Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Double dog dared ...


... and dog tired!

I just completed my first double dog dare thanks to the support and accountability of the Squam Artworkshops Community. In January they kicked off the challenge on their new blog and I decided it was just the incentive I needed to complete a task that had been weighing heavily upon the grey matter.

You see, I take a lot of pictures ... but said pictures live in various virtual folders on two computers and two back up hard drives. Knowing that one day the Apple cloud will evaporate (not that I'm in the cloud yet) and a solar flare will wipe out the contents of all of earth's computer hard drives (and yes, one day pigs will have wings ... in fact I'm sure there is one over on Youtube somewhere ...) I've been living on the edge worrying about the demise of this vast photographic record of my family's life.

Okay, so I am motivated by apocalyptic fears but here is a time when fear and angst were put to good use:

my double dog dare - completed!
one is a Blurb Book and the other from Shutterfly

I completed not one, but TWO photo books! The main project - my double dog dare - was to retrieve (yes, woof woof!) the 365 images from a daily self portrait project spanning 2009 and 2010. I had just completed the first Unravelling course with Susannah Conway and a group of us decided to stay together for either a 365 or 52 (one photo a week) project. That I completed that project is proof I am nothing if not a terrier holding onto the end of a sock. Once I commit, I commit.

I admit, once that year was through I was relieved to step away from the task of a daily photograph. But a year later and I realized how that practice made me more attentive to the details of my life. Each day of that year is vivid in my memory because I took time to celebrate it.

february 27 - books

I also discover shifting though a year's worth of work I could identify aspects of my changing style and interests. Many of the images are pretty dreadful in terms of technique but they do chart my progress as a photographer; looking at a large body of work, I am able to identify my true strengths and can begin to more mindfully develop my interests and skills.

And because I had my camera already out, I took lots of pictures of daily events with Cowgirl. I had been making photo albums for her but somewhere in 2009 things fell apart. So a side dare was to begin reconstructing those missing years into photo books. Spurring me on was the fear of one day handing Cowgirl a back-up hard drive saying "Here is your childhood."

For Cowgirl's book I used a fun template in Shutterfly called Project Life, a digital scrapbook designed by Becky Higgans (her products are here if you would rather make your own) which allowed me to type in stories and text to create a more personalized book. (The one thing I like about Shutterfly is your projects stay there indefinitely; a book I made years ago is still available to reprint or even edit should I want more copies for family members.)

Of course I am caught up through August 2009 ... many more books to complete ...

And did I mention I've committed to another 365 project?

feb 21 - studying
feb 21

february 22 - dragons
feb 22

february 23  - stormy day
feb 23

february 25 - distortion
feb 25

february 25 - star student
i think i deserve to be star student

Which means another book at the end of 2012 ...

But this is what you get to see when you complete your dare:

Okay, I just dare you not to want to jump up and take action now! You know you feel a mighty woof coming on. (Thank you Jen Gray, you are a Joy Warrior extraordinaire!)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

connecting this girl with that girl

Recently, I was having lunch with some girl friends and I was telling them about Cowgirl's last martial arts belt test. Every 3 months the center has testing for the next level belt and the exams include knowing the full form, individual combinations, and concepts such as the school's student creed or black belt code. It is a grueling process - although I am only speaking about my experience as a mother sitting on the sidelines watching her incredibly small but brave child undergo such rigors.

As a rule, the students usually have to test twice. The first round everyone seems to "fail" (they don't label it as such, but that is how it feels) and they are admonished to go home and really practice and prepare. A lot of the time the issue is about attitude: demonstrating confidence, enthusiasm and strength.

This last test Cowgirl was with a group that had already tested once and were prepared for the second round in the gauntlet. Cowgirl had been sick, so we waited until midweek to attend. She was called out with 3 other kids to perform their 34 step combination form and around step 22 she got lost. It was a slow motion torture for me; she looked around, moved her arms in and out a few times and attempted to find her way back into the sequence. Finally, she just stopped and stood at attention, waiting for the others to finish. The instructor asked everyone else to go sit down and left her standing on her own in the middle of the room. He began shuffling through some papers and then talking quietly with the other instructor. All the while my girl stood completely still in a full but silent room of students and parents. All of us watching and waiting.

Finally the instructor called 3 other students out to join Cowgirl and she tested again with a new group. And again she got lost and attempted to fudge her way through to the end of the form.

She didn't pass that night but she held it together until she got off the floor. Then she climbed into my lap and dissolved into tears.

