Seasons Change

I spend my childhood in rural Pennsylvania. In the 1970’s we keep cool during the hot and sticky summer by catching minnows and crayfish in the creek that runs down from the Blue Ridge Mountains and past my house. In the fall we kick our feet through thick blankets of candy corn colored leaves while the blue mountains turn russet. With the first flurries my sister and I press our ears against transistor radios tuned to WAEB and with fingers crossed hope to hear the name of our school, Northwestern Lehigh Elementary, read aloud along with all the others closed by icy roads and blowing drifts of snow. In spring we trade long pants and boots for knee high socks and cotton culottes. The periwinkle in my mother’s rock garden begins to bloom. The snow melts, the frozen creek thaws and the Blue Ridge Mountains drop their coat of rich winter grey as the new leaves stretch for the sun. For a few weeks the air is perfumed by the lilac bushes outside my bedroom window, and then the school year ends and the hot and sticky dog days of summer return.

When Ben and I first arrived here, to Virginia, the early mornings were already warm and humid, the evenings tolerable. And now, five months later, we’re pulling out the woolly hats and thick coats that spent California winters crammed into the back of a dark closet.

I didn’t know until now how much I missed seasons.

Outside my window is an endless row of tall, bare limbed trees that grow along the Slabtown Branch of Linkinghole Creek. When we arrived in July they were lush and green. Towards the end of August the leaves of one began to shift from shimmering emerald to shades of deep ruby and dusky gold. I was certain it had died. But it was simply leading the way and within weeks all of the trees seemed to be competing with one another to see which might be the most autumnally resplendent.

But now the leaves have dropped. I can see through the trees’ crooked boughs and across the creek bed to the nest of family homes that wind their way up Bishopgate Lane. In the early evenings that we have in mid-November warm light glows from each window and I imagine the homes are filled with the scent of baking bread, home cooking and childish giggles. And as the folks who live there look out toward Old Trail Drive and see the light from Ben’s and my home I wonder if they imagine the same story? Not wanting to disappoint, I returned from my last trip to the local Harris Teeter with flour and baking powder and yeast. It’s definitely soup season and what better treat to enjoy with soup than warm bread with lashings of butter?

Today the temperature will be hard pressed to break forty-five degrees and it will be raining by this afternoon. How cold does it have to be to snow? It doesn’t have to be freezing but I’m certain the ground is not yet chilled enough to support a dusting of the white stuff. But will those trees outside my window be coated with white on Thanksgiving?

I’ve been told by new friends who’ve been here longer than Ben and I to not get my hopes up. There are, without a doubt, four wonderful, glorious seasons here in little Crozet. But winters, my neighbors tell me, lean a little too far toward the temperate to see snowball fights or a carrot-nosed Frosty in every garden. 

I’m more likely to find puddles of slush. I’m ok with that.

Settling into the rhythm of changing seasons changes everything else: the food I eat, the clothes I wear, how I spend my downtime, how I commune with nature. It changes my yoga practice and the yoga I teach. It makes me aware of time and the passage of time in a way that the glorious, endless California sunshine never quite managed to do for me.

And while it’s true that at some point I’ll rue the moment that I step into a deep puddle of wintry slush I know that I will never not love watching the seasons change.


Comfort

I enjoy Caitlin Kelly’s Broadside blog. Kelly is the author of Malled and Blown Away and, as a journalist, has written for the Financial Times, the New York Times and Forbes. And every Monday morning, without fail, I can count on finding Broadside in the dozen or so emails that have landed during the night.

Tiny treasures: a bag of vintage buttons and century old sewing needles.

What I enjoy about Broadside is Caitlin Kelly’s concise, sweet, simplicity. She has a way of taking quiet moments from her own life and writing about them in a way that makes her readers feel as if she’s writing each one a personal letter. Kelly is not maudlin nor does she over-romanticize stories from her life. She writes with touching economy and clarity that’s easy to read with my morning coffee. And more often than not what she chooses to share resonates because I either have been or am ready to go through a similar experience. I’m certain it’s because we are about the same age and life events tend to align, but sometimes I can’t help but say, ‘dang girl, you too?’.

For example, in a recent Broadside Kelly wrote about a small inheritance she received from her mother with whom she was estranged. The inheritance included a large pastel of Kelly’s great-grandmother and a small framed sampler – the embroidered alphabet grey with age. Having never received an inheritance, she found comfort and continuity in having these objects around her. And then she asked her readers, ‘what brings you comfort?’.

