Category Archives: Uncategorized

telling the truth

motherSlowly, as friends and family find this blog, I am discovering it is harder and harder to tell the truth.  The whole truth, I mean. It’s easy to write the sugary bits and tie them together with swooping metaphors and a moral at the end, but the really gritty stuff gets harder and harder to write.  Why is that?

I was talking with my housemate today about singing:  it is so much easier to do in front of strangers.  I had no trouble whipping out my guitar and playing eight original songs to a club packed with strangers last summer at the Viper Room. But when I’m asked to play for people I know…that’s hard.  I think it has something to do with the fact that my friends are stuck with me.  They can’t walk away, for fear of hurting my feelings, and they are sort of duty-bound to scrape up something nice to say at the end.  Ouch.  Strangers, on the other hand—they’ve got no reason to clap; so if they do, they must genuinely like it.  Or, they’re drunk.

So I’m beginning to wonder if life is like this—if we save our deepest truths for strangers, if we set up our lives to avoid intimacy with the ones we are closest to.  As an aspiring counselor, this interests me very much.  Time after time, studies of therapy show that it is the quality of the therapeutic relationship itself that is the greatest predictor for healing.  Even though the answers are coming from within, even though it is not the therapist’s job to give advice, somehow the quality of the relationship is the vital piece.  Is it because the therapist is a stranger?  Is it because we are safe in the borders of that room, knowing we’ll never have to face up to the truths we told there again?  Can that be right? Continue reading

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September 5, 2013 · 11:11 pm

the crow feather

crow

A weird thing happened the first week of June. June! You know, that lovely, gentle month when everything is just beginning and the air is soft and scented and the soil is warm so the garden is really beginning to take off? When the rivers are calling out for you to swim in them and every weekend has a new puppet festival or outdoor theater celebration? Yeah, I spent that precious first week of June indoors. Continue reading

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August 10, 2013 · 3:18 am

joy, guilt, laughter

Three years ago I participated in Level Five, a performance art piece designed by Brody Condon (with assistance from Bjarke Pederson and Tobias Wrigstad.) Level Five took the form of a 1970’s era EST or Landmark-style forum, with one caveat: all of the participants attended in character.

Over the course of one hauntingly memorable weekend at the Hammer Museum, I sat in a room full of strangers simultaneously playing roles and undergoing (ostensible) personal transformation.  I cannot explain to you how odd it is to make acquaintances, learn, write, eat, shout, grieve, and even fall in love while in character.

Continue reading

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July 24, 2013 · 7:39 am

hydrosol & facial recipes

20130722_185400As promised, here are a few of the recipes we created last night at the hydrosol workshop.

A hydrosol is a steam-distilled essence of a plant.  If you do not have a still, you can create your own hydrosols by piling fragrant, fresh plants (rosemary, lavender, fennel, elderflower, rose petal, calendula…) into a stainless steel or enamel pot with a domed lid.   Continue reading

8 Comments

July 24, 2013 · 3:03 am

Women’s Joy Circle: Sacred Circles

1049059_10151531378135749_496021118_oI have been remiss in posting lately, and I apologize.  Summer is gardening and long days at the stream picking mulberries and creating new herbal infusions and cordials and rosemary cakes and wonderful kombucha pickles, summer is leisurely visits with friends and watching the children catch fireflies.  My laptop just doesn’t even begin to figure in.

This week has been full to overflowing with laughter, realizations, music, dance, and incredible food, courtesy of my adored friend Anja who has been visiting from New England.  There is nobody like Anja.  As a child she used to bike several miles to her school, collecting apples and pears from wild trees along the way, then joyfully handing them out in the city.  When she was 15 she decided never to wear shoes, and went barefoot everywhere.  She sewed skirts out of old scarves and traveled all over Europe collecting folk songs and studying herbal medicine.  Now she leads circle dances, teaching ancient steps that peel away everything but the sense of sacred time.  She uses laughter about as often as words to communicate.

She traveled down from new england to help us dance the summer solstice in.  We gathered candles and torches and cakes and kombucha and scarves and guitars and packed them all into the car, merrily traveling toward the outdoor pavilion where the dance was to be held.  Then the heavens opened.  I mean it.  It was as though someone had slashed a hole in the sky and instead of space, there was an ocean up there.  The car was not driving, it was swimming along the road, and there was no airspace between raindrops.  There was only water. Continue reading

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Filed under Uncategorized, women's joy circle

when i think of joy

Church of Ireland Graveyard in Milltown Malbay...

