Friday, December 27, 2013

Coming out of the dark

          The other day I was clearing out my craft closet....again.  All of the Christmas gifts I made had already been given.  All the Little Lambs for Peace gathered and donated to a local charity.  Now the space seemed fairly empty.
          Well, almost.
          In a dark corner sat a knitting bag containing the remains of not one, but two projects I had started and abandoned years ago.  The lovely multi-colored cotton yarn was supposed to be woven into a summer jumper, but after finishing the back, I realized I would never wear it.  After all, we knitters know what happens to the shape of natural fibers once someone sits on it.  Catch my drift?
          After abandoning that crazy idea, I found a delicate lace sweater pattern and soon reworked the yarn into something brand new.  Alas, after spending a month of Sundays knitting a sleeve, I could see the writing (or the fabric) on the wall:  this pattern was made for someone whose shape was altogether different than mine.  If I dared to spend the time to finish it, I knew the sweater would gather dust on my closet shelf in the hopes that I'd pull it down and pull it on at least once a season.
          Frustrated that my high hopes died in the nest, I tossed the projects and the yarn into the knitting bag and put them away in order to focus on making hats and socks and handwarmers.  Things that are always guaranteed to be a good fit.
         
          Time went by.
          I learned how to make toys which has been my main focus for nearly three years.  Little Lambs for Peace was launched in early 2013, and in-between making gifts for my little friends, I've been knitting up toys to donate to local charities.  In the meantime, those discarded projects sat waiting.  And waiting.  Kind of like us Midwesterners this time of year, waiting for the return of the sun. 
          My pals, Harshil and Daivik, are getting glasses in January, so I'm knitting them Harry Potter sweaters as a surprise to celebrate.  It's an easy pattern I found in the book Charmed Knits, and one that I know the boys will love to wear.  Their sweaters have been so meditative to make that on the winter solstice last week, I decided to unearth that gorgeous yarn and make it into a simple pullover for myself...one that I know I will wear to yoga classes.  While writing.  While hiking at the park and tooling around town. 
          It was effortless (not to mention painless) to rip back all the hard work I put into the jumper and the lace.  Easier than ripping off a bandage.  Easier still than letting them sit in the darkness, knowing I'd get to them eventually.  For I'd rather undo what's been done, knowing I'll be able to recreate it into something better.
         
          And so it is.
          The new sweater's back was finished in a record two days' time.  The front is well on its way.  I've discovered that the advice I've given to my knitting students turns out to be true:  if you're working with a lively yarn, let the pattern be simple so the language of the fiber can shine through. 
          Maybe the same is true for me.  What's been waiting in the shadows isn't scary or "bad."  It's just something that needed more time to percolate.  Something that can surprise me with its inherent grace and ease.  Something that has its own rhythm and purpose.  And when I let go of my plans, it's easy to let it be what it's meant to be.
          So, for now my sweater is still a work in progress...and of course, so am I.  Eventually I'll wear my "sweater of multi-colors" and each time I'll be reminded of the blessings of letting things come out of the dark when they're ready.
          When I'm ready to embrace the lessons they have to share.

         

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Write on!

When I was a teacher at Greenwood Elementary School in the nineties, I was blessed to have worked for an incredible principal, Mr. George Baker.  A consummate professional in every sense of the word, there was nothing Mr. Baker would ask of his staff that he was not willing to do (or had already done) himself.  I've known him for twenty-five years, and since Mr. Baker retired and I moved on from the classroom, there has been no one in my life quite like him, for his strength of character is something rare and genuine.  Something I aspire to daily.
Yes, Mr. Baker was darn near perfect...except for one little thing:  his handwriting was nearly illegible for most of the staff.  But not for me.
Every morning when I arrived at Greenwood and checked in at the office, there was a hand-written morning message from Mr. Baker that let us know the news of the day.  More often than not, I was called back to the office to decipher Mr. Baker's seemingly-encrypted code.  And every time, I was able to do so with ease.
"I teach first grade," I once said to someone.  "I'm used to wobbly letters and having to get into the right side of my brain to understand what he's trying to say."

There's a box in my basement filled with cards and letters and pictures and stories written by my students during the eleven years I spent teaching little ones.  I have saved letters from parents and even a "welcome to our family" adoption certificate from one of my kids who signed his name in beautiful script.  What a joy and a gift to lift the lid and revisit happy memories.  To read the invented spelling.  To remember the gap-toothed smiles when each child presented me with his/her creation.
How sad it is to hear that schools no longer have the time to teach handwriting skills, as teachers must comply to the demands of testing and ever-changing concepts of how children learn best.  Make no mistake...I value the speed and ease of email.  I learned how to type when I was in second grade and oh, what fun to BANG, BANG, BANG on that old Smith Corona!  When I learned how to use a word processor, I felt like a bird being released from a cage.  What a freedom to finally have a tool that could keep up with the speed of the words that passed through my imagination.
But...I journal by hand and write thank you notes and cards I still send through snail mail.  Writing by hand not only slows me down, it allows me to personalize a gift, a gesture of goodwill, a kindness with something that is uniquely my own.  
When my grandmother died, my mom gave me a stack of letters all tied up with a ribbon.  "We found this in Grammy's desk drawer, Kate," she said.
There in my hands was every single letter I had ever written to her...from the early 1970's through my college years and beyond.  I brought them home and then, after pulling out a stack of all the letters and cards she had written to me, I put them in order by the postmark and spend a bittersweet weekend reading about her life...my life...and all that two lives can experience over the course of a few decades. 
I don't hold on to much around here anymore, but those letters and handwritten gifts from my "kids" are sacred.

