Wednesday, June 29, 2011

blue mood (52 photos)

final sunset in tuscany

It is rather poetic that this week's 52 Photos Project theme is The Blue Hour. While this refers to the color of the sky just before sunrise or after sunset, it also captures my mood as I find myself settling back in after two consecutive vacation trips away from home. Not that I am feeling blue; but I am caught in that in between state of integration. There is the me on auto-pilot before taking a break and there is the me I reconnected to while absent from the usual demands and distractions of my daily life. Vacation and travel always effects me this way. It allows me perspective to evaluate what I value in my life and also determine what is absent or lacking.

I am by nature a bit of a hermit. I am pretty self sufficient and can go days with very little interaction with others. Yet I also crave connection and community. Balancing the two has always been an issue for me which is why on the surface online communities seemed like a perfect solution.

Then I spent a week in Italy totally unplugged and I was aware of how much time and energy I devote to staying in the loop. I came home conflicted as to how I could maintain relationships built upon regular communication but also manage some level of depth and integrity to those connections. I have found myself in the past commenting on other blogs and forums for the sake of expressing my interest to be a part of things but not necessarily because I have all that much to add to the discussion.

I had a brief spell at home before heading out to heritage camp with Cowgirl and I left feeling like I was hopelessly running behind the train that is online social media. It's a strange feeling to consider oneself behind in one's life. Or rather behind in my creative life.

But it was also liberating to just create in my journal without a sense of what anyone else is doing. I have to remind myself that much of what I do is in the spirit of exploration and discovery; I am trying on various forms of creative expression and I am searching for that perfect form that fulfills my needs. In fact, I doubt there is one medium that will satisfy me and it is becoming apparent my challenge is to know when it is time to switch things around. Photography, writing, painting - each form offers me a different lens for examining my life. Each speaks to a different mood. And then there is the question of finding my style (or my voice) which is beautifully addressed in this post I fortuitously stumbled across today.

So yeah, I am in a funky state but one which is not without its unique beauty. I admit I feared I would be forgotten in my absence and then I came home to find so many friends leaving me comments and along with new voices hopping over from other blogs. While wondering about this whole virtual thing - is this real? - I am discovering the connections, the support and the abundance of this world is very real. Sitting on my counter, the bounty of mail love affirms these relationships nurture me and others in very deep ways.

Each friend represents in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.
(Anais Nin)

I am not a different person because of blogging; rather this space and the community fostered through questioning, sharing, supporting each other have allowed a fuller version of me to manifest. A very real me.

There. I think I've removed the last bit of lint from my navel ... at least what was gathered from my travels. Back to our regularly scheduled whinging.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Monday Inspiration Celebration: Italian memories

No words, just a lot of sighing these days ...

from Cowgirl's summer journal: "I was pushing the Tipping Tower."

(I know today is Tuesday; I started this photo essay before leaving with Cowgirl for Chinese Heritage Camp and go figure, the morning I had planned to finish uploading our wireless went out. So here I am with tales of camp to tell but dipping into my Italian reveries. It's quite a contrast; tales of dim sum, dumpling lunches and counselor crushes coming soon.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

i learned the secret ...

... of good living from a graduate chef of the Italian Institute of Culinary Arts University of Pizza!

The second night of our trip, we had the chef come to the farmhouse where we were staying and teach us all about pizza. As he lectured us on the necessity of quality ingredients, preparation and timing, it was apparent his lecture covered more than just the basics of pizza making. He was giving us the formula on how to live a good life. A life where our actions yield delicious, healthy results.

Point number one: quality over quantity. Less is more when it comes to ingredients - it is better to have one fresh, simple but tasty topping than a heaping of mediocre items. In fact his sauce was tomato puree with nothing added. Just the sun, earth, rain, and life of Italy apparent in the mighty pomodoro (which contains the word "gold" giving a sense of the value of this fruit.)

When making the dough, take your time. There is an order to the blending of ingredients and intervals of time between each pairing. Rush things and you will get bubblegum crust, his opinion of American pizza dough. Handle the dough with care. Massage it, tend to it, feed it and it will feed you.

