A Fun but Exhausting Day

I just came home from our office Christmas event and am totally wiped out, but happy. We had the special privilege to go to the Biltmore Estate here in Asheville.

First we enjoyed a lovely late luncheon at the Inn, followed by our traditional Santa Swap (amid much hilarity). 

The more energetic staff members then trekked through a muddy “hard hat” tour of the new village area under construction. I stayed in one of  the cars and chatted with a very pregnant colleague.

For the finale we adjourned to the House for the Candlelight Evening Tour. The care and planning that goes into making such magic is impressive! Every detail was perfect. The decorations are incredibly lovely. The massive tree in the banquet hall is straight from a fairytale. 

Things  are made even more enjoyable by the Biltmore House employees.  They are  — without exception — warm, welcoming, competent, and helpful.

It made for a satisfying  day filled with great company and great beauty everywhere one turned. 

I did the house tour in a wheelchair, since there was no way I could walk that much yet, and still, I am beat! I’m looking forward to getting back some stamina over the next couple of weeks.

I’m really glad I went, even though I’ll be especially sore and tired tomorrow. I’ve missed my colleagues more than I knew.

The whole day made for a joyful start to the Christmas Season.

Buon Natale!


Going to Mary’s!

I’m getting really excited. I leave for my sister’s in just a few more days.

This is my main annual vacation — a week in New York State at Mary’s house.

I just finished putting together several knitting projects to bring with me. I’ve got audio books on CD for the drive (800 plus miles each way — argh!) and have already started laundry so I’ll have too much to choose from when I pack.

Everything’s right on schedule.

My son Josh and my friend Carolyn have agreed to water the garden. Josh will, naturally, feed the cats. So all the important things at home are handled.

My beloved laptop will go with me, so there should be no blog vacation — just sister time, catching up, antique hunting, good food, more sister time, endless laughter, some tears, some knitting, more laughter, lots of music and stll more conversation [sigh]. 

I just can’t wait!

Sunday Evenings

Sunday evening is special, isn’t it?

Whether the work week ahead fills you with excitement or dread, it’s a new beginning in the morning. A new chance, a potential for change, for excitement, for success.

Then there’s the sense of all the unfinished bits of the weekend pressing for closure. “Pick me,” “no me,” “no over here!” Sometimes the clamor in my head on Sunday evening is an awful thing. But tonight, with enough done this weekend that the voices are like the murmurings of the sea on a summer day, and a Monday ahead that’s not too overloaded with deadlines, it feels pretty darn good.

Oh, it’s after five already, and there’s laundry still to fold, a few plants still to plant, potatos to cut up and make potato salad from, dishes to do, trash to be gathered and taken outside (note to self: remember to breathe), and a few more trifles, but clearly, no one will die, no wars will be lost, no kingdoms forfeited if I don’t manage it all.

So I’ll spell check this entry, put on a CD (Phoebe Snow, Live) and hit the kitchen. Dark will descend while music plays, the scent of dill, potatoes, dish detergent and clean laundry will mingle with the soaring of Phoebe’s voice, and I’ll know it was a lovely weekend.

Not Afraid of the Woo-Woo Factor

Divine_Orange_Mandala_icon Well, maybe a little afraid. I’m unusually intuitive and often know things without any concrete way of knowing those things. Does that make me a practitioner of “woo-woo”? A beloved friend, himself a Science of Mind Minister coined the phrase in our circles, and I’ve heard it so often since that it must resonate for many.

You know — the woo-woo is the edge just past your own particular comfort zone.  I read tarot cards, maybe a 3 or 4 on the woo-woo scale. Ouija boards — clearly a 5 or 6. Shamanic energy healing?  Way down there — hardly woo-woo at all to me.  Ditto spiritual mind treatment. But channeling non-corporeal alien lifeforms — for me that’s a clear 9 or 10. Making toothpicks dance above the tablecloth at a local coffee shop after drinking only coffee — definitely an 11+ (totally creepy to see)!


tools of the woo-woo trade

My point, if any, is that woo-woo really is in the eyes of the beholder, or perceiver or channeler. My comfort with my intuitive skills interpreting Tarot face cards and weaving a word picture from those intuitions seems natural to me, while it might give you chills as I hit the nail on the head about parts of your life.

When I get up from the table at my energy healer’s, and I feel more whole and integrated, with some bothersome physical symptom lessened —  and I’m glowing with vitality — that’s not woo-woo, that’s common sense to go back.

