Monday, September 26, 2016


Originally published on October 16, 2014

I love Autumn. 
Everything about it is enticing:  the brightly colored leaves, the crisp and cool air, the beautiful fall flowers that bloom in my garden.  I enjoy wearing a comfy sweater while hiking at the park and I'll often pull on a pair of handwarmers to hang around on the sun porch as the days I'll be able to enjoy it rapidly dwindle.  This is the time of year I bake cookies and apple dumplings and quick breads of all kinds.  My cats cuddle more and rekindle their friendships as they stroll around the house looking for a warm sunbeam.
Yes, there's much to revel in this time of year, but this time around, I find myself a bit melancholy.  Like many Midwesterners I know, I'm experiencing a bit of PTSD related to last winter's howling winds, sub-zero temperatures, and a record-breaking eighty-five inches of snow.  Yes, I love autumn, but this year...for the first time in my life...I'm not looking forward to what will follow.
This past spring, it took a long time before I put my snow boots and mittens and shovel away, before I knew for certain it was safe to really believe warmer weather was here to stay.  For weeks I worked in my garden, remembering daily the endless hours of shoveling, the kindness of neighbors who helped me dig the ice and drifts from my downspouts, and the horrifying nights I sat up worrying about my furnace when the temperatures dipped to -17 degrees. 
Finally, around Flag Day, I began to enjoy what has been a lovely, if not cooler-than-normal summer.  But I'll take that.  It's been a joy to create a darling fairy garden near my front porch.  To sit in the back yard and swing to my heart's content while I read books and research a new novel.  To ride my bike here, there, and everywhere around town.  But now, it doesn't seem like it was nearly long enough, and I long to stave off what's coming next, if only for another month or so.

When I was in eighth grade, my Language Arts teacher introduced me to the Iliad and the Odyssey, two books that opened my eyes to the cycles of life, death, war, peace, and everything in-between.  Mrs. Peterson graciously spent many a lunch hour in her classroom with me, eagerly answering my questions about the plot, the plethora of gods and goddesses and their roles and lessons in our modern life.
My favorite was the story of Persephone, the goddess often called "Kore" in her youth, who was stolen by Hades one afternoon as she frolicked in the flowers while her mother, Demeter, stood by helpless to save her.  Hades took Persephone as his intended wife to his land in the Underworld and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, left her responsibilities to the earth behind while she frantically searched for her daughter.  Preoccupied with her grief, Demeter left the land to desiccate and die.
In the meantime, although Persephone was horrified to be separated from her mother, she eventually grew accustomed to her marriage and to the Underworld, finding that she was a benevolent greeter of those who entered death and darkness at the end of their lives.  Eventually her father sent a messenger to Hades and demanded the release of Persephone, and Hades agreed, but with a price to be paid.  Before setting his wife free, he gave her some pomegranate seeds to eat which magically bound Persephone to the Underworld for a portion of the year.  So Persephone returned to her mother who in turn rejoiced and the earth awakened and flourished.  Then six months later, when Demeter had to relinquish her daughter to fate, the harvest withered and winter came once again.
Persephone's story represents the cycle of birth and death and the ability to embrace and celebrate them both.  Each year, I'm reminded of the mystery of the little deaths in my own garden -- the wilting leaves, the yellowing stalks, the energy of the plants returning to the earth, to the underworld where their roots remain steadfast and strong.
And I know that some of the deepest transformations, the most powerful growth comes from what lies beneath the surface...beyond what our eyes can see or our hands can measure. 

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and neighbor gave me an exquisite clay flower pot in the shape of a Greek woman's head.  She's a delicate reminder of Persephone, who, in the summer will hang on my house near the side door I use the most, and in the winter will rest on a shelf in my basement near the treadmill where I will run to keep warm during the long, dark winter months.
Seeing her calmly waiting for spring will remind me that all things will change eventually.  The snow, the ice, the bitter winds.  My fear of death in any sense of the word.  The loneliness that can creep in when I struggle with cabin fever. 
In the end, all things must pass.
In the midst of winter, each day will be what it is meant to be, just as each day in the springtime and summer is destined for its own joy and beauty.  I can embrace both life and death, knowing that as the seasons change and bring new growth, so too does my own quiet life in the Heartland.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Still here

Eight years ago I was contemplating my next move.  I had just turned forty-two and was living in Big Sur, California.  After a long, drawn-out process, Esalen Institute had offered me a position as the Garden Manager and I was eager to start a new chapter in my life.  Alas, there were too many strings attached in order to make it work.  I spent many sleepless nights lying on the deck outside of my hut, listening to the ocean dash against the cliffs, wondering if I should stay or if I should leave.  The consequences for each choice would mean an incredible leap into the unknown, but by then I was no stranger to risk-taking.
On a sunny afternoon, I walked back to my place on the farm to rest in the sun.  The garden shift had been exhausting and I was too tired to hike in the canyon.  Too tired to talk with my friends.  Too tired to think.  Instead, I spent an hour gazing at my surroundings, memorizing the aromatic scent of the pine trees, the majestic shape of the Santa Lucia mountains, the pounding cadence of the surf. 
Remember this, I told myself.  Remember this moment, so that no matter what happens, no matter what you decide to do, this place and time will be yours…always.
Three weeks later I left Esalen, but not before I had carefully placed a sand dollar in the lap of a peaceful Buddha statue where the garden crew gathered every morning before the harvest.  On the back I had written, I’m right here, knowing that a part of me would still remain in Big Sur long after I had returned to Toledo.  
It took three long years before I was able to finally cut the cord on my hopes of returning to Esalen.  Three years to finally understand that to leave pieces of myself scattered in the past across time and space was like splintering my soul.  It was time to call every part of me more fully into the present so that I could finally move forward and embrace a new way of being.