Milltown Malbay, county Clare

Recently, talking with a friend, I was asked to describe my “life’s moment.”  I had never heard this phrase, and I asked for clarification. He told me: “if you had to choose one moment that stood for your life, the moment you could condense it all into—tell me that one. Tell me the memory that comes up when you think of joy.”

When I was sixteen I went to Ireland for the summer.  I’d answered an ad at the back of Friends Journal: elderly woman seeks summer caregiver to cook and read aloud.  She was losing her sight.  I went to meet her in the retirement community where she spent her winters.

Her hair stood out in snowy tufts from her face, a face with the sharpest blue eyes I’d ever seen.  She evaluated me twice, once with her failing sight and once with her intuition, ticking away there behind her eyes so that I could feel it, almost, a finger on my skin. And then she reached for my hand and hugged it to her, cackling “You are far too young, my dear, but what the hell!” Continue reading

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June 14, 2013 · 6:15 pm

permaculture and parenting: the problem is the solution

cobIt struck me today that permaculture (the study of applying natural principles to life design) might be a useful framework for approaching the thorniest, most gutwrenchingly complex aspect of my life. Namely parenting.

There are several basic principles of permaculture:  among them stacking functions (making sure that every vital job in your system is covered by more than one element), using vertical space, working with nature,  ‘everything gardens’ (noticing the ways in which other species naturally modify their environment, and using them to your advantage), and my favorite, ‘the problem is the solution’.  Now clearly all of these have some very interesting applications to parenting (using vertical space?) , but I’m going to focus on ‘the problem is the solution’ right now and perhaps return to the others in later posts.

The way this principle was described to me requires a bit of backstory.  See, I got my original permaculture certification in Scotland. (I was woefully oblivious to the bioregion-specific nature of permaculture design, and shocked to discover upon my return to North Carolina that my newfound in-depth training in  a) sheep and their ways, b) rocky soil, and c) managing heavy winds did precious little to advance the health of my animal-free, red clay, zephyrless plot of land.)

English: Old Scots Pine and Trees For Life vol...

Trees for Life volunteers

So. Scotland is actually temperate rainforest.  The land there is always yearning to return to a forested state, still holds the seedbank in the soil to accomplish this, and is prevented from it only by the incessant grazing of sheep.

An incredible group in Scotland called Trees for Life, wishing to regenerate Scotland’s forests, identified sheep as their primary obstruction.  Having done so, the solution presented itself: build fences.  Testing this theory, they surrounded an acre of land with sheep-proof fencing, the dormant seeds already present in the soil sprouted, and soon a diverse woodland stood where once there had been only grass.

Had they not identified sheep as the problem, this elegant solution would never have presented itself.

This story jumped into my mind today as I biked my younger son home from his school, where we’d spent a few extra hours digging out grass and preparing garden beds for carrots and wildflowers.  He was hot from the exertion, crabby from the change in schedule, and generally whiny.  Every communication was a complaint.  We got frustrated with each other, there were tantrums and tears, and the whole afternoon began to fall apart.

I took a deep breath and stopped the train. If complaining was the problem, then surely, if permaculture principles are worth their salt, complaining would also be the key to solving it.

As a student of the womanly arts, I have learned that complaints are simply blocked desires. A complaint about the inattentiveness of a mate is simply a desire for deep attention.  A complaint about the mess in the house is a desire for sacred, clear space. It is far more effective to state, say, “there is something super hot about a man with a trowel in a garden full of scented flowers” than “geez, would you get off your butt and help me do the weeding?”

It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I’ve never once considered applying EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED IN EVERY OTHER ASPECT OF MY LIFE to the most important job I’ve ever had, but what can I say?  I’m an expert compartmentalizer.  If that’s a word.

So it finally struck me that behind Yvar’s complaints were desires.  And I began to listen to the desires instead of the whining.  In this way, “I hate all of the itchy stuff all over and I hate being here!” became “I need to feel clean and comfortable, and to get out of the sun.”  And  “everything is too bright and awful and these pants are wrong!” became “I need someplace cool and calm, and to get out of these clothes.”  And that’s how Yvar ended up in a candlelit sea-salt-and-lavender bath, giggling, singing, telling me stories.  And that’s how the stress of a sunburnt afternoon turned to ocean-scented magic.

