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Archive for July, 2013

Maine Adventure: Part Two

Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.    Theodore Roethke

It is an old old house, born in the early 1800’s, this salt-water farmstead that we grew up calling the Old House.  And a week ago Thursday, there we sat, at noon on a sweltering day, in the coolness of its cozy dining room, around the antique table, steadying our chairs on its pine-plank time-worn-sloping floor.  There were twelve of us – my cousin, Diana, who is living here in this family home that our Grandpa Haskell purchased, along with two coves and a point of land in coastal Maine in 1903, and her sister, Karen, and Karen’s husband, John, and the seven of us, Cam and I and our two boys and their gals and baby Viren, along with Cam’s mother and her boyfriend, Bob, who had joined us mid-week on our Maine adventure.  Our plates were piled high with fresh crabmeat scooped onto garden lettuce or tucked into sandwiches, and paprika-sprinkled egg salad, from eggs that we had gathered that morning from the coop at our country rental home, and cousin Diana’s potato salad, and juicy slices of ripe red tomatoes and crisp cucumbers plucked from the vine and Karen’s perfectly-gooey homemade brownies and her blueberry tart that was almost too beautiful to eat.  But eat it we did, all of it, this feast of food and festivity, as we, very much present in the present, savored each bite of conversation, each morsel of the meal’s goodwill.  And I wonder how it is possible not to chew on bits of the past, too, when you are four generations of family sitting around an antique table.

In almost every session of yoga, we turn one foot at a right angle outward and the other slightly inward, and we twist our standing spread-out bodies from Five-pointed Star into the Warrior Two pose, one arm pointing forward at shoulder height and one stuck straight back behind us at the same height.  It is a powerful pose, pressed into the outsides’ of our feet, firmly planted in the present moment.  And almost always, I say to look behind at the arm pressed into the past, that we don’t need to stay stuck here, that the past and its memories, the ones that matter in the Now, will rise up as we ground ourselves in our bodies, as we turn our torsos around to the present and to the future with a forward-focused momentum.  So there it was, rising up for us, as we munched on sea-salted crabmeat and juicy ripe tomatoes and slices of blueberry tart; there it was as we watched over the twelve-month-old – the toddling-toddler of our family’s new generation – as he reached for the photographs and the family treasures.  And when your inner warrior, that yogic-grounded part of you, is focused on the positive in the present, it is the positive from the past that makes its way up to the surface.

Before we sat down at the table, our sons, who have not spent time in the Old House since childhood, along with their partners and Cam’s mother and Bob, toured its quirky art-filled rooms, moseyed into Grandpa Haskell’s tiny studio where the press that he used to print out his etchings is still set up just as it had been before his death in a car accident in 1925.  It was with the excitement that comes when something clicks into place that our son, Pete, questioned me when he returned from the tour.  “Mom, is the photo on the wall of the studio my great grandfather?”  And when I nodded my head, yes, he added, “Now I know where the bald gene comes from!”  This great-grandfather, who has been more myth to my sons than flesh and blood, more well-known artist of the etchings that they’ve inherited, than man who walked through these same quirky rooms, was now becoming real, a handsome guy with a receding hairline like Pete who summered in this house and kept a cow in the barn and a sailing canoe at the water’s edge.  He was alive to us all as we sat around the table eating our food and sharing our stories.

And the stories were a rich summer-smorgasbord of memories.  There were the family stories, the flashbacks of us as kids, piled into the red lobster boat with a skiff trailing behind, heading off to a Saturday picnic at Spring Beach or sitting around this same table at holiday gatherings, memories of times before my birth, when the older cousins cranked the old-fashioned ice cream churner on the farmhouse lawn, with my father, their Uncle Ernie.  And there were the memories from outside this Haskell homestead that made their way into our noon-time gathering.  How does the mother of my husband, a gal who was born and grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who married her childhood friend and raised her son (my husband) and his siblings in that same town in the Midwest, end up here in coastal Maine sitting at the table on this summer-thick day?  What are the chances of a Wellesley gal, like my mother-in-law, getting back together with her college boyfriend who attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, the town next to Bath where I grew up, a boyfriend who now lives in a coastal town in southern Maine?  It was the ice cream on the blueberry tart, the day’s sweet frosting to have the two of them with us, these college lovebirds, who, a year and a half ago and years after the deaths of their spouses, reunited.  It was an extra scoop of ice cream on a hot afternoon to listen in as boyfriend, Bob, sat close to cousin Karen’s husband, John, who also attended Bowdoin College at about the same time period, and spoke with enthusiasm of how he and Cam’s mother met on a blind date on a football Saturday in Brunswick, Maine back when they were in their early twenties.  How can it get much better than that?!?

