Monday, December 31, 2007

Year in Review--my favs

Taking stock--here is a list of some of my favorite things of 2007. I'd call them the Jilly AWards--but that just sounds stupid.

Work of fiction--(other than Summers at Blue Lake)-- Water for Elephants

Memoir--Tie between Animal Vegetable Mineral and Julie and Julia

Non-fiction Art Lessons

Cookbook--Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook

Best book I read aloud to the kids--Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (duh!)

Favorite TV shows--Men in Trees; Entourage

Favorite movie rentals--Out of the 65 I rented this year, I can't pick one: Pi, Faith in Chaos; Jean de Flourette/Manon of the Spring; Raise the Red Lantern; Pursuit of Happyness; Sylvia

Favorite Movie with the kids--Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (We have yet to see The Golden Compass--loved the book!)

Favorite Museum and Exhibit--Mingei International Museum in San Diego and the Eva Zeisel exhibit

Favorite Music: Songs of Mass Destruction by Annie Lennox; Not too Late by Norah Jones; To Love Again by Chris Botti, Hurricane on the Bayou soundtrack, No promises by Carla Bruni

Favorite running song on my iPod: Tina Turner You Better be Good to me--extended version

Favorite song to have on while cooking (still): Superstitious

Favorite song that my daughter plays on her sax: I feel good

Favorite coffee: Green Mountain Dark Magic

Favorite wine: Life is too short to choose just one. Reynolds family Pinot Noir, perhaps? Can't get it in PA. We've been enjoying Pedroncelli, Heron. And locally, we like Moondancer's newly released meritage. Lots of reds with lots of steak dinners.

Favorite restaurant: Tratoria Fratinelli

Favorite local hangout: Johnny's Steakhouse

Favorite date night--The Greek Festival--though my 20th class reunion, Trat Frat, and First Friday in Lancaster were also good times.

Favorite place for a sunset: Moondance in Ohio

Favorite zen moment: Sitting on the "haystacks" (rock formations) and dipping my feet in the Loyalsock river.

Favorite Christmas present: A Dan Witmer sculpture to start my sculpture garden. I am notoriously hard to buy for and/or surprise. Not the type you buy jewelry for--can't get into gemstones. This was a great (almost perfect) surprise from my husband.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Big party at my table for one

When one is starting out as a writer and an artist, you often do so in seclusion. The stuff you do, the ideas you have are secrets you wear like a locket over your heart. Your talents are too fragile and too raw to share with others. Why invite criticism? Keeping your own counsel can do strange things to your mind. You wonder if you are going slightly crazy. You assume that nobody else thinks like you do. You are isolated.

One of the greatest gifts I have had now that I have had a book published is the stream of information (almost an avalanche) that has come my way through sources I didn't know existed. Other people who think like I do are coming forward and introducing themselves. People give me names of contacts, websites to explore. All of a sudden I am connecting dots so quickly they seem to be connecting themselves. While I anticipated that my book's release would give me more professional contacts; I had no idea that my biggest riches would come in the way of spiritual and philosophical contacts. I am starting now to lay the groundwork for a life I want to live. Before, I had ideas, but like I said--they were in isolation. These are some of the subjects I have been exploring:
the slow food movement, intentional simplicity, equality for women, sacred space--public (as in labyrinths) and private (as in personal altars), arts in the schools, conscious (eco) communities, small house movement, learning about other cultures, domestic violence and racism prevention, the natural world, yoga, earth-based spirituality, journaling.

The more I journey into these areas, the more I learn how related they are. Imagine my surprise when I was checking out a home design book online (chosen for the aesthetics and the move toward voluntary simplicity) and I found links to labyrinths. I examined the site further and found a link to a site called Cultural Creatives. I took the online quiz. It was like it was written for me. I think that before 2007 started, I really felt like my views on the world were peripheral and fringe. I didn't know why I was the way I was. Was this some sort of rebelliousness in my nature? Mutated DNA? The contacts I have made this year have given me the knowledge that my point of view is not all that uncommon. While I have never relied on the vaildation of others to move forward with my life, I do feel less fatigued. Moving with a current is much easier. 2008 will be a party!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Here's to you, Mrs. Claus

I just got off the phone with my sister. She was almost in tears over the rushing and obligations she has in front of her the next couple of days in the name of holiday joy, which she was having difficulty conjuring. I believe she is looking at somewhere in 5-6 range of family Christmas parties--not to mention New Year's. My sister works full time, as does her husband. In addition to his job, he is also a high school basketball coach. They have two young children. To hear her voice on the phone made me want to cry. I could feel her pain. I have been there. I have done the to-the-minute holiday choreography. She has to make a dish and wrap presents for every party she is attending. When I talked to her, she had just returned from the grocery store. She had one hour to makes a dessert, shower, and get her family to tonight's party. Not only does she have to go to all these parties, but she must work extra hours to make up for the time she must take off to go to these events.

I have often decried the disporportional amount of work that most women do for the holidays. I know there are exceptions, but I distinctly remember a college sociology class that cited women's hidden taskload: the work she does for her family includes social networking, birthday cards, welcome wagons, showers. While all of this seems like fun and games with shades of Mall Barbie, it still requires time and energy to bring about the order that is so often taken for granted. This social networking is actually a support system that keeps families afloat and gives insurance against calamity. Imagine if mom breaks her leg and needs transportation for her kids or meals for her family. The kind of work that women instinctually do help develop networks that are crucial to family survival. Women are also the main link that carries the culture from one generation to the next, which gives families a sense of belonging and a context for their own relationships.

So for the women out there, I say that you need to pat yourselves on the back; give yourself a break. So the Christmas cards didn't get mailed out this year? So what? Will anybody notice if the buffet is missing the crab dip? Not with the spinach dip and the spiced pecans. I wish I had an extra hour to gift the women of the world this holiday. A nap. A bubble bath. The yoga corpse pose. A hug. Jan, if you are out there--this hug's for you. Love ya, sis.

Return of the light

Every year, I approach our solstice service the same way--with a season's full of weariness. I must practically force myself to go to the service, which is always at night and seemingly always occurring around the same time as my cold weather anemia sets in. (Not actual anemia--that I know of--but I feel bone tired, blood tired.) And then comes the renewal that I swear will not occur this year. I am always too far gone, I think. And invariably, my mojo returns after one hour in a dark sanctuary. How is this possible? The service was beautiful last night. Conducted mostly in the dark, it featured music, poetry reading, and dance. The music was curative: Native American Flute, bagpipes, vocalists with guitar or handbells, and drumming. Absolutely calming, rhythmic, and meditative. Perfect way to kick off a week of happenings and interactions with loved ones.

This is my poem, the welcoming of the light, that I read after dancers illuminated the sanctuary with candlelight to symbolize the sun's return. Happy Solstice to all. Whatever else you celebrate this season, may you find the light you seek.

From the ebony yawn of night,
The collective void that is our complacency,
We wait for a prophet—not to redeem us
But to show us who we really are.
The darkness softens,
And our awareness shifts to thoughts of hope.
Can this night, gone from ink to velvet in a heartbeat
Bring us comfort after all?
Ah, but consolation is not the sky’s intent.

A golden cord appears on the horizon
Where previously no distinction lay.
An axis of expectation,
The long finger of light beckons us unto ourselves.
We look down, and in the pink and purplely dim
We see the outline of our own flesh.
Arm, breast, thigh, foot.
They appear before us: parts of the whole.
We remember our designations,
And say our names, first silently to ourselves,
Then aloud to our neighbors
Whose figures we can now see.
Hearing the sweet chorus, we realize
We are not alone on our watch.

Orange now. Persimmon.
The heavens beseech us to turn our gazes upward
To the tinted ripples of dawn.
The colors convulse.
We are the midwives.
Waiting for the crowning of the golden orb.
But it is our own coronation that awaits us
With a vision of what we can be--
A vision of what we can be together.

Yellow wonder.
The eye rises into plain view.
Intensity beyond our ability to measure.
We cannot look at the star directly
So we turn and view its golden reflection
As it bounces off the faces
Of those who are gathered.
Each countenance shines,
Bronzed by the light of potential.