Last week, Danta and I celebrated landmark birthdays as we both entered new decades.  He turned ten on Thursday and I turned fifty on Friday.  To celebrate, I picked up Danta and Satish after school, then drove to meet their mom and older sister at Cold Stone for some ice cream. 
Along the way, I mentioned to Satish, “I’m really excited about what you told me a couple of days ago.”
“What?” he asked, looking up from his book.
“That you only have to grow one inch and gain six pounds before you can sit in the front seat,” I smiled.  “You’ll be up here with me before you know it.”
He gave me a shy smile.
“I know I often say how much I miss the fun things we did when you were younger,” I told them both.  “But I really like it that you’re getting older and we can talk about all kinds of things.”
“Like Harry Potter books!” Danta beamed.
“That’s right!” I nodded.  Then I smiled at Satish.  “And I’m so thankful you taught me how to use Power Point.  Can I show you my project when I’m done so you can help me tweak it?”
“Sure!” he replied. 
As we headed west toward Cold Stone, I remembered something I had said to Satish a few years previous: "You know what I love most about being with you on your eighth birthday?"
"What?" he asked.
 I hugged him close.  "Knowing that I'll still be here for your ninth birthday...and your tenth...and your eleventh...and your twentieth and thirtieth and fortieth..."
Satish joined in and we counted by tens up to one hundred.
"How old will you be when I'm a hundred?" he asked, tilting his head so he could see my face.
"One hundred and thirty-seven," I said, lifting my brows in amazement.
Without missing a beat, Satish shook his head.  "You'll be dead by then."
I chuckled, loving how clearly realistic my little friend can be.  "You never know...I could come back as one of your kids.  No...I'd like to be around and see your kids," I said, winking.  "Maybe I'll be one of your grandkids."
Satish shrugged.  "Or you could be a cow."
Now, chuckling to myself as we pulled into the parking lot, I thought about the sacredness of cows in the Hindu culture, as they are symbolic of the earth.  A cow gives and feeds, representing and supporting all life, so in many ways, they also represent all animals.  What a compliment from a child who I consider to be much wiser than myself. 
Later on, over bowls of mint-chocolate-chip and cookie-dough ice cream, I said to Danta, “From now on you and I will always have the same last number in our ages!  Welcome to double digits!”
“Oh, yeah!” he brightened.
What a joy and a blessing to know that as the years go by, I’ll still be here to watch Satish and Danta grow from soccer balls to car keys to high school diplomas to their freshman years in college.   To know that every step of the way, I’ll give what I can, supporting them with my presence, my enthusiasm, and my love. 
Even when I’m 137.

A few weeks ago I was talking about my trip to Sedona with a group of friends.  “Eventually I’d love to spend part of the year there, and part of it here,” I smiled.  “Who knew I could love the southwest so much?”
“When would you want to be in Ohio?” Brenda asked.
“I’d go to Arizona from February through August and come home for autumn and early winter.”
Brenda nodded.  “I’d never want to live anywhere that didn’t have a change of seasons.”
“Me, too,” I said.  “Living in California in the fall was strange.  The only way I knew it was autumn was when someone put pumpkins in the lodge.”
“Living where there’s a change of seasons reminds us of the passing of time,” Brenda replied.  “It gives you a perspective that other places can’t.”
“That’s so true,” I smiled.  “Surviving long Midwestern winters makes me so much more appreciative of springtime.  And after this long, hot summer, I’m truly going to enjoy every moment when the days get shorter and the nights are cooler.”
These days I sure am. 
Bar none, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…for me at least.  Like that afternoon on the deck at Esalen, I’ve been soaking in every single moment I can be outside before the season quickly changes and autumn breezes blow through my hometown.  Yesterday I took the time to quietly sit in the backyard, enjoying the bright colors of everything in full bloom, the cornflower blue sky, the crickets chirping all day long.  As twilight fell, the air changed and I went inside to grab a light jacket for the first time since last May.
Sitting on my swing, I thought about all the things that have happened in the past several years, things that have led to my desire to enter a new decade with an open heart.  I thought about the people and places I’ve let go of, the ones who’ve let go of me.  I thought about how the past fifty years have molded my life experiences and how I now want to break the mold in order to create a life that’s more open, spontaneous, and whole.  I thought about the sand dollar I had left in Big Sur all those years ago and know that the words I had once written have long since faded into white.  After all this time, I'm finally home.
Then again, I never really left.  I’m still here, walking peacefully on this earth.


