Wednesday, March 4, 2015

what is lost ...

Last Saturday ... oh, last Saturday!  Saturdays are busy days for us ... sleeping in means an extra hour of sleep (which I argue is NOT sleeping in ...) and a breakfast pace only a smidge leisurely compared to school days.  I have to rouse Cowgirl to head into town for our Chinese class. It is not her favorite way to spend the morning, but it is what we do.


I say we because for years I attended Chinese language class by myself. When Cowgirl was old enough, I started back at book one with her.  I held my head high in those early days having mastered "Hello. My name is Lisa.  What is your name?"  and "I like green. What color do you like?" Not fluent, but rattling off my phone number in Chinese sounds impressive. 

Fast forward a couple of years and I can barely hold my chin above water.  The class transitioned from conversation to reading and writing which causes my brain to cramp. Seriously. I'd swear you could hear gears grinding and pieces of my mind breaking off with a rattling clattering clunkAnd then that hissing sound of an exhausted engine.

I joke (but it is true) that together Cowgirl and I are a B+ student.  Divided, we would be crushed under the 公共汽车 (Gong gong qiche - bus).  The teacher is very kind, generous and patient which makes it all the harder when the verbal grilling begins.  今天天气怎么样We startle, looking at each other in panic, Cowgirl hissing at me "You're suppose to help me!" and me snapping back "You should know this!"  We (by which I mean "I") talk a lot about being more kind to each other in Chinese class and about the work of learning and how anything worthwhile is often challenging and requires effort and patience. Yes, Cowgirl's eyes glaze over and I'm sure what she hears is yadda yadda yadda Chinese

When the hour and a half class is over, there is an audible gasp of pressure being released.  Usually we head home but this past Saturday I had errands I wanted to run while in town.  So off we went to the Asian market to pick up the rice crackers Cowgirl loves. She gave me grief when I first bought them.  "Hello Kitty crackers?!" She was concerned they might tarnish her image (the logos she prefers are KU Jayhawks and Nike) but her fear of trying another brand that she might not like outweighed her disdain of cute, girlie things. 

Then we got wild. Impulsive.  We bought a new soup bowl (so now we have three! Once for each of us) and a much needed rice cooker to replace the one falling apart. After the market we had one more errand which brought us in the vicinity of the French Bread bakery.  "Let's swing in for a roll!" I gleefully suggested. Cowgirl does not like bread products except for artisan breads. Of course.  So we ducked into the warm and bustling bakery café.  It had begun to snow outside making the bakery that much more inviting, the smells more intoxicating and tempting.  We bought croissants, a baguette and some soup to take home for the Husband who was sick in bed with a man cold. We had to wait for the soup. Standing off to the side, Cowgirl proceeded to eat her entire croissant while I eyeballed a giant cookie.  

We waited. And waited. Usually (I am ashamed to say) I can be impatient waiting. I am ready to be off to the next event. But this day -  with the snow gently falling, the hum of conversation in the café,  the whirl of the bread slicer, and the fragrant smells wafting out from the kitchen - I was content to steep myself in the moment.  And it was a moment. Golden and rich like the croissant my girl wolfed down. A moment that I could sense transmuting into a memory that I would call upon at some later date.  Realizing that, I leaned in to kiss the top of my girl's head and to whisper to her "I love spending time with you."

Then it hit me.  A collision of memory. Past and future sandwiched together. This moment with my girl (linked to so many other similar moments we've created or shared) with memory of moments with my mother.  Other bakeries (a theme there?), other excursions, adventures in suburban travel, meals in special, tucked out-of-the-way places and journeys through museum labyrinths, movies and books and stories experienced and shared together.  It overwhelmed me, the tidal wave of all that memory, of all those moments with my mother, each one a pearl on a long strand looped about my heart. 

When I say I lost my mother, I realize what I mean is I've lost a keeper of memories.  I've lost the person who could confirm details, fill in the gaps. I've lost a companion who could travel with me back through the delight of treasured moments.  With both my parents gone, I've lost the only record to my earliest days, the years before my memory clicked on. 