Just this past week as I finished up a fall session of Yoga for Kids classes at a local Montessori school, two of the moms handed me envelopes and said, "My daughter wrote this for you, but I don't know what it is."
One of the first-grade moms smiled, "Hannah went up to her room and wrote this at her desk...she was very focused and didn't want me to see it.  She said it was just for you."
I was honored to open a lovely envelope (decorated with silver stars!) and read a carefully written note thanking me for a scarf I had given Hannah and all the fun things we do in yoga class.  It brought tears to my eyes...literally.
The other little one had drawn me an elaborate picture complete with a princess (front and center), a prince, a knight and a wicked queen.  "This is the story of Princess Leo," Lia explained. 
"Oh, wow!  It's great!" I beamed.  "Only one thing is missing...will you sign your name?  All artists sign their work...and you're a real artist."
Lia took a pen from my hand and carefully scribed L....I....A, shyly smiling all the while.
Satish and Danta have written me little notes this month too, and all of them are proudly displayed on my refrigerator.  Sometimes when I'm cooking, I'll stop and touch the places where their little hands have been.  I re-read their messages of thanks, of happiness, of delight. 
Just yesterday I received a Christmas card from Mr. Baker in which he wrote a very kind and sweet personal note.  Even now...twenty-odd years later, I can still read every single word.  As a writer myself, I intrinsically know the power of the pen...and pencil...and crayon which often express what words cannot. 
No matter how it arrives in my hands...it always goes straight to my heart.
       
  


         

         

         

         

 

         


         

         

         

         

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An uncommon thanksgiving

          Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year.   I love it more than Christmas.  More than the last day of winter.  More than the first day of vacation.  As a gluten/starch-free vegan, the feast isn't the reason for my adoration, although I do appreciate a yummy, crust-less pumpkin pie now and again.
          For more than a decade, I've spent Thanksgiving in peaceful recognition for what the past year has brought into my life.  And I've learned the incredibly subtle difference between gratitude and appreciation.  In the past I've often said how thankful I am to have a warm house, healthy food to eat, and work that I love.  Now I see that gratitude as a response to how I've felt when those things were missing. 
          Because of financial issues, logistical circumstances, and just plain living life, I've had to endure long periods when I didn't get what I want.  When I set my thermostat at fifty-eight degrees to avoid a huge gas bill.  When I ate Ramen noodles and ketchup for dinner night after night after night.  When I slogged through long hours working in jobs that sapped my spirit and paid me a pittance.            
          And during those times, I bitterly complained about it all. 
         This month, as I prepare the manuscript of my memoir for publication in 2014, I've revisited many of those years.  Actually, the majority of my adult life was spent in limbo waiting for that which had not yet arrived.  A husband.  A child.  A publishing contract.  In writing my life's story thus far, it's clear to me that for the past couple of years I've truly been able to appreciate and honor the enormous spaces in not having any of those things.  And I've also come to understand that appreciation is a state of mind that accepts things as they are, not a fear of losing something I have or grasping for something I don't.
          
           Last January I put an empty jar on my desk.  Whenever something happened that touched my heart or lifted my spirit, I wrote it down and put it into the jar, knowing I'd open it when Thanksgiving week arrived.  Now as I sift through the notes, I see how my practice of appreciation is overflowing into every aspect of my life:
          "A new free bike!"
          "Satish fell asleep in my arms...so cute!"
          "Forest comes home from the hospital!"
          "Blessed to have a new bed."
          "Waking up and feeling like I'm finally at home."
          It's curious to recognize that I've written about every one of these blessings here in Open Road.  What a joy and a grace to be able to share my abundance with you all.  More than ever, this Thanksgiving, I'll meditate on the last few lines I wrote in the introduction to OPEN ROAD: a life worth waiting for:

            "Occasionally, I remember my life twenty years ago when I first began to unravel who I thought I was supposed to be in search of someone for whom I had no tangible roadmap.  And in remembering, I remain thankful for all the things I had once desperately wanted, yet never received.
            What a revelation to learn that empty hands are fertile soil for growing a life worth waiting for."

          May you and yours have a blessed, peaceful celebration.









Thursday, November 14, 2013

Line 'em up

          Teaching yoga, like anything else in my life, is an ever-evolving journey.  I recently celebrated my seventeenth year on the mat and am drawn to my practice now more than ever.  Watching my students grow and change, heal and evolve, is a privilege and a joy, for each of them teaches me how to be more observant.  To notice the subtle, the inherent.  The mysterious. 
          I often weave my Rolfing experiences into our classes, encouraging my students to find their inner line, that space that is the center of their physical and metaphysical being.  Most easily found in mountain pose, the central line is felt in the space in front of the spine, and I often liken it to a slinky made of the lightest balsa wood.  It has shape and continuity while also embodying flow and movement.  "Finding the line" is where we begin...and everything evolves from there.  We find the line as we transition, as we hold poses, as we breathe deeply.  
          When I was a kid, I took tennis lessons and my coach would always remind me, "After each hit, come back to your center.  If you're in your center, you can shift and move and cover the court with greater ease."
          And so it is on my yoga mat...and off of it as well.  When I am able to move back to my center, whatever comes next is easier to manage.  I respond instead of react.  I see the bigger picture...the forest for the trees.

          In 2010 my car was hit broadside while I was driving.  After calling the police, I called my Rolfer who is good friend of mine.
          "Are you okay?" Tony asked.  "Did you stand up in your line?"
          "I'm standing in it right now," I replied, my voice shaky, but my feet steady. 
          "Good...stay in it as long as you can."
          For the rest of the day and into the next week, I did my best to remain in my line...to stand tall, but relaxed and open.  To release the impulse to contract around the experience and allow my body to figure out how to integrate the accident into the space I was creating.  It worked beautifully.  I only had minor residual pain which lessened quickly.
          When I fell off my bike last September, I did the same.  My first instinct was to get up and stand in my line.  Although I could feel the impact on my hip and shoulder, once I got up, the pain immediately lessened and I was able to find my balance.  No longer frozen in shock or discomfort, my body found its natural rhythm and healed itself within a week. 