Monday, May 2, 2016

It takes a garden

Happy belated May Day…although I still wake up every morning wondering, What season will it be today?  A lot of folks have asked if I’ve been doing much gardening this spring, and I reply that I spent a lot of hours in my yard last fall, so when warmer weather arrives (whenever that will be), all I have to do is sit back and enjoy the new growth.  Sure, I’ve cut my grass a couple of times and pulled dandelions out of the turf, but for the most part, it’s been wonderful to sit on the back porch or stroll through the north forty (a.k.a. my teeny tiny backyard), watching the perennials do their thing.
I’ve been gardening for the better part of twenty-five years, but to be honest, I’ve loved puttering around in flower beds since I was a kid.  My mom had a green thumb and while it took some time before I developed mine, I was no stranger to weeding, watering, and harvesting blossoms to bring into the house.  Once I bought my own home, it was hit or miss for a few years.  Then, once I started practicing yoga and began to innately experience the rhythm of the seasons, something primordial took over.
Last night I said to a friend, “The front yard is pretty eclectic, colorful, and lush, but it still has some structure because I want it to look well-manicured.  But the backyard…well, that I let grow a little wild.”
Joyce laughed.
“I suppose my gardens reflect who I am in more ways than one,” I continued.  “What I show to the world is pretty well put together, but what’s behind closed doors is still….”
“In process?”
“Yep,” I laughed.  “But in many ways I love that part just as much.” 

Even though I truly miss all of the friends I made Big Sur, I miss the work as well.  Imagine starting the day at sunrise, opening up the screen door of a little hut that sits on a cliff overlooking the ocean, feeling the ocean breeze on your face, breathing in the cool, salty sea air, and walking through a field of ruby, red strawberries all the while knowing you’re going to spend the entire day outside playing in the dirt.  Even though much of it was labor intensive and the garden crew was consistently changing hands as work scholars came and went, I loved it all:  the planting and harvesting, taking care of seedlings in the greenhouse, nurturing our passel of ornery chickens, and teaching new arrivals the joy of being immersed in a “slow food” environment. 
Now the only chicks who skitter around my yard are the kids who come over for yoga classes, but I still practice much of what I learned living on the edge of the earth in California. Before I moved to Big Sur, I had a string of accidents in which I fell down the stairs, fell out of a headstand onto a concrete floor (twice), tripped over a threshold, and tumbled into a ravine where I landed on a rock that was way bigger than a breadbasket.  The irony of being a yoga instructor and being way off balance is not lost on me, but I teach what I need to learn over and over again.  So it’s no surprise that after spending nearly a year tending the earth, I returned to Toledo much more grounded and stable.  Now I no longer trip and fall.  I can lift heavy weights at the gym with steadiness, if not yet with grace.   And I’m able to teach a wide variety of balancing poses and find some modicum of success in every class. 
Not that I push it anymore, for I’ve discovered over the years that our bodies are just like a garden.  Sometimes it takes a while for a seed to sprout, for a plant to mature, for an idea or a thought to properly propagate before I can enjoy a long-awaited harvest.  I’m often reminded that stability needs to be in place before flexibility can be truly developed or appreciated.  A plant can’t grow without strong roots and our body-mind-spirit connection can’t really awaken until we have our feet firmly rooted in a place that feels healthy and supportive, be it in our homes, work environment, or in our relationships.  Sometimes it can take years for any progress to be seen, but as Marie Forleo so brilliantly states:  All progress begins with a brave decision.
In the same way a seed needs to have the courage to split itself open in order to release its full potential, so do each one of us.  In order to grow, we often have to tear open those places that have remained rigidly in place due to fear, habit, or an unwillingness to let go.  Yet, in my experience, the incredible liberation and joy that follow the uncertainly is infinitely worth the turmoil.  After all, to be brave doesn’t mean we’re not afraid.  It simply means we allow our courage to walk hand in hand with our fear and lead the way forward. 
What better way to learn the ways of overcoming obstacles than to tend a garden?

I’m always amazed at the brilliance of nature to withstand even the coldest of winters and still bring forth lilac blossoms in the springtime. Just this morning on my way to teach, I noticed the Solomon Seal blooming in the south corner of my yard.  Wanting to get a closer look, I passed by the raised bed where I’ll soon plant chard and kale and cilantro.  There, tucked in neat rows of every hue of green I could image were tiny spinach and lettuce leaves, leftovers from last year’s harvest.  Here, there, and everywhere along the fence, tiny Morning Glories are sprouting up from the cool, moist Earth.  Even though it might seem like March in Toledo these days, my garden is still growing…slowly this year, but that’s the way I like it.
For anything worth having often takes a bit more time.
During the last few months I spent in Big Sur, my advisor’s daughter would walk through the garden on her way to breakfast.  I always kept a pair of scissors nearby, so whenever I saw Logan, I could clip a flower or two for her to take on the way.  Day by day, she asked me the names of each of the blossoms, quickly learning the difference between the lavender and dahlias, poppies and day lilies, jasmine and passion flowers. 
“Garden Katie!” Logan beamed when she arrived each morning.  “What flower can you teach me today?”
Although she couldn’t have known it back then, when I clipped each blossom, a memory often came back to me, something that each flower stirred up inside:  the regret I had felt when I planted the sunflowers the previous spring, the contentment I experienced while weeding the sedum, the overwhelming sorrow that came from tending the basil, the incomparable love I felt while pruning the rose bushes.  For Logan, the garden was a source of unique treasures to be discovered.  For me it was a channel through which I discovered the hidden treasures within myself that were revealed through tending a place that was both my sanctuary and my salvation. 
On the morning I left Esalen, I had breakfast with Logan and her parents.  The day previous I had arranged little bouquets of flowers in mugs and set them on the tables in the lodge.  Logan eagerly sat up in her chair and started pointing at each of them saying, “That’s a lily…that’s a eucalyptus…that’s a little lavender.”
“You know every single one,” I smiled.  “How about that?”