I was telling my friends how I then sent the Husband with her for the second test even though I knew she would pass because she knew she could pass. I was explaining that she is so much tougher and braver than I was at her age (hell, even in my twenties I didn't have such grit!) but that it is hard for me to not project my memories, my experiences, my fears upon her. And my friends unanimously shouted at me "Stop projecting!"

Coming upon the heels of this event was a request for me to post a picture of myself as a child to group forming for the upcoming ecourse Paint Your Story. As we would be channeling our inner child in the course, the idea seemed to be to to reconnect with the freer or less inhibited version of ourselves. Looking through the few photographs I have of myself as a child (well aware the glut of images chronicling daily adventures of me and Cowgirl is in direct response to this gaping lack) it dawned upon me that my taking such courses is precisely to heal this child:

This photo was taken across the road from my Uncle's house in Colorado. I believe I am around 7 or 8 years old. I absolutely loved horses and my fantasy life as a child would have been to live far, far away from other people, having only my loyal horse and the wide open fields for companions.

As a child I was given a small green photo album and this picture is one of a dozen I saved in that album. Flipping through its pages, I realize this album acted as a kind of repository of ambitions or dreams for myself. I have 2 other pictures of me with horses, several with my first dog and many more pictures of the adults in my life who I trusted and admired. I think this album was like a vision board of how I wanted to feel on the inside: accepted and connected and safe.

Looking at that picture of myself with the horse, what I see now is hesitancy, uncertainty, and doubt. I wanted to embrace that horse but was afraid to. And the horse seemed to sense my fear. I look at that girl and I am puzzled as to the source of so much discomfort. I'm stumped as to how to heal what was so deeply rooted. I remember that girl but I'm not sure how to redeem her.

That girl and my girl couldn't be more opposite. It has been challenging raising a child who is so different that I was; her responses and reactions beyond anything I could have imagined myself doing or being. Our being together often seems like a great cosmic joke. But if I know anything about the Universe and its sense of humor, I know humor holds the deepest teachings. Being together may be a karmic healing: Cowgirl teaching me about being a warrior and holding firmly to one's convictions while I in turn teach her it's okay to ask for support, not know all the answers, creatively seek solutions and trust in one's softer self. It is about balancing all parts of ourselves and learning from others how to access those aspects of oneself that are less familiar or developed.

I've been thinking a lot about the icons that inspire me; who does embody the me I feel myself to be on the inside? This is the material discussed on Jen Lee's Icon Self cd series which is pretty much rocking my poptarts ever since I popped the first disc in. (Why yes, I have been eating poptarts lately ... much be an inner child thang ... thank you for pointing that out!) The idea that our shadow aspects could be positive or empowered parts of ourselves held in check because culturally they are not considered appropriate (good girls don't make demands or fight back) is something I'd never considered before. But how profound is that idea?

For further clarification of this idea, do take a listen to this piece by Jen Lee on why we need Icons:

Emerging Icons: Why the World Needs Icons from Jen Lee on Vimeo.

And for other videos in her series, check here. I love what Jen is doing in this series and I love the message that we all are seeking to embody the fullest expression of ourselves and that by doing so, we support others in manifesting their whole and complexly wonderful selves.

So when I say I am wandering about many fields of thought, this is what has been on my mind. Healing myself, preparing my daughter so that she has the tools for her own healing (because I am thinking none of us gets out of this task; there is either avoidance or acceptance), and wondering who are my icons and what role models - what heroines - do I want for my girl? I think what is needed is a gallery collection with commentary - a vast pool from which to select and choose and I would love some suggestions. How do you step into the empowered version of yourself? What garb do you don? What tools do you gather? What songs do you play? Who do you turn to for inspiration and insight?

Friday, February 17, 2012

holding the space

A lot of hurrying up to slow down happening over here. The feeling is one of a thick layer of ice, but underneath the current is flowing. Things are shifting, ideas and insights settling into place.

I'm not really in a place to articulate what is still moving through the mist. I am doing my best to simply hold space open for whatever is waiting to emerge.

My meditation teacher once told me there would be a time in my life when my practice would consist of touching the cushion; that life will get busy and time to sit will not be possible but that the act of remembrance will be enough. My life feels that way right now. I scurry through the house on my way somewhere and I pass by my yoga room and see my cushion in front of my altar waiting for me. In my mind, I lightly touch the indigo fabric as if to say "I will be back."

