Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Comfy Pants

A few years ago, a guy I was dating introduced me to the awesomeness and bliss that is flannel lounge pants! We always referred to them as our "Comfy Pants."

There is nothing like coming home after a long day--especially if it's cold and miserable out--and slipping into something soft and loose and cozy. And perhaps cuddling up on the couch to watch a good movie. Flannel pants are the one article of clothing that makes you want to release a long, contented exhale.

To be honest, I haven't worn or even thought about comfy pants in a long, long time. We've had one of the hottest summers on record here in Ohio...but it's beginning to cool off. We are getting sneak previews of autumn. Tonight the low will be 48!!! That is lower than it's been since the month of April. I may have to break out the lounge pants...and a cup of hot chocolate.

Sometimes...the greatest pleasures in life are that simple.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Love Bombing

Hey, wanna try something really cool?

I've been doing something I call "love bombing" for the last decade of my life, and not only is it amusing and interesting (in a weird, science-project kind of way) but it makes me feel good, and more connected to my fellow human beings at times when there is the greatest tendency for dis-connect.

You can do it just about anywhere you go, while out in public. Grocery stores are a good start. Ever notice how people sort of ram around with their carts, studying their lists, searching the overhead aisle signs, looking to see where they need to go and -- most likely doing it all in a hurry? How often do you ever really make eye contact with people you pass in the supermarket? So what I do is, I not only meet their gaze, but I smile. Not a brief nod or up-turning of the corners of the mouth, but a full-on smile that you'd give your best friend.

The reactions you get are amazing. They range from a look of surprise ("WTF? Did someone actually just smile at me? Is she insane or something?) to a shy, uncertain returned smile, to a delighted "Hey, right back at ya!" smile. There are the occasional people who look away and pretend they didn't see, or perhaps they thought your smile wasn't directed at them, but they are rare.

The Supermarket Love Bomb has the biggest impact when your cart and someone else's cart meet at a crossroads, or you both swing dangerously around the corner of an aisle toward each which case I always stop dead, lean forward engagingly, and flash the smile. The oncoming person--who is already stressing because he isn't sure if you're going to be rude and barge past him or be snippy about who should get right-of-way, or crash into her child behind the wheel of those race-car grocery carts--is suddenly disarmed. She returns the biggest, brightest smile because you just completely gave her the green light, no questions asked.

After all this, if you're really looking for a warm fuzzy perk - watch how some of these people that you bomb walk away still smiling. For some, you could very well have been the nicest person they've seen all day.

Another favorite place of mine, to drop the love bomb, is at intersections.

This is a great way to keep your mind off how boring red lights are, and to keep from growing huffy and impatient. When you are sitting at a red light, in a lane closest to opposing traffic, watch people who are either turning left or right into the lane that will pass right by you. If they are really good drivers, their eyes will stay glued to the road. But if they are the sort of people who eye the driver sitting at the corner while they turn, flash the best-friend smile at them. I almost always giggle because the main reaction is a double-take. Especially if it's a guy. ("Huh? Did she...did she just smile at me? Do we know her or something?") But I can tell, whoever it is, that they were completely surprised and delighted to get a big smile from a stranger...especially when their face morphs from a tense scowl to a slow grin.

Moving a few facial muscles, people. It's that easy. And you've made someone's day.

Try it out - it just might make YOUR day, too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More Curve Balls (Finding re-employment when everything WAS set for life)

I am in yet another life transition. Once again, I find myself looking for a new job.

In the last eleven years, I have changed careers three times. My life is beginning to feel like the game Musical Chairs. I am not an indecisive person, nor do I get bored with things easily. Life just keeps throwing me one curve ball after another. Perhaps I should've been a baseball player.

I'm sure many people know how this feels, having lost their jobs or been displaced, somehow, due to the struggling economy. Just when you think things are set for life, and you'll never have to worry again...BAM! Sudden and unexpected change boots you right out of that comfort zone.

How ironic that a year and a half ago, I wrote this about my massage therapy career:

Touching Lives

I ruminate a lot, while doing my work as a massage therapist…

I hold the senior citizen’s hands and think how they have done days and weeks and months and years of work in their lifetime.

I hold the surgeon’s hands that will go on to do countless surgeries that will save hundreds of lives.

I work on the eleven-year-old gymnast’s muscles that might go on to win Olympic gold in 2012.

I carefully work around the baby that will be born in seven months, wondering who he or she is, and if they feel the affects of Mom’s massage.

Keeping emotion at bay, I work on a weary body slowly losing its function to a terminal illness—and savor the moments that he is still alive and breathing.

I spend a little extra time on the nurse’s or teacher’s feet that have been standing for the last twelve hours.

I am extra gentle with the eighty-six year-old body in which I lived for nine months.

I watch a face full of tension melt into unconscious tranquility.

I hear that familiar sigh, ten minutes into a massage, when someone surrenders all the cerebral turmoil they’ve been carrying in their brain and body all day.

I feel the subtle shift of joints, tendons, or knotted muscles sliding back into place.

I watch blood return underneath the skin, replacing a lifeless palor.

I watch them leave, renewed and rejuvenated.

I really do love my job

I never thought I'd be sifting through the "needle in a haystack" job sites online, dressing up in corporate attire, and sitting in job interviews where I had to say how proficient I was at Microsoft Excel, or explain in three different ways what type of educational writing I did. But a tendon injury forced me out of my massage career, and I had to regroup and come up with yet another survival plan. Luckily, I have skills to fall back on, such as copy writing, editing, and a host of general office management skills gleaned from my 25 years of professional experience.

These are the things that keep life "interesting," I suppose. The things that make us tougher and more resourceful. Sure, it's terrifying when the savings you're living off until you find work start dwindling, and a little awkward when you meet your friends at the pub and order iced tea (politely claiming that it's because you're trying to cut back on alcohol for your marathon training) instead of a martini.

But we persevere. Because that's all we can do.

My sister pointed out that some people have it far worse...the single parents who are also looking for work and trying to figure out how to care for their small children in the process. The people who don't have a place to live, while looking for new work, and staying in uncomfortable places until they can afford food and shelter again. In other words, I could be living in a VAN! Down by the RIVER!

So - for all those who have been thrown curve balls - take heart. Everything happens for a reason, and we may find ourselves in another situation that is far better than anything we ever imagined. Perhaps there is "work" we are meant to do, on a deeper level, disguised as a life disruption. Perhaps these changes will lead to people, places, and events that will change the course of our whole life for the better. The possibilities are endless.

May good fortune and unlimited prosperity be ours - very soon.


Reflections at a Waterpark

This piece was originally written in the summer of 2002, while I was attending school for massage therapy. With its summer theme, I thought I'd insert it here in 2010. Its message is still encouraging to me, eight years later.

I have a penchant for combining either work (writing) or study with people-watching in public places. Today’s venue is the local suburban water park where I like to relax in the sun from time to time.

After fifteen grueling minutes of studying the origins and insertion points of muscles in the human body, I am easily distracted by a lifeguard across the basin pool.His hair is blonde and unkempt like Rod Stewart’s, his sunglasses are tapered like Bono’s, and his nature is goofily overzealous.It is one o’clock and just up the hill, the bigger pool by the rec center is opening for the day.

“Rod” stands up, raises his arms all Evita Peron-like and bellows, “The big pool is open, everyone!  It’s open!”  Then he sweeps his arms in the direction of the hill, as if to shepherd his adoring ten and eleven-year-old followers.  Some start off toward the hill, others just stare up at his exuberance, dumbfounded.  He is not the normal lifeguard they are used to, who sits in hawk like stillness with the exception of a whistle twirl every once in awhile to let people know he’s alive.  Rod the lifeguard watches the ones who leave and nods, satisfied.  “Yes!  Go!  Big pool!  All right!”

Then Rod decides he likes this standing position of power and stays there, surveying the basin pool before him, the sidewalk behind him and the other lifeguards in the chairs across from him.  He tries to catch the eye of one, waving at her.  When she finally sees him, he points to the huge black cloud just beginning to occlude the sun.  He hugs his arms around his chest and yells, “Brrr!  Cold!”  The female lifeguard simply nods and looks elsewhere.  Rod is not daunted by this blow-off.  In fact, he begins to jive and dance and “stir the pot” in his standing position, most likely to a steady, driving tune that plays in his head.  Maybe his whole lifeguard world is like one big rock video to him.  Hey, at least he’s happy.