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe that’s true for it takes all kinds of people with different talents and abilities to nurture a little one into adulthood.  But it also takes a garden to remind us of where we came from, where we’ll return when this life is over.   We all start out as little seeds, then grow into sprouts.  Over time our lives come into full bloom.  Then, when one harvest is over, we can plant new seeds with the hope of a new one to come.
Over and over again, each one of us can become both the gardener and the growth, trusting the seasons of our lives to lead the way onward.

With adorable Logan, admiring a gorgeous Big Sur bouquet.

Friday, March 25, 2016

An Easter Story

It's Good Friday, one of the most sacred days on the Christian calendar, but when I was a child I couldn't understand why it was named thus.  Why would a day when a holy man was crucified be called "good"?  Where was the logic in that?  Over time I came to understand that Jesus lived an incredible example by His incomparable courage in the Garden of Gethsemane, His calm forbearance of the betrayal of His friends, and the ultimate acceptance of His death, all of which were gateways to His subsequent resurrection.
As an adult, I've reframed Holy Week as a time not only for honoring events from the distant past, but also bringing to light what I need to learn in the present.  Now I fully accept that any rebirth in my life can only come through enduring something that's been uncommonly agonizing, accepting something I can't change, surrendering to the unknown, and ultimately trusting that even though I might lie in darkness for a while, Light always comes afterward.
When I was fourteen my life was in shambles.  Even though I was a straight "A" student, sang in musicals, participated in church events, and put on a brave face in public, I was also struggling with anorexia nervosa, chronic anxiety, and a budding addiction to over-the-counter stimulants that kept me awake at all hours so I wouldn't have to endure repetitious night terrors.   When I was in school, I could channel my nervous energy:  I helped my teachers after hours.  I rehearsed for plays and choir concerts.  I edited the yearbook  well after dark so I wouldn't have to go home and face another dinner that ultimately went to waste on my plate.
By the time summer rolled around, I was frantic.   Now where could I hide?  Most of the time, when I wasn't riding my bike or running at the park, I cocooned myself in the cool, dark basement, reading encyclopedias and paperback novels.  I hid my body in baggy clothes.  Hid my food in napkins, then deposited it into the trash when my mother wasn't looking.  Hid myself as best as I could, all the while knowing that I would eventually be found out, that Mom would yell at me for being too thin, that Dad would be angry about something I did or didn't do.  That no matter what, there would always be something wrong with me.
When we went on our annual beach vacation that year, it was a relief to spend most of the day outdoors, body surfing, building sandcastles, and crabbing in the lagoons around Kiawah Island.  But at night, I still couldn't sleep, couldn't stop thinking about how my older sister always managed to find a holiday boyfriend while no one seemed to notice I existed.  I couldn't stop dreaming about slithering snakes or mummies chasing me from one end of the Art Museum to the other. I couldn't stop wondering if anyone could really understand how it felt to be trapped in a body I hated.
On Friday, the last day of our vacation, I left the villa after dinner, telling my mother I was going for a run up the beach.  She didn't try to stop me, but her disconcerting look was code for don't you want to be with your family?  "We're going to play cards tonight, " she said.  "Don't you want to join us?"
"Maybe," I shrugged.
But I didn't. 
I'd rather run as fast as my legs could carry me to the south end of the beach where the inlet curled around the island and high tide often came in with pods of dolphin.  So I laced up my shoes and stepped out into the muggy southern air, both happy to be by myself and desperate for something I couldn't quite explain.  After running a mile up the coast, I started crying.  Tears fell down my face, blurring my vision, but I didn't care.  By the time I reached the edge of the island, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally spent.
I'm so tired of living like this, I thought, peeling off my shoes and tossing them near a sand dune.  As I walked in the sea foam that ebbed and flowed along the shoreline, I continued my silent conversation.   I can't live like this anymore.  I don't know where I belong.  I don't know who I am.  So God, please send me a sign that You hear me.  Please show me I'm not alone.  Please...I'm begging you.
For a while I stood and watched the sky, looking for a rainbow or a sundog or maybe even some God rays shimmering through the clouds.  But the sky was clear, the sun was sinking, and time was running out.  Looking back on that moment, I know I was desperate enough to walk into the ocean and let it claim me.  But I was also hopeful enough that my silent prayer would be answered, so I walked to the edge of the inlet and sat down, dipping my feet into the cool current.   For a long time I sat in silence, watching the waves, looking for dolphin, waiting for a sign.  There was nothing to buoy my faith.
Until I looked down. 
In the time I had been sitting there, the tide had gently washed away the sand and right next to me emerged a large, lovely conch shell.  I picked it up, then rinsed it in the cool water beneath my feet.  Turning it over to see if it was home for a little sea creature, I found that it housed a completely different kind of miracle.  For there, plain as day, embedded in a lush, lovely background of crimson and ginger was a bright, white cross.  I cradled the shell in my hands while I watched the horizon as the sun set behind the dunes.  The sky turned peachy pink, mirroring the interior of the precious gift I had just been given, mirroring a place that had miraculously opened up inside of me.
Then I walked back to the villa and into the rest of my childhood.
I kept the shell for almost two decades.  It sat on my bedside table all through high school.  It traveled back and forth to Miami through four years of college.  It was a harbinger of courage when I moved out on my own at twenty-one and rented a little apartment in Troy, Ohio where I felt like an adult for the first time in my life.  It was a talisman I held onto eight years later when I finally began to unravel the unhealthy motivations beneath my workaholism, eating disorders, and inability to have a meaningful relationship.  The shell more than buoyed my faith;  it was a miracle that kept me mindful of the fact that I was never alone, never truly hopeless, never unloved.
When I turned thirty I knew that I no longer needed the shell to remind me of who I am or where I belong, so I gave it to one of my first grade students who was traveling to the Carolinas with his family that summer.  I asked Andy to throw the shell back into the sea, to return it to the place where it had found me sitting on the shoreline, lost and alone.  I knew that someday someone else would need to find it, just as I had all those years ago. 

