Monday, December 15, 2014

happiness is ...

Finding my way back ...

Appreciative for the detour, but glad to making my way out of the woods' darkness  ...

I am grateful for the lessons and inspiration of Katherine Dunn, especially her offering Capturing the Essence. One lesson there was to explore a memory of loss, and painting the passing of my mother has been an important stage in my grief.  I painted the above piece with her wearing her Cowgirl garb.  My sense - my hope? - is that she is reconnecting with the parts of herself lost over the years.  As she is reunited with her loved ones, I envision her being reunited with her full self.  I can't help but think of the lyrics Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars ... (HERE is an amazing cover by an 8 year-old Norwegian singer)

I finally made my way back to this piece ... 


My study of Van Gogh's portrait of the Postmaster Roulin

Looking forward to continuing with Studying Under the Masters ... it took me 2 months to work through week one's content and there are six weeks total.  So I have months of painting play to look forward to as Winter's cold embrace settles in for a stay. 

Happiness is:  a paint brush and ideas/emotions I am ready to explore

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

mother Christmas (holiday giveaway)

Love is in the details.

This is something my mother exemplified.  She was not an overtly demonstrative person: she would not heap words of affection upon you nor would she be constantly hugging or kissing you.   

Much to Cowgirl's chagrin, I am very different in this respect from my mother. I am wildly verbal and physical in my love. If I wore lipstick, Cowgirl would be perpetually smeared from head to toe in holly berry red.  I am both a toe nibbler and cheek pincher, and I can (and do) say I love you in four other languages. 

No, my mother did not shout her affections.  She quietly demonstrated her love and care through attention to detail and consistent presence.  She always said "I love you" at the end of our phone calls and she always greeted me with a quick peck on the lips (our family falls into the lip kissing versus cheek kissing camp). Her love was quiet, but it went deep.

My mother was the best gift giver.  It wasn't just that she gave me the gifts I asked for;  more often than not, she gave me the gifts I didn't know to ask for ... the gifts that I would not have imagined to be mine.  She did this by paying close attention.  She would remember a comment I made about a robe in a shop window and months later, it would appear wrapped and under the tree.  She excelled in slipping items to shop clerks when my back was turned, sneaking  the gift home and tucking it away until the time came for her to surprise and delight me.

When I was very little, I desperately wanted these Country Mouse, City Mouse play house sets I saw in the F.A.O. Schwartz catalog.  That Christmas I received both.  But not the store bought ones (overpriced and bland) -  she made me the two houses herself! She decorated the insides with wallpaper, carpet, doll furniture, and tiny aprons for each mouse. I loved those houses until they fell apart.

Another year, she made me my own Little House on the Prairie Doll ...

complete with a wardrobe of dresses, bonnets,nightgowns and quilt she sewed herself ... 

and little shoes!

In the past few years, it was my turn to surprise my mother with unexpected gifts, especially at Christmas time.  Her stocking seemed to be the fattest as I filled it with fun little treasures and pleasures. Nothing fancy, but what I remembered she loved.

These past few weeks I have been drifting through my days.  Slowly, slowly I am easing myself back in.  I had the pleasure to create a set of prayer flags for a woman expecting her first child.   She shared with me her intention for the coming year Is Trust.  Like my mother, I try my best to tease out the meaningful through attention to details.

As I sat at my mother's sewing machine, it struck me as wildly fitting I was working with the intention  of trust as I return to my daily activities and my work. 

I've created my own life, but it was nurtured and supported by the constant love and attention of my mother. I never questioned her being there for me.  Her love and her belief in my abilities, mentored me in the experience of Trust.  Not just in her love, but trust in myself.  In turn, I hope I can do the same for my daughter.   

To honor my mother's memory this holiday season, I want to hear more stories about our mothers. How did your mother convey her love and care to you?  What magical memories come to mind when you think about the holiday season and how did your mother feed that magic?  Perhaps yours is a memory not about your biological mother, but about someone mothering you in a deep and rich way.  I would love to celebrate those stories as well.

To celebrate the spirit of perfect gifts, I am giving away a deck of Awakening to Your Divine Self Oracle Cards.  