I go back to my anatomy textbook.  Now it is time to conquer a large, two-page list of muscle types.  Somehow, the steady noise of rippling water, flags flapping in the breeze, voices of children, and an occasional “GO!” from the lifeguard directing traffic on top the waterslide, becomes a pleasant din that forces my concentration more than if I’d been sitting home in a quiet living room.

“Uh-oh, she’s studyin’,” says a rough, low voice.  I look up and my deck chair neighbor is back from her smoke break with her two daughters.  She has a deep tan, spunky short hair and the mannerism of a truck stop waitress, but she’s friendly as she points to my textbook and says, “Yep. Been there, done that.  It’s tough.  I’ll bet you thought, ‘oh no’ when we got here with our loud little girls!”

I smile and explain that sometimes noisy environments actually improve my studying and retention, and she says she can relate because she was the same way when she studied to be a personal trainer.

On my left is a sixty-something grandma, looking very classy in her dark swimsuit with a gold ringed sash tied in front.  She has brought her two grandsons to the pool for an afternoon of fun in the sun.  We talk about the weather and the pool and swimming…and she admits, patting her middle, that she really should be doing more of it, because she needs to lose twenty pounds.

“When I retired,” she says, “I retired from everything…including exercise!”  I told her I thought she looked pretty darn good for a grandma.

It’s amazing how women who hang out for about five minutes or so can form an instant sisterhood, whether it be deck chair neighbors, standing side by side in a restroom lounge, or next to each other in a grocery check-out line.

I lean back and turn my face to the sun—and yes, I have remembered to use sunscreen.  I begin to reflect on my life, at present.  What if the me of this moment could time travel back to the me of six months ago, curled up and crying and hollow?  If I told her that she would be lying in the warmth of the sun again, happy and well…on the brink of a new career and enjoying new love…would it have given her hope? Would it have dispersed the dark clouds around her that felt like they would never go away? The twists and turns of life never cease to amaze me.

“Goooo!” the lifeguard cries again, like a cosmic reminder to just keep moving, one day at a time.

When I think about it, what else can we do?


An Ongoing Love Affair

(Written April, 2010)

To many, the ocean is stunning, captivating, and alluring. To someone who grew up in Ohio, it is all that times a thousand.

I was first introduced to the sea at the tender age of five and a half, on a family vacation to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (I know, Delawhere?? But it was one of my family’s favorite vacation destinations since long before I was born) I can still remember rushing into the surf with my trusty Styrofoam inner tube to keep me afloat, and not stopping until I had become “one” with the waves. I can also remember my mother’s frantic voice yelling (to the collective bunch of siblings swimming around me), “Watch her! Don’t let her go out too far!”

It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair for me.

In eighth grade, my mother pulled me out of school for two weeks (oh, I’ll bet my teachers loved her) in the dead of winter to whisk me away to Delray Beach, Florida - for a visit with my Italian grandmother. It was then that I learned the absolute bliss of an “ocean respite.” My teenage hormones were making me crazy, math homework was making me cry, and winter time was delivering its cruel, icy bitch-slap for the third month in a row…and it was definitely time to escape. It was time to let the soothing lullaby of the surf calm my every nerve…the healing salt-filled waters cleanse all the toxins from my muscles…and to let the sun replenish my serotonin that would then tell my body, “Things aren’t so bad…in fact, you feel happeeeee…”

Then, when I thought it couldn’t get any better….I went to San Diego (to visit a brother) and met The Pacific. Oh my God. All the usual beauty of the ocean, plus a perpetually sunny and dry climate. It was the summer of 1982, and I spent an entire month with the Pacific. I was sad to have to leave it, but it told me, “Don’t worry. When you’re old enough, we’re going to live together one day.” It kept its promise.

In the next two decades, I had a series of summer flings with the ocean. There was Myrtle Beach the summer after I graduated from high school. The North Sea, the Irish Sea, and the English Riviera - when I did a tour of the UK in 1987. In the 90s I made a trip to coastal North Carolina at Holden Beach, and experienced the rugged and wild coast of Maine on a brief trip to New England. In 2000, I visited the ancient city of Venice—a place surrounded by the sea, and its waters running through as street canals.

In 2001, I was a hardworking school teacher who desperately needed some rest and relaxation far, far away. I’d just read Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and was inspired to make an ocean getaway for my spring break. A dear friend told me about a private place on the Gulf coast of Alabama, and it was one of the most deliciously blissful and healing experiences I’d ever had on a solo journey. The Gulf has its own charms – powdery-white beaches so clean the sand actually squeaks beneath your feet when you walk across it. Dunes and sea oats, giving the beach a soft and exotic feel…and loads of varied shells strewn across the sand for one’s exploratory delight. I returned rejuvenated and ready to finish out the school year.

In 2004 I visited California once again, this time taking Highway 1 up the winding, dramatic coast through Big Sur. The “beauty overload” was so great, that I decided it was high time I lived by the sea.

For two and a half blessed years, I lived in the coastal town of Santa Barbara. It was life-changing. The ocean has an energetic power about it that—when in its presence long enough—can restore balance, self-empowerment, serenity, and hope to one’s life. I returned to Ohio a much different (and better) person than when I’d left. The withdrawal from the ocean felt as grueling and physically painful as a breakup, or even as if I’d lost a part of my body, but what I learned is that I can always draw from its power, no matter where in the world I am.

And now, here I am again at the Gulf Coast of Alabama – at that same private resort. This time around, I was in dire need of a respite from a series of trying events leading back to the death of my brother in October. I am in a transitory phase of life, trying to find new employment in an old career field (since my current one is beginning to take a dangerous toll on my body). So much to think about, so much to do. I am faithful that it will all come together exactly as it’s supposed to, at just the right time. So as I walk this beach once again and feel the healing power of the ocean wash across me in the driving sea winds, I ponder what will come next. I welcome it with open arms. I trust that it’s all in Divine right order. I’m a little excited imagining how it can only get better and better. But more than anything, my heart just overflows with gratitude getting to be here in this little paradise – existing only in the present moment.

Flowers For Algernon - an Aspect of Old Age

(Written December, 2007)

It's one thing to watch our parents get to the age when their bodies become more frail, and they begin to move a lot more slowly, often taking our arm for support or a cane or a walker. But it's another thing entirely to watch as their once-sharp minds begin to fail them, and they're still together enough to know it's happening.

It reminds me of Flowers For Algernon, the famous novel that we probably all had to read at some point in our school curriculum growing up.

Many senior citizens are lucky to never reach this point. Others have to spend the final years of their lives reverting to a childlike mental state, where life is like one long movie in which you can never quite follow the plot, and it can be heartbreaking for them and everyone.

Mom: I feel like I can't even function in society anymore, honey. My brain just doesn't work right.

Me: *gulping down the lump in my throat* Well, you're not alone, Mom. It's happening to many others your age. And I guess all those pregnancies paid off, huh? We're all here to help you get through it.

I'm finding that it's helpful to remember two things: the things our parents do and say aren't personal, and certainly not intentional. The other thing that helps is to read and re-read a narrative called A Parent's Wish that came to me in a family email.

(If you want to watch the long PowerPoint version of it, with Josh Groban's You Raise Me Up making it ten times more's at this website)

A Parent's Wish

On the day when you see us old, weak and weary…have patience and try to understand us

If we get dirty when eating, if we can not dress on our own…please bear with us and remember the times we spent feeding you and dressing you up.

If, when we speak to you, we repeat the same things over and over again…do not interrupt us. Listen to us. When you were small, we had to read you the same story a thousand and one times until you fell asleep

When we do not want to have a shower, do not shame or scold us, but remember when we had to chase you with your thousand excuses to get you to the bath?

When you see our ignorance of new technologies, help us navigate our way through those worldwide webs
We taught you how to do so many things…to eat the right foods, to dress appropriately, to fight for your rights…

When at some moments if we lose our memory or the thread of some conversation, let us have the necessary time to remember. And if we cannot, don’t become nervous…as the most important thing is not our conversation but surely to be with you and to have you listening to us.

