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Archive for December, 2017

Making the Old New Again

Here’s to the bright New Year, and a fond farewell to the old; here’s to the things that are yet to come, and to the memories that we hold.  Unknown

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends; the old and the new.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was in the early nineties on trips east to visit my mother in Maine, while driving through the long stretches of rural Canada from Sault Ste Marie to Ottawa, that I would listen to cassette recordings of master storyteller and Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes as she shared excerpts and additional information from her best-selling book of myths and fairytales, Women Who Run With the Wolves.  I was mesmerized by these stories, drawn into them by Estes’ liltingly confident voice, empowered by her  feminist interpretations.  There are many stories and archetypes that have stayed with me: the girl with the red shoes and the sanity of a handcrafted life, the little match girl and the importance of taking care of the inner flame, the sealskin woman and the need for solitude, the dangers of Bluebeard energy and the urgency to pay attention.

But it wasn’t these stories, the ones that have been a guiding force for me over the years, that I woke up thinking about this morning.  Instead, it was a little snippet of a tale about Father Time and the New Born that popped into my mind.  Perhaps, it is the presence of young grandkids in my life this holiday season, or the knowing that a new year is upon us that brought me this gift of a story as dawn was breaking over the hills behind our kids’ home in Idaho.  It doesn’t matter the reason because here it is ready to offer me its wisdom.  I don’t remember all the details, am thinking that Father Time was very very old, and actually could have been a woman in Estes’ version.  And I’m envisioning now that he or she, this very very old being, was rocking and rocking and rocking in a creaky old chair on a porch, patiently rocking him or herself young again, until, finally, it was a newborn in that chair, ready to start anew.  And there was importance in the patient rocking motion — I do remember that — the not rushing, not hastily throwing out what is old, but, instead, allowing it to transform itself into something gloriously fresh and new.

My siblings and I are experiencing the power of this tale now as we find ourselves metaphorically rocking with the old, with the dusty and the faded and the forgotten.  In mid-December, in the midst of the holiday bustle, we claimed a weekend to unleash a motherlode of family history from taped-up boxes, boxes newly discovered after decades of being stuffed in an attic.  For hours, we huddled around my brother’s workshop table in coastal Maine with remnants of our mother’s family history spread out before us.  The treasures were many — photographs and newspaper clippings, journals and letters, many dating back to the late 1800’s.  There were record albums and watercolor paintings and first edition books.  Some things were discarded, thrown into the waste basket at the end of the workshop table or placed into the recycle bin to go to the transfer station, but many more ended up in piles in front of each of us.  My two older siblings now have a multitude of photographs of their birth father, our mother’s first husband who died of a heart attack when he was in his early thirties, when they were almost too young to remember him, photographs that none of us had seen before.  We all have photographs of our mother as baby, as young girl, as long-legged teenager and young woman, and photographs of her parents, their siblings, of ancestors in formal wear and photographs of them sprawled out at the seaside.  We each have letters and journals and newspaper clippings to sift through, to patiently rock into something relevant to us today, and we have paintings to bring from the dark of an attic into the light of our living room walls.

Unleashing the relevance, the fresh “newborn” in some of these treasures will take time, much patient rocking and reading, but, for others, the energy felt fresh and light immediately.  My sister and I found a booklet of photographs from a Christmas that we never knew had been recorded in this way.  I was three and she was eight, and in one photograph, we sit on the edge of a bed in our floral bathrobes, me clutching a toy baby carriage and she holding an open umbrella.  We are darling, and it was a darling moment for us to discover this booklet of photos almost sixty years later.  The sibling time together was filled with such moments, the excitement of a fresh discovery, the laughter of a family remembering.  I’m sure the ancestors were with us during this unleashing, delighted in our camaraderie.  And they were definitely with me when I took it upon myself to leave the workshop and perform a ritual in the coastal forest surrounding my brother’s home.  It happened many times during our unpacking of the boxes, the discovery of sweet handmade envelopes holding sprigs of baby fine hair, some bound neatly with tiny blue satin ribbon, envelopes labeled with the names of grandparents and great aunts and uncles and great grandparents, too.  These were lovingly preserved, and I couldn’t just throw them away, so I set them free.  Each time an envelope of hair was unpacked, I scampered through the snowy woods, scattering loose hair among the balsams, placing bound bundles atop the fairy moss and among the branches of the scraggly spruce trees.  The air felt moist and fresh and alive and I did too as I performed this ritual.

