Friday, November 29, 2013

thanksgiving treasures ...

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, signaling the official start of the holiday season.  I am scheduled to make a presentation on "Happy, Healthy, Stress-free Holiday" at my local library in just a few days, so I probably ought to figure out what I will share?

This year the family Thanksgiving dinner was held at my home.  I believe it the first time we've ever hosted The Husband's entire family and including my mother it was dinner for 13 people. The cooking was divided up among four cooks, so the only challenge for me was organizing the timing of multiple dishes needing to be heated in our one oven.  The Husband had the more challenging task - smoking and roasting 2 turkeys.  

I don't believe he's ever had a smooth run.  This year he stayed up until midnight to put the one turkey in the smoker.  The next morning he woke early to prep the second turkey and discovered the smoker had stopped working due to the intensely cold temperature overnight.  After attempting a hair dryer to warm up the auger, he had to move into plan B:

The grill was brought out to finish the job.  It was a cold and smokey morning but he stayed calm.  

Meanwhile, I was busy with scavenging enough china, linens, silverware, and glassware for a traditional table setting. Yes, I had to pull up Emily Post to figure out proper placement of knives, forks, bread plates and glasses. 

While it sounds like a lot of effort, the end effect was a sense of festive and special.  A friend has started a practice of pulling out her nice dishes for her evening meal, noting that she is deserving of such attention and care.  My memory from holidays is my mother lavishing attention upon every detail, an act that sent a message of celebration and love.  While we generally always sit down as a family for our evening meal, the appearance of the special china and silver conveyed a sense of cherishment which is my goal in all that I do.  I want each person to know they are deserving of this attention, and that each gathering is an moment to be celebrated.  I am learning to do this for myself. 

It was exhausting but the festive time spent with family generated energy that carried me through the day.  The main lesson (and key to a happy holiday season) is to determine one's intention for season; what is the tone, the message, the feeling I want to experience? And what do I want my loved ones to experience?  In the end, it is about coming together, taking time to be with each other and to be nourished.  Good food lovingly prepared helps ...

my vegetarian plate

But in the end, it is about simplifying, striping away the inessential and honing in on what really matters: moments savored and memories created.  Laughter and connection, traditions passed down and new ones created.

showing our nephew how to carve a turkey ... with a Moose waiting for a lucky spill ...

It is taking time to just relax and be, slowing down enough to be present for the individual moments that contribute to the story of our family.

Even though I hosted dinner and then had to work on Black Friday, I feel relaxed,  recharged and excited for the days ahead.  I believe this is because I am taking time to care for myself which allows me to be better able to care for the ones who matter most.

Belated Thanksgiving wishes.  May we all experience a happy and stress-free holiday season by remembering to slow down and enjoy the small moments that hold so much meaning and provide the juice that feeds our days ... and our souls.



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

filling my well

We need time out of our everyday, outer-directed lives, and not just at major life transitions, when it is most advisable, but regularly. I think metaphorically of how necessary it is that we have "diastolic" time. For it is during diastole that the heart relaxes and fills. During systole, the heart contracts and sends a powerful stream of lifeblood out. For the heart to work and provide sustenance to the whole body, it must relax and fill.  And so must we.
Jean Shinoda Bolen, Crossing to Avalon

I've been off the grid.  Not only disconnected from phone, laptop, email and all virtual connections but physically removed from the clutter and distractions of modern living.

I went on retreat. The road there included crossing this creek 

symbolizing the sense of both separation (moving over to a new shore) and containment (merging with others, reconnecting with source.)

I left thinking this would be a time to empty, time to slough off what is long past healthy and vibrant and move closer in to my essential being.  Get back to basics and recover what all too often gets buried under piles of busy work. 

I went to paint and learn new ways to dialogue with creative spirit.  

I embarked upon a journey that started on a cold, windy, dark Nebraska morning at 4 AM. Sleepy miles in an airplane delivered me to warm and sunny Arizona.  Miles traveling through desert landscapes with sisters new and yet familiar, welcoming and welcomed into my heart with the ease of a salamander slipping into a stream. (Okay, first piece of magic here: the image of salamander popping into my head as I reflect upon the merging of this sisterhood ... quick look into salamander medicine: "The salamander comes to those who are in need of change in their lives. The salamander evolutionary feat to observe, and as such, it asks us to evolve in our own lives." and "[T]he salamander hold symbolism of psyche, spirituality, emotion, and ease of motion. These attributes are intensified by the salamander's nocturnal nature because night time is symbolic of shadows, secrets, dreams, intuition and psychic abilities too.")

I had little in the way of expectations when I left home.  I was open to receive even though receiving is not my strong suit.  But this place was insistence that each of us receiving her medicine.  And equally strong was the pull - the imperative - for each of us to give of ourselves healing medicine for all, including the land, the spirits, the ancestors.