(This is my own that I'd like to add: When we are impossibly stubborn and refuse to cooperate and sometimes say or do nonsensical and irrational things...please forgive us and know that it's our loss of inhibition and brain malfunctioning....and remember when we put up with all your impossible tantrums when you were a toddler)

If ever we do not feel like eating, do not force us. We know well when we need to and when not to eat.

When our tired legs give way and do not allow us to walk without a cane, lend us your hand. The same way we did when you tried your first faltering steps.

And when some day we say to you that we do not want to live anymore, that we want to die, do not get angry. Some day you will understand.

Try to understand that our age is not just lived but survived

Some day you will realize that, despite our mistakes, we always wanted the best for you. And we tried to prepare the way for you.

You must not feel sad, angry or ashamed for having us near you. Instead, try to understand us and help us like we did when you were young.

Help us to walk…help us to live the rest of our life with love and dignity. We will pay you with a smile and by the immense love we have always had for you in our hearts.

We love you, child.

Mom and Dad

When times get especially challenging living close to my mother again, it helps to remember all of this. Sometimes it's a little harder to comprehend, when ADULTS begin to act like children. One's brain says, "This does not compute! They're adults. At least you can say that kids don't know better."

But this is the nature of old age, and I'm finding that there's an art to dealing with it. A healthy mix of acceptance, patience, letting other family members step up, taking the necessary breaks for my own wellbeing, and asking for a little grace from my Higher Power. One day at a time.

It's payback time, for the years and years of care I was given. And damn it, that feels rewarding--no matter what the cost.

Here's to all of us as we help usher parents and other loved ones to the end of their lives..


Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer…Back in the Day

(Written June, 2007)

As I sat writing on the outdoor deck of the Big Sur River Inn last evening, my senses were bombarded with all the sights, sounds and smells of summertime. The smoke of barbecue grills, chlorine swimming pools, suntan oil (or sunscreen, now days), freshly cut lawn, sun shining through leaves, and sun baked woods.

It took me back to the endless summer-times of childhood. And they were endless...all you did was wake up, play all day, take eating breaks, and play some more until your mom called you in at sundown.

I was fortunate enough to have my best friends right next door, and we would build forts in the woods by our house. We would climb to the dangerously high tree house in the back field (that older kids had already built for everyone to enjoy). We would round up all the neighborhood gang for a knock-down-drag-out kickball game in Brad's backyard--using the basement stoop as first base, the elm tree as second, the woodpile as third and a worn patch of dirt as home plate (I'm sure Brad's parents hated us for that).

Oh, and slip-n-slides!!! Pure, unadulterated aquatic fun on the hottest and stickiest of days!

When I was very little, my female friends and I would remodel the base of a towering oak into a "fairy home" in case they wanted to move in. The large tree roots provided separation between rooms. We made them tables of bark, with acorn tip plates and bowls, and we made sure there were plenty of moss blankets on their beds to keep them warm at night.

Another hallmark of summer, growing up in the Midwest, was lightning bugs! After the first couple of foolish tries at holding them captive in our bare hands all evening (and the subsequent twenty washings to get that horrible chemical smell off), we learned to use an old peanut butter jar with holes in the top...and as always, we let them go when we were done admiring their collective effort at being our lantern.

And finally, the sound of crickets with their lullaby chorus completed another summer day. (Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble have a track called “Twisted Hair,” with a slowed-down recording of crickets behind an opera singer, and it really does sound like a chorus!).

These are wonderful summer memories to have in my collection, and I'm sure many of you share similar ones from your childhood.

Sometimes it's hard to remember when life was that simple and summers were indeed timeless.

Death, Carpe Diem, and the Quality of Life

(Written March, 2007)

Over Christmas, I spent time with two beloved people in my life--one a friend and one a family member, who--according to doctors--have a limited amount of time left in this world.

My friend (an artist) was very vocal about how he felt, and expressed some pretty moving insights about trying not to hate his cancer, because it was a part of his body and any form of self-hate could be detrimental. He spoke of his resentment of people who have all kinds of time left in their lives, but waste it on pettiness and negative behavior. He refuses to give up, even though his oncologist doesn't recommend any more chemo. He continues to paint, to help raise his two little boys, and to love his wife dearly. He is seeking both western and eastern modalities of healing, not wanting to leave any stones unturned.

Conversely, my brother didn't talk much about his degenerative illness....I can tell that he is resolved to simply enjoy every moment that he has left, no matter how long that may be, and to take advantage of each stage of the disease before the next one appears and removes even more of his mobility and bodily function.

Being with these two brave men prompted some deep and sobering thoughts about what I want to do with the remainder of my time on earth. In the last year, I've been taking lots of action to create the things in my life that I truly want. A "carpe diem" attitude, if you will.

Everyone hears the messages and the hit country songs about "living every moment as though it were your last," blah blah blah...but sometimes that never hits home so much as when you spend time with people who are literally doing it.

Once we hit forty, life DOES get shorter. And perhaps it's time to quit waiting around on things to change that are everything exactly how we want it to be in our careers? Is there still some hobby or endeavor we've been putting off, that we can start this month or year? Do our thoughts and the reality we are creating make us feel good or bad? Are there things we think are problems that really wouldn't be with a minor shift in attitude? Are there unhealthy patterns in our lives we can change, and--although outside our comfort zone and frightening at first--could change the course of our life? And for those still looking for the right life mate--are we clear about who we want to find and what we want in a relationship? Are we focusing on that instead of what we're NOT finding (so the law of attraction can bring it in)?

And perhaps the most critical question to ask...are there things you've wanted to tell someone, and haven't been able to? Timing is everything on this one--but sometimes, it just has to be done. While you have the chance.

I'm all for making the quality of life its absolute best, whether I’m terminally ill or not. Just in case. Because I never really know how much time I have left...and I don't want to waste one second.

If there is hell on earth
There must be heaven too
Both in one place
And not a second to lose

~Crowded House

That’s Amore! – Valentine’s Day Ponderings

(Written February, 2007)

Love is real, real is love
Love is feeling, feeling love
Love is wanting to be loved

Love is touch, touch is love
Love is reaching, reaching love
Love is asking to be loved

Love is you
You and me
Love is knowing
We can be

Love is free, free is love
Love is living, living love
Love is needing to be loved

~John Lennon

I’ve decided that I’m a big fan of the tried and true “middle phase” of love. In other words, not the brand new honeymoon phase (complete with infatuated poems and songs and trinkets and gush) which is nice, but fleeting…and not the phase where you’ve been together so long you might just take each other for granted…but that wonderful in between place.

I wrote a poem for a former boyfriend long ago, and even though he was by FAR not the one for me, I learned a lot about the “in between” place and its underrated benefits. Perhaps deep down I knew I could apply this to anyone I chose to be with…the person with whom I’d eventually share my life.

This is the poem, entitled Valentine.

Valentine (2007)

No valentine in the store had the right words today
For we have come too far for the gushing of new romance
And it is too soon for the tame verses of love that has spanned many years
My heart is full of thoughts that humor and sarcasm should not desecrate
Which leaves only the truest of verses in one’s soul

Our love is like the cozy, familiar warmth of coming home at a long day’s end
I love knowing the shape and feel of your body
I love how some days it seems there is no warmer, safer place
Than wrapped in your arms as you hold me like priceless crystal

I love being so close, that all we need do is look into each other’s eyes
Where thoughts meet with words unspoken
I love having loved you so long, that the calm we feel
After the most tumultuous, fiery storm
Is like the clearer and more vivid light in the sky after dark clouds have rolled away
Leaving sun-glittered raindrops everywhere

I have learned how to trust a little more, how to give a little more
And when not to give too much
I have learned to laugh at things I once took too seriously
I have learned to stare down fear until it runs away whimpering
And I have learned to let go…take love one moment at a time
I am in awe of your light and the way you shine without even meaning to
I love it when you use compassion and humor to build bridges
I feel so honored to be the one you come home to

I look forward with hope, faith and perhaps just a little uncertainty
To what lies beyond the next sunrise
And my heart leaps at the thought of the many chances I’ll be given
To learn and grow with you, to make our world larger

In the spirit of this season of love,
Let me thank you with all my heart for loving me so well
And letting me shower love upon you

~Alexandra, 1998

There is something about that warm, steady campfire that feels more comforting and cozy and secure than a huge, blinding, crackling, and scorching bonfire. Bonfires flare up passionately, nearly searing one’s face, and then die down quickly, leaving a sudden chill in their wake. Steady campfires are much nicer than ones that are not being properly stoked…cold, diminished, and about to go out. This is one of my favorite analogies for the phases of love.

