Friday, July 25, 2014

the a-ha moments keep coming (summer camp reflections)

It's hard to believe but this was the fifth year of Chinese Heritage camp for Cowgirl and myself.

My, how things have changed! 

And yet some things, sweetly, appear to be eternal.

Every summer we make the 500+ mile drive to Colorado for Cowgirl to spend time with old and new friends.  Camp is not only about crafts and field day and songs and goofing with your friends (although that all is a big part of the fun) 

It is also about exploring Chinese heritage and culture ...

Camp is also a place where we explore what it means to be a family brought together through adoption. While we attend camp for our kids, I know for myself it is a place where I can share freely with other parents the gifts and challenges I experience raising my girl. It is also a place where I find and pass on valuable resources and perspectives.  (I've shared in past years the role camp plays for both of us in cultivating a sense of belonging.)

I shouldn't be surprised, but I always am by the a-ha moments that arise, especially in ripe and emotionally rich situations like camp. It is a time when I see my girl through the eyes of other families who understand

While I strive to share here the experiences of my life that help me learn and grow, the details of my girl's story are hers to explore, define and share should she choose to do so.  Trickier is knowing when my story - or rather, my wounds, my triggers -  have become entangled with hers. The a-ha moment (or duh! as I have come to think of such realizations) came to me in an adult workshop entitled Will the REAL Mom Please Stand Up?  

Presented by a family communication scholar/educator Beth Suter Trautman, who is also a camp parent, this workshop considered the deeply rooted assumption that authentic motherhood is typically viewed as stemming from a particular set of biological processes which are believed to induce an irreplaceable, biologically-based mother-child bond. U.S. culture continues to remind us: real mother = biological mother. (Beth Suter)

One important tool I've gained through camp and presenters like Beth is to make obvious the assumptions. While The Husband and I were waiting for Cowgirl, many people gleefully would say "Now that you are adopting, you will get pregnant." While the intention was harmless the underlying assumption is anything but.  I finally pointed out to a friend why that comment was so hurtful: it implied that what we really wanted was to get pregnant -  to have our own child (another injurious assumption; as if our adoptive daughter would be something other than our own) - and that adoption was our second and less desired, alternative.  The reality was we felt in our hearts, and then actively chose, adoption as the means to build our family.  

A particularly painful experience happened shortly after we had come home with Cowgirl. A woman came over to my home to show me some educational materials and she brought her young daughter. Cowgirl was napping when they arrived but woke up during the visit.  She saw the two strangers in her space, the girl playing with her toys, and Cowgirl reacted with an epic meltdown.  As I tried to calm her down, the woman remarked that having breastfed her child meant she was better able to soothe and comfort her child. What went unstated - but implied - was my deficiency and lack.  If didn't give birth to my child, I couldn't be a full or authentic mother.

While I have been aware of reassuring my girl that I will always be here for her - that my bond and commitment to her is and always will be solid and eternal -  I have failed to fully acknowledge my own anxieties.  The a-ha for me was to realize that my wounds require tending to -  or at the very least -  must be recognized in order for me to parent my girl from a place of love and strength. Otherwise, I will forever and always be tripping across my own shadows and triggers.

I belong heart and soul to my girl.  But the fear that lies hidden way way way deep within is that I am replaceable; that I am somehow deficient, not a real mother.  The threats to my "realness" come not only from the assumptions of a culturally idealized monomaternal motherhood form  (the assumption we can have only one true mother - Beth Suter) but from the deeply embedded roots this ideology has woven within my own consciousness.  My girl is on her journey of identity involving a complex and emotionally charged set of ideas to understand, reframe and claim, but I am also on a journey of my own. 

One exercise we did in another workshop (Taming Your Triggers) was a two minute silent meditation.  The point of the exercise was to become aware of how easily we give in to reflexively reacting rather than witnessing what we are feeling/experiencing and holding all that in spacious and nonreactive awareness.  It was also a chance to sit and become aware of all that was bubbling underneath the level of consciousness. For me, I was aware of immense fatigue (from a long drive), sadness over my own short fuse that morning (rushing to get to camp), and the harsh criticism I leveled at myself. 