Welcome Sun!
Welcome Possibility!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Meditation on Darkness

Our church has its annual Winter solstice service tonight. I am looking forward to it. It is always a moment of calm before the storm of activity that is our holiday. Three extended family celebrations, two family birthdays, and at least two celebrations with friends. Tonight I am participating in the service as I have in the past. (Some years, I just sit quietly and enjoy the service.) This year I am reading two meditations that I was asked to write for this service. This first one is a meditation on the darkness. I will upload the Welcome Sun meditation tomorrow. Happy Winter Solstice.

Where does color go in the dark?
The verdant splendor of spring grass.
The unabashed purple of a lilac summoning insects to her party.
The poetic hue of autumn’s harvest that can only be self-described as pumpkin orange.
And the blue of a sky that hovers near-kiss above treetops, themselves an ever-changing spectrum.
Meditation on a traffic light, the maples and oaks seem to say. . .
Before that light goes out, and we are left without guide,
Without god.

This is not a sudden power outage
But a subtlety that has caught even the most aware of us off guard.
We sit here in the dark, at the intersection of our lives.
Deprived of navigation
Waiting in fear.
Deceived into thinking we are alone.

We do not know that guide and god, color and light
Are hibernating in caves within us.
Our winter eyes are solstice blind.
Sightless but seeking, our other senses rebound.
We finally notice the heartbeat.
Its call will lead us inside
To commune with all we thought lost.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Manifestation and Flow

On Wednesday, I led a workshop on manifestation journaling at Radiance. We had a good turnout. The bulk of the workshop was spent making a manifestation collage for the New Year. Cutting and pasting images and words. Infusing them with intention as we glued them into place. The resulting pieces then gave us a visual on which to train our minds.

I like giving workshops because they allow me to study and practice the subjects that interest me in a way that gives my study purpose other than my own enjoyment. (In other words, I get to tell my husband that I am preparing to teach a workshop when, in fact, I am just reading about something that interests me.) Last month, my workshop was supposed to be about FLOW in journaling and in life. We didn't have enough participants to make that fly. I was hoping to do that workshop before the workshop on manifestation because I was going to concentrate on the phenomenon of flow (which I describe as a river of energy that moves us in the direction of our goals). When we align ourselves with the flow, we are able to accomplish things with more efficiency. In discussing flow, I was going to focus on impediments to the flow and how to move past them. You can see why I would want to address this before moving on to manifestation. Now, I will be giving this workshop in February. And yet, it is working according to plan. While we were collaging, someone recommended a book on flow that I had not read. Most of my research came from people who were looking at flow as a spiritual force, a universal energy reserve that individuals can tap into and activate as they simultaneously lose themselves in the collective.
The recommended book, one that I am half-way finished reading, is called Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It deals with flow as a psychological experience which imprints on the quality of life. I find it fascinating as I see the same phenomenon through a scientific lens. The book is anecdotal enough to keep it from being dry, but this is no self-help tome. Still, it offers insights on personality and the mechanics of the optimal experience (Dare I say---happiness?) that can be used to question ones own practices. It is interesting that the more I delve into creative journaling practices, the more I learn about psychology. Jungian interpretation of mandalas, for example. Mandalas were another subject that I first approached from the realms of the spiritual and of art. Art, writing, religion, science: It's all interconnected.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Another great weekend

On Friday night, we had a small gathering to watch my alma mater, Univeristy of Delaware, lose the national championship in football. We didn't actually watch much of the game. Instead, it was a casual gathering of friends, reconnecting over food (fried ravioli was the favorite) and the comical game Boxers or Briefs.

On Saturday morning, we met my in-laws for breakfast. We used to meet them on a weekly basis, back in the day when the kids were small. I think my marathon training in 2003 curbed that. It has been a long time since I had breakfast out (not including the occasional bagel, muffin run). I enjoyed just sitting and being waited upon. Afterwards, the kids went to make press cookies with grandma. They do it every year. Mark and I went shopping, took a nap, and then went to Moon Dancer winery to taste their newly released Meritage and listen to an instrumental trio play holiday music. We finished our day at Mark's parents, where we had an extended family dinner over take-out (but still--I didn't have to feed anybody all day!).

Sunday, the weather was awful with sleet and rain. I remained in my pajamas, reading mostly, until about 4 PM when we declared an end to sloth and inactivity with a family yoga session. Dinner (A pretty fancy affair considering that I didn't cook at all the day before. We ate in the dining room). A game of pinochle. The Survivor finale. All activities done as a family, so that was pretty special. My kids are growing up. We won't have these kind of days forever.
So there you have it: a weekend in which I spent time with friends, extended family, my husband, time alone and with my immediate family.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fun with kids

A couple very close to us has infertility issues and accidentally left a book at our house about some of the technology and advances in treatment of infertility. I know they will have children eventually. I can feel it. I can't complain about our own experience. We scored two of the most beautiful babies with only the slightest road blocks. (I can say that now--looking back.) I don't know what I expected when I became a mother, but I don't know that I expected these two people to become some of my great teachers. And I didn't expect them to become so wise, so fast. Now they are 10 and 13, which means they are fully reasoning people. And the stuff they reason makes me alternately shake my head or smile.

Back to the infertility book that was left at our house. Somehow its presence and the talk of test-tube babies led my son and I to an interesting conversation on how Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) was conceived. It was not immaculate conception as I originally thought--and which was implied in the Star Wars movies. Jonah, who has read further on these things, informed me in his mechanical tone that a sith lord fashioned a man out of the force to copulate with Anakin’s mom.

I’m so glad we cleared that up. I would hate to be ignorant about the fathering capabilities of the force.

My daughter came home from school with a story with relates to her growing maturity. It seems there is a tradition in her school where the third graders write to Santa and select fifth graders write back to them as Santa. Maren's particular third grader, a boy, asked for a toy helicopter and a lemur. Maren politely replied that this boy was a good boy and would probably score the helicopter, but because lemurs are endangered species, they are better left in their own habitat.

There you have it. May the force and Santa Claus be with our loved ones this holiday season so they too can know the wisdom of the next generation.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Yo! Perfect Weekend

On Friday night, my husband, daughter and I braved the weather (a sloppy freezing rain mix) to drive to Lancaster for First Friday when all the art galleries are open. The impetus was to see art photos of Tuscany by my friend Nan. Gallery DePaul is a lovely space, and we enjoyed taking in the images of one of the places where I dearly want to go. To see sunny Tuscany while a wintry mix threatens Pennsylvania is an act of great hope. While we were there, the gallery director stopped us. She wants my daughter to model for a photo series she is doing. This is fairly typical. Every time I take my daughter with me, the first Friday crowd fawns over her. She is a little actress in training, so of course, she is up for modeling. She does for me and my artwork all the time.

We only went to a few other galleries. We stopped in at Red Raven where I will have my artwork in February. We talked to one of the owners of the gallery who, besides being an artist, was a track coach back in the day when my husband and I ran high school track. He remembered Mark, and we were able to reminisce a little. My daughter fell in love with a little Yorkshire Terrier in the next gallery, but Mark and I were entranced by the man who was sharing his art of homemade breads. Then we went home and had some Mexican cheese fondue with my son who had been reading the whole time. (Probably the better bad weather pursuit.)

On Saturday, we rose early and went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a family. We are now new members of the museum and were going to see the Renoir landscape exhibit. Early birds, we killed time climbing the steps and showing the kids the Rocky statue--and explaining the lore. The exhibit itself was great. As I am trying out some new landscape paintings, I found lots of inspiration. We also checked out other Renoirs in the museum collection and the armor. My son is twice removed from his obsession with knights, but part of him is still intrigued. We went for lunch at Delilah's Soul Food at Reading Terminal Market. Oprah voted her macaroni and cheese best in the country, but we thought it was just average at best. Mostly it was a waste of the time we spent fantasizing about it. On the way out of the city, we stopped by the Rodin Museum. It is quite small, but doable for a family of four with little attention span left.
When we got home, we discovered that Rocky was going to be on TV later that night. We decided to watch it as an end to our Philadelphia experience, but there was time. I made us some open-faced cheeseburgers on sour dough bread, and we took the interim to teach the kids how to play pinochle. Pinochle is the card game I grew up playing at my grandmother's house with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. If you read my book, Summers at Blue Lake, I can tell you that the card playing came out of real experience. The kids caught on fast, but we stopped the lesson and watched Rocky, marveling at the landmarks we had just seen that day and during Mark's marathon.