And so my days go - trips to the doctor's office with my mother, work, grocery shopping, martial arts classes, after school pick up, the thrice circuit around the neighborhood with Moose, trash day, teaching day, a rare outing with friends, and oh-yes to the library before the books are overdue.

My life is my practice and my practice is my life. It matters little if I get to my cushion today or next week ... I know I will return. There is no timetable, no set agenda, no syllabus to be following. There is only being present for what is before me and keeping my heart open to receive what is being offered.

Words I carry in my medicine pouch these days:

Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.

Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

- John O'Donohue

Back out I go ... but I am leaving you a trail of stones - these words - to help you follow me should you want to wander a bit in the wild. Holding the space for all kinds of magic to happen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

we ♥ u

Must be the sugar overload ...

The first serenade went a lot like Bill Withers Ain't No Sunshine (which I'm not sure how she's ever heard it, but definitely that was the melody and part of the lyric.) Naturally Cowgirl wanted to record her creation but once the camera was rolling things unraveled.

And then there was the unexpected request "Let's watch it on your blog mommy!" As if some blogging gnome is gathering all my photos and stories and madly uploading content while we sleep. Which actually would be a pretty useful thing ... leaving me more time to, well, enjoy all my goodies. I believe my coupon book includes a massage and a dragon and some painting.

Hope your Valentine's Day was as sweet as ours.

Friday, February 10, 2012

my dirty little secret

Do or Do not. There is no try. - Master Yoda

I tend to shy away from notions of either/or preferring gray areas which some view as uncertainty, but I believe is a place of possibility.

Still the wisdom of Master Yoda seems to have become the new mantra around our house and I have become aware of the power of decisiveness. And doing.

A confession here: I am pretty much a "do-er" by nature. I know, surprise huh?

I've been thinking about all my doing and wondering about the motivation behind all my busyness. I know there is the danger of doing as a means of avoidance and distraction but honestly, I don't believe such is true in my case. Usually.

No, the reality is - and here is my dirty little secret - I am a very disciplined person.

I know, I know. Discipline is such an un-sexy concept. Generally it is considered the opposite of spontaneity, freedom and play. It is not something wild Creatives talk about very much but I am here to set the record straight.

I work hard. That is my magic formula. I absolutely love Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit for her words echo my experience: "The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lighting bolt of inspiration, maybe more." She comes down firmly upon the side of hard work as the genesis for creative action.

The danger of course is discipline for discipline's sake. I know about that as well having been anorexic as a teenager I was nothing, if not extremely well disciplined. My determination to be in total control almost did me in. It wasn't until I started studying yoga that I learned how to balance discipline - known as tapas in Yoga - with surrender.

Thinking about creativity it makes sense that there needs to be some fire - another translation for tapas - to overcome inertia (known as tamas in yoga) but that fire needs to be handled with care and some control lest everything go up in flames. There is doing but then there is an aspect of allowing - the dancing with inspiration and spontaneous action that breathes vitality into our work. In my case, there is a lot of surrendering to those happy accidents which transforms what I am doing into something unexpected, new and often insightful.

But it all comes back to doing. Showing up for the work. Putting some energy into it.

And that is my other "secret" if you will - energy. I try to think about things in terms of energy. Energy created, energy expended. Often I come to the end of my day tired and ready to shuffle off to the couch for some mindless television. There are times when that emptiness is exactly what I need in order to recharge and refill the next day. But there are times when I know to put in an hour on a project that has been on my mind will, in the end, give me an energy boost exceeding the energy needed to overcome my initial inertia. This is where discipline and having developed a "habit of creating" help out. It's kind of like the expression "you never regret having gone to the gym." Once done, I feel better for the work achieved.

I jealously guard my energy. I don't go out a lot, I know I can only handle so much social exchange before I feel wiped out, and I try - I try really hard - to monitor how much energy I give to online time. I play attention to how diet, routine, and people affect my energy. I have had to erect strong boundaries in certain relationships lest I be sucked dry by another person's emotional needs. In some cases, this has meant letting go of the relationship when I no longer was willing to fulfill that role.

Discipline really is another way of saying commitment. And I've made a commitment here - to myself and my family. By identifying that, I understand my discipline not as slavish behavior but action motivated by higher ideals of love, self worth, and celebration. For much of what I do is to record our family's life, to preserve our stories and discoveries and to honor my own growth and understanding. And to partake in magic. Always I am seeking the magic in those moments.

Next time you catch yourself saying "I'm going to try to get to that project today" think of Master Yoda's words: "Do or Do not. There is no try." Which is to say make a choice one way or the other and then commitment to your decision. Give all your energy to one thing - work, play or rest - and see how doing so affects you and how your full attention affects what you do ... or don't do.