Only a very hot oven will work. As in all things, heat or passion, enthusiasm, intensity are required for anything to reach its fullest potential.

Once out of the oven, take time to appreciate your efforts. Enjoy the moment fully - smell, touch, taste, look, feel the enormity of your passion expressed in tangible - and here, edible - form.

Most importantly, share with others. Often true joy is found in witnessing the delight of another. Be with friends. Be outside. Rest in the moment.

Raise a glass to health and happiness, invoking the best of all Italian toasts: cin cin which has no real meaning, just the pleasure of the words on your lips.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

la dolce vita

So I am sneaky ... while things seemed to be "normal" here last week, I was not actually here. And now I am back and feeling still and quiet and realizing there are changes to be made. Or rather, a letting go of old habits and cultivating a slower, more engaged mode of being. One less cluttered with distractions. Allowing space for the sweetness of life to come alive.

Where does one go when wanting to learn how to savor the juice of life?

Of course, bella Italia.

For one week, this was my dining room, reading nook and painting studio:

My recipe for retreat includes plenty of gelato:

and wine:

Lots of scenery

and even more time to relax and enjoy what truly matters.

I was unplugged for a week and I did not miss a thing. I had been craving spaciousness in my life and it was easy to find once I quit rushing, grasping, doing and just leaned back and let life come to me. Una pausa di piacere - a pleasurable break - that shall be my guiding principle this summer.

More will be coming but for now, I am still strolling through the Tuscan hills in my daydreams. Gelato withdrawl is a bitch. And Cowgirl and I have more adventures coming this weekend so expect some photo journeys in the coming weeks. Heavy on ambiance, light on words.

Friday, June 17, 2011

welcome visitors

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
- Mary Oliver

I am welcoming my teachers with open arms:

Aine - Celtic goddess of love and light, transformed into a fairy queen when the old ways were driven out of Ireland, she represents for me survival. She is a summer goddess, evoking fertility and the continuing power of magical ways which are available to those with a heart willing to accept and believe in its own power.

I have to confess: this season of unsettled weather has had me on edge. Seeking some sense of control, I gathered favorite herbs, mixed them in a bowl while singing a yoga chant of protection and then headed out to the fairy circle in the back of our yard. There, I offered my prayer for protection while also acknowledging the power and the gifts of nature. I thanked the fairies for all they do and then walked the perimeter of our yard singing my song and bringing into my heart the blessings of my home and all the life - the birds, animals, plants, and insects as well as the earth and air deities - who share this space with my family. Having acknowledged the gifts received, I do feel more at ease with whatever happens.

Moth - A recent visitor, although now I am seeing moth everywhere. I pulled the Moth card and that day went into work and rescued a moth from my office. A day later, I got out of my car and found a pure white moth lying on the ground. Nocturnal by nature, moth represents intuitive knowing over intellectual understanding. For me the gift of moth is understanding that we always move towards the light. My actions may be less than skillful, but the intention, the faith and the determination are always there.

- While hawk is one of my main totem guides, mouse - like rabbit - is a necessary companion. Hawk represents a more spacious awareness or presence, useful for someone like me who gets bogged down by details, momentary distractions and discomforts. But it is necessary for me to return to what is causing me anxiety, to explore it more intimately, closely so that I might understand what rests underneath it all. Mouse is about paying attention to what is right before me and giving my full attention to the details of my life. And then knowing when it is best to return to my hole and take refuge, allowing the wider perspective of hawk to help fill in my experience, my understanding of what is true in my life.

If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it? - Master Dogen

What is astonishing you today? What visitors come bearing gifts? Let's share the bounty of our experience.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Inspiration Celebration: relax and be inspired

On Being
has become my favorite way of unwinding, relaxing and receiving. I have been going through the archives, picking a favorite author or speaker and listening to inspiring talk after inspiring talk. I love working on my mandalas or doodle pages while listening.