Here’s to all of us in romantic love’s various stages. Those who’ve been together and weathered many years or just a few years, those who are engaged, about to make a commitment, who are newly together, or in an undefined stage. Those in friendships just about to catch fire, or who are casually dating. Those caught in “slippage,” or who are thinking of ending it once and for all…and those who are still looking. May we, if we truly want love in our lives and are ready for it (because sometimes we are not and don’t even realize it), enjoy that cozy “in between” campfire of love…

Love in which we can totally be ourselves
Love in which we both accept and honor one another exactly as we are
Love in which we and our mates make each other’s lives larger
Love in which we never stop learning and growing together in the same direction
Love in which we can weather changes and work through conflict quickly
Love in which fidelity is effortless
Love in which we are completely desired

Namaste and Happy Valentine's Day!

Manna From Heaven - Are You Ready For It?

(Written February, 2007)

On a recent visit to the Double Z Ranch, a nickname for the home of my friends in San Marcos, California, something quite commonplace happened that later turned into a profound awareness.

I was out on the back patio talking with another guest, who we shall call Hobbitt, absently throwing our host’s dogs (Zevon and The Mo) pieces of my breakfast. A while later and long after the food was gone, I was in mid-conversation when I felt two pairs of eyes on me and looked down. Zevon and The Mo were still gazing upward at me with hopeful smiles. It made me laugh out loud.

“Well,” Hobbitt said, putting it in perspective, “as far as they’re concerned, manna could fall from heaven at any moment and they have to be ready.”

Thinking back on his words, I applied this to life in general. Manna could fall at any moment. Should we humans be ready, expecting to catch good things?

“Manna from heaven” can take many forms, and if we’re not paying attention, we just might miss it. Manna can be the person who holds the door open for you when your hands are full. It can be the friend who picks up the tab when you’re down to your last five dollars for the week. It can be a rush of new clients calling for appointments just when you start a new business. It can be a call on Valentine’s Day from one of your long-time buddies, just to let you know he’s thinking of you before his evening music gig. Or it can go beyond the concrete … such as the life-changing inspiration I got from a client the other day.

Here is how it happened:

Walking down the spa corridor, I could tell they were one of those rare couples who are crazy for one another (even ten years after their marriage) when she turned and smiled at him before disappearing around a corner. My client, her husband, smiled an endearing smile right back at her.

Throughout his massage, he asked the usual polite things guests often do, and shared a lot about himself. He seemed so laid back and content with life. Very easygoing and humble. But most of what he shared was about his wife—how smart she was, the successful business she was running, the places they traveled, how much she made him laugh, and how in awe of her he was about this and that.

Halfway through the massage I told him, “You know, you’re inspirational to me. You are so complimentary about your wife…and while many people often forget the marital vow of Honor, sounds like you got that one mastered.”

“Well, she makes it easy,” he told me.

Remembering my new standard for myself, I asked him, “When you met her, did you feel that she was your winning lottery ticket?”

“Definitely,” was his immediate reply. “I wondered why I could never get close to any of the other girls I dated. I started to think maybe something was wrong with ME. Then, after I met her, I knew why none of the others worked. I knew right that she was the one who was best for me.”

Digesting his words, I had a few internal ones of my own. Ah-ha! Guys like you are out there. I knew it. There may not be many of you, but you exist. And it’s not asking for too much to find you, either, because you are in the same boat I am…waiting for the one who’s that “special blend.”

My “manna” that day was a living example of how finally meeting the one who’s best for me will explain why all the others were not. An example of how some things might take a long time. An example of how high the bar must be raised…and a reminder to keep the faith.

That was the best “manna” that fell from heaven for me this past week. And I snapped it right up.

What was your manna?

Namaste, baby!


(Written December, 2006)

On the way home tonight, I was reminded of the 1970s by Peter Frampton's Do You Feel Like I Do on a classic rock station. I thought to myself, “Just for one day, I wish I could go back to 1975...”

1975 was the last year that most of my eight siblings still lived under one roof. The house always had a warm, full-up feeling with so many people inhabiting all the rooms, coming and going, doing their various could hear a violin playing in a downstairs bedroom, classical music on the piano in the living room, songs being sung in three part harmonies...our Sony stereo playing in the basement, or my brother's bass guitar upstairs.

Now, by no means was it a perfect Waltonesque household. Like any family, there was also lots of bickering, stomping up steps, and slamming of doors during arguments…the lesser of which rarely lasting more than a day (well, except for the edges of the dictionary pages which will forever be emblazoned in black ink, "CAROL STINKS" and just below that in pencil "LAURA STINKS!").

More than anything, I remember all the laughter and inside jokes…some of which still surface during a Thanksgiving dinner, family cookout, or sibling group-email.

The house in 1975 was all about food. Enough to feed our small army. There was always a delicious aroma coming from the kitchen around dinner time. (As an adult I thanked my mom for the thousands of meals she cooked day in and day out."Mom, how the HELL did you do it?" I asked her. She grinned, shook her head and replied, "I just did it. It had to be done.")
 The dining room table was opened up to its full length with all three table leaves in place, and it was my job to set it immediately after Mr. Rogers was over.

The house was full. That's what I miss. I've never quite taken to living alone ever since. Don't get me wrong, I do relish the solitude when I need it, but often there is just a big void where a family should be (even if it's just one other person). Especially when it comes time to decorate the Christmas tree. That was always a fun team effort, despite all the squabbles and micro-managing among that ensued.

I will really savor Christmas this year, where most of my family (Mom, sibs, nieces and nephews) will gather from all corners of the country, under one roof. It'll only be for one day, but that day will mean the world to me…and I will never take for granted the fact that such strong bonds exist between us all, when there are so many other families in the world that would rather be apart.

Why Should I Cry For You? (The Miracle of Forgiveness)

(Written August, 2006)

Why should I cry for you?
Why would you want me to?
What would it mean to say,
I loved you in my fashionable way?

 ~ Sting

Yesterday I was listening to a mix CD I’d just finished, containing some of my favorite classical music pieces. When the opening flute runs of Smetana’s Die Moldau (named for a Czechoslovakian river) began to play, I felt unexpected tears well up in my eyes. The last time I’d heard this piece was at my father’s funeral.

It’s always awkward when people find out that my dad is no longer living. Immediately their expression turns solemn and they say in a hushed tone, “I’m so sorry.” Awkward, because my face probably shows no sorrow or remorse, and what I’d like to tell them was, “Well, no big loss, really. And it was no wonder after the way he trashed his body with alcohol and cigarettes for the better part of his life.” I wasn’t close to my dad like other women…there were no “daddy’s little girl” moments, no butterfly kisses, no being read to in his lap, no father-daughter dance in high school. When I was little, playing with my Fisher-Price toy people, I didn’t even know what to make the “father” toy do, so I parked him at the kitchen table while the rest of the family got in the car and did stuff. I could list you a litany of his wrongdoings, but that’s not the point of this journal entry. I want to talk about one of the good memories.

It was my idea to play Die Moldau over the church’s PA system before the funeral Mass started, because it had been my father’s favorite symphonic piece. I had to edit the more loud and furious movements out of the recording so it would be more palatable and timely in the prelude of the service. I was standing up in the choir loft when I hit “play” on the tape recorder, and when the opening flute part began to trickle through the whispering voices below, I saw something really moving happen.

One by one, my siblings began to turn around and stare up at the source of the music. Some of them wore looks of wonder; others had tears trickling down their face. My sister who stood by my side gave me a wide-eyed smile and a thumbs-up. I knew what was going through all of our minds…this was the one song that represented the essence of our father that we could love. The part of him that was passionate about music and nature. He’d always explained, when he played Die Moldau for us, that the piece took you on a tiny stream's journey down from the mountains, becoming a wide river through peasant villages, and flowing onward to the sea. At the pinnacle of the piece, he would inevitably close his eyes, nod, and cry, “BEAUTIFUL!”