Sunday was a continuation of our arts quest. My daughter and I took in High School Musical--the musical at the local theater. It was well-done. Maren saw signs for coming auditions, so of course she will be going (if she can work it around her modeling gigs). The night ended with what is sure to become a famous spicy chicken dinner (see previous post), some conciliatory chocolate chip cookies, and more pinochle (the kids have the fever now!).

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Laura, Nellie, and the Cinnamon Chicken episode

I've been rewatching all the Little House episodes with my 10-year-old daughter. We are on season nine. Anyone remember the episode in season six when Almanzo comes to town and Nellie offers to cook him dinner? She can't cook, so she enlists Laura to make Almanzo's favorite dish: cinnamon chicken. Laura has a crush on Almanzo, so she sabotages the meal by replacing the cinnamon with ground red cayenne pepper. Nellie and Almanzo take one bite of the dish and they go running for the water.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. We aren't on TV, but I am making chicken paprikash, the Hungarian chicken stew made with plenty of sweet paprika--or so I thought. I accidentally grabbed the--you guessed it--ground red cayenne pepper and added the prescribed 2 tablespoons to the simmering chicken. I guess my first clue should have been the coughing my family did as they fought the airborne pepper on their way to the dinner table. Three out of four of us managed to eat the meal with liberal glasses of milk and dollops of sour cream. I only realized my mistake halfway through dinner after my husband kept saying, "I didn't realize that paprika was so spicy."


I wanted to say that while I was reading Animal Vegetable Miracle, I was simultaneously reading my new cookbook: Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook. (I had the good fortune of eating at the Mesa Grill in Vegas for my 37th birthday.) This book is at cross purposes with the Kingsolver plan. Recipes include ingredients of a tropical nature such as mangoes, hot peppers, plantains, etc. Bobby includes ideas for seasonal menus which may or may not include some hard-to-get ingredients for the season. And I will undoubtedly make some of these dishes. I am not a holier-than-thou foodie, just one that is trying.

Animal Vegetable Miracle, Part II

I've finished the book, and while I am not going to go out and order my own flock of chickens who are known to lay eggs through the winter months, the book has influenced me to change some of my ways. I am never going to be a purist, but I do think I can work on ways to give my family and me a more intimate relationship with the food we eat and the area where we live.

1. I do want to join Slow Food organization. The money has kept me from doing it in the past, and will probably keep me from joining in any month surrounding the holidays, but the impetus is there, and I will work toward that goal.

2. I will become cognizant of where my grocery store produce hails, and make local choices, when I have the option.

3. I will visit the farmers' stand BEFORE I go grocery shopping. I know they get some food shipped to them, so I will make sure to ask which products are grown on their property. No excuses. This particular stand is one mile from my house.

4. I will give cheesemaking a try. I admit that this is mainly a curiosity, and I would check it out even if it weren't connected to a cause.

5. I will be a more conscious gardener. I'm not saying I'll be bigger or better, but I will put more thought into it and try to engage my kids more in the act of raising food.

6. I will plan more of our meals around seasonal food. I do this to some extent now, but I will be aware of how often I do this and when I veer. I do have a pretty good idea what foods come into season and when, so that is a start.

7. I will look into buying local eggs, meats, poultry, and flour. Not knowing what my choices are, I don't want to promise that I will always buy local, organic, free range, but I am on the lookout.

8. I will look for fair trade coffee. I am looking to cut down my coffee to 1 cup a day and to eliminate the diet soda (who wants all those chemicals) anyway. This is as good an excuse as any.

Some things won't happen. I don't anticipate giving up citrus, fish, or cheese from other countries. I do can and freeze some of my own foods, but I don't know that I'll step up production. These steps aren't mandates, but goals I have for myself. I think they fall within the realm of what is practical for me and my family at this time, yet uncomfortable enough to stretch us out of our comfort zone. Isn't growth-- of animals, plants, and the human spirit--what this is all about?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Animal Vegetable Miracle, Part I

I am reading the newest nonfiction book by Barbara Kingsolver (one of my favorite novelists) called Animal Vegetable Miracle. It is about the quest of her family to eat locally for one year. I highly recommend this book to anyone who eats. (I realize this includes everyone on this planet.) This subject is intense and may lead me to more than one blog entry, but I'll start here with a bit of my foodie background.
When I was young, my mother had a HUGE garden. She canned jellies and froze corn and green beans. We had a small orchard on our property that usually gave up enough fruit for pies. And we had the great zucchini harvest like anyone else with a garden. My mom liked gardening. And she was frugal. I always imagined that it was these two things combined with a heritage of gardeners that drove her to garden, more than a love of food. (My mother is one of those people who could be satisfied living off air, I think.)
Fast-forward to my first house and plot of land. It was small and in-town, so I carved out a garden with 6 4'x4' raised beds in which I planted by a method called square foot gardening. I did not garden because I loved the work. Tight hamstrings aren't conducive to bending over. And I'll take paint over dirt under my fingernails any day. I have, however, inherited some of my mother's frugality, but by my calculations and on the scale I was working the land, I am not too sure that I didn't spend more than I got back in the harvest. Unlike my mother, I do have a love of food--the more experimental--the better. My whole reason for gardening was to grow things that had yet come into vogue in the markets in my area. I was after the unusual. Fresh herbs (at the time, stores only sold dried herbs and fresh curly parsley), yellow tomatoes, kohlrabi, tomatillos, hot peppers (All colors and range of hotness), endive, Japanese Eggplant, arugula. If it was an exotic, I was growing it.
Slowly, the area grocery stores started catching up to my tastes. Even if the produce was on the pricey side--it spared my hamstrings. I continued to garden though. In our newer house with a bigger back yard, I still managed 3 small beds with tomatoes and peppers mostly. One year, I tried growing all purple vegetables just for the quirkiness of it. You'd be amazed how many varieties of vegetables come in purple besides eggplant. There are tomatoes, peppers (hot and sweet), beans, peas, cauliflower, sage, basil, and lettuce.
The way I gardened is the way I shopped. I sought out the strangest ingredients so I could lift the cover off my culinary creations with a big TA-DA. The best supermarkets were the ones who carried chutney, ginger, avocado, fresh herbs, frisee, an array of worldly cheeses --from sheep and goat's milk as well as cow's milk, blood oranges, mangos, escargot, lamb, crawfish, ground veal, turkey sausage in many flavors, proscuitto, quinoa, Meyer lemon infused oil. You get the picture. I still travel 35 minutes to shop at a grocery store that best fits my needs.
When I read books by Frances Mayes, in which she hailed the slow food movement, I felt I was doing my part: cooking daily, foods to be eaten with relish around a table. Not some prepackaged mix that you added a pound of your own ground beef. I may not have been Alice Waters, visiting the the farmers everyday to select the best of what was growing in the fields, but most of my meals came from the actual produce section, not some can or box. And I did cook recipes from magazines that boasted the current month's date. How's that for seasonal?
Then along comes Barbara Kingsolver, and she blows me out of the grocery store. She and the slow food movement expect more of me. Most generally their mandates are the following: buy local produce (to spur local economies and conserve fuel of transporting crops from distant lands). Buy seasonal produce. (Cucumbers don't grow here in the winter, so if I am going to be local, I have to be seasonal). Buy meat from animals which were humanely raised. Produce more of your own food, so you can place yourself directly in the food chain and have more reverence for your food and the land. (I especially like the part where she makes her own cheese!) I am still reading this book, so I will have to see what kind of changes will come into to my cooking and eating. But the first, step--questioning the way I do things--has already begun.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Labyrinth lure

Next on my list of December adventures was a workshop on labyrinths. These look like mazes, but they only have one path. Walking them is a meditation of sorts that helps align your chakras and balance the hemispheres in your brain. Labyrinths often have a symmetry and a mathematical proportions that act on the brain on an unconscious and decidedly non-verbal level. Often this is referred to as sacred geometry. Labyrinths that use this sacred geometry have have been found across cultures and religions including Christian, Ancient Greek, and Native American traditions. They are like mandalas in that they are used for meditation and have perimeters and a point of focus--all of which work on our psyches in specific ways. Many labyrinths were supposed to have mystical powers and therefore fell out of favor during the Age of Reason. But in this age of disconnect, labyrinths are making a resurgence in places like the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., among other places such as hospital grounds--where they can be used for healing properties.
I have studied labyrinths and the metaphor of the spiral for years and walked a half-dozen different labyrinths, not to mention used the symbology in my art and writing. Yesterday's walk was a meditation on trust. That is one of the metaphors--trusting that the curving path would bring a person to center even on the times when the path seemed to be leading away from its heart. I feel that way about my artistic journey--as though, in my art and writing, I am moving away from the direction I need to be, but I need to trust the process. The vision I received in this particular walk was that of seeds. I need to plant my seeds and not worry about the harvest. Trust that the path I am on will bring me to the point I need to be.
Helpful labyrinth links:
Mid-Atlantic Geomancy
Worldwide Labyrinth locator