          A couple of years ago, one of my ongoing students fell and (unbeknownst to her at the time) shattered her ankle.  Linda told me recently, "I couldn't get up, but after all the yoga I had practiced, I instinctively knew to get into my line in any way I could.  So I laid on the floor and lined up my spine." 
          "That's amazing," I smiled. 
          "Yeah, and I don't even remember having that much pain...it was as if it took it away when I found my alignment."
          "That's incredible," I told her.  "Isn't yoga a wonderful thing?"
          Linda's healing journey continues as she comes to class week after week, finding her strength, rediscovering her flexibility and, most importantly, continuing the ongoing dialog between her body, breath, and awareness.

          Just yesterday afternoon, my friend, Barb, was in a minor hit-and-run accident on her way to yoga class.  When she called to let me know, the first words out of her mouth were, "I'm okay...I'm standing in my line." 
          Reiterating Tony's wise words to her, I said, "That's great...stay there as long as you can."
          I checked in on her last night and Barb's continuing to do well.  Standing in her line or resting on the couch, she's listening to her body.  Listening to what it needs to stay open and pliable, allowing her strong, yet malleable line to hold her steady. 

          As the holiday shopping season approaches, I'm reminded that standing in line will soon be a common occurrence.  I don't mind.  More time to practice standing tall.  Standing calm.  Standing in my center. 
          It's funny how people respond when I'm quietly alert, peaceful and attentive.  Fretting children often take one look at me, wrinkle their brow, then give me a goofy grin.  Some folks start friendly conversations.  Some don't, but give me a gentle smile. 
          In any event, it's a great opportunity to practice yoga off the mat...to bring a centered sense of peace to wherever I happen to be.  Line by line, breath by breath...I'm quietly creating the change I want to see in the world.  
         

         

Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's only the dark side, Luke

          One of my fondest childhood memories was sitting in the old Glenbyrne Theater in south Toledo watching "Star Wars" over and over with my little sister.  During the hot, sticky summer of 1977, Laura and I would find our seats in the air conditioned theater, our skin breaking out in chills of excitement every time we saw the enormous title burst onto the screen simultaneous with the opening blast of John William's music. 
          We must have seen that movie, and the two sequels, at least ten times.  Back then, we didn't have DVD's.  Not many of us owned VCR's.  So going to the movie theater and seeing the ultimate battle of good versus evil play out in front of us made for some exciting moments.  In fact, during my first viewing of "The Empire Strikes Back," the theater started shuddering.  I thought it was because of the scream of X-wing fighters roaring across the screen.  But no.  Toledo registered an earthquake that day....and boy, did we feel it.
         
          Halloween has rolled around again, and while it's not all that earthshaking (unless you count the high drama involved with changing trick-or-treat schedules due to imminent rain), it does get me wondering about the original purpose for All Hallow's Eve.  A precursor to one of my favorite times of the year, All Soul's Day, Halloween was a way of honoring the dead, the shadow, the dark side within us all.  In centuries past, "soulers" went door to door singing and saying prayers for those who have passed.  Nowadays, we've lost that tradition, although kids (and some adults) often dress up in shadowy versions of what death or the dark side might look like. 
          I'm not much for scary things.  Clowns in particular are undeniably on my "stay away" list.  Still, many of my friends love this time of year and decorate their homes with ghoulish decorations that both delight and deter many neighborhood kids.  Me?  I gave away all my Halloween decorations years ago. 
          Still, I do love to poke my dark side now and again to see what's lurking there.
          Recently while teaching an Astrology class, I said to my students, "We're all born with light and shadow.  Most of us tend to gravitate toward the light.  Dark things scare us."  I shrugged.  "But what's shadow?  Just something that we can't see until we shine a light on it.  And believe me...whatever you don't work through in the light, will maneuver itself in your shadow and you'll be met with it again and again in relationships, in difficult choices, and in your life lessons."
          "And by the way," I added with a wink.  "Bright light always casts a shadow somewhere."
         
          In some ways, I wasn't surprised at all that Darth Vader turned out to be Luke's father.  That clandestine moment when the truth was revealed in the second "Star Wars" movie turned a lot of heads, but I remember thinking, "Yep...that sounds about right."  And when Luke finally makes peace with his father at the end of "Return of the Jedi," he's really making peace with his totality.  I had to wait through nearly two hours of mildly annoying Ewoks and gun fights to get to that very satisfying conclusion. 
          When I started writing my first novel in the mid-nineties, I soon realized the two main characters represented my own light and shadow.  Interestingly enough, it's Michael, the dark side of me, that is my favorite to write.  He's tough.  Mouthy.  Freedom seeking.  Heartbroken.  Struggling.  And ultimately, he's working through his demons.
          Tomorrow begins my favorite month of the year.  Autumn colors and the changing weather suit me just fine.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love to dig out my sweaters and polar fleece.  And always in November I tiptoe into my dark side to see what's waiting there.
          Tomorrow I will begin writing a new novel that's been waiting in the darkened drawer of my desk for over a year.  Once again I will resurrect Michael's character and let him provide a voice for my shadow.  Once again I will shed a little light on that which is unknown, but will soon be bathed in luminosity.   
           This is the third novel in which Michael will have a starring role, and once again, I'm looking forward to what he'll reveal as the story unfolds.   I just watched an old episode of "Northern Exposure," and Chris in the Morning had these wise words to say:  "There's a dark side to each and every human soul. We wish we were Obi-Wan Kenobi, and for the most part we are, but there's a little Darth Vader in all of us. Thing is, this ain't no either-or proposition. We're talking about dialectics, the good and the bad merging into us. You can run but you can't hide. My experience? Face the darkness. Stare it down. Own it. As brother Nietzsche said, being human is a complicated gig. So give that ol' dark night of the soul a hug. Howl the eternal yes!"

          May you and yours have a safe and happy All Hallow's Eve! 

          Here's a link to a haunting tune by one of my favorite artists, Loreena McKennit, singing "All Souls Night." 