And yet, the good times keep rolling into the present when you are open for them – and when you are in that open place, it is not just the memories that bob up to the surface to delight you with their presence.  The ancestors themselves, those family members no longer sitting in the chairs around the table, those beloveds who you think are gone – when you are in that open place, they make their presence known, too.  Sometimes it is in a body-shiver that they speak to you on a hot hot day as you mosey around the family grounds after a delectable noon-day meal, and sometimes it is in the cardinal bird sitting on the sumac bush, just sitting there staring back at you, at the head of Fish House Cove on the other side of Sister Point as you show your daughter-in-law the view that your mother savored daily from her cottage deck, that you feel her presence again and you hear her song telling you to enjoy the view.

And sometimes it just washes over you with the best feeling you could imagine.  And maybe it is unexpected, like it was for me two days later on another hot afternoon, when we, once again, found ourselves on the family property, this time, on the Fish House Cove side of  Sister Point.   As I stood on the Haul-off Rock, the one we used as our swimming launch-pad for years and years, I watched my daughter-in-law, the master swimmer, lower herself down the same rickety stairs and over the seaweed and into the Cove’s clear water, and I watched my son, Chris, and his fiancé raise the sail and catch the gusts of wind while balancing themselves in the Sunfish’s tiny cockpit, in the same boat that my father had bought for us when we were kids, and I watched my twelve month old grandson plop himself down in the inlet of shells with his father and his Grandpa Cam.  And, as I watched my family fully immerse themselves in life in the Cove, I felt him.  I didn’t just remember him or think  to myself that, if he was alive, he would have loved this scene.  I felt him.  I felt his happiness, his unbridled delight.   My father who died when I was seventeen.  My father, the steward of this land, the lover of the sea, the self-appointed tour guide who joyfully shared this place with all who visited.   And here he was, all around me, and I breathed it in, the salt air, the warmth of the day, my father’s happiness.

Setting Sail in Fish House Cove

Setting Sail in Fish House Cove

Viren on Shell Beach

Viren on Shell Beach

Dad measuring a lobster: 1950's

Dad measuring a lobster: 1950’s

Maine Adventure: Part One


Remember who you are. You are a star, a mountain, that fountain in the sun.  Your heart is the velvet cave where birds sing.  Are you remembering?    Julia Cameron

It was on Day Four of the eight-day trip, mid-week, that my kids came up with the persona for me.  The seven of us – Cam and I, our two boys and their gals, and twelve month old Baby Viren – were leaning over the sides of the seventy-five year old, thirty foot wooden tour boat, the Ruth, and sopping up what sea breeze we could find on this sweltering heat-wave of a Wednesday.  I, the girl from coastal Maine, was acting as our personal tour guide.  “See that bell buoy!?!”  I cried into the hum of the engine as I pointed out toward the horizon and Ragged Island, to the red marker set against the sparkling blue of the sea. “That’s the one that my father let my friend, Sally, and I climb on when we were about ten!”  “And look over here – that’s the Porter’s Cottage nestled in the woods!  We ate lobster dinners at their house!”

It was a small crew on our two-hour boat-ride, a captain and his first mate, and the seven of us and one other couple, and I found myself feeling at home out on the waters of Casco Bay, as if it had been just yesterday that I was the salt-water-soaked preteen on that sea-swaying bell-buoy or the bikini-clad thirteen year old straddling the wooden bow of our twenty-foot red-painted lobster boat while my father steered through the splash of the waves out to Mark Island or around the wild side of Wood Island and into Hermit Island’s high tide cove called the Bathtub.  The years melted away as our captain pointed the bow toward the mouth of the New Meadows River, and, with a skill that comes from years of practice, maneuvered our boat through a maze of bright-colored lobster buoys.  We were heading into the Basin!  The Basin!  As he guided us into the protected inlet, he shared his version of its history, how, for generations, it has been a haven for boats in storms, a place of safety when the seas become unruly.  I politely listened to his Basin stories, and then I shared my own, how the Basin was anything but calm seas to me when I was a teenager.