Earlier this week I was running, and out of the blue, tears started to fall.  It's not been the easiest month and I've done a lot of soul searching about many things.  Why I seem to live a cyclical life.  Why I often make the same choices, albeit for different reasons.  I've had to surrender a lot of what I thought I wanted in order to accept what is, and I don't much like it.  But who does?  We've all got our proverbial crosses to bear and this year, I've discovered that I'm finally ready to put mine down, to allow a part of myself to die to the dreams I once had so that I can be reborn into a something new. 
I just made the difficult decision to delete a novel I started writing three years ago, a fifth book in a series, for it reminds me too much of a past I've already healed, and I no longer want to write about characters who have long since been put to rest.   I've been watchful for what will fill this void in my life, this place that was once occupied by drama and unrest and most recently by long nights lying awake in bed, waiting for a sign of things to come.
I didn't have to wait long.
A few days ago, I spent a glorious afternoon in my garden.  The trellises were anchored, the flower pots set on the porch to welcome the warm, spring rain.  The backyard swing was put back together so it can be ready for long, lazy summer afternoons, and the raised bed has been prepped for planting.  While I was raking some leaves out of one the beds, I found something that had gone missing a couple of years ago, a stone I had found on the beach in Big Sur on a gorgeous Friday in September, a speckled gray rock with a lovely white cross in the middle which has become an anchor in my garden and a reminder of quiet miracles
With every yoga class I teach, I'm reminded that even our human bodies create a cross, the most ancient of holy symbols.  If we hold out our arms, they become the horizontal line; the space from the crown of our head to our feet, the vertical.  Where they intersect is in the heart, the place where everything begins and ends, the place of healing and love and grace.
And if we allow it, the place of infinite peace.

Friday, February 5, 2016


Earlier this morning I swam up from sleep remembering a vivid moment from my days at Esalen Institute.  I was standing just outside the greenhouse shielding my eyes from the sun rising over the Sierra Mountains.  The air was thick and humid as I had just watered all of the seedlings which had not quite poked their heads above the soil.  My friend, Benoit, was tying up tomatoes we had planted weeks before, so I joined him and we talked until it was time to go to Dance Church.
Every Sunday morning after a cup of coffee in the lodge, I walked next door where a group of us gathered to dance the day into being.  Whenever J.J. was the D.J., I made it a point to get there early, kick off my shoes, and eagerly listen while J.J. sampled music that he would be playing during our time together.  He had the most eclectic mix of ethnic, multi-cultural, and Eurasian CD's which filled the air with harmonies I had never heard before. 
On one particular morning, I was dancing by myself in the corner while everyone else swirled and wove their way around the room.  It's not that I wanted to be anti-social; I simply wanted some space to myself before I went back to work in the garden.  Completely entranced by the music, I closed my eyes and moved my body in whatever way it led me.  That's was the whole point of Dance Church:  to freestyle and free up our bodies for a brand new day.
Afterward, while I pulled on my work boots, one of the women I knew well came over and whispered, "I love to watch you dance, Katie.  It's so hypnotic."
I looked up at Bianka and smiled.  "Really?"
"Yes," she nodded.  "Just like the way you tend the flower gardens.  There's a rhythm to everything you do."
As I walked back to the greenhouse, I thought about what she said.  While I tended the chickens and thinned out the seedlings and hoed the chard, I noticed there was indeed a gentle cadence to the way I moved my feet, my hands, my entire body.  I felt strong and steady, flexible and flowing.  Even now I'm infinitely grateful for Bianka's kindness in mirroring for me something I might have missed had I not allowed myself to dance in front of people.
And I'm infinitely thankful for the year I spent in Big Sur which grounded me in my body in ways I can't quite explain.

These days I'm pretty stable.  I lift weights and run and practice yoga nearly every day.  I no longer fall down the stairs (or up them for that matter, as I used to do in my years pre-Esalen).   While I prefer to be barefoot, I'm perfectly content wearing a host of footwear that reflects the life I'm now leading.  I've kept my gardening boots from Esalen, but rarely wear them as I prefer to don flip-flops in the backyard while I weed and prune and water.
Yet with springtime still more than a month away, I've put my flip-flops to good use this winter.  In January, I learned how to freestyle and spend a few days a week practicing in the indoor pool at the gym.  Usually I'm a pretty quick study when it comes to new patterns of movement, but I have to say, I'm struggling with this one.  I can backstroke and sidestroke and breaststroke.  I'm not afraid of putting my face in the water or diving deep for that matter.  With my nifty goggles I can even open my eyes and not worry about drowning my contacts in the chlorinated water.  I've got the form of freestyle down, no problem.
It's the breathing pattern that's got me skunked.
I find it's easy to either be completely submerged beneath the surface or float on top, but to find the balance between the two has been an ongoing challenge, for I'm afraid of breathing in a wave of water instead of a quick intake of air.  It doesn't help when I'm in the lane next to a swimmer who slaps the water with their arms as they move past, making waves and splashing my face just as I turn my head to breathe.  The other night I was surrounded by men who were all moving at a different pace, and no matter how hard I tried, their often-overlapping wakes rocked my body from side to side and it was hard to stay afloat, let alone breathe.
So I did what I usually do when I don't want to get out of the pool, but I also don't want to be affected by someone else's momentum:  I dove deep and channeled my inner mermaid, eventually increasing my lung capacity to cross the length of the pool in two breaths.
Still, that doesn't do much for helping me get the rhythm of freestyling.

