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Archive for December, 2013

It’s Right Here!!!!!

Happiness is always here and now  (words on a poster)

I woke up yesterday morning with my gypsy-traveling-feet ready to set off on some new adventure.  It’s no surprise that I had distant destinations on my mind and in my feet.  During the empty-nest years of this past decade, after our grown-up boys have flown back to their grown-up homes and the Christmas ornaments have been stuffed into their tissue-lined boxes,  Cam and I have packed up our bags and set sail for far-off lands.  We’ve flown into Paris on New Year’s Eve, landing in time to take the train into the city center as the sun was sinking down behind the Paris-golden buildings and the evening was lighting up with a boldness more brilliant than any wintertime day.  That year, we stood on the Bridge Pont Alexandre III looking down at the River Seine and across at the Eiffle Tower; we stood there, wobbly-legged and jet-lagged, jammed into the crowds of revelers, surrounded by whoops and cheers and sparkling hats; we stood there as the crowds, in a sea of different languages, began to count down, “Dix, neuf, huit . . .”, stood there as that tower, the one we all have known since we were little kids, lit up at the strike of midnight the way that it does in the movies.  And what could be better than that?!?

But there were other adventures, too.  There was the time that we celebrated the coming of the new year in the African country of Morocco, in the seaside town of Essaouira, with its working harbor and its walled-in medina, with the call to prayer and the seagulls flying, with a meal on New Year’s Eve at our small newly-renovated ancient hotel/traditional home that tantalized our senses and sent us into a tasting tizzy.  It was hours and hours of eating and music and traditional dance.  It was organic cheeses and so many salads and spicy casseroles and stews served in clay pots.  It was salt-encrusted fish, huge fish caught in the sea right off this Atlantic shore.  It was goat for the meat-lovers and lentils for all.  It was cakes and candies and date-filled pastries.  It was wonderful and this wonderful has stayed with me.  As has the wonderful in another walled-in city, a city whose walls have tumbled down.  And that’s what I remember most about wintertime in Berlin, how friendly and artsy and easy it was, walking its streets from west to east and east back to west, how the wall that I remember from childhood news’ briefs was nowhere in sight and there was a creative thrumming aliveness in the air, a forward-focused thrust into the modern and a repairing of what has been broken in the past.  I loved Berlin.  And I loved Barcelona, too.  How could you not love Barcelona?  It is a fairy tale of what is possible when you dream dreams that are outside of the box and build houses whose shapes in no way look like boxes.  It is colorful and it is musical and it is the smell of the sea and it is tapas that set your tastebuds flying — in every season, it is these things.   And how special it is to be there at the start of the new year, at their celebration of Epiphany, to be pushed forward by the crowds into the front row on a main cobbled street on a brisk winter evening as the parade of floats sails by, to cheer with the cheering crowds as the Three Wise Men in their glittering ship-on-wheels, whizz past, to catch the candy and the excitement and the magic floating through the air, to wave a hearty wave with hands wrapped in mittens.  We have done that, Cam and I.  And it is in us still.  And it is wonderful.

And now we’re home.  And we will be home for the calling in of this new year.  It’s not like there won’t be more trips in our near future.   I tell this to my dancing-gypsy feet.  Just settle down, I say to them.  You have plane tickets booked and adventures planned.  Just not right now.

You see, our empty nest is not empty in this moment and our home is feeling rather adventurous in its own right.  Our son Pete is here, a professor now who has a more spacious vacation time, and our daughter-in-law and our one-and-a-half-year-old grandson, Viren.  And with Viren, it’s all an adventure.  We creep up the stairs with our index fingers pressed to our mouths  in “shoosh” position; quietly we sneak into our Grandma-and-Grandpa-bedroom, Viren and Grandpa and I, and then we see her, our fluffy white cat, curled up on the extra blanket at the foot of the bed, peacefully snoozing,  and we — we being Viren —  we hold it in, the “shoosh”, the creeping motion, until we lean right into her sweet closed-eyed face and then it bursts out, in a hollering boisterous, “Hi!”  It’s all like that, everything is new and wonderful and a boisterous “Hi!”, the snow and the snow angel, the two bunnies who hop out from under our backyard deck.  “Hop Hop”, Viren calls them.  ‘Hop Hop” we all call them now.  A trip to Ishpeming’s Globe Printing to pick up flyers for Joy Center, a trip to the post office to mail a package, a trip to our favorite outdoor store or our favorite cafe — this holiday season, it is all exotic, the familiar no longer familiar.

