Friday, June 29, 2012

i gather (inner excavations)

From chapter three of Inner Excavation by Liz Lamoreux:

If we open our eyes and minds to reflect on how we spend our days, what fills the world we inhabit, what we see over and over again, we gain insight into who we are in this moment, in the days before today. We can then determine who it is we want to be tomorrow.

I gather:

Pictures ~ moments captured, memories collected



Details ~ the little things that constitute beauty and truth 

Souvenirs from my day ~ reminders of life's magic 

Words, stories, and thoughts woven together to commemorate our history, our place within life's flow.

These are the things I gather; these are the treasures I hold onto; these are the things that nourish and sustain me ...



the textures, sights and sounds of my day that I cherish,

turning them over and over in my hands, in my heart, for they contain clues into my soul, the pieces that form an answer to the question: who am I?

I am ...

a star in a sea of stars
my light no brighter than others
but its absence would reveal 
a patch of darkness in the night sky
empty space that once held the light of this life's truth.


This is my response to this week's Excavate-along with Liz Lamoreux.  For more inspiration check out the responses of other participants here and Liz's original prompt for the week here.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

camp fun (dragons & ♥)

For the fourth year in a row, Cowgirl and I have headed to Colorado for Chinese adoption heritage camp. Initially, we went out to spend time with friends we have known since our families were formed almost six years ago in China. 

This was our third year attending Heritage Camps and it is now a tradition for us to make this journey every year.  The highlight of the weekend for my girl is the time she gets to spend with the energetic and enthusiastic counselors, young adults who share with her the experience of international adoption. 


It is an exhausting but rich experience.  In addition to classes geared toward Chinese culture, there are crafts, field day, and a session where the children have an opportunity to discuss with their peers their feelings regarding adoption.  For the adults there are workshops and panel discussions with adult adoptees, licensed child/family therapists as well as sessions covering Chinese culture and traditional medicine.  It is a chance to gather new tools and resources as we wade into uncharted emotional territory.  I am grateful for the generosity of so many young people who are reaching out to support our children. (An incredible resource is this website created by two Korean adoptees who offer free support for families both online and in person as they travel to events like Heritage Camp speaking to young adults and parents.)  

The overall tone of the weekend is one of chaotic play as the kids spend hours away from their parents and in the care of patient and able-bodied counselors. 

Parents participate in camp and this year I was enlisted to help make not one, but multiple dragons!  I helped Cowgirl's group make dragon puppets ...


...  which they quickly turned upon their counselor.

I assisted the middle schoolers in making 3 large dragons for the end of camp parade.  Cowgirl's group raised the most funds for the camp charity and were the first to perform a dragon dance with their creation.


The highlight of camp is the dim sum farewell gathering where Cowgirl makes the rounds sitting in the laps or climbing on the backs of her favorite counselors. Her favorite is the young man who was her counselor for her first camp 3 years ago.  

Apparently there was a surreptitious "half belly kiss" delivered while saying goodbye and my girl and her best friend reenact the giddy moment. (I remember how they used to declare that they would marry each other ... oh, how quickly they grow up!)

There is much to digest emotionally, and slowly deeper issues rise to the surface as we process our mutual camp experiences.  I am grateful for the friends my daughter and I share, for their love and support as we unravel our family's story.  

We are blessed to have their presence in our history ... and in our future. 

(Any pictures of the mommies wait patiently upon our girl's disposable cameras, although I suspect we may have been overlooked in the glee of photographing their beloved counselors!) 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

summer fun (joy warrior's journal)

Ingredients for summer fun: water

ice cream  

more water


and smiles

a heart bursting to show its joy


Such is the life of two joy warriors.


How do you experience joy?  Care to share?  Let's make this the summer of the joy revolution!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

i seek (inner excavations)

It is week two of Liz Lamoreux's Inner Excavate-along.  In the second chapter we are encouraged to look at pictures from our past in an attempt to shed light upon the journey that brought us to this moment.  She encourages us to look through old photographs choosing how far back we may wish to journey - last month, last year, or 10, 20, 30 years ago.  Another suggestion is to look at old family photos of ancestors - to examine one's roots.  