All of this has got me thinking about the times when I've been either in the game of life or out of it.  Actually, on any given day I can be completely submerged in my spirituality through writing or yoga or diving deep into my subconscious through dreamwork and other forms of meditation.  Then, in the blink of an eye, I'm out and about in the world, teaching or running errands or spending time with friends.  Actually, I find it's pretty easy to slip in and out of the pool of life, never missing a beat...or a breath.  So I've often wondered why it's so hard to strike a balance between the two. 
I suppose it's because I'm not used to it yet. 
Since the new year began, the Universe looked down on me and said, "'s your turn to be happy."   I've been given a host of opportunities to learn, grow, and move forward, many of them being completely foreign, yet completely welcome.  I'm still trying to find my feet in many ways, but I've learned, that like the seedlings in the Esalen greenhouse, I can't expect them to sprout overnight.  After all, growing strong roots is essential to creating a stable structure later on, and I've learned that anything worth having is worth waiting for.
In the meantime, I'm not pushing the river (or the pool water) when it comes to learning freestyle swimming, for I've decided to walk my talk and take it one stroke at a time.  I always tell new yoga students, "Don't worry about the breathing patterns just yet.  Learn the physical movement and trust that the breath will come along in time when it's ready."
So these days when I get in the pool, I do what comes naturally.  I backstroke and breaststroke and sidestroke to get a rhythm going.  Eventually I practice my freestyle form, stopping when I need a breath and taking my time with the process.  Usually I let it go after a few laps and just go under to feel myself completely surrounded by the peace and silence of the water.
But in the end, I always finish floating, resting my head and arms on a kickboard.  It's then that I remember all those mornings in Dance Church and allow myself to be carried by the rhythm of my breath while I feel the waves of all the other swimmers gently move my body from side to side.  What an amazing thing to know that I can let go into that space of being balanced between water and air...between myself and others.
Between heaven and earth.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A kiss for Kashti

Last Friday I sat in my doctor's outer office waiting for my annual physical.  As I updated the information on my medical forms, couples and families filtered in and out, chittering about due dates, baby weight, and the excitement of an imminent birth.  I sat alone on the other side of the room, completely surprised to feel the sting of being childless.  It's taken a while, but I no longer lament not having babies of my own, and it's been years since a precancerous diagnosis allowed me to re-evaluate my priorities and let go of the life I had planned in order to embrace the life that was waiting for me.  Those of you who know me well know I've done that more than once.
Or twice.
Or three times.
Still, while being surrounded by the energy of excited soon-to-be parents and grandparents, I thought about the weeks of packing before my move to Big Sur.  In the midst of labeling boxes and sorting stuff for Goodwill, I had come across a bin of books that had been stored since my teaching days...books I had kept in the hopes of reading them to a child of my own, my favorite being Maurice Sendak's A Kiss for Little Bear.  When I was little, I had read it over and over again, delighting in how Little Bear draws a picture for his grandmother, then sends it long distance to her house via a host of animals.  Upon receiving such a lovely gift, Grandmother sends a kiss for Little Bear which gets passed among the animals a la "the telephone game", and reaches its final destination, but not without some hilarious mix-ups.
It was back then, in an attempt to lighten the load of moving cross-country, that I finally let go of needing to have a child of my own, so I gave away nearly everything I had been saving...except a couple of hand-knitted sweater sets and a small collection of children's books that were too precious to part with, A Kiss for Little Bear being one of them.   At the time it felt like a freedom and a door opening, even though nothing in Big Sur turned out as I had anticipated.  Still, in the years since my return from California, I've been able to get on with my life in ways both meaningful and heart-opening.
So the unexpected twinge of wanting a child startled me...but this time, only for a moment.

Earlier that morning I was answering emails and received a link to YouTube from a friend who lives in India.  Kashyap and his wife, Kruti, are Satish and Danta's uncle and aunt.  There's no word for "cousin" in their culture, so Kashyap and Kruti's daughter, Kashti, is considered to be my pals' sister...and they are her brothers. 
We met on a sunny Saturday several years ago at the Sharma's where Kashti and I sat near the fireplace, playing with Legos and reading books.  Kashti soon joined my Yoga for Kids class at her Montessori school, so I was blessed to see her every week...and even on the weekends when she joined Satish, Danta, and me for a play date that was always filled with laugher.  One hot, sunny afternoon, everyone came over to my house for an ice cream party and Kashti squealed with delight when she met my kitten, Aditi (which means "Mother of the sun" in Hindi).  
We all celebrated birthdays and Easter, Christmas and Halloween, and everything in-between until it was time for her family to move back to Gujarat in June of 2014.   Since then we've stayed in touch via the Internet and snail mail, but it's not the same as holding Kashti on my lap while reading her a book or singing a song or listening to her tell me a story.  So when Kashyap sent the YouTube video of a now very-grown-up Kashti sharing a creation she had made with Legos (a little house for a black cat just like Aditi), I cried tears of joy to hear her sweet voice, for then and now, she's like a daughter to me. 