I want to sustain this freshness as I step and hop and toddler-dance my way into this new year.  I want to press my face into the face of the present moment and say “Hi!” with the same level of buoyant enthusiasm that delights me in my toddler grandson.  I want for it all to seem like a wonderful adventure, the time at home re-discovering the new in what perhaps has seemed commonplace and overlooked.  I want to rejoice in and truly appreciate the wide variety of creative offerings that Joy Center presents to us all in the first few months of 2014, to feed my own creative hunger with these offerings, and yes, I want to travel, too, because I love to travel.  And in the meantime, I’m reminding my traveling feet that the adventure is right here in the rooms of my home, in my own backyard, in the community that I hold dear.

Happy New Year to you all.  May this be the best-feeling year thus far!

Viren with his Stocking

Viren with his Stocking



Say Happy!!!

You already have everything you need to be happy!  Cyndi Lee

As long as you are seeking to find happiness somewhere, you are overlooking where happiness is . . . in your true nature.  Gangaji

I’ve watched it what seems like a million times.  I call it my “Happy Video.”  I’ve received many of them this fall, these brief thirty-second snippets of life in Moscow, Idaho focused through the lens on my daughter-in-law’s iphone camera.  And these little gems are the most precious gift that a grandparent who lives faraway could receive.  There’s the video of the early-September-version of toddler grandson Viren climbing the ladder on the shopping mall slide, plopping himself down at the tip-top and sweeping otter-like to the bottom on butt and back with a shriek of glee and a chortle that must be toddler-talk for “What a ride!”.   And there’s the late October-version of that same little guy, butt-naked and wet-haired after his evening bath, holding up his sweet soft baby doll for the camera at his mother’s request, then, also at her request, hugging his baby close and giving him a kiss, such a kiss of affection, before — and this is the best part — flinging him down without a second glance, just tossing him aside, and skitter-dancing off, butt to the camera, to whatever is striking his fancy next.  I love these videos, each one of them, but the Happy Video is my favorite.

I think his mother filmed this particular version of Viren in mid-November, shortly after I had returned home from a week-long Idaho-Grandma visit.  And during that visit, I had delighted in sixteen-month-old Viren’s vocabulary.  There was his clearly enunciated “hi”accompanied by a jaunty wave to every passerby on the street, and to every person in every car when we were waiting at the crosswalks, and the “bye” that was said with the same level of enthusiasm.  There was the “mama” and the “dada” and the something that I had hoped just might have been “grandma.” But, until I received the e-mail with the short video attachment, I’d never heard this happy little fellow say, “happy.”  “Say happy,” his mother’s voice from behind the iphone camera instructs.  And Viren, who is fiddling with some toy clutched in his hands, looks straight into the camera and says, in a deep confident clear voice, “happy.”  And then she requests it again: “Viren, say happy.”  And again, he looks straight into the camera, “happy”.   “Are you happy?” she asks.  And he nods his head up and down emphatically.  “Smile, Viren!” commands the voice from behind the camera.  And he does, a wide toothy smile.  And that’s it.  Thirty seconds of happy.

I’m not sure why the Happy Video tickles me so.  Perhaps it is the care that Viren takes in projecting this word into the phone or perhaps it is because his voice, for some reason, goes deep when he says the stretched out “hap-py” or maybe it’s simply because he is so darn cute.  It doesn’t matter why I feel happy when I push the arrow on my phone to get the video going.  I just know that I do —  I chortle like a toddler when I watch it.  And Thanksgiving, when Grandpa Cam and I found ourselves back in Idaho celebrating with Viren and his parents, I chortled with a toddler.  He loved the video as much as I did.  We played it over and over.  We shook with laughter; we guffawed as we watched.  It was primetime entertainment.  And happy little fellows — and Viren is a happy little fellow — even they have their moments, moments where the “happy” is buried deep inside.  And that was the state of affairs on the last evening of our Thanksgiving visit when Viren’s father and mother drove us down into the Lewiston Valley to a motel by the airport forty miles away from their home in Moscow.  Grandpa Cam and I were stuffed in the backseat of the car, me on the hump in the middle between Grandpa and Viren in his carseat.  And it was nearly bedtime for the usually-happy-toddler who fidgeted and rubbed his eyes and started to fuss  and that’s when I hauled it out, the trusty cell phone, and the Happy Video.  And for the last thirty miles of our venture, all the way down into the valley, he pushed the video’s start arrow, again and again, and watched himself say, “happy.”  First with a pensive face, then with that sweet smile and a happy dose of laughter.