I am finding my mother in new ways. In a song, in the call of the Blue Jay, in a favorite recipe, a joke, a story, the smell of her perfume, and in moments with my girl.  I know the foundation for my relationship with my daughter is strong and stable as it rests upon the deep bond my mother and I shared.  I know that as much as I may mourn the gradual fading of memories held by myself and my mother, new ones created by me and Cowgirl will flood in to fill the space.  

It isn't that I've lost my mother but that I've lost the beginning of my story. I suppose the beauty is I can continue writing the rest of the tale. It's completely mine now and I honor her by living it fully, with gratitude, with awareness of each sacred moment.   

Thursday, February 26, 2015

my everywhere ...

The rain is turning over to snow and I pause in my day to consider what now?  I've been up for hours tending to those things that each day requires me to tend to  ... making the coffee, emptying the dishwasher, making breakfast, putting a load of laundry in, walking the dog, tidying up the always threatening tower of paperwork that seems to increase even with vows of "paperlessness" ... Are you jealous yet?

Not that I've made much headway as for every paper dropped into the recycling container, I've managed to drag out bulkier odds and ends - tub of paints, pile of fabrics, cards, notebooks, knitting, books - and now here I sit staring at the visible expression of my inner landscape.  I wonder if the earth feels the same way? Heavy and full with all that awaits release, expression, transformation and slightly bogged down by it all?

I realize the beast that stalks me is the notion of something BIG ... my Big Project that keeps to the shadows yet never let's me feel fully at ease.  Even as a child I think I believed there was something Big, something Important I was meant to be doing.  I now wonder if I've been stalking it? Or has it been hounding me? 

I am dabbling with this dangerous thought: what if that something Big (a.k.a. worthy, worthwhile, significant, valuable) isn't some grand beast? What if my Big is actually no one thing, but rather the many little things that make up my day?  What if my Walden Pond or Portrait of the Artist or Starry Night is no one thing, but all these tiny pieces, fleeting moments, slips of paper, images capture, doodles dashed off and scraps of fabric stitched into prayer flags all one giant Big rolled up and held together simply because they are mine? 

Dare I admit an epiphany came while grunting away on the elliptical machine in our basement, watching a recorded episode of Girls?  I guess I dare.  In the episode Hannah, who is in the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and tormented by the whole experience, is having dinner with her father. She wants to quit and while she wants someone to tell her it is okay to leave, she can't quite buy his advice to do what's right for you.  He then shares with her that her mother once wrote a book and was miserable in the process. But afterwards, she was able to return to doing the things she enjoyed doing. 

Which leads me to consider how I might be rather miserly with myself, parceling out odd moments to the things I love doing or worse, while so engaged looking over my shoulder thinking "Yes, but there is that beast in the corner not so patiently waiting for my attention."  

Not to say I might not one day gather my courage and head into the woods, but right now right here before me are the pieces of my life in all their wonderful chaotic beauty.  I look around me and I see much room for play and joy. I look around me and everywhere this is what I see ...

Dragons.  Dragons asking to be embraced, not slayed.  Dragons help not harm is what my girl often writes on her pictures.  So too the many bits and pieces of my passions, my interests.  They offer me opportunity to build upon happiness.  

So I am learning to see rather than focusing upon the creation of one massive opus, my way is more like japa meditation: each piece of my day, each seemingly haphazard moment of creative play  or engagement is like a prayer whispered over a single bead in a mala necklace. Slowly, mindfully I try to spread my prayers across the beads that make up my days. Eventually, if I stay committed, my life will be held together by all those prayers. And won't that be something massive and love-filled? 


Time for tea and dreams.  What about you?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

my little Black Belt

"If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

It's been a long road ...