This deck contains 44 beautiful images created by 39 artists from around the globe, including yours truly.  Each card offers a message of loving wisdom and quiet inspiration, messages gleaned from each artist's conversation with her deeper self. For every story shared in the comments section below, I will enter your name into the drawing. If you would rather submit your story via email, you can contact me at: Lishofmann88(at)gmail(dot)com.  I also have decks to sell ($29.95 includes shipping to US and Canada; other artists selling the cards can be found HERE)

I will pick a name and announce a winner next Sunday (December 21). So be sure I have a way to contact you should you win!

My wisdom card in the deck?

Trust, of course!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

i carry on ...

How is it December already?  I have no memory of November ... it slipped past me it seems. And now I look at the calendar and wonder how will I prepare for the holidays that lurk mere weeks away?

In years past, I've always managed to come up with a wildly ambitious gift-making project that has me knitting, sewing, painting and other modes of crafting-busy up until the midnight hour.  I think it has been my way of plodding forward, my crazy way of finding a path in the midst of the holiday frenzy. When I am overwhelmed I either toss up my hands or get busy.

But this year, I have nothing.  Well, what amounts to nothing for me.  A skein of yarn awaiting the needles, a promised strand of prayer flags to sew ... I am eyeballing an embroidery piece ... but nothing of the scale from years past.

I know there are good reasons for the current state of affairs.  Certainly the state of my heart has left me little time or energy to cook up some creative fun.  In all honesty, getting up and dressed (in grown up clothes, not my shuffle about clothes) is cause for celebration.  I am grateful for the years of practice - running, yoga, teaching - because if nothing else, the muscle of discipline is strongly developed. Even when I don't know what to do, I know to do something.  Anything. A gesture, an action, a move that acts as my commitment to forward, to hope, to what is possible when I stand in The Now.

Problem is, the past is like a vortex sucking me down down down.

Ironically, I share some of my best moves in a lovely holiday offering by Karen Caterson of Square-Peg People called  Support Stories.  The series is a lovely offering of encouragement for finding stable footing during the whirlwind of the holiday season.  I agreed to Karen's invitation before my mother passed away. Knowing I was going to submit something to this series was a form of support or awareness for me as events unfolded.  I am grateful that I stuck it out and made this video offering

Today I found a way to bring the past into the present.  The means of that alchemical feat?  Fruitcake.

I had given up hope of finding any sort of secret message left by my mother for my eyes only.  I found lots (and lots) of wadded up kleenex, cough drops and tooth picks in the pockets of her jackets, in purses and nightstand.  I found notepads filled with lyrics to old songs and lists of books or movies she wanted to read or watch. But nothing hidden away for me to discover.  My mother didn't think that way.  Unlike me, she never liked mystery novels or movies ... she preferred nonfiction, historical stories, crossword puzzles and trivia.  

But my mother did leave me her recipe box and in it, the recipe she used to make a holiday fruitcake (more accurately, applesauce meets fruitcake meets spice cake) which was a holiday tradition.

In fact, it was our tradition ... yes, our special secret exchange of love via dried fruit, spices, nuts and sugar. 

why I will always prefer the handwritten & the paper version to anything digital: marginalia

Every year, for as long as I can remember, my mother made a version of this cake.  She varied the ingredients from year to year, so it was never the same cake twice.  When I went away to college, she would mail me a loaf double-wrapped in tinfoil.  She continued to send me a cake every year and part of the tradition was my phone call home and our evaluation of that year's cake: extra gooey, too cakey, good spice, not enough fruit

As I look at the recipe card, I realize the yearly ritual of baking those cakes was done for me ... and for her. Year after year, we were the ones who ate those cakes.  Year after year, I was the one waiting for her cake, and year after year she baked it. 

Except for last year.  I hadn't realized until today the break in our tradition. The previous year, she brought all the ingredients over to my house and I helped her mix and bake the annual loaves (her recipe makes 2 8-inch loaves). The batter gets pretty stiff, the mixing a task for strong forearms and wrists.  For whatever reason, she skipped last year and I suppose I could consider that lapse prophetic. More likely, she asked and I told her it was okay to miss a year.  

As I make my way back onto familiar ground, I reach not only for the things that steadied me in the past - painting, writing, family activities - but I embrace new roles. Today, I took on the task of cake baker.   