It’s in there, this happiness.  In each one of us.  I just know that it is.  And I say this out loud in yoga each week, usually when we’re lying on our backs, knees splayed out wide, arms reaching for our toes or ankles or lower legs in Happy Baby Pose.  At one time, we were the happy baby, grabbing at our feet, stuffing our toes in our mouths, smiling so broadly that the whole room lit up.  And the happy toddler, too, waving our jaunty hellos to all who passed us by.  And it doesn’t disappear, this wellspring of well-being that sometimes is a soft coo and sometimes a raucous belly laugh.  It just gets buried underneath the weight of other feelings.   In yoga, I call it our natural state, this sense of well-being at our center.  Perhaps we also can think of it as our Happy Video.  And when we’re feeling a bit lost or out-of-touch, when we’re feeling fidgety and strapped in, cranky or overtired, when we need a lift, perhaps we can remember that it is up to us, that we can haul it out, this metaphoric video that shows us the happy version of ourselves.  And like Viren, perhaps we can keep pushing the play-arrow, again and again, until the weight is lifted and once again we feel our natural buoyancy and find ourselves remembering how good it feels to smile and say “happy.”

Say Happy!  Viren in the snow!

Say Happy!
Viren in the snow!  December, 2013




There is no striving when you spend time at the shore — the tide pours in, the tide pulls out.  There is a call, a cry in the air, a sense of freedom, a deep sense of ease. 

It fell out of the bowl and fluttered down to the floor.  It happened twice as Donna reached in to grab from the pile of teeny cards that sit in a crystal dish on a table in Joy Center’s front hallway.  It has become a ritual to draw an angel card as we say our good-byes after a session of yoga, a card that contains one word and a picture of an angel in action.  The word that didn’t want to stay put this past Tuesday, the word that kept flying off on its own angel wings, was “release.”  Release.  I think it was for me, this message of release.  Tonight, as the wind howls and the temperature plummets and the ice that is already sticking to the sidewalks and roads thickens, I’m looking forward to an inner thaw.  It’s the evening of my book release party.  And what is it that I’m going to release this evening?  Well, there’s the book.  I’m going to release my tight hold on it.  It’s over — all those months of carefully laying out the pieces, the writings and photographs, my mother’s sketches and watercolors, all those months of mindfully choosing the words that breathe life into my thoughts and memories.  And I love the book.  I do.  It’s beautiful.  It’s pleasing to the eye.  I love the color and the art and the way the pages lay flat when you open them up.  I love the feel of it, too.  I love its smoothness and its shape.  And there’s something else.  I love the way that somehow it contains it all for me.  My beginnings.  I know that you can’t put a whole childhood into a two-hundred page book, especially into a book that is also a forward-focused story.  And I know that you can’t pour all the love that you feel for a place and its people, your people, into the pages of a project.  I know this.  And yet, there’s something I’m trying to say here, something I’m trying to understand, something having to do with the word “release.”  Perhaps it is because the seeds for this book began long before I played with layout, long before I gathered my mother’s recipes and wrote the forward-focused story, perhaps it is because I’ve been tending and honing these stories of my roots for my whole adult life, perhaps it is because I’ve been doing the weeding, the cultivating, the reaping, perhaps it is because of all this sweet labor, years of sweet labor, that the release feels ripe and ready.  And what’s after the release?  I’m not sure.  But I suspect that the ground I stand on will feel even more stable and the ocean of creativity that I swim in will swell with treasures beyond my wildest imaginings.

Mom and I in the red boat: Spring Beach, Maine August 1956

Mom and I in the red boat:
Spring Beach, Maine August 1956

‘Tis a gift . . .

To poke a wood fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything in the world.  Dudley Warner

When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence.  How can you love if you are not there?