When the sifting and sorting and gathering into piles was over, I immediately drove to the “We Pack It For You” store and sent my stash of treasures home to Michigan.  And a day later, I too, flew back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and dove full force into the bustle of the holidays, first, with one son, daughter-in-law and kids visiting us, and, now, in Idaho, at a ski resort with the other family.  It is the present, the here and now, that has captured my attention — sketching out characters from “Lord of the Rings” with our eldest grandson, running beside his toddler cousin as she skis down a bunny slope, propping the six month old on a hip, cradling her two month old cousin against my shoulder.  I’ve been present with grandkids and also have grieved the passing of a dear old friend.  I’ve welcomed the energy of youth, even as the year swells with all that has been.  And now as it tumbles forward into January, I plan to remain present, to experience the crisp freshness of new possibilities in the wintery air.  And my stash of treasures — I plan to sip a cup of hot tea as I rock it forward too, as I make what was once old and dusty and forgotten fresh and new and relevant again.





Present with the four grandkids over the holidays: December 2017

The Child Within

The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.  Fred Rogers

After a while the middle-aged person who lives in her head begins to talk to her soul, her kid.  Anne LaMott

“The gifts of the past make their way into the present.”  I have said these words many times in yoga sessions, as we stand, legs apart, arms stretched-out straight at shoulder height, front foot swiveling to the side, front knee bending over foot, as we look over our forward-facing fingertips, and align ourselves into the full expression of Virabhadrasana, the Warrior Pose.  “No need to look back,” I have added.  “The treasures will find you in the here and now.”

I’m contemplating this yoga wisdom as I prepare to fly east tomorrow, to the land of my beginnings, to the land of my ancestral beginnings as well.  This trip to Maine is not only a way to connect with family and friends during the holiday season; it also is a three-day adventure with a mission.  First, it was the wedding dresses, my mother’s dresses, from her first marriage as a young woman in her twenties and from her second when she was widowed more than a decade later, that re-appeared after being tucked away in storage for decades.  And then her mother’s dress, a Downton Abbey-era sheath was uncovered, and her mother’s mother’s dress, and a dress we think belonged to her mother’s mother’s mother from the mid-1800’s.  And lace veils and shawls and collars delicately crocheted.  That seemed like treasure enough to me, a reason to go east and be in the presence of something so intimately a part of the women whose shoulders I stand upon.  But then, more of the past made its way into the present, unopened boxes — forty of them are now stacked in my brother’s workshop at Fish House Cove where we, the four siblings, on Friday, will peruse their contents.

In the meantime, I have been de-cluttering, clearing out boxes of my own, sifting through the four woven sea-grass containers in my Creativity Room closet, the ones that I have filled for years, with images and photos and rough drafts of projects.  Most of these projects have come to fruition and it is time to create a new space, for new projects, projects that will perhaps evolve out of the treasures that are unearthed during this trip to Maine.  And lo and behold, in the midst of the de-cluttering, there it is, the past brimming up in the sweetest of ways.  I have found gifts galore: photos of our two sons at various stages of childhood, the precious chosen ones that made their way to bulletin boards over the years, and the duds that never found themselves in photo albums; other photos, too, that will be given new homes with the family members whose faces light them up; and a lovely block-print Christmas card from the 1960’s my mother created of the cove, a card I have now made new again for this holiday season.   Among the piles and piles of papers and old journals that I have tossed into garbage bags and the re-cycling bin, are these treasures that seem to pulsate with life as I hold them.  The content in one particular envelope stands out with such delight that I can’t stop smiling.