The a-ha for me was recognizing that while I often consider the underlying factors at play in Cowgirl's reactions (she is hangry - hungry angry - or tired or stretched thin emotionally or confused, overwhelmed etc.) I rarely give such consideration to myself.  My eruptions (yes, I know all parents have them) are seldom due to the circumstances that provoked them - Cowgirl dawdling when we need to get going - but fueled by the toxic pool of unexpressed, unacknowledged  or uncared for feelings, fears, and misguided beliefs that have been simmering within me for days/weeks/decades. These weeds, as my friend and mentor Nissa would point out, leech vital nutrients from the soil of my being, depleting me and my ability to nurture my child and myself. 

Every year at camp I take in the beauty and power of my girl finding herself in her community, blooming and thriving under the love and care of this village of virtual sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles.  

For both of us, our journeys represent a widening of this circle of belonging: acknowledging and fostering polymaternalism (the reality that my child is connected to and has two mothers) which is an essential piece in the larger picture of connection and identity. For both of us it will require weeding out limiting notions and beliefs about who we are, who we can be and how we will co-create family, community and connection.  As I tend to the small plot that is my garden - myself - I  hope and trust that by clearing my weeds, sunlight will fall more evenly upon the patch of soil that is my girl's so that she can see clearly where the blooms and where the weeds lie. 

May the a-ha's and the bright moments keep coming!

Friday, July 18, 2014

summer love (finally, finday)

Reminder: Summer is well underway, so what are you waiting for?

Step into the day, feel it ... get to know it ...

receive every golden drop.

Excuse the commercial interruption: just 4 days until Sketch Diary Explorations begins.  You can still sign up HERE.  Sun tea and sketching plein air, what could be better?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

cracked wide open ...

Yesterday was the kind of a day I want to sandwich between sheets of waxed paper and laying a heavy book on top (how about my Treasures of the Louvre - one fat and heavy mama of a coffee table art book!) press and preserve the multitude of rich details as a remembrance to carry me through leaner days. 

It began with a morning more like early April than July: there was an unexpected chill to the air and gentle breezes under crystal clear blue skies. The day held a sense of freshness that only a cool, dew damp early morning can offer. I went running and came upon a flock of wild turkeys, fourteen in all.  I moved to the side of the road and they slowly streamed by me and then slipping into the woods, they vanished.  I stood in the street, locked in my trance until a neighbor moving his trash cans broke the spell.  

Minutes later, a hawk swooped over me and landed on a roof top.

All before my morning coffee. I figured I had had my fill for the day.

Spontaneity is not my normal habit, but it is something I crave and try to practice.  Although my list was long, my list is always long.  So when I discovered magic might be happening less than an hour's drive away, I bundled Cowgirl into the car and we set off on a little road trip.

I had meant to pack my camera, but in the haste to get out the door and into an adventure, it was left in the mudroom.  Which is just as well because some days can only be captured by the sensitive medium of the heart. 

Road trip in the Midwest means miles and miles of grass, cows and sky.  Road trip over The River (which for us is the Mighty Mo or the Missouri River)  and into Iowa means rolling hills like sleeping giants keeping you company for much of the journey. Years ago I used to toss my bike into the back of my dark blue pick up truck (oh yes, move to Nebraska and at some point you own a pick up) to make this drive to the Wabash Trace, a 63 mile bike trail running down the profile of Iowa  to the border of Missouri. It's a beautiful trail that dips in and out of farmland with refreshing stretches tunnel-like through groves of trees.  And hills.  Lots and lots of hills.  Thankfully there are local ice cream stands situated right by the trail.  

While I wasn't on this trail today (although now that I am remembering it, I am storing the idea away for future adventures with Cowgirl) others were.  We were traveling to meet them.  "How would you like to visit two poets who are riding their bike across Nebraska to share their love of words and books?"  This surprisingly lassoed Cowgirl in, although in all honesty, she is always up for spontaneous adventures even when they may sound oddly vague or baffling.  Poets? On one bike? (I had to explain the tandem concept to her) Opening up libraries?  (again, explanations on the Little Free Library)  Why not?