I admit, when I initially read this chapter I was resistant to these prompts.  I have few photographs from my childhood.  I cannot say if there are any pictures of me with my mother prior to my college graduation, something foreign to my existence now as so many of my pictures are of me with Cowgirl.  Photos holding my entire family together in one moment rarer still.

I decided now is the time to tackle a few boxes labelled "family photos" which have sat in the guest room closet for almost 3 years now.  When moving my mother cross-country, she actually told my husband to pitch the boxes.  "They are just old pictures of family nobody would care about" she told him.  Thankfully, he argued on my behalf and now I find myself holding journals written by my grandfather in 1918; my father's dog-tags and medals from WWII; an envelope filled with congratulatory cards for my birth; 


 and numerous photos spanning close to a hundred years of our family's history.

It was my mother's albums which drew me in.  One book is filled with autographed pictures of servicemen - her many beaus - from her single days.  There are a handful of pictures of her as a young girl.  I am struck by  this image of my mother as a teenager.  



There is something in the way the sunlight almost obscures her, an uncertainty in her posture, a protectiveness as she holds her hands in loose fists, a solemness to her face - all these details familiar aspects of my own self and history.  I too was a guarded child, hesitant, alone, but shielded by an inner conviction to move forward, to find my way out of what felt like a restrictive environment.  Looking at this image, I can feel my inheritance of her will and resolve pulsing in my blood.  

And in a flash, I recognize the spirit of my girl - the direct gaze, shoulders squared, standing firmly in her place and holding her ground.  Brave but vulnerable, unsure but ready to forge ahead.  


I sit amazed to behold the weaving together of such disparate threads into one coherent story.  For if Cowgirl is the latest chapter, then these women (and the many invisible mothers, aunts, sisters and daughters) represent the prologue.

Below are the words I wrote after finding the above photograph.  While I see the seeds of my own being within the lives of my grandmother (far left) and her aunt, I also see how Cowgirl's story is the logical and natural continuation of this spiritual bloodline.  Blood may be thicker than water, but love flows beyond all boundaries of physical space and time.   Who we are is so much vaster than anything we can imagine.   Only our hearts can hold the immensity of it all. 

I come from a long line of broken hearts
dreamers sustaining themselves with hardened crusts of hope,
hard work,
blistered feet finding home upon dry, barren earth.

These women of stout ankles
solemn faces covering
the many disappointments -
lost children, lost families,
selves lost in the pain of abuse, disease, poverty, isolation -
I carry both the bitterness and the spiritedness of their blood within me.

I pull out the boxes of family photos
seeking clues about the girl I was
for I distrust these memories I have inherited:
quiet, shy, a good girl, good daughter, good student
second child
I already know there is little here for me

I find my brother’s blue baby book
filled with cards, names and dates recorded
in my mother’s tidy script
and this family tree -
names of ancestors I never knew branching together to hold my brother
in his place, at the top
my finger traces the path from Ireland, Glasgow, Texas, Hoboken to him
blank blocks signifying images lacking,
faces lost, stories missing.

I realize I too have been a blank square,
unknown quantity to myself
“I’m whoever I choose to be”
my flippant response
but here I hold the evidence of this truth.

I came to this task
seeking to find myself within my family’s history
but what I uncover is
An abandonment of sorts.

But also a freedom
I can fill in the missing gaps
with new stories
dreams retrieved, mended and slipped on again.

Seed of my mother’s mother’s 
watered by the blood of these women who
dared to survive,
finding at long last
rich, welcoming soil.

Who I once was - or who I was lead to believe was me -
drifts out to sea
as who I am,
the woman I seek
waits patiently within
this healing but whole heart.

Friday, June 15, 2012

i begin (inner excavations)

I am following a read-along of Liz Lamoreux's book Inner Excavation which she is hosting for free over on her blog for the next 6 weeks. (The read-along lasts a total of 7 weeks - one week for each chapter - there is still plenty of time to catch up and join in!) It dawns on me that I am a rather social hermit; while I require oodles of quiet time to myself, I also need social interaction and connection to help me clarify the inklings that arise from my creative navel-gazing. Ideas shared in community tend to flesh out, have more weight and meaning when exposed to the light of other's eyes and minds.  