There are so many great talks to choose, but the one that really speaks to where I am right now is this offering from yoga teacher and social activist Seane Corn. Even if you never intend to practice yoga, I invite you to take the time to listen to how she transforms her wounds and challenges into opportunities for healing, growth and empowerment. Make a cup of tea, put up your feet and prepare to be inspired.

For information on Off the Mat and Into the World go here.

Friday, June 10, 2011


I am more comfortable giving than receiving. I genuinely enjoy the act of remembering another through small gestures - card, a phone call, something handmade and personalized - but I have trouble negotiating when I am giving as an act of care and when I am doing so out of a feeling of lack or inadequacy. I tend to rush in, heap all that I have upon another and then squirm away. I am aware that my habit of giving too much is a way of padding myself, as if by bearing gifts and doing for others, I will enhance my self worth.

In yoga the first pose we learn is tadasana or mountain pose. Generally, there are two habits in this pose: to either hang back in the heels or lean forward into the balls of the feet. I am a leaner ... anxious to take off, get moving and keep moving. Waiting, resting, abiding are not my natural states. Receiving is uncomfortable for me as it brings up my doubt that I am deserving of this gift, praise, complement or attention.

As I practice slowing down, resting and being, I find I must also practice receiving. Starting off small, I am attentive to the quieter gifts bestowed upon me. Working with animal medicine, reflecting upon the guides and teachers who manifest daily in my life, I am allowing more space to receive and hold their messages. Here are some of those gifts manifesting through my meditation practice and 49 by 49:

Aeracura, Celtic earth goddess associated with blossoming, change, abundance, growth and learning. I draw this card quite frequently and she reminds me to savor the season or phase I am in and to not rush things. Her gift is for me to trust in my process and in the unfolding of my life. She helps me pause and notice abundance in my life and in my being.

Frog medicine is about cleansing and metamorphosis. My place for retreat is a marshy area in the public garden where I go to paint, read, or write. The pond there is filled with frogs and their gift for me is to understand the times when I need to slip quietly through my world, blending in and resting and when I am to croak or call out for the energies I need to create or to join with others. Care of emotions and not getting stuck in illusions of permanence are the reminders frog brings to me. When the pond is quiet, I am amazed to find dozens of frogs have silent slipped onto lily pads without my being aware of their action. Other times, the air vibrates with the sound of their song yet not a single frog is visible.

Elephant has been a favorite friend my entire life. Recently, Cowgirl and I saw the movie Born to Be Wild and I was reminded that elephants are incredibly sensitive and caring creatures. In the movie a herd of orphaned elephants knew the exact time to journey to meet new members of herd. Elephant represents the connection to ancient wisdom and understanding available to us all when we live in harmony with nature. Gentleness, patience, endurance - these are all gifts from elephant and are essential qualities to evoke on this path of spiritual healing and wholeness. Learning to listen is another aspect elephant medicine. It goes without saying, I am a talker, often confusing a need to speak with my desire to feel understood.

Another lesson of elephant that I am just realizing is the need for connection and community as the ground for deeper healing. Tara Brach's beautiful teachings in Radical Self Acceptance point out that our wounds occur when we feel disconnected or cut off and that our healing will arise through relationship and understanding the interconnectedness of all life. Seeking out my herd or tribe has been a huge part of my journey these past two years and I am beginning to fully understand its contribution to my inner spiritual growth.

As I sit holding all these gifts I find it necessary to touch their meaning and then let go. As quickly as one gift is received, a new one rises up for me to discover. I am learning to lean back, wait and trust.

Perhaps this is the work of my soul fairy? I put my worries under my pillow and she brings me the gifts I need, the ability to see them and an open heart ready to receive the gifts of this day.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

my dear heart


Each time the seed was planted,
my heart expanded to hold the hope;
then blood and grief
eroding faith,
establishing the betrayal
of my body.

What I didn't understand
was the womb is not the seat
of creation;
what felt like the destruction
of my heart
was in fact
its preparation.

Miao Liang
Even your name
means excellent seedling.