It is a holiday present from my younger — my very much younger self — that tickles my fancy.  The envelope contains two drawings dated with my father’s hand just a month after my birthday the year I turned six.  It was February, and that is perhaps why I drew this scene of a skier under a wintery sky, a skier that I am presuming is me.  But the funny thing is — I had never been on skis and I don’t think I had ever seen anyone ski.  Perhaps I had already watched the Wide World of Sports and the Winter Olympics on television, or perhaps I was captivated by the stories of my Perry boy cousins who traveled with their parents to New Hampshire from Massachusetts on weekends to fly down the snowy slopes in the White Mountains.  Or, perhaps it also was something else, something innate, in my Capricorn northern girl essence, a knowing that I loved to ski, that I would be drawn someday to a place where the snow piles high and the cross country ski trails are some of the wildest and best-groomed in the country, that I would skate-ski with a passion that sets my limbs on wintery fire.  Perhaps I knew this at six, that the heart-beating whoop of the wild would find its way off the page and into the snowy woods.  And then, there is the other drawing.  Out of all the possibilities that could have taken center stage in my mind, it was church that lit me up.  And I know it is true; I remember it is so, that I loved church.  I was raised Swedenborgian, in a mystical tradition where angels surrounded us and the Bible contained layer upon layer upon layer of meaning, and the old ladies and men of the church loved us children, and the congregation was intimate and small, and it was fun, dressing up on Sunday mornings and making our way to the Greek-revival-style church with its big black welcoming door.

I’m thinking of the yoga wisdom again — that there is no need to look back; the gifts of the past will make their way into the present.  I don’t know what gifts will feel alive to me as my siblings and I sort through the contents of the boxes on Friday morning in Maine.  I don’t know how I will feel as I touch the fabric of a wedding dress worn by my mother, by my grandmother, by my great grandmother and my great great grandmother.  I do know, however, how I feel as I look at these pictures drawn with my own six-year-old hand.  I am welled up with an appreciation and love for this child who sketched out these scenes, who knew then what felt important in her heart, and for the reminder she brings me now of what I have always known, that here is reverence in the whoop of the wild, in a snowy day, and an out-of-the-lines skate-ski.  And there is reverence, too, in community and intentional worship, in churches and synagogues and Hindu temples and mosques and in yoga classes and open mic poetry readings and in creative afternoons spent at the computer or with a pencil and piece of paper and the desire to draw.  And there is reverence in irreverent laughter that sometimes bubbles up on the snowy slopes or in the pew at church or in the sacred circle.  I thank my inner child for her reminder, and I carry her with me into this holiday season.


Allowing ourselves to be pummeled!!!

You are meant to be satisfied!!!  Abraham-Hicks

Love is showing up fully with presence — openhearted, raw, and vulnerable to the world. It is the only thing that matters.  Albert Flynn Desilver

“I feel pummeled.”  That’s what I said to my husband Cam the Monday after Thanksgiving in the Minneapolis airport.  “But in a good way.”  And it’s true, I did feel pummeled.  I still do, the way I felt pummeled when my friend Mary and I walked north for a week along the Portuguese Coast on our way to Santiago de Compostela, Spain a year ago.  The waves rolled in off the open Atlantic, a warm salty breeze blew against our skin, and the sun shined down on us hour after hour, day after day during that magical first week in early October.  And the wild sea tossed stones about, piles of them, threw them up onto the Portuguese beaches, pounded them smooth against grains of sand, and we, two pilgrims on a three hundred kilometer journey, collected the tiny ones as talismans, stuffed them in our pockets as we walked along.  And the waves, they sang to us, a powerful constant rhythmic song, and the sand softened our bare toes and we were softened, too, tumbled and tossed and pummeled smooth like the stones at our feet, even as we stood strong on our northbound voyage.