It’s miraculous and freeing when you can look back and take stock in the gifts, rather than dwell on the mistakes. And from this day forward, when I hear Die Moldau, I will always feel the best parts of my dad living on inside my heart.

Body Consciousness in America

(June, 2006)

I need to preface this essay with a sincere statement that I’m not passing judgment on anyone or any particular region of the country…I’m just bearing witness to some interesting trends I’ve observed.

Living in California for the past year has been eye-opening in many ways—but the one I’m writing about today is body image. A common belief is that the media is the main entity to hold accountable for extreme focus on/obsession with perfect body image—to an unhealthy extent. This focus certainly exists everywhere, but I’ve noticed that it’s pretty much a way of life here (especially in Southern California, the closer one gets to L.A., where celebrities and other people in the limelight set the main fashion trends).

There’s a Medi-spa on every corner, ready and waiting to provide women (and hell, men too) with injections, implants, tinting, or removal of unwanted hair, skin coloring, or fat cells. There are ads for women’s lingerie claiming that it’s cheaper to buy lingerie than get a divorce (what, so if you’re not sexy enough, your hubby will divorce you?)!

I see lots of Barbie dolls walking the streets (it’s a college town), and lots of earthy, hippie-chicks who don’t care about fashion or makeup—but hardly any “in between” women. I work with some truly beautiful (older) women who tell me, “Don’t bother looking for men in this town—they all wanna hook up with the 22 year olds.” This is such a well-known phenomenon here that the rare, local men who aren’t that way (who post profiles in online dating websites) have to go out of their way to assure you they’re deviants from the norm: “I’m not looking for Supermodels or the perfect body! I just want a woman to be REAL!”

Again, I do realize that body image obsession definitely goes on in other parts of the country and world (especially near other metropolises), but coming from the Midwest, where people might be a little plump or their hair not groomed in the perfect style…but they still feel beautiful, regardless, and their mates love them exactly as they are, it was a real culture-shock, seeing this daily drive for perfection.

This is not to say that health and fitness should be left by the wayside. I totally support those who exercise daily and strive for weight loss/maintenance in order to remain healthy. But when you add the obsessive need to be absolutely stunning and perfect at all times—to the point of rejecting the natural self—well, that doesn’t seem healthy to me in the least, and certainly not helpful to humankind if it becomes the “norm.”

My thoughts fly back to the enchanting day I spent in Venice, Italy in 2000. I was sailing down the Grand Canal watching people bustling around the ancient city streets, crossing bridges, sailing past in gondolas…and sunbathing. Lying on an embankment near the Rialto Bridge, in front of every onlooker, was a group of older Italian women (in their 50s and 60s) in swimsuits, lying in the sun—letting it all hang out. Rotund limbs and bellies, wrinkles, graying hair, cellulite, and voluptuous curves. I could tell by the carefree way they held themselves that they felt absolutely beautiful.

I wish our country could be more like Europe when it comes to body image. Why do I feel so strongly about this? Well, I just know that self-acceptance and self-love is a major key to inner peace and happiness, as well as acceptance of others. And the more inner peace each individual achieves on his or her own, the more it leads to a peaceful world.

Claude Debussy, John Lennon, and the Frank Sinatra of India

(Written May, 2006)

At this time of year, I always remember (with great fondness) one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever witnessed. The bride was a good friend and coworker of mine, and one of the most stunningly beautiful Indian-Americans I’ve ever seen in my life. She was also one of the nicest and most endearing women I’ve ever met. Her name was Parveen.

Parveen used to hear me sing in our agency’s talent show each December, and loved my voice so much that she wanted me to sing at her wedding. She offered to fly me to Florida, where the momentous occasion was to occur. When she stopped me in the hall and proposed all this, I was so honored I cried in front of everyone who walked past. I must confess, the tears weren’t just because of how moved I was…but because my heart was still raw from the grief of my very first gut-wrenching breakup that had happened two weeks prior. This exotic experience of singing at a wedding in Florida would offer a temporary respite, where I could leave it all behind for a while.

When Parveen and I sat down to discuss what she wanted me to sing, she surprised me by asking for recommendations. I told her John Lennon’s Grow Old Along With Me was always a good one. I sung it a cappella for her, and she agreed. Then I sang her a wedding song I’d written for a friend, and she liked that one too. “But Parveen,” I told her nervously, “I have no one to accompany me…I don’t play guitar and I can’t play piano at performance level due to stage fright.”

“No problem,” she smiled. “Just sing them a cappella—your voice is all I want to hear.”

With the reassurance of the bride herself, I felt confident that it would work!

Fast forward two months later to a balmy, tropical May in Melbourne, Florida…and Parveen’s wedding rehearsal. I witnessed—for the first time in my life—what a Hindu wedding altar looked like. A cage-like canopy with trellises of red roses and swirling vines. There would be a water ceremony…a fire ceremony….and a Hindu priest! Since Parveen was both Indian and American, she wanted to have a combination of Eastern and Western traditions. So…Hindu priest meets John Lennon. Sung a cappella. It was going to work so beautifully….until HE walked in. The Frank Sinatra of India.

*cue ominous music*

He wore a white suit and sported dark tinted glasses. He folded his arms presumptuously and stared at the progress of the rehearsal, which was just about to wrap up for the evening. One of his also-sharply-dressed minions followed him around, trying to look important. The minion saw me sitting on one of the wedding chairs, tilted his nose upward and gestured to the white-suited man, who was busy talking with someone. “Do you know who this man is?”

“No,” I replied, not really interested.

The minion was astounded. “This is Jagjit Singh, India’s Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett combined.”

I know he wanted me to be really, really impressed, but gosh…I just wasn’t. I was more interested in watching sweet Parveen greet all her many family members who continued to arrive with hugs and kisses.

Next thing I know, Mr. Singh was standing over me, arms still folded, and voice cool and casual. “I hear you are the singer.”

“That’s right. I’m Parveen’s friend.”

“Do you have any musicians with you?”

“Uh…actually, no. I’m going to sing my songs a cappella.”

“I have musicians, and I could accompany you.”

I looked at him, not knowing how to respond. It seemed more like a command than a helpful offer.

“I…I don’t have any sheet music for these songs. Parveen really wanted me to sing them all by themselves.”

“And why would you listen to her?” the minion piped up.

Because she’s the BRIDE perhaps??? I was beginning to get both irritated and enlightened as to the subtle sexist behavior that still existed in the world.

I imagined the logistical nightmare of it…I’d need to sing the songs for them, rehearse, somehow make it all work out…overproduce something that was supposed to be simple and beautiful. AAAAGHHH!

“I will send a car for you tomorrow,” Jagjit Singh informed me. Then he was gone.

He ruined everything for me, that damned Frank Sinatra of India. Now things were complicated. And uncomfortable.

“All I wanted to do was lay by the hotel pool tomorrow and calmly prepare myself for the wedding,” I told my friend, as I freaked out during the rehearsal dinner. “Now I’m completely stressed out!”

Thankfully, Parveen’s dad overheard everything. He came up with a cordial smile, put a gentle hand on my shoulder, and assured me in his lovable, sing-songy Indian accent, “Well this is not about stress, my dear. I will talk to him for you.”

Big. Huge. Sigh of Relief.

And now, back to our originally scheduled wedding…

The striking image that still stands out vividly in my memory from Parveen’s wedding, was her arrival at the building. She rode up in a white horse and carriage, adorned in a red and gold sari, a strand of red beads laying down the center of her head, hands all painted with elaborate henna designs, smiling in wonder at her waiting husband…and walking to the airy, graceful melody of Claude Debussy’s Claire de Lune.

Debussy, Lennon, fire, water, gold, and roses. Stunning.

Jagjit Singh was mysteriously absent from the ceremony. My friend whapped me on the arm. “Now look what you’ve done!” she teased. “You’ve shamed the Frank Sinatra of India, and now he’s not coming!” For a good half hour, I was horrified. Then later someone told us he’d suffered some chronic back trouble, but would be at the reception to sing a few numbers. Which he did. And all was well.

It was certainly one of the most unique weddings I’ve ever been privileged to attend, and one that made the best story.  To witness such a love, strong enough to bring two cultures together, was very healing for me…the first bit of salve on my wounded heart. Being a part of their sacred union was the beginning of me believing and trusting in romantic relationships again.