This week's theme for 52 Photos Project is a heart. I love taking pictures of hearts and was tempted to dig into my stash of images, but how could I resist the excuse to shoot a few new ones? And then I received feedback for the above poem in my email inbox and it seems like confirmation of my impulse to rest in the embrace of my own heart, seeking counsel and comfort.

As if that isn't enough, my morning reading had this line that jumped out at me: "We need only somehow to increase our capacity to love - because we do not live in what we think; we live in what we love." (Eknath Easwaran)

What inhabits your heart today? Can you soften around all that your heart holds and discover there is always room for more?

problems commenting on blogger? I'm not sure what is up, but often when I try to comment on someone else's blogger blog, I initially get a "cannot comment" response but if I try again, I get right on.

Monday, June 6, 2011

thristy (inspiration meditation)

I feel like I am on a raft at sea, dying of thirst with water all around me. Which is to say on a conscious level I am aware of a number of impulses and ideas begging for me to pick up my pen, brush, camera or journal and act and yet ...

... and yet.

I am recognizing my desire to take on new projects, explore new medium is a form of aversion. Yes, part of me is having fun playing and experimenting but part of me is also hiding. To keep skimming the surface of things (what someone once labeled "scanning") is to avoid going in deeper where things may be murky, dark and scary. But to not visit those places means limiting myself to always living on the surface and also reacting out of fear.

I am listening to Tara Brach read her book Radical Acceptance where she talks about compulsive doing or work as one of the addictions we seek as a means to avoid intimacy with our inner life. She read this passage by Thomas Merton: "To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence."

I'm not even sure what it is I am pulling away from or what I think I might find. I just know I need to heed the impulse to draw within. For what I thirst for will not be found "out there"; what I seek - what we all seek - can only be found within. I know it has to do with acceptance, embracing the whole of me with total love and compassion. Ironically, the first poem I nervously submitted to Maya for her feral writing course addressed this issue:

I am tidy by nature -
stuffed animals were organized
according to
order, family, genus
never a mingling of tigers with dogs,
the monkeys kept away
from cats.

Or is it my training?
life stored in plastic tubs
photo albums
dates, notes, names penned onto tabs.

How is it then
I seem to have misplaced my dreams?
As if all the busy work
was a means of avoiding the void.

Was I careless in my packing?
Or careless with myself?
Tidying my life to
tidy an unruly heart.

Like my petunia plant, I need to do some serious deadheading.I know I need to tend to my heart right now ... there are messages and truths waiting for my attention and too much busyness is preventing me from having the space and time to listen. Listen with openness, love and acceptance which cannot be rushed or crushed into a tight time table. I know I will still be creating as a means of exploring these whisperings, but I am returning to the theme of last summer which was Say Less, Create More. Or maybe Say Less, Trust More?

second baby tooth lost over the weekend

I think if we have a tooth fairy to reward these transitions, then we need a soul fairy to reward our transitions on this journey to wholeness. What should she leave under the pillow?

Friday, June 3, 2011


mixed media piece on gesso board, created for "Got Paint" course with Emily Falconbridge

I've been craving stillness. Now that school is out and the structure of our days shattered, I am remembering how hectic summer can be. All I want is to stop dead in my tracks and let the traffic pass me by. This season feels like it should be about lingering, ripening, opening and emptying and I am wondering if that perspective comes from my memories as a child? Or from life pre-cellphones, laptops, internet and on-demand viewing?

I am enthralled with the notion of returning to a spacious experience of time. The sensation of being both in and out of time, which is what I experience when painting or creating and when I am in Nature. Recently I discovered this interview with poet and philosopher John O'Donohue (thanks to Jen Lee) and I was struck by his interpretation of stress. He said "Stress is a perverted relationship to time ... rather than being a subject of your own time, you are its target, a victim."