I am still in the process of integration ... not sure that understanding will ever arrive nor whether it is necessary on an intellectual level.  What knows is my heart, my soul and that language is deeper than words. 

What I can share are the snapshots of my encounters: the song of the water and wind through the cottonwood trees urging me to abide in cooling, soothing water and to offer my gifts into that flow;


The marks of mama mountain lion reminding me I share this place with beings powerful, respectful, in harmony with life and asking me to do the same;

I practiced shamanic seeing and beheld the whole of earth, the whole of life reflected back to me in a single eye of a beautiful sister. I know each of us carries within the seed of such immensity and potential to feed, sustain, support and create.  I looked but more importantly, I was seen and witnessed by moon, stars, sunlight and the Mother herself who spoke to me and make it very clear it is time stand up, quit hiding, and do the work that has been entrusted to me.  

Under that gaze I felt the immensity and the intimacy of being a creature privileged to call this earth home ...

Beholding the responsibility of that gift and the urgent need for loving, healing action and care to shift the course of things, to bring about change that is needed now more than ever if we hope to pass this world onto our children and their children.

What started as a retreat became a sacred pilgrimage for me ... a journey to reconnect with Nature, with Spirit and with my Self.  The bonus prize was the chance to learn, laugh, play and spend time in the company of so many gifted women, wise and wild,  irreverently joy-filled and soul-fully deeply committed to the work of healing and empowering themselves and those around them. 

Where this all will lead, I don't know nor do I need  to know.  I am simply trusting and following the strongest muscle of my body, the source of all truth and life

Offerings were made, much left behind in the emptying ...

Much gathered in the filling ...

Surrendering into flow and excited to see where the waters will carry me.  I just have to follow the signs ...

To quote one of our fearless leaders:  Giddy up!  Git 'er done!

So I will. So I must. 

We speak. We sing. We swallow water and breathe smoke. By the end of the ceremony, it is as if skin contains land and birds.  The places within us have become filled. As inside the enclosure of the lodge, the animals and ancestors move into the human body, into skin and blood. The land merges with us .... We who easily grow apart from the world are returned to the great store of life all around us, and there is the deepest sense of being at home here in this intimate kinship. There is no real aloneness. There is solitude  and the nurturing silence that is relationship with ourselves, but even then we are part of something larger. 

Buckets of love and gratitude to these two lovelies who held the space and called in the guides, spirits, scorpions, spiders and other critters.  Big love to and from both of them.  I'm proud to share the bunkhouse with these Cowgirls.

Jen Gray and Pixie Campbell from Visual Quest, Arizona

Friday, November 8, 2013

Learning as I go ...

"Gardens, like children, are forgiving; gardens grow. Love, even clumsy and unrefined, cultivates. Time, unhurried, is never wasted."

I often tell my yoga students that the best way to understand a posture, especially the balancing poses, is through the struggle to attain them.  Attempting to balance on one leg, the act of falling out of balance teaches us what is missing and the process of returning again and again to the pose reinforces where our center is and what constitutes balance in our own body.  

So after the struggles of the previous few weeks, I am reminded once again that parenting isn't so much about getting it right, avoiding struggles or conflicts, but climbing back into the  arena with an open heart, fully present, open to new possibilities, and willing to risk falling down in order to learn how to stand up.

I find it curious I received several emails and private messages in response to my post on my mothering struggles.  I think so many of us hold this unexamined belief that others have a handle on this gig called parenting, whereas we somehow missed the class and are woefully ill equipped and in over our heads. But examined in the light of day and the light of reality and reasonableness, I recognize the absurdity of those assumptions.  Still, I know I am driven by irrational fear of exposure as a sham, as incompetent, a bad parent and that fear can silence me. Bravery is speaking my truth and listening yours; sharing our truths (the nitty gritty and the triumphant) is the means of liberation, hope and inspiration.

I am grateful for writers like Anne Lamott and Karen Maezen Miller who share with their readers their crooked journeys, missteps and misadventures if only to remind us we all are learning as we go.  And that's okay.  Maybe it is the best way, for then I am eternally responding to what is before me, rather than reacting to how I believe things ought to be, or how they were yesterday, last week, last year.  Because if there is one magically frustrating and inspiring thing I've experienced parenting my daughter, it is that she is always growing, changing, shifting, becoming.

Days after our family meltdown, I read this post which bumped me back on track.  As much as I want to make the journey easy for my girl, clearing out obstacles, bubble-wrapping the sharp edges, imparting to her the insights I've gain through heartache and suffering, that is not my role.  