Over six years, many belts, a couple of uniform changes, 2 pairs of sparring booties, and a small fortune going to Yoyo Berri (frozen yoghurt establishment conveniently located next door to martial arts studio) for celebratory treats ... hours for me sitting on what I call "the waffle iron" but my backside surely knows as "the rack" ... countless trips to class and tournaments schlepping giant equipment bag along with bo staff, nuchaku (nunchuks), sinawali (double sticks), wooden sword and foam sword (we have a small arsenal of hard and soft weapons) ... essays, book reports (I ask you, would YOU want to read a 2000 word essay by a 10 year old? What Black Belt means to me) and checklists completed ... push ups, sit ups, jumping rope (and I started running in anticipation of the 2 mile run only to have them drop that requirement once I was hooked back into running!) ... sizeable dent to my bank account ... and I know you are wondering: Was it worth it?

For the smile on that face? For the confidence, swagger, intensity, focus, and pride in her achievement?  


In the years of preparation, I've picked up a few things while sitting on the bench (a.k.a. Waffle Iron):  besides choke hold, windpipe chop, horse bite (grab your attacker by the forearm sleeves and jerk down), ear muffs (smack both your hands into their ears, then pull their head down into your upwardly moving knee) I've learned ...

Winning Black Belts know who they are and where they are going. They understand themselves and their goals.

Winning Black Belts keep an overall attitude of optimism and enthusiasm. Winners understand that life is a self fulfilling prophecy - a person usually gets what he or she actively expects over the long run.

Winning Black Belts have the ability to accomplish anything they want to achieve. Winners understand that a strong belief in themselves and hard work will result in achieving their goals.

Winning Black Belts commit to their dreams and goals and work diligently to achieve them. Winners make a pledge to devote their energies to the successful realization of their goals


It was a very good day for all.  It was an important reminder that a strong belief in yourself is the foundation, but relying upon a host of teachers, friends, and family to encourage, support and sustain you is also required.  The hardest thing for this independent girl - and a lesson for me - is acknowledging the need for assistance.  In the end, that may be the most important lesson of them all.

"Most humbling of all is to comprehend the lifesaving gift that your pit crew of people has been for you, and all the experiences you have shared, the journeys together, the collaborations ... the solidarity you have shown one another. Every so often you realize that without all of them, your life would be barren and pathetic. It would be Death of a Salesman, though with e-mail and texting."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine (finally, friday ...)

I love the simple rituals ...

celebrating friendship, celebrating creativity ...

celebrating love in all the ways we experience it (dragons & paint of course!)

Happy Valentine's Day! It's going to be a busy weekend as Cowgirl tests for her Black Belt in martial arts on Saturday.  She's calm but this mama?  Thank goodness for the massive infusion of chocolate!  It's a whirlwind end to the year of the horse. I hope the year of the sheep - which trots in on February 19 - means slower pace, time to linger in the grass and bleating ...

Sheep year is time to heal after the chaos of 2014's Horse year. What is of value now is intimacy, family and close friendships. We can be more caring, kind and sensitive with each other. Develop a gentle heart, open to love and acceptance on all levels. Another theme of Sheep year is to express your creative side. Now is the time for art, creativity and cultivation of beauty. If you ever wanted to explore your creative side, this is your year. Do not give up, be pessimistic or become discouraged because Sheep can only move forward! This animal is unable to move backwards or sideways.

xo Lisa, Cowgirl & Moose

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

piecing my self together ...

The challenge in slowing down, is having life tailgating me as I putter along.

I'm in the slow land for goodness sakes!  Ease up will you?!  

Okay, so it is only me tailgating myself with internal dialogue ... why is this taking so long? When are you going to get around to x,y, or z? What are you doing?!

Ah, but I am learning the art of Sacred Listening (or sacred self listening to caught-in-traffic-of-life self) and winching as I hear myself talking smack about about myself which involves a gentle and loving self corrections.

I'm taking the time needed ... 

it's worth and I'm worth the investment ... 

And my new favorite: I'm creating my own life here and I'll do it my way. (Sounds a bit like toddler talk but then again, I may be in a toddler stage of autonomy and self understanding.)