It is Sunday, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the airport this morning in Salt Lake City is in a post-turkey frenzy, humming and thrumming with life.  There are throngs of us moving in crowds, bumping into each other in lines, trying to get to wherever we’re going.  The poinsettias are stacked high in Christmas Tree-shaped designs, the holiday music is wafting through the airport air, and Starbucks is abuzz with caffeine-laced cheer.  And yet, there are quiet spaces, too, and I find one, between the B and the C Terminals at a table by a window overlooking the mountains.  And it is here, in this oasis away from the multitudes, that I haul out my computer and get to work on projects that I’ve put aside during the three days that my husband Cam and I spent playing in Moscow, Idaho with our son, daughter-in-law and sixteen-month-old grandson.  I am googling quotes for this week’s Joy Center yoga classes and the theme that I am considering as I look out on a wide-sky-view is “simplicity”.

There is something about simplicity that appeals to me around the holidays, especially when I start getting overwhelmed, when the airport music is blaring in my not-quite-awake ears and the line to the bathroom juts out into the hallway and the glitter is seeming just a wee bit too glittery.  And it is easy to contemplate simplicity when I think about what appeals to our toddler grandson, Viren.  He doesn’t need the holiday sparkles to sparkle on the inside.  He’s delighted with a plastic tube around his arm for a bracelet and a colander on his head for a hat and a puzzle piece car to push around the living room and a couple of grandparents who are more than willing to play along.  And yet, he’s not adverse to sparkles either.  It will be etched in my mind forever, the look of wide-eyed wonder and the “oh!” that he exclaimed when he saw the tinsel-and-glitter tree at the outdoor store that we browsed through on Black Friday.   It certainly wasn’t a tree that I would call simple or natural, not a cranberry-strung balsam with handmade talismans.  Its fake branches were laden with ornaments made in China and garlands made of plastic — and so what?!?  It didn’t matter to Viren.  I could tell that he thought it was the most beautiful tree in the world, and I did, too, when I looked at it with my own wide-eyed wonder.

So I’m not sure that it is simplicity that I am seeking for a theme this week in yoga, for a mantra as I step into this month of December and the whoosh of the holiday season.  I love a neat and tidy house, a house where there is space to breathe, where there is room for the carefully-placed treasures to breathe as well, a Zen-inpired house, a house that I envision would describe itself, if it could talk, with a word like “simplicity.”  And sometimes that describes Viren’s townhouse.  His parents have comfortable classy furniture and an Asian rug and carefully-placed art on the walls.  And the days start out neat and tidy in this sweet home of theirs — until the sun rises over the town and Viren winds himself up into full-throttle, and then, then it is chaos.  It is toys being flung and blocks being stacked and stuffed monkeys being fed and songs being played.  It is scampering and stomping and whispering and laughing.  It is life-filled and joy-filled and sometimes tear-filled and then joy-filled again.  And it fills the air with something that I crave as much as neat and tidy, as much as order and quiet, as much as simplicity, because, at times, yes, I indeed do crave simplicity.

So I need something bigger, something that can hold the simplicity, the sweet clear moments of calm where you might cuddle up on a couch with a sixteen-month-old grandson who is leaning back against you as you gently kiss the top of his head, the moments where you and your partner, the one who you have known since you were a teenager, hold this sixteen-month-olds’s hands and call each other “Grandma” and “Grandpa” as you skitter-walk on either side of him on a path in a field of wild western prairie grass, the moments where you and the toddler gaze up at the nighttime sky and together point to the first stars that poke their way through the darkness.  I need something that can hold the other moments, too, the ones that are a bit rushed and muddled, the ones where you are cramming this same little toddler’s arms into his gray-fleece coat as he resists with all the fury he can muster because for some reason coats are just something that you must resist.  The moments that are tacky and glitter-filled and food-flung-onto-the-floor and utter exhaustion at the end of a day of play.  I need something that can hold all of the moments.  I need a word, a mantra that can cheer me on as I wrap my arms around this big throbbing out-of-the-box life, as I dance my way into this holiday season on both my eager-to-dance feet — and I think I’ve got it.  It’s a perfect word for a season filled with wrapped-up presents, a word where we gift each other with our presence.  And that’s it.  That’s my word.  Presence.

I want to be present.  I want to be present for all my moments.  I want to unwrap them with the same eagerness that I unwrap the presents under the holiday tree.  And with care too.  To appreciate their ribbons and bows, to savor the treasures inside each one of them.  And simplicity — I suspect if I am really present for my moments, it will make its presence known too.

Grandma , Grandpa and Viren: Hiking Near Moscow, Idaho, November 30, 2013

Grandma , Grandpa and Viren: Hiking Near Moscow, Idaho, November 30, 2013

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