"In hindsight, it seems to me that she has been waiting for me to stop imparting to her. To stop imposing on her, to stop judging, coercing, undermining, and second-guessing her, as if she were the proof of my able foresight and good intentions." (Karen Maezen Miller) 

This past week I've been subbing as a teacher's aide in the preschool class at Cowgirl's school.  I am learning so much from the teacher and the other aides who clearly love what they do and care deeply for each child and work hard to coax out his or her potential.  It has been reassuring for me to know Cowgirl is in this environment. (I know, not all teachers are equal, but we have been blessed by some truly saint-like in patience and enthusiasm teachers and I want to give a shout out for all those teachers - especially the ones in public schools - who do show up passionate and caring.  Because, my goddess, after a couple of days I am emptied and drained!)  Watching these teachers respond to the meltdowns was instructive.  They never coddled, never brushed away the incident.  What they did do was support the child to understand their accomplishments that day, to guide them to stretch a bit further in order to expand their abilities.  Taking small hands and redirecting them ... holding the scissors so they smile at you, guide the paper with the other hand  ... keep going ... look!  Look at what you just did!

Rushing in from my lunch break, I passed through the lunch room just as Cowgirl's lunch period begins.  She was sitting at the table, head down, face hidden.  My heart sank as a recognized the body language of "something's wrong."  I rushed over to her and sat down. Leaning my head in, I tried to coax from her what had happened.  Big, hot tears rolled down her cheeks.  She wouldn't answer me and she wouldn't take my comfort.  Finally, one of the lunchroom teachers noticed the distress and came over.  I reminded Cowgirl that in order for her to find a solution, she had to tell us what was wrong.  The teacher then stepped in and I realize this was my cue to step away.  For what mattered here was not my smoothing things out, but for her to know support is out there and waiting for her.  She just has to speak up and ask and by doing so, will discover she is the agent of her own solutions.

It is the most difficult Zen practice to leave people to their destiny, even though it's painful - just loving them, and breathing with them, and distracting them in a sweet way, and laughing with them . . . if something was not my problem, I probably did not have the solution.” (Anne Lamott, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son)

I was witness to several situation where the teacher had supported the child in finding his or her strength, sense of power and possibility after a meltdown only to have the parent swoop in and undo that lesson.  It was a good reminder for me that as hard as it is to watch my girl suffer, fixing things for her is no solution.  She must find and craft her own tools, her own way and the most I can do is to hold the space for her to make her way. As my wise to-go mama friend recently counseled, perhaps we need to let them experience failing. Then she can discover her way back to her center, to her place of balance and strength. My role is not to stop the falling, but to cheer her on from the sidelines, reminding her that I believe in her ability to find her way.  And that I am finding my own way, learning by her side.

"I think the single best line of advice I ever heard on being a parent, a writer, a seeker, an anything, is something the great E. L. Doctorow said years and years ago, that writing is like driving at night with the headlights on: you can only see a little ways in front of you but you can make the whole journey this way. This may not be verbatim, but for me it has rung true in every area of my life." Anne Lamott

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

drawing therapy

It has been crazy-central over here ... first Halloween ... with school parade and classroom party


their group won the mummy-wrapping contest

Then Cowgirl had a martial arts tournament which we had been intensely prepping for during the past two weeks, not with copious tears from all.  The day of the tournament I had a great seat for photos, but sat dumbfounded as she pulled a performance out of her hat that was unexpected given the lackluster practice sessions.  

waiting for the judges scores

Finally, we are back on track with renewed enthusiasm (a new mentor and a gold medal work miracles) and life is easing up.

Except I have been  subbing as a  teacher's aide in Cowgirl's school and the past few mornings barely finish my first sip of coffee when the phone rings. I am blown away by how exhausted I feel after a day of work! Two sessions (morning and afternoon) of preschoolers does me in.  Of course, the fact that today's group constructed a farmyard out of massive plastic blocks and then held pig races complete with loud squealing and oinking may account for excessive fatigue!

So it is all I can do to find a way to ground myself and transition back to home time and down time.  Lately, that has meant sketching. When we have a block of time, Cowgirl and I pull out the paper and sketchbooks, sit with mugs of tea and settle in with some quiet, attentive practice.

Cowgirl makes me activity pages, to ensure I keep my dragon drawing skills up

colouring sheet for a Thunder Dragon from my Birthday Activity Book

There are also new species of creatures to discover, such as this Pegle (Eagle/Peacock, very rare)

note: it is pronounced "pe, gel ... pegle!"

And perpetually popular, monster trucks (this is an illustration from her latest book "Thud!" We got to read an advance copy and she will celebrating with an author's party at school.)

As a grown up, my imagination is flabby and so I have been warming up with what is more readily visible ...

Moose eating/Moose resting

Drawing what is near and dear to my heart (and a generally still and agreeable subject)


My drawing skills, such as they are, have become woefully rusty.  My November intention is to practice more regularly with the hopes of sharping my eye, developing some technique and cultivating imagination.

Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince)

instructions for drawing a Rearing Up and a Meditating Dragon

Thankfully, I have a wonderfully imaginative and patient instructor teaching me to remove any barriers to my imagination and let things rip.