I am having the loveliest little December imaginable. On the 1st, we went out and got our tree. We tromped a lot of tree plantations, with a sweatered pug dog in tow. Spent more money than we should have on the tree and then found a place where they sold them for half of what we paid. But OH WELL! We decorated the tree with our motley collection of ornaments. But each ornament is a memory. We have an ornament from virtually all of our travels. The kids get ornaments each year that commemorate what they are doing in their lives and/or what they were for Halloween. As a result, we have ornaments that depict acting, fencing, baseball, Raggedy Ann, Thomas, Dorothy, Storm troopers, Buzz Light Year, knights, out heritage (Pennsylvania Dutch and Lithuanian ornaments), cooking, knitting, golfing, dance. As well as from places such as Cancun, San Fran, Puerto Rico, France, Disney, Baltimore, New York, etc. Plus, I am growing a collection of purple ornaments. So decorating our tree is always a dreamy experience.
My brother and his wife were over. To make our event even more festive, I made a steak dinner that was dynamite (if I do say so myself). Cajun spiced flat-iron steaks with bleu cheese sage sauce, twice baked potatoes with rosemary caramelized onions and mushrooms, and plain old green beans. Then Mark broke into the stash he was going to use for the Christmas stockings, and we watched college football while eating fun-sized snickers bars. He is ecstatic that Ohio State (the team we've been following for 10 years) is once again in the BCS championship game. I was more into the Snickers than football, but I'm not complaining.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Afraid of the dark

I cheated. I posted yesterday's post this morning. We had a power outage for 5 hours last night that made it impossible to log on and post. I was running around all day yesterday. First was my 7 hour trip to New Hope and back. I got to share nachos with a friend of mine. We caught up about jobs and families as we sat in the empty Mexican restaurant. Later she accompanied me to the gallery and boosted my confidence by being there. I came home and was off again to my daughter's dance class. We got home from that, and I was making dinner when the power went out. The turkey BLT's were done, but the broccoli soup was still in its ice cube form. We ate our sandwiches by the light of 20 candles. Then, we went out to look at the stars, unobstructed by the lights from neighboring houses. After that, I tried to read, but I must have been allergic to one of the candles, because I had an allergy attack. Took medicine and went to bed. But alas, I don't know if was my active day or the allergy meds, but my mind was racing in that high-octane anxiety kind of way. Most of the anxiety was aimed the fact that I am going to have to paint under pressure. I have never done that before. It was like a boogeyman in the dark. Luckily for me, my daytime mind is not quite as anxious as my nighttime mind. I'm going to work out some ideas for paintings this week and start fresh on Monday. As my friend Marsha says, "Not fearful news--but exciting news."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Gallery Piquel

I went to Gallery Piquel in New Hope. I showed my work to Tamara Cannon, the proprietor and she took 5 of my pieces to sell. I was thrilled. I had no idea that she was looking to take them immediately. I thought she might look at them and say, bring me 5 pieces in April. I am ecstatic, but part of me is terrified. The pieces she took were pieces I was considering putting in Red Raven Gallery in late January. Now I have to come up with replacement pieces in time to get giclee prints done and frames on some of the canvases. It isn't that I doubt my abilities, but I've done some clunkers lately. I need a painting I can feel good about. So, while November was dedicated to blogging and Thanksgiving, December is going to have to be about kicking some writing and art butt! Where does that put the holiday exactly? I am hoping to continue to blog in a regular fashion. I have gained some readers and friends through NaBloPoMo, and I'd like to continue the momentum.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In the Company of Women

Yesterday, my friend who works in an professional setting that is dominated by men and in a household that is dominated by football, emailed to set up a women's night out. There have been times when I have needed such a gathering--desperately. These occurred when I was working full-time, the kids were small, and my husband was on the road one week out of the month. I would have given a kidney to have someone push me out the door and into a seat in the circle of women. In those days spinning classes were my only escape. But today my fellowship (it is an odd word when talking about women) with females is abundant and remarkable. In the last month alone, I have held journaling classes with a total of 50 women in attendance, I have attended 2 all-women yoga classes, I had a glass of wine on 3 occasions with my friend Patti, I had coffee twice with my friend Marsha, I attended a book club and discussion group--all women, walked on separate occasions with my mom and sister-in-law, and went Christmas shopping with my sister and mother-in-law. Tonight I am attending the third in series of films on feminist religious practices at church. Again, we will be an all-female crowd.
I am not excluding men (or the classical male experiences) in my life. I've watched college football and the Men in Black films. I've cheered my husband on in his marathon and ate Philly Cheese steaks with him afterwards. I did stop short of watching the Rocky film fest Mark recorded on TV. Couldn't do it. I may have watched the first one, but we only managed to record III-V.
My real point is to say that I have enjoyed so much camaraderie with my girlfriends lately, and it has enriched my life and made this time of year, when women get bogged down with holiday minutiae, so much more enjoyable. I want to thank my sisters for all the love. And if my friend needs me to balance out her life a little during this time, I will be there for her as well. I've got a lot of the girl power in my stores, ready to give.

**What I could use right now is a spinning class or two.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Artist's Resume

Today I signed a contract for a gallery for a February showing I am doing. I also had to supply them with an artist's statement and resume. I've had this assignment for about a month now. I have had the artist statement completed; I used it in my show at Moon Dancer winery. The thing that was tripping me up was the resume. I...uh...don't have much to say. Don't get me wrong, I have done a lot with myself in these last couple of years. But from a gallery perspective, I have done nada. The most I could write was about my BFA in Fine Arts, my work as a fabric designer, a few publications that have included my artwork, and my Moon Dancer show. I also included a line about my novel, but I think it was just to cover some of the white space on the sheet.
I don't belong to any associations. I have not participated in any group shows. I have not studied under other artists or taken any classes. I have conducted workshops on writing and creative journaling, and I have addressed groups about my artwork, but those seemed to say more about me and less about the work I was presenting.
It's no secret. The gallery director knows my background. It was just an odd feeling to understand that while I have a lot on my life resume, my art resume makes for pretty light reading.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Going to the Mall

The mall isn't exactly Italy, but it is my tradition to go shopping with my kids, my mother-in-law, my sister and her kids on the first day of hunting season. The kids see Santa, we get some shopping done, eat a fun lunch, and head to IKEA to buy wrapping paper and other sundries we don't need but are too cheap to dismiss. I only got two presents off the list of things I needed to buy. Because this is a year I must budget wisely, I think it is interesting to note the things I almost bought today, but didn't. (And if I had been working at a regular paying job, I probably would not have thought twice about buying.)

1. A new red blouse for family gatherings. I'll wear something I already own.
2. A spiral bound weekly calendar refill at Franklin Covey. It's what I want, but my mom already got me a lesser calendar than the one I had my eye on. I guess I'll try using that one and see if it works. This was probably the hardest thing for me to put back.
3. Plates at IKEA. I have these square salad plates, I love. I have them in white and in blue. I have a cabinet of all white dishes. The decision was whether to get rid of the blue and go strictly with the white.
4. Cutting boards at IKEA. I have enough cutting boards for me, but at our Thanksgiving prep party it would have been nice to have a few more.
5.Purple star lights--10 on a string. This is self-explanatory. Why I would want them and why I would put them back.
6. Bubble bath at Bath and Body Works. My favorite is Lavender Vanilla. They were out and had Vanilla Chamomile. I almost caved, but I am holding out for my true love.
7. Many dollars worth of decorative pillows at IKEA. I wanted them in the worst way, but I needed to keep the budget open for presents.
8. A Starbucks peppermint white chocolate mocha. I do not need the calories, so when my mother-in-law offered to pull off at the rest stop to get some, I kept mum.
9. New royal blue potholders and dish towels at Kitchen Kapers. I noticed at Thanksgiving that mine are getting a little worn.