This year's cake I deem too cake-like, not enough fruit. I like mine dense and moist.  Belatedly I realize I never paid much attention to my mother's explanations for each year's batch; all I had to do was receive it. It never occurred to me that I would bake it. 

As I sifted and stirred, chopped and mixed, I was aware not only of picking up where she left off, but of carrying forward our story into a new one. Not only is the recipe mine to reinvent and pass on, its' secrets await my discovery.

And once again, my mother deftly slips past me ... leaving me to answer my own questions, seek my own counsel, make my way.  Still, her example will inspire and guide me.  

I just wish I had listened more closely to the details of her experimentation.  (I am thinking, in the end, she doubled the amount of dried fruit ... which means, I must bake some more.) 

Friday, November 28, 2014

broken promise ... fulfilled dream

It is the day after Thanksgiving and I am electing to enjoy a welcome quiet along with a return to Autumn's gentle warmth and sunshine. The Husband and Cowgirl are out raking leaves. The bulk of the holiday's accoutrements - the good china, silverware, serving dishes -  have been cleaned and put away.  I finished clearing out my mother's apartment over a week ago and there is little that demands my immediate attention. 

Except for the ironing. 

And that, I believe, is the only promise my mother ever made to me and broke.

Last year we hosted the big family Thanksgiving. Surveying the damage to my grandmother's table linens - cranberry sauce, red wine, coffee and gravy stains evidence of a good and rich meal - I decided to utilize the services of a professional cleaners.  After picking up the cleaned goods, I called my mother immediately from my car. Such was my shock at the cost of an elite cleaning service.  She too was stunned by the price (more than a dinner out at a nice restaurant, slightly less than the cost of my cowboy boots from the Tractor Supply Store) and she told me then "Next time I will wash and iron them for you."

So today I faced a new pile of dirty table linens and I knew This now is mine. 

I have to admit, there is something soothing about ironing. Growing up, the iron board was always at the ready in our basement.  As a child, my chore was ironing pillow cases and dish cloths.  I tried to enlist Cowgirl's assistance."This was my job when I was a little girl." She just laughed at me and then tried the logic "I could burn my fingers" before running off to join her father in the leaf raking.

And that is how I came to spent an hour and a half engaged in the domestic form of meditation known as ironing. 

The tablecloth was the hardest, it being so big and unwieldy to novice hands. I could hear my mother's voice "I'm sorry Lisa."  She took her promises seriously. Yet ironing was the perfect task for me now that so many tasks have been completed.  It gave me the time for my head to synch up with my heart.

What I am discovering in this process of grieving my mother is opportunity to grieve - which really is the flip side to celebrating - the many women who have mothered me throughout my life.  For my mother was not only a very good mother, she was also a really good friend. 

As I sift through old photographs, I am remembering all my aunties: my godmother (self-proclaimed fairy godmother, and she was), the older neighbor who was a mentor to my mother, and all the friends whose homes were second homes to myself and my family. One of the hardest tasks has been to contact the surviving friends of my mother - there are only a handful left - to inform them of her death. After the stunned silence, stories follow about what fun they had together and how my mother was always there for them.

 Her friends all commented upon my mother's beautiful singing voice. If she had a secret dream, I would guess it would have been to be a professional singer.  My mother loved to sing and she knew the words to all the old songs. 

But I cannot remember my mother ever expressing an unfulfilled ambition or dream.  Rather than dwelling upon what she hadn't done, she focused upon what she had accomplished.  "I've lived a good life," she shared with me on what was her last day.  "I did pretty good for a kid who only had one pair of shoes."  And she did.  She traveled the world, she read any book she could get her hands upon, she loved history, art, movies and music. She shared and nurtured that love with me.

My mother did not have a career outside the home.  She was not a professional; she was not an entrepreneur or a ground-shaker; she was independent but she was not interested in changing the world so much as experiencing it. If anything, my  mother was an artist.  Her talent was with a needle and thread, although she excelled at creative cookery honed through years of scrimping and saving. She poured her love and attention into her family and her friends. I cannot imagine a more noble accomplishment: good friend, good mother. She was both to me. 