While I waited for my turn at the doctor's office, I thought of Kashti...and Satish and Danta and Neela and Amita...children who may not be mine by birth, but are in my life so I can give and receive love that knows no limits -- not even the 7,800 miles between Gujarat and Ohio.   Someday the little sweater sets I've saved will be gifted to the kids, and all of the books are still in rotation in the basket in the backseat of my car so Satish and Danta can enjoy them over and over again.  Alas...I cannot find my copy of A Kiss for Little Bear, so I must have passed it on to a child who loved it as much as I do; otherwise, I would be sending it to my little one across the ocean in India.  
So here's a kiss for Kashti who has opened my heart that much more to the realization that mothering can come in all forms...and while I may not give birth to a baby of my own, I can nurture and love all of the extraordinary children who come into my life.
What an incredible awareness.

With Kashti, June, 2014
You can view her darling video here.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sweaty guy

On Friday night I was sitting between my pals, Satish and Danta, enjoying  a wonderful dinner of Indian cuisine when Danta asked, "Can you stay and watch Sweaty Guy tonight?"
We were celebrating a belated Christmas, so Danta was excited to pop The Year Without a Santa Claus into the DVD player.  When he was little, he couldn't remember the name of the show, but as the Heat Miser was a memorable character, Danta gave him a brand new nickname.  Thus, Sweaty Guy became the alternate moniker for one of our favorite holiday movies.
"Sure," I nodded.  "I can stay as long as you'd like."
Satish gave me a sly smile.  "Okay...well, only for three years."
I turned to him.  "Oh, how sweet!  Is that all?  How about five?"
"It could be for only three seconds,Satish deadpanned.
I laughed out loud, wistfully acknowledging that my sassy friend will soon be a pre-teenager. 
Later on, after the boys had opened the sweaters I had made for them (in U of M and Michigan State colors), their mother wanted to take a picture of the three of us.
Satish threw his arms around me and beamed, "Let's pretend we like each other!" 
What a joy to see both the little boy he used to be mingled with the young man he's slowly becoming.  It's the first time I've been able to watch the slow, steady progression of growth in children I cherish, and I'm often surprised by how the little changes in both of the boys only make me love them that much more.
Once Danta and Satish had donned their pajamas, they created a little nest on the floor with blankets and pillows, then invited me to join them like I did when they were little.  It's been a couple of years since we've been able to find some downtime to chill out in front of the television, so I enjoyed every single moment, knowing that the years will pass by all-too-soon and someday they'll be more interested in hanging out with their friends.
 I've been delighted to spend more time with the Sharmas this year.  Satish's soccer games are on my winter calendar and I'll be picking him up from school in a couple of weeks to celebrate his eleventh birthday.  Nine-year-old Danta and I enjoy working on puzzles and reading books and making each other laugh until we snort.  His big sister, Neela, and I are looking forward to spending some time together in early February and when the oldest, Amita, comes back from an overseas trip, I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about. 
The girls are both in high school and busy with band and lacrosse and a host of other activities, so I've spent most of my time over the years with the boys...kicking a soccer ball, teaching them how to play tennis, and shooting baskets in their backyard.  We've played countless games of chess, read dozens of books, and had sleepovers when we talked long past bedtime.  I've driven them to soccer practice and cheered them on during their matches.  As I grew up with sisters who didn't really like to get sweaty, it's been a unique pleasure to enjoy the often rough and tumble world of little boys who don't mind getting dirty.
I don't long as I can clean up afterwards. 

When Danta was in kindergarten, I spent the night when his parents went out for the evening.   After a boisterous day of playing in the snow and a lively evening wrestling in the living room, the fellas were due for a quick clean-up before bedtime.  
Satish and I were sitting in the hallway playing "Hangman" outside of the bathroom while Danta took a bucket bath. ("It's an Indian thing," Satish explained.  "To save water.")  
"Hey, Katie!" Danta exclaimed.  "Come look at me!"
I stepped into the bathroom and saw that he had tightly wedged his little body into the bucket that was overflowing with soapy water.  Delighted with his antics, I giggled, “Am I going to need a shoehorn to get you out of there?”
“A what?” he asked, his eyes wide.
Satish came in to see why I was laughing.  His face turned serious.  “Danta!  You need to use that bucket properly!  We don’t have another one and if you break it, Mummy and Papa will have to go to the store and buy one!”
Pressing my lips together, I turned away to squelch my laughter.  Satish was right, of course, but it was still hilarious to see Danta in the bucket, his knees pulled tightly to his chest.  Only he would think to do something so impish.  And naturally, it’s exactly the kind of thing my inner Ramona finds hilarious. 
Later that night when it was time to go to sleep, the boys curled up with their blankets on the floor of the guest room so we could all be together.  Once the lights were turned out, Danta took a shuddering breath, asking,  “When’s Mummy coming home?”
I could instantly hear the tears in his voice, knowing bedtime would be hard for Danta.  While he was fine to play and have fun during the day without his mother, nighttime was when he most wanted her near.
Glancing at the clock radio, I said, “She should be home in about an hour or so.”
“Is that long?”
“Not really,” I told him gently.  “And I’ll be right here.”
I turned on the nightlight and the room was bathed in the soft, orange glow of a tiny plastic basketball.  When I climbed into the twin bed and got comfortable, Satish was well on his way to falling asleep, but I could hear Danta whimpering.
“Mummy,” he softly cried.  “I want Mummy.”
Leaning down to stroke the hair away from his forehead, damp with sweat, I whispered, “Do you want to come up here with me until she gets home?”
He nodded eagerly.  Leaving his blankets and stuffed animals behind, Danta climbed into the small bed and cuddled close.  “Mummy,” he cried again.   
I soothingly rubbed his head.  “I know you miss Mummy,” I whispered.  “She’ll be back soon.  And I’m right here…I’m right here.” 
We whispered about all of the fun we had that day, the snow angels he and Satish had made, the silly snowman whose eyes kept falling off, no matter how many times Danta tried to fix them.  He soon relaxed and fell asleep in my arms, but by morning, had found his way back to his parents' room while Satish and I dozed as sunlight slowly filtered into the room.  I lay there remembering the scrappy little girl I used to be who was often afraid when my mother was gone, who didn't want to be upstairs in our house alone, who was often frightened of the unfamiliar, the inexperienced.  
After all of these years, I find that Danta and I are still very much alike.  Even though we're getting better at sweating through the challenges, it's still a comfort to know that we're surrounded by people who understand us, who don't mind our quirks and silly sense of humor.  Who love us unconditionally, no matter what.
So here's to my little sweaty guy who brings so much joy to my life...and teaches me that to be childlike is a doorway to the divine.