Which reminds me of Cowgirl as a small girl insisting "I do myself" quickly followed by "Help me." And that is pretty wise now that I think about it. 

I'm finding my way. Grief is an interesting terrain. In the beginning it feels impossible to survive the journey: the weight too heavy, the path indiscernible, the body and spirit depleted, uncertain, and rudderless. But day-by-day I pick my way through, I make my way forward.

Or inward? I'm not sure I really care about getting anywhere so much as being at peace with where I am.  In my case, I believe utter exhaustion was needed for total surrender.  I can't say how, but I have handed the reins over to Sorrow and let it go where it needs to go. So far, I am nothing short of amazed by the process. Specifically, how gentle and nourishing it can be.  

In opening fully to my sadness, it seems a host of other guests have slipped in. Gratitude. Celebration. Appreciation. Wonderment. And the most surprising: myself.

My toddler self to be exact. Discovering and delighted by things I did not know I was capable of doing. There are the inner miracles - the sense of my mother within me, knowing and acknowledging what I've longed to share with her. As memory of her physical presence fades, an intimate togetherness seeps in. There are external manifestations that make me shake my head is this me? Baking, sewing, more homey moments amid an already homey life. 

And then the horses. Their solid, earthy presence helping me find my roots. There is nothing quite like a few hours steeped in the smells of manure, leather, and horse to bring me back to the girl I wanted to be, back to life ... back to me. 

I recognize how much my mother informed who I am, but I am allowing myself to see how I contributed to her. Understanding how Cowgirl has made me a better person, I grasp a similar dynamic between myself and my mother. It is no small piece of comfort.

So I assume my place at the head of my own table. I'm tending to her loose ends, the projects left incomplete: a needlepoint stocking, crewel sampler 

And now this crazy quilt. Crazy indeed!  When I was 11 my mother cut out yards and yards of squares for a quilt.  She painstakingly basted and then hand-stitched many squares into triangles, a design I don't believe she truly knew how she would cobble it all together. So she didn't. But she held on to the box of fabric and carted it from home to home until it came to rest in my home.  Now I sort through that box, mixing those pieces with scraps harvested from Cowgirl's first dresses and fabric I've collected over the years. 

I'm not a sewer, but I am taking comfort in this process of piecing the two quilts together, making whole what had been abandoned and outgrown. I'm in no rush. I'm taking the time I need. I'm allowing myself opportunity to enjoy the process, to watch it build into something I have yet to envision.  Something that will comfort and keep my girl warm while she dreams her new world while covered by our collective past.

"Small things such as this have saved me: how much I love my mother—even after all these years. How powerfully I carry her within me. My grief is tremendous but my love is bigger. So is yours. You are not grieving your son’s death because his death was ugly and unfair. You’re grieving it because you loved him truly. The beauty in that is greater than the bitterness of his death." 

HeartFull Living an online conversation on living a life devoted to loving begins February 16. This is not a course, it is a gathering where all are invite to share, question and discuss what it means to lean into love.  Is your heart asking to be heard?  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

and this too ... thank you ... (HeartFull living)

Once the door is open, the lessons in HeartFull living just roll right in ...

Yesterday was a snow day and I sheepishly confide: I may be a weather witch.

No, truly ... I've noticed this, ahem, talent of mine. Not so much changing the weather as it is connecting with the possibilities of storm or sunshine and coaxing them in.  I wanted snow (we need the moisture) and I silently urged it on.  Now we have 10 inches on the ground and more snow in the forecast. All wonderful for a days of shoveling, sledding, building snow tunnels, and communing around hot tea and soup.   

Not so fun when one of us goes down ...

What can I say?  And this too ... thank you?

Well, that was going to be my newly acquired mantra.  That my resolve is being tested right out of the gate seems cruel but I suppose necessary.  Like trying on a new pair of boots and determining whether the pinch is due to an off fit or stiff leather. 