So I’m not afraid of woo-woo. I am afraid of being accused of practicing woo-woo. No, that’s not it either. I’m afraid of being accused of not practicing woo-woo well enough.  So go ahead and call me crazy, just be sure to mention that I’m really, really good at it.

Lavender Festival

Lavender bunches from Mountain Farm

Lavender bunches from Mountain Farm

Tomorrow I’m driving up to Burnsville (about an hour north of Asheville) to attend a Lavender Festival at Mountain Farm. I’m very excited. Lavender is one of my favorite herbs, and the scent of entire fields of it in bloom can knock you off your feet!

I’ll pick some, buy some, maybe even roll around in some (lol). There’s a lavender labyrinth to walk and workshops on making lavender crafts. I’m sure there will be lavender ice tea and all kinds of herby goodies.

I plan on returning to town tired, just a tiny bit sunkissed, dusty and laden new ideas, maybe a recipe or two, and with baskets brimming over with the sweet blue-purple spikes.

The other reason I’m so filled with anticipation an about-to-be-unmasked secret identity I’ve harbored. I’m a budding romance writer. I started a novel too many years ago to have only 120 pages. It’s set in this neck of the woods and its about a young woman who inherits an old farmstead and turns it into a lavender farm … where she holds festivals, makes and sells crafts, grows herbs… and, or course — romance here — falls in love.  She isn’t living happily ever after yet, since I’m stuck in the endless middle, but maybe the festival tomorrow will shake loose some new inspiration.

If nothing else, perhaps I’ll get another twitter-ku from the day’s unfolding.

Teaching the Teachers: embracing your inner elder

For about 10 years I’ve taught adults about managing money as the central part of my job. I’ve loved it completely — teaching is incredibly fulfilling and creative for me. I’ve created the curricula and materials and developed the flow the the classes — including lots of laughter and compassion, but very little “you shoulds” and no judgment.

In the last few years, several things began to shift. The agency I work for has grown in response to the increased need for our services as well as high-quality management and the excellence of our work with clients.

me teaching in 2001

me teaching in 2001

So, these days I have a staff. It’s been a gradual growth for my department, first one educator, who was already experienced, then others with different experience, and finally a new instructor, who is incredibly smart and quick, but hasn’t taught at all in this kind of setting.

It took me awhile to come to grips with the changing needs of my position. Part of that lack was because of Dennis’ death last fall and my subsequent lack of focus on work. Part of it is resistance to the change.  As I said, I’ve loved teaching adults about money. I didn’t want to stop doing that.  However, the demands of department administration, community obligations, and senior management were leaving me stretched in too many directions.

With none of my activities getting all the attention they deserved, my wonderful staff was being left too much to their own devices. No discipline issues or problems — they are all amazing, self-reliant and dedicated people — but they simply didn’t have enough of my support and attention for their professional development.

Since I believe so strongly that happiness is largely a choice and we can train ourselves to be happy, I started looking for how to make this necessary transition a positive one for us all. And I found the answer.

I’m no longer primarily a teacher of students, I am now mostly a teacher of teachers.  It sounds very simple but it’s a bit magical too. I’m largely self-taught, with no academic credentials but gobs of experience. Transmitting the skills I developed intuitively over the years is a fascinating process.

In a way, I’m deconstructing myself. I’ll teach a segment of a class to my staff (one or several) and then process what I did and why. It’s sometimes about body language, or word choice. Sometimes about pacing and emphasizing certain content points. I’ll talk about the depth of knowledge behind a simple statement and how that knowledge informs the confidence with which I speak. I can analyze and transmit the path I took to reach an approach and we’ll discuss options for making the class their own.

It is so much fun! My staff is happier and more confident (I think) and I have a new peace as I face reams of data and reporting because I know my experience and joy in teaching is spreading out there, one instructor at a time.

New Pots!

Pots and pans are so central to enjoyable cooking that I can’t believe it’s taken me over 40 years to spring for a new set of quality cookware! I’ve been using some old but good Revere Ware — stainless steel copper-bottom saucepans that weren’t new when I was a child. I’ve had lots of nonstick skillets pass through my life, but nothing — pardon the pun — has stuck.

I recently bought a new saucepan, in an in-between size, and oh, what a difference it made! The pot heated more quickly, cooked more evenly, the lid fit tightly, and clean-up was a piece of cake.