My little sweaty guy, Danta, making snow angels in his backyard.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Confessions of an outgoing introvert

As the new year dawned yesterday morning, I woke up and did what I've been doing nearly every day since Christmas Eve: exactly nothing.  It's been a wonderful week and a half of peace and quiet, save for the fireworks that woke me up at midnight on January first.  I had been out and about for the better part of New Year's Eve, so after a late dinner, I was in bed by ten-thirty.  I'm no party pooper, just enjoying the best part of wintertime -- sustained silence.
I could get used to not working.  In fact, I've absolutely surprised myself by staying out of my yoga studio and away from the computer for the better part of a week.  This time last year I had already made and wrapped presents for the 2015 holiday season, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and spent a couple dozen hours researching at the library.
But not this year...and the best part is I don't feel guilty at all for fully enjoying my "stay-cation" at home. 

As many of you know, I love, love, love to talk.  In fact, nearly every day this past week, I've had coffee dates with friends and run into folks at the gym where we chat while lifting weights or trotting on the treadmill.  Even complete strangers engage me in curiously fascinating conversations and I come home pondering a host of ideas and opportunities.  I enjoy it all.
But it wears me out.
Over coffee last week, a friend suggested a fascinating book called Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.  I immediately picked up a copy and have been reading it ever since.  Thoroughly researched and articulately written, the author, Susan Cain, describes me to a "T".  So far, the quote with which I resonate the most is: It's okay to cross the street to avoid making small talk.  Yes, I'm a talker, but I cannot stand talking with someone just to hear myself speak...and vice versa. 
I suppose I've always been this way.  In first grade, I clearly remember talking to Billy Klatt when I was supposed to be finishing a writing assignment.  He was a year older than me and lived a few houses away from mine, so we knew each other better than the other kids in class.  I have no memory of what we were chatting about, but I do remember that he was as interested in talking with me as I was with him, which resulted in Mrs. Bureau assigning us a writing penalty because, even though we kept our voices down, we were supposed to be quiet. 
Even then, I preferred the intimacy of one-on-one conversations to the boisterous back-and-forth on the playground.   While the girls were jumping rope and the boys were playing tag, I sat as far away from the mayhem on a cement cinder-block, writing in a three-ring-notebook, imagining I was Harriet the Spy.  Surprisingly enough, I was joined not by the girls, but by a few quiet boys who made me laugh.  In the classroom, they were shy and didn't raise their hands at all, but with me on the playground, they talked about GI Joes and baseball and how they hoped we wouldn't have to get on the trampoline in gym class because that was the worst:  being up there by yourself while the whole class stood around watching you bounce around and try not to twist your ankle. 
I couldn't agree more.
As time went on, I became know as "Katie the Bookworm" or "Katie the Goody-Goody", which made me want to cloister even more.  Sure, I was friendly and chatty with my friends.  I raised my hand and answered questions in the classroom.  Still, any kind of group setting mortified me.  And sometimes it still does.

It's ironic that I've spent the better part of my adult life in front of a classroom.  I teach and nurture and guide my students.  I listen to their questions, then try to provide a clear answer.  I'm often called upon for advice or suggestions, which is just fine with me...except that it hasn't made me the listener I want to be because I'm always at the ready with a response. 
It's my intention that this year will manifest many things, the greatest of which will be the shedding of what my friend, Kendall, calls "the people I used to be".  In September I'll hit my Chiron return, which means that if I've learned the lessons from the past, I'll be able to move forward into that which I've been imagining for the past decade.  After all I've experienced in the past four years in particular, I'm hopeful that will be the case.  In any event, I'm working toward being a different kind of teacher, allowing the writer in me to move forward and stand side-by-side with the instructor.  For it's in these quiet moments alone in my creativity that I find the greatest solace.  Perhaps then I'll be able to let go of my tendency to have a response for everything and simply listen for the answer inherent in my students' questions.
Yes, I'm an outgoing introvert, but I'm also shifting into someone who now understands she cannot change the world, but can transform my little one day by day...quiet choice by quiet choice.