Many things, of course, bring comfort. A good meal. A loving partner. The purrs of your feline purr baby or the unconditional happiness of your canine best friend.

But other things – other circumstances – bring me comfort, too. I find comfort in surrounding myself with objects that have a history and the energetic imprint of the people from whom they were received. In fact, from where I sit this morning, I’m surrounded by things given to me by others: the painting on my wall, the brass lamp, the sofa and chairs, the tea chest and pillows, the porcelain box and the ceramic vase. Everywhere I look I’m reminded of friends that feel more like family and am I filled with love.

I wasn’t always so blessed. I’ve lived what I might describe as an IKEA-like existence. Easy to assemble, sometimes quick to fall apart, ready to go at a moment’s notice. No matter where life took me I managed to get there with as few boxes as possible. With as little excess weight as possible. 

There are a few things, of course, that managed to stay with me through my many moves. I still have the capo I was given fifty years ago when I played 12-string guitar. I still have the little plastic box that held my guitar picks. I have a few of my picks from those days, too. But these things don’t speak to who I am. They speak to a time in my life when I borrowed my roommate Sissy’s Gunne Sax dresses, which were always a size too small. They speak to a time when I rode shotgun in Mike’s green Chevy Nova from our college campus in Crete, Nebraska to a shopping mall’s fern bar in Lincoln where we’d unpack our guitars and sing Dan Fogleberg songs. 

I love that I have that old capo and those guitar picks even though I no longer have the guitar. It’s nice to have a few things that hold the memory of moments decades old. But what do I have that tells the story of who I am and why does knowing who I am – where I came from – bring comfort?

Over this past weekend I drove five hours north on Interstate 81 to clear out the books and tchotchkes and photographs and furniture that filled every square inch of storage locker 2011 at the East Penn Self Storage emporium in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania. These things were the remnants of my mother’s life and had been collecting dust and bugs and spiders for four years. My mother was still alive when I sold her trailer; when I threw away her sofa and shoved her clothing into a collection locker I found in the parking lot of the Walmart off of Hamilton Avenue. She didn’t know that I needed to do that; that she wasn’t going home. And I didn’t tell her. Instead I saved what I thought was important. Furniture that had been in the family for a few generations. The dog tags she wore when she joined the Women’s Army Corp. Family photos, marriage certificates and divorce decrees. A complete set of the Harvard Classics. I saved a wooden 12-inch ruler advertising a long since closed life insurance company headquartered in Pittsburg. And her knitting needles. I really wanted her knitting needles. 

What I saved has little monetary value. Not the ugly Edwardian pendulum clock that stopped working before I was born nor the yellowed newspaper clippings my mother taped onto lined binder pages, her perfect Palmer penmanship taking note of why and how and who. I saved them anyway.

I don’t need these things. And while friends who, like me, are approaching the middle of their seventh decade choose to downsize I’m choosing the opposite. I’m gathering. Surrounding myself with a collection that others might describe as junk but to me is a treasure that exists to remind me of a time long past and a place that no longer exists.

It’s important for me to do this because it connects me to a history and to people I never knew but who gave me my nose, my blue eyes and my propensity for weight gain. These strangers whose blood is in my veins also gave me a passion for art and music. A love of nature. Keeping my great-grandmother’s writing desk and my great-aunt’s crocheted doilies honors my history. It honors them. I know the fragile aperitif glasses, the shell shaped plate from Japan and the lustreware casserole dish in which my grandma made my favorite corn pie could be gone in an instant. And after the sorrow of loss passed my life would be the same. Every new day people move through the loss of the things that remind them of who they are and I know how lucky and how blessed I am and I understand the impermanence of this jumbled collection of artifacts that until Sunday were covered in grime in a storage locker five hours up the road. But having these things around me now helps me feel less lost in this world; less like an uncertain, aimless wanderer and more like a woman secure in who she is and how she came to be.

And that brings me comfort.


Finding Awe

There’s a wooded area across the street from our kitchen door. I like to stand on the patio while the coffee brews in the morning, or in the evening after dinner, to see if the deer have arrived. They like to eat the grass and weeds that surround a small pond and I love to watch. I hope I never stop being delighted when I see them.

