to build you a fence is slightly prohibitive. So, gone were the evenings of cooking dinner, relaxing, and catching up with each other. Mr. Rathroy has spent every evening for the past 2+ weeks designing, coordinating and building our beautiful new fence.  I know that in the long run it’ll be worth it, but seeing my almost husband for only 3 minutes a night is not my favorite.

Meanwhile, at work I just finished up with my company’s version of Christmas. That’s right – California Arbor Week. Plan all year and execute during a very short period of time. I spent about 5 straight days being yelled for and talked at and pulled in 100 different directions. On top of digging countless holes, coordinating over 750 volunteers, and trying to back up a truck-trailer combo, it was all just a little too much for my centeredness to keep up with.

It doesn't get much better than 1st graders planting trees.

It doesn’t get much better than 1st graders planting trees.

You know how it goes – one restless night of stress dreams and you’re spiraling. Up goes the fatigue, down goes the lung capacity, up goes the sugar cravings, down goes the concentration. It’s a mess. I think our only saving grace these past couple of weeks has been our workout routine. 5:00 a.m. bootcamp does wonders for your psyche once you get used to it.

I had grand intentions for this afternoon to shake off the recent craze and prepare for our weekend getaway to Long Beach. Instead, I ate almost two rows of brownies straight from the pan and watched “Miss Congeniality.” Stress spiral physics say that an afternoon filled with such activities would send me straight to guiltsville where I would wallow in my own self-loathing and waste another Friday evening. But not this time! The final fence boards are being nailed in as I type and it’s still daylight! I think I’ll put together a California springtime outfit and take my hunk of an almost husband out for drinks to kick off our long weekend of celebrating with friends and learning more about Baby Z on the way!

A weekend away could not have come at a better time. For me, nothing cures the stress spiral like focusing on all of the wonderful things happening around you. And I think babies and the beach are pretty great medicine. Coming home to the new fence won’t be bad either…

One day we'll have a new fence AND a clean backyard...

One day we’ll have a new fence AND a clean backyard…

Lorax Style

Before we even started looking for a house to buy, Russ and I always talked about wanting to plant a tree and take a photo next to it every year. Something about it felt symbolic – starting with something really small, nurturing it and watching it grow with you.

I think it’s the same reason I love gardening (though Russ has the green thumb). It’s just amazing to watch a seed or a twiggy little tree become a flourishing life form and to remind you that so much can change in just one day.

So yesterday, we finally planted our tree!

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It seriously is a little twig in the ground, but we gave it a good start in its new home and are so excited to watch it grow.

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In other news, I’m starting to realize that I’ve been less than glamorous in all of my photos lately. House work just doesn’t naturally lend to glamor, I guess. I know the projects will never end, but I have high hopes (encouraged by this blog) that I’ll start at least showering before we get to work so that I don’t spend the rest of my life in dirty jeans and a ponytail…

Any secrets for balancing beauty and a never ending project list?