Just today I read "Grief is love turned inside out."  For me, there is this experience of all that I've known and loved being shaken out of me, spread out and visible with new insights and deep truths revealed. As I reflect upon all the angst and anxiety I've generated in my search for meaning "What do I want to be when I grow up?" and "What purpose am I meant to serve?" I see clearly what my mother's gift was and has always been: be present, be love. 

So today as I finish the ironing, I sing out the names of all my aunties who loved my mother and by extension, loved me.  I am grateful for the nurturing circle of women my mother gathered around me and I am grateful for the continuing spiral of friends who are my extended family.  I know my mother's love lives on as long as I stand in that circle, adding and receiving love to that flow. 

If there was one thing my mother would have been happy I shared, it would be the photos from her glamor days.

My mom was beautiful inside ... and out. She fulfilled the important promises, the ones worth keeping. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Coffee Talk (a 21 Secrets Conversation with Connie)

I know everyone  in the States is busy prepping for Thanksgiving ... but if you want a little company while making your pies or sauces, then I think you will enjoy the conversation I had a few months back with the divine Ms. Connie of Dirty Footprints Studio.

Connie is one of my.all.time.favorite.people and chatting with her about art, family, and practice is always a joy and an inspiration. I f you are really busy in the kitchen (or sitting on the sofa with a mug of something warm and soothing) and would like to hear more, then check out all the other delightful conversations (the series began on October 27 - just in time for my birthday, thank you Connie!)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

a daughter's prayer


My days are filled with tidbits of you.

Things I normally scorn have become sacred relics:
Brummel & Brown spread across my morning host
my face anointed with Ponds cold cream
blue fig body wash to cleanse away my sins
and my regrets.

I lift the white plastic lid from the perfume bottle
and breathe in the scent of bergamot, white jasmine, rose and lily of the valley
incense that brings you immediately to life.

Now I am watched over by the cement gargoyle
you dragged across the country in
that last move.

He resides now in my back garden
his head resting in clawed hands,
wings drooping from the bitter Midwest cold
or perhaps weariness from his task as guardian
and witness to the relentless unfolding of life?

We both seem to be stuck in this moment:
How do we go on?  What do we keep? What do we release?

Packing up your apartment I had hope to find
a message secreted away
a clue to who you are,
how you felt,
words to comfort me in this, my time of need.

But always the mother,
you artfully slip out of spotlight ...

All I find are
my letters, notes and mother’s day cards
bundled together with the same red yarn ribbon 
tied upon every suitcase handle our family owned.

My prayer is that you
carry my words with you,
wrapping them about your soul
to warm and feed you on your journey.

You are the best mother ~
Thank you for being my best friend ~
I love you ~
I miss you ~
I can’t wait to see you ~

Friday, November 14, 2014

treasures (and treasuring)

My life these past few weeks consists of making lists, making calls, filling out forms, visiting notaries, packing boxes and packing boxes ... and packing boxes.

There is so much to do, tending to what is the ultimate move of a lifetime. I know the busyness keeps me moving forward and it keeps some of the grief at bay.  There just isn't much time to sit and feel ... 

Sorting through my mother's belongings, I vacillate between feeling I am invading her privacy and paying homage to the relics of her life. One of her close friends offered me great comfort by saying "She would have wanted you to be the one to sort through her things." 

I am deeply engaged with her memories and it is a sacred process sifting through what constitutes a life. While the work keeps my mind busy, there are moments when I am ambushed by grief (a very accurate description by The Man)  and find myself stalled and unable to conceive how I will go on without her?

All I know to do is hold onto my practice ... meditating with my girl and sketching every day in my journal.  Staying in my own rhythms -  engaged with my own life - while honoring hers by celebrating the details.

In the process of wrapping up my mother's life, I am discovering that the process of letting her go is balanced by this coming to know her in a whole, new way.  I am finally seeing her not just as my mother, but as a complete and separate person ... a child with dreams ...

a wife, a friend, a mother, a woman on a singular and unique journey.  And by taking in the fullness of her life, I am discovering pieces of my own ...


... clues peppered throughout her life, pointing towards me and the person that I am and the person I am becoming. 

I haven't lost my mother ... I'm just seeing our story in a whole, new way.  I don't have to go on without her because she is always a part of who I am ...  just as I am a part of who she was.