Monday, March 28, 2011

Picture This

My plan was to attend a workshop on dirt. Yep, dirt. My aim was to find out how to test the soil in my garden to see if it needed supplementing. Instead I found myself in the third class of a six week series on photography. Here's how it happened. I went into the community center where the dirt class was scheduled. I was a bit late. When I entered the building from the sunny parking lot, my eyes had some trouble adjusting to the dimmed light in the room I entered. So I kept my eyes down and found an empty seat. As my eyes adjusted and I began to look at the slide being projected and began to listen to the speaker, I realized he was definitely not talking about dirt.

He was discussing, not compost but, composition as it relates to photography. I stayed in my seat and hung on every word. And took copious notes. And felt that happy feeling that curls your toes when you realize you have just been given exactly what your heart desires. I'd been hoping to find a good basic photography class. I love taking pictures for this blog. Actually, what I've discovered is that I love taking pictures period. And here I am in a photography class.

But it gets better. The instructor Adam Alonzo mentioned that the next meeting will be a critique class and each person can submit two photographs to be considered for critique. I decided that moment to submit. These are the two photos I sent him along with a request for the handouts from the first two sessions which he promptly sent.

I choose them simply because I like them. I am hopeful at least one will be selected for critique because I want to improve my skills. It's a bit scary, a bit intimidating, and a lot exciting! I keep humming these lyrics from the Rolling Stones, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you just might find, you get what you need."


Handstand # 7

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cheat Sheet for Life

 Katrina Kittle is one of my favorite authors. She has four published novels thus far, each one taking a "big" issue and skillfully weaving together a story with vivid characters and poignant subplots that deepens understanding and evokes reflection.  She had me with her first book,  Traveling Light, about a woman, her much-loved dying brother, AIDS, and the question of who we are and why we make the choices we do. Over an eighteen month period, I'd lost a brother-in-law, a teaching partner, and a fellow doctoral student to AIDS. Katrina got it all exactly right: the frustration with the disease, the disheartening lack of compassion juxtaposed with the extreme kindness of others, the pain and heartache, the grief, and the lessons experienced.

The Blessings of the Animals

Her latest book The Blessings of the Animals is about the end of a marriage, grief, healing, family, and the powerful role animals can play in our lives. Having recently experienced extreme betrayal and divorce... this one hit home too. A dear friend invited me to her book club meeting where Katrina was the guest author while we discussed this book. The facilitator had unique discussion starters. Katrina's books are laden with rich nuggets that inspire mind forays out of the current story. This passage, about an interaction between the protagonist's teacher brother and one of his students, is one of them.

"Nobody gets the good stuff all the time...Remember that." He wished he knew something more comforting to offer. He wished... he could spare them, his students: that he could pass them the cheat sheet for their future lives. 

 The facilitator posed the question, if you could provide a cheat sheet for life, what would you share?

Mine was "Face what you know." I've learned, the hard way, that ignoring the elephant in the room leads to heartache. That while it is difficult to face unpleasant truths, it is better to face them right away as delay increases the cost and wastes precious time. Your body is recording and experiencing the problem even if you are not allowing the thought to surface. I mistakenly thought that focusing on the good meant ignoring the bad. I know now that you can celebrate the good and still name the difficulties and treat them with loving kindness. Problems are not failures, but ignoring them will lead to failure.

Katrina's was, "Always make make new mistakes." As soon as she said it I felt my gut clench. I've been trying to not berate myself for the mistakes I made with my ex, for tolerating too much for too long. For taking care of him and his needs while sacrificing my own. I kept hoping that he would see what he was destroying and join with me to rebuild. And so I became afraid of hope and afraid of making more mistakes that were detrimental to my physical and emotional health and well being. I learned that hope can be life affirming when I hope for myself, for what I can choose. Pinning my hope on someone else is  giving away my strength. Hearing "Always make new mistakes" turned another page. Mistakes are part of life. The trick is to make new mistakes. To be trying new things that may or may not work out perfectly but are still learning experiences. What I was afraid of was making the same mistakes. As I realized that, I felt my gut unclench and my center fill with... hope, peace, possibility. Yep, this definitely goes on my cheat sheet.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Drinkin' O' the Green

I'm Irish. I have many happy memories of St. Patrick's Day celebrations: Irish step dancing, vibrant Celtic music, shamrock plants, cold beer, Irish soda bread, and always wearing green so as to not get pinched! Post cancer and focusing on caring for my body, I've switched my focus from the "wearin' o' the green" to the "drinkin' o' the green," green tea that is!