This month will mark Parveen’s 7th wedding anniversary to a husband who simply adored her. I wish them both many years of health and happiness.

Enjoy Them While They Last

(Written February, 2006)

A few years ago, I wrote a poem entitled “The Esteemed Generation.” It was a tribute to the generation of people my parents belonged to--the "World War II" generation, if you will.

My affinity for them began in my “tweener” years, when I’d listen to some of my mom's big band music that she used to dance to...almost feeling as if I'd been there with her, double-dating at the local USO dance.

I've always held this generation in high regard, because after listening to the stories of my parents, aunts and uncles, I realized just how much those people endured. They survived the Great Depression, they survived a war in which the whole world was going crazy and homeland needed to be fiercely defended. They enjoyed a few years of peace before all the next wars started up again, taking the lives of their precious sons...

They were a generation of people who learned how to live with very little-to-none during rationing, how to be thrifty and stick to a budget within their income range—rarely spending money they didn’t have. They lived the majority of their lives without comforts we take for granted, such as air conditioning.

They were strong people, and whenever I think I've got problems in my lifetime, I look at theirs and suddenly mine are downgraded to mild inconveniences.

So another activity that's been on my list of things to do for quite some time now--besides Salsa dancing--is to do some sort of volunteer work at retirement homes. Many of the residents who live there don't have family to come visit them, and are greatly in need of people to sit with, talk to, and to just feel cared about.

When I did my student teaching a decade ago, I was with a second grade class who visited the elderly in a local rest home. After playing a series of interactive games with the seniors, we all ended up sitting in a big circle and joining them in a sing-along. One of my students urged me to sing a couple of songs for them alone, so I chose “I'll Be Seeing You,” because it was my mom and dad's favorite love song...and “O Danny Boy,” because it was almost St. Patrick's Day. As I sang, they nodded their heads in time, mouthed the words, smiled and suddenly looked fifty years younger. An Irishwoman among them, who’d married an American, especially loved the folksong from her homeland.

Ever since that day, I'd wanted to get my sister (who plays guitar and sings with me) to go there and sing regularly with me--but she was too busy mothering her young sons at that time. It never happened before I left Ohio.

Now, I have a new tool to use all by myself. I do massage therapy, and therapeutic touch is soooo healing for our esteemed seniors.

A kind-hearted coworker of mine who teaches Tai Chi at a local retirement home referred me to its director, and this morning I did my very first session.

The residents of this beautiful home (with a rooftop view of the ocean) watched me set up the massage chair curiously, and by the time I was done, my signup sheet was nearly filled. Some watched while their friends got worked on, others shuffled in when it was time for their appointment. It was magical, almost, to watch the aches and stiffness melt away from their fragile help them out of the chair and see their face a little more vibrant and happy.

One woman (with an awesome Brooklyn accent) had Stage I Alzheimer’s, and told me probably ten times that "this is my first massage...and it's wonderful!” And every time she said it, I gave her the same answer, "I'm so glad I got to be the one to introduce it to you!" Another woman, a Brazilian national, was 98 years old. She reminded me of a sophisticated, spunky, female Peter O'Toole, and seemed to only be about 80.

Some of them reminded me of my mother, who lives so far from me now. But as I worked on them, I envisioned the warmth and the energy of my touch reaching across the miles to her as well. Through my heart connection with her.

The scariest part of this visit to the retirement home was realizing that some of the youngest members were baby boomers, no older than my oldest brother! So the changing of the guard from old generation to new has already begun.

Reaching out to the current generation of seniors does something wonderful to the heart and soul. One day, I would like to stay and listen to their wonderful stories, and perhaps draw from the hotbed of wisdom that resides within their minds.

But they won't be around much longer...this is probably their final decades on earth. So I guess I just wanted to share this, in hopes that if you have relatives this age who you haven't seen for awhile—go see them. Be with them. Hold them. Listen to them. Or perhaps find ones that you don't know, and do all that anyway--if that is your cup of tea. And bring kids!

One day, we might be where they are...and someone will come to visit us. It was my great honor to pay it forward.


My Verdict - Definitely Friendly

(Written December, 2005)

And I opened my heart to the whole universe,
And I found it was loving

~ The Byrds

Someone once asked Albert Einstein, “What is the most important question we should ask?" Einstein replied, “Ask yourself, ‘Is the universe a friendly place...or not?’”

I took my beach walk tonight after work, feeling pretty full up with love from my recent visit home to Ohio, and from something wonderful a client told me at work. My proverbial cup was pretty much overflowing.

The winter sun angles were shooting across Shoreline park, making everyone's faces appear rosy and their eyes sparkling...and casting long palm tree shadows across the emerald green grass. As if it wasn't enchanting enough, everyone—I'm not kidding you—everyone I met up with on my path looked me in the eye and gave me a warm smile. Even the damn dogs on their leashes.

Eastern spirituality teaches us that we attract what we send out. That other people we encounter are our mirrors, reflecting back at us who we are. Some people say Californians (well, and especially Santa Barbarians) are just plain laid-back kinda folk. Or maybe it's the promise of a shiny new year in everyone's life this week, in which to start fresh, bring dreams to fruition, right the wrongs, try again, etc... etc...

I don't think I want to analyze it. I just want to believe that YES, the universe is definitely a friendly place.


Life - Translated by the Moon

(Written December, 2005)

I just wanted to share a simple moment of beauty tonight.

I was driving northward on the 101 tonight, and although the moon was only a little over half full, it was illuminating the sea and the land and the sky...and at one point I looked up and saw a big, bright rainbow halo around it.

The rainbow graced the outside of the large circle, with the inner part all glowing and silvery-gold.

I feel very kindred to rainbows, wherever they appear, and their appearance always brings something promising to me. Something magic.

Tonight, the magic was about the half-full moon and a profound thought it gave me. There are times when life seems full, but not as full as it could be. There is still so much missing that I really want to be there. But the moon's lesson is that it's forever changing. Sometimes, life is completely full and round and bright, and other times there is no light at all. And sometimes, life will surprise us with a moment of rare and unexpected beauty—like a glowing, rainbow halo.

This is the story of life, as translated by the moon.

Low Tide and the Inner Happiness

(Written November, 2005)

I made myself take a break from editing my novel today. I've been slaving away at it, getting it in its best possible form so I can submit it to the new batch of agents in Writers Market 2006.

The afternoon sun glistened out on the sea, luring my eyes away from the page. Then it reminded me, by shining in the window on my laptop screen and obscuring the words, to get my butt outside while the daylight was good.

When I took the long walk down to the beach, I was delighted to see that it was low tide. To the hour. At low tide, all kinds of brown, jagged and interesting sea rocks magically appear where one usually only sees water and waves, and it creates an entirely different landscape. It gave me a sense of abundance....more sand, more beach, more things to observe...expansion. Possibility.

Allowing myself to enter kairos time (a time of undetermined duration, in which something special happens—and with no awareness of its length or passage), I meandered slowly through the shallow pools, observing sea plants and wavy patterns in the sand below the surface. I enjoyed the feel of cool water rushing over my feet. Every now and then I'd glance up at the blue, perfect California sky and just let the sun shine on my face. Then, to top it all off, ethereal music played on my iPod, providing the perfect soundtrack for it all.

Sometimes it's so easy to return to the peaceful center, the inner happiness that only I can give myself.

In that space, I thought of all my dear friends and loved ones, and wanted to share some of the serenity I'd I imagined sending it through space and across the miles to all who might benefit from it.

In life there is low tide, high tide…ebb and flow. This is the gift of being human. This is the gift of truly living.


For Those in Radical Shift

(Written August, 2005)

I am so filled up and spilling over right now (from a lecture I heard this morning) that I absolutely have to share the wealth--and I know there are plenty of people here who may benefit.

This is a powerful time--not just in this community, but everywhere. Despite what goes on in world events, I am seeing a heightening of awareness and a spike in spirituality (whatever that is to each person)...and more and more people making difficult journeys from the mundane and safe to moving outside the comfort zone and becoming more and more their authentic selves. It's not just a choice anymore, it's necessary for economic AND spiritual survival and evolution of one's soul.

So in this lecture, the woman (who is not only a spiritual author but a biologist) was explaining that in the chrysalis stage, a caterpillar completely melts down, becomes genetic soup, and grows a new DNA in order to form the butterfly that will later break out and fly.