Monday, October 28, 2013

Measuring up

          Last week I had my annual physical.  What a treat (yeah, right) to be poked and prodded and asked a million and one questions because my physician's computer system magically updated itself in the last few months.  The result was a plethora of inaccurate data for many of the patients and I was no exception.
          I found it frustrating, yet fascinating to be questioned endlessly about the health issues I used to struggle with years ago.  "How's your depression?"  "Is your pain still chronic?"  "How often are you getting a migraine?"
          "Please put all of those in the 'resolved' file," I told the nurse.
          "What's your pain threshold today?"  she asked.
          "Huh?"
          "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much pain are you in?"
          "Zero," I told her. 
          "That's incredible," she smiled.
          But not as incredible as what I discovered when I stepped on the scale to get weighed and measured.
          Having struggled for years in my teens and twenties to measure up in the weight category, I no longer give much thought to what the magic number might be.  I watch what I eat.  I exercise.  I rest.  I meditate.  I leave the rest to the wisdom of my body and in return, it has blessed me with maintaining a healthy balance for the past ten years.
          Still, I couldn't help but do a double-take when the nurse measured my height and said, "I've got you at five feet, seven inches."
          "What?" I replied.  I've been five feet, five inches tall since my eleventh birthday, so I was skeptical.
          "Here....look," she said, pointing.  "I was a little off, but rounded up."
          Sure enough, I measured in at five feet, six and three-quarter inches tall.
          "I've always said I wanted to be five feet, six," I laughed.  "Guess all that yoga really worked to stretch me out!"
          Still, I've been practicing yoga for nearly seventeen years....and getting Rolfed annually for more than a decade. 
          Why was this the year I finally grew up?

          For years my Rolfer and I have been working to unwind an insipid scoliosis pattern in my spine.  This summer's three-series was particularly grueling and I asked him mid-way through, "Do you think I'll ever let this one go?"
          He shrugged.  "Time will tell, but there's always that possibility."
          Ever since I discovered the minor "s curve" in my spine, I've been acutely aware of unwinding any pattern that encourages me to split off to one side, to disengage with the world and "check out."
          I've learned the hard way that's no way to live.
          And so, ever since I strive to stand in my center, even when it's painful.  When it's hard.  When I find myself having to confront repeated situations that call out for a different response than "fight or flight." 
          Instead of reacting like I used to, I choose to stay present and work through it with awareness.  
          "You must be a pleaser," one of my knitting students said to me recently when we were talking about one of my recent challenges.
          "I wouldn't say that," I replied.
          "Then you might be a non-confronter."
          I nodded.  "Yeah, that's more accurate.  But I'm learning that if I don't confront a situation, it'll keep confronting me."
          And after all, confrontation can be a healthy way to new roads of communication and clarity.  It can also lead us through open doors of new experience.

          I've had a little crush on someone for a while.  He works somewhere I frequent occasionally and while we don't know each other well at all, we do have short, but sweet conversations.  I even ran into him the other day while working through my "bad, bad thing."  It was good to see him...a reminder that the potential for new beginnings is always on the horizon.
          And yet, there's still a part of me that wants to tug me off center.  The part that asks incessant, unyielding questions:  Will I measure up to what he might want?  Am I good enough?   Am I too independent?  And the most difficult of them all....am I too old?
          At this point in my life, I don't give a lot of credence to those very human, yet very obsolete curiosities.  They waste too much of what I could be focusing on and creating right now.  I suppose I can put all of those questions in the "resolved file," too.  Who knows?  Maybe one day soon, I'll tell Mr. Crush we should plan to run into each other on purpose.
          After all, if I can shoot up an inch and a quarter in a year's time, I know I can keep growing in other areas of my life as well.  All I need to do is stand tall, stand in my center and keep walking forward.



          

Friday, October 18, 2013

A woman's right to snooze

          It's a full moon Friday.  Couple that with a lunar eclipse and Mercury going retrograde on Monday, and you've got a recipe for confusion, wonkiness, and weird vibes all around.  It's funny, but as the sun rose this morning (and I've been up since 4:00, so I witnessed it firsthand), I felt the craziness of the imminence of three astrological events strangely diminish.   
          You see, for the past ten days I've been extraordinarily moody (and I'm usually a sap, not a b*&%h).   Repeating old behaviors (see my last blog).  Feeling out of sorts.  My sleep patterns have been out of whack since the beginning of October and I'm now feeling the full effect of not getting enough shut eye.  Ever since I started practicing meditation and yoga in my late twenties, my body has become more attuned to the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) shifts in the planetary swirl of change.  Unfortunately, it takes my mind a little more time to catch up and realize what's going on. 
          Things are becoming a bit more clear now...thank heavens.  And after a week and a half of wading through life on tenterhooks, the full moon eclipse is finally here, I'm ready for a rest.
          It's not all that unwarranted.

          Last summer I was visiting my friend, Smita, while she was readying her house for company which would arrive the following weekend.  She asked each of her four children to choose a bathroom they would clean themselves.
          My pal, Harshil, complained that he didn't want to do it.
          "I'll trade you," I said brightly.
          "You will?" he grinned.
          I nodded eagerly.  "You betcha!"
          Harshil tilted his head to side.  "Why?"
          "Who has to clean every room in my house?" I asked.
          "You do."
          "Who goes to the grocery and cooks all the meals?"
          "You do."
          "Who scoops the litter box and takes out the trash and cuts the grass?"
          "You do," Harshil sighed.
          "Who has to do the laundry, go to work and pay all of the bills?"
          Harshil nodded.  "I get it...you do."
          I lifted a brow and smiled.  "Cleaning one bathroom doesn't sound so bad now, does it?"
          Harshil grinned back at me.  "I guess not."
          October has been particularly busy with yoga classes and workshops and fall garden clean up galore.  I'm not complaining, mind you.  I'm just saying...it's a lot to have on my plate in addition to keeping up with the household.  God knows how my single friends with children do it all.  I'm just finding my balance after adding another kitten to the mix.