Annular Eclipse, Pyramid Lake, Nevada 2012

One evening last week when I stepped outside to look for the mother deer and her fawn, the sound of cicadas and croaking frogs was so loud I called Ben to listen with me. It sounded like a symphony of bugs and amphibians tuning their instruments before a concert. I hope I never grow accustomed to their music.

There are bats where we live. On our first week here we saw dozens over our house. They were dining on flying insects and then dancing through the sky to find their next juicy mortal. We haven’t seen that many at once since, but now and again I’ll see one or two grabbing a snack. It surprises me every time. I hope seeing a bat in the sky above my house never stops surprising me.

These experiences create a sense of wonderment and awe in me. And for that I’m grateful because sometimes it feels like we’ve lost our ability to be awed. Sometimes it feels like we’re too distracted by the noise of the world or too jaded by the onslaught of constant information to find time for quiet moments of awe.

But these moments of awe are beneficial to our well being. The sense of awe we feel when we’re gazing at a star filled sky, for instance, or witnessing an eclipse, creates in us a sense of ‘small self’ and deepens our sense of connection with others.

What experiences elicit awe in you?


I Like the Idea of Poetry

I’ll be honest. I like the idea of poetry. I like to think I have the intellectual capacity to enjoy poetry. Years ago, when Kay Ryan was Poet Laureate of our country I listened to an interview with her on All Things Considered where she read some of her work. There was something about her writing – maybe the subtle humor or the economy of words. As soon as Ryan’s interview was over I ordered her book Say Uncle. And because I ordered the book online rather than driving to my local bookstore (which should have been my first choice) I never gave myself the chance to change my mind. The slim volume arrived in days as expected. I opened it once and then, for years, it sat on my shelf. A visual reminder that I like the idea of poetry. 

A few days ago I received a package in the mail from one of my best friends in high school. Back then she was the person I wanted to be. Intelligent. I mean – Merit Scholar intelligent. Funny. Funny in that subtle sort of way that sneaks up and then the next thing you know cafeteria milk is spewing from your nose. Supportive and kind. I know that memories shift and change – but all these decades later I still remember how, in high school, in her own quiet way, she made me feel that I could do anything. I didn’t believe her, of course, but it felt wonderful to have someone in my life who saw the light in me. The thing is, she didn’t know she was doing this for me. It was just who she was. Who she is. 

We lost touch in the 1980’s and 90’s but reconnected around the time that I returned from Ireland. When my sister died alone and estranged from my mother and me, it was this dear friend who opened the door to her home and helped me find Margaret’s grave. 

And so it was no surprise and it put a smile on my face when I picked up the package from my doorstep and saw it was from her. My first thought after ripping open the padded manila envelope was, ‘Geez – that’s a big book of poetry!’. But the card accompanying the gift explained that the poet was local and was one of her favorites. In the past she had sent me books by Annie Dillard and Patti Smith’s autobiography Just Kids – books that I loved. I knew she wouldn’t send me anything I couldn’t handle. Plus the poet had written this inside the front cover for me:

Mimm! I hope these mad moments in verse hold a song for you. Welcome home!

What was I to do? Given that I like the idea of poetry I had no option but to sit down, open the book, and read.

The book is Voodoo Libretto: New & Selected Poems by Tim Seibles, who happens to be a past Poet Laureate of Virginia.

And now, each morning when my brain is fresh (I tried the evening but by then my brain can no longer absorb nuance, cadence and beauty) I open Voodoo Libretto to a random page and read a poem. Seibles’ autobiographical writing is sexy and funny, surprising and relevant. Heartbreaking. On the printed page the words have a jazz cool visual rhythm and when I begin to read my eyes carry me and I can’t seem to stop. 

Curious? Maybe start with his Alison Wolff. And maybe, in a few weeks of mornings I’ll need to diversify a bit and open that slim little book by Kay Ryan. Or Basho if I’m in the mood for three lines of Haiku. Or Ferlinghetti.

Because I like the idea of poetry.

And I’m so happy that my high school friend, who I looked up to with awe in 1974 and still do now, knows that about me.


Touching Life: Notes from the New Homestead

On Saturday our red CRV was filled with flattened cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, assorted other papers and questionable plastics. After an eighteen mile drive we had arrived at the McIntire Recycling Center, where Ben and I met a man named John.