We arrived well before Maya and Amy, so we had time to make new friends while sitting outside the quaint Glenwood Public Library (the kind of library you knew as a child - or wish you had known - its big stones steps lifting you up to the treasures within).  Did I mention it was a glorious day?  We walked to the town square (oh yes, this is a true small town folks) to find something cool to drink, the orange Fanta raising Cowgirl's spirits even higher, so by the time the poets arrived, she was doing cartwheels on the sidewalk and playing tag with her new friend.

Then the fun began.  Meeting new and old friends (faces remembered from art workshops long ago and in more woody scenes), the treasures of the traveling Tiny Book library (seeds for future play) and then what we had come for: our poems.  

We actually brought artwork - a Cowgirl original drawing of an Ice Dragon - to trade for poems.  Maya and Amy set up on one of the benches outside the library, their typewriters on their laps, a stack of index cards by their side, and one by one we filed up and gave them our word which they expanded into poetry.

This is where things cracked wide open.  Or maybe it was just me cracking apart.  

After completing the poems, each writer would read out loud her poem to the recipient, while all of us gathered leaned in closer to witness the miracle of words capturing deep soul truths and gentle wisdom. Each poem felt intensely private and intimate, as if we were receiving with our poem, a blessing. We were given our poem cards, but we also were given a glimpse into the fuller possibility of our word and the meaning it embodies for ourselves and for our lives.

dragon by Maya Stein

It's funny how something that looks so dangerous can turn out to be so gentle. It is easy to be misunderstood, to see claws  when all they are is hands, to see fire when all it is is breath. If I could give you any advice, it would be not to worry if someone shies from your scales, if your sharp, wise eyes frighten and intimidate.  What's beautiful about you is what's beautiful about YOU. Hold this close to your big green heart.

Dragon by Amy Tingle

What do you like about dragons, Clara? Is it the way they can breathe fire or their sharp claws, or the whipping of their tails?  If I had to guess I would say it was their wings. I can picture you soaring about the snow-capped mountains or crossing an ocean on wings of your own. Letting the thermals carry you when you need to rest, flapping hard when you have somewhere to go. Oh, Clara, close your eyes and feel your wings grow.

dandelion by Maya Stein

How they stood by the Nebraska back roads like little soldiers, how the wind never seemed to disturb them, how their tufts held firm and reminded me to sit a little deeper in my seat, and hold the reins with a lighter touch. It is a different thing than trees, their rooted loyalty to the earth. The dandelion says, it is alright to bend and sway to the elements. It is alright to wave from the side of the road and, sometimes, blow a kiss to whoever passes by.

Dandelion by Amy Tingle

On the side of the road in Colorado we saw dandelions with heads as big as a grapefruit. I thought of how many things I could wish if I stopped to blow on one. I'd wish for good health and bigger adventures. I'd wish my daughter would grow to be strong and true. I'd wish for a peaceful heart and a peaceful world. I'd wish for patience and creativity and trust and truth. I'd wish for more wishes, wouldn't you?

What more can I possibly say?

I can say this: driving home we both were quiet for awhile, each of us wrapped up in the magic of an afternoon that seemed like a dream from summer nap. Before we pulled into the driveway, I asked Cowgirl what she thought about the people we've met this summer - the people like Katherine Dunn and Maya and Amy  - who have fashioned lives and work from what they love doing and what they feel passionate about.  I wondered if she recognized that theirs are not standard job titles listed under careers, but ones they created for themselves.  She was quiet in that way that tells me she is chewing things over.  It is a conversation I intend to continue ... for both our sakes.

Friday, July 11, 2014

my muses

Her name is Pebbles ...

She has found her home but more importantly, she has completed the sense of home for her people.  This is the gift our animal companions so generously offer us: a safe and eager and accepting place to stow the contents of our hearts. They willingly take what we offer without passing judgement, not enough or too much or too trivial is not in their vocabulary.

These four-legged seraph have been wiggling their way into my life since I was a child: the one year I remember visiting Santa, I asked for a puppy and that great old elf delivered!  Wet noses and wagging tails have been appearing in my home but also in my dreams, journeys and naturally, in my  paintings.

Pebbles, it is time for your close-up!

Other muses that recently have captured my attention  ... all dear fairy helpers to their humans, my friends ...


I like to think of myself as the Alice Neel of the canine set ...  with an unacknowledged preference for black and white dogs? 