          This weekend, as fall finally settles in for a nice, long visit in my hometown, I'm looking forward to quiet afternoons on the couch with a cup of tea and a stack of good books.  I may take a hike to soak in the ever-changing foliage.  
          Then again, maybe I won't. 
          Sleep is calling my name, beckoning me to sink deep and find balance in silence.  So friends...if I don't answer your email or phone call right away, don't worry.  I'm happily lost in the forest, dreaming a little dream of peace.
         
         
         

         

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cooking kitchari

          It's been a cool, rainy day here in Toledo, Ohio.  Not quite warm enough to be summer.  Not chilly enough to really feel like autumn.  I've been spending the day at home...making gifts, doing laundry, cleaning the house.  It's nearly dinner time, so in the midst of folding towels and feeding the kitten, I decided to put a pot of kitchari on the stove.  It'll take a while for this yummy dish to cook down into the nourishing porridge I'll enjoy tonight and in the week ahead, so I have time to do a little yoga, prepare for my classes this week, and even write this blog.
          I'm not much of a chef...in fact, in my twenties, I often said, "If it's not microwaveable, it's debatable."  Once my microwave gave up the ghost over ten years ago, I never bothered to replace it.  Instead, I've ventured into new ways of preparing meals that are not only nourishing, but distinctly gluten-free and vegan as well.  Since beginning my yoga practice in the late nineties, I've discovered that I have a host of food sensitivities, so finding recipes that are in alignment with my strict diet are few and far between.
          Thank goodness for my friend, Smita and her mother, Mrudu (who I call "Ba"), who have taught me how to make delicious and simple Indian meals.  Kitchari has become a staple in my home during the winter months and I'm delighted that it's yummy aroma is wafting through my office right now.
         
          I've made kitchari dozens of times, but this evening as I was stirring the lentils and rice, I realized that kitchari is more than just a meal.  Though this dish is fairly simple, I often make it more complex by adding a host of spices and fresh vegetables.  As I added the myriad of spices, each one brought back a memory...an experience...a person.  
          In cleaning out her home in preparation for its sale last summer, Ba gifted me with a wonderful tin spice box.  This evening as I opened it, I thought about all the wonderful meals Ba had prepared for her family and friends.   I thought of the hundreds of times she used the small, metal spoon to scoop the turmeric and coriander seeds.  The way she rarely measures anything, but everything she makes turns out both delicious and unique.  Through her and Smita, I've learned the value in adding a spices that bring out the innate flavor in foods as well as adding healthy benefits to the meals I am preparing. 
          Hing is one of my new favorites and I rarely cook a meal without it.   Also called asafetida, hing smells exactly life the sulfur baths at Esalen.  When I tossed it into the kitchari pot this evening, I remembered the wonderful hours resting in the sunshine and healing waters of the hot springs.  The silent and sacred hours soaking in the tubs.
          A teaspoon of fennel seeds came next and with it, a memory of a man I once loved.  We had walked through a field of fennel and I had no idea how much it smelled like licorice until he plucked a blossom and handed it to me.  Now I can't taste anise flavored foods without remembering that moment and all the bittersweet things that followed.
          Next I tossed in some basil and oregano...fresh from my garden.  It's been an easy, quiet season this year and as summer slowly transforms into autumn, the spices and herbs are still vibrant and aromatic. 
          In an hour or so I'll add some fresh vegetables a friend gave me this week...a gift from a local farm co-op.  This fall has seen an abundant harvest here in Northwest Ohio, and each week, Beth brings me tasty surprises in all shapes and sizes.  Field greens and radishes and arugula...oh, my!  Needless to say, I've enjoyed them all!

          Kitchari is known as an Indian comfort food...and it certainly is for me.  Each time I prepare a pot, I enjoy a taste treat that is a unique combination of the past and the present.  An amalgamation of friends and sweet memories and the abundant gifts of nature.  With each bowl I appreciate the warm and spicy.  The cool and cleansing.  The simple and complex.
          As I head back to the kitchen to keep stirring the pot, may you enjoy this Sunday evening in ways filled with simple peace.  
          I know I will.  


Here's a link to one of my favorite kitchari renditions:  http://www.ayurvedahealthretreat.com/recipes.html


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mirror, mirror

          My sweet neighbor across the street and I often water our gardens in the morning, waving across to each other as we greet the day.  On Monday Denise's grand-niece was visiting, dancing through the flowers while we chatted.
          I met Zahira, a little two year old sprite, as she twirled by on the way to make sure her mother was still in the kitchen making breakfast.  When she came back, I lifted her in my arms and she gave me a big hug.  Standing cheek to cheek we watched as cars and trucks passed by.
          "Look, Zahira," I said to her.  "There's a big, white truck."
          "Big, white truck," she parroted.
          I pointed at another one.  "And that truck is red."
          "Red truck," Zahira echoed.
          I turned to Denise.  "I love this age...they are so curious and repeat everything we say."
          Having been a teacher, she nodded.  "Yes...we watch everything we say around Miss Z.  She repeats everything!"
          Zahira touched my cheeks, turning my face to hers.  "Ladda..ladda...ladda!" she laughed, sticking her tongue in and out of her mouth rapidly.
          I mirrored her and she giggled with delight.
          "Baa....baa...baa!" Zahira beamed.
          I did the same.
          "Look!" she said, pointing.  "Truck coming!"
          "Yes, a big truck's coming!" I replied, easily flowing into "Mommy speak."
          Zahira and I had a wonderful visit, echoing each other, until it was time for me to go back home.
          As I crossed the street, it dawned on me how much young children mirror their parents and caretakers.  For more than twenty years I have taught pre-school aged little ones and have learned by experience the old adage:  "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
          But we all know this to be true....don't we?