John knew everything about recycling and was eager to show us what from our bounty of trash we could distribute among his many large green crushing machines and what would be coming home with us, destined for landfill. He taught us, for example, about what plastics are useful to the composite deck making industry: ‘if it stretches and doesn’t stick to itself they can use it..’. So our bubble wrap and bread bags were a ‘go’ but the mountains of cling film the movers wrapped our furniture in were, unfortunately, a ‘no’

This was a very hands on, prepare to do the hard work, old school recycling experience that forced Ben and I to consider how much we consume and to reflect on the environmental cost of our move across the country. It was hot and sticky work that was eye opening and, with all that we learned, sorta fun in that ‘I can’t wait to get home to take a shower’ sorta way. 

Home for Ben, Bruce the Cat and me is now a pre-planned suburbia, the end townhome in a short row of townhomes that wiggle uphill like caterpillars enjoying a juicy nasturtium leaf toward our ever blooming ‘town center’. And if you’re old enough to remember ‘little boxes made of ticky tacky’ then you get the idea. But we love where we are. We are surrounded by mountains and wooded trails. The view from our kitchen deck looks toward a thick forest that is bound on one side by bright single family homes and a crisp white cement walkway. The difference between the two conditions – one put in order by man and the other by nature – is a constant reminder of our impact on the earth. And somehow it is teaching Ben and I to be better caretakers.

A few evenings ago, just before dusk, I was looking out from my kitchen toward the shadowed woods and saw a slim, young deer enjoying a meal of wild weeds and flowers as she made her way down the grassy verge between the sidewalk and the forest. I called Ben over and as we watched we saw the deer’s fawn – not more than a few days old, all spots and gangly legs – run to catch up to its mother. We watched as they made their way around the pond to disappear back into the thick brush. Another reminder that Ben and I are temporary stake holders. Interlopers.

When we first arrived at our new home we noticed that we had some tenants already living in a vent on the back patio. Two Eastern bluebirds had built a nest and were nurturing their newly hatched brood. A few days after our furniture arrived the bluebirds lost one of their young when it fell from the nest. The next day they lost another. But the parents continued to fly back and forth, feeding what children remained a constant stream of grubs and grasshoppers.

Until Saturday. 

I found Bruce the Cat staring through the glass door in a state of high excitement and agitation. I was happy that Bruce had something to entertain him until I realized what was happening. On the patio was a disaster of Hitchcockian proportions. Two dozen sparrows perched on our railing, harassing the bluebirds. Their last two fledglings had been pulled from the nest and were now writhing on the patio floor. At this point they had feathers but I don’t think they knew how to fly. Their suffering and distress was horrifying. In a panic, one fledgling ran and fell off the patio and down a full story to the earth below. The parents continue to fight off the attacking sparrows to protect their last remaining baby while the sparrow spectators watched in what I imagined was bloodthirsty glee.

When it became obvious that there was nothing more to see the sparrows disappeared. But the parents were still in distress and the young bird was still suffering. Ben and I did not know what to do. Put it out of its misery? Wait for the inevitable? What we decided to do was to cut a hole in the end of a shoe box to create a shelter for the baby bird. We covered the shoebox with a plastic bag and built a sort of dam in front of the box with a rolled towel in order to keep out the rain.

What happened next was astounding. Within an hour the parents were feeding their last offspring an endless meal of grubs and grasshoppers again. Ben and I feel privileged that we were able to witness this remarkable process of feeding, healing and protection for two days. 

Today the box looked undisturbed but there was no sign of the fledgling’s parents. When an hour went by and there was still no activity I ventured out and looked in the box. 

It was empty.

I need to begin this week believing that we saved that young bluebird’s life and that at dawn, with encouragement from its parents, the fledgling spread its wings and took flight. That might not be true but it’s what I need to believe.

I have one more story to share.

On Sunday afternoon Ben and I thought dinner at the Thai restaurant just a five minute walk away would be nice. Delicious food. Friendly service. A mojito that will knock your socks off. What could go wrong?

An hour earlier it had rained. As we enjoyed our drunken noodles and tum yum soup the sky was still grey but there were slices of sunshine. It was only after we paid our bill that the clouds turned black and ominous. We began our short walk home in faltering sunlight. A block later we stayed just two steps ahead of the thick plops of water that began to follow us down the sidewalk. It was less like rain and more like a slow leak in an old ceiling. We were still confident we would make it home. Besides, we had umbrellas. As if they were going beat back the onslaught about to happen.