My muse awaits me ...  resting comfortably by my feet but always on the ready to serve up his specialty: unabashed and always enthusiastic love. 


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

the art of SEEING

Have you ever spent a day when you haven't spoken out loud to another person?  When you finally encounter another human being, do you find speaking initially cumbersome and awkward?

That is what happens to me.  It's as if my verbal "muscles" have weakened due to disuse, but they slowly loosen up.

The same can be said for drawing, or any creative activity.  When someone tells me "I can't draw!" - the emotion in their voice betraying a deep desire to connect to this inherent gift - I point out that any creative expression requires regular use in order to feel comfortable or fluid.  If you haven't been drawing - just like not speaking for some time - when you do attempt to draw (or paint, or write, or sew) you will feel initially wonky and wobbly.

This conversation came up with a dear friend who is strengthening her fearlessness skills by signing up for my Sketch Diary Explorations offering. I love that she is leaning into her edge: aware she is stepping out of her comfort zone but also answering this deep pull towards what feels both exciting and frightening.

And I get it ... this fear of failing at something we deeply desire ... the moves we make to avoid revealing what we believe is an essential lack or flaw.  Studies have found that younger children will respond positively when asked if they are able to and like drawing, but that number decreases steadily as they age. It isn't so much a lack of ability as much as a lack of experience combined with increased self-consciousness.

I know all too well the expectations laid upon me when I declare myself to be an artist.  I still panic when someone asks me to draw something ... I begin to qualify "I'm not that kind of artist" which is to say, I do not strive for exact realism in my work.  But under that explanation is no small amount of discomfort because truly, if one is an artist, that means being able to draw exactly what one sees, right?

But really, what does SEEING involve?  Is it merely the surface appearance of things?  Or might it also include something more abstract and deeply personal?  The essence or meaning of the thing for the beholder?  Am I drawing merely to confirm what I KNOW about a subject?  

When I reach for my sketch diary, I am not seeking to create an exact replica of the scene before me.  If I wanted that, I would grab my camera and take a picture (although the choice of angle, perspective, lighting, cropping all are choices I make which influence the emotional impact of the scene; I still am filtering the view through ME.) What I want to capture is the essence of the moment, the deeper meaning of what is before me and hopefully through the act of slowing down and paying attention, to SEE what I might otherwise overlook.

My preferred method of drawing is known a blind contour drawing which I learned about through the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I confess, I do cheat. What I love about this technique is it forces me to go slow, turn off my mind and stay present for what I see in each moment.  I can always tell in a drawing where I was deeply engaged and really seeing what was before me

and where I sped up and drew what I knew (the opening of the glass is a round shape, but from the angle where I was sitting, it would not appear as a perfect circle)

I have to wonder: how often in my day, my life, do I fail to see what is before me?  How often do I lapse back into what I believe or know, which is to miss out on an opportunity to deepen my understanding or experience of that person, scene, or thing? How often do I filter my life through the narrow and limited lens of my thinking mind and overlook the deeper mysteries and lessons present in each moment? In the offering of this vase of summer flowers or the emotional gift present in the eyes of a donkey or my sleeping dog?

 To SEE something in its fullest being requires, for me, the attitude of a child. It requires curiosity and a willingness to engage heart, mind, eyes, and soul with whatever captures my attention.  To look deeply and see the essence of what is before me is to tap into the sacredness of living and to merge the prosaic with the profound.   (I want to give credit to the artist Katherine Dunn whose book Creative Illustration Workshop along with her amazing online course Capturing the Essence clarified for me  the purpose and the gift of artistic expression in my life.)

It is familiarity with life that makes time speed quickly. When every day is a step in the unknown, as for children, the days are long with gathering of experience ...
- George Gissing

To regularly make time to sketch some aspect of my day is to strengthen the part of me that experiences life as a child: fully immersed in what is before me, a clean slate of experience, and mind open and willing to see, believe - and most importantly - receive.

Some days it is a playful action and other days deep soul medicine.  But always, if I show up and engage, it is a means of valuing myself and my experience.  It is strengthening the voice deep within ... the voice I knew as a young child ... the voice that tells me I belong to this world with all its gifts and delights. 