One of my favorite problem-is-the-solution stories involves both gardening and parenting.  Back in California, I adopted a small earth berm at the Learning Garden.  It was choked with couch grass and the fruit trees planted there were straggly and malnourished. I would take Aiden, then about four years old, with me a few afternoons a week to try and rehabilitate it. There was a five-gallon bucket I’d throw the couch grass into, and it was Aiden’s job to empty it into the green waste bin once it was full (no way was I putting couch grass roots into the compost.)

aiden

One afternoon, we arrived to work and I saw that the five gallon bucket was still sitting there, still full of last week’s couch grass, unemptied.  To make matters worse, it had rained, and now the thing was full to the brim and slimy with rainwater. I was frustrated with Aiden for neglecting his responsibility, but I needed the bucket and didn’t want to waste the water, so I slogged it onto the dying fruit trees before throwing the decomposing grasses away and commencing to weed.

The week after, we returned to find the fruit trees thriving.  You guessed it—couch grass tea is a phenomenal fertilizer.  The problem is the solution.

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April 27, 2013 · 2:37 am

savoring slow

It has been a while since I’ve written, but I have the best of reasons. For the past ten days, I’ve been sojourning in my old hometown, too busy living and creating and experiencing deep beauty to write.  Also, my computer was broken.

Sambucus

elder blossom

But now, I do want to write, I want to write about all of it, and I am overwhelmed with all there is to say.  So I will start slow.  I will tell you about my Saturday morning.

I woke at the top of a mountain, before dawn.  My hosts were still sleeping (not graced, as I was, by the benefits of jetlag) and so I slipped out quietly to walk.  The air was cold, touched lightly by a fog rising from the sea, and smelled of sage, salt, and artemisia.  The gate at the end of the road that led to the park was still locked, so I slung my bag over it and climbed carefully over the spikes.

All this little-known path was lined with flowers, bougainvillea blooming into huge melting puddles along the ground, spicy gallardia, geraniums escaped from someone’s long-ago garden.  I tucked several blooms into my hair.  A lemon had tumbled down to freedom from a fenced-in tree, and I ate it.  The peels I kept for the feast I had planned with friends later.

The front side of this mountain is set with several stories of recycled-concrete steps, and each morning they are lined with fitness pilgrims marching all the way to the top.   I took great delight in floating past them in my skirt and sandals, taking the path of least resistance for once.  The sun was rising now, and the mountains all took light with breathtaking suddenness.  No one stopped climbing—they were facing the wrong way—but I first froze at the beauty, then started running, two steps at a time, laughing all the way down. Continue reading

8 Comments

April 7, 2013 · 3:42 am

Women’s Joy Circle: Exorcising ‘Everybody’

Cover of "Circle of Women"

Yesterday evening we gathered in a circle and took some time just to breathe.  I am coming off of a long illness (that I recently realized was in part due to a severe iodine deficiency— a widespread, dangerous, sneaky condition worth checking into!)  Just standing there, breathing, felt wonderful.

Our topic for the night was ‘Everybody’—you know, Everybody.  As in “Everybody will think I’m a failure if I don’t go to grad school” or “Everybody knows good mothers don’t go on long trips without their children” or “Everybody will think I’m crazy if I quit my job.”  The interesting thing about Everybody is that it’s different for each person.  Everybody is cobbled together of our family, peers, significant others, perhaps even a few acquaintances we met just once. Unfortunately, Everybody does not have our best interests in mind.

We people our Everybody with the MOST critical people we’ve ever encountered.  This is reasonable, really, because if we carry these critical voices internally and use them to guide our behavior, then hurtful people won’t get the chance to shame us again.  The problem is, unless we are aware of our Everybody, this can get real maladaptive real fast…imagine choosing your career based on what your dead grandmother thought was appropriate for a young lady? Or your evening attire based on an ex-boyfriend’s long ago comment? We all do this.  So tonight, we decided to figure out who was on our Everybody panel… and do some hiring and firing. Continue reading

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March 27, 2013 · 1:06 am

New stories

thiking

1.  I used to think I was a flake.  Now I know that people called me that because they couldn’t handle my constant creativity.  Now I revel in my flakiness: hug strangers, hand out kisses on valentine’s day, break out dancing in the aisles of the lumber store.

2. I used to think my weaknesses defined me. I hid when I was sad or ashamed.  Now I know that it is my strengths that define me.  When I dwell in my strengths, I lift everyone around me. The weaknesses are there, yes, but they just aren’t that important!

3. I used to think my periods of depression were unhealthy.  Now I know that as a woman, I naturally flow through periods of introspection and vision, periods of action and joy.  When I feel sad, I call a friend instead of hiding. When I feel tired I go inside and dream. Continue reading

19 Comments

March 16, 2013 · 1:59 am