Just past the roundabout the skies ripped open. And I mean ripped opened. We ran, we screamed, we laughed, we submitted to the inevitable. Ben’s flat cap blew from his head at the same time that our umbrella turned inside out. We ran back to catch the hat before it was lost to the deluge. By the time we reached our doorstep there was not one square inch that wasn’t soaked. It was magical.

I can’t remember having so much fun in the rain.

Over this past week I’ve touched life in ways I never have never touched life before.


Love and Home

I’ve been thinking about love and what makes a home.

The moving van arrived four days after we did. Our townhome has a ground floor garage and spare room (the ‘Mimm Cave’), a first floor open plan living room and kitchen, and a second floor primary bedroom and two smaller bedrooms – an office for Ben and our ‘yoga studio’. Boxes were easy to carry to their designated room. I’d packed over one hundred and sixty and all but a few were small enough and light enough for this sixty-three year old post-menopausal woman to lift. Maneuvering the furniture, however, proved an issue for our intrepid moving team.

Navigating the tight corners and two flights of stairs was an impossible task. After some discussion, the quartet – by now soaked in sweat – drove the truck further into our short driveway and parked at an angle. Two stood on the roof of the truck, which sagged under their weight. One stood on the small deck off our kitchen and the forth ran between the back of the truck, up one flight of stairs and back down again as together they hoisted furniture over the deck’s railing. Three hours later the truck was empty and the house was full.

Four days later Ben and I, along with our brave feline companion Bruce are adjusting to our new life. And I’m left thinking about love and what makes a home.

As I write it is 7:00 AM on a cloudy Sunday in Virginia. The house is quiet. Ben is still sleeping upstairs and Bruce is enjoying breakfast. I’m sitting in my living room, which is filled with soft morning light. Everything that I can see – the chairs, the sofa, the painting on the wall, the tea chest, the brass lamp and baskets – are gifts from someone else. So even though I am alone right now I’m surrounded by the energetic imprint left behind by the friends who offered these objects to me. I can feel the joy and spirt of generosity generated by giving. 

But I’ve been given unseen things, too, which have their own sweet vibration, like the way bright fuchsia and searing red bounce against one another when they are side by side.

All these energies, from the seen and the unseen, have infused our new home with love. And for the first time in a long time, I have space in my heart to feel it. 

So thank you. I feel blessed. Not only for this love-filled home, but for you.


What Would You Carry?

As of this week I’ve filled eighty-six small to medium sized boxes that are light enough for a sixty-three year old woman in good health to lift with relative ease. Each box is numbered, the contents roughly noted on a Google spreadsheet. In twelve weeks – give or take a few days – those boxes that I’ve filled with treasures, junk, books – oh so many books – cookware and memories will be loaded onto a truck by a couple of burly strangers and driven across the country. 

When I was young a move required nothing more than a backpack and a few boxes. I had my life pared down to bare necessities and when the weight of possession became too much I happily gave it away. But to flit about as I did in my youth required a lightness for which I no longer yearn. What I want now, more than anything, is an anchor. I want to feel tied to a place and a people. I want a home. I want family and the sense of belonging that’s alluded me since the days when I was able to pack almost everything I owned into a cardboard box. 

I feel some guilt around my selfish wants. I know there is a difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’. I have everything I need and for that I’m grateful. But still, I want these things. Wanting pretty things like porcelain teacups from Japan. Wanting furniture made from wood and not multi-density fiberboard. Wanting a dining room table with extendable leaves and room enough for my beloved’s sisters, his nieces and nephews and their children. Cloaked around the knowledge that it can be taken away without warning is a deep want for stability. But this morning I’m wondering if a stability is determined by your environment or how you experience your environment.

What’s interesting about the process of packing is that as our moving date approaches we’re finding it easier to let go. But I struggle with the precious things. The little things. The tchotchkes that serve no purpose but are the keepers of such potent memories. The carnival chalk ware figurines I found at a car boot sale in Letterkenny, County Donegal twenty years ago. The elf shaped, never-been-burned three inch candle that my beloved keeps at his desk and refuses to abandon. What do we do with the precious things and what would our lives be without them?

The things we choose to keep around us tell our story. They remind us of the places we’ve been, the people we’ve loved, the dreams we’ve lost and the dreams that came true. 