The words of an 80s pop song (pretty deep and wise, though, for pop) come to mind:

We’re not scared to lose it all
Security throw through the wall
Future dreams we have to realize
A thousand skeptic hands
Won’t keep us from the things we plan
Unless we’re clinging to the things we prize

And do you feel scared - I do
But I won’t stop and falter
And if we throw it all away
Things can only get better

Treating today as though it was
the last, the final show
Get to sixty and feel no regret
It may take a little time
A lonely path, an uphill climb
Success or failure will not alter it

And do you feel scared...etc..

The whole idea of burning down life as you know it, to allow the change to happen, is so powerful. And you know what rises from the flames, right? I know I've been a phoenix more than once in my life, and I have always been satisfied with the results. Always.

But it's frightening. To the point of nausea, to the point of curling up in the fetal position and wanting to die. The uncertainty forces us to rely on something that can start to waiver in a heartbeat, if we let fear take over and wrestle our faith to the ground.

Remember when some parents or doctors would lie to the child and say, "Don't worry, this shot won't hurt”? Well I'm here to tell you that yes; this shot is going to hurt like hell. Maybe even for the next week. But it will bring healing and change that will be well worth the pain. those who are orchestrating radical changes in their lives, I want you to know that I am already thinking of you, sending you the warmest, most encouraging thoughts, hoping for your highest good, and knowing that you are not just helping to change your own lives and dreams--but working toward healing the planet. Because a billion contented and fulfilled hearts = peace and unity.

We are all in this together.

Seven Falls Baptism

(Written July, 2005)

I’d been in California nearly two months, and still no job. I’d pounded pavement every day, applied at every spa, schmoozed with every chiropractor, and even joined a temp agency—but temp money wasn’t paying the bills. What was left of the savings I’d earned from the sale of my home back in the Midwest was dwindling like the sand in the Wicked Witch of the West’s hourglass, and I was even more terrified than Dorothy.

One Sunday, when the stress was taking its toll on my body, a voice inside said, “Get the hell out of this apartment and go play! Go and explore your new home while you have the chance!”

Of course—the mountains! I hadn’t yet seen the mountains. Ever since moving to my new city, where one could enjoy both the sea and mountains, I'd been taking beach walks and gazing up at the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara, wondering what they looked like up close. The Santa Ynez area was part of a wider California range with the same name as my Italian grandfather, Rafael, so I asked him to be my special spirit guide as I donned my trail shoes and embarked on a solo hike.

It's amazing how every time I thought I was going to have to do something all by myself there, people showed up in my life so that I wasn’t really alone. I met up with a couple (he was a naturalist in the area) who walked most of the way up the "Seven Falls" branch of Inspiration Point trail with me.

The paved fire road turned into a dirt trail, which then followed a rocky creek bed--so we hopped up boulder after boulder until we reached the many pools and swimming holes that gave Seven Falls its name.

The last swimming hole, which wasn't quite the end of the trail (the rest involved more skilled rock climbing, for which I was ill-equipped), was beautiful and refreshing after the long hot uphill climb.

This would be an excellent time to mention that I absolutely love waterfalls. And I cannot merely look at them, I have to be one with them; splash in them, jump in them and feel them all over my body. After watching a few people take an approximate 20-foot plunge down a waterfall into a 10-ft deep swimming hole below, I decided it was exactly what I needed after a long, emotionally grueling week.

One of the people there offered to take my picture. He caught it just after the plunge, but I went so quickly, all the guy got was the splash.

The plunge wasn't just invigorating, it was a spiritual experience. It seemed to clear a lot of negative energy that resulted from the difficult week--and I felt it was a "nature baptism" into my new life here...filling me with renewed hope that all would work out.

And now for the synchronicity...

As I started back down the trail, dripping wet and squishy, I got a call on my cell phone from an old buddy who had also moved to California from my hometown. He gave me some sage wisdom about how he too struggled with money and work until things finally got on track for him. He went out there to be a Hollywood TV writer, and although he still had a day job in real estate, he had made a solid "foot in the door" connection. He gave me this advice:

“When you embark on a venture, leaving the easy interstate and path of least resistance to go it alone on your own back may trip, stumble and perhaps fall...but at least you've got the courage to go your own way and do your own thing. And the path to success takes a humble heart and an open mind.”

When I hung up with him, I started laughing. Whatever trepidation I’d carried up the mountain with me, now lay shattered into a million pieces in the water below Seven Falls. My baptism was complete.

That next week, I remembered the "humble heart and open mind" as I applied for some less-than-perfect jobs (one at a CVS down the hill from my place, and one at a cheesy out-call massage company in the area) and I looked forward to positive changes in the coming week.

Two days later, my resume—one in perhaps hundreds—made its way to the top of the pile at Bacara Resort and Spa – one of Santa Barbara’s top two premier resorts – and I was called in for an interview.

The moment I let go of it
Was the moment I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it
Was the moment I touched down

~Alanis Morrisette

Namaste, y'all!

Letters - a Time Capsule From a Dying Art

(Written May, 2005)

My sister laughed at me when I told her.

“You WHAT?”

“I saved all my mail.”

“Who saves their mail???” She cackles even louder. But not in a mean way.

Yes, it’s true. All the letters I have ever received—letters, cards, and notes—from the tender age of 8 have been saved and organized into bundles marked by each year. Why, you may ask, did I go to all that trouble? I don’t know. But I’m glad I did. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been slowly readings them all (starting from the beginning), and it was like unearthing buried treasure.

It began with those cheesy, tiny little Valentines kids passed out to the whole class in grade school. Then birthday cards and Christmas cards (from only aunts and grandparents at first, until I gradually made more and more friends). Then came the long, newsy letters and post cards from friends and family on vacation in all parts of the world.

I rediscovered and laughed over all the teenaged angst from my friends in high school (“I’m going to DIE if Andy doesn’t like me….”).

I revisited the forgotten late-night ramblings from friends in college dorm rooms, struggling with their identity, their relationships (some with their sexual preferences), and being in total awe of all the new learning and worldliness they were experiencing.

It was interesting to see the “tone” of my siblings go from youthful and naive to more mature and responsible as they married and became parents. Heartwarming to see a scribbled picture from a three year old niece who is now a young professional in Washington D.C.! Humbling to see how I had offended others by being a little too limited in my beliefs about their life choices. It was also pretty weird to go back, knowing the outcomes of many events (such as divorces, love affairs, births, suicide etc.), and see all the telltale puzzle pieces to these outcomes, scattered throughout the years. I want to show certain people what their dreams and desires were, once—some that came true and others that completely changed. I know mine certainly have, and I wondered what it would be like to read all of my own letters to others—out in the world somewhere. (But most likely rotting in a trash heap—because who else saves their mail except whacked little me?)

“You probably feel like you’re reliving your life,” my mom commented, as she watched me grab another pile out of the huge Tupperware bin.

Yes, I thought. That’s exactly what I’m doing. And it was so much more enriching than watching TV or spending time on the Internet.

Letter writing is a dying art. It was such a fun way to find out how distant loved ones (or even local ones who felt like using their new stationery) were getting along. To see their personal handwriting, which often gave away their feelings or personality… a coffee stain, a stray crayon mark or blurred words where teardrops might have fallen…you can’t get this in emails—which so swiftly and completely replaced letters in such a short period of time. (My letter bundles went down to half their sizes, after 1999). And even though emails are faster and more efficient, nothing but NOTHING beats opening the mailbox and feeling the thrill of finding a letter from someone in the midst of junk mail and bills!

Someone gave me some stationery for a going-away gift recently. I do believe I’m going to use it. Just picturing the smile of delight on the face of the recipient will make it worth the extra fifteen minutes, the stamp, and the cramped hand.

Stand-up Zen...and the Beautiful South

(Written January, 2005)

This past weekend, I accompanied one of my dearest friends to Athens,Georgia for a workshop given by my favorite “user-friendly Zen” author, Cheri Huber. Athens was such a cool college town, and I was ever-mindful that it was the home of REM and other great rock artists. In fact, our motel was on the Atlanta Highway. Once I made the connection, “Love Shack” got stuck in my head for hours!