          While working at Greenwood Elementary, I would occasionally have a student teacher during the fall semester.  After six weeks or so, I would say, "If I want to know what I'm really like as a their teacher, I have one of the kids go up and instruct calendar time in the morning." 
          Sure enough, when I asked one of my first graders to take over for me, he or she would use the same inflections that I did, the same order of events, and even sit on my stool in a similar manner as I did, hooking one foot over the rungs.  It was often hilarious to watch a smaller incarnation of myself teach the class and, if the child who was teaching had a good sense of humor, I would sit at his or her desk and behave like they often did.  We all had a great time looking in the proverbial mirror of how we appear to others.  
          But sometimes what can be seen in the mirror is not always funny.

          A few weeks ago, I met a woman who is pregnant with a little boy, due in a few weeks.  I asked if it was her first and she said, "No...I have a three year old daughter.  And it's a good thing my husband can say, 'No' to her because I sure can't."
          I lifted a brow.
          "We were at the store the other day and she asked for candy in such a cute voice, what could I do?" the woman said.  "I give her whatever she wants."
          "You know someday a teacher will have to deal with your kid," I said, recalling the myriad of spoiled children who had passed in and out of my classroom.
          "Good," she said, grinning. "Let her deal with it....because I don't want to."
          I wanted to say, "Your choice not to parent is one of the reasons I left teaching!"  But of course I did not.   Still, it was difficult not to regale her on the long, exhausting days of setting boundaries for kids who had no idea what healthy limits were, let alone consequences.  Just when I'd get them used to the calm, structured environment, there would be a long weekend or a holiday, and many of the kids would come back re-wired by their home environment, so I had to spend a couple of days getting them back on task.
          But, instead of rebuking the woman, I told her, "Well, you're going to reap that when she's sixteen and wants a car....wants a phone...wants whatever she wants and expects you to give it to her."
          "Oh, I know," the woman said.  "But I don't care."

          Spending time with Zahira this week reminded me of the very tender, very open spaces within a young child's heart and mind.  They are little sponges, soaking in everything they see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and most importantly, infer.  The right words may not be available to them yet, but little ones know when they are surrounded by love, anger, confusion, joy, hypocrisy, and even complacency. 
          And then they mirror what they have experienced. 
          Yes, nature has a lot to say in how a child evolves.  But how we raise our children, how we speak and how we behave around them teach them much more than we realize.  The home environment, the school setting, and even the people we surround ourselves with teach our children by osmosis. 
          My friend, Barb, has told me that I'm a child magnet.  She's right...no matter where I go, little ones try to get my attention.  They stop and stare at me with wide eyes.  They giggle.  They engage me in conversation.  Barb says this is because I mirror them with love.  And I try to do that as much as possible, most recently with my new friend, Zahira, for I know that I am revealing to them who I am just as much as I may be mirroring who they are.
                   
          As my teaching friends head back to school this week, my thoughts are with them all.  May they be blessed with wonderful parents who love and nurture their children with love and clarity.  May they find renewed enthusiasm for the gift of sharing knowledge with those in their care.
          May they be a mirror of love and respect for their students.
          And may they be mirrored with love and respect in return.



Monday, August 12, 2013

Letting go

This morning as I prepare to write the chapters of my life while living in Big Sur, I went  back to this article I wrote for the Examiner in July of 2009, eight months after my return.  The seeds of what I will sculpt this week were planted then and it's a wonder to see how very far I've come in creating a new, healthier way of being.  

Blessings to everyone in my Esalen soul family:  Kinga, Sheila, Ken, Craig, Shirley, John, Chris, Margie, C. Ray, Eva and Sanjay, Cathy, Anne, Seema, Lars, Simee and a host of many others.  Thank you for being an integral part of my life....then and now.

July 8, 2009
I drove back to Toledo, Ohio nearly eight months ago and yet the sting of leaving Big Sur, California still lingers. Last November I said a tearful good-bye to Esalen Institute, a place I had lived and worked as a gardener for nearly a year. I had hoped to make it my permanent home, but due to choices both in and out of my control, I’ve come back to my hometown to write and take responsibility for the gifts I’ve been given.
It's been the most difficult journey of my life to let go of a place that has touched me deeply and allowed me to grow as both a spiritual and human being. Still, I know that Toledo's fingerprints are imbedded deeply within me as well. Driving through Maumee a few weeks ago I passed Richland Street and instantly remembered the day my family moved to Washington D.C. when I was four years old. We lived there just one short year before moving back to Toledo and settling in the south end. I went away to college, and taught a year in Troy, Ohio before coming back to work for Washington Local Schools in the late eighties. It seems that Toledo has a boomerang effect on me. I leave and yet, somehow, time after time, I return. Sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes with deep gratitude to see familiar faces and places.
This spring I've been gardening nearly every day. It's been a lovely season after a long, arduous winter. Growth is abundant and I am grateful for the warmer weather and sunshine. Still, my mind lingers in the shadows of the past...the moments at Esalen that tore my heart and the ones that are indescribably lovely. I imagine a part of me will always be there on the coastline, working in the gardens, dancing in the surf, sitting in silence while watching the unforgettable sunsets over the Pacific. And yet, I am here now. In Toledo. In this home and in this life as it is.
Last week while pruning my way through the wildlife of a friend's backyard, I realized how much the old, overgrown weeds and thorny vines were choking out the loveliness of what lay beneath. Even though some of the brush was vibrantly colored and amazingly lush, it was taking the life of what was originally planted. Even yesterday, while delicately pruning the trumpet vine in my own backyard, I've come to understand yet again the benefit of letting go of excess, of old growth and burned out blooms in order to let new life push its way through. The same is indelibly true for my own life. Letting go of the past, be it delightful or demonic is a gateway to the gifts of the present. They come in all shapes and sizes…the solace and sanctuary of my home, the evolving storyline of my novel, the purr and pounce of my cats. In the delightful smiles of the yoga students who come to our classes and in the stillness of my own spirit.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Big Sur or the friends who have drifted to all corners of this world. I don’t know when or even if I will see them again. Still, this is a choice I’ve made for now. In time I will choose again…and again….and again. I trust that in time I will create a new place that was conceived in the choice of acknowledging both sides of myself and ultimately choosing the one who knows how to embrace the unknown with grace and acceptance.
 