But if I had to chose between these things and my life I would abandon everything without question in order to survive. What must it be like, do you think, to be forced to do that with a moment’s notice? What must it be like to wake up to the sound of explosions and to realize that everything you know, everything you assume will always be there – the school, the hospital, the corner market – is about to be destroyed?

For five weeks we’ve watched missiles rain down on homes that look like the homes we live in and on cities that look like the cities we love. Two weeks ago we saw a mother with her two children, two family dogs and the family friend leading them to safety. One moment they were alive and when the dust cleared they were dead. What did they carry with them? If we opened Tetiana’s rolling suitcase what would we find? What precious toy did her daughter Alise find room for in her backpack? What book was so important to Mykyta that he would choose to carry it with him on their futile attempt to escape a savage war?

What would you bring? What book would you carry?


The Little Things

I’ve begun packing. Our new life on the East coast is still eight months away but I’ve begun to bundle in bubble wrap those things I don’t use but don’t want to lose. It would be far easier to send these silly tchotchkes to Goodwill – after all, they’re just ‘things’ – but I can’t seem to find the resolve. The attachment I have to them is visceral and giving them away at this point is like giving a part of myself away. I did not feel this way when I was younger, when I moved across an ocean and back again. Then, I gave most of what I had away to friends with ease. At the time it was like a cleansing but I realize now that I knew so very little about myself. I had no connection to my own history and thus no connection to the things I kept around me.

But now I do. And it’s these things I’ve packed away – my grandmother’s vase from Germany, the desktop magnifying glass my grandfather used to examine the coins he collected, the wooden puzzle boxes with inlaid images of Mount Fuji my sister and I were given as children, the Bible my mother carried with her through three marriages –  these things connect me to my past and to the blood flowing through my veins. They tell the story of who I am and how I came to be. 

These stories are important. And yet, if a calamity occurred and everything was lost the energetic imprint of these things I hold in my hand would still be held in my heart. 

With the image still fresh of Afghan families huddled by the perimeter walls of the Kabul airport desperate to board a flight that will take them to an unknown destination far away from where they are, and as Haitians emerge newly baptized by the waters of the Rio Grande to gather under a bridge in the sweltering heat of our southern border I am more than aware that the circumstances of my life are sweet blessings.

With that in mind, it’s healthier for me to see the task of deciding what to bring and what to leave behind as a joy rather than a burden. And in the process I can refine the vision I have of the life I want to live with my beloved human and beloved feline in rural Virginia. I can refine the vision of how I want to walk through a world that is so beautiful and fragile.


Creating Connections with an Old Bag of Tea

We power through cups of tea at our house. I’ve been saving the wrinkled and wet used tea bags in a bowl. Don’t judge me. I have my reasons.

Not quite finished. The dark flecks are tea. The red pigment comes from pounded rose and geranium petals.

In June I began a year long virtual course of study with India Flint. India is an artist who works with plants and found objects to create beautifully dyed paper and cloth. India’s course of study is why keen eyes might find me in the wee hours of the morning gathering handfuls of eucalyptus leaves from along the bike path that parallels El Camino Real and stuffing them into the pockets of my baggy cargo pants.

India Flint, and this course, is why I save used tea bags.

India’s teaching style is that of a storyteller. Rather than providing precise step-by-step directions – like the sort you’d find if an Ottolenghi cook book – she weaves a tale of her experiences with the plants she is using, the mistakes she’s made, the lessons she’s learned. She gives permission for us to take what we need, to leave the rest, and to be inspired by her life’s work.

I’m inspired.

Our first journey was through the making of a book. I didn’t have much of what was needed – proper paper, a sewing machine, a very sharp pair of scissors – but this course is filmed with such care and beauty it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t playing along. I was still learning.

Which is how, this morning at 5 AM, I found myself carefully deconstructing a dozen or so tea bags, emptying their contents into a bowl and spreading the fragile paper out like one might smooth a bedsheet.

But there is more to this story:

Over the weekend my friend Diane – a talented and dedicated artist – gifted me Beth Pickens’ book Make Your Art No Matter What: Moving Beyond Creative Hurdles. This is a book that weighs much more than it should and its Times Roman font is a point size or two smaller than my eyes enjoy. The first chapter, however, is about time. Something I’ve been pondering lately.