Things I am choosing this weekend: to finish compiling the photo book of my 365 selfies (self portraits) from 2009 - 2010 (only 30 images left to put in!); work on the shutterfly scrapbook for Cowgirl (I have photo albums for the first 3 years of our family and am now committed to catching up by making photo books for the last 2 1/2 years ... I am loving this template in shutterfly from Becky Higgans); my Book of Days (of course); and time to make some valentine's with Cowgirl for family and friends.

and then there is this adventure Cowgirl and I are eagerly anticipating ...

a golden oldie from the archives -
almost 3 years ago and very little has changed

See work ... play ... they are not either/or propositions for me. The one folds into the other ...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

snow day (slowing down)

We went to bed last Friday night anticipating a big snow overnight. Excitement in the Midwest is the possibility of thunderstorm. As we haven't had much of a winter season, we are were looking forward to the white stuff but more than anything I was hoping for an excuse to stay put all weekend long and just unwind.

Saturday morning we awoke to the best alarm of them all - Cowgirl arriving for some morning cuddles. I could see a glow around the curtains - that magical white haze that suggests the day is on pause. Opening the curtains we were greeted by this sight:

A good day is one where the bed never gets made because someone is lounging in it -

There is time for nurturing body (hot lemonade with honey) -

And soul (snow people = smiles)

There is ample time to feed creativity (a fun SoulCraft made for the Winter SouLodge - my mama bear mask) -

Lots of snacks (because lounging and play require much fuel)

And the perfect ending to a totally indulgent and needed day: spa time with my best girl.

This week we have a guest staying with us and he astutely observed that you cannot see where the land ends and the sky begins.

One of the reasons why I love living here - even if I have to sloughed through days like this:

I know there will be more days where I will be surrounded by wide, blue skies.

An excellent reminder that life is like that and I just need to appreciate the fog and the grey for it always brings sunshine and possibility in its wake.

Friday, February 3, 2012


As I used up my word quota for the week (or was it the month?) - a little visual respite is in order. Here is how I come back into my center:

dip 3


dip 4

dip 1



Am contemplating what these wise words mean to me in my life:

"The duty of privilege is absolute integrity."
- John O'Donohue

(Thank you Mel ... you always know how to calm me down and help me to re-chart my course.)

My deepest gratitude to all who trusted me enough to share the discomfort. May we find the words to ignite healing and change. We can speak and we must stand up for what our hearts tell is right. But we also must remember to turn our eyes to the beauty of this world for the inspiration to carry on.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

abiding in discomfort

I ask of you, dear readers, to assume with me a pose of some discomfort; to resist the natural impulse to move away from that which is uncomfortable and attempt to rest and stay present for what such an act may stir up within you. I promise a a payoff of sorts at the end here.

I must confess, I am not one to watch or read the news. I scan headlines, look through the online new feeds and stay somewhat abreast of current events but in all honesty my approach is a bit like an ostrich with her head in the sand. I tend to get overly emotional and then wallow in the overwhelm of "What can I do?" or "What should I do?" So my defense is one of avoidance.

Why I chose yesterday to read the news article about an Afghan woman being murdered by her husband and mother-in-law is a bit of a mystery. But reading it was like removing the one brick that had been holding up the wall guarding me from overwhelm. Why was this woman murdered? Because she had given birth to another daughter.

I was then reminded of the documentary It's A Girl! set for release sometime in 2012. I posted the link to the trailer a few months ago when I first learned about the film from artist Soraya Nulliah who has written some powerful pieces and interviews on her blog specifically addressing the issue of gendercide in India. (Soraya's two-part interview with gender activist Rita Banerji is must-reading for anyone wishing to understand the complexities of this issue. It should go without saying we all need to be informed.)

I watched the trailer again, my shock and dismay as fresh as it was with the first viewing. In December 2011 ABC News aired a piece by reporter Elizabeth Vargas about the situation in India and I was recalling the chilling interview with a mother - a physician - whose husband (also a physician) threatened and tortured her in an attempt to force her to abort the twin girls she was carrying.

Here are the statistics: according to the UN, 200 million girls are "missing" meaning aborted, murdered or abandoned by their families. The problem isn't confided to India and China, although they are two of the worst offenders (combined, the two countries eliminate more girls than those born in the U.S. each year); Pakistan, Taiwan, and South Korea are other countries contributing to the above staggering figure. It is estimated that 9 million more females are demographically missing than the total number of people believed to have been killed in all of the conflicts and wars of the 20th century.