Playing and working in the gardens at Esalen, 2008

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The good stuff

            I'm behind my self-imposed 8-ball as I sink into the center of writing a memoir.  I'm hoping to have the first draft finished by Labor Day, and oh, what a labor it's been to write through my twenties and early thirties.  I want to skip over all of the drama, tension, and cyclical behavior to get to the good stuff....the life I'm living now.
            Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.  I know I wouldn't be where I am now -- mentally, emotionally and physically -- without all that has come before.  One can't expect to plant a seed and magically find a rose the next day, in a week, or even a month.  It took my lilac bush nine years to finally bloom.  And yet, it was worth the wait to watch those lovely blossoms open, to cut a bouquet and bring their aromatic fragrance into the house. 
            I've learned to have patience this summer...with the rainy weather, my little kitten, Aditi, who is still learning the ropes around here, with the slow and steady pace at which the memoir is unfolding.  Inspiration comes at the oddest of times, and I find myself jotting notes while eating dinner, weeding the garden, at a stop light, and even upon waking. 
            A few days ago I dreamt I was standing in a room watching a snake slither up the wall.  It transformed into a huge, green frog which leapt onto my left shoulder and sat there, gurgling and burbling until I woke up and realized Aditi was asleep curled up next to me, her heartbeat echoing in my ear.  I smiled and knew the frog was a harbinger of transformation, just like the butterflies I felt fluttering in my stomach last week.  Frogs bring messages of renewal and rebirth, of metamorphosis and the mysteries of life.
            It's certainly been a mystery watching this manuscript unfold.  Last May I abandoned the outline I'd spent nearly six months constructing, only to let the narrative flow wherever it might lead me.  In July I revisited moments with my grandfather, sunny days in the summer of 1975 when I swam in my neighbor's pool, and the "class from hell" that I taught in 1989.  This month I'll be returning to the genesis of building my yoga business, the move to California and back, and the host of surprises that awaited my return. 
            Throughout the process I've told my friends that everyone in their forties could benefit from compiling stories from their lives.  It's given me a perspective of how very far I've come on this road less traveled...and how curious I am about the road yet to be seen. 
            All in all, I've come to discover it's been an amazing ride.  Light or dark, contented or anxious, delighted or delirious, it's all good stuff. 
            And then some.




Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Butterflies

            I'm procrastinating today.  Last night's full moon shone through my bedroom window after midnight, waking me from a dream-filled sleep.  I spent the next few hours laying in wait...waiting for the churning in my stomach to calm down.  Waiting for the gentle breeze flowing through the open window to cool the room.  Waiting for sleep to come.
            It seems my whole life I've been waiting for something:  a job, a paycheck, a day off, a publisher, a sign that I'm doing the right thing with my life.  Inevitably during the waiting period,  butterflies come and flutter through my belly, making me ache with anticipation of when they will stop, when I will finally reach the finish line of whatever endeavor I'm experiencing.  

            This morning it's been a long journey to the computer to work on the memoir.  For two months I've written diligently and it's nearly halfway finished.  But today I have to write a pivotal moment, an hour of my life that occurred over twenty years ago that reframed who I thought I was....who I thought I was going to be.  I cannot leave it out of the story, for in essence, it is the story in and of itself.  It's the story of an awakening so profound, it would take nearly a decade to integrate.  And even now, I've yet to find an epilogue to that moment in time, a lifetime in the making.
            Here I am...waiting for the words to come, knowing they will pour through me in due time.   And yet, truth takes time, as all things do.  This one truth in particular has allowed me to heal in ways both mundane and profound, so I must once again reveal this sacred transformation.
            But this time, I'm older and wiser.  I know the gifts in breathing in and breathing out...of holding on and letting go. 

            Yes, I may be experiencing butterflies today, but recognize the deeper meaning behind the discomfort.  After all, butterflies can never return to that which they once were.  The caterpillar is forever transformed into a thing of beauty and grace.  What once had tiny legs, now has wings and can fly, unfettered by what came before...free to travel the world from a higher perspective.  Free to light on flowers and drink their sweet nectar.
            Free to experience the joys of independence from all that had once held it captive.

            Free.  


Monday, July 15, 2013

Call me crazy

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress
can be judged by the way its animals are treated. "
Ghandi

            I am not a crazy cat lady, but I am crazy about my cats.  That said, with the exception of some very tasteful paintings in my office and a darling cross-stitch picture my mother made for me many Christmases ago, you won't find cat kitsch in my house.
            I'm not that kind of cat lover.
            Surprisingly, when I was a kid, I was terrified of them.  Growing up with Schnauzers, there wasn't room for a furry feline in our family.  When I was ten, I wore a woolen skirt to a birthday party of one of my friends.  Sitting in her living room, I arched my own back as a big, orange cat casually walked across my lap.  Hands on my shoulders, I refused to touch it and demanded my mother wash the skirt before I would wear it again.
            "It's wool, Kate," she said, shaking her head.  "It needs to be dry cleaned and it's not dirty."
            "It is," I insisted.
            "It is not," she replied.
            Mom won.  The skirt did not go to the cleaner's. 
            And yet, I won too, as it hung abandoned in my closet.
            I never wore it again.

            It's still amazing to me that, thirty-odd years later, I'm like Snow White, but in place of the seven dwarves, I've had seven cats...but not all at the same time.  I recently adopted ten-week-old Aditi (rhymes with "sweetie" and means "Mother of the Sun" as she was born on the day of a solar eclipse).  My little sprite has a lot of spunk and loves to play with Forest, her older cat sibling.  Due to his gentle, accepting nature, Forest quickly became her surrogate mother, protector, playmate and all around "go to guy."  Aditi's boundless energy is amazing as she darts through the house, chasing toys and getting into mischief.  There's no sleeping through the night with her nocturnal naughtiness.  Still, this will only last a few more months and we'll all settle into a "new normal." 
           