I drink about three cups of green tea every day. I prefer either Trader Joe's Organic Green Tea or Tazo Zen tea, a green tea, lemongrass and spearmint mix. I've read that to get the full benefit of the antioxidants in green tea it is necessary to steep the tea for ten minutes. The problem is that in ten minutes the tea is no longer hot. Humph.

Nancy Snyder

The problem was solved for me by my friend and potter Nancy Snyder of 5th St Clayworx. Nancy makes, among other things, beautiful hand thrown mugs with lids. The lid sits on top of the mug while the tea is steeping and keeps in the heat. The lid then makes a handy place to put the bag. The bonus is that this mug is truly beautiful. The shades of brown and touches of green and blue are a visual feast and make the ten minute wait tolerable.
Mug and fitted lid

Gorgeous and functional

Today's breakfast of green tea and Irish Soda bread (recipe below) was good for the soul because I thought of my friend and her passion for her art. All those antioxidants are good for my body. And starting my day with something beautiful sparks my creativity.  Slainte!

Here's an easy recipe for Irish Soda Bread. I used organic sugar, butter, raisins, and milk but couldn't find organic self-rising flour. Next year I'll figure out how to replace the flour as well.

Irish Soda Bread

4 c. self-rising flour
1/2 c. sugar
4 T. butter
8 oz. raisins
2 c. milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour two loaf pans.

Mix first three ingredients well. Slowly add in milk. Blend in raisins. Shape into two loaves, place in pans and bake 50-70 minutes until a knife inserted into the loaf comes out clean and the top is beautifully browned. Best served with Irish butter!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In the Middle, I Can't Breathe

I did not intuitively breathe when exercising. Actually, I did the least effective thing possible, I held my breath. It was as if I needed to take in a breath and hold it so I could concentrate on moving. For example, I would hold my breath while climbing stairs. The result? By the time I got to the top of the steps I was lightheaded and completely winded.

When I began to work with a personal trainer, she pointed out the folly of my ways. She taught me to breath in on the relaxation of a movement and to breathe out on the exertion. Weight lifting and exercises like crunches were suddenly so much easier to complete in multiple repetitions.

I cross stitched this sign and hung it in my exercise room to remind me to breathe.

At a recent weekend retreat, the presenter was working with us on using the breath for relaxation. She divided the circle of women in half and indicated that those to the right of her were to inhale while those to the left of her were exhaling. As I was right across from her I quipped, "I'm in the middle, I can't breathe." The next day several women mentioned how true that quip was. They're right. When I was on the fence, trying to decide what to do about my failing marriage and where to go with my life, I often felt I could not breathe. Getting off that fence and on with my life has freed me to take deep, satisfying breaths. Being in the middle is a very uncomfortable place to be. Moving forward is like exercising, breathe out on the relax, breathe in on the exertion, but breathe.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

At 60 - Find Your Way

In December 2009, while shopping at a lovely artist's boutique at the DVAC Gallery for Christmas gifts for my creative kindred spirits, I discovered the fused glass jewelry of Diane Zubrick and fell in love with this pendant and bought it for myself. I've since worn it quite often.  I love the idea of having a travel permit, or passport, entitling me to a creative journey. 

Last week my friend, Jewels, noticed it and asked to take a closer look. She handed it back to me casually mentioning how appropriate it is that the  return fare is 60, as in Sensuously Sixty, and the final words are, "Find your way." I never put that together. Here I am, at sixty, finding my way. Perfect.