So here I am, sitting in the middle of what Liz calls the dig site that is my life, shifting through feelings, memories, aspirations, dreams and fears that for too long lay buried and lost.  I've been doing this work for some time now, but the timing of Liz's inner excavate-along coincides with my own sense of staging a more conscious effort to seek clarity within my life and my actions. 

This first week I decided to incorporate the prompts from chapter one into ongoing projects - my mini sketchbook and book of days and this blog - rather than start a separate new journal (and yes, I had a moment of mouth-frothing anticipation as I contemplated a new journal to be justified; in the end, I've let practicality - and my intention of clarity - win out as I just cannot add another project onto the pile. Rather, I see this process as augmenting practices already in place.)

Chapter one is entitled "I begin" and I've carried that phrase with me throughout my week. FIttingly, this week I began - yet again - my morning meditation practice.  Like a mantra, the phrase "now I begin ... " has gently informed the photographs I've taken, journal play and lots of writing.  

I begin

Eyes closed
breathe out, breathe in
start again -
the gunk of an unruly mind
pooling away like retreating snails,
leaving an iridescent slime trail in the morning light of this meditation

the thoughts that dog me
whether I am awake or  asleep,
eclipsing possibility of clarity

but I begin again
always hope filled,
chasing away hungry crocodiles
with each breath
“now is the moment that matters”

now is the place where
the magical is visible,
where the seeds of dreams
can begin their germination
within the  tranquil pool
of this spacious breath

always I return
to this place of beginning,
for it offers me possibility and forgiveness,
a mona lisa smile,
an endless moment holding me
and all my contradictions
in a welcoming embrace.

Beginnings feed hope.  Last night in an anxious dream I said "To have all the answers would leave no room for Hope."  I'm not sure what that means, but it feels important.  As someone who wants to understand everything, perhaps my subconscious is reminding me to allow room for mystery and uncertainty; that the unknown holds much magic, and that the unexpected is a place where I can be comfortable and grow beyond my boundaries. 

So here I am, ready to begin again.  But choosing to walk slowly, resisting my impulse to rush forward.  I don't want to miss any of the magic.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

small packages

I have to remind myself Summer has not officially started ... but I already feel like it is zooming by.  School let out the end of May, and Cowgirl is in her second week of swimming lessons at the neighborhood pool, so Summer feels like it is in full swing here.  Why do I persist in believing summer break will be a time of spaciousness and leisure?  It is anything but!

Such is my delusion that my girl will utilize the stretches of unstructured time to amuse herself but reality is she knows this time is precious and she wants to make the most of it.  Swimming pool, movies, park, zoo, and lunches - my god, the lunches!  I need to remember come Fall when I am wracking my brain for lunch bag ideas to give thanks to the lunchroom ladies who tend to my rather ravenous child on a daily basis.  She doesn't like breakfast ... three bites of cantaloupe and she is full ... so lunch starts early and lingers well into the afternoon.  I think she must have some Italian in her ... all that pasta eating has influenced her genes.  Long lunches, a late afternoon siesta and then she is ready to rock it well into the evening hours.  Legend has it there once was a bedtime routine around here ...

Needless-to-say this loosey-goosey lifestyle is perfect for a 7-year old and shattering to this hormonally-challenged mama-crone.  I've been thinking a lot about the ways I  find or create a sense of inner spaciousness and I am happy to share one of my latest discoveries: the mini-journal.

a little gesso, some acrylic paint, fairy dust and voila! a new cover!

Disclosure: I have a addiction fondness for all-things-journal-ish. I believe I made something of a confession a ways back and self-awareness has not lead to any kind of recovery unless you consider purchasing journals to give to others as one of the 12 steps. I couldn't resist this little journaling kit assembled by Sarah Ahearn Bellemare.  


It looked like the perfect thing for summer and vacation use as it is small and lends itself to quick spreads.  Little journal "notes" to borrow a concept from Liz Lamoreux.  