We rarely allow ourselves the luxury of doing nothing, just being. This is especially true with our children. I see parents who do not allow their kids a moment of unstructured time. I remember as a kid my parents never told me what to do; I might be bored but I knew it was up to me to find something to amuse myself and I always did. I also remember vast stretches of time where I just sat and thought and yes, felt bored but never rushed or pressured either. I had time to drop within myself and even if that was uncomfortable at times I also learned it passed. Doing nothing allowed me the chance to realize nothing stays the same, life is constantly changing and how I feel will also change. Knowing this truth comforted me through some difficult times as a teen. I knew tomorrow would be different and I would be different by the mere fact I lived through my challenges.

Thinking about all these things makes me anxious for Cowgirl. How can I teach her about stillness, being, receiving the truth of one's heart when all of the messages of our culture shout "fill up, move, consume, go go go!" At first I despair and then I know. I cannot tell her these things, I must show her. What I want for her, I must first give to myself. If I am lucky, she will learn from my example the value of stillness and slowing down as the impact will be visible in my life, in my attitude and in my capacity to love her and myself.

So here I go examining my routines and looking at where I can eliminate the waste of my time and reinvest in what nurtures a sense of centeredness and well-being.

I am committing - once again - to my meditation cushion and to practices that support me in being more fully present to myself, my family and my life. And when I can be more present, I can remember to choose love in every moment. As the song says, you can't hurry love.

journal page created for Wild Precious Studio prompt

Feral Writing course is over, but a new poetry intensive starts June 6th. This experience rocked my world and strengthened my connection with intuition, fearless creating and creativity in general. I learned that filtering my life through art - whether it be painting, photography or writing - is how I find meaning and evoke healing for myself and my world. Alongside my meditation practice is a writing practice firmly in place after this program.

My routine
is to get up
before anyone else,
light a candle
gather my blanket
and sit.

Sometimes I perform
a reiki
hands over each
ironing out
any wrinkles
brushing away
accumulated karma.

Other days I
affirm my commitment
to surrender again
to my life,
Lord Shiva
keeping me on my toes

And then there are the days
when it is all I can do
to simply breathe
trusting to be filled.

I believe my teachers
when they tell me
this commitment will help me
heed the voice
of my inner self
mentor me in simplicity,

I have fallen in and out of the habit
For over a decade now.

The evidence is inconclusive
but faith persists.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

memories ✸

School is out, the pool is open and I am ready for lazy summer days. Well, not so lazy I suppose; rather, priorities shift in pleasurable ways. Today was all about shuffling activities around pool time and even with a packed day there was time to linger over the season's first fudgesicle purchased from the ice cream truck. (Note: when you hear the bell it is best to assume your child will demand a frozen treat and it is better to accept the inevitable lest you end up running down the street chasing the truck. Which rolls at a un-leisurely pace when it is hot and you are out of shape!)

Naturally summer is a season tinged with memories, but for our family it also is the season when we became a family. For this week's 52 Photos Project the theme is a memory and I cannot help but be thinking about our first weeks with Cowgirl, discovering the large personality hidden within her small frame. This August we will celebrate the fifth anniversary of our becoming a family and yet those days seem so recent and fresh. One memory that stands out is Cowgirl's relationship with water.

The first time we gave her a bath she shrieked with all her might and it seemed she was one giant mouth atop skinny legs. Bath time was traumatic for all. Go figure the solution to soothing her fears was to take her into the hotel swimming pool (yes, green parents but sometimes ignorance pays off.) She loved it! Our Chinese guide tried to dissuade us: "Chinese babies do not swim!" Thankfully, we were too shell shocked to take in her advice. Once Cowgirl experienced the vast waters of the pool, she was hooked. She has loved swimming - the pool, the ocean, lakes, any form of water - ever since.

in China, August 2006

August 2007 - did i mention she is fearless? (not quite 3 years old here!)

with her best buddy, July 2008 (those hats! is there anything sweeter than preschoolers in bathing suits?)

July 2009

August 2010

The theme of memory is also fitting as retrieving these images has been no small feat (2 separate back-up drives, a photo album and a few flickr photosets!)

I don't think I will ever tire of this face, this goofy expression of pure joy.

kindergarten graduate - June 2011

(Watch out when you ask a mother with multiple cameras for a photo memory!)