Even when I fail to see clearly, what I put down is still a record of my journey: the lapses and the triumphs, the quiet moments and the breath-held-in-suspension moments, the struggles and the simple pleasures that add up to a life well lived.

My girl will be joining me in camp this summer.  Consider it to be one massive and creative play date ... we would love the company!  All the details are HERE and beginners are not only welcome, but beginner's mind - a child's mind & heart -  IS the only requirement!   

Friday, July 4, 2014

july 4 (finally, friday)

Summertime and every day is beginning to feel like a friday ... but this day is also a holiday ... which means, more painting please ...

but make sure to take time to rest and recover 

my sketch book practice has burst wide open as I play with different materials and ideas to share in my upcoming Sketch Diary Explorations online camp.  Discovering the magic of oil pastels ... swoon! Bring your art journal and I will bring the s'mores. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

updating my bucket list

It's not so much a bucket list as it is my list of "things I want to squeeze hard while I can" list. (The squeezing bit à la John O'Donohue, as in "giving life a good squeeze" which really captures the essence of fearless living/joy warriorship, don't you think?)

It not so much about accomplishments, although yes, I am proud of those:  traveling abroad to study; passing the nightmarish German translation test for graduate school; completing my master's degree (a feat of hoop jumping more than anything); wrangling the paperwork of two countries to adopt my girl (massive hoop jumping and other leaps of faith);  yoga teacher training (mind and body bending) to name a few.

There are the adventures - the wild leaps of daring and trust - that I am glad I followed even when everything in me screamed what are you thinking?!: river rafting with a healthy fear of falling overboard (a week in the wilderness, the husband oaring his own boat, our ten year anniversary trip - a bonding or breaking experience); Outward Bound in Joshua Tree National Park (no tents, sleeping outdoors with freezing temperatures, rock climbing and rappelling for the first time and only 2 pairs of undies for 1 sweaty/dirty week); 

from the vault: circa 1996 - look at that pack!

traveling to the other side of the world to meet visit someone I'd only known online (New Zealand certainly being a bucket list destination and a dream come true); quitting my job with no real back up plan (having experienced life plotted, planned and executed I knew from experience that doesn't always work out); and the list goes on.

What I am reviewing is my list of 100 things I want to do this year.  Do you make such lists?  If you haven't you really should.  The first 20 or so items are usually the epic ones like visit New Zealand or Create an Online Course but filling in spots 21 through 100 forces you to dig deep.  Digging deep is when you are more likely to hit gold.  

Skinny Dipping was on my list a few years ago.  My Squam sisters can verify the accomplishment of this feat (and it is a night I can vividly recall and rejoice in.)  Wearing more skirts has brought about subtle changes I haven't begun to plumb, but I know the costume has eased me into integrating my feminine self more fully. Sewing an Apron - well, I've made three!  Snow sledding has opened up a side of mothering my girl is happy I've embraced.

This past weekend marked another feat of daring and adventure embraced and survived.  Indeed, it involve much squeezing and singing along with slicing, rolling, and dreaming.  

Inspired by Donkey Dream: A Love Story of Pie and Farm and compelled by our mutual passion for pie, Cowgirl and I baked our first fully homemade pie.  Not just any pie, but Apple Pie for Dreamers (recipe by Katherine Dunn from Donkey Dream)

But before slicing the apples, hum or sing to them. It doesn't matter what song you choose. The slices will appreciate this kind gesture and it will lull them into a long sleep.
- Katherine Dunn, excerpt from Donkey Dream: A Love Story of Pie & Farm

It was one amazing pie.  

It lasted only two meals (half a pie per three people with allowance for small slivers of pie for breakfast) but the memories will linger long after we licked the sweet cinnamon goodness from our fingers.

These are the moments I want to gather ... editing my bucket list to allow for more such activities, ones that are more than just photo-worthy, but filled with memories rich and nourishing ... 

memories of singing to apples, fingers dusted with flour leaving their mark upon counter top, pie crust, a loved-ones cheek ... of tasting sweetness and knowing her hands helped ushering that goodness into our world and onto our plates; of long, lazy days spent laughing, creating, dancing, being.

Life sweet and savored ... every bite, every bit.

What might you add to your list?

we're thinking peach pie is next ...