It is funny what things you can find to spend money on and what things you really don't need. I am proud of myself for the purchases I didn't make.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Going to Italy

After church today, we attended a travel lecture by a woman who is a renowned storyteller and mime in our area. She has been having a love affair with Italy for the past 6 years. I have been having an unrequited love affair with Italy for the same period of time. Terri showed us slides of a sculpture workshop, the beaches, mountains, play houses, sculpture parks, kitchens, the people, the architecture, the house she almost bought, and the marble quarries. On this side of the ocean, I drink my chianti and make my spaghetti Bolognese. I grow basil and make pesto. I read books by Frances Mayes, Marlena De Blasi, and just recently Elizabeth Gilbert. I forgo Rachel on the Food Network and hone in on Giada and Mario.
Friends of ours, just returned from a tour of Florence and Venice. I drooled over their pictures. Another friend, Nan, went for a photographer's tour of Tuscany. The gallery who sponsored the trip is going to have a showing of the group's work in December.
So, I am appealing to La Befana, the Italian Christmas Witch for a little magic to get Jill (and her family) to Italy. Besides that, I just really like the idea of a Christmas Witch. Buon Natale!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The next round of holidays

We did go out and shop yesterday. Mark wanted to get out of the house. And we did get the teensiest bit of holiday shopping done. Trying not to get stressed out by it. It isn't the shopping that gets to me so much as the worthlessness. We seem to get the same stuff for people year after year and it is hard to get excited by it all. Our kids have so many possessions that it is an effort to buy for them. They don't even know what to want, and in order to store it, they have to have a big purge every year right before they get new gear.
It sounds terrible, but I'd just like to cancel it some year and take a breather on a warm beach or a cabin in the woods with just Mark and the kids. I could do the world more good by peaceful meditation and journaling. Observe the natural world--the solstice. Breathe with the darkness. Watch the sunrise. Chant something. Beat drums. Welcome the light. Offer gratitude. Listen to my daughter play sax. Play games. Sit by a fire (or by the surf, depending on where we were). Maybe we'd perform some sort of community service before we left. Something as a family to give back to the larger world. It seems so simple--doesn't it? Why do we allow ourselves to get carried away by tradition and commercialism?
Today I am thankful for the traditions that do have meaning to me. The solstice service at church. Our tree. It is decorated with ornaments that commemorate memories--places we've been, stages of childhood, our pets. I do enjoy holiday music--all kinds and all traditions. And hearing from faraway friends. I especially like the photographs and long juicy letters that tell what every body's been doing over the course of their year. And I enjoy the fresh start that a new year affords us. A great time to ponder life's mysteries.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Foreign Films

Last night after everyone went home, our family watched two foreign films: Jean De Florette (selected as on of the New York Times 1,000 best films ever made) and Manon of the Spring. We took a break for Thanksgiving leftovers between films. I've always loved these movies. We first watched them over 12 years ago. In fact, we considered naming our daughter Manon, which is a little eerie because our daughter looks like the main character with her blond curly hair and blue eyes. They even prance alike. (We eventually named her Maren . Both Manon and Maren are derivatives of the name Mary.) I think this may have been the first foreign films my kids have seen. Maren asked if it counted toward her reading goals for school. Considering, she was reading for 4 hours, it should count for something. (Educators say to put close captioning on TV when your kids are watching for improved literacy. A good idea we never used--mainly because the kids don't watch much TV--but foreign films force the issue.)
It was a perfect way to end the holiday for me. My husband kept up with dishes. We must have done 6 loads in the dishwasher yesterday.
I don't go shopping on Black Friday. It's more of a recovery day for me. I am not a great shopper. I don't enjoy it as sport. Mark doesn't go hunting. So, for us, we just got to sleep in today, and that was priceless!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

The day seemed to go off without a hitch. We hosted both side of our family--a total of 18 people. Only my brother Jed and his family were missing. I did not set off the smoke detector. Not sure whether it was due to my new roasting pan, the smaller size of the turkey or the fact that it was warm enough to keep window open. My two favorite recipes of the day were the following: Blobby Flay's Smoked Chile Scalloped Sweet Potatoes. Simple--only 4 ingredients. If you double this, don't double the sauce--just the potatoes. And use sweet potatoes--not yams. This was my other favorite new recipe of the day. Giada De Laurentiis's Rosemary Cheese Breadsticks. Nobody will know you cheated and used Pillsbury. Both are simple. Both go well with the classic dishes. The rest of the menu--for posterity:

Prep Party the night before: Hot spinach dip with Pumpernickel bread; beef stew; Autumn salad (lettuce, carrots, corn, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, apple chips, in a pumpkin vinaigrette); spiced wafer cookies with pumpkin dip

Appetizers: Williamsburg peanuts, Assorted Olives, Brie with Jalapeno Jelly on crackers, Cranberry cocktails

Main menu: Roast Turkey with Italian Apple stuffing and Riesling gravy; Smashed potatoes; Scalloped sweet potatoes; Creamed corn; Green bean casserole with goat cheese, red peppers and sauteed onions; breadsticks; Pedronocelli Mother Clone Zinfandel

Dessert: Pumpkin Layer cake with spiced Cream cheese icing; Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake with Hazelnut brittle garnish

I guess it is obvious that I love food. And I am thankful for this day which allows me to play chef and invent different combinations. We also had a nice looking table. it was supposed to be an all white and cream table, but I changed it last minute to be white with red accents. On Monday, it snowed at our house. It was the first time that it ever snowed while we still had red leaves on the trees. Everyone in our neighborhood has a maple tree that turns red, so the red and white together were stunning. I threw some of the red leaves across my white table runner and used red napkins against our white dishes. It is very unusual for us to have red leaves this late in the season. Very festive!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Degree of Difficulty

My sister and I laugh when we think about putting together my sister-in-law's bridal shower. We were up half the night making crepewiches and putting ribbons on the coffee cups we gave as souvenirs for the French-themed party. At the time we said we were going for the "degree of difficulty" points as if we were Olympic divers, gymnasts, or ice skaters.

Here are the degree of difficulty tricks I am attempting for Thanksgiving:

1. An all-white table complete with a non-descript table runner that, despite its average nature, took me 3 hours to make last night.

2. Recovering 6 kitchen chairs. I've had the fabric for a year and am waiting until the day before Thanksgiving to execute.

3. Having a prep party where I pretend to have people help me make the food, but instead, I make an entire other meal and we play games.

4. Amidst preparations today, I have my parent/teacher conference with my daughter's teacher.

5. Yesterday, I made homemade hazelnut brittle to serve as a garnish on my chocolate hazelnut cheesecake.

6. I told my son he could have a friend stay overnight last night when I really needed his help with preparations this morning.

7. I invited my niece and nephew to spend the night tonight.

8. I still have grocery shopping to do and wine to buy. (In Pennsylvania--that's two separate stores.)

9. I decided to wash all my decorative pillows. Now I have to sew the inserts back into them.

10.Despite the fact that we are having a sweet potato gratin and I declared that to be the sole potato dish, I am caving to my husband's demand for mashed potatoes.

Why am I doing all this? It's not a holiday where I get a crown or presents. It is a holiday where all the men chow down and then excuse themselves to go watch football. It feels like I am having football referees judge my triple axle toe loop double camel combo.

Today I am thankful for 24 hours in each day. Hopefully I can use them to the fullest advantage.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

5 Post meme

This one is from Sognatrice. She is retaliating for yesterday. Still it is a worthwhile assignment. Could someone tell me what Meme stands for?

Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given below (family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like).
Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.
Don’t forget to read the archived post and leave comments.I like this meme because it gives me a chance to point out posts that new readers may have missed.
FAMILY: in full of wonder This is one of my all-time favorite family posts. I had to dig for it in my old blog because my new blog is less about family life and more about my writing/art life. And this post is seasonal.
Power of Two This one is hard. I have so many friends with whom I do so many kickin' activities. It is hard to limit. My friends have seen me through childbirth, my marathon, publishing triumphs and woes...everything. I have been with my friends through their major life events, too. I am choosing this blog because it talks about women promoting one another. Two women appear in this blog. One is someone I met 10 years ago, a year after we moved into the development. The other is a friend I have known since I was in first grade. What's that girl scout song? Make new friends and keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.
Spiral Theory and Practice This post says a lot about me. At one time I used the name SpiralAmethyst to post on Message boards. This ties into the way I see myself.
A short untitled post from an anniversary years ago before I actually had a blogging service. Another anniversary post. While I tend to think that love happens best in the moments between celebrations, I think that seeing how we commemorate our anniversaries says a lot about who were are. We aren't about showy displays--nothing contrived. We don't have a tradition. Instead, we take year as it comes and honor where we are and who we are together in that moment.
City Mouse vs. Country Mouse This is a recent post, but I think it sums up how I view the pull the world has on me, and most often it is dichotomous. For every side of me there seems to be an opposite truth. It keeps me in the gray zone. I am always questioning--never black and white.
Now I'm supposed to tag 5 bloggers , but I am preparing for Thanksgiving, so I am asking for some of my readers to tag themselves and put your names in the comment section. I'll add a link to you in the post. Now, I must go see about a table runner and a turkey.
Today I am thankful for Advil. Mark and I are both taking Advil for different afflictions and it is making us nicer people. I forgot yesterday's thankful moment. So I am thankful for neighbors. We have a nice neighborhood where people are friendly and properties are well-groomed, often with seasonal displays. I can call on them for help, and they can call on me. We might not all be bosom buddies, but I bet I could count on most of the people in this 'hood if I really needed help.

Monday, November 19, 2007

7 Unusual Things About Me

I have been tagged By Leandra Ganko through NaBloPoMo, so here goes nothing.

1. I love the mid-20th century design aesthetic. Heywood Wakefield furniture, graphic printed fabric, Eva Zeisal servingware. I love Eames chairs, but I don't own any. I have the perfect space for two of them in my living room.

2. I recieved my online ordination. I haven't sent in for the certificate to perform weddings, but I could. I believe that the divine resides in each of us, so we should all be ordained.

3. I married my first boyfriend, so I've never experienced a break-up. I have no regrets about that. He was the one. We've been together for over 21 years. I don't ever wish for a more varied experience because I have novel-writing: I get to experience anything I want through my characters.

4. I don't have any tattoos because I could never commit to an image for the rest of my life. I can commit to a man, but not to a single piece of art.

5. I love going to art museums, but I can only usually hit one or two galleries before I am done.
Either I have a very short attention span or my brain gets too stimulated and I must leave before I explode. (Maybe that's what a short attention span is.)

6. My kids think I am crazy, but I have told them that I am the first person they ever met; therefore, I am the norm against which they measure all others. Everybody else may be crazy when compared to me.

7. I love cheese. My husband bought me gourmet cheese chocolates for Valentines' Day. They were actually very good. A cheesetasting party is the best party to have.

Link to the person that tagged you and post these guidelines on your blog.
Share 7 random or weird things about yourself.
Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

I am tagging Sharon Naylor, Michelle Abeyta, JulieAnn Henneman , Sognatrice, Lilymania, Diahn Ott and Tracey Brewer Medley.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Marathon Man

Mark did well today at the Philadelphia marathon. He had two goals: under 3:45 and under 4 hours. Why two goals? To make the race realistic for him. No matter. A raw day, but blessedly free of the freezing rain that came later. His official time was 3:42:31. Afterwards, tired but resilient, he hobbled back to the car. I am glad it wasn't a piece of cake for him. After all that training it needed to be tough to justify the effort. (And more selfishly, I had such a tough time with the same feat in 2003, that I needed this to be ugly for him as well.) He felt the pain at mile 24 when his back seized up in the cold. Up until that point he had been running at a pace of 3:40. The last 2.2 miles were brutal for him. We (our kids, Mark's brother and wife--my running partner, their kids, and I) cheered him from different vantage points and found him shivering beneath his Mylar blanket at the finish. After a detour of Philly cheese steaks, we went home and napped. I usually can't nap for more than 20 minutes, but I was out for two hours. Did I experience sympathy fatigue? Today I was grateful for the nap, my warm bed, the people who supported Mark (nod to the the East Pete Woods, Jeff Steed and Doug Yoder), and that Mark safely finished his race.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

No time to blog

Does it count as blogging if I log on and say I have no time to blog? I am making a main course for a dinner party at our house, cleaning, recovering a chair, hanging pictures, and watching a football game.

I did forget my gratitude yesterday, so I have to think up two today. I also gave up on my complaint bracelet until after Thanksgiving. I simply cannot monitor myself in the midst of preparations for my favorite holiday.

So today I am thankful for my kids and their help in cleaning and shopping and preparing for the holiday. They are such good kids. They are helpful and don't complain (much).

Yesterday I was thankful that my husband had the day off, and we spent it together.

Friday, November 16, 2007

To run again

Today, Mark and I went to Philadelphia to pick up his marathon race packet. We had a nice autumn foliage-lined drive past the boathouses and up to the art museum. The next time Mark sees that road will be on the last leg of his marathon--which means he won't really be seeing it at all. I know. I ran the Chicago marathon 4 years ago. I have no memory of the last 6 miles of my race.
In the spirit of that event, Mark and I had lunch at Maggianos, which is where I ate (in Chicago) before my marathon. It is a weird mix of deja vu and sadness. 2007 is the first year since 1998 that I have not completed at least one road race. Nothing. Not even a 5K. From marathon to nothing in 4 short years. I hope that 2006 wasn't the end for me. I hope that I still have more running in my future. Walking around the expo was powerful inspiration. I especially liked the running shirts with sayings. "This seemed like a good idea 3 months ago." "This is my race speed." And "Run like a girl."

I also have Mark as an inspiration. He hasn't run regularly since college. Of the two of us, I was the steady runner. (Plodding, but steady). But this year, due to a weight-loss competition at work, Mark lost 45 pounds. Only after that did he start a running regimen. He didn't start out training for a marathon. He did a pretty good 5-mile race and decided to go for a half-marathon. After that event, he figured, he was already half-way there, so he decided to try for the full marathon. It's been an interesting 3 months. He's asked me about different things about the marathon. Some things, I remember, and some things, I gratefully have retained NO memory. I need to ask T, my running partner, what she remembers. She is planning to stand beside me and cheer for Mark. I will be glad to have her there. I can't speak for her, but this gig as a spectator has revitalized my will to run. I hope my body cooperates.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Yesterday, I was coming home from Lancaster after a not-so-great experience. I stopped at the mailbox before driving into my garage. Inside, among all the catalogs, was a package from my friend Nan. She had told me she was sending it to me so I knew what to expect: one of those ubiquitous rubber bracelets with a saying stamped into it. I saw Nan wearing it at Woman to Woman and asked her about it. She told me it was a complaint bracelet. Every time she complains, or gossips, or criticizes, she needs to move the bracelet to the other wrist. It makes you aware of negative thinking. The goal is not to move the bracelet for 21 days. It could take months to accomplish.

Great idea, right? For some other time perhaps. I am PMSing, just having driven home 25 miles from a workshop that didn't happen and therefore for which I got no money--even though I'd already invested about 10 hours planning. My consolation peppermint white chocolate mocha didn't happen either. Starbucks had run out of white chocolate syrup. So I don't put the bracelet on my wrist just yet. I am not ready to get the complaints out of the way: I've got bitching to do, and children to raise.

So I put the package beside my computer until this morning when I decide to check out the website A Complaint Free World. I am willing to research the complaint-free life--if only to say that I am contemplating being a better person. I trolled the site and ordered some free bracelets. (If I have to quit whining, then my friends are going to have to do it, too!) I also listened to a speech (I think it was actually a sermon) by Will Bowen. He told a story about a man who was at work eating lunch. The man looked in his lunch box and said, "Meatloaf sandwich? I hate meatloaf." The next day, the same thing happened. The third day, the man opened his lunchbox and said, "Meatloaf? Not again." Finally his co-worker, a little sick of these lunchtime tirades said to the man, "Why don't you ask your wife to pack you something else?" The man turned to him and said, "I pack my own lunch!"

Something in that story hit home. I create my experience. If I want to complain, then the world is going to provide things for me to complain about. So right at the hour of this post, I will put this bracelet on my wrist. I'll let you know how long it stays there. (I should make it through the morning--I have nobody home with me! As long as the dog doesn't piddle on the carpet, I should be home-free.) And it isn't about other people telling you must move your bracelet (they have to move theirs if they point it out to you), but every time you express grief, pain or discontent, the bracelet must move. At least I'll be more aware of my thought and speech patterns as I head into Thanksgiving week. This should be fun--as we are hosting the event.