Let that last statistic sink in ...

Are you feeling as overwhelmed, frustrated, angry and helpless as I am?

Not knowing what to do with such intense feelings, I decided to post the link for the It's a Girl! trailer on Facebook. I know, what was I thinking? But I was feeling outrage and I wanted to ignite some kind of fire if only for discussion and support. There were a few comments but not what I craved. I then posted a photo of Cowgirl and within minutes a flood of people took note.

I wallowed in disgust for awhile. Then I delved into guilt over my behavior: how I squander my attention and resources on what feels like frivolous matters in the face of such horror and injustice. I mean, earlier in the day I was pondering a pair of earrings from Etsy and cutting out magazine pictures for a dream board collage. I know, this is harsh and unproductive thinking but there I was. (Consumerism may be the opiate of the masses ... but I digress ...)

Two things emerged as I sat with all the discomfort of my heart, head and feelings: first that my frustration with others not responding to my outrage merely points up the fact that I too find it necessary to turn my head away from matters too overwhelming to grasp let alone take on. I know I've see similar posts and not knowing what to say or do, move on. I prefer placing my attention upon that which is positive and uplifting. Who wants to dwell upon pain and suffering, right?

I also realized my initial instinct - to guard myself against emotional overwhelm - is a healthy one. I recently received some "medicine' from Seal which involved swimming through my emotions and not becoming trapped or entangled in them. My response may be an emotional one, but action must come from careful thought, proper understanding and clarity. Change will result when the two - fire of emotional energy and fluidity of thinking and understanding - unite.

Besides the obvious distress of this reality is my personal connection with China and India. China's history and practice of favoring boys over girls is part of our family story. I struggle with my feelings for on the one hand, I am eternally grateful to that country and its people for allowing us the privilege of adopting one of their daughters. Yes, she may have been devalued, but there is no mistake that the Chinese people love children and they view Cowgirl as one of their own. I do know that many are unaware of the practices that result in the death or abandonment of female infants. (The book Messages from an Unknown Chinese Mother by the reporter Xinran is excellent account of the various pressures and situations that lead to child abandonment in China.)

But my heart aches knowing one day my girl will want to know why her birth parents did not keep her. We know no details of their story, so we can only make informed guesses as to their situation. That being abandoned was probably the greatest gift and act of bravery possible to her birth mother is a truth that sits like a stone upon my heart.

And then there is India and my lifelong love of the culture and the teachings from its rich spiritual heritage. I turn to my yoga practice for solace and direction uneasy in understanding how to completely trust the teachings. (Although I suppose this dilemma is nothing new to any spiritual aspirant; as one teacher wisely told me "The teacher may be fallible but the teachings are never wrong." At least the teachings at their core and not the interpretations and manipulations of those teachings to serve another agenda.)

Exhausted by it all, I did drag myself to my yoga mat. As I lay down, I remembered that each time I practice I do so accepting myself as I am in that moment. That means moving and stretching within the confines and limitations of the body I inhabit. There is not some mythical right pose I am aiming to achieve; I am working instead to experience the pose as fully as possible as I am right now. So I eased myself into a forward bend - head nowhere near my legs - and accepted this is what I can do. And I surrendered.

What can I do right now? I can continue to inform myself. I can continue to share information with others. I can more mindfully use my resources - disposable income and time - to support causes I believe in. My practice teaches me to go within and reconnect with the source of strength that is always available to me. That strength is not rigid or hard, but soft, fluid, moving, adaptable. That source is feminine power that moves through creativity and love and emotion to bring about change.

I am becoming more mindful about turning away from what is difficult to hold. I know I can rest in uncomfortable positions for a long time and find comfort, softness and ease and in doing so, discover my abilities are always greater than I initially realized.

I do believe our actions cause ripples to move out and impact others; that peacefulness, compassion and justice begin in our homes and in our relationships with those around us. And with ourselves. For I must take care to honor and value myself as a daughter, as a woman and pass this attitude onto my girl.

are you still with me? small reward i suppose,
but here is how i chose to find comfort amid
the turmoil of my day yesterday ...
test film for The Impossible Project

Seeking more advice, I turned to that wise man who knew a bit about the discrepancies between Spiritual truths and human practices:

As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.

What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
- John O'Donohue from For the Interim Time

I will be seeking that new dawn with all the passion and energy I can muster. I would love some company on that journey.