I worked as a kitchen girl and waitress for three summers in my late teens at Rock Gardens Inn, the quaint clump of cottages perched on the point just a stone’s throw away from where we hopped onto this tour boat, and the Basin was a favorite playground of ours, of the nine high school and college-aged gals who lived at the inn.  Squish – that’s what we called our fun-loving colleague because of her cute little nose and her cute little giggle and her cute little backside and the way she wiggled when she walked – she was anything but tame and she owned a Boston Whaler, a tiny boat with a huge engine, and she charged that engine up and she sailed across the sea and it was always a wild ride with Squish.  And sometimes, on the hot days, the days like this one that my family and I were now motoring through, we Rock Gardens Inn Girls found ourselves right here in the Basin flying behind the boat of our reckless friend, skimming and skiing across the calm surface of these waters.  That’s what I was shouting out over the hum of the engine on this sweltering afternoon – that I used to water-ski here in this enclosed harbor – when the persona took hold.  I think that Cam, who met me in the midst of these Rock Gardens Inn years, added something about Boone’s Farm Wine to my story, as if I ever had the talent to combine a bottle of Boone’s Farm – which I admit might have made its way into the Beach Party Nights – with an afternoon of waterskiing.  But that was the image that delighted my kids, their mother, a teenager, grasping the reins with one hand, a bottle of Boone’s Farm with the other, and flying through the air behind a speeding boat and shouting something out in a thick Maine accent.  “Helen Jo”, the name of my youth, is what they began to call me.

And the name, and the persona, it stuck.  After our captain steered us back out around the seaward side of Horse Island, past the flock of terns dive-bombing for fish, past the seals poking their heads above the waves, past the lobster boats and the draggers and into the harbor, after we climbed onto the wharf and waved our good-byes to captain and first mate, I was still Helen Jo.  And an hour later, while whooping and hollering into the wind and the waves at the state park beach, while splashing and swimming and feeling free with my grown-up boys and their grown-up gals and the bold little Viren, I remembered her, that whooping and hollering and out-of-the-box teen.  It wasn’t a persona at all, but a very real part of who I am – the loud and raucous water girl born by the sea.  And for the rest of the week, as my grown-up boys noticed that Helen Jo drove a little faster than the mom that they were used to, and noticed that she didn’t work as hard at being in charge and she let her hair grow salty and sea-washed, I felt freed-up.  Freed-up of the roles that could make a vacation anything but a vacation.  It was fun being Helen Jo.  It was fun feeling young and salty and a wee bit reckless.  It was fun scooping up that grandson of mine and loving him with a blubberiness that only a grandparent can feel, while, at the same time, giggling inside because that youthful, fun-filled Helen Jo – she was alive and kicking up a raucous.

I hope that the others felt it too, the freedom to let go, the freedom to ride the wave of the moment without role or expectation.  Near the end of the week, on the last visit to the wide stretch of state park beach, while Cam sat under the umbrella and played in the sand with Viren, the rest of us tried out the boogey boards that my friend, Muriel, had loaned to us.  The sea is a great equalizer and the waves were building up momentum as the tide began to pour back in and we were tossed about and we, all of us, stretched our arms out over those boards and chose our waves, and sometimes, if we caught them just right, we rode them into shore, and skidded along the sand before stopping.  It was a rush.  And, for those ocean-soaked moments, we, this gang on the beach, were not parents or the kids of parents or siblings or the partners of siblings.  We were ourselves, people on a vacation having fun.

Viren and Grandma at Sandy Cove:  West Point, Maine

Viren and Grandma at Sandy Cove:
West Point, Maine


Sheer Joy!!!!!!

Sheer Joy!!!!!!

Chris and Diana: on the Ruth

Chris and Diana:
on the Ruth


El Camino

Your spiritual well will not run dry if you take the time and care to replenish it by self-loving actions.  Julia Cameron

It was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times, this journey that can be taken on several routes through Spain and Portugal all leading to the seaside town of Galicia and the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where it is believed that the remains of the apostle St. James are buried.  And for modern-day spiritual adventurers, it still is a popular pilgrimage, the trek through towns and villages on ancient paths that takes weeks and weeks on foot or horseback to complete.  El Camino, it is called, and I know several women who have embarked on this adventure, three who have just completed it in the past few months, and one who will be setting off in September.