            But last week was anything but normal.
            Forest caught something from our new little one and by Thursday was so sick, he had to be hospitalized.  Kady Flowers and the techs at Spring Meadows Animal Hospital were incredibly kind and careful as Forest had his blood tested, X-rays completed and prepared for an overnight stay.  They couldn't get a reading on one of the tests and Kady thought he might have swallowed a toy or piece of string, but to me, his illness felt all too familiar.
            When Forest was a baby, I had been a foster volunteer for abandoned kittens who passed around a parasitic virus that he eventually caught as well.  At only twelve weeks, Forest had to be hospitalized and put on IV fluids.  The vets couldn't decide if it was an infection or if he needed exploratory surgery.  I agonized over the decision to have them operate.  Not only would the expense be immense, I didn't want him to have an unnecessary procedure.
            My heart was already broken as less than a week previous, I had to make the difficult choice to have Carley, my red tabby, euthanized due to kidney failure.  As the vet gave her the injection, I held her in my arms and thought about the other two cats I had been with at the time of their deaths.  I've learned it doesn't get easier...it just gets more familiar.
            I wasn't ready to let go of little Forest as well, so I gave the emergency vet authorization to do the surgery so I could be sure we did everything possible for him. 
            "He's scheduled to go at 10:30," the vet told me.  "I'll call you when we're done and let you know how he did."
            I stayed awake with my cell phone nearby until midnight and then, exhausted and overwhelmed, tried to get some sleep.  An hour later, I suddenly woke up and checked the phone.  No one had called, so I dialed the vet's number with shaky fingers.
            The vet tech answered and when I asked how Forest was doing, she replied, "We've been running late and he was up next, but seems to be doing better.  He's playing with his IV line and is walking around his cage."
            "That's great news!"
            She asked if I wanted them to do the surgery anyway and I said, "No...let him stay on the fluids overnight and we'll see how he does in the morning."
            As it turned out, he was fine.  The infection was clearing and despite needing to be on antibiotics for a while, you'd never know little Forest had been sick.

            Last Friday when Kady was working toward a diagnosis and suggested he spend the night, I drove back to the hospital and sat with Forest for a while.  He smelled of urine and bile as he was nervous and had relieved himself outside of the litter pan and although the techs cleaned him up as best as they could, a bath was not imminent.  My sweet little stinky boy sat quietly in my arms (a sure sign he wasn't feeling well as Forest is a cuddler, not a lap cat). 
            Except for a mystery kitten wrapped in a blanket next to Forest's cage, the convalescent area was empty.  Kady gently removed the kitten from the blanket and I was horrified by what I saw.  He was black and looked to be the same age as Aditi, with the exact same markings.  His jaw had been broken and was slightly bloody.  While Kady splinted one of his paws, he lay like a limp rag as one of the techs held him.
            "I'm sorry I didn't warn you about this kitten," Kady said.  "He was hit by a car and whoever hit him used a dustpan to shovel him out of the road and fling him onto the grass.   But he came in growling and hissing...so he's got some spunk."
            My face registered the horror of wondering how anyone could do that to a small helpless animal.  "Who found him?"
            "A rep from Planned Pethood saw it happen and immediately called us."
            "Thank God," I sighed, gently petting Forest's head.  "Do you think it will survive?"
            "I'm not sure about the internal injuries, but we'll see how he does overnight."
            An hour later, I left Forest in the hopes that, just like before, the IV would work its magic.  And unlike before, I wouldn't have to say good-bye to a cat simultaneous to adopting a new kitten. 
            The next morning Kady called and laughingly said that Forest was ready to come home.  In the middle of the night, he had knocked over his litter pan and water dish, escaped from his second tier digs, pulled out his IV and went exploring.  The tech said she found him hiding in a closet.
            "He must have learned that from Naughty Jhoti," I smiled, relieved and lighthearted.  "When can I get him?"
            Later that morning, Kady had gone home to rest and Dr. Brent was working.  He had been with me when Carley died and had taken care of Forest a couple of years previous when he had a fever.  We chatted about Forest's antics the night before and I apologized for any damage he might have done.
            "It was nothing...anything that was broken can be replaced," Brent smiled.  "Forest can't."
            As I waited for the techs to bring him out, I noticed the little black kitten was being taken home by a Planned Pethood volunteer.
            "Oh, that one is all vinegar," one of the techs smiled. 
            "I'm kinda glad," I replied.  "He'll need it to survive what happened to him."

            Ghandi's words ring true to me, now more than ever.  For the past twenty-five years, I have cared for my pets in ways both mundane and profound.  I made sacrifices when my oldest cat had diabetes and needed insulin shots at twelve hour intervals for over three years.  When I moved to California, I needed to leave two of my cats behind in the care of a good friend until I could make the transition more permanent.  I was told eight months later that my cats would not be welcome in the community where I worked although others could dump their cats by the side of the road and they would taken in and cared for.  I looked long and hard at the community's politics and decided I would rather move back to Toledo in order to take responsibility for my animals' care than remain in a place that had an unspoken rule:  "It's better to ask forgiveness than permission." 
            No one needs permission to be loving or compassionate, only the desire to do so.  Call me crazy, but I believe that the way each of us treats any living thing is a direct reflection of the care and respect we have for ourselves.  And in caring for those who are the smallest creatures in our world, perhaps we reveal a bit more about how we have been treated...or have always wanted to be.
           It's an incredible responsibility to care for those who cannot speak with words, but whose language of love goes straight to the heart.   Forest knows this intrinsically.  I'm so very thankful he's mine and I get the pleasure of watching him embody this blessing for Aditi.  By example, he will be her best teacher.
           Forest is Ghandi in a cat suit...and then some.
           
           
Forest....home and healthy again...and of course,
watching over Aditi