So far I've been able to turn to this journal for quickie art sessions.  I like to think of it as opening the valve on my creative radiator and letting a little steam off.  I am playing with smear-creatures, minimalist collages and your basic doodle art.  


Nothing heavy; light, playful, creative stretches versus a full on aerobics session.  Perfect for my distractible summer mind.

Meanwhile, Cowgirl is working in her journal somewhat regularly.  

so begins the story of Flames, the Dragon ...

Perhaps one day far in the future there will be an exhibit of our works, side-by-side. Perhaps ours will be the only artifacts remaining from this largely digital age?  A solar flare erasing all data stored in the cloud or on hard drives.  Historians pouring over our pages and wondering about this world of penguins, dragons, big headed beings and sharp-toothed creatures.  

Eden may be nothing more than a shifting of perspective, an invitation into a world of imagination and play. Any real paradise must have an element of danger and excitement, mais non?

What summer projects do you have brewing?  How do you integrate summer play with time for creating?  We have aspirations here my friends.  Flames story must be told, creatures waiting to be birthed and a whole slew of journals to be filled.  Pass the iced tea and let's get going!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

one wish ...

One of the more frustrating aspects of parenting is the futile attempt to try an impart some hard-earned wisdom to your child.  I say futile because anything of value I know, I had to learn for myself through challenges and difficulties.  But as a mother I still hold out the hope that I might be able to spare my child some of the more odious parts of the journey if she would just listen to me.

If I've learned anything, it is that the phrase "I found out the hard way" holds no credibility if it comes from a parent's mouth.  I swear, she hears the "Wah Wah" voice of the adults in Peanuts cartoons whenever I try to tell something of value. It is the eyes rolling, head wagging gesture that gives her away.

But I discovered that lessons told through stories do sink in.  In Mighty Girl art camp we listened to a story about a girl and a magic necklace and Cowgirl keeps mentioning that story.  "Remember the mean girls mommy?"  Some jealous and mean girls tricked another girl into tossing her beautiful necklace into a lake.  We're really into mean people getting their comeuppance. The heroine of the story receives a magical necklace through her acts of compassion and caring.  The mean girls end up drowning. 

I'm not sure Cowgirl has grasped the complete moral of this story: in a quick jaunt through the farmer's market I was on a quest for fresh salsa and ended up with a $35 silver heart - a "grown-up"  - necklace which she latched onto.  It was day 4 of daddy being gone and I had one more day to survive and we were headed to my mother's next.  We needed a magic necklace.  

Cowgirl and I have started reading some of the ancient myths and legends.  I had forgotten that it was Pandora who - by opening her box or jar - unleashed illness, suffering and evil into the world.  What I didn't remember ever hearing was this bit: that  Pandora attempted to close the lid but could not put back what she had let loose.  She did, however, close the lid with one thing remaining inside: Hope.  

I've been thinking about the ways Hope manifests in my life.  On the night of the full moon, I made my way to our backyard fairy circle to make an offering.  As I kneeled upon the bark mulch, I could see a hazy full moon through the branches of the crab apple tree - the tree where our prayer ties hang.  I had more of an Eat, Pray, Love moment sobbing to the night for guidance and strength: to find the words, the love, and the space within myself to lovingly care for and support my mother, my daughter, my husband and myself.   I then turned over my burdens to the Universe. If it is folly for me to believe I can control my journey, then it is madness to try to direct another's.

When I went inside, I discovered this note Cowgirl had left for the fairies:

It is a drawing of a Phoenix (we just finished the second Harry Potter book) which she was offering to the fairies.  In exchange for her gift, she asks if she can have a wish. 

can I have a wish maybe - just circle yes or no or maybe

The next day I asked her what her wish might be and she said she had to think about it. Later on she came to me with her wish decided: to fly!  I explained to her that the fairies cannot make us fly in real life, but that they can teach us to fly in our dreams which is much, much better as then we can travel anywhere.  

If I could make one wish, it would be this: to always remember Hope, in its many forms, is the foundation for my life.

Hope is watching my girl master the cartwheel and, at 49, finally attempting to cartwheel myself. Hope is all I have to offer my mother and it is what will support me in the days ahead.