Last week I donned my well-suited cowgirl boots and headed off to the barn for my second session volunteering as a sidewalker for the equestrian therapeutic riding program.  I am scheduled to assist in three session although my first week the third rider had cancelled.  So the first two riders I had gotten to know last week.  

I say know, but the gift of these sessions is that all matters for me - and I assume for the riders - is this day. The rider's history is unknown to me. I am not told the cause of their injury or their illness; I am informed only of what they need this day. Even that changes as we make our way around the ring, the therapist responding to what is manifesting for the client. While  I am directed to give more or less support, to adjust my hand or body position, the therapist also checks in with what I may notice about the rider.  Witnessing shifts and changes and adapting moment by moment. 

Feeling more relaxed (in terms of what to expect) from my first week, I was happily unprepared for the third rider.  We are asked to protect the privacy of the clients, so while I will call her Gaby, that is not her real name.  Gaby arrived for her riding session in her wheelchair wearing sparkly tights, gold hoop earrings and a sunbeam smile.  Unlike the previous clients who are not vocal, Gaby was cooing with excitement. She spoke in Spanish to her family and softly repeated the therapist's English directions. Up, down, and go sounded like a Pablo Neruda love poem coming from her lips.  When she would get confused, she would let slip a shy laugh.  If she could have, she would have galloped the horse right out of the ring and into the open fields beyond the barn such was her enthusiasm and joy.

After the session, she returned to her wheelchair. Her therapist then pointed to each volunteer and said our names in turn while Gaby repeated "Lisa ... thank you." The horse was led over and dipping his head down to her lap she felt the warm air from his nostrils tickling her hands, making her erupt into her sparkling laugh.  Then stroking his face and gazing into his eyes she repeated over and over "Smokey ... thank you ... thank you ... thank you ..." 

That moment has stayed with me all weekend.  I keep revisiting the image of a girl with such tenderness in her eyes gently stroking the horse while repeating thank you. 

thank you thank you thank you ...

It sounds like a mantra, a love offering made with utter and complete gratitude and awe. It strikes me as the best way to live life with an open and receptive heart.  It is what I want to express through HeartFull living.  Gratitude, joy, surrender, welcoming, honoring, trusting.

It is easy to say thank you to the things I knowingly want to welcome into my life. Sunshine, an extra day of family time, acts of friendship and being witnessed, understood.  It is much harder to welcome that which approaches in a more threatening manner: illness, hardship, struggle, death.  But there is always choice, isn't there? 

To proceed forward or forge my own path; to dwell in the darkness or to behold the light; to focus upon what is missing or to acknowledge what is; to bash against what I cannot do or embrace what is possible.  

On this bitterly cold, winter day I can lift my face to the unexpected beams of sunlight,   don sparkle tights, and serve tea in bed to my sick girl.

For all this and all that I have yet to realize: thank you thank you thank you ... 

Care to join in on the conversation around HeartFull Living?  A truly glittery tights group is forming with special guest contributors ... 50% of the proceeds benefiting the horses in the therapeutic riding program I mentioned above ...   all the details can be found HERE.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Leaning into Love (and HeartFull Living)

An interesting side-effect of grief is in the upheaval of emotions, memories and stories long forgotten come to the surface and in this new place of identity (who I am now that I no longer have my mother reflecting me back to myself?) they take on deeper meaning.

I remember being a little girl with my mother at a department store and deciding I was ready to step onto the down escalator all by myself. Or maybe my mother was ready for me to be more independent. I can't recall, but no doubt her unwavering belief in me encouraged a momentary flash of bravery unusual as I was a somewhat timid child.

I stood at the top, my foot hovering in the air, trying to figure out the timing of placing it upon the swiftly moving step. Finally my mother moved in front of me to demonstrate how to step on ... "Like this!" she said with a bright red lipstick smile. And off she went down the escalator and away from me.

Of course I then panicked and I could see in my mother's face her realization that this was not going to go as planned.  I stood there, frozen on the edge of the second floor of Hanes Department store, blocking the other customers ready to exit the Ladies Lingerie and Nightwear section. Just as I was about to descend into full blown despair, a woman reached down and taking my hand she glided me forward and onto the cascading metal stairs and down down down to my much relieved mother.