So I splurged. I took a 20% off coupon to the nearest Bed, Bath and Beyond and bought a set of Cuisinart Greenware plus two additional sizes I use often.

I’m packing up all the old Revere Ware (except for my giant 12-quart stock pot), all the miscellany of yard sale pots, banged-up skillets and sauté pans with mismatched lids, and storing them until the right fate for them emerges. Somewhere among my acquaintances is a budding cook for whom slightly battered Revere Ware will be a happy step up.

Now… what can I cook?

Birds & Hope

450px-White-Browed_Robin“If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.”

This Chinese proverb symbolizes both the reliable, yet fleeting, nature of joy and the eternal upwelling of hope to me. I haven’t blogged on my love of birds before, but it struck me tonight how much a touchstone they represent to me. I can depend on their song, a flash of scarlet wing, a cocky tilt of a chickadee’s head, the liquid trill of a wren. These moments transport me out of everyday consciousness — out of misery, depression, sorrow, exhaustion, fear, doubt, loneliness — into the power of the present (or the Power of the Presence, if you will).

Something in the juxtaposition of fragility and vitality that a bird is, takes me to center and balances me there. What an amazing gift they are to the world. I always wonder just what it is that makes them move me so — from the hummer feisty vitality to the majesty and power of the hawk, they have an instantaneous transforming effect.

Or maybe it’s just that you have to be looking upward to see them…

Finding My Focus

The last few years have been challenging in so many ways. The decline of Dennis’ mental health and his death last fall; my own health issues which were exacerbated by the stress of caring for Dennis. Financial crash-and-burns, self-induced and otherwise. There’s been a deeply embedded sense of being overwhelmed, of just hanging on by my fingernails.

I claimed the old Zen story as my own — the man is being chased by a hungry tiger, and falls off the edge of a cliff, catching himself on a branch. He is dangling hundreds of feet above a raging river, the tiger swiping at him from above. The branch he clings to is fragile and will  break any moment. The man sees a berry growing just within reach. He plucks it, eats, and says “how delicious!”

I lived in the moment the best I could, but the past and the future gripped me, holding me immobilized. All I had was the berry, moment to moment. How delicious, indeed. Yet, how exhausting and frightening too. The man felt all that one would feel —  the terror, the pain, the pounding heart and straining muscles. His choice — to focus on the one piece of beauty and delight in his world — is so admirable; so perfect, and yet, so futile. Any second the tiger will pounce, or the branch will break, and he’ll perish. Will the taste of the berry linger past that doom? I always have chosen to believe that it would indeed remain, a burst of beauty and life carrying one into the next future, the next path. Kind of a divine pat on the back for not giving up the quest for joy.

Now, I am in a place of getting to choose. I’m choosing joy, and freedom from old patterns and fears. I’m choosing a third future, without the tiger or the river. Living from crisis to crisis is just too tiring, too draining, and no longer serves me.

As I transition to choosing from love, choosing for joy and for the deep pleasures of order and peace, I have a great deal to let go of. I wrote this short mantra, or prayer, to help me keep this new focus. To help me stay out of the tiger’s path of the past, and away from the terror of the coming torrent:

I honor the past – and release it
I honor the future – and embrace it
I honor the now – and experience it

And So It Is.

Patience in the Garden

IMG_0070While I love to play in the garden, I’m not a truly good gardener because I don’t have enough patience. I want plants with big, showy, vibrant flowers — and I want them NOW!

Sometimes, however, I get it right. Last year I planted a handful of foxgloves that I bought at the 2008 Herb Festival. The photo to the right are the big, showy, vibrant spikes of foxglove blooming today. They stand so straight and proud, completely at ease in themselves.

The sense of pride I get from seeing them is disproportionate to the accomplishment. All I did was dig a few holes and water them during dry spells. But oh, the beauty that resulted!

Next is the small circular bed I created last spring around the centerpiece of self-seeded Hollyhocks that had been planted many years before and bloomed profusely last summer. They grew nearly seven feet tall, competing with the old birdhouse on a pole. This year, the birdhouse is home to a family of chickadees — last spring it was rented by a clan of house wrens.

Once the bed was established, I planted lots of annuals, including basil and petunias, as well as blue Veronica, Johnson’s geranium, and coreopsis. These have all returned for an early splash of color. Next I’m adding a shasta daisy and tucking in a few more herbs — and just smiling and smiling every time I walk by.IMG_0072a