And here’s a little more to the story:

I had lunch yesterday with a friend I’ve not seen since before the shut down. Carolyn and I laugh when we’re together. We laugh a lot. But yesterday, as we were talking about how the pandemic changed us, we thought of something that stopped us in mid-giggle. The shutdown gave us time. And now time feels more precious. Both Carolyn and I are discovering how different life is when we treat time as a gift and not a commodity to burn through. We’re learning to say ‘yes’ to what we love. Even if that means saying ‘no’ to something we love less.  

And that is how I found myself at 5 AM this morning gently opening the tea bags that had been drying for a day instead of reading emails and absorbing all that had happened in the world as I slept. India’s course is inspiring me to explore. Diane’s book is encouraging me to love my inner artist. My conversation with Carolyn is reminding me that time is precious.

Deconstructing tea bags is a slow, careful process. While I sat at my desk, my Ottlite breaking the pre-dawn grey, I fell into a sort of meditative reverie. I thought about the tea, how far it had traveled – the Ashwaghanda from India and the green from Japan – I thought about the farmers who grew and harvested the tea then bundled it off to factories to be processed. I thought about the work it takes to create the paper that holds the tea and about how I was moving the process of creation forward by turning the old tea into dye and the these fragile scraps of paper vessel into a new vessel.

It was a profound moment to experience that deep sense of connection. It felt new to me because it wasn’t cerebral. The connection came from my heart. 

I hope I can hold on to that feeling of connection.


Do Clothes Make the Yoga Teacher?

You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I love clothes. It doesn’t matter that my daily uniform rotates around a tee shirt paired with yoga pants or two identical pairs of Target jeans bought in two different sizes on sale for a tenner each – I love clothes.

Who knew I needed a pea green bomber jacket?

I love the expressive nature of clothes. How the colors you choose can reflect the mood you are in and how the way you style your clothes can shout to the world, ‘here I am!’ or whisper ‘shhh…I’m thinking’. I love how a structured shoulder can help you ‘fake it ’til you make it’ and how cutting cloth on the bias changes the drape of a dress. Clothes can indicate where you stand politically. Clothes can shine a light on your inner artist or reflect your relationship with nature. 

Thirty-five years ago I loved nothing more than to spend a Saturday afternoon at the Goodwill on El Camino Real in Mountain View scouring the racks for vintage dresses. I paired my findings with fishnet stockings, Doc Marten knock-offs and baggy houndstooth jackets with fabulous, patterned satin linings from the men’s section. I was making jewelry at the time – huge brooches made with old watch parts and those tiny spoons you find in salt cellars – and I’d have one pinned to an oversized collar or maybe use one to replace a missing button. The look had a grunge-goth vibe that I embraced. The style was trendy, of course – I mean, what self-respecting Goth didn’t have a pair of Doc Martens? – but those clothes also told a story. Anyone looking at me would know, without asking a single question, a little bit about me.

I don’t dress to impress or express these days. While the pandemic influenced an even more relaxed approach to my sartorial splendor, I’ve been rolling through life in baggy clothes and graphic tees for awhile now. The only story I’m telling through the clothes I pull on each morning is the one that says ‘I’m not worth the effort’. How sad is that?

But maybe that’s about to change.

Last week a woman who plays the role of ‘cool, older aunt’ in my life cleaned out her closet and offered the clothes she no longer wore to me. 

I took them.

These are not clothes with worn out knees or thread bare elbows. These are clothes my bank account would never allow me to purchase for myself. These are beautiful, classic, never going out-of-style clothes.

I slipped my arms through the sleeves of a well-tailored jacket and caught a glimpse of myself in my friend’s mirror. Who was that? I recognized my face, but everything else about me had changed. For one thing, I had a waist. For another, the chatter in my mind shifted from the typical self-deprecating ramblings to which I’m accustomed into something approaching pride. 

I brought the clothes home that evening and the next day purged my own closet. And the day after that? I started showing up for my Zoom meetings sitting a little bit taller and a little bit more confident.

And then I started thinking.

You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I love clothes.

That being said, I’m conflicted. I know clothes are nothing more than the means by which we keep our bodies – our souls’ temporary home – protected from the elements. So why should clothes matter? But if our naked bodies are a blank canvas then clothes are the paint by which we express to the world who we are and who we aspire to be.

Who will you be today?

ps…As a yoga instructor I will continue to wear baggy tee shirts and budget leggings to class. It’s my small protest against the Yoga Industrial Complex and the sexualization of a practice that means so much to me.