Life, after the loss of my mother, feels like that disoriented panic where moving forward seems beyond my abilities.  The days spread out before me like that moving escalator and calculating how to step squarely onto the step - to step back into my life - seems inordinately complicated and confusing. All sense of timing is off.

I hadn't realized it, but I've been waiting for a competent hand to find mine and swoop me back into the flow of living.

Apparently, I needed more than a hand - I needed an entire horse.  Well, his belly.

Right before my mother's death, I signed up to volunteer for a local equestrian therapeutic riding center whose mission is to provide emotional and physical healing to children and adult with a wide range of disabilities. Shortly after my mother's passing, I trained as a sidewalker - my job being to hold onto the client and walk alongside the horse throughout the therapy session.

My first shift came and I arrived at the barn eager to begin. The therapist I would be assisting greeted me and then immediately asked "How tall are you?" Um ... just slightly above average height for an American woman (my stock response whenever I feel I am being labeled diminutive). Apparently the first client was not a child, but a young woman and I would need to support her with one arm fully extended, hand under her armpit, and my outside arm over her leg and holding onto the saddle.  The.Entire.Time.

I was instructed,"When you feel your pecs starting to burn - and they will burn - let me know so we can switch sides." Not for my comfort, but because the slight turning movement of the horse could pitch the rider off to one side and if my arm was burning, no way would I be able to keep her from falling off the horse.

The rider arrived with her mother and therapist.  It is humbling to witness the full on dedication of all involved - therapist, rider, her family and the horse.  The determination, patience, persistence and passion each member brings to the endeavor was a privilege to experience.  As I watched the assisted mount (via a wheelchair ramp and hydraulic lift) I was aware of my role in this formidable equation.  

Sidewalking - sounds simple? Well, simple in the sense that my task was to hold on at all costs. I could just barely reach up to meet the rider's ribcage and shoulder wing. I wasn't sure if I was supporting the rider so much as clinging to her and clinging to the horse.  With the horse's first steps, I was leaning my full weight into his rounded side and to his credit, he carried me forward.  I quickly discovered I could keep up as long as I leaned into Charm, my new horse buddy. 

The session lasted 28 minutes and while my arms and pectorals did tire, I never felt like I couldn't keep up or hold up the rider.  Resting upon Charm, I was aware I wasn't so much doing the work (of holding or supporting), as I was acting as conduit for energy to flow through me.  It was a quietly miraculous experience.  Effort was involved, but not in the sense of "I alone must do this."  It was a beautiful expression of being in service to something greater than my small self, but which both contains me and is contained within me.

Driving home, I recognized the sensation.  Leaning fully upon Charm and allowing him to support me, was no different than leaning into Love itself. This is the hand I've needed to guide me back into my life. This is the way I move forward into an unfamiliar, but welcoming world.

I am excited to announce HeartFull Living: Conversations in Loving 2015 begins on February 16.  I wasn't planning on a session this year, but Charm convinced me. I want to consider fully: What would it mean to live my life devoted and in service to Love?  What would that look like? How do I nurture and support that intention within myself and for my family?

HeartFull Living is a month-long virtual chat session, offered to inspire and support community, conversation, and loving intentions. This year I am excited to have weekly guests offering their perspectives, their experiences in approaching life with an open and trusting heart. These are the people I turn to when I am needing to be inspired, filled, or supported.  I am certain the exchange of ideas will be a catalyst for a HeartFull Living renaissance of Love, respect and trust. 

 Full details for HeartFull Living 2015 (and to sign up) can be found HERE.  

To honor the inspiration of Charm, I will be donating 50% of the proceeds to HETRA (Heartland Equestrian Therapeutic Riding Academy) and specifically to sponsor Charm for Horse of the Year in the organization's annual fundraiser Horse Penny Race

I'm totally smitten,in love and charmed by this fellow.