Click on the above link to get your own free bracelet. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

My gratitude for the day is for all my friends who listen to me whine. I know it is reciprocal, but it is good to know that we are there for each other through all of our meatloaf sandwhiches.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

City Mouse vs.Country Mouse

I got to talk to many people over the last few days. The likes of which I don't encounter on a daily basis. I talked to several poets, a children's playwright, yoga teachers, a collage artist, painters, jewelers, literature buffs. The energy from these connections made me a little giddy. People who understand me! They get it. I don't even need to explain myself.

I spoke with one woman, a native of Philadelphia who now lives in Lancaster City, at length and told her that I lived in Reinholds. I must have sighed when I said it. She said it sounded as though I didn't want to live there. I shrugged. She said didn't know exactly where Reinholds was but that it sounded very small and very Republican. I had to laugh. She was right on all counts.

I confessed to her that I just didn't feel I fit in with the village. (Yes, Reinholds is actually called the village of Reinholds.) I long to be where the culture is. Give me art galleries, quaint coffee shops, a theater (plays), some restaurants with interesting foreign cuisine and live music, a wine store with some variety, a nearby yoga studio. I want a good library and an independently owned bookstore. I want to attend university lectures and concerts. I want to participate in some of the adult education at our church. (Now at a 35 min drive, it isn't always easy to plan.) I want to talk to artists and poets on a regular basis, not just when I come out of hiding.

And I want all this stuff for my kids, too, along with easy access to the things they want to participate in. Right now we travel for my son's fencing lessons, my daughter's dance and theater. Nothing is in our own school district. While we have said that we wanted to wait until they are out of school--no need to uproot them, to decide on a new place to live, I can't help but think that we are doing them a disservice by living here. No wonder suburban kids try drugs. There's nothing else to do!

This vision of living in a place of culture conflicts with another of my dreams: to live in the middle of nowhere--the woods perhaps, in a simple house that we build from a kit with our own modifications. Somewhere I can commune with the natural world. A loft area where the kids can sleep. A great room with furniture that can be moved out of the way to accommodate workshops or big bashes or screenings of independent films or even hosting an art show. A great working kitchen--not a fancy schmancy one that is bought for status--but a workhorse. A separate garage with a studio above it. A deck with a nice view. A little roofed outbuilding for meditation. Clean lines, black framed windows, opened spaces, white walls, enough technology to make my husband happy, renewable energy. I guess in this scenario, I envision culture coming to us in the form of guests and teachers and students and Netflix.

So how do I morph these two visions: one cosmopolitan and one pastoral? I don't know. Maybe I should found an arts neighborhood in the middle of some forest near a metropolis. Yeah! that's it!

My gratitude for today is for Netflix. I can finally see the movies I want to see! We used to have to travel to Philadelphia to see independent or foreign films. And that went by the wayside when the kids were young. We tried to get movies from Blockbuster, but they seemed to specialize movies. So I am happy I can get some culture delivered to my door here in the Village of Reinholds!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Reading Like a Writer; A lecture by Francine Prose

Last night I went to the Francine Prose lecture put on by the Lancaster Literary Guild. Francine talked about her book Reading Like a Writer. Some things I got from her lecture.

1. Good writers can be created from good readers.
2. Reading the classics is a must for writers. Well-written books that have survived centuries are around for a reason. And it is good to know the traditon that has brought us to this point.
3. Today's writers don't often read classics. They read the latest novel by whomever has scored a six-figure advance in the hopes that by dissecting the book, they too can acheive a six-figure advance.
4. MFA programs don't support reading. They are programs based on the supposition that critiquing other writers and having them critique you will make you stronger writer.
5. Francine thinks that writing non-ficition is easier. She has lots of unfinished novels sitting around. (I shouldn't be so hard on myself.)
6. Considering your audience can be a tricky thing.
7. Novel writing doesn't get easier with each novel, even though it should.
8. Copying out long passages of great literature can help make you a better writer because you get a real feel for the words and phrasing you might not otherwise get by reading. (As someone who has read lots and lots of books aloud to my kids, I think that reading passages out loud also helps. Maybe not in the same way, but I am willing to try both methods.)

Did this lecture comfort me as a writer? In some ways, I suppose. I have struggled for years with the concept of the group critique. It is the reason I am not in a writing group. I don't want too much input. Maybe that's because I have not found anybody with whom I feel has a similar sensibility. I do feel as though reading is the key to better writing. I would like to read more classics in the new year. I have been toying with this idea anyway because of the list Roger gave me. I don't really want an MFA, but at the same time, I think I would like being in an academic setting again, possibly as a professor. How would I become a professor without an advanced degree. HMM? But I do; I learn so much when I teach because I always put so much research into my lessons.

So, on the one hand, I felt alive after the lecture. On the other hand, I felt a bit sunk. I got some books signed by her. I did not tell her I was an author. Why not? I am not embarrassed by my book. I'm proud. I guess I just didn't see the reason to put that out there--especially since I'm not sure where I am going from here.

Forgotten Thanks

For yesterday--I am thankful for a great long walk and talk. I needed that! I slept so well last night. It must have been the walk combined with the lecture that gave me the mind/body balance that led to a good night's sleep. The first in weeks.

And that is what I am thankful for today!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Woman to Woman

Yesterday's Woman to Woman event was outstanding. I gave two journaling workshops, and took 4 other workshops, including illuminating the journey (making a spirit candle), Kundalini yoga, Yoga for Emotional Flow, and a workshop on reinterpreting your home decorating.
Can I just say how much I needed this day? The three months following the release of my book have been stressful, in more ways than I can go into on an online blog. And not just book-related. While I don't want to go into all that happened, I will tell you the end result. In an effort to cope with the situations at hand, I negated my own feelings. Because honestly--it just wasn't practical to add them to the mix. Now that the weather is clearing, it is obvious that these repressed feelings need a venue. I was stuck in more ways than one: my art and writing was suffering as well. Through my own journaling classes and the yoga instruction, I think I uncorked myself. Don't imagine me sobbing; it was more of a big popping exhalation.
What I realized is that I really need to connect to spirit; my own and that of the world around me. All kinds of women were at this workshops. All ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations. It was a sight to behold. Baby boomers trying belly dancing. Mothers making collages--with nary a child in view. Standing room only in some classrooms as women were clamoring to do something selfishly positive for themselves. I could feel the battle cry! More More! It was palpable.
So I am going to try to continue the spirit of the day. Allow myself to connect to my higher power, my peers, and my emotions. I plan to walk with friends (my first walking date is this morning). I will do more yoga. I wish it was in a studio with others, but I will be content with my home studio for now. I will start up my holiday handwritten journal (I always journal around this time of year to relieve stress). I am going to be making some more collages. AND I am going to be spending less time on the computer. With NaBloPoMo and online Christmas shopping, I got caught up in the swirl of things. And while it was fun, I think it sucked some of the spirit right out of me to be clicking from link to link in an aimless quest for what?

I'll let you know how it goes. I am hoping the process leads me through the fear and back to my art and writing.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Being flexible

Yesterday I spent time doing things that were not on my to-do list (except for grocery shopping, but I forgot a portion of the things I wanted to get.) I made an unexpected purchase of ground meat (combo of beef, pork, and veal) which I customarily use to make meatballs. So I decided to make some meatballs to freeze. I also went with my husband to pick up an extra bed at my brother-in-law's house. It is part of his and my husband's childhood bunk beds. We have the other half. This necessitated a trip to the hardware store to get...well...hardware, for the beds. Because we do not live in close proximity to shopping, we decided to go out and hit some stores--while we were out and about. My husband got some running clothes (that will be a Christmas gift) and I got fabric remnants to make a thanksgiving table-runner. After all that, I needed a nap (more because I haven't been sleeping well than because of the rigors of shopping, but it was unplanned, at any rate.) Then it was off to watch college football with our friends. (This was planned, but it was supposed to be relaxing because I had accomplished all that I wanted to get done, namely prepare for my workshops and cover my kitchen chairs.)