It’s that deliciousness that I am talking about now, that I exclaimed to my husband a little over a week ago at the Minneapolis airport, a feeling of energy, strong powerful positive energy, blowing in, as if on an ocean breeze, blowing at us and through us, tossing and tumbling and pummeling us soft and open and clear and loving, while at the same time, not bowling us over.  And that’s the powerful part.  Mary and I were seduced by the sea, smitten by its salt air, overcome with our adoration for its beauty and power.  It had its way with us.  Our jagged edges were softened and our hearts opened, and, yet, we kept on walking; we didn’t thrash about in its gigantic waves, didn’t get swept away by its powerful currents.  And to me, it is one of the best of feelings, to allow the high vibe ocean of life to course through body and psyche, while, at the same time, finding the steadiness of ground beneath our feet.  And it doesn’t matter whether those feet are trekking along a beach at ocean’s edge or touching the earth hundreds or thousands of miles inland, doesn’t matter whether it is the ocean having its way with us or something else all together pummeling us soft.  It might be a hike on a mountain trail, an afternoon conversation with a friend, an evening dancing our hearts out, wild and free.  It might be a lover’s touch or the soft purring of a cat, a quiet summer sunset or a wind-thrashing blizzard — life is always ready and willing to pummel us with its love.

Sometimes the positive pummeling power of transformation comes when we aren’t expecting it.  I was anticipating something quite different while navigating the airport walkways during a layover in Minneapolis the last Monday in November, something more like exhaustion or relief or a numbness that sets in after four days of intensity or maybe a hollow missing-them feeling.  You see, Cam and I had just spent the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with our kids and grandkids in Moscow, Idaho where both sons and their families reside.  Our family numbers have increased by two babies in the past five months, and, this particular weekend, there was the addition of another couple and their three-year old daughter, friends visiting town.  Thanksgiving dinner this year was more wild sea than quiet breeze, more raucous laughter and baby gurgles, toddler clingings and little kid races than slow mindful eating — and the metaphoric sea maintained its powerful intensity throughout the weekend.  Though there were the early morning alone times, and the sweet moments of steadfast attention shared with one or two of the five kids, there were many other moments when it was a grandparent glob of hand-holding and hip-slinging, of reading a book to one, while admiring the artwork of another, moments of surrendering to an energy that felt as powerful as the ocean rolling in while Mary and I walked the coast.

And here’s the surprise in all of this — the discovery that I made at the Minneapolis airport.  I not only didn’t get swept under, pulled out to sea by all this Thanksgiving weekend intensity; I loved it, this pummeling whoosh of life.  I wasn’t exhausted as the weekend came to a close.  I walked through those airport corridors with the same vigor that I had walked the coast of Portugal with Mary.  Softened yes, salt-soaked, for sure, but not bruised.  The time with kids and grandkids had fed me, and, perhaps, that is the ticket, the free pass to feeling pummeled while not ending up black and blue, to love what we are doing so much that we can allow in an increase in wind velocity and still stay standing.

I knew that I was energized by being with the little ones.  Walking with five-year-old Viren to kindergarten, or pretending we’re in a spaceship as he and I whoop and holler and take off down the big hill toward the Food Co-op in Grandma’s rental car is high-flying fun for the both of us.  When two-year old Addie charges ahead with gung-ho enthusiasm, my battery charges itself too, and, when she asks for a hug — “No, Grandma, like this!” — a heart-to-heart, pressing closer slow and deep and lasting hug, I melt into the moment.  Aila, at five-and-a-half months, wiggles and squirms and smiles and coos and sticks her toes in her mouth and is easy to scoop up and squeeze with an abundance of grandma gusto.  And little one-month-old Wesley nestles in and makes little puff-breath noises, leaving a weight and a warmth even when he has returned to his mother’s lap.  Of course, the little ones light me up.  I love them dearly, feel alive and vigorous and happy in their presence.  I have known this.  However, I didn’t know that grandparenthood would pummel me smooth and soft and that the pummeling would feel so good.  I didn’t know that I could stand strong in all its intensity over a prolonged period of time, that I could allow this whoosh of life to have its way with me, and, that, in the aftermath, walk away feeling more vigorous, more loved and in love with life than ever.








IMG_4277Thanksgiving weekend, 2017:  Moscow, Idaho

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