The workshop was “Radical Self-Acceptance,” where I continued to learn more about what Zen types call “egocentric karmic conditioning,” or – those voices that show up in your head, that are always trying to get you to believe that things are not okay as they are (and that something is ALWAYS wrong about you or your life), and that encourage you not to trust yourself. They come in many disguises, hunt you down like a dog (the Buddha called them “hungry ghosts”), and tell you convincing stories. They’re a big fan of making you suffer. (If you’d like more explanation here, pick up any book by Cheri at your local bookstore or online. I highly recommend them.)

Cheri herself was not at all what I expected. She was more like a stand-up comic in her delivery, saying outrageous and hilarious things and mocking the “ego thoughts” that we all experience, as she conferred with the group. At the same time, she was very in tune with everyone, and stayed right with them as they spoke and asked questions. She lovingly challenged some of their conditioned beliefs, helping them arrive at clarity about troubling issues, and almost always left them with a self-empowered smile when they were done. Or even a sheepish giggle.

Two stories she told stayed with me, both of which applied to my life right now. The first was about a powerful ability to let things go: A person went to her class reunion, talked with hundreds of fellow alumni, dined, drank, danced and had a fantastic evening. When she got home and looked in the bathroom mirror, she saw a big hunk of green spinach stuck to her tooth. Instead of being horrified and beating herself up about what an idiot she must’ve looked like the entire evening, she removed the spinach from her tooth, flicked it away, and said to herself, “It never happened.” (Think about how long we hold onto stuff, replaying the event and lamenting it, when it does absolutely nothing constructive for us.)

The other was so identical to my life that it about knocked me over. “A girl decides she needs to move to Indianapolis. Her family questions her and thinks she’s crazy. Instead of firmly arguing, “That’s what I’m going to do, because it’s the right thing and exactly where I should be going and I know it!”, she simply shrugs and says, “It’s just what I feel I need to do. I may be wrong, I don’t know. But it’s just where I’m being moved to go right now.”

As I plan my relocation from Ohio to California, this feels very affirming. Most everyone (that I’ve told) has been supportive. Some may indeed not understand, and perhaps I might not know, one hundred percent, if it’s the right thing. But it’s what I feel I need to do right now.

Zen stuff rules.

Peace & love, y’all!

You May Say I'm a Dreamer....

(Written in November, 2004)

I’ve been handed a bit of spiritual wealth, and I don’t want to just sit on it. I want to share. In the wake of disappointing world events, life goals and dreams that still have not yet taken shape, and other uncertainties and longing…I want to offer this hope. However, this sort of spirituality may not be your thing—so in the words of one of my favorite 12-Step sayings, just “take what you like and leave the rest.”

First of all, I suppose one has to accept (or keep an open mind to) the fact that all living beings “vibrate” at certain levels. Think about how you feel when you’re very depressed and low…do you ever notice how the energy around you is almost cold? And when you’re experiencing lots of joy and feeling on top of the world—it’s warm and buzzing and seems to radiate all around you?

According to some people, when a person is in a state of negativity, pessimism, anger, hopelessness and depression, they vibrate at such low levels that it blocks desirable things from coming into their life. Some people also believe that energy follows intention, so wherever one places their thoughts—that is where energy flows in his or her life. For example, “I’ll never be able to afford…” keeps you poor. “It’s no use…there are no good men/women left...” either keeps you alone, or with a mate who is not good for you. “Guess I’m gonna be stuck with this [insert ailment] all my life…” keeps you suffering from that particular ailment.

Belief is a powerful thing. You’ve heard of self-fulfilling prophecies, right?

Zen awareness principles encourage us to practice staying in the moment, and not project into the future with troublesome “what if’s.” I’ve heard it said that 97% of what you worry about never happens, and is beyond your control anyway, so why waste that energy? But we do it. It’s sometimes difficult NOT to do it.

So as long as we’re projecting—how about projecting something really good? Contemplate how it feels when you can afford something. When you’re making a huge bank deposit, or actually giving away excess to some charitable cause…hook up to that feeling of joy and satisfaction and prosperity. Notice how it feels when you picture yourself walking through your new, beautiful house that you’ve always dreamed about. If you’re still looking for the right mate to accompany you on your life journey…just get in tune with how it feels to come home to someone you love, to curl up with them at night, to walk hand in hand…and when they look at you, think of how it feels to see your love reflected in their eyes...tap into those feelings and just be with them for a few minutes. If someone were watching you do this from across the room, I’m certain they would see you start to glow.

It’s because when you hook up to feelings such as joy, bliss, abundance, and peace, you vibrate at extremely high levels…and a cosmic door opens wide as you tell the universe, “Hell yes! I accept this into my life…bring it!”

Let me offer some real-life examples of mass-negativity being contagious. If people in a workplace start thinking, “Oh God, it’s winter…and flu season. I just know I’m gonna get sick,” watch how fast people start coming down with colds and flu. Belief—and especially mass belief…is a powerful thing. This is why I was really worried when people started emailing floods of negative, hopeless and dire thoughts, opinions, and articles after the election. I don’t mean to get all Pollyanna on you—but if everyone believes it will all be hell….well…

Why not contemplate a world where things are happening the way you want them to happen. Belief is half the battle…if we can envision it, if we can feel how it feels, then it will make getting out and making it happen that much easier. But I honestly believe the shift in consciousness is necessary first. Away from the negative and despairing.

It’s a matter of re-training our thought patterns. If we tend to give up easily, in an Eeyore-like fashion, then we will stay in an Eeyore mode. If we constantly focus on what’s wrong with things, things will always seem broken.

A word of caution:
Try to avoid getting swept up in waves of mass negativity, whether it be news reports, people standing around bitching about something, or political emails telling you “this is what’s going to happen if so-and-so...” As far as we know, no one has the market of truth cornered, and not even the best psychics can predict everything. Create your OWN reality…a reality of hope. Things are not always as bad as they seem, and you have the power to say so…kind of like the scene in The Matrix when Keanu Reeves holds up his hand to the bullets flying at him and simply says, “No.” Sometimes it’s interesting to be in the midst of an afore-mentioned gripe session, and throw in a couple of positive “what if” seeds at them. (“What if the economy makes a vast improvement this year? What if [insert current president]’s policies just happen to solve the problem? What if you got an even better job than the one you lost? What if you saw the amount of terrorist attacks in the world begin to decrease?) Sure, they will come back at you with the typical “Yeah, right,” and “Dream on,” responses, but at least you’ve planted another image in their heads, however temporary.

Life is short enough as it is, and as precious as it is, I certainly don’t want to waste one drop worrying or despairing or refusing to believe that I can’t have things that make my heart joyful and help me thrive in this world. I can. And so can you.

I wish you all the best on your life journey!

Everything in Perspective

(Written in September, 2004)

This week is showing signs of being long and difficult. Following the old adage, "when it rains, it pours," I will be dealing with plumbing problems, taking my car to the body shop to fix the damage from someone backing into it, juggling massage clients and preparation tasks for my massage center's Open House on Friday, writing assignments due for both my business and my e-zine (some of them were begun on my laptop, which I left at my sister's house 60 miles away), and of course my busy day job.

Whenever the going gets tough like this, I try to remember what Holocaust author Elie Wiesel once said in an interview. After experiencing the horrors of concentration camps, he subtly reminded people (and this is not an exact quote, but close), "The things you consider to be problems are just mere inconveniences." Not to discount the hardships people go through, but from that perspective, he's right.

I sat in a traffic jam the other night for an hour. After an entire CD played through and I was beginning to grow claustrophobic and homicidal, I took a deep breath and tried the old Catholic trick of "offering it up." I began to think of people who had it far worse than me at that moment. At least I wasn't living in a barracks in Iraq wondering if I was going to be blown up by resistance groups at any moment. At least I wasn't going to bed hungry that night in some rat-infested tenement home—or worse, under a bridge because I’d just been evicted from one. I wasn't living in a war-torn, oppressed country, and would be able to go vote for a president this fall. At least I had a car, and didn't have to stand at bus stops for hours trying to plan my day according to Metro schedules.

Somehow, life wasn't so bad after all.

The morning sun is shining, the sky is a deep blue, my favorite season of autumn is beginning this week, and the plumbers are almost here. Life isn't so bad, really....all I have to do is breathe and keep moving forward.