So here I am in the early, early AM on Sunday morning, putting the finishing touches on my workshop presentations. I always get a little nervous before I begin. Too many variables to be secure in the process, some of which is out of my control. I will let you know how it goes. Today, also, we are welcoming my son's friend, who, due to a changed circumstance, is going to be spending the week with us. It probably won't be the last time, either. Hence, the additional bunk. I am grateful for all the people who have offered to help, and who are helping us to make his stay a smooth one, both for him and our family. That is my gratitude for today.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

No Mo' NaNoWriMo

I am throwing in the towel of NaNoWriMo. The main reason is that the whole thing is paralyzing me with fear. I overcommited and didn't plan very well. NaNoWriMo is an excellent idea and I am sure I will pursue it in the future, but I will have an outline, completed character studies and...I don't know... a clue?

I think I need to regroup. What I would love is a writer's retreat with other writers. Perhaps I could get beyond this stumbling I have been doing. In a way, I do have the makings of a retreat--just not in the traditional format. I am conducting two journaling workshops this week and that always makes the creative juices flow. I think it is the community aspect that helps me. And on Monday, I am going to hear Francine Prose speak. She wrote many books, but among them, Reading Like A Writer, which I own and have read. Ms. Prose isn't limited to one kind of book. She has written novels, articles, children's books, nonfiction, and humor. My kind of gal. (I believe the term is multiple personality.)

And in between teaching and going to a lecture, I hope to get back to writing something just for love of writing. Maybe that is the real key.

I am committed to and will continue with my walking and blogging commitments, including the gratitude. Today I am thankful for the Lancaster Literary Guild who promotes reading, writing, and brings wonderful programs to the area.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Today's Gratitude

I am thankful for my art patrons. They have made today's holiday shopping possible.

Morning Journaling Practice

Hold out for shameless promotion. I am teaching two Morning Journaling workshops at Woman to Woman event this Sunday at the Lancaster YWCA. Many women giving many workshops and offering services such as massage and Reiki. Proceeds benefit domestic violence shelters and violence prevention programs. All for the low admission price of $12. It's a great deal. Food concession and a woman-crafted market is also available. The theme this year is AWAKENINGS.

I am looking forward to teaching my workshops. They will be a little different from my usual creative journaling workshops. For the most part, I espouse a carefree approach to journaling. It doesn't need to be daily. It doesn't and shouldn't just be about the writing. Add paint. Add magazine pictures. Color mandalas. Write Haiku. Get dirty.

But the Morning Journaling workshop is about ritual and commitment. I am not a ritualistic, meditative journaler--except in the time between Thanksgiving and New Years. And then, my journaling surges. It is almost a survival instinct I have. I like Thanksgiving and look forward to it, but Christmas, to me, is filled with such pressure--especially (in my experience) for the women of the household. I admit that I take on this responsibility and tend not to ask for help. I have a ridiculous Holiday Card list, and I feel the need to be creative--not just send out signed boxed cards. I hate to go shopping. Money always seems tight. I also have a problem with darkness. It is hard on me--and my family. I am miserable grouch until I sit in the serenity that is our church's Winter Solstice service.

So, I was glad to research morning journaling at this time of year when I can use it most. My morning walk is out--too dark in the country. Not enough sidewalks. So I write and prepare myself for the new year. In the past I have most often prescribed to the Julia Cameron morning pages form for my writing, but I have been looking into other options including setting intentions, creating your day, as well as poetry and work with color. I am extremely excited to give this workshop because in teaching, I always have a fuller experience of the subject, and I love interacting with other women. (My solitary daily life doesn't allow for enough of that.)

If you are in the area, please come out for the event. I promise that you will leave the YWCA with a lighter step than when you entered. You'll meet the most magnificent women, it is for a good cause, and you can enter the holiday season with new strategies.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Novel love oven lone

Writing a novel can be a real love/hate thing. The word novel has the word love in it and the word oven (as in stick your head in one). Yesterday, I was not feeling the love. Here's the deal. I have written two novels beyond SUMMERS AT BLUE LAKE. After working on them for three years and making many revisions, my agent isn't crazy to push either one. She really wants the next novel I sell to be "THE ONE" that makes my career take off. So no pressure, right? So I am working on my NaMoWriMo novel (A middle grade book for grades 4-6). And it seems to be going two steps forward, one step back. I am writing, writing, writing, and deleting. I question the character and the flow. I question the point of view. What if I spend all this time writing this thing and it still isn't the novel my agent has in mind for me? My confidence is shot. Add to that, the pressure of not succumbing to all the female stereotypes I read about in Packaging Girlhood. So yesterday I was feeling quite blue about the whole thing in spite of the fact that I really did get some writing done that day. I was about ready to start writing my resume and "get a real job." (That is an indication of how low I was feeling.)

But two things broke through to me while I was in this funk. One was a story in a magazine that I happened to be reading in the waiting room of my son's orthodontist. The story, by Robert Fulghum (the guy who wrote All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten), was so funny that I was shaking with repressed laughter. I was in danger of starting to snort. Please read Asbestos Gelos at your own risk.

The other item that gave me pause was a video of Paul Potts that my husband emailed to me. This one made me tear up. Perhaps everyone has seen this already, but I am sheltered at my writing desk, so I apologize if this is old news, but I did find it to be inspirational to me in my blue mood.

My gratitiude for today is for the way art touches my life in its many forms. Better than any drug.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Shadow Fairies

Once upon a time, I wrote a story (for my daughter) about girls who had such a negative self-images that they faded into shadows and floated into trees where their negative mantras became their shadow names. Names such as Bad at math, Clumsy Clod, and Fat. One day the shadow girls banded together when they saw a little girl on the verge of becoming a shadow. They went into her bedroom and sang affirmations to her while she slept. This continued every night with different girls, who were saved from becoming shadows by the constant hum of praises. The Shadow girls didn't notice what was happening, but in the process of helping others, they had started to sprout wings until they had become full-fledged fairies. The Shadow Fairies then saw each other for the glorious creatures they were, so they gave each other names of power and delight. Names like Rubysong, Isis, and Gloria.

I've been reading Packaging Girlhood (Last day--it goes back to the library today). The chapter I just read talked about the often degrading screen names that girls pick for themselves online. The align themselves with sex and with their gender (HottGurl69), instead of picking power names (HoopStar16) the way boys often do. It got me to thinking about the online identity I created. My original website was titled Divine Mother, Mortal Me. This was to imply that motherhood had been put up on a pedestal, and I could not possibly achieve the expected level of motherhood perfection. It was a site for moms who were frustrated creative people: painters, writers, and the like. So there was a little of the Divine Creator vs. the Daily Grind aspect.

Later I changed the name of my site and my online posting name to Mortal Mom. I had fallen into two traps here--the labeling myself by my limitations, as girls so often do was the first trap. The reason I did it (and the second trap) was to be liked by other moms--so others could relate me. I was using the same ploy as princess movies: the main character must be introduced as being clumsy or have spinach on her teeth so that girls can identify with her as a self-conscious entity before her rise to princess. My blog was filled with the foibles of a harried mom. I did write some positive press about myself, too, but I was always careful to balance it with some crack-up so I could not be accused of immodesty.

Now, I think about the women who are web sisters to me: French Toast Girl and Abeyta Creative. A celebration of their persons is implied in the names of their sites. On SARK's message board, where I met my web sisters, I used to go by SpiralAmethyst. That's a little better, showcasing things I like, and the spiritual path I am walking. But who could I be if I really allowed myself to be named for and identified with my strengths?

I can't even think of any ideas for screen names off the top of my head. I'd mention how pathetic that fact is, but I am trying not to put myself down.

Gratitude for the day--my online friends who encourage me to let my light shine.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Walking to the polls

Today I walked to my polling place. Round-trip the walk was a little over 3 miles. Originally, I was just doing it to get exercise. Perfect distance, warmish fall day. Why not? But as I was walking I had such a profound feeling of gratitude. I started to think about the people all over the world who have no choice, but gladly walk well over 3 miles to their polling places so that they can have some say in the way they are governed. Then I thought about the effort of those suffragettes who made voting possible for me as a woman. I chose to put effort into my voting process today. In doing so, it made me appreciate how easy it has been for me to drive to a convenient location, stand in a short line, and be counted. And that is my gratitude for today. The only way that the voting process could be any better for me is if I voted at the same location as my grandpa. He lives near the MnM factory, and they have free candy upon exiting at his polling place. (In case you were wondering: in that election, I voted for the Mars candy people to add the purple MnM's to the colors in the regular bag.)