I think it was my friend who walked her way across Spain to Galicia some years ago who told me that the El Camino gives to you what you, at your deepest core, are seeking and needing, that its gifts are tailor-made for each one of us.  I remember her saying that she realized on the trek that she wasn’t wanting for anything, that, at one point, she was walking through a field of clover and wondered whether it was possible to find one with four leaves, and, just at that moment, that very moment of deep breath and reflection, she looked down and there it was, staring back at her, her own four-leaf clover.  It was like that throughout the whole several-week pilgrimage; whatever she needed — food, a place to rest, a companion to talk to – was provided for her.  And she has carries this deep trust with her to this day.  And my friend who walked the ancient path this past April, my friend, who is deeply spiritual and intuitive and has spent years studying and meditating and learning from some of the most well-known teachers alive today, found the El Camino to be a playground of fun, that, at her deepest core, she remembered how full-bodied snort-filled laughter and out-of-the-box silliness and a month of wild adventure can be just as spirited as sitting still on a mat and watching your own breath and mind, and may be just what you need to move forward into that full-out fun-filled life you’re longing for.  And last month, a well-known spiritual teacher who I have admired and studied with, set foot on the El Camino and had a vastly different experience.  She, who has written best-selling books and has led workshops throughout the world, whose life is often out there in the public realm, spent her days, step by step, mile by mile, mostly in silence, stripping away the mind-talk and the old stories and the roles that she is well-known for, until, by the time she reached Galicia, all that was left was the gleaming shimmering present moment and a sparkling essence of who she is at her core.

I am drawn to it, to a pilgrimage that pulls me inward, that connects me to that core-remembering of what I’m truly seeking and needing.  I am drawn to that feeling of alignment, to the sparkling clarity, to the knowing of what feels right from the inside-out.  However, my summer is unfolding in a vastly different way.  No trip to Spain or Portugal for me.  No thirty days of solitude, no miles and miles of trails set out before me.  I’m in the throes of busy-ness.  I’m in the throes of family life.  My son and daughter-in-law and twelve month old grandson are visiting us in the Upper Peninsula for the month, dividing their time between our place and the home of her parents.  And, in a few days, we, my husband, my son, my daughter-in-law and grandson will join my other son and his fiancé in Maine for a week of visiting with family and friends.  It has been a dream of mine to get the whole family to Maine and I’ve made it happen.  I’ve rented a house for us, close to my birth-town of Bath, close to the peninsula where our family still owns land, where my brother and cousins live, close to two State Park beaches, close to restaurants, close to L.L.Bean.  I’ve collected brochures of activities that might be of interest, written down a list of favorite places to eat, contacted relatives and arranged a few get-togethers.  And yet, I’m under no illusions that the seven days in Maine will be smooth-sailing on a calm Casco Bay, at least not all the time.  I’m envisioning that the waters will probably feel choppy now and then.  Seven of us will be taking this pilgrimage to the coast, seven of us will be living in this rental home, seven of us, each with our own inner agendas, will be sitting around the table at night.  And, oh yes, it’s really nine of us, because my husband’s mother, who has lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan her whole life, who went to college at Wellesley over sixty years ago, has reunited with her college boyfriend from Maine and the two of them will be joining us for a few days of the week.

This is a path that I’ve stepped foot on willingly – eagerly, even.  I know what it is like to connect with my core while alone, while on a yoga mat, while with my mate and friends, while living my day-to-day life, while on long treks through wilderness and villages and towns.  That’s all familiar territory to me.  My footsteps aren’t so confident, however, when family is visiting for a month, or when we, as family, set forth on an adventure together for a week, especially to a place that has such a special place in my heart.  This is virgin soil.  This is my edge.  How do I, who adores this family of mine, who adores having a twelve month old waddling and toddling and chirping and babbling and banging and playing his way around our house, how do I, who is jumping up and down at the prospect of all of us being in Maine together, who wants to share this place with those she loves, how do I sink down into my own center and hear what my personal El Camino is showing me?

I’m not sure how I do it.  But I’m thinking that my friends who set forth on that ancient path in Spain and Portugal weren’t so sure how they would do it either.  I’m sensing that each one of my friends had to surrender to the journey, to the process, and I’m sensing that I need to do the same.  I’m sensing that they just put one foot in front of the other and kept moving forward.  And that is not bad advice for me either.  One step at a time.  One breath at a time.  Sometimes alone.  Sometimes with that baby who I am gloriously addicted to.  Sometimes in the family clan.  And the El Camino?  We’ll be there.  We really will.  The whole family.  It is my favorite restaurant in the whole world and it is located in Brunswick, Maine.


Eyes Wide Open

(This post was originally sent as a letter in the Joy Center summer mailing.  Happy summer to everyone!)

Let yourself be enchanted in small ways.  Guy Kawasaki

I can hardly contain my excitement.  Right now, our son, daughter-in-law and baby grandson, Viren, are in their car heading east.  They started out this morning at their home base in Laramie, with the intention of driving through the South Dakota Black Hills and Badlands before sunset tonight, and arriving in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan sometime tomorrow evening.  “Take your time!” I told them.  “Enjoy the journey!”  And I’m enjoying the journey, the Preparation Journey, for this month-long adventure of a house full of people.  Okay, I admit it; it’s the prospect of hanging out with a twelve month old for days on end that sets my spirit flying.  Summertime is amazing enough with its balmy breezes and expansive days, with its blossoms and berries and white sandy beaches.  If we allow ourselves to relax into it, it’s easy to discover the enchantment of a sparkling afternoon spent along the sandstone shore of Lake Superior or an evening sprawled out on the grass watching the sun sink behind the trees and the first stars pop out in a sky that seems to go on forever.  We don’t need a baby to remind us that the world is enchanted when we are looking at it with eyes filled with wonder and appreciation.  AND, having a baby around as a reminder sure helps.

As I watch Cam hang the bright blue bucket swing from the maple in our backyard, as I remove all the books and breakables from the bottom shelf of the bookcase in our family room, as I place the thick-paged colorful stories and the toys that I have so mindfully collected on that same shelf, as I scan our house and yard for the obviously toddler-treacherous traps, I find myself seeing the world anew.  I find myself seeing the world as I imagine Viren will be seeing it.  He was born, almost a year ago, with his eyes wide open, astonished it seemed with this place he found himself.  I was honored to be present moments after his birth, honored to witness this wide-eyed beginning.  He stared right into his parents’ eyes; he stared right into my eyes, too, transfixed with our voices and the newness of it all.  And these blueberry-blue eyes of his have remained wide open throughout this first year; they hardly seem to blink.

What would it be like to have eyes that hardly blink, eyes that take things in so deeply?!?  As Cam secures the bucket swing on the maple, I look around our backyard.  When is the last time that I’ve really seen these white pines that hold our property in their embrace?  I love white pines!  As a child I looked forward to trips to the nearby town of Brunswick on the back road, through the wooded forest of tall stately Bowdoin College white pines.  They seemed magnificent to me, so different from the pointy spruces and scraggly pines along the coast.  And here they are, this same type of tree that I was drawn to in my youth, and I hardly notice the ones in my own backyard.  Until now, that is, when I’m looking straight up through their branches and realizing that they have grown even more huge, far to hefty to wrap my arms around and hug.  And there’s more to look at – a red squirrel is chattering from one of the pine’s branches, and I know that Viren, who has spent the first year of his life in the high plains of Wyoming, will be enthralled with the red squirrels and the chipmunks and the bright yellow finches that land on the nearby feeder.  Our yard is a summertime feast when my eyes are open to it.  A salmon-colored peony, wide-petaled and wonderful, adds color to the garden and the Japanese Iris are in full bloom.  Arugala and lettuce and beet greens are ready to pick and a robin is nesting in the apple tree in front of the house.

And I haven’t even left my property yet, haven’t even explored the neighborhood with these wide-open eyes.  The dogs, the cats, the children at play – who knows what treasures will show up while pushing a stroller around the block?!?  And there’s a bigger world still, a world of ice cream cones and sidewalks and favorite stores, and there’s a lake that is as wide-eyed and blue as those blue-berry blue baby boy eyes, and a shoreline of sand and stone and waves and sea gulls and surfers.  And then there’s Joy Center, too.  A place that shines its bright light all year long, a place that says that it is safe to open our eyes a little wider, safe to play a little harder, that says it is safe to unleash that natural inclination toward fun.  I invite you to go for fun in the coming days and weeks and months and to let Joy Center be a part of your summertime playground.  I’ll meet you there, with my eyes wide-open!  Happy summer!

Viren and Fufu

Viren and Fufu

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